Broch, Crannog and Hillfort

Wednesday, December 31, 2014





Wednesday, December 10, 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.

Giant mosaic floor uncovered in mysterious Alexander the Great-era tomb in Amphipolis, Greece

Friday, October 17, 2014

The mosaic depicts Hermes, the messenger of the gods in front of a horse drawn chariot.

An imposing mosaic of a man driving a chariot has been uncovered in the largest antique tomb ever found in Greece.

Archaeologists unearthed the tomb dating to the time of Alexander the Great in August at Amphipolis in northern Macedonia.

The mosaic dates from the 4th century BC.

Tiny pieces of white, black, blue, red, yellow and grey create a picture of a chariot drawn by two white horses, driven by a bearded man wearing a crown of laurel leaves.

Hermes, the messenger of the gods in ancient Greece, stands in front of the chariot.

"This mosaic, the largest on the site, measures 4.5 metres by three metres and is not completely uncovered," the Greek culture ministry said in a statement.

Archaeologists think the magnificence of the tomb means it was built for someone very important.
There is widespread speculation over who was buried at the site: from Roxana, Alexander's Persian wife, to Olympias, the king's mother, to one of his generals.

"The tomb is definitely dated to the period following the death of Alexander the Great [in 323BC], but we cannot say who it belonged to," supervising archaeologist Katerina Peristeri said.

Built on the banks of the river Strymon, 60 kilometres from the modern city of Serres, Amphipolis was an important city of the ancient Macedonian kingdom under Alexander.

Roxana and her son Alexander were exiled to Amphipolis and murdered there on the orders of the Macedonian king Cassander around 310BC.

There were no suggestions the tomb could have belonged to Alexander himself, who died in Babylon, in present-day Iraq.


Anglo-Saxon Farm and Field

Monday, October 6, 2014

Diagram illustrating the resources exploited at the early Anglo-Saxon settlement at Bishopstone, Sussex. The evidence from the buildings and the cemetery is shown in the centre, surrounded by the resources derived from the sea-shore, arable fields, pasture and the Weald (data: Bell 1977)

An Anglo-Saxon farmstead could draw on a variety of environments to maintain the supply of essential resources. The evidence recovered from excavations emphasises that the landscape was being fully utilised by the inhabitants of farms, or groups of farms, dispersed across the landscape. 

The extent of utilisation is exemplified by the settlement and cemetery excavated on a hilltop overlooking the English Channel at Bishopstone, Sussex, (Bell 1977). In the fifth century buildings were erected over an earlier farm and fields. In the pastures stood sheep, cattle and a few horses and roaming more freely were geese, fowl and cats. Growing in the arable fields during the summer months would have been a crop of barley amongst which various weeds were growing, including fat-hen, common orache and black bindweed. The food produced in this way was supplemented by marine resources: mussels, limpets and periwinkles gathered on the foreshore, conger eel from the lower shore and whiting taken from the sea; nets were made on the farm. The animals not only provided dairy products, meat, leather and wool for clothing; bone was used to make such things as combs, weaving tools and netting needles. In nearby woodland pigs were reared, and red and roe deer were hunted. Also taken from the woodland were oak, hawthorn and hornbeam used for building, for fuel and for the wooden implements found in the adjacent cemetery. Clay and ironstone were brought from the Weald to manufacture pottery, spindle-whorls, loomweights and a variety of iron implements including nails, knives, spears and shield fittings. Copperalloy and silver items were manufactured or acquired and eventually buried, along with considerable quantities of other material, as gravegoods in the community's cemetery. 

This picture of subsistence agriculture varies little between settlements and any minor variations may be seen as the result of local environmental, social or cultural differences, survival or the recovery technique used in excavation. Some of the differences are most marked; for instance at Cowdery's Down, Hampshire, the large proportion of cattle bones is the result of the discovery of a complete cow on a site where generally few animal bones were found. There is generally little variation in the quantities of bones of each species found on settlements; at West Stow, Suffolk, the proportions of animal species and the particular bones were the same in all types of context.

The settlement of West Stow was located on the banks of the River Lark in the relatively dry Breckland region of East Anglia. This is reflected in the animal bone recovered (West 1985; Crabtree 1985, 1989a, 1989b). The environment was quite different from that at Bishopstone: the valley provided good pasture, while the river itself was home to fish and water fowl; the river terraces supplied good farmland; and away from the river terraces the higher slopes provided rough grazing. Analysis suggested that hunting of deer and other wild mammals and of birds was rare and that at all stages in the settlement's history cattle, sheep and goat, pig, horse, geese and chickens provided the majority of the meat diet; cats and dogs were present but apparently were not eaten. Typically the commonest domesticated animal was the sheep or goat, which was increasing in importance throughout the period in preference to cattle, unlike Continental settlements where sheep are less common. The sheep at West Stow were being used mainly for a combination of meat production and dairying, with a small amount of wool being used for domestic purposes (West 1985:93). Cattle at this time were generally goodsized, perhaps the result of the provision of reasonable grazing and implying successful husbandry. Horseflesh was more commonly eaten in earlier periods and on contemporary settlements on the Continent than at West Stow. The third most common animal found at West Stow was the pig which was being consumed in large numbers during the early fifth century. 

This is surprising when the Brecklands are more suitable for sheep-rearing. Pigs were comparatively rare on the Continent at this time. Crabtree suggests (1989a: 210) that this may be because of the time it would have taken settlers to establish their herds of sheep and cattle; pigs on the other hand `mature quickly and multiply rapidly' and would be very suitable for such circumstances. This assumes, however, that the shape of the system of animal husbandry was driven by the needs of migrants. However, the differences between meat consumption and kill-patterns in England and on the Continent suggest different cultural influences. In contrast there was no change in butchery techniques and killpatterns between early Anglo-Saxon West Stow and in local Romano-British samples and there is no evidence for the introduction of new breeds in the fifth century. The evidence indicates that native traditions of animal husbandry were a greater influence than any Continental traditions that might have been introduced with the migrations. 

At West Stow wild animals were not commonly hunted, their remains making up less than 1 per cent of the total. As a representation of the make-up of the diet this would seem to be typical although the quantity of wild animal bones does not necessarily convey their social importance. At West Stow these comprised red deer, roe deer, badger, hare, fox, beaver and the European brown bear as well as large water birds including teal, white-fronted goose, swan and crane. At Walton (Buckinghamshire) beavers, cranes, plover and redwing were identified (Farley 1976) but were equally rare. The infrequency with which wild animals were taken may be reflected in the similar rarity of the bow and arrow (Manley 1985). One bow was described by the excavator as about five feet in length' (Hillier 1856:30). In a Warwickshire cemetery, Bidford-on-Avon, were `several arrowheads of different patterns with closed sockets' (Humphreys et al. 1923:96- 7). The bow and arrow may be used as a weapon as well as for hunting game but it may be significant that not only are they rare in early Anglo-Saxon contexts but so also are other tools. The burial of weapons in graves appears to have been controlled by a particular set of rules and it may be significant that the bow and arrow is not included in that context. The rarity of the bow may also indicate that some hunting was restricted to particular social groups. 

Animal husbandry in the early Anglo-Saxon period appears to have been designed to satisfy immediate local needs, but evidence that the situation was changing towards the end of the period can be found by comparing such food resources with those at the earliest post-Roman urban and commercial centres in England; Hamwic, the middle-Saxon port of Southampton, and Ipswich (Suffolk) have both seen large-scale excavation and have produced useful assemblages of animal bone. Middle-Saxon rural settlements, like those earlier, were supplied with domestic animals as well as some wild ones, whereas the latter are rare at Hamwic (Bourdillon 1979; Crabtree 1989b). 

Although they were eventually eaten, the Hamwic sheep were not reared primarily for that purpose, and there are lower proportions of fowl and poultry than at early and middle- Saxon farms. The numbers of cattle on both rural and urban middle-Saxon settlements are very similar but their size is larger than their earlier counterparts suggesting some improvement, whereas there was no significant development in the size of pigs. The conclusion would seem to be that the early Anglo-Saxon countryside was managed differently, or not as efficiently, as in the following centuries. In the eighth and ninth centuries the killing age of domestic animals was earlier in rural contexts, whereas at Hamwic the bones do not reveal such early mortality, implying that the town, divorced from the wild, was not affected by the immediate hazards of the land or that it was supplied with animals of selected older age groups (Crabtree 1989b: 207). The early killing age at the early Anglo-Saxon settlement at Walton need not reflect success in animal husbandry.

The temple on the Ness of Brodgar

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. 

The temple on the Ness of Brodgar remains the most evocative of ancient sites discovered in Britain. Eight-five percent of this site still remains within the earth and many expect this once commonplace hill to surprise for many years to come.




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.

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.

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