Prehistoric find located beneath the waves

September 10, 2007 - 12:35 PM


Archaeologists have discovered traces of Switzerland’s oldest known building, but it will never draw tourists: it lies underwater in the middle of a lake.


Since it was made of wood scientists used dendrochronology – the technique of dating by tree rings – to give a precise figure of 3863 BC.


The find in Lake Biel, northwest of the Swiss capital, Bern, was described as “sensational” by Albert Hafner, who is in charge of underwater archaeology in the region.


Divers working for the cantonal archaeological service came upon the site in the winter of 2006 when they were investigating prehistoric villages built on piles in the once densely populated area of Sutz-Lattrigen.


Pile villages have been found in and near many Swiss lakes. Wooden stakes were driven into the ground to support a platform on which houses were then built.


Changes in the level of the lakes mean that many remains are now underwater, but when they were first built they stood on the edge.


The newly found construction in Lake Biel is different. It was a large rectangular structure standing alone 200 meters from shore, which meant it was clearly not a dwelling house.


Three circles of stakes discovered not far away were the clue to its function. The circles were fish traps, and the building would have used by fishermen to store equipment and perhaps to smoke fish, Hafner explained.


“This is the first time we have found a prehistoric fishing place in one of our Swiss lakes,” archaeologist Cynthia Dunning told swissinfo.


“But one find always brings another one. I hope we’ll find more.”


The closest known parallel comes from the Baltic area.


The site has been meticulously recorded, and all possible information has been gleaned from it. The piles are now being left where they were, and may disappear gradually.


Erosion is a serious problem in the area of Sutz-Lattrigen, where archaeologists have been active for 20 years.


The oldest villages in the area go back to the fourth millennium BC, and the most recent to 1750-1660 BC.


Over 30,000 square meters of the lake bed have been examined, and thousands of objects brought to the surface.


To preserve this important part of Swiss heritage, the archaeological service has carried out rescue digs and implemented anti-erosion measures.


Experts are using special blankets that cover the sites to prevent them from disappearing and preserve items where they are for the future.


Pile dwellers are close to the Swiss heart. The country is particularly rich in these villages on almost all the major lakes.


When they were first discovered in the 19th century, they were seen as part of a common heritage and used to build a sense of national identity.


One of Switzerland’s hit TV programmes of this summer was a reality show in which ten people spent four weeks living as pile dwellers in a specially reconstructed village.


The show used findings from the archaeological research carried out over the past 20 years, which has changed some of the traditional views of the Neolithic way of life.


The site at Sutz-Lattrigen aims to get a further boost in the coming years. Together with similar sites in the area it hopes to be included in the Unesco World Heritage List.



Powerful x-ray to unravel fragile Dead Sea scrolls

Ian Sample, science correspondent

The Guardian

Thursday September 13 2007


Ancient writings from the Dead Sea scrolls are to be read for the first time by British scientists using powerful x-rays.


The team will examine rare and unread fragments of the scrolls, which are believed to shed light on how the texts came to be written in caves along the north-west coast of the sea nearly 2,000 years ago.


The technique will give scientists from Cardiff University a first opportunity to read ancient texts considered too fragile to open.


They will look at the texts using x-rays produced at the £360m Diamond Light Source in Didcot, Oxfordshire. The machine works by propelling electrons at great speeds around a giant tunnel. As they corner they emit x-rays 100bn times brighter than a medical x-ray.


Researchers led by Tim Wess have developed computer software that can "unravel" x-ray images of rolled up parchment documents to reveal the writing, even if the parchment has text on either side.


The scientists have focused their efforts on reading parchments from the 18th century and found that they are able to read 80% of the words written on documents without unravelling them.


Tests have so far been conducted on legal documents called weedings dating back to 1770 from the National Archives of Scotland. The team is also set to examine a series of unknown fire-damaged texts recovered from the UK's National Archives in Kew.


Many historical documents are recorded in iron gall ink, a mix of oak apple, iron sulphate and copper, on parchment made from the treated skin of cows, goats or sheep. With time the collagen that holds the parchment together degrades and turns into gelatin, damage that is accelerated by the corrosive nature of the ink. Using the x-ray machine scientists can examine sheets of parchment in such detail that they can decide how badly degraded they are over distances of one thousandth of a millimetre. If they are badly degraded the researchers will be able to use the new technique to read them without risk of destroying them.


The team's first goal is to read hidden texts from the scrolls and the Torah which is said to record the word of God as revealed to Moses.


"There are some parts of the Dead Sea scrolls that haven't been unrolled, and there are parts of the Torah that haven't been seen as well," Prof Wess said. "There are discoveries to be made in terms of trying to understand the whole picture of the history of the people who wrote the Dead Sea scrolls and why they moved into that area of the Dead Sea. Sometimes we don't know their value because we can't see inside them, and until we start looking, we don't know what's there."



Underwater survey nets traces of 2,400-year-old Greek wreck off southern Albania

The Associated Press

Published: September 12, 2007


SARANDA, Albania: Encrusted with tiny shells and smelling strongly of the sea, a 2,400-year-old Greek jar lies in a saltwater bath in Durres Museum, on Albania's Adriatic coast.


Part of a sunken shipment of up to 60 ceramic vessels, the 67-centimeter (26-inch) storage jar, or amphora, was the top find from what organizers say is the first archaeological survey of this small Balkan nation's seabed, conducted by U.S. and Albanian experts.


"Touch it, touch it. It's luck," said mission leader George Robb of the Key West, Florida-based RPM Nautical Foundation. "You're touching something that was made before Plato was born."


Launched in July, the month-long survey was the first step in compiling an underwater cultural heritage map that could eventually plot the position of sunken fleets from ancient and mediaeval times believed to lie along Albania's 360-kilometer (220-mile) coastline.


Auron Tare, the project's local coordinator, said Albanian authorities were hoping to sign a deal with RPM, a non-profit foundation, late this year for a five-year survey.


"That would give a boost to a still nonexistent field of archaeological research in the country," Tare said. "It would be a great promotion for local tourism, especially diving tourism, and could possibly lead to the creation of an underwater archaeology museum."


Archaeologist Adrian Anastasi said the survey would help protect the country's marine cultural heritage from looters — an increasing problem since the collapse of the country's hardline Communist regime in 1990.


"(The survey) will help create the necessary legal and structural infrastructure to protect shipwrecks from looting," said Anastasi, Albania's only archaeologist specialized in underwater research.


Anastasi said the project — using state-of-the-art scanning technology — would likely have cost the Albanian government €3.5-4 million (US$4.7-5.4 million) if they did it by themselves. "RPM has all the necessary modern technology, and is doing it with its own funding," he said.


Linking the western Balkans and the East with western Europe, Albanian waters were busy with shipping during ancient and mediaeval times.


"In those times ships usually stayed near the shore, to maintain visual contact with land, and all our coastline was a very intensive route for commercial and other traffic," Anastasi said.


The light-brown clay amphora, probably used to store wine or oil, was found on the last day of the survey off the ancient town of Butrinti near Saranda, some 300 kilometers (186 miles) from Tirana and opposite the Greek island of Corfu. It was initially dated to the early 5th century B.C. but later research suggests a 4th century B.C. date — during the lifetime of the ancient Athenian philosopher Plato (427-347 B.C.).


The find will stay immersed in water at the museum in Durres, 33 kilometers (20 miles) west of Tirana. Museum workers will gradually reduce the water's salinity over the next year, to remove salt from the amphora ahead of its conservation.


"Based on what we can see on the surface, there is a high probability that (the amphora) is a sign of a shipwreck located deep there from that period," said Jeffrey G. Royal, archaeological director of RPM, whose Mediterranean operations are based in Valletta, Malta.


If so, it would be the first 4th century B.C. wreck to be located in Albanian waters, say survey organizers, who are keeping the find's precise location and depth secret for fear of looting. Only a handful of wrecks from that period have been excavated in the Mediterranean.


Anastasi said 50-60 amphorae were located on the seabed. Once the finds are assessed, an effort will be made to uncover the wreck, which would give information on the ship's destination and ancient naval architecture of the period.


Albanian officials also plan to ask permission from neighboring Montenegro for the RPM's Hercules research vessel to continue its exploration north of Albania.


The ship also located 14 other shipwrecks from the 19th and early 20th centuries, in the survey that ended Aug. 13.



Train vibrations threaten tomb of Xerxes I

Tehran Times Culture Desk

September 13, 2007


TEHRAN -- Vibrations caused by passing trains are likely to broaden existing cracks in the tomb of Xerxes I and result in its collapse if a nearby railway route becomes operational, archaeologist Mohammad-Taqi Ataii said during a seminar at the University Of Tehran (UT) on September 11.


Entitled “Naqsh-e Rustam in Danger”, the one-day colloquium was held to survey the threats from the railway route to the tomb of Xerxes I at the Naqsh-e Rustam site in southern Iran’s Fars Province.


“The builders of the tomb were aware of the natural cracks in the mountainside and built a canal to divert rainwater to a large pool thus preventing it from flowing into the gaps,” Ataii explained.


“The cracks in the rock are already widening as the pool has become full.


“This is happening as the result of a natural process and so far people have not made any effort to preserve the huge cliff. The situation will worsen if the railway route becomes operational.”


Attaii’s remarks met with protest from an unidentified man defending the railway project.


The man, who declined to introduce himself, said that according to seismographic studies, vibrations from trains using the railway route would not cause damage to the monuments in the Naqsh-e Rustam region.


It has been rumored that a number of the project’s officials attending the ceremony denied that the man had any relationship with the railway project.


Moreover, the Ministry of Roads and Transportation has not published the results of the seismographic studies.


Experts have previously said that if the railroad, the embankment of which has been constructed at a distance of about 350 meters from Naqsh-e Rustam, were to become operational, train vibrations would eventually damage the monument and cause the destruction of Zoroaster’s Kaba within less than ten years.


In December 2006, the Cultural Heritage, Tourism and Handicrafts Organization (CHTHO) and cultural heritage enthusiasts finally convinced the Ministry of Road and Transportation to alter the railway route. However the extent of the modification has not satisfied the CHTHO or the cultural heritage enthusiasts.


The modification would place the route at a distance of 500 meters from the Naqsh-e Rustam site.


Naqsh-e Rustam is an extremely important historical site since the tombs of Achaemenid kings including Darius I and Xerxes I have been carved into the solid rock of Mt. Hossein in that region. The site also contains remnants dating back to the Elamite and Sassanid eras.



Ancient Buddha unearthed

September 11 2007 at 12:44PM


A 70-ton granite statue of Buddha which toppled over face-down 1,300 years ago in South Korea has been unearthed with its features intact.


The 5.6-metre sculpture was in May found buried in the southeastern city of Gyeongju and has been partially unearthed after months of work, news reports said on Tuesday.


The nose missed a rock by only five centimetres when the statue toppled, the English-language JoongAng Daily quoted specialists as saying.


"It was a miracle that the Buddha's face was saved by only five centimetres," the Venerable Jigwan, administrative head of the Jogye Buddhist Order, told the newspaper.


So far the face, chest and shoulders have been excavated.


State archaeologists estimate that the statue collapsed shortly after its completion in the late 8th century, and that the features avoided erosion because the front was buried in soil.


"We hope to move the statue to its original position but it is not an easy task to move a 70-ton stone piece," You Hong-Jung, chief of the Cultural Heritage Administration, told the paper.


Local cultural authorities plan to turn the statue face-up by the end of the year.



Attack on giant Pakistan Buddha


Suspected pro-Taleban militants have tried to blow up an ancient carving of Buddha in north-west Pakistan.


The statue, thought to date from the second century BC, sustained only minimal damage in the attack near Manglore in remote Swat district.


The area has seen a rise in attacks on "un-Islamic" targets in recent months.


This is the first such attack in Pakistan and is reminiscent of the Taleban's 2001 destruction of the giant Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan.



Officials and witnesses in Swat said armed men arrived in the area on Monday night.


We heard the sound of drilling twice and then early Tuesday morning we heard two blasts

Villager Amir Khan


"Militants drilled holes in the rock and filled them with dynamite and blew it up," provincial archaeology department official Aqleem Khan told Reuters news agency.


"The explosion damaged the upper part of the rock but there was no damage to the image itself."


And eyewitness, Shahid Khan, told the BBC that because of its location on a steep ridge the statue had been only slightly damaged. It is carved into a 40m (130-foot) high rock.


Local archaeology expert Professor Pervaiz Shaheen told the BBC that the Buddha statue in Swat valley was considered the largest in Asia, after the two Bamiyan Buddhas.


He said it was 2,200 years old. Swat valley is a centre of the ancient Gandhara civilization.


"They constructed similar smaller statues and figurines, dozens of which are still present in the area," Prof Shaheen said.


Swat has seen increased pro-Taleban activity in recent months, with the re-emergence of militant group Tehrik-e-Nifaz-e-Shariat-e-Mohammadi (TNSM) under new leader, Maulana Fazlullah.


Last week, militants blew up about 60 music, video and cosmetics stalls at a market in the valley after stall owners ignored warnings to close businesses deemed un-Islamic.


The world watched in shock in March 2001 as Afghanistan's then rulers destroyed the 6th-Century Bamiyan Buddhas. The Taleban said they were offensive to Islam.



Rain uncovers Viking treasure trove

Published: 14th September 2007 08:30 CET

Online: http://www.thelocal.se/8484/


A bout of torrential rain left a surprising legacy in the garden of one Swede: a Viking treasure trove.


Two coins were uncovered by the rain on the lawn of farmer Tage Pettersson, on the island of Gotland, in early August. He called in Gotland's archaeologists, who last week found a further 52 coins on the site.


Most of the coins are German, English and Arabic currency from the late 900s and early 1000s. But archaeologists are most excited about the presence of six very rare Swedish coins, from the reign of Olof Skötkonug, king of Sweden from 994-1022.


One of the Swedish coins has never been found in Sweden before, although an example has been found in Poland. One of the other coins is only the second of its kind to have been found.


Archaeologist Dan Carlsson told Svenska Dagbladet that the coins were "very well preserved, and come from a period about which we know little in terms of coin history."


The English coins are likely to have been paid to the Vikings as an incitement to let them live in peace, he said.


Gotland is one of the richest sources anywhere of buried Viking treasure. Discoveries of coins and other treasure are made on a regular basis.



Medieval women 'had girl power'


A new study by an academic says that "girl power" was alive and kicking around 600 years ago.


Dr Sue Niebrzydowski at Bangor university said medieval women enjoyed a golden era with a greater life expectancy than men.


"We found women running priories, commissioning books, taking early package tours to visit the Holy Land," she said.


She added women were also defending their property and property rights.


Dr Niebrzydowski's research involving middle aged women in the middle ages will be discussed at a conference at the university on Wednesday.


The medievalist at Bangor's Institute of Early and Modern Studies, studied legal records, literature and songs to build up a picture of life for women between the 12th and 15th Centuries.


Dr Niebrzydowski, whose research is funded by the Royal Historical Society and the British Academy, said: "Women were often widowed by the age of 30 and it gave them greater freedom.


"They could be more sexually liberated as there would be no child as evidence of their fornication or adultery.


"And if wealthy, they could enter the marriage market on their own terms - and for their own reasons, whether economic, for love, companionship or pleasure."


The study's findings will be explored on Wednesday at a conference in Bangor, attended by some of Britain's top female academics in the fields of archaeology, history, language and law.


Dr Niebrzydowski said: "We assume that women in the past had little economic independence or social power and that they were reliant on fathers or husbands for most of their lives.


"But we should be wary of holding too many misconceptions about women's lives in the past.


"It is true that most of the information we have is drawn from art, literature or historical records which relate to wealthier women, but middle aged women in the middle ages had far more power and independence than we might first imagine."


The conference, which runs until Friday, will bring together experts in literature, archaeology, art and history.