All posts by Archaeology World Team

2,000-Year-Old Sundial Unearthed in Roman Town

2,000-Year-Old Sundial Unearthed in Roman Town

The sundial is carved out of a limestone block

A rare and intact 2,000-year-old Roman sundial was discovered in central Italy, engraved with the name of the man who commissioned it.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge made the find during an excavation in the Roman town of Interamna Lirenas, near Monte Cassino. Inscribed on the sundial is the name Marcus Novius Tubula, an unknown plebeian tribune to Rome, in Latin.

It is claimed this sheds new light on Rome’s relationship with other regions. Interamna Lirenas, founded in 312 BC and abandoned in 6th Century AD, was about 130 km (81 miles) from Rome.

The sundial was discovered in a roofed theatre in the ancient town of Interamna Lirenas

The name and lettering style place the sundial’s inscription at about 1st Century BC when citizens were granted full Roman citizenship.

Dr. Alessandro Launaro, the lecturer at the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge, said the ancient town was “not a town of remarkable prestige or notable influence”.

Therefore, he said, the discovery showed “the level of involvement in Rome’s own affairs that individuals hailing from this and other relatively secondary communities could aspire to”.

The limestone sundial, found in a roofed theatre, is thought to have represented a celebration of Marcus Novius Tubula’s election to the political office of the plebeian tribune.

The concaved face is engraved with 11-hour lines intersecting three-day curves, which indicate the season with respect to the time of the winter solstice, equinox and summer solstice.

The needle which cast a shadow to show the time “is essentially lost” but part is preserved under a lead fixing.

It is believed the sundial was left behind at a time when the theatre and town were being scavenged for building materials during the Medieval to the post-Medieval period.

Lost Medieval Chapel Unearthed 370 Years After Destruction

Lost Medieval Chapel Unearthed 370 Years After Destruction

The ruins of an old medieval chapel, comparable to some of the greatest in Europe, have been uncovered at Auckland Castle in County Durham, North East England.

Historical documents show that a two-storey chapel, described as ‘sumptuously constructed’ and ‘exceedingly good,’ was built at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland in the early 1300s.

It was created for Bishop Antony Bek, (Prince Bishop of Durham 1284-1310), a great warrior and one of the most powerful and influential men in Europe at the time.

Despite it being larger than the king’s own chapel at Westminster, and with pieces of carved stone weighing the same as a small car, the exact location of the 14th-century chapel has remained a mystery since its destruction in the 1650s, following the English Civil War.

Now, following years of archaeological excavations, Bek’s Chapel has finally been discovered and the full extent of its spectacular scale will be revealed to the public in a special exhibition at Auckland Castle.

A new reconstruction image of the medieval building will be on display in the exhibition, alongside finds uncovered by archaeologists from Durham University and The Auckland Project, the charity that owns and manages Auckland Castle.

Archaeologists excavating the Bek’s Chapel site at Auckland Castle.

The foundations of Bek’s Chapel were found during digs over a five-month period, which revealed that the walls of the medieval chapel were 1.5m thick, 12m wide and 40m long internally.

Archaeologists also found huge bases for internal columns, the buttresses along the chapel’s sides and even part of the floor. And over 300 pieces of elaborately carved stone were excavated, from fragments the size of a fist up to those the weight of a small car.

Stained glass from the long-lost Bek’s Chapel. This fragment shows a pelican pecking her own breast – a traditional Christian symbol representing Christ’s self-sacrifice.

The uncovered evidence suggests that the original chapel was a vast structure, reaching towards the size of continental chapels such as Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and featuring a timber ceiling and huge pillars with decorated stonework.

Archaeologists believe the chapel’s size, scale and decoration would have been a statement of the status of Bishop Bek, who as Prince Bishop of Durham held remarkable powers to mint coinage, raise armies and even rule on behalf of the king.

In the months following the discovery of the chapel, archaeologists from The Auckland Project and Durham University have been working with a panel of archaeological experts, including Architectural Historians Tim Tatton-Brown, Tim Ayers and John Crook, to create a reconstruction of Bek’s Chapel, as it would have looked in the 14th century.

The team mapped details from elements of comparable buildings, including kings’ chapels, cathedrals, and minsters, to suggest the kind of glasswork, carved stone and roof construction that would have featured in Bishop Bek’s original chapel.

Stuart Harrison, Archaeologist at York Minster, recorded the geometry of the discovered foundations and stonework to reconstruct the framework of the original building.

And illustrator, Andy Gammon combined the information with his own research to bring the Chapel to life through a colored reconstruction, with a cut-away opening up the chapel’s interior as well as an aerial view from the South West.

Reconstruction of Bek’s Chapel in Auckland Castle

The team of archaeologists from The Auckland Project and Durham University will return to Auckland Castle this summer to continue their excavation of Bishop Bek’s Chapel where they are hoping to uncover more of the south side of the building.

And, some of the uncovered carved stonework will be on display for visitors to examine in an upcoming exhibition Inside Story: Conserving Auckland Castle at the Bishop Trevor Gallery at Auckland Castle.

1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints Reveal Human Ancestor Walked Like Us

1.5-Million-Year-Old Footprints Reveal Human Ancestor Walked Like Us

Homo erectus last walked through the Earth for thousands of years, but our fossil ancestors likely had a few behaviours in common with humans today.

In a new study, researchers have examined a set of 1.5-million-year-old footprints discovered in Kenya, revealing new insight on how they moved and interacted.

The international team discovered that Homo erectus was able to go along in the same manner as modern humans and had human-like social behaviour, using innovative analytical techniques.

This 1.5-million-year-old footprint suggests that Homo erectus, an early human ancestor, had feet that were very similar to those of modern humans.

Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, along with an international team of scientists, investigated ancient hominin footprints discovered in 2009 near the town of Ileret, Kenya.

The continued efforts since the initial discovery revealed an unprecedented set of trace fossils, consisting of 97 tracks from at least 20 different individuals, all thought to be Homo erectus.

These were found over five distinct sites.

The researchers say the footprints are indistinguishable from those of a modern barefoot human, with similar foot anatomies and mechanics.

‘Our analyses of these footprints provide some of the only direct evidence to support the common assumption that at least one of our fossil relatives at 1.5 million years ago walked in much the same way as we do today,’ says Kevin Hatala, of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology and The George Washington University.

Habitual bipedal locomotion sets modern humans apart from other primates, and researchers have long debated the question of when this giant first emerged among hominins.

Determining these types of answers are difficult using traditional forms of paleoanthropological data, but the findings in Kenya and the use of new experimental techniques have provided a unique look at the locomotion patterns and social structures of Homo erectus.

The researchers also calculated body mass estimates based on the tracks, allowing them to infer the sexes of multiple individuals.

This revealed that there may have been several adult males at each of the sites, which suggests Homo erectus groups had developed some degree of tolerance and maybe even cooperation.

According to the researchers, this trait also separates modern humans from other primates.

‘It isn’t shocking that we find evidence of mutual tolerance and perhaps cooperation between makes in a hominin that lived 1.5 million years ago,’ says Hatala, ‘especially Homo erectus, but this is our first chance to see what appears to be a direct glimpse of this behavioural dynamic in deep time.’

The 200,000-year-old city found in Southern Africa may rewrite history

The 200,000-year-old city found in Southern Africa may rewrite history

In South Africa, about 150 km west of port Maputo, Mozambique, a giant stone city has been discovered. It became possible to determine the age of the site by measuring the erosion rate of the dolerite.

The 1500 square kilometer metropolis was believed to have been built between 160,000 and 200,000 years ago!

The ruins consist of huge stone circles, most of which are buried in the sand and can be seen only from the air or with the help of satellite imagery.

This ancient town is thought to be part of a larger network of 10,000 square kilometers. The organized nature of this ancient community and a road network connecting it to the terraced agriculture suggest that the metropolis was home to a highly advanced civilization.

The geology of the site is quite interesting too because of the numerous gold mines located in the area. According to researchers, this ancient civilization could have practiced gold mining.

What is quite curious, no one has ever wondered about the origin and the age of these stone circles before, despite the fact that local residents have encountered them multiple times.

In 2007, Michael Tellinger, researcher and writer passionate about human origins, and Johan Heine, a local fireman and pilot, decided to explore the site. Later, the results of their research inspired Tellinger to write a book titled Temples Of The African Gods.

According to Tellinger, the evidence they found suggests a completely different perspective on the history of humankind. 

According to the conventional version of human history, the first civilization on Earth was Sumer and emerged in southern Mesopotamia about 6000 years ago.

But what if there was another, earlier civilization that was then lost in the mists of time? “The photographs, artifacts and evidence we accumulated, point towards a lost civilization that has never before been and precedes all others – not for a few hundred years, or a few thousand years … but many thousands of years,” he said.

Tellinger believes that this ancient African metropolis is the oldest structure built by the human on Earth. In fact, he thinks that the Sumerians and the Egyptians inherited knowledge from this advanced civilization.

This hypothesis is based on the fact that there are carvings of the Egyptian Ankh on the rocks of the ancient city.

How could there possibly be an image of the Egyptian god thousands of years before the Egyptian civilization emerged? “These discoveries are so staggering that they will not be easily digested by the mainstream historical and archaeological fraternity, as we have already experienced. It will require a complete paradigm shift in how we view our human history,” Tellinger said.

Tellinger’s findings raise more questions than answers, but we can hope that this incredible ancient city will attract more researchers in the future and that one day more light will be shed on this lost civilization and the unknown aspects of human history in general.

A Cave in France Changes What We Thought We Knew About Neanderthals

A Cave in France Changes What We Thought We Knew About Neanderthals

Rings of stone found inside a French cave were probably built 176,500 years ago by Neanderthals. A study says the structures are the oldest known human constructions, possibly altering the way we think about our ancestors.

A team led by archeologist Jacques Jaubert of the University of Bordeaux, using advanced dating techniques, noted that the stalagmites used in the stone ring constructions must have been broken off the ground around 176,500 years ago.

The dating of the structures – if substantiated – would push back by tens of thousands of years the first known cave exploration by members of the human family. It would also change the widely held view that humans’ ancient cousins were incapable of complex behavior.

Earlier research had suggested the structures pre-dated the arrival of modern humans in Europe around 45,000 years ago and thus the idea that Neanderthals could have made them didn’t fit and was largely disregarded.

“Their presence at 336 meters (368 yards) from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity.

A chance find

The structures – discovered by chance in 1990 after a rockslide closed the mouth of a cave at Bruniquel in southwest France – were made from hundreds of pillar-shaped mineral deposits, or stalagmites, which were up to 40 centimeters (16 inches) high.

The authors said the purpose of the oval structures – measuring 16 square meters (172 sq. feet) and 2.3 square meters – is still a matter of speculation, though they may have served some symbolic or ritual purpose.

“A plausible explanation is that this was a common meeting place for some type of ritual social behavior,” said Paola Villa, an archaeologist at the University of Colorado at Boulder who wasn’t involved in the study.

The Neanderthals who built them must have had a “project” to go so deep into a cave where there was no natural light, said Jaubert.

“The site provides strong evidence of the great antiquity of those elaborate structures and is an important contribution to a new understanding of the greater level of social complexities of Neanderthal societies,” Villa noted.

Who were the Neanderthals?

Neanderthals were a species or subspecies of humans that became extinct between 40,000 and 28,000 years ago. Closely related to modern humans, they left remains mainly in Eurasia, from western Europe to central, northern, and western Asia.

Neanderthals are generally classified by paleontologists as the species Homo neanderthalensis, having separated from the Homo sapiens lineage 600,000 years ago.

Several cultural assemblages have been linked to the Neanderthals in Europe. The earliest, the Mousterian stone tool culture, dates to about 300,000 years ago. Late Mousterian artifacts were found in Gorham’s Cave on the south-facing coast of Gibraltar.

In December 2013, researchers reported evidence that Neanderthals practiced burial behavior and buried their dead.

In addition, scientists reported having sequenced the entire genome of a Neanderthal for the first time. The genome was extracted from the toe bone of a 50,000-year-old Neanderthal found in a Siberian cave.

Ancient City found atop huge Rock in Srilanka

Ancient City found atop huge Rock in Srilanka

Sigiriya (The Lion Mountain) is often considered to be the eighth wonders of the world and an ancient stone fortress used by a king of Sri Lanka as a site to build his palace and hide from attacks by his Enemy brother.

Located in Sri Lanka’s central Matale district, the fortress is surrounded by the remains of extensive reservoirs and gardens on all sides.

The most significant feature of this geologic masterpiece is the Lion staircase leading to a palace garden on the top of the rock.

Sigiriya Rock

The Lion staircase is a complex structure, a walkway with tiles that rises from the open mouth of the beast that takes its name from and is made of brick and timber. The bricks surround ancient limestone steps. 

Named a world heritage site by UNESCO, this rock is full of archeological importance. The other primary feature that draws thousands of tourists every year is the surviving frescoes and other paintings.

The few paintings that survive are the earliest examples of a Sri Lanka school of classical realism, which was fully formed by the 5th century when the paintings at Sigiriya were produced. There are also remains of paintings in some of the caves that are nestled at the foot of the giant rock.

According to ancient texts, the entire rock fortress was built by King Kashyapa and, after his death, was used as a Buddhist monastery until the 14th century.

Who Rediscovered Sigiriya?

The gardens and palace at Sigiriya were abandoned but later assumed by a Buddhist monastery which would occupy the land until the 14th century.

There are no records of the activity at Sigiriya between the 14th and 16th centuries, but by the 17th century, it was used as an outpost for the Kingdom of Kandy independent monarchy.

Western civilization re-discovered Sigiriya in 1831 when British army Major Jonathan Forbes of the 78th Highlanders discovered the bush-covered summit of Sigiriya on a horseback trip across the island.

In the 1890s archaeologist, H.C.P. Bell spent some time at Sigiriya, overseeing a small dig and research operation.

It would be another twenty years until the natural rock formation would return to the public eye; British explorer John Still’s visit to Sigiriya in 1907 sparked international discussion and renewed interest in the Sri Lanka treasure.

Full-scale archaeological work would not begin until 1982 when government-funded Cultural Triangle Project focused its attention on the ancient city.

It was during this time historians learned of Lion’s presence at the gate to Sigiriya, its head having collapsed long ago.

3000-year-old Nimrud lens could rewrite the history of science

3000-year-old Nimrud lens could rewrite the history of science

The lens of Nimrud is a rock crystal object, 3000 years old, which Sir John Layard found in 1850 at the Assyrian Nimrud Palace in modern Iraq.

The Nimrud lens is kept at the British Museum.

Since its discovery over a century ago, scientists and archaeologists have been discussing how the lens has been used as part of a telescope by one famous Italian professor who believed that the ancient Assyrians knew so much about astronomy.

The Nimrud lens (also referred to as the Layard lens), dated between 750 and 710 BC, is made of natural rock crystal and is a slightly oval in form. It was roughly ground, perhaps on a lapidary wheel. It has a focal point about 11 centimeters from the flat side and a focal length of about 12 cm.  

This would make it equivalent to a 3× magnifying glass (combined with another lens, it could achieve much greater magnification). The surface of the lens has twelve cavities that were opened during grinding, which would have contained naptha or some other fluid trapped in the raw crystal. The lens is said to be able to focus sunlight although the focus is far from perfect.  

There has been much debate over the original use of the Nimrud lens.  Some speculate that it was used as a magnifying glass, or as a burning-glass to start fires by concentrating sunlight, while others have proposed that the lens was part of a telescope. 

However, if we are to believe the British Museum’s description, the Nimrud lens “would have been of little or no practical use”, and while they acknowledge that “this piece of rock crystal has been carefully ground and polished, and undoubtedly has optical properties”, they reach the unusual conclusion that the optical properties were “probably accidental”.  

I wonder if the British Museum also maintains that the hundreds of other carefully crafted and polished lenses found throughout the ancient world were also “accidental”?

The British Museum finished by saying that: “There is no evidence that the Assyrians used lenses, either for magnification or for making fire, and it is much more likely that this is a piece of inlay, perhaps for furniture.” However, many disagree with this claim.

Sir John Layard suggested that Assyrian craftsmen used the lens as a magnifying glass to make intricate and minuscule engravings, such as those that have been found on seals and on clay tablets using a wedge-shaped script. But experts on Assyrian archaeology are unconvinced. They say that the lens is of such low quality that it would have been a poor aid to vision.

An example of the minuscule text engraved on clay tablets

Another hypothesis is that the lens was used as a burning-glass to start a fire. Burning-glasses were known in the ancient world. Aristophanes refers to “the beautiful, transparent stone with which they light fires” in his play The Clouds (424 BC). Pliny the Elder (23-79AD) describes how glass balls filled with water could set clothes on fire when placed in line with the sun. However, there is no clear evidence to support the theory that this was the purpose for which the Nimrud lens was created.

Italian scientist Giovanni Pettinato of the University of Rome has proposed that the lens was used by the ancient Assyrians as part of a telescope.  According to conventional perspectives, the telescope was invented by Dutch spectacle maker, Hans Lippershey in 1608 AD, and Galileo was the first to point it to the sky and use it to study the cosmos. But even Galileo himself noted that the ‘ancients’ were aware of telescopes.

While lenses were around before the Nimrud lens, Pettinato believes this was one of the first to be used in a telescope.  The earliest lenses identified date back around 4,500 years ago to the 4 th and 5 th Dynasties of Ancient Egypt (e.g., the superb `Le Scribe Accroupi’ and `the Kai’ in the Louvre), where it appears they were used as schematic eye structures (iris/pupil inserts) associated with funerary statues.

Latter examples have been found in Knossos dated to around 3,500-years-old.  In total, there are several hundred reported lenses now on record from around the ancient world, so it appears that the ancients knew a lot more about lenses than some, like the British Museum, give them credit for. 

One of the reasons Pettinato believed that the Assyrians used the Nimrud lens as part of a telescope is that some of their knowledge about astronomy seems impossible to have acquired without a telescope. 

For example, the ancient Assyrians saw the planet Saturn as a god surrounded by a ring of serpents, which Pettinato suggests was their interpretation of Saturn’s rings as seen through a telescope.

However, other experts say that serpents occur frequently in Assyrian mythology, and note that there is no mention of a telescope in any of the many surviving Assyrian astronomical writings.

Whatever its purpose, as an ornament, as a magnifying lens, a burning glass, or part of a telescope, the Nimrud lens certainly appears to be more than an “accident”.  But exactly how it was used, we may never know.

What is the mysterious handbag seen in Ancient Carvings Across Cultures carried by the Gods

What is the mysterious handbag seen in Ancient Carvings Across Cultures carried by the Gods

Many pieces of art found on cave walls dating back to the end of the Ice Age have resembled what is known today as a handbag or purse.

The design persisted in ruins of ancient Turkish temples, Maori decorations of New Zealand, and crafts made by the Olmecs of Central America.

Earliest Discovery

The ruins of Göbekli Tepe, dating back to about 11,000 BC are one of the earliest discoveries of the handbag.

But what the temple used for remains a mystery. Göbekli Tepe, a most ancient and Oldest temple complex. Many archaeologists suggest that the sanctuary held religious sacrifices, due to the butchered animal bones collected.

The walls and pillars throughout the temple are embellished with intricate carvings of animals, gods, mythical creatures, and three handbags.

Could the mysterious handbag really represent the cosmos? Assyrian relief carving from Nimrud, 883–859 B.C.

An Answer Written in the Stars

The handbag is described to “typically feature a rounded handle-like top and a rectangular bottom and may include varying degrees of additional details of texture or pattern”.

Whether the images stand-alone or in the hand of a god or goddess-like creature, there are several theories out there to the meaning of this reoccurring object.

Pillar 43 from Gobekli Tepe in Turkey shows three ‘handbag’ carvings along the top.

The most straightforward explanation is that of the cosmos. The semi-circle of the handbag, the straps, represents the hemisphere of the sky, while the square shape represents the earth.

According to Scranton, “In ancient cultures from Africa to India to China, the figure of a circle was associated symbolically with concepts of spirituality or non-materiality, while that of a square was often associated with concepts of the Earth and of materiality”. Therefore the image is seen to represent the unification of both earth and sky, the tangible and intangible elements.

Other Findings

The handbag continues to appear across the globe. It shows up in two stone reliefs, one made by the Assyrians of ancient Iraq sometime between 880-859 BC and the other made by the Olmecs of ancient Mesoamerica sometime between 1200 – 400 BC.

Olmec Monument 19, from La Venta, Tabasco, shows a man holding the handbag in his hand

Then in New Zealand in an image of a hero who rose to the home of the gods and came back to earth “carrying three baskets of wisdom.” Finally, in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, the handbag-like image is seen frequently serving as a home for the gods and goddesses, similar to the Native American tepee.

The theme of the handbag appears to be a cosmological symbol that is often overlooked by the general public that means much more than what meets the eye.