Found: the sister Cleopatra killed

Forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of the queen’s younger sister, murdered over 2,000 years ago

Daniel Foggo


ARCHEOLOGISTS and forensic experts believe they have identified the skeleton of Cleopatra’s younger sister, murdered more than 2,000 years ago on the orders of the Egyptian queen.


The remains of Princess Arsinöe, put to death in 41BC on the orders of Cleopatra and her Roman lover Mark Antony to eliminate her as a rival, are the first relics of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be identified.


The breakthrough, by an Austrian team, has provided pointers to Cleopatra’s true ethnicity. Scholars have long debated whether she was Greek or Macedonian like her ancestor the original Ptolemy, a Macedonian general who was made ruler of Egypt by Alexander the Great, or whether she was north African.


Evidence obtained by studying the dimensions of Arsinöe’s skull shows she had some of the characteristics of white Europeans, ancient Egyptians and black Africans, indicating that Cleopatra was probably of mixed race, too. They were daughters of Ptolemy XII by different wives.


The results vindicate the theories of Hilke Thür of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, who has long claimed that the skeleton was Arsinöe. She described the discovery of Arsinöe’s ethnicity as “a real sensation which leads to a new insight on Cleopatra’s family”.


Fellow experts are now convinced. Günther Hölbl, an authority on the Ptolemies, said the identification of the skeleton was “a great discovery”.


The forensic evidence was obtained by a team working under the auspices of the Austrian Archeological Institute, which is set to detail its findings at an anthropological convention in the United States later this month.


The story of the discovery will also be the subject of a television documentary, Cleopatra: Portrait of a Killer, to be shown on BBC1 at 9pm next Monday.


The institute’s breakthrough came about after it set out to examine Thür’s belief that an octagonal tomb in the remains of the Roman city of Ephesus contained the body of Arsinöe.


According to Roman texts the city, in what is now Turkey, is where Arsinöe was banished after being defeated in a power struggle against Cleopatra and her then lover, Julius Caesar.


Arsinöe was said to have been murdered after Cleopatra, now with Mark Antony following Caesar’s death, ordered the Roman general to have her younger sibling killed to prevent any future attempts on the Egyptian throne.


The distinctive tomb was first opened in 1926 by archaeologists who found a sarcophagus inside containing a skeleton. They removed the skull, which was examined and measured; but it was lost in the upheaval of the second world war.


In the early 1990s Thür re-entered the tomb and found the headless skeleton, which she believed to be of a young woman. Clues, such as the unusual octagonal shape of the tomb, which echoed that of the lighthouse of Alexandria with which Arsinöe was associated, convinced Thür the body was that of Cleopatra’s sister. Her theory was considered credible by many historians, and in an attempt to resolve the issue the Austrian Archaeological Institute asked the Medical University of Vienna to appoint a specialist to examine the remains.


Fabian Kanz, an anthropologist, was sceptical when he began this task two years ago. “We tried to exclude her from being Arsinöe,” he said. “We used all the methods we have to find anything that can say, ‘Okay, this can’t be Arsinöe because of this and this’.”


After using carbon dating, which dated the skeleton from 200BC-20BC, Kanz, who had examined more than 500 other skeletons taken from the ruins of Ephesus, found Thür’s theory gained credibility.


He said he was certain the bones were female and placed the age of the woman at 15-18. Although Arsinöe’s date of birth is not known, she was certainly younger than Cleopatra, who was about 27 at the time of her sister’s demise.


The lack of any sign of illness or malnutrition also indicated a sudden death, said Kanz. Evidence of the skeleton’s north African ethnicity provided the final clue.


Caroline Wilkinson, a forensic anthropologist, reconstructed the missing skull based on measurements taken in the 1920s. Using computer technology it was possible to create a facial impression of what Arsinöe might have looked like.


“It has got this long head shape,” said Wilkinson. “That’s something you see quite frequently in ancient Egyptians and black Africans. It could suggest a mixture of ancestry.”



'Peking Man' older than thought; somehow adapted to cold

March 12, 2009



A new dating method has found that "Peking Man" is around 200,000 years older than previously thought, suggesting he somehow adapted to the cold of a mild glacial period.


A dating method developed by a Purdue University researcher allowed a more accurate determination of the age of the Zhoukoudian, China, site of remains of Homo erectus, commonly known as "Peking Man." The site was found to be 680,000-780,000 years old. Earlier estimates put the age at 230,000-500,000 years old.


Darryl Granger, the Purdue professor of earth and atmospheric sciences who developed the dating method, co-led the study with Guanjun Shen of China's Nanjing Normal University. They analyzed four stone tools and six sediment samples from the site.


"This was the first dating of this kind to be used in an early hominid site in China," Granger said. "Many of the existing data methods rely on the availability of volcanic rock, which the Zhoukoudian site does not have. This method provides a new tool to provide insight into places where dating was previously limited."


A paper detailing the work is featured on the cover of the current issue of Nature.


Susan C. Antón, associate professor in the Center for the Study of Human Origins at New York University said this discovery indicates "Peking Man" was somehow behaviorally able to cope with the cold environment.


"There is evidence that Homo erectus had physically adapted to the cold, but they probably also had to be doing something in terms of behavior to handle the cold of a glacial period in northern China," she said. "There isn't good evidence of fire or any kind of skins or clothing, but evidence of such things doesn't last long and wouldn't be recorded particularly well in the archeological record. It doesn't mean they didn't have them, but we don't have a definitive answer."


Homo erectus is considered to be the ancestor species to humans and the first species that left Africa and moved into Asia. The "Peking Man" site, discovered in the late 1920s, was among the first found for Homo erectus and shaped the thoughts on the age and behavior of the species, Antón said.


Granger used aluminum-26 and beryllium-10 radioisotopic dating, which is based on radioactive decay in the mineral quartz. As cosmic rays penetrate into rocks at the Earth's surface, chemical reactions produce these isotopes of aluminum and beryllium. If the rocks are then buried, the isotopes are no longer produced and those existing begin to decay. The rate of decay can tell researchers when the rocks were deposited in a site, he said.


Granger developed the method in 1997 and first used it for geomorphology work in caves in Virginia, but he recognized it could be used at hominid sites important to understanding human evolution. A colleague in China contacted Granger and asked him to examine the Zhoukoudian site.


The Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Laboratory, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is one of only two laboratories in the nation with equipment capable of performing this kind of dating. The facility contains an accelerator mass spectrometer that can perform ultra-sensitive analyses to measure low levels of trace elements in a sample.


Uranium-based methods of dating had been used at the site, but it appears the results had underestimated the ages, probably due to uranium dissolved in groundwater, Granger said.


Co-authors of the paper include Guanjun Shen and Bin Gao of the College of Geographical Sciences at Nanjing Normal University and Xing Gao of the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology at the Academia Sinaca in Beijing.


The research team had difficulties in separating quartz from the sediment samples, and Shen and Gao got their entire department in on the work, Granger said. The sediment contained about 1 percent quartz, and the dating method requires pure white quartz.


"They ended up hand separating these bits of quartz the size of grains of sand," he said. "It took about eight hours to separate 2 grams of the pure white quartz needed, and each sample required 40 to 60 grams. Luckily the stone tools we analyzed were made only of white quartz."


Granger and Shen next plan to work on other poorly dated hominid sites in China.


This project was jointly supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China and Wenner-Gren Foundation. The Zhoukoudian Site Museum provided the stone tools used.



Age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus Determined with Al/Be Burial Dating

Guanjun Shen, Xing Gao, Bin Gao & Darryl E. Granger


The age of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus, commonly known as 'Peking Man,' has long been pursued, but has remained problematic owing to the lack of suitable dating methods. Here we report cosmogenic 26Al/10Be burial dating of quartz sediments and artifacts from the lower strata of 'Locality 1' in the southwestern suburb of Beijing, China, where early representatives of Zhoukoudian Homo erectus were discovered. This study marks the first radioisotopic dating of any early hominin site in China beyond the range of mass spectrometric U-series dating. The weighted mean of six meaningful age measurements, 0.75±0.09 million years (Myr, mean ±s.e.m.), provides the best age estimate for lower cultural layers 7-10. Together with previously reported U-series dating of speleothem calcites and palaeomagnetic stratigraphy, as well as sedimentological considerations, these layers may be further correlated to S6-S7 in Chinese loess stratigraphy or marine isotope stages (MIS) 17-19, in the range of ~0.68 to 0.78 Myr ago. These ages are substantially older than previously supposed and may imply early Zhoukoudian hominin's presence at the site in northern China through a relatively mild glacial period corresponding to MIS 18.



Walk a mile - and 5000 years - in these shoes


March 10 2009 at 08:18PM


Berlin - German archeologists have uncovered an amazingly well-preserved 5 000-year-old sandal in mud under Lake Constance, close to the Swiss border, authorities said Tuesday.


The Stone Age footwear - European size 36 (or size four in Britain) - was made of wood and dates back to around 2 900 BC, Stuttgart city council said.


"Even in the Stone Age, Lake Constance was the best place to live," quipped Johannes Schmalzl, head of Stuttgart's city council, who presented the find.


The sandal is of similar archeological significance to fragments of clothing once worn by Oetzi, the 5 000-year old man whose frozen body was discovered in a glacier in the nearby Alps in 1991, he added. - Sapa-AFP



Police blamed for destroying Bronze Age burial site

By Caroline McMorran

Published:  12 March, 2009


NORTH police have been strongly criticised after removing human remains from a newly-discovered burial cist in Sutherland dating back thousands of years.


The Bronze Age burial chamber was accidentally uncovered on 26th January in a field at Langwell Farm, a few miles east of Oykel Bridge.


Farmer Jonathan Hampton immediately alerted Historic Scotland and also decided to notify police. But he claims officers completely botched up the find – which has since been professionally excavated – and is so angry that he has now decided to speak out.


He says that when they were left alone at the site, the officers, who have not been named, scooped up a number of the bones into a plastic bag, leaving part of the remains behind.


And Mr Hampton alleges some important woven material he and others spotted in the grave has now gone missing. "I just couldn't believe it when I discovered what they had done. I was in the depths of despair," he said.


"I have told this story to a lot of local people and every time their mouths have dropped open. People are very angry that Scottish heritage has just been written off like this."


Police this week declined to respond to Mr Hampton's allegations but issued the following comment: "Northern Constabulary has a clear procedure in relation to complaints. If a member of the public feels they have not received the correct level of service they can contact force headquarters or alternatively visit the Northern Constabulary website for guidance."


Mr Hampton had been carrying out some work in the field, known as West Park, on the afternoon of the 26th, along with local contract digger driver John White. The digger hit a large stone which Mr White gently pulled back with the machine.


The two men then found themselves staring into a stone-walled chamber measuring around 1.5 metres by 60cm and around 76.2cm in depth.Inside was a skeleton in a foetal position, known as a "crouched burial".


History buff Mr Hampton, who has a 2000-year-old vitrified fort on his ground which was excavated in 1972, and who in the past has taken part in the excavation of a Roman villa, knew immediately the significance of the discovery. He said: "If I could have done a cartwheel at my age I would have done it. As it was, I punched the air and jumped up and down. It was very exciting to be the first to see it.


"We could see quite clearly that it was a body. There was the shape of the head, eye sockets and lower jaw. Lower down in the thigh area there was this material that looked woven.


I called it basket material. It could have been cloth. It also looked to me as though that material possibly went round the head as well.


"I realised it was an important find so no one touched anything at all. We all left it exactly as it was." Mr Hampton tried to contact Historic Scotland, but when he got through he was initially mistakenly told to call another number which turned out to be Scottish Natural Heritage.


He then phoned Tain police station and reported the discovery before eventually making contact with Dr Fraser Hunter, a curator with the National Museums of Scotland.


"I described it to him and he started jumping up and down with excitement," Mr Hampton said. "He said it sounded like Early Bronze age and possibly 4000 years old.


"He said this was the type of find that archaeologists dream about – a complete cist with such a good amount of material still there. Normally the acidity in the soil eats everything away."


"Dr Hunter said the chap to talk to was Rod McCullagh of Historic Scotland but when I rang him, he wasn't at his desk."


A police officer, who was later joined by a detective, arrived at Langwell at 5pm and insisted on seeing the grave – despite the fact that by this time it had been covered by a tarpaulin.


Said Mr Hampton "They hummed and hawed and made telephone calls and it all went on for some little time. It was getting dark and I was cold and tired. I eventually asked: 'What are you going to do?' and they told me they were going to take a couple of photographs. I said that was fine, take them and cover the site up."


When Mr Hampton saw the headlights of the police car leaving the field, he went down and stopped the vehicle – and was aghast to learn that the officers had interfered with the grave. He said: "The officers told me they had removed some of the contents on the instruction of the procurator fiscal. I really let rip at them and also let rip at the procurator fiscal.


"I went home and rang Rod McCullagh and told him what had happened. At that point I was so angry I rang Inverness police and Tain police and told them all exactly what I though of them.


"If I had destroyed something I bet Historic Scotland would have shouted at me, but because it was the police it's a different matter. What was the point of digging it out? If it had been a crime scene, that was the last thing you would do. It was not a crime scene, so why do it?"


"Whilst I was ringing police I asked my wife to go down and see if they had left the grave in an okay state. She returned and said it had not been properly covered but not all the contents had gone – she could still see some bones there. Some of the woven material had gone and all the top layer. The officers had also left the gate to the field open."


Mr Hampton would now like to know what happened to the woven material which Historic Scotland told him the police had denied taking. He believes the bones taken away by the officers were sent to a forensics lab in Dundee then taken back to Dornoch. They were later retrieved by the archaeologist on the second attempt. He says he does not have any particular plans for the cist other than to re-cover it.


Meanwhile Historic Scotland called in Glasgow University Archaeological Research Division (GUARD) to excavate the grave. Dr Olivia Lelong arrived at Langwell on 6th February and worked on the site until 12th February.


She told the Northern Times earlier this week that it was an exciting find. "Bronze Age burial cists are not extremely unusual finds, but they're not common either and it's very exciting to discover another. What makes this one outstanding and pretty much unique is all the organic material preserved with the bones," she said.


"This burial cist contained a skeleton in the crouched position. The bones were fairly intact but were covered with a white powder which we are trying to identify. It could be a product from the bone itself or it could be material that had been put over the body.


"There was really quite remarkable preservation of organic material in the cist. There was a basket-like material round the head and also the lower thighs and it is really rare to find that sort of thing. We also recovered fragments of wood."


Dr Lelong said the bones would be radiocarbon dated in a bid to establish their exact age, but she estimated they went back to at least 2000 BC. Tests are also to be carried out in the hope of determining the gender and height of the person. Dr Lelong said there could be other cists in the same area. "When you find one you quite often find another or more.


"We were hoping to assess the likelihood of that when we were up but the ground was covered with snow and frozen at the time. However, we might return at some point in the future."


Dr McCullagh of Historic Scotland told the NT that Mr Hampton had followed correct procedure in contacting police in the first instance. However, he added that the pictures of the grave taken by digger driver Mr White differed markedly to those later taken by archaeologists.


"I have seen the photographs taken by Mr Hampton's digger driver and they show a really very interesting set of remains – ones that are still puzzling us," he said. "By the time my team had got there from GUARD, their first photographs were not the same as the ones taken by the digger driver."



The Vikings: it wasn't all raping and pillaging

Forget what history tells us about the Nordic invaders. New research suggests they were model immigrants who co-existed peacefully with the natives

By Arifa Akbar

Friday, 13 March 2009

REUTERS/David Moir


For centuries, they have been stereotyped as marauding barbarians arriving in their helmeted hordes to pillage their way across Britain. But now a group of academics believe they have uncovered new evidence that the Vikings were more cultured settlers who offered a "good historical model" of immigrant assimilation.


The evidence is set to be unveiled at a three-day Cambridge University conference starting today, when more than 20 studies will reveal how the Vikings shared technology, swapped ideas and often lived side-by-side in relative harmony with their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic contemporaries. Some may have come, plundered and left, but those Vikings who decided to settle rather than return to Scandinavia learnt the language, inter-married, converted to Christianity and even had "praise poetry" written about them by the Brits, according to the experts.


The conference, entitled "Between the Islands", draws on new archeological evidence, historical studies and analysis of the language and literature of the period, and shows that between the 9th and 13th centuries, the Vikings became an integral part of the fabric of social and political life that changed Britain and Ireland far more profoundly than previously realised. The academics hope it will tip the balance still further in the "raiders or traders" question.


Scholars will argue that they should be seen as an early example of immigrants who were successfully assimilated into British and Irish culture. Their so-called "invasion" led, to some extent, to the creation of trans-national identities, a process that has particular relevance to modern Britain. Dr Fiona Edmonds, of Cambridge University's department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic, said: "The latest evidence does not point to a simple opposition between Vikings and natives.


"Within a relatively short space of time – and with lasting effect – the various cultures in Britain and Ireland started to intermingle. Investigating that process provides us with a historical model of how political groups can be absorbed into complex societies, contributing much to those societies in the process. There are important lessons that can be gained from this about cultural assimilation in the modern era."


Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, who is co-organising the conference, said it was not a simple case of the Vikings coming and conquering. There was a "cross-fertilisation" of practices, including Anglo-Saxon communities adopting Norse names. "They were mutually transformed in the process, it was two-way interaction," she said. "Those who settled had to become different, and adapt to the society around them and learn to communicate with each other."


Some Viking kings learnt to speak English, Welsh and Irish as well as Latin, the language of the elite in Britain, and adopted Anglo-Saxon names. One king who settled in Ireland was honoured with "praise" poetry dedicated to his rule by the indigenous community. The Viking kings of Dublin, said Dr Ní Mhaonaigh, became a very active element of the city's political scene.


"What is clear is that the popular picture of Vikings is not quite as it seems, and when viewing their long-term presence, it is quite untrue. The communities were mutually transformed in the process. Of course, there was plundering and pillaging, but those who started to build camps and started to settle began interacting in a very different way," she said.


She added that King Amlaib, who settled in Dublin in the 10th century, became a Christian and was venerated by the local poets, while another leader from the mid-11th century, whose Welsh name was Gruffud ap Cynan, bore Welsh and Norse blood-ties, and spent a long time in Dublin. This, she said, was another example of cultural inter-mingling.


"It's a good historical model when a relatively small number of people can adapt and assimilate into a complex, sophisticated society," she said.


A new analysis of personal names in the Domesday Book also suggests that settlements established in Yorkshire from the 9th century retained their Gaelic-Scandinavian identity until the Norman Conquest. Even after the Battle of Hastings, and long after the Norse were believed to have been expelled from the area, there were people with some element of Scandinavian identity living happily in the heart of Anglo-Saxon Yorkshire. Through this time, they were able to hang on to elements of their Viking identity without expulsion by the indigenous people – further evidence that there was little opposition to these conquering emigres.


Research into Scandinavian settlements reveals a profound level of social and economic interaction between Viking incomers and the Celts. There was mixing in many towns and rural camps in Ireland, while recent studies of regional coins from the Viking age show that these rulers were far from impervious to local economies. In East Anglia, for example, where they had a well regulated monetary system, they adapted the existing economic system, while in other areas with only limited coin circulation, they introduced a bullion economy.


On a cultural level, Celtic folklore began to influence Viking literature. An analysis of Old Norse literary works that shows some of their tales may have been borrowed from Gaelic storytelling, thus the myths of Scandinavia, Ireland and Britain became inexorably intertwined. Professor Judith Jesch, from the University of Nottingham, reveals how Norse poetry was composed in the Hebrides. Professor Terje Spurkland, from the University of Oslo, has found that rune stones combined Scandinavian inscriptions with Celtic designs.


Over the centuries the importance of this cross-fertilisation was overshadowed by a skewed mythology of the Viking age that was created by 12th and 13th century Irish chroniclers and poets long after the Scandinavians' golden era had ended. A host of poems and prose narrative emerged which depicted the Vikings as "otherworldly beings" who came and stream-rollered across the cultural terrain of the British Isles.


These Irish writers went to great lengths to "extol the virtues of their Celtic ancestors who had fended off the Vikings", and so circulated this mythology of the maurading invader. It is only now, in recent decades, that academics have begun to unpick the stereotype and reveal an altogether different story.


They were prolific seafaring explorers, warriors and merchants from Denmark, Norway and Sweden who colonised swathes of Europe from the late 800s to the 12th century. In Norse, the word Viking means piracy and therefore the Vikings have become known as raiders who terrorised Europe instead of disciplined conquerors who established settlements as far afield as Constantinople, Greenland and Newfoundland.


There is archaeological evidence they discovered the Americas 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Their famed narrow longships allowed them to enter countries through rivers and it is this access which allowed them to settle and trade throughout Europe. A stereotyped image as a noble savage emerged in 17th century British texts and then again during the Victorian era. This image later turned into a cartoonish caricature of Vikings as barbarian invaders.



Vikings lived 'harmoniously with our ancestors'

Viking warriors who raided and colonised Britain in the 11th century went on to form harmonious relationships with our ancestors, scientists claim.

Last Updated: 6:54AM GMT 13 Mar 2009


The Scandinavian invaders are remembered in history books as barbaric savages who pillaged towns and villages, and raped their women.


But new evidence shows that following their violent arrival, the Vikings lived in relative harmony with their Anglo-Saxon and Celtic counterparts.


According to researchers at Cambridge University, they swapped technology with our forefathers and enriched their culture.


Dr Máire Ní Mhaonaigh, a senior lecturer, believes modern-day Britons today can "take a lesson" from such positive immigration.


"Most people's image of the Vikings centres on their arrival and disruption but that only continued for a very short period of time," she said.


"Afterwards they started building settlements and interacting with the locals and became assimilated into their culture and influenced them in many ways.


"As such they provide a clear example of how a particular group came into a sophisticated established society and the resulting interaction was positive.


"Both societies profited and modern day people can take a lesson from this that two cultures coming together can learn from each other."


The 'Between the Islands' conference has been organised by Cambridge University's Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse and Celtic studies.


Leading international scholars will unveil more than 20 cutting-edge studies of the Vikings and their interaction with ancient Britain.


Their claims were said to draw on archaeological evidence, historical studies and analysis of language and literature from the period.


Dr Fiona Edmonds, who is helping to organise a conference on the subject, added: "The latest evidence does not point to a simple opposition between 'Vikings' and 'natives'.


"Within a relatively short space of time - and with lasting effect - the various cultures in Britain and Ireland started to intermingle.


"Investigating that process provides us with a historical model of how political groups can be absorbed into complex societies, contributing much to those societies in the process.


"There are important lessons that can be gained from this about cultural assimilation in the modern era."



Mystery solved as tests prove Tsar's entire family was murdered

DNA analysis of bone shards shows no one escaped 1918 slaughter in the cellar

By Steve Connor, Science Editor

Wednesday, 11 March 2009


In the early hours of a July day in 1918, one of history's most infamous murders was perpetrated on parents, their five children and their loyal servants in a cellar in the city of Yekaterinburg, central Russia.


The gunshot-and-bayonet murder of the Romanovs – the family of the last Tsar and Tsarina of Russia – spawned countless conspiracy theories, including the belief that at least one child had survived to escape abroad.


Since that fatal dawn, about 200 people have claimed to descend from one or other of the Romanovs who had somehow survived the slaughter in the basement of Ipatiev House. But now a scientific study based on meticulous DNA evidence has finally provided irrefutable evidence to show that all five children had indeed perished with their parents at the hands of nervous Bolsheviks of the Ural Soviet, worried about a possible rescue bid by nearby White Russian troops.


Scientists have pieced together DNA evidence from two graves near Yekaterinburg and have conclusively shown that Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, the Tsarina Alexandra, died with all five of their children, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia and their haemophiliac son, the crown prince, Alexei. The only remaining mystery is whether the girl buried alongside Alexei in a separate grave from the rest of the family was Maria or Anastasia, says a study printed in the online journal Public Library of Science.


The story should have come to a close soon after a mass grave near Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk) was revealed in 1991 by a local geologist, Alexander Avdonin, who had kept the discovery secret for more than a decade, until the fall of the Soviet Union.


Scientists, including Peter Gill from Britain's Forensic Science Service and the Russian geneticist Pavel Ivanov, managed to extract enough DNA from the bone fragments of nine skeletons to show that they included a family of two parents and three daughters.


A comparison with the DNA of living Romanov relatives, including Prince Philip, proved that the family was that of the last Tsar and Tsarina, with the four remaining skeletons belonging to the family doctor and three servants.


But the two missing children only generated further conspiracy theories, according to a report on the study written by an international team of scientists, led by Michael Coble of the US Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory in Rockville, Maryland.


"Rather than bring closure to the mystery of the fate of the Romanovs, identification of only five of the seven family members continued to fuel speculation that somehow two miraculously escaped the bullets of the executioners and made their way out of Russia," Dr Coble said.


But then, in 2007, amateur archaeologists found a second grave just 70 metres away, containing dozens of charred human bone fragments that someone had tried to cremate. "Of the 44 bone fragments and teeth present, it was possible to determine that at least two individuals were present, one female and one putative male," the report added. The mystery is solved.


The Romanov study used three different ways of analysing DNA to determine family relationships within the graves – and the relationship, if any, to living relatives of the Russian royal family. Mitochondrial DNA, inherited only down the maternal line, was used to assess the relationship of Prince Philip, who is related to the Tsarina through his mother, with bone fragments found in the grave. This helped to determine that the Tsarina and her four daughters were indeed buried in the two graves. DNA known to be inherited only from fathers by sons on the male Y chromosome was used to determine the relationship between the crown prince, Alexei, and his father, Tsar Nicholas II. And finally, DNA from the rest of the chromosomes was used to find out who was who in the mass graves – separating family members from three servants and a doctor.



Hood not so good? Ancient Brits questioned outlaw

By DAVID STRINGER – 1 day ago



A British academic says he's found proof that Britain's legendary outlaw Robin Hood wasn't as popular with the poor as folklore suggests.


Julian Luxford says a newly found note in the margins of an ancient history book contains rare criticism of the supposedly benevolent bandit.


According to legend, Hood roamed 13th-century Britain from a base in central England's Sherwood Forest, plundering from the rich to give to the poor.


But Luxford, an art history lecturer at the University of St. Andrews, in Fife, Scotland, says a 23-word inscription in a history book, written in Latin by a medieval monk around 1460, casts the outlaw as a persistent thief.


"Around this time, according to popular opinion, a certain outlaw named Robin Hood, with his accomplices, infested Sherwood and other law-abiding areas of England with continuous robberies," the note read when translated into English, Luxford said.


Luxford said he found the entry while searching through the library of England's prestigious Eton College, which was founded in 1440 by King Henry VI.


"The new find contains a uniquely negative assessment of the outlaw, and provides rare evidence for monastic attitudes towards him," Luxford said in a statement about his find issued on Friday.


He said the note about Hood — uncovered in the margin of the "Polychronicon," a history book which dates from the late 1340s — may be the earliest written reference to the outlaw.


First mentions of Hood, depicted in Hollywood movies by both Kevin Costner and Errol Flynn, are commonly believed to have been in late 13th-century ballads. Some academics claim the stories refer to several different medieval outlaws, while others believe the tales are pure fantasy.


Luxford said his discovery may put to rest debates in England about exactly where Hood may have lived.


The northern England county of Yorkshire has long claimed Hood was based there, rather than neighbouring Nottinghamshire — even naming a local transport hub Robin Hood Airport in tribute.


But folklore has most commonly placed Hood in Sherwood Forest — where he is reputed to hidden from his nemesis, the Sheriff of Nottingham. The forest once spanned 100,000 acres (40,500 hectares) across Nottinghamshire, but has shrunk in modern time to about 450 acres (180 hectares).


"By mentioning Sherwood, it buttresses the hitherto rather thin evidence for a medieval connection between Robin and the Nottinghamshire forest with which he has become so closely associated," Luxford said.


Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.



Jug Inscribed with a Persian Love Poem Discovered in Excavations of the Israel Antiquities Authority



A fragment of a pottery vessel of Persian provenance that dates to the Middle Ages (12th-13th centuries CE) was discovered in an archaeological excavation directed by Dr. Rina Avner, on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the Old City of Jerusalem, prior to construction by a private contractor.


The fragment is treated with a turquoise glaze and is adorned with floral patterns and a black inscription. While studying the artifact prior to publication, Rivka Cohen-Amin of the Israel Antiquities Authority discerned that the inscription on the neck of the vessel is written in Persian. The inscription consists of a line that was taken from a quatrain. The inscription, which was translated by Dr. Julia Rabanovich of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reads: “Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat”.


The inscription will be published by Dr. Nitsan Amitai-Preiss of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, within the framework of the final excavation report.

According to Rivka Cohen-Amin the words are from the Rubaiyat, by the poet Omar Khayyam. Omar Khayyam was an astronomer, mathematician and one of the most famous Persian poets of the Middle Ages (11th-12th centuries CE).


The following is the complete translation of the poem:


Rubaiyat, by Omar Khayyam

این کوزه چو من عاشق زاری بوده است

This clay pot like a lover once in heat

در بند سر زلف نگاری بوده‌ست

A lock of hair his senses did defeat

ایندسته که بر گردن او می‌بینی

The handle that has made the bottleneck its own seat


دستی‌ست که برگردن یاری بوده‌ست

Was once the embrace of a lover that entreat


The phenomenon of a Persian pottery vessel inscribed with a poem is known elsewhere in the world; however, this is the first occurrence of such a vessel in Israel.


The question of how the vessel came to be in Jerusalem is a mystery – was it brought here by merchants or could it possibly have been a gift someone presented to his Jerusalemite lover?



Classic gags discovered in ancient Roman joke book

Alison Flood

guardian.co.uk, Friday 13 March 2009 11.42 GMT


We may admire the satires of Horace and Lucilius, but the ancient Romans haven't hitherto been thought of as masters of the one-liner. This could be about to change, however, after the discovery of a classical joke book.


Celebrated classics professor Mary Beard has brought to light a volume more than 1,600 years old, which she says shows the Romans not to be the "pompous, bridge-building toga wearers" they're often seen as, but rather a race ready to laugh at themselves.


Written in Greek, Philogelos, or The Laughter Lover, dates to the third or fourth century AD, and contains some 260 jokes which Beard said are "very similar" to the jokes we have today, although peopled with different stereotypes – the "egghead", or absent-minded professor, is a particular figure of fun, along with the eunuch, and people with hernias or bad breath.


"They're also poking fun at certain types of foreigners – people from Abdera, a city in Thrace, were very, very stupid, almost as stupid as [they thought] eggheads [were]," said Beard.


An ancient version of Monty Python's dead parrot sketch sees a man buy a slave, who dies shortly afterwards. When he complains to the seller, he is told: "He didn't die when I owned him."


Beard's favourite joke is a version of the Englishman, Irishman, Scotsman variety, with a barber, a bald man and an absent-minded professor taking a journey together. They have to camp overnight, so decide to take turns watching the luggage. When it's the barber's turn, he gets bored, so amuses himself by shaving the head of the professor. When the professor is woken up for his shift, he feels his head, and says "How stupid is that barber? He's woken up the bald man instead of me."


"It's one of the better ones," said Beard. "It has a nice identity resonance ... A lot of the jokes play on the obviously quite problematic idea in Roman times of knowing who you are." Another "identity" joke sees a man meet an acquaintance and say "it's funny, I was told you were dead". He says "well, you can see I'm still alive." But the first man disputes this on the grounds that "the man who told me you were dead is much more reliable than you".


"Interestingly they are quite understandable to us, whereas reading Punch from the 19th century is completely baffling to me," said Beard.


But she queried whether we are finding the same things funny as the Romans would have done. Telling a joke to one of her graduate classes, in which an absent-minded professor is asked by a friend to bring back two 15-year-old slave boys from his trip abroad, and replies "fine, and if I can't find two 15-year-olds I will bring you one 30-year-old," she found they "chortled no end".


"They thought it was a sex joke, equivalent to someone being asked for two 30-year-old women, and being told okay, I'll bring you one 60-year-old. But I suspect it's a joke about numbers – are numbers real? If so two 15-year-olds should be like one 30-year-old – it's about the strange unnaturalness of the number system."


Beard, who discovered the title while carrying out research for a new book she's working on about humour in the ancient world, pointed out that when we're told a joke, we make a huge effort to make it funny for ourselves, or it's an admission of failure. "Are we doing that to these Roman jokes? Were they actually laughing at something quite different?"