Huge Iron Age haul of coins found


One of the UK's largest hauls of Iron Age gold coins has been found in Suffolk.


The 824 so-called staters were found in a broken pottery jar buried in a field near Wickham Market using a metal detector.


Jude Plouviez, of the Suffolk County Council Archaeological Service, said the coins dated from 40BC to AD15.


They are thought to have been minted by predecessors of the Iceni Queen Boudicca.


Ms Plouviez said their value when in circulation had been estimated at a modern equivalent of between £500,000 and £1m, but they were likely to be worth less than that now.


"It's a good, exciting find. It gives us a lot of new information about the late Iron Age, and particularly East Anglia in the late Iron Age.


"The discovery is important because it highlights the probable political, economic and religious importance of an area.


"It certainly suggests there was a significant settlement nearby. As far as we understand, it was occupied by wealthy tribes or subtribes," she said.


Ms Plouviez said the find was the largest collection of Iron Age gold coins found in Britain since 1849, when a farm worker unearthed between 800 and 2,000 gold staters in a field near Milton Keynes.


She said secret excavations had been carried out on the latest find in Suffolk after a man reported it to the council's archaeological service in October.


The staters, which each weigh about 5g, will now be valued ahead of a treasure trove inquest.


"We don't know how much they will be worth but it will be less than they were at the time," said Ms Plouviez.


"After the treasure trove inquest, they will be offered to museums at their current value."


She said the exact location of the find would not be made public but added "thorough" searches of the area had not uncovered any further artefacts.



Archaeology from the air pinpoints finds


15 January 2009 06:42


To the untrained eye, they might look like photographs of crop circles or simply blips on the landscape.


However, experts working on a major project to interpret and then map Norfolk archaeological sites from the air have made thousands of new discoveries, ranging from Bronze Age burial mounds to second world war defences - and with only 28pc of the county surveyed so far.


By examining modern and historic aerial photographs, the three-strong team have discovered almost 4,000 sites that have lain hidden and also created an accurate record of about 2,000 previously known sites.


Once finished, the English Heritage initiative, part of a national project, will be available to archaeologists, researchers, metal detectorists, students and planners.


Sophie Tremlett, senior air photo interpretation officer at Norfolk Landscape Archaeology (NLA) - part of Norfolk County Council's Museums and Archaeology Service - said: “It's a fantastic project. We have made discoveries from Neolithic times right up to the second world war, so from prehistory up to the 20th century. We are constantly discovering new things.


“Sometimes I think it would be lovely to go out and visit the sites but often there is not actually much to see from the ground and it is better from the air.


“The most exciting so far was perhaps the mapping around Caister St Edmund and the southern bypass.


“One of the main aims of the survey is to inform and streamline planning decisions regarding the rich and varied historic environment of the area.”


The team map the archaeological features from scans of the aerial photographs - in some cases more than 100 of them - and overlay the information to build up a revealing digital picture of the area.


They look for crop marks and bumps and mounds, known as earthworks, as clues to how the land was used.


The survey of Norwich, Thetford and the A11 corridor has been underway since 2001 and is expected to be completed in 2010.


It was started in response to increased pressure from development in this area following the award of New Growth Point status in the area.


In Norfolk, English Heritage is the principal funding body for the National Mapping Programme (NMP), which is being undertaken by NLA.


Helen Winton, senior investigator and NMP team leader for English Heritage, said: “The NMP is transforming our knowledge of landscape archaeology across England and the team at NLA are producing some fantastic results in Norfolk.


“English Heritage's NMP aims to unlock the archives by collating the archaeological information contained in millions of aerial photographs into a digital map of England's archaeology from the air. The recent Norfolk projects have been particularly exciting as the results have been unexpectedly complex. The many new discoveries have underlined the value of reviewing and collating the archaeological information contained in England's aerial photographic collections.”



Ridgeway excavation film released


A short film showing the findings of an archaeological dig on the site of a planned £87m relief road in Dorset has been released.


More than a dozen skeletons, thought to be up to 6,000 years old, were found by Oxford archaeologists working at the site on the Ridgeway, near Weymouth.


Excavations took place before Christmas ahead of the construction of the controversial Weymouth relief road.


The new route is set to improve access to the Olympic sailing centre for 2012.


The film showing the archaeological investigation was produced by Dorset County Council and is available to view on its website.


A 5.1-hectare wide site was stripped, making it the largest excavation of the Ridgeway for many years, the council said.


The area is known to have been important for prehistoric ritual activities and archaeologists also found pits, cist burials, Roman skeletons and a round barrow.


Geoffrey Brierley, council cabinet member for transport, said: "The advance archaeology on the Ridgeway was one of the first phases of work on the Weymouth relief road and was extremely visible from the road.


"We have created this short film so that residents can see close-up the work that the archaeologists undertook."


All the finds have been taken back to Oxford to be catalogued and will eventually be returned to Dorset where they will be put on display in a museum.



Colchester: Was town a thriving settlement in the first century BC?

7:00am Friday 16th January 2009

Wendy Brading


Vital evidence has been discovered which could prove Colchester was a major settlement more than 2,000 years ago.


Experts from the Colchester Archaeological Trust have been digging at Colchester Institute which is undergoing a radical £92 million redevelopment.


And they have found artefacts which show Colchester, Britain's oldest recorded town, may have existed as a thriving settlement in the first century BC.


Philip Crummy, director and chief archaeologist of the Colchester Archaeological Trust, said evidence, including coins, already existed that Colchester dated back to about 25 BC.


But now discoveries at the college lead them to believe there was significant occupation in the town at that time.


Among the finds at the college are a wooden paddle which was preserved for thousands of years by being waterlogged.


Archaeologists have also found what they believe to be burnt bread and a collection of glass game counters.


Ankles shackles or handcuffs, which might have been used to restrain prisoners, have also been found on site.


Mr Crummy said: "At the college site, there is more settlement activity than we expected.


"The road going through with buildings either side has remains of industrial activities such as metal work.


"It is a site which was to do with manufacturing and trading.


"This is important in learning how old Colchester is, when and how it was founded.


"I think the evidence we have found at Sheepen Place means we can push back occupation to the 1st century BC which was long expected but for which we had no evidence."


Historic evidence was first found during major excavations at Sheepen Place in the 1930s but archaeologists are now exploring the site which is being currently being redeveloped.


Mr Crummy said: "This has added significance to our overall understanding.


"We have found evidence the site started earlier than originally thought. It had been thought that it had been founded in the 1st century AD but it looks as it went back to the 1st century BC."


Mr Crummy said the evidence also supported his speculative theory that the Roman emperor Julius Caesar may have come to Colchester.


He said: "We know he crossed the Thames and fought the British king Cassivellaunus.


"No-one knows where Cassivellaunus' stronghold was but the description could have been Colchester.


"One of the problems was Colchester was not around in the 1st century BC but now the evidence really pushes Colchester back into that century and also as a stronghold."



Archaeologists uncover 700-year-old Maori home

By ALEX VAN WEL - The Press | Thursday, 15 January 2009


Otago University archaeologists have identified what they believe to be the site of a 700-year-old dwelling on the Wairau Bar in Marlborough.


The find comes as part of a re-interment project for Maori bones excavated decades ago by Canterbury Museum.


A deal between local iwi Rangitane, the museum and Otago University means scientists have been allowed back for the first time in almost half a decade.


At the dig yesterday, the main focus was a mound of earth known by Rangitane as Mohua, where the remains of a house had been uncovered.


Team leader Richard Walter believed it might have been the home of a professional adze-maker. "There are adzes on the site that look like they are made by real specialists, but there are also fairly ordinary adzes, so what we suspect is the case is that there are a small number of people who were producing the highest quality materials, but probably every household had an adze-maker."


The Wairau Bar is considered one of New Zealand's prime archaeological sites. A thin slice of land separating a lagoon from the open sea just east of Blenheim, it was settled about AD1300. Bones and artefacts uncovered at the site in the 1940s and 1950s provided the first direct link with the islands of East Polynesia.


Walter said the team had already gained a fuller picture of the site's original inhabitants. "What we are finding now is evidence of the structures, the layout; we are beginning to uncover the plans of the village itself."


Walter is leading a large group of scientists and researchers who have been at the site since last week.


Graves from the area were dug up in the 1940s and 1950s and the koiwi (human remains) were taken to Canterbury Museum. Rangitane had campaigned for the return of the bones of their ancestors' bones, which were expected to be repatriated in April.


The archaeological team is on the site to prepare for the reburial of the koiwi and do fresh scientific research.



Record number of wooden tablets unearthed from Heijo Palace remains in Nara



Tens of thousands of wooden tablets dating back to the Nara period (710-794), have been found within the remains of the Heijo Palace here, it has been learned.


It is expected to be the biggest single find of wooden tablets, or mokkan, in the remains of the palace, a survey by the Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties has indicated.


"They were in a place where important government offices were located, and there is a possibility that we will find important historical data," an institute representative said.


The previous largest find of mokkan within the palace remains was in 1966, when some 13,000 items were unearthed. The latest find is expected to far exceed that figure, and it will reportedly take several years to wash the tablets and read the writing on them.


The research institute uncovered a hole containing a large number of wooden tablets while excavating the site last spring. The hole measured about 10 meters from east to west and 7 meters from north to south, and was about 1 meter deep at its deepest point. It was the biggest waste disposal pit in the palace grounds.


Most of the mokkan were in scraps, but investigations have uncovered writing relating to the imperial guard that protected the emperor, and the inscription "Hoki Period, Year 2," referring to the year 771. There is a possibility that the wooden tablets were discarded when military-related facilities were set up.


In 1989, around 74,000 wooden tablets, referred to as the Nijo Oji mokkan, were uncovered from a separate area of the Heijo capital, but to date the total number of wooden tablets found within the remains of the palace had stood at about 50,000.


Click here for the original Japanese story


(Mainichi Japan) January 16, 2009



DNA Testing May Unlock Secrets Of Medieval Manuscripts

ScienceDaily (Jan. 17, 2009)


Thousands of painstakingly handwritten books produced in medieval Europe still exist today, but scholars have long struggled with questions about when and where the majority of these works originated. Now a researcher from North Carolina State University is using modern advances in genetics to develop techniques that will shed light on the origins of these important cultural artifacts.


Many medieval manuscripts were written on parchment made from animal skin, and NC State Assistant Professor of English Timothy Stinson is working to perfect techniques for extracting and analyzing the DNA contained in these skins with the long-term goal of creating a genetic database that can be used to determine when and where a manuscript was written. "Dating and localizing manuscripts have historically presented persistent problems," Stinson says, "because they have largely been based on the handwriting and dialect of the scribes who created the manuscripts – techniques that have proven unreliable for a number of reasons."


Stinson says genetic testing could resolve these issues by creating a baseline using the DNA of parchment found in the relatively small number of manuscripts that can be reliably dated and localized. Each manuscript can provide a wealth of genetic data, Stinson explains, because a typical medieval parchment book includes the skins of more than 100 animals.


Once Stinson has created a baseline of DNA markers with known dates and localities, he can take samples from manuscripts of unknown origin. Stinson can then determine what degree of relationship there is between the animals whose skins were used in manuscripts of unknown origin and those used in the baseline manuscripts. Stinson hopes this DNA comparison will enable him to identify genetic similarities that would indicate the general time and locale where a book was written.


On a larger scale, Stinson says, this research "will also allow us to trace the trade route of parchments" throughout the medieval world – a scholarly achievement that would provide a wealth of data on the evolution of the book industry during the Middle Ages.


Stinson will be presenting the findings of his early research in this area at the annual meeting of the Bibliographical Society of America in New York City on Jan. 23. Stinson is one of three researchers asked to participate in the society's New Scholars Program for 2009. The work that Stinson will be presenting was funded by grants from the Digital Research and Curation Center at Johns Hopkins University and the Council on Library and Information Resources.