Mummy's mystery unravels in 3D

British Museum uses computer animation to probe 2,800-year-old body

Vanessa Thorpe

Sunday June 27, 2004

The Observer


Meet 'Nes' - though he may not have been as nice as he looks. In fact, personality type is now pretty much the only thing we don't know about Nesperennub, an Egyptian priest in his forties who lived 2,800 years ago on the banks of the Nile.

In a technological and historical world first, this weekend the British Museum has unveiled or, more accurately, unwrapped the interior of a mummy that had remained sealed since it was made by masters of the ancient Egyptian craft of mummification. The startling operation was carried out without disturbing the intricate wrappings and amulets that were originally placed around his dead body.

Using scanning technology developed by neurological researchers in a London hospital, the British Museum has recreated the kind of public 'unrolling' of a mummy that used to draw crowds in the 19th century. In those days irreversible damage was often caused to the remains inside and many mummies were discarded and lost forever.

Nes, as curatorial staff refer to the mummy, came to the British Museum around 40 years ago and has remained one of the Egpytology department's mysteries ever since.

'Nes had been X-rayed once when he first arrived, but the pictures were very fuzzy,' said John Taylor, a curator in the Egypt department and the man who has developed the new 'virtual unrolling' process in collaboration with an English executive of the American virtual technology specialists, Silicon Graphics Incorporated. By combining the latest scanning techniques with 3D computer animation, the museum has reconstructed a virtual Nes, right down to the interior of his body.

'All we really know about a mummy from the outside is what the person's name is and what they did as a job. We can now find out what they looked like, how old they were, whether they were healthy and how they died,' said Taylor.

'But what is really new about what we have done here is that Nes can be used again and again as an experimental model, like a guinea pig really, instead of just offering us a series of static images.'

Together the scientists and historians have discovered every detail of the dead priest's physical condition and burial procedure. They now know, for instance, that he had an abscess at the base of one of his teeth and that the mummifying team who worked on him made rather a botched job. It is not possible to tell from the outside, but a burial pot was accidentally glued to the priest's head. 'The team must have assumed no one would ever find out, so they just carried on and covered it up,' said Taylor.

Yet there is one new mystery about Nes, who once officiated at rituals inside the temple of Khons in Karnak in 800 BC. In the process of creating a 3D representation of his skull, the team discovered a small hole, like a bullet hole, near his brain.

'It is an anomaly,' said Taylor, 'because it appears to be destroying the brain from the inside out and yet it does not seem to be the cause of death.'

Neurologists have suggested a variety of explanations, ranging from a tumour to a cranial form of tuberculosis, but nothing fits completely because there are no other signs of disease in the body.

Families who would like to be introduced to Nes, and perhaps take a virtual trip through his body, should visit the museum's special exhibition Mummy: The Inside Story, which opens this week.



DIY digs at Mycenae show visitors are not properly supervised

Amateur archaeologists caught in the act


Two unknown youths digging furtively at an excavation area in the middle of the Mycenae archaeological site on a summer Sunday afternoon.

Greece is virtually an enormous archaeological site, with minor or major findings coming to light at every excavation. However, there are some people, and even the State itself on occasion, who appear to be unaware of the importance of these findings.

The State has no comprehensive policy for protecting and highlighting these sites, as is evident in the less-than-effective measures taken to guard them. Kathimerini photographer Yiannis Bardopoulos found this out while spending a recent Sunday at the Mycenae archeological site.

On the small hill that was settled as early as the Neolithic Age, and then during the late Bronze Age, a group of foreign schoolchildren were wandering around the Acropolis, where the palace and throne room had been built. The photographer’s attention was drawn to two boys in particular who were looking around them furtively, as they moved away from their group and approached a site being excavated. They quickly began to explore the area very carefully, digging about with their hands and a pickaxe they found lying there, until they noticed the photographer’s camera being trained upon them. They moved away to join another group being guided around the site, as Bardopoulos moved over to photograph what had interested them so much.

Later on, when they thought the coast was clear, the two youths went back to search once more among the ruins. Again, one of the youths noticed the photographer and warned his friend. This could happen anywhere, but it was the Acropolis of Mycenae, a major archaeological site with many notable features such as the Lion’s Gate, one of the most imposing monuments in antiquity.

At the moment, work is under way to construct pedestrian walkways, which requires close examination of any undiscovered antiquities underneath these routes, but only nine people are employed to monitor the entire site and the adjoining museum during the year. However, another 22 seasonal workers will soon be joining them to help with guard duties and as cleaning staff.



Quarry find reveals hippos and hyenas once roamed Norfolk

Tim Radford, science editor

Thursday July 1, 2004

The Guardian


Giant hippos wallowed in the steaming rivers of Norfolk 600,000 years ago, while packs of hyenas prowled the banks, looking for carrion.

A chance find in an undisclosed quarry 10 miles from the modern coast has provided scientists with an unexpected snapshot of Britain in a warm spell between two ice ages.

The ancient hippos would have weighed six or seven tonnes, compared with the four-tonners that live in the rivers of Africa today. Insect fossils preserved along with plants in the same sediments show that summer temperatures in Britain may have been 2-3C warmer than today.

"To find two hippopotamuses together is very unusual, but to find evidence of the land surface around them is exceptional. The excavation site provides a unique opportunity to study an environment that we believe has never been recognised before and that, if we don't act quickly, could be lost forever," said Simon Parfitt, of the Natural History Museum in London.

The great beasts would have had huge, prominent eyes which served as periscopes in a river system which would once have flowed from Norfolk into Wales.

The landscape, palaeontologists say, would have been a strange mix of the familiar and the exotic: the trees of the ancient Norfolk savannah would have been much the same species found today, and red and fallow deer would have browsed in the nearby woodland.

But southern England would also have been haunted by sabre-toothed cats, lions and animals now found only in Africa. At the time, Britain would have been part of the continent. The excavation reveals a history of the riverbed from 500,000 to 780,000 years ago.

"It's full of plant remains, it's full of beetles and it's full of animal bones. The most spectacular fossils are the hippo skeletons. We have a very young individual and two adults. One of the adults probably died on the edge of the river. Its body probably bloated and lodged on the bank," said Mr Parfitt.

"Then it was scavenged by hyenas. A few metres away, we have a cluster of hyena droppings in a pile. You can see the landscape, you can see the area where the carcass has been torn apart, and you can see the hyenas' territorial markers."



Orkney’s prehistoric secrets unearthed


July 01 2004


Archaeologists have found the remains of a prehistoric village on Orkney, which has already unlocked secrets of the island's life, beliefs and rituals.

The discovery will provide a mine of information and has already revealed that Orkney was more densely populated than thought and its inhabitants were happy living among their dead.

Experts said the ruins contradict the orthodoxy that prehistoric human activity was confined to the area around the ceremonial structures of Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

A series of exploratory excavations around the site of the Ness of Brodgar in Orkney revealed that the area may contain a well-preserved neolithic village.

Nick Card, projects manager for the Orkney Archaeological Trust, and his team found evidence of a massive village between the two stone circles – covering an area of just more than six acres – which may date from approximately 3500-1800BC.

He said the area's prehistoric inhabitants had rebuilt structures on the same site throughout the neolithic period resulting in the formation of the man-made mound on which the house of Lochview stands.

Mr Card added: "Previous geophysics scans had revealed a dense complex of anomalies. We went back and did a further assessment of the site and found that large parts of the mound were artificial.

"There had been a series of structures, or even villages, built one on top of another. At the bottom of one deep trench were what appeared to be the remains of an early neolithic structure.

"A large part of the mound was thought to be natural but test pits show that at least 2.5 metres of it is artificial, consisting of structures, rubbish dumps and deep soils that have been enhanced with midden to increase the soil's fertility.

"All of this activity appears to relate to the neolithic period and shows that the area was more densely populated than was previously believed.

"Until recently, this area, close to the two beautiful henge monuments of the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stenness, and Maes Howe, the finest chambered tomb in Europe, was thought of as purely a ritual landscape.

"It was thought that ritual and funerary monuments like the stone circles and the chambered tombs were generally found outwith areas of domestic settlements, and were deliberately kept away from everyday life.

"The discovery of the nearby neolithic settlement at Barnhouse by Dr Colin Richards, coupled with this discovery, show that settlement was an integral part of this landscape."

He added: "There was not a great divide between the ritual areas and places of settlement."

The discovery of what looks like a chambered cairn also showed that Orkney's neolithic ancestors were far less squeamish about living in close proximity to the dead.

This idea is emphasised by the discovery of what appears to be a new chambered tomb very close to this new settlement on the Ness of Brodgar.

On the western outskirts of the settlement, near the Loch of Stenness, a large anomaly revealed by the geophysics is now being interpreted by the archaeologists as a possible chambered tomb.


Island Life

The Orkney islands are six miles north of the mainland. Of about 70 islands, 17 are inhabited.


There is little evidence of humans in Orkney during the mesolithic period from 7000-4000BC. It is unclear when hunters arrived from Scotland. Clear evidence of human history starts to appear around the fourth millennium BC.


In the early eighth and ninth centuries, the Vikings arrived and ruled Orkney and Shetland for the next 600 years or so.


In 1468, Christian I, king of Denmark, Norway and Sweden, pawned the islands to James III of Scotland for 50,000 florins.


Pirates and smugglers were part of Orcadian life for centuries.



Man unearths Bronze Age dagger in field

By Lisa Frascarelli

A METAL detecting enthusiast has unearthed a 3,600-year-old dagger from the depths of a South Lakeland field.

The finder, who wishes to remain anonymous for fear others will descend on the secret site, said he could not believe his luck when he stumbled across the Bronze Age relic.

"I was going along a small footpath when I got a good signal from the detector. I dug down a few inches and saw a piece of green metal," he explained.

"My immediate reaction was it's Bronze Age'."

After carefully exhuming the delicate dagger, the member of the Kendal and District Metal Detecting Club contacted Kendal Museum.

The 1600BC relic, which has been confirmed as bona fide Bronze Age by experts at the British Museum, is now being safely stored by the finder.

"It's the oldest find I've had in 15 years of detecting.

"I've been told by experts that this is one of five of its kind in the whole country," he said.

"People often think that metal detectors are just scavengers looking out for other people's losses.

"But we are a responsible group who are here to enrich the local history of Kendal and the surrounding area."

Finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, Faye Simpson, who examined the seven-and-a-half-inch dagger, said: "It is very rare to find something like this dagger in such good condition.

"We have had some prehistoric finds in the area before but nothing like this."

She added: "This find is significant in terms of someone was there in that age and the reason it was deposited there.

"But in terms of value, it is hard to say archaeologically, it is very valuable."

The Kendal and District Metal Detecting Club meets on the last Thursday of every month at the Cock and Dolphin, Kendal.

9:51am Friday 25th June 2004




09:30 - 25 June 2004


Archaeologists yesterday revealed they have unearthed a huge Roman villa and may have even identified who owned it. They believe the villa, in the heart of the Dorset countryside, was owned by a rich and important native Roman called Anicetus.


He was mentioned by Roman historian Tacitus who said that he possibly donated money to the Roman army.


The archaeologists have identified he lived there by using an eighth century transcription of a Roman map which listed all villa estates.


Because they know the names of places and people who lived in the area, they can make confident suggestions about who owned the villa.


The luxury residence was erected in the fourth century and fell into disrepair when the Romans left Britain in the fifth century.


The two-storey villa was well built and included a bath house, central heating and mosaic floors.


The excavation in the village of Shillingstone was prompted by builders who were preparing to build houses on the site.


AC Archaeology was called in and carried out a detailed excavation of the 40metre-by-60metre building.


John Valentin, from the company, said: "It is extremely well preserved and is from the late Romano British period which makes it quite rare.


"The owner was very wealthy and there was an element of 'keeping up with the Joneses'.


"They had a bath suite which included a plunge pool and hot tub attached to the building which was probably two storeys high.


"They had central heating and they would have governed the land which would have been used for farming and industry."


The site is open to the public during the weekend, but will then be shut down and built upon.



Rabbits threaten Viking site



A FORMER Viking power base seen as one of the most important sites of its type in Scotland is under threat from new attackers, a plague of rabbits.


The Bornish site in South Uist is one of the most extensive and complex Norse settlements on the Western Isles and also one of the largest rural settlements of its type in Britain.


It is thought to have been the home of a prominent Viking figure who had political control of the islands and close ties with the Norwegian king.


Archaeologists, who are in the final year of studies at the site supported by Historic Scotland, say the site is being heavily disturbed by rabbits. Niall Sharples, senior lecturer in archaeology at Cardiff University, who is leading the current work, said: "There will have to be a decision about the long-term preservation of the site, as it’s being badly damaged, particularly by rabbits. That is one of the main threats.


"The long-term future of the site depends on the local crofters negotiating some kind of stewardship scheme."


A survey has revealed a complex of more than 20 houses covering an area of more than two acres. The site spans the period of the Viking conquest of the islands and includes evidence for the preceding Pictish period as well as an early Viking building dating to at least the 10th century.


During the 11th and 12th centuries the settlement expanded and it appears to have encompassed at least five or six separate farms.


Mr Sharples said: "Large settlements such as this are extremely rare in the Highlands and Islands, and one has to go to the important political centres of Birsay in Orkney to find anything comparable in size.


"At the centre of the settlement are a number of very impressive large buildings, which clearly indicate the presence of a family of considerable status who would have been amongst the ruling elite of South Uist if not the Hebrides in general."


He added: "It’s a very important site. From what we have found it looks like the people there were connected and traded with southern England, Ireland and Norway in the 11th and 12th centuries.


"The person who stayed there would have been a Viking of lesser nobility. He would have had political control of the islands and an influential player in the political movement of the west coast."


The eighth and final season of excavations at the settlement began this month and will continue until 20 July. Excavations this year focus on a large mound that appears to be the centre of the settlement and a smaller mound that is a later development and includes three substantial houses that span the 10th-14th centuries.


An indication of the wealth of the inhabitants is the quantity of artefacts found, including complete pots, iron cauldron handles and the cut-up remains of an iron cauldron, knives and other simple iron tools, large numbers of bone dress-pins and bone combs.


Imports include a pot from the Bristol area of England, bronze pins from Dublin and a decorated bone cylinder from Norway, which might be the mouth of a drinking flask.


Mr Sharples said that one reason for the wealth and expansion of the settlement might have been the control of an important fishery. An examination of the site’s middens has found a large number of bones of herring, a basic food for towns such as Dublin and Waterford, which were established in Ireland in the 10th century.


"It seems likely that the inhabitants of Bornish were using the abundant fishing resources of the western seaboard, and the presence of a reasonably sheltered anchorage at Aird a’Mhuile, to develop a commercial fishery and to enhance their wealth," Mr Sharples said.


"What we have still to establish is whether the fish were processed at Bornish and how they were preserved for shipping to Ireland."




Crannog rises out of lake

Jun 29 2004

Sally Williams, The Western Mail


VISITORS to Llangorse Lake in Powys could be forgiven for thinking they're seeing double - the beauty spot that is home to Wales' only crannog now has two bog dwellings towering above the water reeds.

Master thatcher, Alan Jones of Pembrokeshire Thatch and Carpentry Services, has spent the past six weeks making a modern crannog on stilts rising out of the water, to mirror the original Llangorse crannog opposite.

Llangorse crannog is believed to be one of Wales' earliest royal residences and historians say that a Welsh princess was once held prisoner at the crannog that is known locally as the "Princess Palace on the lake".

The modern version has been created to act as a viewing platform and to explain the role of the crannog, which is a lake or bog dwelling built on stilts or a man-made island.

It also aims to improve public access to Llangorse Lake and to educate visitors and school children about the historic role of crannogs and to give them information about the lake and its wildlife at the same time.

Nobody recreates roundhouses better than Mr Jones who has spent the past 22 years working on historical reconstructions, including the popular Castell Henllys Iron Age village in Pembrokeshire.

Mr Jones said, "We've done our utmost to mimic the original crannog but obviously we had to comply with building and health and safety regulations.

"The original is on dry land but our multi-use contemporary crannog is built on oak stilts dug deep into the reed bed. Hugh Powell from MidWales Plant of Sennybridge, did a marvellous job on it.

"It has wheelchair access and a handrail is being installed so that it can be accessed by everyone.

"The roof has a steep pitch and is made from the same water reed that grows in the lake and we shall be able to show youngsters how this is done.

"I place the reed thatch on the roof by starting at the bottom and putting it on in lots and lots of layers, it's like working with thousands of little tiles.

"The crannog is water proof, the water just drips off the reeds and I think this roof will not need to be re-thatched for around 30 years."

He said the lake is a wonder- ful wildlife haven that is home to a wide variety of birdlife, including geese, ducks, swans and great-crested grebes and the modern crannog, which has one large window overlooking the original crannog, could be used as a hide.

Mr Jones said jetty owners, Lakeside Caravan Park, have worked on the project with the Countryside Council for Wales and Brecon Beacons National Park.

Manager of Lakeside Caravan Park, Mike Tunnicliffe said he had used a £70,000 Welsh Tourism grant to modernise all the lakes' jetties with the help of MidWales Plant. There is also a nature trail at the site and a canoe site.

"The roundhouse viewing platform aims to raise the unique Welsh monument's profile. Not many people know about it.

"It looks amazing and it should become a major draw for tourists visiting the area."

He said he wanted actor/ broadcaster, Tony Robinson of TV's Time Team, to open the viewing platform because he filmed a programme at the Llangorse crannog in 1994. S4C have also been filming work at the site.

Archaeologists from Cardiff University, who took samples from the site and analysed them last spring, said the types of animals eaten, the parts digested and how old they were when they were eaten suggested a diet fit for a king, which possibly makes the crannog one of Wales' earliest royal residences.

Archaeologists said they found evidence of Welsh corgi bones there too, leading them to believe that there has been a 1200-year-old association between the Queen's favourite breed of dog today and that of the ancient Welsh kings.

Tree ring dating of oak planks from the original crannog indicate that it was built between 889 and 893AD and that it was a royal residence.

The site may even have been referred to in the Anglo Saxon Chronicle as being destroyed by a Mercian Army in 916.

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

According to legend, the settlement was established by an Irishman named Brychan, who was born of saints.

This is supported by the many primitive Irish inscriptions written in the Ogham alphabet to be found within the territory of Brycheiniog.

It is thought the site was attacked and destroyed by Aethelflaed, the daughter of Alfred, the King of Mercia.

Around the year 1000 Brycheiniog became merged into Deheubarth, the southern kingdom in Wales.



St George found in Welsh church

A medieval wall painting has been uncovered during renovation work at a south Wales church.

A life-size image of St George standing on a slain a dragon was uncovered at St Cadoc's church in Llangattock Lingoed, near Abergavenny.

Discovered during recent renovations at the centuries old church, experts have described the painting as a "special find".

The painting is thought to have been covered up during the Reformation.

Ruth McNeilage who is a specialist in conserving wall paintings worked on the image.

"It is quite high quality - the background is very well preserved," she said.

"Unfortunately a monument was put in where the horse's head was so that is missing.

"But it is quite a special find and very unusual," she said.

Ms McNeilage who runs McNeilage Conservation said that having such a painting of St George, who is the patron saint of the English, in Wales was very unusual.

"There are quite a few examples of images of St George around but not in Wales," she said.

"But Abergavenny is very close to the English border and probably would have been under the control of the English at the time of the painting.

"I think everybody living nearby was convinced it was of St Michael when it was discovered but I had a feeling it was St George because St Michael would have had wings.

"But I think as Welsh people they would have preferred it to have been St Michael especially when it emerged that St George was standing on the dragon," she said.

The discovery of the painting was made while builders carried out renovations at the church.

Vital roof repairs had to be carried out on the building which dates back to the early 1200s.

A grant of more than £200,000 was awarded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Cadw and the Welsh Church Fund, to fund the work.

During the renovation work there were fears that a colony of bats would be disturbed during the repairs.

However, the colony which includes the Lesser Horseshoe, which is an endangered species, the Long Eared and the Natterer, were unaffected by the work.

The Reverend Jean Prosser, parish deacon, said that they had no idea such a painting was in the church and it was only after three surveys were carried out that the painting was revealed.

"It was pretty amazing when we realised what it was," she said.

"You can quite clearly see St George, the horse and the dragon.

"It has got to be of national significance because there aren't many of these paintings around.

"We thought it might have been St Cadoc at first but then realised it was St George.

"But as England are doing so well in the football at the moment, we don't mind that it is in a Welsh church!" she said.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/06/21 12:32:43 GMT




Tuesday June 29, 10:59 AM

Domesday Book inspires new heritage site list

By Laith Abou-Ragheb


LONDON (Reuters) - Several London underground stations and an iconic 1960s tower block are to be included in a new "Domesday Book" of all 500,000 historic sites and buildings in Britain.

The government is compiling the comprehensive list, reminiscent of the record of English settlements commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1085, in an effort to simplify the way historically important sites are granted legal protection.

The list forms part of a wider set of heritage conservation reforms which include merging current methods of "listing" buildings but "scheduling" ancient monuments. Farmers will also have to seek permission to plough agricultural land in bid to conserve neolithic sites.

"There is too much overlap between safeguards that have built up over time and not enough transparency," said Heritage Minister Andrew McIntosh.

Several Piccadilly line stations on London's underground railway are due to make it onto the register as well as the capital's drab, love-it-or-loathe-it 117m (885ft) tall Centre Point building.

The announcement comes at a time of renewed public interest in protecting Britain's heritage. Millions tune in to watch prime-time television conservation programmes and membership of groups such as English Heritage has soared in recent years.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) said the new list would help tidy up the many strands of Britain's disparate conservation laws.

"This country has a very elaborate system for the legal protection of buildings," said SPAB Secretary Philip Venning. "The first legislation dates from 1882 and it has grown in a very complicated way since then. This list will make things neater and easier to understand."



Old soldier found long lost comrade - next door

09:37 Wednesday 30th June 2004


Two soldiers who thought each other had died in a bloody Second World War battle 60 years ago have discovered they are next-door neighbours.

Gilbert Fogg, 80, thought there was something familiar about his neighbour when he moved into a new retirement bungalow in Nettleham, near Lincoln.

But he couldn't believe it when he discovered the man was Tom Parker, 82, reports the Daily Mirror.

Sixty years ago they had fought shoulder-to-shoulder in some of the bloodiest battles of the Second World War.

Last time they saw each other was in a trench at the infamous battle of Anzio in Italy. Both left that battlefield on stretchers, each assuming the other was dead.

Gilbert adds: "I asked my brother, who lives here, and he knew just that he was called Tom. He didn't know the surname. But I did. It was Tom Parker. My God, it was Tom Parker! I felt like someone had punched me.

"I asked him to come in and show me how the electrics in my house worked - but that was just an excuse. I wanted to see him up close, to be sure.

"When he was in my house I looked him in the eye and said: "Tom Parker, do you know who I am?" He looked at me and said: "No." I said: "Have you ever met anyone called Gilly?"

"Well, he staggered. He put his arm up to his face and he leant on the wall. He just said: "Oh Gilly, Gilly. I thought you were bloody dead".

"He stood like that for ever such a long time. Then we started talking, and once we started, we couldn't stop."