Unusual-ology: 800 year old monk’s skeletal remains found in a cliff face.

The recent winter storms that rocked Britain have uncovered a lot of the isles’ hidden archaeology including a petrified forest in Wales, but it has also damaged many coastal heritage sites. In this case, the storms unearthed the skeletal remains of what is thought to be an 800-year-old medieval monk, which were found poking out of a cliff in Monknash, South Wales.

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The femurs belonging to the monk, as they were found within the cliff face.

The skeletal remains were discovered by Mandy Ewington, a member of public out for a walk, who spotted the thigh bones of sticking out the side of a cliff. The femurs were later identified to belonging to a man of good health and in his late twenties, who may have been a monk.

From past excavations in the area and stratigraphic evidence, it is thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a monk from the 1200’s. The Monknash area is well known to have once been the home of Cistercian monks between 1129 and 1535, and was the site of a Middle Age burial ground.

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From stratigraphic evidence it is thought that the skeletal remains belonged to a monk from the 1200’s.

But due to the monk’s femurs being badly damaged by coastal erosion and were found unconnected to any other bones, it is difficult to come to a definite conclusion on whether or not the man truly did belong to the Cistercian monastery.

Unique Aztec Dog Burial Discovered.

Archaeologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have uncovered twelve dog skeletons whilst excavating in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Dog burials are a common practice within archaeology, but what stands this particular discovery out from the crowd is that there is no human burial, or even building associated to this burial.

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One of the well-preserved dog skeletons found.

The reason why dogs were often found alongside human burials is linked back to the animal’s symbolism in Aztec mythology. It was believed that even after death, dogs still served their masters. The belief was that the dogs helped guide the owner’s soul through the hazardous underworld until they safely reached Mictlan, the resting place of the dead.

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The placement of the dog skeleton’s have no pattern, leaving archaeologists wondering what is the significance behind this burial.

The dog’s skeletal remains have been date back to 500 years, and they were well-preserved and most were complete and articulated . Their placement within the burial ground has no discernible pattern to it, leaving the archaeologists wondering what the significance of this burial is, although archaeologists have deduced from the skeleton’s measurements that the dogs are likely to be common breeds as their stature are much taller than the native Mexican breed of Techichi.

Give-away: Etsy Handmade Archaeology/Anthropology Tool Roll Launch.

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To celebrate the launch of our Etsy shop, which you can visit here https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/AllThingsAAFS, we are giving away one of our hand-crafted ‘Archaeology Traveller’ small finds/anthropology tool kits (pictured below)!

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 The tool kit includes:

12x Stainless Steel Small Finds Archaeology Tools!
4x Tweezers – to allow you to delicately handle finds!
1x Sharpie permanent marker pen – for labelling tool find trays or bags!
1x Mechanical Pencil – to help you write when the weather is gloomy!
1x HB Pencil – to allow you to sketch your finds, and with extra room to add your own personal tools.
When opened the size of this tool roll is approximately 28x21cm, and will roll up to be 9x21cm.

To be in for a chance of winning this archaeology tool roll, just visit our competition Facebook post by clicking here and then ‘Like and Share’ it! Don’t forget to Like our page to receive updates from us!

Competition ends at 12:00pm on 12th March 2014, and the winner will be selected on the 14th March!

Unusual-ology: ‘Rare’ Prehistoric Spider Fossil Found.

A fossil of a large male prehistoric spider has been recently found in the Daohugou beds of Inner Mongolia.  The spider’s species has stumped scientists, who have now proposed a new genus for the discovery called Mongolarachne.

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The male prehistoric spider fossil that was found in the Daohugou beds of Inner Mongolia.

This recent discovery comes after the previous unearthing of a female spider fossil in the same area back in 2011. The 165-million-year- old female spider is thought to have belonged to the Nephila species due to its size being close to the modern day Nephilidae (orb-weaver spiders), and was so called Nephila jurassica. But this newly discovered male spider fossil throws a spanner in the works.

While the male spider does resembles the Nephila jurassica, its shape and size has suggested it belonged to another genus. One factor that called for a new genus was its sex appendages, as they did not match those found on modern day Nephila males. Also the male has ‘spirals of hairlets’ that are more feathery than those on modern day orb-weavers.

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While the male spider (left) does resembles the Nephila jurassica (right), its shape and size has suggested it belonged to another genus.

These differences have led to Professor Paul Selden from Kansas University, who was part of the teams that discovered both fossils, and other scientists to propose the new genus Mongolarachne from the family Mongolarachnidae. According to Selden’s (2013) paper, these Mongolarachne closely resemble the modern day ogre-faced spiders that belong to the Deinopidae family.

Spider fossils are considered rare because of the soft composure of their bodies, but these two fossils were found within volcanic deposits. It is believed these deposits buried this pair at the bottom of a lake, therefore preserving them in very good condition.

References:

Selden, P.A., Shih, C., Ren, D. 2013. A giant spider from the Jurassic of China reveals greater diversity of the orbicularian stem group. Naturwissenschaften, 100:12. Pg 1171-1181.

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Mystery Of Thirty Nine Skulls Discovered At London Wall Finally Solved.

In 1988, thirty-nine skulls were unearthed below the Guildhall in London. Their discovery left many unanswered questions, but after being recently re-examined – it is now believed that these skulls are the decapitated heads of gladiators.

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This Roman era skull, believed to belong to a gladiator, shows evidence of sharp force trauma.

Some of the skulls showed signs of ante and peri-mortem injuries, which Rebecca Redfern from the Museum of London, have interpreted as being the result of “sacrificial headhunting, or the remains of gladiators”.

One of the skulls showed evidence that a part of the jawbone had been cut away, which depicts that they were the victims of violence. Others showed multiple lethal blows to the head, as well as healed fractures. These are the first physical pieces of evidence that support that there were gladiators in London, even though it is widely known that this site once held an amphitheatre.

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This mandible found at the Roman era site, shows evidence of sharp force trauma – leading experts to believe that these are the outcomes from being a gladiator in Roman London.

Another haul of Roman era skulls have been recently found close to this site. In August of 2013, a team of archaeologists unearthed two-dozen Roman-era skulls, which occurred whilst expanding the underground tunnels beneath Liverpool Street.

The skulls were found within the ancient river sediment deposits, which once belonged to the now extinct Walbrook River. It is thought that the skulls, along with pottery shards, were deposited onto a river bend after being washed away from a nearby burial ground.

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One of the two-dozen Roman era skulls found beneath London’s Liverpool Street Station.

These two-dozen Roman skulls have been loosely speculated to have belonged to victims of Queen Boudicca’s army, during her opposition to the Roman presence in Britain, dating around 61 A.D.

References:

Redfern, R., Bonney, H. 2014.  Headhunting and amphitheatre combat in Roman London, England: new evidence from the Walbrook Valley. Journal of Archaeological Science. Available here.

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Quick Tips: How To Estimate The Chronological Age Of A Human Skeleton – Pubic Symphyseal Surface Method.

This Quick Tips post is the fifth in the series on age estimation on skeletal remains, if you haven’t read the previous post click here, or to start at the beginning click here. The previous post provides an overview of the cranial suture method of aging, whereas the first post covers the basics.

This method is one of the most common ways of chronically aging a human skeleton, and involves examining the surface of the pubis of the os coxae.

Over a lifetime the surface of the pubis change; in early adulthood the surface is rugged and is traversed by horizontal ridges and intervening grooves. By the age of thirty-five, the surface becomes smoother bound by a rim, as it loses relief. The pubic symphysis of an adult over the age of thirty-five, continues to erode and deteriorate with progressive changes.

These changes were first documented by Todd (1920) who conducted a study on 306 males of known age-at-death. Todd identified that there were four parts to the pubic symphysis, where he noted evidence of billowing, ridging, ossific nodules, and texture:

  1. The ventral border (rampart).
  2. The dorsal border (rampart).
  3. The superior extremity.
  4. The inferior extremity.

Using his observations, Todd identified ten phases of pubic symphysis age, ranging from eight/nine-teen years old to fifty-plus years.

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After Todd’s (1920) method which only looked at males, Suchey-Brooks (1990) undertook a study that involved both female and male pubic symphyses – which allowed for a new symphysis scoring system to be created. This new scoring system is made up of six phases, which have a corresponding statistical analysis for the age that each stage represents. The six stages are as follows:

  1. Lack of delimitation of either superior/inferior extremity; Symphyseal face has a billowing surface (ridges and furrows), which usually extends to include the pubic tubercle. The horizontal ridges are well-marked, and ventral bevelling may be commencing. Although ossific nodules may occur on the either extremity.
  2. Surface has commencing delimitation of lower and/or upper extremities occurring with or without ossific nodules; Symphyseal face may still show ridge development. The ventral rampart may be in beginning phases as an extension of the bony activity at either or both extremities.
  3. Ventral rampart in process of completion; There can be a continuation of fusing ossific nodules forming the upper extremity and along the vetral border. Symphyseal face is smooth or can continue to show distinct ridges. Dorsal plateau is complete. Absence of lipping of symphyseal dorsal margin; no bony ligamentous outgrowths.
  4. Oval outline is complete, but a hiatus can occur in upper ventral rim; Symphyseal face is generally fine grained although remnants of the old ridge and furrow system may still remain. Pubic tubercle is fully separated from the symphyseal face by definition of the upper extremity. The symphyseal face may have a distinct rim. Ventrally, bony ligamentous outgrowths may occur on inferior portion of pubic bone adjacent to symphyseal face. If any lipping occurs, it will be slight and located on the dorsal border.
  5. Symphyseal face is completely rimmed with some slight depression of the face itself, relative to the rim; Moderate lipping is usually found on the dorsal border with more prominent ligamentous outgrowths on the ventral border. There is little or no rim erosion. Breakdown may occur on superior ventral border.
  6. Symphyseal face may show on-going depression as rim erodes; Ventral ligamentous attachments are marked. In many individuals the pubic tubercle appears as a separate bony knob. The face may be pitted or porous, giving an appearance of disfigurement with the on-going process of erratic ossification. Crenulations may occur. The shape of the face is often irregular at this stage.
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Figure 2: The Suchey-Brooks pubic symphasis scoring system of the six stages. It is recommended that these illustrations be supplemented by casts before actual aging is attempted.

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Table 1: Statistics for the Suchey-Brooks phases in females and males.

This pubis symphyseal surface method is often preferred over the other aging methods due to the age-related changes on the pubis surface continuing after full adult stature has occurred, for example; epiphyseal closing method can only age early adulthood.

References:

Buikstra, J.E., Ubelaker, D.H. 1994. Standards for Data Collection From Human Skeletal Remains.Fayetteville, Arkansas: Arkansas Archaeological Survey Report Number 44.

Todd, T.W. 1920 Age changes in the pubic bone: I. The white male pubis. American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 3: 467-470.

White, T.D., Folkens, P.A. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. San Diego, CA: Academic Press. Pg 360-385.

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy? Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Ancient Egyptian Brewer Tomb Unearthed.

A magnificent painted tomb belonging to an ancient Egyptian brewer has been discovered on the west bank of the Nile.

The painted T-shaped tomb is said to belong to Khonso Im-Heb, who is documented as being the head of granaries and beer-brewing for the worship of the Egyptian goddess, Mut.

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Khono Im-heb, bare-headed, and his wife depicted in two rituals with Egyptian gods: Osiris (top left), and Anubis (top right).

The images that line the walls of the tomb illustrate numerous scenes of daily life, giving us an insight into the activities that occurred 3,000 years ago. The paintings colourfully show Khonso Im-Heb interacting with his wife and children, and their ritual practices for their worship of Mut.

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Khonso Im-Heb and his wife being presented with an offering from their son.

The burial chamber was found in El Khokha, in the Valley of the Kings near the royal tombs. The tomb was unearthed by Japanese archaeologists, led by Jiro Kondo, from the Waseda University in Tokyo in December 2007.

 

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy?” Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Aztec ‘Human Sacrifice’ Remains Found Under Mexico City Subway.

Archaeologists who surveyed a Mexico City subway in order for an extension to be performed have announced they made a startling discovery – unveiling what is thought to be remains of Aztec sacrifices.

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One of the human remains found at the excavation site which was thought to be a human sacrifice – with offerings beside them.

The team of archaeologists, led by Maria de Jesus Sanchez from the Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (NIAH), have unearthed a dog’s skull with holes in it. As well as the dog skull, a female’s skull and two male skulls with the same indents were also found in close proximity.

It is thought that these skulls are the remains are from Aztec offerings, due to the bizarre nature of the holes that perforate the skulls. It is thought that these holes would have allowed the skulls to be displayed on a rack, known as a tzompantli, for the public to see. Tzompantli were commonly used within the ancient Aztec world for displaying the severed heads of captured warriors, who were sacrificed as an offering to the Gods.

The skulls have been dated back to between 1350 and 1521, and the discovery of the dog’s skull with such punctures is the first of its kind according to the NIAH, making it a very important find. It is thought that the dog was sacrificed because in some pre-Hispanic beliefs, a dog can accompany its owner in the afterlife.

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The human skull, center, and dog skull, top right, that was discovered at the site.

But these skulls weren’t all that was found during this excavation – one hundred burials were also uncovered with the majority of the skeletons being juvenile.

References:

  • NIAH. 2013. SKULLS OF A ‘TZOMPANTLI’ BETWEEN FINDINGS ON METRO LINE 12. Archaeology – Bulletins. Available here.

If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy?” Check out our new ‘Useful Literature’ page!

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Useful Literature.

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If you’re new to the realm of archaeological, anthropological and forensic sciences (AAFS), or are a student needing sturdy and reliable references, or wondering “what archaeology or anthropology textbooks to buy?”
On our ‘Useful Literature’ page you can find links to the full selection of the best textbooks – most of these have been suggested to me by my university Professors.

Here is a short-list of the most helpful student books for archaeology and anthropology:

Quick Tips: Archaeological Techniques – Ground Penetrating Radar.

Ground-penetrating or probing radar (GPR) is a non-destructive, geophysical method that uses radar pulses to image the subsurface. The principles of ground-penetrating radar are similar to reflection seismology, except that electromagnetic energy is used instead of acoustic energy, and reflections appear at boundaries with different dielectric constants instead of acoustic impedances.

Ground-penetrating radar was applied in the 1940’s after the use of radar to detect enemy aircraft’s during WW2. In 1960’s, due to the progression of this surveying technique, it was primarily used to probe and explore the polar ice. By using GPR in relation to these two applications, a P-38 lightening fighter plane was pinpointed within the ice surrounding Greenland in 1992. The P-38 was originally part of a squadron of six fighters and two B17 Flying Fortresses that ditched just over Greenland in 1942. The P-38 fighter plane was later recovered from a depth of 75m.

How does Ground-penetrating radar work? 

GPR works by emitting high frequency, usually polarized, radio waves via antennas, into the ground. If the area being surveyed contains artefacts or hidden archaeology; these electromagnetic waves are reflected back. When the wave hits a buried object or a boundary with different di-electric constants, the receiving antenna records the variations in the reflected return signal. These returned signals are then collected and interpreted to identify any hidden archaeology within the surveyed area.

N.B. Higher frequencies do not penetrate the ground as far as lower frequencies do, but these higher frequencies give a better resolution. Also the radar emitting antennas are usually in contact with the ground for the strongest signal strength; however, GPR air launched antennas can be used above the ground.

Advantages of Ground-penetrating Radar:

  • GPR is non-destructive and not invasive – helping to preserve the archaeology/landscape.
  • GPR can be used in a variety of media/sediments including; rock, soil, ice, fresh water, pavements and structures.
  • It can detect objects, changes in material, and voids/cracks in the ground.

Disadvantages of Ground-penetrating Radar:

  • The depth range of GPR is limited by the electrical conductivity of the ground. As conductivity increases, the penetration depth decreases. This is because the electromagnetic energy is more quickly dissipated into heat, causing a loss in signal strength at depth.
  • In moist and/or clay-laden soils and soils with high electrical conductivity, penetration is sometimes only a few centimetres.
  • Metal can interfere with the electromagnetic radiation – this can give false results.

References:

Balme, J., Paterson, A. 2006. Archaeology in Practice: A Student Guide to Archaeological Analayses. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing. Pg 218.

Renfrew, C., Bahn, P. 1991. Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice. London, UK: Thames & Hudson. Pg 249-53.

Click here to read more Quick Tip posts!

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