Report from Former U.S. Marine Hints at Whereabouts of Long-Lost Peking Man Fossils

By Kate Wong | March 22, 2012 |  2


In the 1930s archaeologists working at the site of Zhoukoudian near Beijing recovered an incredible trove of partial skulls and other bones representing some 40 individuals that would eventually be assigned to the early human species Homo erectus. The bones, which recent estimates put at around 770,000 years old, constitute the largest collection of H. erectus fossils ever found. They were China’s paleoanthropological pride and joy. And then they vanished.


According to historical accounts, in 1941 the most important fossils in the collection were packed in large wooden footlockers or crates to be turned over to the U.S. military for transport to the American Museum of Natural History in New York for safekeeping during World War II. But the fossils never made it to the U.S. Today, all scientists have are copies of the bones. The disappearance of the originals stands as one of the biggest mysteries in paleoanthropology.


Researchers have found a new lead, however. In a paper published today in the South African Journal of Science, Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and Wu Liu and Xiujie Wu of the Institute for Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing detail their investigation into a recent report concerning the location of the missing bones. Former U.S. Marine Richard M. Bowen, now in his 80s, claimed that in 1947, when he was stationed at Camp Holcomb in the port city of Qinhaungdao during China’s Nationalist-Communist Civil War, he came across a box full of bones while digging foxholes one night. Spooked, he reburied the box. Soon thereafter his company evacuated Qinhaungdao.


Because the most credible accounts of what happened to the fossils have them reaching Camp Holcomb, the researchers thought Bowen’s report worthy of further investigation. Perhaps the officer in charge of the fossils in 1941, seeing that the fossils were not going to make it on board the ship amid the wartime chaos, had chosen to bury them for later retrieval—only to never make it back.


Working with information from Bowen and a local expert on the harbor, the team formulated three best guesses as to the location of the stone barracks where Bowen said he dug up the box of bones. All three sit within an area of about 200 meters by 200 meters. “One possible location sits underneath a large warehouse, but the remaining locations all fall under a large parking area and roadway” the researchers note.


According to the authors, the odds are high that the box Bowen claims to have found would have been destroyed during development of the area. But if it wasn’t, science may yet recover the missing Peking Man fossils. The team concludes:


“We established that the area in question is due to undergo development in the near future and that ‘large buildings’ are to be erected on the site. This development of course offers the opportunity that the roads and warehouses will be excavated and that if the footlocker noted by Richard Bowen has somehow miraculously survived, it or its contents might be uncovered during the course of excavation. Local authorities of the Cultural Heritage Office have committed to monitor any excavations in the area for remnants of the footlockers or fossils, and it is on this slim chance that the recovery of the bones Richard Bowen observed in 1947 rests.”



Possible New Lead in Peking Man Fossils Mystery


Published: March 25, 2012 at 10:01 AM ET


JOHANNESBURG (AP) — The memories of a World War II-era Marine have renewed hopes of solving one of the greatest archaeological mysteries — the whereabouts of the lost Peking Man fossils, South African and Chinese scientists said.


In the March edition of a scientific journal published by Johannesburg's University of the Witwatersrand, renowned South African paleontologist Lee Berger and two Chinese colleagues say the fossils may be lying under a parking lot in China's northern port city of Qinhuangdao where the Marine said he saw two crates of bones in 1947.


Richard M. Bowen described the sighting in memoirs being compiled by his son.


The fossils, found a century ago and believed to hold a key to studies of early mankind, disappeared at the outbreak of the war in the Pacific while destined for safe keeping in the United States.


What Bowen saw in 1947 might have been the fossils at U.S. Camp Holcomb, the researchers said.


Bowen told his son in 2010 about how he dug up wooden crates of relics and used them as a machine gun nest when the base came under attack from tens of thousands of Communist Chinese troops. He was captured in the assault.


The veteran's family then contacted the South African university reputed for archaeological research that has blazed a trail in contemporary studies on prehistory and has discovered fossils in South Africa's "Cradle of Mankind" that predate China's lost "Homo Erectus" samples.


The surviving Marine veteran is reportedly anxiously waiting to hear if his memories and the service records his son is sifting through will end the six-decades hunt for the Peking Man.


Berger of Witwatersrand's Institute of Human Evolution and co-authors Wu Liu and Xiujie Wu from the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing investigated the Marine's story and "found it to be perhaps the most credible account of the last known sighting of these important fossils," the Johannesburg university said in a statement.


Despite one of the most intensive searches in the history of archaeological science over six decades, including substantial rewards being offered, no verifiable sign of the whereabouts of the historical objects had emerged earlier, according to the university statement.


The scientists visited Qinhuangdao where Bowen said he last saw the crates, which could have since been reburied beneath what is now a parking lot in a heavily built up area.


"If these were the fossils, they may be lost to history, or they may still be buried under a few feet of asphalt in this Chinese port city," the university statement said.


The Peking Man fossils went missing around the time of Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 that brought the United States into World War II.


When Japanese forces were advancing on the Chinese capital, now Beijing, it was decided to ship the fossils to the United States. But as some of the bloodiest fighting in the Pacific conflict intensified, the crates disappeared on the way to the coast.



Skulls on stakes in Sweden date to the mesolithic


Archaeological excavations in 2009–2011 at Kanaljorden in the town of Motala, Östergötland in central Sweden unearthed a unique Mesolithic site with ceremonial depositions of human crania in a former lake.


The human skulls have been part of a complex ceremony that involved their display on stakes and deposition in water.


The skulls have now been C14 dated to 6212-5717 cal BC and two dates on worked wood have also been obtained (5972-5675 cal BC), making them 7-8000 year old.


The rituals were conducted on a massive (14 x 14 m) stone-built construction on the bottom of a shallow lake


The rituals were conducted on a massive (14 x 14 m) stone-built construction on the bottom of a shallow lake (nowadays a peat fen). Some human crania were found as more or less intact “skulls” while others were found as isolated fragments, for example a frontal lobe or a temporal bone. Based on the more intact skulls eleven individuals have been identified, both men and women, ranging in age between infants and middle age. Two of the skulls had wooden stakes inserted into the cranium. In both cases the stakes were inserted from the base to the top of the skull.  As well as this a temporal bone of  a women was found placed inside the skull of another woman.


Besides human skulls the find material also includes a small number of post-cranial human bones and bones from animals, as well as artefacts of stone, wood, bone and antler.


The skull depositions at Kanaljorden are clearly ritual in character. The next step is to find out if the human bones are relics from dearly departed that were handled in a complex secondary burial ritual, or perhaps trophies of defeated enemies. The archaeologists hope that the ongoing laboratory analysis will give clues to whether the bones are remains of locals or people from further afield and if they represent a family group.


The excavations were conducted by Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård in advance of the construction of a new railway.  The investigations of the wetland are scheduled to resume in 2012 or 2013.


Source: Stiftelsen Kulturmiljövård



Mystery solved? Turin Shroud linked to Resurrection of Christ

The Turin Shroud has baffled scholars through the ages but in his new book, The Sign, Thomas de Wesselow reveals a new theory linking the cloth to the Resurrection.

By Peter Stanford7:00AM GMT 24 Mar 20121072


For centuries the Turin Shroud, regarded by some as the burial cloth of Jesus, by others as the most elaborate hoax in history, has inspired extraordinary and conflicting passions. Popes, princes and paupers have for 700 years been making pilgrimages the length of Europe to stand in its presence while scientists have dedicated their whole working lives to trying to explain rationally how the ghostly image on the cloth, even more striking when seen as a photographic negative, and matching in every last detail the crucifixion narrative, could have been created. And still a final, commonly agreed answer remains elusive, despite carbon-dating in 1988 having pronounced it a forgery.

“That’s what first attracted me,” says Thomas de Wesselow, an engagingly serious 40-year-old Cambridge academic. “I’ve always loved a mystery ever since I was a boy.” And so he became the latest in a long line to abandon everything to try to solve the riddle of the Shroud.

Eight years ago, de Wesselow was a successful art historian, based at King’s College, making a name for himself in scholarly circles by taking a fresh look at centuries-old disputes over the attribution of masterpieces of Renaissance painting. Today, he still lives in the university city – we are sitting in its Fitzwilliam Museum café – but de Wesselow has thrown up his conventional career and any hopes of a professorial chair to join the ranks of what he laughingly calls “shroudies”.

“In academia, the subject of the Shroud is seen as toxic,” he reports, “and no one wants to open the can of worms, but try as I might I just couldn’t resist it as an intellectual puzzle.”

For most “shroudies”, though, it is more than just intellectual. It offers that elusive but faith-validating proof that Jesus died exactly as the gospels say he did. But again it gets complicated, for the Vatican, since 1983 the owner of this hotly disputed icon, disappoints “shroudies” by limiting itself to declaring that the burial cloth is a representation of Jesus’s crucified body, not his actual linen wrap. And it has accepted the carbon-dating tests as conclusive.


De Wesselow dismisses those tests as “fatally flawed”. So, although he describes himself as agnostic, he now finds himself in the curious position of being more of a believer in the Shroud than the Pope. His historical detective work has convinced him, he insists, that it is exactly what it purports to be — the sheet that was wrapped round Jesus’s battered body when it was cut down from the cross on Calvary.

But that isn’t the half of it. His new book, The Sign, the latest in a long line of tomes about the Shroud, makes an even more astonishing claim in its 450 pages (including over 100 of footnotes). It was, suggests de Wesselow, seeing the Shroud in the days immediately after the crucifixion, rather than any encounter with a flesh and blood, risen Christ, that convinced the apostles that Jesus had come back from the dead.

If true, I point out, he is overturning 2,000 years of Christian history. But he doesn’t even blink over his teacup. He’s either a very cool, calculating chancer, single-mindedly out to make a quick buck with an eye-catching theory that caters for gullible readers of the likes of The Holy Blood and The Holy Grail or Erich von Daniken’s Chariots of the Gods, or he’s absolutely sincere. “I am an art historian,” he responds calmly, “not a theologian, so I can approach the problem from a new angle.”

It feels like we’ve reached a moment for laying our cards on the table before we start examining the details of his theory. The exact nature of the Resurrection troubles me, as it does many Christians. Was it physical, against all the laws of nature but as the Church claims, or was it “symbolic”, as the Bishop of Durham, David Jenkins, famously suggested in 1984?

Jenkins’s use of the phrase “a conjuring trick with bones” may have caused outrage – and was, he said later, a misquotation – but his willingness to question a “literal” resurrection did not put him so far outside the Christian mainstream as is often suggested.

“For my part I come from a standard Church of England background,” says de Wesselow (who was raised in Winchester; his exotic surname results from his Frenchified Russian ancestry). “Church was a familiar, likeable institution but it hasn’t impinged on my life too much.” The first challenge he faces is how to place the Shroud in first-century Jerusalem. The standard historical record of the Shroud – broadly endorsed by carbon-dating – traces its first appearance back to the 1350s in rural France, when a knight called Geoffrey de Charny put it on display in his local church. “But where did he get it from?” de Wesselow asks, perfectly reasonably.

He highlights a connection between the French knight and the Crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204. “And we have a description of a cloth, that sounds very like the Shroud, that had been seen before that in Constantinople, described as the burial cloth of Jesus, that then goes missing and is never heard of again.” So, de Wesselow’s theory is that it was taken to France by the Crusaders as looted bounty.

But what were the origins of the cloth in Constantinople? This brings us to the oddly named “Holy Mandylion” (man-dill-e-on), a long lost relic in Eastern Christianity, said to be the imprint of Jesus’s face. “The Mandylion was brought to Constantinople in 944,” says de Wesselow. “That is recorded. It was an object of fascination, said not to be made of paint but of blood, and described as a landscape shape, rather than a portrait.”

The legend of the Mandylion is also given a reworking by de Wesselow. That cloth looted in 1204 was, he proposes, also the Mandylion. Its landscape format, he suggests with the aid of diagrams, was the result of it being the top fold of a bigger cloth – what we know as the Turin Shroud.

It is an intriguing theory, with plenty of circumstantial evidence in those 100 pages of notes, and even mention of possible sightings back in the mid-sixth century, but nothing more precise. At the risk of sounding like an accountant, that leaves us 500 years short of first century Jerusalem.

“Yes,” de Wesselow replies, with just a hint of impatience, “but we are sitting here in the Fitzwilliam Museum and in its display cases are plenty of objects whose exact provenance includes long gaps. That happens very often in art history. A Caravaggio turns up in the 19th century and we have no idea from where, but we can use science and detective work to attribute it to him.”

In the case of the Shroud, that science includes two tests: one for pollen in the fibres that shows the cloth to be more than 1,300 years old, published in a peer-reviewed journal in 2005 “but ignored despite being good science”: and another by a textile expert, during a 2002 restoration, that found parallels between the Shroud’s warp and weave and those of first century Jewish cloths.

What is becoming plain in our discussion is that in making his claims, de Wesselow has done very little first-hand research himself. His contribution has to be to gather up the work of others, re-examine past investigations (he draws heavily on the digging done by British author, Ian Wilson, a key figure before the carbon-dating tests, now living in retirement in Australia), and then tease out new conclusions. He is, essentially, taking existing pieces of a jigsaw and assembling them in a new and startling pattern.

It is not a description he particularly likes when I put it to him, but neither does he substantially contradict it. Instead he admits to a dislike of the popular “personal quest” genre of books that walk and talk their way through whole continents attempting to solve, among other subjects, the mysterious configuration of the pyramids or the fate of Atlantis.

“That always seems to me a very artificial way of going about it,” says de Wesselow, whose research by contrast was largely done at his desk or in libraries, save for one episode he recounts in the book when the connection between the Shroud and Resurrection came to him in a kind of eureka moment in the garden of his Cambridge house.

Having established – at least for the purposes of argument – the Shroud in first century Israel, it is now time to turn to his potentially even more earth-shaking theory, namely that the Resurrection was a kind of optical illusion.

Christianity teaches that Peter, James, Thomas, Mary Magdalene and up to 500 other disciples saw Jesus in the flesh, back from the dead, in the ultimate proof that he was God. De Wesselow rejects this “divine mystery” in favour of something that he believes is much more plausible.

What the apostles were seeing was the image of Jesus on the Shroud, which they then mistook for the real thing. It sounds, I can’t help suggesting, as absurd as a scene from a Monty Python film.

“I quite understand why you say that,” he replies, meeting me half way this time, “but you have to think your way into the mindset of 2,000 years ago. The apostles did see something out of the ordinary, the image on the cloth.

“And at that time – this is something that art historians and anthropologists know about – people were much less used to seeing images. They were rare and regarded as much more special than they are now.

“There was something Animist in their way of looking at images in the first century. Where they saw shadows and reflections, they also saw life. They saw the image on the cloth as the living double of Jesus.

“Back then images had a psychological presence, they were seen as part of a separate plain of existence, as having a life of their own.”

I am struggling. I have this picture in my mind of the apostles, gathered in an upper room in Jerusalem, being inspired to go out on missionary journeys that resulted in a Church that now numbers a third of the planet in its ranks. And they are looking not at the astonishing sight of Jesus himself, back from the dead, but at a cloth. “If you think yourself into the whole experience of the apostles,” de Wesselow persists, “going into the tomb three days after the crucifixion, in the half-light, and seeing that image emerging from the burial cloth…”

But, I interrupt, if his logical approach is to be taken at face value, wouldn’t they also have seen the decomposing body of Jesus, and know that far from coming to life again, he was well and truly dead?

“But that isn’t how they understood resurrection. The earliest source we have on Jesus is Saint Paul [his epistles predate the writing of the gospels] and there in 1 Corinthians 15-50 — the reference is seared on my memory — you have him saying explicitly that resurrection is not about flesh and blood.”

De Wesselow can quote the relevant gospel passages as readily as any Christian preacher. In the book, he takes each and every New Testament reference to the risen Christ – plus a few from the extracanonical texts of the first and second centuries that were excluded from the Authorised Version of the Bible – and rereads them to fit in with his thesis.

After eight years working on it, Thomas de Wesselow could go on and on into infinite detail, far too much to take on board at one sitting. Yet for every answer – or “new way of understanding” as he prefers to put it — another question inevitably arises.

That, of course, has long been the pattern with all attempts to explain the Shroud. So when, for example, carbon-dating located it between the 13th and 14th centuries, scientists then tried – and so far have failed – to show how any medieval forger could have made such an image, with its effect of a photographic negative anticipating the invention of the camera by 500 years.

Perhaps, I venture, the Turin Shroud is destined always to remain a mystery “No,” replies de Wesselow, suddenly fierce and passionate. “I’m an optimist. I think we have to try our best to understand things. I don’t believe in just leaving problems alone.”


Hoard of Roman coins found near Roman Baths in Bath

22 March 2012 Last updated at 17:42


More than 30,000 Roman coins were found by archaeologists working in Bath in 2007, it has been revealed.


The silver coins are believed to date from 270AD and have been described as the fifth largest UK hoard ever found.


The coins are fused together and were sent to the British Museum. Conservators are expected to take at least a year to work through them.


A campaign has now been started at the Roman Baths to try to raise £150,000 to acquire and display them.


The size of the find is not as large as the Frome Hoard in April 2010 when more than 53,500 coins were discovered by metal detectorist Dave Crisp near Frome in Somerset.


The coins found in this hoard date from a similar time and are thought to be the largest ever discovered in a Roman town in the UK.


Roman Baths spokesman Stephen Clews said: "We've put in a request for a formal valuation and then hope to buy the coins to display them at the baths.


"At the time there was a lot of unrest in the Roman Empire so there may be some explanation for why the coins were hidden away.


"The find is also unusual as it was discovered by professional archaeologists as opposed to an amateur using a metal detector," he added.



Archaeologists Reconstruct Diet of Nelson's Navy with New Chemical Analysis of Excavated Bones

23 March 2012 Wiley-Blackwell


Salt beef, sea biscuits and the occasional weevil; the food endured by sailors during the Napoleonic wars is seldom imagined to be appealing. Now a new chemical analysis technique has allowed archaeologists to find out just how dour the diet of Georgian sailors really was. The team’s findings, published in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology also reveal how little had changed for sailors in the 200 years between the Elizabethan and Georgian eras.


The research, led by Professor Mark Pollard from the University of Oxford, focused on bones from 80 sailors who served from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries and were buried in Royal Naval Hospital cemeteries in Plymouth and Portsmouth.


“An isotopic analysis of bone collagen from the recovered skeletons allowed us to reconstruct average dietary consumption,” said Dr Pollard. “By comparing these findings to primary documentary evidence we can build a more accurate picture of life in Nelson’s navy.”


In the late 18th century the Royal Navy employed 70,000 seamen and marines. Feeding so many men was a huge logistical challenge requiring strictly controlled diets including flour, oatmeal, suet, cheese, dried pork, beer, salted cod and ships biscuits when at sea.


The team’s analysis shows that the diet of the sailors was consistent with contemporary documentary records such as manifests and captain’s logs. As well as validating the historical interpretation of sailors’ diets, this finding has implications for the amount of marine protein which can be isotopically detected in human diets.


The bones in Portsmouth were also able to show where the sailors had served. The team’s results show that even when serving in naval theaters ranging from the UK and English Channel to the West Indies or the Mediterranean, the sailors converged in dietary terms into a ‘naval average’, due to the strict consistency of diet.


The results also showed that sailors in buried in Plymouth spent more time off the American coast than those buried at Portsmouth, which is consistent with the sailing records.


Finally, the team compared the isotopic data with research on 18 individuals from the Mary Rose, a 16th century royal flagship that sank just outside Portsmouth harbor in 1545. The results revealed that the naval diet was virtually unchanged in 200 years.



“This is one of the first studies to use this technique to examine human populations in the historic period,” conclude Pollard. “Our findings demonstrate the benefits of using forensic methods to complement documentary records.”


Full bibliographic information

Patrick Roberts, Sam Weston, Bastien Wild, Ceridwen Boston, Peter Ditchfield, Andrew J. Shortland, A. Mark Pollard, “The men of Nelson's navy: A comparative stable isotope dietary study of late 18th century and early 19th century servicemen from Royal Naval Hospital burial grounds at Plymouth and Gosport, England”, American Journal of Physical Anthropology, Wiley-Blackwell, March 2012, DOI: 10.1002/ajpa.22019, URL Upon publication: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajpa.22019/abstract



18th-Century Bone Telescopes Discovered in Amsterdam

Owen Jarus, LiveScience ContributorDate: 26 March 2012 Time: 10:33 AM ET


The longest of the telescopes discovered, about in. (140 mm) long and made of cow metatarsal bone, has two finely crafted parts held together with a screw thread. At far left, a lens of the telescope, next to a device with a hole that functioned as an aperture stop.


Five telescopes made of bone and dating to the 18th century have been discovered in Amsterdam, with two of the scopes found in the equivalent of toilets.


At the time, called the Enlightenment, the telescopes would have been considered luxury items and were likely used to gaze at objects on land or sea, rather than to look at the stars. They were created during a period when Amsterdam was a flourishing center for trade, one that attracted talented craftsmen.


Ranging in length from roughly 3 to 5 inches (80 to 140 millimeters), the telescopes were made using cattle metatarsal bone. "This particular bone of cow, the metatarsal bone, is actually quite straight and round," Marloes Rijkelijkhuizen, of the Amsterdam Archaeological Centre at the University of Amsterdam, told LiveScience."It's a nice shape to make these telescopes from, it's straight and (has a) very round narrow cavity."


Each telescope would have had a pair of lenses — like the system used by Galileo — a convex objective and a concave ocular, to magnify objects. (Two of the telescopes have at least one lens intact.) The longest of the telescopes, which had both lenses intact, is made of two parts put together with a screw thread, and was equipped with a bone insertion that has a small hole and likely functioned as an aperture stop. [Quiz: The World's Greatest Inventions]


With a magnification of about 3, the telescopes may have been used as opera glasses, held up by their wealthy owners to get a better view of the stage. Another idea is that someone going to sea, perhaps as a ship passenger, toted these with them.


The telescopes were excavated at different times over the past 40 years by the Office for Monuments and Archaeology in Amsterdam. Details of the findings hadn't been published until now, and, in the case of two of them, were unidentified until several years ago when Rijkelijkhuizen, then a master's degree student, started work on her thesis. She was looking at organic artifacts found in Amsterdam when she came across bone artifacts that would later turn out to be telescopes.


"At first I didn't recognize them either," Rijkelijkhuizensaid. Her analysis of the five telescopes is now published in the most recent edition of the Journal of Archaeology in the Low Countries.


Found in a toilet


When Rijkelijkhuizenlooked over the excavation reports she found that two of the telescopes had been discovered in cesspits – the 18th-century equivalent of a toilet. It's not clear where the other three telescopes would have been originally deposited in the 18th century.


"It's a toilet but it is also like a dump for trash," she said. Why luxury items like these would have been put in toilets is a mystery; perhaps they broke and their owners, despite the cost of producing them, threw them away. Another idea is that their owners lost them. [A Gallery of the World's Toilets]


Rijkelijkhuizen said it's not the first time she's uncovered unusual objects in pits like these. "We find all different kinds of objects in a cesspit, like false teeth, and we think 'why?'"


However it happened, it was fortunate for the archaeologists. "Because it was a toilet, and it's a very wet environment, all the objects in it are usually very well preserved," she said.


Ushering in the Enlightenment


The 18th century was a time of great change with new ideas, both scientific and political, being discussed. The telescope, with its ability to let people gaze at the stars, and see objects from a great distance, played a significant role in these changes. It had been invented only a century earlier. [The History of Telescopes]


"The telescope (and later the microscope), were thus two major devices that helped usher in the enlightenment," writes Geoff Andersen, an astronomer and author, in his book"The Telescope: Its History, Technology and Future" (Princeton University Press, 2007).


"Suddenly, anyone could experience things beyond the range of the unaided human senses, and start questioning conventional wisdom about the universe in which we live."


Although these newly discovered bone telescopes were not the most powerful telescopes of their day, for their owners it would have given them the ability to peer out farther into the horizon.