Stone-age innovation explains ancient population boom

17:21 21 July 2009 by Ewen Callaway


Thirty-five thousand years before nanotechnology became a buzzword, a different kind of diminutive innovation transformed India. The advent of stone microblades set the stage for the subcontinent's explosive population growth, new research suggests.


The easy-to-manufacture tools – also known as microliths – were a vast improvement over larger stone flake tools used previously, says Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the study. Because microblades could be cut from stone more quickly and in higher volumes than flakes, hunting probably became a vastly more efficient endeavour.


"It allows people to more reliably and more cheaply slaughter animals," says Lawrence Guy Straus, a paleoanthropologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, who was not involved in the study.


Petraglia and his colleagues contend that the beginnings of a global ice age pushed ancient populations of Indians into closer contact – and competition – with one another. "They need to develop new strategies to produce new resources. They invent microlithic technology and it spreads very rapidly."


Though proving causality of any ancient upheaval is difficult, if not impossible, Petraglia's team argue that genetic, environmental and archaeological records make a strong circumstantial case for their theory.


Between 30 and 35,000 years ago, the Earth cooled dramatically. In Europe, these changes brought with them massive glaciers, pushing Neanderthals and newly arrived humans into small pockets, and perhaps contact.


In India, however, this ice age shortened the monsoon season and transformed what had been a rather homogenous tropical landscape into a patchwork of savannahs and deciduous forests bordered by desert, Petraglia says.


"When you get more deserts you're getting environmental fragmentation. That is conducive to hunter-gatherers, Petraglia says. "They like mosaic environments because you tend to have a lot of diversity in flora and fauna."


These changes almost certainly would have split up ancient populations, but they could have spurred their growth as well, Petraglia says. By treating the mitochondrial DNA of contemporary Indians as a sort of molecular clock, the researchers documented an expansion in Indian genetic diversity dated to around the time of this ice age.


And this is where microblades come in handy. The tools – narrow and up to 4 centimetres long – began appearing in large numbers around 30,000 years ago, archaeological records from across the subcontinent show. Prior to this, Indians wielded bulkier, less-efficient stone flakes.


Microblades, which were probably attached to spears and later arrows, were a game-changing technology that allowed more densely packed hunter-gatherers to thrive, Petraglia says.


Later innovations – namely agriculture and livestock domestication – undoubtedly pushed population densities higher. But Petraglia thinks that the shifts that occurred 35,000 years ago got the ball rolling. Its influence can still be seen today, he says.


"It's a mystery why there are so many people in that part of the world and it wasn't just domestication that led to more than a billion people being around in South Asia. We argue that is has to go back to a much earlier period."


Straus, who mentored Petraglia in the 1980s, buys that argument, but says populations could only swell so much in the ice age period. "We're still talking about hunter-gatherers; hunter-gatherers are never found in hugely dense numbers," he says.


Ofer Bar-Yosef, a paleoanthropologist at Harvard University says the discovery of widespread microblade use in India 30,000 years ago "closes an important gap in our knowledge." Similar tools have been found from around this period in Africa, Europe and west Asia.


But climate change isn't necessary to spur technological innovation and adoption, Bar-Yosef says. Hominins that predated modern humans wielded stone axes that changed little over hundreds of thousands of years and numerous wild climatic swings.


Journal reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (DOI: 10.1073/pnas.0810842106)



Oetzi Iceman's Tattoos Came from Fireplace

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News


July 17, 2009 -- The 57 tattoos sported by Oetzi, the 5300-year-old Tyrolean iceman mummy, were made from fireplace soot that contained glittering, colorful precious stone crystals, according to an upcoming study in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


The determination supports prior research that the tattoos were associated with acupuncture treatments for chronic ailments suffered by the iceman, whose frozen body was found remarkably well preserved in the Similaun Glacier of the Alps in 1991.


The findings also suggest how prehistoric people were tattooed in the days before commercial inks and electric tattooing machines.


"I can imagine that they used some pointed material, maybe thorns, and dipped it into the soot and then pierced into the skin, or made scars and put the soot into the wound after insertion, allowing the wound to heal so that the colored material stayed there," lead author Maria Anna Pabst told Discovery News.


Using optical microscopy and various powerful electron microscopy techniques, Pabst, a professor in the Institute of Cell Biology at the Medical University of Graz, and her colleagues analyzed several of Otzi's tattoos. Tattoos chosen for this study consist of line markings, as well as a distinctive cross-shaped tattoo on the iceman's right knee.


Magnification of the skin designs revealed the tattoos consisted of soot, likely raked out of a fireplace, along with different silicate crystals, such as quartz and almandine, a type of purple garnet.


"As there are only a few tiny crystals between the soot particles, I think that when the ancients took the soot from the stones of the fireplace, they got some crystals," Pabst said, explaining that the crystals likely were just naturally in either the dirt or the fireplace structure itself, and not intentionally added for their sparkle, color and value.


"The tattoos have a dark blue color, deriving from the soot," she added. "There are groups of one, two, three, four and seven tattoo lines parallel to the longitudinal axis of the body, and so they're parallel to Chinese acupuncture meridians."


The cross-shaped tattoo on his knee, and another one on his left ankle, also lay over Chinese acupuncture "trigger points," the researchers believe. Strengthening their argument is the fact that the soot-made markings are located on parts of the iceman's body not typical for tattoo displays, diminishing the notion that they served a more ornamental, aesthetic function.


Prior research shows Oetzi did suffer from a variety of ailments that might have benefited from acupuncture. These included a bad back, degeneration of the hip, knee and ankle, and "severe abdominal disorders," primarily caused by whip worm, an intestinal parasite that can cause diarrhoea.


Before the more recent studies on this mummy, historians believed the earliest acupuncture took place in China around 3,000 years ago. Since the iceman is much older, Pabst and her colleagues now think this therapeutic technique may have been independently discovered by many different prehistoric European and Asian cultures.


It's also still possible that tattooing and acupuncture originated in East Asia, with the knowledge of this practice spreading to the Alps region well before the iceman's lifetime.


Frank Bahr, president of the German Academy of Acupuncture, first made the tattoo-acupuncture connection on the iceman after studying a drawing of the tattoos and their placement on Oetzi's body.


Bahr told Discovery News, "The most interesting thing about the whole iceman story is that even today I would treat a patient with about 90 percent of the same points as the tattoos on the iceman, if this patient were to have the same diseases."



Prehistoric hut gives clues to ancient Alp life


Archaeologists in a remote region of Switzerland have excavated the ruins of the oldest hut in the Alps, a prehistoric discovery that dates back nearly 3,000 years.


The find in the Silvretta mountains near the Austrian border gives scientists the oldest architectural proof that early Iron Age shepherds spent summers living among the rich alpine grasses, tending to herds and using milk to make cheese, in a way much like farmers today.


"It is perhaps a bit of a cliché for Switzerland, but what is interesting is just how old it is," said Thomas Reitmaier, an archaeologist from Zurich University who led the team. "There are lots of interesting spots around here."


Carbon dating shows the hut at 2,264 metres in canton Graubünden was being used as early as 800 BC, hundreds of years before the Roman invasions, when pile dwellings dotted Switzerland's lowland lakes and people were of pre-Celtic tribes.


Not much remains of the hut today but Reitmaier and a team of university archeology students have spent the past three years meticulously excavating its foundation, a dry-stacked stone structure that held wood walls and a roof. The centuries had left the site overgrown with thick mud, roots and grasses. The hut could have held four to six people.


"We've known that people have used these summer pastures for thousands of years but the oldest proof of an actual shelter up until now is medieval," Reitmaier said. "Now we have a site that goes much further back."


The discovery is just one of more than a dozen finds that Reitmaier and his team stumbled across during a project to find signs of ancient settlements in the Alps.


"We know of sites, of actual structures, from this time period all around the Alps but nothing up in them," Reitmaier said. "We know people had to be using the high pastures, so we set out to find architectural proof that might be out there."


Archaeologists had already documented numerous prehistoric settlements in the Lower Engadine Valley, particularly near Ramosch, which is warmer, drier and more fit for habitation than other nearby valleys.


It would make sense that those ancient dwellers would have pushed into the high alpine regions in summer, Reitmaier said. Linguists say that a prehistoric name for one of the areas, Fimba or Fimber, even means "fattening" or "rich", a reference to the good grasses for livestock.


Starting in 2007, Reitmaier set out to canvass the landscape north of those early Iron Age settlements by following valleys into high pastures near modern-day Austria. Using binoculars, Reitmaier and his team looked for places in the high country where people might have wanted to live.


"We saw something from very far away where the ground looked different than the rest of the area," he said. "We weren't sure at all what it was but I thought perhaps it could be something. So we went and dug a test trench. The results were surprising."


The team quickly found charcoal and sent a sample back to the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich for testing, which revealed the hut had been in use nearly 3,000 years ago.


The site sits just a two-minute walk from another modern-day hut, the Heidelberg Hut, built in 1889. A trail has been running next to the site for years, but the ruins were so hidden that no one knew it.


"I'm not surprised that people were living up here but the location they picked is surprising," said Paul Huber, whose family runs the Heidelberg Hut. "If I were here 3,000 years ago, I would have lived on the other side of the pass where it would have been more open."


Subsequent excavation work uncovered another layer of ash about ten centimetres down, suggesting that at some point the hut had burned. It is unclear whether that is the reason the occupants abandoned it.


This summer the team uncovered clay potsherds. They also discovered other archaeological sites, including a fire pit that may stem from the fifth millennium BC, a time when people were just transitioning from hunting and gathering to domesticating livestock.


A freak snowstorm in July recently left the site covered in fresh snow. Reitmaier, wet and dirty from a week of working in the trying conditions, pointed out the area the team had uncovered – a wide, shallow trench with rocks arranged in a circle. The archaeologists have left half of the site untouched for future scientists.


"You can see with the weather why it would be important to have a hut up here," he said, as blinding snow pushed a herd of cows down the valley. "For sure there are older huts in the Alps. One day someone will find one from the Bronze Age. It's out there. There's no doubt."


Tim Neville near the Fimber Pass, swissinfo.ch



Evidence of Stone Age man found in Digbeth

Jul 24 2009 by Neil Elkes, Birmingham Post


Archaeologists have uncovered remarkable evidence that stone age man lived in the centre of Birmingham more than 10,000 years ago.


The settlers used basic flint knives to hunt and cut meat and used fire to clear areas of woodland for grazing and growing food.


Two flint tools, a layer of charcoal and pollens were found buried in the earth off Curzon Street, Eastside, where the new Birmingham City University campus is to be built.


Until now, the earliest known settlements in the city centre are medieval, dating back to the 12th century, less than 1,000 years ago.


A time team from the University of Leicester carried out the dig and found the artefacts preserved in a hollow beneath the ground. Accurate carbon dating has put them at 10,400 years ago – during the Mesolithic or middle stone age.


Even in wider, suburban Birmingham, the earliest sites found date back to the bronze age, some 3,000 years ago.


Birmingham City Council archeologist Dr Mike Hodder believes it is a hugely significant historical discovery. He said: “It is by far the oldest settlement in the city centre. Much of this area was churned up during waves of industrial development so there are very few historical remains in situ.


“We have found stone age tools in other parts of Birmingham, including Saltley and Erdington, but they had been displaced. This area was in a hollow and had not been disturbed. We could see evidence of the whole settlement.”


A layer of charcoal showed that the stone age Brummies had burned the woodland to make a clearing in which fruits would grow and animals would graze. Pollen found shows that the area was populated with pine and birch trees and mosses.


Dr Hodder added: “These discoveries emphasise the wide range of archeological remains in Birmingham.


“Remains dating from the 12th century onwards have been found on several sites in the city centre.”


The flint tools and samples are currently being recorded and catalogued at the archeology department at the University of Leicester. But one studies are complete they will be returned to Birmingham to become the property of the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and could go on display.


Middle stone age, or Mesolithic, man inherited fire and crude stone tools from their ancestors and added to this technology with the bow, canoe and fine stone tools. The Neolithic stone age began shortly after this period – about 9,500 years ago – which saw mankind develop organised farming, animal husbandry and pottery.



UK's oldest Roman Coin found in Thatcham, Berkshire


Imagine finding a 2,000 year old Roman coin near the ancient path of the Ridgeway that had slipped from the fingers of a Celtic warrior in 207BC. Thatcham metal detectorist Malcolm Langford has discovered the UK's oldest Roman coin.


Driven by his love of history, retired electrician Malcolm Langford has been metal detecting for seven years, always with the permission of the relevant landowner.


He has found everything from stone age artefacts to Roman coins, and enjoys taking his finds to schools to pass on his passion for the past.


But his latest find, the UK's oldest Roman coin, has amazed archeologists.


Malcolm told BBC Berkshire's Henry Kelly: "It was in a pasture field, near the ancient Ridgeway and it was probably six to eight inches into the ground.


"I dug it up and I could see it was a Republican denarius because there was a Roman head on it.


"It came out of the ground all brown, and I used a bit of spit and a bit of sheep's wool to clean it and it came up silver."


Malcolm said he discovered the age of the coin when he took it, along with another Iron Age silver coin of Eppillus to the West Berkshire and Oxfordshire Finds Liaison Officer, Anni Byard, so she could record them.


Anni immediately confirmed the Iron Age coin was only one of 11 that have been recorded in the UK and suspected the Roman coin, a Republican silver denarius, was quite rare.


She said: "I almost fell of my chair when I found out what date it was, it's in almost mint condition, which shows it was here much earlier than other Roman coins.


"Historically it's a wonderful find and I think Malcolm should be very proud.


"This coin is very important. It means that these Republican denarii were around in Britain before the Claudian invasion in AD 43 and possibly even before Caesar.


"At that time there was a lot of trade going on. It could have been a Celtic trader or a mercenary back from the wars."


"A find like this could update all of our history books."


The silver denarius depicts the helmeted head of Roma on the obverse and the galloping Dioscuri on the reverse.


The coin was struck in Rome during the Republican period, just two years before the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal near Carthage.


Republican silver denarii are often found in Britain, and although the coins began to be struck in Rome in 211 BC, this new coin appears to be the earliest denarius recorded from Britain, earlier than any of the 600 similar coins which have been recorded.



Malcolm said: "I was so excited I was like a dog with six tails, I didn’t know which one to wag first!"



Altar to Mysterious Deity Found at Roman Fort

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

July 24, 2009


A massive altar dedicated to an eastern cult deity has emerged during excavations of a Roman fort in northern England.


Weighing 1.5 tons, the four-foot high ornately carved stone relic, was unearthed at the Roman fort of Vindolanda, which was built by order of the Emperor Hadrian between 122-30 A.D.


The Romans built the defensive wall across the north of Britain from Carlisle to Newcastle-on-Tyne, to keep out invading armies from what is now Scotland.


"What should have been part of the rampart mound near to the north gate of the fort has turned out to be an amazing religious shrine," said archaeologist Andrew Birley.


A jar and a shallow dish is depicted on one side of the altar, while the other side shows a god-like figure standing on the back of a bull, with a thunderbolt in one hand and a battle axe in the other.


Romans called this god Juppiter Dolichenus, but it was originally an ancient weather god, known to the Semitic peoples of the Middle East as Hadad and to the Hittites as Teshab.


It was in its war-like representation that the Anatolian god Juppiter of Doliche became a favorite deity among Roman soldiers.


Indeed, an inscription indicates that the altar was dedicated to the Dolichenus god by "Sulpicius Pudens, prefect of the Fourth Cohort of Gauls."


According to Birley, Sulpicius Pudens was the commanding officer of the Roman regiment based at Vindolanda in the Third century and he may have dedicated the expensive stone to the god in thanks for fulfilling a vow.


This was a normal practice, as partial inscriptions from badly damaged Dolichenus shrines, all found in England, testify.


"The Vindolanda shrine is unique as it is situated within the walls of the fort, something which has yet to be encountered elsewhere. This casts new light on ritual spaces inside Roman forts," Birley told Discovery News.


Originally worshiped as a weather god on a hilltop close to the small town of Doliche (what is now the modern city of Duluk in southern Turkey) Juppiter of Doliche began attracting Roman worshipers by the early second century AD.


From then on, the cult of Dolichenus took off and spread all over the Roman empire.


According to Anthony Birley, chairman of the Vindolanda Trust and the author of many books on ancient Roman history, the discovery is important because "there are absolutely no literary references to Dolichenus, so all that we know about the religion is based on some 300 surviving inscriptions and sculptures from different parts of the Roman Empire."



Five Roman-Era Shipwrecks Found Off Italy

Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News

July 24, 2009


A team of archaeologists has discovered a trove of five Roman-era shipwrecks deep under the sea off a small Mediterranean island.


The find of well-preserved ships, made possible by sonar technology and the use of remotely operated vehicles, includes cargo of largely intact clay vases and pots transporting wine, olive oil, fish sauce and other goods.


Resting untouched between 330 to 490 feet underwater near the small island of Ventotene, which lies 30 miles off the Italian coast halfway between Rome and Naples, the ships date from the 1st century B.C. to the 5th century A.D.


From their cargo, archaeologists from the U.S. group AURORA Trust and Italy's Ministry of Culture, established that the vessels were transporting goods from Italy, Spain and north Africa.


They were probably heading for safe anchorage, but then sunk during a storm.


"Ventotene is a small island in the open sea. It was on major trade routes and was both a safe haven and a danger to shipping," Timmy Gambin, head of archaeology for the Aurora Trust, told Discovery News.


The oldest ship -- approximately 18 meters (59 feet) long, 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide and perhaps 2,100 years old -- was carrying clay amphorae (a type of ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body) filled with wine from the southern Italian region of Campania.


"They are still stacked in their original position," Gambin said.


Two other ships, one dating from the 1st century A.D. and the other from the 5th century A.D., carried hundreds of Spanish and north African amphorae filled with the "ketchup" of the ancient Romans: a pungent fish sauce called garum.


Another 1st century vessel ship carried a mixed cargo of mortaria (large bowls used to grind grains) and wine from Campania.


The largest of all five vessels was a 2000-year-old ship that measured 20 meters (65 feet) long by 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide -- and was carrying a mixed cargo, including Italian wine and glass items and metal bars and cylinders that have yet to be identified.


In order to better understand the shipwrecks, the archaeologists pulled up four mortars and one amphora from two ships.


"They have been transferred to the museum of Ventotene where they will be desalinated, restored and eventually displayed," the AURORA team said.


According to Annalisa Zarattini, the superintendent responsible for the underwater archaeology in the Lazio region, the survey has shown that the wooden part of the wrecks remains untouched upon the sandy sea bottom, "a finding that opens up new opportunities for the preservation of the ships."


"This discovery shows that Ventotene was a major crossroad on ancient trade routes. It also reveals that the island is a real underwater museum," Zarattini said in a statement.


The discovery is part of a new drive by archaeological officials to survey deeper levels of the sea and prevent looting of submerged treasures.


Because of their depth, the ships have eluded ordinary treasure hunters. Treasure hunters usually dive down to about 30 meters (about 100 feet) underwater.


But Gambin warned that in the near future, new diving technologies will allow treasure hunters to dive deeper, making sites like this this one more accessible.


"It's a race against time," he said.


Experts from the AURORA Trust will return to Ventotene for further explorations next summer.



A Parthian Tower Discovered in Ardebil Near Arran Border



A group of archaeologists working in the ancient fortress of Ultan in Pars-Abad near the Arran border (nowadays the Republic of Azerbaijan) have identified a tower dating back to the late Parthian dynasty, reported the Persian service of CHN.


The team led by Abdorreza Mohajerinejad is currently working south of the citadel to unearth the Parthian tower.


“The fortified Untān citadel, located in the southeast of Pārs-Ābād in the Moghān Plain and covers an area of 40 hectares,” said Mohajerinejad


According to Mohajerinejad the fortified citadel was constructed in the late Parthian dynastic era (248 BCE-224 CE) and for to its substantial fortifications has remained in use until 18th century.


“Concurrent to our excavations at the south side of the site, we have conducted a stratigraphical study on the fortification-walls, which till now a number of historical layers dating from Parthian to Safavid dynastic eras have been identified,” he added.


According to the report a continues destruction and construction [of new buildings] on the site [by the Islamic Republic] Agroindustrial Company have caused serious damages to the historical site, which in turn have created numerous problems for archaeologists as well as the historical site. The destruction has been said to have lessened recently.



Berlusconi 'hid ancient graves'


Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi has failed to declare the presence of 30 ancient tombs on his land, according to newly published recordings said to be of him.


The recordings allege Mr Berlusconi told escort Patrizia D'Addario of 30 Phoenician tombs at his Sardinia villa.


The tombs date from 300BC, a man said to be Mr Berlusconi was heard saying.


But officials say there is no record of him reporting any finds - a legal requirement for all Italians - and opposition MPs have called for a probe.


In the conversations, said to be between Mr Berlusconi and Ms D'Addario, the man boasts to her about his sprawling villa in Sardinia, where Mr Berlusconi has his own ice cream parlour and artificial lakes.


"Here we found 30 Phoenician tombs from [around] 300 BC," the voice said to be Mr Berlusconi is heard to say.


The Phoenicians were merchants and traders based around modern-day Lebanon, whose maritime expertise helped them extend their reach into the Mediterranean.


Finding a collection of tombs from the Phoenician era would be of major archaeological significance, opponents of Mr Berlusconi said.


Under Italian law archaeological discoveries made on private property must be reported to the authorities for inspection.


Newspapers in Italy reports that Sardinia's Department of Culture has said it has no knowledge of any such tombs on Mr Berlusconi's land, the BBC's Duncan Kennedy reports from Rome.


"We want to know if they exist or not and if so, whether they have been reported," opposition parliamentarian Andrea Marcucci told Reuters news agency.


The latest revelations from Patrizia D'Addario's audio recordings were published after a series of more intimate conversations between a man alleged to be Mr Berlusconi and Ms D'Addario.


The taped conversations are said to have been recorded by Ms D'Addario at Silvio Berlusconi's private residence in Rome and then leaked to Italy's left-of-centre press, who have published a series of stories about the prime minister's private life in recent months.


In conversations published earlier this week, Ms D'Addario discussed intimate sexual details with the man said to be Mr Berlusconi.


When questioned earlier this week on the sex allegations, Mr Berlusconi admitted he was "no saint".


"I am not a saint, you've all understood that," he said. "I hope those at La Repubblica also understand it," referring to one of the left-leaning newspapers publishing the tapes.


Patrizia D'Addario told L'Espresso magazine she had made the tapes during a visit to Mr Berlusconi's official Rome residence.


In one conversation, a man can be heard telling a woman to wait for him in "Putin's bed".


Mr Berlusconi - whose personal life has been under scrutiny since his wife filed for divorce in May - has not denied Ms D'Addario attended a party at his home, but insists he did not pay for sex.


However, our correspondent says accounting for ancient undeclared tombs may need a little more explanation.



Berlusconi escort tape may spark antiquities probe

By Philip Pullella


ROME (Reuters) - Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's private conversations with an escort, which have riveted Italians all week, may wind up getting him into trouble with Italy's archaeological authorities.


In one of the transcripts of his purported conversations with Patrizia D'Addario posted on an Italian website, Berlusconi boasts to her about his sprawling villa in Sardinia -- complete with an ice cream parlour and artificial lakes.


"Here we found 30 Phoenician tombs from (around) 300 BC," the voice is heard to say.


The latest audio clip was posted on the website of L'Espresso weekly on Thursday and immediately raised the interest of the opposition and the archaeological community.


Under Italian law archaeological discoveries made on private property must be reported to authorities for inspection, cataloguing and possible excavation.


Italian newspapers reported on Friday that cultural heritage authorities in Sardinia knew nothing about the sites, which archaeologists said would be a major find if confirmed.


The opposition Democratic Party demanded that either Berlusconi or Culture Minister Sandro Bondi address parliament on the purported find and why it was not reported.


"We want to know if they exist or not and if so, whether they have been reported," said opposition parliamentarian Andrea Marcucci.


The national association of archaeologists said they did not know about the site but that if it existed it could reveal many aspects of early civilisations on the Mediterranean island.


The Phoenicians were a trading people with settlements or colonies in many parts of the Mediterranean. Their origins have been traced to about 2300 BC and had declined by the early part of the 1st century AD.


This week the website of weekly magazine L'Espresso has posted recordings of conversations between Berlusconi and D'Addario, 42, who says she and other women were paid to attend parties at Berlusconi's residence in Rome.


The 72-year old conservative prime minister and self-made billionaire, who often boasts of his sexual prowess, has not denied that D'Addario went to his home, but has said that he did not know she was an escort and that he has never paid for sex.


On Wednesday he said he acknowledged that he was "no saint" but vowed to govern until the end of his mandate in 2013.


L'Espresso entitled its latest cover "Sex and the Silvio" and said politicians were asking themselves "Can he still govern the country?"


Although Berlusconi has tried to make light of the controversy surrounding his private life, the possible political ramifications have been lurking in the background.


An opinion poll published on Tuesday showed his approval rating falling below 50 percent for the first time since he won a landslide election victory last year.


The poll showed that Berlusconi had lost four percentage points since May, when his wife filed for divorce, setting off a chain of revelalations about his private life.


In an interview on Repubblica Television, opposition leader Dario Franceschini said Berlusconi's weakened position was "an objective fact" and that he believed there was possibility that the government could collapse in the autumn.


Copyright © 2008 Reuters



Angel's face uncovered at Istanbul's Haghia Sophia

By SUZAN FRASER Associated Press Writer

Published: Friday, July 24, 2009 at 6:27 a.m.

Last Modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 at 6:27 a.m.


ANKARA, Turkey - Restoration workers have uncovered a well-preserved, long-hidden mosaic face of an angel at the former Byzantine cathedral of Haghia Sophia in Istanbul, an official said Friday.


The seraphim figure - one of two located on the side of a dome - had been covered up along with the building's other Christian mosaics shortly after Constantinople - the former name for Istanbul - fell to the Ottomans in 1453 and the cathedral was turned into a mosque.


The mosaics were plastered over according to Muslim custom that prohibits the representation of humans.


Some of the mosaics were revealed when the domed complex was turned into a museum in 1935, but the seraphim had largely remained covered, Ahmet Emre Bilgili, who heads culture and tourism affairs in Istanbul, told The Associated Press.


Two Swiss architects saw the two seraphim during restoration work ordered by the Sultan in the mid-19th century but the figures were covered up again, Bilgili said.


"It is the first time that the angel is being revealed," he said, adding that the figure had been covered with metal and plaster. "It is very well preserved."


Experts would now work to uncover the second seraphim, which was also plastered over and covered by metal, Bilgili said.


The newly uncovered image was hidden behind scaffolding and is not currently visible to visitors.


Haghia Sophia, also called the Church of Holy Wisdom, was built in 537 B.C. and remained a symbol of Byzantine grandeur until Istanbul was conquered by Muslim armies.


The structure was then turned into a mosque - minarets were added and crosses and other Christian symbols were defaced. It became one of the most renowned mosques of the expanding Ottoman Empire.


The site was later converted to a museum under the secular reforms of modern Turkey's founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, attracting thousands of visitors each year.


President Barack Obama toured Haghia Sophia when he visited Turkey in April, as did former U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999. Pope Benedict XVI also strolled the site in 2006 of his pilgrimage of landmarks of Christianity's ancient roots in Turkey.



1000-Year-Old Cowshed Discovered

23/07/2009 | 09:00


Archeological research undertaken earlier this summer in Keldudalur in Skagafjördur  has brought to light an unusually well-preserved cowshed from the 10th century; the first one to be unearthed in Northern Iceland, archeologist Ragnheidur Traustadóttir told mbl.is.


Remains from man-made structures from the 11th and the 12th century were also discovered.


The cowshed surfaced just west of the living quarters of cow farmers Thórarinn Leifsson and Gudrún Lárusdóttir at Keldudalur. Research has been ongoing there since the year 2002. An ancient burial ground has been found there and it has been known since 2007 that ancient man-made structures existed.


The cowshed is ten meters long and four meters wide, made from rock and turf. The floor is paved with stones, which still are in place. On both sides of the floor are low steps for eighteen or twenty stalls.


The east end has been damaged, and partially used to build another house in the 11th century, but the western side is very well preseved, said Traustadóttir. The floor appears to have been covered in turf, so that every stall must have been smooth and dry. Wooden panels appear to have separated the stalls. 



Napoleonic prisoner of war camp unearthed by Time Team archaeologists

From The Times

July 22, 2009


Archaeologists have unearthed the secrets of what is thought to be the world’s first prisoner of war camp, built to house French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars.


The purpose-built barracks, illustrated right, near Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, held up to 7,000 prisoners at a time between 1797 and 1814 and was run by the British Empire’s Transport Office.


The 9ha (22-acre) site, known as the Norman Cross Depot, held enemy soldiers for up to ten years, as well as housing the large number of soldiers needed to guard them. Many of the captives came from famous naval battles of the period such as Camperdown and Trafalgar and from captured colonies in Spain and Portugal.


Until now mystery has surrounded the inner workings of the site, and the location of the bodies of more than 1,700 prisoners who died there.


Ben Robinson, an archaeologist at Peterborough Museum, has been working with the Channel 4 Time Team programme to uncover the site’s history. He said: “This is a fascinating and unique site because the concept of a ‘prisoner of war camp’ did not exist before Norman Cross was built in 1797. It was an inspired experiment in taking huge numbers of enemy troops out of action, but also keeping them in as humane conditions as possible.”


Although the prisoners were generally treated well, more than 1,000 inmates died from typhoid in 1800 and 1801 and a total of 1,770 died during the camp’s 17-year history. The buildings were dismantled and the site cleared after Napoleon’s defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.