Saturday, September 29, 2012

Left Side of the Aisle #75 - Part 7

And Another Thing: Some cool archaeology bits

Finally for this week, a few rather cool archaeological bits.

For almost three decades, Colin Steer, of Plymouth, Devonshire, UK, wondered what caused the living room floor beneath his sofa to dip. After he retired, he decided to find out. So he started digging - and discovered that the indentation in the floor was covering a well. A well 30 inches wide and 33 feet deep that dates back to the 16th century.

The well may be connected to something called Drake’s leat, a watercourse built in the 16th century by Sir Francis Drake to carry water from Dartmoor to Plymouth. Steer is trying to find someone to date the well more exactly. In the meantime, he's got a cool feature for his house.

Speaking of old English stuff, one of the enduring mysteries of British history has been the burial place of King Richard III. It's known he was killed during the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, the last major battle of the War of the Roses. After the battle, Richard's body was stripped naked and paraded through the streets of Leicester to prove he was dead.

Researchers believe Richard was then buried in a nearby Franciscan friary. But that friary was demolished during Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries, leaving the exact location of the friary unknown.

Now, researchers have found the friary under a city parking lot in Leicester. They have found medieval window tracery, glazed floor tile fragments, part of what may be the cloisters, and a section of wall.

And just over a week ago they announced they have found human remains, with "strong circumstantial evidence" suggesting it's the body of Richard III. If it turns out to be so, another history mystery has been solved.

Finally, researchers have used new techniques to examine 4,000 year old obsidian tools found in Syria near its borders with Turkey and Iraq to reveal trade and trade routes of four millennia ago.

Obsidian is naturally occurring volcanic glass. It's smooth, hard, and far sharper than a surgical scalpel when fractured. It was highly desired as a material for making stone tools. In fact, obsidian blades are still used today in some specialized medical procedures.

Using the most recent techniques that use the fact that each volcanic source has a distinctive chemical signature, the researchers determined that most of the obsidian at the site and other nearby ones came from volcanoes some 200 kilometers (125 miles) away in what is now eastern Turkey. That wasn't a surprise, as models of ancient trade routes predicted as much. However, the team also discovered a set of obsidian artefacts originating from a volcano in what is now central Turkey, three times further away, indicating trade in obsidian was - and thus the associated trade routes were - more widespread than previously thought.

What's amazing here is that the ability to read that volcanic signature is so exact that not only did the team identify the particular volcano where the obsidian in the artefacts originated, they were able to pinpoint the exact flank of the particular volcano where it was collected and to determine that it was gathered from two different spots on its slope. That is just incredible.


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