In their search for the lost grave of King Richard III, archaeologists unearthed a skeleton from underneath a parking lot last August. Today researchers announced that the skeleton is indeed that of England’s 500-year-deceased
king, and they have the DNA and radiocarbon dating to prove it.
Richard III is most famous for the Shakespeare play of the same name, which was written a century after his death. This English king reigned for just over two years, but his body was buried without record of its exact location. Researchers began digging up the vicinity of Greyfriars church in Leicester in 2011, and today’s announcement is the scientific evidence they needed to make their case for a definitive identification.
A stash of stones uncovered in a prehistoric dwelling in Panama could be the earliest evidence of traditional healing, or shamanic practice, in lower Central America.
Archaeologists used radiocarbon dating of charcoal samples located directly above and below the stones to estimate that the stones were left in the dwelling sometime between 4,000 and 4,800 years ago. Since the stones were clustered together, the researchers say the collection was probably deposited in a container that has since decomposed.
The sun sets behind the Kukulkan pyramid in Chichen Itza, Mexico, where
the last stone monuments were carved prior to the collapse of the Maya civilization.
Archaeologists have long suspected that climate change may have caused droughts that brought the agriculture-based Maya civilization to its knees. A new study published in Science last week bolsters this theory with new physical evidence, showing that ancient droughts correspond with political upheaval as recorded in stone carvings.
Scientists generally figure out what long-ago climates looked like by measuring oxygen isotopes in sediment samples. These isotopes are variations on the oxygen atom that have eight, nine, or ten neutrons, depending on the amount of water present when the sediment was deposited. A sediment layer’s ratio of heavy versus light oxygen isotopes can tell scientists when the layer was formed and what the climate was like at that time. Researchers in past studies have relied on sediment cores from lakes or oceans, but the researchers in this study used a stalagmite from a cave near the ancient Maya city of Uxbenká, in present-day Belize.
The excavation at Spitalfields
The churchyard at St. Mary’s in Spitalfields, London, was the final resting place for more than 10,000 people in medieval times. But among the run-of-the-mill gravesites, archaeologists with the Museum of London Archaeology have found, were 175 mass graves, containing the closely packed bodies of thousands of men, women, and children. What happened to these people? The answer, it turns out, could be decidedly unusual.
The team’s first thought was the obvious: the Black Death, which ravaged England starting in 1347. But once the bodies in the mass graves were carbon dated, it was clear that they had died a hundred years before the first plague-carrying flea came to Britain: around 1250. “As soon as we got the radiocarbon dates back, we knew that couldn’t possibly be the case. There had to be some other event,” says Natasha Powers, the head of osteology at the Museum of London Archaeology.
Beakers found at Cahokia in the Midwest contain
traces of tea from the southeast
Some teas are not as soothing as others. “Black drink,” brewed from the holly Ilex vomitoria by Native Americans on what is now the southeastern coast of the United States, had the lovely side effect of inducing vomiting (though perhaps from ingredients other than the holly) and was a key part of a 16th-century religious purification ritual, according to European accounts. Researchers were recently surprised to learn, however, that it also seems to have traveled quite a bit: traces of black drink have now been found over 200 miles out of Ilex vomitoria’s coastal range at the site of Cahokia, an ancient city near modern-day St. Louis.
Archaeologists working near Leipzig, Germany, have unearthed a surprisingly arrangement of more than 100 dog’s teeth in a grave between 4,200 and 4,500 years old. The way the teeth are arrayed suggests that they might have been sewn as decoration onto a piece of leather or textile which has since decayed, prompting the team who found it to call in the remnants of a purse. Taking a closer look has revealed that the teeth come from dozens of different dogs.
The team has already found hundreds of graves at the site, as well as artifacts like an amber necklace, bone buttons, stone tools, and, in one later grave, a pound of gold jewelry. Unfortunately, they have just a few years left to learn what they can from the place: it’s due to become a coal mine in 2015.
Photograph courtesy Klaus Bentele, LDA Halle
This might look like a lot of old coins, but they come from
a trove 35 times smaller than the most recent find.
Uncovering ancient buried treasure doesn’t require the skills to interpret a secret map or navigate a booby-trapped cave. All it took to turn up the largest hoard of Iron Age coins ever found in Europe were two metal detectors…and a lot of patience. After 30 years of searching, Reg Mead and Richard Miles discovered a cache of 30,000 to 50,000 gold and silver Celtic coins worth up to $15 million.
About three decades ago, Mead and Miles heard that a farmer had discovered some silver coins in a field on Jersey, a self-governing island in the English Channel. Although most people would dismiss the rumor, the two men were so intrigued that they started investigating with their metal detectors, a practice they continued through February of this year, when their long quest turned up 60 silver coins and one gold one. Still not satisfied, the men kept looking.
This beautiful golden earring, decorated with figures of goats, was one of a trove of jewelry pieces that were wrapped in cloth and stuffed into a jar discovered by archaeologists at the Tel Meggido dig in Israel. When the team flushed the jar’s interior with water, earrings, a ring, and carnelian beads came tumbling out.
They aren’t sure why the jewelry was in the jar, but they posit that it could have been hidden there by the inhabitants of the home where the jar was found for safekeeping. The layer of soil where the find occurred dates from the 11th century BCE, a period when Meggido was under Egyptian rule, and the team believes the jewelry is either of Egyptian origin or inspired by Egyptian designs.
Image courtesy of American Friends of Tel Aviv University
The Xultun scribe’s chamber, with A, B, and C showing the locations of the calculations.
In a small closet-like chamber off a central plaza of the ancient Mayan city of Xultun, a scribe once sat with a paintbrush in hand.
On the north walls of the room, he painted an apparent self-portrait, facing a figure with an elaborate headdress, perhaps a ruler. But on adjacent walls, he and his successors, starting in about 800 C.E., painted and inscribed various astrological calculations. They are very similar to those found in the Dresden Codex, one of the most famous extant Mayan books, which contains numerous astrological and ritualistic cycles and is thought to have been copied from older books sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries. The markings on the scribe’s walls in Xultun, unveiled last week in a paper in Science, represent the earliest known depictions of some of these calculations.
The interior of a cenote
The cenotes of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo are peppered with mysterious skeletons. Over the millennia, these water-filled caves have served as burying grounds and sacrificial sites for native peoples, and in fact, several ancient sets of remains have been found so deep in the caves that they are inaccessible without diving equipment, suggesting that they must have been placed there when the caves were dry, before the ice caps melted around 8,ooo BCE, and putting them in the range of 10-14,000 years old.
Now, though, one of those ancient skeletons, called the Young Man of Chan Hol II since its discovery in 2010, has gone missing from its cenote. New Scientist reports that the National Institute of Anthropology and History has put up posters in bakeries, supermarkets, and divers’ shops throughout the town of Tulum in hopes of receiving tips as to the skeleton’s whereabouts and is considering legal action, though we’re not sure what actions are possible against thieves. Apparently there have been other archaeological thefts from cenotes as well; the cenotes are frequented by divers, and the authorities cannot guard them all.
Image courtesy of Darren Fry / flickr