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Sherlock

Scotland: New study of Western Isles' sand dune-buried artefacts

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© Rob Burke / Geograph
Remains of Iron Age occupation of the site on North Uist
New research is being carried out on artefacts recovered from a site where evidence was found for every age from the Neolithic to the 20th Century.

Archaeology at Udal provides an "unbroken timeline" of occupation from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age, Viking, Medieval through to the 1900s.

Some of the evidence at the site on North Uist was preserved by wind-blown sand dunes.

Archaeologist Ian Crawford excavated Udal between 1963 and 1995.

The earliest Neolithic layers he revealed consisted of a line of stones with a large upright stone nicknamed the great auk stone because of its resemblance to the extinct seabird.

A deep shaft containing quartz pebbles which had been covered over with a whale's vertebrae was also uncovered.

From the Bronze Age, finds included a skeleton and from the Iron Age evidence of metal work.

Book

UK: Exhibition tells how Charles Dickens was spooked by ghost tale doppelganger

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© London Stereoscopic Company/Getty Images
A British Library exhibition celebrating the bicentenary of Charles Dickens's birth includes material claiming alleged plagiarism of a ghost story.
Bicentennial show at British Library says rival accused Dickens of plagiarism but author said he was amazed by story similarities.

The spirits which terrorise and ultimately reform Scrooge in A Christmas Carol may have been due to a nightmare brought on, as the miser put it, by "an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese".

Now a new exhibition at the British Library marking the bicentenary in 2012 of Charles Dickens's birth suggests that the real-life mystery of another ghost story by the author may have had an equally prosaic beginning: a manuscript he allegedly stole from a rival.

Dickens wrote some of the best-loved spooky yarns in the English language - but he did not please one artist who accused him of plagiarising his apparition in a piece published in 1861.

The author and artist Thomas Heaphy bitterly accused Dickens of underhand dealing and blatantly ripping off his own story which he had sent to the printers.

Friend and biographer John Forster described Dickens as having "a hankering after ghosts".

Pharoah

Curse of Tutankhamun May Have Been Work of Satanist Killer, a Historian Claims in a New Book

Six mysterious London deaths famously attributed to the "Curse of Tutankhamun" were actually murders by notorious Satanist Aleister Crowley, a historian claims in a new book.

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© Getty Images
Aleister Crowley (left) and former Keeper in the British Museum's Department of Egyptian and Assyrian Antiquities, Sir Ernest Wallis Budge
Incredible parallels between Crowley and Jack the Ripper have also been discovered during research by historian Mark Beynon.

Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, London was gripped by the mythical curse of Tutankhamun, the Egyptian boy-king, whose tomb was uncovered by British archaeologist Howard Carter.

More than 20 people linked to the opening of the pharaoh's burial chamber in Luxor in 1923 bizarrely died over the following years - six of them in the capital.

Victims included Carter's personal secretary Captain Richard Bethell, who was found dead in his bed from suspected smothering at an exclusive Mayfair club.

Question

Mysterious Jerusalem carvings leaves Israeli archaeologists baffled

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© Associated Press
Marks carved in the bedrock over 2,800 years ago, are seen in an archeological excavation in the city of David near Jerusalem's Old City, Dec. 1, 2011.
Three 'V' shapes carved into ancient bedrock uncovered in City of David dig, a politically sensitive excavation conducted by Israeli government.

Mysterious stone carvings made thousands of years ago and recently uncovered in an excavation underneath Jerusalem have archaeologists stumped.

Israeli diggers who uncovered a complex of rooms carved into the bedrock in the oldest section of the city recently found the markings: Three "V'' shapes cut next to each other into the limestone floor of one of the rooms, about 2 inches (5 centimeters) deep and 50 centimeters long. There were no finds to offer any clues pointing to the identity of who made them or what purpose they served.

The archaeologists in charge of the dig know so little that they have been unable even to posit a theory about their nature, said Eli Shukron, one of the two directors of the dig.

"The markings are very strange, and very intriguing. I've never seen anything like them," Shukron said.

Pharoah

Board Games Originated as Elite Pastime

Ancient Board Game
© Maler der Grabkammer der Nefertari
This work portrays the ancient Egyptian game of Senet.
Board games began as an exclusive pastime for the elite, with the Roman Empire spreading their popularity throughout Europe.

Competitive board games -- played on the ground, on the floor, or on boards -- emerged as pastimes for the elite, with the Roman Empire spreading their popularity throughout Europe, according to a new study.

The study, published in the journal Antiquity, mentions that board games likely originated and disseminated from Egypt and the Fertile Crescent regions at around 3500 B.C. From there, they spread around the Mediterranean before reaching the Roman Empire and what is now Europe.

Based on the archaeological record, board games didn't even reach Britain until the very end of the 1st century B.C. from newly conquered Gaul. At the time, Gaul was a region encompassing present-day France, Belgium, most of Switzerland and other areas.

Not just anyone could play board games then either.

"Many of the first board games appear to have been diplomatic gifts to signify status," co-author Mark Hall told Discovery News. "We have early examples of quite splendid playing pieces belonging to elite, privileged people."

Hall said the world's oldest known board game could be "The Royal Game of Ur," also known as the Game of Twenty Squares. It was discovered in the Royal Tombs of Ur in Iraq. Although no one knows what the earliest rules for the game were, it's thought to have been a predecessor to today's backgammon.

House

Neandertals' mammoth building project

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© Unknown
Neandertals are stumping for bragging rights as the first builders of mammoth-bone structures, an accomplishment usually attributed to Stone Age people.

Humanity's extinct cousins constructed a large, ring-shaped enclosure out of 116 mammoth bones and tusks at least 44,000 years ago in West Asia, say archaeologist Laëtitia Demay of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and her colleagues. The bone edifice, which encircles a 40-square-meter area in which mammoths and other animals were butchered, cooked and eaten, served either to keep out cold winds or as a base for a wooden building, the scientists propose in a paper published online November 26 in Quaternary International.

Mammoth-bone huts previously discovered at Homo sapiens sites in West Asia date to between 27,500 and 15,000 years ago. The new discovery comes from Molodova, a Ukrainian site first excavated in the 1950s. There, Neandertals erected a mammoth-bone structure that's unlike later mammoth-bone huts, suggesting that the two Homo species developed these practices independently, says study coauthor Stéphane Péan, also of France's National Museum of Natural History.

Researchers have argued for decades about whether Molodova Neandertals left mammoth bones scattered about or built something out of them.

Black Cat

Confessions of a psychopath: Unapologetic to the end, a career killer tells of his crimes

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© Getty Images
Roberts claims that he drugged Ed Sullivan (here with Jayne Mansfield) and tried to blackmail him with a prostitute.
Jon Roberts was a made man, a drug smuggler, a killer. He hobnobbed with OJ Simpson and Ed Sullivan, rubbed shoulders with Pablo Escobar and Carlo Gambino, and made enemies out of John Gotti and Ronald Reagan.

He tortured college students for fun, helped snuff-out "mob accountant" Meyer Lansky's stepson and admits to brutalizing his ex-girlfriend with a belt when she tried to leave him. He flooded the country with cocaine in the 1980s.

Regrets? He has none.

"So would you call yourself a psychopath?" The Post asked him on Friday.

"Well, that depends on how you define psychopath," Roberts said.

"A lack of empathy or remorse."

"Well, then, yes I am," he said. "I enjoyed my life. How many other people lived the life I did? Maybe that Bernie guy, but who else?"

A new disturbing but intensely enthralling as-told-to memoir, American Desperado, co-written and vetted by Generation Kill author Evan Wright, gets deep inside the head of a lifelong criminal.

While the book is littered with famous names -- a testament to what Wright refers to as his place as the "Forrest Gump of crime and depravity" -- there are also passages so dark and violent that you wonder how a man this sinister can sleep at night.

Sherlock

UK: Archaeologists unearth 7th-century house in Yorkshire Dales

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© Yorkshire Dales national park authority
Volunteers dug down to discover a 7th-century house at Ingleborough in the Yorkshire Dales.
Volunteers' find in national park adds to discoveries pointing to richer cultural history of northern England than assumed

Humanity's long attachment to Yorkshire has notched up another piece of early evidence with the discovery of the first 7th-century house to be recorded in the Dales national park. Volunteer archaeologists dug down into an outcrop of stones on the flanks of Ingleborough fell, one of the Three Peaks famous for walks and marathon runs, where settlements were thought to exist but none had been excavated owing to shortages of time, expertise and funds.

The team revealed two chamber rooms with charcoal remains and pieces of chert, a hard flint knapped in ancient times to make tools. Carbon-dating of the charcoal has placed the use of the building at between AD660 and AD780, when Anglo-Saxon kingdoms were consolidating in northern England. The dig adds to a growing list of discoveries, from a Roman amphitheatre at Aldborough to exquisitely carved golden rings near Leeds, which are changing the history of the north of England.

In each case, archaeologists have suggested that the relative poverty of previous finds in the region, compared with southern counties, has had more to do with where the profession previously looked rather than what may be there.

Sherlock

Bronze age man's lunch: a spoonful of nettle stew

Archaeological dig reveals hundreds of objects, from six oak-tree boats to a bowl of food

Six boats hollowed out of oak tree trunks are among hundreds of intact artefacts from 3,000 years ago that have been discovered in the Cambridgeshire fens, the Observer can reveal.

The scale, quality and condition of the objects, the largest bronze age collection ever found in one place in Britain, have astonished archaeologists - and barely a fraction of the site has been excavated.
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© Dave Webb/Cambridge Archaeological Unit for the Observer
The smallest of six oak boats is excavated at the bronze age site near Peterborough.

Unique textile fragments, wicker baskets and wooden sword handles have survived. There are even containers of food, including a bowl with a wooden spoon still wedged into the contents, now analysed as nettle stew, which may have been a favourite dish in 1000BC. The boats - two of which bear unusual decoration - are in such good condition that the wood grain and colour can be seen clearly, as can signs of repairs by their owners.

Info

Filling in The Gaps in The Slave Trade

Slave Trade
© Mary Evans Picture Library
The history of the slave trade can be made clearer using genetic data.

Geneticists, archaeologists and historians are joining forces to investigate the history of transatlantic slavery, in a €4.3-million (US$5.8-million) project launched today. The researchers say that the project is a unique opportunity to improve our knowledge of the slave trade, but warn that some of their results might be "uncomfortable".

Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, millions of people from west and central Africa were captured and shipped across the Atlantic by European slave traders to a life of forced labour in the Americas. The subject has been well studied by historians, but one of the coordinators of the project, geneticist Hannes Schroeder of the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, says that there are still "large gaps in our knowledge" regarding the origins of the people captured as slaves, for instance, and how the slave trade operated.

"The historical records are fragmentary," he says. "For example, they tend to mention just the port of export, rather than the ethnic or geographical origin of the person. The idea is that by bringing in genetics, we get a different view."

Schroeder got the idea for the collaboration after studying isotopes of strontium, carbon, nitrogen and oxygen in the bones and teeth of slaves buried at the Newton plantation in southern Barbados. Archaeologists were keen to find a method to distinguish between first-generation captives and individuals who were subsequently born on the island, and to relate that to ancient African cultural practices such as filing teeth or burying grave goods with bodies.