Fossil Insects Tweak Date of Deadly “Atlantis” Eruption

Bean weevils are key to figuring out mystery of event that destroyed a civilization.

Ker Than

for National Geographic

Published August 22, 2013


A new study of insect pests found in an ancient storage jar on the Greek island of Santorini suggests the major volcanic eruption that took place there around 1600 B.C.—and which may have inspired the legend of Atlantis—happened in early summer.


The "Atlantis" eruption was one of the most significant volcanic eruptions in human history. The blast is credited for not only ending the Minoan civilization, but also for affecting ancient Egypt and other communities around the eastern Mediterranean, explained Eva Panagiotakopulu, a palaeoecologist and fossil-insect expert at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.


Based on previous evidence, scientists had concluded that the eruption happened sometime between 1627 to 1600 B.C. But there has been one important and unresolved question about the event: What season did it take place in?


In a new study, published in a recent issue of the journal Naturwissenschaften, Panagiotakopulu and her team now say that based on insect remains found in a jar containing seeds of sweet peas discovered at the Bronze Age settlement of Akrotiri, they think the eruption occurred sometime between June to early July.


It was only during these months, the scientists say, that the insect, a species of bean weevil, would have had an opportunity to infest the crops and end up in the storage area.


"There is a short window from early to mid summer just after threshing which could justify the assemblage [of insects] recovered," Panagiotakopulu explained in an email.


What's New?


Often called the "Pompei of the Aegean world," Akrotiri was buried in a layer of ash and pumice during the eruption that helped preserve the site for thousands of years.


"The infested [peas] were found in one of the ground-floor rooms of the West house"—a multistory building in the northwest section of the city—"which was used for storage," Panagiotakopulu said.


Even though the seed jar and its cache of insects was found about 50 years ago, it wasn't until recently, following the development of better techniques to date fossil insect material, that scientists realized they could be used to help date the eruption that buried the city.


"The idea came much later," Panagiotakopulu said, and was "the outcome of long-term study on fossil insect on this and other sites."


Using a new pretreatment method to radiocarbon date a protein called chitin that makes up the insects' shells, the researchers obtained a date range (1744 to 1538 B.C.) for the fossils that agreed with the findings from other studies.


More importantly, though, the scientists realized the insects were their best clue yet about what season the eruption took place in.


Why Is It Important?


Determining the year that a prehistoric volcanic eruption took place is notoriously difficult, Panagiotakopulu explained, and trying to assign a season to one is even harder.


Other researchers have tried to figure out the season of the Santorini eruption by analyzing the distribution of its ash and debris.


"But in our case, we are speaking from the site data," Panagiotakopulu said. "How often can one go back to a prehistoric event and say that it happened during summer?"


What Does This Mean?


The bean weevils found in the jar of sweet peas at Akrotiri were at different stages of their life cycles. The fossil assemblage included larvae, pupae, and adults or "imagines."


This is important, the scientists say, because it suggests the insects were killed as a result of a single event, probably shortly after the seeds were stored away.


"The [beetles] found can only infest [peas] in the field and they have one annual life cycle," Panagiotakopulu said.


Knowing the season of the Santorini eruption could allow scientists to create more accurate models of the event and lead to a better understanding of how the ash and debris was scattered around the globe, she added.


What's Next?


Panagiotakopulu said there are other seed assemblages at Akrotiri that warrant further study.


"More work on relevant deposits," she said, "closely dated by historical or archaeological context on other sites will enable the refinement of the methodology for dating insect chitin and allow its wider application."



Have archaeologists discovered the grave of Alexander the Great?

Experts find enormous marble tomb fit for a king under a massive mound in Greece

PUBLISHED: 18:37, 23 August 2013 | UPDATED: 21:06, 23 August 2013


Archaeologists have uncovered what could be the grave of Alexander the Great at a site near ancient Amphipolis, 370 miles north of Athens

The warrior king was thought to be buried in Egypt but experts have discovered a marble-faced wall dating from the 4th century BC

Site archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri has voiced hopes of finding 'a significant individual or individuals' within


Archaeologists have uncovered what could be the grave of Alexander the Great at a site near ancient Amphipolis.

The warrior king - who ruled in the 4th century BC - was thought to be buried in Egypt. But experts have now become excited after they uncovered a marble-faced wall dating from the time.

The structure measures an impressive wall measuring 500 metres long and three metres high, which archaeologists believe could contain a royal grave.


Archaeologists have uncovered what could be the grave of Alexander the Great at a site near ancient Amphipolis. The warrior king - who ruled in the 4th century BC - was thought to be buried in Egypt

The site near ancient Amphipolis lies 370 miles north of Athens


Alexander III of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great, was a king of Macedon, a state in northern ancient Greece

Site archaeologist Aikaterini Peristeri has voiced hopes of finding 'a significant individual or individuals' within.

A Culture Ministry statement has enthused that the archaeologists have partly excavated a mound that has yielded a 'very remarkable' marble-faced wall from the late 4th century BC.

Experts believe the ancient artificial mound could contain the remains of the king, or is at least an important royal Macedonian grave.


The news has captured the Greek public's imaginations and many people are hopeful the site will solve the mystery of where Alexander the Great rests.

However, Greece's Culture Ministry has warned against 'overbold' speculation that archaeologists are close to uncovering the king's remains.

Alexander III of Macedon, also known as Alexander the Great, was a king of Macedon, a state in northern ancient Greece.

He was born in Pella in 356 BC and was tutored by Aristotle until the age of 16.


The structure measures an impressive 500 metres long and three metres high, which archaeologists believe could contain a royal grave. Here you can see carvings in the marble

Greece's Culture Ministry has warned against 'overbold' speculation

Greece's Culture Ministry has warned against 'overbold' speculation that archaeologists are close to uncovering the king's remains. A trench dug to study the wall is pictured

However, by the age of 30 he had created one of the largest empires of the ancient world, stretching from the Ionian Sea to the Himalayas.

Undefeated in all his battles, he is considered one of history's most successful commanders.

He succeeded his father to the throne in 336BC and inherited a strong kingdom and experienced army.

Having been awarded the generalship of Greece, he commenced his father's military expansion plans and in 334 BC began a series of campaigns that lasted 10 years.

He conquered the whole of the Persian Empire but being an ambitious warrior, seeking to reach the 'ends of the world,' he invaded India in 326 BC but later turned back.

It is believed Alexander the Great died in Babylon in 323 BC before his plans to invade Arabia.

He is credited with founding some 20 cities that bore his name, including Alexandria in ancient Egypt, and spread Greece's culture east.

There are several stories about where Alexander the Great was buried after he suddenly died of a fever at the age of just 32 - although some believe he was poisoned.

History tells that his body was laid to rest in a gold sarcophagus filled with honey. It is said to have been taken to Memphis before Alexandria in Egypt where it remained until late Antiquity.

Famous Romans Pompey, Augustus and Julius Caesar are all said to have visited his tomb in Alexandria, with Caligula reportedly swiping the warrior's breastplate for a souvenir.



Work completed on historic sunken Yenikapı ships in Istanbul

KOCAELİ - Anadolu Agency


The movement of 37 sunken vessels, that were unearthed during excavations carried out as part of the Istanbul Marmaray and metro projects, has finally been concluded.


The head of Istanbul University’s Department of Marine Archaeology and the Yenikapı Sunken Ships Project, Associate Professor Ufuk Kocabaş, said works had continued for eight years. He added that the structures and tens of thousands of archaeological artifacts found in Theodosis Port, one of the most important ports in the city in the Middle Ages, represented the largest Middle Ages boat collection in the world.


Kocabaş said scientific works were still ongoing on the sunken ships remains. “The oldest sunken vessel is about 1,500 years old and they have all seen the destructive power of the nature until now.


Their restoration work needs a delicate and long-term process. The ships will be strengthened with various chemical substances and will begin to host their visitors. This priceless collection, which draws great attention both from the scientific world and the public opinion during the excavation works, is expected to make a big contribution to culture tourism,” he said.


He added that works in Yenikapı had also inspired other relevant projects such as “LIMEN: Cultural Ports from Aegean to the Black Sea,” which aims to make an inventory work for cultural artifacts in many coastal towns in the Aegean and Black Seas, and to encourage cultural tourism by providing coordination between those cities.


Big contribution to tourism network


Kocabaş said the focus of the works was Istanbul with its cultural heritage and history, adding that the pilot schemes in the city were set to make a big contribution to the tourism network which is set to be created. He said the total budget provided by the EU for all project partner countries was 1.2 million euros, and that the project would last for 24 months.


“Among the project activities is the construction of the exact copy of a sunken boat, found in Yenikapı, at its original size,” said Kocabaş. “With the budget of this project we will make the copy of this boat.


Also, we will organize an international congress and a photography exhibition to draw attention to the ancient ports in the Black Sea and tourism routes. Participant countries will make their own contributions to the project.”


Kocabaş added that the restoration of the vessel was still continuing and its reconstruction project had been prepared by Associate Professor Işıl Özsait. “This Yenikapı 12 vessel, one of the best preserved ones, is a kind of time capsule, as we found it with the cargo it was carrying. This 10-meter vessel will again set sail in the Marmara after 1,000 years. We plan to finish its construction in six months. Works will start in the coming months,” he said.


Kocabaş noted that the sunken vessels were moved from the land and they would be ready for display in four to five years. “Yenikapı 12 will be the first vessel on display. Some vessels that are not suitable for display should be kept for scientific works. Experts of the Istanbul Archaeology Museums will make this decision,” he said.




Italian archaeologists have grape expectations of their ancient wine

Scientists plant vineyards with the aim of making wine using techniques from classical Rome described by Virgil

Tom Kington

theguardian.com, Thursday 22 August 2013 16.32 BST


Archeologists in Italy have set about making red wine exactly as the ancient Romans did, to see what it tastes like.


Based at the University of Catania in Sicily and supported by Italy's national research centre, a team has planted a vineyard near Catania using techniques copied from ancient texts and expects its first vintage within four years.


"We are more used to archeological digs but wanted to make society more aware of our work, otherwise we risk being seen as extraterrestrials," said archaeologist Daniele Malfitana.


At the group's vineyard, which should produce 70 litres at the first harvest, modern chemicals will be banned and vines will be planted using wooden Roman tools and will be fastened with canes and broom, as the Romans did.


Instead of fermenting in barrels, the wine will be placed in large terracotta pots – traditionally big enough to hold a man – which are buried to the neck in the ground, lined inside with beeswax to make them impermeable and left open during fermentation before being sealed shut with clay or resin.


"We will not use fermenting agents, but rely on the fermentation of the grapes themselves, which will make it as hit and miss as it was then – you can call this experimental archaeology," said researcher Mario Indelicato, who is managing the programme.


The team has faithfully followed tips on wine growing given by Virgil in the Georgics, his poem about agriculture, as well as by Columella, a first century AD grower, whose detailed guide to winemaking was relied on until the 17th century.


"We have found that Roman techniques were more or less in use in Sicily up until a few decades ago, showing how advanced the Romans were," said Indelicato. "I discovered a two-pointed hoe at my family house on Mount Etna recently that was identical to one we found during a Roman excavation."


What has changed are the types of grape varieties, which have intermingled over the centuries. "Columella mentions 50 types but we can only speculate on the modern-day equivalents," said Indelicato, who is planting a local variety, Nerello Mascalese.


"To sweeten up their wine, which could be vinegary, the Romans added honey and water to it," he said. "They made better stuff for nobles and cheaper, more vinegary stuff for slaves. We will try and make both types."


The drinking habits of Romans have also changed in two millennia. Whereas Italians today drink moderately with meals, their ancestors were more given to drunken carousing.


"An edict was issued in the first century AD halting the planting of vineyards because people were not growing wheat any more," said Indelicato.


"The Romans took the concept of getting together for a drink from the Greeks after they conquered the Greek-controlled Italian city of Taranto in the third century BC.


"They drank at festivals to mark the pending harvest, after the harvest. In fact, any occasion was good for a drink."



Ancient stone circle discovered in Ukraine




Fragment of the discovered stone circle. Photo by Magdalena Przysiężna - Pizarska

International team of archaeologists discovered ancient burial ground with rich tombs and a stone circle during research in the Roman camp in the village Kartal - Orłówka on the Danube in Ukraine.

Excavations were conducted jointly by archaeologists and students from the Department of Archaeology, Institute of History of the University of Opole under the direction of Dr. Magdalena Przysiężna-Pizarska, Wrocław branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS, in collaboration with scientists from the Faculty of History and Archaeological Museum in Odessa.


"During the studies, we put great emphasis on training students of archaeology. Fortunately for them, the choice of site was perfect. It was surprising that in an area where we expected to find the edge of the cemetery and a small number of objects, we discovered a 3000 years old stone circle with richly equipped graves" - the study leader told PAP.


The archaeologist added that the site in Ukraine was selected with students in Opole in mind. In the course of study, students learn the issues of eastern metric cultures. They learn research methodology and methods of archaeological documentation. "We were looking for a site that would allow to show students the materials associated with both the cultures present here in Poland, as well as those that are related specifically to the east. The site we could select due to signed cooperation turned out to be sensational" - added Dr. Przysiężna-Pizarska.


Archaeologists found 2.5 thousand years old (so-called Hallstatt period) burials with bronze bracelets, vessels including cups and bowls, placed at the head of the deceased. The burials also contained stones under the heads of the deceased, which archaeologists interpret as "cushions" - support for the head. The dead were positioned on the north - south axis, in a contracted position on the right side, with legs pulled up and hands pressed against chest.


The work was funded by the Institute of History, University of Opole and Wrocław branch of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnology PAS. The participants were students from Poland, Ukraine, Moldova and Romania. The study took place from late June to late July.


"Hard work and commitment of the parties led to the establishment of sustainable cooperation and the exchange of students and scientists. Further excavations will take place next year" - concluded Dr. Przysiężna-Pizarska.


PAP - Science and Scholarship in Poland



Peru's archaeologists turn to drones to help protect and explore ancient ruins

Remote-controlled aircraft can save months of survey work and defend against growing threat from miners and squatters

Reuters in Lima

theguardian.com, Sunday 25 August 2013 13.34 BST


In Peru, home to the spectacular Inca city of Machu Picchu and thousands of ancient ruins, archaeologists are turning to drones to speed up sluggish survey work and protect sites from squatters, builders and miners.


Remote-controlled aircraft were developed for military purposes and the US is increasingly using them to attack alleged terrorists, but the technology's falling price means it is increasingly used for civilian and commercial projects around the world.


Small drones have been helping a growing number of researchers produce three-dimensional models of Peruvian sites instead of the usual flat maps – and in days and weeks instead of months and years.


Speed is important to archaeologists here. Peru's economy has grown at an average of 6.5% a year over the past decade, and development pressures have surpassed looting as the main threat to the country's cultural treasures, according to the government.


Researchers are still picking up the pieces after a pyramid near Lima, believed to have been built 5,000 years ago by a fire-revering coastal society, was razed in July by construction firms. The same month, residents of a town near the pre-Incan ruins of Yanamarca reported that miners digging for quartz were damaging the three-storey stone structures.


And squatters and farmers repeatedly try to seize land near important sites such as Chan Chan on the northern coast, thought to be the biggest adobe city in the world.


Archaeologists say drones can help set boundaries to protect sites, monitor threats and create a digital repository of ruins that can help build awareness and aid in the reconstruction of any damage.


"We see them as a vital tool for conservation," said Ana Maria Hoyle, an archaeologist with the culture ministry.


Hoyle said the government planned to buy several drones and the technology will help the ministry comply with a new business-friendly law that has tightened the deadline for determining whether land slated for development might contain cultural artefacts.


Commercial drones made by the Swiss company senseFly and the US firms Aurora Flight Sciences and Helicopter World have all flown over Peru.


Drones are already saving archaeologists time in mapping sites – a crucial but often slow first step before major excavation work can begin. Mapping typically involves tedious ground-level observations with theodolites or pen and paper.


"With this technology, I was able to do in a few days what had taken me years to do," said Luis Jaime Castillo, a Peruvian archaeologist with Lima's Catholic University and an incoming deputy culture minister who plans to use drones to help safeguard Peru's archaeological heritage.


Castillo started using a drone two years ago to explore the San José de Moro site, an ancient burial ground encompassing 150 hectares (0.58 sq miles) in north-western Peru, where the discovery of several tombs of priestesses suggests that women ruled the coastal Moche civilisation.


"We have always wanted to have a bird's-eye view of where we are working," said Castillo.


In the past, researchers have rented small planes and strapped cameras to kites and helium-filled balloons, but those methods can be expensive and clumsy. Now they can build drones small enough to hold with two hands for as little as Ł650.


"It's like having a scalpel instead of a club. You can control it to a very fine degree," said Jeffrey Quilter, an archaeologist with Harvard University who has worked at San José de Moro and other sites in Peru. "You can go up three metres and photograph a room, 300 metres and photograph a site, or you can go up 3,000 metres and photograph the entire valley."


Drones have flown over at least six archaeological sites in Peru in the past year, including the colonial Andean town Machu Llacta 4,000 metres (13,123 feet) above sea level.


Peru is well known for the stunning ruins of the 15th-century Machu Picchu, probably a getaway for Incan royalty that the Spanish were unaware of during their conquest, and the Nazca Lines in southern Peru, which are best seen from above and were mysteriously etched into the desert more than 1,500 years ago.


But archaeologists are just as excited about other chapters of Peru's pre-Hispanic past, such as coastal societies that used irrigation in arid valleys, the Wari empire that conquered the Andes long before the Incas, and ancient farmers who appear to have been domesticating crops as early as 10,000 years ago.


With an archaeology budget of about Ł3m, the culture ministry often struggles to protect Peru's more than 13,000 sites. Only around 2,500 have been properly marked off, according to the ministry.


"And when a site is not properly demarcated, it is illegally occupied, destroyed, wiped from the map," said Blanca Alva, an official with the ministry charged with oversight.


Steve Wernke, an archaeologist with Vanderbilt University exploring the shift from Incan to Spanish rule in the Andes, started looking into drones more than two years ago.


He tried out a drone package from a US company that cost about $40,000 (Ł26,000). But after the small plane had problems flying in the thin air of the Andes, Wernke and his colleague, engineer Julie Adams, teamed up and built two drones for less than $2,000.


The drones continue to have altitude problems in the Andes, and Wernke and Adams now plan to make a drone blimp.


"There is an enormous democratisation of the technology happening now," Wernke said, adding that do-it-yourself websites such as DIYdrones.com have helped enthusiasts share information.


"The software that these things are run on is all open-source. None of it is locked behind company patents," he said.


There are some drawbacks to using drones in archaeology. Batteries are big and short-lived, it can take time to learn to work with the sophisticated software and most drones struggle to fly in higher altitudes.


In the US, broader use of drones has raised privacy and safety concerns that have delayed regulatory approval. Several states have drafted legislation to restrict their use, and one town has even considered offering rewards to anyone who shoots a drone down.


But in Peru, archaeologists say that it is only a matter of time before drones replace decades-old tools still used in their field, and that the technology can and should be used for less destructive uses.


"So much of the technology we use every day comes from warfare," said Hoyle. "It is natural this is happening."



Lincoln Castle archaeologists to extract sarcophagus

24 August 2013 Last updated at 07:58


Archaeologists are preparing to extract a sarcophagus discovered at Lincoln Castle and thought to contain "somebody terribly important".


The stone sarcophagus, believed to date from about AD900, was found alongside the remains of a church which was previously unknown.


Archaeologists have been on site for almost a year and their work came to an end this week.


They believe the sarcophagus could contain a Saxon king or bishop.


Archaeologist Cecily Spall said: "There's lots of careful planning to do in the next few weeks but as I say we do hope to get it out and have a look inside.


"Logistically it's quite a difficult job because the trench is deep and the sarcophagus obviously weighs a lot."


Lincoln Castle is being refurbished and the archaeologists have been digging where a new centre to house the Magna Carta will be built.


As well as the sarcophagus, several other human skeletons were found alongside remains of the church, which is thought to be at least 1,000 years old.


Ms Spall said: "It's very unusual for archaeologists to encounter a church which hasn't been detected in historical documents."


The team also found remains of a stone Roman townhouse, which is thought to have been demolished in the 9th or 10th Century.


Some of the finds will go on display at the castle.


They date from the 4th Century up to the 20th Century.


The older artefacts found include pottery, cooking pots, animal bones, ice skates, and dice made from animal bone and antler.



Prohibition-era note found in FDU wall: 'Have a good drink on us'

Justin Zaremba/NJ.com By Justin Zaremba/NJ.com

on August 23, 2013 at 11:05 AM, updated August 23, 2013 at 3:12 PM


FLORHAM PARK —� What were blue-collar tradesmen who were working on the estate that would later become Fairleigh Dickinson University thinking about in 1932?


Apparently, according to a recently unearthed time capsule, they were looking forward to a drink.


Renovations at the College at Florham's Science building recently led to the discovery within one of the building's walls of an 81-year-old Prince Albert tobacco can containing a note from Morris County plumbers and tile workers eager for the end of Prohibition, the university said in a news release. In the informal note, these men left a testament of their work in the building, which was part of the Vanderbilt-Twombly estate at the time:


These Bathrooms was Remodled [sic] in 1932 E.J. Parsons of Morristown N.J. did the Plumbing work and Edw F Daniker of 70 Britten St Madison did the Tile work other men worked on the Job are

J. T. Steating Madison

Peter Moore     "

Joe Gero          "

Tom Skelly Morristown

Chas. Clements  "

It was during Probition [sic] and it was a very dry Job.

The finder of this note if the 18 Amendment has bin [sic] changed have a good Drink on us.


E. Daniker

"We were all taken by surprise," said University Provost Peter Woolley.

Woolley said the university library officials searched through archives of the former estate, including payroll records, and found that some of the men worked for the estate, while others were brought in for this particular job.


Brigid Burke, digital projects librarian at the College at Florham, located entries in the Twombly Employee Record Cards — donated to the university by Wendy Burden, a relative of Florence Twombly —� that matched some of the workmen's names, which can be found in FDU's digital archives.


"It's very likely that we have more records of them and their role on the estate (in the archives)," Woolley said.


According to the university, researchers also found a 1918 Plumber Trade Journal which mentions the plumber from the note, E.J. Parsons, as being voted president of the Master Plumbers Association of Morristown.



Gary Darden, associate professor of history and Chair of the Department of Social Sciences & History, said in the release those workers wouldn't have had to wait long for the end of America's "dry" spell.

"If only those workers had known in 1932 when they placed that time capsule in the wall that FDR's 'wet'? victory that November had swept away the 'dry' consensus that dominated the 1920s,"ť Darden said. "?Indeed, Prohibition ended by ratification of the 21st Amendment on December 12, 1933."


While Prohibition was the law of the land for more than a decade, Darden said it had little effect on the Twombly estate.


"?Ruth Vanderbilt Twombly had ordered enough alcohol delivered to Florham before Prohibition '�officially' began in January 1919 to last the full 13 years of the law's existence," he said. "She used to have '�Great Gatsby'? style parties for up to 600 people up by the old Play House building."