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http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/story/0,,1871842,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=1

Life on the edge: was a Gibraltar cave last outpost of the lost neanderthal?

Ian Sample, science correspondent

Thursday September 14, 2006

The Guardian

 

The final resting place of the last neanderthals may have been unearthed by fossil-hunters excavating deep inside a cave in Gibraltar.

 

Primitive stone tools and remnants from wood fires recovered from the vast Gorham's cave on the easternmost face of the Rock suggest neanderthals found refuge there, and clung to life for thousands of years after they had died out elsewhere.

 

Carbon dating of charcoal fragments excavated alongside spear points and basic cutting tools indicates the cave was home to a group of around 15 neanderthals at least 28,000 years ago, and possibly as recently as 24,000 years ago. Previously uncovered remains lead scientists to believe the neanderthals died out in Europe and elsewhere some 35,000 years ago.

 

The discovery marks more clearly than ever before the time of death of our closest relative, and completes one of the most dramatic chapters in human evolution.

 

Today, Gorham's cave is perched on a cliff face lapped by the Mediterranean, but the view from the east-facing entrance was once of rolling sand dunes pocked with vegetation. A freshwater stream running down from the north led to the sea three miles away.

 

"For the neanderthals, this was a great place to be. The view would have been breathtaking, and they would have literally been able to see where their next meal was coming from," said Chris Stringer, a scientist on the project at the Natural History Museum in London. "The evidence supports the idea that this was one of their last survival spots, one of their final outposts."

 

The sea level was around 100m lower in neanderthal times as vast quantities of water were locked up in glaciers that encroached from the poles and smothered Scotland in sheets of ice two miles thick.

 

Clive Finlayson at the Gibraltar Museum said the neanderthals probably survived in the region because of the stabilising influence of the Atlantic on the local climate.

 

Elsewhere, glaciation caused violent lurches in climate that turned fertile pastures into barren wastelands.

 

But at Gorham's cave, and along the nearby coast, the climate would have been calmer, maintaining what Prof Finlayson calls a "Mediterranean Serengeti", with red deer, leopards and hyenas roaming between watering holes.

 

The discovery throws into doubt the theory that the arrival of modern humans was solely responsible for the demise of the neanderthals, by outcompeting them for food or even engaging in the earliest acts of genocide. More likely, the neanderthals were already struggling to adapt to rapid changes in crucial food resources such as vegetation and wild animals.

 

Modern humans and neanderthals split from a common ancestor, Homo heidelbergensis, around 500,000 years ago when the power of fire was first harnessed.

 

From a foothold north of the Mediterranean, Homo heidelbergensis steadily evolved into the neanderthals, while in Africa, the same species embarked on a different evolutionary path, one that ultimately gave rise to modern-day Homo sapiens. Remains of neanderthals dating back as far as 400,000 years suggest a reasonably sophisticated species which crafted handtools and weapons and buried its dead.

 

The stone tools unearthed from Gorham's cave were discovered 2.5 metres beneath the soil towards the back of the 40m long cave where the neanderthals had created a hearth. The collection includes basic knife edges used for butchering carcasses and scraping tools for working skins and hides, according to the journal Nature today.

 

Many of the tools were preserved impeccably. "I saw one flake and went to touch it, knowing it was a tool left by a neanderthal, and it drew blood," said Prof Finlayson. "It can be very powerful being in the cave. You can get that feeling that a neanderthal was sitting in exactly the same spot, that the only thing separating us is time. It's like a connection over tens of thousands of years and it makes you want to know more. We're humans studying humans."

 

Gorham's cave is likely to yield yet more insights into the life and death of the neanderthal. The archaeologists have uncovered a low, narrow passageway at the rear of the cave that they discovered, by crawling along, stretches a further 30m back into the rock. They believe it may lead to another chamber, and speculate it may even be a burial site.

 

Exploration of the region has moved into the sea beneath the cave, to examine the now submerged land that once stretched out in front of the cave. Divers working with the team have recently identified nine further caves 20m beneath the sea surface. "We are going to attempt underwater excavations. We will go into it knowing the chances of finding anything are slim, but what if we were to find tools? That would be amazing," said Prof Finlayson.

 

The neanderthals

 

The neanderthals were short and powerfully-built, with huge noses and receding foreheads, but there is no evidence that they had less brainpower than modern humans. Their brains were at least as big as ours, although there were differences: the frontal lobes were smaller, suggesting they may not have been as adept at planning, while the rear of the brain was larger, suggesting keener sight than modern humans.

 

Many scientists believe their stocky stature was chiefly an adaptation to the cold, a useful trait considering they lived through the last Ice Age. Being squat reduces a creature's surface area, and so less heat is lost from the body.

 

Climate may have played only a part though. Some scientists believe the Neanderthal's squat form favoured their lifestyle, of limited roaming with regular and physical wrestles with the animals that would become their prey.

 

The spear points and cutting edges unearthed in Gorham's cave in Gibraltar are known as Mousterian tools, named after the Le Moustier site in Dordogne, where the best examples of neanderthal archeaology were first uncovered.

 

Gibraltar has proved a treasure trove for modern neanderthal hunters. The first neanderthal bones discovered were those of a woman, found in a quarry in Gibraltar in 1848. And in 1997, archaeologists working in a cave on the Rock discovered the remains of what they believe was a neanderthal meal of mussels, pistachio and tortoise cooked up more than 30,000 years ago.

 

More recent findings have suggested neanderthals brought shellfish and other food to their caves before crafting simple tools to break them apart and prepare them.

 

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2006/09/14/ncaveman114.xml

Modern medicine reveals secrets of a middle-class mummy

By Paul Stokes

(Filed: 14/09/2006)

 

Modern medical advances are being used to unlock the secrets of a middle class Egyptian woman who lived and died 3,000 years ago.

 

The mummified remains of Bakt Hor Nekht, encased in a linen and plaster inner coffin, were bought at a local market and brought to Britain in 1820. Now a full Computerised Tomography (CT) scan at Newcastle General Hospital is yielding a wealth of information.

 

Bakt Hor Nekht was 5ft tall and had a full set of teeth, including wisdom teeth, and no signs of arthritis or bone disease, which suggests she was between 21 and 35 when she died. A substance found on her teeth may have been painted on as a cosmetic exercise after her face was damaged during embalming.

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Gill Scott, an Egyptologist at the Hancock Museum, Newcastle upon Tyne, said: "It was very important, when the soul was separated from the body, for it to recognise the face after death."

 

The non-invasive scans also revealed jewellery created from a variety of materials positioned across the body. One amulet, the symbol of resurrection in the form of the winged scarab, is on the top of her chest and another to the left side of the stomach over the embalming incision areas.

 

False eyes, possibly made from alabaster or shells, were placed over her eyelids and were thought to provide the dead with vision in the afterlife. Miss Scott, a member of York University's mummy research group, said: "We think she was probably the equivalent of today's middle class because she was buried in a tomb and her cartonnage [layers of fibre or papyrus] is quite elaborate and the outer coffin of sycamore wasn't cheap."

 

Bakt Hor Nekht was found in a tomb at Gourneh in Thebes (now Luxor) and dates from around the 21st to the 22nd dynasties of ancient Egypt. The mummy will be moved to the Segedunum Roman Fort, the last outpost of Hadrian's Wall, at the end of the month as part of the new Land of the Pharaohs exhibition. It will also form part of the 26 million Great North Museum project which is due to open in 2009.

 

http://www.hamiltonspectator.com/NASApp/cs/ContentServer?pagename=hamilton/Layout/Article_Type1&c=Article&cid=1158270615316&call_pageid=1020420665036&col=1112101662670

Eureka! Quarry near oilsands full of ancient artifacts

THE CANADIAN PRESS

By Bob Weber

The Canadian Press

EDMONTON (Sep 15, 2006)

 

Oilsands activity has uncovered vast wealth of a different kind -- a 10,000-year-old quarry rich with tools and weapons from some of the first Albertans, including a pristine spearpoint still smeared with the blood of a woolly mammoth.

 

"It's got this echo of the Ice Age world," said Jack Ives, Alberta's provincial archeologist, who described the find in a hearing before the province's energy regulator yesterday.

 

"There's quite a rich concentration of artifacts."

 

The so-called Quarry of the Ancestors, which scientists suspect may be one of the first places where humans put down roots in northern Alberta after the retreat of the glaciers, is found on an outcrop of hard, fine-grained sandstone adjacent to the Albian Sands oilsands lease about 75 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

 

The $12.8-billion Albian Sands project is before the province's Energy and Utilities Board.

 

The quarry was discovered in 2003 when Birch Mountain Resources, which quarries limestone in the area to make chemicals used in oilsands mining, conducted a routine archeological survey prior to its own proposed expansion.

 

The site's importance was evident almost immediately, said Nancy Saxberg, who conducted the field work.

 

"We went into the woods and dug a couple of holes, and everywhere we dug a hole we found archeological material," she said.

 

Spearpoints, knives, scrapers, stone flakes and tiny micro-blades that would have been fastened to a wood or bone handle all began to emerge from the boreal loam.

 

"People were prying this stuff out of the ground in chunks," Saxberg said.

 

One investigator turned up a spearpoint still sharp enough to penetrate flesh. When tested, it contained traces of proteins that matched elephant blood. The only possible source would have been a mammoth, an animal thought to have died out more than 10,000 years ago.

 

"It was pretty thrilling," Saxberg said.

 

The site, spread out over a square kilometre, was so large that Saxberg said the normal archeological practice of establishing the boundaries of a site had to be modified.

 

"We couldn't define the sector because the sector was so freaking huge."

 

As well as offering beautifully preserved examples of fine ancient craftsmanship, the Quarry of the Ancestors will provide vital clues to North America's human history.

 

The soil at the site is unusually deep for the area, said Ives, allowing archaeologists to separate material from different time periods.

 

"There appear to be opportunities to learn more about chronology," he said.

 

Tools fashioned from rock known as Beaver River Sandstone have also turned up at hundreds of sites in northern Alberta and Saskatchewan. Until now, the source of the stone has been mysterious. It came from the Quarry of the Ancestors.

 

"There's a vast area in which this raw stone material was circulating," Ives said.

 

Ives has assembled what he believes to be the outline of the area's history.

 

People first started coming into the area about 12,000 years ago, as the glaciers gradually retreated north into what is now the Northwest Territories. People followed their retreat, passing through the quarry area as part of their nomadic rounds, stocking up on the excellent stone and hunting when game presented itself.

 

Human occupation was interrupted about 10,000 years ago when a massive flood from Glacial Lake Agassiz inundated the area. People returned as the floodwaters abated, this time sticking around instead of just passing through. The quarry was a centre of occupation for thousands of years.

 

The depth of that history has thrilled members of the Fort MacKay First Nation, on whose traditional land the quarry sits.

 

"The community, especially the elders, found it to be very important to them," said Lisa Schaldemose of the Fort MacKay band.

 

Although band members are cautious about claiming the quarry's ancient toolmakers as ancestors, artifacts are on display at the band office and community gatherings have been held on the site.

 

In an area where land access is increasingly complicated by oilsands leases, Schaldemose said Fort MacKay wants the quarry to be permanently available to its community for use as a gathering place.

 

Everyone agrees the quarry, which is surrounded by oilsands leases, should be preserved.

 

Birch Hills Resources, which owns the quarry rights, will expand elsewhere, said owner Don Dabbs. "We recognized the importance right off the top. This area has had a very long history of being important to people."

 

TransCanada PipeLines has rerouted a line to avoid the site. Shell Canada has altered plans in the area. And Ives's department is asking Community Development Minister Denis Ducharme to declare the site a provincial historic resource, which would preserve it.

 

The Quarry of the Ancestors is irreplaceable, said Saxberg.

 

"This is an example of an early, early time when people are staying in one place and getting to know the landscape and getting to know the resources that are there," she said.

 

http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_4348721

Eagle Mountain: Ancient rock art found at building site

Petroglyphs could be 6,000 years old

By Todd Hollingshead

The Salt Lake Tribune

 

EAGLE MOUNTAIN - Development in this booming Utah County city is nearly impossible to slow down. Unless, of course, you run into 6,000-year-old petroglyphs.  That's the predicament developers for Eagle Mountain Ranch LLC faced when they learned part of their property slated for a residential subdivision contained archaic rock art.  "It is some of the oldest rock art in Utah," Nina Bowen, archivist for the Utah Rock Art Research Association, said in a news release. "Its style is very unique."

 

Knowing the significance of the rock drawings, city officials and developers are making a joint effort to protect it. The most compelling piece at the undisclosed site shows what appears to be three figures holding hands and dancing, said Utah Rock Art Research president Troy Scotter.

The Salt Lake Tribune and other news media won't see the art until a Monday news conference.

Scotter said the region boasts quite a bit of rock art - ranging from archaic (2,000 to 6,000 years old) to younger creations by the Fremont people (A.D. 500 to 1300).  He said the dancing-figures petroglyph is likely Fremont art - although more archaic drawings were found at the Eagle Mountain site as well.  "Utah has probably the largest concentration of rock art of almost anywhere in the world, certainly in the United States," Scotter said.  "But west of Utah Lake is kind of an anomaly," he added. "Why is the rock art over there? Maybe that was a ceremonial site or maybe a site to get sunrise views. It's a good question, and we don't have a very good answer."

 Members of the the rock art association have known about the Eagle Mountain petroglyphs for at least a decade, Scotter said.

 

Last year, the rock art experts informed city officials and took them to the site. City staffers then passed the word to developers once they started their plans. Since the petroglyphs in question are on private land, the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act affords the ancient art no guaranteed protection.  "Private landowners should report what they find to the state, but if [they] want to build a house on top of it, [they're] fine," Scotter said.  Eagle Mountain Ranch LLC is willing to work with city officials to preserve the artifacts.  "We're going to make it a feature of our [project]," developer Larry Franciose said.

 

A city news release noted the rock art is on land planned for the Oquirrh Heights subdivision, a 182-acre development of 477 single-family homes. The petroglyphs will be incorporated into the 64 acres of open space, parks and trails also planned for the subdivision. Part of that featured treatment could include signs describing the rock art, its source and its history.

 

Eagle Mountain Mayor Brian Olsen and other city officials now are considering an ordinance that would bring steep fines for vandalism of the art.

 

thollingshead@sltrib.com

 

http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060916/fob2.asp

Scripted Stone: Ancient block may bear Americas' oldest writing

Bruce Bower

 

Road builders in southern Mexico discovered a script-covered block of stone among the rubble in a gravel quarry in 1999. A research team has now announced that the marks on the slab represent the oldest writing yet discovered in the Americas.

 

The quarry where the script was found abuts an archaeological site, near Veracruz, in what was the heartland of the ancient Olmec civilization. The imagery used in the writing indicates that the artifact, known as the Cascajal block, displays an early form of Olmec writing dating to nearly 3,000 years ago, says Stephen D. Houston of Brown University in Providence, R.I.

 

Previous examples of Olmec writing extend back no more than 2,650 years (SN: 12/7/02, p. 355: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20021207/fob1.asp). Samples of Mayan writing in Central America date to as early as 2,200 to 2,400 years ago (SN: 1/21/06, p. 45: http://www.sciencenews.org/articles/20060121/note11.asp).

 

WRITER'S BLOCK. Signs such as these (inset), inscribed on a slab from southern Mexico, may represent the earliest known writing in the Americas.

Houston

 

The rectangular Cascajal block weighs 12 kilograms. It's 36 centimeters long, 21 cm wide, and 13 cm thick. On one side, the artifact contains 62 carved signs.

 

"This is an unambiguous example of writing," Houston says.

 

He and his coworkers describe the find in the Sept. 15 Science. The lead author is Carmen Rodriguez Martinez of the National Institute of Anthropology and History in Veracruz, who received the block from the road builders.

 

The scientists regard the marks inscribed in the stone as script because they include 28 distinctive elements, such as signs depicting maize, parallel sets of eyes, and an animal skin. These signs appear in sequences that run across the block.

 

The signs' precise meanings and the underlying rules for this writing system remain uncertain.

 

The relation of the Cascajal block to later New World writing is also fuzzy. The script may represent a regional invention that died out in relative obscurity. However, Houston suspects that it spread across southern Mexico. Wooden figurines from Olmec sites of about the same age have a few similar signs carved in the backs of their heads, he says.

 

Although the marks on the block are "suggestive" of writing, archaeologist Philip J. Arnold of Loyola University in Chicago takes a wait-and-see approach. Martinez and his coworkers need to find comparable signs on Olmec artifacts excavated from their original locations, Arnold says.

 

Archaeologist Christopher A. Pool of the University of Kentucky in Lexington also regards the new find cautiously. Aspects of the inscriptions on the block are unique, making them difficult to confirm as script, he notes. For instance, signs run horizontally across the stone, whereas the region's later writing systems placed symbols in vertical columns.

 

Signs carved into the Cascajal block "may not be fully formed writing, but they're close to it," remarks linguist John S. Justeson of the State University of New York at Albany. He says that while the new find incorporates patterned symbols from Olmec art, it apparently lacks calendar notations and action representations, key elements of later writing systems in southern Mexico and Central America.

 

Houston says that his group plans to conduct new excavations near the quarry. The Cascajal block "is probably one of many such texts in the area," he surmises.

 

http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2006/09/14/america/NA_GEN_US_Earliest_Writing.php

Stone slab bears earliest writing in the Americas

WASHINGTON An ancient slab of green stone inscribed with insects, ears of corn, fish and other symbols is indecipherable so far, but one message is clear: It is the earliest known writing in the Western Hemisphere.

 

The ancient Olmec civilization probably produced the faintly etched symbols around 900 B.C., or roughly three centuries before what previously had been proposed as the earliest examples of writing in the Americas.

 

"We are dealing with the first, clear evidence of writing in the New World," said Stephen Houston, a Brown University anthropologist. Houston and his U.S. and Mexican colleagues detail the tablet's discovery and analysis in a study appearing this week in the journal Science.

 

The pattern of symbols covering the face of the rectangular block also represents a previously unknown ancient writing system.

 

The text contains 28 distinct glyphs or symbols, some of which are repeated three and four times. The writing system does not appear to be linked to any known later scripts and may represent a dead end, according to the study.

 

Other experts not involved in the study agreed with Houston and his colleagues that the horizontally arranged inscription shows patterns that are the hallmarks of true writing, including syntax and language-specific word order.

 

"That's full-blown, legitimate text written symbols taking the place of spoken words," said William Saturno, a University of New Hampshire anthropologist and expert in Mesoamerican writing.

 

The text is roughly arranged in rows across the block's face, which is almost exactly the dimensions of a standard legal pad. At 5 inches (12.7 centimeters) thick and 26 pounds (12 kilograms), the tablet is far more hefty, but still portable.

 

The face is smooth and slightly concave, which suggests it may have been worn down in antiquity as it was inscribed and erased multiple times, Houston said.

 

There is little hope of deciphering the meaning of the text. The small size of the block and the faintness of the inscription imply the text was not a public document, but instead was meant for intimate reading, Houston said. Some suggested it may have had a ritual use.

 

Villagers in the Mexican state of Veracruz discovered the tablet sometime before 1999, while quarrying an ancient Olmec mound for road-building material. News of the discovery slowly trickled out, and the study's authors traveled to the site this year to examine and photograph the block.

 

Based on other materials, including pottery sherds, believed found with the slab, team concluded it is roughly 2,900 years old. Isolated signs similar to those inscribed on the block also appear on even older figurines found elsewhere in Mexico.

 

In 2002, other experts claimed an Olmec cylindrical seal and chips from a stone plaque contained the oldest examples of writing in the Americas. Some have disputed their interpretation of those symbols, which date to roughly 650 B.C.

 

"This is centuries before anything we've had. People have debated whether the Olmecs had any writing. This clears it up. This nails it for me," David Stuart, a University of Texas at Austin expert in Mesoamerican writing, said of the new find. Stuart was not connected with the discovery, but reviewed the study for Science.

 

The find bolsters the early importance of the Olmecs, who flourished between about 1200 B.C. and 400 B.C., before other great Central American civilizations such as the Maya and Aztec. They are best known for the massive heads they carved from stone. The village where the block was found is close to a site called San Lorenzo, believed to be the center of the Olmec world.

 

"To me, this find really does bring us back to this idea that at least writing and a lot of the things we associate with Mesoamerican culture really did have their origin in this region," Stuart said.

 

http://www.sltrib.com/news/ci_4341777

Skeletons found in Nephi may reveal details of 1853 massacre

'AN IMPORTANT STORY TO TELL'

By Jeremiah Stettler

The Salt Lake Tribune

 

State archaeologists have unearthed a 150-year-old crime scene that could shed light on the slaying of seven American Indians in Nephi.

    Archaeologists have excavated seven bodies from a mass grave in downtown Nephi. They say the men were the victims of a killing during the Walker War in 1853.

   The skeletons, tangled together in a shallow grave, were discovered last month, when a home builder dug into an old ravine, now filled with about 6 feet of sand, to pour the foundation for a new home.

   The bodies lay on top of each other - their bones splintered by bullets that hit some in the head and others in the hip or leg - in a grave just 3 feet wide. Archaeologists also found buttons attached to cloth, glass shards and a copper tube that contained what appeared to be a braid of hair.

    Ronald J. Rood, assistant state archaeologist, described the discovery as "extremely important" to the history of how early Utah settlers and American Indians interacted during the state's formative years.

   "These people have an important story to tell," he said.

   Their story goes back more than century to a pair of oxen-drawn wagons traveling to Salt Lake City from Manti with wheat, according to accounts by Springville historian D. Robert Carter.

   The wagons paused overnight at Uintah Springs, despite counsel to stop earlier. Isaac Morley, leader of the Manti colony, had urged the four men to wait for a company of horse-drawn wagons en route to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints' general conference before venturing into hostile country, the history states.

    As feared, the men were attacked and killed on Sept. 30, 1853.

   The killing outraged settlers as the men's bodies were carted to Nephi for burial. What happened that following Sunday, Oct. 2, remains of historical dispute.

   Some accounts say that a group of Indians came to camp looking for protection and food. Instead, the townspeople rose up against them and killed them "like so many dogs," a state history records.

   Another account suggests that the Indians were summoned to town by military commander Maj. George W. Bradley. When ordered to drop their weapons, the men refused. A squabble ensued. One settler was struck with an arrow and the seven Indians were killed.

   The killings came as part of a larger conflict between Mormon pioneers and American Indians known as the Walker War. The violence, sparked by pioneer encroachment upon the Utes' hunting and gathering grounds, lasted almost a year with tit-for-tat skirmishes between settlers and Indians. The parties reached a peace settlement in May 1854.

   Rood has found nothing to change the history of the Nephi massacre. Rather, he has evidence to suggest that seven men, ages 16 to 25, were killed that day and thrown in a mass grave.

   The archaeologist has found a ball of lead inside one man's skull, bullet holes penetrating other bones and a head fracture stained green by a copper trinket that suggests one Indian was killed with blunt force trauma.

   Rood said he simply hopes to shed light on that skirmish so many years ago.

    "I don't see it as revising history," he said. "I see it as adding another chapter."

   Yet the fate of the seven skeletons remains uncertain, Rood said. State law allows American Indian tribes to make claims on their ancestors' bodies only if they are unearthed on public land.

   The law gives no such allowance for bones found on private land, like the ones discovered in Nephi. Unless a family link is found, the state retains custody of the bones.

   Forrest Cuch, executive director of the state Division of Indian Affairs, said more than 1,500 sets of human remains are boxed in state repositories and universities without any legal provision for returning them to the American Indian community for a proper burial.

   Cuch said he will push for change during next year's legislative session. He hopes to expand tribal rights and hasten a repatriation process that now takes from seven months to a year.

   Cuch, a member of the Ute tribe, described it as a "top priority" for Utah's tribes who consider it a breach of spiritual law to deny those bodies a proper burial.

   "I am an Indian and was raised to have respect for the dead and to understand that there are certain physical laws and spiritual laws," he said. "I don't think we have been honoring the spiritual laws."

   Homeowner Kevin Creps, who found the Indians' remains while preparing his foundation, said he wants nothing more than to see the bodies returned to their tribes.

   The Nephi man chuckles about the repeated references to the film "Poltergeist II," which features a home built atop a mass grave, and said he won't lose any sleep over it. Instead, he said it would "break [his] heart" if the remains ended up in a box in some state warehouse.

   "I want to make sure they are taken care of correctly," he said. "I want to make sure they get back to where they belong with a proper burial and proper funeral service."

 

jstettler@sltrib.com

 

http://rawstory.com/news/2006/Archaeologists_find_traces_of_legen_09102006.html

Archaeologists find traces of legendary Viking centre

By Thoralf Plath

Deutsche Presse Agentur

Published: Sunday September 10, 2006

 

By Thoralf Plath, Kaliningrad, Russia- Russian and German archaeologists believe they may have found traces of human settlement in the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad that could lead to the legendary Viking trading centre of Wiskiauten. The find lies three kilometres south of the coastal resort of Selenogradsk in a field near the Curonian Spit, a narrow strip of sand dune off the coast.

 

The stone structures found almost a metre down are the remains of a well and several houses and date to the 12th century.

 

"This is still a bit recent, as the Viking era is at least two centuries earlier," the head of the German team, Timo Ibsen, says.

 

"But we are on the right track."

 

Ibsen and his fellow archaeologists from Kaliningrad, Vladimir Kulakov and Konstantin Skvorzov have been looking for the lost site of Wiskiauten for years.

 

Wiskiauten is one of the last great archaeological secrets that the Baltic region still has to give up.

 

Despite 160 years of research in the early history of the region, no one knows where the fabled site lies.

 

All that has been found is a cemetery, which lies on a flat hill called Kaup near the village of Mochovoje. It has been known since 1865, when amateur local archaeologists began retrieving precious funeral items from more than 500 graves.

 

They found silver items, swords and the tips of lances, women's jewelry and even the remains of costumes, all unmistakably of Scandinavian design.

 

The oldest Viking graves date back to the 9th century.

 

"There are lots of women's graves, and for this reason we believe that these people from the north were not here on raids," says Kulakov, head of the Baltic expedition of Russia's National Institute of Archaeology.

 

"Rather, they lived here in a multi-ethnic community alongside Danes, Goths and the local Prussians."

 

Kulakov has been looking for traces of Wiskiauten since the 1970s and has made several finds, despite the depredations of increasingly professional illegal grave robbers, who have plundered dozens of hill-top graves.

 

Wiskiauten was a major settlement at the dawn of Baltic culture, similar to other sites in the region, like Hedeby near Schleswig on the German-Danish border, Ralswiek on the island of Ruegen, Vineta near Wolin in Poland and the recently discovered Elblag, or Truso, on the Polish coast.

 

The Viking trading network along the Baltic coast is well researched. Only Wiskiauten is missing.

 

It is known that Wiskiauten had direct access to water. The Scandinavians were boat people after all.

 

Three kilometres to the north of the cemetery lies the Curonian Lagoon, a large body of fresh water separated from the Baltic by the Curonian Split.

 

"A thousand years ago the opening to the sea still lay here in the south of the spit and not to the north as it does today. This strategic position led Wiskiauten to gain in significance," Ibsen says.

 

In the spring of this year German geologists investigated how far the lagoon extended to the south during the Viking era. At the same time a large geomagnetic survey was underway at the instigation of northern European archaeologists.

 

For days scientists from Kiel University in northern Germany used a tractor to drag geo-radar machines around the frozen fields surrounding the hilltop graves.

 

By the time they were finished, they had scanned more than 60 hectares. "Geomagnetism yields fantastic results. You can even see the course of the old paths," Ibsen says.

 

The researchers struck luck almost immediately, finding a Byzantine coin at the first structures. This is evidence of long- distance trade conducted by the Balts.

 

The driving force behind trade links with the orient was amber, the gold of the Baltic.

 

Work at the dig is coming to an end for this year. The results are to be evaluated at the Archaeological Museum in Gottorf Castle in Schleswig over the months ahead. They can be found at www.wiskiauten.eu.

 

The objects found are housed in Kaliningrad's art history museum.

 

The research has generated a Wiskiauten cult in the region, with Selenogradsk wanting to turn its early history to the good of the tourist industry.

 

Kulakov has mixed feelings about this.

 

"Actually we would rather do our work in peace. All this publicity merely attracts grave robbers, and they have done enough damage here as it is," the Kaliningrad archaeologist says.

 

2006 DPA - Deutsche Presse-Agenteur

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/5346906.stm

Historic city jail site unearthed

 

The foundations of Edinburgh's 15th century jail, known as the Tolbooth, have been discovered by archaeologists on the Royal Mile.

 

The Tolbooth has long been known to lie somewhere close to St Giles' Cathedral in the capital's old town but now its actual location has been discovered.

 

The 400-year-old building was demolished in 1817, having served as a council chamber and a squalid prison.

 

Among the notorious criminals imprisoned there was Deacon Brodie.

 

Work on the reconstruction of the road surface between George IV and North Bridge began in January this year.

 

The archaeological work involved radar surveys in the hope of locating historical buildings such as the Tolbooth and Tyne Gaol.

 

The 1.5m project is being undertaken to prevent further damage to the road and to avoid any future need for unplanned emergency repairs. The work will be completed by early 2007.

 

The Tollbooth building was demolished in 1817 to widen the road.

 

To mark the entrance to the jail, the now internationally recognisable Heart of Midlothian stones were laid.

 

When the road is relayed there will be copper setts to mark the location.

 

Particular significance

 

John Lawson, city archaeologist, said: "The Tolbooth is laden with history and being able to mark exactly where it lay is a significant step in charting Edinburgh's past.

 

"It's one of Scotland's iconic buildings and the scene of many dramatic events in Edinburgh's colourful history.

 

"Uncovering it gives us the opportunity to interpret the findings and preserve this important landmark."

 

Cllr Bob Cairns, Edinburgh Council streetscape leader, said: "It's tremendous the works to restore the Royal Mile setts have provided us with an opportunity to learn more about our city's past and preserve it for future generations.

 

"The discovery of the exact location of the Tolbooth is of particular significance on account of the important role it played in the city's history over the centuries."

 

Story from BBC NEWS:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/scotland/edinburgh_and_east/5346906.stm

 

Published: 2006/09/15 14:08:33 GMT

 

BBC MMVI