Prehistoric women had passion for fashion

Mon Nov 12, 2007 3:43am GMT

By Ljilja Cvekic


PLOCNIK, Serbia (Reuters) - If the figurines found in an ancient European settlement are any guide, women have been dressing to impress for at least 7,500 years.


Recent excavations at the site -- part of the Vinca culture which was Europe's biggest prehistoric civilization -- point to a metropolis with a great degree of sophistication and a taste for art and fashion, archaeologists say.


In the Neolithic settlement in a valley nestled between rivers, mountains and forests in what is now southern Serbia, men rushed around a smoking furnace melting metal for tools. An ox pulled a load of ore, passing by an art workshop and a group of young women in short skirts.


"According to the figurines we found, young women were beautifully dressed, like today's girls in short tops and mini skirts, and wore bracelets around their arms," said archaeologist Julka Kuzmanovic-Cvetkovic.


The unnamed tribe who lived between 5400 and 4700 BC in the 120-hectare site at what is now Plocnik knew about trade, handcrafts, art and metallurgy. Near the settlement, a thermal well might be evidence of Europe's oldest spa.


"They pursued beauty and produced 60 different forms of wonderful pottery and figurines, not only to represent deities, but also out of pure enjoyment," said Kuzmanovic.


The findings suggest an advanced division of labour and organization. Houses had stoves, there were special holes for trash, and the dead were buried in a tidy necropolis. People slept on woollen mats and fur, made clothes of wool, flax and leather and kept animals.


The community was especially fond of children. Artefacts include toys such as animals and rattles of clay, and small, clumsily crafted pots apparently made by children at playtime.


One of the most exciting finds for archaeologists was the discovery of a sophisticated metal workshop with a furnace and tools including a copper chisel and a two-headed hammer and axe.


"This might prove that the Copper Age started in Europe at least 500 years earlier than we thought," Kuzmanovic said.


The Copper Age marks the first stage of humans' use of metal, with copper tools used alongside older stone implements. It is thought to have started around the 4th millennium BC in south-east Europe, and earlier in the Middle East.


The Vinca culture flourished from 5500 to 4000 BC on the territories of what is now Bosnia, Serbia, Romania and Macedonia.


It got its name from the present-day village of Vinca, 10 km east of Belgrade on the Danube river, where early 20th-century excavations uncovered the remains of eight Neolithic villages.


The discovery of a mine -- Europe's oldest -- at the nearby Mlava river suggested at the time that Vinca could be Europe's first metal culture, a theory now backed up by the Plocnik site.


"These latest findings show that the Vinca culture was from the very beginning a metallurgical culture," said archaeologist Dusan Sljivar of Serbia's National Museum. "They knew how to find minerals, to transport them and melt them into tools."


The metal workshop in Plocnik was a room of some 25 square meters, with walls built out of wood coated with clay.


The furnace, built on the outside of the room, featured earthen pipe-like air vents with hundreds of tiny holes in them and a prototype chimney to ensure air goes into the furnace to feed the fire and smoke comes out safely.


"In Bulgaria and Cyprus, where such workshops have also been found, they didn't have chimneys but blew air on the fire with straws, exposing man to heat and carbon dioxide," Sljivar said.


He said the early metal workers very likely experimented with colourful minerals that caught their eye -- blue azurite, bright green malachite and red cuprite, all containing copper -- as evidenced by malachite traces found on the inside of a pot.


The settlement was destroyed at some point, probably in the first part of the fifth millennium, by a huge fire.


The Plocnik site was first discovered in 1927 when the then Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes was building a rail line from the southern city of Nis to the province of Kosovo.


Some findings were published at the time but war, lack of funds and objections from farmers meant it was investigated only sporadically until digging started in earnest in 1996.


"The saddest thing for us is always the moment when we finish our work and everything has to be covered up with earth again," Kuzmanovic said. "That's the easiest for the state, conservation is very expensive and the land owners want to work in their fields."


But there was some hope that the latest excavation would be preserved due to its importance, Kuzmanovic added.


"We dream of uncovering the entire town one day, and people will be able to see prehistoric life at its fullest," she said.



Stonehenge's huge support settlement

By Siân Price

BBC Radio 4's Secrets of Stonehenge


Archaeologists working near Stonehenge have uncovered what they believe is the largest Neolithic settlement ever discovered in Northern Europe.


Remains of an estimated 300 houses are thought to survive under earthworks 3km (2 miles) from the famous stone rings, and 10 have been excavated so far.


But there could have been double that total according to the archaeologist leading the work.


"What is really exciting is realising just how big the village for the Stonehenge builders was," says Professor Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University.


Allowing four per house, he estimates there could have been room for more than 2,000 people.


Analysis of the houses has also showed that some were higher status than others. This is the first evidence for social difference and hierarchy at the time of Stonehenge, indicating that the organisation of labour for moving and raising the stones was not egalitarian.


The settlement is buried beneath the bank of Durrington Walls, a great circular ditched enclosure.


Geophysical survey and excavation work have revealed that the ditch and bank had been constructed in large sections, probably by separate work gangs.


A find of dozens of antler picks in one section of ditch gives some idea of the size of these work parties.


"From the number of antler picks left in the bottom of one section - 57 - if you allow two people with one pick plus a team of basketeers carrying the rubble away and you've got to have the sandwich makers as well.


"This suggests a minimum team size of 200. If the 22 sections of Durrington's ditch were all dug at the same time, that's a work force of thousands."


The settlement beneath Durrington Walls dates from around the time of the construction of Stonehenge's sarsen stones, about 2600 to 2500 BC.


For Mike Parker Pearson, the new evidence throws an important light on how Neolithic society worked - how people organised themselves to build mega-structures.


Apply this to Stonehenge, and he believes there were groups of about 200-400 people working under a clan head, responsible for completing individual sections of the overall monument.


"It's possible that most of Southern Britain may have been involved at one stage or another," Parker Pearson says.


Other evidence from cow and pig bones found on the site suggests that people were coming into the area on a seasonal basis.


"This was a temporary settlement," he says. "They were not doing basic daily chores, not grinding corn, not raising animals. There were no baby pigs and cows. It looks like the livestock had been brought in."


And there is also evidence of feasting at Durrington Neolithic village such as bones still connected together.


"This is the sort of thing you are expecting at feasting occasions - discarded but still-edible joints of meat - when everyone has got enough to eat."


The team has also found a tantalising artefact: a piece of chalk with cut marks that Parker Pearson believes was made by a copper axe.


He is not surprised at the evidence - as copper working in neighbouring parts of mainland Europe dates back to 3000 BC - but it would be the first evidence from Britain before 2400 BC.


The theory is also supported by the almost total absence of evidence of stone or flint axes in the village.


The current excavations at Stonehenge began four years ago and are part of a 10-year project.



Body of child from Bronze Age found

07 November 2007 | 10:30



THE remains of a Bronze Age child have been discovered by archaeologists carrying out a dig at a Suffolk school.


Culford School, in Culford, near Bury St Edmunds, asked for an archaeological survey to be carried out by Suffolk County Council's archaeological service before building work began on a new tennis court next to the school's sports centre.


Archaeologists, who have been working on the site for two weeks, first discovered some human teeth, then fragments of bone before finding a skull which is believed to be a child of seven or eight. It was discovered with a food vessel and some flints which archaeologists believe was left as an offering for the afterlife.


As the remains were found in isolation it is thought that the child may have had some status within the settlement group, perhaps the son or daughter of a tribal leader. The remains will now be taken for analysis to determine the child's age and sex.


Archaeologists will finish examining the site within the next two days.


Work on the tennis centre, a joint project between the school and the Lawn Tennis Association, will begin early in the new year. The centre, which will open in the spring, will have four courts, adding to the existing five outdoor courts, and enable the school to offer tennis all year round. Tennis is a major sport at the school and the new Centre will enable the school to become a regional centre of excellence for the sport.


Deputy head teacher Belinda McCrea said: “This is an extraordinary find. It is extremely interesting for our pupils and some of them have been able to visit the excavation site and take a look at the work the archaeologists have been doing. One pupil in particular has visited the site every day as he is interested in pursuing a career in archaeology when he leaves school.


“It is quite a moving thought that around 1500 BC there was a community living here with children and today in 2007 we have a school on the site.”



Prisoners or slaves? New row over wreck's bones

· Archaeologists clash over men lost off north Devon

· St Lucia calls for the return of its 'freedom fighters'

Steven Morris and Nick Constable

Tuesday November 6, 2007

The Guardian


For a decade the curious case of the Rapparee Cove bones has caused diplomatic tension and fierce academic argument.


Found during an archaeological dig on the rocky coast of north Devon, the discovery of the remains seemed to confirm that a boatload of slaves was shipwrecked off the British coast and the survivors possibly sold on.


Ten years on, a row over the bones has reignited with one historian criticising a former colleague for not publishing the results of tests on the remains and a notable black campaigner claiming that the dearth of information on the bones showed a lack of respect for the black people who died on board the ship.


The people of St Lucia, from where the ship came, are also still keen to find out if those who died at Rapparee were from their Caribbean island, and believe they should be returned if they were.


In 1997 the archaeologist Mark Horton, now well known as a presenter of the BBC series Coast, and historian Pat Barrow organised a dig at Rapparee Cove in Ilfracombe.


The bones were believed to be from a ship called the London that was bound for Bristol and was loaded with prisoners captured during fighting between Britain and France in the then French colony of St Lucia.


In October 1796 the London was wrecked in a storm at Rapparee Cove. Chained in the hold are believed to have been French troops and black prisoners - effectively slaves who bravely fought for their freedom alongside the soldiers against the British forces.


As many as 100 bodies are believed by some to have been buried beneath the cliffs at Rapparee.


Mr Barrow, for one, believes that some of the survivors may have been shipped up to Bristol and sold on at a time when slavery was frowned upon but not illegal in Britain.


The discovery of the Rapparee bones made headlines around the world. There were calls in St Lucia for the remains of the men, seen there as freedom fighters, to be returned. African groups demanded that they be sent back to Africa.


The MP and activist Bernie Grant was among those who made the trek to Devon to pay their respects. For now the bones remain locked in a safe in the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon.


Dr Horton set about trying to find out if the bones were from a person of Caribbean or African origin - and then it all went very quiet.


Speaking at a black history event in London, Mr Barrow criticised Dr Horton, claiming he had "fobbed off" requests for information about his findings.


He said: "I believe some academics and politicians simply do not want to recognise that Rapparee Cove is a historical landmark to our country's role in slavery.


"This is the only place in Britain where black slaves are known to have drowned aboard a British vessel. They are regarded as heroes in St Lucia and they died in dreadful circumstances far from home.


"The least we can do as a country is to show respect and tell their story through proper research."


Linda Bellos, who worked with the late Mr Grant in the Africa Reparations Movement, which campaigns on slavery issues, said there was an "absence of respect" over the Rapparee Cove remains. "There needs to be more research," she added.


Dr Horton, a reader in archaeology at Bristol University, told the Guardian that he now believed the bones were not from black slaves. Examination of the bones suggested to him they might have come from a French soldier, or even be the bones of a local Devon person. He said: "The human remains that were found and analysed cannot be shown to be part of that incident."


Dr Horton said that new DNA techniques might now be used to find out more about the bones. He accepted that he had not formally published the findings, but he had told people in St Lucia that he could not prove they came from the Caribbean.


However, Dr Horton may find himself under fire again next year when a BBC drama series called Bone Kickers is screened. It follows the adventures of a team of archaeologists with one of the plotlines the discovery of murdered 18th century slaves on a beach.


Dr Horton is the academic adviser to the series - although he insists he had nothing to do with this story.


The people of St Lucia still want answers. Margot Thomas, the national archivist on St Lucia, said she still believed the bones were from slaves. She said: "There should be more tests, and if they are proved to be slaves from St Lucia the bones should be returned."



Walker archeological dig unearths more finds

Gail De Boer, Pilot Independent

Published Friday, November 09, 2007


Despite not having as much time as he’d hoped to work at the Walker Hill site this summer, Leech Lake Heritage Sites (LLHS) program director and tribal archaeologist Thor Olmanson says it was a productive and exciting season.


“We have boxes of things to go through this winter,” he declared Nov. 1, as he showed off recent “finds.”


In 2004, LLHS, a for-profit archaeological consulting firm owned by the Leech Lake Band, was brought in to study the site chosen for the new Walker Area Community Center and to look for cultural resources. Site studies are required for projects that receive federal funding.


In “digs” conducted in 2005 and 2006, LLHS’ team discovered what they and others believed were human-made stone artifacts far older than any previously discovered.


Humans were thought to have come to this part of Minnesota no earlier than 10,000 before present (BP). However, an examination of glacial deposits and strata at the levels where these artifacts were found seems to point to a date of 13,000 BP or earlier.


After news of the finds hit the media, other professionals, including State Archaeologist Scott Anfinson, dismissed LLHS’ findings as incorrect. But others in the field supported Olmanson and his team.


This summer, the LLHS crew has been back, joined at times by Sue and Steve Mulholland, archaeologists with the Duluth Archaeology Center; David Mather, National Register Archaeologist with the State Historic Preservation Office; and Dr. Howard Hobbs with the Minnesota Geological Survey.


All this year’s excavations have been on land owned by WACC; previous digs were on adjacent land owned by the city of Walker; but LLHS was unable to get permission to continue digging there. Living Water Church also owns property adjacent to the dig sites.


Also working on the dig were Leech Lake Tribal College grad Amanda Burnette and five other students who were part of a 10-week natural resources internship program funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).


While sifting soil through a screen, Burnette spotted “the find” of the season: a tiny, unique tool now called the “Burnette Micro-Tool.”


The triangular artifact made of agate is no bigger than a person’s little fingernail. Olmanson says the tool has been bifacially worked all the way around and exhibits “basal thinning,” where a broad flake has been taken off each side of the base to allow the tool to be “hafted” or affixed onto a handle.


This, he explains, is suggestive of Paleoindian (12,000 to 8,500 BP) fluting technologies. Similarly shaped but larger tools were common in the Woodland period (about 1,200 to 250 BP). A tool this small would have been used for detail work.


Burnette was honored for her find Nov. 1 with the first-ever LLTC Presidential Award for Excellence.


Attending the ceremony were Jody Chase and Mike Fredenberg from NSF, who were very interested to hear about the site. After seeing some artifacts and photos of soil profiles, they invited Olmanson and his team to Washington, DC, possibly this winter, to present a seminar to the NSF board.


Other items found this summer were lithic (stone) materials; some were raw, while others had been thermally-altered (heated) to make them more workable. There also was a large amount of lithic debitage (chips, chunks, flakes left from tool making), pebble tools and other items similar to the “atypical assemblage” found in earlier digs.


They also found a classic “thumbnail” scraper, weathered and made from a pebble.


Olmanson said the scraper would be an instantly recognizable tool to any archaeologist, because this tool form has been found around the world at sites of widely differing ages.


While most tools were made from materials native to the area, a few were crafted from Tongue River silica not found at the site, but found about 10 miles away.


In this field of science, definitive answers usually don’t come immediately, Olmanson cautioned. LLHS staff and other scientists will probably be studying the Walker Hill site for years, maybe decades, while debate continues about its significance.


“Hundreds of hours of lab analysis, thousands of dollars of studies, carbon-dating, optically-stimulated luminescence studies, protein tests, tool-edge wear studies, experimental replications and more lie ahead before any definitive statements can be made about the precise age of the Walker Hill site,” he stressed.


Nevertheless, he said everything he and his colleagues are seeing points to an early age and to a previously unrecognized assemblage of artifacts.


In fact, Olmanson went on, this may be part of a “Kuhnsian paradigm shift” in the basic scientific assumptions surrounding when humans first arrived in North America.


In 1962, Thomas Kuhn, author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolution,” defined and popularized the concept of the paradigm shift - defined as the process and result of a change in the basic assumptions within a theory of science.


Two examples of historic paradigm shifts would be the change from thinking the earth is flat to accepting that the earth is round; and from believing the sun revolves around the earth to understanding that the earth revolves around the sun.


“Everyone who has actually visited the site and considered the context from which the artifacts were derived agrees that a cultural (human) origin for the artifacts is the only viable explanation,” Olmanson stated.



Archaeological treasure trove in Old Havana


DECLARED a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Old Havana conceals within her many streets, plazas and mansions the most intimate evidence of daily life during the colonial era.


The search for each one of these details that allow a step-by-step reconstruction of different stages of urban development and customs prevalent in the ancient Villa de San Cristóbal de La Habana, has constituted the greatest part of the investigative work done by the Archeological Department of the City Historian’s Office during its 20-plus years of effort.


One of the most interesting discoveries made recently took place at 162 Mercaderes Street, at the corner of Lamparilla when, during the ongoing restoration there, a hollow filled with 16th century garbage fortuitously came to light.


For archaeologist Roger Arrazcaeta Delgado, director of the Archaeological Department, this find is the most important from that century made to date, given the magnitude and novelty of the remains of cultural artifacts uncovered there and the excellent condition of the majority of them.


“At the outset, we questioned the primary use of the hollow, since it could have been an open hole where domestic garbage was dumped or a limestone and earth quarry later filled with waste resulting from other human activity. Both of these practices were common among the inhabitants of the Villa de San Cristóbal.


“This explains the existence of these hollows or openings into the subsoil found in many locations around Old Havana which we have studied. After analyzing the stratification of the terrain and the contents found, we reached the conclusion that it was a quarry, more than two meters wide, which was closed in the second part of the 16th century and covered with layers of earth and trash,” the specialist reported.


With the patience and skill of artisans, the department archaeologists have excavated the house at 162, Mercaderes Street over the course of two years. They have used different types of bricklaying trowels and topographical instruments and other tools.


As Arrazcaeta and expert Osvaldo Jiménez explain, the site is a veritable treasure trove of archaeological artifacts, the list of which includes bones from four species of pigeon, ducks, flamingos, cranes, chickens, pigs, beef, skeletons of fish, turtle shells, mussels, oysters and others, leaving a record of the food consumed by the inhabitants of the building and outlying areas in the 16th century.


Among the most interesting discoveries are the first reports, in the Caribbean region, of the presence of domesticated ducks; the size of the cattle introduced by the Spanish (the animals are larger than those from that century studied in the rest of Latin America because of the characteristics of Cuban grass) and an almost complete deer antler, the earliest known evidence of this species in the region.


The findings also include thousands of fragments of more than 30 types of ceramic pottery dating from 1519-1600, among them Italian and Spanish Majorcan, Montelupo blue on white and Santo Domingo blue on white, respectively.


The findings include matchlock gun projectiles, pitchers, Ming Dynasty porcelain, items of personal use such as gold rings, jet stone pendants to protect children from the “evil eye,” amulets, pins, buckles, buttons, dice made of bone and even Spanish coins from the reigns of Carlos III, Juana and Philip II.


Also significant is the presence of a large number of pottery shards identified as traditional aboriginal, used for culinary purposes and presumably made by the few Indians who lived in San Cristóbal de La Habana and those settled in the town of Guanabacoa during the 16th and 17th centuries.


Even with the excavations yet to be concluded, the building that housed for part of the 19th century the famous Isasi ironworks - destroyed by the fierce fire of May 17, 1890 – 162, Mercaderes Street is today a vivid portrait of the city’s colonial past.



Rum Distillery Found At Construction Site


BRISTOL, R.I. -- A condo complex under construction is turning into an archeological find in Bristol.


The Bristol Phoenix says diggers are uncovering what was once a rum distillery.


The paper says archeologists have uncovered several molasses fermentation vats and the remains of a brick still.


At least five rum distillers were in operation in Bristol during the mid 1700s until the early 1800s.