Plotting Ireland's ancient buried bounty

September 23, 2004

By Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent


ONE of Ireland’s most noted archaeological landscapes has yielded new secrets to an innovative airborne survey. Using aerial lasers and computer imaging, an Anglo-Irish team has found an even richer concentration of sites than previously known.


The Loughcrew Neolithic cemetery, a complex of prominent stone-built mounds enclosing megalithic passage graves, lies on the hilltops of Slieve na Calliagh in western Co Meath, close to Ireland’s watershed between the Shannon and the Boyne. From the cemetery one can see the Wicklow Mountains on the eastern coast and the Mountains of Mourne in Ulster.


Below the hills is “a rich archaeological landscape with a stone circle, henge monument, standing stones and a possible cursus monument”, Colin Shell and Corinne Roughley report in Archaeology Ireland. All are features of the most important British prehistoric complexes such as that around Stonehenge, and emphasise that the Loughcrew region is a “hot spot” in ancient Ireland.


“Although the passage graves themselves, with their megalithic art, are well known and accurately documented, the surrounding landscape has only begun to be considered in detail in recent work,” says the report. This archaeological component of the project is being carried out by Elizabeth Shee Twohig, of University College, Cork, while Dr Shell’s Cambridge team are carrying out the aerial survey.


They are using the recently-developed technology of Lidar (light detecting and ranging), which uses airborne lasers pulsing at 33,000 times a second to scan the landscape and pick up details of relief. “The beam is scanned over the ground in a zigzag manner as the aircraft flies along an accurately planned set of paths,” says Dr Shell. “The flight speed and scan frequency determine the average distance between readings, in our case 60 cm. The red laser is eye-safe, with a spot diameter on the ground of about 25cm.”


Using a base station in Kells of known location and elevation, the team were able to calculate each of the 83 million observations within an area of 5 by 6 kilometres and to within a tolerance of 20cm on the Irish National Grid. The team also obtained conventional aerial photographs to a scale of 1:12,500, which could be used to provide a “digital terrain model”, in essence a computerised view of the landscape that can be viewed from any direction and using any combination of data.


On the broad sweep natural topography, the finer details of the cultural landscape stand out. “By digitally illuminating the surface with a low oblique light, features become clearly visible,” Dr Shell says. “Being able to illuminate the Lidar surface with a digital sun from any direction offers considerably greater flexibility than is available in the real world. We have the best means for revealing the often slight variations in the ground that mark past human activity.


“The Lidar not only provides information on the form and preservation of known sites, but can also reveal potential new sites and define ancient field boundaries underneath the modern ones.”


Some 160km, or 100 miles, of apparent cultural features have been documented, of which only 10 per cent are sites already listed. The new ones cannot be dated from the survey directly, although their form and interrelatedness may provide clues.


Especially dense concentrations of interesting sites have shown up in the lands around Ballinvally and Summerbank, where Dr Twohig has identified what may be a previously unknown henge monument, a banked enclosure of ritual function, and also additional burial mounds close to a known barrow at Drumlerry.


They can also construct “viewsheds”, indicating which parts of the ancient landscape were intervisible: such relationships have proved to be increasingly important in understanding how our ancestors saw their world, and have been utilised by archaeologists from northern Europe on the Maya lowlands of Central America.


The Loughcrew survey has shown serious erosion of the cultural landscape by agricultural improvement in the past forty years, although it has also revealed the survival of parts of sites thought destroyed.


Lidar can contribute to future management and planning as the historic landscape comes under further pressure from farming and housing development as Ireland prospers.


Full report in Archaeology Ireland Vol. 18, No. 2: 21-25.



Reward offered to solve riddle of ancient cliff tombs


Updated: 2004-09-25 01:19


Management of a famous Taoist mountain in east China's Jiangxi Province has offered to pay 400,000 yuan (US$48,000) to anyone who can give a convincing explanation of how tombs were built on its steep cliffs more than 2,600 years ago.


The cliff tombs, containing more than 200 ancient wooden coffins, are one of the three geological and cultural legacies of Longhu Mountain, or Tiger and Dragon Mountain, in Yingtan city of the central-eastern province. The other two wonders are its wide variety of landforms and rich Taoism culture.


An archeological worker in Jiangxi Province dug into 18 of the ancient tombs in the 1970s. He excavated 37 coffins and sacrificial projects dating back to the Eastern Zhou dynasty, at least 2,600 years ago.


No one has been able to determine how the tombs were built, though the management of Longhu Mountain tourist zone previously offered 300,000 yuan (some US$36,000) in 1997 to anyone who could give a plausible answer.


The move aroused public interest, and nearly 10,000 scholars, expeditioners and others came up with various hypotheses.


Some said the tombs had not been built there, but had gradually risen to higher altitude as a result of geological changes or the rise and fall of floods.


Others, however, said the ancient people had built the tombs in the mountains on purpose, with hopes that the burial ground of their ancestors would never be damaged. Some even boldly imagined that the ancient men had worked out a primitive form of scaffold for the construction.


Management of Longhu Mountain has decided to offer an even higher reward in order to draw more convincing explanations.


Longhu Mountain, some 16 km outside Yingtan, is a foothold of Taoism. It used to be the residence of Zhang Tianshi, who founded Zhengyi sect, a major division of Taoism.


The mountain was put under special protection by the Chinese government in 1983 and was listed as one of China's first 11 national geological parks in 2000.



Mummy Hair Reveals Drinking Habits

By Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News


Sept. 23, 2004 — Mummy hair has revealed the first direct evidence of alcohol consumption in ancient populations, according to new forensic research.


The study, still in its preliminary stage, examined hair samples from spontaneously mummified remains discovered in one of the most arid regions of the world, the Atacama Desert of northern Chile and southern Peru.


The research was presented at the 5th World Congress on Mummy Studies in Turin, Italy, this month.


"It is well known that immediately following ingestion, ethanol can be measured in any body fluid, as well as the expired air in our breath. Detecting exposure to alcohol days, months, or even years later is a more difficult task. You need to find direct, long term biomarks," Larry Cartmell, Clinical Laboratory Director at the Valley View Hospital in Aida, Okla., told Discovery News.


The researchers decided to look into mummy hair following previous success in demonstrating cocaine and nicotine traces in the hair of other Andean mummies.


Indeed, many drugs or their metabolic products circulate in the blood and are absorbed and incorporated permanently into the growing hair shaft. Due to their hydrophobic nature, fatty acid ethyl esters — metabolic products of ethyl alcohol — accumulate significantly in the hair and there they remain for the life of the hair.


"The purpose of our study was to determine if fatty acid ethyl esters are stable enough in measurable quantities to be found in mummy hair," Cartmell said.


The researchers tested seven hair samples, taken from five males and two females of various ages ranging from 15 to 50.


Belonging to the Maibas Chiribaya culture, the mummies were farmers who lived between 1000 and 1250.


Gas chromatography and mass spectrometry showed that three out of the seven tested samples had quantifiable levels of fatty acid ethyl esters in both male and female subjects.


"In modern human hair the levels would generally be in the ranges of social drinking, but we obviously don't know how much, if any, was lost in 1,000 years of burial. Basically, we can say that for the first time we have direct markers of alcohol use in ancient populations," Cartmell said.


According to Arthur Aufderheide, professor of pathology at University of Minnesota and author of "The Scientific Study of Mummies," the research has a interesting potential for further studies on mummies.


"We can't tell the nature of the drink, but we can tell that alcohol was consumed. The discovery of these alcohol markers will make it possible to find direct evidence of fermented drink consumption in other mummies. In the past we could only speculate about patterns of alcohol use and when alcohol was introduced in a widespread manner," Aufderheide told Discovery News.


Researchers are pretty sure, however, that the mummies of the Atacama Desert drank a cloudy beer called chica. The favored and most likely the only fermented beverage of that region, chica was generally made from maize and played an important role in the Andean culture.


"Missionaries working in post-contact Peru were appalled that during religious ceremonies the mummified bodies of Inca nobility were given cups of the corn beer to toast each other," Cartmell said.




Date : 23.09.04 


A Top north-east visitor attraction will recreate a Bronze Age funeral this weekend, cremating the body of a pig in a bizarre but significant Scottish Archaeology Month experiment.


Saturday will see staff at the Archaeolink prehistory park at Oyne teaming up with colleagues from the National Museums of Scotland to stage an inferno investigation. The 11am-5pm event will see the experts create an ancient cremation pyre, then set it ablaze to find the effect of heat on objects from clothing and jewellery to offerings.


"This is very much a scientific experiment," said centre manager Lynn Millar.


She said a pig carcase would take the place of an ancient costumed body so as to accurately replicate a Bronze Age pyre.


The pig had died of natural causes, she added, and had not been slaughtered for the sake of the experiment.


The Archaeolink investigation was inspired by the discovery at Findhorn in 1988 of the 3,800-year-old Bronze Age burial of a woman and baby. Archaeologists were intrigued to find the woman had been wearing a necklace of precious faience beads.


While some of the beads, made from a glass-like material, were thoroughly charred or destroyed, others survived undamaged despite the fierce, furnace-type temperatures.


Saturday's experiment will help establish how damage may be related to the positioning of items in a pyre. A replica faience necklace has been created at Oxford University to the original design, and will be placed around the shrouded pig put inside the pyre.


Archaeolink will be the setting, from noon to 4pm on Sunday, of a traditional Celtic music session, with any Celtic-music players from the area invited to either join the audience or join in the music-making.


Pro-hunt slogan damages hillside

Pro-fox hunting protesters who burnt a slogan into a hillside ahead of a vote in the Commons have been described as irresponsible by conservationists.

Supporters burnt the words "No Ban" into the grass near the Long Man of Wilmington in East Sussex.


The chalk grassland around the historic carving is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).


The Sussex Downs Conservation Board and English Nature expressed their concern at the damage caused to the site.


There are up to 50 different species of plant per square metre around the area of the Long Man of Wilmington, which is one of the largest carved figures in the world.


MPs voted to ban hunting with dogs on Wednesday amid mass demonstrations in Parliament Square and despite the House of Commons being interrupted by protesters.


But it is feared the hillside could take years to recover from the burnt slogan.

Chris Edwards, team manager for English Nature's Sussex and Surrey team, said: "Whilst we recognise some people's desire to campaign against the ban on hunting, it is a pity that those concerned with the maintenance of countryside pursuits don't show a similar concern for the maintenance of our national wildlife heritage.


"This irresponsible action is not going to build public support."

Story from BBC NEWS:


Published: 2004/09/16 11:01:03 GMT





Published on Friday, September 24th 2004



A MAJOR archaeological rescue dig revealing the largest stone bridge in Roman Britain is nearing its end.


Experts working on the summer excavation on the River Tyne, in Corbridge, have uncovered the most completely preserved construction of its type in the country.


The dig, carried out by archaeologists from Tyne and Wear Museums, revealed huge stone blocks, up to a ton in weight, and carved masonry, showing the scale and decoration of the bridge.


Backed by a £300,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and commissioned by English Heritage, the excavation has enabled locals to get involved and help in the project.


It was found that the course of the River Tyne has turned 45 degrees since the Roman period and it still poses a threat to the survival of the remains.


The team also discovered evidence of how a substantial portion of the masonry could be put back together, with stones in their original positions.


Detailed discussions are in progress to decide how a display could be created on the site, which would provide a rare opportunity to see the remains of a great work of classical architecture which has been invisible for centuries.


Keeper of archaeology at Tyne and Wear Museums, Margaret Snape, from Hexham, said: “The site will remain open throughout September, and through October, so the public can still come by and have a look.


“The digging is nearing its end, and we now have the results. The results have exceeded our expectations.


“It is really sensational, and the site looks absolutely wonderful.”


The bridge, which carried the main Roman road from London to Scotland, was built to proclaim the power of the Roman Empire and particularly the Imperial House.


A massive ramp, almost 12 metres wide, which would have carried the Roman Great North Road onto the bridge, was uncovered, as well as a 19 metre long retaining wall to protect the south-east side.


Fallen from the bridge superstructure is a huge decorated octagonal stone, thought to be the capital from a pillar or monumental feature which once marked the point where the road rose onto the bridge.


The evidence uncovered will allow the archaeologists to work out the original appearance of the bridge.


Keith Bartlett, Heritage Lottery Fund Regional Manager for the North East said: “HLF is dedicated to conserving our heritage and this project is leading the way in ensuring that our heritage is preserved to give everyone the opportunity to learn about, experience and enjoy it.


“It is also wonderful that this excavation has also allowed volunteers to get involved and experience the joy of discovering their heritage first hand.”



Castle dig reveals a medieval mystery


DIGGING up clues to the past has unearthed a medieval mystery in the latest excavation to take place within Bamburgh Castle.


For two weeks the Bamburgh Research Project has been excavating the medieval Chapel of St Peter and has turned up an intriguing find.

Along with the expected Anglo Saxon pottery pieces, the archaeologists also found a diagonal wall which strangely cut the 7th century chapel in two.

Phil Wood, a project director, said: "It has always been known from books that one end of the chapel is medieval and the rest was built up like a folly in the late 18th or early 19th century.


"So we presumed there would be medieval walls under some of the other walls but what we have found is a wall that chops the chapel in half.


"We think it's maybe because there was a smaller chapel here when the Normans were in Bamburgh. It's possible the chapel was extended in the medieval age."


The Chapel of St Peter is very similar in design to a chapel found and excavated at Nostell close to Doncaster.


Phil added:"We also did a survey of the site and found something that could have been a corpse, but it wasn't it was just a mass of stonework and rubbish."

Another intriguing find is a layer of black soil below the medieval level which is impossible to date due to a lack of pottery or any other item in it.

The first written reference to Bamburgh comes in the 6th century but artifacts found in the area reveal evidence of Iron Age settlements.

The research team first arrived at the castle in 1996 and has carried out extensive excavations since.


It is looking to expand on earlier excavation work done in the area by former Cambridge University lecturer Dr Brian Hope-Taylor.

The 14 strong team, reinforced by student helpers, has dug trenches next to Hope-Taylor's 1970s excavations and found further evidence of medieval buildings.


Any items dug up by the research team in the castle's grounds are to go on display at the fortress's museum opened last year.

Trenches dug in the west of the 2,000-year-old castle's grounds looking for medieval defences have uncovered a guard tower from a former castle gate.

The team's work has been aided by a £50,000 grant and it has also looked at sites in Bamburgh and unearthed an Anglo-Saxon graveyard in dunes.

Work is also under way outside the castle in the nearby early medieval burial ground at Bowl Hole.


Mr Wood said: "The results have been pretty good and encouraging and we hope to come back to this spot. We have found lots of pottery from medieval times right up to the Victorian and Georgian era.


"In one area there was loads of rubbish and piles of animal bones and it seems to be an area of workshops and butcher's yards.


"We have also done surveys in the village and think we have found an old leper's hospital which we hope to excavate in future years."

To find out more visit www.bamburghresearchproject.co.uk



Surrey may have been birthplace of Welsh hero

Sep 23 2004


WAS an East Surrey village the birthplace of the last "real" Prince of Wales?


That is the claim archaeologists are investigating in Tatsfield.


They think they might have found remnants of a medieval manor house where Owain Lowgoch is believed to have been born in 1330.


And they have discovered two shards of pottery which could date from that period.


The dig, at a secret site, took place earlier this month.


Owain is believed to be the last in the line of the Royal House of Gwynedd.


He was a famous Welsh rebel who fought the English in France.


According to Tatsfield historian Eileen Pearce, his grandfather Rhodri renounced his claim to the Welsh throne in 1272 after being imprisoned by the English.


Rhodri bought Tatsfield Manor in 1309 - the building the archaeologists are trying to find. It was demolished in 1801, records show.


Owain appears to have been born there but kept the fire of the Welsh cause alive in his heart.


By this time the English controlled large parts of Wales and installed their own Prince of Wales - the Black Prince, the son of Edward III.


Owain is thought to moved to France in about 1369 and became one of the most feared fighters of the 100 Years War between England and the French.


He challenged English control in parts of France and even planned cross-Channel invasions.


But in 1378 he was assassinated, stabbed in the back by a spy placed by the English.


He is regarded as a true Welsh hero, making the country's top 100 heroes list earlier this year.


Archaeologist Spencer Smith, from Welsh television production company Ffilmau-r Bont, identified the possible site using aerial photos and maps.


He said: "We were excavating a site in Tatsfield looking for a medieval manor house which we believe belonged to the Princes of Gwynedd.


"The dig went very well. But we've got to check it all out."


They need to find out if the evidence dates from the 14th century.


He said hopefully: "Pottery is always very handy as a dating tool."


It will take the next six months to analyse it fully, he said.


The location of the dig site is being kept under wraps. Previous excavation in the area unearthed a lion design pendant and a bronze dress fastener from the 14th century.


Ffilmau-r Bont's documentary on the Princes of Gwynedd will be screened on S4C, Wales's equivalent of Channel 4, in 2006. Those with digital television in should be able to see it, Mr Smith said.




Revealed by Isabel, mysterious shipwreck emerging piece by piece

23 September 2004

By JASON SKOG, The Associated Press


VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -- The big crane scooped out a soggy helping of muck from the bottom of Lynnhaven Inlet, then dumped it onto a barge. Nothing. Just sand.


Then another scoop. More sand.


It looked like a typical dredging operation Wednesday morning - an unremarkable start for an intriguing effort. The goal is to raise the remains of a mysterious shipwreck, perhaps 250 years old.


Slowly, the scoops started to change. A hunk of wood came up. Then a ballast stone. By Thursday morning, the gunky debris took up one-third of the 100-foot barge. The mystery was slowly revealing itself. Keith B. Lockwood scrambled over the piles, happily pulling out artifacts.


"Now we're looking down on top of it," he said, grinning after flipping over a 150-pound section of the keel. "That's pretty cool."


Lockwood is an environmental scientist with the Army Corps of Engineers, which is leading the recovery mission.


The operation is as much about creating a safe passage through Lynnhaven Inlet as it is about uncovering the past. Last year, Hurricane Isabel exposed the wreck, putting it in the path of passing boats. Once the wreck is removed, the corps will straighten the channel.


The shipwreck is on the western edge of Lynnhaven Inlet, roughly 2,300 feet north of the Lesner Bridge. The channel makes a sharp turn to avoid it, creating sandy shoals and a hazard for boats.


The abandoned wreck belongs to the commonwealth. The Virginia Department of Historic Resources agreed in May to let the corps remove it.


Crofton Construction Services of Portsmouth is doing the digging. Two barges work side by side to dredge an area, 100 feet by 100 feet, where most of the shipwreck remains.


Over the next few days, material will be hoisted to the barge's deck and the remains will be shipped to Craney Island in Portsmouth for cleaning and closer examination.


Because the wreck already is in small pieces, the operation is more concerned with recovery and discovery than preservation. It is basically a forensic exploration, akin to an episode of "CSI" on water.


David Whall is one of the lead detectives on the case. As a marine archaeologist with Tidewater Atlantic Research Inc. of Washington, N.C., he dived on the wreck last summer and helped map it.


On Thursday , he spotted pieces he remembered seeing on the inlet's floor. "It's easier to see the details when it's on the surface," he said. "But it's not together anymore, so it's a jigsaw puzzle."


The crane released another load.


"There's a section of the keel," Whall said. "So he's all the way to the bottom."


Whall hopped down with a roll of bright, orange plastic ribbon and tied it around a timber. Later, he grabbed a hunk of wood he had spotted 15 feet away and dragged one piece to the other.


"The puzzle sort of fits together," he said, lifting the smaller piece and dropping it into a notch in the larger one. "Like that."


If enough pieces fit together, the corps hopes to determine the name, age and origin of the vessel, how it was used and how it went down.


For now, they suspect the ship was either a sloop or schooner built in the late 1700s or early 1800s. It might have been a merchant ship, sailing goods along the coast, or a lightship that guided mariners. Perhaps it was a casualty of the War of 1812 - a Navy gunboat or an armed privateer licensed to raid British vessels.


Last summer, divers spotted parts of the hull and keel, a cast iron cannon shot, a shoe heel fastened with wooden pegs, a pewter spoon bowl, three wooden casks and parts of a lead bilge strainer.


On Thursday, four more lead bilge strainers were pulled up, along with a cannonball, bits of a wooden barrel and a bucket, a wheel to a pulley system, possibly used in sail rigging, and "bar shot" - two cannonballs linked by an iron bar designed to tear down enemy sails and lines.


None of it helped Whall learn anything for certain.


"We're getting a lot of info, and we may be able to narrow things down," he said. "It may open some other doors, too."


Strategic pieces of wood will be marked and sent to a lab. There, scientists might compare samples to known species of wood or put slices under a microscope.


Only part of the lower hull remains, and it rests in an area 35 feet long and 9 feet wide. The biggest pieces raised are less than 5 feet long.


Lockwood said he expects to be over the wreck site through Saturday, but that depends on what they find. "We'll keep going and going until we don't hit anything," he said.



Vatican's new Latin dictionary


The Vatican has produced a new dictionary of modern words in Latin, including translations for words like hot pants, punk and Lambrusco wine.


The book has been produced by the Latinitas Foundation and is intended to provide updated vocabulary for theologians writing in Latin about current issues.


Hotpants appears as brevissimae bracae femineae; punk as punkianae catervae assecla, and Lambrusco wine as acre vinum Aemilianum.


There's also an Italian emphasis on food and drink, with translations for pizza (placenta compressa), ciabatta bread (domestica crepida) and tortellino (pastillus tortilis).


The authors of the lexicon say they are promoting the use of Latin "for the entire world", says the Daily Telegraph.


Cletus Pavanetto, the president of the Latinitas Foundation said: "There are lots of words that Classical Latin could not possibly know the meaning of, like drugs or words relating to current affairs.


"We devise new words by going back to their origins and etymology so that people who use Latin can write about the modern world."


The Latinitas Foundation is an academic institution founded in 1976 by Pope Paul VI with the intention of preserving and evolving the Latin language.