Prehistoric drug kit is evidence of Stoned Age

Jonathan Leake, Science Editor

The Sunday Times

October 19, 2008


Stone Age humans could well have deserved the name. Scientists have found the drug paraphernalia used by prehistoric humans to cook up herbal mixtures to get themselves high.


Scientists have long suspected that humans have an ancient history of drug use but much of the evidence has been indirect, ranging from the bizarre images found in prehistoric cave art to the discovery of hemp seeds in excavations.


Now, however, researchers have found equipment used to prepare hallucinogenic drugs for sniffing, and dated them back to South American tribes.


Quetta Kaye, of University College London, and Scott Fitz-patrick, an archaeologist from North Carolina State University, found the ceramic bowls, plus tubes used to inhale drug fumes or powders, on the Caribbean island of Carriacou.


The bowls appear to have originated in South America between 100BC and 400BC and were then carried the 400 miles to the islands. One implication is that drug use may have been widespread for thousands of years before this time.


Kaye’s research, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, said: “The objects tested for this study are ceramic inhaling bowls that were likely used for the ingestion of hallucinogenic substances.”


The use of such paraphernalia for inhaling drugs is well-known but the age was a surprise. What is less clear is exactly which drugs would have been used. Cannabis was not found in the Caribbean then.


There were, however, alternatives. Kaye believes one of the most likely was cohoba, a hallucinogen made from the beans of a mimosa species.


Archaeological investigations in Mexico and Texas have found indirect evidence that as far back as 5,000 years ago humans were extracting mind-expanding drugs from mescal beans and peyote cacti, while opiates can be obtained from species such as poppies.


Fungi may also have been used. Moulds, including the powerfully hallucinogenic ergot found on rotting vegetation, were common in caves. Fungi like the fly agaric toadstool or psilocybin mushroom were also widespread.


Richard Davenport-Hines, a former history lecturer at the London School of Economics and author of The Pursuit of Oblivion, a global history of narcotics, believes humans have been using drugs for thousands of years.


“Drug use became widespread in many early agriculture-based societies simply because it was the only way people could cope with spending long hours working in the fields, often in horrible conditions like baking sun,” he said.


Many archaeologists believe religion and spiritual beliefs must also have played a part, with drugs being used to induce spiritual or trance-like states.



Ancient Egypt had powerful Sudan rival, British Museum dig shows

New evidence about the power of a Sudanese civilisation that once dominated ancient Egypt has come to light thanks to a British Museum expedition.

By Stephen Adams, Arts Correspondent

Last Updated: 4:24PM BST 16 Oct 2008


The Second Kushite Kingdom controlled the whole Nile valley from Khartoum to the Mediterranean from 720BC to 660BC.


Now archaeologists have discovered that a region of northern Sudan once considered a forgotten backwater once actually "a real power-base".


They discovered a ruined pyramid containing fine gold jewellery dating from about 700BC on a remote un-navigable 100-mile stretch of the Nile known as the Fourth Cataract, plus pottery from as far away as Turkey.


Other finds included numerous examples of ancient rock art and 'musical' rocks that were tapped to create a melodic sound.


They only made the discoveries after being invited by the Sudanese authorities to help excavate part of the Merowe region, which is soon to be flooded by a large hydro-electric dam. More than 10,000 sites were found.


Historians had written off the area as being of little archaeological interest.


Dr Derek Welsby, of the British Museum, said: "We had no idea how rich the area was."


Remarkably well-preserved bodies, naturally mummified in the desert air, and a cow buried complete with eye ointment were also unearthed.


Dr Welsby said the finds revolutionised the history and geography of the Kushite kingdoms.


The First Kushite Kingdom rivalled Egypt for power between 2500BC and 1500BC, when many of Egypt's largest pyramids were built, he said.


"All our preconceptions about this being a relatively poor, inhospitable area were completely wrong," he remarked. We thought the first kingdom gradually grew over 1,000 years; now we know it happened right at the beginning, very rapidly.


"During the second kingdom we thought it was an area everybody bypassed. But finding the pyramid meant it was a real power-base. This was not a backwater, it was partaking in the major trade routes in the world."


The team was able to excavate hundreds of heavy items, including large blocks adorned with rock art and 390 stones that comprised the pyramid, with the help of trucks and cranes lent by Iveco and New Holland.


The Sudanese authorities gave 20 such blocks and musical 'rock gongs', plus pottery and jewellery to the British Museum. A selection will be put on display early next year.



Archaeologists Discover an Ancient Egyptian Temple near Pomorie

Updated on: 16.10.2008, 12:57

Published on: 16.10.2008, 11:34

Author: Diana Stoykova


Remains of a temple complex dedicated to the cult of Isis and Osiris were discovered in the Paleokastro region in Pomorie.


The temple dates back from the second century A.C., announced Burgasinfo


The building was built on the grounds of an ancient Thracian pagan temple, claim the archaeologists.


"There are many temples in Bulgaria, connected to Isis and Osiris, but this is the first temple complex, discovered through the means of archaeology", explains Sergey Torbanov, leader of the diggings.


During this season the main street in Anhialo was also discovered. The site of the diggings is put under security.


The artifacts, found during the working process, will be exhibited in Pomorie State Museum.



Archaeologists unearth place where Emperor Caligula met his end

From Times Online

October 17, 2008

Richard Owen, in Rome


Archaeologists say that they have found the underground passage in which the Emperor Caligula was murdered by his own Praetorian Guard to put an end to his deranged reign of terror.


Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus (AD12–AD41), known by his nickname Caligula (Little Boots), was the third emperor of the Roman Empire after Augustus and Tiberius, and like them a member of the Julio-Claudian dynasty.


His assassination was the result of a conspiracy by members of the Senate who hoped to restore the Roman Republic. However the Praetorian Guard declared Caligula’s uncle Claudius emperor instead, thus preserving the monarchy.


Maria Antonietta Tomei, a Rome archaeologist, said a cryptoportico or underground corridor discovered beneath the imperial palaces on the Palatine Hill matched exactly the description given by the Rome historian Suetonius, who says that the Emperor was stabbed to death after watching an entertainment. He left via the passageway, where the Praetorian Guard led by its commander, Cassius Chaerea, was lying in wait.


Professor Tomei said she was “absolutely convinced” that the cryptportico was the one in which Caligula met his end. Although it bore builders’ stamps from the time of Claudius, it already existed at the time of Caligula, and had only been restructured by his uncle and successor.


“It is clear that it was Claudius and not Nero, as commonly thought, who gave shape to the imperial palace complex on the Palatine Hill,” she said.


According to Suetonius and the Jewish historian Josephus, Caligula’s assassins also stabbed to death his wife, Caesonia, and killed their infant daughter, Julia Drusilla, by smashing her head against a wall. Caligula’s body was burnt and the ashes interred at the Mausoleum of Augustus, which is still standing near the Tiber. Now a ruin, its tombs were ransacked during the Barbarian invasions of the fifth century.


Unlike his father Germanicus, a widely admired and upright Roman general, Caligula became a byword for cruelty, excess, insanity and sexual perversion. His nickname derived from the fact that as a small boy he dressed up in a miniature uniform while accompanying his father on military campaigns.


Some scholars maintain that Caligula murdered Tiberius to ensure the succession, or at least ordered his murder. On becoming emperor Caligula was at first hailed as the son of Germanicus, but his behaviour became increasingly psychopathic after he fell ill in AD37 and nearly died. He had all possible opponents, real and imagined — including members of his own family — banished or killed, and seized their properties.


He also proclaimed himself a living god. According to Suetonius, Caligula had incestuous sex with his sisters Agrippina, Drusilla and Julia Livilla. He also supposedly tried to confer the title of consul on his favourite horse, Incitatus, who had a stable of marble and a collar of precious stones, and had flakes of gold mixed into his oats. Some historians have suggested, however, that such stories were embellished or even invented by Caligula’s many enemies.



Found: Tomb of the general who inspired 'Gladiator'

By Peter Popham in Rome

Thursday, 16 October 2008


Natural disaster makes for great archaelogy. Pompeii and Herculaneum we owe to the fury of Vesuvius – and today Italy's Culture Ministry announced the dramatic discovery of the ruins of the tomb of the general who was the inspiration for the patrician-turned-vengeful gladiator played by Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator, fabulously well preserved thanks to a catastrophic flood.


The general in Gladiator, named Maximus Decimus Meridius by the film makers, was a favourite of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in the late 2nd century AD and fought with him against the fearsome Germanic tribes who threatened to inundate Italy, beating them back and postponing the empire's decline and fall for another century or more.


All of this was also true of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, the man whose last resting place has now been identified. What is also true is that, while Marcus Aurelius is celebrated as a wise, prudent and benign emperor, his son and heir Commodus was a luxury-loving spendthrift who blew his father's careful legacy in a few years of riotous living and had a particular passion for gladiatorial shows.


Commodus was just the sort of emperor, in fact, who would likely have driven his old man's favoured generals up the wall with exasperation and contempt. Hence, in the film, the clash between the general and the new emperor, the destruction of the general's family, his exile as a slave and eventually triumphant – and highly improbable – return to Rome as a gladiator. All jolly good fun and completely fanciful, beginning with the patricidal murder of Marcus Aurelius by Commodus.


Concerning the true Marcus Nonius Macrinus, we know plenty about his military career – Daniela Rossi, the archeologist with Italy's Culture Ministry who reported this week's finding, says more than ten inscriptions have been found recording his triumphs, the fullest one to date being from Ephesus and in the Greek language – but tantalisingly little about what made him tick. He came from Brescia in northern Italy, where his was one of the most important families, he began his military career under Aurelius's predecessor Antoninus Pius, and fought valiantly and successfully against the Quadi and the Marcommani, the Germanic tribes which had crossed the Danube and were set on invading Italy.


Two years ago the remains of a great villa were discovered on the shores of Lake Garda, not far from the modern city of Brescia where the Fabia tribe to which his family belonged were the rulers. Here Macrinus lived with his wife Arria, who was from the Etruscan Arri tribe.


What is certain is that Macrinus was one of the most important figures of his age and an intimate friend of the emperor who was famous for his wise rule and his aphorisms, such as "Everything harmonises with me which is harmonious to thee, O Universe. Nothing to me is too early or too late, which is in due time for thee."


Doubtless he was one of the men on whom Aurelius most depended for the safety of the empire while he was ordering the construction of beautiful monuments and thinking great thoughts back in Rome. When Aurelius's brother Verus, with whom he had ruled jointly, died in battle, Macrinus was "chosen out of the closest friends", in the general's own words, to be a priest in the cult of the new Roman god Divus Verus, the deified spirit of the dead brother.


And when Macrinus died his son erected this magnificent tomb for him between the River Tiber and the Via Flaminia, the road leading north-east across the Appenines to the modern seaside resort of Rimini which Macrinus must have taken many times on his way to confront the Quadi and the Marcommani. Eight and a half kilometres from the city walls, it was in an area where his Fabia tribe had become important landowners.


Professor Rossi calls the find "the most important ancient Roman monument to come to light in the suburbs of Rome for many years," and she and her ten colleagues in the dig are now working against the clock to find what else is down there, stuck in the ancient mud which settled over the tomb once the flood had done its devastating work.


The site belongs to Gruppo Bonifaci, a Roman construction company, which has sponsored the dig and promised funds for a museum on the site to house the findings when everything has been recovered. But because of the site's commercial value to the firm – they plan to build housing on it - the archeologists have limited time to retrieve what can be retrieved, "perhaps until Christmas," says Professor Rossi.


The work is arduous because the ancient site of the tomb was seven metres below the present ground level. It was built at a depression in the landscape, another reason why in the long term it was a poor place to build anything, being vulnerable to the moods of the river nearby. Around 1500 Rome's rulers reached the inevitable conclusion and moved the Via Flaminia to higher ground further west where it would be safe from further flooding.


Today, as it has been unearthed over recent months by the archeolgists, the tomb looks much as it must have done when the Tiber's flash flood wreaked havoc on it, smashing walls and columns and pediments and caking the resulting mess in a coat of lime


"The tomb was destroyed by the river, perhaps by a sudden flood," said Professor Rossi. "We have only just begun to find how much is down there, so it is too early to say what form the tomb took, whether it was a single structure or two or several: much of it remains buried in mud; perhaps we will also find the sarcophagus. It's also too early to say how big it is, but it appears there was a row of columns at least 15 metres long, so it was quite huge."


When and how did Marcus Nonius Macrinus die? "We really don't know," admits Professor Rossi, "but if we succeed in finding the other two parts of the broken inscription, perhaps we will find out."



Archaeological Dig Uncovers Roman Mystery

ScienceDaily (Oct. 14, 2008)


University of British Columbia archaeologists have dug up a mystery worthy of Indiana Jones, one that includes a tomb, skeletons and burial rites with both Christian and pagan elements.


This summer, Prof. Roger Wilson led excavations at Kaukana, an ancient Roman village located near Punta Secca, a small town in the south-eastern province of Ragusa in Sicily.


Combing through the sand-buried site, the 15-member team made a series of startling discoveries. Central to the mystery was finding a tomb inside a room in a house dating from the sixth century AD.


Wilson explains that tombs during this period are normally found only in cemeteries outside the built-up area of a town, or around the apse of a church. And since the building was substantial with mortared walls and internal plaster, this would have been likely a tomb for the wealthy.


“It’s extremely unusual to find an elite burial set inside a house in the middle of a settlement, even as late as the sixth century,” says Wilson, who heads UBC’s Department of Classical, Near Eastern and Religious Studies.


The UBC initiative -- in collaboration with Prof. Giovanni Di Stefano of the Superintendency for the Cultural Heritage of Ragusa -- is the first major exploration of this historic site since 1972.


Locals first stumbled upon the late Roman village during the 1960s when a bulldozer preparing for new houses uncovered the tops of some 24 ancient buildings. Only a few, among them a church, were explored at the time, by renowned Italian archaeologist Paola Pelagatti.


Wilson directed students from UBC and Sicily in their painstaking work, focusing on what proved to be an “exceptionally well-preserved” structure on the south side of Kaukana, only yards from the beach. The walls uncovered stand nearly six feet high.


Once the cover was lifted off the tomb, one team member spent 10 days sieving the contents with great care. Two skeletons were found. One was of a woman between the ages of 25 and 30, with teeth in excellent condition and no signs of arthritis.


“She was in pretty good nick, so we know this wasn’t a peasant working in the field,” says Wilson.


The other skeleton was a child of indeterminate sex between the ages of five and seven. The position of their bones showed that the woman had been laid to rest first. The tomb was then re-opened to bury the child and the woman’s spinal column was pushed to one side. A hole in the stone slab covering the tomb allowed visitors to pour libations for the dead.


“This shows that the long-established, originally pagan, rite of offering libations to the dead clearly continued into early Byzantine times,” observes Wilson.


Yet, the presence of a Christian cross on a lamp found in the room and on the underside of a grave slab suggests that the deceased were Christian. As well, the skeletons were wrapped in plaster, a practice believed to be Christian for preserving the body for resurrection.


“It is the first plaster burial recorded in Sicily, although the practice is known from Christian communities in North Africa,” says Wilson.


What also intrigued the archaeologists was learning that the tomb was opened one further time, an intrusion that disturbed the bones of the child and caused its skull to be placed upside down. Wilson says he wondered whether it was grave robbers in search of expensive jewelry or other loot.


“But the tomb was tidied up again afterwards.”


Around the tomb was plentiful evidence of periodic feasting in honour of the dead. The archaeologists found cooking pots, glass and several large clay containers (amphorae), of which one is virtually intact. These would have been used to carry oil and wine to the site. The team also found the remains of two hearths where meals had been prepared.


As well, the room was designed with niches along one wall. Wilson says a knife, seafood, and fragments of stemmed goblets and other glass vessels were left on these shelves, “as though placed there after the last party.”


UBC’s snapshot of late Roman and early Byzantine life has stirred considerable interest among the Italian media and historians worldwide. With support for three years of study from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Wilson says the team is eager to further unravel the skeins of history.


When they return to Kaukana next summer, they will attempt to solve the riddles encountered this first year. “Along with questions of when the house was built and whether it was still occupied when the tomb was inserted, we want to find out why the woman and child were buried in the tomb at all.”



Archaeologists discover earliest ever foundations at Hampton Court Palace from 800 years ago

By Daily Mail Reporter

Last updated at 1:27 PM on 17th October 2008


Archaeologists working at Hampton Court Palace have uncovered the earliest foundations ever found at King Henry VIII's famous royal residence.


The significant 13th century building remains predate any other finds made at the palace by nearly 200 years.


Archaeologists working at Hampton Court Palace have unearthed the earliest surviving building ever discovered at the historic site


The unexpected discoveries were made during excavations as part of a project to recreate Henry VIII's Tudor 16th century courtyards.


Stone foundations and walls of a substantial medieval structure measuring 10metres by 25metres were found in Base Court, the largest interior courtyard of the Tudor palace.


A spokesman from heritage charity Historical Royal Palace said: 'While there is much speculation by archaeologists and curators about what the buildings were and how they were used, some very interesting possibilities are being considered.


'One theory is that the larger and earlier structure might be a simple barn, or more tantalisingly a hall or residential building that was part of the large manor of Hampton Court when the site was in the hands of Knights Hospitallers, a revered order of military monks.'


The impressive discoveries were made during the biggest excavation project ever undertaken at Hampton Court Palace


'The residential theory concurs with a story of a visit by Edward III and his entourage to Hampton Court in 1353.


'During his stay a fire broke out - for which the King admitted blame - and he subsequently paid for the reconstruction work, bringing his carpenter from Windsor Chapel to oversee it.'


Archaeologists working on the site have unearthed evidence of a fire in this large building, possibly the very building destroyed by King Edward.


The building was subsequently rebuilt in the late 15th century to form part of a group, which were part of the estate of Giles Daubeney, Lord Chamberlain and favourite of Henry VII.


The excavations have revealed the stone foundations and walls of a substantial medieval structure


Experts also found a medieval water feature complete with 500-year old lead plumbing still in situ.This ostentatious feature is evidence of the wealth and status of residents of the manor estate who lived there including Giles Daubeney and Richard III's servant John Wode.


The spokesman added that the exciting finds have been carefully excavated and recorded by a team from Oxford Archaeology who will continue to analyse and study the results with curators after the excavations have finished.


The project to represent Base Court for the 500th anniversary of King Henry VIII's accession to the throne will be complete by March 2009.


This will then herald the beginning of a series of exhibitions, events and activities to mark the historic anniversary.



The treasure trove making waves



Simon Worrall explains why a recent discovery on the seabed of the Indian Ocean will revolutionise our understanding of two ancient civilisations.


The exceptional quality of the goods has led some scholars to suggest that these were gifts from the Tang Emperor himself

"The local fishermen believe that there are underwater spirits guarding the wrecks," says Tilman Walterfang, as our boatman picks his way through a maze of coral reefs and submerged rocks.


"Sometimes, they perform prayers on the boats, sacrificing a goat, spreading the blood everywhere, to keep the vessel safe."


I am on a fishing boat in the Gaspar Strait, near Belitung Island, off the south-east coast of Sumatra.


Since time immemorial, this funnel-shaped passage linking the Java Sea and the Indian Ocean has been one of the two main shipping routes. The Malacca Straits is the other, from China to the West.


A British sea captain, shipwrecked here in 1817, called it "the most dangerous area between China and London".


Ten years ago, at a spot known locally as "Black Rock", two men diving for sea cucumbers came across a large pile of sand and coral.


Digging a hole, they reached in and pulled out a barnacle-encrusted bowl. Then another. And another.


They had stumbled on the oldest, most important, marine archaeological discovery ever made in South East Asia, an Arab dhow - or ship - built of teak, coconut wood and hibiscus fibre, packed with a treasure that Indiana Jones could only dream of.


There were 63,000 pieces of gold, silver and ceramics from the fabled Tang dynasty, which flourished between the seventh and 10th centuries.


Among the artefacts was the largest Tang gold cup ever discovered and some of the finest Yue ware - a porcelain that the ancient Chinese likened to snow because of its delicacy.


The exceptional quality of the goods has led some scholars to suggest that these were gifts from the Tang Emperor himself.


The bulk of the cargo was more homely, including 40,000 Changsha bowls, named after the Changsha kilns in Hunan Province, where they were produced.


Found packed inside tall, earthenware jars, some experts believe bean sprouts were placed between the bowls as a sort of organic bubble-wrap. These brightly painted tea bowls were the Tang equivalent of plastic food containers.


"It looks like they were approaching Tanjung Pandang, the main town on Belitung Island, when they hit the reef," explains Walterfang, the stocky German treasure hunter who salvaged the wreck.


The Belitung wreck is a time capsule that has revolutionised our understanding of two ancient civilisations that fill the airwaves today, China and the Middle East

"They may have come here for water or other supplies. Perhaps there was an emergency. Or even an attack by pirates.


"But we cannot know. It was nearly 1,200 years ago."


Magically, everything was perfectly preserved by a layer of silt. Raised from the seabed more than a millennium later, the gold cups and bronze mirrors, silver boxes and ewers look as fresh as the day they were created.


In 2005, the Singapore government paid more than £20m to acquire the treasure as the centrepiece for a new maritime museum.


But it is not just about bling. The Belitung wreck is a time capsule that has revolutionised our understanding of two ancient civilisations that fill the airwaves today - China and the Middle East.


The serial nature of the cargo - 1,000 miniature funeral urns and 800 identical inkpots - shows that China was mass-producing goods for export several centuries earlier than previously thought.


The Arab dhow, the first of its kind ever found, proves something equally startling - that mariners from the Persian Gulf were trading on a scale, and over distances, unmatched by human beings until Vasco da Gama set sail for India at the end of the 15th Century. Sinbad the Sailor was for real.


One of the Changsha bowls bore a date stamp, "the 16th Day of the seventh Month of the second Year of the Baoli reign", or AD 826. Carbon-14 analysis of some star anise found in the wreck confirmed this as the probable date of the dhow's departure from China.


Most scholars believe it set sail from Canton, or Guangzhou, as it is today, the largest of the five ports servicing the Maritime Silk Route.


No-one knows exactly where the dhow was heading when it struck the coral reef.


Its most likely destination was a place familiar to us for other reasons, the Iraqi port of Samara, or Basra as it is called today.


In the 9th Century, Basra was one of the wealthiest cities in the world, with a prosperous merchant class hungry for Chinese luxury goods.


Among the most sensational artefacts found in the wreck are three dishes decorated with cobalt from Iran which represent the oldest blue and white ware ever found, setting back by several hundred years the invention of what would become known all over the world simply as "china."


From Our Own Correspondent was broadcast on Saturday, 18 October, 2008 at 1130 BST on BBC Radio 4. Please check the programme schedules for World Service transmission times.


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Published: 2008/10/18 11:52:30 GMT