Oldest examples of figurative art found

Thursday September 4, 2003

The Guardian


Ivory carvings said to be the oldest known examples of figurative art have been unearthed in a cave in south-west Germany. Researchers say they could change our understanding of early man's imaginative endeavours.

The artefacts - including a lowenmensch (lion man) figurine - have been carbon-dated to about 30,000 years ago, when some of the earliest known relatives of modern humans populated Europe.

Discovered last year by a team led by US archaeologist Nicholas Conard of the University of Tübingen in Germany, at the Hohle Fels cave near Ulm, they include horse and a bird figures.

Conard thinks the figures are older than fragments of a previous lowenmensch, found in 1939 near Vogelherd. The new objects were at a lower level in the cave floor sediments.

"These discoveries have incredible significance," says Clive Gamble, an archaeologist at the University of Southampton. "They depict the animal world in a semi-realistic way. It shows early man moving from his immediate world to an imaginative world."



Doubt cast on Nefertiti discovery

Sat Aug 30, 1:06 PM ET     

By Opheera McDoom


CAIRO (Reuters) - The mummy a British Egyptologist says could be the ancient Egyptian Queen Nefertiti, renowned for her beauty, is much more likely to be a man, Egypt's antiquities chief Zahi Hawass says.


Nefertiti, wife and co-ruler with the pharaoh Akhenaten and stepmother of legendary boy King Tutankhamun, has long been considered one of the most powerful women of ancient Egypt.

Joann Fletcher, a mummification specialist from the University of York in England, said in June there was a "strong possibility" her team had unearthed Nefertiti from a tomb in Egypt's Valley of the Kings in Luxor. The Discovery Channel publicised the find in a television programme aired this month.

But Secretary-General of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), Hawass, expressed doubts about the find and said there were questions over the gender of the mummy.

"I'm sure that this mummy is not a female," Hawass told Reuters at his office in the Egyptian capital.

A report submitted to Egypt's SCA from the University of York expedition leader Don Brothwell said of the mummy: "There has been some confusion as to the sex of this individual."

However, the report concluded that the mummy was a female because of a lack of evidence of male genitalia.

Hawass said a double-piercing in the mummy's ear was common to both sexes, but in a different period to the Amarna era in which Nefertiti lived. He said it was even more common in men.

"All the queens used to wear earrings in their wigs, not in their ears," Hawass said, who has worked in the field for 35 years. He added that the male mummy found alongside the mummy said to be Nefertiti's also had pierced ears.

A sculpted bust of Nefertiti, whose name means "the beautiful woman has come", is exhibited in the Egyptian Museum in Berlin. Her husband Akhenaten, who ruled from 1379-1362 BC, is believed to have all but killed off the idea of pharaoh as god-king in trying to impose a form of monotheism.

"Nefertiti gave birth six times, so her hips should be very broad, but this mummy's hips are very narrow," said Hawass, who inspected the mummy on Friday.

Professor of Egyptology at the American University in Cairo Salima Ikram said x-rays of the mummy taken by the University of York's expedition would clarify whether it had given birth.

"The evidence does not at all support the finding of Nefertiti," Ikram said in a telephone interview. "It would be very obvious from any x-rays of the mummy whether it had given birth...there would be specific markings."

Hawass said Nefertiti was widely believed to be at least 35 years old when she died, but Brothwell's expedition report concluded an age range of 18-30 for the mummy.

Reuters obtained a copy of Brothwell's report from the SCA.



Ancient pirates of Antikythera

A nest of ancient pirates who apparently preyed on Mediterranean shipping for nearly 300 years has emerged during excavations this summer on a remote island off the southeastern tip of the Peloponnese.

According to a Culture Ministry announcement yesterday, archaeologists digging at the ancient city of Antikythera since 2000 have located sanctuaries, a large public building and a wealth of missiles — spear and arrow heads, slingshots and large catapult stones — in the settlement identified as the city of Aegila mentioned in ancient sources. Antikythera controlled the strait between Kythera and western Crete, a crucial passage for shipping.

The site, occupied from the mid-fourth to the mid-first centuries BC, is surrounded by a strong, double enceinte of walls that today reach a maximum height of 5 meters.

“Excavators believe the city may have been a nest of pirates, at a time when piracy was quasi-legitimate,” the ministry said. Archaeologists also located a large boat shed “which protected the constantly war-ready pirate ships.”





A 21-century-old head operation

An archaeological dig on the island of Chios has unearthed evidence of a successful head operation carried out over 2,000 years ago in accordance with the writings of Hippocrates, the most famous of ancient doctors.

According to a Culture Ministry announcement yesterday, the operation — a process known as trepanning that involved the removal of a disc of bone from the skull — had been carried out on a man who died aged 50, between 150 and 100 BC. He was buried in a large cemetery on the fringes of the island’s ancient capital, in the area now known as Atsiki.

The grave, a simple rectangular affair bereft of any offerings and providing no clue as to the identity of its occupant, was found earlier this year during a rescue excavation ahead of a building project on the site.

Excavators were intrigued to find a round hole 1.62 centimeters in diameter to the rear of the skull, in the left parietal bone. Anthropologist Asterios Aidonis, who works with antiquities officials, identified the small opening as the result of a trepanning. As the edges of the bone showed signs of growth and healing, it is believed that the patient survived for five or six years after the operation.

Trepanning is known to have been practiced at least 10,000 years ago, and in primitive societies the operation was probably seen as a way of releasing evil spirits from the head. In ancient Greece, it was performed to save patients with severe head wounds from death by internal bleeding or infection.

Hippocrates recommended trepanation for wounds that involved indentation of the skull accompanied by fracture or contusion. He wrote a detailed manual on the delicate operation, instructing surgeons to frequently cool their saws to prevent overheating the bone. Several other trepanned skulls have been found in ancient Greek graves.



This Europe: Walk of Fame 2,400 years old found under Acropolis, and the stray cats love it

By Daniel Howden in Athens

30 August 2003

Long before the first legends of the silver screen planted their stars in the sidewalk of Hollywood Boulevard, celebrity-conscious Athenians had pioneered the first Walk of Fame, which reopened this week.

After more than a century buried in the sprawl of the modern Greek capital, the fourth-century BC Tripodon Street has re-emerged into the light in Plaka, under the Acropolis. Constantine Kazamiakis, the architect who oversaw the excavation, believes dramatic history has been uncovered, because the street was once flanked by tributes to the greatest actors, playwrights and producers of the age.

"In ancient Greece, plays were staged by rich citizens, the choregoi," Mr Kazamiakis says. "They paid all the expenses, the actors, the chorus, the musicians, as well as all the stage sets.

"If the play won the annual theatre competition, the city gave the choregos a bronze or gilt tripod, which he would place on a choregic monument in honour of Dionysos."

Over time, the half mile of Tripodon Street became bordered by the gilt-edged trophies or tripods, set on giant pediments, of which only remnants survive.

The actress Joanne Woodward, whose rising star was first to land on Los Angeles' most famous sidewalk in 1958, might think her fame has lasted, but she has a way to go to catch Lysicrates. His 33ft (10-metre) marble pedestal has survived since 334BC. As a wealthy Athenian, at that time Lysicrates was obliged by the state to fund the theatre as a choregos, or patron of the arts, with the only potential reward being the fame of a tripod.

The result of the first phase of restoration is a modest 50sq metres of pink gravel, supported by a weed-proof mat, but Mr Kazamiakis appeals to visitors to think of the historic footsteps in which they are following.

"This is the road Athenians took to watch performances of plays by Sophocles, Aeschylus, Euripides, Aristophanes and others," he says.

Some of today's neighbours are less impressed by the unveiling of their ancient Walk of Fame, because it is a magnet for stray cats. "They think it's a giant litter tray with the gravel and that mat poking out," one says. "They seem to find it irresistible."




'Don't destroy this Stonehenge of the North'


PLANS to begin quarrying in a new area close to important Neolithic henges near Nosterfield are to be submitted to the council within the next few months, an action group formed to protect them has learned.


Jon Lowry, chairman of the Friends of the Thornborough Henges, has received a letter confirming that Tarmac Northern Ltd, which is already quarrying in other areas around the henges, "is shortly to submit a planning application for the Ladybridge Farm area."

The news has confirmed the worst fears of the Friends, who feel the application is the next stage in what they say is the alarming rate of destruction of the 'Stonehenge of the North' – all in the name of extracting gravel for the building industry.

"Enough is enough," said member of the Friends and resident of Nosterfield Dick Lonsdale this week.

"We know that there's likely to be archaeological remains of tremendous importance around the henges, more so than the area immediately at the henges, which was so sacred there was nothing there."

Tarmac are already quarrying in the area to the north of the henges and Nosterfield. The Ladybridge site lies to the east of this quarrying site, while to the west of the henges is a nature reserve. At a meeting last November, Tarmac publicly stated they intended to begin extracting sand and gravel east of the henges in about four years' time.

"The henges and Nosterfield will end up almost surrounded by quarrying," added Mr Lonsdale.

It is not yet known exactly what the application will involve, but the letter, from Edward Bickham, the executive vice-president of the Anglo American mining company, who own Tarmac, states: "Tarmac recognises the importance of preserving the henges and that is why their protection and further enhancement, together with archaeological investigation of nearby land, was incorporated into their draft plans."

But the Friends say quarrying should be halted altogether, as leaving the henges standing alone would not be enough to preserve the archaeological remains in the area.

Another member, Peter Yates, said: "There has been very little found in the henges, everything has been in remote areas such as Chapel Hill.

"They are leaving the henges but destroying everything around them. They will be left but they'll be 30 feet above the surrounding land, which will actually be flooded."

The importance of the 5,000- year-old site at Thornborough has only recently begun to be recognised, with little archaeological fieldwork being undertaken there until the 1990s.

In 1994, Dr Jan Harding, of Newcastle University, who is now a patron of the Friends of Thornborough, established a project to survey the landscape and carry out excavations on the site, which continues to this day.

"Thornborough is a remarkable archaeological landscape, and if the quarrying goes ahead then what is an international resource will be lost," he said this week.

"It needs to be looked after and preserved rather than destroyed, and in that sense, Tarmac's proposal is ludicrous and rather disgraceful."

The Thornborough Henges will be the subject of a half-hour television programme called 'The Stonehenge of the North,' to be screened on BBC2 in October. Filming at the site has been taking place this week for the 'Time Flier' series, which features archaeological digs filmed from a helicopter.

Director Richard Maud said the henges were fantastic, and ranked alongside those at Stonehenge.


29 August 2003



Brewery may hold Roman answers

Tesco and Arc have different plans for the Vaux site

Historians and archaeologists from the north-east of England hope that a dig at the site of a former brewery in Sunderland will reveal if there was once a Roman settlement in the city.

Residents in Sunderland are aware of stories of a Roman outpost that used to stand high above the River Wear, perhaps on the site of the old Vaux Brewery.

The story has been handed down for generations, and now the Tyne and Wear Archaeologist David Heslop, has said that before any development is carried out the site there must be a dig.

The brewery closed in 1999 and is at the centre of a development tussle between the city's regeneration company, Sunderland Arc, and Tesco, who both have separate plans for the site.

But now Mr Heslop has said there must be exploratory digs before any development gets under way.

History gap

Steve Speke, senior keeper of field archaeology for Tyne and Wear Museums, said: "We would want to dig a series of trenches across the site to see if there was a Roman fort or not.

"It would be most important to see if there is evidence of a fort on the old Vaux site.

"The only way we can do that is by investigating with a series of digs."

Stuart Miller, a Sunderland historian and university lecturer, added: "There is a long-established local legend that there was a Roman fort on the site.

"It is very important that we explore this possibility. There are one or two gaps in Sunderland's history and this is one of them."



'Ancient carvings' are just eight years old

(Filed: 03/09/2003)

The truth about recently discovered beach rock designs is revealed, leaving archaeologists high and dry, reports David Sapsted

It seemed like an exciting discovery of ancient carvings - an enormous rock on a Norfolk beach bearing engravings that archaeologists reckoned were 2,000 years old.

With great care not to damage the intertwined serpents, the dragon and runic symbols on the granite, the two-ton rock was removed by crane last week from the beach at Gorleston, near Great Yarmouth, and taken to a council depot for safe keeping.

But when Barry Luxton, an unemployed construction worker from Norwich, saw a local newspaper report and pictures of the "potentially very important discovery" he felt he ought to tell Norfolk county council's archaeologists that all was not what it appeared.

He, in fact, had chiselled out the engravings during an idle three days on the beach only eight years ago.

Using a hammer and chisel, he chipped out the ancient designs on the rock, which had been imported from Norway 20 years ago to bolster the sea defences at Gorleston.

He had hoped he could arrange for his artwork to be shifted down the beach to nearby Hopton to become the centrepiece of a May Day festival. Instead, he abandoned the work unfinished and forgot about it.

"I certainly did not intend to deceive anyone," said Mr Luxton, 50, yesterday. "I just did the carvings because I had this idea about using the stone for a May Day celebration.

"But it did not get that far and I forgot all about it after I moved from Gorleston. I was absolutely astonished to see it publicised and treated as the real thing. It is hilarious that they were taken in.

"I suppose it is a bit of tribute to me that my carving was so realistic."

Dr John Davies, chief curator for north Norfolk museums, said last week that the work was "extremely unlikely" to be a fake, adding: "It looks genuine. It is not the sort of design someone would doodle."

However, Bryan Ayers, Norfolk county archaeologist and one of the first to examine the stone, claimed that he had harboured doubts all along. He said: "I submitted pictures to Scandinavian runic experts to see if we could find out a bit more about the markings and they were very sceptical about them.

"We have to investigate these things in case they turn out to be genuine, but it seemed too good to be true even at the time." Mr Luxton's handiwork appears to have been covered by shifting sands until earlier this year. Holidaymakers saw it in July and reported it to archaeologists, who decided to keep the discovery quiet until the rock could be moved to a secret location, watched over by the county council.

Tom Harrison, the vice-chairman of the Gorleston Heritage Group, was so concerned that the rock might be targeted by vandals that he sat on it for four hours on the day that the town staged its annual raft race last month.

Jonathan Russell, the mayor of Great Yarmouth, was also excited by the find, and even expressed hope that, once the archaeologists had completed their examinations, the rock could become a tourist attraction.

Now the borough council has to explain to its ratepayers why it spent several hundred pounds removing the thing in the first place.

The county council also faces the dilemma of what to do with a very large and quite useless lump of rock in one of its depots.


Excavation to unearth oldest boat ever found in the Solent

For further information, please contact:

Julie Satchell or Gavin Stone

Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology


023 8059 3290


Posted By:

Southampton Oceanography Centre

29 August 2003


The oldest boat so far discovered in the Solent will once again see the light of day when a team of archaeologists raises it from the intertidal shores of Langstone Harbour. The wooden canoe, hollowed out of an oak tree trunk, dates back to 500AD and is only the second dugout to be found in the Solent since the 1880s.

Organised by the Hampshire & Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology, based at Southampton Oceanography Centre, the excavation is due to take place between 4 and 8 September 2003.

Julie Satchell, HWTMA Archaeological Officer, said: “The boat was discovered in March 2002 when HWTMA members John Cross and Arthur Mack spotted one end of a timber protruding from the mud. Closer examination showed that it was worked timber.

“A team of archaeologists and specialists aided by volunteers will excavate the log boat and construct a cage around it. Lifting bags will then be used to float the cage ready for transport by boat to the BOSCORF facility at Southampton Oceanography Centre. There, the HWTMA team will carry out post-excavation analysis before sending it to the Mary Rose Trust for conservation.

“The log boat gives us a rare chance to glimpse the world of the Dark Ages, as few finds from this period have been discovered and preserved and organic remains are rarer still. We hope the project will reveal evidence of woodworking technology and craft, as well as clues about the sea level during this period.”

The boat, which will eventually be passed on to the Portsmouth Museums Service for public display, is just one of several important discoveries made over the past 18 months. Other artefacts found in Langstone Harbour include wattle work hurdles, a Bronze Age loom weight and a mysterious worked stone head.


Notes for editor

The boat is located in an area protected for its natural environment and bird life with Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Protection Area (SPA) and Ramsar site designations. Special permission for the excavation has been granted by various authorities, including English Nature, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and the Langstone Harbour Board.

The Hampshire and Wight Trust for Maritime Archaeology promotes interest, research and knowledge of maritime archaeology and heritage in Great Britain, with core activities concentrated in the counties of Hampshire, the Isle of Wight and the adjacent South Coast areas. It is based in the Southampton Oceanography Centre (www.soc.soton.ac.uk/HWTMA).

The project is funded by John and Jane Bingeman, with assistance in kind and services provided by Analytical Engineering Ltd., Seaflex Ltd., Seatech Commercial Diving Services Ltd., Langstone Harbour Board, Southampton Oceanography Centre, BOSCORF, Channel Coastal Observatory, John Cross, Arthur Mack, Stuart McVey and John Male.

BOSCORF (British Ocean Sediment Core Research Facility) is the UK national deep-sea core repository, set up by the Natural Environment Research Council and located at Southampton Oceanography Centre. Its controlled conditions ensure optimum preservation, providing a suitable environment for the post-excavation analysis (www.soc.soton.ac.uk/CHD/BOSCORF).

Southampton Oceanography Centre is a joint venture between the University of Southampton and NERC. It is a centre of excellence in marine sciences, earth sciences and marine technology (www.soc.soton.ac.uk).



Connery on crusade to uncover secrets of doomed expedition



SIR Sean Connery will bring to life his film role as the archaeologist father of Indiana Jones when he joins an expedition to Central America later this year.

The former James Bond, who played Professor Henry Jones Sr in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, is backing an excavation in Panama on the site of a doomed seventeenth- century attempt to set up a Scots colony.

The expedition is heading for the long-lost graveyard site of the famous Darien venture, which ended in the loss of 2000 lives and left Scotland nearly bankrupt.

Connery was so interested in the dig that he is helping the organisers to raise cash and hopes to meet up with the team if his filming schedule allows. Now he has taken up the role of expedition patron.

The trip to Caledonia Bay has been organised by the Scientific Exploration Society (SES) and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

About 40 volunteers will head to Panama in December, where part of their expedition will survey the ruined towns of Fort St Andrews and New Edinburgh. During the month, they will also search for shipwrecks from the colony, excavate a rubbish tip on the site and create a museum of their finds for local Kuna Indians.

Connery, who is expected to make a return as the father of Indiana Jones in the fourth film, said he was fascinated by the story of the Darien venture.

He said: "When I was at school, no-one ever told me about the Scots colony in Darien. It is extraordinary that so many very brave and courageous Scots had the enthusiasm to seek a better future by going all the way to Panama to start a colony in the face of considerable adversity."

The actor may even join the expedition for Burns Night in Panama.

Colonel John Blashford Snell, chairman of the SES and expedition leader, said Sir Sean's contacts in the area had already helped in organising the expedition.

He said: "Sir Sean is a great personal friend of the president of Panama and after we wrote to him he phoned us straight back and has subsequently been a tremendous supporter."

Scots colonists landed in Caledonia Bay in 1698 as part of the Company of Scotland trading to Africa and the Indies. Led by William Paterson, they described the bay as an "earthly paradise" and dreamt of establishing a colony independent of England.

But after three years the climate, mosquitoes, English government obstruction and Spanish attacks forced them to abandon the bay. More than 2000 men, women and children perished in the disease-ridden colony and the financial losses forced Scotland into economic union with England.

-           Sept 1st



?Bizarre? theft of mile-post

AN ANCIENT granite monument has vanished from a West Devon roadside in one of the most bizarre incidents English Heritage has ever seen.

The metre-long scheduled ancient monument was situated at Place Cross between Hatherleigh and Okehampton and dates from 1704.

Whoever took it must have extraordinary strength or used mobile lifting equipment.

Its inscription ? HATHERLY 1704 SM GL and OKEHAMPTON 1704 ? is valuable evidence of the post-medieval development of the country road infrastructure.

The maximum penalty for removing a scheduled ancient monument is two years imprisonment.

The stone was last seen on May 21 when the site was visited by an engineer from Devon County Council and an English Heritage field monument warden, to consider road improvements at the junction on the A386.

Duncan Bainbridge from English Heritage said lifting gear must have been used to get the mile-post out as it had been there for 300 years.

?The theft of this monument is a most bizarre incident. It is easily recognisable and we would ask people to look out for it in antique shops and reclamation yards specialising in granite objects.?

If seen contact your local English Heritage office or the police.



Harrison Ford to return as Indiana Jones

Harrison Ford has confirmed he will return to his best-loved role as the swashbuckling archaeologist in the fourth Indiana Jones film.

Ford, who is currently on tour promoting his latest movie Hollywood Homicide, told Munich newspaper 'tz' that he will start shooting the fourth part of the adventure next summer.

However, the 61-year-old actor may not be jumping around as much in the new Indy film, as he has had problems with his joints.

He told the German newspaper that while filming Cops he hurt the tendon in his Achilles heel and added he already has no tendon any more in his left knee.

He also had to have one implanted in his right knee and is awaiting an operation for a broken vertebra.

The actor, currently dating Ally McBeal actress Calista Flockhart, also said he was glad he has never been thought of as "hot".

Ford said: "I'm glad as otherwise I would have been replaced by the next hot star to come along. I'm more like an old shoe, that is always comfortable to wear."

Story filed: 11:13 Friday 29th August 2003