Neolithic farmers brought deer to Ireland


The origins of the iconic Irish red deer was a controversial topic. Was this species native to Ireland, or introduced?


In a new study that was published 30 March 2012 in the scientific journal Quaternary Science Reviews, a multinational team of researchers from Ireland, Austria, UK and USA have finally answered this question.


By comparing DNA from ancient bone specimens to DNA obtained from modern animals, the researchers discovered that the Kerry red deer are the direct descendants of deer present in Ireland 5000 years ago. Further analysis using DNA from European deer proves that Neolithic people from Britain first brought the species to Ireland.


Although proving the red deer is not native to Ireland, researchers believe that the Kerry population is unique as it is directly related to the original herd and are worthy of special conservation status.


Fossil bone samples from the National Museum of Ireland, some up to 30,000 years old, were used in the study. Results also revealed several 19th and 20th century introductions of red deer to Ireland, which are in agreement with written records from the same time. At present there is no evidence of red deer in Ireland during the Mesolithic period, 9000 years ago, when humans first settled there.


The investigation’s findings are in agreement with archaeological evidence, which also suggests a special relationship between humans and red deer during later prehistoric times. Antler fragments and tools are frequently found in Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron Age excavations.


Dr Ruth Carden, working as a researcher in the National Museum of Ireland, who led the study, said “The Kerry red deer represent a unique population within an Irish context and therefore should be given special conservation and management status within Ireland.”


The genetic analysis also showed that some of these herds were descended from animals imported from Britain in the 1800s and 1900s, matching the historical records.


The DNA showed that the reds away from Kerry have started to “hybridise” or cross-breed with Sitka deer, a species introduced here in 1860. There is however no such interbreeding for the Kerry red population, Dr Carden added. Sitkas also live in the forests of Killarney but the DNA analysis showed no interbreeding had yet taken place.


Dr Allan McDevitt, from the School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin, one of the lead geneticists said “We have very few native mammals in Ireland but certainly those that arrived with early humans, such as the red deer, are every bit as Irish as we are.”


Source: School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin


More information:


R F Carden, A D McDevitt, F E Zachos, P C Woodman, P O’Toole, H Rose, N T Monaghan, M G Campana, D G Bradley, C J Edwards (2012). Phylogeographic, ancient DNA, fossil and morphometric analyses reveal ancient and modern introductions of a large mammal: the complex case of red deer (Cervus elaphus) in Ireland. Quaternary Science Reviews. doi: 10.1016/j.quascirev.2012.02.012


School of Biology and Environmental Science, University College Dublin


The Heritage Council, Ireland


Woodman P.; McCarthy M.; Monaghan N., (1997) The Irish quaternary fauna project: Quaternary Science Reviews, Volume 16, Number 2, 1997 , pp. 129-159 http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S0277-3791(96)00037-6



Salford scientists reveal the 'sound of Stonehenge'

Whatever went on there, it would have impressed the ancient Britons. Even if it was only whispering.


Salford's clever academics, who once took me shopping in a virtual supermarket – you sat in an armchair wearing a helmet and a glove – have now recreated the sound of Stonehenge.


We are nowhere nearer cracking the mystery of the monument as a result; but who would want to be? Apart from all the mountains of remaindered books of theories, a puzzle solved is never as gripping as a conundrum still under way.


But the four-year project by Dr Bruno Fazenda and colleagues at Huddersfield and Bristol universities, has established how the shouts, speeches, songs or sacrificial screams would have sounded, whatever material they may have contained. The method has been a painstaking piece of 'archaeoacoustics', a relatively new discipline which reveals the sound quality of buildings from the past.


Fazenda says:

“Stonehenge is very well known, but people are still trying to find out what it was built for and we thought that doing this research would add an element of archaeology that so far hasn't been looked at. It's a new area of acoustic science and it could be very helpful in the archaeological interpretation of important buildings and heritage sites, some of which may not exist in their original form, such as in the case of Stonehenge.”


The number of missing bits at the famous stone circle by the A303 in Wiltshire was an obvious problem, and tests there by the team produced only a limited number of weak echoes and no noticeable reverberation. Ancient Britons would not have been terribly overawed by this, if the monument was built to impress. But luckily there is a full-sized replica in the United States.


Built out of concrete and erected at Maryhill, Washington state, as a memorial to US soldiers killed in the First World War, this revealed a wealth of special effects. Fazenda found:


“It was possible to make proper acoustic measurements that allow an investigation into striking effects such as echoes, resonances and whispering gallery effects. The data gathered does not unequivocally reveal whether the site was designed with acoustics in mind, like Greek or Roman theatres. It nevertheless shows that the space reacted to acoustic activity in a way that would have been noticeable to the Neolithic man.”


The next stage, in the tradition of my virtual supermarket foray, was to create an 'audio 3D rendition' of the recorded sounds, using 64 audio channels and bespoke loudspeakers from Salford university based on wave field synthesis. Fazenda says:


“This system gives us an accurate and immersive recreation of what Stonehenge would have sounded like. We can not only see ourselves surrounded by the stones using virtual reality, but we can also listen how the stone structure would have enveloped people in a sonic experience. It is as if we can travel back in time and experience the space in a more holistic way.”



Archaeologists uncover graves of national significance near Meigle

Archaeologists have discovered a historic site of national significance beneath the sandy soil of rural Perthshire.

By Mark Mackay

Published in the Courier : 20.04.12

Published online : 20.04.12 @ 10.22am


A series of burial mounds have been excavated — thought to represent an ancient barrow cemetery — at Bankhead of Kinloch near Meigle.


Both the village and the surrounding area of Strathearn have proved a treasure trove of Pictish sites and artefacts over the years.


Despite the increase in the identification of these sites through aerial photography surveys since the 1970s, they are still generally rare and so are of immense significance.


Experts say the Meigle project represents the first complete excavation of a barrow cemetery to date, providing a unique opportunity to comprehensively analyse the monument.


The site was discovered almost by chance, with the AOC Archaeology Group commissioned to undertake an archaeological evaluation in preparation for an agricultural development.


No known sites of archaeological interest were identified within the development area, but with the surrounding area rich in archaeological sites, the owners of Bankhead of Kinloch Farm did not want to take any chances.


That led to the discovery of an important early historic site, comprising two round barrows, a square barrow and a double square barrow. Nothing of the structures themselves remained other than their imprint, but they nonetheless represented an exciting find for the team.


The archaeologists say the features contained very few artefacts, but four of the five graves excavated did contain skeletal material, while one of the excavated pits contained flints and ceramics.


The remains have been removed and efforts are now being made to have them carbon dated.


The archaeology team have yet to establish when the cemetery was built and developed. However, they believe that the cemetery represents an area set aside for burial over centuries.


Such burial sites are common to the Perthshire and known throughout Scotland, but those behind the excavation said the linear barrow cemetery is ''of national significance''.


Excavation of barrow sites are rare, with only three main examples having been excavated north of the Tay since the 1970s.


A fourth, at Forteviot — once a Pictish royal centre — has been the subject of recent excavation, with archaeologists uncovering an early Bronze Age burial.


The 4,000-year-old chamber is believed to have been the grave of a significant person. It contained a distinctive bronze dagger, together with the first evidence that people in the Bronze Age laid flowers on the graves of loved ones.


Members of the local community will have an opportunity to learn more about the Meigle excavation at public open day on Monday, between 11am and 7pm, at Meigle Village Hall.



Persian invaders of Greece 'did perish in tsunami'

20 April 2012 Last updated at 14:35


German geologists believe a tsunami recorded by the ancient historian Herodotus did indeed protect a Greek village from Persian invaders.


They say they have found evidence in northern Greece that the event in 479 BC saved the village of Potidaea.


Herodotus recorded that huge waves had killed hundreds of Persian soldiers during the siege of the village.


The scientists from Aachen University warn the area may experience another massive marine event.


They say that northern coastal regions should be included among the Greek regions prone to tsunamis.


 “Then there came upon them a great flood-tide of the sea, higher than ever before, as the natives of the place say, though high tides come often ” Herodotus, Translation by G C Macaulay, The History of Herodotus


It is usually the southern coast of Greece which is identified as a risk area.


Greek geophysicists say earthquakes pose a much greater threat to the country than tsunamis.


"We have found several historic tsunamis on the coast," Aachen's Professor Klaus Reicherter told Germany's DPA news agency.


"That means there is a certain risk for the coastal areas."


Sediment on the northern Greek peninsula where Potidaea and the modern town of Nea Poteidaia are located shows signs of massive marine events, such as large waves, the Aachen study found.


Excavations in the suburbs of the nearby ancient city of Mende uncovered sea shells likely to have been lifted from the ocean bed and tossed about during a tsunami.


The findings were presented at the annual conference of the Seismological Society of America in San Diego, California.


Herodotus records: "Then there came upon them [the Persians] a great flood-tide of the sea, higher than ever before, as the natives of the place say, though high tides come often.


"So those of them who could not swim perished, and those who could were slain by the men of Potidaia who put out to them in boats."




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Fri Apr 20, 2012 05:26 PM ET


Cleopatra's twin babies now have a face. An Italian Egyptologist has rediscovered a sculpture of Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, the offspring of Mark Antony and Cleopatra VII, at the Egyptian museum in Cairo.


Discovered in 1918 near the temple of Dendera on the west bank of the Nile, the sandstone statue was acquired by the Egyptian Museum in Cairo but has remained largely overlooked.


The back of the the 33-foot sculpture, catalogued as JE 46278 at the Egyptian museum, features some engraved stars -- likely indicating that the stone was originally part of a ceiling. Overall, the rest of the statue appears to be quite unusual.


"It shows two naked children, one male and one female, of identical size standing within the coils of two snakes. Each figure has an arm over the other’s shoulder, while the other hand grasps a serpent," Giuseppina Capriotti, an Egyptologist at the Italy's National Research Council, told Discovery News.


The researcher identified the children as Alexander Helios and Cleopatra Selene, Antony and Cleopatra's twins, following a detailed stylistic and iconographic analysis published by the Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology at the University of Warsaw.


Capriotti noticed that the boy has a sun-disc on his head, while the girl boasts a crescent and a lunar disc. The serpents, perhaps two cobras, would also be different forms of sun and moon, she said. Both discs are decorated with the udjat-eye, also called the eye of Horus, a common symbol in Egyptian art.


"Unfortunately the faces are not well preserved, but we can see that the boy has curly hair and a braid on the right side of the head, typical of Egyptian children. The girl’s hair is arranged in a way similar to the so-called melonenfrisur (melon coiffure ) an elaborated hairstyle often associated with the Ptolemaic dynasty, and Cleopatra particularly," said Capriotti.


The researcher compared the group statue with another Ptolemaic sculpture, the statue of Pakhom, governor of Dendera, now on display at the Detroit Institute of Arts, USA.


"Stylistically, the statues have several features in common. For example, the figures have round faces, little chins and big eyes," Capriotti said.


Since the statue of Pakhom was dated to 50-30 B.C., she concluded that the twin sculpture was produced by an Egyptian artist at the end of the Ptolemaic period, after Roman triumvir Mark Antony recognized his twins in 37 B.C.


The babies weren't the firsts for Cleopatra. The Queen of Egypt had already given birth in 47 B.C., when she bore Julius Caesar a child, Caesarion. In 36 B.C. she presented Antony with another son, Ptolemy Philadelphus.


At the time of their birth in 40 B.C., the twins were simply named Cleopatra and Alexander. When they were officially recognized by their father three years later, as Antony returned to Antioch, in present Turkey, and Cleopatra joined him, they were named Alexander Helios (Sun), and Cleopatra Selene (Moon).


"Antony's recognition of the children was marked by an eclipsys. Probably for this reason, and to mythologize their twin birth, the children were added those celestial names. Although in Egypt the moon was a male deity, in the sculpture the genders were reversed according to the Greek tradition," Capriotti said.


Little is known of the children Cleopatra and Mark Antony left behind after their suicides in 30 B.C. following defeat in battle.


While Caesarion was murdered under Octavian's orders, the lives of the three offsprings of Cleopatra and Antony were spared.


Cleopatra Selene and Alexander Helios, then aged 10, and Ptolemy Philadelphus, then aged four, were moved to Rome and put under the care of Octavian's sister, Octavia whom Antony was married to.


Some years later, Alexander Helios and Ptolemy Philadelphus would disappear without a trace.


Only Cleopatra Selene survived. Married to King Juba II of Mauretania, she had at least one child, Ptolemy Philadelphus, likely named in honor of her little brother.


Her image was minted on coins along with Juba's, suggesting that she ruled as an equal partner.


"Now we have her portrayed as a child with her twin brother. Blending Egyptian myths and Greek culture, this sculpture fully represents Egypt at Cleopatra's time," Capriotti said.



Rare Ancient Statue Depicts Topless Female Gladiator

The newly identified bronze statue reveals what may be a female gladiator standing in a victory pose, while looking down at what is presumably her fallen opponent.

Owen Jarus, LiveScience ContributorDate: 17 April 2012 Time: 01:47 PM ET


A small bronze statue dating back nearly 2,000 years may be that of a female gladiator, a victorious one at that, suggests a new study.


If confirmed the statue would represent only the second depiction of a woman gladiator known to exist.


The gladiator statue shows a topless woman, wearing only a loincloth and a bandage around her left knee. Her hair is long, although neat, and in the air she raises what the researcher, Alfonso Manas of the University of Granada, believes is a sica, a short curved sword used by gladiators. The gesture she gives is a "salute to the people, to the crowd," Manas said, an action done by victorious gladiators at the end of a fight.


The female fighter is looking down at the ground, presumably at her fallen opponent.


It’s not known where the statue was originally found, though it is currently in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbein Hamburg, Germany. 


The rarity of such statues likely reflects the idea that female gladiators in ancient Rome were scarce. They were banned by Emperor Septimius Severus in A.D. 200 with only about a dozen references to them in ancient writing surviving to present day. The only other known depiction of them is a carved relieffrom the site of Halicarnassus (now in the British Museum) that shows two female gladiators fighting. There have been claims made in the past of burials of female gladiators being uncovered, but none has attracted widespread support among scholars. 


Scholars had initially suggested the statue represented a female athlete scraping herself with a strigil (a cleaning implement that can look similar to a sword). However, Manas noted several aspects of the artifact to suggest it instead represented a female gladiator.


One was the woman's stance. It would make little sense for an athlete to raise a cleaning instrument high in the air while looking down at the ground.However, raising a sword into the air was a common victory pose among ancient gladiators.


In addition, female athletes in the Roman world did not go completely topless, as they would wear a bikini or "a tunic that left one breast exposed," Manas pointed out. "In any case, female athletes never performed with bare breasts,” at least not with both exposed. Gladiators, on the other hand, tended to be slaves or people of low social status; depicting them topless would have been considered more acceptable. The bandage the woman is wearing on her knee is also a common feature of gladiators. [Roman Gladiator's Gravestone Reveals Fatal Foul]


Altogether, this evidence "seems to indicate that the statuette at the MKG [the museum] represents a gladiator, thus becoming the second piece of visual evidence we have of female gladiators," Manas writes in a recent issue of the International Journal of the History of Sport.


Anna McCullough, a professor at Ohio State University who has written about female gladiators, but is not affiliated with the research, is cautiously optimistic about this identification. "The gesture is far more similar to gestures of victory than it is to any depictions of athletes actually scraping themselves," McCullough said. "I think it certainly resembles a female gladiator more than (an) athlete, and I'm kind of happy to tentatively say that it is a gladiator in those terms."


One potential problem, she points out, is the fact that the "gladiator" is portrayed without a helmet, greaves (shin protectors) or other form of armor.


"The reason for this woman being topless might simply be that whoever made it wanted to sort of emphasize the fact that this is a female gladiator and not a male gladiator," she said, still "for her to be completely without armor is a little bit odd."


Both Manas and McCullough pointed out that it wasn't uncommon for men to go into the arena topless, although typically equipped with defensive gear such as a helmet, shield, greaves or even a breastplate.


McCullough said that, in real life, female gladiators would likely have worn more than a loincloth and bandage into the arena. Without the protective gear, the fighters would have been killed in large numbers. "If gladiators died every time that there was a fight in the arena, you would have a really hard time keeping up your population of gladiators in your gladiatorial school," she said.


Manas said that in real life, a gladiator like this would have had at least a shield and possibly a helmet. Perhaps she had taken off the helmet for the victory gesture or because the ancient artist wanted to show her hair, he speculated. Or maybe she did in fact go into the arena without a warrior's helmet so that people could see her face. As for her shield, she may have been holding that in her right hand, which is no longer present on the statue.


Manas argues in his paper that, in addition to the athleticism typical of gladiator matches, female gladiator contests would have had an element of eroticism for Roman men.


"No doubt the particular appearance of female gladiators (with their breasts uncovered) would also cause an erotic impact on viewers," he writes. "In a society so militarised as the Roman one, in which weapons were so popular (but exclusive to men), to see a woman in that role, so different to the usual feminine one, wearing the armour of gladiators and showing so much of her anatomy, should also stimulate the imagination and the libido of spectators." [10 Innovations that Revolutionized Combat]


McCullough has a different interpretation. "In the literary texts that we have, female gladiators are not described in any kind of an erotic context or using erotic language at all," she said. The authors of those texts, she said, simply note that"women fought in the arena and they fought very fiercely and we were excited to see them."


If there were any sexual implication of the nude gladiator, it would've been due to her low social status. "In the Roman mind, there would have [been] certain associations with the sexual availability of slaves,” McCulloughsaid. "Slaves were sort of expected to be sexually available to anyone at anytime, especially their masters."


To, "depict a female gladiator, or a slave, nude was really no big deal," she said. "It was an indication of their extremely low status."



Furness Abbey grave yields treasures of a prosperous medieval abbot

Curators hail discovery of the first crozier excavated in Britain in 50 years and remarkable ring in grave that had escaped robbers



Mark Brown, arts correspondent

guardian.co.uk, Thursday 19 April 2012 07.00 BST


Unexpected medieval treasures have been discovered in a grave at one of the UK's most beautiful abbeys along with the bones of the abbot they belonged to – probably a well-fed, little exercised man in his 40s who suffered from arthritis and type 2 diabetes.


The discoveries were made at Furness Abbey, on the outskirts of Barrow in Cumbria, a place that in its day was one of the most powerful and richest Cistercian abbeys in the country.


Archaeologists found a silver-gilt crozier (a kind of staff of office) and a jewelled ring in remarkable condition. "This is a very rare find which underlines the abbey's status as one of the great power bases of the middle ages," said Kevin Booth, senior curator at English Heritage.


The discoveries were only made because stabilisation work was needed at the abbey, with wooden foundations giving way and cracks appearing in the walls.


During excavations by Oxford Archeology North to investigate the seriousness of the problem, members of the team came across the undisturbed grave of the abbot together with his personal paraphernalia.


Curator Susan Harrison said it was particularly surprising because the grave had not been disturbed by 16th-century post-dissolution robbers, nor Victorian and Edwardian gentlemen antiquarians. Everyone had missed it until now.


The crozier is unusual and the first to be excavated in this country for 50 years. It has a central gilded silver plaque which shows the archangel Michael slaying a dragon with his sword.


The ring – quite large, probably for a man with big or chubby fingers – is likely to have been given to the abbot on his consecration. "It is an unusual ring," said Harrison. "The bezel is a pyramid shape and is pointed – it would stick in to your finger. You would have felt it when you wore it and it might have been a reminder of the piety of the office."


It is also possible that the ring might have held a relic in place on the abbot's finger.


An examination of the skeleton has shown he was big, overweight, probably aged between 40 and 50, arthritic and "had a decent way of living", said Harrison. There is also evidence that he had later-onset diabetes.


Harrison said the finds were exciting and would help us learn more about Cistercian burial practices in general and Furness Abbey in particular.


The abbey, an inspiration for both Wordsworth and Turner, was founded in the early 12th century by Stephen, later king of England. By the time Henry VIII ordered its dissolution in 1537 it was the second richest in England. The crozier and ring will now go on display at the abbey over the spring bank holiday.