The circle is just under 10m in diameter and was surrounded by a henge – a ditch with an external bank – with an entrance to the east.  The henge ditch is 25m in diameter and sits at the end of the 1¾-mile avenue that leads from Stonehenge to the river.  Excavations in 2008 established that this outer henge was built around 2400 BC but arrowheads from the stone circle indicate that it is likely to be much earlier, dating to around 3000 BC.


Nine stone holes were identified, part of a circle of probably twenty-five standing stones.  Only the northeast quadrant of the circle, and a small past of its west side, were excavated.  Six stoneholes (A-F) were found in the northeast quadrant and three (I-K) were found in the western trench. (Stoneholes G and H are putative stone sockets lying between the excavated ones; their positions are extrapolated from the known stones).  The centres of Stoneholes A-F are spaced at an average

distance of 1.12m from each other.  However, Stoneholes J and K are more widely spaced.  Given the arrangement and curvature of the known stones, the maximum number of stones in the circle was 25.  It may, of course, have contained fewer.


The dimensions of the holes are too wide and too shallow for them to have held wooden posts.  The imprints of the stones’ bases and the shapes of the sockets from which they were withdrawn indicate that these were too small to have been sarsens.  They compare exactly with the dimensions of the bluestones in the inner oval at Stonehenge.  The stones were extracted whole and were not broken up (as was the practice in the Medieval period).  As a result, only two bluestone fragments were found, both of spotted dolerite.


The bluestone circle was succeeded by a henge, comprising a circular ditch 23.4m wide with an external bank.  Little trace of the henge bank remains except where it was pushed back into the ditch on its north side.  A date from the tip of a broken antler pick in its basal fill places its   construction within the period 2470-2280 BC.  The henge had at least one entrance – this was on its east side where the northern ditch terminal contained a special deposit of antlers, an antler pick,

cattle bones and stone and flint tools as well as a burnt organic container.


We found the riverside end of the Stonehenge Avenue (previously only traced to a spot 150m to the north).  It consisted of two parallel ditches, 18.1m apart.  These formerly held upright posts, forming a small palisade on either side.  The Avenue was traced to within a few metres of the henge ditch and presumably terminated at or close to the outer bank of the henge.  It and the henge may have been built at the same time given their proximity and symmetrical positioning.


The western arm of the henge’s ditch silted up gradually during the Bronze Age, with silts interspersed with flint cobble surfaces in the ditch bottom.  After the ditch had fully silted up, its northeastern quadrant was re-cut.  The henge’s interior was also re-used in the Late Bronze Age with the digging of a small penannular ditch which terminated at its northeast in a large timber post.  This and two other posts formed a façade or structure within the centre of the henge.  A fourth

posthole on the west side of the ditch contained tiny fragments of clay metalworking moulds.


The next phase of activity was during the Medieval period, specifically within the 13th century, when a complex series of east-west and north-south ditches were dug and filled.  Ditches and pits continued to be dug into the post-Medieval period.


Although there was no evidence for domestic occupation during the Neolithic, the riverside was inhabited during the Mesolithic (8000-4000 BC) and during the Bronze Age (2200-700 BC).


Until radiocarbon dates on antler picks give us firm dates for construction and dismantling of the stone circle, our best dating evidence is from the two arrowheads found in the stonehole packing

deposits.  These are ‘chisel arrowheads’ which were current between 3400 BC and 2500 BC.  They are earlier than the ‘oblique arrowheads’ (2500-2300 BC) and ‘barbed-and-tanged arrowheads’ (2300-1700 BC), styles found at Stonehenge and Durrington Walls.


In 2008, the Stonehenge Riverside Project’s excavation at Stonehenge itself found evidence that the first phase of Stonehenge (3000-2935 BC) consisted of a bluestone circle set inside the ditch and bank.  These stone sockets are the 56 Aubrey Holes that form the outermost ring. Around 2500 BC the bluestones were re-arranged in the centre of Stonehenge and numbered about 80 stones.  Where did the extra 24 or so stones come from?  We think we know the answer!


Mike Parker Pearson, Josh Pollard, Julian Thomas and Kate Welham

Stonehenge Riverside Project



Ardi Is a New Piece for the Evolution Puzzle

By Michael D. Lemonick and Andrea Dorfman Thursday, Oct. 01, 2009


Figuring out the story of human origins is like assembling a huge, complicated jigsaw puzzle that has lost most of its pieces. Many will never be found, and those that do turn up are sometimes hard to place. Every so often, though, fossil hunters stumble upon a discovery that fills in a big chunk of the puzzle all at once — and simultaneously reshapes the very picture they thought they were building.


The path of just such a discovery began in November 1994 with the unearthing of two pieces of bone from the palm of a hominid hand in the dusty Middle Awash region of Ethiopia. Within weeks, more than 100 additional bone fragments were found during an intensive search-and-reconstruction effort that would go on for the next 15 years and culminate in a key piece of evolutionary evidence revealed this week: the 4.4 million–year–old skeleton of a likely human ancestor known as Ardipithecus ramidus (abbreviated Ar. ramidus). (See the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2008.)


In a series of studies published in the Oct. 2 special issue of Science — 11 papers by a total of 47 authors from 10 countries — researchers unveiled Ardi, a 125-piece hominid skeleton that is 1.2 million years older than the celebrated Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and by far the oldest one ever found. Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, a co-leader of the Middle Awash research team that discovered and studied the new fossils, says, "To understand the biology, the parts you really want are the skull and teeth, the pelvis, the limbs and the hands and the feet. And we have all of them."


That is the beauty of Ardi — good bones. The completeness of Ardi's remains, as well as the more than 150,000 plant and animal fossils collected from surrounding sediments of the same time period, has generated an unprecedented amount of intelligence about one of our earliest potential forebears. The skeleton allows scientists to compare Ardipithecus directly with Lucy's genus, Australopithecus, its probable descendant. Perhaps most important, Ardi provides clues to what the last common ancestor shared by humans and chimps might have looked like before their lineages diverged about 7 million years ago.


Ardi is the earliest and best-documented descendant of that common ancestor. But despite being "so close to the split," says White, the surprising thing is that she bears little resemblance to chimpanzees, our closest living primate relatives. The elusive common ancestor's bones have never been found, but scientists, working from the evidence available — especially analyses of Australopithecus and modern African apes — envisioned Great-Great-Grandpa to have looked most nearly like a knuckle-walking, tree-swinging ape. But "[Ardi is] not chimplike," according to White, which means that the last common ancestor probably wasn't either. "This skeleton flips our understanding of human evolution," says Kent State University anthropologist C. Owen Lovejoy, a member of the Middle Awash team. "It's clear that humans are not merely a slight modification of chimps, despite their genomic similarity." (See "Darwin and Lincoln: Birthdays and Evolution.")


So what does that mean? Based on Ardi's anatomy, it appears that chimpanzees may actually have evolved more than humans — in the scientific sense of having changed more over the past 7 million years or so. That's not to say Ardi was more human-like than chimplike. White describes her as an "interesting mosaic" with certain uniquely human characteristics: bipedalism, for one. Ardi stood 47 in. (120 cm) tall and weighed about 110 lb. (50 kg), making her roughly twice as heavy as Lucy. The structure of Ardi's upper pelvis, leg bones and feet indicates she walked upright on the ground, while still retaining the ability to climb. Her foot had an opposable big toe for grasping tree limbs but lacked the flexibility that apes use to grab and scale tree trunks and vines ("Gorilla and chimp feet are almost like hands," says Lovejoy), nor did it have the arch that allowed Australopithecus and Homo to walk without lurching side to side. Ardi had a dexterous hand, more maneuverable than a chimp's, that made her better at catching things on the ground and carrying things while walking on two legs. Her wrist, hand and shoulder bones show that she wasn't a knuckle walker and didn't spend much time hanging or swinging ape-style in trees. Rather, she moved along branches using a primitive method of palm-walking typical of extinct apes. "[Ardi is] a lovely Darwinian creature," says Penn State paleoanthropologist Alan Walker, who was not involved in the discovery. "It has features that are intermediate between the last common ancestor and australopithecines."



The secrets of ancient Rome

The discovery of a major new archaeological site in Italy is a reminder that the world is still stuffed with secrets

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian, Friday 2 October 2009


Look down from a height at any landscape in this slanting autumn light, and you'll see that the ground is only a thin blanket thrown over the remains of the past. The faint marks of fields and walls, houses and roads, show up even in the heart of cities – in relics as humble as the outline of a lost Edwardian rose bed, marring the bland green perfection of a suburban lawn.


The past week has shown once again how hard it is to destroy anything built by man so that it vanishes without a trace. Days after the discovery was announced of a hoard of Anglo-Saxon gold that could have come straight out of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings – but actually came from a dull field in Staffordshire – archaeologists from Southampton University revealed something else that history had completely forgotten.


Half an hour's drive from the modern city of Rome, north of the Tiber and close to Fiumicino airport, a large hexagonal pond in marshy ground marks the vast artificial harbour of Portus, dug from the Mediterranean in the second century to feed the capital of the empire. And here, we now know, there once stood an amphitheatre on the scale of the Pantheon. Archaeologists have been poking around this site for a century, but they either missed or misunderstood the giant heap of rubble, overgrown with weeds. Robbed of its fine marble facing and cut stone blocks, this great building, perhaps used by the emperor himself, was reduced to a ruin almost 2,000 years ago.


More than 140 years ago, the Italian archaeologist Rodolfo Lanciani discovered the building, but seems only to have traced half of it and so interpreted it as a theatre. Professor Simon Keay and his team uncovered the other half, which dramatically changes the understanding of the life of the port. A nearby building is now believed to have been an imperial palace where emperors, including Hadrian, stayed before and after their travels overseas, and possibly received distinguished visitors. The discovery of a superbly carved, colossal marble head – possibly Ulysses – suggests high status, elaborately decorated buildings, not just workaday warehouses and wharves.


Keay compares the importance of the site, and the window it opens on the economic lifeblood of the greatest empire the world had known, to Stonehenge or the great temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.


In a world where it sometimes feels as if everything interesting is already known, analysed and available on the internet at the click of a mouse, the ground remains stuffed with secrets. Archaeologists are still working on another great ancient harbour, built when the capital of the Roman empire shifted east to Constantinople. The Emperor Theodosius built his new harbour in the fourth century, and it was found again, complete with shipwrecks still full of their last cargo, when workmen began digging a railway tunnel.


Archaeologists have been feeling their way in for more than 15 years in the murky waters of Alexandria, since divers realised that a new sea wall of huge cement blocks was actually being built on the foundations of a legendary building – the Pharos, the great lighthouse that was one of the seven wonders of the world. Among the treasures they believe may still lie in the sewage-polluted water are Cleopatra's palace, and her tomb.


And in the hectic heart of Mexico city, magnificent carved stones now on display in the British Museum's exhibition on Moctezuma were found when workmen started to dig a new metro station, and hit instead the great temple of the Aztec's island capital Tenochtitlan.


Climate change is exposing many more secrets. As lakes shrivel, coastlines shift and sand blows, lost worlds are uncovered: villages built on stilts in German lakes, flint tools still lying where they were dropped on what is now the bed of the North Sea, whole cities buried in the sands of the Middle East. Often they carry a grim message which modern man might profitably brood over: the sites were lost because the weather worsened, the river changed course, the parched land cracked, the mud brick crumbled, the animals died – and nobody ever lived there again.


• This article was amended on 2 October 2009. The original said that the port was octagonal and that a former amphitheatre on the site had a capacity similar to that of the Colosseum. This has been corrected.



British archaeologists unearth emperor’s private amphitheatre

From The Times

October 1, 2009


A lavish Roman amphitheatre, complete with toilet, has been uncovered by British archaeologists in Italy at a site described as being of the same significance as Stonehenge.


A team led by the University of Southampton discovered an amphitheatre of a similar size to the Pantheon in Rome after two years excavating an ancient port, close to Fiumicino airport.


This is the first time that a large-scale dig has taken place at the site, known as Portus, which was discovered in the 16th century and excavated in the 1860s. Now two miles inland, it would have been twice the size of the port of Southampton and an important gateway between Rome and the Mediterranean. It is possible that it was frequented by 2nd-century emperors.


British excavators, including staff from the University of Cambridge and the British School at Rome, said that the amphitheatre was likely to have been built for the private entertainment of a senior statesman or emperor and could have held up to 2,000 spectators.


Professor Simon Keay, the project director, said: “[The amphitheatre’s] design, using luxurious materials and substantial colonnades, suggests it was used by a high-status official, possibly even the emperor himself.


“The activities that took place there were strictly private: it could have been games or gladiatorial combat, wild beast baiting or the staging of mock sea battles, but we really do not know.” Archaeologists also discovered a well-preserved Roman toilet in a room made of marble near the outside wall of the amphitheatre. It is still possible to sit on the toilet, which was designed to be used by three people at a time and had holes in the front so that users could clean themselves with a brush.


Rose Ferraby, from Cambridge, who helped with the discovery, said: “We are taking out the dirt from the toilet, which is basically ancient human waste, and sampling it to find seeds and even parasites so we can build a picture of diet and the people who were here.


“Toilets also bring up good finds because people tend to lose things down them, like rings, and they are not keen to recover them.


“It’s a very important find and a total surprise but it’s also very human — everyone can relate to a toilet.”


Professor Keay is certain that the discoveries at Portus are of great historical significance. “This is one of the most important archaeological sites in the world,” he said. “Certainly it should be rated alongside such wonders as Stonehenge and Angkor Wat in Cambodia.”



Nero's rotating banquet hall unveiled in Rome

By MARTA FALCONI (AP) – 5 days ago


ROME — Archaeologists on Tuesday unveiled what they think are the remains of Roman emperor Nero's extravagant banquet hall, a circular space that rotated day and night to imitate the Earth's movement and impress his guests.


The room, part of Nero's Golden Palace, a sprawling residence built in the first century A.D., is thought to have been built to entertain government officials and VIPs, said lead archaeologist Francoise Villedieu.


The emperor, known for his lavish and depraved lifestyle, lived from 37 A.D. to 68 A.D.


The dig so far has turned up the foundations of the room, the rotating mechanism underneath and part of an attached space believed to be the kitchens, she said.


"This cannot be compared to anything that we know of in ancient Roman architecture," Villedieu told reporters during a tour of the cordoned-off dig.


She said the location of the discovery atop the Palatine Hill, the rotating structure and references to it in ancient biographies of Nero make the attribution to the emperor most likely.


The partially excavated site is part of the sumptuous residence, also known by its Latin name Domus Aurea, which rose over the ruins of a fire that destroyed much of Rome in A.D. 64.


The purported main dining room, with a diameter of over 50 feet (16 meters), rested upon a 13-foot (4-meter) wide pillar and four spherical mechanisms that, likely powered by a constant flow of water, rotated the structure.


The discovery was made during routine maintenance of the fragile Palatine area, officials said.


Latin biographer and historian Suetonius, who chronicled his times and wrote the biographies of 12 Roman rulers, refers to a main dining room that revolved "day and night, in time with the sky."


Angelo Bottini, the state's top official for archaeology in Rome, said the ceiling of the rotating room might have been the one mentioned by Suetonius, who wrote of ivory panels sliding back and forth to shower flowers and perfumes on the guests below.


"The heart of every activity in ancient Rome was the banquet, together with some form of entertainment," Bottini said at the dig. "Nero was like the sun, and people were revolving around the emperor."


That part of the palace — which sprawled across nearly 200 acres (80 hectares) occupying parts of four out of Rome's seven ancient hills — offered a panoramic view over the Roman Forum and a lake, later drained by Nero's successors to build the Colosseum, Bottini said.


Described by Suetonius as one of Rome's most cruel, depraved and megalomaniac rulers, Nero often indulged in orgies and, fancying himself an artist, entertained guests with his own performances of poetry and songs.


However, Nero did not enjoy the frescoed halls and gold-encrusted ceilings of his Golden Palace for too long. It was completed in A.D. 68 — the year the unpopular emperor committed suicide amid a revolt.



Mystery head could be rare statue of Emperor Nero

A piece of a marble statue discovered at a Roman site in Sussex could be one of only three in existence depicting the Emperor Nero.

By Andy Bloxham

Published: 8:00AM BST 03 Oct 2009


The chunk of stone, which is the right side of a boy's head and his lower face, is to be scanned using sophisticated technology and the remainder generated by computer to suggest what he may have looked like.


Archaeologists suspect the sculpture, which was found at Fishbourne Roman Palace in West Sussex, is of Nero as a young boy.


The only other known statues of Nero are in the Italian National Museum of Antiquities in Parma and the Louvre Museum in Paris.


One of the reasons that so few survive is because he was declared an enemy of the state after he was pushed from power in a military coup and images of him were ordered destroyed.


According to ancient historians, Nero was the emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned" during the city's Great Fire in 64AD and ordered the deaths of his mother, stepfather and pregnant wife, among others, to keep his grip on power.


As ruler of the Roman empire, he controlled Britain and his forces put down the revolt led by Boudica, also called Boadicea, and her tribe, the Iceni, in 60AD.


He committed suicide in 68AD.


The latest find was actually discovered in 1964 but until recently it was always believed to be that of a king called Togidubnes or a member of his family.


Now similarities have been found between the Fishbourne statue and the only others in Italy and France.


The rounded cheeks, full, curving lips, rounded lower face, slightly protruding ears, curling locks of hair and almond-shaped eyes are all very similar.


As a man, the Roman historian Suetonius described Nero as "about the average height, his body marked with spots and malodorous, his hair light blond, his features regular rather than attractive, his eyes blue and somewhat weak, his neck over thick, his belly prominent, and his legs very slender".


Although this would only be the third statue of him, busts and coins bearing his image are more common.


Dr Rob Symmons, curator of archaeology at Fishbourne, will work with Bournemouth University lecturers Dr Miles Russell and Harry Manley to produce 3D scans of the head.


The scans will recreate the face, which was damaged with an axe, to test the theory that it could in fact be the emperor.


Dr Symmons said: "This is very exciting as the scan will allow us to see for the first time what the boy really looked like and may also reveal his identity.


"We have always assumed he was related to the Royal family who lived here but it may be that it is even more special and is a rare depiction of Nero."


Dr Russell said: "They tried to eradicate the fact that Nero ever existed.


"This particular head is extremely well made in a very expensive type of marble and someone has taken an axe to it and smashed it almost to oblivion.


"Why else would they do that?"



Archaeologists sinking their teeth into research

4:00pm Friday 2nd October 2009

By Andrew Napier


ARCHAEOLOGISTS have studied tooth enamel to shed more light on the residents of Winchester nearly 2,000 years ago.


Researchers have discovered that the city, then called Venta Belgarum, was a diverse and multicultural community in late Roman times.


Analysis of bodies in a Roman cemetery reveals about a quarter of the inhabitants were newcomers, some of them migrants from southern and central Europe.


Archaeologists have been studying the Lankhills Roman cemetery since the 1970s, using artefacts and burial features such as body position to infer ethnic background.


Earlier work suggested that some people were originally from the Roman province of Pannonia, in the Danube region of central Europe, based on the type of ornaments buried with the bodies.


A new report into the work has been published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


Dr Gundula Müldner, from Reading University, also analysed isotope ratios, the proportion between different types of atoms of the same chemical element - to learn more.


Dr Müldner said: “Isotopes are extremely useful for archaeology. Artefacts tells us about a person's cultural background, which can change throughout life. Isotopes, on the other hand, gives us the biological identity and cannot be changed.”


The research team studied tooth enamel of 40 people buried at Lankhills in the late Roman period, between 200 and 400 AD.



Archaeologists unearth 17th century bottle used to scare off witches

Published: 8:00AM BST 03 Oct 2009


The witch bottle was discovered in a pit beneath a back room on the site of the Turk's Head Inn at Tipping Street car park in Stafford.


The vessel is a mid to late 17th-century Bellarmine jug which would have been filled with the likes of nail clippings, hair, bellybutton fluff, pins and iron nails.


The period was full of superstition and they were buried near or under buildings to ward off witches or evil spirits. Oxford Archaeology which is undertaking the dig will analyse the contents of the bottle to see what it contains.


Andrew Norton, project manager from Oxford Archaeology, said: "This is a very interesting find. People were very superstitious during this period and would put items which came from themselves such as nail clippings and hair into a bottle to protect them from witches and evil spirits.


"This would then be buried at the front or back door of a building or placed in a chimney to ward off witches or evil spirits. We are going to analyse what is inside the bottle to see what it contains."


The dig has so far unearthed some Anglo Saxon pottery kilns suggesting Stafford could have been a major player in the production of pottery.


Leather waste from shoe making has also been recovered from a large pit and shows a shoe maker was likely to have worked in residence at 14 or 15 Tipping street during the medieval period.


The dig is taking place as part of preparatory work that could pave the way for new offices and retail units for Staffordshire County Council on the site.


Stafford was originally a fortified Saxon settlement founded in 913AD by Queen Aethelflaed (the Lady of the Mercians). The settlement was probably located close to the River Sow and surrounded by extensive marshland as this offered good natural defences, control of any river crossing and easy access to water.


The last large-scale archaeological dig was carried out in the early 1980s to prepare the way for construction of the town's magistrates court.


That uncovered a number of finds including Saxon pottery kilns. Oxford Archaeology is one of the country's leading archaeological consultancies. Their past projects have included the Channel Tunnel and Heathrow's Terminal 5.