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http://www.alphagalileo.org/

Neandertals made the first specialized bone tools in Europe

07 August 2013 Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

For further information, please contact:

Sandra Jacob

+49 (0)341 3550-122

jacob@eva.mpg.de

Under embargo until 12 August 2013 19:00 GMT

 

Modern humans replaced Neandertals in Europe about 40 thousand years ago, but the Neandertals’ capabilities are still greatly debated. Some argue that before they were replaced, Neandertals had cultural capabilities similar to modern humans, while others argue that these similarities only appear once modern humans came into contact with Neandertals.

 

“For now the bone tools from these two sites are one of the better pieces of evidence we have for Neandertals developing on their own a technology previously associated only with modern humans”, explains Dr. Shannon McPherron of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. He and Dr. Michel Lenoir of the University of Bordeaux have been excavating the site of Abri Peyrony where three of the bones were found.

 

“If Neandertals developed this type of bone tool on their own, it is possible that modern humans then acquired this technology from Neandertals. Modern humans seem to have entered Europe with pointed bone-tools only, and soon after started to make lissoir. This is the first possible evidence for transmission from Neandertals to our direct ancestors,” says Dr. Soressi of Leiden University, Netherland. She and her team found the first of four bone-tools during her excavation at the classic Neandertal site of Pech-de-l’Azé I.

 

However, we cannot eliminate the possibility that these tools instead indicate that modern humans entered Europe and started impacting Neandertal behavior earlier than we can currently demonstrate. Resolving this problem will require sites in central Europe with better bone preservation.

 

How widespread this new Neandertal behavior was is a question that remains. The first three found were fragments less than a few centimeters long and might not have been recognized without experience working with later period bone tools. It is not something normally looked for in this time period. “However, when you put these small fragments together and compare them with finds from later sites, the pattern in them is clear”, comments Dr. McPherron. “Then last summer we found a larger, more complete tool that is unmistakably a lissoir like those we find in later, modern human sites or even in leather workshops today.”

 

Microwear analysis conducted by Dr. Yolaine Maigrot of the CNRS on of one of the bone tools shows traces compatible with use on soft material like hide.  Modern leather workers still use similar tools today (see Figure 4 of main text and links in press images captions). “Lissoirs like these are a great tool for working leather, so much so that 50 thousand years after Neandertals made these, I was able to purchase a new one on the Internet from a site selling tools for traditional crafts,” says Dr. Soressi. “It shows that this tool was so efficient that it had been maintained through time with almost no change. It might be one or perhaps even the only heritage from Neandertal times that our society is still using today.”

 

These are not the first Neandertal bone tools, but up to now their bone tools looked like stone tools and were made with stone knapping percussive techniques. “Neandertals sometimes made scrapers, notched tools and even handaxes from bone. They also used bone as hammers to resharpen their stone tools,” says Dr. McPherron. “But here we have an example of Neandertals taking advantage of the pliability and flexibility of bone to shape it in new ways to do things stone could not do.”

 

The bone tools were found in deposits containing typical Neandertal stone tools and the bones of hunted animals including horses, reindeer, red deer and bison. At both Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé I, there is no evidence of later occupations by modern humans that could have contaminated the underlying levels. Both sites have only evidence of Neandertals.

 

To know the age of the bone tools, Dr. Sahra Talamo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology applied radiocarbon dating to bones found near the bone tools themselves. At Pech-de-l’Azé I, Dr. Zenobia Jacobs of the University of Wollongong applied optically stimulated luminescence (OSL) dating to sediments from the layer with the bone tool. The results place the Pech-de-l’Azé I bone tool to approximately 50 thousand years ago. This is well before the best evidence of modern humans in Western Europe, and it is much older than any other examples of sophisticated bone tool technologies.

http://www.mpg.de/7494657/neandertals_leather_tools

 

http://en.rian.ru/science/20130806/182603333/Ancient-Treasures-Found-at-Russian-Nomads-Burial-Site--Historian.html

Ancient Treasures Found at Russian Nomad's Burial Site

13:24 06/08/2013

MOSCOW, August 6 (RIA Novosti)

 

Archaeologists have found the intact burial chamber of a noble woman from a powerful tribe that roamed the Eurasian steppes 2,500 years ago in southern Russia, an official said Tuesday.

The Sarmatians were a group of Persian-speaking tribes that controlled what is now parts of southern Russia, Ukraine and Central Asia from around 500 BC until 400 AD. They were often mentioned by ancient Greek historians and left luxurious tombs with exquisite golden and bronze artifacts that were often looted by gravediggers.

But the burial site found near the the village of Filippovka in the Orenburg region has not been robbed – and contained a giant bronze kettle, jewelry, a silver mirror and what appears to be containers for cosmetics, said history professor Gulnara Obydennova who heads the Institute of History and Legal Education in the city of Ufa.

“The find is really sensational also because the burial vault was intact - the objects and jewelry in it were found the way they had been placed by the ancient nomads,” she told RIA Novosti.

The vault – located 4 meters (13 feet) underground – was found in the “Tsar Tumulus,” a group of two dozen mounds where hundreds of golden and silver figurines of deer, griffins and camels, vessels and weapons have been found since the 1980s.

The woman's skeleton was still covered with jewelry and decorations, and her left hand held a silver mirror with an ornamented golden handle, Obydennova said.

The descendants of the Sarmatians include Ossetians, an ethnic group living in the Caucasus region, who speak a language related to Persian.

 

http://www.oxfordmail.co.uk/news/yourtown/wallingford/10604322.Metal_detector_s_rare_gold_nearly_ended_up_in_the_bin/

Metal detector's rare gold nearly ended up in the bin

7:00am Saturday 10th August 2013 in Wallingford

By Katriona Ormiston, Reporter. Call me on (01865) 425426

 

Steven Bain, right, who was metal detecting with his friend Roy Troth when he discovered the gold earring on Cholsey Field. Picture: OX61092 Kevin Harvey

 

 A KITCHEN assistant who dug up a rare piece of gold treasure nearly threw it away.

 

The gold earring unearthed in an Oxfordshire field is one of the earliest pieces of metalwork in Britain – from the Early Bronze Age, 2,200BC.

 

Steven Bain, from Ewelme, near Wallingford, stumbled across the treasure while metal detecting in a farmer’s field in Cholsey last October.

 

The 27-year-old said: “If anything I nearly threw it away. I didn’t realise what it was, it just went straight into my pocket.

 

“It wasn’t until later that evening when I rubbed the mud off it I thought, that’s gold.

 

“The field is massive – so big I don’t think I’d know where I found it – but we hadn’t been there very long when the detector started to make this signal noise.”

 

Mr Bain added that it was only because he keeps everything he finds while metal detecting as a hobby that he kept the treasure.

 

He said if he didn’t he would be digging up the same thing over and over again.

 

It was months before he took it to the Ashmolean Museum’s finds surgery where it was immediately spotted by the curator of European pre-history, Alison Roberts.

 

Mrs Roberts said: “I remember looking down the table, seeing it, and my jaw literally dropping on the desk. It is extremely rare.

 

 “It is one of those amazing accidents. The chances have got to be one in several million.

 

“They are some of the oldest pieces of gold work in Britain. It would have belonged to someone of a very high status.

 

“You would have had to be pretty special to have any sort of metal.

“We have a pair of them which are on display in the Ashmolean actually found in Radley, near Abingdon. They are often found with male burials so there was almost certainly a burial around there.

 

“It shows how important Oxfordshire was.

 

“This is probably the rarest and one of the most interesting things we have seen at the surgery.”

 

Oxfordshire coroner Darren Salter ruled on Wednesday that the find was treasure, meaning it has to be offered for sale to the Oxfordshire Museums Service for display at the County Museum in Woodstock.

 

It is currently at the British Museum waiting to be valued.

 

The money would be split 50-50 between the farmer who owns the land and the finder – Mr Bain.

 

Finds liaison officer for Oxfordshire County Council and the British Museum, Anni Byard, said: “He came along with this item and people nearly fell off their chairs.

 

“There are only a handful – six or seven – in the whole of England.

 

“This was a period where metal was just starting to be used. They were still using stone tools.”

 

Some archaeologists think the jewellery, which would have been worn curled round the ear, could have been used as hair decorations.

 

 

http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/heritage/grisly-human-trophies-at-east-lothian-hill-fort-1-3034036

Grisly human trophies at East Lothian hill fort

SHÂN ROSS

Published on the 08 August 2013 08:09

 

ARCHAEOLOGISTS who have published the full analysis of a Scottish Iron Age hill fort first excavated in the 1970s have revealed fragments of “human trophy” bones were discovered on the site.

 

Broxmouth hill fort in East Lothian, which had first been identified from aerial photographs, was examined before the site was destroyed by a cement works.

 

It had been known that there had been a community of a couple of hundred people living at the fort for almost 1,000 years before the site was abandoned when the Romans left.

 

But the research, published in the latest edition of the British Archaeology magazine, reveals that fragment of bones belonging to men, women and children who had met violent deaths from sword and axe wounds, were found at the site.

 

Professor Ian Armit, the Scottish archaeologist who led the team investigating the site, said: “What we found has turned round preconceptions of the site.

 

“We’ve got a level of detail that would never have been possible before, because of the very large number of high-quality radiocarbon dates.

 

“They have given us a pretty fine-grained chronology of the site.”

 

Professor Armit, who studied archaeology at the University of Edinburgh and is now based at the University of Bradford, said that new technology in capturing data from the bone fragments and better statistical analysis had led to the exciting discovery.

 

He said: “Broxmouth has always been a big iconic site in archaeology but the human bone fragments, stored away in the 1970s, had never been studied before, and give the key to an exciting aspect of the fort which had never been known about before now.

 

“I do a lot of research with human remains and these fragments show that the victims suffered violent attacks.

 

“The fragments which were male and female, young and old, belonged to people who were outsiders and not from the fort community. While there is evidence of head-hunting in the Iron Age, there is nothing to suggest that this is the case in Broxmouth. It is more likely to be that they were killed elsewhere during raids and ambushes and bits of the bodies were brought back as human trophies.

 

“We cannot say if the victims came from 20 miles away, or from 200 miles away.”

 

The archaeologists also uncovered a cemetery at the site, near Dunbar, containing a tiny proportion of the residents who must have lived there.

 

Some of the graves were very elaborate, perhaps suggesting that they contained the remains of high-status individuals.

 

However, despite the violent aspect, Professor Armit said that the site was home to a very settled and stable community, which lasted until about 200AD and was never inhabited again, which seems to have coincided with the time when the Romans withdrew.

 

“Perhaps that suddenly made the land up for grabs, and destabilised the area,” he said. “It looks as though the people of East Lothian may have been allied with the Romans but the fact that the dates fit doesn’t prove that there was a causal relationship.”

 

Rod McCullagh, Historic Scotland’s senior archaeology manager, who has also worked as part of the dig, said: “Broxmouth is a hugely exciting site. The dig has taught us many things about the rituals and customs and is a precious window into our history, showing us a society in constant change and adapting to new ways of survival, including defending itself and educating its young.”

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-23628630

Hot summer unearths Roman discoveries in Wales

A tip-off from Dr Jeffrey Davies studying coin finds in central Wales led to this discovery of a previously unrecorded Roman fort complex

10 August 2013 Last updated at 15:40

 

A rare Roman fort and marching camp have been discovered in Wales by aerial archaeologists during the hot summer.

 

The major Roman fort complex was spotted on parched grassland near Brecon, Powys, and the marching camp near Caerwent in Monmouthshire.

 

Aerial archaeologist Toby Driver said he could not believe his eyes when he spotted the fort from the air.

 

Scores of Iron Age farms and forts were also found in Pembrokeshire and the Vale of Glamorgan.

 

The crop of summer discoveries follow similarly exciting Bronze Age ones made during last winter's snow.

 

Dr Driver, from the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW), said 2013's spell of hot weather has left him reflecting on some of the most significant finds since 2006.

 

I couldn't believe my eyes when the pilot and I approached the location and saw fading crop marks of a major Roman fort complex, lost beneath fields and a road for nearly 2,000 years.”

Dr Toby Driver

Royal Commission

 

He targeted reconnaissance flights in a light aircraft to where the drought conditions were most severe across the length and breadth of Wales.

 

When crop marks show in drought conditions Dr Driver said the Royal Commission's aerial survey only has a few weeks to record the sites before rain or harvest removes them.

 

The Roman fort complex discovery near Brecon was a "rare discovery for Wales" and was made following a tip from Dr Jeffrey Davies, who he has been working with on another project - the Abermagwr Roman villa excavations near Aberystwyth.

 

"Jeffrey Davies noticed an anomaly in Roman coin finds near Brecon, reported under the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)," explained the aerial archaeologist.

 

"He had a hunch that the coins, of the Emperor Claudius, could indicate a lost early Roman fort, and passed a grid reference to me the day before a flight into central Wales.

 

Iron Age settlement

"I couldn't believe my eyes when the pilot and I approached the location and saw fading crop marks of a major Roman fort complex, lost beneath fields and a road for nearly 2,000 years."

 

Between Caerwent and Chepstow, the aerial survey pinpointed only the second Roman overnight marching camp in Monmouthshire which Dr Driver said appears to show a small expeditionary force on manoeuvres, perhaps in the years around 50 AD.

 

"Because the campaigns against the tenacious Silures were documented by Roman historians, we expect more camps in south east Wales than we currently know about," he added.

 

West of Caerwent, a "remarkable" Iron Age settlement was also revealed.

 

In Pembrokeshire, one of the largest and most complex Iron Age defended farms in Pembrokeshire was found at Conkland Hill, Wiston, while in the Vale of Glamorgan more Iron Age settlements were discovered close to the Roman villa at Caermead, Llantwit Major.

 

Dr Driver added: "Given the decades of aerial survey in the region around Caerwent, these surprise discoveries show the continuing need for aerial archaeology in Wales."

 

In the winter, surveys in the snow uncovered Bronze Age burial mounds in the Vale of Glamorgan and a moated site at Llangorse lake, near Brecon.

 

The Royal Commission will now begin cataloguing and mapping the discoveries to make the information more widely available online.

 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-08/uosd-tdb080913.php

The day before death: A new archaeological technique gives insight into the day before death

Contact: Birgitte Svennevig

birs@sdu.dk

45-65-50-29-36

University of Southern Denmark

Public release date: 9-Aug-2013

 

The day before the child's death was not a pleasant one, because it was not a sudden injury that killed the 10-13 year old child who was buried in the medieval town of Ribe in Denmark 800 years ago. The day before death was full of suffering because the child had been given a large dose of mercury in an attempt to cure a severe illness.

 

This is now known to chemist Kaare Lund Rasmussen from University of Southern Denmark – because he and his colleagues have developed a new methodology that can reveal an unheard amount of details from very shortly before a person's death. Mercury is of particular interest for the archaeologists as many cultures in different part of the world have been in contact with this rare element.

 

"I cannot say which diseases the child had contracted. But I can say that it was exposed to a large dose of mercury a couple of months before its death and again a day or two prior to death. You can imagine what happened: that the family for a while tried to cure the child with mercury containing medicine which may or may not have worked, but that the child's condition suddenly worsened and that it was administered a large dose of mercury which was, however, not able to save its life", says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

 

The detailed insight into the life of the child did not come from analyses of the child's bones. Instead Kaare Lund Rasmussen and his colleagues have developed a method to extract information from the soil surrounding the body of the dead child in the cemetery in Ribe, Denmark.

 

"When the body decays in the grave a lot of compounds are released to the surrounding soil – by far most of them organic compounds. Also most of the inorganic elements are transformed to other compounds and later removed by the percolating groundwater throughout the centuries that follows. If we can localize an element in the soil in the immediate vicinity of the skeleton which is not normally found in the soil itself, we can assume that it came from the deceased and this can tell us something about how the person lived. We are not interested in death, but in the life before death", Kaare Lund Rasmussen explains.

 

Mercury in particular is worth looking for, he explains. This element is very rare in normal soil, but has been used in several cultures worldwide, and it is therefore expected sometimes to be found in archaeological excavations in a variety of places like Italy, China, Central America and - as it appears - also in medieval Denmark. In medieval Europe mercury was used for centuries in the colour pigment cinnabar, which was used for illuminating manuscripts by medieval monks, and since Roman times mercury was widely used as the active ingredient in medicine administered against a variety of diseases.

 

"Mercury is extremely toxic and surely some died from mercury poisoning and not the ailment it was meant to cure. Treatment with mercury was practiced well into the 1900's, where for instance the Danish novelist Karen Blixen (Seven Gothic Tales) received treatment in 1914", says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

 

"Concerning past archaeological excavations it is appalling to think about all the soil that archaeologists have wheel barrowed away for more than a century – if we had samples of this soil, we would have access to a lot of important information", he says.

 

The soil samples must be taken precisely in the position of the original tissue, e.g. inner organs or muscle tissue where there is now only soil to be seen.

 

"At the position of a kidney, which is now completely decayed, compounds originally sitting in the kidney tissue are now part of the soil, if it has not been transported away by the groundwater. If there was mercury present in the kidney at the time of death it would have been transformed rapidly to mercury sulphide which is very immobile and undissolvable in water. So in this way we can obtain information about the deceased even though we do not analyse the bones", Kaare Lund Rasmussen explains.

 

In the town of Ribe the chemists have been assisted by anthropologists to take soil samples from the places originally occupied by the mercury poisoned child's lungs, kidneys, liver and muscle tissue. As the half-life of mercury varies between the different tissue types, Kaare Lund Rasmussen can ascertain when the body was last exposed to mercury prior to death.

 

The mercury concentration is for instance excreted very fast from the lungs, within hours or at the most a couple of days, and it is therefore a question of hours or at the most a couple of days before most of the mercury has vanished from the lungs after inhaling mercury vapour.

 

"When we found high mercury concentrations in the soil that had once been the lungs of the child, we could conclude that the child probably was exposed to mercury within the last 48 hours or so before its death" says Kaare Lund Rasmussen.

 

It is also possible to test the bones for their content of excess mercury, and this technique has been used by archaeologists for several years now.

 

"But there are certain limitations to what the bones can reveal; while the soil give insight into the last months and days before death, the bones can only give information about the mercury exposure from ca. ten to three years prior to death", Kaare Lund Rasmussen explains.

 

Kaare Lund Rasmussen and his colleagues have used their newly developed sampling technique on soil samples from 19 medieval burials in the cemeteries Lindegaarden in Ribe and Ole Wormsgade in Horsens, Denmark.

 

Contact:

Associate professor Kaare Lund Rasmussen

Dept. of Physics, Chemistry and Pharmacy

T: + 45 2871 3709

E: klr@sdu.dk.

 

The results are published in the journal Heritage Science, 2013,1:16.

 

The work is part of a new research project,"People in Ribe in a 1000 years", supported by the VELUX Foundation. Besides the chemists from University of Southern Denmark, anthropologists from University of Southern Denmark and archaeologists from Sydvestjyske Museer also participate in the research.

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-23609994

Crossrail unearths evidence humans lived on Thames in 7,000 BC

8 August 2013 Last updated at 10:02

 

Rare evidence that humans lived on the River Thames 9,000 years ago has been discovered by archaeologists working on the Crossrail project.

 

A Mesolithic tool-making factory featuring 150 pieces of flint was found at the tunnelling worksite in Woolwich.

 

Archaeologists said prehistoric Londoners were using the site to prepare river cobbles which were then made into flint tools.

 

Gold has also been discovered at its site in Liverpool Street.

 

Archaeologists said they were mystified as to how such a precious and expensive gold item made its way to what was then regarded as a deprived area.

 

They believe the 16th Century gold coin was used as a sequin or pendant, similar to those worn by wealthy aristocrats and royalty.

 

Also at Liverpool Street, a well made Roman road has been discovered - complete with a human bone found in the road's foundations.

 

Next year, archaeologists will begin excavating 3,000 skeletons from Bedlam, a 17th Century burial ground close to Liverpool Street.

 

Archaeologists are hopeful that when they start large scale excavations to remove the skeletons they will also locate more of the Roman road, along with foundations of Roman buildings that stood alongside it.

 

Of the tool-making discovery, Crossrail lead archaeologist Jay Carver said: "This is a unique and exciting find that reveals evidence of humans returning to England and in particular the Thames Valley after a long hiatus during the Ice Age.

 

"It is one of a handful of archaeology sites uncovered that confirms humans lived in the Thames Valley at this time.

 

"The concentration of flint pieces shows that this was an exceptionally important location for sourcing materials to make tools that were used by early Londoners who lived and hunted on Thames Estuary islands."

 

Starting in 2018, Crossrail will link Maidenhead, Berkshire, in the west to Shenfield, Essex, and Abbey Wood, south-east London, in the east.

 

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57597561/london-railway-tunneling-yields-archaeological-trove-of-ancient-artifacts-and-long-dead-londoners/

London railway tunneling yields archaeological trove of ancient artifacts and long-dead Londoners

August 8, 2013, 10:36 AM

LONDON

 

Jewelry, pieces of ships, medieval ice skates, centuries-old skulls — some fascinating pieces of London's history aren't in museums, but underground.

 

More often than not, they stay there, but work on a new railway line under the British capital is bringing centuries of that buried history to light.

 

The 118-kilometer 73-mile Crossrail line is Britain's biggest construction project and the largest archaeological dig in London for decades. In the city's busy business core, archaeologists have struck pay dirt, uncovering everything from a chunk of Roman road to dozens of 2,000-year-old horseshoes, some golden 16th-century bling — and the bones of long-dead Londoners.

 

One afternoon this week, archaeologists were unearthing newly discovered bones in a pit beside Liverpool Street rail and subway station, while living city-dwellers scuttled by, oblivious, a few feet away. The remains belong to a few of the 20,000 people interred in a burial ground established in the 16th century.

 

"Everyone's been running around in Liverpool Street for years and not thinking that they've been walking around on bodies from one of the densest burial grounds in London," said Nick Elsden, a Museum of London archaeologist helping to oversee excavations that go along with the work on the Crossrail line.

 

Bones and artifacts are uncovered by archaeologists at a site near London's Liverpool Street railway station Bones and artifacts are uncovered by archaeologists at a site near London's Liverpool Street railway and tube station during the building of the new hi-speed rail line, Aug. 7, 2013. / AP

The 2,000-year history of London goes deep — 16 to 20 feet deep, the distance between today's street level and sidewalks in Roman times. Crossrail is providing archaeologists with a chance to dig down through those centuries — and even beyond, to prehistoric times.

 

"This site is a rare, perhaps unprecedented opportunity," Elsden said as he watched museum staff gently brush dirt from newly found bones and a skull in a hole that will soon house a maintenance shaft. "This is a major roadway outside one of London's busiest railway stations. You don't get to dig that up normally."

 

The 14.8 billion pound ($23 billion) railway, due to open in 2018, will run across London from west to east, with a central 13 mile section underground. That has meant tunneling beneath some of the city's oldest, most densely populated sections.

 

Alongside tunneling work — advancing by 330 feet a week and due to be finished next year — more than 100 archaeologists have been involved in excavations at 40 sites over the past four years.

 

They've found everything from reindeer, bison and mammoth bones dating back 68,000 years to the remains of a moated Tudor manor house, medieval ice skates, an 800-year old piece of a ship and the foundations of an 18th-century shipyard.

 

Earlier this year, the dig unearthed skeletons belonging to victims of the Black Death, the plague that wiped out half of London's population in 1348.

 

The latest discoveries include pieces of flint, some shaped into tiny blades, from a 9,000-year-old tool-making factory beside the Thames in what is now southeast London. It's evidence the area was being resettled after the last Ice Age by nomadic hunter-gatherers.

 

A gold mezzo-zecchino coin minted in Venice around 1501-1521 A gold mezzo-zecchino coin minted in Venice around 1501-1521, during the elected reign of Doge Leonardo Leordano, that was discovered during the building of the new hi-speed rail line, is shown to the media, Aug. 7, 2013. / AP

At Liverpool Street, recent finds include a 16th-century Venetian gold coin with a small hole that suggests it was an early sequin, worn as decoration on the clothes of a wealthy person who probably lost it. It was found in a rubbish deposit.

 

Elsden and his team are especially excited to have uncovered the remains of a Roman road, studded with 2,000-year-old horseshoes — more precisely equine sandals, made of metal and fastened to the hooves with leather straps.

 

So many have been found that researchers suspect this must then, as now, have been a busy transit area, with horses bringing produce from the countryside to residents of what was then known as Londinium.

 

"Roman horseshoes, stuck in a rut of the Roman road — you've got this unique little snapshot," Elsden said. "You can see a Roman pulling his cart across the bridge. That's a rare little glimpse into ordinary Roman life."

 

Some of the archaeologists' most delicate work involves remains from the Bedlam burial ground, established in the 16th century underneath what is now Liverpool Street as the city's medieval church graveyards filled up.

 

A member of the the archaeological team from the Museum of London points to the present day position of London's Liverpool Street Station on a 16th century map of the city A member of the the archaeological team from the Museum of London points to the present day position of London's Liverpool Street Station on a 16th century map of the city as a media visit is made to a dig on the construction site of a new rail line rail line in London, Aug. 7, 2013. / AP

Thousands of Londoners were buried there over 150 years, from paupers to religious nonconformists to patients at the adjacent Bedlam Hospital, the world's first psychiatric asylum. Its name, a corruption of Bethlehem, became a synonym for chaos.

 

Jay Carver, Crossrail's lead archaeologist, says the project will mean disinterring the remains of about 4,000 people.

 

Workers will treat the remains with delicacy and respect, practices not always followed in the past.

 

The recently discovered Roman road is made of rammed earth, clay, wood and — surprisingly — human bones, washed by a river from a nearby cemetery and incorporated into the building material.

 

"We tend to think in the past they were superstitious about bodies, but no," Elsden said. "Bits of bodies are washing around out of cemeteries — they're not that worried about it."

 

Centuries later, gravestones from the Bedlam cemetery were used as foundations of later buildings, and the soil has yielded pieces of bone, antler, tortoiseshell and ivory — leftovers from local craft workshops dumped over the cemetery wall in the 17th century.

 

The newly excavated human remains will be studied for clues to diet and disease before being reinterred elsewhere.

 

Most of them will, of necessity, be reburied anonymously. But Carver holds out hope that research may be able to identify some individuals. The Bedlam graveyard is known to contain the remains of several prominent people, including Robert Lockyer, a member of an egalitarian 17th-century political movement known as the Levelers.

 

Lockyer was executed by firing squad at St. Paul's Cathedral after leading an army mutiny in 1649 before being buried at Bedlam.

 

"If you find someone who's been executed with a musket, that's going to leave some kind of damage," Carver said. "It would be quite exciting if we could identify someone in that way."

 

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