Category Archives: EUROPE

Up to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

Up to 500 guillotine victims found in walls of French monument

The bodies of nearly 500 people, including Maximilien Robespierre, an architect of the reign of terror, guillotined during the French Revolution have been believed to have buried in Paris ‘ catacombs.

Yet recent research indicates that these individuals may have been laid to rest elsewhere: namely, in the walls of Chapelle Expiatoire, a 19th-century chapel in the 8th arrondissement of Paris, reports Eric Le Mitouard for Le Parisien.

Many of the deceased were aristocrats publicly beheaded between 1793 and 1794 in the Place de la Révolution, a huge public square now known as the Place de la Concorde.

Madame du Barry, mistress of Louis XV, and Olympe de Gouges, an influential early feminist writer and social reformer, are among those thought to be interred at the mass burial site.

In 2018, Chapelle Expiatoire’s administrator, Aymeric Peniguet de Stoutz, noticed that the walls in the lower chapel’s columns were strangely uneven, as though there were extra spaces between them.

When archaeologist Philippe Charlier investigated the discrepancy by inserting a tiny camera through the stones in the walls, he discovered four large chests containing bones, reports Kim Willsher for the Guardian.

More than 500 people guillotined during the French Revolution may have been buried in the walls of this 19th-century chapel.

Further research on the findings was delayed, in part due to the Yellow Vest protests that erupted in Paris that year. Now, however, Peniguet de Stoutz tells Le Parisien that he has asked the regional directorate of cultural affairs to conduct excavations at the site beginning in 2021.

“I cried when the forensic pathologist assured me he had seen human phalange [feet and hand] bones in the photographs,” the administrator says, per a translation by the Guardian.

Louis XVIII built the Chapelle Expiatoire on the site of the Madeleine Cemetery where his brother Louis XVI and sister-in-law Marie Antoinette were once buried.

In his report, Charlier noted that the lower chapel contained four wooden ossuaries, or containers used to hold human remains.

“There is earth mixed with fragments of bones,” he wrote, as quoted by the Guardian.

Chapelle Expiatoire is located around a ten-minute walk from the Place de la Révolution. It was constructed on top of the former Madeleine Cemetery, which served as one of four officially designated burial sites for guillotine victims through 1794.

When Louis XVIII became king in 1814, he ordered the remains of his brother Louis XVI and sister-in-law Marie Antoinette removed from the Madeleine Cemetery and interred in the Saint-Denis Basilica, according to David Chazan of the Telegraph.

The French monarch commissioned the Chapelle Expiatoire’s construction atop of the burial site in memory of the couple.

Previously, historians thought that the remains of other notable victims of the French Revolution were moved from the Madeleine Cemetery to another site and, finally, to the catacombs of Paris, where a plaque commemorates their burial. If confirmed, the newly detailed discovery would refute that narrative.

Peniguet de Stoutz cites evidence that Louis XVIII did not want the aristocrats’ bodies to be moved out of the building. In a letter, the king reportedly ordered that “no earth saturated with victims [of the revolution] be moved from the place for the building of the work.”

Speaking with Le Parisien, the chapel administrator says, “Until now, the chapel was thought to be solely a monument in memory of the royal family. But we’ve just discovered that it is also a necropolis of the revolution.”

The stunning 3D face of ‘jawless’ Stone Age man whose head was found on a SPIKE revealed

The stunning 3D face of ‘jawless’ Stone Age man whose head was found on a SPIKE revealed

It is likely that the world never understands why the head of the man from Stone Age is on a stake and tossed into an underwater grave, but now it will see his face. 

The technology of 3D face reconstruction was used by a forensic artist to put together the features on an 8,000-year-old jawless skull to depict one individual with a pointy nose, a broad stir, and a long beard. The facial muscles and skin were formed using different factors such as the man’s weight, height, and ethnicity.

The skull was one of at least 12, including an infant, found in what was once a prehistoric lake in Sweden and experts believe the group may have been murdered during an ancient ritual.

In a note, Nilsson said to ‘ I rebuilt the face with a forensic reconstruction technique based on the expected depth of tissue of several anatomic landmarks of the skull alongside the rebuilding of the facial muscles. ‘

‘There are also reliable techniques to reconstruct specific parts of the face: the nose, the eyes and the mouth, from information and traces on the skull.’

The original findings, from researchers at Stockholm University and Sweden’s Cultural Heritage Foundation (CHF) in 2018, is the first evidence that Stone Age hunter-gatherers displayed heads on wooden spikes.

‘Here, we have an example of a very complex ritual, which is very structured,’ lead researcher Dr Fredrik Hallgren, from CHF, told Daily Mail.

‘Even though we can’t decipher the meaning of the ritual, we can still appreciate the complexity of it, of these prehistoric hunter-gatherers.’

Why this man, and the others, met such a horrific death may stay a mystery, but Oscar Nilsson, a Sweden-based forensic artist, has shown us what the ancient victim looked like.

The jawless skull (pictured) was one of at least 12, including an infant, found in what was once a prehistoric lake in Sweden and experts believe the group may have been murdered during an ancient ritual.

‘The Stone Age, and the Mesolithic period, is absolutely a favorite period for me. However these individuals from the Mesolithic genetically are so alike us today, the culture, the way they saw their world yet are so different from our understanding, beliefs, and values. So alike, but so distant,’ explained Nilsson. 

‘Moreover, the finding from Motala is so special: the skulls of 10 individuals were placed on wooden poles, just above the ancient lakes´surface.

‘Furthermore, they all had several healed traumas from violence. Stone Age was violent, but this is something else, one can almost suspect that the violence was ritual. Unusually frequent anyway.’ 

Also, his DNA was so well preserved that it was possible to get information on the colors of hair, eyes, and skin. Nilsson took a computer tomography scan of the skull and printed a 3D replica in vinyl plastic, Daily Mail reported.

Because the jaw was missing from the skull, he had to take a measurement of where it once was in order to reconstruct it. Although there is no evidence of what the man wore, Nilsson made choices on the wardrobe and haircut based on items found in the grave.

Archaeologists uncovered remains from a range of animals including brown bears, wild boars, red deer, moose, and roe deer.  The man’s hair was reconstructed to be short with a longer portion pulled back in a small ponytail.

Meanwhile, the white chalk decorating the man’s chest is a piece of artistic license, based on the fact that many Indigenous groups today use chalk for body paint, Nilsson said. 

‘It’s a reminder we cannot understand their aesthetic taste, just observe it.’ We have no reason to believe these people were less interested in their looks, and to express their individuality than we are today.’

Researchers uncovered the man’s skull, along with the 12 others, in 2018. Seven of the adults likely died in agony and had suffered serious trauma to their head before they died, which researchers suggest were the result of non-lethal, violent blows.

These may have been the result of interpersonal violence, forced abduction, warfare, and aids of socially-sanctioned violence between group members. The bodies were placed atop a densely packed layer of large stones in what would have been an elaborate underwater burial between 7,500 and 8,500 years ago.

Only one of the bodies still had a jawbone when it was buried, which experts suggest were removed as part of the burial ritual.

16th-Century Cemetery in Poland Yields Children’s Remains

Mass 16th-century grave reveals grim remains of over 100 children with coins in their mouths

In Southeast Poland the bodies of more than 100 children were found, some with coins in their mouths. It verified the local legends of the child’s graveyard.

Archeologists revealed a total of 115 bodies following the discovery of human bones by construction workers during work on the S19 road in Jeżowe, Nizko in Podkarpackie province.

As reported, the National Roads and Motorways Directorate-General said: ‘ Around 70 – 80% of all burial sites, based on archeological discoveries to date, are infants.

The remains were uncovered by archaeologists after construction workers discovered human bones during roadworks.

When archaeologists looked more closely at the bodies they were amazed to find some of them had coins placed in their mouths.

Katarzyna Oleszek, an archaeologist working at the site, said: “It’s certainly a sign of their beliefs. The coins are called obols of the dead or Charon’s obol. It is an old, pre-Christian tradition. But it’s been cultivated for a long time, even as late as the nineteenth century, it was practiced by Pope Pius IX.”

Charon’s obol is a term for a coin placed in the mouth of a dead person before burial. The tradition goes back to ancient Greece and Rome. The coin was a payment or bribe for Charon, the ferryman who conveyed souls across the river that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead.

The bodies found in Jeżowe do not date that far back, however. The coins found were minted in the time of Sigismund III Vasa, who was the king of Poland from 1587 to 1632. Also found were coins known as boratynki, which date from the reign of John II Casimir from 1648 to 1668.

The find confirms archaeologists’ theories and the speculations of locals that children were buried in a cemetery in an area known as the Church Mountains.

Apart from the coins, no other items were found in the graves. There were no buttons, nails, or coffin handles, which Oleszek says suggests that the community that buried them was very poor.

The area is now forested and there are no grave markers. Only a small chapel offers any sign of the former church.

Oleszek said: “The arrangement of the skeletons, the state of their preservation, shows that the discovery is a Catholic church cemetery, which was certainly taken care of. No grave is damaged by another. The inhabitants knew exactly where they had graves and took care of them.”

Oleszek said, “We know from sources that during a visit of the bishops of Kraków here in Jeżowe 1604 there was already a large parish church, with a garden, a rectory, a school, and a cemetery. It probably existed already since 1590.”

The bodies were found in sandy ground and were arranged on an east-west axis, all with heads to the west on their backs with the hands at their sides. The graves are most likely those from the children’s section of the graveyard.

One grave contains the bodies of four children. They lay in close formation but not on top of each other. All their heads are resting to one side in the same direction. The fourth child, on the edge of the group, is much younger than the others. 

“The arrangement of the skeletons, the state of their preservation, shows that the discovery is a Catholic church cemetery, which was certainly taken care of. No grave is damaged by another. The inhabitants knew exactly where they had graves and took care of them,” said Oleszek.

The bodies will be exhumed and after being studied by anthropologists they will be passed to the local parish church and buried again in the local cemetery.

Most of the bodies were buried in individual graves and the original order and layout of the graves will be preserved. The group of four children will again be buried together. 

The bodies were discovered during work on a section of the S19 motorway, which is part of the Via Carpatia project that will link the Baltic states with south-eastern Europe.

In Poland, the route runs through Podlasie, Mazovia, Lublin, and Podkarpacie and is set to be over 700 km long.

Alaskan volcano eruption linked to fall of Roman Republic: Study

Alaskan volcano eruption linked to fall of Roman Republic: Study

The proof of an unprecedented period of extreme cold in ancient Rome has come to light through a multinational team of scientists and historians: an unlikely cause of the mass explosion of the Alaska Okmok volcano on the opposite side of the world.

Written sources identify a period of exceptionally cold weather, crop failures, drought, plague and anarchy in the Mediterranean region around the time of Julius Caesar’s death (44 BCE)—impacts that eventually led to the downfall of the Roman Republic and the Ptolemaic Kingdom of Egypt.

Historians have long suspected a volcano to be the cause, but have been unable to pinpoint where or when such an eruption had occurred, or how severe it was.

Cicero’s death in 42 B.C.E. marks the end of the Roman Republic. Did a volcano hasten its fall?

In a new study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), a research team led by Joe McConnell, Ph.D. of the Desert Research Institute in Reno, Nev. uses an analysis of tephra (volcanic ash) found in Arctic ice cores to link the period of unexplained extreme climate in the Mediterranean with the caldera-forming eruption of Alaska’s Okmok volcano in 43 BCE.

“To find evidence that a volcano on the other side of the earth erupted and effectively contributed to the demise of the Romans and the Egyptians and the rise of the Roman Empire is fascinating,” McConnell said. “It certainly shows how interconnected the world was even 2,000 years ago.”

Alaska’s Umnak Island in the Aleutians showing the huge, 10-km wide caldera (upper right) largely created by the 43 BCE Okmok II eruption at the dawn of the Roman Empire.

The discovery was initially made last year in DRI’s Ice Core Laboratory, when McConnell and Swiss researcher Michael Sigl, Ph.D. from the Oeschger Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of Bern happened upon an unusually well-preserved layer of tephra in an ice core sample and decided to investigate.

New measurements were made on ice cores from Greenland and Russia, some of which were drilled in the 1990s and archived in the U.S., Denmark, and Germany.

Using these and earlier measurements, they were able to clearly delineate two distinct eruptions – a powerful but short-lived, relatively localized event in early 45 BCE, and a much larger and more widespread event in early 43 BCE with volcanic fallout that lasted more than two years in all the ice core records.

The researchers then conducted a geochemical analysis of the tephra samples from the second eruption found in the ice, matching the tiny shards with those of the Okmok II eruption in Alaska – one of the largest eruptions of the past 2,500 years.

“The tephra match doesn’t get any better,” said tephra specialist Gill Plunkett, Ph.D. from Queen’s University Belfast. “We compared the chemical fingerprint of the tephra found in the ice with tephra from volcanoes thought to have erupted about that time and it was very clear that the source of the 43 BCE fallout in the ice was the Okmok II eruption.”

Detailed records of past explosive volcanic eruptions are archived in the Greenland ice sheet and accessed through deep-drilling operations.

Working with colleagues from the U.K., Switzerland, Ireland, Germany, Denmark, Alaska, and Yale University in Connecticut, the team of historians and scientists gathered supporting evidence from around the globe, including tree-ring-based climate records from Scandinavia, Austria, and California are the White Mountains and climate records from a speleothem (cave formations) from Shihua Cave in northeast China.

They then used Earth system modeling to develop a more complete understanding of the timing and magnitude of volcanism during this period and its effects on climate and history.

According to their findings, the two years following the Okmok II eruption were some of the coldest in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 2,500 years, and the decade that followed was the fourth coldest. Climate models suggest that seasonally averaged temperatures may have been as much as 7oC (13oF) below normal during the summer and autumn that followed the 43 BCE eruption of Okmok, with summer precipitation of 50 to 120 percent above normal throughout Southern Europe, and autumn precipitation reaching as high as 400 percent of normal.

“In the Mediterranean region, these wet and extremely cold conditions during the agriculturally important spring through autumn seasons probably reduced crop yields and compounded supply problems during the ongoing political upheavals of the period,” said classical archaeologist Andrew Wilson, D.Phil. of the University of Oxford. “These findings lend credibility to reports of cold, famine, food shortage, and disease described by ancient sources.”

“Particularly striking was the severity of the Nile flood failure at the time of the Okmok eruption, and the famine and disease that was reported in Egyptian sources,” added Yale University historian Joe Manning, Ph.D.  “The climate effects were a severe shock to an already stressed society at a pivotal moment in history.”

Timeline showing European summer temperatures and volcanic sulphur and ash levels in relation to the Okmok II Eruption and significant historic events of the Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Kingdom from 59 to 20 BCE.

Volcanic activity also helps to explain certain unusual atmospheric phenomena that were described by ancient Mediterranean sources around the time of Caesar’s assassination and interpreted as signs or omens – things like solar halos, the sun darkening in the sky, or three suns appearing in the sky (a phenomenon now known as a parahelia, or ‘sun dog’). However, many of these observations took place prior to the eruption of Okmok II in 43 BCE, and are likely related to a smaller eruption of Mt. Etna in 44 BCE.

Although the study authors acknowledge that many different factors contributed to the fall of the Roman Republic and Ptolemaic Kingdom, they believe that the climate effects of the Okmok II eruption played an undeniably large role – and that their discovery helps to fill a knowledge gap about this period of history that has long puzzled archaeologists and ancient historians.

“People have been speculating about this for many years, so it’s exciting to be able to provide some answers,” McConnell said.