New Athens Subway Showcases Artifacts
Wed Aug 11,12:07 PM ET
By NIKO PRICE, Associated Press Writer
ATHENS, Greece - History runs deep in Greece, so when you start digging for a modern subway, it's hard to stay focused on the present.
As Athens rushed to expand its subway system in time for the Olympics, work was repeatedly halted by the discovery of ruins and artifacts. Tunneling for the Monastiraki Square station, inaugurated last year, was delayed for two years because of archaeological finds.
But officials have managed to find a golden lining: Now some stations double as museums, with artifacts unearthed during construction displayed in glass cases where they were found.
The result is that the subway has become more than just a means of transportation. It's a destination.
Evelyn Ferreira, 45, of Sacramento, Calif., was nearing the end of her three-week visit to see the Olympics and visit her mother's native country. Her aunt suggested she skip the museums.
"We've got a few more days left, so my aunt told us to come down here," she said. "It's very cool."
She stood with her husband and two sons in the Syntagma Square station in central Athens, gazing at a wall encased in giant glass panes to show the layers of discoveries made during the digging.
Near the top were the remnants of a water-supply system from the Ottoman period. Beneath that were Byzantine houses and Roman cemeteries, and finally, near the floor, an aqueduct from the 5th century B.C.
The displays adorn an efficient, modern subway station that was inaugurated in 2000. Since then, workers have been adding new stations periodically in a rush to ease traffic and replace downtown roads with cobblestone walkways in time for the Olympics.
The newest leg of the subway now runs out to Athens' new suburban airport — which also houses an exhibition of pottery, jewelry and marble unearthed during its construction.
Some subway stations have exhibits showing how the discoveries were made. A photo mural adorns a wall at the Acropolis station showing a tunnel lined with ancient urns that workers bore into when they were digging.
In addition to the cross-section of earth, the Syntagma Square station features glass cases holding urns, clay figurines and a piece of a 4th century mosaic floor.
At 6, Christos Panagoulias is already a veteran of the exhibition. But he was little the last time he came, so he had to see it again.
Adjusting his Mickey Mouse baseball cap, he rattled off facts about the artifacts on display, saying that although he hasn't started history in school yet, he reads lots of books.
"I have a book that lists the artifacts, and whatever you see you have to check off," he said. "I've been here before, but I didn't see all of the pieces."
His grandmother, Constantina Panagoulia, 58, said she couldn't say no when Christos begged her to take him.
"I feel moved when I see this. I understand what the ancient people were thinking," she said. "I tell the children, `Look what these people have done!'"
Of course, the displays aren't for everyone.
Ferreira's 15-year-old son Steven showed mild interest in the pieces, saying he studied Greek history in school but forgot most of it. His mother said he would thank her later for bringing him.
"Of course my kids are bored silly," she said. "But we're hoping that in 10 years they'll look back and say, `What a cool trip.'"
Niko Price is correspondent-at-large for The Associated Press.
Carved Figure Linked to Bronze Age Burials
Fri 13 Aug 2004
By Alison Purdy, PA News
A carved wooden figure could shed new light on what a bronze age grave site may have looked like, archaeologists revealed today.
Scientists have carbon-dated the relic, found at Dagenham in the Thames Estuary in 1922, and discovered that it dates back to the same period as the older of two timber circles at Holme Beach, Hunstanton, in Norfolk.
Archaeologists now believe that instead of being composed of plain wooden posts, parts of the bronze age timber circle may have been decorated with carvings.
The carved figure, which dates back to 2200BC and is believed to be the earliest representation of a human figure in existence, has a rounded head with eyes, nostrils and a mouth.
It has no arms but does have a pair of legs and rounded buttocks.
Mike Pitts, editor of the British Archaeology Magazine said he believes that two wooden posts in the centre of the timber circle could have been similar carvings to the Dagenham figure.
“All we have now are the bits that were underground but these are round posts just like the Dagenham figure.
“Because the date of the circle is identical to the figure it tells us that people were carving human figures in wood at that time.
“It helps us imagine what they might have looked like but it doesn’t help us understand what happened there,” he said.
Since the first circle – which became known as Seahenge – emerged from the sand in 1998, it has been thought both circles were bronze age grave sites.
“In both cases it doesn’t look like they were actually burial sites but just a place where bodies rested above ground, hidden from view behind the wooden posts,” Mr Pitts said.
He said there would have been similar circles across northern Europe but a unique set of circumstances had preserved the two relics at Holme.
The timber circles stood on what was once saltmarsh protected from the sea by sand dunes.
They were eventually covered over by the dunes but rising sea levels have eroded the sand dunes exposing the ancient peat underneath.
Mr Pitts believes there may be more of the ancient landscape still to be discovered.
“It’s very exciting. Everything in that peat is going to be bronze age and therefore contemporary with Seahenge,” he said.
Ancient relics found in North Korea
Indo-Asian News Service
Seoul, August 17
South and North Korean archaeologists, in their first joint excavation, have discovered thousands of pieces of relics from as far back as the Old Stone Age, Xinhua reports.
Various historic sites and remains, up to the Joseon Dynasty, were unearthed from the construction site of an industrial park at Kaesong town in North Korea close to the border with the south.
Old Stone Age or Palaeolithic period is the earliest period of human development and the longest phase of mankind's history. It approximately began about two million years ago and ended 40,000 to 10,000 years ago.
The Joseon Dynasty lasted between 1392 and 1910. During this period, a centralised administrative system was installed and Confucianism adopted, which established a new moral system in Korea.
The (South) Korea Land Corp, one of the co-developers of the Kaesong Industrial Complex, was quoted as saying that 20 South Korean and 40 North Korean archaeologists conducted a joint survey over 330,000 sq m of land in the site for two months starting June.
Among the relics discovered were crafted stone axes from the Old Stone Age, earthenware with a comb-tooth pattern from the New Stone Age and coins, glass beads and ceramic ware from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).
Kaesong had been the capital of the Goryeo Dynasty for more than 400 years and that of Joseon Dynasty in the kingdom's early years before it relocated the capital to Seoul in 1405.
Seoul and Pyongyang agreed to build the Kaesong Industrial Complex to attract investments from South Korean companies.
The two sides started the construction earlier this year. Korea Land and South Korea's Hyundai Asan company are co-developers of the project.
Bahrain to take part in Kuwait excavations
A GCC team of archaeologists will begin excavations in Kuwait’s Al Sabiya region in the last quarter of the year.
In a statement to the Kuwait News Agency, the acting Director of Archaeology and Heritage at the Ministry of Information, Khalid Al Sindi, said that the two-month research will include excavations of mounts and specialised work.
Al Sindi said that Bahrain’s Directorate of Archaeology and Heritage would join the GCC team in the excavations Kuwait is carrying out in Failaka Island. He said Kuwait is among the leading states in research in archaeological discoveries related to the Dilmun and other eras.
Al Sindi said that Bahrain Fort in Manama and Failaka Island are among the important centres of the Dilmun civilisation which lasted until the third century B.C. Evidence of that civilisation has been found with the discovery of Dilmun seals, pottery, and war equipment.
He said that ideas have been put forward to strengthen cooperation between national museums in Bahrain and Kuwait to highlight the Dilmun artifacts and acquisitions. One suggestion is to hold a joint general exhibition in the two countries.
Al Sindi said that cooperation between Bahrain and Kuwait in this field stems from the fact that they share the archaeology of the Dilmun civilisation and emphasises special historical relationship and offers an opportunity for the two countries to mark the 50th anniversary of the discovery of the Dilmun civilisation in Manama and Failaka Island.
Al Sindi said that the Dilmun civilisation has been found in Bahrain covering about 20 square miles, especially in Al Miqsha’ site which is famous for its Dilmun burial mounds belonging to the middle and late Dilmun eras dating between 1000 B.C. and 1600B.C.
They are carved in stone and rubbed with gypsum (white cement).
He said that Dilmun seals, clay cups and jars, earthenware, and pots made of chalkstone and marble, gold ear-rings and rings, beads inlaid with precious stones, and copper bracelets have been found in those mounds. He said the burial mounds were carved into the rocks and had entrances and stairs.
Al Sindi said that the Dilmun civilisation believed in eternity – life after death – and they placed with their dead ‘funeral accompaniments’ including provisions, pottery, jars, plates, and bows and arrows.
Al Sindi said that among the artifacts discovered in Al Miqsha’ are numerous disc-shaped seals which used to be hung around the neck, arm, or foot of the dead. The seals were made of chalk, precious stones, mother-of-pearl, and ivory that were engraved with cuneiform writing and drawings inspired by the beliefs of the Dilmun civilisation.
Gold plates which were used to cover the dead’s mouth and eyes were also found in the burial mounds. The majority of the mounds are scattered in the centre and north of Manama and include the largest ancient cemetery in the world that dates back to various eras extending from the early Dilmun era in 3,000 B.C. to the Kashite, Assyiran, Babylonian, Hellenistic, and Islamic eras.
Last update on: 17-8-2004
Hiker stumbles onto unique tomb nearly 5,000 years old
Ras Al Khaimah, By Nasouh Nazzal, Staff Reporter
A tomb dating to the Hafeet era (3,200 BC to 2,600 BC) that may be the only well-preserved piece of construction from the period has been discovered by a British hiker on a mountainous ridge in Taffif.
Barbara Couldrey, a resident in Ras Al Khaimah, who has been hiking for many years in various countries, recognised the ancient construction as a Hafeet tomb and later gave the location and all other information to the archaeology section at the Ras Al Khaimah Museums and Antiques Department, which confirmed the discovery.
"In the mountains, I observe everything around me and see whether anything is of archaeological value," Couldrey said. She said she normally takes a GPS system with her and takes down readings, the size and rough description of what she sees during her hikes.
"On seeing the tomb, I realised it was the discovery of a lifetime," she said.
The tomb is still in excellent shape and a man can even fit into it, she said. It is intact with a well-preserved cover. Hafeet tombs, she said, are similar and are about the same size, and most are located in remote mountainous areas.
She said almost all of the Hafeet tombs have collapsed and archaeologists can only see the slabs of the chamber.
This tomb in Taffif, however, is the only one in good condition.
Many people, she said, must have seen the tomb and passed by it but no one recognised it as a precious piece of history.
Officials at the Ras Al Khaimah Museums and Antiques Department said this tomb belongs to the Hafeet era – a period known for its graves and burial grounds that were built on high mountains. They were made of local stone and shaped like beehives. Each grave consisted of one or two small chambers used either for single or double burials.
Some of the destroyed Hafeet tombs were discovered in Khatt, Beeh Valley and Qoor Valley in Ras Al Khaimah.
Most of them were destroyed and there was no way they could be studied. The officials said the department has been making records of the findings and discoveries.
The procedures that follow such discoveries, however, are time-consuming and laborious.
The officials said the new Hafeet tomb will play a key role in recreating the history of the emirate and provide a better picture of the tradition of ancient burial.
The officials said that the new discovery will throw light on the history of the emirate.
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Ancient Rome's fish pens confirm sea-level fears
09:30 16 August 04
Coastal fish pens built by the Romans have unexpectedly provided the most accurate record so far of changes in sea level over the past 2000 years. It appears that nearly all the rise in sea level since Roman times has happened in the past 100 years, and is most likely the result of human activity.
Sea-level change is a measure of the relative movement between land and sea surfaces. Tide-gauge records show that the sea level has been rising 1 to 2 millimetres a year since widespread measurements began around 1900, but do not pinpoint when the trend started.
Earlier sea levels can be estimated from geological data, but the accuracy is limited to about half a metre, which is not enough to precisely chart the history of sea-level rise.
So Kurt Lambeck of the Australian National University in Canberra turned to fish pens on the Tyrrhenian coast of Italy for a more accurate record of ancient sea level.
The Romans dug these fish pens into bedrock, and the water line in these well-preserved structures shows that the sea level along the Italian coast 2000 years ago was 1.35 metres below today's levels. "They were used for only a very short time, so they make rather nice markers," says Lambeck.
He then analysed how land elevations changed along the Italian coast due to both plate tectonics and the after-effects of the last ice age. In a paper to appear in Earth and Planetary Science Letters, he concludes that geological processes affecting land levels over the past two millennia accounted for 1.22 metres of the change, which means that the global sea level rose by 13 centimetres.
That is only about 100 years' worth of rise at the present rate of around 1 to 2 millimetres per year, implying that nearly all of it has occurred since 1900. While there is no proof that human activity is to blame, "I can't think of a natural process that would have started in 1900," he says.
The result "is a significant one", says Jonathan Gregory, who studies global changes in sea level at the University of Reading, UK. The finding supports the idea, based on the few tide-gauge records that extend back two centuries, that the rise in sea level did indeed accelerate about a century ago.
While Gregory cautions that this does not prove that global warming is responsible, both he and Lambeck agree that the results fit the rise in ocean volume expected from global warming melting glaciers in the industrial age.
© Copyright Reed Business Information Ltd.
Forgotten Roman Town Unearthed on Farm
"PA" Tue 17 Aug 2004
A forgotten Roman town has been unearthed in Gloucestershire after remaining buried under a farmer’s fields for hundreds of years, archaeologists said today.
The fortified town, which is thought to have been established in the 1st century, could have been home to 1,000 people.
Archaeologists believe the 10 hectare settlement was large enough to have been a regional centre for trade and industry.
Investigations have so far revealed evidence of an entrance gate, industrial works, a road and a large number of houses.
The discovery was made when David Isaac, whose family have farmed at Hall End Farm between Chipping Sodbury and Wickwar for more than 80 years, showed an archaeologist his collection of Roman artifacts.
Three generations of the family had collected a mass of Roman coins, brooches, lead dice, animal bones, pottery and thimbles.
Andrew Young, an associate of the Institute of Field Archaeology and partner in the Avon Archaeology Unit, has been investigating the site for the past three years.
He said: “When I first visited the farm I had no idea what we would find. We did some research and were astonished at the extent of the ruins. It is quite well preserved.”
Archaeologists also found the line of a Roman road, which could have connected Bath and Gloucester.
UNUSUAL DISCOVERIES IN AMPHITHEATRE DIG
ROMAN and medieval artefacts have been discovered in the last two weeks as the excavations at Chester´s Amphitheatre continue to throw up surprises.
Among new finds during the first season of a three-year dig are 18th Century games pieces, a Roman bronze spoon, medieval tweezers, a bone comb, dice and two pottery gaming pieces.
Other more unusual discoveries are fruit seeds, fish bones and parasite eggs, possibly dating back to the 13th or 14th centuries.
Goat horns and leg bones left attached to animal skins when they went to the tanners may help experts learn more about Chester´s important medieval leather industry.
The positions of two buttresses flanking one of the public entrances at the site can now be seen. It is thought that these may have supported an arch over the entrance.
Dan Garner, senior archaeologist at Chester City Council, said: "We have been excavating medieval cess pits which were basically toilets.
"Rubbish would be thrown down to fill them in when it was time to start a fresh pit.
"Things like the fruit seeds and fish bones we have found will tell us a lot about people´s diets.
"We had expected to find some medieval items but are unearthing far more than we had hoped for."
Mr Garner said he expected more Roman items to be found as the dig progresses. The first sword handle ever to be found at the site was discovered last month, indicating that gladiators may have fought to the death,
The new dig began on 14th June and it is hoped the English Heritage-backed project will attract an extra 40,000 visitors to Chester every year. The first season ends on 24th September.
Mystery of Iron Age woman with rings on her toes
STEPHEN STEWART August 13 2004
SHE would have been a highly-skilled artisan who was buried 1500 years ago, her body covered with ornate jewellery and emblems of her high status.
Yet, with her rings still adorning her toes, she was laid to rest in one of the most unusual burial sites known to archaeologists: beneath the floor of a busy Iron Age workshop.
The discovery, at Mine Howe in Orkney, is extremely rare for an Iron Age site in Scotland and has baffled the team carrying out the dig.
"It's very strange, the last thing we were expecting to find was a burial," said Jane Downes, a senior lecturer from Orkney College and one of the archaeologists leading the excavation.
The team is piecing together the details of the mysterious subject's life, but has been baffled by the fact that the well-preserved skeleton was buried beneath the floor of the workshop, her grave covered by paving slabs on which workers of the time continued to smelt metal and produce jewellery and other objects.
"Fragments of human beings have sometimes been found within Iron Age houses, but this is a formal burial of an entire body, dressed with jewellery, within what would have been a busy workshop," Ms Downes said.
"The grave was cut through the floor and paved over with flagstones, so the people would have been well aware that the body was there while they were working.
"The pelvic bones were not in a good condition and will be cleaned and reassessed. The body has some male and some female traits. At the moment, it seems to have slightly more female traits," she added.
Although experts are to be brought in to determine the age and sex of the body, early indications suggest that it was a woman in her early twenties.
The team hopes that detailed analysis will reveal whether the person in the grave died of natural causes or met a violent end as a human sacrifice.
Ms Downes said metal working during the Iron Age was widely regarded as a magical, dangerous process. "Metal workers were either revered or reviled," she said.
"Either way, they would have had a special status as people who could take raw material from the ground, put it through complex processes and turn it into jewellery and other astonishing objects."
Archaeologists believe the esoteric and mystical nature of metal working during the Iron Age could hold the key to the reason the body was placed under the workshop floor. The corpse was found on its back, hands by its sides, knees drawn together, with a piece of decorated antler lying on its chest.
"We believe this is a unique burial," said Nick Card, from Orkney Archaeological Trust, a co-director of the dig. "We won't really know why the body was put there until we find out whether this was a natural or a sacrificial death.
"But it's tempting to think that this body was placed within the workshop to placate the gods and make sure the metal working continued to be successful."
Dr Theya Molleson, a bone expert from the Natural History Museum in London, said the grave and the body were a stunning discovery.
"Whether it is male or female is a bit of a puzzle at the moment," she said. "But the face, with its lovely clean teeth, looks more female to me.
"The most exciting discovery are the two rings on the toes, one on each foot. They turn up in many periods of history but very, very rarely."
The workshop lies close to a mysterious underground temple built inside a mound at the Mine Howe site. Twenty-nine steps lead deep into the ground to a strange cone-shaped chamber where experts believe Iron Age priests tried to contact the spirit world.
'IMPORTANT CENTRE FOR ANGLO-SAXONS'
Date : 14.08.04
Archaeological experts have found West Halton was once possibly one of the most important, busy, bustling places in North Lincolnshire.
And it was populated by wealthy and important people, experts from the University of Sheffield have found. A three-week dig came to a somewhat rainy end yesterday.
Dr Dawn Hadley, who led the dig, said it had been a success and they had found many items from Anglo-Saxon days, including a comb made of bone.
She explained the group had tried to avoid walls and buildings discovered on a previous dig because they wanted to concentrate on finding smaller items which would give them more of an idea of how the ancient people lived from day to day.
At a dig last summer the team found parts of several 'substantial' buildings.
"The buildings we found were enormous, with great stone walls," Dr Hadley said.
And the experts found the walls were plastered, which was very unusual in Anglo-Saxon days - and more evidence the village used to be one of the richest in the region.
"We have found some lovely detailed property which shows high status and wealthy families lived in the area," Dr Hadley explained.
"And we have found a bone comb dating back to the eighth or ninth century."
She said the finds proved West Halton used to be an important settlement.
The ancient folk also had security concerns, Dr Hadley explained.
"We have found a massive ditch, which would have been used for defence purposes," she said.
"What we have found proves it used to be a thriving centre for the surrounding area," she said.
Dr Hadley blamed economic factors for people moving out of the village. "With a medieval village such as West Halton, people probably moved away in search of somewhere more central and with more money," she said.
The students taking part in the dig have been staying in the village hall at West Halton, and were due to finish their work today.
North Lincolnshire's unique position in England - on fertile land close to the confluence of two major rivers and access to the North Sea - means it has been a 'good place' to settle for thousands of years.
The region is covered with the remains of civilisations such as the Anglo-Saxons and Romans, along with the Vikings and those who lived in the Iron Age. They came to the region because of the iron ore, the good farming and - by their standards - excellent transport links.
Dr Hadley said experts from the university may visit West Halton again next summer, in a bid to discover more of the ancient secrets held below ground in North Lincolnshire.
How did a 'divine wind' save Japan from Mongolian invaders 700 years ago?
By Hideko Takayama
Aug. 16 issue
Kublai Khan was a conqueror of boundless appetite. When Japan refused to obey and pay tribute to the Mongolian ruler, he was outraged. Twice during the 13th century he sent massive fleets to invade Japan, possibly trying to seize its storied gold. Each time, though, the khan's aggression was repelled not by the Japanese military but by sudden storms that killed most of the invaders and destroyed their ships. The Japanese dubbed these storms kamikaze, or divine wind.
That's the myth, but what exactly happened in the high seas more than 700 years ago? Archeologists have been trying for decades to nail down the specifics. From which direction did the kamikaze blow? How strong was it? For that matter, how big were the Mongolian ships? And how did they manage to sink? Now, more than seven centuries after the fact, Japanese archeologists are finally getting some answers. Artifacts uncovered in an expedition that ended last week tell more about the battles that took place off the coast of the tiny island of Takashima at the mouth of Imari Bay, 1,000 kilometers southwest of Tokyo.
Digging up the sea bottom to salvage the pieces from the Mongols' invasions is a difficult task, to say the least. Excavations that started in the 1980s, now led by Kenzo Hayashida, archeologist and president of the Kyushu and Okinawa Society for Underwater Archaeology, managed to uncover many ceramic jars used for containers. In recent years his team found Mongolian pottery-shelled bombs, swords, large anchors and a bowl with Chinese characters that belonged to a 100-man unit under a commander named Wang. In July his team of scientists and divers worked on a site about 70 meters from the shore and 13 meters below the surface of the sea. By pumping water through a hose and suctioning up the sand, they found human-skull parts, animal bones, timbers from the ships and an anchor rope.
Hayashida and his crew fell short of finding an intact ship. The reason: shipworms most likely have reduced these once mighty vessels to shards. "It is like having 4,000 different sets of puzzles," says Randall Sasaki, a graduate student in the nautical-archeology program at Texas A&M University who was a member of Hayashida's team. "Those pieces were put in a blender of sea and were mixed together. It is difficult to figure out which piece goes to which ship." Judging by the hundreds of wooden pieces the team turned up, as well as those from earlier expeditions, Hayashida thinks that some of the ships of the Mongolian fleet could have been 40 meters, and made in Chinese or Korean ports.
Today the island (population: 2,800) is covered with lush green pine and sweet-acorn trees, and the fishermen pride themselves on their tasty blowfish. It's hard to imagine that this bucolic island was the site of two of the biggest and most devastating sea battles in history. Experts say that some 40,000 soldiers aboard 900 wooden ships attacked northern Kyushu in 1274 and killed virtually Takashima's entire population. For some unknown reason, the fleet left after two weeks and was destroyed by the divine wind on its way back home. In the second invasion, in 1281, 140,000 soldiers arrived in 4,400 ships. When the typhoon hit Imari Bay that summer, about 3,000 ships and 100,000 soldiers are believed to have vanished under the sea.
Shinji Takano, archeologist with the Nagasaki Prefectural Board of Education, thinks that the fleet gathered in the bay to let the typhoon pass. A study of a Southern Sung dynasty military ship excavated in China, which may have been similar in design to the Mongolian ships, shows that a wind of nearly 200kmh would have been enough to destroy the ships. Takano thinks that a mega typhoon wind blew from the south to the shore. "The bay was packed with their ships. They must have tied their ships to one another to stay together," he says. The strong wind and high waves probably crushed them, and they sank.
Hayashida's expedition is hardly the last word. So far his team has not covered even 1 percent of the battleground. If he can find the money and manpower to continue his work, we can expect a lot more details to unfold about the Mongolian invasion attempts.
© 2004 Newsweek, Inc.
Unprecedented Ice Age Cave Art Discovered in U.K.
John Pickrell in England
for National Geographic News
August 18, 2004
Vivid frescoes of stampeding bulls, horses, and other animals drawn by Stone Age artisans grace the walls of many European caves. The most spectacular examples are found in Altimera in Spain and Lascaux and Chauvet in France.
For many years the total lack of cave art in Britain dating to the same period perplexed researchers. Britain was inhabited, after all. And throughout the Ice Age, it was linked to mainland Europe by a land bridge.
Last year researchers discovered a handful of simple bird and animal carvings in the caves of Creswell Crags, a limestone gorge in Nottinghamshire, northern England.
The finding proved for the first time that ancient Britons were capable of producing artwork similar to that of their Paleolithic (early Stone Age) counterparts on continental Europe.
Now more extensive surveys undertaken this year reveal that the English caves may hold the most elaborate Ice Age cave-art ceiling ever discovered. Up to 80 carvings of animals, dancing women, and geometric patterns have now been discovered.
Researchers behind the discovery claim it is the most important find from the British Paleolithic since 500,000-year-old hominid remains were uncovered in Boxgrove, West Sussex, in 1993.
"Last year we were astounded to have discovered perhaps half a dozen isolated images," said Paul Pettitt, a University of Sheffield archaeologist behind the find. "Now it seems there are more than ten times that number of carvings."
"This find represents the most richly carved ceiling in the whole of cave art … [and] demonstrates that cave art is spread across a much wider geographical area than we originally thought," he said.
Animals depicted on the cave ceiling include bison, wild horses, bears, and ibex—species which went extinct in Britain at the end of the Ice Age 10,000 years ago. Species still found in the U.K. today, such as red deer stags, are also recorded in the rock.
Other themes include "conga lines" of what are believed to represent dancing women and stylized depictions of female genitalia, Pettittt said. Both forms are typical of continental cave art from the same period.
The dancing women may have some ancient religious or cosmological significance, Pettitt said. "The art is perhaps recording a spiritual dance at some very important religious event."
Pettitt and his archaeologist colleagues Sergio Ripoli, of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Madrid, and Paul Bahn, an independent expert on cave art, first discovered a small number of the carvings in April 2003 in caves known to have been inhabited before the end of the Ice Age.
The researchers described their initial find in the June 2003 issue of the archaeological journal Antiquity.
Other archaeological artifacts, such as figures and needles carved from bone, had previously been found at Creswell Crags. The objects, which dated to 12,000 to 13,000 years old, prompted Pettitt and his colleagues to scour the site for cave art.
The team's discovery of the carvings was widely reported in the media last year as the only Paleolithic cave art ever known from the U.K. Most other ancient British rock art is 8,000 years more recent than the art at Creswell Crags and is found on open rock faces.
Pettitt said his team used "stylistic comparison" with continental cave art and carbon dating of artifacts found at Creswell Crags to set a rough date for the art last year.
However, co-workers at Oxford University are now completing what's known as uranium-series dating. This type of dating, which measures the rate of decay of isotopes of uranium, is a useful method to date artifacts that contain no carbon and cannot be dated with more common radiocarbon dating methods.
The soon-to-be-released results will verify the estimated date of the cave art, Pettitt said.
Slow-growing stalactites and other mineral aggregations, which have built up on the surface of some of the carvings, were already an indication of the art's prehistoric provenance.
Some experts have argued that cave paintings are quickly degraded in the damp British climate.
Jon Humble is an inspector of ancient monuments with the government conservation body English Heritage, based in Northampton. He suggests that some experts were too quick to dismiss the possibility that lasting art from Paleolithic peoples could be found in Britain.
"There had been a psychological barrier to the existence of cave art in Britain … but never a satisfactory explanation as to why there was none," he said.
The spectacular discovery at Creswell Crags now firmly places Britain on the cave-art map, Humble said. "The people who lived at Creswell Crags 13,000 years ago have quite literally carved out its place in prehistory, the present, and indeed the future," he said.
The carvings were not discovered sooner because they are nearly impossible to discern. Over the years the carvings have weathered drastically and are poorly lit.
"Now we know what to look for," Pettitt said. "I suspect there's a lot more British cave art out there to be found."
Prior to the discoveries at Creswell Crags, only two previous examples of Paleolithic British cave art had been reported. One was revealed to be a hoax, the other a false alarm.
Britain's first nude?
A stunning haul of ice-age art found in a limestone cave has shed new light on how our prehistoric ancestors lived 13,000 years ago. David Derbyshire reports on some clever academic detective work
To the untrained eye, it most closely resembles a sock, a boomerang or maybe, after a long, hard stare, the head of a long-billed bird.
But according to some of the UK's leading experts on ice-age art, this highly stylised image, carefully engraved in a Derbyshire limestone cave 13,000 years ago, may be the earliest nude in the history of British art.
The drawing is part of a stunning haul of animals discovered last year in the Creswell Crags. Until the engravings came to light, Britain had no ice-age cave art.
Almost all of Europe's late stone-age cave art comes from France, Iberia and Italy. Some archaeologists have claimed that the early northern Europeans were either prehistoric philistines or Britain's climate eroded any traces of their art.
The Creswell Crags has changed that and become, along with the discovery of a 500,000-year-old Boxgrove Man in the mid 1990s, one of the most important finds in UK archaeology.
The story of the find began at an Oxford University dinner in late 2002 where two experts were debating the mystery of Britain's missing Palaeolithic cave art.
At the table were Dr Paul Pettitt, a former Oxford research fellow in human evolution now based at Sheffield University, and Dr Paul Bahn, the independent archaeologist regarded as Britain's top cave art expert.
Bahn had long puzzled over the missing art. During the ice age, Britain was connected to the rest of Europe and was periodically occupied by hunter gatherers. But while they left bones, tools and some portable art, they left no cave engravings or paintings.
Elsewhere, our Magdalenian ancestors were busy. Paintings of stampeding bulls and horses were found at Lascaux and Chauvet in France in 1940 and 1994, other paintings were found in caves at Altamira, Spain, in 1879.
"There has always been a dogma that cave art is restricted to northern Spain and southern France and was possibly not undertaken by ice-age societies elsewhere in the upper Palaeolithic," says Pettitt.
"When we think of cave art, we think of paintings, But over 90 per cent of cave art is shallow engraving – less impressive visually and particularly difficult to see with untrained eyes."
Paul Bahn had already discussed the British lack of cave art with Spanish expert Dr Sergio Ripoll. During the meal, a plan to solve the riddle was drawn up. Pettitt would provide the local knowledge of likely sites, Bahn and Ripoll would provide their experience and their eyes.
Pettitt drew up the list of sites and the three met in Sheffield in April 2003.The candidates were the: Creswell Crags, Cheddar Gorge, the Gower peninsula and Kent's Cavern in Torquay.
Creswell was occupied about 13,000 years ago by sophisticated hunter-gatherers who hunted horse, red deer, bison, wild cattle and reindeer. The three began work in Church Hole, a north-facing cave.
"Within 20 minutes Sergio had found the first image. He came out with a torrent of Spanish expletives," recalls Pettitt.
Within a dark tunnel, they found engravings of two birds. Then, as they returned to the cave's mouth, Ripoll spotted what looked like a goat. Later, they changed the interpretation to a red deer.
They were not the first to spot the carving. The wall was covered with 20th-century graffiti. A more recent cave artist had added a beard to the deer alongside the initials PM.
"We don't know when it was done, but someone had discovered the first ever cave art in Britain and instead of publishing it, they vandalised it," say Bahn.
The team were convinced they had found their grail – the drawings were eroded and pocked with dirt. The style and content was typical of late stone-age drawings at least 13,000-years-old and should soon be verified by uranium series dating.
They returned in June with scaffolding and made new finds, including more figures – triangles representing female genitalia, more birds and more animals. The findings were published in the journal Antiquity and the cave was heralded as the most important British stone age find in decades, and yet the story was still not complete.
Earlier this year, in preparation for a major conference, the team returned to the caves and made a momentous discovery. Lit by the bright, early morning sun rather than flashlights, the ceiling turned out to be covered with engravings.
Their creators had used a technique called bas relief, where tools were used to rub away parts of the limestone. The images were often based on the rock's own topography.
"We had missed them the year before," said Bahn. "They were high up and we were not expecting to find anything on the ceiling. In archaeology you usually find what you are looking for.
"We also found you can see a lot more in natural light than in artificial light. We did see many things on the ceiling last year, but we'd assumed the bumps were natural erosion or fossils. There are very few decorated ceilings in cave art and only two bas relief in ceilings found before. You also do not know what direction they are supposed to be seen from."
Bahn and Ripoll believe they may have up to 90 separate images, including a stunning long-billed bird. Pettitt thinks it may be at least several dozen.
"To me, the more interesting ones are highly stylised depictions of naked females," he says. "We find these boomerang shapes which represented women bent-kneed, thrusting out their bottoms. I interpret at least two of those long-necked birds as women – possibly some ritual dance undertaken by females, and possibly in the cave itself."
Pettitt says there are similarities with other schematic women found in German prehistoric art which show buttocks and breasts more clearly. The Creswell nudes are a simpler form, but, like the German nudes, have no heads or legs below the knee.
Bahn is not convinced. "This is not an exact science. Paul sees resemblances with schematic women, but the rest of us do not agree. I think four are birds, but one may be a woman."
Caves play an important role in all societies – often as a spiritual place where the material world meets other worlds – a place for witches, hermits and demons. The animals are tucked away in inaccessible parts of the cave.
Pettitt says: "You get the feeling these are meant to be secret. The West has a very fixed concept of art as something that is decorative and that stands alone. But this isn't how it functions in small-scale societies, especially prehistoric ones. Art is far more embedded in society and tends to fulfil a number of roles – communicating messages about how society is organised, how individuals react with society and about cosmology."
The future of the caves is unclear. The public can visit them, but only a few times a year on guided tours.
Bahn added: "This is an extraordinary cave. We only have a tiny part available for us to examine – just 14 square metres of ceiling and more than 50 figures. There are more beautiful ones, but this is a rich and interesting cave of international significance."