Tuesday, May 21, 2019


A cave with evidence of some of the earliest humans in Utah was looted last week by thieves — who, state park officials say, tore security fixtures from the walls and stole all the artifacts inside.

Ron Rood, contracted to work as the site’s steward, said he went to Danger Cave on Saturday to set up for a tour. The spot, which sits in a remote area of the West Desert near Wendover, has no signs directing visitors to its entrance and is closed to tourists who aren’t accompanied by trained archaeologists.

When Rood got to the entrance, he noticed it had been breached, according to a news release about the vandalism. Inside, the installed lighting had been ripped from the walls, the safety equipment was missing and the few remaining relics were gone. That includes tools and rare fragments of baskets woven more than 11,300 years ago that are kept there for educational use.

Danger Cave is a state park heritage site that was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1966. Only a few tours are held there every year. There are no signs pointing to its location and few books mention it. That’s because the space was barred shut to prevent damage. Though people have pried those metal bars open before to sneak in, Parsons-Bernstein said, that’s not how the thieves got in this time. She declined to give further information, noting she doesn’t want others to try the same thing.

The cave is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in North America. The couple of artifacts that were inside for tours are from indigenous inhabitants who lived there when the waters of Lake Bonneville first receded to expose the space. They’re kept in a small box and include a piece of leather with stitching, projectile points and “a piece of plant matter that humans chewed to keep their mouths moist.”

Danger Cave was originally called Hands and Knees Cave when it was first visited by researchers because that’s how people had to enter it. When a large rock tumbled off the cliff face and narrowly missed a group of archaeologists, it was renamed to Danger Cave.


The development of a multi billion-dollar airport that will fly tourists directly to Machu Picchu has sparked outrage among historians, archaeologists and local people. Bulldozers have already begun clearing land for the airport in Chinchero, a well-preserved Inca city about 3,800 meters above sea level that is the gateway to the Sacred Valley in Peru.

The valley provided maize and other crops to Incan rulers, and several emperors built their private estates there. Incan terraces still cover the hillsides around Chinchero and are used by local farmers.

Those protesting against the airport fear it will cause structural damage to ancient ruins and environmental degradation across a large swathe of the Sacred Valley, not just the famed citadel of Machu Picchu itself.

“The airport planned to be built in Chinchero, Cusco, endangers the conservation of one of the most important historical and archaeological sites in the world,” wrote Natalia Majluf, a Peruvian art historian at Cambridge University who organised a petition against the development. She added that the airport “will affect the integrity of a complex Inca landscape and will cause irreparable damage due to noise, traffic and uncontrolled urbanization”.

Nearly 6,000 people have signed the petition, which calls on Martin Vizcarra, the president of Peru, to reconsider the project.

Currently, most visitors to Machu Picchu arrive at Cusco airport, 50 miles southeast of the ruins, and then either catch a train or bus or embark on the four-day Inca Trail to reach the site. The airport has only one runway and is limited to handling stopover flights from Peru’s capital, Lima, and nearby cities such as La Paz, Bolivia. But the new airport in Chinchero will be open to larger planes on international routes across Latin America and the US. The project was first announced in 2012 by Peru’s former president Ollanta Humala and the government plans to complete the airport by 2023.

But critics say the airport will bring noise and air pollution to the area and put a strain on limited water sources in the region. Justin Francis, chief executive of sustainable travel company Responsible Travel, told The Telegraph that he was worried about the impact the new airport and potential increase in visitor numbers would have on Machu Picchu.


The number of artifacts unearthed in the ancient city of Troy and smuggled out of the country may be 10 times higher than previously estimated, according to a document recently found in the Ottoman archive.

Ali Sönmez, an associate professor in the history department at Çanakkale Onsekiz Mart University, has discovered a report, written by İzzeddin Efendi and dated May 3, 1884, that lists 73,139 artifacts that were stolen after archaeological excavations within the borders of Tevfikiye village in the northwestern province of Çanakkale.

“The document presents totally new information. İzzeddin Efendi, who had conducted an investigation [into smuggling], points out that the total value of the artifacts amounted to 15 million Ottoman liras. He describes the artifacts with every detail, indicating that he had a good grasp of the investigation,” Sönmez told daily Hürriyet on May 14.

Efendi, then-provincial chief customs officer, had spoken with other customs officers alongside workers who took part in the excavations, according to the report. He presented the report to the Education Ministry of the Ottoman Empire.

German archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann conducted the first archaeological study at the site, shedding light on a history of 5,000 years. He was later accused of smuggling the treasures abroad in 1873.

In his book “Ilios” published in 1881, Schliemann claimed that the total number of the smuggled artifacts was 8,833.

“Another piece was found in the Pforzheim Museum in Germany. Besides, a piece belonging to the treasures of Troy was auctioned in Switzerland. Some of them were given as bribes. He gave away some of them as gifts, while keeping some of them for himself. A majority of the pieces he mentioned in ‘Ilios’ are not in museums now,” said academic Göksel Sazcı, who authored a book on Troy artifacts.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


Thousands of workers from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds labored in grueling terrain and conditions to connect the Atlantic and Pacific. Most of them were Chinese workers who were paid less for their labor than their European counterparts.

For years, railroad workers were largely overlooked in memorial events marking the railroad's completion. This year, however, their contributions and descendants are more visible than ever in 150th anniversary celebrations.

Friday marked the sesquicentennial of the Golden Spike Ceremony on May 10, 1869, in what was then Utah Territory where the Central Pacific and Union Pacific Railroads were joined. "The Transcontinental Railroad was a tremendous feat of engineering, innovation and manpower that was key to unleashing the economic prosperity of the United States for generations," US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, whose parents are of Chinese descent, said Friday in a reenactment of the ceremony at Golden Spike National Historic Park in Promontory, Utah.

In addition to Chinese workers and Latter-Day Saints who worked for Central Pacific, Irish immigrants fleeing famine and newly freed slaves laid track across the Great Plains for the Union Pacific Railroad.

Before the transatlantic railroad, train travel was available from points east to as far as St. Louis, Missouri. Anything west of the Mississippi River required travel by wagon, a trip that could take anywhere from three to six months. After the railroad was built, it took about seven days and as little as $65 to ride from New York to San Francisco.

"Snow fell so deeply that they had to build roofs over 37 miles of track so supply trains could make it through. The conditions were merciless, dangerous and harsh." Yet, even after the Chinese workers reached wage parity, they still had to pay for their own housing, clothes and food, unlike other workers.
Chinese workers are said to have laid the last rails to complete the line at the Golden Spike Ceremony before dignitaries tapped four precious metal spikes into a polished tie made from California Laurelwood.
The tie bore a silver plaque that included the officers and directors of Central Pacific along with the names of the tie maker and the donor. The spikes were symbols of the "elites" who presided over the ceremony," Stanford University history professor Gordon Chang said.

This year, however, the Chinese Railroad Workers Descendants Association and other cultural groups championed visibility of railroad workers in events and official celebrations throughout the week.
Chinese workers were included for the first time in the annual reenactment of the driving of the Golden Spike. A lion dance was performed at the start of the Golden Spike Ceremony.
"The railroad laborers and innovators of 150 years ago helped unite our country," Chao said.


In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue, bringing to the New World a bounty of wonder: coffee, horses, turnips, grapes, wine. But Columbus and his fellow explorers, in addition to bringing crops and animals we now take for granted, were also the Typhoid Marys of their time. The New World before Columbus: no typhoid, no flu, no smallpox, no measles. The New World after Columbus: epidemics of death.

For Native Americans, the problem was a lesson in basic virology. Because these microbes were as new to society as horses and coffee, nobody had built any immunity to them. Without immunity, wide swaths of people were quickly infected and killed.

Modern medicine is helping most sufferers to recover. Centuries ago, most cases ended in death.

“Indigenous peoples suffered from white brutality, alcoholism, the killing and driving off of game, and the expropriation of farmland, but all these together are insufficient to explain the degree of their defeat,” wrote the late Alfred W. Crosby, a University of Texas historian considered the preeminent expert on the Columbian Exchange. “The crucial factor was not people, plants, or animals, but germs.”


An Anglo-Saxon burial chamber found on a grassy verge next to a busy road and not far from an Aldi is being hailed as Britain’s equivalent of Tutankhamun’s tomb. Archaeologists on Thursday will reveal the results of years of research into the burial site of a rich, powerful Anglo-Saxon man found at Prittlewell in Southend-on-Sea, Essex.

When it was first discovered in 2003, jaws dropped at how intact the chamber was. But it is only now, after years of painstaking investigation by more than 40 specialists, that a fuller picture of the extraordinary nature of the find is emerging.

For one thing it is in free-draining soil, meaning everything organic has decayed. “It was essentially a sandpit with stains,” she said. But what a sandpit. “It was one of the most significant archaeological discoveries we’ve made in this country in the last 50 to 60 years.”

The remains of one of the wooden drinking cups which provided the crucial material for carbon dating the burial chamber, and the top of a wooden drinking bottle with decorated gold neck, found in the burial chamber. The research reveals previously concealed objects, paints a picture of how the chamber was constructed and offers new evidence of how Anglo-Saxon Essex was at the forefront of culture, religion and exchange with other countries across the North Sea. It also throws up a possible name for the powerful Anglo-Saxon figure for whom the grave was built.

Previously, the favorite suggestion was a king of the East Saxons, Saebert, son of Sledd. But he died about 616 and scientific dating now suggests the burial was in the late-6th century, about 580. That means it could be Saebert’s younger brother Seaxa although, since the body has dissolved and only tiny fragments of his tooth enamel remain, it is impossible to know for certain. Gold foil crosses were found in the grave which indicate he was a Christian, a fact which has also surprised historians. Sue Hirst, Mola’s Anglo-Saxon burial expert, said that date was remarkably early for the adoption of Christianity in England, coming before Augustine’s mission to convert the country from paganism. But it could be explained because Seaxa’s mother Ricula was sister to king Ethelbert of Kent who was married to a Frankish Christian princess called Bertha. “Ricula would have brought close knowledge of Christianity from her sister-in-law.”

Recreating the design of the burial chamber has been difficult because the original timbers decayed leaving only stains and impressions of the structure in the soil. But it has been possible. The Mola team estimates it would have taken 20 to 25 men working five or six days in different groups to build the chamber and would have involved felling 13 oak trees. “It was a significant communal effort,” said Jackson. “You’ve got to see this burial chamber as a piece of theater. It is sending out a very strong message to the people who come and look at it and the stories they take away from it. It says ‘we are very important people and we are burying one of our most important people’.”

Objects found include a gold belt buckle, a copper alloy flagon from the Mediterranean, a decorative hanging bowl, and gold coins. Object found include a gold belt buckle, a copper alloy flagon from the Mediterranean, a decorative hanging bowl, and gold coins. The remains of a lyre with decorative copper-alloy fittings with garnets at the center. Objects identified in the grave include a wooden lyre – the ancient world’s most important stringed instrument – which had almost entirely decayed apart from fragments of wood and metal fittings preserved in a soil stain.

The burial chamber was discovered only because of a proposal to widen the adjacent road. It was fully excavated and the research has been undertaken by experts in a range of subjects including Anglo-Saxon art, ancient woodworking, soil science and engineering.

The new Mola findings are published on Thursday ahead of a long-awaited new permanent display of Prittlewell princely burial objects at Southend Central Museum. It opens on Saturday and will include objects such as a gold belt buckle, a Byzantine flagon, coloured glass vessels, an ornate drinking horn and a decorative hanging bowl. People will also be able to explore the burial chamber online at www.prittlewellprincelyburial.org. Essex has sometimes been seen as something of an Anglo-Saxon backwater but the Prittlewell burial chamber suggests otherwise.

“What it really tells us,” said Hirst, “is that the people in Essex, in the kingdom of the East Saxons at this time, are really at the forefront of the political and religious changes that are going on.”

Tuesday, May 07, 2019


Six of the world’s top 10 great figures were Greek, a list compiled for the Massachusetts Institute of Techology Pantheon Project shows, although Homer is identified as Turkish and number 11, Archimedes, as Italian based on methodology identifying people from ancient times based on maps of today.

Number one is Aristotle, followed by Plato, Jesus Christ, Socrates, Alexander the Great, Leonardo Da Vinci, Confucius, Julius Caesar, Homer and Pythagoras in the top 10.

The project, part of the MIT Media Lab, aims to create a data-driven view of history by collecting and analyzing data on the biographies of major historical characters but also indicates Herodotus – the so-called Father of History – was Turkish, as were the ancient philosophers Thales, Heraclitus and Diogenes.

“This means that Albert Einstein is an export of Germany (since he was born in Ulm) and that individuals born in the ancient city of Babylon were assigned to Iraq,” MIT said without explaining why that doesn’t distort history.

Because of the method used, Turkey at 6.7 percent, was listed above Greece at 5.95 percent as the birthplace of globally known philosophers, none of whom were Turkish. That also meant that only 2 percent of politicians were from Greece while 4.77 percent were from Turkey, giving today’s country credit for people who weren’t born there.


Talk about black gold — chocolate was used as coin by the Maya people, and that may have a lot to do with the civilization’s decline. The Maya elite prized chocolate, which they served as an unsweetened beverage. Spanish colonial accounts from the 16h century even mention that the Maya sometimes used cocoa beans — the basis for chocolate — as currency. But was this really the case?

To find out, Joanne Baron, an archaeologist with the Bard Early College Network, started analyzing Mayan artwork from about 250 C.E. to about 900 C.E. The objects she used — murals, ceramic paintings, and carvings — are a valuable source of information even when written accounts aren’t present.

She found that in the earliest periods, no mention of cocoa or chocolate as currency exists. The earliest reference of such goods being used for exchange comes from the mid-7th century: In a painted mural displayed in a pyramid near today’s Guatemalan border, a woman offers a bowl of hot chocolate to a man, in exchange for dough. However, this only shows that chocolate was being bartered — not that it was used as currency, Baron says.

However, things change from about 691 C.E. through 900 C.E. During this period, a number of artistic pieces show commodities delivered to Maya leaders as a tribute or tax. At some point, Mayan kings started receiving cacao and woven cloth as tax, showing that both had become a form of currency.

Some researchers speculated that this may have caused significant problems — whenever there was a crop failure, it may have caused cascading economic problems. Baron’s research supports this idea, but while this would have been problematic, it’s unlikely that this was instrumental in the decline of the Maya. They used several types of currencies and would have likely been able to substitute one with the other.


The Brussels regional government has approved a request to prolong archaeological works currently taking place on the site of the former Parking 58 in the city center, now the planned location for a new administrative center for Brussels-City municipality. The works are at the moment a gigantic hole in the ground (photo) where once there was a parking garage famous for the view from its top floor. When the multi-story car park was razed, a routine architectural inspection uncovered some interesting artifacts, and construction was halted for further investigation, as the law allows.

The dig has now turned up evidence of a settlement on the banks of the Senne, the river on which Brussels grew up, with objects first thought to date to the 10th century, but which may in fact be up to three centuries older.

The finds made so far, in the center of the site to a depth of some 7.5m, have been described as “spectacular” and “of crucial importance for the history of Brussels”. Among them: a stone quay on what was the bank of the Seine dating to the Middle Ages, wooden structures even older, and tools and materials such s leather shoes and wooden combs relating to various crafts practiced back to possibly the seventh century, suggesting life was taking place on the site of what is now the city center as many as 1400 years ago.

As well as the typical finds of archaeological sites, such as tools and pottery, the extended investigation will allow microscopic examination of the soil in each level of the ground, giving a deeper insight into the conditions of life as the centuries passed.


When she and her colleagues made a small excavation in the cave, they found ancient tools, a sign of human occupation. She emailed photos of the jaw to Jean-Jacques Hublin, a paleoanthropologist at the Max Planck Institute. Intrigued, he traveled to China to examine the fossil, and soon he and Dr. Zhang had begun a collaboration with other experts to learn more.

Chuan-Chou Shen and Tsai-Luen Yu of National Taiwan University handled the task of figuring out how old it was. The jaw still had bits of rock stuck to it, and these contained uranium. By measuring the uranium’s decay into thorium, Dr. Shen and Dr. Yu were able to estimate the bone’s age. The jaw turned out to be at least 160,000 years old, by far the oldest evidence of humans on the Tibetan plateau. Its antiquity also supported the scientists’ hunch that it did not belong to our own species. The proteins were not from modern humans; instead, they were a match to Denisovan DNA from Siberia.

With the new discovery and other recent finds, a picture of the Denisovans has grown clearer. Everything about their heads seems to have been big, from their giant molars to their thick jaws to their massive brain cases. Dr. Viola speculated adults may have weighed well over 200 pounds. “I’d assume they’d be very large and robust individuals,” he said. “These are like football players.” The discovery of Denisovans living at high altitude is intriguing for another reason: Tibetans today share a special genetic link to Denisovans.

Saturday, May 04, 2019


Five hundred years ago, a son of Christopher Columbus assembled one of the greatest libraries the world has ever known. The volumes inside were mostly lost to history. Now, a precious book summarizing the contents of the library has turned up in a manuscript collection in Denmark.

The newly discovered manuscript is "an absolutely gorgeous thing," says Edward Wilson-Lee, author of The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books — a biography of Columbus' son Hernando Colón. "It's about the size of a coffee table book. It's almost a foot thick. It's 2,000 pages long in beautifully, beautifully clear handwriting."

Hernando was the second out-of-wedlock son of Christopher Columbus. He was born of an affair that Columbus had when he was kicking around the Spanish court still waiting for the patronage that would launch his voyage westward. Because the voyage in 1492 was successful, Hernando grew up with a fair amount of power and privilege — but because he was born out of wedlock, he never quite gained the levels of prominence that his father did.

But he always wanted to prove himself his father's son in spirit. And so he undertook this bizarre, extraordinary project to build a universal library that would have every book in the world in it. And he very much saw this as a counterpart to his father's desire to circumnavigate the world. So Hernando was going to build a universal library that would circumnavigate the world of knowledge.

One of the things that Hernando realized was that collecting every book in the world — and this was during the early age of print when the number of books was accelerating rapidly — collecting all these books wouldn't really be very useful if you didn't have some way to organize and distill them all. So he paid an army of readers to essentially read every book in the library and distill it down to a short summary so that this enormous library could be at the disposal of a single person who would be able to control it.

This book, the Libro de los Epítomes, which contained the summary of the books in the library, is mentioned in an account of the library by his last librarian. And then it goes missing shortly after Hernando's death in 1539 and isn't really heard of for almost 500 years, until about three weeks ago — it turned up in a library in Copenhagen.

The person who collected this collection ... Arni Magnusson, appears to have bought Hernando's manuscript as part of a group of manuscripts because he wanted some of the other manuscripts in the same group. So it sat in this collection ... and no one really knew what it was until Hernando's story started to become slightly more widely known, and they realized what they were holding.

The most exciting thing about this is that many of the books that it summarizes will be books that are lost in every other form. Hernando was, in many ways, a kind of crazed visionary — like his father. Whilst most other book collectors of the day were collecting dusty old manuscripts of Plato and Cicero, Hernando was one of the few people to see the real potential of print.

And so he was going around collecting all of the kind of throwaway things that [were] really changing the world — so, early newspapers and weather reports and things like that — and bringing them back to his library. So this Libro de los Epítomes will capture for us the world of early print in ways that ... are often lost.

There's a project underway to digitize the manuscript and to transcribe it. It'll be translated for everyone whose 16th century Latin isn't that sharp, and it'll be made available to the public. ... It'll probably take five or seven years to actually get all of that done. So there's a lot of work to be done in identifying which books are in there and which ones are lost in every other form. ... But it'll eventually be made available to the public and contribute further to this fantastically exciting story.


Scientists in Chile say they have found a footprint dating from at least 15,600 years ago, making it the earliest such sign of man's presence in the Americas. The footprint was found at the Pilauco excavation in the city of Osorno (820 kilometers, or 500 miles, south of Santiago), where scientists have been digging since 2007.

Archeologists from the Austral University of Chile said the footprint was first spotted in 2011 next to a house. It took years for paleontologist Karen Moreno and geologist Mario Pino to reliably confirm that the print was human. "There are other human footprints in the Americas," Pino told the Osorno newspaper El Austral, "but none has been dated as far back."

He said scientists were able to do so by applying radiocarbon dating techniques to organic plant material where the print was found. Pino said the footprint appears to be that of a barefoot man weighing about 70 kilograms (155 pounds) and of the species Hominipes modernus, a relative of Homo sapiens.

The area in Chile has proven rich in fossils, including evidence of an ancestor of today's elephants and American horses, as well as of more recent human presence. The newer findings were published in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One.