Mammoth bones give clue to deaths  

For further information, please contact:

Emma Scales

University of Bradford


01274 233089

24 March 2003


Experts from the University of Bradford are helping to find out if a hoard of recently-discovered mammoth and woolly rhino bones were the result of ice age man hunting or scavenging the long extinct mammals.

The University’s Department of Archaeological Sciences has been sent 1000s of bones found at Lynford Gravel Pit, an internationally important Neanderthal site in East Anglia.

Through detailed investigation, conservator Sonia O’Connor, assisted by Diane Charlton and Leesa Vere-Stevens, is revealing grooves on the bones which may be the result of butchery activity or caused naturally. The job ahead is no easy task - the mammoth teeth alone measure around 25cm, and weigh several kilograms each.

Sonia said: “We have never handled material of this age before and we have to be very careful. It is a very exciting find and only when the study is complete will we have a clearer picture of how these early hominids lived.”

The team is hoping to find evidence of hunting activities. However, their work may be hampered by the mammoths’ social behaviour – it is thought that they may have congregated in mammoth ‘cemeteries’, resulting in trampling.

As part of the study, some of the bone and teeth will be sampled by Dr Mike Richards, who will conduct tests for nutrition and climate.

Evidence of earliest human burial

By Paul Rincon


Scientists claim they have found the oldest evidence of human creativity: a 350,000-year-old pink stone axe.


The handaxe, which was discovered at an archaeological site in northern Spain, may represent the first funeral rite by human beings.

It suggests humans were capable of symbolic thought at a far earlier date than previously thought.

Spanish researchers found the axe among the fossilised bones of 27 ancient humans that were clumped together at the bottom of a 14-metre- (45 feet) deep pit inside a network of limestone caves at Atapuerca, near Burgos.

It is the only man-made implement found in the pit.

It may confirm the team's belief that other humans deposited bodies in the pit deliberately.

Special colour

Professor Eudald Carbonell, of the Rovira i Virgili University in Tarragona, Spain, and a key member of the team that unearthed the axe, was jubilant about the find.

"It's a great discovery. This is an interpretation, but in my opinion and the opinion of my team, the axe could be the first evidence of ritual behaviour and symbolism in a human species," Professor Carbonell said.



Scientists are trying to piece together the species relationships

"We conclude it could be from a funeral rite," he added.

The axe is skilfully crafted from quartzite rock, which is abundant in the region.

Handaxes of this type are usually used for butchering animal carcasses for their meat. But the researchers claim the striking colour is crucial to its importance.

"It's a very special colour," said Juan Luis Arsuaga, director of the Atapuerca excavation. "They would have needed to search it out. I think this colour had some significance for [these humans]," he added.

The human remains belong to the species Homo heidelbergensis, which dominated Europe around 600,000-200,000 years ago and is thought to have given rise to both the Neanderthals and modern humans (Homo sapiens).

But some researchers, such as Peter Andrews, of the Natural History Museum in London, have proposed that the skeletons were lying elsewhere in the caves and sludged into the pit by a mudflow.

Abstract thinking

"I'm cautious about its significance," said Professor Chris Stringer, also of the Natural History Museum. "The association of the handaxe and the skeletons in this pit of bones is a very interesting one," adding that it was possible there was some sort of symbolic association.

"But one has to put some caution into [this announcement] because it has been suggested that this is a secondary deposit and therefore could be accidental," he noted.



New discoveries are revealing just how sophisticated some of our ancestors were and how much further back in time that complexity of behaviour existed - much earlier than we thought


But Arsuaga thinks it unlikely that so many human remains could have appeared in the pit in the absence of bones from other animals.

Previously, the earliest funeral rituals were thought to be associated with Neanderthal remains dated 100,000 years ago. But some researchers dispute the significance of these sites, preferring to believe that abstract thinking began around 50,000 years ago in modern humans.

Arsuaga and his colleagues found the handaxe in 1998, but decided to search for other stone tools in the pit before announcing the find. They have found none so far.

The research is published in the French journal L'Anthropologie.





March 25, 2003

5,000-old mummy unearthed

    The Egyptian mission under Zahi Hawas, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), unearthed an ancient mummy, considered the first embalmment attempt known by ancient Egyptians 5,000 years ago dating back to the era of King Hor-aga, 3200 B.C., at Sakkara, Giza.

    Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni, at a press conference Sunday, said the mission also unearthed a wooden sarcophagus, made of cedar, which was brought by ancient Egyptians from Lebanon.


3,000-year-old ring `an important find for Wales'

Mar 26 2003


Robin Turner * Robin.Turner@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales


A 3,000-YEAR-OLD gold ring found by a metal detector enthusiast is an important archaeological find for Wales, a coroner at a Treasure Trove Inquest ruled yesterday.

Swansea and Gower Coroner Richard Morgan declared the Bronze Age "hair ring," discovered by 38-year-old Nigel Powell in Swansea Bay, was officially Treasure Trove and belonged to the Government.

The coroner suggested the compensation fee payable to Mr Powell and landowners Swansea City and County Council should be split evenly.

It is thought the delicate, gold-foil covered copper ring will eventually be valued at around £3,000.

Finds of such rings are extremely rare and it is thought the piece of jewellery may have belonged to a person of wealth and influence, such as a Bronze Age chieftain or possibly a princess.

Historians believe the rings, only occasionally found in Scotland, Ireland, England, and the Low Countries and rarely in Wales, were used as hair adornments and also as money.

Mr Powell, of The Crescent, Crynant, Neath, who has been a metal detector enthusiast for two years, discovered the ring last year at a point on the Swansea foreshore opposite Brynmill Park.

It was discovered in around 15cm of clay.

Adam Gwillt, Pre-historian at the National Museum and Gallery of Wales in Cardiff where the ring is now held, said there had only been two similar rings ever discovered in Wales, one in Gwynedd and the other at Port Eynon on Gower.

Coroner Mr Morgan said the find was an important one in Wales.

Mr Gwilt said the ring contained intricate decoration and had probably originally been dropped in a peat bog.

The ring dates back to the 10th or 11th Century BC.


Hungry dogs find 2,500-year-old mummy

Two dogs digging for a buried bone in their owner's backyard in Chile found a 2,500-year-old mummy.

Ivan Paredes, who lives in Arica, could not believe his eyes when his dogs dug up the ancient body.

He told La Cuarta online: "The dogs were trying to find bones buried in the backyard as usual, but they started to bark very loud and I came to check what was going on and found the mummy of child."

Archaeologists believe it is the remains of a boy buried by his parents who would probably have been farmers.

The mummy, said to be in good condition, is being transferred to the San Miguel de Azapa museum.

Archaeologists believe Mr Parades's backyard could be an ancient burial site and want to excavate it.

Story filed: 14:55 Monday 24th March 2003


Medieval warriors given second burial



TWO brave medieval warriors badly injured by marauding English soldiers have been laid to rest for a second time.


Both men suffered brutal sword wounds to their skulls during hand-to-hand fighting with troops loyal to English monarch Richard II.


The fighters’ remains were buried in a forgotten cemetery within the ancient Scots abbey they defended so bravely - but centuries later their bones were disturbed, along with the skeletons of 135 medieval Scots, by workmen laying a sewer.


Yesterday, a dignified funeral service was held, as the carefully gathered remains of the men, women and children were laid to rest under a special memorial.


Archaeologists were called to historic Newbattle Abbey College, Dalkeith, Midlothian, after the first bones were uncovered in November 2000, and spent months excavating the site.


The remains included males and females, from newborn babies through to people in their 70s.


Experts said the find had given them a unique insight into an important era of Scotland’s history and yielded valuable information about life in medieval Scots monasteries.


Until now there has been only one historic reference to a poorhouse infirmary in the grounds of Newbattle Abbey - but the remains provide important new evidence that it actually existed.


Most of the people are thought to have died as a result of disease and poor diet. The two fighters - probably wounded when the abbey was sacked and burned in 1385 by King Richard II and his uncle John of Gaunt - recovered from their injuries and died from natural causes.


All the bodies were buried between the time the Cistercian Abbey was consecrated in 1140 and 1560. During that time the Abbey flourished. Later it became the aristocratic seat of the Lothian family until 1937, when it was gifted to the people of Scotland by the Marquis as an adult education college.


However, the ancient cemetery was long forgotten and did not show up on any maps by the time Scottish Water started work on the site. When the first remains were uncovered, water company chiefs consulted Historic Scotland and the college. Work was halted to allow archaeologists to uncover the disturbed remains.


Yesterday’s re-interment service was conducted by local minister the Rev Dr David Graham, interim moderator of the Church of Scotland, and Donald McGlynn, Abbot of nearby Nunraw Abbey, in front of about 50 people.


The remains, which were individually wrapped, were placed in a specially dug trench just yards from their original burial site.


The spot will be grassed over and topped with a Caithness Stone memorial .


John Gooder led the dig for AOC Archaeology. He said: "The remains have yielded valuable information on the men, women and children who lived, worked and ultimately died at this medieval monastery or in the immediate area. Two individuals had been struck with blades. The scars date back to the time that the English attacked, so it is probable that they received the injuries protecting the abbey."


Nick Bridgland, Historic Scotland’s inspector of ancient monuments, said the work was carried out in accordance with its strict policy on the treatment of human remains in archaeology.


He added: "We expected the burial site to be almost entirely monks. The fact that it wasn’t was unusual. That is a mark of how close the abbey must have worked with the community."


Ian Miller, 48, Scottish Water’s project manager, who organised the re-interment, said: "All the parties involved have worked incredibly well together to make sure the remains were laid to rest in a decent and fitting fashion."


College principal Ann Southwood added: "The re-interment is a special occasion in the life of Newbattle.


"It is appropriate that those individuals who lived and worked in and around the Abbey and it’s estate should be laid to rest in the ground that was known so well to them."



A Bridge to History

For further information, please contact:

Audrey Jack

Heriot-Watt University


A successful operation to rescue an historically unique cast iron bridge, the only surviving remnant of the early nineteenth century ‘Innocent’ Railway from Dalkeith into Edinburgh, was awarded a Special Commendation by the Institution of Civil Engineers on Friday 21 March 2003.

The 20 foot wide Braid Burn Bridge at Duddingston in Edinburgh, which is today part of a cycleway, was made by the Shotts Iron Co. in 1831. Engineering historian and conservationist Professor Roland Paxton, of Heriot-Watt University, says it provides a unique record of the early development of metal bridge engineering.

“Bridges were originally made in stone or in wood. When iron started to be used, and before the development of steel working, the manufacturers couldn’t make wrought iron in sufficiently large scale and so used cast iron. This is a more brittle material, and there are few surviving examples.

“The Braid Burn Bridge is made of four cast iron beams of a shape not known to remain in any other structure, so it was vital when the bridge needed to be raised and replaced as part of essential flood relief work, that it was done with enormous care. The contractors faced additional problems when they found that the beams had been bedded into cast iron sections on the bank and had rusted in. The ICE commendation is being made in recognition of the exceptional care the client and the contractors took in raising the bridge without damaging this important piece of engineering history.”

Framed certificates were presented to The City of Edinburgh Council, who commissioned the project, to Keith Rimmer, the Council’s Head of Transport and Engineer for the work, and to the Contractor, Harry Lynch. Drawings and photographs will be on display. The presentations was made by Sir William McAlpine Bt., of Sir Robert McAlpine Ltd who have sponsored the award, and Professor Roland Paxton of the School of the Built Environment, Heriot-Watt University and Chairman of the Institution’s Panel for Historical Engineering Works, on behalf of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

For further information or images of the work underway, please contact:

Professor Roland Paxton

tel: 0131 451 4422/3310

email R.A.Paxton@hw.ac.uk