Sat 29 May 2004
Archaeologists startled to discover Neolithic ritual site
THE setting for one of the most famous castles in Scotlandís North-east was first used as the site for a high-status building almost 6,000 years ago, it was revealed yesterday.
A team of archaeologists began work earlier this month at the Crathes Castle Estate, on Royal Deeside, to investigate what was thought to be the remains of a timber hall from the Dark Ages, 1,500 years ago.
But they have instead found the remains of a large Neolithic building which may have been used as a prehistoric ritual site.
The remarkable discovery was yesterday hailed as one of the most significant archeological finds made in the North east of Scotland for years.
Charlie Murray, co-director of the excavation, said: "What we discovered is highly significant and has taken everyone by surprise. This site is of huge importance and we will now have to really rethink our use of the landscape by the farmers and what they were doing in the early Neolithic period.
"Considering you are talking about 5,500 years ago, the structure we have found was massive, constructed of huge timber posts and as a big as 25 metres by up to ten metres."
World to See Afghanistan's Fabled Bactrian Gold
Tue Jun 1, 2004 07:28 AM ET
By Mike Collett-White
KABUL (Reuters) - The world could soon catch a glimpse of Afghanistan's fabled Bactrian gold, as preparations get under way to exhibit some of the 20,000 or so pieces that make up the country's most important ancient treasure trove.
Dates and locations have yet to be finalized but the United States, France, Germany, Japan and Greece, are among countries interested in hosting the 2,000-year-old haul that has miraculously remained intact despite years of war and upheaval.
While other important archaeological sites are plundered or have been ruined by war, the Bactrian gold discovered by a Soviet team just before the Red Army invasion of 1979 has had a number of narrow escapes, adding to its allure and mystery.
"When the process of inventory is done, we will decide," said Culture and Information Minister Sayed Makhdoom Raheen.
"We will sit down with the Americans, the Germans, French and Japanese and make a joint decision on arranging a tour," he told Reuters.
The favorites to host the collection first are the Americans and French, and Raheen hopes interest in the treasure found near the northern town of Shiberghan will generate funds to build museums and combat looting.
"This ministry is in need of much," he said, rubbing weary eyes. "I want to spend the money on new museums. We used to have museums in the provinces, and now we have none."
Plans are underway to build a museum in Bamiyan, home to giant Buddhas cut into cliffs which were blown up by the Taliban in 2001. It was an act of destruction that shocked the world and exposed the hard-line Islamic militia's intolerance.
A new museum may also be built in Kabul, where the Bactrian gold will eventually be kept.
Raheen is aware that a series of exhibitions could be vital to supporting his ministry, but there is plenty more on his mind.
"My mind is busy with many other sites and historical objects. The main problem is looting of those sites by warlords and the international mafia; even now hundreds of pieces are going out of the country."
An Afghan official who viewed the Bactrian gold recently in an underground vault in the heavily guarded presidential palace in Kabul described the pieces he saw, including an intricately designed belt and a gold broach, as "priceless."
Hardly anyone sees the collection, and those who do are searched by armed U.S. mercenaries hired by Washington to protect President Hamid Karzai.
The paranoia is understandable.
Retreating Soviet forces left behind the Bactrian treasure. So did the Taliban, according to several accounts, despite desperate efforts to access the vault as U.S. bombers pounded Kabul on the eve of the regime's demise in November, 2001.
Many assumed the gold had disappeared forever, but it was discovered intact after the vault was finally opened in August for the first time in 14 years.
Raheen said there were 20,600 gold pieces in the collection. The trove was from a nomad burial site in what was once Bactria, lying between the Hindu Kush mountains and the Amu Darya river, also known as the Oxus.
The coins, necklaces set with gems, belts, medallions and crowns have never been seen outside Afghanistan.
But while curators pitch for a part in what promises to be a glittering roadshow, Raheen has other things on his mind.
"We recently established a 500-man guard with the Interior Ministry," he said, referring to a force set up to protect what is left of Afghanistan's heritage. "It took me a year to get this far. But it is not mobilized yet; we need cars and equipment."
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Story last updated at 8:37 a.m. Tuesday, June 1, 2004
Archaeologist searches for artifacts from the Hopewell people
Wichita archaeologist Jim Dougherty is on a treasure hunt. This treasure is information, not gold or silver. The information is about the Hopewell people who lived from eastern Kansas into Illinois and Ohio from approximately 50 B.C. to 500 A.D. Dougherty hopes to learn more about how far into Kansas these prehistoric people got by studying the artifacts they left behind.
The Hopewell culture is best known for the earth mounds along the Ohio River, but evidence of their passage has been known from eastern Kansas for decades.
Dougherty believes he can trace where in Kansas the Hopewell were, and possibly when, by finding particular kinds of pottery sherds, certain styles of arrow points, perforated bear teeth, small stone bladelets and other objects.
The Hopewell influenced other native American cultures throughout the mid-continent and beyond. They dispatched trade and acquisition expeditions far and wide. Dougherty says "we know they had villages in northeast and southeast Kansas, but I am intrigued with the question of the extent to which they may have traveled west along the Arkansas River drainage system. We know they obtained meteorites from southwestern Kansas and obsidian (volcanic glass), bear teeth, and bighorn sheep horns from the Rocky Mountains. We do not know, however, what routes they took and where they camped.
Dr. David Hughes of Wichita State University says "there are some tempting clues to possible movement of Hopewell ideas and trade goods through Kansas, but we desperately need more information on it. When Jim's study is finished, we may have that information."
Dr. Donald Blakeslee, also of Wichita State, has worked with Hopewell pipes and meteors. He is certain that Hopewell expeditions from Ohio got at least as far west as Greensburg. "Iron from two sites in Ohio has been identified as coming from the Brenham meteorite," he explains. A large piece of the Brenham meteorite is on display at the Big Well in Greensburg. Blakeslee also suspects, but cannot prove, that Hopewell people visited the Pikes Peak area.
Dougherty hopes that farmers, ranchers and amateur archaeologists in west-central and western Kansas will help by contacting him if they have found artifacts like those illustrated here. He says that other items could also be suggestive of a Hopewellian influence. These objects could include certain copper ornaments and tools, ceramic figurines, intricately engraved bone, or a cache of fossil shark teeth.
Jim Dougherty can be reached at (316) 651-6885, and his mailing address is P.O. Box 17784, Wichita, KS 67217.
Major excavation to open Viking graves
The largest excavation of a Viking burial site in 50 years is underway at a farm in Vestfold, south of Oslo. Archaeologists already started finding ship nails last week, and chances are good more Viking treasures are about to be revealed.
Expectations are high as experts start opening up ancient Viking gravesites over the next few weeks. "This is an incredibly exciting project," says Lars Erik Gjerpe of the University of Oslo's Historic Museum in Norway.
Gjerpe, in charge of the major dig at Gulli Farm in Vestfold, said he and his team expects to find weapons and jewelry, including jewelry brought back to Norway by Vikings more than 1,100 years ago.
The site lies adjacent to the busy E-18 highway, which is due to be expanded later this year. Archaeologists have the summer to find what they can following preliminary investigations last year.
Gjerpe said the wordwork from the burial ship in the first grave has rotted away, but judging from where nails were found, measurements can reveal much about the ship's size and construction.
The graves, which stem from the end of the 8th century to the middle of the 10th, have been linked to affluent relatives of farming families at Gulli. The excavation is the biggest since the Kaupang dig in the 1950s.
Archaeologists search for lost Torah near Auschwitz
WARSAW - Hoping to find a Torah and other invaluable Jewish religious artifacts, Polish archaeologists began excavations on the foundations of a synagogue in the southern Polish town of Oswiecim, the location of the World War II Nazi death camp Auschwitz, the Polish PAP news agency reported Monday.
Once called Oswiecim's "Great Synagogue," the house of worship was burned to the ground in 1939 by Nazi forces invading Poland.
Archaeologist Malgorzata Grupa is hopeful that information provided by an eyewitness may help locate the lost Torah, apparently buried along with other religious items in wooden crates in September 1939.
Former Oswiecim resident Yariv Nornberg came up with the idea to look for the lost religious items after having learned about their existence from a witness who had seen them being hidden.
Private donors and the Claims Conference are financing the project, which is also being filmed by Israeli director Yahaly Gata.
The first Jews settled in Oswiecim in the middle of the 15th century. The community flourished until World War II, with some 8,000 of the town's 12,000 residents being Jewish.
Scholars working to mine history from early Chinatown amid building
By Laura Counts
Sunday, May 30, 2004 - OAKLAND -- Years before downtown's bustling Chinatown was established, some of Oakland's first Chinese immigrants lived in a small community in the Uptown area.
They were all men who likely came because of opportunities associated with the Gold Rush, and the city apparently tried to force them to live in designated Chinatowns several times.
At one point, between 1867 and 1872, they settled in an Uptown block between 19th and 20th streets on San Pablo Avenue. That site now is part of the proposed Forest City redevelopment project.
Today, local historians and archaeologists are searching for family memories and photographs of this early Chinatown in an effort to piece together its fragile history and to pressure the city to ensure the developer treads lightly.
Very little is known about the area. Still, initial archaeological research in the environmental impact report for the Forest City project notes the community has been documented and a "high potential" exists to encounter archaeological deposits during development.
"These deposits, if intact, may contain information about the economic, social and religious lifeways of a Chinese-American community in an area in which the Chinese in California were subjected to de facto and institutional displacement, discrimination and oppression," the EIR states.
That piqued the interest of scholars and preservationists, who have investigated further.
"We are starting to find more than we thought we would. At the beginning it looked like there was no documentation," said Anna Naruta, a University of California, Berkeley historical archaeological researcher who has taken the project under her wing.
Records are scant because there weren't families, just single male workers. "But there's a hope that someone out there might have some memories," Naruta said.
Naruta has set up a Web site, www.uptownchinatown.org, that includes a list of Chinese names from the 1880 census of Upper Chinatown residents. Because the census enumerator did not speak Chinese, the names are not complete -- apparently they are just first names.
Naruta also found the names of 10 men who worked at a laundry at the corner of 19th and San Pablo. The Web site also includes a list of non-Chinese property owners in the area, as well as maps, photographs, newspaper articles and other information.
In a 1952 Oakland Tribune article, writer Edward W. Chew writes that those Chinese who settled in the East Bay were known as the "Men from Oakand" because they chose to break with the large Chinese settlement in San Francisco. Chew contends these Chinese chose to leave the insular community and blaze new trails.
That is what makes information about the site interesting, said Sue Lee, director of the Chinese Historical Society of America, which has also gotten involved.
"People focus on San Francisco so much, you don't hear much about Oakland's history," Lee said. "We'd like to find out what brought them there, why they chose to leave the larger community and try to make a livelihood there."
The early settlers listed a variety of occupations, including fishermen, woodcutters, tinkers, farmhands, laundry workers, cooks, waiters, barbers, nurses and storekeepers. Many caught fish or shrimp on San Francisco Bay.
The first Chinatown was apparently on or near the site of City Hall, but it burned to the ground. The Chinese were relocated to 19th and San Pablo, then moved further up San Pablo to 22nd Street, before a "city father" offered land between First and Second streets and Castro and Brush, according to Chew's article.
A tiny 1872 article in the Oakland Daily Transcript speaks of "Chinamen" marching down Broadway as they were "consigned" to new homes on Second Street. It is unclear what that means, Naruta said.
The city has adopted the final EIR for the Forest City project, which will cover several blocks between 18th and 21st streets and Telegraph and San Pablo avenues. It will feature more than 200 residential units and some retail, plus the potential for a future condominium high rise.
The project is the centerpiece of Mayor Jerry Brown's plan to bring10,000 new residents downtown, and he has been working intensely on it for several years.
Just north of Forest City, developer Alan Dones is planning a new county welfare office, plus a mix of office space, housing, retail and parking. That area also may contain artifacts, and Dones is working with archaeologists and community groups.
The city is ironing out details of the development agreement with Forest City, expected to come before the City Council in July. Naruta and Lee said they will continue working with the city on the final plan, to ensure Forest City employs an experienced archaeologist and the right equipment so any Chinatown artifacts are not damaged.
They are especially concerned about the use of backhoes and augers, because Naruta said any artifacts would likely be very shallow in depth.
Forest City will be required to do initial testing with an archaeologist approved by the city before actual construction begins.
However, the city can't require the developer to do more than required by state laws, she said.
"The subsurface testing methods must be appropriate," she said. "But if they don't find anything, there is no point in limiting the type of equipment they use after that. They can't go out with a little toothbrush over the whole site."
If anything is found, however, the area would be roped off and treated as a sensitive site, she said. Construction is unlikely to start for quite some time, because the developer still must get all building and planning permits, even if the council approves an agreement in July.
In the meantime, Naruta will continue her research. Anyone with memories or documentation of the early Chinatown is asked to call the Oakland Heritage Alliance at 763-9218, or contact Naruta by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
E-mail Laura Counts at email@example.com.
Volcano 'drove up UK death toll'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff
Volcanic eruptions in Iceland probably caused an unusual rise in deaths in England during the summer of 1783.
UK experts suggest a cloud of volcanic gases and particles sweeping south from the Laki Craters event of that year may have killed more than 10,000 people.
The team combed climate data, burial records and contemporary accounts that reported a "volcanic haze" and health problems in the English population.
The University of Cambridge study is carried in the Bulletin of Volcanology.
The eruptions at the Laki Craters began on 8 June, 1783, and continued for eight months.
An estimated 122 megatonnes of sulphur dioxide was released, along with smaller amounts of other gases, from explosive fissures and vents and from lava flows.
A thick, hot vapour had for several days before filled up the valley...so that both the Sun and Moon appeared like heated brick-bars
Gentleman's Magazine, July 1783
In Iceland alone, some 9,000 people - about a quarter of the population - were killed. But the massive discharge from beneath the Earth also fumigated many parts of Europe with volcanic gases and airborne particles.
Claire Witham and Clive Oppenheimer looked at the burial records for 404 church parishes in 39 English counties.
They discovered there were two peaks in mortality during the Laki Craters event.
The first occurred between August and September 1783, the second between January and February 1784. In both cases, the worst affected region was the east of England.
Central England temperature data shows the summer of 1783 was particularly hot and that the first months of 1784 were amongst the coldest on record. The researchers hypothesised that some part of the mortality peaks could be attributed to these temperature extremes.
To find out how much, the researchers calculated the expected changes in mortality per degree of temperature change on a monthly scale.
They found that the winter peak in mortality could have been caused by the severe cold of January 1784. But the extreme July temperature could explain only about 30% of the observed variation in deaths, after normal trends in mortality had been accounted for.
There were an estimated 11,500 extra deaths during this late summer mortality peak in England.
"Something seems to have been going on in England and Europe during the more vigorous phases of the eruption," Ms Witham told BBC News Online.
Contemporary reports from across Europe mention the periodical presence of an atmospheric haze in summer and autumn 1783, linked by several lines of evidence to the pollutant cloud produced by the Laki eruptions.
One such account from Lincoln published in Gentleman's Magazine, July 1783, reads: "A thick, hot vapour had for several days before filled up the valley... so that both the Sun and Moon appeared like heated brick-bars."
There are also reports of headaches and respiratory discomfort suffered by people during the period spanned by the Laki event.
The authors believe these health problems, and the unusual late summer mortality peak, could have been caused by volcanic gases and aerosols (fine, airborne particles) transported in the haze.
A high-pressure weather system over Western Europe during June and July 1783 could have brought these emissions down into the lower atmosphere and trapped them there, the researchers argue.
"During the 1952 smog in London, increased sulphur from coal burning was trapped by a similar temperature inversion effect," Ms Witham explained.
"Then, you saw a large increase in deaths because the aerosol was composed of very fine particles which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular problems."
Dr Steve Blake, a volcanologist at the Open University in Milton Keynes, told BBC News Online: "Both [temperature and emissions] must have had some influence. But off the top of my head, I'm not sure whether you can unpick those and say which one is critical."
But he agreed the pollutant cloud produced by the Laki eruptions could very well have caused environmental damage and ill-health in many parts of Europe.
Other researchers have also argued that the extremely hot summer of 1783 and the particularly cold winter of 1783/4 could have been caused by the volcanic eruptions at Laki.
The products of volcanism are known to have effects on climate. But the Cambridge researchers suggest other, unrelated, factors could equally have been to blame for these temperature extremes.
The Icelandic death toll was due mainly to a famine that took hold after most of the island's sheep were killed by eating grass contaminated with fluorine from the eruptions.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2004/05/25 12:07:40 GMT
© BBC MMIV
Ancient Egyptians Were Jokesters
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
June 2, 2004
A recent series of lectures on ancient Egyptian humor given by a leading historian reveals that people thousands of years ago enjoyed bawdy jokes, political satire, parodies and cartoon-like art.
Related evidence found in texts, sketches, paintings, and even in temples and tombs, suggests that humor provided a social outlet and comic relief for the ancient Egyptians, particularly commoners who labored in the working classes.
The evidence was presented by Carol Andrews, a lecturer in Egyptology at Birbeck College, University of London, and former assistant keeper and senior research assistant in the Department of Egyptian Antiquities at the British Museum.
Andrews was unavailable for comment. Scott Noegel, who helped to arrange one of the lectures and is president of the American Research Center in Egypt's (ARCE) Northwest Chapter and is an associate professor in the Department of New Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Washington, told Discovery News that ancient Egyptian humor consisted of at least five basic categories.
They included political satire, scatological and vomiting humor, jokes concerning sex, slapstick, and animal-based parodies.
For satire, Noegel explained that commoners would make fun of leaders by showing pharaohs in an unflattering manner. For example, some leaders were depicted unshaven or "especially effeminate."
Drawings of defecating hyenas and drunken, vomiting party guests are among the existing examples of scatological humor, while the sex-based jokes consisted of "innuendoes and outright erotica," he said.
Slapstick comedy included drawings that showed people suffering unfortunate accidents, such as hammers falling on heads, or passengers tipping out of boats.
The ancient Egyptians had a special fondness for animal humor, given the many examples of sketches on papyrus, paintings, and other drawings, according to Noegel.
He said, "(The images show) ducks pecking at someone's buttocks, baboons and cats out of control, animals riding on top of other unlikely animals, baboons playing instruments, and animals drinking and dining."
One papyrus shows a mouse pharaoh, gallantly posed in his chariot pulled by two dogs, speeding towards a group of feline warriors. Yet another papyrus depicts a lion and an antelope playing a board game. The lion lifts a game piece as though in victory, while the antelope falls back in his chair.
"From everything that I've seen and heard, I believe that their sense of humor was very similar to our own," said Vincent Jones, who organized one of Andrews' lectures this week, and is president of the ARCE Georgia Chapter.
Jones told Discovery News that he attended another recent lecture by Guillemette Andreu, curator of the Louvre's Egyptian collection. He said Andreu presented a list of Egyptian excuses as to why people did not come into work. The top three were illness, getting married, and sorry, but I am building a house now.
"It was funny to learn that people have been creative at getting out of work for thousands of years," Jones said.
Humor was not limited to the mundane. A drawing on the wall of the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri shows an obese "queen of Punt" in front of a tiny donkey. The inscription for the sketch reads, "The donkey that had to carry the queen." The drawing gained popularity and was copied, cartoon-style, many times from the original.
The land of Punt, which historians believe might have been the area that is now Libya or Ethiopia, held near-mythical status for Egyptians in the ancient world. Animal skins and other exotic goods came from Punt via trade routes. Historians also think that Bes, the ancient Egyptian god of humor, infants, home life, song, and dance, originated in Punt.
While the Egyptians built no temples to honor Bes, shrines for the chubby, bearded dwarf with uncombed hair were placed in many homes. The ancient Egyptians believed that anytime a baby smiled or laughed for no reason, Bes was in the room making faces.