Archaeologists Uncover 25,000-year-old Pendant in Spain

Published August 10, 2011

San Sebastian


A pendant some 25,000 years old has been found in the Irikaitz dig in northern Spain's Basque region by archaeologists from the Sociedad Aranzadi.

The piece, an oblong gray smooth stone some 10 centimeters (4 inches) in length, is perforated at one end and apparently was hung from a thong or cord around a person's neck, according to the director of the excavation, Alvaro Arrizabalaga, who added that the other end of the stone was used as a tool to retouch the edges of tools made from flint, like arrows or scrapers.

Arrizabalaga said that the pendant is older than other such items found so far in the Praileaitz cave which are estimated to be some 15,000 years old.

In addition, he said that there have been "some 20 pieces from this same epoch" found on the Iberian peninsula to date, with the peculiar unifying element that they have always been found in caves.

"The piece is very well preserved and we've been lucky to be able to remove it without damaging it in any way" from the dig near the town of Zestoa, Arrizabalaga said.

The dig leader said the pendant "is not going to need any more restoration," and after experts study it and include it in the collection of Cromagnon discoveries found at the site, it will be placed in the hands of a public museum.

"Twenty-five thousand years ago, human beings of our species came to this place that functioned as a hunting place for wandering groups" the archaeologist said, adding that the groups of humans "moved eight times per year to zones where there were specific types of resources."

The Irikaitz deposit, where archaeologists began working in 1998, is known for being the site of discoveries of pieces up to 250,000 years old, a period when the precursors of Homo sapiens were still in existence.



The “Brodgar Boy”


First there was the Orkney Venus – or the Westray Wife, as she’s known in Orkney.


And now we’ve got the Brodgar Boy – a small, Stone Age figurine found at the ongoing Ness of Brodgar excavations in Stenness.


What was hailed as Scotland’s earliest representation of a human was unearthed in Westray in the summer of 2009. Then, a year later, a second figurine turned up during the 2010 season of excavations at the Links of Noltland.


The Brodgar Boy was found in one of the later structures on the multi-phase Neolithic complex in the heart of Neolithic Orkney.


Work in the northern corner of the main trench had revealed two new structures – Structures Thirteen and Fourteen. It was in the rubble of Structure Fourteen that the Brodgar figure was discovered.


The figurine is only 30mm high and seems to have a head, body and two eyes.


Although nowhere near as finely produced as the Westray Wife, the Brodgar find does seem to be a representation of the human form – although admittedly fairly crude.


While the Westray Wife was carved from sandstone and is flat, the Brodgar figurine is round and made from clay.


A break mark on the bottom suggested it was once part of a larger clay object that, once broken off, may have then had a pair of “eyes” added to create a little figure.


But although the figurine had obviously been part of a larger object, the chances of finding its other “half” seemed slim.


But a week after the initial discovery,  it was found – only a metre, or so, away from the original find spot.


And it was a perfect fit.


The form still looks anthromorphic but the use to which it may have been put is still a mystery. There is very little wear on it and its tapering, segmented form could represent a pendant, although those with vinous inclinations suggest that it looks like a wine bottle stopper!


Although there have now been three similar figurines found, in context, in Orkney, the Ness of Brodgar site director, Nick Card, is wary of attaching too much significance to the latest find.


“Given the nature of the site, it would be easy to suggest the Brodgar figurine represented something ceremonial, ritualistic or religious. But given the area of the site in which it was found – one of the last buildings constructed on the Ness – I don’t think it’s of any obvious significance and I don’t think it’s a reflection on the site as a whole.


“Maybe, if it had been found in Structure Ten, the massive ‘cathedral-like’ building, we’d be thinking differently, but it turned up in what would appear to be a not particularly significant deposit.


“In addition, it’s not a beautifully carved piece of craftsmanship. It’s probably been part of another object at one time, which, when it broke, the fragment was perhaps then reworked into this little figurine.”


The Westray Wife was found in midden filling the remains of a former Neolithic farmhouse.


Although it could have been accidently left behind or dropped, the lack of wear and tear seemed to indicate the object had not been handled regularly and therefore had a specific function. This led to the idea that the figurine was deposited deliberately, perhaps as some act of closure after the building’s main use was over.


In fact, after initial investigations of the object, it was suggested that Westray Wife was either made shortly before deposition, or created specifically for that purpose.


But Nick is doubtful that the Brodgar figurine had a similar role.


“It doesn’t appear to have been a closing deposit for the building in which it was found or what could be termed a votive offering, or anything along these lines,” he said. “Was it a toy? Something created on a whim and then lost?  However the scarcity of this type of find may have given even such a crude figurative representation as this, significance beyond our understanding.


“But whether significant or not, it’s still a beautiful little find; an interesting little curio that, in amongst all the massive structures and monumental architecture on the Ness, gives us a more personal glimpse of the people who once frequented this area of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney.”



Archaeologists uncover 3,000-year-old lion adorning citadel gate complex in Turkey

Public release date: 9-Aug-2011

Contact: Sean Bettam



University of Toronto



Archaeologists leading the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project in southeastern Turkey have unearthed the remains of a monumental gate complex adorned with stone sculptures, including a magnificently carved lion. The gate complex provided access to the citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 950-725 BCE), and is reminiscent of the citadel gate excavated by British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in 1911 at the royal Hittite city of Carchemish.


The Tayinat find provides valuable new insight into the innovative character and cultural sophistication of the diminutive Iron Age states that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great civilized powers of the Bronze Age at the end of second millennium BCE.


"The lion is fully intact, approximately 1.3 metres in height and 1.6 metres in length. It is poised in a seated position, with ears back, claws extended and roaring," says Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T's Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). "A second piece found nearby depicts a human figure flanked by lions, which is an iconic Near Eastern cultural motif known as the Master and Animals. It symbolizes the imposition of civilized order over the chaotic forces of the natural world."


"The presence of lions, or sphinxes, and colossal statues astride the Master and Animals motif in the citadel gateways of the Neo-Hittite royal cities of Iron Age Syro-Anatolia continued a Bronze Age Hittite tradition that accentuated their symbolic role as boundary zones, and the role of the king as the divinely appointed guardian, or gatekeeper, of the community," says Harrison. The elaborately decorated gateways served as dynastic parades, legitimizing the power of the ruling elite.


The gate complex appears to have been destroyed following the Assyrian conquest of the site in 738 BCE, when the area was paved over and converted into the central courtyard of an Assyrian sacred precinct.


"The stylistic features of the lion closely resemble those of a double-lion column base found in the 1930s in the entrance to one of the temples that formed the Assyrian sacred precinct," says Harrison. "Whether reused or carved during the Assyrian occupation of the site, these later lion figures clearly belonged to a local Neo-Hittite sculptural tradition that predated the arrival of the Assyrians, and were not the product of Assyrian cultural influence as scholars have long assumed."


TAP is an international project, involving researchers from a dozen countries, and more than 20 universities and research institutes. It operates in close collaboration with the Ministry of Culture of Turkey, and provides research opportunities and training for both graduate and undergraduate students. The project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory (INSTAP), and receives support from the University of Toronto.



Iron Age people gave interiors of dwellings a decorative streak

Published: 8 Aug 11 16:18 CET


Archaeologists in Saxony-Anhalt have discovered a 2,600-year-old wall painted in bright patterns. It reveals that Iron Age houses were not the drab constructions they were once thought to be.


The State Museum for Prehistory in the eastern German city of Halle put part of the prehistoric clay wall on display on Monday. The wall was apparently part of a sprawling, Iron Age human settlement.


“We know now that prehistoric times were not grey but rather that prehistoric houses were colourfully painted,” Saxony-Anhalt state archaeologist, Harald Meller, said.


It was the greatest Iron Age wall painting discovered north of the Alps, he said.


The dominant colours are red, beige and white. For pigments, the prehistoric painters used substances such as iron oxide, which gives the reddish, ochre colour. The design shows typical ornamental patterns from the Iron Age such as triangles and S-shaped hooks, but also symbolic characters.


“The painted wall possibly decorated the front of an important house,” Meller said.


Archaeologists discovered the wall two years ago during an excavation of the site for a new high-speed train line, near the village of Wennungen, about 40 kilometres southwest of Halle.


The wall had been broken up into about 1,500 individual pieces over time. Experts have spent much of the past two years putting the pieces back together like a giant jigsaw puzzle. The final product is a section of wall two metres long and 1.5 metres tall.


The prehistoric site near Wennungen was spread out, once covering a piece of ground the size of more than 200 football fields.


One piece of the wall will be shown from 2012 as part of a permanent exhibition that also features the famous 3,600-year-old Nebra sky disc, a bronze object about 30 centimetres in diameter depicting celestial bodies in gold on a blue-green background.


DPA/The Local/djw



12 August 2011 Last updated at 15:43

Burial site find delays new Skye medical centre


An archaeologist has uncovered the remains of an ancient burial cist and pottery at the site of a new £1.3m health centre on Skye.


No human remains have been found, but further excavations and chemical tests on material recovered will delay the building project for about two weeks.


Archaeologist Steven Birch also found a cairn and an underground structure known as a souterrain.


NHS Highland said it still expected the centre to be completed by March 2012.


The finds could date from the Iron Age.


Mr Birch, of West Coast Archaeological Services, said: "There is a surprising range of important archaeological features within such a small area on the site.


"Not only did we uncover the remains of an intriguing cairn-like structure, but there were numerous other features, including a grain-drying kiln, an underground stone-lined passage and a burial cist containing a ceramic Beaker vessel.


"The site is currently being excavated by a team of Highland-based archaeologists and the investigation is revealing exciting new discoveries."



Irish prehistoric bog body may have been sacrifice victim

12 August 2011 Last updated at 16:22


Human remains found in an Irish bog could be up to 3,000 years old, according to archaeologists.


The body, thought to be that of a woman, was discovered by the driver of a turf-milling machine in the bog near Portlaoise in the Midlands on Wednesday.


Parts of the body, including the head and torso which had been enclosed in a leather bag, did not survive, but the legs had been preserved by the chemicals in the peat.


Work was halted at the bog at Cul na Mona while police and archaeologists were called.


Experts from the National Museum of Ireland believe the prehistoric find may have been the victim of a ritual sacrifice.


Axe heads

Initial indications are that the remains, which were found in an area of archaeological interest, are at least 2,000 years old and possibly closer to 3,000.


Several other finds have been made in the same bog in recent years including leather shoes, axe heads and bog butter, which some experts believe may have been buried as a means of preservation.


The remains will be taken to the National Museum in Dublin for analysis and radio carbon dating.


Ned Kelly, head of antiquities at the museum who travelled to the site, said more than 100 bodies and parts of bodies had been found in bogs in Ireland.


"On preliminary examination we can be reasonably certain that it is a late prehistoric bog body," he said.


"This was probably a ritual deposition of a human sacrifice."



Roman dead baby 'brothel' mystery deepens

9 August 2011 Last updated at 03:40

By Louise Ord

Assistant Producer, Digging For Britain


New research has cast doubt on the theory that 97 infants were killed at a Roman brothel in Buckinghamshire.


In 2008, the remains of the newborn babies were rediscovered packed in cigarette cases in a dusty museum storeroom by Dr Jill Eyers from Chiltern Archaeology.


They were excavated from the remains of a lavish Roman villa complex in Buckinghamshire almost 100 years earlier, but had remained hidden ever since.


The story caught the attention of the world's press last year as Dr Eyers suggested that the villa was operating as a brothel and its occupants committing infanticide to dispose of unwanted offspring.


The new research and the DNA results will feature on the forthcoming BBC Two series of Digging for Britain which starts the first week in September.


"Even now, a year after all the original press attention, every other day I'm getting inquiries about this story. It seems that everyone is intrigued by this puzzle," said Dr Eyers.


She has now carefully plotted the infant burials and the associated artefacts from The Yewden Villa at Hambleden.


This revealed that all those infants that could be dated were buried between 150AD and 200AD, meaning all their deaths look like they took place in a 50-year period.


And she said she now had a whole host of other evidence from studying the landscape around the villa site to support her brothel theory.


She admitted: "To be honest, when I first put this idea forward last year, it was really to get people talking and debating, but the more I look into this, the more convinced I am by my original brothel theory."


Brett Thorn, keeper of archaeology at the Buckinghamshire County Museum, has disputed her hypothesis.


The Yewden Villa located near Hambleden in Buckinghamshire was excavated in 1912

"My main concern with the brothel theory is that it's just too far away from any major population centres. I'm just not convinced," he said.


He has put together an exhibition of other objects from the villa excavation that could point to the villa having associations with a series of mother goddess cults from around the world.


"There are a few significant religious objects from the site that indicate possible connections with a mother goddess cult," he explained.


"They may indicate that the site was a shrine and women went there to give birth, and get protection from the mother goddess during this dangerous time. The large number of babies who are buried there could be natural stillbirths, or children who died in labour."


Last year during filming for BBC Two's Digging for Britain series, presenter Dr Alice Roberts noticed cut marks made by a sharp implement on one of the bones, a discovery that was not revealed to the public until now.


Cut marks can indicate anything from ritual practices involving human sacrifice, the de-fleshing of bones before burial, or the dismembering of a baby during childbirth to save the life of the mother.


Keri Brown at the University of Manchester carried out DNA tests on the 10 sets of the ancient bones to determine the sex of some of the infants.


It is common throughout history in cases of infanticide for girls to be killed rather than boys, but the opposite holds true for brothel sites. A brothel site at Ashkelon in Israel revealed that nearly all of the babies were boys.


Although the tests represented a very small sample of the total number of baby skeletons found, there seemed to be an equal number of victims of both sexes at the Buckinghamshire site, and so the mystery for now remains unsolved.


Dr Eyers said she believed that only further excavation at the site would clear up the mystery once and for all.


A full discussion of new research and the DNA results will feature on the forthcoming series of Digging for Britain on BBC Two, which starts the first week in September.



Salme Yields Evidence of Oldest Sailing Ship in Baltic Sea

Published: 10.08.2011 10:04


The ancient ship burial site in Salme on the island of Saaremaa still has some surprises in store.

The archeological excavations in Salme, soon to be completed, have yielded evidence that the ship that had been buried with 35 warriors and nobles had a keel, which in turn leads to the conclusion that it used sails. This represents the earliest known use of sails on a vessel in the Baltic Sea region, reported ETV.


"One piece of new information that we have been anticipating since winter was still to be found - namely, confirmation of whether it was a sailing ship or not. Now we have evidence that it used sails," said archeologist Jüri Peets of Tallinn University.


Peets called this discovery the cherry on top of the cake that was the nearly two-year-long archeological dig. "It is thought that sails were first introduced in the North Sea and Baltic Sea region at about 700 A.D., which is the conventional date. Our ship dates from the year 750. The ship from the year 700 was from the North Sea region, near Norway. However, here in the Baltic Sea region, this is without a doubt the oldest sailing ship that has been found," said Peets.


In addition to the discovery of the keel, the irregular rows of strong rivets found on the bottom of the vessel also prove that the ship used sails.


Maritime archaeologist Vello Mäss confirmed that the Salme ship was without a doubt a warship that used sails. Although sails had been long in use in the Mediterranean Sea region, it was the Norwegians who first started using them in the North Sea region. Mäss also suggested that perhaps two separate war parties on two different ships had met in Salme centuries ago. Such hypotheses concerning the Salme ship burial site are sure to keep the scientists busy for years to come.


Sigrid Maasen



Oxford Viking massacre revealed by skeleton find

By Louise Ord

Assistant Producer, Digging For Britain

12 August 2011 Last updated at 08:44


Evidence of a brutal massacre of Vikings in Oxford 1100 years ago has been uncovered by archaeologists.


At least 35 skeletons, all males aged 16 to 25 were discovered in 2008 at St John's College, Oxford.


Analysis of wound marks on the bones now suggests they had been subjected to violence.


Archaeologists analysing the find believe it dates from 1002 AD when King Ethelred the Unready ordered a massacre of all Danes (Vikings) in England.


The surprise discovery of the skeletons was made by Thames Valley Archaeological Services under the quadrangle at St John's College at the University of Oxford, before building work started on the site.


The bodies had not received any type of formal burial and they had been dumped in a mass grave on the site of a 4,000-year-old Neolithic henge monument.


Ceri Falys, an osteologist (a scientist who studies the structure of bones) from Thames Valley Archaeological Services, has been examining the bones since they were excavated. She has found a host of gruesome injuries on each of the individuals.


It was obvious at the time of excavation that many of the skulls had been fractured or crushed, but after piecing these skulls back together, she found that many of them were covered in blade and puncture wounds mostly to the back of the head.


One of the victims had puncture wounds to his pelvis that seem to have come from behind him and from the side, as well as substantial blade wounds to his skull, suggesting that he had been attacked from all sides by at least two different people.


These injuries were almost certainly fatal in each case, slicing through flesh and arteries right to the bone.


"Usually when people have been involved in hand to hand combat or are attacked you get evidence of this on the bones," Ceri Falys explained.


"You get cut marks on the forearms as they raise their arms to defend themselves, but we have minimal evidence of this on these skeletons, it seems that whoever was attacking them, it is likely that they were just trying to run away."'


King Ethelred ordered an "extermination" of England's Danes


It is possible that the Oxford skeletons were victims of an event called the St Brice's Day Massacre, recorded in a number of historical sources.


In AD1002, the Saxon king Ethelred the Unready recorded in a charter that he ordered "a most just extermination" of all the Danes in England.


He made the decision after he was told of a Danish plot to assassinate him.


The charter also recorded how on that day, the Danes in Oxford fled to St Fridewides church expecting to find refuge, but instead were pursued by the townspeople, who then set the church on fire.


Radiocarbon dating of the bones indicated that the bodies were dumped between AD960 and AD1020. This is compelling evidence for the association with St Brice's Day, explained archaeologist Sean Wallis, who directed the dig.


"We found evidence of charring on some of the bones, but not in the soil surrounding them.


"This ties in nicely with the documentary sources that the bodies may have been partially burnt prior to burial," he said.


Isotope analysis of the bones has shown that the men were eating a diet that was high in seafood.


This is an unusual find considering that they lived in inland Britain and perhaps a further indication that they may have been first or second generation Vikings.


A similar mass grave was found last year by Oxford Archaeology during work to build the Weymouth relief road.


It was radiocarbon dated to a similar period and again containing only young male victims, indicating that Anglo Saxon violence towards Vikings at the time may have been nationwide.


Ceri Falys will be talking to Dr Alice Roberts about the bones in a new series of BBC Two's Digging For Britain in September.



Remains found on building site believed to be those of patron saint

9:30am Friday 12th August 2011

By Sam McGregor »


ARCHAEOLOGISTS believe they may have found the remains of Bicester’s patron saint, St Edburg, underneath a former block of flats.


The team believe it could be the first time in the country the bones of a saint have been found.


It could take up to a year to confirm the date of the bones using specialist carbon dating technology.


Archaeologists discovered the entire north transept of the Priory Church, which is believed to stretch to Old Place Yard, Priory Road and Chapel Street. They are working in the area ahead of a huge redevelopment.


Site archaeologist Paul Riccoboni, of Beckley-based John Moore Heritage Services, said: “We have found a reliquary which is probably the bones of St Edburg.


“It is really exciting. A first- class reliquary is actually the bones of a saint and a second- class is the clothes of a saint.


“It is the first time I am aware of, or come across, others being found. I am assuming they are the bones of St Edburg.”


Mr Riccoboni said some of the saint’s bones were moved to Flanders in the 1500s, but thinks while half the bones were taken across the Channel, the other half remainedburied at the Priory site.


The remains, which would date back to 650 AD when St Edburg died, were found wrapped in a lead sheet near the original St Edburg shrine.


Around 13 other skeletons have been found so far at the former flats Bryan House, in Chapel Street, which is being redeveloped into 23 homes.


The bones are believed to date back to the 14th century and may be monks or local dignitaries, including the Priory Church founder, Gilbert Bassett and his wife Egeline.


Mr Riccoboni said: “There is only one other excavation like it to a modern standard. It’s a very rare excavation.”


Bob Hessian, chairman of Bicester Local History Society, and local historian David Watts, also joined the dig.


Mr Hessian said: “The actual Priory Church was massive compared to St Edburg’s Church, probably two-and-half times the size.


“We could have bodies sited all over the place.”


Mr Watts said as a schoolboy he was involved in a dig at land where care home St Edburg’s House now sits, where more then 30 skeletons and tiles were found in the late 1960s.


He said: “It is a very important site and it is a great shame it is not being preserved for posterity.”