Childhood 'toy' revealed as ancient Persian relic

Wed May 28, 8:26 AM ET


LONDON (AFP) - An ancient gold cup mysteriously acquired by a Taunton scrap metal dealer is expected to fetch some 500,000 pounds at auction after languishing for years in a shoe box under its current owner's bed.


Owner John Webber says his grandfather gave him the 5.5-inch (14-centimetre) high mug to play with when he was a child, back in 1945.


He assumed the golden cup, which is decorated with the heads of two women facing in opposite directions, their foreheads garlanded with two knotted snakes, was made from brass.


But he decided to get it valued when he was moving house last year and was told it was actually a rare piece of ancient Persian treasure, beaten out of a single sheet of gold hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus Christ.


Experts said the method of manufacture and the composition of the gold was "consistent with Achaemenid gold and gold smithing" dating back to the third or fourth century BC.


The Achaemenid empire, the first of the Persian empires to rule over significant portions of Greater Iran, was wiped out by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.


Auction house Duke's, in Dorchester, south-west England, will put the cup under the hammer on June 5, with an estimate of 500,000 pounds.


Webber, 70, told The Guardian newspaper that his grandfather had a "good eye" for antiques and picked up "all sorts" as he plied his trade in the town of Taunton in south-west England.


"Heaven knows where he got this, he never said," he added, revealing that as a child, he used the cup for target practice with his air gun.



DNA explodes Greek myth about women

British researchers have unearthed evidence that proves Helen was much more than a chattel

Robin McKie, science editor

The Observer,

Sunday June 1 2008


Women in Ancient Greece were major power brokers in their own right, researchers have discovered, and often played key roles in running affairs of state. Until now it was thought they were treated little better than servants.


The discovery is part of an investigation by Manchester researchers into the founders of Mycenae, Europe's first great city-state and capital of King Agamemnon's domains.


'It was thought that in those days women were rated as little more than chattels in Ancient Greece,' said Professor Terry Brown, of the faculty of life sciences at Manchester University. 'Our work now suggests that notion is wrong.'


Mycenae is one of the most important and evocative archaeological sites in Europe. According to legend, Agamemnon led his armies from Mycenae to Troy to bring back Helen - the wife of his ally, Menelaus - who had run off with the Trojan prince Paris.


The citadel was first excavated in the 1870s by Heinrich Schliemann, who uncovered tombs containing crumbling bones draped with jewels and gold face masks. 'I have discovered the graves of Agamemnon, Eurymedon, and their companions, all slain at a banquet by Clytemnestra and her lover Aegisthos,' he told the King of Greece.


In fact, the graves have since been dated and shown to be too old for those of Agamemnon. Nevertheless, Mycenae has since proved to be a treasure trove of archaeological riches. Most recently, these have involved scientists using a range of new techniques, including facial reconstruction work carried out by Manchester researchers John Prag and Richard Neave. They recreated the faces of seven individuals whose skeletons had been excavated at a circle of graves inside the citadel.


The images provided scientists with a family picture album for the rulers of Europe's first great city-state. However, genetics experts have now taken this work a stage further by attempting to extract DNA from 22 of the 35 bodies found in the grave circle. 'The facial reconstructions were carried out 10 years ago, but it is only now that scientists have developed sensitive enough techniques to get DNA from skeletons as old as these,' said Brown. 'In each case we had to deal with a single cell's worth of DNA.'


The genetic material isolated by the scientists is known as mitochondrial DNA, which humans inherit exclusively from their mothers. However, of the 22 skeletons that were tested, only four produced enough DNA for full analysis. Nevertheless, findings from these provided a shock for the team from Manchester.


While two of the males had DNA that indicated they were unrelated, the genetic material extracted from the remaining pair, a man and a woman, revealed they were brother and sister. They had been thought to have been man and wife.


'To be precise our DNA evidence suggests the pair were closely related, possibly siblings or possibly cousins. However, the facial reconstruction work of Prag and Neave also shows they were very similar in appearance which indicates they were brother and sister,' said Brown.


The critical point, he said, was that the woman was thought to have been buried in a richly endowed grave because she was the wife of a powerful man. That was in keeping with previous ideas about Ancient Greece - that women had little power and could only exert influence through their husbands.


'But this discovery shows both the man and the woman were of equal status and had equal power,' he said. 'Women in Ancient Greece held positions of power by right of birth, it now appears.


'The problem has been that up until recently our interpretation of life in Ancient Greece has been the work of a previous generations of archaeologists, then a male-oriented profession and who interpreted their findings in a male-oriented way. That is changing now and women in Ancient Greece are being seen in a new light.'



Cyprus researches millennia-old wine jars in wreck

Fri May 30, 2008 10:19am EDT

By Michele Kambas


NICOSIA (Reuters Life!) - Archaeologists have started research into what they believe may be the oldest known ancient shipwreck off Cyprus which sank with hundreds of jars of wine on board 2,350 years ago.


In what could be described as a super-tanker of ancient times, Cypriot marine archaeologists say it appears to be one of the best preserved wrecks in the region, carrying hundreds of jars of wine dating from the mid-fourth century BC.


"We have very few wrecks so well preserved in the eastern Mediterranean dating from the classical period," said Dr Stella Demesticha, visiting lecturer of underwater archaeology at the University of Cyprus.


Researchers have found 500 large ceramic wine jars, or amphorae, and believe another 300 to 400 could be buried in sand along with the hull of the boat. Their design suggested they were from the Greek island of Chios, Demesticha said.


"We know Chios was famous for its high quality red wine, and we believe that the amphorae contained wine."


Wine was a principal product of the north Aegean island in antiquity, exported in distinctive narrow-bottomed jars with long stems.


"We also have serious reason to believe that the hull of the ship is well preserved in the sand," she told Reuters.


The wreck lies some 45 meters deep, 2 km from Cyprus's southern coast.


"It is the largest shipwreck we have found in Cyprus to date," said Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the department of antiquities.


Demesticha said the amphorae must have lost their wine almost immediately with the stoppers on their spouts dissolving in water.


"Now they contain just sea water and sand," she said.



Thousand-year-old Lombard warrior skeleton discovered buried with horse in Italy

By Malcolm Moore in Rome

Last Updated: 11:44AM BST 28/05/2008


Italian archaeologists have discovered a perfectly preserved skeleton of a 1400-year-old Lombard warrior, buried with his horse.


The skeleton, which was found in a park at Testona, near Turin, is of a 25-year-old Lombard who died of a fever. Unusually, his horse was buried alongside him.


"This is a very rare find," said Gabriella PantÚ, the archaeologist leading the dig. "We have not seen many precedents in Italy. We have seen horses' heads buried with warriors, but this find shows the area is vitally important," she added.


The Lombards were a nomadic tribe of Germans who settled near the Danube and launched an attack on Italy in the sixth century.


Under the leadership of King Alboin, the Lombards stormed across the Alps in the spring of AD568 with an army of around 500,000.


Vicenza, Verona and Brescia were quickly conquered from the Byzantines, who were still suffering from battling the Goths. Lombardy was established across the whole of the north of the country, an empire which lasted for around 100 years.


The dig revealed a Lombard camp had settled at Testona, and the skeleton of a dog was also found nearby. The invaders had built an aqueduct and irrigation system and a series of small wooden huts, without any foundations.


The warrior was also buried with a treasure chest being x-rayed by archaeologists. In addition, a small bag held a pair of pincers, a bronze belt buckle and some armour.


He wore a ring on his left index finger and also had both a knife and a "scramasax", a short sword designed for close combat.



Dig aims to uncover lost villages


A team of archaeologists is hoping to solve a centuries-old mystery and discover the remains of two medieval ancient towns in Carmarthenshire.


The settlements are believed to be within the grounds of Dinefwr Park and Castle near Llandeilo.


Their existence is recorded in several medieval documents and researchers are hoping to pinpoint the exact locations later this month.


Previous digs in the grounds have found the remains of a Roman fort.


Archaeologist Emma Plunkett-Dillon said: "We know that the two towns existed because they were well-recorded in various medieval documents.


"We know that there was a Welsh town somewhere around the castle and an English town nearer the present site of Newton House, in the centre of the estate.


"Records kept by the Crown show us that they were occupied throughout the 14th and 15th centuries - we even know how much rent people who lived there were paying at the time - but the towns themselves have completely disappeared."


The Welsh town was settled by the indigenous population sometime after 1277 when Dinefwr Castle was under Welsh control.


What is referred to as the English town was established some time after that time, in order to colonise the area and capture the castle and surrounding area for English control.


Work will begin to try and pinpoint the exact location of these towns, beginning with the English one, on 23 June.


A team from Dyfed Archaeological Trust together with a group of volunteers will undertake a geophysical study of the land surrounding Newton House.


A machine will pass over the ground, detecting changes within the soil that will enable the archaeologists to identify buildings and other features buried beneath the grass.


This will be followed by the excavation of a series of small pits which hopefully will clarify the nature of the buried archaeology.


"I don't want to raise expectations, but potentially this could be an extremely exciting investigation," added Ms Plunkett-Dillon.


"I've been working at Dinefwr myself for almost 20 years and have never seen any signs of these towns.


"This is a golden opportunity to try and find them - what we're actually doing is lifting the lid and taking a look at previously unexplored areas and I for one would dearly love to finally find something."


The public will have an opportunity to watch the archaeologists in action during an open day on 28 June.



Emotional hunt for WWI remains

By Robert Hall

BBC News, Fromelles, France


Nature has softened the scars of war, but the battlefields of France and Belgium remain places of pilgrimage and remembrance.


The immaculate cemeteries are constantly visited by those trying to piece together their family history.


Others leave simple crosses close to the spot where they believe a father, grandfather or great-uncle fell during the brutal struggle for territory.


But that's only part of the story. The savagery of trench warfare caused thousands to disappear without trace.


At the VC Corner Cemetery, more than 400 Australians are remembered, but there are no grave markers here.


Their remains were never recovered.


They died in fighting near Fromelles, a diversionary attack during the Battle of the Somme.


It has been described as the "worst 24 hours in Australia's entire history" - more than 5,500 of their troops were killed, wounded, or captured. The British, fighting alongside, lost 1,500.


War Historian Peter Barton has spent two years piecing together events on that day in 1916, in an effort to trace where the fallen were buried.


German records indicated that they had been placed in a mass grave near the village of Fromelles, and aerial photographs seemed to bear this out.


Lambis Englezos, a retired art teacher from Melbourne, is in Fromelles' tiny museum. He's spent the past 30 years trying to convince his government to support the search for the missing Cobbers.


Now that day has arrived.


Half a mile away, screened from visitors, a team of archaeologists from Glasgow University are leading a team that also includes forensic scientists, recently arrived from Jersey, where they've been working on the child abuse enquiry at the former Haut De La Garenne children's home.


An Australian general, Mike O'Brien, is here to oversee the painstaking operation. He said the prime aim was to ensure dignity and respect for the fallen.


It was too early at this stage to predict what form of memorial would be appropriate.


At a media conference to announce the first remains had been found, archaeologist Tony Pollard said this was the largest investigation of its kind ever attempted.


His team believe there may be 400 British and Australian soldiers in the burial pits. It would be an emotional experience, even for those trained in such specialist work.


A short distance from the dig site lies the Australian Memorial Park, dominated by the cast figure of an Australian soldier carrying a wounded comrade.


On the plinth beneath is the framed photo of another missing man - Pte Harry Willis, from Victoria.


His great-nephew, Tim Whitford, has travelled from Australia in the hopes that the mystery of Pte Willis' whereabouts may now have been solved.


During a survey last year archaeologists found a tiny medallion that may have been his.


Tim's view is simple - all those found should be given a full military funeral.


Whatever the cost, he said, nothing else would give the men the honour that they have been denied for so long.



Treasures unearthed at Ned Kelly site

May 30, 2008 - 4:07PM


Seven-and-a-half thousand archaeological treasures have been uncovered at the site where outlaw Ned Kelly fought his way into Australia's history.


The artefacts tell more about the battle of Glenrowan in June 1880, where Kelly and his gang held locals hostage at the Ann Jones Inn, than ever known before.


A month-long dig at the site in northern Victoria ended today.


Kelly was arrested and later hung for his actions, while his partners in crime were killed during a shoot-out that ended the siege.


The inn was burnt to the ground during the siege and its remains lost to history - until now.


Adam Ford, of Dig International, led the team of archaeologists involved in the groundbreaking project.


Cartridges from rifles fired by the police during the siege, cartridges from the Kelly Gang's weapons and melted lead bullets that were fired into the hotel as the battle raged, were uncovered.


Mr Ford said those cartridges told historians more about the battle than was ever known before.


"The physical evidence of the battle is an amazing discovery, we can look at it in full details," he told AAP.


"We can see where police fired rounds from outside the building, coming through the front walls and hitting the back of the wall near where the Kelly gang were.


"We know this because all the cartridges are lying in a line."


It's also now known where the Kelly gang was hiding out.


"In the back bedroom, we found cartridges and percussion caps, so it appears the Kelly gang were going in there and reloading and getting protection, then heading back out again to the front of the building."


Potentially the most exciting find was a tiny copper percussion cap from an early musket or revolver, which may well have belonged to Ned Kelly.


Mr Ford believes a large part of a 128-year-old mystery has now been solved.


"It's absolutely outstanding, amazing. The preservation of the artefacts, what we've found is beyond our wildest dreams."


The burnt post holes and charred foundation timbers of the inn have also been uncovered.


"For the first time since the siege itself, we have an accurate picture of how the famous hotel looked, how big it was, how it was built and of what was going on during the desperate, brutal hours of the gun battle."


Coins dating back to the late 1850s and personal items such as jewellery, glass buttons and slate pencils were other discoveries.


Melted window glass and bottles that were uncovered show the ferocious heat of the fire, Mr Ford said.


Ian Jones, who has written books about Ned Kelly, was at the site today and was completely amazed by what archaeologists had found, Mr Ford said.


"It's sad it's the last day, but we can walk away happy that we've found everything we could," he said.


The artefacts will now be taken away and examined in close detail by specialists and reports compiled.


Mr Ford's final wish is for the artefacts to be stored on public display in Glenrowan - although not on the site of the inn itself.


The dig was funded by Heritage Victoria.