Britain's 'earliest' prehistoric cave art

By Dr David Whitehouse

BBC News Online science editor


Archaeologists have discovered the earliest known example of prehistoric cave art in Britain.


It consists of 12,000-year-old engravings of birds and an ibex carved into the stone walls at Creswell Crags, Derbyshire.

The identification was made by Paul Bahn and Paul Pettitt, with Spanish colleague Sergio Ripoll.

They report their findings in the journal Antiquity.

There are fine examples of cave art in France and Spain but none has been found in the UK - until now.

The British art is less impressive than the paintings found in continental caves. It is also substantially younger.


It is thought modern humans appeared in Europe around 45,000 years ago. Over a time span of about 15,000 years, they replaced the continent's then occupants, the Neanderthals.

The newcomers produced some remarkable works. The best of these are the stampeding horses and charging bulls painted at Lascaux and Chauvet in France, and at Altamira in Spain.


It is surprising that Palaeolithic cave art has not been identified in the UK before now because the British Isles was linked to the continent during this time and known to have been inhabited.

However, experts believe that most cave paintings would have been destroyed in Britain's damp climate.

The researchers examined the Creswell Crags because of previous Stone Age discoveries at that location. In the 19th Century a 12,000-year-old bone needle was found there.

Bahn, Pettitt and Ripoll say the engravings are of a style similar to the cave art of France and Spain.

Of the two birds carved on the wall of the cave, one might be a crane or swan, the other a bird of prey. The other engraving could be an ibex, an animal not thought to have existed in Britain.


Stonehenge's summer solstice goes ahead

English Heritage says it has a duty to protect the site

Tighter controls are planned for an expected 23,000 visitors to Stonehenge for the summer solstice.

New restrictions this year will mean visitors will not be able to get onto the site until 0200 BST and will be banned from bringing sleeping bags.

The stones will be open from 0200 BST to 12 noon on Saturday 21 June, and access will be free.

Visitors face random searches before entering the site.

Dr Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "We are very pleased to welcome people to Stonehenge to celebrate the summer solstice.

Conditions of entry

"We have set conditions of entry which are in accordance with our duty of care to the public and to Stonehenge."

Kevin Carlyon, a self-confessed white witch, told the BBC: "I can see where they are coming from.

"Plastic only is a good idea, for example, as people do try and scratch their initials into the stone with pens and so on."

English Heritage says drunken, disorderly or antisocial behaviour will not be tolerated and that only small amounts of alcohol for personal use will be permitted.

English Heritage reserves the right to refuse admission.


Ancient find under Norwich ground

News Headlines: Sport

Published: 16-Jun-03; 17:35


Archaeological discoveries at the stadium of Norwich City Football Club have delayed the building of a new stand, it has been announced.

Flint tools which could date back 12,000 years from the Upper Palaeolithic era have been found at Norwich's Carrow Road ground in Norfolk.

The club said its initial study of the site suggested an archaeological dig would not been needed before building work started on the stand, which will increase capacity by 3,000 seats.

Andrew Cullen, the Canaries' director of sales and marketing, said planning regulations mean the club has no choice but to let the dig carry on, pushing back the timescale by four weeks.

He said: "It is disappointing financially as we have to bear the costs of the dig.

"And the loss at each game is about 80,000 to 90,000 per match by not having those extra seats available.

"We have to stress that we have accepted where we are and have a good working relationship with the archaeologists and their team, and at the end of the day will have a stand that the club and supporters will be proud of."

Archaeologists have found a sand island surrounded by peat which extends under the riverside ground.

David Adams, project manager from Norfolk Archaeological Unit, said the clusters of flint tools found in this area were left by Mesolithic people from around 10,000 years ago, but experts said they could be 12,000 years old, from 10,000BC.

The tools were left by nomadic hunter-gatherers who would have used them for catching prey in the river valley such as reindeer when this glacial period was cold and harsh.

Mr Adams said the discoveries were rare, adding: "It's a very exciting find. It's older than we were hoping to find. Within Norfolk it is certainly very important and will probably be of national interest."

The archaeologists stressed their six-week dig would be finishing two weeks ahead of schedule.


'Jesus box' exposed as fake

Wednesday, June 18, 2003 Posted: 2103 GMT ( 5:03 AM HKT)


JERUSALEM -- A stone box touted as the oldest archaeological evidence of Jesus is, in fact, a well-crafted fake, Israeli archaeological experts say.

The box, an object known as an ossuary, was said to have contained the bones of Jesus' brother James.

Carved on one side is an inscription in the ancient language of Aramaic bearing the legend: "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus."

Officials with Israel's Antiques Authority announced Wednesday that while the box may date from the correct era, the inscription is a forgery added at a much later date.

"The inscription appears new, written in modernity by someone attempting to reproduce ancient written characters," the officials said in the statement.

They said that a panel of archeological experts had agreed unanimously with the findings.

The box first came to public attention in October last year when French archaeologist Andre Lemaire identified and translated the inscription.

Writing in the Biblical Archaeology Review last year Lemaire, an expert in ancient scripts, said it was "very probable" that the box belonged to Jesus' brother James. (Evidence of Jesus?)

However, after months of detailed examination of the box and the inscription the team of Israeli experts concluded that the finding was incorrect.

"The ossuary is real. But the inscription is fake," the director of Israel's Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, told Reuters.

"What this means is that somebody took a real box and forged the writing on it, probably to give it a religious significance," Dorfman added.

The committee said another indication that the box was not all it was claimed to be was that the stone from which it was hewn was more likely to have originated in Cyprus or northern Syria than ancient Israel.

However, Oded Golan, the Israeli owner of the "James ossuary," dismissed the findings.

"I am certain the ossuary is real, I am certain that the committee is wrong regarding its conclusions," he said.

Golan had earlier said he had problems with the committee and its methods of investigation saying they had "preconceived notions."

He said he had bought the ossuary in the mid-1970s from a dealer in the Old City of Jerusalem for about $200, but he was unable to remember the dealer's name.

Ossuaries were commonly used by Jewish families between 20 B.C. and A.D. 70 to store the bones of their loved ones

While most scholars agree that Jesus existed, no physical evidence from the first century has ever been conclusively tied with his life.


Riddle of Colossal flooding solved

How Rome relived sea battles, writes SHAN ROSS

THE mystery of the flooded amphitheatre has puzzled historians and scientists for almost 2000 years. But now an Edinburgh engineer has come up with a theory for how Emperor Titus flooded the Colosseum in Rome at its opening in 80AD.

A crowd of 87,000 cheering citizens and slaves had watched gladiators battle to the death in the arena that stood at the heart of the Roman empire. More than 5000 animals had been killed for sport.

But the highlight of the 100-day inauguration was a series of naval battles re-enacted in the Colosseum, according to Cassius Dio, chronicler of ancient Rome, who said: "Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land. He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians."

His account left historians with a colossal question, only now answered by Martin Crapper, lecturer in civil and environmental engineering at Edinburgh University : Was the giant arena flooded to stage the mock sea battles - known as naumachiae -or were the naval re-enactments actually staged elsewhere in Rome?

Academics have long argued that holding sea battles at the Colosseum was impossible due to the underground tunnels used to spirit wild animals, slaves and gladiators to different parts of the arena.

Tales of thousands of slaves and convicts drowning in the sea battles with ships built to scale were told by Latin poets such as Martial, but were dismissed as sycophantic works of fantasy written to enhance the reputation of the emperor.

However, Dr Crapper believes he has solved the puzzle of the flooded Colosseum.

His theories have been tested by a team of experts assembled by the American ABC Discovery Channel.

Programme makers and archaeologists from the University of California spent a year creating a virtual reality simulation Colosseum to assess the logistical problems involved.

Dr Crapper said the first challenge was to determine if it was possible to blast the millions of gallons of water needed for the sea battles into the Colosseum.

"It's purely speculation but I believe a timber structure could have been used to transport water from the main aqueduct. However, the real constraints were not moving the water but ensuring it could flow through a series of inlet wells and concentric pipes beneath the seating area to actually reach the arena," he said.

After detailed research, Dr Crapper was able to prove it was possible for the sluice gates to be closed off and for water pressure to reach the correct level for the arena to be flooded by four million gallons of water to a depth of five feet within seven hours.

Other members of the research team used X-ray imaging to prove waterproof material had been used in some parts of the underground structure. Further work uncovered 18 sunken blocks used to hold wooden props which held up the arena's floor and which could be removed to allow the area to be used for both gladiatorial battles and naumachiae.

- June 18th



10:30 - 14 June 2003


County: A metal detector user has unearthed a rare Roman military artefact in a field. Hadge Winstanley discovered the bronze belt-slide while surveying an area east of Lincoln.


Adam Daubney, the county's finds liaison officer, said the artefact was very important in terms of information.


He added: "The belt-slide dates to the very end of the Roman occupation of Britain, around AD 400 to 410, and as far as we can tell, it is only the second of its type to be found in the country.


"What is more interesting is that this type of artefact was 'official issue' - only the military would have had them."


To find out what kinds of archaeology have been unearthed in your parish, log on to www.finds.org.uk .


Rolling Stone helps uncover history

June 19, 2003 01:00


ROLLING Stone Bill Wyman has been making rock history for the past five decades now he is helping uncover some.


The Suffolk superstar, who lives in Gedding, near Stowmarket, has allowed a team of archaeologists into his fifteenth century moated manor for the first time.


Parts of the 66-year-old rocker's vast estate have been excavated to reveal the history lying beneath.


The work was carried out as part of the Channel Four television series, Time Team.


The guitarist, a founder member of the Rolling Stones, said: "I always watch the Time Team, having been interested in archaeology for 40 years.


"It's great that the programme has helped introduce so many new people to a subject that used to be seen as stuffy."


Filming for the show took place on May 31 and it is set to be screened on Channel Four next week as part of the Time Team Big Dig.


Large parts of land close to the Tudor mansion were excavated during the show, although it is not being revealed if anything was discovered.


Mike Haugh, estate manager at Gedding Hall, which was built in 1491, said:


"Time Team want to come back and there's obviously lots of history here and it went really well.


"Bill enjoyed it as well and was with them most of the time. That's his interest and he's been doing it for years. We've had discovery people here before and he's really into it."


Mr Wyman, who has lived in Gedding Hall for the past 34 years, is currently writing a book about the history of the Gedding, the hall and its surrounding area.


Mr Haugh, who has been estate manager for five years, said: "Bill has been interested in history for years and he wanted to write a book about the local area.


"He's been writing it on and off for several years."


Mr Wyman, who lives with his wife, Suzanne Accosta, and children, Katie, eight, Jessie, seven, and Matilda, five, is currently in London pursuing business interests but spends most of his time in Suffolk.


He is now involved in a new band, Rhythm Kings, which was formed in 1997 following his split from the Stones in 1993.


He is also promoting his recently released book, Rolling with a Stone, which chronicles the history of the band.





Erotic royal seal shows Anglo-French entente was once extremely cordiale

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

15 June 2003


A semi-pornographic royal seal, discovered in a field in East Anglia, is providing historians and archaeologists with vital clues to the life of one of the Dark Ages' most bizarre celebrities.

Queen Balthild is now thought to have been born an Anglian aristocrat, who was then sold into slavery. She married the King of the Franks, became a ruthless ruler and murderer, but was finally made a saint before she died.

With her somewhat intimidating name - Balthild means literally "Bold Battle" in Anglo-Saxon - she has long been an enigma to scholars of Dark Age history. But the discovery, by a metal-detector enthusiast, of her royal seal matrix buried in a field in East Anglia is shedding new light on her extraordinary story.

The gold seal matrix, which was originally attached to a ring, is one of the most important Dark Age artefacts ever found in Britain. On one side is a human face with her name inscribed around it in Frankish form. On the other side are two naked figures thought to portray Balthild and her husband, the Frankish (French) king, having sex. The respectable side, according to this month's BBC History magazine, was used to seal official documents, while the reverse was no doubt used to seal more private correspondence between royal husband and wife.

An analysis of her name suggests that Balthild was a member of one of the Anglian (rather than Saxon) tribes and therefore almost certainly came from an Anglian area, namely Suffolk or Norfolk.

Second, the field in which the seal matrix was found - just a few miles east of Norfolk's county town, Norwich - has been yielding further Anglo-Saxon finds, suggesting that the matrix came from a long-vanished settlement, conceivably associated with her descendants.

Reconstructing Balthild's early life has long been a challenge to scholars, but new research now suggests that she was born around 627 and that she may well have been connected in some way to the last pagan king of East Anglia, a usurper called Ricberht who was ousted by his Christian rival Sigabert, the rightful heir to the throne, with French help. The victorious Sigabert (whose name, aptly, means "Shining Victory") had invaded East Anglia after spending several years at the court of the Frankish king.

As a young girl, Balthild was sent to the same French royal court as a slave - perhaps as a relative of the defeated Ricberht.

She joined the household of the king's chief administrator, Erchinoald, whose unwanted sexual overtures she rapidly learnt to resist. Just as well - for she soon met the French king, Clovis II. The pair appear to have fallen for each other and were married in 648. They had three sons, each of whom later became a Frankish king.

In 657 Clovis died, and Balthild took over as regent until her son came of age. By all accounts she was a ruthless ruler: as part of a continuing struggle with the church, she seems to have been responsible for the murder of at least nine French bishops. When her son Clothar came of age in 664, Balthild's rule ended - and she was virtually imprisoned in a convent. There she dedicated herself to a life of unexpected piety until her death in 680.

The wedding present from Clovis - the royal seal ring - must have been one of her most treasured and intimate possessions. How it ended up in a field near Norwich is a mystery. But it is conceivable that it was returned to her East Anglian family estate after her death. An analysis of all the other finds from the field - brooches, a finger ring, a pendant, belt fittings - does indeed hint that a high-status Anglo-Saxon residence once stood on the site.

For Dr Andrew Rogerson, a leading archaeologist at Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service, which has recorded all the finds from the area, the seal is simply "the most extraordinary single object" he has ever examined.



When you're in a hole...

Channel 4's The Big Dig, asking us all to become archaeologists, seemed a great wheeze - until the professionals got wind of it.

Rupert Smith reports

Monday June 16, 2003

The Guardian


When Channel 4 announced its plans for a mass-participation archaeology event, the archaeological establishment went into fits. Rumours started to circulate about the scale of the event (there would, it was claimed, be 10,000 holes across the country). Concerns were raised about the pillaging of our heritage; reckless spades could rip through contexts that needed to be lovingly explored with tweezers and brush. There was much tutting about the dumbing down of archaeology by people who presumably look down their noses at Time Team. In short, the profession was in a huff.

In March, Big Dig producer Philip Clarke convened a meeting with the main professional bodies concerned, including English Heritage and the Institute of Field Archaeologists, in order to draw up guidelines for the event. A set of rules was drawn up, obliging participants to register and adhere to certain limitations regarding the size of the hole and the recording of any finds. Everyone seemed happy. Well, almost everyone.

"Even though the official bodies were on board, a coterie of archaeologists were still opposed to the whole project," says Philip Clarke. "They decided to raise as many obstacles as possible. There were attempts to block our access to the Sites and Monuments Register, where you're obliged to register any dig."

Now that everyone has been reassured, the project is going ahead with the blessing of all and sundry (although, says Clarke, there are "varying degrees of enthusiasm" from different quarters). Two thousand people registered to dig test pits in their gardens, school playgrounds, football pitches and so on; after a rigorous sifting process, The Big Dig now consists of just over 1,000 sites across the country that will be monitored and supervised by a network of participating archaeologists.

It's a simple proposition: participants dig a test pit, one metre square, 60cm deep, and report on what they find. Beneath the topsoil, there could be some interesting stratigraphy - and almost anything could turn up. Clarke is expecting plenty of Victorian pottery at the higher levels, but below that there could well be 18th-century clay pipes, Tudor pottery and glass; medieval and even Saxon remains at deeper levels. "About eight inches down you could get 'black earth', which is a sure sign of Saxon habitation: it's a mixture of rotten wood and pig shit. Below that I'm hoping we'll find some Roman coins. A brooch would be wonderful."

It's this sort of enthusiastic talk that sets alarm bells ringing in the archaeological establishment, where there is understandable concern about the damage that can be wrought by "treasure hunters". "We're at great pains to promote a responsible attitude to amateur archaeology," says David Miles, chief archaeologist at English Heritage. "The treasure-hunt mentality is all about finds, not context; it's that Indiana Jones idea of charging in and ripping out anything valuable. That's not just worthless, it's damaging."

English Heritage have kept a beady eye on The Big Dig; when the project's website tried to entice people with heavy use of the word "treasure", EH were quick to demand changes. "They've co-operated with us completely," says Miles. "They've allowed us to monitor their pilot projects, and they've welcomed our input to the guidelines for the dig, so we're absolutely satisfied that this is a properly controlled exercise that can only be beneficial."

So why the professional resistance to The Big Dig? "There were legitimate concerns that it would overburden local authority archaeologists," says Miles, "but beyond that some archaeologists are very stick-in-the-mud; they think you have to have a PhD before you're allowed anywhere near a pit. That's not my view, and it's not English Heritage's view. Archaeology relies to a great extent on enthusiastic amateurs, and if we can temper that enthusiasm with an informed, responsible approach, it's great for the profession."

All major digs depend on a labour force of sweaty hobbyists. "There's a school of thought that says that 'archaeology' can only be done by archaeologists," says Clarke. "These people were offended by us calling The Big Dig archaeology at all. Even though we've reassured them that this is a regulated exercise, they're still a bit sniffy. I can understand their desire to protect the heritage; what I can't accept is their desire to curb interest in their subject."

English Heritage takes a more enlightened view. "We have to fire people's enthusiasm; that's the surest way of safeguarding historical sites for the future," say David Miles. "If people get interested, then they start to care - and those people really look after our ancient sites and report any damage. I started off in this profession as a schoolboy, digging a hole in my back garden and finding a clay pipe and a bit of willow-pattern plate. That's what The Big Dig is all about: it's not a full-scale excavation of an archaeological site, it's a simulation of a dig that will get people to think like archaeologists. I hope a few people get the bug; they're the future for our profession."

"The trouble with TV is that it has to get ratings," says Miles, "and if you want ratings, you have to do some marketing. Marketing people know what sells and what they're peddling is a simplified, sensational view. We weren't too happy with some of the trailers for The Big Dig, which showed a woman going down into a pit and coming back up waving Excalibur."

It is not the first time academics have found themselves at odds with television. Every time David Starkey and Simon Schama present their historical blockbusters, the academics cringe at their crudely dramatic presentation. It's a curiously ungracious reaction because television is the surest way of reaching new audiences and generating interest for your subject. The Big Dig, by getting people to trade in their TV remotes for trowels, will make archaeology "sexy" - and that, as anyone who has ever drunk with this largely bearded profession will tell you, is little short of a miracle.

The Big Dig starts on 22 June