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Thursday, 4 June 2015

Help the Defence Archaeology Group to feel the love...

The Defence Archaeology Group / Operation Nightingale was founded in 2012 to utilise both the technical and social aspects of field archaeology in the recovery and skill development of soldiers injured in the conflict in Afghanistan.

There is a close correlation between the skills required by the modern soldier and those of the professional archaeologist. These skills include surveying, geophysics (for ordnance recovery or revealing cultural heritage sites), scrutiny of the ground (for improvised explosive devices or artefacts), site and team management, mapping, navigation and the physical ability to cope with hard manual work in often inclement weather conditions.

You can read more about Op Nightingale at the Defence Archaeology Group by clicking here.

It is perhaps not widely appreciated that the founding fathers of much of modern archaeology were senior figures within the British army including Lt-General Pitt Rivers, Brigadier Mortimer Wheeler, Col TE Lawrence, and O.G.S Crawford to name but a few. Meanwhile, many of those who grew the discipline in the post-War world of university expansion and Rescue Archaeology learnt many of their skills in uniform.

With the inherent skills of the infantryman; an appreciation of landscape, topography and deposits in the ground as their lives depend upon it, it is less of a leap of faith to think that archaeology might be a discipline perfect for soldiers.

On this basis, the Defence Archaeology Group derived from a conversation between Richard Osgood, Senior Historic Advisor within the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) of the Ministry of Defence and Sergeant Diarmaid Walshe of 1st Battalion, The Rifles.

Sergeant Walshe, (who is responsible for the medical care and treatment of the soldiers, including injured personal returned from operations overseas), identified a growing need for some form of occupational therapy and recovery.  As an archaeologist himself he recognised that archaeology had many elements that could help address some of the complex needs of these soldiers and addressing the ailments that they were exhibiting.

Since 2012 many projects have been undertaken both in the UK and overseas – and indeed, excavations at the Waterloo battlefield are being spear-headed by the group this summer

We provide insurance services to the group and contribute to their ‘travel’ fund and we take a very keen interest in all of their activities. 

Please show your support by clicking here to view their website and ‘liking’ their various profiles on social media – this way we can help Sergeant Walshe and his team feel the love!

Call me to discuss your insurance needs on 0208 2550617 / 07768 865983

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Dog walkers and metal detectorists help archaeologists to record 1,000 finds in Yorkshire

Dog walkers and metal detectorists help archaeologists to record 1,000 finds in Yorkshire.

The 1,000th officially recorded archaeological find of the year in Yorkshire is a 2,000-year-old figurine of the Roman god.  It was found by Dave Cooper while he was metal detecting in a field near Selby, and is a remarkable reminder of Roman times.

“It honestly was pure coincidence – but a very happy one,” says Rebecca Griffiths, the Finds Liaison Officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme at the York Museums Trust.

“Mercury was the god of commerce and so merchants would sprinkle their heads and merchandise with water from Mercury’s well, near the Porta Capena, to appeal to the god for luck in their endeavours.”

The museum is used to receiving items from the public, even when the timing is less curious. The Bedale Hoard, the Escrick Ring and the silver Stillingfleet boar badge of Richard III are already on display thanks to the vigilance of members of the public.

“Every year thousands of archaeological objects are discovered,” says Griffiths. “While the majority of these come from metal-detector users, we also see many finds from people field-walking, gardening, renovating houses and even those out walking particularly inquisitive dogs.

“Due to the quantity and quality of these finds it was realised that, if properly recorded, these discoveries could provide an important source of material with the potential to transform our understanding of the past.

“Each year I, and a small team of volunteers, add more than 2,000 new artefacts to the database. These range from Roman coins to medieval buckles, stone tools to post-medieval toys and pretty much everything in-between.”

The figurine is yet to join a museum collection.

Public Finds Days will be held by the PAS at Hull and East Riding Museum (July 31, September 25 and November 27, 11am-1pm) and the Yorkshire Museum (June 5, August 7, October 2, December 4, 10am-1pm).

Call me to discuss your insurance needs on 0208 2550617 / 07768 865983

Monday, 1 June 2015

Gold Artefacts Tell Tale of Drug-Fuelled Rituals and "Bastard Wars"

Located in a massive grave mound in the Caucasus Mountains of southern Russia – known locally as a kurgan – god vessels containing a black compound now identified as opium and cannabis were uncovered in 2013 by Stavropol-based archaeologist Andrei Belinski.

The kurgan was left behind by the Scythians who ruled the vast grasslands of Eurasia for a thousand years, striking fear into the hearts of the ancient Greeks and Persians.  The drug-fuelled rituals carried out by these fierce nomads were chronicled by Heroditus – and we now we find the evidence to back-up his accounts.

Dating to 2400 years ago, the kurgan showed signs of having been plundered in the past, but on deeper excavation, Belsinki found an intact chamber lined with broad flat stones containing the bucket-shaped gold vessels.  Each was placed upside down and inside were three gold cups, a heavy gold finger ring, two neck rings, and a gold bracelet.

"It's a once-in-a-century discovery," says Anton Gass of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation in Berlin. "These are among the finest objects we know from the region."

When tested by criminologists in nearby Stavropol the black residue found inside the vessels came back positive for opium and cannabis.

"It was definitely a surprise for us," Belinski says. "We weren't expecting to find anything like this."

Because the sticky residue was found on the inside of the vessels, Belinski and Gass surmise that the vessels were used to brew and drink a strong opium concoction, while cannabis was burning nearby.  Perhaps confirming the observations of Heroditus that the Scythians used a plant to produce smoke "that no Grecian vapour-bath can surpass … transported by the vapor, [they] shout aloud."

As for the vessels themselves, one depicts an old, bearded man slaying young warriors while the other is covered in mythological creatures: Griffons rip apart a horse and a stag in a bleak landscape that Belinski thinks represents the Scythian underworld.

Gass suggests that the scene of the old man slaying the young warriors could be a reference to the "Bastard Wars" reported by Herodotus. Thus named because when the Scythians returned home from a 28 year war, they found intruders in their tents—the bastard children of the Scythians' lonely wives and their slaves! Perhaps the dreadful slaughter which ensued was deemed important enough to commemorate in solid gold? 

Whatever the event, and despite the gory scene, the images provide a great insight into daily life with clear depictions of shoes, haircuts and clothing.

"I've never seen such a detailed representation of the clothing and weaponry of the Scythians," says Belinski. "It's so detailed you can see how the clothing was sewn."

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