Viking ship attempts sea crossing


The Sea Stallion, the biggest replica Viking vessel ever constructed, is bound for Kirkwall in Orkney.


It is part of a 1,000-mile journey from Denmark to Ireland over seven weeks; and aims to understand better the seamanship of early Norsemen.


A BBC team is following the "living archaeology" project in a support boat to make a film for the Timewatch series later in the year.


The volunteer crew has already faced severe weather conditions on the journey from Denmark to Norway, with several individuals being taken off the Sea Stallion temporarily because they were showing the early signs of hypothermia.


"This journey has been tough so far but the crew are in high spirits and looking forward to reaching Scotland and sailing in the Atlantic," said crew member Louise Henriksen.


The weather could yet thwart the attempt to cross the North Sea by sail - the harsh weather conditions that have swept across the UK are predicted to bring a gale which could blow the Sea Stallion back towards Norway.


If that happens, the project's organisers may call for the ship to be towed by its support vessel. Skipper Carsten Hvidsaid said: "The aim of the project is to test this ship out in the waters the original Viking ship sailed in.


"It's better that we get to Scotland and start sailing there, than spend the whole summer waiting in Norway for the right winds."


The original Sea Stallion was made in 1042, and is believed to have taken part in clashes between the Anglo-Saxons and Normans in 1050-1060, when many Danish Vikings lived in Ireland.


The boat sank in the Roskilde fjord at the end of the 11th Century, while defending the country's coast from Norwegian Vikings.


The replica was constructed from about 300 oak trees and using 7,000 iron nails and rivets.


At 30m (100ft) in length, the Sea Stallion is said to be the world's largest reconstructed Viking vessel.


The ship hopes to reach Dublin in mid-August.


The ship's crew are writing a weekly diary for the BBC News website. More regular updates and a satellite map of the ship's latest position can be found at BBC History's Viking Voyage website. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/programmes/vikingvoyage/index.shtml



1. The crew of 65 men and women will sleep on the open deck, as the Vikings did, and take turn keeping watch

2. Satellite navigation equipment will make sure the ship stays on course. Vikings had to rely on the position of the sun and stars, the colour and movement of the sea and wind direction

3. Oak planks were cut radially for maximum strength, overlapped and nailed together. Axes and other tools used to make the planks were replicas of those used by the Vikings

4. The sail, mast, rigging and rudder on the original were missing so these have been copied from other finds

5. Shields, vital in battle, were tied over the oarports when the ship was in port



Gold mask from Thracian period found in Bulgaria

16 July 2007 | 00:06 | FOCUS News Agency

SOFIA. A Bulgarian archaeologist announced Sunday that his team had found a gold mask that belonged to a Thracian king in the fourth century BC, near the eastern town of Sliven.

"The discovery of this mask proves that the Valley of the Thracian Kings stretches from the centre of Bulgaria to the east of the country," archaeologist Georgy Kitov told AFP.

The Thracians lived in southeastern Europe, the Carpathians and the Caucasus from about 4,000 BC to the third century AD.

Numerous artefacts from their leaders have been found in the so-called Valley of the Thracian Kings, located between the Balkan and the Sredna Gora mountain chains.

In 2004, Kitov's team found another gold mask from the fifth century BC near Chipka, in central Bulgaria.

The latest find, lighter and 23 centimetres (9 inches) in diametre, depicts a bearded man with a large nose and closed eyes and "was supposed to be attached to a shield," Kitov said.

The Thracian tomb in which the mask was found also contained a 30-centimetre-long silver vase shaped like a doe's head, a helmet and armour, two golden cups and various bronze and clay vessels.

Bulgaria is the birthplace of the ancient Thracian civilisation and vestiges from thousands of different sites remain unexplored.

Since 2000, archaeologists have made several important finds, including the largest Thracian sanctuary ever discovered dating back to the fifth or fourth century BC in Starossel, near Plovdiv, and the palace-sanctuary of a Thracian king in Perperikon, in the southern Rhodope mountains.



Bulgarian archaeologists discover 2,400-year-old golden mask

The Associated Press

Published: July 16, 2007


SOFIA, Bulgaria: Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,400-year-old golden mask in an ancient Thracian tomb in southeastern Bulgaria, scholars announced Monday.


The mask was discovered over the weekend by a team of archaeologists excavating near the village of Topolchane, 290 kilometers (180 miles) east of the capital, Sofia. Its discovery, archaeologists said, indicates a Thracian king was buried in the tomb.


It was found together with a solid gold ring engraved with a Greek inscription and with the design of a bearded man in a timber-lined Thracian grave.


Team leader professor Georgi Kitov said that they also found a silver rhyton, silver and bronze vessels, pottery and funerary gifts.


"These finds confirm the assumption that they are part of the lavish burial of a Thracian king," said professor Margarita Tacheva, who was also on the dig.


"The artifacts belonged to a Thracian ruler from the end of the 4th century B.C. who was buried here," Kitov added.


According to Kitov, the Thracian civilization was at least equal in terms of development to the ancient Greek one.


The Thracians lived in what is now Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Romania, Macedonia, and Turkey between 4,000 B.C. and the 8th century A.D., when they were assimilated by the invading Slavs.


In 2004, another 2,400-year-old golden mask was unearthed from a Thracian tomb in the same area.


Dozens of Thracian mounds are spread throughout the central Bulgarian region, which archaeologists have dubbed "the Bulgarian valley of kings" in reference to the Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt, home to the tombs of Egyptian Pharaohs.



Ethiopia unveils new find of ancient fossils

Tue Jul 10, 2007 12:13PM EDT


ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopian scientists said on Tuesday they have discovered hominid fossil fragments dating from between 3.5 million and 3.8 million years ago in what could fill a crucial gap in the understanding of human evolution.


Ethiopian archaeologist Yohannes Haile Selassie said the find included several complete jaws and one partial skeleton and were unearthed in the Afar desert at Woranso-Mille, near where the famous fossil skeleton known as Lucy was found in 1974.


"This is a major finding that could fill a gap in human evolution," he told a news conference in Addis Ababa.


"The fossil hominids from the Woranso-Mille area sample a time period that is poorly known in human evolutionary study."


Researchers say the area, about 140 miles northeast of Addis, boasts the most continuous record of human evolution.


Last year, an international team of scientists unveiled the discovery of 4.1 million-year-old fossils in the region.


Lucy, the most famous find, lived between 3.3 million and 3.6 million years ago. But Yohannes said Afar had yielded early hominid fossil remains spanning the last 6 million years.


"This has placed Ethiopia in the forefront of paleoanthropology," he told reporters.


"Ethiopia is known to the world as the cradle of humankind."



Stone Age descendents of Durham City discovered


Water works have uncovered the most significant archaeological site of ancient Britons in County Durham dating back 5,000 years. Northumbrian Water are building a new £3.5 million drinking water reservoir on the outskirts with views overlooking Durham City Cathedral and Castle. Before work began extensive archaeology investigations were undertaken.


Experts from Tyne and Wear Museums found evidence of continuous settlement on the site from 3,000BC to 300BC by stone age, bronze age and iron age man. Pottery remains and flint knives and skin scrapers were unearthed. Digging also uncovered very well preserved timbers used to shore up ditches and shaped by bronze age tools and elsewhere traces of iron age fields were found.


Samples have been sent to specialists in Florida for carbon dating. Geophysical surveys using ultrasound on the ground and trenching began on site in 2003 but findings have been kept a closely guarded secret until now.


Dr Colin Price, Northumbrian Water's Technical Director, said: "We have been able to secure the supply and quality of drinking water for future generations while discovering and protecting the ancient history of Durham's past. We are proud to have played our part in finding and protecting this very significant archaeological site. The new reservoir is being built in the area chosen for the least impact and everything has been carefully documented."


Steve Speak, Senior Keeper of Field Archaeology for Tyne and Wear Museums, said: "Trying to make sense of all the various dates from the same site is a bit of a puzzle – it seems the spot was reoccupied almost continuously throughout the prehistoric period. What isn't clear is what it was actually used for – it's not well enough preserved for us to say that it was a farmstead, a defensive site, a settlement or something more spiritual in nature. "It is the earliest site of its kind in Durham by a long way, and with material from 3,000BC it is the earliest settled site in the City."



'Race against clock' for Ribbon

By Kathryn Edwards

BBC News


Campaigners fighting to preserve a 4,000-year-old archaeological find in Herefordshire say they are facing a race against time.


Experts have said the newly-uncovered Rotherwas Ribbon could be as important as Stonehenge.


However, the site is in the path of a controversial planned relief road.


Herefordshire Council said a protective shield will be built over the site to save it for future generations and the road will then be built over it.


English Heritage inspectors visited the site, also known as the Dinedor Serpent, on Monday.


They said the site was "very fragile". If they decide the 197ft-long (60m) ribbon of stones is worthy of ancient monument status, it could prevent the road being built.


The £12.5m road was controversial even before the historic trail was discovered.


Nearby residents claimed it was unnecessary and would only cause extra congestion.


The government declined to fund the road, which will link the A49 from Hereford to Ross-on-Wye to an industrial estate at Rotherwas, on three occasions.


The work, which started in April, is now being paid for by a combination of money from regional development agency Advantage West Midlands and housing developers.


Ward councillor Gerald Dawe, who is fighting to save the Ribbon, said: "What we're going to have is a road which no-one wants, going over a part of our history which has a lot of public support.


"This would be a good excuse for the council to stop work on an unpopular road."


Campaigner Rob Hattersley said the site could be turned into a heritage site, attracting tourists to the area.


Mr Hattersley, who runs the campaign's website, said: "Even something like a model of what it would have looked like and an explanation of what it was would be fascinating.


"We've been contacted by historical experts in Salisbury with the experience of having Stonehenge who say that Herefordshire Council needs to listen to the great tourism potential this could bring."


Council chiefs have said the English Heritage inspectors are "completely satisfied" with how they have been handling the situation so far.


However, local campaigners have said recent downpours have led to part of the trail being washed away and say the feature needs more permanent protection before it is too late.


The council's highways and transport spokesman Councillor Brian Wilcox said the road was essential for Herefordshire's economic growth.


He added that he had been contacted by businesses threatening to pull out of the area unless the plans went ahead.


He said: "It is an essential provision. We need it to guarantee extra economic development in this area, and we have the backing of major bodies like Advantage West Midlands who can see how vital it is."


The council is producing a CD-Rom of the site to show the feature from all angles so it can be kept on record and to show future generations in case the road-building work goes ahead.


It is also offering escorted trips around the site next week.


BBC Radio Hereford and Worcester have said the topic has prompted the biggest ever response to a local story.


More than 200 people have contacted the area's BBC Where I Live site to give their views on what should happen to the relic.


A petition calling on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to help save the Rotherwas Ribbon also received more than 210 signatures within its first day.


Does that level of interest show that the Ribbon could be a successful tourist attraction?


Not according to Councillor Wilcox.


"I think they would be asking for their money back," he said.


"We want people to come and have a look for themselves to see the site.


"Often they hear comparisons with Stonehenge and expect it's going to be something similar."


The English Heritage inspectors are expected to deliver their verdicts over the next few weeks.




By Richard Moss       11/07/2007


In the year of the bicentenary of the Parliamentary Act to abolish the Atlantic slave trade a rare Roman figurine that references an earlier trade in slaves has been discovered near Andover in Hampshire.


The small bronze decoration came to light during a metal detecting rally attended by the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in Hampshire in June 2007. The PAS helps metal detectorists and other members of the public to identify and log archaeological finds in England and Wales.


Cast in bronze the figure crouches with his elbows and knees drawn together. A rope starting around the neck also binds his wrists and ankles.


“The posture of the figure and the manner of his shackling strongly suggests that it represents an enslaved man,” explained Rob Webley the PAS Finds Liaison Officer who handled and photographed the find.


Rob has been looking closely at the work of Ralph Jackson, Curator of Romano British Collections at the British Museum and an expert on Roman symbols of slavery, to find out more about the find.


A recent study by Mr Jackson has catalogued only 16 other ‘bound captive’ figurines from the Roman Empire, ten of which are from Britain. “Elsewhere, there is mounting evidence for the Romano-British slave trade which involved both natives and others from within the empire,” said Rob.


The artefact has a number of distinctive features, including the man’s ‘Celtic’ stylised hair and the vertical and horizontal perforations, which travel through his body.


“These holes were clearly for mounting,” added Rob, “but the context in which these figurines were displayed is less certain. Might this artefact have been looked upon by someone connected with the slave trade living in Hampshire in the 2nd or 3rd century AD?”


This is the third bound captive figurine reported by members of the public through the PAS, which allows metal detectorists and other members of the public to report their finds to a finds liaison officer (FLO) for photographing and recording and to have the find location logged.


It is hoped this latest find, which has been returned to the finder, will be acquired by a museum, possibly even the local Andover Museum at some point in the future.


In the meantime the record of the find remains as a grisly reminder of an inhuman trade. “In 2007, with our thoughts, correctly, focused on transatlantic slavery we should also spend a moment contemplating British associations with slavery both more recent and ancient,” said Rob.


Thousands of finds reported to the PAS, including the three bound captive figurines, can be viewed at www.finds.org.uk



Ancient horse trappings dug up at burial mound

The Yomiuri Shimbun


A set of ornamental horse trappings dating back to the early sixth century has been excavated at a burial mound in Ota Ward, Tokyo, according to researchers.


It marked the second discovery of a set of ancient horse articles in Tokyo, following that at Kamezuka burial mound in Komae in the 1950s. Experts said it was rare for ancient trappings to be found in such good condition.


The trappings, discovered at Tsutsumikata Gongendai burial mound, were mostly designed to decorate a horse's rump.


A group of researchers headed by Hideichi Sakazume, professor emeritus of Rissho University, uncovered the uzu, a circular ornament hung at the top of the horses' tail; three 20-centimeter-long, 12-centimeter-wide kyoyo swordlike ornaments hung from the uzu; and three metal fittings. In addition to the set of tail ornaments, the researchers found other items, including a bit.


The trappings were discovered in a four-meter-long wooden coffin, according to the researchers.


The excavation site is located at the residence of late author Katsura Morimura, best known for her work "Tengoku ni Ichiban Chikai Shima" (Island Closest to Heaven).


Hatsushige Otsuka, professor emeritus of Meiji University, said the discovery provided researchers with precious materials to learn about burial mounds built in the southern part of Musashi Province, which straddles Tokyo and Saitama and Kanagawa prefectures.


"I find it quite interesting that the trappings were placed to make it look as if they were actually decorating a horse," Otsuka said.

(Jul. 15, 2007)



Ancient Massacre Discovered in New Mexico -- Was It Genocide?

Blake de Pastino in Jemez Springs, New Mexico

National Geographic News

July 12, 2007


Seven skeletons discovered in a remote New Mexico canyon were victims of a brutal massacre that may have been part of an ancient campaign of genocide, archaeologists say.


The victims—five adults, one child, and one infant—were members of an obscure native culture known as the Gallina, which occupied a small region of northwestern New Mexico around A.D. 1100 (see New Mexico map).


The culture suddenly vanished around 1275, as the last of its members either left the region or were "wiped out," archaeologists say.


The newfound skeletons could provide crucial clues to the people's mysterious fate, since scarcely more than a hundred Gallina remains have ever been found, said Tony Largaespada, an archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service who made the discovery in 2005.


"Almost all of [the Gallina ever found] were murdered," he said. "[Someone] was just killing them, case after case, every single time."


Greg Nelson, a physical anthropologist at the University of Oregon, studied the newly unearthed skeletons and said they paint a macabre picture of violence inflicted on both sexes and all age groups.


"It's pretty obvious that they were killed—they're people who were wiped out," he said.


One skeleton was found with a fractured skull, forearm, jaw, thighbone, pelvis, and several broken ribs, Nelson said. Another bore cut marks on the upper arm that suggest blows from an ax. The child, about two years old, had had its skull crushed.


The findings are grimly consistent with previous reports from other Gallina sites, the pair said. But the new skeletons offer tantalizing signs of how unique the culture may have been.


In particular, the skulls of two of the victims have an "unusual" flattened shape that has never been seen before in the Southwest, the experts said.


Such signs of a distinctive culture may help explain why the group was so plagued by violent conflicts with neighboring groups. But the scientists stress that their research is ongoing, and the ancient murders remain unsolved for now.


"We just don't know right now," Nelson said. "The evidence indicates that somebody was going through and killing them. Why and to what extent? We're not sure."

Among the other peculiarities of the murder scene is the arrangement of two of the bodies, the scientists said.


Gallina skull, bone, and pottery found at site of prehistoric massacre picture


The victims, an adult male and female, were found face down and doubled over, their heads snapped back so far that their skulls rested between their shoulder blades (see how the bodies were found).


The bodies may have been deliberately posed, or the victims may have been crouching in defense when their necks were broken, Nelson noted.


But none of the seven dead appears to have been buried, suggesting that the group was struck by a swift attack.


"Normally when you bury people, you extend them, you flex them, you do these kinds of things—you don't bury them on their knees with their heads snapped back," he said. "So right away you know something screwy is going on."


Other evidence includes what appear to be the ruins of a burned pit house, or dugout dwelling, nearby.


"Why these [victims] were outside the house is kind of a mystery," Largaespada said. "Usually [attackers] threw [Gallina victims] in their houses and burned the houses on top of them. That's the case with 90 percent of them.


"But in this particular case they were thrown in a pile outside the house. … More than likely there are others [nearby]."


Largaespada discovered the grisly scene in October 2005 when he and a team were reburying a Gallina skeleton that had been in storage at his Forest Service office in the town of Jemez Springs.


When he arrived at the site where the bones were originally excavated, he saw evidence of other bodies eroding out of the road bank.


"So we set up our unit and [dug] down, and the first thing we saw was two skulls. Then it was three individuals. Then we found the baby. And it just kept multiplying from there."


Summer rains in May 2006 ended the dig, which the Forest Service had authorized as a small-scale emergency excavation.


Largaespada and Nelson are awaiting funding to continue their investigation of the site, as well as other unexcavated Gallina ruins nearby, which they say are probably plentiful along the rocky ridges of northern New Mexico.


"I bet there's a house on every one of these peaks around here," Largaespada said.


Traces of the Gallina culture were first discovered in the 1930s by archaeologists working just a few miles from the newfound massacre site.


Scientists at the time described excavating a 25-foot-tall (7.6-meter-tall) circular stone tower that held the remains of 16 people, all of whom bore signs of gruesome deaths (see a picture of the tower ruins).


Since then several Gallina sites have been excavated, but scholarship on the culture's origins and demise have been limited, Nelson noted.


"Because not much has been done for a long time, it's almost like a whole debate should be renewed—where they came from, what happened to them," he said.


The duo reported their discovery this spring at meetings of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists and the Paleopathology Association.


In their study, they write that the culture's disappearance was "possibly the result of genocide," reflecting the prevailing theory of the Gallina's demise, they said.


But whether the Gallina were the victims of true genocide—the extermination of one ethnic group by another—is a matter of debate, the scientists said.


"It could've been internecine—it could've been within the Gallina," Nelson said.


A crucial factor, he explained, is the severe drought that struck the Southwest soon after the culture's appearance around A.D. 1100.


"Beginning in 1100, 1150, you start getting real drought conditions, and the water table starts dropping. That means you're not able to grow as much corn. So there's a chance that this is [a sign of] intervillage resource-stress problems."


This "megadrought" is also known to have spurred mass migrations throughout the region, including the abandonment of massive settlements built by the Anasazi, such as the sophisticated pueblos at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.



With such dire competition for water and land, the Gallina may have been particularly vulnerable if they were seen as outsiders with their own, isolated culture, the researchers speculated.


"Look at it from this perspective," Nelson said. "If you live in the area, you're growing your corn, and new people come in.


"Then the environment goes down the tubes. Let's blame the new people. We don't know you. Maybe you speak a different dialect. And we can't grow our corn anymore. You must be witches, so we're just going to kill you."


Heather Edgar is a curator at Albuquerque's Maxwell Museum of Anthropology who has inspected the newfound skeletons.


She says perhaps the most distinct clues revealed by the new discovery are the two deformed skulls that Nelson first observed.


"It's not just him that sees [the deformation]," she said. "It's there."


The skulls are flattened on the back, just below the crown, Nelson explained. The deformation must have occurred during infancy, when the victims' skull bones were soft and malleable.


Both Nelson and Edgar said it's too soon to determine whether the deformations were intentional or merely the result of cradleboarding, the practice of carrying babies on boards strapped to mothers' backs.


"I could think of ways it could have been accidentally made, and I could think of ways it could have been purposely made, but the flattening is there," she said.


Edgar added that the duo's ongoing investigation of the massacre may provide the evidence needed to finally solve the mystery of the Gallina.


"I think the Gallina are an important point in the history of the area," she said. "Where did they come from, and where did they go?"


"Specifically the information that [Nelson and Largaespada] are working on is, where did they go?


"Did [the Gallina] contribute to a population that's alive today, and we just aren't aware of that? Or did they just move to another region? And there are theories out there that they were all massacred.


"Maybe the work they're doing can help figure that out."