Published online: 20 October 2005; | doi:10.1038/news051017-15
Mammoth cave yields most recent animals
Alaskan island proves stronghold for mammoths in North America.
Archaeologists have unearthed the most recent remains of a mammoth yet discovered in North America. The bones, found in a cave on Alaska's remote Pribilof Islands, may represent the last bastion of the giant animals, or megafauna, that once freely roamed the continent.
The discovery underscores the fact that megafaunal species often seem to have made their last stand on isolated islands, sheltered from the danger of hunting. Some say the fact that such animals survived longer when beyond the reach of humans is proof that mankind was a big factor in driving the beasts to extinction.
The bones date to around 5,700 radiocarbon years ago - at least 2,200 years younger than any other known North American mammoth, says Kristine Crossen, a geologist at the University of Alaska in Anchorage. She reported her team's findings this week at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Salt Lake City, Utah.
In 1999, hunters on St Paul Island literally stumbled across the cave: a 12-metre-deep pit in the Arctic tundra. Seeing a wealth of bones, they alerted university archaeologists Douglas Veltre and David Yesner. The team launched an expedition in 2003 to gather as much as they could from the sticky mud in the cave, which they named Qagnax, the native Aleut word for 'bone'.
In the course of a week, the researchers picked up more than 1,750 bones- most of them belonging to foxes that had fallen in and couldn't get out, says Crossen. But among the other animal bones were seven pieces of a mammoth, including two complete teeth.
The team dated the bones using different techniques at two separate laboratories. "We couldn't believe it at first," says Crossen.
Mammoths died out on mainland Alaska around 11,500 radiocarbon years ago, the end of the Pleistocene epoch. But they are known to have lived longer elsewhere. Last year, other mammoth remains on St Paul Island were reported to be 7,900 radiocarbon years old1. And on Wrangel Island, off Siberia, their remains have been found dating as recently as 3,700 years ago.
Most of these island mammoths, including the St Paul animals, were smaller than normal - just 10% of the normal size range for a mammoth, says Crossen. The animals may have shrunk in size as the island itself shrank, losing ground as sea levels rose after the end of the last ice age.
Humans didn't arrive on St Paul Island until the late eighteenth century, so the mammoths must have become extinct from natural causes, experts say.
Archaeologists continue to debate the "overkill" theory, which holds that the first humans to arrive in North America hunted the continent's megafauna to extinction.
Guthrie R.D., et al. Nature, 429. 746 - 749 (2004). | ISI |
Teams fail to recreate Archimedes' fabled death ray
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) It wasn't exactly the ancient siege of Syracuse, but rather a curious quest for scientific validation.
According to sparse historical writings, the Greek mathematician Archimedes torched a fleet of invading Roman ships by reflecting the sun's powerful rays with a mirrored device made of glass or bronze.
More than 2,000 years later, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of Arizona set out to recreate Archimedes' fabled death ray Saturday in an experiment sponsored by the Discovery Channel program MythBusters.
Their attempts to set fire to an 80-year-old fishing boat using their own versions of the device, however, failed to either prove or dispel the myth of the solar death ray.
The MIT team's first attempt with their contraption made of 300 square feet of bronze and glass failed to ignite a fire from 150 feet away. It produced smoldering on the boat's wooden surface but no open flame. A second attempt from about 75 feet away lit only a small fire that burned itself out.
Mike Bushroe of the University of Arizona's Lunar and Planetary Laboratory tried a mirrored system shaped like flower petals, but it failed to produce either smoke or flames.
Peter Rees, executive producer of MythBusters, said the experiment showed Archimedes' death ray was most likely a myth.
"We're not saying it can't be done," Rees said. "We're just saying it's extremely impractical as a weapon of war."
The experiment showed it may be technically possible, but didn't answer whether Archimedes used it to destroy enemy ships, MIT professor David Wallace said.
"Who can say whether Archimedes did it or not?" he said. "He's one of the great mathematical minds in history. I wouldn't want to underestimate his intelligence or ability."
Historical text describes Archimedes defeating a Roman fleet using the ray.
In "Epitome ton Istorion," John Zonaras wrote: "At last in an incredible manner he burned up the whole Roman fleet. For by tilting a kind of mirror toward the sun he concentrated the sun's beam upon it; and owing to the thickness and smoothness of the mirror he ignited the air from this beam and kindled a great flame, the whole of which he directed upon the ships that lay at anchor in the path of the fire, until he consumed them all."
MythBusters also tried to recreate the ray last year, and after failing, declared the story a myth.
"If this weapon had worked, it would have been the equivalent of a nuclear weapon in the ancient world," Rees said.
Prehistoric ruins find near city
by Róisín Burke
’Significant’ prehistoric ruins, which lay hidden in undergrowth have been unearthed on the outskirts of the city.
The knee-high ruins are “a late prehistoric homestead, probably dating from the Bronze or Iron Age,“ explained Galway County Council Project Archaeologist, Mr Jerry O’Sullivan. “There is a round house built in stone, around eight metres wide, and a big enclosure wall, about the size of a tennis court,“ he said.
A carved bracelet was also found at the site. “It is a very nice bracelet or amulet, carved from jet or lignite stone, very typical of the period,“ Mr O’Sullivan said.
The ruins are located at Coolough, about one kilometre from the Galway Clinic and close to many of the city’s business parks and industrial estates, where archaeological digs are being carried out on behalf of the National Roads Authority, prior to the N6 dual carriageway being built.
Other objects of interest to emerge in recent digs along new road sites in Co Galway include a 16th century adult male skeleton, remains of medieval cultivation and a Bronze Age campsite and cooking place. “Near Mackney in Ballinasloe, trowel-trenching yielded some pieces of timber buildings and coarse pottery from a farm settlement 3,500 years old,“ Mr O’Sullivan related.
The ruins were covered in hazel scrub, which meant they have lain undiscovered over time. “This sort of thing wouldn’t be unusual in an upland area such as the Burren,“ Mr O’Sullivan said, “but it is unusual on this lowland site“.
It is the policy of the NRA to commission archaeological investigations prior to building a new road. It has commissioned four companies who specialise in this area to carry out work on the 36-kilometre stretch of the N6 from Galway to Ballinasloe.
The dig where the ruins were discovered is being led by Eoghan Moore of Valerie J Keeley Ltd Archaeologists, on behalf of the NRA. They had been working in the area for several weeks.
Archaeologists unearth a 5000-year-old mystery
ONE of the oldest carved stones ever found in the Highlands has given experts an intriguing mystery to solve.
Archaeologists say designs on the 5000-year-old stone slab discovered inside a cairn near Beauly have only been seen before on rocks in Orkney and Ireland.
Now they are researching the cultural links that could have brought this type of art to Balblair 3500 years ago when the cairn surrounding it was built.
The sandstone slab was used to form one side of a burial chamber within the cairn, from which the body and other items had been stolen in the past.
It was discovered after Highland Council ordered a quarry company to undertake an archaeological survey on the site at Balblair prior to extracting rock and gravel.
Andrew Dutton, a senior archaeologist with Headland Archaeology, said the slab was well preserved because it had been buried for thousands of years.
"It has certainly got people scratching their heads, " he admitted. "It is unique. There is a lot of rock art around here and the cup and ring symbol can be seen in the open air at several sites but the curvilinear lines on this slab are very strange.
"A lso the cup marks have been worked through from both sides until there is a perforation that, perhaps, people could look through to see inside the kist or to let light inside."
The stone is now is a store at Inverness Museum until more of its story can be unravelled. There, conservation officer Jeanette Pearson is making its surface stable to preserve the carvings on its surface.
"It is very unusual, " she said. "I've never seen anything like it. It's certainly not Pictish so we are seeking specialist advice from the National Museum to help us identify it."
2,000-year-old burial site found
Archaeologists working on Shetland's most northerly isle have discovered a burial site more than 2,000 years old.
The site at Sand Wick on Unst, thought to date back to the Iron Age, had already been badly eroded by the sea when a team of experts began their work in August.
However, archaeologists from Glasgow University, the Scottish Coastal Archaeology and the Problems of Erosion Trust (SCAPE) and local volunteers managed to rescue artefacts and a skeleton.
The excavation, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Historic Scotland, was initially aimed at training volunteers how to excavate eroding coastlines.
But what they unearthed is being described as a poignant find by experts.
The skeleton was found lying on its back with a polished stone disc tucked inside its mouth.
Near the arm was a tiny ornament formed of rings of copper alloy and bone which the team believes was some kind of pendant.
Dr Olivia Lelong, excavation director and project director of Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division, said: "The skeleton was a totally unexpected find. It was a beautifully composed burial, obviously put together with a great deal of thought and care, from the way the body was placed to the objects buried with the person.".
The team also found hundreds of shreds of pottery, limpet shells and animal bones leftover from ancient meals.
The doctor added: "It is a fascinating building to dig. It's rare to find walls standing so high, and so much well-preserved evidence for what went on inside the cells. It is already telling us a lot about how people lived in Iron Aged Shetland."
© Copyright Press Association Ltd 2005, All Rights Reserved.
Divers make surprising discovery
18 Oct 2005
AN image of a Roman gladiator wearing only a G-string has been dug from the bed of the River Tees.
Broken Roman pottery, decorated with the picture, was recovered from the river at Piercebridge.
Archaeologists believe the figure of a gladiator, who also appears to be holding a whip, may be the first of its kind ever discovered.
Philippa Walton, who works for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said: "The pottery sherd depicts a man wearing a G-string and holding a whip. The sherd is a fragment from a larger vessel, probably a beaker.
"Similar pottery has been found before depicting some gladiatorial scenes, some quite pornographic, but I can't think of an example where the gladiator only wears a G-string.
Divers Rolfe Hutchinson and Bob Middlemass came across the figure.
Over the past 20 years the pair have uncovered thousands of ancient artefacts from the river while diving.
Golden land for finding Roman treasure
Oct 21 2005
Aled Blake, Western Mail
MORE Roman gold is found in Britain than anywhere else - and now a Welsh academic has come up with an intriguing theory explaining why.
Thousands of gold and silver artifacts from the Roman period, especially when the conquerors finally left these islands in the 4th and 5th centuries.
Dr Peter Guest, of Cardiff University's School of History and Archaeology, is the leading expert on the biggest ever Roman gold treasure discovered in Britain. In 1992, 15,000 gold and silver coins were found at Hoxne in Suffolk in 1992.
In a lecture, Dr Guest is to propose that the large amounts of Roman gold and silver buried beneath our feet could be because something happened in the late Empire similar to the abolition of the gold standard in the 1930s.
He explained, "The Hoxne treasure is the biggest collection of gold and silver from anywhere in the world.
"A very small part of eastern England produces more gold and silver in the ground than Italy, Greece, Syria or North Africa.
"The amount deposited in the ground is substantial compared to the rest of the world. Why that is remains a mystery. Why is there so much precious metal from that particular period in Britain?"
Dr Guest explained that the gold mostly comes from a 50-year period towards the end of Roman occupation.
He said, "Before then, Britain is not very special, but in that 50-year phase, which coincides with the end of Roman control, lots of stuff is found.
"It normally consists of gold jewellery, spoons, toothpicks, thousands of coins and other items. I think connected to the fact that the Roman administration in Britain stops around 400 to 410 and the fact that the separation Britain experienced from the Roman Empire would have been so sudden.
"We had been part of the Empire for 350 years by that time, which is a very long time.
"It happened very suddenly and it might have been quite violent and one of the reasons for the huge amount of gold and silver is related to this separation.
"People weren't able to leave Britain and move somewhere else or weren't able to reuse it and recycle it and for some reason it has just stayed there." A theory already exists that people buried the treasure because of invasion from the Angles and Saxons of northern Germany.
Dr Guest said, " It is based on the Angles, Saxons and German groups coming over via the North Sea conquering eastern England, forcing all this gold and silver to be buried .
"The reason for that would have been people were being forced into slavery or killed.
"I think there is an element of truth in that but to blame the collapse of Roman gold on the Saxons is unfair. They wanted to come over here and live like the Romans, there was no point in them destroying everything.
"We need to be more careful and sophisticated in the way we approach this. The period we are looking at was known as the Dark Ages, there is very little archeological or historical evidence from the time."
The lecture takes place on November 16 at 5.30pm in the Humanities Building, off Colum Road, Cardiff and is open to the public.
Gaza's ancient history uncovered
By Alan Johnston
BBC News, Gaza
Gaza is said to be one of the world's oldest living cities
All through the heat of summer archaeologists dug and sifted through the dunes on the edge of Gaza City.
Gradually walls, homes, and the outlines of alleyways emerged from the sand.
These were the bones of the ancient Greek city of Antidon. And they were testimony to the extraordinary richness of Gaza's past. Not only the Greeks passed this way. The Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, the Persians, the Romans, the Crusaders, the Turks, the British and many others left their mark on Gaza. It has been described as one of the world's oldest living cities. Layers of civilisation lie beneath its busy streets and crowded ranks of badly made apartment blocks.
Around the world, Gaza is seen only as a deeply troubled place - a bloody arena in the Palestinians' confrontation with Israel. But efforts are being made now to present a fuller picture. The Palestinian Authority has approved a plan to build a national archaeological museum in Gaza. Land has been set aside, and the United Nations is helping to develop the project.
"People around the world have looked at Gaza through the TV as a place of violence and anarchy," says the head of the United Nations Development Programme in Gaza, Khalid Abdul Shafi.
"Yes there was violence. But there is another face of Gaza - there is culture and archaeology and history."
Population pressure in the tiny Gaza Strip is intense, and no doubt numerous potential archaeological sites have been built over and lost.
"But still, according to specialists, what is under ground and under the sea is more, much more, than what has been discovered to date," says Mr Abdul Shafi.
Gaza has been strategically important to regional powers
"There is an opportunity to discover things and put them in a place like a national museum, and this is what we're aiming for."
For more than 3,500 years Gaza's history has been shaped by its location.
It sits on the route linking North Africa with the greener lands of the Levant to the north.
This made Gaza strategically important first to the Egyptian Pharaohs, and then to many others who sought to wield power in the region.
"It's found itself the target of constant sieges - constant battles," says Gerald Butt, the author of the definitive history of the area, Gaza at the Crossroads.
"The people have been subject to rule from all over the globe. Right through the centuries Gaza's been at the centre of the major military campaigns in the Eastern Mediterranean."
For example, anyone wanting to attack the magnificent Pharaonic civilisation on the Nile needed to take Gaza first.
It was the last place their troops would have easy access to water before the long hard march across the sands of the Sinai peninsula.
Palestinians still use one of the world's oldest roads
Today on Gaza's main highway battered taxis go hammering past donkey carts - blaring their horns at pedestrians.
It looks unremarkable enough now, but it is actually one of the world's oldest roads.
The chariots of the armies of the Pharaohs and Alexander the Great, the cavalry of the Crusaders, and even Napoleon Bonaparte all rode this route, which is now named after the famous Muslim General, Salah al-Din.
Gaza has also known times of peace and prosperity.
In the age when Alexandria's famous library was earning it a reputation as a centre of civilisation, just across the Sinai, Gaza was also known as a place of learning and scholarship.
And Gaza used to be the port at the end of a trade route that connected the Arabian peninsula with the Mediterranean world.
The city did business in fish, slaves and highly valuable frankincense - produced in the mountains of what are now Yemen and Oman.
The UN is helping to develop an archaeological museum
But if the proposed new museum is built it will reveal a recurring pattern of invasion and conquest, long periods of occupation by foreign armies, and their eventual withdrawal.
And in the past few months, people here have witnessed one more turn of that historic cycle.
In line with Israel's plan to "disengage" from the Gaza Strip, it abandoned the settlements that it had built here in breach of international law.
The Israeli troops who had occupied Gaza for decades withdrew.
It was a reminder that for thousands of years, armies have come and armies have gone - and battered, ancient Gaza has endured.
Tomb scan reveals buried treasure
Thursday, October 20, 2005; Posted: 1:02 a.m. EDT (05:02 GMT)
Some of the terra cotta soldier statues found around Qin's tomb.
BEIJING, China (AP) -- A magnetic scan of the unopened tomb of China's first emperor has detected a large number of coins, suggesting Emperor Qin was buried with his state treasury, a news report said Thursday.
Qin, who ruled in 221-210 B.C., already is renowned for the thousands of terra cotta statues of soldiers found buried around his immense tomb outside the former imperial capital of Xi'an.
The latest finding was announced by Chinese and German archaeologists at a conference Wednesday in Xi'an, where the tomb was discovered in the 1970s, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
Qin, also known as Qin Shihuangdi, or "First Emperor Qin," founded China's first imperial dynasty and is believed to have spent decades building his tomb.
Archaeologists have refrained from opening it until they decide how to preserve the treasures it is believed to contain.
The magnetic scan revealed new details of the tomb's structure and a "remarkable amount of coins," Xinhua said, citing Michael Petzet, president of the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
Coins of that era likely were made of bronze, with some perhaps made of silver.
The Xinhua report did not give any details of how the scan was conducted.
"Excavation sometimes means destruction," said Petzet. "Let them sleep underground. It's safer. No excavation should be done for fun or curiosity."
Qin was legendary for his cruelty. He reputedly press-ganged some 700,000 workers into building his mausoleum and had dissident scholars buried alive.
Qin's son was overthrown three years after his death by founders of the Han dynasty, which lasted four centuries and is considered one of the pinnacles of classical Chinese civilization.
Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Ophthalmologist to Examine Ancient Chilean Mummy Eyes
Over the next week, UC Davis ophthalmologist William Lloyd will dissect and examine the eyes of two North Chilean mummies for evidence of various diseases and medical conditions.
Newswise: Over the next week, UC Davis ophthalmologist William Lloyd will dissect and examine the eyes of two North Chilean mummies for evidence of various diseases and medical conditions. One of the eyes belonged to a boy who was 2 years old when he died 1,000 years ago, and the other is from a female, who was approximately 23 years old when she died 750 years ago.
“The opportunity to analyze two pre-Columbian era mummy eyes is exciting and fascinating,“ said Lloyd, an accomplished physician, researcher, professor, author and expert in comparative ophthalmology, which involves the study of the eye across species. Lloyd holds joint appointments in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, and Pathology at the UC Davis School of Medicine. “By analyzing these eyes, we hope to determine if their pathology suggests any so-called modern day diseases, like diabetes or high blood pressure.“
It all began when Huck Holz, chief resident in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Science, read an article about the founder of modern paleopathology, Arthur Aufderheide, in the May 16 issue of the New Yorker magazine. Paleopathology, the study of ancient diseases, has taken Aufderheide around the globe, salvaging mummies’ organs and tissues in various stages of decomposition. The thin tissues that make up the eye allow it to dehydrate quickly and, because moisture causes decay, most mummies are found with well-preserved eyes.
In the New Yorker article, Aufderheide said that he’s been saving the eyes for the right investigator, someone with the expertise and the commitment to examine them thoroughly. Holz and Lloyd convinced Auferheide that they were the researchers he’d been waiting for.
During the week of Oct. 17, Lloyd will inspect and examine the eyes. The process involves rehydrating the eyes and optical nerves, preparing the tissues for chemical processing, embedding the tissues in paraffin, slicing the specimens for microscopic viewing, applying stains to highlight selected cellular characteristics, and finally examining the tissues under a microscope. Preliminary findings should be available by the end of the week. Slow rehydration may postpone the findings by a day.
Tests for eye diseases, such as glaucoma and macular degeneration, will be conducted, but Lloyd says there are many more systemic ailments that can be found by examining the eyes.
“During modern-day eye exams we can see signs of diabetes, high blood pressure, various cancers, nutritional deficiencies, fetal alcohol syndrome and even early signs of HIV infection,“ said Lloyd. “These same changes are visible under the microscope.“
Both mummies are already known to have recovered from pneumonia. One of the female’s lungs was adherent to her chest wall and both of the young boy’s lungs were adherent to his chest wall.
“This adherence is consistent with a recovery from pneumonia,“ said Auderheide, who is a professor of pathology at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, School of Medicine. “Since we see it on both of the boy’s lungs, he probably had and recovered from pneumonia, twice.“
The child, who was one of the last members of the Tihuanacu culture, also had an inherited cystic disease in his liver.
“We’re not sure if the liver disease is what killed him,“ said Aufderheide. “There were a few preserved internal organs, but most of the body was in decay.“
The 23-year-old woman was buried in a seated position, fully clothed in embroidered V-neck wool shirts. She wore sea-lion-hide sandals and on her head, a bandana. Her hair was in two braids. In addition to the pneumonia, she had lice, bad teeth and osteoporosis.
“It’s likely that the young woman’s osteoporosis was caused by a diet that included oxalate-producing plants, which inhibits the body’s ability to assimilate calcium,“ said Aufderheide. “Perhaps something in Dr. Lloyds findings will tell us more about the lives and deaths of these two people.“
UC Davis Health System is an integrated, academic health system encompassing UC Davis School of Medicine, the 530-bed acute-care hospital and clinical services of UC Davis Medical Center, and the 800-member physician group known as UC Davis Medical Group.
Under Downtown Prague
Volume 58 Number 6, November/December 2005
by Nick Holdsworth
Every Czech school child knows the story. Prague was a crowded medieval city bursting at the seams when, in 1348, its problem was solved at a stroke by the brilliance of Charles IV. The greatest of Czech kings ordained that a massive swathe of farmland around the walled city should become a new urban space called Nove Mesto, or New Town. The Prague we know today is said to be largely a product of Charles IV's effort at urban planning.
But fascinating new finds from a rescue dig on the three-and-a-half acre site of a new shopping and office complex in downtown Prague are offering a different take on this historical chestnut. Evidence is emerging that proves Prague had a thriving--and wealthy--suburb beyond its early limits 150 years before Charles took on the mantle of master developer.
As I emerge from the neat network of Prague's Metro, it's a little difficult to identify exactly where the archaeology is taking place. Namesti Republiky--Republic Square--is a triangular patch of road bisected by tram lines and bordered by a patchwork of faded nineteenth-century buildings and ugly 1970s glass-and-steel shops.
But in response to a cell-phone call, Pavel Titz, a senior archaeologist on the dig, emerges from a massive building that has served as army barracks since the nineteenth century. He guides me behind the building to the rescue work going on in wide square trenches. Then we go inside to the deep dark shafts beneath the building's foundations, where some of the most exciting finds are emerging. "Normally, archaeologists in Prague are confined to digging in small sites within the city and the surrounding area," says Titz, a tall, slim, bearded man in his early 30s, as we step precariously across wooden boards that bridge basement excavation shafts as much as 16 feet deep. "Foreign investment in the last 10 years has changed all that, and big new developments create new opportunities--and pressures," adds Titz, one of a group of young archaeologists who set up Prague's Archaia, the nonprofit independent archaeological partnership that is overseeing the dig.
"This is such a big area--the largest ever excavation in the country--that we can really understand relationships between finds and features and understand much more about the historical importance of this area," he says.
As we walk through the dark and dank corridors of the old barracks that squat over much of the excavation site, I get a glimpse of the gargantuan task Archaia has taken on: more than 3,000 banana boxes of finds are neatly stacked along its walls, containing some five million pieces of pottery and countless animal bones, glass, and ceramic artifacts.
Some startling finds are already rewriting the early medieval history of Prague and show that a substantial, prosperous, and significant suburban development existed beyond the city limits in the second half of the twelfth century. The finds include a Romanesque palace found in the bowels of the old barracks, two other stone-built houses, and a dozen wooden structures, along with evidence of large market gardens and agricultural estates running down to the Vltava River, two miles away.
Nick Holdsworth is a regular contributor to The Times Higher Education Supplement, The Sunday Telegraph, and The Hollywood Reporter. He is author of Moscow, The Beautiful and the Damned--Life in Russia in Transition (Andre Deutsch, London, 2000).
Research reveals the secrets of lions locked up in the Tower of London
October 20, 2005
Lions have appeared on the English monarchy’s coat of arms since the reign of Henry II (1133-1189). Now new research published in the International Journal of Osteoarchaeology, shows that the relationship between these early monarchs and the ’king of the beasts’ was more than just symbolic.
Scientists from Liverpool John Moores University (LJMU) and the Natural History Museum (NHM) have dated lion skulls discovered at the Tower of London back to the 13th century. As well as giving insights on the lives of England’s early monarchs, the research may also provide useful guidance for the modern conservation of zoo animals.
LJMU’s Dr Hannah O’Regan, who led the research, said: “these lions were potent symbols of monarchy at the time of the Hundred Years War and the Wars of the Roses. Our research provides important information on some of the earliest lions seen in Northern Europe since they became extinct at the end of the last Ice Age. It also sheds some light on the conditions and health of animals in one of the world’s longest running menageries.“
The lions are thought to have been housed in the Tower’s Royal Menagerie. Established by King John (1199-1216), the Menagerie is known to have held lions, bears and other exotic species. It was finally closed in 1835, on the orders of the Duke of Wellington, and the remaining animals were moved to the Zoological Society’s Gardens in Regent’s Park, now better known as London Zoo.
Jeremy Ashbee, Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings at English Heritage and former Curator at the Tower of London, explained: “The menagerie seems to have been a private collection for the king, a sign that he enjoyed good relations with foreign monarchs, who presented him with animals. Lions were particularly prized as the living emblems of the royal arms of England, much like modern mascots.“
The new research is particularly exciting because it illuminates some of the earliest phases of the menagerie. Currently, information on this period is limited to a few short references in ancient documents (and a famous sketch of an elephant by Matthew Paris, a monk of St Albans).
Jeremy Ashbee continued: “The Royal Menagerie is one of the great ’lost’ institutions of the Tower and hardly any traces of it remain visible today. At its height, it was an immensely popular tourist attraction, in the same way that the Crown Jewels are today.“
Though the actual location within the Tower of the early Royal Menagerie is still unknown, Edward I had a semi-circular structure, later known as the ’Lion Tower’ built in the south western corner of the Tower in 1276/7. By the 16th century this structure definitely housed the Royal Menagerie.
Dr O’Regan continued: “Finding two virtually complete big cat skulls dating back to the 13th and 15th centuries from the moat adjacent to the Middle and Lion Towers suggests that they were kept in this area.“
Unearthed in the 1930s, the big cat skulls have been stored at the Natural History Museum for the last 70 years. Thanks to funding from English Heritage, the LJMU scientists were able to radiocarbon date the remains. In addition to the big cat specimens - two lion skulls and fragments of a leopard skull - the research team also analysed the skulls of 19 dogs.
“Museum collections play an important role in helping researchers to understand the life history, development and habits of animals. It’s the physical remains, particularly the bones, that really tell the animals’ stories,“ said Richard Sabin, Curator of Mammals at the Natural History Museum.
Sabin continued; “I hope these findings will help us to open up new areas of research using the Museum ’s osteo-archaeological collections. Further investigations will give us more information about the origins and diets of these historically very important animals, creating a fascinating window into the past as well providing information which may be of value to those involved with the care of animals held in captivity today.“
The best preserved lion skull has been radiocarbon dated to AD 1280–1385, making it the earliest medieval big cat in the country. This period covers the reigns of Edward I, II and III, when the Lion Tower was first built.
The second lion skull, though damaged, has been dated to between AD 1420–1480, a period of only 60 years during which the Chronicles of London report that all the lions in the Tower died. This lion also had an unusual abnormality seen in captive lions in the early 20th century.
Dr O’Regan explained the importance of this discovery: “There are around 500 years between the Tower lion and the 1950s captive animal and yet they both still show the same condition, suggesting that this is, or was, a condition that is persistent in captive lions.“
The leopard skull, the most damaged of the cat specimens, has been dated to between AD 1440–1625, a period which spans the end of the Plantagenet reign, through the Tudors to the beginnings of the Stuart dynasty and the post-medieval period.
As lions died out in Northern Europe over 10,000 years ago, the big cats were probably gifts presented to the English monarchs by their allies. Despite their royal status, the LJMU study suggest that once the animals died they were not treated with any ceremony, but rather dumped, unskinned, in the Tower’s moat.
Animals from the Tower were also baited, both at the Tower and in the pits at Southwark. This may explain the existence of so many dogs at the Tower - a suggestion borne out by the fact that one the dog skulls analysed has two puncture wounds to the top of the cranium, possibly the result of dog fighting.
Unlike modern zoos, the medieval lions were probably kept in cages measuring just 6m2, radiating off from a central courtyard. Given that adult male lions can reach 2.5m long, conditions for the animals must have been appalling. By the 17th century, the cages had gained a second storey and an outdoor exercise area.
Dr O’Regan said: “In addition to contributing to our knowledge of historical menageries, zooarchaeology also has a lot to offer in the study of modern zoo animals. Our research has highlighted a condition in captive lions that has been seen in specimens kept in different locations and different countries 500 years apart. Such studies of past zoo or captive populations have the potential to inform not only archaeology but also conservation strategies.“
Jeremy Ashbee agreed: “The results of this research are of great significance for the history of the Tower, of the monarchy, of zoological collections and natural history in general, and English Heritage is delighted to have given its support.“
Source: Liverpool John Moores University
Unexploded bomb unearthed on archaeological site
by Chris Bell
AN UNEXPLODED bomb was discovered today when archaeological teams were carrying out excavation work.
Police officers cordoned off nearby roads and people working at the site in Grange Road, Gillingham, were evacuated as an army bomb disposal team was drafted in.
Grange Road and Hazelmere Drive were closed and nearby homes were evacuated as a precaution.
Divyesh Patel, 35, owns a shop near to the find: “I only found out about it because some of the archaeologists came in to my shop and I asked why they were going home early.
“We’re about 500 yards away so I think we’re safe if it does go off. Everyone seems to be quite relaxed and no one is panicking.“
A Kent police spokesman said: “Police were at 2.30 today to what appears to be an unexploded Second World War bomb at an archaeological site.
“There are evacuations in progress and we have closed roads as a precaution. An army bomb disposal team has been called to deal with the device.“
World War II Airman Found Frozen in Glacier
It was a plane crash back in 1942 that wasn't discovered until 1947. Now, hikers made a frozen discovery in connection with a World War II plane crash.
Hikers found the frozen body of an airman while scaling Mount Mendel Glacier in the Sequoia National Park. Now, the military is working to find out who this airman is and whether he was ever reported missing.
It's believed the airman has been frozen in the glacier for decades until a pair of climbers got much more than ever imagined on a hike.
Two glacier climbers, 13,000 feet above the national park floor on Mount Mendel, made the incredible discovery.
"They were hiking, ice climbing ... it's a pretty popular ice climbing route in K.C. and what they noticed was the head and shoulder and a part of an arm of a person at the base of the glacier that had melted out over the course of this summer," explained Alexandra Picavet, from the National Park Service.
National Park Service representatives believe the serviceman was likely part of a crew aboard an AT-7 navigational training plane that crashed on November 18, 1942.
"When we got this report, we got the report of a person wearing a parachute with a patch that said U.S. Army Corp. There was no Air Force in 1942 ... that didn't come until 1947, or after World War II," said Picavet.
In 1947, five years after the crash, hikers discovered a portion of the plane, along with four bodies. Recovery crews didn't know there was at least one airmen left behind.
Tuesday afternoon, an archaeologist and two U.S. park police officers went up to survey the area. A team of two will camp nearby to preserve the scene until the body can be recovered.
It's believed most of the plane is still preserved under the glacier above the spot the latest airman was found.
Veterans familiar with common military practices say the serviceman should have some identification on him.
The climbers who found the man said they could not find anything around his neck, but they did cut out a piece of the parachute that 63 years later is still strapped to his back.
The crash is believed to be one of many that happened in the Sierras during the 1940's and 1950's.
The Park Service is working with a number of agencies and is hoping to chisel the ice around the body on Wednesday to get the man out and eventually identified.
They say it's going to be a long, tedious process.