11:00 - 23 April 2005
New research has revealed Britain's oldest fragment of modern human - a jaw bone unearthed in the Westcountry - is 6,000 years older than previously thought. The findings raise questions about current thinking on when modern man first inhabited the country. Carbon dating had indicated the piece of jaw bone, with only three teeth, originated around 31,000 years ago. But the specimen was recently deemed suspect, because it had been strengthened with paper glue some time around its excavation from Kents Cavern, Torquay, in 1927.
The find was made by the Torquay Natural History Society, and identified by Sir Allen Keith, the top human anatomist of his day. But only in the 1980s was its significance recognised. Now, Dr Roger Jacobi of the British Museum and Dr Tom Higham from the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit have conducted new research.
Their findings indicate the piece actually dates back between 37,000 and 40,000 years. The announcement coincides with an international conference on the History of Geological Speleology and Cave Finds held in Pengelly Hall in Torquay Museum this week.
Barry Chandler, assistant curator at the museum, where the jaw bone is currently on display, said the new conclusions posed fresh questions. He said: "If the jaw is anatomically modern - from humans known as Cro-Magnons as Keith believed - then these people spread across Europe, reaching Britain far earlier than is currently thought.
"If, however, Keith was wrong and the jaw is from the human species known as the Neanderthals we will have the first direct evidence of Neanderthals on mainland Britain. We hope to resolve this problem by extracting ancient DNA from one of the teeth."
Contact: Hannah Johnson, email@example.com, 44-117-928-8896, University of Bristol
Uranium-series dating shows cave engravings oldest in Britain
An overdrawn photo of the stag engraving in Church Hole (please credit Sergio Ripoll)
A team of scientists from Bristol, The Open and Sheffield Universities have proved the engravings at Creswell Crags to be greater than 12,800 years old, making them Britain's oldest rock art.
Creswell Crags which straddles the Nottinghamshire-Derbyshire border is riddled with caves which have preserved evidence of human activity during the last Ice Age. Recently, engravings on the walls and ceiling were found by archaeologists.
These engravings depict animals such as the European Bison, now extinct from Britain, and other more enigmatic figures. The nature and style of these engravings led archaeologists to wonder if this art was perhaps older than any existing art in Britain.
Dating rock art is notoriously difficult, especially if there are no charcoal-based black pigments that can be radiocarbon dated. However, scientists were able to measure minute traces of radioactive uranium in thin limestone crusts (similar to stalagmites and stalagtites) that had formed over the engravings. These measurements allowed the scientists to establish the age of these stalagmites. Because these have formed over the engravings, they are obviously younger in age and therefore dating them provides a minimum age for the art.
The dates indicate the stalagmite in Church Hole — which contains most of the engravings — formed 12,800 years ago. The results establish once and for all the authenticity and Ice-Age antiquity of the rock art, and make it the oldest known in Britain. Artefacts left by Ice-Age hunter-gathers excavated from Creswell's caves have been dated to 13,000-15,000 years old. The new results indicate the art was probably left by the groups of people who made these artefacts. During this cold period the polar ice caps were much larger than today, resulting in considerably lower sea levels. Due to this, much of the North Sea was dry land — a vast plain with hills and lakes — on which it seems small groups of highly mobile hunter-gatherers were living.
Archaeologists think that these groups would visit Creswell and other sites in Britain in the Spring to exploit horses, reindeer and arctic hare for their meat, hides and fur. Similar rock art left by these groups had been discovered in France and Germany, but none had been found in Britain until recently. The new dates demonstrate that the groups reaching Britain had the same artistic traditions as their European counterparts.
Dr. Alistair Pike an archaeological scientist at the University of Bristol said: "It is rare to be able to scientifically date rock art and we were very fortunate some of the engravings were covered by thin flowstones. The contemporaneity and stylistic similarity of the Church Hole and Robin Hood cave engravings and many examples in the continent reveals a close connection between Magdalenian peoples stretching over several thousand kilometers."
Genetic testing reveals awkward truth about Xinjiang’s famous mummies
(AFP) 19 April 2005
URUMQI, China - After years of controversy and political intrigue, archaeologists using genetic testing have proven that Caucasians roamed China’s Tarim Basin 1,000 years before East Asian people arrived.
The research, which the Chinese government has appeared to have delayed making public out of concerns of fueling Uighur Muslim separatism in its western-most Xinjiang region, is based on a cache of ancient dried-out corpses that have been found around the Tarim Basin in recent decades.
“It is unfortunate that the issue has been so politicized because it has created a lot of difficulties,” Victor Mair, a specialist in the ancient corpses and co-author of “Mummies of the Tarim Basin”, told AFP.
“It would be better for everyone to approach this from a purely scientific and historical perspective.”
The discoveries in the 1980s of the undisturbed 4,000-year-old ”Beauty of Loulan” and the younger 3,000-year-old body of the ”Charchan Man” are legendary in world archaeological circles for the fine state of their preservation and for the wealth of knowledge they bring to modern research.
In historic and scientific circles the discoveries along the ancient Silk Road were on a par with finding the Egyptian mummies.
But China’s concern over its rule in restive Xinjiang has widely been perceived as impeding faster research into them and greater publicity of the findings.
The desiccated corpses, which avoided natural decomposition due to the dry atmosphere and alkaline soils in the Tarim Basin, have not only given scientists a look into their physical biologies, but their clothes, tools and burial rituals have given historians a glimpse into life in the Bronze Age.
Mair, who played a pivotal role in bringing the discoveries to Western scholars in the 1990s, has worked tirelessly to get Chinese approval to take samples out of China for definitive genetic testing.
One expedition in recent years succeeded in collecting 52 samples with the aide of Chinese researchers, but later Mair’s hosts had a change of heart and only let five of them out of the country.
“I spent six months in Sweden last year doing nothing but genetic research,” Mair said from his home in the United States where he teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
“My research has shown that in the second millennium BC, the oldest mummies, like the Loulan Beauty, were the earliest settlers in the Tarim Basin.
“From the evidence available, we have found that during the first 1,000 years after the Loulan Beauty, the only settlers in the Tarim Basin were Caucasoid.”
East Asian peoples only began showing up in the eastern portions of the Tarim Basin about 3,000 years ago, Mair said, while the Uighur peoples arrived after the collapse of the Orkon Uighur Kingdom, largely based in modern day Mongolia, around the year 842.
“Modern DNA and ancient DNA show that Uighurs, Kazaks, Krygyzs, the peoples of Central Asia are all mixed Caucasian and East Asian. The modern and ancient DNA tell the same story,” he said.
Mair hopes to publish his new findings in the coming months.
China has only allowed the genetic studies in the last few years, with a 2004 study carried out by Jilin University also finding that the mummies’ DNA had Europoid genes, further proving that the earliest settlers of Western China were not East Asians.
In the preface to the 2002 book, “Ancient Corpses of Xinjiang,” written by Chinese archeologist Wang Huabing, the Chinese historian and Sanskrit specialist Ji Xianlin soundly denounced the use of the mummies by Uighur separatists as proof that Xinjiang should not belong to China.
“What has stirred up the most excitement in academic circles, both in the East and the West, is the fact that the ancient corpses of “white (Caucasoid/Europid) people’ have been excavated,” Jin wrote.
“However, within China a small group of ethnic separatists have taken advantage of this opportunity to stir up trouble and are acting like buffoons, (styling) themselves the descendants of these ancient “white people’ with the aim of dividing the motherland.”
Further on, in an apparent swipe at the government’s lack of eagerness to acknowledge the science and publicize it to the world, Ji wrote, “a scientist may not distort facts for political reasons, religious reasons, or any other reason”.
Meanwhile, Yingpan Man, a nearly perfectly preserved 2,000-year-old Caucasoid mummy, was only this month allowed to leave China for the first time, and is being displayed at the Tokyo Edo Museum.
The Yingpan Man, discovered in 1995 in the region that bears his name, has been seen as the best preserved of all the undisturbed mummies that have so far been found.
Yingpan Man not only had a gold foil death mask -- a Greek tradition -- covering his blonde bearded face, but also wore elaborate golden embroidered red and maroon garments with seemingly Western European designs.
His nearly 2.00 meter (six-foot, six-inch) long body is the tallest of all the mummies found so far and the clothes and artifacts discovered in the surrounding tombs suggest the highest level of Caucasoid civilization in the ancient Tarim Basin region.
When the Yingpan Man returns from Tokyo to Urumqi where he has long been kept out of public eye, he is expected to be finally put on display when the new Xinjiang Museum opens this year.
China has hundreds of the mummies in various degrees of dessication and decomposition, including the prominent Han Chinese warrior Zhang Xiong and other Uighur mummies.
However, only a dozen or so are on permanent display in a makeshift building until the new museum is completed.
Tuesday, April 19, 2005 (Sanchankot):
The residents of Sanchankot village in Uttar Pradesh on the banks on Sai river never knew they were sitting on an archeological goldmine.
Excavations in the mounds here have revealed proof of civilizations of four different periods.
The oldest being the Painted Grey Ware period dating from 1400 to 800 BC and the latest the Gupta period of the 4-6th century AD.
A 10th century temple of the Pratihar dynasty has also been found during the excavations.
The archeological significance of the site has been known for almost 150 years now.
And almost every one who has come here has based their assessment on Fihian's writing.
And even the excavation that is going on now is based on how he has described the historical city of Saket in his book.
The area was first highlighted in 1868 by the then Director General of the ASI, General Cunningham and was mentioned in some 20th century studies.
But it was only in 1992 that this mound was declared protected. Excavations began early this year and only a small portion has been covered so far.
"These are one of the earliest known settlements that we know of. These remains are in an area of about 9 sq km. Hopefully, next year we will be able to know more," says Prof D P Tiwari, archaeologist.
Teracotta figures, seals and coins of Kushan period have also been unearthed making it the first time in northern India that an entire city of the Kushan period has been discovered.
Archeologists are optimistic that this could be the legendary 'Saket', one of the six big cities of Northern India during that time
The possibilities are extremely exciting. So far the oldest culture found in the Gangetic plains has been the Painted Grey Ware but finds of Ochre coloured pottery, associated with the Aryan culture, have also been reported.
If these are found here, they could establish the existence of a civilization parallel to that of the Indus Valley.
Contact: Ann Marie Menting
Egyptian sea vessel artifacts discovered at pharaonic port of Mersa Gawasis along Red Sea coast
Discovery includes steering oars, other evidence of Egypt's sea-faring past
(Boston) -- When Kathryn Bard reached through the small hole that opened in a hillside along Egypt's Red Sea coast, her hand touched nearly 4,000 years of history.
The opening that Bard, an associate professor of archaeology at Boston University, and her team's co-leader Rodolfo Fattovich, a professor of archaeology at Italy's University of Naples "L'Orientale," discovered was the entrance to a large, man-made cave. Two days later at a site about 30 meters beyond this cave, the team removed sand covering the entrance to a second cave, one that held the well-preserved cedar timbers of an ancient Egyptian sea-faring vessel.
The timbers, together with limestone block-anchors, curved cedar steering oars, rigging ropes, and other items, are from ancient Egyptian ships. In addition to the nautical items in the second cave, and the two antechambers discovered to branch from it, the archaeologists found limestone tablets with hieroglyphic inscriptions that detail long-ago trade expeditions to the Red Sea region known as Punt.
Bard and Fattovich will present their findings on the two caves -- and discuss the promise their discoveries hold -- to fellow archaeologists on April 23 during the 56th annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Cambridge, Mass.
Bard and Fattovich and their team made the dual discovery in late December while working at Wadi Gawasis, the site of the pharaonic port of Mersa Gawasis on the Red Sea coast of Egypt. The cave they unearthed not only contained artifacts that spoke of ancient Egypt's sea-faring vessels, it also had been constructed from recycled items from such vessels. Limestone anchor blocks and cedar beams from a ship, along with mud-brick and plaster, had been used to stabilize the walls forming the cave's entrance.
Inside the entrance were the two cedar steering oars found by the group. The scientists speculate that the oars may have been used on 70-foot-long ships from a 15th -century naval expedition launched by Egypt's Queen Hatshepsut to the southern Red Sea trade center, Punt. Well-preserved and intact, the oars are the first complete parts from a sea-faring ship to have been found in Egypt. Near the oars were found pieces of pottery dating from 1500 – 1400 B.C.
The cave also held hints of use as a temple. Near its entrance, the research team found small carved niches, four of which still held limestone tablets, known as stelae. One stela, the best preserved, bore hieroglyphic inscriptions describing expeditions to Punt and to Bia-Punt, the location of which is unknown. It also told of two officials, Nebsu and Amenhotep, who led the expeditions. Other inscriptions on the stela include an offering scene to the god Min, the god of the Eastern Desert also associated with fertility, and a cartouche of King Amenemhat III, who ruled Egypt around 1800 B.C. The stela's text provides new information about King Amenemhat III, suggesting he ordered the previously unknown expeditions to the Punt and Bia-Punt regions.
The team of archaeologists plans to return to the excavation site at year's end, this time with a researcher who will use ground-penetrating radar to determine if there are additional caves in the area and, if so, what their configurations are.
BU's Department of Archaeology, part of the university's College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, provides education and training in the recovery, analysis, and interpretation of archaeological materials while ensuring training in related fields such as classics, art history, anthropology, and history. Degree programs in the department also include classroom and practical training in biological and physical sciences and in quantitative methods.
Boston University, the fourth largest independent university in the United States, has an enrollment of more than 29,000 in its 17 schools and colleges.
The obelisk is a national religious treasure
The second part of a 1,700-year old stone obelisk looted by Italy nearly 70 years ago has arrived back in Ethiopia.
The Axum obelisk is regarded as one of Ethiopia's national treasures and there were huge celebrations when the first piece arrived on Tuesday.
The final piece is expected on Monday but the monument is not due to be re-erected until September.
Italian troops took the obelisk to Rome in 1937, where it stayed despite a 1947 UN agreement for its return.
The top arrived in Axum on Friday, after the middle piece was sent on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is expected to travel to Axum to lead national celebrations on Monday, when the final, bottom, section is due to return, reports the AP news agency.
Click here for details of the transfer
The ornately decorated 24-metre (78ft) obelisk is regarded as an outstanding example of architecture from the ancient city of Axum, itself seen as one of the four great kingdoms of the ancient world.
It stood for years outside the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome, despite an Italian commitment to send it back to Ethiopia.
It was eventually dismantled by Italian experts in 2004 in readiness for its journey home.
The operation is costing Italy an estimated 6m euros ($7.7m).
But the obelisk's return had been beset by "technical difficulties" and repeatedly postponed.
The most recent delay came just last week, when it was postponed "indefinitely" amid concerns that the airstrip at Axum could not handle the cargo plane.
The 160-ton monument had to be broken into three pieces.
The delay was a disappointment for Ethiopians and the country's government, which had planned a national celebration to mark the return of the obelisk.
Shortly after the return of the first part of the obelisk, traditional dancers took to the streets of Axum to celebrate.
The obelisk is to be re-erected after the rains in September.
Many Ethiopians see the obelisk as a vital national symbol, and the prospect of its return stirs strong emotions.
Lattanzi, the Italian company responsible for transporting the obelisk to Axum, has described the obelisk as the largest, heaviest object ever transported by air.
In addition, the airstrip at Axum had to be upgraded to handle the vast Antonov-124 aircraft, and radar was installed.
Italy's Mussolini had it taken to Rome in 1937
Claudio Peri / EPA via Sipa Press
The piece of the Axum obelisk sent to Ethiopia is seen here Monday shortly before it was placed on a cargo plane at an airport outside Rome, Italy.
The Associated Press
Updated: 9:06 a.m. ET April 19, 2005AXUM, Ethiopia - With pealing bells and chanting priests, Ethiopians welcomed the return Tuesday of the first piece of a giant, 1,700-year-old granite obelisk that was looted from the African country 68 years ago by Italian troops.
A giant Antonov 124 cargo plane brought the middle section of the 80-foot high funeral stone to northern Ethiopia — a homecoming that follows decades of demands and promises of its return.
The 58-ton piece was placed under armed guard at the airport until the two remaining pieces are flown to Axum from Rome later this month. The obelisk was taken in 1937 on the orders of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.
“This is an historic moment for all Ethiopians,” said Minister of Culture Teshome Toga, who received the granite monument that once symbolized one of the most powerful kingdoms on earth, the Axumite Kingdom. “We have waited so long for this.”
Priests from the dome-shaped St. Mariam Cathedral chanted and bells rung for the arrival of the first piece of the monolith, which dates back to the third century, predating the arrival of Christianity in Ethiopia.
Queen of Sheba's legacy
The Axumite kingdom was established between 200 and 100 B.C. The legendary Queen of Sheba reigned in the region eight or nine centuries earlier, and the Old Testament tells the tale of her journey to King Solomon’s court in 980 B.C. with 700 camels loaded with gold, ivory and other gifts. Her bathing pool and substantial remains of her palace can still be found in Axum.
Axum was the capital of a powerful, pre-Christian Axum Empire that stretched into parts of the Arabian peninsula. Legend has it that Axum was also the final resting palace of the Ark of the Covenant.
Massive obelisks are among a few tangible remains of the past glory of Axum, an area lying in the shadow of the Adwa Mountains where Emperor Menelik II defeated the Italians in 1896 — the greatest modern victory of an African army over a European force.
“The obelisk is a symbol of pride, of civilization and part of the Ethiopian identity,” archaeologist Teckle Hargos told The Associated Press.
Had been in central Rome
When it was removed, the obelisk was in fragments, having been toppled during a sixteenth-century Muslim rebellion. The weight of the fragments pushed the limits of military vehicles and makeshift roads and bridges built by the Italians. Once in Rome, it was restored with metal rods embedded in concrete, making it difficult to disassemble.
The obelisk was dismantled at the end of 2003 from where it stood near the Circus Maximus in central Rome.
Ethiopians hope the return of the obelisk, which is carved on all sides with windows and doors, will highlight the rich historical heritage in the only African nation that European powers failed to colonize. Italy occupied Ethiopia from 1936-1941, but it was never a colony.
“People outside of Ethiopia often think of famine, of war, of drought and don’t realize the wealth of heritage that this country does have,” Teckle said.
At home with other obelisks
When all the pieces have arrived at the airport, the ancient stele will be transported on three separate trucks to its final resting place, three miles from the airport. It will then be erected alongside six other obelisks, which once dominated the skyline of the Axumite Empire — now a small, wind-swept town and home to 60,000 people.
Bunting and flags adorned tress, flapping in the early morning breeze along the only paved road in Axum, a town that still remains largely cut off from the outside world.
Thousands of people lined roads at daybreak chanting and waving banners to celebrate the return.
Amese Lema, who fought the Italian occupation and has been campaigning for the return of the obelisk since 1966, wept on its arrival.
“This marks a new chapter with Italy,” the 85-year-old said. “Although I always knew it would be returned I never thought I would live to see the day.”
April 20, 2005
By Richard Beeston
ETHIOPIA has appealed to Britain to match Italy’s gesture by repatriating hundreds of artefacts plundered by the British Army in the 19th century.
Fisseha Adugna, Ethiopia’s Ambassador to London, told The Times: “We wish to encourage all others who possess Ethiopian cultural and sacred artefacts — both institutions and individuals — to graciously return them to Ethiopia.”
The plunder of Ethiopian treasures after the Battle of Maqdala in 1868 was not one of the finest chapters in British imperial history. An expeditionary force under General Sir Robert Napier invaded Ethiopia after the British consul and several missionaries were taken hostage by the Ethiopian ruler Emperor Tewodros. The victorious troops looted the imperial treasury and the Church of the Saviour of the World, taking crucifixes, Bibles, Christian manuscripts and other irreplaceable religious artefacts.
Many items were sold on by soldiers, but much remains in British hands. The British Library has nearly 350 manuscripts, the British Museum 80 objects, the Victoria and Albert Museum a gold crown and gold chalice and the Royal Library in Windsor Castle six ecclesiastical manuscripts.
A few items have been returned, and the British Museum has offered to transfer nine tabots (engraved wooden tablets representing the Ark of the Covenant) to the Ethiopian Church in London on long-term loan.
The Saxon bowl was discovered in 1816 but vanished 32 years later
Archaeologists hunting an Anglo-Saxon bowl missing for nearly 140 years are calling on the public to check their attics for the silver treasure.
The Witham Bowl - worth hundreds of thousands of pounds - vanished after an exhibition in Leeds in 1868.
First found in 1816 in the River Witham, Lincolnshire, it is thought to be the most remarkable piece of pre-Conquest silver found in England.
The Society of Antiquaries hopes new pictures online will jog memories.
The new picture catalogue will feature on its website from Friday.
The 8th-Century bowl is about 18cm in diameter and richly decorated with wild animals.
In the middle is the head of a mysterious creature - described as a dog or a "water monster" - which is believed to rise when the bowl is filled with water.
It is thought the hanging bowl would have originally contained water, but its specific purpose remains in doubt.
One theory is the vessel was sold as part of a collection at that auction house Christie's in the 1920s, and may have gone to the US.
But research by academics has drawn a blank.
"It might have been sold and gone to the United States, but then again someone could be using it as an ashtray or keeping paper clips in it," the society's spokeswoman Jayne Phenton said.
Anyone who thinks they might know the whereabouts of the bowl can contact the Society of Antiquaries at firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone 020 7479 7087.
Martin Wainwright, Friday April 22, 2005, The Guardian
An ancient horn has preserved its questionable reputation as Britain's oldest musical instrument.
Archaeologists yesterday displayed the Ripon charter horn and issued a ream of information on everything except its age. It is thought that the horn was given to the North Yorkshire city in AD886 by Alfred the Great.
Ripon is proud of its past, and the hornblower still sounds four blasts every evening at 9pm - although not on the charter horn.
"It's much too delicate for that," said Richard Hall of York Archaeological Trust, who led the study. He said that the research revealed interesting information, despite steering away from carbon dating. The archaeologists said that some of the early mediaeval craftwork suggests that the horn may have been a venerable object even then.
By David Sanderson
A SAMPLE from the bones of a Suffolk woman buried 400 years ago is to be exhumed by scientists seeking to discover more about an English explorer who is the unsung founding father of America.
Archaeologists are to crosscheck DNA from remains they believe belong to the explorer Bartholomew Gosnold with samples from his sister, who was thought to have been buried in a Suffolk churchyard in the 1600s.
Church officials have given their backing to the project, which is thought to be the first of its kind in Britain. It will involve remains being taken from a narrow shaft in the grave of his sister Elizabeth Gosnold Tilney, who records show lies in the chapel of Shelley All Saints Church in Suffolk.
Although Captain Gosnold died within three months of arrival on American soil in 1607, he is credited with laying the foundations for the American legal system and government that remain to this day. He is also credited with naming Cape Cod after the fish that he found there and Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the southern Cape coast, in remembrance of his daughter, who died in infancy.
It is argued that had he not assembled and funded his crew of adventurers, who set off on the Godspeed 13 years before the Pilgrim Fathers set sail, the United States of America would now be a Spanish- speaking nation.
Two years ago the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities (APVA), the driving force behind the project to give Captain Gosnold his due credit, discovered the remains of a 17th-century sea captain at what is believed to be the site of the Jamestown settlement founded by him in Virginia.
William Kelso, the APVA director of archaeology, said: “Based on the archaeological evidence and forensic analysis, we are confident that the remains excavated at Jamestown are those of Bartholomew Gosnold. If we can find matching DNA, we will have done everything possible to confirm the identity of this great man and raise awareness about his contribution to the founding of the United States.” The site of the colony had been thought to have been swept into the James River. But artefacts uncovered from 1994 confirmed its location on dry land.
A spokeswoman for the APVA said that Gosnold was the “most overlooked of the country’s founders . . . Gosnold was the principal promoter, vice-admiral and one of the most influential leaders of the Jamestown colony, which eventually gave birth to the development of the United States. America’s English language, rule of law and representative government all evolved from the pioneering efforts of Gosnold and others at Jamestown”.
Yesterday the Diocese of St Edmondsbury and Ipswich gave its backing to the DNA- matching project. A spokesman for the diocese said that it was an exciting development and added: “For the first time a scientific project has been given the go-ahead to seek to extract DNA material to establish the identity of a family member.
“It has taken a lot of work and co-operation between the parish, diocese and national church authorities in Britain and American scientists.
“The experts say that it will not be necessary to exhume remains, but that samples can be taken after digging a narrow shaft in specific areas.
“That means that there would be no need for reburials or religious services.”
Permission needed to be granted by the Council of the Care of Churches to approve the excavation and extraction of fragments of the remains, and from the Home Office.
By Marie Hobbins
FRAGMENTS of bodies discovered during excavation work close to Baals Bridge on Monday may belong to the medieval age.
Commenting on the find to the Limerick Post, Frank Coyne, managing director of the Corbally based company, Aegis Archaeology said the body fragments were discovered on a site being prepared for private development that is adjacent to the bridge.
"We believe we’re talking about five or six bodies in this discovery but we have two bone specialists on site and will know much more when they have completed a thorough analysis.
"It will then be up to the National Museum of Ireland to determine where the remains will go to but meantime we’ll be on site for another four weeks or so during which time there could be further discoveries,” said Mr Coyne.
"During excavations carried out by us on the Southern Ring Road we excavated some forts and fulachtafaigh, which were communal cooking places between 3,000 and 4,000 years old.”
Local councillor John Gilligan told the Limerick Post that he believes the body fragments discovered on Monday could be those of victims of a cholera epidemic that broke out in the city in the mid 19th century.
"Five skeletons were discovered during work on the Northern Ring Road a couple of years ago and the theory is that they were people who died from cholera and as was the custom in those times when there was a plague or terrible epidemic, then the bodies were buried outside the city walls,” he said.
The councillor pointed out that the city walls used to run on both sides of the Abbey River up to Baals Bridge.