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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History of modern man unravels as German scholar is exposed as fraud
Luke Harding in Berlin
Saturday February 19, 2005
It appeared to be one of archaeology's most sensational finds. The skull fragment discovered in a peat bog near Hamburg was more than 36,000 years old - and was the vital missing link between modern humans and Neanderthals.
This, at least, is what Professor Reiner Protsch von Zieten - a distinguished, cigar-smoking German anthropologist - told his scientific colleagues, to global acclaim, after being invited to date the extremely rare skull.
However, the professor's 30-year-old academic career has now ended in disgrace after the revelation that he systematically falsified the dates on this and numerous other "stone age" relics.
Yesterday his university in Frankfurt announced the professor had been forced to retire because of numerous "falsehoods and manipulations". According to experts, his deceptions may mean an entire tranche of the history of man's development will have to be rewritten.
"Anthropology is going to have to completely revise its picture of modern man between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago," said Thomas Terberger, the archaeologist who discovered the hoax. "Prof Protsch's work appeared to prove that anatomically modern humans and Neanderthals had co-existed, and perhaps even had children together. This now appears to be rubbish."
The scandal only came to light when Prof Protsch was caught trying to sell his department's entire chimpanzee skull collection to the United States.
An inquiry later established that he had also passed off fake fossils as real ones and had plagiarised other scientists' work.
His discovery appeared to show that Neanderthals had spread much further north than was previously known.
But his university inquiry was told that a crucial Hamburg skull fragment, which was believed to have come from the world's oldest German, a Neanderthal known as Hahnhöfersand Man, was actually a mere 7,500 years old, according to Oxford University's radiocarbon dating unit. The unit established that other skulls had been wrongly dated too.
Another of the professor's sensational finds, "Binshof-Speyer" woman, lived in 1,300 BC and not 21,300 years ago, as he had claimed, while "Paderborn-Sande man" (dated at 27,400 BC) only died a couple of hundred years ago, in 1750.
"It's deeply embarrassing. Of course the university feels very bad about this," Professor Ulrich Brandt, who led the investigation into Prof Protsch's activities, said yesterday. "Prof Protsch refused to meet us. But we had 10 sittings with 12 witnesses.
"Their stories about him were increasingly bizarre. After a while it was hard to take it seriously. You had to laugh. It was just unbelievable. At the end of the day what he did was incredible."
During their investigation, the university discovered that Prof Protsch, 65, a flamboyant figure with a fondness for gold watches, Porsches and Cuban cigars, was unable to work his own carbon-dating machine.
Instead, after returning from Germany to America, where he did his doctorate, and taking up a professorship, he had simply made things up.
In one case he had claimed that a 50 million-year-old "half-ape" called Adapis had been found in Switzerland, an archaeological sensation. In reality, the ape had been dug up in France, where several other examples had already been found.
Prof Terberger said that he grew suspicious about the professor's work in 2001 after sending off the skull fragment to Oxford for tests.
Further tests revealed that all of the skulls dated by Prof Protsch were in reality far younger than he had claimed, prompting Prof Terberger and a British colleague, Martin Street, to write a scientific paper last year.
At the same time, German police began investigating the professor for fraud, following allegations that he had tried to sell the university's 278 chimpanzee skulls for $70,000 to a US dealer.
Why, though, had he done it?
"If you find a skull that's more than 30,000 years old it's a sensation. If you find three of them people notice you. It's good for your career," Prof Terberger said. "At the end of the day it was about ambition."
Other details of the professor's life also appeared to crumble under scrutiny. Before he disappeared from the university's campus last year, Prof Protsch told his students he had examined Hitler's and Eva Braun's bones.
He also boasted of having flats in New York, Florida and California, where, he claimed, he hung out with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Steffi Graf. Even the professor's aristocratic title, "von Zieten", appears to be bogus.
Far from being the descendant of a dashing general in the hussars, the professor was the son of a Nazi MP, Wilhelm Protsch, Der Spiegel magazine revealed last October.
The university is investigating how thousands of documents lodged in the anthropology department relating to the Nazis' gruesome scientific experiments in the 1930s were mysteriously shredded, allegedly under the professor's instructions.
They also discovered that some of the 12,000 skeletons stored in the department's "bone cellar" were missing their heads, apparently sold to friends of the professor in the US and sympathetic dentists.
Yesterday the university admitted that it should have discovered the professor's fabrications far earlier. But it pointed out that, like all public servants in Germany, the high-profile anthropologist was virtually impossible to sack, and had also proved difficult to pin down.
"He was perfect at being evasive," Prof Brandt said yesterday. "He would switch from saying 'it isn't really clear' to giving diffuse statements.
"I'm not a psychologist so I can't say why he did it. But my guess is that when he came back from the States 30 years ago he realised he wasn't up to the job of being a professor. So he started inventing things. It rapidly became a habit.'
Yesterday the professor, who lives in Mainz with his wife Angelina, didn't respond to emails from the Guardian asking him to comment on the affair. But in earlier remarks to Der Spiegel he insisted that he was the victim of an "intrigue".
"All the disputed fossils are my personal property," he told the magazine.
The most infamous of all scientific frauds was unearthed in 1912 in a Sussex gravel pit. With its huge human-like braincase and ape-like jaw, the Piltdown Man "fossil" was named Eoanthropus dawsoni after Charles Dawson, the solicitor and amateur archaeologist who discovered it. For 40 years Piltdown Man was heralded as the missing link between humans and their primate ancestors. But in 1953 scientists concluded it was a forgery. Radiocarbon dating showed the human skull was just 600 years old, while the jawbone was that of an orang-utan. The entire package of fossil fragments found at Piltdown - which included a prehistoric cricket bat - had been planted.
Japanese archaeologist Shinichi Fujimura was so prolific at uncovering prehistoric artefacts he earned the nickname "God's hands". At site after site, Fujimura discovered stoneware and relics that pushed back the limits of Japan's known history. The researcher and his stone age finds drew international attention and rewrote text books. In November 2000 the spell was broken when a newspaper printed pictures of Fujimura digging holes and burying objects that he later dug up and announced as major finds. "I was tempted by the devil. I don't know how I can apologise for what I did," he said.
The supposed fossil of Archaeoraptor, which was to become known as the "Piltdown turkey", came to light in 1999 when National Geographic magazine published an account of its discovery. It seemed to show another missing link - this time between birds and dinosaurs. Archaeoraptor appeared to be the remains of a large feathered bird with the tail of a dinosaur. The fossil was smuggled out of China and sold to a private collector in the US for £51,000. Experts were suspicious and closer examination showed the specimen to be a "composite" - two fossils stuck together with strong glue.
[07 February 2005]
Two members of the University of Bristol Spelaeological Society have discovered an engraving in a cave in the Mendip Hills, Somerset, which may be at least 10,000 years old.
Graham Mullan and Linda Wilson, who have spent much of the last ten years studying Palaeolithic cave art, recently began a systematic search of caves in southern Britain in the belief that such works in this country would not simply be confined to those found at Creswell Crags, Nottinghamshire.
The first results of this study are a series of inscribed crosses found on the wall of Aveline’s Hole in Burrington Combe, Somerset. Aveline’s Hole is famous as being the site of the earliest known cemetery in the British Isles. Recent work by Dr Rick Schulting and English Heritage shows that it was intensively used for burials shortly after the end of the last Ice Age, during the early Mesolithic period, and is this country’s oldest known cemetery.
Abstract designs such as this are commonly found in Mesolithic settings. Some do, however, date back to the Upper Palaeolithic cultures of the last Ice Age and although Upper Palaeolithic peoples also used this cave, the discoverers, assisted by Bristol University rock art specialist, Dr George Nash, and experts from the British Museum, believe that this engraving is more likely to be post Ice Age in date.
Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper in the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum, said: “This is an exciting and important discovery. The few lines that form this panel are a signature from the period right at the end of the last Ice Age when the present period of warm climate was beginning.
"This is an exciting and important discovery. The few lines that form this panel are a signature from the period right at the end of the last Ice Age when the present period of warm climate was beginning."
Jill Cook, Deputy Keeper in the Department of Prehistory and Europe at the British Museum“The pattern is comparable with others known from Northern France, Germany and Denmark giving a wider context for the finds of this time and a rare glimpse of what may have been a rather special means of communication.”
Graham Mullan and Linda Wilson are continuing their search and believe more works of this type may well come to light in the other caves in the area used by Early Man. A further engraving has been noted in one of the caves in the Cheddar Gorge, and further investigations are being carried out to verify this.
However, for the vast majority of engravings, it is impossible to obtain any direct dating evidence, leaving stylistic comparisons and archaeological context the only means of reaching a conclusion on the possible age of any such markings.
A gate has been installed in the cave to protect the engraving, after consultations between English Heritage and other interested parties, including the landowner and English Nature.
A full account of the discovery has been published in the Proceedings of The University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, volume 23 (2). This is available via the Sales Manager, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Society was founded in 1919 in order to bring a scientific approach to the study of caves and their contents and one of its first projects was the excavation of Aveline’s Hole, which continued throughout the 1920s.
Friday February 18, 2005
An amateur archaeologist using a 30-year-old metal detector has discovered a rare golden necklace from the iron age buried in a local farmer's field.
The delicately twisted torc, designed for a well-to-do member of a tribe in the area now covered by north Nottinghamshire, is expected to be valued at more than £100,000.
Maurice Richardson, 55, a self-employed tree surgeon from Newark, reported the find to the local coroner after initially thinking his soil-covered discovery was scrap metal.
It was only when he dug down and scraped one end, that he realised it was much more valuable.
The 700g (1.5lb) necklace was buried beneath a field which has been ploughed for years on the outskirts of Newark.
Mr Richardson said: "I got down on my stomach and scraped away and that was when a glint of gold came into view. It took me another half an hour to get it out of the ground because I was so nervous.
"It came out as though I had bought it from the shop yesterday. It shone, it was solid and perfect in every way. That is what the hobby is all about. It is something you read about in books but it never happens to you."
Mr Richardson found a modern gold ring worth £80 the day after buying his detector in 1975, but until Saturday had discovered nothing else of value.
The torc has been sent to the British Museum and a treasure trove inquest will be held in Newark to determine its value and an appropriate reward for Mr Richardson.
Last year, metal-detecting enthusiasts turned up what is thought to be the first-known Viking ship burial south of Hadrian's Wall. Hours of patience in a Yorkshire field yielded 130 items, including swords, sets of scales, ship nails and a silver Baghdad coin.
News Service : Iran
2/19/2005 9:56:00 AM
Tehran, Feb. 19 (CHN) – Excavations in the historical site of Haft Tapeh in the southern province of Khuzestan has led to the discovery of seven mud tablets in Akkadian cuneifom language.
Iranian and German archaeologists working in the area are hoping that the new discovery help them uncover parts of the unknown history of the ancient city of Haft Tapeh.
During the latest season of excavation on the site, which lasted three weeks and wrapped up recently, few boring pits were made, but a great deal of artefacts, including the mud inscriptions were unearthed.
The tablets which are as large as a palm, count up to seven and are written in Akkadian cuneiform, explained head of the restoration workshop of Haft Tapeh, Hamid Fadae, adding that they are hopeful that after cleaning the tablets and fortifying their damaged parts, they would be able to decipher their texts.
The discovery of mud tablets is considered a major discovery in any archeological site,and their discovery in Haft Tapeh is evidence of the richness of this site of Khuzestan.
According to Fadae, before the Islamic revolution of 1979 in Iran, some other tablets were found on the site by Dr. Negahban, forming the basis of today’s information of the area.
The Haft Tapeh archeological site is located 2 kilometers from The Ziggurat of Choghazanbil, dating to some four thousand years ago.
Lavish new volume documents wide reach and use of athletic venues in the ancient Greek world
The discus thrower (Discobolus), a Roman copy of a bronze by Myron (Hellenistic Greek, c485-425 BCE, marble), and the stadium of Aphrodisias are among the treasures celebrated in ‘Ancient Stadia.’
The ambitious task of documenting the stadia of the ancient world and of analyzing the diverse roles and significance of athletic games is undertaken in the compendious book “Ancient Stadia: Stadia and Games from Olympia to Antioch,” recently published by Itanos in English.
Designed by Maria Stefossi, who was also responsible for the book’s concept, this publication more closely approximates an album than a specialized treatise on the subject. The book contains 280 color, large-format photographs that show the stadia in their present state, ancient vase paintings and sculptures related to the ancient games. Interspersed among them are brief chapters on a number of subjects broadly related to the spirit of athleticism, among them sport as a vital part of education, the ways that athleticism was tied to religion, the myths from which the various games were born, and the types of games themselves. The research and text is by archaeologist George G. Kavvadias.
The book examines some 50 stadia in the geographical area of Greece proper and 150 others that were built in those areas of the Mediterranean that were under Greek influence. The stadia of Pergamum, Ephesus, Priene, Didyma and Miletus, all in the Asia Minor region, are each examined and illustrated in detail. Maps indicate the remarkable geographical range within which stadia were found.
Most of the ancient stadia in what is now Greece were located in the Peloponnese, leading the book’s author to claim this part of southern Greece as the birthplace of organized sporting events. The stadium of Olympia is probably the most famous example, the venue of the Olympic Games, and one of the first to show how those athletic sites gradually became independent from the worship sites for which they were initially built and how the religious significance of the games abated.
Special attention also goes to the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, the stadium which hosted the revived Olympic Games in modern times in 1896 and 1906. The history of the stadium is traced from the inauguration of the Panathenaic Games in 566 BC by the tyrant Peisistratus, to the first stadium that was built in Athens by Lycurgus in the fourth century BC through to the ambitious building program undertaken by Herodes Atticus in which Lycurgus’ stadium was refurbished in marble.
One of the best-preserved ancient stadia, the Panathenaic Stadium is testament to the importance of athletic contests in antiquity. It is this importance that “Ancient Stadia” by Itanos conveys by bringing together, for the first time, all the important monuments to the spirit of athleticism that the Greek ancient world created.
Vast palace of Rome's first kings discovered deep beneath the Forum
By Peter Popham in Rome
15 February 2005
Ancient Rome has yielded its deepest secret - one that coincides with the legend of the city's foundation. Seven metres under the ruins of imperial Rome's Forum, Professor Andrea Carandini has discovered the remains of an immense building, covering 345 square metres, which he believes to be the palace of Rome's first kings.
He has dated a section of flooring near by to 753BC - when, according to legend, the city was founded by Romulus on seven hills. Until now, historians have maintained that Rome's history could not be traced further back than the 4th or 5th century BC.
Professor Carandini's discovery, trailed in Il Messaggero newspaper, will be unveiled at a conference in Florence at the weekend. He will reveal that the centrepiece of the palace was an enormous banquet hall with walls of wood and clay and a tiled roof decorated with fine ceramics. "This palace endured at least until AD64, in other words for eight centuries," Professor Carandini said.
With the end of the Roman monarchy it became the abode of the Rex sacrorum, the sacred king, surviving until the first empire.
The archaeologist also claims to have identified the house of the vestal virgins, the priestesses who attended the Roman kings, and the fireplace where they tended the sacred fire.
Fri Feb 18, 2005 03:55 PM GMT
By Rachel Sanderson
ROME (Reuters) - In a discovery that may force the rewriting of Ancient Roman history, Italian archaeologists digging in the Forum have unearthed the ruins of a palace they say confirms the legend of Rome's birth.
Most contemporary historians dismiss as fable the tale that Romulus founded Rome in 753 B.C. and built a walled city on the slopes of the Palatine hill where he and his twin brother, Remus, were suckled by a she-wolf in their infancy.
Andrea Carandini of Rome's La Sapienza university has spent 20 years trying to prove the sceptics wrong and last month he and his team hit on the final piece of a puzzle he believes shows the myth has root in fact.
"Archaeology and legend appear to go better together than contemporary historians thought," Carandini told Reuters in an interview, ahead of a presentation of his findings this weekend.
"We now have all the elements to show that part of the legend may very well be true."
The source of Carandini's confidence is the discovery of traces of an eighth century B.C. house of regal proportions on the edge of the Forum that dates from the period of the Eternal City's legendary foundation.
Lying 10 metres below pines growing on the surface of the Palatine and under centuries of construction from classical to Renaissance times, the palace has a courtyard and covered inner area spanning a total of 350 square metres.
Wooden columns marked its entrances, ceramics decorated it and seats sat against the walls of a grand central hall.
It lies by the Sanctuary of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth, close to the slopes of the Palatine, the site of the earliest traces of Roman civilisation and where legend has it Romulus killed Remus before building Rome.
Most historians have always dismissed Rome's founding myth because they argued the Eternal City was just a huddle of wattle huts at the time Roman historian Livy described Romulus fortifying the Palatine and showing "outward symbols of power".
Carandini, who has also found traces of sanctuaries, a defensive wall and a shingle Forum floor dating from the same period, said that view will now have to change.
"It is exceptional, a find of maximum importance," he said. "It could only be a palace fit for a king."
Scholars elsewhere, when asked for their reaction to the finds, tended to be more cautious.
"The palace is completely convincing. In the eighth century B.C. people tended to live in tiny, sub-oval huts. This structure is much larger and rectangular. But this does not have a direct link to the Romulus myth," said Elizabeth Fentress, an archaeology research fellow at the British School in Rome.
"The tradition is based on royalty and an orderly community, but that does not mean that Romulus killed Remus."
© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.
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.
Fri Feb 18, 5:34 PM ET Science - AP
MAHABALIPURAM, India - Archaeologists have begun underwater excavations of what is believed to be an ancient city and parts of a temple uncovered by the tsunami off the coast of a centuries-old pilgrimage town.
Three rocky structures with elaborate carvings of animals have emerged near the coastal town of Mahabalipuram, which was battered by the Dec. 26 tsunami.
As the waves receded, the force of the water removed sand deposits that had covered the structures, which appear to belong to a port city built in the seventh century, said T. Satyamurthy, a senior archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of India.
Mahabalipuram is already well known for its ancient, intricately carved shore temples that have been declared a World Heritage site and are visited each year by thousands of Hindu pilgrims and tourists. According to descriptions by early British travel writers, the area was also home to seven pagodas, six of which were submerged by the sea.
The government-run archaeological society and navy divers began underwater excavations of the area on Thursday.
"The tsunami has exposed a bas relief which appears to be part of a temple wall or a portion of the ancient port city. Our excavations will throw more light on these," Satyamurthy told The Associated Press by telephone from Madras, the capital of Tamil Nadu state.
The six-foot rocky structures that have emerged in Mahabalipuram, 30 miles south of Madras, include an elaborately carved head of an elephant and a horse in flight. Above the elephant's head is a small square-shaped niche with a carved statue of a deity. Another structure uncovered by the tsunami has a reclining lion sculpted on it.
According to archaeologists, lions, elephants and peacocks were commonly used to decorate walls and temples during the Pallava period in the seventh and eighth centuries.
"These structures could be part of the legendary seven pagodas. With the waters receding and the coastline changing, we expect some more edifices to be exposed," Satyamurthy said.
An archaeologist's car containing two axes from the Ice Age has been stolen from outside a Birmingham hotel.
Mark Olly, of Warrington, Cheshire, was giving a lecture on druids at the Wellington Hotel in Bromsgrove Street, when the vehicle was taken on Tuesday.
A replica of a 750BC bronze sword, with a distinctive brass discoloration on the blade, was also taken, along with electrical goods worth nearly £5,000.
Mr Olly was in the city to talk to members of the Pagan Association.
He runs CWP Archaeology (Celtic Warrington Project), which documents all prehistoric and Dark Age remains in Cheshire and south Lancashire.
If they turn up on eBay or anything like that, we'll spot them straight away
A silver case containing metal and stone objects dating from Anglo Saxon, Viking and Medieval times, was also in his blue Nissan Micra - registration C459 JTX.
The vehicle also contained radio microphones, an overhead projector, amplifiers and books with a combined value of nearly £5,000.
Two of the axes stolen date back to 250,000 BC.
Mr Olly warned anyone trying to sell the relics that all of them had been recorded.
"If they turn up on eBay or anything like that, we'll spot them straight away," he said.
Anyone with information about the theft is asked to contact West Midlands Police at Steelhouse Lane police station or the Wellington Hotel direct.
Shakespeare's Rose theatre to rise again after centuries under London silt
British acting's aristocracy unite to resurrect Bard's first stage, immortalised on film
By Anthony Barnes, Arts and Media Correspondent
Published : 20 February 2005
The Rose, the Elizabethan theatre immortalised in the Oscar-winning film Shakespeare in Love, is to be recovered from the London silt after being buried for centuries, and opened to the public.
Leading figures from the British stage, including Sir Ian McKellen and Dame Judi Dench will next month launch a £5m plan to resurrect the historic building, which first staged Shakespeare's early plays, including Titus Andronicus and Henry VI Part I. Supports plan to reopen it in four years' time.
The remains of the venue were unearthed at Bankside in London in 1989 - close to where the reconstructed open-air Globe theatre is now sited - in what has been described as the most exciting find in British theatrical history.
A project director is to be named within the next few weeks to mastermind the scheme, which depends on securing £5m of Lottery funding.
The Rose was built in the bustling "anything goes" environment on the south side of the Thames in 1587, alongside brothels and bear-baiting arenas. A black flag would be flown to signify that a tragedy was playing, while white would herald a comedy.
Shakespeare, who also acted at the Rose, eventually moved to the theatre's larger rival, the Globe, and by 1606 the Rose was no longer a working theatre, simply disappearing from the map.
The remnants of walls, giving a skeletal outline of the venue, and a cache of artefacts were discovered on the site when the area was cleared to make way for offices. The exposed remains of the theatre have been preserved in a dark chamber beneath an office building used by the Health and Safety Commission.
Tony Toller, director of the Rose theatre trustees, said the appointment of a project director was a major step forward. "It's an enormously difficult post to fill. It requires the 'winner', if you like, to have expertise in so many different areas - to be experienced in making applications for Heritage Lottery Fund grants, in archaeology, history and in dealing with the various authorities.
"It's a mammoth undertaking and is a hugely important part of the next five years.
"When it was discovered in 1989 people talked about the Rose being a shrine to Shakespeare - it's one of the most exciting finds in theatre history in this country."
The Rose is unlikely to be used as a full-time theatre again, although fundraising performances such as sonnet readings have taken place occasionally, for audiences of up to 80 people. The next will be on Shakespeare's birthday, 23 April.
Mr Toller said: "We will have space for students, both adults and young, to come and have lectures and learn more about the Elizabethan theatre and the history of the theatre. Bankside was a wonderful place in the 1580s to early 1600s - a real sink of iniquity."
In the coming months Sir Ian will raise awareness of the project through a story-writing competition in which people will be asked to construct a tale about one of the items found during the 1989 dig, an inscribed gold ring that dates back 400 years. The winning entries will be read on radio by the actor.
© 2005 Independent News & Media (UK) Ltd.
A NEW exhibition includes a mummified moggy that roamed the grounds of Woburn Abbey 300 years ago.
The exhibition "Animal Mummies of Ancient Egypt" opened at the Walter Rothschild Museum in Tring yesterday.
The cat, which was included as a superb example of natural mummification, was dug up by builders working at the abbey in 1915 and donated to the Natural History Museum.
The petrified pussy was found is what appeared to be a specially-made brick chamber and as the picture shows he was entombed in a hunting pose, which suggests he was a favourite mouser.
Historical records show that sealing dead cats in wall cavities in the belief they would bring good luck and keep vermin at bay was fairly common in the 1700s.
The curator of mammals at the Natural History Museum, Richard Sabin, said: "Sometimes there were cats and rats buried together. It is very rare, but we have got some examples of those in the collection.
"It seems to be that this was a northern European tradition and there is a suggestion that it may have been brought to England when the Saxons came over, or maybe even earlier."
The Walter Rothschild Zoological Museum is in Akeman Street, Tring, and admission is free.
Opening hours are 10am to 5pm Monday to Saturday and 2pm to 5pm on Sunday.
17 February 2005