Troops 'vandalise' ancient city of Ur

Ed Vulliamy

Sunday May 18, 2003

The Observer


One of the greatest wonders of civilisation, and probably the world's most ancient structure - the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Iraq - has been vandalised by American soldiers and airmen, according to aid workers in the area.

They claim that US forces have spray-painted the remains with graffiti and stolen kiln-baked bricks made millennia ago. As a result, the US military has put the archaeological treasure, which dates back 6,000 years, off-limits to its own troops. Any violations will be punishable in military courts.

Land immediately adjacent to Ur has been chosen by the Pentagon for a sprawling airfield and military base. Access is highly selective, screened and subject to military escorts, which - even if agreed - need to be arranged days or weeks in advance and carefully skirt the areas of reported damage.

There has been no official response to the allegations of vandalism - reported to The Observer by aid workers and one concerned US officer.

Ur is believed by many to be the birthplace of the prophet Abraham. It was the religious seat of the civilisation of Sumer at the dawn of the line of dynasties which ruled Mesopotamia starting about 4000 BC. Long before the rise of the Egyptian, Greek or Roman empires, it was here that the wheel was invented and the first mathematical system developed. Here, the first poetry was written, notably the epic Gilganesh, a classic of ancient literature.

The most prominent monument is the best preserved ziggurat - stepped pyramid - in the Arab world, initially built by the Sumerians around 4000 BC and restored by Nebuchadnezzar II in the sixth century BC.

The Pentagon has elected to build its massive and potentially permanent base right alongside the site, so that the view from the peak of the ziggurat - more or less unchanged for 6,000 years - will be radically altered.

Each hour, long convoys of trucks heave gravel and building materials through checkpoints and the barbed wire perimeter extends daily.

There are reports that walls have been damaged by spray-painted graffiti, mostly patriotic or other slogans, and regimental mottos. One graffiti reads: 'SEMPER FE' - Always Faithful - the motto of the Marines, who stormed through this region on their way to Baghdad, and form a contingent at the base.

Other reports by groups who cannot be named for fear of losing access to medical patients being treated on the base say there has been widespread stealing of clay bricks baked to build and restore the structures at Ur.

The Army Public Affairs office at Ur refused to speak to The Observer.


Six bodies unearthed near Stonehenge

Thursday, May 22, 2003 Posted: 1454 GMT (10:54 PM HKT)


LONDON (AP) -- Archaeologists who last year unearthed the remains of a Bronze Age archer at Stonehenge said this week that they have found six more bodies near the mysterious ring of ancient monoliths.

The remains of four adults and two children were found about half a mile from that of the archer, dubbed "The King of Stonehenge" by Britain's tabloid press. Archaeologists said he came from Switzerland and may have been involved in building the monument.

Radiocarbon tests will be done to find out more precise dates for the burials but the group is believed to have lived around 2300 B.C., during the building of Stonehenge at Amesbury, 75 miles southwest of London, said Wessex Archaeology, which excavated the site.

The latest bones discovered are about the same age of those of the archer, said Wessex Archaeology.

"This new find is really unusual. It is exceptionally rare to find the remains of so many people in one grave like this in southern England," said Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology on Wednesday.

"The grave is fascinating because we are seeing the moment when Britain was moving from the Stone Age into the Bronze Age, around 2300 B.C."

Wessex Archaeology said it is possible the bones are those of people from different generations, as the grave seems to have been reopened to allow further burials.

The grave contained four pots belonging to the Beaker Culture that flourished in the Swiss Alps during the Bronze Age, some flint tools, one flint arrowhead and a bone toggle for fastening clothing, Wessex Archaeology said.

The large number of bodies placed in this grave is something more commonly found in the Stone Age, but the Beaker style pottery is characteristic of Bronze Age burials.

The archer was identified by the flint arrowheads found by his body. Archaeologists said some 100 artifacts found in his exceptionally rich grave, discovered about three miles from Stonehenge, indicate he was a man of stature and likely involved in constructing the monument.

Although the indigenous British originally came from mainland Europe, they settled thousands of years before the arrival of the archer, who clearly belonged to a different culture, marked by a new style of pottery, the use of barbed flat arrow heads, copper knives and small gold ornaments.

His grave contained teeth and bones as well as two gold hair tresses, three copper knives, flint arrowheads, wrist guards and pottery. The copper knives came from Spain and France. The gold dated to as early as 2470 B.C., the earliest dated gold objects found in Britain.


Race to rescue vital slice of Roman past

May 19 2003

By Rachel Newton Daily Post Staff


ARCHAEOLOGISTS are to embark on one of the biggest excavations of Chester city centre.

Plans have been drawn up for a project lasting up to three years to determine what lies beneath a large area centred on Northgate Street.

The site is believed to guard some of the city's richest archaeological remains but has never been fully excavated.

Experts hope it will help them to piece together the clearest picture yet of Roman Chester.

The project will ensure important archaeological remains are not lost when work starts on the £200m scheme to redevelop the Northgate area.

The site was once occupied by the north western quarter of a Roman fortress founded in 70 AD.

Mike Morris, head of archaeology at Chester City Council, said: "The site is one of the most important archaeologically in the whole of Chester.

"We already have a good idea of what is there from previous digs which have unearthed evidence of soldier barracks and also Saxon remains. We believe large parts of important remains survive.

"We know the fortress was not just a single phase of building - it was demolished and rebuilt several times so we expect to find structural remains and possibly roads and drains.

"We may discover walls with decorated plaster and artefacts, maybe even weapons. It will give us a better idea of who occupied these buildings and what life was like in Roman Chester."

The city's archaeological team has worked closely with the developers behind the Northgate scheme, ING Real Estate.

More than 20 trench test digs have been carried out across the site to identify areas of potential archaeological interest.

Excavations will begin next year, before foundations are laid or any demolition takes place.

The main digs will concentrate on Princess Street and the bowling green at Hunter Street. Smaller scale excavations will take place elsewhere.

Minor finds will be raised from the ground but the team plans to leave any major discoveries undisturbed.

"The safest place for archaeological remains is underground where they are protected from the elements," said Mr Morris.

"The city's policy means all areas of historical importance will be protected and preserved before development starts.

"We will also work with the developers if necessary to try to ensure any remains which stay underground can be viewed by the public."

The city centre redevelopment is due to be completed by 2008 and takes in a 4.5 hectare site around Northgate Street.

It will signal the demolition of many landmark buildings, including the Forum shopping centre and market hall, which will be replaced.

The scheme will add 450,000sq ft of retail space, swelling Chester's retail core by about one third with 76 new shops.


Police seek out Roman potter

A police fingerprint expert has been helping archaeologists track the work of a 1st Century Roman potter.

David Goodwin, head of Northamptonshire Police's Fingerprint Bureau, was drafted in to help prove fragments of pottery found in London were cast by the same man.

A ceramics specialist at the Museum of London, approached the police for help after discovering prints on the ancient Roman relics.

It is thought to be the first time that criminal fingerprinting techniques have been used to assist an archaeological dig.

I think David was disappointed because as a fingerprint expert, he is used to dealing in certainties, but in archaeology, there are no certainties


Mr Goodwin said: "It was very interesting for me to look at such an old item and broaden my experience of the history of fingerprints.

"The oldest fingerprints I knew of previously dated back to the 16th Century."

He studied images of the nine pieces of pottery, but was unable to determine how many people were involved in making the items.

'Results frustrating'

"Because the detail on the marks is quite poor, all we can say is that on two of the pieces, the prints looked similar," said Mr Goodwin.

Archaeologist Charlotte Thompson, of the museum, had hoped to discover whether the pottery had been made by one person, or by a group of potters working under a single name.

She said: "The results were quite frustrating, but I can see there is quite a lot of potential for the technique to be used on pottery if there was a bigger sample.

"I think David was disappointed because as a fingerprint expert, he is used to dealing in certainties, but in archaeology, there are no certainties."


Ancient civilisation discovered in the Nicaraguan jungle

Organisation: Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona

Release Date: 16 May 2003


A team of archaeologists from the Universitat AutÚnoma de Barcelona (UAB), the Universidad Nacional Autůnoma de Nicaragua (UNAN-Managua), and the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones CientŪficas (CSIC) have found strong archaeological evidence for the existence of a previously unknown prehistoric civilisation in the jungle on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua. The find, which includes the discovery of petroglyphs and unusual centres of monolith production and distribution, could extend the geographical limits of the process that gave rise to the cities of the Mayan civilisation. However, this newly discovered civilisation disappeared suddenly some 1,600 years ago





Kayaker discovers ancient canoe in May River

BLUFFTON: State archaeologist says dugout could date to 1700s; more studies planned.

By Rob Dewig

Carolina Morning News


Ben Turner was looking for birds. He found a canoe, instead.


Turner makes his living leading kayak tours of the May River, and had passed the canoe without seeing it dozens of times on his leisurely bird-watching trips around the river's mouth. He's not sure what drew his eye when he finally, really, saw it.


"All I knew was it wasn't a natural thing sticking out of the mud," he said. "It wasn't an oyster bank."


What it is, a state archaeologist says, is a dugout canoe, at least 80 years old. It could be far older, centuries older. In any case, it's one of only about 30 dugouts discovered and documented anywhere in the state.


The canoe juts from the bank of a saltwater creek near the mouth of the May River, poking out perhaps four feet above the level of the lowest tide. It's easy to see once, like Turner, you finally see it. But a passing boater would likely brush it off as a funny-shaped mudbank.


Lynn Harris, an underwater archaeologist with the Maritime Research Division of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, says its exact location should not be revealed to discourage looters.


Turner showed Harris the canoe during low tide a few days ago, but couldn't get her right up to it without a board or something to keep from sinking in the mud. Harris was able to confirm from the boat that it was a dugout, and an old one, but couldn't tell anything else about it.


She'd planned to visit again on Thursday, but was delayed by traffic in Charleston and was unable to reach Bluffton during the brief period of time when the dugout is exposed each day. So Turner went out himself to see what he could learn and pass on to Harris, who now plans to come back for further study.


Here's what Turner saw, and learned:


About three feet of the canoe juts from the bank, its curved bottom readily visible beneath the pluff mud. A piece of the boat's side lay beside it, likewise covered in mud.


After he brushed the mud off, he found the canoe's interior to be smooth, with visible grooves from whatever tools made it. The canoe was soft to the touch and crumbled readily.


Several perfectly round holes were visible in the plank at the canoe's side. They went completely through it and were not natural.


Using a metal probe, he was able to determine that the canoe was buried far beneath the mudbank. His probe could not find its far end. He said the remainder under the mud was probably well-preserved, since there's no oxygen under pluff mud. That could explain the rapid decay of the exposed parts.


Harris, who makes a living studying the things, said the canoe was probably historic, meaning made since Europeans first settled the area. That doesn't mean it was made by Europeans, however.


She said it could have been made by Native American or African American slaves, or by European carpenters, or even by your great-great-grandfather anytime from the late 1600s to the 1930s.


"Who can tell? All we can do is speculate," she said


Harris explained that the smooth bottom, together with the holes its creator drilled to determine the hull's depth, point to its "historic" - as opposed to prehistoric - creation. The holes were probably once plugged with dowels that have since deteriorated.


Turner doesn't really care how old it is. He's calling it Ben's Boat - Harris said that, as its discoverer, he had the right to name it - and admits it's been tough to keep its location secret from his friends.


"I'm so stoked about this. It's hard to keep quiet about it," he said. "I'm like, 'You've got to see my boat, you've got to see my boat.'"


Maybe someday you'll be able to, should Harris determine its preservation to be possible. She plans to study it further, hopefully next week.


Where can you see them?


The precise location of the dugout canoe discovered recently near the mouth of the May River will not be made public to preserve it from souvenir hunters. But Lynn Harris, an underwater archaeologist with the Maritime Research Division of the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology, says about 30 dugouts and ancient canoes have been documented in the state, but only the following have been preserved.


The Horry County Museum. The so-called Springmaid Beach canoe was washed out of a beach during a storm in 1989. It was recovered and is on display in the museum. It was shaped by saws and adzes and therefore probably not made by Native Americans. It is 12 feet long and 3 feet wide.


Old Santee Canal Park in Moncks Corner. An ancient canoe is on display at the park, but no dates for its creation are given.


Charleston Museum. Two historic boats, the 29-foot "Bessie" and the 28-foot "Accommodation," are on display, but both are far bigger than most canoes and aren't dugouts, meaning made from one log.


The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia. This canoe is only half-finished, apparently abandoned by its Native American builders when it cracked in a critical location. It was recovered in the Waccamaw River. It is 14 feet long and 3 feet wide.


Reporter Rob Dewig can be reached at 837-5255, ext. 107 or by e-mail at rdewig@lowcountrynow.com


Flora MacDonald excavations reveal the finer things of life



EXCAVATIONS at the birthplace of Flora MacDonald, the Scottish heroine who saved Bonnie Prince Charlie, have revealed that poverty-stricken Highland farmers aped the finery of English high society.

In the decades around the time of the clearances, many Highland farmers lived in deprivation in windowless "black" houses made of stones and turf with earth or peat floors.

However, archaeological work at the old MacDonald home on South Uist has recovered fancy English and Chinese export pottery used for ostentatious display and taking tea.

The finds suggest that Scottish farmers mimicked some aspects of English culture and corroborates later observations made by Samuel Johnson who, when he visited MacDonald on the Isle of Skye, noted houses with high-quality furnishings but floors of waterlogged earth.

James Symonds, executive director of Archaeological Research and Consultancy (ARCUS) at the University of Sheffield, summarised the research in a new study of Highland Scots and emigration.

The farmers' "conspicuous consumption" appears to have left the traditional house structure little changed with many spending what wealth they could in the form of portable objects like fine china, linen, and silver.

When Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in South Uist in June 1746 after his defeat at the battle of Culloden, a young Flora Macdonald rowed him over the sea to Skye and earned her place in Scottish legend.

The Flora Macdonald Project is centred upon Milton, the town founded in the early eighteenth century where MacDonald, the heroine of the '45 rebellion, was born.

Work has been going on at the site for the past eight years and archaeologists aim to look at the settlement from the time of the clearances right through until emigration was well established to places such as Canada.

Life of a heroine

Flora was born in Milton, South Uist, one of the Outer Hebridean Islands to the west of Skye in 1722.

She was brought up on Skye and attended school in Sleat and then Edinburgh.

She married Allan MacDonald of Kingsburgh before emigrating to North Carolina in 1774. She died in 1790.