Standing Stone Cupmarks may represent star constellations
SUNDAY, NOVEMBER 28, 2010
By George Nash
A recent excavation programme at a standing stone known as Trefael, near Newport in southwest Wales has revealed at least two unique episodes in its early history; firstly as a portal dolmen and secondly as a standing stone, probably used as a ritual marker to guide communities through a sacred landscape.
This solitary stone, standing in a wind-swept field has been designated a Scheduled Monument and has over 75 cupmarks gouged onto its upper surface. Following the complete exposure of the capstone through excavation, it is now considered by several astronomers that the distribution of the cupmarks may represent a section of the night sky that includes the star constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Sirius and of course the North Star.
Until recently, little was known about this stone. During the early 1970s archaeologists had speculated that it may have once formed a capstone which would have covered a small burial chamber. In order to prove or disprove this, a geophysical survey was undertaken, the results of which revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped anomaly, possibly the remnants of the cairn that would have once surrounded the chamber. The shape of this anomaly suggested that an entrance to a chamber was to the east (not untypical of monuments of this type).
Following this exciting discovery a targeted excavation in typically Welsh November weather confirmed the site to be a portal dolmen, one of the earliest burial-ritual monument types in Western Britain. The excavation revealed a significant cairn deposit within the eastern and northern sections of the trench. Uniquely, a clear vertical cut was found in section, running parallel with the dip of the former capstone suggesting that the cairn had been excavated into and the capstone set and packed within the existing cairn, probably used as a standing stone during the Early Bronze Age (c. 2000-1700 cal. BCE) when Western Britain was introduced to a new set of burial-ritual monuments. Finds were not unexpectedly meagre that included medieval and post-medieval pottery sherds and two Mesolithic shale beads; identical to those found at the nearby Mesolithic coastal settlement of Nab Head.
Further investigations are planned for the summer of 2011 that will include palaeoenvironmental sampling in order to assess the later prehistoric landscape setting, a contour survey of the monument and further excavation to the rear of the stone; hopefully in untypical Welsh weather conditions!
A prehistoric star map carved on a Welsh capstone?
26 November 2010
A recent excavation programme at a standing stone known as Trefael, near Newport (south-west Wales) has revealed that what originally was a portal dolmen in later times was transformed in a standing stone, probably used as a ritual marker to guide communities through a scared landscape.
This solitary stone has over 75 cupmarks gouged onto its upper surface. Following the complete exposure of the capstone through excavation, it is now considered by several astronomers that the distribution of the cupmarks may represent a section of the night sky that includes the star constellations of Cassiopeia, Orion, Sirius and of course the North Star.
Until recently, little was known about this stone. About 40 years ago archaeologists had speculated that it may have once formed a capstone which would have covered a small burial chamber. In order to prove or disprove this, a geophysical survey was undertaken, the results of which revealed the remains of a kidney-shaped anomaly, possibly the remnants of the cairn that would have once surrounded the chamber, with an entrance to the east.
Following this exciting discovery, a targeted excavation confirmed the site to be a portal dolmen, revealing also a significant cairn deposit within the eastern and northern sections of the trench. Uniquely, a clear vertical cut was found in section, running parallel with the dip of the former capstone suggesting that the cairn had been excavated into and the capstone set and packed within the existing cairn, probably used as a standing stone during the Early Bronze Age (c. 2000-1700 cal. BCE) when Western Britain was introduced to a new set of burial-ritual monuments.
Finds were not unexpectedly meagre and included medieval and post-medieval pottery sherds and two Mesolithic shale beads; identical to those found at the nearby Mesolithic coastal settlement of Nab Head.
Further investigations planned for Summer 2011 will include palaeo-environmental sampling in order to assess the later prehistoric landscape setting, a contour survey of the monument and further excavation to the rear of the stone.
Edited from George Nash PR
2,000-year-old intact female skeleton with gray hair unearthed in Hubei
11:20, November 23, 2010
A 2,000-year-old intact skeleton of an elderly woman was unearthed from a tomb from the early Western Han dynasty at the construction site of an industrial park in the north of Zhuchengjie, a satellite city of Wuhan, capital of east-central China's Hubei Province, on Nov. 19.
Much gray hair can still be seen clearly on her skull
The archaeological team said that when exploring the tomb numbered M6 from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Nov. 19, they found a nearly intact outer coffin and almost no water had leaked into it. More surprisingly, there was a well-preserved dark brown skeleton inside the inner coffin, with a lot of gray hair still on the skull.
The coffin was tied with seven pieces of hemp rope. It was identified as the skeleton of a woman aged about 70 years, according to the funeral customs of the early Western Han dynasty, the distance between the chin and the pit of the stomach; bone structure and thickness; as well as other evidence.
The archaeological team explained that the woman's skeleton and hair were well preserved because she was buried in multiple coffins, with the outer coffin covered by a thick layer of special plaster, and hair is not easily damaged by water.
Anthropologists looking for Roman legion in China
New Delhi , Sun, 21 Nov 2010 ANI
Experts at the newly established Italian Studies Center at Lanzhou University in Gansu province are looking into the possibility that some European-looking Chinese in Northwest China are the descendants of a lost army from the Roman Empire.
They will conduct excavations on a section of the Silk Road, a 7,000-kilometer trade route that linked Asia and Europe more than 2,000 years ago, to see if a legion of Roman soldiers settled in China, said Yuan Honggeng, head of the center, reports China Daily.
"We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China's early contact with the Roman Empire," said Yuan.
Before Marco Polo's travels to China in the 13th century, the only known contact between the two empires was a visit by Roman diplomats in 166 AD.
Chinese archaeologists were therefore surprised in the 1990s to find the remains of an ancient fortification in Liqian, a remote town in Yongchang county on the edge of a desert area, that was strikingly similar to Roman defense structures.
They were even more astonished to find Western-looking people with green, deep-set eyes, long hooked noses and blond hair.
DNA tests in 2005 confirmed some of the villagers were indeed of Caucasian origin, leading many experts to conclude they are descendants of an ancient Roman army headed by general Marcus Crassus.
Though some anthropologists are convinced the Caucasian-looking villagers in Yongchang county are the descendants of the soldiers, others are not so certain.
"The county is on the Silk Road, so there were many chances for trans-national marriages," said Yang Gongle, of the Beijing Normal University.
"The 'foreign' origin of the Yongchang villagers, as proven by the DNA tests, does not necessarily mean they are of ancient Roman origin," said Gongle. (ANI)
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Yongchang County (永昌县) is a county located in the province of Gansu in China. It belongs to the prefecture of Jinchang. The ancient North Silk Road passes through Yongchang County; numerous Han envoys were sent west along this trackway, some parties exceeding 100 members late in the first millennium BC. The Han Dynasty sent one mission to Parthia, which was reciprocated at around 100 BC: Roman emissaries were captured by the Chinese in 30 BC along the Silk Road at Yongchang.
During recent years, the county has entered the sight of media because many of the inhabitants of Liqian village (骊靬) are thought to be descendants of a Roman legion. The history records of the town indicate that it was founded by captured combatants of the Battle of Zhizhi during 36 BC. In a geography book of the eastern Han Dynasty it is recorded that "Local people call the ancestors of the Roman prisoners-of-war Lijian" the word Lijian being the Chinese name for something or someone of Greco-Roman origin. A number of the town's inhabitants still bear some features of Europeans. A DNA test was conducted in early 2007 in the attempt to find genetic evidence supporting this claim. The result of this specific study was negative. The study concluded: "Overall, a Roman mercenary origin could not be accepted as true according to paternal genetic variation, and the current Liqian population is more likely to be a subgroup of the Chinese majority Han".
China National Highway 312
^ C. Michael Hogan, Silk Road, North China, The Megalithic Portal, ed. Andy Burnham
^ Beijing Review, Vol. 47, no. 21 (May 27, 2004)
^ Roman descendants found in China?
^ J. Human Genetics, Vol. 52, No. 7. (2007) pp. 584-591
Chinese villagers 'descended from Roman soldiers'
Genetic testing of villagers in a remote part of China has shown that nearly two thirds of their DNA is of Caucasian origin, lending support to the theory that they may be descended from a 'lost legion' of Roman soldiers.
By Nick Squires in Rome 9:00PM GMT 23 Nov 2010
Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin.
Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.
A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed by his friends and relatives Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.
Archeologists plan to conduct digs in the region, along the ancient Silk Route, to search for remains of forts or other structures built by the fabled army.
"We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China's early contacts with the Roman Empire," Yuan Honggeng, the head of a newly-established Italian Studies Centre at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, told the China Daily newspaper.
The genetic tests have leant weight to the theory that Roman legionaries settled in the area in the first century BC after fleeing a disastrous battle.
The clash took place in 53BC between an army led by Marcus Crassus, a Roman general, and a larger force of Parthians, from what is now Iran, bringing to an abrupt halt the Roman Empire's eastwards expansion.
Thousands of Romans were slaughtered and Crassus himself was beheaded, but some legionaries were said to have escaped the fighting and marched east to elude the enemy.
They supposedly fought as mercenaries in a war between the Huns and the Chinese in 36BC – Chinese chroniclers refer to the capture of a "fish-scale formation" of troops, a possible reference to the "tortoise" phalanx formation perfected by legionnaries. The wandering Roman soldiers are thought to have been released and to have settled on the steppes of western China.
The theory was first put forward in the 1950s by Homer Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University.
The Roman Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD, just as the Han empire was beginning to decline.
Most historians believe that the two empires had only indirect contact, as silk and spices were traded along the Silk Road through merchants in exchange for Roman goods such as glassware.
But some experts believe they could instead be descended from the armies of Huns that marauded through central Asia, which included soldiers of Caucasian origin.
Maurizio Bettini, a classicist and anthropologist from Siena University, dismissed the theory as "a fairy tale".
"For it to be indisputable, one would need to find items such as Roman money or weapons that were typical of Roman legionaries," he told La Repubblica. "Without proof of this kind, the story of the lost legions is just a legend."
Ancient Roman soldiers' bathhouse found in Jerusalem
From Shira Medding, CNN
November 22, 2010 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Archaeologists excavating at the site of an ancient Roman bathhouse discovered in Jerusalem.
- The surprise discovery shows the ancient Roman encampment was bigger than thought
- It includes tiles stamped with the mark of the legion that destroyed the Second Temple
- Archeaologists found a dog's paw print
- The Roman city helped determine the shape of Jerusalem to the present day
Israeli archaeologists have discovered an ancient Roman bathhouse that was probably used by the soldiers who destroyed the Second Temple in Jerusalem, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Monday.
The surprise discovery includes the mark of Rome's Tenth Legion -- as well as the paw print of a dog.
The animal probably belonged to one of the soldiers, excavation director Ofer Sion said.
The print "could have happened accidentally or have been intended as a joke," he said.
Archaeologists were not expecting to find the Roman structure in the Jewish Quarter, where a mikvah, or Jewish ritual bath, was being constructed.
"The mark of the soldiers of the Tenth Legion, in the form of the stamped impressions on the roof tiles and the in situ mud bricks, bears witness to the fact that they were the builders of the structure," he said.
"It seems that the bathhouse was used by these soldiers who were garrisoned there after suppressing the Bar Kokhba uprising in 135 CE (A.D.), when the pagan city Aelia Capitolina was established," he explained.
The structure includes a number of plastered bathtubs in the side of a pool, a pipe used to fill it with water, and a white industrial mosaic pavement on the floor.
Hundreds of terra cotta roof tiles were found on the floors of the pool, indicating it was a covered structure, he added.
The bathhouse tiles are stamped with the symbols of the Tenth Legion "Fretensis" -- LEG X FR, he said.
The discovery shows that the Roman encampment established to help keep Israel under Roman domination was larger than previously thought, another expert said.
"Despite the very extensive archaeological excavations that were carried out in the Jewish Quarter, so far not even one building has been discovered there that belonged to the Roman legion," Jerusalem district archaeologist Yuval Baruch said.
"The absence of such a find led to the conclusion that Aelia Capitolina, the Roman city which was established after the destruction of Jerusalem, was small and limited in area," he said.
But the discovery of the 1,800-year-old bathhouse "together with other discoveries of recent years, shows that the city was considerably larger than what we previously estimated," he said.
Understanding the ancient Roman city of Aelia Capitolina is "extremely valuable," he said, because it determined the shape of Jerusalem's historic walls "and the location of the gates to this very day."
Mystery shipwreck found in central Stockholm
Published: 25 Nov 10 16:33 CET | Double click on a word to get a translation
Updated: 25 Nov 10 18:46 CET
The remains of a ship dating from the 1600s have been discovered outside the Grand Hotel in central Stockholm.
The vessel was built with an almost completely unknown technology, delighting archaeologists. The planks of the ship are not nailed down, but sewn together with rope.
The discovery was made by labourers close to the royal palace and in front of Stockholm's Grand Hotel during renovation works to a quay.
"The discovery of the wreck is extremely interesting given the place where it was made. There was a naval shipyard on this spot until the start of the 17th century," Maritime Museum director Hans-Lennarth Ohlsson said in a statement.
A couple of weeks ago, an excavator found something unusual in his bucket. Marine archaeologist Jim Hansson at the Maritime Museum was called to Strömkajen below the Grand Hotel, where he quickly realised the value of the sensational find.
"We were super-excited. It may sound a little strange when one finds little excavated pieces of parts of a ship, but I have never seen anything like it," he said.
With the exception of another ship found in 1896, all other shipwrecks uncovered in and around the Stockholm harbour have featured planks that were nailed together.
"We really know nothing about this technique other than that it was used in the east," added Hansson.
Hansson guesses that the ship is from east of the Baltics, possibly from Russia. The ship's position, well into the quay, reveals that it is from the 1600s or earlier. The wreck was not necessarily linked to the yard, however, and archaeologists have been unable to say how long before 1700 it might have sunk.
Marine archaeologists will send samples to Denmark's Copenhagen National Museum for analysis to be dated as precisely as possible, with results expected by January 2011. In addition, they will monitor the rest of the excavation.
"It is pretty damn nervewracking. It is rare that an archaeologist gets to take a part in something like this. One gets to leave the kids at home and stand in a pit of mud at Christmas," Hansson joked.
In 1961, the Vasa, a Swedish warship, was salvaged from just outside Stockholm harbour. The ship, which foundered on her maiden voyage in 1628, was largely intact and has since become one of Sweden's most popular tourist attractions.
London's National Portrait Gallery Finds Relics of English King Richard II in Its Basement
LONDON.- An archivist at the National Portrait Gallery has found relics from the tomb of King Richard II while cataloguing the papers of its first Director Sir George Scharf (1820-1895). Among the hundreds of diaries and notebooks left behind in boxes not opened for years were contents from the coffin of a medieval English king, and sketches of his skull and bones.
The contents of a cigarette box dated 31 August 1871 were only identified as relics from a royal tomb following cataloguing, when it became possible to cross-reference the date on the front of the box with diary entries and sketches made on the same day. The box contained fragments of wood, possibly from the coffin itself, and some fabric. Records from this date reveal that Scharf was present at an opening of the royal graves at Westminster Abbey. A piece of leather corresponds particularly with Scharf’s sketch of a glove contained in the coffin. A full account of the event was recorded by the Very Reverend Arthur Stanley, Dean of Westminster and published in Archaeologia in 1879.
The Gallery’s founding Director also made careful sketches of the skull and bones of the king, including detailed measurements. The sketches are so faithfully drawn that they could possibly be used to reconstruct the king’s true appearance.
While cataloguing the papers, as part of a six-month online project funded by the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives, it became clear that the nineteenth-century gallery director’s analytical approach to record-keeping extended well beyond art and contemporary society. He frequently attended the opening of graves and witnessed those of Richard II, Edward VI, Henry VII, James I and Elizabeth of York.
Krzysztof Adamiec, National Portrait Gallery Assistant Archivist (Scharf Project), says: ‘It was a very exciting discovery and one that reveals the hidden potential of Scharf’s papers. By matching diary entries, with sketches, notes and other material in the collection a unique record is revealed. Scharf meticulously recorded almost everything he saw and experienced. In reading his papers, one is able to reconstruct in minute detail ‘a day in the life’ of this remarkable Victorian gentleman.’
The Scharf papers held in the National Portrait Gallery’s Heinz Archive & Library comprise business, personal and family records which reflect not only the history of the Gallery, but also the wider social history of Victorian England.
Scharf was a careful observer of life in his own times and his diaries, notebooks and sketches provide a detailed record of a changing London, everyday Victorian life, and important historic events of the era. They are also an exceptional resource for the study of portraits and portraiture. Alongside his responsibility, as Director, for building-up the National Portrait Gallery’s collection, Scharf also worked in a private capacity on various external projects. He was directly involved in some of the most significant exhibitions of the Victorian period, including Crystal Palace (after its relocation to Sydenham) in 1854 and the Manchester Art Treasures exhibition in 1857.
The papers include 230 notebooks and sketchbooks, in which Scharf made detailed notes and meticulous drawings of portraits, people and places including Winston Churchill as a baby, Coventry before it was bombed and Wellington’s funeral. They also include Scharf’s observations on British private and public art collections.
Sir George Scharf was appointed in 1857, shortly after the Gallery was founded. His papers cover the first 38 years of the institution’s existence. They document its formative years, during which period there was a growing interest in national identity and awareness of the role that portraiture might play in representing British history.
The National Portrait Gallery has launched its archive catalogue on the web http://archivecatalogue.npg.org.uk/, revealing to a wider audience fascinating stories about the Gallery’s activities since it was founded in 1856. The online archive comprises over 15,000 file-level descriptions containing information about all types of records, including letters, x-rays, videos, posters, press-cuttings, minutes and reports as well as photographs. It includes records on acquiring, conserving and displaying portraits, organising and staging exhibitions and constructing, managing and developing the building. Descriptions of Sir George Scharf’s papers have been added, following an award of £17,909 from the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives to catalogue the material.
The papers will join those of other former Gallery Directors, such as Sir Lionel Cust and Sir Roy Strong, already available. While the new online facility is a catalogue of the Archive and not its entire contents, visitors can make an appointment to see any of the documents listed at the Gallery’s Heinz Archive and Library.
King Richard II
'Archaeology under threat in UK'
Mike Heyworth <firstname.lastname@example.org> to BRITARCH@jiscmail.ac.uk
"Archaeology under threat in UK: 'Perfect storm' of proposed cuts throws
field into crisis"
UK archaeologists are facing a wave of cuts that they say will lead to a
loss of skills and take the teaching of the subject "back to the 1950s".
You can keep up with some of the specific threats facing the heritage
sector via the Rescue online map at
But is it all gloom? Are there still opportunities to grasp? Here is a short note I wrote recently to summarise the current situation. The CBA would welcome comments and thoughts on how we face up to the current challenges:
Stay positive and look to the future (as well as the past)
The Lord Chancellor (The Rt Hon Kenneth Clarke QC MP) recently stated on behalf of the UK Government that "We recognise the valuable contribution that archaeologists make to the study of human history". Unfortunately that recognition has not prevented a combination of factors linked with the current economic climate giving real cause for concern for the future of the practice of archaeology across the UK.
Current concerns include:
Despite an apparently gloomy picture, the news is by no means all bad and at a time when, across the country, many other activities are being just as severely affected we need to think to the future. We can still point to some real positives for archaeology and the heritage sector:
The CBA's new strategy, launched in the House of Lords in November, is all about "Making Archaeology Matter". What matters now, more than ever, is that we engage people themselves to safeguard the archaeological interest in their locality. The CBA sees archaeological stewardship and active participation at the heart of what we do with, and through, our members - in education and research, with young people, in community archaeology and in all our advocacy work for archaeology - whether that is safeguarding historic buildings, reforming the Treasure Act, campaigning to protect the rural heritage or deriving maximum public value from development-led archaeology.
The whole archaeological sector needs to work together, with new and innovative collaborations creating stronger future partnerships, to support even greater public involvement and action. We should look ahead to the archaeological discipline of the future and lay the foundations of a strong, appropriately rewarded and highly-skilled profession, working closely with an active community and voluntary sector. The CBA is ready to play a leading role and we look forward to working with a wide range of partners, and our expanding membership, to ensure that the
archaeological heritage of the UK is safeguarded and appreciated in the future.
Reuben Thorpe <email@example.com> to BRITARCH@jiscmail.ac.uk
There is, of course, great merit in accentuating the positive, working within the realms of the possible but one should strive, continually, to make things better. Where would Wilberforce have been if he had worked only within the realms of what was perceived possible at the time rather than mounting a campaign to change things as they actually were? IF one is held captive to the idea of "mustn't grumble", or "best make do with what we have", all you can ever hope for is to muddle along best you can. In reality the severity of the austerity measures is an ideological and political choice, not an a priori inevitability, if we disagree with the slice of the cake we have been given then should we not be actively campaigning and highlighting that it is just not good enough, it is not fit for purpose, rather than go "Oh well" at the potential prospect that elements of a vital, precious, non renewable resource may be lost for good. Surely if the political choice has been made to cut archaeological provision so severely should not our stand be that we look to the future by safeguarding our past?
Archaeology matters and needs appropriate prioritisation. We are doing things quite well (with room for improvement) yes, the cup is half full not half empty, but should we not be campaigning for a cup which could be fuller, nay brimmeth over, mounting a robust critique of those aspects of the "Big Society" which actually seek to derogate the states responsibility to the vestiges and remains of our common past. One weathers a storm, perfect or not, by preparing for it at the first sign of it coming on to blow, making ones ship weather tight, provisioning the life rafts, and if
the storm is weathered one refits and repairs seeking the resources to make good what has been damaged, one does not weather a storm by thinking at the outset that if the ship founders its OK because there are at least some life rafts. Surely?