Thursday Reader: Discoveries – Black Plague Skeletons in London, Alexander the Great-Era Treasure in Israel

Recent discoveries of more skeletons and ancient treasure come on the heels of what may describe 2015 as the Year of Archaeology.

These two adult skulls were among thousands uncovered at the Bedlam burial ground, which was used during the Great Plague in 1665. The remains will be removed over the next week by a team of archaeologists. Credit: PA

These two adult skulls were among thousands uncovered at the Bedlam burial ground, which was used during the Great Plague in 1665. The remains will be removed over the next week by a team of archaeologists.
Credit: PA

Archaeologists began excavating 3,000 skeletons from Bedlam Hospital cemetery disturbed by London builders. The skeletons of a mother and her child buried side-by-side are among those which are to be excavated from an ancient burial ground after being disturbed during construction for London’s Crossrail.

Other skeletons at the burial site include that of a mother and her two children (above). Most of the remains are unidentified since the site did not keep its own burial records when it was used between 1569 and 1738. Credit: Reuters

Other skeletons at the burial site include that of a mother and her two children (above). Most of the remains are unidentified since the site did not keep its own burial records when it was used between 1569 and 1738.
Credit: Reuters

Skeletons of a mother and child (this and following image) are among those which are to be excavated from the Bedlam burial ground, which is the site for the new Liverpool Street station that will serve London's Crossrail network Credit: Reuters & PA

Skeletons of a mother and child (this and following image) are among those which are to be excavated from the Bedlam burial ground, which is the site for the new Liverpool Street station that will serve London’s Crossrail network
Credit: Reuters & EPA

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Archaeologists have started excavating 3,000 skeletons from Bedlam burial ground, which is at the site of the new Liverpool Street station that will serve the cross-London rail network.

Used from 1569 until at least 1738, including during the Great Plague in 1665, the burial site – also known as Bethlehem and the New Churchyard – was opened after graveyards around London started to overflow.

A team of 60 archaeologists will work in shifts, six days a week, to excavate the skeletons and gather any other remains at the burial site. The skeletons (pictured above) will then be reburied on consecrated ground. Credit: PA

A team of 60 archaeologists will work in shifts, six days a week, to excavate the skeletons and gather any other remains at the burial site. The skeletons (pictured above) will then be reburied on consecrated ground.
Credit: PA

Archaeologists have started excavating 3,000 skeletons (pictured) from the ancient Bedlam burial ground. Credit: PA

Archaeologists have started excavating 3,000 skeletons (pictured) from the ancient Bedlam burial ground.
Credit: PA

It was situated in close proximity to Bethlem Royal Hospital – the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe – and was used to bury London’s poor and religious non-conformists as well as inmates from the asylum.

The site, which was uncovered by Crossrail workers who are in the process of building a new ticket hall above the burial ground, is thought to contain the remains of a former lord mayor of London, a notorious criminal and political activists.

The skeletons will be excavated over the next four weeks by a team of 60 archaeologists who will work in shifts, six days a week.

Bones and skeletal remains could be seen at the Bedlam burial site today as workers began excavating them. Credit: Reuters

Bones and skeletal remains could be seen at the Bedlam burial site today as workers began excavating them.
Credit: Reuters

Archaeologists at the new Livepool Street station (pictured) are expected to finish on site in September. Credit: PA

Archaeologists at the new Livepool Street station (pictured) are expected to finish on site in September.
Credit: PA

The remains were uncovered during Crossrail construction work, which is set to be completed by 2019. Credit: Reuters

The remains were uncovered during Crossrail construction work, which is set to be completed by 2019.
Credit: Reuters

They will carefully remove the remains and record evidence for what may prove to be, in archaeological terms, London’s most valuable 16th and 17th Century cemetery site.

After the excavation, the workers will then dig through medieval marsh deposits and Roman remains including a road that runs under the site, which has already yielded several interesting Roman artifacts such as horseshoes and cremation urns. The skeletons will then be reburied on consecrated ground.

Archaeologists are expected to finish on site in September, after which construction will proceed on a new eastern ticket hall by contractor Laing O’Rourke.

“This excavation presents a unique opportunity to understand the lives and deaths of 16th and 17th century Londoners. The Bedlam burial ground spans a fascinating phase of London’s history, including the transition from the Tudor-period city into cosmopolitan early-modern London. This is probably the first time a sample of this size from this time period has been available for archaeologists to study in London. Bedlam was used by a hugely diverse population from right across the social spectrum and from different areas of the city.

– Jay Carver, Crossrail lead archaeologist

The archaeological excavations at Liverpool Street are being undertaken by Museum of London Archaeology on behalf of Crossrail. Scientific analysis of the remains will help provide new insights into the lives and deaths of early modern Londoners.

Bedlam burial ground was established in 1569 to help parishes cope with overcrowding during outbreaks of the plague and other epidemics.  As well as being used to bury those who were struck down with disease, it also became the site for those who passed away at the nearby Bethlem Royal Hospital – which is thought to have been the world’s first mental asylum.

Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street station site have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons. Credit: PA

Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street station site have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons.
Credit: PA

However, with mental patients showing no physical symptoms of illness, determining which of the remains belonged to those treated at the hospital will be near impossible for experts.

Earlier this year, Crossrail-led research identified the names and backgrounds of more than 5,000 people buried at the site. Names include Sir Ambrose Nicholas, who was lord mayor of London in 1575, and Dr John Lamb (also known as Lam or Lambe), an astrologer and adviser to the First Duke of Buckingham.

Lamb was said to have been stoned to death by an angry mob outside a theatre in 1628 following allegations of rape and black magic. Others identified in the research, carried out by 16 invited volunteers, include victims of riots by ‘Fanatiques’, noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January 1661.

To date, Crossrail has found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning many years of London’s past across more than 40 construction sites. It is the UK’s largest archaeology project. Preliminary excavations at the Liverpool Street site in 2013 and 2014 have already uncovered more than 400 skeletons and numerous artifacts.

Bedlam – Synonym for Chaos

Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 and was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe.

Bethlem Royal Hospital was founded in 1247 and was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe.

The Bedlam burial ground, also known as the New Churchyard, was situated near the notorious Bethlem Royal Hospital which opened during London’s response to the plague crisis in the 16th Century.

The burial site was the first in London which was not associated with a parish church and it did not keep its own burial records. Instead, the City’s parish churches recorded which of their parishioners were buried at Bedlam in their own records.

The graveyard, built on Bethlem Hospital’s vegetable patch in the 1560s after churchyards around the city started to overflow, was used to bury London’s poor and religious non-conformists as well as inmates from the asylum.

Bethlem Royal Hospital, which quickly became pronounced ‘Bedlam’ by Londoners, was founded in 1247 and was the first dedicated psychiatric institution in Europe. It was founded by Goffredo de Prefetti, who had been elected Bishop of Bethlehem, and was originally located just outside the London city wall, on the site of what is now Liverpool Street station.

By 1403, the majority of its patients suffered mental health issues. Others suffered from epilepsy, learning disabilities and dementia. Due to the hospital’s reputation as the principle treatment center for the insane, a bastardized version of its name – ‘Bedlam’ – came to signify madness and chaos more generally.

Although it is sometimes thought to have treated its patients cruelly, most were free to walk around the grounds. Inside the single-storey building that housed 12 cells, a kitchen, staff accommodation and an exercise yard, inmates were manacled and chained – and treated as a tourist attraction by Londoners who paid a penny to stare at them.

Patients, usually poor, were given treatments including restraint, dousing with water, beatings and isolation. Conditions inside Bedlam were depicted by William Hogarth in his 18th century drawings A Rake’s Progress, charting the decline of a merchant’s son from wealthy heir to asylum inmate, via debtor’s jail.

In 1674, the hospital’s governors decided that the institution should move a few hundred metres to the west to Moorfields, with the area’s open space thought to be healthier than its original premises.

Bethlem moved again in 1815, to St George’s Fields in Southwark, which is now the site of the Imperial War Museum. A final move came in 1930 when the hospital relocated to the suburb of Bromley. It is now run by the NHS and is considered to be a leading psychiatric hospital.

*     *     *     *     *

Treasures From the Era of Alexander the Great

Included in the 2,300-year-old cache were two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings and a small stone weight. Credit: CLARA AMIT/ THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

Included in the 2,300-year-old cache were two coins of Alexander of Macedon, three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings and a small stone weight.
Credit: CLARA AMIT/ THE ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

A rare cache of jewelry and silver coins, minted during the reign of Alexander the Great, has been discovered in a stalactite filled cave in northern Israel, the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced on Monday.

The 2,300-year-old treasure was found by three members of the Israeli Caving Club who wriggled through a narrow passage at the entrance of the stalactite cave and wandered inside for several hours.

The 2,300-year-old treasure was found by three members of the Israeli Caving Club who wriggled through a narrow passage at the entrance of the stalactite cave and wandered inside for several hours. Skeletons Shed Light on Ancient Earthquake in Israel. Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

The 2,300-year-old treasure was found by three members of the Israeli Caving Club who wriggled through a narrow passage at the entrance of the stalactite cave and wandered inside for several hours. Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

Stashed inside a niche, one of the spelunkers, Hen Zakai, spotted two ancient silver coins. On one side of the coins was an image of Alexander the Great, while the other side portrayed an arm raised Zeus sitting on his throne.

The archaeologsts believe the coins had been minted in the late fourth century B.C. at beginning of the Hellenistic Period during the reign of Alexander the Great.

Alongside the coins, the spelunkers found the remains of a cloth pouch with three rings, four bracelets, two decorated earrings, three other earrings, probably made of silver, a small stone weight, and a clay oil lamp. Dating from the Hellenistic period, the lamp contained some agate stones that were part of a string of beads.

“The valuables might have been hidden in the cave by local residents who fled there during the period of governmental unrest stemming from the death of Alexander,” the IAA said in a statement.

Stashed inside a niche, one of the spelunkers first spotted two ancient silver coins. On one side of the coins was an image of Alexander the Great, while the other side portrayed Zeus sitting on his throne. The archaeologists believe the coins had been minted in the late fourth century BC at beginning of the Hellenistic Period during the reign of Alexander the Great. Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

Stashed inside a niche, one of the spelunkers first spotted two ancient silver coins.
On one side of the coins was an image of Alexander the Great, while the other side portrayed Zeus sitting on his throne.
The archaeologists believe the coins had been minted in the late fourth century BC at beginning of the Hellenistic Period during the reign of Alexander the Great.
Credit: SHMUEL MAGAL/ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY

At that time, the Wars of the Diadochi broke out in Israel between Alexander the Great’s successors who fought for the control of the king’s empire after his death in 323 B.C.

“Presumably the cache was hidden in the hope of better days, but today we know that whoever buried the treasure never returned to collect it,” the IAA said.

As archaeologists of the Israel Antiquities Authority this week-end entered the cave, they discovered evidence of human habitation that occurred there over extended periods, from the Chalcolithic period 6,000 years ago to the Hellenistic period approximately 2,300 years ago.

Numerous pottery vessels were discovered in the cave and some even merged with the limestone sediments.

“The finds in the cave will allow the researchers –- archaeologists and geologists alike –- to accurately date both the archaeological finds and the process of stalactite development,” the IAA said.

The treasure trove, which promises to shed light on the lives of ordinary people in Israel during the late 4th century BC, follows another significant finding. Last month amateur scuba divers stumbled across a trove of nearly 2,000 gold coins that sat on the bottom of the Roman-era port of Caesareafor about 1,000 years.

“After the gold treasure from Caesarea, this is the second time in the past month that citizens have reported significant archeological finds and we welcome this important trend,” Amir Ganor, director of the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery in the Israel Antiquities Authority, said.

“Thanks to these citizens’ awareness, researchers at the Israel Antiquities Authority will be able to expand the existing archaeological knowledge about the development of society and culture in the Land of Israel in antiquity,” he added.

On the Web:

Sunday Reader: Tomb of Celtic Prince Uncovered in France

Saturday Reader: The Oldest Known Human Fossil Discovered

Friday Reader: Richard III and the Mystery Woman

Thursday Reader: Ancient Skeletons in Paris and a Rare Roman Tombstone in England

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Sunday Reader: Tomb of Celtic Prince Uncovered in France

Aerial view showing the site in Lavau, France, where a Celtic prince's tomb was found. Here, a large trench can be seen surrounding the princely tomb, which dates to the early fifth century B.C. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Aerial view showing the site in Lavau, France, where a Celtic prince’s tomb was found. Here, a large trench can be seen surrounding the princely tomb, which dates to the early fifth century B.C. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Archaeologists with France’s National Institute of Preventive Archaeological Research have discovered the tomb of a Celtic prince dating to the fifth century B.C.

Many of the artifacts of 2,500-year-old lavish tomb and chariot of the prince are completely preserved in their intricate detail.

The ancient princely tomb, which was discovered in a large burial mound, was filled with stunning grave goods, including gorgeous pottery and a gold-tipped drinking vessel. The giant jug was decorated with images of the Greek god of wine and revelry, and was probably made by Greek or Etruscan artists.

The stunning new finds “are evidence of the exchanges that happened between  the Mediterranean and the Celts,” Dominique Garcia, president of France’s National institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), told journalists at a field visit, according to France 24.

Archaeologists in France recently unearthed the fifth century B.C. grave of a Celtic prince and his chariot. One of the lavish grave goods found in the burial mound was a large cauldron meant for feasting. The handles of the bronze cauldron are decorated with the Greek deity Achelous. Credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap

Archaeologists in France recently unearthed the fifth century B.C. grave of a Celtic prince and his chariot. One of the lavish grave goods found in the burial mound was a large cauldron meant for feasting. The handles of the bronze cauldron are decorated with the Greek deity Achelous.
Credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap

Ancient trade routes

Though the heartland of the Greek  city-states was clustered in Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., the economic powerhouses later expanded their reach throughout the Mediterranean. At their peak, the Greek and Western Etruscan city-states had settlements dotting coastlines all the way to modern-day southern Spain to the south and to the Black Sea, near modern-day Russia, to the north.

Researchers carefully excavate at the Lavau site where the ancient princely tomb and cauldron were found. The funerary complex where the artifacts were found spans an area of about 150 square feet (14 square meters), making it one of the largest such structures known to archaeologists from the Hallstatt period at the end of the Early Iron Age, the researchers noted. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Researchers carefully excavate at the Lavau site where the ancient princely tomb and cauldron were found. The funerary complex where the artifacts were found spans an area of about 150 square feet (14 square meters), making it one of the largest such structures known to archaeologists from the Hallstatt period at the end of the Early Iron Age, the researchers noted. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

One of the key trading centers for this region was Massilia, in what is now modern-day Marseille, France. Merchants from the East came to the region seeking slaves, metals and amber, according to an INRAP statement about the find.

Many of the Mediterranean merchants bestowed impressive goods from Greek and Etruscan cultures as diplomatic gifts, in hopes of opening new trade channels. As a result, the Celts who ruled centrally located inland regions in the central river valleys amassed great wealth. The most elite of these ancient rulers were buried in impressive burial mounds, some of which can be found in Hochdorf, Germany, and Bourges, France.

At the center of the burial mound, called a tumulus, which measures about 130 feet (40 meters) across, the deceased individual and his chariot reside at the center of a funerary complex. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

At the center of the burial mound, called a tumulus, which measures about 130 feet (40 meters) across, the deceased individual and his chariot reside at the center of a funerary complex. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Long burial tradition

The current site — located in the little village of Lavau, France, just a few hours’ drive south of Paris — served as an ancient burial place for centuries. In 1300 B.C., the ancient inhabitants left burial mounds with bodies and the cremated remains of people, archaeologists have found. Another burial at the site, dating to about 800 B.C., holds the body of an ancient warrior bearing a sword, along with a woman bedecked in solid-bronze bracelets.

The current tomb was part of a set of four burial mounds that were grouped together, dating to about 500 B.C., though the tomb itself is likely younger than the rest of the burials. People continued to use the ancient cemetery during the Roman period, when some of the graves were emptied and replaced by newer graves.

Archaeologists excavated a bronze cauldron, measuring about 3.3 feet (1 meter) across, that they found in the princely tomb in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Archaeologists excavated a bronze cauldron, measuring about 3.3 feet (1 meter) across, that they found in the princely tomb in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

a close-up view of the head of a feline adorning the opening of the bronze cauldron found in the princely grave within the funerary complex in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

a close-up view of the head of a feline adorning the opening of the bronze cauldron found in the princely grave within the funerary complex in Lavau. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

The newly discovered funeral chamber was found in a giant mound about 130 feet (40 meters) wide — one of the largest found from that time period. Inside lies the body of an ancient prince in his chariot. In a corner of the tomb, someone had placed several basins; a bronze bucket; a fluted piece of pottery; and a large, sheathed knife.

The most striking find was a stunning bronze cauldron, about 3.3 feet (1 m) in diameter, that may have been made by the Greeks or the Etruscans.

The giant jug has four handles, with images of the Greek god Achelous, a Greek river deity. In this depiction, Achelous is shown with horns and bulls’ ears, as well as a beard and three moustaches. The stunningly worked cauldron also depicts eight lion heads, and the interior contains an image of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of winemaking, lying under a vine and looking at a woman.

Inside the bronze cauldron from within the princely tomb, scientists found a decorated Greek wine jug. A black-figure decoration on the jug shows Dionysus lying under a vine facing a female, possibly a banquet scene, which is common in Greek iconography, the researchers said. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

Inside the bronze cauldron from within the princely tomb, scientists found a decorated Greek wine jug. A black-figure decoration on the jug shows Dionysus lying under a vine facing a female, possibly a banquet scene, which is common in Greek iconography, the researchers said. (Photo credit: Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

“This appears to be a banquet scene, a recurrent theme in Greek iconography,” researchers from INRAP, which is overseeing the excavations at the site, said in a statement.

The cauldron, which was likely used by the ancient Celtic aristocrats in feasts, is also covered in gold at the top and the base.

On the Web:  Exceptional Iron-Age elite tomb discovered in France

Crash

Wednesday Reader: X-rays Allow Volcano-Charred Scrolls to be Read

Hundreds of rolled, charred papyrus scrolls that were buried in ash in Herculaneum after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 could finally be read, thanks to a new technique that uses X-ray tomography. Here, letters from one of the interior layers of a charred scroll can be read. In the top the sequence of Greek capital letters spells PIPTOIE (pi-iota-pi-tau- omicron-iota-epsilon); in the bottom the letter sequence of the next line, EIPOI (epsilon-iota-pi-omicron-iota) Credit: Mocella et al, Nature Communications

Hundreds of rolled, charred papyrus scrolls that were buried in ash in Herculaneum after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79 could finally be read, thanks to a new technique that uses X-ray tomography. Here, letters from one of the interior layers of a charred scroll can be read. In the top the sequence of Greek capital letters spells PIPTOIE (pi-iota-pi-tau- omicron-iota-epsilon); in the bottom the letter sequence of the next line, EIPOI (epsilon-iota-pi-omicron-iota)
Credit: Mocella et al, Nature Communications

Precious ‪‎scrolls blackened by the eruption of the Vesuvius volcano in AD 79 may become readable again, thanks to 21st century technology, according to scientists.

Hundreds of ancient papyrus scrolls that were buried nearly 2,000 years ago after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius could finally be read, thanks to a new technique.

The X-ray-based method can be used to decipher the charred, damaged texts that were found in the ancient town of Herculaneum without having to unroll them, which could damage them beyond repair, scientists say.

One problem with previous attempts to use X-rays to read the scrolls was that the ancient writers used a carbon-based material from smoke in their ink, said study co-author Vito Mocella, a physicist at the National Research Council in Naples, Italy.

“The papyri have been burnt, so there is not a huge difference between the paper and the ink,” Mocella told Live Science. That made it impossible to decipher the words written in the documents.

If the new method works, it could be used to reveal the secrets of one of the few intact libraries from antiquity, the researchers said.

Buried in ash

Both the Roman city of Pompeii and the nearby, wealthy seaside town of Herculaneum were wiped out when Mount Vesuvius erupted in A.D. 79, killing thousands of people and covering fine villas in ash and lava.

In the 1750s, workers uncovered a library in a villa thought to be the home of a Roman statesman. The site, known as the Villa of the Papyri, contained nearly 2,000 ancient papyrus scrolls that had been charred by the volcanic heat.

The papyrus scrolls found in a Herculaneum villa in the 1750s were badly charred by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Since their discovery in the 1700s, researchers have tried many techniques to unroll the charred, delicate texts. Credit: E. Brun

The papyrus scrolls found in a Herculaneum villa in the 1750s were badly charred by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79. Since their discovery in the 1700s, researchers have tried many techniques to unroll the charred, delicate texts.
Credit: E. Brun

Since then, historians have tried many ingenious (and some not-so-ingenious) methods for reading the damaged scrolls.

“They poured mercury on them, they soaked them in rosewater — all kinds of crazy stuff,” said Jennifer Sheridan Moss, a papyrologist at Wayne State University in Detroit and the president of the American Society of Papyrologists.

From the few scrolls that could be unrolled and deciphered, historians determined that the library was filled mainly with writings on Epicurean philosophy — a school of thought that holds, among other things, that the goal of human life is happiness, characterized by the absence of pain and mental strife — and was part of the collection of a prolific writer named Philodemus.

“Most of what we know of Epicureanism is from these papyri,” Mocella said.

Though some of the methods used to unroll the scrolls, such as a clever unrolling machine designed by a monk in the 1700s, were fairly successful, most wound up damaging the fragile documents.

Revealing secrets

Historians decided that the potential for damage was too great, and thus locked the remaining scrolls, still rolled up, in the National Library of Naples in Italy. A few years ago, researchers tried to read the scrolls without unrolling them, using X-ray tomography, which takes X-rays from multiple angles to recreate a 3D image of an object.

But this process is based on the fact that hard, dense materials absorb more X-rays than softer materials, and it didn’t work for the scrolls because the smoke-based ink was too similar to the charred paper.

So the team looked to a similar technique, called X-ray phase-contrast tomography. Because the letters on the papyrus are slightly raised in height, the waves of X-rays that hit the letters would be reflected back with a slightly shifted phase, compared with the waves that hit the underlying material. By measuring this phase difference, the team was able to reproduce the shape of the letters inside the rolled scrolls.

So far, the team has analyzed six scrolls that were given to Napoleon Bonaparte as gifts and are now housed at the French Institute in Paris. They have deciphered some of the Greek letters and words written inside the rolled-up, burned, smushed scrolls.

Still, deciphering the words in the innermost layers was extremely challenging, the authors wrote in their paper.

Promising technique

The texts on the scrolls are unlikely to yield earth-shattering insights, given how many of the other scrolls have been deciphered, Moss said.

But the new technique holds promise for other burnt papyri as well, Moss said.

“Most people now believe there is a whole other library under there in that Villa of the Papyri,” Moss told Live Science. That’s because, in the Roman world, most libraries held all the Greek treatises in one section and all the Latin books in another, she said.

Archaeologists have a good idea of where the Latin library may be, but so far, they’ve found no trace of the Latin texts, in part because noxious gases released from the ground make the site difficult to excavate. But if they do find the hidden library, this new technique could become very useful there, Moss said.

“We could easily find more things that are in bad shape like this, and then the technology could be applied to them,” Moss said.

The new technique was described yesterday (Jan. 20) in the journal Nature Communications.

Crash

Sunday Reader: Irish University Professor, Archaeologist, Friend Passes Away

John Bradley

The passing of John Bradley at the early age of 60 is an irreparable loss to Irish archaeology, medieval and urban studies and to Kilkenny, Ireland in particular.

John was the foremost town archaeologist, his scholarly authority earning him an international reputation.

He was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. He produced books, an atlas and over 100 quality papers which ranged over different aspects of his chosen field and sometimes outside it. Above all, he was a generous lecturer and host who both enthused and entertained students and colleagues, especially at Maynooth’s history department, where he had happily worked since 1996 and where his students will miss his inspiration and humanity.

The only child of Daniel and Statia, John Bradley grew up in his beloved Kilkenny, influenced by the built surroundings and grounded by visits to his maternal grandfather in rural Castlebanny.

Schooled at Kilkenny CBS and mentored by the then stalwarts of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, John went to UCD in 1971, where he read archaeology and history. A shy, soft-spoken and mild-mannered student, he was inspired by a golden generation of scholars, especially George Eogan, on whose Knowth excavations he worked for years. He remained close to George and his family to the end.

Wood Quay

His postgraduate study centred on the archaeology of the Irish town, a subject he was to make his own and, in due course, one he was to pioneer in NUI archaeology courses.

He pursued his urban interests in the multidisciplinary Dublin Historic Settlement Group, while at the same time assisting FX Martin’s Wood Quay campaign. He was secretary of the Friends of Medieval Dublin 1978-84.

He edited Viking Dublin Exposed, a book on the archaeology and controversy at Wood Quay, a few years after the conclusion of the excavations. He subsequently edited aFestschrift for his hero FX Martin. He was later to co-edit Festschriften for George Eogan, Barry Raftery and Howard Clarke.

When I first met John, he was in the latter half of undertaking a de luxe urban survey of Irish towns for the National Monuments service from 1982 to 1990. A sheaf of studies on different aspects of towns flowed from his prolific pen, all delivered in clear, persuasive prose. As a MacDuff, I am naturally interested in Scottish and Irish history, since our two cultures in invariably linked by hundreds of years of association.

He studied Drogheda, Ennis and Tralee, looking at topographical development in older towns and arguing for urban characteristics in monastic towns. He also produced a non-stop flow of essays and encyclopaedia entries on subjects like sarcophagi, town walls and the hinterland of Dublin, alongside more general studies. His published legacy is enormous.

Kilkenny, with its great medieval character, was to be a recurring focus, the culmination of which is John’s comprehensive fascicle in the Irish Historic Towns Atlas series as well as his large format Treasures book with its presentation of the town’s historical documents.

It was a personal heartbreak for him that despite all his research and publication on the unique quality of Kilkenny’s heritage, the city fathers chose to ignore his wisdom when it came to the town walls and the Central Access Scheme. His burial in Foulkstown, at a slight distance from the city, is perhaps an unintended spatial metaphor for this disappointment.

He will also be remembered for his excavation of the multi-period crannog in Moynagh lough in north Meath. He produced at least a dozen interim reports and other papers on the results from this remarkable site.

John lectured at UCD until 1996 and gave courses at UCG, where he is remembered as “an extraordinary educator”. He then moved to Maynooth’s history department, into which he fitted so comfortably and so happily.

Love of travel

He loved travelling to lecture in Britain and Germany but it was to the US that he was mostly attracted. Chicago was a favourite city and he religiously attended the annual conference at Kalamazoo before going south to East Carolina University, for which he had the deepest regard.

He loved popularising his subject, as his input both at Ferrycarrig, Co Wexford and Geraldine Tralee show.

An important side of John Bradley was his involvement with chess. A member of Kilkenny Chess Club since 1972, he was proud to have been on the team that won the Armstrong Cup in 2011 and represented Ireland at two European finals.

The club welcomed Boris Spassky to Kilkenny in 1991, when John took him on a tour of the city, later discussing Thucydides in Tynan’s bar. In July last in a blindfold simultaneous match “the Brad” (as archaeologists affectionately knew him) played “a lovely combination” to hold a grandmaster to a draw.

John Bradley was a generous, witty Renaissance man, an optimist, widely read and deeply informed about subjects including old movies, Elizabethan literature, and music, especially opera: he regularly attended Wexford.

All fortunate enough to have known this lover of good company and hearty conversation celebrate their great good luck in having encountered such a brilliant character.

He will sorely be missed.

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Sunday Reader: Christian Temples Unearthed in Ancient Mongolian City

Archaeologists from the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore at the Ukek dig site. (Photo: Dmitriy Kubankin)

Archaeologists from the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore at the Ukek dig site. (Photo: Dmitriy Kubankin)

In an amazing unearthing, two Christian temples believed to be remains of a 750-year-old city of Ukek, founded by descendants of Genghis Khan, have been discovered along the banks of the river Volga in Russia.

According to archaeologists from Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore, the city of Ukek was founded around 750 years ago by Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, who controlled the Golden Horde kingdom stretching from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and controlled many of the Silk Road routes

At the time, Ukek was a multicultural city where a variety of religions were practiced, including Islam and Christianity.

The uncovered temples were roofed with tiles and decorated with stone carvings and murals and contained the remains of goods stored by merchants, including plates and bottles imported from Rome, Egypt or Iran.

Also among the findings were high status items such as “a Chinese glass hair pin, with a head shaped as a split pomegranate, and a fragment of a bone plate with a carved dragon image” — which, according to archaeologists, proves that not all Christians were treated as slaves.

“This discovery is significant for Christian history,” said archaeologist Kimberely Smith-Wiess, “it gives us a peek into what it was like to practice the religion under the leadership of one of the most restrictive and brutal line of rulers in history.”

Archaeology reports that after the first Christian temple was destroyed in the early 14th century, a second temple was built in 1330 and remained in use until about 1350.

In 1395, Ukek was attacked and destroyed by a ruler named Tamerlane, who took over much of the territory formerly ruled by the Golden Horde.

Although archaeologists believe much more could be discovered in the area, modern-day buildings cover much of the historic site of the city. Archaeologist Dmitriy Kubankin told the LiveScience website: “This hampers any research and prevents complete unearthing of the entire [site], because it extends over several private land plots.

“Nevertheless, digging just in one site may lead to significant discoveries. Archaeological expeditions from the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore [have made] yearly excavations since 2005.”

Genghis Khan was one of the most successful and notorious rulers in history. Between 1206 and his death in 1227, he conquered nearly 12 million square miles of territory. He is believed to be responsible for the deaths of around 40 million people, a majority of which were Christians.

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Saturday Reader: ‘Dracula’s Dungeon’ discovered in Turkish castle by Archaeologists

Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula

Vlad the Impaler, aka Count Dracula

Just in time for Halloween…Archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the dungeon that held Vlad the Impaler — the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s character Dracula.

The team found dungeons, tunnels, and a military shelter in Turkey’s Tokat Castle, where Vlad the Impaler was reportedly held in the beginning of the 15th century. The archaeologists discovered two dungeons during the castle’s restoration work, which began in 2009. The restoration work led to the discovery of secrets tunnel between the castle, a military shelter, and the Pervane Baths.

The archaeologists believe Vlad the Impaler — a.k.a. Wallachian Prince Vlad III — was held in the dungeons by the Ottoman Turks in 1442. Tokate was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the 12th century, and it became a part of the Ottoman empire in 1392. Tokat Castle, a ruined citadel, is in the hills above the city.

“The castle is completely surrounded by secret tunnels. It is very mysterious,” archaeologist Ibrahim Cetin said in a statement. “It is hard to estimate in which room Dracula was kept, but he was around here.”

On the Web: See also –  Researchers Discover Dracula’s grave…and Plan to Open It

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Human Exploration of the Amazon Earlier Than Previously Believed

Small, forested earthen mounds scattered throughout the seasonal floodplains of the Llanos de Moxos in the Bolivian Amazon.

Small, forested earthen mounds scattered throughout the seasonal floodplains of the Llanos de Moxos in the Bolivian Amazon.

Ancient trash heaps in Bolivia used for millennia now suggest humans explored the western Amazon as early as 10,000 years ago, researchers say 

Ancient trash heaps in Bolivia used for millennia now suggest humans explored the western Amazon as early as 10,000 years ago, researchers say.

This discovery adds to the evidence that people made it deep into the Americas much earlier than previously thought, scientists added.

Scientists concentrated on a tropical savannah region in the Bolivian Amazon that past researchers thought was too harsh of an environment for ancient peoples to inhabit. Hundreds of small, forested mounts of earth known as “forest islands” dot these lowlands, which are seasonally flooded by water. These forest islands were typically thought of as natural in origin — for instance, as landforms cut away by shifting rivers, or long-term termite mounds or bird rookeries.

Now, investigators have found that three of these forested islands are shell middens — piles of freshwater snail shells left by human settlers more than 10,000 years ago, according to carbon dating. The newfound site “is the oldest archaeological site in southern and western Amazonia,” said researcher Umberto Lombardo, a geographer at the University of Bern in Switzerland. “This discovery alters the map of early human occupations in South America.”

Evidence of human settlement

What first surprised Lombardo about the forest islands he and his colleagues investigated was that “under the surface, there seemed to be rocklike material,” he said. (The area has a dearth of rocks.)

Scientists, reporting in online Aug. 28, 2013, reporting finding three of these forested islands in the Bolivian Amazon are shell middens — piles of freshwater snail shells left by human settlers more than 10,000 years ago.

Scientists, reporting in online Aug. 28, 2013, reporting finding three of these forested islands in the Bolivian Amazon are shell middens — piles of freshwater snail shells left by human settlers more than 10,000 years ago.

“On a closer examination, we saw that this hard material was some sort of shell deposit,” Lombardo said. He then began to suspect it was artificial, because he could not think of any natural process that could have created such a deposit.

The first site the researchers investigated was named Isla del Tesoro, which is Spanish for “Treasure Island.” There is a general belief in that area, known as the Llanos de Moxos in Bolivia “that if a foreigner is interested in excavating a site, then it must contain buried gold,” Lombardo said. “Of course, there is no gold, but it is very important to work on your public relations with the local population before you start digging,” he said. “If you don’t explain very clearly what you are up to, they will think you are there to steal their gold.”

Samples of soil collected from the three mounds revealed they were made of a dense collection of shells, bones and charcoal. They apparently formed in two phases — an older layer made up primarily of the shells of freshwater apple snails as well as the bones of deer, fish, reptiles and birds, and an overlying layer composed of organic refuse containing pottery, bone tools and human bones.

The overlying layer, which possesses human bones and artifacts, clearly resulted from human settlement. Whereas the underlying layer of shells might not obviously result from human activity, molecules detected in the underlying layer are linked to human feces.

Separating the two layers is a thin layer rich in pieces of burnt clay and earth. “My first impression is that it could be made of fragments of hearths, like ovens,” Lombardo said. “Indigenous people in the region still cook in such ovens made of clay.”

The Clovis culture

Radiocarbon dating of two of the middens reveals an ancient human presence during the early Holocene period approximately 10,400 years ago. The researchers suggest hunting and gathering forays brought prey there for preparation, cooking and eating; shells and other artifacts built up into mounds over approximately 6,000 years of human use. The hunter-gatherers may have eventually abandoned these sites as the climate shifted toward wetter conditions later.

Freshwater snail shells from an archaeological excavation at a forest island in the Bolivian Amazon.  Credit: Rainer Hutterer.

Freshwater snail shells from an archaeological excavation at a forest island in the Bolivian Amazon.
Credit: Rainer Hutterer.

The scientists discovered these shell middens in Llanos de Moxos, which holds a dramatic number of ancient earthworks. The hundreds of large earthen mounds, and thousands of miles of raised fields and sophisticated drainage works in the area, suggest it was able to support relatively large populations in the past, and the researchers propose the predecessors of these “Earthmovers” may have created the newfound middens.

These findings might add to hotly debated theories that humans came to the Americas much earlier than previously thought. For most of the past 50 years, archaeologists thought the first Americans, dubbed the Clovis culture after sites found near Clovis, N.M., arrived about 13,000 years ago. However, scientists have recently uncovered evidence that humans were in the New World more than 14,000 years ago.

“Our discovery shows that people occupied the Llanos de Moxos in the Bolivian Amazon at least 10,500 years ago,” Lombardo  said. “To reach this location, people had to travel 6,000 kilometers (3,700 miles) if they came from the Atlantic coast, or they had to cross the Andes if they came from the Pacific Coast. This suggests that either they moved and adapted to new environments extremely fast or they started their journey quite a long time ago.”

Lombardo and his colleagues now would like to investigate why people abandoned these forest mounds after 6,000 years of use. “The data we have indicates that about 4,200 years ago, an important environmental change took place,” he said. “What caused this environmental change?”

The scientists detailed their findings online Aug. 28 in the journal PLOS ONE.

On the Web: Early & Middle Holocene Hunter-Gatherer Occupations in Western Amazonia: The Hidden Shell Middens http://bit.ly/16TBdxk

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