Workers discover ancient 'snake'
Diggers constructing a new access road have uncovered a mysterious serpent-shaped feature, dating from the early bronze age.
The 60m (197ft) long ribbon of stones, found in Rotherwas, near Hereford, are thought to date from the same period as Stonehenge, roughly 2000 BC.
County archaeologist Dr Keith Ray said as far as he is aware the stone feature is unique in Europe.
"We can only speculate it may have been used in some kind of ritual," he said.
The Rotherwas Ribbon, as it is being called, is made up of a series of deliberately fire-cracked stones and appears to have been deliberately sculptured to undulate through the 60m of its length that has so far been uncovered.
Archaeologists said although the practice of laying stones in small level pavements is known at sites in Pembrokeshire and elsewhere.
The closest parallel to the Rotherwas Ribbon is the "Great Serpent Mound", in Ohio, USA, which is thought to have been built in 200 BC to 400 AD.
The Serpent Mound is a 405m (1,330ft) long effigy of a serpent.
"This is an exciting find, not just for Herefordshire and the UK, but apparently, so far unique in Europe. It has international significance," Dr Ray said.
Old Serpentine Mound Found in Britain
Wednesday July 4, 2007 11:46 PM
AP Photo LON150, LON151
By RAPHAEL G. SATTER
Associated Press Writer
LONDON (AP) - The stones were likely heated in a fire and quickly doused in cold water, cracking before being placed along the serpentine earthen mound. The result: a curving paved structure possibly used in a ritual by Britain's Bronze Age inhabitants.
The archaeologist who announced the discovery of the 65-yard-long ``Rotherwas Ribbon'' in western England said so-called ``burnt stones'' that cover the 4,000-year-old mound could shed more light on early civilization.
Mounds of burnt stones litter northern Europe and some experts believe they were once used in cooking. But their presence on the snakelike mound also suggests the stones were used in rituals, Herefordshire County archaeologist Keith Ray said Wednesday.
``It's the only structure we have from prehistory from Britain or in Europe, as far as we can tell, that is actually a deliberate construction that uses burnt stones,'' Ray said. ``This is ... going to make us rethink whole chunks of what we thought we understood about the period.''
Henry Chapman, an archaeologist at Birmingham University who specializes in the Bronze Age and was not previously aware of Ray's dig, said although the use of the burnt stones to pave such a monument was unheard of before, it is possible they were used for ritualistic purposes.
However, that did not mean the stones were not also for cooking, he said.
The mound was unearthed in Herefordshire during the building of a highway earlier this year. The nearby presence of cremated human remains and burnt timbers reinforced the notion that the mound had a religious function.
The exact purpose of the burnt stones that cover the English mound has long left archaeologists scratching their heads. One hypothesis is that the stones were used to cook food. They would have been heated and then thrown into water to warm it, and as the stones cooled they cracked.
Chapman said Bronze Age people had become increasingly concerned with ritualizing aspects of everyday life, as well as drawing connections between domestic and religious tasks.
``Using domestic waste in funeral material is very significant in terms of linking life and death,'' Chapman said. ``It's a really neat expression of the psychology of the period.''
Ray said the site's nearest parallel was the Serpent Mound in Ohio, an effigy of a giant, coiled snake generally thought to have been built by Native Americans sometime before the 13th century, although he added the two could not have had any historical or cultural connection.
The Rotherwas Ribbon, named for the area in which it was found, lies in the path of the planned highway and will be encased in a protective structure beneath the road once it is built.
Siberian window on the Ice Age
By Adam Fowler
BBC Radio 4's Pleistocene Park
A Russian biologist has been trying to recreate a fully fledged Ice Age eco-system in a remote corner of Siberia, complete, if possible, with woolly mammoths.
From the plane, the landscape was green - thousands of kilometres of seemingly empty tundra, forest and scrubland, punctuated by oxbow lakes, meanders and intricate waterways.
But from the small boat driven by Sergei Zimov along the Kolyma River, everything was blue.
The vast, cloudless sky was almost perfectly reflected in the water, which stretched for several kilometres between either bank and disappeared like a sea ahead.
Sakha - also known as Yakutia - is a huge Russian province in eastern Siberia, a place of large distances, long histories, and big ideas. Sergei Zimov's is one of the biggest.
At the end of the Pleistocene era - 10,000 years ago - woolly mammoths, rhinoceroses and tigers might have watched our progress from the riverside, and herds of horses, bison, musk-ox and Siberian antelope would have roamed the meadows and savannah to either side.
But now all I can see on the banks are dense willow shrubs, and the only predators are shifting clouds of mosquitoes waiting for me to disembark.
Ten thousand years ago, as the climate warmed, the grass gave way to moss and forest, habitats disappeared, and the large mammals went with them.
Or so the theory goes. But Sergei reckons climate had little to do with it and that all these animals would be thriving here now, if it hadn't been for man overhunting them to extinction.
And to prove his case, he is turning 160 sq km of Siberian "desert" back into the teeming wilderness of the late Ice Age, complete with grazing pastures and animals that have not been seen here for millennia.
If we had travelled north we could have reached the Bering Strait and the US in one day by boat. Instead, we are going south, and back in time, to "Pleistocene Park".
"Moose," Sergei shouts, cutting back the outboard and standing up in the boat. We have travelled a few kilometres upriver and two adults - re-introduced to the area as part of the experiment - and a calf watch back, unperturbed.
"Eat! Eat!" Sergei implores. The moose are key to his grand plan. The more they eat, the more the grass will come back, replacing the moss and providing more pasture for his herds.
So far there are fewer than 100 large mammals at work, making progress painfully slow, but Sergei hopes to increase the herds and within five years have 10 times as many, enough he believes to dramatically accelerate their effect on the habitat.
But it has been a wet spring. Much of the new grass in Pleistocene Park is submerged under water and Sergei's grand plan will fail if our own changing climate deprives his animals of food.
But he is optimistic that the reindeer, horses and moose that he has already brought to the park will survive.
"Next year or two: bison from Canada, then musk ox, then eventually we will have 20 mammals per square kilometre," he says.
We are on dry land now - very dry. It is the first time since arriving in this part of Siberia that the sound of my walking has been a rustle rather than a splosh.
Sergei eventually finds a boggy patch and drops to his knees, grabbing great clumps of the wet moss that is so prevalent outside the park.
"See how easy it comes away. It has no roots so the moisture stays. The animals, their hooves, they disturb the moss and let grasses grow instead. The soil dries out, the animals deposit their fertiliser, the grass grows more; and more animals can graze."
Once the population of herbivores is dense enough, the last part of Sergei's plan is to re-introduce the predators. But what will the neighbours think of wolves, bears and Siberian tigers roaming near their land and settlements?
"OK, so one or two people will be killed, like in India," he replies, "but far more will die of alcohol in this place than from tigers."
There is one big flaw, though, and it is woolly with two great tusks. Where is Sergei going to get his mammoths? "Come," he says. "Back in the boat."
Four hours later, we reach a bend in the river where the bank sheds a five-metre thickness of Pleistocene mud and ice every spring.
I am stumbling through quicksand after Sergie who is picking up mammoth bones every three metres or so. He gives me some sludge to hold and tells me it is thawed mammoth dung.
This is where he brings Japanese scientists in search of preserved skin and meat, which, one day, might relinquish enough good quality DNA to recreate a mammoth.
Sergei has no real interest in their work, "but if you create a boy mammoth in a university, you need a girl mammoth, and they need somewhere to make baby mammoths. This will be their home."
I returned from Pleistocene Park, exhausted, covered in mosquito bites and smeared with woolly mammoth poo. I thought I was going to see an experiment in the pursuit of academic knowledge about the extinction of mammals, but it was much more than that.
Sergei's grasslands could also have a significant role in slowing global warming. One of the dangers of future climate change is that it could melt the Siberian permafrost, releasing huge quantities of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent than carbon dioxide, creating yet more global warming.
Grass insulates the permafrost better than mossy wetlands and so would slow the rate of thaw during any global warming that might be coming our way.
It is in all our interests to listen to Sergei Zimov. His grand vision could mean the mammoth will once again roam Siberia, and that humans might just be there to see it.
Pleistocene Park is on Radio 4 at 2100 BST on Monday 2 July then online for seven days at Radio 4's Listen again page.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/07/02 12:28:16 GMT
© BBC MMVII
Reverse Heyerdahl: Ancient-style reed boat tackles Atlantic
By Pat Reber Jul 7, 2007, 1:07 GMT
Washington/New York - Like the great Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, a German biologist and amateur anthropologist is obsessed with ancient long-distance seafaring.
But while Heyerdahl's 1947 Kon-Tiki and later Ra expeditions proved that ancients could have used trade winds and ocean currents to drift westward around the globe to South America and the South Pacific, Dominique Goerlitz wants to prove the opposite.
Goerlitz, 41, and a crew of eight plan to set sail Wednesday from New York in a prehistoric-style reed boat to show that people 6,000 to 14,000 years ago could have made the more complicated eastwardly journey from the New World to get back home again.
The reed boat - called the Abora III - is constructed along the lines of Heyerdahl's Ra, out of 17 tonnes of reed papyrus that grows at the 3,800-metre-high Lake Titicaca on the border of Peru and Bolivia. Goerlitz in fact had some input from the late Norwegian explorer on some of his earlier boats launched in Europe.
Unlike the Ra, however, the Abora has 16 leeboards - or retractable foils - for steering, a refinement that will enable Abora to tack into the wind and carry it eastwards.
'Why did I not see this?' Goerlitz quoted Heyerdahl as saying after their first meeting in 1995 in Tenerife in the Canary Islands. Heyerdahl was referring to the keel-board evidence in ancient drawings that Goerlitz had found.
First stop on the Abora's projected three-and-a-half-month journey is the Azore islands, where Goerlitz hopes to put in for fresh provisions by August 10, and then to Cadiz on Spain's southern tip and the Canary Islands. The boat will be equipped with modern navigation and communications equipment.
One of the crew members, Bolivian Fermin Limachi, 38, the son of a man who worked on a Heyerdahl boat, helped build Goerlitz's Abora. The Amyra Indians of the high Andes are the world's only known people who still know how to form reeds into tight tapered bundles for sea- worthy vessels.
The idea that ancient people could have navigated and steered large vessels across vast oceans - not just drifted in wind and currents - flies in the face of all established academic knowledge.
That in fact is what spurs Goerlitz on - that, and the fact that people laughed at Heyerdahl, too.
'We act as though the ancients were second class people,' Goerlitz told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. 'Yet they must have been advanced sailors, and I'm convinced they had advanced navigation.'
Goerlitz cites the evidence: Plants known to have originated exclusively in the New World, like cocaine and tobacco, were found in the tomb of the ancient Egyptian ruler Ramses II. Vintage 6,000-year- old rock drawings in Egypt's Wadi Hammamat depict reed boats with keels on the side.
But what clinched Goerlitz's conviction was a lowly plant called the bottle gourd.
Goerlitz, who says he makes his living as a freelance lecturer, is working on his doctorate in invasion biology at the University of Bonn.
For more than a decade, he has bugged his professors about how the bottle gourd, which was essential for the development of irrigation and agriculture across a world that had not yet discovered pottery, managed to spring as a full-blown domesticated plant within a relatively short time in Asia, the Americas and Africa.
The standard answer was that the seed was first domesticated in one place, and then floated to the other places.
'I asked my botany professor, and he shrugged his shoulders,' Goerlitz said. ''We assume it got there under its own power,' I was told. 'Ask the archeologists'.'
The archeologists didn't know either, and they sent Goerlitz to the ethnologists, who also didn't know.
Goerlitz was convinced that the answer lay in vibrant long- distance ocean voyages, carried out for trade or colonization long before historians believe was possible.
Goerlitz found confirmation in more recent molecular biology studies showing that the bottle gourd, in fact, grew 9,000 years ago in southern Africa, and yet also emerged as a full-blown domesticated plant, without any evidence of gradual cultivation, in the Americas about 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.
'There's amazing evidence that people could sail in every direction, and the evidence in the books must be completely wrong. People who spread agriculture ... from Asia to Africa, these must have been advanced sailors,' Goerlitz said.
The Abora's website, www.abora3.de, will be posting live reports on the journey, estimated to cost more than 500,000 dollars.
New technology lets historians see the woods beyond the trees
July 7, 2007
Lewis Smith, Environmental Reporter
Hundreds of archaeological relics are being uncovered by a laser reading technique that can see through trees to reveal the landscape hidden by forests.
Trees and undergrowth are stripped away by the aerial detection system to show the remains of structures. Among the features uncovered by the system are a missing section of Offa’s Dyke, a Roman road and suspected Iron Age field networks.
The technology, called lidar, bounces laser beams off the ground from an aircraft 3,300ft (1,005m) above and records the minute differences in time it takes for the light to return to build up a three-dimensional picture of the landscape beneath the trees.
The system uses specially designed computer software to distinguish between the laser light bouncing off leaves and the light bouncing back from the ground. The technology dates back to the 1960s but it is only in the past five years that it has been sufficiently well developed to allow archaeologists to start mapping land covered by forests.
It is expected to reveal thousands of previously unknown or unmapped ancient settlements, fortifications, farms and features in Britain over the next decade. Lidar is a laser version of radar, and was tried out at Welshbury in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, where an Iron Age hill fort was known to be hidden by trees. With the trees stripped away by lidar, the embankments of the hill fort were clearly defined.
About 12 per cent of Britain is covered in woodland. Lidar has the potential to uncover every archaeological feature still hidden by trees and undergrowth. Three forest regions have been surveyed so far with images from the 280 sq km (108 sq miles) of the Forest of Dean and 42 sq km of Savernake Forest in Wiltshire complete and the data from part of the Wyre Forest still being analysed.
Scientists from the Forestry Commission are leading the project in partnership with the University of Cambridge, English Heritage and local authorities. Peter Crow, of Forest Research, said that the system had already revealed hundreds of archaeological features, many of them previously unknown both in location and purpose. “We’ve now got a mechanism to look through the leaves and see the landscape,” Mr Crow said.
Jon Hoyle, an archaeologist at Gloucester County Council, said that lidar had revealed a host of features in the Forest of Dean, including a 200m section of Offa’s Dyke that had remained unmapped, and remnants of coal and charcoal workings.
Mysterious square structures that could represent medieval forest coppicing boundaries, and some earthworks that are believed to be Roman or Iron Age, were among the finds.
In the Savernake Forest, the route of a Roman road was uncovered, and by getting an aerial view archaeologists were able to work out that mysterious 17th-century pits found in woodland were probably boundary markers used by farmers.
Ben Lennon, who works for the Forestry Commission at Savernake Forest and the Forest of Dean, said: “For so long woodland has been a black hole for archaeologists because of the difficulty in surveying them with all the trees and undergrowth. This system is opening them up and allowing us to see the historic landscape.”
Tim Yarnell, a Forestry Commission archaeologist said: “There are undoubtedly many other archaeological sites in our woods and forests that we don’t know about or which have been forgotten with the passage of time. Lidar technology gives us a wonderful opportunity to discover, or rediscover, some of these sites.”
Duke's palace uncovered
06 July 2007
EXCITING glimpses of Norwich's hidden history have been uncovered by archaeologists working at a city centre development.
Sixteenth century flint walls and railways lines have been discovered at the site of the new Duke's Wharf development, opposite St Andrew's Car Park in Duke Street. It is believed to be the remains of outer walls forming the Duke of Norfolk's Tudor palace.
Six trenches have been dug at the site, which is being turned into a new community quarter comprising housing, restaurants and cafes and public spaces.
Along with the foundations of the flint walls, evidence has also been uncovered of flint and chalk quarries used in making lime wash, cloth dying probably from the 13th and 14th centuries, narrow gauge railway lines believed to be part of the old Anchor Quay brewery works and other industrial action from the Victorian era, after the Duke's Palace had been demolished.
Giles Emery, 31, the project officer overseeing the dig, said: “The palace would have been across Duke Street - the road wouldn't have been there.
“Because it is next to the river, we think it was an area used for trade. Dyers, skinners and tanners would have worked here and used the river to travel. This dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. We have found pits which relate to the dyeing industry.”
Mr Emery, who lives in Norwich, added: “As the ground is quite soft, we think the palace started to crumble as the walls are warped and cracked.
“We are hoping to find more relating to the river frontage. If we dug deeper, we believe we would find wooden staithes by the river. The Duke would probably have had his own staithe.”
The dig is taking place to investigate the land before any future use is decided, but site owner Targetfollow wants to breathe new life into the area and make it into a “unique and high quality quarter for Norwich”.
The dig, which is expected to continue for another two weeks, is in the preliminary stages, and excavations may reach a depth of up to four metres. It is being carried out NAU Archaeology, part of the NPS Group.
James Smith, Targetfollow's development manager said: “This archaeological evaluation is the first practical step in transforming this two-acre former electricity works site. We expect to lodge the planning application soon for a development that will include proposals to redevelop the riverside path and introduce a high quality public area, as well as commercial office space, residential accommodation and complementary restaurants and cafes.”
From Rags to Riches, Or How Undergarments Improved Medieval Literacy
6 July 2007
Thought the invention of the printing press led to an upsurge in literacy rates in the later Middle Ages? Wrong, according to some historians of communication, who believe that paper was more important than printing.
“The development of literacy was certainly helped by the introduction of paper, which was made from rags,” says Dr Marco Mostert, a historian at the Centre for Medieval Studies, Utrecht University and one of the organisers of this year’s International Medieval Congress at the University of Leeds.
“These rags came from discarded clothes, which cost much less than the very expensive parchment which was previously used for books. In the 13th century, so it is thought, as more people moved into urban centres, the use of underwear increased – which caused an increase in the number of rags available for paper-making.”
Speaking at this year’s IMC, which runs from 9 to 12 July, Dr Mostert said that literacy was more common in the Middle Ages than is popularly thought. “Although the aim of producing a 100% literate population didn’t occur before the 19th century, after about 1100 the need for literacy grew steadily, and from about 1200 onwards the number of literates increased dramatically along with the number of schools in urban areas.”
Yet even in countries where there were few or no towns and, therefore, schools, such as Iceland, the literacy rate continued to grow rapidly. “Many people learnt to read at home, usually from their mothers,” says Dr Mostert. “The role of female literacy in the home has been underestimated until quite recently.”
So what would have made it onto a medieval bestsellers’ list? The Bible and parts of the Bible, such as Psalters, as well as prayer books and religious poetry, consistently topped the charts. History was popular, too: the stories about Roman emperors collected by Valerius Maximus still survive in around 400 copies. Geoffrey Monmouth’s history of the kings of Britain can be found in 200 remaining copies.
Writers were as desperate to get their work published in medieval times as they are now. As books were exclusively hand-written until the invention of the printing press around the middle of the 15th century, publication sometimes meant reading your text aloud to a public that was lavishly entertained - at your expense. “Gerald of Wales had his Topography of Ireland read out in Oxford during three days,” laughs Dr Mostert. “He spent a fortune, and still didn’t make the top ten.”
Discarded or outdated editions of books were put to good use. They were made into binding materials for new books, or, after Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries in the 16th century, into kites or covers for jars.
Urban literacy is just one of the topics being covered at this year’s IMC, which has as its focus medieval cities in Europe and neighbouring territories to coincide with the 800th anniversary of the foundation of the borough of Leeds.
Axel Muller, director of the IMC, comments: “The field of medieval studies is thriving around the globe. Many of the successes and problems we encounter in modern society have their counterparts in the medieval world, and we believe that studying that world can cast a light on many present-day dilemmas: how to treat the elderly and the sick, how to prevent crime and anti-social behaviour, surviving in dysfunctional families, living harmoniously with people of different cultures and religions, even coping with unconventional looks. Where the human condition is concerned, nothing really changes!”