Unusual find saved just in time

Paddles dating back to the Ertebølle culture in the Stone Age were recently found in Horsens Fjord, Denmark. They were close to being eaten up by the strong ocean currents.

November 12, 2012 - 06:20

By: Claus Skriver, curator at Moesgård Museum, Per Borup, archaeologist at Horsens Museum


Archaeologists have known for a while of settlements with surrounding culture layers by the coasts of Horsens Fjord.


In 2008, Peter Astrup of Aarhus University noticed well-preserved bones and processed wooden objects on the seabed. These objects revealed layers that had been heavily degraded by the ocean waves.


After repeated visits to the location and discoveries of objects such as wooden sticks and antler axes, Moesgård Museum, Horsens Museum and Aarhus University launched an investigation in autumn 2010 and again in 2011.


The excavations revealed many interesting finds, the most startling of which were three paddles made out of ash wood.


From the Middle Ertebølle period

Remarkably, the paddles lay partially exposed on the seabed, which to some extent had affected their state of preservation.


One of them only had the handle intact, and on the second one, around two thirds of the blade was preserved, revealing an original total size of about 20 cm in length, 24 cm in width and about 0.8 cm in thickness.


Cuts on the surface indicate that the paddle blade may at some point also have been used as a chopping board, presumably used for cutting off the heads of fish.


The third paddle was preserved in its full length and had half of its blade remaining. This one measures 103 cm in length, of which the blade accounts for 21 cm. The blade is 22 cm wide and 1 cm thick.


The paddle has been Carbon-14 dated to around 4,700-4,540 BC, which brings us back to the Middle period of the Ertebølle culture.


Many possible applications

Despite the apparent contemporaneity, the two paddle blades are not identical; whereas one blade was heart-shaped, the other was almost shaped like a spade.


These exact types of paddles are known from several Western Denmark Ertebølle settlements. Previous finds in Horsens Fjord have revealed a spade-shaped paddle blade.


The variation in the shape of the blades could be due to the different uses these paddles had. But that remains uncertain.


Once the mud had been rinsed off, the archaeologists found traces of paint, which has previously mainly been found on paddles from TybrindVig, on the island of Funen.


The motives of the painted designs on the paddles found in Horsens Fjord are not quite identical, but the composition is similar.


Patterned paddles far from common

Both paddles are painted in solid black on the lower half of the blade, with three horizontal, parallel lines painted above it.


On one of the paddles these consist of 0.6 cm wide lines, which curve upwards from both edges of the blade toward the centre of the blade, while the other paddle has three separate lines, roughly 1.3 cm in width.


Paint can only be detected on one side of the blades. This may, however, be because the opposite side in both cases is more damaged.


Paddles found in Tybrind have patterns on both sides. Patterned paddles from the Ertebølle culture are not unheard of in Denmark, but they are very uncommon.


May have been reddish brown

A few years ago, a paddle was found in a kitchen midden at Flynderhage in Norsminde Fjord. The decoration on this paddle is reminiscent of that on especially one of the paddles from Horsens Fjord.


This paddle from Flynderhage has four narrow lines, curved in the middle, on a similarly solidly painted lower half. The only variation in the motives on these two paddles seems to be the number of lines.


The best-known patterned paddle blades, however, are those found in TybrindVig, where four out of the 13 paddle fragments that were found had different decorations.


These consist of ornate patterns of dots and lines crafted in a sharp-edged, incised relief, which has subsequently been shown to contain ochre-bearing black paint.


This indicates that the original colour may have been reddish brown. Ochre is a dye known from contemporary burials. So there are clear differences, in terms of both motive and technique, between the paddles found in Horsens Fjord and TybrindVig.


Patterns had symbolic meaning

The painted paddle blades bear witness to the decorations and colours which have undoubtedly been a regular part of everyday life in the Stone Age, but of which we only get the occasional glimpse.


Out of the many ornamented objects made from bones and antlers found in Horsens Fjord and elsewhere over the years, antler axes provide us with the clearest insight into this world of patterns.


At first glance the lines may appear random, but the engravings were not only meant as a visual embellishment; there’s no doubt that they had a symbolic meaning that made sense at that particular time and place.


Paddle decorations marked identities

In a hunter-gatherer society it was important, both internally and when meeting strangers, to signal a sense of community and affiliation to family or tribes.


This could be done with the clothing or perhaps with face paint. This, however, we have no way of documenting archaeologically.


The indispensable dugouts enabled the Ertebølle people to travel far and wide. They could even travel across ice in winter, so it was probably not uncommon for them to meet people of foreign origin.


In a world full of symbols it was therefore natural to be seen and understood through the decorations on one’s paddles.


We know little about the meaning

In today’s rowing clubs, it’s not uncommon to see oar blades in a variety of colours or symbols that identify the rowers’ nationality or club membership when the meet with other rowers.


Having only found a few patterned paddles, we cannot infer much about the meaning of the motives.


Since we’re seeing the same decoration on paddles from Horsens Fjord and Norsminde Fjord, it seems likely that they denote some sort of community, perhaps a clan affiliation between the populations by the two fjords.


If this is the case, there must have been a different relationship to the people at TybrindVig. Here, a highly different patterning with other designs indicates that we’re talking about a different tribe.




This article is reproduced on this site by kind permission of Skalk, a Danish periodical with articles about Danish prehistoric and medieval archaeology, history and related topics.


Read the Danish version of this article at videnskab.dk



British Museum exhibit Gebelein Man died 'violent death'

16 November 2012 Last updated at 12:41


A virtual post mortem has been undertaken on one of the British Museum's oldest mummies, Gebelein Man.


Using technology from Sweden, visitors to the museum will be able use an interactive touch screen to examine his body and internal organs.


The mummified man was buried in a crouching position around 3500 BC in Egypt and was discovered in 1896.


New evidence suggests he was stabbed in the back by a weapon, said curator of physical anthropology Daniel Antoine.


Dr Antoine said: "There's a wound on the surface of his skin, which people have been able to see for the last 100 years, but it's only through looking inside his body we've seen than his shoulder blade is damaged and the rib under the shoulder blade is also damaged.


"All of this suggests a violent death."


Thought to be between 18 and 21-years-old when he died, he was wrapped in linen and matting and placed in a shallow grave.


Direct contact with the hot, dry sand in which Gebelein Man was buried, naturally dried and mummified his remains.


He was found at Gebelein, about 25 miles (40km) south of Thebes, in Egypt in 1896 and was acquired by the British Museum in 1900.


The digital autopsy table has come courtesy of the Interactive Institute and Visualization Center C based in Norrkoping, Sweden and visitors will be able to view it until 16 December.


The technology has made it possible to expose his skeleton and make virtual slices in order to explore his internal organs and brain, which is still present.


Spokesman David Hughes said: "This powerful visualisation system has enabled not just remarkable new revelations about one of the British Museum's most iconic mummies, but also brings the thrill of discovery straight to the gallery for the public.


"Using exactly the same technology that the scientists use, visitors to the museum can now explore for themselves and, who knows, perhaps even maker their own new discovery with the exhibit."


The Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum houses the largest collection of Egyptian objects outside Egypt.


The artefacts illustrate every aspect of the cultures of the Nile Valley, from the Neolithic period in 10,000 BC until the twelfth century AD.



Ancient Temple Dating Back to 1100 BC Found in Israel

A team of archaeologists from Tel Aviv University has unearthed ruins of a 3,100-year-old temple at the site of Tel Beth-Shemesh.

Nov 13th, 2012 Archaeology | By Enrico de Lazaro


Tel Beth-Shemesh is an important biblical site located near the modern town of Beth-Shemesh about 20 km west of Jerusalem. According to archaeologists, the name Tel Beth-Shemesh (House of the Sun) is suggestive of the deity that was worshipped by the Canaanite inhabitants of the town. The Bible mentions the settlement in the description of the northern border of the Tribe of Judah and as a Levitical city. The town is also listed in Solomon’s second administrative district.


The newly discovered temple complex is comprised of an elevated, massive circular stone structure and an intricately constructed building characterized by a row of three flat, large round stones.


“This temple complex is unparalleled, possibly connected to an early Israelite cult – and provides remarkable new evidence of the deliberate desecration of a sacred site,” explained co-directors of the dig Prof ShlomoBunimovitz and Dr Zvi Lederman of the Tel Aviv University’s Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology.


“The village of Beth-Shemesh frequently changed hands between the ambitious Philistines and the Canaanite and Israelite populations that resisted them. The temple and its history reflect the power struggles that defined the region in the 12th-11th centuries BC,” said the archaeologists, who will report their discoveries on November 15, 2012, at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research in Chicago.


“In the archaeological record, there are no parallels to this Canaanite or Israelite sacred compound of the period,” they said.


The archaeologists revealed that the temple has a rich history steeped in conflict. They determined that the complex was not only destroyed, but also desecrated – invading Philistines possibly used the temple ruins as animal pens.


Excavations revealed almost only shards of painted chalices and goblets found spread on the floor but no traces of domestic use. One of the three flat stones was surrounded by animal bone remnants, and the two other stones were seemingly designed to direct liquids. These clues convinced the scientists that they had uncovered a likely place of sacred worship.



This image shows ruins of a 3,100-year-old temple found at the site of Tel Beth-Shemesh (Tel Aviv University)


“This discovery also serves to illuminate the recent discovery of a number of round clay ovens, called ‘tabuns,’ in the layer excavated above the temple. Typically, such ovens were located in a domestic building for food preparation. But these particular ovens were not part of a neighborhood or living quarter,” Prof Bunimovitz said.


“We believe that ancestors of those who had built the original complex came back to rebuild the site,” Dr Lederman said.


The team suggests that the ovens were used to cook celebration feasts held in veneration of the old temple. Thus, despite the desecration of the temple by the Philistines, the memory of the sacred site survived. Once the Philistines withdrew from the area, the descendents of the original worshippers returned to commemorate this sacred place.


Bibliographic information: Zvi Lederman. The Rise, Fall and Regeneration of the Bronze Age City State at Beth-Shemesh. A29 Section: Beth-Shemesh between the Bronze and Iron Ages: New Discoveries, New Thoughts. 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. November 14-17, 2012. Chicago, Illinois


Hai Ashkenazi, Zvi Lederman. Deciphering Destruction with GIS: A Case Study from the Amarna Age City-state at Tel Beth-Shemesh. A29 Section: Beth-Shemesh between the Bronze and Iron Ages: New Discoveries, New Thoughts. 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. November 14-17, 2012. Chicago, Illinois


ShlomoBunimovitz. Resistance, Endurance and Ethnogenesis: What Happened to the Canaanites after the ‘Canaanite’ Period? A29 Section: Beth-Shemesh between the Bronze and Iron Ages: New Discoveries, New Thoughts. 2012 Annual Meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research. November 14-17, 2012. Chicago, Illinois



Archaeologists unearth Stone Age dwelling on the banks the of new Forth crossing


Published on Sunday 18 November 2012 00:00


THE remains of an ancient dwelling believed to be Scotland’s oldest house have been discovered on the banks of the River Forth.


Experts say the Stone Age timber structure – which may have resembled the wigwams constructed by North American Indians – was built more than 10,000 years ago, possibly as a winter retreat, in the ­period after the last ice age.


It was discovered in a field outside the village of Echline, near South Queensferry, during routine archaeological excavations in advance of work on the new Forth Replacement Crossing over the Forth estuary and contained flint arrowheads used by the original ­occupants.


Dated from the mesolithic era, the remains consist of a large oval pit, seven metres long and half a metre deep, with a series of holes which would have held upright wooden posts. They would have supported walls possibly made from animals skins, ­although some experts believe there may have been a flatter turf roof.


The remains of several internal fireplace hearths were also identified inside the house, which would have kept its ­occupants warm on cold ­winter nights. The site has been dated to around 8240BC, the earliest in Scotland.


Ed Bailey, project manager for Headland Archaeology, the company that carried out the excavation of the site, said: “The discovery of this previously unknown and rare type of site has provided us with a unique opportunity to further develop our understanding of how early prehistoric people lived along the Forth.


“Specialist analysis of archaeological evidence recovered in the field is ongoing. This will allow us to put the pieces together and build a ­detailed picture of a Mesolithic lifestyle.”


Inside the dwelling, more than 1,000 flint artefacts were found, including materials which would have been used by the previous owners as tools and arrowheads. Other discoveries included large quantities of charred hazelnut shells, indicating that nuts would have been an important source of food for the hunter-gatherer residents. All of the artefacts will be removed from the site and preserved.


However, it is believed that the house would have been a “holiday home” for its ­residents, occupied only during the winter months rather than all year round, because of the warmth provided by its turf roof and fireplaces.


The site bears similarities to other Mesolithic sites previously discovered along the Forth. In 2001, a settlement was found in Cramond near Edinburgh, where the River Forth and River Almond meet, that was dated to around 8500BC and included stone tools and hazelnut shells. Proximity to the rivers would have allowed its occupants to exploit the abundant aquatic life.


Historic Scotland’s senior archaeologist Rod McCullagh, an advisor to the project at Echline, said: “This discovery and, especially, the information from the laboratory analyses adds valuable information to our understanding of a small but growing list of buildings erected by Scotland’s first settlers after the last glaciation, 10,000 years ago.


“The radiocarbon dates that have been taken from this site show it to be the oldest of its type found in Scotland which adds to its significance.”


The £1.5 billion Forth Replacement Crossing Project – billed as the biggest transport infrastructure project in Scotland for a generation – is currently at its most critical stage of building as its ten main sections are lowered into position. Construction started in 2011 and is expected to be finished in 2016.


Transport minister Keith Brown said: “This ancient dwelling, which was unearthed as part of the routine investigations undertaken prior to construction works, is an important and exciting ­discovery.


“We now have vital records of the findings which will inform our understanding of a period in Scotland’s ancient history.”


The mesolithic age is the cultural period of the Stone Age between the paleolithic and neolithic periods between circa 8000BC and 4000BC. It is when man is thought to have first inhabited Scotland.



Stone age nomads settled down in Merseyside, flints and timber suggest

Sefton site points to nomadic hunter-gatherer ways being given up after evidence found of 8,000-year-old permanent dwellings

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian, Monday 19 November 2012


It will come as no surprise to proud Merseysiders, but a recent discovery of worked flints and charred timber suggests that when stone age people reached Lunt Meadows, a beautiful site at Sefton, they liked it so much that instead of continuing as nomadic hunter-gatherers, they settled down and built permanent dwellings.


Archaeologists are still working on the site, discovered this summer during work for the Environment Agency, but preliminary carbon-dating results suggest that they are almost 8,000 years old, from the Mesolithic period, and come from at least three structures, suggesting family groups living together in a settlement which may have lasted for centuries.


As well as the worked flint, and large pebbles with a partly polished surface showing they were used as tools, the archaeologists have found quantities of chert stone which is not local, but must have been specially imported – the nearest site would be across the estuary, in what is now north Wales.


Archaeologist Ron Cowell called the discoveries "fascinating". He added: "It looks as if we have the remains of three houses, or structures, which were very substantial, up to six metres across. They fit an emerging body of recent evidence, challenging the traditional view of people of this period as constantly on the move. Our site suggests that they had permanent structures which at the least they repeatedly returned to for part of the year."


No human or animal bone has survived in the acid sandy soil, but the lines of the ancient walls are traced in curves of stake holes, and some charred timber which has given the first definite dating evidence of 5,800BC. Cowell, curator of prehistoric archaeology at the museum of Liverpool, and consultant to the Environment Agency, believes the earliest phase of the settlement was even older.


They may even have uncovered evidence of ritual practice in stone tools which appear to have been deliberately broken and buried in pits. The significance of the discovery will be assessed in a film for BBC Inside Out North West, to be broadcast on Monday night.


Cowell describes it as a find of The finds were made when archaeologists and environmentalists were working on restoring farmland as a wetland wildlife haven – exactly the sort of site which provided rich food supplies for early man. They already knew the site could prove archaeologically significant: it is close to Formby beach, where scores of trails of ancient human and animal footprints have been discovered preserved in the silty mud.


The finds, like others from coastal sites such as Scarborough in Yorkshire and Howick in Northumberland suggesting generations or even centuries of occupation of the same site are thousands of years older than famous Neolithic villages like Scara Brae on Orkney. They challenge the traditional view that Mesolithic Britons were nomadic, hunting, fishing and foraging while living in temporary huts - which leave almost no traces in the landscape, and then moving on.


The Lunt Meadows site was on a low sandy promontory, less than a foot above the water level of the nearby lake. The stone age level is preserved under layers of silts and deposits showing that the site was repeated flooded over the succeeding millennia. Cowell, whose team was often working in sodden conditions over the last diabolical summer and autumn, and who will continue working through what is forecast to be a bitter winter, believes fresh water flooding may have led to the site being abandoned.


For many generations, however, it was a very fine place to live.


"We're far from the nearest farm, there's no traffic noise, and we're very close to important wintering grounds for flocks of birds - sometimes when the sky is full of swans and geese, and all you can hear is their calls, there's a real feeling of what life was like for these people."



Airport x-ray scans reveal haul of new Bronze Age axeheads in pot found in Jersey field

By Culture24 Reporter | 13 November 2012

Tags: Archaeology | find | discovery | hoard | treasure | Bronze Age | All tags



A further 21 axeheads have been discovered in a late Bronze Age pot found in Jersey

© Jersey Heritage

An x-ray of the Bronze Age pot found in a Jersey field last month, carried out at the island’s airport, has found a further 21 axeheads in a discovery which could shed new light on the way people lived 3,000 years ago.


The original excavation, carried out after metal detectorist Ken Rive reported the find on a plot of land in Trinity, confirmed two socketed axeheads inside the damaged ancient pot.


Air pockets between the axes suggest that soil may have concealed the rest of the weapons as the pot gradually decayed.


“A trial x-ray fluorescence scan was carried out by staff from Cranfield University on the first two axes,” said a statement by Olga Finch, Jersey Heritage’s Curator of Archaeology, and Neil Mahrer, the Conservator for the group.


“This shows that they contain a very high lead content – almost 55 percent.


“This throws some doubt on whether these axes were actually functional tools, as that amount of lead would not have given the axe a very sharp edge.


“Maybe, therefore, they were objects of prestige – something to own and show off.”


All the axes are believed to date from the latter part of the era. They will now be removed from the pot for further investigation.



Water mains work unearths Roman cemetery in Somerset

Roman human remains discovered at Banwell Several Roman human remains were discovered at Banwell in Somerset

18 November 2012 Last updated at 18:12


A Roman cemetery containing several human burials has been found during work on a new water mains in Somerset.


The finds were made by archaeologists during the laying of a four-mile (7km) long mains between Banwell and Hutton.


Among the skeletons, which have been exhumed for further study, there was one in a partially-preserved coffin.


A Bristol Water spokesman said the excavation had been described as "potentially the most important for 100 years in North Somerset".


The cemetery was discovered "isolated from the surrounding landscape" in a curved water-filled ditch.


Roman cemeteries, according to Neil Shurety from Border Archaeology, are generally sited outside settlements and away from areas of human habitation.

Pottery and brooches


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


The human remains were orientated north-south "with the head to the north, which suggests a pre-Christian burial practice," said Mr Shurety.


"One of these individuals seems to lie within a partially-preserved wooden coffin - constructed from timber planking," he added.


He said the site provided evidence of a "landscape almost continually in use for the last 5,000 years".


"It covers a period ranging from an intriguing prehistoric timber structure to a Roman cemetery and defensive ditches through medieval land management features to today's agricultural activity," he said.


The finds, which include an estimated 9,000 pieces of pottery, brooches, a coin of Constantine the Great and a pin of Roman date are due to go on display at Banwell Village Hall on 19 November.


Burying the Roman dead



Digging up scandalous nuns' past


12:00pm Tuesday 13th November 2012 in News By Andrew Ffrench, covering Didcot and Wallingford.


UNCOVERING the history behind supposedly scandalous nuns has helped fuel interest in archaeology projects in Oxford.


About 500 volunteers from Archeox, the Archaeology of East Oxford Community Project, have been excavating a medieval nunnery at Minchery Farm Paddock, between Blackbird Leys and Littlemore.


The five-week dig finished on Friday when Oxford University Vice Chancellor Prof Andrew Hamilton paid a visit to see some of the historic finds.


Project director Dr David Griffiths, of Oxford University’s Department for Continuing Education, said the area explored was part of the site occupied by Littlemore Priory, a nunnery established in around AD1110.



It was closed down by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525 after accusations were made that the nuns were involved in scandalous practices, including sharing beds.


Dr Griffiths said: “Several of the nuns also had illegitimate children.”


Part of the nunnery buildings, dating back to the 1400s, later became a farmhouse and still stand as the Priory Pub, near Oxford United’s Kassam Stadium.


The 47-year-old from Headington said the wider £500,000 scheme, backed by the university and the Heritage Lottery Fund, was launched in 2010 and could run until 2014.


He said: “Community archaeology is something fairly new but it has really taken off in East Oxford and we now have hundreds of people who are developing the skills and abilities to carry out the research themselves.


“We have been tackling part of the city which has been overlooked in archaeological and historical terms, and eventually there will be an exhibition to display the finds – I would love to see a museum in East Oxford one day.”


He said all the finds would be analysed to reveal more about the diet and lifestyle of the people who have lived there over the centuries.


He said: “Our excavations have revealed stone walls, floors and hearths, which show that the priory buildings were once much more extensive, and included domestic, kitchen and workshop areas.


“We have also found evidence of peat layers, which tell the story of the landscape over a much longer timescale.


“Finds dating to the period of the nunnery include a large amount of medieval pottery, and decorated glazed floor-tiles showing heraldic designs such as birds and griffins. Roman pottery suggests that the site was in use in earlier times.


“Perhaps the most exciting and surprising finds have been a small group of prehistoric worked flints, including a beautiful Bronze Age arrowhead dating to around 4,000 years ago.”


For further information on archaeology in Oxford visit archeox.net