A woman of importance

Posted Fri, 04/19/2013 - 12:39 by Karen Nichols


Archaeological excavations at CEMEX’s Kingsmead Quarry in Berkshire not far from Windsor have revealed a rare 'Beaker' burial of 'Copper Age' date (2500-2200 BC). Found within the grave were some of Britain’s earliest gold ornaments (five tubular beads), along with 29 bead fragments of amber and 30 beads of black lignite.


The burial contained the possible remains of a woman who was at least 35 years old. At the time of her burial, she wore a necklace containing small tubular sheet gold beads and black disc beads of lignite - a material similar to jet. A number of larger perforated amber buttons/fasteners were also found in a row along her body, which may indicate that she was wearing clothing, perhaps of patterned woven wool, at the time of her burial. Further lignite beads from near her hands suggest that she wore a bracelet.


The woman’s burial represents an unusual and important find as only a small number of Beaker burials from Britain contain gold ornaments, and most are associated with male skeletons. It would appear that their religious beliefs dictate that most men were buried in a crouched position with the head resting to the north and facing east. With women the body position is often reversed with the head to the south.


The woman was found with a large drinking vessel, unusually placed on her hip rather than by her feet or shoulder. The fine pottery vessel had been decorated with a comb-like stamp.



Beaker using communities lived across Europe around 2,500 BC around about the time of Stonehenge. In more Western regions, such as Britain, they were the first people to use copper and gold (giving rise to the term Copper Age or Chalcolithic). They buried their people in special ways, characteristically with a distinctive type of pot, known to archaeologist as a Beaker. They were also buried with other fine objects such as metal, stone and bone.


Site Director Gareth Chaffey, of Wessex Archaeology, who has been excavating the site for the last seven years, said: “It is interesting to think who this woman was within her community. She was probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items. She could have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of an elite family - perhaps a princess or queen.”


Osteologist Jacqueline McKinley (Wessex Archaeology) has examined the skeletal remains, which appear to be those of an adult aged 35 or over, possibly a female. Unfortunately the acid nature of the 'brickearth' soil is far from ideal for the preservation of bone and a lack of surviving collagen limits the possibility of scientific research, such as radiocarbon dating and DNA. 


Dr Stuart Needham (an expert in Copper Age metalwork) who is presently studying the gold beads said: “Beaker graves of this date are almost unknown in South East England and only a small number of them, and indeed continental Europe, contain gold ornaments. The tubular beads that were found at Kingsmead Quarry are certainly rare in Britain, and this gives the grave tremendous research importance”.


It is possible that the beads have been fashioned by cutting up other objects made from sheet gold.

The gold beads have been examined by scientists at the University of Bristol and at the University of Reading. 



Dr Chris Standish (University of Bristol) who is currently investigating the sources of gold exploited during the Chalcolithic and Early Bronze Age, has used lead isotope analysis to characterise a number of British and Irish gold deposits. This technique has been performed on the five gold beads from the Horton burial.


Dr Standish concludes that “their isotopic signatures are consistent with natural gold deposits located in south-east Ireland and southern Britain”.


Further compositional analyses will shed light on where this gold originated from, and will provide important information relating to the patterns of gold procurement and the extent of trading networks that were in existence prior to the interment of the Kingsmead Quarry burial.


Dr Stuart Black, an archaeological scientist at the University of Reading, has examined the beads using the cutting edge technology at the University’s Centre for Advanced Microscopy (CfAM) to reveal signs of decoration and details of how the beads were made and attached. This includes fine stitching holes on at least three of the beads and scored lines.


The ornaments found within the grave are all the more interesting when you consider where they came from. The gold may have originated from Southern England or Ireland, the lignite beads from Eastern England and the amber buttons/fasteners from as far away as the Baltic or made from amber collected from the east coast of England.


Beaker burials of this type are rare in this region of England and, it was an unexpected find. However, as Dr Alistair Barclay of Wessex Archaeology notes “we know from recent research that an extensive prehistoric landscape is buried beneath the edge of West London and East Berkshire. The Kingsmead Quarry project is currently adding much new and significant information to this unfolding story and challenging our perception and understanding of prehistory.”


The beads will go on display at the end of April at a special two day event organised by CEMEX UK and Wessex Archaeology. And later in the year it is hoped to display the grave finds at a local museum.


The excavations are part of CEMEX’s £4 million archaeological programme on the site, which has been in operation since 2003. Andy Spencer Sustainability Director, CEMEX UK, said : “Kingsmead Quarry has given us some wonderful finds, rare and interesting ones like this Beaker burial and the Neolithic houses. Today, as well as an insight into the lives of our ancestors, the site is providing valuable building materials for construction.”



Four-thousand year old gold-adorned skeleton found near Windsor

Archaeologists, excavating near the Royal Borough, have discovered the 4400 year old skeleton of an upper class woman



Windsor may have been popular with royalty rather earlier than generally thought.


Archaeologists, excavating near the Royal Borough, have discovered the 4400 year old gold-adorned skeleton of an upper class woman who was almost certainly a member of the local ruling elite.


She is the earliest known woman adorned with such treasures ever found in Britain.


The individual, aged around 40, was buried, wearing a necklace of folded sheet gold, amber and lignite beads, just a century or two after the construction of Stonehenge some 60 miles to the south-west. Even the buttons, thought to have been used to secure the upper part of her now long-vanished burial garment, were made of amber. She also appears to have worn a bracelet of lignite beads.


The archaeologist in charge of the excavation, Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, believes that she may have been a person of power – perhaps even the prehistoric equivalent of a princess or queen.


It’s known that in southern Britain, some high status men of that era – the Copper Age – had gold possessions, but this is the first time archaeologists have found a woman of that period being accorded the same sort of material status.


It’s thought that the gold used to make the jewellery probably came originally from hundreds of miles to the west – and that the amber almost certainly came from Britain’s North Sea coast. The lignite (a form of coal) is also thought to have come from Britain.


The funeral rite for the potential prehistoric royal may have involved her family arranging her body so that, in death, she clasped a beautiful pottery drinking vessel in her hands. The 25 centimetre tall ceramic beaker was decorated with geometric patterns.


Of considerable significance was the fact that she was buried with her head pointing towards the south.


Men and women from the Stonehenge era were often interred in opposing directions – men’s heads pointing north and women’s heads pointing south. Europe-wide archaeological and  anthropological research over recent years  suggests that women may have been associated with the warm and sunny south, while mere men may have seen  themselves as embodying the qualities of the colder harder north!


The woman’s skeleton and jewellery were found 18 months ago – but were kept strictly under wraps until now, following the completion of initial analyses of the woman’s bones – and metallurgical analysis of the gold.


The discovery is part of a still ongoing excavation which started a decade ago. The elite gold-and-amber-adorned Copper Age woman is merely the most spectacular of dozens of discoveries made at the site – including four early Neolithic houses, 40 Bronze Age burials, three Bronze Age farm complexes and several Iron Age settlements.


The excavations are being funded by the international cement company CEMEX, whose gravel quarry near Windsor is the site of the discoveries.


Archaeologist Gareth Chaffey of Wessex Archaeology, who is directing the ongoing excavation, said that the woman unearthed at the site “was probably an important person in her society, perhaps holding some standing which gave her access to prestigious, rare and exotic items. She could have been a leader, a person with power and authority, or possibly part of an elite family - perhaps a princess or queen.”



Could Mid Wales have been home to a 'neolithic theme park' used for rituals and feasts?

12 Apr 2013 06:30


A dig at a site in Mid Wales is lending weight to the theory that there may have been a Neolithic tribal centre based in the area.


Mid Wales could have been home to a “Neolithic theme park” used for gatherings, religious rituals and feasts, archaeologists suggest.


A dig at the Walton Basin in Radnorshire is lending weight to the theory that there may have been a Neolithic tribal centre based in the area.


The site has been dated back to between 3800 and 2300BC and shows remains of palisades, cursuses (lengths of bank) and enclosures that all bear some resemblance to monuments found at Stonehenge.


The Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust has been carrying out intermittent excavations on the site for close to 40 years.


The findings show that Wales is at least home to the remains of one of the largest neolithic timber constructions in the whole of Europe.


Buried in the soil are seven monuments that experts believe could have been the sites for tribal ceremonies that were held at certain times of the year.


Among the monuments is the Walton Neolithic palisaded enclosure made from a circular perimeter of 1100-1200 four-metre-high timber logs and a similar monumental Hindwell palisdaded enclosure that would have accommodated five London Olympic stadia within its foundation.


Bill Britnell, director of the Clwyd-Powys Archaeological Trust and part of the digging team at the Walton Basin, said he was stunned by the magnitude of the structures


“You look at the man power that will have gone into making them and it must have been massive because they are absolutely huge. You’ve got enormous communities of people from some kind of tribal gathering where thousands gathered to build these monuments,” he said.


“If we want to find out what people were doing in the past, the information is out there and it’s invaluable.


“It increases people’s awareness in the places they are living in and it’s interesting in terms of the changes humanity goes through.”


During the digs, pottery, flint tools and plant and food remains have all been found.


But in order to delve deeper, archaeologists must find a waterlogged area in the landscape that may well contain artifacts that have been preserved to a much greater extent.


Mr Britnell said the size of the archaeological sites means the project is unfinished and believes there could well be more to find.


He said: “There perhaps are deposits out there in the basin and if we find that it would produce an enormous amount of information.


“We will need to take stock of where we are and try and think of some of those big questions and find out how we can answer them.


“There are just so many fundamental questions to be asked about the past.”


Archaeologists in Wales have noted the similarities between sites like this and those in Stonehenge.


Mr Britnell said the basin could have been one of many places used as a neolithic meeting point by thousands of people and tribes from across the UK.


Its location on a heavily used path near to Radnor Forest and between the uplands of central Wales and the lowlands of the Midlands of England placed it in a prime spot for visits from nomadic travellers.


He said: “There has to be big gatherings of people throughout the year. It tells you something about society, that at certain times of year there was one big group of society gathering together. We just need to find out why they were gathering.


“It’s like discovering a whole new part of civilisation and it has changed our whole opinion in terms of what we thought neolithic Wales was like.


“What we’ve found here in Wales is not happening everywhere. We can say with certainty that there must have been an important tribal centre in Wales for many years.”



Burrough Hill dig reveals 'sizeable' amount of Iron Age artefacts


18 April 2013 Last updated at 07:33


Ancient metal artefacts found at a Leicestershire site could go on permanent display, archaeologists say.

The dig at Burrough Hill, near Melton Mowbray, has uncovered one of the biggest collections of Iron Age metalwork found in the East Midlands.

The finds include spears, knives, iron brooches, reaping hooks and the decorative bronze trim from a shield.

Burrough Hill is the site of an Iron Age fort but no major excavation had taken place there since the 1970s.

'Useful insights'

The current five-year dig is being run by the University of Leicester.

Dr Jeremy Taylor, the project director, said: "It's certainly a sizeable collection and it's giving us some useful insights.

"We have excavated a series of houses and storage pits and found about 100 pieces. Many of the finds date from between the 4th and 1st Centuries BC."

Dr Taylor believes iron was not smelted on the site but he said they have found evidence that blacksmiths at Burrough may have shaped it into the final objects.

He said the site had not been searched for some time. "Burrough Hill is a scheduled monument and, because it hasn't been under threat from development, it's just sat there quietly for about 40 years," he said.

The team's final dig will take place in June and July, after which Dr Taylor said he hopes the finds will be exhibited permanently in Melton.

"Each year we have a temporary exhibition at Melton Museum and we have been working closely with Melton Borough Council and Leicestershire County Council to create a permanent exhibition," he said.

A Leicestershire County Council spokesman said: "These finds at Burrough Hill by the University of Leicester are of significant importance.

"We would hope that in the future we would be able to display these items locally."


BBC © 2013 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.



The Poole Iron Age logboat project


The Poole Iron Age logboat project has begun. Because of its fragility and confined position within the glass case at Poole Museum, the vessel could not be moved so an innovative approach had to be found.


The Consortium: 1rst Horizon Surveying & Engineering, Bournemouth University, Pat Tanner, an expert in the digital reconstruction and 3D modelling of vessels and MAST developed the methodology.


The Technology: Other known digital recording technologies such as a Faro Arm would have been unable to access the narrow parts umderneath the vessel. However a Faro3D laser scanner was the ideal kit for the job to capture a full and complete point cloud of the vessel to a +/- 2mm single point accuracy and a +/- 3 to 4mmm across the entire project. The scanning was carried out by 1rst Horizon Surveying & Engineering.


The Logboat: The Poole logboat lies in a majestic position in the entrance at Poole Museum in Dorset. It is one of the largest prehistoric water craft to survive in the UK. Scientific dating by the radio carbon method has provided it with a date of BC 295 ± 50 (RC), dating it to the Iron Age.


Because of its size and poor sea-keeping abilities (most likely inherently unstable because of its shallow draught) it would appear to have been specifically designed for use in Poole Harbour. Hence it is also a key local and international artefact.


Extraordinarily, whilst there has been considerable amounts of research on the vessel since its discovery in 1964, most has been on an ad hoc basis and has never reached the public domain.


Furthermore the vessel has, until now, never been recorded effectively so our understanding of its construction, functionality and seagoing abilities are very limited.


Now, thanks to a very generous donation from the Gosling Foundation we are able to complete the digital recording of the vessel. The newly created digital data will contribute enormously to our fairly limited knowledge of prehistoric craft. New technology, only recently available now means that we have been able to carry out the work without disturbing it in any manner, and at a relatively low cost.

The final goal is to collate and complete the research into the vessel and to make it available in a publicly accessible way. A monograph will include distinct chapters on the archaeological and historical background, the environmental context, the timber science and ship science aspects, the conservation conducted on it and a section on its interpretation and public display.


MAST is seeking further funding to cover the research and reporting aspects and the publication of the monograph.



Possible tomb of Chinese tyrant uncovered

By Megan Gannon

Published April 17, 2013



A detail of the Thirteen Emperors Scroll, created in the 7th century, showing Emperor Yang of Sui

Archaeologists have found a tomb in eastern China that may be the grave of the notorious Emperor Yang of Sui, according to news reports.

With inscriptions revealing the surprising identity of the deceased, the burial chamber measures about 215 square feet. It was uncovered in Yangzhou, a city about 175 miles southeast of Shanghai, China's state news agency Xinhua reported.

Shu Jiaping, who leads Yangzhou's institute of archaeology, told Xinhua that researchers are "still not sure whether it was the emperor's final resting place, as historical records said his tomb had been relocated several times."

Emperor Yang, also known as Yang Guang, is remembered as a fearsome and decadent tyrant. During his rule from 606 until his death at the hands of rebels in 618, he forced millions of laborers to take part in ambitious construction projects, such as building royal palaces, completing of the Grand Canal and reconstructing of the Great Wall. Emperor Yang also launched costly military campaigns, including a failed conquest of Goguryeo, an ancient kingdom of Korea, which eventually led to the collapse of the Sui Dynasty.

Grave robbers seem to have looted the tomb in the 1,500 years since the emperor's death, according to China Daily. However, archaeologists reportedly found some items considered telltale signs of royalty inside the tomb, including a jade belt with gold details. The tomb was exposed at a construction site last year, and it is connected to another chamber that may belong to the emperor's wife, Xinhua reported.

Emperor Yang's final resting place pales in comparison to those of other Chinese rulers. An army of life-size clay warriors famously guards the city-sized tomb of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, who died in 210 B.C. The main burial chamber of Qin Shi Huang has yet to be excavated, but according to legend, it has rivers of mercury and a ceiling encrusted with gems. Archaeologists recently found the emperor's palace complex at the site near the city of Xi'an.



Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/04/17/possible-tomb-chinese-tyrant-uncovered/#ixzz2R8fpIYFH



University of Huddersfield and University of Pisa team up to discover Peruvian mummy secrets

18 April 2013 Huddersfield, The University of


The mummified bodies of Peruvians who died up to 1,000 years ago will yield up their secrets, thanks to a prestigious research project by the University of Huddersfield’s Dr Stefano Vanin and two of his students in collaboration with the University of Pisa and the Ancient World Society.


For PhD student Esta Bostock, from Brighouse, and forensic science undergraduate Pip Elrington, from Bolton, it has meant a trip to the famous Italian town of Pisa, where they have peeled away the layers of fabric surrounding ancient corpses (fardos) that have long been part of the collection of the Museum of Anatomy at the University of Pisa.  By analysing the insects that colonise dead bodies – from recent murder victims to ancient mummies – Dr Vanin can draw a wide range of conclusions about how, why and when the person died and the nature of their society and their traditions.


In a fardo, the mummified body is laid in a foetal position and wrapped in layers of fabric that contain objects from the person’s life – such as shoes and metallic objects – and also fragments of food.  Dr Vanin and the two students have been collecting insect parasites present on the body before the death and carrion feeding insects that colonised the mummies.  Dr Vanin has been called on to research several mummified bodies and his latest project is perhaps the most challenging yet, he says.  In order to carry out this research a strong link has been forged between the University of Huddersfield and the University of Pisa to allow the team access to the Museum of Anatomy in Pisa, which has long been home to five fardos from pre-Columbian Peru and several other skeletons and artefacts.


They were brought to Europe – as long ago as the 18th century – by a wealthy collector.  Between 600-1,000 years-old, they probably belonged to an ancient civilisation named the Moche that flourished in Peru in the first millennium AD.


Teeth sampling from the fardos is also planned in order to extract pathogen DNA.  Using techniques such as electron microscopy and DNA analysis at the University of Huddersfield, a large amount of information will be learned about the pathogens that affected the mummified bodies before death.  Then a picture of the health of the ancient civilisation and its life expectancy will begin to emerge.


Dr Vanin has recently been engaged in several other Italy-based research projects into mummified bodies and has a key role in the investigation of bodies found in church crypts in the towns of Monsampolo del Tronto and Roccapelago.





Robot to explore archaeological site in Mexico

Last Updated: Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 14:58


Mexico City: A robot will soon begin exploring the last stretch of a tunnel found at the archaeological site of Teotihuacan in central Mexico, the third time anywhere in the world that it is used to design excavation strategies.


The tunnel, discovered under the Temple of the Plumed Serpent, or Quetzalcoatl, is believed to lead to a chamber almost 2,000 years old, probably a place where dignitaries of the pre-Columbian city received their investiture or were buried, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.


The Tlaloc II-TC robot, which will be the first to travel the remaining 30 to 35 meters of the tunnel, is composed of three independent mechanisms, the first being the transport vehicle that reaches a length of over a meter once its arms are stretched out.


The robotic arms serve to deal with any obstacles in the vehicle's path.


With the exploration of these areas, the INAH looks forward to making some of the most important archaeological discoveries at Teotihuacan, one of the largest cities of Mesoamerica in pre-Columbian times.



Anglo-Saxon grave found

Published on 16/04/2013 10:00


THE discovery of an apparent Anglo-Saxon grave underneath a church could be proof of the siting of a Seventh Century monastery.


The find, which archaeologists are describing as “exciting”, was unearthed while work is being done to St Hilda’s Church, on Hartlepool’s Headland.


The floor has been taken up at the historic church to make way for a new heating system, and experts at Tees Archaeology have been at the church for recording purposes working on two areas measuring 27ft by 27ft.


As well as the Anglo-Saxon grave, another six, believed to date between the 1600s and 1900s, were also found, as well as various loose bones.


Dr Steve Sherlock, of Tees Archaeology, said: “It’s an exciting thing.


“We hope to do more work to understand it.


“It’s always presumed that there was a church here in Norman times in 1066.


“We note that the church is sited in the area of St Hilda’s Anglo-Saxon monastery, about 60ft north of the present church.


“It’s always been presumed that this church was the site of St Hilda’s Anglo-Saxon monastery.


“We haven’t found any trace of that, but this one burial may be one of the clues pointing towards that.”


Ninety to 120ft to the south of the church there were burials found in the 1970s similar to this Anglo-Saxon grave.


Dr Sherlock and fellow archaeologist Kevin Horsley have been at the church daily, after being commissioned by the church to see if there is anything of archaeological interest under the building prior to a new heating system being fitted.


He said: “There was a similar scheme in 2003, this is the second phase.


“We found nothing as exciting as this last time.”


He said most of the burials in the church are aligned east to west. However, the one believed to be Anglo-Saxon is lying north-east to south-west, and is also a slightly different shape.


The outlines of the graves can be seen in the limestone under the church, though none are being dug up.


Around 60 small pieces of bones found were disturbed by work in the past, and a special commemorative ceremony will be held to re-bury them and mark the completion of the church refurbishment.


Work was due to continue on the fitting of the heating system next week, after the archaeologists have concluded their work.



Pontfadog Oak: 1,200-year-old tree toppled by winds

19 April 2013 Last updated at 08:47


The Pontfadog Oak, which had recently been covered in snow, was felled by high winds overnight

A 1,200-year-old tree reputed to be the oldest and one of the largest oaks in the UK has been toppled by strong winds.


It is understood the Pontfadog Oak, which has been growing near Chirk in Wrexham since the year 802, was felled by gusts of around 60mph overnight on Wednesday.


The famous sessile oak tree had a girth of 42ft 5in (12.9m).


Legend has it that Welsh princes used to rally troops at the tree.


The oak - which had a huge hollow trunk said to big enough to seat six people at a table - had become a local attraction for walkers and visitors in recent years.


Rob McBride, a so-called "tree hunter" who measures and logs trees, said it was rare for an oak to live to such an age, with most usually lasting around 900 years.


"The tree was one of the biggest and oldest oak trees on the planet," said Mr McBride, who lives close to the Pontfadog Oak.


"It has a very significant history and until about 200 years ago was a tree that was pollarded - with branches and leaves regularly cut to feed animals and build fencing."


He added that villagers had gathered after hearing about the tree, adding: "It's quite like a wake".



The Pontfadog Oak had been growing near Chirk since the year 802

Mr McBride said he had been campaigning for ancient trees like the Pontfadog Oak to be given a protected status like castles.


"If it had had a few thousand pounds spent on some supporting work, it may well have stayed upright," he said.


'Almighty crash'

The tree is believed to have been a rallying point for Welsh princes, including Owain Gwynedd who is said to have met his troops under the oak in the 12th Century before defeating King Henry II of England in battle.


Dianne Coakley-Williams, whose husband Huw's family owned the oak and its land for generations, said she was woken by an "almighty crash and a bang" as it fell near their house at about 02:20 BST on Thursday.


"The wind here was absolutely dreadful - I've never known anything like it before ever," she said.



"I suppose it's lucky that nobody was hurt. But it's just so sad. My mother-in-law is devastated. She said it's like losing an old friend."


Angharad Evans of the Woodland Trust said the tree had had a lot to cope with over the past few weeks, with heavy snow, a prolonged cold snap and finally high winds.


"The Woodland Trust believes that this sad case illustrates how we are failing to provide adequate protection for our ancient trees at present," she added.


Local assembly member Ken Skates said Wrexham had lost one of its "most important and iconic pieces of local heritage".


But Mr McBride said some people were also talking about the possibility of re-erecting the tree.


"It's early days. They would have to take the top off and then re-erecting it, which can be done. It's such a significant tree," he added.