Neanderthals

From Phys.org (hat tip: Tom MacMaster):

Scientists link Neanderthal extinction to human diseases

Growing up in Israel, Gili Greenbaum would give tours of local caves once inhabited by Neanderthals and wonder along with others why our distant cousins abruptly disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Now a scientist at Stanford, Greenbaum thinks he has an answer.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, Greenbaum and his colleagues propose that complex  transmission patterns can explain not only how  were able to wipe out Neanderthals in Europe and Asia in just a few thousand years but also, perhaps more puzzling, why the end didn’t come sooner.

“Our research suggests that diseases may have played a more important role in the extinction of the Neanderthals than previously thought. They may even be the main reason why modern humans are now the only human group left on the planet,” said Greenbaum, who is the first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in Stanford’s Department of Biology.

Read the whole thing.

The Copper Pot

From the Charlotte Observer (hat tip: Judi Irvine):

19th-century shipwreck is suddenly turning up gold coins off South Carolina coast

A 180-year-old shipwreck popular with scuba divers is proving to be a trove of rare coins and artifacts for a salvage project launched 20 miles off the South Carolina coast.

Known to divers as “The Copper Pot,” the wreck is actually the Steamship North Carolina, which collided with another boat in 1840 with hundreds of gold coins stuffed in passengers’ steamer trunks.

The first of the newly found coins — “several” $5 gold pieces dating from the mid-1830s — were brought up in late September, along with 19th Century dinnerware and marble, according to Blue Water Ventures International based in Florida.

“I can’t believe what we’re finding,” Keith Webb, president of Blue Water Ventures, told McClatchy news group. “The coins look almost as if they were just minted and it’s blowing our minds. It’s because they were hidden by a large piece of copper and were not moved around in the sand by the current.”

Blue Water Ventures and its partner Endurance Exploration Group issued a report that contends “the aggregate loss in money was large” when the ship went down, and would today be valued in the tens of millions of dollars — mostly in gold coins. This includes one passenger who claimed he lost $15,000 in the incident.

However, Webb’s research suggests these won’t be the usual gold coins found on 19th Century shipwrecks. Many of the passengers were likely carrying coins from the newly commissioned U.S. Mint in Dahlonega, Georgia, which operated only 24 years.

Coins from the Dahlonega mint are rare and coveted by collectors and historians.

“Regardless of denomination, any high grade Dahlonega gold coin with a good strike… is a real treasure and based on past history has been a blue chip coin investment,” according to the DahlonegaGold.com.

The S.S. North Carolina was previously searched for treasure by an outfit called MAREX, which salvaged $700,000 worth of coins in the late 1990s. MAREX ceased working the site in part because the coins were difficult to salvage.

More at the link.

Treasure

From the BBC (hat tip: Chris Berard):

Detectorists find huge Chew Valley Norman coin hoard

 

A huge hoard of silver coins dating back to the aftermath of the Battle of Hastings could be declared as treasure.

The 2,528 silver coins were found in the Chew Valley, north-east Somerset, by a group of metal detectorists.

Lisa Grace and Adam Staples, who unearthed the bulk of the hoard, said: “We’ve been dreaming of this for 15 years but it’s finally come true.”

The British Museum said it was the second largest find of Norman coins ever in the UK.

Mr Staples, from Derby, added: “It was totally unbelievable – to find one would be an exceptional day metal detecting.

“To find two unrelated coins would be almost impossible. And when there were more beeps, from two to 10, from 50 to 100, to wow how many are there?

“From then on it was just crazy.”

More at the link. Sure wish I could make a find like this! 

Viking Boat Burials

From the Independent:

Rare Viking boat burials unearthed in first discovery of its kind in 50 years, archaeologists say

Excavation team discover grave containing man, horse and dog in Sweden

A pair of Viking burial boats have been discovered by archaeologists in Sweden, in what is thought to be the first find of its kind in almost half a century.

Uncovered in the city of Uppsala one contained the remains of a man, a horse and a dog.

“This is a unique excavation; the last excavation of this grave type in Old Uppsala was almost 50 years ago,” Anton Seiler, an archaeologist at the National Historical Museums in Sweden, said.

“It is extremely exciting for us since boat burials are so rarely excavated. We can now use modern science and methods that will generate new results, hypotheses and answers.”

Only around 10 boat burial sites of this kind have been previously discovered. They were mainly found in the nearby provinces of Uppland and Vastmanland.

In one of the newly discovered graves, archaeologists found personal items, including a sword, spear, shield and an ornate comb.

They said it was likely that they were for important members of society, due to their unusual burial.

“It is a small group of people who were buried in this way. You can suspect that they were distinguished people in the society of the time since burial ships in general are very rare,” Mr Seiler said.

More at the link

Sutton Hoo

From the East Anglian Daily Times:

Sutton Hoo unveils new £4 million transformation

The National Trust has finally revealed its largest ever investment at the world famous Sutton Hoo royal burial ground – and the public will today be able to enjoy an improved visitor experience.

Thanks to the £4 million renovation of the historic site, visitors will be more intimately connected with the story of one of the most significant archaeological finds in British history.

Since the discovery of the ship burial in 1939, the story has unfolded with every dig made but unfortunately was overlooked at the time due to the impending conflict of the Second World War.

Now archaeologists and historians, alongside Mike Hopwood, visitor experience project manager, Ian Barnes the National Trust head of archaeology and Nick Collinson the general manager of Sutton Hoo, want the story of King Raedwald’s final resting place in East Anglia to finally be heard and given the attention it deserves.

Tens of thousands of people visit the site alongside the River Deben every year and the trust is hoping that the renovations will inspire even more interest in the fascinating tale of royal sophistication, privilege and status.

More at the link, including plenty of images.

L’Anse Aux Meadows

I’m hoping to blog something about our visit to the only authenticated Viking site in North America (if Greenland is not part of North America, of course). In the meantime, I wanted to post this article from Medievalists.net, which suggests that the Norse continued to revisit and reuse the site throughout the High and Late Middle Ages:

New archaeological information uncovered at Viking site in Newfoundland

Researchers from Memorial University in Newfoundland and Liverpool John Moores University made the discovery of a previously unknown archaeological layer, about 30 metres from the 1,000-year-old Norse ruin.

While the new location did not produce any culturally specific artifacts, archaeologists did discover charcoal and wood-working debris. Laboratory analyses also confirmed insect remains, including early records for beetle species assumed to be post-Columbian (1492) additions to the Canadian fauna.

“We are still not sure what this new deposit is,” said Dr. Paul Ledger of Memorial University and the lead author of the article. “Its general character and microscopic content resembles Norse deposits elsewhere in the North Atlantic, but carbon dating indicates it dates from the late 12th to mid-13th century, after the Norse settlement.”

The article, published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, notes that the new research “indicates the possibility of sporadic Norse activity beyond the early 11th century. Data from indigenous contexts is less precise, and activity is modeled to have begun between the 8th and 12th centuries. L’Anse aux Meadows therefore could have been a shared zone of interaction.”

The full article may be read in PNAS. 

Paleoichthyology

It’s a real word, referring to the study of fish in the past, as detailed in a recent Atlantic article:

The Medieval Practices that Reshaped Europe’s Fish

In Europe, aquatic animals have been traded at least since the days of the Roman Empire. But it was during the early Middle Ages, with the arrival of widespread Christianity, that the animals became a popular source of protein. That’s partially due to the roughly 130 days a yearwhen the faithful were exhorted not to eat meat, because fish didn’t count in that category.

At the same time, expanding agrarian populations were cutting down forests to create fields and diverting rivers to fill defensive moats around castles and towns, Hoffmann writes in one paper. From the ninth century a.d. to the 11th, the number of grain mills built along rivers in England exploded from about 200 to 5,624. Species that came into fresh water to spawn, such as salmon and sturgeon, began declining. New regulations, such as King Philip’s, were put into place to manage fish populations. A Scottish statute from 1214 required all dams to include an opening for fish and barrier nets to be lifted every Saturday, for instance. Soon highly sophisticated aquaculture ponds stocked with carp also provided regular access to fish for the landed elite.

This decline in freshwater populations coincided with a sudden, commercial-scale boom in sea fishing, which began around a.d. 1000 and is known as the “fish event horizon.” In one study, archaeologists collected cod bones in London from 95 Roman, medieval, and postmedieval sites. The number of bones jumped circa the year 1000, and isotopic sampling showed that in the following centuries, fish came from farther and farther away, indicating long-distance trade. In the southern English town of Southampton, the remains of marine species (such as cod) began to outnumber freshwater species (such as eel) by 1030.

That “fish event horizon” could have been caused by a number of forces. It came at a time of population growth, urbanism, new ship technology, and increased trade, says the archaeologist James Barrett, from the University of Cambridge. But, he adds, “I’ve argued consistently that this must also be about human impacts on freshwater and migratory fishes. The degree of vulnerability of fishes depends on how bounded the ecosystem they occupy is.”

In other words, because their habitat was smaller, freshwater fish were more likely to respond to human pressures sooner. When the reliable stocks of freshwater fish began dwindling, hungry Europeans turned to the much larger oceans. And while those populations had larger ranges, humans still had an impact.

Another Viking Site?

Someone ought to compose a list of every claimed Viking site in North America, with a rating: definite (1), as yet undetermined (2), and definitely false (3). The latest one, from Archaeology World (hat tip: David Winter):

Discovery of Viking site in Canada could rewrite history

An iron working hearthstone was discovered on Newfoundland, hundreds of miles from the only noted Viking location to date.

Another thousand-year-old Viking colony might have been found on the island of Newfoundland, Canada. The finding of the old Viking location on the Canadian coast could drastically change the story of the exploration of North America by the Europeans prior to Christopher Columbus.

The excavation of the stone, once used in iron working, on Newfoundland took place a hundred miles south of the only known Viking site located in North America.

This proposes that Vikings may have traveled much farther into the continent than previously thought.

A team of archaeologists have been unearthing the newly-found location at Point Rosee, a narrow, windswept peninsula on the most western part of the island.

Others referenced on this blog:

L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland (1)
Miramichi-Chaleur Bay, New Brunswick (2)
Baffin Island, Nunavut (2)
Cambridge, Massachusetts (3)
Memphis, Tennessee (3)
Alexandria, Minnesota (3)
Newport, Rhode Island (3)

Medieval Hand Grenades

From the Daily Mail, courtesy Tim Furnish, who comments that they’ve found the real “Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch“!

Now that’s a time bomb! 700-year-old hand grenade used in the Crusades is found off the coast of Israel

By Richard Gray

The crusades saw Christian soldiers wield a terrifying array of medieval weaponry, including powerful crossbows, wickedly spiked maces and swords large enough to cleave a man in two.

But in the bloody battles over the Holy Land, the crusaders faced, and perhaps also used, weapons that were far ahead of their time – hand grenades.

Now one of these early explosive devices has been pulled from the sea in northern Israel.

Although they rose to prominence as weapons during the 20th century, grenades have a long history.

They are first thought to have been used by the Byzantine Empire from around the seventh century AD. Clay vessels were filled with flammable liquid known as Greek fire and flung at the enemy.

They were often piled into catapults to increase the range and devastation they caused.

They were popular weapons in naval battles as the fire could easily spread on ships and cause devastation.

More at the link.

Herodotus Vindicated!

From the Guardian (hat tip: Ace of Spaces):

Nile shipwreck discovery proves Herodotus right – after 2,469 years

Greek historian’s description of ‘baris’ vessel vindicated by archaeologists at sunken city of Thonis-Heraclion

Dalya Alberge

In the fifth century BC, the Greek historian Herodotus visited Egypt and wrote of unusual river boats on the Nile. Twenty-three lines of his Historia, the ancient world’s first great narrative history, are devoted to the intricate description of the construction of a “baris”.

For centuries, scholars have argued over his account because there was no archaeological evidence that such ships ever existed. Now there is. A “fabulously preserved” wreck in the waters around the sunken port city of Thonis-Heracleion has revealed just how accurate the historian was.

“It wasn’t until we discovered this wreck that we realised Herodotus was right,” said Dr Damian Robinson, director of Oxford University’s centre for maritime archaeology, which is publishing the excavation’s findings. “What Herodotus described was what we were looking at.”

In 450 BC Herodotus witnessed the construction of a baris. He noted how the builders “cut planks two cubits long [around 100cm] and arrange them like bricks”. He added: “On the strong and long tenons [pieces of wood] they insert two-cubit planks. When they have built their ship in this way, they stretch beams over them… They obturate the seams from within with papyrus. There is one rudder, passing through a hole in the keel. The mast is of acacia and the sails of papyrus…”

Robinson said that previous scholars had “made some mistakes” in struggling to interpret the text without archaeological evidence. “It’s one of those enigmatic pieces. Scholars have argued exactly what it means for as long as we’ve been thinking of boats in this scholarly way,” he said.

More at the link, including images. The baris appears in book 2, chapter 96 of The Histories.