How a prehistoric 'super river' turned Britain into an island nation

By Claire Bates

Last updated at 3:56 PM on 30th November 2009


A prehistoric 'super-river' is the reason why Britain became an island and was cut off from Europe.


An Anglo-French study has revealed that long before the English Channel there was a giant river which ran south from an area of the North Sea.


Previous research found that 500,000 years ago a range of low hills connected Britain to Europe between the Weald in South-East England and Artois in northern France.


But during a series of ice ages beginning 450,000 years ago huge ice sheets covered much of northern Europe, trapping a portion of the North Sea the size of East Anglia.


The great rivers of Europe poured into this lake at the southern end of the North Sea.


To the north it was bordered by glaciers and to the south by the low-lying land mass connecting Britain to France.


Eventually it overflowed, like a huge bath, causing a vast river - named the 'Fleuve Manche - to tumble down towards the Atlantic Ocean gouging through the chalky rock as it went.


The force of this 'megaflood' carved so deeply into the land between Britain and France that when the ice melted and sea levels rose, water covered the area, cutting Britain off. And so the 'Fleuve Manche' became 'La Manche' - the French word for 'sleeve' that describes the English Channel.

white cliffs


Glacial water tumbling down from the North Sea drove through the chalky rock separating what would become England and France


Scientists came to this conclusion after studying sedimentary deposits in coastal Europe, many of which are incomplete after hundreds of thousands of years of erosion.


But now a team of English and French scientists have uncovered the final piece in the 'geological puzzle' and are able to explain the exact nature and timing of the floods.


The researchers studied samples of sediment taken for the first time from the Atlantic sea bed in the Bay of Biscay where the so-called Fleuve Manche met the ocean.


The study found the Fleuve Manche carried sediment from northern Europe towards the sea 'like a huge conveyor belt', dumping it on the ocean floor.


These perfectly-preserved layers of sediment have lain undisturbed for thousands of years.


This allowed the team to determine which samples contained sediment from the super-river and which came from intervening periods when the Channel was submerged.


Their findings revealed that the Fleuve Manche had existed during three different ice ages, 450,000, 160,000 and 90 to 30,000 years ago.


In each case, the volume of the sedimentary material increased significantly - the result of surges of debris pouring into the Bay of Biscay.


'It provides the final piece in the puzzle, forming a complete record that reconstructs the dramatic events that cut Britain off from Europe and gave it its island status'


Because of the deposits' state of preservation, the researchers were also able to identify more precisely when the river was at its most ferocious and therefore chronicle the ebb and flow of the European ice sheets themselves.


Professor Phil Gibbard from the University of Cambridge's Department of Geography said the study helped to provide a 'complete record' of the events that created Britain as an island nation.


He said: 'This is the first time we have looked at what flowed out of the Channel and into the Bay during these crucial periods.


'It provides the final piece in the puzzle, forming a complete record that reconstructs the dramatic events that cut Britain off from Europe and gave it its island status.'


Professor Gibbard added that the study had 'profound' implications for understanding how Britain was populated.


He said during glacial periods the water level fell significantly enough to allow plants, animals and humans to cross into Britain.


But in temperate times, however, Britain would have been cut off, as it is now.


Prof Gibbard, whose research is published today in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews, added: "Essentially we are talking about the colonisation of the British Isle.


'One of the things that arises from this study is our ability to understand what arrived in Britain and when.


'In addition, the flow of the huge volumes of cold water into the ocean via the Fleuve Manche would have had a huge impact on ocean circulation and the environment of the time.


'Studying it also helps us to understand more about how the Earth's systems operate.'


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1231861/Remnants-ancient-giant-river-reveals-Britain-cut-France.html?ITO=1490#ixzz0YodA8cLS



Big freeze plunged Europe into ice age in months

30 November 2009 European Science Foundation


In the film, ‘The Day After Tomorrow' the world enters the icy grip of a new glacial period within the space of just a few weeks. Now new research shows that this scenario may not be so far from the truth after all.


William Patterson, from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada, and his colleagues have shown that switching off the North Atlantic circulation can force the Northern hemisphere into a mini ‘ice age' in a matter of months. Previous work has indicated that this process would take tens of years.


Around 12,800 years ago the northern hemisphere was hit by a mini ice-age, known by scientists as the Younger Dryas, and nicknamed the ‘Big Freeze', which lasted around 1300 years. Geological evidence shows that the Big Freeze was brought about by a sudden influx of freshwater, when the glacial Lake Agassiz in North America burst its banks and poured into the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. This vast pulse, a greater volume than all of North America's Great Lakes combined, diluted the North Atlantic conveyor belt and brought it to a halt.


Without the warming influence of this ocean circulation temperatures across the Northern hemisphere plummeted, ice sheets grew and human civilisation fell apart.


Previous evidence from Greenland ice cores has indicated that this sudden change in climate occurred over the space of a decade or so. Now new data shows that the change was amazingly abrupt, taking place over the course of a few months, or a year or two at most.


Patterson and his colleagues have created the highest resolution record of the ‘Big Freeze' event to date, from a mud core taken from an ancient lake, Lough Monreach, in Ireland. Using a scalpel layers were sliced from the core, just 0.5mm thick, representing a time period of one to three months.


Carbon isotopes in each slice reveal how productive the lake was, while oxygen isotopes give a picture of temperature and rainfall. At the start of the ‘Big Freeze' their new record shows that temperatures plummeted and lake productivity stopped over the course of just a few years. "It would be like taking Ireland today and moving it up to Svalbard, creating icy conditions in a very short period of time," says Patterson, who presented the findings at the European Science Foundation BOREAS conference on humans in the Arctic, in Rovaniemi, Finland, last week.


Meanwhile, their isotope record from the end of the Big Freeze shows that it took around two centuries for the lake and climate to recover, rather than the abrupt decade or so that ice cores indicate. "This makes sense because it would take time for the ocean and atmospheric circulation to turn on again," says Patterson.


Looking ahead to the future Patterson says there is no reason why a ‘Big Freeze' shouldn't happen again. "If the Greenland ice sheet melted suddenly it would be catastrophic," he says.


This study was part of a broad network of 38 individual research teams from Europe, Russia, Canada and the USA forming the European Science Foundation EUROCORES programme ‘Histories from the North - environments, movements, narratives' (BOREAS). This highly interdisciplinary initiative brought together scientists from a wide range of disciplines including humanities, social, medical, environmental and climate sciences.



Swedish archaeologists celebrate ancient find

Published: 29 Nov 09 10:34 CET

Online: http://www.thelocal.se/23546/20091129/


People lived in the Torne River Valley on the border with Sweden and Finland some 11,000 years ago, an important new archaeological find has shown.


The settlement, found near Pajala in the far north of Sweden, are the oldest known find in the county of Norrbotten, according to the archaeologist Olof Östlund.


The find was uncovered when archaeologists were searching for ancient remains in the area around Kaunisvaar near Pajala where a new mine is set to open, according to a report in local newspaper Norrländska Socialdemokraten.


"Now the pages in the National Encyclopaedia regarding inland ice can be torn out and burned," Östlund told the newspaper.


The archaeologists located the settlements in the beginning of September and they have now been dated with the help of radiocarbon dating.


"I had been expecting old dates. But when I saw that the first numbers were very high I felt immediately that this was bingo. When the second number was five figures - I felt faint," Östlund explained to news agency TT.


He was surprised that the find was so old and compared it to another settlement located nearby in Kangofors five years ago. That settlement had been used 10,000 years ago.


The survey was conducted on commission from a company prospecting for mines in the vicinity of Pajala and will shed light on the first inhabitants of Norrbotten.


"So this is important. Especially as in archaological circles, in southern Sweden, the accepted theory is that there was no ancient age up here in northern Sweden it is thus important to raise the issue."


Östlund compared the new discovery to the find in Voullerim in the middle of the 1980s of 6,000 year-old stone age shelters. Then the assumptions regarding the history of the pre-history of Norrland were revalued to take into account that people had actually lived there.


Archaeologists were also then given new types of remains to look for - and several finds were then later uncovered.


TT/The Local (news@thelocal.se/08 656 6518)



Archaeologists celebrate ancient Scandinavian settlement find

By Alfonso on Dec 3, 2009 in Culture, Music and the Arts, Finland, MBL, Scandinavia, Science & Technology, Sweden, environment


An important new find by a team of Swedish archaeologists indicates that the Finland-Sweden border area around the Torne River Valley was inhabited up to 11,000 years ago.


The discovery, located near Pajala in Sweden’s far north, is the oldest settlement to be found in the county of Norrbotten, according to archaeologist Olof Ostlund. “Now the pages in the National Encyclopaedia regarding inland ice can be torn out and burned,” said Ostlund.


The find was made during a routine search for ancient remains by archaeologists in the area around Kaunisvaar where a new mine is scheduled to open, reports The Local. First located in early September, Ostlund’s team was able to date the settlement with the aid of radiocarbon dating.


“I had been expecting old dates. But when I saw that the first numbers were very high I felt immediately that this was bingo. When the second number was five figures – I felt faint,” Ostlund stated. The scientist compared the discovery to a similar settlement in nearby Kangofors which was discovered five years ago and dated back 10,000 years.


Ostlund related the find to the discovery of stone-age shelters dating back some 6,000 years in Voullerim in the 1980s which caused a revaluation of common assumptions on the historical habitation of the Norrland region.


“So this is important. Especially as in archaeological circles, in southern Sweden, the accepted theory is that there was no ancient age up here in northern Sweden it is thus important to raise the issue,” Ostlund reasoned.



Contested signs of mass cannibalism

A research team argues that hundreds of people were butchered and eaten at a 7,000-year-old German site

By Bruce Bower

Web edition : Thursday, December 3rd, 2009



At a settlement in what is now southern Germany, the menu turned gruesome 7,000 years ago. Over a period of perhaps a few decades, hundreds of people were butchered and eaten before parts of their bodies were thrown into oval pits, a new study suggests.


Cannibalism at the village, now called Herxheim, may have occurred during ceremonies in which people from near and far brought slaves, war prisoners or other dependents for ritual sacrifice, propose anthropologist Bruno Boulestin of the University of Bordeaux 1 in France and his colleagues. A social and political crisis in central Europe at that time triggered various forms of violence, the researchers suspect.


“Human sacrifice at Herxheim is a hypothesis that’s difficult to prove right now, but we have evidence that several hundred people were eaten over a brief period,” Boulestin says. Skeletal markings indicate that human bodies were butchered in the same way as animals.


Herxheim offers rare evidence of cannibalism during Europe’s early Neolithic period, when farming first spread, the researchers report in the December Antiquity. Artifacts found at Herxheim come from the Linear Pottery Culture, which flourished in western and central Europe from about 7,500 to 7,000 years ago.


Two archaeologists who have studied human bones unearthed a decade ago at Herxheim reject the new cannibalism hypothesis. In a joint statement to Science News, Jörg Orschiedt of the University of Leipzig in Germany and Miriam Haidle of Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt say that Boulestin’s evidence better fits a scenario in which the dead were reburied at Herxheim following dismemberment and removal of flesh from bones. Evidence of ceremonial reburial practices has been reported for many ancient societies.


If further work confirms large-scale cannibalism at Herxheim, “this would be very surprising indeed, simply in terms of the scale involved,” remarks archaeologist Rick Schulting of the University of Oxford in England.


Until now, the only convincing evidence of Neolithic cannibalism came from 6,000-year-old bones in a French cave, Boulestin holds. A 1986 report concluded that the remains of various animals and at least six people were butchered and discarded there. Again, Orschiedt and Haidle say, reburial rather than cannibalism may explain those findings.


Herxheim was first excavated from 1996 to 1999, yielding remains of a large structure, pottery and what appeared to be two parallel ditches encircling the settlement. Closer inspection revealed that the ditches had been formed by overlapping pits that had been dug over several centuries, apparently not exclusively to hold the dead.


Initial excavations of these pits yielded deposits of large numbers of human and dog bones.


Work from 2005 to 2008 — led by Andrea Zeeb-Lanz and Fabian Haack of the archaeology division of Germany’s Directorate General for Cultural Heritage — unearthed additional human bones, mainly skulls and limb bones bearing incisions. Remains of an estimated 500 people have been found so far.


Pottery resting among the bones accumulated over no more than a few decades, the researchers say. Some pieces came from Neolithic sites located 400 kilometers from Herxheim.


The pits that surrounded Herxheim provided no protection from invaders but may have marked a symbolic boundary for a ceremonial settlement, Boulestin proposes. At first, Boulestin’s team, like Orschiedt and Haidle, thought that the dead were brought to Herxheim for ceremonial reburial.


But Boulestin and his colleagues’ opinion changed after they analyzed 217 reassembled human bones from one deposit, representing at least 10 individuals.


Damage typical of animal butchery appears on the bones, including that produced by a technique to separate the ribs from the spine, the scientists say. Heads were skinned and muscles removed from the brain case in order to remove the skullcap. Incisions and scrapes on jaws indicate that tongues were cut out.


Scrape marks inside the broken ends of limb bones indicate that marrow was removed.


People most likely made the chewing marks found near intentionally broken ends of hand and arm bones, Boulestin says.


Ongoing work at Herxheim has found signs of cannibalism on the bones of hundreds of other individuals, with only a few exceptions, he adds.


But proving that ancient Europeans consumed human body parts “is nearly impossible,” Orschiedt and Haidle assert. The absence of lower jaws and skull bases from the new Herxheim material favors a reburial scenario, the researchers say, in which these components were ritually removed before skulls were placed in pits.


Boulestin’s notion of a Neolithic social and political crisis rests on generally accepted evidence of massacres of dozens of people at three central European sites approximately 7,000 years ago. Other regional settlements, including Herxheim, were abandoned around that time.


Planned chemical analyses of bones from Herxheim will indicate whether some individuals grew up eating foods from distant regions, a sign that they were transported to the site. Such evidence would support either a cannibalism or reburial hypothesis.


It’s not yet clear that a widespread crisis actually affected early Neolithic peoples, comments archaeologist Nick Thorpe of the University of Winchester in England.


Whatever actually happened at Herxheim, facial bones were smashed beyond recognition, “giving an impression of the destruction of individual identity, a kind of psychic violence against the person,” Thorpe says.



A Lost European Culture, Pulled From Obscurity

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Published: November 30, 2009


Before the glory that was Greece and Rome, even before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade.


For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 B.C., they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.


The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture’s visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta “goddess” figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society.


New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of “civilization” status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves. To some scholars, the people and the region are simply Old Europe.


The little-known culture is being rescued from obscurity in an exhibition, “The Lost World of Old Europe: the Danube Valley, 5000-3500 B.C.,” which opened last month at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University. More than 250 artifacts from museums in Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are on display for the first time in the United States. The show will run through April 25.


At its peak, around 4500 B.C., said David W. Anthony, the exhibition’s guest curator, “Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world” and was developing “many of the political, technological and ideological signs of civilization.”


Dr. Anthony is a professor of anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., and author of “The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World.” Historians suggest that the arrival in southeastern Europe of people from the steppes may have contributed to the collapse of the Old Europe culture by 3500 B.C.


At the exhibition preview, Roger S. Bagnall, director of the institute, confessed that until now “a great many archaeologists had not heard of these Old Europe cultures.” Admiring the colorful ceramics, Dr. Bagnall, a specialist in Egyptian archaeology, remarked that at the time “Egyptians were certainly not making pottery like this.”


A show catalog, published by Princeton University Press, is the first compendium in English of research on Old Europe discoveries. The book, edited by Dr. Anthony, with Jennifer Y. Chi, the institute’s associate director for exhibitions, includes essays by experts from Britain, France, Germany, the United States and the countries where the culture existed.


Dr. Chi said the exhibition reflected the institute’s interest in studying the relationships of well-known cultures and the “underappreciated ones.”


Although excavations over the last century uncovered traces of ancient settlements and the goddess figurines, it was not until local archaeologists in 1972 discovered a large fifth-millennium B.C. cemetery at Varna, Bulgaria, that they began to suspect these were not poor people living in unstructured egalitarian societies. Even then, confined in cold war isolation behind the Iron Curtain, Bulgarians and Romanians were unable to spread their knowledge to the West.


The story now emerging is of pioneer farmers after about 6200 B.C. moving north into Old Europe from Greece and Macedonia, bringing wheat and barley seeds and domesticated cattle and sheep. They established colonies along the Black Sea and in the river plains and hills, and these evolved into related but somewhat distinct cultures, archaeologists have learned. The settlements maintained close contact through networks of trade in copper and gold and also shared patterns of ceramics.


The Spondylus shell from the Aegean Sea was a special item of trade. Perhaps the shells, used in pendants and bracelets, were symbols of their Aegean ancestors. Other scholars view such long-distance acquisitions as being motivated in part by ideology in which goods are not commodities in the modern sense but rather “valuables,” symbols of status and recognition.


Noting the diffusion of these shells at this time, Michel Louis Seferiades, an anthropologist at the National Center for Scientific Research in France, suspects “the objects were part of a halo of mysteries, an ensemble of beliefs and myths.”


In any event, Dr. Seferiades wrote in the exhibition catalog that the prevalence of the shells suggested the culture had links to “a network of access routes and a social framework of elaborate exchange systems — including bartering, gift exchange and reciprocity.”


Over a wide area of what is now Bulgaria and Romania, the people settled into villages of single- and multiroom houses crowded inside palisades. The houses, some with two stories, were framed in wood with clay-plaster walls and beaten-earth floors. For some reason, the people liked making fired clay models of multilevel dwellings, examples of which are exhibited.


A few towns of the Cucuteni people, a later and apparently robust culture in the north of Old Europe, grew to more than 800 acres, which archaeologists consider larger than any other known human settlements at the time. But excavations have yet to turn up definitive evidence of palaces, temples or large civic buildings. Archaeologists concluded that rituals of belief seemed to be practiced in the homes, where cultic artifacts have been found.


The household pottery decorated in diverse, complex styles suggested the practice of elaborate at-home dining rituals. Huge serving bowls on stands were typical of the culture’s “socializing of food presentation,” Dr. Chi said.


At first, the absence of elite architecture led scholars to assume that Old Europe had little or no hierarchical power structure. This was dispelled by the graves in the Varna cemetery. For two decades after 1972, archaeologists found 310 graves dated to about 4500 B.C. Dr. Anthony said this was “the best evidence for the existence of a clearly distinct upper social and political rank.”


Vladimir Slavchev, a curator at the Varna Regional Museum of History, said the “richness and variety of the Varna grave gifts was a surprise,” even to the Bulgarian archaeologist Ivan Ivanov, who directed the discoveries. “Varna is the oldest cemetery yet found where humans were buried with golden ornaments,” Dr. Slavchev said.


More than 3,000 pieces of gold were found in 62 of the graves, along with copper weapons and tools, and ornaments, necklaces and bracelets of the prized Aegean shells. “The concentration of imported prestige objects in a distinct minority of graves suggest that institutionalized higher ranks did exist,” exhibition curators noted in a text panel accompanying the Varna gold.


Yet it is puzzling that the elite seemed not to indulge in private lives of excess. “The people who donned gold costumes for public events while they were alive,” Dr. Anthony wrote, “went home to fairly ordinary houses.”


Copper, not gold, may have been the main source of Old Europe’s economic success, Dr. Anthony said. As copper smelting developed about 5400 B.C., the Old Europe cultures tapped abundant ores in Bulgaria and what is now Serbia and learned the high-heat technique of extracting pure metallic copper.


Smelted copper, cast as axes, hammered into knife blades and coiled in bracelets, became valuable exports. Old Europe copper pieces have been found in graves along the Volga River, 1,200 miles east of Bulgaria. Archaeologists have recovered more than five tons of pieces from Old Europe sites.


An entire gallery is devoted to the figurines, the more familiar and provocative of the culture’s treasures. They have been found in virtually every Old Europe culture and in several contexts: in graves, house shrines and other possibly “religious spaces.”


One of the best known is the fired clay figure of a seated man, his shoulders bent and hands to his face in apparent contemplation. Called the “Thinker,” the piece and a comparable female figurine were found in a cemetery of the Hamangia culture, in Romania. Were they thinking, or mourning?


Many of the figurines represent women in stylized abstraction, with truncated or elongated bodies and heaping breasts and expansive hips. The explicit sexuality of these figurines invites interpretations relating to earthly and human fertility.


An arresting set of 21 small female figurines, seated in a circle, was found at a pre-Cucuteni village site in northeastern Romania. “It is not difficult to imagine,” said Douglass W. Bailey of San Francisco State University, the Old Europe people “arranging sets of seated figurines into one or several groups of miniature activities, perhaps with the smaller figurines at the feet or even on the laps of the larger, seated ones.”


Others imagined the figurines as the “Council of Goddesses.” In her influential books three decades ago, Marija Gimbutas, an anthropologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, offered these and other so-called Venus figurines as representatives of divinities in cults to a Mother Goddess that reigned in prehistoric Europe.


Although the late Dr. Gimbutas still has an ardent following, many scholars hew to more conservative, nondivine explanations. The power of the objects, Dr. Bailey said, was not in any specific reference to the divine, but in “a shared understanding of group identity.”


As Dr. Bailey wrote in the exhibition catalog, the figurines should perhaps be defined only in terms of their actual appearance: miniature, representational depictions of the human form. He thus “assumed (as is justified by our knowledge of human evolution) that the ability to make, use and understand symbolic objects such as figurines is an ability that is shared by all modern humans and thus is a capability that connects you, me, Neolithic men, women and children, and the Paleolithic painters in caves.”


Or else the “Thinker,” for instance, is the image of you, me, the archaeologists and historians confronted and perplexed by a “lost” culture in southeastern Europe that had quite a go with life back before a single word was written or a wheel turned.




Bad Teeth Tormented Ancient Egyptians

A systematic review of more than 3,000 mummy analyses reveal ancient Egyptians suffered from periodontal diseases, abscesses and cavities.

By Rossella Lorenzi | Thu Dec 03, 2009 04:16 AM ET


Worn teeth, periodontal diseases, abscesses and cavities tormented the ancient Egyptians, according to the first systematic review of all studies performed on Egyptian mummies in the past 30 years.


After examining research of more than 3,000 mummies, anatomists and paleopathologists at the University of Zurich concluded that 18 percent of all mummies in case reports showed a nightmare array of dental diseases.


"Evidence of dental disorders is plentiful because usually teeth are among the best preserved parts of a body. As for other diseases, the published studies do not always provide in-depth details. Nevertheless, we came across some interesting findings," senior author and medical doctor Frank Ruhli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, told Discovery News.


Published in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology (HOMO), the review takes into consideration all studies published since 1977, when computed tomography was first applied to ancient Egyptian mummies.


CT imaging revealed an impressive collection of diseases, including bone disorders, infections and traumas being the most common disorders.


Out of 85 single-listed mummies, Ruhli and colleagues counted 15 cases of degenerative disorders, with a dominating number of osteoarthritis cases and four cases which specifically diagnosed atherosclerosis (a hardening of the arteries).


Infectious diseases among the mummies were also very common. In three cases the subjects most likely suffered from chronic infectious middle ear disease; other infectious diseases included tuberculosis and gangrenous stomatitis, an often fatal gangrene of the cheek and gums which affects mostly children.


Seven mummies showed evidence of Plasmodium falciparum, the most malignant form of malaria. Ten cases showed symptoms of tumorous lesions, with four of them possibly malignant.


Eleven cases showed evidence of pulmonary diseases, which included pneumonia, emphysema and lung oedema.


"Interestingly, most pulmonary affections were related to the presence of anthracotic pigment [carbon] in the lungs. This suggests air pollution by smoke from fires or oil lamps," Ruhli said.


Bone disorders and trauma abounded. The most prominent cases of fractures in pharaohs included the left middle finger in Ramses II, the third ruler of Egypt's 19th Dynasty, better known as Ramesses the Great, and the skull lesions of Seqenenre Taa II, the 14th pharaoh of the Theban dynasty who probably died in a battle.


Most mummies dated to 3,500 to 2,000 years ago, a period when the embalming process was highly developed. However, despite the large number of reported diseases, much mystery remains about the mummies.


"Sex wasn't determined or reported for about a third of the examined mummies, moreover very few studies mention the cause of death," Ruhli said.


Indeed, for the vast majority of studies, the cause of death -- which came between ages 20 and 40 for half of the mummies -- was either not considered or remained vague.


"The embalming treatment and the nature of certain diseases make it difficult to diagnose mummies. For example, diarrhea, which is still a very common cause of death among children in third world countries, would not really leave visible signs in mummies," Ruhli said.


Only in four cases the cause of death was reported with high certainty, with the culprit being pneumonia, pulmonary oedema, neurofibromatosis and chronic otitis.


In the remaining cases, the possible cause of death seemed to be due to a trauma, infectious diseases, unspecified inflammatory process, malnutrition and in one case, homicide.


"The lack of information about the cause of death in Egyptian mummies can be explained by the embalming process itself, which removed the internal organs. Many diseases involving those organs could not be easily diagnosed," said Gino Fornaciari, professor of forensic anthropology and director of the Pathology Museum at the University of Pisa.



Greece: Archaeologists Discover Wall of Ancient City of Vergina



30 November 2009 | An exceptional fortification structure surrounding the ancient city of Vergina, located in northern Greece, was recently discovered by archaeologists from the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.


According to the university’s announcement, cited by the www.ana-mpa.gr website, the architectural elements of the enclosure indicate that it dates back to the reign of Cassander, in the early third century BC, a period when Macedonia was plagued by major turmoil, including civil wars and attacks from the outside.


The finding, according to the publication, is of remarkable importance because the wall is preserved in perfect condition.


In addition to the structure, the university’s archaeological team also discovered a large number of artefacts, charred seeds and food, dating to the second and first centuries BC.


Vergina is a small town in northern Greece, located in the prefecture of Imathia, Central Macedonia. The town became internationally famous in 1977, when Greek archaeologist Manolis Andronikos unearthed what he claimed was the burial site of the kings of Macedon, including the tomb of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great. The finds established the site as the ancient Aigai, which was once the royal capital of ancient Macedon, ruled by the Argead dynasty from about 650 BC onwards.



Excavations in Ancient Tegea


The first stage of a five-year (2009-2013) excavation project in Ancient Tegea, near Tripolis, has been completed by an international team of archaeologists led by the Norwegian Institute in Athens in Collaboration with the Greek culture ministry's 38th Ephoria for Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities and 25th Ephoria of Byzantine Antiquities.


The area of excavation is a field located to the west of the theatre and the Basilica of Thyrsos, where magnetometer survey 2003-2004 documented the probable location of a major north-south street and a stoa bordering the agora.


The two ongoing field-projects at Tegea, a survey of a side-valley to the east of the urban centre and an excavation in the centre of the ancient city, started in June, 2009.


Tegea was a settlement in ancient Greece, and it is also a municipality in modern Arcadia, with its seat in the village Stadio.


Ancient Tegea was an important religious center of ancient Greece,containing the Temenos (Temple) of Athena Alea . The temenos was founded by Aleus. Votive bronzes at the site from the Geometric and Archaic periods take the forms of horses and deer; there are sealstones and fibulae. In the Archaic period the nine villages that underlie Tegea banded together in a synoecism form one city. Tegea was listed in Homer's Catalogue of Ships as one of the cities that contributed ships and men for the Achaean assault on Troy.


Tegea struggled against Spartan hegemony in Arcadia and was finally conquered ca 560 BCE. In the fourth century Tegea joined the Arcadian League and struggled to free itself from Sparta.


 The Temple of Athena Alea burned in 394 BC and was magnificently rebuilt to designs by Scopas of Paros, with reliefs of the Calydonian boar hunt in the main pediment. The city retained civic life under the Roman Empire; it was sacked in 395 by the Goths.


The site of ancient Tegea is now located within the modern town of Alea, which is located about 10 kilometers southeast of Tripolis.



Ancient gold unearthed in southern Hungary


2009-12-01 09:53


Archaeologists have discovered rare gold objects from the time Hungarian tribes first arrived in the Carpathian basin, near Szeged, the head of the excavation told MTI on Monday.


Tibor Paluch, archaeologist of Szeged's Ferenc Mora Museum, said that the relics - thin gold sheets to cover the eyes and mouth of a dead person - had been found in one of eight early graves.


The archaeologist said that the purpose of applying the covers was to protect the soul of the dead. He added that warriors had been buried in six graves, which included the sculls of their horses.


Hungarian experts have only once found similar relics before: at an excavation near Eger (N) in the 1960s, Paluch said.



Rome unveils ancient luxury complex


ROME — Italian officials unveiled new discoveries Thursday in an ancient Roman luxury complex filled with priceless mosaics, elegant porticos and thermal baths.


The 1,800 square-meter (2,000 square-yard) complex, dating from the 2nd to 4th centuries, has been excavated intermittently since 2004, when the ruins were accidentally discovered during the renovation of a Renaissance palazzo that stands above them.


In the latest excavation, which began in March, archaeologists uncovered a palatial room decorated with precious marble and a colorful mosaic made with half a million tiles brought from all over the Roman Empire.


They also found a "frigidarium" — a cold pool that was part of the baths built into the exclusive complex located just by the Forum constructed by Emperor Trajan.


Consolidation and restoration of these halls has given experts better understanding of how Roman baths functioned, archaeologists said in a statement.


The 16th century Palazzo Valentini, which sits on top of the ruins in downtown Rome, houses local government offices. The ancient complex will be open to the public from Friday through Jan. 6, before closing again for further exploration.


A multimedia museum has been built on the site to show visitors how it looked like originally through audio explanations and virtual reality reconstructions projected on the walls.


"The site is almost exactly as we found it," said physicist Paco Lanciano, one of the creators of the museum. "We wanted to respect its authenticity."


Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



Ruins of Pompeii now on Google Streetview

December 4, 2009


This is cool: Google mapped and photographed the ruins of ancient Pompeii in Italy. Pompeii was a Roman city that was covered in volcanic ash after nearby Mt. Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D.


I visited Pompeii in 1997 and was struck by its relatively immense size, and appreciated how big of a disaster the eruption must have been for what was once a thriving little seaside city in the Roman empire.


Google Streetview gives you a good peek inside the place, but it's definitely worth a visit with your feet on the ground, if you're ever in Italy. Anybody else been there?






A buried city from the Roman era has been discovered by Italian archaeologists in Libya along the eastern coast of Cyrenaica. The area has been located between the cities of Derna and Bomba, not far from Tobruk. The discovery was made by Italian archaeologists and technical experts from the Sicily region Sea Superintendence and the Suor Orsola Benincasa University in Naples under Sebastiano Tusa. The group is carrying out archaeological searches along the African coastline as part of the ArCoLibia (Coastal Archaeology of Libya) project, which was started a few years ago and which has already led to such exceptional finds as that of the Venetian ship ''Tigre'', which had sunk off the cape of Ras al-Hilal. The first traces of the buried city were found during reconnaissance diving in the waters of Ras Etteen. The archaeologists were searching for shipwrecks and port structures on the western edge of the Gulf of Bomba. They found walls, roads, buildings and tombs at a depth of between one and three metres. It is a portion which extends over a hectare of a large city which some of the scholars had intuited the presence of due to the remains of wall structures hidden among the sandy dunes hit by strong winds. It is believed that a large part of the city sunk due to a large bradyseism. Initial morphological analysis showed that changes to the area were macroscopic even in recent times, and the ruins found at the bottom of the sea are part of a city existing in the Imperial Roman era during the second century AD. (ANSAmed).



Turkey: Archaeology Holds Up Construction of Tunnel under the Bosphorus


1 December 2009


Istanbul’s Marmaray Project, which is to connect Asia and Europe through a tunnel under the Bosphorus, is held back as archaeologists excavate a fourth-century Byzantine port and other important remains.


“Archeologists are working around the clock on a huge swathe of land is being taken apart little by little,” a publication by the Voice of America News recently reported. “Eventually it will be the city's new transportation hub. But for now, it is a massive archaeological dig.”


On one side, there is one of the largest engineering ventures in the world of its type – the Marmaray Project, which includes the construction of a tunnel under Istanbul’s Bosphorus waterway. When complete, the tunnel will allow subway trains to run the length of the city carrying a million of people a day, thus significantly revitalizing the city’s transport system and easing its traffic problems.


On the other, there are the significant archaeological finds, including a Byzantine port, thousands of clay pots that were used for carrying cargo and at least 34 sunken ships, dating back more than 1,000 years.


The port was built in the fourth century and was used until the eleventh century. It was an international trading port of the time. So much of it is intact that it gives us an insight into the world, Zeynep Kiziltan, head of archeology museums in Istanbul, who is in charge of operations, told the publication.


As the boats and artefacts are being unearthed, they are sent to archaeological centres around the country to be preserved, leaving Turkey’s archaeological community faced with the wealth of the discoveries, the publication noted.


So far, the tunnel’s construction has been delayed by three years because of the archaeological excavations.


We do feel the pressure of time as the tunnel is a project of the state and it has big financial costs, archeologist Kan Ozdemir told VOA News. " So we have to work faster and in the best way we can. But archeology is not a job that you can rush, but we work hard.


For now, according to Kiziltan, the government has promised they can have as much time as they need. But working side to side with the tunnel engineers can give rise to some tension. “We do have quite heated arguments from time to time, as the construction team frequently wants us to give up areas we are excavating before we've finished,” she said. “Massive construction machines are literally over our shoulder waiting for us to finish, which can be intimidating. So sure we do have conflicts. But for now we still have the final say, although I don't know long this will last.”



Hair Reveals Ancient Peruvians Were Stressed Out

High levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, are found in the hair of ancient human remains.

By Jennifer Viegas | Wed Dec 02, 2009 03:48 AM ET


People in the past were very stressed out, suggests a new study that found high amounts of a stress hormone in the hair of Peruvian individuals who lived between 550 A.D. and 1532.


The study, accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science, is the first to detect the stress hormone cortisol in ancient hair. Cortisol is produced in response to real and perceived threats. After its release, the hormone travels to nearly every part of the body, including to blood, saliva, urine and hair.


It now may be possible to determine not only how ancient people behaved, but also how they felt.


"Combined with archaeological reconstructions of past communities and societies, and traditional bioarchaeological approaches to understanding stress, health and well-being, research like this will significantly enrich our ability to reconstruct ancient life histories, and let us explore individualized experiences of people who died hundreds or even thousands of years ago," lead author Emily Webb told Discovery News.


Webb, a University of Western Ontario anthropologist, and her team measured cortisol in hair from 10 individuals buried at five different sites in Peru: Cajamarquilla, Leymebamba, Puruchuco, Tucume and Nasca. The researchers also found the stress hormone in hair from early Ontario residents, ancient Nubians and early Egyptians, but the Peru residents were the focus of this study.



3-year study reveals Lake Superior's ancient past

The Associated Press

Posted on Sun, Nov. 29, 2009


MARQUETTE, Mich. - Thousands of years of human activity along the Upper Peninsula's Lake Superior shoreline have come into sharper focus after three years of research.


Scientists from Northern Michigan University's geography department recently completed a project at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore that located 23 new archaeological sites.


The researchers also helped define the shoreline as it existed 4,500 years ago.


Department head John Anderton said the National Park Service-backed effort was designed to find cultural resources so they can be protected during future road building and other developments.


"In the first year of the project, satellite imagery was used to identify distinct land forms, notches, ridges and barriers created by wave action, to map the older shorelines," Northern Michigan spokeswoman Kristi Evans wrote on the school's Web site. "They found that the water was 30-40 feet higher than it is today."


Anderton said today, the federally protected land isn't very habitable.


"But if you go back a while, there were nice places for people to live," he said. "There were embayments, or shallow water lagoons, that had a variety of fish and plants , everything a hunter-gatherer would need."


In the second year of the project, colleague Robert Legg carried out modeling of archaeological sites, using known sites to help find new ones with similar features.


Detailed digital elevation models made by professor Robert Regis let Anderton and students pick likely places to dig.


According to Anderton, past researchers "might do a hundred tests and find nothing. But one out of four of ours unearthed artifacts. That's called smart archaeology."



Dogs to look for archaeological remains on Port Angeles waterfront; demonstration slated today

By Paul Gottlieb

Peninsula Daily News


PORT ANGELES -- Four furry, four-legged forensics experts will begin sniffing around the Port Angeles waterfront today, seeking signs of ancient Native American remains.


The dogs' weeklong search, through next Monday, will be part of the city's ongoing archaeological survey of 872 acres of waterfront from Ediz Hook to the western edge of the abandoned Rayonier pulp mill property.


The survey, which will lead to an archaeological management plan for the city of Port Angeles and its property owners, is being conducted under a $19,200 contract with the Woodside, Calif.-based Institute for Canine Forensics, said Derek Beery, the city's archaeologist, last week.


"The dogs are trained specifically to smell the residue that's left when a human being decomposes," Beery said.


The four dogs -- Eros, a male border collie; Rhea, a female border collie; Alice, a black Labrador; and Riley, a female border collie-Doberman -- will exhibit their skills for the general public at 4:30 p.m. today at Port Angeles City Hall, 321 E. Fifth St., during a presentation that will include a question-and-answer session.


The presentation will include the dogs performing a sample search for teeth purchased online at www.boneroom.com, home Web sit of "The Bone Room," which bills itself as "a natural history store," said Canine Forensics project manager Lynne Angeloro of Discovery Bay.


"You can buy a fully articulated skull for 450 bucks," Angeloro said. "Isn't that bizarre?"


The dogs also will search for gray soil -- dirt impregnated with the scent of human remains and found around coffins -- donated by archaeologists and Native American tribes when they have had to relocate burial.


The teeth and gray soil will be placed near city hall under rocks and buried beneath dirt.


The scent samples will be placed 30 minutes before the demonstration "to give the scent a chance to settle," Angeloro said.


"Human remains have a scent that never, ever goes away, especially a bone, even if it dries out," she added.


The dogs can smell remains that are 9 feet deep and 1,500 to 2,000 years old as long as they aren't buried under concrete, Angeloro said, adding that for every scent receptor a human has, a dog has 10,000.


The canines will trot 10 waterfront survey areas of 10 acres each or more to help Beery determine the possible locations of archaeological deposits of likely Native American origin.


If the dogs "alert" to evidence of deposits, the site will be confirmed by a second dog and the location's coordinates marked by a Global Positioning System, Angeloro said last week.


Dog survey data will be compiled by Jan. 1, Beery said.


Beery's overall waterfront survey will include the dog data along with information from maps, studies and environmental predictors such as proximity to water.


He's determining general areas of high, medium and low statistical probability that remains and artifacts are present in certain areas of the waterfront.


Expected to be completed by October 2011, the survey will give landowners, the city of Port Angeles and the Port of Port Angeles an idea of how much they might need to study a site before deciding whether to develop it.


Earlier this year, Beery estimated that 15 percent of the waterfront study area has a high statistical probability of containing Native American artifacts or remains and 35 percent a medium statistical probability.


Next up for the survey will be studying soil formation processes along the waterfront.


"The hope is that the study will give us quite an accurate picture of fill episodes, depths, natural erosion and natural soil formations across the waterfront," Beery said.


"We'll have a better ability to predict how deep the fill is and where that fill came from in the waterfront area."


Tse-whit-zen settlement money


The $19,200 canine project is funded under a state Department of Transportation $8.48 million settlement awarded the city of Port Angeles after the Klallam village of Tse-whit-zen was discovered during the first stages of the agency's $100 million graving yard project on Marine Drive, which the dogs will patrol.


The graving yard project was halted in 2004 after 65,000 artifacts were uncovered and 335 burials unearthed.


Skeletal remains were found jumbled about in fill in what had been a heavily industrialized area.


The city received $7.5 million for economic development, $500,000 to recruit and retain businesses and $480,000 to hire an archaeologist -- Beery.


Beery also monitors all shoreline construction projects -- from digging for power poles to scooping earth for foundations -- for signs of remains and artifacts.


Survey data citing specific potential archaeological locations will be made available to landowners, Beery said.


"The management plan, minus actual locational information, will be made available to the public."


Beery said he did not know if specific locations of potential remains discovered as a result of the canine survey would be made available to the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, whose ancestors lived along the present-day Port Angeles waterfront.


"I haven't talked to enough people to decide how to answer that question yet," Beery said.


Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at paul.gottlieb@peninsuladailynews.com.



Remains of Roman tower discovered during City Walls repair project in Chester

Dec 2 2009 Chester Chronicle


THE well-preserved remains of a Roman tower used by guards patrolling Chester’s City Walls has been discovered by archaeologists repairing a section which collapsed near the Eastgate Clock.


Interval towers were placed regularly every 65m or so along the rear of the main fortress wall and acted as lookout points and as bases for roman artillery. The tower has been found beneath the foundation of the city wall.


City Archaeologist Mike Morris said: “We have been working closely with the stonemasons as they carefully dismantled the City Wall.


“When they came to the bottom, we excavated an archaeological trench to see what lies underneath.


“To our surprise, almost as soon as we started digging, a well-made sandstone wall appeared. It was running across the line of the City Wall and was more than 1m thick.


“Several of these towers have been found over the last hundred years and we knew there should be one in this vicinity but it is remarkable that we hit on exactly the right spot and that it has survived so well in this location.


“The last time we had the chance to investigate one of these was during the development at Abbey Green more than 30 years ago. Although we know a lot about the archaeology of Chester, there will always be exciting, unexpected discoveries like this.”


Restoration specialist Maysand is undertaking the work to repair the Walls section, joined by a team of specialists from Giffords, English Heritage, Chester Renaissance and Cheshire West and Chester Council.


Rita Waters, chief executive of Chester Renaissance said: “The wall will be left intact and the City Wall rebuilt above it.


“A tumble of large stones was found on each side of the Roman wall, probably from the collapse of the tower sometime after the fortress was abandoned and before the City Wall was built.


“It is hoped that these will be able to be reused in the rebuild so that something of this hidden history is visible for future generations.”


Councillor Richard Short, Executive Member for Culture and Recreation said: “This restoration of the City Walls is vitally important to Chester.


“This project is very exciting and it is great that people can watch the progress on our webcam.”


The webcam address is



Viking ‘recycling’ centre discovered at battle of Fulford site near York

10:04am Tuesday 1st December 2009


HISTORIANS and metal detector enthusiasts believe they have found York’s first metal recycling centre – dating back to 1066.


A ten-year project aimed at discovering the site of the battle of Fulford, which preceded the better known battles of Stamford Bridge and Hastings, has uncovered more than 1,000 pieces of iron.


Historian Chas Jones, who led the research, said the items included arrowheads and axe heads, but there was also strong evidence of metal working indicating the reprocessing of weapons used in the battle.


“We found several ‘smithing hearth bottoms’ – the remains of the molten metal which dribbles down during the reprocessing of the weaponry ironwork,” he said.


“You could say this was York’s first metal recycling centre!”


Mr Jones said the finds were currently undergoing X-ray fluorescence examination at the University of York’s Department of Archaeology, at Kings Manor.


“The X-ray fluorescence allows the precise metal composition to be determined and this will help eliminate modern iron alloys and match related pieces of metal,” he said.


“The iron finds support the idea that metal was gathered and recycled in the area just behind where the fighting took place, after the battle was over.


“Scandinavian experts suggest what we have found are items that the Norse victors at Fulford were in the process of manufacturing into other pieces when the Battle Of Stamford Bridge took place, and the site was abandoned.


“This is why we think so much material has been left behind.”


He said the recycling area was close to the proposed access route into the 720-home Germany Beck housing development at Fulford.


But he said this had been raised at a public inquiry and dismissed by developers before the scheme was given outline planning permission. “The next stage will be a detailed planning application,” he said.


He said the ten-year project had involved members of the Fulford Battlefield Society and of the York Metal Detectorists Club, and a detailed report on the results of the project would be published in February.



Panel Criticizes Military’s Use of Embedded Anthropologists


Published: December 3, 2009


A two-year-old Pentagon program that assigns social scientists to work with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan has come under sharp criticism from a panel of anthropologists who argue that the undertaking is dangerous, unethical and unscholarly.


The committee, which released the report on Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Anthropological Association, the discipline’s largest professional group, has been studying the program since its inception in 2007.


The panel concluded that the Pentagon program, called the Human Terrain System, has two conflicting goals: counterinsurgency and research. Collecting data in the context of war, where coercion and offensive tactics are always potentially present, “can no longer be considered a legitimate professional exercise of anthropology,” the report says.


The idea that the military should have a deeper understanding of the cultures and societies in which it operates is one that both academics and Defense Department officials support. How to accomplish that goal is the question.


Commanders in the field have reported that the advisers helped reduce the number of combat operations and enabled units to focus more on nonmilitary needs like local health care and education. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said, “The net effect of these efforts is often less violence across the board and fewer hardships and civilian deaths.”


The panel’s criticisms are not surprising; the association’s executive board had previously expressed serious reservations about the program. Still, it assigned an internal committee to look at the Human Terrain System in more depth. Although political scientists, sociologists, area studies specialists and linguists are also involved in the program, the panel said it focused only on anthropologists.


The report cited insufficient training to prepare scholars for work in the field, concern about confidentiality and obtaining informed consent from the local population, and the possibility that collected research could be used to select military targets. Scholars are supposed to refuse to hand over any data they suspect will be used for choosing targets.


Many people who were interviewed for the report requested anonymity, so it is impossible to assess specific charges of unethical or flawed practices.


Some criticism of the program has also come from inside the Defense Department, from those who produce similar types of sociological and cultural assessments. In the March-April issue of Military Review, published by the Army, Maj. Ben Connable of the Marines wrote that the Human Terrain System approach is a quick-fix policy that “is inconsistent with standing doctrine and ignores recent improvements in military cultural capabilities.”


Social scientists working for the Terrain System program have been asked, for example, to answer questions like: How do poor sanitation, health and educational services affect local support for insurgents? Why have young men been forced to leave the country to look for work? Why might children throw rocks at soldiers? How can jobs be created? Are people scared to vote in elections? And what projects should be financed?


Over the past couple of years the Pentagon has actively recruited academics to give advice on how to supplement its military policy. One goal in Afghanistan, for example, has been to strengthen the central government and civilian institutions so that it can counter the Taliban’s influence. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the senior allied commander in Afghanistan, said at the end of August that “our strategy cannot be focused on seizing terrain or destroying insurgent forces; our objective must be the population.” He added that “gaining their support will require a better understanding of the people’s choices and needs.”