Wednesday, 7 December 2005, 01:39 GMT 

Ancient drought 'changed history' 

By Roland Pease

BBC science unit, San Francisco 


The sediments are an archive of past climate conditions

Scientists have identified a major climate crisis that struck Africa about 70,000 years ago and which may have changed the course of human history.


The evidence comes from sediments drilled up from the beds of Lake Malawi and Tanganyika in East Africa, and from Lake Bosumtwi in Ghana.


It shows equatorial Africa experienced a prolonged period of drought.


It is possible, scientists say, this was the reason some of the first humans left Africa to populate the globe.


Certainly, those who remained on the continent at that time would have had to be extremely resilient to make it through such hard times.


"This was a profound impact on the landscape," said Christopher Scholz, from Syracuse University, US.


"So it must have had a major impact, not just on humans but on all species in equatorial Africa at this time."


Dr Scholz presented data from the drilling project here at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union.


The cores reveal that prior to 75,000 years ago, Lake Malawi, which is currently an inland sea some 550km long and 700m deep, was reduced to a couple of pools no more than 10km across and 200m deep.


Worse still was Lake Bosumtwi. Currently a 10km-wide lake that fills an old space impact crater, it lost all of its water.


Only a prolonged continent-wide drought could have had this effect. What makes the timing so fascinating is that it ties in with the "Eve hypothesis" of human evolution.


Genetic studies suggest modern human society is descended from a group of around 10,000 individuals who lived in East Africa at the time of this crisis.


Immediately after its end, human populations started to expand rapidly - and many of our ancestors began moving out of Africa and into the Middle East, Asia and Europe.


Scientists are increasingly convinced that tragedies in the deep past have shaped human evolution.


The intriguing thought is that we owe our existence to a small band of survivors who clung on to life during a crisis of epic proportions or who simply decided they had to move to find water.


Viewed from space: Lake Bosumtwi is in an old impact crater

"We think there may be a connection between this climatic release - that is the rise in lake levels following this major desiccation event - and the order of magnitude increase in early modern humans," Dr Scholz said.


"And, also, there may be a connection with the exodus of early modern humans out of Africa and this climatic release.


"There's been recognition that speciation of hominids is controlled by environmental factors - whether that's long-term changes in aridfication in Africa or perhaps the dramatic increase in variability in environmental conditions, such as in precipitation, temperature, and so forth."


Posted 12/5/2005 9:11 PM     Updated 12/6/2005 6:10 PM



Hobbits may be earliest Australians

Carmelo Amalfi and Leigh Dayton

December 08, 2005

THE tiny hobbit-like humans of Indonesia may have lived in Australia before they became extinct about 11,000 years ago.


The startling claim comes from archaeologist Mike Morwood, leader of the team that in 2003 uncovered remains of the 1m-tall hominid at Liang Bua cave on Indonesia's Flores island.


They believe the pint-size person - known officially as Homo floresiensis and unofficially as the "Hobbit" - was wiped out by a volcanic eruption that spared their Homo sapiens neighbours.


Speaking at a public lecture in Perth, Professor Morwood from the University of New England in Armidale, NSW, raised the prospect that Hobbits colonised Australia before Aboriginal settlers arrived about 60,000 years go.


He suggested that the Hobbits may have been pushed out by the bigger people, in part because their population was too small to compete.


"This is seriously being discussed now by the archaeological community in Australia as a result of our work in Indonesia," Professor Morwood said.


He suggested that further field work at sites in Indonesia and northern Australia could provide answers.


But one of Professor Morwood's colleagues on the discovery team was surprised by the notion of Hobbits in Australia. "It's the first I've heard about it," said Bert Roberts, a dating expert with the University of Wollongong.


"Call me a wet blanket, but I'm not sure where Mike thinks he's going to excavate."


Professor Roberts said conditions during the north Australian wet season meant that small, ancient remains were unlikely to have survived.


He noted that no early human remains have been unearthed in northern Australia and said that even the remains of the giant prehistoric animals, the mega-fauna, were scarce.


"Realistically, there's one cave on the planet with the remains of this species. How about looking some place close to Liang Bua cave," Professor Roberts said.


"Australia is a wild conjecture."


There is also the troubling question of how the Hobbits would have travelled south from their Indonesian homeland. To date, there's no hard evidence they could sail or raft.


Professor Morwood's surprising suggestion follows a recent report in the journal Nature that the team has been denied exploration permits to excavate at Liang Bua cave, although other sites are approved.


"We're waiting for the dust to settle," said Professor Roberts, referring to a long-running dispute with Indonesia's senior paleoanthropologist, Teuku Jacob of Gajah Mada University in Yogyakarta.


Professor Jacob, who temporarily snatched the Hobbit remains, claimed the creature was a deformed human and wished to work at the cave to prove his point.



Opening the Tomb of Petamenophis in Luxor

by Jane Akshar

Notation: Jane Akshar, operates Flats in Luxor, a member of the AETBI, that offers flats for lease as well as local tours of the Luxor Region.  She also operates our Luxor News Blog.


Today (December 7th, 2005) was the official opening of the tomb of Petamenophis (Padiamenope, Xry.y-Hb Hrj-tp) (TT33) by Dr Sabry Abd El Aziz, the deputy of Dr Zahi Hawass. It is located next to the tomb of Harwa (TT39). The tomb is hugely significant, being, well huge. At this point, it is the largest tomb in Egypt and yet we really do not know why the owner of it was so blessed, but perhaps future work may reveal this secret.


Indeed, he was a high official, describing himself as "Sealbearer and Sole Beloved Friend, Lector and Scribe of the Records in the Sight of the King". In this inscription the king is not named, but there is an inscription in the northern part of the great outer courtyard, discovered by Lepsius, with a cartouche containing the name of a King Haremhab (Horemheb?), next to the name of  Petamenophis. However, stylistically, many scholars believe that Pteamenophis' tomb could not be dated as early as the 18th or early 19th dynasty. In this regard, the tomb appears to date no earlier than the Ethiopian Period (when Nubians ruled Egypt). Some scholars believe that Petamenophis may have lived during the rule of Psammetichus I, the first king of the 26th Dynasty. In any event, Petamenophis must have been, to judge from his titles, a learned man and theologian. It should be noted that there is a statue of Petamenophis in the Egyptian Antiquities Museum in Cairo.


The tomb of Petamenophis, located in the Assasif section of tombs on the West Bank at Luxor (ancient Thebes), was first described in detail by Lepsius in his pioneering work, Denkmaeler aus Aegypten und Aethiopien. The tomb was later visited and described separately by Wilkinson, by Duemichen and others, before Maspero, seeing its deteriorating condition and realizing the necessity of protecting it from despoliation, had it sealed at the end of the last century. It remained closed until 1936 when W. F. von Bissing obtained permission to reopen it with the purpose of performing a definitive survey and publication. Braving the billions of bats infesting the place and the thick air (the ventilation shafts left much to be desired) he persevered, and within two years (1938) published a detailed description of the finds.


Thereafter, for decades, the tomb was used as a storeroom with boxes, some labeled, some not. There were boxes from the tomb of Tutankhamun with biological matter (plants), statues, sarcophagi and altogether some 1,000 objects. There were registers for some of these boxes. One from 1964 was compiled by the Polish team working at Deir el-Bahri, and showed lists which accompanied black and white photos. This material has now been moved to a storage facility near the Carter House near the Valley of the Kings. 


Lately, actually over the last two years, a team from the University of Strasbourg, led by M. Traurecker, has been clearing the first three chambers of this huge tomb and it has just now been opened for a first official viewing. The opening was attended by many important officials from the Supreme Council and other archaeologists working in the area, such as Francesco Tiradritti. The next stage will be the cleaning, restoration and conservation of the tomb. It has important texts such as the Book of the Dead which need to be studied. In fact it is one of the most important, if not the most important, source for sacred texts during the period of Egyptian history. For example, there is also a Late Period version of the Book of Caverns in the tomb, which has yielded otherwise missing parts of this text. But the most amazing thing about this tomb is it's sheer size, with some 330 meters of corridors.


It may be some time yet before this tomb is open to the public, but perhaps now we may see an end in sight when the public will be able to explore this vast monument. Perhaps, more importantly, there may be more to learn as work progresses toward that end



Did Easter Island get 'ratted' out?

By Dan Vergano, USA TODAY


Rats and Europeans are likely to blame for the mysterious demise of Easter Island, a team of anthropologists suggests.

Easter Island. 

Courtesy: Terry Hunt, University of Hawaii


The fate of the people who built hundreds of 10-ton stone statues on the South Pacific island and then vanished has long been seen as a cautionary environmental tale. Natives deforested the island paradise to transport the statues, the story goes, triggering erosion that damaged farmlands. And then they supposedly bumped themselves off in a cannibalistic civil war in about 1650.


But anthropologist Terry Hunt of the University of Hawaii at Manoa first blames the Polynesian rat. The rats probably deforested the 66-square-mile island's 16 million palm trees. "Palm tree seeds are filet mignon to rats," Hunt says.


Working with colleagues at the island's anthropology museum and elsewhere since 2001, Hunt's team has undertaken an extensive archaeological survey of the island:


Charcoal remains show that Polynesians settled the island in 1200, much later than supposed from earlier, inaccurate dates of such deposits.


Pollen and ash deposits show that the number of palm trees declined swiftly in the years before fires, the signature of human occupation, appeared on the island.


Rat remains indicate that the rodent population spiked at 20 million from 1200 to 1300 and then dropped off to a mere 1 million after the trees were gone.


Skeletal remains and digs of old homes show little or no evidence of early warfare.


Instead, the disappearance of Easter Islanders probably was caused by visiting Dutch traders in the 1700s, who brought diseases and, later, slave raiding, says Hunt, who presented his findings at an American Anthropological Association meeting last week.


Older explanations essentially blamed the victims for their demise, says archaeologist Patricia McAnany of Boston University. The island still represents a cautionary tale, she says, but one of the dangers of invasive species.


But New Zealand's John Flenley of Massey University calls the idea "most unlikely," saying rats didn't deforest other Polynesian islands.


Hunt counters that deforestation of palm trees by Polynesian rats occurred on the Hawaiian islands. And the Easter Island palms were uniquely vulnerable because the rats had no predators and the trees didn't grow at elevations too high for them to reach.


Hunt suggests that about 50 settlers first landed on the island and grew to a stable population of at least 3,000 people by 1650. That seems reasonable, says mathematician William Basener of the Rochester (N.Y.) Institute of Technology, an expert in population models.



Hunt starts for Hawaiian king's time capsule

December 10 2005 at 05:16PM 

By Jaymes Song


Honolulu - Military specialists on Saturday will use high-technology equipment for finding human remains in hopes of locating a long-lost time capsule that was buried more than a century ago by King Kamehameha V.


The search using ground-penetrating radar is in conjunction with Sunday's 175th anniversary of the birth of the monarch, who died in 1872 and was the last direct descendant of Kamehameha the Great to rule the Kingdom of Hawaii.


Historians know the time capsule was buried on February 19, 1872, and contains priceless pieces of the islands' rich and royal history, more than two decades before the kingdom was annexed by the United States. But they do not know its exact location.


'It shows what they thought was important'

The capsule was buried during a celebration where Kamehameha V laid the cornerstone of the historic Aliiolani Hale building in downtown Honolulu. The small casket is believed to be beneath heavy concrete slabs on the northeast corner of the building.


It contains photos of royal families dating back to Kamehameha the Great, Hawaiian postage stamps, a constitution of the Hawaiian Kingdom, 21 Hawaiian and foreign coins, 11 different local newspapers, a calendar and books, such as a Hawaiian language dictionary.


"It sort of shows us what they thought was important at the time," said Matt Mattice, executive director of the King Kamehameha V Judiciary History Center.


There are no plans to recover the capsule because of the threat of damaging the structure, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.


"We're not going to dig it up," Mattice said. "It would be pretty catastrophic for the building."


'We're not going to dig it up'

He said the main reason for the search, conducted by members of the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, is to determine the location in hopes of keeping it preserved.


Aliiolani Hale, with the famed gold-leaf statue of Kamehameha the Great in the courtyard, is one of the most photographed spots in Hawaii.


The building, completed in 1874, was the first in the islands to place under one roof all the government offices, from the Legislature to the Hawaii Supreme Court. It was also the site of rallies, political strife, an insurrection, the famed Massie Trial of the 1930s and the 1893 overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy.


"The overthrow started and ended in this building," Mattice said. "The kingdom's laws were made here."


Aliiolani was very costly to build and controversial for several reasons, including its location and size.


One newspaper's editorial called it, "ridiculously out of proportion with any possible requirements."


Today, it is dwarfed by the high-rise buildings in downtown Honolulu and houses the Hawaii Supreme Court, a law library and the Judiciary History Centre. - Sapa-AP



Wollemi rock art shows Aboriginal Dreaming


Archaeologists surveying rugged bushland outside Sydney (Australia) have discovered evidence that an ancient Aboriginal Dreaming track runs through wilderness where the Jurassic-era Wollemi Pine was found. Dreaming tracks record the journey of spirit ancestors as they moved through the landscape, transforming ancestral lands and laying down the laws.

     Around 1000 known tracks are believed to exist, mainly in central and northern Australia, says Professor Paul Taçon of Griffith University, whose work was presented at an archaeology conference in Western Australia last week. Taçon says a survey of Wollemi National Park west of Sydney, beginning in September 2004, has found numerous paintings and engravings. "We found dozens of previously unrecorded rock art sites," he says. "It appears that a traditional Aboriginal travel route, possibly a Dreaming track, runs across Wollemi National Park."

     He says the rock art evidence suggests that there must once have been Dreaming tracks across southeast Australia as significant and detailed as those in the north and centre. The discovery comes after Taçon and his team announced in 2003 they had discovered more than 200 rock paintings in an undisclosed rock shelter deep in the Wollemi wilderness. Some areas were so remote they were only accessible by helicopter.

     The sites are believed to be as old as 4000 years and many represent birds, or human-bird hybrids, which is unusual for Aboriginal art but probably reflected the area's rich bird life. At the time it was hailed as a major find, but since then Taçon and colleagues, including members of local Aboriginal communities, have made more startling discoveries suggesting the area has major cultural significance. "We've been finding some key sites which show influences from several different directions," he says. "It looks like this is a path that people used and marked for many thousands of years."

     Taçon says the sites will remain secret but will be documented for posterity. His team will begin new fieldwork in the area next April.


Source: ABC Science Online (2 December 2005)



Maya carved portrait of high-status 'lady'

Last Updated Mon, 05 Dec 2005 19:19:24 EST

CBC News

The earliest known portrait of a woman carved by the Maya suggests women may have held positions of authority in their society, a Canadian archeologist says.


The carving from the Guatemalan site of Naachtun likely dates to the end of the fourth century, when Mayan dynasties were being established.


A close-up of the carving. (Courtesy: University of Calgary) 

"This woman was obviously a very important figure," said Kathryn Reese-Taylor, director of the University of Calgary team that made the discovery in the tropical forest of the Yucatan peninsula earlier this year.


For scholars, the discovery raises new questions, such as were women founders of dynasties and were all patron deities male?


Three lines of evidence show the importance of the two-metre-high find:


The early portrayal of a female on a stela or stone carving in itself is significant. Until now, archeologists have found women from this time period named in texts but not depicted.

Maya attacked and targeted historic stela by chipping off the inscriptions, as is the case for this monument.

The monument was reverentially reburied by the Maya in an ancient building after the city and inscriptions were attacked. Reburial is usually reserved for founders or kings.


Researchers don't know if the woman was a historic or mythological figure. The glyphs on her headdress, which is typical of royalty, name her as Lady Partition Lord or Lady Partition Flower.


The limestone stela has unique style. The woman's body is missing and the image focuses instead on only her head and headdress, said Julia Guernsey, a professor of Precolumbian art history at the University of Texas at Austin and a member of the team.


The elaborate headdress features a reptilian creature as its main element, with waterfowl coming off the top, feathers and a sacrificial dish.


"It's much bigger than anything Carmen Miranda ever wore," Reese-Taylor said.


The stela doesn't follow the usual style of monuments from the time or later, which suggests there may have been room for independent art styles before conventions were established on portraying women, she added.


The find has been given to the government of Guatemala and was presented at a symposium in July.


The research is sponsored by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, the University of Calgary, universities in the United States and Australia, and private funders.



Italian archaeologists find preserved burial site

07.12.05 2.20pm


ROME - Archaeologists have unveiled a recently unearthed Roman burial ground, complete with sealed marble sarcophagi, that has somehow managed to elude Italy's active tomb raiders.


"It is a very unusual find, the experience of a lifetime," said archaeologist Andrea Iannaccone, who led the dig on the outskirts of Rome in a patch of bleak wasteland overlooked by a chicken processing factory.


The most prized find so far is a buried tomb containing five sarcophagi dating back to the second century AD, a golden period for ancient Rome when Marcus Aurelius was emperor.


All the caskets still have original, unbroken lead seals on their sides, indicating they have not been broken into - a rare occurrence in a country where rampant tomb raiding has gone largely unchecked for centuries.


Although the area's acidic soil has eroded large parts of some of the marble coffins, Iannaccone hopes that when he eventually open the seals, he will find not only human remains inside, but also personal belongings and mementos.


"If we are lucky and they turn out to be people of a high social status, then we might find possessions with the bodies. If we are unlucky, all we will find is mud," said Iannaccone.


Rome archaeologists began to work at the area a few months ago when a developer applied for permission to build houses on the abandoned scrubland.


The first thing they found was a deeply worn road, then a huge water tank some 40 metres long and some simple, shallow graves. When they dug lower, they discovered the circular tomb.


The archaeologist with overall responsibility for digs in the east of Rome said he hoped more tombs might be uncovered if his team is given the time and the money needed to carry out a more thorough search of the area.


"In my 25 years doing this job I have never come across anything like this," said Stefano Musco, standing alongside the mud pit containing the five coffins, including one tiny sarcophagus clearly belonging to a child.


"Look around this place. There is a chicken plant, a disused factory, a scrap yard. It is really grim. A discovery like this gives the area back its identity, its history and its dignity." The largest coffin is topped by a sculpture of a man and woman reclining, indicating that it contains the bodies of a married couple. The other caskets almost certainly belong to family members.


All five sarcophagi will eventually be hoisted out of the ground by cranes and taken to labs for more work. In the meantime, armed guards protect the site at night, with an earth digger placed over the hole to prevent any break-ins.


"Tomb raiders would love to get their hands on this," said Musco.





Greece's seas: the looters' next destination

New law opens access for traffickers to a hoard of underwater antiquities

Helena Smith in Athens

Tuesday December 6, 2005

The Guardian


When it was first proposed, it seemed like a good idea: open up the Greek seas to divers and create a paradise for tourists underwater. Those who backed the law never thought of it as a windfall for looters, nor did it occur to them that it might put the acquisition policies of museums under further scrutiny.

But the Greek parliament's unprecedented step last month to allow divers access to the once forbidden coastline has raised fears that archaeological riches preserved in an untouched world will be taken by ruthless thieves.


"There are treasures in our seas," says Dimitris Athanasoulis, president of the Archaeologists' Association. "This will open the floodgates to smugglers. It'll serve to encourage them at a time when evidence shows the trafficking of antiquities is on the rise."

Last month, as Athens announced legal action against California's Getty Museum to reclaim an array of antiquities whose rightful owners, according to authorities, died at least 2,000 years ago, the row reached a new pitch. At issue are thousands of shipwrecks believed to be buried in the Mediterranean. Greece is thought to host most of these submerged gems, with an undisclosed number, say experts, dating to the golden age of the 5th century BC. And, like later vessels from the Roman, Byzantine and early modern periods, those ships sank with priceless cargoes intact.


"If you think of at least one ship going down a year then there would be at least 6,000 of them down there now," says Katerina Delaporta, who heads the department of marine antiquity at the ministry of culture. "There could be double that," she says. "What is really bad is that this legislation not only contradicts constitutional laws that go back to the foundation of the Greek state on how our archaeology should be protected, but it also allows people to dive at great depths with the latest technology."


Previously, divers were given access to just 620 miles of the 10,000 miles of Greek coastline. Under the new legislation, however, they will be able to explore vessels and "archaeological parks" along the entire seabed freely. Until now, Greek authorities have gone out of their way to locate and protect historic wrecks. In the last five years, state-employed underwater archaeologists have found 35 ancient ships - compared with five in the decade before that - at depths of up to 600 metres. In total, a thousand have been catalogued.


But technological advances often mean modern pillagers get to such jewels before overworked archaeologists. While hi-tech tools have helped specialists better understand the boundaries of marine archaeology, they have also allowed amateur treasure-hunters to tap into Greece's vast underwater heritage, says Dr Delaporta.


"The sea is not like a museum. It can't be guarded round the clock and unfortunately technology has no principles," she says. "Looting is a big danger." It is not only wrecks that are attractive to looters. The Aegean is also thought to be littered with masterpieces lost in storms, thanks to Roman invaders' penchant for classical and Hellenistic statues. Since 1997 four statues, including a magnificent rendition of Roman emperor Octavius, have been delivered by fishermen to the state in the hope of rewards.


The problem of undersea plundering is part of the much wider problem of looting. Net profits from the global trade in antiquities are now on a par with those from smuggling humans and drugs, according to culture ministry officials in Greece. Emboldened by the explosion of internet auction houses, an increasing number of looters, they say, are linking up with criminal gangs seeking to launder ill-gotten gains through the international art market.


Nobody knows this better than Giorgos Gligoris. As head of the police squad set up to combat antiquities trafficking, the detective frequently dons the sharp suit of a collector to infiltrate art smuggling circles. From his cramped sixth-floor office in Athens's gargantuan police headquarters, he explains that, Europe-wide, the "bad economic climate" has spurred a proliferation of looters. This year alone, his 12-member team has seen a huge rise in valuable Byzantine icons being filched from monasteries.


"Put simply, profits are phenomenal and looters are running riot," he bristles, cigarette ash flying as he raises his hands in despair. "In the US and Europe ancient Greek artefacts are, sadly, very fashionable. Nouveau riche like them because they're not only pretty and look good in their sitting-rooms, but they also happen to be a great investment." For Greece there is the added problem of the country being "like a museum without any guards or doors".


"And now Europe is border-free and there are far fewer checkpoints, it's even easier for traffickers," he sighs.


Experts believe that often antiquities are whisked out of Greece in fruit and vegetable trucks. Destination reached, they can change hands up to five times before arriving in the display room of an auction house or museum.


The apparent ease with which smugglers have learned to move has given birth to a new type of menace in the form of looters posing as tourists, Mr Gligoris says. Last summer his unit stopped a yacht in broad daylight brimming with valuable amphorae, or jars, as it pulled out of port on the remote island of Mytilene.


In 2004, he says, his department confiscated 1,401 ancient artefacts in 24 raids throughout the country. "A lot of smugglers are coming here posing as wealthy tourists on yachts," he explains. "They arrive, supposedly on a cruise, when their real intention is to locate wrecks and whisk gold and bronze antiquities out of the country."


The work of anti-traffickers is made harder because of the near-impossibility of being able to prove that an artefact is stolen without previous photographic or archival evidence of its existence, he says. Last year, Greek officials discovered this to their cost when 17,000 stolen antiquities - enough to stock 10 museums - were found in the collection of the disgraced British art dealer Robin Symes. The unearthing of the hoard, the decision to take legal action against the Getty - after years of abortive diplomacy - and the dispute over allowing diving have all reinvigorated the campaign to stop Greece's heritage being spirited away.


For Mr Gligoris, there are times when he feels he is winning. "We do have moments of light when we catch smugglers. And when that happens, there's a lot of dancing and singing in this office."


Two years ago officer Giorgos Gligoris was tipped off about a "hot sale" in the province of Epiros. A retired civil servant conducting illegal excavations outside Ioannina had unearthed two 4th century BC statues - an Aphrodite and a gorgeous youth. He had stashed them in the basement of his block of flats and was looking for a buyer. He was prepared to sell them for £280,000. The detective filled his briefcase with cash and drove up to the north-western city. Members of his team would shadow him but until the mission was over he would use his alter ego: a Greek gallery owner who lived and worked in Switzerland. "We agreed to meet in a cafe and the trafficker took me to the building in question to show off the pieces," Mr Gligoris said. "They were beautiful, and I instantly said I would buy them but suggested have lunch first." When they got to the restaurant the detective alerted his team. "The old man was counting the money when they nabbed him. It was brilliant," said Mr Gligoris. "It took us two years to win the trust of the men who tipped us off and we were lucky because it wasn't dangerous. Other times it's been hairy. One guy, a trafficker in the army, kept his fingers on a grenade in his pocket the entire time we were negotiating. You can't show fear because if you do, you've lost the game."



Argonne researchers rewrite history

By Marni Pyke, Daily Herald Staff Writer

Daily Herald.com

Suburban Chicago, IL - Weary with chronic pain, Ludwig van Beethoven poignantly wrote about "his wretched existence" and asked doctors to explain his illness so the world could understand him better. It took almost two centuries, but suburban scientists believe they have the answer.


Fragments of the maestro's skull show his body was polluted with high amounts of lead, researchers with Argonne National Laboratory near Darien and the Pfeiffer Treatment Center in Warrenville announced Tuesday.


The lead poisoning was responsible for the revered German composer's death in 1827, explained Bill Walsh, who conducts the Beethoven Research Project for Pfeiffer.


"It was a very slow and painful death," said Walsh, chief scientist at the center, which researches biochemical imbalances that cause disorders such as autism.


"He appeared to avoid painkillers to keep his mind clear for his music."


How the skull fragments wound up at Argonne starts with a Austrian physician who studied Beethoven's exhumed body in 1863. He kept fragments of the skull, and the relics passed through the family until a great-great nephew brought them to Pfeiffer.


Walsh asked Argonne researchers to examine the bone with the Advanced Photon Source that uses electrons to produce powerful X-rays.


The laboratory, operated by the U.S. Department of Energy and University of Chicago, had previously analyzed hairs from the composer and found massive levels of lead. But with the more recent examination of his bones, scientists now feel they have definitive answers.


When X-rays hit objects, they produce reciprocal rays that scientists read to determine what material is producing them.


The levels of lead they found in the bone explained why Beethoven's personality changed in his 20s when he contracted lead poisoning, experts surmised.


"He became extremely ill with severe abdominal symptoms," Walsh said. "He was a very unhappy, depressed person."


Argonne physicist Ken Kemner worked into the wee hours on the X-ray process.


"It was a rush driving home at night knowing you were one of four people in the world who knew how Beethoven died," Kemner said. "I played 'Ode to Joy' and I cried.


"It almost puts you in contact spiritually with the guy."


Another holdup in making the announcement about the experiment, which started three years ago, was that researchers wanted to confirm the bones belonged to Beethoven, who died at age 56.


One Beethoven scholar, however, treated the news with a caveat. Bill Meredith, director of The Beethoven Center at San Jose State University, said more study needs to be done to determine if lead poisoning was the sole cause of the composer's death.


Walsh said the news definitely clears Beethoven of speculation he died of syphilis.


"We're glad to remove that scurrilous suggestion," he said.


Tracing the bone's history took about six hours at a minimal cost, said Murray Gibson, photon source director.


The Beethoven project is just one of myriad uses for the X-ray technology. Others applications are developing drugs, researching solar power and improving fuel efficiency, Gibson said, adding "this was the icing on the cake."



Holland gets its sunken treasure back

By David Keys, Age Correspondent, London

December 13, 2005


Ingots lost at sea 266 years ago have been recovered from a wreck in the English Channel.



AdvertisementTHE DUTCH Government has started taking possession of tens of thousands of dollars worth of silver bullion that it last saw 266 years ago.


The silver had been on a Dutch East India Co. ship that vanished in a storm in the English Channel in 1739.


Although wreckage was found at the time on Britain's south coast, nobody knew precisely where it had sunk. The disaster meant that the Dutch East India Co. lost around 250 crew and soldiers, and a large silver treasure, which was on the way to the East Indies to be converted into local coinage.


Despite the disappearance of the ship, the Rooswijk, the lost vessel and its treasure remained the property of the Dutch East India Co. When the company was taken over by the Dutch government in 1798, the Netherlands became the legal owners of the vanished bullion.


Last year a British sports diver, Cambridgeshire carpenter Ken Welling, found the wreckage. The Dutch Government was contacted, and the discovery was kept secret until this week, when Holland's Finance Minister, Joop Wijn, took possession of original wooden chests full of bullion.


The silver was handed over at a ceremony in Plymouth Harbour aboard a frigate of the Royal Dutch Navy, the De Ruyter.


The loss of the Rooswijk in December 1739 was a financial disaster for the Dutch East India Co. and for Holland as a whole, as well as being a catastrophe in human terms.


There were no survivors, and the world learned of the disaster because English fishermen, looking for potentially valuable storm debris found a wooden chest full of letters that identified the ship as the Rooswijk.


It had sank just a day after sailing from the Dutch coastal island of Texel.


Underwater excavations have recovered all the silver bullion, and more than a thousand artefacts. Other cargo seem to have included substantial quantities of sheet copper, sabre blades and masonry, presumably for some construction project in the Dutch East Indies.


Evidence of life on board was found in layers that reflected the vessel's social and architectural stratification.


When some time after the disaster the floor timbers had collapsed, the contents of each deck had simply fallen on top of one another.All the silver had been stored near the officer's dining area. The archaeologists knew how much they were looking for because the Dutch Government still has precise records of what was lost.


The silver, mainly in 1.9-kilogram bars, had all been mined in Spanish-ruled Mexico. Originally it had been carried by Spanish vessels from Mexico to Cadiz.


It had then been sold to the Dutch and shipped to Holland, where it had been melted down and converted into silver bars bearing the imprint of the Amsterdam Chamber of the Dutch East India Co. The "re-branded" treasure was then loaded onto the Rooswijk, bound for Batavia, modern Jakarta.


There, some of it would have been converted into Javanese currency, while much would have been shipped to Siam (modern Thailand) or Bengal to be converted into local coinage.


Before yesterday's handover to the Dutch, a full archaeological study has been carried out into the hundreds of bars recovered. Most were still in their original wooden chests.


The discovery of so many silver bars complete with "packaging" is unique, and is helping archaeologists understand the scale and nature of the 18th-century international bullion trade, which financially underpinned most of the European colonial ventures of that time.


"This discovery is unique," said marine archaeologist Alex Hildredas. "It has provided a near complete assemblage of silver ingots cast for a single voyage, and would have been melted down to produce coinage if the vessel had not sunk."




Sex experts head to Wales to talk Egyptian Dec 10 2005

Robin Turner, Western Mail


SEX, drugs and music, cosmetic surgery, gay hairdressers, desperate housewives and a mysterious sex manual ... is it a new TV offering aimed at overshadowing the BBC's sex and swords drama Rome?


No; welcome to the world of the ancient Egyptians - and their music, sex lives and cosmetic foibles are just some of the topics to be debated at Swansea University's Sex and Gender in Ancient Egypt conference at the campus' Egypt Centre this month.


The conference, the third the centre has organised, will welcome leading egyptologists and experts in gender from academic institutions across the world.


Carolyn Graves Brown, the centre's director, said, "The Egyptians were in some ways a lot more liberated than us but at the same time not too dissimilar from some aspects of today's society.


"And we have to be careful how we interpret ancient hieroglyphs and images.



"That theory is well illustrated by the images from the tomb of the so-called Two Brothers, Niankh- Khnum and Khnumhotep, who were 'manicurists to the Pharaoh' and buried together. The drawings depict two men embracing and it has long been argued that they were homosexual."



Dr Richard Parkinson from the British Museum is one of four eminent egyptologists who will put forward four conflicting theories about the relationship between the two brothers at the conference.



"Much discussion has centred on women in Ancient Egypt, as if implying that the status of masculinity was a given.



"Where masculinity has been discussed, it has often been given less importance, as in the controversial readings of the tomb of the two brothers, and such examples can reveal the risks of projecting modern stereotypes onto ancient data."



The conference will hear that as a rite of passage in ancient Egypt, young girls who had reached puberty would join itinerant musical troupes which travelled the country.



"It gave them the chance to perform in religious rituals where alcohol and hallucinatory drugs were consumed," said Ms Graves Brown.



The question of cosmetic surgery will also be debated.



Queen Nunjmet's mummy had its cheeks stuffed with bandages, resin and a cheesy substance and other bodies have had noses altered. Today, plastic surgeons would use materials such as silicon to enhance features but as the Egyptians knew how to enhance the features of the dead, did they do it on the living?



A total of 18 speakers will address the conference which takes place on December 19 and 20.



The Egypt Centre and egyptology courses at Swansea University are enjoying huge popularity.



Five thousand years ago the chain of independent city-states lining the River Nile united to form one long, thin country ruled by one king, or pharaoh.



Almost instantly a highly distinctive culture developed and for almost 30 centuries Egypt remained the foremost nation in the Mediterranean.



Then, in 332 BC, Alexander the Great heralded the end of the Egyptian way of life.



The unique culture was quickly buried beneath successive layers of Greek, Roman and Arabic tradition, and knowledge of Egypt's glorious past was lost.



Only the decaying stone monuments, their hieroglyphic texts now unreadable, survived.



Some 2,000 years on, however, egyptology is booming and at a time when Latin and ancient Greek are rapidly vanishing from the school curriculum, more and more people are choosing to read hieroglyphs in their spare time.



And films such as The Mummy and the Indiana Jones series which glamorise archaeologists and the new BBC series Egypt fuel the interest.