Friday, January 27, 2006

Irish School Girl Makes a Discovery

Last summer nine year old Laoise Mangan was walking in her school yard, St. Brigid's National School in Greystones, County Wicklow, Ireland, when she spotted an odd looking stone. She brought it to her teacher, Martin Dodd. By chance, Mr. Dodd had a degree in archaeology. He sent the stone to an acquaintance, Dr. Muiris O'Sullivan, at a nearby University and lo and behold the stone has been dated to the late Neolithic or early Bronze Age (2000 BCE). It was probably used as a tool for scraping meat from animal hides.

If she had brought the stone to any other teacher at St. Brigid's, it probably would have been thrown away. The only problem, according to Mary Beausang, a teacher at the school, "Now we have dozens of pupils bringing stones in from the yard to Mr. Dodd for examination...and we will always check with him before we ask them them to put them back in the yard."

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Visiting Florida This Winter? -- Prehistoric Indians Loved it too!

A site dating back about 2,000 years, is being excavated in downtown Miami. The site discovered during the building of a condominium, is near the original shoreline of Biscayne Bay. Robert Carr, director of the Archaeological and Historical Conservancy, speculated that the Tequestas may have prepared bodies at the site for burial. The tribe was known to lay bodies on the beach to be "defleshed by the crabs and the vultures," he said. Keep that in mind during your next stroll on the beach.

Archaeologists have long known that a wealth of archaeological material is buried under downtown Miami. Probably most famous is the Miami Circle, a round limestone formation 38 feet in diameter. Discovered in the 1990s, its believed to be the foundation of a prehistoric structure of the Tequestas.


Here's a surprise for those of you who love golf! More than a 1,000 years before golf is said to have been invented in Scotland, Roman soldiers were playing the game. Academics now say that the game was imported to Scotland by the foot soldiers of Emperor Severus.

The Roman verson of golf was called paganica and was first recorded in 30 BC as a generic ball game. However, by the time of the Roman invasion of Scotland, it was played with a curved stick used to strike a feather-fillled leather ball. The ball was hit towards a predetermined target such as a tree, the aim being to strike the "mark" in the fewest strokes.

Michael Whitby, a historian at Warwick University says: "Legionaires were in Scotland from the AD 140s. The Emperor Severus was on the Fife Peninsula... A legacy of games such as paganica would have been left. The roots of golf would have passed through the 8th century to the medieval university folk and aristocrats." Interestingly, there was an important Roman marching camp hear St. Andrews, the modern Mecca of golf.

However, the Chinese, disagree. Chinese academics at Lanzhou University claim the game was played in China during the Song Dynbasty. Known as chuiwan (hit the ball). It's mentioned on a 10th century manuscript. Professor Ling Hongling of the University has retorted: "Scotland cannnot be golf's birthplace."

Modern golf was formalized in the 15th century. It became so popular that James II banned it in 1457 because it interfered with military training! Mary Queen of Scots brought it to France where gallants who attended her were known as cadets -- i.e. caddies.

Now, isn't that something to discuss on the 19th hole?

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Acropolis -- Work Moves Along -- sort of...

I was interested to see a press release from the Conservation of Acropolis Monuments noting that the main part of the renovation work will be completed by 2009, ending a 34 year restoration program.

According to Haralambos Bouras, president of the project, "The lengthy procedure has involved extensive repairs to the main Parthenon and Athena Nike temples as well as the huge Propylaea gate. All three suffered from decades of exposure to the notorious pollution in Athens and suffered substantial damage because of failed restoration attempts earlier this century."

Well, I recently visited the Acropolis in Athens and it is a mess! I was so sad to see that the charming Nike temple was not just "extensively repaired," it was gone! I still have a picture of my kids when they were in their teens, in front of that temple and I was so disappointed to see that it has been taken down completely. There's scaffolding on the Parthenon so its pretty hard to visualize its glory. And as the press release said, "the only one of the four major Acropolis monuments where restoration has been fully completed is the Erechtheion temple." Although I've visited several times over the years, it always had scaffolding on it so that was a treat.

Of course, it didn't help that I was there on a bitterly cold day (November 21) and it was not only raining but there was lightening and thunder. Dramatic for a dramatic place and pretty slippery.

We were lucky in Connecticut as earlier this year the chief architect visited Fairfield University with the drawings of what the completed project will look like. You too can see that exhibit if you go to Athens at the Gournaropoulou Museum in Zografou, Athens. And don't miss the National Museum that has been updated and freshened since I was there last. It's lovely and Schliemann's gold looks terrific!

Sunday, January 01, 2006


Newgrange is that spectacular passage grave in County Meath an hour or so from Dublin, Ireland. At the solstice the sun rays light up the passage and the chamber. To see this phenomena, there is now a lottery! Sad to tell for 2005, the 30 lucky people who won their right to to attend the sun illuminating the central chamber on the shortest day of the year... were disappointed! Cloud cover!

There are exciting archaeological developments at the sleepy fishing port of Lowestoft, Suffolk, England. The discovery of stone tools near the town (home of the camp rock band "the Darkness") shows that ancient human beings (probably Homo heidelbergensis or Homo antecessor) were living in Britain 200,000 years earlier than previously surmsed. Dating techniques prove that the chipped flints were made about 700,000 years ago. This makes Lowestoft Man/Woman the earliest inhabitants of northern Europe. British climate was much warmer 700,000 years ago than it is today. These early humans would have shared the banks of the river with now extinct or confined to Africa animals: hippopotamuses, bears, lions, rhinos, sabre-toothed cats, giant deer, mammoths and elephants. For details, see the Dec. 15 issue of the journal Nature.

Ice age art in Britain! Engravings of a deer and other creatures at Creswell Crags in Derbyshire and dated to at least 12,800 years ago have proved to be genuine Ice Age creations and not modern fakes as some had feared. By analyzing the thin film of stalagmite that has formed over the engravings since they were made, archaeologists have shown that the Creswell art is genuine. Alistair Pike of Bristol University and his colleagues reported the evidence in the Journal Of Archaeological Science 32: 1649-1655.