Secret Toilet Discovered In Scottish Castle

castle, Drum Castle
Wikimedia Commons

Archaeologists working on a conservation project at Drum Castle near Aberdeen, Scotland, have discovered two secret chambers, one of which includes a medieval toilet complete with its wooden seat.

Drum Castle features a 13th-century castle keep that’s the oldest intact example in Scotland. Besides the hidden toilet, the team found a second secret chamber that’s reputed to have been where one of the men of the clan hid out for three years after the defeat at the Battle of Culloden. The chamber with the toilet was hidden by bookshelves installed in the 19th century, while the second chamber was a real-life safe room for rebellious Scots. Both were found in the medieval keep.

From 1323-1975, Drum Castle was the seat of the Chief of Clan Irvine. In addition to the keep, the property features Jacobean and Victorian additions. It is now open to visitors and is only 10 miles outside Aberdeen. Visitors can see the historic interior and stroll through the surrounding ancient oak woodland, a rare survival of primeval forest that’s been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.

New stretch of Great Wall of China found using Google Earth

Great Wall of China, Mongolia, Gobi Desert
A British researcher scanning through images from Google Earth has discovered a new section of the Great Wall of China.

Surprisingly, this part of the famous wall isn’t in China, but rather Mongolia. The Great Wall is actually comprised of several walls built in various centuries by several different rulers starting in the fifth century B.C., or perhaps earlier.

When Great Wall expert William Lindesay spotted what looked like a wall cutting across a remote part of the Gobi Desert in Mongolia’s southernmost region, he headed out with a team to follow along 60 miles of it. This photo, courtesy Alec East, shows the kind of terrain these modern-day adventurers had to deal with.

The wall varies in construction depending on the terrain and resources. In some parts it’s made of local volcanic basalt, while in others it’s a simple berm of sand and shrub cuttings. Lindesey believes this new portion of the wall is part of the so-called Wall of Genghis Khan, which, despite the name, is not considered a project by the famous conqueror but actually the Han Dynasty of China in 115 B.C.

Lindesay says this is the first time part of China’s defenses has been found outside of the modern boundaries of China. A journalist for the New York Times may have discovered a portion of the same wall in Russia in 2001.

Archaeologists in Syria discover Byzantine mosaic

ByzantineJust when you thought all news coming out of Syria was bad, an archaeology team has discovered a Byzantine mosaic in a medieval church.

The mosaic was discovered last week at the Deir Sounbol Church on al-Zawieh Mountain. Syrian investigators say the mosaic measures 4×5 meters (13×16 ft.). While portions are damaged or missing, floral and geometric shapes are clearly visible and there are inscriptions in Greek. These are prayers that include the names of the owner of the church and the person who supervised the creation of the mosaic.

The Byzantine Empire was the eastern half of the Roman Empire. Long after the Western Empire collapsed, the Byzantines continued Roman culture with a distinctive Greek flair. Syria was Byzantine territory and was the battlefront in the Empire’s grueling war with Persia.

The war weakened both sides so much that they were easy pickings when the followers of Mohammed burst out of the Arabian Peninsula in the 7th century. Persia quickly fell, but Byzantium held on, shrinking gradually until the end came in 1453. In that year the capital Constantinople, modern Istanbul, fell to the Ottoman Turks.

One of Byzantium’s greatest achievements were its sumptuous mosaics. Made of little colored tiles called tesserae, they depict elaborate scenes and some have tesserae made of gold. A copyright-free image of the Syrian mosaics was not available. You can see them here. This picture, courtesy of Berthold Werner, shows a mosaic floor in Jerash, Jordan. It’s interesting in that it contains swastikas, a symbol of peace and harmony for centuries before the Nazis twisted its meaning.

I love the fact that Syrian archaeologists are continuing to dig despite the chaos and repression going on in their country. These guys obviously love their work and won’t let anything stop them from doing what they feel is important. It reminds me of a literary journal that was published in Beirut during Lebanon’s civil war. The offices were right next to the no-man’s land between two factions, and yet they still managed to publish literature on a regular basis. The name of the journal escapes me. Any Lebanese out there remember it?

25 newly-discovered travel destinations from Wanderfly.com

newly-discovered travel destinationsIf you’ve checked out Wanderfly, the new travel planning and booking service that suggests destinations and activities based on your interests, you know they’ve come up with some unique and untouristy destinations. Now they’ve gone beyond the beaten tourist track with 25 newly-discovered travel destinations. Why just see the Great Wall of China when you could see a whole city full of kittens in China (far greater if you ask us!)?! Fan of Dolly Parton? Thousands go to Dollywood, why not relax on a man-made archipelago in the shape of Dolly and Kenny Rogers at Islands in the Stream in Dubai? Can’t get enough of that rascal Charlie Sheen? Intrepid adventurers can get inside his brain and see what all that tiger’s blood does.

The Wanderfly researchers teamed up with Whim Quarterly to unearth these new places and the best activities to do. The new destinations were chosen for their interactive experiences to give travelers the most authentic experience. “We challenge any traveler to find even a single destination that can compare to these unearthed gems,” says Wanderfly co-founder Christy Liu. “Paris? London? Cleveland? With respect to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they all pale in comparison to such places as ObeCity, Funkytown, and Your Mom’s House.”

For more on these exciting new discoveries, visit Wanderfly.com and click the crazy kitten on the home page and then Get Going. But hurry, some of these destinations may only be available on April 1st.

Ancient cave art discovered in Somaliland


Somaliland is little-known as an adventure travel destination. The breakaway region of northern Somalia isn’t even recognized as a nation, but traveling in Somaliland I found it to be a fascinating and friendly country. Its biggest draw for visitors is the well-preserved cave art at Laas Geel, shown above.

Now Somaliland has even more ancient attractions with the announcement that archaeologist Dr. Sada Mire has discovered rock art at almost a hundred more sites in Somaliland. The Somali-born archaeologist says the paintings date to various periods from two to five thousand years ago. Images include animals, the moon in various phases, and a remarkable four-thousand-year-old depiction of a mounted hunter.

Ten of the sites are so outstanding that they’ll be candidates for UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites list. Her findings will appear in the next issue of Current World Archaeology.

I met Dr. Mire last year in London, and while she was anxious to promote archaeological tourism to her country, she warned that a lack of funding and education meant ancient sites such as Laas Geel were under threat. Perhaps her spectacular finds will encourage UNESCO and other organizations to take an interest in Somaliland and help foster a sustainable tourism that will be protect and showcase the caves.