New Evidence Puts Man In North America 50,000 Years Ago

Radiocarbon tests of carbonized plant remains where artifacts were unearthed last May along the Savannah River in Allendale County by University of South Carolina archaeologist Dr. Albert Goodyear indicate that the sediments containing these artifacts are at least 50,000 years old, meaning that humans inhabited North American long before the last ice age.


The findings are significant because they suggest that humans inhabited North America well before the last ice age more than 20,000 years ago, a potentially explosive revelation in American archaeology.


Goodyear, who has garnered international attention for his discoveries of tools that pre-date what is believed to be humans' arrival in North America, announced the test results, which were done by the University of California at Irvine Laboratory, Wednesday (Nov .17).


"The dates could actually be older," Goodyear says. "Fifty-thousand should be a minimum age since there may be little detectable activity left."


The dawn of modern homo sapiens occurred in Africa between 60,000 and 80,000 years ago. Evidence of modern man's migration out of the African continent has been documented in Australia and Central Asia at 50,000 years and in Europe at 40,000 years. The fact that humans could have been in North America at or near the same time is expected to spark debate among archaeologists worldwide, raising new questions on the origin and migration of the human species.


"Topper is the oldest radiocarbon dated site in North America," Goodyear says. "However, other early sites in Brazil and Chile, as well as a site in Oklahoma also suggest that humans were in the Western Hemisphere as early as 30,000 years ago to perhaps 60,000."


In 1998, Goodyear, nationally known for his research on the ice age PaleoIndian cultures dug below the 13,000-year Clovis level at the Topper site and found unusual stone tools up to a meter deeper. The Topper excavation site is on the bank of the Savannah River on property owned by Clariant Corp., a chemical corporation headquartered near Basel, Switzerland. He recovered numerous stone tool artifacts in soils that were later dated by an outside team of geologists to be 16,000 years old.


For five years, Goodyear continued to add artifacts and evidence that a pre-Clovis people existed, slowly eroding the long-held theory by archaeologists that man arrived in North America around 13,000 years ago.


Last May, Goodyear dug even deeper to see whether man's existence extended further back in time. Using a backhoe and hand excavations, Goodyear's team dug through the Pleistocene terrace soil, some 4 meters below the ground surface. Goodyear found a number of artifacts similar to the pre-Clovis forms he has excavated in recent years.


Then on the last day of the last week of digging, Goodyear's team uncovered a black stain in the soil where artifacts lay, providing him the charcoal needed for radiocarbon dating. Dr. Tom Stafford of Stafford Laboratories in Boulder, Colo., came to Topper and collected charcoal samples for dating.


"Three radiocarbon dates were obtained from deep in the terrace at Topper with two dates of 50,300 and 51,700 on burnt plant remains. One modern date related to an intrusion," Stafford says. "The two 50,000 dates indicate that they are at least 50,300 years. The absolute age is not known."


The revelation of an even older date for Topper is expected to heighten speculation about when man got to the Western Hemisphere and add to the debate over other pre-Clovis sites in the Eastern United States such as Meadowcroft Rockshelter, Pa., and Cactus Hill, Va.


In October 2005, archaeologists will meet in Columbia for a conference on Clovis and the study of earliest Americans. The conference will include a day trip to Topper, which is sure to dominate discussions and presentations at the international gathering. USC's Topper: A Timeline


May, 1998 — Dr. Al Goodyear and his team dig up to a meter below the Clovis level and encounter unusual stone tools up to two meters below surface.


May 1999 — Team of outside geologists led by Mike Waters, a researcher at Texas A&M, visit Topper site and propose a thorough geological study of locality.


May 2000 — Geology study done by consultants; ice age soil confirmed for pre-Clovis artifacts.


May 2001 — Geologists revisit Topper and obtain ancient plant remains deep down in the Pleistocene terrace. OSL (optically stimulated luminescence) dates on soils above ice age strata show pre-Clovis is at least older than 14,000.


May 2002 — Geologists find new profile showing ancient soil lying between Clovis and pre-Clovis, confirming the age of ice age soils between 16,000 - 20,000 years.


May 2003 — Archaeologists continue to excavate pre-Clovis artifacts above the terrace, as well as new, significant Clovis finds.


May 2004 — Using backhoe and hand excavations, Goodyear and his team dig deeper, down into the Pleistocene terrace, some 4 meters below the ground surface. Artifacts, similar to pre-Clovis forms excavated in previous years, recovered deep in the terrace. A black stain in the soil provides charcoal for radio carbon dating.


November 2004 — Radiocarbon dating report indicates that artifacts excavated from Pleistocene terrace in May were recovered from soil that dates some 50,000 years. The dates imply an even earlier arrival for humans in this hemisphere than previously believed, well before the last ice age. DR. ALBERT C. GOODYEAR III


University of South Carolina archaeologist Albert C. Goodyear joined the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology in1974 and has been associated with the Research Division since 1976. He is also the founder and director of the Allendale PaleoIndian Expedition, a program that involves members of the public in helping to excavate PaleoAmerican sites in the central Savannah River Valley of South Carolina.


Goodyear earned his bachelor's degree in anthropology from the University of South Florida (1968), his master's degree in anthropology from the University of Arkansas and his doctorate in anthropology from Arizona State University (1976). He is a member of the Society for American Archaeology, the Southeastern Archaeological Conference, the Archaeological Society of South Carolina, and the Florida Anthropological Society. He has served twice as president of the Archaeological Society of South Carolina and is on the editorial board of The Florida Anthropologist and the North American Archaeologist.


Goodyear developed his interest in archaeology in the 1960s as a member of the F1orida Anthropological Society and through avocational experiences along Florida's central Gulf Coast. He wrote and published articles about sites and artifacts from that region for The Florida Anthropologist in the late 1960s. His master's thesis on the Brand site, a late PaleoIndian Dalton site in northeast Arkansas, was published in 1974 by the Arkansas Archeological Survey. At Arizona State University, he did field research on Desert Hohokam mountain hunting and gathering sites in the Lower Sonoran desert of Southern Arizona.


Goodyear, whose primary research interest has been America's earliest human inhabitants, has focused on the period of the Pleistocene-Holocene transition dating between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago. He has taken a geoarchaeological approach to the search for deeply buried early sites by teaming up with colleagues in geology and soil science. For the past 15 years he has studied early prehistoric sites in Allendale County, S.C., in the central Savannah River Valley. These are stone tool manufacturing sites related to the abundant chert resources that were quarried in this locality.


This work has been supported by the National Park Service, the National Geographic Society, the University of South Carolina, the Archaeological Research Trust (SCIAA), the Allendale Research Fund, the Elizabeth Stringfellow Endowment Fund, Sandoz Chemical Corp. and Clariant Corp., the present owner of the site.


Goodyear is the author of over 100 articles, reports and books and regularly presents public lectures and professional papers on his PaleoIndian discoveries in South Carolina.




Stone age Julia Roberts


Archeologists have nicknamed a stone age skeleton Julia Roberts because of her perfect teeth.


They were stunned by the condition of the women's teeth - still strong and straight after 9,000 years.


Archaeologists now believe stone age man must have had a secret way of making toothpaste.


Preserved remains of cattle bones and wheat found near her body show her diet was similar to what many people eat today in less developed areas of the world - but her teeth were far superior.


Georgi Ganetsovski, who led the archaeological expedition to Ohoden in northwest Bulgaria, said the skeleton was believed to be the oldest ever found in Europe - but was more remarkable for its teeth than its age.


He said: "She was a rare beauty and could have competed with today's Hollywood stars with her perfect set of teeth. She is a stone age Julia Roberts. She would have had a perfect smile - it really is a puzzle."


Last year, Viennese historians reported they had unearthed an ancient Egyptian way of making toothpaste in use thousands of years before Colgate officially marketed the world's first commercial toothpaste.


An ancient Egyptian scribe has carefully detailed on woven papyrus what he lists as a "powder for white and perfect teeth" that when mixed with saliva formed a "clean tooth paste".


As well as 1 drachma of rock salt, a measure equal to 0.5 gramms, the recipe requires two drachmas of mint, one drachma of iris and 20 grains of pepper, to be crushed and mixed together.



Canadian dig unearths Sinai desert fortress

Associated Press


TORONTO — A Canadian archeological expedition in Egypt has uncovered the remains of a 4,200-year-old fortress near the Red Sea coast in the Sinai Desert, a discovery that sheds some light on life at the time when the Great Pyramids were built.


Details of the discovery will be published soon in the Bulletin of the American School of Oriental Research, and archeologists say it offers important clues on what was going on during the last years of the period in Egypt called the Old Kingdom (2700-2200 BC).


The team first learned of the site two years ago -- and returned this past summer -- while mapping archeological sites in the Sinai Desert. Led by a brief report of ruins in the area of Ras Budran and information from local Bedouin, they went south along the Red Sea coast to the remains of the fort.


Project director Gregory Mumford recalls shrieking: "Wow, this is massive!'' when the team first surveyed what was on the surface.


They did not have time to conduct a formal excavation and left after doing a survey of the surface remains with the belief that the ruins dated from no earlier than 1500 BC. But this past summer, the team returned to Ras Budran and excavated the site.


They found that the fortress walls were seven metres thick and had an unusual circular shape that gave the fort a diameter of 44 metres. And the walls were not built with the more commonly used mud brick but with limestone blocks.


Geo-archeologist Dr. Lawrence Pavlish, who was part of the survey team in the summer of 2003, said it made a "good checkpoint'' for anyone travelling down the Red Sea coast of the Sinai Peninsula in the ancient world.


The pottery found at the site indicated that it was older than originally thought, dating to around 2250 BC, in the sixth dynasty of Old Kingdom Egypt.


Mumford believes that the construction of the fort was likely an act of desperation by ancient Egypt, which was in a state of war with people who lived in the Sinai at the time called the Bedwin -- direct ancestors of the modern Bedouin.


Egypt was "going on the defensive,'' he said.


Archeological evidence reveals that the fort was occupied for "perhaps a year'' before it was abandoned, Mumford added. He said surveys of the Sinai Peninsula has found evidence of numerous ancient campsites made by the Bedwin.


The existence of the fort, and its short-term occupation, supports a theory popular among Egyptologists that ancient Egypt's war in the Sinai as well as with the Nubians in the modern Sudan was an important factor in the collapse of Egyptian civilization by 2200 BC.


Egypt didn't recover for more than 200 years, and even then never built pyramids or undertook building projects as large as those in the Old Kingdom. The team that excavated the site is one of only two active Canadian archeological expeditions in Egypt. Canada has only a handful of Egyptologists employed in universities across the country.


The Sinai expedition was staffed almost entirely by Canadians with support from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities. It was funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the American Research Centre in Egypt and private donors.






11:00 - 20 November 2004 

Exotic spices unearthed beneath the Bath Spa show military administrators lived in the lap of luxury in the city's early days. Food and architectural remains found preserved beneath the remains of Roman buildings provide new evidence of the high living enjoyed by the military rulers of what was then Aquae Sulis in the first century AD.


The remains were discovered in 1999, but have only just finished being analysed.


The ancient grapes, figs, coriander and a peppercorn - along with highly decorative architectural fragments - are believed to come from a military administrator's building, which was demolished when the city passed from military to civilian use in the second century AD.


Peter Davenport, the director of excavations at Bath Archaeological Trust, said: "What we are realising from work in the past decade is that Bath grew in a very complicated way during its first hundred years.


"This is fleshing out how Bath grew up as a mixture of military and civilian. It shows that the military, when they were here in the first century, were living a very comfortable life. They had settled in and were using good quality imports.


"It's beginning to show how Aquae Sulis began in a military sense, but always had something quite posh and special about it.


"This is an early example of a very luxurious lifestyle in a place which is a byword for luxury."


The spices, which would have had to be imported at great expense from the Far East, were preserved in a waterlogged ditch where the air could not rot them during the two millennia after they were discarded.


High quality imported tableware was also found.


Mr Davenport added: "The sheer building of the baths was a way of showing what a luxurious lifestyle the Romans led.


"The exotic foods were a stamp of luxury but on a smaller scale.


"I suppose an equivalent is the British administrators in India having their Fortnum and Mason jam imported.


"It shows just how important their lifestyle was to them."


Bath Architectural Trust took samples while excavating from 1998 to 1999 during development work on the spa.


The trust was excavating remains of a civilian Roman building from 150AD, which was thought to be a type of hostelry called a mansio, when it found the food in the drainage ditch and architectural remains of the older building's foundations.


Mr Davenport said this older building could have been sited where the Gainsborough Building now is, opposite the spa in Beau Street, and probably included formal gardens.


It was demolished as part of a wide- scale redevelopment of early Bath which took place when it became a civilian city.


The peppercorn is the first to be found on a British Roman site and only the third in the world, the other two being found at Pompeii and in southern Germany.


The excavation work was funded by Bath and North East Somerset Council. A complete report on its findings will be published next year.





Labour demand rethink of M3 motorway plans

21/11/2004 - 16:23:21


The Labour Party has called on the Government not to go ahead with the proposed plans for the M3 motorway.


The proposed route would see the M3 motorway pass through Tara Skyrne Valley.


Labour's environment spokesperson Eamon Gilmore said that the National Roads Authority must consider alternative options for the route.


He said: “We think that the sensible thing to do would be to pull back from it now, construction contracts have not yet been entered into and now is the time to take stock of it.


“We know that there are anything from 38 to 48 archaeological sites that have now been identified along that particular route.”




By David Prudames 18/11/2004


Archaeologists examining the stitching holes that reveal the construction techniques of this ancient ship. Courtesy Paola Palma Mary Rose Trust/ Gela Shipwreck Project Coltamissetta.


The remains of a 2,500-year-old Greek trading vessel have arrived at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard where the experts behind the conservation of the Mary Rose will preserve its ancient timbers.


Discovered in 1988 about 800 metres from the coastline off the city of Gela in Sicily, the ship dates to between 500 and 430 BC.


It was found in several layers of silt at a depth of five metres (16 feet), but wasn’t excavated until summer 2004 when some 700 timbers and fragments were raised to the surface.


Arriving in the UK on November 17 the remains will now undergo a five-year conservation programme in the capable hands of the Mary Rose Trust.


A diver records the Gela timbers during the excavation. Courtesy Paola Palma Mary Rose Trust/ Gela Shipwreck Project Coltamissetta.


Chief Executive John Lippiett explained how, during the excavation, it was decided the trust had the necessary expertise to handle the project.


"Among the archaeologists working on the site was Paola Palma, a member of our staff," he said.


"It soon became apparent that we could offer the best equipment including the largest vacuum freeze-dryer in the world and expertise to conserve the Gela Boat."


So Paola struck a deal with the Italian authorities and the boat was carefully packed up in crates and prepared for the long journey north to Portsmouth.


Staff at the Mary Rose laboratories will now undertake a five-year conservation programme, after which the vessel will be re-assembled and returned to a new museum in Gela.


The keelson of the Gela Wreck in the supporting frame used to raise it from the seabed. Courtesy Paola Palma Mary Rose Trust/ Gela Shipwreck Project Coltamissetta.


Measuring 18 metres (59 feet) long by about 6.8 metres (22 feet), the boat was built from pine planks fastened with copper and iron nails and sewn together with plant fibre cords.


Preliminary studies have suggested the Gela Boat was a trading vessel, equipped with one square sail and oars, that plied a route along the Sicilian coast.


During the excavation a cargo of Attic and Ionic pottery, amphorae, jars, pitchers and votive altars, was discovered alongside eight woven baskets coated in pitch and some oars.


Archaeologists also discovered that fabric had been inserted along the seams on the interior of the hull to prevent seepage of water, while the inner surface was sealed with pitch for further waterproofing.


Pottery in-situ on the wreck site. Courtesy Paola Palma Mary Rose Trust/ Gela Shipwreck Project Coltamissetta.


Fragments of lead plates were discovered as well, suggesting the vessel might have been sheathed as protection against shipworm attack.


Having successfully raised Henry VIII’s flagship in 1982 and carrying out the ongoing conservation ever since, the team at the Mary Rose laboratories are ideally placed to carry out the necessary work on the Gela Boat.


Built between 1509 and 1511, the Mary Rose was an innovative and hugely impressive member of Henry VIII's navy and is currently the only 16th century warship on display anywhere in the world.


But, as John added, the project will also provide a knock-on benefit for the Mary Rose itself.


"Securing conservation projects of this calibre," he explained, "helps us considerably to support the ongoing and critical work of conserving the hull and collection of the Mary Rose."



Trading with the enemy: Tudor ship provides clues to Anglo-Spanish ties

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

18 November 2004


Marine archaeologists have found in the mudflats of the Thames estuary the remains of an Elizabethan merchant ship which may have been carrying out a secret trading mission.


The 100ft-long vessel, one of the few Tudor merchant vessels ever found around Britain's coast, is of immense archaeological and historical importance. The ship was built of East Anglian oak at an east coast ship-building centre, probably Ipswich or Aldeburgh, around 1575 and its cargo and armaments suggest it may have been illegally trading with England's arch enemy, Spain.


Armed with at least four 3-inch-bore cannon, it was carrying a cargo of more than 100 8-metre-long folded iron bars, a few tin and lead ingots and a small number of Spanish olive jars, probably containing olive oil, when it sank, almost certainly in the 1580s or 1590s.


It is not known where the ship was bound or where it was coming from when it was lost some six miles off the coast of north-east Kent.


Apart from Sweden, northern Spain was western Europe's major source of iron. The presence of the cannon suggests that it had been active in the pirate-ridden Bay of Biscay or beyond.


Dr Wendy Childs, an expert in late medieval and early modern trade at the University of Leeds, said: "Current knowledge of late 16th century maritime trade patterns and the armed nature of the ship would suggest that the iron bars probably came from Spain - and the presence of some Spanish olive jar ceramic material on the ship would be consistent with that.


"In Elizabethan England demand for iron far exceeded supply - making export of English iron very unlikely. Although the tin and lead could have also come from Spain, it is more likely that those two metals came from England." It is conceivable the iron was being imported to help England increase its cannon and warship production.


Throughout the period of hostility between Spain and England - even at the time of the Armada itself - English ships, often disguised as Scottish or Irish vessels, continued to trade with Spain. Anglo-Spanish trade was permitted by the English government but between 1585 and 1603 it was illegal under Spanish law. Indeed scores of English merchant vessels were confiscated when they illegally entered Spanish ports to trade - and their crews were conscripted into the Spanish navy either as sailors or galley slaves.


Professor Pauline Croft, an expert in 16th-century Anglo-Spanish trade at Royal Holloway, University of London, said: "Given some of the material on board, the vessel discovered in the Thames estuary may well have been an English merchant ship returning from Spain. If the voyage took place after 1585, which may well have been the case, such trade would have been illicit but that didn't stop many English merchants taking the risk."


Among the guns found is a cast iron cannon made in the 1560s or 70s by Thomas Gresham, a well-known Elizabethan entrepreneur, at his foundry at Mayfield, East Sussex. Gresham, who died in 1579 at the age of 60 and was active in shipping in the 1550s and 60s, had a small fleet of merchant ships himself - but the wrecked vessel is probably too late in date to have been directly associated with him. The ship itself had been repaired many times - and is likely therefore to have been at least 10 to 15 years old.


Archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology working in conjunction with the Port of London Authority discovered the wreck buried in silt in around 8 metres of water while investigating a shipping lane in preparation for essential Port of London Authority dredging work.


Over the past 18 months 15 to 20 per cent of the original vessel has been recovered.


Dr Antony Firth, head of coastal and marine projects at Wessex Archaeology, said: "It is a rare survival of an Elizabethan merchant ship ... It is also bringing us much closer to the people who actually built and sailed in English merchant vessels of the Elizabethan era."



Tudor cannon recovered

Maev Kennedy

Thursday November 18, 2004

The Guardian


One of the earliest iron cannons cast in England has emerged from the shattered hull of a Tudor ship, wrecked off the Kent coast near Gravesend.

The gun, probably made in the early 1570s, is of international importance. Only one earlier English cast-iron gun survives, in a private collection: this new find will probably be housed at the Royal Armouries' artillery museum, at Fort Nelson in Hampshire.


The gun was made, and the ship may have been part-owned, by Thomas Gresham, Kent entrepreneur, iron founder - and fixer and probably spy to both Henry VIII and Elizabeth I.


The wreck was found by chance last year when a Port of London dredger hit what was first assumed to be a sunken Thames barge. It was only when the first of the guns surfaced that the archaeologists were called in.


Bruce Richardson, chief harbour master of the Port of London Authority, explained yesterday that with several of the older channels completely silted up, they decided it was essential to dredge out the Prince's Channel, the shallower of the two remaining shipping lanes. Their charts show more than 600 known wrecks, but not the Tudor ship.


Anthony Firth of Wessex Archaeology said the discovery of the ship's hull were also of great importance.



South Essex: Delight at unique discovery in the Thames

Brought to you by the Evening Echo


One of the "most significant" maritime archaeological discoveries since the Mary Rose has been hauled from the Thames estuary.


The Elizabethan wreck, which contained one of the country's earliest examples of cast iron cannons, was unveiled to the public yesterday following months of research by archaeologists.


The raising of the bow and part of a side pannel of the ship, which is yet to be identified, has been described as "unique" in the UK.


The remains of the boat have been submerged in a sandbank in the Princes Channel area of the estuary, 15 miles from Shoebury, since the 1570s.


Experts believe the 35-foot vessel was constructed from Essex timber and would have sailed along the south Essex coastline sinking to the sea bed enroute to trade its cargo on the continent.


Around 50 to 60 crew members are thought to have perished in the accident, but no human remains were found on board.


The discovery has been kept under wraps since it was made in July 2003 while the Port of London Authority (PLA) was carrying out work to deepen a shipping channel.


It was initially thought to be just an obstruction, but further tests revealed what lay beneath.



Sheela Na Gig from Sussex STOLEN

On Wednesday the 17th of November 2004 it was discovered that the Buncton figure had been crudely hacked off the wall of Buncton church and was missing. It is not yet clear whether the figure has been stolen or destroyed. If you come across this figure or are offered it for sale please get in touch with your local police.


What are Sheela Na Gigs?


Sheela Na Gigs are quasi-erotic stone carvings of a female figure usually found on Norman churches. They consist of an old woman squatting and pulling apart her vulva, a fairly strange thing to find on a church. The carvings are very old and often do not seem to be part of the church but have been taken from a previous older building (see the weathering on the Church Stretton Sheela as compared to the surrounding masonry).


Even though the image is overtly sexual the representation is always grotesque, sometimes even comical. They are usually associated with "hags" or "old women". The carvings often incorporate ribs showing on the torso and sometimes facial scaring as well, although this feature seems to be more common in Ireland than in mainland Britain.

The carvings are normally found on Churches usually of Norman origin and of Romanesque Design, but they can also be found on Secular buildings (e.g. above a stable door in Haddon Hall Derbyshire, they can also be found on many castles in Ireland )

Sheela na gigs can be found all over Britain, Ireland and even France and Spain. In fact Images of Lust proposes a Continental origin for them. 

There is some evidence however for a pagan connection. The prevalence of sheelas in Ireland (far more so than anywhere else) suggests that even if the image originates on the continent the image is also reminiscent of some type of Celtic goddess and has meaning for the Irish.



The Sheela Na Gig Project


The Sheela Na Gig Project is an attempt to collate information about Sheela Na Gigs in the UK. Whereas there seems to be plenty of data on Irish figures the UK figures are often overlooked. This website aims to address the balance by listing all known figures in the UK complete with photographs. This is by necessity a work in progress so please check back to see if any "new" sheelas have been added. You will find many figures here that appear in books on the subject and some that do not. The site also includes figures which are reported as being Sheela Na Gigs but in fact are other types of Romanesque motifs. The information on this site has mostly come from first hand visits to the figures except where indicated. We have been gathering information on figures since 1999 using visits, printed sources, information supplied by visitors to the site and users of the sheela na gig mailing list.



¤ Theft of Works

A thief or small gang is targeting churches in southwest England, stealing medieval works. According to security specialists at National Churchwatch (sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance), similar methods have been used in a series of thefts over the past year. Items taken include a fourteenth-century carved oak misericord and a fifteenth-century wooden statue of the Virgin and Child from churches in Gloucestershire; part of a carved rood screen, a thirteenth-century carving, a fifteenth-century golden altar cloth, and a fifteenth-century alabaster relief of the Ascension from churches in Somerset (the last from Wells Cathedral); and, most recently, three painted panels from a carved wooden altar screen, dating to the 1470s, from a church in Devon. Last year, some 3,600 items were stolen from churches in England and Wales. (abridged from The Art Newspaper, 12/03)


Tara’s McLoughlin’s website:

Sheela-na-gig Theories

Sheela-na-gigs are female exhibitionist carvings found on walls, abbeys, convents, churches, pillars and other structures in Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales, as well as in other parts of Europe. They come in many different shapes and sizes, but all share the same characteristic of a prominent and often enlarged genitals, often held open by the figure's hands. Most date from the middle ages.


Unfortunately, no literature survives from medieval times to give us clues as to why these explicit figures were carved and why they were placed so often on religious edifices. We have only the musings of Victorian and modern scholars to guide us in deciphering sheela's mysteries.


The name "sheela-na-gig" was most likely derived from the Irish language. The two most common translations are "Sile na gCioch" ("sheela of the breasts") or "Sile-ina-Giob" ("sheela on her hunkers"). In the Encyclopedia of Sacred Sexuality, Rufus Camphausen notes that in Mesopotamia the term "nu-gug" ("the pure and immaculate ones") referred to the sacred temple harlots, and he postulates that the name may somehow have had its origins there. Kathryn Price Theatana outlines an interesting etymological study of the name on her website-- well worth a look.


Interpretations of the figures generally fall into four main categories: fertility icons, warnings against sins of the flesh, representations of a figure from the old Celtic goddess trinity, and protection from evil. I will touch very briefly on these theories below--for further reading please see Bibliography



At first glance, it is easy to think that these figures, with their enlarged and prominent genitalia, are some type of fertility fetish. Most shorter blurbs, encyclopedia entries, and guidebooks refer to them simply as "fertility figures". As Kathryn Price Theatana so eloquently writes:

" 'Fertility Figure' (is usually) archaeological and anthropological shorthand for "we have no idea." Often applied dismissively to any female figurine about which insufficient research has been done. Or, to paraphrase Judy Grahn, 'Fertility [Figure]' is one of those generalized terms used to vaguely describe what is imprecisely understood.'"


Most fertility figures around the world conform to the "Willendorf model" ; with young, ample bodies, nurturing faces, and full (and often multiple) breasts. It is difficult to believe that these figures of crones, with their fearsome, haglike appearance, and scrawny (or nonexistent) breasts were meant to represent procreative forces.


But regardless of the reason these mysterious figures were erected by medieval people, I find it fascinating the uses sheela-na-gigs have been put to in the centuries since. There is no doubt that these figures have been used in fertility contexts. The shrine and rubbings around the Kilsarkan figure point to this. Monica Bates told me a story about an artist who was traveling around Ireland looking for sheela-na-gigs. When she came to one town, she was told that the local sheela was "in use". When she enquired what that meant, she was told that when the local women were giving birth, they would place the figure behind their shoulders to ensure an easy delivery!


Warning against the sin of lust

In Images of Lust, Weir and Jerman argue that "the female exhibitionist is...the fruit of an unbelievable misogyny" (22). They postulate that taken in the architectural and religious contexts of the Middle Ages, sheela-na-gigs were not used as fertility or apotropaic fetishes. Rather, they maintain that "sheela-na-gigs and related exhibitionists are arguably iconographic images whose purpose was to give visual support to the Church's moral teachings" (10). In effect, these figures were intended to put people off sex, and to show that eternal damnation awaited those who succumbed to the sin of lust. Weir and Jerman continue, "masons were directed to use whatever imagery seemed best fitted to combat the frailties of the human race, to depict human behaviour at its worst, and not to be too fastidious in their efforts to vilify Woman, the cause of the Fall of Man" (22).

It is indeed reasonable to assume that some female exhibitionist carvings, particularly those along medieval pilgrimage routes, were erected to warn good Catholics against sins of the flesh. This is particularly true of the figures found on churches with carvings that depict (often quite explicitly) other mortal sins (such as Kilpeck). For a fascinating and thorough look at such figures, particularly those in France and Spain, Weir and Jerman's book is a terrific resource.


However, although many of the sheelas may have been erected as a result of the "incredible misogyny" that Weir and Jerman describe, I find it interesting that in recent years, many modern women in Ireland and around the world have adopted sheela-na-gigs as a symbol of feminism and female power. In the Lammas 1996 issue of the Beltane Papers, artist Fiona Marron describes the essence of sheelas as "a celebration of womanhood and fertility in Life, Death, and Rebirth wrapped in the web of our ancient past." In Sheela-na-gigs: Their Origins and Functions Dr. Eamonn Kelly writes, "More recently the images have come to be regarded in a positive light. By some they are seen as a symbol of Irishness and by others, particularly Irish feminists, they are a symbol of active female power." And a women's bookshop named "Sheela-na-gig" served Galway's feminists for many years.


I find it deliciously ironic that modern women have gotten the "last word" on the interpretation of sheela-na-gigs. Despite the fact that the figures may have been created under the tyranny of medieval misogynistic Catholicism, modern women have reclaimed the figure as a symbol of strength and independence.



Ark Of The Convenant buried in county - claim Nov 21 2004

By Lorne Jackson


It had the power to summon angels. It was also a ferocious piece of artillery which could devastate whole cities.


Perhaps the Ark Of The Covenant's most miraculous use was its means to communicate with God.


Now a Birmingham author has claimed the legendary gold ornate chest, built under the instruction of Moses, is hidden in the Midlands.


Graham Phillips believes he may have already found three of the nine Stones Of Fire, used by the ancient Hebrews to control this fabled box.


Furthermore, he says his research has led him to unearth what could be one of the tablets the Ten Commandments were originally written on - in rural Warwickshire.


"I'm tremendously excited about the discoveries," says Graham, who published his findings in a book called The Templars And The Ark Of The Covenant.


"The research is still ongoing. However, I've already made some discoveries that could have a major impact on Biblical study and English history.


"When I started studying this topic I was fairly sceptical about whether the Ark of the Covenant had ever existed.


"The Bible describes a range of strange phenomena associated with it. It was a means by which it was possible to communicate directly with God.


"The Ark was also a terrible weapon, which the Israelites used when battling their enemies."


This ancient object was made famous in recent times by Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones movie, Raiders Of The Lost Ark.


Phillips, 51, has enthusiastically taken on the mantle of a modern day Indiana Jones. He has already written books about the Holy Grail and Alexander The Great.


However, his latest quest was the most extraordinary of all.


Travelling to Jordan, he pinpointed the cave he believes the Ark was hidden, after its original home, the Great Temple Of Jerusalem, was destroyed in 597 B.C.


Phillips gathered evidence that an English knight, Ralph De Sudeley, found the treasure in the Middle East during the 12th Century.


County records prove De Sudeley returned to Temple-Herdewyke, Warwickshire, with holy relics, although they were not described.


"Many knights would just buy things from the local bazaar and claim they were holy relics when they got back to England.


"But in this case, there was an Arab Chronicle from the time De Sudeley was in the Middle East describing a case of jewels and golden box that were found."


Later, the relics were hidden by monks who took over the land.


"They left a series of strange paintings on the walls of a church in nearby Burton Dassett.


"The pictures seemed to contain clues to where they hid what was claimed to be the Ark."


In 1600, Sir Walter Raleigh spent months searching for the treasure, but found nothing.


Now, along with two friends from America - Graham Russell, a musician, and his wife Jodi - Phillips has traced what he thinks is the location in the paintings.


And next to an old well in the village of Napton-on-the-Hill, Warwickshire, he found what may be one of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments.


"Unfortunately we've not found the Ark yet," says Phillips. "But we discovered a strangely inscribed stone slab buried in the banks of a nearby stream.


"There's a real possibility it's one of the tablets containing the Ten Commandments. According to Biblical sources they were kept in the Ark."


The stone is currently being analysed in America, at a University in Utah.


People might doubt the validity of Phillips' research - but it doesn't worry the Coventry-based historical investigator, who was born in Birmingham.


"When it comes to official academic opinion about my work, it tends to split down the middle," he says.


"Archaeologists are wary of what I've got to say. But historians are more open to my interpretations.


"I might not be an expert, but I talk to the people who are experts and do a thorough research job." ..SUPL: