Thursday Reader: NASA’s Mercury Messenger Says Goodbye

NASA's Mercury MESSENGER Probe

NASA’s Mercury MESSENGER Probe

The robotic spacecraft MESSENGER has run out of fuel. With no way to make major adjustments to its orbit around the planet Mercury, the probe will smash into the surface at more than 8,750 miles per hour (3.91 kilometers per second). The impact will add a new crater to the planet’s scarred face that engineers estimate will be as wide as 52 feet (16 meters).

The end is likely to come at about 3:30 p.m. EDT on April 30, 2015.

Unmasking the Secrets of Mercury Scientists have worked to learn more about the minerals and surface processes on Mercury using instruments on the MESSENGER spacecraft to diligently collect single tracks of spectral surface measurements since entering Mercury orbit on March 17, 2011. The track coverage is now extensive enough that the spectral properties of both broad terrains and small, distinct features such as pyroclastic vents and fresh craters can be studied. The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft's seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the solar system's innermost planet. In the mission's more than four years of orbital operations, MESSENGER has acquired over 250,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER's highly successful orbital mission is about to come to an end, as the spacecraft runs out of propellant and the force of solar gravity causes it to impact the surface of Mercury near the end of April 2015. Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

Unmasking the Secrets of Mercury
Scientists have worked to learn more about the minerals and surface processes on Mercury using instruments on the MESSENGER spacecraft to diligently collect single tracks of spectral surface measurements since entering Mercury orbit on March 17, 2011. The track coverage is now extensive enough that the spectral properties of both broad terrains and small, distinct features such as pyroclastic vents and fresh craters can be studied.
The MESSENGER spacecraft is the first ever to orbit the planet Mercury, and the spacecraft’s seven scientific instruments and radio science investigation are unraveling the history and evolution of the solar system’s innermost planet. In the mission’s more than four years of orbital operations, MESSENGER has acquired over 250,000 images and extensive other data sets. MESSENGER’s highly successful orbital mission is about to come to an end, as the spacecraft runs out of propellant and the force of solar gravity causes it to impact the surface of Mercury near the end of April 2015.
Image Credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Carnegie Institution of Washington

None of this is a surprise to MESSENGER’s handlers on Earth, who have managed a highly successful mission during a flight of nearly 11 years. The intrepid MESSENGER (MErcury Surface, Space ENvironment, GEochemistry, and Ranging) spacecraft was launched on August 3, 2004. It embarked on an odyssey of nearly seven years and more than eight billion kilometers that included 15 trips around the sun, along with several gravity-induced speed boost flybys of Earth, Venus, and Mercury itself. It finally slipped into orbit around Mercury on March 18, 2011, the first mission to ever do so.

The mission plan called for MESSENGER to spend one Earth year at Mercury, but when early findings raised new questions, NASA granted two mission extensions for a total of three additional years. Mission engineers also found ways to save fuel, such as maneuvering the spacecraft with a technique called solar sailing, which allowed an extra month of operations in orbit.

The only previous expedition to see the planet up close was Mariner 10 in the 1970s. It provided valuable scouting reports, but since it only flew by, it left large gaps in the images of Mercury’s surface. MESSENGER not only filled in those blank places on the map, its suite of powerful instruments delved deep into the small world’s many mysteries.

Mercury is not the garden spot of the solar system. It’s a small, airless sphere, only slightly larger than Earth’s moon, with stark and foreboding landscapes. Daytime temperatures can reach about 800 degrees Fahrenheit (430 degrees Celsius) and drop to -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-180 degrees Celsius) at night.

But MESSENGER brought to light the intricacies of an intriguing world. The mission discovered a surface rich in diverse chemistry, including volatiles. It sensed a bizarrely offset magnetic field. It photographed strange “hollows” where material seems to have boiled away into space under the scorching sun. It mapped vast volcanic deposits, found that the entire planet has shrunk by as much as 7 kilometers in radius, and, of all things, uncovered deposits of water ice in the depths of polar craters where the sun never shines.

When MESSENGER disappears behind Mercury’s horizon for the last time, no spacecraft will scan its strange surface until the European Space Agency’s BepiColombo mission arrives in the 2020s. But for many years to come, planetary explorers will be pouring over the gigabytes of information that MESSENGER sent home.

On the Web: 

Messenger Mission Pages

Mercury Messenger

Journey’s End: Follow along with MESSENGER during its final orbits, and count down its top discoveries and engineering breakthroughs.

Facts About the First World: Pay a virtual visit to Mercury and see some of the best images of this odd and intriguing world.

The Trailblazer: Meet Mariner 10, the first spacecraft to explore Mercury.

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Thursday Reader: Revision of Anne Frank’s Death

Anne Frank (1942)

New research sets Anne Frank’s death earlier.

For 70 years, Anne Frank was believed to have died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen just two weeks before allied forces liberated the Nazi death camp on April 15, 1945.

This week, however, new research released by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam concludes that the 15-year-old Jewish diarist and her older sister, Margot, more likely died in February, not on March 31. The Dutch government fixed that date at the end of World War II after the Red Cross concluded Anne and her sister died sometime between March 1 and March 31.

The researchers based their new findings on eyewitness testimonies of survivors and the archives of the Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Red Cross and the International Tracing Service.

“It is unlikely that they were still alive in March; their deaths must have occurred in February 1945,” the Anne Frank House said.

Anne Frank, left, plays with her friend Hanneli Goslar, right, on the Merwedeplein square in Amsterdam in 1941. Shortly before Anne Frank and her family went into hiding from the Nazis, she gave away some of her toys to non-Jewish neighborhood girlfriend Toosje Kupers for safekeeping. The toys have now been recovered and Anne's tin of marbles will go on display for the first time this week at an art gallery in Rotterdam, the Anne Frank House Museum says.  Photo: AP

Anne Frank, left, plays with her friend Hanneli Goslar, right, on the Merwedeplein square in Amsterdam in 1941.
Shortly before Anne Frank and her family went into hiding from the Nazis, she gave away some of her toys to non-Jewish neighborhood girlfriend Toosje Kupers for safekeeping. The toys have now been recovered and Anne’s tin of marbles will go on display for the first time this week at an art gallery in Rotterdam, the Anne Frank House Museum says.
Photo: AP

The exact date of their deaths remains unknown.

“One day they simply weren’t there anymore,” one camp survivor who was friends with the girls told the researchers.

Annelies Marie Frank’s famous diary tells of hiding with her family and other Jews in secret rooms behind a bookcase in the house that is now her museum. After two years of hiding, they were betrayed to the Nazi occupiers, and she, Margot and their mother were shipped by train to Auschwitz-Birkenau in early September 1944. Two months later, Anne and Margot were transferred to Bergen-Belsen.

In early December, Nanaette Blitz, a former classmate who was transferred to the overcrowded camp, told of finding Anne, saying it was a miracle they recognized one another.

“She was no more than a skeleton by then,” Blitz recounted. “She was wrapped in a blanket; she couldn’t bear to wear her clothes anymore because they were crawling with lice.” Lice are the main carrier of typhus, the symptoms of which include severe headaches, muscle pain, high fever, followed by skin rash and delirium.

The last time Blitz saw her was January 1945, when typhus was epidemic in the women’s camp. By that time, the researchers write, Anne Frank “was clearly already gravely ill,” and Margot “was in an even worse condition than her sister.”

Other inmates, including Auguste van Pels, who had hidden with the Franks, reported similar observations of the girls’ health before they were transferred to Raghun, another slave-labor camp, on Feb. 7, 1945.

“In fact, this is where their trail runs cold,” the researchers write.

AF3Based on those eyewitness accounts and because Anne and Margot were already frail when they arrived at Bergen-Belsen, “it is unlikely that they survived until the end of March. In view of this, the date of their death is more likely to be sometime in February.”

The earlier date lays to rest the notion that Anne and her sister were only days from being rescued when they died, researcher Erika Prins told the Guardian.

Symbolic gravestone of Anne Frank at the site of Belsen Concentration Camp,  Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Anne-Frank-Platz.

Symbolic gravestone of Anne Frank at the site of Belsen Concentration Camp, Bergen-Belsen Memorial, Anne-Frank-Platz.

“When you say they died at the end of March, it gives you a feeling that they died just before liberation,” Prins said. “Well, that’s not true anymore.”

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Thursday Reader: Medieval Remedy Combats A Modern Plague

The thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon recipe that kills MRSA (Image: The British Library Board (Royal 12 D xvii))

The thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon recipe that kills MRSA (Image: The British Library Board (Royal 12 D xvii))

A one thousand year old Anglo-Saxon remedy for eye infections which originates from a manuscript in the British Library has been found to kill the modern-day superbug MRSA in an unusual research collaboration at The University of Nottingham.

Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together… take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel…

So goes a thousand-year-old Anglo-Saxon recipe to vanquish a stye, an infected eyelash follicle.

The medieval medics might have been on to something. A modern-day recreation of this remedy seems to alleviate infections caused by the bacteria that are usually responsible for styes. The work might ultimately help create drugs for hard-to-treat skin infections.

The project was born when Freya Harrison, a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon scholar. They decided to test a recipe from an Old English medical compendium calledBald’s Leechbook, housed in the British Library.

Some of the ingredients, such as copper from the brass vessel, kill bacteria grown in a dish – but it was unknown if they would work on a real infection or how they would combine.

Careful Collection

Sourcing authentic ingredients was a major challenge, says Harrison. They had to hope for the best with the leeks and garlic because modern crop varieties are likely to be quite different to ancient ones – even those branded as heritage. For the wine they used an organic vintage from a historic English vineyard.

As “brass vessels” would be hard to sterilise – and expensive – they used glass bottles with squares of brass sheet immersed in the mixture. Bullocks gall was easy, though, as cow’s bile salts are sold as a supplement for people who have had their gall bladders removed.

After nine days of stewing, the potion had killed all the soil bacteria introduced by the leek and garlic. “It was self-sterilising,” says Harrison. “That was the first inkling that this crazy idea just might have some use.”

A side effect was that it made the lab smell of garlic. “It was not unpleasant,” says Harrison. “It’s all edible stuff. Everyone thought we were making lunch.”

The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital superbug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria.Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps.

A Loathsome Slime

Unexpectedly, the ingredients had little effect unless they were all brought together. “The big challenge is trying to find out why that combination works,” says Steve Diggle, another of the researchers. Do the components work in synergy or do they trigger the formation of new potent compounds?

Using exactly the right method also seems to be crucial, says Harrison, as another group tried to recreate the remedy in 2005 and found that their potion failed to kill bacteria grown in a dish. “With the nine-day waiting period, the preparation turned into a kind of loathsome, odorous slime,” says Michael Drout of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.

If the 9th Century recipe does lead to new drugs, they might be useful against MRSA skin infections such as those that cause foot ulcers in people with diabetes. “These are usually antibiotic-resistant,” says Diggle. However, he doesn’t recommend people try this at home.

It wouldn’t be the first modern drug to be derived from ancient manuscripts – the widely used antimalarial drug artemisinin was discovered by scouring historical Chinese medical texts.

Harrison presented the research at the Society for General Microbiology conference in Birmingham, UK, this week.

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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

london2

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.

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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

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

paris

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV

Hundreds of Skeletons Found Under a Paris Supermarket

Workers digging underneath a Paris supermarket have made an unsettling discovery: as many as 200 skeletons.

The grocery store, Monoprix, was doing some renovations in January and workers removing an underground wall discovered the bones. The area was apparently part of a cemetery for the Hospital of the Trinity, according to France’s BFM-TV. The cemetery operated from the 12th century to around the 17th century.

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV.

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV.

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV

Researchers and archaeologists are conducting carbon dating and DNA testing to try to figure out when and why the people died, the affiliate said. It’s clear they all died around the same time, lead archaeologist Isabelle Abadie told BFM-TV, because of the way the bodies were neatly arranged.

“What’s surprising is the bodies were not thrown in (the graves) but were carefully placed there in an organized manner. The individuals, men, women, and children, were placed head-to-toe,” to fit as many as possible in the grave, Abadie explained.

The bodies were found at the site of an ancient cemetery attached to the Trinity Hospital, which was founded in the 13th century. Paris suffered several plague epidemics during the times that the hospital was in operation, as well as a smallpox outbreak in the 17th century, not to mention Europe’s Black Death in the 1300’s.

Though it’s not clear exactly how these ancient people died, the trove of bodies could reveal insights into how people in the Middle Ages buried their dead during epidemics or famine, the researchers involved said.

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV.

Photo courtesy of BFM-TV.

Archaeologists working the site have found eight common graves in an area that is 100 square meters, with seven of the graves containing between five and 20 skeletons each and another site with more than 150 skeletons, BFM-TV said. The groupings suggest that whole families were buried together.

Abadie told BFM-TV that when the cemetery was shut down centuries ago, most of the remains were moved to the Catacombs of Paris.

“But apparently the job was not done well,” she said.

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The Latin inscription memorializes the death of a 27-year-old woman. Credit: Cotswold Archaeology

Eighteen Thousand year Old Tombstone Found in England

A 1,800-year-old tombstone was discovered at a Roman cemetery in England this week. Because of its inscription, archaeologists know who was buried in the grave: a 27-year-old woman named Bodica.

“It’s incredibly rare,” Neil Holbrook, of Cotswold Archaeology, told BBC News.

For the last two months, Holbrook’s team has been excavating a Roman cemetery just outside the ancient city walls of Cirencester, a town in Gloucestershire, to make way for the construction of a new office park. They documented about 55 graves — some of which contained wooden coffins and copper bracelets — but only one was covered up with a toppled-over stone slab. 

The discovery comes on the heels of another Roman cemetery being found in the spring of 2013 in Leicester, England.

The excavators waited until February 25th to lift up the stone, discovering it was indeed a tombstone. The grave marker is among just nine other Roman tombstones found in Cirencester and about 300 found in the rest of Britain.

The grave dates to the second century, at a time when Cirencester was the second-largest city in Britain after London. The stone has very finely carved decorative details, Holbrook said, suggesting that Bodica had money or was married to someone with money. Inside the pediment, there’s a sculpture of the Roman god Oceanus, perhaps to mark the “watery journey” between life and death, Holbrook said.

The Latin text reads “D.M. BODICACIA CONIUNX VIXIT ANNO S XXVII,” or, roughly, “To the spirits of the dead, Bodica, loyal wife, lived 27 years.”

But the inscription has some archaeologists scratching their heads.

“The lettering and the writing is very poorly done — perhaps by someone who was illiterate,” Holbrook said.

Some letters seem to be missing, and the spelling of “Bodica” — a Celtic name that means “victory” — as “Bodicacia” is somewhat puzzling. It might be a misspelling. Maybe Bodica selected this skillfully made tombstone before her death, but when it came time to actually inscribe it, the stone fell into the hands of someone who wasn’t entirely equipped to do so. Or perhaps part of the Latin word “acacia,” meaning “ax,” was intentionally tacked onto her name to deter vandals, Holbrook said.

“We’ve only had it out of the ground 24 hours, but already it’s created a massive amount of interest and debate,” Holbrook said.

The archaeologists, who are wrapping up their excavation this week, found a skeleton associated with the grave. Eventually, an analysis of the woman’s bones should reveal more details about the woman’s life.

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Thursday Reader: 94-year-old Former Nazi SS Officer Charged with Over 3,681 Murders at Auschwitz

A man identified as Hubert Z has been charged over thousands of murders at Auschwitz. Combined images courtesy of German Nazi Hunters and the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum.

A man identified as Hubert Z has been charged over thousands of murders at Auschwitz.
Combined images courtesy of German Nazi Hunters and the Auschwitz Birkenau State Museum.

A 94-YEAR-OLD man has been charged over the murders of 3,681 people at the Auschwitz extermination camp during the Second World War.

Identified only as Hubert Z., a photo of him in his Nazi S.S. uniform – emblazoned with the death’s head skull and double-lightning insignia of the feared military group – emerged today.

According to prosecutors in the city of Schwerin, north Germany, the now elderly man was a medical officer at Auschwitz. He has been charged with complicity in the murders of 3,681 people with officials confident of a successful prosecution.

He is believed to have been an S.S. Unterscharfuehrer (junior squad leader) at the death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland where at least 1.1 million people, most of them Jewish, were systematically murdered during the Second World War.

The indictment against Hubert Z., who lives in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern – the home state of Chancellor Angela Merkel – runs to 83 pages.

It is understood he was tracked down with the aid of the Simon Wiesenthal Nazi hunting agency in Israel and the Central Authority for the Prosecution of Nazi War Crimes in Germany.

“It is our contention that he underwrote the mass murder program while in Auschwitz,” said a prosecutor.

It is known that the accused was born in the state where he lives and learned agriculture at college before he joined the S.S. in 1940.

He served as a medical orderly in the concentration camps of Sachsenhausen and Neuengamme in Germany before being sent to Auschwitz where his service records show that he commanded the S.S. medical service between 15 August and 14 September 1944. After that he worked in a sub-camp of the vast complex.

The man is believed to have been an S.S. Unterscharfuehrer (junior squad leader) Photo credit: German Nazi Hunters

The man is believed to have been an S.S. Unterscharfuehrer (junior squad leader)
Photo credit: German Nazi Hunters

He was sentenced by a Polish court in 1948 to four years imprisonment for his activities in the neighboring camp.

His lawyer, once the interior minister for former East Germany, Peter-Michael Diestel, said: “We have seen the files and can see no concrete evidence of criminal wrongdoing by our client.”

It is not clear whether he is thought to have been involved in the ghastly medical experiments that were conducted on defenseless and conscious people in Auschwitz led by Nazi ‘Angel of Death’, the camp doctor Josef Mengele.

Christoph Heubner, executive vice president of the International Auschwitz Committee, said: “For the survivors of Auschwitz this is all about justice, not revenge.  Justice has had to wait decades.”

He added: “Those perpetrators who ensured, as members of the S.S., that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death factory worked smoothly, and that the Jewish families of Europe disappeared into the gas chambers, have developed no sense of awareness of wrongdoing over the years.

“Therefore these legal processes are first and foremost an inquiry to the Germans: who actually owns your compassion?”

Last week, a 93-year-old former Auschwitz guard was charged with 170,000 murders. German officials initially turned up some 30 former Auschwitz guards, three of them women, and intended to prosecute them all. However, most have been told they can die in their beds because of their illnesses.

One who will stand trial is Oskar Groening, known as The Bookkeeper, who is now 93 and who worked at Auschwitz sorting the possessions of the doomed to send back to his S.S. masters in Germany.

He is charged with complicity in the murders of 300,000 people.

On the Web: Auschwitz suspect: 94-year-old man charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder over allegations he served as death camp medic

Related on the Web: A Mini Auschwitz Display at a U.K. Kids’ Attraction Has Been Slammed as ‘Bizarre’

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