Mystery of Viking mass grave found in Dorset solved

Our post on brutally slain Vikings, gets an epilogue!

From dailymail:

A mass grave found in Dorset contains the bodies of an elite ‘hit squad’ of invading Viking warriors, experts claim.

All decapitated and buried alongside their severed heads, the 54 skeletons were discovered in 2009 by workmen digging a road.

Archaeologists dated their bones to around the year 1,000 but had few other clues as to the identities of the men who met such a sticky end.

Now a researcher at Cambridge University claims to have pieced the story together in a documentary to be screened tonight.

Dr Britt Baillie’s research suggests they were a fearsome brotherhood of killers who had a strict military code – never to show fear, and never to flee in the face of an enemy unless totally outnumbered.

They either were, or modelled themselves on, the Jomsvikings – a hit squad founded by Harald Bluetooth, the Norse king who died around 970 who masterminded a stream of vicious raids on the south coast of England.

Named after their stronghold at Jomsborg on the Baltic coast, their history is shrouded in myth but at a time the Vikings were feared across Europe, they were regarded as the most terrifying of all.

But on this occasion, the men, barely into their twenties, were ambushed by the local Anglo-Saxon villagers.

Stripped and humiliated, they were rounded up and axes and swords brought down on their necks, before their remains were tossed into a ditch.

Dr Baillie believes the murders, at Ridgeway Hill in Dorset, probably took place during the reign of Aethelred the Unready who ruled from 968 to 1016.

A chronicle, commissioned by his second wife, Queen Emma notes there was a group of Viking killers in England at the time, led by a fearsome warrior called Thorkel the Tall, said to be a Jomsviking.

Dr Baillie said: ‘Emma’s record connects Jomsvikings to England at exactly this time.

‘Clearly these men had shown a level of bravery similar to the Jomsviking code. So while we cannot be certain about who they were, there are a number of tie-ins that take us down that route.

‘The legends and stories of the Jomsvikings travelled around the medieval world and would almost certainly have been indicative of some of the practices of other bands of mercenaries or may even have been imitated by other groups.’

Aethelred the Unready was tormented by Vikings and ordered all Danish men living in England to be killed on the November 13, 1002- St Brice’s Day – which became known as the St Brice’s Day massacre.

Remains have been found in Oxford and it is thought that massacres also took place in London, Bristol and Gloucester but the remains found here are unique.

Unlike the frenzied mob attack that took place at Oxford, all these men were murdered methodically and beheaded in an unusual fashion from the front.

This is actually mentioned in Jomsvikings legend which states: ‘I am content to die as are all our comrades. But I will not let myself be slaughtered like a sheep. I would rather face the blow. Strike straight at my face and watch carefully if I pale at all.’

It was discovered last year that the skeletons had stripes filed into their teeth, suggesting this was a way they demonstrated their bravery.

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Celtic Princess discovered in Germany

From BBC News:

German experts are carefully taking apart a complete Celtic grave in the hope of finding out more about the Celts’ way of life, 2,600 years ago, in their Danube heartland.

It wasn’t the most glorious final journey for an aristocratic Celtic lady who, in life, clearly had a bit of style.

She died just over 2,600 years ago and rested in peace until a few months ago when her grave was dug up in its entirety – all 80 tonnes of it – and transported on the back of a truck through countless German towns.

In the grave, too, was a child, presumed to be hers. Their last inglorious journey ended in the back yard of the offices of the archaeological service of the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg.

When the truck arrived, the grave encased almost entirely in concrete, was unloaded and a tent constructed around it. The archaeologists decided that removal of the whole grave would allow them to use the most modern resources of analysis, from computers to X-rays. From the gantry above a pit, archaeologists leant down and scraped the earth from the bones and jewels speck-by-speck. What emerged was the lady, the child and their ornaments.

Because of the amount of gold and amber jewellery, they are assumed to be important, a princess and the young prince or princess. It indicates that the early Celts had an aristocratic hierarchy, which has been a matter of dispute among archaeologists.

“It is the oldest princely female grave yet from the Celtic world,” said Dr Dirk Krausse, who is in charge of the dig.

“It is the only example of an early Celtic princely grave with a wooden chamber.”

The archaeologists are excited because this grave was preserved by the water-sodden soil of the region so that the oak of the floor was intact, for example, and that puts an exact date on it. The oak trees were felled 2,620 years ago, so, assuming they were felled for the grave, our lady died in 609BC.

The grave had also not been robbed down those 26 centuries, unlike many others. This means that the jewellery is still there, particularly beautiful brooches of ornate Celtic design in gold and in amber. We usually think of the Celtic heartland as the western edges of Europe – Wales, Scotland and Ireland and Brittany in France.

But Dr Krausse says the real Celtic heartland was actually in the region in the upper reaches of the Danube, from where the Celts could trade.

“Celtic art and Celtic culture have their origins in south-western Germany, eastern France and Switzerland and spread from there to other parts of Europe,” said Dr Krausse.

They were then squeezed by the tribes from the north and the Romans from the south, so that today they remain only on the western edges of the continent.

The lady in the grave reveals the Celts to have been a rather stylish people with a love of ornament, examples of which are coming out of the mud of the grave in the tent in Ludwigsburg near Stuttgart.

From the gantry above the grave, Nicole Ebenger-Rest has been doing much of the painstaking excavation. As well as the rings and brooches, she uncovered the teeth of the Celtic princess. But what also excited her were specks of cloth or food or other organic matter which might reveal a way of life.

“It is a skeleton but it’s still a human being so you have a natural respect,” she said, looking her fellow human being in the face, across the divide of 26 centuries.

From BBC News.

The mystery of bog bodies

From USAtoday:

Scholars have long tried to make sense out of one of the oddities of the archaeological world —bodies pulled from ignominious burials in cold water bogs everywhere from Ireland to Russia.

Hundreds of these bog bodies have been found over the past two centuries. But who were they and why were they dispatched to the great beyond in mucky swamps? The theories range from executed deserters, to witches to everyday people.

The Irish Countess of Moira back in 1783 launched scholarly explorations by suggesting that bog bodies were victims of Druid ceremonies. Others, citing the ancient Roman writerTacitus, quickly saw them most likely as executed deserters. Arguments over individual finds have continued ever since the first look that year by the Countess at the Northern Ireland “Drumkeeragh” bog body, a woman dressed in wool clothes.

“Unfortunately the focus has been almost exclusively on the most spectacular finds, the mummified bodies,” says archaeologist Moten Ravn of Denmark’s Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, writing in the current Acta Archaeologica journal. Rather than arguing from just one body, Ravn suggests a survey of all the bodies might offer better clues to how they ended up buried in bogs.

What is a bog and how does it preserve anything? Cold-weather swamps, basically, where mosses turn waters brown. Roughly 560 bog bodies have turned up in Denmark alone, Ravn notes, usually discovered when farmers try to turn wetlands into farmland. His survey focuses on 145 bog bodies dating to the early Iron and late Bronze Age, roughly 500 BC to 100 BC, the pre-Roman era in northern Europe.

Acids found in bog waters have mummified some of the bodies, or more accurately tanned them into leather. Mosses release chemicals that leach calcium from the bodies, “which means that the bones of the bog bodies take on the consistency of rubber,” Ravn writes. Other bogs rich in lime have preserved other bodies only as bones.

Scholars have raced up and down the human pecking order in ascribing identities to the bodies. The historian Niels Petersen in 1835 decided that the “Haraldskaer” woman’s body found at the site of a copper factory belonged to the Norwegian Queen Gunhilde, drowned by King Harald Blatund (Bluetooth) in the Ninth Century. By 1907, archaeologist Johanna Mestorf became convinced they were all executed criminals, noting many of the bodies were bound and naked.

Shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nazi archaeologists dominated bog body research starting in the 1930’s until the end of the Third Reich, Ravn notes, “interested in proving that the so-called Nordic race were direct descendants of the proto-Germanic race,” dating back to the Bronze Age.

All of these ideas have problems, starting with Queen Gunhilde, who was unlikely to have been buried in leather scraps, as she was found. Also a 2004 Journal of Archaeological Science study notes that carbon dating finds the “Haraldskaer” bog body was actually 2,500 years old, not in King Bluetooth’s reign.

As for executed criminals, Ravn notes there are only 21 Danish cases where the bodies have demonstrably been restrained, which, “may be a general protection against ghosts and not something reserved for criminals,” he writes. About 34% of the Bronze and Iron Age bodies in his sample are clothed, and clothing may not endure in bogs as well as flesh does, explaining its absence. A 2009 study, also in the Journal of Archaeological Science led by Ulla Mannering of the University of Copenhagen, reports 44 instances of bog bodies found with clothes in Denmark, most dating to the Roman era.

The Nazi theory is just crackers, of course, with even their own archaeologists pointing out bog bodies turned up in Ireland and elsewhere, even as far south as Crete, far outside any “proto-Germanic” home.

Instead, “most archaeologists today support the sacrifice theory,” Ravn writes. Proposed in the 1950’s, the basic idea is that bog bodies were mostly offerings to the Nordic gods Odin or Nerthus (“Mother Earth”), with the rest either murder or accident victims. People were mostly cremated in the era, a point which suggests a bog burial must have been a special event.

An alternative is the idea proposed in 2002 by historian Allen Lund that the bog bodies belonged to witches. Ancient people knew about the preserving nature of bogs and sought to suspend their supernatural foes in a state between life and death to forestall being haunted by them.

Ravn proposes a new theory to explain some of the bog bodies — maybe they were just people who died of natural causes and were sent to their burial in the bogs by their relatives. There is nothing special about the range of 145 people in his survey, men, women, young and old. Some were clearly placed in excavated holes lined with bark and cotton, buried with glass beads or gold jewelry in their mouths, a Roman custom. In Celtic myths, bogs and lakes were places of healing, Ravn suggests. “Is it possible that there was a wish to pass on these healing characteristics of the bog to a person who died a natural death so that the deceased could arrive healthy in the realm of the dead,” he asks.

Overall, bog bodies are “not so easy to explain,” Ravn says. The oldest one, the Koelbjerg woman, dates to 10,000 years ago. Others date to modern times, such as Johann Spieker, a hawker (person who used trained falcons to hunt), who died in 1828. “The reason that people were given their final resting place in the bog was not because of any one single tradition or one single ritual,” Ravn concludes. “Some were due to accidents and others to murder. Some may have been sacrificed and others may have died of natural causes and were buried in the bog.”

From USAtoday.

 

Ancient temple unearthed in Heraion-Teikhos

From Hurriyet Daily News:

Ongoing excavations at the Heraion-Teikhos ancient city in the western province of Tekirdağ have unearthed a temple at the city’s acropolis. The temple, belonging to the ancient Thracian civilization, was thought to have disappeared in a fire that occurred in 2 BC. The continuing work at the temple has revealed many interesting artworks thus far, the excavation chairwoman says.

Many important pieces of art have reportedly been unearthed in the northwestern province of Tekirdağ in a temple previously thought to have been destroyed in a fire in 2 B.C.

The ongoing excavations in the pantheon of the ancient city of Heraion-Teikhos in Tekirdağ’s Karaevlialtı district started this year at the beginning of August, according to the excavation chairwoman, Professor Neşe Atik from Ahi Evran University’s archaeology department.

The excavations, which have been conducted since 2000, have unearthed the ancient Thracian civilization for the first time, Atik said, adding that a team of 40 people, including workers, students, archaeologists and anthropologists, was carrying out the work.

She said that they were working to uncover the temple at the acropolis (the highest hill) of the city. “According to the data we have, we thought that the temple burned down in a fire. We have so far removed statues of gods including Kybele, Eros and Aphrodite as well as bronze coins, amphora and similar pieces from the temple,” she said.

This year’s excavations are continuing in the northeastern part of the city, the professor added, noting that they had found a square tower with two-and-a-half-meter-deep walls, resembling city walls, during the first excavations and had started to uncover the tower. “The tower is a solemn structure. It should be a part of a gate in the northeast. But we have not found the city walls that are connected to this tower. We understand that the walls were built for defense, because this tower is huge,” Atik said, adding that the acropolis covered an area of 300 meters and was surrounded by city walls.

“It is possible to see the continuation of these walls on the coast. Some part of the hill is under protection, just like the tower,” she said.

In just one week of work, the temple has yielded very interesting pieces of art, Atik said, noting that dogs were blessed animals in the Thracian civilization. “Dogs were sacrificed for good luck in this period. We saw light yellow spots in the earth when we first started the excavations. And then we found oblation valleys. We found the head of a bull last year, too,” she said, noting that the temple had three different phases.

“According to our research, there had been a holy place here since the 6th century. This magnificent temple was built in the 2nd century,” Atik said. “This temple sheltered many cultures.”

Atik said previous excavations showed that there were different tumulus graves in the northwest part of the acropolis, and they wanted to unearth these graves. “These are extraordinary graves. In this year’s project we want to open one or two undisturbed graves. In this way, we will be able to prove that the Thracian men were buried with their wives, because according to the historian Herodotus, Thracian men had many wives,” she said. “When they died, their wives wanted to be buried with them. A council chose among these wives and these women were buried with their men. But this information has never been confirmed. We need to excavate an undisturbed grave to get definite information.”

The excavations will continue for one month and the area should be set aside to allow the work to continue, Atik added.

Stating that archaeological excavations need a lot of money and patience, Atik said they continued working with the support of the Tekirdağ Governor’s Office.

“The Ministry of Culture and Tourism allocated us 30,000 Turkish Liras for this excavation. We have received half of this money so far. It is impossible for us to continue with this amount,” Atik said. “Other archaeologists have the same problem as me. Since we don’t have a chance to show our daily expenditures like cleaning and eating in an official document, we have a big problem. We need support to reveal our history.”

The rescued treasures of Afghanistan

From Young Germany:

Tillya Tepe, Thierry Ollivier © Musée Guimet/Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), Paris

Excavation of prehistoric sites has revealed that Afghanistan has some 50,000 years of human history. Its farming communities were some of the earliest anywhere in the world and it served as a strategic East-West point along the Silk Road trading route. The ancient Aryan tribes brought Indo-Iranian languages, and great empires conquered and absorbed the lands into their domains.

For the first time in Germany, the Bundeskunsthalle presents the legendary treasures of Afghanistan which have miraculously survived years of instability and war. The Bonn exhibition reveals this synthesis of cultures immediately. Greek, Persian and Indian motifs are on-display from a richly detailed Aphrodite with angel wings to an Indian bindi next to Eros riding a dolphin.

The spectacular gold, silver and ivory objects are witness to the Kingdom of Bactria, a civilization which grew in ancient Afghanistan at the interface of cultures along the Silk Road, becoming a kind of melting pot of East and West. Resulting from Alexander the Great’s campaign in 330 BC, more and more Greeks and Macedonians moved into the ancient cultural landscape, influencing the Bactrian high culture.

From the Bronze Age settlement Tepe Fullol in ancient Bactria (around 2000 BC) there are delicately crafted gold and silver objects – the oldest pieces in the exhibition. The gold vases reveal a refined aesthetic and underscore the fundamental importance that Bactria played in the exchange between the Middle East and India in particular.From Ai Khanum, one of the cities founded by Alexander the Great, evidence of the Greek-Hellenistic influence on the edge of the steppe is presented. The Greek presence in Central Asia was a cornerstone of the development of art south of the Hindu Kush. The findings show the purity of Greek tradition, as well as a symbiosis with oriental styles.

Bactrian Aphrodite, Tillya Tepe (Grave 6), Thierry Ollivier © Musée Guimet/Réunion des musées nationaux (RMN), Paris

The focus of the exhibition are the imposing gold finds from the six graves in the Tillya Tepe from the 1st century AD. The “gold hill” takes its name from the extraordinary diversity and sophistication of the jewelry found there with its precious stones. The exquisite jewels are obvious evidence of Greco-Roman, Indian and even Chinese interactions.

The exhibit concludes with the great finds of Bagram, the former Alexandria of the Caucasus. The treasures stem from two bricked-up chambers in a former royal palace. The artistically carved ivory objects testify to the Indian influence in the region. In addition there are numerous glass vases, bronzes and other pieces binding Alexandria and the Roman world.

The Afghan treasures are of priceless art and cultural value. For many years, the objects in the exhibition were thought to have been stolen or destroyed. Given the unstable situation at the end of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, courageous employees of the Kabul National Museum hid the most important objects and artifacts in the late 1980s. Only in 2004 was the Presidential Palace in Kabul opened again to reveal the treasures.

230 of the most valuable pieces are on-stage in Bonn. In addition to telling Afghanistan’s history, the unique exhibition hopes to elucidate the ancient interplay between cultures.

From Young Germany

The Exhibition “Afghanistan. Rescued Treasures” is on display until October 3rd 2010.

Official exhibition website

Egypt to Reveal the Results of DNA Testing on King Tut’s Mummy

On Sunday, 31st January, Egypt’s antiquities department made the announcement that they will soon reveal the results of DNA testing conducted on the world’s most famous ancient king, Pharaoh Tutankhamun, which was undertaken to answer lingering mysteries over his lineage. Archaeology chief Zahi Hawass said at a conference that he would announce the results of DNA tests and CAT scans on February 17.

The results of DNA and CAT scans on King Tut’s mummy will be compared to those made of King Amenhotep III, who may have been Tutankamun’s grandfather.

The testing of Tut’s mummy is part of a wider program to check the DNA of hundreds of mummies to determine their family relations and identities. It is hoped that the program will help to determine Tut’s family lineage, something which has long been a source of mystery.

The identity of Tutankamun’s parents is not definitively known, though many experts believe that he is the son of Akhenaten, the 18th Dynasty pharaoh who tried to introduce monotheism to Egypt 3,500 years ago. His mother is believed to be one of Akhenaten’s queens, Kiya. Others, however, suggest that Tut was the son of a lesser known pharaoh that followed Akhenaten.

Tut was one of the final kinds of Egypt’s 18th Dynasty, ruling during a crucial, tumultuous time when Akhenaten’s monotheism ended and powers were returned to the priests of the country’s multiple deities.

The department has announced ambitious plans to conduct DNA tests on Egyptian mummies, including tests on all royal mummies and the two dozen unidentified ones stored at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. It is believed that some of the sting could show that some of the royal mummies on display are not who they were thought to be. One of their big goals is to find the mummy of Nefertiti, Akhenaten’s wife legendary for her beauty.

Hawass has long rejected DNA testing be conducted on Egyptian mummies by foreign experts, and just recently allowed such projects to go forth on the condition that they be done only by Egyptians. With funding from the Discovery Channel, a $5 million DNA lab was created at the Egyptian Museum.

In addition, Hawass announced Sunday that a robot would be sent inside the Great Pyramind of Khufu to learn the secrets of its hidden passageways.

SOURCE