Category Archives: EUROPE

Rendlesham: 1,400-year-old royal hall unearthed

Rendlesham: 1,400-year-old royal hall unearthed

Rendlesham: 1,400-year-old royal hall unearthed
Volunteers working with Suffolk County Council fully excavated post holes on the east side of the hall

A royal hall of “international importance” that dates back 1,400 years has been unearthed on private land. The Hall of the first Kings of East Anglia was discovered in Rendlesham, Suffolk, over the summer.

Prof Christopher Scull said it was the “most extensive and materially wealthy settlement of its date known in England”.

It was discovered by a community dig as part of Suffolk County Council’s Rendlesham Revealed project.

An Anglo-Saxon iron knife was excavated from the boundary ditch in Rendlesham

The authority said the hall was “recorded in the writings of The Venerable Bede of the 8th Century”.

The hall, which was 75ft (23m) long and 33ft (10m) wide, was set within a larger settlement of more than 124 acres (50 hectares).

For 150 years, between AD 570 and AD 720, it was the centre from which a major province of the East Anglian kingdom, focused on the valley of the River Deben, was ruled.

Bede’s writings identified Rendlesham as the place where the East Anglian King Aethelwold stood sponsor at the baptism of King Swithelm of the East Saxons, between the years AD 655 and 663.

Children from Rendlesham Primary School came to help with the dig…
and got stuck in and learned new skills

Prof Scull, the project’s principal academic advisor, said: “The results of this season’s excavation are of international importance.

“Rendlesham is the most extensive and materially wealthy settlement of its date known in England, and excavation of the hall confirms that this is the royal residence recorded by Bede.

“Only at Rendlesham do we have the wider settlement and landscape context of an early English royal centre, together with an assemblage of metalwork that illuminates the lives and activities of its inhabitants across the social range.”

The work was a “major advance in our understanding of the early East Anglian kingdom and the wider North Sea world of which it was a part,” he added.

A cattle skull was also found in a boundary ditch

The excavations also revealed a perimeter ditch enclosing the royal compound, remains of food preparation and feasting that showed the consumption of vast quantities of meat – mainly beef and pork – and dress jewellery, personal items, fragments of glass drinking vessels and pottery.

Traces of earlier settlements from the Roman period (1st Century AD) and the early Neolithic period (4th Millennium BC) were also found.

Hundreds of volunteers worked on the dig during the summer

Conservative councillor Melanie Vigo di Gallidoro, the authority’s cabinet member for protected landscapes and archaeology, said: “It can’t be underestimated how important this part of Suffolk is to understanding our local and national heritage.”

The area is close to Sutton Hoo where an Anglo-Saxon burial ground was founded in 1939.

The land has now been backfilled, the council said

More than 250 volunteers, including young adults from Suffolk Family Carers and Suffolk Mind, and primary school children from Rendlesham, Eyke and Wickham Market, were involved.

The excavations are finished in the summer and an analysis of the finds is expected next year.

Local primary school children helped to clean excavated animal bones

Traces of Roman Pier Found Off Croatia’s Coast

Traces of Roman Pier Found Off Croatia’s Coast

Traces of Roman Pier Found Off Croatia’s Coast

October 3rd, 2022 – There are frequent archaeological finds all over Croatia, with most of them involving the Roman Empire being discovered in Dalmatia. One such find is yet another in a series of impressive relics which transport us back to the time of Roman rule over Istria.

As Morski writes, an impressive archaeological find was discovered down on the seabed of Barbariga bay in Istria recently. A large Roman pier, almost 60 metres long, where two thousand years ago some of the best olive oils of the Roman Empire were loaded up has been unearthed.

The sea always hides many stories both on the surface and below it, and this one, in particular, is a story that takes us straight back to the time when Istria was ruled by the ancient Romans.

Ida Koncani Uhac, head of the underwater archaeology collection from the Archaeological Museum of Istria, said that they are investigating a Roman jetty in Barbariga bay, and at a depth of a mere three metres, archaeologists found a monumental structure – the aforementioned almost 60-metre-long Roman pier constructed with three rows of stone blocks. 

”We as divers are here to help the archaeologists in their work and to take care of the safety of diving because diving needs to be done in pairs. This is the rule in diving,” said Sandra Kamerla Buljic, a local diving instructor. This particular dive takes us back two thousand years, to the times of the mighty Roman Empire, and when the sea level was a full two metres lower than it is today

”Back during that time, one of the largest oil mills in the entire Roman Empire was located on the coast, and there were also impressive villas and a large jetty as part of the commercial port.

There were no roads, and maritime traffic dominated. These ships would dock and load up the olive oil, which Pliny the Elder wrote was the second best in quality in the entire Empire, and it was then transported in amphorae.

These amphorae were produced in Fazana, also in Istria, and they were then transported to the pier. This is where oil was stored and then shipped on, mainly to the Northern Adriatic, to Aquileia, the river port of Aquileia and further inland to supply the Roman army that guarded the borders of Histria,” explained Koncani Uhac.

Discovering a story that was forgotten for thousands of years is the job of archaeologists, and Dolores Matika, an archaeologist, stated that they are interested in whether any seeds and fruits have been preserved.

More will be known after they conduct further research into these findings, but given the fact that they have found olive pits, they expect satisfactory results in this regard.

Remains of amphorae, dishes, glass and ceramics have already been found, and Koncani Uhac has claimed that they also found an interesting bowl that they managed to date to the period 15-25 years after Christ.

The research is being carried out as part of the “Istrian Undersea” project, in which as many as seventeen diving clubs are participating.

All of them are exploring their areas in search of archaeological traces, and ancient remains of Roman ports have been found throughout Istria, as HRT reported.

For more, make sure to check out our dedicated lifestyle section.

Pacific Population Decline After European Contact Investigated

Pacific Population Decline After European Contact Investigated

Pacific Population Decline After European Contact Investigated
Photo Credit: State Library of New South Wales

Pacific island nations suffered severe depopulation from introduced diseases as a consequence of contact with European vessels, according to a new study from The Australian National University (ANU) shows.

The research, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, indicates population declines were a lot larger than previously thought.

According to the study, the main island of Tonga had a population decline of between 70 and 86 per cent once Europeans made contact.

Researchers from the ANU School of Culture, History & Language, PhD candidate Phillip Parton and ARC Future Fellow Professor Geoffrey Clark found there were between 100,000-120,000 people in Tonga prior to European contact.

“I and my co-author used aerial laser scanning data to map residences on the main island of Tonga and then used archaeological data I collected as part of my PhD to estimate the population,” Mr Parton said.

“This improved understanding of the past has allowed us to show a significant population decline from 50,000-60,000 to 10,000 during a 50-year period on the main island of Tongatapu in the Kingdom of Tonga.

“Because this number is so much larger than anything anyone had previously considered, I used shipping and missionary data to check my estimates and found they were plausible. “Obviously, this shows a big reassessment of the impact of globalisation in the 19th century.

“As in many parts of the world, the population of Pacific islands suffered severe declines after contact when Europeans introduced new pathogens.”

The research has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Footprints Reflect Ecosystem Change in Prehistoric England

Footprints Reflect Ecosystem Change in Prehistoric England

“It’s about 8,200 years old,” says Dr Alison Burns, pointing to a perfectly preserved human footprint pressed into ancient mud on Formby Beach. It is one of the hundreds of newly discovered ancient footprints here.

The sandy stretch of the northwest England coast is already known to be home to one of the largest collections of prehistoric animal tracks on Earth.

As well as adding to that collection, researchers found the oldest prints were formed much earlier than thought. The first date back almost 9,000 years and the youngest of the prints are medieval – about 1,000 years old.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, tell the story of a coastal environment that transformed over thousands of years, as sea levels rapidly rose and humans settled permanently by the water.

The size and shape of the picture-perfect human footprint that Dr Burns has found suggest it belonged to a young man – perhaps a teenager. Strangely, this adolescent foot had the very distinct protrusion of a bunion on its little toe.

Researchers worked out that this human footprint was made more than 8,000 years ago

“It’s a tailor’s bunion,” Dr Burns explains. “They were habitually barefoot, so when they sat down, the little toe would have rubbed on the ground.”

The indentations, pressed into the mud as people and animals walked across stretches of tidal mud flat, were baked in the sun and buried for millennia.

“The oldest ones date to a time when the coastline was 30km away and the tidal muds here were teeming with animals – aurochs, herds of red deer, roe deer and also predators like wolves and lynx that are now extinct in the UK,” explains Prof Jamie Woodward from the University of Manchester.

He and Dr Burns, along with their colleagues, verified the ages of the tracks by carbon-dating seeds extracted from cores of this ancient, compressed mud.

Altogether there are 31 footprint beds, which point to a period of dramatic change in this ecosystem. “Up to about 6,000 years ago, there was a very diverse landscape with all those animals,” says Prof Woodward. “Then after about 5,500 years ago, we see lots of human footprints, some deer and dogs, but not much else.

“So what we’re seeing – through the footprints – is a landscape transforming with sea-level rise, and also with the arrival of agriculture that probably put a lot more pressure on this ecosystem.”

Dr Burns, who led the study, explains that as the sea erodes away layers of this ancient, compressed mud, it can reveal new layers of footprints. The deeper the layers, the earlier they were formed.

Footprints Reflect Ecosystem Change in Prehistoric England

Footsteps took thousands – even millions of years ago – have left tracks in many parts of the UK’s coastline, which scientists have been able to find, study and turn into a deeper understanding of our prehistory.

In May 2013, a storm exposed some indentations at Happisburgh in Norfolk, which researchers eventually confirmed to be 900,000-year-old human footprints. In 2015, Edinburgh University researchers found trackways on the Isle of Skye, left 170 million years ago by the largest dinosaurs ever to walk the Earth.

But the Formby footprints are particularly fragile.

“They can be washed away within weeks of being exposed,” Dr Burns explains. “Some of them will be reburied and preserved for another few millennia – it’s all a part of this changing coastline.”

The coast at Formby is transforming particularly quickly – its famous dunes are in constant motion – rolling inland by an estimated 4m every year. At one spot on the expansive beach, you can see the remnants of the old visitor’s car park that’s now been rebuilt further inland.

“What’s amazing here is that we’ve tracked a major ecosystem change solely by looking at the footprint record – with no bones or fossils.

“That could paint a picture for the future of our coastal biodiversity hotspots,” adds Prof Woodward.

“Many of the biodiversity hotspots now are in coastal environments. And those environments are threatened by rapid sea-level rise now, so there are lessons we can learn about how habitats can become degraded and disconnected, which will affect the animals that can survive there.”

Stone spheres could be from Ancient Greek board game

Stone spheres could be from Ancient Greek board game

Archaeologists from the University of Bristol have suggested that mysterious stone spheres found at various ancient settlements across the Aegean and Mediterranean could be playing pieces from one of the earliest ever board games.

There has been quite a lot of speculation around these spheres found at sites on Santorini, Crete, Cyprus, and other Greek Islands with theories around their use including being for some sort of sling stones, tossing balls, counting/record-keeping system or as counters/pawns.

Previous research by the same team from the University of Bristol indicated that there was variability in sphere size within specific clusters and collections of spheres.

Groups of spheres from Akrotiri.

Following on from this the team wanted to explore potential patterning within these sphere concentrations, to help give an insight into their potential use. 

The latest study published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports by Drs Christianne Fernée and Konstantinos Trimmis from the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology examined common features on 700 stones – which range from around 4,500 to 3,600 years old – found at the Bronze Age town of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini.

The stones, which are smaller than golf balls, are in various colours and made from different materials. The analysis put the stones into two groups larger stones and smaller ones. In addition, in Akrotiri and in other settlements across the Aegean there are stone slabs with shallow cup marks where the spheres could have sat or been placed.

Dr Ferneé said: “The most important finding of the study is that the speres fit two major clusters (one of smaller and one of larger stones).

This supports the hypothesis that they were used as counters for a board game with the spheres most possibly have been collected to fit these clusters rather than a counting system for which you would expect more groupings.”

If these spheres are in-fact part of a boardgame, they will be one of the earliest examples, along with similar examples from the Levant and Egypt, such as the Egyptian Mehen and Senet.

Dr Trimmis added: “The social importance of the spheres, as indicated by the way they were deposited in specific cavities, further supports the idea of the spheres being part of a game that was played for social interaction. This gives a new insight into the social interaction in the Bronze Age Aegean.”

The next stage of the research is to apply a similar methodology to the slabs to see if there is clustering in the cup marks and trying to associate the spheres and slabs together. The team also hope to use artificial intelligence techniques to determine how the game was actually played.

Nobel Prize Awarded for Development of Paleogenomics

Nobel Prize Awarded for Development of Paleogenomics

Neanderthals were a separate species of human that populated Europe for hundreds of thousands of years until they went extinct 40,000 years ago

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine has gone to Sweden’s Svante Paabo for his work on human evolution. The Prize committee said he achieved the seemingly impossible task of cracking the genetic code of one of our extinct relatives – Neanderthals.

He also performed the “sensational” feat of discovering the previously unknown relative – Denisovans.

His work helped explore our own evolutionary history and how humans spread around the planet.

The Swedish geneticist’s work gets to the heart of some of the most fundamental questions – where do we come from and what allowed us, Homo sapiens, to succeed while our relatives went extinct.

He was just off to pick his daughter up from a sleepover when he got the call saying he’d won. He told the BBC: “I was very surprised and overwhelmed, I had not expected this.”

In the 1990s, research on working out the human genetic code was taking place at pace. But that relied on fresh samples of pristine DNA.

Prof Paabo’s interest was in the old, degraded and contaminated genetic material from our ancestors. Many thought it was an impossible challenge. But he was, for the first time, able to sequence DNA from a 40,000-year-old piece of bone.

Those results showed that Neanderthals – who mostly lived in Europe and Western Asia – were distinct from both modern-day humans and chimpanzees.

His work focused on hominins – the group of modern humans that includes us, Homo sapiens, but also our extinct relatives.

“By revealing genetic differences that distinguish all living humans from extinct hominins, his discoveries provide the basis for exploring what makes us uniquely human”, the Nobel committee said.

Further comparisons between Neanderthal DNA and humans from around the world showed their DNA was a closer match to humans coming from Europe or Asia.

This tells us that Homo sapiens had sex and children with Neanderthals after migrating out of Africa around 70,000 years ago.

And you can still see the legacy of that today. Between 1-4% of modern human DNA comes from our Neanderthal relatives and this even affects our body’s ability to respond to infection.

Cave finger

The next seismic contribution to human origins came in 2008. Scientists found a 40,000-year-old finger bone in the Denisova cave, in Siberia.

Prof Paabo was able to sequence a sample of DNA and the results showed it was a previously unknown hominin – known as Denisovans. And it turned out Homo sapiens bred with Denisovans too. In parts of South East Asia, up to 6% of people’s DNA is Denisovan.

Some of this genetic inheritance helps the body cope with low levels of oxygen, aids survival at high altitudes and is found in present-day Tibetans.

Prof Paabo only heard the news this morning when he was called by Thomas Perlmann, the secretary for the Nobel Committee for Physiology or Medicine.

“He was overwhelmed, he was speechless. Very happy,” said Prof Perlmann.

Prof Paabo is seen as one of the founders of the scientific discipline of paleogenomics. He wins the 10m Swedish kronor (£800,000) prize. He follows in the footsteps of his father, Sune Bergstrom, who won the same Nobel Prize in 1982.

His work shows there were already two distinct groups of hominins (Neanderthals and Denisovans) living in Eurasia when Homo sapiens spread from Africa.

Analysis suggests these now extinct populations were small and relatively inbred and may not have been able to compete with rapidly expanding modern humans.

7,000-year-old fish traps discovered in the Norwegian mountains

7,000-year-old fish traps discovered in the Norwegian mountains

7,000-year-old fish traps discovered in the Norwegian mountains
Freshwater biologist Trygve Hesthagen inspecting the fish traps. Fresh poles have been put in place to map out the construction.

Reidar Marstein was out walking in Jotunheimen this summer in June, some 850 metres above sea level when he saw something strange at the bottom of the mountain lake Tesse in Lom municipality.

The water in the lake is drained every summer in order to produce power. Hobby-archaeologist Marstein immediately realised that the short wooden poles he saw sticking up in the low water formed a pattern.

“I saw that they were placed in a particular system,” Marstein says to the Norwegian national broadcaster NRK (link in Norwegian).

The system of wooden poles were in fact Stone Age fish traps, the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo writes in a press release (link in Norwegian).

One of the poles has recently been established to be 7,000 years old, meaning it is dated to 5,000 years BC. This is the early Stone Age in a Norwegian context.

“The find is unique evidence of an ancient fishing tradition in the mountains!” the Museum writes in the press release.

A reconstruction of what the fish traps most likely would have looked like some 7000 years ago.

Three large fish traps

Together with freshwater biologist Trygve Hesthagen, Marstein managed to get a fair overview of the poles before the lake was again filled with water over the summer.

At least three trapping chambers with guiding fences have been identified at the bottom of the lake. The guiding fences have probably led the fish into the traps, after which the catch could be collected from a boat or by somebody wading out into the water.

The fish trapping constructions in Tesse are among the oldest of this type from Northern Europe.

The wood is well preserved, and the archaeologists hope to get detailed information about the exact age of the fish traps, how many years they were in use, how often they were repaired and during which time of the year such repair work was carried out.

This piece of wood has been dated to be 7000 years old. (Photo: Reidar Marstein)

Hunters, gatherers, and fishermen

This piece of wood has been dated to be 7000 years old.

Previous excavations around lake Tesse have found remains from the Stone Age all the way back to 7,000 years BC. It would have largely been the reindeer that drew hunters and gatherers to these mountains.

Traces of the reindeer hunting have been found en masse by the glacial archaeologists in the Secrets of the Ice programme who secure finds that melt out of glaciers in the mountains. The more the ice melts, the older the items they find – from the Bronze Age and recently also from the Stone Age.

“There have however been great insecurities around whether or not Stone Age people came to the mountains just to hunt and gather, or if they indeed were also catching trout,” the press release reads.

Well, now we know. They were definitely catching some trout.

Excavations in 2013 and 2014 revealed extensive Stone Age activity on the shores of the mountain lake Tesse, including from the time when the fish traps would have been in active use.

Excavations in 2013 and 2014 revealed extensive Stone Age activity on the shores of the mountain lake Tesse, including from the time when the fish traps would have been in active use. (Photo: Birgitte Bjørkli/KHM)

Full excavation next spring

During the summer, lake Tesse has again been filled with water. The fish traps are now around 2-4 metres below the water surface. Divers from the Norwegian Maritime Museum have recently secured more samples and measurements from the poles, and also covered up some parts of the construction.

“Examinations of these wooden poles can give us knowledge about the Stone Age which we otherwise just dream of when excavating a Stone Age settlement,” the archaeologists write excitedly in the press release.

“In a Norwegian and Scandinavian context, this is a remarkable find. It’s a gift,” archaeologist Axel Mjærum from the Museum of Cultural History says to NRK.

A complete excavation is planned for spring next year.

Ancient Burial of a Young Girl Shows How We Carried Our Babies 10,000 Years Ago

Ancient Burial of a Young Girl Shows How We Carried Our Babies 10,000 Years Ago

Ancient Burial of a Young Girl Shows How We Carried Our Babies 10,000 Years Ago
Artistic reconstruction of the ancient infant burial.

A new look at an extremely rare infant burial in Europe suggests humans were carrying around their young in slings as far back as 10,000 years ago. The findings add weight to the idea that baby carriers were widely used in prehistoric times, although archaeological evidence of such cloth is not usually preserved in the fossil record.

Researchers discovered the grave in Italy’s Arma Veirana cave in 2017. In the years since the buried infant was dubbed “Neve”, and her teeth suggest she is the oldest female child interred in Europe.

Notably, Neve’s community laid her to rest with a large number of beads, suggesting she was well-loved and well-regarded.

Now, a fresh analysis of the grave’s contents and the child’s position suggests adults carried Neve during her short life, wrapped in a shell-adorned sling.

Nothing remains of the wrap today, but the shells surrounding Neve are perforated in such a way that indicates someone strung the shells together and sewed them on textile, fur, or hide.

A previous 2017 study of Neve’s beads estimated they took hours of work to fashion. Burying the ornaments would not have been a decision made lightly. These materials could have formed a sling, or they could have been a blanket or undergarment.

All three theories are legitimate, but researchers behind this latest analysis, led by Arizona State University anthropologist Claudine Gravel-Miguel, suspect the baby carrier option is more likely for a few reasons.

Because the infant’s legs are tucked up over the abdomen, disguising many of the shells, Gravel-Miguel and colleagues suspect these adornments were not meant as funerary ornaments, scattered on the top of a grave.

Instead, they were probably “part of a decorated garment or baby sling that was likely used during the infant’s life.”

Some of the shell beads are even curved around the child’s upper arm bone, possibly tracing the outline of the long-lost wrap.

Careful scanning of the shells themselves shows they are well-worn, and suggests they were used for much longer than this child’s short 40- to 50-day life.

“The results of the study suggest that the beads were worn by members of the infant’s community for a considerable period before they were sewn onto a sling, possibly used to keep the infant close to the parents while allowing their mobility, as seen in some modern forager groups,” the authors surmise.

An illustration of Neve’s burial, showing the infant wrapped in a shell-adorned sling

Other burial sites on the Italian peninsula rarely encompass more than 40 perforated shells a piece, and yet Neve is buried with more than 70 along with four perforated bivalve pendants, seemingly unique to this site.

The abundance of sea shells buried with Neve has allowed researchers to identify potential patterns of ornament use, in relation to the child’s posture.

Other recent studies on prehistoric infant burial sites have also found potential ornaments that look as though they were attached to fixed objects, like blankets or baby carriers. They are usually too large to have been worn by the children themselves, researchers suspect.

Ancient human ornaments on clothing are usually thought to communicate identity, gender, and status, but they could also be a form of spiritual protection.

A modern Indigenous community in the Amazon, for instance, uses decorations and ornaments as representations of parental care toward their offspring.

“The baby was then likely buried in this sling to avoid reusing the beads that had failed to protect her or simply to create a lasting connection between the deceased infant and her community,” the authors write.

In other modern forager populations, similar decorations are still sewn on baby carriers and slings to this day.

“Not surprisingly, in those societies, infants and children are always well adorned. Among the beads that are used to decorate and protect their bodies, the majority are ‘second-hand’ items, i.e., beads that have been donated by the parents, grandparents, and relatives as an act of care toward the child,” the authors of the new study write.

“This paper contributes truly original information on the archaeology of childcare,” says anthropologist Julien Riel-Salvatore from the University of Montreal.

“It bridges the science and art of archaeology to get to the ‘human’ element that drives the kind of research we do.”

The study was published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory.