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.
A medieval Scottish abbey that's hailed as the birthplace of whiskey will soon be the site of a modern distillery.
Lindores Abbey near Fife, Scotland, is the first place on record to have distilled whiskey, when in 1494 it received an order from King James IV. The abbey, founded in the 12th century, has been a ruin for centuries, first being sacked by a mob in 1543, and then thoroughly destroyed by John Knox, founder of Scottish Presbyterianism, in 1559.
Now the Scotsman reports that the owners of the land have launched a £5 million ($8.1 million) project to build a whiskey distillery on the site. Water will come from the abbey's medieval well and the barley will come from adjacent fields. The distillery will open in two or three years and will include a visitor's center.
Of course it takes time for whiskey to mature, so landowner Andrew McKenzie Smith is also looking into making gin and flavored liqueur, which mature more rapidly. The Smith family hopes the abbey's legendary status among whiskey aficionados will bring in business, and are looking into teaming up with Historic Scotland to restore the abbey.
Manassas Battlefield Park has been struggling with traffic for a long time. The site of the First and Second Battles of Manassas, also known as the battles of Bull Run, it's rich in Civil War history. The main reason two battles were fought there was that the Warrenton Turnpike, the main road from Virginia to Washington D.C., cut right through it.
That turnpike is now Lee Highway (Route 29) and is busier than ever. The roads are clogged with traffic through much of the day, and historic preservationists have fought any expansion of the two-lane highway because it would encroach on the park. They've also fought off a giant strip mall and a Disney theme park.
Back in 2010, we reported that the birthplace of Ringo Starr was threatened with demolition. The rowhouse, located at 9 Madryn Street in Liverpool, England, has fallen into disrepair. As you can see from this photo, it hasn't been lived in for some time and is all boarded up.
It's not alone. The BBC reports that many of the homes in the neighborhood are abandoned and crumbling. The city government approved a £15 million ($24.4 million) plan to rework the neighborhood, building 150 new homes, knocking down 280 others, and restoring 37, including Ringo Starr's. There have been calls to preserve the home as a bit of music history. While John and Paul's childhood homes are now preserved by the National Trust, Ringo's place doesn't even have an historic plaque.
Now the city's plan has been put on hold by Communities Secretary Eric Pickles, who has called for a full review. That's bad news for the few people still living in the area. They don't know whether they should move, or pay their own money to restore their homes, or do nothing. It all depends what happens with the government funding, and nobody can answer that at the moment.
So will the homes be knocked down or will Ringo's birthplace become yet another of England's historic homes? We'll just have to wait and see.
Cave paintings at the Altxerri cave system in the Basque region of northern Spain are about 39,000 years old, making them some of the oldest in Europe, Popular Archaeology reports.
A team of French and Spanish scientists analyzed the paintings, which include images such as the bison shown here, as well as finger marks, a feline, a bear, an unidentified animal head and more abstract markings. This early dating of these images puts them in the Aurignacian Period, believed by most archaeologists to be the first flowering of modern humans in the region, although whether or not there were still Neanderthals in the area at this time is an open question.
A later set of paintings in another part of the cave system, which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, date from "only" 29,000-35,000 years ago.
By comparison, the art at Cauvet Cave in France is about 31,000 years old, although it is of a much higher quality. The beautiful paintings there were the subject of Herzog's breathtaking 3D documentary Cave of Forgotten Dreams.
Egyptian police have stopped an attempt to expand a modern graveyard right next to the ancient site of Dahshur, home of the Bent Pyramid, Ahram Online reports.
The pyramid had already been damaged earlier this year by the encroaching cemetery. Authorities stopped construction at that time, but now new incursions are threatening the site. In the more recent incident, police arrested one man and are looking for three more.
The pyramid, which reopened to the public in 2009 after many years of being closed, is believed to have been built by the Pharaoh Sneferu. It gets its name from the fact that its upper portion slants at a different angle from the lower portion. Egyptologists believe that as the structure was being built, engineers changed their design out of fear that it would collapse. As a result, the bottom part of the pyramid rises up at a 55º angle, then transitions to 43º as it nears the top.
Back in July we reported on a developer in Peru who bulldozed a 4,000 year old pyramid. Situated on the site of El Paraíso, a 4,000 year-old settlement pre-Inca near Lima, it's one of the most important archaeological sites in the country. It's also prime real estate.
That's why developers decided to bulldoze one of the pyramids to make way for some new housing. The prehistoric monument was completely leveled, and they would have taken down three more pyramids if an archaeologist and some watchmen didn't intervene.
Two private companies, Compañía y Promotora Provelanz E.I.R.L and Alisol S.A.C Ambas, claim to own the land, but the Ministry of Culture says it's owned by the government. Both sides have put up signs at the site claiming ownership. After the bulldozing incident, the government doubled security.
Now Past Horizons reports that two months later, no charges have been brought against the companies or any individuals identified as being part of the work crew. It appears that the two companies have won this round.
This video shows what the pyramid used to look like, and the barren destruction that's been left in the name of development.
The Peruvian-Polish team cleared away an unexcavated building of the well-preserved Inca retreat, now the most popular destination in the country, and found that the stones of the structure have astronomical alignments.
The team used 3D laser scanning to map the building, dubbed "El Mirador", so as to get precise locations and alignments. They found that the edges of many stones lined up with important celestial events on the horizon of the surrounding Yanantin mountain peaks.
A crack team of cave divers will explore New Mexico's famed Blue Hole underwater cave system this weekend.
The Advanced Diver Magazine Exploration Foundation will send a team down Blue Hole cave in Santa Rosa, New Mexico. The cave has already been partially mapped down to a depth of 225 feet, but it's believed to be much more extensive and the team is carrying equipment allowing them to go as deep as 350 feet.
Every member of the team is an expert cave diver with at least 15 years experience. Each brings their own specialty in biology, survey, photography, cinematography, equipment, logistics, multimedia, or other skills in order to fully document the cave and produce material for a proposed documentary. The ADM team holds records for exploring the two deepest and longest underwater caves in North America with depths below 450 feet and linear passages of over seven miles.
Blue Hole is a popular spot for scuba diving but the entrance to the caves has been barred by a grate for decades due to the deaths of two cave divers who were exploring the system.
Cave diving is a dangerous sport that requires extensive technical knowledge and physical endurance. While I enjoy caving and will happily go to Iraq and Somaliland on vacation, you won't see me cave diving. It's too hardcore for me. Best of luck to the ADM crew!
Well at least global warming is good for something.
The rise in Earth's temperature is making snow lines and glaciers recede on mountain ranges all over the world. While this is a worrying trend, it's revealing hidden bits of history to archaeologists.
In Norway, the receding Lendbreen glacier at 6,560 feet above the sea level has revealed an ancient wool sweater dating to the Iron Age. Carbon dating has revealed that it's 1,700 years old. It was made of sheep and lamb's wool in a diamond twill, and was well-worn and patched from heavy use. The Norwegian research team estimates that the person who wore it would have been about 5 feet, 9 inches tall.
The results of the study have recently been published in the journal Antiquity.
This isn't the first discovery thanks to receding glaciers. The most famous, of course, is the so-called "Iceman", a well-preserved corpse of a man who died in the Alps around 3300 BC. Last year we reported the discovery of the bodies of soldiers from World War One in the Alps. in Norway, about 50 textile fragments have been recovered in recent years, although the sweater is the first complete garment.
Most discoveries have been accidental, with hikers and mountaineers reporting their finds to the appropriate authorities. In the Iceman's case, people originally wondered if the well-preserved body might have been a recent murder victim!
So if you're hiking near a melting glacier, keep an eye out for ancient artifacts and bodies, and remember that it's illegal to pocket them. Do science a favor and call a park ranger.
Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland has been the center of conspiracy theories for at least a century before Dan Brown wrote it up in The Da Vinci Code. This private chapel less than an hour's drive from Edinburgh has an interior filled with carvings that many believe have symbolism linked to the Masons and the Templars.
In recent years the 15th century chapel has suffered from damp that has been corroding the sculptures and undermining the integrity of some of the windows. The BBC reports that the owners of the chapel -- the very same family that built it -- have now finished a 16-year conservation project.
In 1997 a steel roof was put over the entire chapel in order to shelter it from rain and let it dry out. It stayed in place until 2010. Workmen also repaired the stonework and windows and made the roof watertight. Now all scaffolding has been removed and visitors can see the chapel unobstructed for the first time in 16 years.