Last Update: Wednesday, April 13, 2005. 7:33pm (AEST)

The Genographic Project will search for clues about how humans spread around the globe.

Genes to help tell 'story of everybody'


Indigenous people around the world will be asked to supply a cheek swab to help geneticists answer the question of how humanity spread from Africa.


The National Geographic Society and IBM hope to sample 100,000 people or more and look for ancient clues buried in living DNA to calculate who came from where and when.


For $US100, anyone who wants to can supply his or her own cheek swab for a personalised analysis and perhaps to contribute to the research.


Geneticist and anthropologist Spencer Wells said: "We all came out of Africa but how did we get to where we are today? What we are aiming for is the story of everybody."


Experts in related fields such as population genetics, archaeology, evolution science, linguistics and palaeontology will help in the five-year project.


Fossils provide some clues about where people settled as they evolved and moved from Africa to colonise every continent except Antarctica.


But mysteries remain, for example, about how people first got to Australia 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, or when and from where the first humans arrived in the Americas.


Linguistics and DNA provide many clues but the so-called Genographic Project will aim to systematically look at all peoples on all continents.


Teams in China, Russia, India, Lebanon, Brazil, South Africa, Paris, Britain and Australia have signed on to help.


Mr Wells says some groups may be hostile to the effort. "There has been a history of exploitation of indigenous groups around the world," he said.


But, he added, experts on dealing with various groups will help sell the idea. "It's a question of explaining the science," he said.


Geneticists will look at little changes in DNA code that have been used by experts to trace human history.


Mitochondrial DNA, handed down virtually unchanged from mothers to their children, is one source that was used to calculate the so-called ancestral Eve, who would have lived in Africa about 180,000 years ago.


Men have their own version, found in the Y chromosome, which is inherited with very little change from father to son.


Tiny mistakes in the code that occur with each generation can be used as a kind of genetic clock to track backward.


People who buy the mail-in swab kit are unlikely to add to the indigenous people's database but can find out something about their own ancient ancestry and perhaps add to the effort, Mr Wells said.





More on last week’s story:

Stone Age Erotica Found?

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News


April 14, 2005 — German archaeologists have found what they believe is Europe's earliest known clay figure of a male, along with a female figure that they think once was attached to the male in a sexual position.


Together, the two finds could represent the earliest three-dimensional depiction of a copulating human couple, according to the archaeological team.


Clay is difficult to date accurately, the team indicated, but markings on the objects, their style and the place in which they were found suggest that the figures date to 5,200 B.C.


"We don't really know what function sexual representations really had in those times," said Harald Stäuble, a scientist with the National Office for Archaeology in Dresden, Germany, who led the excavation. "But we know that they were colonizing early farmers, and we expect that fertility rites must have had an overall importance."


Stäuble and his colleagues unearthed the artifacts while excavating a site called Zschernitz, just north of Leipzig. The team is responsible for researching sites marked for pipeline and highway projects. Zschernitz was being prepared for the installation of a gas pipeline when the remains of the ancient figures were found.


The findings will be published in an upcoming issue of the German archaeological journal Germania.


Stäuble told Discovery News that two fragments make up the male figurine, which he has nicknamed "Adonis," since early female figurines often are called "Venus." He said the name suits the male figure "very well, looking at the explicit representation of the male gender."


The first fragment attributed to the male shows an enlarged, erect penis and the scrotum at the front, both of which are bent slightly forward. The back of this same object shows a clearly defined buttocks.


"The butt cheeks are decorated by two rows of triangular motifs, which are typical for the Linearbandceramic culture, which is the oldest Neolithic (late Stone Age) culture in central Europe and dates between 5,500-4,900 B.C.," Stäuble said.


The second fragment shows part of the male's shoulder and a section of his chest. The shoulder area indicates his now-missing head must have been bent backwards.


The second figurine, which was excavated nearby one month later, would have belonged to a 10-11 inch long statuette, as for the male. Only the buttocks, legs and knees remain, all of which suggest that it was meant to represent a female.


Markings similar to those found on the male exist on the back of the legs, and the object's position suggest the female once could have been situated directly in front of the male.


"The (female) figure is much more bent forward, almost 90 degrees, and could not stand by itself nor be seated," said Stäuble.


He theorized that the couple could have been performing a ritual dance, but that a sexual scene was much more likely.


"There will never be a positive proof for either of the two explanations, just arguments for and against," he explained. "But first of all, the penis is erected and secondly the figurines show different angles of bending forward."


Jens Lüning, a professor emeritus from the University of Frankfurt who is an expert on prehistory, disagrees with this interpretation. He believes Neolithic statuettes should be regarded as representing individuals, and not couples.


Most all other Neolithic figures, in fact, do clearly show separate men and women, often with exaggerated sexual characteristics, suggesting that the figures probably were related to fertility rituals. Most of these objects were excavated in what are now Iraq, Turkey and Jordan.


Aside from the impressive age and rarity in Europe of the Zschernitz objects, Stäuble believes they are important because they "are not stylistic, but realistic."


In future, he hopes they will inspire historians and anthropologists to investigate how people in the Stone Age viewed sex. He suggested that sex in prehistoric times may not have been a taboo subject, as it is even today in many parts of the world.



Search for lost ring leads to hoard of ancient treasure Apr 12 2005

By Gary Skentelbery Daily Post Correspondent


A QUEST for a missing wedding ring has helped uncover a collection of ancient treasures dating back up to 4,000 years.


Thought to be from tombs on the holiday island of Cyprus, the pricesless collection had been collecting dust in a Cheshire attic for nearly 40 years, with the belief they were old holiday trinkets.


Their historic value was discovered when Neville Davies enlisted the help of archaeologist and metal detecting enthusiast James Balme, to help track down his son-in-law's missing wedding ring.


The £500 gold ring had been lost on his land during snowy weather and was recovered in less than 30 minutes!


James, who met Neville at a Rotary Club meeting, said:"After finding the ring Neville asked me if I knew anything about identifying pottery as he had a box of pots in his loft that had been there for many years.


"He thought that they were tourist souvenirs and probably fairly modern. I agreed to take a look at what was in the box and couldn't believe my eyes when I saw ancient artefacts, some dating back up to 4000 years."


The collection consisted of 13 items, including wine flagons, a small bowl, a wine cup and an unusual clay effigy of a face, believed to be a Roman character, as well as several painted Greek vases.


Many of them still contained traces of soil indicating they may have come from a tomb or several tombs.


"It is highly likely that these vessels were deposited at the time of burial. There was a belief some 4000 years ago that they served the deceased on his or her journey to the afterlife," added James..


After discovering their historic interest Neville, who lives in Lymm, near Warrington,

remembered that another box was stored away in the attic.


He recovered the box containing a further twenty four artefacts and took it to James who immediately identified many of the objects as being Cypriot vessels from the Bronze age with a date range of approximately 2500 - 1650BC.


James said: "To say that I was amazed at what I was seeing would be an understatement to say the least.


"As well as the ancient pottery, most of which is in pristine condition, I also identified a Bronze Age spear some 14 inches in length and a unique Bronze oil lamp that I believe to be very ancient dating back to the late Bronze Ago, or early Roman period occupation of the island."


Another artefact is a huge painted flagon with the head of a bull cast into the neck of the vessel.


With Egypt being only a short boat trip away there is the possibility that some of the material could have be influenced by the ancient Egyptians.


The age of the finds has been verified by Professor John Prag of Manchester Museum.


The items ended up in Neville's loft after they were given to him by his late father, Sir Ossie Davies.


Back in 1958 a Cypriot gave them as a gift to someone who brought them back to Britain. Shortly afterwards they were given to Neville's father who in turn passed them on to Neville.


More information regarding the archaeological discoveries can be found at the website www.warburtonvillage.co.uk or by emailing historicmedia @hotmail.com



Published: 17th April 2005 11:48 BST+1

Pompei discovery for Swedish archeologists

(AFP) Swedish archeologists have discovered a Stone Age settlement covered in ash under the ruins of the ancient city of Pompei, indicating that the volcano Vesuvius engulfed the area in lava more than 3,500 years before the famous 79 AD eruption.


The archeologists recently found burnt wood and grains of corn in the earth under Pompei, Anne-Marie Leander Touati, a professor of archeology at Stockholm University who led the team, told AFP.


"Carbon dating shows that the finds are from prehistoric times, that is, from 3,500 years BC," Leander Touati said. It was until now believed that Pompei was first inhabited during the Bronze Age.


The group of archeologists - part of a larger international project - were mapping a Roman neighbourhood of Pompei when they made the discovery.


"It was a real fluke," Leander Touati said, explaining that the group was emptying a well to determine its use when it made the find.


"We realized that the well was a lot deeper than we thought, and we sent a guy down into the well. He moved some of the earth and suddenly he was in prehistoric times," she said.


The Stone Age remains were covered in a thick layer of ash. On top of that a a layer of ceramic shards was found, which according to Leander Touati could be from the Bronze Age. Additional geological layers lay on top of that, and on top of it all were the ruins of Pompei.


Pompei was covered in lava when Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. The excellently preserved ruins have become one of the world's most visited archaeological sites.


Leander Touati said her group was now planning the next step.


"We're going down there again," she said.



Decoded at last: the 'classical holy grail' that may rewrite the history of the world

Scientists begin to unlock the secrets of papyrus scraps bearing long-lost words by the literary giants of Greece and Rome

By David Keys and Nicholas Pyke

17 April 2005


For more than a century, it has caused excitement and frustration in equal measure - a collection of Greek and Roman writings so vast it could redraw the map of classical civilisation. If only it was legible.


Now, in a breakthrough described as the classical equivalent of finding the holy grail, Oxford University scientists have employed infra-red technology to open up the hoard, known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri, and with it the prospect that hundreds of lost Greek comedies, tragedies and epic poems will soon be revealed.


In the past four days alone, Oxford's classicists have used it to make a series of astonishing discoveries, including writing by Sophocles, Euripides, Hesiod and other literary giants of the ancient world, lost for millennia. They even believe they are likely to find lost Christian gospels, the originals of which were written around the time of the earliest books of the New Testament.


The original papyrus documents, discovered in an ancient rubbish dump in central Egypt, are often meaningless to the naked eye - decayed, worm-eaten and blackened by the passage of time. But scientists using the new photographic technique, developed from satellite imaging, are bringing the original writing back into view. Academics have hailed it as a development which could lead to a 20 per cent increase in the number of great Greek and Roman works in existence. Some are even predicting a "second Renaissance".


Christopher Pelling, Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford, described the new works as "central texts which scholars have been speculating about for centuries".


Professor Richard Janko, a leading British scholar, formerly of University College London, now head of classics at the University of Michigan, said: "Normally we are lucky to get one such find per decade." One discovery in particular, a 30-line passage from the poet Archilocos, of whom only 500 lines survive in total, is described as "invaluable" by Dr Peter Jones, author and co-founder of the Friends of Classics campaign.


The papyrus fragments were discovered in historic dumps outside the Graeco-Egyptian town of Oxyrhynchus ("city of the sharp-nosed fish") in central Egypt at the end of the 19th century. Running to 400,000 fragments, stored in 800 boxes at Oxford's Sackler Library, it is the biggest hoard of classical manuscripts in the world.


The previously unknown texts, read for the first time last week, include parts of a long-lost tragedy - the Epigonoi ("Progeny") by the 5th-century BC Greek playwright Sophocles; part of a lost novel by the 2nd-century Greek writer Lucian; unknown material by Euripides; mythological poetry by the 1st-century BC Greek poet Parthenios; work by the 7th-century BC poet Hesiod; and an epic poem by Archilochos, a 7th-century successor of Homer, describing events leading up to the Trojan War. Additional material from Hesiod, Euripides and Sophocles almost certainly await discovery.


Oxford academics have been working alongside infra-red specialists from Brigham Young University, Utah. Their operation is likely to increase the number of great literary works fully or partially surviving from the ancient Greek world by up to a fifth. It could easily double the surviving body of lesser work - the pulp fiction and sitcoms of the day.


"The Oxyrhynchus collection is of unparalleled importance - especially now that it can be read fully and relatively quickly," said the Oxford academic directing the research, Dr Dirk Obbink. "The material will shed light on virtually every aspect of life in Hellenistic and Roman Egypt, and, by extension, in the classical world as a whole."


The breakthrough has also caught the imagination of cultural commentators. Melvyn Bragg, author and presenter, said: "It's the most fantastic news. There are two things here. The first is how enormously influential the Greeks were in science and the arts. The second is how little of their writing we have. The prospect of having more to look at is wonderful."


Bettany Hughes, historian and broadcaster, who has presented TV series including Mysteries of the Ancients and The Spartans, said: "Egyptian rubbish dumps were gold mines. The classical corpus is like a jigsaw puzzle picked up at a jumble sale - many more pieces missing than are there. Scholars have always mourned the loss of works of genius - plays by Sophocles, Sappho's other poems, epics. These discoveries promise to change the textual map of the golden ages of Greece and Rome."


When it has all been read - mainly in Greek, but sometimes in Latin, Hebrew, Coptic, Syriac, Aramaic, Arabic, Nubian and early Persian - the new material will probably add up to around five million words. Texts deciphered over the past few days will be published next month by the London-based Egypt Exploration Society, which financed the discovery and owns the collection.


A 21st-century technique reveals antiquity's secrets


Since it was unearthed more than a century ago, the hoard of documents known as the Oxyrhynchus Papyri has fascinated classical scholars. There are 400,000 fragments, many containing text from the great writers of antiquity. But only a small proportion have been read so far. Many were illegible.


Now scientists are using multi-spectral imaging techniques developed from satellite technology to read the papyri at Oxford University's Sackler Library. The fragments, preserved between sheets of glass, respond to the infra-red spectrum - ink invisible to the naked eye can be seen and photographed.


The fragments form part of a giant "jigsaw puzzle" to be reassembled. Missing "pieces" can be supplied from quotations by later authors, and grammatical analysis.


Key words from the master of Greek tragedy


Speaker A: . . . gobbling the whole, sharpening the flashing iron.


Speaker B: And the helmets are shaking their purple-dyed crests, and for the wearers of breast-plates the weavers are striking up the wise shuttle's songs, that wakes up those who are asleep.


Speaker A: And he is gluing together the chariot's rail.


These words were written by the Greek dramatist Sophocles, and are the only known fragment we have of his lost play Epigonoi (literally "The Progeny"), the story of the siege of Thebes. Until last week's hi-tech analysis of ancient scripts at Oxford University, no one knew of their existence, and this is the first time they have been published.


Sophocles (495-405 BC), was a giant of the golden age of Greek civilisation, a dramatist who work alongside and competed with Aeschylus, Euripides and Aristophanes.


His best-known work is Oedipus Rex, the play that later gave its name to the Freudian theory, in which the hero kills his father and marries his mother - in a doomed attempt to escape the curse he brings upon himself. His other masterpieces include Antigone and Electra.


Sophocles was the cultured son of a wealthy Greek merchant, living at the height of the Greek empire. An accomplished actor, he performed in many of his own plays. He also served as a priest and sat on the committee that administered Athens. A great dramatic innovator, he wrote more than 120 plays, but only seven survive in full.


Last week's remarkable finds also include work by Euripides, Hesiod and Lucian, plus a large and particularly significant paragraph of text from the Elegies, by Archilochos, a Greek poet of the 7th century BC.



Skeleton find could tell us more about the Roman way of death

By Paul Jeeves

ANOTHER headless skeleton discovered in York is among a series of gruesome archaeological finds which could hold the key to unlocking secrets behind Roman burial rituals.

The latest discovery of human remains by archaeologists follows in the wake of another headless skeleton found shackled in a grave and a Roman mummy which was also unearthed in The Mount area of the city.

A total of 57 bodies – 50 adults and seven children – and 14 sets of cremated remains have been found during excavations, most by the York Archaeological Trust at a site in Driffield Terrace.

Archaeologists are now confident the bodies will provide perhaps the clearest indication yet on the Roman attitude to death.

It is thought the Romans could have beheaded corpses to release the human spirit, which they believed was contained in the head.

Excavations are continuing at the site which is earmarked for a new housing development and falls in the heart of one of York's most important Roman cemeteries.

Mike Griffiths, a consultant archaeologist for the developers, Shepherd Homes, discovered the 57th body – the first his team has unearthed.

"The latest finds could prove to be very important," he said.

"The last time anything was found on a similar scale was in the Victorian times, but the finds were often not recorded correctly and have been lost through the passage of time.

"Techniques have advanced a great deal since then, and we have far superior scientific analysis to examine the finds as well.

"These skeletons could provide us with the clearest indication yet as to how the Romans treated death and the passage to the afterlife."

Some Roman customs meant that bodies were buried outside the city, often at the roadside.

Archaeologists had expected to discover human remains at The Mount as it lies on the main Roman road between York and Tadcaster, but they have been taken aback by the number of beheaded skeletons uncovered.

The latest, which was discovered at the end of last week, has proved to be a departure from the previous remains.

Its head had been brutally hacked off and three or four vertebrae are missing. Other remains have had the head removed in a far more precise manner, suggesting the person was already dead.

The latest find indicates the man, who was aged in his late 30s or early 40s, could have been alive when he was beheaded.

Two deep puncture wounds were also made to his neck, with evidence of the weapon used causing damage to the remains of the spinal bone.

The latest remains are being stored in York for when paleopathologist Malin Holst returns from a trip to Germany. She will then analyse the bones to establish more about the man's death.

The public will have the chance to see the excavation site and a display about the remains at 89, The Mount, tomorrow between 10am and 4pm. Entry is free.


15 April 2005



Remains of Roman rabbit uncovered

The remains of a 2,000-year-old rabbit - found at an early Roman settlement at Lynford, Norfolk - may be the earliest example of rabbit remains in Britain.

The bones - which show evidence the animal had been butchered and buried - are similar to those of a small Spanish rabbit, common in Roman times.


It is thought rabbits were introduced to Britain following the Roman invasion in AD43.


The remains will be officially dated at the Natural History Museum in London.


The bones themselves had been butchered, possibly the rabbit was to be eaten by a Roman, and then buried on the site

Norfolk Archaeological Unit manager Jane Bowen 


The remains were found in 2002 during an archaeological dig at the site which was intended to become a quarry.

The archaeological significance of the site was not identified until the end of a 2004.


The full findings were revealed in a report to Norfolk County Council on 13 April.


Norfolk Archaeological Unit manager Jane Bowen said: "We know the rabbit remains are from the early Roman period because pieces of pottery found within the pit date from the first century and the site was undisturbed.


"The bones themselves had been butchered, possibly the rabbit was to be eaten by a Roman, and then buried on the site.


"We believe we have convincing evidence that these rabbit remains could be the earliest known in Britain," she said.


Another rabbit was found in Sussex, but its exact date was uncertain, she added.


Story from BBC NEWS:



Published: 2005/04/13 11:50:56 GMT




Updated: Sun 17 Apr 2005 | 20:19 BST 

Bodies of Brits from 1798 battle found in Egypt

Wed Apr 13, 2005 01:03 PM BST

CAIRO (Reuters) - An Italian archaeologist has discovered the remains of 30 British troops dating as far back as a decisive naval battle in 1798 between France and Britain off Egypt's north coast, the British Embassy said on Wednesday.

Archaeologist Paolo Gallo discovered the bodies on an island in Abu Qir bay, east of Alexandria, where British Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated Napoleon Bonaparte's French fleet in the Battle of the Nile.


Gallo had been excavating the island for Greek-Roman artefacts when he discovered the remains of the 30 British sailors and soldiers, some dating to the 1798 battle and others to 1801, when Britain landed an expeditionary force in the area.


The body of British navy Commander James Russell was identified by his uniform with the help of British archaeologist and naval historian Nick Slope, an embassy official said.


Russell, the only one to be buried in full uniform, and the other unidentified bodies will be reburied in a ceremony at a British Commonwealth military cemetery in Alexandria on Monday.


A descendant of Russell and the commanding officer of visiting British warship Chatham will attend, the embassy said.


The British, who later became a colonial power in Egypt, had been seeking to prevent Napoleon's forces from taking control of Egypt and threatening Britain's Indian empire.


Nelson hunted for Napoleon's fleet across the Mediterranean and took the French by surprise on August 1, 1798, off the Egyptian coast at Abu Qir.


Britain lost 218 men but no vessels during the battle, which lasted until August 2. The French lost 1,400 men and most of their fleet was destroyed or captured.


After the Battle of the Nile, French forces in Egypt were cut off and surrendered to the British in 1801.


© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.



Renovation Exposes Civil War-Era Graffiti


Thu Apr 14, 8:51 PM ET   U.S. National - AP

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. - Renovation of former President Andrew Johnson's home has exposed graffiti that Civil War soldiers wrote or scratched into the walls, including someone suggesting that "Andy you'd best skedaddle."


Johnson was admired by Union supporters, but detested by many Confederates, and both sides used his home as a headquarters during the Civil War, according to the National Park Service, which acquired the two-story brick home in 1942.


Graffiti quotes written or scratched into the plaster walls include: "Shame on you Andy," "Andrew Johnson Traitor of the South," and "Guilty of Treeson." There also are poems, and dedications to "My darling sister," and "For My Home in Kentucky."


Johnson was the military governor of Tennessee during the Civil War and then served as vice president under Abraham Lincoln before becoming the 17th president.


His daughter hid the graffiti under wallpaper in 1869 to prepare the home for his return.


The park service knew there was graffiti somewhere beneath the wallpaper — but not where. During a restoration in 1956, the walls were photographed and notes about the graffiti were taken.


The home is being re-covered with wallpaper as part of the current renovation. The graffiti will be preserved, but will remain hidden.