Monday, December 14, 2009


Due to budget cuts by the Irish Government, the Winter Solstice illumination at Newgrange will not be streamed live on the internet this year. Access to the chamber at Newgrange for the solstice illumination has been decided by lottery, however all are welcome to gather outside the entrance to the mound on each of the mornings from December 18th to December 23rd inclusive, Sunrise is at 8.58 am.

If you're nearby check out the other events!

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


Researchers have found sediment on the ocean floor off France which originated in the north of the channel which must have been transported by the river originally fed by the Thames and the Rhine. The samples, taken from the Atlantic sea bed, have provided scientists with the final piece in a geological jigsaw, enabling them to reconstruct the story of the 'Fleuve Manche' (Channel River) - a giant waterway that flowed through the area now occupied by the English Channel.

Earlier studies have already suggested that the river existed during a sequence of ice ages that began 450,000 years ago. It formed when a huge glacial lake in the North Sea overflowed, causing a prehistoric 'mega-flood', which sent water surging into the basin between Britain and France and gouging through the hills of chalky rock connecting them. To date, however, the timings and nature of the river have been based on a mixture of evidence from the English Channel and sedimentary deposits in coastal Europe, many of which are incomplete due to erosion. An Anglo-French team of researchers claim they found a more perfect record of the river's existence beneath the sea.

The study was carried out in the Bay of Biscay, where the Fleuve Manche met with the ocean and discharged layers of sediment which have gone undisturbed for thousands of years. "This is the first time we have looked at what flowed out of the Channel and into the Bay during these crucial periods," Professor Phil Gibbard, from the University of Cambridge's Department of Geography and one of the project leaders, said. "It provides the final piece in the puzzle, forming a complete record that reconstructs the dramatic events that cut Britain off from Europe and gave it its island status."

Half a million years ago, Britain was connected to Europe through a range of low hills. Many major European rivers flowed into the North Sea, unable to cross the natural barrier this stretch of hills created. During periods of glaciation, however, two huge ice sheets, the British and the Fennoscandian, trapped water between the glacier to the north and the land barrier to the south. As the rivers continued to pour into this huge glacial lake, it overflowed like a bath, breaching the land barrier between Britain and France and sending its contents crashing into the Channel, then a wide river valley. Two such flooding events carved through the bridge so significantly that when the ice eventually melted and the sea rose, water covered the area, cutting Britain off.

Like a huge conveyor belt, the Fleuve Manche carried sediment from northern Europe towards the sea. As it met the ocean itself, however, the conveyor stopped and its energy was lost, leaving the perfectly-preserved layers of sediment behind on the ocean floor. As a result, the team were able to test their samples for points at which they contained sediment from the super-river and for the intervening periods, when any deposits were left as a result of normal sedimentation, since the Channel was submerged.

The study revealed conclusively that the Fleuve Manche existed during three different ice ages, 450,000, 160,000 and 90 to 30,000 years ago. In each case, the volume of the sedimentary material increased significantly - the result of surges of debris pouring into the Bay of Biscay. The implications for British prehistory of knowing exactly when the ice and the river were at their height are profound.
During glacial periods, the water level fell significantly enough to allow plants, animals and humans to cross into Britain. In temperate times, however, Britain would have been cut off, as it is now.

Source: (30 November 2009)

Thursday, December 03, 2009


The remains of a Bronze Age temple dedicated to the storm god Adda were discovered beneath Aleppo's Ottoman citadel. A massive citadel built atop a 150-foot-tall hill of solid rock looms over Aleppo's old quarter. Fortresses have risen above this northern Syrian city since Roman times. But at the heart of the citadel, a team of German and Syrian archaeologists is clearing debris from a large pit that shows this hilltop was significant long before the Romans arrived. Here, amid clouds of dust, a battered basalt sphinx and a lion - both standing seven feet tall - guard the entrance to one of the great religious centers of ancient times, the sanctuary of the storm god Adda.

Kay Kohlmeyer, an archaeologist at Berlin's University of Applied Sciences and the excavation codirector, has found that this temple was first constructed by Early Bronze Age peoples, then rebuilt by a succession of cultures, including the Hittites, the Indo-European empire-builders whose domain spread from Anatolia to northern Syria in the 14th century BCE. Through the millennia, as Syrian, Anatolian, and Mesopotamian cultures mixed and blurred at this ancient crossroads, Adda was known variously as Addu, Teshup, Tarhunta, and Hadad. But as artistic styles and languages came and went, the storm god's temple endured.

At the far end of Adda's sanctuary is a row of stone friezes of gods and mythical creatures still standing in a neat row. Their modest size (most are no taller than three feet), clear lines, and almost whimsical subjects - human figures in pointy shoes and hats, a bull pulling a chariot - seem more like a series of three-dimensional cartoon panels.

Kohlmeyer and his team were not the first to uncover the mesmerizing friezes, which were buried when the temple was abandoned in the ninth century BCE. Trenches that date to six centuries later show that Hellenistic people, perhaps digging for valuables, exposed some of the reliefs. Awed by what they found, and possibly fearful of desecrating an ancient holy site, they left the stones intact. Exposed for a century or so until it was swallowed again by debris, the temple may have been an early Near Eastern tourist attraction. And if archaeologists, preservationists, and Syrian government officials have their way, the site will soon offer visitors the rare opportunity to tread the floor of a 5,000-year-old place of worship.

Source: Archaeology Magazine (November 2009)


If you are going to be in the NYC area from now until April 25 don't fail to see this exhibit: "The Lost World of Old Europe: The Danube Valley 5000-3500 BC." More than 250 artifacts from museums in Bulgaria, Moldova and Romania are on display for the first time in the United States. We must mention that the late Professor Marija Gimbutas was the originator of the term "Old Europe." The exhibit is at the NYU Institute of the Ancient World at 15 E. 84th St., NYC. Hours are Tues-Sun 11-5 and Friday 11-8.

Before the first cities of Mesopotamia or temples along the Nile, there lived in the Lower Danube Valley and the Balkan foothills people who were ahead of their time in art, technology and long-distance trade. For 1,500 years, starting earlier than 5000 BCE, they farmed and built sizable towns, a few with as many as 2,000 dwellings. They mastered large-scale copper smelting, the new technology of the age. Their graves held an impressive array of exquisite headdresses and necklaces and, in one cemetery, the earliest major assemblage of gold artifacts to be found anywhere in the world.

The striking designs of their pottery speak of the refinement of the culture's visual language. Until recent discoveries, the most intriguing artifacts were the ubiquitous terracotta 'goddess' figurines, originally interpreted as evidence of the spiritual and political power of women in society. New research, archaeologists and historians say, has broadened understanding of this long overlooked culture, which seemed to have approached the threshold of 'civilization' status. Writing had yet to be invented, and so no one knows what the people called themselves.

At its peak, around 4500 BCE, said David W. Anthony, the exhibition's guest curator, "Old Europe was among the most sophisticated and technologically advanced places in the world." Historians suggest that the arrival in southeastern Europe of people from the steppes may have contributed to the collapse of the Old Europe culture by 3500 BCE. It was not until local archaeologists in 1972 discovered a large fifth-millennium BCE cemetery at Varna, Bulgaria, that they began to suspect these were not poor people living in unstructured egalitarian societies.

The story now emerging is of pioneer farmers after about 6200 BCE moving north into Old Europe from Greece and Macedonia, bringing wheat and barley seeds and domesticated cattle and sheep. They established colonies along the Black Sea and in the river plains and hills, and these evolved into related but somewhat distinct cultures, archaeologists have learned. The settlements maintained close contact through networks of trade in copper and gold and also shared patterns of ceramics.

Over a wide area of what is now Bulgaria and Romania, the people settled into villages of single- and multiroom houses crowded inside palisades. The houses, some with two stories, were framed in wood with clay-plaster walls and beaten-earth floors. A few towns of the Cucuteni people, a later and apparently robust culture in the north of Old Europe, grew to more than 800 acres, which archaeologists consider larger than any other known human settlements at the time. But excavations have yet to turn up definitive evidence of palaces, temples or large civic buildings.

At first, the absence of elite architecture led scholars to assume that Old Europe had little or no hierarchical power structure. This was dispelled by the graves in the Varna cemetery. For two decades after 1972, archaeologists found 310 graves dated to about 4500 BCE. More than 3,000 pieces of gold were found in 62 of the graves, along with copper weapons and tools, and ornaments, necklaces and bracelets of prized Aegean shells. Yet it is puzzling that the elite seemed not to indulge in private lives of excess.

Copper, not gold, may have been the main source of Old Europe's economic success, Dr. Anthony said. Smelted copper, cast as axes, hammered into knife blades and coiled in bracelets, became valuable exports. Old Europe copper pieces have been found in graves along the Volga River, 1,200 miles east of Bulgaria. Archaeologists have recovered more than five tons of pieces from Old Europe sites.

An entire gallery is devoted to the figurines, the more familiar and provocative of the culture's treasures. Many of the figurines represent women in stylized abstraction, with truncated or elongated bodies and heaping breasts and expansive hips. The explicit sexuality of these figurines invites interpretations relating to earthly and human fertility.