They were from Barcelona

Henry VIII flagship the Mary Rose, went down off the coast of Portsmouth in July 1545 when water flooded the gunports during a sharp turn.

Recent studies on the skulls of the crew reveal that there may have been a reason those gunports were open: the sailors were Spanish, so they couldn’t understand the order to close the ports.

The theory has been put forward by Professor Hugh Montgomery, of University College London, whose research team was given access by the Mary Rose Trust to the remains of 18 crewmen.

Forensic anthropologist Lynne Bell examined their skulls to determine where they had lived, and discovered that about 60 per cent were of southern European origin.

Scientists can determine roughly which region a person grew up in by analysing the chemical composition of their teeth, which retain the type of water molecule they consumed while growing up.

Prof Montgomery said: “The analysis of the teeth rules out Britain and countries in northern Europe. It suggests that the men grew up in a warm climate, probably somewhere in southern Europe.

“It’s also known that at this time Henry VIII was short of skilled soldiers and sailors and was trying to recruit mercenaries from the Continent.”

Or from prisoner of war camps, since 6 months earlier 600 survivors of a Spanish shipwreck had been pressed into service in Henry’s navy. That might also explain why the captain of the Mary Rose’s last words hollered to a nearby ship were that his sailors were “knaves I cannot rule”.

I can’t help but picture the scene as a combination of Black Adder as the captain and a bunch of Manuels from Fawlty Towers as the crew.

House apologizes for slavery, Jim Crow

On Tuesday, July 29, the United States House of Representatives formally apologized for slavery and the oppressive system of segregationist laws in post-Reconstruction America known as Jim Crow.

The drafter of the bill, Rep. Steve Cohen, (D) Tennessee, had written a letter to President Clinton back when he was making noises about expressing “regret” for slavery suggesting that he apologize for slavery and Jim Crow both. Nothing came of it then, but once Mr. Cohen made it to the House, he decided he’d take matters into his own hands.

From Rep. Cohen’s introduction of the bill:

This Congress did the right thing in apologizing for the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans during World War II and in encouraging the Japanese Government to apologize for the use of “comfort women.” But the fact that this government has not apologized to its own citizens, African-Americans, for the institution of slavery and for the Jim Crow laws that followed and accepted that fact and encouraged changes in our dialogue and understanding in the actions of this country to rectify that is certainly a mistake. And today we rectify that mistake. This is a symbolic resolution but hopefully it will begin a dialogue where people will open their hearts and their minds to the problems that face this country, from racism that exists in this country on both sides and which must end if we’re to go forward as the country that we were created to be and which we are destined to be. So it is with great honor that I speak on this resolution and urge the members of this body to pass this historic resolution, recognize our errors, but also recognize the greatness of this country, because only a great country can recognize and admit its mistakes and then travel forth to create indeed a more perfect union that works to bring people of all races, religions and creeds together in unity as Americans part of the United States of America. Mr. Speaker, I thank you for the time and I urge my colleagues to vote unanimously to pass this resolution today. Thank you.

I’m surprised by this story because I heard nothing at all about it on the news when it happened. A Google News search now confirms that this story has barely been published.

Update: Mummies show some skin again

Remember the mummies at the Manchester Museum who were ignominiously enshrouded after visitor complaints about their pickled naughty bits? The museum has backtracked a bit.

The mummies are still not displayed in their full naked glory, but at least they aren’t totally cocooned anymore.

Nick Merriman, museum director, has said one of the mummies will now be left partially unwrapped in its original display state, while another will be partially covered, leaving its head, hands and feet exposed.

The decision to reveal more of the mummies came following a meeting of the museum’s human remains panel.

Mr Merriman said: “We started the consultation process with a total covering of three of the museum’s unwrapped mummies.

“As public feedback showed that this is not the most appropriate long-term solution, we are trying out a range of different approaches to gauge public opinion.

“Some of these will include techniques which are used in museums in Egypt.”

Man, they are really struggling over this. They must have gotten huge piles of complaints over the nekkid mummies. Hard to believe.

Barbarian decapitation headstone on display

Contractors building an apartment complex in 2005 uncovered a unique Roman headstone from 100 A.D. with an intricately carved image of a Roman soldier holding the severed head of a barbarian.

Stephen Bull, curator of Military History and Archaeology at Lancashire Museums Service, said there was a very good chance the stone depicts a real incident.

“The inscription tells us that the man was ranked as a curator in the Roman auxiliary,” he said.

“To depict him in such a dramatic and war-like position, when none of the other tombstones of this period show such a thing, makes it very likely that we are looking at something either real, or very similar to an event that happened.”

It’s funny, but I don’t think of beheading an enemy fighter and holding his head aloft as a particularly rare accomplishment in ancient battles. Perhaps it was, though. Certainly Roman swords were short jabbing things, not exactly suited to severing body parts.

The stone needs restoration, but is scheduled to go on public display in the Lancaster City Museum by December.

The latest Iraq looting dramz

I’ve posted before about the extensive looting of archaeological sites and museums in Iraq since the US invasion.

The reports were picked up on some news channels and blogs, but it wasn’t until The Art Newspaper posted this that Fox News and the pro-war bloggers wrote a battery of stories on looting in Iraq.

An international team of archaeologists which made an unpublicised visit to southern Iraq last month found no evidence of recent looting—contrary to long-expressed claims about sustained illegal digging at major sites.

This topic sentence lit a fire under blogs I’ve never once seen mention Elizabeth Stone’s work or the Chicago exhibit on looting. According to them, the reports of looting were all a big lie meant to denigrate the valiant war effort, and those 8 unlooted sites visited proved it.

The rest of the Art Newspaper’s article explaining why those few sites out of many might not have been looted in a while didn’t make the same splash. Now the actual report is out, and Larry Rothfield has a handy summary of the context for each site.

A couple of examples:

3. Uruk: “There is no evidence of looting at the site which is protected by 15 SPF (Special Protection Force) personnel (one of whom arrived to check the presence of the inspection team) and an on-site guard (the German institutional system is able to maintain constant payments for the on-site guard).” The assessment team surely knew beforehand that this site was protected at this very high level, yet they chose to visit it anyway — just as they chose to visit Ur (which a British Museum team had visited a year earlier). […]

5. Tallil airbase: one of the largest military airbases in the middle east, it contains two sites within its perimeter. Unsurprisingly, neither was looted.

Basically, the 8 sites are not exactly characteristic of all the archaeological sites in Iraq. Some of them are protected by coalition guards. Some of them are still hot, complete rocket craters. Some of them are surrounded by military installations.

Looters aren’t stupid, and trying to use this story to dismiss the reality of what has happened to the Cradle of Civilization is just good ol’ fashioned political expediency.

In fact, if anything the conditions at these sites indicates that what Elizabeth Stone and the other archaeologists who have reported on the looting were saying was true: if coalition forces made an effort to protect the sites as many of these 8 sites were, so much loss could have been prevented.