Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Science crime scenes 7: Crimes ancient, modern, and weird

In the previous installment of this series, I noted:
I'm going to skip the usual archeology stories about atrocities from the past and modern day smuggling, looting, and vandalism. That's not because I don't have any; I have quite a lot of them from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Curiosity's first destination edition) on Daily Kos that I'll post in another edition.
It's time to post those stories, along with a couple more from Overnight News Digest: Science Saturday (Neil Armstrong R.I.P. edition).

This week's theme involves investigations of ancient sites that today would be considered crime scenes, although they might not have been considered as such back then, followed by the typical crimes against science in the form of smuggling, looting, and vandalism, along with efforts at prevention and restitution. Follow over the jump to read these sordid tales.

A litany of atrocities from ancient Egypt to 20th Century Europe fills the first half of this report.

LiveScience: Severed Hands Discovered in Ancient Egypt Palace
Owen Jarus, LiveScience Contributor
Date: 10 August 2012 Time: 09:32 AM ET
A team of archaeologists excavating a palace in the ancient city of Avaris, in Egypt, has made a gruesome discovery.

The archaeologists have unearthed the skeletons of 16 human hands buried in four pits. Two of the pits, located in front of what is believed to be a throne room, hold one hand each. Two other pits, constructed at a slightly later time in an outer space of the palace, contain the 14 remaining hands.

They are all right hands; there are no lefts.

"Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large," Manfred Bietak, project and field director of the excavations, told LiveScience.
LiveScience: Remains of Hundreds of Ancient Warriors Found in Bog
LiveScience Staff
For almost two months so far, excavators in Denmark have been uncovering the remains of hundreds of warriors who died violently about 2,000 years ago.

The evidence of violence is clear at the site, which is now a bog. Excavators reported today (Aug. 14) that they have uncovered damaged human bones, including a fractured skull and a thigh bone that was hacked in half, along with axes, spears, clubs and shields.

Over the years, human bones have turned up periodically in the area. This summer's excavation follows on work done in 2008 and 2009, when archaeologists found single, scattered bones lying under about 6.6 feet (2 meters) of peat on an old lake bed in the Alken Enge wetlands near Lake Mossø in East Jutland, Denmark.
The Scotsman: Monastery where Christian saint was martyred is uncovered on Eigg
Published on Tuesday 14 August 2012 00:43
An ARCHAEOLOGICAL dig on a Scottish island has unearthed the remains of what is thought to be a monastery founded by one of the country’s first Christian saints.

St Donnan brought Christianity to many places in the West Highlands in the seventh century before settling on Eigg.

According to local folklore, he became a martyr after he was killed by Norsemen, along with 50 monks, while giving Mass on Easter Sunday in the year 617.
Boston Globe: Digging into Plymouth’s slave history
In April, a team of excavators, led by archaeologist Craig Chartier, examined the Plymouth property formerly owned by Colonel George Watson, who had slaves.
By Constance Lindner
Globe Correspondent
August 16, 2012
A fragment of a tamarind jar, an unglazed piece of reddish-brown ceramics, and a gray Native American pestle are some of the discoveries that could bring a new distinction to this most historic of historic American towns.

An excavation this summer in a small shed and nearby grounds on North Street has yielded more than 30,000 artifacts dating back 1,000 years. But the prized finds have been the bits and pieces that “might point to an African origin and [dwellers’] desire to maintain a physical, spiritual, and ental connection with their origins,’’ said archeologist Craig Chartier.
Why is this here? Slavery may not be mass murder, but it is a crime against humanity.

Next, an infamous disappearance.

BBC: Scott's wrecked ship Terra Nova found off Greenland
By Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News website
The wreck of the ship that carried Captain Robert Scott on his doomed expedition to the Antarctic a century ago has been discovered off Greenland.

The SS Terra Nova was found by a team from a US research company.

Scott and his party set off from Cardiff aboard the Terra Nova in 1910 with the aim of becoming the first expedition to reach the South Pole.

The ship had a life after the polar trek, sinking off Greenland's south coast in 1943.

It had been on a journey to deliver supplies to base stations in the Arctic when it was damaged by ice. The Terra Nova's crew was saved by the US Coast Guard cutter Southwind.
And now, the greatest crime of all examined in this edition, The Holocaust.

Associated Press via MSNBC: Israeli archaeologist unearths secrets of Nazi death camp
Infamous Sobibor was buried, but little by little, map of site where 250,000 died comes out
By Aron Heller
KIRYAT MALACHI, Israel — When Israeli archaeologist Yoram Haimi decided to investigate his family's unknown Holocaust history, he turned to the skill he knew best: He began to dig.

After learning that two of his uncles were murdered in the infamous Sobibor death camp, he embarked on a landmark excavation project that is shining new light on the workings of one of the most notorious Nazi killing machines, including pinpointing the location of the gas chambers where hundreds of thousands were killed.

Sobibor, in eastern Poland, marks perhaps the most vivid example of the "Final Solution," the Nazi plot to wipe out European Jewry. Unlike other camps that had at least a facade of being prison or labor camps, Sobibor and the neighboring camps Belzec and Treblinka were designed specifically for exterminating Jews. Victims were transported there in cattle cars and gassed to death almost immediately.
Next, the usual desecration of artifacts and efforts to prevent it and preserve important sites fills out most of the rest of this entry.

Peninsula Daily News: Legendary 'creation site' discovered by Lower Elwha Klallam tribe
Peninsula Daily News
PORT ANGELES — Lower Elwha Klallam people stood at their sacred creation site last month for the first time in nearly a century, the tribe announced last week.

“It isn't a myth,” Tribal Chairwoman Frances Charles said Thursday about the site the group visited in early July.

“It's a reality, what our elders have been saying all along. It's there.”

In addition, the park service also reported finding a site in a nearby location that documents human use as far back as 8,000 years ago, establishing it as one of the oldest known archaeological sites on the Olympic Peninsula.

The creation site is a rock with two deep depressions that was covered by water behind the Elwha Dam after it was built in 1913.
The Aspen Times: Experts urge protection of Pitkin County archaeological site
Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO Colorado
PITKIN COUNTY — A rural Pitkin County site where archaeological artifacts have spurred a land-use debate appears to contain remnants of stone tools and associated debris spanning more than 8,000 years of use, according to a consultant who viewed the site early this month.

The Albuquerque, N.M.-based Archaeological Conservancy has drafted a management plan for the site that is now in the hands of the property's owners and Pitkin County staffers. Its recommendations regarding security at the site, access and accommodating research will be the subject of discussions with the landowners, according to Dale Will, county open space and trails director.
Swiss Info: Switzerland’s past faces an uncertain future
by Scott Capper, swissinfo.ch
Archaeology in Switzerland has been held up as a shining example in other countries, but its future is threatened by a lack of coordination and legislation defining how it should be funded.

Chevenez in canton Jura: it’s here that a well-known watchmaker is building a new factory on a tight schedule. It’s also here that the initial spadework revealed what could be a major archeological site.
Al Ahram: Cairo Airport Authorities foil smuggling attempt
The Antiquities Seizures Unit at Cairo International Airport foils an attempt to smuggle a collection of Graeco-Roman artefacts
Nevine El-Aref , Thursday 16 Aug 2012
An attempt to smuggle 11 Graeco-Roman artefacts out of Cairo International Airport was foiled on Thursday when the Tourism and Antiquities Police arrested an Egyptian man at the customs section. The man claimed to be carrying replicas from Khan El-Khalili bazars. The pieces he was carried were reportedly stolen from an as yet unidentified archaeological site in Egypt.
Agence France Presse via Google: Pakistan's million dollar archaeological smugglers
By Khurram Shahzad (AFP) – Aug 8, 2012
CHARSADDA, Pakistan — When a Pakistani family dispute over land degenerated into cold-blooded murder, Zaman Khan was quickly in over his head.

As cousins killed cousins, he borrowed more than $18,500 to buy guns, ammunition and guards. But soon debtors were demanding repayment, leaving him so depressed he contemplated suicide.

Then a friend came up with an idea.

He took Khan to a site in northwest Pakistan which dates back to the ancient Gandhara civilisation where they dug up 18 pieces of statue, selling them to market traders for two million rupees ($20,700).

After two more visits, Khan -- AFP has changed the names of all those involved in the trade -- had found enough statues, coins and ornaments to not only settle his debts but also bankroll his long-running feud.
Agence France Presse via The Herald Sun: Archaeologists leave artefacts underground to protect them from the Taliban
August 13, 2012 12:43AM
"IT'S there," says an archaeologist pointing to the ground, where fragments of a Buddha statue from the ancient Gandhara civilisation have been covered up to stop them being stolen or vandalised.

Just months before the US-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban regime shocked the world by destroying two giant, 1500-year-old Buddhas in the rocky Bamiyan valley, branding them un-Islamic.

More than 10 years on Western experts say Afghanistan's ancient Buddhist and early Islamic heritage is little safer.
Al Ahram: Archaeologist: Early Egyptian Islamic site, Istabl Antar, in dire danger
Istabl Antar archaeological site is on the verge of disappearing due to lack of proper protection, warns archaeologist who has spent 20 years working on the site
Roland-Pierre Gayraud, Sunday 12 Aug 2012
In response to damage done recently to the Istabl Antar archaeological site in Old Cairo, particularly the area where the French Archeological Institute for Oriental Studies in Cairo (IFAO) has been carrying out excavation work since 1985, Roland-Pierre Gayraud, archaeologist and researcher at the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), wrote the following column for Ahram Online.

The Istabl Antar excavations have been conducted within the remit of the scientific activities of the French Archaeological Institute in Cairo (IFAO) where I initiated the field of Islamic archaeology.

Today, this site, which I have managed to preserve in the face of illegal urbanisation over more than a quarter of a century, is on the verge of disappearing, due to the lack of proper protection and total disrespect of law. In what follows, I give you a short description of the remains that are on the point of being destroyed. They deserve to be protected and preserved, simply because they are unique in the history of Islamic Egypt, and even in the Islamic world.
N.Y. Times: Syrian Conflict Imperils Historical Treasures
Published: August 15, 2012
Preservationists and archaeologists are warning that fighting in Syria’s commercial capital, Aleppo — considered the world’s oldest continuously inhabited human settlement — threatens to damage irreparably the stunning architectural and cultural legacy left by 5,000 years of civilizations.

Already the massive iron doors to the city’s immense medieval Citadel have been blown up in a missile attack, said Bonnie Burnham, president of the World Monuments Fund, an organization that works to preserve cultural heritage sites.
Reuters: Pigs and squatters threaten Peru's Nazca lines
By Mitra Taj
LIMA | Wed Aug 15, 2012 5:47pm BST
(Reuters) - Squatters have started raising pigs on the site of Peru's Nazca lines - the giant designs best seen from an airplane that were mysteriously etched into the desert more than 1,500 years ago.

The squatters have destroyed a Nazca-era cemetery and the 50 shacks they have built border Nazca figures, said Blanca Alva, a director at Peru's culture ministry.
University of Arizona: Grant Supports State Museum Efforts to Return American Indian Items
The Arizona State Museum has been awarded nearly $90,000 from the National Park Service to support the museum's efforts to return human remains and sacred cultural items to American Indian tribes.
By Alexis Blue, University Communications
August 22, 2012
The Arizona State Museum on the University of Arizona campus is home to hundreds of thousands of Native American artifacts. Among the museum's collections are thousands of human remains and funerary objects, which the museum is diligently working on returning to the American Indian tribes to which they rightfully belong.

To support those efforts, the National Park Service recently awarded the Arizona State Museum a federal grant of just under $90,000, which will help the museum work with human remains and artifacts excavated from state trust lands, primarily in the Tucson Basin. These include remains and objects from 70 archaeological sites, said Patrick Lyons, the museum’s associate director.

The grant was part of more than $1.6 million awarded by the National Park Service to museums and tribes across the country to help them with the documentation and return of human remains and cultural objects, a process known as repatriation.

Like all museums that receive federal funding, the Arizona State Museum is required to repatriate certain cultural objects under the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA. Enacted in 1990, the federal law requires all museums that receive federal dollars to return specified items, including human remains and sacred objects, to the tribes with whom they are culturally affiliated.
Finally, two weird science stories about sacred sites, one real but fake, the other legendary.

Mayo News: British researcher pitches for Achill-henge
Tuesday, 14 August 2012 10:17
Structure’s potential for archaeological research is trumpeted
Ciara Moynihan
London-based researcher Richard Brock has issued a plea to halt the planned destruction of the controversial Achill-henge on the grounds of its potential as a site for experimental archaeological research.

As previously reported in The Mayo News, Joe McNamara, the man behind the Stonehenge replica, has been ordered to remove it. On July 26, An Bord Pleanála (ABP) ruled that the structure, which sits on a hilltop overlooking the villages of Pollagh and Keel, was not exempted development. The High Court subsequently lifted its stay on an earlier demolition order, which was in place until the ABP made its decision.

However, Richard Brock, a classically-trained musician and computer scientist with a long interest in the archaeology of Stonehenge, is convinced that the acoustic properties of the Achill structure could yield valuable clues to musical archaeologists, and he is appealing for its retention.
LiveScience via MSNBC: 'Baywatch' star the latest to abandon search for Noah's Ark
Injured in a fall, she posted photos of herself and team feared at risk of abduction
By Benjamin Radford
updated 8/22/2012

"Baywatch" star Donna D'Errico was recently injured on a mountain in Turkey while on a quest to find Noah's Ark. The former model and actress was on Mount Ararat with a documentary film crew when she slipped in a rockslide; a colleague caught her before she fell off a cliff.

Climbing any mountain can be dangerous, and Ararat is no exception: In addition to the dangers associated with altitude sickness, rock slides, and capricious weather, D'Errico and her team faced the possibility of abduction. Previous climbers have reportedly been kidnapped.

After she fell and injured herself, she posted photos of her cuts and bruises online. Ironically, the attention that her photos received doomed the project because her presence there and status as a celebrity increased her chances of being kidnapped for ransom. "If they (potential kidnappers) found out that there's someone, even of minor notoriety on the mountain, it could put the whole group in serious danger," D'Errico said.
That's an impressive rogue's gallery of archeological crimes, and quite enough for this week's report

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