Ancient cave in western France contains rare finds
By PIERRE SAUVEY - Associated Press Writer - 06/03/06
VILHONNEUR, France — A 27,000-year-old human skeleton laid out in a room decorated with ancient art and a crude representation of a face are among the rare finds in a cave in western France, officials said Friday.
The state took over ownership of the cave in the Vilhonneur forest on May 12, the French Culture Ministry said in a statement.
It was only the second time that a human body is known to have been placed in a decorated cave from the Upper Paleolithic Period, the ministry said.
A single face drawn in the cave could be among the world’s oldest known graphic representations of a human face, said Jean-Yves Baratin, archaeology curator for the Poitou-Charentes region.
The face is ‘‘represented in the most elementary way,’’ Baratin said.
He said two pieces of calcite that split were used to form the hair with two black horizontal strokes depicting the eyes. A vertical stroke formed the nose and another horizontal stroke the mouth.
Cavers exploring part of a grotto once used to dispose of animal carcasses discovered the cave in December. The find was announced in February but it was not until Friday that information about what it contained was disclosed.
The famed Lascaux Cave in Montignac, in the southwest Dordogne region, has long been considered one of the finest examples of cave paintings. However, that art dates to 13,000 years, making the Vilhonneur art much older. Another cave, Chauvet, discovered in the mid-1990s in southeast France, features some 300 examples of Paleolithic animal art, some dating back 31,000 years.
Baratin underscored the significance of the human skeleton, a young male, placed inside a decorated room. He said two rib bones were analyzed at a Miami laboratory, dating the skeleton at 27,000 years.
Bison slaughter site offers researchers clues to prehistoric past
Deborah Tetley, CanWest News Service
Published: Saturday, June 03, 2006
PURPLE SPRINGS, Alta. - Buried deep below a shallow southeastern Alberta valley, punctuated by wind-swept sand dunes, vast grassland and aging cow manure, lies evidence of a slaughter that took place 2,500 years ago.
What was once little more than leased Crown land now doubles as a precious archeological dig, which, with each turn of the trowel, is teaching University of Lethbridge researchers what one of Alberta's few known bison kill sites can tell us about our past.
Listening to archeology professor Shawn Bubel tell the story of how a roaming herd met its demise, it's as though she was there when the nomadic hunters stalked, slaughtered and butchered their prey in a single winter kill.
"From what we can tell, the hunters followed the bison into this valley, scattered around the dune and ambushed them," she says, while her team of 14 students meticulously picks away at the dirt.
"They slaughtered about 10, maybe 15, cut them open, ripped them apart for food, chopped their legs off, ripped the ribs open to get the meat, tore the hide off and the bones fell all around here.
"Then they took what they needed, what they could carry and continued on to their camp, which is probably about four kilometres that way, to the Oldman River," says Ms. Bubel.
"That's what we think so far. But we are a long way from completing the picture."
Over the past three years, researchers have spent a total of five months excavating the site.
The bone bed at this relatively secret location near Purple Springs, about 220 kilometres southeast of Calgary, was first discovered by professionals in 2003, when Ms. Bubel, president of the Archaeological Society of Alberta, learned that a local man was desecrating the area. The man dug up bones on his own, and later recruited his children to help, Ms. Bubel says.
Angry archeologists nicknamed him the "pot hunter."
He and his family were spotted carting shovels and pick axes into the area, unearthing artifacts and removing them without a permit -- an act that has been illegal in Alberta since 1973.
Although no charges were laid, prosecution carries a fine of up to $50,000 and/or one year in prison.
Once RCMP and Alberta government officials were notified, Ms. Bubel was sent to the site to investigate the extent of damage and to map the land. On that first visit, she discovered evidence that assured her the area was potentially a bison kill site.
The first dig began in May 2004. By September, radio carbon dating determined the artifacts were 2,500 years old.
On May 1 of this year, after a hiatus from the dig in 2005, a University of Lethbridge crew returned to the Fincastle Kill Site, so named because it's located on the hamlet of Fincastle grazing reserve.
They have spent the past month sifting through two areas, each smaller than the previous dig.
It's a finicky field study, the students say, although rewarding.
At this dig, seven teams of two work in roped-off sections, one-metre square, for up to 10 hours a day.
One student squats on the ground and gently searches five-centimetre deep layers, uncovering leg bones, ankles, tails, vertebrae, toes, intact jaws and teeth of bison young and old.
The student also finds the weapons used to kill them, plus fire-broken rock used to boil water.
A second student records the data.
The team will keep digging down until the soil meets clay.
Once the five-centimetre layer has been removed, the dirt is then sifted. Students collect pieces smaller than a toddler's tooth and file them away in plain brown envelopes.
So far, the researchers have found nearly 7,000 clues left behind by the hunters.
Ms. Bubel says less than 5% of the site has been studied. But the work doesn't end with the excavation.
Indeed, it's just beginning.
That's where Ang Watts, the "bone collector," comes in.
The 26-year-old master's student identifies and catalogues all the recovered bone, fragments and flakes in a lab at the University of Lethbridge, once they are cleaned.
"We're finding a lot of legs, long bones," she says. "On many of them, we can tell that they have been fractured by humans. They have patterns where we know they have been smashed through."
It's Rena Varsakis's job to study the spears, darts and arrows used to slay the animals.
She's determined that 85% of the projectile points are fashioned from Knife River flint, a glassy quartz material that originates in what is now North and South Dakota.
"We know the tools were brought here because they don't fit with the archeological history of Alberta," says Ms. Varsakis, a graduate student.
"Every day is exciting, trying to figure out our prehistoric history, making a real contribution to understanding this time period, so that we know more about the people who came before us."
Ms. Bubel estimates it will be at least four years before the entire collection will reach its final destination at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.
If another permit is granted, the dig will resume next May.
The professor and her students feel uneasy about leaving the site for another year, given the number of people who know where the dig is but don't appreciate the historic value.
"We care about this place. We dig with precision, and painstakingly preserve every artifact," Ms. Bubel says. "But looters come in here with shovels and disturb the place. It's sickening."
Taber RCMP say two men considered suspects in the illegal digging in 2003 and 2004 have not been charged, and the investigation was closed after they agreed to return the stolen property to the Archaeological Society of Alberta.
"The looting has stopped," says RCMP Sgt. Chris Griffin.
"With the advice of Crown counsel, we gave the men the benefit of the doubt and explained the severity of what they were doing."
Sgt. Griffin says concerns by the students regarding leaving the site unattended for a year are warranted.
"It's a Catch-22 because on one hand, it's such an important find, you want people to know about it, but when we talk about it, we invite the unscrupulous kind to wander in and search," he says.
"We might as well put up a sign saying, 'Hey, we have something hot here, come look.' And we don't have the resources to sit there 24 hours a day."
Ancient fig clue to first farming
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News
Ancient figs found in an archaeological site in the Jordan Valley may represent one of the earliest forms of agriculture, scientists report.
The carbonised fruits date between 11,200 and 11,400 years old.
The US and Israeli researchers say the figs are a variety that could have only been grown with human intervention.
The team, writing in the journal Science, says the find marks the point when humans turned from hunting and gathering to food cultivation.
Nine small figs, measuring just 18mm (0.7in) across, along with 313 smaller fig fragments were discovered in a house in an early Neolithic village, called Gilgal I, in the Jordan Valley.
The researchers from Harvard University in the US and Bar-Ilan University in Israel believe the figs are an early domestic crop rather than a wild breed.
After examining the figs, they determined that it was a self-pollinating, or parthenocarpic, variety, like the kind we eat today.
In nature, parthenocarpic fig trees appear now and again by a chance genetic mutation; but because they do not produce seeds, they cannot reproduce alone - they require a shoot to be removed and replanted.
Ofer Bar-Yosef, an archaeologist from Harvard University and an author on the Science paper, said: "Once the parthenocarpic mutation occurred, humans must have recognised that the resulting fruits do not produce new trees, and fig tree cultivation became a common practice.
"In this intentional act of planting a specific variant of fig tree, we can see the beginnings of agriculture. This edible fig would not have survived if not for human intervention."
The figs were well preserved and found together with wild barley, wild oats and acorns. The team says this indicates these early Neolithic people mixed food cultivation with hunting and gathering.
"This sort of find helps us to learn about human behaviour at the beginning of the Neolithic revolution," said Professor Bar-Yosef.
"Before this, you had about 2.5 million years of hunters and gathers in various locations around the world.
"But the Neolithic revolution was all about changing the relationship between humans and nature. Instead of just being consumers of whatever was growing in the wild, we started to plant and cultivate and corral animals, and so on."
The researchers say the carbonised figs pre-date the cultivation of other domesticated staples such as wheat, barley and legumes. They believe the fruit may mark the first known example of agriculture.
But other carbonised finds, such as domesticated rice found in Korea thought to date from about 15,000 years ago, have made defining the exact origins of agriculture complicated.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2006/06/02 00:45:27 GMT
© BBC MMVI
Scientists find ancient imperial garden
Archeologists have developed a clear image of a 2,000-year-old imperial garden found in Guangdong Province by studying more than 100,000 seeds found in an ancient well at the site.
Various kinds of vegetation including banyan trees and waxberries were planted more than 2,000 years ago in the imperial garden, which belonged to the Southern Yue state, archeologists said.
The garden is the oldest imperial garden excavated in China.
"It was without doubt an elegant garden decorated by a plethora of flowers and trees," said Zhao Zhijun, a researcher with the Institute of Archeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
"Members of the royal family of the Southern Yue enjoyed beautiful scenery in the garden while tasting delicious fruits such as lychees, melons, persimmon, dates, grapes and apples," Zhao said.
A large amount of waxberry stones and melon seeds have been discovered in an ancient well in the garden. This is the first time melon remains were found in Guangdong Province, according to archeologists.
Archeologists also found wax gourd seeds in the well, which are the earliest to be discovered in the country.
"It's widely believed in academic circles that wax gourd originated in China. But evidence has never backed that up until we discovered these wax gourd seeds in the garden," Zhao said. The seeds not only tell archeologists about the life of nobility of the Southern Yue state, but also the long history of the cultivation of fruit and vegetables in China, said Zhao.
Ancient Calendar Unearthed in Peru
By Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
June 2, 2006— Archaeologists have discovered an enormous prehistoric calendar, formed by sculptures arranged in a circle, at the Temple of the Fox in Buena Vista, Peru.
The calendar, which dates to 2200 B.C., is the oldest known structure of its kind found in the Americas.
Similar monuments erected by the Mayans of Mexico have also been found, but those have dated to approximately 2,000 years ago.
There have been European versions too.
“Early solstice markers are known in Ireland with dates earlier than Buena Vista, but not, to my knowledge, with multiple instruments,” said Robert Benfer, who oversaw the project and is a professor emeritus of anthropology at the University of Missouri-Columbia.
“The most famous would be the case of (Egyptian ruler) Amenhotep, who at 1,500 B.C. had statues erected to gaze at the solstice when the Nile was about to flood,” Benfer said.
The Peruvian calendar would have been a dramatic sight for onlookers 4,000 years ago. Its towering sculptures— made of mud plaster mixed with grass and covered with clay— were painted bright yellow and red.
The researchers presented the findings recently at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Benfer told Discovery News the temple and its sculptures seem linked to astronomical alignments that would have guided practitioners of flood plain agriculture, which persists in the region.
Major celestial events, such as the rising and setting of the sun during equinoxes and solstices, would have drawn lines connecting points at the temple’s entrance, sculptures, surrounding ridges and chambers.
One chamber creates a line aimed toward the rising sun on Dec. 21, which marks the season when floodwaters begin to rise. On March 21, when these waters recede, the same line points towards the Andean constellation of the fox.
Field director Neil Duncan, who worked with Peruvian archaeologist Bernardino Ojeda, told Discovery News the chambers contained remnants of offerings.
“The offerings primarily consist of plant remains: cotton and cotton seeds, fruits such as lucuma and guava, squash and gourds, beans and grass,” Duncan explained.
He added that a sunken pit in the center of the temple also contained shellfish, crab and mussel shells, and anchovy-sized fish bones.
“These are like ritual offerings, given the context in which we found them,” Duncan said. “This type of ritual, where food or other offerings are given to a deity or deities to appease them or secure supernatural insurance, are ubiquitous all over the world.”
The researchers found no evidence of human sacrifice, but they did discover a cotton-shrouded mummy of a woman in the fetal position.
“It is a very ancient Andean tradition to bury dead in places of power,” explained Duncan. “This site certainly would fit the bill.”
Perhaps the most striking object found at the temple was a large personified disk that frowns at the sunset on June 21, the traditional start of the harvest.
The ancients may have enjoyed a bit of dry humor, given all of the upcoming work.
Hugo Ludeña, a researcher at the Universidad Nacional Federico Villarreal in Lima, however, thinks the frowning face represents Pacha Mama, an Earth mother goddess who became sad when the sun set.
Benfer and his team plan to continue excavations at the Buena Vista site this summer.
Timucuan village discovered in St. Augustine
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. -- A Timucuan village, dating back at least 700 years, was discovered equipped with cooking vessels and pits that still contained animal bones, in a lot being cleared for home development, the city's archaeologist said Thursday.
The remnants were found earlier this year and date from 1100 to 1300 A.D. They were unearthed in a lot that had been vacant for the past 440 years, said Carl Halbirt, the city's archaeologist.
"This is the most significant find in St. Augustine for this period," he said. "There are remnants of Indian structures and cooking and trash pits. It's giving us a much better picture of their diet, way of life and trade interactions."
Also found were pits containing oyster and clam shells and animal bones from fish, rabbit, deer and raccoon.
"Their ceramic type goes back hundreds of years," he said. "By the time the Seminoles got here, the Timucuans had vanished."
Plans to build the homes on the two-acre lot have been postponed.
Excavations should end by the end of the month, Halbirt said.
Information from: The St. Augustine Record,
Last modified: June 01. 2006 8:33PM
Ancient scroll may yield religious secrets
By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS, Associated Press Writer
Thu Jun 1, 9:16 AM ET
ATHENS, Greece - A collection of charred scraps kept in a Greek museum's storerooms are all that remains of what archaeologists say is Europe's oldest surviving book — which may hold a key to understanding early monotheistic beliefs.
More than four decades after the Derveni papyrus was found in a 2,400-year-old nobleman's grave in northern Greece, researchers said Thursday they are close to uncovering new text — through high-tech digital analysis — from the blackened fragments left after the manuscript was burnt on its owner's funeral pyre.
Large sections of the mid-4th century B.C. book — a philosophical treatise on ancient religion — were read years ago, but never officially published.
Now, archaeologist Polyxeni Veleni believes U.S. imaging and scanning techniques used to decipher the Judas Gospel — which portrays Judas not as a sinister betrayer but as Jesus' confidant — will considerably expand and clarify that text.
"I believe some 10-20 percent of new text will be added, which however will be of crucial importance," said Veleni, director of the Thessaloniki Archaeological Museum, where the manuscript is kept.
"This will fill in many gaps, we will get a better understanding of the sequence and the existing text will become more complete," Veleni told The Associated Press.
The scroll, originally several yards of papyrus rolled around two wooden runners, was found half burnt in 1962. It dates to around 340 B.C., during the reign of Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great.
"It is the oldest surviving book, if you can use that word for a scroll, in western tradition," Veleni said. "This was a unique find, of exceptional importance."
Greek philosophy expert Apostolos Pierris said the text may be a century older.
"It was probably written by somebody from the circle of the philosopher Anaxagoras, in the second half of the 5th century B.C.," he said.
Anaxagoras, who lived in ancient Athens, is thought to have been the teacher of Socrates and was accused by his contemporaries of atheism.
Last month, experts from Brigham Young University in Utah used multi-spectral digital analysis to create enhanced pictures of the text, which will be studied by Oxford University papyrologist Dirk Obbink and Pierris, and published by the end of 2007.
"We were now able to read even the most carbonized sections, as there were pieces that were completely blackened and nobody could make out whether there were letters on them," Veleni said.
The scroll contains a philosophical treatise on a lost poem describing the birth of the gods and other beliefs focusing on Orpheus, the mythical musician who visited the underworld to reclaim his dead love and enjoyed a strong cult following in the ancient world.
The Orpheus cult raised the notion of a single creator god — as opposed to the multitude of deities the ancient Greeks believed in — and influenced later monotheistic faiths.
"In a way, it was a precursor of Christianity," Pierris said. "Orphism believed that man's salvation depended on his knowledge of the truth."
Veleni said the manuscript "will help show the influence of Orphism on later monotheistic religions."
The Derveni grave, about five miles northwest of Thessaloniki, was part of a rich cemetery belonging to the ancient city of Lete.
"It belonged to a very rich man, a Macedonian nobleman, warrior and athlete who had a lot of very important and valuable artifacts in his grave," Veleni said. Finds included metal vases, a gold wreath and weapons.
Associated Press Writer Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki contributed to this story.
Newly found mosaic is optical illusion
John Hooper in Rome
Saturday June 3, 2006
Archaeologists studying an ancient mosaic found by workers laying cable south of Rome have been astonished to discover that it is an optical illusion.
Viewed one way up it is a bald old man with a beard, but turned the other way round it is a beardless youth.
Roberto Cereghino, a government archaeological official, told the Italian daily newspaper Corriere della Sera that it was "a very beautiful work, of immense significance".
He said it appeared to be a depiction of Bacchus.
The double face is surrounded by objects that were used in Bacchanalian rites: an ancient musical instrument, the sistrum, a two-handed drinking bowl, and a priestly wand. The mosaic's optical trickery may be linked to the fact that Bacchus was the god of wine.
Mosaics containing optical illusions have been found in north Africa, but this is thought to be the first discovery of such a work in Italy.
The double head was unearthed last month in an industrial area near the town of Pomezia that was previously thought to have been thoroughly explored for archaeological remains.
The mosaic has since been removed from the site for restoration, and there are plans to put it on display in Rome later this year.
Perfect Bronze Age skeleton in the heart of Rome
NICK PISA IN ROME
ARCHAELOGISTS were yesterday celebrating the discovery of an intact 3,000-year-old Bronze Age skeleton in the heart of ancient Rome.
Experts said the body was that of a woman and that she was probably the wife of a tribal leader as she was buried with four bronze bracelets, a ring, two hair-grips and an amber necklace.
Burials within ancient Rome were rare, with cremations more common.
The find has excited experts not just because it dates back to 1,000 years before Christ, but also because it predates the very founding of Rome at 745BC.
What has also amazed historians is that the woman, who was aged about 30, had a perfect set of teeth.
Anna De Santis, the archaeologist leading the dig, said: "It's a fascinating discovery because it is the first burial site that we have found in this particular area - the rest have all been cremations.
"What is also interesting is that she has a full set of perfect teeth, so one would imagine her flashing a beautiful smile. At 5ft 7in she would also have been above the average height for the period, so with her beautiful smile and flowing hair kept in place with bronze hairpieces, one can picture a very beautiful woman."
The skeleton was found in the Forum of Caesar in central Rome, close to the famous "wedding cake" monument of Piazza Venezia.
Three thousand years ago the Forum was marshland and only began to develop into the cornerstone of ancient Rome 500 years later.
10th-Century Skeleton of Woman Unearthed in Rome
Tuesday, May 30, 2006
ROME — Archaeologists said Tuesday they have dug up a woman skeleton dating to the 10th century B.C. in an ancient necropolis in the heart of Rome.
The well-preserved skeleton appears to be that of a woman aged about 30, said Anna De Santis, one of the archaeologists who took part in the excavations under the Caesar's Forum, part of the sprawling complex of the Imperial Forums in central Rome.
An amber necklace and four pins were also found near the about 5.25 feet-long skeleton, she said.
The bones, dug up Monday, would likely be put on display in a museum after being examined further, De Santis said.
It was the first skeleton to be found in the 3,000-year-old necropolis, she said. Early this year, a funerary urn that contained human ashes, as well as bone fragments that appeared to be from a sheep, were found in one of the necropolis' tombs.
Alessandro Delfino, another archaeologist who took part in the excavations, said Monday's discovery highlighted a "social change" in the funerary habits of the people who dwelled in the area, from incinerating to burying the dead.
Experts have said the necropolis was destined for high-ranking personalities — such as warriors and ancient priests — heading the tribes and clans that lived in small villages scattered on hills near the area that later spawned one of the world's greatest civilizations.
Bocksten Man shows his face after 700 years
Published: 2nd June 2006 12:15 CET
Nearly 70 years after a boy made an exciting find in a bog south of Gothenburg in 1936, the skeletal remains of a person, now known as the “Bocksten man,” are now on display for all to see.
Professor Claes Lauritzen made a copy of the skull and had doll maker Oscar Nilsson reconstruct the face with clay and silicon. Thursday’s exhibit opening allows the public , for the first time in nearly 700 years, to see how Bocksten Man may have appeared.
Using skills similar to those used in forensic medicine, researchers now have an idea of what the man looked like, under what conditions he lived, and how he died.
According to Lauritzen, a skull expert, the 30 to 35-year-old man was believed to have lived in the 14th century, and died as a result of three blows to the head.
Other theories about the man’s death suggest he was murdered for recruiting soldiers. Another theory says he was a tax collector.
Bocksten Man wore a cloak – which was still in relatively good condition - a coned hood, and pants of wool. All are all evidence of the man’s Middle Age era, and his body leads researchers to believe he was a man of higher social standing.
Research on the Bocksten Man continues. It is still unknown what color eyes and hair he might have had or why he had a branch from a straw roof through his chest.
The exhibit is at the Länsmuseet in Varberg, close to where the body was found.
Roman remains face obliteration at Southwark site
Wednesday May 31, 2006
Archaeologists fear 1,000 years of history may be shovelled into skips as time runs out on a key site in London. Harvey Sheldon, an officer of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society, called the situation at the church of St George the Martyr, in Southwark, where substantial evidence of Roman buildings may be destroyed without being recorded, "a disgrace".
Yesterday he made a last ditch appeal to church authorities to give more time for excavation, before heavy machinery moves onto the site.
Southwark, once seen by archaeologists as a nondescript marshy suburb on the wrong side of the river from the Roman city of London, has through recent excavations emerged as a key part of the Roman administration of Britain. Other sites a stone's throw away have produced startling Roman finds, including a tomb claimed to be that of a woman gladiator, the oldest inscription with the placename "Londinium", and a monumental bronze foot, all that remains of a huge public statue. Dr Sheldon believes the evidence from a contemporary major Roman building is now about to be destroyed without record at St George's.
The archaeologists from the Museum of London Archaeology Service, who are working against the clock under contract for the church authorities, within the crypt, are now clearing out of the site. The construction work is part of a lottery-backed project to lower the crypt floor to make it suitable for community work.
Machinery is due next week for pile-driving and underpinning work, which will destroy anything in the archaeological layer that has not already been salvaged or recorded.
Dr Sheldon - who has himself directed many excavations in Southwark, including the Rose Tudor theatre site - believes the losses will include brick foundations, which may be from a major Roman building fronting onto Watling Street, one of the most important Roman roads whose precise route through the area has never been traced.
The present Georgian church, with its stepped tower, is something of a landmark in the heart of London's Borough district. The church has many associations with Charles Dickens, whose father and family were imprisoned for debt in the Marshalsea nearby, and who set parts of Little Dorrit in the church.
Dr Sheldon believes at least a month's further archaeological investigation is needed, which he estimates would cost £50,000.
"I have seen them myself, substantial brick foundations, clearly Roman from the quantities of Roman pottery coming out of the trenches. Levelling the site means that a metre of history is going to be scoured off the site and lost forever."
The Reverend Maggie Durran, the development consultant for St George's, said: "We are very keen on our archaeology, and we have done the very best we can by this site, but we have an absolute deadline of this week. Archaeologists have to understand that if their budget is spreading, everyone else's is shrinking."
Dr Sheldon says the problem lies in the way the brief for the excavation was drawn: he has no criticism of the team's actual work. Under government guidelines developers, in this case the church, must pay for rescue archaeology when building work involves destroying historical evidence. Work at St George's apparently slowed down when the archaeologists uncovered hundreds more buried human remains than expected. English Heritage gave an emergency grant for extra diggers over the weekend to recover medieval terracotta fragments judged of national importance which were also uncovered in the excavation.
Roman gem discovery
01 June 2006
TWO newly qualified archaeology graduates say they have uncovered a massive Roman villa complex in the Mendip Hills.
The Weston-based graduates used specialist geophysics equipment to reveal what are thought to be two 60m buildings forming a prestigious courtyard villa with a separate bath building.
The buildings probably belonged to a rich landowner from the second or third century AD.
Limited excavation work at the site near Cheddar has thrown up patterned wall plaster and ancient cooking equipment and could hide a treasure of mosaic tiles and other artefacts.
But treasure hunters have already struck the site once and its exact location is being kept hidden.
Archaeologists Glyn Wellington and Carol Hughes have been working at the location for over a year, together with John Mathews of Winscombe.
Glyn, aged 53, graduated from a part- time degree course last year.
He said: "The house probably belonged to someone of high status, it could have been a very rich landowner.
"We only excavated a two by one meter area inside the building and every layer contained Roman materials. If we'd carried on we would have found a tremendous amount.
"It was very exciting to find it. We were shocked more than anything else. We had a world expert visit the site and he said we hadn't found the main structure yet. I think this could be huge.
"We think we've found a bath house too. From the geophysics work it could have a plunge pool as well, which would mean there would be mosaics there. Roman villas usually had a bath, it was part of their culture.
"We had to close a dig because of treasure hunters last year. Any Roman site is prolific in finds - it's full of pottery and debris.
"Raiders came late at night and started digging in our trench. We filled it in, which stops them dead."
The site has also thrown up 80 Mesolithic and Neolithic flints, aged 8,000 to 10,000-years-old, including a well-preserved arrow head.
Glyn and Carol also used geophysics equipment, where land is scanned by a machine for structures hidden underground, to uncover another Roman villa in Cheddar.
The pair uncovered a 60m villa, complete with a bath suite, which was under the lawn at the vicarage in Parsons Pen.
Excavations some decades ago aimed to find a Roman villa in the village, but had unsuccessfully focussed at the Kings of Wessex Community School site.
Glyn and Carol are due to report their findings to Somerset County Council soon.
Navy discovers centuries-old Spanish ship buried in sand
By Associated Press
June 2, 2006
PENSACOLA, Fla. - Navy construction crews have unearthed a rare Spanish ship that was buried for centuries under sand on Pensacola's Naval Air Station, archaeologists confirmed.
The vessel could date to the mid-16th century, 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 last 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 site of 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.