Medieval skeleton discovered in tree suffered violent death, experts say


Excavating bones from tree roots. (Marion Dowd)

Archaeologists in Ireland have unearthed startling details about the strange medieval skeleton found in the roots of a 215 year-old tree.

The beech tree in Collooney, Sligo, fell during a storm earlier this year, revealing the macabre sight of a skeleton trapped in its roots.  The Irish National Monuments Service brought in experts from Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services to excavate and analyze the remains, revealing a grisly tale.

Related: Mass grave of new human relative discovered in South Africa, claim scientists

“He had been killed violently,” Marion Dowd, director of Sligo-Leitrim Archaeological Services, told “We have stab wounds in the upper chest and they were inflicted by a knife – we also have a stab wound in the left hand, which suggests that he was trying to defend himself.”

The skeleton is of a young man between the ages of 17 and 20. Radiocarbon analysis has dated the remains to between 900 and 1,000 years old.

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“We don’t know if he was killed in a battle or if this was a personal dispute,” said Dowd, noting that the body was originally buried in a Christian fashion with its head pointing to the west. “His family or community must have buried him,” she added.

Dowd told that whoever planted the tree was unaware of the grave. “It’s completely coincidental – the context is unusual,” she said. “There are historical records that say there was a church and graveyard in the area, but there are no remains visible today.”

Related: Excavation of Rome home shows ancient city bigger than thought

Another aspect of the excavation is unusual – the young man’s height. “He’s 5-foot-10,” said Dowd. “For early medieval society that’s pretty tall.”

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Mass grave of new human relative discovered in South Africa, claim scientists


Scientists in South Africa working at Moropeng, the site located just outside of Johannesburg and known as the “Cradle of Humankind,” have discovered a mass underground grave containing the remains of hundreds of individuals from what they say is an entirely new species of the human family.

“I give you a new species of human – ‘homo naledi,’” said Professor Lee Berger, head of the paleontology team at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and leader of the discovery team.

The species’ brains were a third of the size of today’s humans but they stood like us, and had similar feet and hands, although their fingers were elegantly curved. This new species, Berger said, should be placed as an early humanoid just before the time of homo sapiens. The species could date back as far as 2.8 million years, according to experts.

“History books will have to be rewritten.”

– Cyril Ramaphosa, deputy president of SAouth Africa

South Africa’s deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa told Fox News Thursday that “history books will have to be rewritten” due to the discovery, which was made in a subterranean chamber by a team of 60 so-called “underground astronauts.” The archaeologists have come across 1,500 fossils – entire families of hundreds of early humans.

The discovery of these fossils, believed by scientists to possibly be the largest group of individuals in fossil form ever found in one place anywhere in the world, was made in 2013. When the team of ‘astronauts’ was put together, only small – and thin – scientists were encouraged to apply. Archaeologists had to squeeze through a 10- inch wide gap between underground rocks – dubbed “Superman’s Crawl,” and go through a succession of caves, before finally making a vertical 10-yard drop to get into the now-named Dinaledi Chamber. At the entrance, they found 300 fossils, and in the chamber itself some 1,200 fossilized bones. After two years of keeping the discovery secret, the search is ongoing.

“There are hundreds more fossils probably to be found,” said Berger.

A National Geographic staffer said the magazine was first alerted to the discovery in the U.S. by a late night phone call from Berger.

“On the normally excitable scale of Professor Berger of 1 to 10, this was an 11,” the staffer said.

Password-protected live video feeds of the fossil recovery were beamed from the cave to scientists throughout the globe. Access to the cave was so difficult, and the fossils so delicate, that amateur climbers were brought in to help. Once on the surface, a team of 30 scientists from around the world was assembled to examine the fossils. Among them were specialists in new hi-tech analysis techniques.

The fossils will be on view to the public at Maropeng for one month, beginning Sept. 11, before more work on them is undertaken.

“Research on these finds will continue for decades to come,” Berger said. “This is an entire anatomy of a new species that connects to early members of our genus.”

Most of the fossils were found in a 30-square-foot section of the Dinaledi Chamber. Berger’s team does not believe it was the result of a catastrophe, and officials do not believe the individuals lived in the cave or even together.

“This is a new species of human that deliberately disposed of bodies in this chamber,” Berger said, adding that the bodies appear to have been dropped from above down a chute formed by rocks which forms the entrance to the chamber. Up until now, Berger adds, it was thought that homo sapiens were the first beings to choose to dispose of their dead.

“Now, with Homo Naledi, we have evidence of the world’s first burial site,” he said.

Not everybody agreed that the discovery revealed a new species. Tim White of the University of California, Berkeley, told The Associated Press the claim is questionable.

“From what is presented here, (the fossils) belong to a primitive Homo erectus, a species named in the 1800s,” he said.

Paul Tilsley is a Fox News freelance reporter/producer based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Follow his African stories on Twitter on @paultilsley


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Excavation of Rome home shows ancient city bigger than thought

  • Italy Ancient Residence-2.jpg

    Sept. 9, 2015: A view of a 6th-century B.C. residence that was discovered in Rome. (AP/ANSA)

Archaeologists have discovered a 6th-century B.C. residence under a palazzo in central Rome, saying that it proves the ancient city was much bigger than previously thought.

Officials said Wednesday that the area on the Quirinale Hill had long been thought to have only been used as a necropolis, with ancient Rome’s residential zone further south and centered around the Roman Forum.

But archaeologists excavating a palazzo on the hill said they discovered a well-preserved rectangular home, complete with wooden supports and a roof, proving that the area was also used for residential purposes.

The ANSA news agency quoted excavation chief Mirella Serlorenzi as saying the discovery “means that Rome at the start of the 6th century was much bigger than what we thought and wasn’t just centered around the Forum.”



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Scientists find clues as to how sailors survived an 1813 Alaska shipwreck


A representative collection of artifacts discovered in July 2015 includes (from left) part of a set of dividers, a nail, a fishhook, a buckle, sheet copper, gun flints and a musket ball. (Credit: Dave McMahan, Sitka Historical Society)

To shipwreck in Alaska in the early 19th century was as good as a death sentence—yet 26 aboard the Russian-American Company frigate Neva managed to not only survive its wreck off Kruzof Island but also a month of the winter of 1813.

The feat spawned legends stretching over two centuries, but a new study offers the best clues yet as to how they managed it. Research began in 2012 when a survey uncovered Russian axes at a spot believed to be the survivor camp.

Further searches revealed more tools archaeologists say Neva’s crew members, who had set out from a Siberian port, used to survive. “The items left behind by survivors provide a unique snapshot-in-time for January 1813, and might help us to understand the adaptations that allowed them to await rescue in a frigid, unfamiliar environment for almost a month,” the lead researcher says in a release.

Based on artifacts—including sheet copper, iron and copper spikes, a copper fishhook, gun flints used to start fires, musket balls carved to fit a smaller caliber firearm, and perhaps part of a navigator’s dividers—archaeologists believe crew members gathered ship materials that washed ashore near their destination of Sitka, where survivors were eventually taken; only two who survived the wreck died during the month-long effort.

“Collectively, the artifacts reflect improvisation in a survival situation, and do not include ceramics, glass and other materials that would be associated with a settlement,” the researcher says.

Archaeologists add preserved food heaps, still to be examined, will likely reveal the sailors’ foraging strategies. Until further studies can be carried out, experts plan to review oral histories of the local Tlingit people for further insight.

(This man survived two days in an underwater shipwreck.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Scientists Find Clues to Sailors’ Legendary 1813 Survival

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Researchers say they’ve discovered new ‘superhenge’ near Stonehenge site


British researchers said Monday that they had discovered evidence of a larger version of Stonehenge located approximately 2 miles from the famous prehistoric site.

The site at Durrington Walls, located about 90 miles southwest of London, has been dubbed a “superhenge” containing as many as 90 large stones.

The researchers from the University of Bradford said they believed the monument was built about 4,500 years ago, according to Sky News. The stones were located using ground-penetrating radar on Salisbury Plain. They were found lying on their sides and buried under three feet of earth.

Some of the stones stood nearly 15 feet high and were originally placed along the south-eastern edge of a circular enclosure facing the Avon River that measured nearly a mile wide – making it the largest earthwork of its kind in Britain.

“We’re looking at one of the largest stone monuments in Europe and it has been under our noses for something like 4,000 years,” University of Bradford professor Vince Gaffney, who led the research, told Sky News. “We don’t think there’s anything quite like this anywhere else in the world. This is completely new and the scale is extraordinary.”

Gaffney told the Guardian that he believes the site was used as a “ritual arena of some sort.”

The researchers were working on the so-called Hidden Landscape project, which is aimed at improving understanding of the area around Stonehenge. The Guardian reports that last year, researchers found the 17 chapels and other archaeological features at the site.


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Tooth reveals first evidence of dentistry

Tooth reveals first evidence of dentistry

A file photo of a plastic casting of the skull of an ancient skeleton. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

Prehistoric man got cavities, too, and just like us, they had to go to the dentist. Researchers studying a 14,000-year-old infected molar say someone tried to clean it with flint tools—a discovery that amounts to the first known evidence of dentistry, reports Atlas Obscura.

The patient was a roughly 25-year-old man who lived in what is now northern Italy. When researchers examined his tooth with a microscope, they found “extensive enamel chipping.” And while prehistoric people were known to have used toothpicks made of wood or bone, this clearly wasn’t the result of that.

“It predates any undisputed evidence of dental and cranial surgery,” the lead researcher from the University of Bologna tells Discovery. Previously, dental drilling had been detected on 9,000-year-old molars found in modern Pakistan, but this more primitive scraping technique predates that by a mile. It looks like somebody “tried to dig out the rotten part of the man’s tooth with a stone implement,” in the words of the Christian Science Monitor. Though it wasn’t entirely successful, the effort at least shows that even people of that era, the Upper Paleolithic to be precise, recognized the importance of dental hygiene and the danger of infected teeth, the researcher tells an Italian newspaper. (Someday, your cavities might fill themselves.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Tooth Reveals Earliest Known Visit to Dentist

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Researchers find sunken military vessel missing for decades


Navy ships are anchored in the waters of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam on July 14, 2011, at the entrance to the Pacific Ocean. (Credit: MC2 Daniel Barker/Navy)

Researchers made a surprising find when diving in the waters off Hawaii: a large US naval tanker that had been sitting unseen in 80 feet of water for nearly 60 years.

“I turn around, and this giant, looming structure, so eerie,” Melissa Price, a maritime archaeologist, told Hawaii News Now.

Price was one of three divers to discover the Mission San Miguel on Aug. 3 off the coast of Hawaii. During 1957 trip from Seattle to Guam, it hit a reef in the area and sank.

The crew was able to escape, but the ship went down.

“I had to stare at it for a little bit, then I started freaking out under water, screaming and motioning,” said Rebecca Weible, a UH Manoa Marine Biology student who was diving with Price.

As a U.S. naval tanker in World War II and the Korean War, Mission San Miguel transported fuel for military machines. It received several commendations for its service.

“This is a ship that wasn’t a glamorous part of World War II history, but was an important part,” said Kelly Keogh, Maritime Heritage Coordinator for the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument.

The Mission San Miguel is now in the protected waters of the Papahanaumokuakea monument. It will be mapped and studied on the ocean’s floor.

“It’s really very, very exciting discovery for the monument,” Jason Raupp, who led the dive team that discovered the vessel.


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Rare ancient sarcophagus discovered in Israel


An Israeli Antiquities Authority employee cleans an 1,800 years old stone sarcophagus. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov)

An elaborate ancient sarcophagus has been discovered at a building site in the Israeli city of Ashkelon, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday.

However, the sarcophagus, which is around 1,800 years old, was severely damaged when building contractors attempted to remove it improperly from the ground, according to officials.

The Israel Antiquities Authority said that it will take legal action against those involved.

Described as one of the rarest sarcophagi ever discovered in Israel, the stone coffin weighs 2 tons and is 8.2 feet long. Sculpted on all sides, a life-size figure of a person is sculpted on the sarcophagus’ lid.

Related: Israeli archaeologists unearth unique stepped structure in City of David

“One side of the sarcophagus lid is adorned with the carved image of a man leaning on his left arm,” explained Gabi Mazor, a retired archaeologist and expert on the classical periods, in an Israel Antiquities Authority press release. “He is wearing a short-sleeved shirt decorated with embroidery on the front. A tunic is wrapped around his waist. The figure’s eyes were apparently inlaid with precious stones that have disappeared and the hair is arranged in curls, in a typical Roman hairstyle.”

The other side of the lid features a carved relief of a metal amphora, a vessel used for transporting liquids such as wine, from which there are intertwining tendrils bearing grape clusters and grape leaves. The sarcophagus is also decorated with wreaths and images of bulls’ heads, naked Cupids, and the head of the mythical creature Medusa.

The sarcophagus, which was apparently excavated last week, was repeatedly struck by a tractor in different places, scarring the stone and damaging the decorations sculpted by on its sides, according to the press release.

“The irreparable damage was caused by contractors who encountered the impressive sarcophagus during the course of their work,” officials explained. “They decided to hide it, pulled it out of the ground with a tractor while aggressively damaging it, concealed it beneath a stack of sheet metal and boards and poured a concrete floor in the lot so as to conceal any evidence of the existence of the antiquities site.”

Related: Egypt invites expert behind new theory on Nefertiti’s tomb

“This is an extremely serious case of damage to a rare antiquity of unprecedented artistic, historical and cultural importance,” said Amir Ganor, head of the Israel Antiquities Authority’s Inspection Department.

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Israeli archaeologists unearth unique stepped structure in City of David



Israel Antiquities Authority

An archaeological excavation in the Jerusalem Walls National Park in the City of David, the site of ancient Jerusalem, unearthed a pyramid-shaped staircase. This unique structure was located right next to the 2,000-year-old Second Temple stepped street, famed for leading religious pilgrims from Shiloah (Siloam) Pool to the temple. The dig was carried out in partnership between the Israel Nature and Parks Authority and the City of David Foundation, according to a release from the Israel Antiquities Authority.

“The structure exposed is unique. To date such a structure has yet to be found along the stepped street in the numerous excavations that have taken place in Jerusalem and to the best of our knowledge outside of it,” said excavation directors, archaeologists Nahshon Szanton and Joe Uziel, in the release. “We believe the structure was a kind of monumental podium that attracted the public’s attention when walking on the city’s main street. It would be very interesting to know what was said there 2,000 years ago. Were messages announced here on behalf of the government? Perhaps news or gossip, or admonitions and street preaching – unfortunately we do not know.”

Numerous artifacts were found at the foot of the pyramid-shaped structure, such as stone vessels, glassware, and dozens of complete pottery vessels.

Szanton and Uziel will present their findings on Thursday, Sept. 9 at the 16thAnnual Conference at the City of David Studies of Ancient Jerusalem.

“Given the lack of a clear archaeological parallel to the stepped structure, the purpose of the staircase remains the mystery,” they said in the release. “It is certainly possible the rabbinical sources provide valuable information about structures, such as this, although for the time being there is no definitive proof.”

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Confederate warship, weapons recovered from Georgia river



Army Corps and U.S. Navy recover a piece of a Civil War ironclad from Savannah River in Georgia in November 2013. (U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Savannah District.)

The armored husk of a Confederate warship is being raised out of the depths of a Georgia river, 150 years after the ship’s crew deliberately sunk it.

Government officials are pulling approximately 250,000 lbs. of the warship CSS Georgia’s armored siding — the ship’s skeleton — from the Savannah River.

Crews are raising the Civil War-era ship’s remains in 10,000-lb. chunks that measure about 4 feet tall by 24 feet wide. The siding is the last major ship part remaining in the water; Navy divers began retrieving the ship’s unexploded shells, cannons and other artifacts in late June. [See photos of the CSS Georgia’s recovery]

“The historical significance is evident in everything we do,” Jason Potts, the U.S. Navy’s on-scene commander, said on Aug. 12, the Associated Press reported.

Officials decided to remove the sunken ship before the start of a joint state and federal project to deepen the Savannah River’s shipping channel from 42 feet to 47 feet. The channel deepening will allow giant cargo shipsto more easily enter the Savannah port, according to the United States Army Corps of Engineers.

CSS Georgia

The ironclad gunboat owes its existence to the so-called Ladies Gunboat Society in Savannah, which was made up of a group of merchants’ wives, among other like-minded women, who raised funds from across the state to build the warship.

The CSS Georgia was built for the Confederacy in 1862, but it ended up being too heavy to be powered under its own steam through the tidal waters of the Savannah River. Consequently, the vessel became a floating battery anchored upstream, helping to protect the city of Savannah from the Union’s navy.

The CSS Georgia spent only three years floating before it was banished to the bottom of the river. When Union Gen. William T. Sherman approached in 1864, the Confederate troops decided to sink the CSS Georgia rather than see it usurped by their enemy.


More than 150 years later, archaeologists are examining sections of the 1,200-ton frame to learn how the Confederacy managed to build ships and other war machines without an industrial base.

“A lot of these ironcladsare built by house carpenters; they’re not built by shipwrights,” Jeff Seymour, a historian and curator for the National Civil War Naval Museum in Columbus, Georgia, told the AP. “So what are the construction techniques? They vary from ship to ship.”

Underwater archaeologists prepared the ship prior to its extraction, and Navy divers raised 132 unexploded cannonballs and rifled shells that were scattered across the wreckage site. The divers also recovered four cannons weighing 1,000 to 10,000 lbs. each.

A flywheel, a pump, sections of the steamship’s boiler and the ship’s intact propeller were also recovered, according to the AP.

“We don’t just simply want to bring it all back to the surface,” Potts said. “We want to bring it back intact, so we go to the maximum effort to make sure we don’t rip these things apart on the way up.”


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