German Archaeologists Discover World’s Oldest Wooden Wells

Published: Dec 24th, 2012Archaeology | By Sergio Prostak


7,000-year-old water wells unearthed in eastern Germany suggest that prehistoric farmers in Europe were skilled carpenters long before metal was discovered or used for tools, made water wells out of oak timbers.


The finds, reported in a paper in the journal PLoS ONE, contradict the common belief that metal tools were required to make complex wooden structures.


The wooden water wells discovered in Germany by the team led by Dr Willy Tegel of the University of Freiburg are over 7,000 years old, and suggest that early farmers had unexpectedly refined carpentry skills.


“This early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters,” the archeologists said.


These first Central European farmers migrated from the Great Hungarian Plain approximately 7,500 years ago, and left an archeological trail of settlements, ceramics and stone tools across the fertile regions of the continent, a record named Linear Pottery Culture.


However, much of the lifestyle of these early settlers is still a mystery, including the climate they lived in and technology or strategies they used to cope with their surroundings.


“The oak timbers analyzed in this study are also a new archive of environmental data preserved in the tree rings, which could tell an accurate, year-by-year story of the times these early settlers lived in.”


According to the authors, botanical remains collected from the wells (such as from the one unearthed near the historic town Eythra in Saxony) provide insight into past environmental conditions and the early Neolithic diet.


The staple food consisted of two types of hulled wheat – einkorn and emmer. Carbohydrates from cereals were complemented with proteins from legumes, such as peas and lentils. Oils were obtained from linseed and poppy. Wild fruits supplemented the diet, and included strawberries, sloe, apples, raspberries and hazelnuts. Two plants that have been considered archaeophytes in Central Europe were found in abundance: the bladder cherry and the black henbane, the archaeologists described.


Bibliographic information: Tegel W et al. 2012. Early Neolithic Water Wells Reveal the World’s Oldest Wood Architecture. PLoS ONE 7(12): e51374; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0051374



Famed Roman shipwreck reveals more secrets

Dan Vergano, USA TODAY 12:26a.m. EST January 4, 20130



·         The famed Antikythera shipwreck appears bigger than believed, loaded with antiquities

·         The shipwreck yielded bronze statues and the enigmatic Antikythera mechanism a century ago

·         Ship likely sank when a storm blew it against an underwater cliff

Marine archaeologists report they have uncovered new secrets of an ancient Roman shipwreck famed for yielding an amazingly sophisticated astronomical calculator. An international survey team says the ship is twice as long as originally thought and contains many more calcified objects amid the ship's lost cargo that hint at new discoveries.


At the Archaeological Institute of America meeting Friday in Seattle, marine archaeologist Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole (Mass.) Oceanographic Institution, will report on the first survey of Greece's famed Antikythera island shipwreck since 1976. The ancient Roman shipwreck was lost off the Greek coast around 67 BC,filled with statues and the famed astronomical clock.


"The ship was huge for ancient times," Foley says. "Divers a century ago just couldn't conduct this kind of survey but we were surprised when we realized how big it was."


Completed in October by a small team of divers, the survey traversed the island and the wreck site, perched on a steep undersea slope some 150 to 230 feet deep in the Mediterranean Sea.


The October survey shows the ship was more than 160 feet long, twice as long as expected. Salvaged by the Greek navy and skin divers in 1901, its stern perched too deep for its original skin-diver discoverers to find.


The wreck is best known for yielding a bronze astronomical calculator, the "Antikythera Mechanism" widely seen as the most complex device known from antiquity, along with dozens of marble and bronze statues. The mechanism apparently used 37 gear wheels, a technology reinvented a millennium later, to create a lunar calendar and predict the motion of the planets, which was important knowledge for casting horoscopes and planning festivals in the superstitious ancient world.


A lead anchor recovered in a stowed position in the new survey shows that the ship likely sank unexpectedly when "a storm blew it against an underwater cliff," says marine archaeologist Theotokis Theodoulou of Greece's Ephorate (Department) of Underwater Antiquities. "It seems to have settled facing backwards with its stern (rear) at the deepest point," he says.


Scholars have long debated whether the ship held the plunder of a Roman general returning loot from Greece in the era when the Roman Republic was seizing the reins of the Mediterranean world, or merely luxury goods meant for the newly built villas of the Roman elite. The last survey of the shipwreck was led by undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau, whose documentary Diving for Roman Plunder chronicled that 1976 effort, which appears to have excavated the ship's kitchen.


The October survey team watched the 1970s documentary to help orient themselves to the wreck site. "They didn't have the diving technology that we now have to do a very efficient survey," Theodoulou says.


Along with vase-like amphora vessels, pottery shards and roof tiles, Foley says, the wreck also appears to have "dozens" of calcified objects resembling compacted boulders made out of hardened sand resting atop the amphorae on the sea bottom. Those boulders resemble the Antikythera mechanism before its recovery and restoration. In 2006, an X-ray tomography team reported that the mechanism contained at least 30 hand-cut bronze gears re-creating astronomical cycles useful in horoscopes and timing of the Olympic Games in the ancient world, the most elaborate mechanical device known from antiquity until the Middle Ages. "The (objects) may just be collections of bronze nails, but we won't know until someone takes a look at them," Foley says.


The survey effort, headed by Aggeliki Simossi of the Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities,will continue for the next two years. The international survey team will look in two different locales for ancient shipwrecks in that time, while Greek antiquities officials ponder further exploration. An amphora recovered from the wreck will also have its inner walls tested for DNA traces of the regular cargo, such as wine, once carried by the vessel.


Recovery of whatever cargo remains with the wreck, now covered in sand, presents a technically difficult, but not impossible, challenge for marine archaeologists.


"Obviously there are a lot of artifacts still down there, but we will need to be very careful about our next steps. This ship was not a normal one," Theodoulou says.



Research Unearths Terrace Farming at Ancient Desert City of Petra

New archaeological research dates the heyday of terrace farming at the ancient desert city of Petra to the first century. This development led to an explosion of agricultural activity, increasing the city’s strategic significance as a military prize for the Roman Empire.

Date: 1/2/2013 12:00:00 AM

By: M.B. Reilly

Phone: (513) 556-1824

Photos By: Images courtesy of BUPAP


A team of international archaeologists including Christian Cloke of the University of Cincinnati is providing new insights into successful and extensive water management and agricultural production in and around the ancient desert city of Petra, located in present-day Jordan. Ongoing investigations, of which Cloke is a part, are led by Professor Susan Alcock of the Brown University Petra Archaeological Project (BUPAP).


Using a variety of tools and techniques, including high-resolution satellite imagery and optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating of soils, Cloke, a doctoral student in the Department of Classics at UC, and Cecelia Feldman, classics lecturer at UMass-Amherst, have suggested that extensive terrace farming and dam construction in the region north of the city began around the first century, some 2,000 years ago, not during the Iron Age (c. 1200-300 BC) as had been previously hypothesized. This striking development, it seems, was due to the ingenuity and enterprise of the ancient Nabataeans, whose prosperous kingdom had its capital at Petra until the beginning of the second century.


The successful terrace farming of wheat, grapes and possibly olives, resulted in a vast, green, agricultural “suburb” to Petra in an otherwise inhospitable, arid landscape. This terrace farming remained extensive and robust through the third century. Based on surface finds and comparative data collected by other researchers in the area, however, it is clear that this type of farming continued to some extent for many centuries, until the end of the first millennium (between A.D. 800 and 1000). That ancient Petra was under extensive cultivation is a testament to past strategies of land management, and is all the more striking in light of the area’s dry and dusty environment today.


Cloke and Feldman will present their findings Jan. 4 at the Archaeological Institute of America Annual Meeting in Seattle, in a paper titled “On the Rocks: Landscape Modification and Archaeological Features in Petra’s Hinterland.” Their research efforts are contributing to a growing understanding of the city, its road networks, and life in the surrounding area.



Dating the start of extensive terrace farming at Petra to the beginning of the common era has important historical implications, according to Cloke, because this date coincides closely with the Roman annexation of the Nabataean Kingdom in A.D. 106.


He explained, “No doubt the explosion of agricultural activity in the first century and the increased wealth that resulted from the wine and oil production made Petra an exceptionally attractive prize for Rome. The region around Petra not only grew enough food to meet its own needs, but also would have been able to provide olives, olive oil, grapes and wine for trade. This robust agricultural production would have made the region a valuable asset for supplying Roman forces on the empire’s eastern frontier.”


In other words, said Feldman, successful terrace farming and water management when Petra was at its zenith as a trading center added not only to the city’s economic importance but to its strategic military value as well, because there were limited options in the region for supplying troops with essential supplies.



On large stretches of land north of Petra, inhabitants built complex and extensive systems to dam wadis (riverbeds) and redirect winter rainwater to hillside terraces used for farming.


Rainfall in the region occurs only between October and March, often in brief, torrential downpours, so it was important for Petra’s inhabitants to capture and store all available water for later use during the dry season. Over the centuries, the Nabataeans of Petra became experts at doing so. The broad watershed of sandstone hills naturally directed water flow to the city center, and a complex system of pipes and channels directed it to underground cisterns where it was stored for later use.


“Perhaps most significantly,” said Cloke, “it’s clear that they had considerable knowledge of their surrounding topography and climate. The Nabataeans differentiated watersheds and the zones of use for water: water collected and stored in the city itself was not cannibalized for agricultural uses. The city’s administrators clearly distinguished water serving the city’s needs from water to be redirected and accumulated for nurturing crops. Thus, extensive farming activity was almost entirely outside the bounds of the city’s natural catchment area and utilized separate watersheds and systems of runoff.”


These initial conclusions from the first three seasons of BUPAP fieldwork promise more exciting discoveries about how the inhabitants of Petra cultivated the outlying landscape and supported the city’s population. The presence of highly developed systems of landscape modification and water management at Petra take on broader significance as they offer insight into geopolitical changes and Roman imperialism.




Hadrian's hall: archaeologists finish excavation of Roman arts centre

Arts centre discovered under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts was built in AD123 and could seat 900 people

Tom Kington in Rome

guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 26 December 2012 14.01 GMT



Archaeologists who have completed the excavation of a 900-seat arts centre under one of Rome's busiest roundabouts are calling it the most important Roman discovery in 80 years.


The centre, built by the emperor Hadrian in AD123, offered three massive halls where Roman nobles flocked to hear poetry, speeches and philosophy tracts while reclining on terraced marble seating.


With the dig now completed, the terracing and the hulking brick walls of the complex, as well as stretches of the elegant grey and yellow marble flooring, are newly visible at bottom of a 5.5 metre (18ft) hole in Piazza Venezia, where police officers wearing white gloves direct chaotic traffic like orchestra conductors and where Mussolini harangued thousands of followers from his balcony.


"Hadrian's auditorium is the biggest find in Rome since the Forum was uncovered in the 1920s," said Rossella Rea, the archaeologist running the dig.


The excavations, which are now due to open to the public, are next to a taxi rank and squeezed between a baroque church and the Vittoriano, an imposing monument to Italy's defunct monarchy, which is nicknamed the Typewriter by locals.


The complex was only unearthed thanks to excavations to build a new underground railway line which will cross the heart of Rome. "We don't have funds for these kind of digs so this has come to light thanks to the new line," said Rea.


Archaeologists keeping a careful eye on what gets dug up have proved to be a mixed blessing for railway engineers, who have had to scrap plans for two stations in the heart of the centre of Rome when it was discovered their exits to the surface cut straight through Roman remains.


With the discovery of Hadrian's complex at Piazza Venezia, the line risked losing its last stop in the centre and being forced to run into the heart of Rome from the suburbs and straight out the other side without stopping. But Rea said the station and the ruins could coexist.


"I believe we can run one of the exits from the station along the original corridor of the complex where Romans entered the halls," she said.


The site sheds new light on Hadrian's love of poetry – he wrote his own verse in Latin and Greek – and his taste for bold architecture – an 11-metre-high (36ft) arched ceiling once towered over the poets in the central hall.


Today the performing space is riddled with pits dug for fires, revealing how after three centuries of celebrating the arts, the halls fell into disrepair with the collapse of the Roman empire and were used for smelting ingots.


At the centre of the main hall, like a prop from a disaster movie, is a massive, nine-by-five-metre chunk of the monumental roof which came crashing down during an earthquake in 848 after standing for seven centuries.


Following the quake, the halls were gradually covered over until a hospital built on top in the 16th century dug down for cellar space. "We found pots lobbed down a well after the patients using them died," said Rea. "We could date them because the designs on the glaze were the same we see on implements in Caravaggio paintings."


Unique 2,000-year-old Roman theatre discovered in back garden of archaeological school


PUBLISHED: 15:58, 25 December 2012 | UPDATED: 10:07, 27 December 2012

·         Roman remains reveal first British example of ancient cockpit-style theatre

·         Had a large nearly circular orchestra pit with a narrow stage set much further back than in traditional theatres

·         Found at site where Kent Archaeological Field School is based

·         Archaeologist Dr Paul Wilkinson said: 'It really is an amazing find, the first one in Britain, and it is just beyond my garden'


Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Roman theatre - dating back 2,000 years.

Dr Paul Wilkinson, founder of the Kent Archaeological Field School, believes it is the first of its kind to be found in Britain.

The site shows activity dating back to the Bronze Age, but it is the Roman theatre - which would have been used for religious occasions - that has really excited history buffs.

Dr Wilkinson is fighting to preserve the unique find for future generations and has applied for it to become an ancient monument site.

He said: 'It really is an amazing find, the first one in Britain, and it is just beyond my garden. This is a unique and wonderful discovery, not only for Faversham but for all of Britain.

'The theatre could have held 12,000 people and we are going to request for it to become an ancient monument site because it is so important and we can preserve it for future generations.

'It would have been a religious sanctuary for the Romans. They would have held religious festivals there. It is called a cockpit theatre.

'There are 150 of them in northern Europe, but none in Britain until now. We were not expecting it.'

Investigations began on the land back in 2007, but the results have only just been released. A cockpit theatre had a large nearly circular orchestra with a narrow stage set much further back than in traditional theatres.

Dr Wilkinson believes the site is the only known example in Britain of a Roman rural religious sanctuary, with a theatre actually built into the hillside. Two temple enclosures were found near by as well as a sacred spring.

Durolevum was the name the Romans gave to Faversham, and means 'the stronghold by the clear stream.'

English Heritage spokesman Debbie Hickman said: 'If the full analysis of the results does confirm that the site on the outskirts of Faversham is a Roman rural theatre, it would be a most remarkable find.'

Dr Wilkinson has led archaeological digs in Kent for more than a decade. In September he led a team that found an ancient ceremonial site the size of Stonehenge on the North Downs.

The purpose of the neolithic 'henge' near Hollingbourne is shrouded in mystery, however a large amount of burnt bone and pottery discovered suggested it was used for some sort of ritual.

The researchers also found antles and cattle shoulder blades, which they think were used as pick axes and shovels by workers who first dug out the henge.

The 50metre-wide henge was discovered after a circular mark was spotted in satellite images of the area.



Archaeology exposes the forbidden eating habits of a bunch of 6th century monks

Alasdair Wilkins


Archaeological analysis of human remains can illuminate incredible truths about our ancient ancestors, revealing hidden truths about their daily lives that we wouldn't necessarily be able to find in written records. Other times, it can just be a damn tattletale.


In the 500s, Byzantine monasteries were found throughout the deserts of Africa and the Near East. The remote locations were no accident — these monks were meant to adhere to asceticism, which strictly forbade worldly pleasures and required the monks to live on little else but bread and water. One exception to the isolation of these early monasteries was St. Stephen's in Jerusalem, which afforded its monks access to temptations unknown to those of their desert-dwelling brethren.


Unfortunately, it seems the monks of St. Stephen's weren't able to withstand the temptation. The University of South Alabama's Lesley Gregoricka analyzed bone samples from 55 skeletons in the monastery. The ratios of carbon and nitrogen isotopes in the bone can be used to reconstruct a reasonable picture of the ancient monks' diets. And while some of the monks did indeed only seem to subsist on bread and water with the occasional fruits and vegetables mixed in, that wasn't exactly true of all the inhabitants of St. Stephen's.


As New Scientist reports, Many of the monks were found to have bones rich in nitrogen-15, which has to be derived from consumption of animal protein. That most likely means meat, although it's possible the monks were eating cheese or other dairy-based products. Either way, such foods would have violated the principles of asceticism. What's more, such foods were a luxury item in 6th century Jerusalem, meaning the monks almost certainly would have violated their vow of poverty just to get their hands on the food.


According to Peter Hallie of the University of Dallas, "Only fallen, weak, mad and demonic monks ate meat." So either St. Stephen's Monastery was a dumping ground for every fallen, weak, mad, and demonic monk that the other, purer Byzantine monasteries didn't want, or these monks somehow kept secret their forbidden culinary habits. In any event, it just goes to show that archaeologists can't be trusted with anybody's secrets, even if they are 1,500 years old.


Journal of Anthropological Archaeology via New Scientist.



King Richard III's medieval inn recreated by archaeologists

Blue Boar inn rises again in model and digital form, recreated from detailed drawings found in Leicester family's archives

Maev Kennedy

guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 18 December 2012 06.40 GMT


The medieval inn in Leicester where King Richard III slept before riding out to meet his fate at the battle of Bosworth has been recreated by the team of archaeologists and academics who dug up a local car park this summer searching for his bones.


News of their discovery of the remains of a man with a twisted spine and a gaping war wound, in the foundations of a long demolished abbey, created ripples of excitement around the world. Results of the scientific tests on the remains have not been announced, though there have been rumours that they proved inconclusive. Although DNA has been extracted from far older bones, the success of the technique depends on the quality of their preservation.


The DNA test results, which might establish whether the bones could really be Richard's, are expected next month, but meanwhile The Blue Boar inn has risen again in model and digital form, recreated from detailed drawings found in the archives of a local family.


The inn was ramshackle by 1836 and was demolished, even though it was a tourist attraction for its royal connections, and celebrated and sketched by antiquarians for its picturesque medieval timber work. A Travelodge stands on the site in Highcross Street, without even a plaque to record its former glory.


The site is wreathed in local legends. One says the inn was originally called The White Boar, which was Richard's emblem. The landlord heard the news from the battlefield that the last Plantagenet king was dead and his crown now on a Tudor head, hastily repainted his boar sign blue, and renamed the inn. Richard's own grand bed is also said to have remained at the inn, presumably because nobody remembered to come back for it, and yet another legend claims a century later a sack of medieval gold coins was found in a secret compartment in the base of the bed – and that the landlady, Mrs Clark, was murdered for the treasure.


In August 1485 the inn, though built on older foundations, was quite new and one of the smartest buildings in Leicester. Richard stayed there before riding to the battlefield – recently pinpointed nearly two miles from the traditional site and memorial to the dead king – across the nearby bridge.


Another tale says his spur struck a stone of the bridge, and on the return, with his stripped body slung over the pommel of a horse, his head struck the same stone.


Yet another legend, which the archaeologists hope is not true, insists that after his body was humiliatingly displayed naked in the town, the remains were slung into the river Soar.


However, they believe the alternative story, that the Franciscans claimed his body and buried it hastily but in a position of honour, near the altar of their Grey Friars church – exactly where the remains were found.


The lost inn, described as "the Grand Hotel of its time" by Richard Buckley, co-director of the Leicester university archaeology service, who led the excavation, has been recreated from meticulous drawings of the timbers, which he recognised in a notebooks of the 19th-century architect Henry Goddard, still owned by his descendants.


"When I was looking through this notebook, what was thrilling about it was that the drawings were so detailed. They showed how the building was put together – the timber framing, the joints, pegholes – all annotated with measurements in feet and inches," Buckley said.


The model was created as a computer drawing by Steffan Davies and converted into a scale model using a 3D printer in the university's department of physics and astronomy.



Dipped in the blood of beheaded French king: Scientists use DNA to confirm gourd was a VERY gruesome memento from the execution of Louis XVI


PUBLISHED: 10:44, 1 January 2013 | UPDATED: 14:14, 1 January 2013

·         Research solves 220 year mystery of Louis XVI remains in calabash

·         Handkerchief dipped in blood of beheaded king kept in gourd since 1793

·         Scientists compared DNA in gourd with mummified head of king's ancestor

Two centuries after handkerchiefs were dipped in the blood of the beheaded French king Louis XVI, scientists believe they have proved one such rag kept as a revolutionary souvenir contains his bloodstains.

For years researchers have been trying to verify the claim that an ornately decorated calabash contained a blood sample of the king, who was guillotined in Paris on January 21, 1793.

On that day Parisian Maximilien Bourdaloue joined the crowds as dipped a handkerchief into the blood left at the scene of the decapitation.

He is then believed to have placed the fabric in the gourd, which has been in the hands of an Italian family for more than a century, and had it embellished.

Two years ago, analysis of DNA taken from traces of blood found inside the gourd revealed a likely match for someone of Louis' description, including his blue eyes.

But it was never able to be proved beyond doubt as at the time the team did not have DNA of any royal relation.

But a team of experts from France and Spain, which has published its findings in the journal Forensic Science International, have conducted further research using genetic material from another gruesome artefact - a mummified head believed to belong to Louis' 16th century predecessor, Henri IV.

Their research has uncovered a rare genetic signature shared by two men separated by seven generations, and managed to provide evidence for the authenticity of both sets of remains in the process.

French forensic pathologist Philippe Charlier said: 'This study shows that (the owners of the remains) share a genetic heritage passed on through the paternal line.

'They have a direct link to one another through their fathers.'

The revolution in which Louis and queen Marie-Antoinette lost their heads in public executions also saw mobs ransack the royal chapel at Saint-Denis, north of Paris, hauling ancient monarchs like Henri from their tombs and mutilating the remains which they tossed into pits.

An individual was recorded to have rescued a severed head from the chaos.

Long thought to belong to Henri, assassinated at the age of 57 by a Catholic fanatic in 1610, the head changed hands several times over the next two centuries, bought and sold at auction or kept in secretive private collections.

Scientists in 2010 said they found proof that the head was indeed Henri's, citing physical features that matched 16th century portraits of the king, as well as radiocarbon dating, 3D scanning and X-rays.

The 2010 study, however, found no DNA and its findings have been contested by some.

With the new evidence, 'it is about 250 times more likely that the (owners of the) head and the blood are paternally related, than unrelated,' according to co-author Carles Lalueza Fox of the Institut de Biologia Evolutiva in Barcelona.

He said it would be 'extremely surprising' is the remains did not belong to the two monarchs, when all the physical and forensic evidence was taken together.

Mr Charlier said: 'One can say that there is absolutely no doubt anymore.'

The DNA data obtained from Louis XVI could now be used to decipher the genetic code of France's last absolute monarch and his living relatives.



British team in Burma begin lost Spitfire hunt

7 January 2013 Last updated at 07:00


British experts have begun work in Burma following a 17-year search for a cache of World War II Spitfire planes believed to be buried in the country.


Eyewitness accounts and metallurgical surveys suggest that more than 30 unused planes are buried in crates at Rangoon international airport.


The planes are believed to have been buried by American engineers as the war drew to a close.


Only an estimated 40 to 50 Spitfires are believed to be airworthy today.


The planes at the airport site are thought to be among more than 120 unassembled Spitfires buried at at least three different sites in Burma.


The team behind the historical treasure-hunt believe that the planes may still be in good condition if packed carefully.


"It's taken me 17 years to find these aeroplanes in Myanmar [Burma] and we're pretty sure we know the location," said British aircraft enthusiast David Cundall, who led the search.


It took Mr Cundall close to a decade to sign an actual contract to start digging for the planes. The project is being funded by videogame company in Belarus.


The search team includes archaeologists, film crew and survey experts. An initial survey is expected to take 10 days, and then excavations could take between four and six weeks.