Archaeologists search for missing medieval king

archaeologists, King Magnus IIIArchaeologists love a good mystery, and some researchers in Sweden have themselves a big one.

Earlier this year a research team opened what they believed to be the tomb of King Magnus Ladulås, who ruled Sweden from 1275-90. Magnus was a popular king with the commoners and earned the nickname “Ladulås”, which means “lock the barn”, for his law giving peasants the right to refuse free food and lodging to traveling aristocracy and clergy.

When the team opened the tomb in Riddarholmen church in Stockholm, they found the remains of nine individuals. The bodies were subjected to carbon 14 dating and the archaeologists discovered they died sometime between 1430 and 1520.

The researchers already knew the tomb was later, built by King Johan III in 1573, and now it appears that Johan chose the wrong spot. Riddarholmen Church is the traditional burial spot for Swedish royalty. One would think they’d be more careful about marking the tombs.

So where is the missing king? The team is applying for permission to dig in another tomb at the same church, which also (supposedly) contains the remains of King Karl Knutsson. Perhaps they’ll find both kings. Or perhaps they’ll find another mystery.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Rwanda looks to its history to get over its past

RwandaSadly, when people think of Rwanda they tend to think only of the 1994 genocide, yet Rwanda has a rich history and heritage.

Now the government is developing its museums and historical sites to encourage cultural tourism. Sites like Nyanza Palace, shown here, will get special attention. Other attractions include dance troupes and even something called the Inyambo dance, performed by trained cows!

Rwanda has been inhabited for at least ten thousand years. Around the 15th century AD, several kingdoms cropped up with distinctive artistic styles. Several good Rwandan museums showcase this heritage.

Rwanda has become increasingly popular with adventure travelers and safari groups. It’s working to preserve its environment to help its rebounding population of mountain gorillas as well as other species.

This new move towards cultural and historical tourism appears to be emphasizing a common past in order to erase longstanding ethnic divisions. Hopefully this new project will get the international community to see more to Rwandan history than its tragic recent past.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

Skeletons at royal castle in Scotland killed in battle, experts say

Scotland, castle, castles, Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle in Scotland was the scene of several brutal sieges and battles in its violent history. Now a new exhibition looks at the castle’s past and the grim discovery of several skeletons in the Royal Chapel showing signs of violent death.

One man had 44 skull fractures from repeated blows with a blunt object, and up to 60 more over the rest of his body. The Middle Ages were a pitiless time, and despite what modern romance novels say there wasn’t much chivalry. The skeleton of a woman had 10 fractures to her skull, resulting from two heavy blows. Neat, square holes through the top of her skull suggest she may then have fallen and been killed with a weapon such as a war hammer. At least five skeletons in the chapel showed signs of violent death. Carbon dating shows they died in several incidents between the 13th century and c.1450.

ScotlandOne of the skulls can be seen in this photo courtesy of Historic Scotland. Holding it is Dr. Jo Buckberry of Bradford University, who carried out the research on the skeletons.

The chapel was excavated as part of Historic Scotland’s restoration of the castle’s 16th century palace. The fact that the people were buried here indicates they were important.

One has been tentatively identified as Sir John de Stricheley, who died in 1341. Sir De Stricheley and the lady’s skeleton were featured last year on BBC2’s History Cold Case series.

Stirling Castle was an important castle on the boundary between Scotland and England and was besieged numerous times during the Wars of Scottish Independence (1296-1328 and 1332-1357). Several battles occurred nearby.

The exhibition, including facial reconstructions of Sir De Stricheley and the lady, will open June 4.

[Castle photo courtesy Finlay McWalter]

From myth to Empire: Heracles to Alexander the Great

Alexander the great
Today’s royals have nothing on the ancients.

Alexander the Great and his predecessors enjoyed a sumptuous lifestyle that beats anything William and Kate will ever enjoy, not to mention real power as opposed to lots of TV time. Now an amazing new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England, gives an insight into the life of the royal family of Macedon.

Alexander the Great conquered much of the known world before his death in 323 BC, but he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was the second-to-last king of a proud royal lineage that traced its roots to the legendary Herakles. Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy looks at the development of one of the ancient world’s greatest royal families. Their palace was almost as big as Buckingham Palace and what remains shows it was much more luxurious. There was gold, silver, ivory, and jewels everywhere, and plenty has made it into this exhibition. There’s everything from ornate golden wreaths to tiny ivory figurines like this one, which graced a couch on which a king once quaffed wine and consorted with maidens. It’s good to be the king.

The displays focus on more than 500 treasures from the royal tombs at the ancient capital of Aegae (modern Vergina in northern Greece). Three rooms show the role of the king, the role of the queen, and the famous banquets that took place in the palace.

%Gallery-122395%Especially interesting is the gallery about the role of the royal women, who are often overlooked in all the accounts of manly battles and assassinations. Women had a big role to play in religious life and presided at holy festivals and rites alongside men. They also wore heaps of heavy jewelry that, while impressive, couldn’t have been very comfortable.

The banqueting room shows what it was like to party in ancient times. Apparently the master of the banquet diluted the wine with varying proportions of water to “control the time and degree of drunkenness”!

There are even items from the tomb of Alexander IV, Alexander the Great’s son with princess Roxana of Bactria. Alex Jr had some pretty big shoes to fill, what with dad conquering most of the known world and all, but he didn’t get a chance to prove himself because he was poisoned when he was only thirteen. At least he went out in style, with lots of silver and gold thrown into his tomb with him.

This is the first major exhibition in the temporary galleries of the recently redesigned Ashmolean. Expect plenty of interesting shows from this world-class museum in coming years.

Heracles to Alexander the Great: Treasures of the Royal Capital of Macedon, a Hellenic Kingdom in the Age of Democracy runs until August 29, 2011. Oxford makes an easy and enjoyable day trip from London.

[Image © The Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Tourism – Archaeological Receipts Fund]

Archaeology team tells Queen, “We want to dig up Henry VIII”

Henry VIII, archaeology, archeologyTwo American archaeologists have asked the Queen of England for permission to dig up Henry VIII and use the latest techniques to reconstruct his face. Bioarchaeologist Catrina Whitley and anthropologist Kyra Kramer popped the question because they’re interested in seeing how accurate the royal portraits of the famous king really are. They also want to perform DNA tests to see if he suffered from a rare illness that might have driven him insane.

Facial reconstruction on skulls is nothing new and has been steadily improving over the years. It’s used in archaeology to study ancient people and by CSI teams to identify murder victims.

Drs. Whitley and Kramer would like to open Henry VIII’s grave in St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle and measure his skull. They can then create an accurate image of what he looked like in real life.

While this is interesting and is sure to make lots of headlines, of more historic importance is their plan to analyze the king’s DNA to test for McLeod Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder that can lead to schizophrenia. Historians have long wondered why an intelligent, level-headed leader became an erratic tyrant in later life. His wives must have wondered too.

No word yet from Queen Elizabeth on whether she’ll allow her predecessor to be exhumed.

For more on how archaeologists go about reconstructing a face from a skull, check out this video of a similar project that reconstructed the face of an ancient Greek girl.

[Photo courtesy Vincent Steenberg]