Undersea Stone Age site found


A team of scuba-diving archaeologists have discovered an undersea settlement that could be 10,000 years old.


The divers were honing their skills in preparation for a more detailed search further away from Tyneside.

But they found what is believed to be the country's second submerged Stone Age development, while practising in the North Sea off Tynemouth.

Another slightly more recent site, still from the Mesolithic era, was also found on the seabed nearby.

The settlements came to light when Dr Penny Spikins of Newcastle University noticed some flints on the seabed, which she instantly recognised as being significant.

Dr Spikins, leader of the international research team behind the Submerged Prehistoric Landscapes Project, said: "I was learning to scuba dive and was in the middle of a training session in the sea when I noticed lots of pieces of flint beneath me on the sea bed.

"To the average person they would seem like ordinary stones you would find on the beach, but to a specialist they were something very exciting indeed."


Among the flints, the team found an arrowhead and cutting implements with a serrated edge.

One settlement is thought to date back to the late Mesolithic period, 8,500 to 5,000 years ago, while the other, found further out to sea, is thought to be early Mesolithic, 8,500 to 10,000 years ago.

Mesolithic people were hunter-gatherers and lived in the Middle Stone Age - between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Both sites would have been gradually submerged as sea levels rose following the end of the last Ice Age.

The precise location of the sites is being withheld for their protection, but the experts said they were off the Tynemouth coast.

Dr Spikins added: "We think that Tynemouth could have been an important place for the early settlers, because as well as having the luxury of coastal resources they had the River Tyne nearby."

Archaeologists always suspected that there were sites to be found under the British North Sea after a fishing trawler picked up a Mesolithic antler harpoon there early last century.

But the Newcastle University team has found the first evidence since then.

Dr Spikins said: "Archaeologists thought that the sites left by people who lived 5,000 to 10,000 years ago had simply been lost to the sea.

"But our finds could change our understanding of the earliest occupation of the British Isles."

English Heritage's chief archaeologist David Miles said the discovery gave a glimpse of the "prehistoric Atlantis" which linked modern Britain to continental Europe.

He said: "This is a tremendously exciting discovery.

"We know that there is a prehistoric Atlantis beneath the North Sea where once an area equal to the size of present day Britain attached us to the continent.

"It is potentially an area for exploration and this discovery by the Newcastle University team gives us a stepping stone into this unknown world."



Stone Age settlements found in North Sea

Thu 11 September, 2003 10:52 BST


LONDON (Reuters) - Archaeologists have stumbled across the first underwater evidence of Stone Age settlements in Britain.

A team from the University of Newcastle upon Tyne say they found flint artefacts including tools and arrowheads off the coast near Tynemouth during a training session to prepare them for dive searches elsewhere.

They say the items pinpoint two sites dating as far back as 10,000 years ago which would once have been on dry land but were gradually submerged as sea levels rose after the end of the last Ice Age.

Dr Penny Spikins, the archaeologist leading the team, said she had originally applied for funding to search for this type of site in Scotland and had been amazed to find the items lying undisturbed on the sea bed near such a built-up area.

"It was a totally stunning find really because although we'd prepared ourselves to be looking for these type of sites... we hadn't really started the project when we already came across these types of artefacts," she told Reuters.

"These sites are set to provide us with a unique opportunity to begin to understand early Mesolithic coastal occupation," Spikins said.

According to the team, one site dates back to the late Mesolithic period 8,500 to 5,000 years ago while the other, found further out to sea, is thought to be early Mesolithic -- 8,500 to 10,000 years ago.

Mesolithic people were hunter-gatherers and lived in the Middle Stone Age which began around 10,000 years ago.



Was Fred Flintstone the first Geordie?

Sep 11 2003

By Sarah Knapton, The Evening Chronicle

Yabba Dabba Doo - boffins have discovered the region's very own Bedrock under the North Sea.

They have discovered a stone age settlement which could be the earliest site in the UK off the coast of Tynemouth, North Tyneside.

And just like in The Flintstones the site would have been an ideal 'des res' for the modern stone age family.

David Miles, chief archaeologist, English Heritage, said: "This is a tremendously exciting discovery. We know that there is a prehistoric Atlantis beneath the North Sea where once an area equal to the size of present day Britain attached us to the continent and where prehistoric people and animals roamed.

"It is potentially an area for exploration and this discovery by the Newcastle University team gives us a stepping stone into this unknown world."

The exciting find was discovered by accident by an archaeological team from the University of Newcastle who claim the history books may now need rewriting.

The team, from the university's School of Historical Studies, discovered the sites while they were training.

Dr Penny Spikins, who is leading the international research team behind the Submerged Prehistoric Landscapes Project, said: "I was learning to scuba dive and was in the middle of a training session in the sea when I noticed lots of pieces of flint beneath me, on the sea bed.

"To the average person they would seem like ordinary stones you would find on the beach, but to a specialist they were something very exciting indeed."

What Dr Spikins had discovered were stone artefacts, including tools and arrowheads clustered around two distinct areas, which are being kept a closely guarded secret.

They belonged to the Mesolithic period or Middle Stone Age - 10,000 to 5,000 years ago - when hunter gatherers lived along the prehistoric shore line of the North East.

One site dates back to the late Mesolithic period - 8,500 to 5,000 years ago.

The second site, found further out to sea at the end of a long, rocky outcrop which would have once been a small cliff face, is thought to be early Mesolithic - 8,500 to 10,000 years ago.

Both sites would once have been on dry land but have been gradually submerged as sea levels rose following the end of the last Ice Age.

Dr Spikins added: "Archaeologists thought that the sites left by people who lived five to ten thousand years ago had simply been lost to the sea but our finds could change our understanding of the earliest occupation of the British Isles.

"We originally thought that we would find submerged sites in more remote places such as Scottish islands like Skye or Orkney, or in north Northumberland.

"Often in built up places like Tyneside all the sites of archaeological interest have already been discovered while the land is developed.

"We suspect these two sites have remained a secret because they were underwater, and people who were not experts on Mesolithic cultures did not realise what they were.

"We think that Tynemouth could have been an important place for the early settlers because as well as having the luxury of coastal resources they had the River Tyne nearby."

The flint artefacts they have found at the sites, which are under up to eight metres of water, range from a core, which was used to make knives and other sharp objects, to a microlith - the experts' word for an arrowhead.

It is the first evidence of sites under the North Sea since a fishing trawler picked up a Mesolithic antler harpoon early last century.

An early Mesolithic site has been discovered in the Solent near Southampton, but because so little evidence of submerged sites exists, archaeologists know little about these early coastal dwellers.

Dr Spikins added: "We can't believe this is a unique site. We will be fully investigating it and using the knowledge we gain in the process to try to find other sites nearby and elsewhere."

The team are seeking funding to continue their investigation in Tyneside as they believe that more interesting material could be found underneath the sea bed.

Similar submerged Mesolithic sites in the Danish North Sea have yielded artefacts made of organic materials such as wood, bone and leather, ranging from preserved canoes, decorated paddles and even remains of house structures.




By David Prudames



With nothing but miles of sand in all directions, it is hard to imagine the leap of faith required to start looking for a previously unknown town, buried under a desert.

On Saturday September 13, Scottish archaeologist Ian Mathieson will be delivering a lecture at Glasgow’s Burrell Collection to explain how he did just that.

Since 1990, Ian has led the Saqqara Geophysical Survey Project, producing archaeological and geophysical maps of a little explored area of the Saqqara necropolis, near Cairo.

In 2001, his survey turned up the previously unknown presence of some large temples, accompanied by a number of tombs and a mixture of large and small dwellings.

Photo: the man himself, archaeologist Ian Mathieson surveying on site at Saqqara.

Ian and his team had discovered an ancient town, dating back to between the 6th and 1st centuries BCE, buried under almost 20 feet of sand.

Simon Eccles, Senior Curator at the Burrell Collection and Chairman of Egyptology Scotland, told the 24 Hour Museum how Ian is paying a flying visit before heading straight back to Egypt.

"It is a great privilege to have him," said Simon. "He is a member of Egyptology Scotland and we exist to promote it, so we are very lucky that he is coming fresh from the site to give us an update on what’s happening."

Previously sponsored by the National Museums of Scotland, since 2002 Ian's work has been supported by Glasgow Museums through its Friends organisation.

Simon explained how Ian and his team had been working in the shadow of the famous Step Pyramid of Djoser, which outdates the Valley of the Kings by some 1000 years.

"This is quite an important area near Cairo, beside the Step Pyramid. On the surface of the desert it is formless, so Ian’s concession was to use geophysical survey techniques to find out what, if anything, was there."

According to the curator, the survey results created "a kind of map that looks very much like an aerial photograph" and provided outlines of buildings.

Describing the town as being like an ancient Egyptian Lourdes, Simon explained how it housed priests and workmen and could have been a place of pilgrimage where people came to make offerings.

Recent surveys have turned up what appears to be a road leading into the town, lined with parallel emplacements. It is difficult to say what they are without a full excavation, but there is one theory.

Photo: a member of Ian's team carrying out a gradiometer survey, which discovered temple alignments, a road and the settlement.

"The geophysical map shows a line with 2 black marks along it and ceremonial ways are quite often bordered by sphinxes, but we don’t know yet," said Simon.

What is certain, however, is that without Ian Mathieson's surveys, we wouldn't even know it is there, let alone what it is.

"I think Ian is breaking new ground to show how it is possible for a small team to make discoveries using these modern techniques," added Simon.

"This is a whole new town that doesn’t have a new settlement on top. It is a wonderful discovery and means that in future years a major institution should be able to take on the work to dig it up."

Ian Mathieson will be speaking at 14.00 on September 13 at the Burrell Collection Lecture Theatre. Tickets are priced at £2 for Egyptology Scotland members and £4 for non-members.



Tests confirm tunnel as described in Bible


A tunnel that snakes under the ancient walls of Jerusalem was probably built around 700BC during the reign of King Hezekiah, as described in the Bible, a new study suggests.

The tunnel's age had been debated by biblical scholars, a few of whom had suggested it was built centuries later.

The only surviving clue to its age had been an inscription discovered in 1880 on a tunnel wall, which supported the link to Hezekiah but did not specifically name him.

In the new study, analysis of stalactite samples from the ceiling of the Siloam Tunnel and plant material recovered from its plaster floor both confirm the biblical record, researchers say.

"We believe this point is now clearly settled," said Amos Frumkin, a geologist and director of the Cave Research Centre at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

He and colleagues present their analysis in today's issue of the journal Nature.

Hershel Shanks, an expert on the history of Jerusalem who writes for the Biblical Archaeology Review, said: "It's nice to have scientific confirmation for what the vast majority of biblical scholars and archaeologists believe." -AP

- Sept 11th


Dark Age boat recovered

By Carolyn Fry


A wooden boat left on a river bank in the Dark Ages has been lifted from mudflats near Portsmouth.

Archaeologists hope the dug-out canoe and the sediments that preserved it for 1,500 years will shed light on past climate, sea levels and daily life in the south of England.

"It's most likely that the boat would have been used by people to go into the harbour to fish or hunt birds," explained Gavin Stone, Assistant Archaeologist at the Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology (HWTMA).

"It's a useful find because there's little documentary evidence from the Dark Ages period."

The oak vessel was discovered last spring, when two local enthusiasts saw a piece of wood protruding from the mud in Langstone Harbour.

HWTMA planned to build a cage round the boat and lift it whole, but the wood was badly cracked so archaeologists excavated it piece by piece.

This means the sediments underneath have been relatively undisturbed and may yield valuable information about how the local environment has changed over time.

The boat, which measures roughly 1.7 by 0.8 metres (5.6 by 2.6 feet) but which is broken off at the stern, is now in storage at the British Ocean Sediment Core Research Facility at Southampton Oceanography Centre.

Tree-ring dating

Radio carbon dating has placed the canoe's age somewhere between 400 and 640 AD, a period spanning late Roman times, through the Dark Ages to early Saxon.

This makes it the oldest boat ever found in the Solent.

Over the coming months dendrochronologist and wood technology expert Nigel Nayling will analyse the tree's growth rings to try and obtain a more accurate age.

"Hopefully at a later date we'll also have a better idea of the size it would have been before it broke, and from that we'll be able to deduce how many people it could have taken and what kind of load it carried," says Stone.

Rob Scaife, a palaeoenvironmentalist with expert knowledge of pollen and tiny creatures called diatoms and foraminifera will also examine samples.

He may be able to see whether the local river system was freshwater 1,500 years ago, prior to being inundated by the Solent.

The remains of microscopic organisms he encounters may also indicate how warm the climate was at the time.

"Hopefully by Christmas the experts will have looked at it and will be starting to draw some conclusions," says Stone.

"There are also some other artefacts in the location, including wattle work, flint arrow-heads and pottery, and we'd like to take a closer look at those. There's a lot of archaeology out there."


Unravelling the mysteries of the Solent


IT looks like the pattern of that jumper your auntie knitted you for Christmas. But this mass of colours is the key to the history of the Solent and Portsmouth's Stone Age forebears.


This is the seabed off the home of the navy as you have never seen it before, the result of millions of pounds of hi-tech naval kit.


Aboard HMSL Gleaner, a handful of sailors are delving into the mysteries of the sea bed, hidden for up to 5,000 years.


On Monday the detailed search begins using robot torpedoes sent off from Gleaner scurrying around just inches off the seabed with state-of-the-art kit never tested by the RN before.


The MoD's archaeologists reckon there are 174 objects or items on the seabed in the two square miles falling within Gleaner's survey – carried out ahead of massive dredging operations for Portsmouth's future carriers.


'Of course, everyone knows about Mary Rose, but we think there's a lot more down there,' said Ian Barnes, archaeologist for military sites.


'There should be aircraft down there, but above all signs of the Stone Age – plant fossils, tools, signs of life, so we can learn how people lived then.'


06 September 2003



Possible Viking boat found

Tue 9 September, 2003 16:00 BST


OSLO (Reuters) - A dugout canoe that may date from Viking times has been found in south Norway, giving clues to the lives of people who fished a small lake perhaps 1,000 years ago.

The pine vessel was dragged from Royraas lake in south Norway on Monday after a tip from the family of two elderly men who had spotted the boat when they swam in the lake as children in the 1930s.

"We believe it dates from the Viking times or perhaps from the early Middle Ages," Snorre Haukalid, the county archaeologist for Vest Agder, told Reuters on Tuesday. He put its likely age at 800-1,200 years.

"If we're really lucky, it could be even older, perhaps 2,000 years," he said. A splinter had been taken for carbon dating tests that would take several weeks.

"A lot of archaeology in the Nordic region looks at burial mounds and the lives of the rich," Haukalid said. "The special thing here is that this is an isolated lake so the boat was probably used by ordinary people, perhaps for fishing."

Haukalid said the remains were about 3.5 metres long (11 ft 6 in) long, suggesting the boat was originally about 4-5 metres long or big enough for several people.

Ancient dugouts have sometimes been found in other Nordic countries, including some dating back to the Bronze Age about 3,000 years ago.

"When we were boys, we dived down to it," Anders Tveit, one of the men who found the canoe in the 1930s, told the south Norwegian daily Faedrelandsvennen.

"When we've been out rowing we've shown it to our grandchildren...You could see it on the bottom," he said. A son-in-law eventually alerted the authorities.



Court battle resumes between tribes, scientists over ancient remains

WILLIAM MCCALL; The Associated Press

PORTLAND - The definition of "Native American" is at stake in deciding whether the 9,300-year-old skeleton known as Kennewick Man belongs to scientists or Indian tribes, lawyers for both sides told a federal appeals court Wednesday.

The Interior Department has fought with scientists since the bones were discovered in 1996 along the banks of the Columbia River near Kennewick.

A group of eight anthropologists who want to do research on the skeleton went to court to seek permission. But then-Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt ruled three years ago the bones should be handed over to the tribes for reburial. Last October, U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks overturned Babbitt and approved research on the bones.

Jelderks agreed with arguments by scientists, who said there was no direct link between the skeleton and modern tribes.

The government and the tribes appealed and argued their case on Wednesday before a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Judge Susan Graber asked whether the legal definition of Native American could cover any bones found in North America that were so old they rivaled the age of ancient fossils in Africa or could qualify as "Adam and Eve."

"Yes, they would be considered Native American," said Ellen Durkee, a Justice Department attorney representing the Interior Department and various federal agencies.

Judge Ronald Gould questioned whether the timing of ancient migration to North America suggested that 9,300 years was long enough to separate the skeleton from any relationship to modern tribes, but said, "That's a metaphysical question that's outside my pay scale."

In 1990, Congress defined "Native American" as someone "indigenous to the United States."

Paula Barran, attorney for the scientists, argued Congress did not intend to include people who lived on the continent long before European colonization.

In the Kennewick Man case, the Interior Department has interpreted the term "Native American" to mean anyone who was in the contiguous 48 states before the arrival of Columbus in 1492.

The skeleton drew scientific interest because it is among the oldest and most complete found in North America, with characteristics unlike modern Indians.

The case centers on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, aimed at returning Indian remains and discourage illegal trafficking in bones taken from burial sites.

The law approved in 1990 was intended to right the wrongs done to Indians in recent history, not to block scientific research to determine how ancient settlers arrived in North America, Barran said.

In his ruling last October, Jelderks said the term "Native American" requires "a cultural relationship" with a modern tribe to qualify under the grave protection act. But he said his review of 22,000 pages of court documents, including scientific reports, produced no evidence to support any cultural link between Kennewick Man and the Northwest tribes.

"We're not against science, and we're not against technology," said Armand Minthorn, spokesman for the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation. "But technology should not dictate what is done or is not done with these remains."

Alan Schneider, an attorney for the anthropologists, said such tests could avoid adding to the expense of a case that has already cost an estimated $4 million.

The appeals court is not expected to rule until next year.


Floods damage ancient Timbuktu

Heavy rains have destroyed at least 180 ancient mud buildings in the Unesco-designated world heritage city of Timbuktu.

The floods have also caused the deaths of at least four people in central Mali.

Timbuktu has a poor drainage system meaning that some 30mm of water that fell on the city some two weeks ago had nowhere to go, and soaked into the brittle, hard earth-built walls and foundations.

With more rain now predicted, Mali's authorities said on Monday, that things could get worse if the Niger River spills its banks.

They appealed to residents along Africa's second-longest river to build sandbag barriers on the shores.

People have also been warned to move away from the danger areas.


Timbuktu used to be one of the world's wealthiest cities and was an important Islamic centre.

Some mud buildings, such as Jingereber mosque, date back more than 600 years.

But the isolated city is now one of the poorest in Mali which itself is one of the poorest countries in Africa.

Timbuktu's town hall has been helping to find accommodation for those driven out of their homes, and has paid medical bills for the needy.

The recent rains not only caused the collapse of traditional mud and earth constructed buildings, but also toppled more conventional structures.

Two young children died when water seeped into the walls of their house as they were sleeping.

A man was injured when a two-storey building fell on him, but is recovering.

The government in the capital, Bamako, has set up a crisis committee, to find ways of helping some million Malians, mostly from fishing communities, who live along the river.




Royal tombs of ancient rulers unearthed in Beijing suburb

www.chinaview.cn 2003-09-06 23:50


  BEIJING, Sept. 6 (Xinhuanet) -- Archaeologists have confirmed thatthe royal tombs unearthed recently in a Beijing suburb belonged tothe royal families of the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234), which was founded by the minority ethnic group of Nuzhen.

  Altogether 17 emperors were buried here including the famed historic figure Wanyan Aguda (1068-1123), founder of the dynasty, said Song Dachuan, director of the Beijing Cultural Heritage Institute, in an interview with Xinhua Saturday.

  Experts retrieved a wealth of relics from the tomb pits in the 60-sq-km cemetery located in the Jiulong (Nine Dragons) mountains of the Fangshan district, in southwestern Beijing, even though many of them were destroyed by the rulers of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in 1622 and 1623.

  If the tombs had been well protected, many more treasures wouldhave been found because the Jin rulers seized a lot of plunder from the Song Dynasty (960-1279), Song acknowledged.

  Archaeologists found the coffin of Wanyan Aguda was decayed anddemolished but several other coffins remained intact. Some embossed white marble bars and tiles were also discovered.

  Wanyan Aguda proclaimed himself as the first emperor of the JinDynasty in 1115 and overthrew the Liao Empire (916-1125) through wars. Jin was defeated in 1234 by the rising Mongol nomads, who later founded the imperial Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). Enditem