Ostrich beads indicate early symbolic thought

18:25 31 March 04

NewScientist.com news service


Stone Age beads revealed by archaeologists on Wednesday could be the strongest evidence yet that humans developed sophisticated symbolic thought much earlier than once thought.


The ostrich egg beads and numerous other artefacts, including ochre pencils, carved bone and stone tools, were recovered from the Loiyangalani River Valley, in Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.


The archaeologists who discovered the relics have yet to date them precisely, but believe they originate from the African Middle Stone Age - between 280,000 and 45,000 years ago. This is because they were found in a sedimentary layer along with many items characteristic of the Middle Stone Age.


The ostrich egg beads are about 5mm in diameter


They believe that the carefully worked ostrich beads, which have no use as tools, provide the clearest evidence to date that humans could think symbolically before 35,000 years ago. That is the time when artwork and sophisticated artefacts start to appear commonly, although so far only outside Africa.


"I'm fairly sure that these items are very old, and if that is so this could be a very important site," says Audax Mabulla, one of the archaeologists behind the find from the University of Dar er Salaam in Tanzania. "The beads are unambiguous examples of symbolic behaviour."


The ostrich egg beads were probably made by cracking ostrich eggs, boring holes into the pieces and then smoothing them. Ethnographic records show that similar pieces of jewellery are often used by modern hunter-gatherer groups for trading or other forms of social interaction.


But not everyone is convinced that the Loiyangalani find proves that the earliest "modern" humans had similar mental capabilities and social structures.

"It is certainly debatable whether ostrich egg beads are symbolic," says Paul Pettitt, an archaeologist at the University of Sheffield in the UK. "If they can convincingly date them, they also need to demonstrate that they are symbolic rather than simply decorative."


Pettitt also points out that 70,000-year-old ochre crayons, covered with carvings that might have symbolic relevance, have already been recovered from the Blombos Cave in South Africa. Mabulla and his US colleagues acknowledge this, but argue that the ostrich shell beads are much less ambiguous.

Fossil records show that Homo sapiens evolved in its current physical form around 120,000 years ago. But it took some time for modern behaviour to develop and be expressed in the artefacts that are found today.


The scientists presented the findings from Loiyangalani at the Paleoanthropology Society Meeting in Montreal, Canada on Wednesday. The items were all excavated by an international project known as Serengeti Genesis.

Will Knight




Axe on the beach from 8,500 years ago


DOG-WALKER Jamie Stevenson took a stroll along the beach – and stumbled across an axe head dating back to the stone age.


Mr Stevenson, a Radio Solent newsreader, said: 'My dog Woody likes chasing stones when I skim them on the water, and so I just happened to pick it up.


Jamie Stevenson with Woody and the axe head found at Emsworth


'It felt different and looked different. It moulded nicely into my hands. When I looked at it more closely I saw that the edges were cut to be sharp.'


Mr Stevenson took the stone he found on Prinsted Beach to Havant Museum.


It was forwarded to Kay Ainsworth, the keeper of archaeology at Hampshire Museums Service.


She said: 'This is a very nice example of a flint Mesolithic era axe. The general shape suggests that it was used as an adze – a stone-age carpentry tool.'


Mr Stevenson said: 'The museum dated it to around 8,500BC.


The axe head was returned to Mr Stevenson, who plans to keep it safe.






For further information, please contact:

Ather Mirza

University of Leicester


0116 252 2415


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University of Leicester

29 March 2004

Earliest Human Remains Reveal A Bloody End

under embargo until 31 Mar 2004 00:01 GMT


University of Leicester archaeologists discover the earliest human remains from Leicestershire


Analysis of human remains found during archaeological work carried out by University of Leicester Archaeological Services has established that they are the earliest remains ever to be found in the county - and that they met with violent deaths!


Experts from the leading research and teaching department have just completed investigations on remains that had been found eight years ago in a gravel quarry near Watermead Country Park, Birstall.


A series of scientific tests undertaken this year have come up with some gruesome results.


The remains, including two skulls, vertebrae and long bones, were found together in a peat deposit - originally an old channel of the River Soar - during gravel quarrying. Radiocarbon dating has provided surprising results: although found together the bodies had been deposited in the marsh 2000 years apart! The remains of two individuals - a male and a female – were dated from the Early Neolithic (around 3000BC), the earliest known human remains from the county. The skull and upper vertebra from another person were found to date from around 800BC during the Bronze Age.


How and why did these remains end up here? Analysis at the University of York and the British Museum have concluded that before the bodies were disposed of the blood supply was cut off quickly - perhaps pointing to their being put to death. More tangible evidence was found on the vertebra of the Bronze Age individual. Here cut marks showed that the person’s throat had been cut by a knife.

Susan Ripper the Site Director said: “These are remarkable if somewhat gruesome discoveries. The evidence suggests the people suffered from violent deaths, and soon after death the bodies were placed in a waterlogged area alongside the river.”


These weren’t the only discoveries made on the site. In addition to the evidence of human sacrifice there is a very early ‘burnt mound’ dating from the late Neolithic period (about 2500-2000BC). These sites comprise mounds of heat cracked stones which would have been used to boil water in a circular wooden trough. Why they wanted to boil a large amount of water remains unclear. No cooking debris was found (bones, pots etc.), so the site may have been used to cook food that was eaten elsewhere or for something like wool processing, steaming withies for basket making or possibly even as ‘saunas’.


A series of timber uprights for a footbridge crossing the marsh were also found during the fieldwork. Radiocarbon dating showed this to date from around AD500 showing it to be the only early Anglo-Saxon bridge known in Britain.

Dr Patrick Clay, Director of University of Leicester Archaeological Services commented:


“This is a remarkable discovery literally from the jaws of the gravel excavators. The cut marks indicate that one person appears to have been deliberately killed around 800BC. There is evidence of people being sacrificed and their bodies being cast into marshes or bogs from Britain and Europe, notably Denmark, from this time onwards. Lindow Man, found in Cheshire in 1980, is an example of this. The Neolithic date for two of the individuals, also suffering a sudden death and being found in the same location is intriguing. Is this human sacrifice being practiced 2000 years earlier? If so, it is the earliest known from Britain.”


The fieldwork was funded by the University of Leicester, Leicestershire County Council, Charnwood Borough Council and Ennemix Construction Materials. The analysis was funded by a grant from the Aggregates Levy Sustainability Fund. A touring display is being prepared by Leicestershire County Council, Heritage Services.



Romans faced head-to-head battle

A new exhibition in Cumbria has revealed that Roman foot soldiers faced a battle of a different kind against a microscopic foe.

The Romans, sent to the northern front of the empire and Hadrian's Wall, came head to head with lice.

A new display of items from an excavation outside Carlisle Castle includes a soldier's comb with a fully intact, three-millimetre-long louse.

Archaeologists say the louse is around 2,000 years old.

The dig was part of Carlisle City Council's Gateway City Millennium Project which took place between November 1998 and March 2001.

The excavation was located within the Roman fort of Luguvalium, which was founded in AD72-3.

Some of the finds from the excavation are on display in the castle, and the exhibition is being relaunched in April to include some newly-conserved finds.

'Rare insight'

Archaeologist Carol Allen, who has been working on the project, said the louse was from excavations in the earliest part of the fort.

She said: "The louse is one of the largest and most complete ever found in the Roman world."

Fellow archaeologist John Zant said thousands of artefacts were discovered at the Carlisle site and many have been well preserved.

He said: "We are very fortunate in Carlisle because the earliest Roman levels from where this comb came are waterlogged.

"So we have a lot of artefacts which we wouldn't normally have, made of wood and leather and even textile.

"It gives us a rare insight into what was happening in a Roman fort in the first century AD.

"It is one of only around six Roman sites in western Europe where you get this kind of evidence surviving so it is particularly important."

Story from BBC NEWS:



Published: 2004/03/30 11:41:23 GMT





March 27, 2004

Crews discover entire Indian village

The Associated Press


The site where Indians once lived in the Bolivar County area has captured the interest of local archaeologists over the past few months.


John Connaway, an archaeologist with the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, has been working to uncover the lives of area Indians who lived in Bolivar County more than 1,000 years ago.


"The Delta has one of the richest concentrations of archaeological remains in the country," Connaway said. "The Winterville mounds are the fifth largest mounds in the U.S."


Connaway came to Bolivar County after the Department of Archives and History was informed that the owners of the land — where the Indian mounds are located — were planning to level the field. While the department knew the mounds were there, it wasn't until the mounds were "threatened" that action was taken.


Once leveled, many of the artifacts hidden in the earth will be destroyed, so Connaway, along with volunteer graduate students from the University of Mississippi, have undertaken the meticulous task of scraping away layer after layer of dirt and clay in search of any sign of Indian life.


What they discovered were not only large mounds of dirt at Indian burial sites, which are protected under federal law, but an entire village where Indians lived and worked by the banks of the Sunflower River.


The land was originally reported in 1940 as having three mounds. Today only two are clearly visible with a remnant of the third.


Connaway said the students from Ole Miss brought along various types of remote sensing equipment last fall to aid in where they should actually dig. With the time constraints, Connaway had to be selective where to dig instead of trying to excavate the entire field.


Radar was used to pick up disturbances in the ground such as objects or even pits. The magnetic equipment detected changes in the magnetic field in the earth. The areas were then marked with flags.


Connaway said they could spend the next five years excavating the site to discover everything about the people they could.


The site is scheduled for leveling this fall, and the property owners said they would allow Connaway to come back once leveling started.



Neolithic relics uncovered in Cambridgeshire


Relics dating back 6,000 years to the Neolithic age are being uncovered by archaeologists working on the site of the Fordham bypass (Cambridgeshire, England). A team from Cambridgeshire County Council's archaeology field unit are carrying out "digs" on the line of the road before the construction workers move in to build the new route. Aileen Connor, project manager, said the Neolithic finds, close to the existing A142 road behind the massive Turners transport depot, had not been expected. Trial digs carried out two years ago had indicated the presence of early Iron Age remains from about 2,500 years ago.


The finds have been found in what was probably a dumping ground for flint off-cuts and other rubbish from the nearby settlement. Ms Connor said that the project, currently the largest archaeological investigation in Cambridgeshire, was expected to continue until the end of May. An exhibition of the finds is due to be staged in the village this summer when work on the £12.5 million road begins.


Source: Cambridge News (27 March 2004)


New survey of Northern Ireland's monuments


The state of Northern Ireland's historical monuments are to come under the spotlight in a new survey. The two-year study by archaeologists from Queen's University's Centre for Archaeological Fieldwork is the first of it's kind to be carried out in Northern Ireland and will begin next month.


Northern Ireland has 15,000 monuments, relics of a cultural heritage stretching back over 9,000 years, and includes some of our best known landmarks, such as Carrickfergus Castle and Navan Fort. The survey, commissioned by the Environment and Heritage Service: Built Heritage, will examine 1,500 monuments to find out their current condition and provide statistical analysis on potential threats to their future, such as farming activity and building developments.


Dr Colm Donnelly, manager of the Queen's Centre said: "These monuments are a non-renewable resource and once they're destroyed they are gone for good - robbing us, not only of a valuable resource, but also of our heritage."


Source: Belfast Telegraph (27 March 2004)


Ancient statue found on Chios


Archaeologists on the island of Chios (Greece) have discovered a rare life-sized marble statue of a youth dating to the mid-sixth century BCE. The statue, of a type known as the kouros, was found during a rescue excavation at Emborio - on the island's southern tip - without its head, while the legs from the knee down were missing.


Archaeologists said the naked statue had only been half-finished, but it was unclear whether that would indicate the presence of a sculptor's workshop at Emborio. It was tentatively dated to 550 BCE. The 96-centimeter-high statue is the only life-sized kouros of the Chiot school of sculpture to have been found on the island.


The ancient town of Emborio, which was excavated by the British School at Athens in the 1950s, was founded in the eighth century BC and was abandoned some 600 years later. It was a coastal settlement, crowned by a castle.


Source: Kathimerini (26 March 2004)


Re-writing ancient history of the Upper Tweed Valley


The archaeological survey of the Upper Tweed Valley (Scotland) has finally been completed by the Biggar Museum Trust. Over three years, the archaeologists have been checking out every nook and cranny of the landscape in the search for previously unrecorded sites and monuments.


Tam Ward of the museum said: "This has been the largest survey we have undertaken and we have found hundreds of sites of which nothing was known. The final outcome of this project will be to re-write the ancient history of the Upper Tweed, and what a story that will be. A great deal of the past has been lost to us, but using our detective skills, it is possible to salvage much of the story by putting these sites back on the map."


The voluntary group has discovered new types of sites such as the strange 'burnt mounds' dating to the Bronze Age over 4000 years ago and where people were heating water with hot stones. Also several Bronze Age house and grave sites, have been found.


Archaeology belongs to everyone, and to inform the local community of the rich legacy of the past which surrounds them, a talk on the recent work will be held in Broughton Hall on Wednesday, March 31, at 7.30 p.m. "The Lost Past of Tweeddale Re-Discovered" will be given by Tam Ward in this free lecture, organised by the Community Council.


Peeblesshire News (25 March 2004)


Cave art to go on show


The only known Ice Age cave art in Britain is to be revealed to the public for the first time. But the tours, to be held for just two weeks next month, will be the only chance to see the 12,000-year-old carvings at Creswell Crags (Nottinghamshire, England) for some years.


Archaeologists announced their unique discovery at the Crags last summer. The images carved by nomadic Ice Age hunters who sheltered in the caves were the first to be found in Britain. Before then only small carved objects from the period had been found in the UK. Ice Age cave art has previously been found in France and Spain. The Creswell pictures, of animals such as the ibex (a type of goat), wild ox and birds, were found carved into the walls of Church Hole Cave at the heritage site at Welbeck, near Worksop. But they have been kept from public view while they have been studied, and to protect them.


Now the first tours to see the carvings are to be run daily between April 3 and 18. Times will vary and places must be booked in advance. Visitors will be able to see the ancient images, which are high up on the cave wall, by climbing steps to a viewing platform. Brian Chambers, Creswell Crags curator, said: "This really is a chance in a lifetime."


It is likely to be the only public viewing allowed for two, possibly three years. But other caves will remain open. Public access has been limited owing to health and safety issues. But in the long term, organisers are investigating ways for the public to have more access. Researchers will be given limited access to the site.


Ian Wall, services and operations manager, said: "It is a sensitive archaeological site and we have already had to take special measures such as installing scaffold platforms for people to stand on to look at the art.


The cave tours will cost £5 for adults, £2.50 for children or £12.50 for a family of four. Visitors must be aged above five. The number of people allowed on each of up to four tours a day will be limited to ten for health and safety reasons. Early bookings for cave tours are recommended. Call 01909 720378.


Source: This is Nottingham, Evening Post (26 March 2004)


Stonehenge tunnel could have effects at Avebury


Following on from archaeologists' concerns that the proposed 2.1km tunnel under Stonehenge would be inadequate, representatives of the Avebury Society believe the existing scheme also overlooks a significant portion of the World Heritage site.


Ewart Holmes, representing the group, said: "We note that the A303 scheme, which is part of the Stonehenge project, fails to acknowledge the overriding primary emphasis on conservation, and management of the whole site and its archaeology as a cultural landscape. Mr Holmes said the primary emphasis of the Stonehenge Management Plan included "improving the interpretation and understanding of the whole of the World Heritage site as a cultural landscape to visitors". He said: "This is going to be difficult to achieve if the present scheme is to go ahead, as much of the site is divided by the width of the dual carriageways."


The society also believes the proposals for the visitor centre should be considered now, along with the road project. Mr Holmes said: "Decisions on planning proposals at Avebury and other World Heritage sites indicate that their fabric, setting, wider landscape and archaeological remains are all worthy of protection. If a better road option cannot be found, we should wait."


The Avebury Society agreed with archaeologists that a longer tunnel would be a better option. Responding to the Avebury Society's submission, Charles Clavert, a representative of the Highways Agency, said: "Over a period of some 20 years, every conceivable solution appears to have been considered and rejected, apart from some form of tunnel through the World Heritage site.


Mr Holmes said that, despite the acknowledged difficulties in finding a solution, this scheme should be refused "reluctantly", so that the universal value of the whole of Stonehenge could be protected along with Avebury and associated sites.


Source: Salisbury Journal & Avon Advertiser (26 March 2004)


First Temple relic may be forged


Investigators for the Israel Antiquities Authority have been informed that a precious Ivory Pomegranate, on display at the Israel Museum since 1988, is a forgery. On the basis of an inscription it had been dated from the period of the First Temple, 10th century BCE. However, it is information on the origin of the inscription that has raised doubts about the authenticity of the item. The Antiquities Authority refused to reveal the origins and nature of the information it holds.


The inscription, completed by archaeologists, is translated as "Belonging to the Temp[le of Yahweh, holy to the priests." The expert who confirmed the authenticity of the inscription is Andre Lemaire, who also recently asserted the authenticity of the "James Ossuary" - which proved to have been a forgery.


The Ivory Pomegranate was bought in 1988 for $600,000 from a contribution made by a Swiss donor. The sum spent and the circumstances of the find resulted in severe criticism, rejected by the museum that argued that the find is unique.


Current director of the Israel Antiquities Authority, Shuka Dorfman, asked the Israel Museum recently to deliver the item for examinations by experts of the Antiquities Authority. Sources at the Israel Museum expressed confidence in the item's authenticity. The Pomegranate is the final and most important of a number of items whose authenticity is doubted by the Antiquities Authority.


According to the investigators, for the past 15 years a group of forgers has been identified as running a "factory" for forgeries. Amir Ginor, head of the Theft Prevention team at the Antiquities Authority, say that the forgeries were systematic.


Source: Haaretz.com (26 March 2004)


7,400-year-old jar gives clue to phoenix-worshipping myth


A 7,400-year-old pottery jar stamped with the design of two flying phoenixes has been excavated recently in central China's Hunan Province, helping archaeologists unveil the secret of the "birth" of the sacred bird.  The two phoenixes have the typical characteristics of the legendary phoenix, which has a crest on its head, a long beak, a long neck and a long beautiful feathered tail. The phoenix and the dragon are the most worshipped legendary creatures in China since ancient times.


The discovery showed that ancient Chinese myths relating to phoenixes dated back at least 7,400 years, said He Gang, head of the Hunan provincial archaeological research institute. He headed the excavations at the Gaomiao Culture Ruins, covering 15,000 square meters, a Neolithic age site near Yanli Village of Chatou Township, Hongjiang City, unearthing a great deal of items that relate to religious rituals.


"The designs of the phoenix on the jar are far more delicate than of two similar birds on an ivory dish, unearthed several years ago from a site of the Hemudu Culture, dating back 4,000 to 7,000 years ago, in Yuyao County, east China's Zhejiang Province," said He Gang. Discoveries of religious and sacrificial items at the site provide material for studying the religious awareness, beliefand art of the prehistoric people, he said.


Source: People's Daily (26 March 2004)


Students to search for lost Sicilian city


College students in Professor Michael Kolb's archeology course this summer face a single assignment - digging through a hilltop for a lost city. In May, the Northern Illinois University professor will lead students to western Sicily (Italy) to search of artifacts of indigenous people.


Kolb has led student expeditions to Sicily for six years, digging up artifacts from neolithic to medieval times. The past few years he has focused on the city of Salemi, which he believes may have been the site of the lost city of Alicia more than 2,300 years ago. While circumstantial evidence supports Kolb's belief that Salemi was built atop Alicia, he's still looking for a keystone to hold up his theory.


Alicia was a wealthy and prominent city and it was inhabited by a Sicilian tribe known for its resistance to colonization. Finding Alicia would give archeologists better insight into the native culture of Sicily, Kolb said.


Students last year helped uncover remnants of two houses dating to the 5th and 6th centuries BCE. The area included a full set of loom weights, which held threads in place on a loom for weaving. This summer the group will return to the site of a sanctuary where previous digs uncovered a rare vessel. Artifacts found during the excavations remain in a local museum, Kolb said.


Source: Daily Herald (25 March 2004)


Finds spanning 5,000 years in China


Archaeologists claim that cultural relics they discovered in Yunyang county, southwestern China's Chongqing municipality, cover each culture of a 5,000-year period with distinct cultural stratums. "We discovered human traces of each period from the Neolithic Age to the imperial Qing (1644-1911) dynasties, which covers 5,000 years," said Prof. Luo Erhu with the archaeological department of prestigious Sichuan University.


Nearly 1,000 articles were unearthed at the site. Luo acknowledged that "essential historical articles were discovered at each cultural stratum, especially those after the Shang (16-11 centuries BCE) and the Zhou (11 century BCE - 221 BCE) dynasties, which are well preserved and uninterruptedin age. Such an accumulation of cultural relics spanning a complete 5,000 years is very rare in China." It is cited as another significant archaeological finding in the Three Gorges Reservoir


So far, more than 4,000 square meters have been excavated at the site and further excavation is underway.


Source: People's Daily (23 March 2004)


4x4s banned from Ridgeway in Winter


Drivers of 4X4 vehicles are to be banned from using parts of Britain's oldest known road this winter. Quadbikes, trail bikes and off-road cars will face a seasonal ban from vulnerable sections of the ancient Ridgeway which runs from Wiltshire to Buckinghamshire. The 'mudlarks' have been blamed for causing ruts in the 85-mile route, which is thought to be at least 6,000-years-old and was used by prehistoric man.


All six councils along the route, which runs from Overton Hill, near Avebury in the south, to Ivinghoe Beacon, north of Aylesbury, and includes numerous Stone Age and Iron Age hill forts and burial mounds, have agreed to the seasonal ban which will be imposed from October. The implementation follows meetings with rural affairs minister Alun Michael and campaigners who have sought a complete ban on vehicles since 1983. But off-road enthusiasts such as the Land Access and Recreation Association say they are a small minority and have been victimised. They claim farmers and horses cause more damage.


Ian Ritchie, chairman of the Friends Of The Ridgeway, said: "This ban is excellent news for all walkers, horse riders and cyclists who wish to enjoy the Ridgeway in peace, free from the ruts and mud that make the trail hazardous and unpleasant."


Source: The Scotsman (24 March 2004)


4,000 year-old city excavated in Central China


Archaeologists have confirmed that the Dashigu cultural relics of the Xia Dynasty (21-16th century BCE) in the suburb of Zhengzhou, capital of Central China's Henan Province, date to a large city site of the middle and later Erlitou Culture, part of the Bronze Age from 21-17th century BCE


Covering an area of 510,000 square meters, the Dashigu city site lies near Mangshan Mountain and the Yellow River. "The position of the ancient city is of great strategic importance, so we infer that it may be a military city or capital of a subordinate kingdom of the Xia Dynasty," said Wang Wenhua, a research member with the Zhengzhou cultural relics archaeological research institute. From March 2002 to December 2003, Zhengzhou cultural relics archaeological research institute excavated the Dashigu city site, during which an area of 540 square meters was unearthed.


The flat rectangular city site consists of two parts: the city wall and the moat. Most parts of the city wall were discovered nearly one meter below the earth's surface. "Relics of the city wall were composed of several soil layers, showing that the wall had been renewed or restored many times before," said Wang. The two moats of 2-2.8 meters deep were located parallel with each other.


Foundation remains, tombs, ash pits and ash ditches and a large amount of other remains were discovered inside the city site, mainly of the second, the third and the early fourth phase of the Erlitou Culture. Archaeologists discovered a large number of fragments of earthen drainpipes in the ash ditches. "It shows that larger construction foundations must exist in the middle of the city site, which is to be further excavated," said Wang.


Another important discovery is a ring moat of the early Shang Dynasty (16-11th century BCE), which lies between the city wall and the moats of the Xia Dynasty, and is parallel to the Xia moats. Abundant remains of the Early Shang Dynasty were discovered inside the ring moat, "It shows that in the early Shang Dynasty, the city site remained an important residential settlement. As abundant historical remains of the Xia and Shang dynasties were discovered in the city site, this discovery will be of great significance to the research on the relations between the Xia and the Shang dynasties, which is still unclear," said Wang. "


Source: Xinhua (22 March 2004)


Kist unearthed while ploughing in Orkney


An Orcadian farmer has unearthed on his land at Howe Farm in Harray (Orkney, Scotland) what is believed to be a Bronze Age burial kist. Despite kists being quite common in Orkney, Historic Scotland called in AOC Archaeology from Edinburgh to carry out the excavation at the end of last week.


AOC project officer Ronan Toolis said: "The machinery went over the kist and broke through the top slab. It was reported to Historic Scotland and they called us in." Ronan and project supervisor Martin Cook travelled to Orkney on Friday and found a stone kist grave, in effect a stone box. "It is actually very well constructed and inside was a small deposit of cremated bone. We would expect it to be human, although it is still to be analysed," Ronan said. He continued: "The bone was in a small pile, it may have originally been in a bag that has since rotted away."


The kist measures about 1.5 metres long, by 60cm wide and was 70cm below the ground surface. Samples have been taken from the kist and surrounding area in a bid to date the burial. The bone material will also be assessed to see how many individuals were buried, their age, sex and health. "We suspect the grave could be Bronze Age as we found a bit of melted metal within the kist," Ronan said. The grave has been taken apart by the excavators and recorded.


Source: The Orcadian (18 March 2004)


Mixed human and animal ashes give insights into Bronze Age


The 4000-year-old cremated remains of a young man have provided fresh insights into the superstitious bonds between farmers and their animals in Bronze Age society. A burial urn discovered by a birdwatcher in a boulder shelter at Glennan, Kilmartin, Argyll (Scotland) contained the ashes of a 25 to 40 year old male who had been ritually burned alongside a goat or sheep. The ashes were then deliberately mixed for burial. Experts believe that the mixing is evidence of a perceived bond that may have been thought to transcend death.


Dr. Gavin MacGregor, of Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division explains: "The choice of a domesticated animal to accompany the mortuary rites may reflect the perceived inter-relationship between the cultural landscape of people and their livestock." Dr. MacGregor believes that the species of choice may have varied, depending on the type of burial. "Although the sample is small, the evidence suggests that, depending on the burial rite, some species of animal were considered more appropriate than others for inclusion. Pigs are associated with inhumation and goat or sheep are associated with cremation burials." Analysis of the deposits revealed that the man had suffered from slight spinal joint disease and a mild iron deficiency, but neither seems to have affected his general health. An unburnt flint knife was also found at the site.


The upland location, below the peak of Beinn Bhan, is also of interest. It may indicate that while many of the more visible funerary and ritual sites of the second millennium are concentrated on the floor of the glen, other parts of the landscape were also significant. Patrick Ashmore, Historic Scotland's principal inspector of ancient monuments, speculated that the burial was sited away from the burial cairns in nearby Kilmartin Valley because these were reserved for a local elite, or because the deceased may have been an outsider. But he added: "The most intriguing possibility is that the cairns were only part of a much wider sacred landscape, and that this spot Š was selected as a special place."


The remains have been radiocarbon dated to 2030-1910 BCE.


Source: The Herald (22 March 2004)


Ice Age deposits below pub car park


A group of cavers from the Bristol Exploration Club have told how they discovered a vast network of caverns containing Ice Age remains when they agreed to help clear a blocked drain in the car park of the Hunters Lodge Inn at Priddy, in the Mendip Hills (Somerset, England). The cavers had become bored during the foot-and-mouth crisis, which had restricted their access to the countryside and their usual caving venues. But their offer of assistance revealed a natural two-inch fissure that was serving to drain rainwater away from the pub and car park. Team leader Tony Jarrett, 54, says: "We suspected that there was something down there; the water had to escape somewhere."


After digging and blasting for two years to create a 6-metre deep entrance hole, the 15-strong team found their way to a 30-metre cavern containing prehistoric bones, stalagmites and stalactites. The hundreds of bones have been identified by the British Museum as belonging to extinct animals, including ancestors of bison and deer, which roamed Britain during the last Ice Age. They are thought to have been washed into the caves nearly 10,000 years ago.


The Mendips contain some of Britain's best-known caves, including Wookey Hole and the complex below Cheddar Gorge. The Bristol club have been digging in the area for many years, trying to discover new caves and expand previously discovered networks. Tony Jarrett describes the new discovery as one of the most exciting finds he had come across in 40 years of caving. "We expected something a little less dramatic and were amazed. Every time we found something it was not at all what we expected. It is very rare to discover something like this and it is of huge importance. There are four passages and we know of two or three other systems which run towards the same complex." For this reason the team believe that they may be close to breaking through into a much larger underground network.


The caverns have been named the Pewter Pot, the Barmaid's Bedrooms and Brown Ale Boulevard, in honour of the Hunters Lodge. Many of the bones are on display in the nearby Wells Museum.


Source: The Scotsman (19 March 2004)