Category: malcolmj - Part 7

Massive Iron Age Roundhouse Found At Birnie in Scotland

Not a week after we flagged up the archaeological site of Birne as the place to visit during Scottish Archaeology Month, its been announced that the remains of another Iron Age roundhouse have been discovered there. Archaeologists have speculated that the erstwhile multi-storey structure these days reduced to just a hard floor and rotting timber beams may once been the very centre of what was a Celtic power base in the north east of Scotland some 2,000 years ago.

20 roundhouses have been found at Birnie so far five in the last year alone. But this one, located at Dykeside Farm, is believed to have been the main structure among the lot. Excavation team leader Fraser Hunter, from the National Museum of Scotland, described it as a huge impressive building that stood over 9 metres high and more than 15 metres wide. People tend to think [the Celts] were scratching around living difficult existences and staying in huts, he said, speaking to the Press and Journal. But this is no hut.

Once the timber remains have been surveyed, theyll be lifted and sent off for analysis, to see if any more light can be shed on building techniques at Birne. The sites incredible prehistoric past becomes clearer all the time, as the now 12-year-long dig at the site which has turned-up Roman coin hoards and chariot parts continues. Its absolutely remarkable, Hunter added. Each time we come here it throws up surprises. It just shows what an important place this was 2,000 years ago. Its giving us completely new insights into the Iron Age.

Picture by Vegan Family. All rights reserved.

World’s Oldest Fibres Discovered In Georgian Cave By Harvard University Archaeologist

Tiny flax fibres aged 34,000 years old the earliest examples of their type ever seen have been discovered by archaeologists in a cave in the Caucasus mountains of the Republic of Georgia. Theyre so tiny theyre not visible to the naked eye the team responsible for the find, from Harvard University, only spotted the minute artefacts while examining clay samples from the cave under a microscope.

The flax was probably used to make linen or thread, and was collected raw from the wild, rather than being farmed. It could have been put to all sorts of uses from making warm clothes by sewing animal hides together, or fastening packs to aid mobility in the harsh prehistoric climate. Some of the fibres are twisted, which suggests that they may have once been part of a rope or string. Others were dyed.

This was a critical invention for early humans, said team leader Ofer Bar-Yosef, a Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at Harvard, speaking to Harvard Science. They might have used this fiber to create parts of clothing, ropes, or baskets for items that were mainly used for domestic activities, he added. We know that this is wild flax that grew in the vicinity of the cave and was exploited intensively or extensively by modern humans.

This was a critical invention for early humans. They might have used this fiber to create parts of clothing, ropes, or baskets. — Ofer Bar-Yosef

Bar-Yosefs investigation of the cave in Georgia has been ongoing every summer since 1996. He set out to analyze tree pollen samples there, in order to assess environment and temperature fluctuations that would have affected ancient humans inhabiting the rocky recess over the course of thousands of years. The fibres were, he said, a wonderful surprise at the end of this excavation project. The previous oldest known objects of their type aged 28,000 years were found in Dolni Vestonice in the Czech Republic.

A leading Georgian archaeologist and anthropologist speaking least week at the British Science Festival said Georgia was the cradle of the first Europeans and home to primitive hominins around 1.8 millions years ago who may have been the precursors to mankinds ancestors Homo erectus.

Picture by Gogi Bedenashvili. All rights reserved.

Members Wanted: Manhood Search and Recovery Metal Detector Society

Treasure HunterGot a metal detector? Into archaeology? Lost your, ahem, manhood? Then the Manhood Search and Recovery Society is for you a newly-formed body promoting conscientious metal detecting in the West Sussex area of England, as well as the important role it can play in archaeology and, with it, local history. In the long term, the society aims to swell its ranks to the point where it can assistant in major archaeological digs.

Responsible metal detectorists play a big part in our understanding of the region and our place, organisation founder Steve Lawrence told the Midhurst and Petworth Observer. Our first meeting has already attracted interest and members.

Its only 12 a year to join, and anyone signing-up now will have the added honour of knowing that theyre one of the societys founding fellows (the first 50 will receive a natty embroided badge to say as much). Onboard so far are all from a teenager to a chap in his 90s. Nighthawkers those who engage in illegal metal detecting at heritage sites, usually after dark need not apply, since the society has a zero tolerance towards such frowned-upon practices according to its website. And Bulgarian career scavengers are right out of the question.

Nighthawkers those who engage in illegal metal detecting at heritage sites after dark need not apply.

Anyone who has misplaced a metal object of value to them on open land are welcome to get in touch though, because the Manhood Search and Recovery Society offers a free finds recovery service, whereby theyll track down your lost item en gratis, provided youve got a rough idea of where it is. Its all good practice todays set of missing car keys is tomorrows horde of valuable Roman coins.

Another New Stone Figure Discovered at Çatalhöyük – Were They “Mother Goddesses” or Kids’ Toys?

Another carved stone figurine has been discovered at the Neolithic site of atalhyk in Turkey, adding to an already large collection of over 2,000 pieces that has raised conflicting theories among scholars about their prehistoric purpose. The find, made last week, is of a six inch-tall reclining man with a large beard and oversized nose.

Back in the 1960s, it was speculated that the prevalence among the carvings of females with big breasts and bellies (similar to the likes of the much older Venus of Hohle Fels, found recently in Germany) were indicative of a cult of worshipping mother goddesses at atalhyk, which was one of the worlds earliest farming communities 9,000 years ago. The area became a feminist tourist hotspot as a result, and remains so today.

Archaeologists are now suggesting that the figurines may simply have been kids educational toys kind of like a Neolithic equivalent of the Playmobil Egypt range. Many of them actually depict farm animals; the number of women represented in the collection might be as little as 5%, since a lot of the females could just as easily be males (certainly theres no debating the sex of the latest hirsute find). Additionally, the artefacts havent been discovered in particularly ceremonial locations.

The majority are cattle or sheep and goats, archaeologist Professor Lynn Meskell, of Stanford University, told the Daily Mail. They could be representatives of animals they were dealing with and they could have been teaching aides. All were found in the trash and they were not in niches or platforms or placed in burials. These are things that were made and used on a daily basis. People carried them around and discarded them.

“These are things that were made and used on a daily basis. People carried them around and discarded them. — Professor Lynn Meskell, Stanford University

The densely inhabited settlement of atalhyk was abandoned after around 2,000 years. No one is certain why some have speculated it may have been due to the loss of farmland, or because of harassment from foreign invaders. Certainly, violent death was a prominent feature of life in the ancient town, at least if the figurines are any evidence to go by. Many of them represent people who have been decapitated, while others gorily show exposed body parts such as ribs, hip bones and pelvises. The learning curve for youngsters in ancient atalhyk was clearly a steep one.

Picture from Wikimedia Commons.

Archaeological Dig At Paisley Abbey Goes Down The Drain

A team from Glasgow Archeological Research Division (GUARD) are plumbing the depths of a medieval drain in the grounds of the 14th century Paisley Abbey, in Renfrewshire, Scotland. The dig is jointly part of Scottish Archaeology Month and Doors Open Day Scotland an annual event that allows the public free access to otherwise off-limits buildings, historical and modern, across the country throughout September. Michael Fediginan, who runs the local interest website, has been on hand to photograph and record the excavation, and gave Heritage Key an insight into progress so far.

Measuring between five and two metres high in different places, the drain is beautifully built of dressed ashlar blocks. The dig has a dual purpose: firstly to discover how and when the drain was constructed and if it was situated on the site of an older drain. Secondly, to see if there is any valuable archaeological material contained within it that might hint at the older history of the abbey. The GUARD team also hope to improve access to the drain without damaging it. While the work progresses, a new digital record of the site will be created, by the School of Media Language and Music at the University of the West of Scotland, who will film the excavation.

Findings made so far have yet to be properly examined and evaluated, but they already look promising

The dig is an advancement on a previous exploration carried out nearly 20 years ago, according to Fediginan. The drain was rediscovered in 1990 when archaeologists from GUARD were directed to the modern manhole by Frank Snow, of the then-Strathclyde Sewage Department, he says. The drain was excavated of 60 cm of silt which contained some amazing finds. Fragments of pottery from several hundred vessels were recovered, along with a complete chamber pot, which is on display in Paisley Abbey sacristy.

Other finds, he continues, included inscribed slates, buckles, lead seals, gaming pieces and remains of more than 140 plants. Amongst them were food plants such as barley, wheat, onions, kale, imports such as mace and figs, and medicinal plants such as opium poppies, greater celandine and hemlock.

Findings made so far have yet to be properly examined and evaluated, but they already look promising. A former street once called Ellis Lane has been discovered, reports Fediginan, with lots of the foundations of the buildings in place. And there have been numerous pieces of stone found along with pieces of glass and two brick like objects which have some sort of old writing on them.

The archaeologists will be on site during Doors Open Day this Saturday (September 12) to explain their findings and talk about the dig, and therell also be an exhibition in Paisley Abbey providing more information about the drain. For regular updates on the excavation, keep an eye on the thread by Fediginan on his website forum.

Pictures by All rights reserved.

New Finds in Turkey, Sweden and Spain Prove Prehistoric Europeans Were Smarter Than You’d Think

Here in Europe in the 21st century we like to think were pretty sophisticated. Yet, judging by a clutch of recent discoveries, our Iron Age, Bronze Age and even Stone Age ancestors werent so backward themselves. International trade? Social networking? Fancy gadgets? In every case, they went there, did that, bought the t-shirt (well, the animal hide). If theyd had a connection quicker than 28.8K dial-up, theyd probably have just blogged about it themselves, saved me the effort.

Take the recent research done at a temple dating back to circa 800 BC in the Tell Tayinat region of Turkey, by Professor Timothy Harrison and colleagues from the University of Toronto. It was built in what experts call a Dark Age, just after the collapse of several Bronze Age civilizations, which was believed to have been a grim period for relations between Greece and the Middle East. Trade was thought to have practically dried up altogether; the discovery of ivory carvings, precious metal foils, and pottery not native to the region would appear to contradict such a conclusion clearly a rich cultural and economic exchange existed at the time among cultures such as the Hittites, Aegeans and Semites. And without an eBay account in site.

Or what about looking back further still, to 2000 BC and early Bronze Age and late Neolithic settlements in Sweden? Most people then lived in small, scattered farmsteads that had little if anything to do with each other in a cooperative sense, right? Wrong, says archaeologist Magnus Artursson of the University of Gothenburg, who has examined graves and found wide variations in wealth, as well as the presence of imported high-status metals. Its his belief that these indicate contact between distant settlements, and that early Swedish societies formed hierarchical chiefdoms some 800 years earlier than such social structures were previously believed to have emerged. Reports that they used to mainly get together to wrangle over how the hell you put together a Billy shelve unit from IKEA remain unconfirmed.

As all-purpose tools, hand axes were used for everything from hacking away at plant roots to butchering animals. Does your iPhone have a Skin A Wild Boar app? Probably not.

Best of all, take Spaniards some 900,000 years ago, who were fashioning what have been described as Stone Age Swiss Army knives whittled-stone hand axes, a pair of which have recently been discovered at two sites in southern Spain. Analysed using an innovative technique called paleomagnetic dating, theyve been found to date from circa 780,000 and 900,000 years ago respectively making them the oldest artefacts of their type ever located in Europe.

The previously oldest-known examples of hand axes were thought to be at most 500,000 years old, suggesting Europeans lagged far behind Africans, who were known to have been using such things as late as 1.5 million years ago. These new finds narrow the time frame significantly. As all-purpose tools, they were used for everything from hacking away at plant roots to butchering animals. Does your iPhone have a Skin A Wild Boar app? Probably not.

Picture from University of Toronto Tayinat Archaeological Project.

Bootylicious: Verdi’s Egyptian Opera Aida Set For Big-Screen Disney Adaptation Starring Beyonce Knowles

Ancient Egypt has provided the inspiration for a whole host of screen hits over the years, from the good (Cleopatra and Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) to the bad (The Mummy, installments one through three), to the downright very bad (I Was A Teenage Mummy!). Among the most celebrated fictional tales set in the age of the pyramids is Giuseppe Verdis opera Aida, which was adapted into a hugely successful rock opera by Elton John and Tim Rice in association with Disney in 1998. Rumours are circulating that a long-threatened Disney big-screen adaptation of the story is finally about to go into production, starring pop hotties Beyonce Knowles and Christina Aguilera in lead roles.

Reportedly based on a scenario imagined by French Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, Aida is the tale of an Ethiopian princess of the same name who is forced into slavery in Egypt, where an Egyptian military leader called Radames falls in love with her. He finds himself torn between his feelings for the African beauty and his loyalty to his pharaoh; matters arent helped by the fact that the pharaohs daughter, Amneris, also has a bit of a thing for Radames, but the feeling isnt mutual.

Verdi was commissioned to write Aida by Ismail Pasha, the then-Khedive of Egypt, in January 1871. It premiered in Cairo on 24 December that same year, and has since toured the world in various forms, becoming one of the 20 most-performed operas in North American history. The 1998 musical version was the work of Elton John and Tim Rice, and ran for more than 1,800 performances on Broadway, winning five Tony awards in the process. New versions continue to spring up all the time, most recently at the Le Petit Thtre du Vieux Carr in New Orleans (see the trailer below).

Disney has owned the rights to Aida since 1990, and the prospect of the Mousehouse adapting it for the big-screen has apparently long been on the cards.

There have been movie adaptations before including an Italian version in 1953, starring Lois Maxwell and Sophia Loren, and a less notable Swedish version in 1987. Disney has owned the rights to the storybook of Aida since 1990, and the prospect of the Mousehouse adapting it for the screen has apparently long been on the cards (an animated version was originally planned but has since been scrapped). Former Destiny’s Child star turned solo pop sensation and sometimes-actress (she most recently appeared in the Golden Globe-winning Dreamgirls) Knowles will reportedly play Aida; former New Mickey Mouse Club child-actress turned pop provocateur Aguilera will appear in the role of Amneris, in her major motion picture debut. The campaign for Zahi Hawass to land the role of Radames starts here.

Where will Aida rank in the list of ancient world box office hits and flops? And can we expect some historical howlers to rank among cinema’s most notorious?

And is ancient Egypt ready for all that, ahem, booty?

Beyonce picture from Wikimedia Commons.

Zahi Hawass Attends Opening Ceremonies For Islamic Monuments and New Visitor Centre at Deir el-Bahri

, Director General of the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), recently attended ceremonies marking the reopening, after major restoration work, of a number of Islamic monuments in Cairo. It follows his appearance at similar ceremonies recently marking the completion of a number of big-budget developments in and around the area of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings.

Islamic Monuments

The restored Islamic monuments all in the Al-Darb Al-Ahmar area of Cairo include The Al-Imam mosque, the Al-Layth mosque, the Al-Set Meska mosque, the Ali Labib house and the well zone of Youssef, at the Salah El-Din Citadel.

The Al-Imam mosque, which dates from 1048 AD, was used for the burial of people who wanted to be laid to rest beside the Imam, whose grave is nearby. Architectural work has been carried out on the structure, and a rest house added, where people can hold funerals and recite the Koran. The Al-Set Meska mosque built in AD 1339 in tribute to sultan Al-Nasir Mohammads loyal wet-nurse has meanwhile been restored to its former glory after being heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1992. The 18th century Ali Labib house has been purchased and returned to its original style, and there are plans to eventually turn it into a school or library teaching hieroglyphs or Islamic and Coptic history.

Karnak Visitor's Centre, Egypt. Image Credit - Sean Williams.Hawass has been accused in the past of overlooking Egypts Islamic history in favour of its pharaonic past; his backing of these facelift projects which, together, over six years the SCA have funded to the tune of 9.5 million EGP (over 1 million GBP) will go a long way to answering his critics. A new lighting system at the Salah El-Din Citadel is also on the long-term agenda, and the first phase of that project the lighting of the mosque of Mohammad Ali was unveiled too. Hawass was evidently impressed. It captivated me and all those who saw it, he wrote on his website blog. When people witness the beauty of this light, it will capture their hearts and make them forget their troubles.

Pharonic Monuments

The opening of a new visitor centre at Deir el-Bahri and the re-opening of the Youssef Abul-Haggag mosque after major restoration work were among the completed projects Hawass inaugurated as part of his recent ceremonial tour around the area of Luxor and the Valley of the Kings. He also highlighted progress in a number of other ongoing projects, including the conversion into a museum of the rest house used by Howard Carter while excavating the tomb of King Tut. The combined budget for all of the work is a hefty 127 million EGP (over 14 million GBP).

Valley of the Kings Visitor's Centre, Egypt. Image Credit - Sean Williams.Hawass was joined by Samir Farag, head of Luxor City Supreme Council (LCSC). First up was the small run-down mud-brick residence used by Carter while exploring KV62 in the 1920s. Its being restored in a four month project by a French team, at a cost of 1.121 million EGP (about 124,000 GBP). It will feature two rooms displaying items left behind by Carter and Lord Carnarvon such as tools, instruments and items of furniture as well as a photographs and diagrams relating to their historic investigation. Its hoped that the museum will be finished by November 4, just in time for the 86th anniversary of Carters discovery.

Deir el-Bahri now boasts a neat car park and a visitor centre where tourists can view photographs, a short film and a detailed scale model of the site.

The inauguration of the site management programme at Deir el-Bahri was next up. Previously, the area surrounding the 4,000 year-old complex of mortuary temples and tombs on the west bank of the Nile was a mess polluted and swamped with ramshackle, unlicensed bazaars. Now it boasts a neat car park, and a visitor centre in which tourists can view photographs, a short film and a detailed scale model of the site. Theres also a caf, a bookshop and an area for 52 licensed bazaars (the rest have all been cleared out). A small electric railway leads to and from the temple complex.

A large wall will eventually surround the various Luxor monuments on the Niles west bank, to protect them from various threats. That was inspected too, as was, in the evening, the first test of another new lighting system, the 52 million EGP (5.25 million GBP) one which upon completion will stretch six kilometres from the Valley of the Kings to Deir el-Bahri, lighting up the various sites along the west bank of the Nile such as the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, various mortuary temples and Deir el-Bahri itself. This will further boost their accessibility to tourists, by allowing them to all be visited after nightfall.

The final stop was to open the freshly restored Youssef Abul-Haggag mosque, which was built in the 1286 on top of one of the original parts of the Temple of Luxor to commemorate the Sunni Sheikh Youssef Abul-Haggag. Over the centuries, cracks had spread across the mosques walls, and the foundations had been rotted by a leaking water fountain; a 14 month, 13.4 million EGP (approximately 1.5 million GBP) project has seen it returned to its former glory.

Hawass additionally took the opportunity to announce that a scheme to protect the Tombs of the Nobles on the west bank which he warned is in danger of being destroyed within 100 years without drastic action is to be implemented, using a Spanish grant of 150 million euros. He also again highlighted future plans to build replicas of the tombs of Tutankhamun, Seti I and Nefertari. This is the only way to ensure that these tombs will be preserved for eternity, he commented on his website.

Roman Ninth Legion Set To Invade Scotland Again – Twice

Bringing to mind an old adage about buses and waiting, almost 1,900 years since the Roman Ninth Legion, Legio IX Hispana, is said to have last invaded Scotland, the big screen is set to witness its return, twice in the space of just a few months. Two very different major movies based on the tale of the legendary, hitherto all-conquering Roman army that marched north across the border from England on a campaign against the Picts and legend has it never returned are in advanced stages of production, and slated for release in 2009/2010.

Centurion, directed by Englishman Neil Marshall of Dog Soldiers, The Descent and Doomsday fame, was shot in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Lomond this summer. It stars Dominic West best known for his role as Detective Jimmy McNulty in HBOs The Wire as Ninth Legion commander General Virilus, plus Quantum of Solace Bond girl Olga Kurylenko as mute Pictish warrior Etain and Michael Fassbender as Quintus Dias, a Roman soldier stranded behind enemy lines. Marshall describes the film as a straight-up action thriller that just happens to be set in the 2nd century AD. Its not meant to be historically perfect, he added, speaking to the Sunday Sun. Im picking up on a legend and exploring it.

Scot Kevin Mcdonald best known for his films The Last King of Scotland and Touching the Void directs The Eagle of the Ninth. Its based on the hugely-successful 1954 children’s novel of the same name by Rosemary Sutcliff, which approaches the legend from the perspective of a young Roman centurion Marcus Aquila and his attempt, 20 years on, to discover the fate of his fathers legion in Scotland and recover its standard. Up-and-coming young American actor Channing Tatum, who has recently appeared in Public Enemies and GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, will take on the role of Aquila, with support from M*A*S*H et al legend Donald Sutherland as his uncle, and Billy Elliot man Jamie Bell as a young English slave.

Principal shooting for The Eagle of the Ninth recently began in Hungary, and will move on to Scotland in October, around Glasgow and various locations in the Highlands. Achiltibuie, a village in Ross and Cromarty, will function as the home of a tribe known in the novel as the seal people. Much more concerned with authenticity than Centurion, the film will feature exclusively Gaelic-speaking actors in the role of indigenous Scots, and attempt to explore pre-Celtic culture in Scotland.

“It’s an action thriller. Its not meant to be historically perfect. Im picking up on a legend and exploring it. — Neil Marhsall, director of ‘Centurion’.

They were a more indigenous folk than the Celts, who were from further south, said Mcdonald of the seal people, speaking to The Times. They were probably small and dark, like the Inouit, living off seals and dressed in sealskins. We are going to create a culture about which no one knows much, but which we will make as convincing as possible. We are basing it on clues gained from places like Skara Brae and the Tomb of the Eagles in Orkney, so that we will have them worshipping pagan symbols, like the seal and the eagle.

Both films have been in development for years, and it’s pure conicidence that they’re getting made back-to-back. “We feel that there’s room for both,” Macdonald told The Herald. Read the real story of the Ninth Legion here.

Centurion picture by Inshriach. All rights reserved.

Digging in the Rain: Dartmoor’s Bronze Age Past Unearthed with Rare Roundhouse Excavation

An excavation of one of the thousands of roundhouses dotted across the landscape of Dartmoor has offered a these-days-rare new insight into prehistoric life on the windswept, rainy plain in the southwest of England. Today its an inhospitable, if undoubtedly striking place. But back in the Bronze Age, when the climate was much milder, it was a hive of activity, cleared by fire of forestry and turned into pasture and farm lands. Its inhabitants left behind the largest concentration of Bronze Age remains found anywhere in Britain.

As many as 5,000 stone houses, and many more wooden examples which have all but rotted away over the centuries have been found on Dartmoor. Most of them were excavated a century ago, when they used to get unearthed at the rate of around one per day. This new investigation, at the Bellever roundhouse, represents only the second dig of its kind in the area in 20 years.

While the team from independent professional consultants AC Archaeology are beaten, battered and drenched daily by the weather, funnily enough its Dartmoors rotten conditions that they have to thank for prompting the excavation. A huge storm blew down a plantation of conifer trees at Bellever two years ago, upsetting the roundhousess granite foundations. Archaeologists reasoned that this was as good an excuse as any to get their macks and wellies on and have a root around, so Dartmoor National Park Authority commissioned AC Archaeology to do a small investigation in October 2008.

It yielded big results a well-preserved paved granite floor, a mysterious nearby cairn, 30 fragments of bronze-age pottery and a piece of worked timber, which may once have been part of the original structure. Evidence, said Andy Crabb, an archaeologist for English Heritage, speaking to The Guardian, of a whole sequence of occupation and abandonment. So the AC Archaeology team, supported by 7,500 of funds from the national park and other bodies, are back for another go on a larger scale.

Its a great project for us. Its a chance to really try to find out what was going on here 3,500 years ago. — Simon Hughes, AC Archaeology

Crabb said that finding any significant remains at all blew us away, since the Dartmoor soil usually isnt so generous. (Its) wet, very acidic, so bone, ceramics, organic material gets eaten away, he added. Up to 69 pieces of pottery some of it robust and advanced for its time have now been discovered. The roundhouse, measuring eight metres in diameter, may have been inhabited for as long a period as 200 years, being continually occupied, re-ordered and then deserted in sequence countless times by each new set of residents.

By around 1000 BC the climate had worsened so badly on upper Dartmoor that it was abandoned altogether by its Bronze Age-residents. The archaeologists can undoubtedly sympathise with them they have to resort to sheltering in project supervisor Simon Hughes car when it starts bucketing down. But theyre in no doubt about the value of the dig. Its a great project for us, said Hughes. Its a chance to really try to find out what was going on here 3,500 years ago.

Pictures by AC Archaeology. All rights reserved.