Friday, February 16, 2018

Into the light: how lidar is replacing radar as the archaeologist’s map tool of choice

From the ground, structures in the dense Belize jungle were hard to map, but airborne lidar devices revealed details of a site that covered 200 sq km with agricultural terraces everywhere. 
Photograph: Caracol Archaeological Project, University of Central Florida

Colorado State University archaeologist Chris Fisher found out about lidar in 2009. He was surveying the ruins of Angamuco in west-central Mexico the traditional way, with a line of grad students and assistants walking carefully while looking at the ground for bits of ceramics, the remains of an old foundation or even a tomb.

He had expected to find a settlement, but instead he happened upon a major city of the Purepecha empire, rivals of the Aztecs in the centuries immediately preceding the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1519.

The site covered 13 sq km; traditional surveying would have taken years, so he turned to a technology that uses pulses of light to penetrate the forest and ground cover to reveal what lay beneath. “In two seasons we had surveyed only two square kilometres,” Fisher said. But with this new technology – lidar – “we mapped the entire city in 45 minutes.”

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Laser scanning reveals 'lost' ancient Mexican city 'had as many buildings as Manhattan'

Groundbreaking lidar scanning reveals the true scale of Angamuco, built by the Purépecha from about 900AD


Archaeology might evoke thoughts of intrepid explorers and painstaking digging, but in fact researchers say it is a high-tech laser mapping technique that is rewriting the textbooks at an unprecedented rate.
The approach, known as light detection and ranging scanning (lidar) involves directing a rapid succession of laser pulses at the ground from an aircraft.
The time and wavelength of the pulses reflected by the surface are combined with GPS and other data to produce a precise, three-dimensional map of the landscape. Crucially, the technique probes beneath foliage – useful for areas where vegetation is dense.
Earlier this month researchers revealed it had been used to discover an ancient Mayan city within the dense jungles of Guatemala, while it has also helped archaeologists to map the city of Caracol – another Mayan metropolis.
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Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Northumberland Bronze Age skeleton: Whose bones are these?

Sanita Nezirovic has been investigating the Bronze Age remains

Forensic scientists have been analysing Bronze Age bones found in a field - but how do they work out who the person was?

In September 2017, a farmer near Rock, Northumberland, preparing his field for drainage discovered a burial cist - or stone coffin - containing a skeleton and a jug.

Sanita Nezirovic, a lecturer in forensic science at the University of Derby, was tasked with finding out whose bones they were.

She has looked at the remains of hundreds of people, dating from the Bronze Age to modern times.

In each case she creates a "presumptive profile", detailing facts such as the person's sex, age and height.

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Bizarre 'Spider Stones' Found at Site of Neolithic Sun-Worshipers


Two of the 5,000-year-old "spider stones" unearthed on the Danish island on Bornholm.
Credit: Bornholm Museum

Strangely marked stones and other artifacts unearthed on the island of Bornholm in Denmark have raised new mysteries about a Neolithic sun-worshipping religion centered there about 5,000 years ago.

The new finds include "spider stones," inscribed with pattern like a spider's web, and a piece of copper from a time when the metal could not be made by the island's Stone Age inhabitants, say the researchers.

The handful of newfound spider stones look a little like hundreds of inscribed "sun stones" or "solar stones" — solsten in Danish — found since the 1990s amid the remains of an earthen-walled Neolithic enclosure, about 650 feet (200 m) across, at the Vasagard archaeological site on Bornholm in the Baltic Sea, between the southern tip of Sweden and the coast of Poland.

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8,000-Year-Old Heads on Stakes Found in Mysterious Underwater Grave

None of the human skulls had jaw bones. There was one human jaw bone at the site, but it wasn't associated with any of the skulls.

The discovery of a burial containing 8,000-year-old battered human skulls, including two that still have pointed wooden stakes through them, has left archaeologists baffled, according to a new study from Sweden.

It's hard to make heads or tails of the finding: During the Stone Age, the grave would have sat at the bottom of a small lake, meaning that the skulls would have been placed underwater. Moreover, of the remains of at least 11 adults placed on top of the grave, only one had a jawbone, the researchers said.

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Neanderthals' lack of drawing ability may relate to hunting techniques


Replica of drawing of lions painted in the Chauvet Cave. Art in the cave has been identified 
as created by early modern humans [Credit: UC Davis]

Neanderthals had large brains and made complex tools but never demonstrated the ability to draw recognizable images, unlike early modern humans who created vivid renderings of animals and other figures on rocks and cave walls. That artistic gap may be due to differences in the way they hunted, suggests a University of California, Davis, expert on predator-prey relations and their impacts on the evolution of behaviour.

Neanderthals used thrusting spears to bring down tamer prey in Eurasia, while Homo sapiens, or modern humans, spent hundreds of thousands of years spear-hunting wary and dangerous game on the open grasslands of Africa.

Richard Coss, a professor emeritus of psychology, says the hand-eye coordination involved in both hunting with throwing spears and drawing representational art could be one factor explaining why modern humans became smarter than Neanderthals.

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Major Neolithic ceremonial enclosure uncovered at Windsor

An aerial view of the site of the Neolithic causewayed enclosure 
[Credit: Wessex Archaeology]

A major 5,500 year old Neolithic ceremonial gathering place known as a causewayed enclosure has been partially uncovered within sight of Windsor Castle in Berkshire. The discovery was made at Riding Court Farm, near Datchet as part of CEMEX UK’s archaeological programme on the quarrying site, which is monitored on behalf of the local planning authority by Berkshire Archaeology.

Defined by encircling bank and ditch segments with gap entrances, such sites represent some of the earliest known acts of monument building in Britain. Around 80 monuments have been identified across Britain, and others are known on the Continent. The Riding Court causewayed enclosure may have been seasonally occupied, a place where communities gathered to undertake ceremonial feasting, exchange of goods, the marking of festivals and social obligations. Imported objects found in other enclosures suggest trade and exchange of exotic objects (stone axes and pottery), while evidence of feasting and human burials are known from other sites.

One feature is the deliberate consumption and wasting of meat and the exposure of human remains including the placing of skulls in the base of ditches. There are signs that pots were deliberately smashed perhaps as festivities came to a close.

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Mystery of 8,000-Year-Old Impaled Human Heads Has Researchers Stumped

Archaeologists have never before encountered this grisly phenomenon in Mesolithic Scandinavia, and they're hard-pressed to explain it.


Impaled Mesolithic Skull 
found on the bottom of a shallow lake in Kanaljorden #Sweden
ca. 7,000 years old 

In 2009, a new railway bridging southern Sweden's Motala Ström River was slated for construction. But then, archaeologists began turning up artifacts there that were thousands of years old. Over the next few years, animal bones, tools made from antlers, wooden stakes, and bits of human skull were found in the bog's lime sediment.

The remains belonged to Mesolithic hunter-gatherers, a group that existed around 8,000 years ago between the Old and New Stone Ages. These societies have been known to show respect for the bodily integrity of their dead—that is, until now. (Related: "Mysterious Graves Discovered at Ancient European Cemetery")

In 2011, Fredrik Hallgren of the Cultural Heritage Foundation led an archaeological project on the Kanaljorden excavation site near the Motala Ström River. When the team began excavating the site, they uncovered the first known instance of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers mounting human skulls on stakes. (Related: "Archaeologists Discover New Mass Grave From Notorious Shipwreck")

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Thursday, February 08, 2018

Discovery of Windsor neolithic monument excites archaeologists

Scientists expect to uncover entire circuit of causewayed enclosure at Berkshire quarry


An aerial view of the site of the Neolithic causewayed enclosure. 
Photograph: Wessex Archaeology

A neolithic monument has been discovered less than two miles from Windsor Castle. Dating from 5,500 years ago, it is one of the earliest known examples of monument-building in Britain.

A ceremonial gathering place known as a causewayed enclosure has been revealed with the discovery of a series of encircling ditches, artificial boundaries with gap entrances, at a vast site in Berkshire.

Archaeologists have found extensive quantities of animal bones as well as decorated pottery sherds, and evidence that pots were deliberately smashed, perhaps as festivities came to a boisterous close. Other finds include finely worked, leaf-shaped flint arrowheads, serrated blades, stone axes and grinding stones.

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Ancient artefacts found during Hornsea Project One wind farm work

Thousands of artefacts and archaeological remains have been found during work to bury underground cables for an offshore wind farm.
Coins, brooches, pottery and evidence of an Anglo-Saxon settlement are among the finds unearthed during preparatory work for Hornsea Project One.
Other discoveries include two bodies dating as far back as Roman times.
The wind farm will be off the Yorkshire coast, but a 25-mile onshore cable will reach a North Lincolnshire substation.
From 2015, excavations have taken place along the cable route from Horseshoe Point, east of Tetney, to North Killingholme.

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Book of Kells: History of world’s most famous medieval manuscript rewritten after dramatic new research

Lavishly illustrated 1,200-year-old copy of Gospels previously thought to have been thought to have been created as one book


The Book of Kells is the centrepiece of an exhibition which attracts over 500,000 visitors to Trinity College in Dublin each year Jeff Pioquinto/Flickr
New research is rewriting the history of the world’s most famous early medieval manuscript – a lavishly illustrated 1,200-year-old copy of the Gospels known today as the Book of Kells.

It had always been assumed that the work – which includes 150 square feet of spectacular coloured illustrations – was conceived and created as one book, containing all four Gospels.

But a detailed analysis of the texts has led a leading expert on early medieval illuminated manuscripts, Dr Bernard Meehan of Trinity College, Dublin, to conclude that the book was originally two separate works that were, in the main, created up to half a century apart


Dr Meehan's new hypothesis suggests that the last part of the Book of Kells (namely St John’s Gospel) and the first few pages of St Mark’s Gospel were created by a potentially quite elderly scribe on the Scottish island of Iona sometime during the last quarter of the eighth century.

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Second century AD Roman villa discovered in Warwick

It is thought the Roman villa was in use for about 200 years

The remains of a "second century" Roman villa including a building "the size of a medieval church" have been found.

The building - in Warwick - shows agricultural use with corn drying ovens and also a "suite of domestic rooms", where the Romans would sleep and eat.

Archaeologists said the estate of which it formed part would have been the largest in the region of its time and spread along the Avon's banks.

The county council said the find would be "preserved" under a new school.

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Rare Roman find unearthed at new school building site

The previously unknown Roman villa which has been unearthed in Warwick.

THE remains of a previously unknown Roman building – the largest ever seen in the region – have been discovered during building work on a new school.

Wall foundations for a large aisled structure the size of a medieval church have been unearthed on Banbury Road in Warwick, to where King’s High School is relocating.

Archaeologists say the building most likely forms a component of a large villa estate, which must have spread along the banks of the Avon and been connected to the Roman road system, and early indications suggest it developed in the 2nd century AD and probably went out of use in the 4th century.

Constructed of local sandstone, over 28m long by 14.5m wide, the villa would have been the largest building ever seen in the region.

Corn drying ovens, both inside and outside the structure, attest to an agricultural function, although internal wall divisions at the opposite end of the building probably indicate a suite of domestic rooms.

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Housebuilder uncovers Iron Age chamber on Lewis

A 2,000-year-old underground chamber has been uncovered during work to build a house on the Isle of Lewis.
The Iron Age soutterrain was revealed during the digging of the foundations for the property in Ness.
Local archaeologists, husband and wife team Chris and Rachel Barrowman, are recording the soutterrain.
Mr Barrowman said theories on the purpose of the stone-lined, flat stone-roofed structures included storing food.

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Stonehenge A303 tunnel plans will 'protect and enhance' monument

This is the proposed western approach to the new Longbarrow junction

Plans for a tunnel near Stonehenge will "enhance and protect" the ancient site but need further work, heritage experts have warned.

Initial designs for the scheme have been unveiled for the first time as a major public consultation starts.

Highways England said the design would "restore the tranquil environment and setting of the monument".

Opponents have said the tunnel could destroy archaeological treasures and scar the landscape irreparably.

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Mass grave of Viking army contained slaughtered children to help dead reach afterlife, experts believe

The grave of the four youngsters who may have been killed in a burial ritual  
CREDIT: UNIVERSITY OF BRISTOL 

A mass grave of Viking warriors found in Derbyshire was accompanied by slaughtered children in a burial ritual enacted to help the dead reach the afterlife, archaeologists believe.

Experts from the University of Bristol have reexamined a huge pit of bones uncovered in the 1970s and 80s in Repton.

Examinations at the the time suggested the grave spanned centuries, but new radiocarbon analysis has revealed the skeletons actually belong to soldiers from the Great Viking Army, which drove Burgred, the king of Mercia into exile in 873AD.

The excavators also found four youngsters aged between eight and 18 buried together in a single grave with a sheep jaw at their feet, which they dated to the same period. At least two showed signs of traumatic injury suggesting they may have been sacrificed in a ritual to accompany the dead.
Bristol archaeologist Cat Jarman said: “The grave is very unusual. I don't know of any examples of four young people buried in a single grave like this from anywhere else in England in this period.

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Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Cheddar Man: First modern Briton had 'dark to black' skin, DNA research reveals


The first modern Briton had “dark to black” skin, groundbreaking new analysis of his 10,000-year-old remains has revealed.
Britain’s oldest complete skeleton, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset.
But an unprecedented examination of his DNA, along with a facial reconstruction of the fossil, shows the young man would have had a darker complexion than previously thought, along with blue eyes and dark, curly hair.
Previous reconstructions of Cheddar Man, which were not based on DNA data, depicted him with a lighter skin tone.
Yet research by evolution and DNA specialists at the Natural History Museum and University College London suggests the pigmentation associated with northern European ancestry is a more recent development.
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Could these be the oldest Neandertal tools made with fire?

These 171,000-year-old digging sticks may have been made by Neandertals.

In the spring of 2012, while digging a hole for a thermal pool, construction workers in Grosseto, Italy, hit scientific pay dirt: layers of stratified soil and rock filled with prehistoric bones and artifacts close to 171,000 years old. Excavating the pool would have to wait. With further digging, the researchers found tantalizing evidence of early fire use—nearly 60 partially burned digging sticks made mostly of boxwood. The most likely creators of the sticks were Neandertals, who are known to have lived in Europe at that time. If our extinct cousins did indeed craft the sticks, they represent the earliest use of fire for toolmaking among Neandertals.

Neandertals evolved in Europe perhaps as early as 400,000 years ago, but it’s unclear when they began to regularly use fire. Until now, the earliest evidence of Neandertals controlling fire dates to the late Middle Pleistocene, about 130,000 years ago. And because wood decomposes easier and faster than materials like bone and stone, it’s unusual to find prehistoric wooden artifacts. The oldest wooden weapons discovered so far are spears in Schöningen, Germany. They are thought to have been made by Homo heidelbergensis or Neandertals some 300,000 years ago.

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First modern Britons had 'dark to black' skin, Cheddar Man DNA analysis reveals

The genome of Cheddar Man, who lived 10,000 years ago, suggests that he had blue eyes, dark skin and dark curly hair


The first modern Britons, who lived about 10,000 years ago, had “dark to black” skin, a groundbreaking DNA analysis of Britain’s oldest complete skeleton has revealed.

The fossil, known as Cheddar Man, was unearthed more than a century ago in Gough’s Cave in Somerset. Intense speculation has built up around Cheddar Man’s origins and appearance because he lived shortly after the first settlers crossed from continental Europe to Britain at the end of the last ice age. People of white British ancestry alive today are descendants of this population.

It was initially assumed that Cheddar Man had pale skin and fair hair, but his DNA paints a different picture, strongly suggesting he had blue eyes, a very dark brown to black complexion and dark curly hair.

The discovery shows that the genes for lighter skin became widespread in European populations far later than originally thought – and that skin colour was not always a proxy for geographic origin in the way it is often seen to be today.

Tom Booth, an archaeologist at the Natural History Museum who worked on the project, said: “It really shows up that these imaginary racial categories that we have are really very modern constructions, or very recent constructions, that really are not applicable to the past at all.”

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Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Viking imported finds discovered in cemetery works


EXPANSION WORKS OF BYNESET CEMETERY AT STEINE CHURCH IN TRONDHEIM, NORWAY HAS LED TO THE DISCOVERY OF AN IMPORTED CLASP OR BROOCH DATING FROM THE VIKING ERA.

The find is thought to be a gold-plated silver fitting from a book brought to the area during the Viking age.

Raymond Sauvage from NTNU’s Department of Archaeology and Cultural History, and the project manager for the excavations said “We know that the Vikings went out on raids. They went to Ireland and brought things back”

“You don’t make discoveries like this everywhere. There are only a few areas where people had the resources to go out on such voyages.”

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FORTRESS TOWER OF ANCIENT ODESSOS FOUND BY CHANCE

Part of a U-shape fortress tower from the Late Antiquity fortress wall of ancient Odessos (Odessus) has been discovered in the cellar of a house in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna. 
Photo: Varna Museum of Archaeology

A Late Antiquity fortress wall tower from the Ancient Thracian, Greek, and Roman city of Odessos (Odessus) has been discovered by accident in the Black Sea city of Varna, with rescue archaeological excavations affirming data about the existence of Quaestura Exercitus, a peculiar administrative district in 6th century AD Byzantium (i.e. the Eastern Roman Empire), under Emperor Justinian I the Great, uniting much of today’s Northern Bulgaria with Cyprus, parts of Anatolia, and the Cyclades.

Parts of a U-shaped fortress tower have been discovered by accident in the cellar of a house at 13 Voden Street in Bulgaria’s Black Sea city of Varna, within the Odessos Archaeological Preserve.

Ensuing rescue excavations have explored the ruins of the tower, which has been found to be part of one of the known fortress walls of ancient Odessos, the Varna Museum of Archaeology has announced, as cited by local news site Varna24.

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Archaeologists Have Revealed That Game Dice Used to Be Totally Unfair


The game dice we use today are as fair as we can design them - but that wasn't always the case. And now researchers have analysed the history of dice to work out when things changed, and why people didn't care about these probabilities until a certain turning point in civilisation.
Researchers from UC Davis and the American Museum of Natural History have examined 110 cube-shaped dice dating back to the Roman era and found that their design didn't become "fair" until the Renaissance, when scientific thinking started to come to the fore.
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ARPAJON AUX CONFINS DE PLUSIEURS TERRITOIRES DE CITÉS DURANT L’ANTIQUITÉ


Une équipe d’archéologues de l’Inrap mène actuellement une fouille de grande ampleur en plein cœur de la ville d’Arpajon, préalablement à la réalisation d’un projet immobilier initié par Les Nouveaux constructeurs. Une visite est organisée sur place par les archéologues, samedi 10 février 2018, pour permettre au public de découvrir les vestiges antiques mis au jour.

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Genome erzählen die Bevölkerungsgeschichte Nordeuropas


Schädel, der im Rahmen dieser Studie untersucht wurde. Fundort: Ölsund, Hälsingland, Schweden, datiert auf etwa 2,300 v. Chr., im Reinraumlabor für die Analyse alter DNA des Max-Planck-Instituts für Menschheitsgeschichte. (© Alissa Mittnik)

Ein internationales Forschungsteam unter Leitung des Max-Planck-Instituts für Menschheitsgeschichte in Jena, hat das Erbgut von 38 Nordeuropäern aus der Zeit von etwa 7.500 bis 500 vor Christus analysiert. Die Studie, die jetzt in Nature Communications erschien, zeigt, dass Skandinavien ursprünglich über eine südliche und eine nördliche Route besiedelt wurde und dass die Landwirtschaft in Nordeuropa wahrscheinlich durch einwandernde Bauern und Weidehirten rund 2000 Jahre später als in Mitteleuropa eingeführt wurde.

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Mittelalterliche Mauern in Attendorn


Archäologen finden Hinweise auf Torenkasten


Im Luftbild lassen sich die beiden mächtigen Fundamente des vermuteten Torenkasten und die dazwischen liegende Abwasserrinne gut erkennen. (Foto: ABS/Köln)

In Attendorn (Kreis Olpe) haben Archäologen unter Leitung des Landschaftsverbandes Westfalen-Lippe (LWL) die Grundmauern von vier Gebäuden aus dem 15. oder 16. Jahrhundert freigelegt. Zwei Steinhäuser verfügen über ungewöhnlich starke Mauern. Die Wissenschaftler vermuten hier einen sogenannten Torenkasten, in dem Verurteilte der Öffentlichkeit vorgeführt wurden.

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Monday, February 05, 2018

New tunnel bypassing Stonehenge could destroy traces of human life dating back to the Ice Age, experts warn

Hoof prints dating back 8,000 years could be destroyed by road plans at ‘precious‘ site, archaeologist says

The Government has backed road works to ease traffic congestion near Stonehenge Getty

A new tunnel bypassing Stonehenge could destroy a “unique” site where traces of humans living as far back as the last Ice Age have been preserved, experts have warned.

Hoof prints of wild cattle known as aurochs were recently discovered at excavations a mile and a half from the famous stone circle in Wiltshire, University of Buckingham archaeologist David Jacques said.

The 6,000-year-old marks, preserved in what appears to be a ritualistic manner, are the latest finds of a decade-long dig at Blick Mead, which Prof Jacques said form a "national archive of British history".

However, the proposed tunnel and a flyover close to Blick Mead, which could be built under Government-backed roadwork plans to ease congestion on the A303, could irrevocably damage the site, he warned.

Opponents of the plan fear it could harm the rich archaeological landscape.

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Stonehenge tunnel could destroy 'unique library' of early history

Plans for A303 could spell loss of Blick Mead site, where humans may have lived since the Ice Age


The construction of a tunnel past Stonehenge could spell the loss of a unique site that can trace the presence of people back to the last Ice Age, experts have said.

Perfectly preserved hoofprints of wild cattle known as aurochs have recently been found at excavations a mile and a half from the Wiltshire stone circle, David Jacques, and archaeologist at the University of Buckingham, said.

The 6,000-year-old prints, preserved in what appears to be a ritualistic way, are the latest in a wealth of finds made during a decade-long dig at Blick Mead, which Jacques said amounted a “national archive of British history”.

The tunnel, and a flyover close to the Blick Mead excavations which could also form part of the roadworks to improve the A303, could irrevocably damage the site, he said.

The government has backed plans to build a tunnel to house the A303 as it passes Stonehenge as part of measures to ease congestion and improve the setting of the neolithic site.

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Radiocarbon dating reveals mass grave did date to the Viking age

A team of archaeologists, led by Cat Jarman from the University of Bristol's Department of Anthropology and Archaeology, has discovered that a mass grave uncovered in the 1980s dates to the Viking Age and may have been a burial site of the Viking Great Army war dead.


One of the female skulls from the Repton charnel [Credit: Cat Jarman]

Although the remains were initially thought to be associated with the Vikings, radiocarbon dates seemed to suggest the grave consisted of bones collected over several centuries. New scientific research, published in Antiquity, now shows that this was not the case and that the bones are all consistent with a date in the late 9th century. Historical records state that the Viking Great Army wintered in Repton, Derbyshire, in 873 A.D. and drove the Mercian king into exile.

Excavations led by archaeologists Martin Biddle and Birthe Kjølbye-Biddle at St Wystan's Church in Repton in the 1970s and 1980s discovered several Viking graves and a charnel deposit of nearly 300 people underneath a shallow mound in the vicarage garden.

The mound appears to have been a burial monument linked to the Great Army.

An Anglo-Saxon building, possibly a royal mausoleum, was cut down and partially ruined, before being turned into a burial chamber.

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This Mass Grave May Belong to 'Great Viking Army'

Bones are yielding new clues about the massive, mysterious Viking forces that invaded England.

A photo taken at a 1982 excavation of the gravesite shows remains from what may belong to the Great Viking Army. 
PHOTOGRAPH BY MARTIN BIDDLE

For years, archaeologists were stumped. What happened to the Great Viking Army, a massive force that seized great swaths of England in the 9th century but left barely a trace?
Archaeologists now report that a mass grave in England may contain nearly 300 Viking warriors—the only remains of the Great Viking Army’s warriors ever found.Archaeologists first uncovered the burial site in the 1980s, in Derbyshire, England, and thought it might contain remains from the Great Viking Army, also known the Great Heathen Army. But there was one problem—radiocarbon dating of the site revealed that the remains were too old to be Viking invaders.
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Sunday, February 04, 2018

Midlands mass grave was burial site for Viking 'Great Heathen Army' war dead, new study reveals

The powerful Norse army was sent to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in 865 AD.

One of the female skulls excavated from the Repton burial site Cat Jarman 

In the 70s, a mysterious mass grave complex, containing the remains of hundreds of people, was unearthed by archaeologists in Repton, Derbyshire. The initial signs indicated that the burial site was associated with a Viking army, however, radiocarbon dating seemed to pour cold water on this hypothesis, suggesting that the bones had actually been left there over several centuries.

Now, new research has revealed that, in fact, the remains are consistent with a date in the 9th century. Based on these findings, Cat Jarman and colleagues from the University of Bristol's Department of Anthropology and Archaeology suggest that the mass grave was a burial site for the war dead of the Viking Great Army.

This military force – known by the Anglo-Saxons as the Great Heathen Army – was a powerful coalition of Norse warriors mainly originating from Denmark, although some came from Sweden and Norway, who banded together under a unified command to invade the four Anglo-Saxon kingdoms that constituted England in 865 AD.


Historical records indicate that this army spent the winter at Repton in 873 AD, driving the king of Mercia – one of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, centred on the midlands – into exile in the process.

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Scandinavians shaped by several waves of immigration

Directly following the last ice age, people from the western parts of what is now Norway were a population that had substantially different genetics from the people living in the area corresponding to present-day Sweden.

Anne-Marian Snaaijer, a PhD candidate at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology works  in Trondheim's Archive Centre at Dora. The collection trays hold lots of bone discoveries 
[Credit: Åge Hojem, NTNU University Museum]

"We were surprised that the results showed such marked dissimilarities," says associate professor and archaeologist Birgitte Skar at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's (NTNU) University Museum. Skar is responsible for the museum's Stone Age and Bronze Age collections.

Scandinavia was one of the last parts of Europe to become habitable when the glaciers released their icy grip more than 10,000 years ago. The ocean's resources and the coastal archipelago attracted marine hunter-gatherers of yore to the region.

Swedish and Norwegian researchers have collaborated on analysing the DNA in 9500-year-old bone samples from the southern and western Norwegian coast and from the Swedish islands of Gotland and Stora Karlsö. This period corresponds to the Mesolithic Stone Age.

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Melting Glaciers Could Reveal How Our Ancestors Dealt With Changing Climates

While some archaeologists dig with trowels and shovels, others use a warming planet to their advantage.


Archaeologist holding a c. 1400-year-old arrow, lost reindeer hunting in the high mountains of Oppland, Norway, during the Late Antique Little Ice Age. 
PHOTOGRAPH BYJULIAN MARTINSEN, SECRETS OF THE ICE OPPLAND COUNTY COUNCIL

When Lars Pilø, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program at Oppland County Council, noticed Norway was experiencing a particularly warm autumn in 2006, the archaeologist turned to the mountains. If climate change was thawing glacial ice, what did that mean for the artifacts that were emerging from the melt? So, starting officially in 2011, Pilø and an international team took to Norway's icy Jotunheimen and Oppland mountains to see what ancient objects they could rescue from the snowmelt.

Over the years, the archaeologists uncovered thousands of artifacts, some of which date back 6,000 years. Since the ice acts like a giant freezer and preserves the objects, the finds look like they could have been uncovered yesterday. (Read: "Alaska's Thaw Reveals—And Threatens—A Culture's Artifacts")

"The moment these artifacts melt out of the ice, they're immediately vulnerable to the elements," says James H. Barrett, a University of Cambridge environmental archaeologist.

The glacier archaeologists detailed their findings in a Royal Society Open Science paper published January 24. Pilø and Barrett are authors on the paper.

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