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There is always new discoveries to be explored. 2019 proved to be an amazing year for the discovery of Ancient and forgotten Artifacts.
The list includes a sorceress’ kit, a forgotten settlement, a Renaissance masterpiece and even a 1,700-year-old egg.
During the first half of the 20th century, a group of Japanese Canadians settled down in a secluded enclave of British Columbia’s North Shore mountains, creating a small but thriving community that boasted rows of houses, gardens, a water reservoir, a shrine and a bathhouse. Here, says archaeologist Robert Muckle, immigrants and their Canadian-born children sought refuge from the rampant racism of pre-World War II Vancouver; among other limitations, Japanese individuals were barred from voting, entering the civil service and practicing law.
The North Shore settlement’s first residents were probably loggers employed on a nearby patch of land. Although the area’s forestry had been largely harvested by 1924, Muckle suspects the persecuted Japanese opted to remain in their tightknit community, “living here on the margins of an urban area, ... kind of in secret.”
World War II brought the villagers’ idyllic existence to an abrupt halt. Although Muckle hasn’t found direct evidence of habitation post-1920, he told Smithsonian magazine that the sheer amount of artifacts left at the site—the list of more than 1,000 recovered items includes rice bowls, buttons, ceramics, teapots, pocket watches and sake bottles—suggests the settlement was abandoned in a hurry, likely around 1942, when its residents “were incarcerated or sent to road camps.”
2. Archaeologists Unearth Remains of Infants Wearing 'Helmets' Made From the Skulls of Other Children
Around 100 B.C., members of Ecuador’s Guangala culture interred a pair of infants at Salango, a ritual complex located on the country’s central coast. One was around 18 months old at time of death, while the other was between 6 to 9 months old. Both were buried in decidedly unusual headgear: namely, “helmets” made from the skulls of older children.
“The modified cranium of a second juvenile was placed in a helmet-like fashion around the head of the first, such that the primary individual’s face looked through and out of the cranial vault of the second,” wrote the researchers in a November Latin American Antiquity article.
The archaeologists suspect the older individuals’ skulls were still covered in flesh when placed over the infants’ heads. (Per the paper, juvenile skulls “often do not hold together” unless supported by skin.) The younger infant’s gruesome accessory was fashioned from the skull of someone aged 2 to 12 years old. The 18-month-old’s helmet, on the other hand, came from a 4- to 12-year-old child; the team also found a small shell and a finger bone in between the baby’s head and the second skull.
Although the researchers remain unsure of the bone helmets’ exact purpose, they propose several potential explanations: One theory suggests the extra skulls provided protection for the infants’ “presocial and wild” souls as they entered the afterlife, while another posits that the helmets belonged to the babies’ ancestors and were worn both in life and death.
The most plausible hypothesis, according to lead author Sara Juengst of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, links a “natural or social disaster” with the helmets’ probable purpose of offering “extra protection or extra links to ancestors.”
In recent years, renewed archaeological excavations at Pompeii have yielded a veritable treasure trove of artifacts: among others, the ancient equivalent of a fast food counter, a bloody gladiator fresco, the still-saddled remains of a horse and an inscription dating Mount Vesuvius’ 79 A.D. eruption to October rather than August. (As Franz Lidz wrote for Smithsonian magazine in September, the finds stem from a $140 million conservation and restoration initiative, dubbed the Great Pompeii Project, launched in 2012 with financial support from the European Union.)
Of these finds, a sorceress’ kit filled with around 100 miscellaneous trinkets is perhaps the most intriguing. Containing carved scarab beetles, tiny dolls and skulls, crystals, phallic amulets, mirrors, and gems, the makeshift tool kit may have been used to tell fortunes, attract good luck, or conduct rituals associated with fertility and seduction.
Massimo Osanna, then-director general of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, told Italian news agency ANSA that the cache probably belonged to a slave or servant, as it lacks the gold accessories typically touted by Pompeii’s elites.
“Witch bottles” filled with bent pins, nails, thorns, urine, fingernail clippings, hair and even teeth were regularly employed to ward off witchcraft between the 16th and 18th centuries. Per JSTOR Daily’s Allison C. Meier, this assortment of objects was believed to lure witches into the bottle, where they would become trapped on the pins’ sharp points. But by the mid-19th century, such talismans were considered outdated, making a witch bottle recently found at a former inn and pub in Watford, England—and dated to no earlier than the 1830s—an anomaly.
The torpedo-shaped vessel in question contained fish hooks, human teeth, shards of glass and an unidentified liquid (possibly urine). Contractors discovered the bottle while demolishing the chimney of the Watford property, formerly known as the Star and Garter. Practitioners often placed such bottles underneath hearths or near chimneys, as these openings were thought to grant witches passage into the home.
The protective charm was far from the Star and Garter’s first brush with witchcraft: Angeline Tubbs, a woman later dubbed the Witch of Saratoga, was born at the inn in 1761.
“It’s certainly later than most witch bottles, so sadly not contemporary with Angeline Tubbs,” Ceri Houlbrook, a historian and folklorist at the University of Hertfordshire, told BBC News, “but still a fascinating find.”
On June 16, 1966, the Beatles performed “Paperback Writer” on an episode of the BBC television program “Top of the Pops.” The British broadcasting network failed to record or otherwise document the show, leading fans to believe it had been lost forever, but luckily, a music lover watching from home, David Chandler, decided to capture the Fab Four’s appearance with his personal wind-up camera. He then stored the footage in his attic for more than 50 years.
Chandler held on to the recording until this spring, when the discovery of a similar, albeit significantly shorter, clip of the “Top of the Pops” performance made headlines around the world. “I think if you're a Beatles fans, it’s the holy grail,” Chris Perry of Kaleidoscope, an organization that specializes in tracking down and restoring lost footage, told BBC News at the time. Inspired by the media blitz, Chandler sent Kaleidoscope his own 92-second clip.
The longer recording—deemed “phenomenal” by Perry—is silent, as is the 11-second one found by a collector earlier this year. But Kaleidoscope remastered the footage, syncing it with audio of “Paperback Writer” and enhancing the video’s quality, finally giving Beatles fans the chance to see the long-lost performance.
6. Archaeologists Unearth Hollowed-Out Whale Vertebra Containing Human Jawbone, Remains of Newborn Lambs
When a group of Iron Age Scots abandoned a broch, or roundhouse, on the Orkney Islands during the mid-second century A.D., they left behind an unusual vessel held in place by a pair of red deer antlers and a large grinding stone. The makeshift container, crafted from a hollowed-out whale vertebra, held a human jawbone and the remains of two newborn lambs.
“All this treatment appears to have been part of the measures employed to perform an act of closure of the broch,” reads a statement from the University of the Highlands and Islands Archaeology Institute.
DNA analysis conducted by UHI archaeologist Martin Carruthers and his colleagues identified the vertebra as a fin whale bone. Since fin whales are the world’s second largest whale species, the discovery led the researchers to question whether the ancient humans actively hunted the massive whale or simply made the most of a carcass swept ashore.
Additional sets of marine animal bones—among others, the species represented include sperm, humpback and minke whales, as well as dolphins and porpoises—unearthed at the archaeological site support the latter theory: As Carruthers told BBC News’ Huw Williams, “[That assemblage is] what you'd expect, I suppose, if you saw them as being quite opportunistic in terms of what came across their path.”