Lascaux on the Nile

Palaeolithic rock art depicting animal illustrations similar to those found in the Lascaux caves in France have been discovered in the Upper Egyptian town of Kom Ombo, reports Nevine El-Aref


The discovery of huge rocks decorated with Palaeolithic illustrations at the village of Qurta on the northern edge of Kom Ombo has caused excitement among the scientific community. The art was found by a team of Belgian archaeologists and restorers and features groups of cattle similar to those drawn on the walls of the French Lascaux caves. They are drawn and painted in a naturalistic style which is quite different from those shown in cattle representations of the well-known classical, pre-dynastic iconography of the fourth millennium BC. Illustrations of hippopotami, fish, birds and human figures can also be seen on the surface of some of the rocks.


The first examination of the patination and weathering suggests that these bovid representations are extremely old, most probably predating the fish-trap representations and associated rock scenes previously found at several locations in the Al-Hosh area. They are also similar to cattle representations discovered in 1962-63 by a Canadian archaeological mission as part of an attempt to reserve land for habitation and cultivation by Nubians who had been displaced from their homes by the construction of the Aswan High Dam. The Belgian mission relocated the rock in 2004 to the area near the modern village of Qurta. This newly-discovered site is still in pristine condition since they have not been visited by archaeologists since the Canadian team in 1963.


"This is a very important discovery and sheds more light on human life and history during the Palaeolithic era, a lesser recognised period in Egypt," Culture Minister Farouk Hosni said. He described it as an important revelation on Egypt's Stone Age heritage.


The story of the discovery began two months ago when a Belgian archaeological mission from the Royal Museum of Art and History, financed by Yale University, resumed its intensive archaeological survey on the Nubian-sandstone cliffs at Qurta. While carrying out their routine survey, excavators stumbled upon three rock art sites spreading over a distance of about two kilometres on the eastern side of Qurta. Entitled Qurta I, II and III, each site contains several prehistoric rocks bearing a rich collection of Palaeolithic illustrations featuring a large number of bovids, hippopotami, birds and human figures.


Although they are very well painted, the large amount of rock art and the extremely difficult recording conditions have meant the restorers have had to install scaffolding at several locations in an attempt to maintain them for documentation. So far 20 of the 30 panel illustrations have been photographed and archaeologically documented, while the remaining 10 will be subjected to documentation during the mission's next archaeological season in 2008.


Limited excavation was carried out at Qurta I but, regretfully, it did not reveal any more information about the people who created the art, and when they did so.


Bovids are the most common animals depicted in the illustrations, with at least 111 representations in different positions. Of other animals there are seven examples of birds, three hippopotami, three gazelles and two fish. There are also 10 highly stylised human figures shown with pronounced buttocks, but with no other distinct bodily features.


All the rock art images are very darkly coloured and seem to be covered by a substantially developed varnish. Most of the images also have traces of intensive weathering through Aeolian abrasion and water run-off.


"In this respect, the rock art at Qurta is highly homogeneous," said Belgian archaeologist Dirk Huyge, the team leader. Although there were numerous superimpositions of images, the art seemed to have been produced in a single phase.


"None of the painted animals shows any evidence of domestication, and there is little doubt that the bovid should be identified as bos primigenius or aurochs (wild cattle)," Huyge said. "Although these bovids are rather short-horned, there is archaeozoological evidence to support this suggestion." He said that, moreover, the Late Pleistocene faunal representations on the Kom Ombo plain highlighted that the Egyptian species of bos primigenius had relatively smaller horns than the European, but was otherwise of about the same body size.


Huyge pointed out that animals drown on rocks were individual images rather than collective except for a very few, such as the art featuring two bovids standing opposite one another and a fresco of three flying birds.


Early studies on the rock art illustrations revealed that, unlike those of the pre-dynastic period, especially those of the fourth millennium BC, they do not have imaginary ground lines. On the contrary they were drawn in all possible directions. Quite often the heads are represented either upwards or downwards as if they were in movement.


In his archaeological report, a copy of which Al-Ahram Weekly has received, Huyge described the characteristic of the newly-discovered illustrations. He writes that, from a technical point of view, prehistoric men used a special artistic technique of art to engrave and paint their rock images. They hammered and incised the solid surface to transform it into a fine animal, a bird or a scene from the nature around them. In some cases the figures are executed almost in bas-relief, such as the one showing a large bovid found in Qurta II and a fresco of birds which combined three images. "It is really a superb example among the rock art ever found," Huyge commented.


The dimensions of the Qurta images are exceptional. Often the prehistoric bovid stood taller than 0.8 metres, and the largest example ever found measured over 1.8 metres. In this respect the Qurta rock art is quite different in that the size of each animal figure varies by 0.4 to 0.5 metres.


The prehistoric artist or artists at Qurta made use of natural fissures, cracks, curves, arches and brows of the rocks, and integrated them into the art images. A perfect example of this is a rock panel found at Qurta II, where a natural vertical crack was used to render the back part of a bovid. Huyge points out that bovid drawings were deliberately left incomplete. Some had missing legs, tail or horns, while others had numerous scratches over their heads and necks,


Some of Qurta's bovid images are combined with highly schematised human figures similar to those known from the Magdalenian cultural phase of Palaeolithic Europe.


"This must evidently have had a kind of symbolical meaning," Huyge suggests.


"The Qurta rock art is quite unlike any rock art known elsewhere in Egypt," Zahi Hawass, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), says. He adds that it is substantially different from the ubiquitous "classical" pre-dynastic rock art of the fourth millennium BC, known from hundreds of sites throughout the Nile Valley and the adjacent Eastern and Western deserts. The only true parallel thus far known is the rock art previously discovered in 2004 at Abu Tanqura Bahari at Al-Hosh, about 10 kilometres to the north and on the opposite bank of the river.


In 1962 and 1963, the Canadian Prehistoric Expedition started an intensive excavation project in the area around Kom Ombo to rescue as many as possible of the prehistoric remains in the area. Several Late Palaeolithic settlements were found in the vicinity of the recently discovered rock art sites, the most important of which is GS-III, situated at a distance of only 150 to 200 metres from the Qurta I rock art site. At this Palaeolithic site, sandstone fragments were found on which were incised several deep parallel linear grooves. "Such discovery proved that the Late Palaeolithic inhabitants of the Kom Ombo plain practised the technique of incising sandstone to implement their drawings," Hawass concludes.


Mohamed El-Beyali, head of Aswan antiquities, says the GS-III site and similar sites found by the Canadian Prehistoric Expedition and other missions on the Kom Ombo plain in the early 1960s were attributed to the Ballanan-Silsilian culture. Other occurrences of this culture are known from Wadi Halfa in Sudanese Nubia and from the vicinity of Esna (E71-K20) and Nage' Hammadi (Arab Al-Sahaba). The Ballanan-Silsilian culture is dated to about 16,000 to 15,000 years ago. This corresponds climatologically to the end of a hyper-arid period, preceding a return of the rains and the "Wild Nile" stage of about 14,000-13,000 years ago.


The fauna of these Ballanan-Silsilian and other Late Palaeolithic sites on the Kom Ombo plain suggest a culture of hunters and fishermen with a mixed subsistence economy oriented to both stream and desert for food resources. "It is essentially characterised by elements such as aurochs ( bosprimigenius ), hartebeest ( alcelaphus buselaphus ), some species of gazelle (especially gazella dorcas ), hippopotamus ( hippopotamus amphibius ), wading and diving birds including numerous goose and duck species as well as some fish species, especially clarias or catfish," Huyge said. He continued that with the exception of hartebeest, this faunal inventory perfectly matched the animal repertory of the Qurta rock art sites. Both in the Late Palaeolithic faunal assemblages and in the rock art large "Ethiopian" faunal elements, such as elephants, giraffes and rhinoceros, are conspicuously absent.


Huyge claimed that although the Canadian Prehistoric Expedition had hinted on several occasions of the high antiquity of the rock art at Qurta, it had failed to assess the true importance of its finds. In an article in Scientific American in 1976, P E L Smith, director of the Canadian mission, wrote: "interesting scenes of wild animals, including cattle and hippopotamus, are engraved on the cliffs near our Gabal Silsila sites, but no one can prove they were the work of a late Palaeolithic group." And still later, in 1985, he assumed: "... that the Gabal Silsila art... is of Holocene age like most or all of the art known to date in northern Africa.". "In our opinion," Huyge continued in his report, "because of the various particularities outlined above, the rock art of Qurta reflects a true Palaeolithic mentality, quite closely comparable to what governs European Palaeolithic art.


"We propose an attribution of this Qurta rock art to the Late Pleistocene Ballanan-Silsilian culture or a Late Palaeolithic culture of similar nature and age," Huyge wrote. He added that "in this respect, it can hardly be coincidental that the comparable site of Abu Tanqura Bahari 11 at Al-Hosh is also situated at close distance [only at about 500m] from a Late Palaeolithic site that, mainly on the basis of its stratigraphical position immediately below the 'Wild Nile' silts, must be of roughly similar age as the Ballanan-Silsilian industry of the Kom Ombo plain. "These remains, therefore, suggest that the rock art of Qurta can be about 15,000 years old," Huyge claimed. He pointed out that the exact age of the rock art was unfortunately not yet available, "but we propose to sample the rock art in the near future for AMS 14C dating of organics in the varnish rind and/or U-series dating."


Huyge sees that the rock art of Qurta and also that of Al-Hosh are "extremely important" as they constitute the oldest graphic activity thus far recorded in Egypt. They also provide clear evidence that Africa in general and Egypt in particular possess prehistoric art that is both chronologically and aesthetically closely comparable to the great Palaeolithic art traditions known for a long time from Europe.


"The rock art of Qurta, which is truly a 'Lascaux on the Nile' should therefore be preserved at any price. Qurta is definitely Egypt's most important rock art site," Huyge concluded.


The rock supporting this art, the Nubian sandstone, is extremely fragile and still being intensively quarried in the area. The rock art panels are often very large and show numerous cracks and fissures. Huyge believes that since it would almost be impossible to remove the rock art from its original location without seriously damaging it, and since, of course, the rock art is an integral part of the Upper Egyptian desert landscape that should be studied and understood in situ, the only way properly to safeguard this priceless heritage of Egypt is to provide adequate surveillance, with several permanent guards on site. It could eventually be envisaged that the area of the rock art could be secured by building high protective walls around it. "Taking this rock art away from its original location, however, and putting it in a museum would definitely be a substantial impoverishment of Egypt's cultural heritage."



Early Europeans Practiced Human Sacrifice

By Heather Whipps, Special to LiveScience

posted: 11 June 2007 11:27 am ET

Europe's prehistoric hunter-gatherers may have practiced human sacrifice, a new study claims.


Investigating a collection of graves from the Upper Paleolithic (about 26,000 to 8,000 BC), archaeologists found several that contained pairs or even groups of people with rich burial offerings and decoration. Many of the remains were young or had deformities, such as dwarfism.


The diversity of the individuals buried together and the special treatment they received could be a sign of ritual killing, said Vincenzo Formicola of the University of Pisa, Italy.


"These findings point to the possibility that human sacrifices were part of the ritual activity of these populations," Formicola wrote in a recent edition of the journal Current Anthropology.


Most of the hunter-gatherers who lived in Europe during the Upper Paleolithic buried their dead, and their graves—numerous and usually filled with offerings such as beads and ivory—are considered a good source of information on what they thought about spirituality and the afterlife, Formicola said.


Two or more people were occasionally buried together if they died in an accident or during times of disease, Formicola said. A cross-section of the graves reveal, however, that many of the multiple burials were more common than thought and had special circumstances surrounding the individuals.


"All these multiple burials (one out of five) can hardly be the result of natural events ... [and] human sacrifices could represent an additional explanation," Formicola told LiveScience.


For example, at a site in the Moravian region of the Czech Republic, three Paleolithic youngsters, one of whom was afflicted with congenital dysplasia, were discovered lying in unusual formation. The remains of an adolescent dwarf lying next to another female in Italy, as well as a pair of pre-teens in Russia treated to an elaborate grave offering of ivory beads, were also found.


"The time required to prepare all these ivory goods is enormous," Formicola said. "It was made for a ceremony and it was made specifically for the children. This leads [one] to wonder if this ceremony was foreseen long before the children's death."


The mix and match of ages and sexes buried in each grave indicates that they were put together for a reason and not just due to a common disease, said Formicola.


"These individuals may have been feared, hated or revered," said Formicola. "We do not know whether this adolescent received special burial treatment in spite of being a dwarf or precisely because he was a dwarf."


Human sacrifices have never been apparent in the archaeological record of Upper Paleolithic Europe, though they pop up much later among more complex ancient societies, such as the Egyptians. The Maya and the Aztec would also cut out hearts or toss victims from the tops of temples, historians say.


The new findings could mean the hunter-gatherers were more advanced than once thought.


"What [the data are] suggesting is that the Upper Paleolithic societies developed a complexity of interactions and a common system of beliefs, of symbols and of rituals that are unknown in small groups of modern foragers," said Formicola.



50,000 Years of Resilience May Not Save Tribe

Tanzania Safari Deal Lets Arab Royalty Use Lands

By Stephanie McCrummen

Washington Post Foreign Service

Sunday, June 10, 2007; A01


YAEDA VALLEY, Tanzania -- One of the last remaining tribes of hunter-gatherers on the planet is on the verge of vanishing into the modern world.


The transition has been long underway, but members of the dwindling Hadzabe tribe, who now number fewer than 1,500, say it is being unduly hastened by a United Arab Emirates royal family, which plans to use the tribal hunting land as a personal safari playground.


The deal between the Tanzanian government and Tanzania UAE Safaris Ltd. leases nearly 2,500 square miles of this sprawling, yellow-green valley near the storied Serengeti Plain to members of the royal family, who chose it after a helicopter tour.


A Tanzanian official said that a nearby hunting area the family shared with relatives had become "too crowded" and that a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family "indicated that it was inconvenient" and requested his own parcel.


The official, Philip Marmo, called the Hadzabe "backwards" and said they would benefit from the school, roads and other projects the UAE company has offered as compensation.


But dozens of Hadzabe interviewed deep in the scruffy hills surrounding this valley said that while they are ready to modernize, slowly, they were not consulted on the deal, which is a direct threat to their way of life because it involves hunting.


While they have through 50,000 years survived the coming of agriculture, metal, guns, diseases, missionaries, poachers, anthropologists, students, gawking journalists, corrugated steel houses and encroaching pastoral tribes who often impersonate them for tourist money, the resilient Hadzabe, who still make fire with sticks, fear that the safari deal will be their undoing.


"If they are going to come here, we definitely will all perish," said Kaunda, a Hadzabe man who prefers khakis but still hunts with hand-hewn poison arrows. "Our history will die, and the Hadzabe will be swept off the face of the world. We are very much afraid."


Their fear is based on a similar agreement the government struck years ago with another company that resulted in dozens of Hadzabe men being arrested for hunting on tribal land. Three of the men died of illness in the bewildering environment of prison, cut off from the open world, their daily hunting and their diet of herbs, roots and honey. Three others died soon after being released.


"We're not used to that kind of life in jail," said Gudo, an elderly Hadzabe whose best friend, Sumuni, was among those who perished. "Sumuni was my age. Our fathers were friends. We played together, learned how to hunt together," he said, looking away. "I don't want to talk anymore."


A recent meeting in the Yaeda Valley on the issue ended with several Hadzabe men shouting at Tanzanian government officials for ignoring them. One of the men was later charged with disruptive behavior and jailed for several days. Two others who have spoken against the deal said they have been threatened with arrest and are now on the run, moving from hut to hut to elude police.


Others seem prepared to fight an intruder they barely know.


Although the Hadzabe characteristically avoid confrontation by fleeing into the bush, a group of men recently greeted a passing convoy of Land Cruisers with bows drawn.


"I don't even know what an Arab looks like," said Kaunda, who was among them. "Maybe he's black. Maybe he's another color. I don't know. But we are ready to die."


A few groups that advocate on behalf of indigenous peoples are working with the Hadzabe to promote a dialogue with the government and the company, a task that poses its own challenges. The Hadzabe are highly decentralized, living in remote, mobile settlements of two or three families scattered throughout the valley. They are also egalitarian, with no real hierarchy or leadership, and tend to reach decisions by consensus.


Even if the tribe came up with a solution, it remains unclear whether the Tanzanian government or the UAE company would be willing to compromise. Marmo said the Hadzabe -- who until recently had no use for money, organized religion or standard time -- are "the one backwards group in the country."


"We want them to go to school," said Marmo, who is Tanzania's minister for good governance and represents the valley in parliament. "We want them to wear clothes. We want them to be decent."


Messages left with the UAE Embassy in Washington and a company representative were not returned.


The Hadzabe are believed to be the second-oldest people on Earth, and they still hunt and gather as a way of life, if occasionally before audiences of khaki-covered tourists, who flock to northern Tanzania by the thousands.


All live in the Yaeda Valley and surrounding hills, where one of the wanted men, Gonga Petro, lounged against a rock recently and reflected on his difficulties.


"It's very important to go to work and hunt, but now, you can just walk from morning to night and if you're lucky, you might come back with a dik-dik," he sighed, referring to an animal that is embarrassingly small for someone who once slew two zebras, an antelope and a buffalo in a single day. "But there's always an alternative. The baobab. Together with the herbs."


It was morning in his settlement, the four straw huts nearly invisible amid waist-high grass, thorny bushes and thick-trunked baobab trees.


The four children were out gathering fruits and pretending to be frogs. Their mothers sat outside, picking leaves off branches for lunch. Gonga sharpened arrows.


His family and one other moved to the spot three years ago to escape a cholera epidemic, he said, one of a multitude of problems the Hadzabe face.


The Yaeda Valley once teemed with elephants, zebras, antelopes and other animals migrating to the Serengeti Plain, but the wildlife populations have dwindled in recent decades because of heavy poaching and because several farming and cattle-herding tribes have drifted into the area, competing for water and grazing land.


Some Hadzabe have tried to adopt their neighbors' ways, starting small farms. Others have headed to villages to look for jobs. Mostly, the Hadzabe's economy depends on selling wild honey in exchange for something called money, which Gonga once used to roll his cigarettes.


"Money was just papers," he recalled. "It was very strange, because we learned you could take this paper to a shop and get a pen. It was very interesting."


He lit a cigarette, rolled with a piece of newspaper that described a papal visit.


Government efforts over 40 years to forcibly integrate the Hadzabe into modern society have mostly failed. Instead, the Hadzabe seem to have preferred changing at their own pace, adopting bits of modern life over centuries.


A program to move families into a village of metal houses ended with Hadzabe fleeing to the bush after only a few days. "When it rains, those houses make a lot of noise," said Sarah Makungu, who tried them. "In fact, to be honest, we don't want to live in iron corrugated huts, but we would keep our plates and such in there."


The introduction of standard time has also come slowly. "What is the need for time?" Kaunda asked. "You wake up, you get honey. What do you need time for?"


Though some Hadzabe children attend primary and secondary boarding school in the valley, programs to build new schools and provide medical care and water have mostly benefited neighboring tribes and have lured more people to the overpopulated valley.


Missions to spread Christianity have also failed. "We just go to church as if we are pictures," one man said. "Our hearts and minds are not there."


Though the Hadzabe have managed to survive for millennia, Gonga and others said the UAE deal is particularly worrisome because it comes on top of the other pressures they are facing and because the newcomers will be hunting with the support of a government that seems hostile to the tribe's complaints.


"If we had been involved from the beginning, the issue could have been resolved mutually," Gonga said. "We need development, but when things are done this way, it gives us the feeling we are being cheated or used for other people's benefit."


He wondered why this tribe, the Arabs, did not seek his opinions. "Why were we not called upon?" he asked, explaining that he would share a cigarette and talk if they came.


His wife, Veronique, who said she married Gonga not for his hunting skills but because she loved him, answered: "These people knew from the beginning we were nothing. That's why they didn't invite us to their meetings."


It was afternoon, and Gonga got back to work, straightening arrows with his teeth.


Veronique walked with other women into the wiry tangles and green of a thousand different bushes and trees, in search of roots.


The orange sun slipped away. When it was dark, the families talked around a fire under a black sky dusted with stars.


"It's like we have to marry someone we don't know," Gonga said of the deal. "It's like an imposed wife. You have to talk to someone before you have to live with them."


He told some jokes about his encounters with the modern world, such as toilets, which he finds unsanitary and strange.


He did impersonations in a high, shrill voice of various researchers he's met over the years. And he looked up and asked about stories he'd heard of people going to the moon.


"We hear some people were lost in the stars," he said. "Is this true?"



Unst beach excavation comes to end

15 June 2007


A PREHISTORIC archaeological site eroding beside the beach at Sandwick on Unst is giving up its last secrets this month.


The Unst Amateur Archaeology Group, along with staff from Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division and The SCAPE Trust, are finishing their three-year excavation of the Iron Age building, which featured in a recent episode of BBC2's Coast programme.


The site consists of several small cells, with upstanding stone walls and paved floors. Thick layers of midden, full of limpet and whelk shells, animal bone and pot sherds, built up in and around the cells. In the middle of one was a stone and clay hearth, with large pot sherds set into the clay.


Another hearth was later built on top, also of stone and clay, against a large upright slab. Behind it was a mound of ash and pot sherds that had been swept out of the hearth.


The team have found more than a thousand sherds of pottery, as well as a soapstone tuyère (for holding a bellows during metalworking), part of a shale bracelet, stone tools and two painted pebbles.


The site was first spotted eroding at the edge of the beach by members of the Unst Amateur Archaeology Group. The SCAPE Trust set up the project to train volunteers in how to record and investigate an archaeological site being destroyed by coastal erosion, of which there are more than 12,000 in Scotland.


Preliminary survey and recording in 2004 have been followed by three one-month seasons of excavation, with funding from Historic Scotland and the Heritage Lottery Fund; this year's work is funded by Historic Scotland, the Russell Trust and the Hunter Archaeological Trust.


In 2005, a burial was found cut through the windblown sand that had covered the building after it was abandoned. The skeleton had been buried with a polished stone disc and a tiny, intricate object made of copper alloy and bone rings.


During the filming of Coast Alice Roberts analysed the bones and concluded they had belonged to a slimly built man who had probably died in his mid 20s. The bone has been radiocarbon dated, showing the young man died between 130 and 390AD.


This year the team have removed some of the stone walls and are investigating what lies underneath them. There seem to be the remains of earlier occupation on the site, with rubble, walls and thick layers of burnt soil and midden.


At the close of this year's excavation, stonemasons from Old Scatness will be replacing stone walls and paving and consolidating the site with turf, and it will be left open to view by visitors to the beach. The Council for Scottish Archaeology has taken on the site under its Adopt-a Monument Scheme, and a sign is being erected to direct visitors to the site.




By Graham Spicer    12/06/2007


Extensive archaeological remains of an old guard house dating to the Tudor and Jacobean periods have been uncovered at the Tower of London.


Staff were relaying a cobblestone path across Tower Green to conform with disability regulations when they found evidence of walls, which turned out to be the remains of a substantial building.


“The work we were doing was resurfacing for compliance with the Disability Discrimination Act,” explained Jane Spooner, Historic Buildings Curator at the Tower.


“There were some 19th century cobblestones put down in a crazy paving style so we were taking them out and relaying them in a more even way, so we were doing very shallow excavations.”


“On day two we found a wall at a very shallow level, about 20cm below the old surface. Whilst we knew about it from discoveries made in 1975 we hadn’t anticipated finding it so close to the surface.”


Historic views and plans of the Tower show a building in this location from at least 1570, variously known as the ‘Old Main Guard’, the ‘Warders’ Guardhouse’ or the ‘Warders’ Houses’, likely to have been used by soldiers and the predecessors of today’s Beefeaters.


The foundations, floors, drains and cellar walls uncovered show at least two distinct building phases, the first probably late medieval and the second from the late 17th century.


Accounts from the 17th century describe how the structure was demolished in 1684 and quickly rebuilt only to be taken down again shortly after.


“It was one of those very rare cases in archaeology where you can match the actual visual evidence with the cartographic evidence from the past,” added Jane.


Elizabethan prisoners like the disgraced Catholic Earl of Arundel, Phillip Howard, held in the adjacent Beauchamp Tower, would have been able to see the building from their prison windows.


As well as the remains of the buildings the archaeologists made other finds like clay pipes, oyster shells, animal bones and even a nearly whole Bellarmine jar with a detailed bearded face carved on it, providing insights into Tudor and Jacobean life.


“The finds reflect the daily life of ordinary people who worked in the tower,” said Jane. “It is quite nice because we get an idea of their tastes – drinking from Bellarmine jars, eating oysters, which were much cheaper then, and lots of clay pipes some of which were very old.”


After investigations are finished the cobblestones will be re-laid and the archaeology backfilled so that the remains are fully protected. Further excavations are possible in the future.



Tree ring find helps re-write Southampton's architectural history

By Corey Stephenson


Tudor House Museum now looks likely to lose its status as the city's oldest house after scientific evidence has revealed neighbouring buildings could be even older.


Archaeologists have discovered that a pair of cottages next to the Tudor House could have been built almost 50 years before.


By using dendrochronology - a system of dating by looking at the growth rings of wood used to build the houses - scientists have found that two adjacent cottages in Blue Anchor Lane could have been built as early as 1448, nearly half a century before the Tudor House was constructed in the 1490s.


Another cottage next to the Tudor House entrance in Bugle Street, which is often mistaken as a Victorian building due to its 19th century brickwork, is believed to have been built in 1461.


The discovery has excited archaeologists and historians in the city who have long believed Tudor House to be the oldest in Southampton.


Southampton City Council ancient monuments officer, Dr Andy Russel, said: "The cottages were somewhat in the shadow of their larger and grander neighbour but now we know they're even older which will add to the attraction. We suspected some buildings were older but we couldn't prove it.


"You often get two or three experts together and they argue about which building is older but dendrochronology gives us fixed dates."


Dr Russel said the original two-storey timber-frame building was a medieval hall-house that would have been rented out.


The cottages would have been built by John Fleming, a Mayor of Southampton from 1445 to 1447 who was the city's representative at Westminster Hall. Mr Fleming, whose family came from Flanders in Belgium, died in 1454.


Dr Russel confirmed the other cottage next to Tudor House was built by merchant John Williams and dated back to the 1460s.


He said he is now keen to find out the age of the nearby Red Lion and Duke of Wellington pubs.


The archaeological survey of the Tudor House buildings was part of a £1.6m repair and renovation programme by the Heritage Lottery Fund. It originally consisted of three buildings dating back to around 1150 and it stands opposite Southampton's oldest building, St Michael's Church, which was built in 1070.


It has housed some of Southampton's most prominent citizens, including MP John Dawtrey, who created the building we know today.


Local historian Genevieve Bailey said: "I was blown away. All this time we have been giving this courtesy to Tudor House and it is the lovely little cottage next to it that is the older building."



Ancient coffin with scenes from Homer's poems unearthed

Press Trust of India

Nicosia (Cyprus), March 21, 2006


A 2,500-year-old stone coffin with well-preserved colour illustrations from Homer's epics has been discovered in western Cyprus, archaeologists said.


"It is a very important find," Pavlos Flourentzos, director of the island's antiquities department said yesterday. "The style of the decoration is unique, not so much from an artistic point of view, but for the subject and the colours used."


Only two other similar sarcophagi have ever been discovered in Cyprus before. One is housed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and the other in the British Museum in London, but their colour decoration is more faded, Flourentzos said.


The limestone sarcophagus was accidentally found by construction workers last week in a tomb near the village of Kouklia, in the coastal Paphos area. The tomb, which probably belonged to an ancient warrior, had been looted during antiquity.


Flourentzos said the coffin - painted in red, black and blue on a white background - dated to 500 BC, when Greek cultural influence was gaining a firm hold on the eastern Mediterranean island. Pottery discovered in the tomb is expected to provide a precise date.


"The style is very simple, it has little to do with later Classical prototypes and rules," Flourentzos said.


Experts believe the ornate decoration features the hero Ulysses in scenes from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey - both hugely popular throughout the Greek world.



Telmex Peru destroys part of 2000 year-old ancient necropolis

15 June, 2007 [ 12:30 ]


Paracas mummy found in the necropolis (LIP-jl) -- According to Peru's National Institute of Culture (Instituto Nacional de Cultura -INC) excavations made during a fiber optic telephone line laying project administrated by Mexico-based telecommunications giant Telmex has destroyed parts of an ancient necropolis belonging to the pre-Inca civilization, the Paracas.


Alfredo Gonzalez, Ica regional director of the INC, has denounced the telecommunications company for allegedly ruining nearly 400 square meters of a 2,000 year-old ancient burial ground that was registered as part of Peru's national heritage.


Gonzalez stated that the infrastructural project was conducted without any respect for the area's pre-Incan historical value.


"The person who ordered the project must not have been Peruvian. How else could you explain ordering a project of this magnitude in such a historically rich area?" asked the Peruvian cultural expert.


According to Peru's Andina News Agency, Telmex Peru has not released any statements regarding the incident.


The Paracas culture was an important society between approximately 750 BCE and 100 CE. Most of our information about the lives of the Paracas people comes from excavations at the large seaside Paracas necropolis, first investigated by the Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello in the 1920s.


The Paracas Necropolis is located in Chincha Province, located approximately 200 kilometers south of Peru's capital city of Lima.



Thousands of Pearls Found in Shipwreck

Saturday June 16, 2007 4:16 AM


KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) - Salvagers discovered thousands of pearls Friday in a small, lead box they said they found while searching for the wreckage of the 17th-century Spanish galleon Santa Margarita.


Divers from Blue Water Ventures of Key West said they found the sealed box, measuring 3.5 inches by 5.5 inches, along with a gold bar, eight gold chains and hundreds of other artifacts earlier this week.


They were apparently buried beneath the ocean floor in approximately 18 feet of water about 40 miles west of Key West.


``There are several thousand pearls starting from an eighth of an inch to three-quarters of an inch,'' said Duncan Mathewson, marine archaeologist and partner in Blue Water Ventures.


James Sinclair, archaeologist and conservator consulting with Mel Fisher's Treasures, Blue Water's joint-venture partners, said the pearls are very rare because of their antiquity and condition.


Sinclair said pearls don't normally survive the ocean water once they are out of the oyster that makes them.


``In this instance, we had a lead box and the silt that had sifted into the box from the site of the Margarita, which preserved the pearls in a fairly pristine state,'' he said.


An initial cache of treasure and artifacts from the Santa Margarita was discovered in 1980 by pioneering shipwreck salvor Mel Fisher. The ship was bound for Spain when it sank in a hurricane in 1622.


The pearls will be conserved, documented and photographed in an archaeological laboratory above the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West.


``Until they're properly cleaned and conserved we don't know their value, but it would seem they would be worth upwards of a million dollars,'' Mathewson said.


On the Net:

Blue Water Ventures: http://www.bluewaterventureskw.com

Mel Fisher's Treasures: http://www.melfisher.com



Global warming threatens Antarctic base

Fri Jun 8, 7:05 PM ET


WELLINGTON, New Zealand - The Antarctic base occupied by British explorer Robert Falcon Scott on his ill-fated expedition to the South Pole on foot early last century has been included on a list of the world's 100 most endangered sites.


The list, compiled by an international panel and released Wednesday by the World Monuments Fund, identifies what are considered to be the world's most endangered historic, architectural and cultural treasures.


The WMF identified climate change as the biggest threat to the hut, built in 1911 at Cape Evans by Captain Scott's British Antarctic expedition. The hut is wooden but for decades was permanently frozen. With the ice melting, the timbers have become waterlogged and are rotting.


Thousands of objects and artifacts from the expedition, which cost Scott and his team their lives during their return journey from the South Pole, remain in and around the hut.


Nigel Watson, the New Zealand Antarctic Heritage Trust director, said Friday the New Zealand government supported any efforts to preserve the site and hoped the listing would attract donors.


He said the estimated cost of conserving the site was $6.7 million.


New Zealand's Everest conqueror and Antarctic explorer Sir Edmund Hillary has been vocal in supporting the preservation of the Scott hut, along with another occupied by a fellow British polar explorer, Sir Ernest Shackelton.