'Mitochondrial Eve': Mother of All Humans Lived 200,000 Years Ago

ScienceDaily (Aug. 17, 2010)


The most robust statistical examination to date of our species' genetic links to "mitochondrial Eve" -- the maternal ancestor of all living humans -- confirms that she lived about 200,000 years ago. The Rice University study was based on a side-by-side comparison of 10 human genetic models that each aim to determine when Eve lived using a very different set of assumptions about the way humans migrated, expanded and spread across Earth.


The research is available online in the journal Theoretical Population Biology.

"Our findings underscore the importance of taking into account the random nature of population processes like growth and extinction," said study co-author Marek Kimmel, professor of statistics at Rice. "Classical, deterministic models, including several that have previously been applied to the dating of mitochondrial Eve, do not fully account for these random processes."

The quest to date mitochondrial Eve (mtEve) is an example of the way scientists probe the genetic past to learn more about mutation, selection and other genetic processes that play key roles in disease.

"This is why we are interested in patterns of genetic variability in general," Kimmel said. "They are very important for medicine."

For example, the way scientists attempt to date mtEve relies on modern genetic techniques. Genetic profiles of random blood donors are compared, and based upon the likenesses and differences between particular genes, scientists can assign a number that describes the degree to which any two donors are related to one another.

Using mitochondrial genomes to gauge relatedness is a way for geneticists to simplify the task of finding common ancestors that lived long ago. That is because the entire human genome contains more than 20,000 genes, and comparing the differences among so many genes for distant relatives is problematic, even with today's largest and fastest supercomputers.

But mitochondria -- the tiny organelles that serve as energy factories inside all human cells -- have their own genome. Besides containing 37 genes that rarely change, they contain a "hypervariable" region, which changes fast enough to provide a molecular clock calibrated to times comparable to the age of modern humanity. Because each person's mitochondrial genome is inherited from his or her mother, all mitochondrial lineages are maternal.

To infer mtEve's age, scientists must convert the measures of relatedness between random blood donors into a measure of time.

"You have to translate the differences between gene sequences into how they evolved in time," said co-author Krzysztof Cyran, vice head of the Institute of Informatics at Silesian University of Technology in Gliwice, Poland. "And how they evolved in time depends upon the model of evolution that you use. So, for instance, what is the rate of genetic mutation, and is that rate of change uniform in time? And what about the process of random loss of genetic variants, which we call genetic drift?"

Within each model, the answers to these questions take the form of coefficients -- numeric constants that are plugged into the equation that returns the answer for when mtEve lived.

Each model has its own assumptions, and each assumption has mathematical implications. To further complicate matters, some of the assumptions are not valid for human populations. For example, some models assume that population size never changes. That is not true for humans, whose population has grown exponentially for at least several thousand generations. Other models assume perfect mixing of genes, meaning that any two humans anywhere in the world have an equal chance of producing offspring.

Cyran said human genetic models have become more complex over the past couple of decades as theorists have tried to correct for invalid assumptions. But some of the corrections -- like adding branching processes that attempt to capture the dynamics of population growth in early human migrations -- are extremely complex. Which raises the question of whether less complex models might do equally well in capturing what's occurring.

"We wanted to see how sensitive the estimates were to the assumptions of the models," Kimmel said. "We found that all of the models that accounted for random population size -- such as different branching processes -- gave similar estimates. This is reassuring, because it shows that refining the assumptions of the model, beyond a certain point, may not be that important in the big picture."

The research was supported by grants from the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education and the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas. It has resulted from a standing collaboration between Rice University and Silesian University of Technology.


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by Rice University.

Journal Reference:

Cyran et al. Alternatives to the Wright-Fisher model: The robustness of mitochondrial Eve dating. Theoretical Population Biology, 2010; DOI: 10.1016/j.tpb.2010.06.001



7,000-year-old oar found

Aug 17, 2010



SOUTH Korean archaeologists said on Tuesday they have unearthed a rare neolithic period wooden boat oar, believed to date back about 7,000 years but still in good condition.


The oar was discovered in mud land in Changnyeong, 240 kilometres southeast of Seoul, the Gimhae National Museum said. 'This is a very rare find, not only in South Korea but also in the world,' museum researcher Yoon On-Shik told AFP. 'We have to check with Chinese artefacts to confirm whether it is the oldest watercraft ever found in the world.'


One of the oldest boats or related artefacts was found in China's Zhejiang province in 2005 and was believed to date back about 8,000 years. The oar, which was found intact in its entirety, is 1.81 metres long. 'The oar was well preserved because fine mud layers completely blocked oxygen from decaying it,' Mr Yoon said.


It was uncovered on Aug 11 at a site where experts in 2004 unearthed the fragments of what is believed to be two up to 8,000-year-old canoe-like boats, which are believed to have been 13.1 feet long in their original state.


The oar and boats were made from pine trees, Mr Yoon said. The technique that made them indicate there might have been a certain form of neolithic period trade using boats between Japan and the Korean peninsula. 'With this set, we can picture trade between the Korean peninsula and Japan, sailing techniques and a lifestyle back then,' Mr Yoon said, pointing to a similar find in Japan.


Japanese archaeologists discovered an oar, believed to date back about 6,000 years, on the Sea of Japan (East Sea) coast in 1999. -- AFP



Nebra sky disk discarded because of volcanic ash, scientists say

By Thomas Schoene Aug 23, 2010, 15:49 GMT



Halle/Mainz, Germany - A catastrophic volcanic eruption spewing huge clouds of ash about 3,600 years ago was behind the burial of the Nebra sky disk, one of the most spectacular archaeological finds in recent years, according to scientists at Mainz and Halle-Wittenberg universities in Germany.

The 3,600-year-old disk, discovered in 1999 near the town of Nebra in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt, is the oldest known representation of the night sky. It is thought by some to have been used as an astronomical clock to determine when to add a thirteenth month synchronising the lunar calendar with the solar year.

The disk would be held against the sky, and when the position of the celestial objects matched those on the disk, the intercalary month would be added. Scientists said the disk became worthless after the eruption on the Mediterranean island of Thera - north of Crete and also known as Santorini - which ejected ash that obscured the sky all the way to Central Europe for 20 to 25 years.

Average temperatures dropped one or two degrees during this time.

'There were cool, wet summers with devastating crop failures and exceptionally cold winters,' said Francois Bertemes, a professor at Halle-Wittenberg University's Institute of European Art History and Archaeology.

The changes were inexplicable to people of the Bronze Age, who were followers of a sun cult. Their faith in the gods was shaken, Bertemes remarked, and 'they called the priests and (the priests') rituals into question.'

Scientists said the 32-centimetre-diameter bronze disk, with gold-leaf appliques representing the sun, moon and stars, was desecrated as a cult object and buried as an offering to the gods - along with two swords decorated with gold, Bronze Age spiral bracelets and bronze axes - on then sacred Mittelberg hill.

'The natural occurrences were almost certainly very bewildering to prehistoric people in Central Europe,' said Frank Sirocko, a sedimentologist at Mainz University's Geosciences Institute.

Sirocko and a team of researchers have analyzed the effects of weather and climate on human development for years. He has also looked into the Thera eruption.

'It was surely a watershed in the Bronze Age and it's no coincidence that use of the stone circles at Stonehenge ceased 3,600 years ago, and that the Nebra sky disk was buried,' Sirocko said.

'Maybe the act was meant to make the gods merciful and get them to restore the previous conditions,' said Bertemes, referring to the disk's burial.

The Nebra sky disk has been on permanent display at the State Museum of Prehistory in Halle since 2008. Nebra Ark, a multimedia visitors' centre with information on the disk and its history, is located near the site where the disk was discovered.



Discovery of ancient cave paintings in Petra stuns art scholars

Exquisite artworks hidden under 2,000 years of soot and grime in a Jordanian cave have been restored by experts from the Courtauld Institute in London

Dalya Alberge

The Observer,

Sunday 22 August 2010


Spectacular 2,000-year-old Hellenistic-style wall paintings have been revealed at the world heritage site of Petra through the expertise of British conservation specialists. The paintings, in a cave complex, had been obscured by centuries of black soot, smoke and greasy substances, as well as graffiti.


Experts from the Courtauld Institute in London have now removed the black grime, uncovering paintings whose "exceptional" artistic quality and sheer beauty are said to be superior even to some of the better Roman paintings at Herculaneum that were inspired by Hellenistic art.


Virtually no Hellenistic paintings survive today, and fragments only hint at antiquity's lost masterpieces, while revealing little about their colours and composition, so the revelation of these wall paintings in Jordan is all the more significant. They were created by the Nabataeans, who traded extensively with the Greek, Roman and Egyptian empires and whose dominion once stretched from Damascus to the Red Sea, and from Sinai to the Arabian desert.


Such is the naturalistic intricacy of these paintings that the actual species of flowers, birds and insects bursting with life can be identified. They were probably painted in the first century, but may go back further. Professor David Park, an eminent wall paintings expert at the Courtauld, said that the paintings "should make jaws drop".


At the instigation of the Petra National Trust (PNT), conservation experts Stephen Rickerby and Lisa Shekede restored the paintings to life. The work took three years, and was completed only last week. "The paintings were a real mess," Rickerby said.


He described what has emerged from the blackened layers as "really exceptional and staggeringly beautiful, with an artistic and technical quality that's quite unlike anything else".


Three different vines, grape, ivy and bindweed – all associated with Dionysus, the ancient Greek god of wine – have been identified, while the birds include a demoiselle crane and a Palestine sunbird with luscious colours. The scenes are populated by putti-like figures, one winged child playing a flute while seated in a vine-scroll, others picking fruit and fighting off birds pecking at the grapes. The paintings are exceptional in their sophistication, extensive palette and luxurious materials, including gold leaf.


Petra – the Greek word for "rock" – is one of the world's most famous archaeological sites, where ancient eastern traditions combine with Hellenistic architecture, with monumental buildings sculpted out of the solid red sandstone. A Unesco world heritage site since 1985, it was the Nabataeans' capital city, flourishing as an economic and religious centre from the third century BC for some 400 years. Its site, in the Shera mountains, was an important crossroads for Arabia, Egypt and Syria-Phoenicia.


The paintings are not at the main site, but at the less well known canyon of Siq al-Barid in Beidha – nicknamed "Little Petra" – about 5km away. As they are now the most important surviving examples of Nabataean art, they rank among Petra's most remarkable treasures and are likely to become a major tourist attraction, Rickerby said. They are located within the "biclinium" (dining area), a principal chamber and a recess, where ritual dining is thought to have taken place. The most outstanding painting covers the vault and the walls of the recess.


The site was a retreat for affluent Nabataeans. The surrounding land shows evidence of ancient vineyards and grape-pressing sites, which explains the significance of the paintings' subject-matter. The Greek historian Strabo conveyed a sense of their wealth when he wrote: "The Nabataeans are a sensible people, and are so much inclined to acquire possessions that they publicly fine anyone who has diminished his possessions."


Rickerby said: "They show a lot of external influences from the ancient world and are as good as, or better than, some of the Roman paintings you see, for example at Herculaneum… This has immense art-historical importance, reflecting a synthesis of Hellenistic–Roman cultural influences."


Park said: "Petra is a vast site at the cultural crossroads of the eastern Mediterranean, and among the rock-cut tombs and temples the survival of a fragile wall painting that decorated a dining hall is extraordinary… The quality of the painting is matched by the luxury of its materials, including gilding and translucent glazes. It is the only surviving [in situ] figurative wall painting from the Nabataean civilisation that created Petra.


"It provides an incredibly rare insight into the lifestyle of this ancient and little-known civilisation."




Few Nabataean manuscripts survive, but it is through the ancient historians Strabo, Josephus and Diodorus that we know something about them and their culture. Diodorus wrote of a people with diverse characteristics who were "exceptionally fond of freedom". Strabo described them as "exceedingly well-governed", with few slaves, banquets with girl singers and "drinking bouts in magnificent style" held by the king, in which "no one drinks more than 11 cupfuls, each time using a different golden cup".


The Nabataeans were among the most successful merchants of their day, trading in spices, medicines, frankincense, precious jewels and metals. Exotic goods were brought by ship to ports in southern Arabia from India and the far east and taken overland to the Mediterranean. Accusations of a monopoly on many of their goods, brought complaints from the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans when they hiked up their prices.


They first appeared to history in 312BC in a cuneiform inscription, recording their defeat of a Syrian army. Although originally a nomadic people of ancient Arabia, they built the spectacular city of Petra as their capital. Such was its fame in antiquity that it was mentioned in Chinese records, as well as those of ancient Greece, Egypt, Rome and Byzantium. It boasted magnificent buildings and carved facades and piped water throughout the city.




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Tue Aug 17, 2010 03:38 PM ET


Several pieces of the world's oldest and largest unsolved jigsaw puzzle, a 2,200-year-old map of Rome made of thousands of marble fragments, could be unearthed next year following construction work for a new metro line near Rome's majestic forum area.


“This is a unique occasion to excavate the Forum of Peace, where the map once stood,” Rossella Rea, director of the Colosseum, told the Italian financial daily “Il Sole 24 Ore.”


Carved into marble slabs around  210 A.D., during the rule of the emperor Septimius Severus, the map was originally hung on a wall in the Templum Pacis (Temple of Peace), which stood in the middle of an enclosure called Forum of Peace.


The wall still survives today in a building near the 6th-century Church of Santi Cosma e Damiano. Rows of holes where the map was attached using bronze clamps can still be seen.


The enormous marble map detailed every building, street and staircase in second-century Rome, until it was partially ripped from the wall, probably to make lime for cement. What was left fell down and broke apart in hundreds of unrecognizable pieces.


Piecing the jigsaw puzzle together  -- 1,186 fragments which cover only 10 to 15 percent the original map surface and are now kept in the Palazzo dei Conservatori of the Capitoline Museums in Rome -- has been one of the great unsolved problems of archaeology.


Renaissance scholars identified and assembled some 250 pieces, recognizing important landmarks such as the Colosseum and the Circus Maximum.


Recently, computer scientists and archaeologists at Stanford University have been using computer technologies in an attempt to reconstruct the remaining pieces of the map.


Given the way the map fell from its position on the wall, Rea and colleagues believe that several remaining fragments still lie around the site and can be unearthed during the unique dig.


But more treasures might come to light in an area that Rea considers "the most interesting among the imperial forums."


The centerpiece of the Forum of Peace was indeed the temple. Built in 71-75 A.D by Vespasian, the Temple of Peace celebrated the brutal pacification of the Jews and the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in 70 A.D.


Tons of gold, silver trumpets and gold candelabra were plundered from the Jerusalem temple and paraded through Rome' streets in triumph.


The moment was captured in a frieze carved into the Arch of Vespasian’s son, Titus, which clearly shows the menorah, the seven-branched temple candelabra that was the symbol of ancient Judaism, being exposed through the streets.


Between 75 A.D. and the early 5th century, the treasure, which helped finance the building of the Colosseum, was put on public display right in the Temple of Peace.


Although it is unlikely that fragments from the treasure are unearthed, the archaeologists hope to bring to light other precious remains from the Forum of Peace.


A space for culture and meditation adorned with a gallery of sculptures which had previously occupied Nero’s Golden Palace, the area featured a beautiful garden and large library, with a section entirely dedicated to medicine.


“We have recently found some of the foundation on which Nero’s sculptures stood. They bear the signatures of the artist who carved them,” said Rea.


"We might  find some items related to the library, such as the bronze or ivory statuettes which portrayed the authors of the books and marked the various sections of the library. We also hope to recover some other fragments of the Forma Urbis map," Rea added.



Ancient temple complex discovered near Le Mans

Enormous religious site in French countryside may have been devoted to worshipping many gods

Pierre Le Hir

Guardian Weekly

Tuesday 17 August 2010 14.00 BST


Excavations near the antique city of Vindunum (now Le Mans) have revealed a vast religious site dating from the first to the third centuries AD with remarkably well-preserved offerings.


Sometimes archaeology requires imagination. And you need it to conjure up the vast complex of temples that stood nearly 2,000 years ago on this flat two-hectare strip of land, in what is now Neuville-sur-Sarthe, 4km to the north of Le Mans.


"I have been an archaeologist for 30 years, and I've been lucky enough to work on some wonderful digs. But this is an exceptional discovery, the sort that all archaeologists dream of making once in their lives," said Gérard Guillier, who heads the team from the National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) that has been poring over this piece of land since June. The team has no time to lose because in the autumn this former Gallo-Roman sanctuary will be transformed into an "urban development zone".


After an aerial assessment that revealed the shape of the ancient buildings in the wheat fields, followed by the some underground probing, mechanical diggers were sent in to clear the surface of the site. Unfortunately the blocks of limestone and sandstone from the antique buildings had disappeared, salvaged over the centuries for other building work in the area. Only a few stones bear witness to the original temple structures. Young archaeologists uncover them delicately one at a time, using trowels, scrapers and brushes. Every stone is numbered, drawn and its location marked on a map.


"Given the size of the site, hundreds of pilgrims, possibly thousands, would have come here to honour the gods," said Guillier. "They probably held other mass events here too."


The lines drawn on the ground by the archaeologists make the site resemble a vast treasure hunt. The red ones indicate the streets, paths and galleries that once connected the buildings, while blue circles mark the holes that held the pillars supporting the colonnade, which led the visitors to the temples.


At the entrance to the site, there once stood a large E-shaped building, probably for welcoming the pilgrims, selling religious objects and housing the temple guardians. One wide path littered with iron slag (Vindunum was a major metalworking centre), leads a few hundred metres south to the foundations of a circular fanum (temple) about 12 metres in diameter. That round shape was rare in Gallo-Roman times and there are only a few such examples in France.


In fact, three temples were erected successively during the second and third centuries. Possibly they had to be rebuilt because of the instability of the ground. A pergola and a flight of steps would have led to the temple, which had stone walls around seven metres high covered by a tiled roof. Inside, the cella (central room) housed the statue of the god.


Another fanum stood at the west, the oldest in the sanctuary, dating to the first century. It was square, 15 metres wide and apparently in the Celtic temple tradition. This one was originally built in wood and stone added later, together with a cella surrounded by a gallery for circumambulation and a wall separating the sacred space from the profane. Fragments of coloured plaster show that the walls were once panted. The temple was surrounded by octagonal or square-shaped secondary "chapels".


It is here that the archaeologist uncovered a marvellous selection of objects placed as offerings. They include Gallic, Celtic and Roman silver coins, bronze and silver-plated bronze fibulae (broaches), some jewellery including a gold ring with a green quartz representing a deity, as well as bronze keys, pottery and knives. They also found a dagger, sledgehammers and hammers, possibly offerings from soldiers and ironmongers, who held high-risk occupations requiring more divine protection than others.


But what gods were worshipped there? No statues or inscriptions have been found as clues, and the Gallic pantheon was as plentiful as the Roman one.


Another large sanctuary once stood in Allonnes, to the south of Le Mans, dedicated to the Gallo- Roman god Mars Mullo. Would there have been two major sanctuaries in one city? According to Guillier, "Situated as they were on hillocks on either side of Vindunum, they probably had a protective role for the town."


The archaeologists have another enigma to solve. They have uncovered several graves near the circular fanum, with funerary objects such as a glass bottle and a box for seals. Until now archaeologists have never found temples and graves in such close proximity, since Romans observed strict separation between what they perceived as the "pure" and the "impure". It will take years to reconstruct the history of the sanctuary and its pilgrims. And a great deal of imagination.


This article originally appeared in Le Monde



Mexico finds Aztec remains during subway drilling


Thu Aug 19, 2010 2:43am IST



Archeologists have uncovered more than 500-year-old remains of about 50 Aztec children, some of them stuffed into ceramic jars for burial, during excavations for a new subway line in Mexico City.


The team from Mexico's National Institute for Anthropology and History also found the foundations of Aztec homes, hundreds of small figurines, and pots and plates dating from 1100 to 1500 AD, on the eve of the Spanish conquest, along the 15-mile (24-km) subway line, due to open in 2012 in southern Mexico City, home to about 20 million people.


"In total there are 60 graves, 10 adults and around 50 children of different ages, some two or three years old," archeologist Maria de Jesus Sanchez told Reuters.


The graves, found scattered in excavation areas since builders began digging the subway line in September 2008, reflect burial practices of the Aztecs, who often interred their dead relatives underneath their homes.


The Aztec empire, with its capital in modern-day Mexico City, held sway over a large part of Mesoamerica for about a century until the arrival of the Spanish.


Deceased children were often placed in earthen vessels before burial in the belief that the jars would resemble the mother's womb and keep them warm.


Among the objects found was a 20-inch (50-cm) stone figure of a woman discovered under the graves of two children, close to the site of a new subway stations.


The subway line links several suburbs that were built on the site of centuries-old Aztec towns. In one suburb, Culhuacan, archeologists found fragments of pots and stone carvings of faces dating back as far as 2000 BC.


Mexico has around 40,000 registered archeological sites.


While officials today have the authority to halt or alter construction work if an important artifact is discovered, many historical sites have been destroyed during construction and infrastructure projects in the past.


(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez; writing by Sarah Grainger; editing by Missy Ryan and Cynthia Osterman)



British villa fit for an emperor: Experts finally solve puzzle of Roman ruins at Lullingstone


Last updated at 10:46 AM on 19th August 2010


For 70 years, archaeologists have tried to unravel the secrets of one of the most remarkable Roman villas discovered in Britain.

The Lullingstone villa was uncovered in 1939 when a tree was blown down by high winds. Over the years, archaeologists found one of the first Christian chapels in Britain, the graves of a man and a woman, a pair of unique floor mosaics and two marble busts.

The owner of the villa in Kent has finally been identified as a former Emperor of Rome.

Archaeologists believe the site near the village of Eynsford, close to Orpington, was the home of Publius Helvius Pertinax.

He was Governor of Britain between AD185 and 187 and became Roman Emperor in AD193 – reigning for only 87 days at the start of 'the year of the five emperors', which saw the empire ripped apart by assassinations.

A high-quality seal found just outside the villa is believed to be the governor's personal mark. Two portrait busts left at the villa have been identified as Pertinax and probably his father.



Pertinax, as he was known, was born on August 1, 126, in Alba Pompeia, Italy.

He was originally a teacher of grammar, but was eventually commissioned as an officer in the Roman army.

After postings in the Parthian War, the Danube and Britain he received a number of promotions and went on to be governor of Moesia, Dacia, Syria and finally Britain.

After returning to Rome, he became a senator and was said to have been involved in the plot to assassinate Emperor Commodus in 192.

After the murder of Commodus, he was proclaimed as emperor, but his reign lasted just 86 days before he was killed by a cohort  of 300 soldiers who stormed his palace.


The research was carried out by Martin Henig, who lectures in Roman art and culture at Oxford University, and German Richard de Kind.

Joanne Gray, curator at Lullingstone, said: 'We have always known that the site must have belonged to someone of high status because of its size, the quality of its mosaic floor and the archaeological finds.

'The image on the seal is one of victory. It is an image often used by Romans as a sign of imperial power.'

The son of a freed slave, Petrinax was born in AD126 in modern-day Piedmont, Italy, and became a brilliant military commander.

Fighting in a series of wars under successive emperors, he was posted to Britain in AD186 to crush a rebellion in the Sixth Legion before becoming governor.

When Emperor Commodus was assassinated, Pertinax was installed as his successor. He drew up a series of measures to balance the budget after Commodus's lavish spending on games and spectacles.

But the austere measures made him unpopular and he was assassinated by his own guards at the age of 66.

Historians say the villa was built in 82AD, enlarged in around 150AD and used by others for more than 300 years until it was burnt down in the 5th century. Its basement and foundation walls can still be viewed at the site, which is preserved by English Heritage.

Mrs Gray said the research had been carried out by archaeologists Martin Henig, who lectures in Roman art and culture at Oxford University, and German archaeologist Richard de Kind.

She added: 'The research that has been done points quite strongly to Lullingstone being the home of Britain's governor. Everything seems to fit.'

Visitors to the villa, near the village of Eynsford, can still view the basement and foundation walls of the villa. Visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/lullingstone.



Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1304086/Lullingstone-Roman-Villa-treasures-reveal-home-future-Emperor.html?ITO=1490#ixzz0xN7ZWpzo



Skeleton of 'dismembered' child discovered by Chiltern Archaeologists

10:13am Wednesday 18th August 2010

By Lawrence Dunhill »


ARCHAEOLOGISTS investigating a mass burial of 97 infants were 'horrified' to find what they believe to be the skeleton of a dismembered child.


Chiltern Archaeologists suspect the site in Hambleden could have been a Roman brothel – where unwanted babies were systematically killed.


Dr Jill Eyers, who lives in Lane End, said the group has discovered cut marks on the bones of one of the babies.


She added: “These were knife marks and would represent a dismembering of this infant. We are horrified to say the least and are now about to closely check all other infant skeletons.


“If dismembered this could be signs of a ritual activity at this site. This is turning more sinister by the minute.”


Dr Eyers said ritual activity was not unusual for Roman Britain, citing a 'head cult' which was present in St Albans in Hertfordshire.


The group has been carrying out tests on excavation finds from 1912 at the Yewden villa.


An examination of the remains, which were rediscovered in boxes kept at Buckinghamshire County Museum, revealed the babies died at 40 weeks gestation (see link below).


A BBC documentary set to air on August 19, called 'Digging for Britain', will feature the Hambleden discoveries.


Presenter Alice Roberts was so enthused by the project that she has volunteered to join the Chiltern Archaeology team.



Oliver's lost army: Buried side by side, the Roundheads who fell victim to a terrible siege


Last updated at 9:22 AM on 18th August 2010


They were crammed together and buried side by side, stripped of all clothing and personal possessions.

Force of circumstance determined this most impersonal and undignified resting place.

For the men buried in mass graves at a ruined York church were the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell's Parliamentary army.


The Roundheads were not killed in combat but probably by infectious disease during the gruelling English Civil War siege of the city.



Their comrades went on to defeat King Charles I's Cavaliers at the Battle of Marston Moor in 1644 and turn the tide of the war.

But history forgot the more than 100 souls who probably never made it to the battleground.

Now, more than 350 years later, archaeologists have unearthed the graves and their skeletons to reveal the story of Cromwell's forgotten soldiers.

Routine excavations in 2007 at the site of a medieval church, south of York's historic city walls, led to the uncovering of ten mass graves.

Archaeologists knew from previous discoveries that the 'lost' 11th century church of All Saints in Fishergate had once been there. However, these newly discovered graves took archaeologists forward 600 years to a time when the country was split in two by a bloody civil war.

The position of the graves showed they were dug at a time when only the shell of the abandoned church remained. They varied in size, with the smallest containing four skeletons and the largest 18.


The skeletons were arranged neatly in parallel rows, mostly laid on their side or face down in the dirt, and were packed together like sardines in a can. Larger graves had a second row where the heads of one row overlapped the feet of another.



Cromwell's Parliamentary army in 1644 was a loose collection of regional fighting groups, unified the following year as the New Model Army.

The intention was to enforce strict discipline in return for regular pay of eight pence per day for the infantry and two shillings for the cavalry.

It was the first British army to wear the famous red coat uniform. The infantry had muskets or pikes, the troopers carried a sword and two pistols.

Derided by Royalists as the 'new noddle' army, it became an effective force under the command of Sir Thomas Fairfax, with Cromwell initially in charge of the cavalry

Officers were appointed on merit rather than status. One colonel was a shoemaker.

Cromwell preferred soldiers who were devoted Puritans like himself and sang psalms before battle. Their close-cropped hair led to the term Roundheads.


No buckles, buttons or jewellery were found, indicating they were probably buried naked. In total there were 113 skeletons.

It was not possible to establish the sex of them all, but 87 were male, most between the ages of 35 and 49.

Details of the find are revealed in Current Archaeology magazine in a report by experts Lauren McIntyre and Graham Bruce.

Analysis of the skeletal remains indicated they were not wounded and did not die in battle. But most had conditions, such as spinal joint disease, caused by excessive physical labour.

'The skeletons are likely to represent a military group who all died within a short period,' said the authors.

'Given the probable 17th century date, it is likely that they relate to the Civil War.'

York was a Royalist stronghold and was besieged by a Parliamentary force of 30,000 between April and July 1644.

The siege ended soon after both armies clashed in fields outside York at Marston Moor  -  the largest single battle of the Civil War.

Evidence suggests that the 113 bodies could well have been Cromwell's soldiers who died from disease while laying siege to the city.

Although the Royalist army was well-provided for behind the city walls, the besieging Parliamentary forces suffered severe deprivation, making them susceptible to illness and diseases such as dysentery and typhoid.

The skeletons are being kept for further study at the University of Sheffield's archaeology department.



Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1303954/Olivers-lost-army-Buried-side-Roundheads-fell-victim-terrible-siege.html?ito=feeds-newsxml#ixzz0xNBIXM3S



Disease killed soldiers from Oliver Cromwell’s army discovered in Fishergate

8:54am Thursday 19th August 2010

By Mark Stead


ARCHAEOLOGISTS have revealed how they discovered more than they bargained for when a York excavation unearthed the remains of a “forgotten” army’s soldiers.


The site at the junction of Kent Street and Fawcett Street, on which a medieval church was once housed, was the final resting place of 113 members of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentary force who fought during the gruelling Civil War siege of the city more than 350 years ago.


And the team which found the ten mass graves where the 11th century church of All Saints’ in Fishergate used to stand have now told the story of how they discovered the warriors, stripped of all their clothing and possessions.


In a report by archaeological experts Lauren McIntyre and Graham Bruce in the latest edition of Current Archaeology magazine, they revealed the 2007 dig concluded the soldiers were not killed fighting, but probably by disease, and that they never expected to make such a find.


The excavation found the skeletons tightly packed and neatly arranged in parallel rows, with most laid face-down in the dirt or on their side, but no buckles, buttons or jewellery were discovered.


In total, the graves contained 113 sets of remains, with at least 87 of them being male and most being aged between 35 and 49.


“The skeletons are likely to represent a military group who all died within a short period,” said the authors of the article.


“It is highly unlikely these men were killed in combat or as a result of violence. Considering the length of the siege and the number of men involved, it is very likely this group of people were killed by highly infectious disease.


“These mass graves are likely to contain the remains of Oliver Cromwell’s victorious army, responsible for the Royalists’ defeat at the Battle of Marston Moor and the shifting of control in the north of England.”


The report said the excavation was “valuable and fascinating” and “continues to generate interest”. The skeletons are being kept for analysis at the University of Sheffield’s archaeology department.



Archaeologists uncover egg from 9th-century Great Moravia

published: 16.08.2010, 15:45 | updated: 16.08.2010 15:57:32


Hradiste - Czech archaeologists were surprised at uncovering an unharmed hen´s egg at the burial site of Hradiste, a 9th-century Great Moravia settlement, chief researcher Bohuslav Klima has told CTK.


Until recently, Hradiste was on the margin of researchers´ interest. Only four years ago it turned out that it is one of the largest Great Moravian burial sites with the number of graves estimated at 1500.

The archaeologists have uncovered 350 of them so far, finding early medieval jewelry and weapons, along with human remains.

Klima said Hradiste used to be a significant centre whose importance is yet to be recognised. He said the valuable finds will definitely contribute to this.

The unharmed egg is a rarity among the finds.

People in Great Moravia, the first Slavic empire spreading in Moravia and the adjacent regions, including parts of today´s Slovakia and Czech Lands, often put eggs in graves, but all eggs fell apart after some time. The "Hradiste egg" was put in a pot in which it survived unharmed for centuries.

While taken out, the egg´s shell was slightly damaged. The content has been preserved but it is dry.

Another recent success of Czech archeologists focusing on Great Moravia is the uncovering of a rotunda at the site of the former settlement Pohansko u Breclavi.

The find was an archeological sensation as the rotunda ranks among the country´s 20 oldest buildings.

Pohansko used to be an important settlement in the 9th century, but all of its buildings were made of wood, except for a church that archeologists uncovered 20 years ago. That is why the recent unexpected finding of a stone rotunda with a six-meter diameter was a big surprise to them.

The archeologists working in Pohansko and other early medieval sites in Moravia dream about finding the grave of St Methodius, a Christian missionary and the first archbishop of Great Moravia, but their efforts have been unsuccessful so far.