Did Early Humans First Arise in Asia, Not Africa?
for National Geographic News
December 27, 2005
Two archaeologists are challenging what many experts consider to be the basic assumption of human migration—that humankind arose in Africa and spread over the globe from there.
The pair proposes an alternative explanation for human origins: arising in and spreading out of Asia.
Robin Dennell, of the University of Sheffield in England, and Wil Roebroeks, of Leiden University in the Netherlands, describe their ideas in the December 22 issue of Nature.
They believe that early-human fossil discoveries over the past ten years suggest very different conclusions about where humans, or humanlike being
s, first walked the Earth.
New Asian finds are significant, they say, especially the 1.75 million-year-old small-brained early-human fossils found in Dmanisi, Georgia, and the 18,000-year-old "hobbit" fossils (Homo floresiensis) discovered on the island of Flores in Indonesia.
Such finds suggest that Asia's earliest human ancestors may be older by hundreds of thousands of years than previously believed, the scientists say.
"What seems reasonably clear now," Dennell said, "is that the earliest hominins in Asia did not need large brains or bodies." These attributes are usually thought to be prerequisites for migration.
The authors maintain that, although there is no absolute proof, putting all the evidence together requires an open mind about other geographical origins of the first humans.
The First Asians?
The authors point out that there is very little solid information about the first early humans in Asia, and paleontologists are left with assumptions that are too often treated as historical facts.
There is no archaeological or fossil evidence to prove that early humans moved from southern Africa to the Nile Valley in the early Pleistocene (1.8 million years ago to 11,500 years ago), they say.
The earliest evidence of a human ancestor in Asia appears to be the 1.8-million-year-old cranium found in Mojokerto, Indonesia. But, the authors note, the fact that no older specimens have been found in Asia does not prove that they didn't exist.
Dennell and Roebroeks get support for their proposal from other experts.
"I think this is an interesting and constructively provocative paper," said Chris Stringer, a researcher in the department of palaeontology at London's Natural History Museum.
"Evidence of humans in the Caucasus [region of Asia], China, and Java more than 1.6 million years ago implies either a very rapid spread from Africa after about 1.8 millions years ago, or that such populations were established outside Africa earlier than present evidence suggests," he said.
"I certainly think we should keep an open mind about the big picture."
The earliest tools found in Asia are routinely attributed to Homo erectus, a species known to have come from Africa.
H. ergaster—an African species that many experts believe gave rise to H. erectus—is assumed to have been the only primate capable of migrating out of Africa.
Experts cite its body form—long limbs, humanlike proportions, and a brain capable of figuring out how to hunt for meat—as evidence that it was the only species suited to life in prehistoric Asian terrain.
This might be a persuasive argument—except for the fact that australopithecines, an older form of humanlike primates, had colonized the African savannah by 3.5 million years ago.
Similar grasslands extended across Asia at the time, suggesting that australopithecines could have survived quite well in the region, the authors say.
What's more, fossil evidence for H. ergaster in Asia in the early Pleistocene is weak.
No one yet knows where H. floresiensis first came from, but it may turn out that the diminutive species has its origins in Asia.
Stringer, of the Natural History Museum, sees this as a possibility.
"The unresolved status of the intriguing Flores finds attributed to H. floresiensis leaves open the possibility that this species is the end result and last survivor of an ancient migration of very primitive humans, or even prehumans, that formerly existed more widely across Asia."
So when did early humans first leave Africa? Could they have left as early as 2.6 million years ago, as soon as they started making stone tools?
"Hominins could easily have left Africa two million years ago," Dennell said. "After all, they certainly didn't need big brains or bodies to do so."
Maybe, he concluded, "the Dmanisi [Georgia] hominins are an extremely primitive version of H. erectus that is the ancestor of the H. erectus populations in both Java and those in East Africa.
"In other words, we might be looking at [human migration] 'out of Asia,' and not 'out of Africa.'"
Extinct mammoth DNA decoded
By Helen Briggs
BBC News science reporter
Mammoths became extinct in the last few thousand years
Scientists have pieced together part of the genetic recipe of the extinct woolly mammoth.
The 5,000 DNA letters spell out a large chunk of the genetic code of its mitochondria, the structures in the cell that generate energy.
The research, published in the online edition of Nature, gives an insight into the elephant family tree.
It shows that the mammoth was most closely related to the Asian rather than the African elephant.
The three groups split from a common ancestor about six million years ago, with Asian elephants and mammoths diverging about half a million years later.
"We have finally resolved the phylogeny of the mammoth which has been controversial for the last 10 years," lead author Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, told the BBC News website.
Ice age wanderer
Mammoths lived in Africa, Europe, Asia and North America between about 1.6 million years ago and 10,000 years ago during the Pleistocene epoch.
"It is the longest stretch of DNA [decoded to date] from any Pleistocene species"
The woolly mammoth, Mammuthus primigenius, with its covering of shaggy hair, was adapted to the extremes of the ice ages.
The DNA of several extinct ice age mammals, preserved in permafrost, has been analysed before, but not in such detail.
"It is the longest stretch of DNA [decoded to date] from any Pleistocene species," said Professor Hofreiter.
The team of researchers - from Germany, the UK, and the US - extracted and analysed mammoth DNA using a new technique that works on even the tiny quantities of fossilised bone - in this case 200 milligrams.
Some 46 chunks of DNA sequence were matched up and arranged in order, giving a complete record of the mammoth's mitochondrial DNA - the circular scrap of genetic material found outside the cell's nucleus.
It is passed down the maternal line with small but regular changes, giving scientists a window into the past.
Although the bulk of an animal's genetic information is found in the nucleus, mitochondrial DNA is particularly useful for studying the evolutionary relationships between different species.
The complete mitochondrial DNA of an extinct animal has been sequenced before but only for the flightless bird, the moa, which died out about 500 years ago.
Dan Bradley, an expert in ancient DNA at Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland, said the research was "a bit of a landmark".
"Most ancient mitochondrial DNA projects use just small parts of the mitochondria," he said.
In a separate piece of research, published in the journal Science, a team reports sequencing some of the nuclear DNA from 27,000-year-old Siberian mammoth remains.
Again, novel techniques were used to get at this genetic material which is normally less prevalent than mitochondrial DNA.
Hendrik Poinar, from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and colleagues took their sample from an animal's jawbone.
In contrast to the Nature paper, the Science team says its work shows the ice age beast to have been more closely related to the African elephant; its genetic material was 98.5% identical to nuclear DNA from an African elephant, the group said.
One of the Science article's authors, Stephan Schuster of Penn State's Center for Comparative Genomics and Bioinformatics, noted the Nature study's reliance on mitochondrial DNA.
"Mitochondrial DNA is a tiny piece of hereditary information," he told the Associated Press.
"What determines the physiology and the appearance of an organism is all stored in the chromosome [found in the nucleus], and so this tiny bit of information [carried by mitochondrial DNA] is only one-100,000th of the information that is stored on the chromosome."
Ancient "Weapons Factory" Found on Connecticut Ridge
Abram Katz for National Geographic News
December 29, 2005
About 3,000 years ago, a group of hunters perched on a ridge near what is now New Haven Harbor in Connecticut and fashioned quartz into projectile points.
The points were likely intended to form the lethal end of an atlatl, or spear-thrower, dart.
A skillful stalker could wield the weapon, which predated the bow and arrow, with enough force and accuracy to send a dart into a deer, turkey, or other small prey.
Those ancient hunter-gatherers have since vanished, but the quartz artifacts survive on the ridge, known as West Rock.
Michael J. Rogers, associate professor of anthropology at Southern Connecticut State University and his student, Nancy Parsons, have found almost 5,000 stone artifacts at the site, including several unfinished points and at least one unbroken dart point.
The discovery reveals the importance of stone ridges to the hunter-gatherers of 3,000 to 4,000 years ago and adds details to the sparse knowledge of the Late Archaic period of North America.
The find also hints that dozens or hundreds of similar sites probably lie inaccessible under parking lots and buildings across the Northeast United States.
Rogers and his students found the site after first consulting Cosimo Sgarlata, now a graduate student at the City University of New York, who had discovered other archaeological sites in the West Rock area.
"West Rock was of central importance," Sgarlata said. "By the Late Archaic, people had become more specialized, and the population grew, so they wanted to exploit all resources of the environment."
The till topping the ridge is a jumble of clay, sand, silt, rocks, and boulders. While walking a path, Rogers and Parsons spotted a few small pieces of quartz that had been shaped by human hands—and their excavation began.
Parsons has now cataloged and recorded the location and type of every stone uncovered at the site. Since last fall, Parsons and assistants have excavated to a depth of about 1.5 feet (46 centimeters) through countless shallow scrapings.
The team filters soil from the site to find small flakes of stone.
"At first we found a few dozen artifacts. Most were quartz debitage," Parsons said, referring to stone fragments shed during tool making.
Continued excavation revealed thousands of quartz fragments and a prize quartzite projectile point in pristine condition.
The features of the artifacts and the soil depth at which they were found suggest their age, as ancient peoples in the Northeast produced points with distinctive shapes at different times.
The West Rock points resemble a quartz type common in southern New England known as "Squibnocket triangles," although more intact points are needed to confirm the style. They are known to date from 4,800 to 3,600 years ago.
Rogers says the point makers were probably hunter-gatherers, perhaps living in a seasonal hunting camp.
"Quartz was probably not their first choice" for making stone points, he said. Although very hard, quartz cracks unpredictably and is difficult to work. The hunter-gathers probably selected fist-sized lumps of quartz and broke them into two parts. The ancient craftspeople then used rocks to shape the quartz, Rogers says.
Once the quartz gained a sufficiently triangular shape, pieces of wood or antler were then pressed against the edges to flake off small pieces to shape the final product.
Parsons says she wondered why the site contained so many imperfect points. The answer is probably that the "good" points were used for hunting, while less-than-perfect pieces were discarded, she says.
State of Connecticut archeologist Nicholas Bellantoni, of the University of Connecticut, says similar sites probably dot Connecticut. Settlement sites would be close to water and well-drained land—the same features that led European settlers to found their cities at these locations.
Footprints bring ancient hunters' tracks to life
ROD MCGUIRK IN CANBERRA
CHILDREN wandered around their parents' ankles while a 6ft man sprinted through the mud and someone dragged a dead animal along the shores of a lake.
Now the footprints they left some 20,000 years ago are giving a fresh perspective on the lives of Australian Aborigines. Since an Aboriginal park ranger stumbled upon the first print in 2003 in Mungo National Park, archaeologists, helped by local Aborigines, have excavated 457 from the region's shifting sands.
"This is the nearest we've got to prehistoric film where you can see someone's heel slip in the mud as they're running fast," Steve Webb, a professor of Australian studies at Queensland state's Bond University, said.
"It brings that element of life that other archaeological remains can't."
When the tracks were laid between 19,000 and 23,000 years ago at the height of the last Ice Age in swampland near the shores of Willandra Lakes, the habitat was a lush oasis in Australia's arid interior. The lake system dried up 14,000 years ago.
Prof Webb and his team believe one set of prints was left by a 6ft hunter who sprinted at almost 19 miles an hour across silty clay toward an unknown prey, mud squeezing between his bare toes.
Some tracks reveal unknown game being dragged across mud. Emu and kangaroo tracks are also found in the area.
Prof Webb estimated that his team has uncovered less than a third of the prints in a clay pan beneath the dunes.
"I want to find where these tracks go and what these people were doing by following them around," he added.
China plans first comprehensive investigation into ancient section of Great Wall
SHIJIAZHUANG, 12/28 - China is preparing the first comprehensive investigation of the Great Wall section that was built during Qin Dynasty (475-221 BC), according to the China Great Wall Society Wednesday.
The program will start in April or May next year, said Dong Yaohui, vice chairman and secretary general of China Great Wall Society.
The society has already performed a comprehensive investigation into the section built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).
The section built during Qin Dynasty, built more than 2,000 years ago, is experiencing extreme man-made and natural destruction. The section is poorly understood or protected, Dong said.
China`s first emperor, Qinshihuang, founder of Qin Dynasty, had the Great Wall built as a defense against attack by the Xiongnu, an ancient nationality in north China.
Researchers believed that the vast project was built by over one million workers in 12 years.
Rebuilt many times through the centuries, and many sections of the wall have suffered serious damage.
Since the 1980s, the Chinese government has allocated special funds to restore this national monument.
Romans may have learned from Chinese Great Wall: archaeologists
The construction of the Roman Limes was quite possibly influenced by the concept of the Great Wall in China, though the two great buildings of the world are far away from each other, said archaeologists and historians.
Although there is no evidence that the two constructions had any direct connections, indirect influence from the Great Wall on the Roman Limes is certain, said Visy Zsolt, a professor with the Department of Ancient History and Archaeology of the University of Pecs in Hungary.
Visy made the remarks in an interview with Xinhua as he attended an international conference in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi Province recently, and his opinion was shared by some Chinese and foreign scholars.
The Roman Limes are Europe's largest archaeological monument, consisting of sections of the border line of the Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the 2nd century AD.
All together, the Limes stretch over 5,000 kilometers from the Atlantic coast of northern Britain, through Europe to the Black Sea, and from there to the Red Sea and across North Africa to the Atlantic coast.
Vestiges include the remains of the ramparts, walls and ditches, close to 900 watchtowers, 60 forts, and civilian settlements which accommodated tradesmen, craftsmen and others who served in the military.
The long distance and the great number of different peoples and cultures in Central Asia made any connections between the two ancient Roman and Chinese empires almost impossible.
However, curiosity and the challenge of covering great distances and seeing remote lands excited people in the past, Visy said.
"Indeed, more information about each other could be gained exactly in times as the one or the other became stronger and could start some programs toward the other," Visy said.
As for the Roman Empire, the silk trade started during the reign of Augustus. The trade became intensive both on the Silk Route and in the sea.
The Chinese chief commander Ban Chao led an army up the Caspian Sea in the 1st century AD and sent a delegation to the west to get information about Rome (called Daqin in Chinese).
Visy noted that there are a lot of similarities between the Roman Limes and the Great Wall. Both empires wanted to launch a strong barrier against "barbarians" and to prevent their invasions. In doing so, the Han Dynasty (226 BC-220 AD) built a continuous wall, but Rome built a wall only in special cases.
"It was an important point in both systems to build a military road along the limes, as well as a row of beacon towers in a strict sequence. Also the military centers and bigger forts are similar in the Roman and in the Chinese constructions," Visy said.
Archaeologists have found almost the same methods were used for providing signs at the Great Wall and the Roman Limes.
Visy said another factor that should not be neglected is that the western most sector of the Great Wall was built in the last decades of the 2nd century BC, during the strong rule of Emperor Wu of the Han Dynasty.
"The Chinese Empire seems to be interested in Western connections, at least in Central Asia," Visy said.
The trade connections between the two empires were quite intensive in the first century and at least in the first half of the second one. "It is worth noting that the north line of the Silk Road was opened also at the beginning of the 1st century AD," Visy said.
A. Stein and other scholars' research in the region of Dunhuang and Lop Nur in northwest China has also found similarities between the Great Wall and the Roman Limes, according to Visy.
Taking all these points into consideration one can ask the question if all this is due to chance or if there is a connection between the two constructions, Visy said.
"It is quite obvious to suppose that Rome gained information about China and about their special, complicated structure of frontier defence. Could the idea of the strong limes not come from the well-tried system of China?" Visy added.
Xu Weimin, director of the Department of History of Northwest China University, said that during the 400 years from the 3rd century BC to the 2nd century AD, lots of Chinese silk was transported to the western countries via the Silk Road. It is natural that the information about the Great Wall was spread to the Rome Empire.
The Great Wall was first built in the 7th century BC, and was repaired, enlarged and rebuilt in many dynasties. In the Han Dynasty, the western most part of the Great Wall was extended to the Lop Nur in today's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region to protect the Silk Road.
Chen Yongzhi, vice director of the Institute of Archaeology of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, said the exchanges between the east and west started earlier than believed. In addition to silk, the information about the Great Wall was also exchanged.
"It's convincing that the Roman Limes and the Great Wall have some 'blood relationship'," Chen added.
Rare bronze horse, chariot unearthed in SW China
A rare bronze horse and chariot were unearthed in Ziyang, a city in southwest China's Sichuan Province, according to Sichuan Provincial Archaeology Research Institute.
The bronze funeral object is believed to have been built in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) or even earlier in the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 206 BC), according to preliminary study.
The object was buried in a chamber about nine meters from the ground. Archeologists also found an ancient tomb about ten meters from the ground.
The horse and chariot are the first ever discovered in Sichuan Province. The tomb owner is thought to have been a high-ranking official or royal member since his tomb owned a bronze horse and chariot, said Wang Lumao, an archaeologist with the Sichuan Provincial Archeology Research Institute.
China's most important horses and chariots are those found in Qinshihuang Mausoleum in Xi'an in northwest China's Shaanxi Province, where China's first emperor buried a lot of horses and chariots in his underground palace.
Ancient eunuch tombs unearthed in SW China
Seven eunuch tombs belonging to the imperial Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were unearthed in Chengdu, capital of southwestern China's Sichuan Province.
The 400-year-old tombs yielded approximately 60 pieces of relics including porcelains, jade belts, jade hair decoration clasps and silver kettles.
The tomb chambers are all some seven meters deep with stone tables for incense burners and bottles at the entrance. The tomb gates were equipped with a stone dragon head at each side and the walls were decorated with dragon patterns.
The coffin chambers were all made of whole stones and enveloped with bar stones, an effective way to ward off possible tomb robbers, said Chen Ping, an archeologist who participated in the excavation.
The tombs belong to a period under the reign of emperor Wan Li (1573 - 1620) in the Ming Dynasty, when the eunuchs controlled court affairs, Chen Ping said.
One of the eunuchs was found to be Feng Kuiyuan, a head eunuch in Shuwangfu Mansion or Mansion for the princess ruling Sichuan area, and the identities of the other eunuchs are still not clear.
The excavation lasted one month at a construction site and further excavation is expected to continue.
Artifacts From Memphis Bordellos Found
Saturday December 24, 2005 9:31 AM
By WOODY BAIRD
Associated Press Writer
MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) - Near the blues clubs in the city's famed tourist district, archaeologists have turned up remains of bordellos that once dotted Beale Street.
Archaeologists dug through a half-block square site in the historic district while preparing for construction of a new hotel. There, about six feet down, they uncovered the remains of up to three ``female boarding houses,'' as bordellos were called in Memphis in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Among the recovered artifacts were numerous wine and liquor bottles, and pieces of porcelain dolls apparently once owned by the children of prostitutes.
``This area around Beale Street was a notorious red-light district,'' archaeologist Drew Buchner said. ``It's all part of the lore of Beale Street.''
The dig, which ended Thursday, took place just yards from the front doors of FedExForum, the home of the NBA's Memphis Grizzlies.
Artifacts found during the dig indicate the boarding houses were in their prime from the early 1900s until about 1915, when Prohibition arrived in Memphis.
From the early 1900s through World War II, Beale Street was a cultural and entertainment center for black residents from throughout the Memphis area and the Mississippi River Delta who had been denied access to whites-only nightclubs. The city began resurrecting Beale Street as an entertainment district in the 1980s.
George W. Lee, a Memphis political leader during Beale Street's heyday, wrote about Prohibition's effects on the famous strip.
``He basically said when they enforced Prohibition here, several thousand prostitutes left Memphis and went to St. Louis,'' Buchner said.
Tennessee adopted statewide prohibition in 1909, but E.H. Crump, Memphis' longtime political boss, refused to enforce it for years. National prohibition took effect in 1920.
Beale Street is billed as ``home of the blues'' because W.C. Handy, a bandleader who performed in clubs there in the early 1900s, is credited with being the first musician to put blues music into written form.
Developers were required to conduct the archaeological survey because the future site of the Westin Beale Street Hotel is in the historic district. Panamerican Consultants Inc. expects to complete a report on the survey in about four months.
WE FOUND A VILLA UNDER A MOLEHILL
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."
Restoration of medieval manor house opens up a mystery
Friday December 30, 2005
Turn right off a quintessentially dull suburban parade of shops and 1930s houses, down a lane past the scrapyard and the playing fields, and there is something so bizarre it seems a hallucination: a medieval manor house, still surrounded by a moat and flanked by its tithe barn, as it has been for almost 700 years.
Headstone Manor is a treasure that most outsiders have never known and most people in the Middlesex suburb of Harrow had forgotten. "Secular buildings of this date are extremely rare anywhere," said Stephen Brindle, an ancient monuments inspector for English Heritage. "To find it surviving here is quite extraordinary." Half a lifetime ago the timber-framed 1310 hall was about to fall to bits: it was stripped of roof tiles, floors and plaster down to a skeletal frame, then wrapped in scaffolding and corrugated plastic. English Heritage offered a grant for restoration, and the local heritage trust raised £50,000, but the rest of the money could not be found. The building, designated a scheduled ancient monument, remained wrapped up for over 20 years.
Two years ago it was realised that the house was decaying fast. The grant was reactivated, and the council found £750,000. Although well over another £1m will have to be found for the interiors and the moat and garden, the building is now supported by a steel frame and can be opened to the public for the first time.
The land was originally a country estate owned by the archbishops of Canterbury, who were recorded as occasionally staying there from the 9th century, but the estate was confiscated by Henry VIII in 1546, and sold on six days later. It remained a tenanted farmhouse until the council bought it in the 1920s, mainly for the surrounding land to be used as a park. Part of a Georgian extension was used as stores and a small local history museum, but there was no public access to the oldest and most interesting part because it was judged too dangerous. During the restoration archaeologists uncovered graffiti by Victorian farmworkers who slept in the garrets, a space in which one electrician flatly refused to work. Many windows buried in later building work re-emerged, including a little one under the roof of the hall which our photographer found standing open. It was no surprise to project manager Ian Wilson: when the window was reinstated the last worker to leave the site at night would carefully close it - but the first to arrive would find it open.
Headstone Manor is open to pre-booked guided groups only www.harrow.gov.uk