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Heritage Calling

We have given £400,000 towards some ground breaking research into the Staffordshire Hoard. It will lead to an online catalogue detailing every one of the hundreds of objects in the Hoard. The plan is for the catalogue to be ready in 2017 with a major book about the collection published the following year. Working with the owners of the hoard, Birmingham and Stoke-on-Trent City Councils, and Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery who jointly care for the collection, we have already made some amazing discoveries. But £120,000 still needs to be raised to complete this incredibly important project.

Think you’d like to help? Here are six reasons to donate:

1. It’s the most important Anglo-Saxon find since 1939

The last significant discovery was the Sutton Hoo ship-burial in Suffolk more than 75 years ago.The Staffordshire Hoard was unearthed in July 2009 by a metal detectorist and is a spectacular mix of gold, silver…

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Fred and Wilma Flintstone in their garden with Barney and Betty Rubble looking on
Image credit Everett Collection/Rex Features
 
Our prehistoric forebears are often portrayed as spear-wielding savages, but the earliest human societies are likely to have been founded on enlightened egalitarian principles, according to scientists.
 
A study has shown that in contemporary hunter-gatherer tribes, men and women tend to have equal influence on where their group lives and who they live with. The findings challenge the idea that sexual equality is a recent invention, suggesting that it has been the norm for humans for most of our evolutionary history.
 
Read the full article in the Guardian here.
  
 
 
Australopithecus afarensis, a species of hominin thought to be a direct ancestor of modern humans
Image credit Science Photo Library
 
Rebecca Morelle, Science Correspondent for BBC News, reports that scientists have unearthed a new species of ancient human in the Afar region of Ethiopia. “Researchers discovered jaw bones and teeth, which date to between 3.3m and 3.5m years old. It means this new hominin was alive at the same time as several other early human species, suggesting our family tree is more complicated than was thought.
 
“The study is published in the journal Nature. The new species has been called Australopithecus deyiremeda, which means “close relative” in the language spoken by the Afar people. The ancient remains are thought to belong to four individuals, who would have had both ape and human-like features…”
 
More here.
   

View of the Great Orme’s limestone cliffs from the former lighthouse
Image credit FinnWikiNo. Source Wikimedia Commons

Cahal Milmo, writing for The Independent, reports on the National Trust’s purchase of 140-acres at the Great Orme archaeological site in North Wales –

A chunk of the Great Orme, the imposing limestone headland on the North Wales coast which is home to Britain’s largest prehistoric mine and a herd of Kashmiri goats acquired from Queen Victoria, has been secured by the National Trust. The £1m purchase of a large farm on the promontory overlooking the resort of Llandudno is the latest acquisition by the Trust’s 50-year-old Neptune campaign to protect special areas of coastline under threat of development.

The 140-acre Parc Farm will now be managed to promote the Orme’s status as one of Britain’s most important botanical sites as well as an area rich in archaeology, including the underground workings of the biggest Bronze Age copper mine in the UK.

Full article here.

   

Two 15th century painted panels in Holy Trinity Church, Torbryan, Devon, England before the theft. The two figures on the right, in the left panel, went missing.
Photo credit: The Churches Conservation Trust

Nearly two years ago we reported on the theft of two priceless 15th century painted oak panels from a church in Devon, England (feature here). The panels are said to be of national importance but had been viciously hacked out of a screen in the church and stolen. The panels were feared lost forever but now, thanks to a collector who recognised them from media coverage and who reported their illegal online sale to the police, the panels have been recovered and are currently in safe storage in Bristol.

Sadly, the damage done to the panels when they were hacked from the screen will cost in the region of £7,000 to repair and conserve. The Churches Conservation Trust therefore has launched and appeal to help restore this priceless masterpiece. Details here.

   

West Midlands History explores a mystery object from the Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard

After hours of research, this is an object which still baffles the team of Anglo Saxon experts in the project team. As far as they know no comparable piece has ever been found and it has no immediately obvious use.

 
 
The Mên-an-Tol, Cornwall
Image © Roy Goutté
 
The Cornish Ancient Sites Protection Network will be holding a weekend of walks and talks amongst the ancient sites of West Penwith in Cornwall on Saturday, 30 May 2015. The event starts at 10:00am on the Saturday with a guided walk led by Cheryl Straffon and Lana Jarvis. The circular walk will include visits to prehistoric sites that were aligned to the sun and moon, including the Mên-an-Tol, the Nine Maidens Barrow and Stone Circle and the Bosiliack Barrow.
 
Full details of the event here.
    

The Temple of Bel at the Palmyra World Heritage Site in Syria
Image credit Bassem Jarkas. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today expressed deep concern over fighting near the Syrian archaeological site of Palmyra that is endangering the nearby population and posing an imminent threat to the iconic ruins, calling out to all parties “to make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
 
“The site has already suffered four years of conflict, it suffered from looting and represents an irreplaceable treasure for the Syrian people and for the world,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said.
 
“I appeal to all parties to protect Palmyra and make every effort to prevent its destruction.”
 
According to several sources, armed extremist groups raided the city of Tadmur, home to the archaeological site of Palmyra. Inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List, it is considered one of the most important cultural sites in the Middle East.
 
An oasis in the Syrian desert, northeast of Damascus, Palmyra contains the monumental ruins of a great city that was one of the most important cultural centres of the ancient world. From the 1st to the 2nd century, the art and architecture of Palmyra, standing at the crossroads of several civilizations, married Graeco-Roman techniques with local traditions and Persian influences.
 
More here. See also the article in yesterday’s Guardian here.
 
Should the International Community stand by and let the destruction of this World Heritage Site take place. The Heritage Trust appeals to people everywhere to voice their concerns and to stop this tragedy from happening.
    
 
 
The Malapa site, August 2011. Site of discovery of Australopithecus sediba
Photo by Lee R. Berger. Source Wikimedia Commons
 
April Holloway co-owner, editor and writer of Ancient-Origins, reports May 9 on possibly the oldest human skin so far discovered –
 
A team of scientists investigating early human species in an ancient cave near Johannesburg, South Africa, have revealed that preserved tissue found on a 2-million-year-old fossil may be the oldest sample of human skin ever recovered. The finding may reveal new information about the species and about our human origins.
 
The sample came from the remains of 4ft 2 inch tall male juvenile belonging to the species known as Australopithecus sediba, which were recovered in 2008 within an ancient cave in the Malapa Nature Reserve, situated in the ‘Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site’.  The area is important as nearly a third of the entire evidence for human origins in Africa comes from just a few sites in this region.
 
Full Ancient-Origins article here.
    

Transportation of Lebanese cedar. A relief, circa 713–716bce, from the north wall of the main court of King Sargon II’s palace at Dur Sharrukin in Assyria (present-day Khorsabad in Iraq)
Department of Oriental Antiquities, Louvre Museum, Paris
Image credit Marie-Lan Nguyen. Source Wikimedia Commons

European and US museums that preserve and display Assyrian artefacts from the ancient royal cities under attack by Islamic State (IS) are working to help their Iraqi colleagues prepare for a day when the sites are liberated. A coalition of the willing exists but it remains to be seen whether institutions will co-ordinate their efforts.

Jonathan Tubb, the keeper of the Middle East department at the British Museum in London, urges organisations to do more than express outrage. “We need to get over the threshold of despair – we can do something positive and constructive by preparing for the time when effective government control is restored,” he says.

While the sites in northern Iraq are no-go areas, the British Museum plans to work with colleagues from other parts of Iraq to train a “task force” of professionals in rescue archaeology and emergency heritage management in London. They will return, accompanied by British Museum curators, equipped to draw up plans of action for sites including Nimrud and Nineveh.

More from The Art Newspaper here.

This unique stone bracelet dates back 40,000 years and is thought to have been made by a member of the Denisovan species of early humans. Museum of History and Culture of the Peoples of Siberia and the Far East in Novosibirsk. Image credit Vera Salnitskaya

The stone bracelet above was unearthed in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008. After detailed analysis Russian experts now believe its remarkable age of 40,000bce is correct. What is even more extraordinary is that the bracelet was not made by a member of Homo sapiens or Neanderthals but another species of humans known as the Denisovans

It is intricately made with polished green stone and is thought to have adorned a very important woman or child on only special occasions. Yet this is no modern-day fashion accessory and is instead believed to be the oldest stone bracelet in the world, dating to as long ago as 40,000 years. Unearthed in the Altai region of Siberia in 2008, after detailed analysis Russian experts now accept its remarkable age as correct.

New pictures show this ancient piece of jewellery in its full glory with scientists concluding it was made by our prehistoric human ancestors, the Denisovans, and shows them to have been far more advanced than ever realised. ‘The bracelet is stunning – in bright sunlight it reflects the sun rays, at night by the fire it casts a deep shade of green,’ said Anatoly Derevyanko, Director of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography in Novosibirsk, part of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Full article by Anna Liesowska in The Siberian Times here.

   

Image credit The Times

We don’t often get involved with British political issues but when they sink to this level of gimmickry it really has hit rock bottom (pun intended) and something needs to be said. We refer to the Labour Party’s latest publicity stunt to win votes (election day in Britain is today) in the shape of an eight foot tall ‘megalith’ with six ‘promises’ from their party’s manifesto ‘engraved’ on its surface. Is the text actually engraved or has it been painted on? Or is it a transfer of some kind? If Labour wins the election however its leader Ed Miliband plans to erect the megalith in the garden of 10 Downing Street (assuming he’s able to get planning permission from Westminster City Council that is!).

The Urban Prehistorian sums up our own feelings on the Ed’stone gimmick perfectly when it writes –

Are we fooled by these megalithic metaphors of power and permanence? Do we accept that when a pledge is carved into rock by machine or chisel that it has more resonance and reliability than a promise spoken, a paper manifesto, a ministerial tweet? Would this infamous pre-referendum promise, printed in newspaper form just before the independence referendum in Scotland in September 2014, have really been any more trustworthy or powerful had it been carved on a tablet of stone?

No we are not fooled. Miliband’s promises are all very well and good but where is HERITAGE in all of this? In fact where is Heritage in any of the five or six main political party’s pledges? As a country we have not even ratified the Hague Convention to protect cultural property in time of war. Shame on our politicians for not doing so, and shame on the megalithic gimmickry this election campaign has sunk to.

 

 
Offa’s Dyke descending to the Clun Valley in South Shropshire. This is not the section that was destroyed in 2013
Used with permission
©
Jim Saunders, the Offa’s Dyke Association
 
BBC News Wales reports yesterday on a new bill to protect monuments in the country –
 
The Historic Environment (Wales) Bill will give ministers powers to make owners who damage monuments undertake repairs. It comes after 119 cases of damage to sites between 2006 and 2012 resulted in only one successful prosecution. In 2013, a stretch of the 1,200-year-old Offa’s Dyke, on privately owned land between Chirk and Llangollen, was found flattened.
 
More, with video, here. See also our earlier feature here.
   
 
 
Carn Wnda Cromlech (Dolmen), Pembrokeshire, Wales
©
The Heritage Trust
 
Did Neolithic people have hierarchies? Almost certainly. Writing in the New Historian, Irina Slav, reports that –
 
A study by two Spanish anthropologists has yielded a hypothesis that communities in the late Neolithic and Chalcolithic ages were already starting to stratify, based on the examination of seven megalithic burial structures. According to Teresa Fernandez-Crespo and Concepcion de la Rua from the UPV/EHU University of the Basque Country, the gender and age characteristics of those buried in megalithic structures suggest some members of the community were selected for such burial while others were excluded.
 
Full article here.
   

NATURAL, HISTORIC, AND BUILT ENVIRONMENT. THE SURROUNDINGS OF WHERE WE LIVE
THE LANDSCAPE IS OUR HERITAGE

Uffington Heritage Watch carries out research into, and promotes understanding of heritage: the natural & historic environment that forms the landscape in which we live. The built environment, vernacular or formal, old or recent, urban or rural, is the most visible example of cultural heritage. But heritage includes all the expressions of how we live. Tangible, material things, and the intangible too, such as stories and sounds and spaces that have meaning to us and contribute to our sense of identity and well-being.

More here.

   

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