Archive for February, 2009

Geronimo descendant sues Skull and Bones

Wednesday, February 18th, 2009

For those of you who don’t know, The Order of the Skull and Bones is a secret society at Yale University.

It’s basically a fraternity of rich dorks with the concomitant hush-hush rumors of dark rituals and political intrigue, which features in a fair few conspiracy theories along with the Freemasons and Illuminati.

Well, one of the hush-hush rumors is that initiates are made to kiss a skull, possibly the skull of the great Apache warrior Geronimo, stolen from his grave in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by a cadre of rich dorks including Prescott Bush, father and grandfather of a couple of former US presidents, while stationed at the Fort during World War I.

Harlyn Geronimo wants the truth, and has filed suit against Yale, Skull and Bones, President Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Army Secretary Pete Geren to get it.

It has long been rumored that several of Yale’s “Bonesmen,” including, by one account, Prescott Bush, father of one Bush president and grandfather of the other, robbed Geronimo’s grave and brought back his skull and femurs, and his horse’s bit and saddle horn, to the Tomb.[...]

Harlyn Geronimo’s lawyer is William Ramsey Clark, who served as U.S. attorney general under Lyndon Johnson. Clark brought the action under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.

The suit seeks to “free Geronimo, his remains, funerary objects and spirit, from 100 years of imprisonment at Fort Sill, Okla., the Yale University campus in New Haven, and wherever else they may be.”

Harlyn wishes to reinter Geronimo’s remains in his ancestral lands, so he wants Fort Sill as well as Skull and Bones to cough up any remains they might have.

The Apache tribe disagrees. They don’t want Geronimo’s grave disturbed and they don’t think the rich dorks really dug him up at all. There’s no physical evidence of desecration. The rich dorks could have grave-robbed anyone or even just stolen a skull and two femurs from the science lab and pretended they were Geronimo’s.

The only evidence in the case comes from a 1918 letter recently uncovered in the Yale Archives, but it was written by someone who was not at Fort Sill, so although contemporary, it’s still circumstantial.

The letter was written on June 7, 1918, by Winter Mead ’19 to F. Trubee Davison ’18. It announces that the remains dug up at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, by a group that included Charles C. Haffner Jr. ’19 (a new member, or “Knight”), have been deposited in the society’s headquarters (the “Tomb”): “The skull of the worthy Geronimo the Terrible, exhumed from its tomb at Fort Sill by your club & the K — t [Knight] Haffner, is now safe inside the T — [Tomb] together with his well worn femurs[,] bit & saddle horn.”

But at best that indicates that some Bonesmen (yes, that is what they call themselves; like I said, rich dorks) thought the bones were Geronimo’s, not that they are, and let’s face it, the odds of any these guys having been sober at the time are slim to none.

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Slavery and Jackson Five theme park in Nigeria

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

Just in case you thought Michael was the only crazy Jackson, here comes his brother Marlon with the most appalling notion of “edutainment” I’ve heard in a long time: a 3.4 billion dollar resort with a golf course, casinos, a slavery museum (complete with replica slave ship) and a Jackson Five museum all on the site of one west Africa’s Middle Passage ports.

Badagry, Nigeria, was formerly a slave port and is currently a tourist destination with an important museum documenting the trade.

“The Jackson Family had been looking for a place to site their memorabilia collection for some time,” says Gary Loster, a former mayor of Saginaw, Michigan, and chief executive of The Motherland Group.

“We visited the site of the slave port in Badagry and Marlon turned to me and said: ‘Let’s put it here, this is right’.

“It’s such an emotional place, and I think we all felt that it was the right place to have the Jackson family memorial.”

:facepalm:

The Motherland Group, incidentally, includes the creator of the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, so there’s a recommendation for you.

As disgusting as it is, it’s likely to provide an enormous number of jobs for the locals, perhaps as many as 150,000, it’s a plum prize to dangle. Still, I like how writer Toyin Falola put it:

The professor of history at the University of Texas and author of many books on the Nigerian diaspora and African-American history said the development was exploiting painful history.

“Money-making and historical memory are allies in the extension of capitalism. You cry with one eye and wipe it off with cold beer, leaving the other eye open for gambling,” he said.

Even looked at purely from an investment standpoint, it’s risky business. Nigeria isn’t exactly a placid country, and you can’t even get a visa without a letter of recommendation. These developers are going to have to make major changes to the government and infrastructure of the country to get anything like the number of paying guests they project.

I’m just going to rock myself and hope the new museum will at least contribute something of historical value to the area instead of exploiting human misery for profit in the most hideously ironic way.

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Huge 12th c. waterwheel found on Thames bank

Monday, February 16th, 2009

Developers prepping for new construction in the Greenwich Wharf area have found the remains of an enormous 12th c. waterwheel.

Look at the size of this monster:

Archaeologists estimate that the foundations were 30 feet by 36 feet and the waterwheel was more than 20 feet in diameter.

The Romans were the first to build tide mills long the Thames foreshore. The waterwheels powered millstones by sucking in the high tide and releasing the low tide.

We know the technology was still going strong in 1086 because four tide mills are mentioned in the Domesday book, but until now, little evidence of them has ever been found.

It has been preserved against centuries of damage by riverside peat deposits. Carpenters’ or millwrights’ assembly marks are clearly visible on the timbers. [...]

The find is similar in design to Roman mills. What has survived is the water trough, carved from a single log, and a carved section of the waterwheel itself with paddles.

Dendrochronological analysis – where tree rings are counted – dates the trees’ felling to 1194.

Researchers think the mill was probably associated with a nearby monastery run by a Belgian order. They’re going to sift through the monastery records to see if they can find any information on the mill.

Meanwhile, the timbers have been removed for conservation and the site is being fully documented. Then the developers will get it back to build some ugly contemporary crap on it.

Okay to be fair, I don’t know that it’ll be ugly or crap, but given what’s become of the London skyline over the past 50 years, it seems likely.

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Druids at war

Sunday, February 15th, 2009

I’m sure you all fondly remember our neo-pagan heroes Arthur Pendragon et al. standing up for their pre-Christian, post-living brethren. Well, thanks to the always juicy Daily Mail, we can now take a look at the men/drunken sots behind the self-delusion.

First of all, “Arthur Pendragon” is the short version. His actual name — legally changed in 1976 — is King Arthur Uther Pendragon. He’s a former Hell’s Angel and current barfly. Oh, and of course, the Battle Chieftain of the Council of British Druid Orders.

In his capacity as Battle Chieftain, King Arthur Uther Pendragon has accomplished many feats of strength.

‘I work out the political tactics for the druids. My order is the political arm. We’re the guys in white frocks, up the trees. We’re the ones trying to stop the Newbury by-pass.’

Hasn’t that been open for a few years?

‘Whatever — we’re at the sharp end. We’re the political arm of the whole spiritual movement.’

Unfortunately, not everyone is on board with Battle Chieftain King Arthur Uther Pendragon’s vision of the Druidic future. There are heretics, splitters, blasphemers who dare question his approach.

The ‘row’ concerns a small breakaway group of druids (known to some as COBDO West) who’ve requested the museum release the remains so they can rebury them where they came from. King Arthur and mainstream COBDO want the same thing — but are upset that COBDO West have taken matters into their own hands. ‘COBDO West are just a joke — three men and a dog, without even the dog,’ splutters King Arthur. ‘I’ve got thousands of members in my Arthurian War Band all round the world and loads more in the UK. I could field hundreds of activists at the drop of a hat. Bunch of idiots.’

Yes, how dare those men and their missing dog bother to actually fill out the paperwork to petition English Heritage for reburial of the Avebury skeletons. Don’t they know Battle Chieftain King Arthur Uther Pendragon could summon an army of RenFaire drunks with the merest whisper in the wind?

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Iraqi National Museum to reopen this month

Saturday, February 14th, 2009

After the nightmare of post-invasion looting and with thousands of pieces still missing, Baghdad’s National Museum is scheduled to reopen by the end of February.

They’ve been renovating the space for months, and restoring the 5,000 recovered antiquities out of the 15,000 estimated to have been destroyed or stolen. Most importantly, they’re actively working to prevent anything like this happening again.

The museum and other archaeological sites will be protected by a newly formed Interior Ministry force called the “relics protection force,” Jibouri said in an interview.

The force will aim to prevent a repeat of the devastation of April 2003 when looters robbed the museum of some 15,000 priceless artefacts as part of a wave of theft from public buildings after Saddam Hussein’s regime fell.

Saddam Hussein was no great steward of the Cradle of Civilization. Archaeological sites were plundered all the time under his rule, so this is a major (and very much welcome) shift in attitude to Iraq’s immense cultural patrimony.

Qahtan al-Jibouri, Iraq’s minister for tourism and antiquities quoted above, is also hoping the reopening of the museum will usher in a new era of tourism and associated revenues. The budget is tight, needless to say, so an influx of tourist cash would make a big difference.

For years the main source of Iraqi tourism has been Iranian pilgrims visiting religious sites. Hard to believe, but the enormous wealth of Mesopotamian history never really made it onto the brochure until now.

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Amazing CT scan of mummy

Friday, February 13th, 2009

The mummy has been at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute since 1920, safely ensconced in a beautifully decorated sarcophagus. They couldn’t open it without destroying it, so the mummy has never been seen.

Thanks to the marvels of modern technology, now we can all see it in astonishing detail.

The mummy was discovered in Luxor, Egypt, and sold to the Oriental Institute in 1920.

Teeter said the coffin, painted and carved to look like the figure of a beautiful woman, is an archeological marvel. She said singers who served in Egyptian temples were traditionally young, beautiful women from high-ranking families.

Hieroglyphs on the front of the coffin tell researchers more about the mummy’s life. The woman’s name was Meresamun, which means “Amun Loves Her,” and she was a singer in the temple of the Egyptian god Amun.

CT scans are often used to view mummies, but most of them are not in pristine condition. Researchers, grave robbers and hobbyists have messed with them over the centuries.

This case is remarkable because the casket has been sealed shut for 2800 years, so Meresamun has all kinds of secrets to share.

Her cause of death is not one of them, however. It was most likely some kind of infectious disease, because there is no visible trauma. She was about 30 when she died, and her skeleton suggests she was healthy until right before she died.

Check out this footage of the CT scan with commentary by University of Chicago Medical Center radiologist Dr. Michael Vannier. I can’t embed it ’cause they’re meanies, but believe me it’s well worth a click.

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Little British museum finds huge Greek treasure

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

It’s been in the Maidstone Museum for years, but it wasn’t on display and the staff had no idea how rare and valuable it is until a Greek expert from the British Museum came to assess their collection.

The Early Cycladic III Kernos, a vessel that incorporates 6 cups around a globular basin on a fluted base, is an unusual item especially in the complete condition it is in. [...]

The Kernos was used to make offerings to the Gods and each cup would have been filled with a different substance such as milk, honey and oats.

We know from descriptions that the filled vessel would have been held on the head of the devotee until sanctified by the priest.

This type from this period is predominantly found at Phylakopi on Melos, the same home as the most famous sculpture in the world – the Venus de Milo.

There are only 20 of these vessels known in the world, and most of them are in major museums like the Met and the Louvre.

I think it’s a little creepy looking, to be honest.

Ugh. Too many tubules. The one at the Met is even scarier.

Creepy! It’s like the archaic Greek version of a navel orange or some sort of fungal growth.

My hangups aside, it’s a major coup for the little museum. Assuming it wasn’t looted, I’m very happy for them.

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Mass grave of the Aztec resistance found

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Archaeologists excavating the ruins of a pyramid in downtown Mexico City have uncovered a mass grave which may contain the skeletal remains of some of the Aztec’s last holdouts against Cortez.

Cortez demolished this pyramid along with the rest of the Aztec city in 1521, but the skeletons buried there might have died or been killed later, perhaps during the period when Cortez left the city after razing it.

Archaeologist Salvador Guilliem, the leader of the excavation for Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, said the Indians might have been killed during Cortes’ war or during one of the uprisings that continued after the conquest.

Guilliem said many burials have been found at the site with the remains of Indians who died during epidemics that swept the Aztec capital in the years after the conquest and killed off much of the Indian population.

But those burials were mostly hurried, haphazard affairs in which remains were jumbled together in pits regardless of age or gender.

The burial reported Tuesday is different. The dead had many of the characteristics of warriors: All were young men, most were tall and several showed broken bones that had mended.

The men also were carefully buried Christian-style, lying on their backs with arms crossed over their chests, though many appear to have been wrapped up in large maguey cactus leaves, rather than placed in European coffins.

There is evidence of both Aztec burial rites on the site and Spanish elements. It’s a strange melange. Aztecs usually cremated their warriors, and the Spanish weren’t exactly prone to bury the locals with full honors.

We’ll hopefully come to know a little more about this mystery when the skeletons have been analyzed for cause and date of death.

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Santa Domitilla in 3D

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

The Santa Domitilla catacomb is the oldest and one of the two largest of Rome’s 40 or so secret underground Christian burial networks. There are 15 kilometers of tunnels, cubicles and one suprisingly large basilica carved out of the volcanic tufa rock on what was once the property of Imperial relative and Christian/Jewish convert Flavia Domitilla’s property.

Many of the tunnels have never been explored or excavated because they’re layered on top of each other and in various states of disrepair. Also, there’s a church on top and it’s already sunken.

Thanks to some brilliant Austrian researchers who invented an awesome laser scanning device, there is finally a complete 3D map of all 15 kilometers.

The data produced by the scanner has been combined with existing photographs.

This enables people using the model to not only ”wander” through the virtual tunnels, but also to explore the individual tombs and examine wall paintings that are normally shrouded in darkness. In the next stage of the project, which lasts until 2011, the researchers want to count the exact number of tombs within the catacombs, as well as documenting the funerary paintings that have not yet undergone full scientific studies. Zimmermann said he hoped the votive inscriptions would provide interesting new sociological detail that could later be added to the model, such the age of the individuals buried in each tomb.

It looks cool, too.

Pretty damn sweet, amirite? Imagine the whole 15k. Now if only they’d put it online so we could explore like the vicarious Indiana Joneses we are….

Fun fact about Flavia Domitilla: She’s mentioned as a convert to Judaism in the Talmud. She’s also mentioned by Suetonius and Cassius Dio as having been convicted of atheism by Domitian and banished to the island of Pandateria. Then Eusebius claimed her for Christianity and said she was exiled to another island.

They may have been talking about two different Flavie, though, an aunt and niece. I think it’s cooler if they’re all talking about the same lady, especially the Talmud and Eusebius.

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OMG PYGMY MAMMOTH!!1

Monday, February 9th, 2009

It’s cool enough that a mammoth tusk was found on Santa Cruz Island off the coast of Southern California, but when the tusk may have belonged to a pygmy mammoth the size of a pony (!!1), the coolness skyrockets.

Santa Cruz Island is the largest of eight islands that make up California’s Channel Islands. During the Pleistocene epoch, more than 10,000 years ago, the four northern islands — Santa Cruz, San Miguel, Santa Rosa and Anacapa — formed one big island that scientists call Santarosae.

Scientists theorized that mainland Columbian mammoths — ancestors of the present-day elephant — swam across the channel in search of vegetation on Santarosae. Over time, they evolved into a pygmy form to better adapt to scarce resources on the islands.

Judging by the tusk size — about 4 feet long — it might have belonged to a pygmy mammoth, Vermeer said.

Apparently a more complete skeleton of a pygmy mammoth was found on another Channel Island (Santa Rosa) 15 years ago, but this is the first I’ve heard of such a marvelous creature. “Pygmy mammoth” has to be the most adorable oxymoron of all time.

Santa Cruz Island is hilly and not terribly mammoth-friendly, so it’s a big enough deal to find a mammoth there anyway. The only other one that has been found in the island was a full-size Columbian mammoth.

Mind you, it’s not 100% confirmed that the find is a mammoth tusk. They’re hard to identify, and it could be a marine mammal of some variety.

I’m rooting for the pygmy mammoth all the way.

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