Highlights of 2005
Public release date: 16-Feb-2005
Contact: Frank Brown, professor of geology and geophysics,
dean of the College of Mines and Earth Sciences, University of Utah
University of Utah
Lee Siegel, science news specialist
University of Utah Public Relations
The oldest Homo sapiens
Fossils push human emergence back to 195,000 years ago
Geologist Frank Brown, dean of mines and Earth sciences at the University of Utah, crouches on Ethiopia's Kibish rock formation, where Brown and colleagues determined that fossilized bones of Homo sapiens were 195,000 years old -- the oldest fossils of the our species ever found. Credit: Ian McDougall, Australian National University
When the bones of two early humans were found in 1967 near Kibish, Ethiopia, they were thought to be 130,000 years old. A few years ago, researchers found 154,000- to 160,000-year-old human bones at Herto, Ethiopia. Now, a new study of the 1967 fossil site indicates the earliest known members of our species, Homo sapiens, roamed Africa about 195,000 years ago.
"It pushes back the beginning of anatomically modern humans," says geologist Frank Brown, a co-author of the study and dean of the University of Utah's College of Mines and Earth Sciences.
The journal Nature is publishing the study in its Thursday Feb. 17, 2005, issue. Brown conducted the research with geologist and geochronologist Ian McDougall of Australian National University in Canberra, and anthropologist John Fleagle of New York state's Stony Brook University.
The researchers dated mineral crystals in volcanic ash layers above and below layers of river sediments that contain the early human bones. They conclude the fossils are much older than a 104,000-year-old volcanic layer and very close in age to a 196,000-year-old layer, says Brown.
"These are the oldest well-dated fossils of modern humans (Homo sapiens) currently known anywhere in the world," the scientists say in a summary of the study.
Significance of an Earlier Emergence of Homo sapiens
Ethiopia's Omo River flows below bluffs of the Kibish rock formation, where scientists first excavated the bones of early humans in 1967 and estimated they were 130,000 years old. But in a new study in the journal Nature, scientists from Utah, New York state and Australia determined those bones and newly excavated fossils actually were from a member of our species who roamed the area 195,000 years ago. They are the oldest known fossils of Homo sapiens. Credit: Frank Brown, University of Utah
Brown says that pushing the emergence of Homo sapiens from about 160,000 years ago back to about 195,000 years ago "is significant because the cultural aspects of humanity in most cases appear much later in the record – only 50,000 years ago – which would mean 150,000 years of Homo sapiens without cultural stuff, such as evidence of eating fish, of harpoons, anything to do with music (flutes and that sort of thing), needles, even tools. This stuff all comes in very late, except for stone knife blades, which appeared between 50,000 and 200,000 years ago, depending on whom you believe."
Fleagle adds: "There is a huge debate in the archeological literature regarding the first appearance of modern aspects of behavior such as bone carving for religious reasons, or tools (harpoons and things), ornamentation (bead jewelry and such), drawn images, arrowheads. They only appear as a coherent package about 50,000 years ago, and the first modern humans that left Africa between 50,000 and 40,000 years ago seem to have had the full set. As modern human anatomy is documented at earlier and earlier sites, it becomes evident that there was a great time gap between the appearance of the modern skeleton and 'modern behavior.'"
A closeup of horizontal layers of rock in Ethiopia's Kibish Formation, which yielded the oldest known fossils of the human species, Homo sapiens. These rock beds likely were deposited by annual flooding on the ancient Omo River. Beds below those shown here yielded the oldest fossils of humans (Homo sapiens) ever found. They date to 195,000 years ago. Credit: Frank Brown, University of Utah
The study moves the date of human skulls found in Ethiopia's Kibish rock formation in 1967 back from 130,000 years to a newly determined date of 195,000 years ago, give or take 5,000 years. Fossils from an individual known as Omo I look like bones of modern humans, but other bones are from a more primitive cousin named Omo II.
In addition to the cultural question, the earlier date for humanity's emergence is important for other reasons.
"First, it makes the dates in the fossil record almost exactly concordant with the dates suggested by genetic studies for the origin of our species," Fleagle says. "Second, it places the first appearance of modern Homo sapiens in Africa many more thousands of years before our species appears on any other continent. It lengthens that gap. Finally, the similar dating of the two skulls indicates that when modern humans first appeared there were other contemporary populations [Omo II] that were less modern."
The study was funded by the National Science Foundation, the L. S. B. Leakey Foundation, the National Geographic Society and the Australian National University.
Modern Homo in the Valley of the Omo
Omo I Distal Femur (upper bone in knee joint).jpg Two pieces of a femur -- the leg bone immediately above the knee -- from an early human known as Omo I. Both pieces were found in Ethiopia's Kibish formation. The bottom piece was found in 1967, when scientists believed it was 130,000 years old. The top piece was found in 2001 as part of a study published in the Feb. 17, 2005 issue of the journal Nature. In the study, scientists from the University of Utah and elsewhere say Omo I actually lived about 195,000 years ago -- the earliest known member of our species Homo sapiens. Credit: John Fleagle, Stony Brrok University
Richard Leakey and his team of paleontologists traveled in 1967 to the Kibish Formation along the Omo River in southernmost Ethiopia, near the town of Kibish. They found the skull (minus the face) and partial skeleton (parts of arms, legs, feet and the pelvis) of Omo I, and the top and back of the skull of Omo II. Brown was not part of the 1967 expedition, but was working nearby and got to look at the site and the fossils.
"Anthropologists said they looked very different in their evolutionary status," Brown recalls. "Omo I appeared to be essentially modern Homo sapiens, and Omo II appeared to be more primitive."
In 1967, the fossils were dated as being 130,000 years old, although the scientists doubted the accuracy of their dating technique, which was based on the decay of uranium-238 to thorium-238 in oyster shells from a rock layer near the skulls.
Fleagle says no scientist has been bold enough to suggest Omo II is anything other than Homo sapiens, and that "quite often at the time of major events in evolution, one finds an increase in morphological [anatomical] diversity." Now that the new study confirms Omo I and Omo II are the same age – living within a few hundred years of each other about 195,000 years ago – some anthropologist suggest "maybe it [Omo II] isn't so primitive after all," Brown says.
McDougall, Brown and Fleagle and researchers from other universities returned to Kibish in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003. They identified sites where Omo I and Omo II were found in 1967, and obtained more of Omo I, including part of the femur (upper leg bone) that fit a piece found in 1967. They also found animal fossils and stone tools, and studied local geology. The Nature study includes initial results from those expeditions.
The fossil record of human ancestors may go back 6 million years or more, and the genus Homo arose at least 1.8 million years ago when australopithecines evolved into human ancestors known as Homo habilis. Brown says the fossil record of humans is poor from 100,000 to 500,000 years ago, so Omo I is significant because it now is well dated.
Dating the Dawn of Humanity
Omo I skeletal parts (National Museum of Ethiopia) The bones of an early member of our species, Homo sapiens, known as Omo I, excavated from Ethiopia's Kibish rock formation. The bones are kept in the National Museum of Ethiopia. When the first bones from Omo I were found in 1967, they were thought to be 130,000 years old. Later, 160,000-year-old bones of our species were found elsewhere. Now, scientists from the University of Utah, Australian National University and Stony Brook University have determined that Omo I lived about 195,000 years ago -- the oldest known bones of the human species. Credit: John Fleagle, Stony Brook University
Both Omo I and Omo II were buried in the lowermost portion or "member" of the Kibish Formation, a series of annual flood sediments laid down rapidly by the ancient Omo River on the delta where it once entered Lake Turkana. Lake levels now are much lower, and the river enters the lake about 60 miles (100 kilometers) south of Kibish.
The 330-foot-thick (100-meter-thick) formation is divided into at least four members, with each of the four sets of layers separated from the other by an "unconformity," which represents a period of time when rock eroded away instead of being deposited. For example, the lowermost Kibish I member was deposited in layers as the Omo River flooded each year. After thousands of years, rainfall diminished, lake levels dropped, and the upper part of Kibish I eroded away. Later, the lake rose and deposition resumed to create layers of Kibish member II.
Interspersed among the river sediments are occasional layers of volcanic ash from ancient eruptions of nearby volcanoes. Some ash layers contain chunks of pumice, which in turn contain feldspar mineral crystals. Feldspar has small amounts of radioactive potassium-40, which decays into argon-40 gas at a known rate. The gas, trapped inside feldspar crystals, allows scientists to date the feldspar and the pumice and ash encasing it.
Brown says potassium-argon dating shows that a layer of ash no more than 10 feet (3 meters) below Omo I's and Omo II's burial place is 196,000 years old, give or take 2,000 years. Another layer is 104,000 years old. It is almost 160 feet (50 meters) above the layer that yielded the Omo humans. The unconformities represent periods of time when rock was eroded, so the fossils must be much older than the 104,000-year-old layer and close in age to the 196,000-year-old layer, Brown says.
The clinching evidence, he says, comes from sapropels, which are dark rock layers on the Mediterranean seafloor that were deposited when floods of fresh water poured out of the Nile River during rainy times. The Blue Nile and White Nile tributaries share a drainage divide with the Omo River. During ancient wet periods, monsoons on the Ethiopian highlands sent annual floods surging down the Nile system, causing sapropels to form on the seafloor, and sent floods down the Omo, making Lake Turkana rise and depositing Kibish Formation sediments on the river's ancient delta. (During dry periods, Lake Turkana was smaller, flood sediments were deposited farther south and rocks at Kibish were eroded.)
No other sediments on land have been found to record wet and dry periods that correlate so well with the same climate pattern in ocean sediments, Brown says. The new study found that the "members" or groups of rock layers of the Kibish formation were laid down at the same time as the Mediterranean sapropels. In particular, the volcanic layer right beneath Omo I and II dates to 196,000 years ago by potassium-argon dating, and it corresponds almost perfectly to a sapropel layer previously dated as 195,000 years old, Brown says.
"It is pretty conclusive," says Brown, who disputes any contention that the fossils might be closer to 104,000 years old.
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The remains of the only known Roman chariot racing track in Britain have been found under an army barracks being redeveloped in Colchester.
New homes are going up on a 209-acre site where builders preparing the groundworks excavated what they believe is a race track nearly 2,000 years old.
Developers Taylor Woodrow said they are delighted at the find and will include it as a feature in their development.
Archaeologists say it was built around the 2nd century.
Finding the chariot track was an exercise in detective work according to archaeological consultants RPS of Colchester.
Chariot racing was very popular in the Roman world but only four tracks have been found in the north western provinces
Director Robert Masefield said: "We have been excavating on the site for several years to assess any significant archaeological finds.
"Two trenches revealed two parallel walls which we thought were the precincts of a temple.
"There was also a road nearby but it was not until we investigated a third side that we found another wall and the remains of an entrance."
Phillip Crummy director of Colchester Archaeological Trust suggested that it may be a Roman circus where chariot races were held.
He took a drawing from a known race track in Spain and superimposed it over a plan of the Colchester finds and all the features fitted with a discrepancy of only one metre.
Mr Masefield said: "We were certain it was a circuit and delighted because the only other evidence in Britain was in London and that was only part of a circus and was discounted.
"Chariot racing was very popular in the Roman world but only four tracks have been found in the north western provinces.
"Colchester was a colony town and its inhabitants were mainly veteran Roman soldiers and their families and this would have been one of the pastimes they would have enjoyed."
The find is on the site of the former Cavalry Barracks and is being developed as homes and commercial premises for local people.
James Moodie, project manager for developers Taylor Woodrow, said: "We are delighted to incorporate the find into the development.
"It came at an ideal time for us. We have just acquired the land from the MoD and we are just designing the development."
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2005/01/05 11:17:34 GMT
© BBC MMV
Wednesday January 5, 2005
They may not have had alloy wheels, spoilers and underbody UV lights, but nearly 2,000 years ago young men in Essex were doing much the same as they do today: driving in circles as fast as they can.
In a welcome boost to the region's boy racers, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a chariot-racing course in Colchester which could be one of the biggest Roman racetracks in the world.
Hailed as an "extremely significant find" by English Heritage, historians are now seeking to find out more about the track, which was built in the former Britain's capital under Roman rule. People of all classes would have flocked to the purpose-built stadium to watch up to 60 chariots competing in what is one of the oldest spectator sports in the world. The first recorded race was held as part of the Greek Olympic Games in 680BC.
The track was discovered during an excavation of the former garrison in the town, which was sold off by the Ministry of Defence to developers, who plan to build 2,500 homes and a business park on the site.
"The recent discovery of a Roman chariot race course outside Colchester, Essex, is an extremely significant find," said Greg Luton, English Heritage regional director for the east of England. "English Heritage intends to work closely with local authorities to better understand the significance of this site."
Army chief of staff Major Ian Marlow said: "It is the remains of what could be the largest chariot-racing circuit outside of Italy."
Archaeologists said they could not comment on the significance of the find until Taylor Woodrow, the housing company developing the site, makes a formal announcement later this week.
But the next time the boy racers gather in a Colchester car park to display their customised steeds, they can at least claim to be taking part in an ancient Essex ritual.
BY RODDY ASHWORTH
January 8, 2005 08:00
A LEADING expert at the British Museum predicted the discovery of a Roman chariot racetrack in a historic town four years before its ruins were found by archaeologists, it has emerged.
Renowned Romanist Dr Ralph Jackson said the decoration on a Second Century Colchester jar, which shows the image of a charioteer in action, suggested that whoever had made it had seen a real race rather than used their imagination or relied on eyewitness reports.
The pottery exhibit was found in Colchester, where last week it was announced the ruins of a "Roman circus" as chariot racetracks are known to historians, had been unearthed by archaeologists. It was made either in Colchester or nearby.
Dr Jackson, curator of the Romano-British collection at the British Museum, told the EADT that when he assembled a collection of items for an exhibition in 2000 he had written about the realism of the image on the decorated jar.
"This was not a stylised depiction, or a scene lifted from another piece of artwork. There is something genuine about the way the figure is depicted with the right gear, the straps, and the whip, and the way the figure is really leaning forward," he said yesterday.
"I noted I thought it was only a matter of time before a circus was found at Colchester."
Dr Jackson added that a large number of images of gladiators and chariots had come from Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town - further suggesting there was a Roman circus there.
A glass jar in Colchester Castle Museum also features chariots, although unlike the British Museum piece it is uncertain that it was actually produced in the town.
Dr Jackson added he was delighted the 350 metre-long racetrack and stadium, which would have had a capacity of around 8,000, had been found.
"It is a terrific find. I am sure a lot of expletives have been used already. But there are some things in life that are more exciting than others, and this is certainly one. Well done to Colchester Archaeological Trust."
Philip Crummy, head of the trust, said the organisation would be collating items from Colchester depicting chariot racing as secondary evidence of the Roman circus's authenticity. This would include the piece in the Castle Museum, he said.
"Already archaeologists use images of chariots as indicating the presence of a Roman circus, especially mosaics," he said.
"At the moment we are doing a review of all the items featuring them."
Mr Crummy and his team located the Roman circus while conducting a dig for environmental assessors RPS on land at Abbey Field, in Colchester.
The area is being developed by construction firm Taylor Woodrow who are building 2,500 houses on the 200 acre site as part of the Colchester Garrison private finance initiative.
n The decorated pottery jar can be viewed at the British Museum in London in Case Nine of Gallery 49.
Feb 17 2005
By Jeremy Charles
SEXY murals are among a wealth of Roman relics which have been uncovered on the site of a new Ikea store.
The erotic paintings were found by workmen building a massive new outlet for the Swedish furniture giants.
Roman tombs, villas, baths and a complex aqueduct system were also uncovered.
It is believed the relics date back to the 5th century BC.
The site where the artefacts were found was used as a brothel, or lupanar, by the Ancient Romans.
The murals depict an elderly man entangled with a young woman and a variety of animals' sex organs.
Professor Francesco Di Gennaro, an expert on Ancient Roman archaeology, said: 'This is a fascinating discovery. We have found some very interesting items and the murals are of particular note.
'However, it is not just that. There is also a street system, an aqueduct and several villas and tombs.
The murals were found at Radicicoli, near Rome.
Experts believe they are relics from the Ancient Roman town of Fidene.
Prof Di Gennaro added: 'From historical records, we know that the town of Fidene was very close to this site. But it had never actually been properly located until now.'
Historians hope to put the items discovered on display at a museum close to the site of the Ikea store, which is due to open later this year.
Yesterday, no one at Ikea's office in Rome was available to comment on the discovery.
Brothels in Ancient Rome were often adorned with erotic artwork.
In Pompeii, graphic images were found on top of the doorways of the city's brothel.
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
Tuesday 8 March 2005 12:40
Maritime And Coastguard Agency (National)
DEVON DIVERS FIND 3,000 YEAR OLD BRONZE AGE ARTEFACTS ON SHIPWRECK SITE
A group of divers have discovered a submerged hoard of Bronze Age artefacts off Salcombe, Devon. The find includes swords and rapiers, palstave axe heads, an adze, a cauldron handle, and a gold bracelet.
The artefacts have been reported to English Heritage and declared to the Receiver of Wreck at the Maritime & Coastguard Agency, as it is believed that these relics come from an ancient shipwreck. The artefacts are currently being studied at the British Museum, which also holds the finds from the nearby 'Moor Sands' Bronze Age wreck site.
The South West Maritime Archaeology Group (SWMAG) had been diving under licence from the Department for Culture, Media & Sport, on the shipwreck known as the Salcombe Cannon site last summer, (where they discovered a hoard of gold coins in 1995), when they found evidence of a far older wreck.
The new site falls within the protected area of the Salcombe Cannon shipwreck site, which is designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. This means that this area is already protected from unauthorised and illegal diving.
The finds from 'Moor Sands' and the new site belong to exactly the same phase of the Bronze Age, dating to around the 13th century BC, and archaeologists are wondering if they all came from the same vessel.
The find is dominated by the blades of swords and rapiers, but axes, tools and ornaments are also present. The swords are amongst the earliest found in north-west Europe. Some of the objects are of north French origin and are types which are rare in this country. The Bronze Age was a time of considerable trade in metals, right across Europe but it is exceptional to find material which has actually been caught in transit.
Sophia Exelby, the Receiver of Wreck said, "This is a very exciting find which shows the breadth of information which is available from shipwreck sites. We are now working to ensure that these unusual artefacts are given a good home, where their historical value can be appreciated by everyone."
Stuart Needham, Curator of European Bronze Age collections at the British Museum said: "The evidence from Salcombe and other rare sites, such as that at Langdon Bay, help us to build up a picture of object movements, the organisation of trade and the character of seafaring."
A spokesperson for the SWMAG said: "this exciting new discovery has really been a team effort and we are now working with the Receiver of Wreck and English Heritage to ensure that these important artefacts are put on permanent display to the public."
English Heritage and SWMAG are planning a research-led field season in 2005 in order to try to answer some of the questions about the site which this remarkable collection of artefacts has raised.
* It is a legal requirement that all recovered wreck is reported to the Receiver of Wreck. The Receiver of Wreck is responsible for the administration of that part of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which deals with wreck and salvage. If you find wreck you should contact the Receiver of Wreck on 02380 329 474 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
* 56 historic wreck sites around the UK are designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. These include Holland No.5, first British-built experimental submarine launched in 1902 and sunk in 1912, the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's famous flagship and HMS Colossus, one of Nelson's fleet wrecked in the Isles of Scilly carrying antiquities belonging to Lord Hamilton. Under the Act a licence is required to visit, survey, recover artefacts from, or excavate any of these sites. It is illegal to dive on a protected wreck site without a licence.
* Artefacts from wrecks which are designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973, must still be reported to the Receiver, even if they were recovered under licence.
* English Heritage manages all the historic wreck sites in English waters designated under the Protection of Wrecks Act 1973. English Heritage is the Government's advisor on all aspects of the historic environment in England.
* The South West Maritime Archaeology Group has been involved in underwater archaeology for the last 15 years, and has made a number of significant finds during this time. These include the Erme Estuary site, where tin ingots of as yet unknown date were discovered, the Salcombe Cannon site, which yielded the largest collection of 17th Century Moroccan gold coins in Europe together with numerous other artefacts including jewellery and personal effects, and most recently, Bronze Age artefacts in an area close to the Salcombe Cannon site. SWMAG includes divers from Devon, Northampton and Wolverhampton.
* Two of the other rare examples of Bronze Age wreck sites with cargoes from this period include the Langdon Bay Protected Wreck site in Kent and the Ulu Burun shipwreck discovered off the Turkish coast in the Eastern Mediterranean. These sites demonstrate trading and merchant sailing activity across Europe during this period, however, they also highlight how little is known about the nature of that trade, and about the people and places involved. Whilst the results of European trade, travel and communication, the metal objects and goods originating from other parts of Europe, are visible in the archaeological record of English Bronze Age burial and settlement sites, evidence of the trade itself, the traders and their lives is remarkably rare.
* The Langdon Bay Bronze Age finds from The British Museum are currently on display in the Bronze Age Boat Gallery of the Dover Museum alongside the Dover Bronze Age Boat, dated to c.1600BC.
Press releases and further information about the Agency is available on the Web at http://www.mcga.gov.uk
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Thursday March 10, 2005
The centuries-long tussle for prestige between England and Scotland may be about to end in victory for the clans, with new archaeological evidence suggesting that the first national leader of the British Isles was a Scot.
The remains of a mysterious figure found in an Iron Age chariot burial under the A1M motorway was of "exceptional significance" according to academics, who have also unearthed the leftovers of one of Britain's biggest feasts at his funeral site in Yorkshire.
Decorated with jewellery and finely wrought harness and chariot gear, the 2,400-year-old grave is thought to have been a rallying-point for Britain's tribes 500 years later when the Romans moved north. Some 300 young cattle from all over the country were brought to Ferrybridge to feed an assembly running into thousands not far from where a Little Chef now stands.
"We have much more to find out, but this is an excavation full of surprises," said Angela Boyle of Oxford Archaeology, whose specialists rescued the remains from the £245m upgrading of the junction between the A1M and the trans-Pennine M62. The slender man, who was in his 30s or 40s, 5ft 9in tall with excellent teeth, was initially thought to be a local warrior, and the cattle remains traces of a ceremony to mark his burial.
"But high strontium in his bones shows that he was not from Yorkshire, but almost certainly from the Scottish highlands," said Ms Boyle. "And the cattle remains date from the first century AD when the Romans were establishing themselves here.
"The evidence suggests that the site of the burial may have been venerated for all those years after his death - and then became a place for the tribes to rally and perhaps remember a great national leader of the past."
Other finds, including ceremonial sites and a drovers' road, have pointed to more centralised organisation than had previously been thought. Road excavations, encouraged by the Highways Agency, have been influential because of the age of routes such as the A1 Great North Road from London to Edinburgh.
David Jamieson, junior minister for roads, said: "The quality of the Iron Age remains found during this dig is quite outstanding and is attracting attention from around the world."
Ms Boyle said that the delicate iron wheels, jewellery and bones were in "an unparalleled state of preservation" and more discoveries could be expected.
Chariot burials are unique to the middle Iron Age (500-100BC) and only 19 others have been found in Britain - all of them in Yorkshire apart from one near Edinburgh. The only comparable feast was held near Northampton in the Bronze Age (2,500-750BC) where the discovery of mounds of pips pointed to a pudding course absent at Ferrybridge.
By Paul Stokes
An ancient British warrior leader found buried in his chariot beside the A1 in west Yorkshire probably originated from Scandinavia or the Scottish Highlands.
Experts have been unable to establish how the slim, 5ft 9in tall man met his death 2,400 years ago when he was 30 to 40 years old.
But the find has opened the possibility that the site at Ferrybridge may have been of great significance to ancient Britons, perhaps the venue for a mass rally. Unusually for the time, the man had good teeth and his skeletal remains showed no evidence of wounding or long-term illness.
He had been laid on the chariot, which was buried intact. Many of its metal fittings were well preserved when it was discovered during road improvements.
A brooch and horse harness were among bronze and iron objects also identified by analysts at the University of Bradford and the Highways Agency's specialist contractor, Oxford Archaeology. The finds were made during excavations in December 2003 for a £245 million scheme to upgrade the A1 motorway.
At first it was believed that a huge number of cattle found in a ditch around the burial site may have been the remains of a huge banquet to commemorate the man's funeral.
But tests have shown that the chariot burial took place at the beginning of the 4th century BC, while the cattle, which came from different regions, were deposited in the Roman period, the second century AD.
Angela Boyle, the head of burial archaeology at Oxford Archaeology, who led the site excavation, said: "It could be some massive affirmation of their identity at a location which had tremendous significance in their culture.
"This site at Ferrybridge would have been venerated for generations. It had been used for burials for thousands of years, there is a henge close by and there is evidence of some building, perhaps a shrine, close to the burial site.
"The burial mound of this warrior would have been visible for some distance and perhaps his life story was etched in the history of the people as a great leader.
"We know the Romans were not far away at this time, changing the only world these people would have known. It might have been a gathering of people at the grave of a revered leader from their history, calling for guidance or support in the face of the invasion.
"It might also have been a council of war, but we know there was little resistance in this area to the Roman colonisation."
Chariot burials were reserved for people of high status. Only 20 have previously been unearthed, with one in Edinburgh and the rest in east Yorkshire.
Strontium testing showed that the man originally came from either Scandinavia or the Highlands while the burials had previously been linked to the Paris tribe, who colonised the area from northern France.
Dr Janet Montgomery, a research fellow at Bradford University, said: "For some reason these people came together here in their thousands. Our tests show that these animals came from different herds raised in different places.
"These beasts were driven here and slaughtered for a great feast."
Ancient chariot burial in Yorkshire may have contained leader of national significance, say archaeologists
HE could have been an Iron Age warrior monarch, equal in legendary status to King Arthur.
Buried with full honours in Yorkshire, his final resting place became a shrine to the nation.
And the man whose remains and chariot were discovered while digging roadworks in West Yorkshire could have been so revered that thousands visited his grave 400 years after his death to stage a feast in his honour, and to show the invading Romans that they would never be cowed.
Archaeologists from Bradford who are now studying the astonishing find of a skeleton buried with an intact chariot believe his grave may have became a focus for national pride still remembered during the Roman colonisation.
Angela Boyle, who led the excavation, said it was astonishing.
"It flies in the face of all our theories. The preservation of all the elements was particularly excellent. It's hugely significant."
The Iron Age warrior, thought to have died while in his 30s, was buried in the fourth century BC wearing a red glass brooch and an intact chariot complete with iron wheels and harness.
But it was the ditch around the burial site that threw up the oddest find, the bones of more than 300 cattle from all over Britain, slaughtered all at the same time, more than 400 years later.
Isotope analysis of the bones at the University of Bradford showed they were not from one herd but from all over Britain, including the Scottish Highlands.
It is thought thousands of people travelled for hundreds of miles bringing their cattle with them for the feast, which was held after the Roman invasion.
Ms Boyle, of Oxford Archaeology, said: "We were very surprised when we obtained radiocarbon dates and found they were from the first century AD. There's also evidence of a wooden shrine nearby.
"At that time, there was increasing Romanisation in the area. This feast may have been a re-assertion of their rights of ownership and identity.
"We don't know if they remembered the person who was buried there, but there would have been a mound over the chariot, it would have been visible and its identity known."
She added: "The area around contains a lot of quite significant burial mounds so it would appear that that area was of huge significance for several thousand years."
Studies of strontium isotopes in the warrior's teeth threw up another surprise, he was not local to the area.
Levels of the isotope are deposited in teeth as they form through childhood depending on the amount of strontium in the earth, where food is grown.
The charioteer's strontium levels show he was from the Scottish Highlands or possibly Scandinavia.
He could have moved to Yorkshire after childhood, or he may have been brought after death to be buried at this sacred site.
He was granted every honour, being buried with a prestigious chariot with iron tyres and with a huge red glass brooch pinning his cloak.
But close examination of the chariot revealed a few corners may have been cut in his burial rites, the chariot appears to have been assembled from spare parts which didn't quite match.
And part of the harness wasn't made of more expensive iron, but instead from cheap clay, covered with copper to make it glint.
The find was made at Ferrybridge during roadworks to upgrade the A1. It is only the second intact chariot burial ever found, and the only one in West Yorkshire.
Nineteen others have been discovered in the UK, mostly in Wetwang, East Yorkshire, with one found in Newbridge, near Edinburgh.
The burial tradition was widely practised by the Arras culture in the Yorkshire Wolds, and may have originated in central Europe.
The dig, undertaken by specialist contractor Oxford Archaeology, and post-excavation analysis by the University of Bradford, was funded by the Highways Agency.
10 March 2005
27.000 Jahre altes Eiszeit-Grab bei Krems entdeckt
Mit einem sensationellen, eiszeitlichen Fund können Archäologen der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften aufwarten.
Sie entdeckten auf dem Wachtberg bei Krems eine mehr als 27.000 Jahre alte Begräbnisstätte. Im Grab fanden sich die mit Grabbeigaben versehenen Skelette von zwei Säuglingen, möglicherweise Zwillinge. "Sie wurden liebevoll unter einem Mammut-Schulterblatt bestattet", erklärte Projektleiterin Christine Neugebauer-Maresch.
Im Raum Krems finden sich teilweise meterhohe Auflagerungen von Löss - ein sehr feines Staubsediment, das ursprünglich aus Flüssen stammt. Immer wieder entdecken Archäologen darin Kostbarkeiten aus der Eiszeit: So kam vor 17 Jahren die unter dem Namen "Fanny" bekannt gewordene steinerne Statuette bei Ausgrabungen in in Krems-Rehberg und Stratzing ans Tageslicht.
Bereits seit mehreren Jahren sind die Archäologen der Prähistorischen Kommission der ÖAW auf dem Wachtberg von Krems mit Unterstützung des Fonds zur Förderung der Wissenschaftlichen Forschung (FWF) tätig. Trotz einer Tiefe von über fünf Metern konnte so das Areal eines Behausungsplatzes geortet und gezielt als Forschungsobjekt ausgewählt werden. Die Funddichte übertraf laut Neugebauer-Maresch alle Erwartungen. "In der etwa acht bis 15 Zentimeter mächtigen Kulturschichte mit einem Alter von rund 27.000 Jahren konnten auf bisher rund zehn Quadratmetern mehr als 10.000 Fundstücke dokumentiert und geborgen werden", berichtete die Wissenschafterin. Glanzstücke sind eine besonders feine Steinsäge, bearbeitete Klingen, Kratzer, ein feines Elfenbeinstäbchen und ein geformtes und gebranntes Tonobjekt.
Mitte September stießen die Archäologen dann auf eine Vertiefung unter der Kulturschicht, die durch ein Mammutschulterblatt abgedeckt war. Darunter fanden die Ausgräber eine mit rotem Farbstoff aufgefüllte Mulde, an deren Grund die zarten Knochen zweier Säuglinge lagen. Beim weiteren Freilegen der Skelettteile entdeckten die Forscher noch eine Kette aus Schmuckperlen. Dies ist für Neugebauer-Maresch ein weiterer, klarer Hinweise für einen Bestattungsritus, die Kette war offenbar den beiden Verstorbenen mitgegeben worden. Die Funde gelten nun als mit Abstand älteste Grabstätte Österreichs, die ersten Belege für Bestattungen aus der Eiszeit.
Life from 2,000-year-old seed in Israel
By Steven Erlanger The New York Times
MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2005
JERUSALEM Israeli doctors and scientists have succeeded in germinating a date seed that is nearly 2,000 years old.
The seed, nicknamed Methuselah, was taken from an excavation at Masada, the cliff fortress where, in A.D. 73, 960 Jewish zealots died by their own hand rather than surrender to a Roman assault.
The point of growing the seed is to find out what was so exceptional about the original date palm of Judea, much praised in the Bible and the Koran for its shade, food, beauty and medicinal qualities, but long ago destroyed by the crusaders.
"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," says Psalm 92. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age. They shall be fat and flourishing."
Dr. Sarah Sallon, who runs a project on Middle Eastern medicinal plants, said the date-palm tree in ancient times symbolized the tree of life. But Dr. Elaine Solowey, who germinated the seed and is growing it in quarantine, says plants grown from ancient seeds "usually keel over and die soon," having used most of their nutrients in remaining alive.
The plant is now 11.8 inches, or 30 centimeters, tall and has produced seven leaves, one of which was removed for DNA testing. Radiocarbon dating in Switzerland on a snip of the seed showed it to be 1,990 years old, plus or minus 50 years. So the date seed dates from 35 B.C. to A.D. 65, just before the famed Roman siege.
Three date seeds were taken from Level 34 of the Masada dig. They were found in a storeroom and are presumably from dates eaten by the defenders, Sallon says.
Mordechai Kislef, director of botanical archeology at Bar-Ilan University, had some date seeds from Ehud Netzer, who excavated Masada in the 1970s.
Sallon recalled that "They were sitting in a drawer, and when I asked for one, he said, 'You're mad,' but finally gave me three." She then gave the seeds to Solowey, an expert on arid agriculture and dates.
Solowey took them even though "I didn't have much hope that any would come up."
Sallon is the director of the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Medical Organization, which she set up 10 years ago to study natural products and therapies, from Chinese medicine to the indigenous medicinal plants of the Middle East. The idea is to preserve these plants and their oral histories in a modernizing region, and also to domesticate them, evaluate them scientifically and then try to integrate them into conventional medicine.
Solowey, who teaches agriculture and sustainable farming at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, based at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev, works on finding new crops for arid and saline areas like Jordan, Gaza and Morocco. She also works with Sallon to domesticate indigenous plants that appear to have medicinal uses.
Solowey, who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in California, said: "We've bred for yield and taste, but not hardiness, so we have a lot of plants as hardy as French poodles, so we have to spray to protect them, and then we pay the price. There isn't a cubic centimeter of water in the San Joaquin Valley that isn't polluted with something."
Solowey planted the date seeds at the end of January after trying to draw them out of their deep dormancy. She first soaked the seeds in hot water to soften the coat, then in an acid rich in hormones, then in an enzymatic fertilizer made of seaweed and other nutrients.
"I've done other recalcitrant seeds," she said. "It wasn't a project with a high priority. I had no idea if the food in the seed was still good, but I put them in new pots in new potting soil and plugged them into drip irrigation and kind of forgot about them."
About six weeks later, she said, "I saw the earth cracked in a pot and, much to my astonishment, one of these came up."
The first two leaves looked odd, she said, very flat and pale. "But the third looked like a date leaf with lines, and every one since has looked more and more normal - like it had a hard time getting out of the seed."
Lotus seeds about 1,200 years old have been sprouted in China, and after the Nazis bombed London's Natural History Museum in World War II and a lot of water was used to put out the fire, seeds about 500 years old also germinated.
"But no one had done it from 2,000 years old," Sallon said.
In the time of the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, forests of date palms covered the area from Lake Galilee to the Dead Sea and made Jericho famous; a date palm is featured on ancient coinage, as it is on the current Israeli 10-shekel coin.
The date palm symbolized ancient Israel; the honey of "the land of milk and honey" came from the date. It is praised as a tonic to increase longevity, as a laxative, as a cure for infections and as an aphrodisiac, Sallon said. But the dates of Judea were destroyed before the Middle Ages, and what dates Israel grows now were imported in the 1950s and '60s from California and originated elsewhere in the Middle East.
The Prophet Muhammad considered the date of great importance for medicine, food, construction and income, and it is described in the Koran as a "symbol of goodness" associated with heaven.
Dates need to grow 30 years to reach maturity and can live as long as 200 years.
But it is the female date that is considered holy, and that bears fruit. "Men are rather superfluous in the date industry," Sallon said.
"O.K., I have a date plant," Solowey said. "If it lives, it will be years before we eat any dates. And that's if it's female. There's a 50-50 chance. And if it's a male, it will just be a curiosity."
Chinese scientists uncover 4,000-year-old bowl of noodles
Thursday October 13, 2005
It was a long time to wait for a portion of noodles. Scientists have uncovered the world's oldest known noodles, dating back 4,000 years, at an archaeological site, Lajia, along the upper reaches of the Yellow river in north-west China. They were preserved in an upturned bowl among the debris of a gigantic earthquake. Until now, the earliest evidence for noodles has been a Chinese written description of noodle preparation dating back 1,900 years.
The Lajia settlement is thought to have been destroyed by earthquake and catastrophic floods. Houyuan Lu and his team at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing were excavating this scene of ancient destruction when they came across a well preserved earthenware bowl, embedded upside-down in a layer of clay. In the bowl they were amazed to see the remains of somebody's dinner. "The prehistoric noodles were on top of the sediment cone that once filled the inside of the inverted bowl. Thin, delicate and yellow, they resembled the traditional La-Mian noodle that is made by repeatedly pulling and stretching the dough by hand," said Dr Lu.
An empty space between the sediment and the bottom of the bowl had prevented the soft noodles from being crushed and helped preserve them. "The empty space must have been tightly sealed and become anoxic, allowing excellent preservation of the noodles for 4,000 years," said Dr Lu. When the bowl was lifted the exposure to air quickly oxidised the noodles, turning them to dust, but Dr Lu and his colleagues still managed to analyse the remains.
By analysing phytoliths, the microscopic mineral particles that form within plants, and starch grains from the noodle powder, the scientists managed to narrow down what kind of flour the noodles were made from. Modern noodles tend to be made from wheat flour, but analysis of the ancient noodles revealed they were made from millet, used in making alcoholic drinks. "Our findings support the belief that early plant domestication and food production relied on millet in the semi-arid Loess plateau region of China," writes Dr Lu in Nature today.
This also shows the people in the Lajia region had learned how to make a millet flour dough, that could be stretched into long, thin strands and boiled up.
The next question is what the Lajia people ate with their noodles. Dr Lu and colleagues found bone fragments and an oily substance in the bowl and hope to analyse them to determine the recipe.