An archaeologist and writer who caught the travel bug early on and still hasn't shaken it. He's currently writing a book on Harar, Ethiopia. Sean is the author of numerous books including BYZANTIUM: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY and the historical novel A FINE LIKENESS, set in Civil War Missouri.
Israel is a country filled with ancient sites. One of the more popular ones to visit is the Herodium, the palace of the infamous Herod the Great, now part of a national park just outside Jerusalem. Herod was a lavish builder and created quite the crib between 23-15 BC. The historian Josephus, writing half a century after Herod's death, says that when the king died in 4 BC, he was laid out on a gold bed in a tomb at the site.
Back in 2007, an archaeological team uncovered a tomb at Herodium and proclaimed they had found Herod's final resting place. Ever since it's been a popular stop for tourists who wander about the ruins of the palace, baths, and synagogue of the Jewish king who pledged allegiance to the Roman Empire.
Now another group of archaeologists say that it's not the tomb of Herod. They say the 32x32 ft. tomb is too small for a king, especially one famous for his grandiose building projects such as the desert fortress Masada and the rebuilding of the Second Temple. Most royal tombs were larger and included coffins of marble or gold rather than the local limestone found in this structure. Royal tombs also had large courtyards in front of them so people could come pay their respects, something lacking in the Herodium tomb.
Hosted by Hauntworld Magazine, a trade journal for those running haunted houses, it lists creepy attractions in every state in the U.S. and many in Canada too. Most listings just have promotional material from the businesses themselves, while some have garnered numerous reviews and comments, making it as sort of TripAdvisor for scary attractions.
In my old stomping grounds of Tucson, Arizona, there's Nightfall, which earned nine out of ten skulls. For even bigger scares, check out their Most Extreme and Shocking list. The number one place goes to the Erebus 4 Story Haunted Attraction in Pontiac, Michigan. HauntWorld says "Erebus is by far the most unique haunted house in America because they have monsters, animations, and props that touch the customers some even swallow customers whole. Erebus is a multi-story haunted house with special fx you'll see no where in the World but at Erebus near Detroit Michigan."
The remains of the world's oldest planned city may crumble to dust in twenty years if action isn't taken, the Telegraph reports.
Mohenjodaro, a 5,000 year-old city in Pakistan, is under threat from extreme temperatures and monsoon rains, which leave deposits of salt on the unbaked clay bricks that were used to create its buildings. That salt leeches out any moisture in the bricks and slowly turns them to dust.
A crew of workmen is coating the ancient structures with salt-free mud, but there are far too few people on the job and very little money.
The Bronze Age city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was founded around 3,000 BC and shows a remarkable amount of urban planning. There were toilets in every house, separate water systems for drinking and sewage, roads laid out on a grid system, a large communal bath shown in the above photo, and a communal granary. It was the center of the Indus Valley civilization and traded as far away as Mesopotamia, using a set of standardized weights and measures to regulate commerce.
UNESCO officials met with Pakistani archaeologists last week to draw up a plan to save the site, which includes burying some of the most threatened structures. It remains to be seen whether Pakistan's government, strapped for cash and stuck in a grueling war with the Taliban, will foot the bill.
I visited Mohenjodaro back in 1994 when Pakistan was safer to visit than it is now and found the place to be enchanting. The layout can be clearly seen and it almost feels like you're in a living city. It would be a shame if such a landmark of human development disappeared.
A bull attack in France has left one German tourist killed and another injured, the BBC reports.
A man and wife were on a cycling vacation in the Camargue region of southern France when they were attacked while passing a farm where some bulls were fighting each other. One animal broke out of the enclosure and attacked the woman. When her husband came to her aid, he was gored twenty times and killed. The woman survived and is recovering in hospital.
The region is known for its bulls, many of which are raised for bullfighting.
While people are naturally afraid of bulls, it's important to know that cows can be just as dangerous. In August a hiker was killed by a cow in France, and while hiking in northern England I was nearly attacked by cows. Cows are large, strong animals that can turn aggressive when scared or if they think their calves are being threatened.
Engineers in Venice have successfully tested a new flood barrier that they hope will protect the city. The BBC reports that the first four flood barriers of a planned 78 were floated in the entrance of the city's famous lagoon.
Venice suffers annual floods due to unusually high tides that threaten irreplaceable buildings and a destination essential to Italy's tourism industry. It's also sinking at a rate of one to two millimeters a year, Discovery Magazine reports.
The barrier isn't complete and has already cost $7 billion. It will take another $800 million and two years more work before it can protect the city. While Italy is suffering badly from the global economic crisis, the government has promised to complete the project by 2016.
Archaeologist Dr. Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University came to this conclusion through studying one of the most enigmatic icons of prehistoric European cave art--hand stencils. In many European caves, there are negative images of hands produced by placing the hand against the cave wall and blowing paint all around it. They range from 12,000 to 40,000 years old, an astonishingly long artistic tradition.
Men's and women's hands are different, especially in the relative length of the fingers, so Snow examined 32 of these these stencils from caves in Spain and France. He found that 75 percent of the hands were female.
It's long been assumed that most cave art was done by men, since so many of the subjects have to do with hunting, generally a male activity in hunter-gather societies. Of course, what Snow's data really show is that the majority of hand stencils in the sample are of women, which doesn't say anything about the rest of the art. It could be that there was a separation in the sexes as to who painted what, or perhaps the majority of prehistoric artists were indeed women.
The biggest contributor to the study was the cave of El Castillo in Cantabria, northern Spain, where 16 stencils were measured. This cave is open to the public, so you can take a look at the hands yourself and come to your own conclusions. Gargas and Pech Merle in France were also in the study and open to the public.
Hand stencils have been found in areas as far apart as Argentina, Africa, Australia, and Borneo. It would be interesting to see what results Snow's study would have on these artistic traditions.
The National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is asking for your help in reassembling an early medieval carved stone.
The Hilton of Cadboll Stone was carved in Scotland around 800 AD by the Picts, a mysterious people who have left little in the way of a written record but created some incredible art. The stone was carved shortly after the Picts converted to Christianity and includes one of Scotland's earliest representations of Jesus.
This particular stone has had a rough time in the past 1200 years. At some unrecorded date it was snapped off from its base, then later defaced by Protestant reformers. In 1676, the Christian cross on one side of the stone was chipped off and replaced with an inscription commemorating a local man, Alexander Duff, and his three wives.
While one side is still impressive, as you can see here, it seemed the rest of the stone had been defaced beyond all hope of restoration until a recent excavation at the original site uncovered the stones' base.
The UK drug company GlaxoSmithKline is applying for regulatory approval of the world's first malaria vaccine, the BBC reports.
The move comes after tests that the company said were promising. For the past several years, GlaxoSmithKline has conducted tests of its vaccine on almost 15,500 children in seven African countries. The company reports that 18 months after vaccination, there was a 27 percent reduction in malaria cases in infants aged 6-12 weeks and a 46 percent reduction in children aged 5-17 months.
Now it's applying to the European Medicines Agency to start marketing the vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline's research was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the company says it will make the vaccine affordable for poorer nations.
A few days ago we talked about the story of Dr. John Rae, a nearly forgotten Arctic explorer who in 1854 went in search of the missing Franklin Expedition. This was a Royal Navy expedition that set out in 1845 to find the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the frozen arctic north of Canada. Rae talked with the local Inuit people and heard the survivors had all died, some resorting to cannibalism before they succumbed to the elements. The public was so shocked that they turned their ire against Rae, whose career was all but ruined.
Now a Canadian research team is investigating the site to try to find out more about what happened. It's known that the expedition involved two ships, the HMS Erebus and the HMS Terror, and that they came to grief near King William Island in September 1846, where they got trapped in the ice hundreds of miles form the nearest town.
When I took my family to the Orkney Islands of Scotland last year I saw this curious memorial in St. Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall. It's for an Arctic explorer named John Rae. While the name struck a bell, I knew virtually nothing about him.
Most people don't, and that's a shame. Rae grew up in the rugged Orkney Islands in the 19th century. Although he trained as a doctor, the wilderness was his true love. He got work with the Hudson's Bay Company, which owned large swatches of land in northern Canada and made millions off of the fur trade. Rae set off to Canada to work as a surgeon for the company, spending ten years at the remote outpost of Moose Factory.
Rae soon distinguished himself by spending large amounts of time with the Cree and Inuit, learning their languages and customs and gaining their respect for his ability to endure the tough conditions of the Canadians north.
When the Franklin Expedition, a Royal Navy group that was searching for the Northwest Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific, went missing in 1845, Rae was the man that was called upon to find them. He spent several years trying to track them down. In the course of his search he mapped many previously uncharted regions and found the Northwest Passage, the very thing the Franklin Expedition had failed to do.
In 1854 he learned from the Inuit that several years before, the last of the Franklin Expedition had died of starvation. The remaining survivors had resorted to cannibalism before they, too, succumbed. The site of the tragedy was deep in the back country and the Inuit refused to take him there.
When Rae filed his report, he was immediately criticized for not checking on the natives' story himself and for daring to suggest that members of the Royal Navy would eat each other. His reputation was ruined. Even though another expedition did go to the site and concluded that there was strong evidence that the Franklin Expedition had resorted to cannibalism, the damage had been done. Rae died all but forgotten in 1893. Of all the great explorers from the Victorian era, he is the only one not to have been given a knighthood.