Oldest Skeleton in Americas Found in Underwater Cave?

Eliza Barclay

for National Geographic News

September 3, 2008


Deep inside an underwater cave in Mexico, archaeologists may have discovered the oldest human skeleton ever found in the Americas.


Dubbed Eva de Naharon, or Eve of Naharon, the female skeleton has been dated at 13,600 years old. If that age is accurate, the skeleton—along with three others found in underwater caves along the Caribbean coast of the Yucatán Peninsula—could provide new clues to how the Americas were first populated.


The remains have been excavated over the past four years near the town of Tulum, about 80 miles southwest of Cancún, by a team of scientists led by Arturo González, director of the Desert Museum in Saltillo, Mexico.


"We don't now how [the people whose remains were found in the caves] arrived and whether they came from the Atlantic, the jungle, or inside the continent," González said.


"But we believe these finds are the oldest yet to be found in the Americas and may influence our theories of how the first people arrived."


In addition to possibly altering the time line of human settlement in the Americas, the remains may cause experts to rethink where the first Americans came from, González added.


Clues from the skeletons' skulls hint that the people may not be of northern Asian descent, which would contradict the dominant theory of New World settlement. That theory holds that ancient humans first came to North America from northern Asia via a now submerged land bridge across the Bering Sea (see an interactive map of ancient human migration).


"The shape of the skulls has led us to believe that Eva and the others have more of an affinity with people from South Asia than North Asia," González explained.


Concepción Jiménez, director of physical anthropology at Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, has viewed the finds and says they may be Mexico's oldest and most important human remains to date.


"Eva de Naharon has the Paleo-Indian characteristics that make the date seem very plausible," Jiménez said.


The three other skeletons excavated in the caves have been given a date range of 11,000 to 14,000 years ago, based on radiocarbon dating.


According to archaeologist David Anderson of the University of Tennessee, however, minerals in seawater can sometimes alter the carbon 14 content of bones, resulting in inaccurate radiocarbon dating results.


The remains were found some 50 feet (15 meters) below sea level in the caves off Tulum. But at the time Eve of Naharon is believed to have lived there, sea levels were 200 feet (60 meters) lower, and the Yucatán Peninsula was a wide, dry prairie.


The polar ice caps melted dramatically 8,000 to 9,000 years ago, causing sea levels to rise hundreds of feet and submerging the burial grounds of the skeletons. Stalactites and stalagmites then grew around the remains, preventing them from being washed out to sea.


González has also found remains of elephants, giant sloths, and other ancient fauna in the caves.


If González's finds do stand up to scientific scrutiny, they will raise many interesting new questions about how the Americas were first peopled.


Many researchers once believed humans entered the New World from Asia as a single group crossing over the Bering Land Bridge no earlier than 13,500 years ago. But that theory is lately being debunked.


Remains found in Monte Verde, Chile, in 1997, for example, point to the presence of people in the Americas at least 12,500 years ago, long before migration would have been possible through the ice-covered Arctic reaches of North America.


(Related: "Clovis People Not First Americans, Study Shows" [February 23, 2007].)


Confirmation of Eve of Naharon's age could further revolutionize the thinking about the settlement of the Americas.


This September, González will begin excavating the fourth skeleton, known as Chan hol, which he says could be even older than Eve.


The Chan hol remains include more than ten teeth, which will allow researchers to date the specimen and gather information about Chan hol's diet.


"When we learn more about the [Mexican finds] we'll be able to better evaluate them," said Carlos Lorenzo, a researcher at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili in Tarragona, Spain, an expert on the subject who was not involved in the current study.


"But in any case, if it's confirmed that Eva de Naharon is 13,000 years old, it will be a fantastic and extraordinary finding for understanding the first settlers of America."


González said he and his team hope to publish the full results of their analysis after the excavation of the fourth skeleton.


"We're not yet in the phase of research of determining how they arrived," he said. "But when we have more evidence we may be able to determine that."



Czech archaeologists find unique 7000-year-old statue

www.chinaview.cn 2008-09-05 00:49:26

    PRAGUE, Sept. 4 (Xinhua) -- Czech archaeologists have uncovered a torso of a unique female statue created about 7,000 years ago near Masovice, south of the Czech Republic, which is the second similar find in this locality, the Czech news agency CTK said on Thursday.


    The woman's statue found in the area last summer was given the name "Hedvika of Masovice," while "her sister" is called Johanka, "according to the female names in the calendar on the days when the artifacts were found, head of the archaeological research Zdenek Cizmar said.


    "Though the statues come from the same period, each of them is different and exceptional," Cizmar said.


    Both sculptures, created by people of the Moravian Painted Ceramic culture, probably served as idols, symbolizing life and fertility, CTK said.


    The lower part of the half-a-meter tall "Hedvika" statue is the oldest sculpture of such a large size found in central Europe, it added.


    The torso of "Johanka," measuring "mere" 35 centimeters, consists of four fragments of the body that were put together. The legs are missing.


    Masovice is a significant archaeological site where remains of prehistoric settlements as well as a high number of artifacts have been found.



Melting Swiss glacier yields Neolithic trove, climate secrets


BERN (AFP) — Some 5,000 years ago, on a day with weather much like today's, a prehistoric person tread high up in what is now the Swiss Alps, wearing goat leather pants, leather shoes and armed with a bow and arrows.


The unremarkable journey through the Schnidejoch pass, a lofty trail 2,756 metres (9,000 feet) above sea level, has been a boon to scientists. But it would never have emerged if climate change were not melting the nearby glacier.


So far, 300 objects dating as far back as the Neolithic or New Stone Age -- about 4,000 BC in Europe -- to the later Bronze and Iron Ages and the Medieval era have been found in the site's former icefields.


"We know now that the discoveries on Schnidejoch are the oldest of this kind ever made in the Alps," said Albert Hafner, an expert with the archaeology service in Bern canton.


They have allowed researchers not only to piece together snapshots of life way back when, but also to shed light on climate fluctuations in the past 6,500 years -- and hopefully shed light on what is happening now.


"For us, the site itself is the most important find because we have this correlation between climate change and archaeological objects," Hafner said.


"We know that people were only able to walk on this site when it was relatively warm," said Martin Grosjean, executive director of a national network called Swiss Climate Research. "When it was too cold, the glacier advanced and it was not a passable route."


Scientists have long known there were periods of warmer weather in the region but the artefacts allowed them to identify the exact years, when the site would have been passable on foot.


According to Grosjean, such data could help sharpen forecasts for the future by taking into account patterns of natural temperature fluctuation.


The treasure trove preserved in the icefields was discovered after two hikers noticed a strange piece of wood lying upon some stones in 2003.


It turned out to be a quiver -- a case for arrows -- made from birch bark and dating as far back as 3,000 B.C. Hafner said this object may be the most significant single discovery at the site.


"It is the only quiver found that is made of birch bark. It is unique in Europe," he said.


Since then, even older objects have been excavated, including a wooden bow estimated to predate by 1,000 years the famed "Oetzi the Iceman" -- a 5,100-year-old frozen body found high in the Tyrolean Alps on a glacier straddling Italy and Austria in 1991.


Experts have deduced that many of the most valuable items may have originated from one ill-fated person, probably carrying the quiver, bow and arrows and clothed in leather pants and shoes.


"We think the person may have been killed during an accident because there were several objects from the same period found on the site," said Hafner. "It is unlikely that people would be leaving these objects so high up in the mountain."


The leather samples are also the oldest of their kind ever found, said Grosjean. "Leather decays easily in ambient temperatures. We know there were villages by the lakes in Switzerland but we've never found such leather objects," he said.


Analysis showed the pants' patch was made from a domesticated goat that resembled a breed recorded in Laos in those days.


"But the chances that the goat migrated from Laos are very slim. It could be a species that we had never before recorded to have been present in the Europe. Or its lineage may have died out since," said Grosjean.


Five years on, discoveries continue as the glaciers retreats.


"Last week, we found another Roman coin," said Grosjean, while Hafner said talks were underway with several museums on a future exhibition of the finds.


And with climate change, more such sites could emerge.


"The leather pieces are the oldest such finds now but maybe in the coming years, with other glaciers retreating around the world, they may not be the oldest for long," said Grosjean.


A recent UN Environment Programme report said by the end of the century, swathes of mountain ranges worldwide risk losing their glaciers if global warming continues at its projected rate.


"The ongoing trend of worldwide and rapid, if not accelerating, glacier shrinkage ... may lead to the deglaciation of large parts of many mountain ranges by the end of the 21st century," the report warned.



Keep an eye on the Sphinx


While the SCA secretary-general was being interviewed for "Guardian's Spotlight" in July 2008, pigeons were seen pecking away at the eyes and ear cavities of the Sphinx and their droppings were splattered on the stone. Jill Kamil discusses this new danger


The secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities had much to tell his interviewer on "Spotlight". Zahi Hawass waxed lyrical about "exciting things" that have been happening in the field of archaeology -- the discovery of a new tomb of a queen at Saqqara that has yet to be formally announced; the entrance to two tombs in the Valley of the Kings on which excavation will begin in October; and "big happenings" in Aswan, Edfu and Kom Ombo. He was enthusiastic about the "improvements" at Dendera and the Step Pyramid at Saqqara, and gave details of the new museums at Rashid, Arish, Minya and Amarna, as well as site management at Beni Hassan and Tuna Al-Gabel.


Zahi Hawass raved about the progress on the Civilisation Museum at Fustat and the Grand Egyptian Museum at Giza. Indeed, he also had much to say about the plan to upgrade the Pyramid Plateau and turn it into "a tourist-friendly and hawker-free zone". He mentioned that the project's security component included installing cameras, alarms and motion detectors, as well as building up a 20-kilometre fence.


I wonder if the new electronic security devices, however, while monitoring the movements of tourists and hawkers, cameleers and horse riders, will be able to pick up the unwelcome winged creatures that are finding a comfortable and shady roost in the eye and ear cavities of the Sphinx, and causing damage to the stone with their droppings. Apparently the pigeons are pecking away at this most grand and famous of monuments, finding in it an appetising calcium meal. Back in 1991, after a Save the Sphinx programme of restoration, Hawass declared that the monument was not in any danger. "Its head and neck can live for another thousand years," he declared at the time. He could not possibly have foreseen this newest threat -- the high level of acidity in the droppings of birds and its destructive effect on the stone. Just how serious is the problem?


I am reminded of the press coverage in the United Kingdom back in November 2002, about the health hazard and the "mess" created by some 4,000 pigeons in Trafalgar Square, when campaigners called for the right to continue to feed the birds. The British press made a great hue and cry about that. "Court threat over Trafalgar pigeons", "In defence of pigeons" and "Pigeon protest ruffles feathers", the headlines screamed. Well, we in Egypt are not that concerned about birds, and we certainly don't cast birdseed around to feed them. Yet pigeons here in Egypt have become thoroughly urbanised. They habitually build nests and raise families in garages, on balconies, and in and around satellite dishes. So once they pass the word around that the Giza Sphinx offers singularly superior accommodation for Rest and Recreation than Greater Cairo's concrete jungle, perhaps they will fly to Giza in ever larger numbers.


The Sphinx was carved from a single block of limestone left over in the quarry used to build the Pyramids, and scholars believe it was sculpted about 4,600 years ago by King Khafre, whose Pyramid rises directly behind it. Half human, half lion, it has the head of the king with his nemes head covering, and its body is 57 metres long and 20 metres high. It certainly exudes an aura of mystery: the Arabs called the Sphinx Abul Hol, Father of Terror; and 18th- and 19th-century visitors claimed that it was the work of an extremely ancient civilisation that had completely disappeared.


If more pigeons are attracted to the area, their droppings will cause more and more damage. The monument has undergone numerous restorations over the millennia, beginning with one conducted in about 1400 BC by the prince who later became Pharaoh Tuthmose IV, who dreamt that the Sphinx asked him to clear the sand around it in return for the crown of Upper and Lower Egypt. It was cleared, and he was crowned Pharaoh, but wind- blown sand soon buried the monument to its neck -- its nose, incidentally, had been missing for at least 400 years by the time Napoleon arrived in Egypt in 1798 with the band of French savants who took measurements of the head.


The first attempt to clear away the sand in modern times was made in 1816/17 by a Genoese merchant, Caviglia, who did not get very far. The next attempt was made in 1853 by Auguste Mariette, founder of the Egyptian Antiquities Service. He managed to clear the sand right down to the rock floor of the surrounding ditch, and the task was taken up by his successor, Gaston Maspero. The French engineer Emile Baraize, working for the Antiquities Service, did a more thorough job. He not only dug along the Sphinx's body, but found ancient restoration blocks scattered about which he replaced, adding some small brick-sized blocks of his own.


More recently restoration was carried out in the 1950s and 1970s, when some of the damaged masonry was patched up around the lower parts of the Sphinx's body. In 1979 the Sphinx Project of the American Research Centre in Egypt (ARCE), in collaboration with the German Archaeological Institute in Cairo, produced the first scale elevations and detailed plans of the monument. It was discovered that the stone used in the modern restoration of the monument flaked and powdered more rapidly than the earlier restoration so various steps were taken to consolidate the stone.


In the 1980s, the famous Sphinx was subjected to intensive care. Chemicals were injected into the stone for strengthening, but the project had to be abandoned because the chemicals unexpectedly caused the treated parts to flake off, taking with them some of the original rock surface. A Sphinx Committee was formed, comprising scholars of the EAO, Egyptian universities, and foreign experts, and they all agreed that the "new" and "harmful" cement and gypsum mortar of previous restorations should be removed immediately and replaced with stones that matched the 1979 restoration, using the plan and elevations of the ARCE Sphinx Project.


Oh dear! Poor Sphinx. Work went ahead. Its paws and rear haunches were covered with nearly 2,000 limestone blocks held in place with cement (the suitability of which was later questioned). Meanwhile, its neck caused considerable concern because it seemed to be eroding more rapidly than the rest of the statue. Culture Minister Farouk Hosni called on UNESCO to form a committee comprising 13 specialists in the fields of archaeology, reconstruction, restoration and geophysics, to discuss procedures needed to protect the Giza Plateau generally and the Sphinx's neck in particular. It was even thought a good idea to ask the British Museum to send the Sphinx's beard of the back to Egypt so that it might ensure more stability to the head. The British Museum was said to be willing, as long as Egypt covered the cost. So the matter ended there.


The committee members, meanwhile, agreed that the Sphinx was suffering from weathering and chemical saturation by carbonic, nitric and sulphuric acids "produced by chemical pollutants associated with neighbouring cement and other industrial facilities," as well as vibration caused by dynamiting in quarries in the vicinity, not to mention the rumbling of heavy tourist buses across the plateau. Additionally, there was seepage from the inadequate sewage system of the neighbouring Nezlet Al-Simman village.


When, in 1988, a sizable piece of bedrock toppled from the right shoulder of the Sphinx it caused much concern. A "Save the Sphinx" campaign was immediately launched with a large initial donation by American Express in Cairo, as well as the Getty Conservation Institute of California in collaboration with the EAO. A six-and- a-half-metre-high mini-observatory was set up on the statue's haunches to monitor the direction and changes in the speed of the wind, the humidity and pollutants in the atmosphere, the temperature and effects of water and salt on limestone. Could it have monitored winged creatures? Probably not.


The Sphinx naturally remained a subject of debate and, not surprisingly, there was a windfall of contradictory statements in the press. One report in Al-Ahram daily newspaper in 1991 once again outlined the rapid state of the deterioration of the neck. Yet, in Al-Gomhuriya a day later, a statement appeared saying that the Sphinx was not in any danger at all; that the slaking stone on its chest was not an alarming phenomenon because the monument could easily be treated by chemical processes. Salah Lamei, professor of architecture and member of the Sphinx Restoration Committee; Mahmoud Taher, director- general of the Information Department of the EAO; and Shawki Nakhla, director-general of restoration, all agreed that the statue was only suffering to a minor degree. The problem, they claimed, was a natural result of the monument being subjected to heavy rainfall, humidity and wind. Farouk Hosni stated moreover that there was "no point in making media propaganda out of it". That was when Hawass made his comment of the Sphinx surviving for another thousand years.


A long-term master plan for the Giza Plateau was worked out under the directorship of Zahi Hawass and in collaboration with American Egyptologist Mark Lehner of the Stanford Research Institute (who earlier carried out a project to probe the ground beneath the Sphinx in an electrical-resistivity survey). Egyptologists and geologists studied the geology of the Giza formation; a workmen's village with a camp for craftsmen, overseers, and storerooms was excavated; and an enormous bakery was discovered where no fewer than 14 types of bread were made to feed the workmen. The veil of obscurity surrounding the Pyramids builders was coming to light. As for the Sphinx, a comprehensive article appeared in the October 1994 issue of Archaeology Magazine entitled "The Sphinx: who built it and why?" which carried a computer-generated contour map of the plateau and images of the geographical strata, but no mention of its condition -- or the possibility of the new threat.


How much damage are the pigeons causing? And how can the problem be remedied? Perhaps a pigeon-repellent device, similar to the bat-repellent device used (against the law) in some churches in the UK, might do the trick! But who would finance such a project?



Symbolic past of early Aegeans revealed at Dhaskalio Kavos site

From The Times

September 2, 2008

Normand Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent


A rocky islet and a nearby hillside have yielded evidence of one of Greece’s oldest and most enigmatic ritual sites. Imported stones and fragmented marble statuettes show that Dhaskalio and Kavos were “a symbolic central place for the Early Bronze Age” in the Aegean, according to Professor Colin Renfrew.


Kavos is a stony, scrub-covered slope on the Cycladic island of Keros. Forty-five years ago Professor Renfrew, then a PhD student at Cambridge, found extensive looting there, with fragments of marble bowls and the famous Cycladic folded-arm figurines scattered across the surface.


The date of the Dhaskalio Kavos site, based on pottery fragments and since confirmed by radiocarbon, lies in the middle of the third millennium BC, probably around 2800-2300BC — roughly the same age as the Pyramids. Later developments in the Aegean, centred on Crete and the Greek mainland, include the Minoan and Mycenaean civilisations represented by sites such as Knossos and perhaps reflected in the world of Homer’s Iliad.


Investigations by Professor Christos Doumas, of the Greek archaeological service, followed by a new project headed by Professor Renfrew and Dr Olga Philaniotou, have shown that the mainland site of Kavos was used for ritual deposition of hundreds of broken marble figurines, none complete and with hardly any joining fragments (The Times, August 21, 2006), as well as fragmentary marble bowls.


Although the island of Keros has long been noted for two complete marble figures in the National Museum in Athens, the raw materials for the marble artefacts at Kavos seem to have originated elsewhere in the Cyclades. The pottery includes fragments of vessels probably made on the islands of Syros and Amorgos, and some may have come from the Greek mainland, from the Argolid and Corinthia in the northeastern Peloponnese.


The artefacts were discovered in two “special deposits” about 150 metres apart on the hillside: the northern had been looted before 1963, but the southern remained undetected until the recent excavations. These were completed this summer. Although everything found in the two special deposits at Kavos was broken, and excavations show that breakages occurred elsewhere — so that what was brought in was already fragmentary — the “missing” pieces have not been encountered on sites elsewhere in the Cyclades.


The Kavos fragments “must have been deposited in the course of ceremonies which were clearly of pan-Cycladic significance. Dhaskalio Kavos can now be regarded as a symbolic central place, the first such regional centre to have been discovered from the Aegean Early Bronze Age,” Professor Renfrew reports. On the Dhaskalio islet, “it is striking that no marble figurines of the standard folded-arm form were found, despite their frequency in the special deposit.”


Buildings uncovered this summer were well constructed, using not local stone but schist and marble imported from the large island of Naxos. On Dhaskalio the remains of a structure about 16 metres (52 ft) long were found, which had been abandoned around 2000BC and which Professor Renfrew notes is “the largest building yet known from the Cycladic Early Bronze Age”. A hoard of three bronze or copper axes found within it has more than a kilogram of valuable metal, but a lack of clay sealings from merchandise suggest that it was not a trading centre.


Another summit building was small and circular, and contained almost 350 beach pebbles. “The context suggests ritual deposition, presumably in the context of religious observance,” said Professor Renfrew. “Clearly there were ritual practices special to the settlement on Dhaskalio.”



Bronze Age mouse offers clues to royal shipwreck

04 September 2008

NewScientist.com news service


REMAINS of a long dead house mouse have been found in the wreck of a Bronze Age royal ship. That makes it the earliest rodent stowaway ever recorded, and proof of how house mice spread around the world.


Archaeologist Thomas Cucchi of the University of Durham, UK, identified a fragment of a mouse jaw in sediment from a ship that sank 3500 years ago off the coast of Turkey.


The cargo of ebony, ivory, silver and gold - including a gold scarab with the name of the Egyptian queen Nefertiti - indicates it was a royal vessel. Because the cargo carried artefacts from many cultures, its nationality and route is hotly debated, but the mouse's jaw may provide answers. Cucchi's analysis confirms it belonged to Mus musculus domesticus, the only species known to live in close quarters with humans (Journal of Archaeological Science, vol 35, p 2953). The shape of the molars suggests the mouse came from the northern Levantine coast, as they are similar to those of modern house mice in Syria, near Cyprus.


And, when generations of rodents live aboard ships, they evolve larger body shapes. Yet this mouse was roughly the same shape and size as other small, land-dwelling mice of the time, suggesting it boarded just before the ship set sail.

From issue 2672 of New Scientist magazine, 04 September 2008, page 21



Ethiopia unveils ancient obelisk


Ethiopia is celebrating the unveiling of the reassembled Axum obelisk, one of the country's greatest treasures.


The obelisk, at least 1,700 years old, was looted by Italian troops in the 1930s and returned to Ethiopia in 2005.


A giant Ethiopian flag was removed from the obelisk in front of what organisers said was a crowd of tens of thousands in the ancient northern town of Axum.


The ceremony is the last big event of Ethiopia's millennium year, the year 2000 by the country's Coptic calendar.


The president and prime minister were among the officials attending.


Intricately carved obelisks were erected at the tombs of Ethiopia's ancient kings when Axum was the centre of a great empire.


But only one remained standing amid the tumbled blocks of its former companions, the BBC's Elizabeth Blunt reports from Ethiopia.


The Axum obelisk was taken by troops in 1937 during the Italian occupation.


The monument weighs more than 150 tonnes and was brought back from Italy in three pieces.


Its return followed decades of negotiations between the Italian and Ethiopian governments, and long delays in transporting the heavy stones from Rome.


The monument has now been restored and resurrected in its original home.


How the Axum obelisk was restored


It had been lying on the ground for centuries when the Italians found it, and some archaeologists argued it should have been replaced in that position to avoid damage to it or nearby networks of underground tombs.


But others have said Ethiopians should be able to see the obelisk in its original position.


Ethiopia's ambassador to the UK, Berhanu Kebede, told the BBC's Network Africa programme that the obelisk would help his country "to build a stronger and vibrant nation".


"We have fought a protracted battle to bring back our historical asset, and this is very important because it's a manifestation of who we are and it also shows what our ancestors have done," he said.


"The obelisk shows the architectural talent of our ancestors and modern architects are fascinated how the Ethiopians were able to do that during that period."



Ancient Musical Instruments Play Again Through Astra Project


Ancient musical instruments can now be heard for the first time in hundreds of years, due to a new computer modelling project. ASTRA (Ancient instruments Sound/Timbre Reconstruction Application) has recreated the sounds of the harp-like Epigonion musical instrument from Ancient Greece and has performed one of the oldest known musical scores dating back to the Middle Ages. To achieve this it used the advanced GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks to link high capacity computers together, sharing information to enable the computer-intensive modelling of musical sounds.


Knowledge of the Epigonion musical instrument, dating back from the Ancient Greek era, is based on archaeological findings, historical pictures and literature. Using this archaeological data as an input, it was then transformed by a complex digital audio rendering technique to model the actual sound of the instrument. This advanced physical modelling synthesis creates a virtual model of the instrument and reproduces the sound that the instrument might have made by simulating its behaviour as a mechanical system. The Epigonion is a wooden string instrument that musicians have likened the sound to something similar to a modern harp or a harpsichord. The ASTRA team have compiled the sounds of four Epigonion instruments to recreate a medieval musical piece, making this the first time that these instruments have been heard performing together. Samples of the Epigonion and the musical piece can be accessed at http://www.astraproject.org/examples/dufay.mp3


“This is an exciting project for us and for musicians and historians around the world. For the first time we can actually hear the musical sounds of the past, using modelling techniques rather than guesswork,” says Professor De Mattia, Director of the Conservatory of Music of Salerno and Co-ordinator of the ASTRA project. Recreating the sound of the Epigonion instrument and the compilation of this musical piece is a great achievement and is the first step towards our goal of constructing a full orchestra in the future.”


“The combination of the high speed GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT networks and grid computing infrastructures provide the immense computing power vital for this exciting project,” commented Dr La Rocca, Co-ordinator of ASTRA gridification. “Previously the amount of computing power needed to recreate ancient music was unobtainable, but the use of high capacity research networks provides us with the ability to turn our research into reality.”


The physical modelling process needs extreme amounts of computing power – taking about four hours for a high powered computer to correctly reproduce a sound lasting only 30 seconds. To bring together sufficient power and to share information the ASTRA project is using the GILDA and EUMEDGRID grid computing infrastructures, which link computing resources across the Mediterranean at high speed (up to 2.5 Gbps) through the GÉANT2 and EUMEDCONNECT research networks.


“The success of the ASTRA project demonstrates how high speed networking technology can underpin research collaboration across a wide range of subjects and allow the academic world to work together across multiple locations,” said Dai Davies, General Manager, DANTE. “This unique project is delivering a fascinating glimpse into the music of the past for the benefit of the students and researchers of today – we look forward to hearing more music as ASTRA develops.”


The benefits of the collaborative approach used in this project are far reaching. ASTRA not only makes it possible to recreate instruments that previously would have been either too expensive or too difficult to manufacture by hand, it also allows any model and its associated data to be accessed by our collaborators. Research data can therefore be shared around the world, making it a truly international project of immense value to working archaeologists and historians.



All hands on deck to save sunken historic galleon, the HMS London

Will Pavia, Frank Pope and Tom Sheldrick


When Charles Trollope, an internationally renowned expert on historic ordnance, arrived at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson, Hampshire, to view five cannon salvaged from the sea, he came to a stark conclusion.


An historic site had apparently been stripped of valuable artefacts by an independent diving team and an important piece of Britain’s heritage was soon to be put up for sale.


So began a fight to save one of the bronze cannon, whose provenance is still in dispute, and to protect the remains of HMS London, a 17th-century warship, from the expeditions of profiteering salvage companies.


After an investigation by The Times and outrage among historians and marine archaeologists, English Heritage said that it had applied to have the wreck listed as a protected site, ensuring that further independent salvage expeditions were illegal.

Times Archive, 1982: Mary Rose returns to port after 437 years


Mark Dunkley, a maritime archaeologist at English Heritage, said that there were several cases “where salvage and recovery of material from the seabed has been undertaken prior to archaeological investigation”. He said that the application to make the wreck a protected site had been made relatively recently but its whereabouts had been known for centuries.


Built at Chatham in 1655, HMS London was part of the fleet that escorted Charles II home from exile in the Netherlands after the Restoration.


A glorious career as the flagship of the maverick admiral Sir John Lawson was cut short on March 8, 1665, when she blew up in the Thames estuary. The accident may have been caused as sailors reloaded old cartridge papers with gunpowder. Men descended in a diving bell in 1665 to retrieve 18 of the cannon. Peter Le Fevre, an historian of the Restoration Navy, told The Times: “Another four came up in 1682 and another couple in the 1690s.”


In 1985 Mr Trollope was engaged in recording the precise origin of some 14,000 British cannon. He suggested to a Royal Navy curator that the bronze guns of HMS London ought to be retrieved. “Very few bronze guns survive,” he said. “They mostly went into the melting pot.”


Peter Steen, marine services manager at the Port of London Authority, said: “In June last year some person or persons unknown to me went out and removed some cannon from the wreck we know as the London. They subsequently reported the finds to the Receiver of Wreck, following the correct procedure.”


The Receiver of Wreck was notified in October last year of five cannon. Two were English, said to have been raised from the site of HMS London. Three were Dutch, reported to have come from outside English territorial waters.


Mr Trollope concluded that one of the Dutch cannon may have come from the site of the HMS London. “Like the English guns, it has no concretions on it, which would suggest it came from the same place,” he said. The surface corrosion was similar. Made in 1600, it may have been captured in the first Dutch War and refitted aboard the London, he believes.


Nigel Morris, of Sea-Lift Diving, confirmed that his company had been contracted to dive the site of HMS London by Vince Woolgrove, a certified dive supervisor. He said that he could not discuss where each of the five cannon was found. Mr Woolgrove has not responded to telephone calls from The Times.