World's oldest wall painting unearthed in Syria

Thu Oct 11, 2007 1:47pm EDT

By Khaled Yacoub Oweis


DAMASCUS (Reuters) - French archaeologists have discovered an 11,000-year-old wall painting underground in northern Syria which they believe is the oldest in the world.


The 2 square-meter painting, in red, black and white, was found at the Neolithic settlement of Djade al-Mughara on the Euphrates, northeast of the city of Aleppo, team leader Eric Coqueugniot told Reuters.


"It looks like a modernist painting. Some of those who saw it have likened it to work by (Paul) Klee. Through carbon dating we established it is from around 9,000 B.C.," Coqueugniot said.


"We found another painting next to it, but that won't be excavated until next year. It is slow work," said Coqueugniot, who works at France's National Centre for Scientific Research.


Rectangles dominate the ancient painting, which formed part of an adobe circular wall of a large house with a wooden roof. The site has been excavated since the early 1990s.


The painting will be moved to Aleppo's museum next year, Coqueugniot said. Its red came from burnt hematite rock, crushed limestone formed the white and charcoal provided the black.


The world's oldest painting on a constructed wall was one found in Turkey but that was dated 1,500 years after the one at Djade al-Mughara, according to Science magazine.


The inhabitants of Djade al-Mughara lived off hunting and wild plants. They resembled modern day humans in looks but were not farmers or domesticated, Coqueugniot said.


"There was a purpose in having the painting in what looked like a communal house, but we don't know it. The village was later abandoned and the house stuffed with mud," he said.


A large number of flints and weapons have been found at the site as well as human skeletons buried under houses.


"This site is one of several Neolithic villages in modern day Syria and southern Turkey. They seem to have communicated with each other and had peaceful exchanges," Coqueugniot said.


Mustafa Ali, a leading Syrian artist, said similar geometric design to that in the Djade al-Mughara painting found its way into art throughout the Levant and Persia, and can even be seen in carpets and kilims (rugs).


"We must not lose sight that the painting is archaeological, but in a way it's also modern," he said.


France is an important contributor to excavation efforts in Syria, where 120 teams are at work. Syria was at the crossroads of the ancient world and has thousands of mostly unexcavated archaeological sites.


Swiss-German artist Paul Klee had links with the Bauhaus school and was important in the German modernist movement.



Unearthing Rome's king

Richard Owen


Italian archeologists have uncovered the ruins of a 2,700 year old sanctuary which they say provides the first physical evidence of Rome at the time of Numa Pompilius, Rome’s legendary second king, in the 8th century BC.


Numa Pompilius, a member of the Sabine tribe, was elected at the age of forty to succeed Romulus, the founder of Rome. He reigned from 715-673 BC, and is said by Plutarch to have been a reluctant monarch who ushered in a 40-year period of peace and stability. He was celebrated for his wisdom, personal austerity and piety.


Clementina Panella, the archeologist from Rome’s Sapienza University who is leading the dig, said Numa Pompilius was also known to have established religious practices and observance in the emergent city state, instituting the office of priest or pontifex and founding the cult of the Vestal Virgins. She said the temple or sanctuary her team had uncovered lay between the Palatine and Velian hills, close to the Colosseum, the Arch of Titus and Via Sacra, and had probably been dedicated to the Goddess of Fortune.


The dig began a year ago, with the help of 130 students and volunteers. The wall of the temple was found seven metres below the surface, together with a street and pavement and two wells, one round and one rectangular. Both wells were “full of thousands of votive offerings and cult objects”, including the bones of birds and animals and ceramic bowls and cups.


Dr Panella said there was no doubt that the objects dated from the period of Numa Pompilius. However there were no statues or figures because Numa forbade images of the gods in his temples, arguing that it was “impious to represent things Divine by what is perishable”.


Numa Pompilius is also credited with dividing Rome into administrative districts, and according to Plutarch organised the city’s first occupational guilds, “forming companies of musicians, goldsmiths, carpenters, dyers, shoemakers, skinners, braziers, and potters”.


Corriere della Sera said the unearthing of the temple proved there were still “remarkable discoveries” to be made in the Forum and Palatine Hill areas. Last year Andrea Carandini, Professor of Archeology at La Sapienza, announced that he had discovered the remains of a royal palace dating to the time of Romulus.


He said the palace, built around a courtyard, had a monumental entrance and ornate furniture and tiles, and was ten times the size of ordinary homes of the period.


Also last year Dr Panella, who has been excavating in the Forum for twenty years, discovered a sceptre which belonged to Emperor Maxentius, who ruled for six years until 312AD — towards the end of the Roman state.


Maxentius drowned in the Tiber during the battle on the Milvian bridge against his brother-in-law, Constantine, who attributed his victory over Maxentius to divine intervention and converted the Roman empire to Christianity.


Maxentius’s supporters are thought to have hidden the sceptre after the defeat. It was found wrapped in silk and linen in a wooden box together with battle standards and lance heads.



Report: Ancient Roman graveyard found in suburban Copenhagen

The Associated Press

Published: October 10, 2007


COPENHAGEN, Denmark: Archaeologists have discovered a Roman cemetery from about 300 A.D. in suburban Copenhagen with about 30 graves, a newspaper reported Wednesday.


"It is something special and rare in Denmark to have so many (ancient Roman) graves in one place," archaeologist Rune Iversen was quoted as saying by the Roskilde Dagblad newspaper.


The graveyard's exact location in Ishoej, southwest of downtown Copenhagen, was being kept secret until the archaeologists from the nearby Kroppedal Museum have completed their work, the newspaper wrote. No one at the museum could be immediately be reached for comment.


Archaeologists found necklaces and other personal belongings, as well as ceramics for containing food.


"It shows that we're dealing with the wealthy segment of that population," Iversen was quoted as saying. The objects were buried with the deceased "to show that one could afford it, show one's social status."


Excavations are due to be completed in early November, according to Roskilde Dagblad.



'Europe's oldest city' found in Cadiz

Posted: 2007/10/09 by Elizabeth Nash in Madrid

(Independent Online)

Remnants of walls have emerged seven metres deep in a dig beneath Cadiz's old town centre which have been dated to the 8th century BC.


Archaeologists in Spain's southern port of Cadiz believe they have found remains which prove that it is Europe's oldest inhabited city – Phoenician Gadir, or Gades in Roman times.


Remnants of walls have emerged seven metres deep in a dig beneath Cadiz's old town centre which have been dated to the 8th century BC. Scientists found shards of Phoenician pottery, and pieces of jars, bowls and plates once used in everyday life which all point towards the existence of a town. A well-preserved bronze brooch has also appeared, suggesting a high level of civilisation. Previous finds, including funeral relics, did not provide conclusive evidence of urban settlement.


"We need to excavate further to see where these walls go," said the director of the dig, Juan Miguel Pajuelo. "The existence of items of daily use suggests the walls were of houses."


Historians have long known that Cadiz was founded by Phoenician traders more than 3,000 years ago as their first settlement in Europe.


Mariners from Tyre in today's Lebanon established Gadir as a transit point for minerals brought from the Rio Tinto mines further north. The Romans later developed Gades as a naval base, and the poet Martial praised the city's dancing girls.


But until now, no one has established exactly where Gadir (meaning "the fortress") was. Scientists in the 1970s uncovered traces of a Phoenician settlement near Santa Maria del Puerto, to the north on the Guadalete river, but not quite the remains of a town. More recently, archaeologists in Chiclana, 16 miles south-east, found remains of Phoenician walls and traces of a temple.


Scientists from the three sites lay rival claims to Gadir. But Jose Maria Gener, who began the dig in the town centre 12 years ago, is sure it is the most likely location. "In Chiclana," he said, "they still have to establish if their findings are Phoenician or an earlier indigenous settlement.        



Hobbits mastered use of stone tools

Leigh Dayton, Science writer | October 09, 2007


HOBBITS may have had long arms and tiny brains but our new-found cousins were agile and smart enough to make stone tools used to fashion other tools, probably for hunting and butchering animals.


What's more, they did so at least 40,000 years before modern humans arrived on their home island of Flores in Indonesia.


The discovery comes from Queensland scientists who have studied wear patterns and residue on about 100 stone tools found with the remains of hobbits (Homo floresiensis) in Liang Bua cave by Australian and Indonesian researchers.


University of Queensland and Southern Cross University archeologist and paleobotanist Carol Lentfer said: "We're talking about a creature that was fairly well advanced. It was able to use stone tools to make other tools - value-adding in a sense."


Working with University of Queensland colleagues Michael Haslam and Gail Robertson, Dr Lentfer found evidence of plant work and butchery on stone flakes and cobbles from archeological layers ranging from 12,000 to 55,000 years old.


They identified blood and bone on some tools, but more than 90 per cent of the residues were from woody and fibrous plants. That doesn't mean the metre-high people ate only a little meat, but rather that most of the tools studied so far were used for working with plants.


"Maybe they were making spear-shafts or traps or sharpening sticks," Dr Lentfer said.


"So far there's no evidence they used stone spear points for hunting. They probably used fire-hardened sticks."


Dr Lentfer said hobbits clearly enjoyed a barbecue, as evidenced by the remains of fires and numerous animal bones, especially of baby stegodons (small elephants), komodo dragons and giant rats. The animal bones were found near tools and hobbit remains, and had cut marks indicative of butchery.


Dr Lentfer said it was likely the hobbits were scavengers, as well as hunters of young or small animals. The meat was supplemented by fruits, tubers, leaves, nuts and seeds that did not need preparation.


"It looks like they were coming to the cave every now and then, dragging in bits and pieces of carcasses," Dr Lentfer said.


More details would become available soon, she said, as her team was now examining chopping tools and elongated stone flakes.



Scientist debunks nomadic Aborigine 'myth'

Barbara McMahon, Sydney

Tuesday October 9, 2007

Guardian Unlimited


Before white settlers arrived, Australia's indigenous peoples lived in houses and villages, and used surprisingly sophisticated architecture and design methods to build their shelters, new research has found.


Dwellings were constructed in various styles, depending on the climate. Most common were dome-like structures made of cane reeds with roofs thatched with palm leaves.


Some of the houses were interconnected, allowing native people to interact during long periods spent indoors during the wet season.


The findings, by the anthropologist and architect Dr Paul Memmot, of the University of Queensland, discredits a commonly held view in Australia that Aborigines were completely nomadic before the arrival of Europeans 200 years ago.


The belief was part of the argument used by white settlers to claim that Australia was terra nullius - the Latin term for land that belonged to nobody.


Dr Memmott said the myth that indigenous Australians were constantly on the move had come about because early explorers made their observations in good weather, when indigenous people were more mobile than at other times.


Many of the shelters the Aborigines built were dome structures. In the rainforest area around Cairns, in Queensland, where there was heavy rain for much of the year, people would occupy such villages for up to a year, he said.


The villages had to be near a staple food source, such as rainforest trees, from which Aborigines could harvest nuts. "Some of the nuts were poisonous, but the Aborigines developed a way of leaching the poisons out of them by burying them in mud for a period of time," he said.


"This source of nutrition allowed them to remain put instead of forcing them to go off hunting."


Dr Memmott also found evidence of dome housing on the west coast of Tasmania, with triple layers of cladding and insulation.


In western Victoria, Aborigines built circular stone walls more than a metre high, constructing dome roofs over the top with earth or sod cladding.


Missionaries drew on Aboriginal technology for buildings, using tree bark for roofs and walls, and grass thatching for gables, as well as reeds and animal hides, he added.


Very little indigenous architecture in Australia remains after local authorities burned or bulldozed the structures in the belief they were health hazards.


Dr Memmott's evidence, collected over the past 35 years, comes from oral histories, explorers' diaries, paintings and photographs. It is published in Gunyah, Goondie and Wurley, the first book to detail Australian Aboriginal architecture.


Dr Memmott said he hoped continuing research in the area would not only clear up the historical record but also help architectural designers working on current housing problems.




By 24 Hour Museum Staff    12/10/2007


Experts are studying a carved stone recently uncovered on Whitby Abbey Headland in North Yorkshire to see if it represents the first Bronze Age artefact from the site.


St Hild founded an abbey on Whitby Headland in 657AD, which is now an important historical site. However, little was known about the site in the Anglo Saxon period in which it was founded until archaeologists carried out clifftop excavations in 2001 and 2002.


They found signs of industrial activities like glass and lead-making from the Anglian period (7th-9th century), and the first evidence of an Iron Age domestic dwelling on the site, dating from 500BC-100AD.


An archaeological team returned this autumn for a six-week dig, and found an even more intriguing object – a mysterious stone carved with linear markings. Measuring about 40cm by 50cm, it appears to be of the type of Bronze Age carved stones found on the North York Moors in 2003, dating from 2000BC-700BC.


“It’s potentially a very significant find as we have hardly any material from this period in the headland’s past,” said archaeologist Sarah Jennings.


“But we need to wait for detailed analysis before we draw firm conclusions. If it is Bronze Age, then it underlines that the headland has a long history of settlement, well before St Hild founded the Abbey in 657AD.”


The purpose of the stones is not known. It has been suggested that they could have denoted tribal boundaries or have a ritual use. A much more ornate stone found at Fylingdales Moor in 2003 has been likened to Irish grave passage art.


The dig also uncovered a defensive Iron Age enclosure and more signs of industrial activity that might date to the foundation of the first abbey.


Perhaps we also need to start to think of the site as an Anglo-Saxon industrial estate,” said Sarah.


“Very little domestic pottery and few artefacts have been found, which is what we would expect. Iron and glass-making required large fires and sparks would soon have set houses ablaze, so it looks as if they were kept well apart.”


English Heritage is trying to collect as much information as possible from the site before the clifftop erodes away. Last year it commissioned a project to identify historic sites vulnerable to coastal erosion along 85 miles of coastline from Whitby to North Lincolnshire, to form part of a national picture of the threat posed by rising sea levels and coastal erosion. The Whitby Headland site could disappear within 20 years.



An extraordinary shipwreck discovered in Alaska


Anchorage Daily News

2007-10-14 00:00:00


ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Plumbing the shallows of Lower Cook Inlet near the tip of the Kenai Peninsula this summer, a team of divers located what authorities say is the oldest American shipwreck in Alaska.


It also marks a pivotal chapter in U.S. history.


The four-person party charted and photographed remnants of the Torrent, a huge, square-rigged sailing vessel that struck a reef and sank near Port Graham in 1868, less than a year after the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia.


Aboard the vessel at the time were women, children and a battery of 130 U.S. soldiers, some of whom were veterans of the recent Civil War. They had been ordered to construct the first U.S. fort on the mainland of south central Alaska.


Before they found a suitable building site, however, their vessel, a 576-ton bark piloted by civilians, struck a reef near Dangerous Cape, partly due to the absence on deck of a captain who had been drinking. The castaway crew and passengers had to camp on an adjacent beach for 18 days awaiting rescue as the ship broke up offshore and sank.


Somewhere near the reef at the bottom of the sea the shipwreck remained unexamined for 139 years, until July, when a team of divers -- authorized by the state to conduct an archaeological survey of the site -- finally located significant pieces of the vessel at the end of a two-year search.


In addition to partly buried portions of the wooden hull (most of which had been swept away by powerful tides), the search team located the rudder, anchors, portholes, plumbing, pieces of rigging and two cannons.


"Like a jigsaw puzzle -- one piece at a time over the course of quite a number of dives -- we were able to find different distinctive pieces of wreckage," said team leader and local shipwreck historian Steve Lloyd, co-owner of Title Wave Books in Anchorage.


The group held back on announcing its discovery until this week so the state could take steps to preserve and protect the shipwreck, which is now being considered for listing in the National Registry of Historic Places.


"It's really quite an extraordinary wreck," said Dave McMahan, an archaeologist in the state Office of History and Archaeology.


"Ultimately this would be a great (exhibit) for a maritime museum. It's a very important part of Alaska's history."


Among the artifacts is the brass remnant of a mountain howitzer, a short-barreled, large-caliber cannon on wheels used extensively in the Civil War.


"I think that's pretty dramatic," said Alaska shipwreck historian Mike Burwell.


A veteran of a half-dozen other shipwreck expeditions in Alaska, Lloyd, 42, began to focus on finding the Torrent two years ago after reviewing Burwell's database of hundreds of Alaska shipwrecks.


So, in the summer of 2006, along with two fellow divers -- Ken Koga-Moriuchi of New York and Nick Teasdale of Lima, Peru -- Lloyd sailed to Dangerous Cape on his 27-foot cabin cruiser to conduct a preliminary investigation.


One of the biggest iron objects on the Torrent was the anchor, which measured 10 feet tall with a stem 2 1/2 feet in circumference and pointed flukes 9 feet across. The magnetometer seemed to detect it, Lloyd said.


So the team began to dive.


First they spotted dozens of bricks, probably used as ballast for the ship. Then the divers found parts of the rudder, which suggested that was where the stern had come to rest. Following the bricks in a line, they found badly desiccated pieces of the wooden hull partly covered in gravel and pieces of iron covered with marine organisms.


They also found various well-defined objects made from brass, copper or bronze such as portholes, a toilet and pieces of the rigging.


At the opposite end of a 200-foot-long debris field they discovered anchor chains and the kelp-covered anchor itself, which Lloyd thinks was hanging at the bow when the ship went aground.


The end of the story for the shipwrecked passengers of the Torrent turned out as well as could be expected. The Native Alaskans on the Peninsula came to their aid, sharing some of their fish. Then a sister ship showed up, transporting the soldiers and civilians back to the former Russian fort on Kodiak Island.


Spending the winter there, the soldiers built a school for local children out of lumber that had been intended for the fort. The next spring, they sailed to the mouth of the Kenai River on a different ship and proceeded to build Fort Kenay (as it was spelled then) in 1869.