Archaeologists in Boston May Have Unearthed Paul Revere's Bathroom

Cyrus E. Dallin, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0
Cyrus E. Dallin, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Listen, my children, and you shall hear, of the brick-lined privy of Paul Revere … perhaps. Archaeologists in Boston may have unearthed the outhouse of the famed figure, CBS Boston reports.

Recent excavations at the site of Revere's home, which was constructed in Boston's North End in 1711, have revealed a 4-foot-by-6-foot rectangular structure made from bricks. Since it was too small to be a house or shed foundation, it was likely once used as a privy.

Eighteenth-century colonial settlers built these early restrooms by digging a large pit and lining it with bricks and clay, so their unsavory contents wouldn't contaminate wells. Finds like these often serve as (gross) time capsules of sorts, as people of the colonial era frequently disposed of household waste and other unwanted items by simply tossing them into their toilets.

In addition to uncovering artifacts from the prospective privy (so far, they've found a beer stein handle, animal teeth, pottery fragments, and some coal pieces), experts hope to examine, well, other types of waste, which could provide new insights into the diets of settlers. We "can get seeds from what they were eating," city archaeologist Joe Bagley told WBZ NewsRadio 1030. "We can find parasites, find out what their health was."

That said, archaeologists still have to verify that the structure in question is, indeed, an 18th-century toilet before going forward with these plans. To do so, they'll dig down to it at depths of up to 6 feet (a 1650 law in Boston required colonists to adhere to this privy depth, although not everyone followed regulations), and see if it has "nightsoils," which Bagley described as "smelly, dark soils which are now composted and not that bad, but they might have a stench still, a little bit.” Hopefully its stink will be mitigated by plenty of archaeological treasures.

[CBS Boston]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

A 2.63-Carat Diamond Was Unearthed by a Grandmother at an Arkansas State Park


Visitors to the Crater of Diamonds Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas clearly have an objective in mind: Excavate one of the diamonds lurking on or beneath the park's soil, the onetime site of a volcanic crater. If they do, it's theirs to keep.

Earlier this month, a 71-year-old grandmother from Colorado made the biggest discovery on park grounds of 2018: a 2.63-carat ice white diamond. And she did it in about 10 minutes.

The retiree, who asked media outlets not to identify her by name, visited Crater of Diamonds with her husband, son, and grandchildren. After briefly scraping away dirt, she saw the gem on the surface. The diamond was so large and clear—roughly the size of a pinto bean—that she assumed it was just a piece of glass. Further inspection by her family and park personnel revealed it was a diamond.

Park officials told press that employees frequently till the soil, which can loosen the gems and allow them to catch the reflection of the sun, making them easier to spot. Roughly 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since the park opened in 1972.

It's hard to know the exact value of the diamond. While there is a certain fluctuating value assigned to a carat, appraisers also look at three other "Cs": clarity, color, and cut. A two-carat diamond is often more than double the price of a one-carat diamond because the larger gems are more rare. But tourists have profited from their finds: In 2015, a visitor retrieved a 8.51-carat white diamond that was cut down to 4.6 carats by a jeweler and valued by the American Gem Society at $500,000.

[h/t WGN TV]