Category Archives: EUROPE

The skeleton of this women was buried with a treasure of jewels

The skeleton of this women was buried with a treasure of jewels

Before Mount Vesuvius erupted on August 24, in the year 79, according to most historians, Herculaneum had a population of about 5,000.

Because the entire town has not yet been excavated, that is a rough guess based on the size of the area where it sits and the size of the amphitheater. Excavations turned up practically nobodies until 1982 when the waterfront area was excavated.

Far from all the skeletons found in the city were found in the boathouses, shown in this photo. Others were found along the beach which would have been in the foreground.

Apparently the residents did what I would have done. If the volcano is erupting inland, I would run for the ocean and attempt to flee by boat.

There is no way of telling how many people successfully did this, but we can determine how many people did not make it. We didn’t get to tour the boathouses but from internet searches, it appears that many of the skeletons are still there (note in the first photo that some of the boathouses have tarps over their entrance).

One of the skeletons found on the beach included one that has been dubbed The Ring Lady. As can be seen in this photo, she had an emerald and a ruby ring on her fingers when she collapsed on the beach.

A female skeleton of one of the inhabitants of Herculaneum, still wearing two rings on the left index finger, was found buried during an archaeological excavation.

In addition, she had a purse that contained two gold bracelets with serpentine heads that met as well as two gold earrings that probably held pearls. These were likely her prized possessions that she was attempting to take with her.

Here is a close-up of the rings. Examination of her body shows that she was a tall 45-year-old woman in good health with good teeth but a bit of gum disease. She was likely knocked down by the pyroclastic blast and died immediately.

Another skeleton found on the beach was of a Roman soldier who collapsed, his fists clutching the sand. Every bone in his body except his inner ear was broken suggesting that he too was hit forcefully by the surge and knocked to the ground.

He was about 37 years old, wore a sword and bone-handled dagger by his side, and had a bag of carpenter’s tool on his back. Soldiers often worked in that trade. Fifteen silver coins and three gold coins were found near him, likely originally held in a cloth moneybag.

Anthropologist Sara Bisel examined the body and found that he had probably been a warrior for quite some time.

He was missing three front teeth (missing six teeth in total), had a mark on this thighbone where a prior wound had healed and had thick well-developed thighbones likely from frequent bareback horse riding as was common among soldiers of the era.

Roman soldier skeletons are a very rare find since the Romans usually cremated their dead.

14,000-Year-Old Ancestor of Native Americans Identified in Russia

14,000-Year-Old Ancestor of Native Americans Identified in Russia

Since the Upper Paleolithic, modern humans have lived near Baikal Lake, and left a rich archeological record behind.

Russian archaeologists in 1976 excavating the Ust’-Kyakhta-3 site on the banks of the Selenga River

The region’s ancient genomes also uncovered multiple genetic turnovers and admixture events, indicating that the transition from the Neolithic to the Bronze Age was facilitated by human mobility and complex cultural interactions. The nature and timing of these interactions, however, remains largely unknown.

The reports of 19 newly sequenced human genomes, including one of the oldest ones recorded by the area of Lake Baikal, are presently in a new study published in the journal Cell.

Led by the Department of Archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, the study illuminates the population history of the region, revealing deep connections with the First Peoples of the Americas, dating as far back as the Upper Paleolithic period, as well as connectivity across Eurasia during the Early Bronze Age.

The deepest link between peoples

“This study reveals the deepest link between Upper Paleolithic Siberians and First Americans,” says He Yu, the first author of the study. “We believe this could shed light on future studies about Native American population history.”

Past studies have indicated a connection between Siberian and American populations, but a 14,000-year-old individual analyzed in this study is the oldest to carry the mixed ancestry present in Native Americans.

Using an extremely fragmented tooth excavated in 1976 at the Ust-Kyahta-3 site, researchers generated a shotgun-sequenced genome enabled by cutting edge techniques in molecular biology.

A fragmented tooth belonging to a close cousin of today’s Native Americans

This individual from southern Siberia, along with a younger Mesolithic one from northeastern Siberia, shares the same genetic mixture of Ancient North Eurasian (ANE) and Northeast Asian (NEA) ancestry found in Native Americans and suggests that the ancestry which later gave rise to Native Americans in North- and South America was much more widely distributed than previously assumed.

Evidence suggests that this population experienced frequent genetic contacts with NEA populations, resulting in varying admixture proportions across time and space.

“The Upper Paleolithic genome will provide a legacy to study human genetic history in the future,” says Cosimo Posth, a senior author of the paper. Further genetic evidence from Upper Paleolithic Siberian groups is necessary to determine when and where the ancestral gene pool of Native Americans came together.

A web of prehistoric connections

In addition to this transcontinental connection, the study presents connectivity within Eurasia as evidenced in both human and pathogen genomes as well as stable isotope analysis.

Combining these lines of evidence, the researchers were able to produce a detailed description of the population history in the Lake Baikal region.

The presence of Eastern European steppe-related ancestry is evidence of contact between southern Siberian and western Eurasian steppe populations in the preamble to the Early Bronze Age, an era characterized by increasing social and technological complexity. The surprising presence of Yersinia pestis, the plague-causing pathogen, points to further wide-ranging contacts.

Recent view on the Selenga River close to the archeological site Ust-Kyakhta-3

Although spreading of Y. pestis was postulated to be facilitated by migrations from the steppe, the two individuals here identified with the pathogen were genetically northeastern Asian-like. Isotope analysis of one of the infected individuals revealed a non-local signal, suggesting origins outside the region of discovery.

In addition, the strains of Y. pestis the pair carried is most closely related to a contemporaneous strain identified in an individual from the Baltic region of northeastern Europe, further supporting the high mobility of those Bronze age pathogens and likely also people.

“This easternmost appearance of ancient Y. pestis strains is likely suggestive of long-range mobility during the Bronze Age,” says Maria Spyrou, one of the study’s co-authors.

“In the future, with the generation of additional data we hope to delineate the spreading patterns of plague in more detail,” concludes Johannes Krause, senior author of the study.   

The ancient buried city of Akrotiri, Santorini: Greece Pompeii

The ancient buried city of Akrotiri, Santorini: Greece Pompeii

The ruins of a Bronze Age sophisticated settlement that thrived centuries before being eradicated by a major volcanic eruption are tucked away from the southern tip of Santorini.

The remains of the Minoan town of Akrotiri are remarkably well preserved, like the Roman ruins of Pompei. In the middle of the second millennium BC, the settlement erupted, when Thera sat on a volcano, and its people fled.

The volcanic matter enveloped the entire island of Santorini and the town itself, preserving the buildings and their contents, and visitors can still identify houses and pots. 

The archaeological site of Akrotiri.

The settlement of Akrotiri is one such site. Unlike Pompeii, however, no literary evidence for the destruction of Akrotiri is available to us. As a matter of fact, the city was only discovered by an archaeological excavation conducted in 1967.

Akrotiri was a Bronze Age settlement located on the south west of the island of Santorini (Thera) in the Greek Cyclades. This settlement is believed to be associated with the Minoan civilization, located on the nearby island of Crete, due to the discovery of the inscriptions in Linear A script, as well as similarities in artifacts and fresco styles.

The earliest evidence for human habitation of Akrotiri can be traced back as early as the 5 th millennium B.C., when it was a small fishing and farming village. By the end of the 3 rd millennia, this community developed and expanded significantly.

One factor for Akrotiri’s growth may be the trade relations it established with other cultures in the Aegean, as evidenced in fragments of foreign pottery at the site. Akrotiri’s strategic position between Cyprus and Minoan Crete also meant that it was situated on the copper trade route, thus allowing them to become an important center for processing copper, as proven by the discovery of molds and crucibles there.    

Remarkably preserved artifacts are revealed from the ruins of ancient Akrotiri, Greece.

Akrotiri’s prosperity continued for about another 500 years. Paved streets, an extensive drainage system, the production of high-quality pottery, and further craft specialization all point to the level of sophistication achieved by the settlement. This all came to an end, however, by the middle of the 2 nd century B.C. with the volcanic eruption of Thera. Although the powerful eruption destroyed Akrotiri, it also managed to preserve the city, very much like that done by Vesuvius to Pompeii.

The volcanic ash has preserved much of Akrotiri’s frescoes, which can be found in the interior walls of almost all the houses that have been excavated in Akrotiri. This may be an indication that it was not only the elites who had these works of art.

The frescoes contain a wide range of subjects, including religious processions, flowers, everyday life in Akrotiri, and exotic animals. In addition, the volcanic dust also preserved negatives of disintegrated wooden objects, such as offering tables, beds, and chairs.

This allowed archaeologists to produce plaster casts of these objects by pouring liquid Plaster of Paris into the hollows left behind by the objects. One striking difference between Akrotiri and Pompeii is that there were no uninterred bodies from in the former. In other words, the inhabitants of Akrotiri were perhaps more fortunate than those of Pompeii and were evacuated before the volcanic dust reached the site.

Plaster castings of the corpses of a group of human victims of the 79 AD eruption of the Vesuvius, found in the so-called “Garden of the fugitives” in Pompeii. No such remains exist at Akrotiri, indicating the people had time to evacuate.
‘Spring flowers and swallows’ detailed in a delicate Akrotiri fresco

In 2016, Russian cybersecurity expert Eugene Kaspersky gave archaeologists interested in excavating Akrotiri a huge economic boost by funding three major projects at the ancient site. This is how he explained his reason for financial support:

“What I find magical about Akrotiri and the decades-long, ongoing archaeological research is the sense of an unpredictable past. The fact that following a volcano eruption 3,500 years ago, we modern people are trying to comprehend how these people lived back then. And I believe that we have plenty to discover. Do you think that 3,500 years from now anyone will be interested in finding out how we lived?”

The eruption of Thera also had an impact on other civilizations. The nearby Minoan civilization, for instance, faced a crisis due to the volcanic eruption. This is debatable, however, as some have speculated that the crisis was caused by natural disasters occurring prior to the eruption of Thera.

The short term climate change caused by volcanic eruption is also believed to have disrupted the ancient Egyptian civilization. The lack of Egyptian records regarding the eruption may be attributed to the general disorder in Egypt during the Second Intermediate Period.

Nevertheless, the available records speak of heavy rainstorms occurring in the land, which is an unusual phenomenon. These storms may also be interpreted metaphorically as representing the elements of chaos that needed to be subdued by the Pharaoh.

Some researchers have even claimed that the effects of the volcanic eruption were felt as far away as China. This is based on records detailing the collapse of the Xia Dynasty at the end of the 17 th century B.C., and the accompanying meteorological phenomena. Finally, the Greek myth of the Titanomachy in Hesiod’s Theogony may have been inspired by this volcanic eruption, whilst it has also been speculated that Akrotiri was the basis of Plato’s myth of Atlantis.

Thus, Akrotiri and the eruption of Thera serve to show that even in ancient times, a catastrophe in one part of the world can have repercussions on a global scale, something that we are more used to in the better-connected world of today.

archaeologists discover almost complete 300,000-year-old elephant skeleton

Archaeologists discover almost complete 300,000-year-old elephant skeleton

300,000 years ago in Lower Saxony elephants spread around Schoningen. In recent years there were the remains of at least ten elephants at Palaeolithic sites situated on the edges of the former opencast lignite mine.

Eurasian straight-tusked elephant died by the shores of a lake in Schoningen, Lower Saxony

In cooperation with the National Saxony State Office for Heritage, archeologists at the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tubingen have collected for the first time in Schoningen an almost complete skeleton of the Eurasian straight-tusked elephant (Palaeoloxodon Antiquus).

The species has died in what had been the western shore of the lake — what exactly happened and what the biotope surrounding the area was like 300,000 years ago is now being carefully reconstructed by the team. The preliminary study will be published in Archaologie in Deutschland and will be first presented at a press conference in Schoningen on Tuesday the 19th of May.

“The former open-cast mine in Schoningen is the first-rate archive of climate change, as stated by Bjorn Thumler, Lower Saxony’s Science Minister: This must be made even clearer in the future. This is a place where we can trace how humankind went from being a companion of nature to a designer of culture.”

Head of the excavation, Jordi Serangeli, wipes sediment away from the elephant’s foot

The elephant skeleton lies on the 300,000 years old lakeshore in water-saturated sediments. Like most of the finds at Schoningen, it is extraordinarily well preserved as Jordi Serangeli, head of the excavation in Schoningen explains. “We found both 2.3-meter-long tusks, the complete lower jaw, numerous vertebrae and ribs as well as large bones belonging to three of the legs and even all five delicate hyoid bones.”

The elephant is an older female with worn teeth, as archaeozoologist, Ivo Verheijen explains. “The animal had a shoulder height of about 3.2 meters and weighed about 6.8 tonnes—it was, therefore, larger than today’s African elephant cows.”

Pictured above is a composite photograph of the find. Archaeologists suggested the elephant had died due to old age, although they didn’t rule out human hunting

It most probably died of old age and not as a result of human hunting. “Elephants often remain near and in the water when they are sick or old,” says Verheijen. “Numerous bite marks on the recovered bones show that carnivores visited the carcass.” 

However, the hominins of that time would have profited from the elephant too; the team found 30 small flint flakes and two long bones which were used as tools for knapping among the elephant bones. Barbara Rodriguez Alvarez was able to find micro flakes embedded in these two bones, which proves that the resharpening of stone artifacts took place near to the elephant remains. She also refits two small flakes, this confirms that flint knapping took place at the spot where the elephant skeleton was found.

“The Stone Age hunters probably cut meat, tendons and fat from the carcass,” says Serangeli. Elephants that die may have been a diverse and relatively common source of food and resources for Homo heidelbergensis. Serangeli says that according to current data, although the Palaeolithic hominins were accomplished hunters, there was no compelling reason for them to put themselves in danger by hunting adult elephants. Straight-tusked elephants were a part of their environment, and the hominins knew that they frequently died on the lakeshore.

Several archaeological sites in the world have yielded bones of elephants and stone artifacts, e.g. Lehringen in Lower Saxony, Bilzingsleben in Thuringia, Grobern in Saxony-Anhalt, Benot Ya’aqov in Israel, Aridos 1 and 2 as well as Torralba and Ambrona in Spain, Casal dei Pazzi in Rome, Cimitero di Atella, Poggetti Vecchi in Italy and Ebbsfleet in England. Some of these sites have been interpreted as examples of elephant hunts in the Lower or Middle Palaeolithic. 

Reconstruction of the Schöningen lakeshore as the humans discovered the carcass of the straight-tusked elephant.

“With the new find from Schoningen we do not seek to rule out that extremely dangerous elephant hunts may have taken place, but the evidence often leaves us in some doubt. To quote Charles Darwin: ‘It is not the strongest that survives, but the one who can adapt best’. According to this, the adaptability of humans was the decisive factor for their evolutionary success and not the size of their prey.”

The fact that there were numerous elephants around the Schoningen lake is proven by footprints left behind and documented approximately 100 meters from the elephant excavation site. Flavio Altamura from Sapienza University of Rome who analysed the tracks, tells us that this is the first find of its kind in Germany.

“A small herd of adults and younger animals must have passed through. The heavy animals were walking parallel to the lakeshore. Their feet sank into the mud, leaving behind circular tracks with a maximum diameter of about 60 centimeters.”

The Schoningen sites have already provided a great deal of information about plants, animals and human existence 300,000 years ago during the Reinsdorf interglacial. The climate at that time was comparable to that of today, but the landscape was much richer in wildlife.

About 20 large mammal species lived around the lake in Schoningen at that time, including not only elephants but also lions, bears, sabre-toothed cats, rhinoceroses, wild horses, deer and large bovids. “The wealth of wildlife was similar to that of modern Africa,” says Serangeli.

The discoveries in Schoningen include some of the oldest fossil finds of an auroch in Europe, of a water buffalo, and three saber-toothed cats. In Schoningen archaeologists also recovered some of the world’s oldest and best-preserved hunting weapons: ten wooden spears and at least one throwing stick.

Stone artifacts and bone tools complete the overall picture of the technology of the time. “The lakeshore sediments of Schoningen offer unique preservation and frequently provide us with detailed and important insights into the culture of Homo heidelbergensis,” says Nicholas Conard, head of the Schoningen research project.

Further detailed analyses of the environmental and climatic conditions at the time of the elephant’s death are taking place at the Technische Universitat Braunschweig, the University of Luneburg, and the University of Leiden (The Netherlands). The excavations in Schoningen are financed by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony.