Monthly Archives: May 2014

‘Scotland’s dodo’ bone found at Scottish Seabird Centre dig

A bone from an extinct bird known as “Scotland’s dodo” has been uncovered following an archaeological dig in East Lothian.

The bone from the Great Auk, a species last seen in British waters on St Kilda in 1840, was recovered at the Kirk Ness site, now known as North Berwick.

It was unearthed during a dig at the Scottish Seabird Centre.

Archaeologists said the find sheds new lights on human habitation of the area in the Middle Ages.

The archaeological dig, by Edinburgh-based Addyman Archaeology, and supported by Historic Scotland, revealed bones of butchered seals, fish and seabirds, including the bone of the Great Auk.

The upper arm bone of the flightless bird was unearthed at the entrance area of an early building and has been radio carbon dated to the 5th to 7th Centuries.

The seabird was a favoured food source in medieval times as it was easy to catch.

Human predation led to the decline of the species, ensuring that by the middle of the 19th Century it had become persecuted and exploited into extinction.

The penguin-like bird was 1m tall and its range at one time extended from the north-eastern United States across the Atlantic to the British Isles, France and Northern Spain.

Tom Brock, chief executive of the Scottish Seabird Centre, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone on site at the Scottish Seabird Centre is fascinating but also very sad.

“We are so fortunate in Scotland to have a rich variety of seabirds and we must use the extinction of the Great Auk as a warning to future generations to look after our wonderful wildlife and the marine environment as an absolute priority.

“There are both behavioural and environmental lessons that must be taken from this internationally-important finding, and as an educational and conservation charity we will remain dedicated to inspiring people to enjoy, protect and learn about wildlife and the natural environment.”

 

Tom Addyman, of Addyman Archaeology, said: “The discovery of the Great Auk bone at Kirk Ness is an illuminating find, as we seek to understand and document the importance of the area in the history of wildlife and human habitation in the Middle Ages.

“We hope that its discovery helps historians and conservation experts, such as the Scottish Seabird Centre, to educate future generations about the precious nature of our natural resources.”

Rod McCullagh, senior archaeology manager at Historic Scotland, said: “In the last two decades, there has been a renaissance in our understanding of the archaeology and history of early Medieval Scotland.

“The discovery of the remains of domestic buildings and the associated detritus of daily life at Kirk Ness gives us a glimpse of what ordinary life was like in East Lothian at this time.

“That ‘daily life’ involved the killing of such valuable birds as the Great Auk is no surprise but the discovery of this single bone perhaps attests to a time when hunting did not overwhelm such a vulnerable species.”

Source – BBC News    12 May 2014

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Black Death skeletons give up secrets of life and death

The medieval Black Death led to better health for future generations, according to an analysis of skeletons in London cemeteries.

Tens of millions of people died in the epidemic, but their descendants lived longer and had better health than ever before, a study shows,  survivors benefited from rising standards of living and better diets in the aftermath of the disaster.

The improvements in health only occurred because of the death of huge numbers of people, said a US scientist.

It is evidence of how infectious disease has the power to shape patterns of health in populations, said Dr Sharon DeWitte of South Carolina University.

The Black Death killed 30-to-50% of the European population in the 14th Century, causing terror as victims broke out in lumps and black spots, then died within days.

The elderly and the sick were most at risk of catching the bacterial infection, which was probably spread through sneezes and coughs, according to the latest theory.

The outbreak had a huge impact on society, leaving villages to face starvation, with no workers left to plough the fields or bring in the harvest.

However, despite analysis of historical records, little is known about the general health and death rates of the population, before and after the disease struck.

Dr DeWitte investigated how the deaths of frail people during the Black Death affected the population in London after the epidemic.

She analysed nearly 600 skeletons buried in London cemeteries to estimate age ranges, birth rates and causes of death for medieval Londoners living before and after the epidemic.

Samples dating several hundred years after the Black Death suggest survival and general health had improved dramatically by the 16th Century, with people living much longer than before the epidemic broke out.

The study, published in PLOS ONE journal, highlights the power of infectious diseases to shape patterns of health and population levels across history, said Dr DeWitte.

It really does emphasise how dramatically the Black Death shaped the population,” she told BBC News.

The period I’m looking at after the Black Death, from about 200 hundred years after the epidemic. What I’m seeing in that time period is very clear positive changes in demography and health.

She said although general health might have been improving, the aftermath of the epidemic would have been “horrifying and devastating” for those who survived.

Those improvements in health only occurred because of the death of huge numbers of people,” Dr DeWitte said.

This study suggests that even in the face of major threats to health, such as repeated plague outbreaks, several generations of people who lived after the Black Death were healthier in general than people who lived before the epidemic,” she added.

The bacterium that caused the Black Death, Yersinia Pestis, has evolved and mutated, and is still killing today.

According to the World Health Organization, the modern day disease is spread to humans either by the bite of infected fleas or when handling infected rodents.

Recent outbreaks have shown that plague may reoccur in areas that have long remained silent.

Source  –   BBC News   08 May 2014

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Foreign Snakes Invade London

A species of foreign snakes that are said to be capable of crushing small children to death are on the loose in North London.

Over the last few weeks, 30 Aesculupian snakes, which can grow up to two metres in length, have been spotted up trees, rooftops and climbing up the drains of houses around the Regent’s Canal area.

The snakes that are thought to originate from the former Yugoslavia have been known to attack small dogs and their numbers now seem to be growing in the capital.

Tales of snakes being spotted around the Regent’s Canal area began in the 90s, but it was not until the head keeper of reptiles at London Zoo spotted one that they were confirmed as the Aesculupian.

Since then there have been a number of sightings across and these have increased in frequency over the last couple of months.

This has led to some residents fear that they could start entering houses and causing distress.

Mum-of-three Sylvia Taylor, 33, told the Daily Star: “If they are capable of killing small animals then surely they could constrict small children?”

Aesculupians are known for loving milder temperatures than most other reptiles and usually find their homes along river beds or streams, making Regent’s Canal the perfect place for them to live.

There are many theories as to how the snakes first got to living on the banks of Regent’s. One popular tale is that they were released on the quiet by the Inner London Education Authority as part of a secret scientific experiment.

Secret scientific experiment or not, since being introduced to London they have succeeded in making the capital their home and their numbers continue to grow.

While the large snakes have been known to attack small dogs and occasionally babies, they are more adept at feasting on small rodents and birds – so London’s pigeons and rats watch out.

Source – New Zealand Herald   12 May 2014

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Teeside Airport – UK’s least used railway station

Just eight people used Teesside Airport railway station in a year – helping it keep its title as the UK’s least used.

The single-figure total for the 12 months to March 2013 has emerged in new Government passenger figures.

And the dismal performance was even worse than the previous year, when only 14 passengers used the airport link.

The station has just two Northern Rail services on each Sunday – the minimum required by law to avoid formal closure.

So remote and underused is the platform that even the Durham Tees Valley Airport (DTVA) website ignores the station less than a mile from the terminal and claims that: “Darlington Train Station is the nearest train station to Durham Tees Valley Airport, located just 7 miles away.”

The Peel Group, which owns the majority of DTVA shares said it would “welcome” improvements to the station.

Peel Group’s strategic planning director, Peter Nears, said: “It has been recognised for a long time that, while the rail line is in close proximity to the airport, the current halt is not suitable and we are aware that there are proposals to include a new station as part of plans to improve local rail services.

“Implementing improvements is, of course, a matter for Network Rail and the local transport bodies and we would very much welcome early progress.”

The low usage, revealed by Office of Rail Regulation, comes after the airport was hit by falling passenger numbers.

Just 161,092 people passed through the terminal in 2013 compared with 900,000 at its peak in 2006. But it since suffered the loss of various flights, including its London link.

A Northern Rail spokeswoman said: “The service which calls at Teesside Airport station is one which is specified in our franchise agreement.

“The line between Darlington and Middlesbrough has attracted a growing number of passengers over recent years. However Teesside Airport station on the route, has not enjoyed the same success.

“We support proposals to relocate the station, as part of the wider Tees Valley Metro development, to better serve the needs of passengers.

“We are already working with partners involved on initial stages of the scheme including the opening of a new station at The James Cook University Hospital and improvements at other stations on the route.”

Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette  10 May 2014

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