Tue Oct 12, 1:05 PM ET Science - AFP
VIENNA (AFP) - A 3,000-year-old wooden staircase has been found at Hallstatt in northern Austria, immaculately preserved in a Bronze Age salt mine, Vienna's Natural History Museum said.
"We have found a wooden staircase which dates from the 13th century B.C. It is the oldest wooden staircase discovered to date in Europe, maybe even in the world," Hans Reschreiter, the director of excavations at the museum, told AFP.
"The staircase is in perfect condition because the micro-organisms that cause wood to decompose do not exist in salt mines," he added.
The staircase is about one metre (three feet) wide and is made of pine and spruce.
It was used, the acheologist said, during the Bronze Age to go down into the saltmine and was found some 100 metres (300 feet) below the surface.
The saltmine lies about 200 metres from a necropolis which was the seat of the so-called Hallstatt Civilisation, one of the most important and advanced of the Iron Age, that lived around 700 B.C.
"For the moment we have uncovered a piece of only about seven metres, but the staircase extends further down and up," Reschreiter said.
He said previously the oldest known wooden staircase in Europe dated back to the fifth century B.C.
October 15 2004 at 04:25PM
By Jan M Olsen
Copenhagen, Denmark - An 85cm-long piece of wood unearthed in southern Greenland in 1997 is likely to be a ski that was used by Norsemen who landed on the Arctic island more than 1 000 years ago, a researcher said on Friday.
The 9cm-wide plank with rounded edges was found during the excavation of a Norse settlement near the town of Nanortalik in 1997.
Stored at Greenland's National Museum in the capital, Nuuk, it wasn't thoroughly examined until this year, when Joel Berglund performed a carbon-14 dating test on the piece of wood.
He said results of the scan show the piece of wood, made from either a larch or fir tree, dated back to around 1010.
"It's very likely what is known as a 'short ski'," he said, adding the piece of wood is believed to have been brought to Greenland by Norsemen who set foot in southern Greenland around 980AD.
"It would be Greenland's oldest ski."
Berglund said Vikings used horses and boats to get around on the southern tip of the Arctic island.
"We also know that Norsemen widely used skis, but no other pieces of wood were found in the area, so maybe they didn't use it so much in Greenland," he added.
The people of Europe's northern fringe began skiing thousands of years ago, first as a way to move around, but then for recreation, too.
The Sami, indigenous to Norway, Finland and Sweden, were probably the first skiers, since they had to follow their migrating reindeer herds across the Nordics through frozen and snowy tundra. - Sapa-AP
Sun 17 Oct 2004 10:28am (UK)
By John von Radowitz, Science Correspondent, PA News
People living in southern Germany during Roman times may have witnessed a comet impact 5,000 times more destructive than the Hiroshima atom bomb, researchers say.
Scientists believe a field of craters around Lake Chiemsee, in south-east Bavaria, was caused by fragments of a huge comet that broke up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
Celtic artefacts found at the site, including a number of coins, appear to have been strongly heated on one side.
This discovery, together with evidence from ancient tree rings and Roman reports of “stones falling from the sky”, has led researchers to conclude that the impact happened in about 200BC.
However the claim still needs to be verified by other experts.
The crater field was uncovered after amateur archaeologists working in the area found pieces of metal containing unusual minerals.
A team of geologists led by Kord Ernston, from the University of Wurzburg in Germany, went to the site and discovered evidence of a cataclysm that would have left the region devastated for decades.
Not only would trees and homes have been flattened for many miles by the blast, but the local climate would have changed for years afterwards.
Tree rings show that vegetation growth slowed down in around 207BC, possibly because of the “nuclear winter” effect of dust blotting out the sun.
More than 80 craters were found in an elliptical area 36 miles long and 17 wide, ranging in size from 10 to 1,215 feet across. The largest, filled with water, now formed Lake Tuttensee.
Around the site the team found clues that suggested an impact from space, including rock heated into glass and minerals associated with meteorites.
The most likely cause was a low-density comet, 0.7 miles (1.1 kilometres) wide, that broke up at an altitude of 43 miles and fell in pieces to Earth, the scientists reported in Astronomy Magazine.
They wrote: “The main mass of the projectile struck the ground at 2,200 miles per hour, releasing an amount of energy equivalent to 106 million tons of TNT.”
The bomb that destroyed Hiroshima at the end of the Second World War had an explosive force of just 20,000 tons of TNT.
The scientists gave a graphic description of what it might have been like to experience the impact.
“About two seconds after the strike, people six miles away (10 kilometres) would have felt the ground shake as it would in a magnitude six earthquake. The air blast, arriving 30 seconds after impact, would have swept through at a speed of 500 miles per hour and produced a peak pressure of about 1.4 atmospheres, easily collapsing buildings, especially wooden ones.
“Even from 10 kilometres away, sound from the impact would have reached 103 decibels – loud enough to cause strong ear pain. Up to 90% of the trees would have blown over; the rest would have lost their branches.”
Forest beneath the blast would have ignited suddenly, and continued to burn until the shock wave blew the fire out, said the scientists.
The conflagration had left a thin layer of ash in and between the craters.
Roman authors at the time wrote about showers of stones falling from the sky and terrifying the local population.
Because of these events, the Senate in 205BC ordered that a conical meteorite known as the Needle of Cybele, which had been worshipped in Asia Minor, be brought to Rome.
“The impact undoubtedly had a major effect on the environment and people then living in the vicinity of Altoetting-Chiemgau,” wrote Ernston’s team.
“The region must have been devastated for decades. We are currently looking for gaps in the historical and archaeological records during the time we propose for the impact to better understand both the event itself and its cultural effects.”
Dr Benny Peiser, a leading expert on impact events from Liverpool John Moore’s University, said the report should be treated with caution until more was known.
He said the date was speculative, and pointed out that asteroids or comets a kilometre wide struck the Earth on average only once every 500,000 years. Generally such a large impact would cause much more severe and obviously traceable damage.
“In short, this is an an intriguing find, but I remain sceptical for the time being,” said Dr Peiser. “The impact cratering research community has not assessed these claims yet. That’s what needs to be done next.”
Scientists say comet smashed into southern Germany in 200 BC
- PARIS (AFP) Friday October 15, 2004
AFP/NASA/FileA comet or asteroid smashed into modern-day Germany some 2,200 years ago, unleashing energy equivalent to thousands of atomic bombs, scientists revealed.
The 1.1-kilometre (0.7-mile) diameter rock wacked into southeastern Bavaria, leaving an "exceptional field" of meteorites and impact craters that stretch from the town of Altoetting to an area around Lake Chiemsee, the scientists said Friday in an article in the latest issue of US magazine Astronomy.
Colliding with the Earth's atmosphere at more than 43,000 kms (27,000 miles) per hour, the space rock probably broke up at an altitude of 70 kms (43 miles), they believe.
The biggest chunk smashed into the ground with a force equivalent to 106 million tonnes of TNT, or 8,500 Hiroshima bombs.
"The forest beneath the blast would have ignited suddenly, burning until the impact's blast wave shut down the conflagration," the investigators said.
"Dust may have been blown into the stratosphere, where it would have been transported around the globe easily... The region must have been devastated for decades."
The biggest crater is now a circular lake called Tuettensee, measuring 370 metres (1,200 feet) across. Scores of smaller craters and other meteorite impacts can be spotted in an elliptical field, inflicted by other debris.
The study was carried out by the Chiemgau Impact Research Team, whose five members included a mineralogist, a geologist and an astronomer.
It was sparked by a find in 2000 by amateur archaeologists who were digging in the area around Lake Chiemsee and found pieces of metal containing minerals not previously seen in the region.
Aerial infrared photography established that the distinctive holes in the local countryside had the characteristic round form and "clear uplifted rim" of an impact crater, the Astronomy report said.
Minerals ejected around the crater were found by geological analysis to be gupeiite and xifengite, iron-silicon alloys that were also found in meteorites recovered in China and Antarctica.
Additional evidence comes from local discoveries of Celtic artefacts, which appear to have been scorched on one side.
That helped to establish an approximate date for the impact of between 480 and 30 BC.
The figure may be fine-tuned to around 200 BC, thanks to tree-ring evidence from preserved Irish oaks, which show a slowing in growth around 207 BC.
This may have been caused by a veil of dust kicked up the impact, which filtered out sunlight.
In addition, Roman authors at about the same time wrote about showers of stones falling from the skies and terrifying the populace.
The object is more likely to have been a comet than an asteroid, given the length of the ellipse and scattered debris, the report says.
Comets, which race in long orbits around the solar system, are believed to be loose assemblies of rubble held together with an ice rich in methane, ammonia and water.
Asteroids are believed to be denser, more structured rocks. They mainly orbit in a band between Jupiter and Mars, but they can be deflected off course and put on the same trajectory as Earth, an event that is extremely rare but has the potential for a catastrophe.
The long reign of the dinosaurs was put to an end by climate change some 65 million years ago, inflicted by a massive space rock impact in what is now modern-day Mexico.
In 1908, a comet or asteroid exploided over Tunguska, Siberia, flattening the forest for hundreds of square kilometres around.
Four years ago, scientists thought they had found the perfect place to settle the Noah flood debate: A farmer's house on a bluff overlooking the Black Sea built about 7,500 years ago - just before tidal waves inundated the homestead, submerged miles of coastline and turned the freshwater lake into a salty sea. Some believed the rectangular site of stones and wood could help solve the age-old question of whether the Black Sea's flooding was the event recounted in the Biblical story of Noah.
That story told of a calamitous flood occurring over 40 days and nights. Scientists had largely dismissed it, believing the Black Sea filled up gradually with gently rising waters. That wisdom was rocked, however, when two scholars claimed several years ago that the Black Sea's flooding was more recent - and so rapid and widespread that it forced people to move as far away as mainland Europe.
Scientists who in the summer of 2003 visited the underwater site off the northern Turkish coastal town of Sinop couldn't arrive at any conclusions. The settlement, about 330 feet underwater, was 'contaminated' by wood that had drifted in, foiling any attempt to accurately date the ruin - and thus date the flood. "We were not able to get a smoking gun," said Robert Ballard, the underwater explorer and discoverer of the Titanic, who led the $5 million Black Sea expedition. But the trip was successful nonetheless, and the scientists are preparing to publish their findings early next year.
Ballard heralded the work of Hercules, an underwater excavator that was used for the first time. The 7-foot robot gingerly dug around the deep-water ruins and retrieved artifacts using pincers outfitted with sensors that regulated the pressure they exerted - much like a human hand. Fredrik Hiebert, an archaeology fellow at National Geographic, said the mechanical excavator's success ushers in a new era in ocean archaeology. "We now have the technical capabilities to excavate scientifically in underwater environments," the former University of Pennsylvania professor said. "We've moved beyond the grab and look part of (underwater) archaeology."
Source: Associated Press, Philly Burbs.com (11 October 2004)
NORTH-EAST DIG THROWS LIGHT ON EARLY SETTLERS
09:00 - 14 October 2004
Archaeologists have uncovered evidence of the first early settlers in Aberdeenshire during an 11-day excavation near Kintore.
A Mesolithic, or Middle Stone-Age site, dating back around 8,000 years, was unearthed on the outskirts of the village.
Kintore has already revealed historically valuable finds, including Roman bread ovens, a timber circle thought to date back 6,000 years, and evidence of a roundhouse.
Experts now hope their latest discovery will help them piece together a history of the area - something which, at the moment, does not exist.
Speaking on the penultimate day of the excavation yesterday, Murray Cook, of Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology, said: "It is very exciting. We knew there was a cairn on this site but we have now found charcoal underneath it which we will be able to date. But we didn't know the Mesolithic site was here."
Mr Cook, who was joined by his colleague Lindsay Dunbar and 13 volunteers, now plans to revisit some of the sites the group has uncovered over the last fortnight, to unearth more secrets next year.
He said: "The Kintore excavation is one of the most important in Scotland. There is more Neolithic pottery at Kintore than anywhere else in Aberdeenshire put together.
"There are more roundhouses there than any other part of Scotland and the marching camp has more Roman ovens than the rest of Britain."
Any members of the public who would like to become involved in the Kintore landscape project can contact Mr Cook on 0131 440 3593.