Monday, July 31, 2017

Archaeologists unearth 2,700-year old reservoir in Israel

Fox News

Israeli archaeologists digging near the city of Rosh Ha-Ayin have uncovered a remarkably large 2,700-year-old water system surrounded by wall engravings that dates back to the end of the Iron Age.

 The system, which includes a 13-foot-deep reservoir that is 66 feet long, was built beneath a large structure with walls that extended nearly 164 feet, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced last week. Its size suggests that it was an administrative site built to control the region’s water supply. 

“The structure exposed in this excavation is different from most of the previously discovered farmsteads,” said Gilad Itach, director of excavations for the IAA, in a statement. “Its orderly plan, vast area, strong walls and the impressive water reservoir hewn beneath it suggest that the site was administrative in nature and it may well have controlled the surrounding farmsteads.”

 On the floor next to the reservoir, the archeologists found broken ceramic pieces that they believe are fragments of vessels that were used to draw water.

 “It is difficult not to be impressed by the sight of the immense underground reservoir quarried out so many years ago,” Itach said. “In antiquity, rainwater collection and storage was a fundamental necessity. With an annual rainfall of 500 millimeters (20 inches), the region’s winter rains would easily have filled the huge reservoir.

 “On its walls, near the entrance, we identified engravings of human figures, crosses and a vegetal motif that were probably carved by passersby in a later period. Overall, we identified seven figures measuring 15–30 centimeters (6-12 inches). Most have outstretched arms, and a few appear to be holding some kind of object.”

 The site is being excavated ahead of the construction of a residential neighborhood outside Rosh Ha-Ayin, 14 miles east of Tel Aviv.

 The excavators were assisted by high school students majoring in the Education Ministry’s Land of Israel and Archaeology track.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Sam’s historical recipe corner: Chicken Marengo

History Extra

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates a chicken recipe inspired by one of Napoleon’s famous battles. 

According to legend, Chicken Marengo was a dish hastily invented by Napoleon’s cook from whatever ingredients he could get hold of, following the French leader’s narrow victory at the battle of Marengo in 1800. It was more likely to have been invented in a French restaurant and named after the battle to add to its prestige. There are a number of variations on the recipe, but this one seemed like a relatively simple version.

• 2 skinless chicken breast fillets, each cut into two or three pieces
 • 1 tbsp olive oil
 • 1 tbsp plain white flour
 • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
 • 100g mushrooms, sliced
 • 150ml dry white wine
 • 150ml stock
 • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
 • 3 tbsp tomato purée
 • 1 tsp parsley, finely chopped
 • 150g long-grain rice
 • 2 eggs


Heat a frying pan and add the oil. Dab the chicken pieces dry with a paper towel and coat thinly with flour. Sauté over a medium heat for five minutes.

 Transfer the chicken pieces to a medium-sized, lidded saucepan.

Add the onion and mushrooms to the frying pan and sauté these for around six minutes. Once tender, add to the saucepan. Take the frying pan off the heat and add the wine, before pouring this enriched wine into the saucepan. Add the stock, garlic and tomato purée to the saucepan and stir well. Bring it to the boil and then simmer, covered, for 30 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer for another 30 minutes or until the sauce is reduced. Meanwhile, cook the rice and fry the eggs.

 Serve the chicken and sauce on a bed of rice. Sprinkle with parsley and garnish with a fried egg.

 Difficulty: 3/10

 Time: 90 minutes

Saturday, July 29, 2017

LIDAR Reveals 2,000-Year-Old Dwellings of Earliest Occupants of an Iron Age Hill Fort

Ancient Origins

A team of archaeologists has detected a conurbation of houses at a hill fort that once hosted some of the earliest occupants of a New Forest town, an area of southern England which includes one of the largest remaining tracts of unenclosed pasture land, heathland and forest in Britain.

East ramparts of the Buckland Rings hilltop fort, Lymington (Public domain)

 Research Reveals Significant Archaeological Evidence
Buckland Rings is a spectacular embanked and ditched earthen fortress enclosing six acres within its triple ramparts. Until now, archaeologists have not been able to estimate the hillfort’s age accurately, but this could change very soon. A technologically advanced research at Buckland Rings Iron Age hillfort in Lymington, southern England, has divulged proof of 2,000 year old roundhouses within the fort’s ramparts as Heritage Daily reports. The geophysical research was directed by the New Forest National Park Authority with local volunteers and students from Bournemouth University. Seven pre-historic residences have been determined so far, which according to the experts were once home of hunters and farmers that occupied the lands of what is today Lymington. Archaeologists suggest that these ancient people lived in round wooden dwellings covered with a soil-based mixture and made a living by trading throughout Britain and across the sea.

Buckland Rings – artist’s impression, aerial view. (New Forest National Park Authority)

The Utility of Ancient Hillforts in Ancient Britain
As reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, British researchers undertook a large-scale project in 2013, in order to gather information on approximately 5,000 Iron Age hillforts scattered throughout the UK and Ireland. For those who might not know, hillforts are large circular defensive enclosures, protected by one or a series of steep ditches carved out of the earth, and are usually found on prominent hilltop positions, overlooking areas of strategic importance. While they were once thought to have been Roman constructions, archaeological excavations at the end of the 19th century revealed that they were entirely British in nature.

Some hillforts have been traced back to the Bronze Age but the vast majority were constructed in the Iron Age after 500BC. It was once thought that the hillforts had a purely defensive purpose, however, there is evidence to suggest that a wide variety of other activities took place there - domestic, cultural and industrial – suggesting that they functioned like defensible towns, or as administrative centers of a community, home to the local chief and prominent citizens. Interestingly, while hillforts can be found spread throughout the British Isles and Ireland, archaeologists have noticed that they are most prevalent in Southern and Western England.

Archaeologists Examine a Vast Area Covering Six Football Pitches
 Fast forward to 2017, the team of archaeologists has been using the incredibly revealing Lidar surveying equipment to conduct the recent survey at Buckland Rings Iron Age hillfort in Lymington, has also spotted medieval field systems, which have helped them to understand significantly better the progress and evolution of the Buckland Rings community from prehistoric hamlet to modern day Lymington.

Lidar 3D image of Buckland Rings (New Forest National Park Authority)

The team closely examined a wide area of 4.3 hectares or nearly six football pitches as Heritage Daily characteristically points out, in order to determine disparities in the earth’s soil that show ancient human activity. Lawrence Shaw, Archaeological Officer for the New Forest National Park Authority, told Heritage Daily, “Buckland Rings is a fantastically well preserved hillfort that would have once towered over Lymington and even been visible from the sea. This project has allowed us to look back at the origins of this historic town and see how people were living thousands of years ago. We hope to continue with our research to uncover more details of early Lymington and help the local community to find out more about this fascinating site.”

Ultimately, Josie Hagan, a Bournemouth University archaeology student who participated in the research, told Heritage Daily that the project was not just successful (from an academic point of view), but also fun for the participants, “This survey was a great success and we had a lot of fun over the six days. The volunteers and students worked extremely hard to get a lot of ground covered, and this looks great in the results. It makes it all worthwhile when you get to piece the results together and see features that haven’t been discovered before.”

Top image: Buckland Rings - artist's impression from gates (New Forest National Park Authority)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Friday, July 28, 2017

Race to Recover Elaborate Ancient Roman Mosaics Unearthed in France

Ancient Origins

A team of archaeologists has recently discovered the ruins of an opulent 5th-century Roman palace in Auch, a commune in southwestern France. The team claims to be eager to excavate the site as they battle against time.

 Landowner Discovers the Impressive Ruins Accidentally
As the Connexion reports, the newly found palace has been deserted for more than 1,600 years and it was located close to the center of the ancient Roman city of Augusta Auscorum – the capital of the province of Novempopulanie – near the center of the modern French town of Auch. It was discovered by the landowner who was digging foundations to construct a new house. He couldn’t imagine that only 50 cm below the surface he was digging he would discover the amazing 2-metre-deep ruins of an ancient aristocratic Roman palace, which possessed luxurious private baths and remarkable mosaics on the ground.

Excavation of Roman Imperial-era domus in Auch (Credit: © Jean-Louis Bellurget, INRAP)

Archaeologists Have to Race Against Time
 Soon after he notified the local archaeological authorities, l’Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives (INRAP) has been trying to unravel the huge aristocratic home’s history and background. Additionally, the team of archaeologists doesn’t have much time left for investigation as the land has to be returned to the owner no later than this September. Archaeologists estimate that the ruins date from the first to the fifth century AD, as the building was reconstructed many times. “In the beginning, it was a private habitat. At the time, it was a building with earth walls,” Pascal Lotti, archaeologist at Inrap and scientific leader of the excavation, told Connexion. And added, “In the second century, the cadastre (land registry document) was modified, and in the course of the third century, this great house was set up, which would undergo two major restructurings, as evidenced by the three levels identified by the researchers.”

4th century mosaic floors excavated (Credit: © Jean-Louis Bellurget, INRAP)

Impressive Mosaics Amaze Archaeologists
The team of archaeologists has been particularly impressed by the large, prepossessing, colorful mosaics, which are expected to be removed during this month. The mosaics contain several geometric and floral motifs, leaves of ivy, laurel and acanthus; friezes with waves, others with egg-shaped patterns, separated by tridents; octagons with five-leafed flowers and squares separated by three-strand braids. An impressed Mr. Lotti couldn’t hide his excitement in his statements as Connexion reports, “It was not just a dwelling. It was also a place of representation, so it had to be fairly stunning,” he said. Mosaics were seen as a form of fine art by both the ancient Greeks and Romans, who assembled small pieces of colored glass, ceramic, stone, or other materials into an image. Mosaics became particularly popular art form during the time of the Roman Empire, although they were used both before and after this period.

A large-handled 'canthare' vase in the mosaic (Credit: © Jean-Louis Bellurget, INRAP)

Coin Reveals the Age of the Aristocratic Domus
Archaeologists didn’t have any particular difficulty in dating the palace’s age since the discovery of a coin portraying Emperor Constantine I (272-337 AD) helped them conclude that the domus came into existence after the year 330 AD. The luxurious residence also possessed two underfloor heating systems, a technique that was first used by the Minoans and was further developed later by the Romans. Just a step from the excavation, other mosaics were also found, most likely from an earlier stage of the house. Furthermore, at another even deeper level was spotted a third mosaic adorned with four black tesserae forming a cross.

There is a floral motif theme in many of the mosaics at the domus in Auch (Credit: © Jean-Louis Bellurget, INRAP)

The dig is ongoing, and according to INRAP, as we already mentioned the archaeologists don’t have much time in their hands as the land will have to be returned to its owner by September.

Top image: The site is being carefully excavated before the mosaics are removed. (Credit: © Jean-Louis Bellurget, INRAP)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Ancient Roman Sarcophagus of Great Archaeological Value Discovered in Central London

Ancient Origins

A remarkably rare Roman sarcophagus has been discovered at an ancient burial site in the Borough area of London, England. The stone coffin, has been described by experts as “the find of a lifetime”, as only two other similar sarcophagi have been found in their original burial place.

 1,600-Year- Old Coffin Discovered in Borough Market
According to the archaeologists who made the discovery, the 1,600-year-old coffin, which was found near Borough Market in Central London, is believed to contain the remains of a woman, possibly a mother as the bones of a baby were found nearby. Experts cannot be sure yet if the baby was buried with the coffin, but they appear to be certain that the coffin has been opened and looted, possibly by 18th century grave robbers in an area that was used by the Romans as a burial ground. Gillian King, senior planner for archaeology at Southwark council, stated as BBC reports, “A large crack on the lid was probably the work of thieves. I hope they have left the things that were of small value to them but great value to us as archaeologists".

Archaeologists prepare to lift the lid at the site in Swan Street, Southwark (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Furthermore, Gillian King speculates that the grave owner was probably someone from the highest socioeconomic classes, “(the grave owner) was probably very wealthy and would have had a lot of social status to be honored with not just a sarcophagus, but one that was built into the walls of a mausoleum," she says as BBC reported. A metal detector was used to scan the coffin and it registered metal items but what these might be is unknown until further excavation due to it being filled with dirt.

The coffin was found to be filled with dirt, possibly after looting (Lauren Hurley/PA)

Exorbitant Roman Sarcophagus Found in Oxfordshire
Of course, this is not the first time a Roman sarcophagus has been discovered in England. As we reported in a previous Ancient Origins article, in March 2017, possibly the most luxurious and expensive ancient Roman sarcophagus in British history (worth up to 345,000 Euros) was found. The precious marble coffin was discovered on the grounds of Blenheim Palace, a monumental country house situated in Woodstock, Oxfordshire. The precious Roman artifact of immense archaeological and historical significance, served as a humble flowerpot for the past 100 years in the rock garden of what is also Sir Winston Churchill's birthplace in Oxfordshire.

Before that, the valuable sarcophagus was obtained and used during the 19th century as a garden ornament (a type of fountain) by the fifth Duke of Marlborough, who was famous for his impressive collection of antiquities. Palace officials decided to better examine the almost two meters (6’6ft) long artifact at the suggestion of an antiques expert, who was impressed by the object’s ornate carvings. Ironically, his visit was unrelated to the Roman marble coffin, which he noticed coincidentally.

A Roman sarcophagus that was once used as a garden ornament is now restored and displayed in Blenheim Palace. Source: Blenheim Palace

After conservators removed the front marble section, which is the genuine part, and carried out a detailed examination they were shocked to identify the basin as a white marble sarcophagus portraying lively and noisy Dionysian festivities, dating back to 300 AD. The sarcophagus is now positioned on public display in an underground room in Blenheim Palace.

The Archaeological Importance of the Recent Discovery
Despite not being as luxurious and expensive as the Roman sarcophagus discovered in Oxfordshire, the newly found coffin is of great archaeological value. Ms. King made sure to highlight its archaeological value in a statement as Southwark News reports, “In my long archaeological career I have excavated many hundreds of burials, but this is the first Roman sarcophagus I have ever discovered, still surviving in its original place of deposition. I have seen them in museums, but I think part of me believed that they had probably all been found by now.” And continues, “It really is a very special discovery. Personally, I find it really fascinating to contemplate that this area – which we are now so familiar with – was once, during the Roman period, so completely different. It really does make me feel very honored that my role at Southwark Council contributes to protecting amazing archaeological treasures like this, and our work means that we can ensure that the historic environment is championed and preserved for the enjoyment of us and future generations.”

This discovery was made at one of a number of sites that are being investigated in the Southwark area. The area is now known to contain several religious monuments as part of a ‘complex ritual landscape’ including 3 other Roman cemeteries. However, only two other sarcophagi have been found where they were initially buried.

Cllr Peter John, the Leader of Southwark Council, added to Ms. King’s statements, “In Southwark we take our duty as custodians of the borough’s rich, varied and important archaeological heritage very seriously. This Roman sarcophagus is the find of a lifetime and a credit to the council’s commitment to ensuring that the borough’s history is properly conserved,” Southwark News reports. The sarcophagus will soon be transferred to the Museum of London’s archive in Hackney, where experts will examine and date the bones and soil inside.

 Top image: Removing the lid of Roman sarcophagus found in Borough Market, London (Lauren Hurley/PA)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

7 things you (probably) didn’t know about Henry VIII's flagship the Mary Rose

History Extra

For 34 years the Mary Rose was Henry VIII’s flagship. Faced with the threat of the French navy and a strong Scottish fleet, Henry started building up his naval firepower as soon as he became king. Built in Portsmouth, the Mary Rose was launched in 1511.

 • The Mary Rose first saw battle in 1512, in a naval operation with the Spanish against the French. The English attacked the French and Breton fleets in the English Channel, while the Spanish attacked them in the Bay of Biscay. The ship also helped escort English troops over to France when, in 1522, the countries went head to head once more.

 • There were 415 crew members listed on board the Mary Rose in 1513, but during wartime operations there would have been more on board – numbers could have reached around 700 in total, says the Mary Rose Museum. Even with the normal crew size of around 400, conditions would have been very crowded. Most people on board were in their late teens or early twenties.

 • The Mary Rose sank in July 1545 in the battle of the Solent. Hundreds of men aboard the ship drowned, and only around 25 survived. There could be a number of reasons why she sank while turning: human error, overloading, a gust of wind that made the ship unstable, or a cannonball fired by the French. The most likely reason for the loss of the ship was human error, says the Mary Rose Museum.

 • The ship was discovered in May 1971, and raised in 1982. As the Mary Rose sank into very fine silt, much of the ship and the items on board – including tools owned by onboard carpenters, ointments and medicine flasks used by the surgeon, and a large number of wooden dishes – are very well preserved.

 • The remains of a small dog named Hatch were found on board the ship. Although he can’t be attributed to a specific breed, most of which originated after 1545, he is classed as a terrier-type, most closely related to the Jack Russell. Hatch's remains went on display four years ago at the Mary Rose Museum.

 • Approximately 19,000 artefacts have been recovered from the wreck site, which has taken more than 30 years to excavate. Now in the final stages of conservation, she today sits in the Mary Rose Museum in Portsmouth. Source: the Mary Rose Museum

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Tomb Could Be That of Tutankhamun’s Wife and Egyptian Leading Lady Ankhesenamun

Ancient Origins

Egyptologists believe they may be on the verge of a major discovery related to a leading lady of ancient Egypt. A new tomb found in the Valley of the Kings may have been created as the final resting place for the famous Egyptian queen Ankhesenamun – wife of Tutankhamun.

Live Science reports that the researchers were tipped off to the tomb’s existence by the discovery of four foundation deposits which Zahi Hawass described as “caches or holes in the ground that were filled with votive objects such as pottery vessels, food remains and other tools as a sign that a tomb construction is being initiated.”

According to a National Geographic interview, the researchers were examining the site between February and May. Hawass said a follow-up examination using radar showed “a substructure that could be the entrance of a tomb.”

Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. (Wouter Hagens/CC BY SA 3.0)

Although nothing has been confirmed yet, Hawass proposes that the tomb’s owner could have been Ankhesenamun. This idea is based on the location near Pharaoh Ay’s tomb.

Ankhesenamun was a longstanding member of ancient Egyptian royalty. Her story begins as the third of six daughters to Pharaoh Akhenaten and his Great Royal Wife Nefertiti. Ankhesenamun married her half-brother Tutankhamun when he was just 8 to 10 years old and she was 13. It is said the couple had stillborn twins. She may have also been briefly married to Tutankhamun's successor, Ay, (believed by many to be her maternal grandfather). There have also been suggestions that Ankhesenamun may have been married to her father for a time as well.

Detail; gold plate depicting Pharaoh Tutankhamun and consort, Ankhesenamun. (CC BY SA 3.0)

This may be shocking for people today, but it was a rather common practice for the royals of ancient Egypt. As April Holloway explains:

“Marriage within family was not uncommon in ancient Egypt and was practiced among royalty as a means of perpetuating the royal lineage. The pharaohs believed they were descended from the gods and incest was seen as acceptable so as to retain the sacred bloodline. However, what they were unaware of at the time was the severe consequences of family inbreeding.”

Detail; Tutankhamun receives flowers from Ankhesenamun as a sign of love. (Public Domain)

Proof for Ay and Ankhesenamun’s marriage has been offered in the form of a finger-ring that was found by Professor Percy Newberry in an antique shop in Cairo in the spring of 1931. It had cartouches of Ay and Ankhesenamun inscribed side by side―which many scholars say is proof of wedlock.

Although the possibility of finding Ankhesenamun’s lost tomb is exciting, it is also worth noting that there is an argument against a marriage between Ay and Ankhesenamun. “Her name never appeared within his tomb and it is believed that she may have died during or shortly after Ay’s reign, as she disappears from history shortly after his period.” If this is true, the tomb near KV23 may have nothing to do with Ankhesenamun.

Portrait study thought to be of Ay from the studio of the sculptor Thutmose. (CC BY SA 3.0) 

To date, it is not known where exactly Ankhesenamun was buried and no funerary objects with her name are known to exist. However, back in 2010 it was proposed that a mummy found in KV21A was Ankhesenamun. As Ancient Origins reported “Although her remains are headless and mostly destroyed, it was possible to use her DNA to confirm that this woman is the mother of two of Tutankhamun’s children.” These results have been debated, but do not discount her as the new tomb’s owner either. Moving mummies was another common practice by ancient priests looking to save them from looters.

It seems that you’ll have to wait to discover who the tomb’s owner is until a much later date. Hawass, who is currently the Director of the Italian expedition in the Valley of the Kings, told Live Science he will oversee future excavations at the site; but no expected start date has been provided for the dig.

Top Image: Ankhesenamun Hands Tutankhamun an Arrow. Source: Asaf Braverman/CC BY NC SA 2.0

By Alicia McDermott

Monday, July 24, 2017

Dozens of Shipwrecks Dating Back Thousands of Years Found in the Aegean Sea

Ancient Origins

A cluster of Greek islands in the Aegean Sea is giving up some of its deep secrets, as diving archaeologists have now found eight shipwrecks dating back thousands of years. Six Greek and Roman shipwrecks, all Aegean origin cargos, have been discovered so far, revealing patterns of trade during antiquity.

The Fourni Underwater Survey, a joint Greek-American expedition, has previously located an astonishing number of 45 shipwrecks, during their survey around Fourni. Now, the divers can add another 8 wrecks to this hotspot for sunken ships, bringing the total number to 53 shipwrecks discovered in Fourni, making it the largest concentration of shipwrecks currently known in the Mediterranean

Archaeologists and the ROV robot work to recover an ancient North African amphora by Vasilis Mentogianis

A Late Roman amphora on the seafloor by Vasilis Mentogianis

Tempestuous Fourni
Fourni, which is composed of 13 small islands and islets between the large Aegean islands of Samos and Icaria, was critical for navigation since Samos and Ikaria created a choke point that made ships have to pass through Fourni. This resulted in a high volume of maritime traffic as it was known by mariners as a good anchorage on their trade route that went both east to west and north to south.

Ships would have anchored in spots that were protected from the usual northwest winds. But once in a while, the mariners could be caught off guard by a big southern storm. If the position of the ships anchor wasn't changed fast enough, these ships would be in trouble and crash against the rocks. Those are the misfortunate ships that are now being discovered by the diving archaeologists.

Merchants in the Mediterranean
Nearly all the ships discovered are amphora-carrying vessels, so merchant ships. In some cases, a wreck's cargo had a clear origin, such as a set of amphoras from the Greek island of Chios dating back to the Classical period (510-323 BC) and a Hellenistic-era amphoras (331-323 BC) from the Greek island of Kos. In other cases, amphoras have been identified from Italy, North Africa, Cyprus, Egypt, Spain and elsewhere. In addition to the amphoras, which served as the delivery containers of the ancient world, the divers discovered lamps, cooking pots and anchors.

The dates of the shipwrecks range from the late Greek Archaic period (525-480 BC) to the Early Modern period (1750-1850 AD).

3D model of a Roman period shipwreck by Kotaro Yamafune

Photographing large Pontic amphoras that date to the Roman Period by Vasilis Mentogianis

 More Awaits Discovery
There could be more to explore at Fourni: there are historical accounts of a 17th century French shipwreck in one of the bays and a British aircraft in the Sea near Fourni during World War II. So far, the team have covered less than half of the archipelago's total coastline in their surveys.

The deepest dives of the survey went to 65 meters, but there is probably more to discover below that level, given how steep the cliffs are.

The chief conservator carefully prepares a Classical Period Chian amphora for the conservation tank by Vasilis Mentogianis

This season primary focus was on documentation of the ships found previously. RPM Nautical Foundation's research vessel Hercules used its remote sensing equipment and ROV to assist in the survey and documentation of the shipwrecks. The project selected artifacts from sites to recover for conservation and scientific analysis, which may reveal further information about trade and exchange.

In the next phase of the project, the team hopes to go even deeper with technology such as remotely operated underwater vehicles.

Top image: An archaeologist systematic photographs a wreck site to create a 3D site plan by Vasilis Mentogiani.

By Sam Bostrom

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Neolithic Burial Mound Uncovered Near Stonehenge

Ancient Origins

A Neolithic burial mound near Stonehenge that experts refer to as the “House of the Dead” has been discovered in Wiltshire, England. According to archaeologists, the newly found tumulus in the Vale of Pewsey could possibly contain human remains that are more than 5,000 years old.

 “House of the Dead”
Discovered A team of students and staff from the University of Reading’s Archaeology Field School, with the help of volunteers from the area, has examined the site of a Neolithic long tumulus in a location known as Cat’s Brain – the first to be fully explored in Wiltshire in more than fifty years. The Cat’s Brain long tumulus, discovered in the heart of a farmer’s field halfway between the legendary prehistoric monuments of Avebury and Stonehenge, consists of two trenches edging what seems to be a central building. Researchers speculated that this could have possibly been covered with a rounded mass created naturally by the earth dug from the ditches, but has been cultivated flat over the centuries. The monument that researchers have referred to as the “House of the Dead” dates to the early Neolithic period and is the first barrow to be fully examined in Wiltshire since the 1960s.

Possible Neolithic burial site in a wheat field near Stonehenge, UK. (Screenshot Credit: Andy Burns)

The research team believes that this memorial could possibly contain human remains – hence the nickname “House of the Dead – which were buried there around 3,600 BC. The memorial was first noticed by aerial photos of the location and followed up by geophysical survey imagery.

Dr. Jim Leary, Director of the Archaeology Field School, said as Heritage Daily reports, “Opportunities to fully investigate long barrows are virtually unknown in recent times, and this represents a fantastic chance to carefully excavate one using the very latest techniques and technology. Members of the public now have the chance to visit us and see prehistory being unearthed as we search for human remains on the site. Discovering the buried remains of what could be the ancestors of those who lived around Stonehenge would be the cherry on the cake of an amazing project.”

British Long Barrows Long barrow style burial mounds are found throughout the British Isles, with a high concentration being found in the Cotswolds, a hill range which rolls gently through the picturesque countryside of 5 counties in central England, including Wiltshire. The need for long barrow style burial sites was explained in an Ancient Origins article when a similar site was excavated near Cirencester last year.

According to Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum:
 “Faced with the problem of disposing of the remains of their dead, many Neolithic communities chose to inter the bodies (or sometimes the cremated remains) in chambered tombs constructed inside distinctively shaped stone and soil mounds. These burial chambers and the access passages to them from outside were built of large slabs of stone (orthostats) and dry-stone walling. The covering mound was usually pear-shaped or roughly trapezoidal, often with a shallow ‘horned’ forecourt at one end, the whole surrounded by a low dry-stone wall. It has been estimated that each barrow could have taken 10 men some 7 months to build.”

Entrance to the West Kennet Long Barrow, in the same region as the new excavation in Wiltshire. (CC BY SA 3.0)

 Long barrows were the earliest examples of monumental architecture to be found in Britain, some dating back six millennia, although the one being explored at Cat’s Brain is thought to be around 5,000 years old, the same age as Stonehenge. Previous such monuments have been found to contain as many as 50 men, women and children. For example, the West Kennet long barrow nearby the latest excavation, contained 46 persons from babies to the elderly.

 An interesting development in the county occurred in 2014 when a newly constructed long barrow was opened to be used as a tomb for modern use. It has the capacity to hold 1000 urns of cremated remains.

The modern, functioning long barrow at All Cannings in Wiltshire started its use in 2014 (CC BY SA 4.0)

Phenomenal Discovery
After clearing the surface of the monument, the clear outline of the long barrow ditches is visible, as well as the footprint of the building. Next step for the team is to conclude the three-year Archaeology Field School project by excavating the site and unearth artifacts, bones, and other objects, that will be later analyzed closely. Experts suggest that this analysis will offer very important information and evidence for the residents and society in Britain during this remote period. Furthermore, the University of Reading’s Archaeology Field School is working at Marden henge, the largest henge in the country, constructed around 2,400 BC, also within the Vale of Pewsey.

Amanda Clarke, co-director of the Archaeology Field School, stated as Heritage Daily reports, “This incredible discovery of one of the UK’s first monuments offers a rare glimpse into this important period in history. We are setting foot inside a significant building that has lain forgotten and hidden for thousands of years.” Members of the public will be able to visit the site to see up close the archaeologists at work during an open day on Saturday 15 July.

Top image: Archaeologists looking at aerial photography found a hidden long barrow, or Neolithic burial chamber, hidden beneath a wheat field Credit: Archaeological Field School, University of Reading

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Hippocratic Medical Recipe Lost in a Famous Egyptian Monastery Finally Comes to Light

Ancient Origins

The library at St. Catherine's Monastery is considered one of the most important for ancient texts.

New research examining a manuscript from the 6th century shows that it is not just the visible writing that holds value, but also the letters hidden underneath them. A copy of a medical recipe linked to the father of Western medicine, Hippocrates, is just one text that was waiting centuries to be uncovered.

The manuscript containing the recipe has been dated to the 5th or 6th century AD, so it is not an original created by the famed Greek physician Hippocrates; it is just a copy created after his death. Nonetheless, a researcher with the Early Manuscripts Electronic Library (EMEL) told Asharq Al-Awsat the document also holds value for its age, stating that the text "will be enlisted among the oldest and the most important manuscripts in the world.”

The recovered manuscript. (Ahram Online)

The nature of the remedy has yet to be provided, however it was found alongside drawings of herbs and three other medical recipes written by an anonymous author. Helmy El-Namnam, the Egyptian culture minister, asserted that the presence of these texts contained within the manuscript provides evidence for the leading position Egyptians had in science.

The identified manuscript is one example of the 130 known palimpsests held within the library of St. Catherine’s Monastery. Palimpsests are examples of manuscript pages which have text scraped or washed off them so that they can be reused for another document. In this case, the pages were made of leather. Ahmed Al-Nimer, supervisor of Coptic archaeology documentation at the ministry, explained to Ahram Online that the early text was erased “due to the high cost of leather at that time.”

National Geographic reports that the text was erased in the Middle Ages to make space for Bible text known as the “Sinaitic manuscript.” It was only thanks to the ongoing partnership between St. Catherine's Monastery and the EMEL that the medical texts were discovered.

Example of a palimpsest. The lower text is from the 6th century (Codex Guelferbytanus 64 Weissenburgensis, folio 92 verso), it contains the text of Luke 1:6-13; the upper text is from the 13th century - Isidore of Seville's "Origines" 8.10.2-8.11.4. (Public Domain)

EMEL used spectral imaging to reveal the text written by scholars interested in preserving Hippocrates’ medical knowledge into the 6th century. Spectral imaging allows experts to see images and text that is not visible with the naked eye.

EMEL also recognizes that there is a great possibility for more major discoveries lost within the pages of manuscripts held in the oldest monastery in the world.

 According to Asharq Al-Awsat, the library at St. Catherine's Monastery holds thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic, Greek, Ethiopian, Coptic, Armenian, and Syriac languages, as well as decrees created by Muslim caliphates. Many of the texts are considered rare.

St. Catherine’s Monastery, Sinai Peninsula, Egypt. (Berthold Werner/CC BY SA 3.0)

Although St. Catherine's Monastery is now considered a Byzantine era treasure for Egypt, it only survives today due to on an ancient and controversial agreement. As Ancient Origins writer Dhwty explains:

“According to tradition, the monks at St. Catherine’s Monastery had requested the protection of the Prophet Muhammad himself. The Prophet, who is said to have regarded Christians as brothers in faith, accepted their request favorably. A controversial document, known as the Actiname (‘Holy Testament’) was signed by the Prophet himself in 623 AD. According to this document, the monks of St. Catherine’s Monastery were granted exemption from taxes and military service. Additionally, Muslims were called upon to protect the monastery and provide the monks with every help. As a gesture of reciprocity, during the Fatimid period, the monks allowed the conversion of a crusader church within the monastery walls into a mosque.”

The Patent of Mohammed Granted to the Holy Monastery of Sinai, Saint Catherine's Monastery, Sinai, Egypt. (Public Domain)

The monastery has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 2002 and also a popular tourist attraction.

Top Image: Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai. (Wellcome Images/CC BY 4.0) A page of ancient writing. (Public Domain)

By Alicia McDermott

Friday, July 21, 2017

Archaeologists Discover Ancient British Stones Have Secret Markings Visible Only at Night

Ancient Origins

A new study suggests that Stonehenge and other ancient stone memorials could have been used for sacred moonlit ceremonies which took place late at night. The archaeologists taking part in this study have come to this conclusion, after finding that some mysterious messages are visible only at night.

 The Peculiarity of Hendraburnick Quoit
Until recently, Neolithic structures were thought to be exclusively connected with the movements of the sun, with the immense Wiltshire circle of Stonehenge being the ultimate example, as the specific monument lines up perfectly with the summer solstice. However, a new archaeological study implies that the Neolithic monument was used differently than most structures of its kind. As The Telegraph reports, the new examination of the Stone Age engraved panel Hendraburnick Quoit in Cornwall by Dr. Andy Jones – who has been working in conjunction with the Cornwall Archaeological Unit – showed ten times as many markings on the engraved panel when viewed in moonlight or very low sunlight from the south east.

Marks on the rock came into view under a camera flash and would have lit up in moonlight Credit: Dr Andy Jones

 For those who might not be aware of the specific monument, keep in mind that Hendraburnick “Quoit” is in fact a misnomer. In reality is not a quoit at all, but an impressive and picturesque propped stone, lying upon a gently rolling valley-side in Cornwall. It is an exciting site, and aside from being a testament to the power of prehistoric people to shift these enormous stones, it also highlights many ancient engravings known as cup-marks, which involve the hollowing out of rounded dimples in the rock.

Hendraburnick Quoit (CC BY SA 2.0)

Special “Effects” under the Moonlight
 Interestingly, archaeologists also noticed that at some point in history, people who probably occupied the location near the site smashed up many pieces of quartz around the area which would have radiated light in the dark, thereby giving a unique and impressive effect during the night.

Dr. Jones claims that this unique phenomenon didn’t take place at the Hendraburnick Quoit exclusively, but instead it has also been traced in a few other ancient stone monuments such as Stonehenge for example. He told The Telegraph, “I think the new marks show that this site was used at night and it is likely that other megalithic sites were as well. We were aware there were some cup and ring marks on the rocks but we were there on a sunny afternoon and noticed it was casting shadows on others which nobody had seen before. When we went out to do some imaging at night, when the camera flashed we suddenly saw more and more art, which suggested that it was meant to be seen at night and in the moonlight.”

llustration of the marks found on the rock Credit: Thomas Goskar

Sacred Attribute of the Hendraburnick Quoit
Writing in the archaeology journal Time and Mine, Dr. Jones and colleague Thomas Goskar conclude, “As in many cultures where darkness is associated with the supernatural and the heightening of senses, it is possible that some activities at Hendraburnick Quoit may have been undertaken at night. Quartz has luminescent properties and reflects both moonlight and firelight. Given that human eye perceives color and shade quite differently at night than by daylight and the art would have been visible in moonlit conditions, the smashed quartz at Hendraburnick could have been used as part of night time activity on the site in order to ‘release’ the luminescent properties of the quartz around the monument and ‘reveal’ the art in a particular way. After the ritual, the broken pieces, once they had fallen on the ground, could have effectively formed a wider platform or arc which would have continued to glisten around it in the moonlight, and thereby added to the ‘aura’ of the site.”

Next step for archaeologists is to discover what exactly happened during these special ceremonies under the moonlight. The new research was published in the archaeology journal Time and Mind.

Top image: Lanyon Quoit. Used as the overriding image of ancient Cornwall and also known as the Giant's Table. (CC BY SA 2.0)

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Archaeologists Uncover Spine-tingling New Hoard of Roman Letters at Vindolanda Fort

Ancient Origins

Archaeologists have spotted a stockpile of Roman letters at Vindolanda, the fort below Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England. Experts can’t hide their excitement about the newly found 25 tablets and hope that the new letters will reveal previously unknown information about the characters that lived there as well as ancient Roman life at the site.

 2,000-Year-Old Letters Discovered at Vindolanda
The Guardian recently reported that an exciting fresh find of 25 Roman letters has been discovered at the archaeological site of Vindolanda, where some of the most significant and prominent documents found in the UK from the Roman world were discovered in back in 1992.

As previously reported in an Ancient Origins article, Vindolanda was a small garrison, where only a few hundred Roman soldiers were stationed with their families. They took shelter inside the fort behind a series of a large ditches and ramparts. The war between the Roman forces and British tribes was long and cruel. Romans arrived in Britain for the first time around 55 or 54 BC, when Julius Caesar launched an invasion. The war between the invaders and British tribes ceased around 212 AD, and the fort went out of use. Vindolanda was abandoned and anything that people didn't want or couldn't take with them to the new settlements was left behind and remained there for nearly two millennia. New constructions built on top of the old created an oxygen free environment that preserved many of the precious artifacts. As a natural consequence, the newly found wooden tablets are well-preserved and still in a good condition.

The general area of the fort currently being excavated, where the letters were found. (

One Tablet Reveals Romans Loved their Beer
The tablets will be scanned with infrared light which will most likely make the faint marks in black ink clear enough to read, even though the cursive script is universally a cryptic crossword puzzle that will most likely baffle experts for several months before they manage to solve it. The good news, however, is that archaeologists have already managed to reveal the identity of one of the historical figures – already known from the original find at the site – from a tablet’s content. This person is Masclus, a Roman soldier who we learned in the previous find, was ordered by his commanding officer to write a letter, requesting more beer supplies to be sent to his outpost on the wall. Additionally, the letter also reveals that Masclus asks for a leave, or "commeatus" in Latin, probably with a painful hangover. It will be interesting to see what more we learn of Masclus and company from the new letters.

Some of the latest letter tablets, which were penned on thin strips of wood. (

In total, the hoard of documents from the site provides a previously unknown view of daily life in a Roman garrison. Other than beer requests, the letters include birthday invitations, while some of them reveal the derogatory terms Roman used to refer to the locals. More importantly, the cache of letters includes the oldest example of women's handwriting from Europe, in the correspondence between two high-ranking military commanders' wives. Dr Robin Birley, the second generation of his family to lead at the site, said as The Guardian reports, "Some of these new tablets are so well preserved that they can be read without the usual infrared photography and before going through the long conservation process. There is nothing more exciting than reading these personal messages from the distant past. This is the find I have been hoping for all my working life.”

Headquarters building at the center of Vindolanda Roman Fort (CC BY SA 2.0)

One Particular Letter Stands Out from the Rest
The majority of the new letters are written like those of the original find on thin slivers of birch, except one rare double-leaved oak tablet, where the two pieces of timber folded together, giving this way an exceptionally good preservation of ink on the wooden tablet which experts suggest that was used for more significant correspondence than the more common birch. “I was a lad of 17 when the first letters were found, and every season since then I have hoped, but never really expected, that more might turn up. My father has been rather poorly recently, but by the time I got home he had cracked open a bottle of champagne and the level had already fallen considerably,” an excited Dr. Birley, added as The Guardian reports.

The next step now is to put the wooden tablets through infrared photography and a meticulous preservation process so that more of the text can be deciphered.

Top image: One of the new tablets, which arenow undergoing painstaking conservation and infrared photography (

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Discovery of Two Boat Burials Changes Viking Timeline

Ancient Origins

According to accepted accounts, the Viking Age began in 793 AD off the coast of northern England when the first raid of Scandinavian warriors is recorded to have taken place. The Vikings emerged suddenly and expanded rapidly across Europe, Asia and the Americas. Although the Vikings are known to have originated in Scandinavia, there is little known about how and why they suddenly built ships and took off in search of new lands. Was it climate change, overpopulation, desire for wealth or simply a thirst for adventure? Whatever it was, the Vikings made a lasting impact on the world. But is all we know about them correct?

 The Beginning of the Viking Storm
A discovery on a Baltic Island nearly a decade ago, shed new light on how the Viking storm first began. “Two ships filled with slain warriors uncovered on the Estonian island of Saaremaa may help archaeologists and historians understand how the Vikings’ warships evolved from short-range, rowed craft to sailing ships; where the first warriors came from; and how their battle tactics developed,” reported Archaeology Magazine. “Between them, the two boats contain the remains of dozens of men. Seven lay haphazardly in the smaller of the two boats, which was found first. Nearby, in the larger vessel, 33 men were buried in a neat pile, stacked like wood, together with their weapons and animals. The site seems to be a hastily arranged mass grave, the final resting place for Scandinavian warriors killed in an ill-fated raid on Saaremaa, or perhaps waylaid on a remote beach by rivals”.

The remains of 33 men buried in the ship that brought them from Scandinavia to an Estonian island Credit: Liina Maldre, University of Tallinn

Does the Discovery Change Accepted Timelines?
The men are believed to have died in battle up to a century before the Viking Age officially started, an era that wasn’t previously known for long voyages. The ruins of the two boats display a high level of technological advancement, a transformation which had been taking place in the 8th century Baltic. They were clearly capable of open-sea travel.

The first boat, which had no sail and would have been rowed from Scandinavia, is believed to have been constructed around 650 AD. Evidence suggests it had been repaired and patched decades before its final voyage. The second boat was far more sophisticated. Although it had largely deteriorated, the discovery of a keel – a feature essential for keeping a sailing boat upright – suggests the Scandinavians were sailing in the Baltic at least a century before accepted timelines say they were.

One of the skeletons found aboard the smaller ship. Credit: Marge Konsa, University of Tartu

Evidence of Boat Burial Suggests More Gradual Emergence of the Vikings
Experts believe the two boats are the remains of a boat burial, a ritual strongly associated with the Vikings. The finding suggests that this tradition had gradually evolved over centuries and did not just emerge suddenly in the Viking Age.

The finding of the two boats is significant as it supports a new perspective of the Vikings, suggesting that the start of the Viking Age wasn’t as sudden as previously believed, but was a more gradual process. It now seems that the Scandinavian warriors developed and enhanced their ship-building skills over several centuries, eventually reaching a level that allowed them to take off in the open ocean, reaching faraway lands and leaving their traces across four continents.

Top image: Illustration of a Viking ship (public domain)

By April Holloway

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too


Ancient Humans Liked Getting Tipsy, Too In a new book on the archaeology and chemistry of alcoholic beverages, Patrick McGovern unravels the history of boozing image

For as long as there have been humans, there have been humans getting drunk—or at least that’s what biomolecular archaeologist and brew connoisseur Patrick McGovern thinks.

 The jack-of-all-trades researcher tackles the subject at length in his new book, Ancient Brews: Rediscovered and Recreated. Part travelogue, part natural history, part cookbook, the story has McGovern hopscotching across the globe to prove the ties between human evolution and the creation of fermented beverages. He describes archaeological digs and the migrations of ancient humans from one continent to the next; the chemical analysis used to discover which ingredients went into the drinks; and his forays into “experimental archaeology” with Sam Calagione, founder of Dogfish Head Brewery, in which they recreate nine ancient beverages.

 “Taking all the available evidence we have, we wanted to see if we could recreate the drinks and make something that’s palatable for the modern human,” McGovern says.

 These drinks (despite the moniker “brews”, they include wines, beers and “extreme fermented beverages” that use any combination of ingredients to produce an alcoholic drink) run the gamut from the oldest-known alcohol, which comes from China, to a chocolate concoction based on research from Mesoamerica.

 “We usually do not have an airtight argument that a particular recreated beverage was made in antiquity in the same way or with all the same ingredients,” McGovern writes in his book. “Our ultimate objective is to gather as many well-verified pieces of the puzzle as possible, hypothesize about what ingredients most likely went into the brew and how it was brewed, and then try to replicate it.”

 In addition to exploring the intoxicating ingenuity of these ancient people, McGovern also digs deep into human evolution and the dawn of civilizations. First, he tackles the question of what Paleolithic people (the era begins with hominid tool-making around 3.4 million years ago and continues till 10,000 years ago), may have been drinking.

 It’s a hard question to answer, archaeologically speaking. Alcohol evaporates from containers even if they’re sealed, leaving nothing but dust for chemical analysis. Even then, the oldest container shown to have traces of rice, grapes or hawthorn fruit and honey—ingredients necessary to make a fermented beverage—is from only 9,000 years ago. There are no surviving containers from the Paleolithic.

 But McGovern sees plenty of evidence for our alcohol affinity in the body itself. “We’ve got an enzyme in our saliva that breaks down carbs into sugar, we have alcohol dehydrogenase [enzymes that break down ethanol] in our mouths, all through our gut and down through our liver.”

 All these physiological elements point to traits inherited from our early ancestors, about whom archaeologists only have limited information. But in case the physiology of modern Homo sapiens isn’t enough to go off of, humans also share genes with primates and other animals that prove we’re not the only ones hooked on getting buzzed. This “drunk monkey” hypothesis states that animals whose diets are largely composed of fruits and nectar regularly imbibe naturally occurring alcohol when the fruits ferment.

 There’s the Malaysian tree shrew, “a living model for extinct mammals” that drinks the human equivalent of nine glasses of wine each night. Fruit flies, like humans, contain multiple genes that dictate how they metabolize and respond to alcohol. Even bats get tipsy from eating fermented fruits, though inebriation seems to have no negative impact on their ability to fly.

 Somewhere along the way, drunk monkeys became drunk hominids, and those hominids became modern humans. This is when the “bread or beer” question comes up: Did humans start agriculture to use the grain for food or for a ready supply of fermented drinks?

 “We don’t know for sure and have limited archaeological evidence, but if you had your choice, which would it be?” McGovern says. “Once you have fermented beverages, it causes a change of behavior, creates a mind-altering experience. I think that could be important in developing language, music, the arts in general and then religion, too.”

 The idea of beer or some other alcoholic beverage being a key component of human development has been echoed elsewhere. “It has long been speculated that increasing demands for cereals for the purpose of brewing beer led to domestication,” write researchers in a 2013 study published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory. “The most complex communities [in the Near East] seem to have been complex hunter/gatherers who could be expected to have hosted competitive feasts in which brewed beverages would have been highly valued.”

 Or as psychiatrist Jeffrey P. Kahn writes in the New York Times, “Beer was thought to be so important in many bygone civilizations that the Code of Urukagina, often cited as the first legal code, even prescribed it as a central unit of payment and penance.”

 Just consider what the fermentation process must have looked like to humans who had no concept of how yeast and sugars combined to create alcohol. The containers holding the liquid would’ve moved around as carbon dioxide was released, the liquid would turn foamy, the smell and flavor at the end would be far different than they had been at the start. Combined with the brain-altering effects of drinking these elixirs, it’s no surprise humans imputed the miraculous transformation to the work of the gods.

 From there, McGovern says, the beverage became the center of social life. It’s a pattern he’s seen around the world, from winemaking in the Middle East and Europe to sorghum beers and palm wine brewed in Africa.

 For all he’s uncovered about alcoholic beverages of the past 10,000 years, there are plenty of questions that remain to be answered—including the advent of distilled liquors in the New World. McGovern concludes his book by delving into ongoing research into whether the Aztecs or other civilizations of the Americas created distilling methods before the Spanish arrived with their rum stills.

 As for his readers, McGovern hopes some might be inspired to try the recipes in the book. But if nothing else, he says, “I hope they come away with an appreciation for how fermentation is really an essential part of life on this planet and in human societies. It has had a profound effect on what we are today.”

 Homebrew Interpretation of Chateau Jiahu by Dough Griffith (based on McGovern, 2009/2010)

5 gallons Cool water
 4 pounds Extra light or light dry malt extract
2 pounds Rice syrup solids
1/2 pound Dried hawthorn berries
1/4 ounce Simcoe hops
1/2 ounce Sweet orange peel
3 pounds Honey
1 packet Fermentis Safbrew Abbaye, White Labs WLP530 Abbey Ale, or Wyeast 4143 Sake
1/2 quart White grape concentrate
1 cup Priming sugar

 Starting gravity: 1.088
Final gravity: 1.015
Final target alcohol by volume: 8.5%
International Bittering Unites: 10
Finished volume: 5 gallons

If using the liquid yeast, we recommend making a starter 24 hours before brewing to maximize yeast cell counts.

 1. Fill a brewpot with the 5 gallons water and bring to a boil.
 2. As the water is beginning to boil, remove the pot from the heat.
 3. Add the dry malt extract and rice syrup solids. Stir to prevent clumping and scorching on the bottom of the pot. Return the pot to heat.
 4. Allow the wort to come to a boil, and boil for 30 minutes. If using defoamer to help prevent boilovers, add per instructions.
 5. While the wort is boiling, put the hawthorn berries ina blender, cover with wort (liqwuied from the brewpot—caution: hot), and carefully purée.
 6. At the 30-minute mark of the 1-hour boil, add the puréed hawthorn berries. Boil for 30 more minutes.
 7. 50 minutes into the boil, add the Simcoe hopes and orange peel.
 8. At the 60-minute mark, turn off the heat. Add the honey. Stir the wort for 2 minutes while building up a whirlpool effect. Stop strring and allow the wort to sit for 10 minutes.
 9. Chill the wort with a wort chiller or in a cold water bath until it is under 75°F.
 10. Transfer the wort into a fermenter; aerate (rock the baby) for 1 minute.
 11. Pitch the yeast into the fermenter.
12. Top up the fermenter to the 5-gallon mark with cool water.
 13. On the second day of fermentation, add the white grape concentrate.
 14. In about 14 days, the beer should be ready to bottle. It can be siphoned to a 5-gallon carboy to allow extra time for clearing if desired, for about 7 days.
 15. Before bottling, clean and sanitize the bottles and caps and create a priming solution of 1 cup boiling water and the priming sugar.
 16. Siphon the beer into a sterilized bottling bucket, add the water-diluted priming solution, and gently stir. Bottle and cap the beer.
 17. Allow the beer to condition for another 10 days at 70 to 75°F; it should then be ready to drink.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Elizabeth I’s love life: was she really a ‘Virgin Queen’?

History Extra

Over the years, countless books, novels, plays and films have depicted Elizabeth I’s relationships with figures such as Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester; Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, and the Duke of Anjou. In the absence of conclusive proof one way or another, the question ‘did they or didn’t they?’ will always linger. Yet what is clear is that, both at home and abroad, rumours about Elizabeth’s love life – real or imagined – circulated throughout her reign. Far from being the Virgin Queen, for some hostile observers Elizabeth was the ‘whore’ of Europe.

 Contemporary beliefs about the ‘insatiable’ sexual appetites of women, together with Elizabeth’s failure to marry, fuelled suspicions that the queen was engaged in secret sexual liaisons. Her Catholic opponents challenged her virtue, and accused her of a “filthy lust” that had “defiled her body and the country”. The king of France joked that one of the great questions of the day was “whether Queen Elizabeth was a maid or no”. The courts of Europe were abuzz with gossip as to the queen of England’s behaviour.

 From the very earliest months of her reign, rumours spread of Elizabeth’s relationship with Robert Dudley, her “sweet Robin” whom she had known since childhood. Within days of her accession, Elizabeth had appointed Dudley as master of the horse – a position that guaranteed almost daily contact. The Spanish ambassador reported to the king of Spain that “Lord Robert has come so much into favour that he does whatever he likes and it is even said that Her Majesty visits him in his chamber day and night”.

 The pair’s attraction to one another was widely commented upon, and their flirtatious behaviour shocked observers. When in 1560 Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, was found with her neck broken at the bottom of a staircase, speculation was rife as to the involvement of the queen and her favourite. In the years that followed, their close relationship continued, but any lingering possibility of a future marriage was cast aside.

 Elizabeth’s councillors were determined to secure a favourable marriage for her, both as a means of consolidating England’s position in Europe and to provide an heir to succeed her. While there was no lack of suitors, including Philip II of Spain; Erik XIV of Sweden and the Archdukes Ferdinand and Charles of Austria, no one managed to win the queen’s favour or the unanimous support of her council. While foreign negotiations continued, Elizabeth enjoyed the attention of young male courtiers like Thomas Heneage, Christopher Hatton and Walter Raleigh, and later Robert Devereux, earl of Essex, all of whom flirted their way into the queen’s favour.

 But Robert Dudley remained the queen’s first, and probably only love. Perhaps as a reaction to Dudley’s marriage to Lettice Devereux, dowager countess of Essex in the autumn of 1578, the following year Elizabeth welcomed Francois, the duke of Anjou, brother of the king of France, to the English court to present his suit for marriage.

Robert Dudley, who Elizabeth called her “sweet Robin”. © Heritage Image Partnership Ltd / Alamy 

It was not an ideal match. Anjou was a 20-something tiny and pockmarked Catholic who was widely rumoured to be a transvestite. Nonetheless, Elizabeth had always longed to be wooed in person by one of her illustrious suitors, and for a time she seemed to be genuine in her affections and interest in Anjou, whom she affectionately named her ‘frog’.

 After a few weeks Anjou returned to France and negotiations appeared to falter in the face of public opposition to the match, but in October 1581 Anjou returned to England. Since his previous visit, he had continued to write love letters to the queen in which he expressed his desire to be “kissing and rekissing all that Your beautiful Majesty can think of”, as well as to be “in bed between the sheets in your beautiful arms”.

 Upon his arrival in London Elizabeth once again seemed enthralled and enraptured by Anjou’s presence, and on 22 November, when the court was assembled at Whitehall to celebrate the Accession Day festivities, Elizabeth declared in public that she intended to marry him. She proceeded to kiss him on the mouth and give him her ring. Yet overnight, Elizabeth apparently had second thoughts and announced the next day she would not marry Anjou.

 It is doubtful whether Elizabeth had really intended to go ahead with the marriage given the popular hostility to it, but when Anjou finally departed she made much of being grief-stricken at the loss of her lover “with whom she so unwillingly parted”.

 With the failure of the French match, hopes that Elizabeth would marry came to an end, but as she grew old and increasingly isolated she continued to seek the attention of her male courtiers. Robert Devereux, the young earl of Essex and stepson of Robert Dudley, was Elizabeth’s last great flirtation. Despite the age gap between them, the nature of the relationship was again speculated upon. He soon became master of the horse and moved into his stepfather’s apartments at court. One of Essex’s servants boasted that “even at night my lord is at cards or one game or another with her, that he cometh not to his own lodging till the birds sing in the morning.”

 But this was a different kind of relationship than the one Elizabeth and had had with Dudley, and was more about the desire of an aging woman to be made to feel young and attractive by a handsome young courtier. Yet Elizabeth was never so swept away by her emptions that she lost a keen sense of political realities. In 1601, after what was seen to be an attempted coup against her, she ordered Essex’s execution.

 In 1603 Elizabeth, then almost 70, died unmarried and celebrated as England’s great ‘Virgin Queen’. Yet her death served only to continue speculation about her private life. In the years that followed, the questioning of Elizabeth’s virginity was no longer confined to hostile Catholic discourse, and there was a growing sense that Elizabeth’s private feelings had compromised the integrity of her rule.

 In life, Elizabeth and the ladies of the bedchamber had tenaciously defended the chastity of her body to protect her reputation and defend her crown. In death, it is surely the possibility that she was not chaste that continues to fascinate, and ensure Elizabeth’s enduring popularity and appeal.

 Dr Anna Whitelock is a reader in early modern history at Royal Holloway, University of London, and the author of Elizabeth’s Bedfellows: An Intimate History of the Queen’s Court (Bloomsbury, 2013).