Long-Term Climate Factors Led Early Humans Into Patchwork Evolution

July 4, 2014


In the past, scientists concluded many of man’s defining qualities, such as legs made for walking upright and a large brain, evolved all at once. But according to a new study in the journal Science, shifts in climate caused these qualities to evolve separately.


Based on analyses of fossil evidence, the study researchers said the shrinking of forests and expansion of savannas in East Africa led to walking upright, which freed our forebears’ hands up for the creation and use of stone tools.


“Unstable climate conditions favored the evolution of the roots of human flexibility in our ancestors,” said study author Richard Potts, curator of anthropology and director of the Human Origins Program at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. “The narrative of human evolution that arises from our analyses stresses the importance of adaptability to changing environments, rather than adaptation to any one environment, in the early success of the genus Homo.”


The study team found the predecessors of Homo erectus didn’t evolve in a series of progressively advanced iterations. Instead, a patchwork of at least three species lived alongside each other and the evolution of these species was driven by long-term climate factors in the region.


“We really were extremely lucky to have made it,” study author Leslie Aiello, a paleontologist at the Wenner-Gren Foundation, told National Geographic. “We evolved to be the best at adapting to changing conditions.”


According to the study, both Homo rudolfensis and Homo habilis – two pre-human species – share features with Homo erectus, such as skull, teeth, and jaw shapes. The study also noted the recently-discovered Australopithecus sediba, a bipedal species with apelike arms and a small brain that lived around two million years ago, had several human-like qualities.


“What we consider as ‘modern’ traits seem to have been assembled piecemeal in Africa over a long period of time,” said Chris Stringer, a paleoanthropologist at London’s Museum of Natural History, who was not on the study team.


“We can tell the species apart based on differences in the shape of their skulls, especially their face and jaws, but not on the basis of size,” said study author Susan Antón, professor of anthropology at New York University. “The differences in their skulls suggest early Homo divvied up the environment, each utilizing a slightly different strategy to survive.”


The researchers said these pre-humans were successful because they didn’t specialize, but instead became more diversified in their diet. In addition to looking at fossil and climate data for the time, the study team also looked at primitive stone tools and radioactive analyses of pre-human teeth.


“Taken together, these data suggest that species of early Homo were more flexible in their dietary choices than other species,” Aiello said. “Their flexible diet—probably containing meat—was aided by stone tool-assisted foraging that allowed our ancestors to exploit a range of resources.


“If you are a specialist and your food goes away, you die,” Aiello explained. “If you can change what you eat, you can muck through.”



Read more at http://www.redorbit.com/news/science/1113185110/human-evolution-patchwork-climate-patterns-070414/#6vJ80mBXgW6vHcrY.99



11,000 years old elk bones shrouded in mystery

July 1, 2014 - 06:30

Someone put elk bones in a bog several thousand years ago -- but archaeologists have no clue who it was.

By: Anne Marie Lykkegaard


When archaeologists dig up ancient skeletons from humans and animals, they often find answers to questions about what our forefathers did and how they lived.


But sometimes they pose new questions.


That's what happened when the bones of several elks were excavated from Lundby bog in south Zealand in 1999, the archaeologists dated some of the animal remains back to sometime between 9,400 and 9,300 BC.


Recently, however, the archaeologists did a new carbon 14 dating on some of the bones which revealed that they dated back to between 9,873 and 9,676 BC.

These elk bones were clearly not buried in the bog over a short period, as originally thought, but were placed there over several centuries – and this surprised the archaeologists.


“People have been living here, that's quite certain,” says Kristoffer Buck Pedersen, an archaeologist and chief curator at Museum Southeast Denmark. “But so far we've not found settlements that are as old as the elk bones, so the identity of the people who put the bones in the bog is something of a mystery.”


He helped analyse the bone remains from the elks. Six deposits with bones from 13 elks were found in the bog.


Ritual positioning of the bones

What is special about the bones is that the way they were buried in the bog indicates they had been packed in a fur. It was not just one of the elks that had been buried in this way but several of them, and according to Pedersen this is a sign the bog was sacred.


“Back then people believed that everything in nature had a soul and to ensure balance they gathered the bones from the animals they had eaten and sacrificed them,” he explains. “That’s the interpretation that we used, as we can’t find a practical explanation for why the bones are gathered together.”


He adds that the ancient people believed that when animals were buried in the bog they would be resurrected.



·         All living creatures contain a certain amount of the radioactive isotope, carbon 14. This fact can be used to date when a living organism lived.

·         Because carbon 14 is radioactive it does not disappear immediately -- it has a half-life of 5,730 years.

·         As carbon 14 takes such a long time to disappear it can be used to date findings that are up to 50,000 years old. Today this can be done with a relatively high degree of certainty.

Mikkel Sørensen, an associate professor at the Saxo Institute of the University of Copenhagen agrees with that interpretation.


“There is a definite selection of the bones buried in the bog and this can clearly be interpreted as a ritual act,” says Sørensen, who wasn’t a part of the new study. “The elks have had a certain status for these people as they were treated in a special way.”


The settlements are there – somewhere

The archaeologists are puzzled though, because who buried the elks in the bog? People, yes -- but the archaeologists cannot find out whether people have lived close to the bog or whether they came past the bog many times over several centuries and threw the animal bones into the bog water.


An important clue to who buried the elks comes from an axe made from an elk antler found in the bog. According to the archaeologists, this kind of tool is only known from the Maglemosean culture who lived between 9,000 and 6,400 BC. Only problem is there’s never been discovered a settlement which dates back to the time the elk bones were placed in the bog.


“There are plenty of settlements in the vicinity of the bog from the Mesolithic period around 12,800 and 3,900 BC but none of these settlements are as old as the oldest elk bones,” says Pedersen. “We’ve examined the bog many times and we’ve not been able to localise any settlements -- but we assume they are there -- somewhere.”


He explains that localising the settlement can be difficult because there might be a later settlement in the same place which would hide any traces of the older settlement.



Positioning the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) Hunted by the Tyrolean Iceman into a Mitochondrial DNA

Published: July 02, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0100136


In the last years several phylogeographic studies of both extant and extinct red deer populations have been conducted. Three distinct mitochondrial lineages (western, eastern and North-African/Sardinian) have been identified reflecting different glacial refugia and postglacial recolonisation processes. However, little is known about the genetics of the Alpine populations and no mitochondrial DNA sequences from Alpine archaeological specimens are available. Here we provide the first mitochondrial sequences of an Alpine Copper Age Cervus elaphus. DNA was extracted from hair shafts which were part of the remains of the clothes of the glacier mummy known as the Tyrolean Iceman or Ötzi (5,350–5,100 years before present). A 2,297 base pairs long fragment was sequenced using a mixed sequencing procedure based on PCR amplifications and 454 sequencing of pooled amplification products. We analyzed the phylogenetic relationships of the Alpine Copper Age red deer's haplotype with haplotypes of modern and ancient European red deer. The phylogenetic analyses showed that the haplotype of the Alpine Copper Age red deer falls within the western European mitochondrial lineage in contrast with the current populations from the Italian Alps belonging to the eastern lineage. We also discussed the phylogenetic relationships of the Alpine Copper Age red deer with the populations from Mesola Wood (northern Italy) and Sardinia.


Citation: Olivieri C, Marota I, Rizzi E, Ermini L, Fusco L, et al. (2014) Positioning the Red Deer (Cervus elaphus) Hunted by the Tyrolean Iceman into a Mitochondrial DNA Phylogeny. PLoS ONE 9(7): e100136. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100136



Ancient Egypt: Pharaoh Mentuhotep II's Chapel Discovered Below City Streets

Mary-Ann Russon By Mary-Ann Russon

July 3, 2014 18:07 BST


Egypt's Ministry of Antiquities and Heritage (MAH) has stumbled on a well-preserved limestone chapel from the reign of Pharaoh Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II in the 11th Dynasty (circa 2046 BC – 1995 BC).


First discovered by independent Egyptian English-language magazine Luxor Times, the MAH were investigating an area of ground that had collapsed in the Arabet Abydos area in Sohag, a small city of on the west bank of the Nile.


People living in the area had tried to illegally excavate the area in front of their homes in the hope of finding ancient artefacts to sell. They were caught red-handed by the tourism and antiquities police, and their digging caused the street to collapse.


Before trying to fix the ground, MAH assigned inspectors and archaeologists to excavate the area and discovered a very well-preserved chapel belonging to Mentuhotep II.


The chapel is dedicated to the god Osiris, after his unification with Khenti-Amenty, the local god of Sohag.


"It is a very important discovery that will reveal more of the history of King Mentuhotep II," Minister of Antiquties and Heritage Mamdouh El-Damaty told Ahram Online.


Monuments belonging to Mentuhotep II are very rare in Abydos, although the Pharaoh is known to have built several in order to bolster his political power in the ancient city.


Mentuhotep II was the founder of the Middle Kingdom, which rose from the ashes of the Old Kingdom which had dispersed into smaller kingdoms. After ascending to the Theban throne, he eventually succeeded in unifying both upper and lower Egypt.


The chapel has been partly damaged from a waste water tank belonging to a house built in 1935, and is currently being restored.


"I expect there would be more to the site and maybe other sites of the era either former or later to Mentuhotep II," archaeologist Ayman Damarany told Luxor Times.



ISIS Cashing in on Looted Antiquities to Fuel Iraq Insurgency

Al-Qaeda splinter group selling artifacts to buy weapons.

Heather Pringle for National Geographic



Three years ago, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS, was just a small group of extremist Sunni Muslim militants battling to bring down the Syrian government. But in recent weeks, ISIS has emerged as a major insurgency, expanding its Syrian territories and capturing a broad swath of Iraq, including the country's second largest city, Mosul. And this raises an important question: How did ISIS grow so swiftly and raise enough money to buy weapons for its army?


Much evidence suggests that ISIS cashed in on the Syrian oil fields it captured. But two weeks ago, Iraqi intelligence officers discovered new sources of its income, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. While securing the safe house of a dead ISIS commander, they seized more than 160 computer flash drives containing detailed financial records of the insurgents. Listed among ISIS's key financial transactions were records of illicit antiquity trafficking. In one region of Syria alone, the group reportedly netted up to $36 million from activities that included the smuggling of plundered artifacts.


Such profiteering fits well with a longstanding pattern in the region, says Thomas Livoti, a PhD student at the University of Montana who is studying the impact of counterinsurgencies on archaeological sites.


A Pattern of Looting


"Both al Qaeda and the Taliban looted antiquities for the purpose of funding their operations," he notes, and ISIS—an al Qaeda splinter group—is likely using the same funding model, particularly as cash flow from other sources dries up. "The U.S. is freezing bank accounts and cracking down on false charities," Livoti adds, "so ISIS has to go to alternative methods of financing."


Since the beginning of the Syrian civil war, looters have pillaged many of its important archaeological sites for marketable artifacts. For example, Google Earth images of the ancient city of Apamea—founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals and nominated in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage site—clearly reveal the massive destruction that followed the onset of the war. In less than nine months, from July 20, 2011, to April 4, 2012, the once pristine area was riddled with looters' holes.


By late 2013, more than 90 percent of Syria's cultural sites lay in regions of fighting and civil unrest, leaving them more open to plunder. So grave was the situation that the International Council of Museums published an Emergency Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk, putting border guards and law enforcement agencies on alert for a wide range of smuggled artifacts—from bronze swords to delicate glass bottles.


Apamea as seen on Google Earth July 19, 2011.

The ancient city of Apamea, in Syria—founded by one of Alexander the Great's generals and nominated in 1999 as a UNESCO World Heritage site—as seen on Google Earth on July 19, 2011.



Apamea as seen on Google Earth April 3, 2012.

Less than a year later, the same area at Apamea—seen here on Google Earth April 3, 2012—is covered with looting holes and clearly shows the massive destruction of the war. ISIS is believed to be using the proceeds from such plunder to help finance their insurgency.


Today Iraqi intelligence officers are analyzing the ISIS flash drives to determine just what role the Sunni extremists are playing in Syria's illicit antiquity trade. But Sam Hardy, an archaeologist at University College London, who studies the trade in illicit antiquities, notes that insurgents and paramilitaries generally enter the trade in at least one of three ways: by running a trafficking network, facilitating smuggling through offering a service, or levying a tax on traffickers who move looted artifacts through their territory.


Hardy suspects that ISIS commanders are likely imposing a levy on smugglers. ISIS "looks like they want to function as a state, so in that sense they would at least have to be doing taxation," Hardy says. But that may not be the end of it. "The talk is that they are also running the oil management and smuggling operations," Hardy adds.


Clearly, collectors of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities need to exercise caution before making any purchases in the days to come. Some unscrupulous dealers are highly adept at laundering looted artifacts. Moreover, recent research shows that there can be little distance and few links between looters, traffickers, and collectors.


Prospective buyers should be asking themselves one key question, says Hardy: "What are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?"



World's earliest erotic graffiti found in unlikely setting on Aegean island

Racy inscriptions and phalluses carved into Astypalaia's rocky peninsula shed light on very private lives of ancient Greece

Helena Smith in Athens

The Guardian, Sunday 6 July 2014 14.57 BST


Wild, windswept, rocky and remote, Astypalaia is not an obvious place for the unearthing of some of the world's earliest erotic graffiti.


Certainly, Dr Andreas Vlachopoulos, a specialist in prehistoric archaeology, didn't think so when he began fieldwork on the Aegean island four years ago. Until he chanced upon a couple of racy inscriptions and large phalluses carved into Astypalaia's rocky peninsula at Vathy. The inscriptions, both dating to the fifth and sixth centuries BC, were "so monumental in scale" – and so tantalisingly clear – he was left in no doubt of the motivation behind the artworks.


"They were what I would call triumphant inscriptions," said the Princeton-trained professor who found them while introducing students to the ancient island world of the Aegean. "They claimed their own space in large letters that not only expressed sexual desire but talked about the act of sex itself," he told the Guardian. "And that is very, very rare."


Chiselled into the outcrops of dolomite limestone that dot the cape, the inscriptions have provided invaluable insight into the private lives of those who inhabited archaic and classical Greece. One, believed to have been carved in the mid-sixth century BC, proclaimed: "Nikasitimos was here mounting Timiona (Νικασίτιμος οἶφε Τιμίονα).


"We know that in ancient Greece sexual desire between men was not a taboo," added Dr Vlachopoulos, who returned to the far-flung island last week to resume work with a team of topographers, photographers, conservationists and students. "But this graffiti … is not just among the earliest ever discovered. By using the verb in the past continuous [tense], it clearly says that these two men were making love over a long period of time, emphasising the sexual act in a way that is highly unusual in erotic artwork. "


Found at the highest point of the promontory overlooking the Bay of Vathy on the island's north-western tip, the inscription has led the archaeologist to believe that soldiers may once have been garrisoned there.


Two penises engraved into limestone beneath the name of Dion, and dating to the fifth century BC, were also discovered at lower heights of the cape. "They would seem to allude to similar behaviour on the part of Dion," said Vlachopoulos.


The epigrapher, Angelos Matthaiou, said the graffiti had not only shed light on the very personal lives of the ancients but highlighted the extent of literacy at a time when the Acropolis in Athens had yet to be built. "Whoever wrote the erotic inscription referring to Timiona was very well trained in writing," said Matthaiou, for more than 25 years the general secretary at the Greek Epigraphic Society. "The letters have been very skillfully inscribed on the face of the rock, evidence that it was not just philosophers, scholars and historians who were trained in the art of writing but ordinary people living on islands too."


Other rock art found at the site include carvings depicting oared ships, daggers and spirals – all still discernible despite exposure to the erosive effects of wind and sea.


As the best-known motif of early Cycladic art representing the waves of the sea, spirals symbolised perpetual motion as the driving force in the life and thought of island communities.


"We know that Greek islands were inhabited by the third millienium BC., but what we have found is evidence that, even then, people were using a coded language of symbols and imagery that was quite sophisticated," said Dr Vlachopoulos.


Unit recently, Astypalaia has been better known for its ancient cemeteries of mass graves containing the remains of newborn infants. Now erotica has to be added to that sorry tale.


"Few Greek islands have been properly explored or excavated and these findings are testimony to why it is so important that they are," said the archaeologist.



Dovedale Roman and Iron Age coins found after 2,000 years


A precious hoard of Roman and Late Iron Age coins has been discovered in a cave where it has lain undisturbed for more than 2,000 years.


The treasure trove was unearthed after a member of the public stumbled across four coins in the cave in Dovedale in Derbyshire's Peak District.


The discovery prompted a full-scale excavation of the site.


Experts say it is the first time coins from these two separate civilisations have been found buried together.


Archaeologists discovered 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD43, and 20 other gold and silver pieces which are Late Iron Age and thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe.


Although Roman coins have often been found in fields, this is understood to be the first time they have been unearthed in a cave.


The cache has been declared as "treasure".


National Trust archaeologist Rachael Hall said: "The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth and power of the individual who owned them.


Reynard's Cave

The coins were found at Reynard's Cave and Kitchen in Dovedale, Derbyshire

"Coins were used more as a symbol of power and status during the Late Iron Age, rather than for buying and selling staple foods and supplies.


"Was an individual simply hiding his 'best stuff' for safe keeping? Or perhaps speculating, in the hope that the value would increase in the future, like a modern-day ISA?"


She said the situation of the cave could not be ignored.


"Could it have been a sacred place to the Late Iron Age peoples that was taboo to enter in everyday life, making it a safe place that would ensure that person's valuables were protected?"


The largest hoard of Iron Age gold and silver coins ever found in Britain was discovered by an amateur archaeologist in 2000 near Hallaton in Leicestershire.


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The coins lay undisturbed for 2,000 years, as Ed Thomas reports

More than 5,000 coins, jewellery and a silver-gilt Roman parade helmet were among the treasures discovered during that excavation.


The British Museum's curator of Iron Age and Roman coins Ian Leins said that while this latest find at Reynard's Cave and Kitchen did not quite match the Hallaton discovery, it was "exciting".


For the first time, the National Trust enlisted the help of wounded ex-soldiers returning from Afghanistan to assist with the excavation.


The coins have been cleaned by conservation specialists at the British Museum and University College London and will go on permanent display at Buxton Museum later this year.



Gruesome reminders of a terrible tragedy

Two bits of burnt and blackened human bone just found during our current archaeological investigations at Williams & Griffin site by Colchester High Street are very rare and gruesome reminders of what was probably the worst ever conflict to have taken place in Britain. This was the so-called Boudiccan Revolt when, in AD 61, British tribes under Boudicca of the Iceni unsuccessfully tried to defeat the Roman army and free the country from Roman control. The attempt failed with the result that Colchester, London, and Verulamium (now St Albans) were burnt to the ground and many thousands of people on both sides lost their lives.

The populations of two of the towns had enough time to escape before Boudicca’s arrival. Londoners were able to leave under the protection of the Roman provincial governor Suetonius Paullinus as were also (probably) the people of Verulamium. But the inhabitants of Colchester were not so lucky. Time was short because they were the first target of the Boudiccan army. A last-minute attempt to rescue them by part of the Ninth Legion failed and many of the townspeople were rounded up and sacrificed in groves sacred to the victorious British. The whole town was burnt to the ground.

Substantial areas Boudican remains in Colchester have been investigated over the years especially along the south and west sides of the town but human remains have been conspicuously absent there. The Roman historian Tacitus  recorded that some soldiers held out for two days in the Temple of Claudius before being overrun by the British. Presumably many of the inhabitants of Colchester were sheltering with them. The recently discovered bones in Williams & Griffin must be the remains of people who died in buildings set on fire by the British as they quickly overran the town.

After the end of the revolt, the burnt-out buildings in Colchester were cleared way one by one and replaced. Their walls had been made largely of a sandy clay material either in block form or as daub on timber-frames. The quantity of burnt debris generated during this process must have been immense. These odd fragments of bone from our site show that not all the inhabitants of the town reached the shelter of the Temple of Claudius or ended up in the sacred groves. The bones didn’t in fact lie in situ on the floors of burnt buildings but in some of the debris that had been collected up and removed as the buildings were being demolished. The bones are fragmentary and unconnected. They were loose and must have escaped noticed during the demolition works. But their presence suggests that bodies did in fact lie in the destroyed buildings and that these must have been removed for burial as the demolition work progressed.

The bones from our site lay in some burnt building debris which had been used to raise the level of the main north-south street during the rebuilding of the town. One of them was the left half a lower jaw bone (mandible). The other was part of the top of a shin bone (tibia). This lay about 60 cms away from the jaw bone. The bones were not in their correct anatomical positions relative to each other but they may nevertheless have belonged to the same body. The jaw bone is rather small. The existing teeth suggest a person who was in his or her late teens or early 20s, largely on the absence of the third molar (wisdom tooth).

This is only the second collection of burnt human bone to have been recorded from the Boudiccan debris. The first discovery was made in 1965 by Ros Dunnett (later Ros Niblett) during excavations on a site off West Stockwell Street. It appears from the location of the discovery that this bone also came from redeposited Boudiccan debris on top of the north-south street but 95m to the north. The fact that the two sets of bone (ie the ones from Williams & Griffin and those found in 1965) lay relatively close to each other hints that the reason for the absence of bones in the southern and western parts of the town is because a lot of the inhabitants took shelter in this part of the town instead.

We have just started to excavate the third of the three areas we are to investigate in Williams & Griffins. The new area is north of the present one and half way towards the site of the 1965 find so it’s going to be interesting to see if more human bone turns up in the third and final area as it might well do…!

The excavations at Williams & Griffin are being funded by Fenwick. The new store is being constructed by Sir Robert McAlpine.   



Crossrail reveals more of London's hidden history

3 July 2014 Last updated at 15:00 BST


Significant archaeological finds have been unearthed by a series of new London railway lines and station improvements.


Crossrail estimates that 3,000 skeletons could be found under the new Liverpool Street station development.


BBC London's Jean MacKenzie has spoken to archaeologists Peter Moore and Kasia Olchowska, Roy Stephenson from the Museum of London and volunteer Christina White.



Cursed Warship Revealed With Treasure Onboard

Jane J. Lee

National Geographic



Researchers and divers have started studying the secrets the Mars, the pride of Sweden's 16th-century navy, has held for 450 years.

Mars was the largest ship in the world in its day. It exploded and sank during a battle in 1564.

The Mars lies at the bottom of the Baltic Sea, where it sank during a naval battle in 1564. A diver at upper right provides scale.


It was the largest and fiercest warship in the world, named the Mars for the Roman god of war, but it went up in a ball of flames in a brutal naval battle in 1564, consigning 800 to 900 Swedish and German sailors and a fortune in gold and silver coins to the bottom of the Baltic Sea (map).


Now, a few years after the ship's discovery, researchers have concluded that the one-of-a-kind ship is also the best preserved ship of its kind, representing the first generation of Europe's big, three-masted warships.


Naval historians know a lot about 17th-century ships, but very little about warships from the 16th century, said Johan Rönnby, a professor of maritime archaeology at Södertörn University in Sweden, who is studying the 197-foot-long (60 meter) wreck.


"It's a missing link," said Rönnby, whose work is funded in part by a grant from the National Geographic Society's Global Exploration Fund. The 1500s is an important period, he said, because it's when big three-masted warships started being built.


Researchers have found cargo from early warships called galleons—slightly later iterations of the type of vessel the Mars exemplifies. And they've recovered pieces of actual ships, including the English flagship Mary Rose, which sank during a battle in 1545. But never have they found something as well preserved as the Mars.


Rönnby and his team want to leave the Mars on the seafloor and instead use three-dimensional scans and photographs to share the wreck with the world.


Rönnby, with help from Richard Lundgren—part owner of Ocean Discovery, a company of professional divers that assists in maritime archaeology work—and others, has been piecing together photomosaics and scanning the wreck to produce 3-D reconstructions. With funding from the National Geographic Society/Waitt Grants Program, they are working this summer to complete their scans of the entire ship.


Bringing a ship out of the ocean is expensive, and it can cause significant harm to artifacts. The laser scans Lundgren and colleagues have taken are accurate to within 0.08 inches (2 millimeters)—more than enough to satisfy most researchers.


Using some relatively new tools and methods, archeologists now have a chance to reconstruct the last minutes of the ship and the souls onboard, Lundgren said, and gain some insight into how people behaved on a battlefield.


Treasure hunters, archaeologists, and history aficionados have sought the Mars over the years. But they were unsuccessful until the late spring of 2011, when a group of divers located one of maritime archaeology's greatest finds in 246 feet (75 meters) of water. (See "5 Shipwrecks Lost to Time That Archaeologists Would Love to Get Their Hands On.")


Legend has it that a specter rose from the inferno to guard the Mars, the pride of the Swedish navy, against ever being discovered.


The discovery was the culmination of a 20-year search by Lundgren, along with his brother Ingemar and their colleague Fredrik Skogh. The men had dreamed of finding the mighty Mars since making a childhood visit to a Stockholm museum housing another iconic Swedish warship, named the Vasa. Richard and Ingemar Lundgren became professional divers in part because of that dream.




The Mars sank on May 31, 1564, off the coast of a Swedish island called Öland (map). She came to rest on the seafloor tilted to her starboard, or right, side. Low levels of sediment, slow currents, brackish water, and the absence of a mollusk called a shipworm—responsible for breaking down wooden wrecks in other oceans in as little as five years—combined to keep the warship in remarkable condition.


What makes this find even more exciting, said Lundgren, is that the Mars didn't sink because of a design flaw or poor seamanship.


"Mars was a functioning war machine that performed extremely well in battle," he explained. She sank loaded to the gills with cannons—even her crow's nests had guns—sailors, and all the accoutrements needed to run a ship built for war (including eight different kinds of beer).


This warship had "totally unheard of firepower" for her time, said Lundgren. And it's those cannons that played a role in her demise.


The Mars went down while engaged with a Danish force allied with soldiers from a German city called Lübeck. The Swedes routed the Danes on the first day of battle, said Rönnby. So on the second day, the Germans decided to press their luck.


German forces began lobbing fireballs at the Mars and eventually succeeded in pulling alongside the burning ship so soldiers could board her. As gunpowder on the warship fueled the inferno, the heat became so intense that cannons began to explode, said Rönnby.


Those explosions eventually sank the warship. Legend, however, tells a slightly different story.


The Swedish kings at the time were busy trying to consolidate their position, Rönnby explained. "[But] the Catholic Church was a problem for the new kings because it was so powerful," he said. So in trying to diminish the church's power, monarchs like Erik XIV—who commissioned the Mars—would confiscate church bells, melt them down, and use the metal to make cannons for their new warships.


Legend has it that carrying those repurposed church bells doomed the Mars to a watery grave. The warship carried either 107 or 173 cannons of many different sizes.


A Time Machine


"It's not just a ship, it's a battlefield," said Rönnby. Diving on the wreck, "you're very close to this dramatic fire on board, people killing each other, everything was burning and exploding," he said.


In fact, when Lundgren and colleagues brought a piece of the ship's hull to the surface, they noticed a charred scent wafting from the burnt wood.


"In the end, I think, that's the aim of archaeology—to discuss ourselves and the human aspects of a site," Rönnby said.