Thursday, July 30, 2009


A team of archaeologists has discovered a trove of five Roman-era shipwrecks deep under the sea off a small Mediterranean island. The find of well-preserved ships, made possible by sonar technology and the use of remotely operated vehicles, includes cargo of largely intact clay vases and pots transporting wine, olive oil, fish sauce and other goods.

Resting untouched between 330 to 490 feet underwater near the small island of Ventotene, which lies 30 miles off the Italian coast halfway between Rome and Naples, the ships date from the 1st century B.C. to the 5th century A.D.

From their cargo, archaeologists from the U.S. group AURORA Trust and Italy's Ministry of Culture, established that the vessels were transporting goods from Italy, Spain and North Africa. They were probably heading for safe anchorage, but then sunk during a storm.

"Ventotene is a small island in the open sea. It was on major trade routes and was both a safe haven and a danger to shipping," Timmy Gambin, head of archaeology for the Aurora Trust, told Discovery News.

The oldest ship -- approximately 18 meters (59 feet) long, 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide and perhaps 2,100 years old -- was carrying clay amphorae (a type of ceramic vase with two handles and a long neck narrower than the body) filled with wine from the southern Italian region of Campania.

Two other ships, one dating from the 1st century A.D. and the other from the 5th century A.D., carried hundreds of Spanish and north African amphorae filled with the "ketchup" of the ancient Romans: a pungent fish sauce called garum. Another 1st century vessel ship carried a mixed cargo of mortaria (large bowls used to grind grains) and wine from Campania.

The largest of all five vessels was a 2000-year-old ship that measured 20 meters (65 feet) long by 5 meters (16.4 feet) wide -- and was carrying a mixed cargo, including Italian wine and glass items and metal bars and cylinders that have yet to be identified.

"They have been transferred to the museum of Ventotene where they will be desalinated, restored and eventually displayed," the AURORA team said.

The discovery is part of a new drive by archaeological officials to survey deeper levels of the sea and prevent looting of submerged treasures. Because of their depth, the ships have eluded ordinary treasure hunters. Treasure hunters usually dive down to about 30 meters (about 100 feet)underwater.

But Gambin warned that in the near future, new diving technologies will allow treasure hunters to dive deeper, making sites like this this one more accessible.
"It's a race against time," he said.

Experts from the AURORA Trust will return to Ventotene for further explorations next summer.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Some young men were walking along a wooded bike path near the Quinebaug River when they found a black spearhead laying in the soil. It looked like part of an American Indian weapon. So they asked Richard Rogers, who owns the land, if they could dig for more. In two weekends, they found 80 spearheads in an area about the size of a small bedroom.

Rogers decided to see for himself. He and his son, now 22, walked through the woods, and brought a bucket of water to clean their discoveries. Near a stump by the river, Rogers picked up an oval stone a little larger than a silver dollar.Something was carved in it, and he handed it to his son. "He cleaned it up and said, This is a face, Dad."'

The stone was a rare pendant. They had stumbled upon an ancient American Indian encampment and part of a burial ground dated more than 3,000 years ago.

The state Office of Archaeology has excavated portions of the property and found hundreds of artifacts, from stone tools to evidence of a pit where cremated bodies were buried. Radiocarbon dating a method used to estimate the age of remains in an archaeological site places the time of two areas containing charcoal at 3,400 and 4,000 years ago.

Representatives of the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequots tribes and the Native American Heritage Advisory Council have visited the site. The Archaeological Conservancy, a private, nonprofit organization that acquires and permanently preserves important archaeological sites across the United States, has looked at it. The conservancy publishes the quarterly magazine American Archaeology.

State Archaeologist Nicholas Bellantoni said the state has found many American Indian campsites, but few this large. The boundaries are unknown. "We don't have many that are intact," he said. "Many have been disturbed by plowing. Many have had subdivisions been built on them, highways. Here is a parcel that has been untouched, and so the integrity of the place is really intact."

The specific location of the dig is not being publicized because of potential unauthorized digging.

Bellantoni said it took a while to get a team to the property, but ultimately, he found about a dozen volunteers and students from UConn to work on the dig. The university offered an archaeological field school there in July 2007, organized by the Connecticut Museum of Natural History and Connecticut Archaeology Center.

"It's a very slow and deliberate process that allows us to record and map every level that (every artifact) comes from," Bellantoni said. "But that is the only way we can interpret the site."

"They go in there with trowels and paint brushes and just scrape the surface," Rogers said. "Every time they find something, they record how deep it was, where it was headed, where on the grid it was, which grid it was on. With these grids they can lay out exactly how big this village was and what was where. Everything is documented to a tee."

During the dig, archaeologists found a black stain in the soil. They thought it was a hearth or small fireplace at first, but it grew larger as they dug deeper. They realized they had found a small deposit for cremated remains. The burial is dated to more than 3,000 years ago, and was used as a ceremonial place by American Indians who cremated their dead. .

Archaeologists have found one secondary pit on Rogers' land and believe there are more, along with at least one large crematory. Bellantoni removed the burial feature found on the property and has left the rest relatively undisturbed.

As time goes on, Stout said archaeological sites are vulnerable to everything, from the natural environment to looting. He said the Rogers family is keeping a careful watch on it.

Bellantoni said archaeologists are a long way from publishing findings about the site, and have not finished lab work yet. They've stopped digging in the main part of the fishing encampment, and have gone through perhaps an acre on the grid, he said."I think what we've found is enough to tell us that, yes, the site was as important as we thought it was," he said.

"Each archaeological site is unique in and of itself, and contributes to a body of data. It provides us with a body of information about what happened here thousands of years ago. And, as a result, every one is important. And every one is like an endangered species."


Archeologists have found up to 100 terracotta warriors and an army officer at the world heritage site in Xi'an, northwest China's Shanxi Province, a month after they began a third excavation of the site.

"Our most exciting discovery so far is the army officer," said chief archeologist Xu Weihong. He said the life-sized figure was found lying on its stomach behind four chariots. "We can't see its face yet, but the leather gallus on its back is distinct." Xu said the gallus was typical of army officers in the Qin Dynasty (221 B.C.- 207 B.C.). "We need extra care to bring it out of the pit and restore its original color, which may take a few months."

He said the figure was originally painted in different colors. "The original colors have faded after more than 2,000 years of decay, but a corner of the officer's robe suggested it was in colors other than the grayish clay." Except for its broken head, the army officer was largely intact compared with other newly-discovered clay figures, most of which were found seriously damaged, some even fragmentary, Xu said.

Richly colored clay figures were unearthed from the mausoleum of Qinshihuang, the first emperor of a united China, in the previous two excavations, but once they were exposed to the air they began to lose their luster and turn an oxidized grey.

Most experts believe No. 1 pit, the largest of all three pits, houses a rectangular army of archers, infantrymen and charioteers that the emperor hoped would help him rule in the afterlife. The army was one of the greatest archeological finds of modern times. It was discovered in Lintong county, 35 km east of Xi'an, in 1974 by peasants who were digging a well. The first formal excavation of the site lasted for six years from 1978 to 1984 and produced 1,087 clay figures. A second excavation, in 1985, lasted a year and was cut short for technical reasons.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


A West Berkshire metal detectorist, Malcolm Langford, has discovered a silver Roman coin that dates back to 207 BC, making it the earliest known Roman coin yet found in Britain. Mr Langford, who has been detecting for seven years, took the coin, along with a rare Iron Age silver coin of Eppillus, to Oxfordshire & West Berkshire Finds Liaison Officer Anni Byard for recording under the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a national voluntary identification and recording service administered by the British Museum.

The silver denarius depicts the helmeted head of Roma on the obverse and the galloping Dioscuri on the reverse. The coin was struck in Rome during the Republican period, just two years before the Roman general Scipio defeated Hannibal near Carthage. Republican silver denarii are often found in Britain, and although the coins began to be struck in Rome in 211 BC, this new coin appears to be the earliest denarius recorded from Britain, earlier than any of the 600 similar coins which have been recorded with the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

Sam Moorhead, National Finds Adviser for Ancient Coins with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, was contacted by Miss Byard and confirmed the date of the coin. Mr Moorhead, who is conducting research into new records of Republican coins at the British Museum, says that this is one of the most exciting finds he has seen in the last three years. ‘What makes the coin even more interesting is that it is in almost mint condition. Most Republican denarii found in Britain are very worn as they could be in circulation for up to 300 years. This new coin suggests that some of these Republican coins were arriving in Britain before Claudius invaded with his legions in AD 43’.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


Last summer's pivotal underwater exploration in the Gulf of Mexico led by Mercyhurst College archaeologist Dr. James Adovasio yielded evidence of inundated terrestrial sites that may well have supported human occupation in the Americas more than 12,000 years ago, and paved the way for another expedition this July.

As part of their 2008 findings, the researchers located and mapped buried stream and river channels and identified in-filled sinkholes that could potentially help document the late Pleistocene landscape and contain artifacts and associated animal remains from early human occupations. Continued exploration, Adovasio said, will be
geared toward assessing a human presence on the now submerged beaches and intersecting river channels.

That happens July 23-Aug. 7 when Adovasio leads a team of scientists to St. Petersburg, Fla., where they'll resume their search for evidence of early Americans in an area 100-to-200 miles off Florida's west coast, now about 300 feet under water. The decision to take their expedition underwater in the first place, Adovasio said, stems from the premise that early Americans probably hugged the American coastline, congregating around freshwater rivers, before heading inland. At that time, much of the world's water was confined to glaciers, causing ocean levels to be lower and exposing more of the continental shelf. As the earth warmed and water levels rose, evidence of past settlements became submerged.

"Proof of past human habitation here would reinforce the disintegration of the once prevalent hypothesis about who the first Americans were, how they got here and when they arrived," said Adovasio, who rose to fame 30 years ago while excavating the
Meadowcroft Rockshelter near Pittsburgh, Pa. Radiocarbon dating at Meadowcroft revealed the presence of human campsites as many as 16,000 years ago, which went a long way toward dashing the Clovis-first paradigm, holding that the first humans arrived in the Americas about 12,000 years ago, as revealed by a site near Clovis, New Mexico.

Source: EurekAlert! (9 July 2009)

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Foreign archaeologists involved in excavation work to explore the Indus Valley Civilization in Pakistan have left the country due to the war-like situation. The experts from the US, Europe and UK uncovered the mysteries of the Indus Valley Civilization for the world during their research spanning decades.

The teams, consisting of senior professors Dr Richard H Meadow, Professor JM Kenoyer, Dr Jean-Francois Jarrige and late Prof George F Dales, had conducted extensive research in different parts of Pakistan. A majority of the areas that were a part of the Indus Valley Civilization became Pakistan after the partition of the sub-continent in 1947.

Sources in the Federal Archaeology Department said that the experts had to leave the country after the increase in the wave of violence and terrorism, which led to the assassination of former prime minister Benazir Bhutto. "Their embassies were already warning them to be careful while working in the areas like Harappa, Mohenjodaro, Taxila, Mehrgarh and other areas in Pakistan, all of them finally left the country after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto," an Archaeology Department official said.

The Indus Valley Civilization, dating back to 2,600 BCE, mainly covered the area that is now Pakistan, with its traces in neighbouring countries like India, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China.

Federal Archaeology Department Northern Circle Director Salimul Haq said that there was not a single foreigner working on any research or excavation project in the country. He said the department tried its best to facilitate the researchers, but their own embassies were skeptical about their stay in Pakistan. He said the local
archaeologists were trying to take over the research work.

Art historian Prof Dr Ajaz Anwar said that local archaeologists lacked the expertise to continue the excavation work, as compared to experts from Harvard, Cambridge, Berkley and other globally acclaimed educational institutions. Historian Prof Dr Mubarak Ali said the departure of international archaeologists was a great loss for the country.

Source: Daily Times (29 June 2009)
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A nonprofit group has offered to take over management of Fort Ancient, a prehistoric Indian site located in Ohio (USA) that faced with closing this summer because of proposed cuts in state funding. If approved by state officials, Fort Ancient would be the 34th of 58 Ohio Historical Society sites to be managed by a private entity.

Under the plan, the Dayton Society of Natural History would operate the 100-acre site near Oregonia, about 30 miles northeast of Cincinnati. The group already manages a similar archaeological complex, the SunWatch Indian Village/Archaeological Park in Dayton.

Fort Ancient's more than 3.5 miles of earthen walls, now covered with grass and trees, were built by members of the prehistoric Hopewell culture. They used the site, which overlooks the Little Miami River, for ceremonial and social gatherings.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch (5 July 2009)

Tuesday, July 07, 2009


Soil and heather samples taken from a Denbighshire beauty spot have helped paint a picture of life there nearly 10,000 years ago. Experts have found the uplands on Moel Famau, the highest peak in the Clwydian range, were used for hunting in the Mesolithic period (8,000 to 4,000 BC). Evidence also suggests farming was common by the Iron Age (750BC to 43AD).

The Uplands Archaeology Initiative study included radio carbon dating and pollen analysis of samples.

The samples were taken to help determine how the landscape changed over the years to become the heather moorland that exists today. The study found evidence of burning in the Mesolithic period, which it is thought would have created clearings for wild grazing herds, making them easier to hunt. Burning would also have encouraged the growth of hazel, providing nuts as a valuable dietary addition.

By the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age, 4,000 to 2,200BC), there is evidence that people began to cultivate cereals. More land clearance is evident at around 2,600BC, which it is thought could be linked to the building of hill forts in neighboring valleys. The results show increased grazing and an expansion of grasslands during the Iron Age (750BC to 43AD), when the hill forts are thought to have been occupied. The results also showed that by this time, cereal farming was commonplace.

It is thought heather began to dominate the uplands in the Medieval period at around 660 to 810AD. There is evidence that burning was used to manage heather - a practice still used today to rejuvenate the heather for agriculture, wildfire prevention and biodiversity reasons.

Samantha Williams, of the Heather and Hillforts Project, said: "The question I get asked the most is what did the landscape look like in the past? "Now, thanks to the work done by the Royal Commission I can finally answer that question." The Royal Commission on the Ancient Historical Monuments of Wales funded the study.


Discovered during a routine aerial survey by English Heritage, the U.K. government's historic-preservation agency, what at first looked like "crop circles" are actually the results of buried archaeological structures interfering with plant growth. (True crop circles are vast designs created by flattening crops.)

The central features are two great tombs topped by massive mounds-made shorter by centuries of plowing-called long barrows. The larger of the two tombs is 70 meters (230 feet) long.

Estimated at 6,000 years old, based on the dates of similar tombs around the United Kingdom, the long barrows are also the oldest elements of the complex.

Such oblong burial mounds are very rare finds, and are the country's earliest known architectural form, one expert said. The last full-scale long barrow excavation was in the 1950s. Nonintrusive electromagnetic surveys show signs of postholes, suggesting rings of upright timber once stood within the circles-further evidence of what has been called the Damerham site's ceremonial or sacred role.

Damerham also includes a highly unusual, and so far baffling, U-shaped enclosure with postholes dated to the Bronze Age, project leader Wickstead said.

The circled outlines of 26 Bronze Age burial mounds also dot the site, which is littered with stone flint tools and shattered examples of the earliest known type of pottery in Britain.

Evidence of prehistoric agricultural fields suggest the area was at least partly cultivated by the time the Romans invaded Britain in the first century A.D., generally considered to be the end of the regions' prehistoric period.

The actual barrows and mounds near Damerham have been diminished by centuries of plowing, but that, ironically, may make them much more valuable archaeologically, according to Pollard, of the University of Bristol. And "even if the mounds are gone, you are still going to have primary burials [as opposed to those later added on top] which will have been dug into the chalk, so are going to survive," Pollard added.

An administrative oversight may also be partly responsible for the site remaining hidden-and assumedly pristine, at least underground-project leader Wickstead said.
When prehistoric sites in the area were being mapped and documented in the 1890s, a county-border change placed Damerham within Hampshire rather than Stonehenge's Wiltshire, she said. "Perhaps people in Hampshire thought [the monuments] were someone else's problem." This lucky conjunction of plowing and politics obscured Damerham's prehistoric heritage until now.


Chris Stringer, well known Neanderthal specialist, has said of this find that studying the landscape beneath the North Sea is crucial for a better understanding of prehistoric movements of humans into the British Isles.

"We have Neanderthals at Lynford (in Norfolk) 60,000 years ago, though we only have stone tools. This specimen might indeed be the kind of Neanderthal that was crossing into Norfolk around that time. It will help us understand our British sequence when we can much more precisely map what's under the North Sea," he said.

Professor Hublin, involved in the study, said the individual was living at the extreme edge of the Neanderthals' northern range, where the relatively cold environment would have challenged their capabilities to the limit. Neanderthal remains have been found at only two sites this far north.

"What we have here is a marginal population, probably with low numbers of people," Professor Hublin explained.

"It's quite fascinating to see that these people were able to cope with the
environment and be so successful in an ecological niche which was not the initial niche for humans."

While these hunting grounds would at times have provided plentiful sources of meat for a top carnivore, Neanderthals living in these areas would also have been at the mercy of fluctuations in the numbers of big game animals.