The last Neanderthals of southern Iberia did not coexist with modern humans
07 February 2013 madrimasd
The last Neanderthals had passed by southern Iberia quite earlier than previously thought, approximately 45,000 years ago and not 30,000 years ago as it has been estimated until recently. Researchers of the Spanish National Distance Education University (UNED) participate in the dating of samples from two archaeological sites of central and southern Iberia. The new data casts doubt on the theory that sapiens and Neanderthals coexisted in Iberia during the Upper Pleistocene.
The theory that the last Neanderthals –Homo neanderthalensis– persisted in southern Iberia at the same time that modern humans –Homo sapiens– advanced in the northern part of the peninsula, has been widely accepted by the scientific community during the last twenty years. An international study, in which researchers of the Spanish National Distance Education University (UNED) participate, questions this hypothesis.
“It is improbable that the last Neanderthals of central and southern Iberia would have persisted until such a late date, approximately 30,000 years ago, as we thought before the new dates appeared” assures Jesús F. Jordá, researcher of the Department of Prehistory and Archaeology of the UNED and co-author of the study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).
The scientific team, with researchers from Oxford University (United Kingdom), Australia National University, UNED (Madrid), University of La Laguna (Tenerife), Archaeological Museum of Lucena (Córdoba), and National Museum of National History (Paris), applied a new technique in order to repeat analyses at the sites of Jarama VI (Guadalajara) and Zafarraya (Malaga), considered up to now two of the last refuges of the Iberian Neanderthals.
To the usual radiocarbon dating method, the ultrafiltration protocol was added, which aims to purify the collagen of the bone samples from contaminants. The AMS dating technique was applied that requires minimum sample quantities.
The scientists, by applying this new method, assure that the neanderthal occupation of the sites did not last until as late as previously thought; instead it should be placed approximately 45,000 years ago.
“The problem with radiocarbon dating alone is that it does not provide reliable dates older than 50,000 years” explains Jordá. An additional problem is contamination; the older the samples are the more residues are accumulated. If contaminants are not removed the obtained dates are incorrect.
Re-writing Prehistory books
New analyses were applied to bone remains found in the archaeological deposits in association with Middle Paleolithic stone artifacts. Bones bearing clear signs of human manipulation (cut marks, marks of percussion or intentional breakage) were selected in order to rule out possible intrusions by carnivores.
Despite the fact that samples were collected from numerous sites in southern Iberia, it was only possible to date those of Jarama VI and Zafarraya, as the remaining samples did not contain enough collagen to be dated.
Cueva Antón (Murcia) is the only site that still provides recent dates in accordance with what has until now been postulated in relation to the persistence of the Neanderthals. However, neither the technological remains are clearly related to the Neanderthals nor are the dated charcoal samples perfectly associated with the lithics.
In view of the new data according to Jordá “prehistory books would need revision”, especially as new results become available. “Although it is still controversial to change the theory in force, the new concept, which presents new data indicating that Neanderthals and H. sapiens did not co-exist in Iberia, is becoming accepted” he adds.
Concerning the possible coincidence of both groups in the cantabrian area, the researcher is cautious. “Sites as La Güelga (Asturias) are being analyzed anew in order to determine if co-existence occurred. We must wait for the results to verify or not this hypothesis” he concludes.
Full bibliographic information
Rachel E. Wood, Cecilio Barroso-Ruíz, Miguel Caparrós, Jesús F. Jordá Pardo, Bertila Galván Santos and Thomas F. G. Higham. “Radiocarbon dating casts doubt on the late chronology of the Middle to Upper Palaeolithic transition in southern Iberia”, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). 04-02-2013. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1207656110
SWISS DOLMEN REVEALS RITUALS OF THE NEOLITHIC
Article created on Sunday, February 10, 2013
A sensational archaeological discovery has been made in the region of Bern, Switzerland, consisting of a communal dolmen grave dating back to over 5,000 years, containing 30 bodies and Neolithic artefacts. It represents the first intact burial chamber to be found north of the Alps.
In October 2011, specialists from the Archaeological Service of the Canton of Bern began investigation of the large granite slab weighing in at 7 tonnes. The glacial erratic measured 3 metres long, 2 metres wide and was nearly 1 metre thick – what they did not realise at first was that it still covered a grave belonging to a Neolithic community.
The site was originally found when a farmer decided to try and remove the glacial boulder that he had to mow around when cutting grass in his field.
The boulder is from the last glacial maximum – some 20,000 years ago – and used by the early farmers during the 4th millennium BCE for burial purposes.
Due to constant flooding, the upright stone blocks were tilted to the left. (Source: ADB)
According to a report in the Berner Zeitung, Roman and medieval artefacts were found directly overlying the Neolithic layers and show the dolmen was a visible feature in the landscape until at least the 13th century CE. Most of the sediments that cover the site are flood deposits from the nearby river.
The site director of the Oberbipp dolmen excavation, Marco Amstutz comments, “What we found here is like winning the lottery. “
An intact Neolithic communal burial is slowly coming to light, after fears the grave may have been ransacked in the past. The uprights are slightly tilted due to constant flooding from the nearby river, but despite this, the site is reasonably intact.
The excavation of the burial chamber has revealed over 30 individuals as well as what must represent grave goods from the period, including beads, flint arrowheads and even eggshell.
DNA testing of the occupants as well as sophisticated analysis of their teeth will be taking place over the next two years.
The Swiss Neolithic begins around the middle of the 5th millennium BCE and is coeval with both the Bandkeramik culture in Central Europe and the Vinca culture in the Balkans. During the 4th millennium – when this dolmen is constructed – the culture seemed to develop independently from the rest of Europe and this excavation may help open up further study into the connections that linked the region during this period.
A team from Swiss television’s flagship science programme, Einstein, has been following the archaeologists as they continue their research on the dolmen.
Mummified animals preserved in cave
ÇANKIRI - Anatolia News Agency
The conditions of Çankırı’s Salt Cave have preserved the bodies of animals for decades. The cave, which is an important salt reserve in the country, is one of the main attractions of the Central Anatolian region
In the salt cave (tuz mağarası) of the central Anatolian province of Çankırı, the bodies of dead animals do not decompose; rather they are preserved by the atmosphere of the cave, where salt has been produced for 5,000 years, dating back to the Hittite period.
The body of a donkey found 200 years ago in the cave as well as that of a rabbit found five years ago and a snake found two years ago are displayed in the grotto as they were found.
The salt cave boasts Turkey’s largest rock salt reserve and is one of the significant tourism centers of central Anatolia. Many galleries comprise the cavern, from which stalactites and stalagmites of salt are suspended. Exhibiting the mummified animals is one part of a series of projects developed by the Çankırı Governor’s Office to promote the salt cave for tourism.
Mining engineer Murat Danacı, who is responsible for the cave, said the animal bodies are preserved due to the cave’s antibacterial environment: “There is no decomposition here because the life condition is zero in this atmosphere. It is an antibacterial environment; even bugs do not reproduce. There is an old saying: add salt to the wound. People used to add salt to wounds to kill bugs.”
Donkeys used to transfer salt
According to Danacı, a dead donkey was found in the cave as donkeys were historically used to transport mined salt: “Salt has been produced in the cave for nearly 5,000 years. Donkey and horse carriages were used in the past as transfer vehicles. This donkey fell into water and died when it was transferring salt. People found it some 200 years ago and put it somewhere in the cave.” Danacı said that the donkey began to decompose when it was taken from its natural environment, thus was brought back to the cave: “When [people] realized that the donkey did not decompose in the cave, it was taken to the Ankara Mineral Research and Exploration Museum (MTA). It began to decompose there and was returned to its natural environment, the salt cave. Decomposition stopped there,” he said.
He said that a dead rabbit found by workers five years ago in the cave also did not decompose: “The rabbit has been with us since then. We found it in an open place where there is no production and never carried it outside the cave. This is why decomposition was not seen.”
The last creature found and displayed is the body of a snake from two years ago: “No bodies decompose in the environment of this cave because of the salt. The donkey, rabbit and snake were not stuffed. We don’t interfere with these dead bodies,” Danacı said.
‘Largest’ Scottish ancient artworks revealed
By FRANK URQUHART
Published on Friday 8 February 2013 01:39
A RETIRED silversmith has uncovered the largest collection of ancient rock art ever found in the Highlands on a remote hill overlooking the Cromarty Firth.
The carved rocks – some almost 10ft across – have been discovered scattered across a hillside near Evanton, in Ross-shire.
Douglas Scott, the amateur archaeologist who has recorded the remarkable find, believes the “cup-marked” rocks – dating from up to 5,000 years ago to the Neolithic or Bronze Age – form part of a “ritual centre of some significance” where ancient people worshipped the sun and performed rites connected to the underworld.
Mr Scott, 64, from Tain, has found and recorded a total of 28 carved rocks on Swordale Hill – Druim Mor in Gaelic – and lodged his remarkable discovery with the Highland Historic Environment Record and the Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments.
He explained yesterday that farmers had first found a small number of the carved stones, with hollow cup-marks carved into them, in 1985. A year later, he and and Bob Gourlay, then the Highland regional archaeologist, scoured Swordale Hill and recorded and photographed another 14 cup-marked rocks on the ridge.
Mr Gourlay has since died and over the past two years, Mr Scott, has completed the task of searching the entire hilltop and has now photographed and recorded 28 carved rocks across the site.
He said: “The finding of up to 28 cup-marked rocks on Druim Mor makes this the largest concentration of cup-marked stones so far found in the north of Scotland. Cup-marked stones are not unique but this is the biggest concentration found in this area and that is quite significant in itself because no-one knew these monuments were up there.”
Mr Scott added: “The carvings on the rocks are anywhere between 4,000 and 5,000 years old and comprise hollows, some surrounded by rings, and grooves which all line up to where the sun rises in midwinter. There is a concentration of them, spread across 150 metres.”
There is also a chambered burial cairn and a circular ditch, possible evidence of an ancient henge, on the hill.
Mr Scott added: “From the ridge, there are wide views across the fertile lands of the Cromarty Firth, the Black Isle and the distant Cairngorms. According to Gaelic folklore, these ancient people believed that the sun was rising and setting in the underworld.
“They would carve these cup marks into the rock at the times when the sun was coming up, out of what they believed was the underworld.”
He said cup marks can be found throughout Europe, where they are associated with carvings of the sun, solar chariots and boats – the latter believed to carry souls of the dead to the underworld.
Mr Scott said: “The position of the cup marks, between the passage cairn and the henge, suggests that this was one of the most important ritual sites in the area.”
Iron Age burial found at Playgolf Colchester
On Monday (4th February), a Roman wine amphora was discovered on the site at Playgolf Colchester in Lexden. It was part of an Iron Age burial. This is an important discovery, because it shows that the golf club was built on a site similar in nature to the one which the Trust excavated in the 1990s opposite the zoo in Stanway. Discoveries there included the remarkable ‘doctor’s grave’ with gaming board and surgical instruments. The Playgolf Colchester site appears to have been similar in that it consisted of a ditched square enclosure containing at least one high-status burial (as indicated by the wine amphora) and a ‘chamber’. The latter, at Stanway, had originally been in the form of a large wooden box, large enough to accommodate a dead adult body surrounded by grave goods. At Playgolf Colchester, in addition to the amphora, another discovery at the site was a pit containing fragments of very corroded iron objects. It wasn’t possible to see much of the pit but, as far as could be judged, it resembled one of the ‘chambers’ at Stanway.
These Stanway-type funerary enclosures are very rare in Britain; there is one important example at St Albans. There seem to be parallels in the Champagne region of Northern France, where the tribe of the Catuvellauni originated from. Camulodunum (Iron Age Colchester) was founded by the Catuvellauni in the latter part of the Iron Age.
(Read more about the Stanway site in the Colchester Archaeologist magazine no 11 (1998); this is available online in .pdf format at http://cat.essex.ac.uk/reports/MAG-report-0011.pdf )
Playgolf Colchester is delighted with the discoveries and hopes to incorporate the results in their new facilities.
Extraordinary ‘bustum’ burial excavated in Colchester
On Monday (4th February), there was great excitement at the Trust when an extraordinary bustum or pyre burial was excavated on one of our current sites. Bustum burials are a special kind of burial. They are very rare but we have found several on the garrison site in Colchester in the past few years. What makes this one exceptional is that we found the remains of what seem to be dates and seeds on the pyre. Food remains are unusual in graves because, being organic, they don’t survive under normal circumstances. However, things can be different if they were charred and, in Colchester, we are used to this because the great fire which destroyed the Roman town during the Boudican revolt of AD 60 left us with various sorts of burnt foodstuffs and the like such as grain, figs and dates.
Traces of food and drink remains in Roman-period graves are hard to find even although they must, in many cases, have been placed with the dead person either in the grave if the body was to be buried or on the pyre if the body was to be burnt. Most cremations took place away from the burial grounds (at least in Colchester, as far as we can tell). At the end of the process, the burnt bones were all reduced to small pieces. They were then were hand-picked from the ashes and buried in a container (usually a pot) or simply placed in a little pile in a hole in the ground. Occasionally, objects such as melted glass phials or clay lamps were also placed in the pots but, generally, the contents are fairly ‘clean’ and consist of just fragments of burnt bone. The bustum-type burial was different and presents archaeologists with an opportunity to find those elusive food remains.
A bustum burial is one where the remains of the body were left undisturbed in the ashes of the funeral pyre. The process was a clever one, whereby a body could be cremated and buried in a pit without the need to pick out the dead person’s burnt bones. This was achieved by building the pyre over a shallow pit that was, in effect, to double up as a grave. The pit was large enough to catch the ashes and burnt bones as the pyre was burning. By the time the flames had died down (or more likely been dowsed with wine or water), the volume of the pyre and the body on it had reduced to the point where most of the debris had dropped into the pit. It would then have been a simple matter to fill in the pit with soil and – hey presto – job done! The reason why we find these bustum burials in cemetery areas is because they were essentially mechanisms for burying the dead person’s remains. Hence they had to be sited in cemeteries. These bustum burials are very rare. Most bodies which were cremated must have been burnt elsewhere. The human bones in bustum burials are a bit higgledy-piggledy, but there is an order in that the bones from the head lie at one end, the bones from the legs lie at the other, the bones from the ribs and spine lie in the middle, and so on.
So you can see why the bustum burial offers the archaeologist possibilities not offered by other burial techniques. It is because lots of the debris produced by the cremation process survive in situ in the grave, not just cremated bones and a few selected objects. In the case of this recent find, dates and other foodstuffs must have been placed or thrown on to the pyre. They could not have been on it very long otherwise they would have been completely incinerated, so they must have been put on the pyre as it was dying down or just before the flames were dowsed. The ?dates and seeds turned to charcoal in the heat so that their shape was perfectly preserved and they could survive for 1,800 years before their discovery this week.
A picture (above), taken from directly above the remains of the bustum burial (by Dr Tim Dennis and published here with his kind permission) shows burnt debris on the bottom of the pit. Most of the pit has been cut away horizontally, but the sides of the pit are red because they have been burnt by the heat of the pyre. The depressions in the corner of the bustum pit show that vertical posts were placed in its corners. These suggest that the pyre was carefully constructed and included these posts to give it height and make it well contained over the pit. The dates and seeds lie near the middle of the pit but they are hard to see at this scale.
Archaeologists seek Alfred remains
Feb 5 2013
The next great mystery of where a king is buried could be solved as archaeologists try to find the grave of Alfred the Great.
An application has been made to exhume and study bones believed to lie in an unmarked grave at St Bartholomew Church in Winchester, Hampshire, to find out if they are the legendary Saxon king, who is said to have burnt the cakes and defeated the Danes.
It is thought the grave may hold the bones of Alfred after a possible earlier burial of the king under the nearby ruined Hyde Abbey was dug up in the 19th century.
The next dig comes after the remains of Richard III were found under a car park in Leicester.
The University of Winchester is seeking permission from a diocesan advisory panel of the Church of England which will consult English Heritage and a judge will make a final decision.
Dr Katie Tucker, from the university, explained that it is not known if the bones of the king were disturbed when Hyde Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530s. Since then there have been several digs at the site all suggesting they have found the bones, with some being put on display in Winchester in the 19th century before they were buried in the unmarked grave at the church.
German scientists have analysed the skeleton of Alfred's granddaughter in Magdeburg, Germany, to try to get DNA but that has proved unsuccessful, Dr Tucker said, so experts will rely on radio carbon dating to get proof.
"If the bones are from around the 10th century then that is proof they are Alfred and his family because Hyde Abbey was not built until the 12th century and there would be no reason for any other bones from the 10th century to be there," she said.
The university is hoping that permission will be granted this spring and results could be due in the early summer.
Alfred lived from 849 AD to 899 and was born in Wantage, Oxfordshire. He is the only English monarch to be afforded the title The Great. He was technically King of Wessex but he was referred to as King of the English towards the end of his reign. Legend has it he burnt cakes he was asked to watch over while distracted trying to think how to defeat invaders and he had to sleep with his horse as a punishment.
Curses, musical scores and a fisherman swallowed by a whale: Archaeologists' fascinating quest to decipher medieval graffiti scrawled on cathedral walls
Major project at Norwich Cathedral aims to catalogue inscriptions
By HUGO GYE
PUBLISHED: 13:42, 6 February 2013 | UPDATED: 13:47, 6 February 2013
The daily lives of medieval townsfolk have been brought to light by an extraordinary haul of graffiti found in Norwich Cathedral.
Messages have been scratched into the walls of the historic buildings over hundreds of years, but few people have ever stopped to work out what they say.
Archaeologists have now started a major project to decipher the extraordinary messages, and have found a mixture of musical pieces, pious exhortations and even supernatural curses.
Music: These lines of notes (which have been digitally overlayed for the sake of clarity) were scratched into the walls of Norwich Cathedral in the medieval period
Ship: This inscription shows a boat about to be swallowed by a giant whale, seen in the bottom right
While most church-goers these days would never even contemplate defacing the walls of a Norman cathedral with graffiti, medieval residents of Norfolk had a far less protective attitude to their monuments.
Volunteers from the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey began cataloguing the scrawls found in the cathedral earlier this year, and have already recorded hundreds of inscriptions.
'The walls are covered in everything you can think of,' project director Matthew Champion said. 'Medieval ships, names, animals, windmills, figures and prayers.
'Just about everything that would have been important to the citizens of Norwich during the Middle Ages.
Curse? The name 'Kaynfford' was carved upside down, implying links to black magic
Pious: A human figure, thought to be a saint, can just about be deciphered in this photograph
Superstition: This 'petal' design was probably used to bring good luck or ward off evil spirits
'I think we have to understand that our modern view of the cathedral is very different from the way in which it was viewed by the local people during the Middle Ages, particularly the ways in which it was used.
'They saw nothing wrong with carving their prayers into the very stones of the building.'
His deputy Colin Howey added: 'These are whispers in stone and you are standing in the place where, hundreds of years ago, someone would have been scratching away.
'It could be a devout symbol of faith, or someone creating a slander, or a musician noting down a new composition.
'There are a whole range of motivations - and exactly what they could have been, who knows? But it is tantalising.'
Staves: The cathedral's organist is hoping to play the pieces scratched into the walls of the building
Extraordinary: The etchings have been in place for hundreds of years but were never deciphered until now
In the cathedral's nave, a clear outline of a ship had been recorded earlier - possibly a prayer left for a fisherman or mariner.
But until last week, no one had spotted that the ship was being pursued by an enormous open-mouthed whale.
'We think it could have been a prayer made by someone related to a sailor, and the whale is most likely Jonah's whale,' Mr Howey said.
On another pillar are two four-line musical staves, overlaid with a series of notes, thought to have been inscribed in the second half of the 16th century, before the introduction of the five-line staves used today.
'We are talking to the cathedral organist and he is having a look to see if he could play it,' Mr Howey said.
'Here we have a piece of music from 400 years ago being lifted off the walls - indeed it could have been the organist at the time who scratched this composition onto a wall in order to play it later.'
Project: Colin Howey, from the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, taking a record of the ship inscription
Iconic: Norwich Cathedral has been a centre of worship since it was built during the Norman period
A more sinister group of inscriptions consist of beautifully carved text which was written upside down, suggesting they may have had a magical import such as being used as curses.
'We know that from ancient times through to the medieval, inverting things was to wish bad upon them,' Mr Howey said.
'It is exactly the kind of folk magic that the church frowned upon in the extreme.'
One inscription, showing the figure of a man, has been interpreted as a drawing of a saint, which would be a unique discovery among English carvings.
The graffiti was presumably intended to smooth a worshipper's path to Heaven - and could even have been scratched into the wall by a Roman Catholic secretly expressing his forbidden beliefs.
Petal-shaped designs seem to have been carved deep into the stone by masons working on the construction of the building, and have been described as 'devotional gestures' or symbols to 'ward off bad spirits'.
The graffiti initiative, which has gained the approval of the cathedral's Dean and Chapter, will continue throughout the spring and early summer.
Construction on Norwich Cathedral began in 1096, during the reign of William II.
While it has undergone repeated renovations over the years, what remains of the church mainly dates back to the 17th century, when it was rebuilt after being ransacked by Puritans.
Ghosts from the Wars of Roses graves lie in wait for HS2 route
The battle of Edgcote was one of the bloodiest clashes of the wars. Now its site could be threatened by the high speed rail link
The Observer, Saturday 9 February 2013 11.51 GMT
High-speed rail may have met its most formidable opponent yet – the ghosts of a Welsh army slaughtered fighting for an English king more than 500 years ago.
As many as 5,000 soldiers from Wales, including more than 180 knights and noblemen, lie buried somewhere in farmland north of Banbury, Oxfordshire. In the centuries after they were cut down, at the battle of Edgcote in 1469, one of the bloodiest clashes of the Wars of the Roses, the precise location was forgotten.
But historians and heritage campaigners fear that the proposed HS2 line could pierce its heart and, potentially, plough through mass graves.
Uncertainty about the site of the battle raises questions about assurances from High Speed Two, the company set up by the government to oversee the £35bn scheme, that the line avoids the battlefield. It is not a protected site, and has never been investigated by archaeologists.
English Heritage, the government agency, has revealed to the Observer that "a large number" of unprotected historic sites and buildings, all along the proposed HS2 route, have yet to be assessed by High Speed Two – a key requirement of the formal environmental impact statement which must be completed, in detail, by the company.
The first phase of the HS2 scheme, London to Birmingham, passes through or alongside several historic sites. Dozens of ancient buildings, listed and unlisted, are also at risk. Last month the line's second phase was announced, with routes north from Birmingham to Manchester and Leeds.
The battle of Edgcote, fought in July 1469, pitted Welsh forces under the Earl of Pembroke against rebels from the north of England trying to depose the Yorkist king, Edward IV, in favour of the Earl of Warwick, the "Kingmaker".
A ferocious struggle involving as many as 40,000 troops, the battle claimed the lives of the flower of Welsh society. It was the largest loss of Welsh troops on a single day until the first world war, and has been dubbed "the Welsh Flodden" – the battle of 1513 in which England crushed Scottish military power and its ruling elite. "Edgcote is an extremely important site for Welsh culture and traditions, but its study is very neglected," said Dr Barry Lewis, of the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth.
"Edgcote was remembered for 100 years afterwards. Welsh people were still talking about revenge for the battle. We don't want development going through any battlefields." The loss of life was especially bitter for Wales as its forces were apparently left undefended by English archers, following a row on the eve of battle between the archers' commander, the Earl of Devon, and Pembroke. Some chroniclers blame this fatal dispute on a row over lodgings, but one suggests the cause was an inn-keeper's daughter.
Lewis has studied the work of Welsh poets, writing in the aftermath of the disaster. They record betrayal by the English at the battle they call Banbury.
One poet, Lewys Glyn Cothi, mourns: "The mightiest [battle] of Christendom,/ And through a fault it was lost:/ At Banbury the vengeance was exacted/ Upon fair Wales, and the great fine.
"There was heard all at once/ Crying of battle between great spears."
Another poet, Guto'r Glyn, wrote simply: "I was killed, I and my nation too."
Edgcote battlefield is not included on English Heritage's Battlefields Register, a list that could help aid protection. The agency is considering an application. A spokesperson told the Observer: "The Edgcote battlefield is one of a possibly large number of undesignated heritage sites that HS2 has yet to work on to establish whether there is an impact, and if so how it might be mitigated. Our advice to HS2 has been that they do need to have done this to inform their environmental impact statement."
High Speed Two denies that the battlefield will be damaged. It says that the route has been amended to take account of historically sensitive sites. A spokesman said: "Changes included moving the route away from a cluster of important heritage sites around Edgcote. This realignment farther away from Edgcote House and its grounds avoids the site of a Roman villa and the possible location of the historic Edgcote Moor battlefield."
Campaigners are highly sceptical about High Speed Two's assurances, and say that mention of the battlefield was omitted from initial drafts of the HS2 route. "We are well aware of the general area of the battlefield, but nobody can be 100% sure until it has been surveyed. Anyone who claims the contrary is talking nonsense," said Harvey Watson, of the Battlefields Trust. "We are hoping that an amendment to the route in 2012 will mitigate the worst impact of this, but until a detailed survey has been carried out we cannot be sure."
Excavation set to shed new light on London's Victorian past
08 February 2013 Kingston University
From a clay smoking pipe to Neolithic flint, a 19th Century garden has been revealing some of its secrets to an archaeological team from London's Kingston University.
Dr Helen Wickstead spotted an opportunity to delve below the surface of an area of land at the University's Seething Wells hall of residence after looking at historic maps and images of the area alongside the River Thames. The former industrial site had not been excavated before and she was intrigued to see whether she could find traces of a garden marked out on early maps.
"The Seething Wells site in Surbiton is of historic significance because the waterworks built there and opened in 1852 were pivotal in improving the health of Londoners. They provided clean, filtered water when cholera had been ravaging the capital," Dr Wickstead explained. "A garden on a site like this might tell us more about the people who lived and worked nearby - did they use it for leisure, was it just decorative and reserved for the privileged, or was it used for food production? It was a time of great social change so we were keen to roll back the turf to see what we could find."
The team studied 19th Century maps from English Heritage archives, comparing them with aerial photographs taken during World War II by the Royal Air Force as well as more modern day Google Earth images. "We could see that a path existed across the site and the parched grass visible on modern satellite images also suggested its presence," Dr Wickstead said.
After digging a 10 metre square trench, the team discovered signs of a path made from cinder and gravel. "That showed us it was a functional feature rather than decorative," Dr Wickstead, who lectures in heritage, said. "Now we'd like to explore beneath it and sample the soil as it will have captured pollen from plants growing at the time."
Shells in the gravel section suggest the path was probably made from waste material from the water filter gravel beds that still exist opposite the hall of residence. But one fragment spotted by chance in the waste took the team right back to the Neolithic period. "We were very excited to find a fragment of flint that we believe is a chipping from the making of Neolithic tools," Dr Wickstead, who is also a pre-historian, said. "It could be as much as 6,000 years old. I expect it came from the river at some point and was caught up in the gravel used in the filter beds. It's an intriguing find and took us all by surprise."
The team also unearthed a fragment of red and white pottery with illustrations of two Victorian gentlemen. "I like to imagine one of those people could even be the engineer James Simpson who invented the capital's water filtration system," Dr Wickstead said.
Some more recent objects have connections to the war years. The team expected several small metal garden tags they discovered to bear the names of plants. "On closer inspection, two had names of people on them," Dr Wickstead said. "We'd love to find out more about Derek Ellis and Mabel Gower - perhaps they worked the allotments that were on the site during World War II."
Students studying historic building conservation joined Dr Wickstead on the dig. Third year Crispin Thomas, who is particularly interested in Medieval carpentry, helped survey the ground with an auger - a drilling device that tests resistance to see how deep top soil is. "I'd never been on an archaeological dig before and I was fascinated to see how much information could be gleaned from such a small space," he said. "So much evidence for how we got where we are today as a society, in so many aspects of life, is right there under our feet."
Dr Wickstead said that small green patches of land like that at Seething Wells were scattered all over London and were windows into the past just waiting to be explored. "These little open spaces are like pieces of jigsaw puzzle and no-one has ever put them all together. A comprehensive study would tell us more about the story of the capital and, importantly too, the suburbs that helped the city flourish," she said.