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]

Lon-done? Try Windsor and Eton

If London has whet your appetite for all things English, hop on a train and visit Windsor. Less than an hour from central London, this historic city is one of the easiest and most popular day trips for foreign visitors. You can also enjoy a nice stroll to nearby Eton and visit the famous boarding school.

The main attraction is, of course, Windsor Castle. It’s one of the official residences of the Queen and she often spends her weekends here (tough life!). It’s the oldest and largest continually inhabited castle in the world. While there was a castle here as early as 1070, the oldest surviving parts date from the reign of Henry II (reigned 1154-1189). In 1189, Prince (later King) John was besieged here by angry barons who eventually forced him to sign the Magna Carta, the first official limitation on the monarch’s power. King Edward III (reigned 1327-1377) built much of the present structure.

The tours are lots of fun. One of the highlights is St. George’s Chapel, and elaborately Gothic 15th century house of worship that’s the place of rest for ten monarchs. Other stops include Queen Mary’s dollhouse, a lavish art collection with pieces by Holbein and Rubens, the armory, and fine views from atop the battlements. Windsor Castle is one of those rare sights that’s actually better to visit in winter, because that’s when the semi-state rooms are open. Built by George IV in the 1820s as living and social quarters for the royal family, they include elegant furniture and giant oil paintings under elaborately molded plaster ceilings.

Interesting trivia: Windsor Castle is not named after the House of Windsor (the royal family), but in fact the royal family is named after the castle. During World War Two the royals decided their actual name, the House of Saxe Coburg-Gotha, sounded too German and changed it!

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After visiting the castle, enjoy a pleasant amble through Windsor Great Park and The Long Walk. This 4,800 acre park used to be hunting grounds for the Saxon kings. The Long Walk runs nearly half a mile from the southern gate of the castle. It used to be a promenade for the aristocratic set. Don’t go here after dark, though, because Herne the Hunter–a mysterious phantom rider who has antlers on his head and leads a pack of spectral hounds–has been known to ride by giving ominous predictions of doom to anyone who sees him.

If you have the time you should also check out Eton, the most elite public (i.e.–private) school in the UK. Eton has been educating future power brokers since it was founded by Henry VI in 1440. A tour gives a glimpse of what it’s like to live the privileged life, with a small teacher/student ratio and more extracurricular activities than you can count. The school is historic and beautiful, with a 15th century chapel and classrooms and serene grounds perfect for lazing about and spending daddy’s money learning. The Museum of Eton life explains what the kids get up to in all these ornate buildings–and one thing they get up to is carving their names everywhere. You’ll see graffiti on some of the walls that’s older than many nations.

While most visitors will only see the castle and Eton, Windsor has a lot more to offer. If the weather is fine, take a boat trip along the River Thames, which flows between Windsor and Eton. You can get some great shots of Windsor Castle from the water. A picnic at Windsor Great Park is also a good way to while away an afternoon. You can also hop on a bus near the castle that takes you to Legoland Windsor with lots of rides and attractions and Miniland, a reproduction of some of the greatest landmarks of the world. You can see Kennedy Space Center, London’s Millennium Bridge, and more. Building all this took nearly 40 million bricks of Lego. That’s some serious dedication!

Windsor and Eton are compact enough that you can easily walk around and see all the highlights in a single long day. If you decide to stay overnight, the Mercure Windsor Castle Hotel on 18 High Street offers sweeping views of the castle. This 16th century coaching inn has lots of historic flair and if you have deep pockets, there’s a good but pricey restaurant that serves English cuisine and high tea. More affordable dining can be had at the Castello Restaurant and Wine Bar at 4 Church Lane. The building dates to 1423. Original oak beams crisscross the walls and ceiling and there doesn’t seem to be a straight line anywhere. For al fresco dining, step out onto the medieval cobblestone lane. Simple, reasonably priced food, big servings, and a medieval setting-you might have to go to Italy to find this combination again.

If you want to do more day trips from London, try Bath, St. Albans, and Canterbury.

Buckingham Palace: more tourists or bake sale?

In a move akin to ordering a bake sale, a parliamentary watchdog has called for more tourist availability to Buckingham Palace … with the money raised used to fix the structure. The famous attraction is said to be “crumbling.” By extending tourist access to more than 60 days a year (in the summer), the Queen’s London residence could be maintained better.

The main objection has been that staying open longer would interfere with official functions – an argument that the watchdog contends isn’t valid, with the White House in Washington, DC and London’s House of Parliament welcoming guests on more days with no discernable problems.

At present, the Royal Household as a $52 million maintenance backlog for Windsor Castle, Clarence House (where Prince Charles lives) and the Palace of Holyrood in Edinburgh. The Royal Household only receives half that amount in government funding. Another $11 million comes from the fees paid by tourists.

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Plan for sin, seven ideas

You may not remember the “seven deadly sins,” but you’ve probably lived a healthy portion of them. Well, I have, and I’m sure I’m not alone. Jean Tang over at CNN.com has come up with a few ideas to help you live your forbidden fantasy. So, if you’re into envy, gluttony, greed, lust, pride, sloth or wrath, there’s a destination that will cater to your basest of desires.

Crave a step up in society (envy) as a helicopter shepherds you above the opulent homes of the wealthy Los Angeles ‘burbs, and gaze upon the celeb digs that you’ll never call home. Or, fill your stomach to the point of bursting (gluttony) on an 18 lb. hamburger at Bubi’s in Windsor, Ontario.

A few others:

  • Greed: ogle some of the largest private collections of Renoir, Matisse and Cezanne in the world at the Barnes Foundation in Merion, PA (near Philly)
  • Pride: recreate your body at the affordable Heartland Spa in Gilman, IL; two nights for two peopl start below $800
  • Sloth: Define your own movie marathon at The Roxbury in the Catskills from a 400-disk collection, and then do nothing but watch
  • Wrath: Kick ass and take names on the mean San Francisco streats with a bout of Muay Thai (Thai boxing) at Fairtex Muay Thai Fitness
  • Lust: CNN sends you to the obvious: Hedonism; I won’t bore you with the details

[Thanks, CNN, for helping us all indulge]