Walker discovers 5,000-year-old log path on moor
Find to shed new light on Neolithic man
FOR 5,000 years one of the world's oldest ever footpaths has remained a hidden secret, locked deep beneath the earth in South Yorkshire.
That was until walker Mick Oliver quite literally stumbled across it while one day traipsing across Hatfield Moor, near Doncaster, shortly after it was re-opened to walkers in October last year.
"I looked down and I could see a straight line. I thought, that's unusual, maybe it's a bog oak – a fossilised tree – so I'll go and have a look," said the retired town and country planning officer.
"But when I got there I could see seven parallel poles of pine lined up on the floor. This was most unusual. I knew what I was looking at was old.
"I could see axe marks on the wood and evidence that they had been tapered. Given their position in the peat, I pretty soon concluded they were old, possibly even Bronze Age.
"I looked to see how deep they were buried and worked out they may be some 2,500 years old. I never realised just how old they were until later."
But still not convinced about what he was seeing, Mr Oliver, 65, of Wadworth, Doncaster, sat down beside the logs and began eating his packed lunch.
He said: "I kept thinking, what if I am wrong? I am going to look very foolish here.
"But after my sandwiches I thought, stuff it. This discovery is too important, so I went to Doncaster Museum to report my find."
Without realising it, he had discovered one of the oldest tracks of its kind ever seen in the world.
It dates back to the Neolithic period and only two other pathways on the continent are thought to date back earlier – one in Holland and the other in Germany.
And now its very discovery could shed new light on the history of Neolithic man as the pathway yields more and more clues day by day to the dozens of archaeologists now poring over its every detail.
"I just can't believe I was the one to discover it," said Mr Oliver, who works closely with conservationists on the moors.
"It is such a fantastic find and one I shall never forget."
Archaeologists think it may have been built in a forlorn attempt to stave off the effects of climate change 5,000 years ago.
Analysis of the soil and pollen samples suggest the roadway was constructed because the ground was becoming increasingly waterlogged.
This could have been due to the onset of warmer and wetter weather, as until then the landscape had been characterised by woodland and heath, but raising water levels killed the trees and the mire began to form.
But once it was enveloped by the bog, there is no evidence showing repairs or modifications, suggesting it was simply abandoned.
Radiocarbon dating suggests it was probably built before Stonehenge, at some point between 2,900 and 2,500BC, and the search has begun to find where the trackway leads.
The pine track stretches over 50m (164ft) of so-called "corduroy track", where logs are laid together to form a roadway. At its widest, it is 4m (13ft) across.
But even more significantly is the discovery of a platform at the end of the track.
Archaeologist Dr Henry Chapman, site manager, said: "This is utterly amazing and the only one of its kind in the world.
"A find like this could rewrite the history of Neolithic man as we know it. This platform could have been used for a number of reasons. We believe it is too big for a vantage point for hunting, but it could be religiously significant – as a place for offerings to the gods. Or, even more symbolically, it could have been a place where the dead were laid out."
Once the excavation is complete, the trackway will be backfilled with earth again, as this is the best way to preserve the timbers.
06 October 2005
A 6,000-year Dales story of ritual and cannibalism...
Bone finds in Yorkshire caves finally throw light on stone age life after breakthrough in radio-carbon dating
THEY roamed the earth almost 6,000 years ago, performing rituals on animal remains and devouring human body parts.
But these are not the strange creatures of film or fiction – they were farmers in the Yorkshire Dales.
New research on bones discovered in six Dales caves has revealed that farming in the area dates back thousands of years – and with it a history of cannibalism.
Dated bones found in caves at the western edge of the limestone uplands have been taken as evidence of rituals that involved adult skulls and other body parts along with animal bones.
The macabre finds included human bones which have been smashed up and the marrow removed, leading specialists to conclude they had been at the centre of a cannibalistic ritual. Dales farmer Tom Lord, who has been researching the caves, described the dating results as "a major breakthrough".
Excavations took place in the caves during the 1920s and 30s. Material from the finds was collected by Mr Lord's grandfather and has finally been the subject of precise radio-carbon dating by Oxford University.
Mr Lord said: "No longer can we think of upland areas such as the Yorkshire Dales as remote and backward. The radio-carbon dating evidence indicates the presence of farming communities much earlier than previously thought, as early as anywhere in Britain.
"What is so exciting is that the dated bones were found in caves where there is clear evidence for the special treatment of human remains.The caves would not have been easy to find in the wooded landscape of that time, and are also small and generally unsuitable for normal occupation."
At least four human skulls were found in a small cave in Giggleswick Scar during excavations around 1930. One surviving skull was directly radio-carbon dated and shown to date from about 3,600 BC.
Now experts are trying to work out why early farming communities sought out the caves and used them for ritualistic activities.
An archaeologist and human bone specialist from King Alfred's College, Winchester, Stephany Leach, said there was evidence of adult human skulls being deliberately deposited in two caves.
"By contrast, a skull was amongst the missing body parts of a man placed in a natural recess in the wall of the third cave," she said.
"His jumbled up remains were mixed together with fragmentary animal bones, including domestic cattle, domestic pig and sheep.
"Many of the animal bones had been smashed for marrow extraction, suggesting rituals took place at the cave. The man's tibia was also deliberately smashed for marrow extraction, suggesting at least part of his body had been eaten."
Some of the prehistoric artefacts which have been found, especially pieces of pottery, are datable on stylistic grounds, and are all from a much later period, often dating between about 3,000BC and 2,000BC.
Although the find has turned up some answers, there are also many questions to puzzle over.
Mr Lord, of Winskill Farm, Langcliffe, said: "There is still a great deal to learn about what attracted prehistoric people caves.
"Hopefully, soon we might have more complete answers to why and when the caves were used, and just as interesting, why and when they might have been avoided.
"I have been trying to get research done on these items for 30 years and these dating results are just the beginning of trying to find out what it all means."
08 October 2005
Neolithic agricultural community’s daily life shown in amazing detail in dig at ancient site
Well-preserved settlement in Kastoria, northern Greece, dating 7,500 years ago illuminates the characteristics of rural life of the times
Remains of buildings (trenches for foundations, poles, wall coating, floorings) in the western section of the excavation.
By Iota Sykka - Kathimerini
The finds at Avgi in Kastoria are far from common. At a site of 3.5 hectares near the Aghia Triada municipality, a 7,500-year-old rural community has been unearthed. Rare miniature vessels the size of a ring, nine fine impressive stamps, 20 human and animal-shaped idols, two bone flutes, ornaments made from shell, amber and malachite, stone tools, bones and horns as well as extremely well-preserved and technically advanced construction remains are just some of the finds discovered. The undreds of finds together constitute a historical archive of a little-known prehistoric period in Greece and the Balkans — the Neolithic period (7000-4000 BC). The site provides important information about the social relationships developed at that time, how settlements were structured, farming and grazing areas, and the new ideological strategies for survival and reproduction that evolved.
Archaeologists, geologists, sediment experts, mineralogists and architects have all joined forces to unveil the customs and habits of the inhabitants at Neolithic Avgi. “The 1,200 square meters at the site has brought to light dense and extremely well-preserved construction remains that will allow us to broach subjects such as size, density and usage of building installations and free spaces, as well as preserve the architectural features and other buildings to be used in the immediate future — perhaps in situ — for the partial reconstruction of the excavated Neolithic settlement. This will provide visitors with a pleasant and intelligible archaeological area with activities that will enrich their experience of the practices and technologies used in humankind’s more distant past,” said excavator Georgia Stratouli, who is in charge of the excavation team of specialists and postgraduate students from prehistoric archaeological departments of Greek and foreign universities.
This year’s research, which resembles the delicate work of a surgeon, has indeed excited many members of the team at Avgi. The excavators have unearthed “sections of a rectangular ground plan and stonework (foundations and upper structures) in at least four buildings measuring from 80 square meters to 30-40 square meters representing two and three construction phases.
Wooden poles in various arrangements — in a straight line or diagonally positioned in pairs, driven straight into the soil or into prepared shallow trenches measuring 50 centimeters in width — have revealed the techniques applied by builders at that time. The upright poles were tied to each other so as to create a diagonal wooden skeleton and the space in between was then filled in with thick layers of straw to make the walls. These were then coated with a special mixture of clay, similar to plaster, to protect the building from rain, damp and fluctuations in temperature. All this testifies to the care and attention given to the construction of a building at Avgi. Four to six layers and even the color still survive, as do the floors that were covered in a special clay coating that was often renewed due to wear and tear or for social purposes.
“Fine organic remains found on the flooring were examined using a water sieve which revealed large concentrations of plant remains from food, such as grain, pulses and fruit,” the excavator said.
The buildings at Avgi also suggest they might have had lofts or even a second floor.
There is no doubt that the economic sector was developed. There were local and non-local communication and exchange networks for “the provisioning of exotic primary materials and objects such as beads of amber and malachite or bracelets from the seashell Spondylus gaederopus.” The nine clay stamps are exceptionally beautiful, some large and others small. “They have different linear designs on their surface (e.g. motifs with single or double lines),” Stratouli said, while the miniature vessels that were also discovered are considered to be significant finds.
The data archive of the excavation shows that it is “an unusual settlement for prehistoric times in the Balkans, with well-preserved construction remains and imprints on the soil from the falling walls and roofs of the buildings.” When the excavations and the special studies conducted have progressed it might be possible to reconstruct the Avgi buildings and surviving structures in a three-dimensional image. It is also likely that researchers will be able to acquire a better understanding of the social structures, values and identities of the social groups.
Therefore, the researchers might be able to find a coded form of language. “We are still at a very early stage,” said the excavator, who did not hide her belief that a great deal will be revealed at Avgi in the future. “We may have discovered practices that had not been found earlier.” The way they built their structures will soon be revealed.
The site’s excavation has also unearthed large building structures.
The mayor of Aghia Triada, together with the 17th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities, is planning undertakings with funding from the European program INTERREG III/Greece-Albania, which will assist in the documentation and showcasing of the finds.
It is also hoped that this will generate an “exchange of views and know-how among archaeologists from within the borders of South Korytsas and facilitate visits to prehistoric sites in northwestern Greece and southern Albania, contributing thus to fostering cross-border relations of friendship and cooperation.”
Payvand's Iran News ...
Iran: Female Gambler Skeleton Comes out of Grave
Tehran, 4 October 2005 (CHN) – Archaeologists excavating the ancient cemetery of Gohar Tepe of Mazandaran, north of Iran, discovered some 600 pieces of bone used in a gambling game inside the tomb of a woman.
Gohar Tepe is one of the key archaeological sites of Mazandaran province, providing experts with surprising ancient evidence in the last four seasons of work there. People resided in the region since 5000 years ago to the first millennium BC, enjoying a civilization and urban life characteristics.
The game pieces found in the tomb belong to a traditional Persian game called "Ghap" which is played with the bone remains of sheep foot knuckle.
As head of the excavation team of Gohar Tepe, Ali Mahforouzi, explained to CHN, potsherds discovered alongside the woman and the game bones show her to date back to the first millennium BC.
"So many pieces have never been found from one single grave; moreover, with the large number of potsherds found in the tomb, we assume the woman to have had a special social status," Mahforouzi said.
The interesting point about the game pieces is that they are all in the same size which puts forward the hypothesis of them belonging to a collection maybe gathered by the woman; some of the bones are also pierced which make experts believe that the woman should have used them as for a necklace.
"The tomb was found besides a clay platform. The corpse was found next to the platform and the game pieces from underneath it. This raises many questions that could not yet be answered," added Mahforouzi.
Two dress and hair pins have been found on the woman's chest and on the back of her head, revealing that she wore a dress and had her hair done in the back. Another discovery inside the tomb is a huge jug with some measurement scales, the use of which is not yet clear. "Many similar scales have been discovered in other graves of the cemetery," said Mahforouzi.
Archaeological excavations will continue in the area for two months.
Science News Online
Week of Oct. 8, 2005; Vol. 168, No. 15
Q Marks the Spot: Recent find fingers long-sought Maya city
Scientists working at a Guatemalan archaeological site that's more than 1,400 years old have reported finding a hieroglyphic-covered stone panel that, they say, conclusively identifies the ancient settlement as the enigmatic Site Q, a Maya city about which researchers have long speculated.
Yale University archaeologist Marcello Canuto found the well-preserved panel last April at a site called La Corona.
SITE FINDER. Hieroglyphics carved into this stone panel, found last April, indicate that an ancient Maya settlement in Guatemala was Site Q, the source of certain ancient artifacts. The panel also depicts two lords facing each other as they perform a ceremony.
"[The] writing on the panel opens up a new chapter in Maya history," says anthropologist David Freidel of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, codirector of the expedition. "This new panel provides the critical test for establishing that La Corona is Site Q."
Conjectures about Site Q began about 40 years ago, when carved panels and other glyph-bearing artifacts of apparently Maya origin flooded the antiquities market. Peter Mathews of La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia, examined these looted items in private and museum collections and noted that they referred to the Maya city of Calakmul, in what's now southern Mexico, but displayed a style unlike that of Calakmul artifacts. Mathews concluded that the pieces probably came from another site, unknown to scientists, in the Guatemalan lowlands. He dubbed it Site Q, a hypothesized city under the control of Calakmul.
After a 1996 visit to La Corona, Ian Graham of Harvard University and David Stuart of the University of Texas at Austin told their colleagues that writing on stone monuments at the site suggested it as Site Q.
This past April, on the Freidel expedition's last day of mapping and exploration at La Corona, Canuto spied a carved panel wedged into the ground inside a trench that had been dug by a looter. The stone bears more than 140 hieroglyphics.
The writing on the stone covers a period from A.D. 658 to A.D. 677 and refers to two kings previously associated with Site Q. The inscriptions are carved in a style identical to that of a panel previously sold by looters that mentions the same rulers, Freidel says.
The text records one king's journey to Calakmul, possibly for assistance when a nearby, more powerful Maya king threatened to conquer La Corona. It also describes a ceremony in which the La Corona ruler reestablished his kingship.
A fresh battle is brewing over whether the new panel for the first time conclusively identifies La Corona as Site Q. Earlier evidence had already done that, Stuart contends. For instance, at a 2001 archaeological meeting, he reported that rock from the same quarry was used at La Corona and in Site Q artifacts.
"The new panel is a really nice find, but it doesn't change our knowledge about the location of Site Q," Stuart says. Further excavations need to confirm that Site Q artifacts come only from La Corona and not from nearby Maya sites as well, he adds.
The new panel's detailed historical account "adds proof" to the proposed link between La Corona and Site Q, remarks Federico Fahsen, a Maya-writing specialist based in Guatemala City.
Modern potato had roots in Peru
Until now it was believed potatoes had no single origin
US scientists have found that all modern varieties of potatoes can be traced back to a single source - a spud grown in Peru over 7,000 years ago.
It had been believed potatoes had a much wider region of origin, stretching from Peru to northern Argentina.
The team, led by Dr David Spooner of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, analysed the DNA of about 360 potatoes, both wild and cultivated.
Some 300 million tonnes of potatoes are produced around the world every year.
The study was sponsored by the US Department of Agriculture.
Dr Spooner, a professor of horticulture, said archaeological finds had shown potatoes were being grown in Peru by farmers "more than 7,000 years ago".
"In contrast to all prior hypotheses of multiple origins of the cultivated potato, we have identified a single origin from a broad area of southern Peru," said the scientist, who spends two months a year collecting wild potatoes on treks in South America's mountainous regions.
Potatoes were brought back to Spain by the conquistadors around 1570, and spread throughout Europe.
They were later introduced in North America by British colonists.
For further information, please contact:
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05 October 2005
New Radiocarbon Data Makes Reintroducing Lynx to UK One Step Closer
under embargo until 10 Oct 2005 00:01 GMT
Research news from Journal of Quaternary Science
Until recently, scientists believed that Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) became extinct in the UK over 4,000 years ago when the climate became cool and wet. But new radiocarbon data on lynx bones found in the Moughton Fell Fissure Cave and Kinsey Cave in the Craven area of North Yorkshire show that lynx were still present in the early medieval era, just 1500 years ago. In addition, analysis of a piece of ancient British poetry indicates that lynx were present in the Lake District in the 7th century AD. These findings are published online in the Journal of Quaternary Science.
“Taken together these findings indicate that lynx survived the change in the climate, and were most probably driven to extinction when people cut down the forests and effectively destroyed the lynx’s habitat,” says ecologist Dr David Hetherington who carried out the research as part of his PhD within the Department of Zoology at the University of Aberdeen.
This has important implications. While zoologists believe that it would be unethical to reintroduce a species that has been made extinct by natural climate change, the European Union’s Habitats Directive obliges member states to consider reintroducing a species that have been killed off by human action. “One species on the list of possible candidates is the Eurasian lynx,” says Hetherington.
“Reintroduction as a conservation tool should only be considered when the causes of extinction were driven by humans and are no longer operating. Much of Scotland, for example, has recently been reafforested and could be suitable for lynx once more,” says Hetherington.
The linguistic evidence is found in Pais Dinogad, a 7th century poem that celebrated a father’s hunting prowess. It was written in Cumbric, a language related to Welsh and once spoken over much of northern England. Translation has been problematic because one of the phrases seems to indicate that one of the animals the father hunted was lynx. This interpretation was initially dismissed because of the assumption that lynx had died-out long before the poem was written. “We now have a radiocarbon date for a similar period of time on bones found only 80 km away from Derwent Water where the poem was set – there is no reason why lynx weren’t running around this area at the time the poem was written,” says Hetherington.
The new radiocarbon data therefore enables the poem to be translated with greater ease, and intriguingly this then provides more evidence of the lynx’s presence in recent history.
Placing the research in context, Dr Hetherington said: “This is the first step in a much broader assessment of whether it is feasible to reintroduce the lynx to Britain”.
Notes for editor
Hetherington, D. et. al: New evidence for the occurrence of Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) in medieval Britain, Journal of Quaternary Science. 2005. DOI: 10.1002/jqs.960.
For an interview with the author or a photograph showing a lynx (Lynx lynx) in its natural environment please contact Polly Young firstname.lastname@example.org or 01243 770633.
John Wiley & Sons Ltd., with its headquarters in Chichester, England, is the largest subsidiary of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Founded in 1807, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., provides must-have content and services to customers worldwide. Its core businesses include scientific, technical, and medical journals, encyclopaedias, books, and online products and services; professional and consumer books and subscription services; and educational materials for undergraduate and graduate students and lifelong learners. Wiley has publishing, marketing, and distribution centres in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Australia. The company is listed on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbols JWa and JWb. Wiley's Internet site can be accessed at http://www.wiley.com/
The carbon dating was funded by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA)
All Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority media releases can now be viewed on-line by visiting www.yorkshiredales.org.uk
The Yorkshire Dales National Park is one of 12 National Parks in England and Wales. It is administered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, the purposes of which are "to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage" and “to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the park". In carrying out these purposes, the Authority has a duty "to seek to foster the economic and social well being of local communities". The National Park is administered by an Authority of 26 members, made up of county and district councillors and members appointed by the Secretary of State for the Environment to represent parishes or in recognition of their specialist skills or knowledge.
Archaeology, Environment - science, History
The photograph shows a lynx (Lynx lynx) in its natural environment' JPG 99.01k
Peer reviewed publication and references
The Journal of Quaternary Science publishes original papers on any field of quaternary research, and aims to promote a wider appreciation and deeper understanding of the earth's history during the last two million years. Papers from a wide range of disciplines appear in JQS including, for example, archaeology, botany, climatology, geochemistry, geochronology, geology, geomorphology, geophysics, glaciology, limnology, oceanography, palaeoceanography, palaeoclimatology, palaeoecology, palaeontology, soil science and zoology. The Journal of Quaternary Science can be accessed at: www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/jqs
DIG REVEALS SOME OF CHURCH'S ANCIENT RELICS
09:00 - 06 October 2005
A treasure trove of exciting relics has been found as an ancient church was uncovered after years hidden by sand.
Items from the 17th century, ancient boundary walls and even an infant burial site have been discovered at the site at Perranporth.
A team of archeologists and volunteers has already shifted hundreds of tonnes of sand - exposing the old church for the first time in many years.
Volunteers have found a broken grave stone from the 17th century which was left in the centre of the church, an historic boundary of the churchyard and a small infant burial, which has been left undisturbed.
The St Piran's Trust, volunteer helpers and Cornwall County Council's Historic Environment Service have also excavated four trenches across the site to help archaeologists build up a greater understanding of the remains.
Margaret Flannery, who has attended digs since the project started, said: "It is amazing. There is a great atmosphere because all sorts of different people from all over Cornwall are working together.
"Some are experienced architects, others are local people who are interested in history. There is a lot of good will and enthusiasm because it is hard work shifting sand, putting it in barrows and even cutting turf."
Local county councillor and member of the St Piran Trust Ken Yeo added: "I am well aware of the worldwide interest in this project and look forward to providing more detailed information on this very important historic site."
Mr Yeo also praised the professional way in which site manager Dick Cole is undertaking the work.
Although the excavation work is almost complete, the whole team is already looking to the future.
The county council has just secured funding for a new programme of works for 2005-2007, which will be used to carry out conservation works on several scheduled monuments in Cornwall.
Conservation work on the exposed remains, the erection of interpretation boards, at the sites of St Piran's Church, the nearby buried Oratory and Perran Round, an exhibition in Perranporth and the preparation of a strategy for long-term maintenance of the site, developed in consultation with local people.
Knappers use Stone Age techniques to carve tools
Thursday, October 06, 2005
By Gautam Naik, The Wall Street Journal
NOEL, Mo. -- Seated on a low bench, Jim Spears used a piece of deer horn to whittle down a heavy chunk of Missouri flint. For an hour, he tapped, whacked and smoothed the hard rock until it was transformed into a delicate and potentially deadly artifact: a replica of an Indian arrowhead known as a Dalton point.
"Every stone is different and every stone is a challenge," said Mr. Spears, as he chiseled away and the arrowhead grew thinner and sharper. "It helps me get into the minds of ancient people."
At 62 years old, Mr. Spears is one of the country's finest flint knappers, a breed of die-hards who re-create ancient arrowheads, knives and tools using original Stone Age techniques.
More than 10,000 years ago, prehistoric Americans attached sharpened stone "points" to spears and hunted woolly mammoths. In the 1960s and 1970s, a handful of archeologists made basic, often clumsy arrowheads in order to better understand ancient tool making. Since then, knapping has taken off as a surprisingly popular American pastime and art form.
Hundreds of modern-day Stone Agers now gather at weekend "knap-ins," where they chip rock, swap techniques and trade arrowheads. Novices eager to learn the skill pay $500 or more to attend workshops. Dozens of books and videos -- including one called "Caught Knapping" -- tout the craft. A glossy magazine for knapping devotees, Modern Lithic Artists Journal, launched last year and featured Mr. Spears's work in the first issue. Another quarterly bible of the trade is called Chips.
"It's a manly hobby, because of its association with hunting and weapons," says John Whittaker, an archeologist-knapper at Grinnell College, Grinnell, Iowa. Indeed, some knappers make practical use of their handiwork, hunting deer and other creatures with the carefully honed points.
Prof. Whittaker estimates that there are at least 5,000 knappers in the U.S., mostly men, who churn out 1.5 million pieces a year. Replica arrowheads sell on the Internet for $10 to $100 or more apiece, and are increasingly turning up on eBay. One 5-inch "turkey tail" arrowhead, for instance, recently sold for $202.50 at the site, even though its pedigree was unclear. (The seller said it "looks old.")
Old-time knappers worry about commercialization of their craft. That's because the best knappers have become so skilled that their work can be difficult to distinguish from Stone Age objects. Some archeologists fret that modern arrowheads are more likely now than in the past to be sold as originals, muddying the historical record. Other purists, such as Errett Callahan, who runs workshops on the traditional approach in Lynchburg, Va., contend that some of today's "wild, modernistic" designs make a mockery of an ancient skill.
While newer hobbyists sometimes rely on copper implements -- which most Stone Age people never had -- Mr. Spears insists on doing things the old, old way. A resident of Noel, Mo., he has knapped steadily for four decades. He gathers flint near his home in the Ozarks. He only uses tools available to prehistoric Americans, including bison rib and deer horn, which he obtains from hunts or at a butcher's shop. Even with these crude implements, arrowheads can be carved to be sharper than surgical scalpels.
When practicing his craft, Mr. Spears folds a piece of buckskin over his left leg and uses his thigh as an anvil. He holds the stone in his left hand and hits it with a piece of animal horn known as a billet. By delicately adjusting the pressure of his fingers under the rock, he is able to channel the force of the blow along natural lines in the stone, knocking off flakes exactly where he wants. A single wrong strike can ruin a piece. But Mr. Spears intimately understands the physics of percussion.
"He can do things to a rock that are miraculous," says Bob "BigFlint" Hunt, a knapper from Oak Grove, Mo., who has known Mr. Spears for more than two decades. Another colleague recalls that at a small 1993 gathering, everyone dropped their tools to watch Mr. Spears chisel a complicated turkey tail arrowhead.
After spending four years in the Navy, Mr. Spears did a brief stint at junior college. While there, he saw a friend craft an arrowhead by flaking a piece of flint with a beer opener. In a book for Boy Scouts, Mr. Spears read that prehistoric Americans had used deer horn to chisel points; he decided to do the same. "I was enthralled by the idea," he says. "I began to chip all the time."
One day, as he crouched on a rocky bluff hitting a stone, a man pulled over in his car and shouted: "Hey, what you doing there?"
"Making arrowheads," Mr. Spears answered back. The man paused, then shook his head and drove off. "Guess he thought I was nuts," says the knapper.
Over the years, Mr. Spears taught himself to knap increasingly intricate designs such as the exquisitely fluted "Folsom point." Eventually, his lifestyle began to reflect his obsession. He took to hunting deer with a bow and arrow. He sometimes sat around a fire and skinned carcasses with stone implements he had made.
Mr. Spears's large house in the middle of the Ozark hills is bare, except for a few Indian rugs and a mattress on the floor. Though he has an old telephone -- which he's been known to unplug -- he doesn't own a wristwatch. In one room he stores 40 large pieces of bamboo, from which he carves bows and arrows. He has never married. His longtime girlfriend, who is part Native American, lives several miles away.
It's hard to make a living from knapping alone. Mr. Spears, who used to dabble in construction work before taking up his craft full-time, says the Internet has lately damped his arrowhead sales. So he also trades other Native American products through a friend, Diana Benson. Her mail-order knapping supply firm sells Mr. Spears's arrowheads, as well as rugs and baskets, on the Internet. The shelves of her Missouri Trading Company store, in Pineville, Mo., are heaped with rocks, tools and about 30 instructional video titles -- including one starring Mr. Spears.
Mr. Spears attends about four knap-ins each year. One recent weekend, he stowed his tools and workbench in his pickup, and drove 250 miles north to the Fort Osage knap-in, held in a field in northern Missouri. Along the way, he snacked on dried fruits and deer jerky made from an animal he had killed.
At the event, more than 100 knappers from Iowa, Illinois, Texas and elsewhere, sat in circles and, for hours, whacked away at rocks. Most were middle-aged men -- carpenters, jewelry makers and at least one professional archaeologist. At one tent, a vendor from Leavenworth, Ind., hawked 1,800 pounds of stone, including jasper and chert. Another attendee described how he felled a deer using an arrow tipped with a stone point.
Mr. Spears didn't even take out his tools. Fellow knappers said they were already in awe of his skill and that he had little to prove anymore. When one collector proudly noted that certain arrowheads could fetch hefty prices, Mr. Spears was bemused. "When you get right down to it," he said, "it's nothing but rocks."
VITAL PIECE OF MARY ROSE JIGSAW TO BE RECOVERED
By Graham Spicer 21/09/2005
Divers will recover the ship's bow stem and an anchor. Photo courtesy Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Endangered items uncovered at the seabed wreck site of the Mary Rose, including the bow stem, are to be brought to the surface thanks to funding from the Ministry of Defence.
The Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s favourite warship and rates alongside Nelson’s Victory as one of Britain’s most famous ships. Although it sunk in the Solent off Portsmouth in 1545, its hull was successfully recovered in 1982 and is now displayed at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
Sections of the vessel still remain on the seabed, however, and a new archaeological dive has been announced which plans to recover items in danger of decay.
The dive is funded by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with English Heritage and will start on September 23, continuing until October 14 2005.
The Mary Rose as she would have looked in her prime. Courtesy Portsmouth Historic Dockyard
The ship’s stem, the major timber in its bow at the front of the vessel, will be brought to the surface for conservation along with an anchor uncovered during previous dives.
“The stem timber is a particularly significant timber in a ship as it defines the shape of the hull at the bow,” said Christopher Dobbs, Maritime Archaeologist at the Mary Rose Trust. "This is a vital piece in the Mary Rose jigsaw that has been lost until now.”
The MOD began funding dives on the wreck site in the summer of 2003 as part of plans to base the Royal Navy’s new generation of larger aircraft carriers in Portsmouth.
Final plans for a deeper channel to accommodate the vessels are now unlikely to affect the wreck site but excavations left vulnerable bow timbers and an anchor exposed, which has led to the decision to raise them. Other less exposed remains, which have not yet been identified, will be re-buried on the seabed to preserve them from decay.
Divers first unearthed and recorded the ship's bow stem in 2003. Photo Jon Pratty
“Future generations will no doubt return for further excavations, but the site will be well protected,” said John Lippiett, Chief Executive of the Mary Rose Trust.
The divers hope to raise the bow section on October 11, the anniversary of the recovery of the hull.
“For the last 23 years we have been displaying the hull in our Ship Hall without the bow and when this timber is conserved and put on display, it will be much easier for the public to see the shape of the ship,” added Christopher Dobbs.