Axe that clove creationism found at museum after 150 years

Maev Kennedy

guardian.co.uk, Monday 25 May 2009 23.37 BST


A lump of flint that challenged creationist history and was dubbed by an eminent archaeologist "the stone that shattered the time barrier" has been tracked down after 150 years in the vast stores of the Natural History Museum in London.


On 26 May 1859, six months before Charles Darwin shattered the biblical creation story when he finally plucked up the courage to publish his theory of natural selection, the stone hand axe from the bottom of a French quarry was presented to the world at a lecture at the Royal Society in London.


Neither John Evans nor Joseph Prestwich, the businessmen and amateur archaeologist and geologist who found it, nor their distinguished audience, could guess its true age, around 400,000 years. But they did know it came from "a very remote period", when the woolly mammoth and rhinos, whose bones were mixed up in the same layer, roamed the plains of northern France.


There was no way the mammoths and the man-made tool could be fitted into the traditional biblical timescale, calculated by the 17th-century Archbishop Ussher, that God made the world in 4004BC.


The axe then vanished for 150 years, until it was tracked down by another archaeologist and geologist team – Clive Gamble, a professor at Royal Holloway, and Robert Kruszynski of the Natural History Museum – who publish their quest in next month's Antiquity journal.


They hunted it through thousands of prehistoric stone tools in national collections. They tried the collections of the Society of Antiquaries, where the axe was last seen in public at a second lecture in June 1859. Kruszynski found it at the South Kensington museum, with a minute Victorian label recording the date and quarry where it was found at St Acheul outside Amiens. A photograph showed the quarrymen who uncovered the axe, one pointing to it still half-buried in gravel.


Gamble and Kruszynski will take their trophy to the Society of Antiquaries next month to mark the anniversary of the May lecture at the Royal Society.



Acheulian human remains found in Morocco

www.chinaview.cn 2009-05-26 07:04:29


    RABAT, May 25 (Xinhua) -- A Moroccan-French archaeology team has discovered the rear part of a human mandible that dates back to the prehistoric Acheulian phase, local MAP news agency reported on Monday.


    The mandible, which belongs to a young human, holds a premolar and a molar, the report said.


    The fossil was uncovered on May 14 in the Thomas I quarry site in Casablanca, along with stone tools "that characterize the Acheulian civilization" and remnants of gazelles, antelopes, warthogs, bears, monkeys, said the report.


    A French-Moroccan team last year, uncovered a complete mandible of Homo erectus at the Thomas I quarry. The mandible was found in a layer below one where the team had previously found four human teeth (three premolars and one incisor) from Homo erectus, one of which was dated to 500,000 B.C.


    Professional excavations in the site started in 1988 as part of the "Casablanca Program" of the local Institute of Archaeology Sciences and Heritage, in coordination with France's archaeology mission in the Moroccan coasts.


    The team that made this month's discovery was co-led by Moroccan and French scientists Fatima Zohra Sbihi Alaoui and Jean-Paul Raynal, said the report.


    Thomas I site, where a Homo erectus half-jaw had been found by accident in 1969, confirms its role as one of the key archaeology sites for understanding the early population of Northwest Africa.



Italians to help Iranians restore tomb of Cyrus the Great

Published on Thu, 05/28/2009 - 08:36


Italian experts will help Iran restore the tomb of Cyrus the Great (580-529BC), considered one of the most magnificent monuments of antiquity, Culture Minister Sandro Bondi said on Wednesday.


An agreement signed in Tehran on Wednesday will see Italian archaeologists working with their Iranian colleagues for at least two years.


The tomb in the ancient city of Pasargadae, in southern Iran, is considered the symbol of the country's national identity and was already famous in ancient times.


Greek conquerer Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) is reported to have visited the tomb in sign of respect after the fall of the Persian empire.


Italy had already offered its help restore the monument, which Iranian authorities are concerned may be affected by flooding if the construction of a proposed dam near the UNESCO World Heritage site goes ahead.


Italian archaeologists have a history of working with Iran to safeguard important cultural heritage, including a project to restore part of the ancient city of Bam. Bam was devastated by an earthquake in December 2003 which claimed 40,000 lives.


While successfully conquering many neighbouring empires, Cyrus the Great was renowned for his magnanimous attitude and is thought to be responsible for the first known charter of human rights.


Written in cuneiform script on a baked clay cylinder, the charter recounts his treatment of the Babylonians following his defeat of their empire in 539 BC.


The expertise of Italian restorers is valued worldwide and archaeologists frequently collaborate with foreign colleagues to conserve monuments and art.


Bondi said restorers would use the latest state-of-the-art equipment developed by Italian restorers and technicians to save the monument.



Ship Over 2,000 Years Old Found in Novalja

In Novalja, an ancient sewn ship over 2000 years old was found. The excavations will last around two years.

Published: May 25, 2009 12:33h


NOVALJA, CROATIA - In the Caska Bay on the Island of Pag, near Novalja, an ancient sewn ship over 2,000 years old was found. This is the result of research done by the city of Novalja and the Zadar University, in cooperation with the French institute for scientific research (CNRS-CCJ University in Marseille) and numerous other foreign associates.


The lower part of the ship was found, body panels, ship skeleton and stitches which the panels were connected with. Work on excavating the ship will last for around two years.


The research, which was organized by the City of Novalja in cooperation with the Zadar University in cooperation with the French national institute for scientific research, was led by professor Zdenko Brusic from the Zadar University.


“In Roman times, Novalja was known for its port accommodation and was located on the old sea route from Greece to northern Italy and central Europe. The ships would wait in Novalja for suitable winds and because of that a town developed there that had various suitable servces. Today there are numerous remains of Roman architecture under the whole region, like water supply lines, well equipped basilicas, graves” said Brusic for ezadar.hr.


At the bottom of the bay there is the sunken Roman town named “Kissa” (Cissa), whose remains are being researched, and the discovery of the sewn ancient ship was the result of the joint work of around 20 Croatian and French archaeologists, added the professor.


“That ship was literally sewn with the help of rope that was pulled through holes, and was used by the people of Liburnia” said Irena Radic Rossi from the Croatian restoration institute. She added that the exact age of the ship will be determined in the research, even though it is already known that it is over 2,000 years old.



Archaeologists Excavate Ancient Maya River Port in Southeast Mexico



The finding of 23 archaeological pieces from about 600 BC has strengthened the historic importance of the Maya city of Moral-Reforma, a river port located in the current Mexican state of Tabasco which was almost unknown until a group of experts began excavating it three months ago.


The archaeological site, which is 87 hectares (217 acres) in size, is located adjacent to the ranching community of Reforma.


The community belongs to the municipality of Balancan, which in Maya means "place of tigers and serpents," and it is located 250 kilometers (155 miles) from Villahermosa, the capital of Tabasco.


Benito Lopez, one of the two experts heading the excavation, told Efe that Moral-Reforma functioned as a port or bartering spot for other Maya cities in the present-day states of Campeche and Chiapas, and in neighboring Guatemala.


Running together near the ruins are the Usumacinta River - the country's largest - and the San Pedro River, a communications route with southern Mexico.


"The hypothesis tells us that this zone could have been a route for those who were ... seeking to trade," said Lopez at the site, where the temperature reaches 45 C (113 F) at this time of year.


The first investigatory work was done on the main structures at the Maya port 17 years ago, and some of the principal monuments have been restored, among them a traditional ball court and three buildings.


Five stone stelae with inscriptions, some complete and others just fragmentary, from the area are currently exhibited at the museum in Balancan and the Carlos Pellicer Museum in Villahermosa.


The team of archaeologists for the past three months has been investigating one of the two main levels of the most important building, a pyramid covered with soil that rises in the extreme northern part of the Indian city and resembles the ruins of Calakmul in Campeche.


When one climbs up the first 15 steps of the pyramid, one can see a series of altars discovered in recent weeks which "surely were painted and plastered," according to the expert.


Masks, small sculptures, stones, spear points and heads painted green comprise the 23 pieces unearthed in the area adjacent to the pyramid.


"This morning, we found another little face of a person. These pieces are of limestone, flint, the same material with which the pyramids are made," said Lopez during a stroll through the ruins.


The pieces found to date were sent last Monday to the Villahermosa office of Mexico's National Anthropology and History Institute for restoration.


According to the research performed so far, Moral-Reforma was part of the dominion of Palenque, one of the main Maya cities in Mexico.


Francisco Cuevas Reyes, the other archaeologist heading the investigation, said that at the site are another 95 earthen mounds that could contain more Maya artifacts or buildings.


"With this work, the (Maya) people are taking shape," he said.


The experts calculate that by August they will have excavated 50 percent of the main pyramid, with the collaboration of a team of about 100 workers, most of whom live in Reforma.


Carlos Cajija Alvarez is one of the archaeologists' reliable men. Not only does he keep a list of the artifacts found, but he supervises the work of the other workers.


"Not just anyone can work here. Desperate people are not hired because here the requirement is to have patience," Cajija Alvarez told Efe, adding that he built houses before taking this job and getting an introduction to the mysterious world of archaeology.


The Maya civilization was at its height between 250 BC and 1000 AD and extended throughout the area comprising the current Mexican states of Tabasco, Chiapas, Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo, as well as what are today the Central American countries of Belize, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. EFE/Kristian Cerino.



Roman era reveals expenses claims

The Vindolanda tablets suggest Roman officials submitted expense claims


Ancient Roman writing tablets suggest public officials were involved in expenses scandals 2,000 years ago.


Writing tablets uncovered near Hadrian's Wall detail hundreds of expenses claimed by Roman officials, Hadrian's Wall Heritage Ltd said.


Five of the translated tablets contain 111 lines detailing entertainment claims at the Roman camp of Vindolanda.


The items include ears of grain, hobnails for boots, bread, cereals, hides and pigs.


The wooden writing tablets - which date from the 2nd Century - were discovered at Vindolanda, the Roman encampment near Hadrian's Wall in 1973.


Professor Tony Birley, who translated the tablets, said they detail hundreds of expense claims and "lavish parties" held for officers.


He said: "Officers were paid very well - they could buy goods duty free so they would often fiddle expenses by buying items at a cut price then selling them at a profit."


The wooden tablets, which are held at the British Museum in London, depict a business letter written by an official or entrepreneur supplying goods to the Roman army.


It reads: "As to the 100 pounds of sinew from Marinus - I will settle up. From when you wrote about this he has not even mentioned it to me.


"I have written to you several times that I have bought ears of grain, about 5000 modii, on account of which I need denarii - unless you send me something, I will lose what I have given as a down payment, and will be embarrassed, so I ask you: send me some denarii as soon as possible."


Professor Birley said it was thought the writer had been beaten by centurions for supplying "dodgy" goods.


He said punishment against officials caught fiddling their expenses was a "matter of luck."


"If you were ranked highly you might just get sent off to exile - but if you were poorer, or further down the ranks, you would get the chop," he said.


Tom Higgins, the director of communications at Hadrian's Wall Heritage, said: "The tablets show desperate pleas by officials so I think the Roman legions were quite tight with their money."


More than 400 tablets were discovered at the site and are some of the earliest examples of the written word in Britain.



Remains of temple of Isis found

 (ANSA) - Florence, May 28


Workmen inside Florence's courthouse have stumbled across a spiral column and hundreds of multicoloured fragments that experts believe may have belonged to a Roman temple dedicated to the Egyptian goddess Isis.


Dating to the second century AD, the remains were discovered as the men dug a five by three metre hole, barely four metres deep, for a new water cistern for the courthouse's anti-incendiary system.


''These finds are of extraordinary importance,'' said Alessandro Palchetti, the archaeologist charged with overseeing the works in the courthouse by Florence's archaeology superintendency, who suspected something interesting might be uncovered because of the area's historic relevance.


Palchetti said the remains were ''comparable'' to others found over the last three centuries in the immediate area that have also been attributed to the temple of Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and fertility who was later adopted by the Greeks and Romans.


The location of the temple is unknown, Palchetti said, but it is believed to have been built just outside the Roman part of the city, near the current courthouse building.


Meanwhile, Florence's Culture Councillor Eugenio Giani said ongoing excavations of an ancient Roman theatre under the city's Palazzo Vecchio will mean members of the public will be able to visit the site in two years' time.


Archaeologists have already uncovered the area where spectators sat and a portion of the orchestra as well as revealed the story of the theatre and its fall into disuse.


Constructed at the end of the first century AD, it was in use until the end of the fourth century before remaining structures were used as a burial place, stalls for animals and a prison during Medieval times.


''We'll continue to work on the central corridor which will give us a direct link with the Cortile della Dogana of Palazzo Vecchio from where people will be able to make the descent,'' said Giani.



Final resting place of Himiko discovered?




An ancient tomb, constructed in traditional keyhole style denoting someone of very high rank, may well be the final resting place of Himiko, the legendary third-century queen of the Yamatai kingdom, say archaeologists who relied on radiocarbon dating for their finding.


Artifacts from near the earthen mound in Sakurai, Nara Prefecture, were examined by researchers attached to the National Museum of Japanese History (Rekihaku) in Sakura, Chiba Prefecture.


Using radiocarbon dating, they studied clay fragments from the rim of the mound and found that they were made between 240 and 260. Himiko, according to Chinese records, died around 250.


They determined that the tomb very likely could have been built for Himiko.


The discovery will also likely ignite further debate on the location of the Yamatai kingdom, which some say was in Kyushu and others believe was centered around Nara, an ancient capital.


An early Chinese book, "The Wei Zhi: Account of the Wa People," chronicles tributary relations between Himiko and the Cao Wei kingdom during the late second to early third century. Himiko is recorded as having dispatched a diplomatic mission to Wei in 239. The delegation was said to have received 100 sacred copper mirrors and other gifts from the Chinese dynasty.


Hashihaka, a 280-meter key-hole shaped tree-encrusted mound, is much larger than other ancient tombs built before or at the same time in Japan. The nearest one in size measures just 110 meters in length.


Some scholars believe Hashihaka matches ancient Chinese descriptions of Himiko's tomb.


Until recently, many archaeologists had theorized that the Hashihaka mound was constructed in the fourth century.


However, an analysis of artifacts unearthed near the site led researchers in recent years to conclude the tomb was constructed in the late third century, and thus, it could be Himiko's.


The Imperial Household Agency has forbidden any excavation of the tomb itself on grounds that it is designated as an imperial burial ground.


The archaeologists will present a paper on their findings at the 20th International Radiocarbon Conference in Hawaii starting Sunday and at the Japan Archeological Association conference being held the same day at Tokyo's Waseda University.(IHT/Asahi: May 30,2009)



Perfectly preserved 300-year-old broom found in monk latrine

Published: 27 May 09 17:13 CET

Online: http://www.thelocal.de/society/20090527-19547.html


Bringing new meaning to the phrase “Holy crap,” a perfectly preserved 300-year-old broom has been found in a Benedictine monastery latrine in Paderborn, city archaeologist Sven Spiong told The Local on Wednesday.


Archaeologists from the Westphalia-Lippe regional authority had just finished excavating an area under the St. Ulrich Church monastery for a new underground parking facility, when one of the construction workers detected a pungent smell.


The men had unearthed the contents of a latrine dating from the 1700s, but the church building itself dates back to before 1200.


“The contents were preserved because the area was air-tight,” Spiong said.


While searching through the moist organic material, the excavation team found several ordinary objects that wouldn’t normally survive for centuries.


“It was really exciting,” Spiong, who has been Paderborn’s city archaeologist since 2003, told The Local. “This is the oldest broom ever found in the region. Natural materials like leather and wood usually don’t survive the elements.”


The 25-centimetre twig broom bound with bast fibre, along with several other objects like a spindle, a wooden bobbin, hazelnut shells and cherry pits will be sent to the regional conservation centre in Münster on Thursday.


Spiong said he hopes the objects will go on display at the St. Ulrich Church, or the Gaukirche, but said they may also find a place in the local archaeology museum.


Regional archaeology spokeswoman Stefanie Mosch told The Local that ordinary objects provide a special window into everyday life in the past.


“It’s fascinating to see that they used practically the same brooms we use today,” she said.


Kristen Allen (kristen.allen@thelocal.de)