Treasure trove found on shipwreck off Africa

The Associated Press

Published: May 2, 2008


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: The ship was laden with tons of copper ingots, elephant tusks, gold coins — and cannons to fend off pirates.


But it had nothing to protect it from the fierce weather off a particularly bleak stretch of inhospitable African coast, and it sank 500 years ago.


Now it has been found, stumbled upon by De Beers geologists prospecting for diamonds off Namibia.


"If you're mining on the coast, sooner or later you'll find a wreck," archaeologist Dieter Noli said in an interview Thursday.


The company had cleared and drained a stretch of seabed, building an earthen wall to keep the water out so geologists could work. Noli said one of the geologists saw a few ingots, but had no idea what they were. Then the team found what looked like cannon barrels.


The geologists stopped the brutal earth-moving work of searching for diamonds and sent photos to Noli, who had done research in the Namibian desert since the mid-1980s and has advised De Beers since 1996 on the archaeological impact of its operations in Namibia.


The find "was what I'd been waiting for, for 20 years," Noli said. "Understandably, I was pretty excited. I still am."


Noli's original specialty was the desert, but because of Namdeb's offshore explorations, he had been preparing for the possibility of a wreck, even learning to dive.


After the discovery, he brought in Bruno Werz, an expert in the field, to help research the wreck. Noli has studied maritime artifacts with Werz, who was one of his instructors at the University of Cape Town.


Judging from the notables depicted on the hoard of Spanish and Portuguese coins, and the type of cannons and navigational equipment, the ship went down in the late 1400s or early 1500s, around the time Vasco de Gama and Columbus were plying the waters of the New World.


"Based on the goods they were carrying, it's almost certain that it dates from that time," said John Broadwater, chief archaeologist at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


"This find is very exciting because very few vessels from that period have been discovered," he said, adding that many early ships were thought to have wrecked in that area.


It was, Noli said, "a period when Africa was just being opened up, when the whole world was being opened up."


He compared the remnants — ingots, ivory, coins, coffin-sized timber fragments — to evidence at a crime scene.


"The surf would have pounded that wreck to smithereens," he said. "It's not like 'Pirates of the Caribbean,' with a ship more or less intact."


He and Werz are trying to fit the pieces into a story. They divide their time between inventorying the find in Namibia and doing research in museums and libraries in Cape Town, South Africa, from where Noli spoke by phone Thursday.


Eventually, they will go to Portugal or Spain to search for records of a vessel with similar cargo that went missing.


"You don't turn a skipper loose with a cargo of that value and have no record of it," Noli said.


The wealth on board is intriguing. Noli said the large amount of copper could mean the ship had been sent by a government looking for material to build cannons. Trade in ivory was usually controlled by royal families, another indication the ship was on official business.


On the other hand, why did the captain have so many coins? Shouldn't they have been traded for the ivory and copper?


"Either he did a very, very good deal. Or he was a pirate," Noli said. "I'm convinced we'll find out what the ship was and who the captain was."


What brought the vessel down may remain a mystery. But Noli has theories, noting the stretch of coast was notorious for fierce storms and disorienting fogs.


In later years, sailors with sophisticated navigational tools avoided it. The only tools found on the wreck were astrolabes, which can be used to determine only how far north or south you have sailed.


"Sending a ship toward Africa in that period, that was venture capital in the extreme," Noli said. "These chaps were very much on the edge as far as navigation. It was still very difficult for them to know where they were."


Noli has found signs that worms were at work on the ship's timber, and sheets of lead used to patch holes, indications the ship was old when it went down.


Imagine a leaky, overladen ship caught in a storm. The copper ingots, shaped like sections of a sphere, would have sat snug, he said. But the tusks — some 50 have been found — could have shifted, tipping the ship.


"And down you go," Noli said, "weighed down by your treasure."



The Androgynous Pharaoh? Akhenaten had feminine physique



BALTIMORE (AP) — Akhenaten wasn't the most manly pharaoh, even though he fathered at least a half-dozen children.


In fact, his form was quite feminine. And he was a bit of an egghead.


So concludes a Yale University physician who analyzed images of Akhenaten for an annual conference Friday at the University of Maryland School of Medicine on the deaths of historic figures.


The female form was due to a genetic mutation that caused the pharaoh's body to convert more male hormones to female hormones than needed, Dr. Irwin Braverman believes. And Akhenaten's head was misshapen because of a condition in which skull bones fuse at an early age.


The pharaoh had "an androgynous appearance. He had a female physique with wide hips and breasts, but he was male and he was fertile and he had six daughters," Braverman said. "But nevertheless, he looked like he had a female physique."


Braverman, who sizes up the health of individuals based on portraits, teaches a class at Yale's medical school that uses paintings from the university's Center for British Art to teach observation skills to first-year students. For his study of Akhenaten, he used statues and carvings.


Akhenaten (ah-keh-NAH-ten), best known for introducing a revolutionary form of monotheism to ancient Egypt, reigned in the mid-1300s B.C. He was married to Nefertiti, and Tutankhamun, also known as King Tut, may have been his son or half brother.


Egyptologist and archaeologist Donald B. Redford said he supports Braverman's belief that Akhenaten had Marfan syndrome, a genetic disorder marked by lengthened features, including fingers and the face.


Visiting clinics that treat those with the condition has strengthened that conviction, "but this is very subjective, I must admit," said Redford, a professor of classic and ancient Mediterranean studies at Penn State University.


Others have theorized Akhenaten and his lineage had Froehlich's Syndrome, which causes feminine fat distribution but also sterility. That doesn't fit Akhenaten, who had at least six daughters, Braverman said.


Klinefelter Syndrome, a genetic condition that can also cause gynecomastia, or male breast enlargement, has also been suggested, but Braverman said he suspects familial gynecomastia, a hereditary condition that leads to the overproduction of estrogen.


The Yale doctor said determining whether he is right can easily be done if Egyptologists can confirm which mummy is Akhenaten's and if Egyptian government officials agree to DNA analysis.


Braverman hopes his theory will lead them to do just that.


"I'm hoping that after we have this conference and I bring this up, maybe the Egyptologists who work on these things all the time, maybe they will be stimulated to look," he said.


Previous conferences have examined the deaths of Edgar Allan Poe, Alexander the Great, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Florence Nightingale and others.



Stunning finds on archaeological dig

1:00pm Thursday 1st May 2008

By Paul Ferguson


A ROMAN cemetery containing items of national importance has been uncovered in Herefordshire.


One of the biggest historical finds in the Marches has been made at Stretton Grandison. A complete wooden coffin – only the third to be found in the UK – was one of the items uncovered by Leominster-based Border Archaeology (BA).


A kiln, various urns and a working brooch were also unearthed, along with the remains of up to 19 bodies.


The results of the four-month dig – kept secret until now for fear of theft – were revealed to a packed Ashperton Village Hall on Tuesday.


Neil Shurety, BA managing director, was thrilled at the discovery, but believes the site is hiding more.


“We found a hell of a lot and it’s probably the largest find of its kind in Herefordshire,” said Mr Shurety.


“We had indications it was a Roman site, but we had no idea it was going to be this big. The major find was the coffin – this is only the third complete Roman coffin ever found in the UK, and the others were found in London in the Thames.” The dig coincided with major pipeline work, being carried out by Welsh Water and Laing O’Rourke between Lyde and Ledbury. The cemetery was discovered east of Watery Lane, one of 13 sites earmarked for investigation either side of the A417.


The coffin and the body – nicknamed Lucius – is being preserved, following tests at Durham University.


According to archaeologists, Lucius was 46, 5ft 9ins tall, suffered toothache and died around 1,800 years ago.


Most bodies were from the second to the fourth centuries AD, but some dated to the Middle Ages.


One find, dating to 650AD, was much more grisly – a decapitated 15-year-old girl who suffered multiple sharp blows.


Neolithic stakes, used for fishing, were also discovered, suggesting much earlier occupation.


“To have found these stakes I think, personally, was one of the highlights of our dig,” said Mr Shurety.


“These are made of alder and they date to 3,500 BC – it’s so humbling to think that man has been working on this land for all this time.” The coffin, Lucius, and recovered items will go on display in Hereford next year, while the other bodies will be given a proper burial. A book is also being planned, while BA intends to meet villagers to discuss their finds.




By 24 Hour Museum Staff    29/04/2008


A mass Roman grave, discovered in Gloucester in 2005, may have contained the victims of an acute disease of epidemic proportions, possibly plague.


This is the startling conclusion to a new report by Oxford Archaeology and archaelogical consultancy CgMs, who have been conducting an 18-month programme of scientific study on the grave, which contained around 91 skeletons.


The discovery of a mass grave of Roman date is almost unparalleled in British archaeology and archaeologists now believe the remains were of individuals who had been thrown in over a short period of time during the late 2nd or early 3rd century AD.


“The skeletons of adult males, females, and children were lying in a very haphazard fashion, their bones completely entangled, reflecting the fact that they had been dumped, unceremoniously in a hurried manner,” explained Louise Loe, Head of Burial Archaeology at Oxford Archaeology.


“When we studied the skeletons we were looking for evidence, such as trauma, that would explain why they had been buried in such a way. In fact, very little trauma was found on the skeletons and there were no diseases that would explain why they had been singled out for this treatment.”


The unusual arrangement of the skeletons led archaeologists to conclude that the individuals were the victims of an epidemic that did not discriminate against age or sex.


The discovery of two 1st century sculptured and inscribed tombstones enabled the team to make a direct connection between documentary evidence and the archaeological record of the site. © Oxford Archaeology


The report, ‘Life and Death in a Roman City’, puts forward the theory that the cause of death may have been the Antonine plague, an outbreak perhaps of smallpox that swept across the Roman Empire between AD 165 and 189.


Plague, which kills quickly, tends not to leave marks on bone and therefore it is not surprising that evidence for disease is lacking on these skeletons. It is hoped that future tests on the bones for DNA will confirm this.


A further exciting discovery of two 1st century sculptured and inscribed tombstones enabled the team to make a direct connection between documentary evidence and the archaeological record of the site.


One tombstone was used for a 14 year old slave. The other was for ‘Lucius Octavius Martialis, son of Lucius, of the Pollian voting tribe, from Eporedia, soldier of the Twentieth Legion.’


The legion was stationed at Gloucester until the 70s AD, and known to have soldiers from Eporedia, modern Ivrea north of Turin. The mass grave population may have been civilian descendants of the Roman military.


Only two other Mass Roman graves have been reported in the UK, but their identification has never been confirmed and neither have been studied.


Find out more about the work of Oxford Archaeology at www.thehumanjourney.net and CgMs at www.cgms.co.uk .



Carpet of stone: medieval mosaic pavement revealed

Maev Kennedy, The Guardian,

Monday May 5 2008


The wraps have come off one of Westminster Abbey's least known treasures, a medieval marble pavement foretelling the end of the world, while conservation experts consider how to preserve the ancient stones for the next 740 years.


Few modern visitors have ever seen it, although since 1268 kings and princes, queens and cardinals have walked across a symbol laden mosaic as intricate as a piece of jewellery.


It is made up of rare marbles and gemstones, including some recycled from monuments 1,000 years older, and pieces of coloured glass, set in complex allegorical patterns into a framework of Purbeck marble cut as intricately as a jigsaw puzzle.


"When this floor was new it would have blazed with colour," Vanessa Simeoni, the abbey's head of conservation said. "The materials were chosen for their brilliance and shine, and the quality of the craftsmanship is actually shocking, the ultimate that could be achieved."


The mosaics are known as Cosmati work, after the four generations of a Roman family of marble workers who perfected the technique. The Westminster one, regarded as the finest north of the Alps, uniquely has an inscription boasting of its makers - and a cryptic message about the end of the world.


It was laid in the 1260s, when Henry III sent his new Abbot of Westminster, Richard de Ware, for talks with the Pope in Rome. The Englishman saw a newly installed pavement in the Pope's summer residence, knew it was just the thing for the cathedral which Henry was spectacularly rebuilding around the tomb of St Edward the Confessor, and arrived home with a ship load of marble, glass and Italian craftsmen. Ware's reward was his own tomb incorporated into the design. Henry's tomb, and the saint's shrine, were originally covered in similar work, but all the scraps of marble and glass were picked out as sacred relics by generations of pilgrims.


Only a handful of brass letters remains of the original long inscription, but it was transcribed centuries ago. It names the king, the chief craftsman as Odoricus, gives the date in a tortuous riddle, and then mysteriously suggests that the world will last for 19,683 years, by adding together the life spans of different animals: "add dogs and horses and men, stags and ravens, eagles, enormous whales ...."


Careful cleaning, and a radar survey has revealed that although the pavement bears the scars of centuries of repairs and patching, crude and careful, most of it is original, the rich green and plum-coloured porphyry - almost certainly from chopped up ancient Roman sculptures and architectural fragments - still bedded in the limestone mortar laid by the medieval craftsmen.


For most of the past 150 years it has been covered in thick layers of carpet intended to protect but in fact just adding to the dirt and staining.


Even when the Queen was crowned above it in 1953, the royal pavement was covered over.


The two-year restoration programme will now stabilise the pavement, so that a treasure from the middle ages can be permanently displayed in a 21st century cathedral.



Unwrapping secret of Bolton Museum's Mummy

By Steve Thompson


WHEN a Bolton "mummy" went to hospital for an x-ray, radiologists made a startling discovery... the mummy was 700 years old and its hands and feet were missing.


As part of research into two Peruvian mummies, Bolton Museum had the bodies scanned at the Royal Bolton Hospital to find out more about how the ancient civilisation may have lived.


The startling results are revealed in a new exhibition at the museum which opens today.


But it was the images of the 700-year-old wrapped mummy that provided the most intriguing mystery.


They revealed that inside mummy there are a number of objects including pebbles, metal beads and shells. The skeleton sits cross legged but images show that the mummy's hands and feet had gone walkabout.


Tom Hardwick, the museum's curator of archaeology, said: "This person was clearly buried with the greatest possible care, but without its hands and feet.


"You have to wonder what can have happened - it's a mystery.


"It is possible that the body could have been damaged if the tomb was robbed but this is no more likely than any other explanation."


The second, unwrapped, mummy is 800 years old and is itself the star of TV show, Mummy Forensics, recently shown on the History Channel.


Most of the Peruvian objects on display at the museum were donated by William Smithies, who worked in cotton mills in Peru from 1896 to 1927.


The exhibition runs until August 2. The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5pm and entrance is free of charge.


A free informal talk about the exhibition will be held next Friday from 1pm to 1.30pm in the museum's learning studio.



DNA confirms IDs of czar's children, ending mystery

By MIKE ECKEL, Associated Press Writer Wed Apr 30, 7:20 PM ET


MOSCOW - For nine decades after Bolshevik executioners gunned down Czar Nicholas II and his family, there were no traces of the remains of Crown Prince Alexei, the hemophiliac heir to Russia's throne.


Some said the delicate 13-year-old had somehow survived and escaped; others believed his bones were lost in Russia's vastness, buried in secret amid fear and chaos as the country lurched into civil war.


Now an official says DNA tests have solved the mystery by identifying bone shards found in a forest as those of Alexei and his sister, Grand Duchess Maria.


The remains of their parents — Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra — and three siblings, including the czar's youngest daughter, Anastasia, were unearthed in 1991 and reburied in the imperial resting place in St. Petersburg. The Russian Orthodox Church made all seven of them saints in 2000.


Despite the earlier discoveries and ceremonies, the absence of Alexei's and Maria's remains gnawed at descendants of the Romanov dynasty, history buffs and royalists. Even if Wednesday's announcement is confirmed and widely accepted, many descendants of the royal family are unlikely to be fully assuaged; they seek formal "rehabilitation" by the government.


"The tragedy of the czar's family will only end when the family is declared victims of political repression," said German Lukyanov, a lawyer for royal descendants.


Nicholas abdicated in 1917 as revolutionary fervor swept Russia, and he and his family were detained. They were shot by a firing squad on July 17, 1918, in the basement of the Yekaterinburg house where they were being held.


Rumors persisted that some of the family had survived and escaped. Claims by women to be Anastasia were particularly prominent, although there were also pretenders to Alexei's and Maria's identities.


"It was 99.9 percent clear they had all been killed; now with these shards, it's 100 percent," said Nadia Kizenko, a Russian scholar at the University at Albany, State University of New York. "Those who regret this news will be those who liked the royal pretender myth."


Alexei was one of the more compelling of the victims, drawing sympathy because of his hemophilia. His mother's terror of the disease and fear that he would not live to gain the throne were key to her falling under the thrall of the hypnotic and sexually ravenous self-declared holy man Rasputin, who exerted vast influence on the royal family.


Researchers unearthed the bone shards last summer in a forest near Yekaterinburg, where the royal family was killed, and enlisted Russian and U.S. laboratories to conduct DNA tests.


Eduard Rossel, governor of the region 900 miles east of Moscow, said tests done by a U.S. laboratory had identified the shards as those of Alexei and Maria.


"This has confirmed that indeed it is the children," he said. "We have now found the entire family."


"The main genetic laboratory in the United States has concluded its work with a full confirmation of our own laboratories' work," Rossel said.


He did not specify the laboratory, but a genetic research team working at the University of Massachusetts Medical School has been involved in the process. Evgeny Rogaev, who headed the team that tested the remains in Moscow and at the medical school in Worcester, Mass., was called into the case by the Russian Federation Prosecutor's Office.


He told The Associated Press on Wednesday that he delivered the results to Russian authorities, but said it was up to the prosecutor's office — not him or his team — to disclose the findings.


"The most difficult work is done and we have delivered to them our expert analysis, but we are still working," he said. "Scientifically, we want to make the most complete investigation possible."


The test results were based on analysis of mitochondrial DNA, the genetic material passed down only from mothers to children. That DNA is more stable than nuclear DNA — the material inherited from the father's side — especially when remains are badly damaged.


In this case, the bone fragments were so shattered and burned that Rogaev's team first had to determine whether enough uncontaminated genetic material still existed for testing.


The delicate work proved that, indeed, useful DNA could be extracted from a very small amount of the material — a critical fact, since they wanted to preserve as much of the bone fragments as possible out of respect for the victims.


The researchers also compared DNA from the remains with those of Empress Alexandra, who was a granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria and a distant relative of Prince Philip, the husband of Queen Elizabeth II.


With the mitochondrial analysis completed, the team is working on the nuclear DNA analysis and comparing the samples to paternal relatives of the czar's family.


That information, along with conclusions already delivered to the Russian prosecutors, eventually will be submitted to a professional journal for peer review and publication.


It was unclear if the Russian Orthodox Church will recognize them as genuine. The church's press service said no one could comment on Wednesday's announcement.


It was also unclear whether the descendents of the royal family would accept the identification. Lukyanov said neither he nor his clients had received confirmation.


Lukyanov's efforts to get the government to declare the royal family victims of political repression have been repeatedly rejected by Russian courts, which have said the family's killing was premeditated murder, not a political reprisal.


He said Russia had much to do to overcome its tortured past.


"They say that as long as the last soldier remains unburied, the war continues," Lukyanov told AP. "So long as the last victim of Bolshevik terror and the Communist regime remains unrehabilitiated, the repression will continue."


Associated Press writers Carley Petesch in New York and Stephanie Reitz in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.