Romans left London because of the weather?

From Dailymail:

Their huge empire stretched all the way from northern Britain to the Egyptian desert.

But it seems the all-conquering Romans had an unexpected Achilles’ Heel in the grim British weather.

Settlers suffered from poor health due to a lack of sunlight and a poor diet after they established Londinium in the 1st century AD, according to scientists.

Researchers at the Museum Of London are carrying out forensic tests on some of their 22,000 carefully-preserved skeletons of Londoners through the ages.

Lead scientist Dr Jelena Bekvalac said her team is focusing on the declining health of settlers during the 400 years of the Roman occupation.

She told the Times: ‘You’d think in civilised Roman society, there would be buffers to aid you, but the climate is still going to have an effect and we see some signs of that.

‘There may also have been illnesses that they were more susceptible to than the local population.’

The Romans’ advanced standard of living has been well-chronicled and included building cities next to waterways, under-housing heating and public baths.

But settlers succumbed to malnourishment, due to a lack of fruit in London at the time, and illnesses caused by their damp environment, such as the flu.

The Romans buried their dead outside Londinium’s city walls in the Western Cemetery, located under St Bartholomew’s Hospital near St Paul’s, and the Southern Cemetery, along the south side of the Thames in Borough.

Archaeologists at these sites unearthed skeletons buried next to personal items including coins, toys and jewellery.

The Museum Of London researchers found that 18 per cent of men buried in the Southern Cemetery suffered from gout, brought about by a lack of Vitamin C, as well as excessive consumption of alcohol and meat.

Eighty per cent of the remains at the Western Cemetery showed pits and furrows in tooth enamel.

The condition occurs when the natural process of tooth growth is interrupted, leading scientists to the conclusion that growing up in Londinium left settlers malnourished and suffering from general ill-health.

The Museum Of London’s skeleton collection is the largest in the world for one city.

Earlier this year, scientists revealed how climate change could have been responsible for bringing down the Roman Empire.

Researchers studied ancient tree growth rings to show links between climate change and major events in human history such as migrations, plagues and the rise and fall of empires.

They discovered that periods of warm, wet weather coincided with period of prosperity, while droughts or varying conditions occurred at times of political upheaval such as the demise of the Roman Empire.

To match the environmental record with the historical one, researchers looked at more than 7,200 tree fossils from the past 2,500 years.

The study, published in the journal Science, said: ‘Increased climate variability from AD 250 to 600 coincided with the demise of the Western Roman Empire and the turmoil of the Migration Period.

‘Distinct drying in the third century paralleled a period of serious crisis in the western Roman Empire marked by barbarian invasion, political turmoil and economic dislocation in several provinces in Gaul.’

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German archeologists uncover Celtic treasure

From Spiegel:

German archeologists have unearthed a 2,600-year-old Celtic tomb containing a treasure of jewellery made of gold, amber and bronze.

The subterranean chamber measuring four by five meters was uncovered near the prehistoric Heuneburg hill fort near the town of Herbertingen in south-western Germany. Its contents including the oak floor of the room are unusually well preserved. The find is a “milestone for the reconstruction of the social history of the Celts,” archeologist Dirk Krausse, the director of the dig, said on Tuesday.

The intact oak should allow archeologists to ascertain the precise age of the tomb through tree-ring dating. This is rarely possible with Celtic finds because the Celts left behind no writings and their buildings, usually made from wood and clay, have long since crumbled away.

Krausse said the artefacts found suggest that a woman from the Heuneburg aristocracy was buried there, but added that laboratory tests will need to be conducted to be certain. Only a small part of the chamber has so far been examined.

The entire room weighing some 80 tons was lifted by two cranes onto a flatbed truck and taken to a research facility in Ludwigsburg on Tuesday. The results of the analysis will be presented in June 2011, researchers said.

Heuneburg is regarded as one of the most important Celtic settlements and was a vital trading center during the period between 620 and 480 BC. Intensive excavation has taken place at the site since 1950. Other tombs found at Heuneburg over the decades had already been plundered.

The tomb and the objects are to go on show in an exhibition in Stuttgart in 2012.

From Spiegel.

Native American came to Europe with Vikings

From Discovery News:

The first Native American to arrive in Europe may have been a woman brought to Iceland by the Vikings more than 1,000 years ago, a study by Spanish and Icelandic researchers suggests.

The findings boost widely-accepted theories, based on Icelandic medieval texts and a reputed Viking settlement in Newfoundland in Canada, that the Vikings reached the American continent several centuries before Christopher Columbus traveled to the “New World.”

Spain’s CSIC scientific research institute said genetic analysis of around 80 people from a total of four families in Iceland showed they possess a type of DNA normally only found in Native Americans or East Asians.

“It was thought at first that (the DNA) came from recently established Asian families in Iceland,” CSIC researcher Carles Lalueza-Fox was quoted as saying in a statement by the institute. “But when family genealogy was studied, it was discovered that the four families were descended from ancestors who lived between 1710 and 1740 from the same region of southern Iceland.”

The lineage found, named C1e, is also mitochondrial, which means that the genes were introduced into Iceland by a woman.

“As the island was virtually isolated from the 10th century, the most likely hypothesis is that these genes corresponded to an Amerindian woman who was brought from America by the Vikings around the year 1000,” said Lalueza-Fox.

The researchers used data from the Rejkjavik-based genomics company deCODE Genetics.

He said the research team hopes to find more instances of the same Native American DNA in Iceland’s population, starting in the same region in the south of the country near the massive Vatnajokull glacier.

The report, by scientists from the CSIC and the University of Iceland, was also published in the latest edition of the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

The journal said 75 to 80 percent of contemporary Icelanders can trace their lineage to Scandinavia and the rest to Scotland and Ireland.

But the C1e lineage is “one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago.

“Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival (in Iceland), preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mitochondrial DNA pool at least 300 years ago” said the journal. “This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century.”

From Discovery News.

Lost Viking settlement found in Ireland

From Science:

The Vikings, the famed Scandinavian warriors, started raiding Ireland in 795 and plundered it for decades, before establishing two Irish outposts, according to the Annals of Ulster, a 15th century account of medieval Ireland. One outpost, Dúbh Linn, became Dublin, the other, Linn Duchaill, was lost in time. Perhaps until now. A team of archaeologists announced on Friday that it has found the lost Viking settlement near the village of Annagassan, 70 kilometers north of Dublin. “We are unbelievably delighted,” said archaeologist and team leader, Mark Clinton, an independent archaeological consultant.

The Annagassan locals have long believed they lived near an ancient Viking town or fort. The stories of Viking raids were told to local children by schoolteachers, and there were also occasional finds that underscored this story. For example, a few years ago, a set of handcuffs once used to shackle Viking slaves was found by a farmer ploughing land. The modern search for Linn Duchaill began 5 years ago when a local filmmaker named Ruth Cassidy, a member of the Annagassan and District Historical Society, enlisted the help of Clinton, a family friend, to find the lost Viking town. They searched through 2005, 2006, and 2007 and were on the point of despair when they came across a flat area—ideal for lifting boats out of the water for shipbuilding and repairs—a couple of kilometers up the River Glyde. They managed to secure funding to pay for a geophysicist, John Nicholls, to survey the site. Nicholls found a series of defensive ditches about 4 meters deep, running in lines. The pattern of ditches does not seem compatible with the typical Irish structure of the period, a ring fort, and no evidence of a Norman settlement, such as moat or castle remains, was found. That left just one other option: Vikings.

Despite this evidence, the researchers struggled to secure funding for excavation work. But the local Louth County Museum eventually offered funds to excavate at three locations. The team found 200 objects in 3 weeks, convincing them that they had found a major Viking shipbuilding town. There is evidence of impressive engineering, with an artificial island constructed out of the landscape to offer protection from attacks by the indigenous Irish. There is evidence of carpentry, smelting, and ship repair, with ship rivets dotted around the site. These features alone would make the site significant as few Viking longphorts—or shipbuilding towns—have been excavated. The team also found hacked coins, which Clinton says were a typical “calling card” of the Vikings, but there is also a total absence of pottery—the Vikings used wooden bowls. There are “high status” early Christian objects, too, probably stolen from the Irish.

Other Viking experts are cautiously optimistic that the long-lost Viking outpost has been found but emphasize the settlement needs to be solidly dated before the case is closed. “If the settlement found can be identified as Linn Duchaill, its value for linking archaeology to the written sources is very important,” says Peter Pentz, an archaeologist at the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. “In addition, it appears that the site is almost untouched by later activity, unlike those of Dublin—some longphorts developed into urban settlements—and thus it might provide important knowledge of this particular type of settlement.”

“It’s really, really exciting,” adds Christina Lee of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom, an expert in Viking studies of Ireland and Britain. “I’m looking forward to hearing about the finds and the dating of the finds. It’s a really important step in thinking about the westward expansion of the Vikings, and the importance that Ireland had for the Viking world is something that hasn’t been recognized. Ireland in the Viking age is of strategic importance.”

One lingering question is why Linn Duchaill was abandoned while Dublin thrived. One theory is that because Dublin has better 24-hour access to the sea, it meant that the Vikings there could take to their ships and head out when they were under attack. At Linn Duchaill, tidal fluctuations would cut off access for several hours a day.

From Science

The secrets of a Roman dig in Carlisle

From THE CUMBERLAND NEWS:

An illustration of a first century AD horse harness found during the dig, shown with the genuine article

A 936-page report into the Millennium dig in the grounds of Carlisle castle in 1999 has now been published, detailing the 80,000 artefacts discovered and what they reveal about Roman life in the city.

Archaeologists dug five trenches on the Castle Green and Eastern Way and, over the following three years, unearthed a huge quantity of pottery, armour, weapons, and, unusually, wooden remains. They normally rot away but, because of the waterlogged soil, 2,000 large pieces of timber were discovered.

The dig, part of the Millennium project which led to the Irish Gate Bridge construction, also saw 2662 fragments of pottery – including 442 bowls from Gaul – 536 Roman coins, 30,250 bits of animal bone, 11 spearheads and 32 arrowheads recovered. Twenty one brooches, nine pieces of bracelet, 10 hairpins and 41 glass beads were also found.

But it is the extensive wooden and leather remains – which include posts, shoes and tents – that surprised the archaeologists, leading to a “wealth of evidence” about the structure of Roman buildings which does not normally survive.

“The survival of wooden structures is still uncommon in Britain and beyond,” the report by the archaeology team says.

“The data from this site has added significantly to the knowledge concerning the construction and appearance of Roman military buildings in the first and second centuries.

“The huge range of the finds demonstrates, on occasions quite startlingly, the very special nature of the archaeological deposits in Carlisle. The extensive waterlogging has preserved a wealth of organic objects that do not normally survive.”

Articulated armour never before found in the UK was also discovered, an event of “international importance,” according to John Zant, one of the team.

Mr Zant, of Oxford Archaeology North, spent years cataloguing, conserving and assessing the finds, and said they always knew they would find “extremely important material”.

He was also involved in the dig at the fort – believed to have been built in 72 or 73AD for around 500 soldiers – and described it as “one of the most significant excavations in north England with elements of national, even international, significance.”

The finds enabled archaeologists to work out, for the first time, how small pieces of wood were used in building construction and that the internal walls of the fort could be easily changed.

A picture of the everyday life of the soldiers also emerges, with finds showing how they hunted deer on a regular basis (270 bones were found), ate mutton rather than lamb (the sheep bones were too old to be young animals) and played a Roman version of draughts – ludus latrunculorum – as 12 black and white glass counters were found.

A wooden-soled bath shoe was found, suggesting there may have been a bath house nearby, possibly close to the River Caldew, but it has never been found.

Razor blades, combs and fragments of mirrors showed that the soldiers made an effort with their appearance. One of the combs even had a whole louse still stuck in one of the teeth.

Tim Padley, keeper of archaeology at Tullie House, said it built up a fascinating picture of an army “arriving in the back of beyond.”

“You have got to sleep somewhere, get things to eat out of, all that really brings it to life. All that may not necessarily be significant, but it’s really exciting. You’re dealing with the practicalities of arriving in a strange place.”

He described Carlisle as a “significant base” for the Romans. “The dig is important because we know what’s going on there,” he said.

“Carlisle as a whole is an important Roman town. North of Chester, it’s the only Roman town with official status – cibitas – a town which had a council. It was the only one in the north west.

“One of the most significant [things we have learned] is the position of the fort itself,” he added. “Thirty years ago there was a possibility it was under the cathedral.”

Tullie House is to open a new Roman gallery next July which will feature some of the finds but take a bigger, overall look at the Roman empire.

The archaeological report claims that Carlisle’s ‘value’ “can be listed alongside York, Chester and Newcastle as one of the dominant centres in the north in Roman periods.”

From THE CUMBERLAND NEWS

When did the first settlers come to Iceland?

One of the things that makes Iceland unique in Europe is the fact that Icelanders know the year the first settler, Ingólfur Arnarson, came to Iceland from Norway. The Icelandic script, Íslendingabók (Book of Icelanders), written by Ari the wise, tells of the first men coming to Iceland on explorations.

Three expeditions came to Iceland, but the first men who came to Iceland to live there permanently were Ingólfur and Hjörleifur. The two came to Iceland in 874. Hjörleifur was killed by his slaves, which only left Ingólfur and his wife Hallgerdur Fródadóttir. They settled in Reykjavík, now the capital of Iceland. An excavation in the center of Reykjavík seems to indicate that this story might be true. It shows that the remnants of building stem from the year 871+/-2 years. That website is worth examining. It has a number of interactive features and recreates the 871 environment.

In recent years some archeologists have begun to doubt that the first year of settlement was really around 870. Those who subscribe to this view point to a number of finds, but most of those actually stem from the years after 870 A.D. However, they bring interesting new facts to live.

RÚV tells us of archeologist Bjarni F. Einarsson, who last year studied a settlement building near the church at Kirkjuvogur in Hafnir on the Reykjanes peninsula (close to Keflavík). Einarsson says the building was probably not a farm. It could not have been built later than 880 A.D. The building contains a lot of rocks, but such buildings have only been found in the Westmann Isles and in Papey Island in the east of Iceland. The fact that no other buildings are close to the one found show that it is not a farm.

Einarson points out that it is known that people came to Iceland before the country was settled. Íslendingabók actually says that Irish monks were in Iceland before the Nordic settlers came. They were called Papar, and Papey draws its name from these Irish monks that left behind bells and crosiers.

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