Experts bid to uncover secret that lies beneath Moray field



Published: 27/02/2010


A field in Moray is being investigated as the possible site of a former ancient settlement.


Specialists from Glasgow University started a three-day geophysics study of the field yesterday.


A hoard of Roman coins and brooches, Bronze Age gold-plated ring money, a shield stud, a gold ring and a mediaeval belt buckle are among the relics found at the location in recent years.


National Museums of Scotland curator Dr Fraser Hunter said the specialists would study several acres of land over the weekend. He said: “I hope the results will justify the work that is being done.”


The exact location of the site near Burghead is being kept secret while further investigations are carried out.


The National Museums of Scotland-sponsored study will investigate the internal structure of the field using a technique called geophysics.


The discipline allows archaeologists to discover what lies beneath the soil without the expense and toil of excavating.


Dr Hunter said: “What they are going to do is look at the magnetic content of this soil. This will tell you where people have been burning or throwing away rubbish. It is like an archaeological X-ray.


“It is a way of getting a picture of the soil without having to dig. We want to see if this can tell us if there was an Iron Age settlement similar to something like Birnie.”


Excavations at Moray’s prehistoric settlement site at Birnie, near Elgin, has revealed two separate hoards of Roman coins and an Iron Age pot in the same trench.


This backed up the possibility that they could have been part of an ancient ritual. They were buried during the reign of the Emperor Severus (AD 193-211), who organised the last major Roman invasion of Scotland, and are thought to be bribes from the Romans to persuade local chieftains to keep the peace.


The evidence suggests it was one of the important power settlements in Moray at that time.


Many of the finds are on display in Elgin Museum.


Read more: http://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/Article.aspx/1625172?UserKey=#ixzz0grct25UR



Ring fort may have held Bronze Age sports arena

The Irish Times - Thursday, February 25, 2010



A MYSTERIOUS ring fort in Co Tipperary holds “massive potential for discoveries” according to archaeologists who have carried out the first survey of the site.


Their initial findings suggest that the site may have been used for Bronze Age sporting contests in an arena that is the ancient equivalent of Semple Stadium.


Archaeologists have long been curious about the origins of the Rathnadrinna Fort located about 3km south of the Rock of Cashel – one of Ireland’s most important heritage locations and seat of the High Kings of Munster.


The unusually large and distinctive landmark is still subject to many of the traditional taboos surrounding fairy forts. Archaeologists say that many people in rural areas still believe it is unwise to enter a fairy fort or to cut down perimeter trees or vegetation.


Ian Doyle, head of conservation services and archaeology with the Heritage Council, said it was traditionally believed that the fort was a “defended farmstead” of a type commonly built in Ireland about 1,200 years ago.


But while the “average run-of-the-mill fairy fort” is ringed by one defensive perimeter ditch, “Rathnadrinna Fort is quite rare because it has three rings”. Despite the historical significance of the landscape, the fort has never been excavated.


Mr Doyle said “when you think of Tara, the countryside surrounding the Rock of Cashel must hold massive potential for discoveries”. This led the council to fund a survey of the site which was carried out by a team of archaeologists led by Cashel-based Richard O’Brien and the Co Mayo company Earthsound Archaeological Geophysics.


Using highly sensitive equipment, the soil was subjected to “high-resolution magnetic imaging” – similar to an MRI scan. It is the first time that any of the fairy forts in the countryside surrounding the Rock of Cashel has been surveyed in this manner.


Speaking to The Irish Times about the results, Mr O’Brien said that “none of the traditional evidence associated with ring forts – such as houses, hearths or rubbish pits – was found”. Instead, the team discovered that the site may have been first used 3,000 years ago during the late Bronze Age.


He said one of the most exciting discoveries was evidence of a Stonehenge-style circle of wooden posts suggestive of “a ceremonial or ritual role for the fort”.


Mr O’Brien said the use of the site would have changed down through the centuries and the survey results indicate that it had “a royal function”. But the most intriguing possibility, he said, was that the “vast interior area which is much larger than most ring forts is like a sports arena”.


Rathnadrinna translates as the “Fort of the Contest”, he added.




The residence of Sextus Tarquinius, the prince who sparked the revolt that led to the foundation of the Roman Republic, may have been found.

By Rossella Lorenzi | Fri Feb 26, 2010 02:25 PM ET


The remains of what might have been the residence of the Etruscan prince Sextus Tarquinius, son of the last legendary king of Rome Tarquinius Superbus (Tarquin the Proud), have been found on the slopes of an extinct volcanic crater about 12 miles from Rome, Italian archaeologists have announced.


The palace was discovered on the site of the ancient acropolis of Gabii, where, according to legend, Rome's mythical founders, Romulus and Remus, were educated. The building dates to the sixth century B.C and boasts the highest intact walls from the period ever found in Italy, standing at around 6.56 feet high.


"The dig has shown that the richly decorated monumental roof was dismantled, and the building filled with rubble. This has been a blessing, since it has allowed the palace to remain virtually intact," archaeologist Marco Fabbri of Rome's Tor Vergata University, told Discovery News.


Fabbri and colleagues from Rome's Archaeological Superintendency believe that the residence was furiously demolished, probably during the Roman revolt in 510 B.C. that ultimately led to the foundation of the Roman Republic.


The ongoing excavation has so far unearthed three, disconnected rooms which most likely opened onto a porticoed area.


Under the building's exceptionally well-preserved floor slabs, eight round cells contained the remains of five stillborn babies.


"We hope to unearth the rest of the residence this spring. In particular, we are looking to piece together the richly decorated roof," Fabbri said.


A terracotta fragment of the roof has already been found. It features the image of the Minotaur, an emblem of the Tarquins.


"It's a strong piece of evidence to support the hypothesis that the edifice was built for the Tarquin family," Fabbri said.


Indeed, the archaeologists do not rule out the hypothesis that the building was home to generations of Tarquins, and believe its last occupant was Sextus Tarquinius.


The son of Rome's last king, the despotic Tarquinius Superbus, Sextus Tarquinius is notorious for having raped Lucretia, the virtuous wife of his cousin Tarquinius Collatinus.


The Roman historian Livy (Titus Livius), who lived 59 B.C.-A.D. 17, recounts that Lucretia, "overcome with sorrow and shame," stabbed herself after the attack. Her death sparked the revolt that put to an end the kingship of Tarquin the Proud and Sextus Tarquinius' life.


"The people of Gabii murdered Sextus after he entered the town. It is not a coincidence that the lavish building is intentionally destroyed around this time," Fabbri said.


According to Nicola Terrenato, professor of classical archaeology at the University of Michigan, there is no doubt that the ruins belonged to the cultural context of the late, archaic king-cum-tyrants in central Italy.


"Even if the precise attribution was not 100 percent correct, this would not detract much from the scholarly value of this wonderful discovery," Terrenato, who currently heads another Gabii archaeological project, told Discovery News.


"Gabii's archaeological potential is enormous. It is one of the largest cities in Latium, and it is completely unencumbered by later buildings. When one thinks that what has been excavated yet is far less than 10 percent of the city, it is clear that many more surprises are in store," Terrenato said.



Campaigners hit £200,000 target to save Colchester's Roman circus

Money raised for only chariot-racing site discovered in Britain

Maev Kennedy


Sunday 28 February 2010 14.03 GMT


Campaigners in Colchester hit their target yesterday of raising £200,000 towards saving the only Roman chariot-racing circus ever found in Britain. Nothing remains above ground except a few stones, but the campaigners aim to buy a Victorian garden which covers a crucial part of the track: the starting gates from which the chariots, pulled by four horses, would have raced past raked seating for 15,000 spectators – more than twice the population when Colchester was a Roman town.


Most of the money came in small donations from local people. They organised events including a chariot and two horses hurtling around the car park before Colchester United's match against Oldham on February 20.


The campaigners hope that local community groups, including the Colchester Archaeological Trust, which discovered the circus, will buy a listed but derelict sergeant's mess which adjoins the garden to build a visitor centre.



Revealed: The African queen who called York home in the 4th century


Last updated at 1:03 AM on 28th February 2010


Startling new forensic research has revealed that multicultural Britain is nothing new after discovering black Africans were living in high society in Roman York.

A study of various remains and artefacts from the 4th century at the Yorkshire Museum shows North Africans were living there thousands of years ago.

The most exciting results came from analysis of the so-called 'Ivory Bangle Lady' whose remains were found in 1901 on the city's Sycamore Terrace.

Her skull was found buried with a range of jewellery including jet and elephant ivory bracelets, earrings, pendants and a glass mirror indicating she was wealthy and was of high social status.


The fascinating study was carried out by the University of Reading's Department of Archaeology, and senior lecturer Dr Hella Eckhardt said: 'Up until now we  have had to rely on evidence of such foreigners in Roman Britain from  inscriptions.

'However, by analysing the facial features of the Ivory Bangle Lady and  measuring her skull, analysing the chemical signature of the food and drink she consumed, and analysing evidence from the burial site we are now able to establish a clear profile of her ancestry and social status.

'We're looking at a population mix which is much closer to contemporary Britain than previous historians had suspected.

'In the case of York, the Roman population may have had more diverse origins than the city has now.

'This skull is particularly interesting, because the stone sarcophagus she was buried in, and the richness of the grave goods, means she was a very wealthy woman, absolutely from the top end of York society.

'Her case contradicts assumptions that may derive from more recent historical experience, namely that immigrants are low status and male, and that African individuals are likely to have been slaves.

'Instead, it is clear that both women and children moved across the Empire, often associated with the military.'

The research is published in the March edition of the journal Antiquity.

The 'Ivory Bangle Lady' and he possessions will be the centrepiece of a new exhibition at the Museum in August entitled 'Roman York: Meet the People Of The  Empire'.

York, known as Eboracum during Roman Times, was a legendary fortress and  civilian settlement which was visited by a string of emperors.

The experts believe these factors provided reasons for potential immigration to  the area and for the foundation of a multi-cultural community.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1254187/Revealed-The-African-queen-called-York-home-4th-century.html?ITO=1490#ixzz0grWTtM22



Tyrannical English king 'buried in Scotland'

King Richard II of England was thought to have died in Yorkshire after being deposed by his cousin

Last Updated: 25 February 2010 11:29 AM

Source: The Scotsman

By David Maddox


THE government is being asked to help fund tests that could solve a 600-year-old mystery surrounding the disappearance and death of an English king.


Remains have been found near the high altar at a former Dominican friary in Stirling that could be those of King Richard II.


Yesterday Central Croydon Conservative MP Andrew Pelling appealed for government help to verify the remains.


King Richard, who quelled the Peasants' Revolt as a boy king in 1381, was deposed by his cousin Henry Bolingbroke in 1399.


Officially, he starved to death in Pontefract Castle in Yorkshire in 1400 and was eventually laid to rest in Westminster Abbey.


But it is also believed that he escaped his captors and fled to Scotland and died in Stirling, where he was buried at Blackfriars.


Stirling Council has told a developer that wants to build on the old friary site that they must excavate, remove the remains and carry out preliminary tests on them to check whether they date back to the time of the late king.


However, further tests for full DNA analysis would require extra money which would not be covered by any planning conditions.


Mr Pelling, a keen amateur historian, raised the issue of extra funding and possible repatriation during Scottish questions in Westminster yesterday.


He said he was eager to find out the truth behind the king's disappearance and death.


"The government should take this issue seriously," he said."It would be a discovery of significant proportions if Richard II was proved to have escaped from Pontefract and lived on in Scotland.


He added: "If Richard was discovered to be the Stirling skeleton, then the government would have to consider what the appropriate ceremony would be for repatriating the remains to England, and laying them to rest beside Richard's beloved wife, Anne of Bohemia.


"This would then beg the question of who has lain in Westminster Abbey as Richard II for the past 600 years."


His appeal received a noncommital response. Scottish minister Ann McKechin said: "I am grateful to the honourable gentleman for providing me with a little advance notice of his supplementary question. It gave me an opportunity to look at the reign of Richard II.


"He crushed the Peasants' Revolt, built up a group of unpopular favourites, arrested, imprisoned and executed the people he worked with, or banished them and confiscated their estates. It sounds a little like a Conservative Party selection meeting."


She went on: "I am sure that we are all very interested in the results of the archaeological investigation, and that the Scottish Government and the local authority will be more than pleased to promote any find that might be discovered."



Pirate's head taken off again

From: The Times February 24, 2010 12:00AM


WHEN fearsome Baltic pirate Klaus Stortebeker was executed 600 years ago, his headless body is said to have walked 12m along the length of Hamburg quayside.


He had struck a deal with the elders of the port: any of his 70 men he managed to pass in his post-decapitation walk should be spared. The quivering corpse passed 11 fellow pirates before the executioner put out a foot and tripped him up.


Little wonder, then, that the skull of Stortebeker has fascinated Germans for so long -- and that its theft from a Hamburg museum last month has kept police busy. They interrogated members of the often reckless FC St Pauli fan club and dug deep into the city's Goth scene, before concentrating on a new possibility: that the pirate's skull has become a trophy in the turf wars between rival biker gangs.


On Saturday night, a skull was placed outside the offices of the Hamburger Morgenpost with "No Tacos" written on its crown. Tacos is slang for the biker group Bandidos, which is challenging the Hell's Angels for control over northern Germany's lucrative drugs trade. Ralph Wiechmann, the head of archeology at Hamburg Museum, was called in to examine the skull and ruled it belonged to a more recent corpse than that of Stortebeker.


The pirate's skull has a gaping hole on its right side, where it was nailed to a wooden stake outside the harbour gate to deter people from piracy. The latest skull bore axe wounds but no nail hole.


Even so, the local press continues to insist that a Hell's Angels chapter is the likely culprit. The Morgenpost cites an "insider from the biker scene" as saying the skull was offered to the Hell's Angels free of charge by an unnamed thief. "The piratical skull and crossbones is certainly part of the insignia of aggressive motorcycle gangs," a police investigator said.


Stortebeker is regarded as a Robin Hood or even a Che Guevara figure by many north Germans because he robbed the rich merchant ships of the Hanseatic League. However, evidence of him redistributing his booty to the poor is scarce. Legend has it that after his execution, Hamburg senators found the masts of his ships had cores of gold and silver.


The possibility that Stortebeker, who was decapitated in October 1401 (or a year earlier, by some accounts), aged 40, was little more than a bloodthirsty crook has not detracted from his iconic status. He has a statue honouring him in Hamburg and a brewery in Stralsund named after him. "The skull is an important relic of Hamburg history," said Hamburg Museum director Lisa Kosok. "It is priceless." It disappeared for a few centuries but re-emerged in 1878 during excavations to expand Hamburg harbour. The age of the skull was confirmed in 1999.


The Hamburg Senate failed to keep its promise to Stortebeker and the 11 men were not spared. After chopping off the heads of all of Stortebeker's pirates, the executioner was asked if he was not a little tired. He replied that he had enough energy to execute the Senate elders as well. This was probably intended as a joke -- but the Senate ordered the executioner to be beheaded.