Found: Europe's oldest civilisation

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

11 June 2005


Archaeologists have discovered Europe's oldest civilisation, a network of dozens of temples, 2,000 years older than Stonehenge and the Pyramids.


More than 150 gigantic monuments have been located beneath the fields and cities of modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovakia. They were built 7,000 years ago, between 4800BC and 4600BC. Their discovery, revealed today by The Independent, will revolutionise the study of prehistoric Europe, where an appetite for monumental architecture was thought to have developed later than in Mesopotamia and Egypt.


In all, more than 150 temples have been identified. Constructed of earth and wood, they had ramparts and palisades that stretched for up to half a mile. They were built by a religious people who lived in communal longhouses up to 50 metres long, grouped around substantial villages. Evidence suggests their economy was based on cattle, sheep, goat and pig farming.


Their civilisation seems to have died out after about 200 years and the recent archaeological discoveries are so new that the temple building culture does not even have a name yet.


Excavations have been taking place over the past few years - and have triggered a re-evaluation of similar, though hitherto mostly undated, complexes identified from aerial photographs throughout central Europe.


Archaeologists are now beginning to suspect that hundreds of these very early monumental religious centres, each up to 150 metres across, were constructed across a 400-mile swath of land in what is now Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and eastern Germany.


The most complex excavated so far - located inside the city of Dresden - consisted of an apparently sacred internal space surrounded by two palisades, three earthen banks and four ditches.


The monuments seem to be a phenomenon associated exclusively with a period of consolidation and growth that followed the initial establishment of farming cultures in the centre of the continent.


It is possible that the newly revealed early Neolithic monument phenomenon was the consequence of an increase in the size of - and competition between - emerging Neolithic tribal or pan-tribal groups, arguably Europe's earliest mini-states.


After a relatively brief period - perhaps just one or two hundred years - either the need or the socio-political ability to build them disappeared, and monuments of this scale were not built again until the Middle Bronze Age, 3,000 years later. Why this monumental culture collapsed is a mystery.


The archaeological investigation into these vast Stone Age temples over the past three years has also revealed several other mysteries. First, each complex was only used for a few generations - perhaps 100 years maximum. Second, the central sacred area was nearly always the same size, about a third of a hectare. Third, each circular enclosure ditch - irrespective of diameter - involved the removal of the same volume of earth. In other words, the builders reduced the depth and/or width of each ditch in inverse proportion to its diameter, so as to always keep volume (and thus time spent) constant .


Archaeologists are speculating that this may have been in order to allow each earthwork to be dug by a set number of special status workers in a set number of days - perhaps to satisfy the ritual requirements of some sort of religious calendar.


The multiple bank, ditch and palisade systems "protecting" the inner space seem not to have been built for defensive purposes - and were instead probably designed to prevent ordinary tribespeople from seeing the sacred and presumably secret rituals which were performed in the "inner sanctum" .


The investigation so far suggests that each religious complex was ritually decommissioned at the end of its life, with the ditches, each of which had been dug successively, being deliberately filled in.


"Our excavations have revealed the degree of monumental vision and sophistication used by these early farming communities to create Europe's first truly large scale earthwork complexes," said the senior archaeologist, Harald Staeuble of the Saxony state government's heritage department, who has been directing the archaeological investigations. Scientific investigations into the recently excavated material are taking place in Dresden.


The people who built the huge circular temples were the descendants of migrants who arrived many centuries earlier from the Danube plain in what is now northern Serbia and Hungary. The temple-builders were pastoralists, controlling large herds of cattle, sheep and goats as well as pigs. They made tools of stone, bone and wood, and small ceramic statues of humans and animals. They manufactured substantial amounts of geometrically decorated pottery, and they lived in large longhouses in substantial villages.


One village complex and temple at Aythra, near Leipzig, covers an area of 25 hectares. Two hundred longhouses have been found there. The population would have been up to 300 people living in a highly organised settlement of 15 to 20 very large communal buildings



How 7,000-year-old temples reveal the elaborate culture of Europe

By Cahal Milmo

11 June 2005


The construction of the temples of Nickern, on the site that is now Dresden, puts the first civilisations of Europe at the forefront of early human endeavour to master nature.


Some two millennia before the first stones were laid for the pyramids of Egypt, humanity's preoccupation, from the forests of Germany to the plains of Pakistan, was ­ both literally and figuratively ­ to place roots in the soil.


Archaeological evidence suggests that by the fifth millennium BC, tribes in regions such as Baluchistan, on the site known as Mehrgarh, in the north-western corner of the Indian sub-continent, and the Samarrans in Mesopotamia were establishing farms and permanent communities.


In Egypt, crops such as flax, cotton and barley were being grown from about 5000BC in villages where herds of sheep and goats were also kept. The discovery of early traces of agriculture in New Guinea from about the same time indicate that across the globe humans were starting to sculpt their landscape.


Dr John Robertson, a Washington University-based anthropologist, said: "There is much of this period that we still don't understand, but humanity was beyond the stage of hunting down prey and smearing itself with the entrails.


"Across the world, man was beginning to see his surroundings as something that could be organised or curtailed ­ to be farmed. That is a profound change and it did not displace an innate sense of reverence for nature.


"The first civilisations therefore dedicated effort, more often than not huge, into reflecting that in monumental structures."


It is this impetus for a sacred space, such as the early temples dating from this time in Mesopotamia, that appears to be behind the vast structures uncovered in central Europe.


Archaeologists have struggled to pinpoint and outline the development of the first farming communities, because the evidence that they left behind is scanty at best. But the picture that is often drawn of the European context is that an increasingly sophisticated farming culture, with its base in Mesopotamia, roughly the area occupied by present-day Iraq and Syria, was radiating outwards across the Middle East towards the outer reaches of Europe.


On the Orkney islands, complex stone structures such as the Knap of Howar, the earliest standing dwellings to be found in north-west Europe, date from about 3500BC.


Stone, however, is durable and tends to stay in place. By contrast, it has been difficult for archaeologists to establish the degree of sophistication of the civilisation that built the Nickern temples ­ more than a millennium before the Orkney structures ­ using timber and earth.


Andrew Sherratt, professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford, said: "The problem has been that all that is often left of these structures are post-holes. It is only when we begin to reconstruct them that we understand the elaborate nature of the culture.


"What appears to have been discovered in Germany is something which might have astonished, for example, Britons, who were only just beginning to farm in this period. But to the Mesopotamians, it would have been the grounds for a rather patronising pat on the back."


While the precise nature of the Nickern round buildings remains a mystery, evidence suggests their owners were sophisticated.


In the early Egyptian village of al-Fayyum, dead domesticated animals were wrapped in linen and buried close to their community. Later evidence from Ancient Egypt offers in insight into the complexity of beliefs that accompanied this practice.


In Nickern, the people who were building their own grand places of worship manufactured ceramic statues of humans and animals ­ as did the inhabitants of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan ­ although there is as yet little evidence of the beliefs that drove this practice.



Finds point to far earlier European civilisation



EVIDENCE has emerged of Europe's oldest known civilisation, whose buildings pre-date Stonehenge by 2,000 years, and whose monuments are even older than the Mesopotamian cities traditionally thought to have been the cradle of civilisation.


Archaeologists have uncovered a network of 150 huge temples and buildings beneath the fields and cities of modern-day Germany, Austria and Slovakia.


They appear to have been built nearly 7,000 years ago, between 4,800BC and 4,600BC, and their discovery will radically change the understanding of civilisation in Europe, which is traditionally thought to have lagged far behind the development of urban life and culture in the Middle East.


The temples were built of earth and wood, and had ramparts and palisades that stretched for up to half a mile. They were built by a highly religious people who lived in communal dormitories up to 50 yards long, which were grouped around substantial villages.


It appears their economy and lifestyle were based around farming of cattle, sheep, goats and pigs. But puzzlingly, their civilisation - or at least the style of building and living in communal homes around the villages - seems to have died out after only about 200 years.


Europeans did not begin putting together similar buildings for another 3,000 years, by which time the continent was firmly in the shadow of the glittering civilisations of the Middle East.


The most complex of the sites excavated so far, located inside the German city of Dresden, consisted of an apparently sacred internal space surrounded by two palisades, three earthen banks and four ditches.


Harald Staeuble, the person directing the archaeological investigations, said: "Our excavations have revealed the degree of monumental vision and sophistication used by these early farming communities to create Europe's first truly large-scale earthwork complexes."


One village complex and temple at Aythra, near Leipzig, covers an area of 25 hectares, and 200 houses have been found there.



Dig may change beliefs on early peoples

Archaeological site near Kanorado may be uncovering earliest record of campsites on the Great Plains

By Terry Rombeck (Contact)

Sunday, June 12, 2005


Rural Sherman County — These days, on the banks of the dry Middle Beaver Creek, Janice McLean gets excited about tiny rocks.


It was Friday afternoon, just after lunch, and volunteer archaeologists at this dig site had uncovered one of the largest finds of the weeklong dig: a stone about the size of a nickel.


To the untrained eye, it looked like any other rock near a western Kansas cow pasture.


But McLean, a Kansas University graduate student, knew the churt rock wasn’t native to the area. Someone had to bring it there.


Rock by rock, and bone by bone, McLean and her fellow archaeologists are trying to prove the people who once camped at this site were among the earliest inhabitants of the Great Plains — and may have been there 700 years before historians previously thought.


“It’s exciting every day,” McLean said. “You find one really exciting thing, and you can live off that for three or four days.”


This is the third summer archaeologists from KU and the Denver Museum of Nature and Science have been at this rural site near Kanorado, about a mile from the Colorado border.


This year’s dig has taken on new importance based on radiocarbon dating results completed in February. The tests showed that mammoth and prehistoric camel bones found at the site dated back to 12,200 years ago.


The bones appear to have tool marks made by humans, who probably broke the bones apart to extract marrow for food or to make bone tools, said Steve Holen, curator of archaeology at the Denver Museum. If workers can find tools in the same area where the bones were found, it could disprove the widely held belief that humans arrived in North America around 11,500 years ago.


“The best thing we could find is a very patterned artifact — one that it’s obvious humans made it,” Holen said. “It would change the way we think about early humans in North America.”


So far, that irrefutable evidence hasn’t been found. But the archaeologists — more than 100 in all from KU, the Denver Museum, the Kansas Archaeological Assn., the Kansas Archaeology Training Program of the Kansas State Historical Society — have plenty of digging left to do.


The dig is being funded, in part, by the Odyssey Archaeological Research Fund, an endowed program that aims to find the earliest evidence of humans on the Great Plains.


The process


A paleontologist from the Denver Museum first came to the site in 1976, when artificial creek channels created by the Kansas Department of Transportation caused mammoth and camel bones to become exposed.


Holen decided to return to the location after seeing some of the artifacts collected.


The archaeologists on the site are working in shifts of about 50, spread across three dig sites in the side of the creek bed. Each excavation site is divided into grids with 1-meter-square sections.


Using levels and tape measures, workers scrape off 5 centimeters of dirt at a time, keeping an eye out for rock and bone. They sift each section of dirt through screens to make sure no artifacts go undetected.


When an artifact is found, it is placed in a bag, and KU graduate students use surveying equipment to pinpoint the exact location where it was uncovered. Those artifacts will be taken to the Denver Museum for analysis.


The work can be tedious.


“We find a lot of rat holes,” said Allen Wiechert, of Lawrence, one of the Kansas Archaeological Assn. volunteers. “But you never know what one might find in the next 15 centimeters.”


Nearby, 15-year-old Niki Orth, of Bushton, was sifting through dirt Wiechert removed from one of the dig locations.


“I like history a lot,” she said. “And I also like to dig in the dirt. So this is perfect for me.”


Kim Kilmartin, a Baker University sophomore from Topeka, decided to spend part of her summer at the site after completing an internship in a processing lab at the Kansas State Historical Society.


“It’s actually a lot more fun than it looks,” she said. “In the lab, you actually know what you’re looking for. Finding it in the field is very cool, even if it’s the smallest stone flake or bone fragment.”


New insight


Even if evidence pushing back the arrival of humans in the plains isn’t found, the site is still one of the best-preserved campsites for early plains people, the researchers said.


Pieces of tools and a bead from the Clovis era — from about 10,800 years ago to 11,500 years ago — have been uncovered.


In the past, most Clovis-era artifacts have been found away from campsites, such as arrowheads found in fields, said Rolfe Mandel, an archaeological geologist with the Kansas Geological Survey. Mandel said this was the first site uncovered from the period in Kansas or Nebraska, and one of only a handful from the Midwest.


“We knew they were here,” he said of Clovis-period people. “We didn’t know anything about how they may have spent their time while they weren’t traveling across the landscape. That’s been very elusive.”


In prehistoric times, the Kanorado site likely had marshlike water that drew large animals, which in turn drew humans there, Mandel said. People of the era were highly mobile, though, so they likely didn’t stay there more than a few days or weeks.




While the artifacts from 10,800 to 11,500 years ago are interesting, workers digging near Kanorado clearly would like to find something to push back dates of humans in the Great Plains — and thus make history themselves.


If such an artifact was found, the researchers say, it would raise questions about whether the earliest inhabitants of North America came across the Bering Strait from Asia. Instead, they may have arrived by boat in South America, and journeyed northward.



That, Holen said, would fly in the face of scientific doctrine that has long held humans have been in North America for about 11,500 years.


“There is a strong contingent that still believes that,” he said. “We’re going to do what we can to disprove that.”


And while no such artifact has turned up so far, the possibility that an arrowhead is lying under the next layer of dirt is enough to keep workers digging away at the site.


“This,” Mandel said, “is tantalizing.”



Reindeer hunters preceded Canary supporters

From the July/August issue of British Archaeology

embargoed until Friday 10 June


A hunting camp dating from the end of the ice age has been found at Norwich City Football Club’s home ground. Distinctive long flint blades lay where they had been made around 11,500 BC, in a cold landscape swept by herds of reindeer and wild horse.

Relegated from the Premier League in 1994/95, Norwich City returned to beat Manchester United at Carrow Road in April. At the same time, home facilities have been substantially improved. Before the development, the Norfolk Archaeological Unit excavated at the new Jarrold South Stand stand in 2003. Finds analysis is at an early stage, but project manager David Adams says the site “is potentially of national importance”.

The discovery was made when archaeologists reached the underlying sand. At this point, says Adams, “someone realised we had an in situ flint scatter in what we would normally call sterile natural”. Some 300 pieces of flint were found in mint condition, lying in two groups. Most were waste products, but there were also a few cores, from which the pieces had been struck, and some distinctive “bruised blades”.

Around 50 “Long Blade” sites are known in the UK, mainly in eastern England. Roger Jacobi, a British Museum specialist in the period, says the blades, 12cm or more long, are like hunting knives, while the bruised blades (known in France as lames mâchurées) may have been for shaping sandstone hammers.

The camp is likely to have been one of several on sand and gravel bars in the River Wensum valley, where people could have found the flint they needed to hunt migrating game. At that time Britain was part of the continent, with a cold, dry climate and sparse vegetation. It is hoped to obtain a precise date using optically stimulated luminescence (OSL).

Norwich City has a reputation for friendliness and, with Delia Smith on the board, quality meat pies. A third attribute can now be added: their ground is the only one to seat fans above a camp where, more than 10,000 years ago, people prepared in near Arctic conditions to go forth and hunt reindeer.


David Adams, Norfolk Archaeological Unit david.adams@norfolk.gov.uk






09:00 - 09 June 2005 

A Film crew and a team of archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an Iron Age settlement in a remote Wester Ross village.


The Goldthorpe family, owners of Applecross Campsite, called in Channel 4's Time Team to discover whether a mystery mound on the site used to be a broch, an ancient, circular fortified tower.


After three days of hard work, the team uncovered what was left of a pre-Pictish settlement dating from about 200BC.


They found the foundations of a tower 18 metres wide, along with artefacts including a hammer, a needle for piercing leather, crushed bones and antlers.


The building consisted of two concentric dry-stone walls, separated by a cavity for insulation and to keep out rain. In places, they are up to 4.6 metres thick.


Originally the tower would have been about 10 metres high, about the same size as the broch at Mousa in Orkney, but over the years the stones had been taken for other buildings in the area, leaving only its foundations.


Father of two Nick Goldthorpe, 38, said the team, which included experts from Historic Scotland and the National Museum of Scotland, had helped solve a mystery that had been with him since childhood. His family moved to the site from Yorkshire in 1972, and as a child he searched the area for traces of the ancient settlement with his brother and sister.


His sister runs the campsite's cafe and his brother James looks after the grounds.


The film will include three generations of Goldthorpe - Nick Goldthorpe, his father Clive and son Daniel - working on the dig.


He said: "The crew said there was still a lot more to find, but stopped the dig and left it open enough to suggest they could come back again in the future."


The team of film crew and archaeologists consisted of about 50 people, who were put up in bed-and-breakfasts in Applecross and Lochcarron.


The show's host Tony Robinson - best known as dogsbody Baldrick in the hit television comedy Blackadder - was one of the crew who stayed further afield at Lochcarron as there were no more rooms available at Applecross last week.


Time Team's assistant producer Oliver Twich said: "The sun shone on the final day, which was very fitting because we had gone through a lot of turmoil until that point trying to establish whether it was a broch. We were hampered by bad weather, but all our efforts paid off when the sun broke through on the last day. It is a shining example of a broch."


A British Red Cross emergency response team provided the cover for the project. The team consisted of Anne and Jim Eadie from Kyle, Ian Rideout from the Black Isle and Iain Ferguson from Invergordon.


They were on site for the three days and dealt with minor injuries such as cuts and strains and helped prevent unnecessary injuries in the heavy rain and wind that marked most of the three days.


As helicopter filming was involved, the ER team also maintained a presence at the helicopter landing site in a field close to the dig site.


Applecross is accessed via the infamous single-track road across Bealach na Ba which, at 630 metres, is the highest in Britain. The Applecross episode of Time Team is scheduled to be shown early in 2006.




09:00 - 09 June 2005 


A brooch dating back more than 2,000 years has been discovered in a field which will soon be a rugby pitch for students in Truro.


A team of archaeologists have uncovered the remains of two Iron Age settlements buried below the Truro College playing field which will soon be shared with pupils from the new Richard Lander School.


The team from Cornwall County Council's Historic Environment Service (HES), led by James Gossip, is currently carrying out an archaeological excavation at the playing fields in advance of construction work for the new Fal Building at the college.


It is the biggest unenclosed settlement found in Cornwall and the work is being funded by Truro College.


Three large areas have been stripped by machine, targeting anomalies of possible archaeological interest indicated by a geophysical survey carried out last autumn by StrataScan Ltd.


The archaeological work is concentrated in one of the areas next to the site of the new Richard Lander School where an Iron Age settlement of 12 hut circles was discovered by HES last summer.


An oval-shaped house, part of the same settlement, has been excavated and fragments of Iron Age pottery known as South Western decorated ware dating to the 2nd or 1st century BC have been recovered from the eaves-drip gully surrounding the house.


A La T??ne Celtic brooch of broadly the same date was discovered alongside this pottery.


Mr Gossip says the brooch, which will be cleaned with great care, is made of a type of bronze, probably tin. He thinks the owner would have used it to hold clothing together and may have buried it in the ground as part of a ceremony.


Even more exciting is the discovery of another Iron Age settlement, comprising three round houses within an enclosure ditch. All that remains of these houses are holes in the ground to hold the posts that would have supported the wattle walls and thatched roofs and pits in which their hearths were lit.


The pottery from the second settlement awaits formal identification but appears to be of the Cordoned Ware style which, according to its type, can belong to three different phases spanning the later Iron Age and Roman-British periods and may indicate that the second settlement represents a slightly later phase of occupation on the site.


The work finished on Tuesday.


The help of volunteers from the Cornwall Archaeological Society and Truro College's archaeology department has been much appreciated. It is proposed to exhibit some of the finds in a permanent display in one of the new buildings, probably in the public entrance area


Mr Gossip estimated that 20 to 30 people must have lived at the site, which was on a high spot so that they could see who was coming and also their neighbours.




11:00 - 07 June 2005 


Archaeologists from Bristol University have added 1,000 years of history to Berkeley Castle by uncovering remains of an Iron Age settlement there. The unexpected discovery was made in the kitchen gardens of the castle during a training excavation for students from the university.


Parts of a ring ditch that might have circled a barrow - a mound over an ancient burial site - prehistoric flint tools and a few fragments of human bone have been found immediately below the Victorian kitchen garden's flower beds and greenhouses.


Berkeley Castle is one of the most historic places in Gloucestershire, still inhabited and owned by the same family who were granted the castle in 1156.


Throughout the Middle Ages, the castle played a important and colourful role in both local and national politics.


However the early history of the site remain mysterious, and uncovering this was the target of Bristol University's research.


Dr Mark Horton, head of the department of archaeology and anthropology, who is leading the investigations, said: "We know that there was an Anglo-Saxon abbey close to the site of the castle, but to find prehistoric remains is an exciting and unexpected discovery.


"Very few prehistoric burials are known in the Severn Vale. It is possible that this settlement was located on a small ridge of high ground, to be visible from the river Severn, and might even had been located to help prehistoric navigation up the Berkeley Pill."


The investigations have been undertaken by first-year students studying archaeology at the university, and will be continued in July by aspiring archaeologists who are still at school and want to find out what it is like to work on a dig.


The excavations will be filled in shortly, but it is hoped that there will be a display on the discoveries at the castle for visitors.



Source: Western Daily Press (11 June 2005)

Ancient log boat to be put on public display

An ancient log boat built in the Iron Age is to be put on public display in Poole (Dorset, England) - after spending the last decade buried in sugar. The bizarre treatment preserved the 32ft-long craft that was built by the Durotriges tribe in about 300 BCE. It was fashioned from a single oak trunk and designed specifically for use in Poole harbour, Dorset, where it was found. It was brought to the surface in 1964 by a dredger and was kept under water for 30 years while its fate was decided. The sugar gradually replaced the wood's soft tissue and kept its shape.

The boat is now being kept in a warm room to drive out the last of the water, after which it will go on display at the Poole museum. The boat was made by splitting an oak trunk, measuring 32 feet by 20 feet and weighing up to 12 tons, and hollowing it out.



Life from 2,000-year-old seed in Israel 

By Steven Erlanger The New York Times

MONDAY, JUNE 13, 2005


JERUSALEM Israeli doctors and scientists have succeeded in germinating a date seed that is nearly 2,000 years old.


The seed, nicknamed Methuselah, was taken from an excavation at Masada, the cliff fortress where, in A.D. 73, 960 Jewish zealots died by their own hand rather than surrender to a Roman assault.


The point of growing the seed is to find out what was so exceptional about the original date palm of Judea, much praised in the Bible and the Koran for its shade, food, beauty and medicinal qualities, but long ago destroyed by the crusaders.


"The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree," says Psalm 92. "They shall still bring forth fruit in old age. They shall be fat and flourishing."


Dr. Sarah Sallon, who runs a project on Middle Eastern medicinal plants, said the date-palm tree in ancient times symbolized the tree of life. But Dr. Elaine Solowey, who germinated the seed and is growing it in quarantine, says plants grown from ancient seeds "usually keel over and die soon," having used most of their nutrients in remaining alive.


The plant is now 11.8 inches, or 30 centimeters, tall and has produced seven leaves, one of which was removed for DNA testing. Radiocarbon dating in Switzerland on a snip of the seed showed it to be 1,990 years old, plus or minus 50 years. So the date seed dates from 35 B.C. to A.D. 65, just before the famed Roman siege.


Three date seeds were taken from Level 34 of the Masada dig. They were found in a storeroom and are presumably from dates eaten by the defenders, Sallon says.


Mordechai Kislef, director of botanical archeology at Bar-Ilan University, had some date seeds from Ehud Netzer, who excavated Masada in the 1970s.


Sallon recalled that "They were sitting in a drawer, and when I asked for one, he said, 'You're mad,' but finally gave me three." She then gave the seeds to Solowey, an expert on arid agriculture and dates.


Solowey took them even though "I didn't have much hope that any would come up."


Sallon is the director of the Louis L. Borick Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Medical Organization, which she set up 10 years ago to study natural products and therapies, from Chinese medicine to the indigenous medicinal plants of the Middle East. The idea is to preserve these plants and their oral histories in a modernizing region, and also to domesticate them, evaluate them scientifically and then try to integrate them into conventional medicine.


Solowey, who teaches agriculture and sustainable farming at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, based at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev, works on finding new crops for arid and saline areas like Jordan, Gaza and Morocco. She also works with Sallon to domesticate indigenous plants that appear to have medicinal uses.


Solowey, who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in California, said: "We've bred for yield and taste, but not hardiness, so we have a lot of plants as hardy as French poodles, so we have to spray to protect them, and then we pay the price. There isn't a cubic centimeter of water in the San Joaquin Valley that isn't polluted with something."


Solowey planted the date seeds at the end of January after trying to draw them out of their deep dormancy. She first soaked the seeds in hot water to soften the coat, then in an acid rich in hormones, then in an enzymatic fertilizer made of seaweed and other nutrients.


"I've done other recalcitrant seeds," she said. "It wasn't a project with a high priority. I had no idea if the food in the seed was still good, but I put them in new pots in new potting soil and plugged them into drip irrigation and kind of forgot about them."


About six weeks later, she said, "I saw the earth cracked in a pot and, much to my astonishment, one of these came up."


The first two leaves looked odd, she said, very flat and pale. "But the third looked like a date leaf with lines, and every one since has looked more and more normal - like it had a hard time getting out of the seed."


Lotus seeds about 1,200 years old have been sprouted in China, and after the Nazis bombed London's Natural History Museum in World War II and a lot of water was used to put out the fire, seeds about 500 years old also germinated.


"But no one had done it from 2,000 years old," Sallon said.


In the time of the Roman naturalist Pliny the Elder, forests of date palms covered the area from Lake Galilee to the Dead Sea and made Jericho famous; a date palm is featured on ancient coinage, as it is on the current Israeli 10-shekel coin.


The date palm symbolized ancient Israel; the honey of "the land of milk and honey" came from the date. It is praised as a tonic to increase longevity, as a laxative, as a cure for infections and as an aphrodisiac, Sallon said. But the dates of Judea were destroyed before the Middle Ages, and what dates Israel grows now were imported in the 1950s and '60s from California and originated elsewhere in the Middle East.


The Prophet Muhammad considered the date of great importance for medicine, food, construction and income, and it is described in the Koran as a "symbol of goodness" associated with heaven.


Dates need to grow 30 years to reach maturity and can live as long as 200 years.


But it is the female date that is considered holy, and that bears fruit. "Men are rather superfluous in the date industry," Sallon said.


"O.K., I have a date plant," Solowey said. "If it lives, it will be years before we eat any dates. And that's if it's female. There's a 50-50 chance. And if it's a male, it will just be a curiosity."



Italians discover hoard of Roman statues

The works have been protected by a temple wall which collapsed during an earthquake 1,600 years ago

By Edek Osser 


CYRENE. An Italian team of archaeologists has discovered 76 intact Roman statues at Cyrene in Libya. The discovery is remarkable because the site, once a thriving Greek and then Roman settlement, has been under excavation for the last 150 years.


With a nearby coastal port, Apollonia, serving it, Cyrene was once a conurbation equivalent to Alexandria, Carthage and Leptis Magna. An important Dorian colony, founded by Greek settlers from the island of Thera in 631 BC, it was later ruled by the Ptolemies and then the Romans. It was destroyed by an earthquake in 375 AD but continued to be inhabited until the Byzantine period.


At the end of the seventh century BC, the city was not only famous for its grain and wealth, but also for a quasi-miraculous plant, silphium, which has medicinal properties. The trade in silphium, distributed all over the ancient world, was monopolised by Cyrene for at least 200 years. Up until the Roman conquest, silphium was even printed on its currency.


A sacred site in Cyrene, made up of many temples, was discovered by Italian archaeologists between the first and second world wars.


The latest discovery is the work of Mario Luni, an archaeologist from the University of Urbino, who has been working with his team at the site since 1997. Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Professor Luni said: “One morning, a collapsed wall in the Roman temple, which was discovered in the 1930s, revealed a marble serpent wrapped around a stone. We could not have known that this was only the first in a series of statues of every kind and size that we would pull from the ground. We just kept discovering them every day, for a month and a half, and found 76 in total.”


Professor Luni stressed that the excavations were “an ongoing collaboration with the Libyan department of antiquities which has agreed to gradually rediscover ancient Cyrene”.


This incredible haul brings to mind the 54 marble sculptures discovered by English archaeologists at Cyrene in the mid-19th century at the temple of Aphrodite, which are now housed in the British Museum.


At least 12 of the newly discovered statues are 20 to 35 centimetres high and show Cybele, daughter of the goddess Demeter, in different poses. These statues are linked to fertility ceremonies associated with the goddess. They were lined up along the back wall of the area inside the temple. The remaining works, some smaller and others much larger, are dedicated to other gods. All the statues date from the Severan period in the second century BC.


According to Professor Luni, these statues have remained undiscovered for so long because “during the earthquake of 375 AD, a supporting wall of the temple fell on its side, burying all the statues. They remained hidden under stone, rubble and earth for 1,600 years. The other walls sheltered the statues, so we were able to recover all the pieces, even works that had been broken”.


Also, before World War II, during the Italian occupation of Libya, a pine forest was planted which covered the ruins of ancient Cyrene, hiding the city—which Professor Luni calls “the Athens of Africa”—under a layer of earth and trees.


Professor Luni’s team has so far focused on central public areas, the heart of the monumental city, such as the forum, the public square and the scared site with its temples. But Cyrene is vast and spread out over an enormous area. The excavations, which will take decades to complete, will now concentrate on the immense Greek settlement, the most ancient part, which was home to successive generations of inhabitants until the Byzantine era and is, as yet, completely unexplored.


Professor Luni said, “Researching the pieces will take at least a couple of years. We have photographed and catalogued the pieces and are currently restoring them”.


He has made many other astounding discoveries at Cyrene. Three years ago, he discovered a large theatre carved into the stone hillside in the public square. He then started to excavate the sacred site and has so far located five temples to the south of the city’s forum. The first, a monumental temple of six columns dedicated to Demeter, was found in 1999 and is still being excavated.



Research Team Finds Wreckage Of 19th Century Whaling Ships

Discovery Part Of Mission To Northwestern Hawaiian Islands

POSTED: 9:14 am HST June 8, 2005

UPDATED: 9:44 am HST June 8, 2005


HONOLULU -- Crews from an ocean research vessel returned to Hawaii Tuesday with an exciting find of hundreds of artifacts on the sea floor from the wreckage of two 19th century whaling vessels.


The ocean research vessel Hi'ialakai returned to Honolulu Harbor's Pier 11 after a nearly month-long mission to the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.


Five marine archaeologists were among the crew arriving home on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessel Hi'ialakai.


They said they were overjoyed by what they found on the ocean floor off Hermes and Pearl atolls.


"I have been diving on shipwrecks for 30 years and this is one of the most exciting trips I have ever taken. It is just outstanding," marine archaeologist Dr. John Broadwater said.


Scattered on the ocean floor was the wreckage of the whaling ships Pearl and Hermes. Both vessels were destroyed in a storm of the Pearl and Hermes atolls.


"It is great to be on the exact spot where it happened. It is kind of eerie sometimes," lead archaeologist Dr. Hans Van Tilburg said.


The ships crashed into reefs when they were on their way from Honolulu to newly discovered whaling grounds off Japan.


"You know it is really a tragic event we are talking about, but we get very excited about that stuff," Tilburg said.


The archaeologists uncovered dozens of artifacts, including five anchors and four large caldrons used for rendering whale blubber.


It was difficult working on the shipwreck sites, but the crews were helped by handheld GPS systems and their enthusiasm


"We don't often get a chance to see wrecks that still have the material that is going to help us tell the story about the ship and the men that sailed them," Broadwater said.


Now, the materials will be analyzed from maps and high-definition videos of the site. They plan to make educational films to share the discovery with others.


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