Monday, September 29, 2008

STONEHENGE --more new evidence

Since I'm the author, with Cambridge Don Caroline Malone, of a book for young people called Stonehenge, (published by Oxford U. Press)I like to keep up on the new findings. Hot off the dig is the following:

Archaeologists have discovered Stonehenge's birthdate, solving one of the historic site's longstanding mysteries. The monument's original stones were erected in about 2300 BCE, - 300 years later than had previously been thought.

The finding came in an ambitious project, involving the first dig inside the historic stone circle for 44 years.

A trench was excavated in March as part of a bid to establish the precise dating of the Double Bluestone Circle. The hole, which measured 3.5 metres wide and 1.5 metres deep, was dug by hand in a previously excavated area on the south-eastern quadrant of the Double Stone Circle.

Professor Darvill, of Bournemouth University, and Professor Wainwright, President of the Society of Antiquaries, compared samples from the dig with research in the Preseli hills in south west Wales, from where 80 such stones were carried an estimated 4,500 years ago. The dig unearthed about 100 pieces of organic material from the original bluestone sockets, now buried under the monument. Of these, 14 were selected to be sent for modern carbon dating, at Oxford University.

Before the project it was believed the first stone circle dated from between 2600 BCE and 2400 BCE. The new testing has rounded this down to between 2400 BCE and 2200BCE - and a more precise date is expected by the end of the project.

Intriguingly, the date range ties in closely with the date for the burial of the so-called "Amesbury Archer", whose tomb was discovered three miles from Stonehenge. Some archaeologists believe the Archer is the key to understanding why Stonehenge was built. Analyses of his corpse and artifacts from his grave indicate he was a
wealthy and powerful man, with knowledge of metal working, who had travelled to Salisbury from Alpine Europe, for reasons unknown. Post mortem examinations show that he suffered from both a serious knee injury and a potentially fatal dental problem, leading Darvill and Wainwright to conclude that the Archer came to Stonehenge to be healed. But without an accurate date for Stonehenge, it was not even clear whether the temple existed while the Archer was alive. His remains have been dated between 2500 BCE and 2300 BCE - within the same period that the first stone circle was erected.

Professor Wainwright: "Was the Amesbury Archer, as some have suggested, the person responsible for the building of Stonehenge? I think the answer to that is almost certainly 'no'. But did he travel there to be healed? Did he limp, or was he carried, all the way from Switzerland to Wiltshire, because he had heard of the miraculous healing properties of Stonehenge? 'Yes, absolutely'. Tim and I are quite
convinced that people went to Stonehenge to get well. But Stonehenge probably had more than one purpose, so I have no problem with other people's interpretations."

Among other key finds, the team uncovered organic material that indicates people inhabited the Stonehenge site as long ago as 7200 BCE - more than 3,500 years earlier than anything previously known. They also found that bluestone chippings outnumbered sarsen stone chippings by three to one - which Wainwright takes to be a sign of their value. "It could be that people were flaking off pieces of bluestone, in order to create little bits to take away... as lucky amulets," he said.

The last time an excavation was allowed inside the sarsen stone pillars was in 1964. A documentary following the progress of the recent dig has been recorded by the BBC Timewatch series.

Sources: BBC News (21 September 2008), (22 September 2008), (23 September 2008)

Monday, September 22, 2008

TROY=new findings

The remains of two outsized earthenware pots, a ditch and evidence of a gate dating back more than 3,000 years are changing scholars' perceptions about the city of Troy at the time Homer's 'Iliad.' The discoveries this year show that Troy's lower town was much bigger in the late Bronze Age than previously thought, according to
Ernst Pernicka, the University of Tubingen professor leading excavations on the site in northwestern Turkey.

His team has uncovered a trench 1.4 kilometers long, 4 meters wide and 2 meters deep. The full length of the trench, which probably encircled the city and served a defensive purpose, may be as much as 2.5 kilometers, Pernicka said.

Troy may have been as big as 40 hectares, with a population as high as 10,000, he estimates. Pernicka said: "This year, we established that the trench continues around the town. We've found a southern gate, a southeastern gate, traces of a southwestern gate and I expect to find an eastern gate. So we have evidence of town planning."

The discovery of the trench around the lower town vindicates Pernicka's
predecessor, Manfred Korfmann, who faced accusations from a fellow German scholar that he was misleading the public in his interpretation of the ditch, which might have been for drainage. After Korfmann died in 2005, Pernicka took over his work and aims to publish the results of 20 years of digging and research. "I think we have proven that the trench was not for drainage," Pernicka said.

Excavating Troy is a challenge because the city was destroyed and rebuilt 10 times. Archaeologists have to sift through layers of Byzantine, Roman and Greek building to get to Troy VI and VIIa, the era in which the action in Homer's Trojan war epic is most likely to have been set, between 1500 and 1180 BCE.

Funding for Pernicka's excavations runs out next year. One of he main projects for the future is a museum in Troy that will double as a research center. The Turkish government has promised funds for an architecture competition, and Pernicka hopes to find sponsors to help finance the museum. The findings of the latest Troy excavations form part of an exhibition at Mannheim's Reiss-Engelhorn-Museum (Germany), called "Homer: The Myth of Troy in Poetry and Art," which runs through
Jan. 18, 2009.

Source: (16 September 2008)

Monday, September 01, 2008


Melting alpine glaciers are revealing fascinating clues to Neolithic life in the high mountains.And, as a conference of archaeologists and climatologists meeting in the Swiss capital Berne has been discussing, the finds are also providing key indicators to climate change.

Everyone knows the story of Oetzi the Ice Man, found in an Austrian glacier in 1991. Oetzi was discovered at an altitude of over 3,000m. He lived in about 3,300 BC, leading to speculation that the Alps may have had more human habitation than previously suspected.

Now, more dramatic findings from the 2,756m Schnidejoch glacier in Switzerland have confirmed the theory. It all started at the end of the long hot summer of 2003, when a Swiss couple, hiking across a melting Schnidejoch, came across a piece of wood
that aroused their curiosity. They took it down with them, and gave it to canton Berne's archaeological department, where careful examination and carbon dating revealed the piece of wood to be an arrow quiver made of birch bark, dating from about 3000 BC. Albert Hafner, chief archaeologist with the canton of Berne said: "This is unique; we don't know of a quiver like this anywhere else in the world."

At first, the news of the find was kept quiet; historians feared treasure hunters on the Schnidejoch as the ice melted. But teams of archaeologists went up, and more and more artifacts were discovered.

"We now have the complete bow equipment, quiver and arrows," says Mr Hafner "And we have, surprisingly, a lot of organic material like leather, parts of shoes and a trouser leg, that we wouldn't normally find." And the finds are not confined to 3000 BC. Some of the leather found, and a fragment of a wooden bowl, date from 4500 BC, older even than Oetzi, making them the oldest objects ever found in the Alps.

And from later periods, a Bronze Age pin has been discovered, as well as Roman coins and a fibula, and items dating from the early Middle Ages.

What fascinates scientists about the age of the finds is that they correspond to times when climate specialists have already calculated the Earth was going through an especially warm period, caused by fluctuations in the orbital pattern of the Earth in relation to the Sun. At these times, historians now speculate, the high mountain regions became accessible to humans.

For Martin Grosjean, a climatologist at Berne University, the Schnidejoch
has become a mine of information on changes in the Earth's climate.

"The site is exactly at the point where the glacier responds most sensitively to short-term climate change and temperature variations," he explains. "So if we get more carbon datings from this site, we can get the most precise picture of short-term glacier fluctuations for the past six or 7,000 years."

The Roman coins found on the Schnidejoch are being seen as proof that the
Romans used this route to cross the Alps from Italy to their territories in
northern Europe. Interestingly, one of the Earth's chillier periods
coincides with the decline of the Roman empire.

For Martin Grosjean, the leather items found on the Schnidejoch, dated at /over 5,000 years old, are proof, if any more were needed, that the Earth is now warming up. "The leather is the jewel among the finds," he says. "If leather is exposed to the weather, to sun, wind and rain, it disintegrates almost immediately."The fact that we still find these 5,000-year-old pieces of leather tells us they were protected by the ice all this time, and that the glaciers have never been smaller than in the year 2003 and the years following."

For historians however, the Schnidejoch is unexpected evidence that early man was far more at home in the high Alps than had been previously thought."In 1991, we were completely surprised by Oetzi," remembers Albert Hafner. "Up to then, we had always thought the Alps were not used, that people never went there.

"Now with Schnidejoch we know they were rather keen on mountaineering. It was a big challenge for them; look at the shoes, no Goretex for them. But we know they went up regularly."