Ancient Well With Stone Stairs Unearthed in Scotland
An ancient well at the top of one of Scotland’s most iconic mountain peaks has been unearthed for the first time in hundreds of years.
Archaeologists from Aberdeen University’s Northern Picts projects made the incredible discovery this week at the Mither Tap, one of the summits of Bennachie in Aberdeenshire.
The deep granite well would have served as a water source for the occupants of the impressive fort at the top of the hill, the remains of which can still be seen today.
Although it was previously discovered in the Victorian period, it was recovered and has lain beneath thousands of hillwalker’s feet ever since.
Gordon Noble, the head of archaeology at Aberdeen University, said: “We have been interested in this site for some time because Mither Tap hasn’t really been excavated in any scale since the 19th century.
“We received permission from Historic Environment Scotland – as it’s a scheduled monument – to open up a number of trenches in the area to get dating evidence from all around the fort at the top of Mither Tap.
“We were really expecting to find a pretty bog-standard well, but we uncovered these fantastic steps leading all the way down to the well chamber.
“It’s particularly sophisticated for the period and created a huge amount of excitement both in the team and online.
“It really gives you an idea of the efforts that would have gone into building this fort – the ramparts would have been huge.”
It is not yet known precisely what historic period the well belongs to.
Mr. Noble said a shepherd put a large rock into the well at one point to prevent his livestock from falling in, and it currently blocks access to its lower levels.
He added: “We’re hoping to try and get the stone out to look underneath, but we’ll see what happens.
“I hope we’ll be able to find intact deposits we can sample for dating, or do some pollen sampling to find out about the environment at the time the well was used.
“But even without that, it’s still an incredibly exciting sight to see.”
The team hope to conclude their initial excavations by the end of next week and could return to the Mither Tap in the future subject to funding.
Visitors are invited to go and see the well and the rest of the ongoing archaeology work on Sunday, from 11 am to 1 pm.
Lost WW2 Aircraft lifted from the sea after more than 75 years
Specialist divers and archeologists finished an operation this week to recover the wreckage of a 1943 Fairey Barracuda Torpedo Bomber (thought to be No. BV739) – just in time for D-Day’s 75th anniversary.
The three-seater plane, part of 810 Squadron Royal Navy Air Station, based at Lee-On-Solent is believed to have got into difficulty shortly after taking off for its test flight before crashing 500m from the coast in Portsmouth.
It was found by National Grid engineers last summer during a seabed survey ahead of the construction of new subsea electricity cable between England and France.
The cable, called an interconnector, will be buried in the seabed and will stretch for 240km between Fareham, Portsmouth and Normandy, France and deliver cleaner, cheaper and more secure energy for UK consumers. The UK government has targeted 9.5 GW of additional interconnector capacity in its Clean Growth Strategy. This is because interconnectors are recognised as a key tool in enabling the flow of excess zero carbon energy from where it is generated where it is needed most.
The Barracuda wreckage is the only one to have ever been found in one piece and the last remaining aircraft of its kind in the UK.
David Luetchford, Head of IFA2 for National Grid said: “Interconnectors are about bringing us closer to a zero-carbon future, but we must also respect the past. An important part of our job is to always have a thorough and sympathetic approach to archaeological finds.
Over the course of the project we’ve inspected over 1,000 targets of interest, many of which were found to be unexploded ordnance, not unusual given the history of this location. However, to have found a 1943 Fairey Barracuda torpedo bomber is incredible and such a key piece of British history.
It’s not every day you get the chance to play a role in an operation like this and it is very lucky to have found the plane in such a small search area. We surveyed a 180-meter-wide area along the cable route and if we had chosen a slightly different route, there is a good chance the plane would never have been found.”
Work to fully retrieve the plane is expected to take around three weeks in total as experts from Wessex Archaeology are carefully excavating the area around the aircraft and removing large amounts of silt and clay.
So far, one of the wings has successfully been lifted out of the waters and work on the second is currently underway. The remainder of the plane will be recovered by lifting it in sections over the coming days.
Wessex Archaeology lead archaeologist Euan McNeil said: “Our team has been working closely with all those involved to ensure that any risks to heritage assets on the seafloor are mitigated. This aircraft is a rare find and a fantastic opportunity to understand more about a piece of wartime technology.
“We have been undertaking the excavation under a licence from the MoD, and it has taken careful planning to ensure that we lift the remains and any associated material which may have been scattered as it sank – without causing its condition to deteriorate significantly. This has involved excavating the silt around the plane and sieving it for artefacts, then carefully dividing the remaining structure into manageable sections for lifting.
“The recovery of the Fairey Barracuda will aid an ongoing Fleet Air Arm Museum project to recreate what will be the world’s only complete example of this type of aircraft. This will give us a chance to examine a unique lost piece of aviation history”
Once retrieved, the parts will be taken to the Royal Navy Fleet Air Arm Museum in Somerset where it will be studied and used to rebuild a full-size Barracuda in the site’s aircraft hangar with the help of equipment like the b1 stand at Platforms and Ladders.
David Morris, Curator at The National Museum of the Royal Navy has been working on the project for several years and visited four other Barracuda crash sites to retrieve suitable parts.
He said: “This is an incredible find and a wonderful piece of British history. There are very few blueprints of the Barracuda plane design available so this wreckage will be studied to enable us to see how the plane segments fitted together and how we can use some of the parts we currently have.
“This find is a huge step forward for our project and we can’t wait to get it back to the museum and share our findings with the public.”
The plane’s pilot has been named as SUB LNT DJ Williams who managed to escape the crash and survived WW2.
The ancient site, called Nanook, was first discovered in the 1960s by Dr. Moreau Maxwell of Michigan State University.
Dr. Maxwell identified it as a Dorset Paleo-Eskimo site although he noted anomalies in the architectural remains, and obtained a series of radiocarbon dates ranging from 754 BC to 1367 CE.
Among the artifacts recovered by the archaeologist in association with the unusual architectural remains was a small stone vessel.
Dr. Sutherland and her colleagues from the Geological Survey of Canada-Ottawa and Peter H. Thompson Geological Consulting Ltd have now discovered that the interior of the vessel contains fragments of bronze as well as small spherules of glass.
The object, according to the scientists, is a crucible for melting bronze, likely in order to cast it into small tools or ornaments. Indigenous peoples of northern North America did not practice high-temperature metalworking.
“The object is 48 mm tall and has a straight sloping base meeting the slightly convex lateral wall at an angle of approximately 140 degrees. The base of the complete object may have been keel-shaped,” Dr. Sutherland and her co-authors described the find in a paper published in the journal Geoarchaeology.
“The artifact appears to have been roughly circular in plan, with diameter expanding from >35 mm at the base to >48 mm at the rim. The base is 15 mm thick, with the walls tapering to a thickness of 6 mm at the rim.
The exterior is smoothly finished, but portions of the interior are scarred by scratching or scraping.”
“An irregular break cuts across roughly the center of the vessel, indicating that approximately half is missing.”
According to the team, small ceramic crucibles were employed in nonferrous metalworking throughout the Viking world.
“We are aware of only one stone crucible, which was recovered from a Viking Age context in Rogaland, Norway.”
“Small crucibles with a circular plan and either flat or conical bases have been recovered from Early Mediaeval sites in the British Isles including one stone specimen from Garranes in Ireland.”
“The presence of bronze traces in the crucible from Baffin Island is notable, as brass (copper-zinc alloy) is more characteristic of finds from Scandinavia.”
Dr. Sutherland said: “the crucible adds an intriguing new element to this emerging chapter in the early history of northern Canada.”
“It may be the earliest evidence of high-temperature nonferrous metalworking in North America to the north of what is now Mexico.”
How The Black Death (Sort Of) Killed A Viking Colony And Transformed Europe
Throughout much of the European Middle Ages, the Norse were compulsive travelers.
These groups of people (who we often call “Vikings”) traded, raided and pillaged throughout Europe, settled in Constantinople and fought with and against the Byzantines, encountered Arab traders from Baghdad in modern Russia, and even settled for a short time in North America several hundred years before Columbus.
Recently, new scholarly research has turned up an unexpected reason one of those colonies may have disappeared – a declining demand for walrus ivory.
Most likely, Vikings had begun settling in southern Greenland by the end of the 10th century. The settlements grew over time but never got too big – topping out at a population of around 6,000 people at the most.
The settlement was, however, large enough to merit its own bishop and one was duly established in 1126 CE. The settlements persisted into the 15th century but had disappeared by the late 16th.
Although not quite the same mystery as the lost colony of Roanoke, scholars have never been sure about why those Greenland settlements vanished.
A new scholarly paper, however, thinks it has the answer: walrus ivory. Specifically, the Greenland settlements built their economy around the trade in walrus tusks (ivory) and supplied maybe up to 80% of the ivory items for most of Europe between the 12th-15th centuries.
The trade made the colonies prosper through the 12th and 13th centuries as demand rose among the growing nobility throughout Europe for luxury items. Lavish combs, cases for mirrors, covers for books, etc. were used as status symbols and art objects in their own right.
But things changed rather dramatically during the 14th century. This was a century of calamities, beginning with repeated famines in the early part of the century and then culminating with the ongoing impact of the so-called Black Death beginning ca. 1347 CE.
By the end of the 14th century, up to 50 million people – 60% of Europe’s population – was dead. So, with these catastrophic population losses, demand began to dry up as well. The residents of these colonies on Greenland either slowly died off or simply left.
So, what does this all mean?
First, if the scholars are right about much of Europe’s ivory coming from walruses, we need to think differently about trade throughout the European Middle Ages.
Many medieval ivories were thought to have come from elephants, traveling into Europe via the Islamic world in North Africa or the Middle East.
What the recent article suggests, however, is that elephant ivory was a particularly rare and valuable commodity. Walrus tusks allowed the more middling nobility access to these luxury goods.
Second, the disappearance of the settlements might be further proof of just how transformative the Black Death really was for Europe.
In a book published after his death in 1991, Prof. David Herlihy suggested in broad outlines the tremendous long-term cultural and intellectual changes brought about by the Black Death. Much of his conclusions have been challenged in recent years but Herlihy’s genius was putting his finger on just how the massive scale of death changed the way people thought about themselves and their relationship to the world.
Established authorities were questioned since they had no good answers to ending the plague. Social class was upended as economic and cultural communities struggled to replenish their ranks. If the settlement in Greenland left the island uninhabited for a century or more, this would support Herlihy’s thesis about long-term change.
In other words, the findings of this research both challenges and confirms what medievalists have thought about their period for some time.
In other words, as I’ve mentioned elsewhere, the research being done on the Middle Ages is exciting precisely because it oftentimes both confirms how much we already know about the period, while paradoxically reminding us of how much about the past there still is to discover.
Billionaire-Owned Viking Cruises Involved In Collision, Leaving 7 Dead And 21 Missing
One of Viking’s river cruise ships was involved in a fatal collision on Wednesday night as it was traveling through Budapest on the Danube River, leaving at least seven dead.
The Viking Sigyn, a 95-room river cruise ship, collided with a smaller sightseeing boat, the Mermaid, as it was approaching the Margaret Bridge in the heart of Hungary’s capital
The Mermaid, which was carrying 33 South Korean passengers and two Hungarian personnel, capsized and sunk in about eight seconds, according to Hungarian authorities.
At least seven passengers on the Mermaid have been confirmed dead. Emergency crews were able to rescue another seven people from the water and another 21 remain missing.
A search party is continuing to scour the river for the missing passengers, according to authorities who spoke at a news conference on Thursday.
The efforts have been made more difficult by heavy rain, high water levels, and strong currents. The incident is also being investigated as a criminal matter, authorities said. The captain of the Viking Sigyn, a 64-year-old Ukrainian man identified just as Yuri C., was taken into custody.
A Viking spokesperson confirmed there were no injuries to Viking crew or guests and that the company will continue to “cooperate fully with the authorities” as they investigate.
An executive from South Korean tour agency Very Good Tour, Lee Sang-moo, reportedly said at a press conference in Seoul that the group aboard the Mermaid was nearing the end of a week-long European tour that had begun in Munich. Sang-moo said that the survivors include six women and one man between the ages of 31 and 66.
The collision follows at least two other incidents from Viking this year. In April, the Viking Idun river ship collided with an oil tanker off the coast of the Netherlands, causing five people to be injured.
In March, one of Viking’s ocean cruise ships experienced a loss of engine power off the coast of Norway and evacuated 479 passengers by helicopter before it was able to travel to shore under its own power.
That episode prompted a lawsuit from a New Jersey couple, who claimed that Viking “negligently sailed through notoriously perilous waters into the path of a bomb cyclone,” despite severe weather warnings.
Viking Cruises was started in 1997 by Tor Hagen, a Norwegian-born, Harvard-educated former cruise line executive who launched the company with four Russian riverboats at the age of 54.
Hagen went on to make European river cruises a popular vacation option among older Americans. Today, Viking has a fleet of 78 river and ocean cruise ships and generates $1.6 billion in net revenue.
The company is worth $3.4 billion after the most recent private equity injection, and Hagen owns three-fourths of it.
Blood Eagle: The Viking Torture Method So Grisly Some Historians Don’t Believe It Actually Happened
The Vikings didn’t come into towns walking on moonbeams and rainbows. If their sagas are to be believed, the Vikings cruelly tortured their enemies in the name of their god Odin as they conquered territory. If the suggestion of a blood eagle was even uttered, one left town and never looked back. Viking sagas define blood eagle as one of the most painful and terrifying torture methods ever created. The story describes:
“Earl Einar went to Halfdan and carved blood-eagle on his back in this wise, that he thrust a sword into his trunk by the backbone and cut all the ribs away, from the backbone down to the loins, and drew the lungs out there….”
The History Of Blood Eagle Executions
One of the earliest accounts of the use of the blood eagle is thought to have occurred in 867. It began a few years before, when Aella, king of Northumbria (present-day North Yorkshire, England), fell victim to a Viking attack. Aella killed the Viking leader Ragnar Lothbrok by throwing him into a pit of live snakes.
In revenge, Lothbrok’s sons invaded England in 865. When the Danes captured York, and Lothbrok’s son who was also the most feared Viking of his day, Ivarr the Boneless, saw to it that Aella would be killed.
Of course, killing him wasn’t good enough. Ivarr’s father Ragnar had —allegedly — met a gruesome fate by a pit of snakes. Ivarr the Boneless wanted to make an example out of Aella and to strike fear into the hearts of his enemies.
Thus, he committed the damned king to the blood eagle.
How It Worked
Modern scholars debate how Vikings performed this ritual torture and in fact whether they even performed the gruesome method at all. The process of the blood eagle is indeed so cruel and grisly that it would be difficult to believe that it could actually be carried out. Regardless of whether it is merely a work of literary fiction, there is no denying the fact that the ritual was stomach-churning.
The victim’s hands and legs were tied to prevent escape or sudden movements. Then, the person seeking vengeance stabbed the victim by his tailbone and up towards the rib cage. Each rib was then meticulously separated from the backbone with an ax, which left the victim’s internal organs on full display.
The victim is said to have remained alive throughout the entire procedure. What’s worse, the Vikings would then literally rub salt into the gaping wound in the form of a saline stimulant.
As if this wasn’t enough, after having all of the person’s ribs cut away and spread out like giant fingers, the torturer then pulled out the lungs of the victim to make it appear as if the person had a pair of wings spread out on his back. Thus, the blood eagle was manifested in all its gory glory. The victim had become a slimy, bloody bird.
The Ritual Behind The Blood Eagle
King Aella was not the last royal to face the blood eagle. One scholar believes that at least four other notable figures in Northern European history suffered the same fate. King Edmund of England was also a victim of Ivarr the Boneless. Halfdan, son of King Haraldr of Norway, King Maelgualai of Munster and Archbishop Aelheah were all believed to victims of blood eagletorture because they were victims of the merciless and bloodlusty Ivarr the Boneless.
That means the torture method could have occurred in England, Ireland, and France. There were two main reasons Vikings used the blood eagle on their victims. First, they believed it was a sacrifice to Odin, father of the Norse pantheon of gods and the god of war.
Second, and more possibly, was that the blood eagle was done as a punishment to honorless individuals. According to the Orkneyinga saga of the Vikings, Halfdan was defeated in battle at the hands of Earl Einar who then tortured him with a blood eagle as he conquered Halfdan’s kingdom. Similarly, Aella was tortured in vengeance.
Indeed, even the stories of the blood eagle — true or not — would have emptied out any village just by word of mouth before the Vikings could even make ground there. At the very least, the rumors of such torture would have established the Vikings as a divinely fearsome lot — and not to be trifled with.
Ritual Or Rumor?
Victims of the practice died in the 800s and 900s, maybe into the 1000s. Written accounts, often embellished and told for entertainment during long winter nights up north, didn’t come about until the 1100s and 1200s. Writers of the Viking sagas heard stories and wrote them down. Perhaps they embellished the ferocity of Vikings to make them sound more heroic.
However, there may be merit to the blood eagle story. The poets who wrote them down were very specific in the method used. Surely, someone actually tried this torture method because of the gory details that someone described. One Danish historian, Saxo Grammaticus, relays the ritual as merely the means of carving an eagle into a victim’s back and other details were added later and, “combined in inventive sequences designed for maximum horror.” Either the blood eagle was an actual thing, or it was a propaganda tool. But either way, it was terrifying.
Other Viking Torture Methods
The Vikings employed other torture methods aside from the blood eagle. One was known as Hung meat, which was just as nasty as it sounds. Vikings pierced the heels of victims, threaded ropes through the holes, and then strung them upside-down. Not only was piercing the heels horrendously painful, but the blood ran down to their hearts.
The fatal walk was another gruesome testament to torture. A victim’s abdomen was sliced open and a bit of intestine was pulled out. Then the torturer held the victim’s intestines as the victim walked around a tree. Eventually, the entirety of the victim’s intestinal tract would wrap around the tree.
Whether it was a blood eagle, hung meat, or a fatal walk, the Vikings knew how to make examples out of their enemies.
If these torture methods are true, they harken back to a bloody time in humanity’s past. If they are false, then the Vikings knew how to spread fear into the hearts of others without really having to do much.
Was Fertility a Factor in the Demise of Neanderthals?
Neanderthals could have gone extinct due to a slight drop in their fertility rates, a new study finds.
The last of the Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, disappeared from Europe about 40,000 years ago. Previous research estimated that at its peak, the entire Neanderthal population in both Europe and Asia was quite small, totaling 70,000 at most.
Scientists have long debated whether the dispersal of modern humans across the globe helped kill off Neanderthals, either directly through conflict or indirectly through the spread of disease.
“The disappearance of the Neanderthal population is an exciting subject — imagine a human group that has lived for thousands of years and is very well-adapted to its environment, and then disappears,” study senior author Silvana Condemi, a paleoanthropologist at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, told Live Science.
“For a long time, it was thought that Homo sapiens had simply killed the Neanderthals. Today, thanks to the results of genetic analysis, we know that the encounters between Neanderthals and sapiens were not always so cruel, and that interbreeding took place — even today’s humans have genes of Neanderthal origin.”
Instead of investigating why the Neanderthals disappeared, “we looked for the ‘how’ of their demise,” Condemi said.
Specifically, the scientists generated computer models that explored how Neanderthal populations might decline and go extinct over time in response to a variety of factors, such as war, epidemics and reduced fertility or survival rates among men and women of varying ages.
“Very quickly, we found something unexpected — this disappearance, which occurred over a very long period, cannot be explained by a catastrophic event,” Condemi said.
Computer models that assumed modern humans killed off Neanderthals via war or epidemics found that these factors would have driven Neanderthals to extinction far more rapidly than the 4,000 to 10,000 years in the archaeological record during which modern humans and Neanderthals are known to have coexisted in Europe, the researchers said.
The scientists also found that neither an increase in juvenile or adult survival rates, nor a strong decrease in fertility rates, were likely causes for the long decline seen in Neanderthals.
Instead, they discovered that Neanderthal extinction was possible within 10,000 years with a 2.7% decrease in fertility rates of young Neanderthal women — first-time mothers less than 20 years old — and within 4,000 years with an 8% decrease in fertility rates in this same group.
“The disappearance of the Neanderthals was probably due to a slight decline in the fertility among the youngest women,” Condemi said. “This is a phenomenon that is limited in scope that, over time, had an impact.”
A variety of factors might have lowered these fertility rates. Condemi noted that pregnancies among young, first-time mothers “are on the average more risky than second or later pregnancies.
A minimum of calories is essential for the maintenance of pregnancy, and a reduction of food, and therefore of calories, is detrimental to pregnancy.”
Neanderthals disappeared during a time of climate change. Environmental fluctuations might have led to a slight decrease in food, and in turn “may explain a reduction in fertility,” Condemi said.
Condemi noted that prior work suggested that with modern humans “if the average number of births falls to a level of 1.3 among the women of the world, our species would disappear in 300 years. This is an unlikely model, but the results would be very rapid!”
Plans for a tennis court to be dug up to search for remains of Saxon King.
Saint Edmund is believed to have been killed by the Vikings in the 9th century after refusing to denounce his Christianity.
His remains were kept in a shrine in Bury St Edmunds but were later lost during Henry VIII’s reign and the desecration of the Benedictine Abbey.
Now, Bury St Edmunds Believe it might have the remains of Saint Edmund, a Saxon monarch, buried under one of his tennis courts.
At the time of the desecration of the Benedictine Abbey, during Henry VIII’s reign, the remains were lost.
But historians believe the remains may well be below the tennis courts in Abbey Gardens, which sit on top of a former monks’ graveyard in the sedate East Anglian town.
Plans to move the courts are being considered so archaeologists may soon be allowed to look for King Edmund’s remains underneath.
The plans have the backing of St Edmundsbury Borough Council, who own the Abbey Gardens, near St Edmundsbury Cathedral.
Robert Everitt, the local councillor in charge of the project said: “It would be an incredibly important historical discovery if he was found under there.
“It is something the borough want to do and the cathedral are in agreement as well, but we need to ensure we replace the courts.
“We are looking at St James Middle School courts, which are not being used [as the school is closed]. They would be ideal and would ensure people can play tennis right next to Abbey Gardens.”
Academic researcher and historian Francis Young, who was born in Bury, said: “The commissioners who dissolved the Abbey on November 4, 1539, mentioned nothing about the body, and given St Edmund’s royal status it is likely they would have quietly allowed the monks to remove the body from the shrine and relocate it.
“According to a third-hand account from 1697, St Edmund was placed in an iron chest by a few monks but sadly the account does not give the location within the Abbey precincts where he was buried. On balance, however, the monks’ cemetery is the most likely location.”
If the monks did use an iron chest it would help archaeologists distinguish the monks’ graves from that of the king. A heritage partnership is tasked with preserving and promoting the Abbey ruins, with the removal of the courts aimed at improving the experience for visitors.
Edmund was the King of the East Angles in the 9th Century. It is widely accepted that Edmund was killed by Vikings. It is thought his place of death was somewhere in Suffolk or Norfolk.
His myth tells of brave King Edmund refusing to denounce his Christianity and being killed by several arrows. The Vikings then removed his head so Edmund could not be buried whole. However, loyal followers were able to find his head after a wolf called to them, shouting “here, here, here”.
Shortly after his death, a shrine containing his remains was built in the Abbey in a town called Bedericesworth.
This town later became Bury St Edmunds and the most popular and famous pilgrimage in England, visited by many kings. Saint Edmund later became the Patron Saint of England.
The Abbey was desecrated in the 16th Century when his remains are believed to have been removed from the shrine.