A rare Bronze Age spearhead has been found by workers while developing a wetland in Gloucestershire. Experts discovered it at Cirencester Sewage Works, near South Cerney, earlier this year and on 10 May estimated it is about 3,500 years old.
Archaeologists said it appeared to be a family heirloom that was placed into a pit for a reason unknown.
Other items unearthed include a selection of prehistoric pottery fragments and flint tools.
The spearhead was found on 22 March at the site owned by Thames Water, which is being turned into a wetlands area to improve biodiversity.
Cotswold Archaeology project manager Alex Thomson said: “Items like this are quite rare and during the Bronze Age they would have been equally as rare and quite special.
“It’s always exciting as you never know what you’re going to find, it could be absolutely nothing or, as in this instance, you could find more than you bargained for.”
Mr Thomson said he thought the spearhead was likely associated with a “wider settlement” found nearby during excavations undertaken in the late 1990s.
Thames Water archaeologist Victoria Reeve added: “We knew we were likely to come across something interesting while carrying out the work, which is why we had Cotswold Archaeology on site ready to record any archaeology that was present, but we were blown away by what we actually discovered.
“It was one of the first things that came out and normally if we had started excavating, we might have expected something to turn up more mid-way through.
“There’s been a lot of work in this wider area, so if you bring all of those sources together, then you can start to plot where you think people might have been in the past.”
The items will be taken back to a laboratory for analysis and then handed to the Corinium Museum in Cirencester.
Tomb Saviors: Two Giants Found In Ancient Graveyard Could Have Been Body Guards
Giant statues crafted more than 3,000 years ago could have been guardians of an ancient graveyard, say experts. The mysterious Bronze Age giants were found at a necropolis near Mont’e Prama in Cabras, a small town in the western part of the island of Sardinia.
Dated to between the 11th and 8th centuries BC, these giants – or Kolossoi – are the oldest human-shaped sculptures found in the Mediterranean.
Experts say they are younger than ancient Egyptian statues but older than Greek kouroi statues dating from the 7th century BC.
The new finds will be added to discoveries first made in 1974. The more recent excavations recovered 5,000 pieces, which include 15 heads and 22 torsos. Fully rebuilt, the statues measure 2.5 meters tall – or just over 8 feet.
The figures and other sculptures were carved in native grainy limestone.
The giants resemble others recovered in 2014, known as “boxers” for the curved shields each bears on the left arm. Italy’s Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini said: “An exceptional discovery, which will be followed by others, which has no equal in the Mediterranean.”
Franceschini said of the statues: “Two new jewels are thus added to this statuary group with a mysterious charm, capable of attracting the attention of the whole world.”
Expert Alessandro Usai, who has been digging at the site since 2014, said: “In particular, the two torsos found with the elongated shield that takes on a slightly enveloping shape with respect to the left arm and which flattens on the belly bring the findings back to the category of boxers.”
According to archaeologist Monica Stochino, who participated in the dig: “While the small and medium-sized fragments are brought to light daily, documented in situ on the ground and recovered, the two large and heavy blocks of the torsos will need time to be freed from the earth around them…”
She added that work remains to completely excavate the site, remove the artefacts, and ultimately exhibit them. The limestone used by the ancients was easily carved, but fragile, thus making transportation and restoration difficult. The Nuragic civilization of Sardinia lasted from about the 18th century BC until Roman colonization in 238 BC.
The name Nuragic refers to Sardinia’s most characteristic monument, the 7,000 circular stone “nuraghe” forts built across the island, which bear silent witness to the ancient people who left no written records.
The ancient Greeks and Romans later wrote mythical accounts about the Nuragic people. Nuragic people may have navigated elsewhere in the Mediterranean, ranging from what is now modern-day Spain and its islands, to mainland Italy, Crete, and even Israel. The Carthaginians from North Africa also lived on the island and may have dominated the Nuragic people. Their tombs and monuments include standing stones resembling Britain’s Stonehenge, as well as megalithic tombs known as dolmens, which are also found elsewhere in Europe.
Mont’e Prama, where the new statues were found, is a necropolis or cemetery dating from the end of the 9th century to the first half of the 8th century that features a funerary road. It shows three phases: the first consists of simple tombs where bodies were inhumed; a second featuring grouped tombs each covered by rough stone slabs; and a third in which perfectly-aligned tombs are covered with square slabs.
The giant statues were shattered in ancient times and then deposited on top of or next to the tombs. While the stone was quarried nearby, it is not known where the statues were originally erected before ending up at the necropolis. Some experts believe they were used to mark off a sacred space, while others assert they were placed on slabs covering the tombs.
Opinions also differ over their destruction, with some experts asserting it came because of internal strife among the Nuragic peoples, while others blame Phoenicians of nearby Tharros on the Sinis peninsula.
Yet another theory proposes that the statues were demolished by Carthaginians, during the much later second half of the 4th century BC.
The statues appear to be warriors or “boxers,” and may represent Nuragic ancestors, gods, or mythical heroes, while Mont’e Prama may have been a heroon or hero-shrine where they were worshipped.
As evidence that it was a place for honouring heroes, Usai noted that among the 170 tombs, there were none with the remains of children or elderly people. There were very few women buried at the necropolis, which appeared to be almost exclusively reserved for young men. Stochino explained that the research addressed two main objectives: “To confirm the extension of the monumental arrangement of the area with the definition of the funerary road and the creation of the sculptural complex made up of statues, models of nuraghe and betyls.”
According to the experts, the model nuraghe may have represented community identity or solidarity. Betyls or baetylus are sacred stones that some ancient cultures believed either gave access to their gods or were actually endowed with life. The word comes from the Semitic ‘bet el’, or ‘house of the god’, in much the same way as the biblical Bethel does.
As to the identity of the giants, and their purpose and fragmentation, Usai said that he leans to the conclusion that the statues were victims of a “natural” destruction, even while he granted that further investigation based on data may eventually uncover the mystery.
A rare 2,300-year-old tomb in Istanbul holds a partially cremated body
A 2,300-year-old brick tomb contains the cremated remains of an individual whose body was likely placed in the tomb and then set on fire, archaeologists in Istanbul have announced. A tomb-like this is a rare find, archaeologists say.
At the time this person was buried, the area was known as Chalcedon, then a flourishing city during the Hellenistic era. The tomb, which contains the cremated remains of at least one person, was found at the Haydarpaşa Train Station in Istanbul.
Archaeologists also found a terracotta goblet and a perfume bottle within it, Rahmi Asal, director of the Istanbul Archaeological Museums, told the Turkish government-owned Anadolu Agency.
“This is very valuable. It is one of the oldest finds in this area,” Asal told the news agency, adding that “perhaps this will give us many more valuable insights” into the area’s past.
The excavation was carried out prior to the renovation and expansion of the railway system in the region and has unearthed remains throughout Istanbul’s history.
Although the individual’s body was buried inside the tomb, some of the bones survived, a preliminary analysis revealed. “I have never seen this type of a cremation tomb from the Hellenistic period,” Asal said.
At the time the tomb was built, Chalcedon was a thriving city. “Chalcedon was a powerful player in international politics,” Noah Kaye, an assistant professor of history at Michigan State University who is not involved with the new excavation, told Live Science in an email.
Kaye noted that between 235 B.C and 220 B.C., Chalcedon, along with Byzantion (a nearby city), levied heavy tolls on ships passing through the Bosphorus strait, which separates Asia from Europe, into the Black Sea.
The cities extracted the tolls with the help of Egypt’s navy, which was then under the control of the Ptolemaic dynasty.
Despite Chalcedon’s success at the time, some ancient writers referred to Chalcedon as the “land of the blind” because there were other supposedly other areas nearby that were better suited for a city.
In the fourth century A.D., the Roman emperor Constantine founded Constantinople, a city that would eventually engulf both Byzantion and Chalcedon and become the centre of the Byzantine Empire.
The discovery of the tomb may help shed light on what Chalcedon was like, Felix Pirson, director of the German Archaeological Institute’s Istanbul branch, told Live Science in an email. “It looks like a very important discovery indeed,” Pirson said, noting that we know little about what this area was like before Constantinople was founded.
“More information about burial customs and funerary culture in general, which sheds a light on crucial topics such as social differentiation or identities, is of utmost importance,” said Pirson, who was not involved in the discovery of the tomb.
An underground city unearthed in Turkey may have been a refuge for early Christians
Archaeologists in southeastern Turkey have unearthed a vast underground city that was built almost 2,000 years ago and could have been home to up to 70,000 people. The subterranean complex may have been a protected space that early Christians used to escape Roman persecution.
The first underground chambers of the ancient complex were found about two years ago, during a project to clean and conserve historical streets and houses in the Midyat district of Mardin province.
Workers on the project first discovered a limestone cave, and then a passage into the rest of the hidden city, Gani Tarkan, the director of the Mardin Museum and the head of the excavations, told the Turkish government-owned Anadolu Agency. That said, some of the local people had already known that there were caves below Midyat, but had not known there was an entirely underground city, Tarkan told Live Science in an email.
Now, 49 chambers have been unearthed in the colossal complex, as well as connecting passages, water wells, grain storage silos, the rooms of homes, and places of worship, including a Christian church and a large hall with a Star of David symbol on the wall, which appears to be a Jewish synagogue.
Artefacts found in the caverns — including Roman-era coins and oil lamps — indicate that the subterranean complex was built sometime in the second or third centuries A.D, Tarkan told Live Science.
And there is still a large area to excavate. Tarkan estimates that less than 5% of the underground city, now known as Matiate, has been explored so far — an area of over 100,000 square feet (10,000 square m). He thinks the entire complex may be larger than 4 million square feet (400,000 square m) in the area and would have been large enough to accommodate between 60,000 and 70,000 people.
It’s possible that the city originally served as a refuge: “It was first built as a hiding place or escape area,” he suggested.
“Christianity was not an official religion in the second century [and] families and groups who accepted Christianity generally took shelter in underground cities to escape the persecution of Rome,” Tarkan said. “Possibly, the underground city of Midyat was one of the living spaces built for this purpose.”
Ancient geographers wrote that the southern region of what is now Turkey was inhabited by Christians before its more central parts and that Christians in the area were heavily persecuted, not only by the Romans but also by the Persians in the fourth century, he told Live Science.
Medieval travellers in the region at times of war also reported that they’d found entire towns and cities completely empty of inhabitants, and so it was possible the inhabitants had in fact hidden underground in places like Matiate, he said.
In the early first century A.D., Roman officials did not distinguish between Jews and Christians, because many early Christians were also Jews. But that changed in A.D. 64 when Emperor Nero blamed and then killed Christians for a fire that swept through Rome, according to Britannica. Although the persecutions were sporadic, they continued until the early fourth century; and while the numbers are debated, it’s likely that thousands of Christians were executed during this time. In A.D. 313, however, Emperor Constantine issued the Edict of Milan, making Christianity legal and ending the persecutions; and in 380 Emperor Theodosius issued the Edict of Thessalonica, making it the official religion of the Roman Empire.
Lozan Bayar, an archaeologist with Mardin’s Office for Protection and Supervision, agreed that Matiate might have been used by early Christians to escape Roman persecution.
“In the early period of Christianity, Rome was under the influence of pagans before later recognizing Christianity as an official religion,” he told Hürriyet Daily News, a Turkish news outlet. Such underground cities provided security to people and they also performed their prayers there. They were also places of escape.”
The ancient city of Midyat above the subterranean complex was likely first built by the Hurrians, a people who occupied parts of central and southern Anatolia (in present-day Turkey) up to 4,000 years ago, during the Bronze Age. The city first appears in Assyrian records in the ninth century B.C. as “Matiate” — a name that meant “city of caves,” possibly because there are many limestone caves nearby — the name that has now been assigned to the underground city.
Midyat was occupied, in turn, by Arameans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans during its long history, with each civilization building on the work of the last. As a result, Midyat is now well-known for its ancient architecture, and it draws up to 3 million tourists every year, according to Hürriyet Daily News. More than 100 traditional houses near the city’s centre are now protected because of their historical significance, and nine churches and monasteries in the city are listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Tarkan thinks the hidden city of Matiate will be an additional attraction when the excavations are completed.” While the houses on the top are dated to the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, there is a completely different city underneath,” he said. “That city is 1,900 years old.”
The tradition of building homes and cities underground is well established in Turkey. More than 40 ancient subterranean cities have been found there, including Derinkuyu — an enormous complex in the central Cappadocia region that was burrowed into soft volcanic rock, possibly by the Anatolian people known as the Phrygians in the eighth and ninth centuries B.C.
Derinkuyu was large enough to hold 20,000 people, and was occupied until the medieval period: for example, Byzantine Christians and Jews used it as a refuge during Arab invasions between the eighth and 12th centuries A.D. Science writer Will Hunt, author of the book “Underground: A Human History of the World’s Beneath Our Feet” (Random House, 2019) said there were many stories of people in what is now Turkey who had found holes in their land, or sometimes right inside their homes, that opened up to sprawling warrens of human-made tunnels.
“Some go down more than 10 levels and have space for tens of thousands of people,” he told Live Science in an email. “They are like upside-down castles.”
Hunt echoes Tarkan’s suggestion that the underground structures at Matiate may have been used in defence. “Beneath any settlement, there would have been an underground city, where people would take cover when they were under attack,” he said.
And it wasn’t just in Turkey: “all over the world, throughout history, whenever there is a threat on the surface, people have dark underground [spaces] to protect themselves from danger,” he said. “It’s practically instinctual.”
Stunningly Well-Preserved Arrows With Feathers Revealed By Melting Ice Sheets In Norway
A spectacularly preserved arrow from the Iron Age — complete with its iron arrowhead, sinew wrappings and aerodynamic feather fletching — is now in the hands of glacial archaeologists in Norway.
It’s rare for arrow fletching to preserve, as the delicate feathers that help guide the arrow in flight usually decay over time.
The arrows of Ötzi the Iceman, who died about 5,300 years ago in what is now the Italian Alps, also have preserved fletching, although their condition isn’t as good as that of this newly discovered 1,700-year-old arrow, the archaeologists said.
“I think it is perhaps just the Ötzi-find which has preserved fletching on arrows, but his arrow fletchings are nowhere as well preserved as some of ours,” Lars Pilø, an archaeologist at the Department of Cultural Heritage, Innlandet County Council, Norway, co-director of the Glacier Archaeology Program, told Live Science in an email.
However, “his are older too, by several thousand years, so this is not to diss Ötzi’s arrows,” Pilø said.
The archaeologists found the 31.5-inch-long (80 centimetres) arrow during a survey at an undisclosed site in the Jotunheimen mountains in southern Norway in 2019, the glacial archaeology group Secrets of the Ice announced on Twitter on April 28.
“It is probably the best-preserved arrow we have found so far,” said Pilø, who is also editor of the Secrets of the Ice website. For instance, the sinew, wrapped around the front end of the arrow shaft to reduce the risk of fracture on impact, is still “wrapped tightly” and in place, he said. The remains of the thread and tar used to craft the arrow are also present.
“No wood species determination has been made, but the shafts of this type tend to be made in pine,” Pilø added. “Hopefully, it will be possible to find out which birds the feathers come from, what animal the sinew came from, etc.”
The team decided to forgo radiocarbon dating, as they would have to destroy part of the arrow when taking a sample to test its carbon isotopes (variants of the element carbon). They would rather the entire arrow stay intact for when it goes on display in a museum, he said.
But, because this style of the arrow is well known, it’s fairly easy to date. “The shaft type is known from Danish weapon sacrifices found in bogs, and the arrowhead is also a well-known type from graves in southern Norway,” Pilø said, so it’s likely that this weapon dates to between A.D. 300 and 600.
At that time, hunters would have gone into the mountains and used arrows like this one to shoot reindeer, he added.
This arrow is one of eight that Secrets of the Ice found during the 2019 survey.
The archaeologists hope to find more artefacts soon, as Norway’s glaciers are melting due to climate change. In one instance, the team found an arrow at the edge of the ice at one site in 2013. “The location of this find is now 100 m [328 feet] from the ice,” Pilø said.
24,000-Year-Old Siberian Boy Sheds New Light on Origins of Native Americans
Results from a DNA study of a young boy’s skeletal remains believed to be 24,000 years old could turn the archaeological world upside down — it’s been demonstrated that nearly 30 per cent of modern Native American’s ancestry came from this youngster’s gene pool, suggesting First Americans came directly from Siberia, according to a research team that includes a Texas A&M University professor.
Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and the University of California-Berkeley.
Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine.
Graf and Willerslev conceived the project and travelled to the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the remains are now housed to collect samples of ancient DNA.
The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.
“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male,” says Graf.
Graf helped extract DNA material from the boy’s upper arm and “the results surprised all of us quite a bit,” she explains.
“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, the Czech Republic and even Germany.
We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe.”
Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.
“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Graf explains.
The DNA work performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far, the study shows. Also found near the boy’s remains were flint tools, a beaded necklace and what appears to be pendant-like items, all apparently placed in the burial as grave goods.
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.
“Though our results cannot speak directly to this debate, they do indicate Native American ancestors could have been in Beringia — extreme northeastern Russia and Alaska — any time after 24,000 years ago and therefore could have colonized Alaska and the Americas much earlier than 14,500 years ago, the age suggested by the archaeological record.”
“What we need to do is continue searching for earlier sites and additional clues to piece together this very big puzzle.”
Skeletons in Dutch Mass Grave Are British Soldiers
More than 80 British soldiers who were buried in a mass grave in the Netherlands 200 years ago died of disease rather than during combat, archaeologists have revealed. The mass grave, which contains 82 skeletons, was found by chance in the town of Vianen in November 2020.
The soldiers buried there are believed to have died during the Flanders Campaign of 1793-1795, in which the British fought the French.
The campaign was part of the First Coalition war, which pitched post-revolutionary France against an alliance made up of Britain, Prussia, Russia, the Netherlands and Austria.
Now, analysis of some of the remains has shown that the soldiers endured extremely tough conditions, both in civilian life and after they joined up.
Instead of dying of sabre wounds, musket bullets or artillery fire, they died of disease.
“Most of them died of illness rather than fighting on the battlefield,” Hans Veenstra, an archaeologist, told The Telegraph.
“The conditions in which they lived were extremely poor. They slept in small tents in all weather, their food was not of good quality and there were all kinds of bacteria that had the chance to spread disease.”
The mass grave was found close to the site of what was a British military field hospital, which was set up in December 1794.
Of the six skeletons which have so far been examined with isotope analysis of their bones, three are believed to be British – two came from Cornwall and another from a town somewhere in central England. Two others are of possible English descent, while the sixth was German.
“That is not particularly strange because German forces were fighting with the British during the Flanders campaign,” said Mr Veenstra, from De Steekproef, a Dutch archaeological research company.
A mass grave found during research for the new canal
The mass grave was found by chance when archaeologists were conducting research in the area prior to plans to excavate a new canal.
“It was a big surprise, it was found purely by accident. The chances of finding so many bodies, centuries later, is very small,” he said.
While the average age of the soldiers was 26, some were teenagers.
They were buried in wooden coffins but without their uniforms. “Those would have been taken by the army and given to other soldiers,” said Mr Veenstra.
Thousands of pits believed to have been used by prehistoric hunters have been unearthed near Stonehenge. The find, by University of Birmingham and Ghent University researchers, included sites over 10,000 years old.
One of the pits, which was 13ft (4m) wide and 6.5ft (2m) deep, was the largest of its kind in northwest Europe, the archaeologists said.
The discoveries were made using a combination of novel geophysics and “traditional” archaeology, they added.
The researchers said the pits, dating from between around 8,200 BCE and 7800 BCE, showed hunter-gatherers had roamed the landscape during the early Mesolithic period when Britain was re-inhabited after the last Ice Age.
The discovery was partly made with a technique known as electromagnetic induction survey, which uses the electrical conductivity of soil to provide information that can be used to find materials underground.
It was the first extensive electromagnetic induction survey undertaken in the Stonehenge landscape, according to the University of Birmingham.
Paul Garwood, senior lecturer in prehistory at the University of Birmingham, said what had been discovered was “not a snapshot of one moment in time”.
“The traces we see in our data span millennia, as indicated by the 7,000-year timeframe between the oldest and most recent prehistoric pits we’ve excavated.
“From early hunter-gatherers to later Bronze Age inhabitants of farms and field systems, the archaeology we’re detecting is the result of the complex and ever-changing occupation of the landscape.”
Dr Nick Snashall, the archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site, said the team had revealed some of the earliest evidence of human activity yet unearthed in the Stonehenge landscape.
“The discovery of the largest known Early Mesolithic pit in northwest Europe shows this was a special place for hunter-gatherer communities thousands of years before the first stones were erected,” Dr Snashall said.
Philippe De Smedt, associate professor at Ghent University, said the combination of new techniques and traditional archaeology had revealed otherwise “elusive” archaeological evidence around Stonehenge.