By Tom Metcalfe, Live Science Contributor | July 18, 2016 06:42am ET
Although the persecution of alleged witches took place in Christian Europe during the medieval period, it reached its peak during the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries. In that period, laws in many Catholic and Protestant countries brutally enforced the belief that witchcraft was the work of the devil.
Historians estimate that between 40,000 and 60,000 people were executed for witchcraft in Europe and the American colonies from the 15th to the early 18th centuries, and up to 75 percent of the victims were women.
Here are six of the most infamous witch trials in Europe and the United State
Denmark was the scene of some of the earliest witch hunts in Europe. These accusations were often linked to magical conspiracies about the weather.
In one of the earliest recorded witch trials, in 1543, a woman named Gyde Spandemager, the wife of a merchant, was accused of casting spells that caused the winds to fail as Danish warships pursued an enemy Dutch fleet.
After being tortured, Spandemager confessed to witchcraft and named several other people as accomplices, who were then also tortured and put on trial. None of the others confessed, but authorities executed Spandemager by burning her at the stake.
Several celebrated witch trials in Denmark resulted in the executions of hundreds of people. Historians estimate that around 250 alleged witches were executed in the Danish district of Jutland alone during the 1600s.
The Danish witch panic spread to Scotland in 1589, when Princess Anne of Denmark left by ship to marry King James VI of Scotland, who would later become James I of England.
After storms almost wrecked the ship carrying the princess to Scotland, the royal couple met in Norway to be married. But storms also struck the ship carrying the newlyweds back to Scotland.
When the Danish minister of finance was accused of underequipping the ships for the storms, he then accused a group of women in Copenhagen of casting spells to raise the bad weather.
One of the suspects, a woman named Anna Koldings named five other women as witches, who all admitted under torture they had sent the devil to climb up the keel of the ship carrying the princess. Koldings and 12 other women were burned at the stake in 1590.
The Danish witch trial and the alleged magical attack on his bride spurred King James to start the first of five “great witch hunts” in Scotland.
In 1590, James set up his own tribunal to investigate accusations of witchcraft in the town of North Berwick, near Edinburgh. By 1592, the tribunal had tortured and put on trial approximately 70 suspected witches, including some Scottish nobles.
Many were burned at the stake, including Agnes Sampson, an elderly and respectable woman who denied, while under severe torture, that she was a witch. Finally, however, she broke down and confessed to plotting with the devil to kill the king.
The German astronomer and mathematician Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) helped prove that the Earth orbits the sun, but his family suffered under the superstitions of the time.
In 1615, Kepler’s 68-year-old mother, Katharina, was accused of witchcraft by neighbors in her hometown of Leonberg. The accusers claimed Katharina used spells to make her enemies ill and that she could transform herself into a cat.
Although Katharina was never put on trial, her investigation lasted six years, including 14 months when she was chained to the floor of a prison cell in an effort to get her to confess. Johannes Kepler loyally defended his mother throughout her ordeal, and Katharina was set free in 1621 — but died just six months later.
The Puritan founders of English colonies in the Americas brought Europe’s ideas about witchcraft with them, and in 1692, witch hysteria reached its peak in America with the infamous Salem witch trials.
The trials began after a group of young girls in Salem Village began having fits of contortions and screaming, and accused several local women of bewitching them.
A special court was set up to hear the cases, and by September 1692, more than 150 men, women and children had been accused of witchcraft. The town executed 19 of the people by hanging.
But public opinion turned against the witch trials, and in 1711, a different Massachusetts court annulled the guilty verdicts against those in Salem still accused of witchcraft.
One of the last witch trials in England was that of Jane Wenham in Hertfordshire, in 1712. Following a quarrel, a local farmer accused Wenham of witchcraft, claiming she had caused his cattle to sicken and die.
Wenham initially denied being a witch, but a potion was found in her rooms, and she stumbled while reciting the Lord’s Prayer, which people suggested was evidence of witchcraft.
But Wenham’s witch trial became a cause célèbre in English society, and even the judge took a lenient view. When the prosecutors suggested that witnesses had seen Wenham flying, the judge remarked that flying was not illegal.
The trial eventually found Wenham guilty, but the judge set aside her conviction and suspended the death penalty. She died a free woman, in 1730.
Construction workers unearthed a 2-ton limestone sarcophagus during a building project in Ashkelon, a city along Israel’s Mediterranean coast. The 1,800-year-old coffin is decorated with detailed carvings, including a reclining man with a Roman-style haircut; a wine vessel intertwined with grape clusters and leaves; wreaths; and the head of Medusa — believed by Romans to protect the dead. [Read the full story on the limestone sarcophagus] (Images credit: Yoli Shwartz, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities Authority.)
A male figure sculpted on the sarcophagus cover, possibly the image of the deceased.
Stunning sarcophagus cover
The male figure, possibly the deceased, sculpted on the sarcophagus cover is shown here in a close-up displaying the detailed carving.
A gentle touch
A team member gently cleans the sarcophagus cover, which could be the image of the deceased.
The sarcophagus cover was carved with amazing details, as shown in this close-up of the embellishments.
Providing for the dead
On the other side of the sarcophagus lid a jar used to transport liquids such as wine has been carved, from which there are intertwining tendrils bearing grape clusters and grape leaves.
Beauty in details
A wreath coming out of the upper edge of the sarcophagus, which is decorated with bulls’ heads, consists of acanthus leaves together with pine cones and fruit. A grape cluster is in the center of the wreath, and a roselike decoration is also displayed in it.
Protection in death
The image of Medusa depicted on the sides of the sarcophagus was believed to protect the image of the deceased.
Brushing away centuries of dirt
A team member brushes the ancient dirt and rock residue from the sarcophagus and its lid during the initial cleaning.
By Owen Jarus, Live Science Contributor | July 16, 2016 10:43am ET
The Philistines were a group of people who arrived in the Levant (an area that includes modern-day Israel, Gaza, Lebanon and Syria) during the 12th century B.C. They came during a time when cities and civilizations in the Middle East and Greece were collapsing.
Much of what we know about the Philistines comes from Egyptian and Assyrian texts as well as the stories told in the Hebrew Bible. The Book of Joshua claims that the cities of Ashkelon, Gaza, Ashdod, Gath and Ekron were controlled by the Philistines about 3,000 years ago.
The Philistines themselves left no texts and, as such, much of what we know about them comes from the people they encountered. These texts often describe them negatively and today the name “Philistine” is sometimes used to describe someone who is warlike or who doesn’t appreciate art or culture.
In addition to the ancient texts, modern-day archaeologists have tried to identify Philistine burials and the artifacts that the Philistines used by excavating the cities that the texts say the Philistines controlled. However what constitutes a “Philistine” artifact or a “Philistine” burial is disputed by scholars.
Other peoples’ stories
One of the earliest mentions of the Philistines is recorded by the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses III (reign ca. 1184–1153 B.C.) who engaged them in battle. In a papyrus Ramses III boasts that “the Philistines were made ashes” by the Egyptian forces, a claim that modern-day scholars doubt.
Stories in the Hebrew Bible say that the Philistines clashed with the ancient Israelites many times. One of the battles supposedly took place between a Philistine force led by the giant man named Goliath and an Israelite force that included a man named David who would go on to become king of Israel. In the story David kills Goliath with a slingshot and the Israelites go on to rout the Philistine force. Whether David or Goliath ever existed — or if a series of wars between the Philistines and Israelites occurred — are matters debated by scholars.
The Philistines pop up again in Assyrian texts dating to the 8th century and 7th centuries B.C. when the Assyrian Empire ruled much of the Middle East.
One text records a treaty between the Assyrian ruler Esarhaddon (ca. 681 – 669 B.C.) and the ruler of a city named Tyre. In the treaty, Esarhaddon’s control “of the land of Philistines” is acknowledged and the ruler of Tyre agrees that the cargo of any ships wrecked off this area belong to Esarhaddon. The Assyrian texts don’t specify exactly what the “land of the of the Philistines” encompassed during the 7th century B.C.; however, an earlier text, dating to the reign of Tiglath Pileser III (reign 745–727 B.C.) says that the Assyrian king had trouble finding a reliable vassal ruler who could control Ashkelon (a place which the Hebrew Bible says was a Philistine city).
One text, written in the name of Tiglath Pileser III, says that a “King of Ashkelon” named Sidqia “did not bow to my yoke” and as a consequence, Sidqia and his family were deported to Assyria.
The Philistines disappear from written history during the 6th century B.C. when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II (reign ca. 605 BC – c. 562 BC) conquered the region and destroyed several cities, including Ashkelon.
Problems with the texts
The textual records of the Philistines leave modern-day scholars with a number of problems. The texts are few in number and were written by non-Philistines, who often had a negative view of them, said Raz Kletter, a professor at the University of Helsinki who excavates at the ancient city of “Yavne” – a place that texts indicate was ruled by the Philistines.
Kletter says that we can’t be sure if the Philistines themselves even considered themselves to be “Philistine” or whether they based their identity more on the city they lived in or the religion they practiced.
The reliability of the texts that refer to them is another issue that scholars encounter. Many of the surviving ancient texts come from the Hebrew Bible. The stories told in the Hebrew Bible claim that the Philistines were often in conflict with King David, a ruler who supposedly controlled a powerful Israelite kingdom around 3,000 years ago. However, research by a number of archaeologists, including Israel Finkelstein, a professor at Tel Aviv University, has found that there is little archaeological evidence that a powerful Israelite kingdom led by a king named David existed.
Jerusalem, which was supposed to be King David’s capital, appears to have been sparsely populated around 3,000 years ago, Finkelstein says.
“Over a century of archaeological explorations in Jerusalem — the capital of the glamorous biblical United Monarchy — failed to reveal evidence for any meaningful 10th-century building activity,” wrote Finkelstein in apaper published in 2010 in the book “One God? One Cult? One Nation: Archaeological and Biblical Perspectives” (De Gruyter, 2010).
Finkelstein says that if a united Israelite kingdom did exist 3,000 years ago it likely would have been a small entity, located in the highlands — away from the Mediterranean coast.
Searching for the Philistines
Over the past century, archaeologists have excavated the cities that ancient texts say the Philistines controlled.
During the 12th century B.C., at a time when a number of cities in Greece and the Middle East were collapsing, large amounts of pottery and artifacts with styles similar to what people were using in the Aegean Sea region started appearing in areas that texts say were controlled by the Philistines, said Amihai Mazar, an archaeologist and professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As a result, many archaeologists think that the Philistines came to the Levant during the 12th century B.C., possibly as refugees searching for a new home. The 12th century B.C. is also the time when Ramses III engaged the Philistines in battle, supposedly defeating them.
However Mazar said that as time goes on the Aegean styles disappear, the people who used them gradually adopted local pottery designs and customs.
Today the question of what exactly constitutes a “Philistine” artifact or a “Philistine” burial is something widely debated by scholars. Recently, a team excavating the city of Ashkelon discovered a cemetery dating back about 3,000 years ago, which they claim is the “first” Philistine cemeteryever discovered. However this claim is disputed. Kletter’s team found a cemetery at Yavne that he thinks contains Philistine burials. Additionally, a team led by the late archaeologist Moshe Dothan found a cemetery at the site of Azor in the 1950s, which they also claimed is Philistine. Mazar also notes that a century ago Sir Flinders Petrie found burials in southern Israel that he claimed were Philistine.
By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor | July 18, 2016 06:41am ET
The ancient Egyptians had their pyramids, the Greeks, their sculptures and temples. And everybody knows about the Maya and their famous calendar.But other ancient peoples get short shrift in world history. Here are a handful of long-lost cultures that don’t get the name recognition they deserve.
The Silla Kingdom was one of the longest-standing royal dynasties ever. It ruled most of the Korean Peninsula between 57 B.C. and A.D. 935, but left few burials behind for archaeologists to study.
One recent Silla discovery gave researchers a little insight, however. The intact bones of a woman who lived to be in her late 30s was found in 2013 near the historic capital of the Silla (Gyeongju). An analysis of the woman’s bones revealed that she was likely a vegetarian who ate a diet heavy in rice, potatoes or wheat. She also had an elongated skull.
Silla was founded by the monarch Bak Hyeokgeose. Legend held that he was hatched from a mysterious egg in the forest and married a queen born from the ribs of a dragon. Over time, the Silla culture developed into a centralized, hierarchical society with a wealthy aristocratic class. Though human remains from the Silla people are rare, archaeologists have unearthed a variety of luxurious goods made by this culture, from a gold-and-garnet dagger to a cast-iron Buddha to jade jewelry, among other examples held at the Gyeongju National Museum in South Korea.
Researchers recently unearthed the skeleton of a woman who lived about 1,500 years ago in what is now Korea. The body was found in the historic capital of the ancient Silla Kingdom, called Gyeongju. The Silla Kingdom was a royal dynasty that ruled much of the Korean peninsula for about a millennium. relatively intact, which is rare given that the soil in Korea doesn’t typically preserve remains well.
Here, a closeup of the upper portion of the body, co-mingled with other artifacts found in the tomb. The team analyzed the chemicals in the bones and found that the woman was a strict vegetarian, likely reflecting the influence of Buddhism in the country during that time.
Skull in pieces
While most of the skull was present, it was in fragments. So the team painstakingly reassembled them. Here, the fragments from the skull.
The team then used computer 3D modeling to virtually assemble the pieces. The program also filled in some of the missing pieces.
Using the computer model as a guide, the team them reconstructed the actual skull.
Reconstructing the face
The tea then used anatomical reference guidelines to add on parts of the face, layer-by-layer. The major facial muscles were put in place one-by-one, followed by major facial components like nose and mouth, and finally the skin.
Ancient woman comes alive
The new 3D reconstruction of the woman’s face shows a woman who had a longer skull than is currently typical in Korea. The woman’s head was dolicephalic, meaning her head length is more than 80 percent of its width. However, the team does not believe this was due to deliberate deformation, but was rather a natural variation within the population.
The Indus is the largest-known ancient urban culture, with the people’s land stretching from the Indus River in modern-day Pakistan to the Arabian Sea and the Ganges in India. The Indus civilization persisted for thousands of years, emerging around 3300 B.C. and declining by about 1600 B.C.
The Indus, also known as the Harappans, developed sewage and drainage systems for their cities, built impressive walls and granaries, and produced artifacts like pottery and glazed beads. They even had dental care: Scientistsfound 11 drilled molars from adults who lived between 7,500 to 9,000 years ago in the Indus Valley, according to a study published in 2006 in the journal Nature. A 2012 study suggested that climatic change weakened monsoonal rains and dried up much of the Harappan territory, forcing the civilization togradually disband and migrate to wetter climes.
The Sanxingdui were a Bronze Age culture that thrived in what is now China’s Sichuan Province. A farmer first discovered artifacts from the Sanxingdui in 1929; excavations in the area in 1986 revealed complex jade carvings and bronze sculptures 8 feet (2.4 meters) tall.
But who were the Sanxingdui? Despite the evidence of the culture’s artistic abilities, no one really knows. They were prolific makers of painted bronze-and-gold-foil masks that some archaeologists believe may have represented gods or ancestors, according to the Sanxingdui Museum in China. The Sanxingdui site shows evidence of abandonment about 2,800 or 3,000 years ago, and another ancient city, Jinsha, discovered nearby, shows evidence that maybe the Sanxingdui moved there. In 2014, researchers at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union argued that at around this time, a major earthquake and landslide redirected the Minjiang River, which would have cut Sanxingdui off from water and forced a relocation.
The mysterious and little-known Nok culture lasted from around 1000 B.C. to A.D. 300 in what is today northern Nigeria. Evidence of the Nok was discovered by chance during a tin-mining operation in 1943, according to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Miners uncovered a terra-cotta head, hinting at a rich sculptural tradition. Since then, other elaborate terra-cotta sculptures have emerged, including depictions of people wearing elaborate jewelry and carrying batons and flails — symbols of authority also seen in ancient Egyptian art, according to the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Other sculptures show people with diseases such as elephantiasis, the Met said.
Contributing to the mystery surrounding the Nok, the artifacts have often been removed from their context without archaeological analysis. In 2012, the United States returned a cache of Nok figurines to Nigeria after they were stolen from Nigeria’s national museum and smuggled into the U.S.
The Etruscans had a thriving society in northern Italy from about 700 B.C. to about 500 B.C., when they began to be absorbed by the Roman Republic. They developed a unique written language and left behind luxurious family tombs, including one belonging to a prince that was first excavated in 2013.
Etruscan society was a theocracy, and their artifacts suggest that religious ritual was a part of daily life. The oldest depiction of childbirth in Western art — a goddess squatting to give birth — was found at the Etruscan sanctuary of Poggio Colla. At the same site, archaeologists found a 4-foot by 2-foot (1.2 by 0.6 meters) sandstone slab containing rare engravings in the Etruscanlanguage. Few examples of written Etruscan survive. Another Etruscan site, Poggio Civitate, was a square complex surrounding a courtyard. It was the largest building in the Mediterranean at its time, said archaeologists who have excavated more than 25,000 artifacts from the site.
Some cultures are known mostly through the records of other cultures. That’s the case with the mysterious land of Punt, a kingdom somewhere in Africa that traded with the ancient Egyptians. The two kingdoms were exchanging goods from at least the 26th century B.C., during the reign of the pharaoh Khufu (the builder of the Great Pyramid of Giza).
Strangely, no one really knows where Punt was located. The Egyptians left plenty of descriptions of the goods they got from Punt (gold, ebony, myrrh) and the seafaring expeditions they sent to the lost kingdom. However, the Egyptians are frustratingly mum on where all these voyages were headed. Scholars have suggested that Punt may have been in Arabia, or on the Horn of Africa, or maybe down the Nile River at the border of modern-day South Sudan and Ethiopia.
You know a culture is obscure when archaeologists name it based on its artifacts alone. The Bell-Beaker culture made pottery vessels shaped like upside-down bells. The makers of these distinctive drinking cups lived across Europe between about 2800 B.C. and 1800 B.C. They also left behind copper artifacts and graves, including a cemetery of 154 graves located in the modern-day Czech Republic.
The Bell-Beakers were also responsible for some of the construction at Stonehenge, researchers have found: These people likely arranged the site’s small bluestones, which originated in Wales.
Earth’s Tides Can Trigger Earthquakes Along the San Andreas Fault
By Charles Q. Choi, Live Science Contributor | July 19, 2016 07:52am ET
The same tides that affect ocean waves can trigger earthquakes along California’s San Andreas Fault, and scientists unexpectedly find that these quakes are more likely to happen as tides are strengthening, not when they are at their strongest.
The rise and fall of the seas, tides are caused primarily by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun on Earth. These gravitational tugs not only influence the seas but also stone, alternately stretching and compressing Earth’s crust.
Previous research found that the tidal effects on Earth’s crust could trigger both tremors and earthquakes. When this shaking occurs, it can reveal details about the deep roots of faults, which, in turn, could enrich models that might illuminate when earthquakes will happen. [50 Interesting Facts About Earth]
The studyꞌs scientists were interested in how the planet’s tides might affect small, deep seismic events known as low-frequency earthquakes. They focused on 81,000 catalogued low-frequency earthquakes that struck along California’s San Andreas Fault between 2008 and 2015. These quakes are no larger than about magnitude 1 on the Richter scale, said study lead author Nicholas van der Elst, a seismologist and geophysicist at the U.S. Geological Survey’s Earthquake Science Center in Pasadena, California.
“We looked at a part of the fault that’s weak, and so responds to tiny forces exerted by tides,” van der Elst said.
Tidal strength varies over a two-week, or “fortnightly,” cycle. The strongest “spring” tides occur when the moon and sun are aligned, while the weakest “neap” tides happen when the sun and moon are perpendicular to one another with respect to Earth.
Surprisingly, the number of low-frequency earthquakes did not spike at the strongest point of the fortnightly cycle. Instead, they peaked as the fortnightly tide was waxing, or strengthening.
Specifically, these quakes were most likely to happen on the days where tides “were larger than the previous day’s tides by the greatest amount,” van der Elst told Live Science. “That tells you something about how fast the fault is loaded — how long it takes for the fault to recharge before you can trigger these earthquakes on it, how quickly this patch of fault is accumulating stress.”
The deep sections of the San Andreas Fault that the scientists investigated are separate from the shallow portions of the fault most likely to produce major earthquakes, van der Elst said. Still, “every little thing we learn about the way faults work may ultimately contribute to a better understanding of the earthquake cycle and when and where big earthquakes are likely to happen,” he said. “The hope is that looking at low-frequency earthquakes that happen deep in the fault will ultimately shed light on how shallow parts of the fault accumulate stress.”
The scientists detailed their findings online July 18 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.