Dutch Archaeologists Find the Site of a Massacre Julius Caesar Boasted About

In Julius Caesar’s personal account of the Gallic Wars, De Bello Gallico, the Roman commander (and emperor-to-be) detailed the massacre of two Germanic tribes by Roman troops in 55 BCE. The tribes had asked Caesar for asylum. Instead, they were massacred. Caesar boasted that his troops killed 430,000 people, the majority of them women and children. Some died by sword or spear either in battle or while fleeing the Romans. Others attempting escape drowned in a nearby river.  

The location of this horrific episode has never been confirmed. But now, archaeologists with VU University Amsterdam say they've found the first physical evidence that the battle took place in what is now the Netherlands, near the city of Kessel. 

This is the first evidence of Roman intrusion into Dutch territory, and the earliest known battle on Dutch soil. While dredging an old riverbed near Kessel over the course of several decades—between 1975 and 1995—amateur archaeologists discovered iron swords, spearheads, a helmet, and German belt hooks, all indicating an early battle site. Most dated to the first century BCE.

They also found "large quantities" of human skeletal remains in Kessel that were radiocarbon dated to the Late Iron Age. Many bore clear traces of sword and spear injuries. It appears that the bodies of the victims of the slaughter were gathered up along with their weapons and deposited in the riverbed.

The Germanic tribes, the Tencteri and Usipetes, were not originally from the area, but had migrated across the Rhine River, an origin confirmed by geochemical analysis of dental enamel found in the remains. 

Caesar said his troops slaughtered the entire population. However, the new discovery allows archaeologists to more realistically estimate the true death toll. They believe that between 150,000 and 200,000 people were killed.

The new number may be less than half of what Caesar claimed, but it's still appallingly enormous. VU archaeologist Nico Roymans wonders whether Caesar's actions constitute genocide: 

Although Caesar does not explicitly express the intention to eradicate these German tribes, he must have realized that his actions would in fact result in, at the very least, the partial destruction of these ethnic groups. Interestingly, there were no moral objections in the Roman political culture of that time to the mass murder of a defeated enemy, certainly not when it involved barbarians. This explains why, in his accounts of the battle, Caesar provides detailed descriptions without any shame of the use of mass violence against Gallic and Germanic population groups who opposed the Roman conquest.

All images courtesy VU University Amsterdam

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Scientists Discover a Mysterious Void in the Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in all of Egypt, was built more than 4500 years ago as the final resting place of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE. Modern Egyptologists have been excavating and studying it for more than a century, but it's still full of mysteries that have yet to be fully solved. The latest discovery, detailed in a new paper in the journal Nature, reveals a hidden void located with the help of particle physics. This is the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.

The ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, has been using noninvasive scanning technology like laser imaging to understand Egypt's Old Kingdom pyramids. This discovery was made using muon tomography, a technique that generates 3D images from muons, a by-product of cosmic rays that can pass through stone better than similar technology based on x-rays, like CT scans. (Muon tomography is currently used to scan shipping containers for smuggled goods and image nuclear reactor cores.)

The ScanPyramids team works inside Khufu's Pyramid

The newly discovered void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it: the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long, 26-foot-high inner area of the pyramid that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi said in a press briefing. Its size and shape were confirmed by three different muon tomography techniques.

They aren't sure what it would have been used for yet or why it exists, or even if it's one structure or multiple structures together. It could be a horizontal structure, or it could have an incline. In short, there's a lot more to learn about it.

In the past few years, technology has allowed researchers to access parts of the Great Pyramid never seen before. Several robots sent into the tunnels since the '90s have brought back images of previously unseen areas. Almost immediately after starting to examine the Great Pyramid with thermal imaging in 2015, the researchers discovered that some of the limestone structure was hotter than other parts, indicating internal air currents moving through hidden chambers. In 2016, muon imaging indicated that there was at least one previously unknown void near the north face of Khufu's pyramid, though the researchers couldn't identify where exactly it was or what it looked like. Now, we know its basic structure.

A rendering shows internal chambers within the Great Pyramid and the approximate structure of the newly discovered void.

"These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu's Pyramid and its internal structure," the ScanPyramids team writes in Nature. "While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage."

For the First Time in 40 Years, Rome's Colosseum Will Open Its Top Floor to the Public

The Colosseum’s nosebleed seats likely didn’t provide plebeians with great views of gladiatorial contests and other garish spectacles. But starting in November, they’ll give modern-day tourists a bird's-eye look at one of the world’s most famous ancient wonders, according to The Telegraph.

The tiered amphitheater’s fifth and final level will be opened up to visitors for the first time in several decades, following a multi-year effort to clean, strengthen, and restore the crumbling attraction. Tour guides will lead groups of up to 25 people to the stadium’s far-flung reaches, and through a connecting corridor that’s never been opened to the public. (It contains the vestiges of six Roman toilets, according to The Local.) At the summit, which hovers around 130 feet above the gladiator pit below, tourists will get a rare glimpse at the stadium’s sloping galleries, and of the nearby Forum and Palatine Hill.

In ancient Rome, the Colosseum’s best seats were marble benches that lined the amphitheater’s bottom level. These were reserved for senators, emperors, and other important parties. Imperial functionaries occupied the second level, followed by middle-class spectators, who sat behind them. Traders, merchants, and shopkeepers enjoyed the show from the fourth row, and the very top reaches were left to commoners, who had to clamber over steep stairs and through dark tunnels to reach their sky-high perches.

Beginning November 1, 2017, visitors will be able to book guided trips to the Colosseum’s top levels. Reservations are required, and the tour will cost around $11, on top of the normal $14 admission cost. (Gladiator fights, thankfully, are not included.)

[h/t The Telegraph]


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