Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Scientists have detected what appears to be a mammoth wooden version of the famous Stonehenge monument at the Hill of Tara (Co Meath, Ireland). In a new RTE documentary, many theories and insights into the country's prehistoric past and 150,000 ancient monuments are unveiled and explained. People will be able to view a computer-generated recreation of what archaeologists believe was a major wooden
structure at the ancient seat of the Irish high kings in the Hill of Tara.

Archaeologist Joe Fenwick revealed a LiDAR (Light Detecting and Ranging) laser beam had been used to scan the ground surface to create a three-dimensional map, which revealed more than 30 monuments around Tara. Using another technique - described as taking an X-ray through the hillside - archaeologists discovered the huge monument, a ditch stretching six meters wide and three meters deep in the bedrock. The ditch, circling the Mound of the Hostages passage tomb, separated the outside world from the ceremonial centre of Tara. It was believed the ancient architects had also surrounded the ditch with a massive wooden structure on each side - a version of Stonehenge - on a large scale. Its sheer size meant a whole forest would have had to be cleared to build it.

"The Hill of Tara had enormous ritual significance over the course of 5,000-6,000 years, so it's not surprising that you get monuments of the scale of the ditch pit circle," said Mr Fenwick, from the Department of Archaeology, NUI Galway.

Cutting-edge technology is helping to provide a new insight into the lives of our ancestors, according to the documentary makers behind 'Secrets of the Stones'. It shows Ireland's first civilization began 7,000 years ago, they withstood major climatic changes and voyaged throughout Europe, returning with new religions and mementos. An RTE spokesman said the broadcaster, along with the Department of
Education, would be sending two free copies of the book accompanying the series to all second-level schools in Ireland.

Source: Independent.ie (11 April 2009)

Monday, April 13, 2009


Meadowcroft rock shelter (Pennsylvania) is the oldest known site of human habitation in North America, at least 16,000 years old. Its 52 carbon dates, in almost perfect stratigraphic order, reflect a continuous human record for 16,000-plus years. "It was like a Paleo motel," guide Eleanor Crowe said. "People would come along Cross Creek, seven miles from the Ohio River, and stay here, from the earliest Paleo-Indians to the time of European settlement."

Closed in 2007, the landmark has reopened with a new shelter of its own, a $2.3 million enclosure that's bolted into the bedrock. A new roof protects the archaeological dig, and new platforms allow more visitors to see the excavated levels and start piecing the timeline together for themselves. "Until we completed the new structure, there was just a temporary wooden structure built by the archaeologists to protect the site," said director David Scofield.

Archaeologists began digging and sifting in 1973, led by University of Pittsburgh professor James M. Adovasio. He and his students held six consecutive field schools there. For now, the dig is quiet, but millions of bone fragments, plant materials and cultural artifacts such as basketry fragments are being studied at Mercyhurst.

Facing south for warmth, with a good east-west breeze, this site 50 feet above the north shore of Cross Creek would stay dry and well ventilated. It remained more than 93 miles south of the ice front. Springs to the east and west made it ideal for hunter-gatherers to stay for a few days or set up a fall hunting camp.

We can still see a deer rib bone sticking out of the rock, proving that Indians butchered their kill here about 400 years ago. But what of the first inhabitants? As Adovasio and his students bore down into the layers of silt, the cultural evidence gets older and older. By the time they hit bedrock 15 feet down, Adovasio was sending specimens for carbon dating, and the word back was staggering: at least 16,000 to 17,000 years old.

Some archaeologists claim Adovasio's samples were contaminated, possibly by nearby coalfields. After results came back from four labs around the world, with no signs of contamination and identical carbon dates, some scientists changed their minds. Most of the site's critical artifacts are at Mercyhurst, but travelers can see some projective points from 4,000 BCE to 2,000 BCE in the Meadowcroft Museum.


I visited this site several years ago. T shaped? That's not what we were told and most books see this mound as an octagon. It's enormous. But here's the latest on P

About 3,300 years ago, a group of archaic period Native Americans
living in what is now northeast Louisiana (USA) decided to build a
great mound. Ninety days after the project was begun by the Stone Age
hunters and gatherers, the T-shaped, earthen mound - 70 feet high,
1,000 feet long in one direction and 700 feet long in the other - was
The site is known today as 'Poverty Point,' a name given in the
18th century by an owner of the property. On Friday, T. R. Kidder,
chair of the anthropology department at Washington University in St.
Louis, told the University of Alabama Anthropology Club it is one of
the most mysterious sites in the country. "It is the second-largest
earthen mound in all of North America, second only to one in
Illinois," he said, in a lecture titled 'The Poverty Point Paradox.'
Like Moundville in Hale County, where a large population of
Native Americans constructed several mounds about 900 years ago,
Poverty Point was one of the larger organized communities of its day,
Kidder said. "It was probably the largest hunter-gatherer community in
all of North America, say north of Mexico," Kidder said. "But that was
a very simple time of very little complexity - it was a literally a
'stone age' society - but all of a sudden and in literally a month and
a half, they have organized themselves and built this great mound."
Kidder said evidence shows that at the time there were between
1,000 and 2,000 people living in the community where the mound was
constructed, "Which means that to accomplish what they did in such a
short period of time, they had to recruit workers from all over the
Southeast. The mound took the equivalent of 31,000 modern dump trucks
of dirt to build. That's a lot of work by a lot of people. That is
another paradox - how did they get all this organized and completed in
only 90 days?"
Kidder said the time it took to build the mound was established
by archaeological methods that showed no erosion between the layers in
the dirt. He said one theory about the location of the mound is that
it covers what was a low-lying swamp. "We know swamps were associated
with the underworld and were to be avoided," he said. "And at the base
of the mound is fine silt we believe was put there to seal off that
underworld. But there are a lot of swamps and there were a lot of
archaic Native Americans who didn't bother to build mounds. There is
also no evidence that anything was ever built on it, as you find in
Moundville, with the various ceremonial structures and houses for the
chiefs - these people had no chiefs."
The Native Americans who lived in the area flourished for more
than 1,000 years, Kidder said. "Then, shortly after the mound was
built, there was dramatic climate change in the Southeast, with much
flooding, which drove the hunters and gatherers who had been there so
long away for good," Kidder said. "All that was left was the mound."


Iraqi archaeologists have discovered 4,000 artifacts, most of them from ancient Babylonian times, including royal seals, talismans and clay tablets marked in Sumerian cuneiform - the earliest known form of writing.

The treasures came to light, the Tourism and Antiquities Ministry said, after two years of excavations across 20 different sites in the regions between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the land ancient Greeks referred to as "Mesopotamia."

In addition to Babylonian artifacts, the finds included artifacts from the ancient Persian Empire and more recent medieval Islamic cities.

The artifacts will be transferred to the National Museum in Baghdad, which remains in need of restocking since looters stole approximately 15,000 artifacts after the 2003 US-led invasion. Some 6,000 have since been reported as returned.

Qais Hussein Rasheed, acting head of the antiquities and heritage committee, said Iraq still had a big problem with looters ransacking archaeological sites. "These sites are vulnerable to endless robbery by thieves, smugglers and organized gangs because they are not protected," he said. "We have asked the relevant ministries to allocate policemen but haven't received very many so far."

Iraq is hoping a decrease in violence will encourage tourists to visit its
ancient sites. Iraq saw its first group of Western tourists last month, and officials hope more will follow. Nancy's comment: Hard to believe!

Friday, April 10, 2009


As a personal note, I was shocked to read the following news release. I've been to Scotland's Hebrides Callanish (on the Isle of Lewis) and its beauty and importance to prehistory should not be overlooked in planning in the 21st century:

Numerous prehistoric archaeological finds have been discovered around a proposed giant windfarm which the Scottish Government is said to be poised to approve. A new publication highlights the negative impact the controversial 53-turbine Eishken windfarm would impose on the significance of the world-famous Callanish Stones complex.

Local archaeologists Margaret Curtis and her late husband Ron have extensively researched the huge Callanish complex of which the Eishken hills are a part. Their findings stress that Callanish is not just one stone circle but actually encompasses about 30 satellite sites in a major prehistoric astronomical observatory across the southern part of Lewis.

Their submission, entitled 'Callanish: Stones, Moon and Sacred Landscape', to a Scottish Government public inquiry over the £185 million wind scheme has now been published. It coincides with mounting speculation that planning permission will be announced as Enterprise Minister Jim Mather visits the Hebrides to discuss building
windfarms and economic issues.

The Curtises calculate that many of the hills in Eishken are integral to a rare natural phenomenon which only occurs every two decades. Instead of being linked to the sun like Stonehenge and numerous other stone circles, the Callanish landscape is now uniquely believed to be a massive astronomical observatory used to calculate
the movement of the moon. Central to the idea is a range of hills earmarked for the turbines, which resemble a woman sleeping on her back.

Last year Western Isles Council gave the go-ahead to build 13 turbines, a sub-set of a larger scheme, on Feirosbhal and Beinn Mheadhanach - two of the sites the Curtises say would harm the 5,000-year-old lunar observatory. The size of the Eishken scheme was originally set at 133 huge machines but was slashed in a move to ease the proposal through planning and achieve speedy permission. Building more turbines in a second phase is not ruled out.

Source: The Press and Journal (6 April 2009)


Archeologists are slowly digging for buried treasure on the old Zilker Park rugby fields in Austin (Texas, USA) - and they are welcoming the public to join in. The treasure is not literal gold or jewels but is treasure in the sense of the insight it could offer into what was happening on the land thousands of years ago.

"The value of archeology is really in information. It's what we can learn about what people were doing here in Central Texas, in Austin, 10,000 years ago," said Nick Trierweiler, cultural resources program director for Ecological Communications Corp., which is overseeing the project.

The dig is looking for artifacts from the Paleoindian Era, which lasted from about 11,500 years BCE to about 8,200 years BCE. The artifacts are believed to be the oldest deposits in Austin. Archaeologists began by digging a 20 by 20 foot hole 10 feet deep. They're now slowly digging 6 feet deeper - about 6 inches at a time.
Each bucket of dirt is taken out of the hole and carefully sifted for artifacts by archaeologists.

Zilker Park is filled with artifacts from native Americans who lived, camped and hunted in the area along the Colorado River, but random core borings showed the rugby fields likely offered the oldest and most valuable finds. "Actually, the reason the site has been preserved is because the Colorado River occasionally floods, and it
will deposit loads of sediment and it just buries each archaeological site, so it's sort of like a layer cake," Trierweiler said. "As we dig down deeper, though the flood deposits of the Colorado River and from Barton Springs, or from Barton Creek, we get deeper and deeper and deeper and find things that have been preserved."

The public is invited to help sift through the first 10 feet of dirt, which could contain artifacts from 6,000 to 10,000 years old. No training is required, but preregistration is. Go to http://archeologyatzilker.com/a to sign up. A special viewing platform is open to the public from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. for the next six weeks.

Source: KVUE (6 April 2009)

Thursday, April 02, 2009


The remains of a hilltop home believed to be about 5,000 years old have been discovered on the outskirts of Edinburgh. The Neolithic roundhouse, found on a site where a quarry is due to be expanded, is one of the oldest prehistoric buildings to be discovered in the Scottish capital.

Archaeologists have hailed it as one of the most important finds ever made in Edinburgh because of its age - about the same as Skara Brae in Orkney - and unique location. It is also expected to help fill in a largely unknown chapter in Scottish history, when farming had only recently spread to Britain from Europe.

The site enjoys spectacular views across the Lothians and Fife. Experts believe the roundhouse was probably built by one of the first families of farmers to start producing their own food in the area.

Experts from Glasgow University's Archaeological Research Division have spent several months working in the area, which is already home to the remains of two prehistoric hill forts. The house, remains of which were found in a huge circular ditch, was surrounded by a larger egg-shaped enclosure. Although no materials such as pottery have been discovered, archaeologists have been able to date flint recovered from the site, and the remains of an internal fireplace were found.

The site is thought to be roughly the same age as the cairn at Cairnpapple Hill, which is widely regarded as Scotland's most prehistoric burial site and can be seen from the new site.

Donna Maguire, project director, said there may once have been a number of settlements on the hill, lost when quarrying began in the area more than 150 years ago. The discovery was only made because Edinburgh City Council insisted that an archaeological dig was carried out before construction giant Tarmac was allowed to expand its quarrying operation in the area.

John Lawson, the city council's archaeologist, added: "Although remains of buildings discovered at Cramond within the last ten years have been dated to 8,500 years ago, this is one of the most significant prehistoric sites to have been found in the wider
Edinburgh area for many years."

Source: Scotsman.com (23 March 2009)