Category Archives: EUROPE

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Historical documents show that a two-storey chapel, described as ‘sumptuously constructed’ and ‘exceedingly good,’ was built at Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland in the early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

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.

Oldest Preserved Spider Web dates back to Dinosaurs

Oldest Preserved Spider Web dates back to Dinosaurs

The oldest known spider web in the world has been discovered on a beach in the English city of Sussex, caught inside an ancient amber chunk

 Baltic amber.

In December scientists found the rare amber fossil and have now confirmed that it contains remains of spider silk woven by an ancestor of modern spider weaving spiders some 140 million years ago.

The researchers discovered that ancient silk threads share many common features in modern spider webs, including droplets of sticky glue that are used for holding the web together and catching the prey after cutting the amber into thin sections and examining every piece under the powered microscope.

According to paleobiologist Martin Brasier of Oxford University, the gooey droplets suggest that spiders were starting to spin webs that were better adapted for catching flying insects.

“Interestingly, huge radiation took place in flying insects and bark beetles about 140-130 million years ago,” Brasier wrote in an email to “So we may be seeing a co-evolution of spiders and insects here.”

The new discovery is the first example of an amber fossil from the early Cretaceous period when dinosaurs like spinosaurus and psittocosaurs roamed the Earth.

“Silk is a relatively delicate material and it is rarely preserved in the fossil record, except when entombed in amber,” Brasier and colleagues wrote about the discovery in the upcoming December issue of the Journal of the Geological Society. 

The researchers think pieces of organic material, including the spider silk, became embalmed during a severe wildfire when amber resins seeped out from the charred bark of coniferous trees and were eventually swept away by flooding.

In addition to ancient spider silk, the amber chunk contains well-preserved soil microbes, including the oldest known examples of actinobacteria, a common type of bacteria that plays a major role in soil formation.