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Friday, 24 April 2015

Nexus Heritage and the Maesbury Marsh archaeological dig

The Canal and River Trust is working with specialists from Nexus Heritage, at the historic canal wharf, smelting house and bone manure works at Maesbury Marsh, near Oswestry in what is billed as a Time Team-style archaeological dig.

It is hoped that dozens of would-be archaeologists will take part in a community excavation of this important historical canal site from Tuesday 21 – Sunday 26 April.  [Sorry that my notification is a little late!]

Everyone's invited to inspect the work at a special open day on Saturday 25 April, 11am – 3pm. You'll be able to speak to the archaeologists and see what treasures have been unearthed. You're also invited to add to the unfolding story by bringing old photographs or memorabilia of the canal wharf to the event.   From the twitter feed, it looks as if this is very successful and enjoyable so far!

“Nexus Heritage is a dynamic and energetic team of heritage professionals with a wide range of expertise and experience. We believe that we can build a better future by inspiring people around the world to value the past. We are founded on a belief in working collaboratively with our clients and other stakeholders. We build partnerships around the world, who share our passion for making the past relevant to the present and a benefit to the future.”

Based in Eastham Cheshire, Nexus undertakes commercial and community work and has been involved in (or run) projects all over the UK, in Europe, Mongolia, Senegal, the Republic of the Congo, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia!

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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Georgios and the Great Persecution

The man who we all know as St George was actually a soldier in Diocletian’s army at around 230AD.  Diocletian, of course is famous for slaughtering Christians in waht is known as “The Great Persecution”. 

There is widespread acceptance of the historical existence of George, hereafter known as Georgios.  It is suggested that Georgios’s father was a Greek Christian from Cappadocia and an official in the Roman army and his mother was from Lydda, where Georgios was reputedly born.  Following the death of first his father, then his mother, Giorgios travelled to Nicomedia and presented himself to the Emperor Diocletian in order to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Roman soldier. 
As Diocletian had known his father (or perhaps known of his father?), Giorgios was accepted and within a few years he became a Tribunus in the Imperial Guard at Nicomedia.

Unfortunately for the young Giorgios (now in his late 20s), on Feb 24th AD303 Diocletian decreed that every soldier should offer a sacrifice to the Roman Gods – and that any dissenting Christian soldiers should be arrested.

Georgios objected and vowed to remain true to his Christian faith.  He renounced the Emperor’s edict loudly and publicly – and indeed in front of Diocletian.  It appears that Diocletian really did value Georgios as we are told that he offered gifts of money, land and slaves if only Georgios would make a sacrifice to the Roman gods.

After such public protestations the Roman Imperial machine was left with no option but to show its strength and execute Giorgios by decapitation before Nicomedia's city wall, on 23 April 303.  Thus Giorgios became a venerated Christian martyr.

Georgios’s martyrdom resulted in a growing following in the Middle East with many miracles attributed to his name by 900AD – when sources suggest that Georgios was ‘universally accepted as a saint.’  As early as 496, Pope Gelasius in De libris recipiendis includes George among those saints 'whose names are rightly reverenced among us, but whose actions are known only to God'

St George is now venerated in the Catholic church, the Church of England, by the Orthodox churches and by the Churches of the Near East and Ethiopia.

Tomb of St George
As for the dragon The episode of St. George and the Dragon was a legend brought back with the Crusaders -  the earliest known surviving narrative text is an eleventh-century text.

The supposed tomb of St George can still be seen at Lod, south-east of Tel-Aviv; and a convent in Cairo preserves personal objects which are believed to have belonged to George.

The virtues associated with St George, such as courage, honour and fortitude in defence of the Christian faith, indeed remain as important as ever.

A brief chronology

The earliest account of his death appears to be by Eusebius of Caesarea, writing c. 322 who notes the death of a noble birth soldier on April 23rd in 303, but makes no mention of his name.

496 Pope Gelasius in De libris recipiendis includes George among a list of saints

In 1222, the Synod of Oxford declared April 23rd a “lesser holiday” in honour of St George.

In 1348, George was adopted by Edward III as principal Patron of his new order of chivalry, the Knights of the Garter. Sources also suggest that Edward made him Patron Saint of England in 1350.

1415 April 23rd that day became “a great feast” to be observed like Christmas Day.

Archaeological evidence - none to speak of, but do we need any?

[Apologies if any of this is wrong - it is all my own work undertaken in a totally amateur way!]

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Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Guess who is off to Waterloo this summer?

"Archaeologists to excavate Napoleonic farmhouse defended by Coldstream Guards in Battle of Waterloo"

Hougoumont farmhouse
The Defence Archaeology Group led by Diarmaid Walshe will be excavating with Prof Tony Pollard's Glasgow University team at the site of Hougoumont  - a key location during the Battle of Waterloo.

James Gramam
Hougoumont is a cluster of 12 buildings situated in woodland directly below the main position selected by the Iron Duke to break up the advance of the French infantry.  As the battle reached a critical moment, with 14,000 French soldiers on the brink of breaking into the compound and securing victory, Corporal James Graham, a 24-year-old guardsman, closed the large gates of the farm while under fire.  

According to Mark Evans, “Every guardsman from day one in training is told about Waterloo and Hougoumont and what that means to be a Coldstream Guard.”

Mark Evans is a former Coldstream Guards officer, who narrowly escaped death while fighting in Afghanistan, and is a member of the DAG team (as I will be, though my excavation skills are rusty!).

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Monday, 20 April 2015

3.3 million year old stone tools at Lomekwi 3

Archaeologist Sonia Harmand, of Stony Brook University in New York presented her findings at the annual meeting of the Paleoanthropology Society in California.  She said that in 2011, after taking a wrong turn, she and her team spotted a cluster of tools on the landscape, and began to excavate.

The site is now know as Lomekwi 3, just west of Kenya’s Lake Turkana.

Since that initial discovery, the team has unearthed a total of 20 flakes, anvils and cores.  All of the materials were immaculately preserved in sediment, and an additional 130 pieces were found on the surface.

The tools are approximately 3.3 million years old.
Alison Brooks, an anthropologist at George Washington University, agrees with Harmand’s view, saying of the tools that “they could not have been created by natural forces… the dating evidence is fairly solid.”

Before this discovery, the oldest known stone tools were found in Ethiopia and are approximately 2.6 million years old.  In addition, researchers in Ethiopoa discovered animal bones that were 3.4 million years old displaying evidence of cut marks on them, meaning that early human ancestors inflicted these marks using stone tools.

Ethiopian stone tools. Image: PNAS
The origin of tool-making is long-thought to begin with the appearance of the genus Homo at about 2.8 million years. This new evidence potentially suggests that either ancient australopithecines like “Lucy” had developed stone tool use before Homo evolved, or else older members of the Homo genus have yet to be found.

“I think [australopithecines] would have had the cognitive capabilities to do it, and even though their hands were probably not as dexterous, they probably would have had no problem flaking stone,” says Nicholas Toth, a paleoanthropologist at the Stone Age Institute and the University of Indiana, Bloomington.

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Outsourcing the County Archaeologist’s functions

‘Enormous concern’ over loss of West Sussex archaeology service

Archaeology volunteers from the Horsham district have expressed ‘enormous concern’ at changes to specialist advice on proposed developments.

West Sussex County Council withdrew its specialist archaeology advice service from Horsham District Council’s planning department at the start of April.

Click here to go to the HDAG Twitter account

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