News Roundup- Vikings, Romans and Pirates

First up, we have a story from Norway which gives a good insight into the type of inferences which archaeologists have to make from indirect evidence. During an investigation at Steinkjer in Nord-Trøndelag County before an upgrade to the main highway, two boat graves were found, one containing a set of scales the other a silver button, both of foreign origin. A number of Sagas describe Steinkjer as a trading place but it has never been found. These finds suggest that it may have been nearby, but finding it could potentially be very difficult; there were likely no permanent buildings and many of the traded goods would have been organic. One clue is the topography, the area being close to a river mouth. Another, is the distribution of artefacts that would have been traded from elsewhere; the closer an area is to a trading post the higher the number of foreign artefacts it is likely to have. Plotting finds such as amber and glass beads, swords associated with trade and imported jewellery all suggest a focal point at Steinkjer. The exact location is still unknown though and may be underneath the church, so it is unlikely to be located any time soon.

Next up we have another study offering insights into Homo floresiensis, the so called “hobbits” which I discussed in an earlier post. Ever since their discovery in 2003 some have disputed it being a new species of hominin, suggesting instead that they are a modern human suffering from microcephaly.  A study in this weeks PLOS ONE in which 3D scans of craniums of humans with microcephaly, Homo floresiensis,  non-pathological humans and Homo erectus were compared showed that although there are similarities between the former two, Homo floresiensis most matched the Homo erectus. The implication of this is that they are in fact an archaic hominin species.

Another news item this week discusses the very bad situation at Pompeii. An Italian construction magnate Pietro Salini has announced his intention to donate €20 million, and hopes that others will join him, in order to restore Pompeii which has been damaged by weather exposure. Pompeii has also suffered from corrupt management and mafia interference. UNESCO has warned the Italian government that it needs to accelerate restoration work at the ancient Roman city. Italy’s Culture Minister Massimo Bray responded by saying that “Pompeii is a symbol for our country. UNESCO’s reprimand is an alarm which I take very seriously and we are already working to overcome the site’s urgent problems.” Much like some of the claims made by the Egyptian government about their heritage this seems very much like a statement made to make it seem like everything is going to be OK. In 2008 archaeologists complained about the sate of Pompeii, and in recent years parts of the site have collapsed. This prompted the Italian government to declare a state of emergency, but still it seems that the site is suffering. This February the EU contributed  €41.8 million towards a €105 million fund for restoration, so hopefully over the next few years the situation will improve considerably.

Finally we have two stories from one of the best sounding fields of archaeology (beaten only be space archaeology), pirate archaeology! In Beaufort, Carolina archaeologists have raised two cannons from the sea bed which belonged to Blackbeard’s flagship the Queen Anne’s Revenge which ran aground in 1718. These mark the fourteenth and fifteenth of 27 cannons discovered on the site since 1996.

The second story is that amongst the thousands of small artefacts recovered from the site a brass sword hilt with curled ends has been found. In the middle of the hilt is a woman’s face and torso, which the archaeologists suggest may be Queen Anne. Small weapons from the ship are rare since when it ran aground the pirates took much that was easy to carry. It has been suggested that it may be Blackbeard’s, given the quality of the workmanship, the possibility of the figurine being Queen Anne and the fact that there are drawings of Blackbeard with such a sword. Given that this sword was a very popular design, this could be any sword, add to this the fact that pirates stole things from many different people, this sword could have been made for and stolen by, anyone. The likelihood of it being Blackbeard’s is thus quite slim.

That’s all for now, hope you’ve enjoyed the first of the weekly updates, and I’ll see you next Sunday.

Blackbeard the Pirate

Blackbeard the Pirate (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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