'Royal' Iron Age roundhouse found
One of the biggest Iron Age roundhouses ever found in Scotland has been uncovered during an archaeological dig near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire.
The 2,000-year-old stone building was found in the Bennachie hills on the site of an earlier Bronze Age fort.
The archaeologists who uncovered it said the size of the building suggested it was inhabited by society's elite.
But they said it was impossible to say what relationship the owners had with Roman soldiers living in nearby camps.
The 20m wide roundhouse was lived in by the predecessors of the Picts around the time of the Roman invasions of northern Scotland.
It was found in an area known as Maiden Castle, at the foot of the Bennachie range's Mither Tap peak.
A 20-strong team of professional archaeologists, students and local volunteers have spent the last two weeks excavating and mapping the site.
It was led by Murray Cook, of Edinburgh-based AOC Archaeology, who said the people living in the house would have been farmers growing a mixture of crops and keeping a stock of animals.
He added: "It is one of the biggest roundhouses in Scotland and is certainly what we would class as an elite residence.
"It is from period running from 200 BC to 200 AD, when the most substantial roundhouses were being built across Scotland."
The roundhouse was surrounded by a cobbled road. Mr Cook said the inhabitants would have engaged in long-distance trade, and would almost definitely have been aware of the Roman presence to the south.
He added: "They might have been around when the Romans invaded northern Scotland and there are Roman marching camps nearby.
"But it is impossible to say whether those in the roundhouse fled, resisted or befriended the Romans when they arrived. We have only really scratched the surface of the site so far."
The work was done as part of a survey by the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland.
TEAM UNEARTHS ANCIENT CIRCLE
08:00 - 28 June 2007
A Team of archaeologists from Bath has helped uncover an ancient stone circle in one of Britain's most remote locations.
Members of the Bath and Camerton Archaeological Society (Bacas) have taken part in a two-week excavation on Foula, part of the Shetland Islands.
The team was previously involved in an extensive geophysical survey on the island in May last year.
They were invited back to investigate the possibility that an early Bronze Age ceremonial enclosure, aligned to the midwinter sunrise, had been discovered.
Jayne Lawes, the Bacas director of excavations, said: "This year's excavation has proved conclusively that the stone enclosure is manmade.
"It is similar in construction to others of the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age.
"The actual date of the construction has yet to be established, though one shard of pottery has been found buried under 60cm of peat on the floor of the enclosure.
"That should help to provide evidence of a date when the site was in use."
The team has also taken samples of the peat for further analysis in the hope that pollen samples may give further clues to the date of the site.
Bacas member John Holbourn, who lived for most of his life on Foula before moving to Wiltshire, said: "The alignment of the stone ring to the midwinter sunrise is of real significance.
"While in the summer the island is bathed in light throughout most of the day and night, in the winter daylight lasts for only a few hours.
"The knowledge that the days will lengthen and get warmer is very cheering."
From August 6 to September 14, Bacas members will be continuing to excavate the Iron Age and Roman site at Upper Row Farm near Norton St Philip.
The site has previously featured on Channel 4's Time Team and anyone wishing to participate in this year's excavation is welcome and a training programme is available.
There will also be an open day at the Upper Row Farm site on Saturday, July 21, from 10am to 4pm.
For more information about the Foula excavation, or for details of the local summer excavation or open day, contact Bridget Hetzel on 0117 932 9939 or visit the Bacas website, www.bacas.org.uk .
Iron Age 'Mickey Mouse' Found
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
June 15, 2007 — One thousand years before the cartoon character Mickey Mouse was even a glint in Walt Disney's eye, a French artist created a bronze brooch that looks remarkably like the famous rodent, according to archaeologists at Sweden's Lund Historical Museum, which houses the recent find.
The object, dated to 900 A..D., was excavated at a site called Uppåkra in southern Sweden.
Although made of bronze, the brooch ornament likely adorned the clothing of an Iron Age woman. Excavations at nearby sites, such as at Järrestad, have yielded other unusual pieces of jewelry, such as a necklace with a pail fob at the end and another necklace strung with 262 pieces of amber.
The bronze brooch may remind modern viewers of Mickey Mouse, but archaeologist Jerry Rosengren from Lund University told Discovery News that it actually represents a lion.
"Similar shaped jewelry representing lions originated in France around 700 A.D.," he said. "After 200 years, some French artist, who probably never saw a lion in his entire life, came up with this fantasy version."
Rosengren explained that lions became an important symbol to Scandinavian royals and warlords, particularly after Judeo-Christian teachings were introduced to the area.
The Bible mentions lions 157 times. Even before the Biblical era, this wild cat was an important symbol representing power, strength and victory in battle for some of the earliest Middle Eastern cultures.
Prior to the lion symbol's introduction to Sweden, royals there associated themselves with the wild boar, an ancestor to pigs that aggressively defends itself with its sharp tusks when threatened.
At Uppåkra, Rosengren also excavated Roman coins, stamped gold foil, various surgical instruments, figurines depicting Scandinavian gods and goddesses and a large temple complex that once was devoted to the Norse religion.
Since the figurines primarily show the Norse mythological god Odin and the goddess Freya, locals at the time probably conducted pagan ceremonies for these gods at the temple. Freya was a goddess of beauty, love, fertility and attraction, while Odin was a god of wisdom, war, battle and death.
The lion symbolism of the "Mickey Mouse" brooch, therefore, would have been in keeping with the popular culture and beliefs of the time in Sweden's Iron Age (500 B.C.-1050 A.D.), although the object's charm has not diminished over the years.
A spokesman for the Walt Disney Company told Discovery News, "Mickey has always been a timeless Disney character with universal appeal across the generations. This certainly reinforces that notion in a way we never expected."
It is possible the connection between the two images might have to do with the simple "circle upon circle" design. The Disney company's website mentions that the earliest drawings of Mickey Mouse in the 1920's consisted of multiple circles, even for the character's body. Changes over the following decades, such as the addition of Mickey's pear-shaped body and eye pupils, gradually led to how the character looks today.
Orpheus Tomb Discovered?
Updated on: 30.06.2007, 10:28
Published on: 29.06.2007, 17:46
©Author: Olga Yoncheva
Orpheus sanctuary in Rhodope mountains is with thousand years older than the Egyptian pyramids.
The sensational discovery was made by an archaeological expedition which investigated the temple of the Thracians near the village of Tatul, informed BNT.
The scientists found 6000-year old buildings with preserved tools made of semi-precious stones, crockery, animal remains. According to the archaeologists now it can be claimed that this is the Tomb of Orpheus, which has been visited of thousands of pilgrims from around the antique world.
The sanctuary is one of the oldest in the world and can be compared only with cult complexes as Stonehеnge.
The Egyptian pyramids were built 4500 years ago. 1500 years earlier in the Rhodope mountains the Thracians construct their rock sanctuaries. This was proven by the archaeologists who for third successive year examine the Orpheus Tomb.
The life of Tatul has continued for 5 thousand years. The soldiers of Alexander the Great have built here magnificent antique temple of Orpheus. Four centuries later the Thracian Odrysian tribe, helped by the Roman legions, conquer and burn the sanctuary. The Romans restore it later.
Now a joint project of Bulgaria and Greece will allow for the temple to be restored and after several months it will be shown in its all its splendour.
Egyptologists Think They Have Hatshepsut's Mummy
By Jonathan Wright
June 25, 2007
Egyptologists think they have identified with certainty the mummy of Hatshepsut, the most famous queen to rule ancient Egypt, found in a humble tomb in the Valley of the Kings, an archaeologist said on Monday.
Egypt's chief archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, will hold a news conference in Cairo on Wednesday. The Discovery Channel said he would announce what it called the most important find in the Valley of the Kings since the discovery of King Tutankhamun.
The archaeologist, who asked not to be named, said the candidate for identification as the mummy of Hatshepsut was one of two females found in 1903 in a small tomb believed to be that of Hatshepsut's wet-nurse, Sitre In.
Several Egyptologists have speculated over the years that one of the mummies was that of the queen, who ruled from between 1503 and 1482 BC -- at the height of ancient Egypt's power.
The archaeologist said Hawass would present new evidence for an identification but that not all Egyptologists are convinced he will be able to prove his case.
"It's based on teeth and body parts ... It's an interesting piece of scientific deduction which might point to the truth," the archaeologist said.
Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas speculated many years ago that one of the mummies was Hatshepsut's because the positioning of the right arm over the woman's chest suggested royalty.
Her mummy may have been hidden in the tomb for safekeeping after her death because her stepson and successor, Tuthmosis III, tried to obliterate her memory.
Donald Ryan, an Egyptologist who rediscovered the tomb in 1989, said on an Internet discussion board this month that there were many possibilities for the identities of the two female mummies found in the tomb, known as KV 60.
"Zahi Hawass recently has taken some major steps to address these questions. Both of the KV 60 mummies are in Cairo now and are being examined in various clever ways that very well might shed light on these questions," he added.
In an undated article on his Web site, Hawass cast doubt on the theory that the KV-60 mummy with the folded right arm was that of Hatshepsut.
"I do not believe this mummy is Hatshepsut. She has a very large, fat body with huge pendulous breasts, and the position of her arm is not convincing evidence of royalty," he wrote.
He was more optimistic about the mummy found in the wet-nurse's coffin and traditionally identified as the nurse's. That mummy is stored away in the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.
"The body of the mummy now in KV 60 with its huge breasts may be the wetnurse, the original occupant of the coffin ... The mummy on the third floor at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo could be the mummy of Hatshepsut," Hawass wrote.
Tooth clinches identification of Egyptian queen
Wed Jun 27, 2007 12:12PM BST
By Jonathan Wright
CAIRO (Reuters) - A single tooth has clinched the identification of an ancient mummy as that of Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt about 3,500 years ago, the country's chief archaeologist said on Wednesday.
The right mummy turned out to be that of a fat woman in her 50s who had rotten teeth and died of bone cancer, Zahi Hawass told a news conference to announce the identification.
It was found in 1903 in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings, where the young Pharaoh Tutankhamun was buried, and Hawass himself thought until recently that it belonged to the owner of the tomb, Hatshepsut's wet-nurse by the name of Sitre In.
But the decisive evidence was a molar in a wooden box inscribed with the queen's name, found in 1881 in a cache of royal mummies collected and hidden away for safekeeping at the Deir al-Bahari temple about 1,000 metres (yards) away.
During the embalming process, it was common to set aside spare body parts and preserve them in such a box.
Orthodontics professor Yehya Zakariya checked all the mummies which might be Hatshepsut's and found that the tooth was a perfect fit in a gap in the upper jaw of the fat woman.
"The identification of the tooth with the jaw can show this is Hatshepsut," Hawass said. "A tooth is like a fingerprint."
"It is 100 percent definitive. It is 1.80 cm (wide) and the dentist took the measurement and studied that part. He found it fit exactly 100 percent with this part," he told Reuters.
The team examining the mummy are also doing DNA tests and preliminary results show similarities between its DNA and that of Ahmose Nefertari, the wife of the founder of the 18th dynasty and a probable ancestor of Hatsephsut's.
DNA analysis is complicated because Hawass recently concluded that the mummy once assumed to be that of Tuthmosis I, Hatshepsut's father, is not in fact his. It belongs to a much younger man who died from an arrow wound, he said.
Asked why he would not wait for more complete DNA analysis, Hawass said: "You do not need anything else (other than the tooth) ... And we do have a definite answer now on the similarity between Hatshepsut and the grandmother, Ahmose Nefertari."
One Egyptologist, who asked not to be named, said not all archaeologists were confident the identification was watertight. "It's an interesting piece of scientific deduction which might point to the truth," the archaeologist said.
The New York Times quoted Kathryn Bard, an Egyptologist at Boston University, as saying: "You have to be so careful in reaching conclusions from such data."
The confusion about the identities of many royal mummies often arises from political events after they died.
Hatshepsut's tomb, for example, was found looted and without any mummified female, possibly because her son and successor, Tuthmosis III, tried to wipe out all traces of her memory after she died in about 1482 BC.
Priests probably moved the collection of 40 royal mummies, including the box with the tooth, to Deir al-Bahari hundreds of years after the pharaohs died, in order to protect them from desecration and looting during a time of insecurity.
China finds secret tomb chamber
A mysterious underground chamber has been found inside the Chinese imperial tomb guarded by the famous Terracotta Army, Chinese archaeologists say.
Historical records describing the tomb of Qin Shihuang, the first emperor of China's Qin dynasty, do not mention the room which is 30 metres (98 feet) deep.
The unopened chamber was found at the site near the old imperial capital of Xian using remote sensing technology.
One expert says it may have been built for the soul of the emperor.
More than 2,000 years old, the chamber is buried inside a pyramidal earth mound 51m (170 feet) high on top of Qin's tomb.
It is situated near the life-size terracotta warriors and has four stair-like walls, says Duan Qingbo, a researcher with the Shaanxi Institute of Archaeology.
The Chinese authorities have not given permission to excavate the site.
It is believed that they wish to perfect archaeological techniques before probing any further, and archaeologists have had to use the sensing technology at the site since 2002.
Despite his brutal methods, Emperor Qin is remembered as a hero in China for forging a unified state.
Archaeologists unearth treasure from 2,500-year-old tomb
Beijing, July. 1 (PTI): Chinese archaeologists excavating a 2,500-year-old tomb in east China's Jiangxi Province have discovered a well-preserved body, many pieces of bronze, gold, silver items and porcelain and jade from one of the 47 coffins discovered.
The tomb, in Lijia village in Jing'an county, is 16 metres long, about 11.5 metres wide and three metres deep. It is believed to date back to the Eastern Zhou Dynasty (770-221 BC).
It is the largest group of coffins ever discovered in a single tomb and the excavation has been dubbed "the most important archaeology project of the year" by cultural experts and media.
Nine coffins were opened by archaeologists earlier because they were rotten and partly destroyed by tomb robbers.
Archaeologists opened another coffin today and found a relatively complete human skeleton, bodily tissue, as well as many bronze, gold and silver items including porcelain and jade.
"This is the first time that such a complete bone structure was found in southern China and it will fill in gaps in the study of human bone structure in the pre-Qin era (770-221 BC)," said Zhu Hong, a palaeoanthropological expert from Jilin University.
Zhu said the unique burial style could be one reason why the skeleton was preserved so well in an area where the soil was acidic and unfavourable for preservation of human body.
The coffins were made from halved nanmu, a rare and extremely durable wood, and covered in a layer of loess. They were fire-heated to make them solid, pressurised and waterproof, Xinhua news agency reported.
Dig discovery is oldest 'pet cat'
By Paul Rincon
BBC News Online science staff
The oldest known evidence of people keeping cats as pets may have been found by archaeologists.
The discovery of a cat buried with what could be its owner in a Neolithic grave on Cyprus suggests domestication of cats had begun 9,500 years ago.
It was thought the Egyptians were first to domesticate cats, with the earliest evidence dating to 2,000-1,900 BC.
French researchers writing in Science magazine show that the process actually began much earlier than that.
The evidence comes from the Neolithic, or late stone age, village of Shillourokambos on Cyprus, which was inhabited from the 9th to the 8th millennia BC.
"The cat we found in the grave may have been pre-domesticated - something in between savage and domestic. Alternatively, it's possible it was really domestic," Professor Jean Guilaine, of the CNRS Centre d'Anthropologie in Toulouse, France, told BBC News Online.
"We have this situation of the person and the cat. This same situation of men and dogs are known much earlier from the Natufian culture of Israel which dates to 12-11,000 BC."
The complete cat skeleton was found about 40cm from a human burial. The similar states of preservation and positions of the burials in the ground suggest the person and the cat were buried together.
The person, who is about 30 years of age, but of unknown sex, was buried with offerings such as polished stone, axes, flint tools and ochre pigment.
Based on this the researchers argue that the person was of high status and may have had a special relationship with cats. Cats might have had religious as well as material significance to the Stone Age Cypriots, the French archaeologists add.
"It's difficult to say the cat was a religious animal but it probably played a role in the symbolic and imaginative world of these people," Professor Guilaine explained.
During the Neolithic, when agriculture was beginning to spread from the Near East, grain storage would have attracted large mice populations. So cats may have been encouraged to settle in villages to control the mice.
"If this hypothesis is true, cats could have been attracted into the villages as early as there were mice. These mice in the Near East were present as early as 12,000 years ago," co-author Dr Jean-Denis Vigne, of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, told BBC News Online.
It seems the eight-month-old cat in the Cypriot burial was killed in order to be buried with the person. The skeleton shows no signs of butchering, suggesting that it was treated as an individual in death.
But burnt cat bones from a similar period at the site, attest to the fact that humans did eat the animals on certain occasions.
The cat specimen is large and best resembles the African wildcat (Felis silvestris lybica), rather than present-day domestic cats.
There are no native feline species on Cyprus, so the authors presume any cats must have been introduced by humans.
DNA research identifies homeland of the domestic cat
Ian Sample, science correspondent
Friday June 29, 2007
The ancestry of the world's household cats can be traced to an ancient region of the near east, suggesting an unusually exotic origin for one of the most aloof animals ever to be domesticated by humans.
A major genetic survey of nearly 1,000 feral and domestic cats has revealed that every breed of household cat alive today originates from just five lineages which lived alongside ancient settlers in the Fertile Crescent, an area stretching from the eastern Mediterranean to the Persian Gulf.
The earliest archaeological evidence for cat domestication dates to 9,500 years ago, when cats were thought to have been kept as pets in parts of Cyprus. But the researchers believe domestication started 3,000 years earlier, with the family feline having broken ranks with its wild relatives as long as 130,000 years ago.
Unlike pigs, cows and sheep, which were domesticated for agriculture, and horses and donkeys, which were exploited to pull farming equipment, cats began co-existing beside humans by feeding on mice, rats and other pests that infested the grain stores of the first farmers.
A team of scientists led by David Macdonald at Oxford University's wildlife conservation research unit analysed genetic samples from 979 cats from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and China.
The researchers focused on DNA in the cats' mitochondria, the tiny power-generating structures found in cells that contain their own genetic material and are inherited only down the maternal line.
Searching through the genetic code sequences, the scientists looked for variations at a number of defined "marker" spots. This enabled them to determine which wild and domestic cat lineages were most closely related.
The cats fell into distinct groups, one of which included all domestic cats and the near eastern wildcat, suggesting the two were linked. The other cats fell into four groups including the European wildcat, the central Asian wildcat, the sub-Saharan African wildcat and the Chinese desert cat.
Carlos Driscoll, a scientist on the study, which was published in Science yesterday, said: "What our work shows is that cats were not domesticated anywhere else in the world, but that they became pets for people living in the Fertile Crescent before being carried to other parts of the world by humans." The Fertile Crescent gains its name from land irrigated by the waters of the Nile, Jordan, Tigris and Euphrates, where hunter-gatherers first began to settle. Different civilisations occupied the region, including the Sumerians, Assyrians and Babylonians.
The project, which has taken more than six years, began as an attempt to identify genetic differences between the Scottish wildcat and other native species, but expanded to encompass all species of cat around the globe. The information will help conservationists develop more effective strategies to protect rare species, including the Scottish wildcat.
"These genetic insights offer hope for the wildcat's future," said Professor Macdonald. "In terms of practical conservation our next move is to use this marker to find out how many wildcats are left in Scotland."
Calendar question over star disc
Archaeologists have revived the debate over whether a spectacular Bronze Age disc from Germany is one of the earliest known calendars.
The Nebra disc is emblazoned with symbols of the Sun, Moon and stars and said by some to be 3,600 years old.
Writing in the journal Antiquity, a team casts doubt on the idea the disc was used by ancient astronomers as a precision tool for observing the sky.
They instead argue that the disc was used for shamanistic rituals.
But other archaeologists who have studied the Himmelsscheibe von Nebra (Nebra sky disc) point to features which, they say, helped Bronze Age people to track four key dates during the year.
The Nebra disc is considered one of the most sensational - and controversial - discoveries in archaeology in the past 10 years.
The artefact was allegedly found by two treasure hunters near the town of Nebra, Germany, in 1999.
The plain explanation is that you have four dates on the disc
Ernst Pernicka, University of Tuebingen
Police in the Swiss city of Basel arrested the treasure hunters in a sting, and they were eventually convicted.
The pair said they found the disc on a 252m-high hilltop called Mittelberg in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt.
While many scholars support its status as an object from the Bronze Age, it is claimed to be a fake by others, notably the German researcher Peter Schauer from the University of Regensburg.
"German archaeologists don't say clearly that this is a fake. They hide, thinking that the thunderstorm will blow over," Dr Schauer told BBC News.
In the latest study of the artefact, Emilia Pasztor of the Matrica Museum in Hungary and Curt Roslund of Gothenburg University in Sweden, worked from the basis that the artefact dates to about 1,800 BC - the Bronze Age.
They examined the possibility that the 32cm-wide disc could have been used as a precise calendrical device.
Two golden arcs on the outside of the disc may show how far the sunrise and sunset move along the horizon between winter and summer solstices.
The arcs are 82.5 degrees long, which is the angle the Sun is seen to travel between the high mid-summer sunset and the low mid-winter sunset.
The precise angle varies from place to place. But Professor Wolfhard Schlosser, from the University of Bochum, in Germany, has pointed out that 82 degrees corresponds to the journey of the sun at the specific latitude in Nebra.
As such, it could have been used as a calendrical tool by Bronze Age Europeans.
"It's a difficult question to answer, but I do not think it was used as an instrument used for observing objects in the sky," Curt Roslund, an astronomer at Gothenburg told BBC News.
"I can't find any evidence for this," he added.
Roslund and Pasztor argue that few features on the disc tend towards exact representation and that it is more likely to have been of symbolic value - perhaps used in shamanic rituals.
But Ernst Pernicke, from the University of Tuebingen, Germany, maintained that the disc was likely to have been used as a calendrical tool.
If you urinate on a piece of bronze and then hide it in the ground for a few weeks you can produce the same patina as on the disc
Peter Schauer, University of Regensburg
"The plain explanation is that you have four dates on the disc," he told BBC News.
"You have the summer and winter solstice from the bends on the side, a date in March and in September from the Pleiades star constellation.
Supporters of this interpretation have proposed that the cluster of seven gold spots on the disc represent the constellation known as the Pleiades.
In Antiquity, Pasztor and Roslund suggest that if the goldsmith intended to produce an accurate chart of the sky, he would have not have ignored the conspicuous nearby constellation of Orion, and the square of Pegasus to the right.
But the disc could also have been used to harmonise the lunar and solar calendars.
Ralph Hansen from the University of Hamburg, found that a calculation rule in ancient Babylonian texts which said that a thirteenth month should be added to the lunar calendar when one sees the moon in exactly the arrangement that appears on the Nebra disc.
In addition, the number of stars on the disc is 32, along with the Moon, that makes 33 objects in total. Intriguingly, 33 Moon years are equivalent to 32 Sun years.
This information could have told farmers when to plant and harvest their crops.
"The Moon is better for short-term time measurements - but this means that festivals change dates each year. For a society whose survival is dependent on agriculture, these cannot be changed because they are dependent on sunshine," said Ernst Pernicka.
"For everyday calendrical purposes, you would use Moon years. But for designing when to plough fields and when to harvest, you use Sun years."
Because bronze cannot be dated directly, claims of an ancient date for the disc rest on several pieces of evidence. They include:
"We have searched about a dozen different types of evidence for indications of a fake. In the absence of any positive results, the probability that the disc is authentic is multiplied each time," said Dr Pernicka.
But for Peter Schauer, the disc's authenticity remains in question.
"The patina on all the pieces is different," he said, "If you urinate on a piece of bronze and then hide it in the ground for a few weeks you can produce the same patina as on the disc."