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Stonehenge in Winter by Walter Williams (1834-1906)
A Stonehenge: Winter Archaeology Walk will take place on Saturday, 15 February 2014 from 2:00pm to 4.30pm. In this guided, three mile walk (with views of Stonehenge) participants will visit some of the ancient earthworks that have revealed much about the people who once lived or visited the area. Other points of interest will include the Stonehenge Cursus, the many and varied barrows in the area, and an ancient Avenue that perhaps once connected ceremonial centres.
Booking required. Further information here.
Before and after images of the Umayyad Mosque, Aleppo. Photographs: Alamy, Corbis
Martin Chulov , writing in The Guardian on Sunday, 26 January 2014, presents a depressing picture (in before and after photographs) of the destruction of Syria’s architectural heritage –
The war in Syria has claimed more than 130,000 lives and, as these images reveal, it is also laying waste to its historic buildings and Unesco-listed sites.
They were sleepy tree-lined boulevards where people lived and worked, time-worn markets where they came to trade and exquisitely detailed mosques where, throughout the ages, they prayed. All now stand in ruins, ravaged by a war that is not only killing generations of Syrians but also eradicating all around them, including sites that have stood since the dawn of civilisation. Across Syria, where a seemingly unstoppable war is about to enter a third year, a heritage built over 5,000 years or more is being steadily buried under rubble.
Full article here.
The entrance to the ceremonial complex at Ahu Tongariki on Easter Island. A lone Moai statue stands at the entrance
BBC Four presents a TV programme tonight (Thursday, 30 February 2014) entitled Easter Island: Mysteries of a Lost World
The contrast between the majestic statues of Easter Island and the desolation of their surroundings is stark. For decades Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as the islanders call it, has been seen as a warning from history for the planet as a whole – wilfully expend natural resources and the collapse of civilisation is inevitable.
But archaeologist Dr Jago Cooper believes this is a disastrous misreading of what happened on Easter Island.
BBC Four from 9pm. More here.
The Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution will be debating The Mystery of the Wansdyke on Saturday, 22 March 2014 from 2pm to 5:30pm. See details above. The Wikipedia entry for the Wansdyke reads in part as –
Wansdyke (from Woden’s Dyke) is a series of early medieval defensive linear earthworks in the West Country of England, consisting of a ditch and a running embankment from the ditch spoil, with the ditching facing north. There are two main parts: an eastern dyke which runs between Savernake Forest and Morgan’s Hill in Wiltshire, and a western dyke which runs from Monkton Combe to the ancient hill fort of Maes Knoll in historic Somerset.
Wansdyke’s origins are unclear, but archaeological data shows that the eastern part was probably built during the 5th or 6th century. That is after the withdrawal of the Romans and before the complete takeover by the Anglo-Saxons. The ditch is on the north side, so presumably it was used by the Romano-Britons as a defence against West Saxons encroaching from the upper Thames Valley westward into what is now the West Country.
NB: Part of the Wansdyke is under threat from a housing development. See comment by moss above.
The two stones that now make up the Cove in Avebury, Wiltshire England
On the way to Stonehenge at the end of last year, to see the newly-opened Visitor Centre there, two of our members stopped off briefly at Avebury. There was only time for a quick walk over to the Cove where they took some photos. It was about 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Bright, low sunlight raked across the stones from the west. Later, when they looked at their photos, there was something on one of the Cove stones that they hadn’t noticed before. On the stone on the right in the photo above there’s a circular feature resembling a millstone. The feature is probably natural (or natural and perhaps slightly enhanced) but if it was visible when the stone was in its natural recumbent position (before being erected as a standing stone) it might have been even more distinctive. Was the stone selected for both its size, shape and its ‘millstone’ feature? Perhaps the stone was selected for all three characteristics and also erected in its present position to take advantage of the low winter sunlight which might have helped enhance this curios circular feature.
Detail of the ‘millstone’ feature on one of the Cove stones
We know that some stones were selected for their distinctive appearances (the stone at the entrance to the Stoney Littleton long barrow in Somerset for example has a large fossilised ammonite in it) and perhaps the circular feature on the Avebury Cove stone is another example.
Entrance to the Stoney Littleton long barrow, Somerset England
The Heritage Trust
Detail of the Stoney Littleton entrance stone showing the fossilised ammonite
The Heritage Trust
Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo. Image credit Wikimedia Commons
Nevine El-Aref, writing for Ahram Online this morning, reports that –
The façade of the Museum of Islamic Art, Cairo in central Cairo has been completely destroyed by a powerful car bomb that exploded outside the adjacent Cairo Security Directorate early on Friday morning. The blast of the bomb also destroyed the façade of the nearby Egyptian National Library and Archives building.
Ministry employees are working hard to secure the museum’s contents and to ensure that any damaged artefacts are removed for restoration. “Once we evacuate the whole museum, the building is to be subjected to restoration,” said Ibrahim. He described the incident as a “great loss” for Egypt and the world. The Museum of Islamic Art is home to an exceptional collection of rare woodwork and plaster artefacts, as well as metal, ceramic, glass, crystal, and textiles objects of all Islamic periods from all over the world. The museum is a two-storey building; the lower floor contains the exhibition halls displaying 2,500 artefacts in 25 galleries. The second floor and the basement are used for storage.
Full article here.
Yayoi Period rice grains unearthed from the Akitsu archaeological site in Japan. Image courtesy of the Nara Prefectural Archaeological Institute of Kashihara
The Yomiuri Shimbun reports on 21 January 2014 that –
Eleven grains of brown rice believed to date back to the early Yayoi period, around 2,600 to 2,400 years ago, were found at the location of a former paddy in the Akitsu archaeological site in Goze, Nara Prefecture. Due to the well-preserved condition of the grains, they were expected to provide clues about the rice cultivated by ancient people of the period, according to experts. Kyoto University Prof. Tatsuya Inamura, an expert on plant production systems, revealed the discovery at a research meeting of Nara Prefecture’s Archaeological Institute of Kashihara on 12 January 2014.

2600 2400年前に、背中の早期弥生時代にさかのぼると考えられて玄米奈良-イレブン粒は、瞽女にある秋津遺跡、奈良県旧水田の場所で発見された。により粒の保存状態の良い条件に、それらは専門家によると、期間の古代の人々が培ってきたお米についての手がかりを提供することが期待された。京都大学教授達也哲也、植物生産システムの専門家は、1月12日に橿原市の奈良県の考古学研究所の研究会での発見を明らかにした。

Full article here.


David Russell Harris (1930 – 2013) geographer and archaeologist
Martin Jones, writing in The Guardian on Friday, 17 January 2014, reports on the death of David Russell Harris, geographer and archaeologist –
The beginnings of farming, 10,000 or more years ago, have often been discussed in relation to a few discrete “centres of origin”, for example the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East, and Central America. That we are now aware of a far richer, deeper, more diverse history of plant and animal exploitation right across the globe is thanks, in large part, to the contribution of David Harris, who has died aged 83.
Five decades of academic life took David through departments of geography, anthropology, botany and archaeology, and his fieldwork took him to each of the world’s inhabited continents. A seminal moment in his career came during a journey through the Venezuelan rainforest in early 1968. While travelling in a dugout canoe to a particularly remote part of the upper Orinoco, he was able to observe and record the sophisticated forest management practised by the Waika Indians.
Root crops and fruit trees were inter-planted within clearings that merged with the forest ecosystem, in a way of life that integrated cropping, fishing and hunting with the use of the forest resources. That experience led David to question the conventional idea of a simple split between hunter-gatherers and farmers, and to challenge it in a series of publications.
In the following decade, he continued his explorations of tropical ecosystem management, in the Torres Strait Islands to the north of Australia. The work of David and his colleagues in these islands identified one of the most ancient locations of complex plant management in the world, with a history of several millennia of taro cultivation in drained and managed plots.
Throughout his career, he highlighted the diversity of the world’s ecosystems, and the corresponding diversity and complexity of human management and its history.
Full obituary here.
One of some fifty dolmens still remaining in the Sochi area of Russia
Image credit Lori, Legion Media
With the 2014 Winter Olympics beginning next month in Sochi, a city situated on the Black Sea coast of Russia, our readers might be interested in another reason to visit the area. Even without its fifth century bce connections to ancient Greece, Sochi holds a special place in Russian history, and it would be good to know that it is recognised, understood and promoted during the 2014 Olympic Games. Perhaps, too, some of the revenue from the Games could be allocated towards protecting and preserving these wonderful ancient monuments from Russia’s prehistory.
Sochi, according to Wikipedia, was –
…populated during the Lower Paleolithic more than 100,000 years ago by early humans migrating from Asia Minor through Colchis. They first formed open-type settlements, but during the Middle Paleolithic (100,000–35,000 years ago) moved to caves due to the global cooling. One evidence of that is known as a 40,000–50,000 old site in the Akhshtyrskaya Cave, 15 km from Adlersky City District. The cave is protected by the UNESCO and contains human remains, early tools and bones of bears, deer and other animals indicating the hunting nature of the inhabitants. In the Upper Paleolithic (35,000–10,000 years ago) they have developed techniques of producing elaborated stone tools.
The Ancient Greeks sailed to the Sochi area in the fifth–sixth centuries BC and kept visiting it till about first century BC. They encountered the Aehi, Zygii and other people who were apparently keen for the luxury goods brought by Greeks and exchanged them for slaves. Slaves were a major commodity of the time, and thus the Caucasian coast became a slave trade center. An ethnic group of a few thousands of Greeks still lives around Krasnaya Polyana. Between 2,000 and 1,800 BC, the coastal area around Sochi had one cultural entity. During this period, numerous stone monuments (dolmens) were built around Sochi, and at least fifty remain to the present day. It is still unclear how these tombs weighing tens of tons were built with such an accuracy (some stones match each other within millimetres), and what exactly their purpose was. Numerous bronze tools and trade objects, dated to 800–700 BC, were found near Sochi indicating active exchange with the nearby areas.
Source Wikipedia. See also the website and picture gallery here.

St Piran’s Oratory, Perranporth, Cornwall, England prior to being covered over

Press release on Monday, 20 January 2014 from James Gossip MIFA, Archaeologist, Historic Environment Projects, Cornwall Council concerning the excavation at St Piran’s Oratory, Perranporth, Cornwall –

Dear all

For those of you who haven’t heard already I will be running an excavation at St Piran’s Oratory, Perranporth, starting on 17th Feb and running for approximately 4 weeks. The objective will be to remove the artificial sand dune put there in 1980 and expose the oratory ruins – in other words there is a HUGE amount of sand to remove. If you’re interested in helping out please let me know and I’ll put you on the dedicated mailing list and send out detailed information at the end of January.

For those have already expressed an interest – you won’t need to tell me again as you’re already on the list.

Best wishes,


James Gossip MIFA Archaeologist Historic Environment Projects

Cornwall Council

email: website:

Address: Fal Building , New County Hall, TRURO , Cornwall TR1 3AY

Please let us know if you need any particular assistance from us, such as facilities to help with mobility, vision or hearing, or information in a different format.

See also the St Piran Trust website here.


The Bedale Hoard, found by metal detectorists in May 2012
Yorkshire Museum
Culture 24 reports on the appeal by the Yorkshire Museum for the £50,000 needed to secure a Viking hoard for the Nation –
The life savings of a Viking, according to the hoard found by metal detectorist Stuart Campbell and his field-traipsing partner last year, included a gold sword pommel, a neck ring and collar, gold rivets, half a silver brooch and no less than 29 silver ingots. Believed to date from more than 1,100 years ago, the Bedale Hoard’s value in understanding 9th century Yorkshire may be priceless. But between now and March, the Yorkshire Museum, where the treasures have gone on display, needs to raise £51,636 to keep it.
Visit the Yorkshire Museum appeal here or telephone 01904 687671 to donate.
King Alfred and the Anglo-Saxons. Written and presented by historian Michael Wood
BBC Four will broadcast this evening the first of three television programmes on Alfred the Great and the Anglo-Saxons –
King Alfred the Great fights a desperate guerrilla war in the marshes of Somerset – burning the cakes on the way- before his decisive victory at Edington. Creating towns, trade and coinage, reviving learning and literacy, Alfred then laid the foundations of a single kingdom of ‘all the English’. Filmed on location from Reading to Rome, using original texts read in Old English, and interviews with leading scholars, Michael Wood describes a man who was ‘not just the greatest Briton, but one of the greatest rulers of any time or place’.
Begins at 8pm and lasts for one hour. Written and presented by Michael Wood. Series Producer Rebecca Dobbs. More here.
Heritage for Peace is now online. This NGO is based in Girona, Spain and is an –
…international group of heritage workers who believe that cultural heritage is a common ground for dialogue and a tool to build peace. Founded in February 2013, Heritage for Peace’s mission is to support heritage workers as they work to protect their collections, monuments and archaeological sites during armed conflict.
Currently our efforts are focused on Syria, where the ongoing conflict has damaged numerous sites including World Heritage sites, threatened museums and libraries, and led to an epidemic of looting and illegal trade in artifacts. Yet, in our experience we also learned that many contending parties consider Syria’s heritage crucial for the country’s present and future. Heritage for Peace is impartial in the conflict; our programs are focused on supporting heritage professionals to deal with the unique challenges of protecting monuments, sites, museums and libraries during armed conflict, and on educating all military forces on their obligation to protect Syria’s precious cultural heritage under international law.
For more on Heritage for Peace visit their website here.
Horse painting and hand stencils from the Pech Merle caves in France. Charcoal residue from the horse on the right has yielded a radiocarbon date of 24,640bce
Image credit Jean Vertut
Writing for National Geographic Virginia Hughes asks, “Were the First Artists Mostly Women?” It now appears that three-quarters of the hand stencils found in prehistoric cave paintings belonged to women –
Archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University analyzed hand stencils found in eight cave sites in France and Spain. By comparing the relative lengths of certain fingers, Snow determined that three-quarters of the handprints were female. “There has been a male bias in the literature for a long time,” said Snow, whose research was supported by the National Geographic Society’s Committee for Research and Exploration. “People have made a lot of unwarranted assumptions about who made these things, and why.”
Archaeologists have found hundreds of hand stencils on cave walls across the world. Because many of these early paintings also showcase game animals—bison, reindeer, horses, woolly mammoths—many researchers have proposed that they were made by male hunters, perhaps to chronicle their kills or as some kind of “hunting magic” to improve success of an upcoming hunt. The new study suggests otherwise. “In most hunter-gatherer societies, it’s men that do the killing. But it’s often the women who haul the meat back to camp, and women are as concerned with the productivity of the hunt as the men are,” Snow said. “It wasn’t just a bunch of guys out there chasing bison around.”
Experts expressed a wide range of opinions about how to interpret Snow’s new data, attesting to the many mysteries still surrounding this early art. “Hand stencils are a truly ironic category of cave art because they appear to be such a clear and obvious connection between us and the people of the Paleolithic,” said archaeologist Paul Pettitt of Durham University in England. “We think we understand them, yet the more you dig into them you realize how superficial our understanding is.”
Full article here.
El Deir, Petra, Jordan, 8 March 1839. Pencil and watercolour by David Roberts
Source: Wikimedia Commons
Japan’s International Cooperation Agency has given a $7 million grant to help fund the construction of a new, state-of-the-art museum at the World Heritage Site of Petra in Jordan. Concerns have been raised however concerning Petra’s two existing institutions.
Read more here.


January 2014
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