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Fri, 02 Jun 2023
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Ancient ring ditch unearthed in Derbyshire, UK

Ring Ditch
© Pre-Construct Archaeology
Staff from our Newark office have unearthed some exciting archaeology at a new industrial development at Dove Valley Park in Derbyshire, working on behalf of Orion Heritage and Clowes Developments (UK) Ltd.

Cropmarks on aerial photographs hinted at the presence of several ring ditches and linear ditches on and close to the site. Our team confirmed the existence of these features through trial trench evaluation. We then conducted a strip, map and sample excavation to fully reveal and investigate the remains, leading to the discovery of a complete ring ditch and a substantial linear ditch.

The ring ditch during excavation, with a possible entrance visible in the foreground. There was at least one re-cutting of the ring ditch, suggesting maintenance and possible longevity of use.


Ancient structures in the Arabian desert reveal fragments of mysterious rituals

© Kennedy et al., PLOS One, 2023
Interlocking stone cells found outside of the base of mustatil IDIHA-F-0011081.
We might be getting closer to understanding why hundreds of large stone structures were built across the deserts of northwest Saudi Arabia thousands of years ago.

According to an in-depth new analysis, the mysterious, rectangular enclosures were used by Neolithic people for unknown rituals, depositing animal offerings, perhaps as votives to an unknown deity or deities. Excavations have revealed hundreds of fragments of animal remains, clustered around an upright slab of stone interpreted as sacred.

The roughly 7,000-year-old monuments known as mustatils (an Arabic word meaning rectangles) have baffled archaeologists since attracting scientific attention in the 1970s.

It wasn't until 2017, however, that the full extent of their spread across the Arabian Peninsula was revealed in the first scientific paper documenting their discovery. Aerial surveys have aided in the identification of over 1,600 mustatils, sometimes in groups, scattered throughout the desert.

Nicknamed 'gates' because of their appearance from the air, mustatils were described in that paper as "two short, thick lines of heaped stones, roughly parallel, linked by two or more much longer and thinner walls."

They consist of two short, thick platforms, linked by low walls of much greater length, measuring up to 600 meters (2,000 feet), but never more than half a meter (1.64 feet) high.


The world's oldest swords discovered in Turkey

Oldest Swords
© Malatya
The 5,000-year-old swords found 43 years ago during the excavations in the old mud-brick palace structure in Malatya Arslantepe Mound are the oldest swords in the world.

Many archaeologists believed that the earliest swords only dated to around 1600 or 1500 BCE before the discovery of a cache of swords at the archaeological site of Arslantepe in Turkey.

The nine swords from the archaeological site of Arslantepe (Melid) attest to the use of this weapon for the first time in the world - at least a millennium before the already-known examples. They date back to the Early Bronze Age (c. 33rd to 31st centuries).

In the 1980s, Marcella Frangipane's team at Rome University discovered a cache of nine swords and daggers dating all the way back to 3300 BCE. Frangipane declared the swords of Arslantepe the world's oldest and first swords ever discovered.

They are made of an alloy of arsenic and copper. Three of the swords were exquisitely inlaid with silver. These weapons have a total length of 45 to 60 cm, which points to either a short sword or a long dagger classification.


Magnetic fields to be used to explore submerged civilisations

Ancient Submerged Sites
© Francis Lima – CC BY-SA 4.0
MAGNETIC fields could provide the key to understanding submerged civilisations in a pioneering study by the University of Bradford.

Archaeologists have been researching an area under the North Sea, known as Doggerland, which was home to one of the largest prehistoric settlements in Europe.

But with expansion of wind farms in the North Sea, the race is on to work with developers to piece together information about Doggerland in advance of development.

PhD student Ben Urmston will look for anomalies in magnetic fields by analysing magnetometry data, which could indicate the presence of archaeological features without excavation.

He said: "Small changes in the magnetic field can indicate changes in the landscape, such as peat-forming areas and sediments, or where erosion has occurred, for example in river channels.

"As the area we are studying used to be above sea level, there's a small chance this analysis could even reveal evidence for hunter-gatherer activity. That would be the pinnacle.

"We might also discover the presence of middens, which are rubbish dumps that consist of animal bone, mollusc shells and other biological material, that can tell us a lot about how people lived."


Researchers help reveal evidence of rare Romano-Celtic temple near Lancaster Castle

Temple Layout
© Jason Wood, Andrew Binley from Lancaster Environment Centre and British Archaeology magazine Nov/Dec 2022
Lancaster University staff and student researchers have discovered evidence of a Romano-Celtic temple under public land near Lancaster Castle - only the second of its type found in northern Britain.

What started as a team-building exercise to train a group of PhD hydrogeophysics researchers to use specialist equipment, ended up providing evidence of an extensive religious enclosure lying just outside the Roman military fort at Lancaster.

Professor Andy Binley, an expert in hydrogeophysics at Lancaster Environment Centre, offered to use his research expertise and equipment to continue the work of the Beyond The Castle archaeological project, when heritage lottery funding ran out in 2017.

"I had a few PhD students doing geophysical research and thought this was an interesting group hobby project, training them on techniques and getting them to work as a team," said Professor Binley, who uses geophysical methods to solve hydrological problems, such as assessing underground water in agriculture and tracking groundwater contamination.

Lancaster had a large military fort and garrison in Roman times. It was an important command centre between Chester and Hadrian's Wall and a base for naval operations and supply. The Beyond the Castle project had been using standard geophysical techniques followed by trial excavation to explore the green open space between Lancaster Castle and the River Lune. These had revealed evidence of a building, thought to be a Roman warehouse, under an area called Quay Meadow, owned by Lancaster City Council. But Professor Binley and his students would make much more extensive, and exciting discoveries.

"What Andy brought to the project was much more sophisticated techniques and up to date equipment and someone from outside archaeology to apply a critical eye," said the Beyond the Castle project's leading archaeologist, Jason Wood. "The Roman archaeology in this area of Lancaster is very shallow because it hasn't been built on. Consequently the archaeological layers are much nearer the surface, so there is wonderful potential."


Oldest reference to Norse god Odin found in Danish treasure

Odin's Coin
© Arnold Mikkelsen, The National Museum of Denmark via AP
The inscription ‘He is Odin’s man’ is seen in a round half circle over the head of a figure on a golden bracteate unearthed in Vindelev, Denmark in late 2020. Scientists have identified the oldest-known reference to the Norse god Odin on a gold disc unearthed in western Denmark.
Scandinavian scientists said Wednesday that they have identified the oldest-known inscription referencing the Norse god Odin on part of a gold disc unearthed in western Denmark in 2020.

Lisbeth Imer, a runologist with the National Museum in Copenhagen, said the inscription represented the first solid evidence of Odin being worshipped as early as the 5th century — at least 150 years earlier than the previous oldest known reference, which was on a brooch found in southern Germany and dated to the second half of the 6th century.

The disc discovered in Denmark was part of a trove containing about a kilogram (2.2 pounds) of gold, including large medallions the size of saucers and Roman coins made into jewelry. It was unearthed in the village of Vindelev, central Jutland, and dubbed the Vindelev Hoard.

"It's one of the best executed runic inscriptions that I have ever seen," Imer said. Runes are symbols that early tribes in northern Europe used to communicate in writing.


Roman era sphinx uncovered at Dendera temple complex

New Sphinx
© Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities

The Temple of Dendera is a large ceremonial complex covering an area of 9.8 acres. The complex is centred on the Hathor Temple, a sanctuary which has been modified on the same site since the Middle Kingdom until the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

Recent excavations led by Dr Mamdouh El Damaty, a former antiquities minister and a professor of archaeology at Cairo's Ain Shams University, revealed a Roman structure in an area east of the main complex where a temple dedicated to Horus is located.

The structure is built using limestone and mortar, consisting of two levels. The lower level contains a large basin for collecting water from the Byzantine period, where the researchers found a Roman era sphinx statue.


Runes were just as advanced as Roman alphabet writing, says researcher

runes and letters
© University of Oslo
Inscriptions of both runes and letters have been found from the Middle Ages. Johan Bollaert has found equal use of visual resources in both inscriptions. But there are also differences between the use of runes and letter inscriptions. Among other things, the runes (on the left) were carved into hard rock types such as granite and quartzite, while letter inscriptions were carved into softer rock types such as marble and limestone.
In the Middle Ages, the Roman alphabet and runes lived side by side. A new doctoral thesis challenges the notion that runes represent more of an oral and less of a learned form of written language.

"Here rests Bishop Peter' might have been inscribed on a gravestone from the 1200s. Some inscriptions might have been made using runes, others with Roman letters," says Johan Bollaert, Senior Lecturer at the Department of Linguistics and Scandinavian Studies.

He has investigated written language used in public inscriptions in Norway from the 1100s to the 1500s. Last autumn, he defended his doctoral thesis "Visuality and Literacy in the Medieval Epigraphy of Norway."

Blue Planet

World's first horse riders found near the Black Sea

© Michał Podsiadło
Grave of a horse rider discovered in Malomirovo, Bulgaria.
Researchers have discovered evidence of horse riding by studying the remains of human skeletons found in burial mounds called kurgans, which were between 4,500 and 5,000 years old. The earthen burial mounds belonged to the Yamnaya culture. The Yamnayans had migrated from the Pontic-Caspian steppes to find greener pastures in today´s countries of Romania and Bulgaria up to Hungary and Serbia.

Yamnayans were mobile cattle and sheep herders, now believed to be on horseback.

"Horseback-riding seems to have evolved not long after the presumed domestication of horses in the western Eurasian steppes during the fourth millennium BCE. It was already rather common in members of the Yamnaya culture between 3000 and 2500 BCE," says Volker Heyd, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Helsinki and a member of the international team that made the discovery.

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Ancient Roman 'spike defenses' made famous by Julius Caesar found in Germany

caesar wood spikes defense germany excavation
© Frederic Auth
Roman-era wooden spikes were found preserved in the damp soil in the Bad Ems area of Germany.
Archaeologists have found ancient Roman "barbed wire," famously used and written about by Julius Caesar, for the first time near a German silver mine.

In 52 B.C., Julius Caesar used an ingenious system of ditches and stakes to defend his soldiers from an encroaching Gallic army in modern-day central France. More than two millennia later, archaeologists have discovered the first preserved example of similar defensive stakes, which likely protected an ancient silver mine.

A student team made the unprecedented discovery in the area of Bad Ems, halfway between the present-day cities of Bonn and Mainz in Germany, on the former northern border of the Roman Empire.