35,000-Year-Old Mammoth Sculpture Found in Germany


In southwestern Germany, an American archaeologist and his German colleagues have found the oldest mammoth-ivory carving known to modern science. And even at 35,000 years old, it's still intact.


Archaeologists at the University of Tübingen have recovered the first entirely intact woolly mammoth figurine from the Swabian Jura, a plateau in the state of Baden-Württemberg, thought to have been made by the first modern humans some 35,000 years ago. It is believed to be the oldest ivory carving ever found. "You can be sure," Tübingen archaeologist Nicholas J. Conard told SPIEGEL ONLINE, "that there has been art in Swabia for over 35,000 years."


In total, five mammoth-ivory figurines from the Ice Age were newly discovered at the site of the Vogelherd Cave in southwestern Germany, a site known to contain primitive artefacts since it was excavated in 1931 by the Tübingen archaeologist Gustav Reik. Over 7,000 sacks of sediment later, archaeologists were again invigorated by the discoveries.


Among the new finds are well-preserved remains of a lion figurine, fragments of a mammoth figurine and two as-yet-unidentified representations. These, the University of Tübingen Web site explains, "count among the oldest and most impressive examples of figurative artworks from the Ice Age."


Conard said that "the excitement and thrill were immense." He and his colleagues Michael Lingnau and Maria Malina in the Department of Early Prehistory and Quaternary Ecology reported their findings in the journal Archäologische Ausgrabungen in Baden-Württemberg.


The figure of the woolly mammoth is tiny, measuring just 3.7 cm long and weighing a mere 7.5 grams, and displays skilfully detailed carvings. It is unique in its slim form, pointed tail, powerful legs and dynamically arched trunk. It is decorated with six short incisions, and the soles of the pachyderm's feet show a crosshatch pattern. The miniature lion is 5.6 cm long, has a extended torso and outstretched neck. It is decorated with approximately 30 finely incised crosses on its spine.


The geological context of the discoveries and radiocarbon dating indicate that the figurines belong to the Aurignacian culture, which refers to an area of southern France and is associated with the arrival of the first modern humans in Europe. Multiple radiocarbon dates from sediment in the Vogelherd Cave yielded ages between 30,000 and 36,000 years ago, the University of Tübingen reports. Some methods give an even older date.


The preliminary results from the excavation will be presented in a special exhibit at the Museum of Prehistory in Blaubeuren from June 24, 2007 to January 13, 2008. In 2009, the figurines will be displayed in a major state exhibition in Stuttgart entitled "Cultures and Art of the Ice Age."



Three thousand year-old mummy discovered in Egypt

Fri Jun 22, 4:08 PM ET



Archaeologists have discovered the 3,000-year-old mummy of a high priest to the god Amun in the southern city of Luxor, antiquities supremo Zahi Hawass told the official MENA news agency on Saturday.


The 18th Dynasty mummy of Sennefer was unearthed in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings -- one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world -- by a team from Britain's Cambridge University.


"The mummy was found in tomb 99 in the Valley of the Kings on the west bank of Luxor," Hawass said.


A high priest was considered to be the most important man after the king, performing duties, religious rituals and offerings on his behalf.


Other mummies were found during the excavation, including one with a brain tumour, a foetus, a female mummy wrapped in plaster and others which appeared to have suffered from arthritis, Hawass said.


The Valley of the Kings was used as a burial site for royalty and nobles to the west of present day Luxor, some 700 kilometres (450 miles) south of Cairo.


Millions of foreign tourists come to see Egypt's pharaonic treasures each year, including hundreds of thousands making the long journey south from the capital to the Valley of the Kings.


Hawass said a report on the findings would be presented to Culture Minister Faruq Hosni, in order to allocate resources for continued excavations in the area.



Isthmia: city of elusive ancient Greece

Having eluded British archaeologists for two decades, American excavators found the seat of the Isthmian Games - one of four ancient Greek athletic contests - practically erased.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

By Elizabeth R. Gebhard


Massive column drums and blocks are still conspicuous in the walls of the late antique fortress that guarded the Isthmus, and early travellers imagined that the temple and its precinct lay inside the walls. In the 1930s, the British archaeologist RJH Jenkins and his young architect, H. Megaw, set out to test the prevailing theory. Since they found only Roman remains beneath the fortress, they looked for the temple elsewhere in the vicinity but did not locate it.


The present excavations have their origins in discussions that took place during the Second World War at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton. It was home to a group of scholars exiled from their work in Greece. They included the Swedish-born, American archaeologist Oscar Broneer and Paul Clement. The exiles entertained themselves by discussing what archaeological tasks particularly needed to be performed in Greece after the war was over. There was agreement that the one major Panhellenic site that still needed exploration was the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Corinthian Isthmus, the site of the Isthmian Games.


In 1946, Oscar Broneer returned to Greece to be acting director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, a post he held until he was appointed to a professorship of Classics at the University of Chicago in 1948. It was at the urging of the University of Chicago that he organised excavations on the Isthmus.


Swedish-born, American archaeologist Oscar Broneer conducted excavations on the site from 1954 to 1967


The project began in April of 1952. A survey of the topography led Broneer to conclude that the only possible site in which a large temple could have stood was a plateau at the foot of a small ridge, known locally as the Rachi (ÑÜ÷ç). It was there that he laid out a long and narrow trench to reveal whatever lay concealed beneath the surface. On the first day, the characteristic ground plan of a Doric temple emerged.


Broneer, however, did not, as he had expected, encounter the blocks of the foundations but simply the empty trenches where they had once lain. The temple had been almost completely destroyed, its blocks moved in late antiquity to construct the massive fortress, always visible, that was meant to guard against invasions from the north. Broneer was accompanied in that first season by a young Greek archaeologist, Chrysoula Kardara, who was later to become a professor at the University of Athens.


Undeterred by the destruction of the temple, Broneer conducted excavations from 1954 to 1967. He systematically laid bare the central area of the sanctuary surrounding the temple, the stadium that lay adjacent to it and the theatre. He explored the later stadium of Hellenistic and Roman times, the Roman Bath, fortress and a small Hellenistic settlement located on the Rachi ridge above the sanctuary areas.


One significant discovery was the early Archaic temple lying beneath the Doric building of Classical times. A catastrophic fire reduced the building and its contents to a mass of smouldering ruins amongst which Broneer recovered a host of small dedications brought by pilgrims to Poseidon's shrine.


The remains of larger pieces, including bronze statues, were melted down and recast. The objects that remained, some of them small and exquisite, include a carnelian seal stone carved with the image of a young man, a tiny gold bull complete in every detail (although less than one centimetre long), a gold pin head showing a jeweller's skill, carnelian beads from a necklace, and carved bone pieces from a board game.


Small and finely decorated oil vessels (aryballoi) were favoured dedications. A man who had been victorious in the pentathlon gave a jumping weight suitably inscribed. Its early letter-forms provide the first evidence for the pentathlon as an event in the games. A wheel from a chariot was dedicated, presumably in gratitude for a victory won at the Isthmian Games. Then there were arms and armour, dedications made by those who had been victorious in war. Humbler forms of dedication were the small terracotta figurines of horses and riders and of bulls, the animal sacred to Poseidon. As god of the sea, he also received small replicas of ships for a safe voyage.


The excavations revealed not only structures from Archaic and Classical Greece, but produced vivid evidence of the sanctuary's continued life into the Roman period. From Imperial times, there is the shrine to the hero and god, Melikertes-Palaimon. He was the object of a mystery cult.


Evidence of this is to be seen in the many oil lamps found in his precinct next to the temenos of Poseidon. They would have belonged to the initiates who took part in rites enacted in the darkness of night that included the sacrifice of a bull burned in a pit.


Broneer was joined in 1967 by his friend from his Princeton days, Paul Clement, now a professor at UCLA. The first excavation season consisted of a joint campaign in which Broneer finished his work in the sanctuary and Clement began clearing portions of the Late Roman fortifications that he called the Hexamilion.


From the roadway of the Northeast Gate came two marble stelae that had been used as paving stones. They had originally been erected in honour of victors in the Isthmian games of Roman times. One of them, preserved in its entirety, carries the portrait of Cornelius of Corinth, who had won first prize as a flute-player in games throughout the Roman Empire.


Clement then continued to conduct excavations that centred on the Roman Bath and structures in a field east of the main sanctuary. There emerged in the course of excavations in the bath a very large and complete black-and-white mosaic floor showing a Triton carrying a Nereid on his back with sea creatures swimming beside him.


On Broneer's retirement in 1976, Elizabeth Gebhard followed him as director of the University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia, and in 1987 Timothy Gregory took over Clement's work for the Ohio State University. The two projects continue; they concentrate on research, conservation and publications.


A major excavation took place in 1989 under the direction of Frederick Hemans and myself. Evidence was uncovered that revealed a much earlier beginning for Poseidon's cult in the Early Iron Age than had been previously imagined. Further exploration of the Archaic Temple revealed important information about its plan and date, while tests throughout the sanctuary produced vital information for securing the chronology of the site.


To explore the surrounding territory, Gregory and Daniel Pullen (of Florida State University) some years later conducted a systematic survey designed to place the Isthmian Sanctuary in its broader context. The survey has recovered details of life in the eastern Corinthia from the Neolithic period until today, and it has provided new information about activity on this "crossroads of Greece", including many new sites, several of which are now under intensive investigation.


The Isthmia Museum, which contains exhibits relating to the sanctuary and the nearby port of Kenchreai, opened in 1978. Now, 30 years later, renovations are underway under the aegis of the Greek Archaeological Service and the 37th Ephoreia of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities. The site and museum will soon be opened again to the public.


Elizabeth R. Gebhard is director of the University of Chicago Excavations at Isthmia. Her article appears here through the courtesy of the Athens News, Greece.


 (Ed. note: To celebrate the 55th year of excavations at the Sanctuary of Poseidon on the Isthmus of Corinth, the American School of Classical Studies at Athens hosted an international conference on June 15-17)



Archaeologist sparks hunt for Holy Grail

By Nick Pisa in Rome

Last Updated: 2:15am BST 21/06/2007


An archaeologist has sparked a Da Vinci Code-style hunt for the Holy Grail after claiming ancient records show it is buried under a 6th century church in Rome.


The cup - said to have been used by Christ at the Last Supper - is the focus of countless legends and has been sought for centuries.


Alfredo Barbagallo, an Italian archaeologist, claims that it is buried in a chapel-like room underneath the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, one of the seven churches which Christian pilgrims used to visit when they came to Rome.


Mr Barbagallo based his claim on two years spent studying mediaeval iconography inside the basilica and a description of a particular chamber, in a guide to the catacombs written in 1938 by a Capuchin friar named Giuseppe Da Bra.


The friar describes a room of about 20 square metres with a vaulted roof ceiling. "In the corner of a wall-seat there can be seen a terracotta funnel whose lower part opens out over the face of a skeleton," he wrote.


Da Bra then explains that giving liquid refreshment (refrigerium) to the dead was part of ancient funeral rites.


According to Mr Barbagallo, who heads an association called Arte e Mistero [Art and Mystery], this funnel is the Grail.


He also points out to several beautiful mosaics and frescos in the basilica which feature images of the sacred cup.


Mr Barbagallo added that its presence in the church fits the sketchy accounts of its early guardians.


In 258 AD, during a phase of Christian persecution, Pope Sixtus V reportedly entrusted the treasures of the early Church to a deacon called Lawrence, Lorenzo in Italian. This deacon was martyred four days later and since then no one has ever seen the Grail.


Various legends have it that the cup, given the name Holy Grail in the Middle Ages, was taken to different countries - including Britain.


Dan Brown’s work of fiction, The Da Vinci Code, said the cup had been buried at Rossyln Chapel in Scotland, and sparked off a stampede to the isolated location as thousands flocked to see it for themselves.


Mr Barbagallo said he believed it never went anywhere, and stayed with St Lawrence in his tomb.


Emperor Constantine built a shrine on the site of Lawrence’s martyrdom in the 4th Century and the main part of the Basilica of San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura was built in AD580 on the same spot.


The catacombs where Mr Barbagallo believes the cup to buried come under the authority of the Vatican’s Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology.


A spokesman said: "We are aware of the reports and a few weeks ago made an initial investigation of the area with the possibility of opening the catacombs up but as yet no decision has been made."



Roman city wall found by chance

Archaeologists who set out to put up a safety fence at Rochester's medieval castle have unexpectedly uncovered a Roman city wall.


The team had "barely taken the turf off when they unearthed a solid mass of stone masonry", Medway Council said.


Castle archaeologist Graham Keevill called it "a very important discovery".


He said: "We don't have many Roman city walls surviving in England. To get an unexpected one like this is fantastic. It is also a perfect example."


He said the wall had "high-quality" facing stones on each side, and its rubble core, made up of stone, flint, sand, and gravel, would have been poured in "to set hard almost like concrete, to bind the whole wall together".


Builders who came later in the 12th Century "knew good masonry when they saw it" and used the 6ft-wide (1.8m) Roman wall for the foundations of their medieval castle keep, Mr Keevill said.


The pits will be re-covered to preserve the find, and the safety fence will be realigned.


Roman remains

The rubble-filled wall is 6ft (1.8m) wide with high-quality stonework


It is the second time Mr Keevill has unexpectedly discovered Roman remains.


At the Tower of London, he was part of the team that found a city wall of Roman Londinium, that had been re-used in the foundations of a medieval tower.


"It's an amazing coincidence," he said.


The work under way at Rochester Castle is part of a conservation project by Medway Council and English Heritage to repair the ramparts and some stonework, fit new balustrades, and put up a new safety fence.


According to the council, the Romans built their fort next to the River Medway to guard the bridge carrying their legions from Dover to London.



Inca warrior's wound tells another tale

Archeologists in Peru identify the Americas' earliest reported gunshot victim, casting conquistadors as less than heroic in the siege of Lima.

By Thomas H. Maugh II, Times Staff Writer

June 20, 2007


Peruvian archeologists have identified the earliest documented gunshot victim in the Americas, an Inca warrior who was shot by Spanish conquistadors in 1536 in the aftermath of a battle now known as the siege of Lima.


The body, of one of 72 apparent victims of the uprising, was found in a cemetery in the Lima suburb of Puruchuco during excavation for a new road, researchers reported Tuesday.


Many of the victims, including women and children, showed signs of extreme trauma, having been hacked, torn or impaled, said archeologist Guillermo Cock of Peru's National Institute of Culture.


Spanish records indicate the battle, which occurred near the area known as Lati Canal, took place Aug. 14, 1536, as a small group of conquistadors tracked down a group of Incas who had fought them the day before.


The records maintain that a few hundred conquistadors, led by Francisco Pizarro, used their superior weaponry and their horses to repel an attack by tens of thousands of Incas led by Manco Yupanqui. After breaking the siege, the Spaniards tracked down and killed many of the Incas who had attacked, including the group at Puruchuco.


But the evidence casts the conquistadors in a less heroic light, Cock found. The archeological evidence makes it clear that the Spaniards were accompanied by a large group of Indians who were fighting the Incas to escape subjugation.


Although as many as three of the Inca warriors were clearly shot and others had injuries apparently made by the Spaniards' metallic weapons, most of the 72 victims apparently were bludgeoned with more primitive stone weapons wielded by other Indians.


"The great siege must have taken place in a very different manner than we have been told," said Efrain Trelles Arestegui, a historian at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima, who was not connected with the research. Only now, he added, are researchers revealing "the great cover-up that took place in the 16th century."


The tale of the Puruchuco Inca "is a remarkable detective story," said UCLA archeologist Christopher Donnan, who was not involved in the find. "Many archeologists might have missed [the gunshot] or assumed it was an anomaly."


The find, announced by the National Geographic Society and to be featured in a PBS special on Tuesday, "has enormous symbolic value," said explorer Keith Muscutt of UC Santa Cruz. "We all have a mental image of indigenous people being destroyed by superior European technologies, and here it is — tangible remains."


The Inca warrior was undoubtedly not the first native shot by Spaniards in the 44 years between Christopher Columbus' arrival and the Inca's death. But the odds of finding such a victim are small, and the odds of finding a victim who could be linked so closely to documentary evidence are extremely low.


"Putting together all the evidence, we don't have a doubt about what happened," Cock said. "Sometimes we have to speculate in order to connect evidence and event. Here we found archeological evidence and the written record to connect it."


The site is only half a mile from the Lima shantytown where, in 2002, Cock reported the discovery of more than 2,200 Inca mummies and more than 60,000 artifacts, the largest trove ever unearthed in Peru.


Cock and archeologist Elena Goycochea of the institute were asked to investigate the new Puruchuco site in 2004 by Lima's government, which planned to build a road there. A preliminary trench on the site showed that it was a graveyard, and Cock immediately sought funding from the city and the National Geographic Society to excavate it.


"It was unlooted — had never been excavated by grave-robbers — which is really, really rare in Peru," he said. "But it was at risk because it was too visible and looters would destroy it."


They have so far excavated more than 500 skeletons from the site, all dating from the Inca period. The bulk of them exhibit classic Inca burials. The skeletons are posed in a crouched position, carefully wrapped and buried facing east toward sunrise, ready for their rebirth.


But 72 of the skeletons were different. They were not crouched but had been tied up or hastily wrapped; their graves were unusually shallow, and they had been buried without offerings. Most of them showed evidence of violence — many quite severe.


One of the skeletons, in particular, had what appeared to be a bullet hole in its skull. Cock initially thought the male was the victim of a modern crime. Then, when it was clear that the bones were ancient, he feared that someone had been shooting into the ground at the site, damaging the skeletons.


But researchers also had the plug that had been knocked out of the skull by the projectile's entry, and analysis showed that the force of the impact was not caused by a modern weapon, but was consistent with the muzzle velocity of the arquebuses, or muzzleloaders, used by the Spanish during that period.


"I saw the skull a year or so ago and was pretty convinced that it was a gunshot entry wound, with the classic clean entry hole and irregular fracturing and beveling on the internal table of the skull," said archeologist John W. Verano of Tulane University in New Orleans.


Cock's team took the skull and other bones to a hospital and had a CT scan done but could find no trace of metal.


Undaunted, Cock called in forensic scientists Tim Palmbach of the University of New Haven in West Haven, Conn., and Al Harper, executive director of the university's Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science.


They examined the skull and bone plug under a scanning electron microscope and found both were impregnated with iron, which was commonly used in Spanish musket balls.


"We were skeptical that it was a gunshot wound. We sought to disprove that," Palmbach said. However, he said, "there is nothing we have found or evaluated that is inconsistent with a gunshot wound."


The team has since found what appear to be bullet holes in two of the other skeletons. Wounds on many of the bodies could only have been produced by steel weapons, the team found, indicating that conquistadors must have been involved in the battle.


But more of the skeletons showed evidence of massive damage not produced by modern weapons. After examining Inca weapons at museums, Palmbach and Harper concluded that these injuries were most likely caused by the stone-headed clubs used by natives.


The bodies were hastily buried, Cock speculated, because the Inca, in the midst of their uprising, had no time to bury their dead in the appropriate traditional manner.



Mass grave of Quakers uncovered


A mass grave believed to contain the bodies of followers of the Quaker religious movement has been uncovered in Cambridgeshire.


Environment Agency workers found the rare Quaker burial site while carrying out work for flood defences at St Ives.


Sixteen bodies were in the unmarked grave dating back to the late 1600s.


Archaeologists described the find as "remarkable and unusual" as it gave an insight into Quaker burial practices just after the movement started.


The Society of Friends was still emerging and developing as a religious movement in the last 1600s and now has many millions of members across the world.


Nine male bodies, five female and two of undetermined gender were uncovered during excavations for a £8.8m flood defence scheme at St Ives designed to protect 1,600 homes.


The men and women were buried between 1680 and 1720, local historians have traced most of their names and archaeologists have examined the skeletons.


One male skull revealed evidence of a pipe facet - two holes in teeth on one side of the jaw formed by years of pipe smoking.


Another male body had had his feet amputated some years before his death.


The skeletons also helped to provide an insight into the health of people at the time of their death.