Kents Cavern Gears up for First Archaeological Excavation for Over 80 years – in Search of Torquay’s Neanderthals
Thursday 22 January, 2009
A team of archaeologists will survey Kents Cavern on 26th January in advance of two major
excavations, at Easter and in September, that aim to discover more about the Neanderthals that lived in the caves tens of thousands of years ago.
Excavation Directors Dr Mark White, of the University of Durham, and Dr Paul Pettitt, of the
University of Sheffield, said: “We hope that the information recovered from these excavations will
contribute to widely-debated issues in human evolution – specifically whether the expansion in
numbers of our own species tens of thousands of years ago was connected with the extinction of the Neanderthals. Britain has so far failed to play a role in this fascinating and important debate, and we believe that Kent’s Cavern is the prime site where answers could be found.”
The team of archaeologists also hopes to learn more about the origins of Kents Cavern’s use as a
human shelter, and establish firm dates for the first occupation of the cave by Neanderthals and early members of our own species.
“We are thrilled that Kents Cavern could soon be revealing more of its tantalising secrets, and play a part in increasing our knowledge of the Neanderthal occupation of Britain, thanks to the expertise of Dr Pettitt, Dr White and their team,” said Nick Powe, Kents Cavern’s proprietor. “The caves have already yielded some incredible finds, such as a 37,000 year-old ancient human jawbone unearthed during the last excavations at Kents Cavern in 1927, which it is believed could be Neanderthal.”
“Many Torbay residents know Kents Cavern as a tourist attraction, but I don’t think many realise just how important an archaeological site the caves are, not just in Britain but in Europe,” continued Nick.
“Kents Cavern is the oldest Scheduled Ancient Monument in Britain, with evidence of human
occupation dating back half a million years – and as such it’s the oldest recognisable human dwelling in the entire country.”
Kents Cavern will be open during the excavation at Easter, from 30th March until 12th April, and
visitors will be able to view the dig in action as part of their cave tour.
Many of the breathtaking artefacts unearthed during previous excavations at Kents Cavern can be
found in Torquay Museum, under the care of Curator of Collections Barry Chandler. These gems
include the 37,000 year-old ancient human jawbone, 400,000 year-old stone tools and the fossilised remains of some of Kents Cavern’s most terrifying occupants, including Scimitar Cats, Cave Bears, Hyenas and Cave Lions.
For further information contact:
Kents Cavern Prehistoric Caves
Mob: 0775 9216139
Tel: 01803 219242
Extensive dig hopes to reveal cavern's secret
Monday, January 26, 2009, 09:17
A DIG aiming to unearth Torbay's links with the ancient colonisation of Europe by mankind is due to start this spring.
A team of archaeologists will survey Kents Cavern, Torquay, today in advance of major excavations at Easter and in September.
The digs aim to discover more about the Neanderthals who lived in the caves tens of thousands of years ago.
The project is being carried out by archaeologists Dr Mark White from Durham University, and Dr Paul Pettitt from Sheffield, and is the first archaeological dig at the cave for more than 80 years.
Dr White said: "We hope he information recovered from these excavations will contribute to widely-debated issues in human evolution, specifically whether the expansion in numbers of our own species tens of thousands of years ago was connected with the extinction of the Neanderthals.
"Britain has so far failed to play a role in this fascinating and important debate, and we believe Kent's Cavern is the prime site where answers could be found."
The team of archaeologists also hopes to learn more about the origins of Kents Cavern's use as a human shelter, and establish firm dates for the first occupation of the cave by Neanderthals and early members of our own species.
Kents Cavern owner Nick Powe said: "We are thrilled Kents Cavern could soon be revealing more of its tantalising secrets, and play a part in increasing our knowledge of the Neanderthal occupation of Britain, thanks to the expertise of Dr Pettitt, Dr White and their team.
"The caves have already yielded some incredible finds, such as a 37,000-year-old ancient human jawbone unearthed during the last excavations at Kents Cavern in 1927, which it is believed could be Neanderthal."
"Many Torbay residents know Kents Cavern as a tourist attraction, but I don't think many realise just how important an archaeological site the caves are, not just in Britain but in Europe.
"Kents Cavern is the oldest Scheduled Ancient Monument in Britain, with evidence of human occupation dating back half a million years, and as such it's the oldest recognisable human dwelling in the entire country."
Kents Cavern will be open during the excavation at Easter, from March 30 until April 12, and visitors will be able to view the dig in action as part of their cave tour.
Many of the artifacts unearthed during previous excavations are in Torquay Museum, under the care of curator of collections Barry Chandler.
These gems include the 37,000 year-old ancient human jawbone, 400,000-year-old stone tools and the fossilised remains of some of Kents Cavern's wildlife occupants, including scimitar cat, bear, hyena and lion.
Can you bite a nut?
Under Embargo until 2 February 2009, 23:00
Your ancestors could. New research has led to novel insights into how feeding and dietary adaptations may have shaped the evolution of the earliest humans. The anthropologist Gerhard Weber, University of Vienna, just published together with an international team this research result in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
An international research team found that a more than two million year-old early human ingested large nuts and seeds that may have been "foods of last resort". The ability to eat foods that were difficult to process could have been an ecologically significant adaptation. The article "The feeding biomechanics and dietary ecology of Australopithecus africanus," is the first of a series devoted to the study of the mechanics of feeding in primates and Australopithecines.
The results showed that Australopithecus africanus, a human relative that lived in South Africa over two million years ago, had a facial skeleton that was well designed to withstand premolar bites. This suggests that A. africanus might have used its enlarged premolars and structurally reinforced face to crack open and ingest large hard nuts. These nuts may have been critical resources upon which these humans relied during times of resource scarcity or when their preferred foods were unavailable.
The scientists implement advanced techniques for their research. The team of Gerhard Weber from the University of Vienna provided the basis with Virtual Anthropology (VA). Then David Strait and his workgroup from the University of Albany, NY, conducted the Finite Element Analysis (FEA). The FEA an engineering method used to examine how objects of complex geometry respond to loads.
Before FEA can be applied, an accurate 3D model of the fossil’s skull is needed. At University of Vienna, Gerhard Weber’s workgroup “Virtual Anthropology” is one of the few centers where such kind of reconstructions of fossil specimens can be undertaken. After scanning the fossils with computer tomography the digital copies can be handled and measured electronically. Also unwanted structures like former plaster reconstructions or embedded stone matrix can be removed without touching the precious originals again. “In this case we were lucky to have teeth available from a very similar other specimen so that we could reconstruct the edentulous face of ‘Mrs. Ples’, as the fossil is called” says Weber.
Gerhard Weber leads a European network funded by the EU (European Virtual Anthropology Network – EVAN). The network aims to spread this kind of technology in Europe and to train young researchers. Applications meanwhile reached the medical sector as well where diagnosis and implant planning exploit the same methods as those used for investigating fossils.
The international project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the European Union. It enables collaboration between US American universities and EVAN.
Contact person in Europe:
Gerhard W. Weber
Department of Anthropology
University of Vienna
Althanstr. 14, A-1090 Vienna, Austria
M +43-664-817 49 26
Silbury Hill mystery soon to be resolved
Archaeologists could finally be on the brink of solving a puzzle that dates back more than 4,000 years.
By Jack Watkins
Last Updated: 2:08PM GMT 29 Jan 2009
It is said that there is a greater concentration of ancient monuments in the Wiltshire countryside between Marlborough and Avebury than anywhere else in Britain. Many present an eternal puzzle to archaeologists as to how and why they came to be, but Silbury Hill out-puzzles them all. There it sits by the A4, an outlandish sight dwarfing the cars that stream past its circular base. It is 30-metres high and 160-metres wide, the largest man-made mound in Europe, but in silhouette it looks like an alien spaceship from a Fifties sci-fi movie.
It is, in fact, more than 4,000 years old (c2,400-2,000BC), and its purpose has been a well-kept secret for at least half that time. Suggestions range from the legendary, to the barmy, to the halfway plausible. One has it that the devil built it to hide a gold statue while on the way, for some unknown reason, to Devizes, another that it was the resplendent burial chamber of the mythical warrior king Sil and his horse. There are connections with Arthurian legends, and then there is a hypothesis that, because of high levels of contamination of the water supply by grazing sheep, it formed a kind of reservoir of pure water, with rainfall percolating through its chalk structure to gather in the surrounding ditch. This one sounds practical until you learn that its making would have involved more than four million man-hours and 500,000 tonnes of material quarried from ditches and terraces, carried out over at least 200 years.
Silbury Hill is in the guardianship of English Heritage, in whose laboratories recent fascinating new finds are being investigated. Several years ago, a hole appeared at the summit of the Neolithic monument, around the spot where the Duke of Northumberland had sunk a shaft to carry out excavations in 1776. Further investigation showed that other tunnels from later digs were also unstable. Contracting a team of engineers to stabilise the internal structure also provided a chance to gain a greater insight into date and function. The work was only completed last winter, but while it could take two years to fully evaluate the finds, it seems Silbury had a part to play in later history that no one had hitherto imagined.
Archaeologists found a series of medieval pot-holes on top of the hill, indicating a large building. The discovery of two arrowheads also suggested it had a defensive purpose in the period of the Danish invasions early in the 11th century, or around the time of the Norman Conquest. There is speculation, too, that Silbury was originally dome-shaped in its prehistoric form, and that its current flat-topped aspect was the result of later lopping off to create its military function.
So the mound wasn't simply some ghostly feature that became abandoned in prehistoric times, says Rob Harding, the English Heritage project manager for the site. According to Harding, there is also evidence of Roman usage in the platforms along the side of the hill. "Often, the Romans adopted the local gods and forms of worship when they arrived in new countries, so we think it would have had some sort of ceremonial function for the Romans. But it is possible it was disused in the period prior to their arrival in 43BC. The Roman road to Bath (the A4) runs around the base of the hill, but we have nothing to suggest it was in use after the Romans until the late Saxon or early Norman period."
As Harding admits, none of this brings us remotely closer to finding a conclusive explanation for why it was originally built. "You can rule out the idea that it formed a settlement, or an enclosure. We believe it had some sort of ceremonial or religious function, but we've found no evidence of human sacrifice or offerings to the gods, so we can't prove it."
Because it's a fragile, though remarkably uneroded monument, access to the slopes and summit of Silbury is barred, but, says Harding, from the top you can see across to Avebury henge. If you visit the Sanctuary, the stone circle whose remains lie on a hill to the east, you can see across to Silbury, and the stone entrance to West Kennett Long Barrow. It's a fairly confident assertion that this great ensemble of monuments, in what now forms the Avebury World Heritage Site, formed some kind of "planned" landscape.
Bit by bit, archaeologists are piecing together elementary facts of how Silbury Hill was built. There were, it seems, three main phases. The first used stacked turf capped with clay; the second used piled rubble chalk and was undertaken soon afterwards, around 2,400BC. It is possible there was a gap of a few hundred years between this and the completion of the third phase. It's worth remembering, as we admire the soft, turfy outline of Silbury today, that in its original conception it would have been stark white. "There is a lovely picture of it in the snow, and I think that is how it probably would have looked, this huge white hill in the landscape," agrees Harding.
Of course, we probably will never know what really went on in the minds of prehistoric men. It's almost as unbridgeable a chasm now as it was in the 17th century, when John Aubrey was delving around local earthworks and bemoaning the lack of concern for "antiquities". New Age folk rather like the uncertainty. It means they can project all kinds of wild notions onto the likes of Silbury Hill. For the rest of us, it merely increases our sense of awe and wonder.
Archaeologists try to revive daily life of 2,000-year-old ancient Chinese capital
www.chinaview.cn 2009-01-29 13:34:12
BEIJING, Jan. 29 (Xinhua)
Archaeologists are uncovering the details of city life as it was 2,000 years ago in the ancient Chinese capital of Chang'an.
As the capital of the Western Han Dynasty (202 BC to 8 AD), Chang'an was a metropolis with an area of 36 square kilometers, about four times the size of the contemporary Rome. Its ruins lay in the suburb of today's Xi'an, capital of northwestern Shaanxi Province.
"After about five decades of work, we can map out the city's clear layout now, but we still know little about how its 240,000 residents lived," said Liu Zhendong, the head of an excavation team from the Institute of Archaeology under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS), in an interview with Xinhua here.
The 12-gate, walled city had eight avenues, each of which were 45 to 55 meters wide and lined with trees.
Its wall was 12 meters high, 25,700 meters long and surrounded by an eight-meter-wide moat. To run around it would be equal to take running half marathon.
"Archaeologists have excavated several major palaces and city gates but have not discovered the residences of ordinary people," Liu said. "Did they live in courtyards like those in old Beijing? We do not know."
The city was divided into 11 neighborhoods. Those of royal families and nobles were in the city's southern part while shops, workshops and houses of common people were situated in the northeast.
Liu and his colleagues have been working in that area for months.
"Some construction material was unearthed, such as stone slabs with inscriptions of names of locations, or their owners," he said. "This area will be our focus in the coming years."
Meanwhile, the archaeologists will work on the later relics that laid upon the Western Han ruins as Chang'an remained the capital of several later kingdoms.
"We believed that the palace area of later kingdoms were in this area," he said. The team has just excavated a palace gateway in December and unearthed well-preserved palace walls and stone bases of pillars.
After four centuries of rule by the Han Dynasty (Western and Eastern Han Dynasties), China was divided into several small kingdoms between 220 AD and 581 AD.
Some of those kingdoms, with the capital in Chang'an, were founded by nomadic ethnic groups from the north, later known as the Mongols.
"The palace gateway was an interesting finding. We hardly knew about the buildings of these kingdoms and it would help," he said.
"Like the ancient site of Pompeii, the study of large-scale ruins requires about 100 or 200 years of excavation," said Liu Qingzhu, a veteran archaeologist from the same institute as Liu Zhendong.
Archaeologists have just excavated about 0.1 percent of the total area of Chang'an ruins.
"Sometimes I feel like competing with time. Because irreversible damage occurred to the relics because of natural and man-made reasons," Liu Zhendong said.
Ötzi’s Last Days – Glacier man may have been attacked twice
Another chapter in a murder case over 5000 years old. New investigations by an LMU research team working together with a Bolzano colleague reconstructed the chronology of the injuries that Ötzi, the glacier man preserved as a frozen mummy, received in his last days. It turns out, for example, that he did in fact only survive the arrow wound in his back for a very short time – a few minutes to a number of hours, but no more – and also definitely received a blow to the back with a blunt object only shortly before his death. In contrast, the cut wound on his hand is some days older. “We are now able to make the first assertions as to the age and chronology of the injuries,” reports Professor Andreas Nerlich, who led the study. “It is now clear that Ötzi endured at least two injuring events in his last days, which may imply two separate attacks. Although the ice mummy has already been studied at great length, there are still new results to be gleaned. The crime surrounding Ötzi is as thrilling as ever!"
It is the oldest ice mummy ever found. Ötzi, the man from the Neolithic Age, is giving science critical information about life more than 5000 years ago, not least from his equipment. His copper axe, for example, reveals that metalworking was already much more advanced in that era than was previously assumed. Yet Ötzi’s body, too, gives us many details as to his diet, state of health – and not least to his murder.
“Some time ago, we detected a deep cut wound on Ötzi’s hand that he must have survived for at least a couple of days,” says Nerlich, head of the Institute of Pathology at Municipal Hospital Munich-Bogenhausen and member of the Medical Faculty of LMU. “Another team at about the same time found an arrow tip in Ötzi’s left armpit. The shaft of the arrow was missing, but there is an entry wound on the back.” It is probable, in that case, that the man died of internal bleeding because the arrow hit a main artery. What was unclear, however, was the age and exact chronology of the injuries.
Now, Nerlich has reconstructed the missing chronology while working together with LMU forensic scientist Dr. Oliver Peschel and Dr. Eduard Egarter-Vigl, head of the Institute for Pathology in Bolzano. According to the new information, Ötzi did in fact only survive the arrow wound for a very short period of time, of no more than a few hours. A few centimeters below the entry wound they detected an additional small discoloration of the skin, which was probably caused by a blow from a blunt object. In both cases, the researchers, using new immunohistochemical detection methods, managed to detect very briefly survived, yet unequivocally fatal bleeding.
Above the spine are more discolorations that are not associated with bleeding. They probably occurred after the man’s death, due to his interment, for example. “Ötzi had only shortly survived the arrow wound and the blow on the back,” Nerlich summarizes. “At least a couple of days before his death, however, he sustained a severe cut wound on his right hand. Over several days, then, Ötzi suffered at least two injuring events – which could point towards two separate attacks.” (suwe)
“New evidence for Ötzi’s final trauma”,
Andreas G. Nerlich, Oliver Peschel, Eduard Egarter-Vigl
Intensive Care Medicine, online, January 2009
Professor Andreas G. Nerlich
Institute for Pathology, Municipal Hospital Munich-Bogenhausen
Tel.: ++49 (0) 89 / 9270-2310
Fax: ++ (0) 89 / 9270-2067
Celtic Hoard Found in Netherlands
Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News
January 26, 2009
Coins are often used as "index fossils" by archaeologists. An index fossil is a fossil with which paleontologists are familiar that is also known to have lived during a specific time period and in a certain environment. For this reason an index fossil can help date an entire paleontological dig site. Coins found at archaeological dig sites can often help date the site, identify past trade routes, identify rulers, suggest political borders, and even suggest the level of technology available in the area. Due to inscriptions and iconography coins are often the only artifact found at an archaeological site that can "speak" to us.
On Nov. 13 an important find of 109 Celtic coins of the Eburones tribe found in the Netherlands was announced through the Associated Press. According to AP information, this is one of three important hoard finds of coins issued by this tribe. The other two finds, according to AP information, were discovered in Belgium and Germany in areas not too distant geographically from the Netherlands.
The most recent find was discovered by metal detector hobbyist Paul Curfs, who was sweeping a corn field in Maastricht, a city in the southern part of the Netherlands. Curfs is not a coin collector. He discovered the coins in the spring of 2008. The find is only now being announced publicly.
In the AP story Curfs described his find of the first coin, saying: "It was golden and had a little horse on it - I had no idea what I had found."
Curfs posted an image of the gold coin on the Internet on what is described as a web forum. Someone advised him the coin was rare. This prompted Curfs to return to the same field, where he next discovered a coin he described as, "It looked totally different - silver, and saucer-shaped."
By the time Curfs and several fellow hobbyists were done they had uncovered a total of 39 gold and 70 silver ancient Celtic coins. Curfs notified Maastricht city officials of the discovery, then worked with professional archaeologists to investigate the find site further.
Specific details important to coin collectors were not immediately available, however according to the AP story, "Nico Roymans, the archaeologist who led the academic investigation of the find, believes the gold coins in the cache were minted by a tribe called the Eburones that [Julius] Caesar claimed to have wiped out in 53 B.C. after they conspired with other groups in an attack that killed 6,000 Roman soldiers."
The Euburones were a Germanic tribe living primarily in what in now Belgium. In 54 BC the Eburones revolted against local Roman occupation through Euburones tribal chieftains Ambiorix and Catuvoleus. Ambiorix initially offered safe passage to the Romans while other tribes elsewhere in Gaul were in revolt against the Romans. The Romans, commanded by Quintus Titurius Sabinus and Lucius Aurunculeius Cotta, agreed. The Eburones treacherously ambushed the Romans, most of whom were killed or committed suicide rather than allow themselves to be captured by the Euburones.
By 49 BC Roman general Julius Caesar had crushed the revolt, defeating both Celts and Germanic tribes living in Gaul (Gaul being comprised of primarily of what is now modern France). Caesar then defied the Roman Senate by crossing the Rubicon River and marching on the city of Rome, crossing the Rubicon being considered treason since that river marked the northernmost boundary of the Roman Republic proper. By this act Caesar initiated a Roman civil war that would end the Roman Republic and usher in the Roman Empire The Eburones had resisted Caesar's conquest of Gaul and were rewarded for their resistance with genocide at the hands of the Romans.
Roymans believes the gold and silver coin hoard recently found in the Netherlands were produced by Celtic tribes further north, suggesting in his opinion the coins may represent cooperation among the various Celtic tribes in the war against Caesar's Roman legions. Roymans disclosed that both the gold and silver coins depict triple spirals on the obverse, a common Celtic symbol.
At the time this article was being written no value had yet been placed on the hoard. The hoard discovered in Belgium was of similar size and has been estimated at about 175,000 euros (about $220,000 US) in value.
Curfs has retained 11 of the coins, lending them to the city of Maastricht on what has been described as a long-term basis. His coins have been on display at the Centre Ceramique Museum in Maastricht.
The farmer on whose land the hoard was discovered sold his interest in the coins to Maastricht for an undisclosed sum.
Surprise discovery after dig into past
PREHISTORIC Cambridge may have been a far bigger settlement than previously thought.
A new book published by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) suggests that population density in the prehistoric and Roman eras may have been higher than earlier research had claimed.
The focus of the study was a three-hectare site in the grounds of Addenbrooke's Hospital, which was examined over a six-month period in 2002/03.
Finds at the site ranged from the late Bronze Age to the middle Saxon period, and included a cemetery and a pottery kiln complex.
Archaeologists said small settlements may have been so close together that residents could wave to each other across the 300m stretches between their homes.
The book argues this knowledge should revolutionise understanding of the early society of Cambridge.
Christopher Evans, who put the book together, said: "The evidence from the huge-scale trench-survey projects that the unit has undertaken on both the adjacent Addenbrooke's/ Clay Farm lands and other such projects in south-central Cambridgeshire indicate that the later prehistoric/Roman landscapes were much more densely settled than previously thought.
"They could have probably waved to their neighbours."
Researchers also discovered the site, where thousands of new homes will be built in the coming years to cater for the region's predicted population boom, had been used for centuries by different groups.
Mr Evans said: "Under the pleasantly green and rolling landscape of the area there are multiple landscapes, and in the past the area has hosted a lot of activity, both in terms of the scale of its Second World War defences and the density of its later prehistoric and Roman settlement, which included considerable industrial activity."
The book, Borderlands: the Archaeology of the Addenbrooke's Environs, South Cambridge is published by Oxbow Books.
Divers plunder Greece's sunken treasure troves
Government move to boost tourism backfires as looters descend on antiquities
Helena Smith in Athens
The Guardian, Friday 30 January 2009
For centuries they have lain forgotten and untouched in the murky depths of the Mediterranean. But the sunken glories of Greece are now threatened by modern treasure hunters, who are targeting their riches since the lifting of a ban on coastal scuba-diving.
At risk, say archaeologists, is an unseen part of the country's cultural patrimony, comprising thousands of shipwrecks dating from Classical, Hellenic, Roman, Byzantine and early modern times and their priceless cargoes of coins, ingots, weapons and gold.
"Greek waters are some of the richest in antiquities in the world," said the marine archaeologist Katerina Dellaporta. "Thanks to very stringent controls over underwater exploration shipwrecks have been extremely well preserved."
Until recently divers were allowed access to just 620 miles of the country's 12,000 mile coastline, but in an attempt to boost tourism, the conservative government opened the country's entire coastal waters to underwater exploration in 2003.
Since then, looting has proliferated, say archaeologists.
Treasure hunters, encouraged by scuba-diving websites from America to Australia, are homing in on the "archaeological sea parks" armed with hi-tech scanners, cameras and nets.
One US-based diving company offers on its website an exhaustive list of "underwater treasures" which have been discovered by scuba divers, including sculptures, jewellery, warrior helmets, Phoenician beads, vases, and a variety of personal items reflecting life in the region in ancient times, from oil lamps to medical supplies.
"Man has been sailing the Greek seas for more than 9,000 years," it says. "This means that ships have been sinking for over 9,000 years - ideal for treasure hunters."
It offers a fleet of 400 yachts, some with crews, and "customised" diving packages for everyone from beginners to experienced divers as the "best way to discover Greece".
Marine archaeologists, who have appealed to Greece's highest administrative court to reverse the relaxation of the law, also point to the surge in blogging by divers boasting of their finds.
Last summer, one police raid intercepted two trucks crammed with ancient artefacts discovered in a wreck off the island of Kalymnos.
But with growing numbers of would-be looters posing as tourists on yachts, Greece appears ill-equipped to tackle the problem.
Unlike Italy, which has units of specially trained divers and helicopters to chase underwater thieves, Greece has an art squad that is under-funded and, with just 20 members, woefully understaffed.
The sheer scale of the problem is also an issue: an estimated 6,000 wrecks are believed to dot the Greek seas, with most of them in the Mediterranean, where entire submerged cities are thought to exist.
"The future of archaeology is in the water - on land most riches have been discovered - but in the sea there are thousands of sunken ships with cargoes that have yet to be found," said Harry Tzalas, a marine archaeologist who has discovered numerous treasures off the coast of Alexandria in Egypt.
"Each time an artefact is removed from the sea its value in terms of information and context is automatically lost, a tragedy for archaeologists."
Searching for underwater treasures
Ancient wrecks being hunted in once forbidden sea off Albania
Posted By LLAZAR SEMINI, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Once Europe's most forbidding coast, this sparkling stretch of the Ionian Sea is slowly revealing lost treasures that date back 2,500 years and shipwrecks from ancient times.
Over the past two summers, a research ship carrying U. S. and Albanian experts has combed the waters off southern Albania, using scanning equipment and submersible robots to seek ancient wrecks. In what organizers say is the first archeological survey of Albania's seabed, at least five sites were located, which could fill in blanks on ancient shipbuilding techniques.
The project would not have been even imaginable just 18 years ago, when the small Balkan country was still ruled by Communists who banned contact with the outside world. The brutal regime pockmarked the countryside with more than 700,000 bunkers, against a foreign invasion that never came. Instead, the Communists were toppled after a student-led revolt in 1990, which opened Albania to the world.
"Albania is a tremendous untapped (archeological) resource," said U. S. archeologist Jeffrey G. Royal from the Key West, Fla.-based RPM Nautical Foundation, a non-profit group leading the underwater survey. "With what we've discovered until now we may say that Albania is on a par with Italy and Greece."
The latest expedition has revealed traces of four sunken Greek ships dating from the sixth to the third centuries BC, while another three suspected sites have still to be verified. In comparison, the 2007 season netted signs of just one ancient wreck.
"The discoveries are very important because of the lack of properly documented objects from that period," said Andrej Gaspari, a leading Slovenian underwater archeologist who was not involved in the project. "The only ships found and documented from that time belong to the western Mediterranean and Israel . . . so our knowledge on the technology used for construction of ships is more or less limited."
During ancient times, Albania stood on an important trade route, receiving traffic from Greece, Italy, north Africa and the western Mediterranean. That history shows in what Albanian mission co-ordinator Auron Tare called "a real underwater treasure trove" discovered during the six-week season that ended in August 2008.
A 51-centimetre-long pottery jar, or amphora, used to transport wine and olive oil, and a smaller version found about 80 metres deep were probably made in the southern Greek city of Corinth, in the sixth or early fifth centuries BC. Both were recovered from a merchant ship that sank about three kilometres off shore. Albanian archeologist Adrian Anastasi said if the sixth-century BC dating is confirmed, it would be only the fifth of its kind found in the world.
Other highlights included a fourth-century BC amphora and roof tiles, a north African jar from the first to third centuries AD and a Roman stone ship's anchor of the second-first century BC. The team, operating off the southern port city of Saranda, also located more than 20 unknown 20th-century shipwrecks.
Anastasi said what was unique in the 2008 season was the discovery of the fired clay tiles, which appeared to be part of an entire sunken shipload.
"A wreck with a whole shipload of tiles has never been found before," Anastasi said. "The number of tiles and the way they were lying clearly shows the ship is below them."
Admiral Balchin's HMS Victory Discovered by Odyssey Marine Exploration
World's Mightiest Ship Was Lost Without a Trace in 1744 - Mystery Solved
Discovery Channel's "Treasure Quest" program reveals behind-the-scenes look at the discovery and exploration of the deep-ocean shipwreck site
Tampa, FL – February 2, 2009 - Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (NasdaqCM: OMEX), pioneers in the field of deep-ocean shipwreck exploration, has discovered the long-sought shipwreck of HMS Victory lost in 1744, solving one of the greatest mysteries in naval history.
The direct predecessor and inspiration behind Nelson’s flagship, Balchin’s Victory was the mightiest and technically most advanced vessel of her age. She sank during a storm in 1744 with all hands and was the last Royal Navy warship to be lost at sea with a complete complement of bronze cannon. Two of the greatest admirals in English history, Sir John Norris and Sir John Balchin, called her their flagship. Research indicates that Balchin’s Victory sank with a substantial amount of gold and silver specie aboard.
Odyssey has been cooperating closely with the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defence (MOD) on the project, and all activities at the site have been conducted in accordance with protocols agreed with MOD and Royal Navy officials. Terms of collaboration between Odyssey and the UK MOD on the project are currently being negotiated, and an agreement similar to the Sussex Partnering Agreement has been proposed.
“Finding this shipwreck has solved one of the greatest shipwreck mysteries in history. Having discovered it in deep water far from where history says it was lost has served to exonerate Admiral Balchin and his officers from the accusation of having let the ship run aground on the Casquets due to faulty navigation,” commented Greg Stemm, Odyssey’s Chief Executive Officer. “We have worked closely with the MOD on this operation, and anticipate that we will continue the excellent cooperative relationship that we have enjoyed working together on the Sussex project. Fortunately, this shipwreck is not in waters claimed by any other country, so we do not expect any interference in further exploration of the site.”
Odyssey discovered the site nearly 100 km from where the ship was historically believed to have been wrecked on a reef near the Channel Islands. In an operation conducted in cooperation with the MOD, Odyssey has completed an archaeological pre-disturbance survey of the site, conducted limited test trenching, and recovered two bronze cannon to confirm the identity of the shipwreck. The cannon recovered include a 12-pounder featuring the royal arms of George II and a 4 ton, 42-pounder bearing the crest of George I. The huge 42-pounder recovered is the only known example of a gun of this type and size currently in existence on dry land. The only other artifacts recovered to date were two small brick fragments that were brought into U.S. federal court in order to file an admiralty arrest of the site.
During these operations, evidence was discovered of substantial damage to the site from natural deterioration, scouring, extensive fishing trawl net damage and the intrusion of modern trash and debris.
“Rather than staying frozen in time beneath the waves, this unique shipwreck is fading fast,” warns marine archaeologist Dr. Sean Kingsley, Director of Wreck Watch International., “The Victory lies in an area of intensive trawling, and her hull and contents are being ploughed away by these bulldozers of the deep day in, day out. Leaving the Victory’s rich archaeology so vulnerable to the ravages of man is like allowing a motorway to smash straight through a historic site on land without excavating it. The archaeological recovery of the artifacts from the site should begin as soon as possible or the story of England’s most important lost man-of-war may not survive to be told.”
Sir Robert Balchin, descendant of Admiral Sir John Balchin, stated, “This is the most astonishing news; for generations my family has wondered about the fate of Sir John and the Victory. Now that the wreck has been found, I and my family hope that as many of the artifacts on it as possible will be raised to the surface; our fear is that erosion, or trawler fishing will destroy what is there within a very few years. It would be wonderful to see these historic artifacts on permanent display in a museum where they will give a unique insight into naval warfare in the mid 18th century.”
A preliminary archaeological report detailing research and work to date on the site, which identifies the shipwreck as that of HMS Victory is available at www.shipwreck.net/publications.php
Odyssey’s work on the Victory site was all conducted while cameras for Discovery Channel’s “Treasure Quest” were rolling. In the United States, the “Treasure Quest” episode featuring the identification of HMS Victory will air on Thursday, February 5 at 10PM ET/PT. In the United Kingdom, a special presentation of “Treasure Quest” featuring HMS Victory will premiere on Sunday, February 8 at 9:00 PM. “Treasure Quest” is produced by Primetime Emmy® Award-winning JWM Productions.
Additional information about Odyssey’s discovery and work to date on Balchin’s Victory is available at www.shipwreck.net/hmsvictoryfaqs.php.
About Discovery Communications
Discovery Communications (NASDAQ: DISCA, DISCB, DISCK) is the world's number one nonfiction media company reaching more than 1.5 billion cumulative subscribers in over 170 countries. Discovery empowers people to explore their world and satisfy their curiosity through
100-plus worldwide networks, led by Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, Discovery Science and Discovery HD, as well as leading consumer and educational products and services, and a diversified portfolio of digital media services including HowStuffWorks.com. Discovery Networks International distributes 17 international brands, reaching 885 million cumulative subscribers with programming available in 35 languages. For more information please visit www.discoverycommunications.com.
About JWM Productions
JWM Productions is one of the world’s leading non-fiction production companies. Their clients have included almost every major broadcaster in the US, the UK and around the world. Founded by multiple Emmy Award-winning producers Jason Williams and Bill Morgan in 1996, JWM has now filmed over 200 hours of high-definition broadcast programming, on six continents and in every situation imaginable.
“Treasure Quest”, their latest Discovery Channel series, was filmed between May and November in the Western Approaches to the British Isles as well as in the English Channel. During production, a rotating crew of producers, cameramen, and technical assistants lived, ate, and worked alongside the Odyssey Marine Exploration team. Further information about past and current JWM Productions projects can be found at www.jwmprods.com
About Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc.
Odyssey Marine Exploration, Inc. (NasdaqCM: OMEX) is engaged in the exploration of deep-ocean shipwrecks and uses innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology to conduct extensive search and archaeological recovery operations around the world. Odyssey discovered the Civil War era shipwreck of the SS Republic® in 2003 and recovered over 50,000 coins and
14,000 artifacts from the site nearly 1,700 feet deep. In May 2007, the Company announced the historic deep-ocean treasure recovery of over 500,000 silver and gold coins, weighing 17 tons, from a Colonial era site code-named "Black Swan." In February 2009, Odyssey announced the discovery Balchin’s HMS Victory. The Company also has other shipwreck projects in various stages of development around the world.
Odyssey offers various ways to share in the excitement of deep-ocean exploration by making shipwreck treasures and artifacts available to collectors, the general public and students through its webstore, exhibits, books, television, merchandise, and educational programs. JWM Productions recently concluded filming Odyssey’s 2008 “Atlas” expeditions for an 11-part primetime series for Discovery Channel, which premiered in January 2009 in the United States and which is scheduled to air worldwide later in 2009. Following previous successful engagements in New Orleans, Tampa, and Detroit, Odyssey's "SHIPWRECK! Pirates & Treasure" exhibit is now on display at Science Center Oklahoma in Oklahoma City, OK through May 2009. For details on the Company's activities and its commitment to the preservation of maritime heritage please visit www.shipwreck.net.
For more detailed information on Odyssey, please contact Natja Igney, Odyssey's Manager of Corporate Communications, at 813-876-1776.
Odyssey Marine Exploration believes the information set forth in this Press Release may include "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995, Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Act of 1934. Certain factors that could cause results to differ materially from those projected in the forward-looking statements are set forth in "Risk Factors" in Part I, Item 1A of the Company's Annual Report on Form 10-K for the year ended December 31, 2008, which has been filed with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission.
From The Sunday Times
February 1, 2009
Brass cannons clue to wreck of HMS Victory
Chris Gourlay and Jessica Berry
DIVERS believe they have found the remains of one of the greatest British sailing ships ever wrecked at sea.
HMS Victory, forerunner of Nelson’s flagship of the same name, was lost in a storm near the Channel Islands in 1744 with her crew of about 1,150, including an admiral.
The ship has long been sought by salvagers because of its cargo of 100 brass cannons, thought to be engraved with dolphins and the monogram of George II.
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said that Odyssey, a Florida-based archeology company, had reported the find. “Odyssey claim it is the Victory but we can’t confirm its identity until we have seen a full report,” he said.
The company is due to announce the find tomorrow at a press conference attended by a descendant of one of the crew.
Mike Williams, a law lecturer at Wolverhampton University and an expert on the legal status of wrecks, said he believed the find could be “the big one” because of the cannons.
“The advantage of brass is that it doesn’t rust,” he said. “Archeologists have recovered brass guns from the sea virtually undamaged, in comparison with iron guns which have been unrecognisable.”
The vessel was launched in 1737 at Portsmouth. Seven years later, Admiral Sir John Balchin was leading his fleet home from a mission in Portugal when a violent storm blew up. Victory, with Balchin on board, was last seen on October 4 and was wrecked off Alderney around rocks called the Casquets, a graveyard for sailing ships.
“The ship was carrying the upper crust of Royal Navy society,” said Williams. “One of the families of the bereaved put up a reward of £5,000 for anyone who could find the wreckage. The offer still stands and has been gathering some interest.”
The wreck is the property of the British government and Odyssey would need MoD permission to raise artefacts.
Previous deals between the MoD and Odyssey have been controversial. The two agreed to split the contents of HMS Sussex, another sailing ship, initiating a dispute with Spain, off whose coast it lies.
The MoD declined to rule out the possibility that Odyssey would be allowed to sell some of Victory’s cargo. Its spokesman said: “We’ll have to negotiate.”
Gold rush: The battle over sunken treasure
Shipwrecks! Treasure! Gold, gold, gold! The hallmarks of treasure-hunting are the stuff of adventure stories, more than fun enough to make archaeologists, who are mounting increasing complaints against the pillaging of sunken ships, seem like wet blankets.
But more is at stake than just a few loose doubloons, they say. "The big picture is that a fair amount of humanity's past we don't know, and it's important we don't let it become lost forever," says maritime archaeologist James Delgado, head of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology.
The latest flashpoint comes with the recent premiere of the show Treasure Quest on cable's Discovery Channel (Thurs. 10 pm ET/PT), which follows deepwater exploration company Odyssey Marine Exploration as its teams explore two historic shipwrecks. Odyssey is in hot water with Spain over one of them, fighting it out in U.S. federal court over rights to the wreckage code-named the "Black Swan." Odyssey announced the discovery of the shipwreck site in 2007.
Odyssey says it recovered more than 500,000 silver and several hundred gold coins from the Black Swan wreck, some of which it intends to sell to finance its work.
An editorial in Archaeology magazine, published by the Archaeological Institute of America, charges that "the Discovery Channel is cashing in on the business of systematically looting shipwrecks" in teaming up with Odyssey. "The artifacts that Odyssey sells might inspire people to wonder about what life was like on board a ship a few hundred years ago when they played an integral role in the rise and fall of nations, but getting real answers about that history requires wrecks to be scientifically excavated and analyzed. The results have to be shared and debated so that they can become part of the historical and archaeological records. Otherwise the artifacts are just trinkets, conversation pieces, or decorative touches on the coffee tables of those who can afford them," writes the magazine's Zach Zorich.
"Our series chronicles OME's exploration efforts, which yield valuable archaeological information," says Elizabeth Hillman, Discovery Channel's senior vice president of communications.
Greg Stemm, Odyssey CEO and co-founder, takes exception to Zorich's editorial, which he called "representative of the hubris of a small group of archaeologists who believe that anything in the popular media is beneath their standards."
Marine archaeologists, such as Delgado, complain that salvage firms like Odyssey rarely get around to publishing scholarly information on sites. Once sold, artifacts are effectively lost for study by future researchers. For example, archaeologists have analyzed in recent years decades-old discoveries of shipwreck amphora to determine what sort of wine Greece exported in the Classical era, around 500 B.C., impossible if the artifacts had been sold to collectors, he argues. The insight into ancient trade such findings provide are useful ones as economists today ponder the teetering of our own global economy.
Stemm counters that Odyssey does share the knowledge it gathers in articles, scientific papers, exhibits and TV shows. And, says Stemm, Odyssey only sells artifacts that have many duplicates and are of "very little archaeological interest."
All this comes as the AIA this month called for increased protection of sunken wrecks through a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) pact called the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage. The AIA "urges ratification of the same by the United States Government at the earliest practicable moment." Signed by only 20 small countries, notably Spain and Mexico, the act went into effect on Jan. 2 and bars commercial salvage of shipwrecks and submerged ruins.
From legal disputes between Peru and Yale University over its collection of Incan antiquities, to Italy's high-profile pursuit of looted artifacts, to the headline-garnering sacking of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, the public has gained some awareness of the damage that treasure hunters do to archaeology, says Delgado, who starred in National Geographic Channel series on underwater archaeology from 2000 to 2006. "But a double-standard seems to exist for underwater sites," he says. "Archaeologists just argue that a historical site is a historical site, no matter if it is wet or dry."
Fla. treasure hunters say they've found the wreck of the HMS Victory, legendary British ship
By MITCH STACY | Associated Press | Feb 1, 09 9:33 CST in Business
Florida deep-sea explorers who found $500 million in sunken treasure two years ago say they have discovered another prized shipwreck: A legendary British man-of-war that sank in the English Channel 264 years ago.
Odyssey Marine Exploration hasn't found any gold this time, but it's looking for an even bigger jackpot. The company's research indicates the HMS Victory was carrying 4 tons of gold coins that could be worth considerably more than the treasure that Odyssey raised from a sunken Spanish galleon in 2007, co-founder Greg Stemm said ahead of a news conference set for Monday in London.
So far, Odyssey has recovered two brass cannons from the wreck of the Victory and continues to examine and map the debris field, which lies about 330 feet beneath the surface, Stemm said. The company said it is negotiating with the British government over collaborating on the project.
"This is a big one, just because of the history," Stemm said. "Very rarely do you solve an age-old mystery like this."
Odyssey said the 31 brass cannons and other evidence on the wreck allowed definitive identification of the HMS Victory, 175-foot sailing ship that was separated from its fleet during a storm and sank in the English Channel on Oct. 4, 1744, with at least 900 men aboard. The ship was the largest and, with 110 brass cannons, the most heavily armed vessel of its day. It was the inspiration for the HMS Victory famously commanded by Adm. Horatio Nelson decades later.
Odyssey was searching for other valuable shipwrecks in the English Channel when it came across the Victory. Stemm wouldn't say exactly where the ship was found for fear of attracting plunderers, though he said it wasn't close to where it was expected to be.
"We found this more than 50 miles from where anybody would have thought it went down," Stemm said. Federal court records filed by Odyssey in Tampa seeking the exclusive salvage rights said the site is 25 to 40 miles from the English coast, outside of its territorial waters.
A Ministry of Defense spokesman said Sunday the government was aware of Odyssey's claim to have found the Victory.
"Assuming the wreck is indeed that of a British warship, her remains are sovereign immune," he said on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy. "This means that no intrusive action may be taken without the express consent of the United Kingdom."
He would not say whether the government had begun talks with Odyssey over the future of the find.
Newspapers of the day and other historical records analyzed by the company indicated that the Victory sank off the Channel Island of Alderney near Cherbourg, France. A 1991 British postage stamp depicts the Victory crashing on the rocks there. Pieces of the ship had washed up in various places, but its final resting place had remained a mystery.
The belief that the Victory had crashed onto the rocks had marred an otherwise exemplary service record of the ship's commander, Sir John Balchin, and a lighthouse keeper on Alderney was prosecuted for failing to keep the light on. Odyssey believes the discovery exonerates both men.
"As far as the family is concerned, it is an astonishing revelation," said Robert Balchin, a 66-year-old British university administrator and direct descendant of the commander. "It's as if he's sort of come alive again.
"When I went to see this extraordinary find of the cannon with the coat of arms of the king on the side, it was really a wonderful feeling to know that Sir John Balchin saw that every day, and it brought a very special communion with the past."
The HMS Victory was returning from Lisbon, Portugal, and was probably transporting 100,000 gold Portuguese coins for merchants, according to Odyssey's research. The ship had sailed there to help rescue a Mediterranean convoy blockaded by the French in the River Tagus at Lisbon.
The wreck site is roughly 70 feet by 200 feet and littered with other debris, Odyssey said. Its research ship, Odyssey Explorer, is equipped with a remote underwater robot capable of carefully removing the smallest of items from the bottom and shooting high-resolution photos and video.
Odyssey, a publicly traded corporation, announced in May 2007 that it had raised 17 tons of silver coins from an Atlantic Ocean shipwreck. The company later said it believed the wreck to be the Spanish galleon Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes y las Animas, which sank off Portugal in 1804.
Shortly afterward, the Spanish government sued Odyssey in federal court in Tampa to claim the treasure, arguing that the shipwreck was never abandoned by Spain. The case is pending.
Some in the Spanish government have called the company 21st-century pirates, and twice in the months after the 2007 announcement, ships from Spain's Civil Guard seized Odyssey ships off the Spanish coast. Both ships and their crews were released within a week.
The company's relationship with the British government has been more cordial. Odyssey had already negotiated an agreement with British officials regarding the search for the HMS Sussex, which sank in the western Mediterranean in 1694 with gold coins aboard.
Associated Press writer Jill Lawless in London contributed to this report.
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