Some Neanderthals were red-heads

Ancient DNA contains clues about complexion.

Heidi Ledford


An analysis of 50,000-year-old Neanderthal DNA suggests that at least some of the ancient hominids probably had pale skin and red hair.


The findings, published this week in Science 1, are based on the sequence of a single gene, called mc1r . Humans with a less functional form of the MC1R protein are more likely to be fair skinned — an adaptation that may have helped inhabitants of high latitudes synthesize vitamin D more efficiently in limited sunlight.


Analyses of Neanderthal DNA are always subject to the problem of fossil samples being contaminated with modern human DNA in the lab or the field. But Carles Lalueza-Fox of the University of Barcelona, Spain, with Holger Römpler of the University of Leipzig in Germany and colleagues, found that the mc1r gene in two European Neanderthal fossils they studied contained a single base-pair change that seems to be unique to Neanderthals.


“We were lucky we found a variant that had not been described in modern humans,” says co-author Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. “That made it unlikely to be human contamination.”


The researchers re-sequenced the applicable region of the gene multiple times, then asked two additional labs to repeat the experiments using fresh extracts. They also sequenced fragments of the mc1r gene from the researchers in each lab, as well as the archaeologists and palaeontologists who had handled the fossils. And they searched databases containing mc1r sequence from 2,800 humans and tested several hundred additional samples.


In the end, they had surveyed more than 3,700 humans, and none contained the Neanderthal sequence. “If it is in the modern human population, it’s at an extremely low frequency,” says Hofreiter.


The researchers inserted the Neanderthal mc1r gene into human cells grown in the lab, and found that it had roughly the same low functionality as seen in mc1r genes from fair-skinned people with red hair.


It’s impossible to determine the precise frequency of pallid, red-haired Neanderthals that once populated Europe. But the researchers estimate that at least 1% of the population would have carried two copies of this less-active gene, giving them roughly the same pigmentation seen in modern red-heads.


Scientists have estimated that there should be at least a million nucleotides (single letters in the genome) that differ between humans and Neanderthals, says Lalueza-Fox. But little research has been done as yet to identify these. Recent work shows that Neanderthals have the same version of a speech gene as modern humans (see Modern speech gene found in Neanderthals). “This is the first functional difference in the genome between Neanderthals and modern humans,” says Lalueza-Fox.


Lalueza-Fox and Hofreiter note that the absence of the Neanderthal-specific mc1r sequence in modern humans suggests that pale skin evolved independently in Neanderthals and humans, rather than from interbreeding between the two.


That's interesting but not entirely unexpected, says Rachel Caspari, an anthropologist at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. The regulation of skin colour in humans is very complex, she notes; so she would expect evolution to have come up with many different ways to generate lighter skin.


Caspari cautions against ruling out genetic exchange between the two populations just yet. It is still possible that the allele was present in humans 50,000 years ago, but was later replaced by a different mutation, she says. “It certainly doesn’t support gene flow between Neanderthals and humans,” says Caspari, “but it doesn’t refute the idea either.”



         1. Lalueza-Fox, C. et al. Science doi:10.1126/science.1147417 (2007).



New Ideas About Human Migration From Asia To Americas

ScienceDaily (Oct. 25, 2007)


Questions about human migration from Asia to the Americas have perplexed anthropologists for decades, but as scenarios about the peopling of the New World come and go, the big questions have remained. Do the ancestors of Native Americans derive from only a small number of “founders” who trekked to the Americas via the Bering land bridge? How did their migration to the New World proceed? What, if anything, did the climate have to do with their migration? And what took them so long?


A team of 21 researchers, led by Ripan Malhi, a geneticist in the department of anthropology at the University of Illinois, has a new set of ideas. One is a striking hypothesis that seems to map the peopling process during the pioneering phase and well beyond, and at the same time show that there was much more genetic diversity in the founder population than was previously thought.


“Our phylogeographic analysis of a new mitochondrial genome dataset allows us to draw several conclusions,” the authors wrote.


“First, before spreading across the Americas, the ancestral population paused in Beringia long enough for specific mutations to accumulate that separate the New World founder lineages from their Asian sister-clades.” (A clade is a group of mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs ) that share a recent common ancestor, Malhi said. Sister-clades would include two groups of mtDNAs that each share a recent common ancestor and the common ancestor for each clade is closely related.)


Or, to express this first conclusion another way, the ancestors of Native Americans who first left Siberia for greener pastures perhaps as much as 30,000 years ago, came to a standstill on Beringia – a landmass that existed during the last glacial maximum that extended from Northeastern Siberia to Western Alaska, including the Bering land bridge – and they were isolated there long enough – as much as 15,000 years – to maturate and differentiate themselves genetically from their Asian sisters.


“Second, founding haplotypes or lineages are uniformly distributed across North and South America instead of exhibiting a nested structure from north to south. Thus, after the Beringian standstill, the initial North to South migration was likely a swift pioneering process, not a gradual diffusion.”


The DNA data also suggest a lot more to-ing and fro-ing than has been suspected of populations during the past 30,000 years in Northeast Asia and North America. The analysis of the dataset shows that after the initial peopling of Beringia, there were a series of back migrations to Northeast Asia as well as forward migrations to the Americas from Beringia, thus “more recent bi-directional gene flow between Siberia and the North American Arctic.”


To investigate the pioneering phase in the Americas, Malhi and his team, a group of geneticists from around the world, pooled their genomic datasets and then analyzed 623 complete mitochondrial DNAs (mtDNAs) from the Americas and Asia, including 20 new complete mtDNAs from the Americas and seven from Asia. The sequence data was used to direct high-resolution genotyping from 20 American and 26 Asian populations. Mitochondrial DNA, that is, DNA found in organelles, rather than in the cell nucleus, is considered to be of separate evolutionary origin, and is inherited from only one parent – the female.


The team identified three new sub-clades that incorporate nearly all of Native American haplogroup C mtDNAs – all of them widely distributed in the New World, but absent in Asia; and they defined two additional founder groups, “which differ by several mutations from the Asian-derived ancestral clades.”


What puzzled them originally was the disconnect between recent archaeological datings. New evidence places Homo sapiens at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site in Siberia – as likely a departure point for the migrants as any in the region – as early as 30,000 years before the present, but the earliest archaeological site at the southern end of South America is dated to only 15,000 years ago.


“These archaeological dates suggested two likely scenarios,” the authors wrote: Either the ancestors of Native Americans peopled Beringia before the Last Glacial Maximum, but remained locally isolated – likely because of ecological barriers – until entering the Americas 15,000 years before the present (the Beringian incubation model, BIM); or the ancestors of Native Americans did not reach Beringia until just before 15,000 years before the present, and then moved continuously on into the Americas, being recently derived from a larger parent Asian population (direct colonization model, DCM).


Thus, for this study the team set out to test the two hypotheses: one, that Native Americans’ ancestors moved directly from Northeast Asia to the Americas; the other, that Native American ancestors were isolated from other Northeast Asian populations for a significant period of time before moving rapidly into the Americas all the way down to Tierra del Fuego.


“Our data supports the second hypothesis: The ancestors of Native Americans peopled Beringia before the Last Glacial Maximum, but remained locally isolated until entering the Americas at 15,000 years before the present.”


The team’s findings appear in a recent issue of the Public Library of Science in an article titled, “Beringian Standstill and Spread of Native American Founders.”


Adapted from materials provided by University of Illinois. University of Illinois (2007, October 25). New Ideas About Human Migration From Asia To Americas. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 28, 2007, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2007/10/071025160653.htm



Archaeologist uncovers 11,000-year-old artefacts in Syria

Latest discoveries in Syria date back to start of Neolithic era in Epipalaeolithic period.

By Talal el-Atrache - DAMASCUS

First Published 2007-10-23, Last Updated 2007-10-24 09:17:20


Deep in the heart of northern Syria, close to the banks of the Euphrates River, archaeologists have uncovered a series of startling 11,000-year-old wall paintings and artefacts.


"The wall paintings date back to the 9th millennium BC. They were discovered last month on the wall of a house standing two metres (6.6 feet) high at Dja'de," said Frenchman Eric Coqueugniot, who has been leading the excavations on the west bank of the river at Dja'de, in an area famous for its rich tradition of prehistoric treasures.


The etchings are "polychrome paintings in black, white and red. The designs are solely geometric, and only figurative. The composition is made up of a system cross-hatched lines, alternating between the three colours," Coqueugniot said.


They were found in a circular building, around 7.5 metres (25 feet) in diameter. The excavated house features three solid blocks where the paintings were located.


The main pillar has been completely excavated and stands almost two metres high displaying the new murals, said Coqueugniot, a researcher for the Paris-based National Centre for Scientific Research.


The remains of the building, much larger than the small and rectangular domestic dwellings of the period, "must have been used as a meeting place for the whole village or for a clan," he added.


Apart from the organic artefacts, which have decomposed over time, the site has provided many well-preserved treasures.


Carved stone tools, flints, seed-grinding implements and brick-grinding stones have been recovered. Many bone objects were also found -- both remnants of the animals that made up part of the daily diet and intricately fashioned tools.


The dig also uncovered several figurines made of gypsum, chalk, bone and clay. The most recent discovery, an 11,000-year-old statue of a man is "particularly important and well preserved," Coqueugniot said.


This item will allow comparisons with other similar sculptures found on sites in the Urfa region of southern Turkey, added the French scientist, who has overseen archaeological projects at Dja'de for 15 years.


"The figures could have had religious significance. The female statuettes could also have been fertility symbols. But they could have had entirely different ritual meanings," Coqueugniot said


"We can only offer hypotheses," he added. "It is still very difficult to say what was the significance of this 11,000-year-old statue of the woman."


The latest discoveries date back to the start of the Neolithic era, in a period known as the Epipalaeolithic.


Many artefacts from this period have been discovered in northern Syria, in particular at Jerf al-Ahmar, a site destroyed by the Tishrin dam, Coqueugniot said. It was one of several built over the past three decades that have flooded a number of archaeological sites.


For example, the dam at Tabqa flooded an area of around 650 square kilometres (250 square miles) after it was erected in 1976. Prior to that, the government approved testing of 56 sites, 20 of which were spared when the dam was built.



Salt men to undergo surgery

TEHRAN, Oct. 27 (MNA)


The Archaeology Research Center of Iran (ARCI) plans to conduct a series of surgical operations on the ancient salt men of Zanjan’s Chehrabad Salt Mine, the Persian service of CHN reported on Saturday.


The project is being undertaken to complete archaeological studies and carry out other scientific research on the unique mummies, ARCI director Mohammad-Hassan Fazeli Nashli said.


The operations will be performed on the salt men’s soft tissue and entrails, which have remained intact due to the high quality of the mummification, he added.


The project will be carried out in Iran and the ARCI proposes to invite foreign experts to take part if necessary, he noted.


Zanjan played host to Iranian and foreign experts at a two-day conference on the salt men, which took place October 25-26.


The First Salt Man, who is believed to have been approximately 35 years old when he died more than 1700 years ago, was discovered by workers at the salt mine in 1993.


Since then, five other salt men have been found -- although experts believe that the salt mine may contain many more mummies. However, it has been decided to leave any other mummified bodies to rest in peace due to the lack of equipment and technology necessary for their preservation in Iran.


The Sixth Salt Man was recently discovered, but it was re-covered and left in situ.


Fazeli Nashli said at the time of the discovery of the sixth mummy, that Iran is still a novice in the art of preservation and so it is better that it remains in the earth, which is its best trustee.”



Ethiopia starts re-erecting ancient obelisk

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia        

24 October 2007 04:28


Ethiopia has started re-erecting its famed Axum obelisk 30 months after it returned to the country from Italy where it stayed for 70 years, a United Nations expert said on Wednesday.


The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco), which is overseeing the operation, said preliminary work to restore the 1 700-year-old obelisk on its original site has been completed.


"At the moment, the obelisk exists in three main pieces but we have prepared the foundations, brought on the necessary equipment and mobilised our labour resources at the site," Unesco expert Sumeko Ohinata said.


"It's a very complex project; we don't want any impacts on other obelisks, so we are working to achieve stability," she added.


The three pieces of the 150-tonne stela are being re-erected at a cost of $4-million, Ohinata said.


"We are aiming to complete the re-erection by the end of September next year, but the entire process will be finalised a few months later," she added.


Italian soldiers carted away the 24m, third-century BC granite funeral stela on the orders of then-dictator Benito Mussolini 70 years ago during his attempt to colonise Ethiopia.


Since then, the obelisk had remained in Italy standing outside the Rome headquarters of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation until the last of its three pieces arrived in Axum in April 2005.


Axum, founded around 100 BC, was the capital of the Axumite kingdom that flourished as a major trading centre from the fifth century BC to the 10th century AD.


At its height, the kingdom extended across areas in what are today Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia and Yemen. -- Sapa-AFP



Diggers begin Herculaneum task of finding masterpieces lost to volcano

From The Times

October 24, 2007

Richard Owen in Herculaneum


Archaeologists have resumed their search for a library of Greek and Latin masterpieces that is thought to lie under volcanic rock at the ancient Roman site of Herculaneum.


The scrolls, which have been called the holy grail of classical literature, are thought to have been lost when Mount Vesuvius erupted in AD79, burying the wealthy Roman city of Herculaneum and neighbouring Pompeii.


Previous digs have unearthed classical works at a building now known as the Villa of the Papyri, thought to have belonged to Julius Caesar’s father-in-law, Lucius Calpurnius Piso, who was known to be a lover of poetry.


The villa was found by chance in the 18th century by engineers digging a well shaft. Tunnels bored into the rock brought to light stunning ancient sculptures — now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples — and 1,800 carbonised papyrus scrolls. The writings were mainly works by the Epicurean Greek philosopher Philodemus, who was part of Piso’s entourage.


Ten years ago two floors of the villa were discovered, as well as the remains of nearby gardens, ornamental ponds, a bath-house and a collapsed seaside pavilion. The excavation was halted in 1998 as funds ran out and archaeologists protested at the use of mechanical diggers by a private builder to smash through the rock.


The site was opened to the public four years ago, but has now been closed again so that archaeologists using picks and trowels can dig out the frescoed corridor or cryptoportico on the lower ground floor. They are also conserving mosaics and frescoes already found on the top floor to protect them from damp and erosion.


“Work can resume because we are combining archaeology with responsible conservation, which was not the case in the 1990s,” said Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, the director of the British School at Rome and head of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, which is funded by the Packard Humanities Institute to the tune of $3 million (£1.5 million) a year.


Maria Paola Guidobaldi, the director of excavations at Herculaneum, said that the new Villa of the Papyri dig was backed by a further ¤ million (£2 million) from the EU and the Campania region, and would last a year and a half. “We will proceed cautiously — and if we find more papyri or statues, we will be delighted,” she said.


Some historians believe that the papyri, which may have included lost masterpieces by Aristotle, Euripides or Sophocles, were being packed to be taken to safety when the eruption occurred. The scrolls would have been scattered throughout the 30,000sq ft (2,800sq m) of the villa by the violent force of the 100mph (160kmh) “pyroclastic flow” of ash, gas and mud.


Professor Wallace-Hadrill said that next year work would also begin on excavating the basilica, the great hall housing Herculaneum’s legal and administrative centre. It lies beneath a rubbish-strewn wasteland that was covered until recently by dilapidated modern housing, some of it built illegally with the connivance of the Camorra — the Naples Mafia. The local authorities have bought and demolished some of the buildings.


In the past some scholars have insisted that the priority at Herculaneum should be conservation rather than excavation. But campaigners led by Robert Fowler, Professor of Greek at Bristol University, and the novelist Robert Harris have argued passionately that the search for the “lost library” must go on.


The villa captured the imagination of the American billionaire J. Paul Getty, whose museum at Malibu, California, the Getty Villa, is a replica. The carbonised scrolls recovered so far were deciphered by computer-enhanced multispectral imaging.



Roman villa discovered in western Austria

Posted Oct 25, 2007 by [Digital Journal Staff]  dpa news in Entertainment


Archaeologists in the western Austrian province Tyrol unearthed the remains of a large-scale Roman villa, complete with extensive floor mosaics that may have been also a source for a number of local legends.


The archaeologists from Innsbruck University stumbled upon references to the 1,800-year-old, long since forgotten building situated near the town Lienz in a manuscript penned in Latin, dating back to the mid-18th century. Tyrolean proto-archeologist Anton Roschmann wrote that he found Roman remains in 1746, but his findings were lost, the Austrian Press Agency reported.


During a dig in October the remains of five rooms of a building dating back to Roman times wear unearthed on a 300-square-metre plot. The remains of the walls show colourful wall paintings, the archaeologists said, but the most astounding find were large-scale floor mosaics in three of the rooms.


The mosaics were unique in the region regarding their dimensions and state of preservation, the archaeologists said. Furthermore, the villa had been partly equipped with wall and floor heatings.


The heating vaults under the floors remained partly intact. The fact that they had not collapsed as usual added to the good condition of the mosaics.


In the 18th century, the low-ceilinged vaults were believed to be the home of dwarfs, leading to the creation of local legends about a "dwarf city" in the region.


The alpine region that today represents the Austrian province Tyrol was conquered by Rome in 15 B.C. While it profited from Roman trade, the region was never particularly attractive for Roman settlers.


Aguntum, near Lienz was the most well-known of the Roman towns in Tyrol. dpa im ds




09:45 - 27 October 2007


Evidence of the farming methods of early farmers* from more than 6,000 years ago have surfaced in Washingborough.


Rare criss-crossed ploughing tracks were uncovered before the construction of new business units on Smile Lane.


The feint lines were uncovered during four weeks of painstakingly removing layers of soil by hand.


And they were made by a rudimentary tool called an ard - a form of early plough.


And flint tools buried in the soil have been bagged and tagged for proper identification.


The find is significant because it shows how our ancestors farmed in the Witham Valley.


Mark Allen, of Allen Archaeological Associates, was leading the investigation.


He said the marks had been so well preserved because of a soil bank built by Romans.


The material that was thrown up during its construction had gradually covered the field and protecting it from drainage water.


"This dates from the Neolithic period and it is very rare," he said.


* news article stated “hunter-gatherers”. Amended to “early farmers” by Win Scutt, 28/10/07



The souls of Silbury Hill are bared in burial mound dig

By David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent

Published: 25 October 2007


Archaeologists are unlocking the secrets of Silbury Hill, one of Britain's greatest historical mysteries.


Researchers have long been mystified as to why the giant prehistoric mound in Wiltshire was built. But following one of the UK's most extensive and expensive digs, they appear to have found their answer: Silbury Hill may well have been a tomb, not for bodies, but for the souls of the dead.


The English Heritage dig, which cost £1m, tunnelled 85 metres into the 40-metre-high man-made hill, discovering that its Neolithic builders had incorporated hundreds of heavy sarsen stones into its matrix. Sarsen, the silicified sandstone still found in great quantities in Wiltshire, was also used to build Stonehenge and Avebury. Heavier than other types of stone, archaeologists have long suspected that the material was regarded as sacred by Neolithic man.


Stones have been seen by many cultures as spiritually and physically interchangeable with humans – with a belief that particular stones contained the souls, spirits or even the transformed mortal remains of the dead. The belief was widespread, occurring all over the world.


Silbury Hill, researchers believe, could well have been built as a sort of spiritual tomb, filled with spirits rather than skeletons.


"The new information we are obtaining from inside Silbury Hill is transforming our understanding of the site," said the English Heritage archaeologist Jim Leary, who led the three- year investigation. "The discovery of sarsen stones inside the final phase of the monument has also been a surprise. Given the almost certainly religious and ceremonial nature of Silbury, it is likely that these stones had some symbolic importance, potentially representing the spirits of dead ancestors." Radio-carbon tests on the mound have also revealed the age of Silbury Hill for the first time. Archaeologists now believe construction on the primary mound started about 2400BC, which would mean it was built at the same time as Avebury and the first phase of Stonehenge. *


Also revealed for the first time is the probable original shape and size of the monument. Excavations at its summit suggest it had a rounded rather than flat top and was five to seven metres higher than today, having almost certainly been flattened in late Saxon or Norman times to accommodate a wooden fortress.


Researchers also now believe Silbury was associated with a form of river-related religious cult. Until the 19th century, the linkage between the Kennet river and Silbury was reflected by an annual local ritual in which water was collected from the main source of the river – the Swallowhead Spring, 200 metres from the monument – before being taken to the top of Silbury where it was mixed with sugar and then drunk.


* not according to the latest research, which suggests the large sarsens were erected at Stonehenge around 2,600BC, and Silbury probably dates to the later third millennium BC. See recent paper in the Journal Antiquity by Parker Pearson et al. and new unpublished dates for Silbury. (Note added by Win Scutt 29-10-2007)



Homework project digs up Roman relic

MARC HORNE (mhorne@scotlandonsunday.com)


IT HAD lain undiscovered and untouched for almost 2,000 years and could have been lost forever if not for the persistence of an amateur archaeologist and his camera phone.


Joiner Larney Cavanagh instinctively knew he had found something special when he and his 10-year-old son happened upon a Latin-inscribed artefact in a field near their East Lothian home.


What they did not realise was that they had discovered the first Roman tombstone in Scotland for 173 years.


But Cavanagh's attempts to alert archaeological experts to the find were treated with scepticism until he sent them pictures of the metre-long object from his mobile phone.


They then launched an investigation which concluded that the memorial was one of the most important discoveries of recent times, and provided a fascinating insight into the life of a Roman cavalryman.


Cavanagh, 34, spotted the red sandstone tombstone at the edge of a field at Carberry, near Inveresk, on a expedition inspired by his son Tyler's school project on the Roman Empire.


"I knew it was something significant," he said. "My heart started racing and I felt my jaw drop. I'm not sure who was the most excited, me or my son.


"We ran all the way to my brother's house and phoned a local archaeologist and the National Museum. They told me they were kind of busy and that they would maybe have a look at it the following week."


Cavanagh, of Whitecraig, near Musselburgh, then sent them a series of images from his camera phone.


"Suddenly the phone started ringing off the hook when they realised how important my find actually was," he said. "They made arrangements to come and see it the very next day.


"We were delighted to have it confirmed that it was a Roman tombstone and was hugely important. Tyler couldn't wait to tell his teacher about what we had found. We are both proud to have found something that is going to be put on display in a museum for hopefully hundreds of years to come.


The tombstone is the first to be unearthed north of the Border since 1834. Dating from between 140AD and 180AD, it features the image of a Roman cavalryman charging down a native Caledonian.


The inscription shows it was dedicated to the memory of a man named Crescens, who was a mounted bodyguard for the imperial governor who ran the occupied parts of Scotland, England and Wales.


It reads: "To the shades of Crescens, cavalryman of the Ala Sebosiana, from the detachment of the governor's bodyguard (the Equites Singulaires), served 15 years, his heir (or heirs) had this erected".


Dr Fraser Hunter, principal curator of Roman archaeology with National Museums Scotland, said: "Tombstones like these are surprisingly rare in Scotland, given that there was a garrison of several thousand men here over a period of more than 50 years. Only 13 have ever been found. This is the first time we have found evidence of the governor's bodyguard in Scotland.


"It is also a fantastic potted history of this man's life and career and shows that he was a well respected and important man.


"The image is fairly typical in that it shows a so-called barbarian, displayed as being naked and hairy, being overcome by a noble Roman soldier.


"It is very much a work of propaganda. Stones like these were there to celebrate the achievements of individuals in the Roman army, but were also there to intimidate people and act as a warning.


"There is a lot of cleaning work still to be done on the stone but eventually it will be put on public display."


Hunter believes the presence of the stone near Inveresk suggests that Crescens died while accompanying the governor on a visit to the fort there.


Biddy Simpson, archaeologist with East Lothian Council, said: "This is an incredibly exciting and rare find and we are indebted to the finder for bringing it to our attention so swiftly. This type of find highlights the wealth of archaeological remains in East Lothian and emphasises how the county has played a pivotal role throughout pre-history and history."

What the Romans did for us


In 79AD the all-conquering forces of the Roman Empire swept into Scotland under the command of Julius Agricola. The invaders met with fierce resistance from the native Caledonii, but by 84AD they had established a series of forts and advanced to Aberdeenshire. There Agricola's troops defeated the Celtic tribes at the Battle of Mons Grapius.


In the early 120s, during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian, a wall was built across the north of England in a bid to contain the northern tribes.


A further Antonine Wall was erected between the Clyde and the Forth in 142 AD. Foundations of some of the 30 forts and Roman baths along the line of the wall can still be seen today.



Palace at Silchester may have been a sop to loyalty

Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent


Archaeology consists of putting together fragments of the past: a bit like doing a jigsaw puzzle with only a tenth of the pieces and no picture. The solution to just such a puzzle in the Roman city of Calleva Atrebatum at Silchester has been proposed, based on scattered pieces of carved stone that may document a palace of Nero's time.


Numerous finds of architectural fragments, often made from Purbeck marble and other decorative stones, have been made at Silchester, near Basingstoke, ever since excavations began there nearly 150 years ago. The problem has been, Professor Michael Fulford explains in a new study, that “for the most part their provenance and precise context are not clear”.


What has become increasingly apparent, however, is that many of these fragments are of a surprisingly early date: not from the demolition of Calleva's public buildings of the third century and later, but from foundation levels underlying them, from structures already long vanished at the time of the city's greatest prosperity.


Corinthian capitals and columns found in earlier years were assumed to be associated with the basilica on one side of the forum, the civic centre of Calleva, but Professor Fulford notes that finds of similarly monumental masonry, made from Bath stone, predate early Roman timber buildings in his current Insula IX excavations. One wall of flint and chalk “clearly predates overlying timber buildings of late first or early second-century date”.


This is earlier than the forum basilica, and the 19th-century excavators of the Society of Antiquaries did not explain how so much material, thought to derive from the decoration and finishing of the basilica, came to be buried at such an early stage of its construction.


Professor Fulford now believes that it came from the disturbance of earlier remains when the basilica was built, and that a large early building lay near or under its west range. Three pieces of tile stamped with the name and titles of Nero suggest a substantial construction between AD64 and AD68.


Bringing together old and new evidence for early monumental stone buildings in central Silchester, Professor Fulford proposes an area roughly 240 by 100 metres (780 by 360 feet); at 2.64 hectares (6.6 acres) similar to the area occupied by the successive Roman palaces at Fishbourne near Chichester. The stonework is, he says, similar to that from Fishbourne, and he concludes that what stood in Calleva in the seventh decade of the first century AD was indeed a palace.


Timber structures of the same date stood near by, which “tends to reinforce the idea that the priority in high-status building at this time was to benefit an individual and his family, rather than the inhabitants of Calleva as a whole. The most likely explanation is accommodation appropriate to an individual of high rank, in this case, presumably, the client king.”


The king in question seems to have been Cogidubnus, known from an inscription at Chichester and from a passage in Tacitus's Agricola, who was a loyal ally of the Romans. There is as yet nothing to associate him explicitly with Silchester, Professor Fulford notes; but the town would seem to have been the ancient and focal point of the Atrebatic kingdom, and, with the possible exception of Canterbury, “the only major nucleated settlement south of the Thames at the time of the Roman invasion of AD43.”


What would have induced Nero to build Cogidubnus a splendid palace? After the rebellion of Boudicca in AD60, which left London and Colchester in smoking ruins, securing the continuing loyalty of this powerful client king might have been considered politically sensible, and a wise precaution to ensure stability in the South East. There is a notable lack of investment in the devastated cities immediately after the crushing of the revolt, and “it could be argued that the strategic priority for Nero was to demonstrate his gratitude to those who had given him support,” Professor Fulford argues.


The Fishbourne palace has long been associated with Cogidubnus, and his realm may well have reached south to the Channel and also west to Bath. Peace over this area would have been vital while military control was reimposed.


After Cogidubnus's death, his Silchester palace was replaced by the forum basilica, but at Fishbourne a more compact but more splendid palace arose: whether it remained in his descendants' hands, or became the seaside retreat of a Roman official, remains to be seen.



Dig for freed slave's castle home

Culzean Castle/Pic: Undiscovered Scotland


Excavations in the grounds of a Scottish castle have uncovered the remains of a house belonging to a slave freed in the 18th Century.


The dig at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire was launched in an effort to find out more about the life of Scipio Kennedy.


The full findings will be unveiled at a conference in Glasgow at the weekend.


The National Trust for Scotland said Scipio had been taken from his home in Guinea at the age of six and was granted his freedom at Culzean in 1725.


The work to trace his history was carried out as part of NTS's Heritage Lottery Fund project This is Our Story, which commemorates the bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade.


Scipio was bound for the West Indian plantations when he was bought by Captain Andrew Douglas of Mains in Dunbartonshire.


In 1705, Captain Douglas' daughter, Jean, married John Kennedy and Scipio went with her, eventually moving to Culzean.


He took the family surname of Kennedy, learned to read and write and was instructed in textile manufacture.


In 1725, Scipio was given his freedom and a home in the grounds of Culzean Castle. He married local woman Margaret Gray three years later, with whom he had eight children.


He died at the age of 80 on 24 June 1774 and a gravestone was erected in Kirkoswald graveyard.


About 20 volunteers of all ages helped with the excavation, along with Culzean Country Park rangers and other NTS staff.


Derek Alexander, NTS west region archaeologist, told BBC Scotland that they unearthed evidence of Scipio's house.


He said: "People have said they think it was in the walled garden, or further along the coast, but we had an old map and that's the only thing it's marked on, from the 1750s.


"We had to overlay that over the modern Ordnance Survey maps and we now think we have a pretty good idea of where the site is."


The excavation took place in early September and experts are analysing the artefacts which were unearthed.


Among them were sandstone, slates, post-Medieval pottery, bottle and glass fragments.


Mr Alexander said the house was probably a fairly grand affair.


"It cost £90 to build so we think it was probably built of stone and quite fancy," he said.


"It was demolished when they built the walled garden, so a lot of the material went into that."


Also discovered was a lead seal which may have come from a bottle or a bolt of cloth, which would tie in with Scipio's training as a weaver.


Debbie Jackson, NTS west region education officer, said the social aspects of the story also raised interesting questions.


She said: "He was given his freedom by the Kennedys in 1725, which is a great deal earlier than he needed to have the manumission, the document of freedom.


"We can only assume that the Kennedys cared for him greatly and wanted to ensure that he was safe."


The results of the work will be discussed at a conference on Slavery and the West of Scotland at Hutcheson's Hall, Ingram Street, Glasgow, on Saturday.



Napoleanic 'igloo' found at new college site

by Lee Winter


AN IGLOO style building erected to defend Chatham Dockyard from French invasion has been uncovered at a Kent college campus.


The nineteenth century Napoleonic listening post was found during work at the new Mid Kent College (MKC) site in Prince Arthur Road, Lower Lines, Brompton.


The extraordinary domed structure would have been used as a monitoring station for soldiers to listen out for enemy sapping activity (tunnel digging). It has been confirmed by experts at English Heritage to be the only known exposed listening post of its type in the UK.


The fascinating discovery was unearthed during construction works for the new £76 million college campus. The project, led by developer Kier Build began at the end of August.


The new campus will have three buildings linked by two enclosed pavilions, providing some 28,000sq m of education space catering for a number of activities including media, IT, science and animal care. None will affect the archaeological find.


Due to the historical importance of this find, it is hoped the listening post and the network of tunnels connected to it will be carefully preserved. Archaeologists are currently on site continuing to uncover the station.


In the near future a team from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust will be meeting some of MKC’s history students to demonstrate techniques use to unearth relics from the past.


MKC project director Jane Jones, said: “For an education institution, having a unique historical structure on our site is very exciting and we are keen to ensure that the history of this and the rest of the important heritage of the site is a focal point for students and other visitors to the campus.”


“Fortunately for us, this find is in a position where it will not have a major impact on our build programme so we will still be opening in September 2009.’