Category Archives: ENGLAND

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England

Headless Skeletons Unearthed in Eastern England
The majority of the remains had the head placed at the feet

A number of decapitated skeletons have been uncovered by archaeologists at a Roman burial site.

The discovery, which included evidence of Roman and Iron Age settlements, was made at Wintringham near St Neots, Cambridgeshire.

Dating from 2,500 years ago, the site will feature in the latest series of BBC Two’s Digging for Britain.

Patrick Moan from Oxford Archaeology said the find had “revealed amazing insights into the people” of the area.

The work comes ahead of a development of about 2,800 homes in the village.

Several pieces of Roman pottery were found at the site

Archaeologists uncovered an Iron Age settlement composed of 40 roundhouses and a network of trackways and enclosures related to farming activities.

The Oxford Archaeology team also discovered Roman coins, brooches, a large lead lid or platter, and numerous pottery vessels.

A Roman kiln and a large number of quern and millstones, used to grind grains, were also found.

Stone roundhouses were uncovered by Oxford Archaeology

Experts said the decapitated skeletons dated back to the third century AD, with 11 out of the 17 burials having their heads positioned by the feet.

The individuals were interred carefully, often buried with pottery and in one case, a pottery vessel was found in place of the head, archaeologists said.

Mr Moan, the project manager, said: “These results add greatly to our understanding of the local landscape’s history which we can now share with local communities.”

Specialists will now start analysing the skeletons with the hope of providing more details about the burial rites that were in use in the area.

The discovery will feature on episode three of Digging for Britain on BBC Two at 21:00 GMT on Sunday or on the iPlayer.

Mesolithic Artifacts Unearthed in Northern England

Mesolithic Artifacts Unearthed in Northern England

Mesolithic Artifacts Unearthed in Northern England
Animal bones, tools and weapons, along with rare evidence of woodworking, were unearthed during excavations at the site near Scarborough

Finds discovered at a Stone Age settlement unearthed in North Yorkshire have helped shed new light on the lives of hunter-gatherers living around 10,500 years ago.

Archaeologists uncovered animal bones, tools and weapons, along with rare evidence of woodworking, during excavations at the site near Scarborough.

Experts said the items suggested their owners were far from “struggling to survive”, as many may imagine of people alive at the time.

Dr Nick Overton, from the University of Manchester, said the excavation had enabled them to learn more about “these early prehistoric communities”.

The site originally lay on the shore of an island in an ancient lake and dates to the Mesolithic period, according to the team from the universities of Manchester and Chester, with thick deposits of peat gradually burying and preserving the site over thousands of years.

“It is so rare to find material this old in such good condition,” Dr Overton said.

“The Mesolithic in Britain was before the introduction of pottery or metals, so finding organic remains like bone, antler and wood, which are usually not preserved, are incredibly important in helping us to reconstruct peoples’ lives.”

Artefacts found on the lake bed included a decorated antler point

The team said the dig uncovered evidence of a wide range of animals being hunted, including elk and red deer, and smaller mammals such as beavers and water birds.

The bodies of hunted animals were also butchered and parts of them intentionally deposited into the wetlands at the island site, they said.

Hunting weapons made of animal bone and antler had also been decorated and taken apart before being deposited on the island’s shore.

This, the archaeologists believed, showed that Mesolithic people had strict rules about how the remains of animals and objects used to kill them were disposed of.

A barbed antler point was also unearthed

Dr Amy Gray Jones, from the University of Chester, said: “People often think of prehistoric hunter-gatherers as living on the edge of starvation, moving from place to place in an endless search for food.

“But here we have people inhabiting a rich network of sites and habitats, taking the time to decorate objects, and taking care over the ways they disposed of animal remains and important artefacts.

“These aren’t people that were struggling to survive. They were people confident in their understanding of this landscape, and of the behaviours and habitats of different animal species that lived there,” she added.

The excavations are featured in episode five of the new series of Digging for Britain.

Londoner solves 20,000-year Ice Age drawings mystery

Londoner solves 20,000-year Ice Age drawings mystery

Londoner solves 20,000-year Ice Age drawings mystery
Researchers concluded 20,000-year-old markings on drawings could refer to a lunar calendar.

Ancient cave paintings, like animal figures and handprints, are generally thought to have meanings, however, the specifics of these drawings have long eluded experts. But now, British scientists have claimed to have decoded why Ice Age hunter-gatherers drew cave paintings. 

Independent researcher Ben Bacon took an interest in cave art drawings. “The meaning of the markings within these drawings has always intrigued me so I set about trying to decode them,” he told the BBC.

Mr Bacon spent hours at the British library searching for photos of cave art online and collected “as much data as possible and began looking for patterns”.

He analysed 20,000-year-old markings on the drawings and concluded that they could refer to a lunar calendar. 

As his research and idea progressed, Mr Bacon reached out to academics to collaborate with them. He published a study in the  Cambridge Archaeological Journal along with senior academics from Durham University and University College London (UCL), which revealed that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were using markings combined with drawings of their animal prey to store and communicate “sophisticated” information about the behaviour of species crucial to their survival at least 20,000 years ago. 

In the study, the researchers explained that as the marks, found in more than 600 images on cave walls and objects across Europe, record information numerically and reference a calendar rather than recording speech, they cannot be called “writing” in the sense of the pictographic and cuneiform systems of early writing that emerged in Sumer from 3,400 BC onwards.

Instead, the team refers to them as a “proto-writing system” – pre-dating other token-based systems that are thought to have emerged during the Neolithic period by at least 10,000 years.

The researchers in particular examined a ‘Y’ sign on some paintings, which they felt might be a symbol for “giving birth” as it showed one line growing out from another.

Their study showed that the sequences record mating and birthing seasons and found a “statistically significant” correlation between the number of marks the position of the ‘Y’ sign and the months in which modern animals mate and birth respectively. 

Professors Paul Pettitt of Durham University said, “This is a fascinating study that has brought together independent and professional researchers with expertise in archaeology and visual psychology, to decode information first recorded thousands of years ago.” 

“The result show that Ice Age hunter-gatherers were the first to use a systematic calendar and marks to record information about major ecological events within that calendar. In turn, we’re able to show that these people – who left a legacy of spectacular art in the caves of Lascaux and Altamira – also left a record of early timekeeping that would eventually become commonplace among our species,” Mr Pettitt added. 

Post a commentIn the study, the researchers showed that despite the difficulties, researchers can crack the meaning of at least some of the symbols. For Bacon, the findings had even more significance. “As we probe deeper into their world, what we are discovering is that these ancient ancestors are a lot more like us than we had previously thought,” he said. “These people, separated from us by many millennia, are suddenly a lot closer,” Mr Bacon added. 

Digital Reconstruction Depicts Face of “Jericho Skull”

Digital Reconstruction Depicts Face of “Jericho Skull”

Digital Reconstruction Depicts Face of “Jericho Skull”
The latest research gives a new face to the most famous of the plaster-covered skulls discovered near Jericho in 1953, showing a man who died about 9,500 years ago.

A famous, 9,000-year-old human skull discovered near the biblical city of Jericho now has a new face, thanks to efforts by a multi-national team of researchers.

The so-called Jericho Skull — one of seven unearthed by British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon in 1953 and currently housed in the British Museum in London — was found covered in plaster and with shells for eyes, apparently in an attempt to make it look more lifelike.

This prehistoric design was “the first facial reconstruction in the world,” Brazilian graphics expert Cícero Moraes, the leader of the project, told Live Science in an email.

In 2016, the British Museum released precise measurements of the Jericho Skull, based on a micro-computed tomography, or micro-CT — effectively a very detailed X-ray scan. The measurements were then used to create a virtual 3D model of the skull, and the model was used to make an initial facial approximation.

But the new approximation, published online on Dec. 22 in the journal OrtogOnline, uses different techniques to determine how the face may have looked, and goes further by artistically adding head and facial hair. 

Although the skull was initially thought to be female, later observations determined it belonged to a male individual, Moraes said, so the new approximation shows the face of a dark-haired man in his 30s or 40s. (Based on how a lesion on the skull has healed, archaeologists suggest he was “middle-aged” by today’s standards when he died.)

An initial facial reconstruction was made from the anatomy of the skull in 2016, but the new reconstruction uses advanced digital techniques.

An unusual feature of the British Museum’s Jericho Skull is that the cranium, or upper skull, is significantly larger than average, Moraes said. 

In addition, the skull seems to have been artificially elongated when the man was very young, probably by tightly binding it; some of the other plastered skulls found by Kenyon also show signs of this, but the reason isn’t known.

Jericho skulls

Jericho, now a Palestinian city in the West Bank, is thought to be one of the oldest settlements in the world. 

It appears in the biblical Book of Joshua as the first Canaanite city attacked by the Israelites after they crossed the Jordan River in about 1400 B.C. According to the biblical story, Jericho’s walls collapsed after Joshua ordered the Israelites to circle the city for seven days while carrying the Ark of the Covenant, and then to blow their trumpets and shout.

But archaeological research has failed to find any evidence of this event, and it’s now thought to be Judean propaganda, according to historians writing in Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible (Eerdmans, 2000).

The new facial reconstruction used new techniques developed by the researchers and derived from new anatomical studies and statistical projections from 3D X-ray scans of living people.

Archaeologists have determined, however, that Jericho has been continually inhabited for about 11,000 years; and in 1953 Kenyon excavated seven skulls at a site near the ancient city.

Each had been encased in plaster, and the spaces inside the skulls were packed with earth. They also had cowrie seashells placed over their eye sockets, and some had traces of brown paint.

Kenyon speculated that the skulls might be portraits of some of Jericho’s earliest inhabitants; but more than 50 plastered skulls from about the same period have since been found throughout the region, and it’s now thought they are relics of a funerary practice, according to a study by Denise Schmandt-Besserat, a professor emerita of Art and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. 

The skull is one of seven discovered by the British archaeologist Kathleen Kenyon near the ancient city of Jericho in 1953. It’s now thought to be a relic of a common funerary practice at the time it was made, about 9,500 years ago
The skull is now held by the British Museum in London, and the latest facial reconstruction is based on precise photographs of it published in 2016.
The techniques used by the researchers are also used to plan plastic surgeries and manufacture artificial body parts.

New approximation

Moraes said he’s been unable to find many details of the 2016 facial approximation, but it seems to have used what’s known as the Manchester method, which has been developed since 1977 and is based on forensic analyses. 

It is now widely used for facial approximations, especially of the victims of crimes.

The latest approximation, however, used a different approach, which is based on anatomical deformation and statistical projections derived from computed tomography (CT) scans— thousands of X-ray scans knitted together to create a 3D image — of living people, he said.

The techniques are also used to plan plastic surgeries and in the manufacturing of prostheses (artificial body parts), but neither were used in the 2016 study, he said.

“I wouldn’t say ours is an update, it’s just a different approach,” he said. But “there is greater structural, anatomical and statistical coherence.” 

Moraes hopes to carry out digital approximations of other plastered skulls from the region, but so far only the precise measurements of the Jericho Skull in the British Museum have been published. “There is a lot of mystery around this material,” Moraes said. “Thanks to new technologies we are discovering new things about the pieces, but there is still a lot to be studied.”

16th-Century Ship Discovered in England

16th-Century Ship Discovered in England

16th-Century Ship Discovered in England
Archaeologists have made a detailed three-dimensional model of the surviving timbers of the hull using laser scans and digital photography.

Much of the wooden hull of a rare Elizabethan-era ship has been found in a flooded quarry in southeast England, hundreds of yards from the nearest coast.

Few vessels from this time have survived, so an analysis of the find may shed new light on a key period in seafaring, when the country rapidly expanded its trading links throughout Europe through its control of the English Channel.

“To find a late-16th-century ship preserved in the sediment of a quarry was an unexpected but very welcome find indeed,” said Andrea Hamel, a marine archaeologist for Wessex Archaeology, which investigated the discovery on behalf of Historic England, a government agency dedicated to historical preservation. 

“The ship has the potential to tell us so much about a period where we have little surviving evidence of shipbuilding, but yet was such a great period of change in ship construction and seafaring,” she said in a statement from Wessex Archaeology.

The remains of the ship were found in April in a flooded quarry being dredged for gravel on the Dungeness headland in Kent, about 60 miles (100 kilometers) southeast of London.

Workers from the quarry firm CEMEX reported the discovery to local government officials, who then contacted Historic England to arrange specialist support and emergency funding to recover the remains, according to the statement. 

Analysis shows that the ship was built from trees felled in the late 16th century, a transitional time for shipbuilding and seagoing trade.

Moving coastline

The quarry site now lies about 1,000 feet (300 meters) from the nearest coast, but archaeologists think that the site formed part of the coastline in the 16th century and that the ship may have been abandoned there after it was wrecked on the rocky headland or discarded after it was no longer seaworthy.

The vessel has not been identified, but dendrochronological analysis of more than 100 timbers from the hull — based on the patterns of tree growth rings — show it was built from trees of English oak (Quercus robur) felled between 1558 and 1580.

The ship was built in the “carvel” style of flush planks nailed to an internal frame, which made stronger but heavier ships than those built in the traditional “clinker” style of overlapping planks.

According to the Wessex Archaeology researchers, that date estimate places the ship during a transitional period in shipbuilding in northern Europe, when the traditional “clinker” construction of overlapping hull planks was replaced by the stronger but heavier “carvel” construction developed in the Mediterranean, which used flush hull planks nailed to an internal frame.

The remains of the ship found at Dungeness had this newer carvel type of construction, and its introduction led to much heavier ships than had been built before, including those that would explore the Atlantic coastline of the New World in later decades, the researchers said.

The hull timbers were found in April in a flooded quarry being dredged for gravel. The quarry is now half a mile from the sea, but it is thought to have been on the coast 400 years ago.
When the archaeological analysis is complete, the timbers will be reburied in the flooded quarry so that they will be protected by a layer of silt.

Rare find

Wood quickly rots away in both air and water, and it usually lasts only a few years unless it is protected by an anaerobic layer of sediment — that is, a layer that protects it from oxygen. That means the wrecks of very few old wooden ships have survived to be found. And in the case of the Dungeness ship, the remaining hull timbers may have been covered by an anaerobic layer of silt beneath the floor of the quarry lake.

“The remains of this ship are really significant, helping us to understand not only the vessel itself but the wider landscape of shipbuilding and trade in this dynamic period,” Antony Firth, head of marine heritage strategy at Historic England, said in the statement.

Using laser scanning and digital photographs, archaeologists are documenting what’s left of the ship, and when the analysis is finished, the timbers will be carefully reburied in the quarry lake so they can continue to be protected by the silt layer. 

A Little Girl From London Finds a 700,000-Year-old Ancient Bear Tooth

A Little Girl From London Finds a 700,000-Year-old Ancient Bear Tooth

A Little Girl From London Finds a 700,000-Year-old Ancient Bear Tooth
Eagle-eyed Etta spotted the bear tooth on a family holiday – and experts were blown away by the discovery. BBC

Etta, from Hackney in London, made her discovery while on a family holiday on 22 July on Norfolk beach at West Runton.

While she was looking down she found something that she thought it was a fossilised bit of wood so she put it in her pocket, and when they got back to the car park they showed it to a fossil expert and she fell off her chair.

Etta initially thought the tooth was a piece of ancient wood, but it has since been confirmed as a bear’s tooth. BBC

“She said, ‘People search for 20 years and don’t find anything this good’ and told them it was a bear tooth.”

The nine-year-old, and her sisters aged seven and five, “really got into fossils” after attending a Norfolk Wildlife Trust fossil hunting course earlier in the year, their mother Thea Ferner explained.

Etta has loaned the tooth, which is about 9cm long (3in) from tip to root, to Norfolk Museums Service geologist David Waterhouse after meeting him at a fossil identification event at Cromer Museum.

About 1km (0.6 miles) of West Runton beach has been excavated by Norfolk Museums Service experts. BBC

“To find a perfect massive bear canine is a first for me in 16 years working here,” the senior curator of natural history said.

“We normally find lots of deer fossils, for example, but as you go up the food chain, you find fewer and fewer carnivores like the bear.”

He has identified it as an ancestor of the common brown bear.

Dr Waterhouse said “more extreme weather” is speeding up coastal erosion, which is “a double-edged sword – people’s homes and livelihoods are at risk, but it also means that amazing finds such as the Happisburgh footprints are being discovered”.

The Norfolk landscape 700,000 years ago would have had hyenas, lions, deer and mammoths. BBC

Norfolk’s Deep History Coast is a 22-mile (35km) stretch of coastline between Weybourne and Cart Gap.

Some of the more spectacular discoveries include the oldest archaeological site in northern Europe at Happisburgh, where 800,000-year-old human footprints were revealed in 2013. West Runton is also home to the oldest and largest fossilised mammoth ever found in the UK.

They are being unearthed in the Cromer Forest Bed geological layer, which at West Runton is 600,000 to 700,000 years old, said Dr Waterhouse.

The discoveries have pushed back archaeologists’ understanding of life by hundreds of thousands of years – and they have kept coming over the past 10 years, Dr Waterhouse explained.

These revealed the climate would have been like modern Poland’s, with similar summers but much colder winters than today.

About 1km (0.6 miles) of West Runton beach has been excavated by Norfolk Museums Service experts. BBC

“All these little nuances are building up to this rich picture of what animals and plants were thriving 700,000 years ago,” he said.

The earliest humans were Homo antecessor or Pioneer Man and they migrated across a landmass known as Dogger Land, which joined the British coast to present-day Germany and the Netherlands.

Dr Waterhouse said humans were still “a rare species… but everything was just right in Norfolk” for them, from wildfowl, game, shellfish “and crucially flint” to turn into sharp tools.

The nine-year-old said she planned to keep on fossil hunting.

Rare Elizabethan ship discovered at quarry 300 metres from the coast

A rare Elizabethan ship discovered at quarry 300 meters from the coast

In April 2022, a team from CEMEX unexpectedly uncovered the remains of a rare Elizabethan-era ship, while dredging for aggregates at a quarry on the Dungeness headland, in Kent.

Found some 300 metres from the coast, the discovery stumped the quarry team, who contacted our experts to study the remains. Recognising the significance of this extraordinary discovery, Kent County Council enlisted specialist support and emergency funding from Historic England.  

The story of this rare Elizabethan ship will feature on Digging for Britain on BBC2 at 8pm on 1 January 2023

Above: Wessex Archaeology Marine Archaeologist, Andrea Hamel, in the Digging for Britain studio with Alice Roberts.

Very few English-built 16th-century vessels survive, making this a rare discovery from what was a fascinating period in the history of seafaring.

The late 16th-century was a period of great expansion of trade, with the English Channel serving as a major route on Europe’s Atlantic seaboard.

Although the ship remains unidentified, it represents an era when English vessels and ports played an important role in this busy traffic.   

Above: Archaeologist records the ship’s remains on-site (Left). The hull of the 16th-century ship remains at the quarry (Right).

Over 100 timbers from the ship’s hull were recovered, with dendrochronological analysis, funded by Historic England, dating the timbers that built the ship to between 1558 and 1580 and confirming it was made of English oak.

This places the ship at a transitional period in Northern European ship construction. When ships are believed to have moved from a traditional clinker construction (as seen in Viking vessels) to frame-first-built ships (as recorded here), where the internal framing is built first and flush-laid planking is later added to the frames to create a smooth outer hull.

This technique is similar to what was used on the Mary Rose, built between 1509 and 1511, and the ships that would explore and settle along the Atlantic coastlines of the New World.  

Above: Archaeologist records the ship’s remains on-site.

Andrea Hamel, Marine Archaeologist at Wessex Archaeology, said: “To find a late 16th-century ship preserved in the sediment of a quarry was an unexpected but very welcome find indeed.

The ship has the potential to tell us so much about a period where we have little surviving evidence of shipbuilding but yet was such a great period of change in ship construction and seafaring.” 

Although uncovered 300 metres from the sea in what is today a quarry, experts believe the site would have once been on the coastline, and that the ship either wrecked on the shingle headland or was discarded at the end of its useful life. Its discovery presents a fascinating opportunity to understand the development of the coast, ports and shipping of this stretch of the Kent coast. 

Antony Firth, Head of Marine Heritage Strategy at Historic England, said: “The remains of this ship are really significant, helping us to understand not only the vessel itself but the wider landscape of shipbuilding and trade in this dynamic period.

CEMEX staff deserve our thanks for recognising that this unexpected discovery is something special and for seeking archaeological assistance.

Historic England has been very pleased to support the emergency work by Kent County Council and Wessex Archaeology, and to see the results shared in the new season of Digging for Britain.” 

Our archaeologists have recorded the ship using laser scanning and digital photography. Once our work is complete the timbers will be reburied in the quarry lake where they were uncovered so that the silt can continue to preserve the remains. 

Neolithic axe grinding site uncovered

Neolithic axe grinding site uncovered

About 4,500 years ago, Neolithic toolmakers used this site like a giant whetstone to polish axes. The large sandstone was discovered by archaeologists and volunteers who examined an area close to Balfron, near Stirling, Scotland.

Neolithic axe grinding site uncovered
A site where Neolithic toolmakers sharpened stone axes has been uncovered near Balfron.

There are many magnificent ancient monuments and sites in Scotland. “The merging of the Neolithic Age into the Bronze Age also sawthe flowering of an extraordinary architectural phenomenon – the erection of stone circles and standing stones.” 1 The sacred Callanish stone complex on the Isle of Lewis and the intriguing Neolithic Skara Brae village are just a few examples one can mention.

“Over 5000 years of human history can be traced across the Kilmartin valley. Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland.

There are at least 350 ancient monuments, of which 150 are prehistoric. Of particular interest are chambered cairns, round cairns, cists, standing stones and rock carvings.

These Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments, together with the stone circle at Temple Wood and the standing stones at Ballymeanoch are all part of the ritual landscape of Kilmartin Glen.” 2

“The Neolithic period (or New Stone Age) began approximately 6,100 years ago and ended around 4,500 years ago (4,100 BC to 2,500 BC), which begins with the earliest evidence of a farming way of life and ends when copper tools are first used.

During this time, farmers arrived from what is now mainland Europe – and since people were now staying in one place for longer periods of time (rather than having to roam around for food), they also started building permanent structures such as stone dwellings and tombs.

This means that there are a lot more clues for archaeologists compared to the Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods.” 3

Archaeologists have previously found many polished stone tools (axeheads), but now scientists get a better understanding of how these Neolithic tools were kept in working condition.

The site represents Scotland’s largest concentration of Neolithic axe grind points.

The recently unearthed axe grinding site represents Scotland’s largest concentration of Neolithic axe grind points and one of only two known Scottish polissoir sites.

“Experts believe people may have traveled for miles to smooth or sharpen axes at the sites.

Scotland’s Rock Art Project volunteer Nick Parish and Stirling Council archaeologist Dr Murray Cook were among those who stripped turf from the sandstone and recorded the polissoirs at Balfron,” BBC reports.

The finds have been listed among archaeological highlights from this year by the Dig It! project, external.