German archaeologist and driver abducted in Iraq
29 November 2005
BERLIN - Chancellor Angela Merkel Tuesday strongly condemned the abduction of a German archaeologist in Iraq and urged her abductors to release her.
"The German government condemns this in the strongest terms," Merkel said, adding that Germany would undertake all efforts to secure the safe return of the woman and her driver, who were abducted on Friday.
The abductors released a video to German public television broadcaster ARD in Baghdad overnight, in which the abductors demanded the German government cease cooperation with the Iraqi government and threatened to kill the hostages.
ARD said the terms outlined an "extremely brief time limit".
German television broadcaster N24 named the woman as archaeologist Susanne Osthoff, 43, from Bavaria and said she had been in Iraq for years and spoke fluent Arabic.
The German Foreign Ministry immediately set up a crisis team to deal with the incident, the first case of a German abducted in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.
Osthoff's mother told national television her daughter had helped organize aid deliveries of medicines and medical equipment to Iraq for years.
She called on the German government to do all it could to help her daughter, whom she has not seen for five years.
Germany did not participate in the invasion of Iraq, Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schroeder refusing to back the U.S.
No German troops have been stationed in the country at any stage and Germany refuses to assist with training Iraqi forces inside the country, helping only with training in the region but outside Iraq's borders.
Kidnapped German woman was warned about her safety
30/11/2005 - 19:00:17
The German woman kidnapped in Iraq last Friday had been working in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since May and was warned by authorities that her stay there was not safe, a local official said today.
Susanne Osthoff was working on the renovation of the historical Tutunji House in the central neighbourhood of Sirjkhanah, said Muzahem Mahmoud al-Zawbai, head of antiquities department in the northern province of Ninevah.
Osthoff and her Iraqi driver were seized last Friday, and were pictured in a videotape blindfolded on a floor, with militants, one armed with a rocket propelled grenade, standing beside them.
Al-Zawbai said his department sent four letters in recent weeks to the headquarters of Iraqi Antiquities Department, Ninevah’s deputy governor and police commander informing them that they could not be responsible for her safety in Mosul.
Meanwhile, a man who knew Osthoff well during her stay in Mosul said the archaeologist was working with an Iraqi assistant who came with her from the Kurdish city of Irbil.
He added that the Osthoff, who said she was collecting money from German humanitarian organisation, for her work, ran out of cash about 10 days ago.
“She said she will go to Irbil to bring money and come back. She left with her driver and since then we haven’t heard from her,” the man said.
Insurgents have been active in Mosul, 225 miles northwest of Baghdad, in the past two years but the situation slightly improved in recent months.
Public release date: 30-Nov-2005
Contact: Robert Sanders
University of California - Berkeley
Alleged 40,000-year-old human footprints in Mexico much, much older than thought
Berkeley -- Alleged footprints of early Americans found in volcanic rock in Mexico are either extremely old - more than 1 million years older than other evidence of human presence in the Western Hemisphere - or not footprints at all, according to a new analysis published this week in Nature.
The study was conducted by geologists at the Berkeley Geochronology Center and the University of California, Berkeley, as part of an investigative team of geologists and anthropologists from the United States and Mexico.
Earlier this year, researchers in England touted these "footprints" as definitive proof that humans were in the Americas much earlier than 11,000 years ago, which is the accepted date for the arrival of humans across a northern land-bridge from Asia.
These scientists, led by geologist Silvia Gonzalez of Liverpool's John Moores University, dated the volcanic rock at 40,000 years old. They hypothesized that early hunters walked across ash freshly deposited near a lake by volcanoes that are still active in the area around Puebla, Mexico. The so-called footprints, subsequently covered by more ash and inundated by lake waters, eventually turned to rock.
But Paul Renne, director of the Berkeley Geochronology Center and an adjunct professor of earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley, and his colleagues in Mexico and at Texas A&M University report in the Dec. 1 issue of Nature a new age for the rock: about 1.3 million years.
"You're really only left with two possibilities," Renne said. "One is that they are really old hominids - shockingly old - or they're not footprints."
Renne's colleagues are Michael R. Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University; Joaquin Arroyo-Cabrales and Mario Perez-Campa of the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History; Patricia Ochoa Castillo of the Mexican National Museum of Anthropology; and UC Berkeley graduate students Joshua M. Feinberg and Kim B. Knight. The Berkeley Geochronology Center, located a block from the UC Berkeley campus, is one of the world's preeminent anthropological dating laboratories.
Paleoanthropologist Tim White, professor of integrative biology at UC Berkeley, is familiar with the "so-called footprints" and knows Renne well, frequently collaborating with him in the dating of million-year-old sediments in an area of Ethiopia where White has excavated numerous fossils of human ancestors. He is not surprised at the new finding.
"The evidence (the British team) has provided in their arguments that these are footprints is not sufficient to convince me they are footprints," said White, who did not contribute to the new work that Renne's group is reporting in Nature. "The evidence Paul has produced by dating basically means that this argument is over, unless indisputable footprints can be found sealed within the ash."
Renne determined the new date using the argon/argon dating technique, which reliably dates rock as young as 2,000 years or as old as 4 billion years. The British-led researchers, however, relied mainly on carbon-14 dates of overlying sediments. Carbon-14 cannot reliably date materials older than about 50,000 years.
The idea for another test that, it turns out, throws more cold water on the footprint hypothesis came to Renne one morning in the shower. Many rocks retain evidence of their orientation at the moment they cool in the form of iron oxide grains magnetized in a direction parallel to the Earth's magnetic field at the time of cooling. Because the Earth's field has repeatedly flipped throughout the planet's history, it is possible to date rock based on its magnetic polarity.
Feinberg found that the rock grains in the volcanic ash had polarity opposite to the Earth's polarity today. Since the last magnetic pole reversal was 790,000 years ago, the rock must be at least that age. Because the Earth's magnetic polarity changes, on average, every 250,000 years, the argon/argon date is consistent with a time between 1.07 and 1.77 million years ago when the Earth's polarity was opposite to that of today.
Moreover, Feinberg found that each individual grain in the rock is magnetized in the same direction, meaning that the rock has not been broken up and reformed since it was deposited. This makes extremely unlikely the possibility that the original ash had been weathered into sand that early humans walked through before the sand was welded into rock again.
"Imagine two-millimeter-wide BBs cemented together where they're touching," Feinberg said. "The paleomagnetic data tell us that these things did not move around at all since they were deposited. They haven't been eroded and redeposited anywhere else. They fell while they were still hot, which raises the question of the validity of the footprints. If they were hot, why would anybody be walking on them?"
The British researchers, funded by the United Kingdom's Natural Environment Research Council, have promoted their hypothesis widely, most prominently at a July 4, 2005, presentation and press conference at the Royal Society's Summer Science Exhibition 2005 in London. The team, which includes Gonzalez as well as Professor David Huddart from John Moores University, also involves scientists from Bournemouth University, the University of Oxford and the Australian National University. They have yet to publish a peer-reviewed analysis of the footprints.
In all, the British team claims to have found 250 footprints - mostly human, but also dog, cat and cloven-hoofed animal prints - in a layer of volcanic ash deposited in a former lake bed now exposed near a reservoir outside Puebla. Its dating techniques returned a date of 40,000 years ago, in contrast to the oldest accepted human fossil from the Americas, an 11,500-year-old skull. This makes the rock "one of the most important areas in the study of early human occupation in the Americas and would support a much earlier human migration than is currently accepted," the team wrote.
One of the team members, Matthew Bennett of Bournemouth, was quoted on a Royal Society Web site as saying, "Accounting for the origin of these footprints would require a complete rethink on the timing, route and origin of the first colonization of the Americas."
Renne, Knight, Waters and the Mexico City archeologists visited the site at the Toluquilla quarry last year while collecting rocks from another anthropological site across the reservoir. Renne noted that the black, basaltic rock is very tough and is mined in slabs for building. Pre-Columbian Mexicans also constructed buildings from the rock, which they called xalnene, meaning "fine sand" in the Nahuatl language. Today, trucks headed toward the quarry routinely drive across the xalnene tuff in which the alleged footprints are found, and the rock itself is pockmarked with many depressions in addition to the alleged footprints.
"They're scattered all over, with no more than two or three in a straight line," which would be expected if someone had walked through the ash, Renne said. If the depressions were footprints, they could not have been made by modern humans, he noted, since even in Africa, Homo sapiens did not appear until about 160,000 years ago. Given the age of the volcanic rock and lacking other evidence of early human ancestors in the Americas 1.3 million years ago, the researchers wrote in their paper, "we consider such a possibility to be extremely remote."
Many paleontologists have withheld judgment on the alleged footprints, awaiting good geological dates, Feinberg said. "With this study, we're trying to nip any misrepresentation in the bud."
The research was supported by the Center for the Study of the First Americans, the North Star Archaeological Research Program and the Berkeley Geochronology Center.
More on the first European ?Pyramid
Scientist: Bosnian Hill May Have Pyramid
Archaeologist Thinks Bosnian Hill May Contain a First for Europe: a Pyramid
By AIDA CERKEZ-ROBINSON Associated Press Writer
VISOKO, Bosnia-Herzegovina Dec 3, 2005 — With eyes trained to recognize pyramids hidden in the hills of El Salvador, Mexico and Peru, Semir Osmanagic has been drawn to the mound overlooking this central Bosnian town.
"It has all the elements: four perfectly shaped slopes pointing toward the cardinal points, a flat top and an entrance complex," he said, gazing at the hill and wondering what lies beneath.
No pyramids are known in Europe, and there is no evidence any ancient civilization there ever attempted to build one.
But Osmanagic, a Bosnian archaeologist who has spent the last 15 years studying the pyramids of Latin America, suspects there is one here in his Balkan homeland.
"We have already dug out stone blocks which I believe are covering the pyramid," he said. "We found a paved entrance plateau and discovered underground tunnels. You don't have to be an expert to realize what this is."
Osmanagic, 45, who now lives in Houston, is personally financing excavations at the Visocica hill, a 2,120-foot hump outside Visoko, a town about 20 miles northwest of the capital, Sarajevo.
He learned about the hill in April from Senad Hodovic, director of a museum devoted to the history of Visoko, which is rich in Bronze Age and medieval artifacts. Hodovic had attended a promotion of an Osmanagic book about ancient civilizations and thought he would like to see Visoko's pyramid-shaped hill.
When the pair climbed the hill, the sweeping view revealed a second, smaller pyramid-shaped hill. It reminded Osmanagic of pairs of pyramids he has seen in Latin America that together create a gateway into a valley.
After obtaining a permit to research the site, which is protected by the state as a national monument, the first probes of the main hill were carried out this summer at six points. Nadja Nukic, a geologist involved in the research, said she found 15 anomalies suggesting that some layers of the hill were manmade.
"We found layers of what we call 'bad concrete,' a definitely unnatural mixture of gravel once used to form blocks with which this hill was covered," Osmanagic said.
"The hill was already there," he added. "Some ancient civilization just shaped it and then coated it with this primitive concrete and there you have a pyramid."
Small-scale excavations continued until early November, when winter set in, with the work focusing on what Osmanagic theorizes may have been the entrance to a pyramid-shaped temple.
Osmanagic believes the hill was shaped by the Illyrian people, who inhabited the Balkan peninsula long before Slavic tribes conquered it around A.D. 600. Little is known about the Illyrians, but Osmanagic thinks they were more sophisticated than many experts have suggested.
Nukic, who has walked up and down the hill several times, said she noticed symmetrical platforms in the slopes indentations that Osmanagic believes are steps built into the pyramid.
A local businessman who bought a lot at the foot of the hill and brought in a bulldozer to dig the foundation for a house, meanwhile, unearthed manmade sandstone plates that the archeologists think may have been paving stones.
Anthropologists say the Visoko valley already offers ample evidence of organized human settlements dating back 7,000 years. The town was Bosnia's capital during the Middle Ages, and German archaeologists working the valley recently found 24,000 Neolithic artifacts just three feet below the surface.
Osmanagic is taking a cautious approach about the hill.
"No fast conclusions, please. The evidence has to be firm, at least beyond a reasonable doubt," he said.
"Not that I don't believe in a pyramid here," he added. "This place was always called 'Pyramid' by the local population. But we have to prove that this is not a natural shape."
He thinks, however, that the shape of the hill speaks for itself.
"God can make many things, but such perfectly geometrically formed slopes, pointing exactly toward the north, south, east and west if he did that, well, that's phenomenal itself."
Updated Dec.2,2005 19:42 KST
Ancient Tomb of Exiled Korean King Found in Japan
An education board in Japan’s Nara Prefecture said Thursday it has discovered a luxurious tomb most likely that of a king from Korea’s ancient Baekje kingdom who went into exile in the island country.
The tomb is in the ancient Kazumayama burial grounds, often referred to as "the kings' ravine," which house many royal tombs including Takamatsuzuka.
It is a stone chamber built with flagstone-like bricks in the Baekje style, and judging from the earthenware excavated from it is likely to have built in 660-670 B.C., the Asukamura Education Board said.
Kunihiko Kawakami, a professor of archeology at Kobe Yamate University, said, "It’s highly likely the tomb is that of the Baekje king Changseong, who fled to Japan with his father Seongwang in 631 and died in 674." Father and son were unable to return because of Baekje's fall in 660.
Monday, 5 December 2005, 16:26 GMT
Skeleton under ship is Iron age
Workmen discovered the bones underneath the Newport Ship
The remains of a skeleton found underneath a medieval ship discovered buried in the banks of the River Usk in Newport are that of an Iron age man.
Tests carried out on the bones which were found in December 2002, have shown that they date back to 170BC.
It makes the skeleton about 1,500 years older than the 15th century ship.
The man is thought to have been about 5ft 9in tall and very muscular. He was probably in his late 20s or early 30s when he died.
Experts carried out radio carbon dating on the bones which were found underneath wooden struts supporting the ship as workers carried out an excavation of the orchestra pit of the city's Riverfront Theatre and Arts Centre on 11 December 2002.
The bones were examined by Dr Ros Coard and Alison Bennett from the University of Lampeter.
At the time of the find, it was thought that the man may have died in an industrial accident as he was salvaging the boat.
Experts carbon dated the bones of the man
Archaeologists have concluded that the man's body may have deliberately placed in the channel or he was a victim of drowning whose body was washed into the channel and buried under sediment.
Kate Hunter, the Newport Ship project leader for Newport Council, said: "I never expected him to be quite as old as this.
"It's very interesting because there are not a lot of prehistoric bones found from the Severn Estuary and it all adds to the knowledge."
Meanwhile the restoration team of the Newport Ship - expected to one eventually be displayed in the new arts centre - could be more significant than the discovery of the Tudor ship, the Mary Rose.
The team of experts working on the project have been using state-of-the-art digital technology to record the 1,700 timbers which make up the vessel.
The Newport Ship was found buried in the banks of the River Usk
Ms Hunter expects the conservation programme of recording the timbers and restoring the ship to take between 10 and 15 years.
When the ship was first found, thousands of people flocked to Newport to see it as it lay in the banks of the River Usk.
There were fears that the ship would be broken up and not preserved but a £3.5m grant was given by the Welsh Assembly Government to fund the restoration.
The city council is continuing to seek funding from other bodies such as the Heritage Lottery Fund to continue the preservation of the ship.
No other sea going vessel of this size and date survives as completely as the Newport Ship.
Radar pinpoints tomb of King Edward the Confessor
By Jonathan Petre, Religion Correspondent
The ancient tomb of Edward the Confessor, one of the most revered of British saints, has been discovered under Westminster Abbey 1,000 years after his birth.
The original burial chamber of the Anglo-Saxon king, who died in 1066, months before the invasion of William the Conqueror, was revealed by archaeologists using the latest radar technology.
The existence of a number of royal tombs dating back to the 13th and 14th century was also discovered beneath the abbey, the venue for nearly all coronations since 1066.
The forgotten, sub-terranean chambers were located during conservation work on the abbey's medieval Cosmati mosaic pavement around the high altar.
Dr Warwick Rodwell, the abbey's consultant archaeologist, said the find was "extraordinarily exciting".
Until now archaeologists had assumed that the original tomb of Edward the Confessor was near the present high altar, because medieval records referred to him being buried there. It has now emerged, however, that the position of the altar was moved by Henry III in the mid 13th century. The archaeologists have located the original tomb 10 feet behind the present altar, under the shrine built by Henry III in 1269, which still contains the remains of the saint.
"We have never been able to locate the original tomb of Edward until now," said Dr Rodwell. "The Victorians tried to find out more about what tombs were under here, but they simply did not have the technology to do it. The mystery around the location of the crypt has been running for many years. Every day brings new insights and new facts." Dr Rodwell said an archaeological team had been examining the construction of the Cosmati pavement, which dates from 1268, using a very high-frequency radar to a depth of about 20 inches. The power of the radar was intensified to examine deeper sections of the pavement.
"Little did we expect that, by using a lower frequency radar, we would find chambers, vaults and foundations of such fascinating historical interest and dating back to the very founding of the abbey, over a millennium ago," said Dr Rodwell.
There are no plans to excavate the tomb because any such work would destroy the medieval pavement.
The discovery, made in October, has delighted the abbey as it has been marking Edward the Confessor's anniversary with a series of events.
Although not among the better known kings - his reign was relatively peaceful - his presence in British history has endured.
The principal royal crown is still called St Edward's crown, and the Coronation Chair is sometimes called St Edward's chair, even though both were made long after his death.
The son of Ethelred the Unready and Emma, the daughter of Richard I of Normandy, his family was exiled to Normandy after the Danish invasion of 1013 and he was largely educated there.
When his half brother, Hardecanute, died in 1042, he was acclaimed king. On his death he was succeeded by Harold, who was killed at the Battle of Hastings nine months later.
Edward's reputation for sanctity grew after the Norman conquest, and he was canonised by Pope Alexander III in 1161.
Edward was patron saint of England for more than four centuries, until 1415 when he was replaced by St George.
The archaeological team is now preparing further investigations to establish the purpose, history and content of the main tomb and the other chambers, graves and coffins they have found.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Rev Wesley Carr, said: "It is another reminder of how abbey history and humanity are packed together."
4 December 2005 18:05
Divers face prison over claims they pillaged wreck of Spanish galleon
By Cahal Milmo
Published: 02 December 2005
Three British divers arrested three years ago for allegedly trying to pillage a Spanish galleon have been told they will face charges punishable by up to six years in prison.
The men, commercial divers based in Cornwall, learnt this week that they are to face charges of theft and damaging Spain's historic heritage after a three-year inquiry.
The group were arrested in Galicia, north-western Spain, after winning a contract from the Spanish authorities to salvage 220 tons of tin worth up to £650,000 from the Friesland, a Dutch cargo vessel which sank in 1877. Prosecutors allege that as well as diving on the Friesland, the Britons were exploring the remains of an adjacent vessel, the Dom Pedro, a 17th-century galleon laden with gold and diamonds. Investigators found the wrecks had been minimally disturbed and no valuables taken.
Peter Devlin, who ran the diving firm that won the salvage contract, Force 9 Salvage, Malcolm Cubin, from Truro, and Steve Russ, from Porthleven, declared their innocence yesterday and accused the Spanish prosecutors of being heavy-handed. The men insist they were diving only on the Friesland. Mr Cubin said: "At the time of the arrest the police sent divers down who said the site had not been damaged and the only items retrieved were for identification and had a nominal value of a few euros. Being threatened with years in a Spanish jail, plus fines and damages, when I didn't do anything wrong is very worrying."
The men travelled to Spain in May 2002 after winning the salvage contract. They were arrested on 22 June while taking samples from the site to identify the wreckage. They had recovered just one tin ingot when they were detained.
Lengthy periods between arrest and prosecution are not unusual in the Spanish judicial system, which uses investigating judges to inquire into allegations before deciding on whether charges should be brought.
If convicted, the men face three years' imprisonment on two charges each of theft from the wreck and damage to the historic environment.They had to wait six months before recovering confiscated equipment.
Mr Devlin, from Falmouth, said: "I have conducted this commercial operation in a completely professional manner and yet they are trying to make out that we are bunch of opportunist treasure hunters. I have spent my life savings on the project and I still have not recovered from the loss."
Posted on Wed, Nov. 30, 2005
Prison's legendary escape tunnel slowly revealing its secrets
BY NATALIE POMPILIO
Knight Ridder Newspapers
PHILADELPHIA - It wasn't much to look at: a shadowy two-foot-tall hole, shored up by a few pieces of wood. Yet when that image crackled over the screen two weeks ago, the gathered crowd cheered.
"Everybody knew what this meant," said Sally Elk, executive director of the Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site. "A lot of folktales and stories were substantiated."
It was the escape tunnel running under the yard of Eastern State Penitentiary, the one that 12 inmates _including legendary bank robber Willie Sutton _used 60 years ago to find freedom, if only briefly.
The 97-foot-long shaft, which took almost two years to dig, stretches from a cell block to a spot outside the prison's stone walls.
To commemorate the anniversary of the April 3, 1945, escape, the nonprofit organization that runs the historic site is conducting a two-part archaeological excavation of the tunnel. In the spring, archaeologists uncovered the entrance and exit and found artifacts such as a nickel and a Sealtest milk bottle from 1945.
The second phase of the $19,000 project - a quest to find the exact location of the length of the tunnel - began in November.
Over the years, more than 25 escape tunnels were dug in the grounds of Eastern State - none as famous as the one that was bored through the ground, buttressed with wood pilings, and wired for lightbulbs by cell mates Clarence Klinedinst and William Russell.
The pair did all the work, and 10 others, including Sutton, took advantage of it, entering the tunnel from the men's cell, wiggling through the narrow space and emerging as dirty as sewer rats on the outside.
Freedom did not last long: Sutton was recaptured within minutes, five others within hours, and all were back behind bars less than two weeks later.
But the legends about the tunnel have lasted decades.
"Everybody loves escape stories, even people that pay attention to the historical significance of the buildings and the noble intentions of prison reform," Elk said.
Archaeologists from John Milner Associates were brought in to handle the project. They knew the tunnel lay about 10 feet below ground but were unsure of its path. Although they do not plan to fully excavate the tunnel, they do plan to photograph and videotape it. They would love to recover some of the electrical wiring or a lightbulb that guided the escapees on their way.
"Even when you know something is underground, there's something about seeing it that's dramatic about it," archaeologist Rebecca Yamin said. "There's something about seeing that piece of the past that transports people back there that talking about it doesn't."
First, the crew tried using ground-penetrating radar to scan the earth, but found that something subterranean was throwing off their signal. They then bored one hole, then another, through the pavement in hopes of dropping in a camera.
They found nothing.
"At the end of the first day, we thought the tunnel had just collapsed in on itself. We knew it was a possibility, but we were frustrated," Elk said.
On the second day, the workers dug a third hole - one close to the prison's outer wall. About 10 feet below ground, the digging tool hit open space.
"They came over and said, 'We found it! We found it!'" Elk said.
A camera dropped into the hole showed the wood still standing against the tunnel's sides. Further exploration planned for the winter months could yield the dreamed of remnant. At the least, Eastern State has another story to tell its visitors.
"I don't know of any prison museum that has a tunnel that's still there," Elk said. "It's fabulous."