Tracing a Royal Y Chromosome


Published: February 11, 2013


Researchers last week developed DNA evidence to help identify the remains of a skeleton found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, as those of Richard III, the last English king to die in battle, in 1485. But the researchers’ work is only half-done. They have made a strong but not conclusive link through the female line, and are now turning to the male side for corroboration.


Turi King, a geneticist at the University of Leicester, found a match in the mitochondrial DNA extracted from the parking lot skeleton and that of two living descendants of Anne of York, Richard III’s sister. About 1 percent of the English population carries this type. Mitochondrial DNA is bequeathed exclusively through the female line.


Chris Tyler-Smith, a geneticist at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute near Cambridge, said the mitochondrial DNA type identified by Dr. King was “rare enough to be interesting, but not rare enough to be conclusive.”


The Leicester team plans to investigate the paternal DNA of the remains. Kevin Schürer, a historian at the university, has already found four living descendants of John of Gaunt, the son of Edward III, who was Richard III’s great-great-grandfather. Dr. King has found that their Y chromosome, which is carried only by men, match, establishing that they are all true descendants of John of Gaunt.


The Y chromosome DNA from the skeleton is very degraded, but Dr. King said she had found that she could amplify it and hopes to get enough to make a match with the living descendants.



To claim someone has 'Viking ancestors' is no better than astrology

Exaggerated claims from genetic ancestry testing companies undermine serious research into human genetic history


You may have missed the latest genetic discovery. As reported by The Daily Telegraph on Friday: "One million British men may be directly descended from the Roman legions". The story reappeared on Sunday, at the Who Do You Think You Are – Live event at London's Olympia, when it was repeated by Alistair Moffatt, the managing director of BritainsDNA, the company behind the claims.


Such stories are becoming increasingly common in newspapers, on television and radio. Last week on the BBC miniseries Meet the Izzards we were told that Eddie Izzard is a Viking descendant on his mother's side and an Anglo-Saxon descendant on his father's. Last year the Observer reported that Tom Conti has Saracen origins and is a relative of Napoleon Bonaparte.


And for upwards of £150 you too can have your DNA "tested" by any of a number of direct-to-consumer ancestry companies. But how reliable are these claims? The truth is that there is usually little scientific substance to most of them and they are better thought of as genetic astrology.


For some time it has been possible to compare DNA sections among individuals; and in a broad sense greater genetic similarity means greater relatedness. But you have inherited different sections of your DNA from different ancestors, and as we look back through time the number of ancestors you have almost doubles with each generation (it would double exactly were it not for the fact that we are all somewhat inbred).


This means that you don't have to look very far back before you have more ancestors than sections of DNA, and that means you have ancestors from whom you have inherited no DNA. Added to this, humans have an undeniable fondness for moving and mating – in spite of ethnic, religious or national boundaries – so looking back through time your many ancestors will be spread out over an increasingly wide area. This means we don't have to look back much more than around 3,500 years before somebody lived who is the common ancestor of everybody alive today.


And perhaps most surprisingly, it has been reasonably estimated that around 5,000 years ago everybody who was alive was either the common ancestor of everybody alive today, or of nobody alive today; at this point in history we all share exactly the same set of ancestors.


What does this say about the descendants of the Roman legions? It says almost everybody in Britain is one, as well as being the descendant of Vikings, Celts, Anglo-Saxons, Arabs, Jews, Saracens, Goths, Vandals, or whatever ethnic group you want to choose in Europe and its vicinity over the last few thousand years. Nobody is pure this, or pure that, and a substantial proportion of human ancestry is common to all of us. Ancestry is complicated and very messy.


Claims like those mentioned at the beginning of this article are usually based on only two sections of DNA: the mitochondrial DNA, which is inherited solely through the female line, and the male line equivalent, the Y chromosome. It is possible to compare these and make reasonable estimates of how long ago two individuals share a common ancestor through the male or female line, although such estimates are usually rather imprecise.


But saying where, and in what ethnic group, that common ancestor lived is considerably more speculative. In the hands of "genetic ancestry testing" companies this speculation almost invariably comes from the murky world of interpretative phylogeography – an approach to "reading" our genetic history that is easily steered by subjective biases, has never been scientifically shown to work and, in some forms, has been explicitly shown not to work.


So saying this or that Y chromosome came to Britain with the Roman legions, or that Oprah Winfrey has Zulu mitochondrial DNA, is just storytelling. Stories are fine if it is made clear that is all they are. But science isn't about telling stories, it's about testing them (in science we prefer the term hypothesis testing).


The simplicity of how Y chromosome and mitochondrial DNA are inherited is part of their appeal in ancestry testing: you don't have to worry about that inconvenient doubling of your ancestors with each generation back in time. You only have one father, one father's father, etc.


But the price of that simplicity is irrelevance: those two lineages represent a rapidly diminishing fraction of your ancestry the further back in time you go. It may be the case that your mitochondrial DNA lineage came to Britain with the Vikings – although that would be extremely difficult to demonstrate scientifically – but if true, this would still say very little about your origins.


There are some situations where Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA information can be useful. It is, for example, reasonable to use large samples of these DNA types to say something about the histories of populations, if analyses are performed carefully and at the population level. Also, if genealogical research (parish records, surnames, etc.) suggests that two men share a common male line ancestor in the 16th century, the Y chromosome could be used to support or reject this claim. But individual Y chromosome or mitochondrial DNA types provide no more than the vaguest hint about where their ancestors lived hundreds, or thousands of years ago.


So why do newspapers report these claims and why do TV and radio programme makers base documentaries on them? After all, there are plenty of experts who are engaged in scientifically cautious research on our genetic history and will point out their absurdity. One reason is that, being simple "just so" stories, they have a popular appeal that cannot be matched by the more rigorous population level testing of migration histories. The bias is always towards the story rather than the science.


Another possible reason is that "ancestry testing" is aimed at individuals, although in reality the statements made are sufficiently general that they could be true for a large number of people. This is reminiscent of the "Forer effect" in psychology – the observation that individuals will tend to believe descriptions of their personality that supposedly are tailored specifically for them, but are in fact vague and general enough to apply to a wide range of people. The same effect has been used to explain the popularity of horoscopes.


Yet another possible reason for the popularity of genetic ancestry stories is that because of the inherently random nature of the way genes are passed on to offspring, and mutation – the processes that generate genetic differences – very different population histories can give rise to the same patterns of genetic differences between individuals. This means that one set of genetic similarities cannot equate to only one possible history and we have no choice but to use statistical models. But statistical models give the sort of probabilistic answers that only statisticians find sexy.


"Genetic Astrology" stories are often promoted by people with financial interests in genetic ancestry testing companies, those concerning "Roman legions" and "Meet the Izzards" being no exception. On 9 July 2012 Alistair Moffat – co-founder of the ancestry testing company BritainsDNA and Rector of St Andrews University – appeared on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme to make several claims about genetic ancestry that were wildly inaccurate, so that even his business partners, under pressure, eventually accepted that errors had been made.


My colleague Prof David Balding and I wrote to the BBC and to the two main scientists at BritainsDNA – both of whom we knew – expressing our concerns about the claims being made. Our expressions of concern over accuracy were met with threats of legal action for defamation by Mr Moffat's solicitors.


Perhaps it is harmless fun to speculate beyond the facts, armed with exciting new DNA technologies? Not really. It costs unwitting customers of the genetic ancestry industry a substantial amount of hard-earned cash, and it disillusions them about science and scientists when they learn the truth, which is almost always disappointing relative to the story they were told.


Exaggerated claims from the consumer ancestry industry can also undermine the results of serious research about human genetic history, which is cautiously and slowly building up a clearer picture of the human past for all of us.


Many of the commercial companies plant stories in the media that sound exciting and seem scientific. But very often they are trivial or wrong, are not published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, and just serve as disguised PR for the company.


Mark Thomas is professor of evolutionary genetics at University College London



Archaeologist: Bones found in Turkey are probably those of Cleopatra's half-sister

Published: February 24, 2013 Updated 1 hour ago

By John Bordsen — jbordsen@charlotteobserver.com


Long-buried bones and a missing monarch. Add some historical notoriety and modern technology and you have a heck of a captivating, science-driven story.


Just this month, it was announced that bones found under a parking lot in Leicester, England, belonged to King Richard III. DNA evidence, according to the lead archaeologist at the excavation, proved this “beyond a reasonable doubt.”


For Hilke Thur, a Vienna-based archaeologist at the Austrian Academy of Sciences, a similar quest awaits empirical closure. The locale is more exotic – western Turkey – and the evidence is much more difficult to analyze: The bones in question are a bit more than 2,000 years old.


She will cover this and other aspects of her work in a March 1 lecture at the N.C. Museum of History in Raleigh.


The title: “Who Murdered Cleopatra’s Sister? And Other Tales from Ephesus.”


In a recent interview, Thur discussed…


What took her to Ephesus


“I’m an architect as well as an archaeologist, and Ephesus – a large and important city on the coast of Asia Minor centuries before it became part of the Roman Empire – has long been one of the biggest archaeological sites. It is the main excavation of the Austrian Archaeological Institute.


“I was a student when I started working there in 1975, and have based a great deal of my career around the site. From 1997 to 2005, I was assistant director of the Ephesus excavations.


“An English engineer directed the first archaeological digs there in 1869, but since 1895, only Austrian-led projects have permission to do that, though Turks sometimes have excavations. I’d like to add that it’s quite an international team there, with researchers from all over the world.


“My specialty is interpreting buildings and monuments. The excavations of one monument, The Octagon, began in 1904. In 1926, a grave chamber was found inside The Octagon. The skeleton inside it has been interpreted to be that of a young woman about age 20.”


What thickened the plot


“When I was working with the architecture of The Octagon and the building next to it, it wasn’t known whose skeleton was inside. Then I found some ancient writers telling us that in the year 41 B.C., Arsinoe IV – the half-sister of Cleopatra – was murdered in Ephesus by Cleopatra and her Roman lover, Marc Antony. Because the building is dated by its type and decoration to the second half of the first century B.C., this fits quite well.


“I put the pieces of the puzzle together.”


The eight-sided clues


“In antiquity, ordinary people were not buried within the city. That privilege was only for special people – those with an aristocratic background, or people who did special things for their city. So the body must have belonged to a special person. Also, the skeleton was of a woman.


“Then there is the shape of the building. While The Octagon exists only as ruins today, its pieces have been photographed. The images were digitized and ‘virtually rebuilt’ on a computer. The shape of the building, an imperial grave monument, resembles the famous Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The lighthouse, destroyed centuries ago, was built at Alexandria, on the Egyptian coast, by the Ptolemy dynasty from which Cleopatra and Arsinoe IV were descended.


“The center portion of the lighthouse tower was octagonal, which was quite unusual at the time.”


Forensic evidence


“The site of The Octagon has a grave chamber. It was opened in 1926, but the opening was very small, and no one entered it until later on.


“The skull had been removed for tests; it disappeared in Germany during World War II. But there are photos of the skull, and notes written down by those who examined it.


“In 1985, the back side of the chamber became accessible, and I re-found the skeleton – the bones were in two niches. The body was removed and examined. The bones were found to be those of a woman younger than 20 – 15 or 16, perhaps.


“The revised age was used for arguments against my theory of the body belonging to Arsinoe IV, but those arguments didn’t find anything to disprove my theory.


“This academic questioning is normal. It happens. It’s a kind of jealousy.”


What would prove her theory


“They tried to make a DNA test, but testing didn’t work well because the skeleton had been moved and the bones had been held by a lot of people. It didn’t bring the results we hoped to find.


“I don’t know if there are possibilities to do more of this testing. Forensic material is not my field.


“One of my colleagues on the project told me two years ago there currently is no other method to really determine more. But he thinks there may be new methods developing. There is hope.”


Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2013/02/24/2697973/archaeologist-says-bones-found.html?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=t.co#storylink=cpy



Discovery of a the pyramid of a Ramses II Vizier at Luxor

February 25, 2013


The Egyptian Antiquities Minister, Dr. Mohammed Ibrahim, announced on Wednesday February 20, the discovery of a new pyramid from the Ramses era, found over the course of archaeological research being carried out on the Cheikh Abd el-Gourna hill by a joint University of Liege and Free University of Brussels mission.

Imprints on the monument's brickwork indicate that the pyramid belonged to a Vizier of Upper and Lower Egypt called Khay, who carried out this function, equivalent to that of a Prime Minister, for some fifteen years during the reign of the Pharaoh Ramses II (around 1279-1213 before the Common Era). The pyramid measures 12m sideaways and its original height reached 15 metres. The monument, built from adobe brick, was covered with a white coating and capped with a stone pyramidion decorated with the image of the owner worshipping the god Rê-Horakhty. The pyramid was constructed in the courtyard of an older tomb belonging to the deputy of the chancellor Amenhotep, discovered by the Belgian mission in 2009.

A remarkable fixture of the Theban landscape Situated on one of the hill's crests and overlooking the Ramses II (Ramesseum) funerary temple, Khay's pyramid without a doubt constituted a remarkable fixture in the Theban landscape. The monument was largely destroyed in the 7th-8th centuries of our common era, when the tomb was transformed into a Coptic hermitage. Pyramids of adobe brick were constructed above the tombs of senior dignitaries during the Ramses era in the Theban necropolis. The Vizier's tomb is situated immediately below the pyramid, under a modern villager's house, and remains to be explored. The discovery is one of extraordinary importance, because the Vizier Khay is well known to Egyptologists through numerous documents. Occupying the highest civil function in the kingdom, Khay was involved in the celebrations of Ramses II's first six jubilees. He also supervised the community of artisans entrusted with building the royal tombs within the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. Two statues of the Vizier, today in the Museum of Cairo, come from the Karnak Cachette, discovered in 1903.

During the excavations of the tomb of Amenhotep (TT C3), the mission also discovered magnificent fragments of wall paintings dating from the reign of Thoutmosis III (around 1479-1427 before our common era).

Provided by University de Liege


Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-02-discovery-pyramid-ramses-ii-vizier.html#jCp




Article created on Tuesday, February 12, 2013


A fragment of lower jaw recovered from a Serbian cave has now been dated as the oldest hominin ancestor found in this part of Europe. The fossil was dated to between 397,000 and 525,000 years old, a time when distinctly Neanderthal traits began to appear in Europe. The evolution of these traits was strongly influenced by periodic isolation of groups of individuals, caused by glacial episodes.

According to research published in February 2012 in the open access journal PLoS ONE, the individual probably evolved under different conditions than populations who inhabited more western parts of the continent during the same time frame.


Humans in southeastern Europe were never geographically isolated from Asia and Africa by glaciers, and according to the authors, this resulted in different evolutionary forces acting on early human populations in this region. Roksandic explains that their study confirms the importance of southeast Europe as a ‘gate to the continent’ and one of the three main areas where humans, plants and animals sought refuge during glaciations in prehistoric times. She adds, “We have very few fossils of hominins in general from this time, a period that was critical for shaping the appearance and evolution of uniquely human morphology and behaviours.”

In 2000, Dr. Mirjana Roksandic, a paleoanthropologist with the University of Winnepeg and a leading research team member began excavating a cave in Balanica, Serbia, along with her colleagues. While they were away,  looters secretly dug a deeper pit within the cave. On discovering this, the scientific team then decided, as the site had already been disturbed to a deeper layer, that they should excavate further.

In June 2008, a possible Homo erectus jaw was excavated from this lower stratum; The morphology of the mandible differs significantly from Homo heidelbergensis; and there is a complete lack of derived Neanderthal features.

The jaw represents one of an increasing number of specimens from the southeast of Europe demonstrating plesiomorphic ‘erectus-like’ traits coupled with synapomorphic traits common to Middle Pleistocene hominins.


Newly obtained ages, based on electron spin resonance combined with uranium series isotopic analysis, and infrared/post-infrared luminescence dating, provide a minimum age that lies between 397 and 525 ka for the hominin mandible BH-1 . This confirms it as the easternmost hominin specimen in Europe dated to the Middle Pleistocene.

“In the past, anthropologists assumed that Neanderthals were widespread throughout Europe, basing that assumption on Neanderthal fossils almost exclusively found in Western Europe“, Roksandic told Live Science.

The new findings suggest that Neanderthals may not have evolved in this region of Southeastern Europe, instead, several ice ages cut off Western Europe from the rest of the continent, and this isolation contributed to the evolution of Neanderthals’ distinctive features from the more primitive Homo erectus.

Ancient humans in Southeastern Europe, by contrast, were never cut off due to rising glaciers. “So there is no pressure on them to develop into something different,” she said.

But not everyone is convinced of this interpretation and the specimen may come from “an unusual individual in a population of which some others might be more Neanderthal-like,”  according to Fred Smith, a paleoanthropologist at Illinois State University, who was not involved in the study.

What is certain is the date – and this in itself pushes forward the study of hominin dispersal around half a million years ago.



Treasure-Filled Warrior's Grave Found in Russia

Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor

Date: 20 February 2013 Time: 01:36 PM ET 


Hidden in a necropolis situated high in the mountains of the Caucasus in Russia, researchers have discovered the grave of a male warrior laid to rest with gold jewelry, iron chain mail and numerous weapons, including a 36-inch (91 centimeters) iron sword set between his legs.


That is just one amazing find among a wealth of ancient treasures dating back more than 2,000 years that scientists have uncovered there.


Among their finds are two bronze helmets, discovered on the surface of the necropolis. One helmet (found in fragments and restored) has relief carvings of curled sheep horns while the other has ridges, zigzags and other odd shapes.


Although looters had been through the necropolis before, the warrior's grave appears to have been untouched. The tip of the sword he was buried with points toward his pelvis, and researchers found "a round gold plaque with a polychrome inlay" near the tip, they write in a paper published in the most recent edition of the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.


burial of male warrior in Caucasus


The remains of three horses, a cow and the skull of a wild boar were also found buried near the warrior.


"These animals were particularly valuable among barbarian peoples of the ancient world. It was [a] sign of [the] great importance of the buried person, which was shown by his relatives and his tribe," wrote team member Valentina Mordvintseva, a researcher at the Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology, in an email to LiveScience. The animal bones and pottery remains suggest that a funeral feast was held in his honor.


Without written records it is difficult to say exactly who the warrior was, but rather than ruling a city or town, "he was rather a chief of a people," Mordvintseva said.


The necropolis is located near the town of Mezmay. Grave robbers discovered the site in 2004 and rescue excavations began in 2005.


Who used the necropolis?


Based on the artifacts, researchers believe the warrior's burial dates back around 2,200 years, to a time when Greek culture was popular in west Asia, while the necropolis itself appears to have been in use between the third century B.C. and the beginning of the second century A.D.


Researchers were careful to note that the artifacts cannot be linked to a specific archaeological culture. Mordvintseva points out that "this region is very big, and not sufficiently excavated," particularly in the area where the necropolis is located. "[I]t is situated high in mountains. Perhaps the population of this area [had] trade routes/passes with Caucasian countries — Georgia, Armenia etc.," Mordvintseva writes in the email.


While the people who used the necropolis were clearly influenced by Greek culture, they maintained their own way of life, said Mordvintseva. "Their material culture shows that they were rather very proud of themselves and kept their culture for centuries."


This way of life includes a fondness for gold-working. The warrior's burial included more than a dozen artifacts made of the material. Perhaps the most spectacular find was a gold fibula-brooch with a rock crystal at its center. Although the brooch was only 2.3 by 1.9 inches (5.8 by 4.8 centimeters), it had several layers of intricately carved decorations leading toward the mount.


"Inside the mount a rock-crystal bead has been placed with a channel drilled through it from both ends," the researchers write.


The team was surprised to find that two of the warrior's swords (including the one pointing toward his pelvis) had gold decorations meant to be attached. In one case a short 19-inch (48.5-cm)-long iron sword had a gold plate, with inlayed agate, that was meant to adorn its sheath. Until now, scholars had never seen this type of golden sword decorations in this part of the ancient world, the researchers write. The "actual fact that these articles were used to decorate weapons sets them apart in a category all of their own, which has so far not been recorded anywhere else ..."



Norwegian guerrilla warfare in the Iron Age

February 15, 2013 - 06:31

At the same time the axe became a weapon of choice among Norwegian warriors, society collapsed and warfare became a free-for-all.

By: Hanne Jakobsen


This is the crux of a doctoral dissertation that researcher Ingrid Ystgaard will defend this spring at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.


She has studied weapons found in graves and the battle techniques they suggest during the transition from the early to the late Iron Age. The division between these periods was around 500 AD.


This was the time when the Western Roman Empire collapsed, and the warfare practices of Southern Europe lost their foothold, even in the High North.


Major alliances were splintered and smaller bands of men started warring against one another. And significantly, the battle axe became a favoured weapon.


Ystgaard has studied and written about the simple stone fortifications that were built for protection on hilltops or other sites that were easy to defend.


Research shows these fortifications were only in fashion for a while. They were relatively common and were maintained from around 400 AD to 600 AD.


Then, perhaps over the course of a single generation, they were abandoned and left to crumble.


Ystgaard wondered why people gave up fortifications that had been used for more than six generations.


She found one answer in some 100 weapon graves in mid-Norway. These are ancient graves where the dead were buried along with the weapons they had carried. At the start of the period she studied – from 400 AD till nearly 500 AD – the Western Roman Empire was still intact and its warfare practices were still having an effect on life as far away as Northern Europe.


“The Roman Empire’s weapon technology and warfare set the standards not just in the Empire and its provinces, but also here, in free Germania and up through Scandinavia. The arms we find until the 500s are a Germanic adaptation of Roman legionnaire equipment,” explains Ystgaard.


The standard weaponry prior to around 500 AD included the double-edged sword, lances, javelins and shields. The idealised Roman battle stuck to rather well-organised rules as far as warfare went.


Two armies faced each over and soldiers began the fight by hurling javelins at each other. With a little luck this could take the enemies’ shields out of the picture or kill them with a direct hit.


Then the armies would clash, jabbing with lances and trying to break each other’s lines. The object would be to get around behind the enemy. Once that was accomplished, swords could be used in close combat.


There was no need for an axe in this type of battle. Nevertheless, around 500 AD axes started appearing in warrior graves.


“The axe can be used as a weapon against another person, but also as a tool for breaking into something. If you stop staging large battles in the field, but try and take out the boss where he can be found, in a raid on his home, then you need an axe. This is a completely different principle for warfare,” explains Ystgaard.


“The axe provided a chaos factor, it arrived on the scene and changed the entire picture – what could it be used for? It was the start of a change, armaments were modified for guerrilla warfare, for raids and fighting at close quarters.”


Ystgaard’s main theory is that the fall of Rome had consequences in the north, outside the Empire. Continental Europe was in crisis and important trade partners as well as sources of inspiration and knowledge vanished. This led to a local crisis in distant Norway.


“As I interpret it, the onset of the axe and the use of fortifications are interlinked. Warfare started to be directed toward people of the same social order. War used to be focused on other regions, but now the warlord in the neighbouring rural district was the enemy,” says Ystgaard.


“It was kind of a free-for-all. You get a bunch of warlords who build fortifications and have their own troops of followers and they are trying to steal from each other. These were very rough times."


150 years of anarchy

But nothing lasts forever – not even anarchy like this. Suddenly, in just a few years around 600 AD, the stone fortifications go completely out of style.


Ystgaard thinks the costs of everybody fighting one another probably grew too excessive.


“This is such an unstable system − it was no longer viable. By around the year 600 most of the smaller chieftains had been vanquished, there were just a few rulers left. Then you get a new concentration of power in the country,” she says.


This formed the foundation for centralising power among a few major chieftains, or petty kings. From that it was just another 200 years before the famous attack at Lindisfarne in England – the start of the Viking Era.



How a distaste for 'pagan food' first put the British off horsemeat

Catholic guilt first put the British off the idea of eating horses almost 1,500 years ago, archaeologists have concluded.

By John Bingham, Religious Affairs Editor

6:30AM GMT 21 Feb 2013


A new study of the eating habits of the Anglo Saxons suggests that they may have developed a strong distaste for horsemeat because they saw it as a “pagan” food.

The findings, published in the Oxford Journal of Archaeology, could help explain the level of revulsion at the recent revelations that consumers have been eating horsemeat uwittingly.

Evidence from animal bones found at settlement sites across England shows that horses appear to have been eaten on special occasions in the early Anglo Saxon period.

But as Christianity was gradually reintroduced to Britain between the Sixth and Eighth Centuries the custom became increasingly rare.

Dr Kristopher Poole, of Nottingham University, the author of the study, compared dated records of animal bones in former settlements.

He found that almost a third of the sites from the early part of the period contained evidence of butchered horse bones.

Often the heads were found but not other parts of the animal, suggesting that the meat had been shared out for feasting.

But evidence of horse butchery from the later part of the period is much rarer.

He notes that the decline coincided with a period when Christianity was becoming more firmly established.

In Rome Pope Gregory III condemned the consumption of horse meat as and “filthy and abominable practice”.

Dr Poole says that an earlier “laissez faire approach to horse consumption” evident in writings from the Seventh Century had given way to a more rigid line by the Eighth Century.

One reason for its disappearance, according to Dr Poole, could be that horses were associated with various pagan gods in north-west Europe, leading to them being eaten for religious reasons.

“While many ‘pagan’ beliefs became integrated into Christian practices in England, the possible veneration and eating of horse seems to have been too much of a challenge to Christian perspectives,” he writes.

Prof Helena Hamerow, of Oxford University’s Institute of Archaeology, said: “This is an important paper that shows how far back in history the aversion to eating horses seems to go amongst the English.

“Although the custom of eating horseflesh appears to have been widespread in early medieval Northern Europe and early Anglo-Saxons on occasion consumed horse, it disappeared from the diet after the conversion, as church authorities tried to undermine the habit.”

The paper does not attempt to explain how the fashion for eating horsemeat re-emerged in other European countries, notably France.



High-altitude archaeologists to probe prehistoric Himalayas

19 February 2013 York, University of


A team of archaeologists from the University of York are to travel to the roof of the world to discover, survey, and record mountain archaeology in the Nepalese Himalayas.


The Himalayan Exploration and Archaeological Research Team (HEART) will spend four weeks documenting high-altitude artefact scatters, rock shelters and formerly inhabited hand-cut cave systems that were used either as settlements and tombs dating back to the 3rd century BC.


The five-strong team, led by Dr Hayley Saul, of the Department of Archaeology at York, will be based in the Mustang valley in the Annapurna massif where they will use digital 3D imaging to survey and record the features as part of a new initiative to piece together the prehistory of the high Himalayas.


They will also trace the way mountain cultures have occupied and adapted to the landscape through time, seeking to set Himalayan archaeology in a broader global framework. This will include the role of the region in the development of the domestic cultivation of rice, a historical perspective on mountain resource exploitation, and the spread of Buddhism.


Dr Saul says:  “Despite the fact that a lot of important processes, such as the domestication and movements of many plants, converge on this area very little is known about its pre-history.”


Following a reconnaissance expedition in 2011, she realised that many archaeological remains in the dessicated environment of the high mountains while well-preserved, remain unrecorded and undated,


Dr Saul adds: “There is potential that these remains could contribute hugely to our understanding of significant prehistoric events. We shall keep interference of remains to a minimum and seek to involve local people in our work.”


The HEART team comprises Dr Cath Neal and Dr Suzi Richer of the Department of Archaeology at York, and York Archaeology graduates Jim Williams and James Kilroy. You can follow their progress on Facebook.


As well as the archaeological investigations, the team is working in association with a charity Community Action Nepal, which was founded by the mountaineer Doug Scott, to develop heritage-based initiatives to stimulate local economies in the mountains.


They aim to work with Community Action Nepal and NGOs to use archaeological fieldwork and heritage as a vehicle to stimulate positive economic development and to create a repository of mountain peoples’ heritage, with an accessible digital archive.  They also plan to promote modern Himalayan arts and crafts in the UK.


HEART plans to stage an exhibition of archaeology and Nepalese art, including indigenous crafts and Tibetan Thanka art, in York and London in autumn 2013. The exhibition will also include artwork from children based at the Bahrabise school for the deaf. All profits go to Thanka art schools in Kathmandu and Bahrabise.


The York exhibition will coincide with a lecture in the city by Doug Scott on his mountaineering exploits including his first ascent of the south-west face of Everest.


At the conclusion of the research project, Dr Saul will visit schools in the Helambu region to teach archaeology. She will also visit monuments in Langtang, including a 500 year old gompa , a Buddhist monastery, which are in need of conservation.



Rotterdam archaeologists find old shoe stuffed with medieval money

Friday 22 February 2013


Archeologists in Rotterdam have found an old shoe stuffed with 477 silver coins during excavations behind the town hall.


Archaeologists say they have never before found a shoe filled with money, which ranges in dates from 1472 to 1592. One theory is that the owner of the shoe hid it under floorboards to protect it during the 80 Years War (1568-1648).


The value of the coins is put at 'many thousand euros'.