05 - 06 FEVRIER 2011


 - 05 – 06 FEVRIER

 - ROYAUME-UNI : Three ancient burials have been unearthed at Lichfield Cathedral. It follows an archaeological investigation in the Chapter House by Cathedral Archaeologist Kevin Blockley.  For the last 750 years, two of the skeletons have lain just below the floor of the Chapter House, which was originally built in the 1240s. Kevin Blockley of Cambrian Archaeological Projects Limited said: "These two burials are evidently Christian as they were aligned east-west."  "The fact that the burials were in shrouds, not coffins suggests that they involved lay members of the Cathedral community." One skeleton, of an adult male, was removed for analysis and will later be reburied in accordance with current guidelines. "Parts of this skeleton (skull, lower jaw, one femur and both feet) were missing, almost certainly because it was damaged during the construction of the Chapter House in the 1240s," said Mr Blockley "The second skeleton lay just below the construction level. It has been left in situ," he added.  The third burial appears originally to have taken place in medieval times, after the Chapter House was completed. It was subsequently disturbed during renovations to the building during the Victorian period, and re-buried. This burial was of an infant, presumably associated with a more high status individual within the Cathedral community. It is not possible to establish who this was, although carbon testing might narrow down the original burial date. The Revd Dr Pete Wilcox, Canon Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, explained: "In order to prepare the Chapter House to host a display of over forty items from the Staffordshire Hoard in July and August, we had to lift up sections of the floor, where cabling for new display cases will be laid." "It is an intriguing possibility that these beautiful pieces of gold and garnet Saxon jewellery will be displayed only feet above what we now know may have been a place of Saxon burial," added Revd Wilcox.


 - ARABIE SAOUDITE :  News that David Kennedy, an Australian scholar, has succeeded in identifying almost 2,000 unexplored archaeological sites using Google Earth has focused attention on the wages of that battle: the destruction of Saudi Arabia's own heritage More than 90 per cent of the archaeological treasures of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, experts estimate, have been demolished to make way for hotels, apartment blocks and parking facilities. The $13 billion project that led to a wave of demolitions in the middle of the last decade was part of an effort to modernise infrastructure in the ancient cities, where millions of pilgrims gather for the Hajj each year. Sami Angawi, an expert on Arabian architecture, lamented that history had been " bulldozed for a parking lot". "We are witnessing now the last few moments of the history of Mecca,", he said. The Kingdom's ultraconservative clerics believe that the veneration of ancient sites associated with the Prophet Mohammad and his family is heretical, and want potential shrines obliterated. In October last year, a Saudi clerical body was reported to have renewed long-standing calls for the demolition of several historic Islamic sites – including the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad and the grave of his mother. Fears that archaeology could cast light on Saudi Arabia's pre-Islamic past also led them to campaign against excavations. But in recent years, Saudi Arabia's monarchy appears to have been quietly defying the clerics who provided legitimacy to the regime ever since the founder of the dynasty, Mohammad bin Saud, signed a pact with the religious zealot Mohamed Ibn Abdul-Wahab in 1744 Saudi and French archaeologists are, for example, working in Maidan Saleh, the site of the ruins of a 2,000 year old city which once marked the southern limits of the Nabataean civilisation. The more than 100 tombs at Maiden Saleh, Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is open to tourists.  Najran, where an ancient Christian kingdom was overrun by the Jewish king Dhu Nawas a century before the Prophet Muhammad's birth in the 7th century CE, has yielded a treasure trove of ancient stone inscriptions. There have also been significant finds at Jurash, overlooking the Red Sea, where US archaeologists have excavated new evidence on the trading routes which once ran across the region. Prince Sultan Bin Salman, the first Saudi Arabian astronaut, played a key rule in easing up restrictions on archaeology, as head of the Kingdom's commission for tourism and antiquities. Museums in the Kingdom have now begun displaying finds from these sites – including nudes of Hercules and Apollo, cast in bronze. Female figurines, however, are still not on display. However, there still seem to be limits to the kingdom's tolerance of archaeology – particularly when issues of faith are touched on. Public access to an ancient church discovered by tourists in 1986, for example, is still barred.


 - ROYAUME-UNI : Bennachie -  Thousands of years of hidden north-east history could be uncovered if a plan for further archaeological work at Bennachie is approved. Dr Gordon Noble, from Aberdeen University’s department of archaeology, has submitted a grant application to the Royal Society of Edinburgh on behalf of a joint group, including local conservationists the Bailies of Bennachie and Aberdeenshire Council. The area is known to be rich in historic sites, including Pictish and Iron Age hill forts, a Roman camp and evidence of what has been described as the Bennachie Colony, a more recent settlement dating back to the early 1800s. If the grant bid is successful, a project manager would be employed to oversee the operation. Dr Noble said the next step would be to start with three small-scale evaluation excavations at different sites on and around the hill. “This will give us a better idea of what kind of remains are there. We would then be able to make assessments with a view to doing more long-term work,” he said. “Myself and colleagues have been interested in this area for a number of years. There is nothing concrete as yet, but if we are able to secure the grant, it would be good for the university and good for the community as well.” Fiona Banks, Garioch area ranger for Aberdeenshire Council, has been hosting events on the Bennachie Colony throughout the winter, and said further work may help clear up misconceptions of the settlement. “This is a group that has been described as undesirable or as squatters, but a lot of the stories about the colony don’t quite ring true.” The proposed dig would follow a number of smaller excavations around Bennachie in recent years. In 2008, a team of archaeologists uncovered remains of a castle under a mound near the Rowantree car park confirming settlement in the area from 7,000BC up to mediaeval times.


 - ARABIE SAOUDITE : Jeddah - Nearly 2,000 archaeological sites have been discovered east of Jeddah by an Australian archaeologist. Bizarrely, professor David Kennedy, from the University of Western Australia, has never set foot in the Kingdom. He discovered the sites from the comfort of his office in Perth, Western Australia, using Google Earth on his computer. Altogether, Kennedy has identified 1,977 possible sites by looking at satellite images of a 1,240-square km area east of Jeddah. The find has been published in the Journal of Archaeological Science. It includes what he thinks are 1,082 ancient stone tombs or “pendants,” so called because they are shaped like tear drops. The professor, who specializes in archaeology of the Roman Empire in the Middle East and aerial archaeology, has worked mainly in Jordan. By comparing the Jeddah structures with others he has seen there, he thinks they may be 9,000 years old. But without visiting the area, that cannot be verified.   “Just from Google Earth it's impossible to know whether we have found a Bedouin structure that was made 150 years ago or 10,000 years ago,” he is quoted as telling the London-based New Scientist magazine. However, he knows that they are manmade rather than natural sites. Confirmation came when he asked a nonarchaeologist friend in the Kingdom to go and photograph two of the sites.


 - ROYAUME-UNI : Top British archaeologists are urging the government to rethink a law requiring human remains be reburied, warning it risks undermining years of research into the island's ancient peoples and study of their DNA. The row stems from the reinterpretation of a law introduced in 2008 by the Ministry of Justice. The rule states human bones discovered in England and Wales since that time, regardless of their age, must be re-interred after two years. In a letter to Justice Secretary Kenneth Clarke, 40 academics complained experts would have too little time to study the remains and that reburial would result in the needless destruction of immensely valuable material. Important sites that will be affected include Stonehenge and a Viking mass burial pit near Weymouth on the south coast. Many archaeologists believe secrets about ancient tribes and early humans in Britain could be lost to science forever if the rule is applied. Thousands of sites could be affected in the future, they say. "Britain risks losing its leading role in archaeology, a decline that will be observed by a mystified international scientific community," the letter said. "The current license conditions are impeding scientific research, preventing new discoveries from entering museums, and are not in the public interest," added the academics who want the government to return to the "simple, well-tried system" practiced up to 2008.