22:00 - 17 September 2003


An insight on life 3,000 years ago has been provided by archaeological remains found at Hillfarrance, including what is thought to be a carving of a human figure. Archaeologists, working on behalf of the Environment Agency to investigate the site of the new flood defence scheme, were surprised to find a pit at the boundary of what is thought to be a prehistoric field system.


They were even more taken aback when excavations of the pit revealed pieces of pottery, burned stoned and worked wood, including part of what may well be a human figurine.


The figure, about 45cm long and 12cm in diameter, consists of a forked piece of oak, shaped with a bronze axe, marks of which are still visible on the wood.


Only the lower limbs and torso of the model have survived the test of time - it was found with the legs driven into the base of the pit.


Professor Bryony Coles, a leading expert in the field of waterlogged discoveries, said: "At first sight it looks like nothing very much, but it may actually be the remains of a rare prehistoric wooden carving in a humanlike form.


"The Hillfarrance find, although incomplete, has a number of similarities to known human-like figures from prehistoric Europe and it seems very probable that it too was intended to be one.


"Its discovery is therefore one of the more important and exciting of recent finds, particularly as it was found in the course of a careful excavation and its context is well documented." Pottery from the pit has initially been dated to the late Bronze Age, 1200-700BC, and the finds are thought to provide clues to local customs at that time.


Steve Reed of Exeter Archaeology, which carried out excavations at the site, said: "There seems to be no practical reason for the deposition of these artefacts.


"The presence of the forked timber driven into the base of the pit, along with the placing of worked and burned wooden artefacts and scorched stones, is highly suggestive of ritual deposition."


Analysis of the waterlogged remains, including plants, pollen and insects, is now under way. It is hoped to provide information about the nature of the local environment thousands of years ago, including man's impact on it by activities such as deforestation, cattle grazing and the types of crops grown in the area.


The figure is also being radiocarbon-dated by the University of Waikato in New Zealand. Conservation of the wooden remains is under way so they can go on public display in the future.


Humphrey Temperley, chairman of the Wessex Region and Somerset Local Flood Defence Committees, said: "These are very exciting finds and a fascinating by-product of our flood defence scheme.


"We take our conservation and heritage responsibilities very seriously and this is a good example of what can be achieved." The flood defence scheme is due to be completed next month.





12:00 - 17 September 2003


Something odd, something not quite right, was going on beside the crackling fire as the 'bog man' quietly chipped away with his axe at the deep, black, cold, black, old oak wood. In his gnarled, yet strangely sensitive, hairy hand, the man fashioned a figure by the light of a fire which sent twinkling sparks dancing over the glistening water.


His axe fell, once, twice, wood chips flew. He held the forked stick up against the light, its newly-hewn legs and torso now apparent.


And then something happened.


The man was disturbed. He left in a rush - and the newly-carved figure slipped from his grasp into the oozing, grey mud, the fire went out and darkness returned to the bog.


That was 3,000 years ago and now that lonely wooden figure has suddenly resurfaced to produce a pre-historic mystery that an Exeter professor is desperately trying to solve.


And the question Professor Bryony Coles, a leading expert of waterlogged discoveries, is asking: Just who is Hillfarrance Man?


Or it could be Hillfarrance Woman. It's difficult to tell after all these years, particularly as bits appear to have broken off the figure that was found during work on a flood defence project at Hillfarrance just across the Devon border in Somerset.


The little figure, about 45cms long and 12cm in diameter at it widest point, was found by surprised archaeologists alongside intriguing shards of odd pottery, burnt stone and worked wood.


It is fashioned out of oak, the marks of a bronze axe still visible.


It was found upside down and the 'legs' driven into the base of a pit.


The top half of the figure has been broken off over the years leaving only what is thought to be the lower limbs and lower part of the torso. Professor Coles said: "At first sight it looks like nothing very much, but may actually be the remains of a rare, prehistoric wooden carving in human-like form.


"The Hillfarrance find, although incomplete has a number of similarities to known human-like figures from pre-historic Europe and it seems probable it was intended to be one.


"Its discovery is one of the more important and exciting of recent finds."


Experts on the other side world, at the University of Waikato, New Zealand, have been called in to date the object using radiocarbon techniques.


Steve Reed, of Exeter Archaeology, said: "There seems no practical reason for the deposition of these artefacts..


"The presence of the forked timber driven into the base of the pit along with the placing of worked and burnt, wooden artefacts and scorched stones is highly suggestive of ritual deposition."


That would mean that 'bog man' deliberately left his statuette behind - but why? Analysis of the waterlogged remains continues and it is hoped they can go on display.


If you think you know why 'bog man' left his statue behind contact the Echo on 01392 442232.



Iron Age fort blaze sparks fear for relics



HIDDEN archaeological treasures at the site of an Iron Age fort may have been destroyed by a massive fire which has burned for five days.


It is thought a carelessly dropped cigarette could have sparked the huge grass fire at Traprain Law, East Lothian.


The site of the historic hill fort, which also contains remnants of a medieval settlement, was still shrouded in smoke yesterday as a fire which started on Sunday continued to burn underground.


Due to the intense heat, archaeologists from East Lothian Council and Historic Scotland have been unable to get close enough to accurately gauge the damage.


But heritage officer Biddy Simpson, who has visited Traprain Law, said the devastation had left her very concerned.


"It seems that the fire may have caused some damage to the ramparts of the fort, which were a mixture of rock and earth once used as a defensive barrier," she said.


"One concern is that, because of the dry weather, the fire has burnt down into the roots of the grass and turf, damaging things we have not yet been able to excavate. It will be some time before we can be sure of how much damage has been done."


Five fire crews and 28 firefighters from Haddington and East Linton stations were called out to Traprain Law on Sunday, after an area of grass on the north side of the hill caught fire. High winds caused the flames to spread rapidly, burning through the dry grass and quickly spreading to hedgerows and nearby fields.


As firefighters attempted to tackle the blaze, one officer suffered a suspected broken ankle and was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.


The dry ground, strong wind and a lack of water supplies made the firefighters’ task all the harder, and despite their efforts the blaze soon covered more than six acres.


By 11pm on Sunday, they believed the fire had been extinguished and left, only to be called back on Monday after small pockets of fire were spotted halfway up the south face.


This was in fact a large area of peat which had caught fire and continued to burn throughout the day as firefighters tried desperately to beat it out, while pouring on as much water as possible.


Countryside rangers and ground care staff from East Lothian Council worked hard to assist the fire brigade, digging ditches and pulling out long rooted plants.


But the fire continued to smoulder throughout the week. Fire officers used hose reels and set up a water relay to try to contain the fire and they are now carrying out controlled burning.


The area is listed by Scottish Natural Heritage as being of special scientific interest because of the wide range of plants and animals found there.


A spokesman for East Lothian Council said it would be impossible to tell the full extent of the damage to the environment for up to a year, but an early assessment showed there had been substantial damage.


David Mercer, Divisional Officer for Lothian and Borders Fire Brigade, stressed the importance of people taking care with cigarettes and other fires outdoors. "In this situation, with dry ground and no readily available water supply, firefighters have to try and use beaters and other methods to put out the fire, but if it burns into the ground this becomes near impossible.


"It is very important that people take great care with any kind of flame when it is so dry. They need to make sure campfires are put out and the ashes soaked in water, and that cigarettes are properly extinguished."


Traprain Law literally means the hill of staves because of the wooden fortifications.


In prehistoric times, it became known as Dunpender, the hill fort capital of the Votadini tribe which dominated what would become south-east Scotland.


Excavations around the site have revealed Bronze Age axes and Stone Age cremations which date back to 1500BC.



Could gold be gift from Caesar

History experts believe the hoard of Iron Age gold unearthed in a Winchester field was a gift from Julius Caesar to one of Britain's first kings.

The fine gold, incredible craftsmanship and a revised date now suggest the necklaces were made in the classical world and not Britain, as previously thought.

Dr Jeremy Hill, from the British Museum, believes it was a diplomatic gift from a Roman ruler, possibly Julius Caesar or Mark Antony, to an Iron Age king living near Winchester.

According to Winchester's top archaeologist, Dick Whinney, this may explain the lack of local opposition to the Roman invasion of 43AD.

The hoard, known as the Winchester Treasure, was discovered in 2000 in a ploughed field near Owslebury by Kevan Halls, a retired florist from West End, using a metal detector. Mr Halls received £350,000 for the find, which includes two gold necklace torcs, four gold brooches and two bangles.

The story of how the treasure came to be buried in a Hampshire field is gradually being pieced together. Archaeologists had been mystified by it because nothing like it had been discovered before.

They thought it had been made by skilled local craftsman in the last century before the Roman invasion. But scientific analysis showed it was made by Roman or Hellenic craftsman between 70BC and 30BC.

Dr Hill, the British Museum's curator of Iron Age Collection, said: "I'd have liked them to be made in Britain, but they weren't. Their discovery was amazing. The new research makes them iconic objects."

Although the jewellery was made with classical techniques, they were more chunky and showy than Roman examples.

Dr Whinney, principal archaeologist for Winchester Museum Service, said: "The implication is they were made to order in a style that would be acceptable to native kings and queens, possibly to cement a friendship or encourage an alliance."

When the legions invaded, they were unopposed by local tribes, although they had the manpower and fortifications to fight. "There were no battles here. The Romans were allowed to pass through what appears to have been a client kingdom."

Dr Whinney said: "We're never going to prove the gold was a gift from Caesar or Antony. But if we take the technological evidence about the origin and craftsmanship of these items alongside the time frame, it is a good theory."

The lack of any other finds on the field, the exact location of which is being kept secret, suggests the treasure was buried as an offering to pagan gods.

It is believed the barbarian ruler may have been Commius, one of the first kings of Britain, who spent time in Roman Gaul and would probably have lived at large Iron Age settlement in Owslebury.

Winchester Museum Service organised a community dig of the site last August. Pottery and bones were unearthed, but no more treasure.

BBC Two screened a documentary on the finding of the hoard last Tuesday evening.




Iraq September 18, 2003

Looted £20m statue is found buried in garden



THE “Mona Lisa” of Warka, a £20 million masterpiece stolen from the Iraqi National Museum, has been dug up by police from a back garden in a small town north of Baghdad.

The 5,500-year-old lifesize marble head, one of the earliest representations of the human face, was the most treasured artefact still missing from the museum after it was looted in the chaos immediately after the fall of Saddam Hussein.

It was found in the small town of Khalis, 40 miles north of Baghdad, after a tip-off by local people. Police have arrested the owner of the property where it was buried. Museum officials believe that he had tried to sell it to foreign collectors but had failed to find a buyer because the statue and the fact that it was stolen was simply too well-known to make it saleable.

Middle East art experts were celebrating last night, as the news spread across the world by e-mail. “This is a great thing; it is a great happiness that this work has come back,” Behnam Abu al-Soof, a leading Iraqi archaeologist, said. “It is the most beautiful carved face of a woman, a princess, not a goddess. To produce such a sculpture in that early time, in the fourth millennium BC, was truly amazing.”

Excavated in the 1930s from the ancient city of Warka, or Uruk, the head dates from around 3,500 BC and is regarded as the highest achievement of the art of the ancient Sumerians. The statue has a round face, inlaid eyes, and delicate detailing, including the earlobes and parting of the hair.

Its recovery was announced by Mufid al-Jazairi, the new Iraqi Minister of Culture. It was found by Iraqi police who are investigating the whereabouts of up to 10,000 artefacts still missing from the national museum, which was looted under the noses of the invading US Marines.

“Local people informed the police about a piece buried in a private property, although they didn’t know exactly what it was,” Donny George, the museum’s director, said. “The owner claimed he didn’t know what it was, and that it had been given to him by someone who owed him money.”

According to Mr George, however, the man appears to be an art dealer who had probably tried to sell the piece outside Iraq. “It seems that because it is a very famous artefact, no one was able to sell it even on the international market. This is the most wonderful news I have ever heard.”

It is almost impossible to put a price on the unique piece, but according to Dr al-Soof, it could be worth more than £20 million. The statue is expected to be returned to the museum in the next few days.

The museum was one of the world’s greatest repositories of ancient Middle Eastern art. Some 3,400 pieces have been recovered, many of them seriously damaged. The Mona Lisa’s companion piece, the Vase of Warka, was returned in 14 pieces in the boot of a car.

The 270kg bronze Statue of Basitki, an artefact of the Akkadian kingdom, was dragged from its plinth and has not been recovered. “When I hear that they have recovered Basitki, then I will be able to sleep again at night,” Mr George said.

“In a way I blame the museum,” Dr al-Soof, who serves as its adviser, said. “They should have removed every important piece before the war. But the Marines should have prevented it because they were near by. One of our boys from the museum asked an officer to come and help, but the soldier told him that it was not his business.” 


Factory may have weapons link

Archaeologists excavating the site of a huge iron factory on Exmoor believe it might have been used to help produce weapons for the Roman army.

Experts working at the dig near Brayford in north Devon believe what they have found is far more important than they first thought.

The factory is on such a massive scale they are wondering whether the Romans may have had a greater influence in the South West than previously believed.

It is thought a lot of the iron produced there 2,000 years ago was destined for national and even international markets to make weapons and tools.

Iron ore and charcoal was heated in furnaces to about 1,000C.

The metal was collected and the slag discarded into dumps which now form part of the landscape.

Hundreds of tons of iron was produced on the site between 100AD and 300AD - far more than was needed locally.

A remote valley seems an unlikely location for a busy factory, but its remoteness has helped to preserve it as the site has not been damaged, say experts.

Once archaeologists have finished their investigations and taken away what they need, the Roman factory will be covered up with earth again to protect it.



Man finds Roman tablet in garden

Experts are studying a gold Roman tablet engraved with magic symbols found by a man tending his garden.

The tablet, a thin plate covered in Greek writing asking a god for protection and magic symbols, was found in Dereham, Norfolk, and handed to museum staff in Norwich.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said the tablet, which is about an inch square and thought to date back to the second century AD, had been passed to the British Museum where it was being valued by experts.

Officials have not released who found the coin or exactly where or when. But the council spokesman added: "Museum staff think it could be a very important find."

It is thought to be the fourth tablet of its kind found in Britain.

Story filed: 16:52 Wednesday 17th September 2003



Supermarket molluscs reveal Roman secret

By Kristine Krug, in Salford


The secret of imperial purple has been rediscovered.

A British amateur chemist has worked out how the ancient Romans dyed the togas of emperors this deep colour thanks to a bacterium found in cockles from the supermarket Tesco.

The hue had special significance as the colour of imperial power. Cleopatra also had the sails on her ship dyed the same colour.

The recipe for the dye had been kept a craft secret, even in ancient Egypt and Rome. There are few references to the dying process in the historical literature.

Green to purple

Modern chemistry can make every shade of every colour, but retired engineer John Edmonds is interested in how the ancients managed to make dyes from natural materials.

He explained to the British Association science festival in Salford, Greater Manchester, how he rediscovered the secret of imperial purple after studying the fermentation process of indigo pigments from the woad plant.

With help of researchers in Reading and from Israel he has been able to establish the vital role played by a bacterium in chemically reducing (the addition of electrons) the ancient pigments so that they will dissolve in a dye solution.

The pigment for imperial purple was derived from Murex molluscs, a form of shellfish. So, Mr Edmunds reasoned that he could try to use the related common cockle.

He bought a jar of them from Tesco. "Having removed the vinegar, I placed several of the cockles with some of the purple pigment in a vat consisting of a 2 lb jam jar."

The cockles are thought to harbour a bacterium that is crucial in reducing the dye. Wood ash was added to the vat to ensure the mixture did not turn acidic.

The mixture was then kept at 50 Celsius for about 10 days.

Wool dipped in the pigment turned green at first but, eventually, in contact with light, it turned purple.

The recreation of the old dying method might have implications for present-day practice.

Currently, tonnes of chemicals are needed to reduce the dye for denim blue jeans, resulting in large quantities of sulphur waste.

Mr Edmonds said: "University of Reading scientists are trying to understand how the bacterium reduces indigo in order to develop a clean biotechnology to replace the chemical process for indigo reduction in the future."


September 18, 2003


Tourist kidnapping in Colombia



Sir, The awful news of the kidnapping of tourists visiting the Lost City in Colombia’s Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta (report, September 16) should draw wider attention to the urgent need to protect this unique and precious territory from the violence which is destroying it.

The Lost City is archaeological evidence of a civilisation which still lives and functions in even more remote centres. The indigenous communities of the Sierra Nevada have preserved their way of life, culture, social organisation and philosophy from the time of the Conquest.

In the most inaccessible part are the Kogi people, with whom I made a television film in 1990. They had decided to reveal themselves and issue a warning about impending catastrophe on the whole planet. They spoke in their own terms of the effects of deforestation and the burning of fossil fuels, and of global warming.

The peoples of the Sierra Nevada are the best link left to the sophisticated world that preceded Columbus. But now paramilitary and guerrilla violence has penetrated even here.

The leaders of the indigenous communities have drawn up an appeal for protection, asking that the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta be recognised as a “sacred sanctuary of peace”. This requires, of course, recognition by the armed groups operating there, but this may not be as ludicrous as it sounds. Colombian guerrillas pay lip-service to respect for indigenous rights and see themselves as protectors of the dispossessed.

It may even be that they see themselves as defending the Lost City from tourism.

Perhaps by expressing concern that they should release the kidnapped tourists out of respect for those people and the land of the Sierra Nevada, we may be able to help this grim situation reach a safe outcome.

Yours sincerely,


90 Summerlee Avenue, N2 9QH.


September 15.



This underground world tells tales of the city

By Geraldine O'Brien, Heritage Reporter

September 13, 2003

Archaeologists working in the city centre have uncovered remains from some of Sydney's earliest houses, possibly dating back as far as 1788 or 1810.

Wendy Thorp, who heads the four-month dig, said the archaeologists had been surprised by the extent of the remains, which included substantial remnants of houses from every decade from the 1830s to the turn of that century.

The degree of preservation had been unusual. Up to two storeys had been uncovered in places because, when the Harbour Trust cleared the area at the beginning of last century, it built a retaining wall and simply filled behind it.

"So in places there is quite a lot left. You can see whole rooms and doors," Ms Thorp said.

The site is bounded by Sussex, Kent, Erskine and Napoleon streets. Along the Sussex Street side houses of brick and stone, as well as a laneway, have been uncovered, representing "a whole, living environment".

Other finds, including personal effects, toys, shoes, jewellery and crockery, have enabled the archaeologists to trace a social history of the area, which was probably "quite affluent" in the early part of the 19th century.

It became more densely occupied later, when it was home to people who worked around the wharves rather than the traders who profited from them.

The finds added greatly to the knowledge of how Sydney had developed, Ms Thorp said, showing that people were living in that part of the city much earlier than the archival sources had suggested.

Because the original high water mark has been uncovered, the remains of wharves and timber fences have also been found.

All the finds have been mapped and recorded.

Leighton Properties has organised public tours of the site today, but bookings are essential on 8270 0100.

Mark Gray, Leighton's manager of NSW projects, said some of the remains would be kept in a permanent display on the site itself.



£240,000 for penis plate

A leading museum has added a bawdy 16th century work of art to its collection, depicting a human head made up of small images of penises.

The work - affectionately known as "dickhead" - was bought for almost a quarter of a million pounds for the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

The design is glazed on to a ceramic plate and is one of the most celebrated pieces of Italian Renaissance pottery.

The humorous maiolica plate parodies other such designs which were popular at the time it was created in 1536 by Francisco Urbino.

His dish parodies the "bella donna" style of dishes which bear portraits of young girls, by creating the slightly grotesque image out of penises, one of which is pierced.

A ribbon-like strip running around the back of the head bears an inscription, written in reverse, which translates as "every man looks at me as if I were a head of dicks".

A £100,000 grant towards the £240,000 price came from the National Art Collections Fund, the largest it has given for a ceramic object. Further funding came from the Resource Purchase Grant Fund.

David Barrie, director of the National Art Collections Fund, said: "This magnificent piece really made us sit up and take notice - we're often asked to support extraordinary things, but we'd never seen anything like this before."