www.archaeology.ws/archive

Sheila Coulson

University of Oslo

sheila.coulson@iakh.uio.no

+4795828080

29 November 2006

World’s oldest ritual discovered

 

A startling archaeological discovery this summer changes our understanding of human history. While, up until now, scholars have largely held that man’s first rituals were carried out over 40,000 years ago in Europe, it now appears that they were wrong about both the time and place.

 

Associate Professor Sheila Coulson, from the University of Oslo, can now show that modern humans, Homo sapiens, have performed advanced rituals in Africa for 70,000 years. She has, in other words, discovered mankind’s oldest known ritual.

 

The archaeologist made the surprising discovery while she was studying the origin of the Sanpeople. A group of the San live in the sparsely inhabited area of north-western Botswana known as Ngamiland.

 

Coulson made the discovery while searching for artifacts from the Middle Stone Age in the only hills present for hundreds of kilometers in any direction. This group of small peaks within the Kalahari Desert is known as the Tsodilo Hills and is famous for having the largest concentration of rock paintings in the world.

 

The Tsodilo Hills are still a sacred place for the San, who call them the “Mountains of the Gods” and the “Rock that Whispers”.

 

The python is one of the San’s most important animals. According to their creation myth, mankind descended from the python and the ancient, arid streambeds around the hills are said to have been created by the python as it circled the hills in its ceaseless search for water.

 

Sheila Coulson’s find shows that people from the area had a specific ritual location associated with the python. The ritual was held in a little cave on the northern side of the Tsodilo Hills. The cave itself is so secluded and access to it is so difficult that it was not even discovered by archaeologists until the 1990s.

 

When Coulson entered the cave this summer with her three master’s students, it struck them that the mysterious rock resembled the head of a huge python. On the six meter long by two meter tall rock, they found three-to-four hundred indentations that could only have been man-made.

 

"You could see the mouth and eyes of the snake. It looked like a real python. The play of sunlight over the indentations gave them the appearance of snake skin. At night, the firelight gave one the feeling that the snake was actually moving".

 

They found no evidence that work had recently been done on the rock. In fact, much of the rock’s surface was extensively eroded.

 

When they saw the many indentations in the rock, the archaeologists wondered about more than when the work had been done. They also began thinking about what the cave had been used for and how long people had been going there. With these questions in mind, they decided to dig a test pit directly in front of the python stone.

 

At the bottom of the pit, they found many stones that had been used to make the indentations. Together with these tools, some of which were more than 70,000 years old, they found a piece of the wall that had fallen off during the work.

 

In the course of their excavation, they found more than 13,000 artifacts. All of the objects were spearheads and articles that could be connected with ritual use, as well as tools used in carving the stone. They found nothing else.

 

As if that were not enough, the stones that the spearheads were made from are not from the Tsodilo region but must have been brought from hundreds of kilometers away.

 

The spearheads are better crafted and more colourful than other spearheads from the same time and area. Surprisingly enough, it was only the red spearheads that had been burned.

 

"Stone age people took these colourful spearheads, brought them to the cave, and finished carving them there. Only the red spearheads were burned. It was a ritual destruction of artifacts. There was no sign of normal habitation. No ordinary tools were found at the site. Our find means that humans were more organised and had the capacity for abstract thinking at a much earlier point in history than we have previously assumed. All of the indications suggest that Tsodilo has been known to mankind for almost 100,000 years as a very special place in the pre-historic landscape.” says Sheila Coulson.

 

Sheila Coulson also noticed a secret chamber behind the python stone. Some areas of the entrance to this small chamber were worn smooth, indicating that many people had passed through it over the years.

 

"The shaman, who is still a very important person in San culture, could have kept himself hidden in that secret chamber. He would have had a good view of the inside of the cave while remaining hidden himself. When he spoke from his hiding place, it could have seemed as if the voice came from the snake itself. The shaman would have been able to control everything. It was perfect.” The shaman could also have “disappeared” from the chamber by crawling out onto the hillside through a small shaft.

 

While large cave and wall paintings are numerous throughout the Tsodilo Hills, there are only two small paintings in this cave: an elephant and a giraffe. These images were rendered, surprisingly, exactly where water runs down the wall.

 

Sheila Coulson thinks that an explanation for this might come from San mythology.

 

In one San story, the python falls into a body of water and cannot get out by itself. The python is pulled from the water by a giraffe. The elephant, with its long trunk, is often used as a metaphor for the python.

 

"In the cave, we find only the San people’s three most important animals: the python, the elephant, and the giraffe. That is unusual. This would appear to be a very special place. They did not burn the spearheads by chance. They brought them from hundreds of kilometers away and intentionally burned them. So many pieces of the puzzle fit together here. It has to represent a ritual." concludes Sheila Coulson.

 

It was a major archaeological find five years ago that made it possible for Sheila

Coulson to date the finds in this little cave in Botswana. Up until the turn of the century, archaeologists believed that human civilisation developed in Europe after our ancestors migrated from Africa. This theory was crushed by Archaeologist Christopher Henshilwood when he published his find of traces from a Middle Stone Age dwelling in the Blombos Cave in Southern Cape, South Africa.

 

Pre Embargo note

High res pictures can be downloaded from: http://www.admin.uio.no/ia/apollon-english/

For more details, please find enclosed interview with Sheila Coulson (to be published in the University of Oslo’s research magazine Apollon (PDF)in the University of Oslo’s research magazine Apollon (PDF)

 

In the excavation they found more than 13,000 artifacts.

Photo: Sheila Coulson JPG 492.85k

Phyton-stone. Photo Sheila Coulson JPG 853.26k

RARE QUALITY The spearheads were particularly beautiful and were brought from hundreds of kilometers away JPG 198.19k

More than 70 000 years ago humans sacrificed spearheads to the python JPG 405.89k

Interview with Sheila Coulson (to be published in the University of Oslo’s research magazine Apollon (PDF) November 30. PDF 496.36k

 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20061201/sc_livescience/toweringancienttsunamidevastatedthemediterranean

Towering Ancient Tsunami Devastated the Mediterranean

Ker Than

LiveScience Staff Writer

LiveScience.com Fri Dec 1, 8:55 AM ET

 

A volcano avalanche in Sicily 8,000 years ago triggered a devastating tsunami taller than a 10-story building that spread across the entire Mediterranean Sea, slamming into the shores of three continents in only a few hours.

 

A new computer simulation of the ancient event reveals for the first time the enormity of the catastrophe and its far-reaching effects.

 

The Mt. Etna avalanche sent 6 cubic miles of rock and sediment tumbling into the water—enough material to cover the entire island of Manhattan in a layer of debris thicker than the Empire State Building is tall.

 

The mountain of rubble crashed into the water at more than 200 mph. It pummeled the sea bed, transformed thick layers of soft marine sediment into jelly and triggered an underwater mudslide that flowed for hundreds of miles.

 

To create their computer simulation, researchers at the National Institute of Geology and Volcanology in Italy used sonar-equipped boats to survey seafloor sediment displaced by the Mt. Etna avalanche.

 

Their recreation suggests the tsunami's waves reached heights of up to 130 feet and maximum speeds of up to 450 mph, making it more powerful than the Indonesian tsunami that killed more than 180,000 people in 2004.

 

The researchers have also linked the ancient tsunami with the mysterious abandonment of Atlit-Yam, a Neolithic village located along the coast of present-day Israel. When archeologists discovered the village about 20 years ago, they found evidence of a sudden evacuation, including a pile of fish that had been gutted and sorted but then left to rot.

 

"A tsunami was not suspected before," lead researcher Maria Pareschi told LiveScience.

 

According to Pareschi, if the same tsunami struck today, Southern Italy would be inundated within the first 15 minutes. In one hour, the waves would reach Greece's western coasts. After an hour and a half, the city of Benghazi in Northern Africa would be hit. At the three and a half hour mark, the waves would have traversed the entire Mediterranean to reach the coasts of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

 

Avalanches and minor eruptions still occur on Mt. Etna today, but so far, nothing approaching the magnitude of the ancient event.

 

"Should the Neolithic Etna tsunami have occurred today, the impact is tremendous because the Eastern Mediterranean coasts are very inhabited ones," Pereschi said.

 

http://news.yahoo.com/s/livescience/20061201/sc_livescience/toweringancienttsunamidevastatedthemediterranean

Ancient tsunami devastated the Mediterranean

 

A volcano avalanche in Sicily 8,000 years ago triggered a devastating tsunami taller than a 10-story building that spread across the entire Mediterranean Sea, slamming into the shores of three continents in only a few hours. The Mt. Etna avalanche sent 6 cubic miles of rock and sediment tumbling into the water-enough material to cover the entire island of Manhattan in a layer of debris thicker than the Empire State Building is tall. The mountain of rubble crashed into the water at more than 200 mph. It pummeled the sea bed, transformed thick layers of soft marine sediment into jelly and triggered an underwater mudslide that flowed for hundreds of miles.

     To create their computer simulation, researchers at the National Institute of Geology and Volcanology in Italy used sonar-equipped boats to survey seafloor sediment displaced by the Mt. Etna avalanche. Their recreation suggests the tsunami's waves reached heights of up to 40 metres and maximum speeds of up to 720 km/h, making it more powerful than the Indonesian tsunami that killed more than 180,000 people in 2004.

     The researchers have also linked the ancient tsunami with the mysterious abandonment of Atlit-Yam, a Neolithic village located along the coast of present-day Israel. When archeologists discovered the village about 20 years ago, they found evidence of a sudden evacuation, including a pile of fish that had been gutted and sorted but then left to rot.

     "A tsunami was not suspected before," lead researcher Maria Pareschi said. According to Pareschi, if the same tsunami struck today, Southern Italy would be inundated within the first 15 minutes.

In one hour, the waves would reach Greece's western coasts. After an hour and a half, the city of Benghazi in Northern Africa would be hit. At the three and a half hour mark, the waves would have traversed the entire Mediterranean to reach the coasts of Israel, Lebanon and Syria.

     Avalanches and minor eruptions still occur on Mt. Etna today, but so far, nothing approaching the magnitude of the ancient event.

"Should the Neolithic Etna tsunami have occurred today, the impact is tremendous because the Eastern Mediterranean coasts are very inhabited ones," Pereschi said.

 

Sources: LiveScience, Yahoo! News (1 December 2006)

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/6191462.stm

Ancient Moon 'computer' revisited

By Jonathan Fildes

Science and technology reporter, BBC News

 

Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism (Copyright of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

Simulation: The front side displayed a calendar and the Greek zodiac

The delicate workings at the heart of a 2,000-year-old analogue computer have been revealed by scientists.

 

The Antikythera Mechanism, discovered more than 100 years ago in a Roman shipwreck, was used by ancient Greeks to display astronomical cycles.

 

Using advanced imaging techniques, an Anglo-Greek team probed the remaining fragments of the complex geared device.

 

The results, published in the journal Nature, show it could have been used to predict solar and lunar eclipses.

 

The elaborate arrangement of bronze gears may also have displayed planetary information.

 

"This is as important for technology as the Acropolis is for architecture," said Professor John Seiradakis of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece, and one of the team. "It is a unique device."

 

However, not all experts agree with the team's interpretation of the mechanism.

 

Technical complexity

 

The remains of the device were first discovered in 1902 when archaeologist Valerios Stais noticed a heavily corroded gear wheel amongst artefacts recovered by sponge divers from a sunken Roman cargo ship.

 

A further 81 fragments have since been found containing a total of 30 hand-cut bronze gears. The largest fragment has 27 cogs.

 

Researchers believe these would have been housed in a rectangular wooden frame with two doors, covered in instructions for its use. The complete calculator would have been driven by a hand crank.

 

Although its origins are uncertain, the new studies of the inscriptions suggest it would have been constructed around 100-150 BC, long before such devices appear in other parts of the world.

 

Writing in Nature, the team says that the mechanism was "technically more complex than any known device for at least a millennium afterwards".

 

Although much of it is now lost, particularly from the front, what remains has given a century's worth of researchers a tantalising glimpse into the world of ancient Greek astronomy.

 

One of the most comprehensive studies was done by British science historian Derek Solla Price, who advanced the theory that the device was used to calculate and display celestial information.

 

When you see it your jaw just drops and you think, 'bloody hell that's clever'

Mike Edmunds

Cardiff University

 

This would have been important for timing agricultural and religious festivals. Some researchers now also believe that it could have been used for teaching or navigation.

 

Although Solla Price's work did much to push forward the state of knowledge about the device's functions, his interpretation of the mechanics is now largely dismissed.

 

A reinterpretation of the fragments by Michael Wright of Imperial College London between 2002 and 2005, for example, developed an entirely different assembly for the gears.

 

The new work builds on this legacy.

 

Using bespoke non-invasive imaging systems, such as three-dimensional X-ray microfocus computed tomography, the team was able to take detailed pictures of the device and uncover new information.

 

The major structure they describe, like earlier studies, had a single, centrally placed dial on the front plate that showed the Greek zodiac and an Egyptian calendar on concentric scales.

 

CT scan of a gear fragments (Copyright of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

The scanning showed details not seen before

On the back, two further dials displayed information about the timing of lunar cycles and eclipse patterns. Previously, the idea that the mechanism could predict eclipses had only been a hypothesis.

 

Other aspects are less certain, such as the exact number of cogs that would have been in the complete device.

 

However, what is left gives an insight into the complexity of the information the mechanism could display.

 

For example, the Moon sometimes moves slightly faster in the sky than at others because of the satellite's elliptic orbit.

 

To overcome this, the designer of the calculator used a "pin-and-slot" mechanism to connect two gear-wheels that introduced the necessary variations.

 

"When you see it your jaw just drops and you think: 'bloody hell, that's clever'. It's a brilliant technical design," said Professor Mike Edmunds.

 

Planetary display

 

The team was also able to decipher more of the text on the mechanism, doubling the amount of text that can now be read.

 

Combined with analysis of the dials, the inscriptions hint at the possibility that the Antikythera Mechanism could have also displayed planetary motions.

 

Reconstruction of the Antikythera Mechanism (Copyright of the Antikythera Mechanism Research Project)

A reconstruction of the rear gears reveals their complexity

 

"Inscriptions mention the word 'Venus' and the word 'stationary' which would tend to suggest that it was looking at retrogressions of planets," said Professor Edmunds.

 

"In my own view, it probably displayed Venus and Mercury, but some people suggest it may display many other planets."

 

One of those people is Michael Wright. His reconstruction of the device, with 72 gears, suggests it may have been an orrery that displayed the motions of the five known planets of the time.

 

"There is a feature on the front plate that could have made provision for a bearing with a spindle, that carried motion up to a mechanism used to model the planets of Mars, Jupiter and Saturn as well," he told the BBC News website.

 

"That's how I see it and my reconstruction shows it works well."

 

Intriguingly, Mr Wright also believes the device was not a one-off.

 

"The designer and maker of the device knew what they wanted to achieve and they did it expertly; they made no mistakes," he said.

 

"To do this, it can't have been very far from their every day stock work."

 

The Antikythera Mechanism will be explored in an episode of Unearthing Mysteries on BBC Radio 4 on 12 December

 

http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/793691.html

Last update - 08:03 28/11/2006                            

Byzantine arch found at site of renovated Jerusalem synagogue

By Nadav Shragai, Haaretz Correspondent

 

A high arch which had been part of the skyline of the Jewish Quarter in the Old City in Jerusalem since the Six Day War has recently disappeared. It belonged to the Hurva Synagogue, Israel's grandest, most important synagogue until the War of Independence.

 

The arch, a remnant of the synagogue bombed by the Jordanians in 1948, was removed due to the renovation and reconstruction of the synagogue now in progress.

 

Excavations at the site, directed by archaeologists Hillel Geva and Oren Gutfeld, have exposed findings from various periods of the synagogue's history. The most significant is an entire arch standing along remnants of a stone-paved street from the Byzantine period, which split from the Cardo (one of Jerusalem's main streets during the Roman and Byzantine period) and ascended east to the center of the Jewish Quarter. The arch - 3.7 meters wide, 1.3 meters thick and five meters high - is built of one row of large hewn stones. Geva believes it formed the entrance gate to the Byzantine street.

 

"This arch is unique, because in excavations there so far only wide domes that walled the shops along the Byzantine Cardo were found," says Geva. "It shows where the street split from the Cardo, and has been recovered intact."

 

Yuval Baruch, the archaeologist of the Jerusalem District of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), also believes "this is a rare and important finding."

 

The excavations, which began in 2003, also unearthed structures and pottery from the First Temple period, remnants of rooms from the Herodian period (Second Temple), burnt wooden logs (evidence of fire that took place after the destruction of the Second Temple), and three plastered ritual baths carved in rock from the Second Temple period.

 

The diggers also found a small weapons arsenal, where defenders of the Jewish Quarter stashed mortar shells and grenades during the Independence War.

 

The Hurva's renovation ended a prolonged architectural argument about how to reconstruct the synagogue, which was the center of cultural and spiritual life in Israel and the Jewish Quarter in the second half of the 19th Century and first half of the 20th. Ultimately, architect Nahum Meltzer's plan to reconstruct the original synagogue was adopted.

 

The courtyard was purchased 306 years ago by Rabbi Yehuda he-Hasid (Segal), who arrived from Poland with 300 of his students. It sat adjacent to the Ramban Synagogue, built some 430 years earlier and was closed by the Ottomans in 1589. The Ashkenazi community in the Old City numbered a mere few hundred people in those days and Rabbi Yehuda he-Hasid and his students' coming caused much commotion. He died five days later.

 

His followers began building a yeshiva and synagogue in the courtyard, but the construction was not completed. The Jews were late returning the loan to the Arabs for the project and in 1721 the Arabs burned the uncompleted synagogue and the 40 Torah books it housed. The site remained desolate for 140 years, thus acquiring the name "hurva" (the wreck). A new synagogue was built there by the disciples of the Vilna Gaon in 1864.

 

The Hurva then became the most splendid synagogue in Israel and hosted important Jewish events until the 1930s. Two days after conquering the quarter in 1948, the Jordanians bombed the synagogue and the Jordanian commander reported to headquarters: "For the first time in 1,000 years not a single Jew remains in the Jewish Quarter. Not a single building remains intact. This makes the Jews' return here impossible."

 

http://arts.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1957926,00.html

Early sketch of Stonehenge found

Maev Kennedy

Monday November 27, 2006

The Guardian

 

The oldest detailed drawing of Stonehenge, found in a 1440 manuscript, the Scala Mundi

 

They got the date wrong by some 3,000 years, but the oldest detailed drawing of Stonehenge, apparently based on first hand observation, has turned up in a 15th century manuscript.

 

The little sketch is a bird's eye view of the stones, and shows the great trilithons, the biggest stones in the monument, each made of two pillars capped with a third stone lintel, which stand in a horseshoe in the centre of the circle. Only three are now standing, but the drawing, found in Douai, northern France, suggests that in the 15th century four of the original five survived.

 

Article continues

In the Scala Mundi, the Chronicle of the World, Merlin is given credit for building Stonehenge between 480 and 486, when the Latin text says he "not by force, but by art, brought and erected the giant's ring from Ireland". Modern science suggests that the stones went up from 2,500 BC, with the bluestone outer circle somehow transported from west Wales, and the double decker bus-size sarsen stones dragged 30 miles across Salisbury plain.

 

The drawing, recently identified by the art historian Christian Heck, has never been exhibited, but according to the Art Newspaper it will be seen next year in an exhibition at the Royal Academy in London, marking the 300th anniversary of the Society of Antiquaries.

 

There are two earlier images of Stonehenge, one in the British Library and one in the Parker Library in Cambridge, but the Douai drawing is unique in attempting to show how the monument was built.

 

It correctly shows tenon joints piercing the lintel, a timber construction technique, although in fact the real Stonehenge tenons only go partly into the top stone.

 

Stonehenge is rare among prehistoric landscapes, because its sheer bulk meant it was never lost. An Anglo Saxon poet wondered about the origin of the stones and inspired some of the earliest photographs.

 

http://www.stornowaytoday.co.uk/ViewArticle2.aspx?SectionID=2629&ArticleID=1909613

Barra bone find dates back to Bronze Age

HUMAN remains discovered on Barra exactly a year ago, have been confirmed as dating from nearly 4000 years ago.

After many months of investigation by Historic Scotland, the AOC Archaeology Group and local archaeologists, the final data has been compiled which concludes that the bones all date between 1880 and 1490 BC.

Initially discovered by Barra artist Moira Bard, the bones were exposed near Allasdale on the west side of the island, a site which has long been considered of archaeological interest.

Having been reported to the local authority, the bones were formally identified as being human by a local doctor and then a team of experts arrived on the island to investigate.

Describing the final conclusions of the project, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar archaeologist Mary Macleod, who initiated the investigation said: "The team excavated four small, stone lined graves, which contained the remains of 13 individuals, of all ages from new born babies up. It may well have been a family cemetery. The dates are 1880-1490BC which is the Bronze Age. No metals finds were made but there are the remains of two pots from the graves, and more stray finds from the area around."

She added: "The area around Allasdale machair has been occupied from the Stone Age onwards and there were a lot of loose finds from the area around the graves, including a stone axe, hammer stones, pottery and bone tools."

Funded and organised by Historic Scotland, the work was especially urgent due to the bones lying within an erosion hollow which prompted the teams into action.

Explaining their part in the works, a spokesperson for Historic Scotland said: "Historic Scotland funds a Human Remains call-out contract, currently held by AOC Archaeology, as a support to local archaeologists, who can call for help in dealing with sites where human remains are exposed. The contracts rescues archaeological information from eroding sites and at the same time addresses understandable local concerns about exposed remains."

She added: "The information from these digs helps the council archaeologist to decide on the best way to deal with eroding sites, and copies of the AOC reports go to both local and national monuments records."

And so looking to the future, Mary Macleod added that the local authority would continue to monitor the site and speak to the community about what action they would like to be taken.

01 December 2006

 

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/tm_headline=iron-age-scots-fur-farm-clue-%26method=full%26objectid=18164127%26siteid=66633-name_page.html

27 November 2006

IRON AGE SCOTS FUR FARM CLUE

 

IRON Age man reared foxes to make fur-trimmed clothes, archaeologists believe.

 

Experts say the pelts were used to make sought-after fur-trimmed coats, loin cloths and blankets.

 

Researchers at York University found that foxes flourished on Orkney during the late Iron Age.

 

But there were none on the Outer Hebrides or Shetland, suggesting they were introduced to Orkney.

 

The study concluded that foxes were brought to the islands because their fur was valued more highly than that of indigenous species.

 

However, the creatures disappeared soon after the Vikings invaded about 800AD.

 

The discovery was made by studying animal bones at ancient settlement sites.

 

Badgers are also believed to have been importedas "trophies" by the islanders.

 

The authors say this could be evidence of the earliest example of fur farming in Scotland.

 

Co-author Eva Fairnell said: "Humans must have been taking foxes to Orkney.

 

"Fox fur had a high prestige - it may have been an accessory, some sort of fashionable trim."

 

http://www.24hourmuseum.org.uk/nwh_gfx_en/ART41938.html

Museum reveals rare Iron Age spoons

by Caroline Lewis     01/12/2006

 

The strange spoons recently acquired by Shrewsbury Museums Service. © Portable Antiquities Scheme and British Museum

 

There are only 23 more of them in the world and it's been 80 years since anybody found some before these ones turned up.

 

What are these rare artefacts? They are mysterious bronze spoons, always found in pairs, dating from 800 BC – 100 AD, and Shrewsbury Museum is the proud owner of the most recently discovered set.

 

Local metal detectorist Trevor Brown found the spoons in mid-Shropshire in 2005, and reported them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Archaeologists recognised the spoons as coming from the Iron Age, but what they were used for is uncertain.

 

One of the spoons is decorated with a carved cross, bearing a circle at the centre, while the other is plain but torn where there was once a perforation. They may have had a ritual or divinatory purpose – perhaps liquid was dripped from one to the other, predicting the future. Or their function could have been more prosaic. Whichever the case, they are enigmatic items.

photo of a ring with a mount for a stone that is missing   

 

Declared Treasure, the Shropshire spoons were purchased for Shrewsbury Museums Service and are going on display for the first time from December 1 2006. They can be seen at Shrewsbury Museum until December 22 alongside other recent purchases, donations and loaned items dating from the Iron Age to the 17th century.

 

Other items on show will include a medieval gold finger ring, a 16th century ‘posy ring’ and an Iron Age toggle.

 

Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire and Herfordshire, runs regular find identification days at Shrewsbury Museum - contact the Museum for more information if you would like to consult him.

 

There are only 23 more of them in the world and it's been 80 years since anybody found some before these ones turned up. What are these rare artefacts? They are mysterious bronze spoons, always found in pairs, dating from 800 BCE - 100 CE, and Shrewsbury Museum (Shropshire, England) is the proud owner of the most recently discovered set.

     Local metal detectorist Trevor Brown found the spoons in mid-Shropshire in 2005, and reported them to the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Archaeologists recognised the spoons as coming from the Iron Age, but what they were used for is uncertain. One of the spoons is decorated with a carved cross, bearing a circle at the centre, while the other is plain but torn where there was once a perforation. They may have had a ritual or divinatory purpose - perhaps liquid was dripped from one to the other, predicting the future. Or their function could have been more prosaic. Whichever the case, they are enigmatic items.

     Declared Treasure, the Shropshire spoons were purchased for Shrewsbury Museums Service and are on display for the first time from December 1, 2006. They can be seen at Shrewsbury Museum until December 22 alongside other recent purchases, donations and loaned items dating from the Iron Age to the 17th century. Peter Reavill, Finds Liaison Officer for Shropshire and Herfordshire, runs regular find identification days at Shrewsbury Museum - contact the Museum for more information if you would like to consult him.

     Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, Rowley's House, Barker Street, Shrewsbury, SY1 1QH, Shropshire, England. Tel: 01743 361196 -

Open: Tues-Sat: 1000-1700 Sun & Bank Holidays: 1000-1600 Mondays:

10.00-16.00 (Summer Holiday period July-Sept)

 

Source: Caroline Lewis for 24 Hour Museum (1 December 2006)

 

http://news.independent.co.uk/uk/this_britain/article2029264.ece

Is 1,400-year-old treasure evidence of Christianity's first foothold in Britain?

By David Keys

Published: 01 December 2006

 

Archaeologists excavating near the edge of Trafalgar Square in London have found evidence of early Christianity in England, suggesting the area has a much older religious significance than was originally believed.

 

A team from the Museum of London has discovered a hoard of what is almost certainly royal treasure, buried in a mysterious, empty human grave laid out in the traditional Christian manner - east to west.

 

"Our excavations demonstrate the position as a significant and important place at an earlier date than we thought," said Alison Telfer, the senior archaeologist in charge of the dig.

 

The finds are among the most remarkable discoveries ever made in London and are likely to shed new light on the very early stages of the introduction of Christian ideas into the Anglo-Saxon world 1,400 years ago.

 

Located immediately next to one of the capital's most famous churches - St Martin-in-the-Fields - immediately to the north of Trafalgar Square, the empty grave appears to form part of a previously unknown ancient cemetery, dating back more than one and a half millennia. Archaeologists have also discovered 24 other graves on the site, all still holding the remains of their occupants.

 

The treasure hoard in the empty grave consists of a gold pendant inlaid with blue-green glass; glass beads and fragments of silver (possibly a neck pendant); and two pieces of amethyst, possibly earrings.

 

The empty grave, judging by its treasure, and several of the other early graves in the cemetery are estimated to date from the time that Bertha was Queen of Kent - 590 to 610.

 

"It is likely that the grave did initially accommodate a body, but the remains were removed after some months or years for burial inside a church, potentially an early version of St Martin's itself," said Professor Ian Wood of Leeds University, who specialises in 6th and 7th century history.

 

"It is likely that the empty grave belonged to a relative - possibly even a daughter or a niece - of the most important woman in Britain at the time, Queen Bertha, the wife of the most powerful ruler in England, King Aethelberht of Kent, overlord of the English."

 

Professor Wood added: "Bertha is the unsung heroine of early English Christianity because it was she, rather than the much more famous St Augustine, who was initially responsible for the introduction of Christianity into the Anglo-Saxon world. It was as a result of her activities that St Augustine was sent to England by the Pope to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

"The discoveries are therefore important because they reveal Christian activity, probably associated with Bertha's circle, at this very early stage of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England."

 

Bertha was a devotee of the cult of St Martin. Her personal church in Canterbury, presented to her in about 590 by her then pagan husband, Aethelberht, was dedicated to the saint - probably at her behest. And her husband was, after about 597, very keen on ecclesiastical development in London, which was technically part of the kingdom of Essex but in reality under Kentish overall control.

 

The mysterious empty grave near Trafalgar Square may therefore have been a temporary resting place for a senior Kentish princess during the time that the Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin's was being built.

 

The excavations have also revealed a second mystery. At least one of the other graves was pre-Anglo-Saxon and dates from the very late Roman or immediate post-Roman period. The burial, in a stone sarcophagus, was also Christian - like virtually all the others - but was 200 years older.

 

This raises the possibility that the site had Christian links long before the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, possibly as the location of a small church or mortuary chapel built there in the very late Roman period, immediately before the Anglo-Saxon pagan conquest. This would mean St Martin-in-the-Fields is London's oldest surviving ecclesiastical site, predating St Paul's by some two centuries.

 

Archaeologists excavating near the edge of Trafalgar Square in London have found evidence of early Christianity in England, suggesting the area has a much older religious significance than was originally believed.

 

A team from the Museum of London has discovered a hoard of what is almost certainly royal treasure, buried in a mysterious, empty human grave laid out in the traditional Christian manner - east to west.

 

"Our excavations demonstrate the position as a significant and important place at an earlier date than we thought," said Alison Telfer, the senior archaeologist in charge of the dig.

 

The finds are among the most remarkable discoveries ever made in London and are likely to shed new light on the very early stages of the introduction of Christian ideas into the Anglo-Saxon world 1,400 years ago.

 

Located immediately next to one of the capital's most famous churches - St Martin-in-the-Fields - immediately to the north of Trafalgar Square, the empty grave appears to form part of a previously unknown ancient cemetery, dating back more than one and a half millennia. Archaeologists have also discovered 24 other graves on the site, all still holding the remains of their occupants.

 

The treasure hoard in the empty grave consists of a gold pendant inlaid with blue-green glass; glass beads and fragments of silver (possibly a neck pendant); and two pieces of amethyst, possibly earrings.

 

The empty grave, judging by its treasure, and several of the other early graves in the cemetery are estimated to date from the time that Bertha was Queen of Kent - 590 to 610.

 

"It is likely that the grave did initially accommodate a body, but the remains were removed after some months or years for burial inside a church, potentially an early version of St Martin's itself," said Professor Ian Wood of Leeds University, who specialises in 6th and 7th century history.

 

"It is likely that the empty grave belonged to a relative - possibly even a daughter or a niece - of the most important woman in Britain at the time, Queen Bertha, the wife of the most powerful ruler in England, King Aethelberht of Kent, overlord of the English."

 

Professor Wood added: "Bertha is the unsung heroine of early English Christianity because it was she, rather than the much more famous St Augustine, who was initially responsible for the introduction of Christianity into the Anglo-Saxon world. It was as a result of her activities that St Augustine was sent to England by the Pope to become the first Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

"The discoveries are therefore important because they reveal Christian activity, probably associated with Bertha's circle, at this very early stage of Christianity in Anglo-Saxon England."

 

Bertha was a devotee of the cult of St Martin. Her personal church in Canterbury, presented to her in about 590 by her then pagan husband, Aethelberht, was dedicated to the saint - probably at her behest. And her husband was, after about 597, very keen on ecclesiastical development in London, which was technically part of the kingdom of Essex but in reality under Kentish overall control.

 

The mysterious empty grave near Trafalgar Square may therefore have been a temporary resting place for a senior Kentish princess during the time that the Anglo-Saxon church of St Martin's was being built.

 

The excavations have also revealed a second mystery. At least one of the other graves was pre-Anglo-Saxon and dates from the very late Roman or immediate post-Roman period. The burial, in a stone sarcophagus, was also Christian - like virtually all the others - but was 200 years older.

 

This raises the possibility that the site had Christian links long before the conversion of Anglo-Saxon England, possibly as the location of a small church or mortuary chapel built there in the very late Roman period, immediately before the Anglo-Saxon pagan conquest. This would mean St Martin-in-the-Fields is London's oldest surviving ecclesiastical site, predating St Paul's by some two centuries.

 

http://www.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/europe/11/30/roman.sarcophagus.ap/

1,600-year-old Roman coffin unearthed in London

POSTED: 11:57 a.m. EST, December 1, 2006

Story Highlights

•Rare Roman sarcophagus containing headless skeleton found in London

•Limestone coffin believed to date back to year 410

•Discovery was made among medieval remains during church restoration

 

LONDON, England (AP) -- Archaeologists discovered a rare Roman sarcophagus containing a headless skeleton at the site of London's historic St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, authorities said Friday.

 

The limestone coffin dates to about A.D. 410 and was 10 feet below the grounds of St. Martin-in-the-Fields near Central London's busy Trafalgar Square, outside the boundaries researchers had established for London's Roman city walls.

 

"The find has opened up an exciting new area of Roman London for study," said Taryn Nixon, director of the Museum of London Archaeology Service. "This gives us an extraordinary glimpse of parts of London we haven't seen before, particularly Roman London and Saxon London." (Watch for different views of the dusty bones Video)

 

Excavators and archaeological teams discovered 24 medieval burial sites in the area above and around the Roman sarcophagus during work on the church grounds this summer. The discovery lies in view of the National Gallery art museum, Nelson's Column and the square, which is often congested with tourists.

 

The sarcophagus was made from a single piece of limestone from Oxfordshire or Northamptonshire, about 60 miles northwest of London, researchers said. The skeleton, headless and missing fingers, is a 5-foot-6-inch man who died in his 40s. Researchers speculated Victorian workmen building a sewer stumbled upon the sarcophagus and took the skull.

 

The site is about a mile west of the boundary of Roman London established by researchers, said Roman history expert Hedley Swain.

 

Archaeologists made two similar finds in London during the 1970s and once at Westminster Abbey during the 19th century.

 

It was unclear if the burial was Christian or held by pagans, who populated the area, Swain said.

 

A $71 million renovation and expansion project on the church began in January, and an entrance into a foyer and shop is planned for above the burial site, said architect Tim Lynch.

 

Other finds include a Roman tile kiln, Anglo-Saxon jewelry, false teeth, a copper bowl and a green-blue glass cup.

 

"I'm amazingly thrilled by the finds we have made and excruciatingly nervous we will find something so significant we will have to stop the (renovation) work altogether," said Rev. Nick Holtam, the vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields.

 

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

 

http://www.alphagalileo.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=readrelease&releaseid=516908

For further information, please contact:

Alex Jelley, Leicester, University of, pressoffice@le.ac.uk 01162523335

28 November 2006 University of Leicester Archaeologists Unearth Ancient Curse

under embargo until 30 Nov 2006 00:01 GMT

 

1,700-year-old curse table to god Maglus invokes destruction of cloak-pilferer

 

An ancient curse aimed at a thief is one of a number of treasures to be unveiled to the public for the first time, following the largest archaeological excavation the city of Leicester has ever seen.

 

Over the past three years, a team of up to 60 archaeologists from University of Leicester Archaeological Services has been working on a number of sites in the city. Almost 9% of Leicester’s historic core has been subject to investigation in some form, giving new insights into the appearance and development of the Roman and medieval towns.

 

One of the most interesting finds from a site on Vine Street was a ‘curse’ tablet – a sheet of lead inscribed in the second or third century AD and intended invoke the assistance of a chosen god. It has been translated by a specialist at Oxford University, and reads:

 

'To the god Maglus, I give the wrongdoer who stole the cloak of Servandus. Silvester, Riomandus (etc.) ... that he destroy him before the ninth day, the person who stole the cloak of Servandus…' Then follows a list of the names of 18 or 19 suspects. What happened to them is not recorded.

 

Before the discovery of this object, archaeologists only knew of the names of three or four of the inhabitants of Roman Leicester, so the find is of great significance.

 

Richard Buckley, co-Director of the University of Leicester Archaeological Services, said: “Curse tablets are known from a number of Roman temple sites in Britain, and are thin rectangular sheets of lead bearing the ‘curse’ inscribed with a point or stylus. They were usually rolled up and were probably nailed to the wall of a temple or shrine. Most curses seem to relate to thefts and typically the chosen god is asked to do harm to the perpetrator. It has been suggested, on the basis of name forms and the value of items stolen, that the curses relate to the lives of ordinary people, rather than the wealthy, and that they were perhaps commissioned by the dedicator from a professional curse writer.

 

“The Leicester curse is unusually well preserved and had not been rolled up. After initial cleaning by a conservator, it was clear that it was covered in handwritten script, including a column of text which looks rather like a list. The inscription is currently being translated by a specialist at the University of Oxford. He notes that the Latin of the script reflects the spoken language in several ways. There are 18 or 19 names, a mixture of commonplace Roman (like Silvester and Germanus), Celtic (like Riomandus and Cunovendus), and 'Roman' names found in Celtic-speaking provinces (like Regalis). The god's name might be a title - 'prince' in Celtic.

 

“The curse is a remarkable discovery, and at a stroke, dramatically increases the number of personal names known from Roman Leicester. So far, we have the soldier, Marcus Ulpius Novantico, from a military discharge certificate of AD106, ‘Verecunda’ and Lucius’ from a graffito on a piece of pottery and ‘Primus’ who inscribed his name on a tile he had made. The name forms will help us to understand the cultural make up of the population, whilst the subject matter tells us about the spread of spoken Latin and the religious practices of ordinary people”.

 

The excavations have also produced many thousands of sherds of pottery, together with building materials, animal bone and a large variety of smaller objects, including Roman weighing scales, coins, brooches, gaming pieces and hairpins. A find of note from the medieval period is a piece of high status chain mail.

 

Four large sites were excavated in 2005 and 2006 as part of the Highcross Quarter and Leicester Square Developments, funded by Hammerson plc and Thomas Fish and Co. respectively. Now that the fieldwork has finished, the archaeologists would like to share the discoveries with the public

 

On Saturday 2nd December, between 11am and 4pm there will be a ‘meet the specialists day’ at the Jewry Wall Museum (by kind permission of Leicester City Council) with posters and displays of finds to showcase some of the main results of the work.

 

Images of the ancient curse tablet will be on show- the stone itself is in safekeeping with experts in Oxford.

 

Highlights of the project have included:

- The discovery of the lost medieval churches of St Peter and St Michael and their graveyards, with the excavation of over 1600 burials

- The excavation of a substantial Roman town house of the 2nd century AD and an adjacent public building

- The investigation of the northern Roman and medieval town defences and the discovery of part of the town wall, together with an interval tower

- The collapsed wall of the macellum or market hall, one of Leicester’s Roman public buildings – rare evidence for the appearance of a Roman structure in the city.

- The investigation of a deep sequence of medieval and post-medieval properties on Highcross Street, with evidence for a brewery

- New evidence for Dark Age Leicester, from the discovery of Anglo-Saxon structures of the 5th-6th century AD

 

The site directors will be on hand to talk about the results of the excavations and there will be the opportunity to view some of the finds and meet specialists in Roman pottery, medieval and post medieval pottery, animal bone, human bone, building materials, small finds and environmental evidence.

 

Richard Buckley commented: ‘The recent excavations have been on a scale rarely seen in British cities, and for the first time in Leicester it has been possible to look at large areas of the Roman and medieval town. This has made it possible to examine complete buildings and to see how an entire neighbourhood changed over almost 2000 years.

 

‘Now begins the painstaking process of analysing the results of the project. The work will involve many specialists and is expected to take several years.’

 

A private view will be held the day before, and guests for this will include the Deputy Lord Mayor and Deputy Lady Mayoress, representatives from city organisations and societies, the Highcross Quarter project and the Leicester Square project. Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, Professor Bill Brammar and Head of the School of Archaeology, Professor Colin Haselgrove will be among the University guests in attendance.

 

Notes for editor

NOTE TO PIX: pictures can be taken at the public exhibition on Saturday Dec 2 at the Jewry Wall Museum, Leicester.

 

A jpeg image of the curse tablet and excavation site is available from pressoffice@le.ac.uk

 

Further information is available from Richard Buckley, Director, University of Leicester Archaeological Services, tel 0116 252 5041, email rhb16@le.ac.uk

 

Please note the curse stone is currently in safekeeping in Oxford –it is not available for photographing. However, images of the stone are available from pressoffice@le.ac.uk and images of the stone will be on exhibition on Saturday.

 

The public event will take place between 11am and 4pm on Saturday 2nd December at the Jewry Wall Museum.

 

http://www.int.iol.co.za/index.php?set_id=1&click_id=588&art_id=iol1165012941808B225

Ancient American Indian skull found

December 02 2006 at 02:36PM

 

Watermill, New York - Archaeologists surveying a property earmarked for a suburban housing development discovered an ancient American Indian skull.

 

The Suffolk County medical examiner's office determined on Thursday that the skull dated back 1 000 to 3 000 years.

 

The skull, unearthed on Wednesday, was given to the Shinnecock Indian Nation in nearby Southampton for reburial, the Town of Southampton police said.

 

The town requires archaeologists to study land for American Indian artifacts before development can begin because of the centuries-old history of the Shinnecock tribe on the shores of Eastern Long Island, outside New York City.

 

The Shinnecock Nation has 1 300 members, 600 of whom live on a 480-hectare reservation adjacent to the Town of Southampton.

 

A spokesperson did not immediately return a telephone message on Friday. - Sapa-AP