King Richard III just can’t rest in peace. He was the last of the Plantagenet dynasty, and after being killed at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485 by the rival Tudor dynasty, his body was mutilated, stabbed in the ass and buried in a hastily dug grave in the local friary in Leicester. The friary was later destroyed and his grave lost. For a while there was an outhouse right next to it. Eventually his burial site was paved over and became a parking lot.
His luck was looking better when he was rediscovered by archaeologists and his bones became a television sensation. With great fanfare Leicester Cathedral announced that it would spend £1 million ($1.6 million) on a new tomb and a museum about his life and death.
But now it looks like poor Richard won’t rest in peace quite yet. The Daily Telegraph reports that a group called the Plantagenet Alliance, which includes 15 of the king’s descendants, is challenging the decision to bury him in Leicester. The king, they say, had a long relationship with the city of York and had stated that he wanted to be buried in York Minster with the rest of his family.
Archaeologists from the University of Leicester who dug up the king had already received a court’s permission to decide where he should be reinterred and chose Leicester Cathedral. Another judge has decided to allow the Plantagenet Alliance’s complaint to go to court, however, because of the unprecedented nature of the case.
The judge, Mr. Justice Haddon-Cave, has warned both sides to keep the dispute from descending into a “War of the Roses Part Two…It would be unseemly, undignified and unedifying to have a legal tussle over these royal remains.”
Of course, the court’s decision will determine where millions of pounds in potential tourism revenue will go. There’s more than a medieval political rivalry at stake in this case.
It has been a busy couple of weeks for archaeologists across the globe. First, a team of researchers discovered a lost city in Cambodia and then a week later another team made a similar find in the jungles of Mexico. Not to be outdone, a group of archaeologists in Peru have unearthed a tomb filled with mummies and treasure that dates back to a pre-Incan civilization known as the Wari.
The thousand-year-old tomb is located approximately 185 miles north of Lima, not far from a dig that revealed two similar finds back in 2010. The burial chamber is located two meters below the Earth and was buried beneath 33 tons of gravel. It is believed to be the final resting place of three Wari princesses and the first undisturbed royal tomb from the Wari civilization. Because of the wealth that was contained within, the archaeologists who discovered the site toiled in secrecy for months fearing that if word got out about their discovery tomb raiders would surely strip it clean.
When they opened the tomb, the Peruvian and Polish archaeologists found 60 mummies sealed inside. The majority of those mummies were women and had been buried standing up, which belies their royal stature. Many of the mummies were wearing jewelry made of precious metals while well-preserved vases and wicker baskets filled with other treasures littered the floor at their feet. All told, more than 1200 silver, gold and ceramic objects were uncovered inside the royal tomb, which also contained pots, ceremonial knives and other more mundane objects that remain priceless in terms of cultural value.
The Wari people were a prosperous and powerful group of coastal dwellers who rose to power in northern Peru around 500 A.D. Internal strife seems to have taken its toll on the civilization, however, and by 800 A.D. they were already in decline. By 1000 A.D. the Wari were merely a shadow of their former self and shortly thereafter they all but disappeared from the region. Archaeological finds like this tomb are helping researchers to piece together more information about Wari culture, however, giving us a clearer vision of what life was like in Peru more than a thousand years ago.
Hot on the heels of the news of a lost city being discovered in Cambodia comes word that another ancient city has been unearthed, this time in the Yucatan region of Mexico. A few days back, a team of archaeologists announced that they had located a large site that has been covered by thick jungle foliage for centuries. Underneath all of that growth sat a city that was once a part of the Mayan Empire.
The team, which is led by Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Sprajc, call the city “Chactun” and believe that around 600 to 900 A.D. it was one of the largest in the Yucatan. So far, the site stretches out across more than 54 acres and includes 15 pyramids, the tallest of which is 75 feet in height. At its peak, the ancient city was likely home to as many as 40,000 people, although its population likely declined very quickly as the empire crumbled.
The city was first spotted in a series of aerial photographs and an expedition was eventually organized to travel to the site to examine it first hand. The team spent three weeks cutting their way through the dense jungle, carving a 10-mile trail in the process. Although they’ve only just begun to uncover the various buildings and other structures, what they’ve seen so far leads them to believe that Chactun will be an incredibly important find.
Historians and archaeologists have long struggled to explain what exactly happened to the Maya. At the peak of their civilization their empire stretched across the entire Yucatan, into southern Mexico and continuing on to Central America, all the way to Guatemala and Honduras. But at the height of its power, the empire suddenly and unexpectedly fell into a speedy decline, becoming just a footnote in history. This lost city could hold clues that can help unravel that mystery, as well as provide important insights into day-to-day life of the Mayan citizens.
Archaeologists have made a startling discovery in a remote region of Mexico that could have an impact on what we’ve previously known about early inhabitants in North America. While exploring numerous sites in the northeastern region of Burgos, researchers have come across nearly 5000 cave paintings, which would be a remarkable find at any time. But these paintings seem to pre-date any kind of settlement by Hispanic people in the region, possibly revealing the presence of previously unknown inhabitants in the San Carlos mountain range.
All told, there are 4926 paintings spread out across 11 different archaeological sites. Of those, 1550 are found in a single location whose walls are extremely covered in the artwork. Using simple red, yellow, black and white paints, the artists left behind primitive images of humans, animals, insects and other abstract items in a place that was not previously believed to have been inhabited by any type of organized cultures. The paintings suggest that as many as three groups may have lived in the region, however, which adds yet another layer to the mystery.
At the moment, there is little known about the ancient cultures that made these paintings. The scenes splayed out on the walls indicate that it was a nomadic tribe of hunters and gatherers who used rudimentary tools to aid in their work. No such tools have been found at any of the sites, however, leaving researchers to speculate about the level of sophistication the tribes possessed. Scientists hope to chemically analyze the paint used in the art to determine its age, but at the moment they estimate that the cave paintings were done some 40,000 years ago. If that is accurate, it would put them amongst the oldest known artwork in history.
At the Roman necropolis in Carmona, Spain, visitors are led to the popular “Elephant’s Tomb,” a large underground chamber that gets its name from a crude sculpture of an elephant found there.
Now archaeologists are saying it may not be a tomb at all, but rather a temple to one of the ancient world’s most mysterious religions. A team from the University of Pablo de Olavide, Seville, has analyzed the structure and says it was once a mithraeum, an underground temple for the god Mithras.
Mithraism centered on secret rites centered on the mystical slaying of a bull was one of the most popular faiths in the last years of paganism. Several mithraeums are scattered about Europe, including in London, Mérida, and along Hadrian’s Wall.
The archaeologists point out that its general shape, with a columned, three-chambered room leading to an area for altars, is the same as other mithraeums. They also found astronomical alignments. Sunlight would hit the center of the chamber during the equinoxes, and during the winter and summer solstices, the sun would light up the north and south walls respectively. As the sun shines through the window during the spring equinox, Taurus rises to the East and Scorpio hides to the West. The opposite occurred during the autumn equinox. Taurus and Scorpio figure prominently in the religion’s astrological symbolism, with the God Mithras slaying a bull as a scorpion stings the animal’s testicles.
It was only later that the temple was turned into a burial chamber, researchers say.
Carmona is less than 20 miles from Seville and is a popular day trip from there.
[Top photo courtesy Daniel Villafruela. Bottom photo courtesy Henri de Boisgelin.]