Audio News for September 13th to September 19th

Welcome to the Audio News from Archaeologica! I’m Laura Kelley and these are the headlines in archaeological and historical news from September 13th to September 19th.

Story of a sailor told in Englishman’s bones


Our first story is from Exeter, England, where researchers say that a sailor from a sunken ship belonging to Oliver Cromwell's navy has been recovered. Dubbed "Seaman Swan," he had the upper body of a trapeze artist but bowed (BOH-ed) legs; he stood 5 foot, 2 inches tall, and suffered from the effects of childhood rickets. At the time of his death, he was in his early 20’s. About 80% of the man's skeleton was recovered from the wreck of the Swan, a warship that sank off the Isle of Mull in Scotland on September 13th, 1653. The Swan was one of a six-strong fleet of ships that were sent by Cromwell to capture Durant castle, a stronghold of the royalists. However, a storm sank three of the ships off the coast. The ship was designed for a crew of 40, but "Seaman Swan" was the only skeleton recovered from the wreck. The rickets that had caused his bowed legs is the result of childhood lack of adequate nutrition; without enough calcium and phosphate, the skeleton is too soft and weak to form strong bones, which can lead to deformities of the legs as a person grows larger. For all that, this was an extremely fit and healthy man who exercised. His upper body was extraordinarily well developed. It is clear from this muscular physique that the man performed rhythmic balancing work, such as setting sails and hauling on ropes. The closest present-day analogy to the man's physique was that of a trapeze artist. However, Seaman Swan also had deformities in his hips that may have been caused by jumping off the equivalent of a 6 and a half foot wall on a regular basis. After climbing most of the way down the rigging, sailors leaped the last way to the deck. The Swan itself, a 66 foot long 22 foot wide ship, now lies crushed on the sea bed. A number of fish and mammal remains that were found on the ship provide clues to what the sailors were eating. The fish remains included a species related to cod called ling, which were much larger than any ling found around Scotland today.

Medical experts explain arthritis of ancient pharoah


In a study to be published next month in the Canadian Association of Radiologists Journal, experts state that one of ancient Egypt's most illustrious pharaohs, the warrior king Ramses II -- called Ramses the Great -- was afflicted by a form of degenerative arthritis. The research diagnosis is diffuse skeletal idiopathic hyperostosis. Thought to be the second most common form of arthritis after osteoarthritis, the disease is mainly characterized by excessive bone growth along the sides of the spine's vertebrae. The finding challenges a previous diagnosis of a condition by which some or all of the joints and bones of the spine fuse together. That would have meant that the pharaoh spent most of his life in pain, feeling feverish and experiencing night sweats. That diagnosis simply did not fit with Ramses’s historical biography, said one of the researchers. Ramses was the third king in Egypt's 19th dynasty, and ruled for 67 years. During this long reign, he built more temples and monuments, took more wives, and produced more children -- as many as 162 by some accounts -- than any other pharaoh. To reach their diagnosis, the Canadian radiologists read and interpreted both the published and unpublished x-rays of the mummy. Changes detected in the mummy's spine and pelvis were not consistent with the diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis suggested about 30 years ago, they found. The degenerative arthritis form that they hypothesize occurs past the age of 50, with very mild symptoms and sometimes no symptoms at all. This more closely fits the historical evidence of Ramses’s life. Indeed, epigraphic data tell us that Ramses II lived a very long life: In a period when life expectancy was about 40, he is recorded as having lived to be 92.

Scottish quarry workers find early cemetery


In Scotland, quarry workers have discovered an ancient graveyard that is giving archaeologists an insight into the lifestyle, nutrition and health of early Christians in Scotland. Workers at the quarry unearthed 19 graves in a previously unknown 1500-year-old cemetery. Experts are analyzing 17 skeletal remains found at the site to gather more information about the people of this era, when Christianity was being introduced to Scotland and its native people, the Picts. The graves that have been uncovered are of a type called cists (SISTS), small coffin-like boxes assembled from stones. Cists have been found associated with other, above-ground monuments, such as cairns or long barrows (BAHR-ohs). Occasionally, ornaments have been found in a cist that could indicate the wealth of the person buried there. There were no grave goods in this cemetery, however. The only artifact found was a single amber bead uncovered in the top layers of a grave. The site dates from the sixth to ninth century AD. The bones are currently undergoing analyses that will determine the sex and age of each person and evidence about diet, nutrition and disease.

Prehistoric wild horses return to Welsh forest


Our final story is from Wales, where an ancient wild horse, once depicted in cave drawings, is now being used to save an Iron Age Settlement. The Przewalski’s (per-zhih-VAHL-skeez) horses will roam around a 12-acre enclosed area of forest in Denbighshire (DEN-bee-shur). The site was once an Iron Age settlement with livestock enclosures where animals were held overnight. The Przewalski’s (per-zhih-VAHL-skeez) that roamed across Britain 4,000 years ago will now be seen by visitors in the 21st Century. Also known as the Mongolian wild horse, the Przewalski's (per-zhih-VAHL-skeez) horse is a separate horse species that roamed Europe throughout prehistoric times. Wild horses were the enemy of early agricultural peoples, and as their habitat was slowly taken over by fields and villages, the wild animal herds were pushed back by human settlements. By 1800, the last herds of this wild species had been driven extinct in eastern Europe, and only after it was discovered in Mongolia was the species reintroduced to European zoos. Human population increases and environmental destruction caused the loss of the remaining Mongolian wild populations as well, in the twentieth century. The entire population is slowly being restored to Mongolian protected zones and European parks from a founding group of only 13 horses. In Wales, the herd that has been brought back to the forest was bred at Colwyn Bay Mountain Zoo. This small, tough horse is part of a modern approach to the challenge of managing and interpreting the Iron Age site. The species is extremely hardy and will help control the scrub growth problem in the forest, because they will eat a lot of the scrub, thereby helping maintain vegetation structure and biodiversity. Visitors to the forest can now view the horses at first hand from the newly built viewing platform.

That wraps up the news for this week!

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I’m Laura Kelley and I’ll see you next week!