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From the Trenches

Ham Hill's Violent History

By JASON URBANUS

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trenches-Ham-Hill-MassacreResearchers have finished a three-year investigation into Ham Hill, Britain’s largest Iron Age hillfort. Located in Somerset, the site’s defensive walls stretch nearly three miles, enclosing an area of 220 acres. The settlement flourished throughout the first millennium B.C., but may have suffered a violent confrontation in the first or second century A.D. Gruesome evidence indicates that the remains of hundreds, if not thousands, of slaughtered and dismembered humans are buried on Ham Hill. The date of these burials, together with the discovery of Roman military equipment, suggests that Ham Hill was subject to a violent assault during the early stages of the Roman conquest of Britain.

Off the Grid

By MALIN GRUNBERG BANYASZ

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Historic-Prague-Old-Town

 

There are three main sections of historic Prague in the Czech Republic: Old Town, Lesser Town, and New Town. King Charles IV, the Holy Roman Emperor who moved his capital to Prague, designed New Town himself in 1348 on farmland east and south of the original city. Construction of a new mall from 2003 to 2006, and the rescue excavations that were part of it, revealed that there was even more to historic Prague. East of Old Town, the archaeologists working on the city’s largest-ever dig uncovered the remains of yet another urban center outside Old Town, dating to 150 years before Charles IV’s burst of urban planning. According to archaeologist Pavel Titz of Charles University, this occupation outside Old Town had a “sometimes quite splendid urban character.” 

  

Historic-Prague-Old-Town2The site

Prior to the construction of the Palladium, now the Czech Republic’s largest shopping center, archaeologists found the foundations of twelfth-century structures that predate the construction of Old Town’s city walls. The remains consist primarily of three Romanesque structures, including what Titz refers to as a “palace,” one of only three such buildings in Prague. It had many rooms and several stories, along with a well-preserved cesspit and bits of flat window glass, possibly the oldest in the city. The foundations of the buildings were constructed of timber and masonry, the first evidence in Prague of such an approach to construction. The digs also turned up more than five million pieces of pottery, animal bone, glass, and ceramics. Following the excavation, archaeologists and developers were faced with the challenge of how to preserve the important remains. A visit to the Neoluxor bookstore reveals the solution: Amid the shelves of books for sale are the actual foundation and walls of the “palace” building, along with Romanesque column bases. Stonework, artifact cases, and informational signage pop up throughout the shopping experience. “The Palladium shows that it is possible to preserve and present archaeology in modern buildings,” says Titz.

 

 

While you’re there

The Palladium has more than 200 shops and 30 restaurants and cafés, but the rest of historic Prague is right on its doorstep. No visitor can miss Prague Castle in Lesser Town, the largest castle complex in the world; the ornate Astronomical Clock on the facade of Old Town Hall; and bustling Wenceslas Square in New Town, in addition to countless museums, churches, Jewish monuments, and architectural wonders both old and new.

French Revolution Forgeries?

By NIKHIL SWAMINATHAN

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trenches-LouisXVI-Blood-Gourd

When Louis XVI went to the guillotine on January 21, 1793, spectators dipped handkerchiefs in his blood as souvenirs of the French Revolution. One hanky reportedly ended up in a hollow gourd decorated with figures of the revolution, such as Maximilien de Robespierre and Jean-Paul Marat. Over the following 200 years the rag dissolved, leaving just a bloodstain, while the hollowed-out squash itself passed into the hands of an Italian family.

 

In 2009, the family enlisted paleogenomicist Carles Lalueza-Fox, of Barcelona’s Pompeu Fabra University, to verify that the blood in the gourd was in fact Louis XVI’s. Lalueza-Fox sought out a DNA sample from a member of the House of Bourbon, the royal lineage to which Louis XVI belonged, as a basis of comparison. In the process, he found himself in a genetic quandary that called into question the authenticity of not one, but two, purported relics of the French Revolution.

 

In the late 1990s, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a forensic geneticist at Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium, had authenticated a preserved heart that reportedly belonged to Louis XVII, Louis XVI’s son who died at age 10. He did this by isolating mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, from the heart and comparing it with genetic material from hair belonging to Louis XVII’s mother, Marie Antoinette. Lalueza-Fox asked Cassiman for a sample of Y-chromosome DNA, which is passed from father to son, to authenticate the gourd blood, but the Belgian team had been unable to extract any from the heart.

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