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C. Wiktorowicz, et.al. Journal of Archaeological Science 78 (January 2017) © 2016 Elsevier Ltd

Archaeologists Find Traces of Human Organs and Disease in Iron-Age Pottery

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C. Wiktorowicz, et.al. Journal of Archaeological Science 78 (January 2017) © 2016 Elsevier Ltd

Shattered pots and other artifacts have much to teach us about vanished civilizations, but, sometimes, it’s what’s inside that counts. Researchers have identified molecular traces of diseased human organs inside clay pots from the Iron Age. They describe their discovery in a forthcoming issue of The Journal of Archaeological Science.

DKrieger via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

The settlement at Heuneburg in modern-day Germany was part of one of the earliest cities ever built among the Alps. At the height of its success during the 6th century BCE, Heuneburg was home to more than 5000 people. Those people left behind stone walls and mud-brick buildings, fields and burial mounds.

Nestled within one of those burial mounds were six ceramic jars. By the time archaeologists reached them, the jars were smashed, and their contents had decomposed beyond recognition—at least to the naked eye.

A team of three archaeologists and one biochemist found a way to reconstruct what was once there. They took teeny samples from each pot, ground them up, and washed them in a chemical solution to collect any proteins that might remain. They then compared the 166 different compounds they’d found with a large protein database, looking for matches.

What they found was surprising, to say the least. Some of the proteins came from human blood. Others were from human organ tissue. Still others belonged to a virus called Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF). This tick-borne disease starts with a sudden fever and headache, progresses to vomiting and nosebleeds, and can end in uncontrolled bleeding and death. It still kills people today across a wide region stretching from western Asia through southern Africa.

The presence of organ and blood proteins inside the jars suggests that the people of Heuneburg cared lovingly for their dead, interring each organ in its own fine receptacle.

The researchers aren’t sure what the virus’s appearance in Heuneburg might mean; we’ve never found hemorrhagic fever on ancient artifacts before.

Lead author Conner Wiktorowicz, of Purdue University, says his team’s methods and findings open new portals into the world of the dead.

"What have archaeologists been missing regarding social practices and the use of pottery vessels in the past?" he said in Science magazine. “I can’t imagine all of the exciting new findings other researchers will make."

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
8 New Ancient Ships Found at the 'Shipwreck Capital of the World'
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The number of wrecks discovered at the "shipwreck capital of the world" continues to grow. According to Haaretz, the latest find adds eight new wreck discoveries, bringing the total up to 53 sunken ships in a 17-mile stretch off the coast of Fourni, Greece.

As Mental Floss reported, in 2015 archaeologists working off the coast of Fourni identified 22 shipwrecks dating back to 700 BCE—already an historic find. But additional dives conducted by the Hellenic Ministry of Culture and the RPM Nautical Foundation have continued to yield new discoveries. Nine months later, in June 2016, the Fourni Underwater survey turned up 23 more ancient, Medieval, and post-Medieval shipwrecks in the area with the help of local fishermen and sponge divers. The latest expedition took place in June 2017.

Divers inspect and survey an ancient amphora near the shipwreck site.

The Fourni archipelago, consisting of 13 tiny islands, never hosted a sizable town, but it was an important stopping point for shipping routes between the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea, and on to Cyprus, the Levant, and Egypt. The area may have been a hotspot for ships seeking safe harbor from violent storms in that part of the Aegean Sea, as Peter Campbell of the RPM Nautical Foundation told Haaretz. It wasn’t an entirely safe destination for merchant ships, though; it was also a pirate haven.

Some of the latest wrecks found include a ship from the Greek Classical Period—around 500 BCE to 320 BCE—carrying Greek amphorae (ceramic jars), a Roman ship with origins in the Iberian Peninsula, and anchors dating back to the Archaic Period (800 to 479 BCE). Researchers found more stone, lead, and iron anchors all the way up to the Byzantine Empire, which lasted until the 15th century.

Two conservationists sit at a table working with shards of ancient pottery.

The ancient trade routes that crisscrossed the Mediterranean (and the dangers of ancient seafaring) have made the area a fertile ground for millennia-old shipwrecks even outside of Fourni. As recently as 2016, divers off the coast of Israel stumbled upon a 1600-year-old merchant ship filled with Roman artifacts. In 2015, Italian divers discovered the wreck of a 2000-year-old ship carrying terra cotta tiles in deep waters near Sardinia.

The Fourni project is still ongoing, and researchers plan to conduct a fourth season of underwater surveying in 2018. Once the project completes a full survey and documentation of the area, the researchers may consider excavating some of the wrecks.

[h/t Haaretz]

All photos by Vasilis Mentogianis courtesy the RPM Nautical Foundation

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Jersey Heritage
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Watch Conservationists Disassemble World's Largest Known Celtic Coin Hoard
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Jersey Heritage

Reg Mead and Richard Miles are proof that striking silver can be just as exciting as hitting gold—especially if the precious metal in question is a massive heap of ancient coins.

In the summer of 2012, the two amateur treasure hunters used metal detectors to discover the world’s largest-known Celtic coin hoard—now known as Catillon II—buried in a field on the Isle of Jersey in the British Channel Islands. The duo had spent more than 30 years searching for the rare stash, after a farmer’s wife (other accounts refer to her as a daughter) told them decades prior that her family had discovered silver coins while plowing a field.

Mead and Miles were granted limited access to the land, which they scoured after harvest season each year. Their persistence paid off when they finally found the treasure: nearly 70,000 Roman and Celtic coins, believed to date from around 30 to 50 BCE, along with some gold and silver jewelry, glass beads, a leather purse, and a woven silver-and-gold bag.

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

Long ago, members of a tribe called the Coriosolitae—who once lived in modern-day Brittany and Normandy in France—buried the wealth, presumably to hide it from the Romans.

The hoard was excavated by a team that was composed of members of local history and archaeology organizations Societe Jersiais and Jersey Heritage, along with staff from the Guernsey Museum, located on the island of Guernsey in the Channel Islands.

Removing the coin heap from the ground proved to be a challenge: "With earth still attached, it weighed over a ton," Neil Mahrer, a museum conservator with local historic trust Jersey Heritage, told Archaeology. "We had no idea how strong it was, in that it was only held together by the corrosion between the coins."

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

The Celtic coin hoard known as Catillon II
Jersey Heritage

Once the treasure was finally unearthed, conservationists and volunteers spent around three years carefully extricating coins from the pile. The arduous project was completed in January 2017—and now, thanks to the magic of video editing, we can watch the entire process in only 30 seconds.

What happens next to the hoard is unclear. Such finds are protected by the Treasure Act.

[h/t Archaeology]

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