A Roman settlement at the bottom of the sea

A Roman settlement at the bottom of the sea

The underwater statues at Baiae are replicas but still feel “ghostly and sublime”. “You’re sure I can cross?” I had to almost shout to be heard. Wooden slats dotted the ground before me.

About 30m to my right, steam rose into the sky in thick grey-white clouds. And somewhere between where I stood now, and there, the earth turned from solid and cool to boiling and viscous. Wherever that exact change happened, I wanted to make sure I was none too close. It’s very dangerous here “ Sì, sì, ” said volcanologist Enzo Morra, my guide for the day. He was already climbing the hill on the other side of the wooden slats before me.

I edged one foot onto one piece of wood, then the next. The ground felt firm. As I reached the far side and climbed the hilltop, I could see the source of the steam: a bubbling pool of dull gunmetal-grey mud, ominous as the contents of a witch’s cauldron and a great deal louder. The air smelled of sulphur.

“It’s very dangerous here,” Morra welcomed me when I arrived. “More dangerous than Vesuvius.” Campi Flegrei is one of 20 known “supervolcanos” on the planet I laughed nervously. “I wish you’d told me that when we were over there. Why are you telling me that when we’re here ?”

We were overlooking one of the fumaroles of Campi Flegrei, known in English as the Phlegraean Fields. One of 20 known “supervolcanoes” on the planet – capable of erupting with a volume thousands of times stronger than an average volcano – Campi Flegrei commands less notoriety than Mt Vesuvius, just 30km to the west.

But that is largely down to luck. If Campi Flegrei were to blow at maximum capacity today, it would make the 79AD eruption of Mt Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii look like a puppy’s sneeze. Fortunately, Campi Flegrei hasn’t had a full-force eruption in thousands of years.

That isn’t to say it’s impossible. Researchers call the supervolcano “restless”, and there are concerns it is becoming more so. In 2012, the alert level was raised from green to yellow, indicating a need for more monitoring. Most recently, a “seismic swarm” in April 2020 saw 34 different earthquakes.

Campi Flegrei is more than a (fitfully) snoozing menace. It’s why the ancient Romans built one of the most magnificent resort towns on the Italian peninsula here: Baiae, famed for its hot springs and bad behavior.

It’s also why at least half of the town, with its precious marbles, mosaics, and sculptures, sank beneath the Mediterranean over the following centuries. Now, this “restless” supervolcano is the reason why much of this archaeological site is at risk today – both indirectly, thanks to the sea’s effect on the artifacts, and directly, in terms of the threat of earthquakes or another volcanic eruption.

The underwater statues at Baiae are replicas but still feel “ghostly and sublime”

The Romans had few ways of knowing when an eruption or earthquake was coming. They were all but helpless when it came to protecting their town against the encroaching sea. But that’s no longer true. Today, a team of archaeologists and engineers are developing some surprising new technologies to protect the underwater site for future generations. And that’s what I’ve come here to learn more about. Lured by the volcano’s hot springs, the Romans built the magnificent resort town of Baiae here (Credit: Amanda Ruggeri) Over its full 13km radius, the supervolcano, almost all of it at ground level or beneath the sea, has 24 craters and more than 150 pools of boiling mud. It’s easy to see how the ancient Greeks, who settled here first, came up with the name: “Phlegraean Fields” is from the early Greek verb phlégō (“to burn”).

This underwater mosaic was once part of a floor of a magnificent villa

The danger of Campi Flegrei isn’t just its size and strength, but its randomness. When a volcano-like Vesuvius erupts, you know where the eruption will come from the cone at its peak. Not here.

“The activity isn’t ever in the same place. Every eruption has its own story and place of emission,” Morra said. “Therefore, we obviously don’t know when the eruption will happen. But we also don’t know where the next eruption will happen, if there is one.”

Another danger is the type of activity: more than 90% of the activity Campi Flegrei is explosive, not effusive. In other words, when it blows, it won’t leak lava over the ground; it will punch a column of rock and lava into the air. When the detritus lands, the ash will blacken the sky and thicken the air, making both seeing and breathing near-impossible. The column’s collapse causes a pyroclastic flow: extreme heat of up to 700C that vaporises everything in its path.

That, at least, is what happened 39,000 years ago, the date of Campi Flegrei’s largest eruption. Molten rock spewed 70km high. Ashes were found as far away as Siberia. The explosion was so powerful, the volcano collapsed into a caldera. The cooling that occurred in the ensuing years may even have helped bring about the end of the Neanderthals.

Volcanic vents made the water warm — and look almost oily

Fifteen thousand years ago, Campi Flegrei erupted again. The eruption wasn’t as large, but it threw significant volumes of yellow tufa into the air – enough to give Naples its colour today. People carved through and built with the local stone, giving the palazzi, churches, and even underground tunnels their golden colour. The last significant eruption was in 1538. Compared to these previous two events, it was tiny. It was also big enough to throw ash and pumice 5.5km high. As the column collapsed, it created a “new mountain” (dubbed, quite literally, Monte Nuovo), measuring 123m high – and burying a village beneath it. If this happened today, in the vicinity of Italy’s third-most-populous city, Naples, the damage would be severe.

So what is the possibility of such an eruption happening in our lifetimes?

“Obviously we can’t make estimates,” Morra said, almost languidly. “We know that an active volcano, an active volcano, can erupt. Clearly, in our heart – we hope not.” I looked worried. “Have courage!” he said. “Like Vesuvius, Campi Flegrei is continuously monitored by colleagues at the Vesuvian Observatory, the oldest volcano observatory in the world. This can make us feel more tranquil.”

Close monitoring means an eruption can be predicted months in advance. With enough warning, the hope is that the metropolitan area can be safely evacuated.

Signs of a pending eruption aren’t the only data that volcanologists collect. The Vesuvian Observatory was also the first to discover, and chart, a phenomenon known as “bradyseism”: the slow rising, and sinking, of land over time. As the magma in Campi Flegrei’s massive magma chamber moves 3km below ground, so does the land above – sometimes significantly. Over the last 15,000 years, the movement of the magma has pushed the land above it upward by some 90m. At the same time, other parts of the caldera have fallen.

Chachapoyas Children’s Cemetery Found in Peru

Chachapoyas Children’s Cemetery Found in Peru

Archaeologists reported on the unique culture of the Chachapoyan people, a society of Andean people living in the cloud forests of the Amazonas region of present-day Peru, otherwise known as the ‘Warriors of the Clouds’.

The Chachapoyas are known for their incredible sarcophagi, known as purunmachu.

The sarcophagi were made of clay and carefully decorated and painted with faces and bodies before being lined up precariously on cliff edges, like sentinels guarding the dead.

Chachapoyas Sarcophagi

Now archaeologists have made a rare discovery of 35 more sarcophagi belonging to the Warriors of the Clouds. However, uniquely, these sarcophagi are only about 70 centimeters tall which leads researchers to believe that they hold the remains of children and that this collection of purunmachu was a cemetery that was exclusively for those who died young.

The purunmachu were first discovered in 1928 when a powerful earthquake shook the hills surrounding the Utcubamba valley in Peru, revealing a seven-foot-tall clay statue, which came crashing down from the cliffside.

Researchers were stunned to find that the figure was in fact a sarcophagus, and inside it were the remains of an individual carefully wrapped in cloth.

Since then, hundreds more have been found, however, it was not thought that any more sarcophagi remained, especially untouched and intact.

But in July of this year, archaeologists working in the Amazonas region spotted the collection of purunmachu with a long zoom lens camera.

Researchers have now been able to reach the site to confirm the finding, however, the sarcophagi have not yet been opened or analyzed.

In addition to the small size of the sarcophagi, another unique feature is that they were found facing west, which is not typical for the Chachapoyas cemeteries.

“Because of the magnitude of the find, we’re dealing with a discovery that is unique in the world,” said Manuel Cabañas López of the regional Ministry of Exterior Commerce and Tourism.

Archaeological evidence suggests that the Warriors of the Clouds began settling the region at least as early as 200 AD, but the Incas conquered their civilization shortly before the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century.

Their incorporation into the Inca Empire led to the complete decimation of their culture and traditions, and less than a century after the arrival of the Spanish, they had been effectively wiped out.

The purunmachu sarcophagi remain as memory and legacy of this once flourishing culture of the Andes.

This 2,400-year-old mushroom is the largest living organism on the planet

This 2,400-year-old mushroom is the largest living organism on the planet

The largest living thing on the planet is not a whale or any other animal you might expect. It is a giant fungus that kills anything in its path, currently taking up more than three square miles of Oregon.

The Armillaria ostoyae, more popularly known as the honey mushroom, began from a single spore too tiny to be seen by the naked eye. It has been entwining its black shoestring filaments over the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, which causes trees to die as it grows.

Spreading through the roots of trees, this fungus covers 2,200 acres today, which makes it the largest living organism ever to be found.

“When you’re on the ground, you don’t notice the pattern, you just see dead trees in clusters,” said Tina Dreisbach, a botanist, and mycologist working with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station in Corvallis, Oregon.

Extremely similar to a mushroom, the outline of this giant fungus extends 3.5 miles across, and fairly stretches three feet into the ground, covering an area as large as 1,665 football fields. No one has yet estimated its weight.

Dead Trees Reveal Fungus

In 1998, Catherine Parks, a scientist at the Pacific Northwest Research Station in La Grande, Ore., discovered this. She heard about a large tree die-off from root decay in the forest east of Prairie City, Ore.

With aerial shots, Parks checked out an area of dying trees and gathered root samples among 112 of them.

She singled out the fungus through DNA testing. Then, through comparing cultures of the fungus developed from the 112 samples, she was able to determine that 61 of them were from the same organism, which means that a single fungus had grown bigger than anyone had ever illustrated before.

Dry Climate May Encourage Growth

As it is microscopic, the only evidence of the fungus on the surface are clumps of golden mushrooms that materialize in the fall with the rain.

“They are edible, but they don’t taste the best,” said Dreisbach. “I would put lots of butter and garlic on them.”

Unearthing the roots of one affected tree, something that matches white latex paint can be observed. These are actually mats of mycelium, which sip water and carbohydrates from the tree as fungus grub, thus interfering with the tree’s absorption of nutrients.

Rhizomorphs are the black shoestring filaments that stretch as long as 10 feet into the soil, infesting tree roots through a mixture of pressure and enzyme action.

Scientists are absorbed in learning to control Armillaria as it kills trees, however, they soon realize that the fungus has served a purpose in nature for millions of years.

Researchers left ‘speechless’ by ‘magical’ Iron Age treasure

Researchers left ‘speechless’ by ‘magical’ Iron Age treasure

Archaeologists were stunned when they unearthed Iron Age treasure owned by extremely wealthy figures from the time period. The amazing discovery was made in 2016 as two treasure hunters – Mark Hambleton and Joe Kania – found the earliest example of Iron Age gold ever found in Britain.

The collection included four twisted metal neckbands, called torcs and a bracelet. Experts concluded the jewellery would have been owned by wealthy powerful women who probably moved from continental Europe to marry rich Iron Age chiefs.

Mr. Hambleton was also delighted when he and his partner were told the find could be worth hundreds of thousands of pounds. Mr. Hambleton said at the time: “We weren’t expecting to find anything. I was just about ready to give up for the day when Joe said he thought he had found something.

The jewellery was worth over £300,000

“We both looked at it and were speechless.”

Mr. Kania added: “We have found the odd Victorian coin, but mostly it has just been junk.

“So I couldn’t believe it when I picked out this mud-covered item and on cleaning it off, I thought this might actually be gold.”

Mr. Hambleton also told of how he slept with the jewellery before taking it to the Portable Antiquities Scheme at Birmingham.

He added: “I kept the gold right next to my bed to make sure it was safe until we could hand them into the experts.

“I used to go metal detecting with my dad when I was young and he said to me ‘why are you bothering fishing? You should be back in those fields.’

“I am so glad we took his advice and pleased, of course, that he got the chance to see these amazing pieces and prove he was right all along.”

Dr. Julia Farley, Curator of British & European Iron Age Collections for the British Museum lauded the find.

She said: “This unique find is of international importance.

“It dates to around 400–250 BC and is probably the earliest Iron Age gold work ever discovered in Britain.

“The torcs were probably worn by wealthy and powerful women, perhaps people from the continent who had married into the local community.

David Booth, metal detector enthusiast poses with his hoard of Iron Age Gold

The torcs were buried nested together and archaeologists believe they may have been buried for safekeeping. Others claimed they could have been buried as an offering to a God, or even as an act of remembrance for someone who had died.

The find was made about 45 miles north of Hammerwich, near Lichfield – the site of the 2009 Anglo-Saxon Staffordshire Hoard find, which was officially valued at £3.2 million.

Researchers stunned by ‘perfect’ £300million shipwreck treasure

Researchers stunned by ‘perfect’ £300million shipwreck treasure

The fortune of the Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, which sunk in a fight near Portugal’s Cape St Marie in 1804, was raised in an American court after a US salvage company took 594,000 gold and silver coins worth £308 million from the site in 2007.

The curator of Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archeology, Mr. Ivan Negueruela, said:  “The finds are of inestimable scientific and historic value.”

It is believed that the ship was shot down before Spain joined the Napoleonic Wars against Britain. When the Amiens Peace of 1802 broke down, Britain declared war on France in an uneasy peace with Spain.

In 2007 some of the cargo was retrieved by the Odyssey Marine Exploration company, which had it flown to Tampa, Florida. A court in 2012, however, forced the treasure hunters to return the haul to Spain.

The items found had been listed in the ship’s manifest, including cutlery inscribed with a passenger’s name. An archaeological report said: “Mention should be made of the perfection with which the documentary sources coincide with archaeological evidence in this case.”

Elisa de Cabo, the Spanish Culture Ministry’s deputy director of national heritage said in 2012 the find was “invaluable”.

She added: “How would you put a price on the Mona Lisa?”

The treasure was worth £300million
The vessel was downed in battle

A similar find could be made this year as researchers from both Spain and Mexico hope to unearth a historic Spanish galleon that fell to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico in October 1631.

The ship is called the Nuestra Senora del Juncal (Our Lady of Juncal) and sank to the depths while carrying gold, silver, and jewels that could be worth billions today. The vessel and its sailors were hit by vicious storms as they made their way to Spain, and even before the challenging weather, the crew was stripped of its commander due to illness.

With the ship slowly becoming flooded with water, and repair desperately needed, the Nuestra Senora del Juncal plugged away through two weeks of relentless storms.

Coins rescued from the Frigate Mercedes

Dr. Iván Negueruela, the director of Spain’s National Museum of Underwater Archaeology, has claimed the chances of locating and finding the ship are looking good.

He said: “Because the cargo was so valuable – it was carrying lots of ingots – the authorities had a detailed inventory.

“The survivors were also questioned in-depth and their statements help us to reconstruct what happened with quite a high degree of accuracy, so we have a fairly good idea of where the ship sank.”

30,000-year-old stone tools discovered in Mexican Cave suggest humans reached America much earlier than thought

30,000-year-old stone tools discovered in Mexican Cave suggest humans reached America much earlier than thought

Stone tools unearthed in a cave in Mexico indicate that humans could have lived in the area as early as about 33,000 years ago, researchers report online July 22 in Nature. That’s more than 10,000 years before humans are generally thought to have settled North America.

This controversial discovery enters a new piece of evidence into the fierce debate about when and how the Americas were first populated. The initial peopling of the Americas is a contested and evolving topic, with the exact timing of the first arrivals still unknown.

Historically, Mexico’s understudied and controversial archaeological record has remained on the periphery of First Americans’ research.

Evidence of human presence at Chiquihuite Cave extends this antiquity and attests to the cultural variability of older-than-Clovis sites and the earliest humans on the continent.

“For decades people have passionately debated when the first humans entered the Americas,” said Professor Eske Willerslev, a researcher at St John’s College at the University of Cambridge and director of the Lundbeck Foundation GeoGenetics Centre at the University of Copenhagen.

“Chiquihuite Cave will create a lot more debate as it is the first site that dates the arrival of people to the continent to around 30,000 years ago — 15,000 years earlier than previously thought.”

“These early visitors didn’t occupy the cave continuously, we think people spent part of the year there using it as a winter or summer shelter, or as a base to hunt during migration.”

“We don’t know who they were, where they came from, or where they went. They are a complete enigma,” added Dr. Ciprian Ardelean, an archaeologist at the University of Zacatecas.

“We falsely assume that the indigenous populations in the Americas today are direct descendants from the earliest Americans, but now we do not think that is the case.”

“By the time the famous Clovis population entered America, the very early Americans had disappeared thousands of years before. There could have been many failed colonization that was lost in time and did not leave genetic traces in the population today.”

Professor Willerslev, Dr. Ardelean, and their colleagues excavated a total of 1,930 stone tools such as knives, scrapers, and arrowheads in Chiquihuite Cave.

Archaeologists have unearthed what appears to be stone tools, including this one, in a cave in central Mexico that date to as early as about 33,000 years ago.

“The collection of artifacts reveals advanced flaking skills applied to challenge raw material, represented by green and blackish varieties of recrystallized limestone,” the scientists said.

“The flaked tools reflect a previously unknown and mostly unchanged technological tradition.”

Examples of stone artifacts from Chiquihuite Cave: (a) core, (b-e) flakes; inlay in b emphasizes an isolated platform, (f-j) blades, (k-o) points

The authors also attempted to identify ancient human DNA in all archaeological layers of the cave.

However, no evidence of human DNA within the samples was found. This adds weight to the theory that the early people didn’t stay for long in the cave.

“We identified DNA from a wide range of animals including black bears, rodents, bats, voles, and even kangaroo rats,” said Dr. Mikkel Winther Pedersen, a geneticist at the University of Copenhagen.

“We think these early people would probably have come back for a few months a year to exploit reoccurring natural resources available to them and then move on. Probably when herds of large mammals would have been in the area and who had little experience with humans so they would have been easy prey.”

“The location of Chiquihuite Cave definitely rewrites what has conventionally been taught in history and archaeology and shows that we need to rethink where we look for sites of the earliest people in the Americas.”

Posh grave of Iron Age ‘warrior’ buried 2,000 years ago in Roman Britain uncovered

Posh grave of Iron Age ‘warrior’ buried 2,000 years ago in Roman Britain uncovered

UCL archaeologists have uncovered a richly furnished grave belonging to an Iron Age ‘ warrior ‘ found 2,000 years ago in West Sussex.

Iron Age warrior grave excavated in West Sussex

In the grave were placed iron weapons, including a sword in a highly decorated scabbard and a spear. The burial was discovered during an excavation commissioned by Linden Homes, who are developing a site on the outskirts of Walberton, near Chichester, to create 175 new homes.

The team that made the discovery were from Archaeology South-East (ASE), the commercial branch of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology.

ASE archaeologist Jim Stevenson, who is managing the post-excavation investigations into the burial, said: “There has been much discussion generally as to who the people buried in the ‘warrior’ tradition may have been in life.

Were they really warriors, or just buried with the trappings of one?

Sword midway through conservation and its X-rays

“Although the soil conditions destroyed the skeleton, the items discovered within the grave suggest that the occupant had been an important individual.”

The grave is dated to the late Iron Age/ early Roman period (1st century BC – AD 50). It is incredibly rare, as only a handful are known to exist in the South of England.

X-rays and initial conservation of the sword and scabbard reveal beautiful copper-alloy decoration at the scabbard mouth, which would have been highly visible when the sword was worn in life.

Dotted lines on the X-ray may be the remains of a studded garment worn by the occupant when buried. This is particularly exciting for archaeologists as evidence of clothing rarely survives.

Ceramic jar found in the grave

The grave also held the remains of a wooden container, preserved as a dark stain, likely used to lower the individual into the grave.

Four ceramic vessels were placed outside of this container, but still within the grave. The vessels are jars made from local clays and would usually have been used for food preparation, cooking and storage.

It is likely that they were placed in the grave as containers for funerary offerings, perhaps intended to provide sustenance for the deceased in the afterlife.

Archaeologists are continuing to investigate this new discovery. By looking at other burials with weapons from the same time, they hope to find out more about the identity and social status of this individual, and the local area and landscape around that time.

Site of 18th-Century Steam Engine Uncovered in Slovakia

Site of 18th-Century Steam Engine Uncovered in Slovakia

In recent day’s Nová Baňa, approximately 40 volunteers have worked under the expert supervision of archeologists to unleash a special Potter atmospheric steam engine, the first one of its kind on the continent of Europe.

In the Althandel shaft, the atmospheric steam engine was built and was used in the 18th century. Enthusiasts from the mining group Novobanský had decided a while ago to reveal this treasure to the public, hidden in the garden of one house.

Matej Styk, an expert assistant from the Department of Archaeology of the Constantine the Philosopher University in Nitra, said that two-week research followed last year’s findings of the archaeologists. Its aim was to research the discovered construction and the discovered features, proving mining activity in the 18th century.

“In two weeks, we succeeded in uncovering the entire measurement of the Potter engine room, about eight and 14 meters,” he said, as quoted by the TASR newswire. He added that the masonry is compact, undamaged, located about 30 to 40 centimeters under the ground surface.

Bigger than anticipated

Thanks to research, they can prove that activities were ongoing not only in the 18th but also in the 19th century. In the interior of the engine room, the bases of another construction were found, about which there was no knowledge until now.

“There were many tiles from a stove inside,” Styk noted for TASR. “We think that the building was wooden. It has a stone foundation wall and inside another production activity was ongoing.”

Styk noted that the measures of the engine room itself were surprising. The building was bigger than they anticipated.

They succeeded in finding several interesting objects during the research, a mining button from probably the 19th century, a pipe or various iron nails, and components.

Mining failed

The steam engine served to drainage of water from mine. The head of the Slovak mining archive in Banská Štiavnica, Peter Konečný, said that it was built by Isaac Potter in the Althandel shaft in the years 1721-1722.

“Isaac Potter operated this machine alongside his colleagues within the mining industry, which received the right to mine local ores,” Konečný noted, as quoted by TASR.

However, mining was not successful, over in a few years and the machine put out of the operation, Konečný said. Potter remained for several years, but the state, which paid the construction, offered the opportunity to shift it to another private miner, to Hodruša.

“There we lost its traces because the supposed shift to Banská Štiavnica did not happen,” said Konečný for TASR, adding that this assumption is not proven.

The remains of the unique machine should be accessible to the public in the future. The association would like to build an open-air folk museum at the site. They succeeded in persuading the municipality in purchasing the house with the garden where the engine room was discovered.

Museum and replica planned

The head of the association, Zoltán Vén, said that the original owners did not have a clue as to the treasure in the ground. The association was behind the finding, which discovered it inaccessible documents.

Vén noted that they have big plans with the compound. They would like to build a replica of the machine and they have some ideas on how to use the house as well. It should be the headquarters of the mining association and a museum exhibition.

Vén said that last year, British Ambassador Andrew Garth, who is leaving Bratislava at the end of July, also visited the place.

“We would like to have contact with him to be able to go to the UK, as they have one museum piece working. We would like to see it,” Vén summed up, as quoted by TASR.

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