Public release date: 19-Jan-2005
Contact: David Bricker
Anthropologists find 4.5 million-year-old hominid fossils in Ethiopia
Photo by: Sileshi Semaw
IU Bloomington paleoanthropologist Sileshi Semaw holds the fossil of a hominid mandible (lower jaw bone) believed to be about 4.5 million years old
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and seven other institutions have unearthed skeletal fossils of a human ancestor believed to have lived about 4.5 million years ago. The fossils, described in this week's Nature (Jan. 20), will help scientists piece together the mysterious transformation of primitive chimp-like hominids into more human forms.
The fossils were retrieved from the Gona Study Area in northern Ethiopia, only one of two sites to yield fossil remains of Ardipithecus ramidus.
"A few windows are now opening in Africa to glance into the fossil evidence on the earliest hominids," said IUB paleoanthropologist Sileshi Semaw, who led the research.
Semaw and colleagues also report new evidence that suggests the human ancestors lived in close quarters with a menagerie of antelope, rhinos, monkeys, giraffes and hippos in a northern Ethiopia that was far wetter than it is today. The environmental reconstructions suggest a mosaic of habitats, from woodlands to grasslands. Research is continuing at Gona to determine which habitats A. ramidus preferred.
"We now have more than 30 fossils from at least nine individuals dated between 4.3 and 4.5 million years old," said Semaw, Gona Palaeoanthropological Research Project director and Stone Age Institute research scientist. The Stone Age Institute, a new research center dedicated to the study of early human evolution and culture, is affiliated with Indiana University's CRAFT, the Center for Research into the Anthropological Foundations of Technology.
In their letter to Nature, Semaw and his coauthors describe parts of one upper and two lower jaw bones -- with teeth still intact -- several loose teeth, part of a toe bone and intact finger bones. The scientists believe the fossils belong to nine individuals of the species A. ramidus. The scientists used argon isotope dating of volcanic materials found in the vicinity of the fossils to estimate their age.
In the 11 years since the naming of A. ramidus by University of California Berkeley anthropologist Tim White and colleagues, only a handful of fossils from the species have been found, and only at two sites -- the Middle Awash and Gona, both in Ethiopia. Other fossils of slightly older age are known in Kenya and Chad. Anthropologists working in Ethiopia believe Ardipithecus is the first hominid genus -- that is, human ancestors who lived just after a split with the lineage that produced modern chimpanzees.
Despite the millions of years that separate us, modern humans have a few things in common with A. ramidus. Fossils from Gona and elsewhere suggest that the ancient hominid walked on two feet and had diamond-shaped upper canines, not the "v"-shaped ones chimps use to chomp. Outwardly, however, A. ramidus would appear a lot more chimpanzee-like than human.
Gona has turned out to be a productive dig site. In a Nature cover story (Jan. 23, 1997), Semaw and colleagues reported the oldest known stone tools used by ancestral humans. The Gona artifacts showed that as early as 2.5 million years ago, hominids were remarkably skilled toolmakers. Last month (December 2004), Semaw coauthored a paper in Geological Society of America Bulletin summarizing Gona's geological properties and the site's cornucopia of hominid fossils spanning several million years. (Science magazine gave the article an "Editor's Choice" nod.)
Scott Simpson (Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History), Jay Quade and Naomi Levin (University of Arizona, Tucson), Robert Butler (University of Oregon), Paul Renne (Berkeley Geochronology Center and University of California, Berkeley), William McIntosh (New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources and NM Institute of Tech. Socorro), Manuel Dominguez-Rodrigo (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) and Michael Rogers (Southern Connecticut State University) also contributed to the report. It was funded by grants from the Leakey Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Stone Age Institute.
The authors thank Ethiopia's Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage, the National Museum of Ethiopia, and the Ethiopian Ministry of Youth, Sports and Culture for providing permits for the ongoing work at the Gona dig site, and the Afar people for making the fieldwork a success.
Sileshi Semaw (Stone Age Institute) can be reached directly via 812-876-0080, ext. 210, or firstname.lastname@example.org, or through David Bricker (IU Media Relations), 812-856-9035 or email@example.com. B-roll of the fossils is available upon request.
"Early Pliocene Hominids from Gona, Ethiopia" Nature v. 433, no. 7023
Archaeologists now believe two groups of early humans fought for dominance in ancient Britain - and the axe-wielders won
Robin McKie, science editor
Sunday January 23, 2005
Divisions in British culture may be deeper than we thought. Scientists have discovered startling evidence that suggests different species of early humans may have fought to settle within our shores almost half a million years ago.
They have found that two different groups - one wielding hand-axes, the other using Stone Age Stanley knives to slash and kill - could have been rivals for control of ancient Britain.
'The evidence is only tantalising, but it is intriguing,' said palaeontologist Chris Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, London. 'Certainly it suggests Britain may well have been multicultural 400,000 years ago.'
This new interpretation of our prehistory is based on the recent discovery of a site - by archaeologists working with engineers building the Channel Tunnel high-speed rail link at Ebbsfleet in Kent - that shows ancient hunters once chased a giant elephant into a bog in Kent, trapped it there and then cut it to pieces, eating its flesh raw.
Four hundred thousand years ago, Britain's climate was warm, there was a land link to the continent and animal life included lions, rhinos, buffalos, and a species of elephant, Palaeoloxodon antiquus - the Ebbsfleet elephant - which stood four metres high at its shoulders and weighed twice its modern African equivalent.
'There are other sites where we have found elephant remains in this country,' said Southampton University archaeologist Dr Francis Wenban Smith, who led the Ebbsfleet excavations. 'However, this is the first that has been found with stone tools and that looks as if it was hunted and butchered.'
But it is the nature of the tools used for this butchery that has raised scientific eyebrows. At other ancient sites around Britain, archaeologists have found hand axes: beautifully honed, fist-sized tools that were probably held like daggers and used to rip and stab prey by a species of human called Homo heidelbergensis.
But none was found at Ebbsfleet. Instead, there were remains of dozens of much smaller stone implements, made up of razor-sharp flakes and blades. 'They were like Stanley knives,' said Wenban Smith. 'They could have slashed and torn to devastating effect.' Only one other major site in Britain, plus a couple of smaller ones, has revealed this distinctive assemblage of smaller stone tools: at Clacton, in Essex. Until recently, scientists were unsure of the importance of this 'Clactonian' culture. Now they have found a second, major site, a discovery that could have profound ramifications.
'This is extremely important,' said Prof Stringer, director of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, which is investigating how the British Isles were originally colonised. 'It certainly supports the idea that there was more than one ancient culture at this time.'
Cultural variation in a creature that relied on brute strength and little intelligence for survival is considered improbable by scientists, a point stressed by Michael Pitts, editor of British Archaeology. 'That hominids this ancient should express "cultural" variation would add a new perspective to the behaviour of creatures that many of us still think of as being nearer apes than humans,' he states in the current issue of the journal.
Instead, he argues that two completely different human species, each with its own culture, may have been slugging it out for conquest of our shores.
The trouble is that scientists are stymied by the paucity of remains of men and women from this period. They have lots of tools but only a shinbone, two teeth and some bits of skull from a human.
'At this time in Europe, Homo heidelbergensis was giving way or evolving into Neanderthals,' said Stringer. 'But there are hints gleaned from comparing bits of their bones and tools that we have found in Britain and the continent that there may be separate species of this creature: one that made hand-axes and one that did not. This is one of the big questions of human evolution studies today and a major focus for our work.'
As to who triumphed in Britain between the hand axe wielders and the Clactonians, scientists have established that the remains of the former are almost always found in more recent archaeological layers and appear to replace those of the Clactonians. In other words, the fate of the first Essex men was probably extinction.
The CT scan carried out last week on Tutankhamun's mummy has triggered a fierce debate among archaeologists. Nevine El-Aref investigates
When the Ministry of Culture and the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA) launched a five-year project to examine and study all Ancient Egyptian mummies by means of CT scanning in order to ascertain how they can be best conserved, the idea was applauded.
Eleven mummies in the Egyptian Museum were scanned. However, when it came to the turn of the Pharaoh Tutankhamun, some archaeologists and scientists were none too happy. While the project's supporters saw it as a revolutionary endeavour to resolve the mystery surrounding the early death of Tutankhamun, its opponents suggested it was more of a media circus than pure science. A media campaign launched to question the usefulness of the procedure and its results accused the Egyptian mission who carried out the CT scan of being unprofessional, ambiguous, reckless and impatient to implement its attempt.
What triggered the controversy was the sudden withdrawal -- a week before Tutankhamun's scanning -- of orthopaedist professor Saleh Bedeir, who was leading the scientific team, and his statement regarding Tutankhamun's computed tomography.
"What has been done by the Luxor Night Campaign [the scientific mission] is another zero to add to the group of zeros we have obtained already," Bedeir told Al- Ahram Weekly in a telephone interview.
He accused the team of being unethical in implementing their forensic examination, as well as disregarding the use of scientific procedures while removing the fragile mummy from its golden sarcophagus. This, he said, put the mummy under real threat of contamination, decomposition and deterioration. Bedeir told the Weekly that, despite his full support for using an advanced machine to delve inside a mummy and uncover its secrets, the project had lost its way and its credibility.
"Instead of being a very important scientific event it only serves media addicts," he commented. He pointed out that what had been done was completely different from the plan he had submitted for approval to the SCA Permanent Committee (SCAPC). He said the original plan was to start with unidentified and non-royal mummies in order to gain experience before going on to the royals, ending with Tutankhamun. "But, after scanning the 11 mummies, all the attention suddenly turned to Tutankhamun's mummy without any previous intention. Why the rush?" Bedeir asked.
Despite his personal respect for the radiologists chosen to accompany the team, and for their medical experience, Bedeir said they knew nothing when it came to reading the images of mummies. By contrast with their lack of training, he himself had spent five years studying Ancient Egyptian history and learning about mummies.
"It is unfortunate that all the problems that have arisen are in direct relation to the administrative measures taken, and not to the scientific work itself," says Mohamed Abdel- Maqsoud, head of antiquities of Lower Egypt and also a member of the SCAPC. Abdel- Maqsoud said Bedeir was the SCAPC member who submitted the plan for Tutankhamun's mummy and convinced the other members so as to gain their approval. He was also the one who suggested transferring the mummy from its tomb in Luxor's Valley of the Kings to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for the scan. However, because of the mummy's fragility, Abdel-Maqsoud says, the SCAPC decided that the studies would be carried out in situ in his tomb.
"How could Bedeir evaluate the work without seeing the process and before the results were announced?" he said. "Why oppose the use of advanced technology in archaeology?"
Abdel-Maqsoud points out that 50 years ago archaeological surveys were only carried out by digging, but now an area can be explored by radar so the location of a buried object can be determined without digging the whole site.
At the same time, according to official papers obtained by the Weekly and this newspaper's interview with Bedeir, the medical team Bedeir describes as "ignorant" includes the three radiologists he himself chose to help read the scans.
Bedeir has also said Hani Abdel- Rahman, the Siemens representative in the operation of the CT scanner, is not qualified. "He is a veterinarian and a pharmacologist in the National Research Centre," Bedeir is reported to have said.
This statement is contradicted by a photograph obtained by the Weekly showing Bedeir, along with SCA Secretary- General Zahi Hawass, listening to Abdel- Rahman's instructions while they examined a mummy of a young child in the Egyptian Museum.
So, why launch a campaign against these doctors now?
Abdel-Halim Nureddin, dean of the Fayoum branch of the Faculty of Archaeology at Cairo University, says there was no transparency over the proposals. "Before implementing the scan a member of Luxor team might have informed other archaeologists about the process and whether the mummy would be safe under scanning," Nureddin says. He blamed the team for not sterilising the tomb before opening the golden sarcophagus, especially as it was opened after a long visiting day. "Safety precautions regarding unexpected natural phenomena were not taken into consideration," he says, adding that the absence of a mummy specialist was "a disaster". He said a long plastic tube could have been connected the sarcophagus to the CT scanner so the mummy need not have been exposed to the air. He also called on the SCAPC to issue a release explaining the whole project.
Meanwhile Gaballa Ali Gaballa, former SCA secretary-general, agreed with the use of advanced technology to expose the Pharaohs' secrets. However he doubted that all the information would be disclosed, and asked: Did the project gain the approval of the SCAPC? What exactly was the role of the National Geographic Media Company in the project? Did it offer the CT scanner for scientific purposes, or was there a deal to photograph every step of the examination, especially Tutankhamun? Who would control the distribution of the resulting information? Why was the Egyptian media excluded from witnessing the event, but not the foreign press? What did National Geographic pay for exclusivity? "All these questions must be answered," Gaballa told the Weekly.
During Gaballa's tenure a DNA analysis was attempted on Tutankhamun's mummy in collaboration with Waseda University, but due to security measures the whole project was cancelled an hour before implementation. A similar thing happened during the Nureddin tenure, but this time on other royal mummies.
Mohamed Saleh, former director of the Egyptian Museum, said that when he was in office in the 1990s samples from 10 royal mummies at the Egyptian Museum were taken by foreign missions for DNA analysis, but until now no results had been submitted. Saleh said the cause of the controversy was that Tutankhamun was involved, since his early death and rich treasure had led to much speculation. Almost seven years ago two former officers from Scotland Yard claimed that they had investigated the history books and knew who killed Tutankhamun.
Saleh, a member of the international- Egyptian team which examined Tutankhamun's mummy in 1968, said it was in very poor condition although the head, which was cut off at the neck, was well preserved and showed all the facial features. The mummy was damaged by Carter himself when he removed the famous gilded mask. He used sharp tools to extract the skull from the mask, separated the pelvis from the trunk and detached the arms and legs, as well as doing assorted damage to the body. Carter also probed with hot knives and iron bars into Tutankhamun's body to remove the amulets that decorated it. To make it appear intact, Carter and his team reconstructed the dismembered body in a sand tray, arranging it carefully and even rejoining the hands and feet to the limbs with resin. "The fingers were scattered all over the box and the 1968 team spent hours and hours trying to solve the enigma and return each finger to its original position," Saleh said. "What has happened is only scientific research and does not have any ideological base."
Meanwhile Ahmed Abdel-Fatah, a national archaeological expert and a member of the SCAPC, claims the anti-scan campaign is directed against Hawass. He told the Weekly that, despite Carter's aggression with the mummy, no one blamed him for his actions. When the mummy was examined in 1968 it was found that Carter had put the mummy in a wooden box previously used as a sugar container, but none of the respected archaeologists commented. When Zahi Eskandar held Tutankhamun's head in both hands for a media photocell during the examination, no one launched a campaign against him. In the 1968 and 1978 examinations, no safety precautions were taken into consideration and the tomb was not previously sterilised, so where were the people concerned about the mummy's safety then?
Asked to answer accusations launched against the project, Hawass said Tutankhamun's scan was carried out by a professional team of archeologists, restorers and scientists who followed the plan that had the approval of the SCAPC. As for National Geographic, he said it provided the CT scanner -- which cost $1 million -- in collaboration with Siemens. It had offered another $500,000 to maintain the device.
"There is no exclusivity for National Geographic," Hawass insisted. He told the Weekly that at first National Geographic had asked for exclusivity but this was denied. In proof of this, Hawass said, it was Egyptian Television which first broadcast the event.
Hawass said the SCA was the only authority with the upper hand in the project, and owned the intellectual possession of any images taken, as well as information, studies, results and documentary films to be made in the future for screening in Egyptian museums.
"We have a full detailed contract with the National Geographic that has the approval of the SCA administrative Council," Hawass said. He pointed out that the absence of the Egyptian media was intentional because the number of journalists inside the tomb would have caused contamination.
"To protect the mummy the press was excluded and my press office fed them with all the information and photographs they needed for their articles," he said.
Now the medical team is examining and studying the 1,700 images taken.
"I will never put Tutankhamun's mummy under threat," Hawass said. "Before being the SCA secretary- general, I am an Egyptian archeologist who is keen on my country's heritage and I will never put it in any controversial situation. If the scan had one per cent effect on the mummy I would cancel the whole project because these are the remains of our ancestors who created our magnificent ancient civilisation."
Tokyo - A Japanese research team found "a perfect mummy" in an unrobbed Egyptian tomb believed to be more than 3 500 years old, the team's leader said.
The mummy was in a sealed wooden coffin unearthed in the archeological site of Dahshur North in northern Egypt, said Sakuji Yoshimura, who headed the team from Tokyo's Waseda University.
The mummified man was believed to be from a period 3 500-4 000 years ago, older than the era of Tutankhamen, the pharaoh of ancient Egypt who ruled in 1336-1327 BC, Yoshimura said, citing characteristics of the coffin.
The mummy, wearing a mask painted blue and red that still retained vivid shades, was of high academic value as it was "a perfect mummy that has escaped robbery and other damage", he said on his website late on Friday.
The coffin was painted yellow and inscribed with hieroglyphics in light blue, he said, adding the hieroglyphics showed the mummified man was an administrative officer. - Sapa-AFP
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
Jan. 18, 2005 Ancient Egyptian mummy wrappings hide a number of frauds and flaws, which a high-tech, digital X-ray machine recently exposed among the collections at Chicago's Field Museum.
The machine saw through a mummified cat dated to approximately 500 B.C. that contained only twigs and cotton. It also revealed mummification tools that someone accidentally left inside a real mummy, and it solved a 15,000-year-old mystery surrounding what is believed to be the world's oldest known mummy.
The findings support the theory that the ancients were just as prone to mischief and mistakes as we are today. Experts believe the Mikron Digital Imaging portable X-ray machine, along with a Radpro X-ray tube, may one day become standard devices for research use at museums, universities and remote excavation sites.
Curators and scientists alike were surprised when the machine showed that the cat mummy did not contain any feline remains.
"The person who bought it probably used it as an offering to the goddess Bestat, who possessed the head of a cat," said William Pestle, anthropology collections manager at the Chicago natural history museum.
He explained that mummy standards began to "fall off" around the 25th and 26th dynasties, which existed from 8-7 B.C.
"During these later dates, commoners started to manufacture coffins in huge numbers," Pestle told Discovery News. "Sometimes mummies would not fit into the coffins, so makers would have to break the bones or chip off parts of the coffin."
When Pestle and his colleagues X-rayed a legitimate antelope mummy, they found metal inclusions that were used to give the mummy more heft and stability, along with tools that had been left over from the mummification process.
"The tools look like a cross between a suture needle and a fish hook," Pestle said. He sent images of the objects to a lab at Henry Ford Hospital for further clarification and study.
Perhaps the greatest mystery being unraveled concerns "Mag Girl," a 13,000- to 15,000- year-old mummy excavated in the Dordogne Valley of southwestern France. Mag, short for Magdalenian, was all the rage in 1924 when she went on display at the Field. It was the museum's greatest single day of attendance.
Newspapers at the time spun a story that Mag died as a beautiful, young woman who was killed by a jealous lover with an arrowhead. The rumor was fueled by the as-of-yet unproved possibility that an ivory point was found near her remains in the French rock shelter of Cap Blanc.
"She actually might be the Magdalenian Crone," Pestle said.
The X-rays suggest Mag died in her 30s or 40s, which would have been a fairly long human lifespan for the time. Her molars are impacted, which earlier archaeologists said was evidence of her youth, but it now is thought likely that she suffered from a wisdom tooth problem all of her adult life.
Eventually, scientists hope to extract one of her teeth to learn how old Mag really was when she died.
Kathy Forgey, a University of Illinois at Chicago radiographer and anthropologist, orchestrated the X-ray project.
Forgey often travels to remote archaeological sites in Peru, and hoped to bring the portable device with her. She and colleague Dawn Sturk then decided to try the less than 100-pound machine, formerly used by the armed forces, at the Field Museum.
"It was amazing," Forgey told Discovery News. "Curators kept coming up to us saying, 'I've got something that I would like for you to X-ray.' The process poses minimal damage to objects, and it can pursue many anthropological questions."
Forgey, like Pestle, was surprised by the amount of modification they found in some mummies.
"Often objects that are touted as being authentic wind up having numerous modifications that either occurred when the item was created or later, as it exchanged hands," she said.
Forgey and her colleagues hope a benefactor will allow for the purchase of a Mikron digital X-ray machine, which could be housed at a university or museum for archaeologists to borrow and use.
Press Release Source: AMSTAR
New Chemical Testing Points to Ancient Origin for Burial Shroud of Jesus
Los Alamos Scientist Proves 1988 Carbon-14 Dating of the Shroud of Turin Used Invalid Rewoven Sample
Wednesday January 19, 8:32 am ET
DALLAS, Jan. 19 /PRNewswire/ -- The American Shroud of Turin Association for Research (AMSTAR), a scientific organization dedicated to research on the enigmatic Shroud of Turin, thought by many to be the burial cloth of the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, announced today that the 1988 Carbon-14 test was not done on the original burial cloth, but rather on a rewoven shroud patch creating an erroneous date for the actual age of the Shroud.
The Shroud of Turin is a large piece of linen cloth that shows the faint full-body image of a blood-covered man on its surface. Because many believe it to be the burial cloth of Jesus, researchers have tried to determine its origin though numerous modern scientific methods, including Carbon-14 tests done at three radiocarbon labs which set the age of the artifact at between AD 1260 and 1390.
"Now conclusive evidence, gathered over the past two years, proves that the sample used to date the Shroud was actually taken from an expertly-done rewoven patch," says AMSTAR President, Tom D'Muhala. "Chemical testing indicates that the linen Shroud is actually very old -- much older than the published 1988 radiocarbon date."
"As unlikely as it seems, the sample used to test the age of the Shroud of Turin in 1988 was taken from a rewoven area of the Shroud," reports chemist Raymond Rogers, a fellow of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. Rogers' new findings are published in the current issue of Thermochimica Acta, a chemistry peer reviewed scientific journal.
"Pyrolysis-mass-spectrometry results from the sample area coupled with microscopic and microchemical observations prove that the radiocarbon sample was not part of the original cloth of the Shroud of Turin which is currently housed at The Turin Cathedral in Italy," says Rogers.
"The radiocarbon sample has completely different chemical properties than the main part of the shroud relic," explains Rogers. "The sample tested was dyed using technology that began to appear in Italy about the time the Crusaders' last bastion fell to the Mameluke Turks in AD 1291. The radiocarbon sample cannot be older than about AD 1290, agreeing with the age determined in 1988. However, the Shroud itself is actually much older."
Rogers' new research clearly disproves the 1988 findings announced by British Museum spokesperson, Mike Tite, when he declared that the Shroud was of medieval origin and probably "a hoax." The British Museum coordinated the 1988 radiocarbon tests and acted as the official clearing house for all findings.
Almost immediately, Shroud analysts questioned the validity of the sample used for radiocarbon dating. Researchers using high-resolution photographs of the Shroud found indications of an "invisible" reweave in the area used for testing. However, belief tilted strongly toward the more "scientific" method of radiocarbon dating. Rogers' recent analysis of an authentic sample taken from the radiocarbon sample proves that the researchers were right to question the 1988 results.
As a result of his own research and chemical tests, Rogers concluded that the radiocarbon sample was cut from a medieval patch, and is totally different in composition from the main part of the Shroud of Turin.
Contact: Michael Minor (972) 932-5141
This release was issued through eReleases(TM). For more information, visit http://www.ereleases.com.
Wooden and stone artefacts dating back up to 3,000 years found at a flood prevention site in Lincs have been described as "absolutely amazing".
Archaeologists at the site near Lincoln have unearthed an extremely rare wooden bowl and a stone tablet.
About 20 people have been digging at the site since November and have uncovered more than 10,000 items.
The site is located on a major flood bank strengthening scheme on the River Witham near Washingborough.
We have uncovered a wooden bowl that is as thin as glass and beautifully made
Mark Allen, Preconstruct Archaeology
Environment Agency consultant Peter Senior said: "The level of preservation of timber is absolutely amazing.
"We are led to believe that this is a site of European importance."
Mark Allen from Preconstruct Archaeology said the items probably date from 800 to 1,000 BC.
"We have uncovered a wooden bowl that is as thin as glass and beautifully made.
"We also found a small stone tablet with circles that is mould for smelting metal.
"The tin or gold would be used to make rivets for decorative purposes - possibly on knife handles.
"We have known about the site since the 1970s - when the pumping station was built.
"Workmen called in the museum when they found bones and the researchers found late Bronze Age to early Iron Age pottery."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/19 12:56:20 GMT
© BBC MMV
Workmen at the Bord na Mona works in Mountdillon made a chilling discovery early yesterday morning when they uncovered what is now known to be parts of a human skeleton in the body of a machine.
The machine in question, one of the Bord’s massive harvesters, was brought in for a routine service and the grim discovery was made as a team of fitters were about to begin their work. Some of those working on the machine included local men Mark Crehan, Patsy Cox and Dermot Gallagher.
Works manager, and former Roscommon GAA star, Danny Murray, immediately notified local Gardai and in turn a team of archaeologists were rushed down from Dublin.
A quick examination of the remains confirmed that they were human but at this stage the archaeologists could give no indication as to how long the body may have been in the bog of whether or not it died from natural causes.
Two archaeologists took the remains back to Dublin yesterday morning with them and they will carry out an extensive examination of the remains over the coming days. At this stage there is still no indication as to whether the remains are male or female. It is also understood that the State Pathologist, Dr Marie Cassidy will be brought in to examine the remains.
According to Danny Murray of Bord na Mona, the harvester machine was last working at Derrycashel close to the Mountdillon workshop on the Longford Rd. It is more than probable that the remains have been in the body of the harvester since the semi-state company ended seasonal harvesting work towards the end of last year.
It is not unusual for workmen to uncover skeletal remains in a bog but this is certainly the first in recent memory to be found in Co Longford. Bogs can be treacherous places and it is thought likely that bodies found in the peat were those of ancient travellers who slipped into bog pools and were trapped. Some ancient bodies discovered were supposedly clutching heather or sticks as if attempting to haul themselves out.
Coincidentally it is now ten years since the opening of the Corlea Interpretative Centre in Kenagh and that was the result of another chance discovery by Bord na Mona workers.
The trackway was discovered by workmen close to Kenagh village and dates to the Iron Age at 148BC. It was composed of oak planks, measuring 2.5m each, which rested on parallel pairs of long runners at right angles to the direction of the track way. In places the oak planks were secured by sharpened pegs of birch driven through mortices at their ends. The track way extended for a distance of almost 1km across the bog.
The Associated Press
An archaeological diver from Mobile said he thinks it's possible that a piece of a British warship that was sunk during the War of 1812 has been hiding in plain sight for seven years, standing on display in a historic fort's parking lot on this Alabama barrier island.
Presently, a plaque tells visitors that the hunk of hardwood and corroded iron is the keel of an unknown ship "built in the 1800s or earlier."
Glen Forest, a marine archaeologist who did dive work during the excavation of the USS Monitor, is now working on dry land, trying to conclusively identify the 30-foot ship fragment that has been sitting in the center of Fort Gaines' parking lot since Hurricane Georges heaved it from the sea floor and onto an island house in 1998.
"At the very least, we need to get this thing out of the sun and the rain, and we need to get all the bugs and termites out of it," said Forest, 45, pacing around the fragment's pocked and pitted length. "Of course, nobody will put any money into it until it's been identified. I'm trying to do that."
Forest's theory is that the massive flotsam is actually the top, left, rear side of the British warship HMS Hermes, a sloop-of-war carrying about 20 guns. The vessel was set on fire and exploded during the first of two British attacks on Fort Bowyer in Baldwin County during the War of 1812. This century, archaeologists have launched periodic searches for the vessel's remains and found nothing.
Forest said the fragment was erroneously identified as a ship's keel, the "backbone" that runs along the center of the bottom of a ship's hull.
"It was lying on its side, and from that angle, it looked like a keel. But stand it up on its side, and you can see the futtocks on one side," Forest said. Futtocks are the "ribs" that run from the keel of a ship, upward to the deck. Those, by themselves, clearly show that the fragment is the side of a ship, not its keel, he said.
Mike Henderson, director of the Dauphin Island Park and Beach Board, which runs Fort Gaines, said his organization took possession of the huge hunk when Federal Emergency Management Agency cleanup crews threatened to throw it away as storm debris after Hurricane Georges.
"It was in the middle of the wreckage of a house, and they just wanted to toss it, but they knew it must be something historical. We said we'd pay to transport it down to the fort," Henderson said.
He asked the Alabama Historical Commission to have an expert identify the fragment.
Sid Shell, a retired Mobile lawyer who at the time was a member of the Historical Commission's maritime advisory board, said he was one of several commission representatives who looked at the ship fragment.
"I can't look at it and say, 'That's part of the upper stern of the Hermes.' There is nothing that would indicate that to me. I and a number of people looked at it, and we didn't see anything that would indicate whether it was the side walls or the bottom of a vessel or even part of a dry dock," Shell said.
Henderson said he never received an official report from the Historical Commission about the fragment. A group of academics from the University of South Alabama and the University of West Florida visited, and one of them said it looked to him like the keel of a ship, he said.
"It was still lying on its side at the time I think, but nobody knew that," Henderson said. "I took what he said and wrote what appears on the sign now."
Forest, who makes his living as a diving instructor for the International Association of Nitrox and Technical Divers based in Miami Shores, Fla., said he was giving instructions in this area in May when he saw the fragment for the first time on Dauphin Island.
"I knew the moment I saw it that it was important," Forest said. He quickly found that no one had done an in-depth study to determine what ship it came from, he said.
He then set about analyzing the wreck, seeking to fit it into the complex puzzle of maritime history in Mobile Bay, where 500 years have left hundreds of wrecks in the sand, waiting to be unearthed and tossed onto land.
He determined that it must be the rear left portion of the left side of the hull of a warship - the part that would support the rear left edge of the deck. Above the place where the decking would have laid, a wall would have risen with square gun ports cut into it. It was the height and thickness of its "spirketing" - the railroad tie-like strip of wood that would have been the base of a wall, into which the gun ports would have been cut - that made him think it must be a warship, he said.
"It's better than a foot thick. You wouldn't see that on a commercial vessel," Forest said. He also points to the fact that the ship apparently didn't have traditional wooden "knees" - supports directly under the deck. The Hermes would have had iron knees that supported the deck at an angle from deep in the hold of the vessel.
Forest said he also thinks the fragment's 30-foot length is significant. The Hermes was 100 feet long, and vessel components at the time were often built in lengths equal to one third of the length of the whole vessel, he said.
The wooden tree nails that hold much of the chunk together appear to be red oak or some similar wood, Forest said. That squares with the fact that, after 1820, British ship builders started using white oak and other lighter-colored woods because they were easier to use, he said. He plans to take samples of the wood and have it tested by the National Park Service, he said.
He said he'll also take samples in order to identify the rest of the wood in the fragment.
Museum of Mobile director George Ewert said it's unlikely that such a large piece of the Hermes would travel the seven or so miles from its resting place, presumably about 1,000 yards south of present-day Fort Morgan, to the place it finally landed on the western portion of Dauphin Island.
Jack Friend, a Mobile naval historian, agreed.
"Now, I don't doubt that someone with the right expertise needs to identify that thing, and I hope Glen is successful," Friend said. "But throwing around the name 'Hermes' this early in the game is really sticking your neck out."
Friend was the impetus behind an unsuccessful University of West Florida search for the HMS Hermes in 2000. The project was funded by an $8,250 grant from the Alabama Historical Commission.
Scott Douglass, a professor of civil engineering at the University of South Alabama who specializes in beaches and wave action, said it's possible Georges dislodged a piece of such a faraway ship and deposited it on Dauphin Island.
"There were some weird things on that beach after Georges - giant shells I've never seen diving. A coal barge sank, and the coal washed up. Lots of things that wouldn't float well were on the beach," Douglass said.
Posted Thu, 20 Jan 2005
Excited archaeologists are sifting through the contents of 150-year-old New Zealand toilets to get a better understanding of the everyday lives of early settlers.
Although there is plenty of oral and written history, there are gaps which can only be answered by lifting the lid on the sanitary habits of pioneering families, they say.
About 30 of New Zealand's leading archaeologists arrived in Wellington on Thursday to start a five-week project to collect and document information from historic sites along an inner-city bypass route.
The old toilets, locally referred to as long-drops or dunnies, "are a really good source of material", senior archaeologist, Rick McGovern-Wilson, said at the site where the Tonks family lived in the mid-1800s.
"You would be surprised what people used to throw down their dunnies."
The Tonks family, who ran a brickworks and set up steam mills and a shipping company in the area, had lived alongside their workers and archaeologists expect to find evidence of the different social standing of the residents.
"Bones will tell us that. You would expect the Tonks' probably ate roast mutton (leg bone) while rib bones would show their workers were eating mutton flaps," McGovern-Wilson said.