Authorities have positively identified the remains of an Army Air Forces pilot from Ohio who died when his plane was shot down over Germany during World War II, the Defense Department announced Thursday.
On May 29, 1944, 1st Lt. Carl Nesbitt was the pilot of a B-17G Flying Fortress bomber during a huge bombing mission over Leipzig, Germany, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.
German fighters attacked the bomber’s formation roughly 28 miles northeast of Leipzig, and the plane was shot down.
Six of the 10 crew members were able to escape the plane before it crashed near Horst, while Nesbitt and the rest were killed. Their bodies were believed to have been buried in a local cemetery and, after the war ended, there was no evidence of Nesbitt being a prisoner of war or having survived.
Nesbitt, 23, of Lima, Ohio, was assigned to the 569th Bombardment Squadron, 390th Bombardment Group (Heavy), 13th Bombardment Wing, 3rd Air Division, 8th Air Force.
The American Graves Registration Command, which worked to recover fallen service members in Europe after the war, found the remains of a crew member buried in a cemetery in Horst during a search in September 1946.
But after 1950, worsening diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union, which then controlled that part of Germany, prevented the AGRC from investigating further, and Nesbitt was declared nonrecoverable on April 21, 1953.
In July 2012, an investigation team from the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a DPAA predecessor, found the crash site and recovered evidence of a B-17 crash. In 2015, the landowner allowed DPAA to excavate, and the work was done during the summer 2019.
Crews recovered possible material evidence and possible remains, which were eventually sent to a lab at Offutt Air Force Base, Nebraska.
Scientists used dental and anthropological analysis, mitochondrial DNA analysis and circumstantial and material evidence to identify Nesbitt’s remains. He will be buried May 15 in Annville, Pennsylvania.
Nesbitt was accounted for last September, DPAA officials said, but his family only recently received their full briefing on the case.
3,000-year-old wishing well uncovered in Germany. Take a look at the items left inside
Whether it’s Rome’s iconic Trevi Fountain or a water feature at the nearby mall, wish-filled waterworks are common — but perhaps not a new phenomenon.
Archaeologists in Germering unearthed a 3,000-year-old wooden wishing well, the Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection said in a Dec. 20 news release. Unlike today’s coin-filled fountains, this well was filled with over 100 well-preserved artifacts.
At the bottom of the 16-foot well, archaeologists found a variety of items that appeared intentionally placed.
Considering the depth of the well, the artifacts may have been ritual offerings or religious sacrifices made during a long drought, archaeologist Marcus Guckenbiehl said in the release.
Over 70 finely crafted clay vessels were unearthed from the well, with photos showing the decorated cups, pots and bowls. Experts noted these ceramics were not everyday items.
The excavation also revealed 26 bronze robe pins at the bottom of the well.
A bracelet, two metal spirals, and four amber beads were all recovered from the well, too.
Additionally, archaeologists found a mounted animal tooth and a wooden scoop inside the well. The number and quality of items indicated the artifacts did not fall into the well accidentally, experts said.
The wishing well is one of over 70 found at the excavation area – but the only well found with relics inside. The findings are extremely rare, archaeologist Jochen Haberstroh said in the release.
Archaeologists are excavating the site before the construction of a letter distribution center.
The wishing well and its trove of artifacts will be studied further to gain more insight into the daily life of settlers 3,000 years ago.
Germering is about 10 miles west of Munich in the southern region of Bavaria.
3000 years old wooden wishing well discovered in Germany
In the town of Germering, in the Germany state of Bavaria, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a well-preserved Bronze Age wooden well filled with ritual deposits.
People may have sunk jewelry and ceramics as offerings in the special water spring, similar to how coins are still thrown into so-called wishing wells today, according to the archaeologists.
The area of today’s town of Germering in Upper Bavaria was a settlement area early on. Numerous finds from prehistory and early history bear witness to this.
Many new ones have been added since the beginning of 2021: In the run-up to construction work, numerous traces of settlements from the Bronze Age to the early Middle Ages were discovered on an excavation area of around seven hectares.
This also includes the remains of wells that were used by people of different eras to supply water. But one of the wells discovered on the site differed significantly from the others, reports the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments (BlfD).
This wooden water point is dated to be more than 3000 years old and, at around five meters (16.4 feet), reached particularly deep into the ground compared to others.
“It is extremely rare for a well to survive more than 3,000 years so well. Its wooden walls have been completely preserved at the bottom and are still partly damp from the groundwater. This also explains the good condition of the finds made from organic materials, which are now being examined more closely. We hope this will provide us with more information about the everyday life of the settlers of the time,” adds Dr. Jochen Haberstroh, a responsible archaeologist at the Bavarian State Office for the Preservation of Monuments.
The team of archaeologists discovered in what was once the base of the fountain: 26 bronze clothing pins, a bracelet, two metal spirals, a mounted animal tooth, amber beads and more than 70 ceramic vessels.
The archaeologists emphasize that this filling makes this well fundamentally different from the others on the excavation site.
These expensive items, which were typically discovered in Middle Bronze Age graves, were not items for everyday use (1800-1200 B.C.). The state they were in when discovered at the bottom of the well suggests they were carefully lowered into the water rather than dropped or thrown.
“Even today, fountains have something magical about them for many people. They drop coins in the hope that their wishes will be granted. We cannot exactly explain what motives our ancestors 3000 years ago made to offer jewelry and other valuable gifts. But it can be assumed that they were intended as sacrifices for a good harvest,” explains Mathias Pfeil from the BlfD.
There may also be a clue in the unusual features of the well: “The depth of this well shows that it was used at a time when the groundwater level had dropped considerably, which indicates a long drought and certainly poor harvest yields.
One can possibly see a reason why the people who lived here at that time sacrificed part of their possessions to their gods in this well,” says Marcus Guckenbiehl, city archaeologist and archivist of Germering.
Archaeologists have been working in advance of construction work for a letter distribution center on the site where the well has now been discovered since the beginning of 2021.
The excavations are among the largest area excavations in Bavaria this year. In the meantime, scientists have documented approximately 13,500 archaeological finds, primarily from the Bronze Age and early Middle Ages.
Some of the discoveries are currently being examined and conserved at the Bavarian State Office for Monument Preservation.
Human ‘bog bones’ discovered at a Stone Age campsite in Germany
Archaeologists in northern Germany have unearthed 10,000-year-old cremated bones at a Stone Age lakeside campsite that was once used for spearing fish and roasting hazelnuts, major food sources for groups of hunter-gatherers at that time.
The site is the earliest known burial in northern Germany, and the discovery marks the first time human remains have been found at Duvensee bog in the Schleswig-Holstein region, where dozens of campsites from the Mesolithic era or Middle Stone Age (roughly between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago) have been found.
Hazelnuts were a big attraction in the area because Mesolithic people could gather and roast them, Harald Lübke, an archaeologist at the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, an agency of the Schleswig-Holstein State Museums Foundation, told Live Science.
The campsites changed over time, the research shows. “In the beginning, we have only small hazelnut roasting hearths, and in the later sites, they become much bigger” — possibly a consequence of hazel trees becoming more widespread as the environment changed.
The burial was found during excavations earlier this month at a site first identified in the late 1980s by archaeologist Klaus Bokelmann and his students, who found worked flints there not during a formal excavation, but during a barbecue at a house on the edge of a nearby village, Lübke said.
“Because the sausages were not ready, Bokelmann told his students that if they found anything [in the bog nearby], then he would give them a bottle of Champagne,” he said. “And when they came back, they had a lot of flint artifacts.”
The burial site is near at least six Mesolithic campsites, which would have been on the shores of the ancient lake at Duvensee, Lübke said.
The first sites investigated by Bokelmann in the 1980s were on islands that would have been near the western shore of the lake, which has completely silted up over the last 8,000 years or so, and formed a peat bog, called a “moor” in Germany.
Archaeologists have discovered mats made of bark for sitting on the damp soil, pieces of worked flint, and the remains of many Mesolithic fireplaces for roasting hazelnuts, but they haven’t unearthed any burials at the island sites.
“Maybe they didn’t bury people on the islands but only at the sites on the lake border, which seem to have had a different kind of function,” Lübke said.
Unlike during the later Mesolithic era, when specific areas were set aside for the burial of the dead, at this time it seemed the dead were buried near where they died, he said. Significantly, the body was cremated before its burial at the Duvensee site, like other burials of approximately the same age near Hammelev in southern Denmark, which is about 120 miles (195 kilometers) to the north.
Only pieces of the largest bones were left after the cremation, and it’s not clear if they were wrapped in hide or bark before they were buried. In any case, “burning the body seems to be a central part of burial rituals at this time,” Lübke said.
As well as roasting hazelnuts and burning bodies — both of which are activities utilizing fire — Mesolithic people used the lakeside campgrounds for spearing fish, according to the discovery of several bone points crafted for that purpose that were found at the site.
Flint fragments also have been found throughout the area, although flint doesn’t occur naturally there, suggesting that Mesolithic people repaired their tools and hunting weapons in this place during the annual hazelnut harvest in the fall, Lübke said.
The Mesolithic sites at Duvensee are about the same age as the Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire in the United Kingdom, and some of the artifacts found there are very similar, Lübke said.
From that time until about 8,000 years ago, the Schleswig-Holstein region and Britain were connected by a now-submerged region called Doggerland, and it’s likely that Mesolithic groups would have shared technologies, he said.
The researchers now plan to carry out further excavations at the site of the Mesolithic burial, to determine what other activities took place there.
Ulf Ickerodt, head of Schleswig-Holstein’s State Archaeology Department, said the latest find at Duvensee is of global significance.
“It speaks to the long tradition of archaeological research in Schleswig-Holstein in the expiration of moors and wetlands,” he told Live Science in an email. “The present find advances itself and the landscape around it to something spectacular.”
But he noted that the preservation of organic finds in the Duvensee region is threatened by climatic changes that could result in heavy rain and flooding, or dry periods.
Both types of changes could threaten archaeological features in the area, so archaeologists are working to recover any finds and to develop strategies for better managing the area in the face of a changing climate, Ickerodt said.
Study Hints at Heavy Toll of Illness in a Medieval German Village
More than one-third of the individuals buried in an early medieval cemetery in Germany suffered from infectious diseases, a new study reveals.
Researchers from Kiel University in Germany examined the DNA and skeletal remains of 70 people who were buried in the community cemetery located in Lauchheim Mittelhofen, a town in what is now present-day Germany.
All of the burials took place sometime during the Merovingian period (between the fifth and eighth centuries A.D.). The team discovered that more than 30% of the deceased had either hepatitis B; parvovirus B19(which can lead to a rash); variola viru (the virus that causes smallpox); or Mycobacterium leprae (one of the two bacteria that causes leprosy. Seven of the infected individuals had a combination of two of the illnesses.
Using DNA extracted from the roots of each individual’s teeth, the researchers determined what illnesses each person had, if any. They also examined the bones of the deceased, although “only some diseases leave clear traces on the bones,” Ben Krause-Kyora, one of the study’s co-authors and a biochemist and archaeologist at Kiel University, told Live Science in an email.
“The roots of the teeth are well supplied with blood during their lifetime, so the pathogens we find in them probably circulated in the bloodstream,” Krause-Kyora said. “It takes a certain amount of time for bone to remodel in response to an infection. This is the case, for example, with leprosy, a relatively slow-progressing disease.”
In terms of hepatitis B, which showed up in DNA rather than the skeletal remains, the illness “tends to lead to liver inflammation and, in rare cases, to liver failure or liver cancer,” Krause-Kyora said. “Parvovirus and also smallpox don’t leave any traces.
In the case of the variant of this ancient smallpox, it’s also unclear how exactly it worked, as it’s already genetically different from the typical smallpox of modern times.”
He added, “We wanted to show which pathogens circulated in an early medieval population and how high the infection rates were.”
One skeleton in particular stood out amongst the burials: a young male who suffered from three pathogens, which included hepatitis B, parvovirus B19 and M. leprae.
“[The boy] is also special because leprosy was not yet widespread north of the Alps in the 7th and 8th centuries,” Krause-Kyora said, “so we can also learn something about the origin of this later pandemic from the genome of the leprosy pathogen M. leprae” and how it evolved over the coming centuries.
So, why were so many people in this small, rural community afflicted by such a variety of illnesses? Researchers concluded that a number of factors could’ve been at play, such as climate change during the Late Antique Little Ice Age (the sixth and seventh centuries A.D.), which led to widespread crop failures and famine, Krause-Kyora said.
“Through climate reconstructions, we know of a general climate deterioration” during this time period, Krause-Kyora said, adding that temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere cooled by about 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) on average.
“This phase of bad climate could also have led to a general weakening of the population through crop failure,” he said. “This increased susceptibility to disease could’ve made it possible for diseases to jump from animals to humans and adapt to them as new hosts.
In addition, the diseases can also spread more widely in new populations. This could be a plausible explanation of how pathogens became established in human populations and then led to large pandemic outbreaks after several centuries in the Middle Ages.”
DNA Offers Clues to Medieval Ashkenazi Jewish Communities
A rare look at the genetics of Ashkenazi Jews who lived in medieval Germany reveals this group had more genetic diversity 600 years ago than today, and reaffirms a recent finding that a “genetic bottleneck” in the Ashkenazi population occurred before the Middle Ages.
Religious laws usually prohibit any such research into the Jewish dead, but scientists worked with the region’s modern Jewish community to find a workaround: They studied the centuries-old DNA in detached teeth unearthed in the burials recovered from excavations in Erfurt, a town in central Germany, according to a study published Nov. 30 in the journal Cell.
Teeth do not have the same religious significance as other human remains, which means they can be scientifically studied. “The teeth have less importance,” Shai Carmi, a population geneticist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, told Live Science. “The rest of a body needs to be reburied and cannot be destroyed; but based on Jewish law, the teeth do not need to be reburied — they are considered external to the body.”
So far, the workaround applies only to the German state of Thuringia, but Carmi is hopeful that the team’s solution will set a precedent for genetic studies of ancient Jewish populations elsewhere.
The Jewish cemetery at Erfurt served its medieval population from the late 11th century until 1454, when Jews were expelled from the city. Erfurt had been home to a thriving Jewish community until that time, although a brutal massacre in 1349 killed more than 100 Jews in the city, possibly because they were incorrectly accused of being responsible for the Black Death.
After the 1454 expulsion, a barn and a granary were built on the site of the Jewish cemetery. Centuries later, in 2013, archaeologists unearthed 47 Jewish graves during an archaeological excavation ahead of the site’s redevelopment into a multistory parking garage, Carmi said.
In 2021, the remains of these individuals were reburied in a 19th-century cemetery used by the local Jewish community, according to the study.
Before the reburial, the researchers obtained ancient DNA from the teeth of 33 people interred in the graves, and the study shows these individuals had very similar genetic makeups to modern Ashkenazi Jews living in Europe and the United States.
Scientists think the ancestors of Ashkenazi Jews migrated in the early medieval period from what’s now Italy to the Rhineland in what’s now Germany, and that large population migrated from there to Eastern Europe, possibly in response to religious persecution by Christians after the 12th century.
About half of modern Jews identify as Ashkenazi Jews; others are descended from other populations, including Sephardic Jews from what is now Portugal and Spain.
The researchers found evidence that Jews in medieval Erfurt had greater genetic diversity than modern Ashkenazi Jews, and they saw signs that a characteristic “genetic bottleneck” in Ashkenazi Jews occurred centuries earlier than previously thought, in about A.D. 1000, when the first Ashkenazi Jewish communities were established in the Rhineland.
That genetic bottleneck — the result of a drastically reduced ancestral population — has led to a higher incidence of certain genetic disorders among modern Ashkenazi Jews, such as Tay-Sachs disease and some hereditary cancers; and the new study shows those disorders were already present in this population by the early 15th century, Carmi said.
An analysis of the mitochondrial DNA — genetic material passed down through mothers — revealed that a third of the analyzed Erfurt individuals shared a specific sequence, which indicated they were descended from a single woman through their maternal line, the researchers added.
The research from the Erfurt remains reinforces the findings from a study earlier this year of medieval Jewish remains found in a well in Norwich, England, that likely contained the victims of an antisemitic attack.
“This paper really shows off how archaeogenetics and archaeology can give us new and otherwise unobtainable insight into periods covered by written histories,” Tom Booth, a bioarchaeologist at The Francis Crick Institute in London, told Live Science in an email. Booth was not involved in the latest research, but he was a co-researcher of the Norwich study.
Selina Brace, a specialist in ancient DNA at the National History Museum in London — who was the lead author of the Norwich research but wasn’t involved with the Erfurt study — added that it was “positive” that it drew the same conclusions as the Norwich study, including that the genetic bottleneck probably occurred about 1,000 years ago, when the first Ashkenazi Jewish communities were established.
A 19-Year-Old Intern Unearthed a Rare, 2,000-Year-Old Roman Dagger in a Tiny German Town
An intern working for the Westphalie Department for the Preservation and Care of Field Monuments in Germany shocked his employers when he uncovered a rare Roman dagger at an archaeological site.
Likely used in battles against the Germanic tribes in the first century AD, the 2,000-year-old object was unearthed last April at Haltern am See, a small town in the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia.
It was an extremely rare find for the team of archaeologists, and one made even more special for the well-preserved state in which the dagger was found.
“The discovery of the dagger was emotional. We were lost for words,” Bettina Tremmel, an archaeologist working for the Westphalie Department told Live Science. “Imagine: Though thousands of Roman soldiers were stationed in Haltern over almost 15 years or more, there are only a few finds of weapons, especially complete and intact ones.”
The dagger was corroded to the point of being unrecognizable when Nico Calman, the 19-year-old man on work-study unearthed it and the remains of a decorated leather belt from the grave of a soldier. But after a rigorous restoration effort that lasted nine months, conservators in Germany unveiled the ornate 13-inch-long weapon and its bejewelled sheath underneath the grime this week.
Silver and brass adorn the dagger’s handle, while its iron scabbard features inlaid wood, glass, and red enamel.
The weapon likely belonged to a legionary or auxiliary infantryman or a centurion officer in the Roman army, Tremmel says. But why the weapon was buried with its owner remains a mystery, she says, explaining that “it was not the normal practice for Roman soldiers to be buried with their military equipment.”
Located at the edge of the Roman empire, Haltern am See was home to a large military camp during the Augustan period (27 BC to AD 14), where three legions of soldiers, each consisting of some 5,000 men, were slain by Germanic tribes.
Roman fighters killed during the battles were buried at a cemetery nearby.
Despite archaeological digs taking place at the site for nearly 200 years, a weapon as sophisticated and well-preserved as the dagger has never before been found.
The newly restored dagger will go on view in Haltern’s Roman history museum beginning in 2022.
The oldest grave in northern Germany is 10,500 years old
Archaeologists have discovered the oldest known human remains in northern Germany in a 10,500-year-old cremation grave in Lüchow, Schleswig-Holstein.
The remains were discovered in the Duvensee bog, a prehistoric inland lake that contains more than 20 Mesolithic and Neolithic archaeological sites.
The bog’s anaerobic environment preserves organic remains, including burned bones, but there was so little left that it wasn’t until the team discovered a human thigh bone that they were able to confirm they had discovered a burial.
Burials of hunter-gatherer-fisher people who lived in Europe during the early Mesolithic period are extremely rare. Mesolithic burials have previously been discovered in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia, but only from the Late Mesolithic period (7th-6th millennia B.C.).
The only burial that was comparable in time was discovered in Jutland, Denmark. It, too, is a cremation burial, an indication that cremation may have been the preferred method of burial among Mesolithic hunter-gatherers.
Several bone fragments that were not completely charred were found during the excavation. Excavation director Harald Lübke hopes to recover archaeological DNA from them.
The entire grave was raised in a soil block for additional excavation and laboratory study.
Archaeologists have been excavating Duvensee Moor since 1923 and have also discovered the shelter of Stone Age hunters and gatherers.
The oldest known North German raises a lot of questions. For example, according to the circumstances of death. In the case of burned bones, it is difficult to determine the cause of death, says Harald Lübke.
For archaeologists, the entire Duvenseer Moor is a hotspot. “We’ve only opened a new door here at the moment. But behind it, there are only dark rooms at the moment.”
Due to their spectacular cremation find, they will probably continue digging there in the coming year.