Neolithic carving raises eyebrows

Page last updated at 10:58 GMT, Thursday, 17 September 2009 11:58 UK


A remote Neolithic burial mound on an Orkney island may contain carvings of human eyes and eyebrows, it has been revealed.


The stone is inside the Holm of Papa Westray tomb.


Historic Scotland believes it is linked to the find of a carving believed to be Scotland's earliest human face, dating back thousands of years.


That small Neolithic sandstone human figurine at Links of Noltland was believed to be up to 5,000 years old.


Richard Strachan, senior archaeologist with the Historic Scotland cultural resources team, said: "Initial comparisons do show a similarity in use of this eyebrow motif and may point to the possibility that the markings in the cairn are meant to show human eyebrows and eyes, as the style is very similar to the figurine.


The previous carving find was said to be of great importance


"Alternatively, we may be seeing the re-use of a motif familiar to the carver and applied to different contexts with different meaning.


"This is highly intriguing and raises yet more questions about Neolithic people's attitudes to artistic representations of human beings."


He added: "Images of people are very rare indeed, which some people believe suggests that it was considered taboo.


"But the discovery of the figurine shows there were some exceptions, and the lintel in the tomb may suggest that there were situations where particular features could be shown."


The Holm of Papa Westray tomb's remote location can only be reached by private boat hire.



'Whicker Man' tomb to yield Bronze Age secrets, say scientists

Published Date: 19 September 2009



HUMAN remains uncovered at a burial site in the Highlands are extremely rare and could provide new information about Bronze Age life, experts say.


The site was discovered in February when landowner Jonathan Hampton was using a mechanical digger to clear peat from Langwell Farm, Strath Oykel, in Sutherland.


He found a substantial stone cist (tomb) containing a skeleton that archaeologists believe was partially wrapped in animal hide or was wearing furs. A wicker basket lay over its face.


The find was reported to police who cleared some of the cist's contents. Part of the skeleton was left and later recovered by archaeologists.


A report from Glasgow University Archaeological Research Unit, which investigated the site, says: "Even in its partial state, this assemblage has the potential to shed valuable light on the person buried and the materials used to dress the body.


"They may have comprised objects or garments used in everyday life, or that were created especially for the burial."


The report also states that tests may be able to establish the sex and age of the individual, while radio-carbon testing will provide a date range for the person's death.


Investigations could also provide information on the materials used at the time, including species of plants and animals represented in the basketry, garments and possible food remains placed with the body.


The report states: "Conditions in the cist permitted exceptional preservation and analysis should seek to establish why.


"It has the potential to tell a great deal about contemporary life and burial practice, through elements of both that are normally lost to natural processes of decay."


Experts from Highland Council have also been involved in investigations of the site. Andrew Puls, a council archaeologist, said: "The site is very significant in terms of the condition of the human remains.


"This body was pretty much intact and organic remains were still there. A lot of information can be gleaned from that.


"There is certainly evidence of the burial practice of the Bronze Age in the area and so well preserved for being 4,000 years old. These things don't normally survive."


There are several known prehistoric sites within a few miles of the burial site.


These include a group of three hut circles and another probable burial cairn.



Bones discovery 'extremely rare'


Bones recovered from an ancient burial site in the Highlands could provide fresh insight of life in the Bronze Age, archaeologists have said.


Parts of a skull, some bones and teeth were in a cist - a rectangular stone chamber - uncovered by a digger operator in Sutherland in February.


In a report to Historic Scotland, archaeologists have described the find as "extremely rare" and "valuable".


They have recommended detailed analysis of the remains and the cist.


Wood, wicker and evidence of fur were retrieved from the burial site. It was thought the body was wrapped in animal fur.


Police and Historic Scotland were alerted to the discovery at Langwell Farm in Strath Oykel by farmer Jonathan Hampton.


The bones were taken to Dornoch Police Station, but later handed over to archaeologists.


Experts from Highland Council have been involved in investigations of the site.


Historic Scotland commissioned Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (Guard) to assess what was found.


Its report, which has also been sent to Highland Council, recommends specialist analysis of the excavated materials and radio carbon dating.


The document's authors wrote: "The Langwell Farm cist is an extremely rare and valuable find with the potential to reveal a great deal about contemporary life and burial practice."


Bronze Age technology came to Britain from Europe about 4,000 years ago and historians see it as a crucial link between the Stone and Iron Ages.



Skeleton Found At Roman Site In Britain Mystifies Archaeologists

A skeleton, found at one of the most important, but least understood, Roman sites in Britain is puzzling experts from The University of Nottingham.

ScienceDaily (Sep. 16, 2009)


Dr Will Bowden from the Department of Archaeology, who is leading excavations at the buried town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk, said the burial was highly unusual: “This is an abnormal burial. The body, which is probably male, was placed in a shallow pit on its side, as opposed to being laid out properly. This is not the care Romans normally accorded to their dead. It could be that the person was murdered or executed although this is still a matter of speculation.”


The skeleton has been removed for further investigation. Dr Bowden said: “It is an exciting find and once we have cleaned the bones they will undergo a full examination and a range of scientific tests to try and find out how this individual died.”


The Caistor excavations, sponsored by the Foyle Foundation, May Gurney, the Roman Research Trust and South Norfolk Council, have also found evidence of Iron Age as well as early prehistoric occupation some 10,000 years BC. Dr Bowden said: “These excavations have added an enormous amount to what we knew before. There are flints so sharp you could still shave with them – they are so fresh they have barely moved in all that time.”


Excavations were first carried out at Caistor St Edmund in 1929 after aerial photographs picked out the site in the parched fields following an exceptionally dry summer.


Dr Bowden’s work began two years ago. Using the latest technology the team revealed the plan of the buried town at an extraordinary level of detail never been seen before.


The high-resolution geophysical survey used a Caesium Vapour magnetometer to map buried remains across the entire walled area of the Roman town. Dr Bowden worked with Dr David Bescoby and Dr Neil Chroston of the University of East Anglia on the new survey, sponsored by the British Academy. Around 30 local volunteer members of the Caistor Roman Town Project also assisted.


The survey produced the clearest plan of the town yet - confirming the street plan (shown by previous aerial photographs), the town’s water supply system (detecting the iron collars connecting wooden water pipes), and the series of public buildings including the baths, temples and forum, known from earlier excavations.


Caistor lies in the territory of the Iceni, the tribe of Boudica who famously rebelled against Roman rule in AD 60/61. The survey revealed numerous circular features that apparently predate the Roman town.


These are probably of prehistoric date, and suggest that Caistor was the site of a large settlement before the Roman town was built. This had always been suspected because of numerous chance finds of late Iron Age coins and metalwork, but until the survey was carried out there had never been any evidence of buildings.


This summer archaeologists returned to start excavating the site. Dr Bowden said: “To have the opportunity to excavate here is the chance of a lifetime.”



Historic Roman salt store found on mudflats

10:30am Monday 14th September 2009

By Christine Sexton


A 2,000-YEAR-OLD Roman salthouse has been discovered during archaeological excavations at the planned £1.5billion port at Coryton.


Archaeologists who made the find on the 34-acre site are set to unveil the full extent of the discovery on Tuesday, September 15.


The site where the mine was found is due to become a wildlife area, protecting a range of birds, animals and plants to offset any disruption caused during the construction of the port.


Xavier Woodward, a spokesman for DP World – which is the global company behind the port development – confirmed a Roman salt roundhouse had been discovered. He said: “The find has not been classed as of national significance, but is of regional value.


“It was discovered there was a Roman salthouse on the mudflats. The mudflats would be left covered in salt as tides went in and out and this would be collected and shipped to London. It was quite a valuable commodity at the time and a key industry for Essex.”


The site will soon be filled in and the seawall broken to create the wildlife wetland.


The port would be the UK’s first deep sea port and is the most significant UK port development for 20 years.


Work to dredge the estuary in order to deepen it for supertankers has not yet begun, although it was planned to begin in March.


The hold-up has been blamed on the economic recession and a drop in the container trade. When it is built by the Dubai-based company it is expected to create more than 12,000 jobs.



Iron Age remains found at port site

8:00am Wednesday 16th September 2009


ANCIENT remains have been unearthed as part of the £1.5billion port project in Stanford-le-Hope.


A team of 40 archaeologists have discovered a salt extraction site dating back 2,000 years to the Iron Age as part of the excavation work.


The remains, including buildings, pottery, money and animal bones, were discovered by archaeologists working for port developers DP World.


The company is planning to build the new London Gateway port as the UK’s first major deep sea port for a number of years.


Marcus Pearson, environment manager at London Gateway, said discoveries at the site will be on show at local museums.


He said: “The excavation is one of the largest to be investigated by archaeologists in Essex for over 100 years.


“We will also be using the discoveries as an educational aid to show local school children what the area used to look like and making a short video to document the findings.”


Experts from Oxford Archaeology have been working on an area of farmland next to Mucking Creek, three miles away from the proposed dock, which was compulsory purchased by DP World and is to be flooded to make a new mudflat for wildlife.


Katrina Anker, from Oxford Archaeology, said: “The site provides a unique history into late Iron Age and Roman salt-making, which was an important industry in the Thames Estuary between 2,300 and 1,700 years ago.


“The peak of the Roman salt industry in the 1st and 2nd century AD coincides with the early development of London as a city.”


The work has to be done to compensate for mudflats lost when the Thames is dredged to allow for bigger ships.


In a few weeks time their work will then be filled in and the sea wall breached by the end of the year.


Work on the port itself has been delayed as DP World is undertaking a major internal review due to the recession.



Experts described the previous find of the figurine as one of "astonishing rarity".

18 September 2009


Hundreds of Saxon graves unearthed on new pub site


A perfectly preserved pair of glass drinking cups was found when the grave of an Anglo-Saxon warrior was unearthed during building work on a new pub.


The burial place was one of more than 200 uncovered at a site in Sittingbourne, known as The Meads.


Other findings included swords, spears, shields, decorative beads and other jewellery, as well as fragments of clothing.


In all 2,500 objects were unearthed and they are now being cleaned and catalogued.


But instead of the work taking place in the bowels of the British Museum it is being carried out in shop fronts in Sittingbourne town centre – next door to the burial site itself.


“This is really unique,” said Andrew Richardson of the Canterbury Archaeological Trust, who supervised the excavations.


“Instead of the work being carried out behind closed doors it is being done in a place where visitors are welcome to come and see what is taking place.


“The cleaning work is being done by volunteers who are working under expert supervision.”


As well as cleaning soil and debris from the objects they will be scanned by an X-ray machine similar to that used by airport security officers to reveal hidden details.


A total of 229 Saxon graves were discovered along with four burial sites dating from the Bronze Age.


They were of men, women and children with a number having swords, spears and shields buried with them.


Several of the burial places were of high-ranking members of the Saxon ruling class, judging by the objects discovered with them.


Mr Richardson said: “The graves date from the 6th or 7th centuries when Kent was a kingdom, one of the wealthiest and most sophisticated in England.


“The king and his royal court would have travelled from place to place with Canterbury and Faversham both important centres.


“There have also been some other Saxon cemeteries uncovered in the Sittingbourne area, but these were found in the 19th century so this is the first of recent times.”


The site the graves were uncovered as is known as The Meads – which is also set to be the name of the pub being built by Marston’s Inns and Taverns.


KCC county archaeologist Lis Dyson said: “This gives us a fascinating insight into what life was like in this part of Kent 1,400 years ago.


"The presence of some very rich graves suggests that the area was important at the time the kingdom of Kent was emerging.”


Sittingbourne Heritage Museum recruited the team of 30 conservation volunteers who are carrying out the conservation work


The site was being cleared for a housing development and the pub when the accidental discovery was made last May. Work was stopped to allow for the archaeology dig.


Canterbury Archaeological Trust carried out the excavation and is supervising the community science investigation with the help of expert conservator Dana Goodburn-Brown, from nearby Teynham, who has worked on Channel 4’s Time Team.



Ship graveyard gives up secrets


Archaeologists are working at a ships' graveyard known as the Purton Hulks in Gloucestershire to expose and record the remains of a barge.


Laser scanning equipment is being used to capture 3D images of the Kennet-built Harriett.


Eighty ships and barges beached in the 1940s were used to shore up the Sharpness Canal against erosion from tidal flow of the River Severn.


Efforts to save the site for the nation was begun by the Friends of Purton.


Laurent Coleman, head of archaeology with The Friends of Purton, said exposing the surviving timbers of the vessel would enable them to study the vessel's construction and its current state of preservation.


"In addition, this excavation will address specific areas of interest including the dimensions of the keelson and construction of the mast step, and assess wear and tear of the remains of this immensely important and rare example of the country's only remaining Kennet-built barge," he said.


The Purton Hulks received national exposure on the BBC programme Coast in July and will be featured on the investigative reporting series Inside Out West.


The sunken boats are early-20th Century coasters, schooners, trows, and barges.


Harriett was lost 21 February 1944 at Stonebench Turn on the Sharpness to Gloucester Canal, following a collision with motor barge Severn Trader.


Mark Beattie-Edwards, Nautical Archaeology Society programme director, said: "The NAS is very excited to see just how much survives of the Harriett at Purton.


"We are looking forward to learning more about how this vessel was originally constructed and perhaps later modified by its owners - she really could give us a window into the past."



"Unexpected" Man Found Amid Ancient Priestesses' Tombs

John Roach

for National Geographic News

September 18, 2009


In an "unexpected" discovery, a rattle-wielding elite male has been found buried among powerful priestesses of the pre-Inca Moche society in Peru, archaeologists announced Monday. (See pictures of Moche treasures from the tomb.)


Surrounded by early "smoke machines" as well as human and llama bones, the body was among several buried inside a unique double-chambered tomb that dates back to A.D. 850, said archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo Butters, of the Catholic University of Peru in Lima.


The tomb contained a wooden coffin decorated with a copper lattice and a gilded mask, sitting on a raised platform. Inside the coffin "is where we find the main object of the burial, and that fellow is a male," Castillo said.


"After 18 years of excavation in San José de Moro, we were expecting another female," he added. "But this tends to happen [in archaeology]—expect the unexpected."


The Moche people were a fragmented society of farmers who occupied the arid coasts of Peru from about A.D. 100 to 1000.


Since 1991 Castillo has led excavations at San José de Moro, a regional ceremonial center and cemetery for elite Moche in the northern coast's Jequetepeque Valley.


The site has so far yielded seven royal priestess burials, an indication of the powerful role of women in Moche society, Castillo said.


This year Castillo's team started excavations on the first known double-chambered Moche tomb. The work was partially funded by the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)


Artwork painted on known Moche pottery often depicts a ritual ceremony where a coffin is lowered into a tomb like the one that held the rattle-wielding male.


The funerals, Castillo noted, were cause for celebration and allowed for the seamless transition of power from one ruler to the next. Living priestesses probably performed such burials at annual festivals held at San José de Moro.


At the newly explored tomb, the team found a ramp that led into the first chamber, which contained the bones of a young human male on one side and those of a llama in a corner.


The human and the llamas "could have been sacrificed for the purpose of the burial," Castillo said.


Ceramic bowls about 20 inches (38 centimeters) wide crowded the floor along the walls and filled overlying niches. The large bowls were overflowing with smaller, thick-walled ceramic bottles.


These bottles may have been heated up and dropped into liquid-filled bowls to create a steamy, misty effect as bodies were lowered into the tomb during the funeral, Castillo said.


A sealed door closed off the entrance to the second chamber. Inside that second room, painted red and yellow, the archaeologists found the remains of two females and a male in simple burials.


The trio may have been sacrifices, but for now the team is unsure of their exact roles.


Another unidentified young male sat cross-legged in the room, and a lone mask lay out in the open.


The mask is similar to the one found on the elite male's coffin, making Castillo suspect the mask might have been left behind from another coffin that had been mysteriously removed.


Inside the elite male's coffin, his bones, a mask, a long stick with hanging bells, and other metal objects were in disarray. The jumble suggests the coffin had endured a long, bumpy journey before arriving at the tomb complex, Castillo added.


The surprise discovery of an elite male burial among the priestesses sent Castillo and his colleagues searching through Moche artwork for an explanation.


For starters, the long stick with bells looked remarkably similar to a rattle held by a well-known archetype in Moche art.


"I think that the guy with the rattle is the guy that we have here," Castillo said.


The archetype is known as Aia Paec, or "Wrinkle Face," a central figure in burial scenes. He's often depicted lowering a coffin into a tomb alongside another human-like character named Iguana.


Alongside Iguana and a female, probably one of the priestesses, Aia Paec is also depicted in some scenes presenting a decorative shell to a leader. According to Castillo, Aia Paec and Iguana were roles that living people would have inherited. When the person who had played a role died, he or she would be buried and a new person in the living world would take on the part.


"It seems then that all of these figures are related and connected," Castillo said.


So many of the known Moche elite burials are female that some archaeologists believe women dominated the Moche power structure.


But because both men and women rulers are represented in Moche artwork, it's hard to believe that the civilization was "strictly ruled by women," Castillo said.


"I think it would be more possible to have societies where women power is allowed alongside male power," he added.


"So finding a male elite burial probably goes in that direction."


But anthropologist Steve Bourget, an expert in Moche art at the University of Texas at Austin, suspects the male in the coffin was not the tomb's primary resident.


He cites the fact that the male's coffin was found against one wall of what could be seen as an unusually empty chamber. According to Bourget, it's possible some of the tomb's inhabitants were taken away in Moche times.


"Maybe what you had in there was one of these so-called priestesses along with other people, and then they didn't remove that guy," he said.


The idea of the newfound male as a supporting figure in an important female's burial would better fit Bourget's notion that late Moche society was transitioning to a power structure ruled by kings surrounded by influential women.


"I see that in the iconography, but I also see that in the site of San José de Moro," he said.


The tomb complex's layout, he said, suggests a king's, or kings', tomb surrounded by satellite tombs for priestesses.


Such a power structure was prevalent in coastal Peru's succeeding cultures, the Chimú and later the Lambayeque, he noted.


Excavation leader Castillo, however, said that the newfound male could instead be part of a more complex burial layout that would put the Moche man on equal footing with the priestesses.


The new discovery, he added, may not be the first to support his view of male-female power sharing.


In 2008 his team excavated a priestess from a tomb alongside the one containing the elite male. "They seem to be like a mirror image, [with] the male on one side [and] the female on the other one."