Skeletons of war dead from 11,000 BC go on show at the British Museum

The remains, displaying breaks and slash marks of violent death, were found in a cemetery on the banks of the Nile river

Maev Kennedy

The Guardian, Monday 14 July 2014


Lying on their left sides, curled together, the two skeletons on display for the first time at the British Museum look peacefully laid to rest. But the razor-sharp stone flakes scattered around and among the bones are the remains of ancient weapons, with a myriad breaks and slash marks on the skeletons. The two are among the oldest war dead in the world, men who died a brutal death after violent lives 13,000 years ago.


The cemetery they came from, on the banks of the Nile in what is now northern Sudan, is famous among archaeologists: dating from about 11,000 BC, it is among the oldest organised burial grounds in the world. However, the finds, including the shattered bones of scores of men, women and children and the remains of the weapons that killed them, have never been exhibited before.


"I suspect there was no outside enemy, these were tribes mounting regular and ferocious raids amongst themselves for scarce resources," curator Renee Friedman said. "Nobody was spared: there were many women and children among the dead, a very unusual composition for any cemetery, and almost half bore the marks of violent death. Many more may have died of flesh wounds which left no marks."


"Many had the marks of earlier injuries which had healed: these people lived in extraordinarily violent times."


They were buried very carefully. All the bodies were laid on their left sides, heads to the south and looking east – towards the source of the river and the rising sun, the two elements on which survival depended.


"Before this date we find isolated burials of bodies just placed in holes in the ground," Friedman said. "These come from a time when the hunter gatherers are starting to put down roots, and burying their ancestors is a very powerful way of laying claim to the land. But clearly they had to defend it, not once but many times, at terrible cost."


The cemetery at Jebel Sahaba now lies deep under the waters of the Aswan dam. They were excavated in the 1960s by the American archaeologist Professor Fred Wendorf, in one of the Unesco-funded rescue digs when archaeologists from all over the world came to Egypt to save as much history as possible before the waters rose.


The most famous of the projects was the dismantling of the twin temple complex of Abu Simbel, which was reconstructed on higher ground. However, so much material was excavated that research has continued on the finds from other sites for the past half century.


The site excavated by Wendorf was part of early Egypt, and startlingly different from today's familiar landscape of parched baking desert and lush fertile river valley. The people – heavy boned and strong jawed, unlike the slighter later people of Ancient Egypt – were among the first human inhabitants after the ice age, but the weather is believed to have been cold and dry, with little fertile land. Some climate historians believe the water level of the Nile was also rising, compressing the habitable land even further.


Wendorf recovered the remains of 61 individuals, and of the weapons that killed them. When he retired from the Southern Methodist University of Texas in 2001 he presented his collection, including research notes, photographs and site drawings, to the British Museum. The collection has been visited by scholars from all over the world, but has never been seen by the public, until the redisplay of the Early Egyptian gallery allowed some of the most extraordinary pieces, including two of the skeletons, to come out of the stores.


The stone flakes of the weapons, originally lashed into wooden handles which have decayed, look primitive, but they were murderous: Wendorf found hundreds, but scans at the British Museum have revealed many more including some which penetrated and lodged inside the skulls. An arm bone also on display shows a healed fracture, a classic defensive injury from arms raised to ward off a savage blow.


"Often with remains from such an ancient time, we will never know what happened to them," Friedman said. "With these skeletons there is no question: we found arrow heads lodged in spines, spear points that had pierced eye sockets, and many that clearly died under a hail of arrows. The lives and deaths of these people were not nice."


Early Egypt Gallery, British Museum.


Open daily, free



An 8,000 Year-old Skull Has Been Found With Preserved Brain Matter

George Dvorsky


Archaeologists in Norway have found an 8,000 year-old skull at a Stone Age site that could very well be of human origin. Remarkably, it contains a grey, clay-like substance thought to be the preserved remains of the brain. If confirmed, it could be one of the oldest human brains ever found.


As The Local reports, the skull was uncovered a the Stokke site in Vestfold, Norway. It's not known whether the skull belongs to an animal or a child. Initial tests date the skull to around 5,900 BC, making it almost 8,000 years old. Experts are being recruited to help the archaeologists confirm the exact origin of the skull.


In addition to the skull, archaeologists have found numerous artifacts and a pit of carbon-rich soil containing bones. (image: a possible shoulder bone or hip, Hans Petter Reppe/NRK)


April Holloway from Ancient Origins explains the implications of the discovery:


Being able to study a preserved brain enables scientists to piece together the individual's last hours and may also reveal any diseases or pathological conditions such as tumours and haemorrhaging.


It is extremely rare to find a preserved brain of this age because brain tissue is rich in enzymes which cause cells to break down rapidly after death. Under certain conditions, however, the process of decomposition can be slowed down. For example, brain tissue has been found in the preserved body of an Incan child sacrificed 500 years ago. Her body was found at the top of an Andean mountain where the body swiftly froze, preserving the brain. An older example comes from a 4,000-year-old brain in Turkey, which had been preserved following an earthquake which buried the individual, followed by a fire that consumed any oxygen in the rubble and boiled the brain in its own fluids.

Referring to the possible brain matter inside the skull, dig leader Gaute Reitan told NRK, "Inside it is something rather grey and clay-like," adding, "You can just think for yourself what that may be."



Six things about Sekhemka – by Mike Pitts


1. It’s beautiful


The best analysis of the statue is by TGH James. An Egyptologist at the British Museum, he described it in full, for the first time, in 1963, after someone had tipped him off about it (“The Northampton statue of Sekhemka”, Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 49, 5–12).


According to James, the man is identified by an inscription on the base beside his left foot (“Inspector of scribes of the house of the master of largess, one revered before the great god, Sekhemka”). By his right foot sits Sitmeret (“She who is concerned with the affairs of the king, one revered before the great god, Sitmeret”). She is carved, it seems, as a real woman, her left arm wrapped affectionately behind Sekhemka’s right leg, the hand protruding below his knee – the other half, as it were, of his identity. No relationship is described, but James felt “the intimate posture” means she is probably his wife.


While Sitmeret’s beauty is displayed in full sculptural glory, Seshemnefer (“The scribe of the house of the master of largess, Seshemnefer”), is represented as a more stylised two dimensional frieze, standing beside Sekhemka’s left leg. The facts of his position and that he is named, unlike the other men around the seat, suggested to James that Seshemnefer may be Sekhemka’s son.


On the open papyrus scroll which Sekhemka holds on his knees, says James, is a list of 22 offerings, “those normally found at the beginning of the standard offering-lists of the Fifth and Sixth Dynasties”. They include such things as “festival perfume, one jar” and “Breakfast: bread and beer”.


Around the sides of the square seat are five men in the same style as Seshemnefer. Three on the back carry jars of ritual liquids, an incense censer and strips of cloth. On the left side (as seen from the front) one carries a goose and two, long-stemmed papyrus flowers; the other a calf. On the right two men each old a goose.


Viewing the statue for the first time on the landing at Christie’s, where it was superbly lit and surrounded by an eclectic group of masterworks in an atmosphere of reverence and superior quality, I was struck by the sculpture’s presence. The soft, warm limestone, the extensive paint, the composition, the manner of carving and the style – a fine execution of Old Kingdom conventions around 2400–2300BC – make this a stunningly beautiful and moving object. James concurs, if holding back a little: “It may be the case that the Northampton statue of Sekhemka cannot be included in the small group of master sculptures which especially distinguish Old Kingdom art; it remains, nevertheless, a piece of fine quality.”


2. The Brooklyn Museum has one too


The statue was recorded for James by the Northampton photographers H Cooper & Son. Somehow, James says, some of the prints erroneously arrived on the desk of Bernard Bothmer, another prominent Egyptologist, at the Brooklyn Museum. This chance, if so it was, allowed James to describe a statue of Sekhemka at the Brooklyn – we’ve got one too, said Bothmer! James agrees that it is the same Sekhemka , though this “is not susceptible of absolute proof” – the top half of the man is missing, and overall the sculpture, made in harder “diorite”, is less elaborate. James goes on to discuss the possibly of matching either sculpture to one of the tombs known at Giza and Saqqara also attributed to a Sekhemka, in particular mastaba C19 at Saqqara. But he rejects the idea, on the grounds that C19 was found late in 1850, while the Marquess of Northampton was there in the same year, but earlier (and see below on the statue’s history). But he does accept the attributed provenance of both statues to Saqqara.


3. The statue seems to have been well looked after


On the limited evidence of James’ photos published in 1963 and my own taken this week, there seems to have been little if any damage to the stone or the fragile paintwork, at least over the last 50 years. In a couple of points there are differences that seem to have something to do with the paint, though it’s difficult to know what these mean. In the photos below, I’ve reduced mine to monochrome (to the right in both cases) to make comparison easier. In the first pair, there is a dark line between the legs that appears not to have been there in 1963. And in the second, a small blob below the belt of the left figure.


4. Northampton Borough Council did not have a clear right to sell the statue


But they believe they had bought that right – for a combination of £40,000 of legal advice, and £6.3m given to Lord Northampton. An expensive purchase.


In 1880 the fourth Marquess of Northampton and the Borough of Northampton signed a Deed of Gift. The Museums Association has put the entire, short document online, from which I’ve extracted some key passages (see above).


The gift was huge, mostly of fossils in cabinets (“a great number of specimens”): it is titled “Deed of Gift of Geological Collection”. There was also, it says inside, “a collection of Egyptian Antiquities including four framed specimens of Wall painting and papyrus and other objects”. The statue is not mentioned.


In 1963 TGH James wrote that the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery records “contain no precise information concerning [the statue’s] acquisition, but it is known that it was presented in about I870 by the third Marquis of Northampton.” He notes a press cutting, dated 1899, describing the contents of the Abington Museum (which until shortly before James wrote his article, had displayed the statue “in relative obscurity”). This says that “in the Egyptian Room are specimens of papyri… a case of small Egyptian articles collected by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, President of the Royal Society, and other Egyptian figures”. Compton was the second Marquess of Northampton and a founder member and president of the Royal Archaeological Institute. He travelled to Egypt in I850. “It was on this journey in all probability”, says James, “that he collected the Egyptian antiquities which eventually found their way to the Abington Museum.” “There seems to be no good reason”, he concludes, “for doubting that the statue of Sekhemka, presented by the third marquis, was acquired by his father on the same journey.” The fourth marquess then gifted the statue, already in the borough’s collection, in 1880.


There may be “no good reason” for doubting that the statue was acquired by the second marquess in Egypt. But is there good reason to believe it was?


The second marquess was in Egypt in 1850. The third marquess is said to have presented the statue to the Borough of Northampton around 20 years later. A decade after this the fourth marquess gifted a collection of geological specimens and Egyptian antiquities to the borough. A further two decades on, a newspaper reports that the borough was exhibiting “specimens of papyri… a case of small Egyptian articles collected by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton [the second marquess] … and other Egyptian figures”.


Christie’s translate that as follows:


“Acquired by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850. Presented to the Northampton Museums and Art Gallery by either Charles Douglas-Compton, 3rd Marquess of Northampton (1816-1877) or Admiral William Compton, 4th Marquess of Northampton (1818-1897).”


However, none of this is provable, at least on the evidence we have. Nowhere is the statue specifically mentioned in the early records, including the 1880 deed of gift: all we have is James’s assertion, made in 1963, that the statue was then “known” to have been presented by the third marquess, in about I870. The press cutting is of dubious relevance. We all know how easy it could be for a press journalist or subeditor to confuse one marquess with another. In fact, taken literally, the piece seems to imply that the statue was NOT part of a Northampton bequest. It refers to “a case of small Egyptian articles collected by [the second marquess] … and other Egyptian figures”. The statue is arguably unlikely to have been inside “a case of small Egyptian articles”, and if not, was among “other Egyptian figures”, whose source is unstated.


On the face of it, the council has no documentation to prove its ownership of the statue.


By 2013, however, it’s clear that both the council and the current Marquess of Northampton believed it did own it. For in January last year, the marquess threatened the council with legal action if it sold the statue – on the grounds that the deed of gift says it can’t sell anything without the collection reverting to the fourth marquess’s family. The council was then understood to be saying that as the statue wasn’t mentioned in the deed, it wasn’t included in the gift.


So, the council’s right to sell the statue depends on it being able to show that it owns it as a result of a gift in 1880. But to get around the fact that the deed actually says they can’t sell it, they argue the deed did not include the statue. But in that case… no, this is getting too confusing for me.


What seems clear, however, is that the council got the marquess’s approval by offering him a load of dosh – 45% of the sale proceeds. That turned out to be a good deal for the marquess, who surely was not expecting to get £6,300,000 out of the deal (or “around £6million” in the words of a council for whom mere thousands are presumably too trifling to worry with)


Certainly, it worked out better than the marquess’s attempts so far to make money from the Sevso treasure. As British Archaeology reported in 2007, this fabulous hoard of late antique silverware, valued at £100m, was caught up in an unfortunate history of illegal excavations and export (from Hungary). Lord Renfrew wrote recently, setting the hoard into context, of a “tangled tale of greed and irresponsibility by ‘collectors’ in high places who might have known better, seeking a quick and easy profit and showing little respect for the world’s archaeological heritage”. The Marquess of Northampton bought the hoard in 1987, hoping to sell it to his advantage: but his plans ran into trouble when the hoard’s history became public. This is the same man of whom the council’s chief executive has said, “We know Lord Northampton and his son Lord Compton very well, they are true supporters of ours and they have already given to our work around alleviating food poverty”.


In fact the marquess was so pleased with the sale of the Egyptian statue, he gave £1m back to the council! Thus everyone wins. The marquess trousers £5.3m for something that he could never have touched, had not the council, as it saw it, broken the terms of a deed of gift made by an ancestor of his. And the council gets £1m from the sale it can spend on whatever it likes: this didn’t come from their part in selling the statue, so it’s not “ring-fenced for the Museum Service” and can instead be spent on “essential funding for some of our smaller voluntary and charitable groups providing excellent community cultural activity across our county”. These might include, said council chief executive Victoria Miles, “a world war memorial group, a community choir, volunteer networks supporting a heritage site or local museum, young people engaging with arts and music activities or any number of good causes in the arts and heritage field”. So you can sell your statue promising to spend all the proceeds on a new museum extension, and still get a million quid for a community choir.


I’m not sure if the council’s thinking on this statue over the years has been entirely consistent.


5. The Museums Association did not approve of the sale


Initially, the council told the Museums Association’s Ethics Committee in 2012, it wished to sell the statue, then valued at £2m, to raise funds for “the restoration of Delapre Abbey, improvements to the museum service and/or other cultural or heritage projects”. The committee said that plans for spending the money were too vague for it to advise fully on the proposed sale.


Later in 2012 the committee told the council off over a public consultation about the sale. The council had asked people if the £2m sale proceeds should be spent on the restoration of Delapre Abbey, the expansion of Northampton Museum and Art Gallery, the establishment of a National Shoe Museum or the development of Abington Park Museum. It didn’t ask if it should sell the statue in the first place. And neither did it tell people about something they were unable to see (the statue not being exhibited). I have strong doubts that had the people of Northampton been able to see what I saw in Christie’s last Friday, they would have wanted their statue sold.


In January this year, by when the statue’s estimated value had risen to £4m–6m, the Museums Association “urged Northampton Borough Council to rethink its sale”. Unless the council sought “alternative sources of capital funding”, said David Fleming, chair of the ethics committee, “the MA cannot endorse the sale.” There is no sign that the council undertook such a search. Thus the sale was not “endorsed” (recognised/validated/approved, take your pick) by the Museums Association.


5. The Art Fund did not approve of the sale


In a statement issued the day after the sale, the Art Fund said:


“We remain strongly opposed to deaccessioning any item for financial reasons except in exceptional circumstances, where the funds will directly benefit the museum collection and only after all other options have been explored. This is not the case with the sale of Sekhemka and as such, having gone against the sector’s ethical guidance, it risks being stripped of its accredited status.”


With both the Museums Association and the Art Fund unhappy about the sale, Northampton’s chances of raising money through conventional funding streams may now be lower than they were. In the long run, the sale could cost them more in lost grants than it made in the auction room. The impression one gets is that the council was more impressed with the promise of a big sale cheque, than they were inspired by the idea of putting in the work to come up with well thought out imaginative projects that would attract suitable sponsors. If only… they would have had the most beautiful Egyptian statue to show off, that somehow – I’m guessing the story will be out there, it’s just waiting for an obsessive researcher – is at the heart of the borough’s 19th century history.


6. Christie’s did a good job


One might be tempted to cast Christie’s as a villain in this story, but really they were doing what was right for their client, in a legal sale. They displayed the statue proudly in London for public view (I imagine better than it had ever been displayed before), described it in a well illustrated catalogue on public sale (and free online), and achieved a remarkable price. They handled a protest during the sale with quiet dignity. It would not have been in their client’s interest to have noted the continuing debate about the ethics of the sale, and they duly did not.


They got well paid for all this. The statue sold for £14m. “Buyers commission” took that up to £15,762,500 – the buyer paid Christie’s an additional £1,762,500. On their standard prices, Northampton council will have paid Christie’s at least £4,700 for the catalogue entry (photos on the front cover and six full pages, plus eight further images at the smallest charge size). More significantly, they will be paying Christie’s an undisclosed seller’s commission. By any standards, those fees add up to a good profit – and the sale will have brought the auction house good PR where it counts.


When Northampton Borough Council said in a statement after the sale that it “will retain around £8million” after paying off the marquess, it hadn’t apparently worked out its sums in the rush. Firstly, 55% of £14m (the council’s agreed share) is £7.7m, not £8m. Then it has to pay Christie’s for the catalogue, its commission (typically 10%) and any other agreed costs such as marketing or transport. Let’s say that gets us to about £6,925,000. For most of Northampton’s tax payers I’d wager that’s a big difference from £8m. Of course, I’d be very pleased to correct and revise these estimates if someone would like to help me out with real figures.


This story has only just begun. We don’t yet know who bought the statue (Christie’s has promised to tell us in due course). The Museums Association has to make up its mind whether or not it would have advised the marquess not to sell, had the statue not already been sold. The effect of the sale on prospective grant givers has yet to be seen, as has its effect on the antiquities market as a whole (though I’d say the argument by ICOM that the sale of the statue “may result in an increase of illicit excavation and trafficking of antiquities in Egypt” is an odd one; the statue might still have been in the ownership of the marquess’s family, and have gone out as a private sale which the law, and most observers, would regard as legitimate – the issue is less that the statue has been sold per se, than that it was held in trust by a public body which should have been above such action). Importantly, we do not yet know what will happen to the statue: will it disappear from sight (and researchers, for whom there is apparently much still to learn), or be exhibited somewhere?



The car boot bargain that turned out to be TREASURE: £3 tool revealed as 4,500-year-old ancient Egyptian hammer - and it could fetch up to £4,000

·         Ambulance worker Martin Jackson paid just £3 ($5) for the wooden tool

·         It would have been used by craftsmen to carve temples and was among a haul of broken tools at a car boot sale in Amble, Northumberland

·         It is said to be 4,500 years old and came from ancient burial ground Saqqara

·         Maul was brought to Ireland in 1905 by a British officer who visited Egypt

·         Natural History Museum in London confirmed the tool was genuine

·         Egyptian experts have valued it between £2,000 ($3,400) and £4,000 ($6,800)


PUBLISHED: 14:48, 14 July 2014 | UPDATED: 15:33, 14 July 2014


Archaeologists train for years to unearth and identify ancient artefacts, but an ambulance worker from Northumberland has happened upon one at a local car boot sale with no effort at all.

Martin Jackson, 50, paid just £3 ($5) for the 4,500-year-old ancient Egyptian wooden maul - a type of hammer - and experts have since valued it closer to £4,000 ($6,800).

The maul, which would have been used by craftsmen to create carvings in temples, was among a haul of broken tools at Mr Jackon’s local sale on the quayside at Amble, Northumberland.

The maul (pictured) would have been used by craftsmen to carve temples. It was found among a haul of broken tools at a car boot sale in Northumberland. Experts claim the ancient tool is 4,500 years old and was found originally at ancient burial ground Saqqara, south of Cairo

The maul would have been used by craftsmen to carve temples. It was found among a haul of broken tools at a car boot sale in Northumberland. Experts claim the ancient tool is 4,500 years old and was found originally at ancient burial ground Saqqara, south of Cairo

Mr Jackson said the maul was in ‘a shabby condition’, with electrical tape roughly wrapped around the handle, and the seller was originally offering it for sale for £6 ($10).

‘It was one of those days when all the men gather round the hardware stall you get at any car boot sale and rummage through boxes of stuff you would be ashamed to even throw in the bin, like broken screwdrivers and busted hammers,’ said 50-year-old Mr Jackson, who studies ancient symbolism.


After removing the tape, Jackson noticed a finely engraved silver band which explained it was an Egyptian maul, and that it had been found at the ancient burial ground Saqqara.

It was brought to Ireland in around 1905 by a highly-decorated British officer who is frequently mentioned in dispatches at that time.

Ambulance worker Martin Jackson (pictured) paid just £3 ($5) for the ancient Egyptian wooden maul - and experts have since valued it closer to £4,000 ($6,800). Jackson's maul was sent to the Natural History Museum in London where it was compared to one already in its Egyptian collection, and was confirmed as genuine

Ambulance worker Martin Jackson (pictured) paid just £3 ($5) for the ancient Egyptian wooden maul - and experts have since valued it closer to £4,000 ($6,800). Jackson's maul was sent to the Natural History Museum in London where it was compared to one already in its Egyptian collection, and was confirmed as genuine

Saqqara (pictured) is a burial site that is part of a cemetery linked to the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis. It is more than 3.7 miles (6km) long by 1 mile (1.5km) wide. The area of the site contains the burial plots of nobles of the Early Dynastic period, from around 3100BC and 2613 BC

Saqqara (pictured) is a burial site that is part of a cemetery linked to the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis. It is more than 3.7 miles (6km) long by 1 mile (1.5km) wide. The area of the site contains the burial plots of nobles of the Early Dynastic period, from around 3100BC and 2613 BC

Saqqara is a burial site that is part of a cemetery linked to the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis.

It is more than 3.7 miles (6km) long and 1 mile (1.5km) wide.

Wooden mallets (pictured) were used in ancient Egypt in all types of activities, from stone and wood sculpting to boat and furniture building

Wooden mallets were used in ancient Egypt in all types of activities, from stone and wood sculpting to boat and furniture building

The area of the site nearest to Memphis contains early burials of nobles from the Early Dynastic period - around 3100 and 2613 BC and ther are a total of fifteen Royal pyramids at Saqqara.

The earliest Egyptian stone-built pyramid is called the Step Pyramid and it was built by Djoser, a king of the Third Dynasty in around 2686 BC and 2613 BC.

Jackson’s maul was sent to the Natural History Museum in London where it was compared to one already in its Egyptian collection, and it was confirmed to be genuine.

Jackson said: ‘To hold something which is twice as old as Christianity - that built some of the most ancient temples in the world - feels very special.

‘To feel the ‘sweet spot’ where the mason preferred to rest his thumb, thousands of years ago as he built vast monuments, is quite incredible.

‘I was completely stunned and delighted by its rarity.’

After confirming it is a genuine artefact, experts from Value My Stuff claimed the maul is worth between £2,000 ($3,400) and £4,000 ($6,800).

The site's Egyptian expert said: ‘Wooden mallets were used in ancient Egypt in all types of activities, from stone and wood sculpting to boat and furniture building.

‘A preserved wooden item like this from the Egyptian period is extremely rare and over the course of my 25-year career I’ve only ever seen three appear on the market.’

Jackson plans to sell the item to fund more trips to Egypt where he will continue his research into ancient symbols.

‘It is serendipity that I found it and it has come along for a reason,’ Jackson added.


·         Saqqara is a burial site that is part of a cemetery linked to the ancient Egyptian capital Memphis.

·         The site is more than 3.7 miles (6km) long and 1 mile (1.5km) wide.

·         Memphis is located south of the Nile River, on the west bank, around 15 miles (24 km) south of modern Cairo.

·         The area of the burial  site nearest to Memphis contains early burials of nobles from the Early Dynastic period, from around 3100 BC and 2613 BC, and there are a total of fifteen Royal pyramids at Saqqara.

·         The earliest Egyptian stone-built pyramid is called the Step Pyramid and was built by Djoser, a king of the Third Dynasty in around 2686 BC and 2613 BC.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2691573/The-car-boot-bargain-turned-TREASURE-3-tool-revealed-4-500-year-old-ancient-Egyptian-hammer-fetch-4-000.html#ixzz37TEWihYF

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Prehistoric 'bookkeeping' continued long after invention of writing


Contact: Fred Lewsey



University of Cambridge


An archaeological dig in southeast Turkey has uncovered a large number of clay tokens that were used as records of trade until the advent of writing, or so it had been believed.


But the new find of tokens dates from a time when writing was commonplace – thousands of years after it was previously assumed this technology had become obsolete. Researchers compare it to the continued use of pens in the age of the word processor.


The tokens – small clay pieces in a range of simple shapes – are thought to have been used as a rudimentary bookkeeping system in prehistoric times.


One theory is that different types of tokens represented units of various commodities such as livestock and grain. These would be exchanged and later sealed in more clay as a permanent record of the trade – essentially, the world's first contract.


The system was used in the period leading up to around 3000 BC, at which point clay tablets filled with pictorial symbols drawn using triangular-tipped reeds begin to emerge: the birth of writing, and consequently history.


From this point on in the archaeological record, the tokens dwindle and then disappear, leading to the assumption that writing quickly supplanted the token system.


However, recent excavations at Ziyaret Tepe – the site of the ancient city Tušhan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire – have unearthed a large quantity of tokens dating to the first millennium BC: two thousand years after 'cuneiform' – the earliest form of writing – emerged on clay tablets.


"Complex writing didn't stop the use of the abacus, just as the digital age hasn't wiped out pencils and pens," said Dr John MacGinnis from Cambridge's MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, who led the research.


"In fact, in a literate society there are multiple channels of recording information that can be complementary to each other. In this case both prehistoric clay tokens and cuneiform writing used together."


The tokens were discovered in the main administrative building in Tušhan's lower town, along with many cuneiform clay tablets as well as weights and clay sealings. Over 300 tokens were found in two rooms near the back of the building that MacGinnis describes as having the character of a 'delivery area', perhaps an ancient loading bay.


"We think one of two things happened here. You either have information about livestock coming through here, or flocks of animals themselves. Each farmer or herder would have a bag with tokens to represent their flock," said MacGinnis.


"The information is travelling through these rooms in token form, and ending up inscribed onto cuneiform tablets further down the line."


Archaeologists say that, while cuneiform writing was a more advanced accounting technology, by combining it with the flexibility of the tokens the ancient Assyrians created a record-keeping system of greater sophistication.


"The tokens provided a system of moveable numbers that allowed for stock to be moved and accounts to be modified and updated without committing to writing; a system that doesn't require everyone involved to be literate."


MacGinnis believes that the new evidence points to prehistoric tokens used in conjunction with cuneiform as an empire-wide 'admin' system stretching right across what is now Turkey, Syria and Iraq. In its day, roughly 900 to 600 BC, the Assyrian empire was the largest the world had ever seen.


Types of tokens ranged from basic spheres, discs and triangles to tokens that resemble oxhide and bull heads.


While the majority of the cuneiform tablets found with the tokens deal with grain trades, it's not yet known what the various tokens represent. The team say that some tokens likely stand for grain, as well as different types of livestock (such as goats and cattle), but – as they were in use at the height of the empire – tokens could have been used to represent commodities such as oil, wool and wine.


"One of my dreams is that one day we'll dig up the tablet of an accountant who was making a meticulous inventory of goods and systems, and we will be able to crack the token system's codes," said MacGinnis.


"The inventions of recording systems are milestones in the human journey, and any finds which contribute to the understanding of how they came about makes a basic contribution to mapping the progress of mankind," he said.



Now that's a cat fight! Archaeologists believe these sharpened claws were part of ancient costume used in ritual combat... and the loser was sacrificed to the gods

·         Clawed artefacts found in Turjillo, Peru, hail from Moche civilisation

·         Experts say they were once fixed to animal skin combat costumes

·         Two men wearing the claws would duel - with the loser ritually sacrificed

·         Find was made earlier this week at the Huaca de la Luna pyramid

·         A bronze sceptre, earrings and a mask were also unearthed at the dig 


PUBLISHED: 12:50, 12 July 2014 | UPDATED: 13:15, 12 July 2014


A pair of sharpened metal claws, believed to have been used in ritual combat, has been unearthed by archaeologists in Peru.


The artefact, believed to hail from the ancient Moche civilisation, was found in a nobleman's tomb in northern Peru.


Experts were digging at the site of the Huaca de la Luna near the city of Trujillo when they uncovered the claws along with a sceptre, earrings and a mask.


Researchers have speculated that the claws, clearly designed for combat, would have been attached to a full-body costume made from animal skin.


The weapons would have been involved in a ritual battle between two men, in which the winner was given a pair of the claws as a prize, and the loser was sacrificed to the gods.


Commenting on the entire haul, archaeologist Santiago Uceda, told the Peruvican El Comercio newspaper: 'The sceptre signifies power; the earrings, status; and the ceramic piece is typical of an elite personage.'


It is believed the find could be more than 1,500 years old. The Moche civilisation, centred around Trujillo, pre-dates the more famous Inca society, and died out for unknown reasons around 800AD.


The researchers also found the nobleman's bones in the tomb, and plan to have them examined by experts from the U.S.


Further tests and research on the finds are expected to provide a more precise idea of the objects' age, which will be available in around six months' time.



The South American Moche civilisation are thought to have emerged around the time of the birth of Christ, and flourished in northern Peru for some 800 years.


They were an agriculturally and artistically advanced society, with intricate pottery and jewellery, as well as weapons and armour, numbering among archaeological finds.


However, the society appears not to have kept written records, which means information on dates and details of their culture can be difficult to reconstruct.


Artistic: The culture is known for artistry and murals, such as this image of a face from the Huaca de la Luna


Especially notable are the huacas, or pyramids, which the Moche people constructed, within which artefacts such as the newly-unearthed claws were found.


Two of the towering constructions, Huaca de la Luna and Huaca del Sol, referring to the moon and sun respectively, are decorated with vibrant murals and are now major dig sites.


The Moche had an advanced polytheistic religion, and appear to have carried out regular blood sacrifices, possibly to guarantee good weather. Experts have speculated that victims were left to bleed out over a long period of time, with some even suggesting other Moche people drank the victims' blood.



Pembrokeshire Coast beaches throw up more surprising finds

July 2014

More amazing discoveries on the Pembrokeshire Coast’s beaches have provided a fascinating insight into the lives of the area’s hunter gatherers as many as 10,000 years ago.

Ancient human and animal footprints were spotted by a National Park Archaeologist at Newgale, while the remains of an aurochs, an extinct breed of wild cattle, were found at Whitesands by local man Shaun Thompson.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Culture and Heritage Manager, Phil Bennett with one of the aurochs horns recently found at Whitesands beach.

The storms in early 2014 led to the loss of a great deal of sand from local beaches, uncovering the remains of ancient woodlands at many beaches, including Newgale, Abereiddi and Whitesands. The sand is gradually returning, but discoveries continue to be made around the coast.

Pembrokeshire Coast National Park Authority’s Culture and Heritage Manager, Phil Bennett said: “The footprints in the exposed peat at Newgale, which are most probably from the Mesolithic period around 10,000 years ago, suggest the humans may have been tracking a large hoofed animal such as an aurochs.

The human footprint found in the peat at Newgale following the early 2014 storms. Credit: Phil Bennett

 “The discovery of the aurochs remains at nearby Whitesands would support this theory and the horns give you an idea of just how large these creatures must have been.

“It has been a privilege to be an archaeologist working in Pembrokeshire during this time of discovery, but the weather and tides that uncovered these amazing clues to our past have also led to the loss of many of these sensitive resources. I’d like to ask anyone who finds anything interesting or unusual around the coast to contact me on 0845 3457275.”

The aurochs remains will now be conserved and it is hoped they will eventually be displayed publicly at Oriel y Parc Gallery and Visitor Centre in St Davids.



Excavation of Robin Hood's village of Edwinstowe

14 July 2014 Last updated at 12:47


A Nottinghamshire settlement known as Robin Hood's village is to be excavated to find out more about its history.


Edwinstowe was where Robin Hood and Maid Marian married, according to legends.


The village is also near the Major Oak, the legendary shelter for Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men.


More than 100 volunteers will dig test pits in what is thought to be the county's largest ever community excavation.


Andy Gaunt, director of Mercian Archaeological Services, said two of the volunteers were travelling from Australia to take part in the dig.


"Sherwood Forest is famous all over the world," he said.


"It's Robin Hood's village."


Martin Potter as Robin Hood and Diane Keen as Maid Marian in 1975

Edwinstowe is known for the legends of Robin Hood

The name Edwinstowe is believed to mean the Holy Place of Edwin, after King Edwin of Northumbria, who died at the Battle of Hatfield in 633.


Mr Gaunt said: "We are trying to look at how the village developed over time.


"By digging one-metre test pits in different people's gardens we can look at different areas of the village and we can find artefacts from different periods, and we can use those to date those different parts of the village."


Major Oak in 1988

Robin Hood and his Merry Men are said to have sheltered under the Major Oak

He said finding fragments of Medieval pottery would be the best thing to help date different areas.


The Edwinstowe excavation is from 14 to 25 July and is part of a wider project all over Sherwood Forest.


"We are looking at different villages and how they grew and Edwinstowe is the archetypal forest village," said Mr Gaunt.