All posts by Archaeology World Team

Archaeologists study crumbling 1,300-year-old shipwreck

Archaeologists study crumbling 1,300-year-old shipwreck

A 1,300-year-old shipwreck is so fragile that air could destroy it has been unearthed in southern France and archaeologists face a race against time to reveal its medieval secrets. The partial remains of the “extremely rare” 40-foot-long boat, which radiocarbon dates from between A.D. 680 and A.D. 720, were unveiled at Villenave-d’Ornon near Bordeaux on Wednesday.

Archaeologists study crumbling 1,300-year-old shipwreck
An archaeologist sprays water to maintain the moisture of an unearthed 1,300-year-old shipwreck near Bordeaux, France, on Tuesday.

The French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research said the boat was an “exceptional testimony to the naval architecture of the high Middle Ages” and could have navigated rivers, as well as the Atlantic coast of France.

“In order to limit the degradation of the wood of the wreck, especially at the moment with the heatwave in the southwest of France, we are watering the wreck every 30 minutes,” Laurent Grimbert, who is leading the excavation for the institute, told NBC News via email Thursday.

“The excavation and dismantling of the wreck should be finished by mid-September. For the moment we are on schedule and each piece of wood that is dismantled teaches us more about the shipbuilding techniques of the early Middle Ages.”

The boat was discovered in 2013, buried in the silted bed of a stream. But it is only now being painstakingly taken apart piece by piece to discover its true nature and purpose.

Because the beams of oak, chestnut and pine have not had contact with oxygen and light for so long, they must be watered to stop them from splintering. Once removed and cleaned, the wooden beams will be submerged in water.

The boat’s final fate is uncertain: The wood could be injected with resin to preserve it or it could be reburied where it was found.

Early investigations show the vessel was capable of carrying large cargo, the institute said on its website.

There is only one other boat from the period in France — found in the Charente River in southwestern France, it’s still underwater — and only a handful have ever been found in Europe.

The boat’s original size is estimated to be around 40 feet — why it sank remains a mystery.

Experts are keen to understand how and why the boat was in the stream alongside the Garonne River.

“The existence of a small port, near the mouth of a side stream of the Garonne, in a marshy area exploited since antiquity and throughout the medieval era, indicates that these apparently unattractive sectors are actually exploited for their many resources,” the institute said.

The boat dates to the time of the Franks, a tribal people who came to dominate large swaths of western Europe in the centuries following the fall of the Roman Empire.

The ruling faction of the Franks at the time, the Merovingians, were known for their kings’ long hair.

Clovis I, their most famous king, is credited as the first to unite the Franks under one kingdom. Former French President Charles de Gaulle is reported to have said that his country’s history began with his crowning. Clovis is also a forerunner of the most regal of French names: Louis.

Preserved by Nature: Studying the Spectacular Salt Mummies of Iran

Preserved by Nature: Studying the Spectacular Salt Mummies of Iran

In 1993, miners at the Chehrabad Salt Mine in the Zanjan province of Iran discovered a body. Clearly a man, the body had flowing white hair and a beard and was sporting a single gold earring. Though he didn’t initially appear that old, carbon dating showed he had died in 300 A.D.

The head of Salt Man 1, is on display at the National Museum of Iran.

The man had likely died from being crushed by a rock collapse, and his body had been effectively mummified by the dry salinity of the air. Unlike Egyptian mummification practices, where the body was wrapped in fabric and coated in preserving oils, the salt mummy was preserved naturally.

The salt from the mines leeched the moisture from his skin, leaving behind his dried remains. Due to the lack of fresh air, and the layers of salt in the mines, the body had gone undisturbed for centuries and was extremely well preserved.

He is now the first of a group of preserved bodies found in the mine, known as the Saltmen.

The body of Salt Man 3, is on display at the Archeology Museum in Zanjan.

Since the first salt mummy was discovered, five more have been found, all within the same area as the first. The second was discovered in 2004, only 50 feet from the first one. Two more were found in 2005, and two more in 2007 — one of them a woman.

In 2008, mining practices were halted, and the mine was declared an archaeological site, allowing researchers full access to the salt mummies.

The finds quickly became important ones for Iranian archaeologists, as they offered insight into historic mining practices, as well as natural mummification.

The find also offered new information on the ancient men’s diets. Because the bodies were so well preserved, some of their internal organs were still intact. Researchers were even able to find remnants in the 2200-year-old mummy’s stomach that contained tapeworm eggs, signalling that his diet was high in raw or undercooked meat.

It also provided the earliest evidence of intestinal parasites in Iran.

Along with the bodies, the salt also preserved the artefacts that were with them when they died. Researchers were able to recover a leather boot (with a foot still inside), iron knives, a woollen trouser leg, a silver needle, a sling, leather rope, a grindstone, a walnut, pottery shards and patterned textile fragments.

Of the six mummies discovered, four of them are currently on display. The Archeology Museum, in Zanjan, is home to three of the men and the woman, as well as some of the artefacts.

The original salt mummy’s head and left foot are on display at the National Museum of Iran, in Tehran.

Another salt mummy, on display at the Archeology Museum. The bodies are all displayed in the positions they were found.

The sixth salt mummy to be discovered remains in the mine, as he was too fragile to remove.

Researchers don’t believe the Saltmen all died together, though they do share some similarities. The first man found probably died around 300 A.D., while the oldest body found dated back to 9550 B.C.

They also believe that there could be more mummies in the mine. Though six whole bodies have been accounted for, detached body parts have also been found. Some of them were initially believed to be part of a single individual, however, they are actually from different bodies.

The number of potential Saltmen bodies is now believed to be eight or more.

‘Stunning’ Anglo-Saxon burial site found along HS2 route

‘Stunning’ Anglo-Saxon burial site found along HS2 route

An Anglo-Saxon burial site containing the remains of more than 140 people interred with some of their most favoured objects, including jewellery, knives and even a personal grooming kit, has been discovered by archaeologists working on the HS2 route.

The site, near Wendover, Buckinghamshire, contained a “stunning set of discoveries”, said the historian Dan Snow. “Traditionally, this period has been dismissed as a dark age. But archaeology has filled the gaps.”

The findings would “tell us more about how our predecessors lived, fought and ultimately died”, he said. “It is one of the best and most revealing post-Roman sites in the country.”

The skeleton was found with an iron spearpoint embedded into the thoracic vertebra.

One skeleton, a male aged between 17 and 24 at the time of death, was found with a sharp iron object embedded in his vertebrae, suggesting he suffered a violent death.

Osteologists who have examined the skeleton believe a weapon was thrust into his body from the front before embedding it in his spine.

A vivid blue stain on his collarbone came from a brooch used to hold up garments. Many of the site’s skeletons were found with two collarbone brooches keeping cloaks or peplos – long outer robes worn by women – in place.

One female skeleton was found with a vast array of goods, including a complete ornate pale green glass bowl thought to be made around the turn of the fifth century, indicating she was a person of high status. Other items found with her remains included rings, brooches, iron belt fittings and ivory objects.

The site contained 138 graves with 141 inhumation burials and five cremation burials, making it one of the largest Anglo-Saxon burial grounds uncovered in Britain. More than 2,000 beads were unearthed, along with 89 brooches, 40 buckles, 51 knives, 15 spearheads and seven shield bosses.

Dr Rachel Wood, the lead archaeologist for Fusion JV, the company that carried out the fieldwork, said it was a “once in a lifetime discovery”.

Dan Snow with spearhead uncovered in HS2 excavations.

“It’s rare to discover Anglo-Saxon cemeteries, especially with this many individuals – men, women and children – and an amazing range of grave goods.

Almost all the individuals were buried with fantastically decorated brooches, but we’ve also found the glass and amber beads, swords, shield bosses, spearheads, fantastically decorated pottery jewellery – quite a lot of unique objects.

“The fifth and sixth centuries are not ones we know a lot about, and all the objects we found will be able to tell us a lot about these people. It gives us a great snapshot of society.”

Most of the individuals appear to have been relatively wealthy, able to import some of the items from across Europe. Two glass cone beakers that were uncovered intact would have been used to drink wine brought to England from abroad. The beakers are similar to ones that were made in northern France, although some were also made in England at the time.

The discoveries include personal grooming items, such as ear wax removers, toothpicks, tweezers, combs and a tube that may have contained a cosmetic such as eyeliner.

A team of 30 archaeologists worked on the site for almost a year, completing fieldwork in 2021. As well as the Anglo-Saxon burial ground, evidence of Neolithic, bronze age, iron age and Roman activity was discovered.

The HS2 route has proven rich in archaeological finds. More than 1,000 archaeologists have worked on 60 separate sites between London and the West Midlands over the past three years.

Objects that have been unearthed will be preserved and many will eventually be displayed in museums. But larger finds will be bulldozed to make way for the new rail line.

DNA analysis reunites Viking relatives in Denmark after 1,000 years

DNA analysis reunites Viking relatives in Denmark after 1,000 years

The 150 bones have been lent to the Danish museum by the Oxfordshire Museum in Britain for three years. Separated for 1,000 years, two Viking warriors from the same family were reunited last week at Denmark’s National Museum, as DNA analysis helps shed light on the Vikings’ movements across Europe.

DNA analysis reunites Viking relatives in Denmark after 1,000 years
Two skeletons of relatives lie in a showcase at the National Museum of Denmark, after one of them was found in a mass grave in Oxford, Britain, and will be reunited in the exhibition ‘Join the Vikings – the raid’ later this month, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

One of the Vikings died in England in his 20s in the 11th century, from injuries to the head. He was buried in a mass grave in Oxford. The other died in Denmark in his 50s, his skeleton bearing traces of blows that suggest he took part in battles.

DNA mapping of skeletons from the Viking era — from the eighth to the 12th century — enabled archaeologists to determine by chance that the two were related.

“This is a big discovery because now you can trace movements across space and time through a family,” museum archaeologist Jeanette Varberg told AFP.

Two of her colleagues spent more than two hours on Wednesday piecing together the skeleton of the man in his 20s, from the remains freshly arrived from Oxford.

Employees from the National Museum of Denmark unpack the skeleton of a man found in a mass grave in Oxford, England, in Copenhagen.

The 150 bones have been lent to the Danish museum by the Oxfordshire Museum in Britain for three years.

The historical consensus is that Danish Vikings invaded Scotland and England in the late eighth century.

The younger of the two men “may have been cut down in a Viking raid, but there is also a theory that they (the skeletons in the mass grave) were victims of a royal decree by English King Ethelred the Second, who commanded in 1002 that all Danes in England should be killed,” Varberg said.

It is very rare to find skeletons that are related, though it is easier to determine the relationships for royals, according to Varberg.

While the two were confirmed to be relatives, it is impossible to determine their exact link. They may have been half-brothers, a grandfather and grandson, or an uncle and nephew.

“It’s very difficult to tell if they lived in the same age or they differ maybe by a generation because you have no material in the grave that can give a precise dating. So you have a margin of 50 years plus or minus,” Varberg said.

Mysterious Perfectly Preserved Ship Found in the Baltic Sea

Mysterious Perfectly Preserved Ship Found in the Baltic Sea

Beneath the frigid waters of the Baltic Sea, investigators have discovered perhaps the best-preserved ship from the Age of Discovery. It was found on the seafloor and it is almost intact. The researchers were amazed by the condition of the vessel, which is roughly 500 years old and this means that it is a very important find.

Underwater Detection of Mysterious Shipwreck

The ship has been detected at the bottom of the Baltic Sea in Swedish territorial waters and is possibly the best-preserved ship ever found from the Age of Discovery and the Renaissance. However, the origin and the identity of the ship and how it came to sink is something of a mystery.

The shipwreck was first detected by side-scan sonar during a project to lay down some gas pipes in 2009. However, it was only this year that the private Swedish marine exploration company MMT thoroughly investigated the site and established that it was an early modern ship. The project is led by Dr Rodrigo Pacheco-Ruiz.

MMT scanned the seabed with photo-imaging equipment and they established that the shipwreck was almost intact. According to the Independent, it was found at a “depth of around more than 131 yards (120 meters) some 100 miles (161 kilometres) south-east of Stockholm”. The experts from MMT deployed underwater robots with artificial intelligence (AI) to survey the shipwreck.

Launching the ROV, to explore the shipwreck, from the Stril Explorer.

This was possible because of the support of graduates “from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm” reports the Archaeology News Network. Marine archaeologists and students from the University of Southampton also collaborated on the project.

The Intact Sunken Ship

The international team found that the shipwreck’s “condition is pristine” reports the New York Times. Its hull is intact, and its mast is still standing, which still has some rigging. The ship’s tender boat, which was used to ferry the crew still remains sitting on the deck.

According to the Independent, “the bilge pump and elements of the rigging can be seen. The bowsprit and decorated transom stern are also clearly visible”. There are still some swivel guns and a small cannon on the bow.

Photogrammetric model of the ship’s stern.

The vessel on the seafloor measured about 52 feet (16 meters) long. The fantastic state of preservation is probably a result of the unique environment of the Baltic Sea. Science alert reports that “the cold, slightly salty, hypoxic waters of the Baltic Sea’s deeper waters” helped preserve the vessel. The anchor of the vessel was also found, and this was crucial in the dating of the shipwreck.

Photogrammetric model of the shipwreck, the ship’s bow showing the anchor still in place.

Oldest Discovered Shipwreck in Baltic

The team believes that the ship dates to the late 15th and early 16th century, this is the era of the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery. It comes from the time when Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were making their masterpieces and when Christopher Columbus and Vasco De Gama were exploring the seas.

Science alert quotes Pacheco-Ruiz as saying, “We know it’s the oldest shipwreck in the Baltic”. There is no other ship this old that is in such a pristine condition. Most shipwrecks have only timbers, this is the case with the battleship Mars that exploded during a battle in the Baltic in 1564.

Archaeology News Network reports that “It is rare to find a ship in such an astonishing condition that predates the larger and more powerful vessels involved in the later Northern Seven Year’s Wars (1563-1570)”. The vessel was possibly a forerunner of the much larger vessels that allowed the Swedes, Danes, and later the Dutch to dominate the Baltic Sea.

The identity of the ship is not yet known, and it may be hard to establish. This is because ships were rarely formally named in that era. The team has called it the “’Okänt Skeep’ Swedish for unknown ship” reports the New York Times.

Establishing the identity of the sunken vessel is a priority for the investigators. It appears that it was a merchant vessel because it does not have large cannons.

Did the Ancient Ship Sink in Battle?

Another aspect of the shipwreck that is mysterious is how it sank. It could have gone down in a storm, which was common at the time. The Independent reports that the ship’s “guns being in their ‘ready to fire’ positions” would indicate that it was involved in some battle or engagement, which may have resulted in its sinking.

This ship was probably built and designed in northern Europe. However, it was very similar to the ships used by Da Gama and Columbus on their historic voyages. The design of the vessel can help researchers to better understand the naval technologies that allowed Europeans in the Age of Discovery to sail around the globe.

The team will resume their investigation of the shipwreck next year. This project shows the value of private companies such as MMT collaborating with universities. The discovery and survey of the mysterious shipwreck in the Baltic is only the latest success for the company and the University of Southampton. In recent years they have identified some 65 wrecks, dating back to Classical times in the Black Sea.

Rare Byzantine Plates Found Off Coast Of Southern Turkey

Rare Byzantine Plates Found Off Coast Of Southern Turkey

One of the world’s richest plate sets from the Eastern Roman Empire has been discovered off the coast of the southern province of Antalya’s Adrasan district. 

Rare Byzantine Plates Found Off Coast Of Southern Turkey

“We were not hopeful of finding anything considerable,” said Selçuk University Archaeology Department academic Hakan Öniz. “Just then, we found a solid, very beautiful plate with its own colours. It made us very happy.

We were amazed by the designs on it. As we found the others, we were surprised by the motifs on each plate. There are fish and flower motifs unique to the era. The workmanship was very good. All of them were 800-900 years old.”

Rare Byzantine Plates Found Off Coast Of Southern Turkey

Among the most striking plates in the set are unique ones that are in the same design and colour but in different sizes. The ship that was carrying the plates is thought to have sunk after hitting a rock sometime in the 12th century.

The Byzantine Empire underwater excavations started in 2014 in collaboration with Dokuz Eylül University, Selçuk University and the Antalya Museum. 

The finds are being cleaned of salt at the Antalya Museum Directorate’s laboratory. When the work is done, the plates will be displayed at the Antalya Museum. 

Öniz said the plates off Adrasan were scattered over an area of 15 to 20 meters. 

“The ship was loaded with plates from two different plate factories. We don’t know where these factories are. I say two different factories because there are two different techniques used on the plates. We see that the plate set existed 900 years ago, too, and that women took care of their sets,” he said.

He said they had found the plates underwater on top of each other. Most of them were broken, while some had been taken by people, he added.

There are a number of other plates along the coasts of Antalya and Mersin, but many are too deep to retrieve, he said.

He said the ship carrying the plates had possibly been caught in a storm while en route. “The region where the ship wreckage was found looks like a harbour in which to shelter during storms. These harbours are called false harbours because when you look at these harbours, you would think they would protect you from the storm. The captain of the ship thought it was a safe place and anchored there, but even though the wind stopped, the current did not, and the ship hit a rock and was broken into pieces.”  

‘We have not reached the ship’ 

Öniz said they had not yet reached the wood of the ship during the underwater excavations. “There is a type of worm called Teredo Navalis in the Mediterranean Sea. It eats the wood. If wood is close to the surface, this worm will eat it. For example, you can find all artefacts in the Baltic Sea in one piece because this worm does not live there, but it does in the Mediterranean.” 

The academic said they had found an unbroken plate during work in 2014. “The plates on the surface were broken as if some people had used a hammer when trying to remove them from the rocks. 

Largest one in the world 

The plates that were discovered are exceedingly rare, Öniz said.

He said a plate set excavation had also been conducted underwater in Greece but the set in Adrasan was one of few rich plate set wreckages in the world. 

He said 100 unbroken and 300 broken plates had been removed and highlighted the importance of the laboratory at the Antalya Museum. 

“The materials like an amphora and ceramic plates have micro holes, and salt piles up in these holes. When the plate is left under direct sunlight, the salt swells and breaks the artefact. The plates removed from under the water will be cleaned from the salt over the next months and then become ready for display,” Öniz said. 

He also said diving had been banned in the region of the wreckage 10 years ago by the Culture and Tourism Ministry. “It has been under protection for 10 years, but how can it be protected in a cove? Maybe some people came and dove here after this ban.”

The current excavations in the area are expected to finish next year.

‘Cursed’ Mummies From El-Mezawaa Necropolis Restored

‘Cursed’ Mummies From El-Mezawaa Necropolis Restored

A team from Egypt’s Mummies Conservation Project has finished restoring a group of seven mummies in the El-Muzawaa necropolis in Dakhla oasis, completing the first phase of the project, Gharib Sonbol, head of Ancient Egyptian restoration projects at the Ministry of Antiquities, told Ahram Online.

'Cursed' Mummies From El-Mezawaa Necropolis Restored

The restoration of Al-Muzawaa necropolis mummies came within the framework of the project, which was launched three years ago by the ministry to preserve and maintain all mummies stored in Egyptian storehouses.

Aymen Ashmawi, head of the Ancient Egyptian Antiquities Sector at the ministry, explains that the project started with the conservation of mummies in the Mostafa Kamel gallery storehouses in Alexandria and at the Alexandria National Museum, as well as those in the Kom Ushim stores in Fayum.

According to Sonbol, the second phase of the project will begin shortly and will involve the restoration of several more mummies.

He explained that during the recently completed work, the team noted that two mummies have “screaming” faces, a term used to describe mummies with open mouths.

The hands of a third mummy were bound with rope.

“This is not the typical form of mummification, but it indicates that those people were cursed by the god or the priests during their lifetime,” Sonbol said.

He continued that the project offers a great opportunity for restorers to learn more about the death and life of those mummified people.

The ancient Egyptian mummy of a young girl is first with a bandaged wound

The ancient Egyptian mummy of a young girl is first with a bandaged wound

Scientists found the first recorded example of a bandaged wound on a mummified body, which could offer more insight into ancient medical practices. The finding was published in the International Journal of Paleopathology, a peer-reviewed journal.

Scientists have found the first example of a bandaged wound on a mummified body from Ancient Egypt, pictured here next to a scan showing the bandage.

The researchers said they discovered the bandages on the remains of a young girl, aged no more than four years, who died about 2,000 years ago. The dressing wrapped a wound that showed signs of infection, the study said.

“It gives us clues about how they [ancient Egyptians] treated such infections or abscesses during their lifetime,” Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummy Studies in Bolzona, Italy, and an author of the study, told Insider.

The mummy was thought to be taken from the “Tomb of Aline” in the Faiyum Oasis, located southwest of Cairo, the study said.

Location of the Faiyum Oasis, Egypt.

The finding had come as a surprise to the scientists, who didn’t set out looking for the bandages.

“It was really exciting because we didn’t expect it,” Zink said. “It was never described before.”

A rare glimpse into medical history

Ancient Egyptians are thought to have had an adept understanding of medical practices.

They wouldn’t have known things we would now take for granted, like how a heart functions, how microbes cause infection, or how rogue cells cause cancer — but they did have a fairly good idea of how to treat symptoms of disease, Zink said.

“We know from other evidence, like papyrus, that they had a good experience of treating wounds and injuries,” said Zink.

So it’s surprising that these types of bandages have never been seen in a mummy before, he said.

In this case, Zink said, the bandages were spotted while the scientists carried out routine CT scans of mummies, as can be seen in the scans below and annotated with the full-lined arrow.

The wound appeared to have been infected when she died, as the scans showed signs of “pus,” Zink said. These signs of infection are marked by the dotted arrows in the scans below.

A side view of the mummy’s foot is seen in a CT scan.
A cross-section of the mummy’s legs is shown.

“It’s very likely that they applied some specific herbs or ointment to treat the inflammation of this area,” which further analysis could identify, Zink said.

Zink said he wanted to get samples from the area to understand what caused the infection and how people at the time treated it.

But that could entail unwrapping the mummy, which Zink said he was reluctant to do. Another option would be to collect a sample using a biopsy needle, he said.

The ancient Egyptian mummy of a young girl is first with a bandaged wound
The mummy of the child, seen with a portrait of the girl on its front and gilded buttons decorating the wrappings.

The mystery of the missing bandages unfurls

Zink says there was no clear explanation why, in this particular case, the bandages were left in place.

“The question is whether it was just left in place and it remained despite the embalming process or whether they placed it,” he said, referring to the embalmers.

Wound dressings typically did not survive the mummification process. But it’s possible the embalmers added the bandage on the body after the girl’s death.

Ancient Egyptians believed that the mummified body should be as perfect as possible for life after death, Zink said: “Maybe they tried somehow to continue the healing process for the afterlife.”

As to why other such examples of bandaging had not been spotted before, it is plausible that scientists had simply failed to spot them until now, or mistaken them for other mummy wrappings. Zink now hopes that more examples of mummy wrappings can be uncovered.

“There are always some surprises when we study mummies. I have now studied, I don’t know how many mummies in my scientific career, but there’s always something new,” he said.