51 Viking raiders found beheaded in an English pit

It’s not yet confirmed that they were Viking raiders, but evidence suggests that the 51 skeletons unearthed near Weymouth, on the southern coast of England, were a raiding party who encountered unexpectedly effective Saxon opposition and paid for it with their heads.

(And their clothes. They were found nekkid.)

Many of the skeletons have deep cut marks to the skull and jaw as well as the neck. “The majority seem to have taken multiple blows,” Score said.

The bodies show few signs of other trauma, suggesting the men were alive when beheaded.

One victim appears to have raised an arm in self-defense: “The hand appears to have had its fingers sliced through,” Score noted.

The heads were neatly piled to one side of the pit, perhaps as a victory display, the team suggests.

The burial dates to sometime between 890 and 1034 AD, which was peak Viking longship era.

The method of burial suggests that the locals did the killing, because Viking raiders didn’t drop the raiding to carefully stack heads and bury the enemy dead. They killed and kept on raiding, leaving bodies in their wake.

The location of the burial — atop a hill by the main road to Weymouth — also supports the theory that the deceased were killed by the people who lived there.

A chemical analysis of the dead guys’ teeth should confirm whether they were grew up in Scandinavia or England, and a closer analysis of the bones will reveal what kind of muscle development the strapping youths had.

If, for instance, their bones show evidence of overdeveloped arms and shoulders, that would suggest they were oarsmen.

Ancient Coloradoans had dinner delivered

The Chaco people lived in the southwest United States between 850 and 1250 AD. One of the most dramatic structures they left behind is known as Chimney Rock, a great house built on a mesa near Pagosa Springs, Colorado.

Archaeologists from the University of Colorado have found bone remnants that suggest the inhabitants of Chimney Rock ate fancier meals (ie, venison) than the folks living on the ground below the mesa (ie, rabbit).

The university team spent five weeks this summer digging at the Chimney Rock Great House, which was inhabited between A.D. 1075 and 1130. The team had access to two rooms for the first research dig allowed by the U.S. Forest Service at Chimney Rock since the 1970s. It is in those rooms that they found the remnants of meals to support their theory.

Under the rock floors, where the builders would have discarded their trash as they were constructing the rooms, archaeologists found the bones of small animals. Above the floor, they found the bones of larger mammals — either the elk or deer that are plentiful in that area. They found no tools to indicate the food was prepared in those rooms.

They’re thinking that maybe the commoners down on the ground who built the structure hauled the big game and water up to the elites living in Chimney Rock.

University of Colorado professor Steve Lekson theorizes that the Chimney Rock dwellers may have been sent there from the capital of Chacoan culture in New Mexico in order to perform some essential cosmic rites. Chimney Rock was a lunar observatory built in a grand style very much unlike the below-mesa dwellings.

It seems the rabbit eaters may have delivered elegant repasts to the Chimney Rock elites, as tribute or simply as part of their cultural duty.

OMG ArchaeoBus!1

You know, like a bookmobile only with archaeologists inside of librarians and artifacts instead of books!1 How completely awesome is that?

It actually used to be a bookmobile for the Athens Regional Library System that traveled to rural parts of Northeast Georgia, but budget cuts had long since left it parked and forlorn.

As a member of the Society for Georgia Archaeology, archaeologist Thomas Gresham had long wanted to put together a roving archeology show.

When he joined the library board and the subject of what to do with ye olde bookmobile came up, he proposed they sell it to the SGA for a mobile museum. Nine hundred bucks changed hands and the deal was done.

That was two years ago, and now the ArchaeoBus is primed and ready to travel to libraries and schools in Clarke County, Georgia, showing all comers artifacts excavated locally and giving mini-instructionals and labs on archaeological processes.

So far they’ve only done one planned stop, but Rita Elliot, the archaeologist who drove it to Athens from the mechanic in Savannah where the bus was first repaired and fitted with display cases, has big plans to integrate the bus into students’ curricula.

Elliot and other volunteers want to apply about a dozen activities and presentations to students’ in-class curriculum.

Archaeologists might ask younger kids to offer theories about where an artifact like a coin or a dish came from and then explain their guesses.

Older kids might have to show how they can use the Pythagorean theorem to map out a field excavation site using string on a peg board, Elliot said.

Using the theorem, archaeologists can lay out an accurate rectangular grid system to mark the layer of the soil where artifact is found.

“You want it so that you can see the clues in the soil, and unfortunately, the only way to do that is math, so the Pythagorean theorem comes in handy time after time,” Elliot said.

How many times do teachers hear the “But how am I going to use this in the real world?” refrain. The ArchaeoBus will answer that question as well as a million others about the history of the state and the study of material remains in general.

I am so into that I could not be more into it.

Cyprus’ religious heritage decimated by looting

Remember that long-winded entry about the Syriac Bible found by Turkish Cypriot police in Famagusta? I babbled about it so long because the articles in the international press took a complicated story about looting, smuggling and ethnic conflict and stripped it down into some silly ZOMG JESUS BIBLE sensationalism.

Well, those complexities hinted at in the local news stories are part of a really scary big picture.

In the wake of Turkey’s 1974 invasion of Cyprus, the island has suffered astronomical losses to its cultural patrimony, particularly its Orthodox heritage. The US Helsinki Commission has released a report detailing the destruction and it ain’t pretty.

According to the report:

  • 500 Orthodox churches or chapels have been pillaged, demolished or vandalized.
  • 133 churches, chapels and monasteries have been desecrated.
  • 15,000 paintings have disappeared.
  • 77 churches have been turned into mosques, 28 are being used by the Turkish military as hospitals or camps, and 13 have been turned into barns.

That’s all in the northern part of Cyprus, still occupied by Turkish forces. The report was released last week which was the 35th anniversary of the invasion, a Turkish embassy spokesman pointed out, and it was compiled without Turkish input.

Also, it’s not like there’s no looting going on in the south — the Syriac Bible is thought to have been destined for a buyer in the south — so of course there are politics at play in the report and its release.

The Law Library of Congress report, underlines Turkey’s legal responsibility “to refrain from acts of hostility and damage against cultural property located in the northern part of Cyprus; to prohibit and prevent theft, pillage, or misappropriation of cultural property; and to establish criminal jurisdiction to prosecute individuals who engage in acts of destruction, desecration, and pillage […]”. Moreover, in the Report’s concluding remarks it is stated that “under conventional and customary international law, Turkey, as an occupying power, bears responsibility for acts against cultural property. Responsibility also arises based on legal instruments addressing the illicit export and transfer of ownership of stolen cultural objects from the occupied northern part of Cyprus”.

The Washington representative from Northern Cyprus, Hilmi Akil, considers that straight propaganda. It’s a two-sided problem, in his view, since looting and site destruction happens in the south too. He notes Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders are setting up to a joint committee to confront the problem together.

Somehow, I don’t find that a terribly comforting prospect.

Art Deco renewal at 30 Rock

The building at 30 Rockefeller Plaza is famous now for being the headquarters of NBC and the name of the network’s finest comedy show. When it was first built in the 30’s, however, its Art Deco murals coordinated by Edward Trumbull stole the show.

At long last, attention is again being payed to these masterpieces of the genre and restorers are hard at work on a two year project to return the faded and darkened works to their original splendor.

Before the cleaning began, Mr. Greene enlisted several scientists to analyze and test the murals to determine their condition, the composition of the paints and exactly what had been done by previous conservators. “I was afraid these murals were hiding a multitude of sins,” he said.

It was the 1970s varnish, they realized, that had to be removed first. One scientist formulated a chemical cleaning solution, but Mr. Greene was afraid to use it, concerned that it might damage the paint underneath.

He also tried removing the varnish with an electric toothbrush, but it didn’t come off easily enough. Then he realized that the simplest method was still the best: gently rubbing all the surfaces with an agate burnisher or a bone folder, a tool more commonly used for book binding. By working slowly, in tiny sections, the varnish began to flake off easily. “It’s a green, incredibly low-tech solution,” Mr. Greene said. Still, he added, “it is going to take two years to get through all the murals, one inch at a time.”

It’s amazing how with all our fancy technologies, so many major restoration projects use things like a basic stone scraping tool or Q-Tips and water to remove decades/centuries/millennia of grime.

The theme for the 30 Rock murals was the New Frontiers of society in all fields — science, labor, education, travel, communication, humanitarianism, finance and spirituality — and Trumbull enlisted a variety of fine muralists to convey this theme in concert with the warm stone background of the structure itself.

Over the dirty, dirty years, the murals have darkened dramatically, so when the restoration is done, we’ll see the figures cooperate with their environment in a way that hasn’t been seen in decades.