Scientists find evidence of prehistoric massacre in Europe

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Photo released Monday Aug. 17, 2015 by researcher Christian Meyer shows the fractured skull of an about eight-years-old child with a digital mark to show the size. (Christian Meyer via AP)

BERLIN — Scientists say they have found rare evidence of a prehistoric massacre in Europe after discovering a 7,000-year-old mass grave with skeletal remains from some of the continent’s first farmers bearing terrible wounds.

Archaeologists who painstakingly examined the bones of some 26 men, women and children buried in the Stone Age grave site at Schoeneck-Kilianstaedten, near Frankfurt, say they found blunt force marks to the head, arrow wounds and deliberate efforts to smash at least half of the victims’ shins — either to stop them from running away or as a grim message to survivors.

“It was either torture or mutilation. We can’t say for sure whether the victims were still alive,” said Christian Meyer, one of the authors of the study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meyer said the findings from Schoeneck-Kilianstaedten bolster theories put forward after the earlier discovery of two other grave sites in Germany and Austria. At all three sites, the victims and the perpetrators appeared to have been from the Linearbandkeramik — or LBK — culture, a farming people who arrived in central Europe about 5,500 B.C. Their name derives from the German phrase for “linear band ceramics,” a reference to the style of their pottery.

Intriguingly, the sites have all been dated toward the end of the LBK’s 600-year presence, suggesting that members of this culture — which is thought to have developed in what is now Hungary and spread along the Danube River — may have turned on each other.

“It’s about finding patterns. One mass grave was spectacular, but it was just a single grave. But when several such sites are found from the same period, then a pattern emerges,” said Meyer.

In their article, the authors suggested that “the new evidence … in conjunction with previous results, indicates that massacres of entire communities were not isolated occurrences but rather were frequent features of the last phases of the LBK.”

Chris Scarre, an archaeologist at the University of Durham, England, who wasn’t involved in the study, said its conclusions seemed well supported by the evidence.

“What is particularly interesting is the level of violence. Not just the suppression of a rival community — if that is what it was — but the egregious and systematic breaking of the lower legs,” said Scarre. “It suggests the use of terror tactics as part of this inter-community violence.”

Meyer, an anthropologist at the University of Mainz, Germany, said nobody can say for sure what prompted the killings so long after the fact. But it’s possible to put forward theories, based on what’s known about the LBK culture and the conditions they faced. For example, the end of LBK culture coincided with a period of climate change.

“The LBK population had expanded considerably, and this increases the potential for conflict,” said Meyer. “Also, the LBK were farmers, they settled. So unlike hunter gatherers, who could move away to avoid conflict, these people couldn’t just escape. Add to this the fact that there may have been a period of drought that constrained resources, causing conflicts to erupt.”

Meyer said the theory of conflict between different groups within the LBK is supported by the existence of an apparent ancient border near the Schoeneck-Kilianstaedten site. Archaeologists have found that flint was traded on either side of the divide but not necessarily across it — suggesting the two groups did not see each other as kin, he said.

The attackers, however, spared some members of the group, with victims skewed toward young children, adult men and older women.

“It’s likely that the young women, who are missing in the grave, were kidnapped by the attackers,” said Meyer.

 

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Ancient monolith suggests humans lived on now-underwater archipelago

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A high-resolution map showing the monolith on the floor of the Mediterranean. The monolith is 39 feet long, the researchers said. (E. Lodolo)

During a high-resolution mapping of the seafloor surrounding Sicily, researchers discovered an ancient treasure: a stone monolith spanning 39 feet, resting on the bottom of the Mediterranean.

Stunned, the researchers sent down divers with cameras and video recorders to get a closer look at the monolith, which had broken into two parts. They dove 131 feet underwater in an area called the Pantelleria Vecchia Bank, located about 37 miles south of Sicily.

“It was a great,” said lead researcher Emanuele Lodolo, a staff researcher at the National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics in Italy. “We were very excited about this discovery.” [See Photos of the Mysterious Monolith Beneath the Mediterranean]

Several features suggest the monolith was man-made, possibly by people living during the Mesolithic period about 10,000 years ago, Lodolo said. It has a fairly regular shape and contains three holes with similar diameters. One hole, with a diameter of 24 inches, punched all the way through the stone.

“There are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements,” the researchers wrote in the study, referring to the regular shape and similar size of the holes.

They suggest the complete hole held a torch, allowing the monolith to serve as a “lighthouse, to separate the settlement from the sea,” Lodolo said, but it’s only a guess.

What’s more, the monolith doesn’t match the roughly 10-million-year-old rocks on the ocean floor; rather it has a composition similar to rocks from a ridge that are found in shallow marine area, the researchers wrote.

“This is one of the most important details in supporting the idea that the monolith is not made by nature or phenomena, but is man-made,” Lodolo said.

Ancient archipelago

The researchers dated the stone in the monolith to the Late Pleistocene, about 40,000 years ago during the last ice age, by extracting several shell fragments from the rock and doing radiocarbon dating tests on it. It’s unclear when people made the stone into a monolith, but the researchers say that varying sea levels offer a clue.

The Last Glacial Maximum began about 19,000 years ago, the researchers said. At that time, Europe was about 40 percent larger than it is now, but as the glaciers melted, sea levels rose about 410 feet from then until present day, Lodolo told Live Science.

“This global event has led to the retreat of the coastlines, especially in lowland areas and shallow shelves, such as the Sicilian Channel,” the researchers wrote in the study.

Before the sea level in the Mediterranean rose, an archipelago existed between Sicily and modern-day Tunisia. Perhaps people lived on these islands and constructed the monolith, Lodolo said.

“[The archipelago] was like a bridge between the European world and the African world,” Lodolo said. “It’s quite reasonable to think it was inhabited by some settlers.”

The archipelago inhabitants likely came from Sicily, as land bridges existed throughout the Last Glacial Maximum between the two, according to modern-day analyses, the researchers said. Traveling from Africa to the archipelago would have been more difficult, because about 31 miles (50 km) of open sea separated them.

The archipelago disappeared underwater about 9,500 years ago, suggesting the monolith was erected before then, Lodolo said.

Advanced technology

The finding supports the idea that ancient people, who possibly lived in hunter-gatherer societies, had the capability to create monoliths, Lodolo said. It’s unclear how these ancient people made the monoliths, but they likely needed advanced techniques to prepare the stone. [See Images of Stone Structure Hidden Under Sea of Galilee]

“The monolith found — made of a single, large block — required a cutting, extraction, transportation and installation, which undoubtedly reveals important technical skills and great engineering,” the researchers wrote in the study. “The belief that our ancestors lacked the knowledge, skill and technology to exploit marine resources or make sea crossings, must be progressively abandoned.”

The finding is “a very important discovery,” said Yitzhak Paz, a researcher and excavator at the Israel Antiquities Authority, who was not involved in the study.

If the monolith is indeed man-made, it suggests, “Mesolithic people seem to have a social system that could enable them to create a very sophisticated site and erect sophisticated monuments,” Paz told Live Science.

It also suggests that artifacts from ancient civilizations may be underwater, and may require divers to excavate them, both Paz and Lodolo said.

“Maybe there are other sites like this present in shallow water areas,” Lodolo said. “Maybe to find the roots of civilization, it’s necessary to focus research in shallow water areas that are now submerged.”

The study will be published in the September issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

 

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Mysterious sunken ship may have belonged to French baron

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A sunken ship that was uncovered in a lagoon off the coast of Israel may have once belonged to a famous banking baron. Items recovered from the ship, shown here, suggest it was navigating the seas in the late 1800s. (University of Haifa)

A mysterious sunken ship uncovered in the waters off Israel nearly 40 years ago may have belonged to a famous French baron, new research suggests.

By poring over records and documents from the 1800s, researchers were able to tie the wreck to the Baron de Rothschild (1845-1934), or Edmond James Rothschild, one of the preeminent French bankers of his day.

Still, without a name, number or other identifying feature on the ship, the case is still circumstantial, said study co-author Deborah Cvikel, a nautical archaeologist at the Leon Recanati Institute for Maritime Studies at the University of Haifa in Israel.

“It’s not 100 percent sure, but it’s not something that we can exclude,” Cvikel said. “It’s very probable.” [Images of Gold Coins Found in Israeli Shipwreck]

Local secret

In 1976, a diver first uncovered the wreck in the Tantura Lagoon near Dor Beach, a deceptively calm-looking anchorage that has been used since antiquity. The ship sank to a fairly shallow depth, making it easy for scuba divers to uncover and explore.

“You could see the tips of the framing timbers emerging from the sand,” Cvikel said.

However, the diver who discovered the site didn’t have the expertise to be able to undertake a rigorous study of the ship, or the money to finance an excavation. And no one else stepped in for decades. When Cvikel and her colleagues finally undertook a detailed excavation in 2008, they uncovered a well-preserved ship with two masts. When it sank, the schooner was laden with goods, such as ceramics, glassware, utensils and even provisions well past their expiration date, such as sacks of hazelnuts and peanuts, Cvikel said.

By analyzing some of the factory stamps on the glassware and ceramics onboard, the team concluded that the ship likely sank in the late 1800s. Ceramics emblazoned with the lion motif of the company Guichard Frères, which operated between 1889 and 1897, narrowed the timing of the ship’s demise.

Circumstantial case

However, no traces of the builder or the ship’s name remained.

So Cvikel and graduate student Micky Holzman, also at the University of Haifa, began looking through old documents from the time period of the shipwreck.

It turned out that the Baron de Rothschild, one of the most famous members of the Rothschild banking dynasty in Europe, was also a prominent Zionist, meaning he supported the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire.

In the late 1800s, he founded one of the first Jewish settlements, called Zichron Yaakov, next door to the beach where the ship sank. The new settlement needed goods and services, so the baron also began producing goods locally.

He also built a glass factory to produce bottles for a winery in Zichron Yaakov. He purchased three ships to bring raw materials to the factory from France, according to old documents. In addition, the documents mention that the ships got damaged. Two of the ships were sold, but the third was not mentioned at all after that.

The fact that the third ship was never mentioned in any later documents lends support to the idea that the sunken schooner under study, lying at the bottom of Tantura Lagoon, is, indeed, the baron’s lost third ship.

Long-held rumor

The idea that the baron was the owner of the ship is not new, Cvikel said.

“When Micky started uncovering this story, then local people said, ‘There’s no news; that’s the Baron’s ship; everybody knew that’s the Baron’s ship,'” Cvikel told Live Science.

As for why the ship sank, it may have to do with the lagoon, which is tricky to navigate and requires prior knowledge of its shape, Cvikel said.

“We have something like 26 shipwrecks in the lagoon dated from as early as the Roman period,” Cvikel said. “We think it was a place where ships were hoping to find refuge during stormy weather, but when they got closer, they realized — ah! — they had made a big mistake, and they sank.”

 

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Missing for 14 Years, a $15M Picasso Returns Home

LA COIFFEUSE WILL BE GIVEN THE FRENCH GOVERNMENT AFTER ITS DISCOVERY IN NY

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Posted on www.newser.com

By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2015 6:00 AM CDT

(NEWSER) – A stolen painting by Pablo Picasso is back in the hands of the French government 14 years after it vanished from a Paris museum. The 1911 work La Coiffeuse (The Hairdresser) was discovered in December in a FedEx package sent to New York from Belgium. Though the package said it contained a $37 “craft/toy,” experts value the painting at $15 million.

Yesterday, it was handed over to the French embassy in Washington, reports NBC News. “We’re so glad that it’s going to be shown to the world again,” the director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement says. Officials have said nothing as to how the painting was stolen, who took it, or who mailed the package. The Guardian reports an investigation into the theft is ongoing; no arrests have been made.

 

An officer stands guard next to Pablo Picasso's painting entitled La Coiffeuse, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at the French Embassy, in Washington.
An officer stands guard next to Pablo Picasso’s painting entitled “La Coiffeuse,” Thursday, Aug. 13, 2015, at the French Embassy, in Washington.   (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Lost resting place of Egyptian queen Nefertiti may have been hidden by Tutankhamun’s tomb, archaeologist says

An English archaeologist has suggested that the tomb of Tutankhamun, the most famous of Egypt’s pharaohs, is hiding a secret that has eluded researchers since its discovery more than 90 years ago.

Dr. Nicholas Reeves of the University of Arizona told the Times of London that he believes he has discovered a secret doorway leading from the tomb of King Tut to that of, Nefertiti, believed to be the boy-king’s mother and one of the most powerful women of the ancient world.

Reeves told the Times that he discovered the bricked-up “ghosts” of the doorways after examining digital scans of the walls of Tutankhamun’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, across the Nile River from Luxor in southern Egypt. He believes that one of the doorways leads to a little-used storeroom, but the other, on the north side of the tomb, leads to “the undisturbed burial of the tomb’s rightful owner.”

If Reeves is correct, the room containing Tut’s tomb — discovered by English archaeologist Howard Carter to global acclaim in 1922 — was built to be an antechamber to that of the more illustrious and glamorous Nefertiti. It would also explain some facts about Tutankhamun’s resting place that have puzzled researchers.

For one thing, the size of Tutankhamun’s tomb is smaller than those of other Egyptian kings. Second, as Reeves writes, many of the artifacts that have enraptured millions of museum visitors around the world are largely second-hand, having been recycled from earlier burials.

Finally, the opening in question appears to have been decorated with religious scenes at an earlier date than the other three walls of Tutankhamen’s tomb. The scenes would have been meant to confer protection on the room beyond.

“Only one female royal of the late 18th Dynasty is known to have received such honours [sic], and that is Nefertiti,” Reeves wrote in a report published by the Armana Royal Tombs Project.

Nefertiti, who bore the titles “Lady of All Women” and “Mistress of Upper and Lower Egpyt” during her lifetime, ruled as the chief consort of the pharaoh Akhenaten in the late 14th century B.C.. She is believed to have died in around 1330 B.C., approximately seven years before the estimated date of Tutankhamun’s death.

Despite her fame and power during her lifetime, no one is quite sure where she has been buried. Some believe she was buried at Armana, the capital city established by her husband approximately 250 miles north of the Valley of The Kings. Others say one of two mummies discovered in the Valley of the Kings may be the former Queen of Egypt.

Click for more from The Times of London.

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Ancient Mayan tablet with hieroglyphics honors lowly king

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A stela uncovered in Guatemala comemorates a king who ruled the region over 1,600 years ago. (Marcello Canuto)

A 1,600-year-old Mayan stone tablet describing the rule of an ancient king has been unearthed in the ruins of a temple in Guatemala.

The broken tablet, or stela, depicts the king’s head, adorned with a feathered headdress, along with some of his neck and shoulders. On the other side, an inscription written in hieroglyphics commemorates the monarch’s 40-year reign.

The stone tablet, found in the jungle temple, may shed light on a mysterious period when one empire in the region was collapsing and another was on the rise, said the lead excavator at the site, Marcello Canuto, an anthropologist at Tulane University in Louisiana. [See Images of the Stone Tablet and Mayan Temple]

Hidden room

The team found the broken stela while excavating the ancient ruins of El Achiotal, a site occupied between 400 B.C. and roughly A.D. 550. Though archaeologists had been excavating at the site for years, they only discovered the stone tablet while digging a trench that revealed a hidden chamber at the site. The room was a sanctuary or shrine, and was so small that researchers had to crouch to get inside.

The stela was broken so that the portion that likely once depicted the King’s body was missing. Some of the hieroglyphics were worn away. But based on the inscriptions that were legible, the stela seemed to be commemorating a king who was the fifth vassal of another king.

“He’s someone under another larger person. He has an overlord of his own,” Canuto told Live Science.

The stela was also dated using the Mayan calendar, though the date was partly rubbed off. Given the text that remains, the number could refer to one of four possible dates, but the likeliest is equivalent to A.D. 418. Because the stela was celebrating the king’s 40th year in power, the ruler likely ascended to the throne in A.D. 378, the researchers deduced.

Mayan Waterloo

The year 378 was a significant one for the Mayans.

“It is like a Waterloo date for the Mayan, or a July 4, 1776,” Canuto said.

At that time, several texts describe a political upheaval wherein the king of Teotihuacan, near modern-day Mexico City, came down to the majestic capital city of Tikal in what is now Guatemala and overthrew its leader. (Whether that leader was killed, committed suicide or was simply deposed isn’t clear from texts, Canuto said). The king of Teotihuacan then placed one of his own vassals on the throne.

The new finds suggest this political shift may have included the smaller site of El Achiotal as well, Canuto said. Thus, it’s likely that the vassal who ruled Tikal for the Teotihuacan king also appointed underlings to rule smaller subkingdoms — and one of those underlings was the king of El Achiotal, Canuto speculated.

Shards of broken pottery and debris reveal the shrine and the stela at El Achiotal were venerated for about 200 years, until the site was abandoned between A.D. 500 and A.D. 650. Interestingly, roughly 12 miles (20 kilometers) away are the ruins of another Mayan site, a courtyard residence known as La Corona. Ruled by a northern kingdom called Calakmul, La Corona came to prominence just as the El Achiotal shrine was abandoned.

Thus, it’s possible “the fall of one was at the hands of the rise of the other,” Canuto said.

The stela also suggests the upheaval at Tikal was part of a larger political realignment, not just a local takeover, Canuto said.

 

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Archaeologists find rare writing, and then it vanishes

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Inscriptions on the walls of the ritual bath. (Shai Halevy, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

Archaeologists digging for ruins ahead of a new construction project in Jerusalem made an incredible discovery—that immediately began to vanish. During the last hours of a “salvage excavation” two months ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old ritual bath when a stone suddenly disappeared into a black hole, reports Haaretz.

That hole turned out to be the remains of the bath, accessible by a stone staircase, which includes an anteroom with benches and a winepress. Carved into a natural stone cave, the bath itself wasn’t so unusual, but the graffiti that covered the plaster walls was.

Archaeologists were therefore horrified to find the Aramaic inscriptions and paintings in mud and soot, dating to the Second Temple era from 530BC to 70AD, per Discovery News, disappearing within hours of their discovery.

“The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them,” the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved.

Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to “served” and the name “Cohen.” Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus.

The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo. An IAA rep says graffiti in baths may have been “common, but not usually preserved.” (Another recent find: the remnants of a “treasured landmark” destroyed by the Nazis.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Archaeologists Find Rare Writing, Then It Disappears

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Mysterious ‘ghost population’ may have been among first Americans

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File photo. Members of the Brazil’s Surui nation, wearing their traditional ‘Cokar,’ handmade with plume of macaw, watch the VI Indigenous Nation’s Games competition in Palmas, northern Brazil, November 5, 2003. (REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker)

It’s a well-known theory that the first Americans crossed the Bering land bridge from Siberia to Alaska at some point less than 23,000 years ago. However, new research from deep within the Amazon suggested that a mysterious, previously unknown “ghost population” crossed over at some point as well. According to a new report in the online journal Nature, DNA evidence has revealed that two Amazonian tribes – the Surui and the Karitiana – are more closely related to Papua New Guineans and Aboroginal Australians than they are to Native Americans.

This would mean that their ancestors, or “Population Y,” also crossed the land bridge before being replaced by the First Americans in North and South America.

Lead study author Pontus Skoglund of the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School and his team made the unexpected discovery by using statistical methods that test whether a set of populations are equally related to a set of other populations.

“If Native Americans are all from a single ancestral stream that peopled the Americas, this is expected to hold true,” Skoglund told Foxnews.com. “What we found instead was that there was a special genetic link between Amazonian populations in Southeast Asian islanders. This suggests a more diverse set of founding populations of the Americas then we had genetic evidence for previously.”

The genetic evidence indicates that current Australasians (people in the general geographic area that is now Australia, New Zealand, the island of New Guinea, and neighboring Pacific islands) are descended from a group of humans who once lived widely across Asia. Skoglund and his team believe this ancestry no longer exists in Asia, and that the “ghost population” was overwritten later once it crossed the Bering Land Bridge.

What happened to Population Y — derived from the word “Ypykuera,” which means “ancestor” in the language spoken by the Surui and Karitiana people — after they crossed over remains a mystery.

“We think that ‘Population Y’ was one of several pulses that came from the Northeast to populate the Americas,” Skoglund suggested. “Perhaps the different pulses interbred very early during the peopling, or perhaps later on.”

He also noted that this lineage traces back to Native American ancestry today. So, it did not disappear entirely.

Another unknown factor is when they crossed over exactly. While Skoglund and his team believes Population Y came to the Americas more than 15,000 years ago, researchers from the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen — who also noticed the unexpected link between Americans and Australasians while studying the timing of humans’ migration across the Bering land bridge — believe that they crossed over less than 9,000 years ago. Having discovered traces of Australasian DNA in current Aleutian islanders living off the Alaskan coast, they posit that Aleutian DNA was introduced into other Native American groups some time after the islands were first settled.

While Skoglund disagrees with their assessment, he said that both timelines are possible.

“The archaeology seems to make quite clear that there is one big push into the Americas about 15,000 years ago, but in my opinion, neither we nor other researchers can be sure of when this source population arrived,” he added. “We can speculate that it might have followed the coast, or came earlier or after other pulses. Both these options as well as others are, in principle, possible.”

To find the answer, Skoglund and his team will need to sample more ancient genomes from the Amazon, which is no easy task. For one thing, the region’s climate makes it one of the worst places in the world for DNA preservation.

“DNA starts to break down after we die, but this process is slower in cold and dry climates,” Skoglund explained. “The Amazon is hot and humid, and so the climate is not so favorable for the DNA molecules to be preserved.”

Sampling DNA from parts of the Americas and Siberia — Population Y’s presumed stomping grounds — should be much easier.

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Gruesome find: 100 bodies stuffed into ancient house

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The 5,000-year-old house found in China was about 14 by 15 feet in size. (Photo courtesy Chinese Archaeology)

The remains of 97 human bodies have been found stuffed into a small 5,000-year-old house in a prehistoric village in northeast China, researchers report in two separate studies.

The bodies of juveniles, young adults and middle-age adults were packed together in the house — smaller than a modern-day squash court — before it burnt down. Anthropologists who studied the remains say a “prehistoric disaster,” possibly an epidemic of some sort, killed these people.

The site, whose modern-day name is “Hamin Mangha,” dates back to a time before writing was used in the area, when people lived in relatively small settlements, growing crops and hunting for food. The village contains the remains of pottery, grinding instruments, arrows and spearheads, providing information on their way of life. [In Photos: Remains of ‘End of World’ Epidemic Found in Ancient Egypt]

“Hamin Mangha site is the largest and best-preserved prehistoric settlement site found to date in northeast China,” a team of archaeologists wrote in a translated report published in the most recent edition of the journal Chinese Archaeology (the original report appeared in Chinese in the journal Kaogu). In one field season, between April and November 2011, the researchers found the foundations of 29 houses, most of which are simple one-room structures containing a hearth and doorway.

The house with the bodies, dubbed “F40,” was just 210 square feet (about 20 square meters). “On the floor, numerous human skeletons are disorderly scattered,” the archaeologists wrote.

Photos taken by the archaeologists convey the prehistoric scene better than words do. “The skeletons in the northwest are relatively complete, while those in the east often [have] only skulls, with limb bones scarcely remaining,” the archaeologists wrote. “But in the south, limb bones were discovered in a mess, forming two or three layers.”

At some point the structure burnt down. The fire likely caused wooden beams of the roof to collapse, leaving parts of skulls and limb bones not only charred but also deformed in some way, the archaeologists wrote.

The remains were never buried and were left behind for archaeologists to discover 5,000 years later.

What happened?

An anthropological team at Jilin University in China is studying the prehistoric remains, trying to determine what happened to these people. The team has published a second study, in Chinese, in the Jilin University Journal – Social Sciences edition, on their finds. (A brief English-language summary of their results is available on the American Association of Physical Anthropologistswebsite.)

The Jilin team found that the people in that house died as the result of a “prehistoric disaster” that resulted in dead bodies being stuffed into the house.

The dead came in faster than they could be buried. “The human bone accumulation in F40 was formed because ancient humans put remains into the house successively and stacked centrally,” wrote team leaders Ya Wei Zhou and Hong Zhu in the study.

The team found that about half of the individuals were between 19 and 35 years of age. No remains of older adults were found.

The ages of the victims at Hamin Mangha are similar to those found in another prehistoric mass burial, which was previously unearthed in modern-day Miaozigou in northeast China, the researchers noted.

“This similarity may indicate that the cause of the Hamin Mangha site was similar to that of the Miaozigou sites. That is, they both possibly relate to an outbreak of an acute infectious disease,” wrote Zhou and Zhu.

If it was a disease, it killed off people from all age groups quickly, leaving no time for survivors to properly bury the deceased. The scientists did not speculate as to what disease it may have been.

The excavation was carried out by researchers from the Inner Mongolian Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology and the Research Center for Chinese Frontier Archaeology of Jilin University.

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Identities of mysterious Jamestown settlers revealed

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NOW PLAYINGMysterious silver box found in Jamestown grave

Four lost leaders of the first permanent English settlement in the Americas have been identified, thanks to chemical analysis of their skeletons, as well as historical documents.

The settlement leaders were mostly high-status men who were buried at the 1608 Jamestown church in Virginia. And all played pivotal roles in the early colony.

“They’re very much at the heart of the foundation of the America that we know today,” said Douglas Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who helped identify the bodies. [See photos of the newly identified Jamestown settlers]

By analyzing the bones, researchers can get a snapshot of what it was like to live during the earliest days of America, Owsley said.

“It’s a way of getting very detailed information you simply can’t get from the history books,” Owsley told Live Science.

First colonies

Though the British had previously sent out settler ships (to the doomed colony of Roanoke), the British colonial adventure in America truly got started in Jamestown, Virginia.

English settlers disembarked from their ships in 1607 at an inland spot along the James River, marking a chunk of land as a prime location for a fortified settlement. Over the next few years, several boats would arrive, bearing hundreds of settlers to what would be called Jamestown.

But times were rough; during a six-month period in 1609 known as the “starving time,” nearly 250 people died at Jamestown. At least some of the inhabitants resorted to cannibalism, according to a 2013 study by the same researchers.

Founding fathers

In 2013, Owsley and his colleagues first unearthed the bodies, near the historic Jamestown church where Captain John Smith married Pocahontas. Two of the bodies were in fairly ornate, anthropomorphic coffins, though the bodies were poorly preserved.

To identify the men, the archaeologists combined genealogical and historical documents from both England and the colonies, along with artifacts and analyses of the chemicals in the skeletons. For instance, the elite often had higher levels of lead in their bones during this time, because they frequently used lead-containing pewter and lead-glazed ceramics for eating and drinking, Owsley said.

“These are high-status individuals, two of them particularly so,” Owsley told Live Science.

One of the men was Ferdinando Weyman, who died in 1610 at around age 34. He was the uncle of Sir Thomas West, the governor of Virginia. Weyman was also related to another of the men identified, Captain William West. This man perished in 1610 after a fight with the Powhatan Indians. His body was identified thanks to a partly decayed, dirt-covered military sash that was found with the skeleton. The sash, still inside a block of dirt, was placed in a computed tomography (CT) scanner, which revealed a silk cloth decorated with silver fringe. [Photos: Time Capsule from 1795 Reveals Piece of American History]

Both West and Weyman were buried in human-shaped coffins with a distinctive pattern of nails. Weyman had higher lead levels in his bones than the other individuals, indicating his elite status.

Another of the newly identified men was Captain Gabriel Archer, who died during the starving time in 1609 at the age of 34. Captain Archer was buried with the leading staff, an arrow-tipped staff that he used, enabling the team to identify him. Archer was also buried with a small silver box, known as a reliquary, containing bone fragments and pieces of a lead container for holding holy water atop his coffin. The artifact suggests he may have secretly clung to his Catholic faith.

The last man of the group was Reverend Robert Hunt. Unlike the more affluent men, he was buried in a simple shroud, facing west, toward the congregation he headed. Hunt died in 1608 around the age of 39.

Lost to history

The research team may do further analysis to confirm the men’s identities. The bodies were poorly preserved, but it may be possible to extract some usable DNA from the remains, Owsley said.

“Even as we speak, we’re looking at genetic evidence to see if I can show the connection between Weyman, who would be the uncle of William West,” Owsley said.

While the team would like to identify other individuals from historic Jamestown, that could prove difficult, as fewer traces remain of most of the settlers, the researchers said.

“If you’re a woman in the 17th century, you live totally in the shadow of your husband,” Owsley said. “Most people would come and go and die at Jamestown, and nobody would write a word about them.”

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