Top Stories of 2004
Music man's bid to restore harmony in Middle East
1 Jan 04
A SCOTTISH musicologist is bringing a little harmony to the Middle East by recreating an instrument that has not been heard since the days of the Old Testament.
John Kenny was part of a team of scientists and musicians who resurrected the Pictish instrument known as the carnyx, a 2,000-year-old metal trumpet in the shape of a boar’s head which was used by ancient Scots in their battle against Roman invasion.
Using this experience, Kenny, a teacher at Glasgow’s Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, is now working with Israeli and Palestinian academics to recreate an ancient horn instrument described in the Old Testament.
Using traditional methods, Kenny joined forces with musicologist John Percer, metalworker John Creed and archeologist Fraser Hunter to reconstruct the carnyx in 1998 from the fragile remnants of an original instrument discovered in the Moray Firth in the 19th century.
Since then the team have worked on a range of projects seeking to bring the music of the ancient world back to life.
Earlier this year, the Scottish group helped recreate two working models of Irish Bronze Age instruments, the Ard Brinn Horn and the Lough Nasaed Trumpet.
Kenny, who lives in Edinburgh and has recorded several CDs of music featuring the carnyx, is now working with musicians and archaeologists in Egypt, Israel, Greece and Turkey who sought advice on reconstructing ancient instruments from their own countries.
Among the instruments that could be recreated are the hazerot, which consists of a pair of joined silver trumpets and is mentioned in the Old Testament.
Although no surviving instruments have ever been found, a representation can be found on the Arch of Titus, which portrays how they were used by defending forces when Roman Emperor Titus sacked of Jerusalem in 70AD.
The instrument was used in conjunction with the shofar - which is carved from a ram’s horn - to gather people to tribal meetings, to alert camps of danger and to signal in warfare.
Working with renowned music expert Professor Joachin Braun at the University of Jerusalem and Palestinian musician Bassam Abdul Salam, Kenny’s ambition is to create a working example of the instrument that can be used by musicians on both sides of the divide.
He said: "It is absolutely essential to work with academics in Arab lands and in Israel because modern boundaries have very little to do with pre-classical boundaries and the variations of the instrument were common to Arab and Israeli people. This means working cross-culturally.
"The people do share a common base for their musical culture. There is far more to unite them than divide them.
"I have had some talks with people in Jerusalem and we are now looking at the best way of funding the project."
Metal horns and trumpets were common across much of the Pictish world, such as Scotland, Ireland and France, and similar brass and silver instruments were found in ancient Egypt, Greece, the Middle East and Indus Valley.
Wooden pipe find excites Irish archaeologists
Archaeologists are dancing with delight after discovering a set of musical pipes believed to have been used 4,000 years ago by prehistoric man in Ireland, making them the world's oldest wooden instruments.
Archaeologists discovered the six wooden pipes, which are not joined, during excavations of a housing development site near the coastal town of Greystones, south of Dublin.
"It is brilliant, absolutely fantastic," Bernice Molloy, site director for archaeological consultancy firm Margaret Gowen said.
"It is an amazing find. They had been preserved because they were in the lower part of the site which was damper," Ms Molloy said.
Experts have been able to play a series of notes, including E flat, A flat and F natural, on the yew wood pipes.
The pipes were discovered in the bottom of a wood-lined trough.
The archaeological team had been excavating a burnt mound believed to have been a cooking site when it came across the trough.
A wooden peg used in the construction of the trough has been radio carbon dated to between 2,120 BC and 2,085 BC, which falls in the Early Bronze Age period.
Ms Molloy said the hollow pipes, measuring between 30 centimetres and 50 centimetres long are tapered at one end but have no perforations or finger holes.
"I have so far been unable to find any older wooden instrument," said Margaret Gowen, who owns the consultancy that made the discovery.
"It appears to be 1,000 years older than anything I can find on record, certainly in Europe.
"There is a suggestion of an early Chinese composite instrument like pan pipes with a gourd that is the wind chamber going back to about 1500 BC, but that is an illustration rather than the instrument," she said.
Ms Gowen added that a 2,000 year-old sophisticated wooden pipe organ, dating from Roman times, had been discovered in Hungary.
"In our case it is one of those accidents of survival and a wonderful one at that. It is going to excite quite a lot of interest," she said of the find.
A number of prehistoric musical instruments made from bone, including simple flutes and whistles dating back more than 100,000 years, have already been uncovered in Ireland.
Gallic war treasure discovered in southern France
Sat Nov 27, 2:58 PM ET Science - AFP
BORDEAUX, France (AFP) - French archaeologists said this week they had discovered an exceptional Gallic war treasure in the south of the country, including rare war trumpets and ornate helmets.
The some 470 objects, or fragments of objects, were found at the end of September during a dig at Naves, in the department of Correze in southern France, in a ditch hollowed out of a Gallic-Roman temple, they said.
"The exceptional character of this discovery lies mainly in the presence of five almost complete carnyx," Christophe Maniquet, an archeologist at Inrap, France's national institute for Archeological studies, said.
"They are celtic war trumpets which were used to scare off the enemy, by confusing the battle," he said.
He said it was the first time these ceremonial musical instruments had been found in one piece. The long, bronze tubes, measuring more than two metres long, have flags on the end, four of which bear the head of a wild boar, the fifth a snake.
"In all, in the world, there have only been fragments of these instruments, in Scotland and Mandeure (eastern France). We only know these trumpets through drawings," he said, saying they had in particular been seen represented on coins.
The searches of the temple, including into the first occupations, which date back to the first century BC, started in September 2001.
In addition to the traditional warfare -- swords, sheathes and spearheads, the archaeologists made another special discovery: nine war helmets, of which eight in bronze and one in iron, with their rearpeaks.
One of them was particularly original, being decorated with a swan, while another was decorated with golden leaves.
"We have only found around 20 helmets in the territory of the ancient Gaul," Maniquet said.
The discovery does not end there.
Also unearthed in the search are bronze animals' heads -- boars and a horse.
"These animals could be war signs, placed at the end of the poles which guided soldiers during battles," he said.
There are only five kinds of this kind of sign.
Experts say the experts could be a real "war trophy", and appear to have been buried for religious reasons.
"The fact of having buried them amounts to a ritual of offering," he said.
Most of the collection has been sent to a laboratory in Toulouse to be cleaned, carefully studied by archaeologists and then restored.
"We hope to see these objects on show in a museum in two or three years' time," Maniquet said.
"All specialists, whether English, German or Italian, of the Celtic period will come rushing to see these exceptional objects."
'Hobbit' joins human family tree
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.
The whole idea that you need a particular brain size to do anything intelligent is completely blown away by this find
Dr Henry Gee, 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.
King of the swingers?
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 Flores remains could have been lost to science
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.
13 July 2004 ‘Sistine Chapel of the Ice Age’ found at Creswell Crags
A team of researchers led by the University of Sheffield and supported by English Heritage have found eighty 13,000-year-old carvings in limestone rock of Church Hole Cave, at Creswell Crags in Nottinghamshire. The carvings are a unique find and form the most elaborate cave art ceiling in the world.
The carvings, which appear on the ceiling of the cave, represent animal figures, including deer, bears, birds and possibly dancing women.
Dr Paul Pettitt, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, led the research. He explains, “This find represents the most richly carved ceiling in the whole of cave art and shows a number of new themes and techniques. It also demonstrates that cave art is spread across a much wider geographical area than we originally thought.”
Dr Paul Bahn, a member of the research team and one of the world’s leading experts on Ice Age art explains, “We saw the figures during sunny mornings, when the cave was illuminated by a brilliant reflected light, which is how I presume they were supposed to be viewed. This type of carving is extremely rare on cave ceilings and is a significant find.”
Jon Humble, Inspector of Ancient Monuments for English Heritage said, “The people who lived in Creswell Crags some 13,000 years ago have quite literally carved out its place in prehistory, the present and indeed the future.”
Notes for editor
1. The discovery of cave art is the most important find from the British Palaeolithic since the discovery of 500,000 year old hominid remains from Boxgrove, West Sussex in the mid 1990s. 2. Most rock art in Britain is thought to be c.8,000 later than the Creswell discoveries, and typically occurs as a variety of engraved or pecked motifs on rock faces and boulders in open, non-cave situations. Recently English Heritage has provided funding to Bournemouth University to carry out a review of English rock art sites, to enable improved conservation measures. 3. The research and dissemination of information about the rock art at Creswell Crags is being undertaken as a partnership between the research team (Dr Paul Pettitt, Dr Sergio Ripoll, Dr Francisco Muñoz and Dr Paul Bahn), The University of Sheffield, English Heritage and Creswell Heritage Trust. This has included an international conference hosted at the community centre in Creswell village at Easter 2004. 4. The Creswell Heritage Trust is an independent charitable Trust supported by Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire County Councils, Lafarge Lime, Severn Trent Water, English Heritage and English Nature. The Trust’s patrons are Professor David Bellamy and Sir Martin Doughty. The Trust works closely with a number of professional and scientific bodies including Sheffield University and the British Museum.
Thu 5 Feb 2004
Fabulous Finds as Saxon King's Tomb Is Unearthed
By Tony Jones, PA News
The tomb of an East Saxon king containing a fabulous collection of artefacts has been unearthed, it was announced today.
The burial chamber, believed to date from the early 7th century, has been described by experts as the richest Anglo-Saxon find since the Sutton Hoo ship burial in Suffolk – one of Britain’s most important archaeological locations.
The site in Prittlewell, Southend, Essex was filled with everything a King might need in the afterlife, from his sword and shield to copper bowls, glass vessels and treasures imported from the farthest corners of the then known world.
The remains of the nobleman’s body have dissolved in the acidic soil, but two gold foil crosses were found which suggest he was a newly-converted Christian.
Ian Blair, the senior archaeologist on the site who carried out the work for the Museum of London Archaeology Service, said: “To find an intact chamber grave and a moment genuinely frozen in time is a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.
“The fact that copper-alloy bowls were still hanging from hooks in the walls of the chamber, where they had been placed nearly 1,400 years ago, is a memory that I’m sure will remain with all of us forever.”
He added: “Two foil crosses, probably originally laid on the body or sewn to a shroud, suggest that the King had converted from paganism to Christianity.”
The tomb was discovered last autumn when Southend-on-Sea Borough Council’s consultants Atkins Heritage and the Museum of London Archaeology Service began an evaluation survey in an area due for road improvements.
Saxon artefacts had been found at the site in the past, and on a verge between a road and a railway line they discovered the burial chamber, which measured about four metres square by one and a half metres high.
The contents of the tomb had been held in place because the sand from the mound sealing the grave gradually seeped into the chamber, silting up the air spaces and supporting the roof-timbers.
Most of the organic material on the site had been destroyed by the acidity of the soil, but fragments of wood from the burial chamber and from some of the vessels had survived.
A spokesman for the Museum of London Archaeology Service said: “The find is spectacular in its size and quality, but what makes it unique is that all the objects were in their original positions, just as they had been arranged on the day of the funeral.”
He added: “The burial is probably contemporary with the Sutton Hoo burial (c.AD 630) and it is quite possible that the two men knew each other.
“This is the period when royalty flaunted their wealth at extravagant feasts in smoky halls, and epic poems like Beowulf told of heroic feats of valour.”
The most exotic finds are a decorated flagon and at least one bowl that were both imported from the eastern Mediterranean, possibly Asia Minor.
Other highlights among the sixty or more finds are a hanging bowl decorated with metallic strips and medallions, and two cauldrons, one small and one very large.
There are also two pairs of coloured glass vessels, eight wooden drinking cups decorated with gilded mounts, buckets and the remains of a large casket that may have originally contained textiles.
A particularly unusual item is the frame of a folding stool, which could be from Asia Minor or Italy.
The dead man had also been provided with two Merovingian gold coins from northern France.
Conservation and study of the material that has been found is continuing but a selection of the objects found in the burial chamber will be on display free of charge at the Museum of London, from tomorrow, and at the Southend Central Museum from February 21.
Anglo-Saxon king's tomb is biggest find since Sutton Hoo
By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent
05 February 2004
Archaeologists have unearthed the spectacularly rich tomb of a Dark Age Anglo-Saxon king - the most important discovery since the Sutton Hoo ship burial 65 years ago.
Excavations at Southend-on-Sea revealed the intact tomb of an early seventh century Saxon monarch - almost certainly either Saeberht or Sigeberht, both kings of Dark Age Essex.
Saeberht - England's second Christian king - died around AD617. His kingdom included London and St Paul's Cathedral was almost certainly founded in his reign.
His uncle was the king of Kent responsible for the introduction of Christianity into Anglo-Saxon England. Sigeberht was murdered in 653 AD because "he was too ready to pardon his enemies". The tomb and its contents were discovered in almost perfect condition. The spectacular grave goods were found still "hanging" from iron pegs which had been hammered into the walls of the tomb.
Originally the burial chamber had been lined and roofed with planks, but the wood has long since disintegrated, allowing the tomb to fill up with earth.
The grave goods - designed to enable the king to live well in the next world - include a 75cm diameter copper cauldron, a 35cm hanging bowl from northern England or Ireland and an exquisite 25cm diameter copper bowl, probably from Italy.
There is also a 30cm high flagon, almost certainly from the Byzantine Empire, two gold foil crosses, an iron-framed folding stool, a sort of mobile throne, a gold reliquary which would probably have contained a bone fragment from a saint, four glass vessels, two drinking horns, the king's sword and the remains of his shield, two gold coins from Merovingian France, the remains of a lyre, and several iron-clad barrels and buckets, presumably for alcoholic drink.
The king's skeleton has not survived due to the acidic nature of the soil.
The royal tomb is one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Britain. It dates from the same period as the great Sutton Hoo ship burial, found in Suffolk in 1939, which contained the body of a king of East Anglia.
The excavations have been carried out by the Museum of London Archaeological Service and the objects will be on display at the Museum till 17 February and then from 21 February at Southend-on-Sea's Museum.
World to See Afghanistan's Fabled Bactrian Gold
Tue Jun 1, 2004 07:28 AM ET
By Mike Collett-White
KABUL (Reuters) - The world could soon catch a glimpse of Afghanistan's fabled Bactrian gold, as preparations get under way to exhibit some of the 20,000 or so pieces that make up the country's most important ancient treasure trove.
Dates and locations have yet to be finalized but the United States, France, Germany, Japan and Greece, are among countries interested in hosting the 2,000-year-old haul that has miraculously remained intact despite years of war and upheaval.
While other important archaeological sites are plundered or have been ruined by war, the Bactrian gold discovered by a Soviet team just before the Red Army invasion of 1979 has had a number of narrow escapes, adding to its allure and mystery.
"When the process of inventory is done, we will decide," said Culture and Information Minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen.
"We will sit down with the Americans, the Germans, French and Japanese and make a joint decision on arranging a tour," he told Reuters.
The favorites to host the collection first are the Americans and French, and Raheen hopes interest in the treasure found near the northern town of Shiberghan will generate funds to build museums and combat looting.
"This ministry is in need of much," he said, rubbing weary eyes. "I want to spend the money on new museums. We used to have museums in the provinces, and now we have none."
Plans are underway to build a museum in Bamiyan, home to giant Buddhas cut into cliffs which were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. It was an act of destruction that shocked the world and exposed the hard-line Islamic militia's intolerance.
A new museum may also be built in Kabul, where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.
MORE THAN GOLD
Raheen is aware that a series of exhibitions could be vital to supporting his ministry, but there is plenty more on his mind.
"My mind is busy with many other sites and historical objects. The main problem is looting of those sites by warlords and the international mafia; even now hundreds of pieces are going out of the country."
An Afghan official who viewed the Bactrian gold recently in an underground vault in the heavily guarded presidential palace in Kabul described the pieces he saw, including an intricately designed belt and a gold broach, as "priceless."
Hardly anyone sees the collection, and those who do are searched by armed U.S. mercenaries hired by Washington to protect President Hamid Karzai.
The paranoia is understandable.
Retreating Soviet forces left behind the Bactrian treasure. So did the Taliban, according to several accounts, despite desperate efforts to access the vault as U.S. bombers pounded Kabul on the eve of the regime's demise in November, 2001.
Many assumed the gold had disappeared forever, but it was discovered intact after the vault was finally opened in August for the first time in 14 years.
Raheen said there were 20,600 gold pieces in the collection. The trove was from a nomad burial site in what was once Bactria, lying between the Hindu Kush mountains and the Amu Darya river, also known as the Oxus.
The coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns have never been seen outside Afghanistan.
But while curators pitch for a part in what promises to be a glittering roadshow, Raheen has other things on his mind.
"We recently established a 500-man guard with the Interior Ministry," he said, referring to a force set up to protect what is left of Afghanistan's heritage. "It took me a year to get this far. But it is not mobilized yet; we need cars and equipment."
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Rare carving unearthed after moorland fire
Tuesday December 21, 2004
A carving, found after a North York Moors blaze last year, may be an attempt at landscape painting, Photo: John Giles/PA
A bold pattern of zigzags which may be the world's first known attempt at landscape painting, has been found in the aftermath of a devastating moorland fire.
The crude carving by an unknown bronze-age artist is one of more than 2,400 historically important artefacts revealed by the scorching last year of a swath of the North York Moors, where until now only 30 scheduled ancient monuments have been designated.
"It turns out to be an astonishing archaeological landscape," said Nick Redfern, regional inspector of ancient monuments for English Heritage, who was left open-mouthed when the hidden treasures of Fylingdale Top were revealed, near the Anglo-American Star Wars defence base.
The finds are being surveyed and catalogued, a process which will take months, with previously unknown features including 3,000-year-old flints.
The rock "painting" is considered much the most significant because of the lack, internationally, of anything similar from the period.
The blaze destroyed around a square mile of peat and exposed the long-hidden subsoil, where the carving was found embedded in ash.
A three-year programme to analyse the finds, which also include water channels built for the 18th-century alum industry and medieval field walls, has been given a £200,000 grant by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Police Find 100 Stolen Ancient Roman Artefacts
Police in southern Italy have seized some 100 ancient Roman treasures, from marble busts to vases, that were unearthed by archaeological scavengers and sold illegally to collectors.
A Naples police unit that specialises in archaeology raided homes, restaurants and hotels, said Lorenzo Marinaccio, the unit’s commander. The raids stemmed from an investigation of scavengers and traffickers.
The finds included a sarcophagus and busts of bearded men, all made of marble.
They were “really important objects, and the archaeologists who work with us were stunned by them”, Mr Marinaccio said. The sarcophagus alone could have brought up to 200,000 euros (£137,000), he said.
The clandestine art market in southern Italy is full of ”grave diggers” who excavate ancient sites, some of them under the sea, unearthing priceless objects that go unreported to authorities.
Often, the scavengers move in on sites that have been abandoned by archaeologists who ran out of funds, Mr Marinaccio said.
Also today, police in the Tuscan town of Lucca said they had dismantled an art thievery ring that targeted expensive homes in the region, the Ansa news agency said. Police uncovered hundreds of stolen pieces of art worth millions of pounds.
Bend it like King Henry VIII?
New research suggests that Henry VIII was a 16th century footballer.
The King, born in 1491 and married six times in all during the 1500s, owned a pair of football "shoes", research in archives at the University of Southampton has revealed.
New investigations by Dr Maria Hayward, from the Textile Conservation Centre at Winchester School of Art, are revealing more about what was worn in Royal circles at the time of Henry VIII.
It is already known that the much-married monarch enjoyed tennis, riding and jousting.
Dr Hayward said: "Football in Tudor times was a very vicious game with no teams and no rules.
"According to contemporary writer Sir Thomas Elyot it was a game of "beastly fury and extreme violence", so it was not a game for gentlemen.
"This makes it all the more surprising that Henry had a special pair of shoes for playing football in. The game was apparently especially popular on Shrove Tuesday."
Dr Hayward is gathering material for publication about Henry's first Queen, Catherine of Aragon, and an in-depth study of dress at Henry VIII's court with research grants from the Arts and Humanities Research Board and the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art.
Detailed records exist of Henry's wardrobe for nine years out of the King's 37 year reign.
No clothes or shoes owned by Henry VIII have survived. Many items were given away as gifts and a few pieces still in the royal collection in the 1640s were sold by Oliver Cromwell.
But his wardrobe was listed in the inventory taken of all his possessions, totalling some 17,000 items, when he died in 1547.