Thursday, July 31, 2014
Adze Axe-like wood-working tool, but with blade at right-angles to the handle, used with pick-like motion.
Awl A pointed tool of flint, bone or bronze, used for making holes in skins, etc.
Barrow An earthen burial mound, either circular or rectangular in plan.
Burin Engraving or piercing tool, used with rotary action.
Berm Flat platform separating a mound or bank from a quarry ditch.
Cairn A heap of stones, varying in size, usually covering a burial.
Carinated A shoulder or sharp change in direction in the profile of a pot.
Chape Decorative terminal of a sword scabbard.
Cist Small rectangular pit lined with stone slabs and covered with a capstone; often a grave.
Corbelling Roofing method in which successive layers of stone rise one above the other and overlap inwards until they meet.
Cursus Long, narrow parallel-sided enclosure of the neolithic period.
Dolerite Basaltic type rock used for making axes, also in the construction of Stonehenge.
Dysse Long megalithic burial mound found in Denmark.
Gabbroic clay Clay containing crystals of the igneous rock gabbro from the Lizard peninsula.
Graver Engraving tool made from pointed, longitudinal flake, used with a straight action.
Hafted axe Axe with a wooden handle.
Halberd Bronze Age dagger at right angles to a wooden handle with metal rivets.
Henge Later neolithic circular enclosure surrounded by a bank and internal ditch, broken by one or more entrances.
Hunebeden Long megalithic burial mound found in the Netherlands.
Inhumation An unburnt human burial.
Machair Gaelic word describing lush meadowland.
Mattock Heads Pick-like tool with chisel shaped blade.
Megalithic Constructed of large stones, e.g. Stonehenge.
Midden Rubbish dump, often composed of discarded shells, bones or charcoal.
Quern Two stones used for grinding corn, either by rubbing backwards and forwards, or revolving one upon another
Revetment A facing of timber, stone or turf intended to stop the sides of a bank or mound collapsing.
Scalene triangle Unequal sided microlith, probably used as an arrow tip.
Sherds Fragments of broken pottery.
Skeuomorph An imitation.
Spelt A species of wheat: triticum spelta.
Tanged Projection at base of dagger or arrowhead used to fasten it to a handle.
Temenos Spacious enclosure of ‘consecrated’ land, attached to a temple.
Trepanation A form of brain surgery practised in the Bronze Age.
Posted by Mitch Williamson at 9:26 AM
Wednesday, July 16, 2014
Lead by archaeologist Nick Card, a team opened eight exploratory trenches in the first season. It was soon confirmed the unremarkable rounded ridge was entirely artificial and finds near the surface indicated the structures could tentatively be dated to the late Neolithic period, or around 2300 BC. Neolithic buildings of this shape and size were unknown prior to this and what had been an inconsequential hillock on a little spit of land had become the United Kingdom's historical discovery of the decade!
Since then, excavations at the Ness of Brodgar have occurred each summer season and it's been described by many who have worked here as the archaeologist's dream site. Its clean walls, copious finds and limited later construction on the hill's surface means the remains are providing more information about this period than any other excavation has before. Only around 10-15% of the site has been cleared thus far and already it's overwhelmed even the most cynical historian.
For the first four years, speculation continued to rage about its purpose. Nothing had been found like this in Britain and internationally, the only relatable sites were two in Malta. Although the Ness site was originally ventured to be a settlement, what ancient settlement required outer walls to be more than two metres thick? No one had ever seen rectangular Neolithic houses with multiple, erraticallysized entrances. The evidence didn't fit with a settlement. So, perhaps it was a temple? However, Neolithic-period temples are so rare in Europe, this loaded term would only be committed to with indisputable evidence. This mystery was enticing and aroused the imagination of everyone who laid eyes on the excavation.
Piece by piece, season by season, the earth was scraped back. Constructed of skilfully stacked flat slate pieces, individual buildings rose between pathways, odd hearths appeared in doorways, the strange and enormous enclosure wall seemed to force passage through the precinct and hundreds of artefacts emerged, all dating to before the Bronze Age. Patterned and even painted stones were uncovered, testifying in its heyday, the structures would have been colourful and eye-catching. The finds included both whale ivory and stone mace heads (symbols of status), a small fired-clay figure now called `The Brodgar Boy', slabs of rock engraved with geometric patterns and an ingeniously carved stone ball.
Most importantly, there was a telling lack of domestic flints, pottery and household waste which usually accompanied settlement. There was no other explanation, it had to be ceremonial.
Archaeologists can now conclude that on the Ness of Brodgar is one of the rarest of rare Neolithic temple complexes. And, just as amazing, is that while the Salisbury Plain henges and ceremonial pathways bear a striking resemblance to these monuments, they are several centuries younger. The discovery of the Ness complex, its purpose and significance had literally turned British prehistory on its head. Evidence suggests the temple had functioned for a thousand years. It had endured multiple rebuilds by the local farming communities who dedicated their sacred space to the seasons and landscape from which the were entirely governed. They worshipped pagan gods and ancestors by performing cleansing and passage ceremonies and most likely progressed from building to building as part of this ritual, leaving hundreds of sacred objects behind for their deities.
Then, approximately 600 years after the complex was first built, the massive Ring of Brodgar was constructed to the north and the temple's internal buildings were replaced with a single, large structure (25 x 25 metres/82 x 82 feet). Archaeologists have conjectured that for the next three centuries, the single building and Ring to the north became the final destination on a sacred pilgrimage from life to death.
Finally, the Ness of Brodgar temple, already ancient by its own standards, went out of use in around 2300 BC. Evidence points to the locals heralding the end of the temple's era with a momentous party that could have lasted days and hosted masses of people. This is known because just beside the enclosure wall was a pile of bones of approximately six-hundred cattle, all carbon dated to the same time of approximately 2300 BC. Six-hundred cattle can feed ten-thousand people and cut and burn marks indicate they feasted well.
After the cattle slaughter, no further evidence remains to support further use and either by the natural progression of time, or even by the partiers themselves, the walls were pulled down and the foundations buried. A new era of technology had begun - the Bronze Age - forever changing religious practices and beliefs and the old temple was sent extravagantly back into the earth where it lay in secret for 4000 years until a geophysicist and his modern machine stumbled across it.
Saturday, May 3, 2014
The southern tip of the Mesopotamian plains with the approximate shore of the Persian Gulf and the location of important sites mentioned in the text. After Susan Pollock, 1999. Ancient Mesopotamia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
The land of Sumer - southern Mesopotamia from south of Baghdad to the marshlands at the head of the Persian Gulf - has been called the `heartland of cities'. Here we find ample evidence for two major developments in human history: the beginnings of urban life and the formation of the first states. Many theories on these landmark developments rely on archaeological data from this region. Although these theories may debate the causes, mechanisms, and relationships between urbanism and state formation, they agree that cities and states developed in the context of a rich agricultural regime dependent on the fertile alluvial plains created by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
The earliest phases of settled life in Mesopotamia began farther north and it was not until the early sixth millennium BC, with the emergence of the `Ubaid culture, that villages and small towns appeared in Sumer. Archaeological evidence from `Ubaid settlements suggests a gradual change toward increasing socioeconomic complexity. However, as town dwelling in Sumer was undergoing its organic development, some evidence suggests that the shift to urbanism involved the introduction of a new form of settlement, the `city-state', that came to characterize Sumer later in the Early Dynastic period (c. 2900-2334 BC). Each city-state consisted of an urban center exercising control over a hinterland of a 15-20 km radius, dotted with smaller settlements engaged in the production and collection of foodstuffs. An underlying feature of each urban center was the Sumerian concept that each was the dwelling of a particular god or goddess, the patron deity of the city (and the state) whose temple formed the city's focal point. Cities and states emerged from these temple-based settlements, the first example of which can perhaps be witnessed at Eridu.
According to Sumerian literature, Eridu was the first city to receive kingship from the gods in antediluvial times. Eridu was the site of e'-bazu, the temple of Enki, the supreme deity of the Sumerian pantheon and god of subterranean freshwater. Construction of a modest mudbrick building at Eridu at the southernmost edge of the alluvial plain during the early `Ubaid period marks an important landmark in human history. This building - interpreted as a shrine - is superimposed by foundations of 15 increasingly larger structures, and finally by a ziggurat for Enki built by kings of the Third Dynasty of Ur some 3500 years later. The superimposition of the buildings, from the modest examples of earlier levels to the elaborate examples of upper levels to the Ziggurat of Enki, stressed the sanctity of this location.
Little is known about the settlement surrounding these early shrines, but the largest recorded `Ubaid cemetery was discovered here, with an estimated 800-1000 graves showing evidence for social differentiation.
The pattern observed at Eridu may have been repeated at other sites. For example, the city of Uruk was also founded during the `Ubaid period. Beneath the temple precinct of the goddess Inanna (called Eanna, `house of heaven'), deep soundings have reached buildings that may have been cultic structures similar to those at Eridu.
At this time, the head of the Persian Gulf was about 80 km northwest of its present location with the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers each forming its own delta. This turned the area around Uruk into a wellwatered, alluvial, and marshy land that allowed a rich agricultural regime to flourish.
By the end of the `Ubaid period, Uruk was a town of modest size, but it grew gradually throughout the following Uruk period (traditionally associated by archaeologists with state formation), experiencing a surge from the Middle Uruk to Jemdet Nasr periods (3600-2900 BC), and reaching 400 ha by the Early Dynastic II period (c. 2700 BC). Surveys of the Uruk countryside suggest that there was a continuous migration of people into the city, leading to the abandonment of many smaller settlements. Middle Uruk period settlement patterns indicate a four-level administrative hierarchy for the region, interpreted by archaeologists as a marker of a state system.
Excavated evidence from the city also suggests state institutions. In the Eanna precinct, a series of monumental buildings were discovered, but most date to later phases of the Uruk period. The so-called Limestone Temple, Stone Building, and Stone Cone Temple, all with foundations made from limestone slabs quarried from the Arabian Shelf some 80km east of the city, date to the Uruk V period (c. 3600 BC) when, presumably, a state was already in place. In the next phase (Uruk IV), several other monumental buildings were constructed around the Great Court, including Buildings A-E, Hall of Pillars, Hall of Round Pillars, and the Subterranean Building made from `riemchen' (a kind of small brick with a square cross section). In the Uruk IV period, the appearance of the earliest protocuneiform numerical tablets, apparently used to record economic transactions, is also observed.
In the Late Uruk period, a mudbrick wall was constructed around the city that was rebuilt on a larger scale in the Early Dynastic I period (c. 2900 BC). Sumerian texts attribute this undertaking to Gilgamesh, the semi-mythical ruler of Uruk. To archaeologists, the construction of a wall signals the rise of other competing polities.
By the Early Dynastic II period (c. 2750-2600 BC), the land of Sumer was divided among as many as 35 city-states. Some, including Lagash, Umma, Ur, Isin, Shuruppak, and Adab, played a more important political or military role. Two lines of evidence indicate the consolidation of states in this time: royal titles indicating established kingship, and buildings interpreted as palaces. The most solid evidence for both comes from the quintessential Sumerian city Kish.
Kish.The city of Kish in the northernmost part of Sumer was also founded during the `Ubaid period. Kish expanded and attained prominence in the Early Dynastic period, when it was considered to be where the kingship descended from heaven after the Great Flood. The prestigious title `King of Kish' signified, at least nominally, political hegemony over the land of Sumer. The authority of the king of Kish derived from military might as well as a coalition among several city-states, evidence for which comes from seal impressions from Ur and Jemdet Nasr.
Excavations at Kish are more limited than at Eridu or Uruk, but the first example of a Mesopotamian palace was discovered here in Area A. To the northwest of this palace (in Area P), a large building with extensive storage facilities and thick buttressed walls may have been another palace or a heavily fortified administrative building. Also in the Early Dynastic period, at least two structures were built at Kish that have been interpreted as ziggurats, perhaps dedicated to Zababa, the important god of Kish.
With the rise of Sargon of Agade, Sumerian city-states lost their autonomy and were absorbed into the Akkadian Empire. Some attempts were later made to revive the city-state form of government, for example, during the Isin-Larsa period (2017-1763 BC), but the nature of Mesopotamian government had already shifted from city-states to polities oriented toward inter-regional hegemony.
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
French archaeologist Cecile Paresys stands next to the bones of two Gauls.
On a muddy field between a motorway and a meander of the Seine south-east of Paris, French archaeologists have uncovered an Iron Age graveyard they believe will shed light on the great yet enigmatic civilisation of Gaul.
Archaeologist Emilie Millet recently crouched at one of 14 burial sites that have been uncovered in the past few weeks after a nine-year excavation of the 260-hectare site.
At her feet were the remains of a tall warrior, complete with a 70-centimetre iron sword still in its scabbard.
"I have never seen anything like it," she said, gazing at a metal-framed shield whose wood-and-leather core has long rotted away.
Buried next to the warriors are several women, whose jewellery - twisted-metal necklaces known as torcs, and large bronze brooches decorated with precious coral - also speak of high status.
In one grave, a woman was buried next to a man, separated by a layer of soil.
"This graveyard is exceptional in more ways than one," said the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap), which excavates sites of potential interest before the bulldozers are allowed in.
The jewellery suggests the dead were buried between 325 and 260 BC, in a period known as La Tene.
Another clue may come from analysis of the scabbards, whose decoration changed according to military fashion.
Designs in this period typically had two open-mouthed dragons facing each other, with their bodies curled.
La Tene, whose name comes from an archaeological site in Switzerland, ran from about the 5th century BC to the first century AD, marking the glory years of the Celts.
During this time, the Celts expanded from their core territory in central Europe to as far afield as northern Scotland and the Atlantic coast of Spain.
They clashed with the emerging Roman empire, whose writers recorded the invaders as pale-skinned savages, dressed in breeches with bleached hair, who cut off their enemies' heads, preserving those of high rank in cedar oil.
The barbarian image, though, has been dispelled by historical research in recent decades.
It has laid bare a complex civilisation that had a mastery of metal and a trading system which spanned Europe and generated great wealth.
The find at Bucheres raises several questions, for there has never been any trace of major Celtic settlement in the neighbourhood.
The graves were uncovered at a depth of about two metres but if they had any external markers, none remain.
An earlier civilisation, from the Bronze Age, left a line of burial mounds nearby, "which would have been visible for miles around," said Inrap archaeologist Cecile Paresys.
Just as intriguing, the excavation has yet to find any pottery or evidence of food, which were often added to Iron Age burials to sustain the dead in the spirit world.
No remains of children have been found, although this absence is common to Celtic necropolises - something that anthropologists are at a loss to explain.
Years of patient forensic work lie ahead to tease out clues about how these people lived and died. In the meantime, the remains are being recorded where they lie before being gently prised from the earth and preserved.
A team of archaeologists say they have discovered the almost complete remains of a Roman gladiator school on the banks of the Danube River in Austria and virtually recreated the site.
The team, announcing their findings in the journal Antiquity, say the "spectacular" find at Carnuntum was mapped and virtually reconstructed using non-invasive techniques such as aerial surveys, electromagnetic induction and ground-penetrating radar.
"The resulting archaeological maps and plans of individual buildings, streets and Roman infrastructure allow the virtual reconstruction of the city layout and the development of ancient land and townscapes in two and three dimensions," they said.
"Although some 100 ludi are thought to have existed in the Roman Empire, almost all have been destroyed or built over," the Austrian, Belgian and German team said.
Excavations in the late 19th and early 20th centuries revealed many elements of the Carnuntum complex including a legionary fortress and town, but the ludus was only discovered in 2011.
Carnuntum was the capital of Upper Pannonia in Roman times and a major trading centre for amber.
Its archaeological park contains the ruins of amphitheatres, Roman baths and the remains of a monumental arch known as Heidentor.
800,000-year-old footprints found in Norfolk, Britain; oldest ancient human footprints found outside Africa
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Footprints left by ancient humans 800,000 years ago have been found in Britain, the earliest evidence of such markings outside Africa.
The only older footprints found so far are at Laetoli in Tanzania, at about 3.5 million years old, and at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya at about 1.5 million years, researchers said.
"This is an extraordinarily rare discovery," Nick Ashton of the British Museum, who led the research team, said.
The find came at an archaeological site that has yielded several previous discoveries of stone tools and fossil bones, including mammoth remains.
The researchers found the prints at low tide when waves washed away much of the beach sand to expose the silt below.
"At first we weren't sure what we were seeing but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, perhaps human footprints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible before the sea eroded it away," Dr Ashton said.
The group of early humans that left the footprints appeared to have consisted of at least one male and several smaller people believed to be females and youngsters, the researchers said.
"They are clearly a family group rather than a hunting party," Dr Ashton said.
Footprint owners estimated to be about as tall as modern humansAnalysis of the prints found that they were from a "range of adult and juvenile foot sizes" equating to modern shoe sizes of up to British 7 or 8.
The researchers estimated that the height of the ancient humans who left the prints varied from about 0.9 metres to over 1.7 metres, not far off the height of modern humans.
They were dated at 800,000 years old partly on the basis of the site's geological position beneath glacial deposits, but also because the fossils there come from now-extinct types of mammoth and horse and early forms of vole that were alive at that time.
But the question of exactly what type of ancient humans left their footprints in the sands of time remains a mystery.
They may have been related to people of a similar period in history found in Atapuerca in Spain, assigned to the species Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man, said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum.
"These people were of a similar height to ourselves and were fully bipedal," he said.
Homo antecessor apparently became extinct in Europe 600,000 years ago and was perhaps replaced by the species Homo heidelbergensis, followed by the Neanderthals from about 400,000 years ago, and eventually modern humans some 40,000 years ago.