By Norman Hammond, Archaeology Correspondent
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History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings
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Agony and the Ecstasy: The great Rolls-Royce love story
You can still feel the regret and despair, heavy in every word. 'I should have got a stronger grip on her,' wrote Lord Montagu in a letter home from his sickbed in Malta in 1916, after being rescued from the wreckage of the SS Persia which was hit by a German torpedo while crossing the Mediterranean.
But to his enduring pain, Eleanor Thornton, his travelling companion, personal assistant and beloved mistress, had not been saved.
"My father was shattered by Thorn drowning," says his son, the 81-year-old current Lord Montagu, using his father's pet name for Eleanor.
Love at first sight: Eleanor Thornton and Lord Montagu
"Theirs was a great love affair. Although when he came back home he was badly injured, he spent days looking for Thorn, who had been thrown overboard, searching everywhere, hoping that somehow she would turn up."
Of course, she never did. But though the affair between the aristocrat and Eleanor Thornton ended with her death, their love was immortalised in the most unlikely of places.
It was the inspiration for the Rolls-Royce flying lady, or 'Spirit of Ecstasy', whose soaring curves are modelled on Thorn and recognised by motorists across the world as a symbol of quality and distinction.
Historic First? The amazing 'pixie dust' made from pigs bladder that regrew a severed finger in FOUR weeks
But such a 'pixie dust' already exists - and Lee Spievack's ten perfectly formed fingers are living proof.
Mr Spievack sliced almost half an inch off the top of one of his fingers in the propeller of a model plane.
Four weeks later - and following liberal sprinklings of an experimental powder made from pig's bladder - his finger had regrown to its original length.
Before and after: After cutting off the tip, Lee Spievack's finger was back to normal in one month
After four months, it looked like any other finger, complete with "great feeling", a finger nail and fingerprint.
"The second time I put it on I could already see growth," said Mr Spievack, 69. "Each day it was up further.
Pyramids packed with fossil shells
Were Egypt's great ancient monuments carved from stone or cast like concrete? New fossil evidence, found intact and embedded in the monument walls, reignites the debate (Source: iStockphoto)
Many of Egypt's most famous monuments, such as the Sphinx and Cheops pyramid at Giza, contain hundreds of thousands of marine fossils, according to a new study.
Most of the fossils are intact and preserved in the monument walls, giving clues to how the monuments were built.
The authors suggest the stones that make up the Giza plateau, Fayum and Abydos monuments must have been carved out of natural stone as they reveal what chunks of the sea floor must have looked like over 4000 years ago, when the buildings were erected.
Cave woman is laid to rest after 1,900 years
THE remains of a woman have been laid to rest in a hidden location in the Yorkshire Dales – about 1,900 years after she died.She was returned in a special ceremony to the mysterious limestone cave where she was discovered by two Yorkshire divers more than a decade ago.
Phillip Murphy, an academic at Leeds University, and his friend Andrew Goddard found the woman's skull by chance during a diving mission at the cave, dubbed the Wolf Den, in 1997.
Carbon dating tests confirmed that the remains dated back to Roman times, and further visits to the site unearthed the bones of some medieval wild dogs and the first set of prehistoric cave footprints ever seen in Britain.
A forensic expert at Sheffield University, Dr Stephanie Davy-Jow, has even managed to draw a reconstruction of how the woman's face would have looked, using the latest 3D computer modelling techniques.
Read the rest here.
Neandertals Ate Their Veggies, Tooth Study Shows
for National Geographic News
Tiny bits of plant material found in the teeth of a Neandertal skeleton unearthed in Iraq provide the first direct evidence that the human ancestors ate vegetation, researchers say.
Little is known about diet of Neandertals (also spelled Neanderthals), although it's widely assumed that they ate more than just meat.
Much of what is known about their eating habits has come from indirect evidence, such as animal remains found at Neandertal sites and chemical signatures called isotopes detected in their teeth.
The new hard evidence is microfossils of plant material that investigators found in the dental plaque of 35,000-year-old Neanderthal teeth, said lead study author Amanda Henry, a graduate student in hominid paleobiology at The George Washington University.
"The formation of dental [plaque] traps the plant microfossils from food particles within the matrix of the plaque deposits, so the microfossils are protected and are a unique record of the plant foods put into the mouth," Henry said.
"So we can say with confidence that this individual Neanderthal ate plants," she added.
Arms and the Man
History—the rational and methodical study of the human past—was invented by a single man just under twenty-five hundred years ago; just under twenty-five years ago, when I was starting a graduate degree in Classics, some of us could be pretty condescending about the man who invented it and (we’d joke) his penchant for flowered Hawaiian shirts.
The risible figure in question was Herodotus, known since Roman times as “the Father of History.” The sobriquet, conferred by Cicero, was intended as a compliment. Herodotus’ Histories—a chatty, dizzily digressive nine-volume account of the Persian Wars of 490 to 479 B.C., in which a wobbly coalition of squabbling Greek city-states twice repulsed the greatest expeditionary force the world had ever seen—represented the first extended prose narrative about a major historical event. (Or, indeed, about virtually anything.) And yet to us graduate students in the mid-nineteen-eighties the word “father” seemed to reflect something hopelessly parental and passé about Herodotus, and about the sepia-toned “good war” that was his subject.
These were, after all, the last years of the Cold War, and the terse, skeptical manner of another Greek historian—Thucydides, who chronicled the Peloponnesian War, between Athens and Sparta, two generations later—seemed far more congenial. To be an admirer of Thucydides’ History, with its deep cynicism about political, rhetorical, and ideological hypocrisy, with its all too recognizable protagonists—a liberal yet imperialistic democracy and an authoritarian oligarchy, engaged in a war of attrition fought by proxy at the remote fringes of empire—was to advertise yourself as a hardheaded connoisseur of global Realpolitik.
Emperor Nero's gate discovered in Cologne
The gate, found complete with 11 meters of wall, was a goods-delivery entrance to the Roman town from its river port outside on the Rhine.
Cologne, Germany -- A town gate that was probably built with a grant from Roman Emperor Nero has been discovered in Cologne, Germany during work on a new underground train line, archaeologists said.
"This is finest Roman handiwork," said Hansgerd Hellenkemper, director of the Roman museum in the city.
The gate, found complete with 11 meters of wall, was a goods-delivery entrance to the Roman town from its river port outside on the Rhine. The sturdy Roman wall protected Cologne for 1,000 years.
Read the rest here.
Parachute that Da Vinci drew is made to work... after 523 years
Parachutes have come a long way in the last few decades. They're easier to steer and a great deal less likely to go wrong.
So it takes a certain amount of nerve to plunge 2,000ft relying on a "chute designed more than 500 years ago.
Blueprint and reality: Da Vinci's design and Olivier Vietta-Teppa using it to jump
However a Swiss daredevil has done just that, trusting to the genius of Leonardo da Vinci.
Olivier Vietti-Teppa, 36, jumped at the weekend using a parachute based on sketches made by the Italian Renaissance artist in 1485.
Something Fun for the Weekend
Okay, so it's not historical.... but then again... it might be if you crashed on the moon and made history by trekking back to your spacecraft!
The Moon Survival Test... Would you survive a crash-landing???
Egypt: Tomb of Cleopatra and lover to be uncovered
Cairo, 24 April(AKI) - Archaeologists have revealed plans to uncover the 2000 year-old tomb of ancient Egypt's most famous lovers, Cleopatra and the Roman general Mark Antony later this year.
Zahi Hawass, prominent archaeologist and director of Egypt's superior council for antiquities announced a proposal to test the theory that the couple were buried together.
He discussed the project in Cairo at a media conference about the ancient pharaohs.
Hawass said that the remains of the legendary Egyptian queen and her Roman lover, Mark Antony, were inside a temple called Tabusiris Magna, 30 kilometres from the port city of Alexandria in northern Egypt.
Until recently access to the tomb has been hindered because it is under water, but archaeologists plan to drain the site so they can begin excavation in November.
Among the clues to suggest that the temple may contain Cleopatra's remains is the discovery of numerous coins with the face of the queen.
According to Hawas, Egyptologists have also uncovered a 120-metre-long underground tunnel with many rooms, some of which could contain more details about Cleopatra.
Read the rest here.
Vikings acquitted in 1000-year-old murder mystery
By Alister Doyle
OSLO (Reuters) - Tests of the bones of two Viking women found in a buried longboat have dispelled 1000-year-old suspicions that one was a maid sacrificed to accompany her queen into the afterlife, experts said on Friday.
The bones indicated that a broken collarbone on the younger woman had been healing for several weeks -- meaning the break was not part of a ritual execution as suspected since the 22-metre (72 ft) long Oseberg ship was found in 1904.
"We have no reason to think violence was the cause of death," Per Holck, professor of anatomy at Oslo University, told Reuters after studying the two women who died in 834 aged about 80 and 50.
A serial flirt with a taste for drink and toyboys: How the REAL Jane Austen is portrayed in a new drama based on her own letters
An incorrigible flirt with a crush on a man half her age, a woman who scandalously reneges on the acceptance of a marriage proposal, and a reveller familiar with hangovers because of her penchant for wine.
The above depiction of Jane Austen has already sent shudders down the corsets of her fans worldwide, for this little-known side to the early 19th-century author is the subject of a new BBC costume drama, Miss Austen Regrets.
Many of us are familiar with the swoon-inducing romance of her novels, from Pride And Prejudice to Sense And Sensibility and Mansfield Park.
Her powerful characters, combined with her biting social commentary, have made her one of the most widely-read and best-loved writers in literature.
But the facts about the author's life are in short supply as Austen (played by Olivia Williams in the film) never wrote a memoir, never sat for an interview and never recorded whether she herself had felt the joys and disappointments of the love about which she writes.
To make matters worse, when Jane died, aged 41, her sister Cassandra burned many of her letters - probably to spare the feelings of relatives and acquaintances who were the target of Jane's barbs.
The characters and incidents in the film - exquisitely shot at Hall Barn, Buckinghamshire, where Sense And Sensibility, Gosford Park and Chariots Of Fire were also made - are drawn from the correspondence that does survive between Jane and Cassandra, and Jane and her niece Fanny Knight.
They examine why, despite all the love stories filling her rich imagination, Jane, who embodied the brilliant wit and high spirits of her heroines, did not take the plunge into matrimony herself.
"People who think of Jane Austen as a little country mouse who was reserved around men will be shocked," reveals Gwyneth Hughes, who wrote the script after painstakingly scouring Austen's letters for revealing new insights into the author's life.
She comes across as more waspish than ever before. In fact, Jane was described by her contemporary, writer Mary Russell Mitford, as the "prettiest, silliest, most affected husband-hunting butterfly ever".
"She really liked witty repartee and she was very comfortable in male company," says Hughes. "The flirting is clear from her letters, especially where she says tartly: 'I never married because I never met anyone worth giving up flirting for.'"
She certainly never seemed to find her own Mr Darcy and therein lies the crux of the plot of Miss Austen Regrets, where Jane jokes: "I am she that loved and lost", and says to Fanny: "My darling girl, this is the real world - the only way to get a man like Mr Darcy is to make him up."
Olivia Williams's Austen is no shrinking violet. She sees her novels as beloved children and the decision not to wed as vital to her giving birth to them.
It is not simply the tale of Austen's life, which began in Hampshire with her six brothers and sister in a family on the lower fringes of gentry.
Phyllida Law plays Jane's mother, and Williams in the lead role brings across all the confidence of a woman who began writing novels at 15.
The real Jane mixed frequently with friends and neighbours, and read novels (often her own) aloud with her family in the evenings. This socialising often led to dancing, either impromptu in someone's home after supper, or at balls held at the assembly rooms in the town hall.
One of her brothers, Henry, later said that: "Jane was fond of dancing, and excelled in it."
Study: Humans Almost Went Extinct 70,000 Years Ago
WASHINGTON — Human beings may have had a brush with extinction 70,000 years ago, an extensive genetic study suggests.
The human population at that time was reduced to small isolated groups in Africa, apparently because of drought, according to an analysis released Thursday.
The report notes that a separate study by researchers at Stanford University estimated the number of early humans may have shrunk as low as 2,000 before numbers began to expand again in the early Stone Age.
Faithful Gather to View Mystic Italian Saint Padre Pio's Remains
SAN GIOVANNI ROTONDO, Italy — The body of Padre Pio, a hugely popular Italian saint, goes on public display Thursday in a southern Italian town where thousands have gathered to pray to the mystic monk whom many Catholic faithful believe bore the signs of Jesus' crucifixion.
Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, head of the Vatican's sainthood office, lead an open-air Mass before thousands of faithful before the unveiling of the saint's body in a church in San Giovanni Rotondo, where he lived.
"Today, we venerate his body, opening a particularly intense period of pilgrimage," Saraiva Martins said. "This body is here, but Padre Pio is not only a corpse. Looking at his remains we remember all the good that he has made."
Alexander the Great's "Crown," Shield Discovered?
for National Geographic News
An ancient Greek tomb thought to have held the body of Alexander the Great's father is actually that of Alexander's half brother, researchers say.
This may mean that some of the artifacts found in the tomb—including a helmet, shield, and silver "crown"—originally belonged to Alexander the Great himself. Alexander's half brother is thought to have claimed these royal trappings after Alexander's death.
The tomb was one of three royal Macedonian burials excavated in 1977 by archaeologists working in the northern Greek village of Vergina.
Excavators at the time found richly appointed graves with artifacts including a unique silver headband, an iron helmet, and a ceremonial shield, along with a panoply of weapons and an object initially identified as a scepter.
"[Archaeologists] announced that the burial in the main chamber of the large rich [tomb] was that of Philip II, father of Alexander the Great, who was assassinated in 336 B.C," said Eugene N. Borza, professor emeritus of ancient history at Pennsylvania State University.
But recent analyses of the tombs and the paintings, pottery, and other artifacts found there, suggest that the burials are in fact one generation more recent than had previously been thought, Borza said.
"Regarding the paraphernalia we attribute to Alexander, no single item constitutes proof, but the quality of the argument increases with the quantity of information," he said.
"We believe that it is likely that this material was Alexander's. As for the dating of the tombs themselves, this is virtually certain."
Read the rest on National Geographic News
Ancient finds unearthed
Terracotta army has egg on its face
by Jennifer Viegas
China's terracotta army, a collection of 7000 soldier and horse figures in the mausoleum of the country's first emperor, was covered with beaten egg when it was made, scientists say.
According to German and Italian chemists who have analysed samples from several figurines, the egg was as a binder for colourful paints, which went over a layer of lacquer.
"Egg paint is normally very stable, and not soluble in water ... This makes it less sensitive to humidity and moisture," says German co-author Catharina Blaensdorf, a scientist at the Technical University of Munich.
Egg proteins would have also ensured the adhesion of the paint to the lacquer, while also giving the paint thickness and texture, says Blaensdorf's Italian colleague Ilaria Bonaduce, of the University of Pisa.
Turkish site a Neolithic 'supernova'
By Nicholas Birch
URFA, Turkey - As a child, Klaus Schmidt used to grub around in caves in his native Germany in the hope of finding prehistoric paintings. Thirty years later, as a member of the German Archaeological Institute, he found something infinitely more important: a temple complex almost twice as old as anything comparable."This place is a supernova," said Mr. Schmidt, standing under a lone tree on a windswept hilltop 35 miles north of the Syrian border."Within a minute of first seeing it, I knew I had two choices: go away and tell nobody, or spend the rest of my life working here."Behind him are the first folds of the Anatolian Plateau. Ahead, the Mesopotamian plain, like a dust-colored sea, stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe, his workplace since 1994, are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill.
Iron Age mystery of the 'Essex druid'
As sacred priests, their duties included teaching, law enforcement and possibly even burning people to death in giant wicker men. Druids dominated British culture with their mysterious magical rites in the centuries before the Roman invasion.
For such an important band of men, however – it could take 20 years to train to be a druid, according to some sources – hardly anything is known about them. That could be about to change now, though, after what is thought to be the first discovery in Britain of a druid grave.
The extraordinary find was made at the Essex village of Stanway, near Colchester. It is among a number of graves of eminent people interred around the time of the Roman invasion of Britain in AD43.
Following Queen Boudica's uprising in AD61, Emperor Claudius ordered the druids be wiped out. Their Anglesey stronghold and sacred groves were destroyed, along with their entire history.
Re-Created Library Speaks Volumes About Jefferson
By Amy OrndorffWashington Post Staff Writer
In Thomas Jefferson's day, the books he lovingly collected were almost as famous as he was.
Leather-bound tomes on topics as varied as whist, beekeeping and philosophy were gathered from across Europe and colonial America, then brought to Monticello to help fulfill Jefferson's vow to amass the whole of human knowledge. They eventually became the foundation for the Library of Congress, although two-thirds were lost in a fire in 1851.
For the past decade, a small group of rare book experts has sought to re-create Jefferson's library, scouring antiquarian book collections on two continents to acquire thousands of volumes. The entire collection of more than 6,000 volumes -- some originals and some replacements -- will go on display tomorrow at the Library of Congress, looking much as it would have 200 years ago.
"These are the books that made America," said Mark Dimunation, chief of the Rare Books and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress.
After a lifetime collecting the books, Jefferson, sold them during the War of 1812. British soldiers had set fire to the first congressional library, obliterating more than 1,000 books. Aghast, Jefferson offered his library at whatever price Congress deemed reasonable. In 1815, Congress paid about $24,000 for all 6,487 volumes.
Home extension horror as mum discovers ten skeletons buried under her dining room - and faces a £30k bill to move them
But she could not have prepared for what would emerge after workmen found ten skeletons buried under her dining room.
And now Miss McGuigan, 42, faces a £30,000 bill to give them another resting place.
Respect: Burial laws mean the skulls and skeletons have to be disposed of with respect
The gruesome episode began three weeks ago when she found her five builders white as sheets and hugging mugs of tea.
"It was like something out of a horror movie," said Miss McGuigan, who has a son, Cameron, ten, and lived in the cottage for 11 years.
"The men said they had found what they thought was an old pipe but when they pulled it out of the ground they realised it was bone.
Shocked: Catherine McGuigan outside her home
Miss McGuigan, who had moved out of the cottage during the building work, called police and within minutes her cottage was cordoned off for a forensic search of the hole beneath her dining room.
To her relief, the remains turned out to be over 100 years old and the police did not need to get involved.
But within days of restarting work, another skeleton was found. Since then eight more have been recovered.
"It's been heart-breaking and now I can hardly bear to go to the house.
"Some skeletons are just a few bones but others have been dug up intact actually still in their coffins."
And it is thought up to 40 more bodies could be buried at the cottage in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire – on the site of Quaker burial ground from the 1700s.
Origin of the spouses: The private papers that reveal Darwin's inner turmoil over whether or not to marry
The 17 pages of his musings on marriage in his own spidery handwriting offer a fascinating - and deeply moving - glimpse into the thoughts of a man torn between his intellectual discipline as a scientist and his desire for a wife.
It is the first time that the general public has been able to examine the 90,000 individual documents that form his archive, which provide a very human commentary on one of the greatest Englishmen of all time.
Wife-to-be: Emma Wedgwood (left) and meticulous thinker Charles Darwin
It's hard to imagine any 29-year-old man today completing such a careful analysis of the pros and cons of taking the plunge. But then, Shropshire-born Darwin was a scientist to his fingertips and wanted to leave nothing to chance - not even matrimony.
And so he wrote this manuscript in the late summer of 1838, barely two years after he'd completed his famous five-year voyage on the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands, the west coast of South America and the Pacific islands, a trip that was to form part of the basis of his 1859 masterwork The Origin Of Species.
There was a very specific reason why. That summer, the young Darwin had glimpsed a young woman whom he thought he might just marry - his charming, cultured and intelligent cousin Emma Wedgwood, granddaughter of the renowned pottery designer and manufacturer Josiah.
She was just nine months older than he was.
Nevertheless as a scientist, and a Victorian at that, Darwin was not about to rush into any decision, and decided to write down the arguments as methodically as he had noted the species on the Galapagos islands, then discuss the whole matter with his fearsome father Robert, a society doctor and financier.
Taking a sheet of blue parchment paper he touchingly headed one column "Marry" and the other "Not Marry", and under each respectively noted the pros and cons.
Poop Fossil Pushes Back Date for Earliest Americans
New evidence shows humans lived in North America more than 14,000 years ago, 1,000 years earlier than had previously been known.
Discovered in a cave in Oregon, fossil feces yielded DNA indicating these early residents were related to people living in Siberia and East Asia, according to a report in Thursday's online edition of the journal Science.
"This is the first time we have been able to get dates that are undeniably human, and they are 1,000 years before Clovis," said Dennis L. Jenkins, a University of Oregon archaeologist, referring to the Clovis culture, well known for its unique spear-points that have been studied previously.
Humans are widely believed to have arrived in North America from Asia over a land-bridge between Alaska and Siberia during a warmer period. A variety of dates has been proposed and some are in dispute.Read the rest on Discovery.
Greek temple discovered in Alexandria
A team of archaeologists have unearthed a Greek temple in the Egyptian coastal city of Alexandria, showing that the Greeks worshipped Pharaonic deities more than 2,500 years ago.
An official of the expedition said that the temple was found during the renovation of an area of Alexandria with the relics of the temple unearthed evidence that Greeks were influenced by the ancient Egyptian civilization.
In Weak Rivets, a Possible Key to Titanic’s Doom
Researchers have discovered that the builder of the Titanic struggled for years to obtain enough good rivets and riveters and ultimately settled on faulty materials that doomed the ship, which sank 96 years ago Tuesday.
The builder’s own archives, two scientists say, harbor evidence of a deadly mix of low quality rivets and lofty ambition as the builder labored to construct the three biggest ships in the world at once — the Titanic and two sisters, the Olympic and the Britannic.
For a decade, the scientists have argued that the storied liner went down fast after hitting an iceberg because the ship’s builder used substandard rivets that popped their heads and let tons of icy seawater rush in. More than 1,500 people died.
When the safety of the rivets was first questioned 10 years ago, the builder ignored the accusation and said it did not have an archivist who could address the issue.
Now, historians say new evidence uncovered in the archive of the builder, Harland and Wolff, in Belfast, Northern Ireland, settles the argument and finally solves the riddle of one of the most famous sinkings of all time. The company says the findings are deeply flawed.
Mayan Apocalypse, 2012
The driver was taking me from Melbourne airport into the city. As we chatted, it came out that he was deeply worried. He had a wife and child, and a new baby on the way - but what was the use of living, he cried, if the world would end in 2012 as predicted by the Mayan prophecies, when his new baby would be just four years old.
Prophecies about the end of the world (or at the very least, civilisation as we know it) have been around forever. There was a flurry of them around 2000 AD, and another bunch for 5 May 2005, when all the planets were supposed to line up. (By the way, they didn't line up and yep, we're still here.)
Neanderthals speak out after 30,000 years
by Ewen Callaway
Reconstruction of a Neanderthal child's face (Image: Anthropological Institute, University of Zürich)
Talk about a long silence – no one has heard their voices for 30,000 years. Now the long-extinct Neanderthals are speaking up – or at least a computer synthesiser is doing so on their behalf.
Robert McCarthy, an anthropologist at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton has used new reconstructions of Neanderthal vocal tracts to simulate the voice. He says the ancient human's speech lacked the "quantal vowel" sounds that underlie modern speech.
Quantal vowels provide cues that help speakers with different size vocal tracts understand one another, says McCarthy, who was talking at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Columbus, Ohio, on April 11.
"They would have spoken a bit differently. They wouldn't have been able to produce these quantal vowels that form the basis of spoken language," he says.
In the 1970s, linguist Phil Lieberman, of Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, inferred the dimensions of the larynx of a Neanderthal based on its skull. His team concluded that Neanderthal speech did not have the subtlety of modern human speech.
Some researchers have criticised this finding, citing archaeological evidence of an oral culture and even errors in Lieberman's original vocal tract reconstruction.
Undeterred, the linguist teamed with McCarthy to simulate Neanderthal speech based on new reconstructions of three Neanderthal vocal tracts. The 50,000-year old fossils all came from France.
History's Horrors In the Present: Yemeni girl, 8, gets divorce after forced marriage
A Yemeni court on Tuesday granted a divorce to an eight-year-old girl whose unemployed father forced her into an arranged marriage this year, saying he feared she might be kidnapped.
"I am happy that I am divorced now. I will be able to go back to school," Nojud Mohammed Ali said, after a public hearing in Sanaa's court of first instance.
Her former husband, 28-year-old Faez Ali Thameur, said he married the child "with her consent and that of her parents" but that he did not object to her divorce petition.
In response to a question from Judge Mohammed al-Qadhi, he acknowledged that the "marriage was consummated, but I did not beat her."
European history in cod bones
The catastrophic decline of North Sea cod as the result of over fishing has had an impact on all our menus, from the poshest restaurants to the corner chippie: the fish left are few and small, compared with those of less than a century ago. Cod more than a metre in length are rare these days, whereas archaeological remains show that fish several times that size were common.
A new study shows that cod were exploited in the Middle Ages from many, often distant, fishing grounds, with an international trade in dried stockfish. Some fish eaten in a Yorkshire village may have been some from off the coast of Sweden, while merchants in what is now northern Germany ate cod from Arctic Norway.
Co-operation by archaeologists and scientists from Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, Scandinavia and the Baltic states has allowed medieval cod bones recovered from sites as far apart as Poland and Orkney to be analysed for their stable-isotope content. Variation in the isotopes of carbon and nitrogen is regional, “making it possible to identify bones from cod caught in distant waters”, James Barrett and colleagues report in the Journal of Archaeological Science. Their work suggests that this long-distance fish trade had already begun by late Anglo-Saxon times, at the end of the first millennium AD.
Is Stonehenge Roman?
After a gap of some forty four years, Stonehenge is once again being excavated. Admittedly, this time it is only a very small hole, and is only being dug for a fortnight, but it is a very important hole, and on April the 9th, we were invited down to Stonehenge to inspect it. It was a wonderful trip, not least because the weather was perfect. After the heavy snow fall at the weekend the sun decided to shine and since we were allowed inside the circle, I took the opportunity to take hundreds of photographs.
The excavations are being conducted by Geoffrey Wainwright (ex-English Heritage) and Tim Darvill (Bournemouth University), following up their research into the sources of the blue stones in the Prescelly Mountains in Pembrokeshire: but as they are being funded by the BBC TimeWatch programme, they are being carried out with the maximum publicity.
Read the rest here.
Cleopatra's Suicide by Snake a Myth?
Popular lore holds that in Cleopatra's last moments, the distraught queen -- who had just lost her kingdom and learned of her lover's demise -- smuggled a poisonous snake into her locked chamber and died, along with two ladies-in-waiting, of a self-inflicted snake bite.
Such a scenario is next to impossible, according to Egyptologist Joyce Tyldesley, who shatters the "snakebite suicide" myth in her new book, Cleopatra: Last Queen of Egypt, just published in Europe and slated for an upcoming U.S. release.
"It seems to me that the snake theory is just too difficult to sustain, as it leaves too many loopholes," Tyldesley, a lecturer at the University of Manchester in England and museum fellow, told Discovery News.
She posed the following questions: Do we imagine one snake killed all three women, or were three snakes brought in? How did the snake(s) get into the room? Where did the snakes then go? Since not all snakes are poisonous, how did the women ensure their own deaths?
"Basically, I think there are better and more reliable ways of killing oneself," she said, adding that some elements of the story are probably true.
Based on a number of historical accounts, Cleopatra did die in Alexandria at around 30 B.C., and there is no historical evidence of a prior illness. The moments leading up to her death are also plausible to Tyldesley, particularly Cleopatra's dismissal of her servants, save for two women, Charmian and Eiras.
"The decision to die in front of her female servants made good practical sense, as even the dead (according to ancient Egyptian spiritual beliefs) needed a chaperone," she explained.
"One of the horrors of female suicide was that the body might be glimpsed partially naked, by strangers," she added. The queen therefore safeguarded her virtue in life and in death by retaining the company of her ladies-in-waiting.
In accounts written about by the Greek historian Plutarch and the Roman historian Cassius Dio, Cleopatra had a snake smuggled into her chamber inside a jar of figs or water, but both historians expressed doubts about the scenario.
Egypt finds coins dating to Roman Emperor Valens
CAIRO (Reuters) - Archaeologists have discovered two gold coins in the Sinai peninsula dating to the era of Eastern Roman Emperor Valens that are the first of their kind to be found in Egypt, its antiquities council said on Sunday.
Read the rest on Reuters.
London Olympics 1908
To the rest of us, who do not belong to the preposterous International Olympic Committee, the Olympic Games are fast becoming the Greatest Shambles on Earth.
Episode of the Archers: The women's archery competition was won by Britain's Sybil 'Queenie' Newall
This month, as the so-called "sacred" flame of the Olympic movement is mocked and attacked every step of the way on its comical world tour, we have learned that the real bill for the 2012 London Olympics is now set to top a heart-stopping £20 billion.
No wonder, then, the Olympic authorities have overlooked an important anniversary which we should be celebrating right now.
For it is exactly 100 years ago this month that Britain held the Olympics for the first time.
The 1908 London Games were not just the first truly global Olympics. They also stand as a downright embarrassment to the blundering Olympic grandees of today.
Addendum: Rare statue of Roman emperor found
By ARIEL DAVID
Associated Press Writer
Combo of photos released by the Italian Guardia di Finanza police of a rare statue depicting the Roman Emperor Lucius Verus, at left, recovered among more than a dozen looted ancient artifacts hidden in a boat house near Rome, in an operation announced Friday April 11, 2008. Experts consider Lucius Verus' head a rare find of great scholarly value. The emperor was a shy figure overshadowed by his adoptive brother and co-ruler Marcus Aurelius, and because of his desire to stay out of the limelight, there are only four other known portraits of him. In a separate operation, Italian police recovered a marble head depicting Faustina, right, the wife of the Emperor Antoninus Pius, the predecessor and adoptive father of Lucius Verus and Marcus Aurelius.
Italian police have recovered a rare statue of a Roman emperor who co-ruled alongside Marcus Aurelius and was known for his reluctance to sit for portraits.
Police said Friday that the marble head of Lucius Verus was the most spectacular find among more than a dozen looted ancient artifacts hidden in a boat garage near Rome.
The bearded visage of Lucius Verus is believed to have been secretly unearthed at a site in the Naples area and was probably destined for the international market, said Capt. Massimo Rossi of a special police unit that hunts down archaeological thieves.
Experts consider Lucius Verus' head a find of great scholarly value. Because of his desire to stay out of the limelight, there are only four other known portraits of him, Rossi said.
Lucius Verus co-ruled Rome from 161 until his death in 169 alongside the more powerful Marcus Aurelius, his adoptive brother.
Skull returns to final rest place
The skull is believed to be that of a woman in her 50s
A rare 2,000-year-old Roman skull has been returned to the cave beneath the Yorkshire Dales where it was discovered by divers in 1996.
Archaeologists were called in after cave divers unearthed human bones in what is believed to be one of the most important cave discoveries ever made.
The skull dates to the 2nd Century and is that of a local woman in her 50s.
It was stored at Sheffield University for carbon-dating and recently returned to the cave, which has now been sealed.
There are other human remains in the cave which date back to the Bronze Age - more than 1,000 years before Roman Britain. Animal remains, including horses and dogs, have also been excavated.
Cave burials from this period are rare so this site is considered an archaeological treasure trove.
Experts believe the cave could have been a tomb, but that some of the deaths may have been through sacrificial ceremonies.
Tom Lord, research fellow at Lancaster University, has studied ancient bones in caves for more than 20 years and believes there is more to be unearthed in the cave.
Italian police recover rare statue of 'shy' Roman emperor among stash of looted antiquities
AP: Italian police have recovered a rare statue of a Roman emperor, known for his reluctance to sit for portraits, among more than a dozen looted ancient artifacts hidden in a boat garage, officials said Friday.
Red-figured ceramic vases stolen from an Etruscan tomb in central Italy were also among the stash recovered last month in the port town of Fiumicino, near Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport, and traced to an antiquities dealer in the capital, police said.
The most spectacular find was a marble head of Lucius Verus, a portrait of the emperor who co-ruled Rome from 161 until his death in 169 alongside his adoptive brother, Marcus Aurelius.Read the rest on the Herald Tribune.
Bejeweled Anglo-Saxon Burial Suggests Cult
In seventh century England, a woman's jewelry-draped body was laid out on a specially constructed bed and buried in a grave that formed the center of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery, according to British archaeologists who recently excavated the site in Yorkshire.
Her jewelry, which included a large shield-shaped pendant, the layout and location of the cemetery as well as excavated weaponry, such as knives and a fine langseax (a single-edged Anglo-Saxon sword), lead the scientists to believe she might have been a member of royalty who led a pagan cult at a time when Christianity was just starting to take root in the region.
"I believe it is a cult because of the arrangement of graves, the short period of the cemetery's use and the bed burial and burial mound that is almost in the center of the very regular cemetery," archaeologist Stephen Sherlock, who directed the project, told Discovery News.
"The whole focus of the cemetery is based upon the bed burial -- it is our view that this was erected first and the other graves were dug around it," added Sherlock, who worked with the Teesside Archaeological Society, which recently published a report on the research.
A summary of the finds also appears in the latest issue of British Archaeology.
The cemetery, named Street House, consists of 109 graves, most of which were dug in a square around the bed burial.
"This square formation is unparalleled in Anglo-Saxon England," Sherlock said.
Remains of a sunken-floored building, possibly used as a mortuary chapel where the body might have been laid to rest prior to her funeral, exist near the cemetery's entrance. A roundhouse and the burial mound also stand within the square.
The bed burial itself consists of a wooden bed held together, and decorated with, iron. Artifacts within the grave included two gemstone pendants, gold and glass beads, a jet pin or hairpiece, and the shield pendant that was unique for the time, according to Sherlock and colleague Mark Simmons.
Mounted by a central blue gemstone, the piece has scalloped-shaped carving with 11 separate lobes and a scalloped lower edge. Small red gems resting on gold foil, which would have reflected light when the piece was worn, surround the central stone.
Although the site's acidic soil eroded the woman's remains, the age of the cemetery and its location provide clues to her identity. Sherlock believes "likely suspects" include Ethelburga, the wife of King Edwin of Northumbria, who converted to Christianity and was made a saint. Other possibilities are Eanflaed, the wife of King Oswiu, or Oswiu's daughter, Aelflaed.
Huge Viking Hoard Discovered in Sweden
by James Owen
Hundreds of ancient coins unearthed last week close to Sweden's main international airport suggests the Vikings were bringing home foreign currency earlier than previously thought, archaeologists say.
Buried some 1,150 years ago, the treasure trove is made up mainly of Arabic coins and represents the largest early Viking hoard ever discovered in Sweden.
Archaeologists from the Swedish National Heritage Board unexpectedly found the stash of 472 silver coins while excavating a Bronze Age tomb near Stockholm's Arlanda airport.
Kenneth Jonsson, a professor of coin studies at the University of Stockholm, has independently dated the hoard to about A.D. 850.
"That date is very early, because coin imports [by the Vikings] only start in about [A.D.] 800," Jonsson said.
The discovery contains more coins than Sweden's only other known large Viking hoard from the period, which was discovered in 1827, Jonsson added.
"That coins were so important to the Vikings at such an early date is very interesting" and suggests they may have engaged in intensive overseas trade earlier than previously believed, he said.
Egypt's Ancient Glass
Egyptian glass is among the finest of the ancient world. Yet how did the ancient Egyptians make it? New work, at the world’s earliest-excavated glass making factory in Tell el-Amarna, is unravelling the mysteries. Here Paul Nicholson delves into the archives of the late great Egyptologist, Flinders Petrie, who excavated at Tell el-Amarna in the 1890s; and then takes us to his own excavations, a century later, as field director of the Egypt Exploration Society’s Amarna Glass Project. Here he tells of his excavations, how he undertook a host of fiery experiments, and why his team has shattered a raft of old interpretations.
Read the rest on Archaeology.co.uk.
Was she the first European?
A lower jawbone with a haggle of teeth.
That's all there was.
But its discovery in a limestone cave in northern Spain could be the holy grail long sought by anthropologists.
The fossil is by far the oldest skeletal evidence of a human presence in Europe. Dated at 1.3 million years, the find is not only exceptional in itself, but for the light it will shed on a question that's long been controversial: When did the earliest humans reach Europe?
Fifty years of Czech Egyptology
By Ondřej Bouda
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
President Václav Klaus will open one exhibit in Cairo April 7. Two others are also planned for Prague, one at Liechtenstein Palace April 17, and the other this fall at the Náprstek Museum of Asian, African and American Cultures. The institute is also publishing several books about its five decades of achievements. One of the greatest accomplishments is the institute’s participation in the UNESCO effort to save ancient Egyptian monuments in Nubia during the 1960s after the Egyptian government asked the international community for help when the construction of the Aswan High Dam threatened to flood priceless artifacts.
As a reward for those efforts, the Egyptian government granted Czechoslovak Egyptologists one of the largest concessions for excavations ever issued, and for the past 40 years local scientists have made several important discoveries in the Abusir necropolis located some 30 kilometers (19 miles) south of Cairo.
“The scholarly achievements of Czech Egyptologists as well as demanding reconstruction work have contributed to the fact that Abusir is now considered one of the most important archeological sites both in Egypt and worldwide,” said professor Miroslav Verner, who participated in the Nubian rescue and has led Czech excavations in Abusir since the 1970s.
Egyptology had its place in Czechoslovakia even before the institute’s founding. In the 1930s, Charles University was one of a few institutions worldwide to teach the ancient Egyptian language Demotic. Professor František Lexa, who taught the subject, went on to found the institute with his associates after World War II in order to create proper facilities and a framework for organized research.
Read the rest here.
'Breakthrough' at Stonehenge dig
By Rebecca Morelle
Science reporter, BBC News
Archaeologists carrying out an excavation at Stonehenge say they have broken through to a layer that may finally explain why the site was built.
The team has reached sockets that once held bluestones - smaller stones, most now missing or uprooted, which formed the site's original structure.
The researchers believe that the bluestones could reveal that Stonehenge was once a place of healing.
The dig is the first to take place at Stonehenge for more than 40 years.
The team now needs to extract organic material from these holes to date when the stones first arrived.
Appian Way, the queen of Roman roads, is under threat
The Villa Quintili, seen from the Appian Way, the ancient Roman road leading from Rome to Brindisi. Development along the road is worrying Italy's archaeologists. (Chris Warde-Jones for The New York Times)
By Elisabetta Povoledo
In ancient times the Appian Way, which links Rome to the southern city of Brindisi, was known as the regina viarum, the queen of the roads. But these days its crown appears to be tarnished by chronic traffic congestion, vandalism and, some of its guardians grumble, illegal development.
"Look at this!" bristled Rita Paris, the Italian state archaeological official responsible for the Appian Way, peering through a weathered bamboo screen lining the road while bumpily maneuvering her car through a patch of uneven ancient stones. "You can bet that it was once a canopy that was walled in and transformed into a home."
A bit farther on she fumed about a plant nursery that had become a restaurant, without planning permission, a cistern that had morphed into a swimming pool, and the new villas tacked on to ancient monuments. Several are rented out for wedding receptions or society balls, which makes for a steady stream of traffic - and occasionally, "fireworks," Paris said with a shudder.
Considered prime real estate in ancient times, when the Romans buried their dead along tomb-lined roads outside the city walls, the Appian Way underwent a contemporary renaissance in the 1960s when Rome was known as Hollywood on the Tiber. Italian film stars moved in en masse, although today it is mostly home to the moneyed.
But these days some residents seem indifferent to the roadway's archaeologically rich past, said Livia Giammichele, an archaeologist who, like Paris, has been waging a campaign against denizens whom she describes as "neo-barbarians." They "don't always realize that they're living in special conditions," she said.
Ancient Tiberias making a comeback
By Alexander Britell
A 2,000-year old Roman city will rise again in Tiberias as part of a new archeological park, Mayor Zohar Oved and the Antiquities Authority announced this week.
The Berko Archeological Park honors former Finance Ministry official Ozer Berkowitz, a longtime community leader in Tiberias who died last year. It will extend across approximately 100 dunams, or about 25 acres, and include a Roman bathhouse frequently mentioned in Rabbinic literature and a Byzantine city wall. Planners hope to complete the park this summer.
The park will be an upgrade of existing archeological sites in the city, and is intended to expose visitors to the history of Tiberias, which was established by Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great, in the first century.
The Antiquities Authority and the Economic Development Company of Tiberias have already begun work on the project, which Oved initiated, with guidance from the Berkowitz family.
Experts bone up on grisly relics
Archaeologists now believe a dozen skeletons discovered in a mass grave in the centre of Oxford may have belonged to executed criminals from Saxon times.
A team of three archaeologists have been digging in the quadrangle of St John's College in Blackhall Road, off St Giles, for nearly two weeks since the discovery was made.
The bones of 12 or 13 bodies have gradually been uncovered after a body part was discovered 80cm below ground level by diggers excavating the plot before a new quadrangle is built.
City archaeologists have labelled the find the most exciting in Oxford for nearly half a century, and predict more bodies could be found in the area.
But they cannot date the corpses exactly because the bodies were stripped of clothing before they were thrown into the mass grave.
Aztec Math Used Hearts and Arrows
By David Biello
To figure this out, mathematician Maria del Carmen Jorge y Jorge of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (U.N.A.M) channeled the mind of an Aztec land surveyor. That meant retraining herself to use a different numerical system and combing through the Codex Vergara, one of two remaining books that record Aztec land surveying.
Working with geographer Barbara Williams and del Carmen Jorge y Jorge counted 367 fields in this book with both an overall area for the plot of land as well as the lengths of the sides. Roughly 60 percent of these fields had areas that matched the basic mathematical rule of length multiplied by width or other common surveying calculations.
But the rest were off, usually by a small amount. And 69 had areas that were prime numbers such as 211—numbers that cannot be created by multiplying two whole numbers together, such as 20 times 10. Instead, del Carmen Jorge y Jorge determined that the Aztecs were using the equivalent of fractions.
Read the rest on Scientific American.
Scientists tantalize with 'iceman' findings
Darah Hansen, Vancouver SunScientists from around the world who have been studying the centuries-old human remains that melted out of a glacier in northwestern British Columbia in 1999 will gather for the first time in Victoria later this month to talk about what they've learned from the unnamed "iceman."
The Kwäday Dän Ts'ìnchi Symposium will be held April 24-27 at the University of Victoria.
It is being held in conjunction with the Northwest Anthropology Conference.
The conference brings together more than 30 researchers from fields as diverse as archeology, criminology and microbiology. They come from local universities, the Royal B.C. Museum, Vancouver General Hospital, first nations, and institutions as far afield as Indiana and Scotland.
UK museum seeks cash to keep a rare astrolabe in public hands.
The British Museum needs £350,000 to secure this astrolabe.Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
The fate of a fourteenth-century pocket calculator is hanging in the balance between museum ownership and private sale.
The device is a brass astrolabe quadrant that opens a new window on the mathematical and astronomical literacy of the Middle Ages, experts say. It can tell the time from the position of the Sun, calculate the heights of tall objects, and work out the date of Easter.
Found in 2005, the instrument has captivated experts. Now they hope to keep it in public hands — not just to ensure future access to it for researchers, but because it is deemed an item of national cultural importance.
Swedes find Viking-era Arab coins
The Arab coins reveal where they were minted and the date
Swedish archaeologists have discovered a rare hoard of Viking-age silver Arab coins near Stockholm's Arlanda airport.
About 470 coins were found on 1 April at an early Iron Age burial site. They date from the 7th to 9th Century, when Viking traders travelled widely.
There has been no similar find in that part of Sweden since the 1880s.
Most of the coins were minted in Baghdad and Damascus, but some came from Persia and North Africa, said archaeologist Karin Beckman-Thoor.
The team from the Swedish National Heritage Board had just started removing a stone cairn at the site "when we suddenly found one coin and couldn't understand why it was there", she told the BBC News website.
Treasury of Atreus at Mycenae
The Treasury of Atreus - also known as the Tomb of Agamemnon - is the largest and most impressive of the nine tholos tombs at Mycenae. The location of the Atreus Tomb has intrigued archaeologists for many years but by studying the landscape, the courses of the ancient roads and the various lines of sight at Mycenae, archaeologist David Mason believes he has found out why such an unusual and distinctive site was chosen for the tomb.
The Mycenaean tholos (the ancient Greek word for a round building) tomb consists of an entrance passage leading to a circular burial chamber roofed over with a corbel vault shaped like an old-fashioned beehive. The nine tholos tombs at Mycenae are divided into two groups by a long hill called the Panagi ridge. There are four tombs on the east side of the hill. Romantically named, they are, in order of construction, the Tomb of Aegisthus, the Lion Tomb, the Treasury of Atreus and the Tomb of Clytemnestra. (Incidentally, the travel writer Pausanias in the 2nd century AD called it the ‘Treasury of Atreus’, because at that time the structure was thought to have been the treasure house of Atreus, one of the legendary kings of Mycenae.) The other five tombs are located on the west side of the ridge. It has been observed that those on the east side are larger, more ornate and closer to the acropolis than those on the west side, and so are thought to have been built by rulers of Mycenae. The other five were most probably built by members of Mycenae's aristocracy.
Of the four 'royal' tholos tombs, three are set close together beside the acropolis hill. However, one - the Treasury of Atreus - stands by itself (No. 3 on the map, right). Approximately 500m away from the other three, this tomb is located halfway along the east slope of the Panagia ridge. This raises the question: why was the Atreus Tomb built on this particular spot and not next to the acropolis? We need to consider first the position of the tomb, as it would have been seen by travellers approaching Mycenae along certain roads; secondly, how the tomb would have been seen from the palace; and lastly, the view from the tomb itself.
Ancient mosaic uncovered in park
AN ARCHAEOLOGIST has unearthed a colourful 3rd Century mosaic in Verulamium Park, St Albans, during building works on the ancient hypocaust and mosaic site.
The field archaeology unit at St Albans Museums was digging a trench for a new electricity cable when Jack Couch made the new find of a chequered mosaic.
Probably not seen for nearly 2,000 years, the mosaic is made up of red or brown tessera in a grid of grey Purbeck marble. It may be from the corridor of a town house built close to the hypocaust.
In Roman times hot air, stoked from a pit in a smaller adjoining room, was drawn underneath the floor of the hypocaust building, once part of a large house with up to 35 rooms.