Discovery of a Neanderthal occupation by the river

Published August 6, 2014 · Updated August 8, 2014


A team of archaeologists from the Inrap search, curated by the State (Drac Rhône-Alpes), a Middle Paleolithic Site in Quincieux, during the work of the A466. After review of interregional commission of archaeological research, and in the proceedings of "outstanding discovery," the prefect extended the duration of intervention of this excavation of a hectare.


This prehistoric site is located on a loess hill overlooking the old bed of the Saone. Unique in Rhône-Alpes, the sedimentary sequence that combines fluvial deposits backgrounds and wind, provides information on the evolution of the Saône during the late Pleistocene (128 000 to 11 000 years). Initially 8 m high, it consists of a succession of paleosols and loess: the oldest, thickest of more than 2 m, is dated between 55,000 and 35 000 years, that is to say, during the late Middle Paleolithic. The excavation revealed a spread over three levels and associated with flints abandoned by Neanderthals rich fauna.


Fauna of cold climate

All animal species discoveries characterizes a cold climate and a steppe environment. Several hundred skeletal remains belong mostly to large herbivores: mammoth, woolly rhinoceros, horse, bison and reindeer. Carnivores, fewer are represented by a bear skull caves and a few bones of a wolf. These bones are often isolated, rare anatomical connections. Most accumulations result from the action of man, the animals were hunted and / or carrion by Neanderthals who exploited these carcasses, some bones with traces of man-made fractures. Meanwhile, archaeologists find a bone deficit long, which suggests that the meaty parts were washed away, probably on a Habitat site.


Testimony subsistence activities of Neanderthals

The site Quincieux therefore offers the opportunity to study the behaviors of living from Neanderthals out of its habitat or hunting stops, usually excavated by archaeologists. The lithic industry is sparse and consists of a few cores as well as flint flakes and hard limestone. Here Neanderthals have needed just a few shards to cut pieces of meat. Paleontological and zooarchaeological studies will be crucial to clarify the exact nature of the site and the activities that take place there.



Archaeologists compare Neolithic Kent site to Stonehenge, find Bronze Age funerary monument

By Ben Miller | 12 August 2014


A Neolithic ditch which became a huge funerary monument when it was enlarged with an outer ring during the Bronze Age has been found on housing development grounds in Kent


Archaeologists suspect a “sacred way” could have led to a henge 6,000 years ago at Iwade Meadows, to the west of the Kent industrial town of Sittingbourne.


Positioned on a north-west slope, the 30-metre diameter structure is one of several prehistoric monuments on a north-west slope above the Ridham fleet stream running through the centre of the site.


“Its purpose is not known,” says Dr Paul Wilkinson, of excavators SWAT Archaeology.


“But it may be that the monument was reused as an enclosure for stock management at this time or could formally have been used as a ‘sacred way’ leading to the Neolithic ‘henge’.


“The monuments are in a location that would have formerly had extensive views to the Swale Estuary and the Island of Sheppey beyond.


“The archaeological evidence suggests that the outer ditch may have originated in the Neolithic and been later transformed in the Bronze Age into a funerary monument with the addition of the inner ring.”


Archaeologists now hope to determine the exact date, phasing and character of the monuments.


“The outer ring has an entrance facing north-east suggesting that it may have originated as a henge-type monument – a ceremonial gathering place of which Stonehenge is our most well known example,” says Dr Wilkinson.


“The inner ring appears to be later and is an unbroken circuit. This may be associated with a Bronze Age burial, as a barrow, though no burials have yet been found.


“A second smaller monument lies close to the larger rings and may be a secondary barrow dating to the Bronze Age.


“While the monuments may have fallen out of use for their primary function by the middle Bronze Age they seem to have still been significant landscape features, as a track from the north-east is seen to have been extended to the causeway entrance of the outer ring.


“The importance of the location in the Neolithic period is reinforced by the rare findings of a series of pits close to the monuments that may indicate the area was being used before the construction of the monument or represents activity associated with it.”



Evidence for Prehistoric Origins of Egyptian Mummification in Late Neolithic Burials

Jana Jones, Thomas F. G. Higham, Ron Oldfield, Terry P. O'Connor, Stephen A. Buckley

Published: August 13, 2014DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0103608


Traditional theories on ancient Egyptian mummification postulate that in the prehistoric period (i.e. the Neolithic and Chalcolithic periods, 5th and 4th millennia B.C.) bodies were naturally desiccated through the action of the hot, dry desert sand. Although molding of the body with resin-impregnated linen is believed to be an early Pharaonic forerunner to more complex processes, scientific evidence for the early use of resins in artificial mummification has until now been limited to isolated occurrences during the late Old Kingdom (c. 2200 B.C.), their use becoming more apparent during the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000-1600 BC). We examined linen wrappings from bodies in securely provenanced tombs (pit graves) in the earliest recorded ancient Egyptian cemeteries at Mostagedda in the Badari region (Upper Egypt). Our investigations of these prehistoric funerary wrappings using a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and thermal desorption/pyrolysis (TD/Py)-GC-MS have identified a pine resin, an aromatic plant extract, a plant gum/sugar, a natural petroleum source, and a plant oil/animal fat in directly AMS-dated funerary wrappings. Predating the earliest scientific evidence by more than a millennium, these embalming agents constitute complex, processed recipes of the same natural products, in similar proportions, as those utilized at the zenith of Pharaonic mummification some 3,000 years later. The antibacterial properties of some of these ingredients and the localized soft-tissue preservation that they would have afforded lead us to conclude that these represent the very beginnings of experimentation that would evolve into the famous mummification practice of the Pharaonic period.




No chemical investigations or analyses of the organic compounds present in funerary wrappings of the prehistoric period (c. 4500 – 3350 BC) have ever been reported in the literature, nor has their presence as early as the fifth millennium BC been previously proposed by others [1]. It has been assumed that preservation of soft tissues was predominantly through natural processes afforded by the favorable burial environment, rather than by the complex and deliberate physico-chemical intervention that characterizes the mummification of later times [2], [3]. The Old Kingdom is generally regarded as the start of true Egyptian mummification c. 2500 BC [4], with the utilization of preservative resins becoming more evident by the Middle Kingdom (c. 2000 – 1600 BC) [5]. Where resins with preservative qualities have been identified in the embalming agents, the mummies have generally been of a relatively late date [6], [7], [8], [9], [10], [11], although a conifer resin has been identified in one mummy from the late Old Kingdom (c. 2200 BC) [12].


Modern investigative chemical techniques applied to securely provenanced and dated mummies and embalming material [6], [8], [12], [13], [14], [15] have provided insights into the organic materials used in mummification during Egypt's Pharaonic period (c. 2900 – 332 BC) [16]. Yet there have been no such studies prior to this period.


Here we present the first chemical investigation of directly AMS-dated linen funerary wrappings, skin and ‘reed’ matting material from bodies in securely provenanced Badarian (Late Neolithic) and Predynastic (Chalcolithic) period tombs (pit graves) at Mostagedda in the Badari region, Upper Egypt (c. 4500 BC – 3350 BC [16]). Specifically, analysis was undertaken on textile wrappings impregnated with ‘resin’ (sensu lato), which is regarded as the main component of early Pharaonic attempts at corporeal preservation before the later introduction (c. 2500 BC) of a desiccant (natron) and evisceration [17].


Samples of textiles from cemeteries at Badari and Mostagedda were sent to the Chadwick (now Bolton) Museum in Bolton, UK by the excavators in the early 20th century [18], [19]. The site of Badari gave its name to the earlier cultural phase (c. 4500 – 3700 BC [16], [20], also referred to as the Late Neolithic period), which in this region preceded the Naqada culture (i.e., the Predynastic/Chalcolithic period) beginning c. 3800/3700 BC [16], [20]. Both phases occur in the cemeteries at the two sites.


Microscopical analysis by Jones at the later cemetery HK43 at Hierakonpolis (Predynastic period, Naqada IIA-C, c. 3600 – 3400 BC), had confirmed the presence of a ‘resinous’ substance permeating thick layers of linen firmly wrapped around parts of a number of bodies, most notably the back of the head, the jaw and the hands [21]. These observations were based on physical appearance only, not on biochemical analyses. Consequently, the nature and composition, and therefore significance of these amorphous organic residues at Hierakonpolis necessarily remains unknown. Yet the pattern of textile use was reminiscent of early reports of Badarian period inhumations at the site of Badari, which mention seven cases in which the head was wrapped in textile and one example of a pad of textile at the hands [18].


The possibility of the same, or a similar, anthropogenic process used in the earliest documented Egyptian burials prompted scientific investigation of this older material held in Bolton Museum [1]. Nine samples of wrappings from Badari and 42 from Mostagedda were examined microscopically for traces of ‘resins’ (Figures S1–S12 in Appendix S1). Badarian and Predynastic samples from Mostagedda were selected for chemical investigation because of the greater quantity available, and in order to give a time series from a single site.


Characteristic artifacts (pottery, stone palettes), and the location of the tombs in the cemeteries, provide sound archaeological evidence for the relative dating of the burials [19], [22] (Table S1 in Appendix S1). The spin direction of the yarn from which the textiles were woven is also a contributing factor. A major technological change in the direction of spin from the ‘Z’ direction to the ‘S’ occurred in the early Predynastic period; extant Egyptian textiles from early Naqada IB (c. 3700/3600 BC) onward are woven from ‘S’ twist yarn [23].


Radiocarbon dating was undertaken on a number of these samples (Fig. 1) to provide calendrical calibration of the significant archaeological evidence for these Mostagedda burials. A combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and thermal desorption/pyrolysis (TD/Py)-GC-MS facilitates the molecular separation, characterization and identification of both the free (solvent extractable) biomarker compounds, and the recognizable sub-units of polymeric materials not amenable to the more conventional GC-MS approach [14].



Archaeologists Ready to Enter Tomb in Amphipolis

by Nikoleta Kalmouki - Aug 14, 2014


Archaeologists are ready to enter the tomb in Amphipolis, northern Greece, which is considered one of the most important discoveries in the country, dated from around 300 BC – the time of Alexander the Great.


Archaeologists have unearthed a 4.5-meter-wide road and 13 steps that lead to the tomb’s entrance, which is guarded by two carved sphinxes. Excavation work will continue until researchers enter the tomb. The discoveries within the tomb are of great importance as they are crucial for accurate dating.


A stone wall, constructed after the burial to protect the tomb, is going to be destroyed. All the pieces of the wall will be kept by the team of archaeologists.


A geophysical prospecting conducted in the monument has shown that there are three areas inside the tomb. Worst-case scenario would be the collapse of the roof which means that the tomb is filled with dirt. In that case, the area will be carefully cleaned in order to protect grave offerings.


When the archaeologists enter the burial space, they will identify if the tomb is robbed. In that scenario, there is a major risk that important discoveries have been removed.


If the tomb is intact, the researchers will be able to give accurate information on the identity of the dead, based on the bones, sex, skeleton’s height and grave goods.


Although the tomb is dated from the era of Alexander the Great, archaeologists claim that it is highly unlikely that the Greek king was buried at ancient Amphipolis. However, they believe that an important Macedonian official was buried there.


- See more at: http://greece.greekreporter.com/2014/08/14/archaeologists-ready-to-enter-tomb-in-amphipolis/#sthash.JYRDEB7B.dpuf



Mystery of the ancient Gauls found dumped in a pit: French skeletons may have been massacred - or simply dead slaves

·         Skeletons exhumed from boggy area which was once the site of salt mines

·         Dumping of the bodies suggest they were victims of disease or executions

·         The skeletons, which were preserved in the soil, will now undergo laboratory tests


PUBLISHED: 15:40, 15 August 2014 | UPDATED: 16:10, 15 August 2014


Eight skeletons including two of children dating back to the Iron Age have been found in good condition in France.


The extraordinary archaeological discovery was made in Marsal, in the east of the country, in the Lorraine region, close to the border with Germany.


Dating back to around 500BC, all were exhumed from a wet, boggy area which was once the site of extensive salt mines, but is now surrounded by an industrial estate.


The skeletons were exhumed from a wet, boggy area which was once the site of extensive salt mines, but is now surrounded by an industrial estate


It is excavated most summers by a team led by Laurent Olivier, curator of the National Archaeological Museum at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris.


Mr Olivier said: ‘This wasn’t a tomb, these bodies were dumped in a former grain silo as carcasses, with their faces against the ground. They were in all kinds of positions and stacked one against the other.’


The disorganised dumping of the bodies suggested they might be victims of disease, or even executions. Some had their mouths wide open, as if in a grimace, when found.


At the time, what was to become known as Paris was a nondescript fishing village, while different warring tribes roamed the rest of the country.


Those who settled around the salt mines were Celts who would be called Gauls by the Romans when they took control of the area which is now modern day France.


The skeletons will now be examined to try and learn more about such people, Mr Olivier told French news agency AFP.


The disorganised dumping of the bodies suggested they might be victims of disease, or even executions. Some had their mouths wide open, as if in a grimace, when found


The disorganised dumping of the bodies suggested they might be victims of disease, or even executions. Some had their mouths wide open, as if in a grimace, when found

The skeletons, which were found in wet and salty soil which would have preserved them over the centuries, will all now undergo laboratory tests


‘This raises a lot of social issues,’ he said. ‘Is this the result of a massacre, of an epidemic? Obviously these were people of low social status, perhaps even slaves.’


The skeletons, which were found in wet and salty soil which would have preserved them over the centuries, will all now undergo laboratory tests.


Mr Olivier said lots of interesting data could be compiled – including the day-to-day lives of those killed.


Marsal was one of Europe's largest centres of salt production at the time of the Iron Age, producing the mineral on an almost industrial scale.


It was not until around 125 BC that the south of Gaul was conquered by the Romans, with Julius Caesar winning the rest of the country and defeating a revolt by Vercingetorix, the Gallic chief, in 52BC.


The site is excavated most summers by a team led by Laurent Olivier, curator of the National Archaeological Museum at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris

The site is excavated most summers by a team led by Laurent Olivier, curator of the National Archaeological Museum at Saint-Germain-en-Laye, near Paris


Two years ago, French archaeologists found a perfectly preserved skeleton of a woolly mammoth which lived at least 20,000 years ago near Paris.


It was found next to two flint blades - suggesting Neanderthal hunters would have been cutting it up for meat after hunting the creature down.


The incredible discovery saw the bones and tusks of the prehistoric animal dug up by archaeologists at Changis-Sur-Marne, on the banks of the Marne River.


It was buried under sandy soil, making it relatively easy to excavate, with the archaeologists using it to reconstruct its last movements before it was finally placed in a museum.



6th-century tumulus built like step pyramid first of its kind in Japan

August 14, 2014



ASUKA, Nara Prefecture--Researchers determined that an ancient burial mound here is shaped like a step pyramid, the first such discovery in Japan.


The Miyakozuka Tomb is believed to date from the latter half of the sixth century. The square-shaped tumulus is built of stones in stepped levels like stairs.


Experts from the Asuka village board of education and Kansai University said the site, whose scale is comparable to the burial grounds of emperors, was likely constructed for a powerful member of the Soga clan.


One likely contender is Soga no Iname (?-570), a statesman who married his daughters to an emperor. He also derived tremendous power from his control of immigrants from China and the Korean Peninsula who brought cultural and technological advances with them to Japan.


At its base, the square-shaped tumulus measures 41 meters from east to west and 42 meters from south to north. It rises more than 4.5 meters high.


When researchers with Kansai University investigated the Miyakozuka Tomb in 1967, they noted that it was probably square- or circle-shaped.


They have determined that it has more than five stepped levels, each of which is 30 to 60 centimeters high and roughly one meter wide. The steps are made of stones packed with soil.


Experts say the structure is similar to those found in the ancient kingdom of Koguryo, which held sway over northeastern China and the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.


Soga no Iname established the basis of the Soga clan's prosperity.


The area around the Miyakozuka Tomb is said to be one of the strongholds of the Soga clan. The Ishibutai Tomb, which was constructed in the first half of the seventh century, could be the burial site of Soga's son, Umako.


“I have never seen such a unique square tomb like this (Miyakozuka Tomb) in Japan. It is undoubtedly the resting place of an influential person of the Soga clan,” said Taichiro Shiraishi, director of the Osaka prefectural Chikatsu Asuka Museum.



Ancient Maya Cities Found in Jungle



A monster mouth doorway, ruined pyramid temples and palace remains emerged from the Mexican jungle as archaeologists unearthed two ancient Mayan cities.


Found in the southeastern part of the Mexican state of Campeche, in the heart of the Yucatan peninsula, the cities were hidden in thick vegetation and hardly accessible.


"Aerial photographs helped us in locating the sites," expedition leader Ivan Sprajc, of the Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (ZRC SAZU), said.


Sprajc and his team found the massive remains as they further explored the area around Chactun, a large Maya city discovered by the Slovenian archaeologist in 2013.


No other site has so far been located in this area, which extends over some 1800 square miles, between the so-called Rio Bec and Chenes regions, both known for their characteristic architectural styles fashioned during the Late and Terminal Classic periods, around 600 - 1000 A.D.


One of the cities featured an extraordinary facade with an entrance representing the open jaws of an earth monster.


The site was actually visited in the 1970s by the American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, who documented the facade and other stone monuments with yet unpublished drawings.


However, the exact location of the city, referred to as Lagunita by Von Euw, remained lost. All the attempts at relocating it failed.


"The information about Lagunita were vague and totally useless," Sprajc told Discovery News.


"In the jungle you can be as little as 600 feet from a large site and do not even suspect it might be there; small mounds are all over the place, but they give you no idea about where an urban center might be," he added.


Laguinita was identified only after the archaeologists compared the newly found facade and monuments with Von Euw's drawings.


The monster-mouth facade turned to be one of the best preserved examples of this type of doorways, which are common in the Late-Terminal Classic Rio Bec architectural style, in the nearby region to the south.


"It represents a Maya earth deity related with fertility. These doorways symbolize the entrance to a cave and, in general, to the watery underworld, place of mythological origin of maize and abode of ancestors," Sprajc said.


He also found remains of a number of massive palace-like buildings arranged around four major plazas. A ball court and a temple pyramid almost 65 ft high also stood in the city, while 10 stelae (tall sculpted stone shafts) and three altars (low circular stones) featured well-preserved reliefs and hieroglyphic inscriptions.


According to preliminary reading by epigrapher Octavio Esparza Olguin from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, one of the stelae was engraved on November 29, A.D. 711 by a "lord of 4 k'atuns (20-year periods)."


Unfortunately, the remaining text, which included the name of the ruler and possibly of his wife, is heavily eroded.


"To judge by both architectural volumes and monuments with inscriptions, Lagunita must have been the seat of a relatively powerful polity, though the nature of its relationship with the larger Chactun, lying some 10 km to the north, remains unclear," Esparza Olguin said.


Similar imposing was the other city unearthed by Sprajc. Previously unknown, the city was named Tamchen, which means "deep well" in Yucatec Maya.


Lost Continent Discovered Beneath Indian Ocean

Indeed, more than 30 chultuns were found at the site. These are bottle-shaped underground chambers, largely intended for collecting rainwater.


"Several chultuns were unusually deep, going down as far as 13 meters," Sprajc said.


Like in Laguinita, plazas were surrounded by large buildings. These include the remains of an acropolis supporting a courtyard with three temples on its sides. A pyramid temple with a rather well preserved sanctuary on top and a stela and an altar at its base was also unearthed.


Tamchen appears to have been contemporaneous with Lagunita, although there is evidence for its settlement history going back to the Late Preclassic, between300 B.C. and 250 A.D.


"Both cities open new questions about the diversity of Maya culture, the role of that largely unexplored area in the lowland Maya history, and its relations with other polities," Sprajc said.



Staring Black Death in the face in Barcelona

Archeologists uncover first mass grave of 14th-century plague victims to be found in Spain

JOSÉ ÁNGEL MONTAÑÉS Barcelona 15 AGO 2014 - 12:15 CEST


The Basilica of Sant Just i Pastor, in the heart of Barcelona’s historic Gothic Quarter, has been a place of Christian worship since the fourth century. In recent years it has provided archeologists with rich bounty: Roman remains from the first century, when the colony of Barcino was founded by the emperor Augustus, along with a Visigothic baptismal font, and the chancel from a sixth-century basilica. The latest find is around 120 bodies packed like sardines in a mass grave under the sacristy that could provide new insight into the impact of the Black Death, which devastated Europe in the mid-14th century.


The plague is believed to have killed up to 30 million people in just six years after entering Europe in 1348. In Spain, the population fell from six million to two-and-a-half million. The epidemic hit Barcelona five times between 1348 and 1375.


Contemporary sources describe the efforts to stop the advance of the disease, but few archeological remains exist. Mass graves have been discovered in London, Prague, Marseille and Poitiers, but until now no burial sites had been found in Spain.


The excavation took place over the course of 2012, and shows that the burials were carefully carried out. The corpses were unclothed, and wrapped only in linen shrouds, lined up in rows, 11 bodies deep, and were then covered with quicklime dissolved in water to attempt to stop the disease spreading and mask the smell of the rotting bodies. Dominique Castex of the University of Bordeaux, who is coordinating the excavation as part of a broader investigation the institution is leading into the Black Death in Europe, says the find is unique and of great historical value: “This is the first such site we have found in Spain, and we believe it can tell us a great deal.”


DNA tests on the teeth of several of those buried in the mass grave carried out by the University of Tübingen show the presence of Yersinia pestis, a bacterium associated with rats and other rodents that was transmitted by the parasites they carried, particularly fleas, which injected it into humans when they bit them.


The initial symptoms of the disease were fever, shivering, nausea, thirst, exhaustion and trembling. Some victims’ glands would swell up in their groins, armpit and neck as the bacteria attacked the lymphatic system. The swellings are known as buboes, from which the word bubonic comes. Victims usually died within five days at most.


“When we began to exhume the remains it was clear that this was a mass grave from the time of the epidemic,” says Julia Beltrán, the scientific director of the excavation. “Bones had been very well preserved, and none of them showed any signs of the kind of damage that could have killed somebody. What’s more, there were people of both sexes, children, and of all ages. The victims were all buried within a short time frame.”


Despite the desperate situation at the time – few people were available to bury the mounting piles of dead, and the cemeteries were all full – great care was taken in laying out the victims: face up, with their arms by the sides or across their abdomen or chest, and the legs always fully stretched out.


The team has not been able to excavate the entire grave, which was partially dug up in the mid-15th century when the church was extended. The original grave would have been four meters long, 3.5 meters wide and 1.5 meters deep. Bearing in mind the density of the remains, the archeologists say that there would originally have been around 400 people in the grave. Aside from a small broach, no personal objects have been found.


The find suggests that unlike in London, where new cemeteries were built to bury the dead, in Barcelona, room was found in churches and churchyards for plague victims.


The remains found at Sant Just i Pastor are being kept in the church while they are examined, and will be reburied there, says Beltrán.


In September, the next phase of the archeological excavation of the interior of the church will begin, and the team says it is confident that Sant Just i Pastor will continue to yield clues about Barcelona’s past.



Richard III skeleton reveals his prodigious alcohol consumption and rich diet

By Richard Moss | 17 August 2014


The skeleton of Richard III continues to offer up the secrets of the former king, this time his prodigious alcohol intake comes under the spotlight


First it was an infestation of roundworms now it's the turn of alcohol and food as scientists use the latest techniques to examine Richard III's skeleton to reveal the diet of the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III.


The recent study of the king’s bone chemistry by the British Geological Survey, in association with researchers at the University of Leicester, has revealed that there was a 25 per cent increase in Richard’s consumption of wine when he became king – equivalent to an extra bottle of wine per day, every day.


This was in addition to the large quantities of beer most medieval men consumed during that time, giving Richard an overall alcohol consumption of two to three litres per day.


His diet as King also changed: during the last three years of his life, Richard started banqueting regally - consuming an array of incredibly high status and rich food, composed of exotic meats and freshwater fish and likely to include birds such as swan, crane, heron and egret.


The study, which is published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, also pinpoints geographical changes in his early childhood via an examination of the changes in chemistry found in the teeth, the femur and the rib; all of which develop and rebuild at different stages of life.


Isotope measurements that relate to geographical location, pollution and diet (strontium, nitrogen, oxygen, carbon and lead) on the king’s teeth reveal that he moved from Fotheringay castle in eastern England by the time he was seven.


The data also suggest that during this time he was in an area of higher rainfall, older rocks and with a changed diet relative to his place of birth in Northamptonshire.


By examining the femur, which represents an average of the 15 years before death, researchers show that Richard moved back to eastern England as an adolescent or young adult, and had a diet that matched the highest aristocracy.


But it is the analysis of the rib, which renews itself relatively quickly and represents life between two and five years before death that revealed the most dramatic results.


By contrasting the differing chemistry between the femur and the rib, researchers have pinpointed a dramatic shift in diet that coincided directly with Richard’s time as King of England.


This could be down to a geographical shift, but the historical record shows no such change of location, leaving an increased consumption of rich foods and alcohol.


“Richard’s diet when he was King was far richer than that of other equivalent high status individuals in the late medieval period,” says Isotope Geochemist and lead author of the paper Dr Angela Lamb.


“We know he was banqueting a lot more, there was a lot of wine indicated at those banquets and tying all that together with the bone chemistry it looks like this feasting had quite an impact on his body in the last few years of his life.”


The discoveries are featured in a new Channel 4 documentary about the king, which follows research aided by a British man who has precisely the same form of scoliosis as Richard III.


Twenty-seven year-old Dominic Smee, whose spine, with its 75 degree curve is deemed ‘virtually identical’ by the experts to Richard III’s, worked together with a team of historians and scientists to find out to what extent Richard’s scoliosis would have affected his ability as a warrior.


Using full body armour and a series of exercise with medieval weapons the study concludes that Richard III would have had no problem wielding medieval longswords, lances, halberds and axes and riding into battle in full armour.


Richard III: The New Evidence airs on Channel 4 on Sunday August 17 at 9pm.



Richard III’s teeth and bones: why we didn’t know it all before


Out today is the fourth peer-reviewed article deriving from the search for Richard III’s grave. It focuses on the king’s bones and teeth, specifically what a few of them might tell us about where he lived at different times in his life, and how his diet changed. And once again, the scientific release occurs on the day Channel 4 broadcasts a new film about the dig.


The headline conclusions are:


Richard III’s diet was impressively aristocratic – high in meat and fish (some of which were from the sea) – though for a period from the age of around five it was heavier on grains; this youthful gruel episode was offset by greater luxuries when he was king, including more freshwater fish and wildfowl, and wine

The study supports Richard’s known origins in Northamptonshire, but suggests he had moved out of eastern England by age seven, and lived further west, possibly in the Welsh Marches (the borderland area between Wales and England), returning to eastern England as an adolescent or young adult.


There will be sceptics. There will be historians thinking, “Fancy that, Richard III lived in eastern England and had a posh diet, who would’ve guessed?” Google found me a press article on Friday (that its publisher probably believed not to have been online ahead of the Sunday embargo) that opened, “Research conducted on the composition of Richard III of England’s teeth and bones confirm what we already knew”. Such writers miss the point.


First, this is real, new evidence, not stuff that is just assumed. Secondly, and importantly, the science here is quite complex, and though well established, still growing – there is all to prove (or disprove) in an area that offers much in understanding ancient lives. The very rare chance to study an identified historical individual, with a good record, allows the science to be tested against  prior information.


By 1995, scientists had been analysing chemical isotopes (comparing the proportions of particular “forms” of different elements) in ancient human bone and teeth for some years. The idea was to identify aspects of diet (high in seafood, for example) or migration (eg a skeleton with radically different values from others in a cemetery might suggest an immigrant). But in that year a key paper took the research into a new area. A South African team proposed that by analysing different parts of a single skeleton, changes in diet and residency patterns might be observed occurring within a person’s lifetime. The principle was that different bones and teeth grow at varied rates or times, creating chemical signatures that relate to events in the individual’s life during those different growth episodes.


We saw this idea being exploited in the BBC TV series, Meet the Ancestors, when teeth analyses regularly indicated a surprising amount of movement around (or even beyond) the UK among people who had previously been assumed to have been pretty static. Judith Sealy and colleagues concluded their 1995 paper by saying, “It is sincerely to [be] hoped that, in the future, work such as this will have access to named individuals whose historically attested dietary histories may be checked against the chemical findings.” As Angela Lamb and Jane Evans (of the British Geological Survey) point out in the new study, examinations of known people remain scarce (off the top of my head, I can’t think of another one).


Even with anonymous people, such comprehensive studies with human remains are still quite rare. The authors of the new paper think only two large scale projects of this kind have been conducted in the UK. One concerned an extraordinary find in Dorset, where the bodies of around 50 decapitated men had been slung into a mass grave – stable isotope research by a team that included Jane Evans established they were Vikings, probably slaughtered by local Anglo-Saxons (the dig featured in British Archaeology May/Jun 2014/136).


What makes the new study particularly interesting is that while we can guess the king ate well, we knew little in detail about his diet (even if we have menus, can we be sure what the man actually ate?). And while we knew where he was born, and where he spent most of his life, there was apparently little information about his residency in childhood and early adult years. So we have a mixture of known and unknowns, with stuff to learn and test. The science is tricky (and the paper unfortunately poorly written and edited – try the very first sentence: “The discovery of the mortal remains of King Richard III provide an opportunity to learn more about his lifestyle, including his origins and movements and his dietary history; particularly focussing on the changes that Kingship brought.”). But keep an eye out, this will create much specialist interest, and further related studies and commentaries are likely.


Diagram modified after Lamb et al 2014, showing carbon and nitrogen isotope data from tooth and bone analyses among rural villagers from Wharram Percy (Yorkshire), clergy from Fishergate Priory (York), and Richard III. The axis from bottom left to top right is thought to represent a growing amount of fish protein in the diet: either there was something wrong with the sample, or one prior at Fishergate really liked his fish

Diagram modified after Lamb et al 2014, showing carbon and nitrogen isotope data from tooth and bone analyses among rural villagers from Wharram Percy (Yorkshire), clergy from Fishergate Priory (York), and Richard III. The axis from bottom left to top right is thought to represent a growing amount of fish protein in the diet: either there was something wrong with the sample, or one prior really liked his fish. The differences between the king’s rib (bone regenerates c every 2–5 years) and his teeth (fixed at childhood) and femur (bone at least 10 years old at death) are taken to indicate a higher consumption of fish late in life




“Multi-isotope analysis demonstrates significant lifestyle changes in King Richard III”, by Angela Lamb, Jane Evans, Richard Buckley & Jo Appleby, Journal of Archaeological Science (August 2014)


“Beyond lifetime averages: tracing life histories through isotopic analysis of different calcified tissues from archaeological human skeletons”, by Judith Sealy, Richard Armstrong & Carmel Schrire, Antiquity (1995)


The previously published peer-reviewed articles from this project are:


“‘The king in the car park’: new light on the death & burial of Richard III in the Grey Friars church, Leicester, in 1485”, Antiquity (May 2013)


“The intestinal parasites of King Richard III”, The Lancet (September 2013)


“The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance”, The Lancet (May 2014)


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This entry was posted on August 17, 2014. It was filed under Archaeology and was tagged with ancient diet, British Geological Survey, human remains, isotopes, Leicester University, Richard III.


6 responses


Andrew Millard

Sealy et al. aren’t “An Australian team” – they are/were from Cape Town, South Africa


August 17, 2014 at 8:25 am   




Many thanks for noting my mistake (I’ve corrected the blog above). For the record, the originally South African writers are all at the universities they were when the Antiquity paper was published: Judith Sealy is now head of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Cape Town; Richard Armstrong is at the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences, the Australian National University Canberra; and Carmel Schrire is distinguished professor of anthropology at Rutgers University, NJ.


Speaking of lazy errors, it’s interesting to see how the press are covering this story. It’s mainly about the booze – note the progression in these headlines from a pint a day to over five, followed by the inevitable death, the sure scientific proof of alcoholism. “My kingdom for a pint: Richard III loved his drink” (Sunday Times); “King Richard III downed a bottle of wine every day to cope with pressure” (Mirror); “Revealed: how becoming king turned Richard III into a drunk” (Herald Scotland, which continues, “King Richard III was driven to drink by the pressures of power, according to new evidence”); “Richard III drank 3 litres of booze a day, no wonder he was found dead in a car park” (Metro).


The Journal of Archaeological Science article, and Elsevier’s press release, do highlight “a diet filled with expensive, high status food and drink”. A typical quote from Angela Lamb (in the Independent) notes that in the last three years of the king’s life, his alcohol intake “was a considerable step up from what was his average drinking before”. But only in the press is this equated with a love of drink, stress or even illness. The scientific study links the alcohol (suggested to be wine) to the privileges of the king’s high wealth and status – in modern terms, a very different story.


The Independent’s headline takes a different tack: food. “Swan, egret, heron: the Richard III diet revealed”. Now while the science is suggested to indicate “an increase in consumption of freshwater fish and birds”, the varieties come from historical documents of the time, not specifically linked to the king.