Evidence Suggests Violent Interhuman Encounter May Have Occurred 126,000 Years Ago

Middle Pleistocene period human cranium shows evidence of having been struck by a blunt instrument, concludes a research study.

Mon, Nov 21, 2011


Analysis of an archaic human cranium dated to the Middle Pleistocene period and found in China shows evidence that violent human interaction and trauma occurred there about 126,000 years ago.

The cranium, known as the "Maba" cranium, was discovered along with remains of other mammals in 1958 while farmers were removing sediments for fertilizer from a cave at Lion Rock in Guangdong province.

It was analysed by researchers using stereomicroscopy and a high-resolution CT scanner, enabling them to examine the cranium's inner bone structure. This verified that healing had occurred in the ancient wound, confirming that whatever incident had occurred to produce the damage did not lead to immediate death.

Says Prof. Lynne Schepartz from the School of Anatomical Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, one of the co-authors of the study report, "This wound is very similar to what is observed today when someone is struck forcibly with a heavy blunt object. As such it joins a small sample of Ice Age humans with probable evidence of humanly induced trauma, and could possibly be the oldest example of interhuman aggression and human induced trauma documented. Its remodelled, healed condition also indicates the survival of a serious brain injury, a circumstance that is increasingly documented for archaic and modern Homo through the Pleistocene."

Schepartz indicated that it was not possible from this study to determine with certainty if the wound was the result of interhuman aggression or an accidental incident, although it does shed more light on "the abilities of Pleistocene humans to survive serious injury and post-traumatic disabilities. Maba would have needed social support and help in terms of care and feeding to recover from this wound."


The detailed report is published in the November 21, 2011, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Co-authors of the report are Xiu-Jie Wu and Wu Liu of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China and Erik Trinkaus from the Department of Anthropology, Washington University, St. Louis.



The prehistoric trawlermen: Our ancestors mastered deep-sea fishing 42,000 years ago, cave find reveals

·         Remains of more than 2,800 fish unearthed in East Timor cave

·         Show humans were catching fast-moving fish like tuna far earlier than previously thought

·         Archaeologists also uncover world's oldest fish hook


Last updated at 1:12 PM on 25th November 2011


Humans mastered the art of catching fast-moving, deep-water fish such as tuna more than 40,000 years ago, archaeologists revealed today.

A team of Australian experts have uncovered evidence of the practice in a small cave at the eastern end of East Timor, north of Australia, which contained the bones of more than 2,800 fish.

Some were caught as long as 42,000 years ago.


Exciting find: Fish bones and hooks at the excavation site in an East Timor cave, which showed prehistoric humans were adept at catching fish in deep water

They also found the world's earliest recorded fish hook, made of shell and dating from between 23,000 and 16,000 years ago, during excavations at the Jerimalai cave site.

The findings, published in the latest issue of the journal Science, stem from work done by Professor Sue O'Connor from the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University.


She said it demonstrated prehistoric man had high-level maritime skills, and by implication, the technology needed to make the ocean crossings to reach Australia.

She said: 'The site that we studied featured more than 38,000 fish bones from 2,843 individual fish dating back 42,000 years.

'What the site in East Timor has shown us is that early modern humans in Southeast Asia had amazingly advanced maritime skills.

'They were expert at catching the types of fish that would be challenging even today - fish like tuna. It's a very exciting find.'


Hook, line and sinker: Our ancestors developed techniques to catch fast-moving fish like tuna (pictured) far earlier than previously thought

A fish hook was also found at the site, but O'Connor said was not likely to have been used for deep-sea fishing.

'This is, we believe, the earliest-known example of a fish hook and shows that our ancestors were skilled craftspeople as well as fishers,' she said.

'The hooks don't seem suitable for pelagic fishing, but it is possible that other types of hooks were being made at the same time.'

What is still unknown is exactly how these ancient people were able to catch fast-moving deep-ocean fish.


Slippery business: Tuna can be caught using nets or by trawling hooks on long lines through the sea. But this can be tricky even by today's standards

Tuna can be caught using nets or by trolling hooks on long lines through the water, said O'Connor.

'Simple fish aggregating devices such as tethered logs can also be used to attract them. So they may have been caught using hooks or nets,' she said.

'Either way it seems certain that these people were using quite sophisticated technology and watercraft to fish offshore.'

She added that the finds may shed light on how Australia's first inhabitants arrived on the continent, with the implication that seaworthy boats would have been used to fish in the deep ocean.

'We have known for a long time that Australia's ancient ancestors must have been able to travel hundreds of kilometres by sea because they reached Australia by at least 50,000 years ago,' said O'Connor.

'When we look at the watercraft that indigenous Australians used at the time of European contact, however, they are all very simple, like rafts and canoes.

'So how people got here at such an early date has always been puzzling. These new finds from Jerimalai cave go a long way to solving the puzzle.'



Moreton-in-Marsh Stone Age axe find leads to seaside theory

23 November 2011 Last updated at 15:08


A Stone Age hand axe which was found on a building site could help prove part of Gloucestershire was once "almost on the seaside", experts have said.

Archaeologists uncovered the finely-worked stone tool, which may be about 100,000 years old, on a housing development in Moreton-in-Marsh.

They said they believed it may have been used by cavemen on the shores of a lake that spanned across the Midlands.

The axe is thought to have been used primarily for butchering large animals.

The tool was found by Cotswold Archaeology earlier this month on the building site at The Fire Service College.

A similar axe was found nearby a few years ago, which experts said made the latest find "hugely significant".

Neil Holbrook, chief executive at Cotswold Archaeology, said: "Back in the deep distant past, before the Ice Age, there was a huge lake in central Britain covering most of what is now Warwickshire and heading up to Leicestershire, which geologists now call Lake Harrison.

"Moreton-in-Marsh would have been on the southern shore of this great lake.

"Perhaps it's just too much coincidence that we've found these two prehistoric axes in that location.

"I wonder whether these Neanderthals were coming to camp and forage on the shores of the lake?

"Perhaps it points to a time when Moreton-in-Marsh was almost on the seaside."

It is hoped the axe will be put on display in the Corinium Museum in Cirencester.




CT scans suggest the Iceman may have shattered his eye in a fall after he was wounded by an arrow.

By Emily Sohn

Mon Nov 21, 2011 09:15 AM ET



·         New CT scans revealed a deep incision on the right eye of Ötzi the Iceman.

·         Experts disagree about whether an arrow wound killed the Iceman, or if a fall or blow to the head did him in.


A sharp incision in his right eye may have contributed to the rapid demise of Ötzi the Iceman, the famous mummy who died in the Italian Alps more than 5,000 years ago.


Twenty years after two hikers stumbled upon the Iceman in a melting glacier, new analyses have revealed that a deep cut likely led to heavy bleeding in the man's eye. In the cold, high-altitude conditions where he was found, that kind of injury would have been tough to recover from.


The official opinion remains that an arrow in his left shoulder was the cause of death for Ötzi. But the new study raises the possibility -- for some, at least -- that he fell over after being shot by an arrow. And, at higher than 10,000 feet in elevation, his alpine fall may have made the situation much worse.


"Maybe he fell down or maybe he had a fight up there, nobody knows," said Wolfgang Recheis, a physicist in the radiology department at the University of Innsbruck in Austria. "With this cut alone, at 3,250 meters, it would have been a deadly wound up there. Bleeding to death in the late afternoon when it was getting cold up there, this could be really dangerous."


Ever since his discovery in 1991, Ötzi has been measured, photographed, X-rayed, CT-scanned and endlessly speculated about. The Iceman Photoscan website allows anyone to scrutinize every inch of the body, which belonged to a 5'3", 110-pound, 45-year old man.


Ten years ago, researchers found a flint arrowhead buried in Ötzi's left shoulder blade inside a two-centimeter (0.8-inch) wide hole. They concluded that the arrow pierced a major artery and killed him within minutes. At a conference in September, experts reaffirmed that assessment.


But in one of the latest studies, Recheis used the most advanced CT-scanning technology available to take a closer look at Ötzi's right eye. Earlier examinations had shown a crack in the skull in that spot. The new work revealed a deep incision in the same place.


Scans also revealed iron crystals around the right eye and forehead, which produce a bluish hue. And since the region's rocks are naturally low in iron, Recheis and colleagues suspect the iron is a sign of a hematoma, or massive bleeding outside of the blood vessels. A biopsy is needed for confirmation.


Despite the officially stated opinion on Ötzi's cause of death, Recheis is not convinced that the arrow wound was deadly on its own.


"My South Tyrolean colleagues say the arrow most probably hit the sub-clavicular artery or other vital vessel and thus the Iceman died," Recheis said. "But there are doubts. It's justified that the arrow did not hit any vital vessels or nerves as far as we can say from the data we have."


"This could be the first thing," he added. "He was up there and shot by an arrow. And then he fell down, cut his eye and bled to death."


Albert Zink, head of the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, was surprised and perplexed to hear of these new claims. At a conference this fall, he said, a whole table-full of experts discussed the evidence and unanimously agreed that the arrow killed the Iceman.


The shoulder wound, he said, was clearly fresh and bleeding heavily when Ötzi died.


"It is impossible that he walked around or that this was an old injury because this was a very severe injury," Zink said. "If you don't have the possibility to do surgery, you cannot survive from this for longer than 10 or 15 minutes."


The eye injury could have happened from a fall after Ötzi was shot or from a blow to the head by his attacker. But whatever the cause, Zink is sure that it was secondary to the arrow strike.


"It's true that there might be new evidence that there was a little crack in the skin, so maybe he was bleeding from skull trauma," he added. "But it doesn't change anything in the end."


According to some news reports, the new findings could support a theory that Ötzi was the victim of a mountaineering accident. Both Recheis and Zink agreed that this was unlikely. Based on his muscle strength and patterns of joint degeneration, the Iceman was a fit and experienced climber. And he was near an easy path when he died.




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Mon Sep 19, 2011 03:35 PM ET


Exactly 20 years ago, on Sept. 19, 1991, German hikers Erika and Helmut Simon spotted something brown while walking near a melting glacier in the Ötztal Alps in South Tyrol.


As they got closer, they realized with horror that it wasn't just some sort of rubbish: a human corpse was lying with the chest against a flat rock.


Only the back of the head, the bare shoulders and part of the back emerged from the ice and meltwater.


The hikers thought the body belonged to an unfortunate victim of a mountaineering accident a few years back. In fact, they discovered one of the world's oldest and best preserved mummies.


To commemorate the 20th anniversary of this sensational discovery, here are 20 known and lesser known facts about the Neothiltic frozen mummy.


1. An incredible chain of coincidences allowed the Iceman to remain intact: he was covered by snow shortly after his death and later by ice; the deep gully where the Iceman lay prevented the body from being ground up by the base of the glacier; the body was exposed to damaging sunlight and wind only for a short time in 1991 between the time the mummy thawed and the accidental discovery.


2. It was an Austrian reporter, Karl Wendl, who first named the mummy "Ötzi," referring to the Ötzal Alps where it was found. According to a resolution by the South Tyrol Provincial Government, the official name for the mummy is "Der Mann aus dem Eis" -- "L'Uomo venuto dal ghiaccio" (The man who came from ice).


3. Soon after the mummy was recovered, a harsh controversy arose on which soil -- Italian or Austrian -- it was found. A survey of the border carried out on Oct. 2, 1991 established that the mummy lay 303.67 feet from the border in South Tyrol, in Italy.


4. Radio carbon dating established that the Ötzi lived around 5,000 years ago, between 3350 and 3100 B.C.


5. Recent investigations established that he had brown eyes, not blue as previously thought.


6. Ötzi was probably a bearded, furrow faced man. He was about 5 foot, 3 inches tall and weighed 110 pounds.


7. He lacked a twelfth pair of ribs -- a rare anatomical anomaly.


8. The Iceman had a remarkable diastema, or natural gap, between his two upper incisors. He also lacked wisdom teeth. Even though he suffered from cavities, worn teeth and periodontal diseases, he still had all his teeth when he died at around 45.


9. Ötzi could have been a little better endowed. The man's natural mummification and dehydration in the Alpine glacier produced a "collapse of the genitalia," which left the Iceman with an almost invisible member.


10. The Iceman's last meal probably consisted of a porridge of einkorn, meat and vegetables. Researchers are still investigating the sampled material to determine the exact nature on the Iceman’s last meal.


11. Three gallbladder stones were recently found which, in combination with the previously identified atherosclerosis, show that Ötzi’s diet may have been richer in animal products than previously thought.


12. The Iceman's stomach also contained 30 different types of pollen, which ended up there with the food he ate, the water he drank and the air he breathed. The pollen showed that he died in the spring or early summer.


NEWS: Iceman May Have Received Ceremonial Burial


13. Analysis of the isotopic composition of Ötzi's tooth enamel and bones suggest that the man was born and lived in what is now South Tyrol. He probably spent his childhood in the upper Eisack Valley or the lower Puster Valley. He lived at least ten years in the Vinschgau prior to his death.


14. Among the clothing and items found with the mummy, one of the most important pieces is the copper-bladed axe. Archaeological experiments showed that the axe could fell a yew tree in 35 minutes without sharpening.


15. Ötzi's body is covered with over 50 tattoos made with fine incisions into which charcoal was rubbed. In the shape of lines and crosses, they were probably used as pain-relieving treatments. Indeed, the tattooed areas correspond to skin acupuncture lines, which predate acupunture in Asia by two thousand years.


16. Many theories have been proposed on Ötzi' social status. Among the various theories, the Iceman was identified with a shaman, a mineral prospector looking for ore deposits in the mountains, a hunter, a trader, a shepherd, and a man banished from his community.


17. The Iceman had been involved in a fight shortly before his death. He was shot with an arrow which pierced the subclavian artery and also suffered a violent blow to the head just before dying.


18. Ötzi's belonged to the European genetic haplogroup K. He was probably infertile.


19. Ötzi's constitution was athletic. He was more a wanderer than a manual worker. Recent research by Albert Zink at the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, found signs of enthesopathy (an inflammatory disease of bone attachments) in the knees, which indicate that the Neolithic man spent many hours wandering in the mountains.


20. Claims of a Tutankhamen-style curse refer to seven strange deaths which occurred just a couple of years after German hiker Helmut Simon and his wife Erika discovered the frozen mummy. The seven dead people were either involved in the recovery of the mummy or in the scientific investigation. One of them was Helmut Simon, whose body was found trapped in ice in 2004, just like his famous find.


In reality, hundreds of individuals have worked on the Iceman project. Although sad, it's not so peculiar that some of those people have died since the mummy's discovery.



Secret history of Stonehenge revealed

Ancient site may have been place of worship 500 years before the first stone was erected



Extraordinary new discoveries are shedding new light on why Britain’s most famous ancient site, Stonehenge, was built – and when.


Current research is now suggesting that Stonehenge may already have been an important sacred site at least 500 years before the first Stone circle was erected – and that the sanctity of its location may have determined the layout of key aspects of the surrounding sacred landscape.


What’s more, the new investigation – being carried out by archaeologists from the universities’ of Birmingham, Bradford  and Vienna – massively increases the evidence linking Stonehenge to pre-historic solar religious beliefs. It increases the likelihood that the site was originally and primarily associated with sun worship


The investigations have also enabled archaeologists  to putatively reconstruct the detailed route of a possible religious procession or other ritual event which they suspect may have taken place annually to the north of Stonehenge.


That putative pre-historic religious ‘procession’ (or, more specifically, the evidence suggesting its route) has implications for understanding Stonehenge’s prehistoric religious function – and suggests that the significance of the site Stonehenge now occupies emerged earlier than has previously been appreciated.


The crucial new archaeological evidence was discovered during on-going survey work around Stonehenge in which archaeologists have been ‘x-raying’ the ground, using ground-penetrating radar and other geophysical investigative techniques. As the archaeological team from Birmingham and Vienna were using these high-tech systems to map the interior of a major prehistoric enclosure (the so-called ‘Cursus’) near Stonehenge, they discovered two great pits, one towards the enclosure’s eastern end, the other nearer its western end.


When they modelled the relationship between these newly-discovered Cursus pits and Stonehenge on their computer system, they realised that, viewed from the so-called ‘Heel Stone’ at Stonehenge, the pits were aligned with sunrise and sunset on the longest day of the year – the summer solstice (midsummer’s day). The chances of those two alignments being purely coincidental are extremely low.


The archaeologists then began to speculate as to what sort of ritual or ceremonial activity might have been carried out at and between the two pits. In many areas of the world, ancient religious and other ceremonies sometimes involved ceremonially processing round the perimeters of monuments. The archaeologists therefore thought it possible that the prehistoric celebrants at the Cursus might have perambulated between the two pits by processing around the perimeter of the Cursus.


Initially this was pure speculation – but then it was realized that there was, potentially a way of trying to test the idea. On midsummer’s day there are in fact three key alignments – not just sunrise and sunset, but also midday (the highest point the sun reaches in its annual cycle). For at noon the key alignment should be due south.


One way to test the ‘procession’ theory (or at least its route) was for the archaeologists  to demonstrate that the midway point on that route had indeed a special relationship with Stonehenge (just as the two pits – the start and end point of the route – had).  The ‘eureka moment’ came when the computer calculations revealed that the midway point (the noon point) on the route aligned directly with the centre of Stonehenge, which was precisely due south.


This realization that the sun hovering over the site of  Stonehenge at its highest point in the year appears to have been of great importance to prehistoric people, is itself of potential significance. For it suggests that the site’s association with the veneration of the sun was perhaps even greater than previously realized.


But the discovery of the Cursus pits, the discovery of the solar alignments and of the putative ‘processional’ route, reveals something else as well – something that could potentially turn the accepted chronology of the Stonehenge landscape on its head.


For decades, modern archaeology has held that Stonehenge was a relative latecomer to the area – and that the other large monument in that landscape – the Cursus – pre-dated it by up to 500 years.


However, the implication of the new evidence is that, in a sense, the story may have been the other way round, i.e. that the site of Stonehenge was sacred before the Cursus was built, says Birmingham archaeologist, Dr. Henry Chapman, who has been modelling the alignments on the computerized reconstructions of the Stonehenge landscape


The argument for this is simple, yet persuasive. Because the ‘due south’ noon alignment of the ‘procession’ route’s mid-point could not occur if the Cursus itself had different dimensions, the design of that monument has to have been conceived specifically to attain that mid-point alignment with the centre of Stonehenge.


What’s more, if that is so, the Stonehenge Heel Stone location had to have been of ritual significance before the Cursus pits were dug (because their alignments are as perceived specifically from the Heel Stone).


Those two facts, when taken together, therefore imply that the site, later occupied by the stones of Stonehenge, was already sacred before construction work began on the Cursus. Unless the midday alignment is a pure coincidence (which is unlikely), it  would imply  that the Stonehenge site’s sacred status is at least 500 years older than previously thought – a fact which raises an intriguing possibility.


For 45 years ago, archaeologists found an 8000 BC Mesolithic (‘Middle’ Stone Age) ritual site in what is now Stonehenge’s car park. The five thousand year gap between that Mesolithic sacred site and Stonehenge itself meant that most archaeologists thought that ‘sacred’ continuity between the two was inherently unlikely. But, with the new discoveries, the time gap has potentially narrowed. Indeed, it’s not known for how long the site of Stonehenge was sacred prior to the construction of the Cursus. So, very long term traditions of geographical sanctity in relation to Britain’s and the world’s best known ancient monument, may now need to be considered.


The University of Birmingham  Stonehenge area survey - the largest of its type ever carried out anywhere in the world – will take a further two years to complete, says Professor Vince Gaffney, the director the project.


Virtually every square meter in a five square mile area surrounding the world most famous pre-historic monument will be examined geophysically to a depth of  up to two metres, he says.


It’s anticipated that dozens, potentially hundreds of previously unknown sites will be discovered as a result of the operation.


The ongoing discoveries in Stonehenge’s sacred prehistoric landscape – being made by Birmingham’s archaeologists and colleagues from the University of Vienna’s Ludwig Boltzmann Institute – are expected to transform scholars’ understanding of the famous monument’s origins, history and meaning.



Iron Age Gold Torcs


These two gold bracelets, which were found by metal detectorists near Tadcaster, have been declared the first Iron Age gold jewellery ever found in the north of England.


We are now raising money to try and keep them in Yorkshire.


The two 'torcs' were both found in the bed of a stream near Towton, North Yorkshire, the first in May 2010 and the second in April 2011.


They are similar in appearance, with the main body of the bracelet made up of two gold wires, twisted together.


They probably would have belonged to an extremely wealthy, possibly royal, member of the Brigantes tribe, who ruled most of North Yorkshire during the Iron Age.


The first has been dated to 100BC-70BC, while the second could be older still.


Similar bracelets have been found in Britain, mainly in Norfolk which in the Iron Age was home to the Iceni tribe.


The Brigantes were not known to deal in gold jewellery until the discovery of the torcs - until now the furthest north torcs had been found was in Newark, Nottinghamshire.


The torcs are very similar in appearance to those found in the Snettisham Hoard in Norfolk, which was most likely to have been Royal treasure belonging to the Iceni.


This raises the possibility that the bracelets were spoils of war, a gift or used in trade between the two tribes.


The site and the nature of the finds has also intrigued experts, with torcs previously found in hoards rather than just single pieces. There is also no history of them being found in water, which raises the possibility that the two examples were washed away from an original burial site.




The Yorkshire Museum is now appealing to the public to raise £60,000 to make sure the two torcs stay in Yorkshire.


You can donate now using the button at the top of the page, or by calling into the museum or contacting the Chief Executive's Office on 01904 687643 .


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This means that your donation can increase in value by a quarter at no extra cost to you.


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Alderney ruin found to be Roman fort

25 November 2011


Besides various military uses, the site has also hosted a farm, the residence of the island's governor and holiday homes


An overgrown site on Alderney has been found to be one of the best-preserved Roman military structures in the world.


Island tradition had long suggested the site, known as the Nunnery, dated back to Roman times, although excavations since the 1930s had always proved inconclusive.


A joint project between Guernsey Museums and the Alderney Society was set up in 2008 to find the answers.


Over four August bank holiday weekends, a team of a dozen volunteers undertook various excavations to determine the history of the site.


Dr Jason Monaghan, Guernsey Museums director, said: "In 2009 we proved there was a Roman building inside the Nunnery and began to suspect this was a tower as all the northern English forts have a tower in the middle.


"In 2010 we went back specifically looking to prove there was a tower there - and 'wow' is there a tower.


Dr Monaghan said the inside of the tower was cleared out during WWII

"The walls are 2.8m (9ft) thick, we don't know how high it was, but it would have been a very big structure - it's as thick as Hadrian's Wall."


The tower was found to be about 18 sq m. (58 sq ft).


He said the team dug down to prove the outside walls were also Roman before doing the same for the gateway.


The site has been extensively built on.


It medieval times it was a fort and barracks, and later the governor's residence, a farm, a German barracks during World War II, British military accommodation and holiday homes.


Dr Monaghan said: "It's in an extremely good state of preservation... it's better preserved than all the other small Roman forts in Britain.


"It's in a better state than what they call the Saxon shore forts off southern England, it's in better nick than most of Hadrian's Wall.


"The other beautiful thing about it is that it is very small and very easy to understand. A lot of archaeological sites you go there and you actually need a PhD to understand what's going on.


"But the Nunnery you can understand - it's a fort, it's guarding the bay, it's got walls, it's got towers, you can very easily get your head around it."


'Nervous' Romans

Dr Monaghan added: "It probably guarded the entrance to Longis Bay, Alderney's only natural harbour, and I think they would probably have based a couple of Roman warships there.


"It's only eight miles to the French coast, you can see right the way across from there, and if you want to control that waterway and stop pirates or anybody else going past, that's the ideal place to do it.


"The fort protects the beach because we know there was a settlement as well, probably a little Roman village or little town underneath the sand of Longis."



The work to excavate the site was carried out by a team of a dozen volunteers over four years

He said the fort was constructed very late in the Roman period: "This was built in the late 4th Century.


"It's a time when they were very, very nervous about what was going on in the Roman Empire, they weren't feeling very happy at all, so they put these forts all over the place."


The most obvious sign of the old Roman fort are the battlement crenellations, which were built on with medieval stone but are still visible.


As to the future care of the site, which is currently tenanted, Dr Monaghan said funding was an issue and at the moment its preservation was down to the volunteers who were carrying out their work with the permission from the landowner.


He said he hoped the project highlighted its importance and would mean the site would receive the care it deserved.



Discovery of skull pierced by an arrowhead sparks murder mystery - 1,000 years later

November 24, 2011 - 7:33am

By Dara Bradley


The discovery of a skull pierced by an iron arrowhead as part of skeleton remains found in a shallow grave has sparked a murder mystery in a Galway village – 1,000 years after the gruesome assault!

Recent quarrying in an esker in the townland of Tisaxon, close to Newcastle, Athenry, revealed human remains exposed in the quarry face.


The archaeological work has just been completed by local archaeologist Martin Fitzpatrick of Arch Consultancy Ltd, who was funded by the National Monuments Service, which comes under the remit of Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Jimmy Deenihan.


Excavation indicated that the burial was in a shallow grave and the body, which was that of an adult male aged between 17 and 25. The body was lying on its side and crouched rather than having been laid out.


A small hole in the skull was the only noticeable blemish in the skeleton that was otherwise in good condition.


Further examination by osteoarchaeologist Caoimhe Tobin revealed that the wound was inflicted by a small, socketed, iron arrowhead which had pierced the skull.


The arrowhead measured 4cm in length and was recovered from the interior of the skull. Preliminary analysis suggests it dates to the 9th or 10th century.


Also exposed were traces of an underground passage in another face of the same quarry.


The ‘passage feature’ proved to be the ‘creep’ of a souterrain or underground chamber usually used for refuge and storage. Dating from the 9th century onwards these monuments are often associated with ringforts.


Mr Fitzpatrick explained that while there is no ringfort associated with this souterrain the ecclesiastical site of Templemoyle lies to the immediate east.


He added: “The archaeological significance of Templemoye is evident in the features associated with it. These features include an early ecclesiastical enclosure, a well, graveyard, church, cemetery, a field system and the adjacent Tisaxon – from which the townland gets its name.”


He said the church and graveyard are noteworthy in that they are sited on the esker ridge which originally extended North East of the church.

Since 1952 a number of burials have been uncovered during the extraction of sand and gravel from this area. In 1979 a graveslab bearing the inscription OROIT AR MAELPOIL and a large bronze-coated iron hand bell of 7th-9th century date were discovered at the site.


The most recent quarrying activity took place to the west of the church and graveyard, which uncovered the skeleton that has led to unanswered questions about the death of the man 1000 years ago.



Mr Fitzpatrick said: “The findings indicate that all is not as it seems on this idyllic esker overlooking the surrounding marshy land. One thousand years ago a man pierced through the head with an arrow was hastily buried in a shallow grave. Who was he? Was there a battle or an attack on the site? Are there other graves in the area with similar wounds? Is his death associated with the previously unrecorded souterrain that was also discovered as a result of quarrying?


“It appears that the excavations have raised more questions than they have answered. One thing however is assured – that is the archaeological and historical significance of the area of Templemoyle and Tisaxon.”



Norman crypt excavated and re-buried at Exeter church

22 November 2011 Last updated at 14:32


Columns from a Norman crypt which were excavated in August have been re-buried indefinitely, at a Devon church.


Two columns with intricate carvings were unearthed at St Stephen's Church on Exeter High Street.


It was the first time they had been seen since an excavation in 1826.


It had been hoped the columns would go on display, but the masonry was considered unsafe and the columns have now been re-buried.


Archaeologist Stewart Brown said: "There are only two known crypts in Devon and Cornwall and the other one's a Saxon crypt.


"This one has columns and is altogether more grand."


The two columns, which would have supported the roof of the crypt were topped by capitals with carved foliage.


Mr Brown said the columns had cathedral grandeur and were probably the last surviving parts of the crypt.


He said: "William Warelwast, who became the Bishop of Exeter in the early 12th Century was a very important man who did a massive amount of building in Exeter and this probably explains why we have such grand architecture.


"He may have had access to Norman masons as the work is very grand for a parish church and is comparable to Worcester Cathedral."


The columns were previously excavated in 1826 but the only information recorded was a watercolour painting, before the columns, just like this year, were covered over again.


 “It has a remarkable survival history and it's bang in the middle of the high street.”

Bob Snowden


Mr Brown said: "It has all been backfilled now. It had been suggested that it be left open for the public but we couldn't really because the masonry wasn't sound.


"I'll write a report but it will now be covered for an indefinite time."


Bob Snowdon who facilitated the project said: "It's been quite astounding, not only are we providing information but also the changes that took place in Exeter.


"The Normans arrived, then the civil war, from then it was the only building to remain after the blitz of 1942.


"It has a remarkable survival history and it's bang in the middle of the high street."


While the crypt may be covered up there are plans to create an information centre in the church.


Mr Snowden said: "The last time it was officially seen was 1826 so a few people have seen something that's not been seen for 185 years.


"Who knows, it might be another 200 years before someone else sees it."



Last days of the big Hungate dig

10:31am Monday 21st November 2011

By Matt Clark »


WATER-FILLED craters stretch as far as the eye can see. For five years, this part of Hungate has looked more like the Somme than York, but before the next phase of development can be built, there is the small matter of digging the site for clues about the area’s history.


And that means holes, hundreds of them. Some are graves and others held piles to support Viking buildings. One is a Victorian well and three metres away, but separated by two millennia, is another which was a child’s grave.


Megan Clement is working on it and she’s just found something. Looking closely at the fragment of pottery in her right hand, Megan declares it to be Roman, probably third century AD, and that means she is the first person to see it in 1700 years.


Megan is on secondment from Bradford University to work with York Archaeological Trust and help unearth a wealth of items from this little- understood area of the city.


And it is an important dig, being three times the size of Coppergate.


Now, the ground work is almost done with thousands of finds having been made. But many ask more questions than give answers and project director Peter Connelly says his team’s job is far from over.


“Digging is about 50 per cent of the project,” he says. “We’ve gathered the data, now we need to analyse it.”


Peter’s biggest conundrum is a cluster of mounds built by the Vikings and experts from all over Europe have been equally baffled. He reckons the team has found something unique, but only time spent analysing the soil and artefacts from the mounds will yield clues to its purpose.


“We’ve found at least three mounds, all with ovens and it’s new to York. We know they are Viking but what it was, we just don’t know yet.”


The mounds hold no traces of iron making or any other industrial process and Peter’s best theory to date is that food was smoked above them to help preserve it. But at the moment he remains flummoxed. The answer he believes must be hidden in the soil, but for now it will have to wait.


More Viking finds include basement warehouses which were used to keep food fresh. One was boarded with timber which, it turns out, came from an Anglo Saxon ship.


Peter points to the earliest man-made feature discovered, a three-metre wide Roman ditch, probably from the first century AD.


The Foss borders this site on three sides and the ditch may have formed a fourth side to produce a fortified island base while the Legionary fort was being built.


“It’s quite exciting. We could still be proved wrong but that is our working theory. Now we’ll be testing it against the date of the material that has come out of the ground.”


One thing is for sure, the Romans later used Hungate to bury their dead, as pottery finds prove. And with the land used as pasture, it was a perfect site.


But who was buried there? Not soldiers, Peter believes, their cemeteries were placed prominently along the main arterial roads, such as Driffield Terrace, where the gladiators were found. And some of the graves were for children.


“Who they are and why they are here is still a big question and the pottery and jewellery coming out of the burials tells us there’s about 150 years between the ditch and the cemetery.”


A big question I had for Peter is how do his archaeologists know where to look? The answer is surprisingly straightforward; they look for changes in soil colour and texture.


Peter runs his trowel along a faintly discernable line. As he does so, the colour on one side darkens and that means one thing; it’s man made.


“You can see the difference between the natural soil and the ground that has slumped into it. That side is geology, this is archaeology. We take out the archaeology and leave the geology behind.”


It’s not only Roman and Viking artefacts Peter’s team have uncovered. They’ve dug up Neolithic flints, medieval rubbish pits full of animal bones and pottery, a cobbled road and a Victorian sewer that follows precisely the lines of a tenth century path.


Then there are the slums.


“A lot of crammed houses and work yards were here in the nineteenth century and Benjamin Seebohm Rowntree classified the area a slum. But that is a sticky label and very hard to remove.


“However we’ve been able to look at the archaeology and we’ve discovered the buildings weren’t as bad as the perception of them.”


As well as splendid artefacts that have made Peter wonder if the people were really so poor.


“We found Stoneware plates, and some very nice pottery together with evidence of education. This area was cleared as a slum in the 1930s; maybe it didn’t have to be.”


Nothing of great financial worth has been unearthed at Hungate, in fact Peter says they’ve only found one gold coin. But all the finds have a value in helping to piece together 2,000 years of social history.


Not to mention the best collection of Roman jet found in York for a century.


“We have found people buried with jet bracelets, rings and necklaces and it’s the first assemblage found here under archaeological conditions, so it’s really exciting.”


One of the most interesting discoveries is a beautifully preserved 14th-century stone corbel. There is a reason. During the dissolution of the monasteries there was a great deal of masonry available and this beautifully carved piece of stone ended up being dumped – literally.


The team found it face down as part of a building’s foundation. Was it deliberate, to hide a Catholic icon or did it make for an easier surface to build on? Archaeologists don’t speculate, but the twinkle in Peter’s eye tells which answer he would prefer.


Whatever the reason, being buried in the ground for centuries has kept the corbel beautifully preserved.


The five-year-long excavation comes to an end on December 16 and over the course of the dig, more than 24,000 visitors have been on site, with volunteers helping out twice a week.


“We’ve been able to remove all the archaeology within the space and gather huge amounts of information about how this part of the city has evolved over the past 2,000 years,” says Peter “Now it’s time to analyse what we have and find how everything relates to one another.”


• The Hungate dig is paid for by Hungate (York) Regeneration Ltd and is being carried out as part of the regeneration of the Hungate area


Fascinating finds

TODAY we take a final look at Hungate dig. Five years work will come to an end in a few weeks and it has been a captivating project. We already know much more about this part of York, and when the 100,000 artefacts have been analysed, we will have an even better picture.


Hungate has been York’s largest excavation and three times the size of Coppergate. Archaeologists say they have unearthed the best collection of Roman jet found in York for a century and evidence of a Roman cemetery.


But many of the finds ask more questions than give answers. Take the cluster of Viking mounds. Not only is York Archaeological Trust baffled, so too are experts from across Europe.


Project director Peter Connelly says it is unique, so it will be fascinating to learn what the mounds were used for when the soil and artefacts have been scrutinised.


The spade work has been done, now it is time for the detective work. We wait for answers with interest.