Kennewick Man bones not from Columbia Valley, scientist tells tribes

In a historic first meeting of two very different worlds, Columbia Plateau tribal leaders met privately Tuesday with scientist Doug Owsley, who led the court battle to study Kennewick Man.

By Lynda V. Mapes

Seattle Times staff reporter

Originally published Tuesday, October 9, 2012 at 8:19 PM


ELLENSBURG — In a historic first meeting of two very different worlds, Columbia Plateau tribal leaders met privately Tuesday with the scientist who led the court battle to study Kennewick Man.


The skeleton, more than 9,500 years old, has long been at the center of a rift between tribal members and scientists, led by Doug Owsley, a physical anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History who spearheaded the legal challenge to gain access to the skeleton for scientific study.


Owsley says study shows that not only wasn't Kennewick Man Indian, he wasn't even from the Columbia Valley, which was inhabited by prehistoric Plateau tribes.


Tribal leaders who fought for reburial of the remains invited Owsley to meet with them this week to present the scientific findings to date.


After nine years of legal battles, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2004 ruled that the remains discovered in 1996, eroded from a bank of the Columbia River, were not protected by the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA), because the bones were so old that it was impossible to establish a link with modern-day Native Americans.


Owsley spent most of the day presenting his findings from the study of the skeleton, one of the most complete sets of remains ever recovered, for the gathering hosted by Central Washington University.


While Owsley has said in the past that Kennewick Man is not of Native-American descent, he said here for the first time that he believed the man was not even from this area.


Isotopes in the bones told scientists Kennewick Man was a hunter of marine mammals, such as seals, Owsley said. "They are not what you would expect for someone from the Columbia Valley," he said. "You would have to eat salmon 24 hours a day and you would not reach these values.


"This is a man from the coast, not a man from here. I think he is a coastal man."


Rex Buck, leader of the Wanapum people, told Owsley he appreciated the presentation, but that lamprey eel could provide the same types of marine-mammal nutrients that Owsley noted. "I hope you would think about some of these things, too, and add that to your equation."


Pressed by Armand Minthorn of the Umatilla Board of Trustees, who asked Owsley directly, "Is Kennewick Man Native American?" Owsley said no. "There is not any clear genetic relationship to Native American peoples," Owsley said. "I do not look at him as Native American ... I can't see any kind of continuity. He is a representative of a very different people."


His skull, Owsley said, was most similar to an Asian Coastal people whose characteristics are shared with people, later, of Polynesian descent.


And, while tribes want the remains returned for reburial, Owsley said there is still much more to learn from the skeleton, which has largely been inaccessible but for two instances, in which a team of about 15 scientists could study it for a total of about two weeks.


Tribal members listened for hours to Owsley's highly detailed presentation, but it did not budge their conviction that Kennewick Man is a part of their people's past — and needs to be reburied.


The remains of Kennewick Man reside at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle. Tribal members make regular visits to the museum to pay their respects and offer songs and ceremony to the Ancient One, as he is called in tribal communities. Minthorn said reburial still needs to happen, and that the law should be changed to give tribes better control of sacred remains.


"That is the only way we will get him back," said Minthorn, who added that tribes are waiting until after the election to continue their push to get the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act changed in Congress, so tribes can press for return of the skeleton.


"Today just adds to getting the Kennewick Man back," he told Owsley. "That is our goal and that is going to be our effort. It would be great if you could help. If you don't that is OK, too."


Ruth Jim, a member of the Yakama Tribal Council, where she is head of the tribe's cultural committee, said it is frustrating that Kennewick Man is still out of the ground. "I don't disagree that the scientists want to do their job, but there should be a time limit. The only concern we have as tribal leaders is he needs to return to Mother Earth," she said.


Vivian Harrison, NAGPRA coordinator for the Yakama, said it was disturbing to look at the slides Owsley showed, with the bones presented on a platform to be scrutinized from every angle. "Really, to me, it's sad. This is a human being and his journey has been interrupted by leaving the ground."


Jaqueline Cook, repatriation specialist for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said scientists' finding that the skeleton had been purposefully buried was significant.


"It says a lot that somebody took care of him," Cook said. "To me that says community. And that he is part of the land. And our land."


The day's presentation was "subtly traumatic," said Johnny Buck, one of Rex Buck's sons and a member of the steering committee of the Native Youth Leadership Alliance. "We have medicine people that took care of bodies. But we never did look so long at them."


In parting, Minthorn presented Owsley with a traditional gesture of tribal respect, a Pendleton blanket, on behalf of the Plateau Tribes. With it, he extended his hand — and asked for help in returning the skeleton of the Ancient One.


While they don't know where they are yet headed together, those gathered ended the day with something they did not have before: the start of a relationship.


In his closing prayer, Rex Buck said, "We have listened to this man, and he has listened to us. And it was good."



Mysterious Elk-Shaped Structure Discovered in Russia

By Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor | LiveScience.com – Fri, Oct 12, 2012


A huge geoglyph in the shape of an elk or deer discovered in Russia may predate Peru's famous Nazca Lines by thousands of years. 

The animal-shaped stone structure, located near Lake Zjuratkul in the Ural Mountains, north of Kazakhstan, has an elongated muzzle, four legs and two antlers. A historical Google Earth satellite image from 2007 shows what may be a tail, but this is less clear in more recent imagery.

Excluding the possible tail, the animal stretches for about 900 feet (275 meters) at its farthest points (northwest to southeast), the researchers estimate, equivalent to two American football fields. The figure faces north and would have been visible from a nearby ridge.

"The figure would initially have looked white and slightly shiny against the green grass background," write Stanislav Grigoriev, of the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of History & Archaeology, and Nikolai Menshenin, of the State Centre for Monument Protection, in an article first detailing the discovery published last spring in the journal Antiquity. They note that it is now covered by a layer of soil.

Fieldwork carried out this past summer has shed more light on the glyph's composition and date, suggesting it may be the product of a "megalithic culture," researchers say. They note that hundreds of megalithic sites have been discovered in the Urals, with the most elaborate structures located on a freshwater island about 35 miles (60 km) northeast of the geoglyph. [See Photos of Russia's Nazca Lines]

Discovery & excavation

A man named Alexander Shestakov first discovered the glyphs using satellite images. He alerted researchers, who sent out a hydroplane and paraglider to survey the giant structure.

This has since progressed to an on-the-ground excavation by a team led by Grigoriev. They've found that the stone architecture of the geoglyph is quite elaborate. When they excavated part of a hind leg the largest stones were on the edges, the smaller ones inside. This past summer they also found the remains of passageways and what appear to be small walls on the hoof and muzzle of the animal.

"The hoof is made of small crushed stones and clay. It seems to me there were very low walls and narrow passages among them. The same situation in the area of a muzzle: crushed stones and clay, four small broad walls and three passages," Grigorievwrote in an email to LiveScience. He cautioned that his team didn't excavate all the way down to the bottom of the walls, not wishing to damage the geoglyph.

Dating the geoglyph

Among the finds from the excavations are about 40 stone tools, made of quartzite, found on the structure's surface. Most of them are pickaxe-like tools called  mattocks, useful for digging and chopping. "Perhaps they were used to extract clay," he writes in the email.

The style of stone-working called lithic chipping used on one artifact dates it to the Neolithic and Eneolithic (sixth to third millennia B.C.), though Grigoriev says the technology is more typical of the Eneolithic, between the fourth and third millennia B.C.

If that date is correct, it would make the geoglyph far older than Peru's Nazca Lines, the very earliest of which were created around 500 B.C. Grigorievadded that current studies of ancient pollen at the site will help to narrow down the age. [Gallery: Aerial Photos Reveal Mysterious Stone Structures]

In the Antiquity journal article, Grigoriev and Menshenin point out that palaeozoological studies show that the landscape in the southern Urals supported fewer trees in the Eneolithic, with forest growth not appearing until about 2,500 years ago. "This means that there were open landscapes in the Eneolithic and Bronze Age, which allowed the hill figure to be created," they write.

A megalithic culture

Researchers say this geoglyph may have been built by a "megalithic culture" in the region that created stone monuments in prehistoric times.

"[M]any megalithic sites with features in common with European megaliths have been located: Some 300 are known but have not yet been studied in detail," write Grigoriev and Menshenin in the Antiquity article. Among these megaliths are numerous "menhirs," large upright standing stones.

The most spectacular megalithic complexes are on the relatively small Vera Island, located on Turgoyak Lake, about 35 miles (60 km) northeast of the geoglyph.

Grigoriev and Julia Vasina of the South-Ural State University described the Vera Island megaliths in a 2010 article, noting the surviving portion of one monument, megalith two, as being covered by a mound and supporting a gallery and square chamber. Another monument, megalith one, is cut into the bedrock and covered by a mound consisting of stones, brown sand and lots of grass. It is more than 60 feet (19 meters) long and 20 feet (6 meters) wide. It contains three chambers one of which has "bas relief sculptures" in the shape of animals, probably a bull and wolf.

Stone tools and ceramics found at the megalithic sites date them to between the Eneolithic period and the early Iron Age, around 3,000 years ago. Researchers emphasize more dating work needs to be done to verify; however, if the evidence holds, the giant geoglyph, along with the megaliths, were constructed millennia before Peru's Nazca Lines, a testament to the building prowess of an ancient prehistoric culture in the Ural Mountains.



Neolithic discovery: why Orkney is the centre of ancient Britain

Long before the Egyptians began the pyramids, Neolithic man built a vast temple complex at the top of what is now Scotland. Robin McKie visits the astonishing Ness of Brodgar

Robin McKie

The Observer, Saturday 6 October 2012 19.22 BST


Drive west from Orkney's capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island's two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs' peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre; a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.


This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.


This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. "We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine," says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. "In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres of land."


Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.


The people of the Neolithic – the new Stone Age – were the first farmers in Britain, and they arrived on Orkney about 6,000 years ago. They cultivated the land, built farmsteads and rapidly established a vibrant culture, erecting giant stone circles, chambered communal tombs – and a giant complex of buildings at the Ness of Brodgar. The religious beliefs that underpinned these vast works is unknown, however, as is the purpose of the Brodgar temples.


"This wasn't a settlement or a place for the living," says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement in the 1980s. "This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery."


What is clear is that the cultural energy of the few thousand farming folk of Orkney dwarfed those of other civilisations at that time. In size and sophistication, the Ness of Brodgar is comparable with Stonehenge or the wonders of ancient Egypt. Yet the temple complex predates them all. The fact that this great stately edifice was constructed on Orkney, an island that has become a byword for remoteness, makes the site's discovery all the more remarkable. For many archaeologists, its discovery has revolutionised our understanding of ancient Britain.


"We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes," says Card, now Brodgar's director of excavations. "London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time."


It is a view shared by local historian Tom Muir, of the Orkney Museum. "The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place," he says.


Farmers first reached Orkney on boats that took them across the narrow – but treacherously dangerous – Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland. These were the people of the New Stone Age, and they brought cattle, pigs and sheep with them, as well as grain to plant and ploughs to till the land. The few hunter-gatherers already living on Orkney were replaced and farmsteads were established across the archipelago. These early farmers were clearly successful, though life would still have been precarious, with hunting providing precious supplies of extra protein. At the village of Knap o'Howar on Papay the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs have been found alongside those of wild deer, whales and seals, for example, while analysis of human bones from the period suggest that few people reached the age of 50. Those who survived childhood usually died in their 30s.


Discarded stone tools and shards of elegant pottery also indicate that the early Orcadians were developing an increasingly sophisticated society. Over the centuries, their small farming communities coalesced into larger tribal units, possibly with an elite ruling class, and they began to construct bigger and bigger monuments. These sites included the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae; the giant chambered grave of Maeshowe, a Stone Age mausoleum whose internal walls were later carved with runes by Vikings; and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two huge neighbouring circles of standing stones. These are some of the finest Neolithic monuments in the world, and in 1999 they were given World Heritage status by Unesco, an act that led directly to the discovery of the Ness of Brodgar.


"Being given World Heritage status meant we had to think about the land surrounding the sites," says Card. "We decided to carry out geophysical surveys to see what else might be found there." Such surveys involve the use of magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint manmade artefacts hidden underground. And the first place selected by Card for this electromagnetic investigation was the Ness of Brodgar.


The ridge was assumed to be natural. However, Card's magnetometers showed that it was entirely manmade and bristled with features that included lines of walls, concentric pathways and outlines of large buildings. "The density of these features stunned us," says Card. At first, given its size, the team assumed they had stumbled on a general site that had been in continuous use for some time, providing shelter for people for most of Orkney's history, from prehistoric to medieval times. "No other interpretation seemed to fit the observations," adds Card. But once more the Ness of Brodgar would confound expectations.


Test pits, a metre square across, were drilled in lines across the ridge and revealed elaborate walls, slabs of carefully carved rock, and pieces of pottery. None came from the Bronze Age, however, nor from the Viking era or medieval times. Dozens of pits were dug over the ridge, an area the size of five football pitches, and every one revealed items with a Neolithic background.


Then the digging began in earnest and quickly revealed the remains of buildings of startling sophistication. Carefully made pathways surrounded walls – some of them several metres high – that had been constructed with patience and precision.


"It was absolutely stunning," says Colin Richards. "The walls were dead straight. Little slithers of stones had even been slipped between the main slabs to keep the facing perfect. This quality of workmanship would not be seen again on Orkney for thousands of years."


Slowly the shape and dimensions of the Ness of Brodgar site revealed themselves. Two great walls, several metres high, had been built straight across the ridge. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. "The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time," says Card.


More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of the site has been fully excavated so far.


"We have never seen anything like this before," says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. "The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does."


But it is not just the dimensions that have surprised and delighted archaeologists. Two years ago, their excavations revealed that haematite-based pigments had been used to paint external walls – another transformation in our thinking about the Stone Age. "We see Neolithic remains after they have been bleached out and eroded," says Edmonds. "However, it is now clear from Brodgar that buildings could have been perfectly cheerful and colourful."


The men and women who built at the Ness also used red and yellow sandstone to enliven their constructions. (More than 3,000 years later, their successors used the same materials when building St Magnus' Cathedral in Kirkwall.) But what was the purpose of their construction work and why put it in the Ness of Brodgar? Of the two questions, the latter is the easier to answer – for the Brodgar headland is clearly special. "When you stand here, you find yourself in a glorious landscape," says Card. "You are in the middle of a natural amphitheatre created by the hills around you."


The surrounding hills are relatively low, and a great dome of sky hangs over Brodgar, perfect for watching the setting and rising of the sun, moon and other celestial objects. (Card believes the weather on Orkney may have been warmer and clearer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.) Cosmology would have been critical to society then, he argues, helping farmers predict the seasons – a point supported by scientists such as the late Alexander Thom, who believed that the Ring of Brodgar was an observatory designed for studying the movement of the moon.


These outposts of Neolithic astronomy, although impressive, were nevertheless peripheral, says Richards. The temple complex at the Ness of Brodgar was built to be the most important construction on the island. "The stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the other features of the landscape were really just adjuncts to that great edifice," he says. Or as another archaeologist put it: "By comparison, everything else in the area looks like a shanty town."


For a farming community of a few thousand people to create such edifices suggests that the Ness of Brodgar was of profound importance. Yet its purpose remains elusive. The ritual purification of the dead by fire may be involved, suggests Card. As he points out, several of the temples at Brodgar have hearths, though this was clearly not a domestic dwelling. In addition, archeologists have found that many of the stone mace heads (hard, polished, holed stones) that litter the site had been broken in two in exactly the same place. "We have found evidence of this at other sites," says Richards. "It may be that relatives broke them in two at a funeral, leaving one part with the dead and one with family as a memorial to the dead. This was a place concerned with death and the deceased, I believe."


Equally puzzling was the fate of the complex. Around 2,300BC, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned. Perhaps a transfer of power took place or a new religion replaced the old one. Whatever the reason, the great temple complex – on which Orcadians had lavished almost a millennium's effort – was abandoned and forgotten for the next 4,000 years.



Late Bronze Age Hoard Discovered in Jersey


OCTOBER 10, 2012


A Late Bronze Age hoard has been uncovered in a field in the Parish of Trinity, Jersey just months after the biggest Celtic coin hoard of all time was unearthed in the Island.


It is thought that the find is a Late Bronze Age pottery vessel (around 1000 BC) containing what appear to be weapons and tools. At present, two socketed axe heads have been identified but it is not yet confirmed what else is contained within the vessel.


Curator of Archaeology at Jersey Museum, Olga Finch said, ‘For there to have been two archaeologically important finds in the space of just a few months illustrates the extent of Jersey’s rich cultural heritage and how significant the Island’s archaeology is. There has been a number of Late Bronze Age hoards found in Jersey already, some of which have been founder’s hoards which would have been recovered and melted down into metal. We are lucky in that this particular find appears to be mostly intact, which makes it quite rare and should help us to learn more about why the find was buried.’


The find was discovered by Ken Rive from the Jersey Metal Detecting Society who, believing he had found something significant, contacted Jersey Heritage and the Société Jersiaise. Ken came across the exposed axe heads and quickly realized they were contained within a pottery vessel.


The hoard is being excavated by Jersey Heritage staff, Olga Finch (Curator of Archaeology) and Neil Mahrer (Conservator), Robert Waterhouse of the Société Jersiaise, and Ken, the finder. Yesterday (Tuesday), the vessel was being excavated in the trench to find out more about how it was buried before being taken up in one piece. It will now be opened up in the lab in order that the contents can be fully analysed and identified. The top part of the hoard has been damaged by a plough but it is not yet understood the extent of this damage.


The find comes just a few months after an Iron Age hoard containing around 70,000 coins and weighing approximately 3/ 4 of a ton was uncovered in the Parish of Grouville.



Tomb Near Serres Wife, Son of Alexander?


By Stella Tsolakidou on October 6, 2012 In News


Αrchaeologists from the 28th Ephorate of Antiquities unearthed a tomb in the city of Amphipolis, near Serres, northern Greece, which they believe could belong to the wife and son of Alexander the Great, Roxane and Alexander IV.


The circular precinct is three meters, or nearly 10 feet high and its perimeter is about 500 metes, or 1,640 feet surrounding the tomb located in an urban area close to the small city of Amphipolis. The head of the team, Katerina Peristeri noted that it is too soon to talk with certainty about the identities of the discovery.


“Of course this precinct is one we have never seen before, neither in Vergina nor anywhere else in Greece. There is no doubt about this. However, any further associations with historic figures or presumptions cannot be yet made because of the severe lack of evidence and finances that will not allow to continue the excavations at least for the time being,” she added.


The area has since 1965 been known as Kasta Tom, but these are the first excavations to take place there. The project began without any secured funds, which resulted in only parts of the impressive site coming to light. Analysts suggested that conclusions about the owners of the tomb cannot be drawn without first unearthing the tombs and discovering evidence about their identities.


Nevertheless, local authorities and media rushed into claiming and believing that the tomb belongs to Alexander’s wife and son, who, according to legend, had been ostracized to Macedonia after Alexander’s death. There the 12-year-old Alexander the IV and his mother Roxane were murdered. Tradition has it that the two victims were buried in Amphipolis but no evidence so far has proved this.



Archaeologists Find Exact Spot where Julius Caesar was Stabbed

Published: Oct 12th, 2012 Archaeology | By Sergio Prostak


Researchers from the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) claim that they have found the accurate spot in Rome where Julius Caesar was stabbed to death on March 15, 44 BC.


Roman texts depict that Julius Caesar was assassinated at Curia of Pompey by a group of senators.


“We always knew that Julius Caesar was killed in the Curia of Pompey on March 15th 44 BC because the classical texts pass on so, but so far no material evidence of this fact had been recovered,” said Dr Antonio Monterroso, CSIC researcher with the Institute of History of the Center for Humanities and Social Sciences.


Inside the Pompey’s Theater in Rome’s historic Torre Argentina square, the archaeologists found a 3 m (9 feet) wide and over 2 m (6 feet) high concrete structure that had been erected by order of Augustus, Caesar’s adopted son who took power upon his death.


“We know for sure that the place where Julius Caesar presided over that session of the Senate, and where he fell stabbed, was closed with a rectangular structure organized under four walls delimiting a Roman concrete filling. However, we don’t know if this closure also involved that the building ceased to be totally accessible,” Dr Monterroso said.


“It is very attractive that thousands of people today take the bus and the tram right next to the place where Julius Caesar was stabbed 2056 years ago,” he said.



Italian archaeologists find 2 sunken Roman ships off Turkey

08 OCTOBER, 15:16


 (ANSA) - Ankara, October 8 - Two ancient Roman shipwrecks, complete with their cargo, have been discovered by Italian archaeologists off the coast of Turkey near the the ancient Roman city of Elaiussa Sebaste.


The ships, one dating from the Roman Imperial period and the other from about the sixth century AD, have been found with cargoes of amphorae and marble, say researchers from the Italian Archaeological Mission of Rome's University La Sapienza.


Both ships were discovered near Elaiussa Sebaste, on the Aegean coast of Turkey near Mersin, according to a statement issued by the Italian embassy in Ankara.


Officials say the discoveries - led by Italian archaeologist Eugenia Equini Schneider - confirm the important role Elaiussa Sebaste played within the main sea routes between Syria, Egypt, and the Anatolian peninsula from the days of Augustus until the early Byzantine period. Elaiussa, meaning olive, was founded in the 2nd century BC on a tiny island attached to the mainland by a narrow isthmus in the Mediterranean Sea.


Schneider has been leading the excavations since 1995



Roman marble coffin sells for £96,000

8 October 2012 Last updated at 21:29


A Roman marble coffin which was spotted in the bushes of a garden in Dorset has sold at auction for £96,000.


The 7ft (2.1m) sarcophagus was being used as a trough to stand flowers in, until its significance was recognised by auction valuer Guy Schwinge.


Mr Schwinge described how he saw the coffin "peeping out from under some bushes" during a routine valuation.


"As I drew closer I realised I was looking at a Roman sarcophagus of exceptional quality," he said.


Mr Schwinge, of Duke's in Dorchester, discovered the family had acquired the sarcophagus almost 100 years ago at auction.


Many of the oldest Roman religious cults were associated with places, natural forces and aspects of everyday life

At the core of belief lay the the state religion, which prescribed worship of traditional gods such as Jupiter and Mars

Romans had traditionally cremated their dead, but inhumation gradually became more common in the 2nd Century

Indeed, although ancient Egyptians popularised the custom of preserving the body, stone coffins - sarcophagi - were used in the early Roman Empire before the arrival of Christianity

Source: BBC History


Find out how the ancient Romans worshipped

How the Christian 'cult' converted Emperor Constantine

An auction catalogue from 1913 shows the coffin was imported to Britain by Queen Victoria's surveyor of pictures, Sir John Robinson, who lived at Newton Manor in Swanage, Dorset.


"When I saw the name Duke's on the front (of the catalogue) I couldn't believe it," Mr Schwinge said.


The rectangular sarcophagus is carved from fine quality white marble, said a spokesman for Duke's, who sold the coffin for a second time.


The quality of the carving suggests it was made for a high status individual.


Experts from the British Museum have estimated the sarcophagus dates from the 2nd Century.


The owners were "utterly delighted" with the sale, Duke's said.