Scientists have discovered a new and tiny species of human that lived in Indonesia at the same time our own ancestors were colonising the world.
The one-metre- (3ft) tall species - dubbed "the Hobbit" - lived on Flores Island until at least 12,000 years ago.
The fact that little people feature in the legends of modern Flores islanders suggests we might have to take tales of Leprechauns and Yeti more seriously.
Details of the sensational find are described in the journal Nature.
Australian archaeologists unearthed the bones while digging at a site called Liang Bua, one of numerous limestone caves on Flores.
The remains of the partial skeleton were found at a depth of 5.9m (19ft). At first, the researchers thought it was the body of a child. But further investigation revealed otherwise.
Wear on the teeth and growth lines on the skull confirm it was an adult. Features of the pelvis identify it as female and a leg bone confirms that it walked upright like we do.
"When we got the dates back from the skeleton and we found out how young it was, one anthropologist working with us said it must be wrong because it had so many archaic [primitive] traits," said co-discoverer Mike Morwood, associate professor of archaeology at the University of New England, Australia.
The 18,000-year-old specimen, known as Liang Bua 1 or LB1, has been assigned to a new species called Homo floresiensis . It had long arms and a skull the size of a large grapefruit.
The researchers have since found remains belonging to six other individuals from the same species.
LB1 shared its island with a golden retriever-sized rat, giant tortoises and huge lizards - including Komodo dragons - and a pony-sized dwarf elephant called Stegodon which the "hobbits" probably hunted.
Chris Stringer, head of human origins at London's Natural History Museum, said the long arms were an intriguing feature and might even suggest H. floresiensis spent much of its time in the trees.
"We don't know this. But if there were Komodo dragons about you might want to be up in the trees with your babies where it's safe. It's something for future research, but the fact they had long arms is at least suggestive," Professor Stringer told BBC News Online.
Studies of its hands and feet, which have not yet been described, may shed light on this question, he added.
H. floresiensis probably evolved from another species called Homo erectus , whose remains have been discovered on the Indonesian island of Java.
Homo erectus may have arrived on Flores about one million years ago, evolving its tiny physique in the isolation provided by the island.
What is surprising about this is that this species must have made it to Flores by boat. Yet building craft for travel on open water is traditionally thought to have been beyond the intellectual abilities of Homo erectus .
Even more intriguing is the fact that Flores' inhabitants have incredibly detailed legends about the existence of little people on the island they call Ebu Gogo.
The islanders describe Ebu Gogo as being about one metre tall, hairy and prone to "murmuring" to each other in some form of language. They were also able to repeat what islanders said to them in a parrot-like fashion.
When we got the dates back from the skeleton and we found out how young it was, one anthropologist working with us said it must be wrong
Mike Morwood, University of New England
"There have always been myths about small people - Ireland has its Leprechauns and Australia has the Yowies. I suppose there's some feeling that this is an oral history going back to the survival of these small people into recent times," said co-discoverer Peter Brown, an associate professor of archaeology at New England.
The last evidence of this human at Liang Bua dates to just before 12,000 years ago, when a volcanic eruption snuffed out much of Flores' unique wildlife.
Yet there are hints H. floresiensis could have lived on much later than this. The last legend featuring the mythical creatures dates to just 100 years ago.
But Henry Gee, senior editor at Nature magazine, goes further. He speculates that species like H.floresiensis might still exist, somewhere in the unexplored tropical forest of Indonesia.
Professor Stringer said the find "rewrites our knowledge of human evolution". He added: "To have [this species] present 12,000 years ago is frankly astonishing."
Homo floresiensis might have evolved its small size in response to the scarcity of resources on the island.
"When creatures get marooned on islands they evolve in new and unpredictable courses. Some species grow very big and some species grow very small," Dr Gee explained.
The sophistication of stone tools found with the Hobbit has surprised some scientists given the human's small brain size of 380cc (around the same size as a chimpanzee).
"The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find," Dr Gee commented.
Because the remains are relatively recent and not fossilised, scientists are even hopeful they might yield DNA, which could provide an entirely new perspective on the evolution of the human lineage.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/10/27 22:15:52 GMT
© BBC MMIV
Indonesia's Lost World:
Shaking Up the Family Tree
October 28, 2004
By David Keys
Homo floresiensis skull (© Peter Brown) [LARGER IMAGE] New archaeological discoveries by Australian and Indonesian scientists on the Indonesian island of Flores are revealing that until at least 13,000 to 12,000 years ago, modern humans--our species, Homo sapiens--shared this planet with a totally different species of human being--a three-foot-high dwarf hominid with physical features usually seen as dating from 1.5 to 4 million years ago.
The scientists, mainly from Australia's University of New England and University of Wollongong, have found the skeletal remains of up to seven individuals in a cave at Liang Bua, Flores. Their diminutive stature, small brain size (380 cc), receding chin, the shape of their first mandibular premolar tooth and the skull base design in the ear region are all reminiscent of early Australopithecus, a type of hominid which was thought to have existed only in Africa prior to 3 million years ago.
On the other hand the thickened cranial vault, the relatively flat face, and the smaller molar teeth of what is being called Homo floresiensis are all more reminiscent of Homo erectus, which flourished between 1.8 million and possibly 300,000 years ago.
The newly discovered Flores skeletal material, published this week in the scientific journal Nature, may be from a species which either broke away from our distant ancestor Australopithecus some 3 million years ago or more likely a species derived from a very early form of a later ancestor of ours, Homo erectus.
"The skeletal material we have found has come as a big surprise because hominids of that body size and brain size were supposed to have become extinct 3 million years ago," says excavation member Peter Brown, a physical anthropologist from the University of New England.
It is quite possible that the Homo floresiensis' tiny size--and correspondingly small brain--is a result of being stranded on a small island for tens or hundreds of thousands of years. Because species on small islands are shielded from predators living on mainland areas, large size often becomes redundant as an defensive advantage, and they "shrink" evolutionarily over time.
The archaeological evidence strongly suggests that Homo floresiensis made sophisticated stone tools, including choppers, cutting blades, scrapers, and even spear points, some of which appear to have been hafted onto lengths of wood. These tools are very similar to those made by ordinary Stone Age humans (especially in Europe and North America), and yet the Flores hominid had a brain capacity similar--in terms of ratio to body size--to that of early humans like the Australopithecines and Homo habilis, who made only very rudimentary stone tools. The only other explanation for the presence of such sophisticated stone tools, which were found together with the skeletal material, is that they were produced by Stone Age Homo sapiens--but the earliest of the Flores tools date from 90,000 years ago and Homo sapiens is not currently thought to have arrived in Southeast Asia until 50,000 to 60,000 years ago.
The cave at Liang Bua, Flores, where the discovery was made (POLARIS)
"All the evidence so far indicates that the stone artifacts prior to 12,000 years ago at Liang Bua were all made by Homo floresiensis" says Mike Morwood, an archaeologist from the University of New England, who has been leading the investigations on Flores.
What's more, folklore evidence, which has been gathered by the researchers on the same island, provides the remarkable suggestion that Homo floresiensis may have survived until at least 150 years ago. And zoological evidence from another Indonesian island, Sumatra, suggests that a potentially similar intelligent bipedal species may still be alive and well and living in a remote jungle area.
The local tradition for Homo floresiensis is potentially significant. Villagers in Flores say that up until around 150 years ago, there were small, three-foot-tall hairy "people" who used to steal food from them. Known as the ebu gogos (literally "the grandmothers who eat anything"), they were tolerated by islanders until they stole a baby and ate it. Whether the ebu gogo is pure myth or an accurate recollection of Homo floresiensis is at present unprovable. "The folklore material raises the real possibility that Homo floresiensis actually survived until sometime in the nineteenth century," said excavation member Bert Roberts, a geochronologist at the University of Wollongong who conducted interviews with the villagers earlier this month. "Indeed, there has to be a remote possibility that they still survive today in some remote jungle area of the island."
On Flores, there have been no sightings of such creatures--at least, potentially, since the nineteenth century. However, in the same island chain, on the much larger island of Sumatra to the west, there have in recent years been brief, as yet unpublished sightings by a primatologist and others of a small, hairy four-foot-tall ape-like creature known to local tribesmen as orang pendek--literally "little person." Some zoologists suspect that a few hundred of them survive in the remote jungles of the Sumatran interior, but none have yet been captured or examined by scientists.
The new discoveries are likely to be greeted with immense excitement by the international scientific community.
"We now have to entertain the possibility that somewhere within the islands of southeast Asia, early types of human being--long thought to have been extinct--may indeed still survive," says Robert Kruszynski, a leading anthropologist at the Natural History Museum in London.
David Keys is ARCHAEOLOGY's London correspondent.
The world's imagination has been set alight, writes scientist Robert Foley
Sunday October 31, 2004
I have worked in human evolution for nearly 30 years and I have become used to new fossils turning up, 'rewriting human evolution', mostly at its remote beginnings. But the discovery of the remains from Flores has to be the most startling. So small, so late, and so little brain. Science thrives on the unexpected, and LB1, as she is known, was truly unforeseen.
Perhaps even more astonishing, at least for scientists, has been the press coverage. This extinct species has been front-page news in virtually every country. Our diminutive relative, surviving so close to our own time, has caught the world's imagination. It seems that nothing in science is as fascinating as the history of ourselves.
But it has not always been like this. The last time human remains hit the headlines occurred when the government-sponsored Palmer Report was published. It was deeply antagonistic to research on human remains, and recom mended straitjacketing archaeological research within the same framework as medical science. It suggests that, wherever possible, human remains should be offered to local communities for reburial.
The government is now consulting prior to proposing legislation on the issue of human remains, with major implications for research in this field - and for this wonderful creature that has so excited the world. Homo floresiensis is the smallest human-like creature ever found, and to understand it we need to look at all the diminutive peoples of the world - from Africa, the Philippines, New Guinea - who provide the comparative context in which we can try to understand the curious biology of this lost population.
But if the full recommendations of Palmer were in place, the remains of these populations would be lost, or only available for study under limited circumstances. In Australia, skeletons that are older than the Flores pygmy have already been reburied and lost to science.
And what a contrast, from the genuine sense of excitement generated by the discovery of Flores to the lack of curiosity about what it means to be human that imbues the spirit of the Palmer report. Let us hope that if the little lady of Flores still has something to contribute to humanity (for she clearly did not contribute her genes) it will be the way in which she has inspired us to pursue the adventure of our own past, and not be constrained by the limits of our local political village.
Robert Foley is director of the Leverhulme Centre of Human Evolutionary Studies at the University of Cambridge.
Standing Stone reveals ancient secrets at modern opencast site
FOUR human cremation burial plots have been uncovered at the Kingslaw opencast site on the outskirts of Kirkcaldy.
And it is understood they form part of complex religious ceremonies carried out by settlers thousands of years ago.
The discovery was made by Fife Council archaeologists as they removed the 4000-year-old Bogleys Standing Stone from the Kingslaw development, which is currently being mined by Lanarkshire-based GM Mining, before being turned into a business and leisure facility.
Moving and protecting the ancient Bronze Age stone was part of an archaeological condition laid down before planning permission was given.
Fife Council archaeologist Douglas Speirs told The Press: "The Bogleys Stone was probably erected about 4,000 years ago.
"It is the last visible vestige of what must have been a highly charged area of ritual landscape.
"The stone is massive, standing some seven feet above ground and weighing more than five tons.
"Clearly the extraordinary degree of effort that went into moving and erecting this stone demonstrates the intensity of meaning that this site had to the Bronze inhabitants of central Fife.
"Exactly how the stone was used is not entirely clear, but archaeological excavations have shown that complex religious ceremonies, including the symbolic burial of human remains around the stone was practised. "Indeed, four human cremation burials were found radiating out around the stone."
Samples from the excavation have now been sent to a university in Holland for carbon dating to establish when the cremations took place.
The full archaeological rescue package was put together by Fife Council and GM Mining, who paid for all the rescue works.
Mr Sinclair added: "Having now lifted the stone, we know that nothing actually lies underneath it. The likelihood is that it marked the general focus of a prehistoric ritual site rather than actually sitting on top of some specific deposit.
"There is a strong tradition that the stone was lifted and examined some time in the 1840s by local antiquarians who believed that the stone marked the spot of a great Viking chief killed in battle many centuries before.
"The size of the stone makes it unlikely that it was actually lifted, but it is not impossible that inquisitive antiquarians might have dug around it to see what they could find.
"Fortunately, the stone is sitting in a secure solid stone socket cut directly in the underlying solid geology and the excavations showed that the archaeological deposits around the stone had not been substantially disturbed."
After a complex engineering operation the stone was removed and is currently in storage. It is due to be returned to the site in three years time when the coal extraction is complete.
It is planned to re-erect the stone as close to its original position as possible along with a plaque explaining its history stone and its excavation.
Ancient tomb containing 6 mummies unearthed in new valley
October 31, 2004
The French archaeological mission operating in the Al-Deir area in the Kharga oasis unearthed a Ptolemaic-era tomb containing six complete mummies and two limestone sarcophagi.
A source from the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) Saturday said that large parts of a funerary bed emblazoned with numerous painted shapes with palm-fibre rug beside it were found for the first time inside this discovered tomb.
The six mummies include a 155-CM-long elderly man, he said adding examinations on the mummy showed a diseased pelvis and decayed teeth with arms closed to the chest in god Osiris fashion.
Another mummy is of decapitated four-year-old and six-year- old boys. Another mummy is of a decapitated 137-centimeters-long girl with six toes in each foot and another of an aged woman measuring 150 centimeters long.
Meanwhile, SCA Secretary General Zahi Hawas delivered a series of lectures in the Italian capital Rome on recent archaeological finds at the Great pyramid with a host of archaeologists from Italian universities and Egyptomaniacs attending.
29 October 2004
Unearthing Bohemia's Celtic heritage ahead of Samhain, the 'New Year'
[29-10-2004] By Brian Kenety
Listen 16kb/s ~ 32kb/s The first recorded name for Bohemia has its roots in the Celtic word 'Boiohaemum', meaning home of the Boii people, a Celtic tribe which settled in Central Europe centuries before the Slavic peoples arrived. Ahead of the Celtic New Year, Brian Kenety takes a look at efforts to celebrate and promote the Czech lands' ancient heritage.
Celtic limestone head from Msecke ZebroviceThe ancient Celts marked two seasons, one light and one dark. November the 1st marks the beginning of the "dark" season of Samhain [pronounced 'Sow-En'], the start of the Celtic New Year. For the ancient Celts, the new day actually began at night, when they believed, the mysteries of the dark gave birth to new life.
I asked Dr Vladimir Ctverak, the director of the Central Bohemian Institute for the Preservation of Archaeological Landmarks and an authority on Celtic settlements in the region, to shed some light on the history of these ancient tribes.
Bronze fibula from Manetin Hradek"I would begin by saying that the Celts were in the Bohemian lands long before they were in Britain, in England! This is not local patriotism on my part [laughs]. The absolute earliest the Celts are thought to have settled in Bohemia was in the 8th Century B.C. but for certain they were here by the 5th Century B.C. They didn't leave much of a mark because they were originally farmers."
The Celts were driven out from these lands by Germanic tribes sometime before the Common Era. But numerous remains of those early settlements and fortifications have been unearthed along with some beautiful artefacts, such as the limestone head from Msecke Zebrovice.
"Absolutely the most famous object found here in Bohemia is, of course, the Celtic head from Msecke Zebrovice. You can see it on the cover of countless popular publications about the Celts. It is made of limestone and is without question one of the most beautiful known examples of Celtic art."
Regional authorities promoting tourism and the culture of Central Bohemia, like Zbynek Sorm, are keen to promote awareness of the Celtic chapter of this land's history. Along with Dr Ctverak, he helped launch the "Celtic Europe" project in 2001, which has since invested 12 million crowns into unearthing, preserving and promoting Celtic sites in Bohemia.
Celtic settlement at Stradonice"We launched this project in order to present a period of our cultural heritage in central Bohemia, which, in the past, was overlooked. We used to prefer to promote the Slavic past. Not that we would now prefer the Celtic past, but we are reminding society of this history."
A Celtic New Year celebration will take place this Saturday night at the Nizbor Castle, near the Celtic settlement at Stradonice, with the music of groups like Uisce Beatha [pronounced 'Ish-Ka Ba-Ha'] and Irish Dew, and a pagan ritual dance around a blazing fire.
To learn more about the project, please see www.celticeurope.cz
The old-fashioned audio tour of historical places could soon be replaced with computer-generated images that bring the site to life.
A European Union-funded project is looking at providing tourists with computer-augmented versions of archaeological attractions.
It would allow visitors a glimpse of life as it was originally lived in places such as Pompeii.
It could pave the way for a new form of cultural tourism.
The technology would allow digital people and other computer-generated elements to be combined with the actual view seen by tourists as they walk around an historical site.
The Lifeplus project is part of the EU's Information Society Technologies initiative aimed at promoting user-friendly technology and enhancing European cultural heritage.
Engineers and researchers working in the Europe-wide consortium have come up with a prototype augmented-reality system.
It would require the visitor to wear a head-mounted display with a miniature camera and a backpack computer.
The camera captures the view and feeds it to software on the computer where the visitor's viewpoint is combined with animated virtual elements.
At Pompeii for example, the visitor would not just see the frescos, taverns and villas that have been excavated, but also people going about their daily life.
Augmented reality has been used to create special effects in films such as Troy and Lord of the Rings and in computer gaming.
"This technology can now be used for much more than just computer games," said Professor Nadia Magnenat-Thalman of the Swiss research group MiraLab.
The popularity of television documentaries and dramatisations using computer-generated imagery to recreate scenes from ancient history demonstrates the widespread appeal of bringing ancient cultures to life
Andrew Stoddart, 2d3
"We are, for the first time, able to run this combination of software processes to create walking, talking people with believable clothing, skin and hair in real-time," she said.
Unlike virtual reality, which delivers an entirely computer-generated scene to the viewer, the Lifeplus project is about combining digital and real views.
Crucial to the technique is the software that interprets the visitor's view and provides an accurate match between the real and virtual elements.
The software capable of doing this has been developed by a UK company, 2d3. Andrew Stoddart, chief scientist at 2d3, said that the EU project has been driven by a new desire to bring the past to life.
"The popularity of television documentaries and dramatisations using computer-generated imagery to recreate scenes from ancient history demonstrates the widespread appeal of bringing ancient cultures to life," he said.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/10/31 07:27:18 GMT
© BBC MMIV
For further information, please contact:
University of Helsinki
Helsingin yliopisto (University of Helsinki)
Finnish scientists discovered the most significant relics of antiquity in recent Bolivian history.
In the excavations on Pariti Island in Lake Titicaca, in the highlands of Bolivia, the historical-archaeological research team of the University of Helsinki discovered a ritual offering site with well-preserved pieces of ceramics. The find adds substantially to what is known about the Tiwanaku culture, which flourished before the Incas and for which the island was probably an important religious site.
“The dig contained approximately 300 kilograms of deliberately broken ritual ceramics, which, according to radiocarbon dating, have been buried sometime between 900–1050 AD,” says Antti Korpisaari, an archaeologist from Renvall Institute. “Some twenty vessels have been preserved intact. The objects can be compared to the best china of a royal household or sacramental communion vessels.”
Many types and ornamental elements of vessels discovered on Pariti were completely new to scientists. People are depicted very realistically on the objects, providing a rare insight into the life of the Tiwanaku elite.
“By comparing small details, such as clothing, headgear, jewellery and even facial characteristics, to other finds from the highland area, we can actually start drawing conclusions about the ethnic identities of the people who lived there at the time. The discovery also provides new information on the relationship between the Inca and Tiwanaku cultures,” Korpisaari says.
The historical-archaeological project Formations and Transformations of Ethnic Identities in the South Central Andes, AD 700–1825 also included an extensive general survey of the Bolivian highlands during the fieldwork season of 2004. This, for example, led to the discovery of the location of ancient Paria, the lost Southern centre of the Inca state.
[29-10-2004] By Martin Mikule
Listen 16kb/s ~ 32kb/s A former army barracks on Prague's Namesti Republiky square is going to be the site of another shopping and office complex in the centre of the city. But the project has been delayed by the discovery there of major archeological treasures - in fact it is the biggest archeological dig in the country's history.
The archeological research on Namesti Republiky square, photo: Petr TurynaNamesti Republiky is a square of average size situated in the historical center of the city. Apart form a number of interesting buildings there is nothing particularly striking about the square. But if you walk through the gates of the 19 century military barracks you are stunned by the enormous dimensions of the one and half hectare large site.
As the head of the archeological research Petr Jurina confirms their effort has been marked by some very valuable finds.
The archeological research on Namesti Republiky square, photo: Petr Turyna"I would like to mention above all the find of potter's kilns from the fifteen and sixteen centuries. We have discovered about ten of them which is the most that has been found ever. Apart from that we also found a golden ring with a gemstone from the 12th century with a Hebrew epigraph 'Moses the son of Solomon'."
Apart from those precious objects, for the archeologists what is even more important is that their discoveries cast a whole new light on the history of the capital.
"What is most important is that it changes our notion of the original inhabitation of Prague, especially the 12th century. It turned out that the Roman palaces were not only on the territory of the so called Old Town, but this housing continued northwards up to what is now Florenc. So we found Roman stone houses and palaces but apart form that we found out that there were also valuable wooden architecture."
The archeological research on Namesti Republiky square, photo: Petr TurynaBut the archeological research on this site is coming to an end, ahead of the construction of the new commercial centre, which will be opened in 2007. Veronika Kozova from the developing company describes the project as unique, and says it respects the original architecture.
"I think the project is unique not only in Prague but in the entire Czech Republic because of its size and the complexity. As for the architecture this is a blend of existing buildings which you see today. They are historically preserved. This is the historical barracks building and the riding stable which are basically incorporated into the entire project and the rest will be formed by new builds."
Whether the new architecture will be friendly to the old housing remains to be seen. However the excavated archeological structures will all be removed to make room for the underground part of the new center. The archeological findings will be transported to special laboratories, where researchers will no doubt make other interesting discoveries.
Is Goldiggers hiding proof of castle myth?
CHIPPENHAM NEWS EXCLUSIVE: EXPERTS are a step nearer solving the mystery of an ancient castle hidden underneath Chippenham town centre, which has baffled experts for two centuries.
Archaeologists have completed their first search for the 900-year-old remains of a medieval fort believed to lie beneath the former Goldiggers nightclub.
The castle has lived in legend for 200 years, since Victorian archaeologists discovered a medieval mound on Timber Street, raising questions about the origin of the town.
Last week an evaluation dig by Wiltshire County Council archaeologists ahead of the proposed demolition of Goldiggers found undisturbed soil and a pot dating back to the 1600s, raising the possibility of the myth becoming a reality.
Historian Mike Stone, of the Chippenham Heritage Centre said: "It is possible there is a castle under there. It is definitely a huge question mark.
"The problem is there are usually medieval documents referring to the sites of castles and there isn't one for Chippenham but this does not necessarily mean it didn't exist.
"We will not know if a castle exists until archaeologists get the chance to have a better look."
The three-day dig through the dance floor inside Goldiggers uncovered undisturbed soil, which will help archaeologists locate the remains.
The legend of the castle comes from work by archaeologist John Briton, who in 1812 made references to a castle after locating a mound on the hill. A map drawn by Jeremy Haslam and Chippenham College students following digs in the 1970s referred to mysterious castle remains.
Following the most recent excavations archaeologists are confident the myth of the castle dating back to William the Conqueror can be finally solved.
County archaeologist Roy Canham said: "We have found undisturbed land. The chances are whatever is underneath is very good indeed.
"If the building gets permission for redevelopment we want a chance to carry out further archaeological work. We need to find out if the whole site is undisturbed and unchanged.
"There ought to be at least the remains of medieval houses facing Timber Street dating back to the 1100s. Hopefully we will pick up the foundations. It is unlikely there is anywhere else in the town with undisturbed land like here.
"We've got nothing very specific yet as we haven't had the time to have a very good look, but what was found was very positive."
Planners want permission to knock down the 1930s Gaumont Cinema and Goldiggers nightclub to build flats for the elderly.
The bid will be decided at a meeting of the North Wiltshire Development and Control Committee on Wednesday.
Paul Hargreaves, of Preservation of Goldiggers Gaumont, said: "We know the hill at Timber Street is supposed to be the oldest part of the town.
"There is some talk it's a castle. It is something to do with a timber fort that once existed underneath the old cinema.
"This would be the largest-ever archaeological digs in Wiltshire if the building goes. But it is unlikely this find will save the Goldiggers nightclub."
Previous developments in Chippenham have a rich history including a Roman farm in Pewsham, Saxon remains near Timber Street and assorted pots and coins dating to the medieval and Roman era.
HAVE ARCHAEOLOGISTS FOUND 14TH CENTURY INDUSTRY IN COVENTRY?
By David Prudames 25/10/2004
The small blanks would have been the waste left over after buttons had been pressed out of a piece of bone all those years ago. Courtesy University of Birmingham.
Archaeologists have discovered the remains of what they think might be a small-scale 14th century button industry in Coventry.
Working on the site of an old Salvation Army building in Upper Well Street, the team from the University of Birmingham found pottery and bone in medieval hearths and rubbish pits.
But what caught their eyes was a number of bone button blanks. This suggests that rather than being used for decorative metallic buttons, the blanks would have been for the manufacture of buttons for practical use.
"One method of manufacture would be to saw the button from the bone, or cut the button out using a lathe," explained Erica Macey-Bracken, Finds Officer from the University of Birmingham.
"These buttons, however, appear to have been punched out using a stamp. These could have been decorated or covered with cloth as from the 14th century onwards, Coventry was exporting cloth to Europe in large quantities."
The button blanks were found alongside various other artefacts from medieval Coventry. Courtesy University of Birmingham.
The archaeologists also excavated the medieval defensive ditch, which runs along the eastern edge of the site, and found substantial quantities of fish bones.
"There has been very little previous work with regard to the impact of fish farming during this period," added City Archaeologist Chris Patrick, "and this is a great opportunity for an insight into both the diet of the people living in Upper Well Street, and the local medieval economy."
As far back as the 12th century, Upper Well Street was part of the main route between Stafford and Coventry and is thought to have been continuously occupied since the medieval period.
The area is situated outside medieval fortifications, which consisted of a wall and ditch, with 12 gates and 20 towers, forming a circuit around the city and took nearly 200 years to complete.
Among the finds are pieces of pottery, bones and this medieval jetton. Courtesy University of Birmingham.
During the Civil War the defences were strengthened and in 1643 some of the properties outside the wall were demolished to give the parliamentarians a clear field of fire from the city walls.
As it eventually turned out, the city was on the wrong side during the civil war and the fortifications were dismantled soon after the restoration of the monarchy.
The excavation of the area was carried out ahead of the construction of a new Salvation Army building to replace the old one, which, due to the Disability Discrimination Act, had reached the end of its useful life.
The new building will be more accessible with its main entrance on Upper Well Street giving an open view towards the medieval city wall, which has been incorporated into the design.
A full assessment of the archaeologists’ finds is currently being undertaken by a specialist team at the University of Birmingham and their findings will be published next year.