Archive for November, 2020

Mass grave found in Vianen moat

Monday, November 30th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered a mass grave that may date to the late Middle Ages during canal work in Vianen, the Netherlands. The skeletal remains of nine individuals were discovered Friday, and by Monday the team had found another 11. Archaeologists expect to find the remains of more people as they enlarge the excavation area.

Preliminary examination of the skeletal remains unearthed so far has found they belonged to young men between 15 and 30 years old. There are no grave goods, no textile fragments, not even a button to give a clue as to the dating and identity of the deceased. Some of the skeletons were stacked and corroded iron nails found at the site indicate some of the bodies were buried in wooden boxes that have disintegrated. Two individuals were laid to rest in one coffin, turned on their sides and in alternating orientation, one with feet pointing north, the other with feet pointing south. They haven’t been dated yet, but archaeologists believe the mass grave dates to the Late Middle Ages.

The grave was dug just outside the walls of the now-defunct Batestein Castle. Originally built in the 14th century nestled against the city walls of Vianen, much of the castle burned down in a fireworks show gone horribly wrong in 1696 and today all that remains is the Hof Gate and a few walls. The bodies were buried outside the gate on the slope of the city moat, a stretch which in the Middle Ages contained the castle’s stables.

They were buried at the same time, so were probably victims of an infectious disease like plague or cholera, or of a war. If it’s the latter, it probably took place in the early 1480s during the struggle with the County of Holland for the secular territory of the Prince-Bishopric of Utrecht, a local offshoot of the Hook and Cod civil wars fought between Dutch nobles (the Hooks) and supporters of the Dukes of Burgundy/Holy Roman Emperor (the Cods). Batestein Castle was owned by the lords of Van Brederode who were big-time Hooks. The castle was betrayed by a Dutch Cod who opened the east gate and let in a raiding mob from Utrecht. A hundred years later there was another battle here in the Dutch Revolt against the Spanish Habsburgs.

The excavation is ongoing and expected to last at least another four weeks. It depends on how deep the bodies go. They’ve dug down enough so far to find a skull 16 feet below the first find, and there are an unknown number of skeletons between them. The remains will be removed for osteological examination. Researchers will look for signs of blunt and sharp-force trauma or disease. The bones will be radiocarbon dated and DNA tested.

Oldest evidence of horseback riding in China

Sunday, November 29th, 2020

Researchers have discovered the oldest direct evidence of mounted horseback riding in China. Horse burials have shown that the nomadic peoples of the Eurasian Steppes were riding domesticated horses at least as far back as the 18th century B.C., but there has been no equivalent hard archaeological data found in China to indicate when horseback riding was adopted. Analysis of ancient horse bones discovered in Shirenzigou and Xigou in Xinjiang, northwest China, has now revealed that people in the area were riding horses by 350 B.C., predating the Silk Road trade through the region.

The skeletons of eight horses from the Late Warring States period were unearthed in nearly complete condition, which made a thorough osteological examination possible. With entire bodies to examine, researchers were able to establish patterns of stress typical of horseback riding seen at other archaeological sites and in modern veterinary practice.

Analysis of vertebrae found pathologies like excessive bone growth and fractures in 60% of the 240 vertebrae examined. They were concentrated in the bones of the lower back which is where horses bear the most stress from carrying riders.

The skulls of six of the horses were found to have deep grooves in the nose bones caused by heavy breathing and overdeveloped muscles, evidence the animals were worked hard. The deeper the groove, the more strenuous the exertion over the longest period of time.

Next the teeth were examined. Of the six horses discovered with intact teeth, all of them suffered from abrasions on their lower second premolars. This was the result of contact with an iron bit pulled hard by a rider. If it’s tugged back sharply enough, the bit hits the teeth.

Taken together, these bone and tooth abnormalities are textbook examples of what happens when horses are ridden heavily, said Alan Outram, an archaeologist at the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom, not involved in the research.

“There’s no question that these horses are riding horses,” he said.

“We don’t know how horses went from being an animal that was primarily pulling chariots to one that was engaging in sophisticated cavalry combat,” he said. “Here are some clues to that story.”

Humans buried at the site confirm the discovery. Femurs of adult males from several burials exhibited curved diaphysis, an abnormality caused by habitual horse riding from a young age, as well as other biomechanical stressors associated with equestrianism. An iron bit was also found, as was a plethora of arrowheads, evidence of mounted archery.

Tracing the emergence of horseback riding is the first step to better understanding how this practice catalyzed crucial changes across China, [University of Colorado Museum of Natural History archaeologist William] Taylor said.

“We don’t know how horses went from being an animal that was primarily pulling chariots to one that was engaging in sophisticated cavalry combat,” he said. “Here are some clues to that story.”

Artemisia exhibition film: a review

Saturday, November 28th, 2020

This year London’s National Gallery is putting on the first exhibition in the UK dedicated solely to Baroque master Artemisia Gentileschi. The exhibition has been postponed twice due to COVID and is currently shut down until December 2nd. With major showcases like this that rely on priceless artworks loaned from other collections, changing the dates requires an enormous amount of effort and forbearance, not to mention expense, and with in-person museum attendance in ashes right now, the National Gallery is offering a curator-led film tour of the exhibition on demand for £8.

It’s an idea with possibilities, even under non-pandemic circumstances, and I was curious to see whether it was worth the price of admission, so I booked a ticket. You do you have to create an account on the National Gallery website first ; name, email, phone number and address are all required. You are allowed a single “booking,” which will grant your account access to the film tour for 48 hours. The film can only be viewed on the National Gallery website. To watch, click your email address in the upper right of the screen, and select “online films” from the menu listing under “My account” on the left. Click the Watch Now button to view.

The movie is hosted by Letizia Treves, the museum’s curator of Later Italian, Spanish and French 17th-century Paintings. She walks through the galleries, starting with works from Artemisia’s early years in Rome. Treves gives a brief biography of Artemisia and introduces the viewer to the artist’s first signed work, Susannah and the Elders, painted when she was 17 years old. Treves then relays how Artemisia was raped by her father’s colleague Agostino Tassi and how we know every detail of the ensuing trial because the original transcripts have survived. That transcript is on display in this gallery, loaned out for the first time by the State Archive in Rome.

Treves continues a chronological narration of Artemisia’s life and moves to the next gallery featuring works from her time in Florence. She painted some of her most famous pieces during this time, including two versions of Judith Beheading Holofernes, which Treves focuses on in her explanation. She then moves to the other side of the room and a series of self-portraits.

Artemisia achieved fame and success as an artist in Florence, enough that she became both author and subject of commissioned portraits when she returned to Rome. In the next gallery is a portrait of her done by another artist and portraits she made of noble subjects, but the real get are letters she wrote to her lover, rediscovered in 2011 in the Archivio Frescobaldi and on display here for the first time. Treves doesn’t read any of them verbatim, sadly, but she does summarize a few intriguing passages.

The next gallery features works from Artemisia’s artistic peak, paintings of Biblical and Classical motifs with women protagonists — Judith, Susannah, Mary Magdalene, Lucretia — done in dramatic light to satisfy buyers’ tastes for Caravaggismo. The works shift in scale and subject in the next gallery, following her move to Naples. Then under Spanish rule, Naples offered Artemisia a wide international pool of patrons, and it’s here that she painted her first monumental altarpieces. These were also her first collaborative works.

Except for a brief stay in London, she would live in Naples until her death, expanding her repertoire to literary subjects and allegories. The next gallery features a monumental Birth of St. John the Baptist she painted for the King of Spain and her last documented painting, a Susannah and the Elders. The final gallery in the show presents paintings she and her father Orazio, who were reunited in London, made in the closing years of their careers. One allegory, a personification of painting, that is likely a self-portrait is the only work documented to have been painted when she was in London.

Once the walkthrough of the exhibition’s galleries is concluded, Trevers takes a closer look at a few highlight pieces: the earliest Susannah, Judith sawing Holofernes’ head off in gore aplenty, Judith and her maidservant with the head of Holofernes in a basket, a later Susannah and the Birth of St John the Baptist.

So was the film worth the price of admission? It was interesting and a nice overview of an exhibition I’ll never get to see, but it was a little sparse for my taste. It’s short at just under half an hour, and it felt like Trevers was in a rush (which she was). Also, there was a missed opportunity here to mix media. In my ideal guided tour, there would be links that allow you to explore gigapixel images of the works themselves, plus transcripts and translations of the documents.

No regrets whatsoever, though. Museums have been brutalized this year, and I’ll gladly pay 10 bucks for content. They generate so much of it for free, it’s the very, VERY least I could do.

Rare Viking chamber grave found in central Norway

Friday, November 27th, 2020

Archaeologists have unearthed an extremely rare chamber grave of a woman from the Viking period at Hestnes, central Norway. The excavation had returned evidence of settlement — post holes, cooking pits — but there was no indication of any graves at the site until the team came across evidence of a rectangular structure in the earth. A dark, greasy layer of soil indicated they’d come across a grave, and excavation revealed the rectangle about 5.5 feet long and three feet wide was what remains of a wooden burial chamber dating from the mid-9th century to the mid-10th century A.D.

“This chamber grave is special, because hardly any examples of graves of this type have been found in our part of the country,” says archaeologist and project manager Raymond Sauvage.

Sauvage explains that the chamber was built in a hole in the ground. After the deceased woman was laid in it, a lid was placed on top. The grave is dated to 850 – 950 CE, and very little was left of the chamber itself after more than 1000 years underground.

“We found imprints of the four posts that stood in each corner and some of the walls. The construction technique and size helped confirm that it’s a chamber grave,” says Sauvage.

Wooden chamber graves were fashionable in urban centers during this period. Hundreds have been discovered in cities like Birka and Hedeby, but they are seldom found outside of population centers.

The burial is unusual in its grave goods as well. The deceased was laid to rest with fine jewelry, including a trefoil brooch that fastened her cloak at her neck. These types of brooches are thought to manufactured in Hedeby which was Old Danish territory at the time. They are rare in Norway, and when they have been discovered there, it’s usually in the southeast of the country which was once Danish.

Even more unusual were the turtle brooches discovered in the grave. The double-shelled brooches were typically used to pin up robes, but these had a whole different function: they held the remains of bone and teeth inside the curved double shells.

Archaeologists have also recovered 339 tiny beads from the grave. The green and purple beads are between one and two millimeters wide, so small the team had to use mesh netting to sift the soil and catch the beads. The mini-beads are yet another extremely rare find. Only a few have been unearthed in graves before, nothing like this number in one place. The densest concentration of beads were over the deceased’s right shoulder. They may have been part of a bead necklace, or may have been used in an embroidered textile.

“In archaeology, it’s common to think that the artefacts in the graves tell us something about the status and identity of the person who was buried. This artefact material indicates that the woman came from the south-eastern part of Scandinavia, and that she was buried according to her own cultural tradition,” says Sauvage.

We can only speculate how she ended up here, but Sauvage says she might have come to Hestnes through an arranged marriage.

“Travelling great distances and building networks over large areas is typical of the Viking Age. Alliances and friendships were the primary social glue in Viking Age society. It was through them that you built your social status and gained political power in an area. Marriage was a way to ally two families in this system,” he says.

Researchers hope to answer questions about her origins by analyzing the bone and teeth found in the turtle brooches.

Ancient Puebloan blanket made with 11,550 turkey feathers

Thursday, November 26th, 2020

A new study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports has found that the Ancestral Pueblo people of the Southwest used more than 11,000 feathers from four to 10 turkeys to make a single 3’3″x 3’6″ blanket. The study used a yucca fiber blanket framework on display at the Edge of the Cedars State Park Museum in Blanding, Utah, as a template. Its feathers have been lost to insect activity but the rachises of which remain in the yucca warp cords. Analysis of the featherless blanket framework and a second, smaller blanket with intact feathers dating to the 1200s concluded that the framework would have had 11,550 feathers when intact. The number of turkeys necessary to collect this many feathers was estimated by examining the pelts of adult wild turkeys which are comparable anatomically to the extinct domestic turkey of the Ancestral Pueblo.

The feathers offered better insulation than the twined strips of cottontail rabbit fur that preceded them as the preferred material among prehistoric foragers in the west, and had the added advantage of sustainability, as feathers can be harvested regularly without requiring the demise of their donor. They are also more durable than rabbit skins. Turkey feather blankets became so widespread in the Pueblo communities that researchers estimate that households had a turkey feather wearing blanket, bed blanket or funerary wrapping for each member of the family, adult and child from the Basketmaker II period into the 19th century when Pueblo turkey farming disappeared under Spanish occupation.

Blankets, mantles and robes lined with turkey feathers were highly valued objects in the Ancestral Pueblo communities of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Arizona (known as the Upland Southwest). These communities were at high altitudes where winters were cold and even summers were cool at night. Blankets  made of turkey feathers and plant fiber cords began to appear in the Basketmaker II period (400 B.C. – 500 A.D.) when the cultivation of maize as the base of their diet drove groups to build permanent settlements. The earliest evidence of domestication of turkeys in the Upland Southwest communities date to the first two centuries, but they didn’t become a major food source until the 12th century.

Blanket feathers were probably most frequently collected from live birds, although natural molts or recently killed birds may have contributed.

This would have allowed sustainable collection of feathers several times a year over a bird’s lifetime, which could have exceeded 10 years.

“When the blanket we analyzed for our study was made, we think in the early 1200s CE, the birds that supplied the feathers were likely being treated as individuals important to the household and would have been buried complete,” Professor Lipe said.

“This reverence for turkeys and their feathers is still evident today in Pueblo dances and rituals. They are right up there with eagle feathers as being symbolically and culturally important.”

The study, Staying warm in the upland southwest: A “supply side” view of turkey feather blanket production, can be read in its entirety here.

Pillow brick found in 13th c. clergyman’s grave

Wednesday, November 25th, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered the grave of a clergyman with an inscribed stone “pillow” under his skull at the Tsarevets Fortress in Veliko Tarnovo, Bulgaria.  The stone block was engraved with Bible verses in Old Bulgarian and in the middle of them an Orthodox cross, a cross with two horizontal crossbeams, the lower one slanted downwards to the right. There are seven lines quoting the first four verses of the Gospel of John.

Pillow bricks with inscriptions are rare finds in Bulgaria. The closest comparable find was bilingual in Greek and Old Bulgarian, and it was discovered by accident during construction rather than professionally excavated in its original location. Old Bulgarian was used throughout Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages. Also known as Church Slavonic, it was the official language of the Second Bulgarian Empire and is still the official language of several Eastern Orthodox Churches today.

The grave was found in the ruins of a 13th century Holy Mother of God Monastery that was a major religious center when Veliko Tarnovo, then Tarnovgrad, was the capital city of the Second Bulgarian Empire. The remains of the monastery were first discovered in 2014, and the next year’s excavation revealed the ruins of an Early Christian basilica in the same area.

To be buried in this location with funerary furnishings, the clergyman must have been someone of rank, the Father Superior of the monastery at least, and possibly even a Patriarch of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

The archaeologist [, Prof. Kazimir Popkonstantinov who helped translate the inscription,] also explains that the brick with the inscription quoting the first four verses of the Gospel of John from Veliko Tarnovo has been found in a grave with an impressive design, featuring arc built into the wall of the 13th century monastery church.

“Most of the graves of senior clergymen have arcs. It features verses 1-4 from the Gospel of St. Apostle John, posing a number of questions with respect the person in the grave. That may have been the death wish of the buried person because almost all interpreters believe that the Gospel of John starts with a foreword containing some main and major Christian truths… The quote indicates that the buried person was a highly erudite man,” Popkonstantinov elaborates.

Darwin’s Tree of Life notebook stolen

Tuesday, November 24th, 2020

Cambridge University Library has launched a public appeal for the recovery of two of Charles Darwin’s notebooks that have gone missing, likely stolen. One of them contains an iconic drawing known as the “Tree of Life” or “transmutation diagram” and both of them are of inestimable value. It’s a very cold case and there are no leads currently.

Dr Jessica Gardner, University Librarian and Director of Library Services since 2017, said: “I am heartbroken that the location of these Darwin notebooks, including Darwin’s iconic ‘Tree of Life’ drawing, is currently unknown, but we’re determined to do everything possible to discover what happened and will leave no stone unturned during this process.

“This public appeal could be critical in seeing the notebooks safely return, for the benefit of all, and I would ask anyone who thinks they may be able to help to get in touch.

“We would be hugely grateful to hear from any staff, past or present, members of the book trade, researchers, or the public at large, with information that might assist in the recovery of the notebooks.

“Someone, somewhere, may have knowledge or insight that can help us return these notebooks to their proper place at the heart of the UK’s cultural and scientific heritage.”

The notebooks were kept in the Special Collections Strong Rooms, an ostensibly secure location for the library’s most valuable and rare volumes. The last time they were recorded as having left the room was when they were photographed from September to November 2000. A routine check in January 2001 found the two notebooks and the bespoke blue box that held them were not back in place. An unfortunate assumption was made that they had simply been misplaced and would turn up again somewhere in the vast collection.

This was not an unreasonable belief, as appallingly sanguine as it seems now. The Cambridge University Library has an absolutely massive collection of Darwin material. Between letters, plans, drawings, manuscripts, 189 archives boxes and Darwin’s personal library of 734 books and 6,000 periodicals, the University Library’s Darwin collection covers more than 320 feet of shelving.

Gardner said: “Security policy was different 20 years ago. Today any such significant missing object would be reported as a potential theft immediately and a widespread search begun. We keep all our precious collections under the tightest security, in dedicated, climate-controlled strong rooms, meeting national standards.

“The building has transformed significantly since the notebooks were first reported as missing in terms of additional security measures such as new strong rooms, new specialist reading rooms, CCTV, enhanced access control to secure areas, and our participation in international networks on collections security.”

There were limited searches for the notebooks over the years, but all have been unsuccessful. This year the first comprehensive targeted search of the library’s storage facilities by specialist staff was begun, but again the notebooks could not be found. The full search will take five years to complete. In the meantime, the loss has been reported as a suspected theft to the Cambridgeshire Police, Interpol and the national Art Loss Register.

Darwin wrote down his thoughts about the speciaton, extinction and adaptation after his return from the voyage on the Beagle to South America in several notebooks. Notebook B contains his notes from July 1837 to February 1838. Notebook C was written between February and July 1838. On page 36 of Notebook B he drew a rough diagram to illustrate his idea of descent of species, how branches multiply as species that are well-adapted to their environments reproduce in great numbers, spread out geographically and diversify, “transmuting” from ancestral forms, while those who are not die out.

I think

[Tree of Life diagram]

Case must be that one generation then should be as many living as now

To do this & to have many species in same genus (as is). REQUIRES extinction.

Thus between A. & B. immens gap of relation C & B. the finest gradation, B & D rather greater distinction

Thus genera would be formed.— bearing relation

[page 37]

to ancient types.— with several extinct forms, for if each species “an ancient” is capable of making, 13 recent forms.— Twelve of the contemporarys must have left no offspring at all, so as to keep number of species constant.

The good news is those photographs taken in 2000 right before it disappeared with excellent high-resolution images that were uploaded to the University of Cambridge Digital Library. Full scans of covers and pages can be browsed online, and Darwin’s handwritten notes have been transcribed as part of the Darwin Manuscripts Project website.

Biggest Bronze Age goddess statue found in central Turkey

Monday, November 23rd, 2020

Archaeologists have discovered an Early Bronze Age goddess figurine at the archaeological site of Kültepe in central Turkey. Since recent excavations began in 2018, the team has unearthed 35 figurines. At 17 inches high, this statue is the biggest found at the site, double the size of the next largest.

The figurine depicts a curvaceous woman seated on a throne. It is broken in two pieces — body to the shoulders and head — and is missing an object she was holding in her hand. The design of similar figurines suggests it may have been an animal.

[Ankara University professor Fikri] Kulakoglu said the goddess statue is being cleaned of dust to be displayed in a museum.

“This artifact is around 4,200 years old,” he said, adding that all of the statues, statuettes, idols found in Kultepe are women figurines.

“No idols of men have been found so far… the women statues are naked and have a decorated throne, and there are braids on their back,” he said.

Highlighting that the finding is unique, he said: “It is a very special piece for us… it is one of the most precious works showing religious beliefs of this region, of Kultepe.”

Kültepe was first settled in the Copper Age and was continuously occupied through the Roman era. Tens of thousands of cuneiform clay tables have been found from the Assyrian merchant colony built at the tell in the 20th century B.C. These are the oldest known surviving documents in Anatolia, and include the earliest record of Hittite words, or of any Indo-European language, for that matter. The goddess figurine dates to the earliest era of occupation. There are no written records from this period.

Dueling Dinosaurs gifted to North Carolina museum

Sunday, November 22nd, 2020

The Dueling Dinosaurs, two large dinosaurs locked in combat for 67 million years, have been gifted to the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s the ideal outcome for a saga that began 14 years ago and could very well have ended with the disappearance of this one-of-a-kind natural treasure into anonymous private hands.

When they were put up for auction in 2013, they were believed to be the fossils of the carnivore Nanotyrannus lancensis and the herbivore Chasmosaurine ceratopsian, but the specimens have now been identified the carnivore as a juvenile Tyrannosaurus rex and the herbivore as a Triceratops horridus. In other words, this was the real-life version of the most epic clash staged in toy rooms around the world. As if that weren’t cool enough, both the T. rex and the Triceratops are the most complete fossils of their species ever discovered. Tyrannosaurus is the only 100% complete T. rex fossil ever found. They went down in loose sandstone, died and were preserved locked in position.

The dinosaur carcasses have not been studied and remain entombed within sediment from the Montana hillside where they were discovered. Because of these rare burial conditions, each bone is in its natural position and Museum scientists will have access to biological data that is typically lost in the excavation and preparation processes. Entombing sediment preserves extraordinary features such as body outlines, skin impressions and other soft tissues, as well as injuries and potential evidence of interaction, such as tyrannosaur teeth embedded in the Triceratops body. This distinct preservation will provide Museum paleontologists with an unprecedented opportunity for research and education as they work to uncover the fossils and learn from them in the years to come.

The fossils were unearthed in Montana in 2006. The finders, a rancher, his cousin and a friend who hunt fossils for fun and profit, were given permission to search by the landowners Mary Anne and Lige Murray. The unique find made headlines and with the prospect of a multi-million dollar sale in the offing, trouble ensued. The Murrays had bought the land from brothers Jerry and Robert Severson in 2005.  The brothers retained two-thirds of the mineral rights, however, and with the fossils going under the hammer in 2013, the Seversons claimed part ownership on the grounds that Montana law defined fossils as minerals.

The fossils failed to meet the reserve price of $6 million at the 2013 auction so there was no sale, but the lawsuit opened a huge can of worms. If fossils belong to whoever owns the mineral rights instead of surface rights, paleontologists would have to negotiate with landowners for access to the dig site, then separately with the mineral owners. Mineral rights change hands a lot so owners aren’t necessarily easy to determine, and corporate entities predominate. Even the Seversons’ interests are owned by LLCs. It would also cast down on legal title of fossils that are already in museum collections, potentially resulting in a cascade of new ownership claims and sell-offs.

District court ruled for the Murrays first, but in 2018 a panel of the federal 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals came down on the side of the mineral rights owners. The Murrays filed for a rehearing and the full circuit court referred the case to the Montana Supreme Court. In 2019, state legislature passed a law declaring that fossils belong to the surface estate, but the legislation was not retroactive and the Murray case still had to make its way through the legal system. In May of this year, the Montana Supreme Court ruled that fossils are not minerals but rather belong to the land in which they were discovered.

With the legalities sorted out, the nonprofit Friends of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences was able to negotiate the acquisition. The museum is going all-out to showcase and study their new dinosaurs.

“The Museum is thrilled to have the unique opportunity to house and research one of the most important paleontological discoveries of our time,” said Dr. Eric Dorfman, director and CEO of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “Not only are we able to uncover unknown details of these animals’ anatomy and behavior, but our new dedicated facility and educational programs will allow us to engage with audiences locally, across North Carolina, and worldwide.”

The renovation will be located on the ground floor of the innovative Nature Research Center and will include high-tech exhibit spaces, an area where visitors can explore the tools and techniques used by paleontologists, and an exemplary science laboratory dubbed the “SECU DinoLab,” where scientists will research the specimens live in front of the public. Museum guests will have a unique opportunity to enter the SECU DinoLab and talk directly to the paleontology team. This state-of-the-art facility will also feature video feeds and research updates so the public, both onsite and online, can follow along live as paleontologists work to reveal and share their Dueling Dinosaurs discoveries.

“We have not yet studied this specimen; it is a scientific frontier. The preservation is phenomenal, and we plan to use every technological innovation available to reveal new information on the biology of T. rex and Triceratops. This fossil will forever change our view of the world’s two favorite dinosaurs,” said Dr. Lindsay Zanno, head of paleontology at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences and associate research professor at North Carolina State University. “The way we have designed the entire experience — inviting the public to follow the scientific discoveries in real time and participate in the research — will set a new standard for museums.”

Two of Vesuvius’ victims found, cast

Saturday, November 21st, 2020

New plaster casts have been made of two victims of the eruption of Vesuvius in a villa on the outskirts of Pompeii. The skeletal remains of two adult men were found in a side room of the cryptoporticus at the suburban villa at Civita Giuliana about half a mile northwest of Pompeii’s city walls. This is the same villa where the remains of a purebred horse dressed with a bronze-plated saddle and tack, were found in the stables in 2018. A graffito discovered earlier this year suggests the estate may have belonged to a member of the wealthy and influential Mummius family.

The room where the two bodies were found is in the northwest residence where the family and guests lived. It’s next to the cryptoporticus below the terrace peristyle garden overlooking the Bay of Naples. A vaulted opening led from the cryptoporticus to a rectangular room that allowed access to the upper floor. The room was seven feet wide and of undetermined length. It had a wooden floor and was destroyed when the first stories of the house collapsed when it was slammed by the pyroclastic flow. Archaeologists first found the tell-tale hollows in the layers of hardened ash that were left behind after the soft tissues of the bodied decayed. Digging down through a small hole to preserve as much of the void as possible, archaeologists found the bones. Most of them were removed for analysis. Plaster was then poured into the voids to capture the shape of the bodies.

They were both in supine position. One was a young man between 18 and 25. He was approximately 5’1″ tall and evidence of compression of his vertebrae, unusual in someone so young, indicates he had carried out manual labour for a long time. The imprint of his clothing was left in the ash hollow and therefore on the cast. He was wearing a short tunic of heavy fabric, likely wool.  The tunic and bone damage suggests he may have been a slave. The other victim was found with his head turned, cheek in the hardened ash, his arms folded, hands on his chest, legs spread wide apart. He was older than the first victim, between 30 and 40, and an inch taller. He was more elaborately attired in a tunic topped with a woollen mantle.

Both died in the second pyroclastic flow. They and the other Pompeiians had survived the pumice rain that fell for 19 hours an the first pyroclastic flow that struck the town when the eruptive column collapsed. Vesuvius then tricked them by quieting down for about half an hour, just long enough to encourage the survivors to leave their hiding places and attempt to flee with their lives. The second pyroclastic flow hit with sudden fury, faster and far more powerful than the first, blowing through vertical walls, pancaking the tops of buildings into the bottoms and killing the people who had hoped to escape their fate. The flow appears to have flooded the room in the Civita Giuliana villa through multiple points of entry, engulfing the men in hot ash that would harden into their tomb. Their entire bodies were encased in a gray ash layer 6.5 feet deep created by the second flow.

Other voids were discovered in this room three or so feet from the victims. The hollows were manually examined and plaster poured into them revealing items that may have been lost during the attempted escape, mainly heaps of heavy, draped cloth. The wool clothes they were wearing and carrying are additional evidence that the eruption took place October 24-25, not the traditional August date that may be the result of a medieval translation error.

This video shows the process of opening the voids, pouring the plaster and excavating the casts.




November 2020


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