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Grave of Stonehenge Builder Found

A 4,000-year-old grave found near Stonehenge is one of the richest early Bronze Age sites ever discovered in Europe. "It's a fantastically important discovery both for the number of artifacts found in that grave and the range of artifacts. It's absolutely unique," says Gillian Varndell, a curator of the British Museum's prehistory department.

About 100 objects, including a pair of rare gold earrings, were found three miles east of Stonehenge with the bones of a man who died at about the time the monolithic stone circle was taking the form we see today. The most intricate crop circles appear every spring in the vicinity of Stonehenge in England.

"Previously, if seven or eight objects had been placed in the grave, we would have thought that person quite wealthy and highly regarded," says Andrew Fitzpatrick, the Wessex Archaeology project manager. Fitzpatrick said.

The grave of the man, who was between 30 and 40 years old, was discovered during routine excavations for a new school. Initial examination of the bones has shown no obvious cause of death but he had a problem with his left leg and badly worn teeth. Archeologists believe he was wealthy and of high status because similar graves have contained up to 10 artifacts, while this one has almost 100. Lavish burials from this period are rare because so few people during the period had major material wealth.

He may have been an archer because the objects buried with him included stone arrowheads and stone wrist guards. There also were stone tools for butchering carcasses and for making more arrowheads. As well as the archery equipment, the man had three copper knives and a pair of gold earrings. Fitzpatrick says the earrings were wrapped around the ear rather than worn hanging from the ear lobe. "They were very rare and the metals they were made from may have been imported," he says.

The burial occurred in about 2300 B.C. It was a time when people were using copper and sheet gold, and were about to learn how to use complicated metals. "It's a society in which there is navigation, travel and trade on a pretty large scale," Varndell says.

Fitzpatrick says, "This is clearly an elder in the community, perhaps who wielded military authority and may be a king, a tribal leader or a chieftain of this area."

To see photos of some of the treasures,click here.

Historians are using computers to assemble a Cuneiform Digital Library of the earliest known written documents: clay tablets inscribed more than 4,000 years ago. Experts are afraid that if the texts aren't cataloged electronically, they may be lost forever.About 120,000 cuneiform tablets from the third millennium B.C. are scattered throughout the world. Thousands more are stolen from sites each year in Iraq and sold on the world antiquities market. Tablets have even shown up on eBay, where bidding can start at $1.

"They are just so incredibly dispersed," says Robert Englund, a professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures at the University of California. "It seems to us the only way to get control of the texts is to collect them on the Internet. "Over the next 2 years, Englund will try to finish gathering, cataloging and photographing 120,000 tablets. The information will then be posted on the Web. About 60,000 texts are already online.

The tablets are the earliest known written documents and record how people lived, labored, ruled and wrote for millennia in ancient Mesopotamia. The library focuses on tablets created by scribes during writing's first millennium, roughly 3300 B.C. to 2000 B.C. The writing looks like a series of little wedges connected by lines?the term cuneiform means "wedge-shaped."

"It's like being able to walk into the tablet room of a museum and pick up the actual tablets ? but this can be done from any corner of the planet and by any number of individuals at one time," says Gene Gragg, director of the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute.

There are cuneiform collections in England, Germany, Norway, Russia and the United States."It's simply going to change the way we work because access to these texts is slow and painful and can involve traveling thousands of miles to see. That changing to just a click away is going to be huge," says Steve Tinney of the University of Pennsylvania, which is compiling an internet dictionary of Sumerian, the first written language. Zecharia Sitchin is one of the few writers who has brought this information to readers in an accessible form.

The best-known cuneiform texts include the earliest known creation myths, legal codes, medical prescriptions and recipes for beer. They include ledgers, deeds, receipts and lists of everything from types of birds to musical instruments and the woods used to make them.

They contain more detail than texts for any other period in history until the rise of Venice in the 1200s. Tinney says, "We are hoping to bring the richness of Mesopotamian culture to anyone who works on anything. We have agriculture texts, magic texts and medical, legal and religious texts. This is a treasure trove that has not been exploited."

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