Oldest human footprints discovered in Italy

Thursday, 13 March  2003


Markings in hardened volcanic ash, dubbed "devils' trails" by local Italian villagers, have been confirmed as the oldest-known footprints ever made by humans.


The fossilised hand and footprints belong to three early humans who were probably climbing down the side of the Roccamonfina volcano in southern Italy about 385,000 to 325,000 years ago, report a team of Italian palaeontologists in today's issue of the journal, Nature.


"We believe that these tracks are the oldest human footprints found so far," said Professor Paolo Mietto of the University of Padua in Italy, who lead the research. "They are made by hominids who had a fully bipedal, free-standing gait, using their hands only to steady themselves on the difficult descent."


"In some of the prints, the impressions made by the heel and ball of the foot are clear, and there are even small depressions that can be interpreted as toe impression," he said.


They were made by primitive humans that walked upright with a free-standing gait and used their hands to steady themselves. Three tracks with prints show curve or zizgzag patterns. The prints, embedded in fossilised volcanic ash, are about 20 cm (eight inches) long and 10 cm wide and belonged to primitive humans who were about 1.5 metres tall.


He added that older footprints of hominids, or human-like ancestors, that were made by more distant ancestors, date back 3.5 million years and were found in petrified volcanic ash at Laetoli in northern Tanzania.

Reuters, AgenÁe France-Presse

Curator: Skeleton Probably a Nobelman


Thursday March 13, 2003 7:00 PM


6000 year old skeleton


A 6,000-year-old skeleton found in a cave in the parched cliffs above the Dead Sea may have been that of a nobleman, warrior, hunter or religious leader, a museum curator said Thursday.

A replica of the curled-up skeleton, discovered a decade ago, along with the man's real sandals, hunting bow and kilt went on display this week at Jerusalem's Israel Museum.

Research on the well-preserved skeleton has offered a glimpse into hunting and cloth-making techniques of the area's ancient people, but the man is still largely a mystery.

The museum has not put the real skeleton on display because Jewish religious law forbids members of the traditional priestly class - many with the last name Cohen, Hebrew for priest - from contact with dead bodies, and displaying it would mean that some Jews would not be able to visit the exhibit.

That religious command is leftover from the days when Jewish Temples were standing in Jerusalem, 20 centuries ago, and priests conducting religious ceremonies avoided contact with dead bodies, which would render them ritually impure.

The real skeleton is packed away in a storage room.

The ancient skeleton was found in 1993 in a cave in the Judean desert, where an arid climate preserved bits of the man's skin and cartilage. Entombed with the man were a large flaxen burial cloth and a broken wooden bow, the first objects of their kind discovered in the Middle East.

``Cloth was like gold in those times,'' explained exhibit curator Osnat Misch-Brandl. ``Only important people were able to wear cloth.''

The cloth which wrapped his body was 6.5 feet wide and 23 feet long and was elaborately detailed with fringes. It was stained with red ocher, used in burial rituals and associated with procreative and regenerative powers.

His people must have constructed looms to weave such cloth, Misch-Brandl said.

Researchers believe the man was most likely a chieftain or prominent warrior. He was between the ages of 40 and 50, remarkably old for people of that time. His height, too, was towering for the era: 5 feet 6 inches.

An analysis of the man's bones showed his right arm - probably his hunting arm - was stronger than his left. He had a gum infection and one of his leather sandals was badly worn, a sign he might have had a broken a leg.

His bow was probably split by one of those who buried him to keep grave robbers from using it.


World's Oldest Wheel Found?

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

March 10, 2003


A 5,100- to 5,350-year-old wooden wheel recently was found in Slovenia buried within an ancient marsh, according to a press release issued earlier this month by the Slovenian news agency STA.

The team of archaeologists who found the wheel claims it is 100 years older than the world's current tied record-holders, both said to be from Europe.

"The wheel is surprisingly technologically advanced ó much more so than the later models found in Switzerland and Germany," said Anton Veluscek, an archaeologist from the Archaeological Institute at the Slovenian Academy of Arts and Sciences who was a member of the team that found the wheel.

Made of ash and oak woods, the wheel has a 27.5-inch radius and is nearly two inches thick. An axle, approximately four feet long, also was found at the marsh site near Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia.

According to an exhibit taking place at the Owl's Head Transportation Museum in Maine entitled "The Evolution of the Wheel," the true beginnings of the wheel could date back to the Paleolithic era (15,000-750,000 years ago). While the location of the wheel's earliest inception remains unknown, general consensus places its invention in Mesopotamia, in what is now Iraq.

Before the wheel was invented, heavy loads probably were placed on a sled and pulled by men or oxen. Most historians theorize logs later were used as rollers underneath the sleds, or wooden platforms. When placed side by side, the logs would have allowed the top load to be moved with much less force.

Over time, friction from the movement would have worn down the logs, creating grooved rollers. To both combat and utilize this effect, rollers likely were shaped to be thin in the middle and thicker at the ends. Two wooden circular disks connected by a primitive axel-tree then replaced the roller, and the wheel was born.

About the latest find in Slovenia, David Machaiek, curator of the exhibit and assistant director of the Owl's Head museum, told Discovery News, "It's an exciting find. The wheel is one of man's most important inventions. Few of us stop and contemplate where the world would be without it. Virtually everything revolves around the wheel."

He added that wheels continue to evolve today, with custom wheels driving the most recent improvements. For example, some custom wheels are machined using sturdy, yet lightweight, aircraft-quality aluminum using computer technology to ensure precision.



Prehistoric art archive to go on the internet


AN ARCHIVE featuring the UKís finest collection of prehistoric rock art - stone carvings thousands of years old - is to get a global showcase via what is believed to be the most detailed internet site of its kind in the world.


The website will include global positioning system readings - highly accurate positions of the artwork compiled using satellites - and digital drawings and photographs.


Northumberland is widely regarded as having the countryís richest collection of rock art, with up to 500 examples still existing in the field and written records of up to 750 panels.


Examples include Englandís largest such site at Roughting Linn, just south of the Border.


Stan Beckensall, who has spent more than 30 years documenting this mysterious phenomenon, has just donated his extensive archive to the Museum of Antiquities at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. The records include photographs, books, drawings and rubbings.


In a project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB), the university intends to make the entire archive widely accessible via a new website which will display information at differing levels of complexity, providing a valuable research and teaching resource for academics as well as schools, heritage specialists, landowners, and tourists.


Dr Aron Mazel, an archaeologist and research associate with the School of Historical Studies at Newcastle University, who is leading the project, says the website will be the most detailed of a rock art area in the world. It is due to go live next year.


Like all UK rock art, the Northumberland specimens are in the "cup and ring" style and nobody knows exactly why they exist. A typical work of art would feature cups and circles of various sizes carved into a slab of rock.


Mr Beckensall, a retired headteacher from Hexham, Northumberland, is currently revisiting the panels with Dr Mazel to update the archive information. The task involves using satellite technology to take accurate readings of site positions, updating written records and taking photographs.


Theories about the origins of the rock carvings vary. One says they are symbolic expressions of the changing relationship Neolithic people had with the landscape and past societies. Another says the carvings fulfilled a human need to mark the landscape in which communities were living and working.


Dr Mazel said: "Stanís collection is one of the finest and most extensive archives of rock art that exists, and is an invaluable resource. The university feels extremely privileged to have benefited from his many years of hard work spent collecting and analysing this information and is delighted to be able to make it available to a wider audience on the internet."


Mr Beckensall said: "Having worked for so long recording prehistoric rock art, it is deeply satisfying to know that my work will be available to everyone in the future."




Thursday, 13th March 2003

The Scotsman

Further tests on Silbury


CIVIL engineers have returned to Silbury Hill to begin further exploration of the prehistoric mound. It's almost three years since an ancient shaft at the core of the hill re-opened leaving a gaping hole.


English Heritage was forced to act after the old shaft began to collapse leaving a massive crater in the centre of the 4,800-year-old monument.

Now international civil engineering consultants Cementation Skanska have been asked by English Heritage to carry out further tests on the hill.

In 2001 the company used pioneering new methods to create a three dimensional picture of the inside of the hill.

It bored four holes from the top of the hill to its base to allow sensitive recording equipment to be lowered inside the mound to provide a 3D image of the hill.

The material removed during the drilling also allowed archaeologists to see how the hill had originally been constructed between 2800 and 200BC. As a temporary repair measure English Heritage had the crater in the centre of the hill packed out with polystyrene capped with a layer of chalk. But local archaeologists have called for permanent repairs to be carried out to the hill.

Plant and mobile offices from Cementation Skanska arrived at the foot of the hill this week.

The engineers prepared a mesh surface on the southeast slope to enable equipment to be winched to the top of the hill.

English Heritage explained that further tests were needed at the centre of the hill to ensure that the old shaft was adequately filled in.

In a statement English heritage said: žIn 2001 we carried out works to arrest a collapse to the head of a shaft which in 1776 had been sunk by the Duke of Northumberland to the centre of the hill.

"Following this work a geophysical survey of the whole hill was carried out on our behalf by Cementation Skanska.

"Reassuringly they reported that the hill was a robust structure which was basically stable but identified certain areas which required further investigations."

The work that started this week is on the 18th century shaft.

"As part of this assessment we intend to test the consistency of the backfilling in the lower part of the shaft by drilling a borehole through it from the top.

"Another borehole will be drilled nearby as a control. The information gathered will help us design the long-term remedial work."



Iron age find is Scotland's most exciting



BUILDERS who were on the brink of using a JCB digger to lay the foundations of a new housing estate have unearthed what may be the richest archaeological find in Scotland.

It includes the well-preserved skeleton, sword and valuable adornments of an Iron Age warrior buried with full honours.

Experts who announced the discovery of the site at Alloa, Clackmannanshire last night described the grave as one of the most "valuable and exciting" to have been found on these shores.

It is believed that only around 100 such ceremonial Iron Age burials took place in Scotland over 1000 years and, of those, only four had weapons lying alongside the skeleton. Ancient communities disposed of their dead in different ways and the majority of corpses in Iron Age Scotland were put in rivers, left on exposed platforms, or put up trees.

Building work was first halted last Tuesday when workmen uncovered a Bronze Age grave containing the skeleton of a woman along with an ornate food vessel and copper alloy items dating back to between 2500 and 1500BC.

However, two days later, the digger uncovered the more important grave.

The Iron Age warrior whose head had been placed on a stone pillow is likely to have been a chief ruling the surrounding kingdom, and appeared to have been aged between 25 and 35 when he died around 200BC to 200AD.

His sword had been placed in his hand and surrounding him were valuable toe rings, an ornate copper pin and glass beads. The artefacts indicate that he was a high-ranking powerful individual who would have been able to display great wealth.

Archaeological staff, who believe there may be more graves in the vicinity, immediately secured the site to deter vandals.

Ian Ralston, professor of archaeology at Edinburgh University, said that a great deal was already known about the Iron Age in Scotland in terms of hill forts and brochs, but that rituals pertaining to death were still largely undiscovered.

"We can trace Iron Age life in the north-west, the Western Isles and Lowlands, but we still know very little about how they treated their dead." he said.

"It is quite amazing to think that this skeleton has turned up by chance, but it replicates a pattern whereby builders can be the ones who make these fantastic finds."

Professor Ralston added that such graves were often discovered by farmers ploughing their fields.

Susan Mills, museum and heritage officer for Clackmannanshire Council, said the find was less than 50yds away from a Bronze Age cemetery discovered in 1828.

"The later burials of the Iron Age may have been based on some sort of folk memory of the site being used as a burial place. It could have still been regarded as a special place for those who lived in the area," she said.

"I also think the graves have been so well preserved because they were protected for years by nursery greenhouses which were demolished in the 1970s."

Paul Duffy, human remains and forensics expert from the archaeology department at Glasgow University, said the site was the greatest find he was likely to come across in his lifetime.

He said: "I've worked on many sites throughout my 12 years in the field but these, particularly the Iron Age grave, far outweigh anything I've ever seen."

The skeletons have been taken to Glasgow University for forensic examination, while the precious artefacts found with them have been sent to a specialist firm in Edinburgh.

George Tainsh, director of the £1.5m Ochilview housing development, which plans to build 30 houses on the site, said his company would cooperate fully with archaeological experts to safeguard the graves.

A spokesman for Historic Scotland said: "It is a very significant discovery for our understanding, particularly of Iron Age warriors and warfare and the period immediately preceding the Romans."


Community chest

The Iron Age lasted around 800 years (c 750BC-43AD).

In 1993, late Iron Age houses were uncovered at Bostadh beach on Great Bernera.

The communities were primarily agricultural, with the daily routine revolving around the maintenance of crops and livestock.

Villagers lived in wooden roundhouses.

By the end of the Iron Age, people were starting to live in larger and more settled communities. Coinage had been introduced and wheel-thrown pottery was being made in many villages.

-March 11th


Vatican's parking problem likely to bury Nero, not raise him

March 12 2003

Tombs from the time of the Emperor Nero have been unearthed as the Vatican tries to clear space for an underground car park.

Digging for the 300-space car park began months ago, but Vatican officials are now rethinking the project after the remains of the 2000-year-old necropolis were found.

Among the graves is the tombstone of Nero's secretary, along with well-preserved urns and amphorae. Officials denied the car park plans would threaten the discovery.

"Of course, no one will destroy any archaeological finds," said Monsignor Francesco Marchisano, the head of the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.

Other Vatican officials, desperate to "decongest" the Holy See, which has faced growing parking problems in recent years, told the newspaper La Repubblica that ancient ruins were uncovered every time digging began in Italy. In this case they "did not seem that important", they said, and should not prevent the car park from being built.


"These days, even in the Vatican, it's difficult to drive around and find somewhere to park," said Archbishop Gianni Danzi, who is in charge of the Vatican's technical department.

The three-level car park is planned near a popular supermarket inside the walls of Vatican City.

The Vatican has faced growing parking problems in recent years as its 900 residents compete with outsiders for slots. Visitors tend to leave their cars in the Holy See before walking over the bridge across the Tiber into the restricted centre of Rome.

Before the 2000 Jubilee, the Pope blessed a 900-space car-and-coach park on the Janiculum Hill, next to the Vatican. Before it could be completed, the frescoed walls of a second-century villa had to be removed by the Italian culture ministry.

Archaeological experts from the Vatican Museum were called in to advise on the new car park in February, reportedly when security guards stopped a lorry leaving the site loaded with amphorae and tombstones inscribed in Latin.

Professor Andrea Carandini, the archaeologist who led excavations of the walls on the Palatine hill, where legend has it that Romulus founded the city of Rome, said: "I don't believe that death should always triumph over life. Sometimes the two can live together, as is the case for the Athens metro.

"But first, they need to decide if they really need this car park."



Dropping lake levels expose historic ruins


Associated Press Writer


ROOSEVELT -- The Salado Indians disappeared centuries ago, but the remnants of their civilization linger in central Arizona canyons.

Their villages and pots, trumpets and jewelry dot the Tonto Basin. Shelters big enough for 300 commoners and platform houses built for the elite are still there as well.

But most of the time, only the fish in Roosevelt Lake see these treasures, since the area was flooded in 1903 to create a 29-mile-long reservoir held back by the Roosevelt Dam.

Until the drought came.

During the past two years, the dry spell has lowered the lake levels to the point that many of the ruins have reappeared to varying degrees, allowing archaeologists to view them and learn. They got some of their best views beginning in September.

Tonto National Forest archaeologist Scott Wood said he discovers amazing things when drought hits.

"We found a few villages that have only been seen once since the lake was filled," Wood said. "It gave us some information we weren't expecting."

Archeologists have logged more than 8,000 sites in the Tonto Basin, but Wood said that is only about 40 percent of what is actually there "We've learned a lot from those sites, but it's the other 60 percent that's really critical."

The stone structures, decorations and weapons that archeologists have logged tell a lot about the Salado: how they lived, how many were in the basin and when they disappeared.

Warfare is a common theory for the Salado's disappearance. Climate change, disease and starvation are also suspected factors.

Clues to the disappearance of the Salado, who lived in the Tonto Basin between 1100 and 1450 A.D., are what archeologists want the most, but they only emerge when the lake drops.

And even in dry times they can only get inconsistent views of the ruins.

Steve Germick, a U.S. Forest Service archaeologist, said the topography of the basin is a system of step terraces.

"There are sites on all those different terraces, and they're all of varying heights," Germick said. "The lake could go down 5 feet and expose some sites, and then at the end of the summer hundreds more might be seen."

Many have gone under again during the past couple of weeks as the lake has again begun filling up.

"When people talk about the drought, they're sad but I'm happy," Wood said. "I want that lake to suck right down to nothing for about a year so we can see what's there."

Archeologists say the Salado, a group of Hohokam, brought about major social and political changes in Hohokam history.

The Salado buried their dead below ground instead of cremating them. They built stone houses, whereas the Hohokam before them dug homes into the ground and then made domes above out of sticks and mud.

The Salado had major trading routes throughout the West and into Mexico and had incredible canal systems that supported a lucrative farming industry.

What more could unearthed ruins tell archeologists?

Wood said he would love to find out.

"Those ruins could tell us how the Hohokam got to central Arizona and how fast they developed there," he said. "We could find out how they got along with the people who were already there and why the whole system collapsed."

Wood said the Salado economy and political alliances fell apart when a catastrophic flood wiped away an agricultural surplus in 1383.

Researchers want to know more about that collapse.

In the 1980s, another period when the lake's level fell, an Arizona State University archaeology team spent eight years researching the Tonto Basin. It was one of the biggest research projects in America, said Charles Redman, a team leader.

"To mount an excavation takes a lot of money and tools and specialists," Redman said.

His 75-member group was funded by a $10 million federal grant.

No excavations nearly that large have been mounted in the last two years, though, despite the low lake levels.

Eight U.S. Forest Service archeologists organize small search teams when the lake gets below 17 percent of its capacity, and sometimes they visit the lake on their own.

"We're plugging along and doing it cheap," Wood said. "It's not the ideal way to do this kind of research, but we're not costing anybody much. The lake goes down and we go up and check it out."

Tonto National Monument ranger Eddie Colyott said the Salado ruins can teach Westerners about their historic heritage.

"When people filled that lake 100 years ago there was no concept of how important the ruins were," Colyott said.


Archeologists find buried slave plantations in North


Published , March 05, 2003, 12:00:01 PM EDT


Slaveholding plantations are no longer uniquely southern, based on new archaeological discoveries.

Excavations in Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York have unearthed evidence proving some large estates in the north had black slaves in the late 1700s and early 1800s.

James Cobb, University professor of history, said although the discovery is interesting, it is well known that "lots of northerners" were involved in the slave trade.

"These kinds of reminders are important to understand the roots of the racial conditions are not necessarily totally southern," he said.

Cobb said the discovery of the northern plantations should not take away from the importance of what happened in the past.

Excavations near Salem, Mass. found evidence at least 100 black slaves worked on Samuel Browne's plantation producing grain and dried meat, and raising horses.

The main reason slavery did not become as entrenched in this society as it did in the south is an economic one, Cobb said.

Crops grown on southern plantations -- such as tobacco, rice and cotton -- are labor-intensive and suited to the southern climate.

"It's not a situation where white southerners were inherently more racist to start with," he said. "It's just that slavery became much more of a fixture in the agricultural society."

In the North, the land and climate were not as suitable for agriculture, which led to an industrial-based economy.

The differences in economic systems, however, does not lead to differences in values, Cobb said.

"There's no particular reason to think that in the early 17th century the views white southerners held for blacks were any difference than the views of the people who would have been in New England," he said.

"It gives a better sense of how slavery was able to flourish in a new country supposedly dedicated to human equality and liberty."

Cheryl LaRoche, a historical archaeologist at the University of Maryland, told the Atlanta-Journal Constitution that historians are stunned by some of the evidence.

"The popular notion is that slavery in the North consisted of two or three household servants but there is growing evidence there were slaveholding plantations," she said. "It's hard to believe that such a significant and pervasive part of the past could be so completely erased from our history."

-- Contributing: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution


Britain backs plan to weaken heritage sites

Paul Brown, environment correspondent

Thursday March 13, 2003

The Guardian


Plans supported by the British government would undermine protection for world heritage sites such as Stonehenge and the Giant's Causeway, according to the organisation that advises on their protection.

The IUCN, the international conservation union, which must be consulted before the designation of a world heritage site, says proposed rule changes undermine the convention that created such sites.

It is so alarmed about the consequences that it has written to all 175 member governments appealing for help before a special meeting to change the rules is held in Paris next week.

Among the changes the world heritage committee, which runs the world heritage scheme, will discuss are:

ē Allowing states to veto any criticism of them for damaging or neglecting sites within their borders.

ē Allowing states to prevent the creation of new sites in their borders if they stand in the way of development.

ē Stopping the committee removing a world heritage site designation when it becomes so degraded as no longer to be worthy of inclusion.

In the appeal for help, the IUCN says allowing a country a veto would "erode the credibility and strength of the convention among ... concerned civil society interests. This change would reduce state parties' accountability to the world heritage committee and the international community".

Listing places as endangered "has been a very effective way to signal the serious threats to a property and mobilise national and international action to safeguard the property in question".

While the UK is keen on gaining more world heritage sites because they attract foreign tourists, critics say it wants to avoid criticism if it subsequently fails to look after them.

The rule change was originally proposed by Australia, which was stung by criticism for proposing to allow uranium mining in the Kakadu park, which is a world heritage site. Australia has left the 21-country ruling committee that runs the convention but its plans have been taken up and backed by the UK.

The US, which is not on the committee, was irritated by a "danger list" designation for Yellowstone national park and the Everglades and is also lobbying for the rule changes.

The world heritage convention committee's membership changes regularly and, in the 30 years since the convention was first agreed, has designated 730 natural and cultural sites for special protection. There are 24 in the UK.

Adrian Phillips, vice chair of the IUCN's world commission on protected areas, said a strength of the convention was that the decision to designate sites or make comments about them was made independently of the government that controlled the territory of the world heritage site. This has been important in protecting sites when the committee has felt it necessary to list them as "in danger".

For some countries, for example the Philippines, which has world famous rice paddies at Luzon, north of Manila, an endangered listing was welcomed to attract foreign aid. However, many countries, including Australia, the US and Russia, resent the idea of international criticism and support a rule change, Mr Phillips said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture said the current rules were legally "ambiguous" and practices might have to change. The UK was not advocating weakening the convention but had a different interpretation of the rules.