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Burst water pipe reveals century-old Crusader murals in Jerusalem

LiveScience

painted-storeroom-140513

Rediscovered late-1800s paintings in a storeroom in Saint-Louis Hospice, a Jerusalem hospital built by a prominant Christian.Israel Antiquities Authority

Wall murals portraying Crusader knights and symbols of medieval military orders have been rediscovered in a Jerusalem hospital thanks to a burst water pipe and a storeroom reorganization.

These paintings were the works of a French count, Comte Marie Paul Amde de Piellat, who believed himself to be a descendant of Crusaders. The count was a frequent visitor to Jerusalem and had the Saint-Louis Hospice built between 1879 and 1896, naming it after St. Louis IX, a king of France and leader of the Seventh Crusade between A.D. 1248 and 1254.

During World War I, however, the hospital came under the control of Turkish forces, who painted over the designs with black paint. The count returned to Jerusalem to restore his murals, but died in the hospital in 1925, his work undone. [See Images of the Rediscovered Murals]

A beautiful discovery
More recently, the nuns who run the hospital found some of the forgotten wall paintings while reorganizing storerooms in the building, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA). A burst water pipe also stripped away modern paint and plaster, revealing more sections of the paintings.

IAA conservators are now working to clean and stabilize the paintings, and are looking for funds to continue the preservation work. There are no plans to turn the paintings into a tourist attraction, however, as the hospital is still in use for chronic and terminally ill patients. Sisters of the order of St. Joseph of the Apparition run the facility.

De Piellat was a devout Christian who wanted to boost the Catholic presence in Jerusalem at a time when multiple religious factions vied for influence in the city. His two-story hospital replaced a smaller medical facility in the city’s Christian Quarter. For Saint-Louis, de Piellat chose a location where the Norman king Tancred and his forces camped before storming Jerusalem in A.D. 1099, during the First Crusade. Today, the hospital is next to the Jerusalem municipal building and IDF square, which is on the dividing line between Israeli-dominated West Jerusalem and heavily Palestinian East Jerusalem.

Artistic history
The murals themselves are enormous paintings of Crusader knights dressed in full battle gear. The count also painted the names and genealogy of the families of French Crusaders, including their heraldry symbols. The murals are further decorated with symbols of military and monastic orders and cities conquered in the Crusades.

At the time de Piellat was working, the city was under the control of the Ottoman Turks. During the upheaval of World War I, the Turks took control of the building, according to the IAA, and painted over the Christian murals. The British captured Jerusalem from the Turks in 1917, at the end of the war.

De Piellat returned to his beloved hospital after the war and worked to restore his murals. After his death in 1925, however, no one took up his fallen paintbrush, and the unrestored murals were mostly forgot

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‘Swamp monster’ skull found in Texas

‘Swamp monster’ skull found in Texas

By Stephanie Pappas

Published January 30, 2014

  • m-lottorum-skull-140129

    The skull of the phytosaur Machaeroprosopus lottorum. (Texas Tech University)

A toothy, long-nosed skull found in Texas belonged to a “swamp monster” that lived more than 200 million years ago.

The creature is a previously unknown type of phytosaur, an extinct creature that hunted fish and other prey along the shallow edges of rivers and lakes. Dubbed Machaeroprosopus lottorum, the phytosaur probably measured about 18 feet long.

“They had basically the same lifestyle as the modern crocodile, by living in and around the water, eating fish, and whatever animals came to the margins of the rivers and lakes,” study researcher Bill Mueller, assistant curator of paleontology at the Museum of Texas Tech University, said in a statement. [Predator X: See Images of Ancient Monsters of the Sea]

Discovering something new Phytosaurs are a common find in the Cooper Canyon formation in Garza County, Texas, where the new species was discovered. This area is now dry and scrubby, but in the late Triassic, it was a conifer forest with fern underbrush and an oxbow lake where phytosaurs hunted.

In 2001, Doug Cunningham, a research field assistant at the Texas Tech museum, unearthed the new skull during a dig.

“When he found it, just the very back end of the skull was sticking out of the ground. The rest was buried,” Mueller said. “We excavated it and brought it into the museum to finish preparation.”

That preparation took years. Once the skull was out of the rock surrounding it, Mueller and his colleagues compared the features of the skull with other phytosaur skulls (more than 200 have been found in North America). They also analyzed another phytosaur skull, found 120 feet from the first.

They discovered that their specimens represented a male and female from a new species, which they named M. lottorum in honor of the Lott family, the owners of the ranch where the fossil was found.

Extinct monster Phytosaurs lived from about 230 million to 203 million years ago. They were one of the victims of the Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction, a huge die-off that wiped out many large land animals.

The new female’s skull is about 3 feet long, and she would have grown to be about 17 feet total length, Mueller said. The male would have been about a foot longer. M. lottorum‘s delicate snout suggests it ate mostly fish, and not more robust prey. It would have looked very much like an alligator or crocodile, but its nostrils were up near its eyes at the base of its snout, rather than at the end.

The researchers reported their findings in the September 2013 issue of the journal Earth and Environmental Science Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

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‘Meat mummies’ fed Egyptians after death

‘Meat mummies’ fed Egyptians after death

By Stephanie Pappas

Published November 19, 2013

LiveScience
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    Beef rib meat mummy from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuiu (1386-1349 BC). (PNAS)

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    Beef rib meat mummy from the tomb of Yuya and Tjuiu (1386-1349 BC). (PNAS)

Care for some ribs? The royal mummies of ancient Egypt apparently did, as a new study finds that “meat mummies” left in Egyptian tombs as sustenance for the afterlife were treated with elaborate balms to preserve them.

Mummified cuts of meat are common finds in ancient Egyptian burials, with the oldest dating back to at least 3300 B.C. The tradition extended into the latest periods of mummification in the fourth century A.D. The famous pharaoh King Tutankhamun went to his final resting place accompanied by 48 cases of beef and poultry.

But meat mummies have been mostly unstudied until now. University of Bristol biogeochemist Richard Evershed and his colleagues were curious about how these cuts were prepared. They also wondered if the mummification methods for meat differed from how Egyptians mummified people or pets.

The team analyzed four samples from meat mummies archived at the Cairo and British museums. The oldest was a rack of cattle ribs from the tomb of Tjuiu, an Egyptian noblewoman, and her courtier Yuya. The beef dates back to between 1386 B.C. and 1349 B.C. [Gallery: Scanning Mummies for Heart Disease]

The second sample dated to between 1064 B.C. and 948 B.C. and consisted of meat from a calf found in the tomb of Isetemkheb D, a sister and wife to a high priest in Thebes. The final two samples were from the tomb of a Theban priestess, Henutmehyt, who died around 1290 B.C. One of the meat mummies found in Henutmehyt’s tomb was duck, and the other was probably goat.

The researchers conducted a chemical analysis of the bandages or the meat itself in all four samples. They found that animal fat coated the bandages of the calf and goat mummies; in the case of the calf, the fat was on bandages not in contact with the meat, suggesting it had been smeared on as a preservative rather than seeping through as grease.

The most intriguing chemical profile appeared on the beef mummy, however. The bandaging around the mummy contained remnants of an elaborate balm made of fat or oil and resin from a Pistacia tree, a shrubby desert plant. This resin was a luxury item in ancient Egypt, Evershed and his colleagues report today (Nov. 18) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It was used as incense and varnish on high-quality coffins, but it was not used as a human mummification resin for at least 600 years after the deaths of Tjuiu and Yuya.

Nevertheless, it makes sense to see a sophisticated embalming substance on the beef cut, the researchers wrote. Yuya and Tjuiu were an Egyptian power couple and the parents of the wife of pharaoh Amenhotep III. As the queen’s parents, they would have merited a no-expenses-spared burial.

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Kraken rises: New fossil evidence of ‘sea monster’

Kraken rises: New fossil evidence of ‘sea monster’

By Stephanie Pappas

Nature’s Mysteries

Published November 01, 2013

LiveScience
  • Pirates of the Caribbean Kraken

    The Kraken destroys the Edinburgh Trader in the film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest.” (WALT DISNEY PICTURES)

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    This fossil discovered in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada may be part of the beak of an ancient giant cephalopod, such as an octopus or squid. (MARK MCMENAMIN)

DENVER –  Did a giant kraken troll the Triassic seas, crushing ichthyosaurs and arranging their bones into pleasing patterns?

It sounds like a Halloween tale, but researchers who first suggested the existence of this ancient sea monster in 2011 say they now have more evidence backing up their controversial theory. Not only have they discovered a second example of strangely arranged bones, they’ve found a fossil that appears to be the beak of an ancient squid or octopus.

“This was extremely good luck,” said Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts who presented his here Wednesday at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA). “This was finding the needle in the haystack, really.” [See Images of New ‘Kraken’ Fossils & Lair]

Still, the kraken theory has not gained widespread acceptance.

“A kraken isn’t really necessary,” said David Fastovsky, a paleontologist at the University of Rhode Island who attended McMenamin’s GSA presentation and penned a response to the evidence for the Paleontological Society. “Everything can be explained by much less exotic means.”

Kraken controversy
McMenamin caused a splash when he and his colleagues first floated the idea of the kraken at a GSA meeting in 2011. The evidence: A bizarre arrangement of vertebrae of the ichthyosaur Shonisaurus popularis found in Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park in Nevada.

‘When I saw that photograph, basically my eyeballs popped out.’

– Mark McMenamin, a paleontologist at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusett 

S. popularis was a school-bus-size, flippered marine reptile that lived during the Triassic period, 250 million to 200 million years ago. The bones of one of these ichthyosaurs were found in a strange linear pattern. McMenamin and his colleagues argued that they were arranged there by a giant cephalopod (an octopus or squid) playing with its food.

This hypothesis isn’t quite as out there as it may seem: Modern octopuses are known to manipulate bones, shells and other debris to form middens, concealing the entrances to their dens. And today’s giant squid are known to battle it out with sperm whales, as evidenced by tentacle scars found on whales and squid found in whale stomachs. The bone arrangements could be the earliest evidence of cephalopod intelligence, McMenamin said. [Release the Kraken! Giant Squid Photos]

Still, the idea engendered a lot of backlash. Glenn Storrs, the curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Cincinnati Museum Center, summed up the skepticism to LiveScience in 2011, calling the weird bone arrangement “circumstantial evidence.”

The kraken is back

Now, McMenamin has more. First, he argues, the arrangement of bones could not have been made by natural processes like currents or mud compaction. The shape of the bones is such that there is “virtually zero” probability that currents could have nudged them into that arrangement, McMenamin told a crowded auditorium of geoscientists at this year’s meeting.

“You always go from a more ordered to a less ordered state, not the other way around,” he said.

The organized state of the bones is the strongest evidence that some intelligent creature arranged them, McMenamin told LiveScience. But something else came up that has him convinced: A second example of the weird bone pattern.

This one comes from an ichthyosaur fossil formerly on display at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas Museum of Natural History. The fossil had been laid out in the museum exactly as found in the field. The exhibit is long gone now, but a curator passed a photo on to McMenamin.

“When I saw that photograph, basically my eyeballs popped out,” McMenamin told LiveScience.

Next to the ichthyosaur was a “debris pile” of scattered bones that were no longer in their proper place in the skeleton. And off to the side was a double row of vertebrae in the same configuration as McMenamin and his colleagues had seen in the original ichthyosaur remains.

The rib cage of the museum specimen shows damage, as if something perhaps the tentacles of a giant deep-sea monster? had constricted them in a bear hug.

“We think one plausible explanation of this is an attack on the icthyosaur by a much larger predator,” McMenamin said.

A smoking gun?
Once he saw the museum photograph, McMenamin made a field expedition back to Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park, where he and his colleagues combed through fossils weathering out of rock in search of more cephalopod evidence. Almost unbelievably, they found it.

Among the fossils the team collected on their trip was a strange, pointed object that McMenamin almost tossed, thinking it might be a fish. But the fossil had un-fish-like fibers running through it, so he hung on to it. Months later, he bought a modern Humboldt squid beak off eBay for $60 and compared it to the ancient fossil.

The fracturing patterns and fibers matched. McMenamin thinks he has the beak of an elusive Triassic kraken.

The fossil “shows that indeed there were giant cephalopods in this area,” he said.

Or Not… ?
If the fossil is indeed a beak, it’s too fragmentary to prove the size of the cephalopod it belonged to, Fastovsky told LiveScience. He found the rest of McMenamin’s new evidence similarly unconvincing.

The measurement McMenamin used to dismiss the notion of currents moving the bones was “absolutely inapproprriate for the question he is addressing,” Fastovsky said. The analysis measures the probabiliy of a point in a circle falling in a certain pie-slice of that circle, he said, not the relative stability of vertebrae in currents. In fact, Fastovsky said, little is known about the currents of the time, and no one has ever measured what it would take to shuffle vertebral fragments around.

Fastovsky also pushed back against the modern analogues for the hypothetical kraken’s behavior. Octopus middens aren’t organized in nice rows, he said. They’re piles of debris. And sperm whales attack squid, not the other way around.

There’s a simpler explaination, Fastovsky said. Ichthyosaurs die. They sink to the bottom, where scavengers get to work stripping their skeletons of flesh. The tendons and ligaments that held the vertebrae together rot away or are eaten.

“What happens to that vertebral column?” Fastovsky said. “Well, the first thing that happens is it sort of starts to fall over almost like a row of dominoes.”

The weird tiled position actually appears to be the most stable position for those falling dominoes to end up at rest, Fastovsky said.

“A perfectly reasonable, pedestrian, coherant story emerges that doesn’t require wholesale invention of what is unknown or unprecendented,” he said.

McMenamin says he hopes for more debate on his findings. So far, he said, the response to his talk has been positive.

“We’re getting a message from the past,” he said, “So I’m hoping the discussion is better this time.”

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King Richard III buried in hasty grave, archaeologists find

King Richard III buried in hasty grave, archaeologists find

By Stephanie Pappas

Published May 27, 2013

LiveScience

  • king-richard-skull

    The skull of the skeleton found at the Grey Friars excavation in Leicester, potentially that of King Richard III. (University of Leicester)

The body of King Richard III was buried in great haste, a new study finds perhaps because the medieval monarch’s corpse had been out for three days in the summer sun.

The new research is the first academic paper published on the discovery of Richard III, which was publically announced in February 2013. A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester found the body beneath a parking lot in Leicester that was once the site of a medieval church. The full study was available online Friday, May 24.

The archaeological analysis contains details only alluded to in the initial announcement of the findings. In particular, the archaeologists found that Richard III’s grave was dug poorly and probably hastily, a sharp contrast to the neat rectangular graves otherwise found in the church where the king was laid to rest. [Gallery: The Discovery of Richard III]

Richard III’s journey to Leicester
Richard III ruled England from 1483 to 1485, when he was killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field, the definitive fight in the War of the Roses.

‘Richards damaged body had already been on public display for several days in the height of summer, and was thus in poor condition.’

– A team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester 

Historical records reveal that after the battle, Richard’s body was stripped and brought to Leicester, where it remained on public display for three days until burial on August 25, 1485. The church where the body was interred, a Franciscan friary called Grey Friars, was eventually demolished around 1538. A former mayor of Leicester built a mansion on the site, but by the 1700s, the land had been subdivided and sold off, the location of the church lost.

With it went all memory of where one of England’s most famous kings was buried. Richard III was immortalized by a Shakespeare play of the same name and made out to be a villain by the Tudor dynasty that followed his rule. Today, however, there are societies of Richard III enthusiasts called Richardians who defend the dead king’s honor. One of these Richardians, a screenwriter named Philippa Langley, spearheaded the excavation that discovered Richard III’s body.

Digging for Richard
The new paper, published in the journal Antiquity, outlines how archaeologists dug three trenches in a city government parking lot, hoping to hit church buildings they knew had once stood in the area. They soon found evidence of the friary they were looking for: first, a chapter house with stone benches and diamond-pattern floor tiles. This chapter house would have been used for daily monastery meetings.

South of the chapter houses, the excavation revealed a well-worn cloister walk, or covered walkway. Finally, the researchers found the church building itself. The church was about 34 feet wide. It had been demolished, but the floors (and the graves in the floor) were left intact. Among the rubble were decorated tiles and copper alloy letters that likely once marked the graves.

Brick dust suggested the outer church walls may have been covered with a brick faade, which would have created a striking red-and-white look with the church’s limestone-framed windows, the researchers wrote.

A hasty grave
Most of the graves in the Grey Friars church floor are neat and orderly, with squared-off rectangle sides. Richard III’s is an exception. The grave is irregularly shaped, with sloping sides. It was also too small for the 5-foot-8-inch skeleton interred within: Richard’s torso is twisted and his head propped up rather than laid flat. The body was also crammed against the north wall of the grave, perhaps because someone stood against the south wall to guide the body into its resting place. Whoever it was did not spend time afterward rearranging the body into a more symmetrical position.

“The haste may partially be explained by the fact that Richards damaged body had already been on public display for several days in the height of summer, and was thus in poor condition,” the researchers wrote.

There was no coffin in the grave, and likely no shroud, judging by the loose position of the skeleton’s limbs. However, the corpse’s hands were crossed and perhaps tied in front of him.

The study also delineates the 10 injuries on the corpse’s skeleton. Most are likely battle wounds, including two fatal blows to the back of the head. Two wounds on the face, one to the ribs and one to the buttock were likely delivered post-mortem, after Richard III was stripped of his armor, the researchers wrote. These “humiliation wounds” may have been designed to disrespect the king in death.

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/05/27/battle-bruised-king-richard-iii-buried-in-hasty-grave/?intcmp=obinsite#ixzz2Ul5EP0MW

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Legendary Lost City Possibly Found

Ciudad Blanca, Legendary Lost City, Possibly Found In Honduran Rain Forest

Posted: 05/15/2013 1:51 pm EDT  |  Updated: 05/16/2013 1:24 pm EDT

By: Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience Senior Writer 

Published: 05/15/2013 09:00 AM EDT on LiveScience

New images of a possible lost city hidden by Honduran rain forests show what might be the building foundations and mounds of Ciudad Blanca, a never-confirmed legendary metropolis.

Archaeologists and filmmakers Steven Elkins and Bill Benenson announced last year that they had discovered possible ruins in Honduras’ Mosquitia region using lidar, or light detection and ranging. Essentially, slow-flying planes send constant laser pulses groundward as they pass over the rain forest, imaging the topography below the thick forest canopy.

What the archaeologists found — and what the new images reveal — are features that could be ancient ruins, including canals, roads, building foundations and terraced agricultural land. The University of Houston archaeologists who led the expedition will reveal their new images and discuss them today (May 15) at the American Geophysical Union Meeting of the Americas in Cancun.

ciudad blanca

Square structures may mark the foundations of ancient buildings in the Honduran rainforest. 

Ciudad Blanca, or “The White City,” has been a legend since the days of the conquistadors, who believed the Mosquitia rain forests hid a metropolis full of gold and searched for it in the 1500s. Throughout the 1900s, archaeologists documented mounds and other signs of ancient civilization in the Mosquitias region, but the shining golden city of legend has yet to make an appearance.

Whether or not the lidar-weilding archaeologists have discovered the same city the conquistadors were looking for is up for debate, but the images suggest some signs of an ancient lost civilization.

“We use lidar to pinpoint where human structures are by looking for linear shapes and rectangles,” Colorado State University research Stephen Leisz, who uses lidar in Mexico, said in a statement. “Nature doesn’t work in straight lines.”

The archaeologists plan to get their feet on the ground this year to investigate the mysterious features seen in the new images.

Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitterand Google+. Follow us @livescienceFacebook Google+. Original article onLiveScience.com.

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