Search for grave of King Richard III to be extended

Searching for grave of King Richard III
This post has been updated. See the note below.

LONDON –- Archaeologists searching for the tomb of Richard III are being given an extra week to excavate in light of promising findings of their dig beneath a parking lot in central England.

The medieval king made famous as a villain in Shakespeare’s play was buried in the city of Leicester after his death in battle against his successor, Henry VII, at Bosworth Field in 1485. Franciscan brothers interred Richard without ceremony in a friary whose location has been lost over the
centuries.

But based on a recent analysis of old maps, experts began looking for the site beneath a small municipal parking lot in downtown Leicester two weeks ago. The dig was scheduled to wrap up Sunday, but lead archaeologist Richard Buckley said city officials had granted a week’s extension.

"Things are going extremely well, and we are now confident that we have located the east end of the church, so identifying the quire is becoming a real possibility,” said Buckley, referring to an area near the church’s likely altar.

He and other scholars speculate that Richard would have been entombed close to the altar in homage to his exalted status.

[Updated 12:52 p.m. Sept. 9: So far, Buckley's team has discovered the ruins of what could be the walls of the old friary, the fragments of a frame that might have contained the east window, some medieval floor tiles and a silver coin from that era.

After digging three 6-foot-deep trenches, archaeologists also found vestiges of the garden of a manor house that stood on the site after the friary was demolished. Records show that a pillar in the garden once marked the spot where Richard was thought to be buried.]

Finding his bones would lay to rest a mystery surrounding what became of the remains of the last English king to die in battle. The usurpation of Richard III ushered in the Tudor dynasty and eventually led to Shakespeare’s indelible –- some say wildly inaccurate -– portrayal of Richard as a ruthless fiend
who ordered his innocent young nephews killed in the Tower of London so that he could take the throne.

Two years ago, scholars announced that they had identified the site of Bosworth Field, where Richard lost his crown and his life on Aug. 22, 1485. After the battle, the slain king’s broken body was paraded through Leicester, then buried by the Franciscans.

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Photo: An archaeologist prepares to excavate at a parking lot in the central English city of Leicester, where King Richard III is believed to be buried, as actors dressed as knights look on. Credit: Rui Vieira / Associated Press


Google Street View now available for Mexico archaeological sites

Google street view inah castillo pyramid

MEXICO CITY -- For travelers who've never been to the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza, a virtual window into the site's pyramids and plazas is available online, among 30 archaeological zones in Mexico now mapped by history's greatest peeping Tom: Google Street View.

From the comfort of a computer, any Internet user anywhere can now zoom in and examine the perfect form of Chichen Itza's Kukulkan pyramid, known also El Castillo, or the Castle.

On Google Street View, a viewer can almost feel like they might tumble into the Sacred Cenote, or natural sinkhole, where Maya priests practiced ritual sacrifice. Or imagine cavorting on the Plaza of the Thousand Columns. Or maybe do some souvenir browsing, up close and in intensely high resolution.

Google and Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, announced the new maps last week. Using a 360-degree camera mounted on a bicycle, Google captured "street views" of other major archaeological sites in Mexico, such as Monte Alban in Oaxaca and Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.

Lesser-known Mesoamerican sites are also now mapped by Google Street View, including Tula in the state of Hidalgo and Xochicalco in Morelos.

The Internet search engine has focused its publicity campaign for the new maps on images captured at Chichen Itza, one of Mexico's most storied tourist destinations. But for travelers who have been there, could Google Street View now be better than the real thing?

Consider: A recent (physical) visit to Chichen Itza confirmed that tourists are no longer allowed to climb the Castillo pyramid, no more tackling its famous 91 steps that President Felipe Calderon recently climbed in a widely mocked tourism video.

Visitors can no longer actually, physically cavort among the plaza of the columns. In fact, most of the structures at Chichen Itza these days are off-limits to tourists, who must settle on snapping photos behind wire barriers. Worse, the archaeological zone is also overrun with vendors from the neighboring communities, making a non-virtual visit a somewhat disappointing experience overall.

Since Chichen Itza was declared a new Seven Wonders of the World site in 2007, access has been limited due to concerns over deterioration and also because the site's restoration process is ongoing, said an INAH spokesman.

The same is true at the Palenque zone in Chiapas, the spokesman said, where a visitor like you and me may no longer be able to climb that site's spectacular structures. But on Google, at least, there's a decent shot of a man in an orange polo with a sweat towel on his head.

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Photo: A view of the Kukulkan pyramid, or El Castillo, at the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatan. Credit: Google, via INAH


A walk in the park divides Israeli mayors

JERUSALEM -- Israel’s religious-secular battle has an odd new front: public parks.

The mayors of Modiin, a mixed religious-secular city, and the adjacent Modiin-Ilit, an ultra-Orthodox settlement  just over the West Bank's Green Line, are threatening to ban each other’s residents from entering their respective parks, according to Haaretz.

It began last week when Modiin-Ilit Mayor Yaakov Gutterman told a religious newspaper that he was planning to restrict visits to a newly renovated Jewish archaeological site in his town to ultra-Orthodox visitors only. He said the move would “keep it a proper place” where ultra-Orthodox could visit without the “fear of hearing false opinion.”

The site, dating to the Second Temple period more than 2,000 years ago, is a farming village that includes a synagogue, wine press and ritual bath. The federal government recently paid to preserve it.

Modiin Mayor Haim Bibas fired back with a letter to Gutterman, threatening to ban ultra-Orthodox residents of Modiin-Ilit from using his city’s central park. He said his city's residents had complained that too many ultra-Orthodox families from the neighboring settlement are using the park because Modiin-Ilit lacks family recreation sites of its own.

“National heritage sites are places central to the history of the Jewish people and should be open to everyone, whatever their world view or religious affiliation may be," Bibas wrote.

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Renowned South African scientist Phillip Tobias dies at 86

Phillip Tobias, renowned South African paleoanthropologist and expert on early man and hominids, died after a long illness
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Phillip Tobias, renowned South African paleoanthropologist and expert on early man and hominids, died Thursday in Johannesburg after a long illness. He was 86.

In 2005, turning 80, he wrote of a life enriched by "serendipity, coincidence, synchronism, eureka moments."

"You go to search for something -- an odd tree -- and you find something else, something that may prove to be even more important than that which you had set out to examine! This is the essence of serendipity," he wrote, describing a 1945 visit to a cave in Limpopo to see a twisted yellowwood tree when he was 20 years old.

Kneeling in the sandy soil to get a better look at the tree, he felt something hard and pulled out an ancient stone tool.

He launched an archaeological dig in the cave, which he later named Mwulu's Cave. It became a significant site, casting light on the earliest artistic activity by predecessors of humans. Some 3,000 stone tools were excavated from the place.

Continue reading »

How dancers in Mexico honor the last emperor of the Aztecs

Aztec dancer

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Every February, Aztec dancers flock to the mountain town of Ixcateopan, where the bones of the last emperor of the Aztecs are said to lie.

Archaeologists in Mexico say the story of the remains of Cuauhtemoc is false, and many dismiss the quasi-spiritual culture of veneration that has developed around the bones.

Yet the lore still draws people to Ixcateopan. The remains -- of at least one woman and several men -- lie in the ex-church of this small mountain community in Guerrero state, attracting Aztec dance groups from near and far every February for the observance of Cuauhtemoc's birthday.

PHOTOS: The bones of Cuauhtemoc?

In an article in The Times last week, the believers who belong to the loosely tied mexicanismo movement say the "bones" of the last Mexican tlatonai represent "hope" for a new age in Mexico.

So how real, or unreal, are they?

"I think it's perfectly possible for people to think, on one level, that the bones are fraud, and on some level, know that they're a metaphor," said historian Paul Gillingham.

Check out our photo gallery of the dancers above and read more about the bones here.

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Photo: An Aztec dancer from Mexico City arrives at Ixcateopan, Guerrero, to honor Cuauhtemoc, last emperor of the Aztecs. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times


Israeli antiquities collectors acquitted of ossuary forgery

Jerusalem burial box
REPORTING FROM JERUSALEM -- A Jerusalem court acquitted an Israeli antiquities collector of forging a stone burial box with the inscription “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.”

But the decade-long legal drama left open the archaeological and historical mystery concerning the ossuary, allegedly uncovered in the Silwan area of East Jerusalem. If authentic, it would be the oldest known archaeological record of Jesus.

The Israel Antiquities Authority suspected that  the so-called James Ossuary and other items held or sold by Oded Golan were forgeries, including another artifact known as the Jehoash Tablet that described renovations done on the First Temple. Experts deemed the findings forgeries and Golan was indicted along with several other people.

But after seven years of trial that included 138 witnesses, 12,000 pages of transcripts and 52 experts in fields such as archaeology, Semitic languages, forensic science, geology and carbon dating, Judge Aharon Farkash ruled it was impossible to unequivocally prove the artifacts were forged. Saying that their authenticity also was unproven, he acquitted Golan of forgery but convicted the collector on lesser charges, including unlawful possession of antiquities.

Golan expressed satisfaction over being acquitted of the more serious charge and told reporters he and a few colleagues had “saved hundreds of thousands of archaeological artifacts,” mostly from the West Bank, from being smuggled out of the country and disappearing. He accused the Antiquities Authority of “inflating a balloon that blew up in their face, and now they will have to explain how they lost 1.5 million archaeological artifacts since 1967.”

Prosecutor Dan Bahat partly blamed geopolitics for his inability to prove forgery. One of the key witnesses is from Egypt and Israeli authorities did not let him into Israel to testify. Local news media described the mystery man as a master forger.

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Photo: Israeli antiquities collector Oded Golan, right, speaks with reporters in a Jerusalem court on Wednesday. Credit: Sebastian Scheiner / AP  


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