Sunday, November 11, 2012


Since Caroline Malone and I wrote "Stonehenge" some years ago for young people there have been many new finds. So I was especially interested to read the following:

A detailed laser-scan survey of the entire monument has discovered 72 previously unknown Early Bronze Age carvings chipped into five of the giant stones - graffiti added when the enormous slabs were already 1000 years old. All of the newly discovered prehistoric art works are invisible to the naked eye. In the Early Bronze Age the images would have been clearly visible. Of the 72 newly discovered images, 71 portray Bronze Age axe-heads and one portrays a Bronze Age dagger.

Prior to the laser survey, 46 other carvings (also of axe-heads and daggers) were known or suspected at Stonehenge. The laser-scan survey has confirmed the existence of those other images and provided more details about them. The new discoveries almost treble the number of carvings known at Stonehenge - now the largest single collection of prehistoric rock carvings in southern Britain.

The main phase of the monument - built in the middle of the 3rd millennium BCE - was designed primarily as a solar temple, aligned on the mid-winter and mid-summer solstices. The carved axe-heads and daggers belong to the enigmatic period of 1800-1500 BCE, when vast numbers of individual monumental tombs were constructed around Stonehenge. In Indo-European tradition axe-heads were often associated with storm deities, and some surviving European folklore beliefs suggest that upwards-facing axe blades were used to protect crops, people and property against lightning and storm damage. Every one of the Stonehenge axe-head images have their blades pointing skywards, while the daggers point downwards.

The survey and analysis has yielded other new insights. The entire temple was constructed to be viewed primarily from the north-east - the side approached by what archaeologists have long believed to be a processional way, aligned with the solstices. One of the stones at the now ruinous south-west side of the monument was also very deliberately worked and shaped to allow a line of sight through to the setting sun on mid-winter's day. The implication is that at some stage in its history there was a deliberate attempt at its destruction.

Particularly puzzling is the discovery that the masons used two different techniques. Work on the monument's great circle (both uprights and lintels) was accomplished by working parallel to the long sides of the stones, while the 5 stone trilithons within the great circle (the horse-shoe arrangement of linteled stones) were dressed at right-angles to the sides of the stones. This previously unknown fact suggests that the great trilithons may have been constructed slightly before the great circle rather than being contemporary with it.

Edited from English Heritage, The Independent, The Guardian (9 October 2012)
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An accidental meeting in 1982 between well-known Greek archaeologist Yannis Sakellarakis and a shepherd from Crete has led to an archaeological discovery of great importance - Zominthos, a settlement from the Minoan era on the plain of the same name, 1,187 metres above sea level. The settlement is at the feet of the highest mountain in Crete, Mount Psiloritis, eight kilometeres from the village of Anogia along the road which led from Knossos to Ideon Andron - the cave where Zeus was born, according to Greek mythology.

The shepherd, who lived in Anogia, invited the archaeologist who was working at a site nearby to visit the area of Zominthos. Sakellarakis realized he was standing in front of a settlement from the Minoan era, hiding behind thick vegetation. Sakellarakis, with colleague and partner Efi Sapouna-Sakellaraki, excavated from the summer of 1983 until 1990. Excavations resumed in 2004 and are ongoing.

In the past few years, the remains of an impressive and luxurious building from 3,500 years ago has emerged. The building has two or three floors, some 80 rooms including workshops and storage rooms over a surface of 1,360 square meters, and it is in excellent condition. Sapouna-Sakellaraki says it is the first Minoan mountain settlement built in the same period as the Palace of Knossos, and the largest summer residence from the Minoan era yet discovered. The structure was built with large, elongated stones, and with walls painted in different colors. Experts believe the palace was destroyed by a violent earthquake.

Three time periods emerge from the remains of the Palace of Zominthos - its first construction in 1900 BCE, the second around 1600 BCE at the height of its prosperity, when it was presumably destroyed by an earthquake, and around 1400 BCE when another building was constructed nearby.

Archaeological findings in Zominthos include several signets portraying scorpions or birds, ornamental objects in copper and ivory, a metallic cylinder decorated with images of snakes, and a copper cup. Two copper statues were also found - "among the most beautiful from the most prosperous Minoan period", said the archaeologist, who believes the area was also a place of worship.

Edited from ANSA Med (4 October 2012)


The Lozoya River Valley, in the Madrid mountain range of Guadarrama (Spain), could easily be called "Neanderthal Valley," says the paleontologist Juan Luis Arsuaga. Scientists working in Pinilla del Valle have already found nine Neanderthal teeth, remains of bonfires and thousands of animal fossils, including some from enormous aurochs (the ancestor of cattle, each the length of two bulls), rhinoceros and fallow deer.

"There are around 15 [Neanderthal] sites in Spain: in the Cantabrian mountain range, along the eastern Mediterranean coast and in Andalusia, but none on the plateau, where there are no limestone formations and no adequate caves to preserve human remains for thousands of years," says Arsuaga. Pinilla del Valle is an exception to that rule. "There is limestone here. It was like a cap made of stone under which the Neanderthal presumably took refuge to prepare for the hunt, to craft their tools, to eat... probably more like a base camp to take refuge when they needed to."

"The site, which has great potential, extends some 150 metres and we are now working in three areas: the cave of Camino, the refuge of Navalmaillo and the cave of Des-Cubierta, which cover three different time frames," says Enrique Baquedano, director of the Regional Archeology Museum in Madrid.

It was on the floor of Des-Cubierta that the Neanderthal must have placed the body of a child aged two-and-a-half to three years old. They placed two slabs of stone and an auroch's horn on top, and set the body on fire. Baquedano explains that they found some of the child's teeth, as well as a piece of coal that turned up just a few days ago and which will enable precise dating. "Complete burials, with a clear structure that allows [researchers] to reconstruct behaviours, is a very rare thing in any part of the world," says Arsuaga, who is also co-director of the excavations at the major prehistoric site of Atapuerca.

The nine Neanderthal teeth discovered so far are between 60,000 and 90,000 years old, and several appeared in what must have been hyaena dens. "Teeth are the most resistant of all organic tissue; they keep better than the rest of the skeleton, and they provide lots of information about the diet, the diseases, and the passage from childhood to adulthood," continues Laplana.

Thousands of stone tools have already been found. "The best stone for sculpting is flint, but there's none in this area... they adapted their technique to quartz. It's worse, but it works and it represents an admirable technological adaptation."

Edited from El Pais (23 September 2012)
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Prehistoric settlement remains, ranging from the Pre-Pottery Neolithic period (circa 10,000 years ago) to the Early Bronze Age (circa 5,000 years ago) were excavated at the site of Ein Zippori (Tzippori or Sepphoris) in the central Galilee region (Israel), during archaeological excavations conducted prior to the widening of a highway.

According to excavation directors Dr Ianir Milevski and Nimrod Getzov, "The excavation revealed remains of an extensive settlement from the end of the Neolithic period and beginning of the Chalcolithic period in the country belonging to the 'Wadi Rabah' culture... common from the end of the 6th millennium and beginning of the 5th millennium BCE". According to the excavators, Ein Zippori covered around 18 hectares - one of the largest, if not the largest, settlement of this culture.

A multitude of artifacts has been uncovered, including pottery, flint tools, basalt vessels and artistic objects. "Outstanding among the flint tools that were discovered are the sickle blades that were used to harvest grain, indicating the existence of an agricultural economy," the directors said. "We also found flint axes that were designed for working wood. The barter that transpired at the time is attested to by thin sharp blades made of obsidian, a volcanic stone that is not indigenous to the region and the closest source is in Turkey".

Among the special finds is a group of small stone bowls made with amazing delicacy - one containing more than 200 black, white and red stone beads. Other artifacts are clay figurines of animals (sheep, pig and cattle). The most important finds are stone seals or amulets bearing geometric motifs, and stone plaques and bone objects decorated with incising. One among the stone plaques bears a carving depicting two running ostriches. These objects connect Ein Zippori with contemporary cultures in Syria and Mesopotamia.

Edited from Popular Archaeology (9 October 2012)
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"We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine," says Ness of Brodgar discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. "In fact the place is entirely manmade, although it covers more than six acres [around 2.5 hectares] of land."

Two great walls, several meters high, had been built straight across the ridge between two lakes. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. "The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time," says Card. More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of the site has been fully excavated so far.

"This wasn't a settlement or a place for the living," says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement in the 1980s. "This was a ceremonial center, and a vast one at that." The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery, and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered around the site.

Card, now Brodgar's director of excavations, says "5,000 years ago, Orkney was the center for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges - stone rings with ditches round them - were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time."

"We have never seen anything like this before," says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. "The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal."

Around 2,300 BCE, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned.

For more information or to donate to the dig, go to

Edited from The Guardian (6 October 2012)
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