Oil well could threaten ancient heritage sites

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Almost five months after the explosion of its Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, energy giant BP is under the spotlight again after archaeologists around the world warned that plans to sink an oil well off the coast of Libya could threaten the region’s ancient city and coastal sites and historic shipwrecks. A spokesman for BP confirmed that a full seismic survey had been carried out and that drilling would start later this year.

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New Scientist magazine has revealed that a celestial event recorded by the ancient Greeks may have actually been the earliest sighting of Halley’s comet. Ancient writers recording a meteorite that hit northern Greece between 466 BC and 467 BC also speak of a comet in the sky, which, if confirmed as Comet Halley, could push the first observation of the comet back by 226 years.

Back to earth, it’s been a good week for archaeologists after a rare Roman suit of armour was uncovered during a dig at the fortress of Caerleon in Wales. The suit is thought to be only the third or fourth to have been found in the UK and is a first for Wales. It was found alongside weapons and copper and bronze studs and hinges.

In other archaeology news, a metal detectorist in Cumbria has found a rare Roman bronze helmet, complete with face mask, believed to be only one of three of its kind ever found in Britain. The helmet, which would have been worn as a mark of excellence by Roman soldiers at sporting events, is expected to fetch £300,000 at auction in October.

Meanwhile, details of around 200,000 inmates onboard Britain’s 19th-century prison ships have been published online. The records, held by the National Archives, outline the conditions experienced by prisoners, including diseases and character reports written by gaolers. The records are online at Ancestry.co.uk.

In Scotland, a Bronze Age burial site has been unearthed at a site earmarked for the Highlands’ first Asda supermarket in Inverness. An area of cremation pits was discovered and nearly 2,000 flints were found nearby.

In art news, analysis of two 16th-century portraits of Elizabeth I has shown that both were painted on wood from the same two trees. The paintings, both associated with Nicholas Hilliard, are likely to have been painted at the same studio and were painted when the queen was in her early forties – almost midway though her reign.

Elsewhere, the remains of two children thought to date back to the 13th century have been uncovered near St Mary the Virgin Parish Church in Chickerell, Dorset. The skeletons will be recorded and then reinterred elsewhere in the churchyard.

Forensics teams in Dundee have used facial reconstruction technology to create an image of William Shakespeare, which forensic anthropologists believe will challenge people’s perceptions of what the bard really looked like.

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And finally, eight fragments of limestone belongings to an ancient Egyptian necropolis have been discovered in an antiques shop in Spain. The pieces, which were pillaged in 1999, are inscribed with hieroglyphics dating back to the 3rd century BC and will be returned to the Egyptian government.