Vampire graveyard found in Poland?


Archaeologists in Gliwice, southern Poland have discovered a burial ground where the dead were laid to rest in accordance with practices for alleged vampires.

Four skeletons were found at the site, where mandatory digs were being carried out prior to the construction of a ring road.

In each case, the deceased had been buried with the head between the legs.

According to folk beliefs, this prevented a possible vampire from finding his or her way back to the land of the living.

There was no trace at the burial ground of any earthly possessions, such as jewellery, belts or buckles.

“It’s very difficult to tell when these burials were carried out,” archaeologist Dr Jacek Pierzak told the Dziennik Zachodni newspaper.

However, it is believed that they took place in the early modern period.

Tests are due to me made, so as to determine exact dates.

Archaeologists believe that the burials may have been done in such a fashion so as to protect locals from vampire attacks. Another theory is that the skeletons were the victims of cholera epidemic. Further research will be undertaken.

The last recorded instance of a vampire burial within current Polish borders was in the village of Stare Mierzwice, Masovia, in 1914. A corpse was dug up in the village, and the head was cut off and placed between the person’s legs.,Vampire-graveyard-found-in-Poland

‘Lost’ Medieval City Discovered Beneath Cambodian Jungle


A lost city known only from inscriptions that existed some 1,200 years ago near Angkor in what is now Cambodia has been uncovered using airborne laser scanning.

The previously undocumented cityscape, called Mahendraparvata, is hidden beneath a dense forest on the holy mountain Phnom Kulen, which means “Mountain of the Lychees.”

The cityscape came into clear view, along with a vast expanse of ancient urban spaces that made up Greater Angkor, the large area where one of the largest religious monuments ever constructed — Angkor Wat, meaning “temple city” — was built between A.D. 1113 and 1150.

In a series of archaeological mapping projects, scientists had previously used remote sensing to map subtle traces of Angkor. Even so, dense vegetation now veils much of the complex, impenetrable to conventional remote-sensing techniques, the researchers noted.

In the new study, led by the Archaeology and Development Foundation’s (ADF) Phnom Kulen program, the team relied on airborne laser scanning, or LiDAR (light detection and ranging), to survey about 140 square miles (363 square kilometers) in northwestern Cambodia in 2012.

“LiDAR provides an unparalleled ability to penetrate dense vegetation cover and map archaeological remains on the forest floor,” the researchers wrote in an accepted manuscript submitted to the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The survey revealed, “with exceptional clarity,” traces of planned urban spaces hidden beneath the dense forest surrounding the major temples of Angkor, they wrote. In addition, the researchers confirmed the existence of “a vast, low-density urban periphery stretching far beyond the major Angkorian temples.”

This low-density urban area suggests that rather than Angkor Thom being the central, walled-in city that some have suggested, it is just part of a more dispersed city with a densely populated area at its center.

“It’s the same sort of configuration as Los Angeles — so, a dense middle, but it consists of huge, sprawling suburbs connected by giant roads and canals in exactly the same way as the freeways link up Los Angeles,” said Roland Fletcher, of the University of Sydney.

Lost medieval city

To the north of central Angkor, the LiDAR data revealed a previously unknown city hidden beneath the forest, its roadways, temples and other urban infrastructure, etched into the surface of the holy Phnom Kulen mountain. The newfound cityscape would have existed between the eighth and ninth centuries (well before Angkor Wat) and seems to correspond to Mahendraparvata, one of the first capitals of the Khmer Empire. Until now, Mahendraparvata was known only from written inscriptions dating to A.D. 802, the researchers said.

When the LiDAR data revealed the elevation beneath Phnom Kulen’s dense vegetation, the researchers knew they had found something big.

“With this instrument — bang — all of a sudden, we saw an immediate picture of an entire city that no one knew existed, which is just remarkable,” Damien Evans, director of the University of Sydney’s archaeological research center in Cambodia, told Australia’s The Age.

Weird landscape

The LiDAR also revealed an entirely new class of Angkorian architecture, Fletcher said.

To the south of the Angkor Wat complex and dating to the 12th century, “there is a set of absolutely unique, very strange features, which we call rectilinear coils,” Fletcher told LiveScience. “They are like enormous embankments of sand with channels between them. They have no counterpart anywhere in Angkor; we’ve never seen the design of this sort before, and they’ve never been seen before in Angkorian architecture.”

Fletcher thinks the embankments represent gardens, but their exact purpose remains unknown. The channels would have carried water to the various plants and trees growing in the gardens, he suggested.

The research also involved French archaeologist and ADF program director Jean-­Baptiste Chevance, Christophe Pottier of the French School of the Far East (EFEO), and other scientists.

14th-century plague skeletons unearthed at London station


If you find yourself walking in central London, think about this: not far beneath your feet there may well be human remains. On the edge of Charterhouse Square in the district of Farringdon, engineers were digging an access tunnel for the new Crossrail underground railway when they uncovered 12 skeletons.

“We suspected there might be bodies there,” says Crossrail’s chief archaeologist, Jay Carver. “When the excavation machine uncovered the first bones, we went in and excavated by hand.”

Historical documents suggest the then-lord mayor of London ordered an emergency burial ground to be prepared in Farringdon, in response to the Black Death sweeping Europe in the 14th century.

Relatively few people died in the early stages of the plague and so they were buried in an orderly, east-west orientation. In later years there were more dead, and in their graves bodies are essentially heaped on top of one another. The newly discovered Farringdon bodies, just 2.5 metres below the surface, are neatly oriented and were probably wrapped in shrouds and interred: the Crossrail team have found shroud pins but no fabric remains and no sign of coffins. Pottery found at the same depth as the bodies has been dated to before 1350.

The skeletons will now be removed to the Museum of London Archaeology, where radiocarbon dating will determine the approximate age of the bodies. Skeletons discovered in a plague pit in nearby Smithfield yielded DNA markers identifying the plague bacterium Yersinia pestis.

“Our evidence suggests these are burials associated with that period and therefore that these are people buried during the emergency black death period,” says Carver. “If we can find a signature of that bacterium it will provide some interesting new data about this important historical event.”

The Crossrail team have a licence from the Ministry of Justice allowing them to exhume the remains, and at some point the archaeologists will make a decision about curation. Will the skeletons be reburied?

“They may be placed in a charnel store in a crypt, in case future generations want to study them,” says Carver. “It’s an academic and legal decision.”|NSNS|2012-GLOBAL|online-news

Museum’s ancient ‘gaming’ display actually primitive toilet paper


A museum which kept ancient artefacts on display believing they were early gaming pieces has discovered they were actually used as a primitive form of toilet paper.

The Roman artefacts, deliberately shaped into flat discs, have been in the collection at Fishbourne Roman Palace since the 1960s.

And up until now the museum thought the items were used for early games, such as draughts.

But, a British Medical Journal article has now proposed they have a very different function.

The broken pieces range in size from 1 inch to 4 inches in diameter and were excavated near to the museum in Chichester, West Sussex in 1960.

It is well publicised that Romans used sponges mounted on sticks and dipped in vinegar as an alternative to toilet paper.

Yet, the idea these ceramic discs might also have been used is a revelation.

Museum curator Dr Rob Symmons said: “When pottery like this is excavated it is someone’s job to wash it clean.

“So, some poor and unsuspecting archaeologist has probably had the delight of scrubbing some Roman waste off of these pieces.

“It is not beyond the realms of possibility that we could still find some further signs of waste or residue.

“However, these pottery pieces have no monetary value because we are essentially talking about items once used as toilet roll.

“The pieces had always been catalogued as broken gaming pieces but I was never particularly happy with that explanation.

“But when the article produced the theory they were used to wipe people’s bums I thought it was hilarious and it just appealed to me.

“I love the idea we’ve had these in the museum for 50 years being largely ignored and now they are suddenly engaging items you can relate to.”

Symmons, who has been at the museum for seven years, added: “We will obviously have to think about reclassifying these objects on our catalogue.

“But we hope the pieces will make people smile when they learn what they were used for.

“They would have probably been quite scratchy to use and I doubt they would be as comfortable as using toilet roll.

“But in the Roman era it was that or very little else.”

10 Million-Year Hard Disk


It seems these days that no data storage medium lasts long before becoming obsolete—does anyone remember Sony’s Memory Stick? So have pity for the builders of nuclear waste repositories, who are trying to preserve records of what they’ve buried and where, not for a few years but for tens of thousands of years.

Today, Patrick Charton of the French nuclear waste management agency ANDRA presented one possible solution to the problem: a sapphire disk inside which information is engraved using platinum. The prototype shown costs €25,000 to make, but Charton says it will survive for a million years. The aim, Charton told the Euroscience Open Forum here, is to provide “information for future archaeologists.” But, he concedes: “We have no idea what language to write it in.”

Most countries with nuclear power stations agree that the solution for dealing with long-lived nuclear waste is to store it deep inside the earth, about 500 meters below the surface. Finland, France, and Sweden are the furthest advanced in the complicated process of finding a geologically suitable site, persuading local communities to accept it, and getting regulatory approval. Sweden’s waste management company, SKB, for example, spent 30 years finding the right site and is now waiting for the government’s green light to begin excavation. It plans to start loading in waste a decade from now, and will be filling its underground pits for up to 50 years.

While the designers of such repositories say they are confident that the waste will be safely incarcerated, the most uncontrollable factor is future archaeologists or others with a penchant for digging. Archaeologist Cornelius Holtorf of Linnaeus University in Sweden showed meeting participants an early attempt at warning future generations: a roughly 1-meter-wide stone block with the words “Caution – Do Not Dig” written in English with some smaller text explaining that there is nuclear waste below. But who knows what language its discoverers will understand in thousands or hundreds of thousands of years—or even if they will be human beings? Holtorf points out that a much earlier attempt to warn off future excavations, the Egyptian pyramids, were looted within a generation. “The future will be radically different from today,” says archaeologist Anders Högberg, who is also from Linnaeus University. “We have no idea how humans will think.”

In 2010, ANDRA began a project to address these issues, says Charton. It brings together specialists from as wide a selection of fields as possible, including materials scientists, archivists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, and even artists—”to see if they have some answers to our questions.” The initial goal is to identify all the approaches possible; in 2014 or 2015, the group hopes to narrow down the possibilities.

The sapphire disk is one product of that effort. It’s made from two thin disks, about 20 centimeters across, of industrial sapphire. On one side, text or images are etched in platinum—Charton says a single disk can store 40,000 miniaturized pages—and then the two disks are molecularly fused together. All a future archaeologist would need to read them is a microscope. The disks have been immersed in acid to test their durability and to simulate ageing. Charton says they hope to demonstrate a lifetime of 10 million years.

Researchers have some time to work on the problem because the repositories will probably not be filled and sealed up until the end of this century. “Each country has its own ideas, but we need to get a common approach,” says SKB’s Erik Setzman. “We technical people can’t solve this problem ourselves. We need help from other parts of society.”

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.

Landscape of Dead Bodies May Have Inspired First Mummies


Trekking through Chile’s Atacama Desert 7000 years ago, hunter-gatherers known as the Chinchorro walked in the land of the dead. Thousands of shallowly buried human bodies littered the earth, their leathery corpses pockmarking the desolate surroundings. According to new research, the scene inspired the Chinchorro to begin mummifying their dead, a practice they adopted roughly 3000 years before the Egyptians embraced it.

Archaeologists have long studied how the Chinchorro made their mummies, the first in history, says ecologist Pablo Marquet of the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. After removing the skin to be dried, the hunter-gatherers scooped out the organs and stuffed the body with clay, dried plants, and sticks. Once they reattached the skin, embalmers painted the mummy shiny black or red and put a black wig on its head. Covering the corpses’ faces were clay masks, some molded into an open-mouthed expression that later inspired Edvard Munch’s famous painting The Scream.

Few scientists have tackled the mystery of why the Chinchorro started to mummify their dead in the first place. Complicated cultural practices such as mummification, Marquet says, tend to arise only in large, sedentary populations. The more people you have in one place, the more opportunity for innovation, development, and the spread of new ideas. The Chinchorro don’t fit that mold. As nomadic hunter-gatherers, they formed groups of about only 100 people.

To solve the mystery, Marquet and his colleagues needed to go back in time. Using data from ice cores in the Andes, the researchers reconstructed the climate of the region where the Chinchorro lived: the northern coast of Chile and the southern coast of Peru, along the western edge of the Atacama Desert. Before 7000 years ago, the area was extremely arid, the team found, but then it went through a wetter period that lasted until about 4000 years ago. Analyses of carbon-dated Chinchorro artifacts, such as shell piles (known as middens) and mummies, suggest that the rainier conditions supported a larger population, peaking about 6000 years ago.

The team calculated, based on the demographics of hunter-gatherers, that a single Chinchorro group of roughly 100 people would produce about 400 corpses every century. These corpses, shallowly buried and exposed to the arid Atacama climate, would not have decomposed, but lingered. Given that the Chinchorro settled the Atacama coast roughly 10,000 years ago, the researchers argue that by the time the practice of mummification started about 7000 years ago, a staggering number of bodies would have piled up. A single person was likely to see several thousand naturally mummified bodies during his or her lifetime, the team reports online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The number increased over the years, until mummies “became part of the landscape,” Marquet says.

This constant exposure to natural mummies may have led to a cult of the dead involving artificial mummification. “The dead have a huge impact on the living,” Marquet says, citing work by psychologists and sociologists that shows that exposure to dead bodies produces tangible psychological and social effects, often leading to religious practices. “There’s a conflict between how you think of someone alive and dead,” he says. Religious practices and ideas—such as funerals, wakes, and the belief in ghosts—help resolve that conflict. “Imagine living in the barren desert with barely anything, just sand and stone,” he says. Barely anything, that is, except for hundreds, if not thousands, of dead bodies that never decay. One would feel “compelled somehow to relate” to the corpses, he says, speculating that the Chinchorro made mummies in order to come to terms with the continued presence of their dead. When the climate turned dry again and food supplies dwindled, Marquet says, the population dropped. The complex Chinchorro embalming practices also petered out around that time.

Thanks to Dr. Rajadhyaksha for bringing this to the attention of the It’s Interesting community.