Category: sean-williams - Part 22

Headless ‘Vikings’ found in Burial Pit

Rowing outArchaeologists in the sleepy seaside town of Weymouth made a gruesome discovery this month – as the bodies of 51 headless men were found dumped in a thousand-year-old burial pit. The twisted bodies were found without any traces of clothing or valuable items, as good as confirming they had been killed in a mass execution. Radio-carbon dating has placed the grisly find between 890 and 1034 AD, around the time Vikings and Anglo-Saxons were waging a bloody conflict for control of Britain. The feared Norsemen had invaded and taken over the north and east of the island, whereas the Germanic Anglo-Saxons had settled the south and east many years before. Other than deep cuts to the skull, jaw and neck, there are very few other injuries – aside from one man who appears to have had his fingers cut off as he shielded his face. The heads were neatly arranged on an opposite side of the pit; perhaps a deliberate show of victory.

Their heads were neatly arranged on an opposite side of the pit – one man appears to have had his fingers cut off as he shielded his face.

All the evidence gathered thus far points to the dead having been Viking war captives, according to David Score, of Oxford Archaeology: “They look like a healthy, robust, very strong, very masculine group of young males. It’s your classic sort of warrior.” Score also notes the style of execution as proof of the men’s provenance: “Locations like this are classic sites for executions in late Saxon and medieval times,” he says. “If you’re a Viking raider, you’re much more likely to leave people where you killed them in the town or on the beach.” Kit Siddorn, author of Viking Weapons and Warfare, agrees: “I would say this was a Viking raiding party which had been trapped,” he said. “They had left their ship, walked inland, ran into an unusually well-organized body of Saxons, and were probably forced to surrender.” The find’s archaeological team is hoping that further chemical analysis of the bodies can determine once and for all what side they were on. Score points to teeth and arms as the biggest indicators – Vikings were known to file deep grooves in their teeth; and their arms are invariably more developed than those of other tribes, thanks to miles of longboat rowing.

Image by Henri Bergius.

CBBC Kids to Get Lock-in at the British Museum

British Museum

CBBC, the BBC’s children’s broadcaster, has announced a brand new kids’ quiz show, in which six contestants will pit their wits again guards and ‘ghosts’, as they spend a night in the British Museum unlocking the secrets of its most famous treasures. Relic will see the children dodging security and completing a number of interactive tasks, as they bid to become ‘guardians’ of the museum. However anyone failing the show will find themselves facing “incarceration in the museum forever”. A BBC release explains, “As the brave adventurers search the museum they must complete complex challenges and confront visions from the past in their quest for answers. They will have to discover the secrets of some of the museums most famous exhibits, including how the Rosetta Stone unlocked the secrets of Ancient Egypt and the premonition that led to the discovery of the Sutton Hoo ship burial.

The 13 thirty-minute shows will be aired in the UK in early 2010, to run concurrently with Radio 4’s upcoming series A History of the World in 100 Artefacts, led by British Museum director Neil MacGregor. It will also be accompanied by a virtual model of the museum and information on its artefacts, available via the CBBC website. CBBC controller Anne Gilchrist is hugely confident of the show’s success. She told industry website Broadcast, “The British Museum is bursting withundiscovered treasures and amazing facts, so for CBBC viewers to have the privilege of running around at night trying to unlock its secrets is an unbelievable opportunity.Im thrilled to be able to open up this inspiring collection, via television and the web, to our young audience.

Image by Ra5her.

Archaeologists Tracking Iran’s Recent Past

The ancient history of Iran is one of the richest in the world. Skirting the Fertile Crescent which nurtured the cradle of civilization, the turbulent nation has seen the rise and fall of the Medians, Achaemenids, Parthians and Sassanids – until their history was usurped by the Islamic conquests of the 7th century AD. Yet the incendiary movements of the past century, not least the latest political turmoil to hit Tehran, have been somewhat passed over by the world’s archaeologists. Now a leading expert from Britain’s University of Leicester is leading a project to discover just what impact Iran’s White Revolution of the 1960s and 70s had on its so-called ‘landlord villages’; the rural settlements built in the early Islamic period. The revolution, instigated by the Shah who would later be deposed in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, moved Iran away from its feudal past with a series of reforms which nationalised much of the country’s farming capabilities.

“Irans White Revolution of the 1960s and 70s had a huge impact on social and political organisation and relations, and one area where this impact is manifest in terms of material remains are Landlord Villages”

Dr Ruth Young, who has spent much time working in the country, is fascinated with how these villages are pock-marked with the material evidence of revolution. Together with Dr Hassan Fazeli, Director of the Iran Centre for Archaeological Research, and Ms Minoo Salimi of the National Museum of Tehran, Dr Young aims to further excavate a part of Iranian history rarely frequented by the archeaological fraternity. “Irans White Revolution of the 1960s and 70s had a huge impact on social and political organisation and relations, and one area where this impact is manifest in terms of material remains are Landlord Villages,” Dr Young tells her university’s website. “The antiquity of these villages is generally agreed to be rooted in the early Islamic period, although their origins and their actual dates remain largely conjecture. What is clear from a range of records is that Landlord Villages were an accepted and extensive form of social and economic organisation for large segments of Irans rural population for the centuries leading up to the radical changes of the second half of the 20th century.”

Badger Women in Abyaneh

Dr Young continues: “The aims of our work in this area, are to record and analyse the material culture of Landlord Villages in order to further understand the social and economic relationships between landlord and farmers and between farmers. We also consider the creation and expression of identity within these villages and hope to provide a model of spatial analysis linked to function which can potentially be applied to self-contained settlements at different points in history and prehistory.” This is the third season of work on the project, which has thus far comprised planning, excavation and interviews of locals. Dr Young hopes to get to the bottom of the villages’ abandonment, and to teach more about the impact of the revolution on the hierarchical structures of Iran’s rural areas.

Image by Hamed Saber.

Experts Hunt for Lost Mycenaean City

Inside Lions Gate at Mycenae

Plato first mentioned the lost city of Atlantis around 2,400 years ago. But now a team of American archaeologists are unearthing the secrets of a 3,500-year-old partially submerged city lying in the Saronic Gulf of Greece.

Lying 60 miles southwest of the modern capital Athens, ‘Korphos-Kalamianos’ is just miles away from the ancient city of Mycenae and was most likely built between 1400 – 1200 BC.

Florida State University professor Daniel J. Pullen and the University of Pennsylvania’s Assistant Professor of Classical Studies Thomas F. Tartaron discovered the site whilst conducting an initial 2007 study.

Pullen claims the pair were ecstatic at the way the sea had preserved their astonishing find. “Because of soil erosion and tectonic subsidence (via earthquakes), much of the soil had already been stripped from the site. So the architectural remains of about 20 acres of closely built structures were plainly visible.”

So far the team have already identified many foundations and walls – some as high as five metres – which indicate to Pullen the use of the sunken city:

“All of the structures were laid out in a grid pattern, which suggests that the entire community was planned and then built all at once, rather than piecemeal. This would indicate that the settlement was built with some strategic purpose, perhaps as a military or naval outpost.”

“We have identified some fortification walls with gates on the inland side of Korphos-Kalamianos,” Pullen adds, “which does suggest that the town had at least some role as a fortress, possibly to protect the harbour.”

Pullen and Tartaron initially travelled to the site with high-tech devices such as Global Positioning Systems. However they have brought five FSU students and two alumni along on this summer’s follow-up trip, when they plan to work in conjunction with Greece’s department of underwater antiquities on a bathymetric (depth) study of the area. And Pullen is confident that the three-year project, entitled Saronic Harbours Archaeological Research Project (SHARP), can unlock more secrets of the area’s Bronze Age coastline.

Image by Leslie.

Prehistoric Settlement Discovered on Isle of Man

An 8,000-year-old human dwelling has been uncovered during construction of an airport runway on the Isle of Man, thought to be the island’s oldest. The startling breakthrough at Douglas Ronaldsway Airport was made just a year after experts unearthed a Bronze Age village nearby, which is believed to have been ravaged by fire in a prehistoric tragedy. A 5,000-year-old human skull has also been found in the area, as well as several artefacts including jewellery and over 12,000 woked pieces of flint. So far an area the size of over 20 football (soccer) pitches has been excavated, with many more finds expected until the project ends in December. And though radiocarbon dating results are yet to be confirmed, experts are confident this latest find is the island’s oldest; predating Stonehenge by up to 3,000 years.

Oxford Archaeology North (OAN)have taken on the mantle of the site’s excavation, with Manx National Heritage (MNH) paying close attention on behalf of the airport. MNH field archaeologist Andrew Johnson tells Isle of Man Today: “Archaeologists hesitate to call a structure of this kind a “house”, because the received wisdom is that 8,000 years ago people constantly moved through the landscape as nomads, gathering their food from the land, rather than staying put and farming and harvesting it. But this building was constructed from substantial pieces of timber, and had a hearth for cooking and warmth.

‘Its occupants lived here often, or long enough to leave behind over 12,000 pieces of worked flint together with the tools needed to flake them, and food debris in the form of hundreds of hazelnut shells.” The discovery is already garnering plenty of attention, with the BBC allegedly wanting to film an episode of their British Heritage series Coast in the area. Mr Johnson adds: “This is by far the largest archaeological project to have been undertaken on the Island. The discoveries have been first-class and are sure to revise and improve understanding of prehistoric life in the Isle of Man.”

Image by Charlie Dave.

Ancient Raving: The Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness

Us in the ‘modern world’ tend to think we’ve got the market cornered for most things, and partying is no different. Clubs, drugs, drink and casual sex may be frowned upon even by our elders at times, but it seems those in the ancient world had rather less stringent morals when it came to partying hard. And new research suggests the neon-lit acid haze of the eighties was far from the first movement to find a love for rave culture. It seems that rolling stones had barely been invented before the ancient world was partying like Keith Richards on closing night.

To the fertile banks of the Nile circa 1470 – 1460 BC, and a seemingly bizarre festival of drunkenness whereby Egyptians would achieve a religious epiphany only after entering into a state of total inebriation. John Hopkins University’s Near Eastern Studies chair Betsy Bryan discovered a column revealing the hedonistic hacienda in a 2006 excavation at Luxor, and subsequently released the results, triumphantly entitled Sex, Drugs & Rock ‘n’ Roll in Ancient Egypt. Drunk students may have some pretty good excuses for rat-buttocked behaviour, but the Egyptian Festival of Drunkenness’ raison d’etre trumps anything ever uttered in a lecture hall at 9am. The ancient party centred on a myth in which the sun god Ra decides to wipe out humanity, then sends his daughter Hathor to earth in the form of a lioness. Hathor thus proceeds to devour every human she comes into contact with, while her father laments his decision and resolves to stop her. To end his daughter’s rampage, Ra floods all of Upper Egypt with red-tinted beer which looks like blood. Hathor then drinks the pungent cocktail, falls paralytically drunk, and mankind is saved.

To pay tribute to the tale, Egyptians would consume themselves into unconsciousness in the name of lioness deities, thinking they needed to get them drunk to keep them from doing ill. The annual event, celebrated over 20 days following the flooding of the farmland around the Nile, would involve drinking and promiscuity which would have been deemed immoral any other time of year. Some would even supplement their toxicity by taking the drug lotus, and loud music would be played all night until even the hardiest ravers had seen and taken enough. Bleary-eyed boozers would be rudely awoken early the next morning by a chorus of heavy drum-beating, and at this point they were said to have experienced the goddess to whom they were partying. Wow: those guys at the Hacienda really were late on the scene. Still, if anyone has been involved in a university freshers’ week, they’ll understand that drinking today can still take on religious qualities.

Image by Jan.

In and Around Ancient and Prehistoric London: Kent

London may be one of the world’s greatest cities with a plethora of stunning heritage and monstrous museums, but no visit to England is complete without seeing some of the south of England’s incredible green scenery. Beginning on the south-eastern top of Greater London and stretching all the way down to the English Channel, Kent is not only one of England’s largest counties but one of its most beautiful. Luscious rolling hills and miles of green expanse give some parts of the area a Middle-Earthly look, and its villages and hamlets are among the nation’s most picturesque. Kent is also notable for its strategic location, being the first port-of-call from mainland Europe. As such it has been the backdrop for some of England’s most decisive events. The Roman invasion, Saxon conquests, 1066? All in Kent, and some of the area’s amazing sights gush forth the frothing history of this hotbed of historic significance. Most of the monuments in this list are just a short train ride from the centre of London (usually via Charing Cross or London Bridge), so there’s no excuse for missing any of these awesome spectacles if you’re visiting London from foreign climes, or even if you’re a Londoner yourself. There’ll be more of these lists to come, covering the counties circumventing the city, but for now sit back and see if you agree with this top five Kentish ancient and prehistoric sites. If there’s anything you disagree with feel free to rant and rave via the comments box.

5. Quex Museum (Powell Cotton Museum), Brichington

Located in Kent’s north-eastern tip near Margate, Quex Museum and its lavish gardens and mansion leap out of their surroundings like a lion at a tiger’s tea party. However the stunning Victorian manor is also home to an intriguing museum, which contains some of the best collections of weaponry and African ethnographic items in Britain. Dioramas of exotic animalia dominate much of the museum’s floorspace, but there’s also a hefty collection of archaeological artefacts from the local area, unearthed in the 20th century by founder Percy Powell-Cotton’s daughter Antoinette. Objects excavated include Bronze Age, Roman, Saxon and Medieval antiquities, and there is even a small cache of Chinese porcelain. Not so much a hidden beauty, but a surprising one nonetheless.

4. Canterbury Roman Museum, Canterbury

Canterbury Roman Museum

The stunning city of Canterbury, home to the famous Anglican bishop, is worth a visit any time for its castle, cathedral, ramparts and no shortage of glorious British pubs. But the city was once an important Roman trading post called Durovernum Cantiacorum, a heritage proudly celebrated by the Canterbury Roman Museum. In its modest layout you’ll find daily Roman scenes brought to life in dioramas and the reproduction of a market complete with shoe seller, fabric maker and fruit ‘n’ veg stall. Remains on display include houses and streets, as well as some fantastic mosaics, long since covered by millennia of waste and decay. A great addition to a visit to an already essential city.

3. Dover Museum, Dover

Dover, once name Dubris, was a pulsating hub of commerce and commotion on the frontiers of the Roman empire, and its rich history as a stepping stone to the European mainland is looked at in great detail at Dover’s old museum. Its three floors include archaeological remnants of the area’s prehistoric, Roman, Saxon and medieval history – and it is also home to the world’s oldest seagoing boat, the Dover Bronze Age Boat, which got its own gallery in 1999. The Victorian-fronted building is a great example of the area’s architecture alone, and this museum makes a fine addition to a city high on heritage.

2. The Medway Megaliths, Medway area

This group of six Neolithic chambered barrows and other megaliths is scattered across the area around the Medway river, and comprises the Culdrum Stones, Addington long barrow, Chestnuts long barrow, Kit’s Coty House, the Countless Stones and the Coffin Stone. Addington and the Coffin Stone are in a somewhat sad state of disrepair, but the other four landmarks are fantastic sights, and can be covered as part of a fun day out in Kent’s countryside. Kit’s Coty in particular provides the viewer with some great photo opportunities, and a real insight into the people who must have used the river as their lifeline thousands of years ago. It’s also important to push the stones as worthy visits, as Kent’s Neolithic past is rarely documented nowadays, and these great monuments must be protected from vandalism and neglect, which is what caused much of their the past few centuries.

1. Richborough Roman Fort and Amphitheatre, Richborough

Richborough Castle (remains), Kent (1977)

Could any landmark so sweetly sum up the beauty of Kent? Richborough, once known as Rutupiae, is widely agreed to have been the landing point for the Roman invasion of 43 AD, and its staggered ramparts and cross-shaped centre make for spectacular viewing. Sacked by Saxons, the fort and its town were important trading posts from Britannia to the rest of the empire, and its glory was edified with a triumphant arch, the foundations of which can still be seen today. It still has to be visited by boat across its lagoon, and the local surroundings make Richborough one of the county’s best vistas, regardless of era.

So make sure you cement a Kentish trip with a visit to at least a couple of these fantastic sites. Also worth a special mention is Lullingstone’s fantastic Roman villa, which is just one of a myriad great villas in Britain. Watch this space for more home counties guides, and escape to the countryside this summer!

Images by Matthew Reames and Duncan Campbell.

Discover Ancient London With the HK Google Earth Flyover

London is a massive metropolis, buzzing with energy and bags of history to boot. Well now you can see the city’s top ancient sights, all handily presented in our custom Google Earth flyover. For there’s plenty more to London than its monstrous museums – though they’re all pretty good too – and this map gives you the chance to plan a first-time visit, tell a friend or just take a day out to explore London’s proud heritage. There’s no shortage of events either; check our calendar page for the pick of the city’s listings, which include this year’s British Archaeology Festival. In short London’s a fantastic place to get your fill of the ancient world, and our map makes seeing all its ancient nooks and crannies just that bit easier.

The tour below utilises aerial photography with 3D models to give a realistic and innovative look at how the ancient world still exists in our very modern world. The tour is complete with clickable Heritage Key logos, which will link you to articles on this website, as well as photographs from our Heritage Key Flickr photo pool.

The tour enables you to fly over and explore the sites and their surroundings, and where you see a Heritage Key logo, you can click it and you’ll see more information about the adjacent landmark.

To view this Google Earth Tour, you will need to download additional software created by Google. You will require Google Earth 5.0 which will need to be installed in order to explore the aerial photography in a 3D environment. Once the software is installed, you will need to return to this webpage and download Google Earth Plugin (Your browser should meet minimum requirements). the Plugin can be downloaded by selecting it in the panel below:

To open webpages in a new window, right click the link in the information window and select “Open link in new window”. This will enable you to view the link in a full web browser.

You can also download this tour to your computer by clicking here, selecting “Save” and then running the file. It will automatically open Google Earth and begin the Heritage Key: London Tour

Escape to a Roman Villa this Weekend

You’ve just finished a Calippo, had a lunchtime cider and staggered towards the tube in shorts and flip flops – and not a green leaf in site. You stumble onto a packed train and instantly lose ten pints of water, face buried in the pungent pits of a Bulgarian banker. You could go to the city’s myriad museums this weekend to grab a piece of the ancient world – but why not escape the madness of the metropolis, and get your fix outside the city limits? Three beautiful Roman villas are waiting for you with open arms, and stunning scenery. All you have to do is jump on a train (or car – or even bicycle if you’re feeling really intrepid/suicidal). Not only will you be able to breathe easy once again, but you’ll also get a slice of daily Roman life you can’t get from looking inside dusty cabinets.

1. Lullingstone Roman Villa, near Eynsford, Kent

Chedworth Bath House Mosaic

Located only a stone’s throw from the M25 and 45 minutes from London Victoria, Eynsford is a stunning little town which exudes Kentish charm (I should know, it’s pretty near where I’m from), and houses no small number of great beer gardens (essential for the summer sun). Yet it’s Lullingstone Villa, half a mile down the road, which provides the area’s most intrigue. A second century AD luxury pad, the villa is thought to have once housed the family of Pertinax, the Roman governor of Britannia who briefly took the Roman leadership in 193. Its impressive surroundings hold mosaics, busts and other artwork. However it’s the villa’s chapel – first pagan, then Christian – which provides some stunning history up close and personal, and is thought to have been one of Britannia’s first Christian chapels. Kids can also try on Roman clothes, or play some ancient games.

2. Brading Roman Villa, Brading, Isle of Wight

How about a break from the mainland? Brading Roman Villa is a fantastic museum which chronicles the villa’s history as an Iron Age settlement, to its 2nd century ADglory as a huge Roman residence, resplendent with the villa proper, mosaics, garden area and farm buildings. If you’re with children there’s plenty of activities to keep them occupied, and schools can go on guided tours of the premises. Brading is a great way to learn about everyday life nearly two thousand years ago – and the beaches aren’t half bad, either.

3. Chedworth Villa, Gloucestershire

Many people will be making the most of the sun to speed off towards the natural beauty and serenity of the West Country. So why not combine your stay with a visit to one of the country’s most picturesque ancient sites? Chedworth Roman Villa, located in the stunning village of the same name near Cheltenham, was found completely by accident by a gamekeeper in 1864. Since then it has fallen into the hands of the National Trust, who have painstakingly restored it to some of its former glory. Its floorplan includes hypocausts, a water-shrine, latrine, two mosaics and several fine mosaics – and there’s no small number of activities, tours and events run throughout the year by its owners.

So there’s three reasons to get out of the city this weekend – do you really need any more?

Festival of British Archaeology Opens This July

Summer‘s here – and if you hadn’t noticed from the lighter nights, sunny days and relaxed morals, the Council for British Archaeology are ready to officially launch the barbeque season with a festival on a truly mind-boggling scale: The Festival of British Arachaeology 2009.

From Saturday 18 July, the nation will become a hotbed of heritage fun, games and erudition as hundreds of venues the length and bredth of Britain lay on over 615 events celebrating archaeology and history in this country and many more. Maybe you want to join in on an excavation project? Or be taken on guided tour of your favourite local heritage sites? Events range wildly, from making your own Stonehenge souvenirs, to guided tours of Roman London, so you can be sure that whatever your historical bent, the festival will have something for you.

The fun-packed fortnight, ending August 2, is the result of the successes of National Archaeology Day, which began in 1990 and developed into National Archaeology Week. This year the Council, with funding from English Heritage, has extended the festivities further to cater for huge public demand, and you can find out what’s going on in your area using the official website’s search interface.

The festival even caters for kids with their Young Archaeologists’ Club, and Scottish enthusiasts can check out the Scottish Archaeology Month website to see yet more events in their area. This year promises to be the biggest British archaeology Festival ever, so don’t miss your chance to get stuck in to some serious fun this summer!

Full listings will be coming to the site soon, with reviews and previews of some of the best events.

Image by Sophie Cringle.