Tour “frozen in time” HMS Terror

Parks Canada has released the first film taken inside of the wreck of the HMS Terror. A remotely-operated vehicle explored the interior of the ship, recording high-definition video of the cabins and the astonishingly well-preserved artifacts still in place. 

Over seven days, under exceptional weather conditions, the interior spaces of the wreck of HMS Terror were scientifically and systematically explored for the first time. Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team conducted seven ROV dives and explored 20 cabins/compartments on the ship, in search of uncovering a better understanding of the fate of the Franklin expedition. The team obtained clear images of over 90 per cent of the lower deck of the ship, which includes the living quarters of the crew.

Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team reports that HMS Terror has been well-preserved by the cold deep water of Terror Bay and layers of protective sediment. In fact, sedimentation provides the best conditions for preservation as it allows for an environment with less oxygen (anaerobic), which helps preserve organics, like paper.

In the officers’ cabins, Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team discovered beds and desks in place, in addition to shelves with some items on them. Other findings include: shelves with plates and glass bottles (tumblers and stemware glasses) in what is believed to have been the officers’ mess pantry and rows of shelves with plates, bowls, and glasses – all intact – in the forward area where the accommodations for the common sailors would have been located.

The Captain’s cabin is the best preserved space of the entire lower deck. Parks Canada’s Underwater Archaeology Team discovered that a significant amount of sediment has seeped through the stern gallery windows, covering a good portion of the artifacts and likely preserving what lies beneath. The Captain’s desk, map cabinets with drawers closed, boxes that most likely contain scientific instruments, a complete tripod (similar to a surveyor’s tripod) and a pair of thermometers were identified. The only space on the lower deck that remains inaccessible is the Captain’s sleeping quarters, behind the only closed door on this deck.  

The HMS Erebus was the flagship commanded by Sir John Franklin on his doomed 1845 expedition to find the Northwest Passage. The Terror was commanded by Captain Francis Crozier. The ships were stranded in the ice off King William Island in September of 1846 and the crew abandoned both vessels. A note left by Francis Crozier in April of 1848 records that 105 of the original 129 member crew had left the ships. By the time he wrote the letter, 24 of the 105 were already dead, Sir John Franklin among them. Crozier stashed the letter in a stone cairn on King William Island and set off towards a river with the surviving crewmen.  Hypothermia, starvation and disease killed them all. What little we know of how the expedition met its horrific end has come down to us from the letter (discovered by the McClintock expedition in 1859), Inuit witnesses and the remains of three bodies buried on King William Island. 

Many dozens of expeditions and 168 years later, the wreck of the HMS Erebus was discovered in the Victoria Strait by the Arctic Research Foundation (ARF) in 2014. The wreck of the HMS Terror was discovered in Terror Bay in September 2016. No artifacts have been recovered from the Terror yet, but several objects from the Erebus, most notably the ship’s bell, have been.

The exceptional condition of the contents of Terror make it probably that future dives might recover written documents like ship’s logs that will shed new light on the ill-fated expedition. The water temperature is consistently 0 degrees Celsius or lower, there is no light penetration and sediment has provided an extra layer of protection.

Intact Roman funerary chamber found under house in Spain

Renovation work on a private home in the Andalusian town of Carmona, 20 miles east of Seville, has revealed an intact Roman funerary chamber dating to between the 1st century B.C. and the 1st century A.D. The family discovered a small archway when they knocked down a wall on their patio. The opening led to a columbarium, an underground chamber built to hold cinerary urns.

There are eight loculi (niches) in the wall, six of them containing urns. The urns are made of three different materials: two types of limestone and glass. The glass urns are encased inside protective lead containers.

Three of the urns have inscriptions on the surface, possibly the names of the deceased. The contents include ashes and bone fragments, but also personal accoutrements like unguentaria, small bottles used to hold oils, cosmetics and perfumes. Bowls, plates, glass and ceramic vessels that held funerary offerings were found in the loculi and on the floor.

The chamber itself is in exceptional condition. The vault and walls are painted with intersecting red lines.

Juan Manuel Romàn, an archaeologist employed by the council, emphasized “the outstanding importance of the discovery”.

“It’s been 35 years since a tomb was found in such a magnificent state of conservation,” he said adding that it didn’t appear to have suffered any deterioration over the centuries since it was sealed.

“There is barely two fingers worth of sedimentation,” he added.

The artifacts have been recovered and will be conserved for future display in the archaeological museum. The fate of the columbarium is undetermined at the moment.

José Avilés, 39, the owner of the house who is known by neighbours as Pepe told local media that he was astounded by the discovery. “We never imagined when we were building an extension to the house that we should find such a thing,” he said.

“It’s all happened very quickly but our intention is to keep the chamber open, preserve it and protect it and somehow incorporate into the house,” he said.

“But we’ll have to see what the archaeological teams say,” he added.

You can get a closer look at the chamber and entrance in this video.

Largest Norman coin hoard found in Somerset

The largest hoard of coins from the immediate post-Norman Conquest period ever discovered has been unearthed in Somerset. It contains five times more coins bearing the head of William the Conqueror than the total number known to exist before the find. It is the largest Norman treasure of any kind found since 1833.

It was discovered by metal detectorists Adam Staples and Lisa Grace in an unploughed field on a farm in Chew Valley, Somerset, this January. They were showing friends how to use their new equipment when the detector alerted them to the presence of the first coin, a silver penny of William the Conqueror. Over the next five hours, the three of them dug up thousands more. They put them in a bucket, notified the local finds liaison officer as required by law and drove them straight to the British Museum.

Most of the coins are silver pennies of William the Conqueror (r. 1066-1087) and the last Anglo-Saxon king of England Harold II (r. January 1066-October 14 1066). Harold’s reign was so short his coins are very rare. With more than a thousand of them found together in this hoard, it’s likely that there are coins in the mix that haven’t been seen before and even mint marks from previously unknown moneyers. There are also a half pennies (literally silver pennies cut in half) and a few coins bearing the portrait of Edward the Confessor (r. 1042- January 1066) that were part of a tax evasion scheme.

Gareth Williams, the [British M]useum’s curator of early medieval coinage, said the hoard of 2,528 coins was unusually large and “massively important” in shining light on the history of the period.

“One of the big debates amongst historians is the extent to which there was continuity or change, both in the years immediately after the conquest and across a longer period,” he said. “The coins help us understand how changes under Norman rule impacted on society as a whole.”

Three of the coins have been identified as “mules”, a combination of two types of coin – essentially an early form of tax-dodging by the moneyer, the person who made them.

These coins have designs and language that relate to both Harold and William, and would have been easy to pass off as legal tender as the average Anglo-Saxon was illiterate and the stylised images of the kings looked similar.

The hoard must have been buried before 1072, and probably just two or three years after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The value of the coins at that time would have been enough to buy 500 sheep, so a considerable amount of wealth. During those turbulent times, hiding portable wealth in a hole in the ground was the safe choice.

The coins are currently being assessed and catalogued by experts at the British Museum. A coroner’s inquest will be held to determine if the hoard qualifies as treasure under the terms of the Treasure Act of 1996. (It does, no question.) A treasure valuation committee will then determine fair market value for the coins. Museums will be given the opportunity to raise the amount of the assessed value which will be shared 50/50 by the finders and the landowner.

Six sacrificed noble children found in Peru

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of another six sacrificed children in the ancient city of Huanchaco on the northern coast of Peru. They had cut marks on the thorax from when their hearts were moved, and were placed in graves facing the ocean. Some of the skeletons still have remnants of skin and hair.

The graves were unearthed in the town’s Pampa la Cruz neighborhood where 56 skeletons were found in June of last year, but unlike previous finds, these children were interred with precious artifacts, gold and silver jewelry and feather and textile headdresses. These are markers of rank, an indication that the children came from wealthy noble and/or priestly families.

“This is the biggest site where the remains of sacrificed children have been found,” chief archeologist Feren Castillo told AFP on Tuesday.

Castillo said the children, who were aged between four and 14, were sacrificed in a ritual to honor the Chimu culture’s gods.

“They were sacrificed to appease the El Nino phenomenon,” and show signs of being killed during wet weather, he said.

He added that there may still be more to be found.

“It’s uncontrollable, this thing with the children. Wherever you dig, there’s another one,” Castillo said.

Today Huanchaco is a popular beach destination outside the colonial city of Trujillo. It has been inhabited by a chronology of Peruvian cultures since the Salinar first fished there between 400 and 200 B.C. The Chimú culture ruled the area from the mid-9th century until they were conquered by the Inca in 1470. At the time of the mass sacrifices — 1200 to 1400 A.D. — Huanchaco was the main port of the Chimú capital Chan Chan. 

The latest finds bring the total tally of sacrificed children discovered at the site up to 227. The skeletal remains of more than 50 adult men, likely warriors, have also been found, but they range in date from the 8th century through the 15th, so were not part of the single large sacrifice event that claimed the lives of the children and more than 200 camelids, believed to be llamas.

Prehistoric standing stones found in Auvergne

Preventative excavation in advance of highway construction near Veyre-Monton in Auvergne, central France, has unearthed dozens of prehistoric menhirs and a burial cairn containing a human skeleton. The findings could range anywhere from 6,000 B.C. (the Neolithic period) to 1,000 B.C. (the Bronze Age). It is the first time a standing stone complex has been discovered in Auvergne or in central France, for that matter.

There are 30 monoliths one to 1.6 meters high (ca. 3’3″-5’3″) arranged in an approximately rectilinear alignment over 500 feet.  The largest of them are clustered at the top of a slope in north of the site; the smaller ones are set closer to each other at the bottom of the slope. The curated layout along a north-south axis would have made the stones highly visible in the prehistoric landscape. The rectilinear menhirs are aligned with another group of five stone blocks forming an arc or horseshoe shape, and six regularly spaced stones formed into a circle 50 feet in diameter.

All of the monoliths were deliberately toppled, pushed over into pits. Some of them were damaged. Some were covered with earth. This appears to have been an established practice as it has been found at other monolithic monument sites. It’s possible the removal of the standing stones represented a shift in cultural beliefs.

One of the menhirs in the main alignment is unique among its fellows. It is a limestone rock (the others are basalt) and it has been carved. The carvings suggest an anthropomorphic female shape: rounded shoulders on the top, two round protuberances like two very small, close-together breasts. The shapes a were created by carving away at the entire surface of the limestone. Twenty inches below the “breasts” are highly eroded engraved lines forming a chevron that could have referred to arms placed on the belly.  This kind of statue-menhir hybrid is very rare in France, and the newly discovered one is the only one ever discovered in Auvergne.

Like the standing stones, the cairn was deliberately flattened to remove it from its prominent place on the landscape. The vertical stones were pushed down into a large pit next to it. It is 46 feet long and 21 feet wide, a rectangle built around a central grave. It contained the skeletal remains of a tall man. His body had been interred in a wood coffin, now decayed, and surrounded with stone blocks. Their size indicates they may have been reused menhirs, perhaps even deliberately broken for reuse in the cairn. It total, 30 tons of stone were transported to this location to build the cairn.

The Veyre-Monton site is a challenging one to date because there were no artifacts found to help identify the period of occupation. The complexity of the construction, including the transport of stones from several different locations, and subsequent destruction indicates a long-term occupation by successive communities, but if they left anything behind other than the stones and burial, it has yet to be discovered. Archaeologists will attempt to determine the dates of occupation using radiocarbon dating of the skeletal remains and of the few traces of organic matter found in the dig.