Tag Archives: archaeology

Man who lived 700 years ago gets brand-new face

(Credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

(Credit: Dr. Chris Rynn, University of Dundee)

Gizmodo calls his face “haunting,” but to UK researchers, seeing the mug of the man known as Context 958 is nothing short of astounding. His visage was revealed at the two-week-long Cambridge Science Festival this month, as were details about who he was: in short, a 13th-century working-class man who died in middle age, had apparently lived a life of indigence, and whose face was reconstructed by scientists based on his teeth and bones, per a Cambridge press release.

Context 958’s skeleton, analyzed as part of the university’s “After the Plague” project, was discovered along with about 400 others between 2010 and 2012 in a medieval-era graveyard underneath one of the college’s schools.

The bodies, which date from the 1200s to the 1400s, came from the Hospital of St. John the Evangelist, which used to exist across from the cemetery.

Context 958, who was found buried face-down in his burial spot, is believed to have been a few ticks older than 40 and boasted a “robust skeleton with a lot of wear and tear,” which means he likely had a physically challenging job, says Cambridge professor John Robb.

However, unlike others who lived in poverty, Context 958 appears to have chowed down on meat and fish, suggesting that he worked in a specialized niche that gave him access to this ample food supply.

What makes the discovery of his body and others in the same demographic notable, Robb says, is that it gives researchers a chance to study how the poor lived in England more than 700 years ago.

“The less money and property you had, the less likely anybody was to ever write down anything about you,” he notes. (This living man’s face was reconstructed using 3D printing.)

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A farmer’s story of moles could have led to lost city

(Stuart Wilson)

(Stuart Wilson)

Stuart Wilson says people thought he was crazy when he gambled $39,000—his life savings—on a 4.6-acre field in Wales. Having heard a farmer’s story about moles digging up bits of pottery on the land, the amateur archaeologist tells the Guardian he had a hunch that something important lay beneath, and when the parcel went on the market in 2004, he bought it.

Now, it looks like his bet is paying off: He believes his land is sitting atop the lost city of Trellech—Wales’ largest city in the 13th century, reports the BBC—and the Guardian reports his theory is starting to gain traction.

Wilson, a former toll collector who got his undergrad degree in archaeology, estimates the project has cost more than $200,000, funded in part through donations (you can be an archaeologist for a day for $61).

With help from some 1,000 volunteers, Wilson says he has so far discovered eight buildings, and he intends to spend 2017 working on the remains of what he believes is a manor house surrounded by a moat.

In 2006, he told Archaeology.org that excavating the field “will probably take about 50 years, so basically the rest of my life.” As for the history of the site, it was founded by the de Clare family in the 1200s as a hub that produced iron weapons and armor, and its population exploded.

Per Wilson, in just 25 years it grew to 10,000 people—a quarter of London’s size, though Wilson points out it took London 250 years to amass its 40,000 people.

The BBC reports the de Clares’ settlement is thought to have been destroyed in 1296. (Read about the seven biggest archaeology finds of 2016.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Man Follows Hunch, Says He Has Uncovered Lost City

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Sickle-wearing skeletons reveal ancient fear of demons

DIGGING HISTORY

In addition to the sickle placed at her neck, the teenage girl seems to have been buried with a copper headband and a copper coin.

In addition to the sickle placed at her neck, the teenage girl seems to have been buried with a copper headband and a copper coin. (Polcyn et al. Antiquity 2015, DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2015.129)

How do you keep a demon from disturbing the living? A blade to the throat should do the trick.

A few skeletons unearthed in a 400-year-old Polish cemetery have been discovered with sickles placed around their necks. Archaeologists believe this strange burial practice is evidence of a belief in magic and a fear of demons.

The sickle burials were found at Drawsko cemetery, a site in northeastern Poland that dates from the 17th to the 18th centuries. Archaeologists, including Marek Polcyn, a visiting scholar at Lakehead University in Canada, have excavated more than 250 graves there since 2008.

Among those graves were four skeletons with sickles placed at their throats, and a fifth skeleton with a sickle placed over its hips. Previously, these burials had been described as “vampire” burials, with the sickles interpreted as a way to prevent the dead from reanimating and terrorizing the living. But in a new study detailed in the journal Antiquity, Polcyn and co-author Elzbieta Gajda, of the Muzeum Ziemi Czarnkowskiej, now reject that characterization. (“We deliberately dismiss the interpretation of a revenant (i.e. vampire),” isn’t something you read in an academic paper every day.) [See Photos of the Sickle Burials at Drawsko Cemetery]

Instead, the archaeologists prefer to use the blanket term “anti-demonic” to talk about these burials, partly because vampires weren’t the only kinds of evil incarnations of the dead, according to traditional folk beliefs in the region. But also, the sickle graves were afforded funerary privileges that weren’t usually extended to “vampires” buried elsewhere: They were given Christian burials in sacred ground alongside other members of the community, and their corpses do not appear to have been desecrated or mutilated.

In another sign that the people buried with sickles probably were not outsiders, scientists who studied chemical signatures locked in the teeth of these corpses found that all five individuals were locals. (They published those results in apaper in PLOS ONE last year.)

“The magical and ritual meaning of this gesture seems beyond doubt,” Polcyn and Gajda wrote, adding, however, that the sickle might have had more than one ritualistic meaning. The tool may have been intended to keep the dead in their graves under the threat of cutting their throat, but it also might have been used to prevent evil forces from tormenting their souls. What’s more, the use of a tool made of iron, which had to undergo a transformation in fire, could symbolize the passage from life to death, the authors wrote. [7 Strange Ways Humans Act Like Vampires]

Even though Christianity was the dominant religion in Poland at the time this cemetery was used, traditions from old Slavic pagan faith and folk belief systems still existed, including a belief in demons. Besides the sickles, there is not much that makes these graves unique, so the scientists aren’t sure exactly what about these people made them demonic. They may have been thought to have supernatural powers in life, or they might have had physical characteristics considered suspicious (which might have included “an exceptionally hairy body,” a unibrow, a large head and a red complexion, the authors said, citing traditional Polish folklore).

These people also might have died in a traumatic fashion, without any time for the appropriate rites and rituals to make for a smooth spiritual transition into death — a concept some archaeologists call a “bad death.” While some of the people buried with sickles may have simply died of old age, one of them, a girl, died as a teenager. The authors speculated that she might have met a violent and untimely end, perhaps through drowning, suicide or murder. Unfortunately for archaeologists, however, this death didn’t leave its mark on the girl’s bones.

Polcyn and Gajda wrote that they hope further scientific tests on the corpses, such as biomolecular analyses, will help them understand more specifically what led the dead in Drawsko to be buried with sickles.

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Archaeologists find rare writing, and then it vanishes

RareInscription.jpg

Inscriptions on the walls of the ritual bath. (Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists digging for ruins ahead of a new construction project in Jerusalem made an incredible discovery—that immediately began to vanish. During the last hours of a “salvage excavation” two months ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old ritual bath when a stone suddenly disappeared into a black hole, reports Haaretz.

That hole turned out to be the remains of the bath, accessible by a stone staircase, which includes an anteroom with benches and a winepress. Carved into a natural stone cave, the bath itself wasn’t so unusual, but the graffiti that covered the plaster walls was.

Archaeologists were therefore horrified to find the Aramaic inscriptions and paintings in mud and soot, dating to the Second Temple era from 530BC to 70AD, per Discovery News, disappearing within hours of their discovery.

“The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them,” the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved.

Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to “served” and the name “Cohen.” Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus.

The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo. An IAA rep says graffiti in baths may have been “common, but not usually preserved.” (Another recent find: the remnants of a “treasured landmark” destroyed by the Nazis.)

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New discovery fills gap in ancient Jerusalem history

hasmonean-walls

Archaeologists think construction on this ancient building started in the early second century B.C. and continued into the Hasmonean period. (Israeli Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists have discovered the first ruins of a building from the Hasmonean period in Jerusalem, filling a gap in the ancient city’s history, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced.

The building’s remains were uncovered during an extensive dig at the Givati Parking Lot, located in Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhood, the City of David. Excavations over several years at the site have turned up some remarkable finds, including a building from the Second Temple period that may have belonged to Queen Helene, a trove of coins from the Byzantine period, and recently, a 1,700-year-old curse tablet in the ruins of a Roman mansion.

Despite extensive excavations in Jerusalem, IAA archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said there has been an absence of buildings from the Hasmonean period in the city’s archaeological record. Simon Maccabeus founded the Hasmonean dynasty in 140 B.C. This group ruled Judea until 37 B.C., when Herod the Great came into power. [In Photos: The Controversial ‘Tomb of Herod the Great’]

“Apart from several remains of the city’s fortifications that were discovered in different parts of Jerusalem, as well as pottery and other small finds, none of the Hasmonean city’s buildings have been uncovered so far, and this discovery bridges a certain gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence,” excavators Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said in a statement. “The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression.”

Flavius Josephus recounted Jewish history and the Jewish revolt against the Romans in his first century A.D. books “The Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews.” Some archaeologists have used his texts to guide their work and interpretations. For example, excavators who recently found cooking pots and a lamp in an underground chamber in Jerusalem think these objects could be material evidence of Josephus’ account of famine during the Roman siege of the city.

IAA officials said the Hasmonean building has only come to light in recent months, adding that the structure boasts quite impressive dimensions. It rises 13 feet (4 meters) and covers 688 square feet (64 square meters) with limestone walls more than 3 feet (1 m) thick.

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2M-year-old find may be ancient ‘playground’

2M-year-old find may be ancient 'playground'

Have archaeologists found an ancient playground? (stock photo) (AP Photo/The Tampa Bay Times, Edmund D. Fountain, Pool)

An investigation into what appears to be a nearly 2 million-year-old site in China’s Hebei province suggests the spot served an important purpose: fun. The South China Morning Post compares the dig site to a “playground” for ancient hominids, noting that it was home to some 700 stone objects and 20,000 fragments; some may well have been kids’ toys, believes lead researcher Wei Qi.

He speculates that the objects, most less than two inches long, were made by children and their mothers. “You can almost feel the maker’s love and passion,” says Wei of one piece he describes as “beautifully shaped.” The other bits of evidence supporting his playground theory: The remains of animals or large tools in the area are scarce, suggesting it’s not where hominids lived and a limited number of adults toiled there.

The site is part of the Nihewan basin, which has been the source of a vast trove of ancient discoveries since 1921, Ancient Origins reports.

What’s also relatively new is the dating of the site, carried out by studying its magnetic properties. Results suggesting it dates to between 1.77 million and 1.95 million years ago could make it older than the Dmanisi site in Georgia, which UNESCO calls the “most ancient” in Eurasia.

But outside researchers have their doubts about the playground theory: “It is difficult to rule out the possibility that (the objects) were just stone fragments created by natural forces,” says one.

If the discoveries really were made by hominids more than 1.8 million years ago—when the first hominid is though to have left Africa—it could change the story of human origins, the Week notes.

(A recently discovered jawbone is also challenging such conceptions.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: 2M-Year-Old Stones May Have Belonged to Children

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Excavation at Oregon site unearths ancient stone tool

oreg-stone-tool.jpg

This undated photo provided by the University of Oregon Museum of Natural and Cultural History shows a scraper chipped out of agate found at an ancient rock shelter in the high desert of eastern Oregon. (AP)

Archaeologists unearthed a stone tool at an ancient rock shelter in Oregon that could be older than any known site of human occupation in western North America.

The hand-held scraper was chipped from a piece of orange agate that is not normally found in eastern Oregon. The tool was found about eight niches below a layer of volcanic ash from an eruption of Mount St. Helen’s dated from about 15,000 years ago. The depth was about 12 feet below the surface.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced the find Thursday. An archaeologist from the agency, Scott Thomas, said that if the age of the site holds up to scrutiny, it would be the oldest west of the Rockies, predating the Clovis culture that is believed to be the first people to migrate from Asia to North America about 13,000 years ago.

University of Oregon archaeologist Patrick O’Grady supervises the dig at the Rimrock Draw Rockshelter. He called the find “tantalizing,” but hopes to find out if the volcanic ash covers the entire area.

Donald K. Grayson, professor of archaeology at the University of Washington, said the scientific community would be skeptical.

“No one is going to believe this until it is shown there was no break in that ash layer, that the artifact could not have worked its way down from higher up, and until it is published in a convincing way,” he said. “Until then, extreme skepticism is all they are going to get.”

Two pre-Clovis sites are generally accepted by scientists, Grayson said. One is Paisley Cave, 60 miles southwest of the Rimrock site and another is in Mount Verde, Chile. Both are dated about 1,000 years before the oldest Clovis sites.

The find has yet to be submitted to a scientific journal for publication, but it has been reported in newsletters and at conferences, Thomas said.

Thomas found the site several years ago, while taking a break from carrying supplies to a session of the University of Oregon Archaeological Field School nearby that O’Grady was overseeing.

Thomas said he noticed an outcropping of an ancient lava flow, with some very tall sage brush growing in front of it, indicating very deep sediment deposits. The soil was black in front of the rock, indicating someone regularly built cooking fires there for a long time. An ancient streambed ran by, which would have given people more reason to stay there. And on the surface, he found a stone point of the stemmed type, found at sites both older and younger than Clovis. Similar points have been found at Paisley Cave.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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