Archive for the ‘Ancient Europe’ Category

Watch Out, Or I’ll Spetum in Your Eye!

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

Technically, to spetum in someone’s eye is possible… with the small exception that “to spetum” is not a verb. But when has grammar ever stopped someone from stabbing another person during battle?

Indeed, a spetum was a pole weapon used in 13th-century Europe. It had a long pole, between 6-8 feet long, with a long spear head mounted on the end—and two pointy projections along its base. Over time, the spetum saw a number of variations, and you may have heard of it by a different name, such as chauve souris, corseca, or runka.

This particular weapon is distinguished from other, similar weapons by its blades, or “prongs”, which were single-edged and primarily used for slashing the enemy rather than stabbing. The main blade was long enough to be rather formidable at its task, set between 12-14 inches long, with the side-blade projections about half that length and set at an angle (usually around 45 degrees).

The form of the weapon was good for stabbing when necessary, but the projections made it easy to pull shields out of enemy hands—and to fight off sword hits with a quick counterattack. But, like any European pole weapon, it saw a number of iterations over the centuries. A corseque (yet another name for a similar weapon), was listed as being in Henry VIII’s armory in 1547, though this variety was likely more ornate and a bit more sophisticated than the 13th-century version.

Your Ancient Ancestors Had Better Teeth Than You

By: The Scribe on March, 2013

That’s right—if you lived in ancient times, it’s entirely possible that your dental bill would have been a fraction of what it is today! Discounting, of course, the lack of dentists in ancient times. But you get the idea.

A team headed by Professor Alan Cooper, the director of the University of Adelaide Center for Ancient DNA, recently published a research study that looked at teeth from northern European human skeletons, comparing what they found with the oral bacteria commonly found in a modern human’s mouth.

The result? The modern human had oral bacterial that was far less diverse than what was found on the ancient skeletons—and that’s a bad thing. According to Cooper, the loss of bacterial diversity “is nearly always associated with disease,” along with links to diabetes, obesity, and even autism.

The study suggested that modern food—flour and sugar, to be precise—account for this reduction of good bacteria. And when the bad bacteria flourish, so does tooth decay and gum disease. So, how can you get your teeth back to their shiny, ancient selves? Reduce processed sugars and carbohydrates, and “eat a wide variety of organic locally produced fresh foods,” says Cooper.

The study’s research showed that the composition of oral bacteria changed significantly around 7500 years ago, around the time farming became a widespread practice. Once processed foods were introduced during the industrial revolution, things got even worse.

Your prehistoric ancestors didn’t have cavities in the way we know them, and it’s thought that bad breath wasn’t an issue on their radar.

And in case you think the study just came from a bunch of crunchy-granola hippies who want you to brush your teeth, think again! The researchers worked on this project for 17 years before releasing the results of their study, which used extracted DNA from tartar on 34 human skeletons from prehistoric northern Europe.

The study then traced the changes in the composition and nature of oral bacteria from those early hunter-gathers, up through to the Bronze Age’s first farmers and even Medieval times.

The team plans to continue their study, looking at other locations around the world during ancient times and other times, to see if this trend happened elsewhere during the period as well.

In other words? If you want to live like a caveman, fine—just make sure you brush your teeth.

Baring the Bones of History, Part VI: Remembering Where You Parked, or “Richard III Plays Hide and Seek”

By: The Scribe on February, 2013

Underneath a Leicester car park , more than 400 years after his death and several hundred years of asking “where on earth is Richard III?”, the former King of England has made his mark on history one final time.

Archaeologists set out in August 2012 to search for the lost site of Greyfriars Church, which Henry VIII demolished when he dissolved all the monasteries, using fixed points between maps via historical sequence. The comparison worked, and the team was able to find the hastily-buried bones of a king underneath a modern-day car park.

At the same time, a British historian named John Ashdown-Hill was using genealogical research to find matrilineal descendents of Richard’s only niece whose line is still extant. He tracked down the son of a woman named Joy Ibsen, a 16th-generation great-niece of the king—and though she passed away in 2008, her son was able to give a mouth-swab sample to the research team so that they might do a DNA comparison.

Archaeologists, scientists, historians, and researchers waited with bated breath as the DNA from a living descendent was compared with the human remains found on the excavation site.

It’s important note what made archaeologists suspect the skeleton they found might be Richard III: The location (former Greyfriars Church), the body was an adult male, the body had been buried under the choir area of the church, the spine showed evidence of severe scoliosis, and there appeared to be an arrowhead still stuck in the spine, not to mention evidence of a “mortal battlefield wound in the back of the skull” (according to archaeosteologist Dr.  Jo Appleby).

And on February 4th, 2013, the DNA results were released and the University of Leicester confirmed that the body in the car park is, beyond reasonable doubt, the remains of King Richard III, only 32-years-old at time of death. The arrowhead, however, was revealed to have been a Roman-era nail that was likely in the ground and disturbed when the body was buried.

The perimortem injuries included part of the skull having been sliced off with some kind of blade weapon—the researchers suspect that because of this evidence, Richard III’s helmet had been knocked off before the killing blow was delivered. Another skull injury was about 10cm deep, from one side of the skull to the other. Other injuries are thought to have been “humiliation” injuries, including a pelvic wound from a weapon’s upward thrust.

As it stands, the remains of King Richard III will be re-interred at Leicester Cathedral in 2014 (after all necessary studies are completed), and a museum opening is planned at the same time, to be located in the buildings adjacent to the dig / grave site.

Baring the Bones of History, Part V: A Nasty Blow to the Head

By: The Scribe on February, 2013

In Part I of this series, we mentioned how Richard III died in 1485 at the Battle of Bosworth field. His army at this battle was about 8,000 to his opponent Henry Tudor’s 5,000, though some alliance-switching by the Stanley family caused Richard’s advantage to be significantly diminished and is thought to have greatly affected the battle’s outcome.

Richard’s close friend, John Howard, was also killed during the battle, which demoralized Richard and his men—and Richard decided to retaliate by leading an unexpected, fully impromptu cavalry charge deep into enemy ranks. He wanted to end the battle quickly, and take a personal blow at Henry Tudor.

It didn’t work.

Oh, the accounts read that Richard III fought bravely, that he was strong and able, and even managed to strike several significant blows: He unhorsed jousting champion Sir John Cheney, and then killed the standard bearer before coming only a sword’s length from Henry Tudor before…

Well, before he was surrounded by traitor Sir William Stanley’s men and struck by a death-blow to the head. One story is that it happened while Richard’s horse was stuck in marshy ground, and other reports say that the halberd blow he took to the head drove his helmet right into his skull!

A more romantic version of events, written by Henry Tudor’s official historian, says that “King Richard, alone, was killed fighting manfully in the thickest press of his enemies.”

And while there was apparently a burial for his body at the Greyfriars Church in Leicester, and a monument erected in his honor, more than 400 years of development in the area caused the exact location of Richard III’s body to be lost… until an archaeological investigation in 2012 finally ended Richard’s game of hide-and-seek.

To be continued…

(Stay tuned to read more about Richard III’s life and the discovery of Richard III’s bones in the continuation of this series, “Baring the Bones!”)

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