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Did the Vikings get a bum rap?

A Yale historian wants us to rethink the terrible tales about the Norse.
© Tom Lovell
This illustration shows the stereotype of Viking marauders wreaking mayhem, even on clergy. The scene depicts the monastery at Clonmacnoise, Ireland.
The Vikings gave no quarter when they stormed the city of Nantes, in what is now western France, in June 843 - not even to the monks barricaded in the city's cathedral. "The heathens mowed down the entire multitude of priest, clerics, and laity," according to one witness account. Among the slain, allegedly killed while celebrating the Mass, was a bishop who later was granted sainthood.

To modern readers the attack seems monstrous, even by the standards of medieval warfare. But the witness account contains more than a touch of hyperbole, writes Anders Winroth, a Yale history professor and author of the book The Age of the Vikings, a sweeping new survey. What's more, he says, such exaggeration was often a feature of European writings about the Vikings.

When the account of the Nantes attack is scrutinized, "a more reasonable image emerges," he writes. After stating that the Vikings had killed the "entire multitude," for instance, the witness contradicts himself by noting that some of the clerics were taken into captivity. And there were enough people left - among the "many who survived the massacre" - to pay ransom to get prisoners back.

In short, aside from ignoring the taboo against treating monks and priests specially, the Vikings acted not much differently from other European warriors of the period, Winroth argues.

In 782, for instance, Charlemagne, now heralded as the original unifier of Europe, beheaded 4,500 Saxon captives on a single day. "The Vikings never got close to that level of efficiency," Winroth says, drily.
© Peter Essick, National Geographic
Erik the Red, a famous Viking explorer and the discoverer of Greenland, built a wooden church (replica above) for his wife in Qassiarsuk, Greenland.
Blackbox

Have archaeologists discovered the dungeon that held Vlad the Impaler?

© Wikipedia Commons
Archaeologists have discovered what they believe is the dungeon that held Vlad the Impaler - the inspiration for Bram Stoker's character Dracula.

The team found dungeons, tunnels, and a military shelter in Turkey's Tokat Castle, where Vlad the Impaler was reportedly held in the beginning of the 15th century. The archaeologists discovered two dungeons during the castle's restoration work, which began in 2009. The restoration work led to the discovery of secrets tunnel between the castle, a military shelter, and the Pervane Baths.

The archaeologists believe Vlad the Impaler - a.k.a. Wallachian Prince Vlad III - was held in the dungeons by the Ottoman Turks in 1442. Tokate was conquered by the Seljuk Turks in the 12th century, and it became a part of the Ottoman empire in 1392. Tokat Castle, a ruined citadel, is in the hills above the city.

"The castle is completely surrounded by secret tunnels. It is very mysterious," archaeologist Ibrahim Cetin said in a statement. "It is hard to estimate in which room Dracula was kept, but he was around here."
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13,300 year old spear made of woolly rhinoceros horn found on Arctic island

Discovery means Paleolithic man penetrated hundreds of kilometres further north than previously understood.
Ancient Spear_1
© The Siberian Times
The spear tip, almost 90cm in length and seemingly still sharp enough to kill.
Studies on the intriguing rhino spear are still ongoing but this remarkable find - seen as having considerable archeological significance - was shown to Vladimir Putin on his recent visit to Yakutsk, capital of the Sakha Republic.

The spear tip, almost 90cm in length and seemingly still sharp enough to kill, was found on the island of Bolshoy Lyakhovsky, off the northern coast of Siberia, as researchers hunted for remains of woolly mammoths.

'This year we found a spear made of woolly rhino horn and if all the information is confirmed, it will be the northernmost point where a human implement was found - three degrees latitude further north than we had known before,' explained Semyon Grigoryev, Director of the Lazarev Mammoth Museum at Northeastern Federal University.
Sherlock

Egyptian mummy's brain imprint preserved in 'peculiar' case

Mummy Skull
© Elsevier Ltd/Isidro A. et al.
The mummy was recovered in a necropolis in Egypt. Closer examination of the skull reveals preserved prints of the brain vessels.
An ancient Egyptian mummy is sparking new questions among archaeologists, because it has one very rare feature: The blood vessels surrounding the mummy's brain left imprints on the inside of the skull.

The researchers are trying to find what process could have led to the preservation of these extremely fragile structures.

The mummified body is that of a man who probably lived more than 2,000 years ago, sometime between the Late Period and the Ptolemaic Period (550 - 150 B.C.) of Egyptian history, the researchers said.

"This is the oldest case of mummified vascular prints" that has been found, study co-author Dr. Albert Isidro told Live Science in an email.

The mummy was recovered in 2010, along with more than 50 others in the Kom al-Ahmar/Sharuna necropolis in Egypt.
Treasure Chest

Great Train Robber reveals identity of the gang's mystery insider 'Ulsterman'

Douglas Gordon Goody

Douglas Gordon Goody
Now 85 and living in Spain, Douglas Gordon Goody has decided to share his story with the world - including unmasking the mysterious 'Ulsterman' who helped to plan the crime - then vanished.

He has kept his secrets for more than 50 years: the quiet man of the most infamous criminal gang in British history, both mastermind and instigator of the Great Train Robbery.

The Rolex has been replaced by a Swatch and the white Jaguar and sharp suit are long gone. So is the equivalent of £2.5m that was his share of the crime. Now aged 85 and one of just two surviving members of the 15-strong gang, Douglas Gordon Goody lives quietly in the Spanish countryside with his partner, Maria, and their five dogs. It is back to his rural roots for a man whose introduction to crime was smuggling cattle over the Northern Irish border to dodge customs.
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Tooth buried in bone shows prehistoric predators tangled across land, sea

Teeth
© Virginia Tech News
Teeth from phytosaurs, a reptile from the Triassic Period about 210 million years ago in what is now the western United States. The blue tooth on the left is a 3-D printed replica of a tooth embedded in the thigh bone of a rauisuchid, another Triassic period carnivore. The details of the tooth were digitally extracted using CT scans.
About 210 million years ago when the supercontinent of Pangea was starting to break up and dog-sized dinosaurs were hiding from nearly everything, entirely different kinds of reptiles called phytosaurs and rauisuchids were at the top of the food chain.

It was widely believed the two top predators didn't interact much as the former was king of the water, and the latter ruled the land. But those ideas are changing, thanks largely to the contents of a single bone.

In a paper published online in September in the German journal Naturwissenschaften, Stephanie Drumheller of the University of Tennessee and Michelle Stocker and Sterling Nesbitt, vertebrate paleontologists with the Virginia Tech's Department of Geosciences, present evidence the two creatures not only interacted, but did so on purpose.

"Phytosaurs were thought to be dominant aquatic predators because of their large size and similarity to modern crocodylians," said Stocker, "but we were able to provide the first direct evidence they targeted both aquatic and large terrestrial prey."
Sherlock

Hoard of 22,000 Roman coins discovered in Britain

Roman Coins
© Western Morning News
Some of the 22,000 Roman coins found in Seaton East Devon
A breathtaking hoard of 22,000 Roman coins has been found by a metal detecting enthusiast in Devon.

The spectacular discovery in East Devon - dubbed the "Seaton Down Hoard" - is one of the largest and best preserved 4th Century collections ever to have been found in Britain.

It was made by East Devon builder Laurence Egerton in November 2013 on the Clinton Devon Estate near the previously excavated site of a Roman villa at Honeyditches.

The hoard - the equivalent of a worker's pay for two years - was later carefully removed in its entirety by a team of archaeologists.

Over the past 10 months the coins have been lightly cleaned and the process of identification and cataloguing has begun by experts at the British Museum.
Light Sabers

How the U.S. was saved by Russia (from being destroyed by Britain) during the Civil War


At the point of maximum war danger between Great Britain and the United States, the London satirical publication Punch published a vicious caricature of US President Abraham Lincoln and Russian Tsar Alexander II, demonizing the two friends as bloody oppressors. From Punch, October 24, 1863.
"Who was our friend when the world was our foe." ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes, 1871
One hundred fifty years after the attack on Fort Sumter, the international strategic dimension of the American Civil War represents a much-neglected aspect of Civil War studies. In offering a survey of some of the main issues involved, one feels required to justify the importance of the topic. It is indeed true that, as things turned out, the international strategic dimension of the 1861-65 conflict was of secondary importance. However, it was an aspect that repeatedly threatened to thrust itself into the center of the war, transforming the entire nature of the conflict and indeed threatening to overturn the entire existing world system. The big issue was always a British-French attack on the United States to preserve the Confederate States of America. This is certainly how Union and Confederate leaders viewed the matter, and how some important people in London, St. Petersburg, Paris, and Berlin did as well.

The result is that today, the international dimension is consistently underestimated: even a writer as sophisticated as Richard Franklin Bensel can repeatedly insist in his recent Yankee Leviathan that the US development over the decade before the Civil War was "acted out in a vacuum," while asserting that "the relative isolation of the United States on the North American continent contributed to the comparative unimportance of nationalism in American life prior to secession." [1] Reports of American isolation, however, were already exaggerated in the era of a British fleet that could summer in the Baltic and winter in the Caribbean.
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Strange formation on Colorado Rockies sheds light on Earth's past

Rock Formation
© Siddoway and Gehrels, Lithosphere
Central Colorado’s Tava sandstone (light-colored band of rock at center, with geology student for scale) probably formed between 680 million and 800 million years ago, a new study suggests.
In the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, smack in the middle of a cliff that overlooks U.S. Highway 24, resides a very unusual geological formation. This reddish gray, sharp-edged, and erosion-resistant swath of sandstone stands in stark contrast to the crumbling, heavily weathered granites that lie on either side. Now, scientists say they have narrowed down when this anomaly and others like it in this region formed - a discovery that may give researchers new clues about the breakup of an ancient supercontinent hundreds of millions of years ago.

Many outcrops of the "Tava sandstone" - derived from a Native American name for Pikes Peak, a local landmark - are found along the Ute Pass fault, which runs along the Front Range near Colorado Springs. First noted by geologists more than 130 years ago, these deposits have long been recognized as strange, says Christine Siddoway, a geologist at Colorado College, Colorado Springs. Many sandstone formations show layers of some type, signs they were laid down over time in distinct episodes by wind or flowing water. But the individual grains in the Tava sandstone, which typically are bits of quartz measuring from 125 to 250 micrometers across, are well mixed, and they're peppered with larger bits of quartz up to 3 millimeters in diameter. Once free-flowing but now firmly cemented together with an iron-bearing mineral called hematite, the sand grains were apparently injected into cracks in ancient granite - some of them as much as 6 meters wide - under high pressure. The now-solid Tava deposits apparently flowed from vast reservoirs of once-waterlogged sand, some of them containing more than 1 million cubic meters of material.

"This is a very unusual [sandstone]," says Arlo Weil, a structural geologist at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, who wasn't involved in the new study. "It must have been formed by a very rapid, chaotic process."
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Nazca lines of Kazakhstan: More than 50 geoglyphs discovered

Kazakhstan geoglyphs
© DigitalGlobe, courtesy Google Earth
More than 50 geoglyphs, including one shaped like a swastika, have been discovered in northern Kazakhstan.
More than 50 geoglyphs with various shapes and sizes, including a massive swastika, have been discovered across northern Kazakhstan in Central Asia, say archaeologists.

These sprawling structures, mostly earthen mounds, create the type of landscape art most famously seen in the Nazca region of Peru.

Discovered using Google Earth, the geoglyphs are designed in a variety of geometric shapes, including squares, rings, crosses and swastikas (the swastika is a design that was used in ancient times). Ranging from 90 to 400 meters (295 to 1,312 feet) in diameter, some of them are longer than a modern-day aircraft carrier. Researchers say that the geoglyphs are difficult to see on the ground, but can easily be seen from the sky. [See Photos of the Amazing Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan]

Over the past year, an archaeological expedition from Kazakhstan's Kostanay University, working in collaboration with Vilnius University in Lithuania, has been examining the geoglyphs. The team, which is conducting archaeological excavations, ground-penetrating radar surveys, aerial photography and dating, recently presented its initial results at the European Association of Archaeologists' annual meeting in Istanbul.
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