Basque language, tongue of uncertain relationship spoken by close to a million people, most of whom live in NE Spain and some of whom reside in SW France. The language has eight dialects. Speakers of Basque are for the most part bilingual, and there are many Basques who do not speak the language. Basque is definitely not an Indo-European tongue. Some scholars believe it is descended from Aquitanian, which was spoken on the Iberian peninsula and in S Gaul in ancient times. Other linguists think Basque is akin to the Caucasian languages and suggest that its speakers came from Asia Minor to Spain and Gaul c.2000 B.C. However, no relationship between Basque and any other language has been established with certainty. The alphabet used for Basque employs Roman letters. The first printed book in Basque appeared in the 16th cent. Basque is both agglutinative and polysynthetic. In an agglutinative language, different linguistic elements, each of which exists separately and has a fixed meaning, are often joined to form one word. In a polysynthetic language, a number of word elements are joined together to form a composite word that functions like a sentence or phrase in Indo-European languages, but each element has meaning usually only as part of the sentence or phrase and not as a separate item.

For further information, please contact:

Garazi Andonegi

Elhuyar Fundazioa


+34 943 363040


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Elhuyar Fundazioa


09 March 2004

Evidence of violence in bones 


To the great surprise of the investigators, when they removed that apparently normal and unremarkable rock, they found the remains of some three hundred people. It was a communal grave from the end of the Neolithic period, some 5,000 years ago. The bones are in a very good state of conservation, because the rock covering them most probably protected them from the outside elements.

In Europe there are few archaeological sites containing such a large quantity of bones. Thus, the remains found at San Juan ante Portam Latinam (Basque Country) are a real treasure for the investigators. Hundreds of bones were uncovered: crania, vertebrae, hips bones, tibias and so on. There were so many bones, in fact, that it did not prove easy to distinguish which bones belonged to which individual. The bones had to be sketched one by one and closely observed over long periods to come to the realisation that the bodies had not been laid out longitudinally. They lay in strange postures. The bodies were completely doubled up, each with their arms circling their legs. According to the experts, these curious postures may be due to the fact that the bodies had been tied up in order to transfer or transport them to the burial ground.

The bones belong to people of all ages, the newly born, young people and the elderly. There could be no better sample of the populations of the period.


The site is also unusual for other reasons. Signs of violence have been found in and amongst the bones, not usual in archaeological sites so old. Up to now nobody has suggested that, in those periods, humans used violence against each other. It was famine and disease that caused the greatest number of deaths.


Or maybe violence as well? 12 arrowheads embedded in the bones were found at this site. One of the most remarkable cases is that of an elbow wherein one can see the arrowhead embedded in the bone. This weapon had injured a man but the arrowhead had remained embedded inside surrounded and trapped by the bone. This Neolithic person certainly would not have been able to move that arm.


Many more arrowheads, all made from flint, have been recovered at the site, A total of 60 found very close to but not directly embedded in the bones them. What does this phenomenon suggest? In the opinion of J. Ignacio Vegas, the site director, it points to the arrows having entered the internal organs or softer parts of the body and, on organic decaying having taken place, these arrowheads remained very near the bones. This is why so many have been found.

But, did these three hundred people die resulting from a frontal violent attack, then? This is what the site investigators tried to elucidate.


It has to be taken that the Neolithic was a period in which the way of life changed from a hunter-gatherer society to one based on production (animal husbandry and agriculture). This was a transcendental moment in the history of humanity.

In the opinion of Aranzadi Society researcher, Lourdes Herrasti, the Neolithic was the period when humans began to develop a certain sense of property, a sense of having. It may be that this awareness of property gave rise to confrontations between groups. Some observers even suggest that, as a result, violence arose during this period but the experts do not agree amongst themselves on this.


The research on the finds is going to be protracted. All these bones have been examined over the past twenty years both at the Aranzadi Society and at the University of the Basque Country. Gene sequencing has enabled the analysis of the genetic characteristics of the remains at the San Juan site.

This involved sequencing DNA fragments extracted from the ancient teeth and bones given that, as in the rest of the organs and body parts, teeth and bones contain DNA.


First the sex chromosomes were examined, i.e., the genes contained in chromosomes X and Y. By this means, the sex of the skeletons was determined, an important item of knowledge to have. Up to now, this data was extrapolated with morphology and measurement of size. In order to identify feminine or masculine remains, the cranium was measured, the morphology of the pelvis analysed and the size of the bones determined.


Moreover, it is generally difficult to find signs of illness in ancient remains. Given that only about 10% of infirmities leave traces of the illness in osseous matter. In this case the researchers have been lucky: the oldest case of cancer on the Iberian Peninsula has been identified at the San Juan site.

Thus, who knows what might turn up, or be turned up at the site near Laguardia (in the Basque province of Alava). There is little doubt that the remains found below that rock have provided important new information on the life and death of the human populations of the time; those who were witness to and part of those social sea-changes of the Neolithic period.


Reference URL





Press release

March 2004

The March issue of Antiquity, one of the world’s premier journals for archaeological research (out March 15th), includes:


*Where did the Anglo-Saxons come from?


Or did they? Paul Budd and his colleagues from the University of Durham, England, are overturning the traditional picture of ‘nationality’ by showing that individual immigration into Britain was continuous from prehistoric times. Their article assesses the state of the art in the most important new technique in archaeology: the use of stable isotopes (particularly of oxygen) to track the origins of people. Oxygen – as 18O – is present in groundwater in proportions related to the locality. Young people acquire this "local signature" by drinking the water and incorporating it in their teeth.  When they die, perhaps much later and many hundreds of miles away, this chemical memory from their childhood home stays with them for archaeologists to find. The team examined teeth from Anglo-Saxon and Viking cemeteries in the east of England and found that while some

people came from Scandinavia, many more non-locals were from western England. Samples from prehistoric and Roman cemeteries in Dorset, Hampshire and Yorkshire also revealed that people in these eras also came from not only abroad but also other parts of Britain. This raises many exciting questions in

addition to the old chestnut of immigration: plainly the British population was a mixture from the earliest times. Individuals were perpetually on the move for

reasons we can only guess: enterprise, marriage, slavery – or just getting lost. Pleased with this promising start, the researchers caution that more careful scientific work is needed to unlock the "full potential of the technique".


Ringing rocks


PhD student Nicole Boivin has shown how a group of rocks in southern India was used to make music in the Neolithic period. The tumbled rocks, where men of the

district met, carry incised images of hump-backed cattle and phallic men. Local guide Ramadas showed the author that some of the marks etched on the rocks

derived from hitting them with granite hammers to give a musical ringing sound, which may have formed part of Neolithic rituals. Hence her title: "Rock at and rock music"!


Leather armour protected the horses of Plains Indian braves


Comanche warriors equipped their horses with giant leather capes serving as armour. Mark Mitchell, of the University of Boulder, Colorado, USA, shows that these horses with their protective leather aprons were depicted on desert rock carvings in south-east Colorado. He deduces that the leather armour was used

by Comanche and Apache warriors only during a short period of time in the sixteenth century between the introduction of the horse and the availability of

fire-arms. The armour worked well against arrows and spears but gave no protection against bullets.


Facing the gods


Hawaiian temple sites of the sixteenth to nineteenth centuries have diverse orientations previously thought to be random. Using precise measurements and

nineteenth-century native Hawaiian sources, Professor Patrick Kirch shows that the temples cluster into groups whose orientation was deliberate and likely to

relate to a particular god.


Early African ivory trade


In the 17th and 18th centuries African elephant ivory was exploited on a massive scale by the colonial powers, giving the Ivory Coast its name. Working in Ghana, Ann and Peter Stahl from SUNY Binghampton (New York) have found that indigenous peoples in the 14th –16th centuries were masters of their own ivory trade, working and exporting artefacts and tusks of elephant and hippo across the Sahara Desert.  


Website: http://antiquity.ac.uk


'A once-in-a-lifetime discovery'

Exciting objects are emerging from beneath the mud in a Croatian river valley. Chris Arnot reports

Tuesday March 9, 2004

The Guardian


Being in the right place at the right time can be fortuitous in academia as in journalism. Had he not been one of the few foreign academics to be working in Croatia throughout the civil wars of the 1990s, Dr Vince Gaffney may never have got to hear about what he calls "the most remarkable site that I have, and will ever have, the privilege of being involved with - a once-in-a-lifetime discovery for any archaeologist".


Ten years ago, he was sitting outside a cafe on the island of Brach with colleagues from Birmingham University's field archaeology unit, watching distant military helicopters lifting injured Croatian soldiers from Split. "The national army had taken back some territory and there was a hell of a party that night," he recalls. "There was a lot of firing into the air. Then somebody pulled a pin out of a grenade and handed it to me."


Fortunately, the grenade was hurled into a field, where it exploded without loss of life or limb. The man who is now director of the Institute for Archaeology and Antiquity at Birmingham had survived to dig another day and, some years later, to follow up those rumours.


"Archaeology wasn't high on the national agenda while the country was falling apart," he says. "But in 2001, I was on a sabbatical, looking at pots in Split, when I was asked by Ante Milosevic from the Museum of Croatian Archaeological Monuments if I'd like to visit the site we'd heard about at the valley of the River Cetina."


What Gaffney found there exceeded his wildest expectations. Here was evidence of previous Balkan wars spanning many millennia. Some of the metalwork dated back to the neolithic period, 6,000 years BC. "Divers were coming up from the water and holding aloft Bronze-Age swords like the Lady of the Lake brandishing Excalibur," Gaffney recalls. To find one bronze sword is enough to set an archaeologist's pulse racing. To find more than 60 was almost heart-stoppingly exciting. In addition, there were over 30 Graeco-Illyrian helmets, a Roman legionary dagger, plus jewellery, axes and spearheads.


Among his many questions was why this site had not been unearthed before. "I discovered that a Croatian archaeologist had excavated some remains in the 1950s, but his findings had never been published," says Gaffney. "There were two reasons why so much more came to light decades later. One was the building in 1990 of a hydro-electric dam. A Serb attempt to bomb the dam a few years later led to the scouring of the banks. Metalwork that had been buried in the mud began to fall out, and house timbers were exposed. Organic deposits had preserved them."


It began to dawn on Gaffney that an entire historic landscape had survived. "There had been a string of settlements up and down the river," he says. "I emailed a colleague, Dr David Smith, who specialises in environmental archaeology. When he arrived here, he said it was rather like how it must have been standing on the Somerset Levels 100 years ago, before anything had been discovered."


The Cetina valley, however, is anything but level. There could be up to 14 significant sites spread over 80 sq km, set in a mountainous landscape. "The mountains formed a border between the Venetian and Turkish empires, and between the Roman empire and the Slavic kingdoms," says Gaffney, who is going back in the spring. "The British Academy has given us some financial backing for a three-year investigation, but I have to raise serious money to explore this area properly. We have to control the river, for instance, without destroying ancient timbers."


This part of the world has seen too much destruction already, as he knows so well. He still has the pin of that grenade from 10 years ago.



UK man finds 20,000 Roman coins

Updated 11 March 2004, 19.18


A man digging a pond in his garden was surprised to uncover around 20,000 coins more than 1,000 years old.


Ken Allen made the discovery when his spade smashed a pot in the hole at his home in Thornbury, Gloucestershire.


Ken might not be allowed to keep the coins because of complicated laws, but if they are taken away they would go in a museum and he would get a reward.

Experts think the coins were made around 1,700 years ago and some of them may not ever have been used.


Ken Allen found the coins in his garden


Gail Boyle, from Bristol Museum, said: "This is the most amazing find of treasure to come out of this area for 30 years."


The coins are being cleaned at the moment before being taken to the British Museum in London for further investigation.


If it's decided that Ken can't keep the coins then they become the property of the crown, which means the Queen owns them.



Remains of Viking Harbor Complex Found

Saturday March 6, 2004 6:31 AM


OSLO, Norway (AP) - Archaeologists in western Norway found the remains of a harbor complex built by the Vikings 1,000 years ago - the first of its kind discovered in the country.


The ancient harbor complex at Faanestangen, near the west coast city of Trondheim and some 250 miles north of Oslo, was discovered when a local landowner started work on a small boat dock on the same spot selected by his ancestors a millennium earlier.


``This is very special,'' district archaeologist Lars Forseth said Friday. ``Archaeologically, it is a sensation.''


The Vikings were renowned for daring voyages as far as North America in open longboats. Those longboats also provided essential transport along this northern country's long coast and required the construction of port facilities.

Local history buffs noticed the stumps of at least 10 pilings sticking out from the water around the Faanestangen site but believed they were from as recently as the 1880s, Forseth said.


However, they took a sample of the wood and sent it to a laboratory for dating. It turned out to be 1,000 years old.


``We haven't found anything like this in our country, as far as I know. In the entire Nordic region, there are only a few such facilities with wharf constructions,'' said Oyvind Oedegaard, of the national Museum of Natural History and Archaeology.

Experts quickly reasoned that the Vikings would need a major harbor at just that location because it is a short distance from Frostating, a site where Vikings gathered for huge decision-making assemblies and festivals.


``To get to Frostating, it is overwhelmingly likely that people from the ... region would arrive via a harbor, so we think there is a connection,'' Forseth said.

Archaeologists will study the area before it is covered over as part of a modern harbor development.



Bubonic Plague Traced to Ancient Egypt

Cameron Walker

for National Geographic News

March 10, 2004


The bubonic plague, or Black Death, may have originated in ancient Egypt, according to a new study.


"This is the first time the plague's origins in Egypt have been backed up by archaeological evidence," said Eva Panagiotakopulu, who made the discovery. Panagiotakopulu is an archaeologist and fossil-insect expert at the University of Sheffield, England.


King Tutankhamun lies in his burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings, Egypt. Some researchers now believe that the bubonic plague, or Black Death, originated in the village where builders of Tutankhamun's tomb lived.


While most researchers consider central Asia as the birthplace of the deadly epidemic, the new study—published recently in the Journal of Biogeography—suggests an alternate starting point.


"It's usually thought that the plague entered from the East," said B. Joseph Hinnebusch, a microbiologist at Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton, Montana. The new study suggests that North Africa could also be the source of the epidemic, he said.


The bacteria-caused plague is more than a grim historical footnote today. The African island of Madagascar experienced outbreaks in the late 1990s, and some worry about the plague's potential use as an agent of bioterrorism.


Information about past epidemics could help scientists predict where new outbreaks would occur and better understand how the disease spreads, Hinnebusch said.


The most famous plague outbreak swept through Europe in the 1300s. Dubbed the Black Death, the disease killed more than 25 million people—one-fourth of the continent's population. The nursery rhyme "Ring Around the Rosy" is traced to the plague's rose-colored lesions and deadly spread.


Earlier outbreaks also decimated Europe. The Justinian Plague claimed as many as a hundred million lives in the Byzantine Empire during the sixth century A.D.

The bacterium that causes bubonic plague, Yersinia pestis, lives inside the gut of its main carrier, the flea. The plague likely spread to Europe on the backs of shipboard black rats that carried plague-infested fleas.


"It's the plague's unholy trinity," said Michael Antolin, a biologist at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, who studies bubonic plague in black-tailed prairie dogs.


Inside the flea, bacteria multiply and block off the flea's throat-like area. The flea gets increasingly hungry. When it bites—whether rat or human—it spits some bacteria out into the bite wound.


People can contract several forms of the plague. The main form, bubonic, often starts out with fever, chills, and enlarged lymph nodes. But if the bacteria make their way into the lungs, a deadlier form, called pneumonic plague, can be spread from person to person. Pneumonic plague occurs in about 5 percent of those infected with bubonic plague.


Several researchers have suggested that Europe's Black Death spread too fast and killed too many to be attributed to bubonic plague. But plague experts Hinnebusch and Antolin said that the pneumonic plague form could have been responsible for the quick-spreading epidemic.


"If you inhale it, you're pretty much dead," Antolin said.


Panagiotakopulu came upon clues to the plague's presence in ancient Egypt by accident. She had been looking at fossil insect remains to learn about daily life more than 3,000 years ago.


"People lived close to their domestic animals and to the pests that infected their household," Panagiotakopulu said. "I just started looking at what diseases people might have, what diseases their pigs might have, and what diseases might have been passed from other animals to humans."


The researcher used a fine sieve to strain out remains of insects and small mammals from several sites. Panagiotakopulu, who is conducting similar work on Viking ruins in Greenland, said that looking at insects is a key way to reconstruct the past. "I can learn about how people lived by looking in their homes and at what was living with and on them," she said.


In Egypt Panagiotakopulu combed the workers'-village site in Amarna, where the builders of the tombs of Egyptian kings Tutankhamun and Akhenaton lived. There, the researcher unearthed cat and human fleas—known to be plague carriers in some cases—in and around the workers' homes. That find spurred Panagiotakopulu to believe that the bubonic plague's fleaborne bacteria could also have been lurking in the area, so she went in search of other clues.


Previous excavations along the Nile Delta had turned up Nile rats, an endemic species, dating to the 16th and 17th century B.C. The plague's main carrier flea is thought to be native to the Nile Valley and is known to be a Nile rat parasite.

According to Panagiotakopulu, the Nile provided an ideal spot for rats to carry the plague into urban communities. Around 3500 B.C., people began to build cities next to the Nile. During floods, the habitat of the Nile rat was disturbed, sending the rodent—and its flea and bacterial hitchhikers—into the human domain.

Egyptian writings from a similar time period point to an epidemic disease with symptoms similar to the plague. A 1500 B.C. medical text known as the Ebers Papyrus identifies a disease that "has produced a bubo, and the pus has petrified, the disease has hit."


It's possible that trade spread the disease to black rats, which then carried the bacteria to other sites of plague epidemics. Panagiotakopulu suspects that black rats, endemic to India, arrived in Egypt with sea trade. In Egypt the rats picked up plague-carrying fleas and were later born on ships that sailed across the Mediterranean to southern Europe.


"Most people think of the plague as a historical disease," said Hinnebusch, who conducts plague research for the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "But it's still out there, and it's still an international public health issue."

During the last ten years bubonic plague reappeared in Madagascar, which now has between 500 and 2,000 new cases each year.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization tallies as many as 3,000 plague cases each year around the world. Research interest in bubonic plague has been growing as, like anthrax, it could be used as a deadly bioterrorism agent (especially in pneumonic form).

While antibodies can be extremely effective against early stages of the plague, scientists are trying to learn more about how it works to be able to predict outbreaks and counteract the bacterium's scrambling of the immune system.

"There are so many unanswered questions about the plague," Hinnebusch said.

The plague will sleep for decades, even centuries, reemerge, and then seem to vanish again.


Panagiotakopulu said she wants to continue to track the evidence for the plague in Egypt and elsewhere to expand understanding of the still-mysterious epidemic.



Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2004/03/06 01:03:53 GMT


Ancient Inca mummies discovered


Archaeologists in Peru have uncovered an Inca burial site intact outside Lima containing adult and child mummies dating back to the 15th Century.

A team working on the site on a barren hill outside the capital located 26 tombs containing an unknown number of mummies and funereal artefacts.

It was allowed to search the area, part of a known ancient cemetery, ahead of the construction of a new road.


One archaeologist described the graves as being "middle class... Inca".

"These are local inhabitants... belonging to the period of the Inca Empire, between 1472 and 1532," Guillermo Cock told Reuters news agency.


Mr Cock said he had begun the dig in part of the Puruchuco-Huaquerones cemetery at the invitation of Lima city authorities.


He said Puruchuco-Huaquerones was the largest Inca cemetery in Peru and the largest excavated cemetery in the Western Hemisphere. But observers say the new find is a rare piece of luck for archaeologists.


"The important thing about this discovery is that it is intact," Mr Cock said, pointing out that the area showed evidence of funereal rituals such as corn, beans, coca leaves and pots.


Lima plans to move the find to a museum before pressing ahead with work on a busy new highway.


Another archaeologist, Federico Kauffmann, suggested it would be better to dig a road tunnel instead, given the site's importance.



Forgotten city lies beneath Edinburgh

Thu 11 March, 2004 12:26

By Jeremy Lovell


EDINBURGH (Reuters) - Deep beneath the cobbled streets of the Scottish capital lies a dank and forgotten realm where prostitutes once rubbed shoulders with body snatchers and the light of day never penetrated.


The thousands of subterranean citizens moved out long ago leaving the Edinburgh Vaults underneath the city's South Bridge alone with its multitude of ghosts until it was rediscovered in the 1980s and found new life as a tourist attraction.


"There are no written records of who lived in these vaults, although there is ample anecdotal evidence that thousands of people lived and died here, some probably never even seeing the outside world," said tour guide Jim Lennie.

"The chances are that few of the people who lived in the Georgian part of the city above knew they were there. The existence of the vaults was wiped from the city's records until they were rediscovered in 1985," explained Lennie on a recent tour.


The vaults are formed by the 19 arches of the South Bridge, built between 1785 and 1788 across the Cowgate ravine as the cramped ancient city began to expand.


Bricked in and built around, the vaults became a warren of nooks, crannies and tunnels forming the historic city's underworld.


"There was almost a whole city down here but no sign at all of it on the surface," Lennie said. "People lived, worked and died down here. That was the 'good old days'? I don't think so," he added with a grimace.


Evidence has been found of wine storage, leather works and a multitude of small businesses and living quarters for the city's unwanted and unseen poor.

But there were also other less legitimate pastimes beneath the feet of Edinburgh's gentry.


"We know that in 1815 there was an illegal whisky distillery operating here, and it is highly probable that there was also a brothel," Lennie said.


It is also believed that parts of the vaults were used to store cadavers either dug from fresh graves or plucked from the streets and sold to Edinburgh's Medical School, whose appetite for bodies for dissection was endless and unquestioning.

The city's notorious body-snatchers William Burke and William Hare are believed to have used the vaults from time to time to store their grisly merchandise before deciding that digging was too much trouble and turning to killing instead.


Burke was hanged after being turned in to police by Hare who himself died a pauper in London in 1859.


Arthur Conan Doyle, inventor of fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, learned his anatomy during training some years later at the Medical School and is known to have visited the vaults from time to time as a young doctor.


The vaults vary from the cavernous to the cramped. There is no -- nor was there ever -- running water or sanitation.


The only liquid that penetrated the unlit and airless caverns was likely to be whatever seeped through from the streets above where -- in the habit of the era -- households would empty their sewage at night.


Water for cooking and washing had to be carried by hand down the winding tunnels each day.


Wine rather than water was the drink of choice as the water was too polluted, and there was a thriving import trade in red wine from France.


On the positive side, the temperature in the vaults is fairly constant -- insulated from the outside world by metres of brick and mortar.


But even so the atmosphere inside would have been chokingg with open fires for heat and cooking, and fish-oil lamps providing what light there was.


"Candles were for the rich, not the people of the vaults," Lennie said.

All that is left now of the subterranean citizens of yesteryear are the ghosts which range from little dogs to young girls and even practising bottom-pinchers.


"There was a study here a couple of years ago and the vaults were declared probably the most psychically active place in the United Kingdom," Lennie said.

"Some of the people I have taken round down here have had distinctly funny turns. The mind plays some very odd tricks underground and in the dark," he added with a wry smile.


Undeterred, one enterprising local restaurateur has turned part of the vaults into a modern eatery where diners can savour the psychic shivers along with their chilled wines.