Archive for December, 2012

Headstones of Thessaloniki Jews lost in WWII found

Friday, December 21st, 2012

A large number of marble headstones from a Jewish cemetery destroyed during the Nazi occupation of the Thessaloniki in World War II have been found. Greek police recovered 668 fragments after finding them buried in a plot of land in the center of the city. This is a find of major significance as the authorities have been searching since the end of the war for the remains of Jewish gravestones desecrated, broken and scattered by the Nazis and their local supporters.

The Jewish community in Greece was virtually annihilated in the Holocaust, and most of them lived in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city after Athens. Thessaloniki had had a majority Sephardic Jewish population since the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the only post-diaspora city of its size that could make such a claim. The Ottoman Empire welcomed Jews into its territories (not for altruistic reasons, mind you, but as part of its strategy to control rebellious locals), and Jews from all over Spain were followed by exiles from Italy, France and later, Ashkenazi Jews from Ottoman conquests in eastern Europe. By the early 17th century, the population of Thessaloniki was 68% Jewish.

Because they were such a strong majority, Jews in Thessaloniki didn’t have to deal with the segregation and professional restrictions under which most other European Jewish communities were forced to struggle. There were Jews in every profession at every socio-economic level, from fishermen to shipping magnates. The city was widely known for its high quality wool products, made using an old spinning method the Sephardim had brought with them from Spain.

After an economic decline in the 17th century exacerbated by war, plague and cheap wool alternatives from elsewhere in Europe, in the mid-19th century the city’s fortunes saw a revival. Again Thessaloniki became a capital of Jewish culture and learning, drawing Jewish intellectuals, educators and industrialists from all over Europe.

They soon started leaving, though, when in the early 20th century the Ottoman Empire passed laws requiring all subjects regardless of religion to serve in the military. Add to that a fire in 1917 that devastated Jewish neighborhoods, increasing anti-semitism in the region and the rise of Zionism, and by the late 1930s the Jewish population had dropped from 93,000 to 53,000.

Then Thessaloniki fell to German forces in April of 1941. As was their wont, the occupiers immediately set about forcing the city’s Jews into a ghetto conveniently located next to the train tracks. The city also had a concentration/labor camp used to intern members of the resistance and other “undesirables” of particular note.

In March of 1943, the deportations began. Of the 56,000 Jews still living in Thessaloniki in 1943, 43,000 were sent to concentration camps in mainland Europe where they would be led to the slaughter in the gas chambers. Another 11,000 were sent to forced labor camps. Most of them died too. Today there are only 1,200 Jews left in Thessaloniki.

Given its important role in Jewish history and the prominence of its Jewish population, the discovery of such a large cache of tombstones from the city’s main Jewish cemetery is of particular importance to Greek Jews and to the history of the city.

The head of the city’s Jewish community, David Saltiel, said most of the gravestones found dated from the mid-1800s up until World War II.

“This is our history,” Saltiel, head of the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece, told The Associated Press. “Apart from the names, the (gravestones) also include the person’s occupation. So this is a historic record.”


New finds made in Staffordshire Hoard field

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

In the same field in Hammerwich where three years ago metal detectorist Terry Herbert found the massive 3,900-piece collection of Anglo-Saxon gem-studded gold and silver known as the Staffordshire Hoard, archaeologists have now found another 90 pieces of gold and silver. Archaeologists excavated the find site right after the initial discovery in 2009 and thought they had recovered everything there was to find. The dig was closed.

This November the field was plowed for the first time since the discovery. On November 19th, a team of archaeologists aided by metal detectorists with experience in scanning delicate archaeological sites and a phalanx of volunteers from the Hammerwich and the Stoke-on-Trent Museum Archaeology Society examined the entire 13.69-acre field. First the metal detectors surveyed the field, then the archaeologists and volunteers walked all 13.69 acres of it looking for anything the machines might have missed. Wherever artifacts were discovered, archaeologists excavated the sites. The dig ended on December 1st.

“We think these items were buried at a deeper level which is why we didn’t find them first time around,” said county council archaeologist Steve Dean.

“We always wanted to come back and look for other items – pottery, other metalwork – so we always had the intention of coming back once the field had been ploughed.”

“We will be keeping an eye on the field and we would, with the farmer’s permission, like to go back in a couple of years when he ploughs again to see if it turns up anything else,” he added.

Most of the 90 pieces they discovered are small pieces, fragments that weigh less than a gram. Some are probably mounts from Anglo-Saxon weapons similar to the ones in the Staffordshire hoard. There are two mounts of particular interest: one shaped like an eagle and another shaped like a cross. The largest piece looks like it may be a cheek guard from a helmet. One very much like it was discovered in the original hoard, so this might just be its missing companion.

The artifacts are still in the process of being cleaned and X-rayed. Researchers can’t definitely state at this point if these newly discovered objects were part of the original Staffordshire hoard, nor has their age been determined. We won’t have long to wait before an official determination. The South Staffordshire Coroner Andrew Haigh will hold an inquest on January 4th to decide if the gold and silver pieces are part of the same hoard discovered three years ago and whether they should be declared treasure.

If he rules that the artifacts are treasure (which is basically a given) and that they are part of the Staffordshire Hoard, it will be a new windfall for the original finder and the landowner, Fred Johnson. The original find was valued at £3.3 million ($5.5 million) and, as per the terms of the Treasure Act, two local museums — the Birmingham Museums & Art Gallery and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery — raised the princely sum to secure the hoard. The money was then split, with half going to the finder Terry Herbert, who was on disability at the time, and half to Fred Johnson. Even though Herbert was not involved in this follow-up dig, if the gold and silver are ruled to be part of the hoard he found three years ago, he is still the finder as far as the law is concerned.

Because mo’ money mo’ problems, hitting the jackpot caused a rift between Herbert and Johnson which has yet to be mended. They were friends before the discovery. They are no longer. The details are murky, but Herbert says Johnson wanted to keep all the money for himself, which is weird because that’s just not how the Treasure Act works. The two men haven’t spoken in years. Depending on the coroner’s ruling, they might have a few hundred thousand pounds more to fight over.


Remains of man in armor found at ‘Pompeii of Japan’

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

Archaeologists excavation the site of an ancient volcanic eruption in Gunma Prefecture, 70 miles northwest of Tokyo, have found the well-preserved remains of man in armor. He was trapped under hot ash by the eruption of Mount Haruna in the early 6th century A.D. Unusually, the body was found facing the volcano. From the position of the lower limbs, it seems he was standing and then fell to his knees, finally falling forwards onto his face before the hot ash swept over him.

“Under normal circumstances, you would flee if pyroclastic flows are rushing toward you and bringing waves of heat. But this person died facing it,” said Shinichiro Ohki, of Gunma Archaeological Research Foundation.

“Maybe, if he were someone of a high position, he might have been praying, or doing something in the direction of the volcano and attempting to appease its anger,” Ohki told AFP on Monday.

The armor he was wearing indicates that he was very much someone of status in the community. It was a type of scale armor called keiko or kozaneko made of small steel or iron plates connected together by leather strips. This style was imported from Korea during the late 5th century, a time when the aristocracy was becoming increasingly militarized. It was designed for use on horseback, armed cavalry having recently been introduced to Kofun period Japan from China via Korea. Only the military elite would be able to afford a suit of keiko armor.

Around 600 suits of armor of this type from this period have been discovered in Japan, but they were all found placed in tombs next to their owners. This is the first time someone has been found actually wearing his armor. Perhaps because the volcanic eruption caught him unprepared, he was only wearing the torso and thigh protection pieces, not the entire suit of armor.

A second partial piece of armor was found about three feet west of the human remains, and the incomplete skull of an infant was found about 10 feet east. The baby was no more than a few months old. They were found in the same pumice layer in the same groove, meaning that both the infant, the armored man, and the second piece of armor were all buried together by the same pyroclastic flow.

Archaeological surveys in the area have been ongoing since 2010 due to construction work of a highway above the site. The Kanai Higashiura site and the two neighboring sites of Kuroimine and Nakasuji are known as the “Pompeii of Japan” because they were buried by two 6th century eruptions of Mount Haruna. The armored gentleman was killed in the first eruption which left a layer of pumice one foot thick. The second took place around 550 A.D. and was much a greater eruption, burying the area under a pyroclastic flow that hardened into a layer of pumice almost seven feet thick. That was Mount Haruna last hurrah before going dormant.


Ramesses III died from a cut throat in harem coup

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

Egyptologists have long known that 20th Dynasty pharaoh Ramesses III was the target of a palace coup at the end of his life. The Judicial Papyrus of Turin, a 3000-year-old trial record that was translated into English and published as early as 1865, documents the aftermath of the Harem Conspiracy in which Queen Tiye, one of Pharoah Ramesses III’s wives, enlisted the aid of various members of the pharaoh’s household to assassinate him while he spent the evening in the royal harem.

Tiye wanted her son Pentawere to succeed his father as pharaoh, while Ramesses had designated his eldest surviving son Amonhirkhopshef, the future Ramesses IV, as his heir. She conspired with her son, other women in the harem, the pharaoh’s chief of chamber, treasury officials, butlers, court magicians, army commanders, royal scribes and a passel of harem inspectors to kill Ramesses and incite a rebellion that would oust Amonhirkhopshef and put Pentawere on the throne. In April 1155 B.C., 31 years and one month into Ramesses’ reign, the coup was discovered and the conspirators tried for their great crimes.

It’s not clear from the historical record if the plot was foiled before assassination was attempted, or if it was attempted and failed or what injuries Ramesses III might have suffered as a result. The Judicial Papyrus describes him as convening the court that presided over the trials of the conspirators, but it also refers to him as “Great God,” a naming convention only applied to deceased pharaohs at that time. One theory posits that he was poisoned (court magicians were particularly good at that sort of thing) but survived just long enough to appoint the 12 judges before succumbing. Another suggests that Ramesses III was indeed felled in the Harem Conspiracy and the trial was convened by his son Ramesses IV, but since the son didn’t want to start his reign with an investigation into such the sordid, bloody, black magical murder of his father, he retconned the trial as having been ordered by Ramesses III.

The mummy of Ramesses III, discovered in 1886 in Valley of the Kings tomb KV11, doesn’t show any obvious wounds. Previous forensic examination found no cause of death or telltale signs of assassination. To finally answer the question of whether Ramsesses III was killed in the Harem Conspiracy, a team of Egyptologists and biologists led by Dr. Albert Zink from the Institute for Mummies and the Iceman of the European Academy of Bolzano/Bozen in Italy (known for his work on Otzi the Iceman) CT scanned the mummy and discovered a proverbial smoking gun hidden under the thick collar of linen wrappings: Ramesses III’s throat was cut and cut deep.

The CT investigation revealed a serious wound in the throat of Ramesses III’s mummy, directly under the larynx. The injury was roughly 70 mm wide and extended to the bones (fifth to seventh cervical vertebra), severing all soft tissue areas in the anterior side of the neck. The trachea was clearly cut and its proximal and distal ends were retracted and separated by about 30 mm. A small, focal cortical interruption at the anterior surface of vertebral body was visible, at the seventh cervical vertebra. Accordingly, all organs in this region (such as the trachea, oesophagus, and large blood vessels) were severed.

It’s highly unlikely that he survived this attack, and if he did live for a minute, he probably wasn’t appointing judges. Researchers also found a Horus eye emblem inserted into the wound by embalmers to promote healing.

The team also examined a second mummy found in the same tomb known officially as Unknown Man E and informally as the Screaming Man because of his open-mouthed expression. Screaming Man is a fascinating archaeological anomaly. Although found in a royal tomb, E was buried in an unmarked coffin devoid of all proper ritual markings and with his hands and feet bound. He was also covered with a goatskin, a “ritually impure” element that would prevent him from reaching the afterlife.

Why so deliberately offensive a burial in the tomb of kings? Could E be Pentawere, doomed by his parricidal scheme? The answer is probably. Genetic testing has confirmed that E and Ramesses III were directly related to each other in the paternal line. Forensic examination found wrinkles under the mandible and on the neck that indicate strangulation. If it is Pentawere, that’s new information since the Judicial Papyrus records him killing himself.


Sea creatures and empress mosaic found in Greece

Monday, December 17th, 2012

Archaeologists excavating the hill of Aghia Petra on the outskirts of the eastern Greek city of Didymoteicho has revealed an elaborate mosaic depicting sea creatures both beast and divine, Nereids, a river god and the Empress Pompeia Plotina, wife of Trajan. The mosaic once adorned the floor of a triclinium, the formal dining room of a Roman villa, and dates to the 2nd or 3rd century A.D. The characters are centered in the middle of the floor, while the rest of the vast space is dominated by geometric designs and a wide border with a black vine motif on a white background.

Pompeia Plotina is on the right side of the above picture, in the corner where the two walls meet. Next to her is the god of the Evros river. Frolicking in a border around them are Nereids riding dolphins, ichthyocentaurs (deities with the upper body of a man, the front legs of a horse and the tail of a fish), mermaids, mermen and if you look really closely to the left of Plotina right next to the wall you’ll see two handsome green tentacles.

“The continuity of the central scene to the [left in the above picture], in particular part of the zone with the sea monsters figures, where the ichthyocentaurs and the Nereids are portrayed, also was revealed”, as [lead archaeologist Matthaios] Koutsoumanis said. “Both [creatures] are seated on a dolphin, and one of them is holding a scarf over the head like a peplos. It is certain by now that the scene with the Evros river and Plotinopolis is not the only one, as a second panel is coming to light. For the time being, we cannot say what it depicts, as it is covered by the later Early Christian wall. One thing is for sure, however: next year’s excavation has a lot of surprises in store for us,” the archaeologist added.

The mosaic is in excellent condition, despite later subdivisions of the home, with only a few places where the tesserae have been lost. The Early Christian walls cut the room into quarters, it seems, but since the panels on the east side of the higher wall have survived, the team hopes they’ll find the rest when they excavate the west side. Archaeologists estimate that the entire work may be 1400-1500 square feet in area.

The partial remains of a fresco were also found on the site, although too fragmentary to recognize a specific motif at this juncture. A number of coins discovered may help narrow down which parts of the structure were built when.

The city of Didymoteicho, called Dyme in the Hellenistic era, was conquered by Rome in 204 B.C. Three hundred years later in the early 2nd century A.D., Emperor Trajan founded a city next to it a mile from the Evros river and named it Plotinopolis after his wife, a woman with an impeccably virtuous reputation who was known as an adherent to the Epicurean school of philosophy. The town came into its own after its renaming, becoming a major trading post between Trajanopolis (now incorporated into the modern city of Alexandropolis) on the Aegean coast and Hadrianopolis (now Edirne in Turkey) to the north.

Plotinopolis had its own self-governing assembly and prospered financially, leaving behind an immense archaeological wealth even after its decline. One of the most spectacular finds of the Roman world was made in Plotinopolis. In 1965, soldiers digging a trench unearthed a beaten gold bust of Septimius Severus, now on display at the archaeological museum of Komotini. Regular excavations of the Aghia Petra hill began in 1977 and have continued off and on ever since.

The current excavation project under Matthaios Koutsoumanis began in 1996 and has revealed a number of impressive finds, including inscriptions indicating Plotinopolis was inhabited from the 2nd through the 6th century A.D. The high quality of the recently unearthed mosaic underscores the ancient importance of the city and cements its position as one of the richest archaeological sites in the Greek province of Thrace.


Canadian cracks the WWII carrier pigeon code?

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

A member of an informal group dedicated to researching local history in Ontario thinks he’s cracked the code found on the remains of a World War II carrier pigeon, the code that the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s code-breaking unit, declared virtually unbreakable just three weeks ago.

Gord Young, of Lakefield Heritage Research in Peterborough, Ontario, thought the GCHQ and Bletchley Park experts were overthinking the issue. He decided to use the World War I Royal Flying Corp aerial observers’ book he had inherited from his great-uncle to see if the pigeon’s message was more simple than anyone expected. Seventeen minutes later, he had a coherent deciphered message. To whit:

Artillery observer at ‘K’ Sector, Normandy. Requested headquarters supplement report. Panzer attack – blitz. West Artillery Observer Tracking Attack.

Lt Knows extra guns are here. Know where local dispatch station is. Determined where Jerry’s headquarters front posts. Right battery headquarters right here.

Found headquarters infantry right here. Final note, confirming, found Jerry’s whereabouts. Go over field notes. Counter measures against Panzers not working. Jerry’s right battery central headquarters here. Artillery observer at ‘K’ sector Normandy. Mortar, infantry attack panzers.

Hit Jerry’s Right or Reserve Battery Here. Already know electrical engineers headquarters. Troops, panzers, batteries, engineers, here. Final note known to headquarters.

That’s not the entire message. Gord was unable to decipher some parts of it which he thinks may be specialized World War II acronyms which his World War I code book obviously can’t cover. They could also be “fillers,” nonsense added deliberately to confuse the enemy in case the messages was interception.

As for why a World War II soldier would have been using a World War I code, Young speculates that the sender’s trainer was a World War I veteran, a “former Artillery observer-spotter.” He deduced this based on the “Serjeant” spelling of the sender’s rank, a holdover from WWI. I’ve read conflicting reports on the whole “Serjeant” issue, whether it denoted RAF over artillery or just some specialized artillery units or now this World War I trainer theory. I don’t have the expertise to weigh their plausibility.

GCHQ, who released a statement on November 22nd entitled “Pigeon takes secret message to the grave,” says it’s interested in examining Young’s work but remains insistent that they were right to give up after three weeks.

“We stand by our statement of 22 November 2012 that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt,” he said.

“Similarly it is also impossible to verify any proposed solutions, but those put forward without reference to the original cryptographic material are unlikely to be correct.”

Somebody’s defensive. Not that Young couldn’t be completely wrong, of course, but it seems to me the odds are very slim that he’d have been able come up with something relevant and cogent if his code book was way off-base.

I’m not sure where they’re getting it, but several articles about the putative code-breaking also include new information about the sender, Sjt Stot. Apparently Sergeant William Stott was a paratrooper with the Lancashire Fusiliers. He was 27 years old when he (and some pigeons, apparently) parachuted behind enemy lines in Normandy on a mission to assess the strength of German forces. He was killed in action just weeks after the message was sent and is buried in a war cemetery in Normandy.


Brain-removal stick found in mummy’s skull

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

A tool used by ancient Egyptian embalmers to remove the brain was found lodged in the skull of a 2,400-year-old mummy. Published in the current issue of the medical journal RSNA RadioGraphics, this discovery is only the second such instrument ever recovered from a mummy’s skull and it’s the oldest. It’s also the only one found in the cranial cavity; the other was recovered from the sphenoidal sinus. Other brain-removers have doubtless been found in ancient Egyptian sites, but their purpose can’t be positively ascertained when they’re found laid out on a table rather than embedded in a mummified skull.

The mummy was donated to the Archaeological Museum in Zagreb, Croatia, by Archbishop Juraj Haulik, a Croatian nationalist and the first archbishop of Zagreb, in the 19th century. In 2008, museum researchers took the mummy to Zagreb’s University Hospital Dubrava for further study. Using X-rays, CT scans and radiocarbon dating, they determined the mummy was a woman who died 2,400 years ago from causes unknown at the age of 40. She had a healed fracture in one of her hands.

She also had a tubular object stuck between her left parietal bone and the resin material filling the space in front of her occipital bone. Researchers could see the thing on a CT scan but were unable to identify it. Attenuation values (a measurement of how much light can get through a given material) suggested that it was an artificial object rather than a body part, but previous studies had found similar structures that turned out to be remains of the dura mater that had hardened during the mummification process. Only removing the object would allow them to determine exactly what it was.

In order to do this in the least invasive way possible if possible, researchers employed a combination of endoscopy and CT monitoring, an innovative approach that as far as they know has never been utilized before. They cut a small incision in the skin of the nose to access a hole in the ethmoid bone (the bone that separates the nasal cavity from the brain) that the embalmers had created when the removed the brain 2,400 years ago.

The endoscope was at the wrong angle in their first attempt, but that’s where the CT monitoring came in handy. They were able to correct the angle and insert the rigid endoscope through the hole into the cranial cavity. Once they saw that they were properly positioned at the base of the mystery object, researchers threaded a clamp through the endoscope and detached the tube from the resin.

When they pulled it out, the found the object was a fragment of what looked like wood about 3 inches long. Although the material was too brittle to make a microscopic slide, botanists were able to examine the end of it under a stereo microscope and found that it’s not actually wood, but rather a stem fragment from a plant in the monocotyledon group, one of two major groups of flowering plants that includes everything from orchids to palms to grasses to palms to grains to bamboo. This stick probably came from the family Poaceae, which includes cane and bamboo.

This study has not only revealed how useful the combination of endoscopy and CT scanning can be in minimizing damage to archaeological remains, but it also adds intriguingly to our knowledge of Egyptian mummification practices. There are few contemporary descriptions of mummification procedures. Herodotus describes three approaches to embalming in the second book of his Histories, and only the most expensive of these involves transnasal excerebration (ie, the removal of the brain through the nose): “First with a crooked iron tool they draw out the brain through the nostrils, extracting it partly thus and partly by pouring in drugs.”

Perhaps the iron hooks were used during a specific period of time or, as Herodotus suggests, for the elite, while cheaper materials like wooden sticks and canes were used in less expensive treatments. Experiments in the 60s confirmed that it was possible to remove the brain using metal tools inserted through the nostrils, either by repeatedly driving the tool into the skull and removing the brain matter that would stick to it, or by twisting the tool in a circular motion to liquefy the brain and then turning the corpse over to allow the liquified brain to drip out the nose.

There are no descriptions of sticks being used for this purpose, however, and it seems like it would be a lot harder to pierce the ethmoid and extract brain with wood or cane than it would be with iron. It can be done, though. Experiments on cadavers in the early 1990s proved that a bamboo rod wrapped in moistened linen bandages could indeed remove the brain through the nose. Now we’ve found an actual bamboo or cane rod in the actual brain cavity of a mummy, an important confirmation that what 20-year-old experiments have proven might have been done was in fact done.


1000-year-old burial ground found in Sonora, Mexico

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Archaeologists from Arizona State University have discovered a 1000-year-old burial ground outside the town of Onvas in the northwestern Mexican state of Sonora. It’s the first pre-Hispanic cemetery found in the region. It’s also the first dedicated graveyard discovered in Sonora. Previous burials have been discovered in and around houses rather than in a space set aside for the burial of the dead. The skeletons of 25 people were recovered, eight adults and 17 children between five months and 16 years old. Only one skeleton was female.

Thirteen of them have artificial deformities of the cranium and five of those have dental mutilations as well. This is a particularly significant aspect of the find because intentional cranial deformation and dental mutilations haven’t been seen before in Sonora or in the overlapping cultural areas of the southwestern United States. Before this discovery, the closest these practices ever got to Sonora was Sinaloa, a state on the south border of Sonora, and Nayarit, to the south of Sinaloa.

The kind of cranial deformation found on these remains is fronto-occipital deformation, done by binding flat surfaces (usually cradleboards and other wooden planks) to the skull to apply steady pressure to the frontal and occipital bones of babies, flattening and elongating them. In this case, the lateral bones of the skull were also flattened at angle to give the cranium a “V” shape. In order to take advantage of the unfused and soft skulls of infants, the deformation was usually done to babies starting a few days after birth until they were six months or a year old.

Cranial deformations were done for ritual purposes or to indicate high social rank. Dental mutilations are usually found in adolescents as they were a rite of passage into adulthood. Indeed, the five skeletons with dental mutilations are all over 12 years old. Analysis of the bodies has not returned any obvious causes of death. It’s possible that the high proportion of young people could be the result of poor cranial deformation practices putting too much pressure on the brain and causing premature death.

The burials date to the Late Classic Mesoamerican period (900-1200 A.D.) which was a time of great migrations in the area. It’s also the same period the cranial deformations found in Sinaloa and Nayarit date to, so it seems likely the cultural practices of other Mesoamerican peoples spilled over in Sonora from increased movement and interaction. The Sonorans who buried their dead in the cemetery were not themselves migrating, however. They were settled in place.

Archaeologist Cristina Garcia explained that according to historical sources, the site belonged to the Pima Indians, the region’s cultural group whose descendants moved to what is now the Sonora-Chihuahua state line. It could be part of a settlement located within the transit area where the peoples of the southwest coast of the U.S. engaged in the turquoise trade, “and in this movement of populations, the Pimas adopted new traditions from Mesoamerica.”

A variety of grave goods were discovered buried with the dead. Jewelry and ornaments like bracelet bangles, nose rings, earrings and necklaces were made out of traditional local materials like sea shells from the Sea of Cortes and snail shells. One skeleton was buried with a turtle shell placed over his abdomen.

Garcia notes that this unusual and significant find will spur further excavations in the southeast part of Sonora which has been neglected up until now. The marked differences between the Onvas discoveries and those made in the northeast and west coast suggest there is new archaeological ground to be broken.


Hans Christian Andersen’s first fairy tale found

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

A local historian has discovered a previously unknown fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen when he was a student in the 1820s, years before his first fairy tales were published. The work has been examined by Andersen experts who confirm that it was written by the author of such classics as The Little Mermaid and The Emperor’s New Clothes in his school days before he acquired the polish and elegance of his later works.

Early this October, historian and genealogist Esben Brage was doing some research in the reading room of a branch of the State Archives in Odense, the main city on the large central Denmark island of Funen. His work had nothing to do with Hans Christian Andersen. He was exploring the history of a small nearby island and of the Plum family. He had ordered the Plum family archives from the Central State Archives in Copenhagen and they arrived in four heavy boxes holding a thousand documents each. At the bottom of one of the boxes, he came across a yellowed booklet that caught his eye.

The front page had a dedication “To Mme Bunkeflod from her devoted H.C. Andersen.” What followed was a 700-word fairly tale called The Tallow Candle about a pure white candle that over the years becomes dirtied and discarded by uncaring people until finally it is recognized for its flame-giving purity of purpose by a tinder box. The tinderbox lights the candle and it burns with renewed joy for many years after. You can read the entire story translated into English here.

Realizing this could be something significant, Brage brought the manuscript to archive manager Mads Peter Christensen’s attention. Christensen, a Hans Christian Andersen buff in his own right, saw that the manuscript did not appear to be in Andersen’s handwriting and so was probably a copy. However, when he combed through a database of the author’s works he couldn’t find any reference to a story entitled The Tallow Candle.

Christensen enlisted the aid of Ejnar Stig Askgaard, one of the country’s leading Andersen experts and senior curator of the Odense City Museums’ Hans Christian Andersen Childhood Home. Askgaard studied the language, themes and historical clues in the booklet for two months before pronouncing himself confident that the story was indeed written by Andersen. “The Tallow Candle is classic Hans Christian Andersen. The red thread that goes through his fairy tales is also reflected here with themes of the ‘internal real’ in relation to the ‘outer perishable’.”

The history of the manuscript also points to Hans’ authorship. Madame Bunkeflod, to whom the story is dedicated, played a formative role in the life of young Hans Christian Andersen. Her husband, a Lutheran Church of Denmark priest and hymn writer, had died in 1805, the same year Hans was born, after which she and her children moved into a house across the street from the modest home in Odense that Hans Christian Andersen lived in between the ages of two and 14. Hans visited her as a child, becoming especially close to her after his shoemaker father died when he was just 11 years old. Her son had died a few years earlier, so they formed a deep bond over their shared loss.

After his father’s death, Han’s mother supported the family by working as a washerwoman. The work was hard and she took to drink. Madame Bunkeflod’s home was a refuge for Hans, a second home. She introduced him to classic literature, letting him borrow books. He would read them to her along with poetry written by Madame Bunkeflod’s late husband. It was at the Bunkeflod home where he decided to become a poet. It’s particularly fitting, then, that his first fairy tale would be dedicated to the woman who had played a crucial role developing his love of language and literature.

Madame Bunkeflod died in 1833. Askgaard and Christensen think it was probably her son Hans who sent the copy to the Plum family after her death. A second inscription in the top right hand corner of the dedication page says: “To S. Plum from his friend Bunkeflod.” The Plum and Bunkeflod families were both priestly families and had been friends since the days when Hans Bunkeflod’s father was still alive. The fact that the story was found in the Plum archives makes the ownership record a very clean and sparse one and supports the authenticity of its authorship.

Judging from the language used, the experts believe The Tallow Candle was written between 1819, when he left Odense to seek his fortune in Copenhagen, and 1825. He published his first book, Youthful Attempts, under a pseudonym in 1822. It was mainly poetry with one short story, The Ghost at Palnatoke’s Grave which was influenced by Sir Walter Scott. It wasn’t a fairy tale, though. He didn’t start writing those until the 1830s, publishing the first of them in 1835’s Fairy Tales. One of them was a story that also featured a tinder box, albeit no tallow candle was involved. I have dearly loved that story since I was child, all because of the three dogs that guard the treasure, the first with eyes the size of saucers, the second with eyes the size of mill wheels and the third with eyes the size of the towers of Copenhagen.

See high resolution pictures of each page of The Tallow Candle on the Danish State Archives’ Flickr page.


Tunnels under Caracalla Baths open to the public

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Part of the extensive network of tunnels underneath the Baths of Caracalla will open to the public starting December 21st for the first time since their rediscovery in the late 19th century.

Construction on the 11-hectare thermal bath complex probably began under the Emperor Septimus Severus, but it opened in 216 A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Caracalla, hence the name. The baths were free for public use and could accommodate up to 5000 visitors a day. There were open-air gyms (palaestrae), a dry heat sauna and massage room (laconicum), a hot room (caldarium), a warm room (tepidarium), a cold room (frigidarium) and an outdoor Olympic-sized pool for swimming (natatio) that was 164 feet long and just three feet deep.

The swimming pool had no roof and was heated by radiant panels, bronze mirrors angled above to the pool to reflect the sun onto it. The inside rooms and their pools were heated by a hypocaust, an underfloor heating system that channeled hot air from coal and wood-burning furnaces. The closer to the furnace the hotter the room. The water was supplied by a branch of the Aqua Marcia aqueduct called the Aqua Antoniniana built by Caracalla specifically for this purpose. The aqueduct ended in a giant cistern two stories high with 64 vaulted chambers where the water was collected. A series of underground channels carried it from the reservoirs through the hypocaust for heating.

The scale of these baths was so massive the tunnels which ensured its proper operation had to be as well. There are two miles of tunnels along three levels. Each tunnel is 20 feet high and 20 feet wide, wide enough for two ox carts to pass through side by side. Driven by armies of slaves, the carts would transport tons of wood a day to stoke the 50 furnaces.

The baths weren’t just for bathing, though. The complex also featured a public library with books in Latin and Greek, all kinds of shops and even conference rooms. The gardens were richly landscaped with plants, water features and sculptures. In fact, the Farnese Pope Paul III ordered the baths be excavated in 1545 with the hope that he could score some quality sculptures for the family collection. His dreams came true and then some. Among the treasures found Farnese Hercules and the Farnese Bull, both now in the National Archaeological Museum of Naples along with the rest of the Farnese sculpture gallery.

Even the tunnels had spaces dedicated to non-bath purposes. The largest Mithraeum in the world was built there. The mystery rites of Mithras were always held in natural caves or in dark underground spaces that resembled caves, and the Baths of Caracalla had room galore along those lines.

The baths remained in use until 537 A.D. when the city was besieged by the Ostrogoths under Witiges who cut off the aqueducts supplying Rome with its water. Since the baths were located at the base of the Aventine close to the southern city walls some distance from the historic center, the baths were left to their own devices during the post-imperial decline of Rome. They decayed into ruin but at least nothing was built over them. Over time people forgot about the complex system of tunnels that had once kept the water running hot; the excavations of the 1500s didn’t go down that far.

The palestrae with their elaborate mosaic floors were rediscovered the first half of the 19th century, and the rest of the complex was revealed over the course of multiple excavations throughout the rest of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th. The tunnels were not as glamorous as the topside finds, however, so even as the baths became a major tourist attraction, the guts of the complex remained off limits to visitors.

Mussolini attempted to strengthen them in the 1930s as part of his plan to use the ruins as a stage for operas. The first summer season opera, Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor, debuted August 1st, 1937, on a stage 72 feet wide, the largest stage in the world at that time, built in the remains of the caldarium. The Rome Opera still puts on a summer season at the Baths of Caracalla to this day, although there was a break between 1940 and 1944 due to war and between 1994 and 2000 due to concerns that the productions were harming the structures. Now the operas are no longer held in the caldarium but rather on the grounds with the majestic remains as a backdrop.

Over the past year, a restoration program has finally paid some overdue attention to the tunnels. The program started inauspiciously with the installation of skylights in the roofs of the tunnels. This turned out to be a bad idea. As soon as the formerly sealed walls were exposed to sunlight and airflow, algae began to make a home for themselves. Within a few months the skylights were closed, the walls cleaned and an electric lighting system installed so tourists can see.

The Mithraeum opened to visitors last month and will remain open until January. There’s little of the decoration left — a partial fresco, the black and white mosaic floor, a piece of a marble altar — but its sheer size is remarkable. The tunnels where restoration is complete will remain open indefinitely. Restoration continues for the rest of the tunnels. The full restoration project is expected to take another two years.





December 2012


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