Maize reveals traces of old breeding project

Emma Marris


Gene suggests ancient culture selected patterns in its corn.

The people of Mesoamerica are largely responsible for the golden corn we grow today, having domesticated tough teosinte grass thousands of years ago and bred it into modern maize.


Researchers have now located the gene responsible for some of the traits that the Mesoamericans were selecting. The discovery should help scientists understand how plants develop, and reveals just how strict the ancient breeding regime for maize (Zea mays) must have been.


Robert Schmidt, a maize researcher at the University of California, San Diego, and his colleagues were intrigued by a mutant maize that was found in South America in the 1920s. The mutant is unable to grow branches or flowers, and happens to resemble a particular rice mutant in this respect. Because the sequence of the gene that causes the effect is known for rice, Schmidt and his team were able to pin down the sequence in maize.


They called the mutated gene barren stalk1 and were able to show that the normal version of barren stalk1 regulates how the maize plants branch. They report their results in this week's Nature1.


But not only does barren stalk1 regulate branching, it is also located within one of five regions that maize researchers have identified as targets of domestication. So, was it one of the genes that the Mesoamericans unknowingly selected for as they tamed teosinte (Zea mexicana)?


To investigate further, the researchers compared the number of variants of the barrenstalk1 gene in teosinte, which still grows wild in Mexico's Sierra Madre, with the number in modern maize.


In teosinte, there are about a dozen common variants of the gene, all of which probably produced subtly different branching patterns in the plants. It is common for this number of variants to be present in a particular species of plant. But in modern maize, only one variant exists, suggesting that the others must have been eliminated by rigorous selective breeding.


"It's a really impressive paper," says Phillip SanMiguel, geneticist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, who works with maize.


Why did the Mesoamericans plump so strongly for one branching pattern rather than another? Schmidt's team has not nailed this down yet. But presumably there was something about the branching of maize with that particular variant that was useful.


"In combination with other genes it probably had some impact on the architecture that was important to the Mesoamericans," suggests Schmidt. "Perhaps by having fewer branches you get bigger seeds. We don't know."


The next step will be to paste all the variants of the barren stalk1 that exist in teosinte into modern maize, Schimdt's team says. Once you see what the differences are in maize, it will be easier to guess why a particular variant was chosen.



Mexican tomb reveals gruesome human sacrifice

18:46 03 December 04

NewScientist.com news service


Evidence of a grisly human sacrifice and a complex military infrastructure has emerged from an excavation of the ruins of a pyramid in the 2000-year-old city of Teotihuacan in Mexico.


A vault containing 12 bodies, ten of which had been decapitated, along with the remains of pumas, wolves and eagles were discovered at the city's central structure, the Pyramid of the Moon.


"What we have found in this excavation suggests that a certain kind of mortuary ritual took place inside the tomb before it was filled in," says Saburo Sugiyama of the University of Japan, in Aichi, who coordinated the archaeological dig with Ruben Cabrera of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.


"It is hard to believe that the ritual consisted of clean symbolic performances," Sugiyama adds. "It is most likely that the ceremony created a horrible scene of bloodshed with sacrificed people and animals."


Teotihuacan is located 25 miles north of Mexico City and predates the Aztec civilisation by around 700 years. The city’s name, meaning “City of the Gods”, was given by the Aztecs, who believed their gods to have been born there.


The tomb is the fifth chamber to be discovered within the pyramid - and is buried within the fifth of seven construction layers added onto the original pyramid as the city expanded. Shell pendants, blades and the points of projectile weapons such as arrows and spears were also found alongside the bodies.


Sugiyama suggests that the weaponry and remains of powerful animals linked with the headless bodies are "highly symbolic objects [which] suggest that the government wanted to symbolise expanding sacred political power and perhaps the importance of military institutions with the new monument".


Mike Smith at State University of New York in Albany, US, says the find is particularly significant because relatively little is known about high-level political organisation in Teotihuacan. It also firmly contradicts earlier theories that Mexican civilisations were relatively peaceful and theocratic during this period.


"This is the second significant find of sacrifice at Teotihuacan," Smith told New Scientist. "Nobody can say that this was just a one off."


But another artefact discovered in the mausoleum presents a puzzle. The mosaic of a human figure - possibly a Mayan - was found at the centre of several large knives. It has artistic features not seen elsewhere in Mesoamerica and has political relevance, as some of the knives included the form of a feathered serpent - known to be associated with political authority.


Another tomb containing the remains of four men was found within the same layer of the pyramid in 2002. Isotopic analysis suggests two the men buried there were Teotihuacans while two were foreigners.


Will Knight



Diyala Project brings beginnings of urban civilization to the Internet

By William Harms

News Office


The story of the origins of urban civilization in Mesopotamia will soon become more accessible to academics and school children around the world as a result of a $100,000 grant to the Oriental Institute’s Diyala Project from the National Endowment for the Humanities.


Given as part of the NEH’s “Recovering Iraq’s Past” initiative, the grant will fund the launch of the Oriental Institute’s online Diyala database. The database will contain a full publication of all artifacts recovered during the institute’s excavations on archaeological sites in the Diyala River Basin northeast of Baghdad between 1930 and 1936. These excavations were the most carefully executed and documented in modern-day Iraq of their time. When completed, the Web site will contain the largest single online collection of excavated artifacts from ancient Mesopotamia available in the world.


The Web site will have particular value in the wake of the looting of the Iraq National Museum in Baghdad in April 2003. About half of the objects gathered in the excavation were located in the Iraq museum. Although some 600 Diyala cylinder seals have been confirmed to be missing, all of these objects were photographed during the institute’s excavation. The photographs now form a vital component of the Diyala database.


“The Diyala Web site is a revolutionary database and research tool because it will be able to integrate many different kinds of analysis,” said Gil Stein, Director of the Oriental Institute. “It also provides a way to search the whole range of different kinds of field records of artifacts, architecture, texts and stratigraphy in a completely new way. This is something that has never been possible to do before, and it will provide us with major new insights.


“It is also revolutionary in the way it links two spatially separated collections of artifacts—one essentially inaccessible in Baghdad and one in Chicago. I think this project may well represent the future of archaeological publication,” Stein said.


Clemens Reichel, a Research Associate at the Oriental Institute, is the principal investigator for the project, and George Sundell, a retired data architect, serves as the project’s database designer. Volunteers are helping with data entry and the scanning of photographic negatives and archival material.


The Oriental Institute’s Diyala Expedition remains one of the most important archaeological projects in Iraq’s history. It was the first expedition that established a comprehensive, chronological sequence for the archaeological material from Mesopotamia’s early history.


Working at the sites of Tell Agrab, Tell Asmar, Ishchali and Khafaje, the Oriental Institute team uncovered temples, palaces, domestic quarters and workshops, dating from 3200 to 1800 B.C., a time when large territorial states emerged in Mesopotamia, urban centers were developed and writing was invented.


“The data recovered during these excavations exposed a cross section through most aspects of urban life in ancient Mesopotamia, such as its political organization, religion, social organizations and economic interactions,” Reichel said.


Half of the objects recovered in the digs were taken to the Oriental Institute, and many of them are now on display in the Mesopotamian Gallery. Other objects include stone vessels, tools, weapons, cosmetic sets, metal vessels, inlays, clay tablets and stamp seals, items of artistic value as well as useful everyday value.


As these artifacts were excavated, archaeologists took careful notes of the contexts in which these objects had been found. Their meticulous record-keeping, housed in the Oriental Institute’s Museum Archives, includes field plans, field and object photographs, field object registers, notebooks, and diaries. All of these sources, both published and unpublished, will now be scanned, indexed and integrated into the project’s online database, providing a comprehensive research tool for scholars who wish to further investigate the Diyala site excavations.


Beginning in 1937, several volumes, mostly on the architecture and key finds from these sites, were published as part of the Oriental Institute’s publication series. Its final volume, Miscellaneous Objects from the Diyala Region, which would have included over 12,000 items, was never published.


“Perhaps it is fortunate that this book never materialized—its title would have severely understated the significance of this material, which represents the large majority of finds from the Diyala excavations, consisting of objects that touched upon all aspects of Mesopotamian life,” Reichel said.


With a 1994 NEH grant, McGuire Gibson, Professor in the Oriental Institute, who has since brought attention to the perils posed to Iraqi archaeology in the wake of the war in Iraq, began using computer technology to catalogue the information. As technology changed, the project evolved, and researchers decided to publish the project on the Web rather than in a book.


The database also was configured for use as an elaborate research tool for students working on their dissertations. Reichel’s own dissertation, “Political Changes and Cultural Continuity at the Palace of the Rulers at Eshnunna (Tell Asmar) between 2070-1850 B.C.,” drew heavily on some 2,000 cuneiform texts found during the Diyala expedition. By developing search programs to query the database, he was able to establish genealogical lines for palace officials that extended over almost 200 years.


While primarily intended to serve as a scholarly publication, the Web site also will address the interest of the general public.


“Our site will feature educational components that could easily be used as teaching tools in schools,” Reichel explained. “By ‘walking’ on the computer screen through the plan of a selected building, for example, students will be able to call up images and descriptions of artifacts found in each room.


“Such exercises will not only help students do their own virtual digging, but also will help them understand the importance of properly recorded archaeological context for ancient artifacts—an important message at a time when so many objects from illicit excavations in postwar Iraq are flooding the antiquities market,” Reichel said.



Second Salt Man discovered in northwest Iran

Tehran Times Culture Desk

TEHRAN (MNA) –- A miner working at the Hamzehlu salt mine near Zanjan in northwest Iran recently discovered the remains of a skeleton of a man buried in the salt.


According to the director of the Zanjan Cultural Heritage and Tourism Department, Yahya Rahmati, the new skeleton is only the second Salt Man ever discovered in the world.


“The remains of the skeleton are almost perfect, and they include parts of the skull, jaw, both arms, as well as the left and right legs and feet,” he said, adding that part of the skin, nails, and hair are also in good condition.


“The remains have been transferred to the city and experts are continuing their studies on the skeleton. The initial studies on the skeleton show that the Salt Man was between 180 and 185 centimeters tall and 35 to 40 years old,” he stated.


Several pieces of wool cloth and a piece of a straw mat with a unique style of weaving were also discovered beside the Salt Man. Archaeologists plan to carry out excavations at the site of the discovery in search of other artifacts.


The second skeleton was found 30 to 40 meters from the place where the first Salt Man was discovered.


The first Salt Man, a miner whose body was preserved by the salt, lived over 1700 years ago. He was also a man between the ages of 35 and 40. His remains are currently being kept in a glass case at the National Museum of Iran in Tehran.


The first Salt Man’s withered face stares into the distance. He has long white hair and a beard and was discovered wearing leather boots and with some tools and a walnut in his possession.



Bronze age boat to be recreated 


A section of the boat has already been reconstructed


Archaeologists are planning to build a copy of an ancient boat found in Dover and sail it from Britain to France.


The £200,000 project is intended to demonstrate how the boat might have been used thousands of years ago.


The boat is one of the best preserved examples of a coastal vessel from the bronze age and was found in a chance discovery in 1992.


Funding is now needed and the project could attract EU money thanks to a partnership with French museums.


The bottom of the boat was discovered during roadworks in the town.


It was found in a water filled shaft and although it has been studied intensely at Dover museum, the only way experts say they can find out more about it is to build this replica.


Finding the right materials will be a vital part of the project if an accurate test can be carried out.


The original would have been made using yew tree timber, bees wax, and moss, and then all stitched together.


It was made over 3,600 years ago and John Iverson from Dover museum described it as " a remarkable feat of engineering."


The project is expected to take three years to complete and after the crossing, it is hoped that the boat will go on tour in Britain and France.



Elgin Marbles Dispute Takes New Twist

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News


Dec. 3, 2004 — One of the oldest international cultural disputes, the battle over the Elgin Marbles, has taken another turn as a distinguished Cambridge scholar says the sculptures would have been just fine if Lord Elgin had left them in Athens.


Following a sophisticated 11-year conservation program in Athens, the 14 slabs that Lord Elgin did not manage to remove are now showing surprisingly bright original details.


"They are in better shape than anything in London. We now know exactly what Lord Elgin 'saved' them from: one has only to go to Athens and see for oneself," Anthony Snodgrass, professor emeritus of classical archaeology at Cambridge University, told Discovery News.


Indeed, the 17 figures and 56 panels chiseled off in 1801 by Lord Elgin from a giant frieze that once decorated ancient Athens' most sacred shrine, the Parthenon, bear dramatic signs of the British Museum's heavy-handed cleaning scandal in the 1930s.


The fearless horsemen, sprightly youths, lounging deities, belligerent centaurs and expressive horses were cruelly scraped and scrubbed with chisels and wire brushes in an attempt to make them whiter than white, an aesthetic admired by museumgoers.


Despite the 1930s cleaning, the British Museum has always maintained that the museum is the best possible place for the marbles to be on display.


"The British Museum is a truly universal museum of humanity, accessible to five million visitors from around the world every year entirely free of entry charge.


"The Parthenon Marbles have been central to the museum's collections, and to its purpose, for almost two hundred years. Only here can the worldwide significance of the sculptures be fully grasped," Neil MacGregor, the museum's director, said in a statement.


He added that centuries of damage have meant that "the Parthenon is a ruin" and that only 50 percent of the original sculptures survive today.


"They can now only be an incomplete collection of fragments," MacGregor said.


Until now, no one had been able to have a close view of the slabs Lord Elgin did not remove as they were too high up on the Parthenon. When they were taken down in 1993, a thick layer of soot made it almost impossible to distinguish anything.


Now, after undergoing a double-laser cleaning program, the marble pieces show an abundance of details, such as chisel marks and veins on the horses bellies.


According to Snodgrass, who has chaired the British Committee for the Reunification of the Parthenon Marbles since 2002, the difference between British museum's marbles and the Greek ones is clear to anyone who compares them.


"The Athens pieces have more detail preserved, and are more like what their makers intended," Snodgrass said.


He noted that the much-debated natural-stained patina is still present in the newly restored Greek marbles, while it is totally gone in the British museum's pieces.


Carved by Phidias in the 5th century B.C., the Parthenon sculptures are scattered throughout several European museums, including the Louvre in Paris.


But the bulk of the marbles are kept in London's British Museum. Greece contends they were stolen in 1801 by Lord Elgin, British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. Britain claims that Lord Elgin had permission from the ruling Turkish authorities to take them.


Greece has been demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles since the country's independence from Turkey in 1829.


It is now building an Acropolis Museum which is due to be completed by 2006. The museum will include a Parthenon Hall which will remain empty until the marbles have been returned.



Buddhas rise again from the ruins - with a bit of Kiwi help


by Catherine Masters


In the small town of Bamiyan in Afghanistan you can buy postcards for 50 cents which show Taleban tanks firing at ancient giant Buddhas carved into the cliff.


The regime decided the Buddhas, which had stood for 1800 years, were un-Islamic. They were false idols and had to be destroyed.


With the statues standing at 53 metres and 35 metres, this did not prove an easy task. In early 2001, the Taleban worked on them for weeks, proudly announcing they were using "everything at our disposal to destroy them".


They hacked at them with spades and pick-axes. They launched anti-tank rockets and fired anti-aircraft guns. They lobbed grenades and missiles and apparently even fired at them from aircraft. Eventually, they stuffed explosives in them and blew them sky high. Great piles of rubble lay where they fell.


But with a little help from the New Zealand Army, the ancient Buddhas may yet have the last laugh. A project is under way to save what can be saved and piece them back together, and New Zealand soldiers are in Bamiyan to help.


Lieutenant Colonel Greg Davies is deputy commander of a team which usually reconstructs buildings such as schools. Now, he and a few of his team have been working with German archaeologist Bert Praxenthaler, who specialises in restoring sculptures and stonework.


It was an unexpected call for help but one they could not turn down. Some of the pieces are so big and heavy, a crane was needed to shift them into a shelter before the winter set in - the Buddhas are made of sandstone which deteriorates quickly in the wet.


"The local guy who was operating the crane hurt his foot.


"So they got another guy up from Kabul who didn't know how to operate the crane and he managed to drop one of the big boulders on to the crane itself and damaged part of it."


Luckily, one of the New Zealand soldiers is a qualified crane operator and was happy to step in. Others helped with rigging up the rocks and strapping them securely.


Davies does not know much about the next phase of the reconstruction, but Praxenthaler - an authentic Raiders of the Lost Ark-type archaeologist ("he's got like a panama hat, little round glasses, and he's unshaven") - is due back next year.


Davies admits the job looked almost impossible. There was a lot of rubble and only some of it worth saving. "How they fill in the gaps I'm not sure, so it looks like an impossible task, but it appears they might have a plan.


"They're quite hopeful that, once they've pulled everything out, they may be able to find the feet at the bottom intact, which would be good."


The locals are in favour of the reconstruction. A few Taleban supporters are still around but many have converted and are now ex-Taleban.


Some within the Taleban were horrified at the destruction of the Buddhas and the spree of devastation carried out at museums around the country, where anything representing a human form was ruthlessly smashed. It is estimated half the ancient heritage of Afghanistan has been destroyed.


The pieces of the giant Buddhas are carefully guarded. Davies has not heard of a black market for the remnants, but many national treasures were understood to have been sold for high prices outside Afghanistan.


Davies says he experiences a sense of sadness and loss when gazing up at the empty niches indented into the cliff walls from where the Buddhas were cut.


"You wonder why someone would have wanted to damage them, given they were 1800 years old.


"It's never going to be the same, I guess. I know they're trying to reconstruct it, they're probably trying to go back to what it once was but I guess it's never going to be the real thing."




By Martin Neville


A HOARD of gold and silver coins, ingots and pottery dating to the Iron Age has been hailed the largest and most significant find of its kind on the Island. (of Wight)


The remarkable discovery, made on farmland by members of the IW Metal Detecting Club — a club founded less than 12 months ago — was declared treasure by Island coroner John Matthews at a hearing last week.


Eighteen gold staters, 138 silver staters, one thin silver coin — used by Celtic Durotriges who inhabited parts of Devon, Dorset and Somerset more than 2,000 years ago — and seven copper alloy coins of the Roman period, were found during a dig in March this year.


Five shards from a pot thought to have originally held the coins can be dated back to between 300 BC and 50 AD.


Also found were three bowl-shaped silver and copper alloy ingots, two made from silver weighing 11kg (22 lb 6oz) and 5.5kg (11 lb, 11oz) respectively, and one from copper alloy weighing 25kg (53 lb, 2oz), which also date from the same period and are unusual in shape.


The first sign of the find, which has been named the West Wight Hoard, was discovered by club member Dave Walker, 46, from Sandown, who uncovered a handful of coins within a small area of the field in the Shorwell area.


"It was my second outing with the club and I joked about finding a Celtic treasure hoard," said Mr Walker.


"The next thing I know my detector is making all sorts of noises and I've made the find of a lifetime.


"I picked one coin out of the ground, then another, then another. I called over the rest of the group so everyone could be involved and we started finding dozens of coins."


Mr Walker said: "I'm not bothered about any profits. At the end of the day you are handling something that probably hasn't been touched by human hands for thousands of years and that really makes you stop and think."


The ingots, at first thought to be lumps of lead, were uncovered by Stewart Thompson, from Newport.


County archaeologist Frank Basford, who presented a report to the coroner, said it was relatively common for Iron Age coins to be found individually but a discovery of this magnitude was much more significant.

He said the previous largest excavation of Iron Age coins occurred around 125 years ago in Yarmouth.


Mr Matthews said the find showed the Island was much more inhabited during the Iron Age than was originally thought.


The Guildhall Museum in Newport has expressed an interest in acquiring the hoard, the value of which is still to be assessed.


Fifty per cent will go to the farmer on whose land it was found and the rest will be shared among the club members present when it was discovered.

03 December 2004



Graves of Saxon warriors found

Date Published: Thursday 02 December 2004


AN ANCIENT graveyard discovered on a hill overlooking Marlborough on Sunday looks set to confirm the long-held belief that the town had Saxon origins.


The five graves containing the remains of what are believed to be Saxon warriors complete with shields was made by metal detector enthusiasts.


Realising the enormity of their discovery, the enthusiasts halted their exploration and notified police that they had found a burial site.


History and guide books have claimed for years that Marlborough dated from the early Saxon period. Although it is frequently stated that The Green was the centre of the Saxon community around which Marlborough developed, no proof has ever been found.


Sunday's discovery is undeniable proof there was a Saxon settlement where Marlborough now stands, said historian Brian Edwards this week.


The precise location of the find on farmland to the south of the town is being kept secret to prevent it being looted. The graves, which could date back 1,500 years, have been covered over pending a future archaeological investigation.


Enthusiasts Gary Lumsden and Sean Raynsford had been taking part in an authorised rally at the site when the metal bosses from the centre of the Saxon shields set off signals in their metal detectors.


Mr Lumsden, who lives near Marlow and who has been a metal detector enthusiast for 20 years, said he had had many finds before but not of this significance. "As soon as I dug down I realised what it was and how important it was," he said.


"Somebody else lifted the boss and underneath they found a bone and they stopped at that point."


Rally organiser Mick Turrell, who runs a Newbury-based metal detector business called Leisure Promotions, said: "We have searched this field once before but never found anything of great interest."


Mr Turrell said that as soon as the enthusiasts realised the importance of the find and that it was probably a burial ground, they halted digging while police were informed.


The metal detectorists have an agreement with the landowner that anything found of value is shared 50-50.


The estate owner said he was as amazed as anyone that the Saxon burial place had been found on his land.


He said: "There was no indication that anything like this was there. I am as excited as the people who found them."


The site owner said security had been installed to prevent any unauthorised digging.


Dr Paul Robinson, curator of the Wiltshire Heritage Museum in Devizes, said all Saxon settlements would have had similar burial grounds at their parish boundaries. "The correct position for early Saxon cemeteries is on the edge of the parish," said Dr Robinson. "This is exactly the place where you would expect to find one."


The site is just outside the present Marlborough town boundary but over the centuries parish borders have changed.


County archaeologist Roy Canham said it was an interesting discovery but its full importance would not be known until funding could be found for a full-scale dig.



History unearthed

Dec 3 2004

Chester Chronicle


A HOARD of Viking jewellery has been found by a metal detector enthusiast in the Cheshire countryside.


The finder, Steve Reynoldson from Keighley in West Yorkshire, made the discovery near Huxley on Sunday during a metal detecting rally which attracted almost 100 enthusiasts.


Archaeologist Dan Garner, who works for Chester Archaeology, went to the site where he confirmed the booty of 20 silver arm bands was likely to date from the Viking period in the 10th century.


Mr Garner said: 'Of the treasure-detected finds in the area, it has to be one of the more significant ones, I would have thought.'


He believes the highly-decorated bands, which were bent-over, were probably being stored in preparation for re-use as currency.


Mr Garner believes the location, close to the River Gowy, is significant since Vikings used the rivers as a means of communication.


'The idea is the Vikings would have been coming up and down the river in their Long boats over a period and I imagine someone buried their booty but unfortunately they never came back to dig it up again.'


Mr Garner said the find was close to a discovery of Anglo-Saxon pennies by the Gowy marshes at Waverton in 1997 which an inquest determined had probably belonged to a Viking.


'It could be the two hoards are related in some way,' added Mr Garner.


Derrick Bell of Overton, near Wrexham, who attended Sunday's rally organised by the Lune Valley Metal Detecting Club, said the condition of items, which were put on display on the day, was 'absolutely superb'.


He said: 'It's the best find I have ever seen dug up. I was 20 yards away when he shouted that he had found something. He was very down-to-earth. He wasn't really jumping for joy. I think he was playing it cool.'


Mr Bell said the arm bands were made from flat pieces of silver and with engravings made up of dots, which looked as though they had been created by a tool similar to a centre punch.


'There was a cross on one and chevrons on another,' he said. 'I would say from what I have seen - I've been detecting since I was 17 - that it was probably a jeweller's hoard, put there for safekeeping.


'Three of them were undecorated and there was quite a bit of lead around the find. Possibly there was a lead plate on top or possibly it was part of a bag which would be completely gone.'


Mr Bell, who has previously found Medieval coins, a bronze age axe head and spear head as well as Roman articles, found a coin dating from 1270, during the reign of Edward I, at Sunday's rally.


But he loved being in the presence of such a significant discovery by his colleague.


'The fact I was standing there while it was being dug out was fantastic,' said Mr Bell.


A bronze brooch which he personally detected, which is possibly Saxon or Viking, is currently being examined by an expert at the British Museum.


'The little things I have found myself added to the finds of other people collectively tell a story about our history, so everything should be recorded.'


Inquest rules on Viking hoard


IT WAS seven years ago that metal detector enthusiast Denis Price from Christleton found a hoard of silver coins which were probably dropped by a Viking who lost his purse more than 1,000 years ago.


Mr Price, of Hawthorn Road, donated the rare Anglo-Saxon pennies to Chester's Grosvenor Museum after an inquest in 2000.


He found the eight whole coins and three fragments while out with his metal detector at a Waverton farm.


Coin expert Dr Sandy Campbell, a Tarporley GP, of Brereton Park, near Tarvin, told the inquest: 'One is tempted to the view that this hoard is the contents of a purse belonging to a Viking, who for some reason found himself wandering along the Gowy marshes, possibly in connection with the known Viking raid of 980AD, but this can be no more than speculation.'


Dr Campbell said the coins were all from the reign of King Edgar (957-975AD) who was king of Mercia and Northumbria and King of England.


No more than 120-130 of this type of coin were known. Cheshire coroner Nicholas Rheinberg said because of a change in law this was the last treasure trove case in Britain to be decided by an inquest jury, from now on the coroner alone would decide who would keep finds.


Link with famous treasure trove examined


THE hoard of Viking silverware found in the Cheshire countryside could have come from the massive Cuerdale Hoard discovered near Preston in 1840.


The Cuerdale Hoard is the greatest Viking silver treasure trove ever found outside Russia and although it dwarfs the


Huxley discovery in scale, there are some common features.


Archaeologist Dan Garner said items found in Cheshire were similar to those found in the Lancashire hoard which was also discovered in an isolated spot close to a waterway, the River Ribble.


The Cuerdale Hoard was located in a lead-lined box and in the Cheshire case the treasure was either wrapped in a lead sheet or could also have been in a lead-lined wooden box which had rotted away.


Mr Garner said: 'It's certainly possible the hoard from Huxley is a portion of the Cuerdale Hoard paid to a specific leader to do something.'


There were two explanations for the Cuer-dale Hoard. One is that the Vikings, who were expelled from Dublin by the Irish, were building up a war chest with a view to retaking the settlement, which ultimately they did.


The other is that the Vikings fled with the booty from Ireland and buried it with intention of digging it up later.


Mr Garner added: 'The items found in the Cuer-dale Hoard were not Scandinavian but objects made to suit a mixed taste for both Irish and Viking people.'


When the Vikings were thrown out of Dublin they settled in Britain from the Wirral up through Lancashire and into Cumbria


The legend of Ingimund, a supposed Viking leader, has it that he wanted to take Chester from the English because of its access to the Irish Sea via the Dee but they failed.


So the archaeologist said another theory could be that the silver bullion found near Chester was buried by Vikings who were in hostile territory and buried their treasure at a time of insecurity.


The Cuerdale Hoard found on May 15, 1840, by workmen far exceeds in scale and range any hoard found in the Scandinavian homelands or in the western areas of Viking settlement.


Find either lost or loot


AN inquest must be held in such cases to decide whether the hoard should remain with the finder or be handed over to the Crown.


The rule is that if it is believed the original owner accidentally lost their possessions the finder can keep the items but if the treasure had been deliberately hidden for safe-keeping it must be handed over to HM Queen as 'treasure trove'.


In this instance, it seems likely the find will be deemed 'treasure trove' but the finder will be compensated by The Crown and the money split with the landowner.


Because the find involves silver it had to be reported to Nick Herepath, Cheshire, Greater Manchester & Merseyside Finds Liaison Officer at Liverpool Museum who will inform the coroner.


Once in a lifetime haul


John Ferguson, who organised the Lune Valley Metal Detecting Club rally on Sunday, described the discovery as 'a once in a lifetime find' which was of considerable historical significance.


Any landowners willing to let his group detect on their land can raise money for their favourite charity through the admission fee and, in addition, the proceeds of any finds are split 50/50 between the finder and themselves.


Ring John for details on 07749 442110.




By Caroline Lewis 03/12/2004


More than 3500 coins have been found at the Leicestershire site - mostly made by the Iron Age tribe, the Corieltauvi. Courtesy of The British Museum.


Archaeologists have welcomed news that a man has been convicted of going onto an important excavation site in Leicestershire equipped to steal.


Raymond Tebble was seen at night in the field, near Market Harborough, which is one of the most significant Iron Age and Roman sites in the country. A police helicopter was scrambled and Tebble, from South Shields, was caught with a metal detector and a spade.


Wendy Scott, Finds Liaison Officer for Leicestershire County Council, told the 24 Hour Museum: “This conviction is really good news, it sends out the message that they will be caught.”


Many Roman finds, such as this gold earring, have turned up in Leicestershire. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council.


Tebble was sentenced to one month in prison and had his metal detector confiscated – the equivalent of an £800 fine - although this has been suspended pending an appeal.


In 2000, the first of a large hoard of Iron Age coins was unearthed there by an amateur archaeologist, followed in 2003 by the discovery of a Roman helmet. The finds led experts to believe the site was used for feasting or worship.


Dr JD Hill, Iron Age expert at the British Museum, said at the time that the discovery of the silver gilded helmet – the first of its kind to be found in Britain – was of “international significance”, and has likened the site to a cathedral. However, it has not yet been scheduled and efforts to keep its location secret, in the meantime, have been unsuccessful.


 On the left you can see coins and bones, on the right the Roman helmet found on the Leicestershire site. Courtesy of The British Museum.


“The problem with this site is that we don’t have the resources to protect it,” said Wendy, adding that a meeting with police has been planned to discuss possible further measures to deter illicit relic collectors.


The Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up to encourage metal detectorists to record and report their finds, so that they can be analysed by archaeologists and contribute to their bank of knowledge. In the last year, nearly 50,000 objects have been volunteered by detectorists keen to help.


Wendy believes that those who keep major finds to themselves are a minority, as evidenced by the attitude of metal detector club members: “Most people I’ve spoken to are really angry about this. It’s giving their hobby a bad name.”


The positioning of objects in the ground, or their context, tells archaeologists a great deal about how they got there. Courtesy of The British Museum.


According to experts, looters who secretly remove objects from the ground, most often by nightfall, can obstruct the course of archaeological investigation.


Speaking of the consequences of looting and the possibility of such incidences at the Leicestershire site, Wendy said: “We’ll never know what they dug up – it could be something completely unique. We came close to not having the Roman helmet.”


The Treasure Act 1996 makes it a legal obligation to report all finds of potential Treasure within 14 days of discovery, or upon realising that the find may be Treasure. The process allows museums to acquire Treasure items, in the event of which the finder and landowner will be rewarded.


Wendy explained that looters usually sell their catches to private dealers: “A lot of the time they’ll be sold for a lot less than they’re worth… A dealer with a reputation to protect should ask where the items came from – they can also be convicted.”


Archaeologists are keeping an eye on the potential trade in antiquities on auction websites. If items for sale look suspicious, it is possible for police to intervene and take pieces in for analysis.


On the whole metal detectorists enjoy a good relationship with FLOs administering the PAS. Many of them believe it is in genuine amateur archaeologists’ interests to report finds as the officers can usually identify them, making the whole process much more rewarding.


This Saxon pendant from the 7th century AD was found by Mr P Devenyi of the Hinckley Search Society in 2003. Courtesy Leicestershire County Council.


Roger Bland, Head of Portable Antiquities, said: "Although using a metal detector on archaeological sites without permission might not seem like a serious offence, and often courts do not see it as such, the damage that such activities can do to the knowledge of our past is literally incalculable, certainly out of all proportion to the value of the objects that might have been removed."


"Leicestershire Police are to be congratulated on securing a conviction and it is important that this case be given the widest possible publicity to deter others who might be so inclined. Responsible detector users such as the National Council for Metal Detecting strongly disapprove of such activity and we in the Portable Antiquities Scheme are doing all we can to bring such cases to the attention of the police."


“The site is still under threat,” added Wendy, who was also pleased to note that “the locals are very good, they keep an eye on the place.”