A Civilisation Torn To Pieces

by Robert Fisk; The Independent; April 14, 2003


They lie across the floor in tens of thousands of pieces, the priceless antiquities of Iraq's history.The looters had gone from shelf to shelf, systematically pulling down the statues and pots and amphorae of the Assyrians and the Babylonians, the Sumerians, the Medes, the Persians and the Greeks and hurling them on to the concrete.


Our feet crunched on the wreckage of 5,000-year-old marble plinths and stone statuary and pots that had endured every siege of Baghdad, every invasion of Iraq throughout history - only to be destroyed when America came to "liberate" the city. The Iraqis did it. They did it to their own history, physically destroying the evidence of their own nation's thousands of years of civilisation.


Not since the Taliban embarked on their orgy of destruction against the Buddhas of Bamiyan and the statues in the museum of Kabul - perhaps not since the Second World War or earlier - have so many archaeological treasures been wantonly and systematically smashed to pieces.


"This is what our own people did to their history,"

the man in the grey gown said as we flicked our torches yesterday across the piles of once perfect Sumerian pots and Greek statues, now headless, armless, in the storeroom of Iraq's National Archaeological Museum. "We need the American soldiers to guard what we have left. We need the Americans here. We need policemen." But all that the museum guard, Abdul-Setar Abdul-Jaber, experienced yesterday was gun battles between looters and local residents, the bullets hissing over our heads outside the museum and skittering up the walls of neighbouring apartment blocks. "Look at this," he said, picking up a massive hunk of pottery, its delicate patterns and beautifully decorated lips coming to a sudden end where the jar - perhaps 2ft high in its original form - had been smashed into four pieces. "This was Assyrian." The Assyrians ruled almost 2,000 years before Christ.


And what were the Americans doing as the new rulers of Baghdad? Why, yesterday morning they were recruiting Saddam Hussein's hated former policemen to restore law and order on their behalf. The last army to do anything like this was Mountbatten's force in South-east Asia, which employed the defeated Japanese army to control the streets of Saigon - with their bayonets fixed - after the recapture of Indo-China in 1945.


A queue of respectably dressed Baghdad ex-cops formed a queue outside the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad after they heard a radio broadcast calling for them to resume their "duties" on the streets. In the late afternoon, at least eight former and very portly senior police officers, all wearing green uniforms - the same colour as the uniforms of the Iraqi Baath party - turned up to offer their services to the Americans, accompanied by a US Marine. But there was no sign that any of them would be sent down to the Museum of Antiquity.


But "liberation" has already turned into occupation.

Faced by a crowd of angry Iraqis in Firdos Square demanding a new Iraqi government "for our protection and security and peace", US Marines, who should have been providing that protection, stood shoulder to shoulder facing them, guns at the ready. The reality, which the Americans - and, of course, Mr Rumsfeld - fail to understand is that under Saddam Hussein, the poor and deprived were always the Shia Muslims, the middle classes always the Sunnis, just as Saddam himself was a Sunni. So it is the Sunnis who are now suffering plunder at the hands of the Shia.


And so the gun-fighting that broke out yesterday between property owners and looters was, in effect, a conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslims. By failing to end this violence - by stoking ethnic hatred through their inactivity - the Americans are now provoking a civil war in Baghdad.


Yesterday evening, I drove through the city for more than an hour. Hundreds of streets are now barricaded off with breeze blocks, burnt cars and tree trunks, watched over by armed men who are ready to kill strangers who threaten their homes or shops. Which is just how the civil war began in Beirut in 1975.


A few US Marine patrols did dare to venture into the suburbs yesterday - positioning themselves next to hospitals which had already been looted - but fires burnt across the city at dusk for the third consecutive day. The municipality building was blazing away last night, and on the horizon other great fires were sending columns of smoke miles high into the air.


Too little, too late. Yesterday, a group of chemical engineers and water purification workers turned up at the US Marine headquarters, pleading for protection so they could return to their jobs. Electrical supply workers came along, too. But Baghdad is already a city at war with itself, at the mercy of gunmen and thieves.


There is no electricity in Baghdad - as there is no water and no law and no order - and so we stumbled in the darkness of the museum basement, tripping over toppled statues and stumbling into broken winged bulls. When I shone my torch over one far shelf, I drew in my breath. Every pot and jar - "3,500 BC" it said on one shelf corner - had been bashed to pieces.


Why? How could they do this? Why, when the city was already burning, when anarchy had been let loose - and less than three months after US archaeologists and Pentagon officials met to discuss the country's treasures and put the Baghdad Archaeological Museum on a military data-base - did the Americans allow the mobs to destroy the priceless heritage of ancient Mesopotamia? And all this happened while US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld, was sneering at the press for claiming that anarchy had broken out in Baghdad.


For well over 200 years, Western and local archaeologists have gathered up the remnants of this centre of early civilisation from palaces, ziggurats and 3,000-year-old graves. Their tens of thousands of handwritten card index files - often in English and in graceful 19th-century handwriting - now lie strewn amid the broken statuary. I picked up a tiny shard.

"Late 2nd century, no. 1680" was written in pencil on the inside.


To reach the storeroom, the mobs had broken through massive steel doors, entering from a back courtyard and heaving statues and treasures to cars and trucks.


The looters had left only a few hours before I arrived and no one - not even the museum guard in the grey gown - had any idea how much they had taken. A glass case that had once held 40,000-year-old stone and flint objects had been smashed open. It lay empty. No one knows what happened to the Assyrian reliefs from the royal palace of Khorsabad, nor the 5,000-year-old seals nor the 4,500-year-old gold leaf earrings once buried with Sumerian princesses. It will take decades to sort through what they have left, the broken stone torsos, the tomb treasures, the bits of jewellery glinting amid the piles of smashed pots.


The mobs who came here - Shia Muslims, for the most part, from the hovels of Saddam City - probably had no idea of the value of the pots or statues. Their destruction appears to have been the result of ignorance as much as fury. In the vast museum library, only a few books - mostly mid-19th-century archaeological works - appeared to have been stolen or destroyed. Looters set little value in books.


I found a complete set of the Geographical Journal from 1893 to 1936 still intact - lying next to them was a paperback entitled Baghdad, The City of Peace - but thousands of card index sheets had been flung from their boxes over stairwells and banisters.


British, French and German archaeologists played a leading role in the discovery of some of Iraq's finest treasures. The great British Arabist, diplomatic schemer and spy Gertrude Bell, the "uncrowned queen of Iraq" whose tomb lies not far away from the museum, was an enthusiastic supporter of their work. The Germans built the modern-day museum beside the Tigris river and only in 2000 was it reopened to the public after nine years of closure following the 1991 Gulf War.


Even as the Americans encircled Baghdad, Saddam Hussein's soldiers showed almost the same contempt for its treasures as the looters. Their slit trenches and empty artillery positions are still clearly visible in the museum lawns, one of them dug beside a huge stone statue of a winged bull.


Only a few weeks ago, Jabir Khalil Ibrahim, the director of Iraq's State Board of Antiquities, referred to the museum's contents as "the heritage of the nation". They were, he said, "not just things to see and enjoy - we get strength from them to look to the future. They represent the glory of Iraq".


Mr Ibrahim has vanished, like so many government employees in Baghdad, and Mr Abdul-Jaber and his colleagues are now trying to defend what is left of the country's history with a collection of Kalashnikov rifles. "We don't want to have guns, but everyone must have them now," he told me. "We have to defend ourselves because the Americans have let this happen.

They made a war against one man - so why do they abandon us to this war and these criminals?"


Half an hour later, I contacted the civil affairs unit of the US Marines in Saadun Street and gave them the exact location of the museum and the condition of its contents. A captain told me that "we're probably going to get down there". Too late. Iraq's history had already been trashed by the looters whom the Americans unleashed on the city during their "liberation".


"You are American!" a woman shouted at me in English yesterday morning, wrongly assuming I was from the US.

"Go back to your country. Get out of here. You are not wanted here. We hated Saddam and now we are hating Bush because he is destroying our city." It was a mercy she could not visit the Museum of Antiquity to see for herself that the very heritage of her country - as well as her city - has been destroyed.


Looters return objects to museum

BAGHDAD: Prodded by imams and guilty conscience, residents here returned 20 looted pieces from Iraq's ransacked national collection holding some of the earliest artifacts of civilisation. 

Iraq's antiquities chief, Jabar Hilil, on Friday called looting of Iraq's national museum following entry of US forces the “crime of the century'' – and questioned why US forces hadn't moved to safeguard it in the days of chaos that followed the toppling of President Saddam Hussein's government. 

But Hilil left open the possibility the loss wasn't as absolute as first thought. 

With no electricity in Baghdad, he said, museum operators had yet to make a full assessment of the now-unlit underground vaults in which they had stashed many pieces for safekeeping as war came. Even in the dark, he said, it was clear the storage rooms had been breached. 

“We cannot say how many pieces were taken, but it is disastrous,'' Donny George, director-general of research for the state board of antiquities, told reporters in an impromptu press conference.  

Interpol and the FBI pledged to try to help recover the goods.  

They urged governments around the world to block any sale of the looted goods – citing Switzerland, the United States, Israel and Japan as the markets where smuggled art was most likely to surface. 

The museum is recognised as the Middle East's leading archaeological collection. 

It held thousands of years of fragile artworks and clay tablet inscriptions from the Tigris-Euphrates valley where many of mankind's innovations began. 

Items confirmed lost from the display galleries include an alabaster vase from 3200 B.C., bronze reliefs from 3500 B.C., and other ancient treasures of Assyrian, Sumerian and other early civilizations, Hilil said. –


'Earliest writing' found in China

By Paul Rincon

BBC Science


First attempt at writing .. on a tortoise shell

Signs carved into 8,600-year-old tortoise shells found in China may be the earliest written words, say archaeologists.

The symbols were written down in the late Stone Age, or Neolithic Age.

They predate the earliest recorded writings from Mesopotamia - in what is now Iraq - by more than 2,000 years.

The archaeologists say they bear similarities to written characters used thousands of years later during the Shang dynasty, which lasted from 1700-1100 BC.


But the discovery has already generated controversy, with one leading researcher in the field branding it "an anomaly".

The archaeologists have identified 11 separate symbols inscribed on the tortoise shells.

The shells were found buried with human remains in 24 Neolithic graves unearthed at Jiahu in Henan province, western China.


The character for 'eye', similar to inscriptions in the latest find

The site has been radiocarbon dated to between 6,600 and 6,200 BC.

The research was carried out by Dr Garman Harbottle, of the Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York and a team of archaeologists at the University of Science and Technology of China in Anhui province.

"What [the markings] appear to show are meaningful signs that have a correspondence with ancient Chinese writing," said Dr Harbottle.

The Neolithic markings include symbols that resemble the characters for "eye" and "window" and the numerals eight and 20 in the Shang script.

"If you pick up a bottle with a skull and crossbones on it, you know instantly that it's poison without the word being spelt out. We're used to signs that convey concepts and I wouldn't be surprised if that's what we're seeing here," Dr Harbottle added.


Writing discovery from gravesite dig

However, Professor David Keightley of the University of California, Berkeley, urged caution, particularly over the proposed link to the much later Shang script.

"There is a gap of about 5,000 years [between them]. It seems astonishing that they would be connected," said Professor Keightley.

He added that the link had to be proved more thoroughly.

But Dr Harbottle points to the persistence of sign use at different sites along the Yellow River throughout the Neolithic and up to the Shang period, when a complex writing system appears.

He emphasised that he was not suggesting the Neolithic symbols had the same meanings as Shang characters they resembled.

Professor Keightley added: "It's a puzzle and an anomaly; [the symbols] are remarkably early. We can't call it writing until we have more evidence."

Shaman rituals

He noted that there were signs the Neolithic culture at Jiahu may not have been complex enough to require a writing system.

But Professor Keightley did say that the signs appeared to be highly "schematised" or stylised. This is a feature of Chinese written characters.

Aggregations of small pebbles were found close to several of the tortoise shells.

The Jiahu researchers propose that the shells once contained the pebbles and were used as musical rattles in shamanistic rituals.

In one grave, eight sets of tortoise shells were placed above the skeletal remains of a man whose head was missing.

The shells come from graves where, in 1999, the researchers unearthed ancient bone flutes.

These flutes are the earliest musical instruments known to date.

The research is published in the journal Antiquity.


Jesus' Brother's "Bone Box" Closer to Being Authenticated

Hillary Mayell

for National Geographic News

April 18, 2003

Questions raised about the authenticity of a 2,000-year-old ossuary thought to have once held the bones of James, the brother of Jesus, may be a step closer to resolution.

The box bears the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus." It sparked a spate of controversy among biblical scholars and archaeologists when it was first reported in the November/December 2002 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review [see our October 21 story Burial Box May Be That of Jesus's Brother, Expert Says]. The authenticity of the ossuary itself was generally accepted, but many scholars questioned whether all or part of the inscription was a forgery.

"The artifact has since undergone further study at the Royal Ontario Museum, and passed all tests with flying colors," says Ben Witherington, a New Testament professor at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky, and co-author of The Brother of Jesus. The book, published March 18, describes the find itself, and what it tells us about biblical times and the origins of Christianity.


The ossuary is about 20 inches long, 10 inches wide, and 12 inches high. The image on top shows the inscription "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."


Photograph courtesy Biblical Archaeology Society


"The James ossuary is testimony to the fact that the people of the time had a strong belief in the resurrection of Jesus," said Witherington. "In antiquity, crucifixion was the most humiliating and dishonorable way to die, and people believed that how you died was a reflection on your character.

"If Jesus's life had simply ended in crucifixion, no one in their right mind would include his name—in a place of honor—on the box."

Following the Trail of the Bone Box

For a 90-year period, from 20 B.C. to A.D. 70, the Jewish burial custom was to place the body in a cave for a year or so and then retrieve the bones and put them in a bone box—ossuary—that could then be placed in a niche in the family tomb.

Several hundred such boxes from that era have been found, 215 of which have inscriptions. Only two boxes mention a brother.

"So far, with all the inscriptions we have, only one other has mentioned a brother," said Andre Lemaire, a paleographer at the Sorbonne University in Paris (École Pratique des Hautes Études). "It suggests the brother was also prominent, an important person."

Lemaire discovered the ossuary while examining the collection of Oded Golan, an engineer in Tel Aviv with a passion for relics from biblical times. Golan purchased the artifact from a Jerusalem-based dealer in the 1970s.

The artifact's lack of provenance raised doubts among some scholars. To antiquities specialists, knowing where something was originally found provides a wealth of clues that can be used to authenticate an object.

"The dealer who sold it was a man of questionable reputation who had a history of inappropriate dealings with various museums and government agencies," said Eric Meyers, an archaeologist at Duke University.

Meyers doesn't question whether the box is genuine and dates back to the first century. The box was originally tested in Israel by scientists at the Geological Survey Group, who judged it to be about 2,000 years old. But the inscription divides the believers and the non-believers.

"I'm more convinced than ever that the artifact has been tampered with, and that the part of the inscription that reads 'brother of Jesus' is a forgery inserted at a later date," Meyers said.

Witherington argues that the testing revealed a great deal about the provenance of the box.

"It is made of Jerusalem limestone from Mount Scopus, and the dirt encrusted in the inner walls comes quite specifically from a region in Jerusalem, consistent with the claim that this box came from Silwan, which is what the antiquities dealer originally told Oded Golan," he said.

Golan, he added, isn't sure which dealer sold him the box 30 years ago.

Two-Hand Theory

The doubts result from the fact that half of the inscription was cleaned at some point in time. The break comes at the word "brother," and the "brother of Jesus" part of the inscription also looks to be written in a slightly more cursive form than the beginning of the inscription. This gave rise to the idea that the inscription was carved by two different people.

"A non-professional lay person in Israel saw a photograph of the box and started to circulate her interpretation that it was a two-hand job," said Ed Keall, director of the Near Eastern and Ancient Civilization department of the Royal Ontario Museum.

The doubts, he said, spread like a contagious disease when reports of the find were first published.

"We looked over the box very carefully, and subjected it to analytical testing using a light polarizing microscope, ultraviolet light, a microscope with 60 times the magnification, and electron microscopy," said Keall.

"I'm very comfortable saying that the ossuary itself and the inscription are totally genuine and everything we found was consistent with considerable age. It's obvious someone had scrubbed the James part of the inscription," said Keall. "But it's like when you brush your teeth, no matter how hard you try to do a good job, there are always bits and pieces left. And that's true with the inscription; there are still bits and pieces left in the nooks and crannies, and they are consistent with the rest of the encrustation."

A conference of biblical scholars that took place in December at the Royal Ontario Museum allowed a large number of antiquities professionals to look at the box, and many were convinced of its authenticity, he said.

But not all. The wear and weathering on the two long sides of the box are significantly different, complicating the picture. The more weathered side has two rosettes carved into it, and some red paint. The side with the inscription is less weathered. Meyers argues that this is evidence that the inscription was carved at a later date.

There's a reasonable explanation for that, says Witherington.

"The majority of the work of building the temple in Jerusalem was finished by the time Jesus was a young child," he said. "So the stone masons moved into carving ossuaries. They didn't wait until someone died to carve a one-person adult box, which is what this is. They carved a number of them and then left them out in the yard, exposed to the elements, which in Jerusalem can be quite harsh. James was suddenly martyred in A.D. 62, and they couldn't afford an expensive one, so they bought one that had already been carved, had it inscribed, and placed it in a place protected from the elements."

Keall has an alternate explanation for the differences in weathering.

"I think the rosettes are on the front of the box, and the inscription on the back," he said. "When the box was placed in its niche in the cave it's conceivable that the front was subjected to more fluctuating conditions."

There will always be doubters.

"They've applied every possible test to it to determine its character and authenticity, but there will always be a cloud over it and there will always be those who doubt because it wasn't recovered in a legitimate archaeological dig," said P. Kyle McCarter, a paleographer at Johns Hopkins University. "But this is not an unusual situation. We get this a lot."


Ancient Gladiators Reclaim Rome for a Day

Tue April 22, 2003 08:37 AM ET

ROME (Reuters) - Hundreds of gladiators and warriors marched along Rome's ancient Appia Antica military road to the Colosseum on Monday to mark the city's 2,756th birthday.

"This is a triumphant parade like those that greeted emperors returning from conquering new territories," said "Nero," a Roman gladiator also known as Sergio Iacomoni.

"This is our passion, we've been working all year for this," said Iacomoni, dressed in hand-made leather sandals and surrounded by comrades in red tunics and metal helmets beating drums and bearing lances.

Iacomoni founded the Gruppo Storico Romano in 1994 which organized Monday's march. It attracted barbarians in animal pelts from France and Hungary to mark the anniversary of the mythological founding of Rome in 753 BC by Romulus and Remus.

"After almost 2,000 years, Rome is ours again," said Iacomoni, who founded a gladiator school for history buffs to learn ancient fighting arts. "If only for a day.


Experts recreate the Pompeii wine praised by Pliny

By Bruce Johnston in Pompeii

(Filed: 24/04/2003)

The ancient wine of Pompeii, once praised by Pliny, has been recreated for the first time since the town was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79.

The wine, a rich but rather tannin-imbued red named Villa dei Misteri after one of Pompeii's major sites, is the fruit of a 25-year project.

Experts said types of grapes grown in Roman times had been carefully selected to best suit Pompeii's soil and climatic conditions. The result is a wine made from two ancient strains, Piedirosso and Olivella, grown at four sites where vines were being cultivated when Vesuvius erupted.

Archaeological finds, plant breeding, frescos depicting vine cultivation and seeds and wine residues preserved on the site were all used to arrive at the final product.

"What we have achieved is the closest possible result to the wine once drunk by the ancients," said Prof Piero Mastroberardino, the wine expert in charge of the project.

Pier Giovanni Guzzo, Pompeii's archaeological superintendent, said: "Of course, it is impossible to know what the original wine tasted like. One thing is the description, and the other is the experience. Here we have the first but not the second."

Pliny, an accurate chronicler of events, said Pompeii's wines only fully matured after ageing for 10 years. The oenologists admitted that Villa dei Misteri's first proper harvest had been in 2001.

And at a tasting yesterday the first sips were met with an embarrassing silence. "Perhaps it is still a bit young," said one drinker thoughtfully.


Pompeii wine offers taste of ancient times

Wed Apr 23,11:44 AM ET  

By Estelle Shirbon


POMPEII, Italy (Reuters) - Some 2,000 years after Mount Vesuvius buried it in fire and ash, the ancient city of Pompeii has renewed a long-lost wine-making tradition.


Wine-makers on Wednesday presented a red tipple produced from native grape varieties, cultivated using ancient techniques in plots where vineyards thrived until the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD ended life in the city.

"The ancient world was not made up only of statues and objects we see in museums. It was made up of all the facets of daily life, and wine was an important one," said Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, archaeological director of Pompeii.

"This wine recreates one small part of what life was like in Pompeii before the eruption," he told a news conference in the heart of the ancient city, now thronged by thousands of tourists every day.

The ancient Pompeiians cultivated vineyards in the surrounding countryside as well as inside the city walls, in their gardens and courtyards, and their wines were traded far and wide. Amphoras bearing the insignia of Pompeii-based wine-makers have been found as far as France.

Archaeological and botanical studies, including the moulding of imprints left in the soil by vine roots, allowed modern wine-makers to identify where vineyards were located and what kinds of grapes were grown.

The frescoes and mosaics that adorn many of the houses of Pompeii also provided precious information about the ancient vineyards, with numerous images of vines and bunches of grapes helping archaeologists identify varieties.

Based on those findings, an experimental plot of 200 square metres inside the archaeological site was planted in 1996 with eight different types of native vines that were well-known to the ancient Pompeiians.


The modern wine-makers followed ancient techniques, with close rows of vines supported by stakes made of chestnut wood, planted in exactly the spots where they stood 2,000 years ago.

They eventually selected two varieties of grapes, the "Columbina Purpurea" and "Vitis Oleagina".

In 2001, a first substantial harvest provided wine-makers with enough grapes to produce 1,721 bottles of a wine that was named "Villa dei Misteri", after the "Villa of Mysteries", one of Pompeii's famous frescoed houses.

The wine will be sold at auction in Rome later this month, with all proceeds going to fund the restoration of an ancient wine cellar at one of the recreated vineyards.

As for the taste -- "Well, it's a newborn wine, it needs rounding-off," said Carla Capalbo, of monthly wine aficionado magazine Decanter.

"But it definitely has a character. You can taste the elements of the territory and the unusual grape varieties. They have found a balance between antique and modern."



Fort discovery solves a riddle of Roman Wales

Apr 24 2003

Steve Dubé Steve.Dube@Wme.Co.Uk, The Western Mail - The National Newspaper Of Wales

A PREVIOUSLY unknown Roman fort has been found by the National Trust at its showpiece attraction in Dine-fwr Park in Llandeilo.

The discovery has been hailed by archeologists as solving one of the oldest mysteries of Roman Wales - the fort's location - and creating several more.

"It's an amazing find and very exciting but there's a lot more to discover," said Gwilym Hughes, director of Cambria Archaeology.

"We have answered one unsolved mystery and created 101 others but it already greatly enhances our under-standing of the Roman occupation of Wales."

The discovery came when Cambria Archaeology was commissioned by the National Trust to undertake surveys of the parkland at Dinefwr to help gain a better understanding of the archaeological importance of the area.

Nothing is visible on the surface but a geophysical survey, using ground-penetrating techniques undertaken by the independent Stratascan Ltd revealed not one Roman fort but two, and evidence of a vicus, or civilian settlement, outside the fortress gates.

The earliest fort is huge and covers nearly four hectares - more than nine acres - the largest in Wales outside the Roman regional headquarters at Caerleon.

Mr Hughes says this suggests a much greater scale of resistance to the Roman invasion than previously recognised by historians.

"It was a campaigning fortress and a large military detachment would have been based there for several years while they were trying to subdue the local population," he said.

"It indicates that the local Demetae tribe did not meekly accept Roman rule. It was not the walkover that has previously been implied."

Mr Hughes believes the first fort was erected around 74AD, when the Romans also built a fort 15 miles to the west in Carmarthen.

"It was probably abandoned soon after the Romans had subdued the local population when the troops were needed somewhere else, perhaps in northern Britain and Hadrian's Wall or on the continent.

"But they then returned and built a smaller garrison fort, about half the size, and the survey shows the streets, buildings, entrances and palisades."

Mr Hughes thinks the second fort may have been abandoned around 120AD when the area was peaceful enough for the development of the town of Moridunum at Carmarthen.

"We have always suspected that there must be a Roman fort in Llandeilo because a lot of evidence pointed to that location but we never suspected it would be on such a scale," Mr Hughes said.


Norwick find may date from time of St Ninian's chapel

WHAT appears to be the remains of a medieval chapel and graveyard have been uncovered during extension work to the existing graveyard at Norwick in Unst.

According to Shetland's archaeologist Val Turner an early chapel site and what looks to be Norse or Viking graves were uncovered quite near to the surface last Thursday.

She said: "If it's what we think it is then it's potentially contemporary with St Ninian's chapel. Goodness knows what might be there. Amazingly it means that perhaps the modern graveyard could be the extension to this one."

Several objects have been found at the site including a Norse pot and pot lid and a net sinker or lid sinker made of soapstone. These items might even be from further afield than Shetland.

Geophysicists are due to arrive in Shetland at the weekend to carry out survey work on the site and then later archaeologists from Glasgow will come up to excavate several graves to determine whether or not there are any human remains contained within them.

It will be up for discussion whether the graveyard extension should be relocated or whether the site should be excavated later next week.

Ms Turner said the site could potentially be a very exciting find.

"It could be anything from the 10th, 11th or 12th centuries, but it could be later than that. By this time next week we will be a lot wiser."

© The Shetland Times Ltd.  18/4/2003




10:30 - 19 April 2003


Archaeologists working at a former car showroom have unearthed an 850-year-old carved dragon's head. The limestone head, which would have been painstakingly carved by hand by a medieval craftsman, would have adorned the arch around a window or door.


It was found during an excavation at the old Eastgate Motors building in Wragby Road, Lincoln, where a multi-million pound apartment block development is taking place.


Archaeologist Mark Allen correct said the head had lain buried at the site inside a kiln. "It is an exciting find. The carving is of excellent quality - very intricate," he said.


"It would probably have been on an internal structure, otherwise the limestone would have decayed more through contact with the elements.


"As it is, both it and the kiln have been very well preserved."


Mr Allen, project manager for Saxilby-based company Pre-construct Archaeology, is waiting for a report on soil found in the kiln that will help identify what it was used for.


The dig also yielded other historically interesting fragments.


"This site had an association with malting until the 19th century. But if the soil report shows grains of wheat chaffs, it could have been a bread oven," he added.


"We also found a silver coin, that we had to have x-rayed at the conservation laboratory at the Lincolnshire Archives.


"It is what is known as a short cross penny. The reason it had a cross on it was so it could be divided in halves or quarters easily."


The head was dated to the 12th century by Dr Catharine Richards, an expert in medieval architecture.


By comparing the style of the work to other artefacts, whose age was known, she was able to estimate the head as coming from between 1145 and 1155.


"Technically, the head is known as a hood-mould stop, and would have been on an arch, perhaps across a doorway or window," said Dr Richards.


"The site is next to where the former St Leonard's Church stood, so it is quite possible it could have come from there.


"But the craftwork is of such good quality that it may originally have come from a building of much higher status, such as Lincoln Cathedral."


If, as Mr Allen believes, the head was an internal feature, Dr Richards suggested it may have formed part of the decoration on a nave arcade.


Grimsby-based developer Cherry Tree Homes was ordered to carry out the survey as a condition of being granted planning permission for the apartments.


Now director James Collins is planning to give the dragon's head a permanent resting place.


"We would like to see it go on display at the apartments, once they are completed. One idea is to put it in a case in the foyer, with some of the other finds."