Ten Odd and Mysterious Historical Finds of 2015
Historians and archaeologists alike are not always faced with the ordinary. While much of their time is spent scanning through historic texts or unearthing ancient ruins and human remains, occasionally they stumble across things that are more perplexing. This year has been no exception – from a mummified ‘hand of glory’ to a sword with an undecipherable code, unexplainable stone discs, a fetus found in the coffin of a bishop, and a ‘fairy fort’ that workers are refusing to excavate, here we feature ten weird and wonderful discoveries of 2015.
A team of marine archaeologists discovered several dozen ingots scattered across the sandy sea floor near a 2,600-year-old shipwreck off the coast of Sicily. The ingots were made from orichalcum, a rare cast metal which ancient Greek philosopher Plato wrote was from the legendary city of Atlantis.
According to Discovery News, a total of 39 ingots (metal cast into rectangular blocks) were found close to shipwreck that was discovered in 1988 lying in shallow waters about 300 meters (1,000ft) off the coast of Gela in Sicily. Sebastiano Tusa, Sicily’s superintendent of the Sea Office, told Discovery News that the precious ingots were probably being brought to Sicily from Greece or Asia Minor.
Tusa said that the discovery of orichalcum ingots, long considered a mysterious metal, is significant as “nothing similar has ever been found.” He added, "We knew orichalcum from ancient texts and a few ornamental objects.”
According to Plato’s 5th century BC Critias dialogue, orichalucum was considered second only to gold in value, and was found and mined in many parts of the legendary Atlantis in ancient times.
In 1825, a mysterious sword containing a cryptic code was found in the River Witham near Lincoln in England. The 13th century sword contains an enigmatic 18-letter message running down the center of the blade, and cryptographers and linguists have been unable to crack it. This year, the British Library appealed to the public for help in solving this 800 year old mystery.
The sword, which is currently on display at the British Library as part of the Magna Carta exhibition, has a steel blade with a sharply honed edge that is believed to have been manufactured in Germany. The cross-shaped hilt is associated with Christianity and would have been used by a knight in his duty to defend the church.
“The blade is unusual as it has two fullers, or grooves, running parallel down its length on each side,” reports The British Museum. “A Viking origin has been suggested for the sword on the basis of the fullers, the pommel and the letter forms of the inscription. However, it is apparent that the pommel, inscription and the blade shape are more characteristic of Medieval European swords than those of Viking origin.”
The sword’s inscription is made down the weapon’s central grove and is inlaid with fine gold wire. The 18-letter message reads: NDXOXCHWDRGHDXORVI. The language the message is written in is still unknown, which has added to the difficulty in cracking the mysterious code.
Archaeologists discovered the skeletons of a number of ‘sex-obsessed’ nuns who were eventually punished for their sins by having their priory dissolved and their prioress pensioned off.
The team of archaeologists from John Moore Heritage Services discovered the skeletons of a total of 92 nuns at Littlemore Priory in Oxfordshire, dating from the time the priory was founded in 1110 to its dissolution by Cardinal Wolsey in 1525. The skeletons were found in a burial ground surrounding the site of the priory which is now being used for the construction of a new hotel.
The archaeologists also found a stillborn baby in a casket and a woman buried face-down. Researchers said that the face-down position was probably a penitential act to atone for her sins. She may therefore have been one of the sinful nuns who had, according to surviving records, provoked Cardinal Wolsey into dissolving the priory and pensioning off the prioress. Eileen Power mentions the priory in her book Medieval English Nunneries as one of the worst establishments in the country at the time.
A team of investigators in Russia found more than a dozen stone discs in the Volgograd region of Russia. The team claims that the discs contain tungsten, a high density metal that has applications in military technology. The nature of the discs remains a mystery.
“The shape..., which resembles the popular image of a flying saucer, has let the imagination of the conspiracy theorists fly,” reported International Business Times. “Scott Waring of UFO Sightings Daily thinks this is proof that aliens exist and claims the disc is made of tungsten. Tungsten is also known as wolfram, and is used in special military technology.”
A UFO investigation team has made lavish claims about the stone discs, stating that they could be about a million years old, and maintaining that they are most probably military drones that were damaged in an attack on Mars before falling to Earth.
Fortunately, scientists at the Zhirnovsky museum are taking a more rational approach and are studying the largest stone disc to determine its age and material. Some skeptics also believe that the rocks were not even man-made but are simply the result of ordinary rocks shaped by erosion.
Archaeologists say the circumstances of the death and double burial of two little children who died in Medieval Frankfurt, Germany, will probably never be known. One of the children had an apparently royal Merovingian, Christian burial, and the other a pagan Scandinavian burial. The children were honored many years after their death by careful placement of a royal chapel around their grave.
Their remains were found in 1992, but archaeologists only recently released the results of the scientific examination of the bodies and gravesite. The team announced the children were buried sometime between 700 and 730 AD. The grave is in a priest’s residence, the priory of a tiny church at what later would become the Frankfurt Cathedral in the 1300s.
The girl’s high status was clearly evident by the clothing she was dressed in, including a tunic and shawl; and jewelry for her ears, fingers, arms, neck and chest made of gold, silver, bronze and precious stones. The other child had a necklace that was a copy of a Scandinavian amulet. That and the fact that the cremated remains were mixed with bear bones show close ties between northern Europe and the Germanic tribes.
It is possible the two children had been promised to each other for marriage. But researchers can only speculate about this strange burial.
A British historian believes he found the earliest recorded use of the F-word, a swearword of Anglo-Saxon origin, where its meaning has a sexual connotation. The word was found in court records dating back to 1310, in relation to a man named Roger Fuckebythenavele.
The written record of the swearword was found accidentally by Dr Paul Booth, a historian at Keele University in England, while he was examining a court case held in the County court of Chester in which a man named Roger Fuckebythenavel was outlawed on 28 September, 1311. It appears that Roger did not hold an unfortunate family name, but had been given the name derogatorily for apparently being an incompetent copulator.
“Either it refers to an inexperienced copulator, referring to someone trying to have sex with the navel, or it’s a rather extravagant explanation for a dimwit, someone so stupid they think that this is the way to have sex,” Dr Booth told Mailonline.
Booth noted that Roger had to appear before the court three times between September 1310 and May 1311, and each time his last name was spelled differently: Fuckebythenavele, Fukkebythenavele, and Fuckebythenavel. This suggests it was not his actual surname, but was given to him as a nickname.
Researchers at Lund University hospital were in for a surprise when they conducted a CT scan of a mummified Scandinavian bishop, and spotted the remains of a tiny fetus tucked under the bishop’s feet. The mummy belongs to Bishop Peder Winstrup, a prominent historical figure in Scandinavia who died in 1679.
The finding was made when testing was carried out on Winstrup’s remains in the hope of learning more about the health and lives of people in Medieval Scandinavia. During the scan of Winstrup’s mummified remains, researchers spotted the remains of a tiny 5-6 month old fetus tucked under the bishop’s feet.
It is speculated that the fetus may either be a relation of Winstrup, or may have been an illegitimate child that was placed there by someone unrelated to him, who wanted to sneak the infant remains into his coffin in order to receive a proper burial.
A Triceratops brow horn discovered in Dawson County, Montana, was controversially dated to around 33,500 years, challenging the view that dinosaurs died out around 65 million years ago. According to the researchers involved, the finding radically suggests that early humans may have once walked the earth with the fearsome reptiles thousands of years ago.
The Triceratops brow horn was excavated in May 2012 and stored at the Glendive Dinosaur and Fossil Museum. The Museum, which has since 2005 been in cooperation with the Paleochronology Group, a team of consultants in geology, paleontology, chemistry, engineering, and education, sent a sample of the outer portion of the Triceratops brow horn to Head of the Paleochronology Group Hugh Miller, at his request, in order to carry out Carbon-14 dating. Mr Miller sent the sample to the University of Georgia, Center for Applied Isotope Studies, for this purpose. The sample was divided at the lab into two fractions with the “bulk” or collagen break down products yielding an age of 33,570 ± 120 years and the carbonate fraction of bone bioapatite yielding an age of 41,010 ± 220 years [UGAMS-11752 & 11752a].
The group has urged any and all scientists to replicate their results by carrying out rigorous C-14 testing on any dinosaur sample.
A mummified hand found in Castleton, North Yorkshire, England is the only known ‘Hand of Glory’ still in existence. This mummified hand is a grotesque artifact meant to aid thieves in their work during the night, and supposedly has the power to “entrance humans”.
The process to make a Hand of Glory was very specific, according to Sabine Baring-Gould (1873) in his work Curious Myths of the Middle Ages:
“The Hand of Glory... is the hand of a man who has been hung, and it is prepared in the following manner: Wrap the hand in a piece of winding-sheet, drawing it tight, so as to squeeze out the little blood which may remain; then place it in an earthenware vessel with saltpeter, salt, and long pepper, all carefully and thoroughly powdered. Let it remain a fortnight in this pickle till it is well dried, then expose it to the sun in the dog-days, till it is completely parched, or, if the sun be not powerful enough, dry it in an oven heated with vervai and fern. Next make a candle with the fat of a hung man, virgin-wax, and Lapland sesame.”
The numerous stories and legends behind the Hand of Glory mean that if this really is the last of its kind, the preservation of the artifact is very important for history.
Bad luck is sure to befall a US company if it builds a new factory over a fairyfort in Ireland, warned a traditional Irish lore keeper. West Pharmaceutical Services is building a new factory in Waterford, Ireland, with plans on employing more than 150 people at completion in 2018. However, the construction site is situated over an ancient ringfort (rath, or fairyfort) which dates back thousands of years.
The Knockhouse fairyfort, for years believed to be of special archaeological interest, is thought to date to 800 AD, with most Irish ringforts dating from the late Iron Age. Ringforts were ancient circular settlements which were surrounded and enclosed by one or more earthen or stone banks and ditches. Sometimes wooden palisades would be erected on one of the high banks, serving as extra protection from wolves, foxes, boars or human invaders. However, while these simple constructions are called forts, they were not military structures, but mainly agricultural settlements or farmsteads, and were not designed for warfare.
As the ringforts fell out of use after centuries, locals did not know what the remaining ruins were originally for, and explained the strange, circular, built-up sites as the homes of fairies. It is believed that to disturb these sites is to provoke fairies. It is often said that leprechauns, notorious trickster fairies, keep their gold in the forts.
Eddie Lenihan, famed Irish author, storyteller and broadcaster, warned West Pharmaceutical that destruction or removal of the fairyfort would spell dire consequences and bad luck for all those involved in construction or clearing the ancient dwelling.