Ancient Domesticated Dog Skull Found in Siberian Cave: 33,000 Years Old

ScienceDaily (Jan. 23, 2012)


A 33,000-year-old dog skull unearthed in a Siberian mountain cave presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with an equally ancient find in a cave in Belgium, indicates that modern dogs may be descended from multiple ancestors.


If you think a Chihuahua doesn't have much in common with a Rottweiler, you might be on to something.

An ancient dog skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event.

In other words, man's best friends may have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated.

"Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics," said Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory and co-author of the study that reports the find.

"Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth."

The Altai Mountain skull is extraordinarily well preserved, said Hodgins, enabling scientists to make multiple measurements of the skull, teeth and mandibles that might not be possible on less well-preserved remains. "The argument that it is domesticated is pretty solid," said Hodgins. "What's interesting is that it doesn't appear to be an ancestor of modern dogs."

The UA's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory used radiocarbon dating to determine the age of the Siberian skull.

Radioactive carbon, or carbon-14, is one of three carbon isotopes. Along with naturally occurring carbon dioxide, carbon-14 reaches the surface of Earth by atmospheric circulation, where plants absorb it into their tissues through photosynthesis.

Animals and humans take in carbon-14 by ingesting plants or other animals that have eaten plants. "Carbon-14 makes it into all organic molecules," said Hodgins. "It's in all living things."

"We believe that carbon-14 production is essentially constant over time," said Hodgins. "So the amount of carbon-14 present in living organisms in the past was similar to the levels in living organisms today. When an animal or plant dies, the amount of carbon-14 in its remains drops at a predictable rate, called the radioactive half-life. The half-life of radiocarbon is 5,730 years."

"People from all over the world send our laboratory samples of organic material that they have dug out of the ground and we measure how much carbon-14 is left in them. Based on that measurement, and knowing the radiocarbon half-life, we calculate how much time must have passed since the samples had the same amount of carbon-14 as plants and animals living today."

The researchers use a machine called an accelerator mass spectrometer to measure the amount of radioactive carbon remaining in a sample. The machine works in a manner analogous to what happens when a beam of white light passes through a prism: White light separates into the colors of the rainbow.

The accelerator mass spectrometer generates a beam of carbon from the sample and passes it through a powerful magnet, which functions like a prism. "What emerges from it are three beams, one each of the three carbon isotopes," said Hodgins. "The lightest carbon beam, carbon-12, bends the most, and then carbon-13 bends slightly less and carbon-14 bends slightly less than that."

The relative intensities of the three beams represent the sample's carbon mass spectrum. Researchers compare the mass spectrum of an unknown sample to the mass spectra of known-age controls and from this comparison, calculate the sample's radiocarbon age.


At 33,000 years old, the Siberian skull predates a period known as the Last Glacial Maximum, or LGM, which occurred between about 26,000 and 19,000 years ago when the ice sheets of Earth's last ice age reached their greatest extent and severely disrupted the living patterns of humans and animals alive during that time. Neither the Belgian nor the Siberian domesticated lineages appear to have survived the LGM.

However, the two skulls indicate that the domestication of dogs by humans occurred repeatedly throughout early human history at different geographical locations, which could mean that modern dogs have multiple ancestors rather than a single common ancestor.

"In terms of human history, before the last glacial maximum people were living with wolves or canid species in widely separated geographical areas of Euro-Asia, and had been living with them long enough that they were actually changing evolutionarily," said Hodgins. "And then climate change happened, human habitation patterns changed and those relationships with those particular lineages of animals apparently didn't survive."

"The interesting thing is that typically we think of domestication as being cows, sheep and goats, things that produce food through meat or secondary agricultural products such as milk, cheese and wool and things like that," said Hodgins.

"Those are different relationships than humans may have with dogs. The dogs are not necessarily providing products or meat. They are probably providing protection, companionship and perhaps helping on the hunt. And it's really interesting that this appears to have happened first out of all human relationships with animals.



Complex Fish Traps Over 7,500 Years Old Found in Russia

The discovery sheds new light on the industry of Mesolithic and Neolithic settlers.

Wed, Jan 25, 2012


One might argue that the stone age technology among people living in Russia during the Mesolithic and Neolithic ages was relatively unimpressive. But the fishing equipment of a certain group living near present-day Moscow more than 7,500 years ago would be something to shout about, according to archaeologists. 

An international team of archeologists, led by Ignacio Clemente, a researcher with the Spanish National Research Council, has discovered and documented an assemblage of fish seines and traps in the Dubna Basin near Moscow that are dated to be more than 7,500 years old. They say that the equipment, among the oldest found in Europe, displays a surprisingly advanced technical complexity. The finds illuminate the role of fishing among European settlements of the early Holocene (about 10,000 years ago), particularly where people did not practice agriculture until just before the advent of the Iron Age.

Says Clemente: "Until now, it was thought that the Mesolithic groups had seasonal as opposed to permanent settlements. According to the results obtained during the excavations, in both Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, the human group that lived in the Dubna river basin, near Moscow, carried out productive activities during the entire year".

According to the research team, the Neolithic and Mesolithic inhabitants of the region, known as Zamostje 2, hunted during summer and winter, fished during spring and early summer, and harvested wild berries near the end of the summer and throughout the fall. But Clemente and colleagues suggest that the fishing commanded a salient place in their survival and prosperity. Says Clemente: "We think that the fishing played a vital role in the economy of these societies, because it was a versatile product, easy to preserve, dry and smoke, as well as store for later consumption."

Three years of work have uncovered a variety of artifacts at the site, including everyday objects such as spoons, plates, working tools, hunting weapons, all made from flint and other stones, bones and shafts. Finds included well-preserved organic items of wood, tree leaves, fossil feces and fish remains. Said Clemente, "it is really unusual to find sites with so much preserved organic remains. The ichthyological remains that we have found give us an idea of the protein percentage provided by fish in the diet of the prehistoric population. Furthermore, these remains will help us to conduct a survey from the point of view of species classification, catch amount and size, and fishing season among others. These details are essential to be able to asses the role played by fishing in the economy of these human groups".

But the stars of the show were the fishing implements. As one researcher added: "The documented fishing equipment shows a highly developed technology, aimed for the practice of several fishing techniques. We can highlight the finding of two large wooden fishing traps (a kind of interwoven basket with pine rods used for fishing), very well-preserved, dating back from 7,500 years ago. This represents one of the oldest dates in this area and, no doubt, among the best-preserved since they still maintain some joining ropes, manufactured with vegetable fibers".

The Zamostje 2 site was first discovered during the 1980s, when workers were constructing a channel through the Dubna river (Oka-Volga basin). The site features four different horizons, two representing the Mesolithic period (between 7,900 and 7,100 years ago) and two representing the Neolithic period (between 6,800 and 5,500 years ago). Explains one researcher: "These levels are found under a subsoil layer with groundwaters and a subsequent peat bog level, which has allowed an excellent preservation of the archeological materials, even those of organic origin".

The project was funded by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Institute for the History of Material Culture of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Also participating were the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, the Sergiev Posad State History and Art Museum-Reserve, the Autonomous University of Barcelona, and the French National Center for Scientific Research.



The forgotten Mound of Down

27 January 2012 Last updated at 13:04


The site is defined by a massive bank and ditch that encircles what was once a drumlin island

There are plenty of drumlins in County Down - but have you heard of the Mound of Down?


If not, that is probably because it has been hidden from public view by trees and gorse for decades.


But work is now under way to expose this fortification which could be about 1,000 years old.


Tim Campbell, director of the St Patrick Centre in Downpatrick, said it was one of the largest megalithic hill forts in western Europe.


"We have forgotten about it as it been overgrown with trees," he said.


"It was the seat of the high kings when they moved from the Navan area of Armagh eastwards.


"It is a very important site and perhaps in the very reason Down is called Down, Down from Dun - the big fort."


“Downpatrick was long on the map before other seats of government were in place on this island”

Margaret Ritchie, MP, South Down


The enclosure is defined by a massive bank and ditch that encircles what was once a drumlin island in the Quoile Marshes.


Although the site has yet to undergo archaeological excavation, it is thought that the large earthwork on the mound is a pre-Norman fortification.


It is most likely to be a royal stronghold of the Dál Fiatach, the ruling dynasty of this part of County Down in the first millennium AD.


Ken Neill, an archaeologist for the Environment Agency which is working to control the vegetation at the site, said it dated back to the Iron Age, or the early Christian period.


"It occupies a site the size of four football pitches and sits in a very strategic position in the Quoile Marshes, because, in the past especially, it must have been surrounded by water at least part of the year," he said.


"If you were attacking it, you had to get down into the ditch and then you've got this huge bank standing in front of you.


"If you can imagine people lining the top of it trying to stop you - it must have been quite an obstacle."


MP for South Down Margaret Ritchie said the tourism potential had been largely untapped.


"It fell into serious neglect for many, many years," she said.


Much of the mound was overgrown

"Nobody, including myself, would have been terribly aware of the historical significance of the Mound of Down or even have the ability to get to it.


"The major sleeping giant of the area is tourism. It is our gateway to jobs and a stimulus to the local economy. We must develop that."


"I made representations to my party colleague, the Minister for the Environment Alex Attwood. I invited him out to the Mound of Down, we walked it and saw the commanding views of Down Cathedral, of Inch Abbey and other areas associated with the Patrician legacy.


"This is a place rich in history.


"Downpatrick was long on the map before other seats of government were in place on this island."


Bob Bleakley from the Environment Agency is overseeing the work at the site which will take six weeks.


"By cutting just a couple of wedges in the vegetation, it will expose the mound to views and we've chosen angles that provide views from important sites.


"By opening it up it can become a major tourist attraction, along with other sites on the St Patrick's Trail."



Underwater archaeology: Hunt for the ancient mariner

Armed with high-tech methods, researchers are scouring the Aegean Sea for the world's oldest shipwrecks.

Jo Marchant

25 January 2012


Brendan Foley peels his wetsuit to the waist and perches on the side of an inflatable boat as it skims across the sea just north of the island of Crete. At his feet are the dripping remains of a vase that moments earlier had been resting on the sea floor, its home for more than a millennium. “It's our best day so far,” he says of his dive that morning. “We've discovered two ancient shipwrecks.”


Foley, a marine archaeologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, and his colleagues at Greece's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Athens have spent the day diving near the cliffs of the tiny island of Dia in the eastern Mediterranean. They have identified two clusters of pottery dating from the first century BC and fifth century AD. Together with other remains that the team has discovered on the island's submerged slopes, the pots reveal that for centuries Greek, Roman and Byzantine traders used Dia as a refuge during storms, when they couldn't safely reach Crete.


It is a nice archaeological discovery, but Foley was hoping for something much older. His four-week survey of the waters around Crete last October is part of a long-term effort to catalogue large numbers of ancient shipwrecks in the Aegean Sea. And the grand prize would be a wreck from one of the most influential and enigmatic cultures of the ancient world — the Minoans, who ruled these seas more than 3,000 years ago.


Some researchers believe that quest to be close to impossible. But Foley and a few competitors are using high-tech approaches such as autonomous robots and new search strategies that they say have a good chance of locating the most ancient of shipwrecks. If they succeed, they could transform archaeologists' understanding of a crucial period in human history, when ancient mariners first ventured long distances across the sea.


Archaeologists have precious little information about the seagoing habits of the Minoan civilization, which erected the palace of Knossos on Crete — linked to the Greek myth of the Minotaur. Minoans far exceeded their neighbours in weaponry, literacy and art, and formed “part of the roots of what went on to become European civilization”, says Don Evely, an archaeologist at the British School at Athens, and curator of Knossos. Archaeologists are keen to understand what made the Minoans so successful and how they interacted with nearby cultures such as the Egyptians.


Although researchers have studied scores of Roman ships, finding a much older Minoan wreck “would add 100% new knowledge”, says Shelley Wachsmann, an expert in ancient seafaring at Texas A&M University in College Station.


A Bronze Age wreck called Ulu Burun shows how the remains of a single ship can transform archaeologists' understanding of an era. Discovered in 1982, it lies about 9 kilometres southeast of Kaş in southern Turkey, and dates from around 1300 BC, a century or two after the Minoans disappeared.


Christos Agourides, secretary-general of the Hellenic Institute of Marine Archaeology in Athens, describes it as “the dream of every marine archaeologist”. It took ten years to excavate, and researchers are still studying the nearly 17 tonnes of treasures recovered. The vast cargo includes ebony, ivory, ostrich eggs, resin, spices, weapons, jewellery and textiles as well as ingots of copper, tin and glass.


But what really stunned archaeologists was that the artefacts on this one vessel came from at least 11 different cultures1 — from a gold scarab bearing the name of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti to copper from Cyprus and tin from central Asia.


The wreck provided tangible evidence of an astonishing array of contacts and trade between the different cultures of the Mediterranean and Near East in the late Bronze Age. The Ulu Burun ship sailed at around the time that Tutankhamun ruled Egypt, and “it is far more important than Tutankhamun's tomb as a contribution to our understanding of the period”, according to Wachsmann. “This goes to the nitty gritty of the world. It's Wall Street in a ship.”


The earlier Minoans set the stage for such a widespread trading network through their domination of the eastern Mediterranean. Their seafaring abilities were still celebrated 1,000 years later by Greek historian Thucydides, who credited the Minoans with building the world's first navy and ridding the seas of pirates. Although other contemporary Mediterranean cultures were starting to travel across the sea, the Minoans ventured farther than others, reaching distant ports in Syria, Cyprus, the Cyclades and Egypt (see map). Wachsmann describes them as the “Christopher Columbuses of the Bronze Age”.


Researchers have already found one potential Minoan wreck site by the island of Pseira, off the northeast coast of Crete. In 2003, archaeologist Elpida Hatzidaki of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities discovered a large collection of underwater pottery dating to around 1800 BC.


But at this site and a few even older ones, no portion of the ship itself survives, and it is hard to determine whether the pottery came from a wreck, was simply thrown overboard, or washed into the sea from the nearby coast. Even those who believe the Pseira site does represent a Minoan wreck admit that the pottery itself — everyday ware of local origin — doesn't reveal much new information. What archaeologists crave is an equivalent of Ulu Burun, a long-distance trading ship packed with valuable cargo that would reveal how different cultures interacted. “Ships were the way that people communicated and moved about the ancient world,” says Foley. “So if we can find these ancient wrecks, we get a much clearer view of the very dim past.”


That dream lured Foley and his team to Crete last year, and they brought a new tool that they hope will significantly raise the chances of finding an ancient shipwreck. In the past, archaeologists have explored the sea floor using divers and, more recently, remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) that are controlled by pilots on ship. Foley's team tested an autonomous diving robot that could search the ocean bottom for hours under its own command. The REMUS 100 vehicle (for Remote Environmental Monitoring Underwater System) is equipped with Global Positioning System technology, side-scan sonar and a video camera. The Woods Hole researchers worked on the project with Greek archaeologists led by Theotokis Theodoulou of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities.


The torpedo-shaped robot, nicknamed Gudgeon after a Second World War submarine, spent the first month of the field campaign surveying the entire sea floor north of Crete's main harbour, Heraklion, for any lumps and bumps that might signal an ancient wreck.


Foley had high hopes for the area because it had been a port for millennia and had never been surveyed by archaeologists. But the search came up empty handed. Close to shore, there was no hope of finding ancient wrecks because the sea floor was covered in a thick pile of sediments that had washed off the island. Farther out, the researchers found furrows left by trawl fishermen, who had scraped the sea floor clean, even in areas where trawling is supposedly forbidden.


So Foley's team moved its search to Dia, which lies just north of Heraklion. In 1976, the ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau found some ancient remains there, and Foley suspected that Dia might be a fertile site for shipwrecks because its steep cliffs could be lethal to vessels caught in a storm.


The team took a two-pronged approach to exploring around Dia. The Gudgeon crew prowled Dia's bays, where the ocean bottom is smooth and artefacts are more likely to show up in sonar images. Near shore, where the bottom is too rocky for Gudgeon, Foley and his team of divers made a circuit of the bays at about 40 metres depth.


Almost immediately, the divers located five ancient wrecks, ranging from around the second century BC to the ninth century AD. The discoveries confirmed Cousteau's impression that now-deserted Dia was used for centuries as an anchorage. And Foley was convinced that the Minoans must have been here too, with the evidence perhaps on the deeper floor of Dia's bays. But Gudgeon's sonar images from those sites kept coming back disappointingly clear.


On the penultimate day of the field season, Greg Packard and Mark Dennett of Woods Hole stood on the stern of their small research vessel, and swung Gudgeon overboard. The miniature explorer descended to the bottom and spent the morning cruising back and forth along preprogrammed gridlines. Later that evening, when Packard examined the sonar data, he spied a potential target — a patch of bright speckles amid the smooth dark image. The team debated whether it could be a heap of pottery on the sand.


The next day, Foley took his crew of divers out to the suspect site. Some 15 minutes later, they came back with disheartening news: the sonar signal was a collection of plastic water bottles that must have been dumped overboard from a modern boat. And footage from Gudgeon's video camera explained the absence of archaeological remains — furrows in the sand showed that trawlers had cleaned out even these tiny bays. If a Minoan ship ever sank here, it has long since been destroyed. “It's such a waste,” says Foley, clearly disappointed. “I bet they're not even trawling for fish. I bet they're trawling for antiquities.”


Wachsmann says that he isn't surprised by what Foley saw. From 2007 to 2009, he led the Danaos project, using sonar-equipped ROVs to survey hundreds of square kilometres of sea floor on a suspected ancient trading route between Crete and Egypt. In three seasons, he didn't find a single ancient wreck from any period, and only a scattering of artefacts.


Wachsmann found that sedimentation was a problem even far from shore — up to a metre per millennium in some areas. This means that although some Greek and Roman remains might still be visible, a Minoan ship would be buried under 3 or 4 metres of sand. And even at 500–600 metres depth, he saw clear evidence of trawling. “It was almost like somebody had swept the sea in front of me,” he says. On the basis of his experiences, Wachsmann now believes that the chance of finding a Minoan equivalent of Ulu Burun “approaches zero”.


The effect of bottom trawling is “devastating” for archaeologists, agrees Robert Ballard, an oceanographer based at the University of Rhode Island in Narragansett, who has pioneered deep-sea exploration and discovered the wreck of the Titanic in 1985. “Most of the Aegean has been destroyed,” he says.


Ballard has spent years searching for ancient wrecks and says that he has learned the importance of finding areas beyond the reach of fishermen — below about 600 metres, say, or close to undersea cables, which trawlers avoid. He has also opened up his search area. Historians once assumed that the number of wrecks in the deep sea was negligible because ancient ships must have hugged the coastlines, but in the 1990s Ballard found eight ancient wrecks far from shore between the islands of Sicily and Sardinia2 (Foley was Ballard's graduate student at the time). “The ancient mariner was not afraid of going out to sea,” says Ballard.


Since 2008, Ballard has been exploring the eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean and the Black Sea with a suite of ROVs. Although he is finding large numbers of ancient wrecks, he hasn't yet uncovered anything from the Bronze Age. But, like Foley, he believes Minoan ships are waiting to be discovered. The key to finding the oldest wrecks, he says, is locating “relic surfaces” that have escaped being buried by sediment, which flows downhill and covers the deep sea floor3. “What you want is a shipwreck that came down on a mountain,” he says, because sediment can't accumulate on a steep slope.


Last year, Ballard investigated the Eratosthenes seamount, a 700-metre-deep tabletop south of Cyprus, and says it does indeed seem to represent a relic surface. He is now applying for permits to return to Eratosthenes to search for shipwrecks next year. Another area he would like to investigate is the submerged Anaximander mountains south of Turkey. It would be difficult to distinguish a wreck site from such rocky terrain using sonar, so he plans to use video cameras to conduct a painstaking visual search over smaller areas. “It's very hard hunting,” he says.


Foley is also now looking to the deep sea, but has a different strategy. Instead of targeting particular sweet spots, he wants to cover as large an area as possible. He has raised more than US$1 million towards the $1.8 million that he needs to return to the Mediterranean next year, this time with two of Gudgeon's more powerful cousins, REMUS 6000s owned by the Waitt Institute in La Jolla, California.


To maximize the chances of finding ancient wrecks, the team will hunt on open, flat areas in the lowest reaches of the sea, up to 6,000 metres deep. Foley estimates that the two REMUS vehicles can cover up to 5,000 square kilometres in one month, equivalent to 1% of the entire Aegean Sea. The recent field trial around Dia encouraged Foley because it should be easier for the sonar surveys to pick out vases than it was to find plastic water bottles, which are poor sonar reflectors, he says.


Both Ballard and Foley are ultimately hoping to use their surveys to catalogue large numbers of wrecks of all ages across great swathes of the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Through a combination of sonar and high-resolution digital photography, they can compile detailed three-dimensional maps of a wreck site and answer questions about the date, origin and cargo of a ship without bringing up a single artefact.


Foley estimates that hundreds of thousands of ships must have sunk in ancient times — including thousands in the Bronze Age alone — and that a significant proportion of those are still sitting at the bottom of the deep sea. If he's right, then perhaps researchers will eventually have not just one Minoan ship, but hundreds. With enough wrecks, says Foley, “it ought to allow us to draw new conclusions about this absolutely formative period in human experience.”


That could shift marine archaeologists into an era in which they can use statistical data gathered from hundreds or thousands of wrecks to build up a bigger picture of trade routes, migration and warfare throughout history. “We'd rather find 500 ships than excavate one,” says Ballard.


Such a dream seems a long way off as Foley's team packs up its gear at the end of its campaign. Packard and Dennett carefully lower Gudgeon into a crate for its long trip back to Woods Hole, while Foley eyes one of the artefacts he retrieved from Dia's waters — a bulbous Byzantine amphora covered in deposits left by worms.


It's not the find Foley hoped for, but he is undaunted — this is just the beginning of what he knows could be a long search. “I'd like to be doing this every year for the next 20 or 30 years,” he says. “Until I'm too old to go to sea.”


Nature 481, 426–428 (26 January 2012) doi:10.1038/481426a


Pulak, C. in Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. (eds Aruz, J., Benzel, K. & Evans, J. M.) 289–310 (Yale Univ. Press, 2008).

Ballard, R. D. et al. Deep Sea Res. I 47, 1591–1620 (2000).

Canals, M. et al. Rapp. Comm. Int. Mer Médit. 38, 47 (2007).



Viking mass grave linked to elite killers of the medieval world

January 25, 2012


A crew of Viking mercenaries – some of the fiercest and most feared killers in the medieval world – could be the occupants of a mysterious mass grave in the south of England, according to a new theory.

The intriguing hypothesis is being put forward in a documentary, Viking Apocalypse, which will premiere on National Geographic UK on Wednesday, 25 January, and attempts to piece together the identities of a group of men who were apparently the victims of a horrific mass execution around the turn of the 11th century.

Their burial pit, at Ridgeway Hill, Dorset, was found in 2009 while archaeologists were working in the area ahead of the construction of a new road. In it, researchers made the gruesome discovery of the decapitated bodies of 54 young men. All had been dumped in the shallow grave, and their heads had been piled up on the far side.

Radiocarbon dating revealed that the remains belonged to men murdered at some point around the year 1000. This suggested a connection with the Vikings, because the Anglo-Saxons along the south coast at that time lived under constant threat of Viking raids. Isotope testing on the men’s teeth subsequently revealed that they had indeed come from Scandinavia. But exactly who they were has remained a mystery.

Now a University of Cambridge researcher is putting forward a compelling new theory about the identity of the murder victims. The documentary follows Dr Britt Baillie, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, as she examines the remains, as well as documents from the period and other material evidence, to reopen the file on what happened in Dorset a thousand years ago.

While historians will probably never agree conclusively about who the men were, Baillie’s analysis draws her to the conclusion that they may have been Viking mercenaries who modelled themselves on, or behaved in a similar way to the legendary Jomsvikings – a brotherhood of elite killers whose strict military code involved never showing fear, and never fleeing in the face of the enemy unless totally outnumbered.


Allegedly founded by Harald Bluetooth, the Jomsvikings are thought to have been based at a stronghold called Jomsborg on the Baltic coast. At a time when Vikings were feared across Europe, they were known as perhaps the fiercest of them all – a reputation which even earned them their own saga.

“The legends and stories of the Jomsvikings travelled around the medieval world and would almost certainly have been indicative of some of the practices of other bands of mercenaries or may even have been imitated by other groups,” Baillie said.

The documentary places the deaths in the context of the early 11th century and the troubled rule of Aethelred II – better known to history as Aethelred “the Unready”.

Although it is very unusual to find evidence of mass executions from the early medieval period, Aethelred’s reign is an exception. Following a series of Viking raids and threats to his own life, Aethelred decided, in 1002, to have all the Danish men living in England murdered on St Brice’s Day, 13 November – an event which became known as the St Brice’s Day massacre.

Historians differ about how many people were actually killed and whether those who were murdered were residents of the Danelaw (the Viking-occupied part of England at the time), or just mercenaries based elsewhere. Remains linked to the event have been found in Oxford, and it is likely that similar massacres took place in Bristol, Gloucester and London.

The bodies found in Dorset are quite possibly the victims of a similar act of butchery. Aethelred was known for playing divide and conquer with bands of Scandinavian mercenaries who worked for him, and it may be that these Vikings had fallen out of favour with the king. Certainly, the number of bodies corresponds to the number that would have been required to man a Viking longship of the period.

Yet the remains in Dorset also suggest that these men were something unique. Researchers have found that one of the men’s teeth had incisions. This rare feature could, it is believed, be the result of the victim filing his teeth deliberately to demonstrate his bravery and status.

Further analysis then reveals that the St. Brice’s day massacre victims in Oxford were killed in a frenzied mob attack. However, the Ridgeway Hill individuals were systematically executed. They were beheaded from the front – just like the warriors in the Jomsviking saga. In the saga, one captured Viking says: “I am content to die as are all our comrades. But I will not let myself be slaughtered like a sheep. I would rather face the blow. Strike straight at my face and watch carefully if I pale at all.”

Both traits link the execution victims to a group which, if not the Jomsvikings themselves, had similar principles and beliefs. But Baillie also finds further written evidence to support the idea. A source commissioned by Queen Emma, Aethelred’s second wife, hints that there was a group of Viking mercenaries somewhere in England at this time led by Thorkell the Tall, an alleged Jomsviking.

“Thorkell’s story is itself unclear and shrouded in legend,” Baillie added. “But Emma’s record connects Jomsvikings to England at exactly this time. Clearly these men had shown a level of bravery similar to the Jomsviking code. So while we cannot be certain about who they were, there are a number of tie-ins that take us down that route.”

Provided by University of Cambridge



Researchers collect DNA from men with possible links to York’s Viking past

8:30am Monday 23rd January 2012 in

By Megi Rychlikova »



MEN with Viking surnames filled the meeting room of New Earswick Folk Hall and queued to help research into the ethnic origins of the British people.


Academics were collecting DNA from men with Viking names to see if they are directly descended from the Scandanavian traders and seaman who once ruled York and Yorkshire.


It was the first of four gatherings across northern England and followed a public appeal for people with Viking surnames to come forward.


The project will feature in a future BBC eight-part documentary series on the history of ordinary British people – the Great British Story – and BBC photographers were at the event.


The head of project, geneticist Turi King, of the University of Leicester, said of the York meeting at the weekend: “It has been great. They are quite rare surnames and we have had 200 responses.”


More than 60 people attended, but only one representative from each surname could give DNA. She left with nearly 50 samples. Many of those attending had done their own family research or were interested in the origins of names.


Among those at the meeting were two Addymans, including the retired director of York Archaeological Trust, Peter Addyman, who said it was a “wonderful initiative”, and a member of the only Postlethwaite family in York – Stephen Postlethwaite. The name originates in Lancashire, though some ancestors moved to Newcastle and Barrow, possibly to work in the shipyards.


The surname Collinge also appears on the list, which was a shock for Shaun Collinge, landlord of York pub, The Maltings in Tanner’s Moat.


“You’re joking,” he exclaimed, when The Press broke the news. “I always thought I was a Celt. I always believed our family came from Ireland.


“I’ll definitely put my name forward. I’m game for a laugh.”


Asked whether he thought he shared any resemblance with Vikings, he said: “I’ve never been frightened of fighting… and I am pretty determined.”


Peter Hirst, of Wakefield, said: “I quite like to think of myself as Viking.” He said it was good to highlight the Scandanavian influence in Britain, instead of the French or American influence.


“There is a lot of interest in who we are – you see what is happening in Scotland. I would prefer an independent Yorkshire with a strong Viking influence.”


Jayne Carroll, a linguist of the University of Nottingham, gave a talk on the origins of names and showed the small geographical areas where some of the men’s surnames were to be found historically.



Slave port unearthed in Brazil

The Valongo Wharf in Rio de Janerio was the busiest of all slave ports in the Americas and has been buried for almost two centuries.

By Taylor Barnes, Correspondent / January 25, 2012


Not far from here at least 500,000 Africans took their first steps into slavery in colonial Brazil, which took in far more slaves than the United States and where now half of its 200 million citizens claim African descent.


The “Cais do Valongo” – the Valongo Wharf – was the busiest of all slave ports in the Americas and has been buried for almost two centuries under subsequent infrastructure projects and dirt.


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That is, until developers seeking to turn Rio’s shabby port neighborhood into a posh tourist center allowed teams of archaeologists to check out what was being unearthed.


“We knew we had found the wharf,” says archaeologist Tania Andrade Lima, showing a ramp made up of knobbly, uneven stones used by slaves. It lay beneath a layer of smoother cobblestones from a dock installed later for the arrival of a Portuguese royal.


Ms. Lima and other community leaders are creating a walking tour that will include the wharf, a nearby cemetery for Africans who died soon after their arrival, and a holding pen called the “Lazareto,” derived from Jesus’ parable about a beggar named Lazarus, where newly arrived Africans were checked for diseases.


The wharf alone is nearly 22,000 square feet. “This gives a dimension to how huge the influx of slaves was,” says Lima.



Archaeologists uncover mystery of over-zealous priest, fairies and a buried pagan cross

Search is on for legendary Wicklow cross which vanished 60 years ago

By KERRY O'SHEA, IrishCentral Staff Writer

Published Tuesday, January 24, 2012, 8:28 AM


A Wicklow community is on the search for a legendary pagan cross that vanished from their St. Patrick’s Church parish 60 years ago.


The Independent reports that there are disparaging rumors as to why the granite cross may have vanished. Some say that local residents believed the cross was attracting fairies. Others believe it was buried by then priest Fr Matthew Blake, mainly because of its graphic carvings which displayed women and their “exaggerated genitalia.”


The vanished cross was nearly forgotten about until it appeared in an old photo of the Church on the town’s Facebook page. Now, a team of local volunteers, led by their local war memorial committee, is on the search for the legendary cross.


With permission from the clergy, a grounds survey was conducted around the church where the cross may have been buried. A dig is expected to begin in May.


Stan J O’Reilly, who is secretary of the town’s historical society, said of the missing cross, "I've asked a lot of people about it and the story is that the parish priest at the time, Fr Blake, saw something on it he did not like -- something like a nude figure, which was possibly a 'sheela na gig'.”


Believing that it is more than likely that the disappearance of the cross was Fr Blake’s doing, O’Reilly called Fr Blake a “very determined man.”



After Being Stricken by Drought, Istanbul Yields Ancient Treasure


Published: January 23, 2012


ISTANBUL — For 1,600 years, this city — Turkey’s largest — has been built and destroyed, erected and erased, as layer upon layer of life has thrived on its seven hills.


Today, Istanbul is a city of 13 million, spread far beyond those hills. And on a long-farmed peninsula jutting into Lake Kucukcekmece, 13 miles west of the city center, archaeologists have made an extraordinary find.


The find is Bathonea, a substantial harbor town dating from the second century B.C. Discovered in 2007 after a drought lowered the lake’s water table, it has been yielding a trove of relics from the fourth to the sixth centuries A.D., a period that parallels Istanbul’s founding and its rise as Constantinople, a seat of power in the Eastern Roman/Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.


While there are some historical records of this early period, precious few physical artifacts exist. The slim offerings in the Istanbul section of the Archaeological Museums here reflect that, paling in comparison with the riches on display from Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Lebanon.


So Bathonea (pronounced bath-oh-NAY-uh) has the potential to become a “library of Constantinople,” says Sengul Aydingun, the archaeologist who made the initial discovery.


After the drought exposed parts of a well-preserved sea wall nearly two and a half miles long, Dr. Aydingun and her team soon saw that the harbor had been equipped with docks, buildings and a jetty, probably dating to the fourth century. Other discoveries rapidly followed. In the last dig season alone, the archaeologists uncovered port walls, elaborate buildings, an enormous cistern, a Byzantine church and stone roads spanning more than 1,000 years of occupation.


“The fieldwork Sengul has conducted over the last few years is spectacular,” said Volker Heyd, an archaeologist at the University of Bristol in England who surveyed Bathonea for two field seasons. “The discoveries made are now shedding a completely new light to the wider urbanized area of Constantinopolis. A fantastic story begins to unveil.”


In 2008, for example, Hakan Oniz, an archaeologist from Eastern Mediterranean University who specializes in underwater research, investigated a structure in the lake that local lore held was some kind of mystical minaret that appeared and disappeared in relation to the rate of sinful behavior by nearby villagers. The ruins, about 800 feet from shore, may have been a lighthouse.


Since then, Dr. Aydingun’s team and researchers from eight foreign universities have found a second, older port on the peninsula’s eastern side, its Greek influences suggesting that it dated to about the second century B.C.


Nearby, atop the round foundations of a Greek temple, they found the remains of a fifth- or sixth-century Byzantine church and cemetery with 20 burials, and a large stone relief of a Byzantine cross. Coins, pottery and other artifacts indicate that the church suffered damage in the devastating earthquake of 557 but was in use until 1037, when a tremor leveled it — crushing three men whose bodies were found beneath a collapsed wall, along with a coin bearing the image of a minor emperor who ruled during the year of the quake.


After bushwhacking through nettle-choked underbrush a mile and a half north of the harbor, the researchers excavated a 360-by-90-foot open-air cistern or pool, as well as walls and foundations from several multistory buildings that may have been part of a villa or palace altered over many centuries.


Because the archaeologists are at the beginning of a multiyear dig at a site not known from historical sources, they are hesitant to draw many conclusions. Even the name Bathonea is a placeholder, inspired by two ancient references: the first-century historian Pliny the Elder’s “Natural History,” which refers to the river feeding the lake as Bathynias; and a work by a ninth-century Byzantine monk, Theophanes, who called the region Bathyasos.


“There is a big question mark over the name,” Dr. Aydingun said. “It’s too early to say. But the name is not important. The important thing to note is that there are buildings, roads” where “people thought there was nothing.”


“But there’s something there,” she went on. “We need a lifetime to discover what it is. But even by next year, we’ll be able to say more.”


The archaeologists know this much: The site was large. It sprawled across at least three square miles, and its sea wall is nearly half the length of the one that surrounded Constantinople itself. It was moderately wealthy; the region was a country retreat for the urban elite, drawn by its fertile hunting grounds and Lake Kucukcekmece itself, the freshwater body closest to the city. They built villas and palaces all around the region.


Roman glass and high-end pottery dating as late as the 14th century were found throughout the site. Marble, including a gorgeous milky-blue variety, lined the walls and floors of the church and at least one of the buildings.


Also discovered were hundreds of bricks stamped “Konstans,” which were produced in Constantinople beginning in the fifth century and had mostly been discovered at imperial sites like Hagia Sophia, the sixth-century architectural marvel and primary cathedral of the Byzantine Empire for almost 900 years, and nearby Rhegion, a fifth-century compound on a hill across the lake from Bathonea, overlooking the Marmara Sea.


Bathonea was also well connected. Some pottery was made as far away as Palestine and Syria, typical of places with access to foreign goods. It had wide stone roads, the earliest dating to the Roman era.


But its relationship to Constantinople is still unclear. “I like the idea of Bathonea as a satellite port of a major city,” said Bradley A. Ault, a classical archaeologist with the University at Buffalo who has studied ancient port cities in Greece and Cyprus. “It falls in line with Athens and Piraeus, Rome and Ostia.”


If that is the case, the port may have served as a safe harbor on protected waters outside the city walls for both commercial ships and the imperial naval fleet. “In the fifth century, they had a major fleet around Constantinople,” said Robert Ousterhout, a Byzantine scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. “They had ports around the Golden Horn and the Marmara.”


Now 13 to 65 feet deep, Lake Kucukcekmece would have been a deep bay navigable by ships of all sizes, Dr. Aydingun said. Sonar has revealed what may be six Byzantine iron anchors buried in the sand just offshore, and nails commonly used in shipbuilding were unearthed at the site.


In recent years, Istanbul has been the scene of several stunning discoveries during salvage archaeology digs, most notably at the Yenikapi transit project, which unearthed a remarkable array of shipwrecks. No shipwrecks have been found at Bathonea; nor are they likely to be anytime soon, said Mr. Oniz, the underwater archaeologist. The lake is so polluted by industrial runoff that diving in it is dangerous, he said. A new water-treatment facility may make exploration possible within a few years.


The Bathonea archaeologists also hope to uncover more artifacts dating to the earliest days of civilization. In 2007, Dr. Aydingun and Emre Guldogan of Istanbul University found 9,000-year-old flint tools at the site that could be evidence of the earliest pre-pottery farming settlement in Europe. Bathonea’s role — and its real name — can be determined only through further study, Dr. Aydingun said.


Ground-penetrating radar has indicated that extensive structures remain beneath the soil. And as all of their efforts have been focused on the waterfront, the archaeologists have yet to investigate the patches of trees and brush farther inland that farmers have long avoided because their plows cannot cut through them.


Dr. Aydingun suspects there is a good reason for that. “I think all of these buildings continue,” she said. “Can you imagine?”


This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 25, 2012


An earlier version of this article described incorrectly the span of time over which Constantinople was a seat of power. It was a linchpin in two, not three, successive empires: the Ottoman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire, which preceded it and is also known as the Byzantine Empire.