Archaeologists uncover Palaeolithic ceramic art
July 25, 2012
Evidence of a community of prehistoric artists and craftspeople who “invented” ceramics during the last Ice Age – thousands of years before pottery became commonplace – has been found in modern-day Croatia.
The finds consist of 36 fragments, most of them apparently the broken-off remnants of modelled animals, and come from a site called Vela Spila on the Adriatic coast. Archaeologists believe that they were the products of an artistic culture which sprang up in the region about 17,500 years ago. Their ceramic art flourished for about 2,500 years, but then disappeared. The study, which is published in the journal PLoS ONE, adds to a rapidly-changing set of views about when humans first developed the ability to make ceramics and pottery. Most histories of the technology begin with the more settled cultures of the Neolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago. Now it is becoming clear that the story was much more complex. Over thousands of years, ceramics were invented, lost, reinvented and lost again. The earliest producers did not make crockery, but seem to have had more artistic inclinations. The Vela Spila finds have been the subject of intensive investigation by researchers at the University of Cambridge and colleagues in Croatia since 2010. Their report, published this week, suggests that although earlier ceramic remnants have been found elsewhere, they had no connection with the site, where the ability to make these artefacts appears to have been independently rediscovered by the people who lived there. “It is extremely unusual to find ceramic art this early in prehistory,” Dr. Preston Miracle, from the University of Cambridge, said. “The finds at Vela Spila seem to represent the first evidence of Palaeolithic ceramic art at the end of the last Ice Age. They appear to have been developed independently of anything that had come before. We are starting to see that several distinct Palaeolithic societies made art from ceramic materials long before the Neolithic era, when ceramics became more common and were usually used for more functional purposes.” Vela Spila is a large, limestone cave on Korčula Island, in the central Dalmatian archipelago. Excavations have taken place there sporadically since 1951, and there is evidence of occupation on the site during the Upper Palaeolithic period, roughly 20,000 years ago, through to the Bronze Age about 3,000 years ago.
The first ceramic finds were made back in 2001. Initially they were almost overlooked, because it is so unusual to find ceramic in the Upper Palaeolithic record. As more ceramic emerged, however, examples were set aside for careful analysis. Researchers meticulously checked the collection for tell-tale evidence of modelling on the artefacts which would confirm that they had been made by a human hand. In all, 36 cases were identified. Broadly, the collection belongs to a material culture known as “Epigravettian” which spanned 12,000 years, but radiocarbon dating has allowed scholars to pin down the Vela Spila ceramic collection to a much narrower period, between 17,500 and 15,000 years ago. Those which can be identified appear to be fragments of modelled animals. The ceramics were clearly made with care and attention by real craftspeople who knew what they were doing. One of the better-preserved items, which seems to be the torso and foreleg of a horse or deer, shows that the creator deliberately minimised the number of joins in the model, perhaps to give it structural strength. They were also marked with incisions, grooves, and punctured holes, using various tools, probably made from bone or stone. Finger marks can still be seen where the objects were handled while the ceramic paste was wet. As well as being the first and only evidence of ceramic, figurative art in south-eastern Europe during the Upper Palaeolithic, the collection’s size, range and complexity suggests that Vela Spila was the heart of a flourishing and distinctive artistic tradition. Although the finds bear some similarities with ceramics discovered in the Czech Republic, which date back a further 10,000 years, there are enough structural and stylistic differences – as well as separation by a huge gulf in time – to suggest no continuity between the two. The older, Czech finds were also typically found near hearths, which were possibly kilns. Some researchers have even gone so far as to suggest that they were deliberately destroyed in the fire as some sort of ritual act. The Vela Spila finds, on the other hand, appear to have undergone no such ritual destruction – at least not in the same way. As a result, the Cambridge-Croatian team believes that these ceramics came from a hitherto unknown artistic tradition that flourished for about two millennia in the Balkans. Like their Neolithic descendants, these people may have had no knowledge of ceramics before they invented the technology for themselves. And like their Palaeolithic ancestors, over time they either forgot or rejected that technology – only for it to be rediscovered again. The next evidence of ceramic technologies at Vela Spila appears 8,000 years later in the record, and comprises functional pottery items rather than art. “The development of this new material and technology may have been a catalyst for a more general transformation in artistic expression and figurative art at this site thousands of years ago,” Dr Rebecca Farbstein, from the McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge added. “Although we often focus on utilitarian innovations as examples of societies transforming as a result of new technology, the ceramic evidence we have found here offers a glimpse into the ways in which prehistoric cultures were also sometimes defined and affected by artistic innovations and expression.” More information: dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0041437 Journal reference: PLoS ONE Provided by University of Cambridge
Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2012-07-archaeologists-uncover-palaeolithic-ceramic-art.html#jCp
17,500-Year-Old Ceramic Figures Unearthed in Croatia
An international team of archaeologists has uncovered the first evidence of ceramic figurative art in late Upper Paleolithic Europe – from about 17,500 years ago, thousands of years before pottery was commonly used.
Published: Jul 26th, 2012 Archaeology | By John Shanks
The evidence of a community of prehistoric artists and craftspeople who ‘invented’ ceramics during the last Ice Age has been found at the archaeological site of Vela Spila, Croatia.
The finds consist of 36 fragments, most of them apparently the broken-off remnants of modeled animals, and come from the site on the Adriatic coast. The archaeologists believe that they were the products of an artistic culture which sprang up in the region about 17,500 years ago. Their ceramic art flourished for about 2,500 years, but then disappeared.
A study, published in the journal PLoS ONE, adds to a rapidly-changing set of views about when humans first developed the ability to make ceramics and pottery. Most histories of the technology begin with the more settled cultures of the Neolithic era, which began about 10,000 years ago.
Now it is becoming clear that the story was much more complex. Over thousands of years, ceramics were invented, lost, reinvented and lost again. The earliest producers did not make crockery, but seem to have had more artistic inclinations.
“It is extremely unusual to find ceramic art this early in prehistory,” said senior author Dr Preston Miracle of the University of Cambridge. “The finds at Vela Spila seem to represent the first evidence of Paleolithic ceramic art at the end of the last Ice Age. They appear to have been developed independently of anything that had come before. We are starting to see that several distinct Paleolithic societies made art from ceramic materials long before the Neolithic era, when ceramics became more common and were usually used for more functional purposes.”
Vela Spila is a large, limestone cave on Korčula Island, in the central Dalmatian archipelago. Excavations have taken place there sporadically since 1951, and there is evidence of occupation on the site during the Upper Paleolithic period, roughly 20,000 years ago, through to the Bronze Age about 3,000 years ago.
The first ceramic finds were made back in 2001. Initially they were almost overlooked, because it is so unusual to find ceramic in the Upper Paleolithic record. As more ceramic emerged, however, examples were set aside for careful analysis.
Broadly, the collection belongs to a material culture known as ‘Epigravettian’ which spanned 12,000 years, but radiocarbon dating has allowed scholars to pin down the Vela Spila ceramic collection to a much narrower period, between 17,500 and 15,000 years ago. Those which can be identified appear to be fragments of modeled animals.
The ceramics were clearly made with care and attention by real craftspeople who knew what they were doing. One of the better-preserved items, which seems to be the torso and foreleg of a horse or deer, shows that the creator deliberately minimized the number of joins in the model, perhaps to give it structural strength.
As well as being the first and only evidence of ceramic, figurative art in south-eastern Europe during the Upper Paleolithic, the collection’s size, range and complexity suggests that Vela Spila was the heart of a flourishing and distinctive artistic tradition. Although the finds bear some similarities with ceramics discovered in the Czech Republic, which date back a further 10,000 years, there are enough structural and stylistic differences – as well as separation by a huge gulf in time – to suggest no continuity between the two.
The older, Czech finds were also typically found near hearths, which were possibly kilns. Some researchers have even gone so far as to suggest that they were deliberately destroyed in the fire as some sort of ritual act. The Vela Spila finds, on the other hand, appear to have undergone no such ritual destruction – at least not in the same way.
As a result, the Cambridge-Croatian team believes that these ceramics came from a hitherto unknown artistic tradition that flourished for about two millennia in the Balkans. Like their Neolithic descendants, these people may have had no knowledge of ceramics before they invented the technology for themselves.
“The development of this new material and technology may have been a catalyst for a more general transformation in artistic expression and figurative art at this site thousands of years ago,” said lead author Dr Rebecca Farbstein of the University of Cambridge. “Although we often focus on utilitarian innovations as examples of societies transforming as a result of new technology, the ceramic evidence we have found here offers a glimpse into the ways in which prehistoric cultures were also sometimes defined and affected by artistic innovations and expression.”
Bibliographic information: Farbstein R, Radić D, Brajković D, Miracle PT. 2012. First Epigravettian Ceramic Figurines from Europe (Vela Spila, Croatia). PLoS ONE 7(7): e41437; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0041437
6,500 year old hunting trophy found in eastern Croatia
Croatian Times, 25.07.12
Archaeologists in Bapska, eastern Croatia have stumbled across 6,500 year old deer antlers. The hunting trophy was found hanging on the wall of prehistoric house along with valuable items of jewellery, writes website dalje.com.
"We have the oldest deer hunting trophy in Croatia," said Marcel Buric, the head researcher at the Department of Prehistoric Archaeology of the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb.
According to Buric, local hunters from Bapska have estimated that the deer, where the antlers trophy has come from, would have weighed between 220 and 250 kilograms and would have been extremely strong due to its 12 antlers.
"It was in prehistoric times and would have needed real skill to catch such an animal, and with only stones as weapons. It is a known fact that deers are fast animals," concluded Buric.
First Dynasty solar boat found outside Cairo
THE HISTORY BLOG
A team from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology excavating the ancient site of Abu Rawash 15 miles northwest of Cairo has unearthed the remains of a solar boat dating to the reign of the First Dynasty pharaoh Den (ca. 2975–2935 B.C.). The boat is nearly intact, composed of 11 planks of local wood 20 feet long and five feet wide. The wood is in good condition, thanks to the preservation power of the dry desert environment.
Pharaoh Den was not actually buried at Abu Rawash. His tomb is in the royal necropolis of Early Dynastic kings at Abydos in Upper Egypt. His seal has been discovered at Abu Rawash, however, which may be how archaeologists were able to date the solar boat to his reign. Abu Rawash is best known as the site of the ruined pyramid of the pharaoh Djedefre, son of and successor to Khufu, builder of the great pyramid at Giza. Djedefre was a king of the Fourth Dynasty who reigned from about 2566 to 2558 B.C., 400 years after Den.
His pyramid complex at Abu Rawash actually includes a solar boat pit, a ditch 115 feet long cut out of the living limestone next to the pyramid, which was intended to hold his solar boat. No boat was found within. Instead, archaeologists recovered thousands of fragments of statues from the pit, which when put together turned out to be sculpted heads of Djedefre, now in the Louvre.
Although none of the articles I’ve found explicitly state this, I think the boat was probably found in the protodynastic cemetery on a rocky outcropping above the Abu Rawash pyramid site. Called “M” after archaeologist Pierre Montet who first discovered it in 1913, the necropolis contains 25 mid-First Dynasty tombs made out of mud bricks. These tombs belonged to elite members of early Old Kingdom society and have been a rich source of information about the development of monumental pharaonic funerary architecture, artifacts and practices in Lower Egypt. Finding a virtually intact solar boat is therefore extremely significant.
Solar boats were ritual vessels that were buried near kings to carry their souls to the heavens where their father, the sun god Ra, awaited them. Ra traveled on two boats during the course of his daily duties, the morning boat that carried him across the heavens during the day, and the evening boat that carried him through the underworld at night. There is some debate among Egyptologists as to whether the solar boats were used to carry the pharaoh’s body over water during the funerary procession or whether they were made just to be buried for the pharaoh’s posthumous use. The most glamorous of solar ships, Pharaoh Khufu’s 140-feet-long and 20-feet-wide cedar yacht discovered in a pit at the foot of the Great Pyramid of Giza in 1954, shows some signs of having been in contact with water, but cedar shavings found in the pit suggest that it was built on site.
The Abu Rawash boat has been removed to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo for conservation. Once it’s in stable condition, it will go on display at the National Museum for Egyptian Civilization which is still under construction. The solar boat is expected to be ready for public display sometime next year.
First Dynasty funerary boat discovered at Egypt's Abu Rawash
French archaeological mission discovers 3000BC funeral boat of King Den northeast of Giza Plateau, indicating earlier presence at the Archaic period cemetery
Nevine El-Aref, Wednesday 25 Jul 2012
During routine excavation works at the Archaic period cemetery located at Abu Rawash area northeast of the Giza Plateau, a French archaeological mission from the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo (IFAO) stumbled on what is believed to be a funerary boat of the First Dynasty King Den (dating from around 3000BC).
The funerary boat was buried with royalty, as ancient Egyptians believed it would transfer the king's soul to the afterlife for eternity.
Unearthed in the northern area of Mastaba number six (a flat-roofed burial structure) at the archaeological site, boat consists of 11 large wooden planks reaching six metres high and 1.50 (figure edited by WS 30/7/2012) metres wide, Minister of State for Antiquities Mohamed Ibrahim said in a press release sent to Ahram Online on Wednesday.
The wooden sheets were transported to the planned National Museum of Egyptian Civilisation for restoration and are expected to be put on display at the Nile hall when the museum is finished and opens its doors to the public next year.
The IFAO started its excavation works at Abu Rawash in the early 1900s where several archaeological complexes were found. At the complex of King Djedefre, son of the Great Pyramid King Khufu, Emile Chassinat discovered the remains of a funerary settlement, a boat pit and numerous statuary fragments that bore the name of Fourth Dynasty King Djedefre.
Under the direction of Pierre Lacau, the IFAO continued its excavation work and found new structures to the east of the Djedefre pyramid. However objects bearing the names of First Dynasty Kings Aha and Den found near the pyramid indicate an earlier presence at Abu Rawash.
Colosseum in Rome is leaning, officials say
Experts say ancient building has started to tilt, with south side 40cm lower than north, and may need urgent repairs
Reuters in Rome
guardian.co.uk, Monday 30 July 2012 12.22 BST
The ancient Colosseum in Rome is slanting about 40cm lower on the south side than on the north, and authorities are investigating whether it needs urgent repairs.
Experts first noticed the incline about a year ago and have been monitoring it for the past few months, Rossella Rea, director at the 2,000-year-old monument, said in the Italian daily Corriere della Sera.
The Leaning Tower of Pisa, another of Italy's most popular attractions, was reopened in 2001 after being shut for more than a decade as engineers worked to prevent it from falling over and to make it safe for visitors.
Rea has asked La Sapienza University and the environmental geology institute IGAG to study the problem and report back in a year.
Tests have begun to observe the effects that traffic on nearby busy roads may have on the monument.
Prof Giorgio Monti, from La Sapienza's construction technology department, said there might be a crack in the base below the amphitheatre.
"The slab of concrete on which the Colosseum rests, which is like a 13-metre-thick oval doughnut, may have a fracture inside it," he told the newspaper.
He said intervention could be necessary if the concerns are confirmed, along the lines of stabilisation work carried out in Pisa, but he said it was too early to judge what kind of intervention would be most suitable.
The Colosseum – famous for hosting bloody gladiator fights in the days of the Roman empire – attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists and is usually packed with visitors.
What’s Wrong with the Colosseum?
The Colosseum, the quintessential symbol of Rome and Roman culture, has been a fixture in the international news for the past several months, mostly because of a series of incidents involving small pieces of stone, cement, and plaster that have detached and fallen, usually without causing injury. Is the Colosseum falling down? Yes and no.
In its 1930 years the Flavian Amphitheater (to use its formal name) has endured every conceivable form of structural stress and degradation: floods, fires, lightning strikes, earthquakes, invasive occupation by animals and humans (for settlement, commerce, and burial), deliberate attack (to remove the metal clamps holding together the blocks, creating the current Swiss-cheese appearance), and the slow, steady decay that every structure experiences due to seasonal changes in temperature and atmospheric moisture and pressure.
The most spectacular event in its history was undoubtedly the collapse of the southern section of the outer ring in the mid-14th century after a particularly violent earthquake shook the loose sediments underpinning the south side, where the lake of Nero’s Golden House had been (and, before that, a swampy basin fed by a small stream). The Colosseum was left in a particularly vulnerable state until the early 19th century, when an enlightened papal government sealed the exposed and buckling edges of the outer ring with the enormous brick buttresses visible today.
Fast-forward 200 years. What has changed in the Colosseum’s condition since then? Very little, if anything: fragments small and large have continued to detach, mostly because of the weather and age, and the general wear has accelerated due to tourist activity. But there is more awareness of the problems, mostly because of their economic effects. The Colosseum alone rakes in 35 million euros in ticket sales per year. Closing it to the public, as happened twice this month because of the extraordinary snow events in Rome, costs Italy hundreds of thousands of euros.
What is being done to conserve the Colosseum?
What’s Wrong with the Colosseum? Part II
23 February 2012
What is being done to conserve the Colosseum? The measures vary in scale. A small-scale, but nevertheless crucial, one is the newly-imposed limit of 6000 visitors at a time. The electronic turnstiles at the entrance and the exit are now programmed to read the numbers of people entering and exiting. The entrance turnstiles stay locked when 6000 visitors are inside the structure; as visitors leave, the same number of new visitors is allowed to enter.
At the large end of the scale is the other aspect which has put the Colosseum squarely in the public eye for the past 2 years: a 3-year, 25 million euro restoration project that will bring the structure into the 21st century. The masonry will be cleaned and consolidated, the long-promised restoration of the hypogeum (underground) will finally be completed, and the service spaces (display area, bookstore, ticket office, bathrooms) will be transferred to a new structure in the piazza outside, near the Arch of Constantine, which will also house a café.
Sound too good to be true? Almost, as often happens in Italy. An international tender was offered; companies were invited to pool their resources to come up with the necessary funds in return for exclusive rights to the Colosseum logo and use of the monument itself for publicity. But in the end only one company made a viable proposal, Tod’s, an Italian luxury footwear company owned by Diego Della Valle, who promised to finance the entire project single-handedly. The contract was duly awarded to Tod’s.
It didn’t take long for Italy’s own white knight to be transformed into a blackguard. A labor union launched a legal complaint, alleging that proper tender procedures were not followed in the awarding of the contract (the complaint was withdrawn after several months due to negative press coverage). The Italian consumer protection association filed a complaint with the state anti-trust office over the apparent lack of competition in the tender and the contract’s terms (allegedly too favorable to Tod’s), even accusing Tod’s of seeking to exploit the project for free publicity despite Della Valle’s public rejection of the provision in the contract that allows for advertisement on the Colosseum. This complaint eventually drew in the State Prosecutor’s Office in Rome and the State Audit Court, causing irritation and embarrassment for Della Valle and Rome’s embattled mayor Gianni Alemanno. Professional conservators accused Della Valle of passing them over for employment in favor of mere “masons”; Della Valle countered that his employees will be specialists in stone restoration, rather than fresco or statue restoration.
Meanwhile pieces of masonry have continued to fall, almost as if the Colosseum itself were sending a message: the longer you dither, the more I decay. A few weeks ago Della Valle, impatient and frustrated, publicly threatened to withdraw the sponsorship of Tod’s. Public opinion appears to be on the side of the archaeological and municipal authorities and Della Valle, arguing that it ultimately doesn’t matter who sponsors the project and whether or not the terms are the fairest possible – the work can’t wait any longer. A few days ago Italy’s Authority for the Supervision of Public Contracts approved the contract between the state and Tod’s, apparently clearing the way for the first scaffolding to go up next month.
When discussing the Colosseum, everyone likes to cite the famous quotation attributed to the 8th-century English prelate Bede: “As long as the Colossus stands, Rome stands; when the Colossus falls, Rome too will fall; and when Rome falls, the world too will fall.” The author actually does not refer to the Colosseum, but instead to the Colossus, the 120-foot tall gilt bronze statue of the emperor Nero that was placed next to the Colosseum in AD 124 and refashioned to resemble the Sun. (It would not make sense for a Christian to equate the Colosseum – scene of the deaths of martyrs – with civilization!) By Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the Sun was venerated almost as a creator divinity, the light of the civilized world, and in fact the cult was assimilated into Christianity and other current religions like Mithraism. Over the course of time the statue’s name rubbed off on the amphitheater next to it by association. The Colossus disappeared at some point in the Middle Ages, and so technically Rome has fallen and the world should have ended. But that should not stop us from reviving the old prophecy and applying it, with slight modifications, to the Colosseum in our own time: as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome and Italy stand. If the Colosseum falls, Rome and Italy will have to answer to the world. Mark Twain would be proud.
– by Albert Prieto, AIRC Associate Director of Archaeology
House of the Telephus Relief: raising the roof on Roman real estate
Buried by Vesuvius nearly 2,000 years ago, archaeologists at Herculaneum have excavated and carried out the first-ever full reconstruction of the timber roof of a Roman villa
John Hooper in Ercolano
guardian.co.uk, Monday 23 July 2012 18.15 BST
For almost two millennia, the piles of wood lay undisturbed and largely intact under layers of hardened volcanic material. Now, after three years of painstaking work, archaeologists at Herculaneum have not only excavated and preserved the pieces, but worked out how they fitted together, achieving the first-ever full reconstruction of the timberwork of a Roman roof.
With several dozen rooms, the House of the Telephus Relief was "top-level Roman real estate", said Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project (HCP). It was more of a palace or mansion, thought to have been built for Marcus Nonius Balbus, the Roman governor of Crete and part of modern-day Libya, whose ostentatious tomb was found nearby.
The most lavishly decorated part of the immense residence was a three-storey tower. On the top floor was a nine-metre high dining room with a coloured marble floor and walls, a suspended ceiling and a wrap-around terrace. It offered the owners and their dinner guests a heart-stopping view across the silver-blue Bay of Naples to the islands of Ischia and Capri.
And now it is providing the archaeologists of Wallace-Hadrill's project with one of their most exciting finds: the timber roof of the Roman villa. "It is not unheard of for bits of roofs from the classical world to survive," said Wallace-Hadrill. "But it is incredibly rare."
What his archaeologists uncovered, however, was something altogether more comprehensive – almost 250 pieces, which they were able to piece together. "It's the first-ever full reconstruction of the timberwork of a Roman roof," said Wallace-Hadrill.
In 79AD the owners of the House of the Telephus Relief – possibly Marcus Nonius Balbus's descendants – would have had every reason to feel serenely confident of their future wealth and welfare. But on or about 24 August that year Vesuvius – clearly visible from the back of the mansion – erupted and released as much thermal energy as 100,000 Hiroshima bombs.
On the first day Herculaneum was unaffected. But on the second, the pillar of smoke and ash collapsed, the wind changed direction and a 400C pyroclastic surge swept through the town, instantly killing everyone from the lowliest slave to the owners of the great house by the shore.
One thousand, nine hundred and thirty years later, archaeologists were digging on what – until the eruption – was the beach, funded by the Packard Humanities Institute, the brainchild of a computer heir. Unlike nearby Pompeii, Herculaneum was buried under volcanic matter that hardened.
"Sometimes you need to use pneumatic drills," said the project's chief archaeologist, Domenico Camardo. Gradually, he and the other archaeologists uncovered first the beams of the roof and then smaller pieces. "It was incredible, because what we were discovering was living wood."
From the way in which the pieces lay his team was able to establish that the roof of the House of the Telephus Relief had been swept off by the pyroclastic surge, turned upside down and then smashed on to the beach. The timberwork was embedded in wet sand, which can preserve wood for centuries, and was then smothered with what soon became an air-tight layer of rock – a freak combination of circumstances that has produced a unique result.
"They have been able to calculate the exact pitch of the roof from the angle of the joinery and work out how every single bit fitted together," said Wallace-Hadrill.
What is more, entire panels from the ceiling, which is thought to have been suspended inside the roof, have survived. Some even bear traces of original paint and gold leaf with which they were decorated.
The panels, together with the parts of the roof, have been scanned, photographed and put into a refrigerated container to conserve them. Wallace-Hadrill hopes techniques can be identified that will allow the panels to be transported and displayed at an exhibition on Pompeii and Herculaneum next year at the British Museum.
In the meantime, the archaeologists are trying to reconstruct the pattern of the ceiling, which they believe echoed that of the top-floor dining room's dazzling floor, containing 36 different sorts of marble from every corner of the Mediterranean basin. Already, they know the ceiling was what Camardo calls "a triumph of colour – almost too much for the taste of today".
The other striking thing about it is how closely its design resembles those of the panelled ceilings of Renaissance palazzi , which can be seen all over Italy to this day.
Until now it had been thought the earliest wooden coffered ceilings were made in France in the early Renaissance. But the panels retrieved from the beach at Herculaneum prove otherwise. "Renaissance architects reinvented the concept, unaware the Romans got there first," said Camardo.
DISCOVERY OF EARLY MEDIEVAL ROYAL STRONGHOLD IN SOUTHWEST SCOTLAND
A recent Heritage Lottery funded archaeological excavation has discovered a hitherto forgotten early medieval royal stronghold in Scotland.
Trusty’s Hill, near Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway, is best known for the Pictish Symbols carved into a natural rock outcrop at the fort’s entrance. However, in recent years, many historians have begun to doubt whether these carvings were genuine, some even suggesting that the carvings are forgeries. The Galloway Picts Excavation, led by the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society and funded in part by the Heritage Lottery Fund, sought to find out why there are Pictish Carvings here, so far from the Pictish heartlands in the north-east of Scotland, and if the carvings are indeed genuine.
Under the direction of two members of the Society, over 60 local volunteers, assisted by professional archaeologists from GUARD Archaeology Ltd, spent two weeks discovering new archaeological evidence that establishes a clear archaeological context for the Pictish Symbols at this vitrified fort.
As well as an abundance of domestic waste, including animal bones, stone and metal tools and a spindle whorl, from ‘dark soil’ occupation deposits sealed by the collapsed ramparts of the fort, the excavators recovered numerous crucible and clay mould fragments, metalworking debris and a variety of iron pins and a possible Anglo-Saxon disc brooch, indicating the production of high status jewellery within the site. But the clincher for the Galloway Picts team was the discovery of E-ware pottery from a secure occupation context. The pottery sherd not only dates to the late sixth or early seventh centuries AD, exactly the right time for when Pictish Symbols were being carved in Scotland, but as an import from Western France is associated with high status, often royal, sites in Atlantic Britain such as Dunadd, Dumbarton Rock and Whithorn. Coastal fortified sites, such as Trusty’s Hill, often acted as importation centres for E ware and other luxury goods, which were then distributed to client sites in the region.
The excavation also revealed that the stone ramparts were laced with large vertical oak posts and that each of these was purposely set alight and stoked to the point where the stone rubble packed around them began to vitrify. Given the substantial fuel, oxygen and time required to accomplish this, it is likely that this deliberate and spectacular destruction of the ramparts took many days, even weeks, to complete.
Suggestion of a ritualised entranceway
Furthermore, the excavation revealed a feature, previously interpreted to be a guard-hut, but now demonstrably a rock-cut basin. As well as containing waterlogged deposits, from which worked wood and other organic remains were recovered, the location of this feature, outside the rampart and on the opposite site of the entrance to the Pictish Carvings, may suggest a ritualised entranceway as the immediate context of the Pictish Carvings.
Following the excavation, a team of stone conservators from the Centre for Digital Documentation and Visualisation LLP undertook a laser scan survey of the Pictish Symbol Stone. The objective for this is to enable specialist examination of the detail of how the Pictish Carvings were made and the translation of an ogham inscription that has been previously noted along the edge of the carved stone.
Together with various freelance specialists and experts from the National Museums of Scotland and the universities of Glasgow, Edinburgh, Stirling and Bradford, GUARD Archaeology are co-ordinating the specialist post-excavation analyses. The Galloway Picts team are excited about what the results of this work may reveal about how the cultures of Early Medieval Scotland, Britons, Picts, Angles and Scots, came together at Trusty’s Hillfort, near the beginning of a process that in time created Scottish identity.
The early results of this ongoing programme of work will be one of the discoveries from the region’s ancient past being presented at the one-day conference the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society are holding to celebrate their 150th Anniversary, on Saturday, 8 September 2012, at Dumfries and Galloway College. An application form for the conference is available from the Society’s website: http://www.dgnhas.org.uk/
The Galloway Picts Project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Dumfriesshire and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society, the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland, GUARD Archaeology Ltd, the Mouswald Trust, the Hunter Archaeological Trust, the Strathmartine Trust Sandeman Award, the Gatehouse Development Initiative and the John Younger Trust.
IMMINENT DESTRUCTION OF CRANNOG SITE IN NORTHERN IRELAND
Concerns have been raised with the Institute for Archaeologists (IfA) and other heritage agencies about the potentially inadequate excavation in advance of the imminent destruction of a crannog site at Drumclay in Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, as part of a road-building scheme.
IfA met with archaeologists of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA), which has a curatorial role for the site. NIEA explained that the original proposal was for site preservation below the road. However, engineering works elsewhere on the scheme led to a sudden ‘dewatering’ of the bog in which the crannog stood. Initially, road stone was imported to support the collapsing crannog but it was over a year later before archaeological excavation actually took place.
In view of the crannog’s now extremely fragile state, the decision was taken to excavate rather than to seek to preserve the medieval occupation levels (there also appears to be potential for prehistoric activity).
The six-week excavation has now been completed by archaeologists contracted by the Engineering Firm AME and was approved by John O’Keefe (NIEA Archaeologist). However, the NIEA has assured the IfA that no road building work will take place until the Minister for the Environment (Alex Attwood) is satisfied that adequate investigation of the construction levels has taken place – crucially to establish whether the crannog has prehistoric origins. Discussions are underway to ascertain whether these potential earlier remains can be preserved below the road.
IfA Chief Executive Peter Hinton, who sits on the Northern Ireland Archaeology Forum (NIAF), has been closely involved with discussions this week and commented;
“IfA will keep in touch with NIEA over the coming weeks, and will be keen to see that adequate provision is made for post-excavation work. Questions that remain to be answered include why the road was routed so close to an important site, and why the engineering decision was taken that so disastrously affected the hydrology of the site, precipitating an emergency archaeological solution. On the positive side, the issue has made clear to ministers the profile that press and public afford to archaeology.”
According to the DRD (Department of Regional Development): “Roads Service has been aware for some time of the presence of an historic crannog site on the line of the new Cherrymount Link Road in Enniskillen.
“In consultation with NIEA , the site is being resolved by a team of archaeologists who are currently on site,” it added.
A DRD spokesman explained: “The medieval site, at least 700 years old, has revealed evidence of its timber-and-soil construction, as well as a wicker-walled structure, possibly a house. It has also produced fragments of mill stones, wooden plates, small crucibles for metal-working, vast quantities of pottery and even pieces of cloth and part of a wooden plough.
“Some human remains were discovered, though it is thought that this was not their original burial place,” the spokesman added.
The DRD was contacted for any further statements regarding the archaeology of the crannog, but unfortunately no-one was available for comment as the person in charge of the project was now on annual leave.
Archaeologist Robert Chapple provided a detailed update of the situation which was passed to him (including photographic evidence), by a concerned member of the site crew wanting to raise awareness of the impending destruction of the crannog site. After this information was made public, the archaeologists were interrogated and this resulted in one of the team being immediately dismissed from their position without notice.
Friday 27th July is the final day for the official excavation but it is hoped that Mr Attwood (the minister for the environment) will recommend further recording of this important site.
You can help
Contact Alex Attwood firstname.lastname@example.org and lend your support to his call for more time and resources to be made available for this site. Although the remains will inevitably be lost, the potential for much more information retrieval is high.
Source: Institute for Archaeologists / Robert Chapple / Images from Facebook page (see link below)
Robert Chapple blog entry on this site ( http://rmchapple.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/urgent-important-early-christian.html )
The Fermanagh Herald 20th July 2012 ( http://fermanaghherald.com/2012/07/20/two-day-extension-for-cherrymount-site/ )
“Cherrymount Crannog Crisis” Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/groups/254450291340252/).
SMR site FER 211: 061 ( Site record for Drumclay Crannog )