The most recently uploaded news Historical news on the site The most recently uploaded newsHistorical news on the site eng <![CDATA[2015.09.01. - Titanic’s Watery Grave Located, 30 Years Ago]]>
Dr. Robert Ballard (Credit: Stephen Osman/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
As Ballard tried to distract himself with a book, the Knoor’s cook appeared and said the on-duty watch team had called for him. Ballard pulled a jumpsuit over his pajamas and dashed to the ship’s control van. When he arrived, his colleagues replayed what had just appeared on their robot’s live video feed of the seafloor. The footage was dim and grainy, but the metal object it showed was unmistakable: one of Titanic’s boilers. Ballard and his crew erupted with cheers and applause. Someone opened a bottle of champagne for a toast, but the mood suddenly darkened after they noticed that it was nearly 2:20 a.m.—the exact time the ocean liner had sunk and taken more than 1,500 passengers and crew to their deaths. The thought of it hit Ballard like a shock. “We were embarrassed we were celebrating,” he later told 60 Minutes. “And all of a sudden we realized that we should not be dancing on someone’s grave.”]]>
Wed, 02 Sep 2015 12:08:52 +0200
<![CDATA[2015.03.01. - Archaeologists discover secret room in ancient Sidon temple]]>
The newly discovered monumental room is believed to be an extension of the underground Temple of Sidon, which dates back to the Bronze Age.

This finding comes as workers prepare the foundations of a new national museum, which will be established beside the archaeological site. Construction of the museum led to urgent excavations at the site last month.

Ten years ago, the delegation discovered an underground “holy of holies” room, dating back to 1300 B.C., where ancient residents are believed to have worshipped their gods. The newly discovered room was found adjacent to it, and is thought to be an extension of the site’s temple. It is believed to have been used by high-status members of the community.

Claude Serhal Doumit, head of the delegation, described the finding as significant, and said the room had been concealed by later developments built over it.

“Sealed by the imposition of a Persian period building constructed on top of it, this new room is of the highest importance in terms of its monumentality and untouched pottery material, both [domestically produced] and imported from Cyprus and Mycenae,” read a statement released by the delegation.

The British Museum delegation conducted excavations at the Frères site for nearly 17 years, after receiving approval from the Directorate General of Antiquities.

The room’s walls were constructed with monumental stones to a height of 4.5 meters, while the floor of subterranean room would have been 7.5 meters below street level. Archaeologists unearthed a number of artifacts inside.

“Wooden material, pottery and utensils for ritual celebrations used for eating, drinking and mixing fluids were found,” Doumit told The Daily Star.

Sidon MP Bahia Hariri hailed the new discovery, saying it helped reveal the rich history of the ancient city.

Hariri, who visited the Frères archaeological site Monday, praised the excavation work carried out by the Directorate General of Antiquities’ Sidon office and the British Museum delegation.

Sidon is a repository of many ruins, which reflect the various civilizations and cultures that inhabited the city. Hariri believes that the finding will contribute to the city’s new museum, which in turn will revive south Lebanon’s economy and culturally.

Construction on the new national museum has been underway after workers broke ground in November of last year.

Grants by the Kuwaiti Fund for Arab Economic Development and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development have helped provide financing for its construction. The Kuwaiti Fund has contributed $4 million to the project, while the Arab Fund has committed $850,000.

The museum will showcase artifacts and ruins from the various civilizations that inhabited Sidon, some of which date back to 3000 B.C.

“The dream of creating a museum is coming true,” Doumit said. “This is will be one of the most important museums in the Middle East.”

The museum will be designed to preserve the site’s archaeological ruins in situ. Pathways connecting ancient and modern Sidon will be created, in addition to a footbridge in the museum’s basement level that will show visitors where the ruins were discovered.

“The ruins will be displayed on the museum’s upper floor,” said Doumit, who also stressed that every new discovery helps raise the profile of the new museum.

Over the years, the delegation has unveiled numerous archaeological ruins and artifacts, shedding light on the early history of Sidon.

More than 1,000 such artifacts, dating from the Bronze Age, Iron Age and Roman period will be showcased in the new space.

The landmark museum is expected to provide a boost to Sidon, the capital of the south, creating job opportunities for local residents and encouraging tourism in the region.]]>
Tue, 03 Mar 2015 16:00:20 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.03.03. - Amazing Anglo-Saxon pendant joins the ranks of major treasures discovered]]>
“It’s the single most exciting discovery I have ever been present at,” Dr Geake said.

She is an expert on the early Anglo-Saxon period, that time when the new Kingdom of East Anglia was being established after the chaos following the end of Roman Britain.

That means she is also an expert on the world-famous Sutton Hoo burial - thought to be of King Raedwald from the early seventh century - and was also involved with research into the fabulous Staffordshire Anglo-Saxon Hoard discovered in 2009.

Now the South Norfolk pendant, the latest in a long line of spectacular discoveries from Norfolk, is set to join that famous list. “It’s going to be a nationally-important thing,” Dr Geake added. Nothing else has been found quite like it.

The exquisite 7cm pendant is stunningly made with gold ‘cells’ and red garnet inlays. Some of the garnets have been cut to make animal ‘interlace’, a popular and highly-skilled design technique from the period where representations of creatures are stretched out and intricately interwoven.

But all of these discoveries were still in the future when Tom Lucking, a first-year UEA landscape archaeology student and keen member of the Suffolk Archaeological Field Group, was exploring the field - with the landowner’s permission - just before Christmas.

His detector found a large and deep signal, and he dug down just far enough to reveal the top of a bronze bowl. Instead of carrying on he did exactly the right thing: carefully re-filling the hole and calling in the Field Group’s geophysics team to survey the site, and Norfolk County Council’s Heritage Environment Service to assess any finds.

Dr Andrew Rogerson and Steven Ashley from the HES then asked Dr Geake to join in the excavation, which took place over two cold days in January.

The bowl turned out to be at the foot of a grave with the badly-preserved bones of an adult Anglo-Saxon. As the excavation continued it was clear that this was a female because of the jewellery being discovered. It included a ‘chatelaine’, a long strip with probably silver rings which would have been hung from a girdle.

The pendant is the undoubted star find from the excavation, but there are other items to indicate that this was a noblewoman of wealth and taste. Some of them were made in the Kingdom of the Franks, part of what was to later become France.

They include two pendants made from re-used gold coins. One of them has been dated to between 639-656 when it was minted for Frankish king Sigebert III, probably near Marseilles, so we know the grave must be dated to just after this. The pendants, along with two gold beads, formed part of a ‘choker’-style necklace.

“It’s that theme that we see running right up to the present day, where we turn to France for style and cultured items,” Dr Geake explained. The finds also included the beaten bronze bowl, which may be another French import, a wheel-thrown pot which Dr Rogerson has identified as a definite import, plus a tiny knife and iron buckle.

So who was the mysterious noblewoman? We will never know her name but we can tell that she was someone who was living at the very highest levels of society. “She’s going to have known the kings of East Anglia, and France,” Dr Geake said. The noblewoman may even been alive when burials were still going on at Sutton Hoo.

Steven Ashley, from the Gressenhall-based Historic Environment Service, was the archaeologist who actually brought the pendant to light after 14 centuries.

“They were terrible conditions to dig in over the two days,” he said. “Lots of mud everywhere, and cold and wet! But I think it’s the most exciting discovery I have ever uncovered - one of those things you dream of finding.

“It’s so beautifully made. The garnet cells even have scored gold ‘foil’ at the back of them to catch the light. And you can’t see the back of the pendant in the photograph but it has rivets going through from the bosses on the front - and these have been decorated with garnets too.”

The bones of the noblewoman have already been taken to Norwich Castle Museum for analysis. We should be able to discover more about her lifestyle, including her age and clues to her diet and medical conditions. The finds will be considered at a special inquest to decide if they are Treasure.

The debate will then begin about what happens next to this amazing discovery, and whether the finds can be kept in Norfolk. This is a story 14 centuries in the making, and there’s a lot more to come yet.]]>
Tue, 03 Mar 2015 15:49:31 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.02.27. - More on the violent death of Pharaoh Senebkay]]>
Last year, the tomb of king Senebkay (ca. 1650–1600 BCE) was discovered at the site of Abydos by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania Museum working in association with Egypt’s Ministry of Antiquities. Now the team led by Dr. Josef Wegner of the Penn Museum has completed a detailed study of Senebkay’s skeleton, as well as the remains of several other kings whose tombs have been discovered nearby. The 2014-15 research is supported by the Penn Museum, with additional support from the National Geographic Society Expeditions Council.

“Forensic analysis has provided some new answers about the life, and death, of this ancient Egyptian king,” noted Dr. Wegner, “while raising a host of new questions about both Senebkay, and the Second Intermediate Period of which he was a part.”

A Warrior King

Pharaoh Woseribre Senebkay, who lived during the later part of Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period (ca. 1650–1550 BCE), is now the earliest Egyptian pharaoh whose remains show he died in battle. Detailed analysis by Dr. Maria Rosado and Dr. Jane Hill of Rowan University has documented an extensive array of wounds on Senebkay’s skeleton showing he died aged 35-40 years old during a vicious assault from multiple assailants. The king’s skeleton has an astounding eighteen wounds that penetrated to the bone. The trauma includes major cuts to his feet, ankles, knees, hands, and lower back. Three major blows to Senebkay’s skull preserve the distinctive size and curvature of battle axes used during Egypt’s Second Intermediate Period. This evidence indicates the king died violently during a military confrontation, or in an ambush.

Emerging Role of the Horse

The patterns of wounds to Senebkay’s body suggest he was attacked while in an elevated position relative to his assailants, quite possibly mounted on horseback. Another surprising result of the osteological analysis is that muscle attachments on Senebkay’s femurs and pelvis indicate he spent a significant amount of his adult life as a horse rider. Another king’s body discovered this year in a tomb close to that of Senebkay also shows evidence for horse riding, suggesting these Second Intermediate Period kings buried at Abydos were accomplished horsemen. Senebkay and other royal remains at Abydos provide valuable new insight into the early introduction of the horse (Equus ferus caballus) to Egypt. Although use of horseback riding in warfare was not common until after the Bronze Age, the Egyptians appear to have been mastering the use of horses during the Second Intermediate Period. Horseback riding may have played a growing role in military movements during this era, even before the full advent of chariot technology in Egypt, which occurred slightly later, at the beginning of Egypt’s New Kingdom (ca. 1550 BCE).

A Battle with Whom?

The death of Senebkay in battle appears to have taken place at considerable distance from his burial place at Abydos. The king’s body also shows that significant time elapsed between his death and preparation of the body for burial. What remains a mystery is where the king died and who Senebkay’s opponents were. Possibly the king died in battle fighting against the Hyksos kings who at that time ruled northern Egypt from their capital at Avaris in the Nile Delta. However, Senebkay may have died in struggles against enemies in the south of Egypt. Historical records dating to Senebkay’s lifetime record at least one attempted invasion of Upper Egypt by a large military force from Nubia to the south. Alternatively, Senebkay may have had other political opponents, possibly kings based at Thebes.

Who was Senebkay? Tombs of seven other kings have now been excavated at Abydos opening a new window onto one of Ancient Egypt’s most obscure periods. It appears probable that Senebkay and these other rulers form a short-lived dynasty who chose Abydos as their burial ground. Continued excavations of the Penn Museum researchers in collaboration with the National Geographic Society hope to shed light on Senebkay and the other kings buried near him.]]>
Tue, 03 Mar 2015 15:40:45 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.08.20. - English Channel Yields Rare World War II Find]]>
It’s taken nearly five years for the RAF Museum to raise the $1 million needed to successfully raise and restore the plane and on Monday, after a three-week delay caused by inclement weather, a salvage crew finally hoisted the bomber from the Channel. It’s believed to be the biggest salvage operation ever undertaken in British waters. One of three primary twin-engine, medium-range bombers used by the Luftwaffe in the skies over Britain, the Do-17 was often referred to as the “Flying Pencil” for its narrow fuselage. With a top speed of 263 mph and a maximum bomb load of 2,200 lbs., the Do-17 was one of the most agile bombers in the German arsenal. While the salvage crew had initially believed that the plane was mostly intact and could be recovered in one piece, the project turned out to be more complicated. The wreckage had suffered more corrosion than they had expected, forcing workers to insert a strut to hold the fuselage together. The plane’s engines will be recovered at a later date. More than 2,100 Do-17s were produced during the war, but nearly all of them were either permanently lost or dismantled for scrap metal, making this the only Do-17 known to exist. The wreckage has been coated in a citric-acid based gel (to prevent additional corrosion and oxidation now that it’s out of the water) and stored in a hydration tunnel until it has been stabilized enough for transport to the museum’s conservation center near Cosford, Shropshire. It’s likely to take two to five years for the plane to be fully restored.

Germany held a significant numerical advantage at the start of the Battle of Britain, with nearly 3,000 bombers and fighter planes at their disposal to the Royal Air Force’s initial fleet of around 600 planes (later supplemented by European and Commonwealth pilots and a remarkable mass production of more than 2,000 planes from British factories in 1940 alone). Britain, however, had the technological advantage and its state-of-the-art early warning radar systems and fast, agile fighters, including the single-seat Spitfire, were far more advanced than any plane Germany could produce. Britain’s eventual victory was also aided by inconsistencies in German strategy. The air battle (as well as the planned naval invasion of Britain that was to follow) had been hastily put together by German high command and it showed. The first month of the campaign saw the Luftwaffe targeting British ship convoys and coastal defenses, before a sudden shift in tactics toward infrastructure, military installations and, finally, nighttime raids on urban areas and industrial cities. By September, cities like Liverpool, Coventry and London itself were under siege from the continual bombings that became known as the “Blitz.” The concentration of fighting over a few key cities, rather than the United Kingdom as a whole, was a godsend for the smaller RAF, allowing them to more effectively target German bomber formations. By September, Adolf Hitler and Luftwaffe commander-in-chief Hermann Goering, who had assured Hitler of Germany’s air superiority, realized that the battle had been lost. They cancelled plans for an invasion and scaled back much of their bombing campaign, although sporadic nighttime raids would continue until May 1941.

English Channel Yields Rare World War II Find]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:51:14 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.10.08. - Landing at Normandy: The 5 Beaches of D-Day]]> The westernmost of the D-Day beaches, Utah was added to the invasion plans at the eleventh hour so that the Allies would be within striking distance of the port city of Cherbourg. In the predawn darkness of June 6, thousands of U.S. paratroopers dropped inland behind enemy lines. Weighed down by their heavy equipment, many drowned in the flooded marshlands at the rear of the beach, and others were shot out of the sky by enemy fire. One even hung from a church steeple for two hours before being captured. Those who landed, meanwhile, often found themselves outside of their designated drop zones. Forced to improvise, they nonetheless succeeded in seizing the four causeways that served as the beach’s only exit points. On Utah itself, U.S. forces landed more than a mile away from their intended destination, due in part to strong currents. Luckily for them, this area was actually less well protected. “We’ll start the war from here!” U.S. Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr., the son of former President Theodore Roosevelt, shouted upon realizing the mistake. By noon, his men had linked up with some of the paratroopers, and by day’s end they had advanced four miles inland, suffering relatively few casualties in the process.

Omaha Beach
Surrounded by steep cliffs and heavily defended, Omaha was the bloodiest of the D-Day beaches, with roughly 2,400 U.S. troops turning up dead, wounded or missing. The troubles for the Americans began early on, when Army intelligence underestimated the number of German soldiers in the area. To make matters worse, an aerial bombardment did little damage to the strongly fortified German positions, rough surf wreaked havoc with the Allied landing craft and only two of 29 amphibious tanks launched at sea managed to reach the shore. U.S. infantrymen in the initial waves of the attack were then gunned down in mass by German machine-gun fire. The carnage became so severe that U.S. Lieutenant General Omar Bradley considered abandoning the entire operation. Slowly but surely, however, his men began making it across the beach to the relative safety of the seawall at the foot of the bluffs and then up the bluffs themselves. Assistance came from a group of Army Rangers who scaled a massive promontory between Omaha and Utah to take out artillery pieces stashed in an orchard, and from U.S. warships that moved perilously close to shore to fire shells at the German fortifications. By nightfall, the Americans had carved out a tenuous toehold about 1.5 miles deep.

Gold Beach
Owing to the direction of the tides, British troops began storming Gold, the middle of the five D-Day beaches, nearly an hour after fighting got underway at Utah and Omaha. The Germans initially put up robust resistance, but in sharp contrast to Omaha, an earlier aerial bombardment had wiped out much of their defenses. British warships also proved effective. The cruiser HMS Ajax, for example, displayed such pinpoint accuracy from miles away that it apparently sent one shell through a small slot in a German artillery battery’s concrete exterior—the military equivalent of a hole-in-one. On shore, meanwhile, armored vehicles known as “Funnies” cleared away minefields and other obstacles. Within an hour, the British had secured a few beach exits, and from there they rapidly pushed inland. They also captured the fishing village of Arromanches, which days later became the site of an artificial harbor used by the Allies to unload supplies.

Juno Beach
At Juno, Allied landing craft once again struggled with rough seas, along with offshore shoals and enemy mines. Upon finally disembarking, Canadian soldiers were then cut down in droves by Germans firing from seaside houses and bunkers. The first hour was particularly brutal, with a casualty rate approaching 50 percent for the leading assault teams. In the confusion, an Allied tank inadvertently ran over some of the wounded, stopping only when a Canadian captain blew its track off with a grenade. Other Canadians lacked any tank support at all. After fighting their way off the beach, however, German resistance slowed immensely, and the march into the interior went quickly. In fact, the Canadians advanced further inland than either their American or British counterparts. Though they didn’t quite meet their objective of taking Carpiquet airport, they captured several towns and linked up with the British on adjacent Gold Beach.

Sword Beach
Around midnight, British airborne troops, along with a battalion of Canadians, dropped behind enemy lines to secure the invasion’s eastern flank, just as the Americans were doing near Utah. Within minutes, they had taken hold of Pegasus Bridge over the Caen Canal and nearby Horsa Bridge over the River Orne. Other airborne troops destroyed bridges over the River Dives to prevent German reinforcements from arriving, and they also took out a key German artillery battery in a bloody firefight. The British then landed on Sword at 7:25 a.m., around the same time as at Gold but before Juno. Although moderate fire greeted them, they soon secured beach exits with the help of the “Funnies.” Moving inland, they connected with the airborne units but faced relatively strong resistance in farmyards and villages. In a late afternoon counterattack, German forces made it all the way to the beach in one location, only to be turned back. The Allies would not be able to unite all five D-Day beaches until June 12.

Landing at Normandy: The 5 Beaches of D-Day]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:47:31 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.12.16. - The Secret Hitler-Stalin Pact, 75 Years Ago]]>
Stalin’s response finally arrived 27 hours later: Send Ribbentrop to Moscow.

On August 23, 1939, Ribbentrop arrived with written orders in hand from Hitler to make the deal. Such a diplomatic foray would have been unthinkable only months before. The Nazis and Soviets had been mortal enemies on the opposite sides of the ideological spectrum who used hatred of one another to fuel their political purges and murderous regimes. Now, however, Realpolitik trumped ideology. After the Germans occupied Czechoslovakia earlier in the year in violation of the Munich Agreement, Stalin questioned the resolve of the British and French to fight the Nazis. The Soviets, meanwhile, found a peace deal with the Germans attractive given that they were already engaged in a fierce battle on their eastern front with the Japanese and the Red Army was still weakened from Stalin’s purge of its top commanders in 1937 and 1938.

Stalin and Ribbentrop at signing of nonaggression pact
So sudden was the thaw between the strange bedfellows that the five swastika flags rushed to the airport to greet Ribbentrop upon his arrival had to be taken from Soviet movie studios producing anti-Nazi propaganda films. Once seated at the negotiating table inside the Kremlin, the German foreign minister proposed a lofty preamble about the countries’ warm relations, but even a totalitarian dictator knew that the truth could only be bent to a certain degree before it snapped. “The Soviet government could not suddenly present to the public assurances of friendship after they had been covered with pails of manure by the Nazi government for six years,” Stalin said, according to William Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.”

While Soviet negotiations with the British and French had dragged on for months, it took mere hours to hammer out a deal with the Germans. The meeting “began and ended briskly, just to show how businesslike these dictators are,” the New York Times editorialized. Officially called the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact but also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the nonaggression agreement was simple and straightforward. Both countries pledged for 10 years “to desist from any act of violence, any aggressive action and any attack on each other, either individually or jointly with other powers.”

As a large framed photograph of Vladimir Lenin gazed down sternly upon the smoke-filled room, Ribbentrop and Molotov affixed their signatures to the agreement. A smiling Stalin was as bubbly as the Crimean sparkling wine that he raised in a spontaneous toast to Hitler. “I know how much the German nation loves its Fuhrer,” he said. “I should therefore like to drink to his heath.”

The agreement took effect the moment pen touched paper, an unusual diplomatic clause that reflected just how rushed Hitler felt. Ribbentrop phoned an anxious Hitler at his mountain retreat in Bavaria with the news. “That will hit like a bombshell,” said an ecstatic Hitler, who could now invade Poland without fear of a Soviet intervention and a two-front war that had doomed German in World War I.

British press reacts to news of the pact (Credit: Bettman/Corbis)
“The sinister news broke upon the world like an explosion,” Winston Churchill later wrote. And that was just the news the world knew about, for in addition to the non-aggression pact, the Nazis and Soviets entered into a secret protocol that only came to light after the conclusion of World War II. The two countries took a carving knife to Poland with the Germans taking the larger western slice. The Soviets were given a free hand in Bessarabia in southeast Europe and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Finland, while Lithuania fell into the German sphere of influence.

Before Ribbentrop left the Kremlin, Stalin pulled him aside. “The Soviet Government take the new pact very seriously,” the dictator said, and he could guarantee on his “word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner.” Stalin must have wondered if Hitler felt the same, given the chancellor’s willingness to agree to all Soviet demands as well as his serial habit of breaking treaties.

“Our pact means that the greatest European powers have agreed to eliminate the threat of war and to live in peace,” Molotov told the Supreme Soviet before it unanimously ratified the pact on the evening of August 31. Hours later, more than a million German troops crossed the border with Poland. World War II had begun. Within weeks, the Soviets occupied eastern Poland under the guise of protecting its residents from the Germans. Months later, Stalin’s troops marched into the Baltics and Bessarabia.

Before the signing of the non-aggression pact, President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned Stalin that “it was as certain as that the night followed the day that as soon as Hitler had conquered France he would turn on Russia and it would be the Soviets’ turn next.” The words proved prescient when on June 22, 1941, Hitler unilaterally broke his deal with Stalin and launched the largest surprise attack in the history of warfare.

The Secret Hitler-Stalin Pact, 75 Years Ago]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:41:58 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.11.27. - British Files Reveal Secrets of WWII Spies, Traitors]]>
She approached the British spy-in-training and asked, “Are you by any chance Mr. Tas?” The surprised Tinchant, who was awaiting a tall man with blue eyes, was briefly speechless before muttering in the affirmative. “Oh! I have been asked to help you,” the elegantly dressed woman said as she took a seat at his table and introduced herself as French freelance journalist Christine Collard. She explained that she was writing about war transport and had been instructed to meet him and be as useful as possible. The pair spent the day together—sipping coffee in cafes, watching a movie at a local cinema and enjoying a late dinner. Under orders not to disclose information to anyone without a password, the fledgling spy let his guard down around the attractive young woman and revealed nearly every detail about his family, his training exercise and his impending sabotage mission to his native Belgium.

“By the evening I had learnt practically all there was to know about him,” Collard reported to her superiors, which was bad news for Tinchant because the young woman was not a scribe at all but a secret agent with the codename “Fifi” dispatched by Britain’s Special Operations Executive (SOE), the covert World War II espionage agency created by Winston Churchill, to test whether spies-in-training would “spill the beans” and compromise their secret missions. Once Agent Fifi delivered her report, Tinchant’s espionage career was over before it even began.

WWII British propaganda poster
For decades rumors had circulated about a seductive female agent provocateur employed by the British during World War II, and a once-secret file with more than 200 pages of handwritten correspondence and intelligence reports released online by Britain’s National Archives for the first time yesterday not only confirmed her existence but revealed her true identity—Marie Christine Chilver. “‘Fifi’ was something of a legend of the Special Operations Executive,” said National Archives researcher Jonathan Cole. “Until now, her existence and the deployment of her services had been dismissed but with the release of this file, her identity, impressive skills and the important role she played in Second World War secret operations is now finally revealed.”

Chilver was born in London in 1920 to an English journalist father and a Latvian mother. She was raised in Riga, Latvia, and attended a German school before traveling to Paris in 1940 to study French at the Sorbonne. After the Germans seized Paris, she was sent to an internment camp in Besancon before escaping with British prisoners of war. She reached England in October 1941 along with a wounded British flight lieutenant who called her “one of the most expert liars in the world” and suspected she was a German spy because she looked too hale and hearty to have been a prisoner. British intelligence officials not only cleared her of suspicion after close questioning but thought her “quite unusual gifts of intelligence, courage and assessment of character” and her fluency in German could be potential assets. With no money and no job, Chilver agreed in the fall of 1942 to encounter trainees from the SOE’s “finishing school” on their 96-hour undercover exercises around Britain and test whether they could keep their secrets.

Chilver’s true identity was known to only a handful of intelligence officials, and her meticulous and nuanced reports could make or break the futures of trainees such as Tinchant. Agent Fifi tested female trainees as well as men, and nothing in the files indicates that her encounters with the targets ever went beyond conversation, although in one report she mentions that a trainee invited her back to his hotel, only to ask her to hem his silk scarves.

Agent Fifi’s superiors found her “very intelligent, quick and well-informed” with a “considerable imagination.” However, they repeatedly refused her requests for raises, and her dream of becoming an agent in France remained unfulfilled. After the war ended, she left the intelligence service and lived in England. Using compensation from the Soviet Union for property seized from her family in Latvia, she set up an animal shelter in Riga in 2001 before her death in 2007.

William Joyce, aka "Lord Haw-Haw," under arrest in 1945.
The records released by the National Archives not only revealed the unknown Agent Fifi but included scores of articles, letters and manifestoes written by perhaps Britain’s most notorious World War II traitor—William Joyce. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Ireland, Joyce became a fascist leader in the 1920s after moving to England. Just days before Nazi tanks roared into Poland in 1939, Joyce fled to Germany after learning of British plans for his internment. The Nazis employed him to write scripts and deliver English-language propaganda radio broadcasts with inflated casualty reports and misinformation designed to demoralize the British people and English-speaking troops. Joyce’s voice first crackled through the airwaves on September 18, 1939, and soon millions of British radios tuned in to his broadcasts that opened with the announcement “Germany calling! Germany calling!” The smug attitude and clipped, upper-crust English accent feigned by Joyce earned him the derisive nickname “Lord Haw-Haw” from the British public, but his broadcasts were no laughing matter to the British military. “Though the British public’s first reaction was one of amusement,” said a December 1939 War Office memorandum, Joyce’s broadcasts were “becoming a definite factor affecting public morale in this country.”

Joyce broadcasted his missives until the end of the war. His distinctive voice ultimately proved his downfall when British soldiers recognized it and arrested him. Although an American citizen and a naturalized German, Joyce was tried, convicted and executed for high treason based on his British passport.

Also among the 3,300 Security Service records released by the National Archives are files on Cecil Day Lewis, the father of actor Daniel Day Lewis and United Kingdom poet laureate who joined the Communist Party in the 1930s; Ralph Baden Davenport Powell, a Nazi propaganda broadcaster and relative of Boy Scouts founder Lord Baden-Powell; British Union of Fascists founder Sir Oswald Mosley and Nazi leader Rudolph Hess.

British Files Reveal Secrets of WWII Spies, Traitors]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:39:06 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.10.27. - 8 Things You May Not Know About Erwin Rommel]]> Although Rommel would later become known for his bold battlefield tactics, his sister described him as a gentle and docile child. Developing an interest in mathematics and engineering, he co-built a full-size glider at age 14 and later disassembled and reassembled a motorcycle. Without good enough grades to attend university, he purportedly considered working at an airship factory near his hometown in southern Germany. But his father, the headmaster of a school, urged him to consider the military instead. After being rejected by the artillery and engineers, 18-year-old Rommel received acceptance to the infantry in 1910 as an officer cadet. He would remain in the military for the rest of his life—a far cry from his father and other male relatives, who left upon completing their mandatory service.

2. Rommel was injured multiple times in both world wars.
Taking part in dangerous raids and reconnaissance missions throughout World War I, his men supposedly joked, “Where Rommel is, there is the front.” But all of this fighting, including one 52-hour period in which his unit captured some 9,000 Italian prisoners, came with a price. In September 1914, for example, Rommel charged three French soldiers with a bayonet after running out of ammunition, only to be shot in the thigh so badly that a hole opened up as big as his fist. Three years later in Romania, he lost quite a bit of blood from a bullet to the arm, and he also continuously suffered from stomach ailments, fevers and exhaustion. More physical hardships came during World War II, from appendicitis to a face wound caused by a shell splinter. Then, in the wake of the D-Day invasion, Allied aircraft strafed his open-topped car as it rode through Normandy, France, causing it to somersault off the road. When the dust cleared, Rommel was unconscious, with multiple skull fractures and glass fragments in his face. In order to cover up the subsequent forced suicide of the popular general, Nazi officials told the public he had died as a result of those injuries. The truth didn’t come out until the conclusion of the conflict.

3. He was an early admirer of Hitler.
Following World War II, the Western Allies, now locked in an ideological struggle with the Soviet Union, made efforts to resuscitate Germany’s reputation. In so doing, they portrayed Rommel as a chivalrous combatant, pointing out, among other things, that he apparently never joined the Nazi Party. Yet his devotion to Hitler was incontrovertible. When Hitler took power, Rommel approved of his remilitarization plans, calling him the “unifier of the nation.” Later on, as the two men became better acquainted in the lead-up to the invasion of Poland, Rommel wrote to his wife that “the führer knows what is right for us.” He also attended Nazi indoctrination courses and signed his letters “Heil Hitler!” Hitler even gave him an autographed copy of “Mein Kampf.” Only later did Rommel grow disillusioned, believing that Germany must negotiate with the Allies rather than fight to the bitter end.

4. Rommel disobeyed some of Hitler’s direct orders.
After leading a tank division in the 1940 blitzkrieg of France, Rommel was transferred to North Africa in order to help the struggling Italians fight the British. Almost immediately he reversed the tide, pushing the British back hundreds of miles in a series of audacious assaults, for which he received his “Desert Fox” nickname, along with a promotion to field marshal. Finally, in October 1942, the numerically superior British halted his advance near El Alamein, Egypt. Running low on tanks, ammunition and fuel, Rommel prepared to retreat. But Hitler sent a letter telling him not to yield “even a yard of ground.” “As to your troops,” the führer added, “you can show them no other road than that to victory or death.” Despite his reverence for Hitler, Rommel disobeyed for fear his force would be completely annihilated. He also disregarded an order directing German generals to execute Allied commandos caught behind enemy lines. In the end, Rommel fled all the way to Tunisia, winning a tank battle there against the Americans—and losing one against the British—before returning to Europe in March 1943. Two months later, the Allies kicked the Germans out of North Africa altogether, setting the stage for their invasion of Italy.

5. Rommel ramped up coastal defenses prior to D-Day.
With an Allied invasion of Western Europe imminent, Rommel was assigned in late 1943 to inspect Germany’s defenses along some 1,600 miles of Atlantic coastline. Despite Nazi propaganda to the contrary, he found the area highly vulnerable. Under his supervision, the Nazis built fortifications, flooded coastal lowlands to make them impassable and placed massive amounts of barbed wire, mines and steel girders on beaches and offshore waters. Rommel also wanted tanks at the ready to prevent the Allies from establishing a bridgehead, but his superiors overruled him, preferring to keep most of them inland.

6. He probably never knew of the plot to kill Hitler.
As Germany’s military situation deteriorated, a group of senior officials attempted to assassinate Hitler with a briefcase bomb, only to be thwarted at the last moment. Rommel was friends with some of the conspirators and certainly conversed with them about a post-Hitler future. Nonetheless, the full extent of his involvement in the plot remains unknown. (According to his widow, he opposed assassination but wanted Hitler to be arrested and brought to trial.) Whether innocent or not, his name came up during the subsequent Nazi dragnet, prompting Hitler to arrange for his death.

7. Rommel and Allied leaders didn’t hesitate to compliment each other.
During the height of Rommel’s success in North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sang his praises before the House of Commons. “We have a very daring and skillful opponent against us,” Churchill declared, “and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.” George Patton, Bernard Montgomery and other top Allied generals likewise expressed their respect for him, and Rommel responded in kind, saying of Patton that “we saw the most astonishing achievement in mobile warfare,” and that “Montgomery never made a serious strategic mistake.”

8. Rommel is still celebrated in Germany.
Unlike other prominent World War II-era Germans, Rommel has escaped mass vilification. In fact, his name still graces two military bases and several streets in Germany, and a monument in his hometown praises him as “chivalrous,” “brave” and a “victim of tyranny.” Yet detractors remain, including a German historian who recently called him a “deeply convinced Nazi” and “an anti-Semite” who used North African Jews as slave laborers. At the very least, most historians agree, Rommel likely cared more for his career than he did about Nazi atrocities.

8 Things You May Not Know About Erwin Rommel]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:32:18 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.01.25. - The Final Push to Berlin: The History Behind “Fury”]]>
The Third Reich was clamped in a rapidly closing vice with the Allies racing from the west and the Soviet Union charging from the east. Gallows humor seized Berlin as residents joked that the optimists among them were learning English, the pessimists Russian. Cloistered in his concrete bunker deep underneath the gardens of the Reich Chancellery, Adolf Hitler retreated from reality and hoped that Nazi scientists would bring him news of a miracle weapon that would change the tide of the war.

“The German army as a military force on the western front is a whipped army,” a confident Allied Supreme Commander Dwight D. Eisenhower proclaimed at a press conference in Paris on March 27, 1945. Although an Allied victory seemed inevitable, a battle-tested Eisenhower knew that war never ends quietly. “I am not writing off this war,” he said. “No one knows what the German will do in his own country, and he is trying hard.” For the fanatically determined Hitler and millions of his countrymen, unconditional surrender was not an option. The final chapter of the Third Reich would be written in blood as the Nazis prepared for a tenacious last stand on the soil of their homeland.

By early April, the Allies had captured the industrial heart of Germany along the Ruhr River, and many cities such as Dresden had been pulverized to rubble by Allied bombing raids. While Nazi soldiers by the thousands began to shed their uniforms and put down their arms in mass surrender, Hitler’s SS hunted down deserters and hanged them from lampposts with signs saying they were too cowardly to defend women and children.

Hitler awards the Iron Cross to members of the Hitler Youth on April 20, 1945.
While some American forces were able to advance 10 miles a day as they passed through villages where white bed sheets billowed in the breeze as a sign of surrender, others encountered pockets of stiff resistance. On April 16, American troops reached the Third Reich’s spiritual heart, Nuremberg, the stage for massive Nazi Party rallies and some of Hitler’s most maniacal speeches. The German chancellor ordered the city protected at all costs, and in once instance when 30 German soldiers approached the enemy with white flags, they were mowed down by machine-gun fire from their fellow Nazis to prevent their surrender. With their manpower decimated, the Nazis enlisted the Hitler Youth to fight on the front lines. Boys as young as 15 mounted some of the strongest defenses of the city until it finally fell after four days of fighting on April 20, Hitler’s birthday.

As the Allies raced the Soviets to Berlin, the true evil of the Nazis became crystal clear, even through the fog of war. On April 4, the U.S. Third Army encountered a series of large industrial buildings in the small town of Ohrdurf that they quickly discovered were factories of death. Inside the first concentration camp liberated by U.S. troops were dead bodies of starvation victims stacked like firewood and a pyre with charred skulls and bones left by Nazis who had attempted to destroy evidence of their genocide.

As they pushed across Germany, the Allies liberated more than 100 concentration camps, including Buchenwald and Flossenburg. Even the most battle-hardened soldiers who thought they had seen it all in a terrible war witnessed depravity of unfathomable proportions. They found still-warm crematoriums and bins filled with hair, eyeglasses, baby shoes and dentures harvested from victims. Even grizzled Lieutenant General George S. Patton became physically sick at the stench and the sights as he toured Ohrdurf with Eisenhower on April 12.

Soldiers hoist the Soviet flag over Berlin
A few hours later, the news crackled over the radio that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had suddenly died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his personal retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia. Some young GIs, who had few recollections of any other president than the American wartime leader, thought at first the bulletin was just Nazi propaganda, but the news was true. By this point, the Americans had reached the Elbe River within 50 miles of Berlin, but Eisenhower ordered them no closer so that the Soviets could capture the symbolic prize of Berlin for themselves. The Red Army would sustain more than 300,000 casualties in the battle for Berlin, and Eisenhower had no stomach to suffer such a toll for territory that he would have to cede to the Soviet Union anyway under the terms of postwar occupation agreed to by Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at the Yalta Conference months earlier.

On April 20, the first Soviet shells exploded in Berlin. Hitler emerged from his bunker that day and forced a smile as he awarded the Iron Cross to fanatical members of the Hitler Youth for the bravery displayed in fighting the Red Army, which continued to close in. Back underground, however, the decisions being made by the Nazi command inside Hitler’s bunker were no longer about military strategy but whether to end their lives with cyanide capsules or bullets.

Field Marshall Wilhelm Keitel signing the German surrender terms on May 7, 1945.
The German chancellor had vowed never to see Germany surrender as it did in World War I. He didn’t. As the bombs dropped above his bunker on April 30, Hitler committed suicide. Nazi soldiers gave their Fuhrer a final straight-armed salute as they burned his body on a pyre in the Chancellery garden amid strewn gasoline cans. Berlin fell on May 2, and Germany surrendered six days later. “Nothing is left of Berlin but memories,” said one Soviet officer. Thanks to the Allies, the same could have been said of the Third Reich.

The Final Push to Berlin: The History Behind &#8220;Fury&#8221;]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:29:02 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.09.27. - Historic Eclipses in the History of the Earth]]> October 22, 2134 B.C.: Solar eclipse spells doom for Hsi and Ho
One of the earliest records of an eclipse appears in the ancient Chinese document Shu Ching (Book of History), which describes a day on which “the Sun and Moon did not meet harmoniously.” Historians believe this is a reference to the solar eclipse of October 22, 2134 B.C. The legend tells of two royal astronomers named Hsi and Ho who had shirked their duties in order to get drunk. As a result, they failed to predict the event and were beheaded by the emperor.

May 28, 585 B.C.: Solar eclipse inspires truce between the Lydians and the Medes
According to the ancient Greek historian Herodotus, a total solar eclipse brought about an unexpected ceasefire between two warring nations, the Lydians and the Medes, who had been fighting for control of Anatolia for five years. During the Battle of Halys, also known as the Battle of the Eclipse, the sky suddenly turned dark as the sun disappeared behind the moon. Interpreting the inexplicable phenomenon as a sign that the gods wanted the conflict to end, the soldiers put down their weapons and negotiated a truce.

August 27, 413 B.C.: Lunar eclipse plus superstition prove deadly for Athens
At the height of the Peloponnesian War, a decades-long struggle between Athens and Sparta, Athenian soldiers found themselves locked in a losing battle to expel the Syracusians from Sicily. Their commander, Nicias, ordered a temporary retreat. As the troops prepared to sail home, however, a lunar eclipse took place, prompting the highly superstitious Nicias to postpone the departure. The Syracusians took advantage of the delay to stage another attack, overcoming the Athenians and weakening their stronghold on the Mediterranean. According to many historians, the defeat in Sicily marked the beginning of the end of Athenian dominance.

May 5, 840: Solar eclipse scares Louis the Pious to death
The third son of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious inherited a vast empire when his father died in 1814. His reign was marked by dynastic crises and fierce rivalry between his sons. A deeply religious man who earned his nickname by performing penance for his sins, Louis reportedly became terrified of an impending punishment from God after witnessing a solar eclipse. According to legend, he died of fright shortly thereafter, plunging his fractured kingdom into a civil war that ended with the historic Treaty of Verdun.

February 29, 1504: Lunar eclipse saves Christopher Columbus from starvation
Twelve years after his momentous landing at San Salvador, Christopher Columbus was exploring the Central American coast when woodworms attacked his ship, causing leaks and forcing him to make an emergency stop in Jamaica. He and his crew spent more than a year there awaiting relief. The indigenous people of the island welcomed the men, offering them food and shelter, but cut off their supplies when some of Columbus’ crewmembers began stealing from them. Hoping to impress his hosts and regain their support, Columbus consulted the almanac he had brought with him and read about an upcoming total lunar eclipse. He told the Jamaicans that the gods were unhappy with them for failing to provide assistance and that they would show their disapproval by turning the moon a bloody red color. The eclipse occurred on schedule, and the astonished Jamaicans promised to resume feeding Columbus and his crew.

August 7, 1869: Solar eclipse makes peace between scientists and native Alaskans
George Davidson, a prominent astronomer and explorer, had already made surveys of several regions in Alaska–then a relatively uncharted territory–when he set out on a scientific expedition to Chilkat Valley in 1869. He was warned, however, that the local Chilkat Indians had been angered by some American provocation and might welcome him with guns and spears rather than open arms. During a tense initial meeting on August 6, Davidson explained that he had come for purely scientific reasons, telling the Chilkat that he was especially anxious to observe a total eclipse of the sun the following day. Right on cue, the sky grew dark over the Chilkat Valley as the moon eclipsed the sun. Apparently dismayed by this frightening display–some may have believed Davidson himself caused the eclipse–the Chilkat fled to the woods, leaving the scientists alone for the rest of their mission. Some historians believe the astronomer’s prediction may have saved the entire team from attack.

Historic Eclipses in the History of the Earth]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:24:36 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.09.27. - Did a Hippo Kill King Tut?]]>
Dr. Benson Harer has added a new theory to the mix: death by hippo. An Egyptology professor at California State University, Harer had previously established that Tutankhamen had severed ribs and was embalmed without his heart or anterior chest wall–a departure from the strictly codified mummification process of the era. In Harer’s view, this made the case for a crushing injury to the chest as the cause of death. Pointing to Egyptian pharaohs’ known fondness for hippopotamus hunting, he has now suggested that a lethal hippo bite inflicted the damage.

Even today, the hippopotamus kills dozens of people each year in Africa–more than any other animal—and is widely regarded as the continent’s most dangerous creature (not counting the mosquito, which carries fatal diseases that affect millions). Up to 15 feet tall and weighing in at 8,000 pounds, the massive and extremely aggressive beast can easily outrun humans on its squat, stumpy legs. Its cavernous mouth and enormous teeth can disembowel or decapitate a person with a single bite. Deaths often occur when victims inadvertently get between a female hippo and her calf, unleashing the highly protective mother’s fury.

While hippos are no longer found in contemporary Egypt, they lived in the Nile and foraged along its banks in large numbers during ancient times. Notorious for capsizing fishing boats, destroying crops and stampeding, they were a menace to Egyptian society but inspired both fear and respect; several ancient Egyptian deities appear in the form of the hippopotamus, including the fertility goddess Taweret and Osiris’ wicked brother Seth. Images of pharaohs killing hippos were common in Egyptian art and ostensibly represented the triumph of good over evil. Indeed, the storied treasure trove found in Tutankhamen’s tomb includes two statuettes of the young king wielding a spear during a hippo hunt.

The hippopotamus’ symbolic connotations may explain why the boy king’s demise has remained shrouded in mystery, according to Harer. He speculates that the authorities concealed the exact cause of the pharaoh’s death to avoid political instability, fearing that the public might interpret it as a negative sign from the gods. Harer’s hypothesis is sure to raise a few eyebrows, but if he’s right, it could mean that King Tut’s run-in with a hippo has been kept under wraps since 1324 B.C.

Did a Hippo Kill King Tut?]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:23:58 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.08.27. - Gladiator House Crumbles, Hinting at Pompeii’s Uncertain Future]]>
Known as the House of the Gladiators, the structure was closed to visitors but featured magnificent frescoes on its exterior walls, parts of which experts hope to salvage in the wake of the collapse. Historians have speculated that the 430-square-foot stone building served as a dormitory and training area for professional warriors who competed in the nearby amphitheater, as well as a storehouse for weapons and armor. It has also been suggested that it housed a school or clubhouse for local youth. Like the rest of Pompeii, the House of the Gladiators disappeared in 79 A.D. under a thick coating of volcanic ash and pumice that killed an estimated 2,000 people and froze the once-thriving port city in time.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, Pompeii plays host to 2.5 million visitors a year. For years, historian and archaeologists have been warning officials about the ancient city’s deterioration and the need for stronger preservation efforts. In 2008, Italy declared a “state of emergency” for the site and channeled extra funds into a restoration program, but there are still widespread reports of mismanagement, vandalism and areas that have fallen into disrepair. Meanwhile, the scores of tourists who throng Pompeii’s narrow stone paths every day must often contend with stray dogs, bogus tour guides, parking scams and a host of other annoyances.

The House of the Gladiator’s collapse has come at a particularly unfortunate time for the Italian government and for its culture minister, Sandro Bondi. Just one month ago, the newspaper Corriere della Sera published a scathing editorial in which it admonished officials for bungling the restoration, calling Pompeii “the symbol of all the sloppiness and inefficiencies of a country that has lost its good sense and has not managed to recover it.”

Over the past year, structural damage at several other monuments, including the Colosseum and Nero’s Golden Palace, has made headlines, and experts believe that chronic negligence has imperiled many more of the country’s ancient wonders. Insufficient funding has been cited as a major factor: Italy devotes only 0.18 percent of its national budget to preserving its art and monuments, according to Cultural Ministry officials, while in France that figure is roughly 1 percent.

“We are tired of commenting on the continuous collapses and damage to the archaeological heritage of our country,” Giorgia Leoni, president of the Italian Confederation of Archaeologists, said in a statement this week.

Amid calls for his resignation by opposition politicians, Bondi blamed the recent collapse on poor onsite management, heavy rains and the erroneous use of reinforced concrete during bomb damage repairs in 1947. He has also announced plans for a new foundation charged with assessing, restoring and maintaining Pompeii’s ruins.

Politics aside, the decaying state of Pompeii and other historic sites with heavy foot traffic reveals a paradox that complicates the task of preserving ancient relics while sharing them with the public. As the British writer Robert Harris put it in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica, “The more people visit Pompeii, the more Pompeii is destroyed.”]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:21:31 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.08.27. - Romances That Changed History]]>
Cleopatra VII of Egypt is often remembered for her legendary powers of seduction and mastery at building shrewd alliances. Still, her final political and romantic partnership—with the Roman general Mark Antony—brought about the deaths of both lovers and toppled the centuries-old Ptolemaic dynasty to which she belonged. Earlier in her reign, Cleopatra’s relationship with another Roman general, Julius Caesar, had allowed her to wrest the throne from her brother and co-ruler Ptolemy XII when civil war erupted between the two siblings in 48 B.C. Her strong ties to the mighty and growing Roman empire bolstered Cleopatra’s position, particularly after her son Caesarion—believed to be Caesar’s child—became her co-regent.

After Julius Caesar’s murder in 44 B.C., Rome fell into civil war, which was temporarily resolved in 43 B.C. with the formation of the second triumvirate: Octavian, Caesar’s great-nephew and chosen heir; Mark Antony; and Lepidus, a Roman statesman. Antony took up the administration of Rome’s eastern provinces, and he summoned Cleopatra to Tarsus, in Asia Minor, to answer charges that she had aided his enemies. Hoping to woo Antony as she had Caesar before him, in 41 B.C. Cleopatra arrived on a magnificent river barge dressed as Venus, the Roman god of love. A besotted Antony followed her back to Alexandria, pledging to protect Egypt and Cleopatra’s crown. The next year he returned to Rome to prove his loyalty to the triumvirate by marrying Octavian’s half-sister Octavia; Cleopatra, meanwhile, gave birth to Antony’s twins and continued to rule over an increasingly prosperous Egypt. Antony and Cleopatra were reunited several years later, and Cleopatra had another son, Ptolemy Philadelphos, in 36 B.C. Having left his wife, Antony declared Caesarion to be Caesar’s son and rightful heir (as opposed to his adopted son, Octavian) and awarded land to each of his children with Cleopatra. This launched a war of propaganda with the furious Octavian, who claimed that Antony was entirely under Cleopatra’s control and would abandon Rome to found a new capital in Egypt.

In 32 B.C. Octavian declared war on Cleopatra, and in 31 B.C. his forces trounced those of Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium. The following year, Octavian reached Alexandria and again defeated Antony. In the aftermath of the battle, Cleopatra took refuge in the mausoleum she had commissioned for herself. Antony, falsely informed that Cleopatra was dead, stabbed himself with his sword. On August 12, 30 B.C., after burying Antony and meeting with the victorious Octavian, Cleopatra closed herself in her chamber with two of her female servants and committed suicide. The method she chose remains unknown, but Plutarch and other writers advanced the theory that she used a poisonous snake known as the asp, a symbol of divine royalty. According to her wishes, Cleopatra’s body was buried with Antony’s, leaving Octavian (later Emperor Augustus I) to celebrate his conquest of Egypt and his consolidation of power in Rome.

Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn
While historians recognize that a combination of factors transformed England into a Protestant nation, Henry VIII’s fleeting but intense infatuation with a charismatic young woman named Anne Boleyn clearly had a hand in it. By 1525, the middle-aged monarch had soured on his first wife, the devoutly Catholic and immensely popular Catherine of Aragon, who had failed to bear him a male heir. His notoriously wandering eye came to rest on Anne, a cunning and beautiful lady-in-waiting whose father was an ambitious knight and diplomat. Unlike her sister Mary, one of his former conquests, Anne snubbed the king’s elaborate overtures and refused to be seduced without a promise of matrimony. In 1527 Henry asked Pope Clement VII for an annulment of his marriage to Catherine and was refused. Encouraged by advisors critical of the papacy, he secretly wed Anne in 1533, breaking with the Roman Catholic Church and appointing himself head of the Church of England shortly thereafter.

Henry’s enchantment with his second queen quickly began to fade, particularly when she too proved incapable of producing him the male heir he so desperately desired. In 1536 the king had Anne arrested and beheaded on plainly false charges of witchcraft, incest and adultery; he married Jane Seymour, the third of his six wives, 11 days later. In the decades that followed, questions surrounding the official state religion would continue to fracture and weaken the kingdom, and it was not until the 44-year reign of Elizabeth I, Henry’s daughter with Anne, that a permanent English Protestant church was established.

Pierre and Marie Curie
When Marie Sklodowska wed Pierre Curie in 1895, the couple embarked on an extraordinary partnership that would earn them international renown and influence generations of scientists. Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1867, the brilliant Marie received degrees in physical sciences and mathematics from the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1894, before returning to her native country to seek work as a teacher, she met Pierre Curie, a noted French physicist and chemist eight years her senior. The pair immediately bonded over their mutual interest in magnetism and fondness for cycling, and a year later they were married in Sceaux, France. They used the money they had received as a wedding present to purchase bicycles for the many long rides they took together.

Looking for a subject for her doctoral thesis and intrigued by the physicist Henri Becquerel’s accidental discovery of radioactivity in 1896, Marie Curie began studying uranium rays in the laboratory her husband supervised; soon, Pierre joined her in her research. In 1898, a year after the arrival of their daughter Irène, the Curies discovered polonium–named after Marie’s homeland–and radium. In 1902 they successfully isolated radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende. The following year, the couple shared the Nobel Prize in physics with Becquerel for their groundbreaking work on radioactivity. Marie was the first woman to win the prestigious award. (In 1911 she became the first person to be granted a second Nobel Prize.)

In 1904 Marie gave birth to a second daughter and Pierre was appointed to the chair of physics at the Sorbonne. Two years later, he was killed in an accident on a Paris street. Although devastated, Marie vowed to continue her work and was appointed to her husband’s seat at the Sorbonne, becoming the university’s first female professor. She later grew interested in the medical applications of radioactive substances, including the potential of radium as a cancer therapy, and directed the Radium Institute at the University of Paris, a major center for chemistry and nuclear physics. Marie died in 1934 from leukemia caused by four decades of exposure to radioactive substances. Irène Curie carried on the family tradition, sharing the 1935 Nobel Prize for chemistry with her own husband for their discovery of artificial radioactivity.

Czar Nicholas II and Alexandra Federovna
Set against the backdrop of revolutionary turmoil, featuring an opportunistic mystic and hinging on an incurable bleeding disease, their tale had all the melodramatic elements of a sensational opera. (Indeed, it has inspired at least two.) The granddaughter of England’s Queen Victoria, Alix Victoria Helena Louise Beatrice—later known as Alexandra Feodorovna Romanov—rejected an arranged marriage to her first cousin, Prince Albert Victor, after falling in love with Nicholas, heir to the Russian throne, as a teenager in 1889. Equally smitten, her lover convinced his reluctant, ailing father to agree to the union, and the pair wed in November 1894, just several weeks after the czar’s death and Nicholas’ coronation.

Though forged amid great sadness, the marriage was a happy and passionate one, producing four daughters and a son, Alexei. From his father the young czarevitch inherited the claim to the Russian throne, but his mother bequeathed him a more burdensome legacy: the mutant gene for the clotting disorder hemophilia, of which both Alexandra and her grandmother Victoria were carriers. Terrified of losing Alexei, his parents became increasingly reliant on the controversial “mad monk” Grigori Rasputin, whose hypnosis treatments seemed to slow the boy’s hemorrhages. Rasputin’s political influence over the czar and czarina undermined the Russian public’s confidence in the Romanov dynasty and contributed to its overthrow during the February Revolution in 1917. Nicholas, Alexandra and their children were executed on July 16, 1918, on orders from Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin. Indirectly, at least, the royal couple’s romance had opened a new and bloody chapter in Russia’s history.

Mildred and Richard Loving
Richard Loving, a white man, met Mildred Jeter, a family friend who was of African and Native American descent, when both were teenagers, and their relationship quickly blossomed into romance. In June 1958 the couple drove 80 miles from their native Virginia, where so-called “anti-miscegenation” laws made interracial unions illegal, to exchange their vows in Washington, D.C. Five weeks later, police officers walked through their unlocked front door and awakened the newlyweds in the middle of the night. When a sheriff asked what he was “doing in bed with this lady,” 24-year-old Richard simply pointed at the marriage certificate hanging on the wall. Arrested and charged with “cohabiting as man and wife, against the peace and dignity of the Commonwealth,” the Lovings were sentenced to one year in prison or a 25-year exile from their home state.

The couple relocated to Washington, where they lived for five years and had three children. Missing their family and friends back home, in 1963 they contacted U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, who referred them to the American Civil Liberties Union. Volunteer lawyers ultimately took the case all the way to the Supreme Court, which in the landmark Loving v. Virginia decision of 1967 unanimously ruled that bans on racial intermarriage in Virginia and 15 other states were unconstitutional.

Richard was killed in a car crash in 1975, and Mildred remained in the Virginia house he had built her until her death in 2008. In a statement issued on the 40th anniversary of her historic marriage, Mildred acknowledged the significance of the Supreme Court’s ruling and likened her family’s personal struggle to the ongoing fight for same-sex marriage rights: “I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving [v. Virginia], and loving, are all about.”

Romances That Changed History]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:15:34 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.06.27. - Sacred Text Describes Successful Brain Surgery in Ancient Tibet]]>
“Tsogyel was a well-reputed doctor and was good at all medical practice except brain surgery,” Trinley told Xinhua News, China’s state-run news agency. “But the surgeon followed his advice and the surgery later proved successful.” Tsogyel’s sterilization technique went on to improve recovery rates for brain surgery during that time and helped him establish his own career as a surgeon, Trinley said.

Evidence of ancient brain surgery on the Tibetan Plateau first surfaced in 1998, when archaeologists unearthed human skulls bearing cracks that had healed before death. Researchers surmised that these early craniotomies, some performed more than 5,000 years ago, were intended to heal the spirit rather than the body. “Some believed it was a religious ritual to dispel evils or bring happiness, while others held that it was a therapy used by witches and wizards,” Trinley explained.

Because it includes details on the patient’s symptoms, the brain surgery scene in the Tripiṭaka implies that doctors performed at least some of these operations for legitimate therapeutic reasons, Trinley said.

Brain surgery is not the only medical treatment that appears in the Tripiṭaka, which aggregates the teachings of Buddhism’s founder, Siddhārtha Gautama (also known as Śākyamuni), and commentary by his disciples. “The Tibetan Tripiṭaka contains Śākyamuni’s classifications of 440 ailments that were believed to be associated with wind, bile and phlegm, and were categorized accordingly,” Trinley said, adding that some of this knowledge is still used by Tibetan doctors today.

Many other ancient civilizations used brain surgery for both religious and medical purposes hundreds or even thousands of years before the advent of modern medicine, including the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and some pre-Incan societies.

Sacred Text Describes Successful Brain Surgery in Ancient Tibet]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:11:54 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.05.27. - Girl Possibly Murdered During Roman Invasion Found in England]]>
Fragments of pottery date the grave to about 50 A.D., four years after Claudius began his conquest of the British Isles, and suggest that the victim belonged to the area’s indigenous population, said Paul Wilkinson, leader of the dig and director of the Kent Archaeological Field School (KAFS).

Last summer, Wilkinson and KAFS trainees made a number of significant finds at the same site, which once bordered a Roman town built in the first century along Watling Street—a Roman road that once extended across England and Wales—and is now part of Syndale Park in the town of Faversham. They uncovered Roman military ditches containing late Iron Age pottery as well as Roman ceramics and horse harnesses from the mid-first century A.D. Based on this evidence, the team hypothesized that Roman soldiers busy sacking Britannia under orders from Claudius had discarded these items after capturing the surrounding area and before heading to their next target.

“It seems that when the army moved on they dug pits and buried their broken equipment,” Wilkinson explained.

Returning to the site on April 22 for additional work that is still ongoing, Wilkinson and another group of trainees stumbled upon something else that the Romans might have considered equally dispensable. “The body of a young girl with a dramatic wound to the back of her head was literally dumped in and just actually buried and covered over,” Wilkinson said.

In good health at the time of her death, the woman was probably felled by a Roman sword while in a kneeling position, he conjectured, adding, “This poor girl was obviously of use to them while they were camped there, but her usefulness ran out when they moved on and they killed her.”

While ancient Roman texts describe how invading armies plundered British towns and slaughtered their inhabitants, little evidence has been found of such widespread carnage. One of the most noteworthy examples is the famous British archaeologist Mortimer Wheeler’s discovery in the 1930s of a mass grave at Maiden Castle in which people had been buried after suffering violent deaths. The placement of the young girl’s corpse and the ostensible circumstances of her death provide insight into how the Roman invaders may have treated indigenous Britons, challenging one classic theory that Britain prospered and advanced under foreign rule.

Two years ago, Wilkinson and a team of archaeologists unearthed another young female victim—a teenager who had been decapitated, possibly because she was accused of witchcraft—near a church in Rochester, Kent. She was given a funeral service and proper burial some 700 years after her death. The remains of the Faversham girl will be reburied at the site where she was found.

“In this small evaluation trench on the corner of a potential marching camp we come across a little cameo of tragedy, really,” Wilkinson said, reflecting on his most recent discovery.

Girl Possibly Murdered During Roman Invasion Found in England]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:06:44 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.04.27. - Egyptian Princess Needed Bypass Surgery, Mummy Study Shows]]>
Atherosclerosis has often been associated with unhealthy diets and sedentary lifestyles—risk factors believed to be more common in modern humans than in ancient peoples. For this reason, the researchers who scanned the mummies were surprised to discover that, out of the 44 with recognizable arteries, nearly half showed signs of arterial calcification, which indicates atherosclerosis.

“Overall, it was striking how much atherosclerosis we found,” said Gregory S. Thomas, director of nuclear cardiology education at the University of California, Irvine, and a lead on the study. “We think of atherosclerosis as a disease of modern lifestyle, but it’s clear that it also existed 3,500 years ago. Our findings certainly call into question the perception of atherosclerosis as a modern disease.”

Princess Ahmose-Meryet-Amon presented with the most extreme case of all: Calcium deposits in two of her three main coronary arteries imply that she suffered from life-threatening—and possibly fatal—heart disease when she died. “Today,” Thomas explained, “she would have needed bypass surgery.”

For Thomas and the study’s other principal investigator, Adel Allam of Al Azhar University in Cairo, their findings indicate that atherosclerosis may have a more significant genetic link than previously thought. Allam also suggested that ancient Egyptians might have been particularly susceptible to coronary heart disease because of exposure to parasites that triggered an inflammatory response and compromised their immune systems.

The team also believes that a dietary explanation could still be on the table, especially for Ahmose-Meryet-Amon: Because the princess belonged to a royal family, she probably indulged in richer foods than the average Egyptian, consuming higher quantities of meat, butter, cheese and salt, which was used as a preservative. (For commoners, typical fare centered on fruits, vegetables, wheat, barley, bread and beer.) As a member of the elite, Ahmose-Meryet-Amon may also have been spared the strenuous daily routines of her father and brother’s subjects.]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:04:02 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.03.27. - Eating As the Romans Ate]]>

Now, a team led by the British archaeologist Andrew Wallace-Hadrill has unearthed 9 tons of organic material—the largest deposit of human waste ever found in the Roman world—from a septic tank beneath one of Herculaneum’s apartment blocks. Discovered by accident while the researchers were seeking a way to prevent the site from flooding, the sewer also held hundreds of artifacts, including bronze coins, broken plates, glassware, hairpins and jewelry. Waste disposal chutes linked it to the kitchens and latrines of each home in the three-story complex.

The archaeologists’ analysis of the sewer’s least glamorous contents has revealed detailed information about the lost population’s health and eating habits. As expected, Herculaneum’s middle- and lower-class inhabitants subsisted on a typical Mediterranean diet, rich in fish, fruits, nuts and olive oil. But they also indulged in a surprisingly wide variety of more exotic foods, including sea urchins, fresh figs and dormice—plump rodents that were considered a delicacy by the ancient Romans and regularly served at banquets. Even by today’s standards, in other words, Herculaneum’s humblest citizens ate well. (While dormice may not appeal to most modern palates, they remain popular in rural parts of Italy’s Calabria region.)

Wallace-Hadrill and his colleagues have been working at the 2,000-year-old city for an entire decade as part of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, repairing collapsing structures and carrying out delicate excavations. They have reversed much of the damage caused by years of neglect and careless digging, and in April 2011 successfully reopened Herculaneum’s main street, the Decumanus Maximus, to visitors. A public-private partnership, the conservation program receives support from the Packard Humanities Institute, the British School at Rome and Italy’s heritage and culture ministry.

Eating As the Romans Ate]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 17:02:04 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.02.27. - Gladiator Cries Foul Over Ref’s Blown Call From the Grave]]>
The tombstone of Diodorus, a Turkish-born gladiator who died some 1,800 years ago, diverges from the others, providing a visual snapshot as well as a written account of the doomed man’s final showdown. It bears an engraved image of a gladiator holding two swords and looming above a fallen opponent who is making a gesture of submission. In Carter’s interpretation, the scene depicts Diodorus standing triumphantly over his yielding rival, fully expecting the referee—“summa rudis” in Latin—to call the game in his favor.

As the accompanying epitaph shows, this is not what came to pass. The full text reads: “Here I lie victorious, Diodorus the wretched. After breaking my opponent Demetrius, I did not kill him immediately. But murderous Fate and the cunning treachery of the summa rudis killed me, and leaving the light I have gone to Hades. I lie in the land of the original inhabitants. A good friend buried me here because of his piety.”

In other studies of gladiator gravestones, Carter has explored this unique example, which was discovered a century ago in northern Turkey and is now part of the collection at Brussels’ Musée du Cinquantenaire. Previously, he focused on the epitaph’s assertion that, at one point during the battle, Diodorus intentionally decided not to kill Demetrius. This time, in a paper published in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik (Journal for Papyrology and Ancient Epigraphics), Carter investigates Diodorus’ second posthumous claim: that a “treacherous” ref’s blown call sent him to an early grave—in an era long before instant replay could have saved him.

For Carter, who studies gladiator contests and other spectacles in the eastern part of the Roman Empire, Diodorus’ tombstone adds to a growing body of evidence that gladiatorial combat was not the fight-to-the-death free-for-all in which the only governing principle was to kill the opponent, as certain Hollywood blockbusters would have us believe. “This epitaph seems to me to reveal the existence of a rule that if a gladiator fell accidentally, then he was to be allowed to get up again and the fight to resume,” he said. “But it was acceptable for one gladiator to push or knock over his opponent—deliberately—which is what Diodorus claims to have done in the inscription. The referee, however, must have interpreted the fall to have been accidental, and so allowed Demetrius to get up again, retrieve his weapon and shield and resume the fight.” Had the summa rudis made the right call, the game would have ended with both gladiators still alive.

Carter is one of many historians who now think that Roman fighters played by a strict set of rules enforced by experienced arbiters, many of whom were former champions themselves. A 2006 study by Austrian researchers, for instance, suggested that creeping up to deliver a stealthy clout on the back of the head was likely prohibited. And ancient records indicate that, while amateur combatants nearly always died in the arena or were so badly wounded that waiting executioners killed them with one merciful blow, an estimated 90 percent of trained gladiators lived to see more combat.

“I think that common perception holds that gladiatorial games were simply about one gladiator killing another in any manner possible and that the Romans who came to watch wanted to see simple spectacles of homicide,” Carter explained. “But if there were rules that governed the combats, with ‘referees’ to enforce them, and if victorious gladiators who had their defeated opponent at their mercy—as Diodorus did here—deliberately chose not to kill him, then the fights had to have been about something other than just killing. I—and others—argue that they were about winning ostentatious victory, displaying skill, bravery and discipline.”

Carter likened Diodorus to the victim of one of recent history’s most infamous blown calls: Detroit Tigers pitcher Armondo Galarraga, who suffered the consequences of an umpire’s botched ruling last June. Fortunately for Galarraga, the fan-enraging decision only cost him a once-in-a-lifetime shot at a perfect game, not his life itself.

Gladiator Cries Foul Over Ref&#8217;s Blown Call From the Grave]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:57:07 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.18. - Ancient ‘Fast Food’ Window Discovered]]>

According to their research, Godin Tepe apparently began as a simple rural agricultural village settled by the Sumerians of ancient Mesopotamia as early as the mid-fifth millennium B.C. It remained that way for some 1,000 years. Around 3200 B.C., the village’s small houses were razed to make way for a main building of mud-brick built around an oval enclosed area, like a courtyard. One of the surrounding walls facing into the courtyard had two windows, which were very unusual for architecture of the time in the Middle East.

When they looked inside the building with the windows, researchers found beveled rimmed bowls of a common type used in the region, along with a fireplace and food remains ranging from dried lentils to goat and sheep bones. But that’s not all—they also discovered more than 1,700 clay sling bullets, of the type commonly used in hunting and warfare. Hilary Gopnik of Emory University, who discussed the findings at a recent symposium at the Royal Ontario Museum, argues that the evidence suggests that Godin Tepe served as a sort of ancient takeout joint. On the other hand, Victoria Badler, a doctoral student of Dr. Young’s, suggests it may have had a military purpose, and that the windows may have been used to pass out provisions to soldiers.

This is not the first time that Godin Tepe has given us a “window” into its ancient civilization. In the early 1990s, according to findings published in the journal Nature, archaeologists found chemical evidence that people at Godin Tepe were making and drinking beer as early as 3500 B.C. Beer was thought to be a favorite beverage of the Sumerian civilization, which produced works of art depicting people drinking collectively out of a large vessel. Researchers had also discovered the earliest known chemical evidence of wine at the same site.

Thanks to its strategic position along the major east-west trade route known as the High Road, or Silk Road, which would eventually link the Mediterranean with China, Godin Tepe served as an important Sumerian trading post. The settlement was mysteriously abandoned during the second or third millennium B.C., and it’s unknown whether the inhabitants left under peaceful or violent circumstances.

Ancient &#8216;Fast Food&#8217; Window Discovered]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:54:07 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.09. - Caligula Statue Seized From Looters Is Unveiled]]>

In the months since the seizure, experts have cleaned the 2,000-year-old statue, which was already in a dilapidated state and had been broken into pieces by the plunderers. Its subject, who is cloaked in a robe and seated on a throne, was identified as Caligula because his foot is encased in a “caliga”—a type of boot worn by Roman legionary soldiers that gave the emperor his nickname. According to Suetonius, who chronicled the history of Rome in the first century, Caligula, born Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus in 12 A.D., accompanied his father on military campaigns as a small child. His miniature uniform inspired soldiers to dub him Caligula, meaning “little boots.”

His unintimidating pet name notwithstanding, Caligula grew up to earn a reputation as a tyrannical ruler, characterized by ancient historians as violent, narcissistic, sex-crazed, incestuous and completely insane. (Some contemporary scholars have questioned the neutrality of these assessments, while others have attributed Caligula’s alleged madness to medical conditions or lead poisoning.) He died at the hands of his own personal guard in 41 A.D., less than four years into his reign.

Thanks to the statue’s recovery, we may soon gain a deeper understanding of one of ancient Rome’s most infamous emperors. In April, Italian archaeologists began excavating the site where the smugglers had conducted their illegal dig. So far, they have unearthed the ruins of what was initially thought to be a mausoleum but now appears to be a thermal bathing complex. They have also found more than 250 artifacts, including additional pieces of the broken statue.

The project has generated significant interest among historians because Caligula is known to have spent time in the Lake Nemi region and may have had an imperial villa there. He also kept two ships, described by Suetonius as lavish pleasure boats used for merrymaking, anchored on the lake; their remains were recovered in the 1930s. Perhaps further excavation will reveal whether a botched robbery led archaeologists to Caligula’s long-lost palace.

Caligula Statue Seized From Looters Is Unveiled]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:50:47 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.05. - Ancient Medicines From Shipwreck Shed Light on Life in Antiquity]]>
But it is one thing to know that people wrote about these treatments, and quite another to confirm that they took or prescribed them. For much of Touwaide’s career, no archaeological evidence of medicines from antiquity had been identified, creating an inherent dilemma. “The information that you have in a text is always exposed to the risk of being only theoretical,” he explained. “And so until you have physical evidence of what you have in the texts, you never know if what you are working on has been used in ancient daily life and practice.”

That changed in 2002, when Emanuela Appetiti, Touwaide’s wife and research partner, read about a shipwreck discovered in the 1970s off the coast of Tuscany, dated to about 130 B.C. While excavating the trading ship’s remains, archaeologists turned up various goods that may have originated in the Near East and Greece, an indication that the boat’s ill-fated voyage began there; alternatively, it may have stocked up on cargo at an international market in Italy. They also found traces of a chest filled with what appeared to be medical supplies, including a bleeding cup, vials and tightly sealed tin containers, one of which was opened to reveal several tablets roughly the size of a quarter.

Appetiti and Touwaide quickly sensed that the gray-green disks could be the elusive examples of ancient medicines they had been hoping to find. It took nearly two years and plenty of perseverance, but in 2004 they finally got their hands on two fragments of the tablets, which appeared to be made out of plant materials. They then enlisted the help of Robert Fleischer, a geneticist at the Smithsonian’s Conservation Biology Institute, to identify the ingredients with DNA sequencing technology. “For the first time, we have a historian who knows ancient texts and a geneticist who was able to get the DNA out of these ancient things working so closely together,” Touwaide said.

Fleischer’s initial tests yielded results that Touwaide knew to be flawed. “He came up several times with lists of plants which were highly improbable because they were all plants traditionally thought to come from Asia or the New World,” Touwaide explained. “But last August, he came up with a completely different list of plants because he used the most advanced DNA technology available.”

At first glance, the list may seem more like a recipe for soup than a pharmaceutical formula. Indeed, the tablets are essentially 2,000-year-old bouillon cubes, composed of carrots, broccoli, leeks, cabbage, parsley, onions, radishes and other assorted plants and herbs. But for Touwaide, the fact that most of these items can be found in your average kitchen garden made perfect sense, and reflected the basic principles behind ancient remedies he had gleaned from countless texts.

“When you talk about ancient medicine, everybody thinks about exotic drugs: myrrh, incense, cloves—all these kinds of things,” Touwaide said. “Here we have very simple stuff. That might have been surprising, but not for me.” For early doctors such as Hippocrates, he explained, medicine and food were two sides of the same coin. “In all the writings attributed to Hippocrates, supposedly the father of medicine, half of the formulas for medicines are made out of 45 plants, and these plants are indeed very common. For the Hippocratic physicians, medicine starts with what you eat and is an offshoot of alimentation.”

Touwaide pointed out that, their humble ingredients notwithstanding, the tablets suggest that people were producing sophisticated compound medicines—remedies containing multiple ingredients—earlier than previously thought. “There is a theory about compound medicine according to which they started mainly at the end of the first century B.C. and during the first century A.D.,” he said. “But here we have compound medicines dating back to between 140 and 120 B.C.” In this way, then, archaeological evidence offered new clues about the timeline of medical history that textual sources have not yet provided.

Touwaide’s next step was to cross-reference Fleischer’s list against the texts in his massive database, including classic works such as Dioscorides’ “De Materia Medica.” He found references to many of the tablets’ components, including the clay that held them together, as possible treatments for dysentery and other gastrointestinal disorders, which are known to have plagued sailors at sea. Like the trading ship that sank off Tuscany, many ancient vessels might have carried medical kits designed to address these common ailments, Touwaide suggested. “It may also be the case that a physician was sailing with the crew, ready to intervene if necessary,” he said.

Thanks to two tiny fragments of tablets hidden for two millennia under the sea, for the first time in his career Touwaide could verify that practice corresponded to the texts he had studied. But in his view, this does not necessarily mean that ancient physicians consulted manuscripts the way their contemporary equivalents might look up a drug in the Physicians’ Desk Reference. “It is traditionally believed that texts guided practice,” he said. “I suggest that it’s the opposite—that the texts are a record of practice. Practice was transmitted orally and sometimes written down.”

In May, Touwaide and Appetiti traveled to Italy to present their findings, first at Rome’s La Sapienza University and then at the Museo Archeologico del Territorio di Populonia in Tuscany, where the remains from the shipwreck are conserved. To their surprise, meeting with some of the divers who brought the ship to the surface helped them resolve an inconsistency in the DNA results. Fleischer had detected traces of sunflower, a plant thought to have only existed in the Americas until the 16th century. “Fortunately for us, one of the people who participated in the excavation told us that, before going underwater, they put the bottles of oxygen beside the place where they were living,” Touwaide recalled. “This site was filled with sunflowers. So this presence of sunflower in our tablets might be the result of contamination.”

Perhaps most importantly, the trip to Tuscany gave Touwaide and Appetiti the opportunity to examine the artifacts found among the ship’s remains, including the tin boxes containing the tablets. They also obtained additional samples that will help Fleischer confirm and expand his DNA analysis, as well as materials from the cache’s mysterious vials that may turn out to be herbal products. Finally, they learned that x-rays of unopened boxes revealed the presence of a small perfume container, which Touwaide thinks may also prove relevant to his research. “I suspect that ancient perfumes were more than just perfumes,” he said. “I suspect they might have had some medical properties.”

Touwaide believes that a better understanding of the ship and its rare treasures might shed new light on life in the ancient Mediterranean world. If the medicines can be traced to the Near East, for example, a much more significant “stream of exchanges” between that region and Italy may have been taking place than is traditionally thought, he said, including the export of herbs and medicinal products to the Roman world. And further study of the tablets’ ingredients and origin could also have implications for biodiversity, offering a clearer picture of the natural environment in antiquity. Because the plants used to make the tablets grew in many locations, Touwaide plans to pinpoint their geographical source by evaluating the clay binding them together and the tin used to make their containers.

In the longer term, Touwaide intends to promote DNA sequencing as a valuable tool for translating the often-invisible traces of biological products in archaeological remains into a snapshot of ancient people’s behaviors, habits and experiences—“the complete life,” as he puts it. “Archaeology will take on a new dimension, revealing information not otherwise available—provided remains are not contaminated or cleaned and transformed into shiny showcase pieces,” he said. “Through DNA, I would like to be able to precisely determine the diet of ancient populations around the Mediterranean, the substances they used for medicines and the substances they mixed to make perfumes and wines, among other things.”

And perhaps, he suggested, some of these findings will even influence modern pharmacology, which already owes a great debt to the medical knowledge of the past. “Ancient medical practice and its tradition will hopefully inspire innovation and help create the many medicines that are urgently needed,” he said, adding that this is the guiding mission for his Institute for the Preservation of Medical Traditions.

Ancient Medicines From Shipwreck Shed Light on Life in Antiquity]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:47:50 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.08. - Headless Hercules Unearthed in Israel]]>
The son of Zeus by a mortal woman, the demigod Hercules was considered a paragon of strength, power and courage. According to legend, Zeus’ jealous wife Hera sent Hercules into a fit of rage in which he killed his wife and children. To atone for his sins, the murderer was ordered to perform 12 superhuman tasks known as the labors of Hercules. The recently unearthed statue features an animal pelt slung over one shoulder that alludes to the first of these feats: Hercules’ slaying of the monstrous Nemean lion.

Israeli archeologists uncovered the Hercules figure at Horvat Tabernet, located in the Jezreel Valley of biblical fame and once home to a third-century Jewish settlement. It sat amid pottery shards and broken glass vessels in the remains of what appears to be a Roman bathhouse complex from the second century A.D., which comprises a large pool, a well and sophisticated drainage channels.

The Horvat Tarbenet excavation is part of a project to rebuild the historic Jezreel Valley railway, which linked the Israeli city of Haifa with Damascus from the early 20th century until it fell into disrepair around 1948. Israel’s National Roads Authority plans to complete a new 37-mile rail line with a similar route by 2016.

Headless Hercules Unearthed in Israel]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:44:37 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.02.27. - Did Skin Cream Kill Egypt’s Queen Hatshepsut?]]>
“We have known for a long time that Hatshepsut had cancer and maybe even died from it,” said Michael Höveler-Müller, the collection’s curator. “We may now know the actual cause.” He also said that other members of the queen’s family are thought to have suffered from inflammatory skin diseases that tend to be genetic.

Many scholars regard Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt from 1479 to 1458 B.C., as one of the most powerful and successful pharaohs in history. During her 22-year reign, she ushered in an era of peace and stability, established a vast trade network and commissioned hundreds of construction projects. To win over detractors who considered women unfit for high office, she emphasized her royal birth and had artists depict her with a male body and false beard.

After Hatshepsut’s death, her resentful stepson and heir Thutmose III attempted to erase all traces of her from the historical record. This could explain the empty sarcophagus British archaeologist Howard Carter found when he discovered the queen’s royal burial place, located in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, in 1902. But in 2007, Egyptian authorities announced that Hatshepsut’s mummy had turned up in a nearby tomb. A CT scan revealed that she had died in her 50s of bone cancer and also suffered from diabetes and arthritis.

Did Hatshepsut inadvertently poison herself while trying to soothe her itchy, irritated skin? “There is a lot that speaks for this hypothesis,” said Helmut Wiedenfeld of the University of Bonn’s pharmaceutical institute. “If you imagine that the queen had a chronic skin disease and that she found short-term improvement from the salve, she may have exposed herself to a great risk over the years.”

Though ancient Egyptians certainly used remedies—some more effective than others—for a wide variety of conditions, Wiedenfeld thinks Hatshepsut’s lotion might have hailed from afar. “Egyptian physicians were general practitioners and good surgeons, but they were lousy internists,” he explained. “It is quite possible that they owe their knowledge of certain medications to their contacts with Persia and India, where the healing arts were very advanced even in antiquity.”

Did Skin Cream Kill Egypt&#8217;s Queen Hatshepsut?]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 16:43:00 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.09. - Ancient Chinese Forest Found Buried By Volcano]]>
As reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, scientists from the University of Pennsylvania, Shenyang Normal University and Yunnan University have been able to reconstruct around 10,000 square feet of the forest. Full of plant species that have long been extinct, the preserved ecosystem gives them an unusually detailed look into the flora that existed in the region.

At the time the forest was preserved, today’s continents did not exist, and Earth’s land still formed the single large mass that scientists have called Pangaea. The scientists believe the ancient forest sat on the edge of a large tropical island off Pangaea’s eastern shore. It was swampy, with a layer of peat and a few inches of standing water covering the ground. Above a canopy of ferns, taller trees resembling feather dusters stood some 25 meters high. The group has identified six different species of trees, including the tall Sigillaria and Cordaites and the smaller spore-bearing Noeggerathiales, believed to be close relatives of the earliest ferns.

The scientists found no evidence of animal life, such as insects or ancient amphibians. Most peat forests like this one died out millions of years earlier, drying out as the supercontinent formed and ending up further inland. According to U. Penn paleobiologist Hermann Pfefferkorn, the forest discovered in Wuda is “like Pompeii….It’s a time capsule and therefore it allows us now to interpret what happened before or after much better.”

Ancient Chinese Forest Found Buried By Volcano]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:58:48 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.12. - Egypt Dig Reveals Animal Mummies and Possible Hatshepsut Statue]]>
Mary-Ann Pouls Wegner, an archaeology professor at the University of Toronto, led the dig in the summer of 2011. Graduate students from the university and researchers from Egypt’s Supreme Council of Antiquities also participated. “The site is important because it was a focal point for both state-sponsored ritual activity associated with the great gods of ancient Egypt, and also popular votive activity that took place alongside the formal rituals,” said Pouls Wegner, who presented the team’s findings at a recent meeting of the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities.

Pouls Wegner said the wooden statue depicting a king was particularly interesting because only a few such artifacts have survived. Since it turned up near a temple dedicated to Osiris, it was likely used in ceremonial processions that took place along a designated route at Abydos. “In those processions, the death and ultimate post-mortem transformation and triumph of Osiris, the archetype for resurrection, was reenacted,” Pouls Wegner explained. Priests carried statues of past pharaohs in boat-shaped shrines from the afterlife god’s temple to his tomb during these rituals.

Because this particular effigy has feminine features, it might represent Queen Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt from 1479 to 1458 B.C., said Pouls Wegner. “Like the other known wooden royal statues, the Abydos statue is not inscribed with the name of the king it represents, but its proportions conform to those of known statues of the Eighteenth Dynasty—roughly 1550 to 1350 B.C.—with one important exception: a thinner waist,” Pouls Wegner explained. “This detail suggests that it may represent Hatshepsut, who ruled Egypt as king although she was a woman.” One of the most powerful and successful pharaohs in history, Hatshepsut had artists portray her with a male body and false beard to sway detractors who considered women unfit for high office.

The team also excavated what they believe is one of many private offering chapels that Egyptians constructed along the processional path in order to take part in the festival, Pouls Wegner said. Dating to the Middle Kingdom, a period between 1990 and 1650 B.C., the chapel sheds light on a main focus of their research: state-mandated rules regulating how close to the route non-royal Egyptians could build structures. Violating the strict code was an offense punishable by death, Pouls Wegner said. “There was a constant interplay between the interests of the state and that of the populace in this special area,” she observed. “The chapel provides a physical indication of the location of the boundary very close to the processional route in the Middle Kingdom, and its size indicates that it belonged to a person of high socioeconomic status.”

A larger structure the archaeologists unearthed may have once served as a temple or chapel but was later repurposed to house animal mummies, according to Pouls Wegner. It contained the remains of two cats, three sheep or goats and at least 83 dogs, all of which were likely sacrificed to the jackal god Wepwawet, the researchers believe. Finally, a tomb excavated by the archaeologists yielded examples of the small funerary figurines known as shabtis, which became the symbolic replacements for human sacrifices in ancient Egypt.

Egypt Dig Reveals Animal Mummies and Possible Hatshepsut Statue]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:56:04 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.13. - Ancient Ritual Bath Unearthed in Jerusalem]]>

Compared with numerous other ancient baths excavated in Jerusalem in recent years, IAA archaeologists say, the miqwe discovered in Kiryat Menachem is complex and unique. Whereas most baths tended to run water from a single small pool cut into the rocks into the underground bath chamber, this system collected rainwater in three basins cut into a flattened roof. When the water overflowed the basins, it entered channels and was funneled into an underground immersion chamber, accessible by stairway. In addition, the chamber’s walls were treated with a special type of plaster in order to ensure that the water didn’t seep into the earth. In general, the bath was designed not only to conform to kashrut, but also to preserve every drop of the rainwater that was so precious in the arid climate.

Benyamin Storchan, who directed the excavation on behalf of the IAA, says that the bath was “apparently associated with a settlement that was situated there in the Second Temple period.” The Second Temple period began around 538 B.C., when Cyrus II, conqueror of Babylonia, allowed Jews exiled there to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple that had been destroyed by Babylonian ruler Nebuchadrezzar II 50 years earlier. It ended in A.D. 70, when Roman forces under the future emperor Titus conquered Jerusalem and destroyed the Second Temple.

After it went out of use as a bath, the miqwe found in Kiryat Menachem appears to have been used as a quarry. A hole cut into the ceiling of the immersion chamber, making it usable as a cistern (an underground tank for storing water) dates as late as the 20th century. The IAA is currently working with local developers to preserve the mikwe, and are hoping to make it available to the public.

The miqwe is only the latest ancient find to be unearthed during development projects in Israel. Just last month, the IAA announced the excavation in northern Israel of ancient artifacts–including a phallic figurine dating back to the Stone Age, more than 6,000 years ago–ahead of construction of a new railroad line to the city of Karmiel. And at Tel Motza, a site being excavated to expand Highway 1, the main road between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, archaeologists have unearthed animal and human figurines, some as many as 9,000 years old.]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:52:54 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.16. - Hanging Gardens Existed, but not in Babylon]]>
Greek and Roman texts paint vivid pictures of the luxurious Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Amid the hot, arid landscape of ancient Babylon, lush vegetation cascaded like waterfalls down the terraces of the 75-foot-high garden. Exotic plants, herbs and flowers dazzled the eyes, and fragrances wafted through the towering botanical oasis dotted with statues and tall stone columns.

Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II was said to have constructed the luxurious Hanging Gardens in the sixth century B.C. as a gift to his wife, Amytis, who was homesick for the beautiful vegetation and mountains of her native Media (the northwestern part of modern-day Iran). To make the desert bloom, a marvel of irrigation engineering would have been required. Scientists have surmised that a system of pumps, waterwheels and cisterns would have been employed to raise and deliver the water from the nearby Euphrates River to the top of the gardens.

The multiple Greek and Roman accounts of the Hanging Gardens, however, were second-hand–written centuries after the wonder’s alleged destruction. First-hand accounts did not exist, and for centuries, archaeologists have hunted in vain for the remains of the gardens. A group of German archaeologists even spent two decades at the turn of the 20th century trying to unearth signs of the ancient wonder without any luck. The lack of any relics has caused skeptics to question whether the supposed desert wonder was just an “historical mirage.”

However, Dr. Stephanie Dalley, an honorary research fellow and part of the Oriental Institute at England’s Oxford University, believes she has found evidence of the existence of the legendary Wonder of the Ancient World. In her soon-to-be-released book “The Mystery of the Hanging Garden of Babylon: An Elusive World Wonder Traced,” published by Oxford University Press, Dalley asserts that the reason why no traces of the Hanging Gardens have ever been found in Babylon is because they were never built there in the first place.

Dalley, who has spent the better part of two decades researching the Hanging Gardens and studying ancient cuneiform texts, believes they were constructed 300 miles to the north of Babylon in Nineveh, the capital of the rival Assyrian empire. She asserts the Assyrian king Sennacherib, not Nebuchadnezzar II, built the marvel in the early seventh century B.C., a century earlier than scholars had previously thought.

According to Oxford University, Dalley, who is a scholar in ancient Mesopotamian languages, found evidence in new translations of the ancient texts of King Sennacherib that describe his own “unrivaled palace” and a “wonder for all peoples.” He also mentioned a bronze water-raising screw—similar to Archimedes’ screw developed four centuries later—that could have been used to irrigate the gardens.

Recent excavations around Nineveh, near the modern-day Iraqi city of Mosul, have uncovered evidence of an extensive aqueduct system that delivered water from the mountains with the inscription: “Sennacherib king of the world…Over a great distance I had a watercourse directed to the environs of Nineveh.” Bas reliefs from the royal palace in Nineveh depicted a lush garden watered by an aqueduct, and unlike the flat surroundings of Babylon, the more rugged topography around the Assyrian capital would have made the logistical challenges in elevating water to the gardens far easier for an ancient civilization to overcome.

Dalley explains that the reason for the confusion of the location of the gardens could be due to the Assyrian conquering of Babylon in 689 B.C. Following the takeover, Nineveh was referred to as the “New Babylon,” and Sennacherib even renamed the city gates after those of Babylon’s entrances. Dalley’s assertions could debunk thoughts that the elusive ancient wonder was an “historical mirage,” but they could also prove that the Hanging Gardens of Babylon are mislabeled and should truly be the Hanging Gardens of Nineveh.

Hanging Gardens Existed, but not in Babylon]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:49:30 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.18. - Ancients First Ate Palms, Not Rice]]>

Prior to the release of the study, published in the journal PLoS ONE this month, little had been known about the ancient diet of the Xincun region along the southern coast of China, thanks in part to the destruction of plant remains in the humid, subtropical weather. What scientists did know is that agriculture had come later to this area along the Lower Yangtze River than elsewhere in China and much of the rest of the world—rice crops first took root around 2,500-2,000 B.C. and archeologists believed it quickly became the region’s staple crop. Today, more than 70 percent of the world’s rice production occurs in subtropical China.

Eager to learn more about the early diet of Xincun, researchers turned to a new technique, known as ancient starch analysis. This allowed them to extract sediment from grinding stones used to process food around 3,350 B.C., hundreds of years before rice was first grown in the there. The samples, tested in both the United Kingdom and China yielded some surprising results. Researchers had expected to find examples of starches from plants indigenous to the region, such as water chestnuts and lotus and fern roots, but were shocked when the sediment also turned up starches from other plants, including bananas, tubers and subtropical palms. Palm starch, which is extracted from its trunk, then ground up, dried and used as flour, has been a reliable source of nutrients for thousands of years. It may not taste great, but it can be grown year round in the right conditions. There is little evidence, however, of it being a cultivated crop in ancient times. It has historically been eaten by nomadic groups who, once they have exhausted the plant source in one area, move onto the next—as is still the case today with transient tribes in Borneo and Indonesia.

The residents of Xincun, however, were a sedentary society, so their continued consumption of palms over a long period of time likely means that they cultivated the plant nearby, making it the region’s first agricultural crop. According to the University of Leicester’s Dr. Huw Barton, a co-author of the study, residents of Xincun and surrounding areas did eventually adopt rice as their primary crop, but with palms and other foodstuffs at their disposal, it probably happened at a much slower pace than in regions without an established, indigenous agricultural base. Barton, who compared the study’s unlikely findings to “hitting the jackpot,” believes that the new evidence indicates “that there was something much more interesting going on in the subtropical south of China 5,000 years ago than previously thought.” Barton’s team hopes to continue its work in other settlements along the coast of China.

Ancients First Ate Palms, Not Rice]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:47:06 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.20. - Man’s Best (and Oldest) Friend]]>

In the first study, researchers from Russia, Europe and the United States focused their work on human and dog burial sites in eastern Siberia, a region that appears to have been chock-full of prehistoric dog lovers. The earliest known domesticated dog food was found there, dating back some 33,000 years, though most dog burials in the region span a more recent period (less than 10,000 years ago). The researchers examined 17 human and dog burial sites on the southern and western shores of Lake Baikal, which contains around 20 percent of the globe’s fresh water, as well as the upper reaches of the Angara and Lena Rivers.

Their findings refute earlier speculation that prehistoric dogs may have served simply as work animals used for hunting purposes. If this were the case, the scientists would have expected to see burials in the Early Holocene period (around 9,000 years ago) when humans largely subsisted on terrestrial game. In fact, the researchers found that dog burials reached a peak in the Early Neolithic period, some 7,000-8,000 years ago. According to the study’s lead author, Robert Losey of the University of Alberta, canine burials “tend to be more common in areas where diets are rich in aquatic foods because these same areas also appear to have had the densest human populations and the most cemeteries.”

Losey and his colleagues also found that humans living in hunter-gatherer societies buried their dogs, while pastoralist, or farming societies, did not, suggesting that the latter societies may not have placed as much importance in their canine friends. Among the dogs that were buried, the method of their burials revealed the bond their human companions may have felt with their canine companions. One dog skeleton was laid to rest in a sleeping position; others were buried with small ornaments or implements, some resembling toys. One man was buried with two dogs laid on either side of him, while another dog was placed in his grave wearing a necklace fashioned from four deer’s teeth pendants. All the dogs found bore a resemblance to large varieties of huskies, similar to today’s Siberian huskies.

In another recent scholarly project, a network of international scientists led by Ya-Ping Zhang of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has compared DNA from canines around the world in the hopes of understanding how dogs may have evolved from wolves, and specifically how their brains evolved to turn them from fierce predators into faithful companions. Their findings suggest that the transformation likely happened in East Asia around 32,000 years ago, when early dogs came into contact with small bands of hunter-gatherers. (Humans didn’t start forming permanent settlements in East Asia until about 10,000 years ago.) The process may have begun when populations of wolves started lingering around these humans, possibly to scavenge the remains of the animals they consumed. In this situation, humans would have killed the more aggressive wolves, while those wolves that displayed mellower temperaments would have thrived.

Through their DNA research, Dr. Zhang and his colleagues have been able to identify some specific genes that may have been involved in this evolution, including those related to smell and hearing, as well as those active in the region of the prefrontal cortex (which governs decisions about behavior in mammals). One specific gene they identified, SLC6A4, is responsible for carrying the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin into neurons. Evolution of this gene in early canine brains may explain why early dogs became less aggressive, as serotonin has been shown to influence aggression.

As with the analysis of dog burials in Siberia, Dr. Zhang and his colleagues hope that their canine DNA research will ultimately lead not only to a better understanding of man’s best friend, but also of man himself. Their work has already found that some of the same genes that evolved in canine brains—including SLC6A4—have evolved through natural selection in human brains as well.

Man&#8217;s Best (and Oldest) Friend]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:44:33 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.25. - Spicy Find Sheds Light on Ancient Cuisine]]>

Older samples of spices such as cumin and coriander–some of them dating back as many as 23,000 years–have been found at sites in southern Europe, the Middle East and India. In these cases, however, it has been hard for scientists to determine whether they were used in cooking, or limited to medicinal or decorative use. These newest finds, recovered from Neolithic (Stone Age) dwellings in what is now Germany and Denmark, provide the earliest conclusive evidence of spice’s use in ancient cuisine.

A team of researchers from the University of York in Britain conducted an analysis of eight clay cooking vessels found at three sites, which they say date from between 5,800 and 6,150 years ago. The researchers, who published their findings in the current issue of PLOS ONE, found carbonized remnants of ancient meals stuck to the pots. Most of them consisted of fish, while the meat fats identified were likely to have come from roe deer or red deer, which would have been prevalent in the area at the time. Along with the fish or meat, the researchers also found the ground seeds of the garlic mustard plant, which when cooked along with the meat or fish over an open wood fire would have added a savory taste to the simple meal.

Compared to animal bones, plant matter (including seeds) don’t usually last too long in archaeological samples. In order to identify the seeds of the garlic mustard plant (Alliaria petiolata) in the samples they took, the scientists looked for microscopic traces of plant-based silica known as phytoliths, which tend to last longer than the plant cells themselves. They compared their findings to the phytolith records of 120 different species and were able to identify them as garlic mustard. As the garlic mustard plant has basically no nutritional value, researchers concluded it must have been included to add taste to the food. The ancient food remnants contained no whole garlic mustard seeds, and by recreating the ancient recipe, they found that crushing the seeds of the plant releases their flavor.

The researchers’ findings challenge earlier assumptions about European hunter-gatherers of the Neolithic period, which is that they were concerned only with finding the most calorie-dense source of food for themselves. Yet while the users of these ancient cooking pots displayed ingenuity in flavoring their food with the garlic mustard seed, they don’t seem to have eaten an especially varied diet, as the researchers found no evidence of other spices across all the sites they examined.

Spicy Find Sheds Light on Ancient Cuisine]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:41:59 +0100
<![CDATA[2013.09.05. - The Search Continues for King Solomon’s Mines]]>
Half a century later, American rabbi and archaeologist Nelson Glueck made headlines of his own when he announced that he had located Solomon’s mines in the Great Rift Valley near the modern-day boundary of Israel and Jordan. These mines, however, weren’t filled with gold–they were extensive copper-smelting plants that Glueck maintained were the true source of Solomon’s wealth. Unable to connect archaeological evidence to biblical accounts, however, modern historians soon began to doubt Glueck’s connection of Solomon to the region’s copper production.

For the past few decades, conventional wisdom has held that the ancient Egyptians built most of the mines in the region during the 13th century B.C.—a theory supported by the discovery of an Egyptian temple at the complex in 1969. In 2008, however, researchers located a mining site in neighboring Jordan (known as Khirbat en-Nahas) that archaeological evidence suggested became operational 300 years later that previously assumed, during the 10th century B.C. The following year, another excavation identified a site in Israel’s Timna Valley, dubbed Site 30, which was home to a cooper-smelting camp also believed to have been built in same time period as the Jordanian mine— likely too late for an Egyptian settlement but squarely within the biblical timeframe for Solomon’s famed mines.

Earlier this year, Dr. Erez Ben-Yousef, an archaeologist from Tel Aviv University who had helped discover Site 30 while a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, led a new dig in a previously unexamined section of the site known as Slaves’ Hill. As with elsewhere at the Timna Valley site, Ben-Yousef’s team uncovered archaeological evidence of dozens of the furnaces used to smelt copper as well as layers of cooper slag, a by-product of the smelting process. The team also found a trove of personal items, including clothing, ceramics, fabrics and tools, and the remnants of a variety of food items, indicating a highly developed, long-term settlement at the site. Nearly a dozen artifacts from the Slaves’ Hill site, including date and olive pits, were sent to the University of Oxford for radiocarbon dating, which confirmed their age to the 10th century B.C., reinforcing their belief that the sites were not Egyptian.

It’s hoped that these most recent revelations will help convince the archaeological community of the unlikelihood that the Egyptians constructed and controlled the important copper-smelting centers in the region, but the researchers stress that though the sites date to the time of the fabled King Solomon, there is no evidence that he or his Israelite tribe were the ones who built the mines. In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that it was another group mentioned in the Bible, the Edomites, who actually controlled the operations.

The Edomites were a semi-nomadic tribe, usually depicted in the Bible as a traditional enemy of the Israelites before their eventual forced conversion to Judaism in the 2nd century B.C. Their early civilization thrived on trade, but by the time of the construction of the copper-smelting mines at Khirbat en-Nahas and the Timna Valley more than 3,000 years ago, they had developed into a highly organized state. Tens of thousands of workers toiled away at these desert sites—some of the largest copper-smelting mines in the ancient world—with a high level of efficiency. True to their early nomadic nature, they eschewed long-term housing in favor of tent camps at the periphery of the mines, leaving little physical trace of their physical existence behind until now. As for any concrete evidence of King Solomon or what, if any role, he may have played in the copper-mine production in the region, the search continues: Dr. Ben-Yousef will lead another dig at the site later this year.]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:36:15 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.26. - Europe’s Oldest Natural Mummy Has Living Relatives]]>
Two German tourists discovered the mummy while hiking through the Ötzal mountains in September 1991. It took local authorities several days to extract the body, whose head and torso jutted out of a small, melting glacier, while his lower body remained frozen in ice. A brief turf battle broke out over control of the remains, which now technically belong to Italy, though they have allowed Austrian scientists to conduct nearly all subsequent testing on both the mummy and the archaeological site, which yielded the remains of clothing, including a bearskin cap, and genetic materials including hair and muscle fibers and a finger nail. Using radiocarbon dating, they were able to establish that Ötzi lived between 3350 and 3100 B.C.

Thanks to his remarkable level of preservation (attributed to his being buried first under a mound of snow followed by a layer of ice) researchers have been able to not only pinpoint not only when he lived, but also how he died. In 2001, X-rays revealed evidence that a brutal physical struggle preceded Ötzi’s death, including abrasions and bruises and a flint arrowhead lodged in his left shoulder that severed a blood vessel and severely damaged his arm. The final death blow, they now believe was caused by blunt trauma to the back of the head, which shattered his skull.

Ötzi the Iceman (Credit: Getty Images)
The researchers have even been able to work up a full medical history, discovering that Ötzi had a predisposition for cardiovascular disease, suffered tooth decay, was likely lactose intolerant and had one of the oldest cases of Lyme disease ever recorded. They’ve also examined the contents of his stomach to determine his last meal–some unleavened bread a bit of meat roughly eight hours before his death–as indicated by a lump of partially-digested food in his colon. The bread also provided clues to Ötzi’s job; it contained a type of wheat not native to Europe during his lifetime, indicating he lived and worked in an agricultural community that cultivated the wheat. Thanks to the recovery of a rare copper ax at the burial site, it seems likely that Ötzi and his family were wealthy and leaders in their community. Scientists are even fairly certain where that farming community was. Tests of rock and soil in the region indicate that Ötzi lived his entire life within no more than 40 miles of where his body was discovered.

In 2001, 20 years after he was first discovered, a Dutch research team created a full facial reconstruction of what Ötzi looked like at the time of his violent death. Ötzi may have only been in his mid 40s, but the grizzled, weathered visage and graying hair and beard suggest someone far older than that. The Dutch team also noted that their research indicated that Ötzi had brown eyes rather than blue, as had been previously thought.

Europe&#8217;s Oldest Natural Mummy Has Living Relatives]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:34:02 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.01.27. - One of History’s Oldest Wine Cellars Discovered]]>
Researchers made their most recent discovery in July, when they knocked down a wall located near the palace’s banquet hall, revealing a 15 foot by 25 foot room filled with debris. Among the clutter they found 40 3-foot-tall pottery jugs, each of which would have held 13 gallons of liquid. Working quickly to protect the newly exposed pottery from the elements, the team was able to excavate all 40 jugs within days, and sent samples back to the United States for further testing. The jars were empty, but in all but two of them Andrew Koh, an archeological chemist from Brandeis University working as part of the team, found traces of syringic and tartartic acids, both common ingredients in wine, as well as flavorings including mint, honey, cinnamon, myrtle and juniper berries. Koh also found traces of resin, likely derived from cedar trees, which would have been used as a preservative and may have given the Canaanite’s wine a slightly psychotropic quality.

It’s not just the size the Tel Kabri wine cellar that surprised researchers—it’s the sophistication and precision of the Canaanite’s winemaking technique. According to Koh, not only did they make wine, but they took a craftsman-like approach. The Tel Kabri wine closely matches ancient recipes devised by the Mari civilization, in what is now Syria. According to researcher Assaf Yasur-Landau of the University of Haifa, this is first time scientists have found physical evidence to back up these ancient texts.

Today, more than 3,500 years after the fall of Tel Kalbri, the nearby Golan Heights and Galilee region is home to some of Israel’s most successful vineyards. But it’s unlikely this recently discovered ancient wine would tickle the fancy of most modern palates. Researchers believe it most closely resembles restina, a traditional Greek wine that also includes resin, lending it a taste some compare to turpentine. Regardless, the Tel Kabri team hopes continued chemical analysis allows them to reproduce the Canaanite’s wine in the future. In the meantime, they’ll continue excavations at the site in a new dig scheduled for summer 2015

One of History&#8217;s Oldest Wine Cellars Discovered]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:31:03 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.03.27. - 3,200-Year-Old Skeleton is Oldest Known Case of Human Cancer]]>
Michaela Binder, a PhD student at Britain’s Durham University, excavated the 3,200-year-old skeleton in 2013 at the Amara West archaeological site, located in northern Sudan on the left bank of the Nile River, some 465 miles downstream from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. Buried in a plain wooden coffin, it belonged to a man between the ages of 25 and 35, and was one of dozens of skeletons unearthed at Amara West as part of a detailed archaeological research project led by Dr. Neal Spencer of the British Museum’s Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan.

After examining the young man’s skeleton using radiography and a scanning electron microscope, a team of researchers from Durham University and the British Museum were able to see clear images of lesions on the bones. According to their findings, published earlier this week in the journal PLOS ONE, lesions suggested that a type of cancer had spread to cause tumors throughout the body, including the pelvis, spine, shoulder blades, breastbone, collarbones and ribs. According to Binder: “Our analysis showed that the shape of the small lesions on the bones can only have been caused by a soft tissue cancer…though the exact origin is impossible to determine through the bones alone.”

In addition to cancer, the skeleton of the young man also showed evidence of severe tooth decay and chronic sinusitis. In general, the remains recovered from the Amara West site show remarkably poor general health in the ancient population, which appears to have lived during a time of climactic change and environmental stress. A quarter of the 180 skeletons examined by the British team showed evidence of chronic lung disease, while all of them had signs of serious dental disease.

The Amara West skeleton is not the first evidence of cancer in the archaeological record. Last year, for example, a U.S. team of researchers published findings based on their analysis of a 120,000-year-old fossilized Neanderthal rib found in a cave in Croatia, which showed indications of a bone tumor. There have also been several finds dating back some 4,000 years that show signs of possible cancer.

Because the newly uncovered find is a complete skeleton, however, rather than just a skull or other incomplete remains, scientists hope it will yield valuable information about the spread of cancer and how it may have evolved into modern times. By analyzing the skeleton’s DNA, for example, they could learn about gene mutations that made the young man susceptible to cancer. In addition to genetic defects, the researchers identified environmental carcinogens, such as smoke from wood fires, or an infection like schistosomiasis (caused by parasites) as other possible causes of the disease.

3,200-Year-Old Skeleton is Oldest Known Case of Human Cancer]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:28:32 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.06.27. - Ancient Sumerian Relics Found in English Cupboard]]>
The wooden crate, which appeared to have been undisturbed for years, turned out to be a treasure chest of relics. Inside were pottery, seeds and animal bones. Words such as “Predynastic,” “Sargonid” and “Royal Tombs” scribbled on yellowed index cards provided clues that led to the conclusion that the artifacts had been unearthed during famed British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley’s excavations of the ancient Sumerian city of Ur, in present-day southern Iraq, between 1922 and 1934. Woolley’s expedition, sponsored jointly by the British Museum and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, made amazing finds, such as the grandiose burial sites of Sumerian royals filled with gold and silver jewelry, furnishings and paintings depicting ancient Sumerian culture. The archaeologist’s discoveries greatly advanced the modern-day knowledge of the art, architecture, literature, government and religion of ancient Mesopotamian civilization.

Sleuthing by the Bristol researchers determined that the contents of the strange crate in their laboratory were food offerings from a royal tomb that date back at least 4,500 years, which is noteworthy because it was unusual for organic materials to have been collected in the Middle East during Woolley’s era of archaeological fieldwork.

While the crate’s contents have been identified, how they came to be hiding in plain sight in Bristol remains a great unknown. Following the conventions of the day, items excavated by Woolley’s expeditions were shipped to the Iraqi capital of Baghdad and to his sponsors back in London and Philadelphia. The University of Bristol had no connection to the dig.

“The remaining mystery is how this material came to be at Bristol in the first place,” says Dr. Tamar Hodos, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Bristol. “The environmental remains themselves were published in 1978 in Journal of Archaeological Science. The authors of that study were based at the Institute of Archaeology, London, and at the University of Southampton, and none of them had any known connection to the University of Bristol that might explain how the material came to reside here.”

After discovering the crate, Hodos contacted Dr. Alexandra Fletcher, a curator of Near Eastern archaeology at the British Museum. The pair packed the items in more secure containers, and they were taken to the British Museum to join the rest of the its collection from Ur, which are on display and included as part of a major digitization program being undertaken with the University of Pennsylvania. The University of Bristol is looking to hear from anyone who can shed light on how the relics ended up in their laboratory in the first place.

Ancient Sumerian Relics Found in English Cupboard]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:25:34 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.07.17. - Prehistoric Recordkeeping System Used Long After Writing Emerged]]> Ziyaret Tepe is located on the site of the ancient city of Tushan, a provincial capital of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. At its peak during the first millennia B.C., the empire was the most powerful state in the world, encompassing modern-day Turkey, Iraq and Syria. Archaeologists discovered the clay tokens–some 300 of them, formed in various simple shapes–in two back rooms of what was the main administrative building in Tushan’s lower town. In a press release announcing his team’s findings, lead researcher John MacGinnis of Cambridge’s MacDonald Institute for Archaeological Research described the rooms as a kind of “delivery area,” or ancient loading bay.

Scientists think that Assyrian farmers used the tokens as part of a bookkeeping system, and that the various shapes (including spheres, discs and triangles, as well as some resembling oxhide and bull heads) may have represented different commodities such as livestock and grain. Since they were in use during the empire’s heyday, the tokens could also have represented more sophisticated goods such as oil, wine and wool. While it was previously assumed that this rudimentary type of recordkeeping became obsolete after the emergence of writing, these tokens date to a time (900 to 600 B.C.) when writing had become common practice.

The earliest examples of writing can be traced to around 3000 B.C., consisting of clay tablets filled with pictorial symbols drawn with triangular-tipped reeds. Thereafter, scientists have found that tokens used in bookkeeping gradually disappeared from the archaeological record–until now. According to MacGinnis’ team, farmers trading goods at Tushan some 2,000 years later most likely handed the tokens over to Assyrian officials, who later translated them into writing. This combination of tokens and cuneiform writing created a flexible, practical accounting system that allowed illiterate farmers to participate.

According to MacGinnis, it’s not so hard to imagine how the more rudimentary system stayed in place long after writing developed. After all, people still use pens and pencils, even in the age of computers. As he puts it, “Complex writing didn’t stop the use of the abacus, just as the digital age hasn’t wiped out pencils and pens. In a literate society there are multiple channels of recording information that can be complementary to each other.”

Prehistoric Recordkeeping System Used Long After Writing Emerged]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:22:45 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.07.31. - Evidence of Gruesome Ancient Ritual Unearthed in Denmark]]>
The new discoveries at Alken Enge come on the heels of excavations from 2012, when a team of archeologists from Denmark’s Aarhus University, Skanderborg Museum and Moesgaard Museum found dozens of ancient skeletons that had been dumped in a lake near the town of Skanderborg around A.D. 1. Layers of peat had effectively entombed the mass grave, leaving hundreds of well-preserved artifacts and bones. Radiocarbon dating indicated the men had perished sometime around the birth of Christ, while weapons, hacked bones and crushed skulls suggested their death had been violent—most likely the result of a ferocious clash between Germanic tribes.

Archeologists returned to marshes at Alken Enge this summer, and have now announced that the circumstances surrounding the mass burial were even grislier than previously thought. New artifacts show that the bodies of the dead were not immediately buried after the fighting, but instead left to decompose on the battlefield before being ritualistically butchered and desecrated as part of a pagan ritual. “Our studies reveal that a violent sequel took place after the fallen warriors had lain on the battlefield for around six months,” Project Manager Mads Kähler Holst said in a press release.

One of the most shocking finds is a series of four different men’s pelvic bones strung on a wooden stick. Holst said the team also uncovered “bundles of bones, bones bearing marks of cutting and scraping, and crushed skulls.” The scrape marks suggest that all the flesh and sinew was carefully stripped from the bones. Some were then sorted by type before being tossed into the waters of what was then part of Lake Mossø. “Most of the bones we find here are spread out over the lake bed seemingly at random, but the new finds have suddenly given us a clear impression of what actually happened,” said Field Director Ejvind Hertz. “This applies in particular to the four pelvic bones. They must have been threaded onto the stick after the flesh was cleaned from the skeletons.” Along with the arrangements of bones, the team also found the remains of slaughtered animals and clay pots that may have once contained food sacrifices. According to Holst, these suggest the desecration held some spiritual significance. “We are fairly sure that this was a religious act,” he said. “It seems that this was a holy site for a pagan religion—a sacred grove—where the victorious conclusion of major battles was marked by the ritual presentation and destruction of the bones of the vanquished warriors.”

While the researchers believe they know why the bones were desecrated, they know very little about the identity of the fallen warriors or the people who defeated them. The fight came at a time when the Roman Empire was rapidly advancing north into Germanic tribal lands. The invasion put the Roman legions on a collision course with fearsome Teutonic tribesmen, but it also led to infighting among local tribes as different groups tried to flee north. The archeologists have theorized that the bloody clash at Alken Enge may have been the result of one of these intertribal skirmishes.

Ancient Roman chroniclers later provided morbid accounts of Germanic warriors performing rituals with the corpses of their defeated foes. According to the historian Tacitus, a legion once encountered a site where tribesmen had massacred a group of Romans under the command of a general named Varus. Among piles of broken weapons and dead horses, they discovered “bleaching bones, scattered or in little heaps,” human skulls “nailed prominently on the tree-trunks” and “savage altars” where the tribesmen had taken their captives to be slaughtered.

The battle Tacitus recounted took place near modern day Bremen, Germany, but researchers have long had ample evidence that sacrificial rituals were also conducted across Iron Age Scandinavia. The Alken Enge site sits within the Illerup Ådal river valley, which is also known as the “Holy Valley” because of its wealth of sacrificial locations. Archeologists have previously uncovered sacrificial offerings of pottery, wooden objects and animal remains in the area, but Alken Enge is the first holy site in Denmark to contain human bones on a large scale and in the gruesome style recounted in Roman lore.

Evidence of Gruesome Ancient Ritual Unearthed in Denmark]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:19:34 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.08.27. - 2,700 Year Old Phoenician Shipwreck Discovered]]>
The ancient Phoenician ship was typical of the trading vessels that stopped in Malta to sell cargo, and since researchers discovered seven different types of amphorae in the wreck, they surmised that the ship had made numerous ports of call. It is believed that the vessel was sailing between Sicily and Malta when it met its watery demise.

Independent Phoenician city-states such as Tyre and Sidon flourished along the Mediterranean coast on the western edge of the Fertile Crescent (modern-day Lebanon and portions of Syria) at the dusk of the Bronze Age and the dawn of the Iron Age. The Phoenicians were a maritime people known as master shipbuilders and merchants who plied ancient trade routes across the Mediterranean from 1550 B.C. to 300 B.C. They were known among ancient cultures as purveyors of purple dye extracted from murex snails that was used as pigment for royal clothing. Phoenicians traded their coveted dyes and woven items for raw materials, and they are credited with developing the first known alphabet, which is generally considered the forebear of all modern alphabets. The civilization ended after they were conquered by the Persians and then the Greeks.

Phoenician traders were thought to have been the first known inhabitants of Malta, which makes the new discovery of particular interest. They were drawn to the archipelago’s safe harbors that offered refuge on long voyages. The research expedition, which has taken place under the supervision of Malta’s Superintendence of National Heritage, has been conducted by the GROplan Project, which is funded by the French National Research Agency. The international team of researchers includes scholars from the University of Malta, University of Marseilles and Texas A&M University.

“The discovery is considered to be unique,” University of Malta researcher Timothy Gambin said in an interview with the Times of Malta, “because it is the oldest shipwreck in the central Mediterranean and it is in a fantastic state of preservation.” Gambin says the technical team is now working on compiling the data gathered in their fieldwork and creating a very high-resolution 3D model of the site based on more than 8,000 photographs taken of the wreck. They are also continuing to study the samples raised to the surface.

“It’s an important reference point for the entire central Mediterranean,” a Maltese culture minister told the Times of Malta of the shipwreck. “It is a point where we can understand interregional trade and exchange in antiquity.” Researchers hope to find additional artifacts and portions of the ship, and the government of Malta plans to disclose the location of the wreck after all work at the site has been completed and relics have been recovered. The government plans to add the shipwreck to its national inventory of cultural properties and eventually make it accessible to the public.

2,700 Year Old Phoenician Shipwreck Discovered]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:16:06 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.10.16. - Divers Excavate Greek Shipwreck Dubbed “Ancient Titanic”]]>
In the spring of 1900, a group of Greek sponge divers were returning from North Africa when they were blown off course during a storm and forced to take shelter near the small island of Antikythera, located between Crete and Kythera in the Aegean Sea. While looking for clams for a meal, one of the divers discovered the remains of an ancient shipwreck, some 55 meters beneath the surface.

Subsequent excavations of the site yielded an astonishing haul, including bronze and marble statues, jewelry, furniture and glassware. Most notably, the divers recovered the fragments of an ancient mechanical device that would be dubbed the “Antikythera Mechanism.” Until the late 1950s, it lay in the National Museum in Athens, mistakenly identified as an astrolabe, a primitive instrument used to tell time and make astronomical measurements. But thanks to scholarly research, it is now thought to be an ancient “computer,” built to calculate the movements of stars and planets in order to predict astronomical events such as eclipses.

By dating coins and other recovered items, archaeologists were able to estimate that the loaded ship most likely crashed during a storm while on its way along an ancient shipping route from the coast of Asia Minor to Rome between 70 and 60 B.C. At the time, the glorious Greek civilization was on the decline after the Roman conquest of Greek cities.

Early explorations of the Antikythera site proved too risky to continue after one diver died of the bends and two more were paralyzed. Though famed explorer Jacques Cousteau would revisit the wreck in the 1970s, it remained undisturbed for decades after that, prompting long-running speculation as to what treasures still lay beneath the sea. Now, with the help of state-of-the-art technology, an international team of divers and archaeologists has carried out new investigations of the Antikythera shipwreck, yielding a number of stunning finds.

To begin with, the new team found remnants of the ancient ship strewn over some 1,000 feet of seafloor, a much larger area than the original divers realized. They also recovered planks that formed part of the ship’s hull, along with several lead anchors measuring more than three feet long. These components, along with the larger area of the wreck, suggest that the ship was much longer than previously believed, perhaps stretching up to 160 feet. “The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered,” said Brendan Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, who co-led the excavation efforts, in a press release “It’s the Titanic of the ancient world.”

The excavation team also recovered a bronze rigging ring with fragments of wood still attached, an intact table jug and the ornate leg of a bed, among other artifacts. The most remarkable object they found, however, was a bronze spear measuring 6.5 feet long. Foley and his colleagues believe that the spear may have been part of a statue of a warrior or the goddess Athena, or perhaps of an even larger horse-and-chariot sculpture. Divers on the original excavation in 1901 discovered four marble horses in the wreck, which Foley suggests could have originally been part of such a sculpture, accompanied by a warrior riding in a chariot and carrying the spear in his hand.

As the wreck is too deep to reach using regular scuba equipment, the divers used rebreather technology, which cleans carbon dioxide from exhaled air while introducing and recirculating oxygen, allowing divers to stay under for up to three hours at a time. The project also saw the first-ever use of a new robotic diving apparatus called the Exosuit, which allows its occupant to stay down up to 50 hours. The team plans to return to Antikythera next year to conduct further excavations, in the hopes that even more treasures still lurk beneath the seafloor. As team co-leader Theotokis Theodoulou of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities puts it: “We have a lot of work to do at this site to uncover its secrets.”

Divers Excavate Greek Shipwreck Dubbed &#8220;Ancient Titanic&#8221;]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:12:23 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.01.12. - Scientists Identify Scottish Fossil as Jurassic-Age “Marine Lizard”]]>
Somewhere during the Middle Jurassic, according to the fossil record, ichthyosaurs experienced a major shift, as smaller ichthyosaurs began to give way to larger, more advanced ones with bigger eyes. These larger ichthyosaurs then ruled the seas until some 95 million years ago, by which time the entire group had gone extinct. Though scientists don’t know why this transition occurred, they might have found a new clue thanks to fossils unearthed on Scotland’s Isle of Skye more than a half-century ago.

Though amateur fossil collector Brian Shawcross found an array of fossilized bones at Bearreraig Bay all the way back in 1959, and donated them to Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum in the 1990s, researchers have only now identified some of the fossils—including back, tail and fin bones—as belonging to a new species of ichthyosaur that lived some 170 million years ago. According to a team of paleontologists led by scientists from Edinburgh University, the newly identified ichthyosaur helps to fill the gap in the fossil record in the Middle Jurassic period (about 176 million to 161 million years ago).

In a study published on Monday in the Scottish Journal of Geology, the scientists describe the new species for the first time. The remains they examined were incomplete, but they believe the dolphin-like predator was about 14 feet (4.3 meters) long, making it one of the smaller, more primitive ichthyosaurs. It swam in the relatively warm, shallow waters around the Isle of Skye during the Jurassic period, and preyed on the fish and squid that made up its diet. Judging from the shape of a bone in its front flippers, which appears to be different from other known ichthyosaurs, researchers believe this species may have been an especially strong swimmer.

Though the earliest ichthyosaur fossils ever discovered were found in England, this is the first one to be unearthed in Scotland. Study co-author Stephen Brusatte, a paleontologist at the University of Edinburgh, told LiveScience that “It’s one of a select few specimens of that age in the world,” adding that “this is the first time we have something distinctly Scottish.” In addition to the new species, the researchers examining the Scottish fossils uncovered teeth they believe are from Ichthyosaurus communis, earlier found to be widespread in the limestone rocks on England’s southern coast.

The scientists have dubbed the new species of ichthyosaur Dearcmhara shawcrossi. Dearcmhara (pronounced “jark vara”) is a Scottish Gaelic word meaning “marine lizard.” By naming the creature in honor of Shawcross, the man who discovered the fossils, Brusatte and his colleagues hope to encourage more amateur fossil collectors to come forward with the potentially valuable specimens that may be hidden in their own private collections. As Brusatte told the Guardian: “What people find may be really important and it would be great if there was a way to preserve them for posterity. They are part of Scotland’s heritage.”

Scientists Identify Scottish Fossil as Jurassic-Age &#8220;Marine Lizard&#8221;]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:07:54 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.06.22. - 7 Things You Should Know About the Battle of Gettysburg]]> Following his victory at Chancellorsville, a confident Confederate General Robert E. Lee led his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River into Union territory in June 1863. Lee had invaded the North the prior year only to be repelled at Antietam, but on this occasion his army was at the peak of its strength as it pressed across the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. A victory at Gettysburg could have launched Confederate forces to Philadelphia, Baltimore or even Washington, DC. Instead, Lee’s army suddenly shifted from offense to defense after the defeat and 10 days later crossed back over the Potomac into Virginia. Never again would the Confederacy regain its momentum and push as deeply into Union territory, which is why many historians consider Gettysburg the “high water mark of the rebellion.”

2. The battle proved that the seemingly invincible Lee could be defeated.
While Lee had been fought to a draw at Antietam, the Union high command had yet to achieve a decisive victory over the Confederate general as the summer of 1863 began. In spite of being outnumbered, Lee had engineered significant victories at Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville among others. Meanwhile, Abraham Lincoln relieved a string of Union generals—George McClellan, Ambrose Burnside and Joseph Hooker—of command of the Army of the Potomac due to their failure to stop Lee’s army. Lincoln’s latest choice—General George Meade—had been installed just days before Gettysburg. Lee’s sterling record inspired complete trust in his troops and fear in his enemy. The Battle of Gettysburg, however, finally proved the bold general to be fallible.

3. Gettysburg stunted possible Confederate peace overtures.
Five days before the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, Confederate President Jefferson Davis dispatched Vice President Alexander Hamilton Stephens to negotiate a prisoner of war exchange with Lincoln under a flag of truce. Davis also gave Stephens license to proceed with broader peace negotiations. On July 4, Stephens sat aboard a boat in Chesapeake Bay awaiting permission to sail up the Potomac. Once news of victory at Gettysburg reached Lincoln, however, he denied the Confederate vice president’s request to pass through Union lines to come to Washington, DC, for negotiations.

4. The battle bolstered badly sagging Union morale.
The spirits of a war-weary North had reached a low ebb at the beginning of the summer of 1863. The Union had endured a string of losses, and now Lee had brought the war to their territory. A loss at Gettysburg could have devastated Union morale and pressured the Lincoln administration to negotiate a peace that would have resulted in two nations. Linked with news of the victory at Vicksburg on July 4, however, Gettysburg renewed public support for the war. Davis called Gettysburg the “most eventful struggle of the war” because “by it the drooping spirit of the North was revived.”

5. Gettysburg ended Confederate enslavement of free blacks from the North.
Thousands of slaves served in support roles for the Army of Northern Virginia, and as Lee’s army marched north into Pennsylvania, they seized as many as 500 African-Americans—some former slaves, some free their entire lives—and brought them back to Virginia to be sold into slavery. One resident of Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, reported seeing some of the town’s African Americans “driven by just like we would drive cattle,” and at least one Confederate brigade threatened to burn down any Union house that harbored a fugitive slave.

6. The battle led to the Gettysburg Address in which Lincoln redefined the Civil War as a struggle for freedom and democracy.
Land preservation efforts began immediately after the Battle of Gettysburg and resulted in a national cemetery, consecrated by Lincoln on November 19, 1863. In a mere 272 words, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address recast the war as not merely a struggle to maintain the Union, but as a battle for larger human ideals. Lincoln called for “a new birth of freedom” and asserted that the survival of democracy itself was at stake. He told his countrymen that the task remaining was to ensure “that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

7. The battle forever transformed the town of Gettysburg.
Prior to the Civil War, Gettysburg had been a prosperous village that supported two small colleges. After the battle, however, it would forever be seared by the memories of the slaughter. In the battle’s immediate aftermath, corpses outnumbered residents of the village of just over 2,000 by four to one. While it took years for the town to recover from the trauma, the first pilgrims arrived just days after the guns fell silent. In his book Gettysburg: The Last Invasion, Allen C. Guelzo reports that hundreds of people arrived by wagon just two days after the battle to see the carnage for themselves and that by August 1863 visitors could be found picnicking on Little Round Top amid shallow graves and rotting bodies of dead horses. Striking the balance between battlefield preservation and commercial development remains a constant debate in Gettysburg.

7 Things You Should Know About the Battle of Gettysburg]]>
Tue, 27 Jan 2015 15:05:32 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.12.29. - Encampment Discovered Near Stonehenge Could “Rewrite British History,” Experts Say]]>
“British pre-history may have to be rewritten,” archaeologist and dig leader David Jacques said in a University of Buckingham press release. “This is the latest-dated Mesolithic encampment ever found in the UK. Blick Mead site connects the early hunter gatherer groups returning to Britain after the Ice Age to the Stonehenge area all the way through to the Neolithic in the late 5th Millennium B.C.”

For years, archeologists believed that the area surrounding Stonehenge was largely uninhabited before its construction, but the Blick Mead encampment is fresh proof that the region may have already been a prehistoric meeting place. The site is nestled near a bend in the River Avon, which would have served as a vital waterway in ancient Britain, and it contained a valuable natural spring. The team also found evidence of ancient feasting in the form of auroch carcasses—giant extinct cattle that were once a cherished staple of the hunter-gatherer diet. The animal bones and other evidence suggest that the region held special significance even before the building of Stonehenge, and that its later residents may have been responsible for hoisting the first stones on the Salisbury Plain as a monument to their ancestors.

Blick Mead, also known as “Vespasian’s Camp,” has previously proven to be a treasure trove of artifacts related to the early history of Stonehenge. A 2013 dig led by Jacques uncovered thousands of tools and established the nearby town of Amesbury as the oldest continually habited site in England. According to Jacques, these discoveries link the encampment to hunter-gatherer groups that migrated to Britain after the Ice Age—a time when England was still connected to the European continent by a landmass known as Doggerland. “The site is the repository of the earliest British stories,” he told The Times, “connecting a time when the country was joined to the mainland to it becoming the British Isles for the first time.”

David Jacques examines artifcat from the site
Despite the historical importance of Blick Mead, many are now concerned that further study of the site could be threatened by new road construction plans in the Stonehenge region. Cars zipping along the nearby A303 highway have long been considered an eyesore for visitors to the monument, and earlier this month, the British government announced that it would reduce traffic and noise pollution by building a 1.8-mile-long underground tunnel. English Heritage and the National Trust—the groups that manage the Stonehenge World Heritage Site—have hailed the project as a breakthrough for tourism, but critics warn that the tunnel could become a kind of dam that would drastically change the area’s water table and cause irrevocable damage to sites such as Blick Mead.

Director of the Council for British Archeology Mike Heyworth told the Guardian that the proposed building plan “would have major implications for the archaeology—we should be asking whether a major expansion of the roads network at Stonehenge just to meet traffic needs is the most appropriate way to deal with such a site.” David Jacques reserved even harsher criticism for the project. “Our only chance to find out about the earliest chapter of Britain’s history could be wrecked if the tunnel goes ahead,” he said. “[British Prime Minister David Cameron] is interested in re-election in 140 days—we are interested in discovering how our ancestors lived six thousand years ago.”

Amid the controversy, archaeologists remain hopeful that further digging at Blick Mead will fill in crucial gaps in their understanding of Stonehenge. More than a million visitors flock to marvel at the monument each year, yet researchers still know frustratingly little about how or why it was built. A wealth of graves and bones in the region suggest that ancient Britons may have used it as a burial site for their revered dead, but other theories have speculated that the stone arrangements may have been a place of healing or even a giant astronomical calendar. For Professor Jacques, the newly discovered encampment could be the key to finally unlocking the monument’s millennia-old secrets. “Blick Mead could explain what archaeologists have been searching for for centuries,” he said, “an answer to the story of Stonehenge’s past.”]]>
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:51:00 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.01.06. - China’s First Kingdom Likely Fell Victim to Rapid Desert Formation]]>
Archaeologists have excavated Hongshan sites all around northern China. According to researchers, the Hongshan were responsible for some of the earliest known examples of jade-working in China, including a fishlike jade creature believed to be the first Chinese symbol to resemble a dragon. Indeed, jade artifacts have sometimes been the only items found inside Hongshan tombs, indicating the importance of jade to their culture.

In their quest to understand more about the Hongshan culture, the researchers in the new study took a closer look at the desert belt located in northern China, specifically a region known as the Hunshandake Sandy Lands of Inner Mongolia, located some 185 miles (300 kilometers) west of Liaoning. Though earlier research concluded that the northern Chinese deserts date back some 1 million years, the new study’s findings suggest that the desert of Hunshandake is only about 4,000 years old.

The researchers found numerous and varied remnants of pottery and stone artifacts dating to the Hongshan era in Hunshandake, suggesting that the region was home to a dense population dependent on hunting and fishing for its livelihood. By analyzing changes to the environment and landscape of Hunshandake over the past 10,000 years, they found that rivers and lakes once dominated the region’s terrain, and that relatively deep water existed there between 5,000 and 9,000 years ago, along with vegetation including spruce, fir, birch, pine and oak trees.

Beginning about 4,200 years ago, the researchers found, a dramatic transformation occurred. According to their findings, published this week in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, more than 7,770 square miles (20,000 square km) of the Hunshandake area rapidly dried up and turned into desert. The scientists suggest that a river permanently diverted water from the region, around the same time that a major climactic shift worldwide created severe droughts on all the continents in the Northern Hemisphere. As study co-author Louis Scuderi, a paleoclimatologist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told LiveScience: “We think this drying happened in northern China as well, but was augmented by massive amounts of water getting diverted away from the area.”

Though the Hongshan have typically been seen as a remote culture far removed from the main cradle of the Chinese civilization in the Yellow River valley region, Scuderi and his colleagues say their conclusions suggest they may have been more important to the course of Chinese history than previously believed. The rapid desertification of Hunshandake, the researchers believe, devastated the Hongshan kingdom. As a consequence, its displaced members likely migrated throughout the rest of China, where they may have played an influential role in the birth of later Chinese civilizations.]]>
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:47:53 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.01.05. - Archaeologists Discover Egyptian Tombs Belonging to Osiris and a Long-Forgotten Queen]]>
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh al-Damaty said in a statement that “This discovery will help us shed light on certain unknown aspects of the Fifth Dynasty, which along with the Fourth Dynasty, witnessed the construction of the first pyramids.” Inside the newly excavated tomb, the archaeologists discovered several statuettes, along with 30 utensils of limestone and copper, among the funerary objects buried with the queen.

The Egyptian god Osiris
In another stunning discovery, also announced this weekend, a team of Spanish-Italian archaeologists excavating a tomb located on Luxor’s west bank in the Al-Gorna necropolis identified it as a symbolic resting place for Osiris, the Egyptian god of the dead and ruler of the afterlife and the underworld. The site, which dates to the 25th Dynasty (around 700 B.C.) was apparently modeled on an actual royal tomb, and contains multiple shafts and chambers. From its main room—a large hall with five pillars—a staircase descends into a funerary complex with a carving of Osiris. In an adjoining chamber, a relief on the wall depicts demons wielding knives, which the archaeologists speculate may have been intended as guardian-like figures. Several more chambers are located deeper the complex, two of which are filled with debris but have yet to be excavated.

Egyptian authorities have stated that the archaeologist Philippe Virey discovered part of the tomb in the 1880s, but its significance remained unknown and the main chambers are only being excavated now. The burial site may have been modeled on a more famous Osirion tomb in Abydos, Sohag. Like that one, the newly excavated tomb at Al-Gorna is thought to have been used for rituals linking the ruling pharaohs to the powers of Osiris.

According to legend, Osiris was murdered by his brother and rival god Seth, who tore his corpse into 14 pieces and scattered them across Egypt. The winged goddess Isis, Osiris’ consort, found 13 of the 14 pieces (she replaced his phallus with a gold one) and buried them. Through her efforts, Osiris was brought back to life, and thereafter ruled as lord and judge of the underworld. Meanwhile, Osiris’ son Horus avenged his father’s death, defeating Seth to become king of the gods. This mythology played a central role in the Egyptian concept of divine kingship: When a pharaoh died, he was believed to become Osiris, while the dead king’s son, the living king, was identified with Horus.]]>
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:45:10 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.01.09. - Searching for Genghis Khan’s tomb]]>
On August 18, 1227, Mongol leader Genghis Khan died from unknown causes while leading a military campaign in China. According to legend, Khan’s soldiers murdered anyone who witnessed his funeral procession back to the Mongol capital of Karakorum, as well as the 2,000 people who attended his funeral, before being executed themselves on the orders of Khan’s successors.

The area where historians suspect Genghis Khan may be buried (in an unmarked grave) is considered sacred land for Mongolians; its name, Ikh Khorig, translates to “the Great Taboo.” The first archaeological expedition of the region in 800 years took place in 1989, and though it identified more than 1,300 underground sites that might be graves, none of these sites have been excavated due to hostile public opposition.

Genghis Khan founded the Mongol Empire and became one of the most feared conquerors of all time.

Beginning in 2010, a team led by Albert Yu-Min Lin, a research scientist at the University of California, San Diego, embarked on an innovative—but less invasive—approach to solving this long-running mystery. Via the Internet, Lin’s Valley of the Khans project invited interested members of the public to join the search for Khan’s tomb by visiting a National Geographic website and scanning thousands of high-resolution images of Mongolia taken from orbital satellites. As part of this “virtual exploration,” the scientists asked volunteers to flag known features and sites–including roads, rivers and any ancient or modern structures–as well as anything out of the ordinary in the landscape.

Now, in a recent issue of the journal PLOS One, Lin and his colleagues have shared the study’s initial results. They reveal that in the first six months of the project, more than 10,000 volunteers spent a total of some 30,000 hours (the equivalent of 3.4 years) scanning the images, which covered a total of roughly 2,300 square miles of land. After the “explorers” tagged more than 2.3 million sites, researchers then narrowed the list to only 100 accessible locations, and a field team verified 55 of those with archaeological significance. Some of these are thought to be gravesites spanning the Bronze Age to the Mongol era, though it appears none are Khan’s actual tomb.

Though it’s not certain what the next steps are for the virtual exploration project, the study authors believe the work done so far has clear potential to aid further in the search for Khan’s tomb, as well as for other sensitive locations. “These crowdsourcing activities help us dive into the unknown and extract the unexpected,” Lin and his colleagues write. “However, beyond that they present a fundamental new construct for how we, as a digitally constructed society, interact with information.”]]>
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:41:16 +0100
<![CDATA[2015.01.14. - Scientists Say Language May Have Evolved to Help Toolmakers]]>

As it’s impossible to track words and linguistic ability directly through the archaeological record, scientists have previously attempted to study the evolution of language through “proxy indicator” skills, such as early art or the ability to make more sophisticated tools. The authors of the new study, a team of scientists led by Thomas Morgan, a psychologist at the University of California, Berkeley, took a different approach. Rather than consider toolmaking solely a proxy for language ability, the team explored how language might help modern humans learn to make tools using the same techniques their early ancestors did.

In the experiment, the scientists took 184 volunteers—students from the University of St. Andrews in the United Kingdom—and broke them into five groups; archaeologists then instructed the first person in the technique known as Oldowan stone-knapping. Oldowan tools, named for the famous Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, where archaeologists Louis and Mary Leakey discovered the implements in the 1930s, were widespread among early humans between 2.5 and 1.8 million years ago. The technique consisted of striking a stone “hammer” against a stone “core” to flake off pieces and create a sharp edge that could be used to cut, chop and scrape; the flakes themselves were also sharp enough to use for cutting plants and butchering animals.

Each of the five groups proceeded in different ways: In the first, a pair of volunteers were simply given the stone “core,” a hammer and some examples of flakes, then told to go about their business without guidance. In the second group, the second student learned how to make the tools by simply watching his fellow volunteer (who had been taught the technique) and trying to duplicate his actions without communication. In the third, the volunteers showed each other what they were doing but with no talking or gesturing. The fourth group was allowed to gesture and point, while in the fifth group, the “teacher” was allowed to say whatever he or she wanted to the other volunteers. In the next round of the experiment, the learner became the teacher, creating five different “chains” of transmission; in all, the volunteers produced more than 6,000 stone flakes.

According to the results of the study, published this week in the journal Nature Communications, the first group predictably had very little success when left to their own devices. What was striking, however, was that performance improved very little among those who simply watched their fellow volunteers make the tools. Only those who were allowed to gesture and talk while teaching performed significantly better than the baseline the scientists had established. By one measurement, gesturing doubled the likelihood that a student would produce a viable stone flake in a single strike, while verbal teaching quadrupled that likelihood.

Taking their results into consideration, researchers concluded that early humans might have developed the beginnings of spoken language–known as a proto-language–in order to successfully teach and pass along the ability to make the stone tools they needed for their survival. Such capacity to communicate would have been necessary, they suggest, for our ancestors to make the rapid leap from the Oldowan toolmaking process to more advanced stone tools, which occurred around 2 million years ago.

Dietrich Stout, an archaeologist at Emory University in Atlanta, praised the new study’s innovation, telling Science magazine that “a major strength of the paper is that it adopts an experimental approach to questions that have otherwise largely been addressed through intuition or common sense.” Still, Stout and other scientists urge caution before taking the study’s conclusions at face value without more direct proof. For one thing, the study’s conclusions don’t take into account that the modern volunteers have grown up with language, so it could be expected that they would learn more effectively with it than without; this may not have been true for early humans.]]>
Mon, 26 Jan 2015 19:37:45 +0100
<![CDATA[2014.12.24. - Mysterious Ghost Ship Rediscovered Near Hawaii]]>
A small submersible vehicle came upon the shipwreck last year, researchers at the University of Hawaii announced today (Dec. 5). Despite being torpedoed after World War II, many parts of the ship, including the ship's wheel, are still in their original locations.

"The upper deck structures from the bow to the stern were well-preserved and showed no sign of torpedo damage," Terry Kerby, a submersible pilot with the university's Hawai'i Undersea Research Laboratory, said in a statement.

Vast submarine network

The ship, then called the Dickenson, first set sail in early 1923 as part of a fleet of ships that maintained the growing submarine telecommunications network at the time. The ship set out from Chester, Pennsylvania, as part of the Commercial Pacific Cable Company fleet, and arrived in Hawaii in July of that year.

The Dickenson ferried supplies and patched up cables at the remote Midway and Fanning Islands from 1923 to 1941. Then, soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the Dickenson evacuated British employees of the telecommunications company Cable and Wireless Ltd., from Midway Island, ferrying them back to Oahu. Some of the evacuees even spotted a submarine tailing their ship, before American ships chased it away.

During the war, the Midway Island telecommunications hub stopped functioning, and the Dickenson was renamed the U.S.S. Kailua and was sent to maintain cables in other locales in the South Pacific.

After the war, the ship returned to Pearl Harbor, but neither the Navy nor its original owners wanted it. On Feb. 7, 1946, the ship was torpedoed and sunk into the deep waters off Oahu, but no one recorded its final resting place.]]>
Thu, 01 Jan 2015 19:25:09 +0100