7,000-year-old statue discovery 'is first male fertility symbol'

By Hannah Cleaver in Berlin

(Filed: 23/08/2003)


Archaeologists in Germany have found what they believe is the oldest male statue discovered in Europe, dating back 7,000 years to the Neolithic period. Previously only female statues have been known.

The statue, dubbed the Adonis of Zschernitz, was found on Monday during work on a gas pipe outside the town of Zschernitz, near the Polish border.

Only the torso, from around the navel to the top of the thighs, remains intact.

Judith Oexle, state archaeologist for the state of Saxony, said the piece, which has been presented to archaeologists in Dresden, measured 3in. "We think the figure was originally 25cms [10in] tall," she said.

The figure's genitals are oversized, suggesting that it was made as a fertility statue, she added.

"If so, this would force a re-think of Neolithic theory, as until now it was thought only women were seen as fertility symbols."

Miss Oexle added that she believed it was created by farmers who settled middle Europe during the Stone Age.

The Adonis also has deliberate cuts along its bottom, which, Miss Oexle said, are not indications of clothing but probably represent tattoos, at these have been seen on other figurines from the period.

The statue will go on public display in Dresden next month.



Ancient stone circle discovered

An ancient stone circle, buried for thousands of years, has been uncovered by archaeologists at a site in the Outer Hebrides.

Experts say the discovery is second in importance only to Stonehenge.

The find was made close to the four other existing stone circles at the famous standing stones of Callanish, on the Isle of Lewis.

The discovery of the 30m circle - which is at least 3,000 years old and predates Stonehenge - was made by a team of archaeologists from Manchester University.

Their construction is unusual because instead of being bedded in earth, they are situated on a rocky outcrop and were originally propped up by stones encircling their bases.

Because they were propped up when built, the stones have fallen over and some are broken.

Colin Richards, who led the team, said the discovery was exciting, because it appeared the circle was built on the site of the quarry from which the stones probably originated.

There are not many stone circles in this condition and I have never seen this type of construction used before Colin Richards, Manchester University

Mr Richards, who is senior lecturer in the university's School of Art History and Archaeology, has been working on a project for the last two years on the construction of stone circles in the north west of the UK, including Orkney and Arran.

"There are not many stone circles in this condition and I have never seen this type of construction used before," he said.

"It was long thought that there may be a further stone circle on the site but, until now, it has lain undiscovered, buried in the peat.

"This is a very exciting find and is not only significant in archaeological terms but also important for the island which benefits from tourism."

The team has uncovered about half of the stones in the circle and plans to return next year to uncover the rest.



Roman foot reveals fashion blunder

By CNN's Sandra Shmueli

Tuesday, August 26, 2003 Posted: 2145 GMT ( 5:45 AM HKT)

LONDON, England (CNN)


Roman society may be described as one of the great civilizations but an excavation of a Roman site in London shows the Romans lacked a sense of style.

Archaeologists unearthed a life-size bronze foot from a statue that appears to be wearing a sock and a sandal.

The foot was discovered last month during a year-long excavation of a temple precinct at a site in Southwark, south London.

"The foot is wearing a Mediterranean-type sandal but the piece that would normally go between the big toe and the second toe is stretched. There are no details of toenails which also suggests that the foot was covered," said Nansi Rosenberg, senior archeological consultant at E.C. Harris, which is managing the excavation of the three-acre temple complex.

"It is not a usual discovery. Wearing socks with sandals is not something that the Romans would have wanted to admit to," she told CNN.

The Romans, who occupied much of Britain for several centuries, have traditionally been seen as tough and hardy settlers who wore open-toe sandals even in the coldest winter weather. The recent find could overturn that idea.

"I would think their excuse would be that it was very cold in Britain. Tacitus (the ancient historian) refers to the horrendous temperatures in his writings," Rosenberg said.

The foot may have belonged to a statue of the god Mars Camulos -- archeologists found an inscription dedicated to him near the heart of the precinct -- or it may have come from a statue of a Roman emperor.

A pot of Roman face cream was also found at the temple complex.

"The site contains two temple buildings and a possible guesthouse. It is a religious center in Roman London -- it is an impressive and monumental site," Rosenberg said.



Archaeologists unearth evidence of Roman sock crime

Archaeologists say Roman Britons may have committed the fashion howler of wearing socks with their sandals.

A bronze foot unearthed at a major archaeological dig appears to be wearing a sock-like garment, an expert said.

"It's embarrassing for them," said Nansi Rosenberg, senior archaeological consultant at EC Harris, which is managing the excavation of a three acre temple complex in Southwark, south London.

"I would think their excuse would be the cold. We know from the writings of Tacitus that the weather in Britain was terrible.

"The foot is wearing a Mediterranean-type sandal but the garment with it may have been some kind of woollen stocking.

"It is certainly an interesting find - this is only the second example of a foot found from a Roman statue in Britain, and though there is some documentary evidence for Britons wearing socks with their sandals this is the first physical evidence."

The foot may have belonged to a statue of the god Mars Camulos, worshipped in northern France and Britain - archaeologists have found an inscription bearing his name at the site - or it may have come from a statue of an emperor.

Story filed: 10:57 Tuesday 26th August 2003


Medieval babes 'thrived because of breastfeeding'

By Roger Highfield and Paul Stokes

(Filed: 23/08/2003)

Babies in medieval England fared as well as their modern counterparts because of extended breastfeeding by their mothers, according to tests on bones found in an abandoned village.

Lengthy breastfeeding was recommended by the classical Roman writer Soranus in the 1st century AD, which influenced medieval physicians.

Now it seems this advice was heeded by medieval mothers in Yorkshire who shielded their young from early death by suckling them for up to 18 months.

The first scientific study of breastfeeding habits in medieval England has found that otherwise malnourished peasants used breastfeeding to avoid contaminated food and water, and this also helped the babies' immune systems.

Dr Simon May, of English Heritage's Centre for Archaeology, Portsmouth, led the research using bones excavated at Wharram Percy in the Yorkshire Wolds, one of about 3,000 villages abandoned between the 11th and 18th centuries.

He said: "Peasants faced a terrible daily struggle for existence, yet extended breastfeeding shielded children from the very high levels of infant mortality we might otherwise expect to see. Infant mortality at Wharram Percy was much lower than one might expect.

"Indeed, while being breastfed they grew as well as modern babies. But when it stopped, the environment made its baleful impact, producing slow growth and widespread disease."

Researchers at Bradford and Oxford universities have used new techniques to analyse nitrogen isotopes in the bones. Breast milk contains specific amounts of these, compared with other foods. Using the bones of 80 individuals, they were able to deduce the length and extent of weaning.

By the age of about six to nine months, with mothers incapable of producing sufficient milk, babies' diets were supplemented by solid foods. Nevertheless, partial breastfeeding mitigated against the effects of contaminated food and water until children were over 18 months old.

Dr May added: "Stunted growth really started after this point." Growth rates of children at Wharram Percy suggest conditions were worse than those of Victorian workhouse children. Earlier studies revealed that the population was afflicted by Black Death, rickets and leprosy.



'Virgins' First To Settle Las Vegas?

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

Aug. 26, 2003

Evidence for the earliest known dwelling in the vicinity of Las Vegas suggests that the current casino and nightclub hotspot was first settled around A.D. 400 by Native Americans who may have come from the Virgin Branch of Anasazi (early Puebloans), the Mojave, the Paiutes or another unidentified group.

The Virgin Branch of Anasazi is suspected because at around the same time, they were present along the nearby Virgin River, the Muddy River and parts of the Colorado River.

Archaeologists found the prehistoric structure, a Native American pit house, along the banks of the Las Vegas Wash. The Wash is upstream from the city development.

According to Laureen Perry, an archaeologist with the Bureau of Reclamation, the pit house measures 12-feet in diameter and has a fire hearth in its center. Its builders dug an estimated one foot beneath the ground to create the house, which was radiocarbon dated to A.D. 400-650.

Both large and small beams supported the pit house and its brush-covered roof. At some point in its history the pit house was burnt, either intentionally or by natural brush fires.

"This structure represents the earliest evidence of 'permanent' habitation in the Las Vegas Wash and possibly the Las Vegas Valley," Perry told Discovery News. "By permanent we mean a substantial effort was put into its construction and it was most likely occupied longer than a campsite."

Metates, or grinding stones, were found near the pit house. Pollen from the stones suggests the inhabitants were working with wild grasses and Asteraceae, relatives of sunflowers. Local mesquite trees likely provided one of the primary food sources, but researchers currently are trying to determine if corn was grown at the site.

The wild grasses were used to construct mats for the pit house interior, similar to today's throw rugs. Fragments of such mats were found near the early structure.

Although this is the oldest known building in the Las Vegas Valley, similar structures from slightly later periods dot the region. The Big Springs Preserve, located right in the middle of the city of Las Vegas, contains a pit house dating to A.D. 800.

Greg Seymour, research manager for the preserve, said the pit houses collectively suggest that the Las Vegas Valley has been an attraction since prehistoric times.

"Las Vegas history didn't start with the casinos," Seymour said. "It's all about the water. Early Native Americans appear to have settled the area because the water created a lush environment where food was plentiful. Modern developers also were attracted by the water."

The Big Springs Preserve, including its pit house, will be open to the public in 2005. Both Seymour and Perry hope the region's archaeological finds will enhance our perception of the area.

Perry said, "There's more to Las Vegas than gambling."



Archaeologists renew controversy over Indian temple

13:08 26 August 03

NewScientist.com news service


The bitter dispute between Hindus and Muslims over a religious site at Ayodhya in northern India has been renewed by the release of a controversial new report by Indian state archaeologists.

But the report's publication on Monday was overshadowed by two bomb blasts in India's financial capital Mumbai that left 52 dead and 140 injured. It is not yet known if the two events are linked, but observers have pointed out that Mumbai was bombed before at a time of high tension over Ayodhya.

Ayodhya was the site of a 16th-century mosque. This was demolished in 1992 by Hindu fundamentalists, who believe it was built over the ruins of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu God Rama. The mosque's destruction led to communal riots that killed over 2000 people and marked one of the darkest days in India's secular history.

In March, a court ordered the government-run Archaeological Survey of India to excavate a 9200-square-metre site in Ayodhya. The ASI report presents evidence of a massive monumental structure dating from the 11th to 16th century, as well as remains of temple artifacts. But, far from settling the issue, the interpretation of these finds has fuelled further controversy.


The summary of the 574-page ASI report suggests a Hindu temple probably did once exist. It concludes that "viewing in totality and taking into account the archaeological evidence of a massive structure just below the disputed structure" and evidence of lotus motifs, a mutilated sculpture of a divine couple, foliage patterns and 50 pillar bases, these are "indicative of remains which are distinctive features associated with the temples of north India".

ASI says a massive 50-by-30-metre structure with "at least three structural phases and three successive floors" and one or two huge halls with pillars existed in the 12th to 16th century AD. This structure was "different from residential structures" as it did not have hearths, wells, soakage pits or drains and was a place of public usage till the 16th century.

Some Hindu organisations interpret the findings as proof of a temple, but the Sunni Central Muslim Trust Board has denounced the ASI report as "vague" and "self-contradictory" and say that a massive structure does not necessarily mean a temple.

Noted archaeologist Suraj Bhan, from Kurukshettra University near Delhi, and historians at the Delhi University too are also concerned by the conclusions.

Lime plaster

Bhan, who visited the excavation site at Ayodhya, told New Scientist he had found the demolished mosque was built on an earlier structure whose walls and floor were made of bricks plastered with lime - a technique that was introduced in India by Muslim dynasties of the 12th century. "This is crucial evidence", he says, suggesting the underlying structure could have been a mosque and not a temple.

The presence of lime-plastered bricks was noted in progress reports filed by ASI, but is ignored in the final summary. This and other omissions, like the presence of a Muslim arch in the underlying structure, are likely to be challenged by archaeologists, historians and lawyers who have been given six weeks to file objections to the ASI report.

The excavations were controversial from the start, after a group of historians and archaeologists, including Bhan, questioned ASI's scientific competence and impartiality. ASI is not headed by a professional archaeologist and is funded by the federal government. The Hindu nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party are currently in power, some of whose members are charged with inciting or even participating in the mosque's demolition.

The group's criticism of ASI's progress and recording of evidence during the excavations led to a mid-course change of the team leader under a court order in June.

 Padma Tata, New Delhi



Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Archaeologists Find Jamestown Fort Walls


Associated Press Writer


JAMESTOWN, Va.- Seven years after archaeologists discovered evidence of the fort built when Jamestown was founded in 1607, they finally know how big the triangle-shaped log enclosure was.


Based on the finding in 1996 of the fort's east corner and on historical documents, archaeologists had been searching for the outlines of a fort that covered 1.75 acres, said William Kelso, director of archaeology for the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities.


Digging this summer unearthed evidence of the fort's western wall and north corner, defining the fort's shape for the first time and indicating the fort actually enclosed 1.1 acres, Kelso said Tuesday at Historic Jamestowne.


"Now we know exactly how to approach the excavation" of the first permanent English settlement in America, Kelso said. "We can connect the dots."


"It's almost like a jigsaw puzzle," he said. "You've got the picture on the box. You've got a few pieces here and there. Now you can see it come together like this."


The goal is to analyze the interior to learn more about the architecture and come up with a town plan. Archaeologists already have found the remains of what appear to be barracks, but there should also be a church and storeroom near the center, as well as other public buildings and wells, Kelso said.


Jamestown began as a business venture when three ships carrying 100 men and four boys landed on a small island on the James River in 1607. During the winter of 1609-1610, according to written accounts, many settlers died from starvation, disease and Indian attacks.


The APVA has been working since 1994 to unearth the original Jamestown fort. Scientists and historians long had believed that the river had washed away any remains. Kelso and his team of archaeologists found the first evidence of the fort in the east corner in 1996, and searched for the rest of the fort from there.


Dark brown stains from the west wall were found inside an area where a Confederate fort was built during the Civil War. The wall turned out to be near a well and a burial site that were discovered last year and seemed to mark the center of the fort. That could have meant the fort was twice as big as had been estimated, or about 4 acres, Kelso said last year.


On Tuesday, Kelso said the well and burial site were outside the fort but inside the town of Jamestown.


"We projected too large," he said.

On the Net: Historic Jamestowne:  Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities' Jamestown Rediscovery project: