Roman toilet seat found at dig site

Experts believe the toilet seat is the only find of its kind


Archaeologists have unearthed a 2,000-year-old, perfectly preserved wooden toilet seat at a Roman fort on Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland.

Experts at Vindolanda believe it is the only find of its kind and dates from the 2nd Century.

The site, near Hexham, has previously revealed gold and silver coins and other artefacts of the Roman army.

The seat was discovered in a muddy trench, which was previously filled with rubbish.

Dr Andrew Birley, director of excavations at Vindolanda, said: “We know a lot about Roman toilets from previous excavations at the site and from the wider Roman world, which have included many fabulous Roman latrines.

But never before have we had the pleasure of seeing a surviving and perfectly preserved wooden seat.

As soon as we started to uncover it there was no doubt at all on what we had found.

It is made from a very well worked piece of wood and looks pretty comfortable.

Now we need to find the toilet that went with it as Roman loos are fascinating places to excavate their drains often contain astonishing artefacts

Let’s face it, if you drop something down a Roman latrine you are unlikely to attempt to fish it out unless you are pretty brave or foolhardy

Dr Birley said many examples of stone and marble toilet benches existed from across the Roman Empire, but this is believed to be the only surviving wooden seat.

He said it was probably preferred to a cold stone seat given the chilly northern location

Australia ups anti terror efforts

Mr Abbott said the two counter-terror units began operations last week


New counter-terrorism units have been set up at two Australian airports, PM Tony Abbott says, amid concern over Australians fighting in Iraq and Syria.

Mr Abbott told parliament units in Sydney and Melbourne began operating last week.

They had already intercepted at least one person of interest, he said.

Meanwhile Australia’s top spy says that 15 Australians are believed to have died fighting for Middle East-based extremist groups like Islamic State.

Mr Abbott did not give further details about how the person was intercepted or their intended destination.

He said the move would be extended to all Australia’s international airports, with an additional 80 border force officers to monitor the movements of people on security watch lists.

Biometric screening would also be introduced to all international airports, according to Fairfax Media.

At least 60 Australians were known to be fighting with jihadist groups in Syria and northern Iraq, the prime minister said.

Separately, the director general of Australia’s spy agency, David Irvine, told reporters that 15 Australians fighting with militant groups were believed to have been killed in the current conflicts in Iraq and Syria, including two young suicide bombers.

Dozens of Australian fighters had already returned home and “a good number of these” remained a concern to the authorities, he said.

Mr Irvine said 100 or more people in Australia were “actively supporting” militant groups by recruiting new fighters, grooming suicide-bombing candidates, and providing funds and equipment.

Australia and the United States signed an agreement on Wednesday to share information that would confirm identities of foreign travellers at airports.

Australia is also spending an extra A$630 million (£354m, $587m) over the next four years to tackle the threat of home-grown terrorism. This week the government announced that as part of that package, it would spend A$64 million to help prevent young people from becoming radicalised.

Mr Abbott had earlier announced Australia would restrict citizens from travelling to certain areas to join militant groups.

The moves follow a series of disturbing reports. An image of a young boy, reportedly the son of an Australian terror convict, holding a Syrian’s severed head shocked Australia earlier this month.

In July, an 18-year-old suicide bomber from Melbourne killed several people in a market near a Baghdad mosque.

In the same month authorities in Canberra issued arrest warrants for two Australian Islamic State fighters, after one was pictured brandishing the severed heads of what appeared to be Syrian government soldiers.

Is this woman an apostate?

Kate Kelly shows a digital copy of the letter which informed her of her excommunication


Kate Kelly stands frozen at an empty intersection in Salt Lake City. There is no traffic coming in either direction.

“I need to wait for the signal,” she says, “I’m obedient, I’m a Mormon.” She laughs, her eyes twinkling behind her thick, retro-style glasses.

But if Ms Kelly thinks she’s an obedient Mormon, her Church leadership does not. She was excommunicated in June for founding a campaign to ordain women to the priesthood.

“You know, normally excommunication in our Church is for really grave sins like murder and child abuse,” she says. “I was excommunicated for stating a fact, which is that men and women are not equal in our Church.”

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS) – which claims a membership of 15 million worldwide – any male from the age of 12 and “in good standing” can join the priesthood. No female can.

Unlike other churches, including the Church of England which last month agreed to allow women priests to be promoted to bishop, the LDS Church does not have a professional priesthood. It operates what it calls a “lay” clergy – male members take turns to fulfil the roles.

Take the bishop of Ms Kelly’s former ward in Virginia – the man who excommunicated her. He is a lawyer for ExxonMobil.

She is also a lawyer, a human rights lawyer, and she sounds like one as she dissects the process her bishop and other male leaders followed to remove her from the Mormon faith.

“We’re talking about an Inquisition,” she says. “The men who punished me think they are kicking me out of heaven.”

Frankly, there’s a soul at stake here and we’re concerned about that”

The 33-year-old clearly does not agree, and she is unrepentant for founding the web-based group, Ordain Women, where several hundred men and women have posted their profiles in support.

While there have been earlier calls for the ordination of Mormon women, Ms Kelly’s group posed a new challenge, using the web and modern, political methods to agitate for change. That prompted the Church leadership to take tough action.

Mike Otterson, the managing director of public affairs for the LDS, says he will not speak specifically about Ms Kelly’s case, but he insists that the excommunication process is always fair, conducted locally, and decided only after careful consideration.

“We often refer to these proceedings as courts of love,” he says.

“We show a great deal of patience, because ultimately, frankly, there’s a soul at stake here and we’re concerned about that.”

He insists that women already have a lot of responsibility in the Church, including the right to preach from the pulpit, but that most women do not seek the priesthood.

Ms Kelly was excommunicated for apostasy. Dictionaries define an apostate as someone who renounces their faith. But in Mormonism questioning church teaching and, “especially encouraging other people to take the same position,” says Mike Otterson, will qualify someone as an “apostate”.

Ms Kelly says the charge of apostasy was “completely absurd” and she is appealing against the decision.

Having faced persecution after its founding in the 19th Century, the LDS Church continued to encounter hostility and suspicion, and is still sensitive to criticism.

Kate Kelly has crossed a red line, says Kathleen Flake, a professor of Mormon studies at the University of Virginia. Mormonism functions as a family, she says.

“And if the family’s going to fight, it’s very disloyal to have that fight outside the family.”

The male hierarchy speaks of a Church that is led by divine revelation and follows the Bible. Jesus and the apostles were male, and Jesus did not ordain women. Full stop.

But those on the side of women’s ordination – a small but vocal minority – insist that the leadership at the top has changed its position on one critical issue before.

The exclusion of black men from the priesthood is a long and painful chapter in Mormon history. The leadership changed that in 1978, after what they described as a revelation from God, and more than a decade after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.

So, if God can change his mind about black people, why, asks Kate Kelly, can he not do so with women?

“It’s a red herring,” says Mike Otterson. He says that the Church leadership had put out statements before 1978 indicating that the ban on black male priests was temporary, based on comments made by the early leader, Brigham Young, among others.

“There is no such condition you can cite in relation to women’s ordination. It is simply not on the agenda for the Church,” he says.

Gender differences are clearly defined in Mormonism and central to the theology. The Church teaches that families will stick together in the afterlife. Men will inherit planets. Women will help populate them.

And while the practice of polygamy was dropped in 1890, the concept remains in the afterlife. A man can be married or “sealed” to more than one woman after death, but not the other way around.

If the religion is so patriarchal, why does Kate Kelly want to return to the fold? She could join a more liberal offshoot, the Community of Christ, which ordains women. Or she could leave religion altogether.

“Mormonism is my spiritual home,” she says.

“And if I see that my home needs renovations I invest in making it a better place.”

Jane Little’s documentary, “Sister Saints – Women and the Mormons” can be heard in Heart and Soul on the BBC World Service.

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Thumbs up for Capaldi’s Doctor

Capaldi, best known for his role in The Thick of It, is the 12th Time Lord


Critics have hailed Peter Capaldi’s feature-length debut as the 12th Doctor, as the eighth series of Doctor Who premiered on BBC One on Saturday.

The Telegraph’s Michael Hogan said the Scots actor crackled with fierce intelligence and nervous energy

Euan Ferguson, in the Guardian, called his performance “wise and thoughtful though decried the plot as demented

At its peak the programme was watched by 7.3 million people, according to official viewing figures

The BBC said it was the most watched opening episode of a Doctor Who series since 2010

Richard Beech, in the Mirror, agreed Capaldi had all the hallmarks of a great Doctor

He called the 80 minute opening episode, entitled Deep Breath, an impeccable debut

“If you watched Deep Breath and you don’t want to watch the rest of series 8, then there truly is something wrong with you, he wrote.

However fans of the series appeared less convinced.

(Spoiler alert: Key plot details revealed below)

The show received a mixed reception on Twitter, with some viewers deeming 56-year-old Capaldi brilliant and amazing, while others describing the episode as middle of the road and “gimmicky

More depth and much better with an older actor. It’s 1973 all over again and that’s no bad thing, tweeted one fan.

Overall I think Capaldi is going to be good, but the episode wasn’t great. Pretty much what I have come to expect from Moffat tweeted another, who landed the blame squarely with Doctor Who show-runner and Sherlock writer Steven Moffat, who penned the episode.

You cannot tell me that this was badly written. This is the best episode that Moffat has ever made. I hope it stays this great argued another

Seriously disappointed with Doctor Who. Bored, angry, frustrated, irritated, offended and let down. Wow

The surprise reappearance of Capaldi’s predecessor, Matt Smith  in the closing moments of the show – was greeted with joy by many fans, though the Mirror’s critic called Smith’s phone call from the future divisive

For some, it will have been a genuine treat to see Matt Smith as the Doctor for one last time  but many didn’t need the closure, and didn’t need telling to get behind a man they already firmly believe in

Moffat has described it as the fastest return ever on Doctor Who

It just felt utterly right for what we were planning for Peter’s Doctor, and right for Matt’s Doctor, that he would think of that as he was just about to go out the door he told Digital Spy

The critics were united in their praise for Jenna Coleman, returning as the Doctor’s sidekick Clara Oswald

Her character drove much of the action in what many saw as a wayward” storyline, opening with a dinosaur stranded in Victorian London, and encompassing spontaneous combustion and robots harvesting human remains

The plot runs secondary to the emotional throughline here, wrote US critic Geoff Berkshire in Variety

But he added What Capaldi lacks in youthful energy, he more than makes up for in gravitas and wry eccentricity, whether marvelling at his ‘independently cross eyebrows or gleefully embracing his Scottish accent as a license to complain

Behind his furrowed brow and tendency to complain, roil new and exciting storms, which may tilt the tale away from love and longing and back to adventure echoed Los Angeles Times critic Mary McNamara

Either way, this Doctor is truly something else again