Archaeologists uncover 'witch' burial in Italy

Archaeologists uncover 'witch' burial in Italy

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Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient skeleton of a teenage girl in Albenga, Italy, which had been buried face down, according to a report on Discovery News . The researchers say that burying an individual in this way was indicative of the person having been rejected by society or considered a danger, possibly due to accusations of witchcraft.

The discovery was made during an archaeological dig carried out by the Vatican’s Pontifical Institute of Christian Archaeology, at the complex of San Calocero – a burial ground on which a church was built around the 5 th and 6 th centuries AD – located in Albenga along the Ligurian Riviera in northern Italy.

Burial complex at San Calocero, Italy. Image source .

The excavation director, Stefano Roascio, said that such burials were carried out as an act of punishment intended to humiliate the dead, and discoveries like this were considered rare. According to the research team, in extreme cases, victims were buried alive in the facedown position, however, this was not the case with the newly discovered burial.

“The prone burial was linked to the belief that the soul left the body through the mouth. Burying the dead facedown was a way to prevent the impure soul threatening the living,” anthropologist Elena Dellù told Discovery News .

A similar practice in the Middle Ages was linked with a belief in vampires, in which the deceased had a stone wedged in their mouth, or was even pinned to the ground with a stake. People believed this would prevent them from leaving at midnight and terrorising the living. The legends formed an important part of folklore throughout Europe. In Bulgaria alone, more than 100 such ‘vampire’ burials have been found .

Skeleton found with a stone wedged in the mouth. Credit: Chris Read

The skeleton discovered in Albenga belongs to a girl aged approximately 13-years-old, however, radiocarbon dating has not yet been carried out to determine from which era she once lived. The burial ground was in use between around the 5 th century AD and the 16 th century AD, and researchers believe the skeleton dates from the late antiquity or early Middle Ages.

It is unusual to find a young girl buried in such a way, as most ‘deviant burials’ are associated with adults. Just what this girl did to elicit fear in the community is a mystery.

Featured image: Skeleton found buried face down in Italy. Credit: Stefano Roascio

    Archaeologists uncover 'witch' burial in Italy - History

    David Pickel/Stanford University The rock that was inserted into the child’s mouth in the “vampire burial.”

    Archaeologists have uncovered a “vampire burial” at an ancient Roman cemetery in Italy.

    The ten-year-old child’s skeletal remains were found with a rock placed in his or her mouth and the researchers believe that it was purposefully inserted there to stop the child from rising from the dead and infecting the living with malaria, a news release said.

    A team of archaeologists from the University of Arizona and Stanford University, as well as some from Italy, found the child’s remains at the La Necropoli dei Bambini, or the Cemetery of the Babies, in the commune of Lugnano in Teverina in the Italian region of Umbria.

    “I’ve never seen anything like it,” David Soren, an archaeologist who oversaw the excavation and a professor at the University of Arizona, said in the news release. “It’s extremely eerie and weird. Locally, they’re calling it the ‘Vampire of Lugnano.'”

    David Pickel/Stanford University The ten-year-old child lying on its side in a fifth-century Italian cemetery.

    The cemetery where the child was found dates back to the mid-fifth century during a time when a deadly malaria outbreak ravaged many of the area’s infants and children. A “vampire burial” such as the one done to the ten-year-old child is unusual but not uncommon and was used by the ancient Romans as a precaution against the children who were killed by “evil” such as malaria.

    “We know that the Romans were very much concerned with this and would even go to the extent of employing witchcraft to keep the evil – whatever is contaminating the body – from coming out,” Soren said.

    The term “vampire burial” comes from the belief that the dead could rise again and wreak havoc on the living they left behind.

    “This is a very unusual mortuary treatment that you see in various forms in different cultures, especially in the Roman world, that could indicate there was a fear that this person might come back from the dead and try to spread disease to the living,” Jordan Wilson, a doctoral student at the University of Arizona, said.

    David Pickel/Stanford University Part of the team of archaeologists recovering the ancient remains.

    The ten-year-old was one of five other burials found in the cemetery last summer and is not the first body archaeologists have found in the area to have received a suspicious burial. A three-year-old was discovered previously with stones weighing down her hands and feet, which according to the news release, was a practice used by different cultures to keep the dead in their graves.

    Also, during previous excavations at the cemetery objects commonly associated with witchcraft like raven talons, toad bones, and the remains of sacrificed puppies, have been found amongst the infant and toddler remains.

    The archaeologists believe that the main evil that the ancient Romans were trying to keep buried at the cemetery in Lugnano was malaria. Many of the bones previously excavated have been tested and were confirmed to have been infected with malaria.

    The ten-year-old child’s bones haven’t had DNA analysis conducted on them to confirm the disease yet, but researchers are confident that malaria was the cause of his “vampire burial” as well because the child was found with an abscessed tooth, which is a common side effect of the disease.

    “Vampire burials” have a history outside of the Cemetery of the Babies as well. According to the news release, a 16th-century woman in Venice had a similar burial and is known as the “Vampire of Venice.” Also, in 2017, an adult male from the third or fourth century was discovered in England buried face down with his tongue cut out and replaced with a stone.

    When you look at other “vampire burials” throughout history the use of stones seems pretty tame. Other examples include bodies being staked through the heart or dismembered before being buried.

    Next, read about Peter Kürten, the sadistic vampire of Düsseldorf. Then check out these two male victims of Black Death who were found holding hands in a shared grave.

    In AlUla, archaeologists uncover earliest evidence of a domesticated dog in Arabia

    ALULA, Saudi Arabia , March 24, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- A team of archaeologists in north-west Saudi Arabia has uncovered the earliest evidence of dog domestication by the region's ancient inhabitants.

    The discovery came from one of the projects in the large-scale archaeological surveys and excavations of the region commissioned by the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU).

    The researchers found the dog's bones in a burial site that is one of the earliest monumental tombs identified in Arabia, roughly contemporary with such tombs already dated further north in the Levant.

    Evidence shows the earliest use of the tomb was circa 4300 BCE and received burials for at least 600 years during the Neolithic-Chalcolithic era – an indication that the inhabitants may have had a shared memory of people, places and the connection between them.

    "What we are finding will revolutionize how we view periods like the Neolithic in the Middle East . To have that kind of memory, that people may have known for hundreds of years where their kin were buried – that's unheard of in this period in this region," said Melissa Kennedy , assistant director of the Aerial Archaeology in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (AAKSAU) – AlUla project.

    "AlUla is at a point where we're going to begin to realize how important it was to the development of mankind across the Middle East ," said the AAKSAU director, Hugh Thomas .

    This is the earliest evidence of a domesticated dog in Arabia by a margin of circa 1,000 years.

    The findings are being published in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

    The project team, with Saudi and international members, focused its efforts on two above-ground burial sites dating to the 5th and 4th millennia BCE and located 130 kilometres apart, one in volcanic uplands and the other in arid badlands. The sites were above ground, which is unique for that period of Arabian history, and were positioned for maximum visibility.

    The research team detected the sites by using satellite imagery and then by aerial photography from a helicopter. Ground fieldwork began in late 2018.

    It was in the volcanic uplands site that 26 fragments of a single dog's bones were found, alongside with bones from 11 humans – six adults, an adolescent and four children.

    The dog's bones showed signs of arthritis, which suggests the animal lived with the humans into its middle or old age.

    After assembling the bones, the team then had to determine that they were from a dog and not from a similar animal such as a desert wolf.

    The team's zooarchaeologist, Laura Strolin , was able to show it was indeed a dog by analysing one bone in particular, from the animal's left front leg. The breadth of this bone was 21.0 mm, which is in the range of other ancient Middle Eastern dogs. In comparison, the wolves of that time and place had a breadth of 24.7 to 26 mm for the same bone.

    The dog's bones were dated to between circa 4200 and 4000 BCE.

    Rock art found in the region indicates that the Neolithic inhabitants used dogs when hunting ibex, wild asses and other animals.

    The fieldwork uncovered other noteworthy artefacts, including a leaf-shaped mother-of-pearl pendant at the volcanic uplands site and a carnelian bead found at the arid badlands site.

    The researchers expect more findings in future as a result of the massive survey from the air and on the ground, and multiple targeted excavations in the AlUla region undertaken by the AAKSAU and other teams, which are operating under the auspices of the Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU). The AAKSAU team is led by researchers from the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia .

    The researchers note that AlUla is a largely unexplored area located in a part of the world that has a fertile archaeological heritage of recognized global value.

    "This article from RCU's work at AlUla establishes benchmarks. There is much more to come as we reveal the depth and breadth of the area's archaeological heritage," said Rebecca Foote , Director of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Research for RCU.

    Other aspects of the intensive archaeological activity at AlUla will be revealed in the new Discovery Channel show Architects of Ancient Arabia, which debuts on March 31 .

    This reflects the commitment of the Royal Commission for AlUla to highlight the history and heritage of the county, and to transform AlUla into the largest living museum in the world, aligning with the objectives of the Saudi Vision 2030.

    About AlUla
    Located 1,100km from Riyadh in north-west Saudi Arabia , AlUla is a place of extraordinary natural and human heritage. The vast area, covering 22,561km², includes a lush oasis valley, towering sandstone mountains and ancient cultural heritage sites dating back thousands of years.

    The most well-known and recognised site in AlUla is Hegra, Saudi Arabia's first UNESCO World Heritage Site. A 52-hectare ancient city, Hegra was the principal southern city of the Nabataean Kingdom and comprises nearly 100 well-preserved tombs with elaborate facades cut into sandstone outcrops. Current research suggests Hegra was the most southern outpost of the Romans after conquering the Nabataeans in 106 CE.

    In addition to Hegra, AlUla is home to a series of fascinating historical and archaeological sites such as: Ancient Dadan, the capital of the Dadan and Lihyan Kingdoms, which is considered one of the most developed 1st-millennium BCE cities of the Arabian Peninsula thousands of ancient rock art sites and inscriptions and Hijaz Railway stations.

    About the Royal Commission for AlUla
    The Royal Commission for AlUla (RCU) was established by royal decree in July 2017 to preserve and develop AlUla, a region of outstanding natural and cultural significance in North-West Saudi Arabia . RCU's long-term plan outlines a responsible, sustainable, and sensitive approach to urban and economic development, that preserves the area's natural and historic heritage, while establishing AlUla as a desirable location to live, work, and visit. This encompasses a broad range of initiatives across archaeology, tourism, culture, education and the arts, reflecting a commitment to meeting the economic diversification, local community empowerment, and heritage preservation priorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 programme.

    Other RCU development work
    Over the past three years, RCU has conducted other development work with multiple partners around the world. This has included expanding capacity at AlUla airport by 300 percent and building Maraya, the award-winning multi-purpose conference and entertainment venue. The 500-seat Maraya, the world's largest mirrored building, has hosted global signature events, such as the Hegra Conference of Nobel Laureates and the Winter at Tantora cultural festival, which featured artists including Andrea Bocelli and Lang Lang . Additionally, previously announced signature hospitality projects include the development of luxury resorts in partnership with Accor, Habitas, Aman and Jean Nouvel .

    Archaeologists uncover royal Celtic burial site in small French town

    France’s National Archaeological Research Institute (Inrap) on Wednesday revealed the discovery of an ancient grave site, probably that of a Celtic prince, which is helping shed light on trade between some of Europe’s earliest civilizations.

    Archaeologists uncovered the tomb dating from the fifth century BC in an industrial zone in the small town of Lavau, in France’s Champagne region. Inrap, which routinely scours construction sites in order to find and preserve the country’s archaeological heritage, began excavating at Lavau site in October 2014.

    A 40-metre-wide burial mound of the Celtic ruler crowns a larger funeral complex, which archaeologists said preceded the royal’s final resting place, and could have first been built during the Bronze Age.

    The prince was buried with his prized possessions, which archaeologists said were still being unearthed.

    The most exciting find has been a large bronze-decorated cauldron that was used to store watered-down wine. Inrap said it appears to have been made by Etruscan craftsmen in what is now northern Italy.

    Buried inside the cauldron was a surprisingly-well preserved ceramic wine pitcher made by Greeks.

    The pieces “are evidence of the exchanges that happened between the Mediterranean and the Celts,” Inrap president Dominique Garcia recently told journalists on a field visit.

    Garcia said the end of the sixth and beginning of the fifth centuries BC were characterised by the rise of Etruscan and Greek city states like Marseille in southern France.

    Mediterranean merchants, seeking slaves, metals and other precious goods, opened trading channels with continental Celts, and often presented ornate goods as “a kind of diplomatic gifts” to local leaders, Garcia said.

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    79 A.D.

    Sixteen years after that telltale earthquake, in either August or October 79 A.D. (more recent evidence suggests the eruption took place in October), Mount Vesuvius erupted again. The blast sent a plume of ashes, pumice and other rocks, and scorching-hot volcanic gases so high into the sky that people could see it for hundreds of miles around. (The writer Pliny the Younger, who watched the eruption from across the bay, compared this 𠇌loud of unusual size and appearance” to a pine tree that “rose to a great height on a sort of trunk and then split off into branches” today, geologists refer to this type of volcano as a “Plinean eruption.”)

    As it cooled, this tower of debris drifted to earth: first the fine-grained ash, then the lightweight chunks of pumice and other rocks. It was terrifying–“I believed I was perishing with the world,” Pliny wrote, 𠇊nd the world with me”𠄻ut not yet lethal: Most Pompeiians had plenty of time to flee.

    For those who stayed behind, however, conditions soon grew worse. As more and more ash fell, it clogged the air, making it difficult to breathe. Buildings collapsed. Then, a “pyroclastic surge”𠄺 100-miles-per-hour surge of superheated poison gas and pulverized rock–poured down the side of the mountain and swallowed everything and everyone in its path.

    By the time the Vesuvius eruption sputtered to an end the next day, Pompeii was buried under millions of tons of volcanic ash. About 2,000 Pompeiians were dead, but the eruption killed as many as 16,000 people overall. Some people drifted back to town in search of lost relatives or belongings, but there was not much left to find. Pompeii,ਊlong with the neighboring town of Herculaneum and a number of villas in the area, was abandoned for centuries.

    How warming seas led to a record low in Northwestern Pacific typhoons, and the Arctic bird that maintains a circadian rhythm despite 24 hour sunlight.

    Lithium-ion batteries have revolutionised portable electronics, but there are significant issues surrounding their recyclability and the mining of the metals within them. To address these problems, a team of researchers have developed a metal-free rechargeable battery that breaks down to its component parts on demand.

    Never miss an episode: Subscribe to the Nature Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify or your favourite podcast app. Head here for the Nature Podcast RSS feed.


    Listen to the latest science news, with Benjamin Thompson.

    Host: Benjamin Thompson

    Welcome back to the Nature Podcast. This week, uncovering the earliest evidence of deliberate human burial in Africa, and a metal-free, amino-acid based rechargeable battery. I’m Benjamin Thompson.

    Host: Benjamin Thompson

    First up on the show this week, the way that people commemorate and bury their dead – so-called mortuary practices – are in enshrined in culture and tradition all over the world and throughout history. And this week in Nature, a paper describes a very rare archaeological find that’s shedding light on ancient burial practices in sub-Saharan Africa. Reporter Adam Levy has been finding out more and, just to let you know, this story discusses the burial of a child.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    In 2017 in a cave in Kenya, archaeologists uncovered a find which would reveal an intimate snapshot of human behaviour tens of thousands of years ago.

    Interviewee: Maria Martinón-Torres

    This finding has been an amazing adventure, I would say, for those who like to investigate the past.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    This is paleoanthropologist Maria Martinón-Torres. The adventure would shed light on a subtle, deeply human part of our history – how we respond to death – and yet the scientists didn’t learn the significance of what they had found right away.

    Interviewee: Maria Martinón-Torres

    The archaeologists discovered an accumulation of very degraded and fragile bones that were all together in a sort of pit in the site, and those bones were so fragile and they were so brittle that it wasn’t possible to properly excavate them.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    Instead of delicately excavating each of the bones on location, the remains were transported wholesale to the lab where they could be handled much more carefully.

    Interviewee: Maria Martinón-Torres

    So, this was excavated at the lab for more than one year, and we were progressively witnessing a surprise that what we were having in this sediment block was the partial skeleton of a child of about 2.5 or 3 years of age in exactly the same position almost as it was laid 78,000 years ago. So, this was like the beginning of a big surprise that made us try to understand, using all of our knowledge from many different fields, we’re talking about palaeoanthropology, we’re talking about taphonomy, which is a bit like the CSI of our field in palaeontology, trying to reconstruct the sequence of events that led you to find a body in that exact position.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    The body had not moved from the position it was carefully laid in 78,000 years ago, and that suggested a deliberate act of burial, perhaps some kind of funeral behaviour. But establishing such extraordinary actions and motivations required extraordinary evidence.

    Interviewee: Maria Martinón-Torres

    We are talking about a type of symbolic behaviour. We are talking about thoughts, we are talking perhaps about feelings, which is a type of evidence that does not become a fossil, so we have to look for ways to try to trap that type of behaviour in our fossil archaeological record.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    Demonstrating that an act was a burial means showing three distinct actions – preparation of the site, placement of the body and covering the body up – and using a range of techniques, Maria and her collaborators were able to provide striking evidence for all three.

    Interviewee: Maria Martinón-Torres

    Someone really dug a cavity in the floor to place a body, and this has been covered and filled later with sediment from a different layer. This body has been placed in a very specific position that you usually find in other burials, but additionally we think that there may be some aspects that even point to a type of more careful or elaborate behaviour, which is the possibility that the upper part of the body was wrapped in a shroud and that probably the head was resting on a sort of material, something like a pillow of perishable material. So, in this case, we think that there is like an involvement beyond simply the position of a body in the treatment of this child.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    To archaeologist Louise Humphrey, who didn’t work on this study, it was clear the team went to great lengths to find evidence of this behaviour.

    Interviewee: Louise Humphrey

    I think certainly it was very thorough. It’s very unusual to find a burial in this time. The team were very fortunate in that respect and so undertook a very meticulous investigation.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    For Louise, the detail of the evidence – showing for example that the body decayed where it was placed and not before – makes clear that this was a deliberate funeral act.

    Interviewee: Louise Humphrey

    Unlike some other types of mortuary behaviour, there really is absolute indisputable evidence that there was an intention here to bury the individual.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    Now, there is evidence of burial in other parts of the world at much earlier dates, in both Homo sapiens and Neanderthals, but at 78,000 years old, this marks the earliest clear evidence of these behaviours in Africa, in an era termed the ‘Middle Stone Age’.

    Interviewee: Louise Humphrey

    The Middle Stone Age in Africa is associated with many different types of evidence for a more complex way of interacting with the world, and we see it in the technology and we see it in the symbolic objects, and I think that burials such as this can be seen as another manifestation of that more complex behaviour.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    So, the evidence reveals the meticulous and deliberate burial of a young child 78,000 years ago, but why? What were the motivations of the people who did this, other than the obvious practical reasons for disposing of a corpse to avoid contaminating a space or attracting predators?

    Interviewee: Louise Humphrey

    Within the human archaeological record, I think the motivations are nearly always going to be beyond that, and I think one of the most intangible aspects of mortuary behaviour does relate to the expression of personal loss. I think we can see that here in this burial because the body has been carefully placed. Those who undertook the burial made an effort to support the head of the child within the position that they wanted to obtain for the body. I think that reflects the level of care.

    Interviewer: Adam Levy

    This insight into how our own species treated the dead in the Middle Stone Age helps scientists understand the origins of our behaviour. But for Maria, unearthing this moment of human history has also been a deeply human process.

    Interviewee: Maria Martinón-Torres

    I think this is one of the most exciting discoveries I’ve ever been involved in, I would say from a professional and a personal level. With these types of studies you can see the roots of the features you identify yourself with. I think it really makes you connect with human nature. This need to prolong the existence of the people we love beyond death, and this mixture of really facing the human part of it, a child that was missed, a child that was cared for, a child that provoked a behaviour, probably a pain, far away from a community, really was able of touching, I would say, my brain and my heart. You really see all the human dimensions of something that goes beyond a scientific finding.

    Host: Benjamin Thompson

    That was Maria Martinón-Torres from the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. You also heard from Louise Humphrey from the National History Museum in the UK. To read more about the discovery, check the show notes for a link to the paper and a News and Views article. Coming up in the show, we’ll be hearing about a new rechargeable battery that doesn’t contain any metal and can be degraded on demand. Before we get to that, though, I need your help. Our three-part mini-series ‘Stick to the Science’ – about science’s relationship with politics – has been shortlisted for a Webby, and we’re in with a shot of winning a People’s Voice Award. If you can spare a couple of minutes to cast your vote for us, that would be amazing. Voting closes on Thursday at midnight PST, so you don’t have too much time, but I’ll put a link in this week’s show notes where you can do so, and I’ll also put a link in where you can listen to ‘Stick to the Science’. Anyway, back to this week’s podcast. Right now, it’s time for the Research Highlights, read by Dan Fox.

    July last year brought a record-breaking number of typhoons to the Western North Pacific: none, the first time such an absence has been seen in 55 years of record-keeping. Researchers analysed oceanic and atmospheric data in search of an explanation for the calmer-than-normal skies. They found that surface temperatures in the Indian Ocean in July 2020 were the highest on record, leading to a high-pressure atmospheric system that supressed typhoon formation. Anomalous ocean temperatures in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans also contributed. Because climate change is warming the Indian Ocean faster than other tropical waters, the authors say this lack of typhoons might become more common in future. Read that paper for yourself in Geophysical Research Letters.

    The world’s northernmost bird – the Svalbard ptarmigan – always knows when to breed, despite passing deepest winter in perpetual darkness and high summer bathed in 24-hour sunlight. Most birds have an inner clock that prompts them to perform specific tasks at specific times of day, but in summer, Svalbard ptarmigan live under a midnight sun and their activity during a 24-hour period doesn’t follow a consistent pattern. Nevertheless, researchers found that key genes for establishing 24-hour rhythms are active in the brain of the ptarmigan, which uses this daily circadian clock to time seasonal events. In birds kept constantly in the light, genes linked to reproduction became active, and the birds increased their activity in preparation for mating. The researchers’ experiments suggest that 14 hours after sunrise, the birds’ internal clocks check whether the Sun is still up. Check your internal clock to see if you have time to read that research in full in Current Biology.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are everywhere. Looking around my little corner of the South London basement that doubles as my studio, I reckon I can see maybe eight or nine of them powering different devices. They are an amazing technology, but not without their issues. Levels of recycling for lithium-ion batteries are low, for example, and there are significant socio-political, environmental and human rights concerns surrounding the mining of the metals they contain. As a result, lots of researchers are looking for alternative ways to create rechargeable batteries. Among them is Jodie Lutkenhaus from Texas A&M University in the US. Jodie and her colleagues have developed a metal-free rechargeable battery that can be degraded on demand, which they say could offer significant advantages in the future. I gave Jodie a call to find out more, and she gave me a quick chemistry lesson.

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    Lithium-ion batteries work by shuttling lithium ions around internally, and for every lithium ion that moves, an electron moves, and the electron is what generates the current. Today’s lithium-ion batteries consist of a metal oxide cathode, a graphite anode and a liquid electrolyte that contains a lithium salt. And what we did was we replaced every component with a material that is metal-free and organic. So, the cathode contains a polypeptide that has groups hanging off that can undergo reduction and oxidation, and the anode contains a similar molecule that has a slightly different group that can also undergo reduction and oxidation. And we’ve replaced the lithium-containing electrolyte with an electrolyte that contains organic salts. And in that way, we store energy by exchanging organic anions instead of lithium cations. So, for every organic anion that moves, we’re moving around an electron and powering your device.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    So, you say polypeptide there, Jodie, and of course, my background as a biologist, polypeptide to me means protein. So, in a way, are these semi-protein-derived batteries?

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    Yeah, they’re inspired by proteins. So, proteins in your body contain many different arrangements of amino acids. What we’ve done is we’ve taken one of those amino acids and linked them up into chains, so we call it a polypeptide, and we’ve hacked it by adding on groups that can exchange the charge.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    Well, one of the things in your paper that you put forward is that you can get these batteries to degrade, and I think lithium-ion batteries, they’re difficult to break down or to recycle, but these ones, you’re able to degrade them to potentially their base components on command. How does that work?

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    It’s not too complicated. So, what we would do is take the materials and add some acid, and the acid is going to break down the polymer into its starting materials, such as glutamic acid, which is an amino acid. The key is finding the right concentration of that acid and the right temperature because it doesn’t happen under simple conditions. That’s part of why we can get the polypeptide to work in the first place because it’s stable enough in normal conditions and then we have to go to a slightly extreme environment to break it down.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    And so, when you bathe these batteries in acid and raise the temperature and break them down to their component parts, can you then put them back together again and get another battery ready to go?

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    Oh my gosh, that is my fantasy. So, my dream is to collect these materials and repolymerise them, reconstitute them into their original starting materials and do this forever, and that would a be a truly circular battery economy. The challenge to that is separation. So, once we degrade the battery, we have to separate every little chemical species, and separation looks like it’s going to be the biggest challenge for organic batteries in general. If it takes more energy to reconstitute and recycle the battery, what have you really accomplished?

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    I mean, it seems like there’s been a lot of people attempting to try and make batteries with no metals in them. How difficult was this to actually do?

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    Accomplishing this was incredibly difficult. Many people before us have tried to create metal-free organic batteries, but none had been able to make them degrade on command in the way that we have. The big challenge is that when you want to make a material degrade on command, that also means it’s a little unstable, so how do you get a material to operate with robustness while at the same time stay stable and then degrade when you want it to? Because if something wants to degrade, it will degrade. That was the big challenge, and that’s where that peptide backbone becomes really important.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    Well, if we can talk about the battery then that you’ve made, I mean how does it compare, how does it stack up, I suppose, to maybe one of the sort of AA lithium-ion batteries I’ve got sort of sitting on the table here beside me?

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    To be honest with you, the performance of the organic polypeptide battery is not great. So, right now, it can deliver about one tenth of the capacity or the energy of the lithium-ion battery that you use today. So, there’s a lot of room for improvement. The main issue is that the materials over time, they don’t degrade but they dissolve. So, if your battery dissolves as your using it, its performance will fade, and there’s some pretty easy fixes for that, so I still feel optimistic that this performance can be improved with further research.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    Battery technology is big business, right? I mean, there’s a variety of different avenues being followed and different technologies that are being advanced that last longer or give more power or this or that. What is it about yours that you would say that makes it warrant this extra work because at the moment you are one out of a sea of other technologies.

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    Yeah, I think the two things that really stand out about this work is that it’s metal-free, so it addresses global materials supply and demand and also socio-political issues with how those materials are obtained. And then it offers the hope of fully recycling a battery so that you never have to go into a mine again.

    Interviewer: Benjamin Thompson

    How long, Jodie, do you think until I can maybe look around where I’m sitting now and rather than seeing lithium-ion batteries I might be able to see your polymer-based batteries instead?

    Interviewee: Jodie Lutkenhaus

    Well, I think in general for the field, for a polymer-based battery, I think it could be five years because there’s so many people working on them doing fantastic work. For a degradable battery, it will probably be five to ten years because keeping the materials stable requires a bit more effort.

    This 3,500-Year-Old Greek Tomb Upended What We Thought We Knew About the Roots of Western Civilization

    They had been digging for days, shaded from the Greek sun by a square of green tarpaulin slung between olive trees. The archaeologists used picks to break the cream-colored clay, baked as hard as rock, until what began as a cluster of stones just visible in the dirt became four walls in a neat rectangle, sinking down into the earth. Little more than the occasional animal bone, however, came from the soil itself. On the morning of May 28, 2015, the sun gave way to an unseasonable drizzle. The pair digging that day, Flint Dibble and Alison Fields, waited for the rain to clear, then stepped down into their meter-deep hole and got to work. Dibble looked at Fields. “It’s got to be soon,” he said.

    From This Story

    The season had not started well. The archaeologists were part of a group of close to three dozen researchers digging near the ancient Palace of Nestor, on a hilltop near Pylos on the southwest coast of Greece. The palace was built in the Bronze Age by the Mycenaeans—the heroes described in Homer’s epic poems—and was first excavated in the 1930s. The dig’s leaders, Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, in Ohio, had hoped to excavate in a currant field just downslope from the palace, but Greek bureaucracy and a lawyers’ strike kept them from obtaining the necessary permits. So they settled, disappointed, on a neighboring olive grove. They cleared the land of weeds and snakes and selected a few spots to investigate, including three stones that appeared to form a corner. As the trench around the stones sank deeper, the researchers allowed themselves to grow eager: The shaft’s dimensions, two meters by one meter, suggested a grave, and Mycenaean burials are famous for their breathtakingly rich contents, able to reveal volumes about the culture that produced them. Still, there was no proof that this structure was even ancient, the archaeologists reminded themselves, and it might simply be a small cellar or shed.

    Dibble was clearing earth from around a large stone slab when his pick hit something hard and the monotony of the clay was broken by a vivid flash of green: bronze.

    The pair immediately put down their picks, and after placing an excited call to Davis and Stocker they began to carefully sweep up the soil and dust. They knew they were standing atop something substantial, but even then they did not imagine just how rich the discovery would turn out to be.“It was amazing,” says Stocker, a small woman in her 50s with dangling earrings and blue-gray eyes. “People had been walking across this field for three-and-a-half-thousand years.”

    Over the next six months, the archaeologists uncovered bronze basins, weapons and armor, but also a tumble of even more precious items, including gold and silver cups hundreds of beads made of carnelian, amethyst, amber and gold more than 50 stone seals intricately carved with goddesses, lions and bulls and four stunning gold rings. This was indeed an ancient grave, among the most spectacular archaeological discoveries in Greece in more than half a century—and the researchers were the first to open it since the day it was filled in.

    “It’s incredible luck,” says John Bennet, director of the British School at Athens. “The fact that it hadn’t been discovered before now is astonishing.” The spectacular find of priceless treasures made headlines around the globe, but what really intrigues scholars, says Stocker, is the “bigger world picture.” The very first organized Greek society belonged to the Mycenaeans, whose kingdoms exploded out of nowhere on the Greek mainland around 1600 B.C. Although they disappeared equally dramatically a few hundred years later, giving way to several centuries known as the Greek Dark Ages, before the rise of “classical” Greece, the Mycenaeans sowed the seeds of our common traditions, including art and architecture, language, philosophy and literature, even democracy and religion. “This was a crucial time in the development of what would become Western civilization,” Stocker says.

    Yet remarkably little is known of the beginnings of Mycenaean culture. The Pylos grave, with its wealth of undisturbed burial objects and, at its bottom, a largely intact skeleton, offers a nearly unprecedented window into this time—and what it reveals is calling into question our most basic ideas about the roots of Western civilization.

    Jack Davis and Sharon Stocker, husband-and-wife archaeologists from the University of Cincinnati, discovered the warrior's grave. (Andrew Spear)

    In The Iliad, Homer tells of how Agamemnon, king of Mycenae, led a fleet of a thousand ships to besiege the city of Troy. Classical Greeks (and Romans, who traced their heritage to the Trojan hero Aeneas) accepted the stories in The Iliad and The Odyssey as a part of their national histories, but in later centuries scholars insisted that the epic battles fought between the Trojan and Mycenaean kingdoms were nothing more than myth and romantic fantasy. Before the eighth century B.C., archaeologists argued, societies on the Greek mainland were scattered and disorganized.

    At the end of the 19th century, a German-born businessman named Heinrich Schliemann was determined to prove otherwise. He used clues in Homer’s epic poems to locate the remains of Troy, buried in a hillside at Hissarlik in Turkey. He then turned his attention to the Greek mainland, hoping to find the palace of Agamemnon. Near the ruins of the great walls at Mycenae, in the Argolid Peninsula, Schliemann found a circle of graves containing the remains of 19 men, women and children, all dripping with gold and other riches. He hadn’t found Agamemnon—the graves, nearly 3,500 years old, dated to several centuries before the battles of Troy—but he had unearthed a great, lost civilization, which he called the Mycenaean, after the sovereign city of the powerful mythic king.

    Homer describes other palaces, too, notably that of King Nestor, at Pylos. The Iliad says Nestor contributed 90 ships to Agamemnon’s fleet, second only to the great leader himself. Schliemann searched in vain for Nestor’s palace in modern Pylos, a sleepy coastal town in the southwest Peloponnese, there was no hint of ancient architecture, unlike at Mycenae. But in the 1920s, a landowner noticed old stone blocks near the summit of a hill near Pylos, and Konstantinos Kourouniotis, director of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, invited his friend and collaborator Carl Blegen, of the University of Cincinnati, to investigate.

    Blegen began excavations in April 1939. On his very first day, he uncovered a hoard of clay tablets, filled with an unreadable script known as Linear B, which had also been found on Crete, the largest of the Aegean islands. He had dug straight into the archive room of King Nestor’s palace. After World War II, Blegen went on to discover a grid of rooms and courtyards that rivals Mycenae in size and is now the best-preserved Bronze Age palace on the Greek mainland, not to mention a significant tourist attraction.

    Today, Blegen’s work at Pylos is continued by Stocker and Davis (his official title is the Carl W. Blegen professor of Greek archaeology). Davis walks with me to the hilltop, and we pause to enjoy the gorgeous view of olive groves and cypress trees rolling down to a jewel-blue sea. Davis has white-blond hair, freckles and a dry sense of humor, and he is steeped in the history of the place: Alongside Stocker, he has been working in this area for 25 years. As we look out to sea, he points out the island of Sphacteria, where the Athenians beat the Spartans during a fifth-century B.C. battle of the Peloponnesian War.

    Behind us, Nestor’s palace is surrounded by flowering oleander trees and is covered with an impressive new metal roof, completed just in time for the site’s reopening to the public in June 2016 after a three-year, multimillion-euro restoration. The roof’s graceful white curves protect the ruins from the elements, while a raised walkway allows visitors to admire the floor plan. The stone walls of the palace now rise just a meter from the ground, but it was originally a vast two-story complex, built around 1450 B.C., that covered more than 15,000 square feet and was visible for miles. Visitors would have passed through an open courtyard into a large throne room, Davis explains, with a central hearth for offerings and decorated with elaborately painted scenes including lions, griffins and a bard playing a lyre.

    The Linear B tablets found by Blegen, deciphered in the 1950s, revealed that the palace was an administrative center that supported more than 50,000 people in an area covering all of modern-day Messenia in western Greece. Davis points out storerooms and pantries in which thousands of unused ceramic wine cups were found, as well as workshops for the production of leather and perfumed oils.

    Echoes of Homer are everywhere. In The Odyssey, when Odysseus’ son Telemachus visits Pylos, he finds the inhabitants on the shore sacrificing bulls to the god Poseidon, before traveling to the palace to receive a bath from one of Nestor’s daughters. Tablets and animal bones that Blegen found in the archives room recall a feast in which 11 cattle were sacrificed to Poseidon, while on the other side of the building is a perfectly preserved terra-cotta bathtub, its interior painted with a repeating spiral motif.

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    This article is a selection from the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine

    The palace was destroyed in a fire around 1200 B.C., part of a wave of destruction that brought down the entire Mycenaean society, which in a few hundred years had developed distinctive art and architecture, its own writing system, a powerful military and trading routes that stretched across the known world. Scholars argue about what brought about the culture’s collapse, but drought, famine and invasion may all have played a role.

    Davis and Stocker are interested not in the ruination of the palace, however, but in its beginnings. For several hundred years before the palace was built, the region was dominated by the Minoans, whose sophisticated civilization arose on Crete, with skilled artisans and craftsmen who traded widely in the Aegean, Mediterranean and beyond. By contrast, the people of mainland Greece, a few hundred miles to the north across the Kythera Strait, lived simple lives in small settlements of mud-brick houses, quite unlike the impressive administrative centers and well-populated Cretan villages at Phaistos and Knossos, the latter home to a maze-like palace complex of over a thousand interlocking rooms. “With no sign of wealth, art or sophisticated architecture, mainland Greece must have been a pretty depressing place to live,” says Davis. “Then, everything changes.”

    Around 1600 B.C., the mainlanders began leaving almost unimaginable treasures in tombs—“a sudden splash of brilliance,” in the words of Louise Schofield, the archaeologist and former British Museum curator, describing the jewelry, weapons and golden death masks discovered by Schliemann in the graves at Mycenae. The mainland population swelled settlements grew in size, number and apparent wealth, with ruling elites becoming more cosmopolitan, exemplified by the diverse riches they buried with their dead. At Pylos, a huge, beehive-shaped stone tomb known as a tholos was constructed, connected to mansion houses on the hilltop by a ceremonial road that led through a gateway in a surrounding fortification wall. Although thieves looted the tholos long before it was rediscovered in modern times, from what was left behind—seal stones, miniature gold owls, amethyst beads—it appears to have been stuffed with valuables to rival those at Mycenae.

    This era, extending until the construction of palaces at Pylos, Mycenae and elsewhere, is known to scholars as the “shaft grave period” (after the graves that Schliemann discovered). Cynthia Shelmerdine, a classicist and renowned scholar of Mycenaean society at the University of Texas at Austin, describes this period as “the moment the door opens.” It is, she says, “the start of elites coming together to form something beyond just a minor chiefdom, the very beginning of what leads to the palatial civilization only a hundred years later.” From this first awakening, “it really takes a very short time for them to leap into full statehood and become great kings on a par with the Hittite emperor. It was a remarkable thing to happen.”

    Yet partly as a result of the building of the palaces themselves, atop the razed mansions of early Mycenaeans, very little is known of the people and culture that gave birth to them. You can’t just tear up the plaster floors to see what’s underneath, Davis explains. The tholos itself went out of use around the time the palace was built. Whoever the first leaders here were, Davis and Stocker had assumed, they were buried in this plundered tomb. Until, less than a hundred yards from the tholos, the researchers found the warrior grave.

    (5W Infographics) A bronze sword with a gold-coated hilt was among 1,500 items buried with Pylos’ “griffin warrior.” (Jon Krause) Aerial view of the warrior's grave (University of Cincinnati) The later site of 14th-century B.C. Nestor’s Palace (Myrto Papadopoulos) The tholos tomb at Pylos (Myrto Papadopoulos) Today known as Voidokilia, the omega-shaped cove at “sandy Pylos” is where Homer recounted that Telemachus, Odysseus’ son, was welcomed by Nestor while searching for his father. (Myrto Papadopoulos) Bull sacrifice was practiced by the Mycenaeans at Pylos, as recounted in The Odyssey. The autumn olive harvest is an ancient ritual that survives today. (Myrto Papadopoulos)

    Davis and Stocker disagree on where they were when they received Dibble’s call from the dig site. Stocker remembers they were at the team’s workshop. Davis thinks they were at the local museum. Dibble recalls that they were in line at the bank. Whichever it was, they rushed to the site and, Stocker says, “basically never left.”

    That first splash of green became an ocean, filled with layer after layer of bronze, reminiscent of Schliemann’s magnificent finds. “It was surreal,” says Dibble. “I felt like I was in the 19th century.”

    The researchers celebrated the next day with a lunch of gourounopoulo (roast suckling pig) from the local farmer’s market, eaten under the olive trees. For Davis and Stocker, the challenge of the find soon set in. “Everything was interlocked, crushed with everything else,” says Davis. “We never imagined that we might find anything more than a few potsherds that could be put together with glue. Suddenly, we were faced with this huge mess.” The collaborators began working 15-hour shifts, hoping to clear the site as quickly as possible. But after two weeks, everyone was exhausted. “It became clear that we couldn’t continue at that pace, and we weren’t going to finish,” Stocker says. “There was too much stuff.”

    About a week in, Davis was excavating behind the stone slab. “I’ve found gold,” he said calmly. Stocker thought he was teasing, but he turned around with a golden bead in his palm. It was the first in a flood of small, precious items: beads a tiny gold birdcage pendant intricately carved gold rings and several gold and silver cups. “Then things changed,” says Stocker. Aware of the high risk of looting, she organized round-the-clock security, and, apart from the Ministry of Culture and the site’s head guard, the archaeologists agreed to tell no one about the more valuable finds. They excavated in pairs, always with one person on watch, ready to cover precious items if someone approached.

    The largest ring discovered was made of multiple finely soldered gold sheets. (University of Cincinnati)

    And yet it was impossible not to feel elated, too. “There were days when 150 beads were coming out—gold, amethyst, carnelian,” says Davis. “There were days when there was one seal stone after another, with beautiful images. It was like, Oh my god, what will come next?!” Beyond the pure thrill of uncovering such exquisite items, the researchers knew that the complex finds represented an unprecedented opportunity to piece together this moment in history, promising insights into everything from religious iconography to local manufacturing techniques. The discovery of a golden cup, as lovely as the day it was made, proved an emotional moment. “How could you not be moved?” says Stocker. “It’s the passion of looking at a beautiful piece of art or listening to a piece of music. There’s a human element. If you forget that, it becomes an exercise in removing things from the ground.”

    In late June 2015, the scheduled end to their season came and went, and a skeleton began to emerge—a man in his early 30s, his skull flattened and broken and a silver bowl on his chest. The researchers nicknamed him the “griffin warrior” after a griffin-decorated ivory plaque they found between his legs. Stocker got used to working alongside him in that cramped space, day after day in the blazing summer sun. “I felt really close to this guy, whoever he was,” she says. “This was a person and these were his things. I talked to him: ‘Mr. Griffin, help me to be careful.’”

    In August, Stocker ended up in the local medical clinic with heatstroke. In September, she was rewarded with a gold-and-agate necklace that the archaeologists had spent four months trying to liberate from the earth. The warrior’s skull and pelvis were among the last items to be removed, lifted out in large blocks of soil. By November, the grave was finally empty. Every gram of soil had been dissolved in water and passed through a sieve, and the three-dimensional location of every last bead photographed and recorded.

    Seven months later, Stocker sails through a low, green metal door into the basement of the archaeological museum in the small town of Chora, a few minutes’ drive from the palace. Inside, the room is packed with white tables, wooden drawers, and countless shelves of skulls and pots: the results of decades of excavations in this region.

    Still the organizational force behind the Pylos project, Stocker looks after not just the human members of the team but a troupe of adopted animals, including the mascot, a sleek gray cat named Nestor, which she rescued from the middle of the road when he was 4 weeks old. “He was teeny,” she recalls. “One day he blew off the table.”

    She’s also in charge of conservation. Around her, plastic boxes of all sizes are piled high, full of artifacts from the warrior’s grave. She opens box after box to show their contents—one holds hundreds of individually labeled plastic bags, each containing a single bead. Another yields seal stones carved with intricate designs: three reclining bulls a griffin with outstretched wings. “I still can’t believe I’m actually touching them,” she says. “Most people only see things like this through glass in a museum.”

    There are delicate ivory combs, thin bands of bronze (the remains of the warrior’s armor) and boar tusks likely from his helmet. From separate wrappings of acid-free paper she reveals a bronze dagger, a knife with a large, square blade (perhaps used for sacrifices) and a great bronze sword, its hilt decorated with thousands of minute fragments of gold. “It’s truly amazing, and in bad shape,” she says. “It’s one of our highest priorities.”

    There are more than 1,500 objects in all, and although the most precious items aren’t here (they are under lock-and-key elsewhere), the scale of the task she faces to preserve and publish these objects is nearly overwhelming. She surveys the room: a life’s work mapped out before her.

    “The way they dug this grave is just remarkable,” says Thomas Brogan, the director of the Institute for Aegean Prehistory Study Center for East Crete. “I think the sky’s the limit in terms of what we are going to learn.”

    Fragments of Ancient Life

    From jewelry to gilded weapons, a sampling of the buried artifacts researchers are using to fill in the details about the social currents in Greece at the time the griffin warrior lived

    By 5W Infographics Research by Virginia Mohler

    Like any momentous archaeological find, the griffin warrior’s grave has two stories to tell. One is the individual story of this man—who he was, when he lived, what role he played in local events. The other story is broader—what he tells us about the larger world and the crucial shifts in power taking place at that moment in history.

    Analyses of the skeleton show that this 30-something dignitary stood around five-and-a-half feet, tall for a man of his time. Combs found in the grave imply that he had long hair. And a recent computerized facial reconstruction based on the warrior’s skull, created by Lynne Schepartz and Tobias Houlton, physical anthropologists at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, shows a broad, determined face with close-set eyes and a prominent jaw. Davis and Stocker are also planning DNA tests and isotope analyses that they hope will provide information about his ethnic and geographic origins.

    At first, the researchers struggled to precisely date his burial. Soil layers are usually dated based on the shifting styles of ceramics this grave held no pottery at all. But excavations of the grave’s surrounding soil in the summer of 2016 turned up pottery sherds that point to an archaeological period roughly corresponding to 1500-1450 B.C. So the warrior lived at the very end of the shaft grave period, just before construction of the Mycenaean palaces, including Nestor’s.

    Davis and Stocker believe that the tholos tomb at Pylos was still in use at this time. If the warrior was in fact an important figure, perhaps even a leader, why was he buried in a separate shaft grave, and not in the tholos? Stocker wonders whether digging the shaft grave may say something about the manner of the warrior’s death—that it was unexpected—and proved a quicker option than deconstructing and rebuilding the entrance to the tholos. Bennet, on the other hand, speculates that contrasting burial practices in such close proximity may represent separate local family groups vying for supremacy. “It’s part of a power play,” he says. “We have people competing with each other for display.” To him, competition to amass exotic materials and knowledge may have been what drove the social development of Mycenaean ruling elites.

    Within a few years of the warrior’s burial, the tholos went out of use, the gateway in the fortification wall closed, and every building on the hilltop was destroyed to make way for the new palace. On Crete, Minoan palaces across the island burned along with many villas and towns, although precisely why they did remains unknown. Only the main center of Knossos was restored for posterity, but with its art, architecture and even tombs adopting a more mainland style. Its scribes switched from Linear A to Linear B, using the alphabet to write not the language of the Minoans, but Mycenaean Greek. It’s a crucial transition that archaeologists are desperate to understand, says Brogan. “What brings about the collapse of the Minoans, and at the same time what causes the emergence of the Mycenaean palace civilization?”

    The distinctions between the two societies are clear enough, quite apart from the fundamental difference in their languages. The Mycenaeans organized their towns with free-standing houses rather than the conglomerated shared buildings seen on Crete, for example. But the relationship between the peoples has long been a contentious subject. In 1900, just 24 years after Schliemann announced he’d found Homer’s heroes at Mycenae, the British archaeologist Arthur Evans discovered the Minoan civilization (named for Crete’s mythic King Minos) when he unearthed Knossos. Evans and subsequent scholars argued that the Minoans, and not the Mycenaean mainlanders, were the “first” Greeks—“the first link in the European chain,” according to the historian Will Durant. Schliemann’s graves, the thinking went, belonged to wealthy rulers of Minoan colonies established on the mainland.

    In 1950, however, scholars finally deciphered Linear B tablets from Knossos and Pylos and showed the writing to be the earliest known form of Greek. Opinion now swung the other way: The Mycenaeans were reinstated as the first Greeks, and Minoan objects found in mainland graves were reinterpreted as status symbols stolen or imported from the island. “It’s like the Romans copying Greek statues and carting them off from Greece to put in their villas,” says Shelmerdine.

    And this has been the scholarly consensus ever since: The Mycenaeans, now thought to have sacked Knossos at around the time they built their mainland palaces and established their language and administrative system on Crete, were the true ancestors of Europe.

    The griffin warrior’s grave at Pylos offers a radical new perspective on the relationship between the two societies and thus on Europe’s cultural origins. As in previously discovered shaft graves, the objects themselves are a cross-cultural mix. For instance, the boar tusk helmet is typically Mycenaean, but the gold rings, which are rich with Minoan religious imagery and are on their own a hugely significant find for scholars, says Davis, reflect artifacts previously found on Crete.

    Unlike ancient graves at Mycenae and elsewhere, however, which held artifacts from different individuals and time periods, the Pylos grave is an undisturbed single burial. Everything in it belonged to one person, and archaeologists can see precisely how the grave goods were positioned.

    Significantly, weapons had been placed on the left side of the warrior’s body while rings and seal stones were on the right, suggesting that they were arranged with intent, not simply thrown in. The representational artwork featured on the rings also had direct connections to actual buried objects. “One of the gold rings has a goddess standing on top of a mountain with a staff that seems to be crowned by a horned bull’s head,” says Davis. “We found a bull’s head staff in the grave.” Another ring shows a goddess sitting on a throne, looking at herself in the mirror. “We have a mirror.” Davis and Stocker do not believe that all this is a coincidence. “We think that objects were chosen to interact with the iconography of the rings.”

    Horns, which symbolize authority, appear on this bronze bull’s head and three gold rings. (University of Cincinnati)

    In their view, the arrangement of objects in the grave provides the first real evidence that the mainland elite were experts in Minoan ideas and customs, who understood very well the symbolic meaning of the products they acquired. “The grave shows these are not just knuckle-scraping, Neanderthal Mycenaeans who were completely bowled over by the very existence of Minoan culture,” says Bennet. “They know what these objects are.”

    New discoveries made by Davis and Stocker just this past summer provide more striking evidence that the two cultures had more in common than scholars have realized. Among the finds are remnants from what are likely the oldest wall paintings ever found on the Greek mainland. The fragments, which measure between roughly one and eight centimeters across and may date as far back as the 17th century B.C., were found beneath the ruins of Nestor’s Palace. The researchers speculate that the paintings once covered the walls of mansion houses on the site before the palace was built. Presumably, the griffin warrior lived in one of those mansions.

    Moreover, small sections of pieced-together fragments indicate that many of the paintings were Minoan in character, showing nature scenes, flowering papyri and at least one miniature flying duck, according to Emily Egan, an expert in eastern Mediterranean art at the University of Maryland at College Park who worked on the excavations and is helping to interpret the finds. That suggests, she says, a “very strong connection with Crete.”

    Together, the grave goods and the wall paintings present a remarkable case that the first wave of Mycenaean elite embraced Minoan culture, from its religious symbols to its domestic décor. “At the very beginning, the people who are going to become the Mycenaean kings, the Homeric kings, are sophisticated, powerful, rich and aware of something beyond the world that they are emerging from,” says Shelmerdine.

    This has led Davis and Stocker to favor the idea that the two cultures became entwined at a very early stage. It’s a conclusion that fits recent suggestions that regime change on Crete around the time the mainland palaces went up, which traditionally corresponds to the decline of Minoan civilization, may not have resulted from the aggressive invasion that historians have assumed. The later period on Knossos might represent something more like “an EU in the Aegean,” says Bennet, of the British School at Athens. Minoans and Mycenaean Greeks would surely have spoken each other’s languages, may have intermarried and likely adopted and refashioned one another’s customs. And they may not have seen themselves with the rigid identities we moderns have tended to impose on them.

    In other words, it isn’t the Mycenaeans or the Minoans to whom we can trace our cultural heritage since 1450 B.C., but rather a blending of the two.

    The fruits of that intermingling may have shaped the culture of classical Greece and beyond. In Greek mythology, for example, the legendary birthplace of Zeus is said to be a cave in the Dicte mountains on Crete, which may derive from a story about a local deity worshiped at Knossos. And several scholars have argued that the very notion of a Mycenaean king, known as a wanax, was inherited from Crete. Whereas the Near East featured autocratic kings—the Egyptian pharaoh, for example, whose supposed divine nature set him apart from earthly citizens—the wanax, says Davis, was the “highest-ranking member of a ranked society,” and different regions were served by different leaders. It’s possible, Davis proposes, that the transfer to Greek culture of this more diffuse, egalitarian model of authority was of fundamental importance for the development of representative government in Athens a thousand years later. “Way back in the Bronze Age,” he says, “maybe we’re already seeing the seeds of a system which ultimately allows for the emergence of democracies.”

    The revelation is compelling for anyone with an interest in how great civilizations are born—and what makes them “great.” And with rising nationalism and xenophobia in parts of Europe and the United States, Davis and others suggest that the grave contains a more urgent lesson. Greek culture, Davis says, “is not something that has been genetically transmitted from generation to generation since the dawn of time.” From the very earliest moments of Western civilization, he says, Mycenaeans “were capable of embracing many different traditions.”

    “I think we should all care about that,” says Shelmerdine. “It resonates today, when you have factions that want to throw everybody out [of their countries]. I don’t think the Mycenaeans would have gotten anywhere if they hadn’t been able to reach beyond their shores.”

    About Jo Marchant

    Jo Marchant is an award-winning science journalist and former editor at New Scientist and Nature. She is the author of The Human Cosmos: Civilization and the Stars and The Shadow King: The Bizarre Afterlife of King Tut's Mummy.

    A Previous Discovery

    From excavations conducted at the church during the 1970s, researchers were able to determine that the Holy Sepulchre structure was built in a way intended to cover up the ruling religion that had come before Christianity. The site Helena and Eusebius had declared to be Jesus&rsquo tomb had first been a temple to the Roman gods Jupiter or Venus, built by the emperor Hadrian centuries before Constantine&rsquos reign.

    The leader of the excavation in the &rsquo70s, a Franciscan priest and archaeologist named Virgilio Canio Corbo, surmised that the church&rsquos enclosure would have been roughly in the same place as it was during the time of Hadrian. That meant that the edicule&rsquos location wouldn&rsquot have changed since the 2nd century CE. Though Corbo&rsquos hypothesis has been contested, luckily more evidence surfaced to further support the claim that this was indeed the place of Jesus&rsquo tomb.


    Khaemweset, a son of ancient Egyptian Pharaoh Ramesses II, was known for his keen interest in identifying and restoring monuments of Egypt's past, such as Djoser's step pyramid from the 27th century BC. Due to his activities, he is sometimes nicknamed "the first Egyptologist".

    In Ancient Mesopotamia, a foundation deposit of the Akkadian Empire ruler Naram-Sin (ruled circa 2200 BCE) was discovered and analysed by king Nabonidus, circa 550 BCE, who is thus known as the first archaeologist. [1] [2] [3] Not only did he lead the first excavations which were to find the foundation deposits of the temples of Šamaš the sun god, the warrior goddess Anunitu (both located in Sippar), and the sanctuary that Naram-Sin built to the moon god, located in Harran, but he also had them restored to their former glory. [1] He was also the first to date an archaeological artifact in his attempt to date Naram-Sin's temple during his search for it. [4] Even though his estimate was inaccurate by about 1,500 years, it was still a very good one considering the lack of accurate dating technology at the time. [1] [4] [2]

    Early systemic investigation and historiography can be traced back to the Greek historian Herodotus (c. 484–c. 425 BCE). He was the first western scholar to systematically collect artifacts and test their accuracy. He was also the first to make a compelling narrative of the past. He is known for a set of nine books called the Histories, in which he wrote everything he could learn about different regions. He discussed the causes and consequences of the Greco-Persian Wars. He also explored the Nile and Delphi. However, scholars have found errors in his records and believe he probably did not go as far down the Nile as he claimed.

    Archaeology later concerned itself with the antiquarianism movement. Antiquarians studied history with particular attention to ancient artifacts and manuscripts, as well as historical sites. They usually were wealthy people. They collected artifacts and displayed them in cabinets of curios. Antiquarianism also focused on the empirical evidence that existed for the understanding of the past, encapsulated in the motto of the 18th-century antiquary Sir Richard Colt Hoare, "We speak from facts not theory". Tentative steps towards the systematization of archaeology as a science took place during the Enlightenment era in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. [5]

    During the Song Dynasty period (960–1279) in China, educated gentry became interested in the antiquarian pursuit of art collecting. [6] Neo-Confucian scholar-officials were generally concerned with archaeological pursuits in order to revive the use of ancient Shang, Zhou, and Han relics in state rituals. [7] This attitude was criticized by the polymath official Shen Kuo in his Dream Pool Essays of 1088. He endorsed the idea that materials, technologies, and objects of antiquity should be studied for their functionality and for the discovery of ancient manufacturing techniques. [7] Although a distinct minority, there were others who took the discipline as seriously as Shen did. For instance, the official, historian, poet, and essayist Ouyang Xiu (1007–1072) compiled an analytical catalogue of ancient rubbings on stone and bronze. [8] [9] Zhao Mingcheng (1081–1129) stressed the importance of using ancient inscriptions to correct discrepancies and errors in later historical texts discussing ancient events. [9] [10] Native Chinese antiquarian studies waned during the Yuan (1279–1368) and Ming (1368–1644) dynasties, were revived during the Qing dynasty (1644–1912), but never developed into a systematic discipline of archaeology outside of Chinese historiography. [11] [12]

    In Europe, interest in the remains of Greco-Roman civilisation and the rediscovery of classical culture began in the Late Middle Ages. [ citation needed ] Despite the importance of antiquarian writing in the literature of ancient Rome, such as Livy's discussion of ancient monuments, [13] scholars generally view antiquarianism as emerging only in the Middle Ages. [14] Flavio Biondo, an Italian Renaissance humanist historian, created a systematic guide to the ruins and topography of ancient Rome in the early 15th century, for which he has been called an early founder of archaeology. [15] The itinerant scholar Ciriaco de' Pizzicolli or Cyriacus of Ancona (1391–c.1455) also traveled throughout Greece to record his findings on ancient buildings and objects. Ciriaco traveled all around the Eastern Mediterranean, noting his archaeological discoveries in a day-book, Commentaria, that eventually filled six volumes.

    Antiquarians including John Leland and William Camden conducted surveys of the English countryside, drawing, describing and interpreting the monuments that they encountered. These individuals were frequently clergymen: many vicars recorded local landmarks within their parishes, details of the landscape and ancient monuments such as standing stones—even if they did not always understand the significance of what they were seeing.

    Shift to nationalism Edit

    In the late 18th to 19th century archaeology became a national endeavor as personal cabinets of curios turned into national museums. People were now being hired to go out and collect artifacts to make a nation's collection more grand and to show how far a nation's reach extends. For example, Giovanni Battista Belzoni was hired by Henry Salt, the British consul to Egypt, to gather antiquities for Britain. In nineteenth-century Mexico, the expansion of the National Museum of Anthropology and the excavation of major archeological ruins by Leopoldo Batres were part of the liberal regime of Porfirio Díaz to create a glorious image of Mexico's pre-Hispanic past. [16]

    First excavations Edit

    Among the first sites to undergo archaeological excavation were Stonehenge and other megalithic monuments in England. The first known excavations made at Stonehenge were conducted by William Harvey and Gilbert North in the early 17th century. Both Inigo Jones and the Duke of Buckingham also dug there shortly afterwards. John Aubrey was a pioneer archaeologist who recorded numerous megalithic and other field monuments in southern England. He also mapped the Avebury henge monument. He wrote Monumenta Britannica in the late 17th century as a survey of early urban and military sites, including Roman towns, "camps" (hillforts), and castles, and a review of archaeological remains, including sepulchral monuments, roads, coins and urns. He was also ahead of his time in the analysis of his findings. He attempted to chart the chronological stylistic evolution of handwriting, medieval architecture, costume, and shield shapes. [17]

    William Stukeley was another antiquarian who contributed to the early development of archaeology in the early 18th century. He also investigated the prehistoric monuments of Stonehenge and Avebury, work for which he has been remembered as "probably. the most important of the early forerunners of the discipline of archaeology". [18] He was one of the first to attempt to date the megaliths, arguing that they were a remnant of the pre-Roman druidic religion.

    Excavations were carried out in the ancient towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, both of which had been covered by ashes during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. These excavations began in 1748 in Pompeii, while in Herculaneum they began in 1738 under the auspices of King Charles VII of Naples. In Herculaneum, the Theatre, the Basilica and the Villa of the Papyri were discovered in 1768. The discovery of entire towns, complete with utensils and even human shapes, as well the unearthing of ancient frescos, had much impact throughout Europe.

    A very influential figure in the development of the theoretical and systematic study of the past through its physical remains was "the prophet and founding hero of modern archaeology," Johann Joachim Winckelmann. [19] Winckelmann was a founder of scientific archaeology by first applying empirical categories of style on a large, systematic basis to the classical (Greek and Roman) history of art and architecture. His original approach was based on detailed empirical examinations of artefacts from which reasoned conclusions could be drawn and theories developed about ancient societies.

    In America, Thomas Jefferson, possibly inspired by his experiences in Europe, supervised the systematic excavation of a Native American burial mound on his land in Virginia in 1784. Although Jefferson's investigative methods were ahead of his time, they were primitive by today's standards.

    Napoleon's army carried out excavations during its Egyptian campaign, in 1798–1801, which also was the first major overseas archaeological expedition. The emperor took with him a force of 500 civilian scientists, specialists in fields such as biology, chemistry and languages, in order to carry out a full study of the ancient civilisation. The work of Jean-François Champollion in deciphering the Rosetta stone to discover the hidden meaning of hieroglyphics proved the key to the study of Egyptology. [20]

    However, prior to the development of modern techniques excavations tended to be haphazard the importance of concepts such as stratification and context were completely overlooked. For instance, in 1803, there was widespread criticism of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin for removing the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens. The marble sculptures themselves, however, were valued by his critics only for their aesthetic qualities, not for the information they contained about Ancient Greek civilization. [21]

    In the first half of the 19th century many other archaeological expeditions were organized Giovanni Battista Belzoni and Henry Salt collected Ancient Egyptian artifacts for the British Museum, Paul Émile Botta excavated the palace of Assyrian ruler Sargon II, Austen Henry Layard unearthed the ruins of Babylon and Nimrud and discovered the Library of Ashurbanipal and Robert Koldeway and Karl Richard Lepsius excavated sites in the Middle East. However, the methodology was still poor, and the digging was aimed at the discovery of artefacts and monuments.

    The father of archaeological excavation was William Cunnington (1754–1810). He undertook excavations in Wiltshire from around 1798, in collaboration with his regular excavators Stephen and John Parker of Heytesbury. [22] Cunnington's work was funded by a number of patrons, the wealthiest of whom was Richard Colt Hoare, who had inherited the Stourhead estate from his grandfather in 1785. Hoare turned his attention to antiquarian pursuits and began funding Cunnington's excavations in 1804. The latter's site reports and descriptions were published by Hoare in a book entitled Ancient Historie of Wiltshire in 1810, a copy of which is kept at Stourhead.

    Cunnington made meticulous recordings of mainly neolithic and Bronze Age barrows, and the terms he used to categorise and describe them are still used by archaeologists today. The first reference to the use of a trowel on an archaeological site was made in a letter from Cunnington to Hoare in 1808, which describes John Parker using one in the excavation of Bush Barrow. [23]

    One of the major achievements of 19th century archaeology was the development of stratigraphy. The idea of overlapping strata tracing back to successive periods was borrowed from the new geological and palaeontological work of scholars like William Smith, James Hutton and Charles Lyell. The application of stratigraphy to archaeology first took place with the excavations of prehistorical and Bronze Age sites. In the third and fourth decade of the 19th century, archaeologists like Jacques Boucher de Perthes and Christian Jürgensen Thomsen began to put the artifacts they had found in chronological order.

    Another important development was the idea of deep time. Before this, people had the notion that the earth was quite young. James Ussher used the Old Testament and calculated that the origins of the world were on 23 October 4004 BC (a Sunday). Later Jacques Boucher de Perthes (1788–1868) established a much deeper sense of time in Antiquités celtiques et antédiluviennes (1847).

    Professionalisation Edit

    As late as the mid-century, archaeology was still regarded as an amateur pastime by scholars. Britain's large colonial empire provided a great opportunity for such 'amateurs' to unearth and study the antiquities of many other cultures. A major figure in the development of archaeology into a rigorous science was the army officer and ethnologist, Augustus Pitt Rivers. [24]

    In 1880, he began excavations on lands that came to him in inheritance and which contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods. He excavated these over seventeen seasons, beginning in the mid-1880s and ending with his death. His approach was highly methodical by the standards of the time, and he is widely regarded as the first scientific archaeologist. Influenced by the evolutionary writings of Charles Darwin and Herbert Spencer, he arranged the artefacts typologically and (within types) chronologically. This style of arrangement, designed to highlight the evolutionary trends in human artefacts, was a revolutionary innovation in museum design, and was of enormous significance for the accurate dating of the objects. His most important methodological innovation was his insistence that all artefacts, not just beautiful or unique ones, be collected and catalogued. This focus on everyday objects as the key to understanding the past broke decisively with past archaeological practice, which had often verged on treasure hunting. [25]

    William Flinders Petrie is another man who may legitimately be called the Father of Archaeology. Petrie was the first to scientifically investigate the Great Pyramid in Egypt during the 1880s. Many hypothesis as to how the pyramids had been constructed had been proposed (such as by Charles Piazzi Smyth), [26] but Petrie's exemplary analysis of the architecture of Giza disproved these hypothesis and still provides much of the basic data regarding the pyramid plateau to this day. [27]

    His painstaking recording and study of artefacts, both in Egypt and later in Palestine, laid down many of the ideas behind modern archaeological recording he remarked that "I believe the true line of research lies in the noting and comparison of the smallest details." Petrie developed the system of dating layers based on pottery and ceramic findings, which revolutionized the chronological basis of Egyptology. He was also responsible for mentoring and training a whole generation of Egyptologists, including Howard Carter, who went on to achieve fame with the discovery of the tomb of 14th-century BCE pharaoh Tutankhamun.

    The first stratigraphic excavation to reach wide popularity with the public was that of Hissarlik, on the site of ancient Troy, carried out by Heinrich Schliemann, Frank Calvert, Wilhelm Dörpfeld and Carl Blegen in the 1870s. These scholars distinguished nine successive cities, from prehistory to the Hellenistic period. Their work has been criticized as rough and damaging — Kenneth W. Harl wrote that Schliemann's excavations were carried out with such rough methods that he did to Troy what the Greeks couldn't do in their times, destroying and levelling down the entire city walls to the ground. [28]

    Meanwhile, the work of Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos in Crete revealed the ancient existence of an advanced civilisation. Many of the finds from this site were catalogued and brought to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, where they could be studied by classicists, while an attempt was made to reconstruct much of the original site. Although this was done in a manner that would be considered inappropriate today, it helped raise the profile of archaeology considerably. [29]

    Cave cannibalism

    Did Neanderthals eat each other? A bunch of bones found in a Belgium cave suggest the answer is yes.

    In July 2016, researchers reported that they'd discovered cut scars and hammering marks on bone fragments from four adult and one juvenile Neanderthals who lived between 40,500 and 45,500 years ago. The evidence was "unambiguous" for cannibalism, the scientists said. The Neanderthals had been butchered alongside horses and reindeer, whose bones were found alongside the human relatives. Evidence of Neanderthal cannibalism has been found at other European sites, including in Spain, where some bones appeared to have been broken to get at the nutritious marrow inside.

    Watch the video: Μοναδικό στην Ελλάδα αρχαιολογικό εύρημα στην Μαυροπηγή Κοζάνης (May 2022).