The Bones of an Early Jamestown Settler May Soon Be Identified

Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The 400-year-old skeleton of one of Jamestown’s earliest settlers was unearthed during an archaeological dig at the former colony site, and scientists think they know who it is, The Washington Post reports. The bones may belong to Sir George Yeardley, an early governor of colonial Virginia.

The remains were found at the site of the Jamestown 1617 church, which archaeologist Mary Anna Richardson described as “one of the most complicated sites that we have ever worked on here at Jamestown,” according to footage from the Smithsonian Channel, which will air a documentary on the results of the dig in 2019. The archaeological site features three churches compressed into one small area.

Researchers from Preservation Virginia, a nonprofit preservation group, have been exploring the historic clues left behind at Jamestown since 1994. In recent years, the group partnered with the Smithsonian Institution to turn its attention to the tiny churches that once dotted America's first permanent European settlement. Many high-profile figures from that time period were interred in the cemeteries attached to these places of worship.

The newly discovered remains belong to a man about 40 years old, according to a preliminary forensic analysis, which is consistent with biographical information about Yeardley. As the head of the first representative legislative assembly in colonial North America, Yeardley played an important role in the formation of early colonial government. Virginia’s assembly was the model for democracy in the U.S., according to American Evolution, a partner of Jamestown Rediscovery. 

Beyond the church find, the Jamestown exploration has yielded some interesting finds over the years. In 2016, archaeologists who studied the bones of a 15-year-old boy at Jamestown determined that he had been struck and killed by an arrowhead in 1607, just a couple of weeks after the settlers arrived. By examining a root canal, scientists were also able to tell that he probably ate a bland diet of mostly grains like oats, wheat, and barley. The New World was no picnic.

[h/t The Washington Post]

Advanced CT Scans Reveal Blood Vessels and Skin Layers in a Mummy's Hand

Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Mummies hold some intriguing secrets to their pasts, like the food they ate and the diseases they had when they were alive. Now scientists are using a tool originally designed for medicine to get an even deeper look at the clues mummified bodies carry with them into the present day, Gizmodo reports.

In a proof-of-concept study published in the journal Radiology, researchers from the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden detail how a new-and-improved CT scanning technique can be used to visualize the interior of mummies on a microscopic level. By creating detailed X-ray images, CT scans allow doctors to see inside their patients without invasive surgery. Archaeologists have been using this technology to study delicate ancient artifacts for years, but the level of detail that can be achieved this way—especially when it comes to looking at interior soft tissue—is limited.

The upgraded version of the tech, called phase-contrast CT scanning, measures the phase shift, or the change in the position of a light wave, that occurs when X-rays pass through solid objects. The images generated this way have a higher contrast level than conventional X-rays, which means they capture more detail.

Cross-section of mummy hand.
Jenny Romell, et al./Radiology

Doctors have been using this 10-year-old technology to examine soft tissues like organs and veins in living patients, but it hadn't been used on a mummy until recently. Working with a mummified human right hand dating back to 400 BCE in Egypt, which they borrowed from the Museum of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Antiquities in Stockholm, the researchers fired up a phase-contrast CT scanner. It produced images with a resolution of 6 to 9 microns, giving a clear picture of the different layers of skin, individual cells in the connective tissue, and the blood vessels in the nail bed—all without damaging the artifact. Previously, researchers looking to study these same tissues in mummies would have needed to use a scalpel.

As Ars Technica reports, a phase-contrast CT scanner is similar in cost to the conventional machine. The study authors hope their work will lead to phase-contrast CT scanning becoming just as common in archaeology as regular CT scanning, potentially creating new research opportunities in mummies that will be discovered in the future and even in artifacts that have already been examined.

[h/t Gizmodo]

A 2.63-Carat Diamond Was Unearthed by a Grandmother at an Arkansas State Park

iStock
iStock

Visitors to the Crater of Diamonds Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas clearly have an objective in mind: Excavate one of the diamonds lurking on or beneath the park's soil, the onetime site of a volcanic crater. If they do, it's theirs to keep.

Earlier this month, a 71-year-old grandmother from Colorado made the biggest discovery on park grounds of 2018: a 2.63-carat ice white diamond. And she did it in about 10 minutes.

The retiree, who asked media outlets not to identify her by name, visited Crater of Diamonds with her husband, son, and grandchildren. After briefly scraping away dirt, she saw the gem on the surface. The diamond was so large and clear—roughly the size of a pinto bean—that she assumed it was just a piece of glass. Further inspection by her family and park personnel revealed it was a diamond.

Park officials told press that employees frequently till the soil, which can loosen the gems and allow them to catch the reflection of the sun, making them easier to spot. Roughly 33,000 diamonds have been found by visitors since the park opened in 1972.

It's hard to know the exact value of the diamond. While there is a certain fluctuating value assigned to a carat, appraisers also look at three other "Cs": clarity, color, and cut. A two-carat diamond is often more than double the price of a one-carat diamond because the larger gems are more rare. But tourists have profited from their finds: In 2015, a visitor retrieved a 8.51-carat white diamond that was cut down to 4.6 carats by a jeweler and valued by the American Gem Society at $500,000.

[h/t WGN TV]

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