Secret HistoryS


Neanderthals Ate Their Greens

© Mauricio Anton/SPLNeanderthals were thought to eat only meat, but investigation of their dental plaque suggests they consumed cooked plants.
Neanderthals have long been viewed as meat-eaters. The vision of them as inflexible carnivores has even been used to suggest that they went extinct around 25,000 years ago as a result of food scarcity, whereas omnivorous humans were able to survive. But evidence is mounting that plants were important to Neanderthal diets - and now a study reveals that those plants were roasted, and may have been used medicinally.

The finding comes from the El Sidrón Cave in northern Spain, where the roughly 50,000-year-old skeletal remains of at least 13 Neanderthals (Homo neanderthalensis) have been discovered. Many of these individuals had calcified layers of plaque on their teeth. Karen Hardy, an anthropologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain, wondered whether it might be possible to use this plaque to take a closer look at the Neanderthal menu.

Using plaque to work out the diets of ancient animals is not entirely new, but Hardy has gone further by looking for organic compounds in the plaque. To do this she and a team including Stephen Buckley, an archaeological chemist at the University of York, UK, used gas chromatography and mass spectrometry to analyse the plaque collected from ten teeth belonging to five Neanderthal individuals from the cave.

The plaque contained a range of carbohydrates and starch granules, hinting that the Neanderthals had consumed a variety of plant species. By contrast, there were few lipids or proteins from meat.

Hardy and her colleagues also found, lurking in the plaque of a few specimens, a range of alkyl phenols, aromatic hydrocarbons and roasted starch granules that suggested that the Neanderthals had spent time in smoky areas and eaten cooked vegetables. The results are published today in Naturwissenschaften1.

"The idea that Neanderthals were largely meat-eaters has been hard for me to accept given their membership in a mainly vegetarian clade. It is exciting to see this new set of techniques applied to understanding their palaeo-diet," says Richard Wrangham, an anthropologist at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


'Death by chocolate' plot to kill Sir Winston Churchill

© Press AssociationThe Germans planned to plant bars of exploding chocolate in a dining room used by Winston Churchill and his war cabinet
A historic letter indicates the Nazis planned to assassinate Sir Winston Churchill, the British wartime prime minister, with a bar of exploding chocolate.

A Nazi plot to kill Sir Winston Churchill with a bar of exploding chocolate during the Second World War has been revealed in historic papers.

Giving a new meaning to the dessert name "death by chocolate", Adolf Hitler's bomb makers coated explosive devices with a thin layer of rich dark chocolate, then packaged it in expensive-looking black and gold paper.

The Germans apparently planned to use secret agents working in Britain to discreetly place the bars - branded as Peters Chocolate - among other luxury items taken into the dining room used by the War Cabinet during the conflict.

The lethal slabs of confection were packed with enough explosives to kill anyone within several metres.

But the plot was foiled by British spies who discovered the chocolate was being made and tipped off one of MI5's most senior intelligence chiefs, Lord Victor Rothschild, before the wartime prime minister's life could be endangered.


Ancient Treasure Unearthed at Crusades-Era Castle in Israel

Crusader Treasure
© REUTERS/Baz RatnerAn Israel Nature and Parks Authority employee displays a gold coin, one of a 108, found hidden in a ceramic jug at the Arsuf cliff-top coastal ruins, 15 km (9 miles) from Tel Aviv July 9, 2012. The 1,000-year-old treasure was unearthed at the famous Crusader battleground where Christian and Muslim forces once fought for control of the Holy Land.

A rare stash of gold coins was discovered hidden beneath a floor tile in a fortress outside Tel Aviv.

Israeli archeologists this week discovered one of the largest gold stockpiles ever found while digging in an ancient castle that hosted some of the major battles of the Crusades.

The cache - discovered in a broken pottery vessel hidden under a floor tile - contained 108 gold coins which archeologists have estimated to be worth over $100,000. Researchers told UPI that crusaders probably hid the treasure trove from invading Muslim conquerors in the mid 13th Century.


Ancient Hellenistic Harbor Found in Israel

Ancient Ruins1
© Kobi Sharvit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities AuthorityA member of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority standing on the ancient quay that was exposed in Akko. In the middle of the picture one can see the floor of the quay, built of large dressed stones.
The remains of a magnificent ancient harbor have emerged from a dig in Akko (Acre), a city at the northern tip of Haifa Bay in Israel.

Dating back to the Hellenistic period (third-second centuries BC), the port was Israel's largest and most important at the time.

Archaeologists at the Israel Antiquities Authority made the discovery as they unearthed large mooring stones that were incorporated in the quay. They were used to secure sailing vessels that anchored in the harbor about 2,300 years ago.

In some of the stones the archaeologists found a hole for inserting a wooden pole - - probably for mooring and/or dragging the boat.

This was most likely a military harbor, according to Kobi Sharvit, director of the Marine Archaeology Unit of the Israel Antiquities Authority,

"A find was uncovered recently that suggests we are excavating part of the military port of Akko. We are talking about an impressive section of stone pavement about 8 meters long by about 5 meters wide," Sharvit said.

Delineated on both sides by two impressive stone walls built in the Phoenician manner, the floor sloped slightly toward the south. The archaeologists found a small amount of stone collapse in its center.


Ye olde stink bomb: 400-year-old pottery relic found in castle ruins was a smelly secret weapon used to see off the enemy by letting off noxious fumes

© BNPSSome were used as just incendiary weapons but very few survived because they were destroyed once they were launched
It looks innocent enough. An ancient piece of pottery, in pretty good condition aside from a few cracks here and there.

However, this artefact is causing somewhat of a stink in archeological circles.

It was assumed this ancient relic was a piece of tableware when it was unearthed at a ruined castle 25 years ago. However, it has emerged it is a 17th century stink bomb used to clear rooms during raids.

For years, experts wrongly-assumed the pot was used to store olive oil. But when a picture of it was posted on Facebook a Dutch archeologist identified it as a 400-year-old 'stankpotten' - a stink bomb.

With fuses attached to them, these bombs were often filled with substances including charcoal, sulphur and pepper seeds and exploded as they smashed.

They filled rooms with noxious smells and smoke, clearing them immediately - exactly the same principle used by the SAS when they stormed the Iranian Embassy in 1980.

The bomb - found at Corfe Castle in Dorset - dates back to the Civil War, when Cromwell's Parliamentarian forces attacked the fortress that was a royalist stronghold.


Three Kingdoms' Tomb Holding Warrior Discovered

Chinese Tmb
© Chinese ArchaeologyThis tomb was uncovered recently in Xiangyang China.

About 1,800 years ago, at a time when China was breaking apart into three warring kingdoms, a warrior was laid to rest.

Buried in a tomb with domed roofs, along with his wife, he was about 45 years old when he died. Their skeletal remains were found inside two wooden coffins that had rotted away. Archaeologists don't know their names but, based on the tomb design and grave goods, they believe he was a general who had served one or more of the country's warring lords, perhaps Cao Cao and his son Cao Pi.

His tomb was discovered in Xiangyang, a city that, in the time of the Three Kingdoms, was of great strategic importance. Rescue excavations started in October 2008 and now the discovery is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Chinese Archaeology. (The report had appeared earlier, in Chinese, in the journal Wenwu.)

The rescue operation, carried out by the Xiangyang Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, uncovered many treasures in the tomb. One of the biggest finds was a life-size bronze horse, the largest ever found in China.It measures 5.3 feet long and by 5.3 feet tall (163 cm by 163 cm). "The horse figurine is in standing posture, has erected ears, protruded eyes, opened mouth, long and broad neck, upright mane and drooped tail," writes archaeologist Liu Jiangsheng.


Archaeologists uncover largest ancient dam built by Maya in Central America

For four months out of every year in the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, the skies dried up and no rain fell. Nevertheless, this metropolis in what is now Guatemala became a bustling hub of as many as 80,000 residents by A.D. 700. Now, researchers have found that the residents of Tikal hung on to their civilization for more than 1,000 years thanks to a surprisingly sustainable system of water delivery.

© University of Cincinnati researchersThese are veneer stones of the dam identified by the UC researchers. What was once thought to be a sluice is outlined in red and is now filled with slump-down debris.
The water needs of Tikal were met by a series of paved reservoirs that held rainwater during the 8-month-long wet season for use during dry periods, archeologists report Monday (July 16) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. This early plumbing system was surprisingly resilient, seeing the city through times of both plenty and drought.

"These people were able to use their land and water resources in a sustainable manner for as long as 1,500 years without significant interruption," said study researcher Vernon Scarborough, an anthropologist at the University of Cincinnati.


French demand Crown Jewels from the Queen to compensate for 1499 murder of Edward Plantagenet

  • French city of Angers in Loire Valley provided some of the greatest monarchs in British history
  • When Edward Plantagenet was murdered in Tower of London in 1499 house's legitimate male line came to an end
  • City believes it is owed an apology - and 513 years' worth of compensation
  • Sum would amount to billions in today's currency, but city is prepared to accept the coronation jewels
© unknownThe French city of Angers, France, have said they want to be compensated for the 'murder' of Edward Plantagenet

A French city which produced 14 English kings is demanding the Crown Jewels as compensation from the Queen for the murder of its last pretender to the throne.

Angers, which is in the Loire Valley west of Paris, was once the capital of the Anjou province and the House of Plantagenet.

It ruled England from 1154 until 1485, providing some of the greatest monarchs in British history, including Richard the Lionheart and Henry V.


Stone Age Fashionistas: World's Oldest Purse Found

stone age purse dog teeth
© Klaus Bentele, LDA HalleThe find is studded With a hundred dog teeth. "It seems to have been very fashionable at the time."
The world's oldest purse may have been found in Germany - and its owner apparently had a sharp sense of Stone Age style.

Excavators at a site near Leipzig uncovered more than a hundred dog teeth arranged close together in a grave dated to between 2,500 and 2,200 B.C.

According to archaeologist Susanne Friederich, the teeth were likely decorations for the outer flap of a handbag.

"Over the years the leather or fabric disappeared, and all that's left is the teeth. They're all pointing in the same direction, so it looks a lot like a modern handbag flap," said Friederich, of the Sachsen-Anhalt State Archaeology and Preservation Office.

The dog teeth were found during excavations of the 250-acre (100-hectare) Profen site, which is slated to become an open-pit coal mine in 2015.

So far the project has uncovered evidence of Stone and Bronze Age settlements, including more than 300 graves, hundreds of stone tools, spear points, ceramic vessels, bone buttons, and an amber necklace.

Thousands of finds from later periods - including the grave of a woman buried with a pound (half a kilogram) of gold jewellry around 50 B.C. - have also turned up.


Alexander The Not so Great: History Through Persian Eyes

Alexander the Great
© BBCCirca 330 BC, Alexander the Great King of Macedonia, on his horse Boucephalus.
Alexander the Great is portrayed as a legendary conqueror and military leader in Greek-influenced Western history books but his legacy looks very different from a Persian perspective.

Any visitor of the spectacular ruins of Persepolis - the site of the ceremonial capital of the ancient Persian Achaemenid empire, will be told three facts: it was built by Darius the Great, embellished by his son Xerxes, and destroyed by that man, Alexander.

That man Alexander, would be the Alexander the Great, feted in Western culture as the conqueror of the Persian Empire and one of the great military geniuses of history.

Indeed, reading some Western history books one might be forgiven for thinking that the Persians existed to be conquered by Alexander.

A more inquisitive mind might discover that the Persians had twice before been defeated by the Greeks during two ill-fated invasions, by Darius the Great in 490BC and then his son, Xerxes, in 480BC - for which Alexander's assault was a justified retaliation.

But seen through Persian eyes, Alexander is far from "Great".

He razed Persepolis to the ground following a night of drunken excess at the goading of a Greek courtesan, ostensibly in revenge for the burning of the Acropolis by the Persian ruler Xerxes.

Persians also condemn him for the widespread destruction he is thought to have encouraged to cultural and religious sites throughout the empire.

The emblems of Zoroastrianism - the ancient religion of the Iranians - were attacked and destroyed. For the Zoroastrian priesthood in particular - the Magi - the destruction of their temples was nothing short of a calamity.