Wednesday, July 28, 2010


For over a century, archaeologists have been sifting dirt at Tel Megiddo, uncovering the remains of ancient buildings, streets and the way of life of many diverse civilizations crammed one on top of the other. The remarkable tel was first excavated over 100 years ago by a team of German archaeologists, who were followed by teams from the Oriental Institute of Chicago with the financial backing of John D. Rockefeller Jr. Some of their discoveries were shipped to America.

To date, evidence of 27 layers of civilization have been uncovered and recorded. Almost halfway through the present seven-week dig, there are high expectations of yet more hidden secrets of Tel Megiddo surfacing and being added to the history of this important site.

For some days, the teams have been encouraged by the visiting patron of the Megiddo Expedition, Lord Michael Allenby and his wife Lady Sara, from Britain. The couple have been staying at nearby Kibbutz Ramat Hashofet, together with the rest of the expedition members.

On site, at the crack of dawn, the teams work through until noon before returning to the kibbutz, perched on the Menashe Hills above the site. After lunch and a hardearned rest, the expedition members – hailing from Israel, Britain, France, Switzerland, Brazil and across North America – clean, number, photograph and ‘read’ the morning’s historic booty, buckets full of pottery shards and other artifacts. Their evenings are taken up with workshops studying archaeology-related topics and planning the next day’s digging.

“We find it absolutely riveting to be here and see the work progressing so well,” said 80-year-old Lord Allenby of Megiddo, who has visited the site many times in the past and closely follows developments from back home in Britain.

A hereditary peer, Lord Allenby inherited the title Viscount Allenby of Megiddo and of Felixstowe, Co. Suffolk. He is the great-nephew of Field Marshall Edmund Allenby, commander-in-chief of the British troops who in 1918 invaded the north of Palestine through the Megiddo Pass, eventually leading to the end of Turkish rule of the region.

The first Megiddo Expedition of the Institute of Archaeology of Tel Aviv was in 1992. The present excavation – together with a consortium of American universities – is the 10th. Norma Franklyn, coordinator of the previous nine expeditions and of the current one, tells of many past expedition members becoming part of the extended “Megiddo family.” There have been marriages between folks who met on site, and friendships formed for a lifetime.

One of the volunteers said, “However, being here with Lord Allenby is especially poignant as it was his great uncle, the Lord Allenby, who was victorious over the Ottomans in the last battle fought here – and that is really powerful,” he added.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Archaeologists have discovered a second henge at Stonehenge, described as the most exciting find there in 50 years. The circular ditch surrounding a smaller circle of deep pits about a metre (3ft) wide has been discovered using the ground-penetrating equivalent of an X-ray at the world-famous site in Wiltshire (England).

Archaeologists conducting a multi-million pound study believe timber posts were in the pits. Project leader Professor Vince Gaffney, from the University of Birmingham, said the discovery was 'exceptional'.

The new monument - apparently contemporary to the 5,000-year-old stone circle - is situated about 900m from the giant stones on Salisbury Plain. Images show it has two entrances on the north-east and south-west sides and inside the circle is a burial mound on top which appeared much later, Professor Gaffney said.

The newly discovered monument is thought to have consisted of 24 wooden posts, each around 75cm in diameter and therefore potentially up to 8m high. The circle of posts was enclosed by an inner ditch and probable outer bank. Roughly 25m in diameter, it was almost the same size as the central part (the circle of standing stones) at Stonehenge itself. Of potential significance is the fact that the newly found henge 'mirrors' a similar monument (this time long known to archaeologists) on the other side of Stonehenge - 1,300m south-east of the famous monument.

The archaeologists - from Birmingham, Bradford, St Andrews and Vienna Universities - are trying to map the unknown aspects of the Stonehenge landscape without digging a single hole. Instead of conventional excavations, they are using X-ray-style systems which look beneath the ground surface. The techniques - including magnetometry, ground-penetrating radar, electrical imaging and resistivity - are likely to yield huge amounts of previously unknown information about what the Stonehenge landscape looked like 40 to 50 centuries ago.

Archaeologist Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology magazine, said: "The first thing to ask is, is it a henge? The geophysics plot seems to show two arcs on a circle or oval of 10 or so large pits in total. These pits might have held large posts. They might indeed have held megaliths, but they might just be very big pits: there is a henge in Dorchester, Dorset, known as Maumbury Rings, that fits that description.

On the other hand, the site could be something quite different. It was previously known as a ploughed-out burial mound or barrow of probable bronze age date (2,000-1,200 BCE). It may still be that, but with an unusual ditch or pit arrangement around it. So perhaps a henge, perhaps not, but an important discovery whose significance will be fully realized only with excavation."

"Some 90 per cent of the Stonehenge landscape is still terra incognita. Our survey will hopefully begin to remedy our current lack of knowledge," explained Professor Gaffney. "The discovery will significantly change the way we think about the landscape around Stonehenge," he concluded.

Sources: BBC News, The Independent, The Guardian (22 July 2010)
[2 images, 1 video]
[1 image, 1 video]
[1 drawing]


Moorehead Circle, 2,000 year-old concentric rings of timber posts, lies northeast of Cincinnati, Ohio (USA). It was first discovered in 2005 by ground-penetrating technology. Now archaeologists using computer models have discovered that openings in the rings, stone mounds, and a gate in an earthen wall are all aligned with the sunrise at the summer solstice. Robert Riordan, an archaeologist from Wright State University, the director of the excavation explained that the software "allows us to stitch together various kinds of geographical data, including aerial photographs and excavation plans and even digital photographs."

The timbers that once defined the structure are gone, leaving only postholes filled with rocks. The holes are 10 inches across and up to 3 feet deep. It is believed that they held posts made from local trees, including oak and hickory. The posts may have stood 10 to 13 feet above the ground. Some holes are dug only inches apart from each other. The site is approximately 200 feet wide.

Nearby is the Fort Ancient State Memorial, an earthworks built by the Hopewell culture of native peoples. They occupied the American midwest and east for almost a thousand years from 2000-1000 BPE.

At the center of the circles is a cleared area containing burned soil heavily littered with fragments of pottery. In a 2007 excavation, Riordan and his team found trenches filled with clay and ash covered with gravel and soil. It is not known how these were used.

Riordan notes that construction of the circles required a significant expenditure of resources. "They would have had to dig these holes, go get the trees, cut them, strip them, and carry them in," Riordan said. The limestone rock fragments found in the holes were carried from a quarry about a mile away and up a significant grade. The Hopewell peoples did not have metal tools and would have dug the postholes with sharpened bone and wood implements.

Riordan believes that the wooden posts would have decayed within the lifespan of many of the builders, probably lasting only about 10 years. "This was an elaborate construction," he added. "All the effort that went into constructing it suggests it was the ceremonial focus of Fort Ancient for a time."

Source: National Geographic (20 June 2010)
[1 image]


In the Asterix comic books you only had to drink a magic potion to be able to lift a menhir. But in reality you need vast quantities of muscle power and lots of patience. That is what a group of 30 volunteers on holiday found out when they heaved on a rope to move a 4.2-tonne stone block as part of an experiment probing the mysterious history of megaliths in France's northwestern Brittany region.

"You don't need magic powers to move a block, you just need a lever," said Cyril Chaigneau, who has programmed several stone-pulling events throughout the summer season.

The first such experiment in France was held in Bougon in western France in 1979, when 150 volunteers helped shift a block of 32 tonnes. "It's experimental archaeology," explained Chaigneau, an architect who runs a program on the megalithic sites of Petit Mont and Gavrinis in the Gulf of Morbihan. "We're trying to find out how men from the Neolithic period moved enormous blocks across distances of 10 kilometres (six miles) or more," he said.

Chaigneau's investigation focuses on the journey of a slab that makes up part of the dolmen on the island of Gavrinis, an engraved block of 17 tons that serves as the ceiling of a funeral monument built in 3,600 BCE. Work carried out by other archaeologists has established that this slab was in fact a fragment of another dolmen five kilometres away. That huge structure was erected a thousand years earlier and stood 25 metres tall (82 feet), three metres wide and weighed around 300 tonnes. The stone it was made of came from a quarry situated ten kilometres away.

"The goal is to reconstitute the journey by land and sea or river but also to help members of the public get a practical understanding of prehistory, to engage the public in science in action," said Yves Belfenfant, the director of the sites of Gavrinis and Petit Mont.

Elisabeth, a banking executive from Versailles, was one of the 30 people trying to move the massive stone. She said she and her husband and their five children liked 'cultural' holidays and that was why they wanted to take part in this experiment. The volunteers managed to pull the stone 4.4 metres in about 12 minutes on their first stint, but by their fifth try their technique had improved and they pulled it 22 metres in 24 minutes.

No one today knows how or why the sedentary tribes that settled 7,000 years ago on this stretch of the Atlantic coast transported and then erected the menhirs, dolmens and other huge stone steles that dot the Breton landscape.

Sources: AFP, Yahoo! News (21 July 2010)

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Artifacts from 3,000-year-old ruins in Turkey's Amuq Plain show evidence of an empire that crumbled as inexplicably as it appeared.

Stephen Batiuk and his 30 or so colleagues are a University Toronto team working on one of the world's richest digs: 100,000 artifacts a year emerge from Tel Tayinat. But the shards, bits of gold, even the monumental palace and temple, only hint of the power and complexity that this ancient city once held.

Every day, the puzzle for the University of Toronto team is the same: who were these people? How did they think? Who came through as traders, and who came waging war? Most intriguing: why did they simply walk away one day and vanish into history?

Last year, the temple surrendered a cache of nine tablets from its "Holy of Holies," or most sacred area. One tablet, dating to about 670 BC, outlines a treaty between the powerful Assyrian king and a weaker vassal state, with highly formulaic language recalling the style and pattern of Abraham's covenant with God in the Hebrew Bible. This tablet offers biblical scholars some new evidence that the authors of the Old Testament may have borrowed their narrative techniques from other cultures.One of the most important tasks this summer is to restore the fragile tablet and continue with translation.

Tim Harrison, the University of Toronto professor who directs the dig, and who supervised Batiuk's doctoral thesis, is even more effusive about the yield here. "Square metre per metre, (this) probably has the richest or densest amount of cultural or archeological material anywhere in the world.

"Tayinat was the precursor to Antioch, which was second only to Rome as the greatest city of the classical world in the Mediterranean," says Harrison.

Last year, a pre-eminent scholar suggested this may have been the seat of a powerful and extensive kingdom, ruled by a King Taita somewhere around the 10th century BC. This is unlikely to be related to today's Palestine, but it might be tied to the Biblical Philistines. If this proves to be correct, it will shed light on what is now called the Dark Ages that began about 1200 BC when all the most advanced empires inexplicably crumbled.

Tel Tayinat is at the northern most tip of what was once the Levant, what most people think of as the ancient Holy Land, extending up from Jerusalem along the Mediterranean coast. It is at one corner of the Amuq, a plain shaped like a triangle, each side about 35 kilometres, bound by the Mediterranean on the west, and the Syrian border on the east and south. Mankind has lived on this fertile plain for millennia, but most of the archeological remains date from the early Bronze Age (3000 BC), up to the Iron Age (1200 to 550 BC.)

In the 1930s, the legendary archeologist Robert Braidwood and his equally remarkable wife, Linda, worked with the British archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley to find 178 archeological sites in the plain. Braidwood, a luminary of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute and a model for Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones, began excavations at Tel Tayinat. Woolley took on Tel Atchana, just a few hundred metres away, often welcoming Agatha Christie and her archeologist husband as guests at his humble "dig house" that still stands today. Braidwood found pottery and other artifacts that provide one of the longest and most reliable chronological sequences in the entire Near East. Archaeologists still use it to date other sites in the Levant.

But the digs were abandoned as political tensions mounted in the years preceding the Second World War. Afterwards, the University of Chicago no longer focused on the area as its signature project and the Turkish government was hesitant to allow outside interests to excavate their patrimony. As late as the 1990s, Doug Esse, Harrison's mentor at the University of Toronto, tried for four years to get a permit to dig. By the time he finally got it, it was too late -- he was dying of cancer.

Finally, in 1995 a Turkish archeologist teaching at the University of Chicago was permitted to dig. Aslihan Yener took on Atchana and asked Harrison to develop the Tayinat site. Batiuk came on board as a graduate student working with Harrison, an assignment he had dreamed of since he was a teen.

On Monday, Citizen reporter Jennifer Green (author of this article) will join Stephen Batiuk and Tim Harrison at their dig for 10 days. There, she'll look at how modern technology, developed in Canada, helps archeologists decide where to dig. She'll follow a conservator who is painstakingly stabilizing that important tablet found last year. She will delve further into the known history of the area, and look into the enduring romance of archeology.

Follow Green's blog, Unearthing a Forgotten Kingdom, at

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


One of the largest ever finds of Roman coins in Britain has been made by a man using a metal detector. The hoard of more than 52,000 coins dating from the 3rd Century AD was found buried in a field near Frome in Somerset.

The coins were found in a huge jar just over a foot (30cm) below the surface by Dave Crisp, from Devizes in Wiltshire. After his metal detector gave a "funny signal", Mr Crisp says he dug down 14 inches before he found what had caused it. "I put my hand in, pulled out a bit of clay and there was a little Radial, a little bronze Roman coin. Very, very small, about the size of my fingernail."

Mr Crisp reported the find to the authorities, allowing archaeologists to excavate the site.

Since the discovery in late April, experts from the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the British Museum have been working through the find. The coins were all contained in a single clay pot. Although it only measured 18 inches (45cm) across, the coins were packed inside and would have weighed an estimated 160kg (350lb).

"I don't believe myself that this is a hoard of coins intended for recovery," says Sam Moorhead from the Portable Antiquities Scheme. "I think what you could see is a community of people who are actually making offerings and they are each pouring in their own contribution to a communal ritual votive offering to the gods." It is estimated the coins were worth about four years' pay for a legionary soldier.

"Because Mr Crisp resisted the temptation to dig up the coins, it has allowed archaeologists from Somerset County Council to carefully excavate the pot and its contents," said Anna Booth, local finds liaison officer.

Somerset County Council Heritage Service now hope the coroner will declare the find as treasure. That would allow the Museum of Somerset to acquire the coins at market value with the reward shared by Mr Crisp and the land owner.


The earliest humans moved to Europe from Africa around 1.8 million years ago. But because they were adapted to a warmer climate, archaeologists have so far believed that they didn't get as far north as Happisburgh - a comparatively cold, Inhospitable place.

Other studies at archaeological sites in Germany and France have shown signs of Human activity in the north around the same time, but the dating of these sites is perhaps not as well established as that at Happisburgh.

The dating of the Happisburgh site is based on a combination of methods. The artifacts were entombed in sediment that records a reverse in the polarity of the Earth's magnetic field - the north and south poles switching places -at the time that they were laid down. The last polarity reversal is known to have been 780,000 years ago, making it probable that the Happisburgh artifacts are at least that old.

But smaller, fleeting polarity reversals also happen, which can complicate such palaeomagnetic dating. So the team backed up these results by looking at plant and animal fossils found in the sediment, such as the 'southern mammoth' (Mammuthus meridionalis).

The known overlap time between the disappearance of some species and the appearance of others narrows down the date bracket. The researchers' analysis, which also includes geological evidence from the ancient River Thames, indicates that the early humans occupied Happisburgh during the later part of a warm interglacial period, around 840,000 or 950,000 years ago.

The team used beetle and plant fossils from the site - which, unsurprisingly for a former floodplain, is extraordinarily rich in fossil species - to estimate the climate in Happisburgh at the time. The climate is thought to have been similar to that of southern Scandinavia today.

"The case is not absolutely watertight, but it is pretty good - the collective evidence strongly suggests that this is the oldest northern European site occupied by humans," says Andrew P. Roberts, a palaeomagnetist at the Australian National University in Canberra.

"We had accepted that there were people in the area 700,000 years ago, and we could explain it by the fact that it was really warm at that time," says Chris Stringer, a palaeoanthropologist from the Natural History Museum in London and a co-author of the study.

"The plants and animals in Britain at this point were the same as the ones in Spain - so they could have come up briefly under warm, peak temperatures, but were thought to have died out very quickly when it got cold," he says.

It is not known exactly how the early humans adapted to the cold climate - whether they made fires, built shelters or used clothing, says Stringer. And because there are no human remains at the site - they probably just visited it to hunt or scavenge - it is hard to make any predictions about the population size or organization of these people. "... but we speculate that it could be the extinct species Homo antecessor - the 'Pioneer Man' - as it is the only species known in Europe at that time."

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


LONDON | Wed Jul 7, 2010 3:15pm EDT

LONDON (Reuters) - Flint tools found in an English village show ancient humans settled northern Europe 800,000 years ago, far earlier than previously thought, which could prompt scientists to reassess the capabilities of early humans.

An excavation in the eastern coastal village of Happisburgh reported in the journal Nature revealed over 70 flint tools, probably to cut wood or meat, and provides the first record of human occupation on the edges of the cooler northern forests of Eurasia.

"These finds are by far the earliest known evidence of humans in Britain, dating at least 100,000 years earlier than previous discoveries," said Chris Stringer, a specialist in human origins at London's Natural History Museum, who gave a briefing about the research.

Stringer said the discovery was likely to lead scientists to look again at the capabilities of early humans, since it showed, contrary to previous scientific thinking, that they were able to move to and live in cooler parts of northern Europe.

The evidence from Happisburgh also suggests the site lay on an ancient course of the River Thames, which now runs through central London. It had freshwater pools and marshes on its floodplain, as well as herbivores such as mammoths, rhinos and horses and predators like hyenas and saber-toothed cats.

"The new flint artifacts are incredibly important because, not only are they much earlier than other finds, but they are associated with a unique array of environmental data that gives a clear picture of the vegetation and climate," said Nick Ashton an archaeologist from the British Museum, who also worked on the study.

The researchers believe the humans adapted their way of life to cope with tougher living conditions, with few edible plants and animals, and extremely cold winters. "My personal hunch is that they had some sort of clothing," said Ashton.

The ancient human populations were small, made up of a few hundreds, or possibly thousands, and would either be driven out or severely reduced due to the cold climate, only to repopulate approximately every 100,000 years, the scientists said.

Sunday, July 04, 2010


Craig Lee, a research associate with University of Colorado-Boulder's Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research has found an atlatl dart, a spear-like hunting weapon, melting out of an ice patch high in the Rocky Mountains close to Yellowstone National Park (USA). Lee, a specialist in the emerging field of ice patch archaeology, said the dart had been frozen in the ice patch for 10 millennia and that climate change has increased global temperatures and accelerated melting of permanent ice fields exposing organic materials that have long been entombed in the ice.

"We didn't realize until the early 2000s that there was a potential to find archaeological materials in association with melting permanent snow and ice in many areas of the globe," Lee said. "We're not talking about massive glaciers, we're talking about the smaller, more kinetically stable snowbanks that you might see if you go to Rocky Mountain National Park." As glaciers and ice fields continue to melt at an unprecedented rate, increasingly older and significant artifacts - as well as plant material, animal carcasses and ancient feces - are being released from the ice that has gripped them for thousands of years, he said.

Over the past decade, Lee has worked with other researchers to develop a geographic information system, or GIS, model to identify glaciers and ice fields in Alaska and elsewhere that are likely to hold artifacts. They pulled together biological and physical data to find ice fields that may have been used by prehistoric hunters to kill animals seeking refuge from heat and insect swarms in the summer months.

The dart Lee found was from a birch sapling and still has personal markings on it from the ancient hunter, according to Lee. When it was shot, the 3-foot-long dart had a projectile point on one end, and a cup or dimple on the other end that would have attached to a hook on the atlatl. The hunter used the atlatl, a throwing tool about two feet long, for leverage to achieve greater velocity.

Later this summer Lee and CU-Boulder student researchers will travel to Glacier National Park to work with the Salish, Kootenai and Blackfeet tribes and researchers from the University of Wyoming to recover and protect artifacts that may have recently melted out of similar locations. Quick retrieval of any organic artifacts like clothing, wooden tools or weapons is necessary to save them, because once thawed and exposed to the elements they decompose quickly, he said.

Sources: University of Colorado, EurekAlert! (29 June 2010), ScienceDaily (30 June 2010)
[1 video]
[1 image]


I've been to Wales and there were many sites we explored but this is a phenomenal source for those of you who want to and can travel there frequently.

A new website, Archwilio - which means 'to explore' in Welsh - catalogs the historic environment records of Wales, allowing users to freely explore details of thousands of different archaeological sites dating back more than 100,000 years. Created using information from the four archaeological trusts of Wales, the new service is available at

Currently around 100,000 individual entries are held by the four regions, which are continually updated and expanded as new information becomes available. "It is a very exciting prospect to be able to share such a wealth of information on a database that will hopefully just grow and grow," said Marion Page, HER manager with Dyfed Archaeological Trust.

Alun Ffred Jones, Welsh Minister for Heritage, observed: "Wales is the first country in Britain to make its archaeological records available online. Archwilio will be a tremendous asset not only for the people of Wales but also for those further afield who have an interest in the rich archaeology and cultural heritage of our country".

Sources: Wales Online (30 June 2010), WiredGov (1 July 2010)