Water level drops and 400-year-old church emerges

The remains of a mid-16th century church known as the Temple of Santiago is visible from the surface of the Grijalva River, near the town of Nueva Quechula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, Oct. 16, 2015.

The remains of a mid-16th century church known as the Temple of Santiago is visible from the surface of the Grijalva River, near the town of Nueva Quechula, in Chiapas state, Mexico, Oct. 16, 2015. (AP Photo/David von Blohn)

Huh, this wasn’t there last year—a 16th-century church emerging from the waters of a Mexican reservoir. But it actually makes sense, because drought has caused the water level to fall 82 feet in the Nezahualcoyotl reservoir, revealing a church that was flooded during construction of a dam nearly 40 years ago, the APreports.

Known as the Temple of Santiago, the building is about half-way visible in the watershed to the Grijalva river. This isn’t the first time the church has resurfaced: In fact, the water level got so low in 2002 that people could actually walk inside: “The people celebrated. They came to eat, to hang out, to do business. I sold them fried fish,” says a fisherman who’s now offering Temple of Santiago boat tours.

The church harks back to colonial times, when the Spanish friar Bartolome de las Casas showed up with a group of monks who built the Temple of Santiago, theIndependent reports.

Las Casas, the first bishop of Chiapas, initially believed in subjugating the native people, but later argued for abolishing slavery and helped persuade King Charles of Spain to grant the natives their freedom, notes Latin American History.

But when conquistadors and settlers revolted, Charles reversed much of the new legislation. As for the church, it was abandoned during plagues of the 1770s, an architect says.

Re-discovered in the 20th century, he says, it contained “a large ossuary of the victims of the plague that depopulated the area.” (In the US, drought is causing Lake Mead to give up a few secrets, too.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: 400-Year-Old Church Emerges in Reservoir

More From Newser


Originally available here

Pompeii thieves claim relics are cursed


Over the past few years, around 100 parcels containing items from the site have been sent back, often with letters of explanation saying that the troubles could be traced back to the theft at Pompeii. (Reuters)

Maybe the teen busted this summer for stealing a ceiling tile at the ancient city of Pompeii in order to buy an iphone got lucky.

According to Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, tourists who nabbed historic mementos during their trips to the Italian city have been returning them because of fears that they are cursed.

The paper says that over the past few years, around 100 parcels containing items from the site have been sent back, often with letters of explanation saying that troubles in their lives could be traced back to the theft at Pompeii.

Massimo Osanna, Pompeii’s archaeological superintendent, told the newspaper that small statues, pottery and tiles are among the items that have been sent to him.

One of these was written by a Spanish man who returned several items, including a bronze statue, because it had ruined his family.

Another came from an English woman who had inherited a stolen tile from her parents who had recently died.

“Please don’t judge them too harshly,” she wrote in her letter. “They were different times.”

It’s believed that Pompeii is cursed because the eruption of Mount Vesuvius that wiped out the city and its inhabitants occured because the gods ordered the punishment after legionaries destroyed holy buildings.

Now, Osanna is thinking about creating an exhibition of the returned artifacts and letters to tell the story behind some of the stolen pieces.

Meanwhile, last week four French tourists were charged with aggravated theft after being caught trying to steal pieces of Pompeii’s famous frescoes, La Repubblica reported.


originally available here

Humans exited Africa, and trekked to China, fossils reveal

Scientists discovered 47 teeth from modern humans in Fuyan Cave in southern China's Hunan province that date back at least 80,000 years.

Scientists discovered 47 teeth from modern humans in Fuyan Cave in southern China’s Hunan province that date back at least 80,000 years. (S. Xing and X-J. Wu)

Teeth from a cave in China suggest that modern humans lived in Asia much earlier than previously thought, and tens of thousands of years before they reached Europe, researchers say.

This discovery yields new information about the dispersal of modern humans from Africa to the rest of the world, and could shed light on how modern humans and Neanderthals interacted, the scientists added.

Modern humans first originated about 200,000 years ago in Africa. When and how the modern human lineage dispersed from Africa has long been controversial.

Previous research suggested the exodus from Africa began between 70,000 and 40,000 years ago. However, recent research hinted that modern humans might have begun their march across the globe as early as 130,000 years ago. [See Photos of Our Closest Human Ancestor]

One place that could shed light on the spread of humanity is southern China, which is dotted with fossil-rich caves. Scientists analyzed modern human teeth that they unearthed in Fuyan Cave in southern China’s Hunan province, which is part of a system of caves more than 32,300 square feet (3,000 square meters) in size.

Excavations from 2011 to 2013 yielded a trove of 47 human teeth, as well as bones from many other extinct and living animals, such as pandas, hyenas and pigs. The scientists detailed their findings in the Oct. 15 issue of the journal Nature.

The researchers found these teeth are more than 80,000 years old, and may date back as far as 120,000 years. Until now, fossils from southern China confirmed as older than 45,000 years in age that can be confidently identified as modern human in origin have been lacking.

“Our discovery, together with other research findings, suggests southern China should be the key, central area for the emergence and evolution of modern humans in East Asia,” the study’s co-lead author, Wu Liu, of China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, told Live Science.

These newfound teeth are smaller than counterparts of similar ages from Africa and elsewhere in China. Instead, they more closely resemble teeth from contemporary modern humans. This suggests different kinds of humans were living in China at the same time — archaic kinds in northern China, and ones more like modern humans in southern China.

The researchers said these findings could shed light on why modern humans made a relatively late entry into Europe. There is currently no evidence that modern humans entered Europe before 45,000 years ago, even though they made it as far as southern China at least as early as 80,000 years ago. The investigators suggested that Neanderthals might have prevented modern humans from crossing into Europe until after Neanderthals began dying off.

“It may be that that Europe was too small for two intelligent and behaviorally complex species that were seeking the same type of resources,” study co-lead author María Martinón-Torres at University College London told Live Science. Perhaps Neanderthals faded away after dealing with thousands of years of isolation and harsh winters, and “maybe it was only at that time that Homo sapiens could finally make it into Europe,” Martinón-Torres added.

Still, Neanderthals might not be the main reason for the relatively late entry of modern humans into Europe, said archaeologist Robin Dennell at the University of Exeter in England, who did not take part in this research. Instead, modern humans may have colonized the southern zones of Europe and Asia before the northern zones because the former were warmer than the latter, Dennell wrote in a commentary article in the Oct. 15 issue of Nature.

The jury is still out on exactly what triggered the dispersal of modern humans. “What is especially needed now is archaeological evidence (sadly lacking in Fuyan Cave) to indicate whether the initial dispersal of our species was caused or facilitated by cognitive developments (such as symbolism or complex exchange systems), or was simply an example of opportunistic range extension,” Dennell writes in his commentary, adding that southern China could hold the answer.


Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

originally available here

Henry V warship mystery solved?

Artist's impression of the 'Holigost' (Historic England)

Artist’s impression of the ‘Holigost’ (Historic England)

If only the mud could talk.

U.K. government agency Historic England reports that a shipwreck buried deep under the Hamble River in Hampshire, England is believed to be the ‘Holigost’, a warship from King Henry V’s fleet during the Hundred Years War. If verified, the wreck would be “a tangible link with the life and times of Henry V,” according to Historic England.

The Holigost was built using repurposed materials from a captured Spanish ship called the Santa Clara. It was constructed using a method known as “clinker built,” with overlapping timber planks and weighed between 740-760 tons.  Because the ship suffered from leaks and timber decay, a diver named Davy Owen was commissioned to make repairs, a move some consider to be the first recorded service of this kind.

Related: 50 graves uncovered at medieval pilgrimage site in England

The image on the right is a technical drawing reconstruction of the ‘Holigost’ . (Historic England)

The ship was named in honor of Henry’s affinity for the holy trinity, and Historic England writes that it, “was built to further Henry’s war aims, but its decoration and flags also reflected both his personal religious devotion and his political ideas. Unusually, this included a French motto Une sanz pluis, ‘One and no more’, which meant that the king alone should be master.”

The Holigost joined Henry V’s fleet on Nov. 17, 1415, and was in operation from 1416-1420. During its heyday, it was home to a crew of 200 sailors and up to 240 soldiers, alongside weaponry that included seven cannons, bows, arrows, poleaxes and spears.

The wreck was discovered by historian Ian Friel, who was reviewing documentary evidence for the book “Henry V’s Navy”, which examines naval conflict during the period. Friel noticed the wreck when he worked in the former Archaeological Research Centre (ARC) at the National Maritime Museum, in Greenwich. He later made a connection using documentary evidence that the Holigost was laid up in the vicinity, and despite confirmation of a solid object in the mud, the project ended.

Since then, however, Historic England says it is moving to protect the ship and it will conduct further research on the vessel.

Related: Antikythera wreck yields more treasures of Ancient Greece’s ‘1 percent’

“I am utterly delighted that Historic England is assessing the site for protection and undertaking further study,” Friel told Historic England, comparing it to the re-discovery of another of Henry V’s ships, the Grace Dieu, in the Hamble River. “In my opinion, further research leading to the rediscovery of the Holigost would be even more important than the identification of the Grace Dieu in the 1930s. TheHoligost fought in two of the most significant naval battles of the Hundred Years War, battles that opened the way for the English conquest of northern France.”


Originally available here

Extinct tree-climbing human walked with a swagger

File photo - Fossils of a newly discovered ancient species, named "Homo naledi", are pictured during their unveiling outside Johannesburg Sept. 10, 2015.

File photo – Fossils of a newly discovered ancient species, named “Homo naledi”, are pictured during their unveiling outside Johannesburg Sept. 10, 2015. (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)

A recently unearthed extinct human species — perhaps the most primitive ever discovered — had hands and feet adapted for a life both on the ground and in the trees, researchers say.

This finding sheds light on how early humans experimented with a variety of designs, scientists added. And though the international teams of scientists are not certain how this extinct human would have walked, they say the swagger would have been quite different from ours.

Although modern humans are the only human species alive today, other human species once walked the Earth. The human lineage, the genus Homo, and its close relatives, including australopithecines such as the famed Lucy, are together referred to as hominins.

The most recently discovered human species, Homo naledi, had a brain about the size of an orange, but it nevertheless possessed enough of a mind to perform ritual burials of its dead. More than 1,550 bones and bone fragments of H. naledi have been recovered from a cave in South Africa, the single-largest fossil hominin find made yet in Africa. Scientists have yet to pin down a date for whenH. naledi lived because the nature of the cave in which it was found makes it difficult to determine the age of its fossils. [Photos: New Human Relative (H. naledi) Shakes Up Our Family Tree]

Scientists investigated the hands and feet of H. naledi to learn more about a key shift in human evolution — the move from a life of climbing trees to one spent walking on the ground. Modern humans dominate the planet partly because walking upright frees their hands for tool use, scientists have found.

The researchers analyzed more than 150 H. naledi hand bones, including a nearly complete adult right hand that was missing just one wrist bone. They found the species shared a long, robust thumb and wrist architecture with modern humans and Neanderthals, potentially giving the hand a precise, forceful grip that may have been useful for tool use.

However, its fingers were longer and more curved than most australopithecines — indeed, more curved than those of nearly any other species of early hominin. This quality hints at a life suited for moving and climbing through trees. The scientists detailed their findings on H. naledi‘s hands and feet online Oct. 6 in two papers in the journal Nature Communications.

“The tool-using features of the H. naledi hand, in combination with its small brain size, has interesting implications for what cognitive requirements might be needed to make and use tools, and, depending on the age of these fossils, who might have made the stone tools that we find in South Africa,” Tracy Kivell at the University of Kent in England, lead author of one of the two H. naledi papers,said in a statement.

The scientists also investigated 107 H. naledi foot bones, including a nearly complete adult right foot. They found the ancient hominin’s foot shared many features with the modern human foot, suggesting that it was well-suited for standing and walking on two feet.

“The foot is not entirely humanlike, but it’s more humanlike than not,” William Harcourt-Smith, a paleoanthropologist at Lehman College in the Bronx and the American Museum of Natural History in New York, told Live Science. “I think it would’ve been very good at walking on the ground.”

However, the H. naledi foot had toes that were more curved than those of modern humans, supporting the notion that the hominin was also relatively adept at life in the trees.

H. naledi wouldn’t have been in any way as proficient as chimpanzees or much more primitive hominins at climbing trees, but it still would be better-suited than we are,” said Harcourt-Smith, lead author of the other H. naledi paper.

Intriguingly, H. naledi‘s pelvis was more like that of australopithecines such as Lucy, flaring outward more than that of modern humans.

“This configuration moved the hip muscles away from the hip joints and gave them more leverage in walking — perhaps more of an advantage than humans have today,” study co-author Jeremy DeSilva, an anthropologist at Dartmouth University, said in the statement. “Over time, the architecture of the pelvis evolved and expanded to allow the birth of larger-brained babies.”

These findings suggest that early human evolution involved many experiments “on different ways to be bipedal,” Harcourt-Smith said.

Scientists are still unsure how exactly H. naledi might have walked differently from modern humans. “But there’s absolutely no doubt that its gait would have been different,” Harcourt-Smith said.


Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Originally available here

‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ Gets Even More Cryptic


Image result for 'Gospel of Jesus' Wife' Gets Even More Cryptic

Published on www.newser.com

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 6, 2015 9:45 AM CDT

(NEWSER) – There are two camps when it comes to the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife: one that believes the Coptic fragment is the real deal, and one that’s convinced it’s a fake. There’s evidence to back up either side: Radiocarbon dating indicates the papyrus dates to AD800, and tests on the ink suggest it’s the same type used at that time. If the ink is authentic, it’s “conceivable” that someone might have scraped ancient ink from another ancient document, mixed it with water, and created the piece, but “no one has ever actually shown that this has ever been done,” reports theAtlantic. On the other hand, the document’s words and phrases—even a grammatical error—appear to have been copied directly from another ancient document, the Gospel of Thomas, leading to doubts. Now new evidence suggests that if the story of the Gospel’s travels is true, a man who once owned the papyrus may have risked all to get it.

The current owner remains anonymous, but documents show he or she bought the papyrus in 1999 from Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, who died in 2002; Laukamp apparently got it from East Germany in 1963, but those who knew him say he was living on the opposite side of the Berlin Wall at the time and didn’t collect antiquities. West Berliners could visit East Berlin but only to see relatives at Christmas, and carrying a papyrus—which would’ve looked like a coded message—would have been risky, reports Live Science. Is it possible Laukamp created a forgery? Maybe. Through his manufacturing company, Laukamp worked with scientists, engineers, and tradespeople who might’ve had the skills to pull off such a ruse. He’d also just built a new factory and a new house and opened a branch office in 1999. Creating a forgery would’ve given him extra cash, but so would selling off the real thing. (Scientists recently found the oldest known Gospel.)


This Sept. 5, 2012, photo shows the so-called Gospel of Jesus' Wife.
This Sept. 5, 2012, photo shows the so-called Gospel of Jesus’ Wife.   (AP Photo/Harvard University, Karen L. King)

50 graves uncovered at medieval pilgrimage site in England


Archaeologists found the shallow graves during a construction project in August. The graves are relatively shallow — just about 1.6 feet (0.5 meters) below ground. (Archaeology Warwickshire | Warwickshire County Council)

The skeletal remains of about 50 medieval individuals have been discovered in shallow graves near the pilgrimage site of a famous seventh-century saint in England.

The human remains, which have been exhumed, may help archaeologists learn more about the medieval era, according to Archaeology Warwickshire, an archaeology and excavation firm. The company plans to study each skeleton to determine its sex and approximate age, and to identify evidence of injuries or diseases preserved in the bones, said Stuart Palmer, the business manager of Archaeology Warwickshire.

“The teeth will give us a lot of information about diet, as well,” Palmer told Live Science. “There’s a potential for more in-depth study, but we first have to assess the quality of material to see if it’s worth trying to do.” [See Photos of the Medieval Graves near Lichfield Cathedral]

Archaeologists with the firm discovered the burials in early August. They received a commission to survey the land around an almshouse, located outside the gates of the medieval city of Lichfield, located in the West Midlands. During medieval times, pilgrims traveled to Lichfield to visit its famed three-spired cathedral from the 12th century, which held the tomb of St. Chad.

Lichfield closed its city gates every night about 9 p.m., and pilgrims who arrived after that time would have stayed in the almshouse, called the Hospital of St. John Baptist without the Barrs (the barrs referred to the city gates).

Archaeology Warwickshire surveyed the grounds around the almshouse this summer, just before a planned expansion of the compound. The archaeologists expected to find some graves but “we weren’t really expecting the volume and quantity that we got,” Palmer said.

Perhaps there were so many bodies because St. Chad had a large following — the English clergyman founded the monastery at Lichfield, served as its abbot and bishop and is credited with converting the ancient English kingdom of Mercia to Christianity, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica. After he died of the plague in A.D. 672, the church canonized him as a saint, and people reported miracles taking place at his tomb in Lichfield, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica.

It’s unknown whether the pilgrims ever made it inside the city walls to see St. Chad’s tomb. During medieval times, pilgrims traveled far and wide to see relics, often bones, of saints.

“People came from miles to see them,” Palmer said. “They’re [supposed to have] some curative quality to them — maybe you’ll get to see some good in heaven or on the way to heaven.”

The buried individuals — adults and children alike — may have hoped that thepower of the relics would cure them of an ailment, Palmer said. But some of them passed away during their travels. The graves are shallow, some no more than 1.6 feet deep. Most of the individuals were laid flat on their backs, arranged in rows, and covered with dirt, he said.

Archaeology Warwickshire received a yearlong permit from the Ministry of Justice to study the remains, but many of the skeletons are not in good shape because they were buried in acidic soil, which is typical of dirt in the area, Palmer said.

If the bones are in good condition, the archaeologists may analyze their DNA and isotopes (variants of a particular element), which can tell researchers where the pilgrims lived previously. After that, the skeletons will go to a museum, he said.


Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Originally available here

Lost ‘Epic of Gilgamesh’ verse depicts cacophonous abode of gods


This clay tablet in inscribed with one part of the Epic of Gilgamesh. It was most likely stolen from a historical site before it was sold to a museum in Iraq. (Farouk Al-Rawi)

A serendipitous deal between a history museum and a smuggler has provided new insight into one of the most famous stories ever told: “The Epic of Gilgamesh.”

The new finding, a clay tablet, reveals a previously unknown “chapter” of the epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. This new section brings both noise and color to a forest for the gods that was thought to be a quiet place in the work of literature. The newfound verse also reveals details about the inner conflict the poem’s heroes endured.

In 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Slemani, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, purchased a set of 80 to 90 clay tablets from a known smuggler. The museum has been engaging in these backroom dealings as a way to regain valuable artifacts that disappeared from Iraqi historical sites and museums since the start of the American-led invasion of that country, according to the online nonprofit publication Ancient History Et Cetera.

Among the various tablets purchased, one stood out to Farouk Al-Rawi, a professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. The large block of clay, etched with cuneiform writing, was still caked in mud when Al-Rawi advised the Sulaymaniyah Museum to purchase artifact for the agreed upon $800. [In Photos: See the Treasures of Mesopotamia]

With the help of Andrew George, associate dean of languages and culture at SOAS and translator of “The Epic of Gilgamesh: A New Translation” (Penguin Classics, 2000), Al-Rawi translated the tablet in just five days. The clay artifact could date as far back to the old-Babylonian period (2003-1595 B.C.), according to the Sulaymaniyah Museum. However, Al-Rawi and George said they believe it’s a bit younger and was inscribed in the neo-Babylonian period (626-539 B.C.).

Al-Rawi and George soon discovered that the stolen tablet told a familiar story: the story of Gilgamesh, the protagonist of the ancient Babylonian tale, “The Epic of Gilgamesh,” which is widely regarded as the first-ever epic poem and the first great work of literature ever created. Because of the time period when the story was written, the tale was likely inscribed on “tablets,” with each tablet telling a different part of the story (kind of like modern chapters or verses).

What Al-Rawi and George translated is a formerly unknown portion of the fifth tablet, which tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu (the wild man created by the gods to keep Gilgamesh in line) as they travel to the Cedar Forest (home of the gods) to defeat the ogre Humbaba.

The new tablet adds 20 previously unknown lines to the epic story, filling in some of the details about how the forest looked and sounded.

“The new tablet continues where other sources break off, and we learn that the Cedar Forest is no place of serene and quiet glades. It is full of noisy birds and cicadas, and monkeys scream and yell in the trees,” George told Live Science in an email.

In a parody of courtly life, the monstrous Humbaba treats the cacophony of jungle noises as a kind of entertainment, “like King Louie in ‘The Jungle Book,'” George said. Such a vivid description of the natural landscapes is “very rare” in Babylonian narrative poetry, he added

Other newfound lines of the poem confirm details that are alluded to in other parts of the work. For example, it shows that Enkidu and Humbaba were childhood buddies and that, after killing the ogre, the story’s heroes feel a bit remorseful, at least for destroying the lovely forest.

“Gilgamesh and Enkidu cut down the cedar to take home to Babylonia, and the new text carries a line that seems to express Enkidu’s recognition that reducing the forest to a wasteland is a bad thing to have done, and will upset the gods,” George said. Like the description of the forest, this kind of ecological awareness is very rare in ancient poetry, he added.

The tablet, now mud-free and fully translated, is currently on display at the Sulaymaniyah Museum. A paper outlining Al-Rawi and George’s findings was published in 2014 in the Journal of Cuneiform Studies.


Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Originally available here


Farmer finds woolly mammoth bones in Michigan field

James Bristle and a friend were digging in his southern Michigan soybean field when they unearthed what looked like a bent fence post, caked with mud. Instead, it was part of a pelvis from an ancient woolly mammoth that lived up to 15,000 years ago.

A team of paleontologists from the University of Michigan and an excavator recovered about 20 percent of the animal’s skeleton this week in Washtenaw County’s Lima Township. Aside from the pelvis, they found the skull and two tusks, along with numerous vertebrae, ribs and both shoulder blades.

“We think that humans were here and may have butchered and stashed the meat so that they could come back later for it,” Daniel Fisher, the scientist who led the dig, said Friday.

Three boulders the size of basketballs found next to the remains may have been used to anchor the carcass in a pond, he said.

Mammoths and mastodons, another elephant-like creature, were common in North America before disappearing around 11,700 years ago. Remains of about 300 mastodons and 30 mammoths have been discovered in Michigan, Fisher said, although most of the mammoth finds aren’t as complete as the one in Bristle’s field.

Bristle told the Ann Arbor News he bought the property a couple of months ago. He and his friend were digging to make way for a new natural gas line when they found the odd object.

“When my 5-year-old grandson came over and saw the pelvis, he just stood there with his jaw wide open and stared. He was in awe,” Bristle said.

The bones will be cleaned and examined by university researchers for cut marks that would indicate human activity, Fisher said. Study of the bones may shed light on when humans arrived in the Americas, a topic of debate among archaeologists.

Originally available here


Blast from the past: 3 Civil War cannons pulled from river


A giant frontend loader was used to pull the heavy cannons from the riverbed. (© Peggy Binet, University of South Carolina, 2015)

A community in the southern United States reclaimed an important part of its history Tuesday, when three Civil War-era cannons were pulled up from the Pee Dee River in Florence, South Carolina.

The now-rusty relics once adorned the deck of a Confederate warship, the CSS Pedee, which was built in a shipyard just east of Florence, South Carolina. The cannons, as well as the remains of the ill-fated ship, have been at the bottom of the river for 150 years.

Heavy machinery was needed to lift the huge cast-iron cannons out of the water,according to WMBF News, which reported that the heaviest of the weapons weighed a whopping 15,000 lbs. Divers attached the cannons to the arm of a giant front-end loader with ropes, and it took about 30 minutes to pluck each one from the river, WMBF News reported. [Busted: 6 Civil War Myths]

Aside from being coated in mud and muck, the recovered cannons were in surprisingly good condition and are more or less “ready to rock and roll,” said Jonathan Leader, South Carolina’s state archaeologist, who helped lead efforts to locate the remains of the sunken CSS Pedee. Receding waters left the third cannon (a 7-inch Brooke rifle) exposed, and the gun is a bit corroded as a result, he said.

The recovery of the cannons marks a milestone for Leader and his colleagues at the South Carolina Institute of Archaeology and Anthropology at the University of South Carolina. Between 2009 and 2012, the state archaeologist worked with several institutions, nonprofits and local volunteer organizations to find parts of the ship, including the cannons, and figure out how to get them out of the water. The task of plucking the guns from the river was facilitated by a grant from the Drs. Bruce and Lee Foundation in Florence.

Archaeologists also located the site of the Mars Bluff Navy Yard, where Confederate troops and local volunteers built the CSS Pedee and several smaller boats during the Civil War. But the discovery of the CSS Pedee’s cannons is particularly special, Leader told Live Science.

Typically, victors scour the battlefield after a fight, and anything useful is hauled off and used again in future battles, Leader said. After the Civil War, cannons and other weapons were gathered and moved to various federal depots. Piled together and taken from their original context, objects like cannons became anonymous, Leader said, losing what he called their “important connections to battlefields, military actions and communities.”

But that is not the case for the CSS Pedee’s cannons. Thanks to historical records and oral histories from locals, a lot is known about how and where these cannons were used and who operated them, Leader said. The last time the Confederate warship’s cannons were fired, they were pointed at Union Gen. William T. Sherman and his troops, who were advancing into North Carolina, he said.

Fearing the ship would fall into enemy hands, Confederate soldiers threw the cannons overboard before they “scuttled,” or deliberately sank the CSS Pedee. The dredged-up weapons serve as a direct link to that moment in history, Leader said, noting that reclaiming the cannons felt like a “handshake over the ages.”

But the rusty old weapons aren’t just important to archaeologists like Leader; they’re also meaningful to the people of South Carolina, many of whom had ancestors that fought in the Civil War and who may have helped construct the USS Pedee at the Mars Bluff Navy Yard.

“This was an early version of a modern dreadnaught,” Leader said. “It had the most advanced guns of the day mounted on its decks … It was a serious threat. And it was built by the locals.”

It’s only fitting, then, that locals played such an important part in hauling the ship’s cannons from the riverbed. Without help from local groups, those cannons would still be lost in the Pee Dee River, Leader said. Now, the community of Florence, South Carolina, can use the objects to make sense of both the past and present. The cannons aren’t just old guns, Leader said — they’re the “the quilt, the fabric and the thread” that hold people together.


Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Originally available here