Saturday, December 22, 2007

Reindeer: It's What Was For Dinner

Reindeer meat went from being an occasional treat to everyday fare among prehistoric cavemen who lived in Southwest France and what is now the Czech Republic, two new studies suggest.

In fact, so many nibbled-on reindeer bones were present in their caves that possible calendars circa 26,000 years ago might have been carved on the leftover bones. They may have also been used as counting devices or for ornamentation.

The first study, authored by J. Tyler Faith, analyzed bones found in limestone cave and rock shelters at a site called Grotte XVI at Dordogne near Bordeaux. The numbers and types of bones revealed plenty -- how, for instance, the hunters butchered the meat, how far they traveled to hunt, and details about populations of the animals themselves.

"If an archaeological assemblage of large mammals is dominated by only the most nutritional skeletal parts (thigh bones, for example), it suggests that the other skeletal elements of lower nutritional value (foot bones, skulls, little bones) were probably discarded at the kill site," Faith told Discovery News.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Evolving Bigger Brains through Cooking: A Q&A with Richard Wrangham

Our intelligence has enabled us to conquer the world. The secret for the big brains, says biological anthropologist Richard Wrangham, is cooking, which made digestion easier and liberated more calories.

A couple of million years ago or so, our hominid ancestors began exchanging their lowbrow looks for forehead prominence. The trigger for the large, calorie-hungry brains of ours is cooking, argues Richard W. Wrangham, the Ruth B. Moore Professor of Biological Anthropology at Harvard University's Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. He hit on his theory after decades of study of our closest cousin, the chimpanzee. For the Insights story "Cooking Up Bigger Brains," appearing in the January 2008 Scientific American, Rachael Moeller Gorman talked with Wrangham about chimps, food, fire, human evolution and the evidence for his controversial theory. Here is an expanded interview.

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Ancient Villas Restored in Rome

ROME (AP) - The restored ruins of two opulent Roman villas and private thermal baths will open to the public Saturday, along with a 3-D reconstruction that offers a virtual tour of the luxurious residences discovered in downtown Rome.

The 19,375-square-foot complex, dating from the second to fourth centuries, features well-preserved mosaic and marble floors, bathtubs and collapsed walls that archaeologists believe belonged to a domus - the richly decorated residences of Rome's wealthy and noble families.

``We found part of a residential high-class neighborhood, where probably senators and knights used to live,'' archaeologist Paola Valentini said.

Visitors will be able to walk on glass catwalks above the villas' underground remains, immersed in semidarkness just a few feet from the modern city. A 3-D virtual reconstruction recreates the elaborate decorations of the ancient residences through colored lights and projections.

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Newgrange solstice broadcast on web

The winter solstice at the Newgrange passage tomb in Co Meath was broadcast live on the internet this morning.

Today's live stream began at 8.30am today, and the phenomenon will be broadcast at the same time tomorrow on the Heritage Ireland website.

Light streams into the chamber every year as the sun rises after the longest night of the year.

Thousands apply annually for permission to witness the first rays of light creep through the ancient monument, but only a handful are allowed access to the structure's main chamber.

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The sands of time have been rapidly eroding at the Orkney Bronze Age site, the Links of Noltland. Before everything is lost to the sea around the island of Westray, Historic Scotland have been carrying out a thorough excavation to learn everything they can.

The dig at the ancient dune-protected houses has now turned up an unexpected and impressive discovery dating to Neolithic times, archaeologists have announced following the conclusion of their work.

“A previously unknown Neolithic structure has been found that is very different from anything else known to exist at this remarkable site,” explained Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland senior archaeologist.

“It was built using dressed stone and was clearly intended to look impressive from the outside. This marks it out from houses of the time, the exteriors of which tended to be created with function rather than looks in mind.”

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Evolution tied to Earth movement

Geologists say 'Wall of Africa' allowed humanity to emerge

Scientists long have focused on how climate and vegetation allowed human ancestors to evolve in Africa. Now, University of Utah geologists are calling renewed attention to the idea that ground movements formed mountains and valleys, creating environments that favored the emergence of humanity.

“Tectonics [movement of Earth’s crust] was ultimately responsible for the evolution of humankind,” Royhan and Nahid Gani of the university’s Energy and Geoscience Institute write in the January, 2008, issue of Geotimes, published by the American Geological Institute.

They argue that the accelerated uplift of mountains and highlands stretching from Ethiopia to South Africa blocked much ocean moisture, converting lush tropical forests into an arid patchwork of woodlands and savannah grasslands that gradually favored human ancestors who came down from the trees and started walking on two feet – an energy-efficient way to search larger areas for food in an arid environment.

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Study of shipwreck reveals treasure trove of details

HE DEPARTMENT of Antiquities yesterday announced the completion of the first underwater research project of the Mazotos shipwreck.

Its study is expected to be of great significance for the nautical and economic history of the Eastern Mediterranean as it is one of the very few shipwrecks of the Classical period found in such a good state of preservation, the department said.

“The results will throw light on important research questions such as the commercial relations between the North Aegean and the South Eastern Mediterranean and the role of Cyprus in these transport routes during the last phases of the Cypriot city-kingdoms as well as on types and sizes of ships amongst others,” it said.

The project was undertaken by the Research Unit of Archaeology of the University of Cyprus in agreement with the Department of Antiquities and with funding and logistical support from the Thetis Foundation. It is the first time a project of this kind has been exclusively undertaking by Cypriot institutions.

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Mountains of Evidence Suggest Human Evolution Had Rocky Start

Geology may be a long-overlooked, major factor that created conditions favoring the evolution of modern humans.

That's the conclusion of geologists at the University of Utah, who detail their findings in next month's issue of the journal Geotimes.

It's fairly well-established that changing climate, and thus vegetation, in East Africa spurred human evolution, but there has been no agreement about what exactly caused that change, said Royhan Gani

He thinks the riddle's answer is in rocks, and how big slabs of it move — altering continents and building mountains — by a process called tectonics.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Record-breaking haul from Gaul discovered at farm in Brittany

Asterix and Obelix, had they existed, might have paid for their mead and other magic potions with gold-silver-copper coins stamped with elaborate images of men and horses.

The largest treasure trove of pre-Roman, Gaulish money ever to be found has been discovered in central Brittany.

The 545 coins – each worth thousands of euros to collectors but priceless to historians and archaeologists – could overturn much of the received wisdom about the complexity, and wealth, of pre-Roman Celtic society in France. Why was such enormous wealth, a king's ransom at the time, buried in the grounds of a large Gaulish farm 40 miles south of Saint-Brieuc in the first century BC? Why was the hoard never recovered?

"Treasure on this scale would only have been used for transactions between aristocratic families," said Yves Menez, an archaeologist specialising in iron-age Brittany. It has always been assumed that the Celtic nobility lived in fortified towns, not in the wild and dangerous countryside. "The reality must have been more complex," Mr Menez said. Like all Gaulish coins, the 58 "stateres" and 487 quarter "stateres" found near to the village of Laniscat are copies of early Greek money.

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Skeletons give clue to origins of Priory

THE remains of a chapel and graves dating back 600 years, including parts of four skeletons, have been unearthed in Priory Park.

Contractors exploring a trench laid to put in pipework found what is thought to be the walls of a chapel or chapter house - somewhere the monks from the original Priory would have met to conduct their business.

Archaeologists working in the grounds during the extensive £6.5 million refurbishment work are excited by the discovery of what they believe to be a stone-built place of worship little more than 100 yards from the front entrance of today's main Priory building.

Archaeologist David Williams, who has been involved in the dig, said: "I'd stick my neck out and say that what is here is the original Priory Church. The date is uncertain. At the earliest it is 13th century.At the latest, it is 1530s during the dissolution of the monasteries."

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New dating methods amongst the Top 10 Scientific discoveries of the Year

Time Magazine has named a study by Oxford researchers, using new dating techniques on a human skull to help find out where our most recent common ancestor came from, as one of the Top 10 Scientific Discoveries of the Year.

The skull was discovered more than 50 years ago near the town of Hofmeyr in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa. It is thought to be 36,000 years old, according to a study published in the journal Science in January 2007. The finding by Oxford researchers in collaboration with Stony Brook University, New York, supports a growing body of genetic evidence which suggests that humans originated in sub-Saharan Africa and migrated into the Old World around this date.

The international team used a new application of dating methods developed by Dr Richard Bailey and his colleagues from the School of Geography and the Environment, the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the Department of Earth Science. Traditional radiocarbon dating of the Hofmeyr skull was not possible because so much carbon had been leached from the bone while it lay buried in sediment.

Instead the researchers measured the amount of radiation that had been absorbed by sand grains that filled the inside of the skull’s braincase. Measurements of radioactive isotopes in the sediment, combined with a sophisticated radiation transport model using data from a CT scan of the skull, allowed them to calculate the yearly rate at which radiation had been delivered to the sand grains. From this, the researches were able to determine that the Hofmeyr skull had been buried for 36,000 years.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Swiss, EBay Stop Sale of Iraqi Treasure

GENEVA (AP) — A 4,000-year-old clay tablet authorities suspect was smuggled illegally from Iraq was pulled from eBay just minutes before the close of the online auction, authorities said Tuesday.

Criminal proceedings have been launched against the seller, identified only as a resident of Zurich, officials said.

A German archaeologist had spotted the tablet bearing wedge-shaped cuneiform script on the online auctioneer's Swiss Web site,, a government official said.

The archaeologist alerted German authorities, who passed the tip onto their Swiss counterparts, said Yves Fischer, who directs the Swiss Federal Office of Culture's department on commerce in cultural objects.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Political Antiques

Why did Italian leaders wait almost a year to unveil Rome's latest archaeological finds? The answer is as old as the city itself.

For Italians, the collapse of a 16th-century wall on Rome's Palatine Hill was symbolic. Blaming the 2005 cave-in on budget cuts by the center-right Berlusconi government, many felt that the nation's inability to protect its heritage signaled that the country too was crumbling. That era may be over now, but the practice of exploiting Rome's cultural heritage for political gain is not.

Just this week Rome's mayor, Walter Veltroni, and Italy's vice premier and culture minister Francesco Rutelli gave journalists a sneak preview of the latest in a string of newly unveiled ancient discoveries on the Palatine Hill: four frescoed rooms in the 1st-century B.C. palace belonging to Augustus, who later became Rome's first emperor. The rooms have been restored to perfection and will go on view to the public next March.

Last month Veltroni and Rutelli unveiled another gem on the Palatine Hill: the "Lupercale," the ancient grotto where, legend has it, a she-wolf nursed Rome's founder, Romulus, and his twin brother, Remus. The showing of the Lupercale delighted Italians with the suggestion that the legend might be true. But while the romantics were studying the mythology, the cynics were asking questions about just why the finds were being shown off at that time.

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Monday, December 17, 2007

The great Kenilworth booze-up: how to party like it's 1575

It's gone down as the social event of the age – Robert Dudley's three-week bash for Elizabeth I. Now new documents reveal just how lavish it was

If you want to marry the Queen, you have to know how to party. At least, that seems to have been the Earl of Leicester's thinking more than 400 years ago.

Almost no one in England had a good word to say about Robert Dudley, one of the most colourful figures from the years when Elizabeth reigned – apart from the monarch herself, and other women who fell for him. In the eyes of the court, he was a murderer, a schemer, and an adulterer. When he died, soon after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, it was said that there was more rejoicing in England over Dudley's end than over the humiliation of the Spaniards.

But for all his faults, he was a charmer with a remarkable knack for cajoling titled ladies to join him between his expensive, monogrammed sheets. If there was one man that Elizabeth really fancied in all her self-denying life, it was Robert Dudley.

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Ancient racetrack at risk from new homes

ONE of the most important archaeological finds in Britain's oldest recorded town could still be encroached on by a housing development - despite receiving special recognition by the country's leading conservation organisation.

And Colchester MP Bob Russell has now called for the remains of the town's Roman Circus to be kept “sacrosanct” after it was formally listed as a scheduled ancient monument by English Heritage.

The 400 metre long chariot racetrack, discovered by archaeologists in 2004, is thought to be the largest known Roman building discovered in Britain and is regarded as being of huge historical significance.

But the underground ruins - found during exploratory digs for development company Taylor Wimpey - could still end up surrounded by modern buildings with one private garden covering over the foundations of a key element of the structure.

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Rare find highlights antiquities fears

Some 1,650 years ago someone was so comprehensively fed up with the state of the Roman empire that they committed an act of treason, blasphemy and probably criminal defacing of the coinage. They cursed the emperor Valens by hammering a coin with his image into lead, then folding the lead over his face.

The battered scraps of metal discovered by Tom Redmayne, an amateur metal detector, in a muddy field in Lincolnshire are a unique find.

The mid-fourth century was a time of turmoil in Roman Britain. A Roman aristocrat, Valentinus, had been exiled to Britain where he was stirring up trouble.

Thousands of Roman cursing charms survive, scrawled on pieces of lead with a hole punched to hang them up. Many were found thrown into the hot springs in Bath, demanding revenge on those guilty of petty theft.

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Experts uncover Prague's oldest ramparts

Archaeologists have uncovered parts of Prague's oldest ramparts, dating back to the turn of the 9th and 10th centuries, thus verifying the then Jewish globetrotter Ibrahim ibn Jaqub's description of Prague as "a town made of stone and lime," the daily Mlada fronta Dnes (MfD) wrote Monday.

The fortification, the remnants of which have been uncovered at Malostranske namesti square in what is now the historical centre of Prague, were made of wood and clay and might have been up to 6 metres high.

The archaeologists uncovered the remnants of wall in the cellar of the Academy of Performing Arts building, 5 metres underground. A thousand years ago the walls were part of one of Prague's main entrance gates, though which the town was entered from the western and souther directions.

Although remnants of such old ramparts were uncovered elsewhere in Prague already before, the latest find has significantly upgraded the knowledge of the then Prague fortification, and it is undoubtedly one of the most important findings of recent years, archaeologist Jarmila Cihakova is quoted as saying.

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Ancient secrets emerge from grave

The bones of six bishops buried more than 600 years ago have been identified using new hi-tech methods.

The medieval bishops, who died between 1200-1360, were discovered during an excavation at Whithorn Priory in Galloway between 1957 and 1967.

It was known the remains were of powerful churchmen of the Middle Ages, but their identities were a mystery.

But Historic Scotland research has shown when the men died, who several of them were and even what they ate.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Secrets of Roman town unearthed

New hi-tech investigations of a Roman town in Norfolk have revealed it to be one of international importance, leading archaeologists have said.

A high-resolution geophysical survey was carried out at the buried town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund.

It has shown detail never seen before, including a semi-circular building which looks like a Roman theatre.

The survey also used a scanning device to map out buried remains across the entire walled area of the Roman town.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007


Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum is to take delivery of a spectacular Roman stone coffin unearthed by Wessex Archaeology in 2007.

The limestone coffin, weighing three metric tonnes was discovered as part of the excavation of a Roman cemetery containing over 200 burials next to a substantial Roman settlement on Boscombe Down.

When archaeologists lifted the lid off the coffin they were surprised to discover that it had not filled with soil. Instead, they looked down on the skeleton of a woman who was cradling a young child in her arms.

A unique environment had been created inside the coffin, which had slowed down the processes of decay so that, even after 1,800 years, the woman’s deer skin slippers still survived.

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Stunning survey unveils new secrets of Caistor Roman town

On the morning of Friday July 20, 1928, the crew of an RAF aircraft took photographs over the site of the Roman town of Venta Icenorum at Caistor St Edmund in Norfolk, a site which now lies in open fields to the south of Norwich.

The exceptionally dry summer meant that details of the Roman town were clearly revealed as parched lines in the barley. The pictures appeared on the front page of The Times on March 4, 1929 and caused a sensation.

Now, new investigations at Caistor Roman town using the latest technology have revealed the plan of the buried town at an extraordinary level of detail which has never been seen before. The high-resolution geophysical survey used a Caesium Vapour magnetometer to map buried remains across the entire walled area of the Roman town.

The research at Caistor is being directed by Dr Will Bowden of The University of Nottingham, who worked with Dr David Bescoby and Dr Neil Chroston of the University of East Anglia on the new survey, sponsored by the British Academy. Around 30 local volunteer members of the Caistor Roman Town Project also assisted.

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Ancient Roman Glue Sticks Around

Roman warriors repaired their battle accessories with a superglue that is still sticking around after 2,000 years, according to new findings on display at the Rheinischen Landes Museum in Bonn, Germany.

Running until Feb. 16, 2008, the exhibition "Behind the Silver Mask" presents evidence that the ancient adhesive was used to mount silver laurel leaves on legionnaires' battle helmets.

"It's a sensational find and a complete stroke of luck that we were still able to find traces of the substance after 2000 years," Frank Willer, the museum's chief restorer, told Discovery News.

Willer found traces of the superglue while examining a helmet unearthed in 1986 near the German town of Xanten, on what was once the bed of the Rhine.

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An undersea treasure hunt, playing out in a Spanish court

It's the stuff of pirate legend.

Countless Spanish ships – some loaded with gold and silver, all with dramatic histories to tell – sit at the bottom of the sea. In the ensuing centuries, these relics from an era when Spain ruled the oceans were largely ignored by their own country and left to decay in watery graves.

Ignored, that is, until May 2007, when Odyssey Marine Exploration, a privately owned American company, recovered some 500,000 silver coins from a shipwreck that may be Spanish.

Now Spain's culture ministry is fighting back. On Wednesday, it gathers archaeologists, regional government representatives, and members of the country's security forces to develop an effective plan to better protect Spain's sunken history.

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Thursday, December 13, 2007

The thriving Roman town that slipped into oblivion

Ruins revealed by The Times in 1929 are found to be of ‘stunning international importance’

The Times caused a sensation almost 80 years ago when it revealed the discovery of an extraordinary street grid of a Roman town in Norfolk. It published dramatic aerial photographs that were taken from an RAF aircraft and which showed the pattern left in parched barley fields during the exceptionally dry summer of 1928.

Today The Times can reveal that the site of Venta Icenorum, which dates primarily from the 1st and 2nd centuries AD – and which may have been home to Boadicea, the ancient British queen – is far more significant than anyone had realised.

The latest scientific technology shows that the town, which today lies at Caistor St Edmund, south of Norwich, is one of “stunning international archaeological importance”, archaeologists say.

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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Great beasts peppered from space

Startling evidence has been found which shows mammoth and other great beasts from the last ice age were blasted with material that came from space.

Eight tusks dating to some 35,000 years ago all show signs of having being peppered with meteorite fragments.

The ancient remains come from Alaska, but researchers also have a Siberian bison skull with the same pockmarks.

The scientists released details of the discovery at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, US.

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Archaeologists unearth ancient pits

ARCHAEOLOGISTS preparing the ground for a new building at an Anglo-Saxon village have discovered the remains of three pits dating back 1,500 years.

The unexpected find, at the site in West Stow, near Bury St Edmunds, was made during preparation work for a new timber construction that will be home to heritage displays and study facilities when it opens in the summer.

It is now hoped that a mysterious black substance in the pits will help answer age-old questions about their purpose, and give a better understanding of Anglo-Saxon life.

“The process of revealing West Stow's Anglo Saxon past is fascinating,” said Alan Baxter, heritages services manager at St Edmundsbury Borough Council, which owns the site.

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Human evolution is 'speeding up'

Humans have moved into the evolutionary fast lane and are becoming increasingly different, a genetic study suggests.

In the past 5,000 years, genetic change has occurred at a rate roughly 100 times higher than any other period, say scientists in the US.

This is in contrast with the widely-held belief that recent human evolution has halted.

The research has been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

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Spartans did not throw deformed babies away: researchers

ATHENS (AFP) - The Greek myth that ancient Spartans threw their stunted and sickly newborns off a cliff was not corroborated by archaeological digs in the area, researchers said Monday.

After more than five years of analysis of human remains culled from the pit, also called an apothetes, researchers found only the remains of adolescents and adults between the ages of 18 and 35, Athens Faculty of Medicine Anthropologist Theodoros Pitsios said.

"There were still bones in the area, but none from newborns, according to the samples we took from the bottom of the pit" of the foothills of Mount Taygete near present-day Sparta.

"It is probably a myth, the ancient sources of this so-called practice were rare, late and imprecise," he added.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Rare Roman artefacts to go on show

A LEADING archaeologist spoke of his excitement as it emerged a collection of extremely rare Roman artefacts of international significance have been secured for the people of Ipswich.

The intricate pieces - dating from the revolt at Colchester by the warriors loyal to the Iceni queen Boudicca in AD60 or AD 61 - make up the first complete set of Roman cavalry decorations ever found in Britain.

The items, found in a Holbrook field by a metal detecting enthusiast in August 2004, represent one of the most exciting archaeological finds in the area ever.

It is thought they were stolen as booty from the ransacked Roman capital at Colchester and brought north before being buried in Holbrook for safe-keeping.

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Roman all around the Olympic Park

THE first evidence of the earliest Londoners and Romans has been discovered in the Olympic Park in Stratford.

The Museum of London's archaeology team has unearthed the fascinating finds. Digs on the site of the London 2012 aquatics centre have revealed evidence of an Iron Age settlement.

Fourth century pottery and a Roman coin have also been found on the Olympic Stadium site.

The finds will eventually form part of the Museum of London's collection, and will provide a record of archaeological investigations that are taking place as part of the programme of work to clear the site ahead of construction.

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Location: Worldwide Length: 34 min.
In this series of interviews with today’s news-makers, host Faith Haney of Central Washington University (CWU) explores cultural anthropology and archaeology. In the fifth episode, taped in September 2007, Faith queries Washington archaeologist Scott Williams about his search for the “Beeswax Shipwreck of Nehalem.” On the northern Oregon Coast, near the mouth of the Nehalem River, beeswax chunks, other cargo, and even parts of a ship have been turning up over the past two centuries. Is this a lost Spanish galleon from the 17th Century?

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Roman period surgery set on show

One of the most complete sets of surgical instruments from the ancient world has gone on show in the Italian city of Rimini.

Archaeologists there have been excavating the house of a surgeon who operated nearly 2,000 years ago.

They found more than 150 different surgical instruments, like scalpels, scissors, weighing scales, and forceps.

The house was built in the 2nd Century AD and destroyed by fire in the barbarian invasions a century later.

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£8m facelift for ancient Roman frescoes

The fresco-covered palace of Emperor Augustus on the Palatine Hill in Rome will partially reopen to the public on March 2 next year after decades of restoration work, officials said yesterday.

Since the palace closed in the 1980s, experts have spent more than €12 million (£8.63 million) to restore the porticoed garden of Rome's first emperor and to piece together precious frescoes reduced to fragments over the centuries. The palace was built in the 1st century BC.

Groups of up to 10 people will be guided through the decorative marvels in Augustus' studio and in the hall where the emperor received guests, as well as rooms in the nearby palace built for his wife Livia.

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Dining, Roman-style, as London dig finds history by the bucketful

Wine buckets, bowls and dishes with an elegant beaded design are among a spectacular Roman hoard of international importance that has been discovered in London.

Archaeologists have unearthed more than 1,100 objects dating from the first to third centuries AD that they described yesterday as unprecedented in size and scale.

The finds, which will give dramatic new insight into Londinium, the Roman city, include the most complete timber door to have survived anywhere in the Roman Empire, as well as shiny metal vessels in an exceptional state of preservation and the large-scale remains of an entire Roman streetscape.

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Fungus Once Again Threatens French Cave Paintings

PARIS, Dec. 8 — For the second time in a decade, fungus is threatening France’s most celebrated prehistoric paintings, the mysterious animal images that line the Lascaux cave in the Dordogne region of southwest France, scientists say.

Black patches linked to mold are threatening the Lascaux cave paintings in France; they can be seen above the horns of this cow on a cavern wall. Scientists are not sure why the mold took hold.

No consensus has emerged among experts over whether the invading patches of gray and black mold are the result of climate change, a defective temperature control system, the light used by researchers or the carbon dioxide exhaled by visitors.

But after inspection by a team of microbiologists, the government has approved a new treatment of the blemishes with a fungicide and ordered that the cave be sealed off for as long as four months so that its delicate environment can be stabilized.

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Neanderthal-human hybrid 'a myth'

Did modern humans interbreed with Neanderthals and, if so, did the mating result in a half-human, half-Neanderthal hybrid?

The answer is possibly 'yes' to the interbreeding but 'no' to the hybrid, according to the authors of a new study that is already making waves among anthropologists.

At the centre of the study, published online in the Journal of Human Evolution, and the current debate, is a 29,000 year old Romanian skull that is one of the oldest fossils in Europe with modern human features.

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Roman barge under Cologne to reveal shipping history

Cologne, Germany - Excited archaeologists are raising part of a Roman barge that sank near the wharf nearly 2,000 years ago in the German riverside city of Cologne. Cologne, which derives its modern name from the town's Latin name, Colonia Claudia Ara Agrippinensium, is full of Roman remains including a largely intact aqueduct.

But the oaken boat, found 12 metres below the surface during excavations a few days ago for an underground mass-transit line, is something special, offering scientists a new window into life in this cold northern Roman province.

A piece of the vessel's flat bottom, about 8 square metres in size, with huge iron nails poking out of it, is still in the mud between modern building machinery and materials.

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Roman ruins cast new light on a trip to doctor

An ancient doctor's surgery unearthed by Italian archaeologists has cast new light on what a trip to the doctor would have been like in Roman times. Far from crude, the medical implements discovered show that doctors, their surgeries and the ailments they treated have changed surprisingly little in 1,800 years.

A fresco from Pompeii depicts a physician on a house call
A physician on a house call kneels to tend the hero Aeneas in this fresco from Pompeii

Sore joints were common, patients were often told to change their diets, and the good doctor of the seaside town of Rimini even performed house calls.

Archaeologists have spent the past 17 years at the Domus del Chirurgo - House of the Surgeon - painstakingly excavating the site and compiling the world's most detailed portrait of medical treatment in Roman times. Their discoveries go on public display for the first time on Tuesday.

"This is the largest find of surgical instruments anywhere," said Dr Ralph Jackson, the curator of the Romano-British collection at the British Museum and an expert in ancient medicine.

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Inner sanctum of first Roman emperor to go on show

ROME, Dec 10 (Reuters Life!) - Four frescoed rooms in the eastern wing of the house of Augustus, where he lived before becoming Rome's first emperor, will open to the public for the first time next year after three decades of restorations.

Italian archaeologists said on Monday the rooms dated from around 30 B.C. and had been buried -- which may explain why some of the paintings are so well preserved -- after Augustus moved to another residence on a higher level of the Palatine Hill.

The tiny rooms, first discovered in the late 1970s, are mostly painted in vivid red, blue and ochre. They include a cubicle on an upper floor known as the "studiolo", or small studio, where Augustus was thought to withdraw for privacy.

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Thursday, December 06, 2007

Glue used by the Romans has stuck around for 2,000 years

German archaeologists claim to have found traces of a glue they say was made by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago and used to mount silver laurel leaves on legionnaires' battle helmets.

Researchers at the Rhineland historical museum in Bonn said they had found remnants of the glue on a legionnaire's iron helmet unearthed near the town of Xanten. It had lain on what was once the bed of the Rhine for at least 1,500 years.

Frank Willer, the museum's chief restorer, said researchers came across the glue by surprise while removing a tiny sample of metal from the helmet with a fine saw. The heat from the tool caused silver laurel leaves decorating the helmet to peel off leaving thread-like traces of the glue behind.

"It is a sensational find and a complete stroke of luck that we were still able to find traces of the substance on the helmet after 2,000 years," Mr Willer said.

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Ancient wood, ropes discovered in Romania

BUCHAREST, Dec. 5 (Xinhua) -- The Romanian archaeologists have discovered well-preserved wood and ropes of 3,000 years old at Beclean of Romania's northern Bistrita-Nasaud County, officials said on Wednesday.

The objects, found in the bed of a highly salted river near Baile Figa, have been well preserved due to the salted mud, said Valeriu Kavruk, curator of the Museum of the Eastern Carpathians based in Sfantu Gheorghe, central Romania.

The laboratory tests with Carbon 14 showed the objects dated from 1000 B.C., Kavruk said, adding that the Figa site represents "the most important archaeological discovery in the latest decades in South-Eastern Europe."

According to the curator, the importance of such a discovery resides not only in the fact that it is for the first time that wood and ropes made of ivy that old, very well preserved too, were found but also it is highly important such objects gave an idea about how salt was dug 3,000 years ago.

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Stonehenge road tunnel scrapped

Plans to build a road tunnel under Stonehenge have been scrapped.

The decision to axe the 1.3 mile tunnel along with a bypass to the west of the monument and a flyover to the east follows a detailed review of the plans by the Department for Transport.

It comes after ministers decided that the estimated £500 million bill for the scheme was too high.

Plans to improve the A303, one of the major arterial roads to the West Country, have been in a succession of transport ministers’ in-trays for more than 20 years.

Initially it was believed that the schemes would cost less than £200 million.

But the price tag soared as engineers discovered that the road building project would take place on soft and weak chalk and on land with a high water table on that section of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire.

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Ancient mtDNA from Iron Age Denmark

Rare mtDNA haplogroups and genetic differences in rich and poor Danish Iron-Age villages.

Melchior L, Gilbert MT, Kivisild T, Lynnerup N, Dissing J.

The Roman Iron-Age (0-400 AD) in Southern Scandinavia was a formative period, where the society changed from archaic chiefdoms to a true state formation, and the population composition has likely changed in this period due to immigrants from Middle Scandinavia. We have analyzed mtDNA from 22 individuals from two different types of settlements, Bøgebjerggård and Skovgaarde, in Southern Denmark. Bøgebjerggård (ca. 0 AD) represents the lowest level of free, but poor farmers, whereas Skovgaarde 8 km to the east (ca. 200-270 AD) represents the highest level of the society. Reproducible results were obtained for 18 subjects harboring 17 different haplotypes all compatible (in their character states) with the phylogenetic tree drawn from present day populations of Europe.

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Neanderthal kids grew teeth faster than human kids

The Neanderthal has been grabbing a lot of headlines recently, now comes news a recent analysis reveals the teeth of Neanderthal children grew faster than the teeth of human children today, suggesting a long childhood and slow development are uniquely human traits.

Tooth development in all primates, specifically the age of molar eruption, is related to other developmental landmarks, such as weaning and first reproduction. Anthropologists have long debated the timing of such events in Neanderthals, with evidence both supporting and refuting the idea that our distant cousins grew up differently than we do.

To get a better handle on Neanderthal tooth development, anthropologists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany examined the growth lines on the teeth of a 100,000 year-old juvenile found in the Scladina caves of Belgium.

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Neanderthal bearing teeth

Tooth growth suggests rapid maturation in a Neanderthal child

An international European research collaboration led by scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology reports evidence for a rapid developmental pattern in a 100,000 year old Belgian Neanderthal (Homo neanderthalensis). The report, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA (online edition early December), details how the team used growth lines both inside and on the surfaces of the child’s teeth to reconstruct tooth formation time and its’ age at death. Scientists found differences in the duration of tooth growth in the Neanderthal when compared to modern humans, with the former showing shorter times in most cases. This faster growth resulted in a more advanced pattern of dental development than in fossil and living members of our own species (Homo sapiens). The Scladina juvenile, which appears to be developmentally similar to a 10-12 year old human, was estimated to be in fact about 8 years old at death. This pattern of development appears to be intermediate between early members of our genus (e.g., Homo erectus) and living people, suggesting that the characteristically slow development and long childhood is a recent condition unique to our own species.

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Roman throne discovered in Italian ruins

Remnants of the first known surviving Roman throne have been discovered in the lava and ash that buried the city of Herculaneum in the first century, archaeologists said Tuesday.

Decorated with ivory bas-reliefs depicting ancient deities, two legs and part of the back of the wooden throne were dug out between October and November. They were found 82 feet below ground near Herculaneum's Villa dei Papiri, a first century country home that is believed to have been the residence of Julius Caesar's father-in-law.

Herculaneum, Pompeii and Stabiae were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that killed thousands in the year 79. The layers of volcanic ash preserved the sites for centuries, providing precious information on domestic life in the ancient world.

Archaeologists said the throne was an exceptional find; furniture of its type had previously only been seen in artistic depiction.

"It's the first original throne from Roman times that has survived until today," Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, Pompeii's archaeological superintendent, told a news conference in Rome.

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Tuesday, December 04, 2007

4,000-year-old relic found near village

A HOLIDAYMAKER has discovered what could be a 4,000-year-old relic from the Bronze Age period in Sandsend.
Butcher Michael Dearden (56), from Micklefield in Leeds, was walking in the village with his wife Cathie (54) when he found the odd pot left on the top of a dry stone wall and took it home.

He said: “It’s all countryside out there and as we came round one bit, there was a dry stone wall and the urn was just placed on top of it. Someone must have put it there.

“The only thing I can think is that someone else had come across it and put it up there.

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Jorvik Viking Centre in York is celebrating its 15 millionth visitor with a special event on December 6 for a select group including the actual 15 millionth visitor.

The group, made up of competition winners and the Chief Executive of the City of York Council, Bill McCarthy, as well as the lucky visitor no. 15 million, will take a journey on foot through Jorvik’s reconstructed Viking age streets. The village is normally only accessible to the public via cable car.

Leading the tour will be one of the men that made the whole place happen, Richard Hall. Hall, now Deputy Director of York Archaological Trust, began excavating the very site upon which the Jorvik Centre is built, back in 1972, with the help of a 600-strong team.

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Priceless medieval manuscripts go inline via new web service

New technology allows scholars and the general public alike to explore priceless manuscripts thanks to an innovative project with The University of Sheffield and Tribal.

Kiosque will be on show for the first time as a core part of a new exhibition at the Royal Armouries in Leeds from 8th December, a fascinating exhibition that uses digital technology to reveal the secrets of exquisite medieval manuscripts in vivid, colourful detail.

Normally the £3m+ rare and valuable manuscripts are only available on special request to researchers and not usually accessible to the general public, as the original manuscripts have to be preserved in special storage conditions requiring humidity, light and temperature control.

From 2008 Tribal expects to make the software available to organisations across the arts, heritage, museums and libraries sectors.

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He digs less to learn more about Vikings

The joke is that, in John Steinberg's home, they know an awful lot about Vikings.

On one side you have his wife, Andrea Kremer, whose job requires her to be an expert on the Minnesota Vikings (and the other 31 National Football League teams) as a reporter for NBC Sports' football coverage.

And then there's Steinberg, a senior researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, who is one of the world's foremost specialists on the real Vikings, the tough-guy (and girl) Scandinavian peoples who really knew how to blitz.

Steinberg, 41, has been exploring archeological sites in Iceland since 1999, and for the last two years has led the Skagafjord Archaeological Settlement Survey, which seeks to study the evolution of settlements in a northern fjord for clues as to how Iceland evolved from the era of Viking chiefdoms into a more organized central government.

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Mystery over ceramic head finds

Archaeologists are trying to solve the riddle of three mysterious ceramic heads that have been uncovered in Edinburgh and Dumfriesshire.

A bodiless male head was found after St Margaret's Loch in Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, was partially drained.

A smaller female head was later discovered on grassland in the nearby Spring gardens.

A third disembodied head said to resemble The Scream painting by Edvard Munch was then found near Dumfries.

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Rare ancient wooden throne found in Herculaneum

ROME (Reuters) - An ancient Roman wood and ivory throne has been unearthed at a dig in Herculaneum, Italian archaeologists said on Tuesday, hailing it as the most significant piece of wooden furniture ever discovered there.

The throne was found during an excavation in the Villa of the Papyri, the private house formerly belonging to Julius Caesar's father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso Caesoninus, built on the slope of Mount Vesuvius.

The name of the villa derives from the impressive library containing thousands of scrolls of papyrus discovered buried under meters (yards) of volcanic ash after the Vesuvius erupted on 24 August 79.

Restoration of the throne is still ongoing with restorers painstakingly trying to piece back together parts of the ceremonial chair.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

Proof of Liverpool's Viking past

The region around Liverpool was once a major Viking settlement, according to a genetic study of men living in the area.

The research tapped into this Viking ancestry by focusing on people whose surnames were recorded in the area before its population underwent a huge expansion during the industrial revolution. Among men with these "original" surnames, 50% have Norse ancestry.

The find backs up historical evidence from place names and archaeological finds of Viking treasure which suggests significant numbers of Norwegian Vikings settled in the north-west in the 10th century. "[The genetics] is very exciting because it ties in with the other evidence from the area," said Professor Stephen Harding at the University of Nottingham, who carried out the work with a team at the University of Leicester led by Professor Mark Jobling.

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The Oxford Experience Summer School

The Oxford Experience Summer School offers courses in archaeology, architectural history, history and history of language.

Online booking available from:

Sunday, December 02, 2007

EMAS Archaeological Study Tour to Cornwall

20 to 25 March 2008

Details of the EMAS Easter archaeological study tour to Cornwall are now on the Web.

You can find more information here...

Archaeological dig on blaze site reveals 'Cowgate palaces'

ARCHAEOLOGISTS digging at the site of the fire that devastated part of Edinburgh's Old Town have uncovered remains of buildings going back to the 16th century.

It is thought the homes may have belonged to some of the city's wealthiest inhabitants. Fragments of pottery, coins and pipes have been recovered from the site, where a major archeological dig is going on before a hotel is built in the next few years.

About half the area is being examined during the three-week project, the biggest archaeological analysis there since the blaze, which destroyed a number of buildings.

The area where fire struck in December 2002 was one of Edinburgh's most fashionable quarters in the 16th and 17th centuries - the so-called "palaces of the Cowgate". But by the mid-1800s it had degenerated into a notorious slum.

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Early Human Ancestors May Have Had "Harem" Societies

Some early human ancestors may have lived in "harem" societies much like those of modern gorillas and orangutans, a new fossil study suggests.

Such an arrangement is known to arise in some modern primate species when males mature later in life than females and become much larger than their mates.

In these cases a single dominant male mates with and protects a large harem of females.

The new find is based on analysis of fossils from the human relative Paranthropus robustus.

The primate species, which lived in Africa about 2 million to 1.2 million years ago, is closely related to early humans but is a dead-end branch of the family tree.

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