Explorers find evidence of 2,500-year-old planned city

The discovery in Chattisgarh is being billed as India’s biggest archaeological find in at least half a century

Jacob P. Koshy 

Published: Sun, Mar 17 2013. 09 43 PM IST

New Delhi


Explorers claim they have evidence of a 2,500-year-old planned city—complete with water reservoirs, roads, seals and coins—buried in Chhattisgarh, a discovery that is being billed as the nation’s biggest archaeological find in at least half a century.

The discoveries were made from Tarighat in Durg district and spanned five acres of a sparsely inhabited region beside a river, according to archaeologists from the state’s department of culture and archaeology.

“As of now, we have four 15ft high mounds around which we have evidence of pottery, coins and some terracotta figures,” said J.R. Bhagat, deputy director in the department. “Once we begin, the entire digging could take at least 5-10 years.”

The 5th and 3rd century BC—to which the Tarighat finds date—points to a period when the region was ruled by the Kushan and Satavahana dynasties in central India. While there have been extensive, previous evidence of urban growth after the first century, such finds are extremely rare for preceding periods.

“These were among the most interesting times in early India,” said Abhijit Dandekar, an archaeologist at the Deccan College, Pune. “It was the end of the period of the 16 mahajanapadas (loosely translated to great kingdoms) when the Mahabharata was supposedly set, and the beginning of the Maurya empire. There’s very little known about urban structures in this period, in regions spanning modern-day Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.”

Dandekar, who is not involved in these finds, added that evidence of towns and urbanization spanning five acres was quite significant in an Indian context, though only excavations and peer review would throw true light on the import of these findings.

He added that the excavations at Ahichhatra, near Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, that began in 1960s were the most recent evidence of large-scale town planning in India for a comparable period and, if the Chattisgarh findings were as extensive, then it would be a significant find.

“In an Indian context, an excavation has rarely been disappointing,” said Dandekar. “If you believed there’s a city, it usually turns out to be one and bigger than what you first expected.”

To be sure, Bhagat clarified that the finds still haven’t been dated using methods such as radiocarbon or thermoluminescence dating—modern, established techniques that measure the amount of carbon or the relative proportions of other elements from which exact ages of materials are deduced—but he added that the texture of the pots, the typical pattern of raised mounds etc all pointed to evidence of an urban agglomeration.

“The kind of pottery called the Red and Black Northern Pottery, the coins, etc., at the surface of the site itself show very visible signs of complex urbanization.”

Arun Raj, a Chhattisgarh-based archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of India, characterized Chhattisgarh as being an untapped “gold mine” for archaeology.

“We’ve just given them permission for this dig, and I think it will be some time before we understand how important this is,” Raj said. “But this region, which has been relatively unexplored due to Naxalite conflict, could throw up several such finds.”

He added that one strand of Indian archaeological research sought to find common threads urban lifestyle patterns of the Indus Valley civilization that declined around 1300 BC, to urban formations in central India. “This may possibly falsify or add more credibility to such theories,” he said.



Ancient Xi'an restored in major project

China Daily, March 22, 2013


A massive preservation project aiming to restore the ancient layout of Xi'an will be completed by 2020 in the capital city of Shaanxi province.


At the center of the project is the construction of a special relics park at the site of the ancient city of Chang'an.


Work started last year and is progressing well, said Xi'an Mayor Dong Jun.


"Xi'an is famous for its Terracotta Warriors, but we have much more than that," he said. "With this project, we want to restore the urban layout of Xi'an back to what it was 2,000 years ago."


Chang'an, which means "perpetual peace" in classical Chinese, was an ancient capital for more than ten dynasties, and today is known as Xi'an.


For more than 200 years during the Western Han Dynasty (206BC-AD24), Chang'an was the center of Chinese politics, economy and culture. Given the frequency of international exchanges that took place in the city, Han Dynasty Chang'an is regarded as China's earliest international metropolis, according to Dong.


Historical records show that the city took 90 years to build, from 194 to 104 BC. It was prosperous and functionally designed, containing eight main streets, 160 alleys and nine marketplaces.


Today, many cultural relics of the ancient Chang'an still exist, but they need proper preservation, Dong added.


To achieve that, the city government plans to create a special relics park covering the center of the ancient city in Northwest Xi'an, covering an area of 75 sq km, he said.


The mayor did not disclose the estimated investment of the project, but previous media reports said it may cost 60 billion yuan ($7.7 billion).


A key feature will be the remains of the imperial Weiyang Palace complex, where many major historical events took place. For instance, Zhang Qian, a diplomat of the Western Han Dynasty, set out from there to inaugurate the Silk Road.


Dong said city officials are currently busy preparing for a heritage examination by UNESCO officers on Weiyang Palace this summer.



Return to Antikythera: what divers discovered in the deep

Divers revisiting the wreck in Greece where an ancient computer was found have discovered an array of artefacts


Divers returning to the site of an ancient wreck off the Greek island of Antikythera have found artefacts scattered over a wide area of the steep, rocky sea floor. These include intact pottery, the ship's anchor and some puzzling bronze objects. The team believes that hundreds more items could be buried in the sediment nearby.


The Antikythera wreck, which dates from the first century BC, yielded a glittering haul when sponge divers discovered it at the beginning of the 20th century. Among jewellery, weapons and statues were the remains of a mysterious clockwork device, dubbed the Antikythera mechanism.


Bar a brief visit by the undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau in the 1970s (featured in his documentary Diving for Roman Plunder), no one had visited the wreck since, leading to speculation about what treasures might still be down there. The locals told tales of giant marble statues lying beyond the sponge divers' reach, while ancient technology geeks like me wondered whether the site might be hiding another Antikythera mechanism, or at least some clues as to whom this mysterious object belonged to.


Cue all-round excitement when in October last year, a team of divers led by Brendan Foley of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and Aggeliki Simossi of Greece's Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, went back for a proper look. The divers used James Bond-style propulsion vehicles equipped with high-resolution video cameras to circumnavigate the island at about 40 metres depth. Now the photos released by the team show some of what they found.


For centuries Antikythera was in a busy shipping lane, but surprisingly its treacherous underwater cliffs and reefs are not littered with sunken ships (perhaps those ancient navigators were more skilled than we thought). And there are no obvious signs of a wreck at the site supposedly excavated by Cousteau, suggesting that he recovered all of the visible items there – or that he planted some of his finds for the cameras.


But 200 metres away, the divers found artefacts spread across the rocky sea floor, on a steep slope between 35 and 60 metres deep.


The largest item recovered was a huge lead anchor stock. It was lying on a semicircular object that might be a scupper pipe, used to drain water from the ship's deck. If so, the ship may have gone down as she was sailing with the anchor stowed. The team also raised an intact storage jar (amphora), which matches those previously recovered from the wreck. DNA tests may reveal its original contents.


Most intriguing are dozens of irregular spherical objects sprinkled across the wreck site. They look like rocks but contain flecks of green, suggesting small bronze fragments, corroded and encrusted in sediment after thousands of years in the sea. This is just what the Antikythera mechanism looked like when it was discovered. Then again, they could be collections of ship's nails.


Because the artefacts the team found are a short distance from the site investigated by Cousteau, it's possible that they belong to a second ship from around the same date as the original wreck, perhaps part of the same fleet. But Foley thinks it more likely that all of the remains come from one vessel that broke up as it sank.


To confirm this, he hopes to revisit the site later this year. He wants to use metal detectors to map the distribution of metal and ceramic objects buried beneath the surface, as well as dig a few test trenches. "I'm intensely curious about what's in the sediments," he says.


Cousteau only excavated a few square metres of the site but that was enough to reveal more than two hundred items, including jewellery, coins and small bronze statues. But while previous visits to the wreck have been little more than salvage expeditions, Foley says he'd love to carry out a systematic, scientific excavation of the wreck site, if he can find anyone to sponsor him: "As soon as we have the money we'll be back."



Turkey: Italian archaeologists find Gate to the Underworld

In the ancient city of Hieropolis, in Phrygia

15 MARCH, 19:46



An Italian archaeological mission has found the historical Gate to the Underworld of the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis. The announcement was made this afternoon in Istanbul at a conference on Italian archaeology. The discovery was made by a mission under Francesco D'Andria from the University of Salento, which is in charge of the excavations in the Greco-Roman city. The ruins of the city are near the modern-day Pamukkale in Turkey. According to Greco-Roman mythology and tradition, the Gate to the Underworld, also known as Pluto's Gate - Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin - was the entrance point to hell. Both Cicero and Greek geographer Strabus referred to the Hierapolis Plutonium in their writings, and both had visited it.


It was a well-known place of pilgrimage in Antiquity. Since the excavations commenced in Hierapolis in 1957 - by an Italian mission under Paolo Verzone from the Turin Polytechnic - finding the exact location of Plutonium had been the focus of the archaeological digs. D'Andria told ANSAmed that he had found it by studying the vast literature from the period and reconstructing the route of a thermal spring to a cave, ascertaining that in that area bird corpses were collected. According to the tales of the travelers in those times, bulls were sacrificed to Pluto before pilgrimages into the Plutonium. The animals were led by priests to the entrance to a cave from which fetid fumes arose, suffocating them to death. The announcement of the discovery was made during a conference on Italian archaeological excavations in Turkey supported by Italian Ambassador to Turkey Giampaolo Scarante.



Mussolini’s ‘most secret’ bunker discovered beneath historic Roman structure

By Eric Pfeiffer, Yahoo! News | The Sideshow – Fri, Mar 22, 2013


A secret bunker meant to house Benito Mussolini was discovered in Rome (Wikicommons)

Workers in Rome have stumbled across a top-secret bunker once belonging to former Fascist leader Benito Mussolini, hidden underneath the historic Palazzo Venezia.

The discovery is the 12th such bunker as is said to have been the “most secret” of the former strongman’s hideouts, according to the Italian publication La Stampa.

And in what has become a tradition of sorts, the bunker will soon go on display for the public to tour and document, as has been done with other recently discovered Mussolini bunkers. City officials plan to install lighting, a touchscreen system and an air siren, meant to simulate the sounds of an impending air raid.

The nine room hidden compound was reportedly unearthed by city superintendent Anna Imponente and architect Carlo Serafini, who were busy inspecting a restoration project on the 15th century building that sits atop the bunker. The Palazzo Venezia currently houses a national museum and has been a historically significant structure for centuries, having been used by high ranking members of the Roman Catholic Church and other important figures over the years.

During their inspection, Serafini and Imponente noticed a tiny wooden hatch, which led down to the bunker nearly 50 feet beneath the earth.

“When we saw the concrete, it was all clear,” Serafini told the paper. "It’s the twelfth bunker of Rome -- Benito Mussolini’s last bunker."

Although the bunker was never finished, there are holes in the wall meant for indoor plumbing and electricity, Serafini says the structure is so solid it would have likely held up under an assault from Allied forces.

"The walls rest on the foundations of an old tower, and are almost two meters thick in some places," Serafini told the paper. "It would have probably only been designed for Mussolini himself and one other person; more than likely his mistress, Claretta Petacci.”



Stone ships show signs of maritime network in Baltic Sea region 3,000 years ago

21 March 2013 University of Gothenburg


In the middle of the Bronze Age, around 1000 BC, the amount of metal objects increased dramatically in the Baltic Sea region. Around the same time, a new type of stone monument, arranged in the form of ships, started to appear along the coasts. New research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden shows that the stone ships were built by maritime groups.


The maritime groups were part of a network that extended across large parts of northern Europe. The network was maintained largely because of the strong dependence on bronze.


Archaeologists have long assumed that bronze was imported to Scandinavia from the south, and recent analyses have been able to confirm this notion. The distribution of bronze objects has been discussed frequently, with most analyses focusing on the links in the networks. The people behind the networks, however, are only rarely addressed, not to mention their meeting places.


‘One reason why the meeting places of the Bronze Age are not discussed very often is that we haven’t been able to find them. This is in strong contrast to the trading places of the Viking Age, which have been easy to locate as they left behind such rich archaeological material,’ says the author of the thesis Joakim Wehlin from the University of Gothenburg and Gotland University.


In his thesis, Wehlin has analysed the archaeological material from the Bronze Age stone ships and their placement in the landscape. The stone ships can be found across the entire Baltic Sea region and especially on the larger islands, with a significant cluster on the Swedish island of Gotland. The ships have long been thought to have served as graves for one or several individuals, and have for this reason often been viewed as death ships intended to take the deceased to the afterlife.


‘My study shows a different picture. It seems like the whole body was typically not buried in the ship, and some stone ships don’t even have graves in them. Instead, they sometimes show remains of other types of activities. So with the absence of the dead, the traces of the survivors tend to appear.’


One of Wehlin’s conclusions is that the stone ships and the activities that took place there point to people who were strongly focused on maritime practice. Details in the ships indicate that they were built to represent real ships. Wehlin says that the stone ships give clues about the ship-building techniques of the time and therefore about the ships that sailed on the Baltic Sea during the Bronze Age.


By studying the landscape, Wehlin has managed to locate a number of meeting places, or early ports.


‘These consist of areas that resemble hill forts and are located near easily accessible points in the landscape – that is, near well-known waterways leading inland. While these areas have previously been thought to be much younger, recent age determinations have dated them to the Bronze Age.’


The thesis offers a very extensive account of the stone ships. It also suggests that the importance of the Baltic Sea during the Scandinavian Bronze Age, not least as a waterway, has been underestimated in previous research.



Pre-Viking tunic found on glacier as warming trend aids archaeology

Alister Doyle / Reuters


A pre-Viking woolen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday.

The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing — suitable for a person up to about 5 feet, 9 inches tall (176 centimeters) — was found 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway. Carbon dating showed it was made around the year 300.



"It's worrying that glaciers are melting, but it's exciting for us archaeologists," Lars Piloe, a Danish archaeologist who works on Norway's glaciers, said at the first public showing of the tunic, which has been studied since it was found in 2011.

A Viking mitten dating from the year 800 and an ornate walking stick, a Bronze Age leather shoe, ancient bows, and arrowheads used to hunt reindeer are also among 1,600 artifacts found in Norway's southern mountains since thawing accelerated in 2006.


"This is only the start," Piloe said, predicting many more finds.

One ancient wooden arrow had a tiny shard from a seashell as a sharp tip, revealing intricate craftsmanship.

Receding glaciers

The 1991 discovery of Otzi, a prehistoric man who roamed the Alps 5,300 years ago between Austria and Italy, is the best-known glacier find. In recent years, other finds have been made from Alaska to the Andes, many because glaciers are receding.

The shrinkage is blamed on climate change, stoked by human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

The archaeologists said the tunic showed that Norway's Lendbreen glacier, where it was found, had not been so small since 300. When exposed to air, untreated ancient fabrics can disintegrate in weeks because of insect and bacteria attacks.


"The tunic was well-used — it was repaired several times," said Marianne Vedeler, a conservation expert at Norway's Museum of Cultural History.

The tunic is made of lamb's wool with a diamond pattern that had darkened with time. Only a handful of similar tunics have survived so long in Europe.

Climate's impact

The warming climate is having an impact elsewhere.

Patrick Hunt, a Stanford University expert who is trying to find the forgotten route that Hannibal took over the Alps with elephants in a failed invasion of Italy in 218 B.C., said the Alps were unusually clear of snow at the level of 2,500 meters last summer.

Receding snows are making searching easier.

"I favour the Clapier-Savine Coche route (over the Alps) after having been on foot over at least 25 passes including all the other major candidates," he told Reuters by e-mail.

The experts in Oslo said one puzzle was why anyone would take off a warm tunic by a glacier.

One possibility was that the owner was suffering from cold in a snowstorm and grew confused with hypothermia, which sometimes makes suffers take off clothing because they wrongly feel hot.



Roman origins of Cambridge development site revealed by dig



Land earmarked for thousands of homes between Huntingdon Road and Madingley Road in Cambridge looks, to the untrained eye, like it has been farmland since the city’s earliest origins.


But a major archaeological dig which is under way ahead of construction of the £1 billion North West Cambridge development has revealed the area was the centre of a major settlement thousands of years ago - and has uncovered a dazzling array of finds which shed light on the site’s fascinating history.


Layers of history spanning the centuries from the Bronze Age to the Second World War have been found, with finds including five separate cemeteries, two funerary monuments, and a pair of Roman roads.


Thousands of artefacts have been lifted out of the ground, with 30 cremation urns and 25 skeletons among them, plus a spearhead and an array of brooches.


Christopher Evans, head of the archaeological unit which led the dig, said the North West Cambridge site was first colonised in the Middle Bronze Age - around 1500BC.


Occupation continued into the Iron Age (c.500BC-50AD), and in Roman times it was a thriving community.


Mr Evans said: “For than a millennium, the landscape of the site has been uninterrupted farmland.


“We have discovered that vibrant prehistoric settlements inhabited the land and settlements grew in complexity in the Roman age.”


Archaeologists described the scale of Roman settlement as “incredible”, with farmers arranged in a lattice-like layout, criss-crossed by roads and trackways. Evidence of major iron-working was also discovered.


So far, 120,000 cubic metres of topsoil have been shifted from an excavation area which covers 14 hectares of the 150-hectare site.


Researchers believe their dig will ultimately uncover a landscape larger than Roman Cambridge itself.


Mr Evans said: “In anticipation of what is destined to become a lively international university community place we find that there had been a vibrant later prehistoric and Roman place, with a crossroads and probably a small market at its centre.


“Somewhere that was evidently once a thriving place in its own right is about to become one again.


“It all testifies that things change and that archaeology often erodes long-held landscape stereotypes - it’s part of what makes fieldwork so exciting.”


There was a modern discovery too, which was perhaps the most surprising find - an unusual series of zig-zag patterned ditches from the Second World War.


These are thought to have been dug in preparation for the defence of the city during the early years of the Second World War.


Cambridge Archaeological Unit is hosting a Roman Street Party at North West Cambridge, with re-enactors, catapults and artefacts, between 11am and 4pm on Saturday.


Access is from Huntingdon Road via the tree-lined avenue.



Ancient port discovered at Hinkley Point

Saturday, March 09, 2013 Western Morning News



The remains of what might be one of the oldest ports in the Westcountry have been discovered by the largest single archaeological site-survey ever undertaken in the region.

The historic investigation covers an area of land the equivalent of 262 football pitches at the site of the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear reactor on the Somerset coast.

A Roman brooch or fibula, one of the artefacts found during preliminary work at Hinkley Point. Left, Rachel Bellamy and Jane Hill, from the Somerset Heritage Service, with bones, stones and pottery. Right, a piece of ornate Samian ware Roman pottery, found during the work

Surprisingly, given the geography involved, the remains of what looks to be an ancient harbour have been found nearly a mile inland.

Historians have been able to establish that the nuclear power station is situated on what used to be an isolated headland – until Roman times a large estuarine inlet filled the shallow valley to the south.


This provided a sheltered spot where ancient people, going back 4,000 years or even longer, could moor their primitive boats and fish.

These astonishing facts were revealed yesterday at an event staged at Somerset Museum where details of an archaeological excavation and education outreach programme funded by EDF Energy and carried out by Somerset County Council (SCC) were unveiled.

Not only have archaeologists discovered what looks to be the remains of an estuarine community, they have also uncovered the first ever Saxon style 'grub hut' to be found anywhere west of the River Parrett.

A number of Roman features and artefacts have also been found, including a grain drier, quern stones, a stone anchor, fishing net weights, jewellery and graves.

Steven Membery, SSC's senior historic environment officer, has been working on the site for five years. He said: "It is very unusual for archaeologists to be able to work on such a large piece of landscape – Hinkley C is the biggest infrastructure project in the whole of Europe and certainly the biggest archaeological survey I've ever been involved with.

"We think some of the remains signify a kind of port – a place where they were processing corn and then shipping it out. Hence corn dryers and quern stones.

"We believe that, from the Mesolithic period onwards, there was a flooded valley. After the Romans it silted up. Hinkley Point was a headland with a settlement on the shore side – it was highly protected – an ideal place for boats to moor up.

"The piles of stones we've found may well have been associated with a quay or something like that."

The project forms part of EDF Energy's site preparation works for Hinkley Point C. The heritage team is now undertaking an outreach programme across Somerset, giving residents an opportunity to find out about the history of the Hinkley Point site.


Read more: http://www.thisiscornwall.co.uk/Ancient-port-discovered-Hinkley-Point/story-18365295-detail/story.html#ixzz2OVJIzqRu

Follow us: @thisiscornwall on Twitter | thisiscornwall on Facebook



Crannog dig team gets one last reprieve



One of Ireland's richest archaeological digs has won another week-long reprieve – but that's it.


Roads Minister Danny Kennedy says there can't be any more delays to work on the A32 Cherrymount Link Road near Enniskillen which has been held up by the treasure trove of historical artefacts discovered.


Archaeologists are working round the clock to excavate as much material as possible from the Fermanagh site, before the major roads project goes ahead.


Mr Kennedy had previously granted a week's extension to the dig which was due to come to a halt at the end of March. It has now been extended again until April 15.


"I have given this issue very careful consideration and have had to balance my desire to complete the Cherrymount link before the G8 Summit, alongside the historical importance of the crannog," Mr Kennedy said.


"I asked my Permanent Secretary to visit the site and speak to those involved on the dig in an effort to identify the timescale for completion.


"Following these discussions, he has advised me that the additional time should enable the excavation work to be completed. On that basis, I am prepared to allow the work to continue until 15 April."


Archaeologist Jean O'Dowd, who has called for the crannog to be properly investigated, said: "There is the possibility that hundreds of years of history could still be uncovered."


5 amazing finds


1. A wooden bowl incised with a Latin cross – may have been a wine strainer or implement for communion or baptism.


2. Eighteen combs, including some made of antler with bone rivets.


3. An ornate stick pin, used to pin a cloak in place, but could have doubled as a stiletto-like weapon.


4. A pawn-like wooden gaming piece.


5. Parts of at least two different log boats and a wooden oar.