'Time-capsule' Japanese lake sediment advances radiocarbon dating for older objects

Public release date: 18-Oct-2012

Contact: University of Oxford press office



University of Oxford


A new series of radiocarbon measurements from Japan's Lake Suigetsu will give scientists a more accurate benchmark for dating materials, especially for older objects, according to a research team that included Oxford University's Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit.


The research team extracted cores of beautifully preserved layers of sediment, containing organic material (such as tree leaf and twig fossils), from the bottom of the Japanese lake where they had lain undisturbed for tens of thousands of years. As an article in the journal Science explains, the findings are hugely significant because they provide a much more precise way to examine radiocarbon ages of organic material for the entire 11,000-53,000-year time range. For example, archaeologists should now be able to pinpoint more accurately the timing of the extinction of Neanderthals or the spread of modern humans into Europe.


At the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, Professor Christopher Ramsey with his doctoral student Richard Staff and chemist Dr Fiona Brock worked with two other radiocarbon laboratories (the NERC facility at East Kilbride, Scotland, and Groningen in the Netherlands) on the radiocarbon record from the lake. This research is part of a large international research team, led by Professor Takeshi Nakagawa of Newcastle University, studying the cores for clues about past climate and environmental change.


Radiocarbon is continuously produced in the upper atmosphere. These roughly constant levels of radiocarbon from the atmosphere are then incorporated into all living organisms. Once the organisms die, the radioactive isotope decays at a known rate, so by measuring the radiocarbon levels remaining in samples today scientists can work out how old things are. However, the complication in the calculation is that the initial amounts of radiocarbon in the environment, which are in turn incorporated into growing organisms, vary slightly from year to year and between different parts of the global carbon cycle.


The radiocarbon in the leaf fossils preserved in the sediment of Lake Suigetsu comes directly from the atmosphere and, as such, is not affected by the processes that can slightly change the radiocarbon levels found in marine sediments or cave formations. Before the publication of this new research, the longest and most important radiocarbon dating records came from such marine sediments or cave formations, but these needed to be corrected. At last, the cores from Lake Suigetsu provide a more complete, direct record of radiocarbon from the atmosphere without the need for further correction.


The cores are unique: they display layers in the sediment for each year, giving scientists the means of counting back the years. These counts are compared with over 800 radiocarbon dates from the preserved fossil leaves.The only other direct record of atmospheric carbon comes from tree rings, but this only goes back to 12,593 years ago. The Lake Suigetsu record extends much further to 52,800 years ago, increasing the direct radiocarbon record by more than 40,000 years.


'In most cases the radiocarbon levels deduced from marine and other records have not been too far wrong. However, having a truly terrestrial record gives us better resolution and confidence in radiocarbon dating,' said Professor Ramsey. 'It also allows us to look at the differences between the atmosphere and oceans, and study the implications for our understanding of the marine environment as part of the global carbon cycle.'


To construct a radiocarbon record from Lake Suigetsu, Professor Ramsey and his colleagues measured radiocarbon from terrestrial plant fragments spaced throughout the core. The research team also counted the light and dark layers throughout the glacial period to place the radiocarbon measurements in time. Many of the layers were too fine to be distinguished by the naked eye, so the researchers used a microscope, as well as a method called X-ray fluorescence that identifies chemical changes along the core.


A record of year-to-year changes in radiocarbon levels in the atmosphere, such as those found in a sediment core, must be 'anchored' in time by assigning some part of it an absolute age. The researchers did this by matching the first 12,200 years of their record with the tree-ring data, a well-established record that begins in the present. Ramsey and colleagues also lined up segments of their data with those of other records from the same time periods and found that they generally aligned.


'This record will not result in major revisions of dates. But, for example in prehistoric archaeology, there will be small shifts in chronology in the order of hundreds of years,' said Professor Ramsey. 'Such changes can be very significant when you are trying to examine human responses to climate that are often dated by other methods, such as through layer counting from the Greenland ice cores. For the first time we have a more accurate calibrated time-scale, which will allow us to answer questions in archaeology that we have not had the resolution to address before.'


Generally, researchers use a composite record called IntCal to determine the ages of objects, based on their radiocarbon measurements. The IntCal record uses data from multiple sources, including marine records, stalagmites and stalactites, and tree rings. It is expected that the Suigetsu data will be incorporated into the latest iteration of IntCal, which is due to be released within the next few months.


Notes for Editors


*'A complete terrestrial radiocarbon record for 11.2-52.8 kyr BP' by Ramsey et al will be published in Science on Thursday 18 October 2012. The publication is strictly embargoed until 2pm Eastern Time in the US and 7pm GMT in the UK.


*Journalists may download embargoed copies of this article from the Science press package web page, at www.eurekalert.org/jrnls/sci/ or request them from the SciPak team at +1-202-326-6440 or scipak@aaas.org.


*The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) is the world's largest general scientific society and publisher of the journal Science (www.sciencemag.org) as well as Science Translational Medicine (www.sciencetranslationalmedicine.org) and Science Signaling (www.sciencesignaling.org). AAAS was founded in 1848 and includes some 261 affiliated societies and academies of science, serving 10 million individuals. Science has the largest paid circulation of any peer-reviewed general science journal in the world, with an estimated total readership of 1 million. The non-profit AAAS (www.aaas.org) is open to all and fulfills its mission to "advance science and serve society" through initiatives in science policy, international programs, science education, public engagement, and more. For the latest research news, log onto EurekAlert!, www.eurekalert.org, the premier science-news Web site, a service of AAAS. See www.aaas.org.




Swedish Stonehenge? Tomb may predate English site

59 massive boulders were arranged in the 220-foot-long outline of a ship

By Tia Ghose

updated 10/22/2012 1:12:43 PM ET


A 5,500-year-old tomb possibly belonging to a Stone Age chieftain has been unearthed at a megalithic monument in the shape of a ship called the Ale's Stenar (Ale's Stones). The tomb, in Sweden, was likely robbed of stones to build the Viking-era ship monument.

"We found traces — mostly imprints — of large boulders," said lead archaeologist Bengst Söderberg of the Swedish National Heritage Board. "So my conviction is that some of the stones at least, they are standing on the ship setting."

Perched on a seaside cliff in the village of Kåseberga stands the Ales Stenar, also called Ale's Stones, 59 massive boulders arranged in the 220-foot (67-meter)-long outline of a ship. Most researchers believe the 1,400-year-old ship structure is a burial monument built toward the end of Sweden's Iron Age. Local legend has it that the mythic King Ale lies beneath the site.

The Ales Stenar megaliths, some of which weigh as much as 4,000 pounds (1,800 kilograms), have distinctive cut marks similar to ones found at Stone Age sites. So researchers wondered whether the stones were stolen from an even older monument, Söderberg told LiveScience. [ See Photos of Ale's Stones & Tomb ]

In 2006, archaeologists used magnetic sensors and radar to map the area's underground terrain and found a larger circular structure about 541 feet (165 m) in diameter, with a 65-foot by 25-foot rectangle at its heart.

Last week, the team finally dug a small trench through the center of the circle and unearthed the imprints of giant boulders that had been removed long ago. Though the team didn't find a skeleton, the imprints suggested the site was a Neolithic burial chamber called a dolmen — several upright stones with a horizontal boulder on top in which a body would be placed.

"All of the stones had been taken away. And I would say, most probably they are standing 40 meters away from the dolmen where the ship setting is situated," Söderberg said.


Based on the layout, the dolmen may be up to 5,500 years old — possibly older than Stonehenge. The large burial chamber likely belonged to a local chieftain or the head of a clan during the Neolithic Era, he said. Because there was very little evidence from the outer ring, the researchers aren’t yet sure what it was used for or whether it’s as old as the dolmen.

Thousands of dolmen sites are scattered throughout Scandinavia, though later civilizations stole many of the boulders to build churches and other structures, he said.

The giant rock monuments suggest that even our Stone Age ancestors had a sense of posterity and permanence, said Magnus Andersson of the Swedish National Heritage Board in an email.

The new tomb also shows that this particular spot, with its dramatic cliffs overlooking the Baltic Sea, has inspired people in many different ages, he said.

"The scenic place on the ridge must have attracted people in all times," he said. "It shows that people over a long period build their monuments and perform their ceremonies on the same sites.”



Breakthrough in world's oldest undeciphered writing

By Sean Coughlan

BBC News education correspondent

22 October 2012


The world's oldest undeciphered writing system, which has so far defied attempts to uncover its 5,000-year-old secrets, could be about to be decoded by Oxford University academics.


This international research project is already casting light on a lost bronze age middle eastern society where enslaved workers lived on rations close to the starvation level.


"I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough," says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.


Dr Dahl's secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.


In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.


This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets. This is Indiana Jones with software.


It's being used to help decode a writing system called proto-Elamite, used between around 3200BC and 2900BC in a region now in the south west of modern Iran.


And the Oxford team think that they could be on the brink of understanding this last great remaining cache of undeciphered texts from the ancient world.


Tablet computer

Dr Dahl, from the Oriental Studies Faculty, shipped his image-making device on the Eurostar to the Louvre Museum in Paris, which holds the most important collection of this writing.



Jacob Dahl wants the public and other academics to help with an online decipherment of the texts

The clay tablets were put inside this machine, the Reflectance Transformation Imaging System, which uses a combination of 76 separate photographic lights and computer processing to capture every groove and notch on the surface of the clay tablets.


It allows a virtual image to be turned around, as though being held up to the light at every possible angle.


These images will be publicly available online, with the aim of using a kind of academic crowdsourcing.


He says it's misleading to think that codebreaking is about some lonely genius suddenly understanding the meaning of a word. What works more often is patient teamwork and the sharing of theories. Putting the images online should accelerate this process.


But this is painstaking work. So far Dr Dahl has deciphered 1,200 separate signs, but he says that after more than 10 years study much remains unknown, even such basic words as "cow" or "cattle".


He admits to being "bitten" by this challenge. "It's an unknown, uncharted territory of human history," he says.


Extinct language

But why has this writing proved so difficult to interpret?


Dr Dahl suspects he might have part of the answer. He's discovered that the original texts seem to contain many mistakes - and this makes it extremely tricky for anyone trying to find consistent patterns.


Continue reading the main story



Proto-Elamite is the name given to a writing system developed in an area that is now in south-western Iran

It was adopted about 3200BC and was borrowed from neighbouring Mesopotamia

It was written from right to left in wet clay tablets

There are more than a thousand surviving tablets in this writing

The biggest group of such texts was collected by 19th Century French archaeologists and brought back to the Louvre

While other ancient writing, such as Egyptian hieroglyphics, Sumerian and Mesopotamian, have been deciphered - attempts with proto-Elamite have proved unsuccessful

He believes this was not just a case of the scribes having a bad day at the office. There seems to have been an unusual absence of scholarship, with no evidence of any lists of symbols or learning exercises for scribes to preserve the accuracy of the writing.


This first case of educational underinvestment proved fatal for the writing system, which was corrupted and then completely disappeared after only a couple of hundred years. "It's an early example of a technology being lost," he says.


"The lack of a scholarly tradition meant that a lot of mistakes were made and the writing system may eventually have become useless."


Making it even harder to decode is the fact that it's unlike any other ancient writing style. There are no bi-lingual texts and few helpful overlaps to provide a key to these otherwise arbitrary looking dashes and circles and symbols.


This is a writing system - and not a spoken language - so there's no way of knowing how words sounded, which might have provided some phonetic clues.


Dr Dahl says that one of the really important historical significances of this proto-Elamite writing is that it was the first ever recorded case of one society adopting writing from another neighbouring group.


But infuriatingly for the codebreakers, when these proto-Elamites borrowed the concept of writing from the Mesopotamians, they made up an entirely different set of symbols.


Why they should make the intellectual leap to embrace writing and then at the same time re-invent it in a different local form remains a puzzle.


But it provides a fascinating snapshot of how ideas can both spread and change.


Mr One Hundred

In terms of written history, this is the very remote past. But there is also something very direct and almost intimate about it too.


You can see fingernail marks in the clay. These neat little symbols and drawings are clearly the work of an intelligent mind.



A set of 76 lights are used in the capturing of images of surface marks in the ancient tablets

These were among the first attempts by our human ancestors to try to make a permanent record of their surroundings. What we're doing now - my writing and your reading - is a direct continuation.


But there are glimpses of their lives to suggest that these were tough times. It wasn't so much a land of milk and honey, but porridge and weak beer.


Even without knowing all the symbols, Dr Dahl says it's possible to work out the context of many of the messages on these tablets.


The numbering system is also understood, making it possible to see that much of this information is about accounts of the ownership and yields from land and people. They are about property and status, not poetry.


This was a simple agricultural society, with a ruling household. Below them was a tier of powerful middle-ranking figures and further below were the majority of workers, who were treated like "cattle with names".


Their rulers have titles or names which reflect this status - the equivalent of being called "Mr One Hundred", he says - to show the number of people below him.


It's possible to work out the rations given to these farm labourers.


Dr Dahl says they had a diet of barley, which might have been crushed into a form of porridge, and they drank weak beer.


The amount of food received by these farm workers hovered barely above the starvation level.


However the higher status people might have enjoyed yoghurt, cheese and honey. They also kept goats, sheep and cattle.


For the "upper echelons, life expectancy for some might have been as long as now", he says. For the poor, he says it might have been as low as in today's poorest countries.


The tablets also have surprises. Even though there are plenty of pictures of animals and mythical creatures, Dr Dahl says there are no representations of the human form of any kind. Not even a hand or an eye.


Was this some kind of cultural or religious taboo?


Dr Dahl remains passionate about what this work says about such societies, digging into the deepest roots of civilisation. This is about where so much begins. For instance, proto-Elamite was the first writing ever to use syllables.


If Macbeth talked about the "last syllable of recorded time", the proto-Elamites were there for the first.


And with sufficient support, Dr Dahl says that within two years this last great lost writing could be fully understood.



Cat discovers 2,000-year-old Roman catacomb

Rome resident Mirko Curti stumbles upon tomb piled with bones while chasing wayward feline near his apartment

Tom Kington in Rome

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 18 October 2012 14.52 BST


Rome may not exactly be short of catacombs, but one discovered this week is more deserving of the name than the city's countless other subterranean burial chambers. For Mirko Curti stumbled into a 2,000-year-old tomb piled with bones while chasing a wayward moggy yards from his apartment building.


Curti and a friend were following the cat at 10pm on Tuesday when it scampered towards a low tufa rock cliff close to his home near Via di Pietralata in a residential area of the city. "The cat managed to get into a grotto and we followed the sound of its miaowing," he said.


Inside the small opening in the cliff the two men found themselves surrounded by niches dug into the rock similar to those used by the Romans to hold funeral urns, while what appeared to be human bones littered the floor.


Archaeologists called to the scene said the tomb probably dated from between the 1st century BC and the 2nd century AD. Given that niches were used to store ashes in urns, the bones had probably tumbled into the tomb from a separate burial space higher up inside the cliff.


Heavy rains at the start of the week had probably caused rocks concealing the entrance to the tomb to crumble, they added.


Soft tufa rock has often been used for digging tombs over the centuries in Italy, but its softness means that ancient sites are today threatened by the elements. The cliffs near Via di Pietralata have also been extensively quarried.


Romans are often underwhelmed and sometimes irritated to find they are living on top of priceless remains. Shoppers arriving at the Ikea store on the outskirts of Rome leave their cars alongside a stretch of Roman road unearthed in the car park, while fans queueing to enter the city's rugby stadium need to skirt around archaeologists excavating the Roman necropolis that stretches under the pitch. At the concert hall complex next door, halls had to be squeezed around an unearthed Roman villa.


But Curti said he was nonetheless amazed to wander into a tomb so close to his house, calling it "the most incredible experience" of his life.



Penis-Shaped Bone & Lover's Bust Among Trove of Roman Art

Owen Jarus, LiveScience ContributorDate: 25 October 2012 Time: 01:57 PM ET 


Amateurs using metal detectors have discovered a trove of Roman artifacts, including a bust possibly depicting a male lover of a Roman emperor, a silver and gold brooch of a leaping dolphin and a penis-shaped animal bone.


The wide array of art, found across Britain, dates back about 1,600 to 2,000 years, when the Romans ruled the island.


This art is among almost 25,000 Roman artifacts (the bulk of them coins) reported in England and Wales in 2011. They were documented as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and published recently in the journal Britannia.



In the journal article, Sally Worrell, a prehistoric and Roman finds adviser with PAS, and John Pearce, a lecturer in archaeology at King's College London, analyze a small selection of the Roman artifacts.


(This penis is made out of animal bone and has wings on it. Phallic symbols, including versions with wings, are commonly seen throughout the Roman Empire.)


In England and Wales, amateurs are allowed to use metal detectors to uncover artifacts and, depending on the nature of their finds, potentially own them. The practice is controversial, with professional archaeologists concerned about the disturbance of potential sites and the loss of provenance information. PAS, a government-backed program, records the findings in an online public database. Some information, such as the precise details of find spots, is restricted to protect potential archaeological sites.


The silver, gold-gilded dolphin brooch is one of the most unusual examples. Found in Essex County, northeast of London, Worrell told LiveScience in an interview that it is a rare piece. "Something that sort of depicts a three-dimensional dolphin is a bit rare, should we say," she said. "I certainly had a look at all the publications from this country and I couldn't really find another one like it."


Worrell believes the artifact was likely created on the European mainland and brought to Britain in Roman times. "We can't say if it was worn by a man or woman, it could have been either, but I think it was a special sort of brooch."


Worrell and her colleagues also describe a finger-ring that British Museum analysis determined was 90- to 93-percent gold. Coincidentally, it was found in Nottinghamshire, the legendary stomping grounds of Robin Hood (he lived long after Roman times).


Incised with decorations, it has a "tiny oval gem" at its center and is so small it was likely worn by a child or woman, Worrell said. It may have been given as a betrothal ring. "It's a very small but very attractive piece," she said. "It might have been a symbol of high status if you like."


How a rich, ancient find like this ended up buried in Nottinghamshire is a mystery. It could simply have been lost. Or, Worrell said, "They might have deposited an object like that as a gift to the gods. We just don't know."


Dazzling & alluring


Another new artifact, this one from Northumberland, highlights the colorful enamel work that was carried out on the island around 1,800 years ago. In it, detailed rosettes are shown amid shrinking circles drawn in blue, white and red. It would have decorated the harness of a Roman rider's horse. "It's very pretty and it would have looked quite dazzling," Worrell said.


Even more alluring, arguably, was a copper alloy bust that depicts a bare-chested young man that could be Antinous, the male lover of Emperor Hadrian.


The hollow bust, found near Market Rasen in Lincolnshire, appears to be a furniture fitting, perhaps part of a furniture chest. Researchers can't be certain that this is Hadrian's lover but its hairstyle closely matches other statues known of him.


Hadrian ruled between A.D. 117 and 138 and focused on consolidating the Roman Empire. He authorized construction of a system of fortifications in Britain known as Hadrian's Wall. Homosexuality was not viewed negatively in ancient Rome and the emperor's affair with Antinous, a Greek man, was not unusual. [In Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]


"[T]o ordinary Romans it mattered little, for in the beginning, at least, Hadrian's predilections seemed nothing special," writes British Museum curator Thorsten Opper in his book "Hadrian: Empire and Conflict" (Cambridge University Press, 2008).


However, when Antinous died in Egypt in A.D. 130, while Hadrian was touring the province, the emperor took it very hard. He ordered the deification of his dead lover, and the Antinous cult spread throughout the empire with statues of him being erected and a city, in Egypt, being named after him.


John Pearce told LiveScience that, if the newly found bust is Antinous, it would be only the third example known from Britain. "If it is Antinous, it's quite interesting because it's one of the few pieces of evidence that we have for the cult of Antinous extending beyond the Mediterranean."


A few artifacts show the erotic side of Roman art. The most explicit object is a copper alloy knife handle found in North Yorkshire and showing a man and woman having sex.


This copper alloy knife handle shows a couple having sex.

"The man lies on a couch and is straddled by a woman who faces his feet, which she holds, while the man's left hand rests on her left buttock," write Worrell and Pearce in the journal article.


"It's not uncommon to find sexually explicit iconography in the Roman household complex generally," Pearce said in the interview, noting that Pompeii, a city in Italy buried in a volcanic eruption, has explicit murals.


"One theory is that those scenes that show sexual activity have an apotropaic power, because they make you laugh so that wards off the evil eye," he said. A knife with a handle like this could be carried around, protecting the user. "It's a kind of insurance policy."


Another risqué item is a penis carved out of animal bone with two wings on it, a common motif in Roman times, Pearce noted.


Yet another item is a hollow pendent in the shape of a penis, this one made out of gold. The use of the precious metal to make a penis is "probably telling you mostly about the status of the person who commissioned it," Pearce said.



‘Most important’ archaeological finds for a century found in village

James Franklin, Reporter

Wednesday, October 24, 2012


ARCHAEOLOGICAL finds described as ‘the most important’ to be discovered in North Somerset for 100 years have been unearthed in Banwell.


Bristol Water has been laying a seven-kilometre, £3.6million main between Banwell and Hutton, and archaeologists employed to investigate remains along the work route discovered a horde of Roman artefacts in the village.


Bristol Water’s Jeremy Williams said of the discovery: “We are told that the finds rewrite the known interpretation of Roman Banwell and are of regional significance.”


Among the discoveries was what appears to be a Roman cemetery containing several human burials, 9,000 pieces of pottery, several copper brooches and a coin from the reign of Roman emperor Constantine the Great.


As well as the cemetery, which seems to show a shift in Roman practice from cremating the dead to burying them, there is also evidence of earlier, possibly Iron Age agricultural activity around the site.


It is thought the cemetery was linked to the villa of a wealthy landowner, as opposed to a larger settlement.


Mr Williams said: “The archaeologists are very excited about their finds, which they have made despite bad weather turning the area into a sea of mud at times


“The excavation has been described as potentially the most important for 100 years in North Somerset.”


Many of the finds will be on show at an event hosted by the Banwell Society of Archaeology at the village hall in Westfield Road at 7.30pm on November 19.



Water works unearth archaeological treasures in North Somerset

Friday, October 26, 2012 Western Daily Press


When water engineers decided to lay a four-mile long water main in North Somerset, they had little clue that as well as providing a better water supply to a village, they’d re-write its history in the process.


Workmen laying a £3.6 million water main between Banwell and Hutton unearthed what archaeologists say is an astonishing Roman cemetery, strangely positioned in a curving, water-filled ditch.


Now the finds, which include as many as 9,000 pieces of ancient pottery as well as jewellery and the remains of Banwell’s early inhabitants, are going on display at a special event where the village will get to hear about a new chapter in its history.


Work started this summer but kept being halted every time something new was found. Archaeologists from Border Archaeology soon had their hands full with one of the most important discoveries in the area for a century.


“We are told that the finds rewrite the known interpretation of Roman Banwell and are of regional significance,” said Bristol Water spokesman Jeremy Williams. “The excavation has been described as potentially the most important for 100 years in North Somerset.”


“All the discoveries – including an estimated 9,000 pieces of pottery alone – have been carefully photographed, documented and preserved,” he added. “Full information about them is being shared with the landowners, local residents, archaeological groups and the relevant authorities.


“The archaeologists are very excited about their finds, which they have made despite bad weather turning the area into a sea of mud at times,” he said.


Archaeologists are trying to interpret the finds, and believe it could be the family cemetery of a significant Roman villa somewhere nearby.


“Several copper alloy brooches and a pin of Roman date have been recovered from other, broadly contemporary features,” said Neil Shurety, from Border Archaeology.


“The human remains themselves appear to date from the second phase of use – three ‘inhumation burials’ comprising remains of complete individuals. As such, they represent a shift in funerary practice throughout the Roman world from cremation to interment.


 “All three inhumations were orientated north-south, with the head to the north, suggesting a pre-Christian burial practice.


“One of these individuals seems to lie within a partially preserved wooden coffin or shallow ‘bier’ constructed from timber planking, which was still clearly visible in places,” he said.


Generally, Roman cemeteries were situated outside settlements and away from areas of human habitation, often next to roads.


In this case, the cemetery is associated not with a town but with a villa site and it could thus represent a private site serving a wealthy landowner and his immediate family.


“The scale of the cemetery remains unknown but its limits as suggested by the curve of the ditch appear to extend well beyond the bounds of the excavation, although these have subsequently been extended along the line of direct engineering impact to ensure no human remains are lost,” he added.


Many of the finds will be on show soon at a special event hosted by Banwell Society of Archaeology at Banwell Village Hall on Monday, November 19. Border Archaeology will give a presentation at 7.30pm, all are welcome.



Tomb of King who Founded Mayan Civilisation Discovered in Guatemala

By SANSKRITY SINHA: Subscribe to Sanskrity's

October 26, 2012 8:37 AM GMT


In yet another ground breaking discovery related to Mayan archaeology in Guatemala, archaeologists have found the grave of an ancient king, who is believed to have laid the foundation of the Mayan civilisation.


Located at the pre-Columbian archaeological site of Tak'alik Ab'aj in western Guatemala's Retalhuleu region, about 45km from the border of Mexican state of Chiapas, the grave is thought to be of K'utz Chman. Chman was a ruler of the Olmec civilisation, Mexico's first major civilisation more than 2,000 years ago. He is credited for having founded the Maya civilisation by introducing basic elements of art and architecture that would go on to signify the Mayan culture.


"He was the big chief. The ruler who bridged the gaps between Olmec and Mayan cultures and initiated the slow transition to Mayan rule," archeologist Miguel Orrego was quoted as saying by Reuters.


Though no skeletal remains were found in the tomb, carbon dating suggests that the grave dates back to 770-510 BC.


Archaeologists also found some interesting stuff inside the tomb that helped them conclude that the grave belonged to K'utz Chman. Among these include hundreds of blue jade beads, which were found arranged in a set pattern suggesting that they were sewn on cloth or leather in which the king was buried. The cloth probably had disintegrated over time but the beads remained in position, according to The Guatemala Times report.


Another piece of jewellery found inside the tomb that suggest that the tomb is likely that of Chman is a beaded necklace with a pendant carved in the shape of a human figure having a vulture's head. According to researchers, a vulture symbolises power and represents the lord or the ruler.


"The richness of the artifacts tells us he was an important and powerful religious leader. He was very likely the person who began to make the changes in the system and transition into the Mayan world," archeologist Christa Schieber added.


K'utz Chman's grave is thought to be the oldest Mayan tomb found so far in Guatemala. Earlier this month, archaeologists unearthed the royal tomb of the Mayan warrior queen of seventh century, Kalomt'e K'abel, in Peten, north of Guatemala City.



Are bodies of 10,000 lost warriors from Battle of Hastings buried in this field?

Historian believes the 10,000 victims of the Battle of Hastings may be buried in a field one mile north west of the official site at Battle.

10:08AM BST 25 Oct 2012213


The site of where the Battle of Hastings has been commemorated for the last 1,000 years is in the wrong place, it has been claimed.

Ever since the 1066 battle that led to the Norman Conquest, history has recorded the event as happening at what is now Battle Abbey in the East Sussex town.

But although some 10,000 men are believed to have been killed in the historic conflict, no human remains or artefects from the battle have ever been found at the location.

This has given rise to several historians to examine alternative sites for the battle that was a decisive victory for William the Conqueror and saw the death of King Harold.

Now historian and author John Grehan believes he has finally found the actual location - on a steep hill one mile north west of Battle.


It is documented that Harold assembled his English army on Caldbec Hill before advancing on Senlac Hill (Battle Hill) a mile away to meet the invading Normans.

But Mr Grehan believes his research shows Harold never left his defensive hilltop position and the Normans took the battle to the English.

He has studied contemporaneous documents in the national archives and built up a dossier of circumstantial evidence that, when put together, make a more than convincing argument in his favour.

Witness accounts from 1066 state the battle was fought on steep and unploughed terrain, consistent with Caldbec Hill. Senlac Hill was cultivated and had gentle slopes.

The Normans erected a cairn of stones on the battle site to commemorate their victory, known as a Mount-joie in French. The summit of Caldbec Hill is still today called Mountjoy.

One English source from the time, John of Worcester, stated the battle was fought nine miles from Hastings, the same distance as Caldbec Hill. Senlac Hill is eight miles away.

Harold is supposed to have abandoned his high position to meet William on lower ground, a tactical move that makes no sense at all as he would have been moving away from his reinforcements.

Furthermore, Mr Grehan believes he has identified the site of a mass grave where the fallen soldiers were buried after the battle at a ditch at the foot of Caldbec Hill.

He is now calling for an archaeological dig to take place there straight away.

If he is proven right, the history books published over the last millennium may have to be re-written.

Mr Grehan, a 61-year-old historian from Shoreham, West Sussex, has made his arguments in a new book about to be published called 'The Battle of Hastings - The Uncomfortable Truth'.

He said: "I assumed everything was known about the Battle of Hastings but I found that almost nothing is known by way of fact.

"The evidence pointing towards Caldbec Hill as the scene of the battle is, at present, circumstantial, but it is still more than exists for the current Battle Abbey site.

"Excavations have been carried out at Battle Abbey and remnants pre-dating the battle were found but nothing relating to the conquest.

"The Battle of Lewis took place 200 years later 20 miles down the road and they dig up bodies by the cart load there.

"Some 10,000 men died at the Battle of Hastings; there has to be a mass grave somewhere.

"You would have also expected to find considerable pieces of battle material like shields, helmets, swords, axes, bits of armour.

"Having carried out the research, there are 11 main points which suggest the battle was fought in the wrong place.

"Harold is supposed to have abandoned his assembly point on Caldbec Hill to take up a position on the lower ridge of Battle Hill even though many of his men had still not arrived.

"This means that even though he could see the Normans approaching he moved further away from his incoming reinforcements. This makes no sense at all.

"The primary sources state Harold was taken by surprise.

"This means he could not have been advancing to meet the Normans as his troops would have been in some kind of formation.

"The only possible interpretation of this can be that Harold was not expecting to fight at that time and was taken unawares at the concentration point with his army unformed.

"This must mean that the battle was fought at the English army's assembly point."

Mr Grehan said he believes the human remains from the battle were hastily rolled down the hill and buried in an open ditch by the victorious Normans.

He said: "Two days after the battle the Normans moved on towards Winchester. They had two days to get rid of the thousands of bodies. You can't dig that many graves in such a short space of time.

"At the bottom of Caldbec Hill is Malfose ditch, I believe the bodies were rolled down the hill and dumped in this ditch which was filled in.

"A proper archaeological dig of that ditch now needs to happen.

"Whatever the outcome, it doesn't make a difference which hill the battle was fought on.

"But history books may need to be re-written if I am proved right."

Roy Porter, the regional curator for English Heritage which owns Battle Abbey, said they were obliged to look into alternative theories for the battle site.

But he said the spot the abbey is built on was not the most obvious at the time as it required major work to dig into the hill.

He said: "Archaeological evidence shows that the abbey's impractical location required extensive alterations to the hill on which it sits.

"Any suggestion that the battle occurred elsewhere needs to explain why this difficult location for the abbey was chosen instead.

"The tradition that the abbey was founded on the site of the Battle of Hastings is based on a number of historical sources, including William of Malmesbury and is documented before 1120.

"It would be premature to comment on Mr Grehan's thesis until the book is published.

"The interpretation of our sites is subject to periodic revision and this process involves our historians reassessing the available evidence and considering new theories.

"Battle Abbey will be the subject of this work in due course but at the present time there is little reason to discount the scholarly consensus regarding the site."


Largest Hindu temple from 14th Century discovered in Bali

Posted on: 27 Oct 2012, 11:50 AM


Bangkok: Archaeologists believe they have discovered the largest ancient Hindu temple ever found in the Indonesian island of Bali.


Construction workers were digging a new drainage basin near a Hindu learning center on Jalan Trengguli, in East Denpasar, when their tools struck a large stone structure one metre underground, the Jakarta Globe reported.


The crew then excavated a large stone plate, the first of many discovered at the site.


"I immediately reported the finding to the [local] archaeology office," said Ida Resi Bujangga, the owner of the center.


The Denpasar Archeology Agency took over the excavation and uncovered an 11-metre-long structure.


"We will continue the excavation until [the whole structure is revealed," said Wayan Suantika, an official with the agency.


Suantika told reporters that judging by the square structure's similarity to ancient temples found in East Java, it likely dates back to the 14th Century, the paper said.


"The strengthener layers in between the stone plates were another characteristic usually found in 13th or 14th Century structures," he said.


Local residents also found ceramic wares and stone plates at the site, Suantika said.


"This discovery is the largest stone temple found in Bali," he added.


The Wasa Temple, which was uncovered in Gianyar in 1986, is 11 metres long and 10 metres wide. Bali archaeologists later found buried 16 sarcophaguses in 2010 in Gianyar.


The island is home to most of the Hindus in Indonesia, a country with the world's biggest Muslim population.



Mysterious bear figurines baffle archaeologists

October 18, 2012 - 06:17

Small bear figurines have led researchers on the trail of hitherto unknown pre-Inuit rituals, indicating that these people practiced a bear cult.

Keywords: Animals, Anthropology, Archaeology, death, History, Magic, Myths


By: Ditte Svane-Knudsen


The headless bear figure was found lying with its neck against the back wall, as if it was diving into the fireplace This has led archaeologists to believe they are dealing with a hitherto unknown ritual practice. (Photo: The National Museum of Denmark)

In the 1950s, the now deceased Danish archaeologist Jørgen Meldgaard made a mysterious discovery in northeastern Canada:


A small, headless bear figurine, carved from a walrus tusk, was lying leaning up against the back wall of a stone fireplace in an old settlement. The bear had been positioned in a way that made it look as though it was ‘diving’ into the fireplace.


At the time, this little figurine didn’t cause much of a stir. It was just one out of a long series of discoveries that Meldgaard made during his field trips to the Igloolik region of Arctic Canada and Greenland in the 1950s and 1960s.


But when researchers at the Danish National Museum recently gained access to Meldgaard’s surviving diaries, records and photos, they realised that the discovery of the bear figurine was indeed quite sensational.


Humans and animals were close

Their examination of the material revealed that the small bear figurine could be an important key to understanding how people from more than 1,000 years ago viewed the relationship between animals and humans.


”The figurine provides us with information about some previously unknown 1,000-year-old rituals, which suggest that the Pre-Inuit, also known as the Dorset people, imagined that humans were related to certain animals in a way that’s very far from what we would imagine in today’s Western world,” says Ulla Odgaard, a senior researcher at the National Museum.


“Apparently, the Dorset people in Greenland and Canada didn’t see any antagonism between humans and animals,” she adds.


“Humans were not superior to animals; rather, it was a symbiotic co-existence. Bears and other animals functioned as mediators between mankind and the world of spirits.”


The Dorset way of thinking is also known from other early cultures

In other words, the finds reveal a belief in which animals – bears in particular – are our brothers, whose lives blend in with our own.



The walrus tusk figurine is only 3.4 cm in length and could be an important key to understanding how people more than 1,000 years ago understood the relationship between humans and bears. The figure is thought to have disappeared now, leaving today’s archaeologists with little more than Jørgen Meldgaard’s sketches and blurry photos. (Photo: The National Museum of Denmark)

The way the Dorset culture viewed the relationship between humans and animals is known as animism – a phenomenon also known from other cultures.


“We know that the relationship between bears and humans has been crucial in all pre-modern cultures. This applies almost as far back in time as we can trace – all the way back to the very earliest renderings of the world that humans have created,” says Odgaard's colleague at the National Museum, Martin Appelt.


For instance, we see this relationship expressed in small carvings and cave paintings of humans and bears from the hunter-gatherer culture.


“Many cultures have combined human and animal features in their illustrations – e.g. a figurine of a bear with a falcon’s body, where the underside depicts a carved human head,” he says.


On many figurines from early cultures, the skeleton is cut so that it’s visible outside the body – and that’s also the case with Meldgaard’s bear figurine.


According to Appelt, this bears witness to a belief that the difference between humans and animals only lies in the skin they’re wearing, so to speak.


“So an animal is also a person – only with a different skin. And some of them have probably been regarded as spirits – i.e. people in a parallel universe to ours.”


The bear was something special

The apparent fact that bears were regarded as something special could be because the bear, along with man, is one of the few animals that were believed to transcend and travel between the worlds of land and sea.


Another explanation may be that humans and bears could change roles depending on the situation: sometimes it was the man who hunted the bear and sometimes it was vice versa.


The discovery of another bear was an eye opener


Among the thousands of unique and spectacular objects that Jørgen Meldgaard and his colleagues excavated in the Canadian settlements in the 1950s and 60s, the many fine carvings made from walrus tusks, reindeer antler and driftwood are particularly interesting to archaeologists. These include small carvings of humans, human-like creatures and various animals, but also figures which seem to contain traits from both humans and animals. The figures reveal a belief in which animals – bears in particular – are our brothers, whose lives blend in with ours. (Photo: The National Museum of Denmark)

Meldgaard also found another bear figurine in a nearby settlement.


This bear stood upright with its head sticking up and the body half buried in the gravel.


Underneath it they found a fireplace, which suggests that this bear apparently was about to rise up from the fireplace.


The combination of both of the bear figurines’ interaction with the fireplaces led the Odgaard to believe that this could be a sign of rituals.


Carved bear figurines and the symbolism of rising and diving bears is also known in other parts of the world, for instance in Siberia, where resurrection rituals have been performed for millennia, says Odgaard.


Here, the bear was the mythical ancestor that every year travels to the upper world to secure the liberation of the animals’ souls, so that humans again can hunt them.


The fireplace was the gateway to other worlds

Legends from Siberia indicate that humans could communicate with the world of spirits through the fireplace. In other words, the fireplace may have been regarded as a gateway to other worlds.


Bears are also known from Neolithic petroglyphs in Siberia and numerous finds of bear heads or headless bear figurines in the Arctic region. But none of these have been found in a ritual context like the two from Igloolik.


Bear figurines could explain lack of finds of burial sites

Since the ritual with fireplaces appears to stretch across time and space, the researchers believe the finds are of far greater importance than previously thought.



The Danish National Museum's comprehensive research initiative 'Northern Worlds' aims to generate new insights into the relationship between man and the environment over the past 15,000 years, with a perspective on the present, where substantial climatic change is taking place.

It will also shed light on global networks by studying Northern cultures from the Ice Age hunters to the present-day populations in the cold regions.

‘Northern Worlds’ consists of more than 20 projects, headed by leading researchers from all departments at the Danish National Museum.

The bear figurines on the fireplaces are not only some of the few physical vestiges testifying to the Dorset culture’s view of life and death that archaeologist have ever come across.


The figurines may also help explain an old mystery – why archaeologists only rarely find burial sites from the earliest settlers in Greenland and Arctic Canada.


Dorset people may have dismembered their dead

Although there’s no shortage of ancient Inuit tales about the special relationship between humans and animals, the oral sources tend to dry out once we start moving toward the millennia before the Inuit settled in Arctic Canada and Greenland.


“We have so far had glaringly few archaeological finds from pre-Inuit graves on other ritual elements that could increase our understanding of how the pre-Inuit people viewed their world,” says Appelt.


“This is where the bear figurines suddenly make many pieces fall into place. Suddenly we understand the many other figures with bear heads or headless bears in a completely different way.”


That the two bear figurines from the fireplaces have their skeletons carved on the outside of their bodies also confirms a suspicion the archaeologists have had that Dorset people probably dismembered their dead and scattered them out on the fields or sunk them in the sea, so they would end up as animal food – like we’re seeing in e.g. today’s Nepal and Tibet.


“This suspicion is compounded by the fact that the few bones we’ve actually found from the Dorset culture are not whole skeletons, but simple elements – a jaw, a thighbone, etc.


This suggests that the Dorset people had a completely different view of skeletons and bodies from what we have today – which the carvings of external skeletons on the bear figurines testify to.”


Rituals transcend space and time

Appelt says that the bear figurines from Igloolik are forcing archaeologists to think outside the box.



The Dorset people in Greenland and Canada (c. 700 to 1,200 AD) is an archaeological term for a non-Inuit people group from Greenland.

The Dorset culture preceded the Inuit culture in Arctic North America. Archaeologists believe the people migrated from Siberia and Alaska between 4,000 years ago and until the birth of Christ.

Iniuit legends mention Tunitt (singular Tuniq) or Sivullirmiut (‘The first inhabitants’) as a people who were displaced by the Inuit.

Archaeologists, however, doubt whether or not the Inuit met with the Dorset culture, although there is a general consensus that the two groups have lived in the same area for a period.

Dorset culture became extinct around 1902 – probably as a result of a change in climate and living conditions, but also because they were ousted by the Inuit.

“We archaeologists prefer to work from the hypothesis that we can define various periods in history and that there is a clear division between space and time. But the figurines reveal that this is not the case here,” says Appelt.


“Some phenomena, such as animism and the rituals with the fireplaces and the dismemberment of the dead, transcend time and space – which is why you simply need to view them in bits of several 100,000 years if they are to be understood and make sense.”


Time and space not enough to understand the past

The archaeologist explains that when you look at archaeological finds across the world, there are so many overlaps where rituals transcend across cultures, time and space that there seems to be a connection.


"It’s very strange! And many archaeologists will surely find it unreasonable to think this way as an archaeologist – because how can things be connected in this way?” says Appelt.


”I don’t have the answer. There’s no answer book here. But I think the two headless bear figurines prove that it’s not always right to view history from within the narrow confines of time, space and traditions.


The next step for Odgaard, Appelt and their colleagues is to create an overview of Meldgaard’s records and publish the most important scientific findings.



China building first vessel for underwater archaeology

English.news.cn   2012-10-24 19:06:22                       

BEIJING, Oct. 24 (Xinhua)


China plans to build its first vessel capable of retrieving archaeological findings from the sea by the end of 2013, a major step to strengthening the underwater search abilities of Chinese archaeologists who currently rely on rented shipping boats.


The 4.8-metre wide and 56-metre long boat, to be powered by an integrated full electric propulsion system, will "basically" meet China's underwater archaeological needs, according to a statement released by the State Administration of Cultural Heritage (SACH) on Wednesday.


With a displacement of 860 tonnes, the vessel will be used in China's coastal areas and could sail as far as waters off the Xisha Islands, or the Paracel Islands, in the South China Sea, if sea conditions are good, it said.


Archaeologists will be able to use the ship to detect, locate, map, videotape and excavate underwater archaeological findings, according to the SACH.


The vessel is being designed by the 701 research institute of China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation and built by the Changhang Dongfeng shipbuilding corporation in Chongqing.


The news will be a boon for Chinese archeologists who have long struggled with the inconvenience of having to ride fishing boats along China's 18,000 km-long coastline in order to uncover the country's massive quantities of underwater relics.


Many speculators and fishermen have joined this hunt for treasures in the South China sea, a busy sea lane which is said to have at least 122 wrecked ships on its bottom.


Many of the wrecked ships date back to the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1276) dynasties, when China's trade with foreign countries was thriving.


Many speculators and local fishermen surveying the area have used crude means to retrieve underwater relics, prompting authorities to take action.


The protection of China's underwater relics faces "severe challenges" from rampant looting of underwater relics, the SACH said in the statement, adding that the country needs to improve its talent tool of archaeologists and related facilities.