In the 13th century A.D., the city of Acre on Israel’s northern coast was a key stronghold for embattled European Crusaders defending Christianity in the Holy Land. But in 1291, a vast Egyptian army of some 100,000 soldiers led by the new Mamluk sultan overran the Crusader garrison there and razed the city. Now, marine archaeologists have discovered a long-lost ship that met its watery end in the crescent-shaped bay off the city’s harbor. Carbon dating of the ship, and the cache of gold coins found inside, suggests the wreck dates to the siege of Acre, as Christians made a desperate attempt to flee the city and their knights made their doomed last stand. [continue]
The most radical shakeup of the dinosaur family tree in a century has led scientists to propose an unlikely origin for the prehistoric beasts: an obscure cat-sized creature found in Scotland.
The analysis, which has already sparked controversy in the academic world, suggests that the two basic groups into which dinosaurs have been classified for more than a century need a fundamental rethink. If proved correct, the revised version of the family tree would overthrow some of the most basic assumptions about this chapter of evolutionary history, including what the common ancestor of all dinosaurs looked like and where it came from. [continue]
Saltopus, kids. saltopus. There was a creature called a saltopus!
Thanks to Khurram Wadee for posting this article on Diaspora, which is where I found it.
As a collective civilization, we’ve made some strides in how we care for the poor and frail but, even in the 21st century, the indigent are often relegated to both anonymous lives and anonymous deaths. So when scientists were able to re-create the life of a man who lived 700 years ago from his remains, it offered a tremendous insight, not just into his life, but into the lives of the countless impoverished citizens of medieval England.
This face—and the man—are known by the clinical and cold moniker Context 958, one of several hundred buried corpses exhumed from graves behind the Old Divinity School of St. John’s College in Cambridge, England, around 2010. The subject was presumed to have been a ward of the hospital or church, likely poor and/or ill, at the time of his death in the 13th century. [continue, see photos]
Travelers to distant lands have always known that risk is an inevitable part of the adventure. And from ancient times they invented ways to mitigate that risk. Medieval English guilds established funds to provide for their members in the event of accident when they were abroad. Fifteenth-century pilgrims would ensure themselves against captivity. For a certain payment, the insurer would agree to ransom the traveler should he be captured by pirates or Arabs.
As travel expanded, individual traveler’s insurance took on the form of a bet on their own survival – a broker would take a specific amount and agree to pay it back with substantial interest if the traveler returned. The risks of travel were so high that it was usually assumed impossible to purchase insurance that would pay out to someone else if the traveler did not come home. [continue]
After the Reformation, Norway’s Olav Haraldsson was no longer supposed to be worshipped as a saint. An Icelandic drinking horn offers some clues on how the saint’s status changed over time.
Drinking horns were considered valuable objects, and were imbued with great symbolic value in the Middle Ages. Among other things, it was said that these kinds of horns came from the foot or claw of the fabled griffin. Drinking horns often had names, and were status symbols and collector’s items. Some were stolen and many ended up in princely cabinets.
“Mediaeval drinking horns are scattered in collections throughout northern Europe. They were coveted collectibles. Mediaeval art often remained in churches until it went out of fashion or was removed due to errors in iconography, whereas drinking horns ended up in princely collections and cabinets and have kept their status to the present day,” says Associate Professor Margrethe Stang, from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology’s (NTNU) Department of Art and Media Studies. [continue]
How did gold rush miners get a good night’s rest? If they were lucky, a roadhouse or inn had beds with Pulu mattresses.
The early roadhouses had either cots or if they had ‘mattresses’, they were stuffed with straw or dried moss and sometimes feathers or curled hair. These were expensive to import because of the tariffs.
An entrepreneur got the idea that Pulu would make a great substitute because there was no import levy on it and also it was soft and cheap. Pulu was from a tree fern known as the hapu’u pulu in Hawaii. The young fronds (fiddleheads) of these tree ferns are covered with a bronze-coloured silky floss called “pulu”. Ancient Hawaiians had long used pulu.
From the late 1850s to the 1880s over 4 million pounds of pulu were shipped in bales, to be used primarily for stuffing mattresses, pillows, and upholstery. Fortunately, this stopped when people realized that [continue]
I went off to see what pulu fronds look like, and found this image at Wikimedia Commons. (Click on the image if you’d like to see a larger version. Oh, and thanks to photographer Tom Burke for sharing it under a Creative Commons license.)
Instant Hawaii has more photos, and a bit more information about this tree. They note:
As the young shoots uncurl they have a fine golden hair that is very soft, almost like velvet. This hair is called pulu and it was collected in the 1800’s and used commercially as stuffing for pillows and mattresses. The remnants of an old pulu factory can still be seen on the Napau Crater trail in the Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park.
Well, that was fun to learn about. What’s in your mattress? Probably a bunch of synthetic stuff that’s been treated with fire retardants and other chemicals, unless you’ve gone out of your way to find an alternative. If you happen to be looking for an alternative mattress filling now, I think you can strike pulu off your list!
Later, a fad for hermits swept 18th-century England. It was believed that hermits radiated kindness and thoughtfulness, so advertisements were placed in newspapers for “ornamental hermits” who were lax in grooming and willing to sleep in caves on the country estates of the aristocracy. The job paid well and hundreds were hired, typically on seven-year contracts. Some of the hermits would even emerge at dinner parties and greet guests.
Where do I sign up for that? Live in a cave on a good salary, and attend dinner parties? Now that I could do. I’d have to dress down, though.
I’ve come across dozens of interesting things to share with you lately, but I’ve also been quite short of time. So here are a whole bunch of things I think you’ll like, all at once, for your weekend reading pleasure.
I’ve thought of doing this for a while now: occasional posts full of linky goodness. But a pleasing name for such postings failed to suggest itself to me, and so I was thwarted. This morning, though, the name arrived in my brain. This is An Exaltation of Links. Because why should the larks have all the fun?
Archaeologists from Egypt and Germany have found an eight-metre (26ft) statue submerged in groundwater in a Cairo slum that they say probably depicts revered Pharaoh Ramses II, who ruled Egypt more than 3,000 years ago.
The discovery – hailed by Egypt’s antiquities ministry on Thursday as one of the most important ever – was made near the ruins of Ramses II’s temple in the ancient city of Heliopolis, located in the eastern part of modern-day Cairo.
“Last Tuesday they called me to announce the big discovery of a colossus of a king, most probably Ramses II, made out of quartzite,” the antiquities minister, Khaled al-Anani, said at the site of the discovery.
The pharaoh, also known as Ramses the Great or Ozymandias, was the third of the 19th dynasty of Egypt and ruled for 66 years, from 1279BC to 1213BC. [continue]
Around 4,000 years ago, a man, a woman and a child were laid to rest in a barrow beneath a massive 50-ton slab of basalt on a hillside in the Hula Valley. Offerings in ceramic pots were laid by their sides, and above their heads mysterious symbols were etched into the stone.
This enigmatic discovery, detailed in an academic article published in PLOS ONE on Thursday, upends our understanding of a little-understood dark age in the Levant following the collapse of Early Bronze Age cities.
Their grave of boulders stacked to form a crude table, known by archaeologists as a dolmen, was one of a vast field of tombs recently excavated by archaeologists in what is now northern Israel. The multi-chambered barrow the three skeletons were found in, however, stood out from the rest. [continue]
It is not immediately clear what drew Marcus Selmer (1819 – 1900), a Danish portrait photographer, to spend most of his life working in Norway. He trained as a pharmacist in his native Denmark, and was working in a chemist owned by his uncle when he discovered daguerreotype photography. He experimented with this new technology in his spare time and began sending his pictures in to local exhibitions. In 1852, Selmer travelled to Norway, to visit some of his uncle’s family in the city of Bergen. He never returned.
He soon found work as a photographer in Bergen and, within a year, was able to establish his own studio. This became the first permanent photographic studio in Bergen, as few photographers who visited would stay all year round. Photographers often visited Bergen in the summer, hoping to capture the fjords and mountains that surround the area, but, as they needed good light for their work, the dark and cold weather had driven most of them away by the time winter rolled around. Selmer ingeniously built his studio almost entirely out of glass, allowing enough light into the space, which enabled him to continue working throughout the year.
Selmer’s work quickly became well-known throughout Norway. He sold many books of his photographs, and sold individual images to the press and the burgeoning tourist industry, before eventually being appointed the royal photographer in 1880. Although his career was varied, Selmer is primarily remembered today for his portraits of local people in national folk costume, as shown here. These photographs depict the customs, traditions and culture of the Norwegian people, and reflect Selmer’s interest in his adopted home. One of Selmer’s most notable portraits is of a local folk hero named Ole Storviken. [continue, see photos!]
To see more of Marcus Selmer’s photos, visit these sites:
In the first study of its kind, archaeologists have identified the garment a body was buried in between 4950 and 4800 BCE in the Mediterranean, discovering details down to the embroidered design of seashells lining the jacket.
The body, belonging to an adult man between 20 and 50 years old and estimated to be 1.67 metres (about 5’5″) tall, was buried in the 5th Millennium BCE in Avignon, southern France. The grave was first excavated in the 1970s, but has now gone through modern laboratory scrutiny to reveal the nature of the clothes the man was buried in, according to a paper published in the Journal of Field Archaeology.
The garment had sophisticated embroidery, with 158 conical seashells – of the species Columbella rustica – arranged in lines on what was thought to be a jacket or tunic. They are arranged in patterns, either all pointing up, all pointing down, or alternating in pairs. [continue]
An apparently ordinary rabbit’s hole in a farmer’s field leads to an underground sanctuary said to have been used by devotees of a medieval religious order – but is everything what it seems?
According to local legend, the Caynton Caves, near Shifnal, in Shropshire, were used by followers of the Knights Templar in the 17th Century.
Located less than a metre underground, they appear to be untouched structurally.
Their original purpose is shrouded in mystery, but Historic England, which describes the caves as a “grotto”, believes they were probably built in the late 18th or early 19th Century – hundreds of years after the Templar order was dissolved. [continue]
When the owners of a house near Toulouse, France went to fix a leak in the ceiling, they discovered a well-preserved canvas depicting the biblical beheading of General Holofernes by Judith. Experts believe the canvas was painted between 1600 and 1610, and that it could be the work of the Italian master Caravaggio. However, this belief is disputed and is currently being investigated by the Louvre Museum in Paris.
In a study published in European Journal of Internal Medicine, Italian doctor Antonio Perciaccante argues that the newly discovered painting may not be the work of Caravaggio, because of the way in which the blood spurt’s trajectory is painted. [continue]
From AD 1300 to 1600, wildfires ignited during late summer, with about 5-10 ignitions per quarter century, generally occurring during warm, dry summers.
In the next two centuries, fire frequency rose dramatically, particularly in the mid-17th century. Early summer fires grew in prevalence. Books and other documents from this time period record a rising use of slash-and-burn cultivation and rangeland burning, explained author Ken Olaf Storaunet. The population was recovering from the devastation of the Black Death and several subsequent epidemics. People returned to abandoned lands and began using fire to improve land for grazing animals and to cultivate crops. The average length of time between recurrences of fire in the same location fell by half, from 73 to 37 years.
Increasing demand for timber in Europe raised the value of forests and discouraged slash-and-burn cultivation practices. The fires legislation banning the use of fire in Norway came in 1683. After AD 1800, fire frequency and size dropped precipitously, with only 19 fires occurring in the study area during the last 200 years.
Ecologically, the period from 1625 and onwards to today is probably unique, and something that perhaps has not happened in thousands of years, Storaunet said. [continue]
Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Munigua in southern Spain have found a vast Roman copper mining operation built on an older mine dating back thousands of years.
Exploitation of ore at Munigua apparently began by the Turdetani, the original inhabitants of the region, over 4,000 years ago. Now the excavators have discovered an elaborate system of ventilated underground galleries connected by tunnels dating to the Roman era.
They also found shafts connecting at various heights forming floors that let the miners extract metal deeper than had been believed possible at the time. Happily for the miners, the ancient Romans were on to the secret of ventilation. [continue]
Ancient human footprints discovered on the Welsh coastline are 7,000 years old and could show a snapshot of a Mesolithic hunting party, researchers have said.
Discovered in 2014, the pre-historic footprints of both children and adults at Port Eynon on the Gower peninsula were initially thought to date to the Bronze Age but analysis carried out at Cardiff University has revealed they are actually 3,000 years older than that. [continue]
For refined, upper-class ladies in 16th-century Europe, getting a tan, especially on your face, was not a good look.
The implication of such coloring was that one must work outside, and thus, quite possibly be poor (cue gasps and swooning faints). So to make sure they didn’t get burned, some 16th-century ladies wore face masks called visards (or vizards) that covered their delicate visages. Unfortunately, the masks also made it so they couldn’t speak. And, look as if they belonged to an evil cult. [continue]
You know you want more details, yes? And for that, see:
Well! I bet this is the strangest thing you’ll read about today:
It is not every day that you come across a magic animal carved from the bones of children and animals, which is brought to life through magical songs and given power by sucking on the manufacturer’s sexual organs. On top of that, it has but one mission in life: to kill its creator’s enemies.
But for Hans Lange, a curator at Greenland National Museum, such an encounter is a fairly common experience. He is the resident expert of the fabled tupilaq, which is exhibited in more than 100 different versions at the National Museum in Nuuk, Greenland.
He points to one of the showcases of some small tupilaq figurines made by trappers–reportedly after encountering them at sea. Lange prefers to think of the creatues as a kind of demon spirit used by Greenlanders in the old days. [continue]
The image on the computer screen looks innocent enough: A ledger showing a list of names, ages and descriptions of physical stature — all of it written in a precise script that hasn’t been practised in more than two centuries.
But a closer examination of the Book of Negroes online reveals a time when black people were — legally speaking — nothing more than property.
The book was compiled in New York between April and November of 1783 at the conclusion of the American Revolutionary War.
It is a record of the 3,000 black refugees — all of whom sided with the British during the war — who were loaded on ships bound for Nova Scotia, then a British colony. [continue]
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]