Cambridge scholar makes rare 30,000-year-old find


Archaeologists have unearthed a pair of tiny bone fragments dating back almost 30,000 years and featuring minute designs carved by some of our earliest European ancestors.


The thumbnail-sized bone fragments are engraved with parallel lines and match similar artefacts uncovered in the same area during the 19th century. They were carved by hunter-gatherers as they slowly made their way north in pursuit of moving populations of mammoth and reindeer 25-30,000 years ago.


The unusual find was made by a Cambridge scholar, Becky Farbstein, who has been working at Predmosti in north Moravia, in the Czech Republic. The excavation team comprises archaeologists from both the University of Cambridge and the Czech Republic.


Experts are, however, still not sure what significance the markings had and are trying to build up a collection to interpret their meaning. So far such finds have been few and far between.


“There has not been much in the way of decorated objects found at this site for a very long time,” Miss Farbstein said. “They are very similar in design to other decorations that were found a century ago. The designs are pretty enigmatic and understanding their meaning is still a problem. But for that reason any addition to the amount of art we have is valuable as it will enable us to piece that meaning together.”


Miss Farbstein spotted the fragments while sorting through a mixture of solid objects left over from a filtration process which the team are using to identify plant remains. Fortunately, she recently began studying this important collection of early decorated forms and recognised their significance.


“Both pieces preserve a regular series of parallel lines engraved on one side of a bone fragment,” she said. “The lines are the same distance from each other on both pieces, suggesting the two fragments might have originally been part of the same decorated object. The character of this decoration is very similar to other engraved designs found in the past at Predmosti and this addition to the corpus of enigmatic decoration from this site is very exciting.”


The joint excavation team, from the Institute of Archaeology at the Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic and the University of Cambridge, is led by Professors Jiri Svoboda and Martin Jones. Predmosti, on the outskirts of the north Moravian town of Prerov, sits at a gap in the central European mountains, the start of a corridor through which these early hunters gradually migrated on to the North European Plain.


Just over 100 years ago, brickyard workers in Predmosti discovered vast quantities of mammoth bone and tusk. Many of the fragments had been cut, broken and burnt by the human communities who once lived there and a few had been fashioned into human or animal shapes, or incised with these enigmatic designs. Much of the evidence was lost to the brickyards, but the fragments that remain form the focus of both the current dig and an open-air museum sponsored by the City of Prerov to celebrate and present to visitors their world-famous prehistory.


Source: University of Cambridge



Spy pics reveal ancient settlements

August 03, 2006 06:51pm

Article from: AAP


AUSTRALIAN researchers studying declassified spy satellite images have found widespread remains of ancient human settlements dating back 130,000 years in Syria.

The photographs were taken by United States military surveillance satellites operating under the CIA and defence-led Corona program in the late 1960s.


The team of researchers travelled to the Euphrates River Valley in April and June and searched sites they had painstakingly identified using the images, which were only declassified in the late 1990s.


Group leader Mandy Mottram, a PhD student at the Australian National University's School of Archaeology and Anthropology, said the evidence of human life found in the area included a hilltop Byzantine basilica, a 24 hectare fortified town dating to the Early Bronze Age, Early Islamic pottery factories and a hilltop complex of megalithic tombs.


Ms Mottram said the researchers' trained eyes could spot small changes in the landscape, such as a different soil colour, that could indicate a former human settlement.


The images are particularly valuable because they show the landscape prior to its present rapid agricultural development.


"It's the guide for us to go out and have a look in that specific area," she said.


"It's been actually really brilliantly helpful for us. We've had a really, really high strike rate, I would say about 95 per cent."


Some of the artefacts found could dramatically change the way historians think of the area's early inhabitants, Ms Mottram said.


For example, contrary to a common belief that rural civilisations were experiencing economic and social decline from the mid-6th century, the team found evidence of widespread prosperity including many settlements and large quantities of pottery.


The researchers hope to establish the first complete record of human occupation in the area, beginning with the arrival from Africa of early human groups up to one million years ago.


They have already found tools from the Middle Palaeolithic period that are between 130,000 and 40,000 years old, and could have been made by either Neanderthals or early modern humans, as well as a few Acheulian tools that could date back several hundred thousand years.


Ms Mottram said the group was still analysing images of the items and structures they found and hoped to return to Syria next April if they secured funding.



Golden dagger from 3,000 BC found


SOFIA (Reuters) - A golden dagger dating to 3,000 BC, plus 500 golden ornaments, have been found in a Thracian tomb in central Bulgaria, an archaeologist said on Sunday.


"It's a really sensational discovery," Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of the Bulgarian national museum, told Reuters.


"The dagger, which we believe is made of gold and platinum, most probably belonged to a Thracian ruler or to a priest."


"No item of this type was found even in the legendary city of Troy," Dimitrov added, referring to ruins in Turkey widely regarded as the site of one of the leading cities of antiquity.


He said the 16-cm (6.3-inch) dagger had been dated to 3,000 BC, was in perfect condition and is extremely sharp.


The new findings come from a tomb discovered two years ago near the village of Dubovo in central Bulgaria. Last year, archaeologists found more than 15,000 golden bits and pieces there from which the restorers assembled several necklaces.


Little is known about Thracians who lived on the fringes of the Greek and Roman civilisations, often intermingling and clashing with the more advanced cultures.


Some experts say Thracians settled on what is now Bulgaria, Romania, northern Greece and Turkey's European territory from as early as 4,000 BC until they were absorbed in around 45 AD.


"This significant find confirmed that people in this region were familiar with what was then high technology in metal processing," Dimitrov said.


He said the items may have been used for ritual sacrifices.


Archaelogists have discovered a large number of artefacts in Bulgaria's Thracian tombs in recent decades, providing most of what is known of the their culture, as they had no written language and left no enduring records.


(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.


This article: http://news.scotsman.com/latest.cfm?id=1140022006


Last updated: 06-Aug-06 16:01 BST



Another New Tomb in the Valley of the Kings?

August 3, 2006


A radar survey in 2000 had pinpointed KV63, the tomb excavated earlier this year. It has now been announced that this same radar survey may have revealed another tomb.


From 1998 to 2002, the Amarna Royal Tombs Project (ARTP), led by Nicholas Reeves, undertook controlled stratigraphic excavation and geophysical surveying in the central area of the supposedly worked-out Valley of the Kings. Its impetus was both theoretical and practical, according to the project's website (www.valleyofthekings.org). It was influenced by a study of the immediate post-Amarna burials Tomb KV55 and Tomb KV62 (Tutankhamun) and what these two tombs seemed to reveal about other possible burials of the period in the immediate vicinity. And it was driven by a physical threat that the rubble fill of the Valley, and along with it most of the archaeology, might be removed wholesale to combat the seriously damaging effects of flash-flooding on the open tombs. "My particular quarry was the burial place of Nefertiti, Akhenaten's wife and coregent (who, I concluded, had been buried in the Valley as and when she died)," says Reeves. Also of interest were the "whereabouts of Akhenaten's secondary consort Kiya, his second daughter Meketaten and other lesser members of the royal family who had originally been interred at El-Amarna." As the work progressed, however, Reeves discovered that extensive key areas in the Valley were archaeologically intact, and priorities necessarily changed.


But the project was brought to a halt in 2002. Reeves was falsely accused of involvement in antiquities smuggling and his permit was revoked. In August 2005, he was officially cleared of any wrongdoing by Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), though not allowed to return to his work in the Valley. In the interim, the area under investigation by ARTP had begun to be excavated by Otto Schaden and a team from the University of Memphis, which had been at work on KV10, the nearby tomb of Amenmesse. In 2005, Schaden found the top of the shaft leading to KV63, not knowing that it had been detected during geophysical prospecting by ARTP in 2000. While admitting an understandable "obvious disappointment," Reeves states that it was "Otto Schaden who physically uncovered it and confirmed its character. Under those circumstances there can be no question that the credit for actual discovery should go to him and to the University of Memphis." Reeves immediately shared his geophysical evidence for the existence of KV63 with Dr. Zahi Hawass and the SCA and with Schaden and his colleagues. (For KV63, see the the excavation web site www.kv-63.com and our coverage, with links at www.archaeology.org/online/reviews/kv63/kv63.html.)


What Reeves did not reveal at this stage--because ARTP's survey data was still under review--was that the radar had revealed what appears to be yet another tomb some 15 meters due north of KV63. Reeves spoke to ARCHAEOLOGY about what this feature might represent and what the implications might be for future research in the Valley of the Kings.


This certainly looks similar to the radar images of what proved to be the shaft of KV63. You've labeled it "KV64" on your website, but do we know it's a tomb?


You never know anything for certain until a feature is excavated--and the tentative nature of the find is reflected in the use of quotation marks: "KV64." Radar is a less than straightforward technology to interpret, as you know. But I have every faith in the skills of our radar specialist, Hirokatsu Watanabe, one of the best in the world, with wide experience both in Japan itself and in Peru. He's confident that what we have here is the same as we had with KV63--a significant void, a tomb.


When did you detect "KV64"?


The anomaly first showed up in the autumn of 2000 during Watanabe's radar survey of our concession, and was necessarily shelved pending a negotiation of our return to the site--a return which of course never happened. The discovery of KV63 by Otto Schaden prompted us to look again at our radar data--now helpfully "calibrated," so to speak, by the physical uncovering of that find.


How do you and your radar specialist Hirokatsu Watanabe interpret the new radar images?


Radar is a tricky technology, but well-suited, it seems, to the Valley of the Kings terrain. The radar signal is emitted as a pulse, with the time and the force of the reflection echo measured and appearing on screen as real-time data. It's important to note that these data are mere patterns and do not represent the actual form or dimension of the object detected. These patterns have to be analyzed as aggregates of arcs, with the display colors varying according to the force and velocity of the various reflection echoes. Different types of underground features nevertheless produce distinctive screen patterns: a pipe, for example, will generate a couple of nested arcs; a ditch a cross-pattern above a couple of nested arcs; and a void or underground chamber--which is the intriguing prospect we seem to have here--a distinctive pattern of radiating arcs: "KV64." Located at some considerable depth, in a part of the Valley which has been out of bounds to most historical excavators, it's a feature which I guess hasn't seen the light of day for several millennia.


The valley of the Kings near the tomb of Tutankhamun (KV62). Red dots mark the approximate positions of KV63 and "KV64" as established by ARTP radar survey in 2000 (copyright © Amarna Royal Tombs Project 2006) [LARGER IMAGE]


Excitement was high with the opening of KV63, and people were tallying which pharaohs and queens were unaccounted for. Are there any clues as to what--or who--KV64 might hold?


It's been evident since 1997 that towards the end of Tutankhamun's reign the royal tomb at el-Amarna was evacuated and its occupants and the lighter tomb equipment transferred to Thebes for safety (the heavy stuff seems to have been left in situ at el-Amarna and smashed to prevent inappropriate reuse).


A close study of the tombs KV55 (see "Who's in Tomb 55") and KV62 (Tutankhamun) reveals how the process actually worked. Brought to the Valley of the Kings en masse, the Amarna burial furniture seems to have been dipped into first by the necropolis administration to help prepare a funerary equipment for Tutankhamun himself. What was left over was then redivided out among its original owners who were assigned fresh tombs in the Valley of the Kings. That's the reason Tutankhamun's core burial equipment is essentially made up of reused, secondhand stuff. And that's the explanation for KV55--why the tomb is such a hotch-potch of altered and adapted Amarna material.


Who else from this group is left to find? Well, several women--Akhenaten's secondary wife Kiya, for one; pharaoh's second daughter, Meketaten, for another. But there's Nefertiti also to consider--the great royal wife who in later years functioned as Akhenaten's co-regent. Her regal burial equipment--wholly Osirian in character and most likely prepared for a Theban interment--was also drawn upon to prepare a burial for Tutankhamun. The likelihood is that the lady herself was buried in the Valley of the Kings, too. Within "KV64"? I don't know. We shall just have to wait and see.


Why did you release this data now?


Because of the discovery and nature of KV63. It was clearly only a matter of time before the hunt was on in earnest for the further tomb which that deposit evidently signaled. It was becoming apparent to several observers that KV63 is to the Valley's next undiscovered tomb what the KV54 embalming cache was to the tomb of Tutankhamun. My principal fear was the impact that realization would have on the surrounding, less glamorous and certainly more vulnerable archaeology of the site: I don't want to see it damaged in a random, aimless hunt for more tombs. Of course I'm not against finding new tombs--how could I be?--but the work has to be done in a controlled fashion. I want to remove the element of chance, to focus any search. Public disclosure will hopefully do just that--point the way and reduce the danger and amount of collateral damage. I hope, too, it will provide a breathing space for archaeology, time for some sort of considered excavation procedure to be formulated for dealing with such a tomb by the wider international archaeological community--this is after all a World Heritage Site--and set in place by the Supreme Council of Antiquities.


Can you expand on what you mean by "less glamorous and certainly more vulnerable archaeology of the site"?


My aim in posting our data was not to claim a prize for discovering the next Tutankhamun. It was to alert people to the immense potential the Valley of the Kings still holds, despite two centuries of serious archaeological abuse. As we've demonstrated, there are indeed new tombs to be found; as important, though, is our discovery of extensive areas of intact stratigraphy which have by a miracle survived beneath the tourist paths. This stratigraphy is immensely significant for the history of the Valley and, properly treated, capable of providing a context for much of what has been dug up so badly in the past. The emphasis here is on the words properly treated. The legacy is a fragile one. If not excavated systematically and with care, by specialist archaeologists, if allowed simply to be dug through in a manic search for more tombs, then this contextualizing data will be lost for good--a unique chance missed for ever. What I want from the announcement of "KV64" is for the treasure potential of the site to focus attention on the less spectacular though just as important aspects of work in the Valley of the Kings. We need to rein in our natural desire for more tombs, for the quick fix, to systematize our efforts and put a lot more emphasis, while we can, on every aspect of the Valley's miraculously preserved record.


What steps do you think should be taken--or not taken--next?


Archaeology in the Valley of the Kings is in many ways at a crossroads. The perceived lack of potential which since Tutankhamun had kept it safe is now gone for good. Do we forge ahead as in the old days, ripping through the ground, blinded to context like Loret, Davis, Carnarvon by the prospect of more tombs and the glint of gold? Or do we stop and reassess--formulate a systematic program of work; establish and publish a formal protocol for excavators on how to deal with what might turn up? I think the answer is obvious.


© 2006 by the Archaeological Institute of America




X-rays reveal Archimedes secrets

By Jonathan Fildes

Science and technology reporter, BBC News


A series of hidden texts written by the ancient Greek mathematician Archimedes are being revealed by US scientists.


Until now, the pages have remained obscured by paintings and texts laid down on top of the original writings.


Using a non-destructive technique known as X-ray fluorescence, the researchers are able to peer through these later additions to read the underlying text.


The goatskin parchment records key details of Archimedes' work, considered the foundation of modern mathematics.


The writings include the only Greek version of On Floating Bodies known to exist, and the only surviving ancient copies of The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Stomachion.


In the treatises, the 3rd Century BC mathematician develops numerical descriptions of the real world.


"Archimedes was like no-one before him," says Will Noel, curator of manuscripts and rare books at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland and director of the imaging project.


"It just doesn't get any better than re-reading the mind of one of the greatest figures of Western civilisation."


Revealing Archimedes' writings presents a huge challenge to the imaging team.


The original texts were transcribed in the 10th Century by an anonymous scribe on to parchment.


Imaging a page for sulphur content, using helium (Credit: SLAC, Diana Rogers)

Each page takes 12 hours to reconstruct


Three centuries later a monk in Jerusalem called Johannes Myronas recycled the manuscript to create a palimpsest.


Palimpsesting involves scraping away the original text so the parchments can be used again. To create a book, the monk cut the pages in half and turned them sideways.


To create a book Myronas also used recycled pages from works by the 4th Century Orator Hyperides and other philosophical texts.


Mr Noel describes the palimpsest as "the eighth wonder of the world".


"You never get three unique palimpsested texts from the ancient world together in one book," he told the BBC News website. "That's just completely unheard of."


The monks filled the recycled pages with Greek Orthodox prayers.


It's like receiving a fax from the 3rd Century BC

Will Noel


Later, forgers in the 20th Century added gold paintings of religious imagery to try to boost the value of the tome.


The result was the near total obliteration of the original texts apart from faint traces of the ink used by the 10th Century Scribe.


Previously the privately-owned palimpsest has been investigated using various optical and digital imaging techniques.


However, much of the text remained hidden behind paint and stains.


The researchers have now turned to a technique known as X-ray fluorescence to tease out the final details of the writings.


Pages from the Archimedes Palimpsest

The palimpsest contains pages from several bodies of work


The method is used in may branches of science including geology and biology. It has previously been used by other researchers to decode ancient texts.


In August 2005 a team from Cornell University successfully deciphered a series of 2,000-year-old worn down stone inscriptions.


The X-rays are formed in a synchrotron - a particle accelerator that uses electrons travelling at close to the speed of light to generate powerful "synchrotron" light.


The light covers a wide range of the electromagnetic spectrum, including powerful X-rays, a million times more intense than a transmission X-ray used in medical imaging.


"In fluorescence it's like looking at the stars at night whereas in transmission it's like looking during the day," explains Dr Uwe Bergmann of the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lab in the US, where the work is being done.


The light enables scientists to look inside matter at the molecular and atomic scale.


The technique is particularly useful for probing the palimpsest because the ink used by the scribe to record Archimedes' work contains iron.


"When the X-rays hit an iron atom it emits a characteristic radiation, it glows," says Dr Bergmann. "When you record the glow you can reconstruct an image of all of the iron in the book."


The glowing words are displayed on a computer screen, giving the researchers the first glimpse of the text in nearly 800 years.


"It's like receiving a fax from the 3rd Century BC," said Mr Noel. "It's the most sensational feeling."


Each page takes 12 hours to reconstruct as the highly focused beam of X-rays, the width of a human hair, sweeps across the page.


The team have until the 7 August this year to scrutinise the palimpsest, before the synchrotron is switched off for maintenance.


During that time they hope to scan between 12 and 14 pages, paying particular attention to the areas covered with the forged paintings.


The public can watch the researchers as they reveal the glowing ancient text during a live webcast at 2300 GMT on 4 August.



Cuba: New Aboriginal Settlement Found


Havana, Aug 4 (ACN) Recent underground explorations in the locality of Boquerones in the central Cuban province of Ciego de Avila have yielded new evidence of aboriginal settlements.


Expedition head, speleologist Felix Pereira, told ACN that a new archeological site had been found in a local cave. Surface exploration down to 50 centimeters exposed fragments of Silex, a stone used by Cuban aboriginals for tools and food remains of fish, crabs and shells.


The site, known as Hoyos de los Indios, includes 12 caves of difficult access, all interconnected by the Northern Jatibonico River. The first archeological site was established in 1997, when scientists discovered an aboriginal burial ground with fragments of a skull, teeth, and bones.


The Los Buchillones site, one of the most important archeological sites in the Caribbean, is also located in Ciego de Avila. At Los Buchillones, scientists have found evidence of aborigines who occupied the area more than 400 years ago.


Some of the objects found include a large number of wooden parts used to build huts and residuals of thatch roofs.



Hawaiian temples reveal Polynesian past

Jennifer Viegas

Discovery News

Friday, 4 August 2006


An ancient temple system on the Hawaiian island of Maui is about 400 years older than previously thought, according to an extensive archaeological study.


The finding contradicts a prior theory that Maui's temples were built within a span of just a few decades around the year 1600.


Some researchers now think the temples were built over the course of 500 years, with construction cycles peaking during periods of significant political change.


"We see construction phases that parallel shifts in political control," says Associate Professor Michael Kolb, who led the study, which has been accepted for publication in the journal Current Anthropology.


"Chiefs likely wanted to mark their territory. Whenever a new leader came into power, he would probably seek to validate his new political and ideological ideas through modification or expansion of the temple system," adds Kolb, a professor of anthropology at Northern Illinois University.


Radiocarbon dating of charcoal from beneath the building foundations formed the basis of the new research. The charcoal remains were left behind after ancient builders cleared vegetation with controlled fires.


Usually archaeologists rely on dating of ceramics, but ceramics did not exist in early Hawaiian history.


"There is not a lot of soil formation on the islands, so the Polynesians who settled on Maui lacked clay and therefore pottery," Kolb says.


The charcoal dating determined that the Pihana temple, located in Halekii-Pihana State Park, is Maui's oldest temple. According to the new data, the existing ruins date to 1214.


One of the island's best-known temples is Pi'ilanihale Heiau, which means The House of Pi'ilani, who was a popular chief.


It is Maui's largest temple, covering more area than a football field and standing 12 metres in height. Pi'ilanihale was dated to 1294.


The scientists believe this initial 13th century building phase was followed by subsequent periods of construction in the 14th century and again, during a particularly active phase, near the turn of the 17th century.


Kolb explains that although Polynesians inhabited the Hawaiian Islands as early as the year 300, their settlements were initially small, spreading out over time.


This temple would have been built to mark a new political regime (Image: NIU)

Ancient Polynesians were once interested in ancestor worship and built small places of worship by paving off land and stacking rocks, according to archaeological evidence from early shrines in Hawaii and Tahiti.


Over time, Polynesian culture shifted toward sacrificial worship, which led to the enormous platform temples, some built on cliff faces or other prominent spots.


The most elaborate temples featured altars, oracle towers, offering pits, palisades, drum houses, and god or ancestral images carved from wood or stone.


"The shock value of these temples for religious ceremonies must have been tremendous," says Kolb.


"At some events there would have been human sacrifice, the killing of hundreds of pigs, the sounds of music and drumming, and the smell of burning fires.


"Members of the chiefly class were allowed into sacred areas of the temples, but they had to get in prostrate positions or lie down, sometimes for hours, as a sign of submission and respect for the chief."


The first westerners arrived with British explorer Captain James Cook in 1778. When Christianity was introduced to the islands in 1820, most of the temples were destroyed or abandoned. Maui has some of the best remains, with more than 120 remaining sites.



Timothy Earle, a professor of anthropology at Northwestern University, agrees with the conclusions of the new study, which he says "involved the broadest set of carbon dates. They appear to be good and valid."


Both Earle and Kolb believe the new findings suggest early Hawaiian monumental architecture was comparable to that of other famous ancient civilizations, such as the Maya or the early Egyptians, since all appeared to have linked temple construction to economic, political and ritual development.



Prehistoric causeway is uncovered


Evidence of a prehistoric causeway has been uncovered during flood defence work on the marshes of Suffolk.


Contractors working on the Environment Agency's excavation of a new dyke on Beccles town marshes found timber remains which had been hand-sculpted.


Archaeologists said the wooden causeway was used from the Bronze Age in about 1000BC, through the Iron Age to Roman times and the 4th century AD.


The site will now be analysed and dated with the results published this year.


Archaeologists from the University of Birmingham and Suffolk County Council Archaeological Field Services Team were called in to investigate the find.


Results suggest the more than 2,624ft (800m) long wooden causeway may have run from dry land on the edge of Beccles, across a swamp to a spot on the River Waveney.


National importance


A 98ft-long (30m) section of the causeway has been recorded with more than 40 in-situ timber posts uncovered.


The 16ft-wide (5m) causeway would have carried carts and was the Bronze Age equivalent of a motorway.


The wet conditions of the site mean that organic material such as wood has been well preserved.


The timber remains at the search site

A 98ft-long (30m) section of the causeway has been recorded


Jane Sidell, from English Heritage, said: "This is the first such structure to have been discovered within Suffolk, and is one of only a few in Britain, and as such is a nationally important find.


"It gives us an excellent opportunity to examine ancient, possibly ritual, use of the marshland, and how the marshes have developed over time."

Dr Henry Chapman, from the University of Birmingham, said: "You have got a causeway which has been used for a tremendous amount of time, which is unique - we haven't got something like that.


"It has been added to over time to preserve it, which shows its importance to early Beccles."



Rolling stones helps broch study


Archaeologists and volunteers spent more than two years constructing a 10m tall replica of an Iron Age stone-built tower - only to demolish it.


The project, run in a quarry at Spital, near Thurso, Caithness, was part of research into brochs.


There are estimated to be 200 of them lying in ruins in the region.


Knocking down the reconstructed tower is helping archaeologists to better differentiate tumbledown brochs from the remains of other buildings.


It is one of a series of projects being led by Caithness Archaeology Trust.


Others include investigations of a shipwreck which is believed to be that of the V81, a World War I German destroyer.


Dr Andrew Heald, curator in archaeology at the National Museums in Edinburgh, has been examining the remains of three brochs near Keiss along with John Henderson of Nottingham University, John Barber of AOC Archaeology and the Caithness trust.


He said a copper mining boss, Sir Francis Tress Barry, who had lived at Keiss Castle, excavated 15 brochs between 1890 and 1904.


"Everyone has been ignoring Caithness for the last 50 years mainly because the Tress Barry excavations, which were of his time but quite coarse, were thought to have jeopardised the research," said Dr Heald.


The archaeology team and local volunteers were now "playing a game of poker", he said, digging deeper in the hope of find artefacts missed by Sir Francis.


Dr Heald said: "We have found a hearth which in academic terms is important to dating the original structure."


The earliest brochs were thought to date back to 500BC.


Muddying the waters in Caithness has been the towers' reuse by the Picts, Vikings and people during the medieval age.


Stones have also been quarried or robbed for other uses and many of the buildings, which once provided accommodation, are nothing but rubble.


To aid their work in identifying a ruined broch, archaeologists and volunteers constructed their own one.


Dr Heald said: "It was half the size of a real broch - 10-15m in height - and built over two years.


"Local children jokingly made Save Our Broch placards."


The way that the mock broch collapsed revealed the shape of a ruined ancient building.


Work at site of three brochs near Keiss was expected to be wrapped up for this year by the end of the week.



More pieces of hidden bog book found


More fragments of an ancient manuscript concealed in a Co Tipperary bog over 1,000 years ago with a view to later recovery, have been found by the National Museum of Ireland, writes Seán Mac Connell


The discoveries also include a fine leather pouch in which the manuscript was originally kept.


Museum experts have excavated the site at Faddan More, in north Tipperary, since the discovery of the manuscript last month by excavator driver Eddie Fogarty.


He found the book on July 20th while digging peat on a bog owned by brothers Kevin and Patrick Leonard, according to a statement issued by the museum last night.


It said archaeologists and conservators had completed excavation of the area where the ancient manuscript was found. It described the find as "an extremely significant discovery".


"The site was excavated over seven days by archaeologists and conservators from the National Museum of Ireland.


"Part of a fine leather pouch in which the book was kept originally was recovered as well as other small fragments of the manuscript and its cover. The investigation results suggest the owner concealed the book deliberately, perhaps with a view to its later recovery," the statement noted.


"All the excavated material is now being conserved and analysed in the National Museum of Ireland and samples of the peat surrounding the find spot have been sent for specialist analysis," it said.


The area around Faddan More bog is rich in medieval history. Of particular relevance are important monastic foundations such as Lorrha and Terryglass in Co Tipperary and Birr and Seirkieran in Co Offaly, which are located nearby.


A leather satchel was found in the same bog six years ago and has been radiocarbon dated to between the 7th and 9th centuries AD.


© The Irish Times



Drought holds key to centuries-old mystery

Maev Kennedy

Wednesday August 2, 2006

Guardian Unlimited


Archaeologists puzzling over a 500-year-old architectural enigma in a drought-bleached suburban park believe they have finally solved the mystery of its identity - and that the key lies with the Tudors' struggles to cope with water shortages similar to those we face today.


The mysterious structure in the heart of Bruce Castle Park in Tottenham, north London, has in the past been variously explained as a garden folly, or a platform for flying hawks.


But it is now believed to be a unique surviving Tudor water tower.


Archaeologists uncovered, to their astonishment, picturesque cruciform windows buried meters below the present ground level and not seen for centuries, and walls that continue still deeper into the bone-dry clay.


Roy Stevenson, who is supervising the excavation for the Museum of London archaeology service, said: "Without any hype I have never come across anything like it in my life. I can't prove it without re-excavating every brick built Tudor tower in the country, but I feel I would have heard if there was another one out there. We may indeed now have to go back and re-examine the excavation records of lost towers and see if they could also be water towers."


The Grade I-listed tower and the handsome manor house beside it, now a local history museum, were built in open countryside, but have survived into London suburbia startlingly unaltered.


An exceptionally rare painting, found in fragments in the attics of the museum and restored with a lottery grant, now back over the fireplace in the main hall, shows both the house and tower in the 17th century, and though the details of the tower are hard to make out, it seems to continue well below the level of the garden wall.


The tower probably dates from around 1505, and is even older than the mansion, though both stand on the site of a medieval manor.


The estate has rich royal connections. Queen Elizabeth visited and Henry VIII met his sister Margaret of Scotland there when it was owned by his powerful courtier, Sir William Compton.


The manor was also once owned by Robert the Bruce, though he probably never stayed there, so the cherished local legend that it was there he saw the spider and resolved to launch a further onslaught on the English in Scotland cannot be true.


The dig began as a community excavation by the Museum of London, involving amateurs and swarming with school groups, looking for the medieval foundations.


The Victorian rubble and earth around the tower produced tons of broken roof tiles, and tokens for good behaviour from the Victorian school run there by the postal service reformer Rowland Hill and his family.


Gradually the diggers realised that the rosy red-brick walls plunged ever deeper into the earth.


The dig should have finished at the end of national archaeology week, but archaeologists persisted. They stuck a camera and a light in through the rediscovered windows, and revealed no treasure except a dimly visible vaulted chamber. Full exploration may have to wait for next year.


"What we have here is a Tudor redbrick iceberg," said archaeologist Ian Blair. "It looks as if there's almost as much underground as above."


They believe the tower stored water from an encircling pond, fed by channels controlled by sluice gates, from the nearby Moselle River - variously spelled Mosse Hill and Mouse Hill in older documents, and the origin of the Muswell Hill place name.


The tower, variously explained as a vantage point for watching hunting or jousting, or holding doves for the Tudor stewpot, has been baffling antiquarians for centuries.


In 1705 the then owner, the second Lord Colerane, wrote that he kept the tower, most awkwardly sited a few metres from his front door, in good repair "in respect to its great antiquity more than conveniency... although I am not able to discover the founder thereof".




11:00 - 03 August 2006


For 300 years, she has lain undisturbed on the ocean bed, but now a fireship sunk off the Isles of Scilly is to be rediscovered. A team from the University of Bristol has began the first archaeological survey of HM Firebrand - aided by a Penzance-based maritime archaeologist and a team from Plymouth University.


The fireship was a vessel filled with combustibles and deliberately set alight and steered into an enemy fleet to destroy ships and create panic to make them break formation. It went down in October 1707 after a navigational error with the loss of 1,500 lives.


Kimberley Monk from Bristol University's Department of Archaeology and Anthropology is leading the field school.


"This survey will contribute a new chapter on the significance of small warships to the British Royal Navy," she said. "The English were considered to be 'the very devils with their fire' since, under certain conditions, fireships could inflict more devastation than any weapon at the navy's disposal. This is probably one of the most exciting and extraordinary sites in the UK because we haven't yet had a fireship to study.


"Most of the fireships blew up or got lost in deep water. This is one of the only vessels that was built as a fireship and retained that purpose throughout her life. There's a great deal of hull structure still exposed and a number of artefacts are still visible. Also, seven of the eight guns are still there, as are the anchors."


Warships in the past were highly vulnerable to fire as there was little on board that would not burn. Accidental fires destroyed many ships, so fire ships presented a terrifying threat.


Ms Monk will be assisted by Kevin Camidge, a freelance maritime archaeologist from Penzance, Martin Read, a conservator from the University of Plymouth, and nine students.


For two weeks they will be examining the wreck site and recording information.


HM Firebrand was launched at Limehouse in 1694 and served in the Caribbean and Mediterranean before her fatal final voyage. Under the flag of Sir Cloudesly Shovell and returning from Gibraltar, she hit the Western Rocks off the Isles of Scilly along with HMS Association, HMS Eagle and HMS Romney.


HM Firebrand was the smallest of the four ships at 268 tons and with only eight cannons. Having hit the rocks she drifted away into the night to eventually sink several miles away.


The tragedy spurred the competition for the discovery of longitude and resulted in the design of the Harrison chronometer.


The wreck is located in about 24 metres of water and despite attracting divers, this will be the first archaeological survey of the vessel and the very first physical study of this type of British Royal Navy ship.


The field school has received sponsorship from Island Sea Safaris, Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, and the Isles of Scilly Underwater Centre.