Evidence of successful Stone Age amputation found

Stone Age burial with remains of amputee French archaeologists excavating a Neolithic grave south of Paris have found evidence of a successful, infection-free amputation performed 6,900 years ago during the Linearbandkeram period when European hunter-gatherers were just settling down to subsistence farming. Considering that they didn’t even have blades back then, that’s pretty damn impressive.

The amputee was elderly, someone of stature in the community, and he lived for at least months, possibly years, after the surgery.

The patient was important: his grave was 2m (6.5ft) long — bigger than most — and contained a schist axe, a flint pick and the remains of a young animal, which are evidence of high status.

Humerus at the amputation pointThe most intriguing aspect, however, was the absence of forearm and hand bones. A battery of biological, radiological and other tests showed that the humerus bone had been cut above the trochlea indent at the end “in an intentional and successful amputation”. Mrs Buquet-Marcon said that the patient, who is likely to have been a warrior, might have damaged his arm in a fall, animal attack or battle.

“I don’t think you could say that those who carried out the operation were doctors in the modern sense that they did only that, but they obviously had medical knowledge,” she said.

The surgical tool would have been a sharpened flint. Archaeologists speculate that pain-killing plants would have been used to keep the patient still during the amputation. Antiseptic plants such as sage could have kept the wound from getting infected.

Neolithic people are known to have practiced trepanation — the surgical removal of a piece of skull — but that’s a more rudimentary kind of medicine. The earliest evidence of Stone Age trepanation is on 7,000-year-old skulls. They were performed by scraping away the bone with sharpened flint or obsidian stones. Later trepanations were done by primitive drilling tools, also made from sharpened rocks.

But it’s a big step from scraping or drilling a few holes in the skull to severing a forearm with its major arteries and nerves without killing the patient. This find suggests Stone Age farmers were significantly more medically advanced than previously realized.

For more information on this find including details of the forensic examination of the remains, see this article in the journal Antiquity.

Cyprus police bust $15.5 million smuggling ring

Ancient terracotta urns found in a car in Limassol Cyprus police raided a huge antiquities smuggling ring in southern city of Limassol that was set to sell dozen of antiquities worth an estimated $15.5 million. This is the biggest antiquities smuggling bust in Cyprus history.

Artifacts include urns, gold figurines and coins, some thought to be as much as 4000 years old. They were found in various homes, backyard sheds and vehicles belonging to the suspects, some in scarily casual arrangements.

The Cypriot police were alerted to the ring when one of its alleged members tried to sell some treasure to a man who ended up being an undercover Greek policeman. The Greek police then contacted the Cyprus authorities.

Ten Cypriots were arrested during the raids over the weekend, and authorities were searching for another five suspects, including a Syrian man, police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos said. The suspects face charges of illegally possessing and trading in antiquities.

Police said the smugglers had planned to sell the artifacts in Cyprus, but would not identify the buyer. Authorities also said they were investigating where the artifacts had been obtained.

Katsounotos said this was Cyprus’ largest antiquities smuggling case in terms of the amount of recovered artifacts, their archaeological value and the number of arrests.

Most of the artifacts are urns primarily found around the southern coastal towns of Limassol and Paphos, Hadjicosti said. Some of the coins could date to Hellenistic and Roman times.

Miniature sarcophagus and gold figurinesSome of the most valuable artifacts are a miniature gold coffin and gold figurines. These don’t appear to be Cypriot in origin. The wee coffin looks like an Egyptian sarcophagus.

Other artifacts may have been looted from the Turkish north of Cyprus. (The spokesman wasn’t terribly forthcoming on that subject. Don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Cypriot police made a big deal out of the cooperation of the Greek police.)

First snowflake pictures for sale

A snow crystal by Wilson A. BentleyWilson A. Bentley, a self-taught farmer from Jericho, Vermont, was the first person to capture the beauty of snowflakes on film. When he was 17, his father bought him a bellows camera and a microscope and he spent two years trying to take the first photomicrograph of a snowflake. He finally succeeded in 1885, when he was 19.

That became his life’s passion. He filled 9 journals over 47 years with detailed notes about his photographic tecniques and the weather. He became known in town as “Snowflake Bentley”.

The scientific community was slow to accept his work. They were unconvinced that his methods were accurate. They thought it was 19th century photoshop, basically, although eventually he was inducted a Fellow of the American Meteorological Society in 1920.

In 1931, he published a book of his snowflake photography called Snow Crystals. He lived to see it in print, but died soon thereafter of pneumonia after walking home through a blizzard.

Wilson A Bentley at his microscope/bellows camera apparatusBentley’s photos don’t meet modern standards because he was “working with crude equipment,” said Kenneth G. Libbrecht, who has written seven books on snowflakes and grows snow crystals in a laboratory.

“But he did it so well that hardly anybody bothered to photograph snowflakes for almost 100 years,” said Libbrecht, a physics professor at the California Institute of Technology.

When Libbrecht became interested in snowflakes, he said, Bentley was still the standard. The method of singling out a crystal to photograph hasn’t changed in all that time.

“You basically let the crystal fall on something, black or dark-colored, and then you have to pick it up with a toothpick or brush and put it on a glass slide,” Libbrecht said.

Another snow crystal by Wilson A. BentleyTen of his snowflake pictures and 16 winterscapes are being sold by the Carl Hammer Gallery at this year’s American Antiques Show. These images are very rarely available for sale. The estimated price is $4800 per picture.

His hometown of Jericho has built a museum in his honor. You can virtually tour it on the website: Snowflake Bentley Museum. The Buffalo Museum of Science also has a vast collection of his original glass plates which you can browse online.

Christie’s drops skull and bones from sale

The skull and crossbones ballot box from Yale’s Skull and Bones society was supposed to go on sale at a Christie’s auction yesterday. At the last minute, however, the ballot box and the black book with pictures and names of 50 19th century members were withdrawn from the sale.

Christie’s statement said only that another party had claimed title to the lot. We don’t know who that other party is or what the grounds are for the claim.

The sale was controversial from the start. The World Archaeological Congress condemned the sale of human remains as inherently disrespectful, and pointing out that if that skull and the two femurs were Native American remains, it’s actually against the law.

The World Archaeological Congress is concerned about the cultural origin of the remains being offered for sale, as well as the affront to human dignity resulting from the sale of human body parts. “WAC asks Christie’s to cease trafficking in human remains and requests that all possible measures be taken to discover the cultural origin of this individual,” stated WAC President Claire Smith. “We cannot overlook the possibility that it may be a skull of a American Indian, and the sale should be stopped in order to determine if federal laws apply.”

WAC also requests that US law enforcement investigate this proposed sale. If these remains are found to be Native American, then WAC urges Christie’s to comply with the federal Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act and/or applicable state laws. Regardless of the origin of the remains, WAC urges Christie’s to act in accordance with standards of human decency and withdraw these remains from the auction.

I don’t know if this appeal had anything to do with the withdrawal of the lot. Christie’s wording indicates someone else claimed to own the items, including the book and pictures. It might just be a cover story to avoid controversy, of course, and they’re not exactly forthcoming with details.

Skull and Bones ballot box, black book, and member photographs

“Arbeit Macht Frei” returns to Auschwitz

Police experts hold up parts of signThe infamous “Arbeit Macht Frei” sign which was stolen last month from its place over the entrance to Auschwitz has been returned.

Polish police handed the sign, broken into three pieces by the thieves, over to Auschwitz museum official in a small ceremony in Krakow on Thursday. It was then transported the 50 miles to the museum where conservation experts examined it carefully.

When the sign was first found two days after the theft, Auschwitz officials had hoped to have the sign repaired and back in place by January 27th, the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation, but that’s no longer in the cards.

There’s a replica over the gate right now, and officials aren’t even sure they’re going to put the original sign back even once it is restored.

The sign has been examined in recent weeks by police forensic experts for evidence, and the museum’s conservationists will assess the damage and determine how to repair it, Auschwitz spokesman Pawel Sawicki said.

“It’s a very long process,” Sawicki said, stressing that the sign would not be returned any time soon to its original spot above the main entrance at Auschwitz — if at all.

I wouldn’t blame them at all if they decided to keep it inside the museum and kept the replica outside. Even if weren’t even more of a target of neo-Nazi collector commissions than it was before, the exposure to the elements is probably bad for its long-term health, and Auschwitz already has more than its fair share of upkeep troubles.