Archaeologists in Ethiopia Hope for Older 'Lucy'

Wed 3 March, 2004 17:15


ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Archaeologists studying human origins in eastern Ethiopia said on Wednesday a wealth of new finds meant they could hope to discover even older and more complete specimens than the famous fossil "Lucy."

The scientists excavating fossils in Ethiopia's eastern region of Somali for the last two years said they had unearthed 1,000 specimens of archaeological finds which included stone tools, fauna remains and elephant tusks.


Also uncovered were 400 fauna and primate remains in Galile, a village 215 miles east of the capital Addis Ababa.


"Our goals for the future are to find more complete hominid specimens probably from an older time frame than that of Lucy," Gerhard Weber, professor of Anthropology at University of Vienna, Austria, said in a statement.


Lucy is Ethiopia's world-acclaimed archaeological find, dug up in 1974 in an almost complete hominid skeleton estimated at least 3.2 million years old. Hominids are the family of primates of which humans, homo sapiens, are the only surviving species.


"Galile is an important opportunity in Ethiopia as well as within the East African Rift to study human origin," Weber said.


Weber heads the international team composed of researchers from the United States, Germany and Ethiopia.


He described Galile as an area with high potential to find hominid remains in a more complete and preserved status.


"These discoveries make the knowledge of human evolution to be better understood," Hasen Said, an Ethiopian archaeologist and associate member of the international team said.


Three hominid teeth, one believed to be nearly four million years old, were also discovered in Galile, the scientists said.


Lucy's remain were found in Hadar in the Afar regional state, where 20 years later scientists dug up the remains of a chimpanzee-sized ape, estimated at 4.4 million years old about 47 miles east of Hadar.



Last year, remains of a 160,000 year-old hominid were also discovered by Ethiopian and American scientists at Herto village in Afar region, about 140 miles northeast of Addis Ababa.


AL 288-1, "Lucy", Australopithecus afarensis

Discovered by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in 1974 at Hadar in Ethiopia (Johanson and Edey 1981; Johanson and Taieb 1976). Its age is about 3.2 million years. Lucy was an adult female of about 25 years. About 40% of her skeleton was found, and her pelvis, femur (the upper leg bone) and tibia show her to have been bipedal. She was about 107 cm (3'6") tall (small for her species) and about 28 kg (62 lbs) in weight.



Archaeologists uncover Ayrshire village ancient history


A village in Ayrshire has discovered that it could be the oldest continuously-occupied settlement in Scotland, dating back 5,500. Archaeologists have uncovered the remains of stone age houses in the middle of Dreghorn near Irvine.


They are having to re-write their local history in Dreghorn. Archaeologists have discovered that people may have been living here since 3500 BC - and it might make the village unique. They found evidence of occupation dating back to the Stone Age, through the Bronze Age to the medieval period.


Archaeologist Tom Addyman said: "People have always lived here, and have wanted to live here. Can't think of any other site that has that depth and layering of occupation."


The settlement has been found on the site of a modern housing development. Building work has been halted to allow the archaeologists to dig. They have made several intriguing finds.


Project supervisor Tom Wilson said: "It appears to be quite a large monument, like a standing stone, or some kind of totem pole, if you will, set up towards the centre of the settlement. That is an unusual thing to find in a settlement like this."

Pre-historian Mike Donnelly said: "Well, what we found here looks like a prehistoric pottery kiln, which would be very unusual for mainland Scotland, it would certainly be the first for mainland Scotland."


The archaeologists are noting down everything before the builders move back in. Dreghorn already had one claim to fame, as the birthplace of John Boyd Dunlop, the inventor of the pneumatic tyre; now it has a second, as - possibly - Scotland's oldest village.




Mar 4 2004


DREGHORN has been named Britain’s oldest continuously inhabited village after the remains of a settlement, dating back 5,000 years were unearthed.

Work on 53 new Wimpey houses was halted after remains of a neolithic village were uncovered after a routine test of the ground.


There were also mediaeval finds made in the ancient village.


The test of the land next to Dreghorn Cemetery was part of North Ayrshire Council’s agreement to let the development go ahead.


When developers looked at aerial photographs they spotted lumps and bumps in the ground and land tests were ordered.


And when the remains of a 5,500-year-old well were found in November, a team of archaeologists were called in to dig the site.


But the team of experts have only three weeks left before they have to down tools and take away any finds they have made.


The Dreghorn settlement dig is being led by London based archaeologist Tom Wilson.


He called it one of the biggest finds of his ten year career.


“This is only one of five to be discovered in Scotland and we think it dates back to around 3500BC.


“It would be a farming community with around eight huts taking pride of place in the site.


“We have also found pits with pottery and a giant fence that must have circled the village.


“Although other neolithic villages have been found in Scotland, this is the only one I believe has been permanently lived in.


“We can see where the huts and kiln would have been.


“The residents moved further up the hill in the winter as the land was prone to flooding.


“We’re really like detectives and so far we have found some important artifacts including grooved-ware pottery and a kiln that we think is the oldest found in Scotland.


“It’s just a pity we only have until the end of March to continue our work.”

The pottery is made of Pitchstone from Arran, a blue green material showing links between the communities centuries ago.


As well as cooking pots, animal remains have been found and the artifacts will be displayed by the National Museums of Scotland.


Dreghorn councillor, John Moffat was shocked and surprised at the find.

He said: “I haven’t been down myself but I understand there are 12 men working in the hole.


“It is under a canopy so there’s not much to see.


“But it’s amazing the history in this village.”



Fresh Bronze Age treasure find


An "exceptional" hoard of buried treasure has been found in Wrexham just two years after another major find of Bronze Age treasure there.


The 14 pieces of priceless gold and bronze jewellery and pottery, dating back more than 3,000 years, were found by three metal detector enthusiasts in the last few weeks.


Archaeologists are excited about the latest discovery in the area which is also home to the 4,000 year-old gold Mold cape, thought to have belonged to a nobleman and found in 1833.


They believe this latest group of artefacts were buried between 1300 and 1100 BC as a gift to the gods by a well-connected and wealthy farming community.

The hoard is currently with the National Museum & Galleries of Wales in Cardiff where a report is being prepared for a coroner's inquest to consider whether it should be declared treasure trove.


The twisted gold wire bracelet and the pendant, made of spiralled gold wire and forming a long bead shape, are unique within Britain


This hearing will be held within the next couple of months and until then pictures of the artefacts are not being released.


However, a museum spokeswoman said the find was "exceptional" and some pieces were unique in the UK.


"This hoard includes a torc (bangle) and bracelet, a necklace pendant and a collection of beads and rings, all of gold," said the spokeswoman.


"It was buried alongside two palstaves (kinds of axes) and a chisel, within a small pot, fragments of which were found in the ground alongside.


"The twisted gold wire bracelet and the pendant, made of spiralled gold wire and forming a long bead shape, are unique within Britain.


"One or two similar objects have been found in north-western France."

In January 2002, two metal detector enthusiasts from Wrexham found gold bracelet fragments, a bronze axe and a dagger.


The pair from the Wrexham Metal Detectorists Club came across the items at a rally near Rossett, in Wrexham.


The dagger was the first of its kind to be discovered in Wales.


The region's most famous Bronze Age link is the priceless gold cape discovered in Mold is widely regarded as one of the finest pieces of craftsmanship from that period.


The cape is made from the equivalent of 23-carat gold and weighs one kilogram.

It was discovered in pieces in a grave with the bones of a man at Bryn yr Ellyllon (the Fairies' or Goblins' Hill).


A replica is displayed at the heritage centre and museum in Mold while the original is held at the British Museum in London.


In December a Bronze Age gold disc used as an item of adornment at a burial 4,000 years ago and found just outside Aberystwyth was declared treasure trove at an inquest.


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/03/04 12:55:35 GMT




27/02/2004 17:54



Dig unearths ancient love affair


A Roman tale of love and romance that took place in Kent in about 200 AD has been unearthed during an excavation.


Archaeologists working at the site in Canterbury uncovered the secret of the romance in a grave just as they were about to pack up their equipment.


The grave contained a woman's skull as well as the only complete marble plaque ever found in the area.


The team said the plaque would have been put beside the woman by her husband as a gesture of eternal love.


Paul Bennet, the director of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, said: "This grave is special because of this object - this marble plaque.


"Burying a funeral inscription is unusual and you can just make out the letters, they mean most faithful."


Archaeologist Richard Helm found the grave and has helped piece the puzzle of the romance back together.


Mr Helm said: "As I turned it over and saw the inscription, which looked very clear in the sunlight, I was absolutely amazed and excited.


The woman's identity is not known but it is thought she lived in the area about 1,800 years ago and may have been a potter.


The archaeologists also believe the plaque would have been the man's only possession and say it makes the tale more poignant.


Other historical finds unearthed during the dig included the remains of a Neolithic man, Roman brickworks and a silver trinket from the Saxon period.


All of the items will be displayed in the city's museum.


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/03/02 21:33:51 GMT




Veni, vidi, veggie...

By Tom Leonard, Media Editor

(Filed: 02/03/2004)


Roman gladiators were overweight vegetarians who lived on barley and beans, according to a scientific study of the largest gladiator graveyard discovered.

Analysis of the bones of more than 70 gladiators recently found near Ephesus, the Roman capital of Asia Minor, puts paid to traditional Hollywood images of macho carnivores with the physique of boxers.


The dietary findings of the scientists from the University of Vienna are detailed in a forthcoming documentary on Channel Five. They may give vegetarians a new, harder image.


But the vegetarian stereotype is shattered by the finding that gladiators did not wear sandals but fought in bare feet.


The mass autopsy at the graveyard site on the western coast of Turkey has challenged assumptions that gladiator training was almost as brutal as the contests.


Ancient Roman mosaics depict gladiators as stocky, heavy men but historians have tended to assume this was a tribute to their macho image rather than a literal depiction of their size.


Meanwhile, experts have been puzzled by contemporary references to gladiators as "barley crunchers".


Karl Grossschmidt, a forensic anthropologist at Vienna University, used chemical testing on the bones to reveal that gladiators stuck to a diet of barley and beans to bulk out.


It was a boring diet, he admitted. "They got enough of this food every day to make them very fat and strong," he said. He concluded that they devised the diet primarily to protect themselves from slashing wounds and damage to nerves and blood vessels, with the layer of fat supplementing their scant armour.


Dr Grossschmidt noticed from the bone analysis that, contrary to the normal effects of intensive training, the gladiators put on weight before a fight rather than lost it.


Bone samples were subjected to chemical analysis. While a normal meat and vegetable diet will show balanced levels of zinc and strontium, the gladiators' bones were very high in strontium and low in zinc - another indication of vegetarianism.


The density of the bone tissue was significantly higher than normal, exactly what one finds in modern athletes, he said. The bone enlargement was particularly pronounced in the feet - evidence that gladiators fought barefoot in the slippery arena sand. Historians have long argued over which gesture meant mercy and which meant death.


Dr Grossschmidt discovered a series of scratches etched on to the spines of fallen gladiators.


He believes they signified attempts to stab them in the heart via the throat.

This, he concluded, is evidence that the thumbs down was indeed a fatal instruction - to thrust the sword down through the throat and into the heart.

The True Gladiators: Revealed can be seen on Five on March 10.



Tuscan 'Excalibur' Mystery to be Unearthed

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News


March 1, 2004 — Archaeological digging might soon unveil the mystery surrounding a sword buried in a Gothic abbey in Tuscany, Italian researchers announced.


Known as the "sword in the stone," the Tuscan "Excalibur" is said to have been plunged into a rock in 1180 by Galgano Guidotti, a medieval knight who renounced war and worldly goods to become a hermit.


Built in Galgano's memory, the evocative Gothic abbey at Montesiepi, near the city of Siena, still preserves the sword in a little chapel. Only the hilt and a few centimeters of the blade protrude from the rock in the shape of a Cross.


"The sword has been considered a fake for many years, but our metal dating research in 2001 has indicated it has medieval origins. The composition of the metal doesn't show the use of modern alloys, and the style is compatible with that one of a 12th century sword," Luigi Garlaschelli, a research scientist at University of Pavia, told Discovery News.


By the summer, Garlaschelli hopes to excavate the area around the stone, in search of the knight's body. Indeed, ground penetrating radar analysis revealed the presence of a 6 1/2-foot by 3-foot room beneath the sword.


"It could well be Galgano's tomb, [sought] for about 800 years," Garlaschelli said.

The figure of Galgano Guidotti, who is said to have be born in 1148 in Chiusdino, near Siena, is shrouded in mystery and legend. Evidence of his historical identity has never been found and no records exist in documents from his time.


Galgano Guidotti was said to have been an arrogant and lustful knight who isolated himself in a cave and became a hermit after seeing a vision of the Archangel Michael.


Legend has it that, Galgano was lured out by his mother who convinced him to meet with his former beautiful fiancée; on the way to her house, Galgano was thrown by his horse while passing Montesiepi, a hill near Chiusdino. There, another vision told him to renounce material things. Galgano objected that it would be as difficult as splitting a rock with a sword. To prove his point, he struck a stone with his sword. Instead of breaking, the sword slid like butter into the rock. Galgano once again became a recluse, isolating himself by the sword's side. There he remained until he died in 1181.


Garlaschelli admitted that the excavation would not unveil another mystery over the sword: the one of the Tuscan "Excalibur" predating the legend of King Arthur.

If the sword really dates to 1180, decades before the first literary reference to the "sword in the stone," it would support the theory that the Celtic myth of King Arthur and his sword Excalibur developed in Italy after the death of Galgano.

"Further evidence may lie underneath the rock, but the Arthurian link is almost impossible to prove. It will remain one of the many mysteries that surround St. Galgano. More multidisciplinary studies are needed to understand what the hill of Montesiepi hides. Meanwhile, we are all anxious to see what results this excavation will bring," Maurizio Cali, president of the "Project Galgano" association, told Discovery News.



Land wars house revealed




Archaeologists from the University of Auckland are using cutting-edge technology to record the buried secrets of the largest Maori house site yet excavated.

A team of senior students and staff has spent the past fortnight excavating the site, on a hillside at Bell Block, north of New Plymouth, which must be removed for a bypass.


They have uncovered the remains of a 22m-long meeting house, with evidence of at least two smaller structures which it supplanted on the same site.


Dr Simon Holdaway, a senior lecturer in the Department of Anthropology who has been leading the excavations, said the house dated from the 1860s, during the land wars, an era archaeologists rarely had the opportunity to excavate from.

"It was a huge house by the standards of the 19th century and you don't build such a big house for small reasons."


The house had glass windows and was built using nails, clear evidence of a strong trading relationship between Maori and Pakeha. Further discoveries, such as that of a button from a Royal Irish Regiment uniform (noted pa-busters) and an assortment of champagne bottles, suggest that the house might have come under European control in its latter days.


More remarkable still has been the discovery of a so-called gunfighter pa - a series of shallow curved trenches which, screened by branches, would have hidden warriors as they fired on enemies.


Modern historians credit Taranaki Maori with the invention of trench warfare but Dr Holdaway said archaeologists seldom had the opportunity to excavate gunfighter pa because they were the site of ancient bloodshed and "tapu as all heck".


The excavation, funded by Transit New Zealand, is a joint undertaking of the university and archaeologists from two private firms - Michael Taylor from Archaeology North and Hans Bader from Geometria.


Mr Taylor, who discovered the site on farmland while walking the line of the proposed bypass, said the site was "as phenomenal as archaeology is likely to get in New Zealand".


"It's unbelievable to find such a big house so close to a major city," he said. "You certainly don't find sites like this every day."


The dig is notable for the amount of high-tech equipment being deployed on surveying and recording the site before it is destroyed. Sophisticated theodolites called total stations include laser distance meters, which instantly do the trigonometrical calculations to record the exact location of artefacts. And the archaeologists use a $145,000 laser scanner - one of only two in the country and the only one in use by an academic institution - to create three-dimensional records of excavations.


"In archaeology, context is everything," said Dr Holdaway. "Exactly where things are found allows us to draw inferences about past behaviour. You can make these records on paper but when you are looking at maybe 10,000 items it can take years."


The dig has been conducted in close co-operation with local iwi Te Atiawa.

Grant Knuckey, from the tribal council, said his people were surprised to learn how long Maori had occupied the site.


"We've been rediscovering our history and it has been a wonderful opportunity for us to regain knowledge."





Experts save hidden Brunel bridge


Experts are preparing to dismantle the earliest of eight surviving Brunel iron bridges in England.


Isambard Kingdom Brunel's creation was hidden within a modern brick road bridge over the Grand Union Canal near Paddington Station, central London.

The structure, which will be dismantled and moved to safety, was discovered a week before it was due to be bulldozed.


It is hoped the bridge will be reconstructed in time for the 200th anniversary of Brunel's birth, in 2006.


Plans to rescue the bridge were put into action after English Heritage's inspector of ancient monuments Dr Steven Brindle found Brunel's surviving notebooks.


The rescue of this outstanding piece of our industrial heritage is a triumph for partnership and problem solving

Simon Thurley, English Heritage


He found the Victorian engineer's designs and records of load testing for the cast-iron beams of a Paddington canal bridge, dating from 1838.


Letters about the bridge, from Brunel to the Grand Junction Canal Company, were also found, but it was not known if the structure still existed.


It was finally found, surviving as the Bishops Bridge, just a week before it was due to be demolished as part of the Paddington Bridge Project.


Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, said: "The rescue of this outstanding piece of our industrial heritage is a triumph for partnership and problem solving."


Westminster City Council said: "We are delighted to have found a good solution for such an internationally prestigious structure."


The next stage is to secure funding for its full restoration and find a new location.

One option is to install it as a public footbridge over the Grand Union Canal in Paddington.


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/03/03 06:36:02 GMT





Posted on Sun, Feb. 29, 2004

Once taboo, erotic ceramics a link to ancient Peru

The Moche ceramics, popular tourist attractions at fine museums, explore sexual values in pre-Columbian Peru.


Associated Press


LIMA - Nearly 40 years ago, historian Maximo Terrazos descended narrow stairs into a tomb-like chamber where, he says, he experienced a sexual awakening of sorts.


Then a 20-year-old university student, he was escorted along with his classmates to a subterranean room marked ''Private'' in Peru's Museum of Archaeology, Anthropology and History to see huacos eróticos for the first time.


Before them were explicit ceramic depictions of sexual acts crafted more than 1,500 years earlier by the Moche, a highly organized, class-based society that dominated Peru's northern coast for 800 years until about 800 A.D.


''For me it was jolting,'' says Terrazos, who went on to devote his career to studying sexuality in ancient Peru. ``We were the first students who had ever been allowed to see them.''


For decades, the huacos eróticos, or erotic ceramics, were locked away from the public, accessible only to an elite group of Peruvian social scientists. Occasionally and reluctantly they were made available to select foreign researchers from the United States and Europe.


''You couldn't talk about them because they were considered huacos pornográficos,'' Terrazos said. ``They were known as huacos prohibidos because of the taboo imposed by the Christian religion that men have sex only for procreation and that women do not experience sexual pleasure.''

Today, exhibitions of these ceramics, running the full gamut of sexual practices, are popular attractions in some of Peru's finest museums.


The Moche ceramics have opened the door to a wide field of study of sexual values in pre-Columbian Peru. Their study also casts a historical spotlight on centuries of repression by Spanish colonial bureaucrats and Inquisition-era priests bent on extirpating demonic influence from the hearts, minds and loins of the native populace.


In Spanish colonial Peru, huacos eróticos, like most indigenous icons, were smashed, Terrazos said.


In the 1570s, Viceroy Francisco de Toledo and his clerical advisors were obsessed with eliminating sodomy, masturbation and a common social practice that the Quechua-speaking populace referred to in terms that translate roughly as ``trial marriage.''


Toledo and the priests were aghast to find that not only was homosexuality accepted in several regions of the country but that the indigenous population also placed no particular importance on female chastity and made no prohibition against premarital sex.


One of Peru's most famous colonial-era churchmen, Jesuit José de Acosta, wrote in 1590 that ''virginity, which is viewed with esteem and honor by all men, is deprecated by those barbarians as something vile,'' according to Family Values in Seventeenth-Century Peru, an article by Duke University anthropologist Irene Silverblatt.


''Except for the virgins consecrated to the sun or the Inca, all other women are considered of less value when they are virgin, and thus whenever possible they give themselves to the first man they find,'' de Acosta complained.


To put matters right, Toledo ordered that evangelized natives caught cohabiting outside church-sanctioned wedlock receive 100 lashes of the whip ``to persuade these Indians to remove themselves from this custom so detrimental and pernicious.''


Toledo also issued several decrees aimed at creating near total segregation of the sexes in public. Violations were punishable by 100 lashes and two years' service in pestilential state hospitals.


Under the Inquisition, brought to Peru in 1569, homosexuals could be burned at the stake. Sexual mores in 21st century Peru are a far cry from what Toledo and his Jesuit advisors hoped for more than 400 years ago. Social prohibitions against premarital sex are preached and female virginity is exalted, but neither is necessarily adhered to.


Thousands of hourly-rate hostels operate 24 hours a day in cities to provide couples with privacy that is unavailable at home.


In working-class households, it is common to see nudie calendars hanging on the same walls as icons of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.


The American public first became aware of huacos eróticos in 1954, when Indiana University's Dr. Alfred Kinsey -- author of the famous Kinsey Reports on human sexual behavior -- traveled to Lima to investigate Peru's archaeological dirty secret.


The Moche artifacts, Kinsey wrote, were ``the most frank and detailed document of sexual customs ever left by an ancient people.''