Neolithic Europeans Made Cheese, Yogurt

By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News


Jan. 24, 2006 — Dirty cooking pots dating to nearly 8,000 years ago reveal that some of Europe's earliest farming communities produced dairy products, such as cheese and yogurt.


Two separate studies indicate that Neolithic dairying took place in what are now Romania, Hungary and Switzerland.


The discoveries suggest people in these regions might have originally learned how to process milk-based foods from Asian farmers.


"From a diffusionist perspective, these findings lend support to the idea that the antiquity of dairying lies with the origins of animal domestication in southwest Asia some two millennia earlier, prior to its transmission to Europe in the seventh millennia B.C., rather than it being a later and entirely European innovation," wrote Oliver Craig, a scientist at Tor Vergata University in Rome, and colleagues in the first study published in the journal Antiquity.


Craig and his team studied fatty residues stuck on ceramic cooking vessels found at the left bank of the Danube near Romania and at the Great Hungarian Plain. The dirty pots date from 5,950-5500 B.C. Analysis of the fats suggests they belonged to goat or sheep milk.


Jorge Spangenberg, a geochemist at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, indicated to Discovery News that he agreed early dairying took place.


In another paper published in the current Journal of Archaeological Science, Spangenberg and his team conducted a similar study on dirty cooking pot shards found at a site called Arbon Bleiche 3 on the southwestern shore of Lake Constance in Switzerland. The shards date to 3384-3370 B.C.


The Swiss scientists compared the carbon and nitrogen isotope signatures of the residues with those of fats found in today's organic milks and cheeses. The residue signatures closely matched those for cow, goat and sheep milk.


Since the pots have darkened, sooty undersides from apparent placement over fires, the researchers believe the milk was cooked and otherwise processed to keep it fresh and consumable.


"Freshly milked milk has a short life," Spangenberg explained. "After leaving the ruminant (grazing animal) udder, milk quickly becomes colonized with bacteria, mainly lactobacilli. We therefore speculate that the Neolithic settlers at Arbon were consuming fermented milks and making relatively long-life milk products from fermented milks, such as today's buttermilk, yogurt, butter and cheese, which could be stored and consumed at much later dates."


The researchers theorized that the cheese would have been similar to modern fresh goat cheese and farmer's cheese. Sour cream also likely was produced.


Bones that belonged to domestic cows, pigs, goats, sheep and dogs also were found at the Swiss site where numerous individual family farms appear to have been located around 6,000 years ago.


Stefanie Jacomet, a professor in the Institute for Prehistory and Archaeological Science at Basel University in Switzerland, worked with Spangenberg and Jörge Schibler on the study.


She told Discovery News that the early Europeans likely did not sell or trade their dairy products with outside groups, but instead made them for their own families and communities.


"Based on the herd size, we suggest that this was a subsistence economy, and that the village was not able to produce surplus," she said.


The villagers seemed to have eaten well, however. In addition to the animal bones, several fish bones also were excavated at the site, along with evidence for hazelnuts, strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, crab apples and sloe plums.


In terms of dairying, little seems to have changed.


Spangenberg said, "Currently there are still approximately 24,000 farms in the Lake Constance region, most of them with dairy cows."



Archeologists Find Ancient Ship Remains

By Associated Press

January 27, 2006, 7:17 PM EST


CAIRO, Egypt -- An American-Italian team of archaeologists has found the remains of 4,000-year-old ships that used to carry cargo between Pharaonic Egypt and the mysterious, exotic land of Punt, the Supreme Council of Antiquities has announced.


The ships' remains were found during a five-year excavation of five caves south of the Red Sea port of Safaga, about 300 miles southeast of Cairo, the chairman of the supreme council, Zahi Hawass, said in a statement late Thursday.


 The archaeologists, who came from Boston and East Naples universities, found Pharaonic seals from the era of Sankhkare Mentuhotep III, one of seven rulers of the 11th dynasty, which lasted from about 2133 B.C. to 1991 B.C.. They also found wooden boxes, covered with gypsum, bearing the inscription "Wonders of the land of Punt."


For the ancient Egyptians, Punt was a source of prized goods such as incense, ivory, ebony, gum and the hides of giraffes and panthers that were worn by temple priests. But the precise location of Punt remains a mystery. Historians have variously placed it in Sudan, Eritrea or Somalia.


Hawass said the remains showed the ancient Egyptians were "excellent ship builders" and that they had a fleet capable of sailing to remote lands.


"All the pieces found are in good shape and they will be moved for restoration and display," Hawass added in the statement.


Other artifacts included 80 coils of rope and pieces of pottery that date to the reign of Mentuhotep III.



Lost treasures of Constantinople test Turkey's 21st-century ambition

£2bn train tunnel linking Europe to Asia faces delays as dig unearths 5th-century port

Ian Traynor in Istanbul

Wednesday January 25, 2006

The Guardian


Deep in the soft black earth beneath the cleared slum tenements of old Istanbul, Metin Gokcay points to neatly stacked and labelled crates heaped with shattered crockery. "That's mostly old mosaics and old ceramics," said the Istanbul city archaeologist. "And over there we found bones and coins."

Looking at huge slabs of limestone emerging from a depth of more than 7 metres (25ft) below ground, he adds: "That's late Roman, this is early Byzantine. This tunnel here is very interesting. Perhaps Constantine's mother had her palace over there."


The archaeologist is making mischief. For more than a millennium this city bore the name of Constantine, but whether the emperor's mother lived at this spot called Yenikapi, a powerful stone's throw from the Sea of Marmara, is a moot point. Mr Gokcay is intrigued and baffled by the subterranean stone tunnel which, measuring 1.8 metres by 1.5 metres, is too big to have been used for sewage or as an aqueduct.

But if Mr Gokcay remains in the dark as to the function of the ancient tunnel, his excavations have led to a stunning discovery that could jeopardise Turkey's most ambitious engineering project - a new rail and underground system traversing the Bosphorus and connecting Europe to Asia via a high-speed railway.


Mr Gokcay has uncovered a 5th-century gem - the original port of Constantinople, a maze of dams, jetties and platforms that once was Byzantium's hub for trade with the near east.


Cemal Pulak, a Turkish-American, from Texas, and one of the world's leading experts in nautical archaeology, said: "The ships from here carried the wine in jars and amphorae from the Sea of Marmara. The cargoes of grain came in from Alexandria. This was the harbour that allowed this city to be."


In a mood of barely suppressed excitement, armies of archaeologists and labourers have been scraping away silt and rubble for the past year and revealed a vast site the size of several football pitches. It is slowly giving up its secrets and its treasures.


Seven sunken ships have already been found buried in mud at Yenikapi, a few hundred metres inland from the Sea of Marmara and a 10-minute stroll from the mass tourist attractions of the Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace.


Mr Pulak is thrilled that one of the ships, a longboat, may be the first Byzantine naval vessel ever found. All of the boats appear to have been wrecked in a storm. There are 1,000-year-old shipping ropes in perfect condition, preserved in silt for centuries. There are huge forged iron anchors, viewed as so valuable in medieval Byzantium they were highly prized items in the dowries of the daughters of the wealthy.


Treasure chest


But if the discovery of the ancient port of Constantinople promises a treasure chest of riches for historians and archaeologists, it also brings its problems. The old harbour straddles what is to become the biggest railway station in Turkey, a gleaming modern temple connecting the city's new high-speed rail and metro.


"It's a phenomenal site. But it opens a can of worms," said Mr Pulak. "This is to be the biggest station in Turkey and they'll be wanting to put huge shopping malls on the top."


The Yenikapi site is the linchpin of what the Turkish government dubs the "project of the century". The $4bn (£2.2bn) Marmaray transport project is being built by a Japanese-led consortium. There will be tunnelling under the Bosphorus for the first time ever, with high-speed trains going through the deepest underwater tunnel in the world in the middle of a high-risk earthquake zone. The tunnel itself will be built to withstand quakes of 9.0 on the Richter scale in the area of the North Anatolian Fault, which runs below the Sea of Marmara nearing the walls of Istanbul. Seismologists say a large earthquake and a mini tsunami are almost inevitable within a generation at the latest.


The ambitious new transport system is to shift 75,000 passengers an hour and to put Istanbul behind only Tokyo and New York in the global league table for urban rail capacity.


There is no doubt the Marmaray is needed urgently. In a city of 12 million, which seems to grow by the week, the traffic congestion is a nightmare and the Bosphorus bridges are gridlocked semi-permanently. So the engineers, transport officials and urban planners are in a hurry to get the infrastructure built by the end of the decade. That puts Mr Gokcay and his teams of experts under immense pressure to finish their dig.


"The transport guys say they are losing a million a day because of the archaeological delays," said one expert. "But it's ridiculous - when they were building the Athens metro the excavations took seven years. Here they want it finished in six months."


Ismail Karamut, the director of the city's museum of archaeology and a leading expert on the history of Istanbul, refuses to be intimidated by the urban planners. "This city is 2,800 years old and here we're digging right in the middle of a living city. It's not like excavating on a mountainside. The transport people can't start until we're finished. And maybe they'll have to change their project depending on what we find. We've told them we can't give them a deadline."


It is perhaps logical and fitting that the same spot that provided the shipping hub for 5th-century Constantinople should become the rail nexus for 21st-century Istanbul. But the dilemmas thrown up by trying to secure the future without destroying the past are a headache.


Ottoman gardeners


The discovered artefacts fall into the easy bit. The ships can be rebuilt using computer simulations; the anchors, ropes and coins can all be housed elsewhere. But you cannot move the ancient port - believed to be Portus Theodosiacus, in use from the 4th to the 7th centuries, after which it started silting up, then became useless for shipping. In later centuries it served just as fertile vegetable plots for Ottoman allotment gardeners.


One idea is to cordon off the old port area creating an "archaeological island" that would be an exhibit in the new transport complex. But that is a tricky solution because of the underground shafts and the vast scale of the station.


The doyen of archaeology for Constantinople, the late German researcher Wolfgang Muller-Wiener, predicted 30 years ago that the old port would be found at Yenikapi. But the site was covered in illegal tenements and could not be explored. It was the modern transport project that made discovery of the old port possible, since the site had to be cleared to make way for the railway station.


Mr Karamut said: "We knew from the ancient documents and records that there was some kind of port around there. But we didn't know exactly where. We didn't know that it could be Constantinople's first harbour."



20th January 2006

School work uncovers ancient bones

Weston Mercury

An ancient skeleton has been unearthed at a school during building work.


Contractors working at Kings of Wessex Community School in Cheddar uncovered what archaeologists think is a 2,000-year-old man in his 50s. Coffin and boot nails were also found.


The first hint of a find came at the end of last week when a bone, believed to be human, was found by builders working on the school's new £625,000 computer and languages department block.


The next day, a digger excavating a trench for a gas pipe sliced through the delicate skeleton just below the hips.


The area was cordoned off while an archaeologist investigated the site.


A school spokesman said: "Apart from being injured after 2,000 years, he was relatively in tact.


"He is rather tall and, remarkably, his teeth were in good condition. But the archaeologist explained that they ate less sugar in those days and our teeth actually rot faster than our ancestors would have.


"The way he was buried was interesting. It was quite a shallow grave, unless there had been erosion, and he was pointing north, suggesting he was pagan, rather than east to west, the way Christians were buried.


"We're not saying the site is a graveyard at the moment, but it's a possibility."


Work has resumed on the site and no further archaeological investigations are planned. The skeleton has been removed for further investigation.


The new school building is due to be finished by the beginning of the next academic year.





10:30 - 24 January 2006


Archaeologists have discovered the skeletons of 1,300 people in a Medieval cemetery.


Experts believe the discovery, in the city centre, is the largest of its kind outside London.


The site was uncovered at the former St Margaret's Baths site, in St Peter's Lane, which is being redeveloped as part of the £350 million Shires extension.


Archaeologists said the finds would vastly improve their understanding of everyday life in Medieval Leicester.


Richard Buckley, director of University of Leicester Archaeology Services, said his team was stunned by the size of the discovery.


He said: "The site used to be the grounds of the Church of St Peter.


"There was a graveyard surrounding the site and we expected there would be a lot of burials.


"We dug quite deep - about two-and-a-half metres - and expected 300 burials. We certainly didn't expect 1,300, which we believe is the largest find of skeletal remains outside London."


The site - where a John Lewis department store will stand - was excavated between April and November.


The remains are believed to date from between the 12th century and mid-1500s, and represent all sections of society.


Some people were buried in coffins, others in shrouds.


In one case, 20 bodies were discovered in a communal plot.


Mr Buckley said: "One man was found with a bulla - a document from the Pope - which was common at that time, when people paid for prayers to be said for them.


"There was also a communal burial, where people were buried en masse as a result of illness or plague."


He said the bones were being studied by a specialist.


"Examining the remains will give us a better idea of how people lived, their diets and what work they did," he said.


"We have a lot of documents on the buildings in Medieval Leicester, but very rarely get to examine the population.


"Early examinations show the people from that period weren't as tall as today and life expectancy was much lower."


Dr Alan McWhirr, chairman of the Historic Churches Trust and honorary secretary of Leicestershire Historical and Archaeological Society, said: "The site will provide valuable information about the people living in Leicester at the time, which will eventually filter through to museums and schools.


"The beauty of a site of 1,300 people is that it is a fairly large sample to base findings on ."


The skeletons will eventually be reburied at Gilroes cemetery, in Groby Road.


The largest-known Medieval cemetery was found in London in 1999.


A total of 10,500 bodies were found during excavations in Bishopsgate.



Treasure revealed in abbey's old well

Jan 30 2006


A vast monastic drain, dating from about 1230, has been unblocked at a historic abbey, the National Trust has revealed.


The drain was infilled in the 16th century and the work has uncovered a builder's dump full of fascinating archaeology.


The Trust carried out excavations of the monastic drain at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire to help understand the present-day problems with damp in the building, which includes famous medieval cloisters.


The dig, carried out by hand, removed 64 tonnes of debris used as infill by William Sharrington, who bought the abbey in the 16th century after the Dissolution.


The drain originally served the reredorter, which were the lavatories in the 13th century nunnery and which functioned as the main sewer for the abbey and would have originally run off into the river.


The most interesting finds come from the areas nearest the openings and must have been deposited in the mid-16th century.


They include bronze dress or "wimple" pins, which were indispensable items for nuns.


Several hundred fragments of floor tile were found, most of which are from the local Nash Hill Kiln site and date from the 13th century.


Painted glass window fragments, a lead pilgrim's ampulla, bronze shears and a 14th century book clasp were also found and are being conserved.


David Formby, National Trust custodian of Lacock Abbey, said: "We undertook these excavations to ease problems of rising damp in the building by undoing the work of Sharrington's 16th century builders, who used the drain as a skip."


Archaeologist Jane Harcourt, who managed the project for the National Trust, said: "What was viewed as rubbish in the 16th century is of great interest to us in the 21st century.


"We have found 300 bronze dress pins which would have been essential for nuns in the 13th century to secure their wimples and which were used by all women in the 14th and 15th centuries." ..SUPL:



Treasures of 'Harry Potter' sewer 


The archaeological excavation of an ancient sewer at a medieval nunnery used as a setting in the Harry Potter films has revealed a host of treasures.

The aim of the work on the drain at Lacock Abbey in Wiltshire was to understand modern-day problems with damp at the historic building.


Instead experts discovered bronze "wimple" pins, shears, a lead flask and a 14th Century book clasp.


The items are all being conserved and may go on display at the house.


The drain structure is approximately 49ft (15m) long, 19ft 8in (6m) high and 3ft 3in (1m) wide and runs directly beneath the abbey, alongside the north wall of the east range.


It originally served the lavatories in the 13th century nunnery, and would have run off into the river.


But it is believed to have been filled in with building waste in the 16th century when the abbey was bought by William Sharrington following the Dissolution of the Monasteries.


“What was viewed as rubbish in the 16th century is of great interest to us in the 21st century “

Jane Harcourt



David Formby, National Trust custodian of the abbey, said: "We undertook these excavations to ease problems of rising damp in the building by undoing the work of Sharrington's 16th century builders, who used the drain as we do a skip.


"We hope that the excavation will aid the lowering of the ground water level within the building and reduce the degree of rising damp."


Archaeologist Jane Harcourt said: "What was viewed as rubbish in the 16th century is of great interest to us in the 21st century as it gives us clues about life at the time."


Lacock Abbey is famous as the 19th century home of photographic pioneer William Henry Fox-Talbot, who immortalised the building in some of the earliest photographs.


In more recent times, its medieval cloisters have provided the setting for scenes from a number of the Harry Potter films.



Archaeologists reveal chapel where Henry VIII married his wives

Maev Kennedy

Wednesday January 25, 2006

The Guardian


A pavement once paced by Henry VII, and his son Henry VIII, at least two of his unfortunate wives, and his daughters Elizabeth I and Mary Tudor, has emerged from under a car park at the Royal Hospital in Greenwich, south London.

The pavement is part of a royal chapel believed completely destroyed by centuries of later re-building at Greenwich. Although only grubby smears remain of their original smart black and white glazing, the tiles, with a border in an elaborate lozenge pattern, are in remarkably good condition. They mark the site of the altar in the chapel Henry VII built at his palace of Placentia, between 1500 and 1504.


Unlike the bloodsoaked history of other residences which doubled as prisons (like the Tower of London), Placentia, the pleasant place, in clean riverside air far from the stink of London, was a palace for pleasure and entertainment. It became the birthplace of Henry VIII and favourite of all his royal homes. He married his first wife, Catherine of Aragon, and, three wives later, Anne of Cleves in a private apartment above the chapel.

Although the excavation is a confusing jumble of broken stone and stumps of redbrick wall, with the odd chunk of crisply carved chunk of door or window frame made of expensive imported Caen stone, historians were ecstatic."This discovery brings home the reality of the weddings of Henry VIII more directly than any other surviving buildings," David Starkey said. He called it "the absolute heart of the palace" and added: "When Henry was married ... what he saw through the window was the tiled floor and altar that have now been revealed."


Simon Thurley, chief executive of English Heritage, an expert on Tudor palaces, was equally excited: "This is an astonishing survival."



Swedish bog man murdered - 700 years ago

Published: 24th January 2006 10:04 CET


Seven hundred years after he lived, the cause of death of Sweden's oldest human skeleton has been solved. He was murdered - with three blows to the head.


It had previously been assumed that the skull of the Bocksten Man, who was found in Bocksten bog outside Varberg in 1936, was damaged by the pressure of lying buried in the bog since the 1300s.


But when one of Sweden's leading cranial experts, Professor Claes Lauritzen, who heads the craniofacial unit at Sahlgrenska University Hospital, examined a plastic model of the Bocksten Man's cranium on Monday, that theory was dismissed.


Lauritzen is certain that the injuries were inflicted with brutal violence.


The Bocksten Man was struck on the lower jaw, followed by a blow near the right ear and then another further back on the head. The final blow would have killed him instantly and he was probably already lying down. Some sort of pole or hammer could have been used as a weapon.


"The last blow split the skull," said Claus Lauritzen.


Together with Tim Hewitt, a plastic surgeon from Australia, Lauritzen constructed a cranial model with a view to creating as faithful a replica as possible of the Bocksten Man's skull.


However, Lauritzen, who himself grew up in Varberg, had not expected to solve the mystery of his death.


"I'm a bit surprised that nobody did this kind of analysis earlier, but that's probably because they were being so careful with the original skull," he said.


The 'operation' was performed in one of Sahlgrenska's plastic surgery clinics, observed by reporters and photographers clad in green gowns.


The two surgeons shaped and bent the plastic, screwing it together with steel bands.


"This reminds me very much of how we work in normal cases," said Lauritzen.


The model was constructed with the help of computer tomography. During the operation the lower jaw and the skull damage were reconstructed. The face was widened slightly, since the original was thought to have been pressed together after hundreds of years in the bog.


Eventually model maker Oscar Nilsson will give the Bocksten Man a 'real' face. The final result will be displayed in Varberg Museum in the summer.



DNA helps solve mysterious murder case

January 25 2006 at 09:46AM 


Brest, France - French police who spent two years trying to identify a woman who was murdered by a blow to the head were relieved to discover the reason their efforts were failing was that the woman died half a millennium ago.


The skeleton of a woman in her thirties was found during an exceptionally low tide in December 2003 near the seaside Brittany town of Plouezoc'h. A long gash in the skull convinced investigators she was killed with a hatchet or other sharp implement.


Police ploughed through missing persons' files to no avail. A theory that the woman was the wife of a Normandy doctor who disappeared with his family in a famous 1999 case was dismissed after DNA tests.


Eventually radiocarbon dating established that the death had occurred between 1401 and 1453.


"We are satisfied because at least we know the date now. We reckon it was pirates," said Francois Gerthosser of the Plourin-les-Morlaix police. - Sapa-AFP