Digging deep for a clue to a global mystery

The search for the ancient skulls of Peking Man, missing since 1941, sits firmly on Beijing's agenda, GEOFFREY YORK writes



ZHOUKOUDIAN, CHINA -- For more than two decades, Yang Shoukai had hoarded his secret, unsure what to do with a possible clue to one of China's most baffling mysteries.


As construction supervisor on the site of an abandoned U.S. military barracks in Tianjin in 1982, he had discovered a strange cement box in the basement of the old wartime barracks. He tried to dig it up, but lacked the proper tools, and the box was buried under a new medical laboratory.


Mr. Yang, now retired and in poor health, is convinced that the box contains a 500,000-year-old archeological treasure that China has hunted for in vain since the Second World War: the missing skulls of Peking Man, one of the most famous links in the evolution of prehistoric humans.


The disappearance of the fossilized skulls is one of China's most enduring puzzles, and a reminder of the damage inflicted by its chaotic history over the past century. But now a new search committee is pushing hard for an answer to the 65-year-old riddle.


"Something very strange was under the floor of the basement," Mr. Yang wrote in a letter this month to the committee of scholars who are searching for the missing skulls.


"The cement structure must have been left by the Americans for long-term storage when they evacuated," he said. "They were concealing it, so this proves how precious it was. For 20 years I've been thinking about this, and it's a great shame that I didn't dig it up. But I'm certain that it had something to do with the Peking Man skulls."


Mr. Yang's letter is just one of the dozens of clues that the search committee is investigating. The committee, set up by Chinese officials last summer, has received more than 80 tips from people around the world who believe they have clues about the location of the fossils. It plans to look for the mysterious box in Tianjin as part of its investigation this year.


"As long as there is even a 1-per-cent chance of finding the skulls, we will devote 100 per cent of our efforts," said Yang Haifeng, curator of the Peking Man Museum at Zhoukoudian, southwest of Beijing, where the first skulls were discovered in mountain caves in 1929.


"This is a global mystery, and such a long time has passed since they disappeared, so there are certainly difficulties. But there is still hope. We have so many clues and we do have confidence."


It was a Canadian doctor and paleontologist, Davidson Black, who first understood the significance of the ancient remains in the limestone caves of Zhoukoudian. The site had been traditionally called Dragon Bone Hill because of the strange bones that surfaced on the hills, which local farmers believed were from mythical monsters.


When a large tooth was found in the caves in 1927, Dr. Black wrote a scientific paper identifying it as evidence of a previously unknown species of early human. He called it Sinanthropus pekinensis - Peking Man.


Other scientists laughed at the idea, but he persuaded the Rockefeller Foundation to finance a 10-year dig at the caves, and in 1929 an amazing discovery was made: an almost intact skull of an early human. Five more skulls, along with scores of other bones and fragments, were soon found. (In gratitude for his role as the driving force behind the discoveries, several photos of the Canadian doctor are still displayed today at the Peking Man Museum in Zhoukoudian.)


Research found that Peking Man was active between 500,000 and 250,000 years ago, and it was confirmed that the species belonged to homo erectus, the precursor to homo sapiens, the humans of today. Some scientists believe that Peking Man was among the earliest humans to live in groups and use fire, although that claim is disputed.


Peking Man may have been a crucial stage in the evolution of modern humans - or it may have been a blind alley, leading nowhere. But before the skulls could be fully studied, Japanese invaders gained control of northern China. The Japanese were also strongly interested in the skulls, for their own evolutionary theories.


In 1941, the skulls were packed into two wooden crates at a research laboratory in Beijing. They were to be shipped to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, and then to the United States for temporary safekeeping. But at some point along the way, the crates disappeared. A few weeks later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and the wartime chaos grew worse.


Rumours and theories have abounded. Some think the skulls are buried on a former U.S. embassy site in Beijing. Others believe the skulls were taken to Japan after the research laboratory fell into Japanese control. There are theories that the skulls are in the United States, or Korea, or Taiwan, or Manchuria, or at the bottom of the ocean after a transport ship was sunk on its way to Japan in 1945.


Chinese specialists have conducted many failed searches for the skulls, but the new committee is optimistic. "I think we will find them," said Dong Cuiping, vice-director of the Peking Man Museum.


"Since 1941, the searches were always done by non-governmental people. Now this work is on the government's agenda. We're drawing more attention from society, and more clues - not only from China but outside China too."


If the skulls are recovered, they could become the basis for a major breakthrough in the understanding of human evolution, she said.


"When we first found the skulls, our science was not very advanced. Now we have much better technology. If we recover them, we could make new scientific discoveries."





February 1, 2006


THE bushfire at Tyrendarra last month has unearthed some of the biggest Aboriginal stone houses ever seen in Gunditjmara land.


Undocumented sites  have been uncovered including a village thought to be 30,000 years old.


The Winda-Mara Aboriginal Co-operative made the discovery yesterday during an analysis of its Tyrendarra Indigenous Protected Area.


On January 22 fire burnt 240 hectares, blackening 90 per cent of the property's rocky outcrop on the Mt Eccles lava flow.


Previously inaccessible land is now showing shells of stone houses as wide as five metres, eel traps, water traps, walking tracks, water ways and the remnants

of cutting tools.


Winda-Mara chairman Damein  Bell said further finds were expected in coming weeks as Aboriginal Affairs geologists scour the property.


``This is solid evidence of a permanent dwelling and villages. They could house up to four families at once. It was a complete society.''Winda-Mara Corporation chairman Damein Bell


``This is wonderful,'' he said.


``We know they have always been here but now we have an opportunity to really get in and look at them.


``It was all inaccessible before.


``The elders will be saying: `I told you so','' he mused.


It has been more than 80 years since fire has cleared the rocky landscape.


Until 1999 it was used as farming land but has since been revegetated and used for Aboriginal tourism and cultural purposes.


Until the fire the site had more than 150 sites of Aboriginal cultural significance.


Mr Bell said the new findings were further evidence that Aborigines in the south-west were not nomadic.


``This should add significantly to the cultural heritage values of this land,'' he said.


``These are the biggest stone houses I have ever seen.


``This is solid evidence of a permanent dwelling and villages. They could house up to four families at once. It was a complete society.''


The houses are scattered across the rocky outcrop, most on higher rising land neighbouring fresh waterways with eel traps.


Mr Bell said the aquaculture system was the main source of trade and food for the inhabitants.


``We probably won't find something like this again. It's very exciting,'' he said.


With the major find, however, came loss for the Winda-Mara Corporation.


The body incurred almost $10,000 worth of damage in the blaze.


About 5000 freshly-planted trees were destroyed and fence lines were ruined, however, newly-built bridges in the heart of the blaze survived.


Winda-Mara land management supervisor Matt Butt said a clean-up around the bridges days before the blaze had acted as a fire break.


He said the loss was disheartening, but the archaeological findings had been a valuable reward for the group.



U of M-sponsored Find in Egypt Promises More “Wonderful Things“

The University of Memphis

2/10/2006 12:58:06 PM


The Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities announced yesterday that an expedition sponsored by the University of Memphis has discovered a new tomb in the Valley of the Kings. The tomb appears to date to the 18th Dynasty (ca. 1539-1292 B.C.) and it contains five human mummies and several pottery vessels. It is located just a few meters from the tomb of King Tutankhamen.


The University of Memphis, through its Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology, has sponsored the Amenmesse Tomb Project (KV 10) – the scientific excavation and conservation of the tomb of Late 19th Dynasty King Amenmesse – since 1995, three years after the project was begun.


The Field Director for the Amenmesse Tomb Project (KV 10) is Dr. Otto Schaden, a research associate with the Institute.


Recently, he was joined by Dr. Lorelei Corcoran, Director of the Institute, and Sharon Nichols, a U of M graduate student who is pursing a master’s degree in Egyptian art. The two of them are in Egypt at present, working with Dr. Schaden.


Details of the discovery are to be announced tomorrow in Egypt by Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities.


Further background information about the Amenmesse Tomb Project (KV 10) is available on the Web at www.kv-10.com.


The University of Memphis ’ Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology was created in 1984 as a part of the Department of Art in the College of Communication and Fine Arts. It is also a Tennessee Center of Excellence. The Institute is dedicated to the study of the art, history and culture of ancient Egypt through teaching, research (including excavation), exhibition, and community education.


As part of its research and teaching objectives, the Institute is currently engaged with several field projects in Egypt. In addition to sponsoring the Amenmesse project, the IEAA conducts an epigraphic survey in the Great Hypostyle Hall of Karnak Temple in Luxor, Egypt, and partners with the Italian Archaeological Mission at the tomb of Harwa at Thebes.


The Institute maintains a permanent collection of Egyptian antiquities in the Art Museum of the University of Memphis. The collection contains more than 1,100 ancient Egyptian items, including mummies, religious paraphernalia, jewelry, and objects of everyday life dating from 3500 B.C. to 700 A.D. A changing exhibition of approximately 150 of these objects is on display in the Egyptian Gallery of the Art Museum.


More information about the University of Memphis’ Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology is available on the Web at www.memphis.edu/egypt.



Lucky find reveals biggest ancient cave

A farmer in northern Greece has stumbled across a 2,300-year-old chiseled cave with eight chambers and measuring some 63 square meters — the biggest ever discovered in this country — it was revealed yesterday.


The cave was found near the ancient city of Pella, which was the capital of the Macedonian kingdom. Archaeologists are studying the cave and believe it was probably used as a tomb by a wealthy Macedonian family between the second and third centuries BC, the Athens News Agency reported.


Two gold earrings, several bronze coins, three marble funerary stelae and a number of ceramic vessels were found inside the cave.


Previously, the largest chiseled cave found in Greece had three chambers. The cave near Pella has partly retained its original wall coloring of red, sky blue and gold.



Italy's iceman a sterile outcast?

February 4, 2006


ROME -- New DNA analysis shows that a 5,000-year-old mummy found frozen in the Italian Alps may have been sterile -- a hypothesis that would support the theory that he may have been a social outcast, officials said Friday.


Franco Rollo, an anthropologist and ancient DNA specialist, also determined that the man's genetic makeup belonged to one of the eight basic groups of DNA occurring in Europe, although his particular DNA belonged to a subgroup that has been identified for the first time, officials said.


The South Tyrol Archaeological Museum in Italy's northern Alto Adige region, where the remains are housed, announced the findings of Rollo's research Friday.


Rollo's findings also appear in the February issue of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, the statement said.


''The possibility that he was unable to father offspring cannot be eliminated,'' Rollo reported. ''This not improbable hypothesis raises new questions concerning his social rank within his society.''


A group of hikers discovered the well-preserved body in 1991.



Bronze Age mourners used flowers 

Cremated human and animal bones were discovered in the cist

The practice of placing floral tributes on graves may date back 4,000 years, research in west Wales suggests.

Archaeologists have been examining a Bronze Age burial mound on the Black Mountain in Carmarthenshire.


As well as analysing cremated bone, an urn and flint tools found in a cist, tests on soil taken from around the site found microscopic pollen grains.


Researchers believe it paints a new picture of ancient burial rituals - more tender than previously thought.


The excavation on Fan Foel, above Llyn y Fan Fach, was carried out by Llandeilo-based Cambria Archaeology.


Director Gwilym Hughes said the burial mound was slowly disappearing due to a combination of weather and the many walkers who climbed the mountain every year.


"Visitors were collecting stones from the monument," he said.

It gives tenderness to otherwise remote and impersonal burial rites

Adam Gwilt, National Museum of Wales

"The only solution was to excavate and record the vulnerable parts of the site and protect the remainder from further damage."


At the centre of the mound archaeologists examined the contents of a large rectangle stone built cist that had been covered by a large capstone.


It contained cremated bone, a pottery urn, a bone pin and several flint tools.


The remains included that of a young child - possible no more than 12 years of age - plus the burnt bones of two pigs and possibly a dog.


It was radiocarbon-dated to about 2000 BC.


Analysis of the soil surrounding the burial site by specialists from the University of Lampeter found the microscopic pollen grains.


They show the burial was accompanied by a floral tribute of meadowsweet, which has attractive clusters of cream-white flowers.


Adam Gwilt, curator of the Bronze and Iron Age Collection at the National Museum of Wales, said the discovery shed new light on ancient burials.


He said: "It gives tenderness to otherwise remote and impersonal burial rites".


Mr Gwilt said the same burial ritual had been found as far away as the Orkney Islands in Scotland.


The researchers, funded by Welsh historic monuments agency Cadw, now believe as early as the early Bronze Age the upland areas of Britain maintained common traditions when it came to death.



Deep-sea robot photographs ancient Greek shipwreck

Deborah Halber, News Office Correspondent

February 2, 2006


Sometime in the fourth century B.C., a Greek merchant ship sank off Chios and the Oinoussai islands in the eastern Aegean Sea. The wooden vessel may have succumbed to a storm or a fire, or maybe rough weather caused the cargo of 400 ceramic jars filled with wine and olive oil to shift without warning. The ship went down in 60 meters (about 200 feet) of water, where it remained unnoticed for centuries.


The classical-era ship might never have divulged to archaeologists its clues to ancient Greek culture, except for a research team from MIT, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI), the Greek Ministry of Culture and the Hellenic Centre for Marine Research (HCMR). They used a novel autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to make a high-precision photometric survey of the site last July. Using techniques perfected by MIT and WHOI researchers over the past eight years, the robot accomplished in two days what would have taken divers years of effort.


This week the researchers are releasing a few of the photographs showing detailed images of some of the remnants of the ship's cargo lying on the ocean floor, where it's been since about 350 B.C. The researchers took more than 7,000 images, which will eventually be combined into one mosaic of the entire wreck site.


The project marks the beginning of a long-term research project of the MIT/WHOI team collaborating with the Greek Ministry of Culture and HCMR.


The Deep Submergence Laboratory of WHOI has for years been a leader in building submersible robotic vehicles for a variety of underwater environments, including the ARGO vehicle that found the Titanic and the JASON II vehicle that explores the sea floor today. The robotic vehicle used at Chios is an AUV called SeaBed. WHOI scientist Hanumant Singh and his research team designed and built the AUV specifically for imaging the sea floor.


At Chios, Singh and his engineering team programmed SeaBed to run slow, precise tracklines over the shipwreck site, which had been located by a sonar scan performed by the Greek Ministry of Culture in 2004.


The AUV scanned the scattered cargo and created a topographical sonar map while collecting thousands of high-resolution digital images, without ever physically touching the shipwreck. In all, 7,650 images were collected on four dives. WHOI archaeologists and engineers are assembling those images into mosaics that depict the minute features of the shipwreck with unmatched clarity and detail.


The Chios wreck is playing a critical role in exploring how advanced technology can dramatically change the field of underwater archaeology. The long-term project is the brainchild of expedition co-leaders Brendan Foley, a researcher at WHOI who is a 2003 Ph.D. graduate of MIT's Program in Science, Technology and Society (STS), and David Mindell, the Dibner Professor of the History of Engineering and Manufacturing and professor of engineering systems at MIT. Mindell develops high-precision sonar navigation systems that control undersea robots in very deep water to create the world's most accurate three-dimensional maps of the ocean floor. Mindell and Foley founded MIT's DeepArch research group, which has been laying the intellectual, methodological and technical foundations for archaeology in the deep sea for the past eight years.


Robotic technology is the only way to reach deep shipwrecks like the one at Chios, but the systems can also be applied to shallower sites.


"By using this technology, diving archaeologists will be freed from mundane measuring and sketching tasks, and instead can concentrate on the things people do better than robots: excavation and data interpretation," said Singh, an engineering and imaging scientist. "With repeated performances, we'll be able to survey shipwrecks faster and with greater accuracy than ever before." These new techniques produce results very quickly.


As soon as SeaBed surfaced with the first images from the Chios wreck, taken July 7 and 8, 2005, Foley and the Greek archaeologists began interpreting the data.


Much of the true value in cargo ships such as the Chios wreck is the information they provide about the networks that existed among the ancient Greeks and their trading partners. The wreck is "like a buried UPS truck. It provides a wealth of information that helps us figure out networks based on the contents of the truck," said Mindell.


Foley, Mindell, Singh and their collaborators are using the latest technology to create "ways of learning about the past that you couldn't achieve any other way. We're not looking for footnotes any more. We're looking to write new chapters," Foley said. The new research project will last 10 years or more, focusing on uncovering evidence of ancient trade in the Mediterranean, particularly of the Minoan and Mycenaean cultures and their trading partners in the Bronze Age (2500-1200 B.C.).


"This was a home run for us," Mindell said. "There's a lot riding on it." The team will be back in Greece to explore more wreck sites next season.


"This is real research -- slow, serious, scientifically rigorous and painstaking work," Foley said. "It will go in strange directions, produce ambiguous results along the way, and raise a lot of new questions, but we're convinced that in 10 to 15 years, we will change history."


In addition to Foley, Mindell and Singh, the American team for the Chios expedition included Professor Brian Bingham from the Franklin W. Olin College of Engineering; Richard Camilli, Ryan Eustice and Chris Roman from WHOI; and Professor David C. Switzer from Plymouth State University. The Greek science and technical team was led by HCMR geologist Dimitris Sakellariou. The Greek archaeology team was headed by Katerina Delaporta, director of the Ministry of Culture's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.



New view of Mr Boudica


13 February 2006 10:49


For centuries, he has remained in the shadow of his famous wife, the warrior Queen of East Anglia's Iceni tribe.


But while Boudica outshines him in history, new research shows that Prasutagus was not quite the down-trodden husband previously suggested.


For it was he, and not his wife, who graced the coinage of the period.


Until now, Prasutagus has only existed in historical conjecture and myth as King of the Iceni, the tribe occupying East Anglia, which was ruled with Boudica under Roman authority.


However, new studies on a batch of silver coins found at Joist Fen in Suffolk more than 40 years ago have provided the first archaeological evidence that he existed, and was a man of some importance.


The coins, which would have been buried in the first century AD, bear the words SVB Ri Prasto and Esico Fecit and show a Romanised head on one face with a horse on the other.


It is believed the wording was a mixture of Celtic and Latin - to be translated as “under King Prasto, Esico made me”, with Esico the local metal worker who made the coin.


This conclusion fits in with earlier work by the 19th century antiquarian Sir John Evans who, with great foresight, had suggested that if any coins were discovered of Prasutagus - whom he described as “a mere creature of the Romans” - they would probably look Romanised.


Following Sir John's writings, similar coins from the neighbouring Corieltauvi tribe, bearing very similar writing, were discovered in south west Norfolk that cast doubt on the suggestion that the figure on the original hoard was Prasutagus.


However, extensive new research by Iceni expert Amanda Chadburn, featured in the latest edition of British Archaeology magazine, affirms the original theory of historians - that the portrait on the Suffolk coins found in 1960 is that of Boudica's husband.


John Davies, chief curator at the Norwich Castle Museum, said: “This research is reclaiming this coinage as archaeological evidence to link with the known historical figure who was the husband of Boudica. To find archaeological knowledge of a known historical figure is so very rare. It helps to confirm a part of the very exciting and compelling Boudica story.


“The Iceni didn't write, so we have nothing before that has had a name on it; so to get something which ties in with both an individual and that time is almost unique and very exciting.”


He said that he had always believed that the Joist Fen coins were evidence of Prasutagus.


“Of course spellings change as language develops over time but it is so close that is has to be Prasutagus.”


The findings brought colour and life to the legendary story, which saw Queen Boudica lead the revolt against the Romans after Prasutagus died.


“The study of Boudica is very, very dear to the people of this area and this gives real flesh on the bones. It tells us something very interesting about him as a person because on the coin he is depicted as a Romanised individual who has embraced Roman dress and culture. Although the Iceni lived in simple terms, he is shown as far more than an agricultural man.


“It shows the wider influence that the Romans had at that time in this region, when previously it was felt that this area was a bit of a backwater, away from the influence. This was in fact quite a Romanised area and these coins are very important evidence for that. It shows the royal family of the Iceni was very Roman.”


One of the coins is in the Boudica gallery of the Castle Museum in Norwich.



The Times February 09, 2006

Britain is likely to lose magnificent Roman tombstone

By Dalya Alberge, Arts Correspondent


EXCITEMENT over a Roman gravestone discovered in the centre of Lancaster has been dampened by the news that, although the artefact is barely out of the ground, Britain is likely to lose it to an overseas buyer.

Archaeologists said yesterday that the gravestone, which depicts with great clarity a mounted trooper holding a sword and the head of a man he has just killed, was a unique find.


The stone has yet to be dried, conserved and studied, but its owner — the developer on whose land it has been found — has already sought valuation advice from Sotheby’s.


Christopher Tudor-Whelan, director of Tudor-Whelan Property Holdings, which specialises in commercial investment properties, hopes to sell it in New York. He confirmed yesterday that he has been told that he can expect to sell it for “up to $100,000” (£57,500).


The gravestone, which commemorates a cavalry officer of the late 1st century or early 2nd century AD, was unearthed when archaeologists excavated land in the city centre before construction work began on a block of flats. Experts are overwhelmed by the artefact’s quality, although it is in three pieces and yet to be reassembled.


The stone, which originally would have measured 2.5m (8ft) in height, features a solar face, reminiscent of the famous Medusa head from Roman Bath, above the trooper’s head. The beheaded victim kneels on the ground, holding his sword.


Although beheading war victims was accepted Roman practice, it is thought that no such depiction of a man on horseback has been found before.


Importantly, the stone also bears an inscription that provides clues to the man to whom it was dedicated — a citizen of a Celtic tribe in northern Europe, the Treveri, which is known to have occupied an area where Belgium, Germany and France meet. The tribe was said to have provided Julius Caesar with his best cavalry.


The inscription refers to a man called Lucius Nisus Vodvilleius, or Insus, son of Vodullus. The precise name is unclear as it is abbreviated.


He served in the Ala Augusta, the Augustan cavalry stationed in Lancaster in the late 1st century. Although he had not been granted Roman citizenship, he had clearly achieved considerable status in the Roman Army.


The discovery will be published by British Archaeology tomorrow. Mike Pitts, the editor of the magazine, described the stone as “immensely exciting and seriously important”. He said: “Much of Roman sculpture is very fragmentary and, even if it is in good condition, it is not of a particularly high quality aesthetically. This is more or less complete, with a carving whose quality is superb.”


The stone is drying out now at the Lancashire County Museums Service in Preston. Mr Pitts believes that its rightful home is one of the Lancaster museums. “I can see people queuing down the block to see it,” he said.


Stephen Bull, curator of archaeology at the Museum of Lancashire, described the carving as “one of the sharpest and clearest I’ve ever seen”.


The developer confirmed to The Times that he was “in discussion” over selling it through Sotheby’s. Asked how he had felt when it was unearthed, he said: “The archaeological guys were more excited than me. I thought, ‘Oh my God, this will hold up the development’. At the end, the proof of the pudding is how much it is worth.”


An export licence will almost certainly be required for such an important piece, as it meets all the criteria governing the export of cultural objects.


The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery

Museum receives Roman discovery

January 5 2006


The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery will be displaying a nationally historical Roman artefact called the Staffordshire Moorlands Patera from Saturday 14 January for one year. The Pan as it is commonly known was discovered in the Staffordshire Moorlands in 2003 by metal detectorists and was acquired and joint owned by the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, The British Museum and Tullie House Museum in Carlisle; its purchase was generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.


The Pan is thought to be over 1800 years old, and despite loosing its handle and base is well preserved. The Pan was made as a functional vessel and as a 'souvenir' of Hadrian's Wall. The Pan is unique as it has Celtic styled engravings and the names of fortresses positioned on Hadrian's Wall engraved inside the rim of the pan. The Pan is thought to be a highly useful in telling us more about Hadrian's Wall and may eventually provide us with the Roman name for Hadrian's Wall.


The joint ownership is groundbreaking for the museum as it is the first time an acquisition of this kind has been arranged, it is highly important to the City Centre Museum as it enables the public to see such an historically important artefact, which was found locally and will be on display at the Museum throughout 2006 and then nationally around the UK from 2007.


Head of Museums Ian Lawley says,


'The joint acquisition of the Staffordshire Moorlands Pan by the three museums is truly trail-blazing. It marks a new era in co-operation between National and regional museums and will enable this enormously significant national treasure to be seen and enjoyed by a large number of people at all three venues. We hope that this will be the first of many such partnerships'.


The pan will be going on public display at the Museum from Saturday 14 January for 12 months and the exhibition has been sponsored by financial services company Brewin Dolphin. The opening of the exhibition will mark a year of Roman related activities including children's drop in work shops, Roman military re-enactments and other learning activities related to life in Roman Britain. The Pan will then go on to Carlisle in 2007.


Enquiries to Tony Adams Museums Marketing Officer 01782 232577

The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery is open daily with free admission, further details and opening times can be found at www.stoke.gov.uk by calling the museum on 01782 232323.


Britarch message:

Its a copper alloy vessel ("bronze") with enamelled decoration, it is called a "pan" as the technical name for the vessel (patera) is too difficult for journalists. The find was quite widely reported in the media as another "PAS success" in getting artefact hunters to share their discoveries with the rest of society.

See http://www.staffsmetaldetectors.co.uk/staffs_moorlands_patera.htm


What is so often missed out in this propaganda of success story is that the object was found on undisturbed grassland a foot (30 cm) down in a context sealed by a limestone block. Much is made of this object in the press of course because as an inscribed object, it carries its own "historical context" on it, which means one can discuss its historical importance without going into the details of how many artefacts are being removed from their undisturbed archaeological contexts by artefact hunters in pursuit of their acquisitive passions.


See also




and references here, note though that the "record" makes no mention of the circumstances of the discovery, just going on (and on) about the contextless object itself....


More here (among other places):





[Going back to the account of the discovery cited first here, isn't it an interesting piece of "folklore" that in many cases hailed by the media (Cumwhitton,. Middleham Jewel etc.), the artefact hunters were on the point of packing up when they made their greatest "find"? Also worth noting the connection is many of these stories to "footpaths"].


Paul Barford



The battle for the 'King of Bling' 


Jamie Godsafe, 37, of Southend, wrote to the BBC News website about a road protest site in his town called Camp Bling.

It was set up by campaigners angry at plans to widen a road over the burial site of a Saxon king dubbed the King of Bling.


We sent our reporter Jenny Matthews to investigate. If you have any other story ideas - send them to the BBC using the form at the bottom of the page.


A suburban area of an Essex seaside resort in 2006 seems neither the time nor the place for an anti-road protest camp - a phenomenon many associate with the early 1990s, and Newbury and Twyford Down.


But on a tiny scrap of land in Southend, squashed between a busy main road and a railway line, a patch of colourful tents, wooden treehouses and protest banners marks Camp Bling - England's only current anti-road protest site.


Local resident Ant Bailey, 39, co-founded the camp five months ago with local environmental campaigner Shaun Qureshi.


The Camp Bling protest site battling the F5 Priory Crescent road-widening scheme


Several different things inspired him to set it up, he said, including "the trees, the park, the burial site" he thinks are at risk from Southend Borough Council's £25m Priory Crescent road-widening scheme.


"We're just totally against it. People are putting everything into this, some people are leaving their jobs, some people are leaving their homes, living here, putting their life into it, and it's what we feel is the right thing to do."


The council, on the other hand, says the road is needed to tackle terrible congestion, and that efforts have been made to reduce the environmental impact.


They also point out that the road has been through an exhaustive planning process - including a full public inquiry in 2004 and central government agreement - and that it has been democratically decided.


'Incredible find'


This is not convincing the protesters, however.


A burial chamber of a Saxon king, dubbed the Prince of Prittlewell, or the King of Bling, after the number of grave goods he was buried with, was found in 2003 - ironically, during excavation work in preparation for the road-widening scheme.


Anthony Bailey believes it is right to stand up for what you believe in


Marion Pearce, a local historian who does not live at the camp, but visits it as a supporter, says: "It's been an incredible find, just incredible.


"It's a great sacred site and it should be venerated. We are an ancient country and an ancient people, and this site should have a proper veneration."


She also believes more burial sites could be found in the area.


"We have only scratched the surface... Haven't we got a responsibility to our future generations?"


Water brought in


Mr Bailey, who used to be employed as a sheet metal worker, says about 15 people now sleep at the camp, with about 25-30 people there in the daytime.


The protesters have been very active in the last five months - building dwellings and communal areas in the camp, hosting visitors including a group of scouts, and planning a "proper" visitors centre to teach people all about the king.


The council says they have not applied for planning permission for any of their makeshift buildings, but it is content to "keep an eye on the situation" for now.




Burial site found in 2003 during road preparation work

It was 12ft wide, 5ft high and wood-lined

Believed to be burial site of a 7th Century Saxon king, possibly Sigeberht or Sabert

Body had dissolved but goods included flagon, bowl, folding stool and gold-foil crosses

These goods now in the Museum of London

Road scheme has cleared all planning hurdles and is now in final funding stages


Supporters donate water, food and cash - and local people offer them hot baths and showers, says Mr Bailey.


He says most at the camp are local residents, but there are also activists from elsewhere, including 22-year-old Christiana Tugwell, who hit headlines in 1999 when at age 15 she began a protest in nearby Hockley.


Ms Tugwell has been at the site for four months along with 16-month-old son Aaron and partner Owen. She says the camp was set up as a last resort after protesters became "disillusioned with the political process".


"You can tick the box in a survey and sign as many petitions as you like, but nothing seems to make a palpable difference," she says.


"But at least here you feel you are doing something."


But are they right to be there?


The road plan is now at an extremely advanced stage.


It was originally mooted about six years ago and has cleared all planning hurdles, including the public inquiry in 2004. Now all that remains is for central government to decide whether to release the funds need for it - a decision widely expected some time in the spring.


 The "king of bling" burial site is not obvious to the casual passer-by


The council says it accepts that "people who continue to take a different view will want to express their feelings". But it says the road is important to Southend, that opposing views have already been taken into consideration, and that a "democratic decision" has been made to widen the road.


But whether right or wrong, will the protesters change anything?


The council says it does intend to implement the scheme if the government provides the funding it needs.


Mr Bailey hopes the government might baulk at the amount required, and refuse to release the funds. But otherwise, protesters are gearing up for a "lengthy and quite costly" eviction.


"We've got different defences to stay here as long as possible and defend the site," he said.


The council says the road is essential for reducing congestion

But what about the money which the taxpayer will presumably have to stump up, if it comes to an eviction battle? Are the protesters simply wasting public money, after the democratic process has been gone through?


Mr Bailey acknowledges that not everyone agrees with them, but says: "It's about standing up for what you believe in.


"If you're into the environment, and you believe parks, and green spaces, and trees and wildlife should be protected, then it's a passion."




Can genes unravel a Viking mystery?

DNA tests could shed new light on remains found in longboat


Scanpix / Reuters

A1904 image shows the Oseberg Viking ship after its recovery in southern Norway. Scientists say DNA tests could yield new information about a queen and another woman whose remains were found in the ship. 


Updated: 11:06 p.m. ET Dec. 9, 2003

OSLO, Norway - The grave of a mysterious Viking queen may hold the key to a 1,200-year-old case of suspected ritual killing, and scientists are planning to unearth her bones to find out.


She is one of two women whose fate has been a riddle ever since their bones were found in 1904 in a 72-foot (22-meter) longboat buried at Oseberg in south Norway, its oaken form preserved miraculously, with even its menacing, curling prow intact.


No one even knows the name of the queen, but the Oseberg boat stirred one of the archaeological sensations of the 20th century two decades before the discovery of the tomb of Egypt’s Pharaoh Tutankhamen in the Valley of the Kings.


Scientists now hope to exhume the women, reburied in the mound in 1947 and largely forgotten, reckoning that modern genetic tests could give clues to resolve whether one was the victim of a ritual sacrifice.


Companion in Valhalla

Almost a century ago, archaeologists concluded that the body of a woman in her 50s was the queen, and the second woman, probably in her 20s, was a slave or lady-in-waiting killed to accompany her mistress to an afterlife in Valhalla.


But DNA tests of genetic material might acquit the Vikings of sacrifice in A.D. 834 if they show the two were relatives.


“You never know if there’s enough DNA left in old bones for analysis, but it would be fascinating to try,” said Professor Arne Emil Christensen, the head of Oslo’s Viking Ship Museum, where the Oseberg boat is on display.


DNA identification techniques have shed new light on crimes and controversies that go back as far as 200 years. Laboratory analysis can match victims with potential assailants, identify unknown remains or even determine the relationships between historical figures.

Select a topic on the left for details on five of the best-known cases.


“A DNA test would only tell us if the women were related,” Christensen told Reuters. “They might be mother and daughter. If that’s the case, it’s more reasonable to believe that they simply died of the same disease.


“That would be new information, with implications for Viking burials,” he said. Ritual sacrifice was sometimes practiced in Viking times.


A contemporary account by an Arab traveler of the burial of a Viking chieftain in Sweden, for instance, includes an execution of a female slave. And in one Danish Viking grave, an old man lying next to a younger man had been decapitated.


The Oseberg grave could be reopened next year if Oslo University, which oversees Norway’s longboats, gives permission.


Forensic evidence

Nothing is known of the Oseberg queen apart from the spectacular grave, which contained equipment ranging from carved wooden sledges to buckets made of yew wood that were probably plundered in a raid on Ireland or Britain.


Down the centuries, grave robbers may have taken gold and valuables from the ship, which had space for 30 to 50 warriors.


Christensen said the elder Oseberg woman was probably a queen, because the grave contained two pairs of shoes that would fit her feet, which were swollen by arthritis. A slave would hardly get a change of footwear for the afterlife.


Christensen said a forensic test of carbon-13 isotopes could also be used to indicate if the women had a fish-rich diet.


He said that Viking rulers might have favored meat — like elk — over commonplace fish. So if only one of the women had a meat-rich diet, she was most likely the queen.


Looking into the longboats

The Viking longboats were the most feared craft of the time. Their design let Norse warriors land, pillage and plunder and sail off knowing that no other vessels could catch up.


The Oseberg ship, built from oak hewn in about 820, is the most spectacular of three big Viking-era ships found in burial mounds in Norway, preserved by the air-tight seal of the blue clay found in the area.


More than 250 Viking-era ship burial mounds have been found from Russia to Iceland. The Oseberg boat was dragged out of the sea and buried.


Norway is planning to examine another burial site in the south of the country, but Christensen said another find like Oseberg was highly unlikely.


“The best chance of finding Viking ships now would be in old harbors rather than in graves. But then of course you’d find a wreck instead of a well-furnished ship,” he said.



2,000-Year-Old Judean Date Seed Growing Successfully

11:03 Feb 06, '06 / 8 Shevat 5766

By Ezra HaLevi


A 2,000-year-old date seed planted last Tu B’Shvat has sprouted and is over a foot tall. Being grown at Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava, it is the oldest seed to ever produce a viable young sapling. 


The Judean date seed was found, together with a large number of other seeds, during archaeological excavations carried out close to Massada near the southern end of the Dead Sea. Massada was the last Jewish stronghold following the Roman destruction of the Holy Temple over 1,930 years ago. The age of the seeds was determined using carbon dating, but has a margin of error of 50 years – placing them either right before or right after the Massada revolt.


The seeds sat in storage for thirty years until Elain Solowey of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies was asked to attempt to cultivate three of them. Solowey spoke with Israel National Radio's Yishai Fleisher and Alex Traiman about reviving the ancient date palm.


Solowey, who raised the plant, has grown over 100 rare and almost extinct species of plants. Together with Hadassah Hospital’s Natural Medicine Center, she seeks to use the plants listed in ancient remedies to seek effective uses for modern medical conditions. The Judean date has been credited with helping fight cancer, malaria and toothaches. Solowey was skeptical about the chances of success at first, but gave it a try. “I treated it in warm water and used growth hormones and an enzymatic fertilizer extracted from seaweed in order to supplement the food normally present in a seed,” she said.


As this year’s Tu B’Shvat (the Jewish new year for trees, the 15th of the Jewish month of Shvat) approaches, the young tree that sprouted from one of the three seeds now has five leaves (one was removed for scientific testing) and is 14 inches tall. Solowey has named it Metushelah (Methuselah), after the 969-year-old grandfather of Noah, the oldest human being ever.


Solowey said that although the plant’s leaves were pale at first, the young tree now looks “perfectly normal.”


The Judean palms once grew throughout the Jordan Valley, from Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee) to the Dead Sea. Those from Jericho, at the northern end of the Dead Sea, were of particularly notable quality. Though dates are still grown widely in the Jordan Valley, the trees come mostly from California.


The Judean date palm trees are referred to in Psalm 92 (“The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree…”). The tree was also depicted on the ancient Jewish shekel and now appears on the modern Israeli 10-shekel coin.


It is too early to tell, but if the tree is female, it is supposed to bear fruit by 2010, after which it can be propagated to revive the Judean date palm species altogether. “It is a long road to our being able to eat the Judean date once again,” Solowey said, “but there is the possibility of restoring the date to the modern world.”