Ancient secrets uncovered


March 10, 2010 06:18am


A STUNNING archaeological discovery at Brighton could change scientific understanding of human occupation.


The discovery of artefacts that could be among the oldest in the world has prompted the State Government to consider adding a multi-million-dollar bridge to its Brighton bypass plans.

In a new development set to rock the scientific world, the artefacts found in the path of the proposed bypass could be twice as old as previously thought.


The discovery of the remains, that preliminary estimates show could be at least 40,000 years old, would give the scientific world a unique glimpse of a previously unknown period of human occupation this far south on the planet.


The remains found in the contentious Jordan River valley section of the $176 million bypass have forced the Department of Infrastructure, Energy and Resources back to the drawing board this week.


Plans have been redrawn to include a 70m elevated bridge span over the site, costing an extra $10 million to $15 million.


With a University of Melbourne report expected to be finalised this week, principal archaeologist Rob Paton has estimated the findings of stone tools and evidence of everyday life could be anywhere up to 40,000 years old. The previous estimate was about 18,000.


It has been estimated that anywhere up to three million artefacts could be uncovered in the 600m by 60m riverbank area.


The estimate places settlement of the area at about the time of Mungo Man, a discovery that challenged human evolutionary theory.


In 1974, scientists discovered the skeletal remains of a man near Lake Mungo in south-western NSW dated about 40,000 years old.


Previously, the oldest researched human DNA came from a Croatian Neanderthal who died about 28,000 years ago.


Mungo Man brought about a complete rethink on mainstream evolutionary theory, referred to as the "Out of Africa" theory that all humans were descended from modern homo sapiens who left Africa about 100,000 years ago.


"If the ages for the site prove to be correct, this is the oldest site in Tasmania and among the oldest in Australia," Mr Paton told the Mercury.


"Moreover, it would be the oldest most southern site on the planet, giving us a glimpse into an unknown part of world history and the spread of homo sapiens across the Earth.


"Our readings of the sediments also seem to be telling us that the part of the levee that contains the archaeological material is mostly undisturbed.


"This is almost unheard of from an open-air site, anywhere in the world.


"Most events of this kind come from cave deposits that often reflect only a very small and specialised part of the lives of people.


"Our work so far certainly indicates this is a scientifically important and exciting site. It will be an important place for interpreting the deep history of Tasmania, but also of archaeology on a worldwide scale."


Department secretary Norm McIlfatrick has said the Government will do all it can to protect the significant site.


"If it is 28,000 years old or 40,000 years old, it doesn't matter, this is a significant find and we will be protecting it," Mr McIlfatrick said.


"We believe we can take a management plan to Environment Minister Michelle O'Byrne that protects this levee and allows this important bypass to go ahead.


"We are not going to be draconian here, we want to see this protected."


The new management plan that will include the extended bridge span is also expected to include a covenant to protect and conserve the area.


To test the potential importance of the site, Mr Paton was engaged as archaeological director to work alongside heritage officers Aaron Everett, Bob Hughes and Leigh Maynard, geomorphologist Dr Tim Stone and archaeologist Cornelia de Rochefort.


The method used to date the river levee site is known as optically stimulated luminescence, OSL.


Mr Paton said while this was a complex form of dating, it told researchers the last time sunlight fell on the sandy deposits before they were covered, encasing the stone artefacts.



Highway threatens ancient Aboriginal site


March 11, 2010


AN ANCIENT artefact site that today's Aborigines are struggling to protect from road building could push human occupation of Tasmania out to 40,000 years ago.


Preliminary dating of stone tools from the site beside the Jordan River, north of Hobart, shows people were living on what is now the island state up to 6000 years earlier than previously known.


For the first time, evidence of ice-age human habitation in the region has been found in open ground, rather than confined to a cave, consultant archaeologist Rob Paton said yesterday.


Thousands, and perhaps millions, of stone artefacts are buried in a 600-metre long bank that gradually built up beside the Jordan through flooding over aeons.


''My impression is that it's a fairly continuous occupation of this sandy site,'' Mr Paton said. ''They do seem to range from 28,000 years at the top, possibly to 40,000 years at the bottom.''


He said this would be more ancient than a previous earliest Tasmanian date from Warreen Cave on the Maxwell River in the south-west wilderness, 34,000 years ago.


Australia's oldest site is thought to be Malakunanja II rock shelter in Arnhem Land, dated to around 55,000 years, according to the Australian Museum.


When the small stone tools were first being covered at the Jordan, glaciation meant lower sea levels opened a land bridge between Tasmania and Victoria, Mr Paton said.


After sea levels rose, Aboriginal Tasmanians, who left artefacts higher up in the site, were beginning an isolation from the rest of humanity that lasted longer than any other known culture.


Aboriginal heritage officer Aaron Everett first located the site in 2008.


Work to date the Jordan artefacts was only agreed to by the state government after weeks of protest last year by Aborigines, who insisted that riches lay in the ground at what was suspected to be a meeting point for three tribal groups.


Premier David Bartlett initially dismissed their pleas, saying Aboriginal heritage officers had only found eight artefacts in 300 holes along the route of a $173 million highway project.


Following dozens of arrests, the government agreed to the archaeological investigation and Mr Bartlett said any artefacts uncovered would be protected. ''However the road will proceed and along the original route,'' he said.


Infrastructure Department secretary Norm McIlfatrick said the government could bridge the site, but Aboriginal leader Michael Mansell appealed for federal government assistance to prevent that.


''These sites are 37,000 years older than the pyramids,'' he said. ''People would fall over laughing if you said you were going to put a bridge over the pyramids.''


He said the highway should be diverted and land acquired for the Aboriginal community.




The 40,000-year-old site may hold the world's southernmost traces of early human life.

Wed Mar 10, 2010 03:15 PM ET | content provided by Amy Coopes, AFP




Australian archaeologists have uncovered what they believe to be the world's southernmost site of early human life, a 40,000-year-old tribal meeting ground, an Aboriginal leader said Wednesday.


The site appears to have been the last place of refuge for Aboriginal tribes from the cannon fire of Australia's first white settlers, said Michael Mansell of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre.


The find came during an archaeological survey ahead of roadwork near Tasmania's Derwent River and soil dating had established the age of the artifacts found there.



"When the archaeological report came out it showed that (life there) had gone back longer than any other recorded place anywhere else in Tasmania, dating back to 40,000 years," Mansell told AFP.


Up to three million artifacts, including stone tools, shellfish fragments and food scraps, were believed to be buried in the area, which appeared to have been a meeting ground for three local tribes.


They died out after white settlers arrived in the late 18th century.


"They (settlers) hunted people here to this place and shot them just so they could get the land," said Mansell. "Many others were imprisoned until they died."


"In terms of culture and history this region now represents Tasmania's Valley of the Kings," he added, referring to the world heritage listed Egyptian tombs on the west bank of the Nile.


"When you get something like this that evokes memory of what your people did before we were born and evokes a memory about the legacy that they left us ... it makes the place irreplaceable."


The survey was finished last week and chief archaeologist Rob Paton said he had been surprised at the age of the items found.


"We haven't even done a reading on the bottom sample yet, I was expecting 17,000 (years) for the base of the trench and about four or 5,000 (years) for the top," Paton told state radio.


Paton said luminescence readings -- measuring the age of the artefacts based on how much exposure they had received to sunlight -- had been "nice and statistically tight".


"That suggests to me that they're probably correct, giving us a top reading of 28,000 (years old) and certainly seeming to go back another 10,000 (years) at least beyond that," he said.


The readings indicated that "we do have the oldest, most southern site anywhere in the world", said Paton, making it "an important site for anyone and quite exciting for us".


"I think the thing to stress is no matter what the age of the site it's important anyway," he added.


Mansell said the tribes were famous for their defiant stand against the settlers, and so frustrated the authorities they ultimately issued an order that any Aborigine in the area be shot on sight.


He said the dig's findings were merely the "tip of the iceberg" and called for plans to build a bridge over the site to be scrapped.


"The Tasmanian government must immediately declare it a protected site, not just for Aboriginal people but for peoples of the world," said Mansell.


Australia's original inhabitants, with cultures stretching back tens of thousands of years, are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of white settlement.


There are now just 470,000 out of a population of 21 million and Australia's most impoverished minority.



Thessaloniki metro works reveal archaeological finds


A large early Christian Basilica (1st to early 4th century AD) and an important late Byzantine period (1204-1430) building were unearthed at a same number of Thessaloniki metro construction sites over the recent period.


Part of a three-aisled, 50-metre-long basilica was unearthed during earthworks for the construction of the Sintrivani station and according to archaeologists it belongs to a cemetery.


An important building with centuries-long but undetermined use was discovered during construction works for the Venizelos station. The building was used from the late Byzantine Period until the 18th century and comprised two underground spaces accessed through a hatch. A coin dated back to the time of late Byzantine Emperor Ioannis V Paleologus (1332-1391) found inside the building is indicative of the period during which it was constructed. Its use during the Ottoman period can be associated with nearby Ottoman monuments of Bezesten and Hamza Bei Tzami (Alkazar).


The 9th ephorate of Byzantine antiquities, responsible for the excavations, has proceeded with the creation of an electronic database to record and process the movable findings discovered during the Thessaloniki Metro construction works. More than 12,000 findings have been recorded so far.


An e-book with all the findings unearthed will be published as soon as excavations are completed.


Meanwhile, 15 tombs, dating to the Hellenistic and late Roman Period, were unearthed at the New Railway Station construction site; 35 tombs were found in Sintrivani Station and 17 Roman-era tombs were found at the Fleming station site. A building of undetermined use was discovered during works for construction of the Panepistimio station.



Weymouth ridgeway skeletons 'Scandinavian Vikings'

Page last updated at 00:00 GMT, Friday, 12 March 2010


Fifty-one decapitated skeletons found in a burial pit in Dorset were those of Scandinavian Vikings, scientists say.

Mystery has surrounded the identity of the group since they were discovered at Ridgeway Hill, near Weymouth, in June.

Analysis of teeth from 10 of the men revealed they had grown up in countries with a colder climate than Britain's.

Archaeologists from Oxford believe the men were probably executed by local Anglo Saxons in front of an audience sometime between AD 910 and AD 1030.

The Anglo Saxons were increasingly falling victim to Viking raids and eventually the country was ruled by a Danish king.

The mass grave is one of the largest examples of executed foreigners buried in one spot.


It was discovered during investigative excavation work before construction started on a controversial £87m relief road through the ridgeway.

Samples of 10 remains were identified as Scandinavian by Dr Jane Evans and Carolyn Chenery, of NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory, part of the British Geological Survey, based in Nottingham.

Their work has revealed that the men had scattered Scandinavian origins, with one even thought to be from north of the Arctic Circle.

Isotopes in the men's teeth also show they had eaten a high protein diet, comparable with known sites in Sweden.

Initially, it was thought the burial site dated from the Iron Age (from 800 BC) to early Roman times (from AD 43) after examining pottery in the pit, later identified as a Roman quarry.


Radiocarbon dating later revealed they were from the Saxon period.

Oxford Archaeology removed the 51 skulls from the ground and are continuing to examine the remains to try to link the find to historical events.

Project manager David Score said: "To find out that the young men executed were Vikings is a thrilling development.

"Any mass grave is a relatively rare find, but to find one on this scale, from this period of history, is extremely unusual."

He added that without analysing all the bodies it was impossible to know for certain that all the skeletons were those of Vikings, but it was possible to make a "strong inference".

The archaeologists believe the men were stripped naked either before being killed, or before being buried, because there was no evidence of clothing, such as pins or toggles.

Most of them were in their late teens to early 20s, with a handful in their 30s.



Gas pipeline probe uncovers shipwrecks in Baltic Sea

Mon Mar 8, 2:17 pm ET



A dozen previously unknown shipwrecks, some of them believed to be up to 1,000 years old, were discovered in the Baltic Sea during a probe of the sea bed to prepare for the installation of a large gas pipeline, the Swedish National Heritage Board said Monday.

"We have manage to identify 12 shipwrecks, and nine of them are considered to be fairly old," Peter Norman, a senior advisor with the heritage board, told AFP.

"We think many of the ships are from the 17th and 18th centuries and we think some could even be from the Middle Ages," he said, stressing that "this discovery offers enormous culture-historical value.

The shipwrecks were discovered during a probe by the Russian-led Nord Stream consortium of the sea bed route its planned gas pipeline from Russia to the European Union will take through the Baltic.

"They used sonar equipment first and discovered some unevenness along the sea bottom ... so they filmed some of the uneven areas, and we could see the wrecks," Norman explained.

The discovery was made outside Sweden's territorial waters, but within its economic zone, he said.

None of the wrecks were in the actual path the Nord Stream pipeline is set to take, but they were in its so-called anchor corridor, meaning they are in the area where ships laying the pipeline might anchor, Norman said.

"That's one of the reasons this probe was done: to avoid damaging wrecks on the sea bed," he said, adding that the Swedish National Heritage Board had received assurances from Nord Stream that "the positioning of the wrecks will be taken into account when they lay the pipeline".

Due to its low temperatures and oxygen levels, the Baltic Sea is known as an ideal environment for conserving shipwrecks, which can remain virtually unblemished for hundreds and even thousands of year.

According to Norman, some 3,000 shipwrecks have been discovered and mapped in the Baltic, but experts believe more than 100,000 whole and partial wrecks litter the sea bottom.

"What makes this discovery so unique is that these wrecks have their hulls fully intact," Norman said, adding however that there were no plans to raise the wrecks, which lie at a depth of more than 100 metres (328 feet).




Scientists were able to identify neurons and cerebral cells from the brain preserved from the 13th century.

By Rossella Lorenzi | Mon Mar 15, 2010 04:54 AM ET




An international team of researchers has identified intact neurons and cerebral cells in a mummified medieval brain, according to a study published in the journal Neuroimage.


Found inside the skull of a 13th century A.D. 18-month-old child from northwestern France, the brain had been fixed in formalin solution since its discovery in 1998.


"Although reduced by about 80 percent of its original weight, it has retained its anatomical characteristics and most of all, to a certain degree its cell structures," anatomist and palaeopathologist Frank Ruhli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich, Switzerland, told Discovery News.


The brain was the only tissue preserved in the infant's skeletonized body.


"It is a unique case of naturally-occurring preservation of human brain tissue in the absence of other soft tissues," Ruhli said.


The brain appeared almost intact. The grooves and furrows -- gyri and sulci -- that make up the surface of the brain's cerebral cortex were still clearly visible, as well the frontal, temporal and occipital lobe.


Amazingly, the cellular structure had also been preserved to a certain degree. Microscopic examination of the tissue revealed gray and white matter, blood vessels and large neurons near the the hippocampus area, the memory-making region of the brain.


The cells had mostly retained their original shape as well as the dendrites, the short, branched fibers that extend from the cell body of a neuron.


"It is an exceptional find, as cell structures are identified in preserved ancient cerebral tissues," Ruhli said.


Indeed, soft tissue decomposition and brain removal as part of the embalming process in most anthropogenic mummies, make it extremely difficult to even find preserved cerebral tissues from archaeological human remains.


According to the researchers, the amazing preservation of the medieval brain occurred because of the burial's peculiar location.


Wrapped in a leather envelope inside a wooden coffin, with a pillow under the head, the infant was exhumed in Quimper-Bretagne, France. Here acidic clay soil and fresh and briny water (the city lies at the confluence of three rivers amid Atlantic tides) basically preserved the brain like a pickle.


"It's called adipocere and is the result of a chemical reaction. In the presence of bacterial enzymes, body fats react with water and hydrogen and produce a soap-like substance able to slow down or inhibit decomposition," Christina Papageorgopoulou, first author of the study, told Discovery News.


The researchers also investigated the possible cause of death of the infant, dismissing a previous diagnosis of a cerebral hemorrhage.


"Heavy bleeding occurred on the outer surface of the cortex at least several days before the child's death. This is evidence of a skull fracture. Whether it is the cause of death, we can't say for sure," Raffaella Bianucci, an anthropologist in the Department of Animal and Human Biology at the University of Turin, said.


According to Maciej Henneberg, professor of anthropological  and comparative anatomy  at the University of Adelaide, the study is important as an investigations into the evolution of brain morphology and pathology.


"It shows that cell structures can survive for a long time," Henneberg told Discovery News.



Digging into Shakespeare's later life at New Place, Stratford-upon-Avon

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


A ground-breaking investigation into Shakespeare’s later life is due to start in Stratford-upon-Avon on 26 March 2010, as archaeologists prepare to excavate the remains of Shakespeare’s house in Stratford-upon-Avon, and the public are invited to come along and watch as the latest story about the world’s most famous writer unfolds…


The archaeological dig will take place at New Place, the house that Shakespeare owned for 19 years and occupied at the time of his death in 1616. The ‘Dig for Shakespeare’ will see a team of archaeologists from Birmingham Archaeology, along with a hardy crew of volunteers, excavate three locations within the grounds of New Place in a dig where visitors will be able to interact with the archaeological team. A special scaffolding walkway and viewing platform is being installed so that visitors can have a close view of the trenches and will be invited to talk to the archaeologists as they work.


Shakespeare’s house at New Place was built on three sides of an open courtyard on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane. The largest trench to be dug will stretch from the servants’ quarters in the Chapel Street wing – where the foundations of the later 1702 building will be uncovered - across the courtyard to the rear wing, which is where Shakespeare and his family would have worked and lived.


A further trench will explore the area thought to have been his pantry and brewery, and one quarter of the 19th Century knot garden will be dug – into what would have been Shakespeare’s backyards. This is where archaeologists believe they might find defunct wells, filled in with refuse and waste when they ceased to be used.


Archaeologists often find that old wells hold all kinds of secrets, with the anaerobic (waterlogged) conditions preserving organic waste and detritus. It is hoped that these will give the Trust a real insight into the lives of the property’s occupants.


The public will be able to watch every stage of the dig from the start of the Easter holidays (27 March 2010) to October 2010. Archaeologists from Birmingham Archaeology working alongside a team of volunteers and staff from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust will be explaining what they are doing, and showing visitors the artefacts that they are finding.


“Once the turf is lifted, our archaeologists will start work to dig down to foundation level and beyond with trowels (not a shovel or a JCB in sight) so that we can monitor closely anything hidden within the spoil. Six test pits excavated last October gave us confidence that this will be a productive dig,” adds Dr Diana Owen, Director of the Trust. “Who knows, we might find one of Shakespeare’s shoes, some of his discarded correspondence or even some of his personal effects – only time will tell!”


“We know a lot about Shakespeare’s work, but relatively little about his later life, particularly when he started to spend far more time back in his home town,” says Professor Stanley Wells, Chairman of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. “We are hopeful that this dig will represent one of the most significant research opportunities for Shakespeare fans through the world, revealing and confirming many details of his later life about which we had previously only speculated.”


Indeed, alongside the practical archaeology, a team of academic experts, chaired by Dr Paul Edmondson of the Trust and including Shakespeare scholars, historians, local experts and archaeologists will meet regularly through the dig process to interpret and discuss the significance of any finds. The Trust already holds an extensive archive of Shakespeare-related items, and is highly regarded as one of the world’s leading authorities on Shakespeare’s life.


Archaeologists will be working on the dig seven days a week. Visitors access the dig through Nash’s House on Chapel Street. Admission prices, which include access to Shakespeare’s Birthplace and exhibition, Nash’s House and New Place, and Hall’s Croft are £12.50 for adults, £8.00 for children and £11.50 for concessions.


For more details, please call +44 (0) 1789 292 325 or book online at www.shakespeare.org.uk





Notes to editors:


The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, founded in Stratford in 1847, is the guardian of the world’s greatest Shakespeare heritage sites, comprising Shakespeare’s Birthplace, Nash’s House & New Place, Hall’s Croft, Anne Hathaway’s Cottage and Mary Arden’s Farm. Offering a unique Shakespeare centred experience, The Trust is a truly global brand that has been attracting visitors to the houses since as early as the 17th century.


At the heart of all things ‘Shakespeare’, the Trust is not only at the forefront of academic learning, but also an iconic destination in the UK and the cornerstone of the region’s identity and tourism economy. The five houses offer a multi-layered experience for visitors unlike any other, giving people from all over the world the opportunity to learn about the life of the world’s greatest playwright, discover his work and experience a real sense of the times that influenced him here in Stratford.


The Shakespeare Houses and Gardens are winners of the Gold Award for ‘Best Tourism Experience in the Heart of England Excellence in Tourism Awards 2009.


For further information about the houses, please visit www.shakespeare.org.uk


Birmingham Archaeology is the commercial arm of the Institute of Archaeology and Antiquity at the University of Birmingham. It comprises three teams; Birmingham Archaeology Heritage Services, the Visual and Spatial Technology Centre (VISTA) and Birmingham Archaeo-Environmental (BAE). Each of the groups is responsible for the undertaking of commercial projects and services, the development of research projects and the delivery of postgraduate and professional training via taught Masters programmes and Continuing Professional Development workshops.


For further information and press enquiries please contact:

Jay Commins

PRO Dig for Shakespeare

Tel: 0113 251 5698

Mobile: 07810 546567

Email: jay@fim.org.uk