Welsh people could be most ancient in UK, DNA suggests

19 June 2012 Last updated at 18:49


Welsh people could lay claim to be the most ancient Britons, according to scientists who have drawn up a genetic map of the British Isles.


Research suggests the Welsh are genetically distinct from the rest of mainland Britain.


Professor Peter Donnelly, of Oxford University, said the Welsh carry DNA which could be traced back to the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago.


The project surveyed 2,000 people in rural areas across Britain.


Participants, as well as their parents and grandparents, had to be born in those areas to be included in the study.


Prof Donnelly, a professor of statistical science at Oxford University and director of the Wellcome Trust centre for human genetics, said DNA samples were analysed at about 500,000 different points.


After comparing statistics, a map was compiled which showed Wales and Cornwall stood out.


Prof Donnelly said: "People from Wales are genetically relatively distinct, they look different genetically from much of the rest of mainland Britain, and actually people in north Wales look relatively distinct from people in south Wales."


While there were traces of migrant groups across the UK, there were fewer in Wales and Cornwall.


He said people from south and north Wales genetically have "fairly large similarities with the ancestry of people from Ireland on the one hand and France on the other, which we think is most likely to be a combination of remnants of very ancient populations who moved across into Britain after the last Ice Age.


"And potentially also, people travelling up the Atlantic coast of France and Spain and settling in Wales many thousands of years ago".



He said it was possible that people came over from Ireland to north Wales because it was the closest point, and the same for people coming to south Wales from the continent, as it was nearer.


However he added: "We don't really have the historical evidence about what those genetic inputs were."


The geography of Wales made it more likely that ancient DNA would be retained.


Because of its westerly position and mountainous nature, Anglo-Saxons who moved into central and eastern England after the Romans left did not come that far west, and neither did the Vikings who arrived in around 900AD.


The professor said modern people from central and southern England had many genetic similarities to modern people in Denmark and Germany.


The mountains were also the reason why DNA may have remained relatively unchanged, as people would have found it harder to get from north to south Wales or into England compared with people trying to move across the flatter southern English counties, making them more likely to marry locally and conserve more ancient DNA.


"In north Wales, there has been relative isolation because people moved less because of geographical barriers," Prof Donnelly said.


He added that some of these factors also held true for the extreme edges of Scotland, while the Orkney islands showed DNA connections to Norway.


The next stage of the research will looking at physical similarities between different groups, in which the team will use photographs of people and make 3D models to measure quantitative similarities between related groups.



Ancient North Africans got milk

Herders began dairying around 7,000 years ago

By Bruce Bower Web edition : Wednesday, June 20th, 2012


Animal herders living in what was a grassy part of North Africa’s Sahara Desert around 7,000 years ago had a taste for cattle milk, or perhaps milk products such as butter. Researchers have identified a chemical signature of dairy fats on the inside surfaces of pottery from that time.


Dairy products played a big part in the diets of these ancient Africans, even though they did not live in farming villages as the earliest European milk users did, reports a team led by biogeochemists Julie Dunne and Richard Evershed, both of the University of Bristol in England.


Dairying may have spread from the Middle East and nearby areas — where farming emerged around 10,000 years ago — to Africa and Europe within a couple thousand years, the scientists propose in the June 21 Nature.


Chemical evidence shows that cattle milked in the ancient Sahara ate plants from both cool, wet areas and hot, dry expanses. “Animals were being moved around the landscape between different ecosystems containing different plants, possibly as a result of seasonal variations in available pastures,” Evershed says.


Researchers generally assume that North Africans domesticated cattle, sheep and goats before growing crops. Previously excavated bones of domesticated animals date to roughly 8,000 years ago in North Africa. Rock paintings in the region depict cattle herding and a few instances of milking, but no reliable dates exist for these artworks.


An early date for dairying in North Africa “implies that one of the reasons local African peoples adopted cattle was for their milk products,” says anthropologist Diane Gifford-Gonzalez of the University of California, Santa Cruz.


A 2008 pottery study led by Evershed placed the origins of cattle milking in what’s now northwestern Turkey at about 9,000 years ago.


Farming, raising animals, dairying and making pottery all apparently spread across Europe at the same time, says anthropologist Kevin Gibbs of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. In contrast, the new study shows that Saharan herders adopted cattle and dairying into a nomadic lifestyle after having made pottery for several thousand years.


Some African groups possess genetic mutations that enable milk drinking without nausea and other unpleasant reactions to lactose, a sugar found in milk. These mutations commonly appear in Europeans, whose farming ancestors used milk at least 6,000 years ago (SN: 2/1/03, p. 67).


“We could be looking at multiple origins for dairying,” remarks bioarchaeologist Oliver Craig of the University of York, England.


Dunne and Evershed’s group identified different forms of carbon in small, ground-up samples taken from 81 pottery fragments previously found at a Libyan rock shelter and mostly dating to between 7,200 and 5,800 years ago. Each specimen contained carbon with a distinctive signature found in milk fats. Further chemical comparisons to milk fats from grazing animals now living in Africa showed that ancient Saharans milked cattle, but not goats or sheep.


Large amounts of dairy fat on the African pottery reflect either good preservation in arid conditions or the use of fat-rich products such as butter that store well and can be digested by lactose-intolerant individuals, Craig says.



Research finds Stonehenge was monument marking unification of Britain

22 June 2012


After 10 years of archaeological investigations, researchers have concluded that Stonehenge was built as a monument to unify the peoples of Britain, after a long period of conflict and regional difference between eastern and western Britain.


Its stones are thought to have symbolized the ancestors of different groups of earliest farming communities in Britain, with some stones coming from southern England and others from west Wales.


The teams, from the universities of Sheffield, Manchester, Southampton, Bournemouth and University College London, all working on the Stonehenge Riverside Project (SRP), explored not just Stonehenge and its landscape but also the wider social and economic context of the monument’s main stages of construction around 3,000 BC and 2,500 BC.


“When Stonehenge was built”, said Professor Mike Parker Pearson of the University of Sheffield, “there was a growing island-wide culture – the same styles of houses, pottery and other material forms were used from Orkney to the south coast. This was very different to the regionalism of previous centuries. Stonehenge itself was a massive undertaking, requiring the labour of thousands to move stones from as far away as west Wales, shaping them and erecting them. Just the work itself, requiring everyone literally to pull together, would have been an act of unification.”


Stonehenge may have been built in a place that already had special significance for prehistoric Britons. The SRP team have found that its solstice-aligned Avenue sits upon a series of natural landforms that, by chance, form an axis between the directions of midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset.


Professor Parker Pearson continued: “When we stumbled across this extraordinary natural arrangement of the sun’s path being marked in the land, we realized that prehistoric people selected this place to build Stonehenge because of its pre-ordained significance. This might explain why there are eight monuments in the Stonehenge area with solstitial alignments, a number unmatched anywhere else. Perhaps they saw this place as the centre of the world”.


Although many people flocked to Stonehenge yesterday for the summer solstice, it seems that the winter solstice was the more significant time of the year when Stonehenge was built 5,000-4,500 years ago.


Professor Parker Pearson said: “We can tell from ageing of the pig teeth that higher quantities of pork were eaten during midwinter at the nearby settlement of Durrington Walls, and most of the monuments in the Stonehenge area are aligned on sunrise and sunset at midwinter rather than midsummer. At Stonehenge itself, the principal axis appears to be in the opposite direction to midsummer sunrise, towards midsummer sunset, framed by the monument’s largest stone setting, the great trilithon.”


Parker Pearson and the SRP team firmly reject ideas that Stonehenge was inspired by ancient Egyptians or extra-terrestrials. He said: “All the architectural influences for Stonehenge can be found in previous monuments and buildings within Britain, with origins in Wales and Scotland. In fact, Britain’s Neolithic people were isolated from the rest of Europe for centuries. Britain may have become unified but there was no interest in interacting with people across the Channel. Stonehenge appears to have been the last gasp of this Stone Age culture, which was isolated from Europe and from the new technologies of metal tools and the wheel.“


Previous theories have suggested the great stone circle was used as a prehistoric observatory, a sun temple, a place of healing, and a temple of the ancient druids. The Stonehenge Riverside Project’s researchers have rejected all these possibilities after the largest programme of archaeological research ever mounted on this iconic monument. As well as finding houses and a large village near Stonehenge at Durrington Walls, they have also discovered the site of a former stone circle – Bluestonehenge – and revised the dating of Stonehenge itself. All these discoveries are now presented in Parker Pearson’s new book Stonehenge: exploring the greatest Stone Age mystery published by Simon & Schuster. The research was supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, National Geographic and many other funding bodies.


Additional information


The University of Sheffield's Department of Archaeology



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'Find of the Century'

Massive Gold Trove Sparks Archeological Dispute

By Matthias Schulz




A 3,300-year-old treasure trove of gold found in northern Germany has stumped German archeologists. One theory suggests that traders transported it thousands of miles from a mine in Central Asia, but other experts are skeptical.


Archeologists in Germany have an unlikely new hero: former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. They have nothing but praise for the cigar-smoking veteran Social Democratic politician.


Why? Because it was Schröder who, together with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, pushed through a plan to pump Russian natural gas to Western Europe. For that purpose, an embankment 440 kilometers (275 miles) long and up to 30 meters (100 feet) wide had to be created from Lubmin, a coastal resort town in northeastern Germany, to Rehden in Lower Saxony near the northwestern city of Bremen.

The result has been a veritable cornucopia of ancient discoveries. The most beautiful find was made in the Gessel district of Lower Saxony, where 117 pieces of gold were found stacked tightly together in a rotten linen cloth. The hidden treasure is about 3,300 years old.


The 1.8 kilograms (4 pounds) of gold, which was found in a field, consists of some jewelry, but primarily spirals of gold wire, which are tied together in chains consisting of 10 spirals each. This isn't jewelry, but an ancient form of gold bullion.


Traveling the Continent


When Johanna Wanka, the Lower Saxony science minister, unveiled the treasure to the press in February, the story became even more surprising. She explained that testing done at the University of Hanover had revealed that the gold had come from a mine in Central Asia.


"Using a mass spectrometer, we examined more than 20 trace elements, allowing us to determine the fingerprint of the metal," explains chemist Robert Lehmann. "The gold vein must have been created deep in the mountains of Kazakhstan, Afghanistan or Uzbekistan over a period of millions of years."


Lower Saxony can now consider itself the owner of what Wanka calls the "find of the century." Merchants trading in luxury goods used to travel across the entire continent, says state archeologist Henning Hassmann. "Trips of 10,000 kilometers were nothing to them."


He suspects that the gold found in Gessel was initially brought in caravans from the mountains to the nearby Indus Valley, where a giant riparian culture flourished until about 1,800 B.C. From there, says Hassmann, the merchandise was sent by ship to Mesopotamia and, after that, somehow reached the northern flatlands.


'Pretty Bold'


But is that really the right explanation? Not everyone has faith in Lehmann's analysis of the gold. Some say that, despite the advanced testing equipment at his disposal, Lehmann is "inexperienced." Ernst Pernicka, an archeologist who studies ancient metallurgical processes in the southwestern city of Tübingen -- known for his groundbreaking metal studies on the famous Nebra sky disk -- calls Lehmann's conclusions "highly speculative."


Because almost nothing is known about ancient mining in Central Asia, Lehmann could only compare the Gessel find with a few Scythian gold coins. To arrive at such ambitious theories on the basis of such scant facts is "pretty bold," says Gregor Borg, an expert on gold deposits at the University of Halle in eastern Germany.


Despite the criticism, Lehmann remains undeterred, noting his use of first-class equipment. With these devices, he says, he can also perform confocal white-light microscopy and laser ablation ICP mass spectrometry. "We're counting individual atoms here," he says.


Who is right?


The Asia Connection


As audacious as the Asia connection seems, it could be true. There is plenty of evidence that human greed led to globalized trade more than 3,000 years ago. The ancient Egyptians' folding-chair designs reached Sweden, and magnificent Spondylus shells from the Mediterranean have been found as far away as Bavaria.


Valuable metals such as tin, copper, gold and silver were a favorite among long-distance traders, who dragged them across the continent in rucksacks or on oxcarts. Ötzi the Iceman, a natural mummy found in the Ötztal Alps, probably traded in gold and flint, and was murdered in the process.


But did the merchants' extensive trading networks reach as far as the remote mines in Central Asia as long ago as the 2nd century B.C.? It certainly would have been worthwhile. A massive gold-and-tin belt extends from the Altai Mountains to the Aral Sea. A prehistoric gold mine, the largest in the central Caucasus region, was also recently discovered in Armenia.


This could explain the origins of the myth of the Argonauts, who in the story sail through the Black Sea to steal the Golden Fleece.

Whether the treasure found inland from the North Sea coast truly originated in the faraway steppes remains disputable for now. Lehmann has invited his critics to attend a presentation in Hanover on July 13, when he intends to elucidate the details of his research. "It will be a closed meeting," he says.


Apparently Lehmann doesn't want anyone to lose face in the dispute over the prehistoric gold.



Mysterious structure found on ancient lake — so what is it?

It may be bridge to artificial island, but Wales archaeologists say there is nothing else like it

The western side of the site with the timber-beam slots continuing beyond the excavation. So far the researchers have found they extend at least 50 feet long.

By Joseph Castro

updated 6/22/2012 6:42:55 PM ET


Archaeologists have unearthed the foundation of what appears to have been a massive, ancient structure, possibly a bridge leading to an artificial island, in what is now southeast Wales. The strange ruin, its discoverers say, is unlike anything found before in the United Kingdom and possibly all of Europe.

"It's a real mystery," said Steve Clarke, chairman and founding member of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, who discovered the structural remains earlier this month in Monmouth, Wales — a town known for its rich archaeological features. "Whatever it is, there's nothing else like it. It may well be unique."

Clarke and his team discovered the remnants of three giant timber beams placed alongside one another on a floodplain at the edge of an ancient lake that has long since filled with silt. After being set into the ground, the pieces of timber decayed, leaving anaerobic (oxygen-free) clay, which formed after silt filled in the timbers' empty slots, Clarke told LiveScience.

The timbers seem to be lined up with the middle of an ancient lake (part of which is shown here), suggesting the structures may have been part of a causeway to an artificial island built in the middle of the lake.

The Monmouth site with the first timber slot (the timber beams have since decayed, leaving behind clay-filled trenches) before excavation.

The team initially thought the timber structures were once sleeper beams, or shafts of timber placed in the ground to form the foundations of a house. However, the pieces appear to be too large for that purpose. While a typical sleeper beam would span about 1 foot (30 centimeters) across, these timber beams were over 3 feet wide and at least 50 feet long (or about 1 meter by 15 meters). The archaeologists are still digging and don't yet know how much longer the timbers are. Clarke says the structure's builders appear to have placed whole trees, cut in half lengthwise, into the ground.

"One other thing that is striking, that might be relevant, is that the timbers seem to be lined up with the middle of the lake," Clarke noted, suggesting that the structures may have been part of a causeway to a crannog, or artificial island, constructed in the middle of the lake. "Even so, if it is a path to a crannog, it's huge."

The archaeologists also aren't sure when it was built or even if it came before or after the lake formed, but they say the structure, at its oldest, could date to the Bronze Age around 4,000 years ago. Beneath the beams the researchers found a burnt mound of rock and charcoal fragments, alongside of which they discovered a hearth and trough — scientists believe people in the Bronze Age heated stones in a fire and threw them into a filled trough to boil water.

"The discovery of this unusual site on a housing development near Monmouth is very interesting," a spokesperson for CADW, the Welsh government’s historic environment service, told LiveScience. "We have been monitoring the situation closely. At this point the date and function of the structure represented by these three long trenches is not known, despite a great deal of speculation. Only further excavation can clarify exactly what they represent."


Clarke believes its more likely the structure was built a little later, possibly during the Iron Age, but he says determining a reliable age for the structure will be tricky. Dating the burnt mound, which predates the timber that was placed on top of it, will only give a maximum age for the structure. Dating the clay, on the other hand, will yield an age that is too young because the clay deposited after the timber rotted away.

The archaeologists have already sent off charcoal samples from the burnt mound for chemical analyses and expect results later this month.

More science news from msnbc.com


"And we now have some charcoal from the bottom of the slots (not from the burnt-mound area)," Clarke said. "Hopefully that will give us a closer date."

The research has yet to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal, with work at the site currently in progress.



Archaeologists Excavate Massive Timber Structure at Site of Ancient Roman Fort

Tue, Jun 19, 2012


Excavation near Britain's ancient Maryport Roman fortress has revealed a large timber structure. Archaeologists return to seek answers.


A team of archaeologists, students and volunteers led by Newcastle University's Professor Ian Haynes and Tony Wilmott has returned to continue excavations at the site of a massive ancient timber complex associated with the 2nd century Roman military fort complex in Maryport near the coast of northwestern Britain.

Part of the groundplan of the timber structure (or structures) was unearthed in 2011, raising questions and providing new clues related to the discovery of Roman altar stones uncovered there over 140 years ago.

Said Haynes: "Until last year's excavation it was accepted by Roman scholars worldwide that the 17 Maryport altar stones excavated in 1870 at the site - Britain's largest cache of Roman altars - had been buried as part of a religious ceremony.  It turns out they were re-used in the foundations of a large Roman timber building or buildings."

The altar stones represent Britain's largest cache of Roman altars. As a popular tourist attraction, they have been exhibited in the Senhouse Roman Museum at Maryport since 1990. The town of Maryport was first established as the Roman fort Alauna in about 122 AD. It was a command and supply base for the Roman coastal defencework of Hadrian's Wall at its western end. Last in a series of forts that stretched south from Hadrian's Wall on the coast, its remains are substantial. Recent surveys have shown a large Roman settlement likely associated with the fort, and excavations have revealed evidence of a second, earlier and larger fort next to and partially under the current remains.

"This year we're excavating over a larger area than last year - about 400 square metres - and for twice as long, which means we can involve more local volunteers, and learn more about the number of timber structures, their size and date", added Haynes. "We need to find out what the buildings were used for and whether they and the curved ditch we discovered in 2011 have any relation to each other."


The objective of the 2012 excavation will be to shed more light on the circumstances of the burial of the group of altars, answer questions about the re-use of the altars as part of the timber foundations, and learn more about the timber structure or structures which the altar stones apparently supported.

The excavation is expected to run 10 weeks, closing on August 14. But the excavation is only part of a larger research effort related to developing greater understanding of ancient Roman/British settlements in the region.

Said Nigel Mills, director of world heritage and access for the Hadrian's Wall Trust (the funding organization): "More research is needed on Romano-British civilian settlements, and the geophysical surveys for Maryport commissioned by the Senhouse Museum Trust show that the settlement outside the Maryport fort was extremely complex, of considerable size and is well preserved."

Research at multiple sites thus far suggests that there were multicultural settlements consisting of people from across the Roman Empire who made their living by managing supplies and services for the Roman army and acting as "middlemen" in trading activities throughout the Roman Empire.



DNA clues to Queen of Sheba tale

21 June 2012 Last updated at 17:17

By Helen Briggs

BBC News


Clues to the origins of the Queen of Sheba legend are written in the DNA of some Africans, according to scientists.


Genetic research suggests Ethiopians mixed with Egyptian, Israeli or Syrian populations about 3,000 years ago.


This is the time the queen, mentioned in great religious works, is said to have ruled the kingdom of Sheba.


The research, published in The American Journal of Human Genetics, also sheds light on human migration out of Africa 60,000 years ago.


The Queen of Sheba

·         Queen mentioned in the Bible, the Koran and the Ethiopian Kabra Nagast

·         Sheba was a rich kingdom that prospered through trade with Jerusalem and the Roman Empire, and spanned modern day Ethiopia and Yemen

·         Queen said to have visited Jerusalem with gold to give to King Solomon

·         Some texts record that she had a son with King Solomon

According to fossil evidence, human history goes back longer in Ethiopia than anywhere else in the world. But little has been known until now about the human genetics of Ethiopians.


Professor Chris Tyler-Smith of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Cambridge, UK, a researcher on the study, told BBC News: "Genetics can tell us about historical events.


"By analysing the genetics of Ethiopia and several other regions we can see that there was gene flow into Ethiopia, probably from the Levant, around 3,000 years ago, and this fits perfectly with the story of the Queen of Sheba."


This paper sheds light on the very interesting recent and ancient population history of a region that played an important role in both recent and ancient human migration events”

Dr Sarah Tishcoff

Department of Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania


Lead researcher Luca Pagani of the University of Cambridge and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute added: "The genetic evidence is in support of the legend of the Queen of Sheba."


More than 200 individuals from 10 Ethiopian and two neighbouring African populations were analysed in the largest genetic investigation of its kind on Ethiopian populations.


About a million genetic letters in each genome were studied. Previous Ethiopian genetic studies have focussed on smaller sections of the human genome and mitochondrial DNA, which passes along the maternal line.


Dr Sarah Tishcoff of the Department of Genetics and Biology at the University of Pennsylvania, said Ethiopia would be an important region to study in the future.


Commenting on the study, she said: "Ethiopia is a very diverse region culturally and linguistically but, until now, we've known little about genetic diversity in the region.


"This paper sheds light on the very interesting recent and ancient population history of a region that played an important role in both recent and ancient human migration events.


"In particular, the inference of timing and location of admixture with populations from the Levant is very interesting and is a unique example of how genetic data can be integrated with historical data."


The scientists acknowledge that there are uncertainties about dating, with a probable margin of error of a few hundred years either side of 3,000 years.


They plan to look at all three billion genetic letters of DNA in the genome of individual Ethiopians to learn more about human genetic diversity and evolution.



Roman coins find prompts dig to uncover Newton Abbot Roman settlement

Friday, June 22, 2012 Herald Express


EXCAVATIONS to uncover what is believed to be a major Roman town in the heart of South Devon are set to take place this summer.


The major archaeological dig is planned for rural Teignbridge, on the outskirts of Newton Abbot, after a chance find of ancient coins (pictured) by metal detector enthusiast Geoff Fox and his friend Shaun Pitts led to the discovery of the largest Roman settlement ever found in Devon.


It has been described as one of the most significant finds in generations, and could rewrite the history books on Roman occupation in Britain.


The month-long excavation work in August will be led by Danielle Wootton, the finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme and archaeologist at the University of Exeter, and the university's Roman archaeology specialist Dr Ioana Oltean.


The dig will be funded by the university, Devon County Council and international environment charity Earthwatch.


The Herald Express has agreed not to reveal the exact location at the request of those leading the research until they are able to get on site.


There have been long-held suspicions that the Romans had established a presence in South Devon, and place names suggest the A381 between Totnes and Newton Abbot may have been a Roman road.


Archaeological investigations in 2007 discovered evidence of Romano-British activity with in the form of pottery, coins and other objects.


The intrigue escalated in 2009 when Mr Fox and Mr Pitts — using metal detectors — discovered a haul of Roman coins in woodland.


They uncovered a stash of 243 coins, dating from AD 330 to 378, buried between three inches and a foot of rough ground.


Ms Wootton was called on to investigate further. She received funding from the British Museum, the Roman Research Trust and Devon County Council's archaeology service to carry out a trial excavation on the site last June.


A geophysical survey also uncovered evidence of trade with Europe, a road possibly linking to the major settlement at Exeter, some 'intriguing' structures, burial sites and more coins on an area covering at least 13 fields.


It was always thought Roman influence never made it further than Exeter and there was little evidence of Romans in the South West Peninsula of Britain.


A Devon County Council spokesman said: "We believe this newly discovered Romano-British rural settlement has the potential to reveal significant evidence of this period of Devon's ancient history.


"Although there are a lot of known archaeological sites associated with the Roman conquest of Devon and subsequent civil rule, there have been relatively few extensive, modern excavations of military or civil sites outside Exeter.


"Devon County Council is keen to work with partners to see the site become a research, training and community archaeological excavation."


Coin finder Mr Fox said it was 'a dream come true'.


He said: "I am blown away by this. I feel like I've put a piece of a puzzle in place. I am over the moon to have helped map South Devon's past."



Cow and woman found in Cambridgeshire Anglo-Saxon dig

25 June 2012 Last updated at 14:10


Archaeologists described the find as "unique in Europe"


Archaeologists excavating an Anglo-Saxon cemetery in Cambridgeshire say the discovery of a woman buried with a cow is a "genuinely bizarre" find.


The grave was uncovered in Oakington by students from Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of Central Lancashire.


At first it was thought the animal skeleton was a horse.


Student Jake Nuttall said: "Male warriors might be buried with horses, but a woman and a cow is new to us."


He added: "We were excited when we thought we had a horse, but realising it was a cow made it even more bizarre."


Co-director of the excavation, Dr Duncan Sayer, from the University of Central Lancashire, said: "Animal burials are extremely rare, anyway.


"There are only 31 horse burials in Britain and they are all with men.


"This is the first animal to be discovered with a woman from this period - the late 5th Century - and it's really interesting that it's a cow, a symbol of economic and domestic wealth and power.


"It's also incredibly early to find any grave of a woman buried with such obvious wealth."


'Unique' burial

The skeleton was found with grave goods including brooches and hundreds of amber and decorated glass beads.


"She also had a complete chatelaine [keychain] set, which is an iron girdle and a symbol of her high status," Dr Sayer said.


"It indicates she had access to the community's wealth.


"She is almost certainly a regional elite - a matriarchal figure buried with the objects that describe her identity to the people who attended her funeral."


Joint director Dr Faye Simpson, from Manchester Metropolitan, said: "A cow is a big thing to give up.


"It's a source of food and something that would have been very expensive to keep, so to sacrifice it would be a big decision.


"They would have wanted to give her something really important to show respect and they wouldn't have done that for just anybody.


"That's why we don't find cows with burials," she said.


Dr Sayer added: "The cow burial is unique in Europe which makes this an incredibly exciting and important find.


"I don't think I'll find anything as significant as this again in my lifetime."



Queen’s hair pin found in a toilet

PARIS - The Associated Press


A hairpin belonging to 16th century French Queen Catherine de Medici has been discovered at a royal residence outside Paris. What has conservators scratching their heads is exactly where it was found: down a communal toilet.


Officials said it’s the first time in modern history that a possession of the Renaissance royal has been found at Fontainebleau Palace. Though the queen was renowned across Europe for her lavish jewelry, much of her collection has been lost, sold or stolen over the centuries.


The rare 9 centimeter-pin was identified easily because it bore interlocking C’s - for “Catherine.”

The artifact was found by accident as archeologists dug around the toilet to prepare the surrounding area for restoration.


Droguet called the find a “mystery.” “But what would Catherine de Medici be doing there? Maybe it was a lady-in-waiting who took it. Perhaps it just fell in.”



Archaeologists Unearth Rare 17th Century Find at Jamestown Excavations

Thu, Jun 21, 2012


It was discovered while archaeologists were carefully digging fill soil above a cellar dated to the early James Fort period (1607-1610) at Jamestown, Virginia, the site of North America's first successful English colony. The artifact was the lower leaf of an ivory pocket sundial known in the 17th century as a diptych dial. It clearly bore the name of its maker, Hans Miller, who was a 17th century craftsman known to have made sundials in Nuremberg, Germany. Like many objects found at the Jamestown excavations, it had taken the long journey across the Atlantic, likely in the pocket of one of early Jamestown's gentlemen colonists. Such pieces were more commonly carried by individuals of gentry status.

It is not totally unique within the Jamestown context. Another lower leaf section of a table dial was recovered in 1998 from a structure near one of the palisades of the original James Fort. The diptych dial, on the other hand, was found in a cellar near James Fort's first well, which was only 10 feet away from the cellar.

"Such dials have two leaves like a book, hinged together on one end so the leaves open out to form a right angle", reports the discoverers at the Jamestown site. "Most diptych dials include a horizontal dial engraved on the inside of the lower leaf and a vertical dial on the inside of the upper. Strung between the two leaves is a "pole string" to serve as the gnomon (the object that makes a shadow; measuring the length and position of that shadow indicates the hour of the day)".

The most practical use for the instrument was thus to determine the time of day, but Jamestown curator Bly Straube believes that, more than telling time, it "was the aesthetic or religious satisfaction from making a device to simulate the heavens. The presence of these dials at Jamestown represents the age in which they were produced -- an age of exploration and discovery that was as much about philosophy as it was science. The "compass Dyall" was more than a timekeeper to the 17th century individual; it was a way for a gentleman engaged in the art of "dyalling" to ponder his place in the world".[1]

See the video below for more details about this unusual find, and read more news about the activities and progress of the excavations at Jamestown.





Cromwell’s men’s severed heads buried in James Green

Published on Friday 15 June 2012 09:22


HUMAN remains believed to belong to three of Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers have been unearthed during redevelopment work at James Green.


The discovery was made in recent days and the remains are now being examined by an archaeologist, Patrick Neary.


“The heads of seven of Cromwell’s men are believed to be buried there. They were killed near Ballinakill in Co Laois in 1642 and their heads were hung from the Market Cross in Kilkenny on the next market day and later buried. To date we have found what we believe are two severed heads belonging to the soldiers ,” he said.


This was at the beginning of Cromwell’s tenure and although Cromwell himself had yet to arrive in Ireland seven men (two officers and five soldiers), who were part of the English government forces were killed when they took on the Confederates. It was a bloody battle involving 60 of the government forces, who were marching from Ballyragget to Ballinakill and an estimated 600 of the Confederates.


The remains were discovered during development work of James Green. They have been removed and will be examined by an osteo archaelogist and are destined to be handed over to the National Museum in Dublin.


Medieval pottery and an old drain, believed to be from a well at The Closh to the River Breagagh have also being unearthed at the site. Excavations are ongoing and further finds are possible according to Mr Neary.


Mr Neary added that James Green is also believed to be close to the site of St James Church, which dates back to the 1300’s and was the departure point for pilgrims who made the pilgrimage to Santiago del Compostela in Spain.


The development works involve the removal of existing trees and flower beds, replanting with new trees and shrubs, the removal of the existing concrete footpath to be replaced with new footpaths, the refurbishment of the statue and the erection of new seats and lighting. The estimated cost of the development works is €50,000 and the works are expected to be completed by the end of the month.