Ancient footprints found in Mexico valley
By IOAN GRILLO, Associated Press Writer Thu Oct 26, 4:30 AM ET
MEXICO CITY - A trail of 13 fossilized footprints running through a valley in a desert in northern Mexico could be among the oldest in the Americas, Mexican archeologists said.
Click to learn more...
The footprints were made by hunter gatherers who are believed to have lived thousands of years ago in the Coahuila valley of Cuatro Cienegas, 190 miles (306 kms) south of Eagle Pass, Texas, said archaeologist Yuri de la Rosa Gutierrez of Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History.
"We believe (the footprints) are between 10,000 and 15,000 years old," De la Rosa said in a news release Wednesday. "We have evidence of the presence of hunter gatherers in the Coahuila desert more than 10,000 years ago."
De la Rosa said there have only been initial tests to find the age of the prints and more tests will be carried out both in Mexico and at a laboratory in Bristol in Great Britain.
The oldest discovered footprints in the Western hemisphere are in Chile, and are believed to be 13,000 years old. There 6,000-year old footprints in the U.S. state of California, in Brazil and in Nicaragua.
The age of the Mexican footprints is dwarfed by those found in Africa. The oldest known hominid foot marks are in Laetoli, in Tanzania, and are believed to have been made 3.5 million years ago.
The Cuatro Cienegas footprints were discovered in May embedded in a white rock called travertine, it said in the news release.
Each footprint is 10 inches (27 cm) long and under an inch (2 cm) deep. They spread over a distance of 30 feet (10 meters).
It is likely they were imprinted in mud and preserved by some rapid change in the environment, said Arturo Gonzalez, director of the Desert Museum, in the Coahuila state capital of Saltillo.
"There must have been a natural phenomenon to rapidly cover them so they were not rubbed out and were perfectly preserved," Gonzalez said.
Public release date: 24-Oct-2006
Contact: Amy Lunday
Johns Hopkins University
Early Bronze Age mortuary complex discovered in Syria
Human and animal skeletal remains indicate possible royal cemetery, ritual sacrifice
Johns Hopkins Unhiversity archaeologist Glenn Schwartz excavating equid skeletons at the tomb complex at Umm el-Marra in Syria.
An ancient, untouched Syrian tomb that wowed the archaeological world on its discovery by Johns Hopkins University researchers nearly six years ago has revealed another secret: It is not alone.
The tomb, which was filled with human and animal remains, gold and silver treasures and unbroken artifacts dating back to the third millennium B.C., is actually one of at least eight located near each other in Umm el-Marra, archaeologist Glenn Schwartz said. That northern Syrian city is believed to be the site of ancient Tuba, one of Syria's first cities and the capital of a small kingdom, said Schwartz, the Whiting Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Near Eastern studies at Johns Hopkins.
The newly discovered tombs contain signs of the ritual sacrifice of humans and animals, including the skeletons of infants and decapitated donkeys, as well as puppy bones, Schwartz said. "Given these discoveries, it's likely that the tomb complex is a royal cemetery," he said.
"Animal sacrifices were certainly a big part of this culture in that offerings of sheep and other animals are given to the gods to eat and also given to deceased royal ancestors," Schwartz said. He and his team have dubbed this site the Acropolis Center mortuary complex.
The tombs are located about 35 miles east of the site of Aleppo, the main city and dominant center in the region dating at least as far back as 2000 B.C., Schwartz said. Though the tomb complex is much less showy than the famous one from the same period at Ur in Mesopotamia, which is now Iraq, the Umm el-Marra complex is the only known one in Syria from this time period.
Umm el-Marra is in the Jabbul plain of northern Syria, just west of the Euphrates River. It is situated on what was a vital east-west trade route connecting Mesopotamia with Aleppo and ultimately the Mediterranean Sea. Because it's also bordered by an agricultural zone to the west and a steppe zone to the east that was home to nomadic pastoralists, Schwartz believes Umm el-Marra was a crossroads where people traded their wares, such as dairy products and wool from the east for grain from the west. Umm el-Marra's close proximity to one of Syria's largest salt lakes must have added to its economic importance, Schwartz said.
The new tombs were identified and excavated by the Johns Hopkins team in the summers of 2002, 2004 and 2006, with funding from the National Science Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Dellheim Foundation of Baltimore and the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Johns Hopkins. Given differences in ceramic objects found in the tombs, Schwartz and his team have concluded that they were built sequentially over three centuries, from about 2500 to about 2200 B.C. The tombs were built next to each other, with the complex expanding horizontally. Since they found no more than eight skeletons per tomb, the archaeologists hypothesize that these are tombs of different families or dynasties.
"The tombs were built on the highest and most central part of the city and thus would have been visible from everywhere else and would have dominated the local landscape," Schwartz said.
The oldest tombs excavated were Tombs 5 and 6, east of the first tomb discovered. Tomb 5 had been disturbed and its entry on the east blocked with boulders, but pottery and the bones of an adult male and an infant were found within. Tomb 6, the largest thus far discovered, was partly destroyed but contained the bones of an adult male inside a wooden coffin, associated with gold and silver toggle pins and beads of lapis lazuli, gold and carnelian, a reddish mineral often used as gemstones. Like Tomb 5, Tomb 8 had been disturbed and its entry blocked but still contained the bones of two adults and much pottery, indicating a date about 2450 B.C. Tomb 3, built slightly later, was similarly disturbed, but contained 62 vessels and the remains of one adult and one child.
Schwartz does not believe that the damage to the tombs was the work of modern grave robbers, but more likely occurred relatively close to when they were built.
"We hypothesize that these disturbances were perpetrated intentionally by powerful individuals acting to impede further ritual honoring the individuals buried within," Schwartz said. "Perhaps such actions to sever the connection between the interred persons and the living community were taken because of political or dynastic changes."
In contrast to the tombs just mentioned, Tomb 4 still had numerous lavish contents intact. Datable through its 120 ceramic vessels to about 2400 to 2350 B.C., the tomb had two levels. Two adult females and an adult male were found in the lower level. The bodies were buried with gold and silver ornaments, ivory combs, furniture inlays of ostrich eggshell and many other objects. The upper, later level of Tomb 4 also contained three bodies: an adult male, a child and an adult female. Next to the woman were gold toggle pins, silver diadems, a silver torque and seven silver vessels. It is striking, in fact, that the women in the tombs tend to have more grave wealth than the men, Schwartz said. A previously unseen variety of non-cuneiform writing was carved into four small clay cylinders found in this level, a very interesting find requiring further evaluation, he said.
Finally, Tomb 7, with the skeletons of three to four individuals, dates to about 2200 B.C. and differs from the others in that its construction disturbed an earlier tomb (Tomb 6). It also differs in that it had multiple chambers.
Five subterranean brick structures as well as other features near the tombs contained the skeletal remains of animals and, in some cases, human infants. The animal skeletons are predominantly of "equids"--members of the horse family, most likely donkeys, onagers (donkeys' wild cousins), or a hybrid of the two. Thus far, the bones of 27 complete individuals have been retrieved, often found standing upright. Each of the decapitated skulls was found on a separate ledge or in other positions. The equid remains were sometimes found adjacent to baby bones, perhaps indicating that infant sacrifice went along with equid sacrifice in rituals honoring the important people buried nearby, Schwartz said. Sets of puppy bones were also found in several of the brick structures. The archaeologists also found spouted jars in the installations and a large jar containing the skeletons of three infants.
"Clearly, the interment of animals, especially equids, as well as infants, accompanied by rituals of libation implied by the spouted vessels, was a component of the procedures enacted in the Acropolis Center mortuary complex," Schwartz said.
While modern society might not find as much value in them, donkeys and mules were thought of as royal animals and superior to horses, which were newly domesticated in the days of Tuba, Schwartz said. Donkeys had only been domesticated in the fourth millennium and still had a lot of cachet and were expensive.
"I suspect that the sacrifice of these equids in our tombs has something to do with their association with the highest rank of society," Schwartz said. "It would be like a wealthy person today being buried with his or her Rolls Royce."
There is still much to be explored and analyzed before the archaeologists fully understand the tomb complex and all it can teach them about rulership and ritual in early urban Syria, Schwartz said.
"We hope to excavate below the tombs already identified to investigate the origins of the mortuary complex," he said. "Clearly, there is much need for further analysis and interpretation, but it is to be hoped that the new evidence from Umm el-Marra will assist in expanding our understanding of Syria's first complex societies, closely connected to Mesopotamia and yet with their own distinctive character and identity."
To speak with Schwartz, contact Amy Lunday. High resolution digital photos of Schwartz and the artifacts are available.
THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY
OFFICE OF NEWS AND INFORMATION
901 S. Bond Street, Suite 540
Baltimore, MD 21231
Phone: (443) 287-9960 / Fax: (443) 287-9920
Related Web site:
Glenn Schwartz : http://www.jhu.edu/~neareast/schwartz.html
Dig closes in on Homer’s Ithaca
An archaeological dig in Greece could "rewrite the book of western civilisation", according to one Kingston businessman.
Economist Robert Bittlestone, 53, claims his project to discover the true location of the island Ithaca, described by Homer in his epic poem The Odyssey in 800BC, will not only prove Homer's existence but also develop vital technology to predict earthquakes.
Mr Bittlestone returned last week from Cephalonia, where a team of geological experts completed tests that they hope will prove that Ithaca was not the modern island of Ithaki as previously supposed but in fact a western peninsula of Cephalonia now known as Paliki.
In his book, Odysseus Unbound, Mr Bittlestone claims the peninsula was once an island separated from Cephalonia by a narrow sea channel that has since been filled.
He said: "We drilled a borehole where we think the channel used to be.
"We think the core we drilled will be made up of loose rock and debris, not solid limestone bedrock, and that millions of tonnes of mountainside sheered off and filled the channel, joining the two islands years after Homer wrote his poem."
Mr Bittlestone believes his theories on Ithaca have more than just an archaeological significance.
He said: "If we can prove that Homer was geographically accurate in his descriptions of Ithaca, we can rewrite the book of western civilisation and find out more about Homer and ourselves.
"This testing is also helping us to better understand the theory of ground movement and develop technology for reliable earthquake-predication. We could save millions of future lives."
The test data is being analysed and the results will be unveiled early next year.
However, Mr Bittlestone is already optimistic that his hypothesis will be proved.
He said: "So far the results have been encouraging and we've also discovered Mycenaean pottery remains on Paliki from around 1200BC."
However critics such as the Odyssey Project contest Mr Bittlestone's hypothesis.
They claim to have already found remains on Ithaki of a corner of the palace and the Temple of Apollo, named in the Odyssey.
10:31am Friday 27th October 2006
Archaeologists about to Come to Sensational Finding - Walls of Antigonea Unearthed
Friday, 27 October 2006
Massive 100-meter long walls, at places two meters thick, have made archaeologists to believe that they are about to come to a sensational finding – the venue of the ancient town of Antigonea, third century BC. They say that ethics still does not allow them to definitely state the discovery until they find a written proof that Antigonea was located in the place of Gradiste near Negotino, along the Vardar River. Still, according to the findings so far – the walls, ceramics, glass items, jewelry and coins, they probably found themselves in front of the town walls last summer.
Archaeologists of the Museum in Negotino and the Museum of Macedonia worked on the site above a hill at 300 meters above the sea level between early august and late September. The purpose of the excavations were the walls on the west and south sides of the hill, which are visible from the road leading to Negotino.
“We found 100 meters of the wall. The older part of stone and mud were erected in the Hellenic period, and the upper layers were up-built under the Romans when they attached the stones with mortar, archaeologists Kiro Angelovski, custodian counselor at the Museum in Negotino and head of the excavations says.
Older layers have yet to be discovered. Archaeologists have not braved to lower the level of earth fearing ruining of the massive walls. So far, the walls are the most sizable indicator that Antigonea was located at Gradiste in Negotinio. The archaeologists support this thesis with many findings at the “economic” facility near the hill where the suburban part of the ancient town was located.
Up Pompeii - ancient brothel restored
John Hooper in Rome
Thursday October 26, 2006
The "wolves' lair" - ancient Pompeii's biggest, best planned and most richly decorated brothel - yesterday reopened to the public after extensive restoration.
The two-storey building, which was built at about the time Spartacus was leading his slaves' revolt, had been closed for almost a year. Its explicit wall paintings have long been a popular attraction for tourists visiting the site of the classical world's best-preserved city.
The busy port of Pompeii was packed with bordellos. At least 25 have been identified. But most occupied a single room, usually above a wine shop. Though sited, like all the others, at the junction of two side streets, the "Lupanare", was different.
Archaeologists believe it was the ancient city's only purpose-built whorehouse. So-called because, in Latin, lupa (she-wolf) was a common term for a prostitute, it consisted of 10 rooms and a latrine beneath the stairs. Set into the wall of each of the women's rooms was a stone bed covered with a mattress.
Researchers believe the Lupanare's celebrated wall paintings, each depicting a different position, were intended to advertise the various specialities on offer. The more elaborately painted upper floor, which had a separate entrance, is thought to have been reserved for better-off clients. The prostitutes were slaves, usually of Greek or Eastern origin. Their earnings were collected by the owner or manager of the brothel.
The Lupanare is known to have been built just a few years before the city's violent destruction. The plaster in one of the rooms bears the imprint of a coin dating from AD72.
Pompeii was obliterated when Mount Vesuvius erupted seven years later. The vast explosion covered the city in a deep layer of ash that preserved it until its rediscovery in the early 18th century.
Stone Age man was at sewage site
Evidence of a Stone Age settlement has been uncovered by a water company planning to extend a sewage works.
Stone Age flint and Roman items were found at the site in Kintbury, near Hungerford, Berkshire.
The find dates back to 8,000 BC and confirms that a nearby Roman bath site probably had a British owner, a local archaeologist said.
Thames Water is now reviewing its plans to improve the sewage treatment works after realising the site's importance.
Finding these prehistoric collections undisturbed is rare in Southern England
Dr Roy Entwistle
The oldest finds date from the Mesolithic period which spanned 10,000 - 4,000 BC.
Pieces of a Bronze Age urn and the remains of three bread ovens, thought to be Roman, were also found at the site.
Duncan Coe, from the West Berkshire Museum, said: "This confirms some evidence found when the original sewage works was built in the late 40s/50s.
"From a time when people were hunter gatherers and the population set up temporary camps and then moved on - it is very significant for the Kennet Valley, for this site.
"It shows continual occupation right through to a Roman village."
Mr Coe added that the bath house might have formed part of the house of a local Briton during the Roman period.
Dr Roy Entwhistle, an archaeologist for Thames Water, said: "Given how quiet this corner of the Kennet Valley is today, it's remarkable to think that so many people have called it home over the last ten thousand years.
"We were particularly pleased to discover the Mesolithic flint work which would have been used by hunter gathers to fashion tools.
"Finding these prehistoric collections undisturbed is rare in Southern England."
All material found on the site of the sewage works will be taken to the West Berkshire Museum.
900-YEAR OLD JUG FOUND UNDER NEW PRIMARK STORE
THE discovery of a near-complete medieval jug during building work for Doncaster's hottest new store has been described as one of the most important finds in the history of the town.
The 12th century pottery jug was unearthed by chance during the development of Primark in the market place - and went on display in Doncaster museum the same day the store opened.
The jug is of special interest to archaeologists because it is so well-preserved and because it is a rare example of the earliest types of pottery manufactured in Doncaster.
It was discovered by a Simpson Ltd workman who was excavating a pit for a new lift shaft.
The jug, which had been lying undisturbed for over nine centuries, spilt out of an ancient well-shaft and was rescued by the site team before being handed over to the museum.
Peter Robinson, archaeological officer at the museum, was delighted with the find.
He said: "This chance discovery is one of the most important in the history of the town.
"It serves to remind us that the town is a rich part of Yorkshire's culture and we are deeply indebted to both Simpson and Primark for their valuable help.
"In particular, I am so grateful that the site team acted with such a responsible attitude when they made the discovery - it could so easily have been damaged."
A Simpson spokesman added: "We have worked with Primark on the construction and refurbishment of several major stores over recent years but we've never had anything like this before - it is very exciting to have played a part in such an important historical find."
26 October 2006
A SURPRISE discovery of a 900-year-old medieval castle in Whitwood has astounded local heritage leaders.
Archaeologists and members of the community uncovered what could be Castleford's castle in a Wakefield Council-run excavation at Fairies Hill.
The hill – a large grassed mound near Whitwood Golf Course – had been dismissed as a slag heap from nearby coal mines.
But after council planning chiefs asked staff from West Yorkshire Archaeology Advisory Service (WYAAS) to investigate the hill before approving an application for drainage works at the Willowbridge Beck, it turned out to be the motte of a motte and bailey castle.
The motte is a large man-made mound which was generally topped with a wooden tower, or stone keep, which acted as a look-out or elevated fighting point from which to defend the town.
Alison Drake, chairwoman of Castleford Heritage Trust, said: "This is fantastic and we are over the moon. It is a big piece of Castleford's jigsaw found, which is an enormous step forward for us. This could be Castleford's castle.
"This was never expected because it was thought that the mound was just a pile of slag from the local pit at Whitwood, so it is great news.
"We were asked to take part in the dig, along with students from New College in Pontefract, and the motte was discoverd in the first week. It's exciting for the community to be involved in this.
"Next we would like to get some more funding to do more archaelogical surveys to see if we can find the bailey, which is a courtyard where people would have lived."
Senior archaeologist Dr Chris Constable, of WYAAS, said: "I'm very excited about it. There are bands of material that the motte is constructed from that are of exactly the same method of construction used on Hastings Castle, as shown on the Bayeaux Tapestry. It is a very interesting type of castle."
A spokesman for Wakefield Council said when the work was completed the evidence would be sent to the West Yorkshire Historic Environment Record and English Heritage.
26 October 2006