Iron Age chamber found under tractor


September 01 2006


An underground chamber undisturbed since the Iron Age was revealed on North Uist when a 10ft hole opened beneath the wheel of a tractor.

Archaeologists assessed the find at Port nan Long at the north of the island, which has been sealed off from the public.

Dr Mary MacLeod, Western Isles Council's archaeologist, was delighted to declare the hole an Iron Age souterrain, or underground chamber.

She said: "It is particularly exciting because it is so well preserved.

"It has lain undisturbed for 2000 years . . . I think there has been a very large pre-historic settlement on this site, possibly over thousands of years."

The souterrain is an oval structure over three metres in diameter, the top of it lying just under a metre below the surface. The passage leading off it is less than a metre high.

Dr Chris Barrowman, Historic Scotland's monument warden, said the configuration was typical of Iron Age souterrains. The archaeologists agreed that the passage was likely to lead to a house, possibly a wheelhouse – a circular drystone building with a single entrance divided by a number of stone piers arranged like the spokes of a wheel leading to a central room.

Kate MacDonald, a Sheffield University archaeologist based at South Uist, climbed inside the souterrain and entered the passage leading off it.

She carried out a visual assessment of the site and took photographs, measurements and GPS readings.

She found cattle bones showing butcher marks, some inserted into cavities in the wall. An intact lamb's skull was discovered at the back of the chamber.

"Bones held a lot of significance for Iron Age people, but it's impossible to guess at this stage why the bones were placed like that. The souterrain itself is still a mystery. If it was a food store, why the tiny passage leading to it? Did some kind of ritual go on here?"

Souterrains are normally found along the Atlantic seaboard of Scotland, Brittany, Cornwall, and Ireland. Most of the 57 known in the Western Isles were uncovered in the 19th century. The most recent was found in the 1970s during road-building near Gress in Lewis.



Orkney Archaeology News

Enigmatic Brodgar structure produces another example of Neolithic art

By Sigurd Towrie

Story dated: August 29, 2006


As another season’s work draws to a close, the Stenness side of the Ness of Brodgar continues to throw up archaeological surprises – including two pieces of iconic Neolithic art.


Investigating earlier geophysics scans of a field between Lochview and Brodgar Farm, a trench has revealed the remains of what may be a chambered tomb. And if it is, it could be the “missing link” between the two styles of Stone Age cairn found in Orkney.


When it comes to tombs, the early Neolithic period is characterised by stalled cairns – structures, such as Unstan in Stenness, which are divided into cells, or stalls, by large upright stones. Towards the end of the period, these were superseded by Maeshowe-type structures – circular with side chambers.


The Brodgar building appears to show characteristics of both. It was a large oval structure but was subdivided into radial chambers – similar to those found inside the Crantit cairn in 1998.


But the surprises didn't stop there.


Outside, the structure appears to have been surrounded by a large stone wall, perhaps reflecting the Barnhouse settlement’s Structure Eight - a massive hall-like structure, seven metres square and surrounded by an enclosing circular wall.


Overseeing the excavation was Nick Card, Orkney Archaeological Trust’s project manager.


“Last year we found a section of curved wall face within a mass of rubble,” he said. “This year we expanded the trench expecting to find the interior of a structure, but instead, we found another concentric wall.”


“This wall was part of an oval structure, seven to eight metres in length, and four to five metres across, with a entrance facing the south east. Inside, the structure was divided by stone uprights to form radial compartments.”


The purpose of the structure is unclear, as it appears to show elements of both ritual and domestic architecture.


Nick added: “Although it could be a house, looking at its scale it is more likely that we have something else. If it’s a chambered tomb it doesn't look like anything we've got anywhere else. We have a definite circular arrangement of space, but incorporating the stalled compartments found in the rectangular stalled cairns.”


The external wall may have been added at a later date, with the space between it and the structure filled in to create a wide stone platform, similar to that seen at Quoyness in Sanday. This, suggests Nick, could have been a cosmetic addition to further “monumentalise” the structure. Perhaps in its earliest phase the structure was a house, that later took on some other significance - a memorial for the community's ancestors for example.


A later drain also appears to have been added to the structure’s north-east wall, which meant a section of the exterior walling had to be removed.


In addition, it is also possible that the wall extends out further than the boundaries of the structure. Although further excavation will be required to be certain, the geophysics scans suggest the wall could extend right out across the Ness, towards the Stenness loch.


At the start of this week, the excavators were still working down through the rubble that covered the earliest phase of the structure, but its outline was clearly apparent.


“We’ve probably got anything up to half a metre to go through before we get down to floor level but we can see, for example, that the entrance features are identical to the Knowes of Trotty house we excavated earlier in the year.”


The date of the structure, and how it fitted into the Neolithic settlement on the Ness, remains unclear at present. However, the building does appear to have been altered over time, with considerable secondary activity surrounding it.


Probably dating from the early Bronze Age, by which time the structure was probably ruinous, this includes a number of exterior stone features.


One of these later additions was a triangular stone cist, cut into the rubble covering the earlier structure. This cist produced two small pieces of stone incised with the same repeated lozenge/chevron design as appears on a large stone found in the same field back in 1925.


The 1925 stone, which was found in one of three cists in the field, features eight bands of lozenge decoration – a design common at a number of megalithic sites, in Orkney and beyond.

Picture: Orkney Library Photographic Archives


Is the design a mere artistic expression, or was there another, more symbolic reason? The repeated lozenge, for example. Is it just a pretty pattern? Or, as some would have it, a geometrical representation of the positions of the solstice sunrise and sunsets?


Do the incised triangular shapes have a deeper meaning, or are they merely artistic representations of a pattern found on countless Orkney shorelines  – that of weatherbeaten bedrock?


Although the debate on the symbolism will inevitably continue, the latest patterned stones once again highlight apparent connections between Orkney and the Boyne Valley in Ireland – one of the richest surviving repositories of Megalithic art.


Other finds from this year’s dig included a cache of flints and a number of polished stone axes.


The excavation was supported by Orkney College, Orkney Archaeological Trust, Historic Scotland and Orkney Islands Council.



Hadrian's Roman soldiers 'had military tattoo'

Date released 29 August 2006


A pictorial exhibition exploring the history of tattooing in Britain is to go on display in the unlikely setting of Newcastle University's Museum of Antiquities (Tuesday 29 August).


Currently fashionable among celebrities, footballers and pop stars, historical texts and archaeological evidence suggest that some form of tattooing has been practised in the British Isles for thousands of years.


'It's a little known fact, but it would appear that all of the legionaries and some of the auxiliaries on Hadrian's Wall would have had a tattoo', says the University's Director of Archaeological Museums and Roman expert, Lindsay Allason-Jones.


The evidence comes from the Roman writer Vegetius, whose Epitome of Military Science, written around the 4th Century AD, is the only account of Roman military practice to have survived intact.


'Vegetius recorded that a recruit to the Roman army "should not be tattooed with the pin-pricks of the official mark as soon as he has been selected, but first be thoroughly tested in exercises so that it may be established whether he is truly fitted for so much effort",' says Lindsay. (Source: Flavius Vegetius Renatus, Epitome of Military Science, Chapter 8).


'We do not know what this official mark looked like. It was possibly an eagle or the symbol of the soldier's legion or unit', she said.


Lindsay has even unearthed evidence that the legionaries would have sported the tattoo on their hands. Aetius, the 6th century Roman doctor, recording that tattoos were found on the hands of soldiers, even documented the Roman technique for tattooing, which included first washing the area to be tattooed with leek juice, known for its antiseptic properties. Aetius even went so far as to document the formula for the tattooing ink, which combined Egyptian pine wood (especially the bark), corroded bronze, gall and vitriol with more leek juice. The design was pricked into the skin with pointed needles 'until blood is drawn', and then the ink was rubbed on.


Many examples of contemporary tattoo art draw on symbols from the past. 'Sometimes, historical motifs are adopted as a wistful connection to some long lost spiritual past', says Lindsay. 'The Anglo Saxon interlace design is very popular now, and some of the patterns adopted in the tattoo designs featured in the exhibition can also be found among the Anglo Saxon objects on display in the Museum', she said.


Environmental conditions in Britain mean that there is very little physical evidence of tattooing in archaeology. 'Bodies from ancient civilizations found in Britain tend not to include skin, because they were not mummified or preserved in other ways', says the Museum's assistant director, Clare Pickersgill, 'so we rely upon historical texts'.


The exhibition contains some amazing examples of tattooing on preserved bodies found in the foothills of the Altai Mountains. 'This evidence suggests that puncture tattooing was a widespread practice among ancient Europeans, so it might be possible to find direct evidence of it in Britain in very specific environmental conditions', said Clare.


Staff in the Museum of Antiquities are inviting members of the public to add photographs of their own tattoos to the exhibition, and to leave comments about why they decided to have a tattoo, or about what the particular design means to them.


Newcastle University Masters student, Taylor Lauritsen, who is studying Roman archaeology, has a tattoo on his arm with a design replicating a fresco found on the wall of a house in the ancient city of Pompeii, which was buried during the catastrophic eruption Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.


He said: 'The couple in the fresco, Terentius Neo, a baker, and his wife, were probably painted soon after they were married. It's an honest portrait, and whenever I see it I am struck by the realization that these were people whose lives may not have been so different from my own. Our core values and goals as people – to live happily, to be successful, to fall in love – have not changed in the two thousand years since this image was painted. For me, this tattoo serves as a reminder to appreciate the time that I have, because like this couple, I won't be around forever'.


Tattoo runs in the Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle University, until Christmas. Admission is free. For further information, contact 0191 222 7846.




• The ancient Greeks associated voluntary tattooing with 'barbarians' – or people who were not Greek citizens. In Greece, the tattoo was used as a form of punishment or as a means of degrading slaves and criminals.


• There are examples of the punitive tattoo in England from as late as 1871. In the British army, the letter 'D' indicated a deserter, while 'BC' implied bad character. In civilian life, however, 'D' indicated 'drunkard', 'V' vagabond, and 'F' fray maker, or church brawler.


• The Latin noun stigma originally meant 'to mark' in some way, while the modern usage of the term often carries negative connotations associated with infamy or disgrace. Despite the current fashionable status of tattoos, negative associations persist today, and many establishments will not permit entry to people with lots of visible tattoos, because tattooed individuals are perceived as possible trouble-makers, or even criminals. This is an association that can be traced back to Roman times.


• The earliest reference to British royalty being tattooed was King Harold II (1022 – 1066). It is recorded – possibly spuriously – by William of Poitiers that Harold's sister Edith could only pick out his mutilated body after the Battle of Hastings from the words 'Edith' and 'England' tattooed on his chest.


• In 1862, the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) had the Jerusalem Cross tattooed on his arm, which sparked off a fashion for tattooing among the upper classes.


• The tradition for tattooing among sailors is thought to date back to Captain Cook's Pacific voyages, when sailors began to copy the heavily tattooed Polynesians they encountered in Tahiti. Particular tattoos are said to have certain meanings: an anchor, as seen on cartoon sailor Popeye's arm is thought to signify a sailor having crossed the Atlantic Ocean, while a tattoo of a full-rigged ship indicates having sailed round Cape Horn, and a shell-backed turtle that a sailor has crossed the Equator.


The Museum of Antiquities

Issued by Newcastle University Press Office. For further information contact Melanie Reed on +44 (0) 191 222 5791; e-mail press.office@ncl.ac.uk



Dig unearths 'unique' Roman baths


Dr Wilkinson said the bathhouse was about 10m (32.8ft) wide

An archaeological dig in Kent has turned up a Roman bathhouse described as "totally unique" for the county.


The remains of the 5th Century building were uncovered in a field in Faversham by students working with the Kent Archaeological Field School.


Dr Paul Wilkinson said the Roman baths came to light during a number of excavations for Swale Borough Council.


He claimed the octagon-shaped bathhouse was a "very exciting" find and a first for the South East.


Dr Wilkinson said: "There's unique shapes in it, there's a hexagon plunge bath in the centre, there would have been two storeys, there's a fountain in the centre of it.


"This really is very exotic and sophisticated architecture."


Dr Wilkinson said the dig had also unearthed Roman coins, an old cheese press and a hairpin made from bone.



Stone by stone, craftsmen build medieval-style castle

POSTED: 10:10 a.m. EDT, August 31, 2006

By Angela Doland

Associated Press


TREIGNY, France (AP) -- Once upon a time, deep in the forests of Burgundy, a man was haunted by a vision. He dreamed of building a castle, with turrets, great walls and a moat. Some people wondered if he was mad.


This was, after all, 1996.


And yet Michel Guyot set out to build his castle the hard way -- the medieval way. With only hammers and chisels to carve the stones. With only horses to cart the rock. Without power tools.


Ten years later, Guedelon castle is about one-third finished, with imposing sandstone walls that rise up out of the red Burgundy soil. It's a living history lesson and a successful tourism project: Last year, 245,000 visitors admired the work of Guedelon's stonecutters, carpenters, potters, rope-makers and blacksmiths.


The 50 paid craftsmen, plus volunteers, wear tunics and use rustic tools. Except for the occasional hardhat or pair of safety goggles, there's little to remind visitors that this is not the 13th century, but the 21st.


On a recent visit to Guedelon, I watched in awe as a man climbed into a wooden contraption that looked like a huge hamster wheel. He ran frantically, spinning the wheel and activating a pulley system that lifted a load of stones atop a tower.


When he was done, our tour group broke into applause, and poor Jean-Paul climbed off the wheel, huffing and puffing and fanning his tunic. It was all so ... medieval.


Guyot, an archaeology buff, mounted the project after restoring a castle in nearby Saint-Fargeau. Building a castle from scratch was a childhood dream -- a sandcastle on a huge scale.


"I told myself that acts of folly are the only things that one doesn't regret in life," Guyot said. "With projects like this, you just have to go for them, full-speed ahead."

Slow going


Though some pronounced the project outlandish, others quickly understood his vision. It took only one year to secure financing and get going. Work began in 1997. Guedelon, which brought in about $2.6 million from tourists last year, no longer relies on outside funding from the state or corporations.


Historical accuracy is key. Jacques Moulin, France's chief architect in charge of historic monuments, designed a blueprint for the castle based on 13th century architectural canons. Archaeologists and art historians survey the project, which is helping castle specialists test hypotheses about medieval building techniques.


"You learn that you can lift 1,300-pound beams without modern machinery," said Maryline Martin, the site director. "All it takes is common sense and manpower."


Guedelon's craftsmen say it's satisfying to build something slowly, as a team, especially in the fast-paced Internet age. Clement Guerard, a stonecutter, says measuring out and carving a complicated stone may take up to eight days.


All the stones -- ferruginous sandstone -- come from a quarry on the site of the castle. The wooden scaffolding comes from the surrounding forest.


"Using only the nature that surrounds you, you can build a chateau," said Guerard, who restored historical buildings before joining Guedelon.


On my visit, the "ping" of chisels on rock filled the air, and our tour group was occasionally moved out of the way by a passing horse-drawn cart. Our guide blended humor with the history lesson and had us play the role of invaders to explain how even the smallest architectural details helped protect castles.


Some examples: A staircase turns clockwise, forcing invaders to transfer their spears to the left hand and giving the defense an advantage. An extra-tall step requires them to take off their chain-link armor to scale it. Anyone who actually makes it up the stairs alive would have to bend over to pass through a low doorway -- giving the castle's hatchet-armed defenders a prime crack at their necks.


Our guide was waiting for me outside the doorway -- in position to karate chop my neck. If it was the 13th century, I would have lost my head. Instead I had a great view of the bustling work site.


Some of the walls are already covered with moss, a reminder that the project is slow-going. If all goes well, the castle will be finished in 2023. After that, the craftsmen plan to build an abbey, then a village.


"This will never be finished, because it's not about the end result of having a castle," Guyot said. It's about the dream of building -- stone by stone.


Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.



The Times      September 02, 2006

Hub of Etruscan civilisation found

By Martin Penner


Archaeologists believe that they have found the ruins of the religious and political centre of the Etruscan civilisation.


The Etruscans lived in the area between Rome and Florence from the 8th century BC until they were absorbed by Romans about 600 years later.


The heads of Etruria’s 12 city states would meet to discuss their affairs every spring at a holy place called the Fanum Voltumnae. It was never clear where the Fanum was but archaeologists from Macerata University believe they have found it at a site near the hill town of Orvieto, 60 miles (96km) north of Rome.


Extensive digs at the site revealed the walls of a central temple, two important roads and part of the perimeter wall of a major shrine, all built in the tufa stone used by the Etruscans. “It has all the characteristics of a great shrine, and of that great shrine in particular,” said Simonetta Stopponi, Professor of Etruscan studies at Macerata University.


So far the team has not found an inscription referring to the Etruscan god Voltumna, which would confirm the site of the shrine.



Updated: 01 September 2006

New discoveries in Aljezur


THE RUINS of two mosques have been unearthed during the latest archaeological dig at Ponta da Atalaia, on the Aljezur coast. Excavation work, co-ordinated by archaeologists Rosa and Mário Varela Gomes, began on August 1 and will continue until the end of the month.


For the fifth consecutive year, remains have been uncovered from the mythical Rîbat da Arrifana, a fortressed monastery built by Ibn Qasi, a Sufi master and Muslim monk-warrior who lived there with his community during the 12th century.


The archaeologists have already discovered the remains of six mosques and their respective oratories, the foundations of a circular minaret and those of what is thought to have once been a school.


This year, the dig has been subsidised by the Gulbenkian Foundation and has received support from Aljezur Câmara and the borough’s Association for the Defence of the Patrimony. However, the archaeologists have been working unpaid, and their excavation team is comprised of students studying archaeology at Lisbon’s Universidade Nova.


The project, despite its historical importance, has failed to attract European Community funding, following several applications from Aljezur Câmara.



Ancient Korean Ships Unearthed in China

Archaeologists are excited about the discovery of two ships that are believed to have ferried between Korea and China in the 14th century. The wooden ships are thought to have been used during Korea's Koryo era that lasted until 1392, before the advent of the Chosun Dynasty. Korea's National Maritime Museum confirmed that the ships were unearthed from China's coast near Shandong Province in cooperation with China's local ancient culture office. Authorities hope the discovery will shed light on ancient voyages on the high seas.


A vessel from the Korean Koryo Kingdom dating back to the 14th century. The wooden ship, found along with a Chinese ship (below) off the sea of Penglai in China’s Shandong Province last year, is 21.7 m long and 5.2 m wide./Yonhap



Receding Texas lake reveals old skeleton

Wed Aug 30, 7:27 AM ET


AUSTIN - Archeologists say a prehistoric skeleton and campsite discovered on the muddy shore of Lake Travis could be between 700 and 2,000 years old.

Click to learn more...


An archaeology crew excavated the nearly intact skeleton on Sunday so that it can be donated to the University of Texas for further study.


"The significance of this is really an understanding of the ways of people who lived here in the past," said Andy Malof, an archaeologist with the Lower Colorado River Authority. "It gives us information about their health, their diet, stresses and their environment."


He said that an on-site examination of the body indicated that it is less than 1,000 years old. But arrowheads collected at the site suggest a burial taking place between 1,500 and 2,000 years ago, he said.


David Houston, of Austin, came across the skeleton on Aug. 9 when he pulled his personal watercraft onto the lake shore to admire a nearby house. He said he saw a jawbone, teeth and a forearm in the clay soil.


The camp had been submerged by the lake, which was created in 1941, but declining lake levels revealed the site. As of Friday, the lake had fallen to 16 feet below its August average, according to the LCRA.


Houston, an archaeology buff who has "home-schooled" himself on the subject for almost 25 years, said he recognized the skull as dating back hundreds of years. The teeth are ground down, which indicates the person ate food that is stone-ground and has tiny rock fragments in it, he said.


"I kind of did a double take," Houston said. "I thought, 'Am I really seeing what I think I'm seeing?'"


Members of the archaeology team that unearthed the skeleton said they also found flat rocks that could have been used to grind food. Malof said some of the rocks were arranged like a hearth.


Malof said the discovery is fairly unique. The skeleton is homo sapiens, and was probably a woman about 40 years old, he said. The skeleton will be tested further for more information.


The oldest known female remains discovered in Texas were those of an Ice Age woman discovered near Leander in 1982. Known as the Leanderthal Lady, her skeleton was thought to have been buried between 11,000 and 8,000 B.C.


Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com