Irish river find may be first discovery of Viking ship

by Andrew Bushe Fri Jan 26, 5:29 PM ET


DUBLIN (AFP) - An ancient boat discovered in a riverbed north of Dublin may be the first Viking longship found in the country, Environment and Heritage Minister Dick Roche said.


The wreck in the River Boyne, close to the northeastern port of Drogheda, was described by Roche as potentially an "enormously exciting discovery".


The vessel, nine metres (30 feet) wide by 16 metres long, was discovered accidentally during dredging operations last November but the find was not made public until now.


"It is described as clinker built, a shipbuilding technology dating from the Viking era but also still in use centuries later," Roche said.


"Clearly we have to wait and see what condition the vessel is in and have it dated. Carbon dating analysis of some of the vessel's timbers has been arranged by my department, with the results expected in a number of weeks."


The investigation and excavation operation will be completed by the end of March.


"It is likely to take considerably longer to fully examine and draw complete knowledge from what is being heralded as a potentially unique discovery in Irish maritime archaeological heritage.


"A find like this can tell us much about the technologies, trading patterns and daily lives of our ancestors and can open a window onto how life was in Ireland over a thousand years ago," Roche said.


Archaeologists in the heritage ministry are carrying out an inventory of wrecks in the country's rivers, lakes and around the coastline.


There are thought to be as many as 12,000.


The high number of wrecks is a result of the country being an island that imported many of its needs for centuries, suffered invasions and is close to major international shipping routes.


Usually ancient wrecks are preserved in situ but the newly discovered Boyne wreck is in mid-stream, so it cannot be left there.


"The wreck will be fully excavated and, if recoverable, be preserved and conserved for further investigation and ultimately public display, or reburied at a more suitable location on the river," Roche said.


Between 795, when they first raided Rathlin Island off Northern Ireland, and 1169 when the Normans invaded from Wales, Vikings established themselves in Ireland.


Most of the main coastal cities, including the capital Dublin, began as Viking settlements.


Before setting up trading bases, Viking raiders were attracted by Ireland's early Christian monasteries. Poorly defended, they were not only centres of learning but of wealth.




Hobbit cave digs set to restart

Archaeologists who found the remains of human "Hobbits" have permission to restart excavations at the cave where the specimens were found.


Indonesian officials have blocked access to the cave since 2005, following a dispute over the bones.


But Professor Richard Roberts, a member of the team that found the specimens, told BBC News the political hurdles had now been overcome.


The researchers claim that the remains belong to a novel species of human.


But some researchers reject this assertion, claiming instead that the remains could belong to a modern human with a combination of small stature and a brain disorder.


Finding other specimens in the cave, particularly one with an intact skull, is crucial to resolving the debate over whether the Hobbit's classification as a separate species - Homo floresiensis - is valid.


But access was reportedly blocked due to political sensitivities.


"This year we will back in [Liang Bua] again, back in the cave where we found the Hobbits," said Professor Roberts, from the University of Wollongong in Australia.


"This is good; we've now managed to get over the political hurdles that had been put up. We'll probably be in there towards the middle of the year."


The Hobbit's discoverers are adamant it is an entirely separate human species that evolved a small size in isolation on its remote Indonesian island home of Flores.


Skeletal remains were discovered by an Australian-Indonesian research team in Liang Bua, a limestone cave deep in the Flores jungle, in 2003.


Researchers found one near-complete skeleton, which they named LB1, along with the remains of at least eight other individuals.


LB1 was an adult female who lived 18,000 years ago who stood just 1m (3ft) tall and possessed a brain size of around 400 cubic centimetres (24 cubic inches) - about the same as that of a chimp.


Long arms, a sloping chin and other primitive features suggested affinities to ancient human species such as Homo erectus and even earlier ones such as Homo habilis and Australopithecus .


These observations could imply that humanlike creatures - hominids, or hominins - could have reached island South-East Asia much earlier than had been thought.


The find caused a sensation when it was unveiled in 2004, because it suggested human evolution had been much more complicated in South-East Asia than previously imagined. It also showed that another species of human had survived into "modern" times.


Mike Morwood, director of the excavation, told BBC News the remains at Liang Bua could be the tip of the iceberg: "South-East Asia and East Asia are going to yield an awful lot of surprises and it's going to make a major contribution to our understanding of hominin evolution."


But not all researchers were happy about this hand grenade being tossed into one of palaeoanthropology's hallowed vestibules.


Professor Teuku Jacob, based at Gajah Mada University, in Yogyakarta, Indonesia, contended that the bones of LB1 could have been those of a pygmy person with the condition microcephaly, which is characterised by a small brain.


In 2004, Professor Jacob - known as Indonesia's "king of palaeoanthropology" - took the bones away from their repository in Jakart to his lab in Yogyakarta, 443km (275 miles) away, against the wishes of the researchers who found them.


They were eventually returned. But the discoverers claim the bones were extensively damaged in Jacob's lab during attempts to make casts.


The damage included long, deep cuts marking the lower edge of the Hobbit's jaw on both sides, said to be caused by a knife used to cut away the rubber mold.


In addition, the chin of a second Hobbit jaw was snapped off and glued back together. Whoever was responsible misaligned the pieces and put them at an incorrect angle.


The pelvis was smashed, destroying details that reveal body shape, gait and evolutionary history.


After the accusations surfaced, Professor Jacob denied damaging the remains, telling USA Today that breakages could have occurred while the bones were being transported from Yogyakarta to Jakarta.


Previous reports have suggested that excavations at Liang Bua were blocked because Indonesian government officials would not issue exploration permits for projects that might prove Professor Jacob wrong.


But the remaining issues now appear to have been smoothed over.


"It's now a matter of getting everything organised so we can start digging again," said Professor Roberts.


"You've got to get there in the dry season; in the wet season you can hardly drive to the site and when you are there, there are puddles of water all over the floor - so it's got to be dry to sensibly dig holes."


Speaking to BBC News before permission was given to re-start excavation, Mike Morwood, from the University of New England, Australia, was optimistic about future research into H. floresiensis and the record of human occupation in island South-East Asia.


"This particular discovery seems to have prompted people to rethink what it is to be human, the relationship between brain size and behaviour, and whether hominin populations have been insulated from environmental factors. This indicates that they haven't.


"It also raises questions about the colonisation capabilities of early hominids. What are they doing on Flores and what are they almost certainly doing on other islands in South-East Asia."


It is still not known how hominids travelled by sea between these islands. Building watercraft may have been a skill too advanced for them.


So natural catastrophes such as tsunamis have been invoked by some researchers to explain their distribution. Hominids could have clung to trees as they were washed out to sea, eventually arriving on the shores of other islands.


Story from BBC NEWS:



Published: 2007/01/25 09:35:44 GMT





Pollen Reveals Terracotta Army Origins

Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News

 Jan. 29, 2007


China’s Terracotta Army has mystified scholars since the 8,099 clay warriors and horses were first discovered in Emperor Qin Shihuang’s mausoleum in 1974. The figures, meant to protect the emperor in the afterlife, were buried with him around 210-209 B.C.


At least one mystery about the imposing faux army recently was solved. It is now known that the horses and warriors were constructed in different locations, based on analysis of pollen found in fragments of terracotta that were collected from the clay figures.


The findings have been accepted for publication in the Journal of Archaeological Science.


"When the plants were flowering in the time of the Qin Dynasty 2000 years ago, the pollen flew in the air and fell in the clay, even if the pollen could not be seen with the naked eye," lead author Ya-Qin Hu told Discovery News.


Hu, a scientist in the Institute of Botany at Beijing’s Chinese Academy of Sciences, and colleagues crushed the collected terracotta fragments, washed them and performed gravity separation. The resulting organic residue was mounted in glycerol and observed under a powerful microscope.


Using these methods, the researchers identified and recovered 32 different types of pollen. The pollen found in the terracotta warrior sample was mostly from herbaceous plants, such as members of the mustard and cabbage family, the genus of plants that includes sagebrush and wormwood, and the family of flowering plants that includes quinoa, spinach, beets and chard.


The pollen detected in the terracotta horse sample, however, mostly came from trees, such as pine, kamala and ginkgo.


Hu explained that pollen in clay often is destroyed after objects are fired. Some granules survived in the terracotta, however, because the figures appear to have been fired at inconsistent temperatures with parts of the objects —especially thicker portions — not undergoing complete firing.


Based on the pollen differences, the researchers conclude that the horses were produced near the mausoleum, while the warriors were made at an as-of-yet unknown site away from the region.


The horses are large (over 6 feet long) and heavy (nearly 441 pounds) compared to the warriors, which weigh around 330 pounds. The horses also are more delicate, given their relatively fragile legs. The scientists therefore theorize that whomever planned the Terracotta Army’s construction determined it would be easier to have the horses built closer to the destination site to minimize transport.


Michael Nylan is a professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley who specializes in early Chinese history.


Nylan told Discovery News that because scientific access to the terracotta figures is difficult, it would be hard at present to verify the findings.


Pollen analysis in recent years, however, has led to some remarkable discoveries, including solving murder cases and determining the origins of other artwork.


Hu said, "We believe this work may open a new window for archaeologists to consider the possibility of finding pollen in ancient terracotta or pottery, as the pollen may tell us some stories that we want to know, but that are still unknown."



Discovering the pharmacy of the pharaohs

26 Jan 2007


Scientists at The University of Manchester have teamed up with colleagues in Egypt in a bid to discover what medicines were used by the ancient Egyptians.


The KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology in the Faculty of Life Sciences and the Egyptian Medicinal Plant Conservation Project in St Katherine's, Sinai, have formed a partnership to research Egyptian pharmacy in the times of the pharaohs.


The 'Pharmacy in Ancient Egypt' collaboration, which is funded by a grant from the Leverhulme Trust, will compare modern plant species common to the Sinai region with the remains of ancient plants found in tombs.


Researcher Ryan Metcalf said: "We know that the ancient Egyptians had extensive trade routes and it is entirely possible that both medicinal plants and the knowledge to use them effectively were traded between regions and countries.


"By comparing the prescriptions in the medical papyri to the medicinal plant use of the indigenous Bedouin people we hope to determine the origins of Pharaonic medicine."


The Medicinal Plant Conservation Project, headed by Professor Mohamed Al-Demerdash, is helping to preserve the biodiversity of the region through close cooperation with the local Bedouin.


Fellow researcher Dr Jenefer Cockitt added: "Many of the plants are endemic to the Sinai and extremely valuable to the Bedouin, whether as fodder, cash crops, building materials or as pharmaceuticals.


"St Katherine's will be able to supply us with seeds and information that covers the entire Sinai peninsula, which will be an invaluable resource for our work."


For further information contact:

Aeron Haworth

Media Officer

Faculty of Life Sciences

The University of Manchester

Tel: 0161 275 8383

Mob: 07717 881563

Email: aeron.haworth@manchester.ac.uk



Sacred Cave of Rome's Founders Discovered, Archaeologists Say

Maria Cristina Valsecchi in Rome

for National Geographic News

January 26, 2007


Archaeologists say they have unearthed Lupercale—the sacred cave where, according to legend, a she-wolf nursed the twin founders of Rome and where the city itself was born.


The long-lost underground chamber was found beneath the remains of Emperor Augustus' palace on the Palatine, a 230-foot-tall (70-meter-tall) hill in the center of the city.


Archaeologists from the Department of Cultural Heritage of the Rome Municipality came across the 50-foot-deep (15-meter-deep) cavity while working to restore the decaying palace.


"We were drilling the ground near Augustus' residence to survey the foundations of the building when we discovered the cave," said Irene Iacopi, the archaeologist in charge of the area.


"We knew from ancient reports that the Lupercale shouldn't be far from the Emperor's palace, but we didn't expect to find it. It was a lucky surprise.


"We didn't enter the cave but took some photos with a probe," Iacopi added.


"They show a richly decorated vault encrusted with mosaics and seashells, too rich to be part of a home. That's why we think it could be the ancient sanctuary, but we can't be sure until we find the entrance to the chamber."


According to myth, Lupercale is where a she-wolf suckled Romulus and Remus, the twin sons of the war god Mars and mortal priestess Rhea Silvia, who had been abandoned in a cradle on the bank of the Tiber River.


The cave's name, in fact, comes from the Latin word for wolf, lupus.


The brothers are said to have later founded Rome on April 21, 753 B.C., at the site. But they eventually fought for the leadership of the new city, and Romulus killed his brother.


That didn't stop the site from becoming a sacred place to ancient Romans.


Every year on February 15 ancient priests killed a dog and two goats and smeared the foreheads of two boys from noble families with the sacrificial blood as part of the Lupercalia celebration. (Related: "'Rome' TV Wardrobe Not Built in a Day [August 26, 2005].)


The ceremony survived until A.D. 494, when Pope Gelasius put an end to the tradition.


The Palatine Hill also became the residential area of the most affluent Roman citizens beginning in 500 B.C.


When the Roman Republic became the Roman Empire in the first century B.C., Augustus even built himself and his wife Livia palaces on top of the hill.


Later emperors followed his example and built larger and larger homes on the same spot. Now the whole hill is a honeycomb of buildings and tunnels extending far underground.


The English word "palace" derives from "Palatium," the Latin name of the area.


Crumbling Ruins


"The tale of the birth of Rome is part myth and part historical truth," said Andrea Carandini, historian and archaeologist at the University of Rome, La Sapienza.


"The story of the twins reflects the previous tradition of the Lares, the twin deities protecting the area, but there was indeed a historical founder who constituted the Palatine Hill as the sacred heart of the city around 775 B.C.," he added.


"The archaeological findings are providing more and more evidence that the tale of Rome's foundation isn't a later legend but originates from historical facts," he said.


Time may been running out for additional discoveries, however.


"The remains are now crumbling due to atmospheric agents and lack of funds for maintenance," head archaeologist Iacopi said. "Most of the buildings are closed to the public for safety reasons. It's a real pity.


"Archaeologists are doing what they can to restore and stabilize the ruins," she added.


"Now we have to find the entrance and study the chamber," Iacopi said.


"In the meantime we are going to finish the restorations in Augustus' palace. We hope to open part of the emperor's residence to the public in a few months."



Carvings of ancient gladiators found

Posted on Monday, 29 January, 2007 | 10:30


Italian police have recovered ancient Roman marble reliefs depicting stunningly lifelike gladiators locked in mortal combat after unearthing the hidden cache of grave robbers, officials said Wednesday. The 12 panels were found buried in the garden of a private home near Fiano Romano, about 25 miles north of Rome, and officials hailed the find as a major archaeological discovery and a blow to the illegal antiquities market. The reliefs date to the late first century B.C. and are believed to have decorated a tomb, yet to be located, in the Roman settlement of Lucus Feroniae, said Anna Maria Moretti, the superintendent for antiquities in the area north of Rome. The pieces, made of high-quality Carrara marble, are notable for their size and age and are among the finest examples from their period depicting one of Rome's favorite blood sports, Moretti said. The panels show bare-chested fighters, armed with swords and shields, engaged in duels while surrounded by trumpet and horn players who accompanied the phases of combat in the bloodied arena.


In one of the most dramatic scenes, a gladiator steps on the wrist of a downed opponent who raises a finger in a traditional plea for mercy. The reliefs will undergo restoration before being shown to the public at Rome's Villa Giulia Museum, officials said. Archaeologists have unearthed many similar representations, but interest in the new discovery goes beyond its craftsmanship, Moretti said.



Hunting for Hadrian

Published on 25/01/2007

Revelations: Presenter Julian Richards

By Chris Story


HISTORIANS hope to unearth evidence that Roman emperor Hadrian once stayed in a fort along the magnificent wall bearing his name.


Archaeologists will be digging along Hadrian’s Wall this summer in an attempt to confirm speculation about why and when it was built.


They hope their work at Vindolanda in Northumbria will prove that the emperor once stayed there on a visit to the wall, as well as unlocking secrets about the Roman army and people’s political and social lives.


The 73-mile stone barrier – stretching east to west from the River Tyne to the Solway Firth – stood as the empire’s most imposing frontier for 300 years.


Now a BBC documentary will question the wall’s purpose and whether it was designed to keep people in or out.


And those who live and work along its path say producers of Timewatch: Hadrian’s Wall were amazed by what they found.


Vineet Lal, director of branding and communications for Hadrian’s Wall, said: “The Timewatch production team admitted that they had only previously scratched the surface where Hadrian’s Wall was concerned.


“They were genuinely surprised by some of the beautiful scenery in Cumbria and North East England and their filming has captured perfectly the landscapes that surround Hadrian’s Wall with stunning aerial photography.”


Among the places featured in the documentary, which will be screened on BBC Two at 9pm on Friday, is Tullie House museum in Carlisle.


Timewatch will use state-of-the art graphics to bring the wall and its people back to life while detailing the preservative and forensic processes used to reveal astonishing Roman treasures.


Producers say an extraordinary collection of archaeological findings bring a unique understanding – not just about those who build and defended the wall – but of the Romans whose empire dominated Europe for half a millennium.


Even almost 2,000 years after Emperor Hadrian ordered the construction of the wall, opinion remains divided about its purpose.


It was presumed to have been a defensive wall to keep warring barbarians out, but historians have argued that it was built in peaceful times and that its real purpose was as a customs frontier.


An earlier dig at Vindolanda found 1,500 Roman letters written by the commanders, soldiers, slaves and their families on the northern frontier.


Hadrian’s Wall Heritage, the organisation responsible for the marketing and preservation on the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site, has put together a Timewatch itinerary which will assist visitors inspired by the programme who want to visit the wall and find out more.





Normandy grave hints at 300-year defiance of the Roman Empire

By John Lichfield in Evreux

Published: 27 January 2007


A macabre 1,700-year-old mass grave of people and horses, discovered in Normandy, poses perplexing new questions about the Roman conquest of France. Was there a small part of ancient Gaul which refused, Asterix-like, to surrender for 300 years?


The grave site, from the 3rd century, which was discovered by French state archaeologists at Evreux, appears to contain ritual arrangements of human and horse remains. In one, a human skull is clasped between two horse's skulls, like the two halves of a giant shell.


In Gaullish times, 300 years earlier, graves containing both horses and people were common. No such grave has ever been found from the Roman period, and even in the previous era, the remains were kept carefully apart.


In the recently discovered grave, about 50 miles west of Paris, the bones appear to have been intentionally mixed. The skeletons of 40 people and 100 horses have been found so far.


Was this a local - or maybe more widespread - survival of the Gaullish cult of Epona, the goddess of horses and warriors? Sylvie Pluton is leader of the dig for the |Institut National de Recherches Arcéologique Préventives (Inrap). She is also an expert on the Gallo-Roman period.


"With the Romans, you usually know what to expect," she said. "They were very organised. Their graves were very orderly. Not here. The bodies point in all directions ... Above all, there is extraordinary mingling of humans and horses. We could be looking at a cultural survival, previously unknown, such as a worship of the goddess Epona."


Roman graves often contained offerings of food, but Romans did not eat horse flesh. Nor can this have been a warriors' grave. Many of the human skeletons are those of children or women or old men.


Some Gaullish practices and beliefs did survive deep into Roman times, but there have been no previous finds as striking. One of the visitors to the site was Professor Christian Goudineau of the Collège de France, the foremost expert on the period. He said: "Personally, I am reluctant to believe in some kind of cultural survival, such as a cult of the goddess Epona. Why would it survive for so long? And here, on the edge of what we know was a large Roman town?


"Perhaps these were slaves and horses which died in an epidemic and were just thrown here in a hurry and became mixed up," he added.


The problem, as Professor Goudineau himself pointed out, is that some of the remains seem to have been carefully arranged. Further digging on the site in the next two months, before it is covered by a new bungalow, may help to unlock the mystery.



Yorkshire clan linked to Africa DNA molecule



People of African origin have lived in Britain for centuries, according to genetic evidence.


A Leicester University study found that seven men with a rare Yorkshire surname carry a genetic signature previously found only in people of African origin.


The men seem to have shared a common ancestor in the 18th Century, but the African DNA lineage they carry may have reached Britain centuries earlier.


Details of the study appear in the European Journal of Human Genetics.


The scientists declined to disclose the men's surname in order to protect their anonymity.


The discovery came out of genetic work looking at the relationship between the male, or Y, chromosome and surnames.


The Y chromosome is a package of genetic material normally found only in males.


It is passed down from father to son, more or less unchanged, just like a surname.


But over time, the Y chromosome accumulates small changes in its DNA sequence, allowing scientists to study the relationships between different male lineages.


Y chromosomes can be classified into different groups (called haplogroups) which, to some extent, reflect a person's geographical ancestry.


Certain haplogroups might be very common in, for example, East Asia and very rare in Europe.


By chance, the researchers discovered a white man with a rare Yorkshire surname carrying a Y chromosome haplogroup that had previously been found only in West African men. And even there, it is relatively uncommon.


"We found that he was in haplogroup A1, which is highly West African-specific," said Turi King, a co-author on the study at the University of Leicester.


"It is incredibly rare, there are only 25 other people known worldwide and they are all African."


The individual had no knowledge of any African heritage in his family.


Sharing a surname also significantly raised the likelihood of sharing the same type of Y chromosome, with the link getting stronger as the surname gets rarer.


Portrait of Thomas Jefferson by the artist Rembrandt Peale Image: AP

Analysis of Thomas Jefferson's DNA also threw up a surprise

So the researchers started recruiting people with the same last name, which starts with "R" and originates in Yorkshire.


Of 18 people they tested, seven carried the rare African haplogroup.


Turi King and Leicester colleague Mark Jobling then commissioned a genealogist to fit the men into a family tree to see how they were related and find clues about where exactly their unusual Y haplogroup came from.


"He could only get them into two trees, one which dates back to 1788 and the other to 1789. He couldn't go back any further. So it's likely they join up in the early 18th Century," said Turi King.


The majority of the one million people who define themselves as "black" or "black British" trace their origins to immigration from the Caribbean or Africa from the middle of the 20th Century onwards.


Prior to the 20th Century, there have been various routes by which people of African ancestry might have reached Britain. For example, the Romans recruited from Africa and elsewhere for the garrison that guarded Hadrian's Wall.


Another major route was through the slave trade.


"Some of the Africans who arrived in Britain through the slave trade rose quite high up in society, and we know they married with the rest of the population," said Ms King.


"It could be either of these two routes," she said. Even if the two family trees link up in the 18th Century, haplogroup A1 could have reached Britain long before that.


"But my guess is that, because many slaves came from West Africa, it could have been through that route," Ms King told BBC News.


She added that the study showed that Britain has always been composed of a mosaic of different people.


Professor Jobling echoed this view: "This study shows that what it means to be British is complicated and always has been," he said.


"Human migration history is clearly very complex, particularly for an island nation such as ours, and this study further debunks the idea that there are simple and distinct populations or 'races'."


Turi King said she had since found another African Y chromosome haplogroup in a different British lineage.


There are other precedents for the finding. When scientists analysed the DNA of the third US president, Thomas Jefferson, they found that his Y chromosome belonged to a haplogroup known as K2.


Jefferson's father claimed Welsh ancestry. But his Y-haplogroup is rare in Europe and has not yet been reported in Britain.


In fact, genetic studies show that Thomas Jefferson's K2 haplogroup ultimately came from north-east Africa or the Middle East, the areas where it is most commonly found today.


The research on haplogroup A1 was funded by the Wellcome Trust.



Archeologists discover ancient Olmec-influenced city near Mexico City

Posted: 2007/01/25

From: Source

International Herald Tribune (AP)


MEXICO CITY: A 1,500-year-old city influenced by the Olmecs — often referred to as the "mother culture" of Mesoamerica — has been discovered hundreds of kilometers (miles) away from the Olmecs' Gulf coast territory, archaeologists announced Wednesday.


The remains of Zazacatla, 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Mexico City, is providing insight into the early arrival of advanced civilizations in central Mexico, while also providing lessons about the risks to ruins posed by modern development that now cover much of the ancient city.


Archaeologist Giselle Canto said two statues and architectural details at the site indicate that the inhabitants of Zazacatla adopted Olmec styles when they changed from a simple, egalitarian society to a more complex, hierarchical one.


"When their society became stratified, the new rulers needed emblems ... to justify their rule over people who used to be their equals," Canto said of the inhabitants, who may not have been ethnically Olmec, but apparently revered the culture as the most prestigious.


Zazacatla covered about two square kilometers (less than one square mile) between 800 B.C. and 500 B.C., but much of it has been covered by housing and commercial development extending from Cuernavaca, a city popular with tourists just 12 kilometers (seven miles) north.


"There are 10 housing developments, a gas station, a highway and a commercial building on the site now," Canto said.


Authorities hope to excavate and preserve other pre-Hispanic sites before they are forgotten or covered over.


Since excavation of Zazacatla began last year, archaeologists have unearthed six buildings, and two sculptures of what appear to be Olmec-style priests. The sculptures appear to have headdresses portraying the jaguar, which the Olmecs revered, and other symbols of status and authority.


The Olmecs dominated areas around the Gulf coast states of Veracruz and Tabasco from 1,200 B.C. to about 400 B.C.


Some had speculated that the signs of Olmec influence found at Zazacatla and other areas far from the Gulf coast might suggest Olmec settlements, conquests or missionary sites.


But Canto said the Olmecs' most famous ceremonial center, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east, was too far for direct contact, though trade links may have existed.



Archaeologists explain significance of the Walker site

Find does not affect Walker Area Community Center project

by Molly MacGregor, Pilot Contributor

The Pilot-Independent

Last Updated: Wednesday, January 24th, 2007 05:28:25 PM


Archaeologists dug down about two meters. The 20-some tools were found between 20 and 30 centimeters below the surface.


If you are puzzling about news of an archaeological find at the City of Walker's Tower Avenue project, then you should meet Matt Mattson. He's a volunteer who helped a team of archaeologists uncover what might be the oldest intact site of human activity on two continents.

He describes the 15,000-year-old landscape that surround the site as if he is just back from a visit. "This place was an oasis. Not like we think of an oasis, but a place that was relatively dry and habitable, and surrounded by walls of ice," he said.

Thor Olmanson is director of the Leech Lake Heritage Sites program and is the project's principal investigator. He is understandably more cautious in describing the site, especially since "we are in the early stages of site material and landform analysis," he said. This fall, he and David Mather, National Register Archaeologist for the state's Historic Preservation Office, invited geologists, soil scientists, fellow archaeologists and other scientists to investigate the site. "As the natural response is skepticism, everyone who came was ready to debunk the site," said Olmanson. "And, so far, they have left convinced that this is something different, something that needs to be looked at more closely" he said.

Visiting scientists included soil scientists Grant Goltz, from Soils Consulting, Mike Lieser from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (accompanied by Richard Schossow, Walker SWCD), Howard Hobbs, with the Minnesota Geological Survey, Kate Pound, from St. Cloud State University, and Stephen and Susan Mulholland, of the Duluth Archaeology Center. The Mulhollands collected soil samples from the site to search for microscopic evidence of plant materials (phytoliths), which may help to reconstruct the early site environment.

Until around 11,000 years ago, much of Minnesota was covered with glaciers, and had been for nearly two million years. There were four major glacial advances across the state. During the last glacial period, what is now north central Minnesota was a "collision point" for several glacial lobes, from the northeast, the north, and the northwest. As the glaciers began to recede, approximately 15,000 years ago, an ice-free "oasis" developed in this part of the state. There was an access from the southeast to this relatively stable environment which was habitable at least part of the year, although surrounded by glaciers. It was a dynamic environment, with frequent shifts in the landscape as drainage patterns became established.

The ancient people visiting the site near Walker probably consisted of extended family groups, often up to 15 individuals, Olmanson explained. They selected certain types of stones, flaked off just enough from the pebbles and cobbles to make sharp tools. They used the tools to prepare plants for food as well as the animals that they had killed or scavenged. Organic materials they used, such as bone, wood, and fibers, have not survived.

The glaciers around them washed out rock and soil debris as the surface melted. These deposits settled out and formed distinct layers — "a dense soil stratum of sand, coarse gravel and stone cobbles," Olmanson wrote in his October summary report of the excavations. This dense lens lies beneath today's land surface and effectively capped or "encapsulated" the debris that the group of hunters left behind. After the glaciers melted, the area became dry and warm. Winds deposited fine sand atop of the glacial materials. Over the centuries, the debris left at the site was covered, and left intact, until it was discovered by chance.

The layers of windblown materials and then the deeper layer of stone and gravel literally sealed the site, protecting it "from intrusions of most rodents — subject primarily to those intrusions imposed by tree roots, industrious children, ever-curious archaeologists, and urban development," Olmanson wrote in the report.

Because no organic materials, such as bone, appear to have survived in the acidic soils at the site, conventional carbon dating of the site is not possible. The preliminary dating of the site is based on the location of the stone tools within the glacial deposits.

Future work should include use of other absolute dating methods are possible, recommended Colleen Wells, field director for the Leech Lake Heritage Sites program. Wells proposes using a dating technique known as Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL) which measures the last time that buried sand grains were exposed to sunlight.

The site can be preserved if the proposed extension of Tower Avenue south of the site — an area currently being used as a road, Olmanson said.

"I would assume moving the road is possible," confirmed Ben Brovold, vice-president of the Walker Area Community Center. "The community center would have to reconfigure our parking spaces and retention ponds, but it could be done. This site will not stop or hurt the community center in any way," he added. "It can be a terrific thing for our project, and something I think we can incorporate into the community center. This could be a huge benefit to Walker."

Options for the site are the topic of an 11 a.m. meeting Friday, at the Walker Fire Hall. Representatives of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, the Leech Lake Heritage Sites Crew will meet with the City of Walker and Walter Area Community Center.

The site might have gone undiscovered. Because the Walker Area Community Center received a federal grant to build, an archaeological survey was required. The first survey was simply a walk over the 10-acre building site, plus some shovel tests. The team identified a formation that looked like a "pit house" which sat in an unusual location and was similar to temporary houses built during the fur trade period in the 18th and 19th centuries.

In a second, more intensive investigation, archaeologists determined that the "pit house" was really the remains of a child's fort. They found several "artifacts" from the early 1960s, including a cap gun. However, in "bottoming out" the site, they found some materials suggestive of stone tools and kept digging. "A deeply buried, intact, sealed component site, situated in this geomorphological context, clearly represents a rare property type in a poorly understood context," Olmanson's report summarized. The site is important because it is in an unusual location, high above the current level of Leech Lake, because it is intact and sealed, and because there is no "context" for the site — that is, there are no other known sites for comparison that have been identified from this early time period in Minnesota.

The working hypothesis has been that the North and South American continents were populated by people crossing the Bering land bridge (which is now the Bering Strait) no earlier than 12,000 years ago. This site suggests that people were in North America thousands of years earlier, as the glaciers continued to advance and recede. The Walker site may be similar in age to a village site at Monte Verde, near Chile's southern tip. It was 1976 when archaeologist Tom Dillehay, then at the University of Kentucky, started working at Monte Verde, on Chile's southern coast and claimed that people lived there 12,500 years ago. After more than 20 years of work, his claims have been accepted by the scientific community, thus complicating the long-held theory of when humans first crossed the Bering Strait.

Olmanson, Wells and Mattson will discuss results of their work at a forum at WHA High School Auditorium at 7 p.m. Feb. 8. They will share a presentation they are preparing about the site for the Council of Minnesota Archaeology.

Just as archaeologists visualize the past, the discovery of the "Walker oasis" might inspire imaginations about how this archaeological discovery can change Walker in the next 25 years:

The Walker Area Community Center has just completed its new Cultural Center, including a public library and museum for the Cass County Historical Society, located just across the road from the archaeological site. Visitors start their tour at the center, where local art students created dioramas of the Walker Oasis as it looked 15,000 years ago. From the center, the visitor can stroll through the site, along a path that winds through the excavation and then descends into the development of houses and shops located on "Glacier Terrace" below the site.

In the excavating pits, a full crew of archaeologists, geologists and field staff are working. This year, a group from Oxford University is visiting. Twelve lucky people were selected through annual lottery to help the working archaeologists continue the excavation of the site. This year’s winners submitted their bids two or three years earlier and stay at local resorts for their three-weeks on the dig. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe still manages the program, which added a crew of high school students in 2008.

The International Archaeological Society has just concluded its first North American meeting in Walker, where a series of papers on the Walker Oasis — as the site became known — were the heart of the event. The 500-plus members spent five days in workshops, conferences and touring the event, scheduled to coincide with the town's annual fall celebration, Walker Mammoth Days — changed from "Ethnic Fest" in 2009.

Highlight of the conference were posters prepared by the Leech Lake Magnet School and University, Minnesota’s first high school and college located in the same facility. High school students have the opportunity to work side by side with visiting scientists from archaeology programs around the world. The school was created when ongoing budget shortfalls threatened the existing public school.

Sensing an opportunity, the school board created a school with a rigorous academic curriculum that uses the local geology and archaeology to educate students in the science, math, language, history and social studies. The school also developed vocational programs in robotics, manufacturing, graphics and mapping that support the ongoing work at the site.



Exhibition reveals secret history of Nazi sex slaves

By Tony Paterson in Berlin

Published: 24 January 2007


There are no photographs and no names, just scores of faded brown index cards with anonymous

s prisoner numbers, dates of birth, and the hideously functional term "brothel woman" handwritten in black ink on the bottom right-hand corner of each form.


The files, stacked on desks in a former garage for SS guards at the Ravensbrück women's concentration camp museum in Germany, provide evidence about one of the most sordid but least known aspects of Nazi rule. They recall how hundreds of women, written of as "antisocial elements" by the Hitler regime, were arrested, dispatched to camps and forced to work as prostitutes for slave labourers during the Third Reich.


The plight of the hundreds of women who suffered this fate is the subject of an exhibition which opened last week at the former Ravensbrück camp's museum, north of Berlin. It breaks a taboo on an issue which has remained a virtual secret since the end of the Second World War.


"Hardly any other part of concentration camp history has been so repressed and so tainted with prejudice and distortion," said Insa Eschebach, the museum's director. "The women prisoners who were forced to work as prostitutes remained silent after 1945. Hardly any applied for financial compensation because talking about their experiences was too degrading for them."


Yet with the help of testimonies by former Ravensbrück prisoners, excerpts from Nazi SS files and accounts by camp guards, the exhibition manages to capture the horror and degradation suffered by the Third Reich's sex slaves.


Antonia Bruhn, a former inmate at Ravensbrück, where most of the prostitutes were recruited, recalls in a video interview how the women were lured with promises that they would be set free after six months, fed fresh food and vitamins and tanned with sun lamps to improve their looks. Unlike other women prisoners they were allowed to keep their hair. "After they were primped up, they were all tried out by a group of SS guards in the camp operating theatre. Then they were sent off to the concentration camps to work. Of course none of them were set free as the SS had promised."


The women were forced to work at 10 camps, including Auschwitz, from 1942 until 1945. In special brothels equipped with tiny "copulation cells" the women were obliged to receive eight men a day and up to 40 each at weekends. Sex was only permitted lying down in 20-minute sessions and was controlled by SS guards who watched through spy holes.


Irma Trksak, another inmate, recalled the victims returning from a six-month stint at one camp. "They came back as wrecks. God knows how many men they had had to sleep with. They were ruined, sick and many died afterwards," she said.


The idea was conceived by Heinrich Himmler, the Nazi SS chief, as an incentive for slave labourers. But it was also designed to combat the spread of homosexuality in all-male labour camps. German prisoners were the chief beneficiaries.


The exhibition reveals how the SS delighted in making lesbians work as prostitutes in an attempt to "convert" them. Homosexuals were also forcibly sent to have sex with prostitutes.


On their return many of the prostitutes were subjected to medical experiments and several died as a result.