Archive for January, 2020

Surprise cemetery found in Trondheim

Saturday, January 11th, 2020

Archaeologists excavating in Trondheim, Norway, have discovered a surprise cemetery with individual burials dating to the Middle Ages. The site is in the medieval town center of Trondheim. Whenever new construction is planned in this area, an archaeological survey is automatically triggered. With a new art gallery scheduled to be built at 36-38 Kjøpmannsgata, archaeologists from the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU) were engaged to excavate from June to October.

The team expected to find the remains of dwellings, evidence of the metal crafts that were centered there and traces of the town’s beach and coves going back to the 1000s. The soil is sandy — having once been waterfront property — which makes for poor conservation conditions, so they weren’t expecting much in the way organic archaeological material.

They certainly were not expecting to find a previously unrecorded medieval cemetery. So far approximately 130 square feet of the site have been excavated, and 15 individual graves unearthed. Seven of the interred are adults, five children and the skeletal remains of the other three have not yet been revealed. There are also three mass burial pits. One of those pits was the first discovery indicating the presence of a surprise cemetery. The mass graves turn out to be reinterrals, bones that were removed from other graves and reburied in deep wood-lined pits when the street was developed in the 17th century.

“There are probably even more graves further down. All of these individual graves are in situ, i.e. located in the same place as when they were buried, but several have been partially destroyed. In many cases only the upper body has been preserved. The lower half can be cut by, for example, other graves being laid over or by later excavation work.” Those were the words of NIKU project manager Silje Rullestad.

The cemetery has been clearly impacted by several stages of building work, but the team can nevertheless see a clear structure. The northern boundary of the area appears to be marked by a ditch, while four post holes suggest a clear boundary mark.

Excavations are ongoing, now under a heated tent on account of it’s Norway. They expect to find at least another 15 individual graves. The team will also take samples of soil and of the bones to subject them to laboratory analyses.

“From the archaeological excavation of the St. Clement’s Church churchyard, large variations in the degree of conservation of the skeletons were observed. We also see the same here in Kjøpmannsgata. Using the study, we will try to map out why the differences in conservation conditions vary within small distances,” says Rullestad.

The survey could provide a better understanding of the conditions that affect the preservation of human remains.


Gold ingot from “La Noche Triste” (or thereabouts) identified

Friday, January 10th, 2020

Backstory: Hernán Cortés began his career of exploitation and brutality in the New World in 1504 when he was 18 years old. By the time he was 20, he contributions to the Spanish conquest of Hispaniola and Cuba had garnered him land and indigenous slaves to work it. Indian slaves farmed his land, ranched his cattle and dug in his mines. As his wealth grew, so did his political influence. He received important appointments (he was twice mayor of Santiago) and made friends in high places, including the Governor of New Spain, Diego Velázquez de Cuéllar.

Enticed by tales of great masses of gold in the Aztec Empire, Cortés put himself forward to lead the third expedition into the Mexican interior in 1518, and Velázquez granted him the charter in October of that year. Then he changed his mind, revoked the charter and demanded Cortés disband his troops. Cortés ignored him and took off in February 1519. He went so far as to scuttle his own ships once they took Veracruz to eliminate the possibility of retreat.

Cortés reached Tenochtitlán on November 8th, 1519. Moctezuma II welcomed him, gave him much gold but this only whetted his appetite for the fabled treasures of the Aztec Empire. Even as their king made pacifying overtures to the invaders, the Mexica people of Tenochtitlán  were keen to kick the bums out. Cortés had made allies of several enemies of the Aztecs on his way towards the capital and they harbored no delusions about his intent in occupying the city.

To save his skin and keep the city from open revolt, Cortés took Moctezuma hostage, holding him under house arrest in his father’s palace compound in central Tenochtitlán and turning him into a full-on puppet who was repeatedly made to reassure his people that he had voluntarily arrested himself and that the gods told him to move in with the Spanish and experience the warm embrace of armed guards at all times.

The tenuous relations between the locals and the occupiers got even more hostile after Cortés left Tenochtitlán in June 1520 to fight Spanish troops sent by Velázquez to arrest him for insubordination. Cortés’ second in command, Pedro de Alvarado, stayed behind to keep the city and Moctezuma under Spanish control. He failed in a big way.

When Alvarado massacred Aztec nobles and priests, men, women and children, during the Feast of Toxcatl at the Templo Mayor on May 22nd, 1520, the city erupted. Moctezuma had specifically asked Alvarado for permission to hold the festival and he’d allowed it. Alvarado got information from two nobles and a priest that the Aztecs were planning an attack, so he struck preemptively and massacred unarmed people while they were dancing and singing. That’s what he told Cortés later, at any rate. Bartolome de las Casas said his real motivation was to steal all the gold the Aztecs would be wearing for the ceremony.

When Cortés returned to Tenochtitlán after defeating Pánfilo de Narváez, the guy sent to arrest him, the Mexica had crowned a new king and were in active revolt against the Spanish. With the city raging in battle and flames, Moctezuma was ordered to appeal to his former subjects to end the fighting and let Cortés, 1000 or so Spanish troops and 2,000 allied Tlaxcalan warriors, leave the city. The appeal failed, and Moctezuma II was killed. The Spanish said the Mexica did it by stoning him to death or showering arrows at him from the street. (See panel 4 from the left of this biombo.) Nahuatl sources say the Spanish killed him from within the compound.

The next day, June 30th, Cortés decided Tenochtitlán was way too hot for him and decided to make a break for the safety of Tlaxcala. He melted down all the Aztec gold he could get his hands on into ingots for easier transport, and fled in the dark of night. Cortés’ soldier and chronicler Bernal Díaz del Castillo, wrote that Cortés ordered “eight lame or wounded horses and upwards of 80 Tlaxcalans” be assigned to carry the treasure “which had been run into large bars.” The rest of the soldiers, Castillo among them, grabbed as much treasure as they could load and hit the road at midnight.

As Cortés fled over the Tlacopan causeway, one of the many bridges and causeways that led in and out of the island city, the Mexica sounded the alarm and flocked to their canoes to attack the fleeing troops from the water. The Spanish troops so laden with stolen treasure they could barely move were slow-moving targets. The rearguard was slaughted; men fell off the causeway and drowned; the native allies were destroyed; the Spanish troops were reduced to paltry numbers and hardly anybody made it out of there without being wounded. Cortés himself was wounded, as was Alvarado. According to Castillo, when Alvarado reported to Cortés and the 50 or so men that had made it off the causeway onto terra firma that pretty much everyone else and their horses and artillery had been lost, “the tears ran from their eyes.

Cortés bitter, salty tears inspired the name of this debacle, La Noche Triste (the Sad Night). It’s a critical even in the history of the Spanish Conquest of Mexico, but all we know of it comes from historical accounts. Archaeological evidence of a single night is hard to come by. New analysis of a gold ingot discovered 40 years ago may not be connected conclusively to La Noche Triste, but it’s definitely in the very close neighborhood of it.

The bar was originally discovered in 1981 during a construction project some 16ft (5m) underground in downtown Mexico City – which was built on the ruins of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán – where a canal that would have been used by the fleeing Spaniards was once located.

The bar weighs about 2kg (4.4lb) and is 26.2cm (10.3in) long, 5.4cm wide and 1.4cm thick.

A fluorescent X-ray chemical analysis was able to pinpoint its creation to 1519-20, according to Inah, which coincides with the time Cortés ordered gold objects stolen from an Aztec treasury to be melted down into bars for easier transport to Europe.

The find site on Avenida Hidalgo in the center of the city is along the route Cortés was known to have taken to the Tlacopan causeway and the dimensions of the bar correspond to Castillo’s description of them as “three fingers wide.”

“The gold bar is a unique historical testimony to a transcendent moment in world history,” said archaeologist Leonardo López Luján, who leads excavations at a nearby dig where the Aztecs’ holiest shrine once stood.


4,000 axe-monies returned to Mexico

Thursday, January 9th, 2020

A collection of 3,990 Mesoamerican copper coins dating to between 1200 and 1500 has been returned to Mexico. The coins belonged to a US private collector who acquired them at a Texas coin fair in the 1960s.

Mexican authorities notified the FBI of the existence of the coins in 2013 when they were taken to Spain for an auction. Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) then began authenticating the coins in order to request their return.

As both countries were by then signatories to the UNESCO convention (Mexico in 1972 and the United States in 1983), the return process was completed six years later.

[Mexican Consulate in Miami spokesperson Jessica] Cascante did not divulge the name of the collector who obtained the coins in the 1960s, but said that he did so before it constituted a crime and turned them in voluntarily.

The press coverage describes the coins as “tongue-shaped” but in fact they were shaped like miniature axes. They were hammered from a copper-arsenic alloy blank into the shape of a hachuela, a hatchet or small axe, hence the term axe-monies. They were beaten so thin that they could easily be stacked and bundled, easily circulated and easily hoarded. Indeed, most of them have been found in hoards or caches, often in graves, sometimes still bound in packets or bundles. This collection was likely a single hoard.

Axe-monies arrived in western Mexico around 1200. The metalcraft was apparently imported from the Andes (modern-day Ecuador and Peru), where arsenical copper was hammered into axe-like shapes (longer styles in feather shapes have been found at Andean sites) with the same thin, stackable properties. They are archaeologically significant, therefore, not just for their age, currency value and general coolness as axe-shaped coins, but because they attest to an exchange of monies and metallurgic technology between the ancient Mexican and Andean peoples.

Chroniclers from the 16th century document axe-monies used as tributes — one Geurrero province owned the Aztec king 80 hachuelas a year — and depict merchants at the tiyānquiztli, the outdoor markets held in towns’ central squares at least weekly, carrying objects that look like hachuelas. A 1528 inventory of tribute from Michoacán stored in the arsenal of Mexico City lists 113 cases of copper axe-monies. In a 1548 letter, Francisco López Tenorio, the Spanish governor of what is now Oaxaca city, four new hachuelas were worth five Spanish reales, but once they were worn down, their value plummeted to 10 for one real. They would then be collected, melted down and remade.


Rich Roman cemetery found at school site

Wednesday, January 8th, 2020

A rich Roman cemetery has been discovered at the site of new school construction in Somerton, county of Somerset, southwest England. The remains of more than 50 individuals, adults and children, dating from 43-410 A.D. were unearthed. The quality of the graves and the goods interred indicate these were people of wealth and status.

Located on a ridge between two rivers, the Yeo and Cary, Somerton has been populated since prehistory. Most of the archaeological evidence of Somerton’s pre-Roman occupation consists of enclosures, field boundaries, crop marks and earthworks, not building structures or artifacts per se. It’s not until the Roman era that archaeological remains attesting to it having been a heavily permanent settlement. At least nine significant Romano-British farms or villas have been discovered. This indicates Somerton was an important agricultural hinterland for the urban center Lindinis (modern-day Ilchester),a 1st century Roman fort that by the 4th century had grown into a prosperous walled town replete with luxury homes. A Roman road has been discovered that linked Somerton to Lindinis nine miles to its south.

Burials believed to date to the Roman period have been found before — two in the vicarage garden in 1951, six in 1889 — but the dating is not firm. This is not only the first time a full Roman cemetery has been found in Somerton, but the first modern archaeological excavation of a Roman cemetery in all of Somerset. The excavation and analysis of the findings will shed new light on the transition from Iron Age British to Romano-British to Romanized life and death in Somerset.

The graves were dug in clean rectangles and then lined with local stones. After people were laid to rest, the graves were sealed with flat slabs. One of them was capped with a tented stone roof. These types of graves were expensive and time-consuming to build, rare in Roman Britain and extremely rare for a whole burial ground to be full of them.

The grave goods include pottery, jewelry, coins, a carved bone artifact (probably a knife handle). One large pot contained a chicken wing bone, the remains of a funerary offering. Small nails found at the foot of most of the are likely the remains of hobnailed boots. While the organic material has decayed, the position of one woman’s head suggests it was originally resting on a pillow.

[South West Heritage Trust archaeologist Steve] Membery believes the people who have been found would have lived and worked in a nearby Roman villa. The villa has yet to be discovered but what is believed to be an outhouse and a barn associated with it have been found.

Evidence has also been uncovered of an iron-age settlement predating the Roman cemetery. Membery said one of the most interesting elements of the cemetery was that it showed how local people adopted Roman burial customs. Bodies were squashed into the oldest graves but laid flat, in the Roman style, in the later ones, and grave goods were placed close to the head.

DNA analysis will be carried out to try to learn more about the people who were buried at Somerton. It is thought likely they were British people who had adopted Roman customs after the invasion.

The school construction was delayed during the excavation, but it will pick up again next month. The artifacts and human remains have been salvaged and will be studied further.


Heslington brain may aid dementia, Alzheimer’s research

Tuesday, January 7th, 2020

In August of 2008, an archaeological survey in advance of new construction on the University of York’s Heslington campus discovered a human skull still containing brain remnants in a waterlogged pit. Surviving brain tissue is extremely rare, but it has been found before in archaeological contexts with extraordinary preservation of soft tissues — animals and people in the permafrost, bog bodies, desert mummies, crypt burials. These finds had other surviving soft tissues, however. The Heslington brain was unique as it is the only surviving soft tissue in otherwise fully skeletonized remains consisting of a skull, mandible and a couple of vertebrae. It is also the world’s oldest known surviving grey matter.

The location where the brain was found had a spring that had been source for wells from the Bronze Age through the middle Iron Age when the site was continuously occupied. In one of a dozen djacent pits apparently used for ceremonial offerings, archaeologists recovered a darkened cranium with articulated mandible face-down in moist sandy clay. The contents, first thought to be silt, were observed through the foramen magnum, inspected through an endoscope, X-rayed and a sample examined. Researchers confirmed that there was actual brain in that there skull.

The remains were radiocarbon dated to between 673-482 B.C. when the individual was struck hard on the head or neck and then decapitated, as evidenced by perimortem damage to the vertebrae and skull. The head was thrown in the pit and the brain had been naturally preserved in the waterlogged environment. It shrank over the millennia, but was still soft and glistening with clearly recognizable folds. Through cracks in the brain’s surface, the brain’s interior revealed itself to be a beige material with a tofu-like texture. Raman spectroscopic analysis found its chemical makeup to be largely decayed protein with a small amount of fat. Raman spectroscopy also identified the biochemical signatures of pigments produced by cyanobacteria. Researchers theorized that the cyanobacteria may have played a role in the unusual preservation of the brain tissue.

Now a new study of the brain’s proteins has revealed more information about its condition that may have long-term implications for medical research, particularly as regards brain diseases characterized by protein changes like dementia, Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and Parkinson’s. Using electron scanning microscopes, University College London researchers were able to identify and unfold the brain’s preserved protein structures.

The researchers from University College London (UCL) show that of those substances which hold a human brain together, notably proteins, can fold themselves tightly into very stable structures, called aggregates.

Once unfolded – a process which [on the Heslington brain] took one year – these proteins regain many of the features typically encountered in a normal, living human brain. Scientists say the findings have implications for palaeoproteomics, biomarker research and diseases related to protein folding and aggregate formation.

Lead author Dr Axel Petzold, of the UCL Queen Square Institute of Neurology, had spent years researching two types of filaments in the brain – neurofilaments and glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) – which act like scaffolds to hold brain matter together. He and his team found both of these were still present in the Heslington brain, suggesting they played a key role in keeping the brain matter together.

Typically, brains decompose quite quickly after death in a rapid process of autolysis – enzymes breaking up the tissue. The findings suggest that an acidic fluid may have got into the brain and prevented autolysis. Both filaments are typically found in greater concentrations in inner areas of the brain, but in the preserved Heslington brain there were more in the outer areas of the brain.

According to the researchers, this suggests the inhibition of autolysis would have started in the outer parts of the brain, potentially as an acidic fluid seeped into it.

The study has been published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.


World’s largest medical galleries open at London’s Science Museum

Monday, January 6th, 2020

London’s Science Museum is now home to the world’s largest medical galleries. Medicine: The Wellcome Galleries features interactive exhibits , films and audio recordings of patients and doctors, contemporary art installations and more than 3,000 medical artifacts assembled from the collections of Henry Wellcome and the Science Museum Group.

Among them are a panoply of memento mori pieces from different times and places, one of the first stethoscopes, a wooden tube made by French doctor René Laennec around 1820, the prototype MRI made in the early 1970s and a scale model of a hospital so awesome that it bears on its architecturally sound frame the entire responsibility for this post.

Made in 1932 to publicize King Edward’s Hospital Fund for London, an organization founded by the future King Edward VII to raise money for London’s voluntary hospitals which provided free medical care to the poor, the miniature hospital was made to 1/16 scale and is meticulously detailed.

The board room has sycamore paneling. More than 13,000 tiles were made to line its floors and walls, some of them painted with cheerful scenes for the pediatric ward. Wee doctors, nurses and patients, all of them different, all of them realistically posed and accessorized. It even has a working elevator! To operate it, you had to drop a coin in the box and press the button. A sign enjoys admirers in emphatic caps and periods “PLEASE. TAKE. LIFT EITHER UP – OR DOWN. ONCE. ONLY. PLEASE. DO. NOT. USE. AS. A. TOY.” It is an absolute wonderland of miniaturization and medical history.

Queen Mary was so enchanted by it that she donated her lace handkerchiefs for use as bedspreads for the tiny patients. Alas, the royal hankies are no longer extant in the model. In January of 1933, the Prince of Wales, who three years later would become King Edward VIII for a minute before his infamous abdication, launched a national tour of the model. The miniature hospital traveled the country, raising money for the charity and teaching the public about the workings of a modern hospital. It was hugely popular. Thousands of people went to see it during the tour and contributed to the funding of London’s free hospitals.

Tiled room in hospital. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum. Room in the miniature hospital, maybe a laundry facility to sterilize the linens? Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.

Patient takes the elevator. Science Museum Group Collection © The Board of Trustees of the Science Museum.


Warrior tribe weapons found in cemetery in Poland

Sunday, January 5th, 2020

A medieval cemetery of the Yotvingian people replete with weapons has been discovered near the city of Suwałki in northeastern Poland. It dates to between the 11th and 13th centuries and is a rare layered cremation cemetery featuring the remains of collective funerary pyres with large numbers of grave goods, likely added to the pyre late so they would not be destroyed by the fire.

The Yotvingians (also known as Sudovians) were a Baltic tribe who lived in parts of what are now Poland, Lithuania and Belarus from the 5th century B.C. to the Middle Ages and beyond. They were known for their skill in battle, feared as raiders and alternately serving as mercenaries for princes of the Kievan Rus and being conquered by them. They also clashed with Polish princes and the Teutonic Knights. In 1422, Yotvingia was conquered by the Teutonic Order and its territories partitioned between the Knights, Poland and Lithuania, but elements of Yotvingian ethnicity, language and culture persisted through the 19th century.

A Yotvingian barrow cemetery in use between 2nd and 5th centuries A.D. was discovered in the suburbs of Suwałki in the 1950s. It was very rich in grave goods, many of them weapons. The newly discovered cemetery is at least as significant in terms of recovered archaeological artifacts and is the largest known Yotvingian cemetery from the early Middle Ages. So far only 1,000 square feet have been excavated of the half hectare (ca. 54,000 square feet) site, and the team has found more than 500 important objects — swords, knives, arrowheads, spurs, buckles, horse fittings — and several thousand smaller artifacts.

With the remains found just 8 to 12 inches below the surface, layered cemeteries from this period are often destroyed by agricultural work, making this discovery exceptional. Unfortunately, looters found it first. The signs of illegal excavation are what alerted authorities to the site. The subsequent investigation found evidence that around 1,000 artifacts were stolen before the area was secured.

The artifacts will be studied and conserved at the Regional Museum in Suwałki and a selection of them are planned to go on display at a new exhibition in late May.


Napoleon’s vision for a new imperial Rome

Saturday, January 4th, 2020

Napoleon’s forces occupied Rome twice. The first time was in February 1798 when General Louis Alexandre Berthier invaded the Papal States and Rome, for the first time since antiquity, was declared a republic, one of multiple “sister republics” established by Revolutionary France under the aegis of the Directory. The republic lasted barely a year (the Directory would follow it into the grave before 1799 was out) before the Kingdom of Naples invaded the city and reestablished the Papal States. On February 2nd, 1808, the French army under General Alexandre de Miollis (who also fought in the American Revolutionary War) took Rome again. He remained as governor of the former Papal States until Napoleon’s exile to Elba in 1814.

Between the first and second French occupation of Rome, Napoleon had gone from General to First Consul to Emperor and was at the apex of his career in conquest. On May 16th, 1809, he promulgated an imperial decree declaring the annexation of the Papal States to the French Empire. Rome was declared “a free and imperial city.” On Feburary 17th, 1810, Napoleon declared Rome the second city of the empire, subject to receive special privileges determined by the emperor himself. Any future imperial prince would receive the title and honors of “King of Rome.” A year later Napoleon’s wife Marie Louise of Austria gave birth to Napoléon-François-Joseph-Charles Bonaparte and the first King of Rome since Tarquin the Proud came into his title.

The February 17th decree also committed to maintaining Rome’s ancient monuments at the empire’s expense, and a special fund was created to support archaeological excavations, restorations and “embellishments of Rome.” The Forum was excavated and cleared, remains like what was then believed to be the Temple of Jupiter Tonans (the Thunderer) but is in fact the temple of the deified emperors Vespasian and Titus were liberated from the soil encasing 2/3rds of their height. Excavations at the Colosseum revealed for the first time its elaborate underground structures whose purpose was subject of great controversy and heated debate between architects, antiquarians, archaeologists and historians. Later homes and religious buildings squashed up against Trajan’s Column were Trajan’s Column to allow it to stand out. The Basilica Ulpia was rediscovered at the same time.

The Napoleonic administration wasn’t just about reviving Rome’s ancient splendors. There were plans for the emperor and the King of Rome to visit the city and they wanted to welcome them into a modern imperial capital with wide boulevards, green spaces and grand buildings. Prominent Roman architects like Giuseppe Valadier and Giuseppe Camporese and French ones like  Louis-Martin Berthault and Guy de Gisors were commissioned to design urban renewal projects — parks, bridges, new monuments, securing the banks of the Tiber to prevent flooding — and just outside of the city, new cemeteries to comply with the Napoleon’s 1804  edict prohibiting burials within city walls.

None of these plans came to fruition before the fall of Napoleon in 1814. Sketches, plans and watercolors are all that remains of the emperor’s new Rome. Very few of them have been studied. Most of them have never been published. Now more than 50 works from the collections of Rome’s Napoleonic Museum and the Museum of Rome at Palazzo Braschi have gone on display at the Napoleonic Museum.

Waiting for the Emperor: Monuments Archaeology and Urbanism in the Rome of Napoleon 1809-1814, looks at city as it was in the age of Napoleon, the exhuberant celebrations in the city for the birth of the King of Rome, archaeological digs and monumental projects (statues, arches of triumph, bridges) to create a modern imperial Rome inspired by the ancient one.

I’m intrigued by this might-have-been Napoleonic plan for the Tiber.

After a massive flood on December 28th, 1870, when the river’s water rose more than 56 feet (17.22 meters) above the banks, made the new capital of a fully unified Italy a stinky, soggy muckhole just in time for the visit of the first king of Italy, Vittorio Emanuele II, the government built stone embankments 59 feet (18 meters) high. They largely solved the flooding problem, but they drastically altered the city’s relationship with its river, instantly transmuting it from the beating heart of the community to a forbidding, disconnected environment, and not a little scary.

The exhibition runs through May 31st, 2020.


Headless torso identified as 1916 axe-murderer

Friday, January 3rd, 2020

A torso and scattered remains found in an Idaho cave in 1979 has been identified as Joseph Henry Loveless, bootlegger, counterfeiter and murderer who escaped from jail in 1916 and was never seen again.

As reported in the May 12, 1916, edition of The Idaho Republican, the butchered remains of Mrs. Charles Smith were discovered the morning of May 6th, “the head hacked to pieces with an axe” in a tent outside Dubois. The bloody weapon was found by her side. Her husband was immediately suspected.

He something of a drifter, doing odd jobs around the Dubois railroads. In the press he was described as about 40 years old, 5’10”, weighing about 180 lbs. The only distinguishing feature mentioned was actually the lack of one: he apparently had no eyebrows.

He was captured on May 7th and held in St. Anthony, Idaho, charged with murder. He claimed that her former husband had killed her and that he was heading north for whiskey that his wife would then sell in Dubois. He told other tall tales as well, and pinpointing his real name and the nature of their relationship proved troublesome. After the Charles Smith alias fell by the wayside, he was variously identified as Walter Cairins and Water Curran. Then the woman he’d said was his wife was identified as Mrs. Agnes Loveless, wife of Henry Loveless, and therefore his common-law wife at best.

Finally his identity was conclusively determined by his son. He was Joseph Henry Loveless, born to Mormon settlers in Utah in 1870. He would become a career criminal, making a living counterfeiting money and running liquor through Idaho’s dry counties. He was also suspected of having murdered rancher Joseph C. Smith in Pebble, Idaho, for money the year before his wife’s murder.

Loveless had been arrested numerous times, and kept a saw in his shoe to break out of jails. In fact, when his son identified him to the authorities, he warned them that his father would escape jail. He broke out of St. Anthony jail on May 18th, and that was the last anyone heard of him.

In 1979, a family looking for arrowheads in a cave found a torso wrapped in burlap. In 1991, more body parts — a hand, an arm, two legs –were found in the same cave. The arm and legs were also wrapped in the same burlap.

Over the years, attempts by law enforcement and researchers to identify the remains came up short. All they were able to conclude was that the man had been white with reddish-brown hair and around 40 years old.

Then in 2019, the sheriff’s office asked for help from the DNA Doe Project, a nonprofit that uses the latest DNA technology to identify remains.

Within four months, the mystery was solved. The DNA Doe Project obtained a detailed DNA sequence from a lab in Texas, built a genealogical tree and located a living grandson of Loveless whose DNA matched perfectly.

“It’s blown everyone’s minds,” forensic genealogist Lee Bingham Redgrave said at a news conference Tuesday. “The really cool thing, though, is that his ‘wanted’ poster from his last escape is described as wearing the same clothing that he was found in, so that leads us to put his death date at likely 1916.”

His head is still missing, which may be a clue to the motivation for his murder. He had chopped his wife’s head off, and shortly thereafter someone chopped off his. A little frontier justice, perhaps?


U-M library acquires rare Native American photo collection

Thursday, January 2nd, 2020

The University of Michigan’s William L. Clements Library has acquired a collection of more than 1,000 rare Native American photographs. The photographs represent 80 indigenous groups and include stereographic images, cartes de visites and government-sponsored portraits. Many of them have never been published before, and even the ones that have are exceptional versions. A picture of Geronimo with members of family shortly before their surrender to the US Army in 1886, for example, was printed straight from the original negative.

The collection was acquired from Richard Pohrt ,Jr., an art dealer whose father, Michigan-born Richard Pohrt had begun collecting Native American artifacts while still a teenager, eventually amassing one of the largest known private collections which he exhibited in his own small museum in Cross Village, Michigan. As a young man, the senior Pohrt had worked for years on the Fort Belknap reservation and struck up friendships with local people who gifted him with artifacts and oral histories that Pohrt documented assiduously. His son followed in his footsteps and has been collecting Native American objects and photographs for 40 years. The photographs newly acquired by the Clements Library are also exceptionally well-labelled, a rarity in Native American history.

Most of them date to between 1860 and 1920, a period of enormous dislocation and devastation to the country’s indigenous peoples as the 1848 California Gold Rush launched an influx of settlers in the west that only picked up speed after the Civil War. Native Americans were forced onto reservations and fought against the US military for decades in a sequence of wars of rebellions that came to a final end only with the Apache Wars in 1924.

According to Clayton Lewis, curator of graphics material at the Clements, this era also coincides with many of the darkest phases of Native American history, especially in the West.

“The violence, impoverishment, disempowerment and forced cultural assimilation related to United States Indian removal policies and the establishment of reservations and boarding schools are among the major themes represented by these photographs,” he said. “However, the cultural complexity of the communities, the quality of the material culture, the dignity and resilience of leaders, and aspects of rituals and everyday life are also well documented in the Pohrt Collection.” […]

Lewis says that while they are excited about the new acquisition, they are also aware of many of the issues related to the access and display of the culturally sensitive images, which is why they have consulted with several Native American scholars and cultural representatives, as well as the U-M’s Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act representative.

“This collection is already so extraordinarily rich because of all of the information that comes with it—names, times, dates and places where the photos were taken—as well as Richard’s expertise in Native American art and material culture,” he said. “The advisers that we’ve been working with are providing even more information and guidance about their context, which will make it a one-of-a-kind resource for both scholars and for Native American people looking to reconnect with their past.”

Reconnecting with their past has even greater significance for Native Americans, not only because so many of their traditions were deliberately eradicated, but because Federal recognition laws require that tribes prove they have been a continuous community without gaps. That’s a damned high bar for the US government to set considering it worked tirelessly since literally the first days of its existence to strip Native Americans of their ancestral lands, cultural identities, familial and tribal bonds. So when Eric Hemenway, director of archives and records for the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians who is working with the Clements Library researchers on interpretation and documentation of the photographs, found a picture of his ancestor Viola Assinaway, it wasn’t just a meaningful and moving encounter with his family history, but visual evidence of his tribe’s continuous existence and his place in it.

The collection will be digitized to give scholars and the general public access to these rare documents. Culturally sensitive images, such as photographs of sacred ceremonies, will not be published online, although some will likely be made available in person at the library.






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