Old Stones Reveal Their Age 

 By Amit Asaravala   

02:00 AM Apr. 14, 2004 PT


A team of archaeological scientists in the United States and Germany say they have developed a technique to accurately determine the age of stone tools and artifacts between 50,000 and 100,000 years old, a period that has proved particularly tricky to map with other methods.


If it's accepted by archaeologists and anthropologists, the technique could result in a clearer picture of the era and even lead to new discoveries about the civilizations that thrived in that period.


"Our objective is to close the chronological gap that is so critical to paleoanthropology," said University of California at Irvine professor Jonathan Ericson, who helped form the project. "The process will allow people to refine chronologies that have not been able to be refined because of the limitations of current techniques."


The new technique, called quartz hydration, takes advantage of the natural properties of quartz, a mineral found in many rocks. Whenever a rock containing quartz is cut or polished, perhaps for a statue or ax head, the quartz at the surface is left exposed. Over time, water diffuses into the quartz, forming a layer. By measuring the layer, Ericson and his team members found that they could determine how long ago the rock was cut.


The technique can be used to date artifacts that were created between 100 and about 100,000 years ago, Ericson said.


The group verified their theory by measuring the hydration levels on various artifacts with known ages, including Olmec pendants from Mexico and belt buckles from Austria. They also conducted tests on 100,000-year-old objects found on Lukenya Hill in Africa.


The downside, of course, is that the new technique can't measure the age of organic material, like human remains or wood.


In comparison, the most popular technique for determining the age of archaeological finds, radiocarbon dating, is only effective for objects that are less than 50,000 years old. It is also limited to organic matter, and therefore can't be used on stone tools or statues. Another technique, potassium-argon dating, works on minerals, but tends to be accurate only when artifacts are between 100,000 and 4.3 billion years old.


"Until now, archaeologists have had to rely primarily on techniques like stratigraphy" -- estimating an object's age depending on how deep it is buried in relation to other objects -- "to determine the age of artifacts in the 50,000-to-100,000-year period," said Ericson. Because they rely on estimation, relative techniques like stratigraphy are considered less precise than absolute techniques, like radiocarbon dating or verification from written records.

Ericson cautioned, however, that quartz hydration is not a complete replacement for absolute or relative techniques. Indeed, quartz hydration is temperature-dependent, meaning that a researcher must first know the conditions in which a given artifact was created and buried to get an accurate measurement of its age -- information that may not always be available.


But even this has its benefits. Ericson said he imagines that scientists could use measurements of quartz hydration along with the known age of an artifact to figure out the historical temperature at an archaeological site.


The technique might have other benefits, too. "This could be useful in art history, for detecting forgeries," said Ericson. "If you have quartz artifacts, you can see what's been made recently and what's actually very old." Other applications might include dating rocks along earthquake fault lines to determine when fractures occurred.


Ericson estimated the cost of the quartz hydration technique to be $500 to $1,000 for each artifact. He added, though, that the overall cost could vary because the measurements must be performed with the help of multimillion-dollar particle accelerators, like the ones at the California Institute of Technology and the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University.


A paper outlining the technique is available in the current issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science, dated July 2004.



Rock art hints at whaling origins

Stone Age people may have started hunting whales as early as 6,000 BC, new evidence from South Korea suggests.


Analysis of rock carvings at Bangu-Dae archaeological site in Ulsan in the southeast of the country revealed more than 46 depictions of large whales.

They also show evidence that humans used harpoons, floats and lines to catch their prey, which included sperm whales, right whales and humpbacks.

Details of the research are published in the journal L'Anthropologie.

"You have representations of dolphins and whales, with people on boats using harpoons and lines. It is a scene of whaling," co-investigator Daniel Robineau told BBC News Online.


For example, one scene shows people standing in a curved boat connected via a line to a whale.


The rock engravings, or petroglyphs, seem to have been made at a range of different times between 6,000 and 1,000 BC.


At nearby occupation sites dating to between 5,000 and 1,500 BC, archaeologists have unearthed large quantities of cetacean bones - a sure sign that whales were an important food source for populations in the area.

Other species represented on the rocks at Bangu-Dae include orcas (killer whales), minke whales, and dolphins.


Dr Robineau and Sang-Mog Lee, of the Museum of Kyungpook National University in Bukgu Daegu in South Korea, suggest whaling played an important role in social cohesion in the lives of the people who made the petroglyphs, similar to that which has been observed in historic Inuit populations.


Some of the depictions of whales also bear what appear to be fleshing lines, where the hunters divided up the meat after capturing and killing the mammals.

Story from BBC NEWS:



Published: 2004/04/20 10:33:47 GMT






Ancient inscribed slab brought to light

April 19 2004 at 03:15PM


Potsdam - A team of German and Egyptian archaeologists working in the Nile Delta has unearthed "quite a remarkable" stele dating back 2 200 years to Ptolemaic Egypt which bears an identical inscription in three written languages - like the famed Rosetta Stone.


Announcing the find on Monday, University of Potsdam chief Egyptologist Christian Tietze said the stone fragment was "quite remarkable and the most significant of its kind to be found in Egypt in 120 years".


The grey granite stone, 99cm high and 84cm wide, was found "purely by accident" at the German excavation site of the ruined city of Bubastis, a once important religious and political centre 90km north-east of modern-day Cairo.


It shows a royal decree, written in ancient Greek, Demotic and Hieroglyphs, that mentions King Ptolemy III Euergetes I along with the date 238 BC.


"The decree is significant because it specifically mentions a reform of the ancient Egyptian calendar which was not in fact actually implemented until some 250 years later under Julius Caesar," Tietze said.


The inscription consists of 67 lines of Greek text and 24 lines of Demotic along with traces of Hieroglyphs outlining the calendar reform and praising Ptolemy.


The king is lauded for importing grain from Syria, Phoenicia and Cyprus to alleviate famine in ancient Egypt, among other deeds.


"It documents the might and beneficence of Ptolemy III," Tietze said.


Bubastis was the capital city of Egypt in the eighth Century BC. The temple where the Germany dig site is located was probably destroyed by an earthquake, according to Tietze.


The Rosetta Stone, named after the site where it was discovered in 1977, had an inscription in Greek, Demotic and Hieroglyphs which let to the decryption by Jean-Franaois Champollion of the ancient Egyptian language. The Rosetta Stone is now at the British Museum. - Sapa-dpa


Water engineers unearth Bronze Age site

Apr 22 2004


ENGINEERS laying a new water main near Taplow dug up more than they bargained for when they uncovered remains of a late Bronze Age settlement.

Work on the £30 million pipeline between Taplow and Dorney was put on hold after the find in mid-March while archaeologists excavated the site.


They unearthed pieces of pottery and flint on what is believed to have been a fortified hilltop settlement dating back to 850 BCE, and are now trying to establish whether the settlement was permanent or temporary.


Dr Peter Spillett, Thames Water's head of environment, quality and sustainability, said: "We are always keen to bring in archaeologists particularly when carrying out ground excavations, as we realise the importance of preserving any findings and their significance to local history."


Senior environmental scientist Clare Cable added the site would have been of strategic value to Bronze Age settlers, giving them wide views of the Thames Valley. "This area was very densely settled from the Stone Age onwards since it was an important route into the heart of the county," she said.


The findings from the excavation, which is due to be completed next week, will now be registered with the Sites and Monuments Records Office, adding to information on other historical sites in the area, including an Iron Age fort and a Saxon burial site.


The new main will carry water from bore holes near Taplow to Dorney Water Treatment Works, in an attempt to boost local water supplies and protect the flows of the River Wye and Bulbourne.



Fri 16 Apr 2004

Warrior's grave points to Druid site



THE discovery of the body of a warrior - thought to have died in battle more than 2,000 years ago - could help archaeologists to pinpoint the site of an ancient Druid holy site, experts said yesterday.


The young warrior, aged about 30, with his spear, a sword, his belt and scabbard, stunned archaeologists who found his stone coffin.


The discovery on Marshill, Alloa, last year was hailed as one of the most significant Iron Age finds for decades in Scotland.


A copper pin, which once fastened his uniform at the neck, remained, along with rings on two toes and six other rings unlike any found in Scotland before. He was gripping his sword.


Experts now believe the hill may have been used for holy ceremonies and burials since the Bronze Age at least 1,500 years earlier.


An Alloa archaeologist, Susan Mills, who along with experts from Glasgow University discovered the grave, also found the skeleton of a Bronze Age woman buried in 2000BC just feet away.


More than 20 cremation urns and a cist burial from the Bronze Age were also found there in 1828.


A pair of gold bracelets, now on show at the National Museum of Scotland, highlight the importance of those buried in the cemetery, which she believes would once have been marked by a huge cairn.


Mrs Mills said: "It is not just chance that this warrior was buried in such close proximity to the Bronze Age burial ground.


"What is unique is that this site seems to span more than 1,500 years, and those within it seem to have had considerable wealth.


"The warrior’s possessions, and the care given to his burial, suggest he was in the upper echelons of his group. Such richly furnished graves are very rare in Scotland. It suggests that this area was regarded as a special, sacred holy ground for more than a millennium.


"Marshill would have been an ideal location for the pagan communities to site such a significant burial ground, on high land. It is very likely there would have been a cairn so that it could be seen from miles around."


She said that although the warrior was in Alloa around the time of the Romans’ occupation of the country, he was most likely from Scotland.


She said: "The warrior burial is remarkable. Rings from his belt and scabbard have never been found before, so he may have been quite exotic.


"His specially-made sword blade is 2ft long - much longer than the nearest equivalent found near Falkirk.


"Although we are not sure exactly how or where he died, his burial site must have been a special place."


The theory is revealed in the forthcoming edition of Current Archaeology magazine.


First 'royal' corgi bones found

Ninth Century bones found in mid Wales are believed to be evidence of the first royal Welsh corgi.


Archaeologists from Cardiff University working at a Dark Ages site have found the bones of a corgi-type dog.


The team, which is working at Llangorse Lake, has found the bandy front leg of a dog resembling the breed favoured by present-day royals.


The site, near Brecon, is thought to be the royal residence of the ancient Welsh kingdom of Brycheiniog.


The Cardiff University team is analysing artefacts found at the crannog, or man-made island, believed to be the home of the Ninth Century King Brychan of Brecon.


Cardiff University's Dr Jacqui Mulville said: "We have the foreleg of a corgi-sized dog, which, dare we suggest, might be a much favoured ancestral royal companion.


"We've been looking at the food debris from the site in Llangorse which we think is an early royal residence.


"Some of the (bones found) were the usual large greyhound-type hunting dogs, but we were interested to find the short, bandy front-left foreleg of something very reminiscent of a corgi.


"Modern breeds only developed recently, but the dog does look very similar to a corgi and we think that perhaps it is one of the first examples of this type of dog in Wales."


Unlike the present day Royal Family, their Ninth Century Welsh counterparts are not believed to have kept the corgis as pets.


Dr Jacqui Mulville added: "They were probably working dogs at that time. Corgis are thought to be the sort of dogs that drove cattle.


"This royal palace does have evidence of cattle there."


The archaeologists are hoping to work with the Welsh Corgi Club, to test their hypothesis against a more recent corgi skeleton.


Dr Mulville added: "The Club is rather excited at the prospect of 1200-year-old evidence of the breed's royal association."


Sylvia Hughes, honorary secretary of the club, said: "The members I have spoken to are quite excited about it.


"It has been rumoured for some time that there were always royal links, but it was good to hear the news.


"The corgi was probably developed as a village dog - they were all-rounders.

"They are also very good companion dogs.


"Corgis are very intelligent and they very much want to be with people."


Tree ring dating at the Llangorse Lake crannog indicates that it was built between 889 and 893AD.


The Anglo Saxon Chronicle refers to the destruction of a site near Llangorse by an English army in 916AD.


Artefacts from the site are on display at the Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, in Brecon, until September 2004.


Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/04/21 12:33:29 GMT




Corgi a royal pet in 889AD



ROYALS kept corgis — The Queen’s favourite dog — more than 1,000 years ago, experts have found.


Archaeologists found foreleg bones from one in a dig at an ancient Welsh king’s palace dating back to 889AD.


Experts identified it by comparing the bone to modern ones. They said the “bandy-legged corgi” — used to herd cattle — may have been a pet of King Brechiniog’s queen. The find was made on an isle in Llangorse Lake, near Brecon.


Dr Jacqui Mulville of Cardiff University said: “It’s amazing to think royalty over 1,000 years ago were keeping corgis just as they do today.”


The Queen keeps seven corgis. Last night a Palace spokeswoman called the find “interesting”.



Divers locate pirate Morgan's lost ship

Apr 22 2004

David Williamson, The Western Mail


AN international dive team shivered in excitement when they spied the timbers of a wreck belonging to one of the most famous buccaneers of all time.

They discovered the remains of Welshman Captain Henry Morgan's lost frigate, HMS Oxford, off the coast of Haiti.


Oxford sank in 1669 as the result of an explosion believed to have been ignited by a celebratory pig roast.


The 34-gun ship had been sent to Morgan by King Charles II following his appointment as Admiral in Chief of the Confederacy of Buccaneers.


Having previously gained a fearsome reputation as a naval strategist and ruthless pirate operating against Britain's enemies, Spain, France and Holland, Morgan eventually become Lieutenant Governor of Jamaica. He died there in 1688.


Rick Haupt and Bruce Leeming of Ocean Discovery Network led the team that discovered HMS Oxford, lying in 12 feet of water.


The team found another of Morgan's ships, the Jamaica Merchant, in 1999 and this led them to search for Oxford.


Finding the 150ft-long ship took painstaking research. They looked closely at the island of Isle a Vache near Haiti, where Oxford was moored alongside two other warships from a 10-strong flotilla before the accident.


Then they eliminated areas which would have been unsuitable for such a large fleet.


Research and funding came in part from the co-producers of the one-hour documentary on the discovery, ITV1 Wales, S4C and S4C International. The programme will be broadcast later this year.


A full archaeological survey of the site is due to take place, while Ocean Discovery Network plans to lobby the United Nations to declare the wreck a World Heritage Site.


Programme producer, Paul Calverley, said, "The discovery of HMS Oxford is an event of real historical significance, particularly to the Caribbean. It's also one of the greatest finds a diver could have.


"We don't expect to find any treasure but there are a large number of artifacts such as cannons, drawer handles, muskets, musket balls and powder barrels."


21 April 2004

Turning the tables on archaeology


A two-day conference at the University of Sheffield from Friday 23 April 2004 is set to give an insight into the history of food and table manners.


The Table - The Second Course will examine how eating habits have changed through the ages, and how these developments affect the way we eat today. For example, Georgian architecture influenced table place settings. The structure of Georgian architecture was based on a principle of ‘threes’ and this was carried through to the dinner table, hence ‘meat and two veg’ and the fact that baby food trays and American TV dinner trays always have three compartments.


Another subject the conference will focus on is the use of the fork throughout history. The fork is a relatively new eating implement and the way different societies use them is often determined by the past. James Symonds, of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield, explains, “Ordinary people in Britain started to use forks in the mid 17th century. Before then, table knives had pointed ends that were used to spear the food once it had been cut up.  Once forks became more common the shape of table knives changed to have more rounded ends.


“The Americans didn’t get forks until around 100 years after Britain, but were supplied with the new, round ended, knives from the UK. As they had no forks to push against, and no pointed end to spear their food with, they began cutting up their food with a knife and then eating it with a spoon. When forks were introduced the USA the Americans continued with this way of eating, simply substituting a fork for a spoon. This is why they tend to eat with their forks the other way round from Europeans.”


“The history of eating may seem like an odd subject for a conference, but food is an integral part of our lives and, as such, provides a unique glimpse into the history of our forefathers.”