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From the Trenches

Built upon Bones

By JARRETT A. LOBELL

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches England Medieval Bones

 

When King Henry III’s (A.D. 1216–1272) workers began the monumental foundations for a Gothic-style Westminster Abbey, they encountered burials dating to early periods in the abbey’s history. They stockpiled the remains and reburied them in charnel deposits in an area that was likely a monastic burial ground. Now excavations in preparation for the building of a new Gothic-style tower have rediscovered these bones, as well as 19 other burials in both cist graves and coffins, under a Victorian-era drainpipe. The burials likely date to between A.D. 1000 and 1250, and will provide important evidence of early medieval life at the abbey.

A Baltic Sea Monster Surfaces

By SAMIR S. PATEL

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Sweden Gribshunden FigureheadFigureheads, carved decorations on the prows of sailing ships, went out of fashion in the nineteenth century, but judging by the one recently pulled from the Baltic, perhaps it is time for a revival. Maritime archaeologists in Sweden recently raised a figurehead depicting a monster from the fifteenth-century wreck of Gribshunden (“Grip Dog”) off the southern coast. The warship, belonging to Danish King Hans, sank at anchor following a fire in 1495, and is today one of the best preserved ships from the period, because the cold Baltic kept shipworms at bay. Researchers hope to raise more from the ship soon.

A Kestrel’s Last Meal

By SAMIR S. PATEL

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Egypt KestrelTrenches Egypt Kestrel Scan

 

A mummified kestrel’s CT scan shows it choked on its last meal, probably because it had been force-fed. This bird of prey from Egypt, in the collection of Iziko Museums of South Africa in Cape Town, is one of millions of animals mummified as religious offerings, called votive mummies. Kestrels, which are common in Egypt, usually regurgitate the indigestible parts of their meals as pellets. The virtual autopsy of this bird shows that its stomach already contained digested remains from two mice and a sparrow, some of which it would have regurgitated before it consumed yet another mouse. The tail of that last meal got stuck in the gullet and choked the bird. Ancient Egyptians often force-fed their captive animals, which makes this the earliest known evidence of keeping and possibly breeding raptors.

Pompeii Before the Romans

By MARCO MEROLA

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Pompeii Samnite TombIn the fifth century B.C., the Samnites, an Oscan-speaking people from the Appenine Mountains of central Italy, occupied the Campania region, including the town of Pompeii. Being mountaineers and shepherds, the Samnites were eager to control the lowlands, toward the Tyrrhenian Sea, to ensure access to commercial routes across the ancient Mediterranean. They turned Pompeii into a thriving city with a two-mile city wall, ritual sanctuaries, and homes. Yet relatively little is known about their presence in the city, including where they buried their dead.

 

Trenches Pompeii VasesNow archaeologist Laetitia Cavassa from the French National Center for Scientific Research has uncovered an inhumation burial dating to the middle of the fourth century B.C., when Pompeii was still a Samnite stronghold, before it was taken over by the Romans. The tomb, which is believed to be that of a woman between 35 and 40 years old, was filled with high-quality grave goods, including 10 intact vases in a wide variety of shapes and styles. But it is not the artifacts that are the most significant feature of the grave—it’s the date. “It’s an exceptional discovery because it’s the oldest grave ever found in Pompeii,” says Claude Pouzadoux, director of the Jean Bérard Center of Naples, which carried out the excavation along with the Archaeological Superintendency of Pompeii. “We will now be able to understand more concerning the funeral rites of the Samnites, which we still have a great deal to learn about.”

Irish Roots

By ERIC A. POWELL

Monday, December 07, 2015

Trenches Ireland Skeleton TreeTrenches Ireland Skeleton Tree CloseupA storm blew over a 215-year-old beech tree in Sligo, Ireland, revealing a skeleton tangled in its root system. Archaeologist Marion Dowd was called in to investigate what she calls “an unusual situation,” and found that the remains belonged to a 17- to 20-year-old man who died of what appear to be knife wounds sometime between A.D. 1030 and 1200. Records indicate that there was a medieval graveyard in the area, and although no visible trace of it survives, Dowd suspects there could be more burials nearby. 

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