Stone age bones and axes found off Norfolk coast
Monday March 10 2008
This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday March 10 2008 on p5 of the UK news section. It was last updated at 00:03 on March 10 2008.
The weapons of the stone age Norfolk men who hunted mammoths on what is now the bed of the North Sea, and fragments of the beasts they slaughtered, have turned up in Holland, spotted by an amateur archaeologist in a load of gravel.
The 28 finely worked hand axes are believed to be more than 100,000 years old - possibly far older - and were described yesterday by archaeologist Phil Harding as "the single most important find of ice age material from below the North Sea".
If the dating is correct - and it may be established by the fragments of bone and tooth found in the same load of gravel - the people who worked them by chipping away flakes of stone to leave a blade as sharp as a modern kitchen knife were probably Neanderthal, not Homo sapiens
The lower sea level at the time, with huge volumes of water locked up in the ice age polar ice caps, meant that the area the tools were dredged from, eight miles off Great Yarmouth and under 25 metres of seawater, was then dry land, and Britain was not yet an island.
They were found by an amateur enthusiast, Jan Meulmeester, who regularly hunts through the marine sand and gravel dredged near his home in Flushing, in the south-western Netherlands.
His find was reported last month, and an initial appraisal by Wessex Archaeology, which monitors quarrying and dredging finds, suggested it could be of immense significance. Ancient hand axes have turned up before on the UK's east coast, but their original sites were uncertain, and they dated from a period when archaeologists believed most of the land mass of modern Britain was depopulated.
English Heritage archaeologists are now joining their counterparts in the Netherlands to study the find. What is exciting the experts this time is that the fact that the axes were dredged up with a quantity of silt means they have probably been lying buried in mud exactly where they were dropped so many millennia ago.
Dredging company Hanson has stopped work at the site and a seabed excavation may now be mounted.
Neanderthal treasure trove 'at bottom of sea'
By David Keys Archaeology Correspondent
Monday, 10 March 2008
Some of the world's best preserved prehistoric landscapes survive in pristine condition at the bottom of the North Sea, archaeologists claimed yesterday.
Academic interest in what are being described as drowned Stone Age hunting grounds is likely to increase dramatically after the discovery of 28 Neanderthal flint axes on the sea bed off the East Anglian coast.
Dating from at least 50,000-60,000 years ago, they were found with other flint artefacts, a large number of mammoth bones, teeth and tusk fragments, and pieces of deer antler. The sea bed location was probably a Neanderthal hunters' kill site or temporary camp site.
The axes – one of the largest groups ever found – were spotted by a keen-eyed amateur archaeologist when a consignment of North Sea gravel arrived at the Dutch port of Flushing.
The cache was found 8 miles off Great Yarmouth and is the most northerly point in the North Sea that Neanderthal tools have been discovered. It had been feared that the ice sheets that destroyed most pre-ice age British landscapes had done the same to the land surfaces which existed where the North Sea is now.
But archaeologists now suspect that some Neanderthal landscapes have survived under the North Sea. What's more, they are now certain that hundreds or even thousands of square miles of post-ice age prehistoric landscapes do survive there. On land they have largely been destroyed or degraded by centuries of agriculture, later human settlement and natural erosion.
The North Sea is of immense value to archaeologists and is the largest area of drowned landscape in Europe. "It's vital that parts of it should be considered as a potential World Heritage site," said Professor Vince Gaffney of the University of Birmingham, a leading authority on North Sea archaeology.
Professor Chris Stringer, Research Leader in Human Origins at the Natural History Museum, said: "The quality and quantity of material from the North Sea shows what a rich resource it is for helping to reconstruct missing phases of our prehistory. The evidence should be preserved and studied. World heritage status would help in that process."
In the southern North Sea, Dutch prehistorians working alongside North Sea fishermen over the past decade have identified about 100 Neanderthal flint axes, 200 later Stone Age bone, antler and flint artefacts made by anatomically modern humans, and the remains of thousands of mammoths, woolly rhinos and other ice-age mammals.
Detailed archaeological research at the bottom of the North Sea would be likely to solve a host of Stone Age mysteries. It should help establish when Britain was re-colonised by humans after a 100,000-year uninhabited period. It may also reveal for the first time the full technological capabilities of Neanderthal Man, because preservation on and in the sea bed is extremely good. Wooden, stone and bone implements have almost certainly survived.
Later this week, British and Dutch archaeologists will meet in Holland to formulate a joint program of North Sea research. German, Belgian, Danish and Norwegian archaeologists and oceanographers are likely to be included in a plan to map and investigate the North Sea's prehistoric landscapes in detail.
The discovery of the 28 Neanderthal axes was initially reported to the Dutch government archaeological agency, who passed the information via English Heritage to the gravel extraction firm Hanson Aggregates.
"This is the single most important archaeological find from the North Sea. We have stopped dredging that area and have created an exclusion zone to protect the site," said a senior Hanson geologist Robert Langman.
Palaeolithic Handaxes from the North Sea
What are handaxes?
Handaxes are stone tools that were used in the Ice Age. They were multi purpose tools, a bit like a modern Swiss army knife.
Twenty-eight handaxes and some smaller pieces of flint (known as flakes) were found. The remains of mammoth, including tusk fragments and teeth, and fragments of deer antler were discovered at the same time. The discovery of the handaxes was reported through a scheme set up to report archaeological finds from the sea; the BMAPA Protocol.
How old are they?
We know that handaxes date to the Ice Age but when within this vast length of time is not yet known. The shape of the handaxes can be compared with finds up to 100,000 years old. Archaeologists call this time the Middle Palaeolithic period. Detailed study is needed to confirm this dating.
People first lived in Britain about 700,000 years ago. Since then the climate has been affected by a series of ice ages. Massive ice sheets have spread down from the North Pole to cover parts of Britain, and retreated when the climate improved. For thousands of years the environment would have been very harsh, cold, and tundra-like. In other long periods of time the climate would have been as warm or even warmer than today. Through these changing times, generation after generation of our predecessors carved out their living.
Who made them?
If the provisional dating proves to be correct, then these tools were made by Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) not by modern Homo sapiens.
The first fully developed Neanderthals emerged around 130,000 years ago and remained in Europe until 30,000 years ago. The first reconstructions of Neanderthals were based on skeletons that were crippled with arthritis, giving rise to the popular image of brutish, ape-like people. Though they were certainly robust, with broad flat noses and a short build, these were not the remains of Ape-like characteristics, but effective adaptations to living in the cold environment of the last Ice Age.
Neanderthals are known to have had the capacity for speech and language and treated their dead in ways that indicate complex thinking.
How did they come to be under the sea?
Sea level has not always been the same. It fluctuates depending on the climate. During cold periods, ice sheets form at the North and South Poles, storing water and lowering sea levels.
This means that some areas that are today submerged were once dry and people could live in them. It is very likely that these handaxes were made, used and left behind during a cold period, on land that is now under water. If the handaxes are found to have come from soils that have plant remains in them, it will confirm that they were deposited when this area was dry land.
Are handaxes a common find?
Not at all. The number of finds from the North Sea, 28, is exceptional. This shows that a lot of activity took place here during the Palaeolithic period. The only finds of similar date from the sea before this have been single handaxes found on beaches.
These types of finds are incredibly rare, given how old they are, and there are only a few similar sites known on land and - until now - none from the sea. Archaeologists have suspected that sites like this exist in the southern North Sea, though until now it could not be proven.
How would the handaxes have been made and used?
Handaxes are made by taking a natural lump of flint and carefully striking pieces off with a hammer made of stone, bone or antler. Some of the flint flakes from the North Sea could have been removed from lumps of flint while making the handaxes.
The handaxes were probably used for butchering animal carcasses, but detailed examination of the tools, and of the animal bones, may be able to give more information about these people’s lives and activities.
What do we know about the landscape in which the people lived?
At the moment we know very little about the place in which these tools were made and used. However, the relatively new appearance of the handaxes suggests that they may have been buried in a soft soil, certainly not the gravels in which many handaxes are found. Loam sediments were identified with the handaxes, and also in another load of gravel dredged from the same area. This is very exciting as microscopic plant remains in these sediments can show what type of plants were growing in the area when the handaxes were made. This can help to paint a picture of the landscape that Palaeolithic people were living in.
These studies could also tell us about the climate and environment at this time in the Palaeolithic period and help us understand how the climate changed in the past.
What do we know about the place?
The handaxes were found near to an area where we already know that there are sediments some 70 and 130,000 years old. This was in a warmer period, known as the Ipswichian interglacial.
A study by Wessex Archaeology as part of the Seabed Prehistory project funded by the ALSF immediately north of where the handaxes were found, identified deposits that were laid down between 175,000 and 116,700 years ago. These deposits were of much older than anyone had anticipated. They had to be dated using a technique called Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL), as radiocarbon dating is only effective to 40,000 years ago.
Currently we have no clear evidence of people having lived in or around Britain in the Ipswichian Interglacial and it has long been thought that it was a period during which Britain was uninhabited. It is very exciting to find the axes so close to an area containing Ipswichian deposits. It may prove to be an important missing piece of the jigsaw that informs us about the distant past.
What happens next?
The finds will be analysed in order to answer these questions and more. A dredging exclusion zone has been set up around the area in order to protect any further remains that may be present.
Protocol yields other important results
Over seventy discoveries have been reported by the aggregate industry since the BMAPA/EH Protocol was introduced in August 2005, totalling over 480 separate items. This is far more than anyone expected; it was thought there might be up to a dozen reports in a year.
The finds have included shipwrecks, old ship timbers, cannon balls, crashed aircraft, a telescope, mammoth tusks and other prehistoric mammal bones, and many other items. Find by find, these discoveries by the aggregate industry are helping to build up a much better picture of our rich offshore heritage.
Ancient tomb found on Greek island
By NICHOLAS PAPHITIS
Associated Press Writer
ATHENS, Greece --
Road construction on the western Greek island of Lefkada has uncovered and partially destroyed an important tomb with artifacts dating back more than 3,000 years, officials said on Wednesday.
The find is a miniature version of the large, opulent tombs built by the rulers of Greece during the Mycenaean era, which ended around 1100 B.C. Although dozens have been found in the mainland and on Crete, the underground, beehive-shaped monuments are very rare in the western Ionian Sea islands, and previously unknown on Lefkada.
The discovery could fuel debate on a major prehistoric puzzle - where the homeland of Homer's legendary hero Odysseus was located.
"This is a very important find for the area, because until now we had next to no evidence on Mycenaean presence on Lefkada," excavator Maria Stavropoulou-Gatsi told The Associated Press.
Stavropoulou-Gatsi said the tomb was unearthed about a month ago by a bulldozer, during road construction work.
"Unfortunately, the driver caused significant damage," she said.
She said the tomb contained several human skeletons, as well as smashed pottery, two seal stones, beads made of semiprecious stones, copper implements and clay loom weights. It appeared to have been plundered during antiquity.
With a nine-foot diameter, the tomb is very small compared to others, such as the Tomb of Atreus in Mycenae, which was more than 46 feet across and built of stones weighing up to 120 tons.
But it could revive scholarly debate on the location of Odysseus' Ithaca mentioned in Homer's poems - which are believed to be loosely based on Mycenaean-era events. While the nearby island of Ithaki is generally identified as the hero's kingdom, other theories have proposed Lefkada or neighboring Kefallonia.
Stavropoulou-Gatsi said the discovery might cause excitement on Lefkada but it was too soon for any speculation on Odysseus.
"I think it is much too early to engage in such discussion. The location of Homer's Ithaca is a very complex issue," she said.
Recent finds at Macedonian site of Pella reveal a city beneath the city community
Prehistoric cemetery yields evidence of an Early Bronze Age
By Iota Myrtsioti - Kathimerini
Exciting new finds at the archaeological site of Pella have opened a new chapter in Macedonian history. Beneath the ruins of the ancient capital of the Macedonian kingdom is a large prehistoric burial ground that has yielded the first evidence of organized life in Pella during the third millennium BC.
It was while they were engaged in conservation, repairs and other work to highlight the site that the excavation team from Aristotle University came across more than 100 Early Bronze Age burials in large jars, accompanied by marble works of art from the Cyclades, local ceramics and metalware.
The finds are so recent that experts at the Demokritos Center have not yet completed the analysis of bones that will yield precise dates. However, the initial evidence supplements what is already known about Pella in the Early Bronze Age (2100-2000 BC), when it was the most important city in Bottiaea, long before it was made capital of the Macedonian realm. What became known as “the greatest of Macedonian cities” was apparently built on top of the prehistoric graveyard when Archelaus moved his capital there from Aiges, excavation director Professor Ioannis Akamatis told Kathimerini.
It was on this site that one of the most important urban centers developed. It had what was at the time an innovative, Manhattan-style, rectangular town plan, with an extensive network of water and sewerage pipes, which helped make Macedonia’s largest city one of the most important political and cultural centers of the Hellenistic Era (4th to 1st centuries BC).
The precise boundaries of the prehistoric cemetery cannot be determined because a large part of it lies beneath the urban center of the ancient city, but the graves that have been located so far beneath the city roads provide enough information to form a picture of prehistoric Pella.
In accordance with burial customs in Pella’s prehistoric community, the dead were placed in jars, simple trenches or in stone structures. The bodies placed in jars were buried with their limbs folded and the head either close to the mouth or the bottom of the jar.
Many of the jars are between 150 and 160 centimeters tall. One of them will be exhibited in a new museum in Pella as it was found, with the remains of the body and the grave goods.
The position of the body depended on gender: Men were placed facing the right, women to the left. The arms were crossed over the chest and the hands drawn up to the face below the jaw. Some graves contained infants and children up to the age of 3, while several belong to individuals aged 14-16.
The bodies in the jars represent about 30 percent of the burials. “The Macedonian plain was fertile in antiquity too. They stored goods (agricultural products, wood and metal) in storage jars, and that practice also influenced burial customs,” said Akamatis.
The dead were accompanied by objects, many of which had long been in everyday use before they ended up in the grave. Most tombs contained at least one vessel. Some of the dead were buried with valuable jewelry such as silver rings, gold earrings, bracelets and necklaces, bronze clasps, needles and daggers. “The prosperity of Pella’s prehistoric community is apparent from the metal goods and jewelry,” commented Akamatis.
All the clay finds were vessels made by hand using techniques employed in the Early Bronze Age in Macedonia (3100-2200 BC). Expertly worked marble flasks bear traces of red paint (associated with perceptions of death and life after death), indicating that they were used in burial ceremonies.
Akamatis said that the marble vessel of Pella, which is very rare for Central Macedonia, is related to a Late Neolithic Age (4500-3100 BC) example from Alepotrypa Dirou in the Mani, while a series of small Cycladic flasks date from the Early Cycladic I period.
“The flasks, made with marble probably from Paros, found their way to the coast of prehistoric Pella by sea from the Cyclades to the Gulf of Loudia. It is one of the earliest known examples of trade and economic ties between the Cyclades and Macedonia and the broader region.”
The settlement to which the burial ground belongs must have been fairly close by, Akamatis believes.
The Bronze Age settlement may have been maintained into historical times, since a few distinctive Early Iron Age objects have been discovered at Pella.
Dig uncovers Iron Age waterhole
Archaeologists have found what they describe as a remarkable Iron Age waterhole on the site of an extension to York University.
The waterhole complete with a preserved wickerwork lining was revealed during excavations in Heslington village.
The structure also contains fragments of wood giving clues to the landscape of the time, about 2,500 years ago.
The university's archaeology department plans more digs at the site, which also contains an important Roman building.
The university plans to open the site to local archaeological community groups as well as allowing students access to a live dig.
Steve Roskams, of the Department of Archaeology, said: "Exciting archaeological discoveries very often follow hot on the heels of planned commercial developments. That's what has happened here.
"It's a fantastic opportunity to learn more about what our local landscape was like thousands of years ago, and we intend to make the most of it."
Initial analysis suggests that the only evidence of high-status Roman architecture dates from quite late in the Roman period.
"If this is confirmed," said Mr Roskams, "it could indicate that York was essentially little more than a military enclave during the early part of the Roman occupation, only developing into the full-scale imperial settlement of Eboracum centuries later."
Archaeologists Unveil Finds in Rome Digs
By MARTA FALCONI – 1 day ago
ROME (AP) — A sixth-century copper factory, medieval kitchens still stocked with pots and pans, and remains of Renaissance palaces are among the finds unveiled Friday by archaeologists digging up Rome in preparation for a new subway line. Archaeologists have been probing the depths of the Eternal City at 38 digs, many of which are near famous monuments or on key thoroughfares.
Over the last nine months, remains — including Roman taverns and 16th-century palace foundations — have turned up at the central Piazza Venezia and near the ancient Forum where works are paving the way for one of the 30 stations of Rome's third subway line.
"The medieval and Renaissance finds that were brought to light in Piazza Venezia are extremely important for their rarity," said archaeologist Mirella Serlorenzi, who is working on the site.
Serlorenzi said that among the most significant discoveries in a ninth-century kitchen were three pots that were used to heat sauce. Only two others had been found previously in Italy.
The copper factory "factory" was used to work on copper alloys, and it consisted of small ovens, traces of which can be seen. Small copper ingots were found and are being analyzed.
The archaeological investigations are needed only for stairwells and air ducts, as the 15 miles of stations and tunnels will be dug at a depth of 80 to 100 feet — below the level of any past human habitation, experts said.
However, most of the digs still have to reach the earth strata that date back to Roman times, where plenty of surprises may be waiting. That may create problems between planners and conservationists, officials said.
"It is impossible that there will not be situations of conflict. We know that in some cases the conflict will create a removal of ancient ruins," Rome's archaeological superintendent Angelo Bottini told The Associated Press.
Under Italy's strict conservation laws, it will be up to Bottini's office for Rome to decide whether a find will be removed, destroyed or encased within the subway's structures.
Countless public and private works have been scrapped over the years in Rome and across Italy, and it is not uncommon for developers to fail to report a find and plow through ancient treasures.
Rome's 2.8 million inhabitants can rely on just two subway lines, which only skirt the center and leave it clogged with traffic and tourists.
Plans for a third line that would serve the history-rich heart of Rome have been put off for decades amid funding shortages and fears that a wealth of discoveries would halt work.
The $4.6-billion project is due for completion in 2015, but parts of the line are scheduled to open in 2011, with high-tech automatic trains to transport 24,000 passengers per hour.
Ancient grave markers found at the cathedral
EIGHT Anglo-Saxon grave markers belonging to ordinary folk have been uncovered in Peterborough Cathedral's grounds during restoration work.
Workers at the site, who are repairing ancient stone walls in the precincts, alerted the cathedral's archaeologist to the find, which was discovered in the same wall as a medieval fireplace.
Archaeologist Dr Jackie Hall analysed the pieces, and discovered they were 11th century grave markings which are believed to have come from a monks' cemetery.
Dr Hall said: "It was an incredible find, and very exciting to see such a large collection of grave markers in one small area.
"They are particularly important because we don't have anything else like this in Peterborough.
"There are other grave markers of a similar date in the cathedral, but they are ornate and not visible to the public.
"Although these pieces are not as high class or as special, they are still an extraordinary find."
The markings could have belonged to monks, but are more likely to have belonged townsfolk who wanted to be commemorated at the abbey.
Although some were not immediately recognised as they have been damaged, some can be seen with crosses on them and others are slightly more ornate with gridded markers.
The work, part of a major 10-year maintenance project to restore the cathedral, was taking place between the Prior Gate and the cathedral office when the small markers were found.
Peterborough City Council archaeologist Ben Robinson said there is a lot of spectacular heritage and history and extremely interesting and important remains in the precincts.
He said: "The cathedral precincts are a treasure house of history. And as you continue beyond the cathedral and into the town there is a seamless area of heritage.
"The grave markers are incredibly rare. All of our parish churches in Peterborough date back to medieval times, but you won't find anything like this, as they have been reused over a
nd over again.
"Occasionally you may find tombs of the rich and the wealthy inside the church with nice monuments, but to find the grave markers of the ordinary folk is remarkable.
"It gives us a glimpse of how these early cemeteries looked."
Once the markers have been cleaned up, they will be put in a temporary display in the cathedral.
THE history of Peterborough Cathedral is always fascinating, and the incredible finds that are still being made within its hallowed walls are a reminder of the city's great historic links, which are symbolised by this truly awe-inspiring building.
The latest discovery is of eight rare grave markers, which were unearthed by workmen repairing old stone walls.
They are believed to be of 11th century origin, and if only they could speak, what a fascinating story they would have to tell of ancient Peterborough.
Road workers unearth 300-year-old network of smugglers' tunnels under former castle
Last updated at 14:14pm on 7th March 2008
A 300-year-old network of smugglers tunnels thought to link houses to a river has been unearthed underneath the site of a former medieval castle, it emerged today.
The mysterious 10ft deep passages were discovered by water engineers carrying out routine maintenance work on pipes below a road.
The 18th Century tunnels had punched through the wall of Bridgwater Castle, which was destroyed following a Civil War siege in 1645.
They are thought to have led to cellars within the Somerset town and helped supply households with illegal and untaxed goods delivered at night by boats on the River Parret.
Richard McConnell, Project Manager with Context One, an archeological service working with Wessex Water, said : "They could have been used for some kind of clandestine movement of materials from one place to another."
But David Baker, chairman of the Bridgwater and District Archaeological Society, believes the tunnel might be 18th century sewers.
He says they could have been built big enough for a man to walk down and carry out services in the case of blockages.
Archaeologists are also excited by the discovery of the well-preserved castle walls on Wednesday, which has been hailed as an "exceptional find".
The giant stone structure, originally built in 1202 under the reign of King John, was flattened 443 years later when Parliamentarians sacked the Royalist stronghold.
The area had been the scene of a fierce battle, where Roundhead leader Oliver Cromwell was nearly shot nearly killed.
And if Lady Crystabella Wyndham, the wife of the Royalist leader Colonel Sir Francis Wyndham, had been a little more accurate with her musket the British history might have been a little different.
Eventually, with many buildings destroyed in Bridgewater, the monarchy was restored with Charles after 11 years of republican government.
In 1720 the site of the castle was bought by James Bridges, Duke of Chandos, who built a manor house.
The Duke wanted to develop and modernise Bridgwater, so he instructed the building of a modern housing development and building the tunnels.
Outlaw Ned Kelly's remains found
7:26AM Sunday March 09, 2008
MELBOURNE - Ned Kelly's resting place has been found among bones dug up at the former Pentridge Prison site.
The breakthrough solves an 80-year-old mystery, News Limited newspapers report.
The grave site of Australia's most notorious bushranger was unearthed after historians and archaeologists found a Department of Justice document that contained a vital clue.
Bone hunters last week found an unknown mass grave where the remains of Kelly and other executed prisoners, removed from the Old Melbourne Gaol in 1929, were interred at Pentridge.
"We have still some testing to do, but it's pretty clear we have found them," Heritage Victoria senior archeologist Jeremy Smith said.
The bones are believed to belong to five prisoners and have been sent to the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine at Southbank in Melbourne.
Planning Minister Justin Madden confirmed the find almost certainly included Ned Kelly's grave.
"Heritage Victoria has co-ordinated extensive archeological and historical investigations, which began in December 2006 after the possibility of multiple burial areas at the former prison site came to light," Mr Madden said.
Mr Smith said identifying the individuals might prove difficult because of advanced decomposition and the mingling of remains.
"Ned Kelly's remains were... not handled with a great degree of care," Mr Smith said.
The mass grave was found near the former F Division of Pentridge.
Kelly was hanged at Melbourne Gaol on November 11, 1880. His notorious crimes included murder.