Rare Mass Tombs Discovered Near Machu Picchu

José Orozco in Caracas, Venezuela

for National Geographic News

September 15, 2008


Eighty skeletons and stockpiles of textiles found in caves near the ancient Inca site of Machu Picchu may shed light on the role that the so-called Lost City of the Inca played as a regional center of trade and power, scientists say.


Researchers found the artifacts and remains at two sites within the Machu Picchu Archaeological Park in southeastern Peru, said Fernando Astete, head of the park.


The remains, most of which were found in May 2008 at a site called Salapunku, probably date to 500 to 550 years ago, said Francisco Huarcaya, the site's lead researcher.


Due to extensive looting, however, as much as 75 percent of the fabrics found wrapped around the remains are in "bad shape," Huarcaya said.


So far only the heads and shoulders of most of the bodies have been uncovered, Astete added.


"The head and shoulder bones are seen first, because the Inca buried their dead [sitting] in the fetal position," he explained.


Formal excavations will soon begin at both sites. Huarcaya plans to exhume the remains of five people at Salapunku later this month.


The modest funerary wrappings, made of vegetable fiber, and the simple grave objects, including unadorned ceramics, suggest that the dead unearthed at Salapunku were peasant farmers, Huarcaya said. Weavers have been found accompanied by their weaving baskets, balls of thread, looms, and textiles, according to Guillermo Cock, an expert on Andean cultures.


Cock has received funding from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)


Textiles found at the second site, called Qhanabamba, discovered in August 2008, may also provide clues to the social rank of the dead.


Peasants were more likely to have been buried with textiles made from llama wool, while wool of the vicuña relative of the llama—was reserved for nobility, said Astete, the park's director.


Human remains are rare near Machu Picchu, and the wet mountain climate makes textiles uncommon finds, said Cock, who was not part of the research team.


"Finding organic material in the mountains is significant because it's so scarce," he said. "The humidity from rain decomposes individuals and textiles."


Analysis of the bones should also reveal age at death, sex, cause of death, diet, and perhaps even the dead's occupations, Astete added.


"We should be able to tell whether these people carried large burdens to help construct terraces, for example. Their bones will be bent, not straight. They will have deformities," he explained.


"Bones will also tell us about their diets and diseases. A fracture would reveal an accident."


The burial of human remains held special significance for the Inca, added Huarcaya, the lead researcher.


"The remains in tombs are like the guardians of the population in Andean ideology," he said. "For [ancient Andeans], death does not exist."


Built around 1460, the city of Machu Picchu seems to have been abandoned after the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, though it was never found by the conquerors.


Yale archaeologist Hiram Bingham brought Machu Picchu to worldwide attention after local Indians led him to the site in 1911.


The new discoveries promise to shed light on the mystery of the ancient city and its role within the Inca empire, Cock said.


"We know Machu Picchu, but we don't know its surrounding areas," he said.


"I think new material will be found that will help us understand the Incas' relationship with the region."



2500-Year-Old Tomb in Henan being slowly revealed


Source: CCTV.com

09-10-2008 09:33


As the faces of old buildings are restored at Mount Lushan, the original structure of an ancient mausoleum located in Henan Province is being slowly revealed. Excavations are nearly complete. Archaeologists already know it is an ancient site. Relics taken from the complex reveal it dates to the Period of Warring States, about 2500 years ago.


The excavation, has been underway for more than a month, at the biggest archeological discovery in Nanyang, Henan Province.


A 14-meter-long ramp lead into the burial vault. There are abundant examples of bronze pottery. The high status of the owner is revealed by the discovery of a dozen pieces of jade and other jewelry.


The experts are continuing their research. They say the excavation provides important clues for study of the development of burial customs in ancient China.



Over 1,400 ancient graves found in Greek metro dig


ATHENS (AFP) — Archaeologists in Greece have unearthed more than 1,400 ancient graves and tombs during excavation work for a new metro in the northern city of Salonika, the culture ministry said on Thursday.


The graves and tombs spanned an 800-year period from the fourth century BC to Roman times in the fourth century AD.


The finds range from humble pits and altar tombs of stone to marble sarcophagi, the ministry said.


One in five burial sites were found to contain offerings including Roman-era gold coins from Persia, jewellery made of gold, silver and copper, clay vessels and glass perfume-holders.


Founded in the fourth century BC by King Cassander of Macedon, Salonika was a major metropolis through Hellenistic and Roman times and possesses a rich archaeological heritage, some still undiscovered.


As in the case the Athens Metro a decade ago, ongoing work on the Salonika underground has already brought other archaeological treasures to light.


In June, archaeologists found four gold wreaths and a pair of gold earrings in the grave of a woman who lived in the city over 2,000 years ago.


The metro also runs beneath the city's historic Jewish cemetery, which was one of the largest in Europe and is believed to hold more than 300,000 graves.


The 9.6-kilometre (six-mile) network is expected to be completed in 2012.



Greece unearths treasures at Alexander's birthplace

Thu Sep 11, 2008 2:15pm EDT


ATHENS (Reuters) - Archaeologists have unearthed gold jewellery, weapons and pottery at an ancient burial site near Pella in northern Greece, the birthplace of Alexander the Great, the culture ministry said on Thursday.


The excavations at the vast cemetery uncovered 43 graves dating from 650-279 BC which shed light on the early development of the Macedonian kingdom, which had an empire that stretched as far as India under Alexander's conquests.


Among the most interesting discoveries were the graves of 20 warriors dating to the late Archaic period, between 580 and 460 BC, the ministry said in a statement.


Some were buried in bronze helmets alongside iron swords and knives. Their eyes, mouths and chests were covered in gold foil richly decorated with drawings of lions and other animals symbolizing royal power.


"The discovery is rich in historical importance, shedding light on Macedonian culture during the Archaic period," Pavlos Chrysostomou, who headed the eight-year project that investigated a total of 900 graves, told Reuters.


Pavlas said the graves confirmed evidence of an ancient Macedonian society organized along militaristic lines and with overseas trade as early as the second half of the seventh century BC.


Among the excavated graves, the team also found 11 women from the Archaic period, with gold and bronze necklaces, earrings and broaches.


Nine of the graves dated to the late classical or early Hellenistic period, around the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BC.


Alexander, whose father Philip II unified the city states of mainland Greece, conquered most of the world known to the ancient Greeks before dying at the age of 32 in Babylon. Educated by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, Alexander was never defeated in battle.


(Reporting by Daniel Flynn and Renee Maltezou; editing by Elizabeth Piper)



Remains of teenage girl from about 2500BC found in Burren



THE PARTIAL remains of a young person, probably female, which could date back to between 2500-2000 BC, have been uncovered during an archaeological dig in the Burren, Co Clare.


The prehistoric remains were found in the passageway to the central burial chamber of Caherconnell Cashel, a well-preserved stone fort, during the dig which began a fortnight ago.


A significant factor of the discovery is that the body had been allowed to decompose elsewhere before some of the skeleton was placed where it was found, according to archaeologist, Graham Hull.


Mr Hull, who runs a private archaeological company TVAS at Crusheen, Co Clare, said the remains were "disarticulated", meaning that it was not a full skeleton.


The excavation team, which was carrying out the dig as part of Heritage Week events, recovered the skull, rib bones, spine, pelvis and right arm during the dig. With the bones were part of a stone axe and other flints and artefacts which led experts to believe the bones date from 2500-2000 BC.


"The fact that all the bones were not there would suggest that the body was brought from somewhere else and were allowed to decompose before burial," Mr Hull said.


He said this was similar to practices carried out by North American Indians, but there were other examples in Ireland of bones from bodies being deposited like this.


He said not all of the adult teeth in the skull had "erupted", indicating the probable age of the person as about 15 years. "The facial bones, the eyebrow and the chin bone give some indication of sex, and that indicates a female".


The burial, he said, was likely to be a secondary one to the primary burial site of the central chamber in the area being excavated. The bones would be sent for radio carbon-dating and if they proved to date from the period 2500-2000BC, the find would extend beyond regional significance he said.


"This type of burial and this type of burial chamber in this part of Ireland would be unique," said Mr Hull, who is working with Dr Michelle Comber of NUI Galway.


© 2008 The Irish Times



Namibia: Team Restarts Work At Shipwreck Site

The Namibian (Windhoek), 11 September 2008, by Werner Menges


A team of local and international experts visited the site this week after its sand covering was removed on Monday, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture, Dr Peingeondjabi Shipoh, told The Namibian yesterday.


He said the team is expected to work at the site for a month or longer, depending on what they find at the spot.


The discovery of the remains of a wrecked ship, now believed to date from the 16th century, some 12 kilometres north of the Orange River near Oranjemund on April 1 has been trumpeted by diamond mining company Namdeb as Namibia's most important archaeological find of the century.


In an initial recovery of objects from the shipwreck site during April, artefacts that included thousands of Spanish and Portuguese gold coins, minted in the late 1400s and early 1500s, bronze cannons, more than 50 elephant tusks, several tons of copper, navigational instruments and pewter tableware were discovered at the site and removed for safekeeping.


The site lies under sea level in Namdeb's Mining Area 1, in an area where a huge sea wall had been built to keep back the ocean so that mining operations could be done. The site was covered with sand again after the initial recovery of artefacts.


According to a statement issued by the Ministry of Youth, National Service, Sport and Culture on Tuesday, the wreck has been provisionally identified as a Portuguese trading vessel that foundered during an outward-bound voyage to Asia.


Except for more than 2 000 gold coins and 1,4 kilograms of silver coins, the ship carried a cargo of ivory, over 1 000 copper ingots and other metal ingots that still have to be identified, according to the Ministry.


The time of its sinking is estimated to have been between 1525 and the middle 1500s, the Ministry also stated.


Because of "the tremendous importance of this archaeological discovery", Government has decided to preserve the remains of the shipwreck and put these and its related archaeological materials on display once work on the find has been completed, according to the statement.


Government-supported excavation work at the site started on Monday, the Ministry stated.


Directing the work as the principal archaeologist on the project is Dr Bruno Werz of the Southern African Institute of Maritime Archaeology, while Dr Dieter Noli, who carried out preliminary excavations at the site during April, will also remain involved in the project.


The Ministry stated that, given the international value of the discovery, Government has also invited other scientists from Portugal, Spain, Zimbabwe and the Centre for Maritime Archaeology and Conservation at Texas A& M University in the United States of America to take part in the project.



Coming to your desktop: virtual submarine that will allow access to Europe's sunken wrecks

· Project will provide record of archaeological sites

· Two locations mapped so far with plans for a third


Archaeologists are creating a permanent digital record of shipwrecks around European coasts. By recording the precise 3D arrangement of timbers and cargo from the wrecks the researchers aim to preserve the information they contain about past civilisations even if the wrecks are damaged or destroyed.


Scientists and members of the general public would in future be able to float over the wrecks in a virtual submarine from the comfort of their own desks. For researchers, this would allow them to explore the wreck and make decisions about future excavations without spending large amounts of money going out to sea.


So far the €2.2m Venus (Virtual Exploration of Underwater Sites) project, which involves 11 different institutions across Europe, has created a digital representation of two shipwrecks; one a Roman ship dating from around AD200 off the island of Pianosa near the Tuscan coast and the other, the Barco da Telha, a pre-18th century vessel that sank off the Portuguese coast near Sessimbra. There are already plans to begin mapping another Roman wreck off Marseilles.


Dr Paul Chapman, a computer scientist at the University of Hull, said that it was aimed at creating a permanent record of the wrecks. "Because of activities like trawling, these archaeological sites get destroyed," he said. "What we have been focusing on with the Venus project is how to generate a permanent database or record of these sites."


Underwater archaeological sites have also been damaged by divers taking souvenirs. "Our job has been to develop a virtual reality diving simulator that allows the user to dive down and experience the site first hand," Chapman added.


One advantage of the simulator is that researchers can add in elements that are no longer there, for example even if the wooden frame of the ship is partially or completely destroyed it can be superimposed on the remains of the cargo that are still there.


"We can also animate the disintegration of the wreck over time," said Chapman.


The cargo in the 3D simulator – for example, double-handled ceramic vases called amphorae in the case of the Roman wreck – is in precisely the same arrangement as in the real wreck. To achieve this level of accuracy the researchers conducted sonar surveys from ships on the surface before adding information from a robotic submarine called the Phantom S2. This provided more detailed sonar data plus images of the wreck itself.


The Roman site off Pianosa was first discovered by sport divers in 1989. The ship itself has rotted away, leaving a mixed cargo of amphorae. The archaeological puzzle is why there are vases that date from several different periods of Roman history. Lying at just 36 metres and in excellent visibility, the wreck provided an ideal initial proving ground for developing the 3D mapping techniques. Next the researchers want to investigate another Roman wreck off the coast of Marseilles.


The simulator is on display at the British Association Festival of Science in Liverpool until Thursday and at the Deep aquarium in Hull.


Within two to three months it will also be available for download from the project's website and will run on a standard PC.


The two wrecks surveyed so far:



In Roman times, the island off the Tuscan coast was home to the nephew of Augustus Caesar who was exiled there to the Villa di Agrippa where he was later murdered. Two underwater archaeological sites have been identified around the island. Pianosa 1, the site the Venus team has mapped is at 36 metres depth. The ship's cargo is a collection of amphorae – double handled ceramic vases – in a variety of different styles. The site was discovered by sport divers in 1989 and initially surveyed in 2001.



The Barco da Telha or Tiles Vessel lies in 55 metres of water in the bay of Sessimbra off the south-west coast of Portugal. The wreck was initially discovered in 2005 by two sport divers. They saw the ships cargo of tiles and bricks spread over an area of 20 metres by 8 metres. Also at the site are several different sized stone bullets indicating that the wreck must date from between the late middle ages and the 18th century. More accurate dating has been difficult to achieve as no wooden structures of the vessels have survived.



UN threatens to act against Britain for failure to protect heritage sites


· Unesco may put buildings on endangered list

· New legislation to address concerns, say ministers

    * Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent

    * The Guardian,

    * Monday September 8 2008


The UN is threatening to put the Tower of London on its list of world heritage sites in danger after its experts accused the UK of damaging globally significant sites such as Stonehenge, the old town of Edinburgh and the Georgian centre of Bath, the Guardian has learned.


Unesco, the UN's cultural agency, has told ministers in London and Edinburgh that it wants urgent action to protect seven world heritage sites which it claims are in danger from building developments, and said in some cases the UK is ignoring its legal obligations to protect them.


Their complaints range from decisions to approve new tower blocks in central London, such as the 66-storey "shard of glass" at London Bridge, to the failure to relocate the A344 beside Stonehenge despite promising action for 22 years, to a proposed wind farm which threatens neolithic sites on Orkney.


For all seven sites, it has asked the UK to write detailed progress reports replying to its concerns by February.


Unesco's world heritage centre in Paris is also sending two teams of inspectors to Edinburgh and Bath this winter to investigate its concerns that new buildings in both cities will damage their "integrity" and their "outstanding universal value."


In its strongest criticism, Unesco's world heritage committee has said it "deeply regrets" the decision by Edinburgh city council to press ahead with a hotel, housing and offices development called Caltongate next to the Royal Mile, despite expert evidence it will ruin the medieval old town's unique form.


In the committee's final report after its annual meeting in July in Quebec, which has just been released, it also accuses the UK of breaching world heritage site guidelines by failing to warn it in advance about the Caltongate scheme. Last month, Koichiro Matsuura, Unesco's director general, told the Scotsman there was growing concern about Edinburgh. "It is crucial that its outstanding features are preserved and protected," he said.


Leading architects and conservationists, including Sir Terry Farrell and Marcus Binney, chairman of Save Britain's Heritage, have said they share Unesco's anxieties. Farrell, appointed Edinburgh's "design champion", told the Guardian the city urgently needed a proper urban design masterplan. "I'm very supportive of Unesco's position," he said.


Binney said: "Heritage has taken a back seat to Cool Britannia and encouraging everything modern, and we're now uncomfortably in the limelight for failing to have proper policies to protect our world heritage sites, and timely criticisms are now being made."


In potentially its most serious conflict with ministers, Unesco has said it could put the Tower of London on its "world heritage in danger" list next year if ministers fail to honour promises to strengthen planning guidelines for the area.


Unesco is worried that the "iconic" Norman Tower and its 13th-century walls will be overshadowed by Renzo Piano's London Bridge tower, the so-called "shard of glass", and a 39-floor tower on Fenchurch Street in the City. It accepts that a new management plan for the area is being drafted but is angry that the new towers are still being approved.


The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which has lead responsibility for protecting the UK's 27 world heritage sites, says it is introducing a heritage protection bill which will give all sites in England the same legal protection as a conservation area.


It said its delegation to the Quebec meeting had successfully challenged some criticism from Unesco by showing that planners were acting to draft guidelines on protecting several sites and their skylines. "The tone of the meeting was very positive and our delegates came away with a very positive feeling about the likely final outcome," it said. "Nothing has been said or received subsequently to alter this impression."


The UK overturned a proposed warning that the Palace of Westminster world heritage site, which includes the abbey and St Margaret's church, could also be added to the "in danger" list next year if Unesco's concerns were ignored, by citing the heritage protection bill and planning guidelines. But Unesco still "regrets" that the UK has failed to put in a "buffer zone" to restrict damaging developments and draw up a proper "skyline study" to allow planners to rapidly assess development proposals. It accuses the UK of a "lack of clarity" in assessing the conflicts between conservation and development.


Of the seven sites examined by Unesco, Liverpool had the greatest success: the city council was praised for acting on Unesco's fears about the damage to its Georgian buildings from building plans.


In advance of the inspectors' visit to Bath, DCMS officials have said they are "extremely concerned" about the accuracy of claims in Unesco's report about the damage that could be caused by proposals for seven-storey flats and a college to its Georgian centre.


John Graham, chief executive of Historic Scotland, said he shared Unesco's anxieties about plans for high rises in Edinburgh's Leith docks and a tower to replace the St James' centre, a 70s concrete shopping centre in the New Town due for demolition.


But he had no fears about the Unesco inspectors' visit in November.


"The judgments we've reached are sound and defensible; that is the stance we will be taking when the mission arrives," he said.

Heritage sites under threat


Stonehenge and Avebury


Site The neolithic stone circle and avenues, and the associated megalith circles at Avebury, were listed in 1986.


Problem A cause of anxiety for 22 years, Unesco is angry that plans to reroute the A344 with a tunnel and build an offsite visitors' centre have again been scrapped. It "regrets" the continued delays and "urges" ministers to act quickly.


Neolithic ruins, Orkney


Site Skara Brae, Maeshowe and the Ring of Brodgar were among the ancient sites listed in 1999.


Problem Three planned wind turbines will be visible and Unesco wants the project stopped. Historic Scotland agrees they will damage it. A public inquiry will report soon.




Site The "remarkable" medieval Old Town and Georgian New Town of central Edinburgh were listed in 1995.


Problem Unesco fears several building projects in the city centre and Leith docks will damage the site's architectural heritage. It "deeply regrets" the city has approved a hotel, office and housing complex by the Royal Mile, and is sending inspectors to visit.




Site The city's grand neo-classical Georgian crescents, terraces and squares were listed in 1987.


Problem Unesco fears plans to build 2,000 flats in buildings up to nine storeys, and an engineering school sponsored by James Dyson, will damage the site's setting. It is sending inspectors and wants the schemes blocked until its committee has studied the plans.




Site Its maritime mercantile city, with its churches and Georgian warehouses, was listed in 2004.


Problem Unesco is happy the city swiftly acted on concerns that a new museum, a 24-storey tower and a new conference centre threatened the site's setting and integrity. Unesco wants further action to protect it.


Westminster, London


Site The Palace of Westminster, Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Church were listed in 1987.


Problem Unesco believes several new tower blocks, including the 170-metre Beetham tower in Southwark and a 144m tower at Doon Street, will affect the site. It is annoyed its demands for a buffer zone and a detailed study of the skyline have been ignored.


Tower of London


Site The Norman tower and its 13th-century walls were listed in 1988.


Problem New buildings, such as the 66-storey "shard of glass" tower and a 39-floor tower at Fenchurch Street, will dominate the skyline. Unesco "regrets" the UK has failed to implement a robust buffer zone or an effective local plan. It is threatening to put the tower on its "world heritage in danger" list.