Welcome to Hidden Histories. In this series, we take a closer look at the world around us and explore the hidden depths of our shared history.
Today we take a look at the undead…
Welcome to the new approach to archaeological news from Archaeosoup Productions.
Last year Prof Maciej Henneberg, of the University of Adelaide, and his colleagues sparked intense debate among human evolution researchers when they published a pair of papers (here and here) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Henneberg and colleagues argued that the so-called Hobbits – known by their scientific name Homo floresiensis – were not a new species of early hominin but just small-bodied modern humans with Down syndrome.
It’s now more than ten years since a joint Indonesian-Australian team led by the late Prof Michael Morwood announced the discovery of the famous Hobbit fossils from the site of Liang Bua on the island of Flores, Indonesia.
Opinions about the significance of the fossils for our understanding of human evolution are generally accepted by the majority of the scientific community, although some researchers argue that the Hobbits are pathological modern humans.
But the Down syndrome argument does not hold on the basis of the evidence from the two lower jaws (mandibles) from the site, which belong to individuals known as LB1 and LB6, as we argue in a reply published this month, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA.
Here we summarise the main points we make in our reply.No support for a key claim
The LB1 and LB6 mandibles are crucial to Henneberg and colleagues’ argument. Both specimens have a “negative chin,” which is where the outer surface of the bone at the front of the mandible, below the incisors, recedes.
The researchers who first described the Hobbit fossils argued that this trait sets the LB1 and LB6 mandibles apart from modern humans, who have a protruding chin, and aligns them with the early hominins, who have negative chins (as shown in the image below of the African Homo ergaster fossil OH 22 below).
Henneberg and colleagues reject this claim. They contend that negative chins are often found among the indigenous people of Australia and Melanesia. Consequently, they suggest, the occurrence of negative chins on LB1 and LB6 does not stop them from being modern humans.
Henneberg and colleagues offer three pieces of evidence in support of their assertion that negative chins are commonplace among the indigenous people of Australia and Melanesia: two previous studies and a photograph (see figure S3 in the Supporting Information) of a mandible from an Australian archaeological site called Roonka.
Unfortunately, none of these pieces of evidence withstands scrutiny. One of the studies has not been published, which means that it has not been peer-reviewed and therefore does not meet the minimum standard of scientific quality.
The other study has been published in a respectable peer-reviewed scientific journal but has since been severely criticised.
And the Roonka mandible does not have a negative chin. This can be seen clearly in the figure (below), which compares a CT scan of the LB1 mandible with a CT scan of the Roonka mandible.
Thus, there is no reason to believe that Australo-Melanesians often have negative chins and therefore no reason to overturn the assessment that the negative chins in LB1 and LB6 precludes their attribution to Homo sapiens.More inconsistent data
The chin is not the only feature of the LB1 and LB6 mandibles that does not support Henneberg and colleagues’ argument.
A study that was published several years ago identified a number of other traits that LB1 and LB6 share with early hominins but not with modern humans.
One of these traits can be seen in both the photograph of the OH 22 mandible and the CT scan of the LB1 mandible. On the inside of the front of the mandible there is a bulge. Such “buttresses” are common in early hominin mandibles but are not found in modern human jaws.
A second trait that distinguishes the LB1 and LB6 mandibles from those of modern humans is the presence of distinct gap between the end of the tooth row and the rear section of the jaw.
A third trait that links LB1 and LB6 with the early hominins rather than modern humans is the form of their tooth roots.
Henneberg and colleagues ignored these traits, but their presence in LB1 and LB6 provides strong support for the hypothesis that the Liang Bua fossils are the remains of early hominins and not those of modern humans.Taking it on the chin
The Down syndrome hypothesis is the latest in a long line of attempts to explain the features of the Liang Bua hominin fossils as pathologies.
It should be the last, we think.
The mandibular evidence disproves the idea that LB1 and LB6 are modern humans, and there are a number of other lines of evidence that do so too, as the work of Prof William Jungers, Prof Peter Brown, and several other colleagues has demonstrated.
It is time for the field to move on. The Hobbits are a new species of early hominins not modern humans with Down syndrome or indeed any other pathological condition.Written by
Senior Research Fellow, Environmental Futures Research Institute at Griffith University
Associate Professor of Anthropology at Texas Tech University
Canada Research Chair in Human Evolutionary Studies, and Professor of Archaeology at Simon Fraser University
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For over 400 million years, plants have played an essential role in almost all terrestrial environments and covered most of the world’s surface. During this long history, many smaller and a few major periods of extinction severely affected Earth’s ecosystems and its biodiversity.
In the upcoming issue of the journal New Phytologist, the team reports their results based on more than 20,000 plant fossils with the aim to understand the effects of such dramatic events on plant diversity. Their findings show that mass extinction events had very different impacts among plant groups. Negative rates of diversification in plants (meaning that more species died out than new species were formed) were never sustained through long time periods. This indicates that, in general, plants have been particularly good at surviving and recovering through tough periods.
“In the plant kingdom, mass extinction events can be seen as opportunities for turnover leading to renewed biodiversity,” says leading author Daniele Silvestro.
Most striking were the results for the Cretaceous-Paleogene mass extinction, caused by the impact of an asteroid off the Mexican coast some 66 million years ago. This event had a great impact on the configuration of terrestrial habitats and led to the extinction of all dinosaurs except birds, but surprisingly it had only limited effects on plant diversity.
Some important plant groups, such as the gymnosperms (including pines, spruce and firs) lost a great deal of their diversity through extinction. On the other hand, flowering plants (angiosperms) did not suffer from increased extinction, and shortly after the impact they underwent a new rapid increase in their diversity. These evolutionary dynamics contributed to make flowering plants dominate today’s global diversity above all other plant groups.
“Mass extinctions are often thought as a bad thing, but they have been crucial in changing the world into how we know it today,” says senior author Alexandre Antonelli.
If that asteroid had not struck the Earth, chances are that large dinosaurs would still be hunting around, mammals would be small and hiding in caves, and humans might never have evolved.
“By studying such extreme events we are trying to learn which groups of organisms and features are more sensitive to changes, so that we can apply this knowledge to protect biodiversity in the face of on-going climate change and human deterioration of natural ecosystems,” concludes Antonelli.
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The researchers are excavating the graveyard surrounding the abandoned Badia Pozzeveri church in the Tuscany region of Italy.
The site contains victims of the cholera epidemic that swept the world in the 1850s, said Clark Spencer Larsen, professor of anthropology at The Ohio State University and one of the leaders of the excavation team.
Archaeologists and their students have spent the past four summers painstakingly excavating remains in a special section of the cemetery used for cholera victims.
Finding traces of the pathogen that caused cholera among the human remains could reveal details about how people lived – and died – in this region of Europe.
“To our knowledge, these are the best preserved remains of cholera victims of this time period ever found,” Larsen said. “We’re very excited about what we may be able to learn.”
Larsen discussed the project on Feb. 15 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Jose.
The bodies of the cholera victims were hastily buried and covered in lime, which hardened like concrete around the bodies. Researchers suspect residents were trying to keep the disease from spreading.
“But the lime encasing is pretty amazing for bone preservation, too,” Larsen said.
Not just the bones were preserved. The lime trapped soil around the bodies that contains the ancient DNA of bacteria and other organisms that lived in the humans buried there.
One of Larsen’s colleagues, Hendrik Poinar, a professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada, is an expert in ancient DNA and is scanning the soil samples for DNA from Virbrio cholera, the bacterium that causes cholera.
“We haven’t found it yet, but we are hopeful. We’ve found other DNA associated with humans so we’re continuing the search,” Larsen said.
“If we found the DNA we could see how cholera has evolved and compare it to what the bacteria is like today. That’s the first step to possibly finding a cure.”
The site provides much more than just information on the cholera epidemic. A monastery was founded on the site in 1056 and after it was abandoned in 1408, a church remained until about 50 years ago. Several different cemeteries from different time periods surround the ruins.
“We have a thousand-year window into the health of this village,” Larsen said. “It is a microcosm of what is happening in Italy and all of Europe during this time frame.”
Included in the cemeteries are people who died of the Black Death pandemic that ravaged Europe from 1346 to 1353. Many others died from less dramatic causes, but are still of great interest to the researchers.
“What we are trying to do is to reconstruct these populations as if they were alive, to get a glimpse about what their day-to-day lives were like and what their health was like, as well as how they died.”
The project began in 2010 when the local community, Ohio State and the University of Pisa joined forces to study the site.
They established The Field School in Medieval Archaeology and Bioarchaeology at Badia Pozzeveri. It is now an academic program aimed at training students in archaeological and bioarchaeological fields and laboratory methods.
About 20 to 30 skeletons have been excavated during each of the past four field seasons, Larsen said.
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In June last year Crossrail invited 16 volunteers to scour parish records from across the capital to create the first extensive list of people buried at Bedlam in the 16th and 17th Centuries. The resulting database, published today, will inform Crossrail’s archaeological excavation of the eastern entrance of Liverpool Street Crossrail station, which begins in March and will see around 3,000 skeletons excavated. It also sheds light on a tumultuous period of London’s history.
According to the research Dr John Lamb (also known as Lam or Lambe), an astrologer and advisor to the First Duke of Buckingham, is among those buried at the site. Lamb was said to have been stoned to death by an angry mob outside a theatre in 1628 following allegations of rape and black magic. Others identified in the research include victims of riots by ‘Fanatiques,’ noted in the diaries of Samuel Pepys in January 1661.
Plague was the most common listed form of death, followed by infant mortality and consumption. The burial ground was established in 1569 to help parishes cope with overcrowding during outbreaks of plague and other epidemics. Crossrail workers recently discovered the gravestone of Mary Godfree who died in September 1665, as a result of the ‘Great Plague’ which peaked that year.
Jay Carver, Lead Archaeologist at Crossrail said: “This research is a window into one of the most turbulent periods of London’s past. These people lived through civil wars, the Restoration, Shakespeare’s plays, the birth of modern industry, plague and the Great Fire. It is a real privilege to be able to use Europe’s largest construction project to uncover more knowledge about this fascinating period of history. Our heartfelt thanks go to the volunteer researchers, who have contributed immensely to Crossrail’s legacy.”
The archaeological excavations at Liverpool Street are undertaken by MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) on behalf of Crossrail. Scientific analysis of up to 3,000 skeletons will provide new insights into the lives and deaths of early modern Londoners. The upcoming dig is also expected to uncover medieval and Roman artefacts and help piece together centuries of history. After excavation the skeletons will be reburied on consecrated ground.
To date Crossrail has found more than 10,000 artefacts spanning 55 million years of London’s history across over 40 construction sites. It is the UK’s largest archaeology project, carefully programmed in advance to ensure delivery of the new east west railway on time and within budget.
Liverpool Street is one of 10 new Crossrail stations being built in central and southeast London. When the TfL-run Crossrail service is fully open in 2019, it will give commuters easy access to destinations across London and the South East including Canary Wharf and Heathrow.
About Bedlam burial ground
The Bedlam burial ground, also known as Bethlem and the New Churchyard, was the first in London not associated with a parish church and was in existence from 1569 to at least 1738. It is located at the western end of Liverpool Street and got its name from the nearby Bethlehem Hospital, which housed the mentally ill.
Many people buried at Bedlam were on the fringes of society. They were often interred there because they were not associated with any parish or religious institution or could not afford the fee for a Churchyard burial. Common occupations included servants, maids, tailors, shoemakers and watermen, although middle class guilds such as butchers and goldsmiths were also buried there. Many different ethnicities are represented, reflecting a globalising City.
Although they have not yet been discovered in the Crossrail research, others believed to be buried at Bedlam include Robert Lockyer, a young soldier in Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army executed for his involvement in the Bishopgate mutiny, John Lilburne, an English political ‘Leveller’ during the English Civil Wars and Lodowicke Muggleton, a controversial religious writer and founder of the Muggletonian movement.Visit the Bedlam Burial Register : Click Here
Using new techniques in bioarchaeology and biogeochemistry, a team of bioarchaeologists and archaeologists have been able to study the diets of 14 individuals dating back almost 2,000 years.
The findings were recently published in the Journal of Archaeological Science.
The mummies were unearthed from one of the most famous sites in Peru: the Paracas Necropolis of Wari Kayan, two densely populated collections of burials off the southern coast. The region has a rich archaeological history that includes intricate textiles and enormous geoglyphs, yet it has been relatively overlooked for bioarchaeological research.
With support from the National Science Foundation, ASU associate professor Kelly Knudson and her colleagues are attempting to rectify that.
In addition to Knudson, the team was made up by Ann H. Peters of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, and Elsa Tomasto Cagigao of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.
The researchers used hair samples – between two and 10 sequential samples for each mummy, in addition to two hair artifacts – to investigate the diets of Paracas’ ancient people. They focused on carbon and nitrogen isotope analysis of keratin to determine what these individuals ate in the final stages of their lives.
Diet not only provides insight into health, but can also indicate where people lived and traveled, as well as offer clues about their daily lives by pointing to whether their foods were sourced from farming, fishing, hunting or gathering.
During the last months of their lives, the Paracas individuals appear to have eaten primarily marine products and C4 and C3 plants, such as maize and beans. Also, they were either geographically stable or, if they traveled between the inland highlands and coastal regions, continued to consume marine products.
“What is exciting to me about this research is that we are using new scientific techniques to learn more about mummies that were excavated almost 100 years ago. It is a great application of new science to older museum collections,” says Knudson, who is in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Knudson, who is affiliated with the school’s Center for Bioarchaeological Research, explained why it is so important to learn about the lived experiences of people who existed long ago.
“By using small samples of hair from these mummies, we can learn what they ate in the months and weeks before they died, which is a very intimate look at the past,” Knudson said.
When first discovered in 1927 by Peruvian archaeologist Julio Tello, each mummy was bound in a seated position, found with burial items like baskets or weapons, and wrapped in a cone-shaped bundle of textiles, including finely embroidered garments.
Since the sampled individuals were mostly male, Knudson and her colleagues suggest that future research may involve more females and youths. The researchers also plan to further examine artifacts and mortuary evidence to build context for their isotopic data.
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The sequence – showing the dramatic injury to the base of the skull as well as the inside of the top of the skull – is part of a package of films charting the scientific and archaeological investigations led by the project team from the University of Leicester.
It is among 26 sequences taken by University video producer Carl Vivian who is chronicling the key events in the Discovery, Science and Reburial of the last Plantagenet king. These sequences are accessible to the media by contacting Carl Vivian (details below).
Among the sequences there is one that has never been released before and shows the moment when Professor Guy Rutty of East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, based at the University of Leicester, found the potential killer blow.
Drawing on 19 years of experience as a Home Office Forensic Pathologist, Professor Rutty examined the skull and linked marks on the vertebra, the smaller of the two wounds to the base of the skull and a mark on the inside of the skull, suggesting that weapon had been thrust up from the base of Richard’s neck and into his head.
Professor Rutty said: “I approached this examination as that of any patient – just because he was a King did not make a difference. Everyone is treated the same with the same doctor/patient relationship, the same respect in death and the same level of professional investigation.
“The key to this sequence is that alongside my role at the University of Leicester, I am a Home office forensic pathologist. Thus I was able to look at the large injury in the base of the skull and, through experience, I was able to identify the key injury.
“Using the specialist lighting equipment we have in the forensic mortuary at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, which was key to the examination, I then was able to put the three injuries together on pathological grounds and we all realised I had identified the potential lethal injury to King Richard III.
“It was one of those eureka moments which Carl Vivian happened to capture on film which we will all remember.”
The video shows the initial examination of the trauma to the skeleton by Professor Rutty working with Dr Jo Appleby of the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History.
Osteologist Dr Jo Appleby, who led the exhumation of the skeleton from the Greyfriars car park where Richard was discovered in 2012, said: “Following the identification of a major sharp force trauma to the base of the skull, which was probably inflicted by a sword or the top spike of a bill or halberd, we were interested to determine the angle of the blow.
“During filming, Professor Rutty noted a small traumatic lesion on the interior surface of the cranium, directly opposite the sharp force trauma. Careful examination showed that the two injuries lined up with one another, and also with an injury to Richard’s first cervical vertebra.
“The combination of all three injuries provided evidence for the direction of the injury and also the depth to which the weapon had penetrated the skull.”
The researchers, who examined the remains in a clinical environment at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, have already published in The Lancet their research into the trauma inflicted on King Richard III’s body at the Battle of Bosworth Field on 22 August, 1485.
Using modern forensic analysis of the King’s skeletal remains, they discovered that three of his injuries had the potential to cause death quickly- two to the skull and one to the pelvis.
The forensic imaging team, working with the Forensic Pathology Unit and our Department of Engineering, used whole body CT scans and micro-CT imaging of injured bones to analyse trauma to the 500-year-old skeleton carefully, and to determine which of the King’s wounds might have proved fatal. They also analysed tool marks on bone to identify the medieval weapons potentially responsible for his injuries.
Professor Sarah Hainsworth, Professor of Material Engineering at the University, said: “Using modern forensic examination, we have discovered that Richard’s skeleton sustained 11 wounds at or near the time of his death – nine of them to the skull, which were clearly inflicted in battle. The injuries to the head suggest he had either removed or lost his helmet. The other two injuries that we found were to a rib and his pelvis.”Watch the Video : Click Here
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Uniquely, the team will include British veterans, some wounded in recent campaigns, who will work alongside leading battlefield archaeologists and military historians. Together they hope to answer questions that remain unanswered 200 years after the battle.
While the battle has been studied by generations of historians, little is known about the archaeological remains that exist under the surface of the battlefield. There were tens of thousands of casualties in the battle and the locations of massed graves have never been identified and marked. Following from an archaeological survey by Tim Sutherland & Helen Goodchild of the University of York (Ongoing), the site will be further investigated by a team of conflict archaeologists.
Dr Tony Pollard, Director of the Centre for Battlefield Archaeology at the University of Glasgow, will lead the archaeology. Dr Pollard said:
“History tells us who won the battle but understanding what happened has until now relied on first-hand accounts and reports of the battle that in some cases are either confusing or biased. We hope archaeology can provide answers to many of the questions about Waterloo that remain unanswered.
These include the location of graves, which from accounts appear to have been scattered across a wide area, but also details of the at times confused fighting at locations such as Hougoumont, and on a broader scale, the effectiveness of the strongpoints of Hougoumont and La Haye Sainte in blunting the force of the French attack on the Allied centre and right. As an archaeologist this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to explore such a famous battle, not least because the battlefield remains remarkably undisturbed 200 years later.”
Waterloo Uncovered is the brainchild of two Coldstream Guards officers, Major Charles Foinette, who currently serves with 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, and Mark Evans, who suffered from PTSD following his experience in Afghanistan.
Project partners include Waterloo 200, the official body recognised by the UK Government to support the commemoration of the battle in its bicentenary year, and the Coldstream Guards. The Waterloo Uncovered team will also work closely with Project Hougoumont, which has funded and overseen the restoration of the surviving farm buildings at Hougoumont and the creation of a new visitor centre focused on that area of the battlefield.
The project will also partner Operation Nightingale, an award winning, MoD backed initiative to rehabilitate veterans and provide life and vocational skills through archaeology. Project Nightingale will oversee the participation of British veterans while working with Waterloo Uncovered.
Mark Evans, Project Co-ordinator of Waterloo Uncovered, said:
“Having left the army through PTSD, and subsequently been taken as a veteran on Nightingale digs, I have experienced first-hand the benefits of archaeology and what it can do for the recovery process”.
Waterloo Uncovered is supported by the Service de l’archéologie-Direction extérieure du Brabant Wallon which regulates all archaeological activity on the battlefield.
Dominique Bosquet, Excavation Director, Service de l’archéologie-Direction extérieure du Brabant Wallon, said:
“What I think makes Waterloo Uncovered truly special is that for the first time we have a regiment, in the form of the Coldstream Guards, actively supporting an initiative to explore its own history through the medium of archaeology. The Coldstream Guards and veterans who will participate provide a living link to the battle.”
Nathalie du Parc, Présidente chez Intercommunale Bataille de Waterloo 1815 said:
“We are delighted that Waterloo Uncovered is set to explore the battlefield in the bicentenary year of the battle. We hope that this landmark project and its discoveries will add to our understanding of the battle and to the experience for visitors to the site for many years to come.”
Count Georges Jacobs de Hagen, Chairman of Project Hougoumont, said:
“It has long been a legend that bodies were buried on the battlefield on Waterloo where they fell. Having restored Hougoumont as a living memorial to the brave soldiers that fought and died to defend it, this current archaeological initiative by the Coldstream Guards, including wounded soldiers from current campaigns is both fitting and admirable.”
DONATIONS: Waterloo Uncovered is a not-for-profit organisation and is looking for donations to help meet the project’s operating costs. www.waterloouncovered.comProject Aims
- Improve knowledge and understanding of the battle by adding new archaeological information to the existing record, testing new and existing theories, and presenting findings in an open and accessible fashion.
- Provide an opportunity for veterans to take part in a once-in-a-lifetime project. To use archaeology to assist personal development and injury recovery whilst learning vocational skills. The project will also provide important training opportunities for archaeologists and, in particular, the next generation of conflict archaeologists.
- Promote international relations by understanding how Waterloo was fought by and affected almost every European nation. This multinational thinking will be taken into consideration at all stages of planning e.g. archaeology team selection.
- Commemorate those who fought and fell at the battle by explaining to the public why the battle was fought and what impact it had both then and today. Identifying the final resting places of soldiers from all nations, and marking them correctly and respectfully.
- Preserve the archaeology of the battle and enhance management of the cultural heritage by assessing the battlefield to identify and record areas in danger, then excavate, conserve and display as appropriate.
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The battle was fought between Yorkists and Lancastrians on 10 July 1460 in the area now known as Delapré Park and the 50-60mm diameter ball was originally found on farmland in the area of Eagle Drive, Northampton, part of the English Heritage registered battlefield.
The ball was actually found several years ago by the late Stuart Allwork, but had been believed lost until last year. Since its rediscovery the cannon ball has been subjected to detailed analysis by Dr Glenn Foard, one of the UK’s leading experts on medieval artillery and noted battlefield archaeologist from Huddersfield University.
Dr Foard also led the team that found the true site of the Battle of Bosworth. A programme of research and scientific testing of the ball is ongoing, Dr Foard has concluded that “It is highly likely that the projectile was fired during the battle in 1460”.
The Eagle Drive Cannon Ball itself has suffered massive impact damage from at least two bounces, and one gouge still contains small fragments of Northampton Sand and Ironstone. A testimony to the immense forces in play as the shot ricocheted across the battlefield.
Other damage may have been caused by the cannon ball hitting a tree. But whatever caused the damage it is a vivid reminder of the dangers of a medieval battlefield which could at any moment maim or kill without favour the lowliest peasant conscript, one of the most powerful nobles in the Kingdom or even a King. In August the same year James II of Scotland was killed by an exploding cannon at the siege of Roxburgh Castle.
The whole area in which the cannon ball was found is of immense archaeological importance.
Not only is it part of the 1460 battlefield, which contains large and well preserved areas of the medieval field system over which the battle was fought, it is also the site of a Roman villa or settlement. A possible Neolithic cursus of national importance and evidence of ancient trackways criss-cross the site of the find, showing the importance of the area during even earlier periods. Indeed, a number of other important finds from the Stone Age have also been found in the area.
The Battle of Northampton itself is also unique in British military history.
It was the only time a fortification was assaulted, the last time protracted negotiations proceeded a battle, and the only time a whole army was excommunicated during the Wars of the Roses. In its aftermath, Richard of York, the father of Richard III, laid claim to the throne for the first time, setting in train the series of violent and tragic events which eventually saw his son die on the field at Bosworth twenty five years later.
Contemporary accounts suggest as many as 12,000 men could have been either killed during the battle, or trampled to death or drowned in the rout as the defeated Lancastrian Army tried desperately to escape. However, which side fired the Eagle Drive Cannon Ball is not known.
Both the Yorkist and Lancastrian armies are known to have had artillery available during the battle, although some contemporary accounts suggest that the Lancastrian guns failed to fire because of the rain. Therefore, the ball most likely originated as the Yorkist gunners targeted Lancastrian troops in their defences.
Thus the find of the Eagle Drive Cannon Ball supports current theories about the position and orientation of the battle which form the basis of Northampton Council’s Conservation Plan for the site which was adopted in 2014.
Mike Ingram, Medieval Historian, Author and Chair of Northampton Battlefield Society said.
“This is a find of national significance and confirms the battle as one of the earliest in England where cannons can be shown to have been used. It also shows that the Eagle Drive area of the registered battlefield is crucial to the understanding of the whole site.”
Northampton Battlefield Society was originally formed to promote and protect from development the site of the 1460 Battle of Northampton. In 2014, they were awarded a Community Star Award by the local community, for their work to protect the battlefield.
They also continue research into conflicts of other periods and the numerous other battles that took place throughout the county, from Saxons and Vikings, through the Barons’ Wars, to the Wars of the Roses and the English Civil War.
The patrons of the Society are Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, 22nd Earl of Shrewsbury, whose ancestor fought and died at the 1460 battle, and world famous author of historical novels, Bernard Cornwell.
The Society has over 320 on-line members and holds regular monthly meetings with speakers on a variety of historical topics.
The Battle of Northampton took place on 10 July 1460 during the Wars of the Roses. It was the first major battle of the wars where the full armies fought, it was the first time artillery was used in England in any quantity, the last time a fortified encampment was assaulted during the wars, and resulted in the King Henry VI being taken prisoner. It also sparked Richard of York’s claim on the throne and much of the bloodshed that cumulated in the Battle of Towton began here. Saved from development by the efforts of local people in 2012, but the site of the battle remains under threat, despite it being an English Heritage registered battlefield.
The study, led by Eliza Barzagli of the Institute for Complex Systems and the University of Florence in Italy, is published in Springer’s journal Applied Physics A – Materials Science & Processing.
The 75-centimeter-long sword from the Wallace Collection in London was made in India in the late eighteenth or early nineteenth century. The design is of Persian origin, from where it spread across Asia and eventually gave rise to a family of similar weapons called scimitars being forged in various Southeast Asian countries.
Two different approaches were used to examine the shamsheer: the classical one (metallography) and a non-destructive technique (neutron diffraction). This allowed the researchers to test the differences and complementarities of the two techniques.
The sword in question first underwent metallographic tests at the laboratories of the Wallace Collection to ascertain its composition. Samples to be viewed under the microscope were collected from already damaged sections of the weapon. The sword was then sent to the ISIS pulsed spallation neutron source at the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the UK. Two non-invasive neutron diffraction techniques not damaging to artefacts were used to further shed light on the processes and materials behind its forging.
“Ancient objects are scarce, and the most interesting ones are usually in an excellent state of conservation. Because it is unthinkable to apply techniques with a destructive approach, neutron diffraction techniques provide an ideal solution to characterize archaeological specimens made from metal when we cannot or do not want to sample the object,” said Barzagli, explaining why different methods were used.
It was established that the steel used is quite pure. Its high carbon content of at least one percent shows it is made of wootz steel. This type of crucible steel was historically used in India and Central Asia to make high-quality swords and other prestige objects. Its band-like pattern is caused when a mixture of iron and carbon crystalizes into cementite. This forms when craftsmen allow cast pieces of metal (called ingots) to cool down very slowly, before being forged carefully at low temperatures. Barzagli’s team reckons that the craftsman of this particular sword allowed the blade to cool in the air, rather than plunging it into a liquid of some sort. Results explaining the item’s composition also lead the researchers to presume that the particular sword was probably used in battle.
Craftsmen often enhanced the characteristic “watered silk” pattern of wootz steel by doing micro-etching on the surface. Barzagli explains that through overcleaning some of these original ‘watered’ surfaces have since been obscured, or removed entirely. “A non-destructive method able to identify which of the shiny surface blades are actually of wootz steel is very welcome from a conservative point of view,” she added.
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