Stories tagged archaeology

No, not by a volcano but by poor maintenance. Many of the priceless artifacts recovered from the ancient Roman city have been damaged. The Italian government has declared a "state of emergency" to preserve what remains.

Jun
16
2008

Map of Lake Ontario: Planned route and estimated shipwreck area (in yellow) of the HMS Ontario.  (After NOAA, Kennard and Scoville diagrams)
Map of Lake Ontario: Planned route and estimated shipwreck area (in yellow) of the HMS Ontario. (After NOAA, Kennard and Scoville diagrams)Courtesy Mark Ryan
A long-sought 18th century British warship has finally been discovered on the bottom of one of the Great Lakes bordering Canada and the United States. The HMS Ontario, a Royal Navy sloop that patrolled Lake Ontario during the American Revolutionary War, was sailing to Oswego, New York from Fort Niagara when it sank in a violent storm on October 31, 1780, taking with it all on board.

The shipwreck was discovered a couple weeks ago, sitting in mud under about 500 feet of water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, two shipwreck enthusiasts who share credit for the discovery, used side-sonar and an unmanned submersible device to locate the wreck. The two men have been searching together for the HMS Ontario for more than three years. And now that they’ve found it, they’re keeping the location secret, at least for the time being. They’ll only say that it’s in deep water somewhere between Rochester and Niagara.

"It's a British war grave and we want to make sure it remains undisturbed,” said Kennard, a veteran diver who has found over 200 wrecks. Despite the HMS Ontario’s age and present location, it would still be considered property of the British Admiralty.

The HMS Ontario was constructed in the spring of 1780 on Carleton Island
at the lake’s east end where it flows into the St. Lawrence River. The 80-foot sloop was fitted with two masts and 22 cannons and used mainly to ferry soldiers and supplies back and forth across the lake during the summer of 1780. Some historians speculate the warship never fired any of its cannons. When she sank, the Ontario took with her 88 souls - at least according to official records. Letters from an individual living at Fort Niagara at the time claim there were also 30 unlisted American prisoners on the ship who also died in the tragedy.

Debris from the HMS Ontario washed up on shore about 30 miles east of Fort Niagara, and the ship’s sails were found adrift a few days after the storm. Months later, six bodies were recovered about 12 miles east of the Niagara River, and that was the last evidence of the sinking anyone saw. That is, until Kennard and Scoville located Ontario’s final resting place two week ago.

The discovery has been called a miracle of archaeology, and may be the oldest Great Lake’s shipwreck ever found.

"It's the oldest confirmed shipwreck in the lakes," Scoville said. "And very few warships went down." He added that it’s definitely the most intact warship ever discovered.

The ship’s condition surprised even its seasoned explorers. Kennard said the 228-year-old wreck might have gone down more gently in the storm than previously thought, because it doesn’t appear to be very battered. Two crow’s nests remain on both masts, and eight cannons still line the deck. One anchor is attached to the side of the ship, while another rests on the lake bottom. Some of the windows in the quarter galleries are even intact, despite tremendous underwater pressures. They also contribute the high level of preservation to the lake’s cold temperatures and lack of light and oxygen.

Here's some video of the historic wreck.

More than 4700 shipwrecks litter the bottom of the Great Lakes, 500 of them in Lake Ontario. But for Kennard and Scoville any future discoveries they make are going to be hard to match their discovery of the HMS Ontario.

"This is the Holy Grail of Great Lakes wrecks," Kennard said. "There's nothing more significant than this one."

LINKS

Shipwreck World story
Naval Operations in the Americian Revolutionary War
HMS Ontario shipwreck photos at the LA Times
Story in Tononto Star

Jun
06
2008

Marching backwards, to better times: This must be...right before the executions?
Marching backwards, to better times: This must be...right before the executions?Courtesy Hysterical Bertha
It’s easy, sometimes, to get frustrated with the modern world. Society these days is confusing and violent, and it makes me yearn for humanity’s gentle youth.

7,000 years ago, for instance, would have been a refreshing time to be alive. That would be the life: living with your tribe in lush central Europe, hunting and gathering, perhaps herding cattle, being at one with nature and your fellow humans. Now and again you might run across another group of people, and you would interact in your simple, honest way—an argument might break out, one thing leads to another, and then you and the other men and children are bound with rope and struck on the left side of the head with an axe, while the women of the tribe are taken away by your executioners.

I guess this is why they call archaeology “the dismal science.”

Wait--do I have that right?

Jun
02
2008

Submerged treasures: Underwater archaeologists, like this one, are now swimming and searching the upper Nile River looking for ancient Egyptian artifacts.
Submerged treasures: Underwater archaeologists, like this one, are now swimming and searching the upper Nile River looking for ancient Egyptian artifacts.Courtesy Viv Hamilton
Archaeologists dig and sift their way to finding the clues of previous cultures, right?

Not all the time. A recent project in Egypt has archaeologists donning wet suits and scuba gear to find cool things from ancient Egyptian culture.

The changing course of the Nile River has necessitated archaeologists going “hydro” in their search. And last month they discovered an entryway to a temple near Aswan in Upper Egypt.

It’s the first major underwater discovery of Egypt antiquities for a multi-year project that began this year. The under-water discovery is an entryway to a temple dedicated to Khnum, the ram-headed god of fertility.

Made of massive rocks that weigh in the tons, the portico can’t be taken away from its submerged home, but divers were able to remove a one-ton stone that are part of the entryway that has inscriptions that could give more clues to when it was built, what its purpose was or other information about life from that ancient time.

The larger scope of the project is to do a complete survey of the riverbed of the Nile from Aswan to Luxor starting this fall. Along with the changing course of the river of the centuries, archaeologists think they’ll be able to find artifacts that had fallen overboard while being shipped on the river. Some artifacts are known to be in the waters having been recorded lost through accidents from Egyptian treasure seekers in earlier centuries.

Action on the screen, and in the classroom: Indiana Jones not only attracts viewers at the cineplex. His movies send more people into archaeology classrooms as well.
Action on the screen, and in the classroom: Indiana Jones not only attracts viewers at the cineplex. His movies send more people into archaeology classrooms as well.Courtesy Cybjorg
Are you like me and making sure that the new Indiana Jones movie is part of your holiday weekend agenda? Read this and find out why archaeology professors like to have movies like this and the Lara Croft series hit the screens. So go ahead, tell your parents that it's part of your homework assignment this weekend to go see the new Indiana Jones movie. You've got my okay!

POST SCREENING UPDATE: Okay, I've now seen the film and had a lot of questions in my head about crystal skulls. Did you encounter the same wonderings after seeing the film? JGordon conveniently answers a lot of them in a post he did here on the Buzz earlier this spring. Also, here's a National Geographic link with even more information on the history of crystal skulls. And IMHO, despite his age Indy still can kick Commie butt pretty well!!!!!

Apr
17
2008

Walk to an Egyptian Pharaoh: This tunnel through another pharaoh's tomb in the Valley of the Kings gives an idea of the elaborate wall art that adorns such structures.
Walk to an Egyptian Pharaoh: This tunnel through another pharaoh's tomb in the Valley of the Kings gives an idea of the elaborate wall art that adorns such structures.Courtesy Sebi
Dig around in Egypt and you’ll never know what you’ll find. Archaeologists there have been poking around the huge tomb of Seti I, the largest known tomb in Egypt’s Valley of the Kings, only to discover that it’s 100 feet longer than originally thought.

The full details of the discovery can be found at this National Geographic link.

Seni I’s tomb was first discovered in 1817 and the burial chamber measured a whopping 328 feet long, about the length of a football field. Through the newly unearthed secret passages, an additional 100 feet of the tomb has now been discovered. And there could be more.

But in this new 100 feet of tomb space and tunnels, archaeologists have found more tomb wall art and other funerary artifacts. And there could be additional tunnels to discover branching off from these new passages.

An all-Egyptian team of archaeologists made this latest discovery. And they’ll keep on working in the Valley of the Kings. Graffiti found on walls of other tombs in the area state that there are nearby tombs for pharaohs Ramses VIII and Merenptah.

Apr
05
2008

Dude just took a huge carp: out of the lake. The carp referenced in the article, however, was found in a cave near a lake.
Dude just took a huge carp: out of the lake. The carp referenced in the article, however, was found in a cave near a lake.Courtesy redcarper
Did I write “carp” in the title of this post? That’s not at all what I meant to write. I guess it’s just one of those things spell check isn’t going to catch, you know, because “carp” is a real word. It’s a fish, but I wasn’t talking about fish.

No, I meant to point out that scientists have added another nail to the already pretty well sealed coffin of the Clovis-first hypothesis for the population of the new world. And exactly what is this nail? This crusty, brown nail? Why, it’s an ancient piece of dried human excrement. That’s right, a 14,300-year-old piece of carp.

The carp in question was found in Oregon’s Paisley Caves, a series of eight westward facing, wave-cut caves overlooking Lake Chewaucan. Not a bad place for a carp, I imagine. Apparently ancient Americans thought so too.

The Clovis first/pre-Clovis debate has been mentioned on the site before, but, briefly, here it is: For decades it was generally believed that the Clovis people (named so for the distinct style of stone tools they used) were the very first humans to inhabit the Americas. Clovis people are thought to have arrived in North America about 13,000 years ago at the earliest, and that there could have been people here before then was not seriously considered by most archaeologists. In the last thirty or so years, however, an increasing number of archaeological sites have been excavated that demonstrate very compelling evidence for pre-Clovis cultures in the Americas, people who arrived here thousands of years before Clovis. Clovis-first proponents still argue against the validity of some of these sites, which seem to indicate—stratigraphically and through carbon dating—occupation significantly earlier than 13,000 BP, but the presence of pre-Clovis peoples in the Americas is now more or less agreed upon.

This carppy new find, however, is the first actual example of pre-Clovis human DNA that has been found; it is the oldest human DNA obtained from the Americas. The team’s lucky geneticists were able to extract and analyze mitochondrial DNA, which is passed down the maternal line, from the dried carp. The carp itself was radiocarbon dated to be about 14,300 years old, and the DNA found was matched to haplogroups A2 and B2, genetic groups common to Siberia and east Asia. Interestingly enough, three of the six pieces of carp also tested positive for DNA similar to red fox, coyote, or wolf. My money’s on the theory that the carpers of Paisley Cave were some kind of wolf-people, although the University if Oregon team working at the site thinks it’s more likely that the people had simply eaten some foxes, or that one of these animals had urinated on the carp later.

Although the Paisley Cave site has generally been very productive in terms of yielding artifacts—archaeologists have found exceptionally fine threads of sinew and plant fibers, hide, basketry, cordage, rope, wooden pegs, animal bones, projectile point fragments, and “diverse kinds of feces”—exactly who its former occupants were is still unknown. The site lacks a broad assemblage of stone tools, something often used to define Paleo-Indian cultures. So we don’t really know how these people relate to the Clovis culture, only that they were definitely present in North America at a much earlier time.

Still, not a bad discovery at all. I mean, who would have thought that the oldest human remains discovered (so far) would turn out to be carp? There’s something like irony here.

A couple other pretty well established pre-Clovis sites:
Monte Verde in Chile
The Meadowcroft Rockshelter in Pennsylvania

Researchers in Honduras have uncovered evidence of the earliest known use of chocolate. Residues in pottery indicate that some American Indians were fermenting chocolate fruit into an alcoholic drink as much as 2,400 years ago.

Evidence of the most recent use of chocolate can be found in my garbage can pretty much any day of the week.

Oct
28
2007

An unhappy Halloween for Hagatha: She just wants to use the bathroom, okay?  Photo courtesy of slworking2 on flickr.com
An unhappy Halloween for Hagatha: She just wants to use the bathroom, okay? Photo courtesy of slworking2 on flickr.com
How to treat a witch? An important consideration at any point, but particularly so in this season of Halloweeny.

Unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer. It all depends on the type of witch – your crones and matronly witches are best treated with cautious respect, while drinks and flowers might be the best strategy for a foxy witch. Cardboard cutout witches can generally be handled and stored without much difficulty. Sandwiches can be eaten or thrown away (one hates to waste food, but if you made it, that’s your prerogative).

But what about a witch that means you harm? I would strongly discourage burning – even if it seems like a good idea at the time, it probably isn’t, and it’s really not the sort of thing you can take back.

The other day, however, I stumbled across this helpful article in Current Archaeology. It concerns “witch bottles,” archeological evidence of a certain method of dealing with witches from several hundred years ago.

Here’s what you do:
First, get yourself a bottle. Most 18th century Anglo-Saxons would have used ceramic or glass bottles (like the one mentioned in the article, the Reigate Bottle), but I don’t see any reason not to be a little more modern. Try Mountain Dew; that way you get a liter of soda, and a particularly magic-looking bottle. Next, you need to put some stuff in the bottle that will do harm to the witch. Old witch bottles often contain bent metal pins. That’s still pretty workable, but be creative if you want. Maybe break up a CD (I recommend the Titanic soundtrack – it’ll probably be cheaper than pins, and is pretty harmful even before it’s been shattered. Ha ha.). You then have to add some human hair. I’m not sure if it has to be yours, or the witch’s, or what. Just put any old hair in there, I suppose – you’re trying to pull one over on a witch, not a geneticist. Next, put some wool and “prickly grass” into your bottle. Finally, top the whole thing off with some urine. A little icky, I know, but this is magic we’re dealing with. Plus, if you already drank the Mountain Dew, it shouldn’t be too tricky to get your hands on some grade A P.

What to do with your spiky concoction? Well, first of all, don’t drop it. Then you have to clean everything up, and the witch wins. No, seal that sucker off, and hide it. Originally, witch bottles would have been buried someplace warm, like under the fireplace. That could be awfully tricky these days, especially if you rent. My suggestion would be to tape the bottle to your water heater, or maybe just put it in the garage someplace and forget about it. If you’ve done everything correctly, when the witch tries to, you know, pass water, she will “suffer dreadful torments and may even die.”

The whole thing is supposed to work even if you don’t know exactly who the witch is – you just have to keep an eye out for the friend or neighbor who appears to be having urogenital trouble. It’s nice, too, because if it turns out that you have just an inflamed appendix and aren’t actually under a hex, no one has to get burned.

As I mentioned, there’s a lot of room for creativity, and I the whole thing is an excellent idea for a family craft project. You could even make several witch bottles ahead of time, and then, ah, fill them up as they become needed. Even if you never have any witch troubles, your unused bottles will give archaeologists of the future something to think about.

Here’s another interesting site with information on apotropaios-related archaeological finds. “Apotropaios,” by the way comes from a Greek word meaning “evil-averting,” and the site covers all sorts of fun things, from hidden shoes and horse skulls to dried cats. With an open mind, you could have a very full Halloween.