Scientists Find Skull of Human Ancestor

Sunday March 26, 2006 12:31 AM

AP Photo NY124


Associated Press Writer


ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - Scientists in northeastern Ethiopia said Saturday that they have discovered the skull of a small human ancestor that could be a missing link between the extinct Homo erectus and modern man.


The hominid cranium - found in two pieces and believed to be between 500,000 and 250,000 years old - ``comes from a very significant period and is very close to the appearance of the anatomically modern human,'' said Sileshi Semaw, director of the Gona Paleoanthropological Research Project in Ethiopia.


Archaeologists found the early human cranium five weeks ago at Gawis in Ethiopia's northeastern Afar region, Sileshi said.


Several stone tools and fossilized animals including two types of pigs, zebras, elephants, antelopes, cats, and rodents were also found at the site.


Sileshi, an Ethiopian paleoanthropologist based at Indiana University, said most fossil hominids are found in pieces but the near-complete skull - a rare find - provided a wealth of information.


``The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors,'' the archaeology project said in a statement.


Homo erectus, which many believe was an ancestor of modern Homo sapiens, is thought to have died out 100,000 to 200,000 years ago.


The cranium dates to a time about which little is known - the transition from African Homo erectus to modern humans. The fossil record from Africa for this period is sparse and most of the specimens poorly dated, project archaeologists said.


The face and cranium of the fossil are recognizably different from those of modern humans, but bear unmistakable anatomical evidence that it belongs to the modern human's ancestry, Sileshi said.


``A good fossil provides anatomical evidence that allows us to refine our understanding of evolution. A great fossil forces us to re-examine our views of human origins. I believe the Gawis cranium is a great fossil,'' said Scott Simpson, a project paleontologist from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine at Cleveland, Ohio.


Scientists conducting surveys in the Gawis River drainage basin found the skull in a small gully, the project statement said.


``This is really exciting because it joins a limited number of fossils which appear to be evolutionary between Homo erectus and our own species Homo sapiens,'' said Eric Delson, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College of the City University of New York, who was not involved in the discovery but has followed the project.


Homo erectus left Africa about 2 million years ago and spread across Asia from Georgia in the Caucasus to China and Indonesia. It first appeared in Africa between 1 million and 2 million years ago.


Between 1 million and perhaps 200,000 years ago, one or more species existed in Africa that gave rise to the earliest members of our own species Homo sapiens - between 150,000 and 200,000 years ago.


Delson said the fossil found in Ethiopia ``might represent a population broadly ancestral to modern humans or it might prove to be one of several side branches which died out without living descendants.''



Skull discovery could fill origins gap

Fri Mar 24, 11:02 AM ET


ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A hominid skull discovered in Ethiopia could fill the gap in the search for the origins of the human race, a scientist said on Friday.


The cranium, found near the city of Gawis, 500 km (300 miles) southeast of the capital Addis Ababa, is estimated to be 200,000 to 500,000 years old.


The skull appeared "to be intermediate between the earlier Homo erectus and the later Homo sapiens," Sileshi Semaw, an Ethiopian research scientist at the Stone Age Institute at Indiana University, told a news conference in Addis Ababa.


It was discovered two months ago in a small gully at the Gawis river drainage basin in Ethiopia's Afar region, southeast of the capital.


Sileshi said significant archaeological collections of stone tools and numerous fossil animals were also found at Gawis.


"(It) opens a window into an intriguing and important period in the development of modern humans," Sileshi said.


Over the last 50 years, Ethiopia has been a hot bed for archaeological discoveries.


Hadar, located near Gawis, is where in 1974 U.S. scientist Donald Johnson found the 3.2 million year old remains of "Lucy," described by scientists as one of the greatest archaeological discoveries in the world.


Lucy is Ethiopia's world-acclaimed archaeological find. The discovery of the almost complete hominid skeleton was a landmark in the search for the origins of humanity.


On the shores of what was formerly a lake in 1967, two Homo sapien skulls dating back 195,000 years were unearthed. The discovery pushed back the known date of mankind, suggesting that modern man and his older precursor existed side by side.


Sileshi said while different from a modern human, the braincase, upper face and jaw of the cranium have unmistakeable anatomical evidence that belong to human ancestry.


"The Gawis cranium provides us with the opportunity to look at the face of one of our ancestors," he added.



Oldest wooden statues found in Egypt

Wed Mar 22, 11:01 AM ET


CAIRO (AFP) - Archeologists in Egypt have unearthed two 5,000-year-old wooden statues, complete with gold wrapping paper, believed to be the oldest such artefacts ever found, the team said.


The statues, which depict two nude men with precious stones around their eyes, were found by a Polish team in the northern Nile Delta region of Daqahliya, said a statement by chief archaeologist Krzysztof Cialowicz.


The effigies are believed to date from Egypt's predynastic era (3,700-3,200 BC), before Egypt started to unify under the pharaohs.


Cialowicz said his team had also found remnants of gold-coated paper that experts said was used to wrap the wooden statues, believed to be the oldest such artefacts discovered to date.


Besides the statues, one around 75 centimetres (30 inches) tall and the other around 40 (16 inches) centimetres, the team has found warehouses and tombs in the same Tel al-Farkha area, said the statement issued by the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities.


Cialowicz's team has been excavating the area since 1998 and has found around 60 other statues, mostly of hippopotami and other animals.




Archeologists unearth ancient brewery

March 23 2006 at 11:37AM 


Cairo - A Polish archeological excavation team have unearthed the biggest brewery used by ancient Egyptians in the Nile Delta before the first monarch ever ruled the country, Egyptian minister of culture Farouq Hosny announced on Wednesday.


The site discovered in Tall al-Farkha in the northern province of Dakahliya on March 8 dates back to around 3500BC, a period known as Naqada II D and C, the minister said.


The Polish archeologists, who have been working in the area since 1998, also discovered a cemetery with 33 graves belonging to middle and lower class ancient Egyptians.


The head of the Supreme Council of Antiquities announced that the Polish mission also discovered a deposit of 65 items inside a small pottery jar dating back to the beginning of the 1st Dynasty.


The items are mainly hippopotamus ivory figurines shaped as humans, animals, boats and game pieces. Miniature stones and faience vases were also among the deposited items.


The mission also found golden foils used in covering two wooden statues whose lengths ranged between 35 and 70 cm, believed to have been the oldest of such a type. The statues, representing standing naked men, have not been recovered, except for eyes that were inlaid with Lapis Lazuli. - Sapa-dpa



Coffin with scenes from Homer's epics found

2,500-year-old sarcophagus unearthed in Cyprus

People work in the ancient tomb in Kouklia village near the coastal town of Paphos, Cyprus, where the white-stone sarcophagus was found.

Updated: 6:45 p.m. ET March 20, 2006


A 2,500-year-old stone coffin with well-preserved color illustrations from Homer's epics has been discovered in western Cyprus, archaeologists said Monday.


"It is a very important find," said Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the island's antiquities department. "The style of the decoration is unique, not so much from an artistic point of view, but for the subject and the colors used."


Only two other similar sarcophagi have ever been discovered in Cyprus before. One is housed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other in the British Museum in London, but their color decoration is more faded, Flourentzos said.


The limestone sarcophagus was accidentally found by construction workers last week in a tomb near the village of Kouklia, in the coastal Paphos area. The tomb, which probably belonged to an ancient warrior, had been looted during antiquity.


Flourentzos said the coffin — painted in red, black and blue on a white background — dated to 500 B.C., when Greek cultural influence was gaining a firm hold on the eastern Mediterranean island. Pottery discovered in the tomb is expected to provide a precise date.


"The style is very simple, it has little to do with later Classical prototypes and rules," Flourentzos said.


Experts believe the ornate decoration features the hero Ulysses in scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey — both hugely popular throughout the Greek world.


In one large painting, Ulysses and his comrades escape from the blind Cyclops Polyphemos' cave, hidden under a flock of sheep.


One of the illustrations on the coffin shows two warriors on a chariot.


Another depicts a battle between Greeks and Trojans from the Iliad.


"Ulysses — known for his archery skills — is taking on a whole army emerging from the gates of Troy on horseback and in chariots," Flourentzos said.


Archeologists think the scenes hint at the status of the coffin's occupant.


"Why else take these two pieces from Homer and why deal with Ulysses? Maybe this represents the dead person's character — who possibly was a warrior," Flourentzos said.


Other drawings depict a figure carrying a seriously injured or dead man and a lion fighting a wild boar under a tree. These are not believed to be linked with Homer's poems.


Reflecting a long oral tradition loosely based on historic events, Homer's epics were probably composed around 800 B.C. and written down in the 6th century B.C.


The tomb was found in an area containing several ancient cemeteries which belonged to the nearby town of Palaepaphos, some 18 kilometers (11 miles) inland from modern Paphos.


First settled around 2800 B.C., Palaepaphos was the site of a temple of Aphrodite — the ancient goddess of beauty who, according to mythology, was born in the sea off Paphos.


The temple was one of the ancient world's most famous cult places and remained in use until early Christian times, in the 4th century.



The Times March 25, 2006

Statue reveals Roman lady with her make-up still on

From Richard Owen in Herculaneum


BRITISH and Italian archaeologists have recovered for the first time a painted Roman statue with its colours preserved.

The head of a female Amazon warrior, shown exclusively to The Times, was retrieved this week from the debris of a collapsed escarpment at Herculaneum, the seaside resort for the rich and powerful of ancient Rome that was destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD79.


Domenico Camardo, the archaeologist who dug the head from the volcanic rock, said that when a workman first alerted him to the discovery, he “hardly dared hope” that the bust would be intact. “Only the back of the head was visible, and I was afraid the face would have crumbled,” he said.


The nose and mouth were missing, but the hair, pupils and eyelashes were “as pristine as they were when Herculaneum was overwhelmed by the eruption”, Monica Martelli Castaldi, the restorer of the team, said.


“Those eyes are alive, looking at us from 2,000 years ago,” she said. “To find this much pigment is very, very special.” Although it had been known that Roman statues were painted, only faint traces of pigment had been found before now. It had also been assumed that classical statues were painted brightly. In fact, the colouring on the head is a delicate shade of orange-red, which, although faded, indicates that classical colouring was subtle and sophisticated, Jane Thompson, the project manager, said.


Herculaneum was buried in the same catastrophic eruption that overwhelmed nearby Pompeii. Whereas Pompeii was buried in volcanic ash, Herculaneum became entombed in molten rock.


The site was excavated in the 18th century and again in the Fascist period but was then neglected for decades, until the British School in Rome and the Superintendency of Pompeii started the Herculaneum Conservation Project, funded by the Packard Humanities Institute, of California, in 2004.


Since then restorers have patched up flaking frescoes, brought in falcons to chase away pigeons, whose droppings corrode the ruins, and tackled humidity caused by rain and rising damp.


Areas closed to visitors for years are gradually being reopened to the public, and lost treasures are being found.


The collapsed escarpment where the Amazon head was found was close to the great Basilica, which has been partially excavated. The Basilica — the law courts — was linked to the cult of Hercules, who, as part of his labours, had to fight Hippolyte, the Amazon Queen.





The Sunday Times March 26, 2006

A cemetery of secrets

A Roman graveyard has been dug up in York. The skeletons all belonged to tall, strong men — and most are headless. Were they gladiators killed in the arena or victims of a deranged dictator? Richard Girling reports


Like nobody else before or since, Caracalla had it coming. On April 8, AD217, four days after his 29th birthday, appropriately on his way to a Moon Temple in modern-day Turkey, this irredeemable lunatic dismounted from his horse, pulled down his breeches and surrendered to the demands of diarrhoea. It was one of his own bodyguards who stepped forward and stabbed him to death.


Even for an emperor of Rome, it took some doing to inspire that kind of loyalty. The sculptors of his portrait busts found him as difficult to idealise as historians have done since, his face fixed in a stony scowl, prematurely aged by a lifetime of hate. He is chiefly remembered now for the Baths of Caracalla, the opulent bathhouse outside Rome that so inspired the imagination of the Victorian painter Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema. To confront the true, unique awfulness of the man, however, it is necessary to do as Caracalla himself did in AD208, and make the journey northwards to York. It was here, in August 2004, that archeologists made one of the most disturbing finds in the entire Roman world. Beneath the former garden of an 18th-century mansion in Driffield Terrace, in the exclusive Mount area just outside the city wall, they dug up a large Roman cemetery of early 3rd-century date.


This in itself was no surprise. The site bordered an important Roman road, still the main route into York from the southwest. The existence of graves in the area was well known, and – though the cemetery was evidently of considerable size and importance – it was a routine sort of a dig, ordered by City of York Council to map the site and remove archeological finds before new houses were built. It did not stay routine for long. Ordinarily, Roman cemeteries are much like any other kind. They hold a roughly equal mix of men and women, with infants, children, adolescents, young and older adults all in their natural proportion. It soon became clear that this one was very, very different. Fifty-six skeletons or part skeletons were recovered, of which only seven were adolescent or younger. The rest were all prime-of-life adult males, none older than 45. More than this: by the standards of their time, they were giants, mostly around 174cm (approximately 5ft 10in) tall, at a time when the average was 5cm less. They were powerfully built, too, with arm bones showing evidence of extreme physical exertion. And they were not locals. Isotope analysis of minerals in their tooth enamel showed that they originated from every corner of the Roman empire – a couple from Britain, several from the Mediterranean, one from the Alps, one even from Africa. How could this be explained?


Legionaries killed in battle? But then you would expect their skeletons to show the imprint of war – shattered skulls, severed limbs, defence wounds on hands and arms where they had tried to ward off sword or axe. All these were conspicuously absent. For all the evidence to the contrary, you might suppose that they had died in their beds. Except…


More than half of them had had their heads cut off. In some cases the skull had been put back more or less where it came from. But in many others it lay in the shallow grave beneath its owner’s arm, between his knees or beside his feet. One had heavy iron bands forged around his ankles and lay alongside another man with whom he had exchanged heads. A couple had been buried face down. Others were crumpled as if they had been tossed or hastily crammed into the ground. Only a small minority had been accorded the dignity of coffins.


Although headless burials were not unknown, there was no precedent for so many to be found in the same place. And neither was this the end of it. Just a few yards away, in the summer of 2005, another 24 graves were found in a garden. All contained the remains of young or middle-aged men. Fifteen of these definitely, and another three probably, had been decapitated. Nothing like this had been found anywhere in the entire, intercontinental span of the Roman empire. Who were these men? What had befallen them?



One early theory, outlined in a BBC2 Timewatch programme due to be shown later this month, was that they had been subjected to some kind of pagan burial rite. A common belief at the time was that removing a person’s head would release magical powers that would speed them into the afterlife, or perhaps would prevent them rising to haunt the living. But there was a problem. Ritual beheading happened after death, using a thin blade that would cut down through the front of the neck and slice between the vertebrae. The result was surgically neat.


But the York bodies were not like that at all. The work on and around the necks looked more like the efforts of a lumberjack than of any kind of anatomist. Even a butcher would have done a tidier job. The executioners hacked again and again until, through sheer persistence, they smashed through the bone and the head rolled free. At the York Archaeological Trust’s (YAT’s) conservation laboratory near York Minster, bone expert Katie Tucker shows me their handiwork. One man has a deep, V-shaped slice missing from his jawbone. One had a molar sliced in half as the blade carved through his face. Another has had the back of his head lifted off like a lid. Others have cuts in as many as five of the seven neck vertebrae, with blows delivered mostly from behind but at varying angles as the victims twisted away from their killers. Most seem to have been face down on the ground, presumably held there, when they were killed, and one seems to have been felled by a swipe at the knee. In one case it took 13 blows to get the head off.


Archeology is often a matter of matching familiar evidence to known facts. The stuff that comes out of the ground is exactly like lots of other stuff that’s come out of the ground before. You know what it is. You can work out how, when and why it got there. If you’re lucky it may be a new chapter, but it’s seldom a whole new book. As the man in charge of the dig, YAT’s head of fieldwork, Patrick Ottaway, points out, these burials neither conform to precedent nor easily submit to analysis. Whatever happened here was driven by something stronger than the ordinary disciplines of army life. Humanity was set aside; calculation subsumed by fear or hatred into something close to derangement. Who would have ordained such an atrocity? And why?


Caracalla was not his real name. He was born Septimius Bassianus, later changed to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, at Lyons (Roman Lugdunum) on April 4, 188, though for reasons of his own he would later lie about his age. His father was the North African-born senator and future emperor of Rome, Lucius Septimius Severus. His mother, Julia Domna, came from what is now Syria. Eleven months after the birth of Antoninus, and with consequences that would ultimately horrify her, Julia gave birth to a second son, Publius Septimius Geta.


It is fair to say that the Roman military and political classes were not unaccustomed to the sight of blood. Spilling it was no big deal – in context, it was no more than the ultimate step in a recognised process of hard bargaining. Young Antoninus took to killing as naturally as others might have taken to poetry or music. By the time he made his fatal comfort stop in 217, he would bear direct responsibility for upwards of 20,000 deaths. He started young. At 14 he was pressed into marriage with a girl called Plautilla, daughter of a powerful friend of his father’s. “But,” says Professor Anthony Birley, a biographer of Septimius Severus and expert on the Romans in Britain, “he hated her. Not only did he refuse to sleep with her but he wouldn’t even eat with her, and he particularly hated his father in law.” His remedy, aged 16, was to frame the man on a false charge of plotting against the emperor and to have him killed by guards. The unwanted bride was then banished. If one were to plead mitigation on the young man’s behalf, one might point to the influence of his father, Septimius Severus, whose idea of statesmanship was to fight anyone who opposed him. He executed 29 political opponents in the senate and replaced the old praetorian guard with a new 10,000-strong elite unit recruited largely from the Balkans and the Danube. In 208, aged 60, he decided it was time to visit the north of his empire and kill the resistance of Caledonian tribesmen north of the Forth and Clyde.


Prominent among the imperial retinue were his sons Antoninus, then aged 20, and Geta, 19. No two brothers have ever hated each other more than these two. As the contemporary Roman historian Cassius Dio put it: “The sons of Severus… went to all lengths in their conduct. They outraged women and abused boys, they embezzled money and made gladiators and charioteers their boon companions, emulating each other in the similarity of their deeds, but full of strife in their rivalries; for if the one attached himself to a certain faction, the other would be sure to choose the opposite side…”


Always, up ahead, lay the ultimate point of collision – their father’s death and the inheritance of an empire. By the time they reached York, the gap between ambition and destiny was narrowing fast. Severus was in poor health, gout-ridden and unable to walk. To his sons nevertheless he continued to offer the same malevolent example. Enraged by the hit-and-run tactics of an enemy that would not engage his army, he resolved to make Scotland unliveable, destroying its crops and slaughtering without mercy. Cassius Dio records him quoting Homer: “Let no one escape sheer destruction, No one our hands, not even the babe in the womb of the mother…”


Unsubtle though he might have been, Severus well understood the basics of human nature. He knew where the raw enmity between his sons was leading, and tried to bring peace by making them co-emperors with himself. Yoking them in power, however, served only to sharpen their rivalry. It was at about this time that the elder son, Antoninus, became known by the nickname that would stay with him throughout history – Caracalla. It derived from the local style of hooded tunic – a bit like a duffel coat – that he wore while in Britain and later made fashionable in Rome. He also began to exhibit the behaviour that would forge his reputation as a monster. It began with a failure – failure, that is, to assassinate his own father, against whom he drew his sword while they were riding to negotiate the Caledonians’ surrender. Alerted by his guards, Severus faced the young man down.


 For the younger son, Geta, however, there was to be no such escape. Severus’s last words before he died in 211 were to his sons: “Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers and scorn all other men.” Caracalla evidently took to heart the second and third of these injunctions but stopped his ears to the first. The flames from Severus’s pyre had barely died down before both heirs were heading back to Rome. For some time Caracalla had been lying about his age, advancing his birth date by two years to exaggerate the superiority of his birthright over Geta’s. But he was not going to rely on primogeniture alone. Within a year, Geta was dead. There was no subterfuge; no plot or alibi. Offering neither excuse nor apology, Caracalla chased his brother through the palace and stabbed him in the arms of their mother. The new emperor also put to death his estranged wife, Plautilla, and her brother, and continued as he had begun – purging the high command of everyone who had ever told him “no”.


In the Timewatch programme, Anthony Birley argues that the bloodshed began even before Caracalla left York, and that the cemetery at Driffield Terrace was the resting place of his victims. Among the first to go was his father’s chamberlain, Castor, who had made the mistake of barring him from the imperial chamber. His childhood tutor Euhodus – formerly his accomplice in framing his father-in-law – was killed for the crime of promoting harmony between the brothers. Even Severus’s doctors were murdered, for having denied Caracalla’s request to shorten the old man’s life. Also unwanted on the journey home, Birley suggests, were other courtiers and officers who had favoured Geta.


This would explain various things – the choice of an important burial place on high ground next to a main road; the method of execution (beheading was the privilege of Roman citizens, while lesser breeds were crucified, burned or thrown to animals); and the hasty disposal of the bodies. The executions would have been in public and, says Miranda Green, an expert on Celtic Britain, would have been “extremely theatrical”.


“The idea would have been a kind of performance, where maybe the entire community was there to see it happen. It would have been very bloody, but you mustn’t just think about things being highly visual. Sound and smell would have been very important as well.” One’s imagination here begins to do peculiar things to the stomach, especially when Green suggests that spectators would have made a day out of it with a picnic. A number of things still need explaining, however – most obviously the male exclusivity of the cemetery, the narrow age range and physical size of its denizens. There is also the awkward fact that many of the burials overlie each other, thus making it unlikely that the deaths all occurred in the same incident.


I try a theory of my own. Where in the Roman empire, outside the battlefield, might you find unusually large, physically fit young men being killed in batches? Is it possible that they were victims not of the executioner but of each other, as gladiators? Surprisingly, Birley does not dismiss the idea out of hand – funeral games, he says, might well have been staged after the old emperor’s death and, as Patrick Ottaway acknowledges, there must have been an amphitheatre somewhere in the city, though nobody knows where. In the end, however, Birley rejects it on the same grounds that Ottaway and Katie Tucker rejected the idea of deaths in battle – the absence of fresh bone fractures.


“All our sources, so far as I know them, ive the impression that gladiators were killed by the sword or in some cases trident of their opponents, or being gored by wild beasts, and the impression is that there was horrific wounding and lots of blood. So it seems to me very unlikely that they would have just soft flesh wounds. Besides, I can't think of any cases of gladiators being given the coup de grâce with the axe, let alone a few dozen of them.” Nevertheless, it is a subject that gives insight into the character of the new emperor. “For what it’s worth, Cassius Dio says that Caracalla killed large numbers of the elite at Rome after disposing of his brother Geta, then ‘veering from murder to sport, he showed the same thirst for blood in this field too. It was nothing, of course, that elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers etc were killed in the arena, but he took pleasure in seeing the blood of as many gladiators as possible. He forced one, Bato, to fight three men in succession on the same day, then, when Bato was killed by the last one, he honoured him with a brilliant funeral’.”


Miranda Green’s theory is that the executions might have been punishment for a military unit found guilty of cowardice, when “every 10th man is killed in front of their fellows”. It offers, too, an alternative explanation for the beheadings. “Their bodies might well have been treated in a humiliating way so that they wouldn’t actually enter the spirit world.”


Timewatch continues to favour Birley’s picture of an irascible and possibly unbalanced young dictator slaying his father’s favourites. Given that nothing is known of these people’s ages, and that their privileged diets would have made them tall, there is no reason why they should not have conformed to the physical pattern of the Driffield skeletons. Nevertheless, Birley proposes an alternative theory of his own. Given that pottery dating is accurate only to within ten years or so, it is entirely conceivable that the deaths occurred at a slightly later date – not in February 211, as everyone has assumed, but some time during 213 or 214. The Roman governor of Britain then was Gaius Julius Marcus, a self-proclaimed loyalist who advertised his devotion to Caracalla in numerous inscriptions along Hadrian’s Wall. Tellingly, however, he seems to have been worried that he and his men were suspected of having favoured Geta in 211, and his fears may have been justified. “This mass protestation of loyalty didn’t work,” says Birley, “since Julius Marcus’s name was systematically deleted from the inscriptions. But in some cases it is still legible, and they forgot to delete his name from a milestone. Clearly he copped it.”


In this scenario, the bodies in York are those of Julius Marcus and members of his bodyguard or singulares, an elite troop. “Roman history,” says Birley, “is full of examples of men who had fallen foul of an emperor being disposed of, usually by a centurion sent for the purpose. Equally, Julius Marcus’s successor could have turned up with a secret commission to kill him off.”


From a distance of nearly 1800 years, the truth lies tantalisingly half in and half out of our grasp. Some things are certain – the reality of these men’s horrible deaths; their age and stature; the chaos of their burials; the mix of nationalities. Some things are highly probable – that they were victims of execution; that they belonged to an elite group of some kind; that the group itself was military. Other things are educated guesses – that they were killed for disloyalty or cowardice; that they were loyalists of Geta. All are consistent in their depiction of nihilistic cruelty in the service of a man whose own murder was his only experience of justice.


Timewatch: the Mystery of the Headless Romans will be broadcast on BBC2 at 9pm on April 21.




by Roz Tappenden 24/03/2006


An archaeological dig in Southampton’s medieval city centre has unearthed Saxon structural remains and a WWII pharmacy.


Archaeologists were called in last November to investigate the 0.5-hectare site in the centre of bustling Southampton after an evaluation by the City Council.


The plot, between the city’s High Street and French Street has been earmarked for redevelopment, but the discovery of medieval vaults and structural remains dating from the late Saxon period prompted developers, Linden Homes, to delay building work while investigations take place.


A previous evaluation by Southampton City Council Archaeology Unit found infilled medieval vaults along the High Street and the historic route of French Street on the east and west boundaries of the plot.


Records also showed that there were pits and structural features in the back garden plots dating from as far back as the late Saxon period and up to the 19th century.


Richard Brown, the project manager, has been working on the site since the excavation began.


“It is nice to look at a site of this scale in medieval Southampton,” he explained, “but it’s very unusual to be able to investigate an area of this size.”


“What we have on the site is a line of cellars and some medieval vaults from the 13th century. The tenement area was actually cleared by bombing in the 1940s,” he added.


Among the layers of history was a collapsed 1940s chemist shop with a preserved pharmacy inside including medicine bottles, pots and potions.


 “We have also found some ceramics dating back to the Saxon period. Some Venetian imports, Italian imports as well as some French and German,” explained Richard.


The excavation is currently piecing together the different periods in history of the site.


On the northwest side of the dig are the remains of a structure originating from the 13th century recorded as the great stone houses of Richard of Leicester.


In the 15th century the building was the residence of a Venetian ambassador and in the 17th-18th century hymn writer Isaac Watts lived there. Later in the 18th century it was remodelled and eventually became a post office and brewery.


Work on the site is set to continue until June 2006. For more information visit the Oxford Archaeology website at www.oxfordarch.co.uk



Can you dig it? Glasgow's oldest building found



A TIME team have made a breakthrough discovery after unearthing a medieval bishop's palace dating back to the 14th century.


The archaeologists claim they have uncovered Glasgow's oldest building after finding the ruins. The palace, which sits in Easterhouse in the east end of the city, is believed to date back to 1323 and knocks the current title holder off the historical top spot.


Until now it was thought that Provan Hall, built between 1460 and 1480, was the oldest building in the city.


But the team of investigators, from Headland Archaeology, believe they have unlocked more secrets of the city's forgotten past. Silver coins dating back to the 13th and 14th century and pottery have been discovered on the private land.


Councillor Catherine McMaster, chair of working group Medieval Glasgow, says the find has opened up a new chapter and could boost tourism links. She said: "The bishop's palace is older than the Provan Hall. It means we have data on Glasgow's history that we did not have before."


The exact location of the bishop's residence in Easterhouse is being kept under wraps by officials as work continues into the find. They discovered the residence was surrounded by a moat wall that was used more for visual effect than defence. But experts said it was a substantial building.


Neil Baxter, director of the Glasgow Preservation Trust, said: "We have always believed that until its great trading period started, the city was a minor place. But Glasgow is actually older, bigger and better than we imagined."


The city has been known for its industrial history, but little has been known about its medieval past. City and council leaders are calling for more to be done to promote Glasgow's heritage and claim it will be a major tourist attraction.


This article: http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/scotland.cfm?id=468962006

Last updated: 26-Mar-06 00:40 GMT



Navy Uncovers Centuries-Old Spanish Ship

By MELISSA NELSON, Associated Press Writer

Fri Mar 24, 12:34 AM ET


PENSACOLA, Fla. - Navy construction crews have unearthed a rare Spanish ship that was buried for centuries under sand on Pensacola's Naval Air Station, archaeologist confirmed Thursday.


The vessel could date to the mid-1500s, when the first Spanish settlement in what is now the United States was founded here, the archaeologists said.


But the exposed portion looks more like ships from a later period because of its iron bolts, said Elizabeth Benchley, director of the Archaeology Institute at the University of West Florida.


"There are Spanish shipwrecks in Pensacola Bay," Benchley said. "We have worked on two — one from 1559 and another from 1705. But no one has found one buried on land. This was quite a surprise to everybody."


Construction crews came upon the ship this month while rebuilding the base's swim rescue school, destroyed during Hurricane Ivan in 2004.


The exposed keel of the ship juts upward from the sandy bottom of the pit and gives some guess of the vessel's form. Archaeologists estimated the rest of the ship is buried by about 75 feet of sand.


During initial work to determine the ship's origin, archaeologists found ceramic tiles, ropes and pieces of olive jars. The settlement was founded in 1559; its exact location is a mystery. The Spanish did not return until more than a century later in 1698 at Presidio Santa Maria de Galve, now the naval station.


The French captured and burned the settlement in 1719 but handed Pensacola back to Spain three years later. Hurricanes forced the Spanish to repeatedly rebuild.


The Navy plans to enclose the uncovered portion of the ship, mark the site and move construction over to accommodate archaeological work, officials said.


"We don't have plans to excavate the entire ship," Benchley said. "It's going to be very expensive because it's so deeply buried and we would have to have grant money," she said.


Posted 3/21/2006 11:10 PM



Cold War-era survival supplies found at Brooklyn Bridge

NEW YORK (AP) — In 17 years of working on the city's bridges, Joe Vaccaro has made some unusual finds: a 100-year-old copy of a newspaper, sepia-toned photographs.


But none matched the discovery he and his co-workers made last week in the structural foundations of the Brooklyn Bridge.


There, in the musty dark, the workers found a Cold War-era cache of provisions to have been used in the wake of a nuclear attack: some 350,000 packaged crackers, paper blankets, metal drums for water and medical supplies.


"I've never found anything as significant as this," Vaccaro, a carpentry supervisor, said Tuesday while standing in the attic-like room amid the stockpile.


The artifacts recalled a fearful period in U.S. history a half-century ago, when the country and the Soviet Union were sworn enemies and air-raid sirens and shelters were common.


"This is a treasure of modern history," said Vaccaro's boss, Department of Transportation Commissioner Iris Weinshall.


Weinshall said she has contacted the Civil Defense Museum and the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene about taking the items, which include syringes and Dextran, an intravenous drug.


The Office of Civil Defense, a unit of the Pentagon that coordinated domestic preparedness in the early 1960's, probably put the supplies there, Weinshall said.


It's also possible a city agency was responsible for the stash, first reported Tuesday by The New York Times.


Weinshall said right now there's no way to tell whether the supplies were intended to be used at the bridge in case of an attack or if the bridge was only a storage space.


"Until we get to the bottom — when it was put here, who put it here — we won't know fully," she said.


Some of the items were stamped with two especially significant years in cold-war history: 1957, when the Soviets launched the Sputnik satellite, and 1962, when the Cuban missile crisis seemed to bring the world to the precipice of nuclear destruction.


Fallout shelters were common around the country in the 1950s, but such finds are rare, said John Lewis Gaddis, a historian at Yale University.


"Most of those have been dismantled; the crackers got moldy a very long time ago," he said. "It's kind of unusual to find one fully intact — one that is rediscovered, almost in an archaeological sense."


The 17.5-gallon metal drums, presumably once filled with water, were labeled, "Reuse as a commode." The Civil Defense All-Purpose Survival Crackers were sealed in dozens of metal canisters. One of the canisters, however, had broken open.


Weinshall tasted a cracker.


"It tasted," she said, "like cardboard."