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A PRE-HISTORIC elephant has revealed clues of what life was like for early humans and how it met its end.

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University of Southampton lecturer and archaeologist Dr Francis Wenban-Smith discovered remains and has spent the last ten years studying the creature.

Now he has published a book that will teach other archaeologists about life for people that existed thousands of years before Neanderthals.

The extinct straight-tusked elephant was found in Ebbsfleet in Kent, below, while construction workers were preparing the build the High Speed 1 rail link between the Channel Tunnel and London.

The species was twice the size of today’s African elephant and almost four times the weight of a family car.

The 420,000-year-old remains were buried along with other creatures, including prehistoric ancestors to cattle and extinct forms of rhinoceros and lions.

It was also found surrounded by flint tools used to cut meat from carcasses, which have lead Dr Wenban-Smith to believe early humans may have eaten and possibly hunted the creature in a group.

Dr Wenban-Smith, pictured below, said: “The key evidence for elephant hunting is that, of the few prehistoric butchered elephant carcasses that have been found across Europe, they are almost all large males in their prime, a pattern that does not suggest natural death and scavenging.

“Although it seems incredible that they could have killed such an animal, it must have been possible with wooden spears.

“Rich fossilised remains surrounding the elephant skeleton, including pollen, snails and a wide variety of vertebrates, provide a remarkable record of the climate and environment the early humans inhabited.

Full article in the Salisbury Journal: http://www.salisburyjournal.co.uk/archive/2013/09/22/10690698.Prehistoric_giant_elephant_unlocks_mysteries_of_ancient_hunters/
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You can get hands-on with history this summer with over 1,000 events nationwide bringing our archaeology to life during the 23rd Festival of Archaeology,13-28 July 2013.

“The Festival is a fantastic opportunity to get out, look at and do archaeology!” 

About the Festival of ArchaeologyThe Festival – coordinated by the Council for British Archaeology – is a great opportunity to discover your inner archaeologist and to meet the experts. Whether you are young or old, enthusiast or beginner, there will be something for everyone.

If you’ve always wanted to have a go at archaeology, handle real finds, try out calligraphy and potmaking or even shoot an arrow our hands-on events will give you a chance to experience the excitement of the past for yourself. We also have events where you can ask the experts about your own finds. You can even volunteer at a dig and see archaeology at work.

The events will kick off the summer holidays with excavation open days, behind-the-scenes tours and workshops, guided walks, talks and finds identifications, family fun days, and much more. Visit our EVENTS SEARCH to see what’’s on in your area!

If you enjoy the Festival why not check out Scottish Archaeology Month which takes place in September every year. More details can be found on Archaeology Scotland’s website here.

Mick Aston, Archaeologist

“Every time we walk through a street, across a field, down a country lane or hurtle along a motorway, the ghosts and fragments of the past are all around us. Archaeology is a brilliant way of understanding and appreciating this massively important connection.”

“The Festival of Archaeology gets us even closer and celebrates Britain’s incredibly rich archaeological inheritance. There are a whole series of events organised across the country for everyone from budding archaeologists, and historians to those who just want to have fun learning more about the world we live in.”

About the Festival of Archaeology

Dig into the past at the 23rd Festival of Archaeology! Co-ordinated by the Council for British Archaeology, the Festival offers over 1,000 events nationwide, organised by museums, heritage organisations, national and country parks, universities, local societies, and community archaeologists.

http://www.archaeologyfestival.org.uk/

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Engineers digging the Crossrail tunnels have uncovered a plague pit believed to date from the Black Death in the 14th century. Here’s the BBC’s video of the site.

Photo courtesy of Crossrail.

Photo courtesy of Crossrail.

Over the past two weeks 13 skeletons have been discovered at a shaft in Charterhouse Square, just outside the boundaries of the  City of London, with more being unearthed every day. Experts believe they date from the Black Death, which killed tens of millions during the medieval period, wiping out up to 60% of the continent’s population.

A burial site was understood to be in the Farringdon area, but until now its precise location was uncertain. The Smithfield area is proving a fecund ground for archaeologists: in 2011 researchers were able to reconstruct the plague’s genetic code, using skeletons discovered in the 1980s.

This is the second major archaeological discovery in London of recent weeks, after the remains of a Roman settlement were uncovered in February. A pit of ‘lunatic’ skeletons was also discovered by Crossrail workers in 2011.

Source link: http://londonist.com/2013/03/14th-century-plague-pit-found-during-crossrail-dig.php

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It feels as if we’ve always cherished the ruins of our stately homes, great abbeys, castles and ancient monuments. Yet our love affair with historic buildings is relatively recent. It’s been a revolution that flew in the face of industrial change and has been inspired both by acts of personal bravado and government intervention.

Main Image: BBC/English Heritage

Main Image: BBC/English Heritag

A new series on BBC Four this month called “Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past” looks at those pioneers of the past who fought to save the physical remains of the nation’s history. Some like William Morris, Octavia Hill and John Betjeman are familiar names, others – the “men from the ministry” /who worked quietly behind the scenes – are unsung heroes.

 
The first episode charts the birth of the heritage movement and the battle to save Britain’s great sites from destruction. The second episode looks at the interwar years, the rise of the day out to a historic site, and the struggle for the future of the English country house. And the final episode examines how in the second half of the 20th century, the definition of what did and did not constitute “heritage” changed.heritage-bbcfour

Made in partnership with English Heritage, the series features contributions from many of EH’s experts and draws upon its research into the early acts of heritage legislation – including the landmark Ancient Monuments Act of 1913.

A timely reminder to all of us about just how important these buildings remain, how we so nearly lost so many and the lessons we mustn’t forget.

Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past starts tomorrow at 21.00 on BBC Four
Links source: http://www.primeresi.com/heritage-the-battle-for-britains-past/12094/

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Google, today, commemorates Mary Leakey’s 100th birthday anniversary with an attractive doodle. Leakey, a renowned British archaeologist and anthropologist, was born on February 6, 1913 in London, England and is well known for her significant discoveries and exploring the fossils of the ancient hominines. She collaborated with her husband Louis Leakey through a large part of her career and her three sons also entered the same field. She died on December 9, 1996 at the age of 83.

mary_leakeys_100th_birthday-1026006-hpLeakey’s discoveries included the fossilised Proconsul skull, an extinct ape that is believed to be ancestor to humans. Another discovery was that of the Zinjanthropus skull, an early hominin, at Olduvai Gorge. She is also credited with developing a system to classify stone tools found at Olduvai as well as discovering Laetoli footprints. Over the course of her career, Leakey wrote four books.

Her passion towards unearthing the fossils was somewhat influenced by John Frere, an antiquarian, and Sheppard Frere, an archaeologist. Moreover, she had a chance to accompany Elie Peyrony during an excavation at Les Eyzies, where she came across collection scrapers and other tools from the dump. It is believed that at this phase her interest in prehistory gradually sparked.

Google’s doodle to mark the 100th birth anniversary of Mary Leakey with an image of a female archaeologist working at an excavation site marked with footprints. She is surrounded by archaeological tools like brush, leaf-and-square and trowel, while two dogs play around the site.

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The Chalke Valley History Festival is unique, with a literary history festival, living history through the ages, and a new schools programme.  Attracting some 13,000 in only its second year in 2012, 2013 promises to be even better…

The Chalke Valley History Festival has been created to further the enjoyment and understanding of our rich and varied history. All proceeds go to the Chalke Valley History Trust, created to help further the education of history in our schools. We look forward to seeing you there…

chalk-valleyLiving History.

The Festival will become a giant encampment of living history through the ages, from Romans to the Second World War, and displayed by some of the very best re-enactors and historical interpreters in the UK.  With an air show featuring Spitfires and other warbirds, with Sword School, Have-a-Go Archery, an interactive First World War trench experience, and a battle re-enactment of the Battle of Vitoria, there will be much to see for all the family.

Literary Festival

Throughout the week, the Festival plays host to many of our most popular, passionate and leading historians, from Max Hastings and Neil Oliver, to Michael Morpurgo and Dan Snow, and from Horrible Histories through to Boris Johnson and Tom Stoppard. Covering a wide variety of subjects from Ancient Rome to the Iron Curtain and with debates, discussions, lectures, seminars and events for all the family, this is Britain’s premier History Literary Festival.

Schools Programme

Two days of history featuring a wide range of curriculum-based subjects delivered by leading and best-selling historians, including Tom Holland, Michael Burleigh and Laurence Rees. From 1066, through the Tudors and the First World War, and the rise of the Nazis to the Second World War, the programme will offer a series of lectures, seminars, living history and inter-active demonstrations to bring history alive, excite and inspire Year 10 and 12 students.

http://www.cvhf.org.uk/

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Human remains found in the resting place of Richard III have already been identified as those of the king but information is being held back ahead of a major press conference next month, sources close to the project claim

A source with knowledge of the excavation told the Telegraph archaeologists will richard_3
name the skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park in September as the
Plantagenet king even if long-awaited DNA results on the bones prove
inconclusive.

Additional evidence not revealed at a major press conference after the remains were found demonstrates beyond all reasonable doubt that the body is the King’s, even without genetic proof, the source said.

Leicester University experts announced earlier this year that there was convincing evidence suggesting the remains were those of Richard III, but have always insisted DNA analysis is needed before a conclusion can be reached.

Clues to the body’s identity include a wound to the skull and a twist in the spine which match historical accounts of the King and his death in battle, but these alone are not enough to prove it is the King, archaeologists said at the time.

A spokesman for Leicester University denied any information had been withheld from the public at the press event in September, but said various new evidence gathered since then will be announced to the public next month.

This will include the results of radiocarbon dating tests, which will indicate the date the individual died within an 80-year range, and analysis of dental calculus which could reveal details about their and lifestyle, as well as the first images of the body.

The spokesman said: “There will be things that have been discovered during the course of the investigation that will be announced at the press conference, but everything we were willing to reveal and that we were sure of, we revealed [in September].”

A Channel Four documentary, which initially led to the university’s involvement, will also be screened in January and is expected to reveal new information about the project.

The University insists it has been open about the analysis of the skeleton from the start, but a number of people close to the study have become uncomfortable that new evidence is not being published.

A source told the Telegraph: “Unfortunately, an awful lot of stuff is being kept from the public.

“I am told that circumstantial evidence of the find which is not going to be broadcast until this programme (on Channel Four) is brought out in January will confirm the body is Richard III’s, even if the DNA does not.”

The University said all available information will be announced at the press event and insisted it had no knowledge of any information which is being withheld for the documentary.

The body was identified just weeks into a project which began when experts identified a council car park in Leicester as the most likely historical location of the church of Grey Friars, where the King was said to have been buried after his defeat in the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The archaeologists initially described the dig as a “long shot” but have since uncovered the foundations of a church along with two bodies, one of which is thought to be that of the King.

By , Science Correspondent – Full article

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A “nationally significant” hoard of Roman gold coins has been found by a metal detectorist in Hertfordshire.

The stash - found on private land north of St Albans - is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The stash – found on private land north of St Albans – is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The stash – found on private land north of St Albans – is believed to be one of the largest Roman gold coin hoards discovered in the UK.

The 159 coins date to the end of the 4th Century during the final years of Roman rule in Britain. After AD 408 no more coin supplies reached the country.

The value of the hoard has not yet been assessed.

A team from St Albans City and District Council museums’ service investigated the site at the beginning of October to confirm the find.

The council said the coins were scattered across a fairly wide area and that there were “practically no other comparable gold hoards of this period”.

They were mostly struck in the Italian cities of Milan and Ravenna and issued under the Emperors Gratian, Valentinian, Theodosius, Arcadius and Honorius.

Councillor Mike Wakely called it “an exciting find of national significance” and said the coins would go on display at Verulamium Museum.

David Thorold, from the museum, said that during Roman occupation, coins were usually buried either as a religious sacrifice to the Gods, or as a secure store of wealth to recover later.

“Threat of war or raids might lead to burial in the latter case, as may the prospect of a long journey, or any other risky activity,” he said.

‘Extremely valuable’

The curator added that gold coins were “extremely valuable” and not exchanged on a regular basis.

“They would have been used for large transactions such as buying land or goods by the shipload,” he said.

“Typically, the wealthy Roman elite, merchants or soldiers receiving bulk pay were the recipients.”

The 1996 Treasure Act legally obliges finders of historic metal objects to report their discovery to the local coroner who determines whether or not it constitutes treasure.

Full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-beds-bucks-herts-19965507

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Long before the Egyptians began the pyramids, Neolithic man built a vast temple complex at the top of what is now Scotland. Robin McKie visits the astonishing Ness of Brodgar

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site. Photograph: Adam Stanford

Drive west from Orkney’s capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island’s two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the  Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs’ peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre;  a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.

This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made  Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they  have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all  others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.

This is the temple complex of the Ness of Brodgar, and its size, complexity and sophistication have left archaeologists desperately struggling to find superlatives to describe the wonders they found there. “We have discovered a Neolithic temple complex that is without parallel in western Europe. Yet for decades we thought it was just a hill made of glacial moraine,” says discoverer Nick Card of the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology. “In fact the place is entirely manmade, although  it covers more than six acres of land.”

Once protected by two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high, the complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

The people of the Neolithic – the new Stone Age – were the first farmers in Britain, and they arrived on Orkney about 6,000 years ago. They cultivated the land, built farmsteads and rapidly established a vibrant culture, erecting giant stone circles, chambered communal tombs – and a giant complex of buildings at the Ness  of Brodgar. The religious beliefs that underpinned these vast works is unknown, however, as is the purpose of the Brodgar temples.

“This wasn’t a settlement or a place for the living,” says archaeologist Professor Colin Richards of Manchester University, who excavated the nearby Barnhouse settlement  in the 1980s. “This was a ceremonial centre, and a vast one at that. But the religious beliefs of its builders remain a mystery.”

What is clear is that the cultural energy of the few thousand farming folk of Orkney dwarfed those of other civilisations at that time. In size and sophistication, the Ness of Brodgar is comparable with Stonehenge or the wonders of ancient Egypt. Yet the temple complex predates them all. The fact that this great stately edifice was constructed on Orkney, an island that has become a byword for remoteness, makes the site’s discovery all the more remarkable. For many archaeologists, its discovery has revolutionised our understanding of ancient Britain.

“We need to turn the map of Britain upside down when we consider the Neolithic and shrug off our south-centric attitudes,” says Card, now Brodgar’s director of excavations. “London may be the cultural hub of Britain today, but 5,000 years ago, Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.”

It is a view shared by local historian Tom Muir, of the Orkney Museum. “The whole text book of British archaeology for this period will have to be torn up and rewritten from scratch thanks to this place,” he says.

 

Farmers first reached Orkney on boats that took them across the narrow – but treacherously dangerous – Pentland Firth from mainland Scotland. These were the people of the New Stone Age, and they brought cattle, pigs and sheep with them, as well as grain to plant and ploughs to till the land. The few hunter-gatherers already living on Orkney were replaced and farmsteads were established across the archipelago. These early farmers were clearly successful, though life would still have been precarious, with hunting providing precious supplies of extra protein. At the village of Knap o’Howar on Papay the bones of domesticated cattle, sheep and pigs have been found alongside those of wild deer, whales and seals, for example, while analysis of human bones from the period suggest that few people reached the age of 50. Those who survived childhood usually died in their 30s.

Discarded stone tools and shards of elegant pottery also indicate that the early Orcadians were developing an increasingly sophisticated society. Over the centuries, their small farming communities coalesced into larger tribal units, possibly with an elite ruling class, and they began to construct bigger and bigger monuments. These sites included the 5,000-year-old village of Skara Brae; the giant chambered grave of Maeshowe, a Stone Age mausoleum whose internal walls were later carved with runes by Vikings; and the Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar, two huge neighbouring circles of standing stones. These are some of the finest Neolithic monuments in the world, and in 1999 they were given World Heritage status by Unesco, an act that led directly to the discovery of the Ness of Brodgar.

“Being given World Heritage status meant we had to think about the land surrounding the sites,” says Card. “We decided to carry out geophysical surveys to see what else might be found there.” Such surveys involve the use of magnetometers and ground-penetrating radar to pinpoint manmade artefacts hidden underground. And the first place selected by Card  for this electromagnetic investigation was the Ness of Brodgar.

The ridge was assumed to be natural. However, Card’s magnetometers showed that it was entirely manmade and bristled with features that included lines of walls, concentric pathways and outlines of large buildings.  “The density of these features stunned us,”  says Card. At first, given its size, the team assumed they had stumbled on a general site  that had been in continuous use for some  time, providing shelter for people for most  of Orkney’s history, from prehistoric to  medieval times. “No other interpretation seemed to fit the observations,” adds Card. But once more the Ness of Brodgar would confound expectations.

Test pits, a metre square across, were drilled in lines across the ridge and revealed elaborate walls, slabs of carefully carved rock, and pieces of pottery. None came from the Bronze Age, however, nor from the Viking era or medieval times. Dozens of pits were dug over the ridge, an area the size of five football pitches, and every one revealed items with  a Neolithic background.

Then the digging began in earnest and quickly revealed the remains of buildings of startling sophistication. Carefully made pathways surrounded walls – some of them several metres high – that had been constructed with patience and precision.

“It was absolutely stunning,” says Colin Richards. “The walls were dead straight. Little slithers of stones had even been slipped between the main slabs to keep the facing perfect. This quality of workmanship would not be seen again on Orkney for thousands of years.”

 

Slowly the shape and dimensions of  the Ness of Brodgar site revealed themselves. Two great walls, several metres high, had been built straight across the ridge. There was no way you could pass along the Ness without going through the complex. Within those walls  a series of temples had been built, many on top of older ones. “The place seems to have been in use for a thousand years, with building going on all the time,” says Card.

More than a dozen of these temples have already been uncovered though only about 10% of  the site has been fully excavated so far.

“We have never seen anything like this before,” says York University archaeologist Professor Mark Edmonds. “The density of the archaeology, the scale of the buildings and the skill that was used to construct them are simply phenomenal. There are very few dry-stone walls on Orkney today that could match the ones we have uncovered here. Yet they are more than 5,000 years old in places, still standing a couple of metres high. This was a place that was meant to impress – and it still does.”

But it is not just the dimensions that have surprised and delighted archaeologists. Two years ago, their excavations revealed that  haematite-based pigments had been used to  paint external walls – another transformation  in our thinking about the Stone Age. “We see Neolithic remains after they have been bleached out and eroded,” says Edmonds. “However, it is now clear from Brodgar that buildings could have been perfectly cheerful and colourful.”

The men and women who built at the Ness also used red and yellow sandstone to enliven their constructions. (More than 3,000 years later, their successors used the same materials when building St Magnus’ Cathedral in  Kirkwall.) But what was the purpose of their construction work and why put it in the Ness of Brodgar? Of the two questions, the latter is the easier to answer – for the Brodgar headland  is clearly special. “When you stand here, you find yourself in a glorious landscape,” says Card. “You are in the middle of a natural amphitheatre created by the hills around you.”

The surrounding hills are relatively low, and a great dome of sky hangs over Brodgar, perfect for watching the setting and rising of the sun, moon and other celestial objects. (Card believes the weather on Orkney may have been warmer and clearer 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.) Cosmology would have been critical to society then, he argues, helping farmers predict the seasons –  a point supported by scientists such as the late Alexander Thom, who believed that the Ring of Brodgar was an observatory designed for studying the movement of the moon.

These outposts of Neolithic astronomy, although impressive, were nevertheless  peripheral, says Richards. The temple complex at the Ness of Brodgar was built to be the most important construction on the island. “The stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar and the other features  of the landscape were really just adjuncts to that great edifice,” he says. Or as another archaeologist put it: “By comparison, everything else  in the area looks like a shanty town.”

For a farming community of a few thousand people to create such edifices suggests that the Ness of Brodgar was of profound importance. Yet its purpose remains elusive. The ritual purification of the dead by fire may be involved, suggests Card. As he points out, several of the temples at Brodgar have hearths, though this was clearly not a domestic dwelling. In addition, archeologists have found that many of the stone mace heads (hard, polished, holed stones) that litter the site had been broken in two in exactly the same place. “We have found evidence of this at other sites,” says Richards. “It may be that relatives broke them  in two at a funeral, leaving one  part with the dead and one with family as a memorial to the dead. This was a place concerned with death and the deceased, I believe.”

Equally puzzling was the fate of the complex. Around 2,300BC, roughly a thousand years after construction began there, the place was abruptly abandoned. Radiocarbon dating of animal bones suggests that a huge feast ceremony was held, with more than 600 cattle slaughtered, after which the site appears to have been decommissioned. Perhaps a transfer of power took place or a new religion replaced the old one. Whatever the reason, the great temple complex – on which Orcadians had lavished almost a millennium’s effort – was abandoned and forgotten for the next 4,000 years.
Full Article by Robin McKie – The Observer,            

For more information or to donate to the dig, go to orkneyarchaeologysociety.org.uk

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A new find in the region surrounding the Ring of Brodgar, a stone-pillar construction mounted atop a sloping terrain, has overthrown the scientific conception of Stone Age life in the British Isles. Archeologists have uncovered a six-acre temple complex of painted stone and paved walkways, which was built five thousand years ago—before the pyramids of Egypt or even Stonehenge.

Archaeologists excavate the ruins. Photo: Susan van Gelder

Archaeologists excavate the ruins. Photo: Susan van Gelder

As Robin McKie writes in The Guardian, although the Ring of Brodgar has long been a focus of archeological excavation, a geophysical survey of the Ness of Brodgar, the region around the temple, “revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all others on Orkney – and in the rest of Europe.”

What archaeologists thought to be a natural moraine, a pile of dirt and rock left over by a receding glacier, turned out to be much more. Buried beneath the dirt were “two giant walls, each more than 100m long and 4m high.” Within these walls, says McKie,

[T]he complex at Ness contained more than a dozen large temples – one measured almost 25m square – that were linked to outhouses and kitchens by carefully constructed stone pavements. The bones of sacrificed cattle, elegantly made pottery and pieces of painted ceramics lie scattered round the site. The exact purpose of the complex is a mystery, though it is clearly ancient. Some parts were constructed more than 5,000 years ago.

According to scientists working on the dig, the findings suggest the northern Orkney Islands may be spawning point for much of Stone Age British culture. As Nick Card with the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology told The Guardian,

Orkney was the centre for innovation for the British isles. Ideas spread from this place. The first grooved pottery, which is so distinctive of the era, was made here, for example, and the first henges – stone rings with ditches round them – were erected on Orkney. Then the ideas spread to the rest of the Neolithic Britain. This was the font for new thinking at the time.

Full Article: http://blogs.smithsonianmag.com/smartnews/2012/10/archaeologists-uncover-massive-stone-age-complex-in-scotland/

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