Everywhere they looked, there were corpses. Abandoned, overgrown villages were littered with skulls; whole sections of coastline strewn with bleached, decayed bodies.
“The skull, limbs, ribs and backbones, or some other vestiges of the human body, were found in many places, promiscuously scattered about the beach in great numbers,” wrote explorer George Vancouver in what is now Port Discovery, Wash.
It was May 1792. The lush environs of the Georgia Strait had once been among the most densely populated corners of the land that is now Canada, with humming villages, harbours swarming with canoes and valleys so packed with cookfires that they had smog.
But the Vancouver Expedition experienced only eerie quiet.
They kept seeing rotting houses and massive clearings cut out of the Pacific forest — evidence that whoever lived here had been able to muster armies of labourers.
And yet the only locals the sailors encountered were small groups of desperately poor people, many of them horribly scarred and missing an eye. [continue]
Have you read anything about the Ørland Main Air Station dig? Ancient Origins describes it in this article: “a pre-Viking Iron Age settlement dating back around 1,500 years ago on the Trondheim Fjord on Norway’s coast.” That is certainly worth a read.
A thousand years ago, for reasons we will never know, the residents of a tiny farmstead on the coast of central Norway filled an old well with dirt.
Maybe the water dried up, or maybe it became foul. But when archaeologists found the old well and dug it up in the summer of 2016, they discovered an unexpected surprise: a carefully carved toy, a wooden boat with a raised prow like a proud Viking ship, and a hole in the middle where a mast could have been stepped.
“This toy boat says something about the people who lived here,” said Ulf Fransson, an archaeologist at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) University Museum and one of two field leaders for the Ørland Main Air Station dig, where the well and the boat were found.
“First of all, it is not so very common that you find something that probably had to do with a child. But it also shows that the children at this farm could play, that they had permission to do something other than work in the fields or help around the farm.”
A newly discovered trove of 16 engraved and otherwise modified limestone blocks, created 38,000 years ago, confirms the ancient origins of the pointillist techniques later adopted by 19th and 20th century artists such as Georges Seurat, Vincent Van Gogh, Camille Pissarro, and Roy Lichtenstein.
“We’re quite familiar with the techniques of these modern artists,” observes New York University anthropologist Randall White, who led the excavation in France’s Vézère Valley. “But now we can confirm this form of image-making was already being practiced by Europe’s earliest human culture, the Aurignacian.”
Pointillism, a painting technique in which small dots are used to create the illusion of a larger image, was developed in the 1880s. However, archaeologists have now found evidence of this technique thousands of years earlier—dating back more than 35,000 years. [continue]
On the grassy slope of a fjord near the southernmost tip of Greenland stand the ruins of a church built by Viking settlers more than a century before Columbus sailed to the Americas. The thick granite-block walls remain intact, as do the 20-foot-high gables. The wooden roof, rafters and doors collapsed and rotted away long ago. Now sheep come and go at will, munching wild thyme where devout Norse Christian converts once knelt in prayer.
The Vikings called this fjord Hvalsey, which means “Whale Island” in Old Norse. It was here that Sigrid Bjornsdottir wed Thorstein Olafsson on Sunday, September 16, 1408. The couple had been sailing from Norway to Iceland when they were blown off course; they ended up settling in Greenland, which by then had been a Viking colony for some 400 years. Their marriage was mentioned in three letters written between 1409 and 1424, and was then recorded for posterity by medieval Icelandic scribes. Another record from the period noted that one person had been burned at the stake at Hvalsey for witchcraft.
But the documents are most remarkable—and baffling—for what they don’t contain: any hint of hardship or imminent catastrophe for the Viking settlers in Greenland, who’d been living at the very edge of the known world ever since a renegade Icelander named Erik the Red arrived in a fleet of 14 longships in 985. For those letters were the last anyone ever heard from the Norse Greenlanders. [continue]
Excavations carried out by MOLA at the Crossrail site at Farringdon have revealed fascinating insights into daily life in Tudor London in recently published findings.
The site in the heart of the capital has already provided remarkable information about the Black Death in London, but now analysis of artefacts extracted from the re-discovered Faggeswell brook, that flowed past Charterhouse Square, revealed more about the people living in the area during the 16th and 17th Centuries.
Due to the wet ground conditions in the area of the brook, MOLA archaeologists were able to recover rarely found Tudor textiles, leather and plant remains all preserved in excellent condition. It is very rare that textiles and leather survive in the ground, and it is only because of the damp conditions which stopped oxygen form decaying the organic materials that there is such an invaluable insight into the lives of ordinary Londoners and the gentry.
Tudor leather shoes: 22 shoes made of thick cattle leather range from unisex slip-on shoes, similar to modern-day shoes, to styles [continue]
Ha! There’s the most interesting bit, at least for me. I’ve been somewhat obsessed with minimalist / handmade / historical footwear ever since 2008 when I pointed you to an article about how shoes hurt our feet.
Anyway, the Heritage Daily article has a good photo of one of the shoes they found.
The find of four graves from the 11th century site Yur-Yakha III are unlike anything else seen from this era in Yamal, say scientists. Two of the dead were young women aged around 18 to 20 and all had ‘serious diseases’.
The burials were in a crouched position and there are suggestions that rituals, perhaps even sacrifices, were involved in the deaths of these nomads with significant health problems.
For sure there are no similar medieval burials,’ said senior researcher Andrey Plekhanov, of the archaeology department, Arctic Research Centre of the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region. [continue]
Feral swine, first introduced by some of the earliest European explorers to America, have been roaming Florida for the past 500 years, and are now present in at least 35 states. The invasive pigs are well-known as a destructive environmental menace, tearing up sensitive habitats and endangered plants and animals in their search for food. But the hogs can also dig up important archaeological sites, destroying an irreplaceable historical record.
“The damage feral pigs do to everything else — crops, wetlands, endangered species — it can all grow back,” said Richard Engeman, a biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “But once you move artifacts around, that doesn’t grow back.”
When rooting for food, the pigs regularly dig several inches or more below the surface, potentially moving or destroying artifacts. The trails they make also speed up erosion. [continue]
For societies with writing systems, hereditary leadership is documented as one of the hallmarks of early political complexity and governance. In contrast, it is unknown whether hereditary succession played a role in the early formation of prehistoric complex societies that lacked writing. Here we use an archaeogenomic approach to identify an elite matriline that persisted between 800 and 1130 CE in Chaco Canyon, the centre of an expansive prehistoric complex society in the Southwestern United States. We show that nine individuals buried in an elite crypt at Pueblo Bonito, the largest structure in the canyon, have identical mitochondrial genomes. Analyses of nuclear genome data from six samples with the highest DNA preservation demonstrate mother–daughter and grandmother–grandson relationships, evidence for a multigenerational matrilineal descent group. Together, these results demonstrate the persistence of an elite matriline in Chaco for ∼330 years. [continue]
It is perhaps not so surprising to hear that the problem of “fake news” — media outlets adopting sensationalism to the point of fantasy — is nothing new. Although, as Robert Darnton explained in the NYRB recently, the peddling of public lies for political gain (or simply financial profit) can be found in most periods of history dating back to antiquity, it is in the late 19th-century phenomenon of “Yellow Journalism” that it first seems to reach the widespread outcry and fever pitch of scandal familiar today. Why yellow? The reasons are not totally clear. Some sources point to the yellow ink the publications would sometimes use, though it more likely stems from the popular Yellow Kid cartoon that first ran in Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, and later William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal, the two newspapers engaged in the circulation war at the heart of the furore. [continue]
The Vikings plundered, raided, and eventually reigned over a large part of what is modern day England. But exactly how many Danish Vikings migrated west and settled down in the British Isles?
In 2015, a large DNA study sparked a row between DNA scientists and archaeologists after concluding that the Danish Vikings had a “relatively limited” influence on the British—a direct contradiction to archaeological remains and historical documents.
“We see no clear genetic evidence of the Danish Viking occupation and control of a large part of England,” write DNA scientists in a study published in the scientific journal Nature in 2015.
A new study has reignited the debate by claiming that somewhere between 20,000 and 35,000 Vikings relocated to England. [continue]
Now here’s a research trip I’d love to join: a re-tracing of the Fram’s 1893 voyage. Wow. It’s going to happen in 2019, so there’s plenty of time for the organizers to send me an invitation.
Do you know about the Fram? I’ve been on it, and that was a highly memorable visit. Here’s a bit about the ship from the Fram Museum website:
The Fram was the first ship specially built in Norway for polar research. She was used on three important expeditions: with Fridtjof Nansen on a drift over the Arctic Ocean 1893-96, with Otto Sverdrup to the arctic archipelago west of Greenland – now the Nunavut region of Canada – 1898-1902, and with Roald Amundsen to Antarctica for his South Pole expedition 1910-12. The Fram is now housed and exhibited in the Fram Museum at Bygdøynes, Oslo. [continue]
In 1893 the Norwegian explorer Fridtjof Nansen embarked on a mission of extraordinary boldness and ingenuity. He planned to become the first person to reach the north pole by allowing his wooden vessel, the Fram, to be engulfed by sea ice and pulled across the polar cap on an ice current.
Ultimately, Nansen ended up abandoning the Fram and skiing hundreds of miles to a British base after he realised he was not on course to hit the pole, but the ship made it across the ice cap intact and the expedition resulted in groundbreaking scientific discoveries about the Arctic and weather patterns.
Now, more than a century on, scientists are planning to retrace this epic voyage for the first time, in the most ambitious Arctic research expedition to date. [continue]
One of the worst epidemics in human history, a sixteenth-century pestilence that devastated Mexico’s native population, may have been caused by a deadly form of salmonella from Europe, a pair of studies suggest.
In one study, researchers say they have recovered DNA of the stomach bacterium from burials in Mexico linked to a 1540s epidemic that killed up to 80% of the country’s native inhabitants. [continue]
The cavernous space was once above ground, the grand home of Emperor Nero, and considered one of the most magnificent palaces ever built. Its name, “Domus Aurea,” means “golden house.” It’s hard to believe it was once colorful and flooded with light. But now, modern technology is letting tourists peek into the past.
Two thousand years ago, this labyrinth, now underneath the city of Rome, was the sprawling home of Emperor Nero, stretching the size of three football fields. Today, tourists can explore it, but the colors, light and opulence of this ancient Roman villa were unimaginable until this month, when visitors could start using virtual reality headsets.
“You always try to imagine in your mind what it must’ve been like, and this helps tremendously,” said Tom Papa, a tourist from New York.
Virtual reality brings to life this important piece of history. Alessandro D’Alessio, the chief archaeologist here, explained how this place was buried following Emperor Nero’s death. [continue]
I am inordinately fond of red, so I did take notice when I found that somebody has written a history of the colour. The somebody is Michel Pastoureau, and the book is Red: The History of a Color.
The Paris Review has given us an excerpt: The Red of Painters. And here is an excerpt of the excerpt!
The late Middle Ages and the modern period have left us works by great painters that are particularly remarkable for their range of reds. Let us mention Van Eyck, Uccello, Carpaccio, Raphael, and later, Rubens and Georges de La Tour. But all artists seemed to love this color and tried to draw various tonalities from it. Accordingly they chose their pigments, taking into account not only their physicochemical properties, their ability to cover or make opaque, their resistance to light, and how easily they could be worked or combined with other pigments but also their price, availability, and—what is most disconcerting to us—the name they went by. Indeed we can observe in the laboratory that in panel paintings from the late Middle Ages, symbolically “negative” reds—those coloring the fires of hell, the face of the Devil, the coat or feathers of infernal creatures, and all impure blood of one kind or another—were often painted with the same pigment: sandarac, a resin lacquer more commonly called “cinnabar of the Indies” or “dragon’s blood.” Various legends circulated in workshops regarding this pigment, a relatively expensive one because it had to be imported from far away. It was believed to come not from a plant resin but from the blood of a dragon, gored by its mortal enemy, the elephant. According to medieval bestiaries, which followed Pliny and the ancient authors here, the inside of the dragon’s body was filled with blood and fire; after a fierce struggle, when the elephant had punctured the dragon’s belly with its tusks, out flowed a thick, foul, red liquid, from which was made a pigment used to paint all the shades of red considered evil. Legend won out over knowledge in this case, and painters’ choices gave priority to the symbolism of the name over the chemical properties of the pigment.
Unlike the dyers, the painters of the modern period hardly profited at all from the discovery of the New World or the settling of Europeans in the Americas. No truly new colorants resulted from these events. But Mexican cochineal, transformed into lacquer, allowed them to perfect a subtle, delicate pigment in the range of reds, superior to earlier lacquers from brazilwood or kermes for fixing a glaze over vermilion. Beginning in the sixteenth century, vermilion experienced a steady rise in popularity and its production became something of an industry, first in Venice, the European capital of color, and then in the Netherlands and Germany. It was sold in apothecaries, hardware shops, and paint stores, and even though it was more expensive and less stable than minium, it eventually contributed to that pigment’s decline. [continue]
A series of Stone Age palisade enclosures have been discovered in Denmark in recent years and archaeologists are still wondering what they were used for.
One of the latest additions is a huge construction, discovered by archaeologists from the Museum Southeast Denmark. The fence dates from the Neolithic period and seems to frame an oval area of nearly 18,000 square meters.
“It was actually somewhat overwhelming to experience that it is possible to reveal the traces of such a huge building from the Neolithic period. There are many suggestions for what they could’ve been used for, but to put it simply, we just don’t know,” says archaeologist Pernille Rohde Sloth who leads the excavation.
One of the most remarkable things about the fencing at Stevns is the way the entrances have been constructed. The fence is in fact built in five rows that extend outwards, and the opening in each row appears to be offset from the others. [continue]
The Tlingit and Haida, indigenous peoples of the Northwest Coast (NWC), have used carved wooden hooks to catch halibut for centuries. As modern fishing technology crept into use, however, the old hooks practically disappeared from the sea. But they thrived on land—as decorative art.
The hook’s evolution from utilitarian tool to expression of cultural heritage is the subject of a paper by Jonathan Malindine, a doctoral student in UC Santa Barbara’s Department of Anthropology. In “Northwest Coast Halibut Hooks: an Evolving Tradition of Form, Function, and Fishing,” published in the journal Human Ecology, he traces the arc of the hook’s design and how its dimensions have changed over time.
“I used to be a commercial fisherman in Alaska, and also lived in a Tlingit and Haida community,” Malindine said. “So, the intersection of fisheries and Alaska Native art has always fascinated me. These NWC hooks are really effective at catching halibut, and also are intricately carved with rich, figural designs. Between the technology and the mythological imagery, there’s a lot going on.” [continue]
When King Olaf Haraldsson gave up the old Viking gods to become Norway’s first Christian ruler, he fundamentally changed his society. Part of that legacy is the church he built in his capital city of Nidaros (now known as Trondheim), which was recently discovered at the construction site of a new office building. The church’s stone foundation is remarkably intact. According to Anna Petersén of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research, the nave, choir, entrances, and foundation of the altar are still in place. The church was dedicated to Saint Clements the patron of slaves and seafarers and a popular figure among observant Norse raiders. A series of radiocarbon dates shows that the church was built in the early eleventh century, which affirms historical descriptions. [continue, see photo of dig]
In the rugged Colorado Desert of California, there lies buried a treasure ship sailed there hundreds of years ago by either Viking or Spanish explorers. Some say this is legend; others insist it is fact. A few have even claimed to have seen the ship, its wooden remains poking through the sand like the skeleton of a prehistoric beast.
Among those who say they’ve come close to the ship is small-town librarian Myrtle Botts. In 1933, she was hiking with her husband in the Anza-Borrego Desert, not far from the border with Mexico. It was early March, so the desert would have been in bloom, its washed-out yellows and grays beaten back by the riotous invasion of wildflowers. Those wildflowers were what brought the Bottses to the desert, and they ended up near a tiny settlement called Agua Caliente. Surrounding place names reflected the strangeness and severity of the land: Moonlight Canyon, Hellhole Canyon, Indian Gorge.
To enter the desert is to succumb to the unknowable. One morning, a prospector appeared in the couple’s camp with news far more astonishing than a new species of desert flora: He’d found a ship lodged in the rocky face of Canebrake Canyon. The vessel was made of wood, and there was a serpentine figure carved into its prow. There were also impressions on its flanks where shields had been attached—all the hallmarks of a Viking craft. Recounting the episode later, Botts said she and her husband saw the ship but couldn’t reach it, so they vowed to return the following day, better prepared for a rugged hike. [continue]
Agile scientists equipped with 3D laser scanners have revealed the secrets of a hidden room, known as a “priest hole,” in the tower of an English Tudor mansion linked to the failed “Gunpowder Plot” to assassinate King James I in 1605.
A new study reveals how the secret double room was constructed in the tower of a gatehouse at Coughton Court in Warwickshire, as a hiding place for priests during the anti-Catholic persecutions of the 16th and 17th centuries.
Catholic priests faced execution as traitors under the English laws of the time, and they were often tortured to reveal their accomplices, according to Christopher King, an assistant professor in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, and one of the lead researchers of the study. [See More Photos of the Secret “Priest Hole” at Coughton Court]
Despite being outlawed, many priests chose to [continue]
Want more? The National Trust has info on their Coughton Court site. The most interesting of those pages, I think, is One house, one family, one faith…. It gives an overview of the house’s history, and features a photo of the priest hole.
The tale of how an amateur archaeologist’s hunch led him to uncover a lost medieval town and spend £32,000 of his own money to buy the land, would stand to be the archaeological discovery of any year. On the border between England and Wales, the site of the medieval town of Trellech reveals much about a tumultuous period of history – and how the town came to be lost.
A fearsome dragon was featured in medieval Scandinavian and Germanic legends about the hero Sigurd/Siegfried. The story is the centerpiece in the epic saga Niebelungenlied, in which the Siegfried kills Fafnir, who had been transformed into a hideous dragon by a powerful curse.
In the legend, Fafnir guarded a hoard of golden treasure. The dragon was so huge that the very ground shook when he walked. At Drachenfels (“Dragon Rock”), Konigswinter on the Rhine, a large statue of a typical dragon lurks near the ruins of a castle built on the summit of the hill in about 1150. A cave below was believed to be Fafnir’s lair.
According to the story, the hero Siegfried tracked the Dragon to his lair, by following a trail of the dragon’s enormous footprints sunk deep in the earth.
Notably, conspicuous fossil trackways of two types of massive dinosaurs are found in Germany. In 1941, the German paleontologist H. Kirchner speculated that observations of Triassic dinosaur tracks in sandstone near Siegfriedsburg in the Rhine Valley of western Germany might have been the inspiration for the legend about the dragon Fafnir’s footprints. [continue]
In a lowly tavern in an English town in the 1580s, a group of men met to organize the assassination of their monarch, Queen Elizabeth I. The head of the operation, Anthony Babington, planned to rescue and crown Mary of Scotland, an alternative heir to the English throne who had been imprisoned in the castle dungeon for 20 years. He detailed the plan to Mary as a cipher—a secret note in code— and snuck it to her in a shipment of beer. But Mary had no idea that his note had been opened and then resealed by a double agent posed as a courier, who was waiting for her reply. When Mary wrote back, the agent exposed the plot, and both she and Babington were executed.
Long before NSA surveillance, Queen Elizabeth had her own “Watchers,” a network of agents who intercepted letters, cracked codes, and captured possible dissenters to protect the crown in secret. The queen’s network of spies formed the original surveillance state in the U.K., and she started it for good reason. [continue]
Wouldn’t she be envious of the state’s spying apparatus now! So much easier when you can just snoop up on all electronic communication.
Inuit who live in Greenland experience average temperatures below freezing for at least half of the year. For those who live in the north, subzero temperatures are normal during the coldest months.
Given these frigid conditions, anthropologists have wondered for decades whether the Inuit in Greenland and other parts of the Arctic have unique biological adaptations that help them tolerate the extreme cold.
A new study, published on Wednesday in Molecular Biology and Evolution, identifies gene variants in Inuit who live in Greenland, which may help them adapt to the cold by promoting heat-generating body fat. These variants possibly originated in the Denisovans, a group of archaic humans who, along with Neanderthals, diverged from modern humans about half a million years ago. [continue]