Freeze 'condemned Neanderthals'
A sharp freeze could have dealt the killer blow that finished off our evolutionary cousins the Neanderthals, according to a new study.
The ancient humans are thought to have died out in most parts of Europe by about 35,000 years ago.
And now new data from their last known refuge in southern Iberia indicates the final population was probably beaten by a cold spell some 24,000 years ago.
The research is reported by experts from the Gibraltar Museum and Spain.
They say a climate downturn may have caused a drought, placing pressure on the last surviving Neanderthals by reducing their supplies of fresh water and killing off the animals they hunted.
Sediment cores drilled from the sea bed near the Balearic Islands show the average sea-surface temperature plunged to 8C (46F). Modern-day sea surface temperatures in the same region vary from 14C (57F) to 20C (68F).
In addition, increased amounts of sand were deposited in the sea and the amount of river water running into the sea also plummeted.
Neanderthals appear in the fossil record about 350,000 years ago and, at their peak, these squat, physically powerful hunters dominated a wide range, spanning Britain and Iberia in the west to Israel in the south and Uzbekistan in the east.
Our own species, Homo sapiens , evolved in Africa, and displaced the Neanderthals after entering Europe about 40,000 years ago.
During the last Ice Age, the Iberian Peninsula was a refuge where Neanderthals lived on for several thousand years after they had died out elsewhere in Europe.
These creatures ( Homo neanderthalensis ) had survived in local pockets during previous Ice Ages, bouncing back when conditions improved. But the last one appears to have been characterised by several rapid and severe changes in climate which hit a peak 30,000 years ago.
Southern Iberia appears to have been sheltered from the worst of these. But about 24,000 years ago, conditions did deteriorate there.
This event was the most severe the region had seen for 250,000 years, report Clive Finlayson, from the Gibraltar Museum; Francisco Jimenez-Espejo, from the University of Granada, Spain; and colleagues.
Their findings are published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.
"It looks pretty severe and also quite short," Professor Finlayson told BBC News.
"Things like olive trees and oak trees that are still with us today managed to ride it out. But a very fragmented, stressed population of Neanderthals - and perhaps other elements of the fauna - did not."
The cause of this chill may have been cyclical changes in the Earth's position relative to the Sun - so-called Milankovitch cycles.
But a rare combination of freezing polar air blowing down the Rhone valley and Saharan air blowing north seems to have helped cool this part of the Mediterranean Sea, contributing to the severe conditions.
Gorham's Cave on Gibraltar shows evidence of occupation by groups of Neanderthals until 24,000 years ago. But thereafter, researchers have found no signs of their presence.
However, in an interesting new development, scientists are also now reporting another site, from south-east Spain, which has yielded evidence for the late survival of Neanderthals.
In a study published in the journal Geobios, Jose Carrion, Santiago Fernandez Jimenez, from the University of Murcia; and colleagues analysed pollen from soil layers at Carihuela cave to determine how vegetation had changed in the area during the past 15,000 years.
They also obtained ages for sediment samples from the cave, using radiocarbon dating and uranium-thorium dating.
Sediment layers containing Neanderthal tools were found to date from 45,000 years ago until 21,000 years ago.
These radiocarbon dates are "raw", and do not exactly correspond to calendar dates. They cannot therefore be compared directly with those from Gibraltar, which are calibrated.
Spanish archaeologists carried out a detailed excavation of Carihuela between 1979 and 1992. But the cave is currently closed due to a dispute between national and regional governments over rights to dig there.
Neanderthal bones have also been excavated from these sediment units, including a male skull fragment which could potentially be very recent. But Professor Carrion is reluctant to draw conclusions.
"The human bones have been recovered in different excavation campaigns over 50 years. The relationship between them and the dates I provide must be treated with caution," Professor Carrion told BBC News.
He added that sediments in parts of the cave could have been churned up, mixing old bones in with younger material.
Clive Finlayson suggested the late Neanderthal dates from Carihuela might agree well with those from Gibraltar once they were calibrated.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/02/20 23:06:06 GMT
© BBC MMVII
Public release date: 19-Feb-2007
Contact: Erin Doonan
DNA analysis reveals rapid population shift among Pleistocene cave bears
Studying DNA obtained from teeth of ancient cave bears, researchers have been able to identify a shift in a particular population of the bears inhabiting a European valley in the late Pleistocene era. The findings illustrate the ability of DNA sequence analysis to reveal aspects of animal population dynamics in the distant past and potentially illuminate the influence of human migrations in animal population changes. The new work, reported by a collaborative group of researchers including Michael Hofreiter of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, appears in the February 20th issue of the journal Current Biology, published by Cell Press.
To investigate the stability of ancient cave bear populations over time, the researchers obtained DNA samples from 29 cave bear teeth from three geographically close caves in the Ach Valley, near the Danube River in modern-day southern Germany. Twenty of the teeth ultimately provided useful mitochondrial DNA sequence (mitochondrial DNA is especially useful for tracking population changes). The findings indicated that while four sequence types (known as haplotypes) corresponded to bears 28,000 to 38,000 years old, a fifth DNA haplotype was found only in bears that were 28,000 years old or younger. These data suggested that what had been a stable, long-established cave bear population became disrupted around 28,000 years ago and was replaced by a new, genetically distinct cave bear group.
The timing of the disruption appears to roughly coincide with the arrival of modern humans in the Ach Valley, thought to have occurred by 32,000 years ago. The researchers suggest that human influence in the form of hunting and competition for sheltering caves may represent a plausible explanation for the disruption in the cave bear population, creating an opportunity for the infiltration by a neighboring cave bear group. The authors note that though the new bears successfully colonized the Ach Valley for a time, they endured only another 2,000 years before becoming extinct in the region.
The researchers include Michael Hofreiter and Svante Pääbo of Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany; Susanne Münzel and Nicholas J. Conard of Institut für Ur- und Frühgeschichte, Eberhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen in Tübingen, Germany; Joshua Pollack and Montgomery Slatkin of University of California, Berkeley in Berkeley, CA; Gunter Weiss of Max-Planck-Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig and Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf in Düsseldorf, Germany.
Hofreiter et al.: "Sudden replacement of cave bear mitochondrial DNA in the late Pleistocene." Publishing in Current Biology 17, R122-3, February 20, 2007 DOI 10.1016/j.cub.2007.01.026. www.current-biology.com
Public release date: 22-Feb-2007
Contact: Tim Schnettler
Texas A&M University
New evidence -- Clovis people not first to populate North America
COLLEGE STATION -- The belief that the Clovis People were the first to populate North America some 11,500 years ago has been widely challenged in recent years, and a Texas A&M University anthropologist has found evidence he says could be the final nail in the coffin for the Clovis first model.
Michael Waters, director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M, is the lead author of the paper "Redefining the Age of Clovis: Implications for the Peopling of the Americas," that appears in the Feb. 23 (Friday) issue of Science.
Waters’ paper revises the original dates for the Clovis time period, suggesting that humans likely inhabited the Americas before Clovis, who have long been considered to be the first inhabitants of the New World.
"It was always argued that Clovis represented the first people who came to the Americas," Waters says. "The new dating that we did indicates that the Clovis Complex ranges from 11,050 to 10,900 radiocarbon years before the present."
"Slowly but surely, archaeologists have been questioning whether Clovis represents the earliest people to enter the Americas."
To properly understand the age of Clovis, Waters and co-author Thomas Stafford of Stafford Research Laboratories in Colorado, tested samples from various Clovis sites in an effort to re-date some of what Waters says were poorly dated sites.
Because of technological advances, Waters says that he and Stafford were able to more precisely pinpoint the dates for some of the more than 25 dated Clovis sites that were excavated in North America.
"Many of these radiocarbon dates were run back in the 1960s and 1970s when radiocarbon technology wasn’t what it is today," says Waters. "Many of the dates obtained from these sites had ranges on them of plus or minus 250 years. We can now get to plus or minus 30 years."
What Waters and Stafford found when they did their testing were radiocarbon dates that showed the Clovis time range wasn’t as long as had been previously thought. Their tests placed the Clovis time frame between 11,050 radiocarbon years before present to approximately 10,800 radiocarbon years before present.
"It was a surprise," Waters says of the results. "And I think people are going to be surprised by the dates."
Waters says those dates show that Clovis was no more than 200 to 400 calendar years long, making it almost impossible for the Clovis people to spread as far as previously thought in such a short time span. They would, at most, have had to be prehistoric jet-setters to cover the ground in this amount of time.
"Once you realize that the Clovis Complex dates much younger than previously thought and that Clovis has a much shorter duration than we thought, you have to ask how could people, in such a short period of time, reach the tip of South America." Waters says. "It doesn’t make any kind of anthropological sense that these people could have been moving that fast, nor would they have wanted to move that fast. And it seems highly unlikely, given 20 generations, they could have made it that far that quickly."
To re-date the sites, Waters requested samples for dating from different researchers who had excavated Clovis sites. He then sent the radiocarbon samples to Stafford who put them through a process where the bone is dissolved and bone collagen is extracted.
The collagen was put in a molecular sieve where it worked its way down through the sieve. Once this was complete, Stafford was left with purified amino acids from the bone. The highly chemically-pure sample was processed into a target and dated using an atomic accelerator.
The revised ages that Waters and Stafford obtained overlap dates from a number of North American sites that are technologically and culturally not Clovis sites, further bringing into question whether the Clovis People were the first humans in the Americas.
"The long-range implications of our study is that it will get scientists looking for pre-Clovis evidence with a lot more vigor and thinking differently about Clovis," Waters says. "This will force us to develop a new model to explain the peopling of the Americas."
The ancient girl with the golden eye: 5,000 year old priestess found
Last updated at 14:21pm on 21st February 2007
The body of a strikingly tall 5,000-year-old woman with an artificial golden eye has been discovered in Iran.
Archaeologists said the woman was a female soothsayer or priestess and would have transfixed those around her with her eyeball, making them believe she had occult powers and could see into the future.
The 25-30-year old Persian woman, who was almost 6 feet tall, was also buried with an ornate bronze hand mirror so she could check her startling appearance.
Italian and Iranian archaeologists made the discovery at an ancient necropolis at Shahr-i-Sokhta in the Sistan desert on the Iranian-Afghan border.
Archaeologist Lorenzo Costantini said the artificial eye was clearly not intended to mimic a real eye. He said: " It must have glittered spectacularly, conferring on the woman a mysterious and supernatural gaze."
The golden eyeball is engraved with lines coming out of a central circle like rays of light.
It is a half-sphere with a diameter of just over an inch and made from lightweight material thought to be derived from bitumen paste, which is painted gold.
There are two tiny holes drilled on either side of the eyeball, through which a fine thread held it in place.
Historians said an imprint on the woman's eye socket proved she wore the golden eye in life, rather than having it placed in her eye at burial.
Scientists stumble upon one of world's oldest cities
22 February 2007
MADRID - A Spanish scientific team found one of the world's oldest cities, thought to be about 5,500 years old, in Syria.
The discovery, based on pottery fragments and other ceramics found at the site, was announced in Madrid by two of the scientists in charge of the investigation, Ignacio Marquez of Spain's CSIC scientific research council and Juan Luis Moreno of the Universidad de La Coruña.
According to reports, the find is of "the highest level" of scientific importance because of its ramifications for the understanding of history and for the multiple lines of future research it opens up in many fields.
The Hispanic-Syrian archeological work is being carried out at Tal Humeada, some 150 kilometers (93 miles) from the border with Iraq on the left bank of the Euphrates River.
Last summer, archeologists found lying on the surface of the ground "a large number of (ceramic) bowls" that date from the period of the Uruk culture.
The Iraqi city of Uruk, in fact, is one of the oldest known having thrived between 3,500 and 3,100 B.C., and its culture is characterized by the production of very simple and roughly-made ceramic bowls, fashioned of clay and straw, like those discovered at Tal Humeada.
In addition, researchers found the oldest evidence of writing at the Uruk city-state complex, something that required moving back the boundary between "History, capitalized" and prehistoric times, Marquez said.
The neighbourhoods of Uruk, as could be the case at Tal Humeada, contained temples, palaces and other large monuments that the Spanish scientists say they are confident they will discover at the new site once they begin to excavate it.
The hundreds of broken ceramic bowls or basins archeologists found at the site were probably used to hold workers' bread rations, a practice that was also used at Uruk.
The beginning of excavations at the new site are scheduled for sometime in 2008, given that the process for getting permission to conduct an archeological dig in Syria moves very slowly, experts say.
The Spanish scientists hope to find evidence of the beginning of agriculture, since the Uruk culture was characterized by the presence of agricultural settlements outside its cities.
Near the city there is a necropolis - a huge cemetery or "city of the dead" - in which it is calculated there could be up to 1,000 tombs, 160 of which have already been located.
One of them, which was not looted in antiquity like many others were, has been subjected to a "scientific investigation" by the Spanish team, which determined that it was a 6th-century grave containing human remains, arrowheads, fragments of rings and many beaded necklaces.
[Copyright EFE with Expatica]
Ritual piece of Stonehenge discovered
Feb 20 2007
Sam Burson, Western Mail
A MISSING stone which could be an integral part of rituals at Stonehenge may have been discovered by a Welsh archaeologist.
Dennis Price, pictured below, who has done years of research on the mysterious stone structure, believes he has tracked down a previously lost altar stone, identified during one of the first studies of the site in the 17th century.
He is convinced it is now in two pieces on either side of a road in a Wiltshire village, just a couple of miles from Stonehenge itself.
Mr Price, who is from Monmouthshire, and now based in Exeter, has studied the archaeology of Stonehenge for years, and in 2003 filmed the excavation of the graves of the Welsh Boscombe Bowmen who helped build Stonehenge.
He believes the stones found used to be the altar stone which was named and described by 17th century architect Inigo Jones.
Jones, one of his era's most prominent architects, was the first person known to have carried out detailed measurements of Stonehenge. He did so in 1620.
Now Price, 47, says he can account for the altar stone's history.
The stones are made of Jurassic limestone - found in Dorset and the Cotswolds, but not locally. It is known not all stones used in Stonehenge were Welsh Preseli bluestone.
And the stones, if put together, would look remarkably similar to one in a Victorian woodcut picture he has acquired. Price believes the stone was taken from the site in the Victorian era, when such raids were commonplace.
He said, "We have a woodcut of an easily carved stone with a distinctive shape being cut in two at Stonehenge, and we have accounts of a curious altar stone as described by Inigo Jones being transported to somewhere called St James. We have drawn a blank at the Palace of St James, but when we look at the nearby village of Berwick St James, we find two standing stones that once formed two bridges across a stream, and if we mentally reunite the parts, they bear an uncanny resemblance to the stone in the woodcut.
"There is always the possibility, however remote, that a few centuries ago, someone trekked either to Dorset or to the Cotswolds and back again with two ungainly and extremely heavy pieces of stone to make two bridges across a small stream in a tiny village in Wiltshire, while ignoring the established and well-documented practice of retrieving perfectly suitable stone from Stonehenge, just a few miles north."
He added, "On the balance of probabilities, there can be little doubt that Inigo Jones's fabled and once-lost altar stone from Stonehenge now stands in two pieces in a nearby village either side of a small lane, in plain view of anyone who wishes to inspect them. There can also be little if any doubt that our ancestors went to great pains to select this stone and to transport it from either Dorset or the Cotswolds to Stonehenge, where it formed an integral part of the ancient observances and ceremonies there over four thousand years ago."
Dr Julie Gardiner from Wessex Archaeology, a leading authority on Stonehenge, said many stones had been taken from the site.
She said, "Lots have been broken up and taken away, especially by the Victorians."
She added one "altar stone" was already accounted for, but admitted there could be more.
Dr Gardiner said, "There is a stone called the altar stone, which is still at the site. It's under a larger stone and would have been knocked over when it fell.
"But a lot of stones have been removed, and may have been given any number of names."
Archaeologists continue Woodston dig
Archaeologists continue to examine an allotment site in the middle of Peterborough after the discovery of remains from the ancient kingdom of Mercia.
By Jack Grove
THE skeleton of an Anglo-Saxon lord has been recovered as the hunt for buried treasure continues at a city allotment site.
The removal of the seventh Century body follows the discovery of a rare ceremonial brass bowl on the site at Palmerston Road, Woodston, Peterborough.
The priceless Coptic bowl, which was made more than 1,300 years ago in the Mediterranean, has led historical experts to conclude they had discovered the grave of an extremely wealthy Anglo-Saxon – probably a prince or a powerful warlord from the ancient kingdom of Mercia.
Excavation by archaeologists from Peterborough Museum has now confirmed that the 2ft-wide brass bowl was part of a lavish pagan funeral, in which a rich lord was buried with his most valuable possessions.
Ben Robinson, who is leading the dig, said: "The bowl was found near the arm bones, which suggest it was placed on the man's chest and his arms placed around it.
"It looks like the body was lying on its back when it was laid to rest. We've discovered an arm, bits of a left leg, teeth and fragments of a jaw bone.
"The bones are very well preserved, but they have been disturbed - probably by ploughing centuries ago.
"We've done a metal detector sweep of the are and we have not discovered any significant metal finds."
The precious bowl itself is currently being examined by forensic archaeologists at Anglia Ruskin University, in Cambridge.
Dr Francis Pryor, an expert from Channel Four's Time Team programme and the city's Flag Fen Bronze Age centre, said today: "This is a very significant find in terms of the city's history . Peterborough was founded around 650AD when most people were pagans, but there was an increasing move towards Christianity."
Allotment holder Helen McGlashon (26), of Belsize Avenue, Woodston, who unearthed human bones that lead to the find and the subsequent excavation, was one of the volunteers helping at the dig.
She said: "It's amazing to think people have grown vegetables and gone to school nearby without realising there is such an incredible piece of history under their feet.
"I can't quite believe it is happening. I thought it was just some old bones at first, but the story just gets more amazing every day.
Crystals 'helped Viking sailors'
Vikings may have used a special crystal called a sunstone to help navigate the seas even when the sun was obscured by fog or cloud, a study has suggested.
Researchers from Hungary ran a test with sunstones in the Arctic ocean, and found that the crystals can reveal the sun's position even in bad weather.
This would have allowed the Vikings to navigate successfully, they say.
The sunstone theory has been around for 40 years, but some academics have treated it with extreme scepticism.
Researcher Gabor Horvath from Eotvos University in Budapest led a team that spent a month recording polarisation - how rays of light display different properties in different directions - in the Arctic.
Polarisation cannot be seen with the naked eye, but it can be viewed with what are known as birefringent crystals, or sunstones.
Birefringence, or double refraction, is the splitting of a light wave into two different components - an ordinary and an extraordinary ray.
The researchers found that the crystals could be used to find out where the sun was in the sky in certain foggy or cloudy conditions.
It is already thought that Vikings used sundials aboard ships to navigate.
Vikings were a seafaring race from Scandinavia who used their longboats to explore and conquer parts of Europe, Greenland, Iceland and Russia.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/02/07 15:23:00 GMT
© BBC MMVII
Source: University of Arizona Released: Wed 14-Feb-2007, 17:40 ET
Embargo expired: Mon 19-Feb-2007, 17:00 ET
The Mysterious Case of Columbus's Silver Ore
What was thought to be the first evidence of successful prospecting for precious metals in the New World turns out to be something completely different. Silver-bearing ore found at the settlement founded by Christopher Columbus's second expedition was not mined in the Americas.
Newswise — Silver-bearing ore found at the settlement founded by Christopher Columbus's second expedition was not mined in the Americas, new research reveals.
The ore that researchers excavated from the settlement, La Isabela, came from Spain, said Alyson Thibodeau, who analyzed the ores.
"What appeared to be the earliest evidence of European finds of precious metals in the New World turned out not to be that at all," said David J. Killick. "It's a very different story."
The explorers brought the Spanish ore to La Isabela to use for comparison when assaying the new ores they expected to find, the researchers surmise. The expedition's purpose was discovering precious metals.
But by 1497, La Isabela's remaining settlers, having found no gold or silver, were desperate to salvage something of value from the failed settlement. They were reduced to extracting silver from the galena they brought from Spain, the researchers said.
"This part of the story of Columbus's failed settlement is one that couldn't be found in the historical documents," said Thibodeau, a geosciences graduate student at The University of Arizona in Tucson. "We could never have figured this out without applying the techniques of physical sciences to the archaeological artifacts."
Thibodeau, Killick, a UA associate professor of anthropology, and their colleagues will publish their article, "The Strange Case of the Earliest Silver Extraction by European Colonists in the New World," in the early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences during the week of February 19.
The other authors are UA's Joaquin Ruiz, John T. Chesley and Ward Lyman; Kathleen Deagan of the University of Florida in Gainesville; and Jose M. Cruxent (deceased). The National Science Foundation, Direccion Nacional de Parques de la Republica Dominicana, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society and the Keck Foundation helped fund the research.
La Isabela, the first European town in the New World, was established by Columbus's second expedition in 1494 on the northern coast of the present Dominican Republic.
The approximately 1500 members of the expedition expected to make their fortunes by finding precious metals but instead found hurricanes, hunger and disease. Columbus was recalled to Spain in 1496, and the few hundred remaining inhabitants abandoned the town in 1498.
Archaeologists excavating the site in the late 1980s and early 1990s found about 100 pounds of galena, a silver-bearing lead ore, and more than 200 pounds of metallurgical slag. The ore and slag were associated with a small furnace near the alhondiga, a building for the storage and protection of royal property.
Archaeologist Deagan sent pieces of the material to archaeometallurgist Killick for analysis.
The slag turned out to be lead silicate -- the end product of an improvised smelting process, Killick said, adding "Lead silicate is good for nothing." Other smelting processes used at the time could recapture the ore's lead so it could be used for musket balls and as cladding for ships.
"Why waste the lead?" Killick said. "Normally, they would smelt the galena to lead."
Killick and graduate student Ward Lyman examined the slag under a microscope and saw specks of silver, suggesting that Columbus's followers were trying to extract silver from the galena by removing all the lead.
"We thought, 'Fantastic!' The first evidence of Europeans prospecting for silver in the New World."
By reviewing the accounts of Columbus’s second voyage, Thibodeau found the expedition had visited islands where geologists now know galena occurs.
It was puzzling that the documents made no mention of finding such ore, Killick said. Maybe it didn't seem to be enough metal to mention or maybe some members of the expedition were trying to hide the discovery.
Thibodeau then used lead isotope analysis to determine where La Isabela's galena originated. The ratio of the different forms, or isotopes, of lead provides a kind of fingerprint that can indicate the source of a rock.
"We're looking at something about the rock's chemistry and using that to tell us where it came from," she said. "It's like Antiques Roadshow where the appraiser looks at some characteristic of an antique and says, 'This was made by so-and-so at such-and-such a time.'"
Figuring out that the galena came from Spain led to the question, why bring ore? The documents report that the expedition also brought lead.
By contacting an expert in medieval chemistry, the scientists learned that a common practice of the time was mixing galena with powdered ores suspected of having gold or silver. The process provided an assay of the gold or silver in the newly discovered hunk of ore by comparing it with galena containing a known, small quantity of silver.
Given that the expedition purpose was discovering new sources of precious metals, it makes sense that the members toted along materials to assess their discoveries.
"It was a nice detective story," Killick said. "We think we've solved this one."
But there are more archaeological puzzles out there, Thibodeau said.
"Archaeology tells us what might be an interesting question to ask -- and the physical sciences gives us a way to answer the question," Thibodeau said.
Related Web sites:
UA's Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (IGERT) in Archaeological Sciences
Joaquin Ruiz's Research Group
© 2007 Newswise. All Rights Reserved.
Call It Serendipity: A Missing Piece of Washington’s War Tent Is Found
The American Revolution Center
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By EMILY B. HAGER
Published: February 20, 2007
For nearly a century, a large oval-shape linen tent where George Washington is believed to have slept during the Revolutionary War sat on display in Valley Forge, Pa., with a gaping hole in its roof.
Although conservators worried that the edge, or selvage, of a torn bit of linen wouldn’t fit the hole in the tent, it matched perfectly.
But now a combination of luck and forensic detective work has led to the discovery of the missing section of fabric — snipped out, historians believe, by a memorabilia seeker — and to the discovery that the tent was originally striped blue and white.
“It is the missing piece,” said Loreen Finkelstein, a textile conservator who made both discoveries while restoring the tent for the American Revolution Center, a nonprofit organization collecting artifacts and raising money for a Revolutionary War museum.
The tent, 25-feet-10-inches long by 17-feet-7-inches wide by 13 ½-feet high, is a faded beige, but Mrs. Finkelstein has learned that it was originally striped blue and white and had red wool trim.
Historic documents describe another sleeping tent with red and white stripes that was bought in May 1776 as part of a set of tents for Washington. Mrs. Finkelstein’s discovery appears to confirm for the first time that there was more than one set. Considering the wear and tear of traveling from one encampment to another, it is not surprising that Washington’s quartermasters may have had several sets of tents.
“This has been recognized as part of the commander in chief’s equipment since the 18th century,” Dr. R. Scott Stephenson, who was hired to assess the American Revolution Center’s artifacts, said of the tent that has been on display.
The American Revolution Center plans to make the tent a featured exhibit in its museum in Valley Forge. When the group acquired it in 2002 from the Valley Forge Historical Society, it needed to be completely restored.
Mrs. Finkelstein was hired to prepare the tent for exhibition. With its poles stored and its tired folds resting across her home workshop, Mrs. Finkelstein began laying sheets of Mylar, a polyester product 10 to 20 times the thickness of kitchen plastic wrap, over the tent. In this way she created a Mylar impression of its entirety — every stain, every hole, every repair, even every thread.
As she was working, she discovered the blue and white stripes. “I noticed,” she said, “that there was a very faint, very occasional, what looked like a line on the fabric.”
Mrs. Finkelstein called a former Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Douglas Deedrick, for help. She sent him tiny samples of blue and white threads from the tent. Mr. Deedrick studied them under a variety of microscopes and lights to measure how much light they absorbed and reflected, and at what wavelengths they did it.
But he saw the stripes best with his naked eye and Mrs. Finkelstein’s camera.
In the fall of 2004, while Mrs. Finkelstein was vacuuming and washing the tent, she was also busy with something else: the George Washington sculpture project at Mount Vernon, his estate in Virginia.
One day she and Carol Borchert Cadou, a senior curator at Mount Vernon, were studying one of Washington’s waistcoats. As she worked with gloved hands, Mrs. Finkelstein casually talked about the hole in the tent.
“I said,” Ms. Cadou recalled in an interview, “ ‘We have several fragments in our collection that are associated with Washington’s tents.’ ”
By chance, an art handler overheard them and mentioned that some of the fragments were kept in the very room where the women stood.
As Mrs. Finkelstein looked at one of the fragments, on loan from Yale University, she said, “This looks like the missing piece.”
She did a thread count, collected a few fibers for forensic tests and traced the fragment’s outline on a Mylar sheet. But she told no one else what she suspected.
“Why cause a problem if you don’t know for sure?” she said in an interview.
When Mrs. Finkelstein returned home and set her Mylar template into the ceiling’s hole, it fit like a missing puzzle piece.
More testing showed that the piece of fabric and the tent had the same weave, the same thread count and the same decorative blue threads. Most significant, they shared a seam, and the top and bottom stitching techniques along that seam also matched.
Through all this analysis, however, the tent and the fragment remained separated. The American Revolution Center, Yale and Mount Vernon finally brought them together, and on Jan. 20, when Mrs. Finkelstein set the fragment in the ceiling’s hole, it was an exact match.
She believes there is still another small fragment missing, but as she wrote in one of her formal reports, “To have found the missing fragment of this extremely important textile fabric is extraordinary.”
Beach hunt for lost Jacobite gold
Archaeologists hope to find missing French gold sent to Scotland to help fund a Jacobite Rebellion buried under a remote Highland beach.
A portion of the money was believed to have been hidden at Arisaig, near Mallaig, in the 1700s.
Neil Oliver is leading the hunt for the gold for a new BBC Two series called History Detectives.
The money did not arrive in Scotland until after the Jacobites' defeat at the Battle of Culloden in April 1746.
It was intended to finance Charles Edward Stuart - Bonnie Prince Charlie - and his efforts against the British monarch, George II, and put his father James Stuart on the throne.
Mr Oliver, an archaeologist and co-presenter of TV programmes Two Men in a Trench and Coast, said the original complete sum of money sent from France may be worth £5m today.
What happened to the gold remains a mystery, however, a share of it could have been buried at Arisaig.
Mr Oliver said the clues to its possible location were contained in a letter believed to have been written in October 1746.
He said: "It appears to be a death bed confession from a Jacobite who took some of the money and hid it.
"Apparently he was so tortured from having taken some of the money.
"He says in his letter that he didn't know what it was when he took it then when he found out that it belonged to his rightful prince he made his confession to make sure it got back its rightful owner."
Mr Oliver conceded the letter may be a fake, but forensic tests on the ink and paper will confirm its age.
He added: "People have been fantasying about the gold since April 1746."
History Detectives is to be screened later this year on BBC Two.
Story from BBC NEWS:
Published: 2007/02/19 11:31:18 GMT
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