Hurricane Ophelia Unearthed an Ancient Skeleton in Ireland

Jim Campbell Photography
Jim Campbell Photography

In the wake of Hurricane Ophelia, pedestrians strolling along the storm-battered coast in County Wexford, Ireland, stumbled across a rare find: an ancient skeleton with intact teeth and skin parts, which may date back to the country's Iron Age (between 500 BCE and 400 CE).

As the Irish Mirror reports, the remains were buried on the shore in Kilmore Quay, a tiny coastal fishing village, and unearthed by wind and pounding waves. Locals discovered the bones on Tuesday, October 17, shortly after Ophelia—the strongest eastern Atlantic hurricane on record—passed over Ireland.

Photographer Jim Campbell arrived on scene the day after the skeleton was found. He managed to capture a few pictures of the bones.

"I got a call from one of my contacts about a body found in Kilmore Quay early on Wednesday morning," Campbell tells Mental Floss. "At first I thought it was a person lost during Hurricane Ophelia, but on arrival I was told that it was an ancient skeleton."

"It was later in the afternoon when the archaeologist was almost finished her examination that I was allowed to take my photographs," he adds. "I was literally given two minutes, as the skeleton had to be taken to Dublin."

skeleton in ireland unearthed by hurricane ophelia
A closer look at the skeleton.
Jim Campbell Photography

The skull and intact teeth of an ancient skeleton unearthed in Ireland by Hurricane Ophelia.
The skeleton's skull and intact teeth.
Jim Campbell Photography

Estimates peg the skeleton—which was found in a coastal area evocatively called Forlorn Point—as being between 1500 and 2500 years old, according to The Irish Post. Forensic pathologists and anthropologists were called to examine the bones, which are now in the custody of the National Museum of Ireland.

Maeve Sikora, the National Museum's keeper of Irish antiquities, tells Mental Floss that they plan to conduct further research on the skeleton, which was "found buried in an extended, supine position with the head to the southwest," she says. "There may have been a cist structure [a small coffin or burial box] enclosing it, but this was very damaged by the storms, which exposed the skeleton in the first place."

Locals say they weren't aware of a burial ground near Forlorn Point, and are now curious if even more human remains lay beneath the soil. Just two years ago, another old skeleton was discovered in a nearby bay, they point out.

"Kilmore Quay has always been hit with various storms and high winds," Campbell adds—so if an ancient burial ground does indeed exist, there's a good chance that nature will lend a helping hand in its excavation.

[h/t The Independent]

Homo Erectus Might Have Been Really Lazy

Shipton et. al,
Shipton et. al, PLOS ONE (2018)

Of all the human species that once roamed the world, only one remains—us. Why did our primitive cousins go extinct? For Homo erectus, something like laziness may have played a role, Cosmos reports.

A new study in the journal PLOS ONE explores the role that H. erectus's lack of drive may have contributed to its extinction. The international team of researchers based their analysis on an excavation of a paleolithic site in central Saudi Arabia, finding that the tools H. erectus made were of consistently lower quality than what tool makers in later periods used. Their tools were constructed with whatever material was easiest to get, rather than what would make the best tools.

And it wasn’t because better materials weren’t available. "At the site we looked at, there was a big rocky outcrop of quality stone just a short distance away up a small hill,” study co-author Ceri Shipton of the Australian National University said in a press release. “But rather than walk up the hill, they would just use whatever bits had rolled down and were lying at the bottom.” He added, “They knew it was there, but because they had enough adequate resources, they seem to have thought, ‘why bother?’”

A row of stone tools excavated from Saffaqah
Some of the stone tools
Shipton et. al, PLOS ONE, (2018)

Meanwhile, other hominin species, like our own Homo sapiens, were happily clambering up mountains to seek out better materials for their tools. Shipton suggests that H. erectus lacked the tendency toward exploration and curiosity that has helped our species thrive.

This “laziness,” combined with changes to their environment, was likely what did in H. erectus. As the humid environment around them became drier, H. erectus seemingly didn’t adapt: They didn't invent new kinds of tools to deal with the changing landscape, nor did they relocate or travel farther afield. The research team found the tools largely near dry river beds, suggesting that H. erectus neither progressed technologically nor modified their behavior for their altered habitat.

H. erectus did manage to walk upright as we do—a first in human evolution—and it was likely the first hominin to expand their habitat beyond Africa. But the combination of these two newly identified shortcomings may have contributed to H. erectus's demise.

[h/t Cosmos]

Intriguing New Theory Might Explain the Fate of Easter Island's Civilization

iStock
iStock

Standing up to 33 feet high and weighing 81 tons, the huge moai statues of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) are the most recognizable artifacts of a thriving civilization that peaked at the middle of the last millennium. For hundreds of years, Polynesian peoples lived on the small island 2300 miles west of Chile and developed a complex culture. By the 1700s, when Europeans first arrived, much of the society was decimated.

For years, scientists thought they knew why—but fresh archaeological evidence has provided an alternative theory.

The Journal of Pacific Archaeology published a paper [PDF] this week contradicting the commonly held belief that, in the 1600s, Rapa Nui's inhabitants descended into a Lord of the Flies–like era of infighting and violence as a result of dwindling resources. According to new research, the island’s population may not have devolved into barbarism. Instead, they were collaborating on toolmaking.

University of Queensland archaeologist Dale Simpson, Jr. theorized that the raw materials used in the carving tools would reveal clues about the dynamics of the community. He and his colleagues collected 17 tools found near the moai, including axe-like toki. Using a mass spectrometer to analyze the chemical composition of the tools and samples from stone quarries on the island, Simpson and his colleagues found that most of the toki came from a single quarry.

Simpson believes this is evidence that Rapa Nui's people had not fallen into violent conflict, but were instead sharing resources—or at least allowing one another access to a favorite quarry for tool production. If the islanders were split into factions, it’s unlikely that whoever was controlling the quarry would permit rivals to make use of it.

If accurate, it would join other recent theories that are drawing a revised picture of Rapa Nui's civilization. Explorers once described a surplus of spear-like objects presumably used for combat, but modern researchers examining the tools (called mata’a) in 2015 found that their surfaces were too blunt to pierce skin and were probably used for tilling soil.

While Simpson's take on the newly discovered carving tools is an intriguing theory, researchers aren't ready to rewrite history just yet. Other scholars, including study co-author Jo Anne Van Tilburg, point out that raw materials for the tools could have been seized by force or some form of coercion.

More research will be needed to see if Simpson’s new theory holds up. If it does, it would present a new wrinkle in the storied history of Rapa Nui.

[h/t Gizmodo]

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