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]
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]
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]
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]
Up in the arctic, life struggles to thrive. A rocky and frigid landscape supporting little more than meager shrubs, grasses, and some berries in the summer, it’s proven too hostile for more than a few animal species that have specially evolved to polar environs. Yet despite the harsh conditions, thousands of years ago human beings managed to etch out a life for themselves in the snows. These peoples’ ability to live in these regions is mostly due to a diet that to most of us seems narrow and anemic, but in truth has proven itself one of the most robust and healthy in the world.
Arctic diets vary vastly from region to region, according to the local environment’s flora and fauna. But at their most extreme, they consist of almost nothing but meat and fish, often from animals rich in fat (think polar bears, seabirds, and whales). For those of us who grew up learning the American Food Pyramid, or even the unholy devilcraft that is the new “My Plate” system, such a meat-heavy diet sounds borderline suicidal. But when eaten raw, these animals’ organs provide ample nutrients, including the vitamins we temperate-zoners draw mostly from plants. Blubber is also surprisingly rich in heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated omega-3 fats and natural fermentation provides arctic diets with the benefits of probiotic foods. The result is a food regimen that provides everything a human needs, as well as one of the greatest natural defenses against diabetes, heart disease, certain types of cancer, and perhaps even seasonal effective disorder, illustrating that in any diet, there are no essential food groups, just essential nutrients. [continue].
How fascinating is that? I love reading about traditional diets, and have, over the years, changed my own diet quite a bit in order to cut out all processed food. These days I try to eat the sort of foods that humans ate before industrialization and nutritional stupidity. Are any of you doing that, too?
I ate reindeer meat in Norway, though I haven’t tried reindeer blood. Perhaps on another visit I will see if there are any Sami communities that welcome visitors like me.
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]