Unusual-ology: Beheaded Massacre Victims Found in 1,400 Year Old Mayan Mass Grave.

Unusual-ology: Beheaded Massacre Victims Found in 1,400 Year Old Mayan Mass Grave.

Archaeologists have discovered a 7th-century mass grave in the Mayan city of Uxul, Mexico. The mass grave contained the dismembered skeletal remains of twenty-four victims. Nicolaus Seefield, from the University of Bonn, who made this discovery has interpreted the skeletal remains as those belonging to prisoners of war and the grave being the site of a Mayan water reservoir.

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The twenty-four dismembered skeletal remains were found within a Mayan water reservoir.

Due to being covered in a layer of clay, the victim’s skeletons were very well preserved enabling fifteen of the twenty-four skeletons to be chronologically aged and sexed. The age of the skeletons ranged between eighteen and forty-two years old, with thirteen of the skeletons being males. From looking at the skeleton’s dentition there is evidence of severe tooth decay and malnutrition, with a few of the skeletons teeth showing evidence of jade tooth inserts. The jade inserts are thought to be a sign of nobility, which could in the future help identify the victims of this massacre.

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A victim’s mandible showing a jade insert within a tooth, which is thought to be a sign of nobility.

The skeletons were badly dismembered with body parts strewn across the floor of the mass grave. Seefield observed ‘complete legs, whose bones were still in the correct anatomical articulation from the hip, to the femur, the kneecaps until the smallest toe-bones. Apart from that I also observed other detached body parts such as severed heads, complete hands, detached feet.’ The skeletal remains also displayed evidence of blunt force trauma on the foreheads, and cuts from sharp Mayan blades on parts of the skull.

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A massacre victim’s skull displaying evidence of the top portion of the skull being cut off.

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A victims foot displaying proper articulation, which means that the foot was severed from the body before being placed in the mass grave.

Seefield has noted the significance of this Mayan find, ‘It is absolutely rare to find such a mass grave in the Maya area. The only other archaeological evidence of such dismemberment of victims was in the site of Cancuén, Guatemala.’

Lead by Dr Nikolai Grube and Dr Kai Delvendakl from the University of Bonn, and Dr Antonio Benavides belonging to the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology and History (NIAH), archaeologists have been excavating this historical Mayan city for the past five years in search of uncovering the origins and collapse of the regional states in the Mayan lowlands. There are already plans in place to excavate the western half of the water reservoir in the hope that more Mayan artefacts.

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Unusual-ology – Medieval ‘Poison Ring’ Found in Bulgaria.

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

A medieval ring which could have once been used to poison unsuspecting dinner guests has been unearthed by archaeologists. The ‘poison ring’ has a hidden compartment which an envious attendee could fill up with poison and sneakily tip into his targets drink – unbeknown to them.

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The medieval ‘poison ring’ discovered in a fortress on Cape Kaliakra, Bulgaria.

The 14th Century ring was discovered by Bulgarian archaeologists at the site of a medieval fortress on Cape Kaliakra, Kavarna situated close to the Bulgarian Black Sea coast. The ring is thought to have belonged to a wealthy but power hungry male, that had political ambitions and so wished to ‘take out’ some of his competitors silently and discretely.

This is the first ring of its kind to have been discovered in Bulgaria according to the director Boni Petrunova, of the National Archaeology Institute and Museum in Sofia. Dr Petrunova has interpreted the find as a ‘poison ring’ due to the positioning of the hole being easily covered by another finger so that the poison could be dropped at a ‘moment’s notice.’

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The hole in which the poison would be poured into the ring to be easily ‘dropped at a moment’s notice’ into unsuspecting diners drinks.

This ring provides evidence that poison was used in politically-motivated murders in Medieval Bulgaria, but the poison found preserved inside would have originated from Spain or Italy. The ring also improves existing knowledge about the life on Cape Kaliakra, by further identifying that it was home to local aristocracy.

However, there are some disagreements between historians on whether the ring truly was used to deliver poison. Some archaeologists suggest that it was an unusual reliquary ring which was once used to store the remains of Saints.

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

Unusual-ology: Ten Year Old Boy Finds ‘Egyptian Mummy’ In Grandmothers Attic.

Alexander Kettler, a ten year old boy from Diepholz in northern Germany, had a startling discovery in his grandmother’s attic when he stumbled upon what appears to be an Egyptian mummy in a mysterious wooden chest. The wooden box, which is covered in ancient hieroglyphs, was apparently bought in Africa around during the 1950’s by his late grandfather. But this Egyptian mummy isn’t all he found in the wooden chest. The chest also contained a death mask and a canopic jar, where the organs removed during the mummification process are stored.

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Image of the suspected Egyptian mummy in the hieroglyph covered sarcophagus.

The boy’s father now plans to take the mysterious box to Berlin to get it examined by experts to see whether this is a genuine mummy or a fake. He believes that the sarcophagus and jar are fake but the mummy might prove to be the real deal as it’s not “something you could buy at a shop around the corner”.

If the mummy is sent off for verification it will be subjected to MRI and CT scans, which may come back negative as mummies tend to be so dehydrated that there is a lack of hydrogen atoms – which the scans rely on. The use of carbon dating will be fundamental in identifying whether this is a true Egyptian mummy or a fake.

There are lots of problems occurring in the archaeological world, from fake mummies or mummies being wrongly labelled as something there not. One such example is my Unusual-ology post focusing on the topic of a lecture I had during my undergraduate degree. The lecture explored the past of a decapitated head which had preserved soft tissue, that was on display in a Wiccan and witchcraft museum under the guise of an execution victim, which was later stored in a decorated wooden box in a Church.

References:

BBC. 2013. German boy finds ‘a mummy’ in grandmother’s attic. BBC News. Available here. 

Daily Mail. Mummy there’s a mummy in grandma’s attic! Boy discovers ‘Egyptian body’ inside an old wooden chest. Available here. 

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

Unusual-ology: Unexpected Items in the Bagging Area…

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Archaeologists have made a very peculiar discovery in a churchyard near the St Pancras train station in London. The researchers, led by Phil Emery from Ramboll Cultural Heritage and Archaeology, have stumbled upon a coffin dating back between 1822 and 1858.  What has made the coffin so strange is that it had a large selection of bones from many different animals mixed among human remains. Within the coffin were nine bones from a Pacific walrus (Odobenus rosmarus divergens), eight mixed sets of human remains – including three skulls, and a tortoise.

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Top: Collection of the walrus bones. Bottom Left: The walrus’ back right leg. Bottom Right: The skull showing visible signs consistent with craniotomy.

The coffin was originally discovered in 2003 during excavations of the horizontal burial trench underneath the station, when the Eurostar terminal moved from Waterloo to St Pancras. Emery & Wooldridge (2011) have noted that the bones discovered have marks which are consistent to dissection, which was legalised by the Anatomy Act of 1832, with one skull showing evidence of craniotomy (drilling a hole in the skull to gain access to the brain). As the animal bones were found alongside human remains, Emery believes that the bones were used as a teaching collection from a research institute and has said that:

“The animal bone consisted of a small, moderately-preserved group of eight bones derived from a walrus of a very large size and robust build.’The sample includes bones from a lower fore-limb, a fore-foot, first and second metacarpal, the lower hind limbs, fibula, calcaneum, astragalus and first cuneiform. These bones are significantly larger than their reference equivalents held at the Natural History Museum. Microscopic examination revealed that all the St Pancras walrus bones show some degree of surface erosion and butchery marks. Three clear superficial transverse knife cuts were noted.”

The walrus bones have now been moved to the London Archaeological Archive and Research Centre in Hackney, East London.

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

 

References:

Daily Mail. 2013. The ongoing mystery around how a Pacific walrus ended up buried in a human coffin beneath London’s St Pancras station. Daily Mail News. Article available here.

Emery, P., Wooldridge, K. 2011. St Pancras burial ground: excavations for St Pancras International, the London terminus of High Speed 1, 2002–3. Gifford, London. This book can be found here. 

Telegraph. 2013. Walrus remains found buried under St Pancras station in London. Telegraph News. Available from here.

Unusual-ology: Male Spiders Self Sacrifice for Better Offspring.

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

The practice of monogyny is found throughout the insect kingdom, especially arachnids. One such arachnid is the make dark fishing spider (Dolomedes tenebrosus). A recent study in Biology Letters has discovered that the male arachnid willingly sacrifices itself to the female to ensure that the resulting offspring is healthy; by providing itself as a meal for the female.

Video of the mating rituals and cannibalism from the experiment – Royal Society of Journals

Schwartz et al (2013) think that this practice of sexual cannibalism may provide an ‘evolutionary advantage’, because a better fed female is more likely to provide healthy descendants. But there are certain drawbacks to this practice; if a male dark fishing spider accidentally prematurely triggers one of their pedipalps, their two feeler-like appendages near the mouth where sperm is stored, they can die. Schwartz has encountered many problems during his experiment while catching the wild male specimens; they would accidentally snag their pedipalps on a piece of cotton which would cause them to die before the experiment could take place.

References:

National Geographic. 2013. Male Spiders Self-Sacrifice, Lose Genitals. National Geographic News. Click here for the article.

Schwartz, S.K., Wagner Jr, W.E., Hebets, E., A. 2013. Spontaneous male death and monogyny in the dark fishing spider. Biology Letters. 9, 4. Click here for the journal.

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here. Or to read about the newly discovered ‘Entrance to Hell’ click here!

Unusual-ology: Ancient Greek and Roman “Entrance to Hell” discovered.

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Italian archaeologists from the University of Salento, led by Francesco D’Andria, working at a Greco-Roman site of ancient have discovered the ‘Entrance to Hell’.

ImageHieropolis, known today as Pamukkale, Turkey – where the “Entrance of Hell” has been located.

This ‘Entrance to Hell’ has been discovered in Hierapolis, known today as Pamukkale, in Turkey.  Francessco and the fellow archaeologists were able to stumble upon the entrance of the temple by tracing the path of the hot springs through the ancient site. The temple, identified as the Ploutonion, has been linked to Hades and correctly identified due to an ‘engraved dedication’ to Pluto above the gate. The temple was built over a cave and underground in the thermally active area. Ploutonion was the worship ground for many ancient pilgrims who would travel to celebrate their gods and bathe within the hot springs that surround the area.

The reason why the Ploutonion has been called the ‘Entrance to Hell’ is due to the writings of the Greek geographer Strabo. Strabo mentions about the “opening of sufficient size to admit a man, but there is a descent to a great depth… The space is filled with a cloudy and dark vapour, so dense that the bottom can be scarcely be discerned.” These documents explain that the cloudy, dark vapour has caused many animals that enter to die instantly. Strabo wrote that Bulls which had entered the Ploutonion “fell down and were taken out dead” and sparrows which were thrown inside “immediately fell down lifeless.” The Ploutonion’s poisonous vapour still survives today as many dead birds have been found on this site during modern excavations. The presence of the dead birds has helped convince the archaeological team that this is in fact Ploutonion’s true ‘entrance to hell’.

If you’ve enjoyed this new ‘Unsual-ology’ post feature – leave a comment or a like!

If you want to read more unusual science posts click here, or to read the Unusual-ology post on the Ancient Egyptian use of lettuce as an aphrodisiac, click here!

References:

Biblical Archaeology Society. 2013. Hierapolis and the Gateway to Hell. Bible History Daily News. Click here for the article, and to read more of Strabo’s writing on the Ploutonion.

Daily Mail. 2013. Is this the Gate of Hell? Archaeologists say temple doorway belching noxious gas matches ancient accounts of ‘portal to the underworld’. Daily Mail News. Click here for the article.

National Geographic. 2013. Archaeologists Find a Classic Entrance to Hell. National Geographic Daily News. Click here for the article.

Unusual-ology: Lettuce, an ancient Egyptian sex symbol?

Unusual-ology is a new post type which focuses on weird new articles/science areas that have cropped up and caught my eye.

Can this key ingredient to salads actually be considered a sex symbol? Well Salima Ikram, an Egyptologist from the American University of Cairo, has claimed that lettuce was viewed as an aphrodisiac by ancient Egyptians, where they also used it as a phallic symbol.

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Min – the Egyptian god of fertility and lover of lettuce.

So how did a distant species of our modern day lettuce become a sexy vegetable? On numerous tomb walls, dating back to 2,000BC, there are images of lettuce which have been connected to the Egyptian god of fertility – Min, who can be found depicted with an erect penis on numerous hieroglyphs. It is thought that lettuce was Min’s favourite food, and this vegetable helped him perform sexual acts without becoming tired. Many ancient Egyptians wouldn’t have utilised lettuce in meals like we commonly do, but often as an aphrodisiac.

References:

Daily Mail. 2013. The land where LETTUCE was a sex symbol: Leafy vegetables were taken as an aphrodisiac in ancient Egypt and considered a delicacy of the god of fertility. Daily Mail Online. Click here for the article!

Ikram, S. 2012. Food, drink, and feasting (Egypt). The Encyclopaedia of Ancient History. Blackwell Publishing. Can be viewed here in .pdf– if you have a Wiley Online account.

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