We do have bigger brains than Neanderthals did

Study through CT scans suggests we are distinguished by different mental capacities

By Charles Choi

updated 12/13/2011 1:12:43 PM ET


Modern humans possess brain structures larger than their Neanderthal counterparts, suggesting we are distinguished from them by different mental capacities, scientists find.

We are currently the only extant human lineage, but Neanderthals, our closest-known evolutionary relatives, still walked the Earth as recently as maybe 24,000 years ago. Neanderthals were close enough to the modern human lineage to interbreed, calling into question how different they really were from us and whether they comprise a different species.

To find out more, researchers used CT scanners to map the interiors of five Neanderthal skulls as well as four fossil and 75 contemporary human skulls to determine the shapes of their brains in 3-D. Like modern humans, Neanderthals had larger brains than both our living ape relatives and other extinct human lineages.

The investigators discovered modern humans possess larger olfactory bulbs at the base of their brains. This area is linked primarily with smell, but also with other key mental functions such as memory and learning — central olfactory brain circuitry is physically very close to structures related to memory.


"We all know from our personal experience about the intense links between smell and memory — for example, when, after years and as adults, we enter our old school building and by breathing and smelling the air of the stairways or of our old classroom, suddenly we are vividly and undecidedly transported back in our memory into our school days and associated experiences that we learned long ago," said researcher Markus Bastir, a paleoanthropologist at Spain's National Museum of Natural Sciences, in Madrid.

Intriguingly, smell may also play a social role, such as for recognizing family and friends and reinforcing group cohesion.

"In the German language — I am Austrian-born — we have a saying, 'Ich kann dich gut riechen,' which translates into English as, 'I can smell you well,' but means, 'I like you,'" Bastir told LiveScience. "That would reflect a linguistic example how smell relates to social behavior."

Compared with Neanderthals, modern humans also possess larger temporal lobes, an area near the base of the brain. "Neuroscientists relate temporal lobes with language functions, long-term memory, theory of mind (the ability to consider the perspective of others), and also emotions," Bastir said.

We also have a relatively wider orbitofrontal cortex than Neanderthals, a part of the brain immediately above the eyes. "The effects of the wider orbitofrontal cortex are difficult to evaluate," Bastir said. The area is linked with decision-making.

All in all, it remains unclear exactly how these brain differences might have set us apart from Neanderthals, Bastir cautioned. We only know how these skulls molded themselves around these brains, and not the precise structures of the brains in question.


In the future, Bastir and his colleagues would like to scan the interiors of more fossil skulls to refine their ideas about them. An implicit problem of the project is the fragility of the structures they would like to examine, he said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.



The earth mother of all neolithic discoveries



French archaeologists have discovered an extremely rare example of a neolithic "earth mother" figurine on the banks of the river Somme.


The 6,000-year-old statuette is 8in high, with imposing buttocks and hips but stubby arms and a cone-like head. Similar figures have been found before in Europe but rarely so far north and seldom in such a complete and well-preserved condition.


The "lady of Villers-Carbonnel", as she has been named, can make two claims to be an "earth mother". She was fired from local earth or clay and closely resembles figurines with similar, stylised female bodies found around the Mediterranean.


Although neolithic experts are revising their opinions, the figures have long believed to have been connected with the existence of a cult which worshipped a goddess of the hearth or of fertility.


The Somme "earth mother" appears to have broken into five or six parts while she was being fired between 4300 and 3600 BC. She was found in the ruins of a neolithic kiln at a French government "preventive" archaeological dig near Villers-Carbonnel on the banks of the river Somme in the département of the same name.


The figurine may be just the beginning of a vast archaeological harvest in Northern France in the next few years, stretching from palaeolithic times to the First World War. The French government's "preventive archaeology" agency, Inrap, has been given permission and the funds to explore 77 sites along the 60-mile course of the new 50m-wide Seine-Nord Europe canal for ocean-going barges linking the river Seine to Belgium and the Rhine.


The archaeologist in charge of the Villers-Carbonnel dig, Françoise Bostyn, told The Independent: "The statuette is very beautiful and remarkably preserved. We sometimes find fragments of such statuettes but rarely the whole figure."


The "earth mother of the Somme" may owe her survival, paradoxically, to the fact that she was broken while being made. Her various pieces were discovered in a collapsed kiln or oven.


Ms Bostyn said that the stylised figure, with inflated buttocks and thighs and rudimentary head and arms, closely resembled similar figures from the period found as far away as the Middle East.


Could the "lady of Villers-Carbonnel" represent the neolithic ideal of female beauty, long before the coming of fashion magazines, airbrushes and Photoshop?



Scientists discover source of rock used in Stonehenge's first circle

Discovery reignites debate over transportation of smaller standing stones



Scientists have succeeded in locating the exact source of some of the rock believed to have been used 5000 years ago to create Stonehenge's first stone circle.


By comparing fragments of stone found at and around Stonehenge with rocks in south-west Wales, they have been able to identify the original rock outcrop that some of the Stonehenge material came from.


The work - carried out by  geologists Robert Ixer of  the University of Leicester  and Richard Bevins of the National Museum of Wales - has pinpointed the source as a 70 metre long rock outcrop called Craig Rhos-y-Felin, near Pont Saeson in north Pembrokeshire.  It's the first time that an exact source has been found for any of the stones thought to have been used to build Stonehenge.


The discovery has re-invigorated one of academia's longest running debates - whether the smaller standing stones of Stonehenge  were quarried and brought all the way there from Pembrokeshire by prehistoric humans or whether they had already been plucked out of ancient rock outcrops and carried all or part of the way to Wiltshire by glaciers hundreds of thousands of years earlier.


Archaeologists tend to subscribe to the 'human transport' theory,  while some geomorphologists favour the glacial one. The debate is solely about  Stonehenge's early/smaller standing stones (often known collectively as 'bluestones') - not about the larger ones (most of the so-called 'sarsens') which were incorporated into the monument several centuries later.


The Leicester University and National Museum of Wales scientists' discovery - reported in the journal, Archaeology in Wales  - does not solve the mystery of how Stonehenge's Welsh-originating stones ended up in England, but it does potentially open up the possibility of  finding archaeological evidence of quarrying  activity that could indicate a human rather than a glacial explanation (indeed that archaeological search has already been launched by archaeologists from Sheffield and other universities). Conversely, any lack of such evidence would help those scholars arguing in the opposite direction. As the geological research continues, it's likely that numerous other rock outcrops in various parts of Pembrokeshire will be positively identified as sources of other stones used to build early versions of Stonehenge. Over past decades, the approximate area they came from has been identified - and the ongoing research will almost certainly succeed in pinpointing additional exact sources.


But although the stone fragments from Stonehenge will allow the scientists to track down where the material originally came from, those same fragments represent an altogether different mystery.


Literally thousands of fragments of rock - almost certainly from monoliths used at or around Stonehenge - have, over the years,  been found in or near the world famous monument.


These fragments (mostly less than 50 grams each) appear to have been deliberately chipped off ancient monoliths at some stage in antiquity - many of them probably in the Neolithic.


However, most of the fragments examined so far are from particular types of rock which were used for less than 10% of the early (i.e. Welsh originating) Stonehenge monoliths. The fragments - found not just at Stonehenge itself but also elsewhere in the Stonehenge landscape - tend to be of a different geological character to the vast majority of early Stonehenge standing stones (which are mostly made of a different type of Pembrokeshire-originating rock). Indeed the rock type from Craig Rhos-y-Felin (just pinpointed by the new scientific research) was probably used for just one of the Stonehenge monoliths (a now buried stone, last seen in the 1950s).


This suggests that there may have been other stone circles or other 'standing stone' monuments in the landscape which have now vanished, but could in the future be found by other scientists (from Birmingham and other universities) who are carrying out an ongoing program of geophysical survey work throughout that landscape.


A further unsolved mystery is why prehistoric people were chipping fragments off probable monoliths. It's possible that they were chipped off in order to give monoliths a better shape. Alternatively, some monoliths or other rock material may have been broken up and re-cycled as stone axes - potentially imbued with particularly high status or conceivably perceived as having magical powers.


The detective work, that the University of Leicester and the National Museum of Wales scientists had to carry out to pinpoint the precise Pembrokeshire source of many of these fragments, was extremely complex.


First of all the geologists needed to sort through thousands of tiny fragments of Pembrokeshire-originating rock found by archaeologists at and around Stonehenge over the past 70 years.


Then the two scientists began to look particularly closely at around 700 of them which were made of a specific type of volcanically-originating rock (geologically, dating back some 460 million years) known as 'foliated rhyolite'.


They then succeeded in tentatively locating the approximate area of north Pembrokeshire which those 700 fragments originated from.


This was subsequently confirmed by comparing the chemical signature of tiny crystals (each one-five-hundredths of a millimetre in diameter) in the Stonehenge fragments with similar rocks in north Pembrokeshire.


Finally, by examining the detailed inter-relationships between minerals in samples from Stonehenge and north Pembrokeshire, they succeeded in pinpointing the precise rock outcrop.


If the stones were brought to Stonehenge from Pembrokeshire by human effort, the location of the newly discovered source (Craig Rhos-y-Felin) has interesting cultural implications.


For the newly discovered source  is around five miles away from a wider area already known to have been the source for some of Stonehenge's other monoliths.


If humans were responsible for quarrying and transporting the stones from Pembrokeshire, then it would suggest that Stonehenge's Neolithic designers were extremely choosy and very specific as to where they got their stones from.


Research over recent years by Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University and Geoffrey Wainwright, a former chief archaeologist at English Heritage, suggests that the Pembrokeshire stones may have had a particular ideological or magical significance.


The outcrops where some of the stones come from are thought to have been associated with sacred springs and local Welsh stone circles.


It's argued that, by importing those particular rocks the 160 miles from Pembrokeshire to Wiltshire, the builders of Stonehenge thought they were taking possession of more than just plain rock. They may have regarded them as extremely important - and could even have seen them as possessing supernatural powers.


The newly discovered source is also significant because of its location. It lies on low ground  to the north of the Preseli Mountains. This would have made transport to Wiltshire much more difficult than it would have been for other Pembrokeshire rocks used in Stonehenge and, known to have come from the High Preseli several miles to the south.


Transporting the north Pembrokeshire stones by sea would have required  sailing round St. David's Head, a particularly difficult and dangerous route for a Neolithic boat. Alternatively the prehistoric quarrymen and their colleagues would have had to haul the stones over the top of the nearby Preseli Mountains. However, if humans took the stones to Stonehenge, it is also possible that the stones had already been used to construct circles in Pembrokeshire - and were therefore moved from those locations to Stonehenge, rather than from the original sources themselves.




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Fri Dec 9, 2011 02:26 PM ET


Will the mystery over the Great Pyramid's secret doors be solved in 2012?


I dare say yes. After almost two decades of failed attempts, chances are now strong that researchers will reveal next year what lies behind the secret doors at the heart of Egypt's most magnificent pyramid.


New revelations on the enduring mystery were already expected this year, following a robot exploration of the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum.


But unrest in Egypt froze the project at its most promising stage, after it produced the first ever images behind one of the Great Pyramid's mysterious doors.


Now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), once led by the controversial yet charismatic Zahi Hawass, is slowly returning to granting permits for excavations and archaeological research.


"As with other missions, we have had to resubmit our application to be allowed to continue. We are currently waiting for the various committees to formalise the approval," project mission manager Shaun Whitehead, of the exploration company Scoutek UK, told Discovery News.


"Once we're allowed to continue, I have no doubt that we can complete our work in 2012," he added.


Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.


The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.


Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.


Two shafts, extend from the upper, or "Kings Chamber" exit into open air. But the lower two, one on the south side and one on the north side in the so-called "Queen's Chamber" disappear within the structures, deepening the pyramid mystery.


Widely believed to be ritual passageways for the dead pharaoh's soul to reach the afterlife, these 8-inch-square shafts remained unexplored until 1993, when German engineer Rudolf Gantenbrink sent a robot through the southern shaft.


After a steady climb of 213 feet from the heart of the pyramid, the robot came to a stop in front of a mysterious limestone slab adorned with two copper pins.


Nine years later, the southern shaft was explored on live television. As the world held its breath, a tomb-raiding robot pushed a camera through a hole drilled in the copper pinned door -- only to reveal what appeared to be another door.


The following day, the robot was sent through the northern shaft. After crawling for 213 feet and navigating several sharp bends, the robot came to an abrupt halt in front of another limestone slab.


As with the Gantenbrink door, the stone was adorned with two copper pins.


The current Djedi project, a joint international-Egyptian mission named after the magician whom Khufu consulted when planning the layout of his pyramid, has gone further than anyone has ever been before in the pyramid.


The project began with a exploration of the southern shaft, which ends at the so called "Gantenbrink's door."


A robot, designed by Rob Richardson at the University of Leeds, was able to climb inside the walls of the shaft while carrying a "micro snake" camera that can see around corners.


Unlike previous expeditions, in which camera images were only taken looking straight ahead, the bendy camera was small enough to fit through a small hole in a stone door at the end of the tunnel.


This gave researchers a clear view into the chamber beyond -- one that had not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid. Images of 4,500-year-old hieroglyphs written in red paint began to appear.


According to some scholars, the markings are hieratic numerical signs that record the length of the shaft. The theory has not been confirmed by the researchers.


"Our strategy is to keep an open mind and only draw conclusions when we have completed our work," Whitehead said.


The Djedi team was also able to scrutinize the two puzzling copper pins embedded in the door to the chamber.


Images showed that the back of the pins curve on themselves, possibly suggesting an ornamental purpose.


Equipped with a unique range of tools which also included a miniature "beetle" robot that can fit through a 0.74-inch diameter hole, a coring drill, and a miniaturized ultrasonic device that can tap on walls and listen to the response to help determine the thickness of the stone, the Djedi team was ready to continue the pyramid's exploration last August. But the political turn of events in Egypt halted the project.


Whitehead is confident that the robot will reveal much more once the team is allowed to resume their research.


"The plan is the same as it always was. We will completely survey the shafts leading from the Queens Chamber and look beyond the first and second blocking stones in at least one shaft," Whitehead said.


"Even if we do not look further beyond the blocking stones, accurately mapping the shafts will be a fantastic result and will provide significant clues to determine the purpose of these unique archaeological features," he concluded.




London built with the blood of British slaves

Emine Sinmaz

15 Dec 2011


The Romans founded London as a centre of trade and business in about AD 50 - or so archaeologists have long believed.


But new evidence suggests the capital has a more chilling history, built as a military base by slaves who were then slaughtered. Hundreds of skulls discovered along the course of the "lost" river Walbrook suggest London may have been built by forced labour.


Dominic Perring, director of the Centre for Applied Archaeology at University College London, says the skulls could be those of Queen Boudica's rebel Iceni tribesmen who were brought to London to build a new military base.


In an essay published in this month's British Archaeology magazine, Mr Perring argues that some of the skulls had been de-fleshed, which suggests the slaves may have been executed after building work was finished.


Mike Pitts, the editor of British Archaeology, said: "At a time when we're all wondering and worrying about the future of the City of London it's interesting to reflect on its foundation, which seems to have been very bloody indeed.


"The team has been looking at the evidence accumulated from decades of new excavation, and they offer a more convincing, and chilling, alternative to what has long been believed."


Mr Perring added: "The timbers were prepared using 'native' British woodworking techniques, unlike the Roman carpentry used everywhere else. Might this have been the work of forced labour? Several hundred late Iron Age or early Roman skulls, from a population that must have numbered in thousands, have been found in and around the Walbrook and were predominantly of young males. London's civic centre was ignored in the rebuilding, and no new temples or basilicas were erected. This suggests London lacked independent legal status and remained under direct military control.


"It was singled out for attention in the period after the revolt because of its military importance, as both the site of an earlier fort and the principal port that supplied the army. This was the commanding centre from which Roman power in Britain was exercised."



Cockerel figurine found in Cirencester Roman dig

16 December 2011 Last updated at 00:47


A Roman cockerel figurine thought to have been made to accompany a child's grave has been unearthed in Gloucestershire.


The 1,800-year-old enamelled object was found during an archaeological dig at one of Britain's earliest-known burial sites in Cirencester.


It is thought the bronze cockerel, which is 12.5cm high, could have been a message to the gods.


Archaeologist Neil Holbrook said it was a "most spectacular" find.


The elaborately-decorated cockerel is believed to be Roman, probably dating back to the 2nd Century AD.


According to experts, religious significance was given to the cockerel by the Romans and the artistic subject is known to be connected with Mercury, the messenger to the gods.


They said it was Mercury who was also responsible for conducting newly-deceased souls to the afterlife.


'Made in Britain'

Mr Holbrook, chief executive at Cotswold Archaeology, said the cockerel had been excavated from the grave of a young child and had been placed close to his or her head.


"Interestingly a very similar item was found in Cologne in Germany and it looks like they both could have come from the same workshop based in Britain," he added.


The object was discovered in early November and held back to allow the dig to continue uninterrupted.


It will now be cleaned, conserved, and possibly then displayed at the Corinium Museum in Cirencester.


Other finds from this grave include a small pottery tettine or feeding bottle, which was unfortunately highly fragmented. This will also undergo conservation work.


Excavations have been taking place at the former Bridges Garage on Tetbury Road in the town.


Earlier, experts said the unearthed burial site was the largest archaeological find in Cirencester since the 1970s.



Evidence for unknown Viking king Airdeconut found in Lancashire

201-piece silver hoard from AD900 discovered by a metal detectorist in Silverdale, Lancashire

Maev Kennedy

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 December 2011 18.29 GMT


Evidence of a previously unknown Viking king has been discovered in a hoard of silver found by a metal detectorist, stashed in a lead box in a field in Lancashire.


The 201 pieces of silver including beautiful arm rings, worn by Viking warriors, were found on the outskirts of Silverdale, a village near the coast in north Lancashire, by Darren Webster, using the metal detector his wife gave him as a Christmas present. It adds up to more than 1kg of silver, probably stashed for safe keeping around AD900 at a time of wars and power struggles among the Vikings of northern England, and never recovered.


Airdeconut – thought to be the Anglo Saxon coin maker's struggle to get to grips with the Viking name Harthacnut – was found on one of the coins in the hoard.


The Airdeconut coin also reveals that within a generation of the Vikings starting to colonise permanent settlements in Britain in the 870s – instead of coming as summer raiders – their kings had allied themselves to the Christian god. The reverse of the coin has the words DNS – for Dominus – Rex, arranged as a cross.


The hoard is regarded as among the best found this century, and the fact that it was never recovered suggests its owner came to an untimely end.


"It was a considerable sum of money, the price of a reasonable herd of cattle, or a very good herd of sheep," Gareth Williams, a coins expert at the British Museum where the hoard is being studied, said. "One arm ring alone would just buy you an ox."


Webster had collected his son from school, and was heading back to work – but he decided to allow himself a few hours in a field where he had been several times before, but never found anything more exciting than a Tudor half groat.


He hit a strong signal almost immediately, and uncovered a sheet of lead only a few inches down – and was slightly disappointed with his find. The lead proved to be crudely folded into a container, and when he lifted it he released a shower of pieces of silver.


"I knew when I saw the bracelets it had to be Viking," he said. "When I heard later there was one coin that nobody had ever seen before, that was a strange feeling."


The find will go through a treasure inquest next week to determine its value. The reward will be shared between Webster and the land owner. The Museum of Lancaster hopes to raise funds to buy the hoard.


The hoard also had coins minted for Alwaldus, who defected to the Vikings in Northumbria after an unsuccessful attempt to claim the English crown from his considerably better known uncle, Alfred the Great. The Vikings allowed him to call himself a king, but he only survived a few years before dying in battle.


There are also Frankish and Islamic coins, but one of the more intriguing would have been worthless to the original owner. Williams explained that silver coins are often found in Viking hoards, which have been tested by clipping or bending: the scruffy little fake, of copper with the thinnest film of silver almost worn away, shows what they were wary of.


One of the arm rings – usually given by leaders to their warriors in return for services rendered and expected – is particularly unusual, combining Irish, Anglo Saxon and Carolingian style ornament.


Another Viking hoard was found in the next parish in the 1990s, and the site is only about 97km (60 miles) from one of the most famous Viking hoards ever uncovered, the 8,600 pieces of silver, 40kg in total, of the Cuerdale hoard. Staff at the British Museum have been working on the definitive account of its discovery by workmen in 1840, and the contents of the treasure – some closely resembling pieces from the Silverdale hoard – are now within months of publication after a mere 130 years devoted to the task.


The British Museum also announced the most recent results for the treasure finds scheme and the portable antiquities scheme , which encourages voluntary reporting by amateurs of less valuable – but historically priceless – finds. A total of 157,188 antiquities finds were reported, and 1,638 treasure finds in 2009 and 2010,up from 19 reported treasure finds in 1988, an indication of the spectacular increase in reporting since a network of finds officers was established across the country. Treasure finds included a bronze age hoard found near Lewes in East Sussex, evidence of the complex trading networks 3,500 years ago: the objects included gold-foil decoration from northern France, amber beads, which may have come from the Baltic, along with "Sussex loop" bracelets, which have only ever been found within an 80km (50-mile) radius of Brighton.



History in the Wells

December 2011, Cover Stories, Daily News

Fri, Dec 16, 2011


A mother-load of archaeological artifacts dredged up from wells helps tell the story of the first permanent English colony in the U.S.


James Fort, Virginia, 1607. For years, it was thought that the remains of the historic Fort first established by English colonists in 1607 had been long washed away into the James river as the water line gradually shifted and cut its way through the plot thought to be its location. But preliminary survey excavations conducted by Dr. William Kelso (now Director of Research and Interpretation for the Preservation Virginia Jamestown Rediscovery project) beginning in 1994 in the area that once was old 17th century Jamestown, and continuing excavations since then, have produced hundreds of thousands of artifacts and other evidence for an overwhelming case to the contrary. James Fort and the early Jamestown footprint had been found. And it was in no small measure due, at least in part, to discoveries made deep inside earthy constructions most of us would consider rather mundane. To archaeologists, however, they can be gold mines.

We are talking about wells. And at the Jamestown excavations, there were wells.

Consider, for example, the discoveries made in recent years during excavation of an early 17th century well located inside what was identified as the northern corner of the James Fort. Here, archaeologists retrieved artifacts that included a halberd, Scottish pistol, a leather 17th century style shoe, a nearly intact hammer, a rapier hilt, iron pike head, a lead plaque reading "Yames Towne", and two mostly whole Bartman jugs, ceramic pieces common to the time period. Many of the finds, such as the wooden shoe and halberd, were made at least in part of organic material such as leather and wood. They were preserved in remarkable condition, almost as if they had been tossed into the well yesterday. Found beneath the water table and thus submerged for more than 400 years, the anaerobic environment ensured their preservation in "like new" condition. Most sensational was the recovery of the halberd. Half of the wooden staff was found intact, still attached to its blade by languets, or metal straps. Halberds were used as parade weapons and held by attending body guards for high-ranking individuals during the early 17th century. This particular halberd featured the heads of two griffins on its blade, a prominent feature of the De La Warr family crest. It was Sir Thomas West, the Baron De La Warr, who arrived at Jamestown on June 10, 1610. Archaeologists suggest that this halberd was carried by one of his attending body guards. (See video below) 


But as sensational as the discovery of the halberd might be, it is the sum total of the less glamorous finds, including animal bones, leaves, seeds, and even insects, that have given archaeologists valuable insight about the conditions and environment in which these early colonists and their Native American counterparts lived. No less significant is the confirming archaeological evidence presented in support of the written record: In another excavation, for example, Jamestown archaeologists retrieved horse bones from another well at the site, dated to the early 17th century. Finding horse bones was unusual enough, but the fact that they showed butchery marks said something more. It is known from historical documentation that during the winter of 1609-1610 the early Jamestown colonists suffered starvation that some historians suggested was initiated by the local Native American Powhatan Confederacy, designed to drive the colonists out of their lands. Archaeological evidence testified that they were driven ultimately to burn their own structures for firewood and to eat their own domesticated animals - cats, dogs, horses - and even each other. Only a few of the 500 colonists survived that winter. The colony nearly met its end. Given the date of the well and the tell-tale butchery marks on the horse bones in this well, archaeologists had discovered additional probable evidence of, if not the Starving Time itself, the desperation that the early colonists faced.

Excavating a well at the Jamestown site often requires an approach that differs markedly from that of conventional surface methods. Care is taken to ensure that the inner walls of a well do not collapse in upon the excavator, sometimes requiring the placement or construction of structural supports within the well to ensure the integrity of the walls as archaeologists dig down. Particularly as excavators have reached below the water table, they have employed a method of wall construction not unlike what the early colonists used in order to maintain the water and mud at bay while excavating. While excavating one well, for example, they hammered vertical fence pickets into the ground and then nailed horizontal wooden planks into them, a technique similar to one used by the colonists to construct that very same well in 1611. And in a well dated to 1609, archaeologists recovered a well-preserved wooden barrel at a depth of about eleven feet. Given the depth in relationship to the water table, it is clear that the colonists used the barrel as a lining for the well to keep the earthen walls from collapsing and cutting off access to the water. Two intact wooden boards were also found that may have been used by the colonists to support themselves as they continued to construct the well in the unstable conditions below the water table.

The most recent well excavation, just completed, produced artifacts dated to the mid-17th century from a well located in the southwest corner of James Fort's 1608 church, the church where Pocahontas and John Rolfe were married (see video below). Although located within the church area, it was determined that the well was most likely constructed decades after the church had been demolished. Finds included, among other things, human teeth, beads, pipe fragments that included a decorated pipe bowl, a portion of a crucible, leather shoe fragments, a pewter spoon bearing a maker's mark, animal bones, an axe head, and a hoe blade stamped with a maker's mark. Contents of the well are being  processed and analyzed. Some of the finds could possibly be exhibited to the public at the new Jamestown site "Archaerium", the museum that houses select artifacts for public view and education.



Remains of Jane Austen's Steventon home unearthed

16 December 2011 Last updated at 09:01


Archaeologists in Hampshire have uncovered signs of the house where Jane Austen spent more than half of her life.


The Austen family lived in the rectory in Steventon, near Basingstoke, from 1775 to 1801, where the writer began three of her novels.


The house was demolished early in the 19th Century soon after Austen and her family moved to Bath.


Volunteers involved in the dig hope to gain an insight into life in the house.


Debbie Charlton, of archaeologists Archaeo Briton, who led the dig, said: "Our main focus for the project is putting together the puzzle of what Jane's first home was like."


Although the original shape of the building was recorded on a local map in the early 1800s, it was not to scale and the few drawings made by different artists appear contradictory.



The excavation was undertaken by a team of volunteers

Austen's social life while she lived at Steventon is said to have provided her with material for her novels.


While at Steventon, she started to pen the drafts that became Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey.


They were later completed when the family returned to Hampshire to live in the village of Chawton, near Winchester.


The house there is now a museum and tourist attraction.


Maureen Stiller, of the Jane Austen Society, said: "Experience went into writing her novels, so obviously the people she met and things she did must have fed into her work. This is where it all started.


"I hope the Austen devotees are going to be excited - it gives us a bit more insight into the proportions of the rectory and hopefully a bit of the social life."



Jane Austen lived at Steventon from 1775 to 1801

Having completed the archaeological excavations, the project volunteers will collate the finds for display at the Willis Museum at Basingstoke next year.


Ms Charlton said: "It's been fantastic and a wonderful opportunity. It's been a joy - every day has brought some excitement."


The work was carried out with a £10,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and supported by The Hampshire and Isle of Wight Community Foundation.