Thursday, July 27, 2006


I am a great fan of standing stones, usually called menhirs, so I was interested to note that about 60 menhirs dating to the Early Neolithic or about 5000 BC have been found at the site of a housing development project at Belz. This is only a few kilometers from Carnac where there are impressive rows of standing stones and other megalithic monuments.

What's different about this find is that the site has revealed a large quantity of remains: granite blocks, networks of ditches, wall foundations, pits and scatters of small stones. More than half of the stones lying on the 3000 meter site have been found intact. Forty of them are 1.5m tall, 9 are more than 1.8m tall and one is 2m tall. Also, their stone sockets, the holes in which they were placed when standing, are intact. And, 75% of them are aligned on the same direction: Northwest-Southwest. "It's an exceptional discovery, because for the first time we can make a modern excavation, working on the original environment, " said Jean-Paul Demoule of the Institut National de Recherches Archeologiques preventives (Inrap). Evidence can be documented from construction to abandonment. In contrast, at Carnac most of the Neolithic levels have disappeared.

At Belz, several menhirs were simply pushed over and now lie on the ground near the pit in which they were implanted. Others were moved from their original location and show numerous traces of debitage (working). They were found under a layer of sediments that helped to protect them. The megaliths of Belz were probably overturned as early as the Late Neolithic. During the Middle Ages, farmers clearing the land probably used the toppled blocks for walls or part of houses.

Because of the importance of the site, the Ministry of Culture and Communication has instituted the procedure of classifying this ensemble of megaliths and the surrounding parcels as a historic monument. The article did not indicate whether it can be visited, but if you are going to that area of Brittany (near Vannes and the Golfe of Morbihan), be sure and check it out with the locals.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006


Several years ago I was with a UCLA archaeological team and we worked in Larissa, Greece, sorting out artifacts that had come from a dig some years before.

So to my delight, I read in one of my lists that recently a marble statue of Artemis was found near Larissa's ancient theater among a layer of more than 60 column drums, 600 Doric pillars and an expanse of marble stretching more than 140 meters. The headless statue was discovered in the area where researchers were digging for the ancient theater.

Soon after that discovery, a monumental marble stairway that took spectators to the theater was found.

The statue was found behind the stage. Among the columns were pieces of marble inscriptions, 100 of them so far, that shed light on the history of Larissa and the surrounding area.

The ancient theater was built during the reign of the Macdedonian King Antigonus Gonastas in the early 3rd century BC.

But what's particularly interesting to me, is that when we worked in Larissa in 1988, the theater was only slightly excavated. I remember walking down the road next to the slightly uncovered amphitheater. That road covered what now is being found. Almost 20 years ago Larissa was considered a minor town in the present and the past. What a find like this can do!

Sunday, July 23, 2006


Just recently the French Culture Ministry took over ownership of a cave in the Vilhonneur forest in western France. What's so extraordinary about this decorated cave from the Upper Paleolithic Period is that a 27,000 year old human skeleton was laid out in a room decorated with ancient art.

A single face drawn in the cave could be among the world's oldest known graphic representations of a human face, says Jean-Yves Baratin, archaeology curator for the Poitou-Charentes region. He said two pieces of calcite that split were used to form the hair with two black horizontal strokes depicting the eyes. A vertical stroke formed the nose and another horizontal stroke became the mouth.

The Vilhonneur caves features a series of decorations, including a negative imprint of a right hand, surrounded in black. It was made by blowing color onto the area around the hand.

A reminder -- the famous Lascaux cave dates to 13,000 years ago.

Euphronius Crater at the Met Museum

Strolling through the Metropolitan Museum recently, I stopped in the beautifully renovated Greek vase rooms on the first floor. There was the infamous but stunning Euphronius Crater all by itself displayed on the far side of the room. And what do you know? The label now reads "on loan from the Republic of Italy." A few minutes went by and a woman was looking at this exquisite piece quite carefully. I asked her if she noticed the label. She hadn't.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

MORE ON EARLY BRITS-only 400,000 years ago!

Remains of a single adult elephant surrounded by stone tools have recently been found in northwest Kent during work on the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.

Bones and tusks dating back 400,000 years are the earliest signs in Britain of ancient humans butchering elephants for meat, say archaeologists in the Journal of Quaternary Science.

The skeleton found was an extinct species of elephant that lay on the edge of what would once have been a small lake. "Its the earliest site of elephant butchery in Britain," Dr. Francis Wenban-Smith of the University of Southampton told the BBC News website. "In fact, it is the only such site in Britain and it is very rare to find undisturbed evidence of this kind," continued Dr. Wenban-Smith.

He proposes that the elephant, twice the size of today's animals, was probably brought down by hunters armed with wooden spears. Or possibly they could have found it in an injured state and then killed it. There is no evidence of fire so they probably ate their meat raw. Other large animals, bones of buffalo, rhino, deer and horse were also found nearby and were probably also feasted upon by these prehistoric people.


The oldest evidence for humans in North West Europe has recently been discovered in East Anglia at Happisburgh & Pakefield. For us in America, that's northeast of London, on the coast of Norfolk. The evidence, that is, stone hand axes, comes from the Cromer Forest Beds that consist of a dark layer containing fossilized animal and plant material found in many places along the Norfolk and part of the Suffolk coasts. They can only be seen at very low tides.

What is important about them is that they underlie the thick clay, gravel and sand deposits that form the cliffs in this part of the world and which were laid down by glaciations. So they are pre-glacial and the flint tools they contain must date before the Great Glaciation (the Anglian) that swept down almost to the line of the present River Thames around 450,000 years ago.

And what's been found? (The first was found by a local man, Mike Chambers, a keen-eyed collector of fossils who was walking his dog at Happisburg.) Since then, experts have been called in and found a total of 32 worked flints in situ. Most are in mint condition, including a handaxe thinning flake and several that have been retouched or show signs of utilization, proving that flint knapping and utilization had taken place on site.

The fauna include rhinoceros, box/bison, fallow deer, duck and an extinct frog. Cut marks on some of the bones show that these were contemporary with and had been preyed upon by the hominids who were responsible for the flint artifacts.

Detailed examination of the deposit suggests it can be dated to around 680,000 years ago. If confirmed, the Happisburgh evidence is the earliest occurrence of humans not only in Britain, but in the whole of North Europe with advanced handaxe technology.

Other sites with early Middle Pleistocene archaeology in Britain are known from Somerset and the Bytham River in the Midlands with dates about 500,000 years, including the famous Boxgrove site dated to about 450,000 years ago. Thus the new findings demonstrates the presence of early humans by at least 200,000 years earlier than previous finds.

In Southern Europe human fossil evidence from Atapuerca in Spain and Ceprano in Italy