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Welcome to History Buff, a blog for history lovers everywhere! History Buff brings news stories about archaeology from around the world together on one site. From finds in ancient Egypt to new discoveries in anthropology, History Buff wants to know.

Michelle Moran
Historical fiction author


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Scientist: All Blue-Eyed People Are Related

If you've got blue eyes, shake the hand of the nearest person who shares your azure irises: He or she may be a distant cousin.

Danish researchers have concluded that all blue-eyed people share a common ancestor, presumably someone who lived 6,000 to 10,000 years ago.

"Originally, we all had brown eyes," Professor Hans Eiberg of the University of Copenhagen said in a press release. "But a genetic mutation affecting the OCA2 gene in our chromosomes resulted in the creation of a 'switch,' which literally 'turned off' the ability to produce brown eyes."

Read the rest here.

Find may shed light on Roman era

UN vandals spray graffiti on Sahara’s prehistoric art

Graffiti on the rock at Lajuad

Spectacular prehistoric depictions of animal and human figures created up to 6,000 years ago on Western Saharan rocks have been vandalised by United Nations peacekeepers, The Times has learnt.

Archaeological sites boasting ancient paintings and engravings of giraffes, buffalo and elephants have been defaced within the past two years by personnel attached to the UN mission, known by its French acronym, Minurso.

Graffiti, some of it more than a metre high and sprayed with paint meant for use for marking routes, now blights the rock art at Lajuad, an isolated site known as Devil Mountain, which is regarded by the local Sahrawi population as a mystical place of great cultural significance.

Read the rest here.


Black Death targeted the weak

By Roger Highfield, Science Editor

The Black Death, which killed one person in every three in Europe, was not as indiscriminate as thought, according to studies of remains in mass grave in East Smithfield. The toll was so high during its height in the 1300s that many have concluded that anyone and everyone who came into contact with the agent, thought to be a bacterium, was doomed.

Read the rest on the Telegraph.

Unlocking Mysteries of the Parthenon

  • Aris Messinis/ AFP/ Getty Images

    By Evan Hadingham for Smithsonian magazine

During the past 2,500 years, the Parthenon—the apotheosis of ancient Greek architecture—has been rocked by earthquakes, set on fire, shattered by exploding gunpowder, looted for its stunning sculptures and defaced by misguided preservation efforts. Amazingly, the ancient Athenians built the Parthenon in just eight or nine years. Repairing it is taking a bit longer.

A restoration project funded by the Greek government and the European Union is now entering its 33rd year, as archaeologists, architects, civil engineers and craftsmen strive not simply to imitate the workmanship of the ancient Greeks but to re-create it. They have had to become forensic architects, reconstructing long-lost techniques to answer questions that archaeologists and classical scholars have debated for centuries. How did the Athenians construct their mighty temple, an icon of Western civilization, in less than a decade—apparently without an overall building plan? How did they manage to incorporate subtle visual elements into the Parthenon's layout and achieve such faultless proportions and balance? And how were the Parthenon's builders able to work at a level of precision (in some cases accurate to within a fraction of a millimeter) without the benefit of modern tools? "We're not as good as they were," Lena Lambrinou, an architect on the restoration project, observes with a sigh.

Read the rest on the Smithsonian.


High taxes, shaky economy, rampant thugs... 1812 was Britain's worst year EVER

Missing for a half century, a cache of photos


On the night of April 24, 1944, British air force bombers hammered a former Jesuit college here housing the Bavarian Academy of Science. The 16th-century building crumpled in the inferno. Among the treasures lost, later lamented Anton Spitaler, an Arabic scholar at the academy, was a unique photo archive of ancient manuscripts of the Quran.

The 450 rolls of film had been assembled before the war for a bold venture: a study of the evolution of the Quran, the text Muslims view as the verbatim transcript of God's word. The wartime destruction made the project "outright impossible," Mr. Spitaler wrote in the 1970s.


Mr. Spitaler was lying. The cache of photos survived, and he was sitting on it all along. The truth is only now dribbling out to scholars -- and a Quran research project buried for more than 60 years has risen from the grave.

"He pretended it disappeared. He wanted to be rid of it," says Angelika Neuwirth, a former pupil and protégée of the late Mr. Spitaler. Academics who worked with Mr. Spitaler, a powerful figure in postwar German scholarship who died in 2003, have been left guessing why he squirreled away the unusual trove for so long.

Read the rest on the WSJ here.

Rescuing citadel: A ray of hope for Iraq

This undated photo provided by Gema Art Group shows an aerial view of the citadel in Irbil, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq. Towering above the bustling markets and painted blast walls of modern Irbil, the citadel's narrow alleyways and dusty courtyards stand almost deserted. Its mud brick houses, built atop layers of ancient civilizations stretching back through millennia, are crumbling.
This undated photo provided by Gema Art Group shows an aerial view of the citadel in Irbil, 350 kilometers (217 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq. Towering above the bustling markets and painted blast walls of modern Irbil, the citadel's narrow alleyways and dusty courtyards stand almost deserted. Its mud brick houses, built atop layers of ancient civilizations stretching back through millennia, are crumbling. (AP Photo/Gema Art Group)

IRBIL, Iraq—Towering above the modern streets and buildings of Irbil, the citadel's narrow alleyways and dusty courtyards stand almost deserted. Its mud-brick houses, built atop layers of ancient civilizations stretching back through millennia, are crumbling.

Irbil's citadel, claimed to be one of the longest continuously inhabited urban areas on Earth with a history of more than 8,000 years, is in danger. Its slopes are eroding and its buildings are collapsing.

But authorities in northern Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region have a plan to rescue it. They hope to turn the citadel, and the vast archaeological wealth buried within the mound on which it stands, into a world-renowned tourist site complete with hotels, coffee houses, art galleries -- and a vibrant, permanent living community.

The planned reconstruction is a beacon of hope for Iraq's rich cultural heritage, and highlights the vast differences between the relatively tranquil Kurdish region in the north, and the violence in other parts of the country.

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How can the Government destroy a True Brit?

50 pence coin

The Royal Mint confirmed Britannia will be removed

Ever since she appeared on a farthing in the reign of Charles II more than 300 years ago, the image of Britannia sitting on her rock wearing her Greek helmet and flowing classical robes, holding her trident with a lion at her feet has made a continuous appearance on British coins.

But now the Royal Mint has confirmed that, before he left the Treasury for Number 10, Gordon Brown personally approved a new set of coins from which she has been entirely removed.

How profoundly depressing. No other name is more redolent of our country. No symbol, other than the Union Flag, better sums up these islands.

Yet we are told that under the most significant overhaul of coinage since decimalisation, she is to be replaced with a representation of modern Britain, whatever that may be.

Since Britannia has seen off all manner of changes and modern fads over her venerable lifetime - although never perhaps quite the deep loathing for this country's history that the current Labour Government exhibits - you would hope that she could have been allowed to stay with us.

Read the rest on the DailyMail.

Grim secrets of Pharaoh's city

By John Hayes-Fisher
BBC Timewatch

Skull found at Amarna (BBC)
Bones reveal the darker side to building Ancient Egypt

Evidence of the brutal lives endured by some ancient Egyptians to build the monuments of the Pharaohs has been uncovered by archaeologists.

Skeletal remains from a lost city in the middle of Egypt suggest many ordinary people died in their teenage years and lived a punishing lifestyle.

Many suffered from spinal injuries, poor nutrition and stunted growth.

Read the rest on BBCNews.


Graeco-Roman mummies, painted wooden sarcophagi, jewellery and papyri have been unearthed in Deir Al-Banat necropolis in Fayoum

by Nevine El-Aref

Deir Al-Banat necropolis, which lies in the southern Fayoum, comprises a series of rock hewn tombs dating from the Graeco-Roman period through to early Christian times. To the north is a well preserved ruin of a mediaeval monastery with a fired brick church at its centre, a mud brick residential area and a refectory where the monks would have communal meals.

Between 1980 and 1995 the necropolis was the site of major excavations by the Egyptian Antiquities Authority, now the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA). A collection of intact Roman burials were discovered along with disturbed Coptic graves containing bones and skulls. The necropolis was then neglected until 2002 when a joint Russian-American mission was given permission to conduct excavations and an anthropological survey.

Early studies of the necropolis revealed that the north western section had been subjected to widespread clandestine digging throughout the 1970s. The anthropological survey of unearthed skulls revealed that the majority of females died by the age of 30 with only 1.5 per cent reaching the age of 50. While males also had a high mortality rate between 18 and 30 far more survived into their 40s.

Read the rest here.

Gold coins show ‘Emperor of Britain’

The coins relate to the Roman commander Carausius

Two “extremely important” gold coins that shed light on a little-known rebel Roman emperor from the 3rd century AD have been unearthed by a farmer in the Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire area. They relate to the Roman commander Carausius, who declared himself Emperor of Britain around 286 or 287 after the Emperor in Rome ordered his execution. He was overthrown in a coup d’état by his finance minister, Allectus, in 293.

Read the rest on TheTimesOnline.


New Discoveries At The Ash Altar Of Zeus Offer Insights Into Origins Of Ancient Greece's Most Powerful God

Top: Altar of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion. Left to right: Dan Diffendale, University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Arthur Rhon, Wichita State University, and Arvey Basa, University of Arizona. Bottom Left: Crystal lentoid seal of a bull, Late Minoan I or II, ca. 1400 B.C. Diameter 3 cm. Bottom Right: Reverse of Arcadian League silver stater, Zeus Lykaios seated on a throne with an eagle in his left hand. 5th century B.C. Diameter 2 cm. (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Pennsylvania Museum)

ScienceDaily (Jan. 23, 2008) — The Greek traveler, Pausanias, living in the second century, CE, would probably recognize the spectacular site of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion, and particularly the altar of Zeus. At 4,500 feet above sea level, atop the altar provides a breathtaking, panoramic vista of Arcadia.

“On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lykaios, and from it most of the Peloponnesos can be seen,” wrote Pausanias, in his famous, well-respected multi-volume Description of Greece. “Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.”

What would surprise Pausanias—as it is surprising archaeologists—is how early that “beginning” actually may be. New pottery evidence from excavations by the Greek-American, interdisciplinary team of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project indicates that the ash altar—a cone of earth located atop the southern peak of Mt Lykaion where dedications were made in antiquity— was in use as early as 5,000 years ago—at least 1,000 years before the early Greeks began to worship the god Zeus.

Read the rest on Science Daily.

DNA tests finally solve the riddle of what happened to the last tsar's two children

For 90 years, it has been an enduring mystery - did some members of the Russian royal family survive execution by the Bolsheviks in 1918? Now DNA tests carried out on two sets of bones found in the Ural Mountains appear to have solved the riddle. Forensic experts say initial results show the human remains belong to 13-year-old Crown Prince Alexei and his sister Princess Maria, 19.

Read the rest on the DailyMail.


It's No Dud: Bomb Squad Disposes of Live Rocket on Display in Veterans' Museum

CUMBERLAND, Maryland — History could have come to life in very much the wrong way at a veterans' museum where a rocket on display for two years was discovered to be live.

After Allegany County authorities were notified Wednesday that the Mark 1 rocket on display in Cumberland might be live, the state fire marshal's office and the FBI confirmed it was. Bomb experts removed the ordnance and rendered it safe.

Read the rest on

Ancient Maya sacrificed boys not virgin girls: study

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - The victims of human sacrifice by Mexico's ancient Mayans, who threw children into water-filled caverns, were likely boys and young men not virgin girls as previously believed, archeologists said on Tuesday.

The Maya built soaring temples and elaborate palaces in the jungles of Central America and southern Mexico before the Spanish conquest in the early 1500s.

Read the rest here.

100,000-year-old human skull found

By Wang Shanshan (China Daily)

An almost complete human skull fossil that could date back 100,000 years was unearthed in Henan last month, Chinese archaeologists announced Tuesday.

"It is the greatest discovery in China after the Peking Man and Upper Cave Man skull fossils were found in Beijing early last century, and will shed light on a critical period of human evolution," said Shan Jixiang, director of the State Administration of Cultural Heritage.


Rare Middle-Class Tomb Found From Ancient Egypt

Steven Stanek in Cairo, Egypt

Archaeologists have unsealed the intact burial chamber of an ancient Egyptian official, providing a rare glimpse into the burial customs of the Old Kingdom's middle class.

Read the rest on National Geographic.

Ancient tannery in Pompeii to undergo restoration this year

ROME – An ancient tannery in the archaeological complex of Pompeii, a city destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the first century, will be restored, officials said Monday.

The tannery – discovered in the 19th century and excavated in the 1950s – includes water pipes, 15 round tubs and the tannery manager's house, archaeological officials said. A drying area is also believed to have been part of the complex.

Read the rest here.


Stolen boomerang comes back

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Proving boomerangs really do come back, an Australian town was Thursday celebrating the return of a boomerang stolen from an outback museum by an American tourist 25 years ago.

Read the rest on Yahoo.


Tithebarn could yield medieval treasures

The burial ground found on a development site near Marsh Lane
The burial ground found on a development site near Marsh Lane

Medieval treasures could be buried beneath the site of Preston's £750m regeneration project, it has been claimed.
Archaeologists think there could be relics from the "medieval and post-medieval periods, and perhaps even earlier" under the 30-acre site.

Investigations are to start next month so that, should anything be found, it can be incorporated into the already delayed time schedule.

Council bosses have stressed that the work is routine for a planning application of this size.

Last year, a development was delayed when 30 graves, 12 of them containing virtually complete skeletons, were discovered off Marsh Lane.

Read the rest here.

Ancient queen’s tomb discovered in Ibb

By: Mohammed al-Kibsi

Three tombs believed to date back to the Hemiriate dynasty have been discovered in the al-Usaibyah area of the al-Sadda district of Ibb last week.

The tombs housed three women, one of them believed to be a queen. Local sources from al-Sadda confirmed that golden jewels were found in the tomb, believed to be for a queen or a princess. Other jewels were found in the other two tombs. In addition, a bronze spear was found in a second tomb and a 70 centimeter sword in a third tomb.

The three tombs were found in a rocky room around five meters deep and about 3 meters wide. The room contained large pieces of alabaster, each piece around 150 cubic centimeters. The room also contained a 20 centimeter bronze belt.

The al-Usaibyah area is near the Raidan Palace, not far from the ancient city of Dhafar, the capital of the Saba and Tho Raydan kingdoms. Dr. Abdullah Ba-Wazir, head of the General Authority of Antiquities and Museums, said that the discovery in al-Ausaibyah came about after two tribes began fighting about the discovery the tombs. When local authorities intervened to resolve the conflict between the two tribes, they discovered the tomb.

Read the rest here.


Bronze Age site is found in city

An earlier Bronze Age site found in Cambridgeshire
In 2007 Bronze Age remains were found near Peterborough

Archaeologists in Cambridge have unearthed the first hard evidence that an area of the city was occupied during the Bronze Age.

The remains were found during a dig at Fitzwilliam College and probably belonged to a 3,500-year-old farmstead.

Read the rest here.

Scans Show Culture Fundamentally Alters the Brain

It's no secret that culture influences your food preferences and taste in music.

But now scientists say it impacts the hard-wiring of your brain.

New research shows that people from different cultures use their brains differently to solve basic perceptual tasks.

Neuroscientists Trey Hedden and John Gabrieli of MIT's McGovern Institute for Brain Research asked Americans and East Asians to solve basic shape puzzles while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanner.

They found that both groups could successfully complete the tasks, but American brains had to work harder at relative judgments, while East Asian brains found absolute judgments more challenging.

Previous psychology research has shown that American culture focuses on the individual and values independence, while East Asian culture is more community-focused and emphasizes seeing people and objects in context.

This study provides the first neurological evidence that these cultural differences extend to brain activity patterns.

Read the rest here.

Jesus 'Tomb' Controversy Reopened


When the Discovery Channel aired a TV documentary last year raising the possibility that archeologists had found the family tomb of Jesus Christ in the hills behind Jerusalem, it caused a huge backlash among Christians. The claim, after all, challenged one of the cornerstones of Christian faith — that Jesus, after his crucifixion, rose bodily to heaven in his physical form.

Read the rest on