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Monday, 20 June 2016


Look at the Current Archaeology DIGS! Section to make a plan for the summer:

“Nothing beats the excitement of hands-on archaeology, and with the new digging season almost upon us, there is no time to lose.

This is a chance to get practical experience, either before heading off to university, or putting into practice what has been studied in theory. But for most, this is simply a glorious way to pass the time.

Our guide covers the full gamut of locations, periods, and types: from fieldwalking to recording and cataloguing, from early Neolithic to Medieval and later there is something for everyone. Some jobs require stamina, but many do not. Young or old, fit or not, time rich or time poor, all you need is enthusiasm and a desire to get involved.”

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Monday, 18 April 2016

Hope to see you at the CIfA Conference 2016 in Leicester

As an Affiliate member, I will be at the conference from Thursday afternoon until the close of play on Friday meeting lots of friends and former work colleagues.  I had hoped to have a trade stand, but I wasn’t allowed, so here’s my “no-platformed” platform for all to see!

See what you are missing: free pencils, free bottles of water, free photographic scales, free document cases……and vital insurance advice!!! 

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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

PRESS RELEASE: Rescue Dig of the Year award for 2016, for Drumclay Crannog Project

Nora Bermingham and Caitríona Moore accept Current Archaeology’s prestigious Rescue Dig of the Year award for 2016, for their work on the Drumclay Crannog

The award for Rescue Dig of the Year (sponsored by Export and General Insurance for the second year running) was accepted by Dr Nora Bermingham and Caitríona Moore who carried out the rare excavation of a crannog (a medieval artificial island) in Co. Fermanagh on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland. The well-preserved remains of timber structures and thousands of artefacts uncovered at this important site, are set to revolutionise our understanding of crannog life.

The prize forms part of the celebrated Current Archaeology Awards given each year by Current Archaeology, the UK’s leading archaeology magazine. TV personality and archaeologist Julian Richards (of Meet the Ancestors fame) announced the winners of the 2016 awards on 26 February, during the Current Archaeology Live! event, held at the University of London’s Senate House, which saw a record number of ticket sales for the conference, and was attended by over 400 people.

Nora Bermingham said:
‘Thank you so much to everyone who voted for us. This was a tiny little rural excavation in Northern Ireland, and we’re thrilled to have won. Doing Drumclay was the experience of a lifetime, and I don’t think it will be matched – it was a real privilege to direct that excavation and see the wonders that came out of it. We had a wonderful crew, and we would also like to thank the Department of the Environment and Department for Regional Development in Northern Ireland.’

John Mitchell said:
We are delighted once again to be sponsoring this prestigious award – and we are very happy that it has been won by the Drumclay Crannog Project.  It is well deserved!
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Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Stonehenge Findings Reveal Prehistoric Gender Equality

In light of a new study of human remains found at Stonehenge in 2008, researchers suggest that prehistoric Woman was able to attain high status, and may even have been considered the equal of men.

14 of the 23 remains exhumed at Stonehenge - which is believed to have been a cemetery for Wiltshire’s antediluvian movers and shakers - belong to women. According to archaeologists such as Mike Pitts (of British Archaeology), the study should be used to revise notions of male-dominated prehistoric societies that are currently prevalent in the media and the arts.  

The project, Pitts prates, puts paid to painters’ preponderant portrayals of a prominent prehistoric patriarchy:

“In almost every depiction of Stonehenge by artists and TV re-enactors we see lots of men, a man in charge, and few or no women

“The archaeology now shows that as far as the burials go, women were as prominent there as men. This contrasts with the earlier burial mounds, where men seem to be more prominent.

Other researchers concur that the findings demonstrate a “surprising degree of gender equality” given artists’ depictions of the site as being ruled by men “with barely a woman in sight”.

Christie Willis of the University College London Institute of Archaeology was tasked with identifying the sex of the remains which, collectively, weighed some 45kg and have since been sent off to the universities of Oxford and Glasgow to be radiocarbon-dated. 

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Ancestral worm protection could cause lung disease in Viking descendants

In a paper published today in Scientific Reports a group of researchers led by (Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine) LSTM have found that the key to an inherited deficiency, predisposing people to emphysema and other lung conditions, could lie in their Viking roots.

Archaeological excavations of Viking latrine pits in Denmark have revealed that these populations suffered massive worm infestations. The way that their genes developed to protect their vital organs from disease caused by worms has become the inherited trait which can now lead to lung disease in smokers.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and emphysema affect over 300 million people, or nearly 5% of the global population. The only inherited risk factor is alpha-1-antitrypsin (A1AT) deficiency, and this risk is compounded if individuals smoke tobacco.
A1AT protects the lungs and liver from enzymes called proteases that are produced by cells of the immune system, but also by parasitic worms. In the absence of A1AT these proteases can break down lung tissue leading to COPD and emphysema.

Deficiency of A1AT is genetically determined and is due to deviants of A1AT that are surprisingly common, particularly in Scandinavia, where they evolved in Viking populations more than two thousand years ago. Why these disease-causing deviants of A1AT are so common in human populations today has long been a mystery.

LSTM's Professor Richard Pleass is senior author on the paper. He said: "Vikings would have eaten contaminated food and parasites would have migrated to various organs, including lungs and liver, where the proteases they released would cause disease."

In this latest paper the authors show that these deviant forms of A1AT bind an antibody called immunoglobulin E (IgE) that evolved to protect people from worms. The binding of A1AT to IgE prevents the antibody molecule from being broken down by such proteases.

"Thus these deviant forms of A1AT would have protected Viking populations, who neither smoked tobacco nor lived long lives, from worms." Continued Professor Pleass, "it is only in the last century that modern medicine has allowed human populations to be treated for disease causing worms. Consequently these deviant forms of A1AT, that once protected people from parasites, are now at liberty to cause emphysema and COPD."

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Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The world’s first farmers and their slash-and-burn agriculture may have set off global warming.

[....and I've always said that our best hope of surviving the next ice age is global warming.......Ed.]

Published January 20, 2016

A new analysis of ice-core climate data, archaeological evidence and ancient pollen samples is being used to suggest farming some 7,000 years ago helped put the brakes on a natural cooling process of the global climate, possibly contributing the warmer climate seen today. 

But the study is expected to raise a few eyebrows, given there were far fewer people on Earth back then and industrialization – and the coal-fired power plants that come with it - was still a long ways off.

A study was the work of an international team led by William Ruddiman, a University of Virginia climate scientist, who first grabbed attention a dozen years ago with a controversial theory that humans altered the climate by burning massive areas of forests to clear the way for crops and livestock grazing. Dubbed the “early anthropogenic hypothesis,” Ruddiman and his colleagues found that that carbon dioxide levels rose beginning 7,000 years ago, and methane began rising 5,000 years ago.

It sparked heated debate back then and continues to be debated among some climate scientists.

In the latest paper, Ruddiman and his 11 co-authors from institutions in the United States and Europe conclude that that accumulating evidence in the past few years, particularly from ice-core records dating back to 800,000 years ago, show that an expected cooling period was halted after the advent of large-scale agriculture. Otherwise, they say, the Earth would have entered the early stages of a natural ice age, or glaciation period.

“Early farming helped keep the planet warm,” Ruddiman said in a statement, regarding the study that appeared in a recent edition of the journal Reviews of Geophysics, published by the American Geophysical Union.

“After 12 years of debate about whether the climate of the last several thousand years has been entirely natural or in considerable part the result of early agriculture, converging evidence from several scientific disciplines points to a major anthropogenic influence,”  he said.

The Earth naturally cycles between cool glacial periods and warmer interglacial periods because of variations in its orbit around the sun. We currently are in an interglacial period, called the Holocene epoch, which began nearly 12,000 years ago.

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Monday, 18 January 2016

"Significant" Viking hoard revealed at the British Museum for launch of Annual Treasure Report

 By Richard Moss | 10 December 2015

A Viking Hoard dating from the time of the ‘Last Kingdom’, when the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Mercia and Wessex were fighting for their survival against a ‘Great Heathen Army’ of Viking raiders has been revealed at the British Museum.

The valuable hoard, which was discovered by metal detectorist  James Mather in a field in Watlington, Oxfordshire and reported through the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), headed up the launch of the PAS annual treasure report at the museum, which details the thousands of finds reported by detectorists and amateur archaeologists via a network of local museums.

It includes rare coins of King Alfred ‘the Great’ of Wessex (r.871-99) and King Ceolwulf II of  Mercia (874-79), as well as Viking arm-rings and silver ingots, and is said by archaeologists to be nationally significant.

Block lifted in a single slab of earth, the find was excavated at the British Museum. The 186 coins (some fragmentary), seven items of jewellery and 15 ingots were then examined by experts from the museum alongside colleagues from the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. 

Experts believe the hoard was buried around the end of the 870s, in the period following Alfred’s decisive defeat of the Vikings at Edington in 878, a victory which lead to the unification of England.

Following their defeat, the Vikings moved north of the Thames and travelled to East Anglia through the kingdom of Mercia. It seems likely that the hoard was buried in the course of these events, although the precise circumstances will never be known.

Recalling the experience of finding the hoard and helping excavate it with archaeologists from the PAS, finder James Mather said it was the “icing on the cake of my 60th birthday”.

“It highlights how responsible metal detecting, supportive landowners and the PAS contribute to national archaeological heritage,” he added. “I hope these amazing artefacts can be displayed by a local museum to be enjoyed by generations to come."

If the Watlington Hoard is declared Treasure, the Ashmolean Museum and Oxfordshire Museums Service will be working in partnership with others, and potential funders, to try to ensure it is displayed for local people to learn about and enjoy.

Since 1997, when the Treasure Act became law, the number of finds reported has increased fivefold from 201 cases in 1998 (the first full year of the Act) to 990 in 2013, and 1008 in 2014.

Of the finds reported as Treasure in 2013 (the last year for which figures are available), 363 were acquired by 91 local museums, so they can be displayed close to where the items were discovered.

This year’s annual report reveals that in addition to reported Treasure, a further 113,784 archaeological finds have been recorded by the Portable Antiquities Scheme in 2014.

All of them are recorded on the PAS database (, where local people can learn about them and discover more about the archaeology and history of their local area.

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