Penn team uncovers skeleton of 'world's oldest child'

June 16, 2011, By Faye Flam, Inquirer Staff Writer


Last year, while a Penn team of archaeologists was working in Morocco, members uncovered a treasure beyond anything they'd imagined - a skeleton of a child from 108,000 years ago.


They don't know what killed him at about age 8, but his remains are believed to be one of the most complete ever found of this period.


The skeleton promises to open a window into a pivotal time in human evolution when Neanderthals still ruled Europe, and Africans were inventing art and symbolic thought.


One of the earliest sites where people left evidence of artwork and symbolism is in Morocco, where a team led by Penn Museum's Harold Dibble found the child.


One of Dibble's students was the first to notice a piece of bone the size of a quarter, said Dibble, who is a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. To everyone's surprise, the bone was part of a remarkably complete skull and upper body of a child that died 108,000 years ago, as shown by various dating techniques.


The work was funded by National Geographic, whose cable channel will present a special program at 8 p.m. Thursday based on the finding, titled The World's Oldest Child.


From analyzing the teeth, Dibble's team estimated he or she was 6 to 8 years old. Dibble bestowed the name Bouchra, meaning good news in Arabic. It's a feminine name, but he has since decided it's more likely to have been a boy.


Dibble's team has yet to release the skull to the scientific community, nor have team members published peer-reviewed papers. But they say it's remarkably complete. Experts are eager to see it, hoping for a look back into a pivotal period.


In that earlier time, 108,000 years ago, modern Homo sapiens - people who looked like us - had emerged in Africa and begun to spread to the Middle East. Neanderthals populated parts of Eurasia. Africa was thought to be a patchwork of so-called modern Homo sapiens and somewhat different-looking "archaic humans."


"This will fit into the global debate on how and where and when modern humans arose," Dibble said.


"It joins a very small sample of hominid remains in Africa from that period," said archaeologist Curtis Marean of Arizona State University. "We don't know a lot about human populations at that time."


The young age of the child is also of scientific interest, he said. "As far as I know, this is the first juvenile from that crucial time period."




The 5,300-year-old mummy suffered from cavities, possibly brought on by a high-carb diet.

By Rossella Lorenzi

Wed Jun 15, 2011 08:48 AM ET




Ötzi the Iceman, the 5,300-year-old mummy found in the Italian Alps 20 years ago, suffered from cavities, worn teeth and periodontal diseases.


Presented at the 7th world congress on mummy studies in San Diego, Calif., the research dismisses the assumption that dental pathologies did not afflict the Tyrolean Iceman.


"In the past twenty years, the mummy has been examined thoroughly both anthropologically and medically. However, oral pathologies were not found," said Roger Seiler, of the Center for Evolutionary Medicine at the University of Zürich, Switzerland.


Using the latest CT scan technologies, Seiler and colleagues Albert Zink, at the EURAC Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Paul Gostner and Eduard Egarter-Vigl, at Bolzano hospital, analyzed the mummy's facial bones, discovering several dental problems.


"Although the Iceman did not lose a single tooth until the his death at an age of about 40 years, he had an advanced abrasion of his teeth, profound carious lesions, and a moderate to severe periodontitis," the researchers said.


In particular, the molars of the upper jaw showed loss of alveolar bone as a sign of periodontitis (inflammation of the ligaments and bones that support the teeth), while evidence of "mechanical trauma" was found on two teeth.


According to Seiler and colleagues, the most surprising find is the high frequency of cavities.


"These dental pathologies are a sign of change in the Neolithic diet," Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman at EURAC in Bolzano, told Discovery News.


Zink hopes to find further clues for Ötzi's teeth problems as he conducts molecular analyses of the mummy's stomach material.


"We already know that he was eating grains, such as einkorn or emmer. The contained carbohydrates clearly increased the risk of developing dental diseases," Zink said.


The researchers, who are also working on the Iceman's whole genome analysis, are planning to carry out DNA testing of the mummy's oral cavity. The aim is to investigate the presence of bacteria that could have caused the dental problems.


Frank Rühli, head of the Swiss Mummy Project at the University of Zurich and one of the experts involved in the study who investigated for years the mummy, says the work is important because it "helps to understand the evolution of dental disease, particularly around the Neolithic transition."



Charnel house gives up its secret: 1,000 human bones

Published Date: 18 June 2011

By Angus Howarth


A STONE AGE burial chamber in Orkney has yielded a gruesome haul of more than 1,000 human bones, it was revealed yesterday.


The 5,000-year-old human bones - numbering at least 1,000, but possibly as many as 2,000 - were found in just one of the five chambers of the Banks Tomb on South Ronaldsay.


The burial chamber, also known as the Tomb of the Otters because large numADVERTISEMENT


bers of otter remains were also found there, was discovered last year by a local farmer working the land. In December, archaeologists recovered the remains of eight people from the tomb.


New research, in which two separate cells in the tomb were investigated, has almost doubled this number to at least 14, though it is very likely this number will end up much higher.


The bones were preserved in several layers on the bottom of the stone-lined cell, or cist, which were divided by layers of silt, which might indicate that the tomb had been used over different periods of time and fell out of use in the intervening years.


Archaeologists now hope that these finds will help them determine how long the tomb was in use. They also hope, through DNA research, to be able to discover more about the people who were buried there.


Team leader Dan Lee, projects officer with the Orkney Research Centre for Archaeology (Orca), said: "To find 1,000 human bones, and possibly as many as 2,000 - there are still layers and parts of the cell to fully uncover - in just one cell, is absolutely amazing.


"We have discovered an incredible assemblage of disarticulated human bones. All parts of the human skeleton were represented, including tiny bones such as finger bones, sternums and kneecaps.


"They covered all age ranges, from very young children, perhaps even babies, to adults.


"We have managed to identify 14 individuals, but it is very likely that this number will turn out to be much higher.


"This gives us a really good indication of what to expect in the tomb's other cells and an opportunity to study the people who lived and died in Orkney so many years ago.


"The next stage will be to fully excavate the passageway and the entrance, and we hope to get back to continue working on this fascinating piece of Stone Age archaeology.


"Unfortunately, because the conditions are changing inside as we've taken out the mud, silt and water, there is now a real danger that we're going to lose key information."


The archaeologists also hope to be able to get more information about the significance of the otter remains found in the tomb - if they have any.


Mr Lee added: "We've found otter droppings and bones, which proves that these animals have been using the tomb, and certainly the cell we've excavated, throughout the entire life and use of the tomb.


"It doesn't seem to have been a problem that the otters were living in this tomb at the same time as the Neolithic people that built it, or to those who later used it and buried their dead here.


"The otters used it as part of their territory - they basically used it as their toilet."


The Tomb of the Otters is just a few yards away from the larger Tomb of the Eagles, where remains of dozens of people were found.


Recent studies concluded that some of the people buried there may have suffered violent deaths.


There is no evidence that this was also the case for the people who found their last resting place in the Banks Tomb.


Mr Lee said: "We really can't say anything about the use of the Banks Tomb yet.


"There is no evidence that they died of violence, but we only excavated a small part of the tomb, and it is really hard to tell what we will find in the future."




Although this domestic brewery operated 2,500 years ago, the beer then was about the same as it is today.

By Jennifer Viegas

Wed Jun 15, 2011 07:00 AM ET




France today may be renowned for its fine wines, but it has at least a 2,500-year-old history of beer-making, suggests an Iron Age beer operation recently discovered in the Provence region.


The early beer-making items, described in the latest issue of the journal Human Ecology, provide the oldest direct archeological evidence for beer brewing in France. The home brewery is also one of the most ancient in all of Europe.


There's a chance that beer then was about the same as it is today.


"From what we can tell, it was processed in a way that was close to traditional beer-brewing techniques and was not so different from modern home-made beers," lead author Laurent Bouby told Discovery News.


"It is, however, still difficult to know what the taste was of this beer," added Bouby, a researcher in the Institute of Botany at Montpellier. "We know nothing, for example, about possible additives used in brewing, such as hops. We know nothing about possible lactic fermentation, which would give a sour taste to the beer."


Bouby and colleagues Philippe Boissinot and Philippe Marinval analyzed three samples of sediment from a fifth century B.C. house at a site called Roquepertuse in the Provence region of southeastern France. The area had been settled by people of Celtic heritage. One sample came from the dwelling's floor, near a hearth and oven. Another came from a ceramic vessel, while the third sample was found in a pit.


All three of the samples contained carbonized barley, 90 percent of which had sprouted. The barley had been carefully sorted, with no weed seeds present, eliminating the possibility that it had germinated by accident during storage.


Based on the barley remains, its location and the equipment, the researchers believe the home's inhabitants soaked the grain in vessels, spread it out during germination on a flat area of the paved floor, dried the grain in the oven to stop germination, and used grindstones to pulverize the malted barley. Hearths and containers were then probably used for fermentation and storage.


The brewmaster may have shared his beer.


"Being a domestic production does not necessarily imply that it was consumed at a single family level," Bouby said. "It could have been dedicated to collective drinking or feasts. In traditional societies, the consumption of alcoholic beverages often bears strong social and symbolic meanings. ... This is why grain could have been used to brew beer instead of being preserved for human or animal consumption."


At the time, people from southern France used to consume wine imported from the Mediterranean region, frequently from Greeks in the city of Massalia, Bouby explained. Local wines were also being made.


Based on historical writings, the Greeks and the Romans often turned their noses up to beer then, so it is unlikely that the French beer-maker was able to trade the brew for wine. The raw grain itself, or materials like metals, might have been traded for wine.


The Celts, however, seemed always to have an appreciation for beer, so trade could have existed between their populations. Wooden barrels found in early Celtic communities may have been used to transport beer instead of wine.


Hans-Peter Stika of the University of Hohenheim's Institute of Botany has also been studying early evidence for beer making in Europe. Stika told Discovery News that while Greek and Roman historians wrote about beer, specific information about "prehistoric beers is poor."


"Archaeological excavations of features where beer production took place are scarce," Stika said, "so I was really happy to learn more about Iron Age brewing."


Stika said it's important to note that the Celts in France were producing both wine and beer, and possibly other alcoholic beverages. Future analysis of the manufacture and use of these beverages could reveal important information about social, cultural and economic life during Iron Age Europe.



Port of Athens Was Once an Island, French-Greek Team Finds

ScienceDaily (June 16, 2011)


Piraeus, the main port of Athens, was an island from 4 800 -- 3 400 BC, in other words 4 500 years before the Parthenon was built on the Acropolis. This discovery was made by a French-Greek team (1) led by Jean-Philippe Goiran, a CNRS researcher at the 'Archéorient -- Environnements et Sociétés de l'Orient Ancien' Unit (CNRS/Université Lyon 2), who studied and dated sediments collected in the Piraeus area. The research was carried out in collaboration with colleagues from the Universities of Athens, Paris 1 and Paris Ouest, and is published in the June 2011 issue of the journal


Looking at Piraeus today, it is hard to believe that this urban area was once an island separated from the mainland by a stretch of water. And yet, in the first century AD, the Greek geographer Strabo hypothesized that Piraeus had once been an island. Located approximately seven kilometers southwest of Athens, this vast rocky hill was home to the three ancient ports of the Greek capital, Zea, Mounichia and Cantharos. During the fifth century BC, this strategic place was connected to Athens by a road protected by high walls, known as the 'Long Walls', that guaranteed safe travel.


Until recently, no archeological research had ever been carried out to verify Strabo's hypothesis. To put his intuition to the test, researchers from France and Greece took around ten geological core samples from boreholes over 20 meters deep in what is today the Cephissus (Kifisos) plain located between Piraeus and Athens. They compared the sedimentary records contained in the core samples with written records. Each sedimentary bed was dated using the carbon-14 method. This stratigraphic study enabled the researchers to discover four main stages in the evolution of coastal landscapes in the Piraeus region.


During the first stage, 6 700 -- 5 500 BC, sea levels in the Mediterranean were considerably lower than today. The hill of Piraeus was not an island and was geographically connected to the mainland. Then from 4 800 -- 3 400 BC, sea levels rose, and Piraeus became an island. During the third stage, from 2 800 BC on, sea levels started to rise more slowly, while at the same time massive amounts of sediment were carried down by rivers in the region. This dual phenomenon caused sediments to build up on the Cephissus plain, which led to the establishment of a lagoon environment. Finally, in the fifth century BC, at the time the Parthenon was being built on the Acropolis, the lagoons were still present. To build the Long Walls, the engineers of the time were therefore forced to fill in these wetlands.


Since Strabo lived some 3 500 years after Piraeus was an island, what lies behind his intuition? One possible explanation is that he based his opinions on texts written by his predecessors. Another possibility is that he carried out an analysis of the coastal landscape when he travelled to Athens in the first century AD: at the time, the rocky hill of Piraeus stood above a still marshy coastal plain. And finally, Strabo may have used both these sources to work out that the sea must have been present between Athens and Piraeus at an earlier period.


(1) In France, this work involved the following three laboratories: the 'Archéorient -- Environnements et Sociétés de l'Orient Ancien' Unit (CNRS/Université Lyon 2), the 'Archéologies et Sciences de l'Antiquité' Unit (CNRS/Universités Paris 1 and Paris Ouest/French Ministry of Culture and Communication), and the Centre de Recherche de Géographie Comparée des Suds et des Nords (Université Paris Ouest -- Nanterre La Défense)


Story Source:

The above story is reprinted (with editorial adaptations by ScienceDaily staff) from materials provided by CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange).

Journal Reference:

Jean-Philippe Goiran, Kosmas P. Pavlopoulos, Eric Fouache, Maria Triantaphyllou and Roland Etienne. Piraeus, the ancient island of Athens : Evidence from Holocene sediments and historical archives. Geology, June 2011



Herculaneum sewer sheds light on secrets of Roman life

15 June 2011 Last updated at 15:25

By Duncan Kennedy

BBC News, Rome


Archaeologists have been discovering how Romans lived 2,000 years ago, by studying what they left behind in their sewers.


A team of experts has been sifting through hundreds of sacks of human excrement.


They found a variety of details about their diet and their illnesses.


This unconventional journey into the past took the team down into an ancient sewer below the town of Herculaneum.


Along with neighbouring Pompeii, it was one of the settlements buried by the Vesuvius volcanic explosion of 79AD.


In a tunnel 86m long, they unearthed what is believed to be the largest deposit of human excrement ever found in the Roman world.


Seven hundred and fifty sacks of it to be exact, containing a wealth of information.


The scientists have been able to study what foods people ate and what jobs they did, by matching the material to the buildings above, like shops and homes.


This unprecedented insight into the diet and health of ancient Romans showed that they ate a lot of vegetables.


One sample also contained a high white blood cell count, indicating, say researchers, the presence of a bacterial infection.


The sewer also offered up items of pottery, a lamp, 60 coins, necklace beads and even a gold ring with a decorative gemstone.


But it's the human remains that have most astonished the archaeologists, all going to prove that where there's muck, there's memory.



Archaeologists Uncover Ancient Roman Villa of the Antonines

June 2011, Cover Stories, Daily News

Wed, Jun 15, 2011


For many years, the ruins of this ancient Roman villa retreat for the family and guests of four Roman emperors remained unnoticeable, far from the limelight of scholarly research and exploration. Now, it is the focus of new excavations and research by a team of archaeologists and other specialists who aim to resurrect what lies beneath the surface near a picturesque Italian town 18 miles from present-day Rome, Italy. What remains may say something about emperors Antoninus Pius, Lucius Verus, Marcus Aurelius, and Commodus, all major players, for better or worse, in ancient Rome's illustrious 138-192 A.D. Antonine Dynasty.

The Antonine Dynasty consisted of (with the exception of one), adopted emperors who ruled over a Roman Empire at the zenith of its power. It was a time period of great prosperity and stability, and it has been said that they (especially Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius) ably administered the affairs of the empire without the brutal tyranny and deep corruption so often attributed to other emperors. Like other emperors and royal families, they constructed impressive "great house" retreats, known as villas, for the comfort and entertainment of family members and invited guests and friends. The remains of many of the villas of Roman nobility and emperors such as Hadrian and Diocletian are well-known today and some still visibly spot the landscapes of Italy and that of present-day countries that anciently constituted the outlying provinces. Some of these have been at least partially restored for the visiting public. Others, like the villa now under excavation and associated with the Antonines, awaits the efforts and interpretive skills of archaeologists.


Located along the ancient Via Appia road adjacent to the modern town of Genzano, the only clearly visible features that mark the spot of this Antonine villa today are the remains of structures associated with its bath house. Much of the rest of its remains still lie beneath the landscape or have been destroyed by the sprawl of past urban development. Site investigators indicate that approximately 3 hectares still remains to be unearthed. 


New excavations began during the summer of 2010 under the direction of Deborah Chatr Aryamontri and Timothy Renner of Montclair State University and Michele di Filippo of the University of Rome. Investigations focused on exploration of a curvilinear structure adjacent to the baths and thought to be a possible monumental fountain, along with geophysical investigations that revealed evidence for probable additional wall structures. Of significance was the discovery of brick stamp inscriptions that further support the view that the structure was associated with the time period of the Antonine dynasty. Reported Aryamontri, "Our study of the brick stamps is not yet complete, but the preliminary results, as well as the ceramic classes of most of the pottery, fit well into the second half of the second century. Moreover, the great number of tesserae found, especially the glass ones, reinforces the idea that we are dealing with a possible hydraulic structure such as a fountain."  Fountains would have been common among villa complexes of this time period.


The team also explored the remains of what may have been an amphitheater incorporated into the villa's grounds. The structure's features are similar to another amphitheater not far away and built by Commodus, the last emperor of the Antonine Dynasty.


Although the excavations of the villa began in 2010, they were not the first explorations of the structure. Initial discoveries at the site were made in 1701, when several busts identified as that of Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius, among others, were unearthed at a location near the currently visible bath house complex. Now exhibited in the Capitoline Museum, it was this discovery, along with certain literary references, that led scholars to attribute the remains to the emperors of the Antonine dynasty and to refer to the complex as the "Villa of the Antonines". Subsequent explorations of the site from the 18th until the middle of the 20th century turned up portions of black-and-white mosaics, fragments of stucco and fresco, fragments of moldings and statues.


It was not until 1989 and 1996 when sufficiently systematic archaeological investigations were conducted. In 1989, Drs. Giuseppina Ghini and Nicoletta Cassieri of the Soprintendenza per i Beni Archaeologici per il Lazio examined the baths, identifying and studying several rooms of the complex. Then, in 1996, excavations led to the discovery of the curvilinear structure that became the subject of current efforts. It was this discovery, among other things, that opened the door to more careful, detailed research and excavation of the visible structures and new findings of additional wall structures through geophysical surveys.


"We think that the 2010 excavation has been a profitable and promising season, and its outcome opens a new, intriguing chapter in the study of the "Villa of the Antonines", says Aryamontri. "Among our other tasks, during coming seasons we aim to follow up the results of the geophysical surveys with targeted explorations of the foundations in the area west of the curved building in order to shed light on the nature and chronology of these [newly discovered] structures. Ultimately, of course, it is also necessary to continue to investigate the baths in order to completely define their layout and their relationship to the other remains of this complex."

Excavation work will begin again on July 3, 2011, and includes a field school for students and other individuals interested in participating in the investigations. More information can be obtained by going to the website at http://www.montclair.edu/GlobalEd/studyabroad/summer/institutes/summerabroad/Genzano/inde:



Hadrian's buildings catch the Sun

The Emperor's country estate is aligned to meet the solstices.

Eric Hand

Published online 16 June 2011 | Nature | doi:10.1038/news.2011.372


Hadrian's villa 30 kilometres east of Rome was a place where the Roman Emperor could relax in marble baths and forget about the burdens of power. But he could never completely lose track of time, says Marina De Franceschini, an Italian archaeologist who believes that some of the villa's buildings are aligned so as to produce sunlight effects for the seasons.


For centuries, scholars have thought that the more than 30 buildings at Hadrian's palatial country estate were oriented more or less randomly. But De Franceschini says that during the summer solstice, blades of light pierce two of the villa's buildings.


In one, the Roccabruna, light from the summer solstice enters through a wedge-shaped slot above the door and illuminates a niche on the opposite side of the interior (see image). And in a temple of the Accademia building, De Franceschini has found that sunlight passes through a series of doors during both the winter and summer solstices.


"The alignments gave me a new key of interpretation," says De Franceschini, who says that the two buildings are connected by an esplanade that was a sacred avenue during the solstices. Based on ancient texts describing religious rituals and study of recovered sculptures, she thinks the light effects were linked to religious ceremonies associated with the Egyptian goddess Isis, who was adopted by the Romans.


De Franceschini, who works with the University of Trento in Italy, will publish a book1 this summer describing the archaeoastronomical work. She credits two architects, Robert Mangurian and Mary-Ann Ray, for initially noticing the light effect in Roccabruna.


Robert Hannah, a classicist from the University of Otago in New Zealand, says that De Franceschini's ideas are plausible. "They're certainly ripe for further investigation," he says.


Hannah, who is currently seeking to pin down alignments associated with star rises in Greek temples in Cyprus, believes that the Pantheon, a large temple in Rome with a circular window at the top of its dome, also acts as a giant calendrical sundial2, with sunlight illuminating key interior surfaces at the equinoxes and on 21 April, the city's birthday.


Few classical buildings have been investigated for astronomical alignment, says Hannah, partly because it is much easier to check for alignments in prehistoric structures such as Stonehenge, which do not have potentially contradictory artefacts.


Jarita Holbrook, a cultural astronomer at the University of Arizona in Tucson, is also not surprised by the solar alignments at Hadrian's villa. They are "a common part of most cultures", she says. But, she adds, it's also easy for buildings to be coincidentally aligned with astronomical features.


De Franceschini plans to spend next week's summer solstice at Hadrian's villa, in the hope of documenting the light effects at Apollo's temple more carefully. Last year's summer solstice was rainy, she says. "I hope that this year we will get better pictures."



 De Franceschini, M. & Veneziano, G. Villa Adriana: Architettura Celeste: I Segreti dei Solstizi (in the press).

 Hannah, R. Time in Antiquity (Routledge, 2008).



'Refuge' huts found at Roman Vindolanda Fort & Museum

17 June 2011 Last updated at 10:08


Archaeologists at the Roman Vindolanda Fort & Museum have unearthed dozens of circular huts which they believe could have been used as temporary refuges.


The excavation at the site in Hexham, Northumberland, has unearthed various finds from Roman Britain including letters, murder victims and shoes.


It is thought the huts were built during the invasion of Scotland under Emperor Septimius Severus (AD 208-211).


Dr Andrew Birley described them as "remarkable structures".


An earlier fort at Vindolanda was completely levelled for the construction of the buildings, which could number into the hundreds.


'Unique' find

The find has intrigued archaeologists at the site as Roman soldiers did not build round houses.


They are interested as to why the Roman army would go to such lengths to accommodate the unusual structures.


Dr Birley, who is director of excavations, said: "These are remarkable structures to be found inside a Roman fort, unique in fact.


"They are the sort of building you might expect to find north of Hadrian's Wall in this period, used by small farming communities.


"It is quite possible that what we have here is the Roman army providing for these farmers - creating a temporary refuge for the most vulnerable people from north of the wall.


"Those people may have helped to feed the army and traded with the soldiers, and would have been regarded as being traitors and collaborators in the eyes of the rebellious tribes to the north.


"It would make a certain sense to bring them behind the curtain of Hadrian's Wall and protect them while the fighting continued, as they would have had real value to the Romans and they certainly tried to protect what they valued."



9th century Viking skeletal remains found in Dublin

Ancient skulls and bones found near the Viking port of Lusk

By KATE HICKEY , IrishCentral.com Editor

Published Monday, June 20, 2011, 7:08 AM

Updated Monday, June 20, 2011, 1:44 PM


Construction workers building Ireland’s largest energy project have discovered ancient skeletal remains on farmland in Rush, north county Dublin.


The discovery was made as EirGrid laid piping for a high voltage direct current underground power line.


Skulls and bones were found near Rogerstown estuary. Local historians believe the remains date back to the 9th century. The former port of Lusk, close by, was used by the Vikings.


The National Monuments Service has been informed about the find by the on-site archaeologist and a full survey will begin next week. Until a more in-depth examination they will not know how many bodies are buried there.


Examinations in the surround areas continues. The spokeswoman for Eirgrid said “A previously unrecorded burial ground has been located on private land in Rush earlier this week…It wasn’t marked up on any ordnance survey maps."


There was no evidence that the land had been disturbed before the workers dug the 1.5 meter-deep trench on the farmland.


A local historian Kevin Thorpe said “It sounds like a Viking settlement where people were buried…But it all depends on whether the bodies were criss crossed or buried in straight lines, if there was any clothing on them, the composition and if they were men or women or young and old."


Thorpe, a member of the Loughshinny and Rush Historical Society, said this area was the final resting place of hundreds of people when a ship called the Tayleur was shipwreck just off a nearby island, Lambay, in 1854. The locations of their remains also is a mystery.


He added "Altogether more than 300 people went down with that ship, mostly women and children."


EirGrid confirmed, with the Press Association, that this land had been condoned off and protect from the heavy rain.



Excavated Bomb Suggests Early Start for Artillery

By Matthias Schulz



Archeologists in northern Germany have discovered two projectiles from the 17 century that suggest exploding cannon balls have been around longer than thought. A complex fuse system may have led the bombs to detonate when they reached their targets.


By dint of hard work and strict devotion to God, Christoph Bernhard von Galen (1606-1678) managed to attain the rank of prince-bishop. The man also liked to rub shoulders with generals and was fond of using gunpowder to lend authority to Jesus' words. His contemporaries nicknamed him "Bombing Bernd."


The freedom-loving Dutch, in particular, felt the wrath of this Catholic weapons-fanatic from Münster. In 1672, Galen sent heavy mortars rolling north, which his artillerymen filled with hollow iron shot weighing over 70 kilograms (154 pounds). These odd explosives shot high into the sky with a mighty boom. One fell into a moat, where it extinguished.

Nearly 350 years after that missed shot, the unexploded bomb has come to light again in the swampy soil of East Frisia, a coastal region in northwestern Germany. Archaeologists discovered it during excavations at the Dieler Schanze, a defensive fortifications site dating from 1580, near the town of Diele.


The object is larger than a medicine ball and cast from iron, with sides five centimeters (two inches) thick. "It still contains around seven kilograms (15 pounds) of gunpowder, and even the fuse is still there," explains archaeologist Andreas Hüser.


This find, the first of its type, is "more than significant," says Volker Schmidtchen, an ammunition specialist and author of several books on military history. An expert on the medieval fortress at Coburg in western Germany also describes the find as a "sensation."


Another shell, identical in its construction, surfaced at the Dieler Schanze last year. The excavators were so alarmed, they called in a team of explosives experts from a military technology station in nearby Meppen and kept their discovery a secret at first. Further testimony that soldiers once camped at this Frisian fortress is provided by broken tobacco pipes, boots and rusted hand grenades. Archaeologists have also found the remains of detonated bombs.


Hüser is certain these weapons belonged to Galen's arsenal. The prince-bishop once stormed the Diele fortress, attacking the rebellious Dutch with an army 25,000 strong. Sources say artillery shells rained down on the Dutch province of Groningen.


Some researchers could hardly believe the news of the explosive finds. Documents from 1326 do report the first instances of armies using gunpowder to sling stone cannonballs into the air -- the heaviest recorded projectile used for cracking fortifications weighed in at 697 kilograms (1,537 pounds). Soon after came experiments in filling the cannons' barrels with lead shot, red-hot iron balls or leather hides filled with shards and scrap metal.


But the history of artillery shells -- objects which exploded after reaching their targets with the help of a fuse -- was one marked less by glory and more by false starts, with many details lost to history.


It seems that around 1450, craftsmen began filling "hollow iron balls" with gunpowder for use as shot. Many times, the technique failed. The cannoneers first had to reach into the mortar's opening, light the bomb's fuse, then quickly fire the weapon. If their timing was off, the entire cannon would blow up in their faces before the projectile had left the barrel. They also often failed to correctly calculate the projectile's trajectory, a process done using quadrants. And sometimes the fuse went out in flight.


Military specialists of the time repeatedly "experimented in secret," Schmidtchen says. But the technology necessary for propelling bombs remained elusive and difficult to improve. During the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, the two sides still shot each other using solid iron balls.


Bishop Galen, the Dr. Strangelove of Catholicism, may well have been ahead of his time. The shells now discovered have an opening containing a wooden stake, drilled down the middle and containing gunpowder that reaches as far as the explosive charge inside the cannonball. Attached to the outside of the ball is netting made of thick cords that all connect to the wooden fuse. "The cannonball was also coated with bitumen and wrapped in rough cloth," Hüser adds.


The researcher surmises this signifies that the metal ball self-ignited from the heat at the moment it was fired from the cannon and burned as it whizzed through the air.


"An appealing idea," Schmidtchen admits. Scientists have now turned to chemical analysis and X-ray images to unravel the puzzle of the fuse mechanism.

An old portrait of Galen, meanwhile, seems to support Hüser's theory. It shows the prince-bishop wearing a stern gaze and black church robes. Behind him is a sky full of fiery projectiles shooting through the air.


Those aren't stars of Bethlehem -- they're Galen's holy grenades.


Translated from the German by Ella Ornstein




Genetic analysis of a shrunken head verifies anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting in South America.

By Jennifer Viegas

Tue Jun 14, 2011 08:30 AM ET





A remarkably well-preserved shrunken head has just been authenticated by DNA analysis, which provides strong evidence that anecdotal accounts of violent head-hunting in South America were true.


The study, published in the latest issue of Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences, marks the first successful effort to unveil the genetic make-up of a shrunken head.


"The shrunken heads were made from enemies' heads cut on the battlefield," co-author Gila Kahila Bar-Gal told Discovery News. "Then, during spiritual ceremonies, enemies' heads were carefully reduced through boiling and heating, in the attempt to lock the enemy's spirit and protect the killers from spiritual revenge."


Kahila Bar-Gal is a senior lecturer in the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Koret School of Veterinary Medicine. She is also a faculty member within the university's department of Agriculture, Food and Environment.


For the study, she and her colleagues used DNA testing and other techniques to examine the authenticity and possible cultural provenance of a shrunken head displayed at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv. The head remains in an incredible state of preservation, with the deceased man's hair, facial features and other physical characteristics intact.


Many shrunken heads are forgeries, with some 80 percent suspected to be fakes. The late 19th through the 20th centuries saw a rise in manufacture of such fakes for profit.


The shrunken head at the Israeli museum, however, turns out to be legit.


"The shrunken head we studied was made from a real human skin," Kahila Bar-Gal said. "The people who made it knew exactly how to peel the skin from the skull, including the hair," she added, mentioning that it was also salted and boiled.


The researchers determined that the skin belonged to a man who lived and died in South America "probably in the Afro-Ecuadorian population." The genes reveal the victim's ancestors were from West Africa, but his DNA profile matches that of modern populations from Ecuador with African admixture.


According to the scientists, he was probably a member of a group that fought the Jivaro-Shuar tribes of Ecuador. These tribes also lived in Peru during the post-Columbian period, and were thought to make ritual shrunken heads out of their enemies.


Although Kahila Bar-Gal said the DNA could not pinpoint the exact age of the shrunken head, the scientists estimate the individual was killed between 1600-1898 A.D. The early date marks the entry of Africans into the region, while the latter date was when the last major nomadic populations of hunters and gatherers in Ecuador were thought to have existed.


Accounts of what happened to shrunken heads after the post-battle spiritual ceremonies vary. There are accounts that the Jivaro-Shuar warriors kept the shrunken heads as "keepsakes or personal adornments," even wearing them at certain times. Leonard Clark, who traveled to the region in 1948, however, said that he saw a shrunken head, called a "tsantsa," used in a ceremony and then stuffed in an old earthenware pot that was placed in the thatched ceiling of the house.


"Robbed of its soul, the savagely beautiful trophy no longer had any spiritual value," Clark wrote in a 1953 account.


Chuck Greenblatt, a professor in the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Hebrew University's Hadassah Medical School, told Discovery News that "the ancient DNA techniques employed by the authors are appropriate and I have no doubt as to the authenticity of their results."


Kahila Bar-Gal hopes other museums will consider having certain objects genetically tested, as the method can reveal authenticity and uncover important historical information that may not otherwise be available.