Ancient Greek ‘Antikythera’ shipwreck still holds secrets

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Here a researcher examines the anchor of what may be the Antikythera wreck or another wreck nearby. They are uncertain because they used Costeau’s Antikythera expedition videos to gauge where to anchor their boat. Since some of the shots in the (Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities and WHOI)

An ancient shipwreck doesn’t give up all its secrets at once. Greek authorities have approved a five-year extension for an international team of explorers to continue probing the remains of a 2,085-year-old shipwreck known for holding what is considered the world’s oldest computer.

The ship, which likely sank between 70 B.C. and 60 B.C. as it trekked west from Asia Minor to Rome, holds plenty of treasure: During the first phase of the project “Return to Antikythera,” which ended in October 2014, undersea explorers found tableware, a lead anchor, a giant bronze spear that may have been part of a statue of a warrior or the goddess Athena, and other artifacts.

With this newly approved extension, researchers will focus on known hotspots for pottery and metal objects; the team hopes to complete a detailed map of the wreck site and excavate treasure and artifacts from the ship. [See Photos of the Ancient Antikythera Shipwreck and Treasure]

In preparation for this second phase, slated to begin at the end of summer, researchers sent an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) to digitally survey the shipwreck from June 9 to 19. On Saturday, June 13, the AUV and its metal detector located small pieces of copper-, bronze-, lead- and iron-bearing materials. The following Monday, the AUV got up close and personal with the artifacts, taking pictures and collecting spatial data, including where the artifacts are in relation to each other. Over the next five years, beginning at the end of this summer, the researchers will excavate pieces of the Antikythera shipwreck.

Luxury goods

The previous expedition, which began in 2012, was a collaboration between the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities in Greece and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. The two entities will continue to work together on the second phase, with aid from WHOI’s diving robotic Exosuit, which the researchers describe as “Iron Man for underwater science.”

The 2012-2014 expedition resulted in a 3D model of the seafloor with photos of the wreckage. Researchers also added metal-rich locations to the map data. The new data went into the geoinformation system (GIS) database, which includes all known geographic data for the region since 1900.

Researchers found two sites that are separated by 328 feet, which means either the ship broke into two sections after smashing into the rock coast, or there were two ships that simultaneously met their doom.

“The evidence shows this is the largest ancient shipwreck ever discovered,” Brendan Foley, a marine archaeologist from WHOI, said in a previous statement. “It’s the Titanic of the ancient world.”

The expedition thus far has yielded a range of artifacts. “The shipwreck of Antikythera offers a glimpse into the diversity of its cargo,” Aggeliki Simosi, the director of the Hellenic Ephorate of Underwater Antiquities, said in a statement. She added that the ship’s discovery confirmed the existence of a luxury-goods trade route along eastern Mediterranean countries. “The ship that sank at Antikythera was not merely a cargo ship. It was essentially a floating museum,” she said.

Cousteau expedition

The Antikythera shipwreck was discovered by a couple of sponge fishermen from the Greek island Symi over a century ago off the coast of Antikythera, a small Greek island with a population of 45. The dive of the fishermen revealed pieces from the wreck — he brought to the surface an arm from a bronze statue that had settled between 138 and 164 feet below the surface.

With assistance from the Greek Education Ministry and Royal Hellenic Navy, the sponge divers recovered various statues, including those of Ulysses, Diomedes and his horses, Ermes, Apollo, and many others. Upon analyzing the artifacts once they were in the museum, then-Minister of Education Spyridon Stais discovered what is now known as the Antikythera mechanism, which is thought to be the world’s oldest known computer.

In 1953, Captain Jacques Cousteau, the famed French naval officer and underwater explorer, along with Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineering professor Harold “Doc” Edgerton, sailed to Antikythera and discovered another shipwreck marked by a lead anchor and amphoras (two-handled vessels for holding a liquid like wine or oil) sticking out of the sand.

Cousteau returned to Antikythera in 1976 for a television series about the history and attractions of Greece. Over the course of 27 days, Cousteau and his team recovered hundreds of objects, including ceramic vessels, parts of marble statues, bronze statuettes, bronze coins, gold jewelry, gemstones, glassware and human skeletal remains.

 

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A body was found hidden beneath a remarkable 17th-century corpse

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 (Screenshot from Lund University YouTube video)

Peder Winstrup is remarkably well-preserved for a man who died in 1679, and while researchers expected the mummified corpse of the former bishop of Lund would yield fascinating information on the 17th century, they didn’t expect a CT scan to reveal another body.

But when his coffin was removed from the Swedish city’s cathedral, scientists were amazed to discover a tiny body, that of a fetus five to six months old, had been concealed at his feet, tucked away in a layer of herbs, the Guardian reports.

DNA tests will be performed to see if the premature baby is related to the bishop, but researchers suspect that it may have been born illegitimately to a member of his household, who placed it in the coffin to ensure it had a better resting place than the unsanctified ground such babies were buried in.

The director of Lund’s history museum tells Radio Sweden that researchers were almost as surprised to find that the bishop, who was buried on a mattress stuffed with juniper berries and other herbs, still had his internal organs, making him a “time capsule” from 1679 and “one of the best-preserved human bodies from the 1600s,” per Lund University.

“Everyone thought the bishop was embalmed, in which case, there are no internal organs left in the body,” says the museum director. But he apparently “dried out naturally,” according to the university, the result of a winter burial, constant airflow, the plants in his coffin, and his lean body, among other factors.

Even the bishop’s clothes are in pretty good shape, researchers say. After more tests are carried out on the two bodies, they will be reburied together, the Guardian reports.

(A decades-old fetus was recently found in a 92-year-old woman’s body.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Under Remarkable 17th-Century Corpse: a Secret Body

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Gladiator fights revealed in ancient graffiti

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Graffiti discovered in the ancient city of Aphrodisias shows gladiator fights between a retiarius (a gladiator armed with a trident and net) and a secutor (gladiator equipped with a sword and shield). (Drawing by Nicholas Quiring, photograph courtesy Angelos Chaniotis)

Hundreds of graffiti messages engraved into stone in the ancient city of Aphrodisias, in modern-day Turkey, have been discovered and deciphered, revealing what life was like there over 1,500 years ago, researchers say.

The graffiti touches on many aspects of the city’s life, including gladiator combat, chariot racing, religious fighting and sex. The markings date to a time when the Roman and Byzantine empires ruled over the city.

“Hundreds of graffiti, scratched or chiseled on stone, have been preserved in Aphrodisias — more than in most other cities of the Roman East(an area which includes Greece and part of the Middle East),” said Angelos Chaniotis, a professor at the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton New Jersey, in a lecture he gave recently at Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum.

“Graffiti are the products of instantaneous situations, often creatures of the night, scratched by people amused, excited, agitated, perhaps drunk. This is why they are so hard to interpret,” Chaniotis said. “But this is why they are so valuable. They are records of voices and feelings on stone.” [See Photos of the Graffiti in the Ancient City of Aphrodisias]

The graffiti includes sexual imagery, with one plaque showing numerous penises. “A plaque built into the city wall has representations of phalluses of various sizes and positions and employed in a variety of ways,” Chaniotis said.

Trident man vs. sword man

The graffiti also includes many depictions of gladiators. Although the city was part of the Roman Empire, the people of Aphrodisias mainly spoke Greek. The graffiti is evidence that people living in Greek-speaking cities embraced gladiator fighting, Chaniotis said.

“Pictorial graffiti connected with gladiatorial combat are very numerous,” he said. “And this abundance of images leaves little doubt about the great popularity of the most brutal contribution of the Romans to the culture of the Greek east.” [Photos: Gladiators of the Roman Empire]

Some of the most interesting gladiator graffitiwasfound on a plaque in the city’sstadiumwhere gladiator fights took place. The plaque depicts battles between two combatants: a retiarius (a type of gladiator armed with a trident and net) and a secutor (a type of gladiator equipped with a sword and shield).

One scene on the plaque shows the retiarius emerging victorious, holding a trident over his head, the weapon pointed toward the wounded secutor. On the same plaque, another scene shows the secutor chasing a fleeing retiarius. Still another image shows the two types of gladiators locked in combat, a referee overseeing the fight.

“Probably a spectator has sketched scenes he had seen in the arena,” Chaniotis said. The images offer “an insight (on) the perspective of the contemporary spectator. The man who went to the arena in order to experience the thrill and joy of watching — from a safe distance — other people die.”

Chariot-racing rivalry

Chariot racing is another popular subject in the graffiti. The city had three chariot-racing clubs competing against each other, records show.

The south market, which included a public park with a pool and porticoes, was a popular place for chariot-racing fans to hang outthe graffiti shows. It may be “where the clubhouses of the factions of the hippodrome were located — the reds, the greens, the blues,” said Chaniotis, referring to the namesof the different racing clubs.

The graffiti includes boastful messages after a club won and lamentations when a club was having a bad time. “Victory for the red,” reads one graffiti; “bad years for the greens,” says another; “the fortune of the blues prevails,” reads a third.

Three religions

Religion was also depicted in the city’s graffiti. “Christians, Jews and a strong group of philosophically educated followers of the polytheistic religions competed in Aphrodisias for the support of those who were asking the same questions: Is there a god? How can we attain a better afterlife?” said Chaniotis.

Graffiti was one way in which these groups competed. Archaeologists have found the remains of statues representing governors (or other elite persons) who supported polytheistic beliefs. Christians had registered their disapproval of such religions by carving abbreviationson the statues thatmean”Mary gives birth to Jesus,” refuting the idea that many gods existed.

Those who followed polytheistic beliefs carved graffiti of their own.

“To the Christian symbol of the cross, the followers of the old religion responded by engraving their own symbol, the double axe,” said Chaniotis, noting that this object was a symbol of Carian Zeus (a god), and is seen on the city’s coins.

Aphrodisias also boasted a sizable Jewish population. Many Jewish traders set up shop in an abandoned temple complex known as the Sebasteion.

Among the graffiti found there is a depiction of a Hanukkah menorah, a nine-candle lamp that would be lit during the Jewish festival. “This may be one of the earliest representations of a Hanukkah menorah that we know from ancient times,” said Chaniotis.

End of an era

Most of the graffiti Chaniotis recorded dates between roughly A.D. 350 and A.D. 500, appearing to decline around the time Justinian became emperor of the Byzantine Empire, in A.D. 527.

In the decades that followed, Justinian restricted or banned polytheistic and Jewish practices. Aphrodisias, which had been named after the goddess Aphrodite, was renamed Stauropolis. Polytheistic and Jewish imagery, including some of the graffiti, was destroyed.

But while the city was abandoned in the seventh century, the graffiti left by the people remains today. “Through the graffiti, the petrified voices and feelings of the Aphrodisians still reach us, and they still matter,” Chaniotis said.

The lecture by Chaniotis was the keynote address given at the annual meeting of the Classical Association of Canada.

 

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200 years later, experts seek to unearth the Battle of Waterloo’s secrets

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Performers take part in the re-enactment of the battle of Ligny, during the bicentennial celebrations for the Battle of Waterloo, in Ligny, Belgium, June 14, 2015. (REUTERS/Yves Herman)

On June 18, 1815 the course of European history was changed when French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte found himself outmatched on the fields near Waterloo, Belgium. Britain’s Duke of Wellington would become a celebrated hero and eventually Prime Minister, while Napoleon would retreat to Paris and soon after head into exile on the island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic. It all came down to a cool day in June that began with heavy rains. By nightfall some 10 hours after it began, the battle was over, as was the French leader’s 100-day comeback.

For 200 years the Battle of Waterloo has been debated time and time again. In part it has been argued that it was a battle Napoleon could have won, and even should have won. However, the modern thinking is that the battle actually might not have been as decisive as suggested.

Related: First complete Battle of Waterloo skeleton identified as German soldier

“In the end, the battle probably did not matter much. Had Napoleon won, it would have been very embarrassing for the British, and Wellington’s reputation would not have been as great,” Professor Michael Broers of the history department at the University of Oxford, told FoxNews.com. “However, there was a very large, battle hardened Russian army in Western Europe, which would have seen Napoleon off. The Allies were not prepared to give in.”

A Smaller Battle

One other facet of Waterloo that is often overlooked is that in terms of Napoleonic Era battles it wasn’t the largest by any means. While Napoleon is remembered for being on the short side, a common misconception is that Waterloo was the titanic battle to end all battles, but this is far from the truth. It was an important battle, no doubt, but when compared to other engagements Waterloo was quite smaller.

“There had been much bigger battles,” Paul O’Keeffe, author of “Waterloo: The Aftermath” told FoxNews.com. “The Battle of Leipzig in 1813 had some 90,000 dead and wounded, whereas Waterloo had some 45,000 dead and wounded.”

This is still a tragically high number, O’Keeffe agreed, but the other significant detail is that these men fell in a relatively small patch of land in Belgium on that fateful June day.

“Waterloo was fought on a much smaller area than other battles of the era, just five square miles,” said O’Keeffe. “Compare that to Leipzig, which was fought over 21 miles. The carnage at Waterloo was thus horrific with so many dead, as well as some 7,000 dead and maimed horses!”

Napoleon may have met his Waterloo but he didn’t technically surrender there and instead retreated back to Paris. Throughout the summer of 1815 there were a number of small engagements and the final peace wasn’t signed until November 20, 1815.

So why does Waterloo earn its place in history?

“While there was still fighting this battle in essence brought to an end of nearly 20 years of continuous warfare in Europe,” said O’Keefe. “There were decisive battles but this was really a conclusive battle as it knocked out the French entirely.”

The Fog of War

If there is one word that could truly describe the situation on the ground on June 18, 1815 it was probably “confusion.” This is noted by several authors and historians. Part of the reason was that the colorful uniforms of the day didn’t make it easy to distinguish friend from foe.

At one point the British 12th Light Dragoons, who wore blue coats as opposed to the more infamous “red coats” that were donned by the British infantry, came under friendly fire; while later in the day the Prussian black uniforms may have been mistaken for French blue. That latter and seemingly simple mistake may have cost Napoleon the battle and his empire.

“Napoleon knew that Marshal Grouchy was following the Prussians, and he hoped it was Grouchy who was approaching in the late afternoon,” said Tim Clayton, author of “Waterloo: Four Days that Changed Europe’s Destiny”.

The Prussians were not the only British allies at Waterloo who from a distance resembled their foes! Clayton noted that the Dutch Orange-Nassau Regiment wore blue uniforms with tall French style shakos, or hats.

“That added an extra layer of confusion and that took a little while to sort out,” he told FoxNews.com. “This may have caused Napoleon to be even more optimistic especially as the advancing Prussians fired on the Nassau Regiment (who were in fact their allies). This may have helped convince Napoleon that the Prussians were actually Grouchy’s troops after all! Waterloo is a classic example of the fog of war. If only they had mobile phones.”

Beyond phones the French could have benefitted from GPS – or at least better maps. But even without the most accurate maps, this may have had little effect on the battle.

“The last little ‘sensation’ reported around Waterloo is that Napoleon was using a map that was wrongly printed and therefore ‘lost’ the battle, or the result may have been different,” explained Robert Kershaw, author of  “24 Hours at Waterloo: 18th June 1815”. “As an ex-military man, anyone trying to explain a map topographical error affecting the outcome of a battle such as this has got to be wired to the moon. What people tend to miss is that the battle certainly was, as Wellington explained, ‘a close thing.'”

Wellington, known as “the Iron Duke” refused to comment on the battle for years.

“During a battle it is clear no one knows what the hell was going on,” said O’Keeffe. “But afterward the Duke of Wellington refused to give any account of the battle. There were 40 publications in the [following] six months that brought out account of battle. Wellington refused and didn’t give account. The Duke did suggest that the battle was like a ball or dance, where you don’t know what is happening on the other side of the room. Simply put no-one could understand what was going on beyond their sector.”

Napoleon’s Health

The general wellbeing and health of Napoleon has also been called into question since his defeat at Waterloo. It has been argued over the years that he wasn’t feeling well and even the brief time he spent in the saddle may have been far more than he could handle.

“It is very difficult to know how ill he was,” added Clayton. “We must too remember he wasn’t the young man he had been at the outset of his career and he must have been exhausted by that stage of the 100 days since his return from exile.”

Not only did he have a military campaign to manage but he had to dictate to his secretaries about the state of the government and happenings in Paris each night. Rest might have helped, but it could also be argued that the respite from the front may have cost him the battle.

“On June 15 he reportedly had a comfortable night sleep in the town of Charleroi, yet he said in exile he wished he had stayed at the front lines so he could have kept better track of the Prussians,” noted Clayton.

Digging the Battlefield

What is beneath the ground in Waterloo in the Belgian countryside could also shed more light on the battle. Recently the first complete skeleton of a soldier killed at the battle was recovered, and identified as Friedrich Brandt, a member of the King’s German Legion who served under Britain’s King George III. Brandt, who was reportedly just 23-years old when he fell, was killed when a musket ball lodged in his ribs.

This soldier’s remains likely won’t be the last to be recovered.

“The entire battlefield was cleared almost as soon as the fighting ended as locals and soldiers looted it for anything of value,” said O’Keeffe. “Moreover it is really a mass grave as the soldiers were buried or burned in the thousands. We have to remember this was a time before there were war cemeteries.”

The Waterloo Uncovered project, which began this year, aims to explore the battlefield and reveal secrets that may have been buried for the last 200 years. An international team began the first major excavation at Hougoumont Farm, which proved to be a decisive position in the British lines as 4,000 British troops successfully held off some 15,000 French soldiers throughout the afternoon.

“I suspect they are hoping to find the mass burial pits located near the farm,” said Clayton. “Already excavations have found a surprising number of bullets, but because the battlefield has been looted there is still a question about how much this or other efforts will find.”

It isn’t just archaeologists and historians who are helping sift through the dirt at Waterloo. In April experts in soil sensing from Ghent University in Belgium used mobile multi-receiver electromagnetic induction (EMI) sensors as well as magnetometers to survey the landscape. This will help pinpoint areas that could be of potential interest to archaeologists.

The focus is on the Hougoumont Farm, explained Tony Pollard, director of the centre for battlefield archaeology at the University of Glasgow, who has been working closely with the Waterloo Uncovered project.

“The farm buildings still exist, apart from the chateau, which burned down during the battle. We began with a geophysical survey, which gives us an impression of below ground activity as magnetic or electrical anomalies,” he told FoxNews.com. “Metal detector survey has demonstrated that illegal metal detecting has denuded the amount of battle related material, such as buttons and musket balls, in the ground. There is still enough left to tell us a story about how and where things occurred but if things continue as they are Hougoumont will be ‘hoovered’ (vacuumed) up by relic collectors over the next few years.”

He added that the scatter of musket and pistol balls may suggest that the road into the woods nearby was hard fought over – possibly harder fought than past understanding.

“Even after just a few days’ work we have learned a lot more than we knew before – we are not going to change the course of the battle through the archaeology but it is providing a new level of detail, specifically at the moment in the area of the wood,” Pollard said. “It is very early days yet and we hope in the long term to move out onto other areas of the battlefield.”

While this year marks the 200th anniversary of the famous battle the Waterloo Uncovered project will continue over the coming five years with the next phase due to start in summer of 2016. Perhaps these discoveries will shed more light on the battle that reshaped the political map of Europe for the next 100 years.

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DNA says 8,500-year-old ‘Kennewick Man’ closely related to Native Americans

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FILE – This July 24, 1997 file photo shows a plastic casting of the skull from the bones known as Kennewick Man in Richland, Wash. The ancient skeleton, found nearly 20 years ago in a river in Washington, is related to Native Americans, says a DNA study published Thursday, June 18, 2015. The finding could help resolve a long-running dispute over its ancestry and custody. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

DNA analysis of an 8,500-year-old skeleton found in Washington state 19 years ago says the so-called “Kennewick Man” is related to Native Americans, marking the latest twist in a long-running dispute over its custody.

Most scientists trace modern native groups to Siberian ancestors who arrived by way of a land bridge that used to extend to Alaska. But features of Kennewick Man’s skull led some scientists to suggest its ancestors came from elsewhere.

Researchers turned to DNA analysis to try to clarify the skeleton’s ancestry. They recovered DNA from a fragment of hand bone, mapped its genetic code and compared that to modern-day DNA from native peoples of the Americas and populations around the world.

The results showed a greater similarity to DNA from the Americas than from anywhere else, with a close relationship to at least one Native American population in Washington.

Some Native American tribes have asked that the skeleton be handed over to them for reburial, under a 1990 federal law aimed at returning certain Native American cultural items, including human remains, to descendants and culturally affiliated tribes. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the land where Kennewick Man was found, planned to grant the request. But some scientists sued to block that, saying the bones should be kept available for study.

In 2004, a federal appeals court agreed with lower court decisions to block the handover, agreeing with the scientists that the law did not apply because there was no evidence to connect the remains to any existing tribe.

It’s not clear what the results of the DNA analysis will mean for the dispute.

One group that had asked for the remains, the Washington-based Colville tribe, donated DNA for the work. Analysis showed that Kennewick Man is “very closely related to the Colville,” said Eske Willerslev of the University of Copenhagen, senior author of the study. He said DNA from the other tribes that had asked for the bones was not available for the study, but that he suspected they are closely related, too.

But he said he and his team took no position on the legal question about custody of the skeleton. The work received no funding from any Native American group, he said. He met with members of the Colville tribe earlier this week to share the results.

Jim Boyd, chairman of the council that governs the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, said the findings will aid the tribal efforts to rebury the remains.

“We have always maintained the belief that the Ancient One was one of us,” he said, using the tribal term for Kennewick Man.

But one of the scientists who sued to block the turnover said he doesn’t think the new results connect the skeleton clearly enough to the Colville group to justify handing them over under the federal law.

“The results do not tie Kennewick Man exclusively to the Colville,” said Doug Owsley, division head for physical anthropology at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History,

Other data show Kennewick Man was “a traveler…. His people were coming from somewhere else. We don’t know who that people (were), we don’t know what their culture was,” Owsley said.

Willerslev said that because researchers don’t have a comprehensive collection of DNA samples from native populations in the Americas, they can’t tell what population Kennewick Man is most closely related to.

Brig. Gen. John Kem, commander of the Northwestern Division of the Corps of Engineers, said his staff will analyze the research so he can decide whether to turn the bones over to the tribes. The skeleton is stored at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture in Seattle.

Ancient remains have been reburied before after scientific study. Last year, 12,600-year-old bones of a baby boy found in Montana were reburied in a tribal ceremony after DNA showed links to native peoples.

Kennewick Man was uncovered in 1996 after two men stumbled across part of its skull in the Columbia River near the city of Kennewick in southern Washington. The research, by an international team of scientists, was published online Thursday by the journal Nature.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Mysterious inscription from the time of King David offers glimpse into the past

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The inscription. (Copyright:talrphoto Tal Rogovsky)

A mysterious inscription from the time of King David provides a fascinating glimpse into the past, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced on Tuesday.

The inscription was discovered at Khirbet Qeiyafa, in the valley of Elah southwest of Jerusalem. A ceramic jar around 3,000 years old that was broken into numerous shards was discovered in 2012. Researchers were fascinated by letters written in Canaanite script that could be seen on a number of the shards.

Extensive restoration work was conducted in the laboratories of the Israel Antiquities Authority Artifacts Treatment Department, during which hundreds of pottery shards were glued together to form a whole jar. Researchers then discovered the inscription “Eshba’al Ben Beda’.”

The inscription suggests that Eshba’al Ben Beda was an important person. Ben Beda was apparently the owner of a large agricultural estate, according to the Israel Antiquities Authority, which says that produce from the estate was packed and transported in jars that bore his name. “This is clear evidence of social stratification and the creation of an established economic class that occurred at the time of the formation of the Kingdom of Judah,” it said, in a statement.

The name Eshba’al was reminiscent of the Canaanite storm god Ba’al, according to researchers, and the inscription marks a unique find in Israel.

“This is the first time that the name Eshbaʽal has appeared on an ancient inscription in the country,” said Professor Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Saar Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority, in the statement. “It is interesting to note that the name Eshbaʽal appears in the Bible, and now also in the archaeological record, only during the reign of King David.”

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Ancient church uncovered during highway project in Israel

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Aerial view of the excavation in Jerusalem. (Skyview Company, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority)

A 1,500-year-old church has been discovered at a Byzantine period rest stop on the road connecting Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, archaeologists announced June 10.

The ancient road station and church, uncovered during a highway construction project, sit next to a seep spring called ‘Ain Naqa’a, which is on the outskirts of Moshav Bet Neqofa, a settlement in Jerusalem.

Along the old road, which was likely paved in the Roman period, “other settlements and road stations have previously been discovered that served those traveling the route in ancient times,” Annette Nagar, the director of the excavation on behalf of the Israel Antiquities Authority, said in a statement. “This road station ceased to be used at the end of the Byzantine period, although the road beside which it was built was renewed and continued to be in use until modern times.”

The newly excavated church had a white mosaic floor measuring about 52 feet long, with a side chapel 21 feet by 11 feet. A baptismal font (“baptisterium”), which is a fixture that can hold water for baptisms, sat in the chapel’s northeast corner. It was in the shape of a four-leaf clover, reminiscent of the cross. [Photos: Peering Into a 12th-Century Byzantine Monastery]

Remaining fragments of red-colored plaster found mixed in with the rubble throughout the building suggest the church walls were decorated with frescoes. Rooms on the west side of the church could have provided housing and storage, the researchers noted. Pottery tiles filled one of the rooms.

Various artifacts at the site — such as oil lamps, coins, special glass vessels, marble fragments and mother-of-pearl shells — indicate the site was used for many activities.

Pablo Betzer, the Israel Antiquities Authority’s district archaeologist for Judah, added, “The finds have been documented, and we shall be studying them.”

Uncovering the ancient past is not uncommon in Israel, an archaeologically rich region where plenty of construction projects have revealed artifacts and ruins. For instance, archaeologists digging trenches on the side of Israel’s Highway 38 in preparation for a road widening discovered a 10,000-year-old house that is considered one of the region’s oldest dwellings. A salvage excavation last year, before construction of an interchange on southern Israel’s Highway 31, turned upa Byzantine monastery near the Bedouin village of Hura in the northern Negev Desert.

In other finds, a 900-year-old wealthy estate complete with a garden and mosaic fountain emerged during excavation ahead of bridge construction along Israel’s Highway 44, and a Stone-Age carving of a phallus was discovered during a project to expand Highway 1 in Israel.

As for the newly uncovered church and rest stop, “a decision has been made with the National Roads Company to cover over the site and preserve it for future generations,” Betzer said. The National Roads Company initiated and funded the excavation.

 

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

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Early urban planning: Ancient Mayan city built on grid

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In the course of excavating remains of the Mayan city, archaeologists uncovered a corridor containing shiny white plaster that originally would have covered the city. (Photo by Evelyn Chan)

An ancient Mayan city followed a unique grid pattern, providing evidence of a powerful ruler, archaeologists working at Nixtun-Ch’ich’ in Petén, Guatemala, have found.

The city, which contains flat-topped pyramids, was in use between roughly 600 B.C. and 300 B.C., a time when the first cities were being constructed in the area. No other city from the Maya world was planned using this grid design, researchers say. This city was “organized in a way we haven’t seen in other places,” said Timothy Pugh, a professor at Queens College in New York.

“It’s a top-down organization,” Pugh said. “Some sort of really, really, powerful ruler had to put this together.”

The ancient Mexican city of Teotihuacan also used a grid system. But that city is not considered to be Mayan, and so far archaeologists have found no connections between it and the one at Nixtun-Ch’ich’, Pugh said. [In Photos: Mayan Art Discovered in Guatemala]

People living in the area have known of the Nixtun-Ch’ich’ site for a long time. Pugh started research on it in 1995 and has been concentrating on Mayan remains that date to a much later time period,long after the early city was abandoned. However, in the process of studying these later remains, his team has been able to map the early city and even excavate a bit of it.

Ceremonial route

From the mapping and excavations, Pugh can tell that the city’s main ceremonial route runs in an east-west line only 3 degrees off of true east. “You get about 15 buildings in an exact straight line — that’s the main ceremonial area,” he said. These 15 buildings included flat-topped pyramids that would have risen up to almost 100 feet high. Visitors would have climbed a series of steps to reach the temple structure at the top of each of these pyramids.

At the end of the ceremonial way, on the eastern edge of the city, is a “triadic” structure or group, which consists of pyramids and buildings that were constructed facing each other on a platform. Structures like this triadic group (the name comes from the three main pyramids or buildings in the group), have been found in other early Mayan cities.

The residential areas of the city were built to the north and south of the ceremonial route and were also packed into the city’s grid design, Pugh said.

From the excavations, archaeologists can tell that many of the city’s structures were decorated with shiny white plaster. “It was probably a very shiny city,” Pugh said.

The city’s orientation, facing almost directly east, would have helped people follow the movements of the sun, something that may have been of importance to their religion.

A wall made of earth and stone also protectedthe city, suggesting defense was also a concern of these Mayans.

Were the people miserable?

While the city was a sight to behold, its people might not have been happy with it, Pugh said.

“Most Mayan cities are nicely spread out. They have roads just like this, but they’re not gridded,” said Pugh, noting that in other Mayan cities, “the space is more open and less controlled.”

Cities in early Renaissance Europe that adopted rigid designs were often unpleasant places for their residents to live, Pugh said. It’s “very possible” that the residents of this early Mayan city “didn’t really enjoy living in such a controlled environment,” Pugh said.

Preserving the city

Archaeologists said they are thankful to the cattle ranchers who own the land the site is on and are protecting it against looters, Pugh said.

This location is one of the few Mayan sites in the area that hasn’t been looted, and that’s because the ranchers are “really protective, and they don’t want people messing with the Maya ruins,” Pugh said.

Additionally, the ranchers use a type of quick-growing grass, which, in addition to helping feed cattle, also protects the site from erosion, helping preserve it.

Pugh’s team presented their research recently at the Society for American Archaeology’s Annual Meeting, in San Francisco.

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Evidence uncovered in ancient mystery: skeleton, severed head

Evidence uncovered in ancient mystery: skeleton, severed head

Two adult skulls lie next to each other on an archaeological excavation site at the new Crossrail train line next to Liverpool Street station in London, Friday, March 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

First, they discovered 3,000 skeletons dating back to the Great Plague. Now archaeologists excavating parts of an ongoing commuter railway project in London have uncovered skulls lined neatly on a Roman road—and one lying between the legs of a headless skeleton, the Telegraph reports.

Other skulls discovered in the area apparently washed over from a nearby cemetery, but this is different: “These discoveries can’t all be explained by the natural environment,” says Jay Carver, the project’s head archaeologist.

A former river running through a cemetery may have carried over some interred skulls, he says, “but evidence is also mounting to support the theory that this part of London was an execution and display area.” The nearby discovery of manacled wrists and shackles seems to support that, as does the existence of a now-buried Roman amphitheater built in 120AD.

After all, gladiators would cut off their opponents’ heads there. On the other hand,Forbes reports, maybe these skulls once rested on the shoulders of rebels led by Boudicca, the warrior queen of a British Celtic tribe that killed roughly 70,000 occupying Romans in 60AD.

Or maybe Celtic pagans, believing that heads contain a life force, cut them off in ritual dedication to the gods, the Telegraph says. Whatever the answer, bioarchaeologists will be investigating the skulls for signs of injury or trauma.

(Read about a couple that admits to planting goofy skeletons in the Colorado River.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Evidence in Ancient Mystery: Skeleton, Severed Head

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Scientists find evidence of ‘history’s first murder’

Scientists find evidence of 'history's first murder'

An artist’s impression of the people who inhabited the area 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene. (AP Photo/Madrid Scientific Films, Kennis & Kennis)

An examination of ancient remains from a cave in Spain turned into an episode of CSI: Middle Pleistocene when scientists found evidence of what they say is the first known murder.

The skull found in the “Pit of Bones” site belongs to a young adult who lived around 430,000 years ago and bears what researchers say are unmistakable signs of deadly violence, reports Forbes, which notes that the scientists have assembled enough evidence to convince a modern jury that the early human was likely killed by a right-handed attacker who hit the victim in the head twice with some kind of object—and it wouldn’t take a prehistoric Columbo to deduce that the murder weapon was probably a rock.

This is the “earliest evidence of lethal interpersonal violence,” the researchers write in the journal Plos One—and they note that the evidence of murder could explain why that body and 27 more were lying at the bottom of a cave shaft, apparently placed there by others.

Given what’s known of human behavior in the intervening 430,000 years, the scientists weren’t too startled to find that the early humans they’re studying were bashing each other over the heads with rocks.

“Violence is a very usual behavior for animals,” the lead researcher tells theGuardian. “It’s not surprising that interpersonal violence took place.” (Another ancient Spanish cave yielded the burial site of a “queen of the Stone Age.”)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Scientists Find Evidence of ‘History’s First Murder’

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