Seafaring clue to first Americans

By Paul Rincon

BBC News Online science staff


People in North America were voyaging by sea some 8,000 years ago, boosting a theory that some of the continent's first settlers arrived there by boat.

That is the claim of archaeologists who have found evidence of ancient seafaring along the Californian coast.


The traditional view holds that the first Americans were trekkers from Siberia who crossed a land bridge into Alaska during the last Ice Age.


The report in American Antiquity makes arrival by boat seem more plausible.

Researchers conducted an archaeological analysis of 9,000-8,000-year-old tools unearthed at Eel Point on San Clemente, one of the eight Channel Islands that lie off the Californian coast.


They propose that some tools used by the prehistoric people of Eel Point may have had the same functions as implements employed for boat-building by Chumash Indians in the early 20th Century.


Sea level rise since the last Ice Age flooded much of the coastline of North America, presumably drowning any possible evidence of early coastal migrations

Prof Mark Raab, California State University


For example, a triangular "reamer" tool from Eel Point closely resembles a Chumash "canoe drill" used to expand an existing hole in a wood plank.


On this basis, archaeologists Mark Raab, Jim Cassidy and Nina Kononenko argue that the inhabitants of Eel Point were accomplished seafarers.


Animal remains uncovered at the site show that the inhabitants hunted dolphins, sea lions and seals and collected mussels.


Furthermore, Professor Raab points out that the nearby island of San Miguel was occupied by humans 12,200 years ago - circumstantial evidence that sea travel began even earlier.


"The only food resources on the Channel Islands effectively come from the sea. Living there means an intensively maritime way of life," the California State University scientist told BBC News Online.


"People had settled San Nicolas island, about 60 miles from the nearest landfall, between 8,000 to 8,500 years ago. Clearly people were getting around in some kind of watercraft."


But some researchers reject suggestions that early Americans colonised the continent by coasting along its shoreline in boats.


They maintain that the first Americans were the Clovis people, who crossed into the New World from Asia when a fall in sea levels at the height of the last Ice Age created a land bridge, known as Beringia, between the two continents.


The problem for those backing the coastal migration theory has always been a lack of evidence.


"The basic problem is that all boats are made out of organic materials that just don't preserve in the archaeological record," said Professor Knut Fladmark, of Simon Fraser University in Canada.


Professor Fladmark believes humans were building boats 40,000-50,000 years ago and cites evidence that Australia was colonised by this time despite the fact there was no land bridge connecting it to South East Asia.


"Until you find the boats there will remain a cadre of archaeologists who will insist on not accepting this," Professor Fladmark told BBC News Online.


"Sea level rise since the last Ice Age flooded much of the coastline of North America, presumably drowning any possible evidence of early coastal migrations," he added.


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/02/26 12:12:50 GMT




Ancient necklace found in Israeli cave


Israeli archaeologists excavating caves near the Dead Sea have discovered a rare find - a woman's 2500-year-old fashion accessories. The hoard of jewellery, a makeup kit and a small mirror apparently belonged to Jews who had returned from exile in Babylon in the 6th century BCE, said Tsvika Tsuk, chief archaeologist for the Israel Nature and Parks Authority. "This find is very rare. Both for the richness of the find and for that period, it is almost unheard of," Tsuk said.


Hidden under a stone-like accumulation of sediment thrown up by a nearby spring, archaeologists using metal detectors found a necklace made of 130 beads of semiprecious stones and gold, a scarab, an agate medallion of Babylonian origin and a silver pendant with an engraved crescent moon and pomegranates. They also found what appears to be a makeup kit containing an alabaster bowl for powders, a stick to apply the makeup and a bronze mirror. Tsuk said they also discovered a pagan stamp showing a Babylonian priest bowing to the moon.


 When the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered the Kingdom of Judah in 597 BCE he took many Jews into exile with him. These Jews and their descendants were later allowed to return by the Persian monarch Cyrus in 538 BCE. "These finds confirm the (biblical) accounts of Jews returning from exile in Babylon," Tsuk said.


The find was made by a joint team from Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, near Tel Aviv. The team has been excavating caves near the Dead Sea for the last three years.


Sources: Associated Press, news.com.au (20 February 2004)



Geophysics survey at Ring of Brodgar reveals massive settlement


Evidence of an extensive settlement to the north of the Ring of Brodgar stone circle in Orkney, Scotland, has been revealed by geophysics scans of the ground. Part of an ongoing project to investigate sub-surface archaeology at the World Heritage Site, the scans show a massive Bronze Age settlement.


In the past it was assumed that the area was purely a ritual one, as only the Barnhouse settlement discovered in 1984 and a settlement to the south of the circle pointed to habitation. Nick Card of Orkney Archaeological Trust said: "the new geophysics survey results are incredible and show an area of extensive settlement to the north of the Ring of Brodgar.


"We now know we have a huge archaeological complex covering several hectares - a massive area rich in sub-soil anomalies running from the Dyke o' Sean up to base of the hill at Wasbister. We're assuming it probably continues under the main road and continues toward the Harray Loch."


The scans show clearly a pair of prehistoric round-houses believed to be similar in style to the Bronze Age "figure-of-eight" houses excavated in Shetland and the Western Isles. Rectangular anomalies on the scans may represent later medieval or Viking activity. Also showing up is a definite non-domestic area around the Ring of Brodgar apparently bounded to the north by the Dyke o' Sean.


The geophysics work wasn't just confined to the Ring of Brodgar area, and across the Harray Loch in a field to the north of Maeshowe, a circular anomaly first seen on aerial photographs was investigated. A lack of magnetic responses on the scans suggests a non-domestic site. Nick Card said: "From the evidence so far, we're thinking that the enclosure was part of the ritual landscape around Maeshowe and as such perhaps involved somehow in the rituals and ceremonies centred on the cairn."


So far 60 hectares have been scanned by GSB Prospection with the sponsorship from Historic Scotland, Orkney Islands Council, Orkney Archaeological Trust and Orkney College. Another 15 hectares will be scanned in March this year, and a further 15 in the autumn.


Source: Orkneyjar (18 February 2004)




Thu 26 Feb 2004

Iron Age remains unearthed in Edinburgh



WORKMEN digging up a city street in preparation for a new bus route have uncovered an Iron Age structure.


The remains of the 3000-year-old stone enclosure were discovered in the Broomhouse area.


Archeologists believe the 130ft by 100ft structure dates back to around 1000BC, making it from the late Bronze or early Iron Age.


The remains were uncovered by Balfour Beatty workmen excavating the site as part of preparation works for the West Edinburgh Busway.


The construction firm is carrying out works on behalf of Transport Initiatives Edinburgh near the Edinburgh-Glasgow railway line.


A fuller evaluation of the site is now being conducted by Headland Archeology.


A spokesman for the company said the structure would need to be closely examined before its secrets are revealed.


He added: "The development on this site has given us an opportunity to carry out research into the historical landscape of the Broomhouse area. It’s likely the timber structure was used as a farm steading enclosure or a corral for livestock.


"Excavating, recording and collecting artefacts from the site will give us a better understanding of what it was used for."


Council archeologist John Lawson agreed the ancient structure was a significant find.


"This is the first such monument to be excavated within the city’s boundaries," he said.


"It probably dates to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age, although recent work in Scotland has shown that this type of enclosure may also date to the early medieval period, around the tenth to 13th century AD.


"Either way, it is an important site in Edinburgh’s history."


The West Edinburgh Bus System will provide travellers with a bus service from Ingliston to the city centre, passing through residential areas such as Stenhouse as well as Edinburgh Park.


It has been described as a vital part of the city’s public transport scheme.


It is not known whether the find will delay work to the project, scheduled to finish later this year.


Councillor Ricky Henderson, executive member for sports, culture and leisure, said the find was a valuable part of the city’s history.


"The discovery of these remains at Broomhouse will further help piece together Edinburgh’s past," he said.


"Preserving and recording the findings will add valuable information to the bank of knowledge the city has built up through its archeological finds to date."


In July last year, the accidental discovery of a 200-year-old map led to the location of the long-lost settlement of Whittingehame in East Lothian, which dated from the seventh century but was abandoned nearly 300 years ago.


Investigations of the field near East Linton identified the site of old buildings, including the pub, a blacksmith’s and school, while a host of relics were brought to the surface by a farmer’s plough.


About 200 villagers lived at the site at one time, until the 18th century when agriculture declined and it was abandoned.


Further archeological work was to be carried out on the area to expose the foundations of the buildings where relics have been recovered.



This article:  http://news.scotsman.com/edinburgh.cfm?id=226522004



600-year-old 'suburb' is found on building site

By Paul Kelbie

23 February 2004


Scotland's first, purpose-built "suburb", constructed more than 600 years ago, may have been discovered on the site of a 21st-century development.

The new luxury housing estate in Dreghorn, Ayrshire, has been suspended while archaeologists uncover the remains of the medieval settlement as well as a stone age, or neolithic, hamlet.


The find sheds new light on rural life in medieval Scotland. Dreghorn, between the river Irvine and Annick Water, rose to prominence in the 19th century as a coal-mining and brick-making centre. But it had been a thriving medieval village hundreds of years earlier and had supported rural life in the area in neolithic times, before 2000BC.


A team of up to 30 experts have been excavating two acres of a five-acre site adjacent to Station Brae in Dreghorn since December, after the discovery of aerial photographs taken in the 1940s revealed the possible location of ancient remains.


With George Wimpey, the house builder, eager to start work on the site, Addyman Associates, an archaeological firm, was given until next month to uncover Dreghorn's secrets.


About 60 metres downhill from the main street of the existing village, a medieval road runs the length of the site, which was probably abandoned in the 14th century.


Along the side of the road are a series of structures, probably wattle-and-daub houses, containing some of the best examples of medieval Anglo-Norman pottery found north of the border.


However, experts have been surprised by the lack of fancy goods such as bronze buckles. "This is really looking like the low street of the village," said Tom Addyman. "The main street is the most desirable with the better houses at the top of the hill.


"It appears they were trying to create a second parallel street and turn it into a proto-urban set up, like an early suburb, but their grand design failed."

One hypothesis is that a mini ice age at the end of the 14th century raised ground water levels, driving residents out of properties on the lower street.

Bronze Age cremation site unearthed in Derby


The remains of people who lived in Derby (England) 3,500 years ago have been found on the site of a derelict hotel in Littleover. Archaeologists say the Bronze Age cremation site, containing burial urns dating back to 1500 BCE, is the oldest historical exhibit found intact in Derby. A major highway used by Roman armies from 70AD was also discovered, along with the boundaries of what is thought to be an Iron Age field.


The finds were made as excavation work was carried out on the Pastures Hill side of the former Forte Post House hotel, which closed in 2001. The work was being carried out by archaeology experts ahead of a proposed housing development. Dr Andrew Myers, Derbyshire County Council's development control archaeologist, said during the dig the team found a Bronze Age cremation cemetery. On excavating one of the six cremations, they found burnt human bones inside a burial urn. "It's the earliest intact archaeology that has been excavated in the whole of Derby," said Dr Myers.  "There were also several pit-like finds in a row. They were identified as Iron Age, and may be part of field boundaries dating back to 500 BCE.


Joan D'Arcy, of Derbyshire Archaeological Society, said: "We had no idea that there was any Bronze Age or Iron Age occupation in that area." When the discovered items have been investigated they will be displayed at Derby Museum and Art Gallery in the Strand.


Source: This is Derbyshire, Evening Telegraph (21 February 2004)


Coin depicts obscure Roman ruler

Maev Kennedy, arts and heritage correspondent

Wednesday February 25, 2004

The Guardian


A scruffy bronze coin, unveiled yesterday at the British Museum proves that the Roman emperor Domitianus was not a Victorian forgery but a real ruler - and a tough cookie if the image is a good likeness.


Domitianus is so obscure that the only evidence that he became emperor is two small coins: one found over a century ago in France, the other, revealed yesterday, found near Oxford.


Curator Richard Abdy described the coin as "sensational", a find which meant history would have to be rewritten. "Only the archaeological evidence of this coin shows that he was indeed emperor and provides us with a face to go with history's forgotten ruler."


He urged coin collectors to look at third century Roman coins of bearded military types, in the hope that more Domitianus coins are out there, wrongly identified.

Domitianus is now believed to have been a rebel emperor from the Gaul region, who may have seized power in 271 AD in the short lived "Gallic empire", and ruled for less than a year before he was toppled.


The only other Domitianus coin was found in the Loire in around 1900. Since nothing like it was known, and the context of the find was uncertain, it was dismissed as a fake. It was only recently rediscovered, in a local museum.

The context of the new find is so solid that it has taken experts at the British Museum almost a year to prise the coin free.


It was found, on farmland 10 miles from Oxford, by an amateur using a metal detector, in a hoard of other coins which were corroded together.

Mr Abdy said there were only two brief references to Domitianus in historical sources. Both refer to him as a high ranking army officer, and to his being punished for treason by the emperor Aurelian - but neither records that he became emperor.


The coin is on display in the Buried Treasure exhibition at the British Museum until March 14.


EducationGuardian.co.uk © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004





February 25, 2004


In the mud of Oxford, Roman history is rewritten



A PLASTIC injection moulder from Chipping Norton has discovered proof of a hitherto unknown 3rd-century Caesar in the mud of an Oxfordshire field.

Experts at the British Museum have confirmed that a coin bearing the profile of a striking bearded man which was unearthed by Brian Malin and his metal detector as part of a buried hoard proves the existence of the Roman Emperor Domitianus. The find will require the history of one of the Roman Empire’s murkier periods to be rewritten.


It is almost as though an amateur had suddenly discovered evidence of a previously unknown British king sitting briefly on the throne between the reigns of George I and George II.


Historians knew of a high-ranking army officer named Domitianus who appears in a couple of fleeting references of the period. But they knew of no emperor of that name, and they are still uncertain whether the man who appears on the rare coin the size of a 20p piece is that same officer, or an entirely different figure with the same name.


Either way, classicists are thrilled. Richard Abdy, curator of Roman coins at the British Museum, said yesterday: “This find rewrites history; it is the final piece in a jigsaw. Only the archaeological evidence of this coin shows that he was indeed emperor and provides us with a face to go with history’s forgotten ruler.”

As well as the name of Domitianus, the coin bears the Latin abbreviations for “Imperial” and “Caesar”.


The find, discovered 2ft below ground on farmland ten miles from Oxford, also confirms the authenticity of a coin which was dismissed as a hoax when it was found in 1900 in the Loire region of France because it was unique and unprecedented.


The Oxfordshire example now vindicates it: its antiquity is beyond doubt as it was among more than 5,000 common Roman coins fused together in a 3rd-century AD pot that had to be painstakingly separated by British Museum conservators. It is unusual to find such treasure intact rather than dented or scattered by the plough.


Mr Malin was on one of his regular days out with his metal detector, a passion since he was 15. Until now he had never found more than the occasional Roman coin.


As the hoard emerged from clumps of earth, he knew he had found something special: “I was amazed when I dug the pot out. It took me by complete surprise,” he said.


Most of the coins are common, just like of hundreds of thousands of others. That only heightened the excitement of finding the Domitianus example among them. At the British Museum, Mr Abdy said the find was as unexpected as flicking through a pack of cards and coming across an 11 of clubs. “We ran to the Who’s Who of later known emperors.


“The new discovery makes it certain both that this shadowy claimant to the Imperial throne existed, and that he mounted a serious challenge for the position of emperor in the troubled period of the early 270s AD, known as the Gallic Empire.”


The Gallic Empire is the name given to the secessionist state that was created in AD260 in the aftermath of the Roman Empire’s greatest humiliation. It spanned Gaul — modern France and the Rhineland — and Britain, and survived as a separate state for almost 15 years before being reabsorbed into the central Roman Empire by Aurelian.


It was established after the Emperor Valerian was captured alive by the Persians and used by the Persian King, Sapor, as a living footstool for mounting his horse. On his death, having had his eyes gouged out, Valerian was stuffed and displayed in a Zoroastrian temple.


Mr Abdy said: “This was the cue for Gaul to revolt in order to look after their own security, taking Britain and initially the Iberian Peninsula with it.


“An officer called Postumus became the first breakaway Gallic ‘emperor’ with his capital in Trier. This is the probable location for the minting of the Domitianus coin. AD269 was a particularly turbulent year for the Gallic empire, with three successors to Postumus staking rival claims. Finally power settled on Victorinus, who was reportedly prone to raping the wives of his courtiers. In 271, he was killed after propositioning the wife of one of his officials. Domitianus may have been one of the wronged husbands. Striking coins was a sign of seizing the purple.


Domitianus may only have ruled for days, weeks or months, scholars suggest, before he was overthrown by Tetricus, the Governor of Aquitaine, emperor from AD271-74.


The coin will go on public display from today until March 14 in the British Museum Buried Treasure: Finding Our Past exhibition.


A coroner will then decide whether to declare it treasure, and an independent body of experts will establish its value. A five-figure sum is expected to be paid to the finder.


The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford has already expressed interest in acquiring it for its new “money gallery”.


Archaeological riches exceed expectations



Archaeologists excavating New Zealand's best-preserved early settlement, at Westport's Carter's Beach, have found far more riches than they expected.

A team from the Historic Places Trust and Otago University uncovered the site near the Buller River on a recent three-week excavation. It was first discovered in the 1970s by archaeologist D. Wayne Orchiston.


Senior archaeology lecturer Dr Richard Walter dates the site at between AD1300 and AD1400. "It was a much larger and richer site than we'd anticipated. We've excavated a number of small houses and some large moa ovens for the communal cooking of moas, seals and dogs."


About 10 to 15 families probably lived in the village for months at a time, Dr Walter said. The site most likely spanned family generations and was the largest archaic site of its type in the country.


"The most important part is that it's so early, it's so big and it's so well-preserved. It has the potential to really answer some fundamental questions about the very early stages of New Zealand pre-history."


The site, which would have been close to the shoreline 600 years ago, will be further investigated next summer.



Solving York’s flood problem may endanger its archaeological remains said hydrogeologists


York’s world-renowned archaeological remains are in danger – of drying out. The problem also threatens to cause roads to buckle, sewers collapse and subterranean gases leak into the air, unless a team from Leeds geography department can discover the effect of flood defences and new building in and around the city.


York’s flooding problem is well known but measures to counter it and building work in and around the city threaten to dry out the ground and an eight metre deep layer of organic deposits under the city – literally 2000 years worth of human rubbish.


Hydrologist Joe Holden of the Leeds University School of Geography says that unless the ground under the city is kept wet gases may be released by human deposits decaying. Sewers could collapse and roads buckle.


The new research project at Leeds – funded by English Heritage, the Natural Environment Research Council and supported by the City of York – hopes to pre-empt the effects of this drying process. "It is essential that the research is carried out now before these sorts of things start to happen" says Dr Holden.


In order to be preserved, the deposits must be kept wet. However, building flood defences and the construction of buildings leads to quicker water run off and drying out of the ground beneath.


"Changes to the city’s flood defences, the increasing number of new housing and shopping developments across the city, climate change, and changes to underground sewer and water pipe networks could all lead to the ground drying out more quickly. It is important that we work out how these developments change the way water moves below the city and how we can best protect sites that are under threat from these changes." Holden says.


Another scientist on the project, Ellie Maxfield, says "The project will look at all the potential influences on water movements above and below the city. Upstream in the Yorkshire Dales, land drainage and intense grazing have caused a more variable river flow. Downstream, tidal barriers have altered the river flows. These rivers both drain and feed water into the ground below York and so changes outside the city may be causing changes underneath the city."


Some parts of York stay waterlogged longer than others because of old sewers or drains. Often old foundations or a Roman terrace may hold water back, keeping the surrounding area wet below the surface. The research will assess how future disturbance may result in changes to water movements below ground level and therefore in changes to the potential preservation of the archaeological remains.


The research aims to establish the nature and scale of the problem and to determine the best ways of solving the issue across the city. It will bring together a wide range of relevant agencies and companies to deal with the issue.