Ness of Brodgar – Neolithic Temple Complex

From Guardian:

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.

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

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Etruscan Pyramids Found in Italy

From DiscoveryNews:

The first ever Etruscan pyramids have been located underneath a wine cellar in the city of Orvieto in central Italy, according to a team of U.S. and Italian archaeologists.

Carved into the rock of the tufa plateau –a sedimentary area that is a result of volcanic activity — on which the city stands, the subterranean structures were largely filled. Only the top-most modern layer was visible.

“Within this upper section, which had been modified in modern times and was used as a wine cellar, we noticed a series of ancient stairs carved into the wall. They were clearly of Etruscan construction,” David B. George of the Department of Classics at Saint Anselm, told Discovery News.

As they started digging, George and co-director of the excavation Claudio Bizzarri of the Parco Archeologico Ambientale dell’Orvietano noted that the cave’s walls were tapered up in a pyramidal fashion. Intriguingly, a series of tunnels, again of Etruscan construction, ran underneath the wine cellar hinting to the possibility of deeper undiscovered structures below.

After going through a mid-20th century floor, George and Bizzarri reached a medieval floor. Immediately beneath this floor, they found a layer of fill that contained various artifacts such as Attic red figure pottery from the middle of the 5th Century B.C., 6th and 5th century B.C. Etruscan pottery with inscriptions as well as various objects that dated to before 1000 B.C.

Digging through this layer, the archaeologists found 5 feet of gray sterile fill, which was intentionally deposited from a hole in the top of the structure.

“Below that material there was a brown layer that we are currently excavating. Intriguingly, the stone carved stairs run down the wall as we continue digging. We still don’t know where they are going to take us,” Bizzarri told Discovery News.

The material from the deepest level reached so far (the archaeologists have pushed down about 10 feet) dates to around the middle of the fifth century B.C.

“At this level we found a tunnel running to another pyramidal structure and dating from before the 5th century B.C. which adds to the mystery,” George said. Indeed, the Etruscans have long been considered one of antiquity’s greatest enigmas.

A fun-loving and eclectic people who among other things taught the French how to make wine, the Romans how to build roads, and introduced the art of writing to Europe, the Etruscans began to flourish in Etruria (an area in central Italy area that covered now are Tuscany, Latium, Emilia-Romagna and Umbria) around 900 B.C., and then dominated much of the country for five centuries.

Known for their art, agriculture, fine metalworking and commerce, they started to decline during the fifth century B.C., as the Romans grew in power. By 300-100 B.C., they eventually became absorbed into the Roman empire.

Their puzzling, non-Indo-European language was virtually extinguished and they left no literature to document their society. Indeed, much of what we know about them comes from their cemeteries: only the richly decorated tombs they left behind have provided clues to fully reconstruct their history.

The subterranean pyramids in Orvieto could offer a unique insight into this civilization as the structures appear to be unique.

“The caves have indeed a shape unknown elsewhere in Etruria,” Larissa Bonfante, professor emerita of classics at New York University and a leading expert on the ancient Etruscans, told Discovery News.

According to Bizzarri, there are at least five Etruscan pyramids under the city. Three of these structures have yet to be excavated.

“Clearly, they are not quarries or cisterns. I would say that there is nothing like these structures on record anywhere in Italy,” Bizzarri said.

According to George, the underground pyramids could represent some sort of a religious structure or a tomb. In both cases, it would be a discovery without precedent.

“Most likely, the answer waits at the bottom. The problem is we don’t really know how much we have to dig to get down there,” Bizzarri said.

 

 

 

Building a medieval monastery the old-fashioned way

From Spiegel:

What did a medieval stonemason do when heavy rainfall interrupted his work? Umbrellas are impractical at construction sites. Gore-Tex jackets weren’t yet invented, nor were plastic rain jackets. “He donned a jacket made of felted loden cloth,” says Bert Geurten, the man who plans to build an authentic monastery town the old-fashioned way.

Felted loden jackets will also be present on rainy days at Geurten’s building site, which is located near Messkirch, in the southwestern German state of Baden-Württemberg, between the Danube River and Lake Constance. Beginning in 2013, a Carolingian monastery town will be built here using only the materials and techniques of the 9th century. From the mortar to the walls, the rain jackets to the menu, every aspect of the operation will be carried out as just as it was in the days of Charlemagne. “We want to work as authentically as possible,” says Geurten.The building contractor from the Rhineland region has long dreamt of carrying out his plan. When he was a teenager, the now 62-year-old was inspired by a model of the St. Gallen monastery plan in an exhibition in his home city of Aachen. The plan, dating from the beginning of the 9th century, shows the ideal monastery, as envisioned by Abbot Haito of Reichenau.

Haito dedicated his drawing to his colleague Abbot Gozbert of St. Gall, who presided over the monastery from 816 to 837. He meticulously recorded everything that he believed was necessary for a monastic city, from a chicken coop to a church for 2,000 worshipers. Altogether he envisaged 52 buildings — but they were never built. That will change in spring 2013, though, when ox-pulled carts wil begin carrying the first stones to the building site in the forest near Messkirch. It won’t be finished until about 2050, according to estimates.

A Glimpse of the Middle Ages

The lengthy time frame betrays the ambitious dimensions of the project, which is not just a tourist attraction, but also a meticulous scientific undertaking. Twelve experts, including historians, architects and archaeologists, form the scientific council that oversees the monastic town. Their job is to advise the artisans while simultaneously learning from their experiences.

Such experiments offer a rare glimpse into the everyday life of past centuries. Often there is only one way to find out how people once built their homes, prepared their food or sewed their clothes — by recreating the historic experience. Experimental archeology researchers have discovered that antique linen armor offers as much protection as kevlar vests, how beer was brewed in the Bronze Age and how Stone Age people sharpened blades.

The 9th century — the era which will be recreated by the Carolingian monastery town project — is a particularly interesting focus for such experiments. There are few surviving documents from the period some 1,100 to 1,200 years ago. “Our goal is not to end up having a monastery town, but to build it,” says Geurten.

The first building will be a small wooden church. “Of course, in the Middle Ages, they didn’t build the large stone church first,” says Geurten. The craftsmen at that time did not want to postpone their prayers until the stone church was finished, so they constructed a simple wooden church as an interim arrangement until they could move into the magnificent stone building decades later.

Harsh Conditions

Carts carrying building materials will be pulled by Hinterwald cows. With a height of around 115 to 125 centimeters (3′ 9″ to 4′ 1″)and weighing between 172 and 218 kilograms (380 and 480 pounds), these working animals come the closest to those used during the time of Charlemagne. “They are descended from the Celts’ cattle,” says Geurten.

Not just workers will have to adjust to medieval conditions, though. The plan also includes a special experience for visitors, who will walk a lengthy distance from the parking lot before reaching the construction site. “They should feel like they journey in time and leave the present behind them,” says Geurten. If they get hungry, the monastery town will have a 9th-century menu. “The potato was unknown,” says Geurten. “And there will be no coffee around to drink.” Everything that the tradesmen and visitors will eat will be grown in the soil near the construction site.

The example of the French castle Guédelon proves that visitors will not be deterred by such a strict approach. In Burgundy, builders are constructing the 13th-century castle with medieval techniques. Every year the site attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors. “A Guédelon visitors’ survey has shown that people want to return on average every three years,” explains Geurten. “They want to see the castle grow and follow its progress.”

He hopes for similar success at his monastic town. The project has initial funding of around €1 million ($1.3 million) from city, state and European Union sources, but that will only sustain it for the first few years. After that, the project will have to fund itself.

A Flood of Volunteers

Given the tight budget, craftsmen salaries will remain low. “The net wage is about €1,200 (per month),” says Geurten. “I can’t pay more.” The working hours are also a long way from what German trade unions recommend these days. They will work from April 2 — Charlemagne’s birthday — almost without break until St. Martin’s Day, on Nov. 11. During those eight months, there will be one single weekend off. “In the Middle Ages, the rent for the year was always paid on St. Martin’s Day,” said Geurten. The winter break lasts until April when the temperatures are warm enough to work again.

Despite the difficult conditions, the project has been swamped with applications. “I’ve had 85 stone masons apply already,” says Geurten. “They all dream of having the chance to work with their hands.” This also applies to the blacksmith. “They won’t be hammering kitschy horseshoes for tourists. The forge must supply the site with tools,” he adds.Overall, the construction site will have 20 to 30 permanent staff in addition to volunteers. There has already been a lot of interest. “From Lufthansa pilots to a teacher, all kinds of people have applied.” One candidate even sent his application written in medieval German on a real roll of parchment. Meanwhile, schools will likely be allowed to join in with the site’s work for as long as a week. “We are developing a plan that will enable the children to prepare for their experience in the classroom first,” says Geurten.

It will take about 40 years until the final stone is laid in the monastery church. By then it is highly unlikely that Geurten will still be alive. But he doesn’t mind. “I just want a founding father’s tomb in the crypt. Then they could come and light candles for me,” he says.

Pompeii is in crisis

From ArtNewspaper:

A Unesco report has identified serious problems with the World Heritage Site, including structural damage to buildings, vandalism and a lack of qualified staff. Unesco’s director-general for culture, Francesco Bandarin, tells The Art Newspaper: “The state of conservation is a problem, because of a lack of maintenance of very fragile structures. Visitor services need a dramatic improvement.”

The collapse of a column at Pompeii on 22 December raised further alarm. The column was in a pergola in the courtyard of the House of Loreio Tiburtino, whose adjacent rooms have very fine frescoes.

The eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD killed Pompeii’s inhabitants but preserved their buildings. The city was covered with ash, and it was only after its rediscovery in 1748 that excavations began. In 1997, Unesco designated it a World Heritage Site. The Pompeii crisis came to a head with the collapse of the Schola Armaturarum, known as the House of the Gladiators, in November 2010, along with three further collapses later in the month. This was after extremely heavy rain.

Unesco sent a mission supervised by Christopher Young, the head of world heritage and international policy at English Heritage, who says that Pompeii represents “the world’s most important Roman remains, in terms of what it tells us about daily life”. He was assisted by two Paris-based specialists representing the International Council on Monuments and Sites: Jean-Pierre Adam, a professor at the Ecole du Louvre, and Alix Barbet, the director of research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Their report, which has had virtually no international press coverage, was submitted last June to Unesco’s World Heritage Committee in Paris. It covers Pompeii and the nearby sites of Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata, on the ­outskirts of Naples.

The Unesco report says that the “conditions that caused [the Schola Armaturarum] collapses are widespread within the site”. Storms last autumn raised fears of further significant damage, but so far it has not been serious.

Although much of Pompeii ­remains in good repair, the problems are numerous, including “inappropriate restoration ­methods and a general lack of qualified staff… restoration projects are outsourced and the quality of the work of the contractors is not being assessed. An efficient drainage system is lacking, ­leading to water infiltration and excessive moisture that gradually degrades the structural condition of the buildings as well as their decor. The mission was also concerned by the amount of plant growth, particularly ivy.”

Staffing at Pompeii remains a fundamental problem. The structure is “very rigid”, with “jobs ­being secure until retirement”, making it “virtually impossible to recruit new staff”. Although around 470 people are employed at Pompeii, it is “very short” of professional staff, there are “very few” maintenance workers and only 23 guards are on site at any one time.

The guards do not wear uniforms and fail to display their badges. The experts observed them “grouped together in threes or fours”, which meant there was a limited presence on the enormous site. Since 1987, the number of guards has been reduced by a quarter while visitor numbers have increased considerably.

Pompeii attracted more than 2.3 million visitors in 2010 and on the busiest days it had 20,000. Sheer numbers, along with careless behaviour, are causing considerable damage: “Visitors in groups rub against the decorated walls, all too often with their rucksacks, or lean against them to take the best possible photographs,” says the report.

A further problem is that much of Pompeii is “closed”. In 1956, 66 restored houses were open to visitors, but this number has fallen to 15 (only five of which are always open). “Large areas of Pompeii are not accessible to ­visitors owing to the lack of guards, so accessible parts are overvisited and suffer considerably from visitor erosion,” according to the report. The mission found that the most serious vandalism was in houses that are closed to visitors, because of “the derisory effectiveness of efforts to prohibit access”.

Management changes have resulted in further problems. In July 2008, the Italian government declared Pompeii to be in a “state of emergency”, putting it under special administration until July 2010 (two commissioners served during this period: Renato Profili and then Marcello Fiori). There have been four successive superintendents since September 2009: Mariarosaria Salvatore, Giuseppe Proietti, Jeannette Papadopoulos and Teresa Elena Cinquantaquattro.

The Unesco mission found that, although a management plan was drawn up in 2008, “site staff were not able to show clearly that the plan was actually used”. Scarce resources have been diverted from conservation and maintenance to “non-urgent” projects, such as the reconstruction of the theatre. The report says that such projects were “probably done with an educational aim in mind, but may also reflect a certain attraction for ‘entertainment archaeology’.”

“Uncontrolled development” near Pompeii is also criticised. At its meeting last June, Unesco approved a resolution saying that it “deeply regrets” not having been informed about the construction of “a large concrete building” north of the Porta di Nola. This is to be used by archaeologists for offices and storage.

Pietro Giovanni Guzzo, the superintendent of Pompeii from 1995 to 2009, says that the report is “very meticulous”. Its proposals are along the lines of those suggested during his tenure, but “delays” were caused mainly by staffing problems. Guzzo welcomes Unesco’s involvement, hoping it will “spur the Italian government to give Pompeii more resources, both financial and professional”.

With Unesco poised to assist Italian specialists, an action plan could be developed. This should provide a basis for spending the €105m that has been committed for Pompeii by the European Union. However, there are some concerns that the project may be affected by the withdrawal of $65m a year of Unesco funding from the US, following the admission of Palestine in October.

Unesco has asked the Italian authorities to introduce monitoring of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata by 1 February, along with a statement on the site’s “outstanding universal value”. A report must be submitted by February 2013 on “the possible inscription of the property on the list of World Heritage in Danger”.

Although Pompeii is among Italy’s most important heritage sites, it is not the only one to face intractable problems. Italy’s 47 World Heritage Sites include Venice and its Lagoon and the historic centre of Rome, to take two examples. However, Bandarin, an Italian citizen, stresses that Unesco’s agreement with Italy is “only for the World Heritage Site of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Torre Annunziata”.

The future of Spain’s dolmens uncertain

From Reuters:

Spain’s pre-historic burial chambers have survived invasion, war, a long dictatorship and a property bubble which paved over vast tracts of the country.

But the economic crisis which ended the building boom that buried some of the country’s greatest archaeological treasures under shopping malls and new housing may also be bad news for those hoping to provide lasting safeguards for Spain’s remaining tholos dolmens or passage tombs.

The Aljarafe region outside the city of Seville in southern Spain, with a rich Arabic and Christian history, is believed to house Europe’s most extensive grouping of tholos dolmens, dating back some 5,000 years.

Many of these archaeological treasures were buried under new construction during a decade-long building craze that swept across Spain and left 1.5 million vacant homes when it ended.

A debt crisis ravaging Spain’s economy has saved some of the dolmens by freezing funds for construction. But the credit crunch also means scarce money to explore these little-known Copper Age settlements and turn them into tourist centers.

“It’s as if we had a gold mine under our feet; all we need is the investment muscle to reap the benefit. I don’t see this latent potential in any other industry or sector,” Juan Manuel Vargas, a local archaeologist said.

Vargas is head archaeologist in Valencina de la Concepcion, a small town outside of Seville and home to many dolmens, two of which — La Pastora and Matarrubilla — are open to the public and receive about 10,000 visitors a year.

Dolmen constructions are large stones stood upright to support a large flat boulder like a roof or gigantic table. They were erected around Western Europe, from Ireland to the Baltics, starting about 7,000 years ago. Human remains have been found in or near many of them, leading to the theory that they are tombs. In the passage dolmens, the stone structure forms the entry way to a burial mound.

La Pastora dolmen in Valencina boasts the longest corridor ever discovered in a passage grave in Europe, while its sister Matarrubilla houses a stone altar inside its burial chamber offering clues into the funerary rituals of early settlers.

Driving along a dirt road to La Pastora past rolling hills dotted with olive trees under a brilliant sun it is easy to imagine the centuries of civilizations who have inhabited this mystical land. But the visitor is catapulted back into the present upon reaching the dolmen.

The chamber sits beside a giant telecommunications tower, and empty beer bottles are strewn inches from an archaeological site which provided a range of ancient artifacts before excavations were halted after the funds ran out.

“It’s a problem of mentality. After seeing it every day, our residents aren’t aware of what they’re living next to,” Vargas explained.

The youth are not the only ones who have failed to recognize the historical value of the land underneath their beer bottles.

The Montelirio dolmen, a unique two-chamber structure in neighboring Castilleja de Guzman, was nearly suffocated by plans to build a supermarket and a retirement home.

In 2007, archaeologists discovered the remains of what they thought was a chieftain in Montelirio, and to their surprise, 19 women believed to have drunk a poison in a ritual to accompany their leader on his journey to the netherworld.

The remains of the women sit in a circle in a chamber adjacent to the bones believed to be of their chief.

“Montelirio offers important clues into these societies and their possible burial rituals,” archaeologist Vicente Aycart said, adding: “Who knows? Maybe this was a matriarchal society and that one man was their favorite eunuch!”

Aside from the archaeological wealth yet to be unveiled, these little-known prehistoric sites may prove a profitable tourism mine for a country that needs fresh growth drivers to battle sky-high joblessness and the threat of another recession.

Economists agree that Spain would do well to draw on its rich history and culture to promote itself as an all-season tourism destination and fuel a sector worth about 11 percent of gross domestic product.

“Spain has enormous opportunities to further boost cultural tourism linked to music, history, architecture and archaeology,” said Jose Luis Zoreda, CEO of Spanish tourist lobby Exceltur.

“But given autonomous communities’ financial difficulties right now, I don’t know if this kind of investment will be on the top of their list in 2012,” he said.

Spain’s indebted autonomous regions, which invested heavily in the construction boom, are now at the heart of financial market concerns that the country may miss its budget deficit target and need a bailout just like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

Plans to create an archaeological park in Aljarafe with a visitors’ center, museum and a route taking visitors from the dolmens to the nearby Phoenician artifacts of El Carambolo and the Roman city Italica are at a standstill.

Once money starts to flow again, archaeologists and non-profit associations warned that steps must be taken to protect this triangle of ancient history while developing controlled and sustainable tourism.

“The real gem of these places is the scientific depth that we don’t even know yet. First we need to create a cultural site. The tourism will come later,” said Jorge Arevalo, vice president of a dolmen protection association said.

“If we don’t take care of it, future generations won’t be able to enjoy it. We have a responsibility to history.”

Bulgarian archaeologists embark on alpine mission to Thracian king’s residence

From Novinite:

Bulgaria’s National History Museum are starting the largest alpine expedition in the history of Bulgarian archaeology in order to excavate the residence of the rulers of the Odrysian Kingdom, the state of the most powerful tribe of Ancient Thrace.

Bulgarian archaeologists uncovered the unique residence of the rulers of the Odrysian Kingdom in July 2010, after its location was initially detected in 2005.

The residence is located on the Kozi Gramadi mount in the Sredna Gora mountain, in the village of Starosel, close to the resort town of Hissar in central Bulgaria, at about 1 200 m above sea level.

Starting in early June 2011, the expedition led by Dr. Ivan Hristov will excavate the fortified residence of the Thracian kings southeast of the Kozi Gramadi mount, Bozhidar Dimitrov, head of Bulgaria’s National History Museum, announced Monday.

Dr. Hristo Popov from the National Archaeology Institute of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Dr. Daniela Stoyanova from Sofia University “St. Klimen Ohridski”, and Prof. Valetin Todorov from the National Academy of Arts will also take part in the expedition as consultants.

The alpine excavations are funded with donations by Bulgarian manager Lachezar Tsotsorkov, the Hisarya Municipality, and the National History Museum.

The archaeological team will have the rare chance of studying the interior of the Thracian kings’ residence, which is the only one ever discovered, and was erected during the rules of Odrysian king Teres II (351 BC-341 BC).

The archaeologists will set up a tent camp 15 km north of the village of Starosel, which will serve as the base for their explorations.

In addition to making groundbreaking discoveries, the mission of Dr. Ivan Hristov is also to work on the conservation of the unique archaeological site.

The National History Museum points out that the discoveries at the Thracian kings’ residence reveal a symbiosis between the local Thracian traditions and the influence of Ancient Greece in the fortifications, architecture, and household tools at the beginning of the Hellinistic Age (323 BC – 30 BC).

“The archaeological summer of the elite crew of the National History Museum is expected to be interesting,” Dimitrov said in a statement promising timely information about the progress of the expedition.

Last summer Dr. Ivan Hristov explained that the residence of the Odrysian kings is a monument unrivaled in scope in Southeastern Europe, and that there is no other fortresssanctuary dating back to the 4th-5th century BC which is so well-preserved.

The Bulgarian archaeologists call the Thracian fortress “the Bulgarian Machu Picchu” because of the similarities in the organization of the two ancient cities.

The construction of the residence near Hissar is believed to have been started by the Thracian ruler Cotys I (384 BC – 359 BC).

The team led by Dr. Hristov has uncovered the remains of the palace of the Odrysian kings Amatokos II (359 BC – 351 BC) and Teres II (351 BC – 342 BC).

The latter is the last Thracian king who fought Philip II of Macedon (359 BC – 336 BC).

Philip II of Macedon most likely also visited this fortress. It is about him that Demosthenes says that he spent 11 nightmarish months in the winter of 342 BC fighting the Thracians who inhabited the mountains,” explained Dr. Hristov.

The fortress-residence of the Thracian kings is located on a plot of 4 decares, not far from the village of Starosel, which is the site of the largest tombs of Ancient Thracian rulers.

The researchers believe that the connection between the newly-uncovered fortress and the Starosel tombs is clear.

“This is the holy mountain in the mind of the Thracians. We have various archaeological objects located on different levels – a fortress, a sanctuary, an altar of sacrifice. Therefore, the comparison with the ancient city of the Incas Machu Picchu is a good one,” said Dr. Hristov.

Last summer his team excavated two of the towers of the citadel, whose remains are about 2 m high.

The archaeologists’ guess is that the treasure of the Odrysian kingdom was also located in the newly uncovered residence but Philip II of Macedon most likely stole the gold kept there.

The Odrysian Kingdom was a union of Thracian tribes that existed between 5th and the 3rd century BC. The last Thracian states were conquered by Romans in 46 AD. The most famous Thracian in human history is Spartacus, the man who led a rebellion of gladiators against Rome in 73-71 BC.

From Novinite.