Wednesday 19th February 2003
BRONZE AGE INFANT'S SKULL UNEARTHED AT SCHOOL DIG
BY RICKY HINDMARSH
A FRAGMENT of an infant’s skull has been found near pig bones on a primary school playing field in Winnersh earmarked for a housing development.
Experts believe the skull could be part of a much wider Bronze Age burial ground.
The unusual historical relic surprised archaeologists who say it is unusual to find human and animal bones together.
Police and the coroner’s office have not been officially informed of the find which was made in February last year.
Details have only now been made public.
Initial evidence points to the remains being more than 100 years old.
A process called Carbon 14 dating is being used to determine the exact date, but a Bronze Age burial site found in the 1960s, just 100 yards away, suggests it could be a small satellite addition to the central site.
Now Kev Beachus, senior archaeologist at BABTIE, Wokingham District Council’s highways consultants which surveys all large building applications, says the top-soil will have to be stripped off to search for the rest of the skeleton to comply with the letter of the law.
There is no evidence of foul play and a thickening of the two-inch piece of skull suggests that death could have been caused by meningitis, it is thought.
Mr Beachus, who is unable to speculate on how the bone came to rest with the pig remains, said too little was known about Bronze Age settlements to be entirely sure of what else could be found.
He said: “Finding the infant’s skull with the pig bones did lead us to think of some terrible things, but it was found separately in the same ditch we were digging.
“It is unusual and in my 15 years I have never come across anything like this.
“In law, human remains have to be found ‘in totum’, which is why I will insist that further work be done.”
Controversial plans to build on half of the Winnersh Primary School’s playing field will be delayed by the find until diggers can be sure there are no further human remains.
Not much is known about childhood Bronze Age diseases, but Mr Beachus believes meningitis was common and could claim the lives of as many as a dozen children in an outbreak.
When the topsoil is peeled off, which could take about six weeks, the site will be opened to the public for one day only.
The news was welcomed by Winnersh Primary School headteacher Howard Penny, who said the discovery would be used as an educational aid, and added that he welcomed anything that might allow the school to hang on to its field a little longer!
Archaeological Discovery in Bulgaria Clue to Ancient Mystery
Novinite.com (Bulgarian News)
Lifestyle: 13 February 2003, Thursday.
Bulgarian archaeologists discovered an oval ritual hall fitting the description that ancient historians gave to the Dionysus Temple in the Rhodope range famous for its splendor and mysteriousness in antique times and for the many failed attempts to determine its exact location in modernity.
During an expedition in 2002, the team of archeologist Nikolay Ovcharov unearthed the hall inside of an ancient Thracian palace, some 250km southeast of Bulgaria's capital Sofia. The temple-palace is part of the dead city of Perpericon in Bulgaria's Eastern Rhodope Mountain that was important religious and political center for centuries on end.
According to Ovcharov, the oval hall has a diameter of 30m and a round altar erected 3m above the floor in the middle. "This totally fits the description of the rituals in the Dionysus Temple in which the ancient poured wine into the altar and watched the range of the altar fire to make a prediction whether a given event will occur or not," the archaeologist said in an exclusive interview for novinite.com. He also outlined the fact that the main hall of the Dionysus Temple reportedly had no roof similarly to the hall his team discovered.
To shed light on his hypothesis, Nikolay Ovchrov resorts to Hellenic historian Herodotus who wrote that the Rhodope range was inhabited by the Thracian tribe of the bessies. Herodotus also said that the bessies built the legendary Dionysus Temple that was equal to the ancient Greek Apollo sanctuary in Delphi. Like Delphi's temple, the Dionysus temple had an oracle that made great prophesies such as the foretell of the victorious march of Alexander the Great of Macedonia. Later on, in the Roman age the oracle predicted that Octavius Augustus would create the Roman Empire.
The ancient Thracians inhabited an area extending over most of modern Bulgaria, northern Greece and the European part of Turkey. The Thracian tribes were ruled by a powerful warrior aristocracy rich in gold treasures.
Roman chariot burial site found
The Courier Mail
14 Feb 03
ARCHAEOLOGISTS in north-eastern Greece had discovered a Roman burial site with well-preserved remains of chariots and horses, experts have said.
The 2000-year-old remains of four chariots, described as unique in Greece, were found in the country's Evros region, near the Bulgarian border.
"Most likely these chariots were used to take dead people to be cremated," Triantaphyllos Diamantis, head of the antiquities directorate conducting the excavations, told an archaeology conference.
Diamantis said the chariots, bearing silver-plated and bronze decorations, were buried with the ashes of the dead Romans and their horses, apparently killed for the ceremony.
"These are particularly significant finds and are unique in Greece," Diamantis said.
The excavations began last September and were still under way.
More Roman carts in Thrace
MINISTRY OF CULTURE
A well-preserved wooden cart and the skeletons of two horses found last year in the Thracian grave of a Roman official or rich landowner. A large family tumulus contains at least two more such burials, one of which has been excavated. The work was hampered by heavy rain.
At least three Roman wooden carts, and not just one, as initially believed, have been located in a 2,000-year-old Thracian grave on Greece’s northeastern borders, an archaeologist said yesterday.
Speaking at the opening of a three-day conference in Thessaloniki on last year’s archaeological work in Macedonia and Thrace, Diamantis Triandafyllos said the discovery near the village of Mikri Doxipara, some 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) west of Orestias, was the first of its kind in Greece.
A 6-meter-high and 60-meter-wide tumulus has been found to contain three, and, maybe, four, wooden carts — one of which was preserved almost intact — dating to the first century AD, and two separate human cremations, of a man and a woman.
Along with each of the two carts excavated so far, which had four iron wheels and were decorated with bronze and silver-gilt ornaments, was buried a pair of horses. Triandafyllos, an expert on the archaeology of Thrace, said the carts had been used to carry the dead to their funerals.
Crowe got it wrong: gladiators were the film stars of Rome
Analysis of bones found at Ephesus reveals that the fighters were rich, pampered professionals with groupies in tow
Hannah Cleaver in Berlin
Sunday February 9, 2003
Far from the Hollywood image of a grubby desperado fighting for his life in a lawless arena of horror, the real-life Roman gladiator was a highly trained and pampered professional - rich, famous and pursued by groupies.
New research has poked massive holes in the long-accepted image of gladiators as poor wretches sent to gruesome deaths in front of crowds baying for blood.
Gladiators were in fact provided with the best food and healthcare during their years of training and were given the best medical treatments: they were the football stars of their day, with sponsorship deals and a share of the prize money.
'Much of that film stuff is simply wrong,' said Professor Klaus Grosschmidt of Vienna University. 'The images in Gladiator were faulty, Russell Crowe's kit was all wrong and they were not set up against unbeatable odds. That would not have been a good show for the crowd.
'There were referees in the arenas, and the weapons and protection the fighters had were carefully chosen to ensure a fair fight.'
Grosschmidt has been working with experimental archaeologists from Munich University on remains of gladiators found in Turkey. The dig was at the site of the ancient city of Ephesus.
He is using his medical expertise to extract clues about the daily lives of the gladiators from skeletons nearly 2,000 years old.
'This is the first time nutrition, training and fight injuries can be directly investigated from their bones,' he said.
'The medical attention they received was second to none. The most famous doctor of the times, Galenus, treated gladiators at Ephesus.'
Grosschmidt described how the gladiators were the equivalent of today's football stars, although they had no rights and could be bought and sold at will.
Many gladiators were sentenced by courts to fight, but just as many volunteered for the chance of fame and fortune. They spent at least three years in a training camp, where they ate the best food with a view to developing a layer of fat over their muscles the better to sustain cut wounds.
'These camps were closed - they could not leave of their own free will,' Grosschmidt said. 'But they received female visitors - groupies - often women of good families who would sneak into the camps for assignations. One gravestone even boasted that the dead gladiator was 'the favourite of women in the night'.
'They were famous not only from the fights themselves, but also because they would advertise ahead of the fights in order to encourage people to bet on them.'
Judicious selection of weapons and pairing of fighters were combined with the use of referees to make sure the fights were fair. The gladiators' training included a certain amount of choreographed moves.
'Boxing is really the only comparable sport of today,' Grosschmidt said. 'There were many fights and it was well organised, with a number of short fights one after another, although the crucial difference is that the gladiators were fighting for their lives, making the essence of the fighting very different.'
The audience did have a say in the fate of the loser, who could survive to fight another day if he had put up a good show.
Going to gladiator fights was considered a more intellectual pastime than going to the theatre - the fights promoted principles of honour, bravery and fearlessness in face of death, while plays were merely entertainment.
This principle also applied to the wild animals often used in the spectacles. 'There was even one lion that was buried with a gravestone because it had killed many gladiators and was therefore honoured,' Grosschmidt said.
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 17:49 GMT
Afghans repair broken heritage
Afghanistan has begun the long, slow process of restoring its cultural heritage.
In the capital, Kabul, on Tuesday, two small rooms in the city's museum were reopened, ready to begin repairing the collection of thousands of statues that were smashed two years ago.
It is estimated that as many as 2,000 statues were destroyed by the former Taleban regime inside the Kabul museum in the spring of 2001.
This came after the building was wrecked and looted during the country's civil war in the 1990s.
The BBC's Kylie Morris in Kabul says the loss of the museum's treasures is immense, as Afghanistan is where East meets West, and its artefacts testify to the multiple traditions of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam.
The damage might have been greater, but for museum workers who hid priceless treasures from the Taleban.
The British Government, with the advice of the British Museum, has paid for the renovation of the two rooms within the museum, where artefacts can be put back together.
British soldiers attached to the international assistance force in the capital helped to carry out the work.
The rest of the museum remains in ruins, but its repair is a matter of national pride.
Omerakhan Massoudi, the museum's general director, said that staff training was another priority:
"We have lack of expertise because we have had 23 years of conflict, during which time technology has developed a lot and we have stayed far behind."
As well as the British, the Japanese have promised photographic equipment, the Greeks will rebuild one wing, the Asian Foundation will develop an inventory, and the Americans have pledged more money for a restoration department.
The United Nations cultural organisation, Unesco, will work on the windows and water supply.
Tuesday, 18 February, 2003, 12:20 GMT
Roman fort handed over to trust
The remains of the great Roman fort of Segontium in north Wales are to be developed as a modern museum by a local trust, it has been announced.
The plans for the site, which dates back to 70 AD, were revealed at a meeting in Caernarfon on Monday evening.
The story of Segontium ought not be divorced from the story of the castle and the town - they are all links in the chain
David Langley, Gwynedd Archaeological Trust
The fort is currently owned by the National Trust and is run by the National Museums and Galleries of Wales under the guardianship of Cadw.
The operation of the site will be handed over to a new company, Segontium Cyf, which will be made up of local people.
In an impassioned speech, David Langley, the director of the Gwynedd Archaeological Trust, said the site was much more than a Roman fort.
"We should not put the place in a little Roman box and think of it as the remains of a distant fortress of a far-flung empire," he said.
"The trust being formed has an opportunity to link together all the boxes of history in Caernarfon.
"There needs to be a plan for the interpretation of the town as a whole.
There are plans to develop the site as a museum
"It is an evolving story and there is an opportunity for Segontium to be at the heart of the plans to develop Caernarfon.
He emphasised the impact the arrival of a garrison of Roman soldiers would have had on the local community - leading to interaction, intermarriage and commerce.
"It provided the basis of the community we know as Caernarfon today," he said.
"The story of Segontium ought not be divorced from the story of the castle and the town - they are all links in the chain," he added.
Mike Tooby from the National Museums and Galleries of Wales said the new trust would be eligible to apply for extra funding which is was not able to do before.
"Handing over to a Trust would allow it to decide how this site fits within the economy of Caernarfon," he said.
The site will remain in the ownership of the National Trust and Cadw will continue to act as custodian.
Trust members will be appointed in March but are likely to include Dafydd Wigley who is retiring as the AM for Caernarfon.
Consultants have already drawn up draft plans for updating the fort which include developing an old underground reservoir on the site as a museum.
Historians find source of Drake hoax
Team dedicates 11 years of research into uncovering identities of brass plate creators
February 14, 2003
By BOB NORBERG
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Researchers say they have solved the mystery surrounding a phony brass plate found in Greenbrae and attributed to Sir Francis Drake, an enduring hoax that added to the debate over where the 16th-century explorer really landed.
"We knew from testing that the plate is a forgery," said Ed Von der Porten of San Francisco, a maritime historian, archaeologist and member of the Drake Navigators Guild. "What had remained a mystery is who made the plate and why."
Von der Porten said that after 11 years of research, they now know the identities of the individuals who perpetrated the hoax.
The identities will be released Tuesday at the UC Berkeley Bancroft Library, where the brass plate has been kept since 1937. The findings also are being published in California History, the official publication of the California Historical Society.
"Last year, we finally pulled it together and got it to the California Historical Society," Von der Porten said. "There is nothing simple. They left lots of bits of clues."
Von der Porten said the hoax involved more than one person, all of whom clung to a strict code of silence.
None of the perpetrators nor the few who knew them are still alive, and the fact that the plaque is a hoax doesn't have any bearing on the belief that Drake landed in Drakes Bay, Von der Porten said.
Still, the hoax was well-known among historians following the controversy of where Drake landed, and has great entertainment value, said Breck Parkman, senior archaeologist for the state Department of Parks and Recreation.
"It is one of the more famous hoaxes in California," Parkman said. "It also makes you wonder what else out there we accept as true that is a hoax."
Drake, an English explorer and pirate, made landfall on the California coast in June 1579.
Historical and archaeological evidence puts the likely landing spot at Drakes Cove in the Point Reyes National Seashore.
The Drakes Navigator Guild for more than 50 years has been leading the research into Drakes' landfall and believes it to be Drakes Cove.
Dozens of alternative sites on the West Coast have been suggested during the past 60 years, many spurred by the existence of the plate, Von der Porten said.
The brass plate was found on a Greenbrae hillside in 1936. Measuring 51/2 by 8 inches and made of brass, it bears an inscription in old English that claims California for England.
The plate was turned over to Herbert Bolton, director of the Bancroft Library and a noted California historian, who immediately proclaimed it as authentic, Von der Porten said.
"What the plate did was get some people thinking that because it was found at Greenbrae, maybe Drake was at Greenbrae," Von der Porten said.
It wasn't until 1977 that metallurgy tests at UC Berkeley and Oxford University, using methods not known 30 years earlier, determined it was a fake made from machine-rolled brass that was cut into a plate with shears in the early 1930s.
In 1991, Von der Porten, the late Drake Guild president Raymond Aker, and researchers Robert Allen and James Spitze began tracking down clues to the perpetrators.
Von der Porten said they found an elaborate hoax that had gotten out of hand.
"It is not important at all, but it is an interesting bit of research," Von der Porten said. "For 40 years, it skewed the history of the state."
Dating of Australian Remains Backs Theory of Early Migration of Humans
By NICHOLAS WADE
New dates from an important archaeological site in Australia have removed a serious challenge to a theory about the origin of modern humans.
The site is Lake Mungo, in southeastern Australia, which holds the remains of an adult man who was sprinkled with copious amounts of red ocher in a burial ritual common among early humans. The grave is testimony to the remarkable journey taken by the first modern people to leave the ancestral human birthplace in Africa.
But the Lake Mungo grave has also posed a problem. Dated in 1998 as being 62,000 years old, it was hard to reconcile with the fact that the first modern humans did not reach Europe, which is much closer to Africa, until about 40,000 years ago.
It also challenged a view held by some archaeologists and geneticists that modern humans acquired the ability to move out of Africa only 50,000 years ago.
A new survey of the Lake Mungo site has now revised the date of the burial to 42,000 years ago. Nearby rock flakes, which seem to be human artifacts, occur in a layer of sand dated to 46,000 to 50,000 years ago, according to a report to be published in the journal Nature on Thursday by James M. Bowler of the University of Melbourne and other Australian colleagues.
The revision means that the Lake Mungo remains support rather than contradict the theory that a change occurring only 50,000 years ago endowed human societies with capabilities for travel and exploiting new environments.
"This date is much more consistent with my view of the `out of Africa' event that occurs around 50,000 years ago," said Dr. Richard Klein, an archaeologist at Stanford University.
Even so, the new date implies a quite rapid journey from Africa to Australia. The details of this epochal migration remain a mystery because no intermediate site on the journey has yet been found.
Some experts believe that the people who left Africa knew how to fish and handle boats, and that their journey to Australia was accomplished by boat, hugging the coastlines of India and Southeast Asia.
Certainly the final stage of the journey must have been by sea. Even though sea level was much lower 50,000 years ago because of the ice age, there was still 50 miles of open ocean between the nearest point of Southeast Asia and Sahul, the name for the landmass of New Guinea and Australia, which were then attached.
If the voyagers clung to the coastline and made campsites onshore, this evidence of their passage would now be submerged under 250 feet of water, explaining why no traces of the journey have yet been found.
Dr. Klein, however, says it is not yet clear whether the main part of the journey was overland or by sea.
As early humans expanded their numbers, each new generation of the growing population could have moved a few miles eastward along the coast.
The mainland of Europe and Asia would have been in the grip of the ice age glaciers, which retreated only 10,000 years ago, and it is possible that bands of Homo erectus, the archaic humans similar to the fearsome Neanderthals who inhabited Europe, may have deterred some of the voyagers from venturing inland.
But if there was only one ancient migration from Africa, as many geneticists believe, then some of the voyagers must have traveled inland to Asia. Many years later one branch of these settlers turned west and displaced the Neanderthals from Europe, starting around 40,000 years ago. Much later another small group ventured through Siberia and across to Alaska, populating North and South America.
The Lake Mungo burial site has been hard to date, and Australian scientists have had to rely on techniques less well established than the traditional radiocarbon method. It was a dating technique based on uranium, which slowly infiltrates waterlogged bones, that gave the age of 62,000 years.
Dr. Bowler and his colleagues used a different method, based on dating sand deposits by the number of electrons they have absorbed from local radioactivity.
The earlier Mungo date has often been cited by critics of a thesis advanced by Dr. Klein about the nature of the change that happened 50,000 years ago.
The archaeological record shows a pattern of sophisticated behaviors appearing at many sites in Africa around this time, including advanced tools, trade, art and burial rituals.
The change is so sudden and revolutionary, in Dr. Klein's view, that it suggests some very significant advance in behavior, like a gene that brought about fluently spoken language. Language would have made a quantum change in a society's ability to organize and exploit natural resources. The better state of nutrition would have led to population increase and the need to expand into new territory.
Some indirect support for this idea came from the recent discovery of what appears to be a language gene. The gene is defective in half the members of a large London family, who lack the ability for articulate speech.
The evidence for a genetic change occurring 50,000 years ago is still circumstantial. Dr. Klein's critics say that the various behaviors considered typical of early modern humans can be seen at earlier dates in Africa and that the development of modern behavior was incremental, not sudden. They have also cited the Lake Mungo burial, with its modern human skeleton, red ocher and ritual burial, as proof that humans were behaving in a thoroughly modern way well before 50,000 years ago.
The revision of the date removes that objection, in Dr. Klein's view. "The arrival of fully modern people in Australia 50,000 to 45,000 years ago is consistent with my view of a behavioral change in Africa roughly 50,000 years ago," he said.
Two leading critics of his theory, the archaeologists Dr. Allison Brooks and Dr. Sally McBrearty, did not respond yesterday to messages seeking comment.
French came, sowed and left Tasmania in 1792
By Andrew Darby in Hobart
February 20 2003
Heritage bodies yesterday rushed to protect newly found remains of French exploration in Tasmania that have been compared with sites of the First Fleet and Mayflower landings and are threatened by logging.
Archaeologists have authenticated rock walls at Recherche Bay in the island's far south as those laid out for a garden by the French in 1792-93, making the site Tasmania's earliest known European construction.
The crumbled rock walls in thick forest are of first-order national significance, the Australian Council of National Trusts chairman, Simon Molesworth, said yesterday.
"This site is up there with the sites of the First Fleet landing in Australia and the Mayflower landing [in North America]," he said.
He predicted it would eventually rate with the Sydney Opera House and Parliament House as one of the nation's great treasures and could deserve World Heritage listing.
Standing in a 72 square metre rectangle, the walls mark where a vegetable garden was planted by members of Bruni d'Entrecasteaux's expedition. Amid the walls are two central plinth rocks.
The French expedition, struck by the beauty and safety of the eucalypt-fringed bay, stopped there for two breaks, each of five weeks, in 1792 and 1793.
"There is no doubt that this is the site of the garden, as a detailed description of the garden plants and its size was recorded in one of the expedition journals," Anne Bickford, a University of Sydney archaeology research associate, said. She said it was of international significance in the history of European colonialism.
The eminent archaeologist John Mulvaney said the entire area had been criss-crossed by the French and Aborigines, making it a complex cultural landscape where future discoveries could be made.
"The vista for most of the harbour foreshore is little changed from that described with wonderment by the French," Professor Mulvaney said. "The entire area must be protected if any semblance of the pre-contact environment is to be preserved."
The walls were discovered recently by local people campaigning against logging in the area, but kept secret until the site could be authenticated. The finding was announced on Tuesday by the Greens Senator Bob Brown.
It stands on a block of private forest that was scheduled to be logged from April, according to the Tasmanian Heritage Council. The council will hear applications to halt logging and protect the land.
Chairman Peter James said he understood the landowners and the logging company, Gunns Limited, would not proceed before the council makesa recommendation to the Tasmanian Government.
Mr Molesworth said the land should be protected under Tasmania's Historic Cultural Heritage Act, and bought for the nation.
The Australian Heritage Commission called on the Senate to urgently pass a bill before it that could protect a place of such importance in the national interest.
There was a lack of effective Commonwealth protection for places of heritage significance, its chairman, Tom Harley, said.
February 15, 2003
BY NORMAN HAMMOND
THE largest single surviving relic of the Battle of Trafalgar — apart from HMS Victory herself, which has been much restored — is being conserved for display on the bicentenary of the battle, and Nelson’s death, on October 21, 2005. The fore topsail, which took the brunt of Napoleon’s naval artillery as Victory sailed straight at the French and Spanish fleet, still bears the evocative scars of the action. The sail was removed from the ship in January 1806, returned in 1905 for the centennial and then stored. It was rediscovered as “padding” under the floor of a Royal Navy gym in 1962, and once again displayed on board.
The Society for Nautical Research provided funds to exhibit the sail five years ago, and is now looking around for support for permanent display. One suggestion has been for a modern replica of the topmast, complete with yards and tops, on which the topsail would be rigged. Portsmouth, the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, and somewhere in Central London — perhaps in a temporary structure at the foot of Nelson’s Column in the newly pedestrianised Trafalgar Square — are all possible venues.
• HOW long have penknives been around? Since Just William or Stalky pocketed them for nefarious purposes? Or since medieval scribes used them for trimming goose-quills to write on parchment?
Neither: at least since Roman times, it seems, from a splendid example found at a Northamptonshire villa site last summer. The Piddington penknife has its iron blade safely folded into the ornate bronze handle, which shows a fully-armoured gladiator. Only 70 mm (under three inches) tall, he is a secutor, wearing a visored helmet with small eyeholes, a Hoxton fin-like crest and flared neck-guard for maximum protection. His sword arm and leading leg are heavily padded, and he is armed with a legionary’s sword and shield. Whether the figure is a generic gladiator or commemorates a Russell Crowe of the 3rd century is not known: the knife is unparalleled in Britain, according to Ralph Jackson of the British Museum. For the Piddington excavators, led by Roy and Diana Friendship-Taylor, it is a neat reward after 23 years’ digging.
PREHISTORIC “bog bodies” such as Lindow Man, as well as the Alpine Iceman nicknamed “Ötzi”, have long been notable for the food remains recovered from their stomachs.
Recovery of similar evidence from skeletal burials has until now seemed unlikely, but Gregory Berg of Arizona State University has come up with some enticing data from skeletons excavated in Denmark and North America. In the Journal of Archaeological Science he describes how soil samples from the pelvic region of skeletons contain much higher proportions of pollen, and in some cases actual fragments from plants ingested as food or medicine than control samples taken from elsewhere in the graves.
The Danish skeletons yielded plants of the mustard, broccoli, parsley and carrot families, medicinal plants such as Acorus (sweet flag) and nettles, and also hazel, probably from nuts. The Arizonans had eaten maize, beans, squashes, agave and varieties of cactus. Not only are you what you eat, it would seem, but the proof can survive far longer and in better condition than anyone believed.
Journal of Archaeological Science Vol. 29 No. 12: 1349-65.
• REVIEWS of the Royal Academy’s Aztecs exhibition have enthused about “the gruesomely decorated blades with which Aztec priests smashed into the Spaniards’ ribcages to rip out their still-beating hearts”; but a recent bioanthropological study of pre-Columbian sacrificial victims suggests that the priests sought an easier way in.
Depictions of both Maya and Aztec excordiation show the victim bent sharply backwards over the altar: just such a killing stone has been uncovered in front of the earliest stage of the Aztec Great Temple in Mexico City.
With the area between navel and breastbone thrust upwards and tautly stretched, an obsidian or flint knife was used to cut into the body just below the ribs, and through the diaphragm into the chest cavity: the other hand was used to grasp the heart and pull it up and out.
We know this in gory detail because sometimes the knife cut so deeply, as far as the spine, that nick marks were left on the front faces of the thoracic vertebrae.
The Mexican scholars Dr Vera Tiesler Blos and Lucy Campana have firmly documented evidence for the direction of the initial cut by a priest standing on the victim’s left and using his right hand — and the sometimes strenuous action needed to detach the heart, indicated by sawing marks where the blade caught on bone. The entire process was swift, however, and the victim was probably unconscious from shock even before the ensuing rapid death from massive blood loss.