Iron Age 'bog bodies' unveiled 


Archaeologists have unveiled two Iron Age "bog bodies" which were found in the Republic of Ireland. The bodies, which are both male and have been dated to more than 2,000 years ago, probably belong to the victims of a ritual sacrifice.


In common with other bog bodies, they show signs of having been tortured before their deaths.


Details of the finds are outlined in a BBC Timewatch documentary to be screened on 20 January.


“My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign”

Ned Kelly, National Museum of Ireland

The first body dropped off a peat cutting machine in February 2003 in Clonycavan, near Dublin. The forearms, hands and lower abdomen are missing, believed to have been hacked off by the machine.


The second was found in May the same year in Croghan, just 25 miles (40km) from Clonycavan.


Old Croghan Man, as it has become known, was missing a head and lower limbs. It was discovered by workmen clearing a drainage ditch through a peat bog.


Although the police were initially called in, an inspection by the state pathologist confirmed that this was an archaeological case.


Old Croghan man was beheaded and dismembered

Both bodies were subsequently taken to the National Museum of Ireland in Dublin.


A team of experts from the UK and Ireland have been examining the bodies to learn how they lived and died.


Radiocarbon dating, for example, would show that both had died at similar times - around 2,300 years ago.


One of these experts is Don Brothwell, the York University archaeologist who led the scientific investigation of Lindow Man, the bog body found in Cheshire in 1984.


Hundreds of bodies have been recovered from peat wetlands across Northern Europe. The earliest accounts date back to the 18th Century. The unique chemistry of peat bogs essentially mummifies bodies.


The peat-building Sphagnum moss embeds remains in cold, acid and oxygen-free conditions that immobilise bacteria.


"The way peat wetlands preserve bodies has been described as a process of 'slow-cooking' which tans them dark brown," Timewatch producer John Hayes-Fisher told the BBC News website.


Clonycavan man was a young male no more than 5ft 2in tall. Beneath his hair, which retains its unusual "raised" style, was a massive wound caused by heavy cutting object that smashed open his skull.


Chemical analysis of the hair showed that Clonycavan man's diet was rich in vegetables in the months leading up to his death, suggesting he died in summer.


It also revealed that he had been using a type of Iron Age hair gel; a vegetable plant oil mixed with a resin that had probably come from south-western France or Spain.


Old Croghan man was also young - probably in his early to mid 20s - but much taller than his counterpart from 25 miles away. Scientists worked out from the length of his arms that he would have stood around 6ft 6in tall.


He had been horrifically tortured before death. His nipples had been cut and he had been stabbed in the ribs. A cut on his arm suggested he had tried to defend himself during the attack that ended his life.


The young man was later beheaded and dismembered. Hazel ropes were passed through his arms before he was buried in the bog.


Food remains in his stomach show that Old Croghan man had eaten milk and cereals before he died. But chemical analysis of his nails showed that he had more meat in his diet than Clonycavan man.


This suggests that he died in a colder season than Clonycavan man, when vegetables were more scarce. It may also explain why his remains are better preserved.


The researchers used digital technology to reconstruct the distorted face of Clonycavan man.


From his studies on these bog bodies and others, Ned Kelly, keeper of Irish antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, has developed a new theory which explains why so many remains are buried on important political or royal boundaries.


"My belief is that these burials are offerings to the gods of fertility by kings to ensure a successful reign," Mr Kelly told the BBC's Timewatch programme.


"Bodies are placed in the borders immediately surrounding royal land or on tribal boundaries to ensure a good yield of corn and milk throughout the reign of the king."



Bog finds call for new view of our Iron Age ancestors


Early Irish history is being rewritten following the discovery of two 2,300-year-old bodies in Irish bogs. An intensive 18-month investigation since their recovery has revealed important new findings and has forced a revision of our understanding of Irish Iron Age society, writes Dick Ahlstrom, Science Editor.


The National Museum of Ireland co-ordinated an international effort to study the two bog bodies since 2003 when they were unearthed in counties Meath and Offaly. The highly detailed forensic analysis was done by the State Pathologist, the Garda Technical Bureau, experts from the museum and up to 30 scientists from six countries.


The Irish Times publishes details of the research effort this morning in co-operation with the BBC's Timewatch programme, which filmed the work. The study showed the two bodies, Clonycavan Man and Old Croghan Man, were both murdered, victims of separate ritualistic killings before the disposal of their bodies in bogs.


The intensive analysis also provided remarkable insights into ancient society in Ireland. Clonycavan Man, for example, used an expensive "Iron Age hair gel" made from pine resin and imported from the Continent. Old Croghan Man was something of a giant, standing an estimated 198cm (6ft 6 in), but electron microscope examination of his finger nails showed he did no physical labour whatsoever.


Neither body was complete, but their exceptional state of preservation meant that a great deal could be learned from them, said the National Museum's assistant keeper of Irish antiquities, Isabella Mulhall, who co-ordinated the project.


Perhaps most importantly, an expert at the museum has developed a compelling new theory on late Bronze and early Iron Age Irish society that should also help point the way to new archaeological discoveries. The museum's keeper of Irish antiquities, Ned Kelly, noted that both bog bodies were discovered along ancient tribal boundaries. Looking back he found that 40 body discoveries in Irish bogland were made along boundaries.


He extended his search to include other late Bronze and early Iron Age material and horse bits turned up along with wooden yokes, weapons, cauldrons, personal ornaments, crowns and gold collars on tribal borders. "These, I believe, are items associated with kingship," said Mr Kelly.



Irish bog reveals secrets of Iron Age hair gel

By Elizabeth Grice

(Filed: 07/01/2006)


Hair gel is usually thought of as a product of our recent fashion-conscious age but, a new archaeological find indicates that it was used by men more than 2,000 years ago to keep their prehistoric locks in place.


Scientists are about to unveil two exceptional Early Iron Age bog bodies, complete with hair, skin and fingernails.


One of them has the most complete set of internal organs ever found. The other has a carefully coiffed hairstyle. In the first known example of Iron Age hair treatment, the man had used a gel made from plant oil and pine resin.


Clonycavan Man, as he has been named, was found with his hair piled on top of his head, apparently in an attempt to make himself look taller and more important. However, at the time of his death, he was suffering from a bad case of nits.


The other body, Oldcroghan Man, was an immense, muscular 6ft 6in - the tallest Iron Age bog body recorded. The discovery of the bodies is one of the most exciting archaeological finds of the past 20 years.


Both were men in their early twenties who were ritually slaughtered 2,400 years ago and dumped in pools where the acid peat preserved them.


The prehistoric Celts were both young aristocrats, butchered by their communities between 392 and 175BC.


Diminutive Clonycavan Man was found on a peat factory conveyor belt in Co Meath in February 2003. He had been felled by an axe then cut in half and disembowelled.


The headless torso of Oldcroghan Man was scooped out of a drainage ditch by a mechanical digger in Co Offaly three months later.


The double find has caused a sensation among experts and the bodies will go on show at the National Museum of Ireland in May. The BBC Timewatch team filmed almost two years of investigations for a documentary to be shown on Jan 20.



Graveyard yields secrets of ancient world 

By Shane Harrison

BBC NI Dublin Correspondent 


Residents of the village of Nobber, north Meath, in the Republic of Ireland, stumbled upon archaeological treasure when they decided to clean up an old graveyard.


Now they are hoping that tombs in the shape of Celtic crosses, dating back 1100 years, will put them on the map, alongside such famous archaeological sites as Newgrange.


Until recently, the graveyard in the village of Nobber, about two hours' drive from Dublin, was overgrown with weeds and briars.


It is surrounded by evergreen trees and bushes, a church that has fallen into disrepair and the remains of a medieval monastery.


It took 12 men nearly two years working at night and at weekends, in all four seasons to clear up Mother Nature's mess. She rewarded them in full.


Richard Clarke, a volunteer worker, said the graveyard was very neglected.


"We started in, basically, with our hands and clippers and spades and any little thing at all that would break down some of the old vegetation that had overgrown the place," he said.


In the course of cleaning up the wind-swept cemetery, they found small concrete tomb stones, like Celtic crosses, some less than a foot high.


Graves, they now know, that date back to the 10th century.


Archaeologists, like Professor George Eogan, an expert on Newgrange, are excited by the discovery.


He said it proves that this north Meath townland with its own monastery, was significant in the relatively early Christian times.


Professor George Eogan is excited by the discovery


"It certainly, was an outstanding place around the 10th century. It was one of the leading sites in Ireland at that earlier period," Professor Eogan said.


But the small weather-beaten tombs, with their fading etched marks were not all that was found in the clean-up.


Local people also discovered evidence of a church built in the 12th century and medieval tomb stones lying flat on the ground with elaborate designs and concrete carvings of kneeling men.


Tony McEntee, who helped organise the tidy up, said Nobber should be very proud of its voluntary workers.


"Were it not for all the work that these men put in, these discoveries would never have been known," he said.


The one-street village of Nobber is a small, agricultural community on the Navan to Kingscourt Road.


People, including the Fine Gael TD Shane McEntee, now hope to capitalise on the discovery and make their village a major tourist attraction.


"To get jobs into the area is an issue but the fact is that you have something here, a home-grown industry that people are very proud of - it would be great to put the whole package together."


A simple tidy up has paid rich dividends.




11:00 - 05 January 2006


Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of bronze Age tools while digging at a construction sight in Somerset. Some 800 artefacts ranging from arrow heads, scraping knives and flint blades were found at the former hunting site that was in use more than 4,000 years ago.


Experts have hailed the discovery as one of the most important archaeological finds in the Somerset area in recent times.


The tools were discovered by construction workers creating a nature pond near to the multi-million pound Silk Mills Bridge construction site near Taunton.


It is thought that the spot which 4,000 years ago would have been surrounded by the River Tone, was used as seasonal hunting site.


Bronze Age hunters would use the spit of land, that was surrounded by water, to hunt for wildfowl and fish.


Over time hundreds of flint tools such as the arrow heads have built up at the site.


Steven Membery, archaeologist for Somerset County Council, said the find was important.


He said: "This is pretty significant, it's a really interesting site. It appears to be an island in a large river.


"It was used seasonally probably for hunting ducks and fish . It's rare to find hunter gathering communities like this anywhere so this is an extremely important discovery."



Major Bronze Age tool discovery 

Archaeologists have uncovered hundreds of Bronze Age tools on a Somerset building site.

About 800 items, including arrow heads, scraping knives and flint blades were found at the former hunting site.


Experts have hailed the discovery, from more than 4,000 years ago, as one of the most important finds in the Somerset area in recent times.


The tools were first found by workers at the Silk Mills Bridge construction site near Taunton.


The artefacts, which were initially found during construction work in the summer, are now being assessed by archaeologists.


Steven Membery, archaeologist for Somerset County Council, said: "It appears to be an island in a large river.


"It was used seasonally probably for hunting ducks and fish. It's rare to find hunter gathering communities like this anywhere so this is an important discovery."


After the artefacts are checked, listed and analysed they will be sent to museums in the area where they will go on general public display.




10:30 - 31 December 2005 

Channel 4's Time Team have unearthed some fascinating ancient finds in Britain's fields.


But the discovery of their latest Roman settlement in the Cotswolds was not the result of academic research. Instead, experts on the TV show have moles to thank for digging up stones from an ancient villa.


They burrowed their way through a remote, unploughed two-acre field near Withington - and churned up what looked like unremarkable stone cubes.


When local archaeologist Roger Box stumbled across the molehills by chance, he had a hunch they marked the spot of a major hidden treasure.


Recognising the stones as mosaic cubes, he called in the Time Team.


Roger and the team knew that renowned antiquarian Samuel Lysons had uncovered a villa nearby in 1811.


They thought the mosaics were from a bath house attached to the lost Lysons villa.


But geo-physics surveys uncovered a massive Roman complex completely unrelated to Lysons' find.


Roger said he had worried that the molehill mosaics would turn out to just be debris.


He said: "But in minutes, geo-physics identified interesting anomalies, thought to be buildings.


"Phil Harding opened up a trench and immediately a Roman mosaic pavement appeared.


"I was filled with relief that my instincts had proved correct and away we went. We knew we were in business.


"Initially we thought we were looking at a temple or bath house, probably associated with the main Lysons' villa.


"High arched blocks began to appear, suggesting a building with a vaulted ceiling, plastered and painted with frescos inside.


"We found a geometric mosaic floor pattern with a hypocaust heating system, showing we were dealing with a high-status bath house."


Then geo-physics threw up a large stone-lined plunge pool.


But the greatest shock was yet to come in the last half hour of the three-day project.


Geo-phys teams finally located the Lysons villa 300m away.


They also uncovered a massive complex stretching in the opposite direction from the Withington site.


Roger said: "The geo-phys team extended the survey away from the bath house and found a massive Roman building complex.


"It caught all the experts off-guard because it's extremely unusual to find two Roman villas - this one and Lysons - so close to each other.


"This makes the potential complex bigger than Chedworth."


Roger, who lives near the site, was amazed by the find on his own doorstep.


Post-excavation work has been carried out by Neil Holbrooke of Cotswold Archaeological Trust in Kemble.


The Time Team's preliminary digs have been filled in and Roger expects the villas to remain underground because excavating them would be so expensive.


Roger added: "The archaeology to uncover them again would cost a fortune. But the find has gone further to confirming that the parish of Withington is a surviving Roman estate."


Villas out of Molehills will be shown at 5.45pm on Channel 4 on January 29.


"It's extremely unusual to find two Roman villas - this one and Lysons - so close to each other."


Roger Box



Horseshoes found on Roman road 

Archaeologists have unearthed a Roman road, a Bronze Age ditch and some medieval artefacts during major road improvement works in Wiltshire.

The historical remains - including three iron horseshoes - were found in the upper layers of the Roman road.


Archaeologist Neil Holbrook said the findings had been recorded and added: "The Romans didn't have horseshoes.


"We seem to have proved by the discovery that the road continued in use into the medieval period."


The works are being carried out on the A419 by the Highways Agency to create a flyover designed to cut congestion.


Roy Canham, an archaeologist for Wiltshire County Council said: "We can now prove that the route of the current A419 has been important for the last 2000 years."


As well as the horseshoes a medieval arrowhead was unearthed and a 3,000-year-old ditch dating back to the Bronze Age was discovered.



Viking project gets cash break

Hans J Marter

5 January, 2005


AN AMBITIOUS project to uncover the Viking heritage of Britain's most northerly island will go ahead later this year now the final piece of funding has been secured.


Shetland Amenity Trust is planning to excavate a number of Viking longhouses on Unst, as well as reconstructing one of the island's farm houses with an interpretation centre. A replica longship will also be displayed.


The Viking Unst project is expected to give the island a major boost in developing a stronger tourism sector in the hope of replacing some of the economic decline that is caused by the closure of the island's RAF camp, at Saxa Vord.


The project has just received confirmation of £109,424 from the European Agriculture Guidance and Guarantee Funding (EAGGF) scheme.


Unst, which is said to be one of the first landfalls made by the Vikings when they arrived from Norway 1200 years ago, has the greatest density of surviving of Viking farms anywhere.


After initial survey work late last summer, Shetland Amenity Trust has now earmarked a preferred site at Hamar, where it would like to start settlement excavation work this summer.


However, a decision on this particular site has not yet been finalised and discussions with Historic Scotland are ongoing.


The trust is also looking into housing the replica longship Skibladner in one of the soon-to-be vacated buildings of the military camp at Saxa Vord.


Shetland archaeologist Val Turner, who is in charge of the Viking Unst project, said: "That way the boat would get the protection it needs from the climate. It also means we can make the boat accessible to visitors all year round."


The 26 metre Skibladner was left stranded in Shetland in 2000 after a mainly Swedish crew failed in their attempt to emulate their ancestor Leif Erikson and sail from Scandinavia to America, without a back-up engine or any facilities to accommodate the eight crew.


The beautiful vessel is a precise 1:3 replica of the famous 9th century Gokstad longship.


Yesterday (Wednesday) Ms Turner said the excavation work to be carried out at Hamar in combination with similar work to be carried out by a Danish team at Belmont, also in Unst, would give vital clues as to the construction of replica farmhouses which will be the second phase of the project.


"We are going to learn what longhouse Shetland style looked like. We know they were different from the ones excavated in Norway where a lot of wood was used.


"All this information will feed into building a replica longhouse here in Unst."


The Viking Unst project is financially supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£483,500), the European Union (£109,424), Historic Scotland (£15,000), Shetland Development Trust (£45,000), Shetland Islands Council (£15,000) and Shetland Enterprise (£40,000). Shetland Amenity Trust will pick up any shortfall in funding.


Additional in-kind funding, calculated to be worth almost £200,000 will come from SAT, archaeologists and volunteers.



What a Viking's smile revealed

07 January 2006

VIKING warriors may have filed deep grooves into their teeth to indicate class or military rank.


Caroline Arcini of Sweden's National Heritage Board analysed 557 skeletons from four major Viking-age Swedish cemeteries and discovered that around 10 per cent of men, but none of the women, bore horizontal grooves across the upper front teeth.


The marks, which were cut deep into the enamel, are often found in pairs or triplets and appear precisely made. They might have marked certain men as members of a group of tradesmen or warriors, or signified their ability to withstand pain, says Arcini, who published her findings in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology (DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.20164). Most of the men bearing the grooves were young, but in the absence of any distinctive injuries or artefacts buried with the skeletons, the exact reason for the marks remains a mystery.


This is the first known case of tooth filing in Europe, but it was common practice in the Americas between AD 800 and 1050. Since the skeletons date from around the same time, this raises the possibility that the Vikings picked up the practice during their travels. Arcini hopes future finds will reveal where the practice arose and how it spread.


From issue 2533 of New Scientist magazine, 07 January 2006, page 14


Race to save first kingdoms in Africa from dam waters

Pieter Tesch in Doma, northern Sudan and Colin Freeman

(Filed: 08/01/2006)


They built more pyramids than the Egyptians, invented the world's first "rock" music, and were as bloodthirsty as the Aztecs when it came to human sacrifices.


Yet ever since their demise at the hands of a vengeful pharaoh, the pre-Christian civilisations of ancient Sudan have been overshadowed by their Egyptian northern neighbours. Now, the race is on to excavate black Africa's first great kingdoms - before some of their heartlands are submerged for ever.


In a highly controversial move, the Sudanese government is planning to flood a vast stretch of the southern Nile valley as part of plans for a big hydro-electric dam at Merowe, near what was once the ancient city of Napata.


The project has been criticised by environmental groups, who say it will lead to the displacement of about 50,000 people - small farmers and their families, who have tilled the Nile's fertile banks for centuries.


The Sudanese government insists, however, that the Chinese-backed project should go ahead, saying it is essential to pull the country into the developed world. With the dam scheduled for completion in 2008, archaeologists are in a race against time to survey what will eventually become a 100-mile-long lake.


The affected area lies in what is known as the Nile's fourth cataract, one of the six stretches of river divided from each other by sets of rapids impassable by boat.


Already more than 700 sites of potential interest have been discovered in just one small part of the area to be flooded - showing the need not only for an urgent programme to rescue the most important artefacts, but also for a reappraisal of Sudan's archaeological importance.


"Previously we thought the fourth cataract was something of a backwater - it is wrong to say so," said Julie Anderson of the British Museum's department of ancient Egypt and Sudan. "But in the last year alone 700 brand new sites have been discovered - an indication of the untapped riches that exist.


"Although Sudan is the largest country in Africa it has often been in the shadow of Egypt. The fourth cataract is changing that perception. It is exciting, as everything we find is brand new."


Among the surprises uncovered during the digs is the influence of the ancient empire of Kerma, which flourished as a southern rival to Egypt's pharaohs but was previously not known to have extended into the fourth cataract. Kerma's kings, who ruled between 2500BC and 1500BC, have been discovered with up to 400 human sacrifices buried alongside them - indicating that they were important potentates in their time.


As the meeting point between the cultures of Egypt and sub-Saharan Africa, Kerma grew hugely prosperous, its merchants supplying the souks of the north with everything from gold and hardwoods to exotic animals and slaves.


But just as in modern-day Sudan, ethnic tensions constantly simmered between the north and the predominantly black south. After a brutal 220-year war, -among the longest in history - Kerma was finally vanquished by the Egyptian Pharaoh Tuthmosis I, a leader whose aggression rivalled that of Genghis Khan.


The fourth cataract area also contains Paleolithic remains dating back 200,000 years, including prehistoric cave etchings of animals and "rock gongs" - primitive stone-age xylophones in which rocks produce different sounds when hit.


The archaeologists' biggest prize, however, still eludes them - a key to the ancient language of Meroitic, which first appeared on temples and artefacts during the 4th century BC but remains one of the world's few undeciphered scripts.


"We need to find a Rosetta Stone," said Dr Anderson, referring to the stone tablet discovered in 1799 which unlocked the mystery of hieroglyphics.


The Sunday Telegraph was granted rare access to the area to be flooded when the dam is built.


As the largest project of its kind to be built in Africa since the Aswan dam, 300 miles down-river in Egypt in the 1960s, it has aroused strong opposition from people who will be displaced.


Archaeologists have come under pressure to down tools from campaigners against the dam, who claim that their activity lends the project legitimacy.


Dr Anderson's colleague Derek Welsby, the deputy keeper of the British Museum's department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan, who is currently excavating near the village of ed Doma, rejected this. "The dam is going ahead whether we are here or not and it would not benefit anybody if we were not working here," he said.


He admitted that it was sad to witness the end of a lifestyle that has continued, unchanged in many ways, since it was first depicted in the ancient rock etchings.


"You sense continuity from Neolithic times with their representations of elephants, giraffes and ostriches, to the cattle drawings of the Kerma period, and followed by drawings of camels, horses and fighting men," he said.


Ali Yousef, a date palm farmer in ed Doma, voiced fears that the artificially irrigated desert land offered in government resettlement pledges might not be as fertile as that on the Nile's banks, but added: "We have to accept that the dam is for the greater benefit of Sudan."