New isotope analysis and forensic facial reconstruction undertaken by a team led by English Heritage has shed new light on the doomed 1845 British voyage of Arctic exploration led by Sir John Franklin, in which all 129 people on board perished. Some experts have previously suggested that scurvy or tuberculosis may have been the cause of death and debilitation among the crew, but recent analysis of the only surviving complete skeleton has found no evidence of either disease on the bones. The skeletal remains were once thought to be those of Henry Le Vesconte, a Lieutenant aboard one of the ships, but this now seems doubtful as analysis of stable isotopes from the teeth of the skeleton shows that it is unlikely that this individual grew up in Le Vesconte’s home county of Devon. A forensic facial reconstruction was undertaken using the skull of the skeleton, which seems to match quite closely the appearance of Harry Goodsir, an assistant surgeon and naturalist on the voyage.
Harry Goodsir (above left), an assistant surgeon and naturalist on the voyage, appears to resemble the skeleton’s facial reconstruction (above right)
Previously unseen diaries have revealed an intense relationship between Queen Victoria and a young Indian Muslim employed to be her teacher. Abdul Karim originally arrived in England from Agra, India, to wait at table during Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee in 1887, but within a year had become the queen’s teacher, instructing her in Urdu and Indian affairs. Karim’s diaries suggest that Victoria was closer to him than she had been to John Brown – the Scottish servant who befriended her after the death of Prince Albert.
Furniture upholsterers in Tewkesbury have discovered a 200-year-old love letter in the arm of a French chair. According to the company’s owner, the note was “tightly folded up about the size of a penny” and written in pencil in old French. The letter appears to have been written from a man to a woman and sent from the town of Mercurol in the Alps.
Academics at Glasgow University have described the importance of the relationship between poet Robert Burns and Highland Mary, the woman often portrayed as his muse, as being dramatically exaggerated, stating that the myth was largely constructed to lend cultural significance to the poet himself. Highland Mary, whose real name was Mary Campbell, died a few weeks after meeting Burns, but the poet subsequently dedicated a number of works to her, including The Highland Lassie, O, Highland Mary and To Mary in Heaven.
Researchers in Holland have put a 19th-century X-ray machine to the test to compare it to its modern counterparts. The equipment, built in 1896, shortly after the discovery of the rays in 1895, required a radiation dose around 1,500 times higher than a modern X-ray and produced images markedly blurrier than those by a modern machine. This was a feature caused by more X-rays exiting the machine over a broad area.
The traditional belief that Romans introduced road networks to Britain is now under the spotlight following the discovery of a thoroughfare engineered by Iron Age Britons in Shropshire. The metalled and cambered road dates to the first century BC, around 100 years before the Roman invasion, and is 1.5 metres high and six metres wide. The find suggests that Iron Age engineers were more imaginative than previously thought and the road itself may once have been a trade route.
The schools watchdog Ofsted has criticised the teaching of history in primary schools, stating that it “lacks an overarching narrative because teachers do not know enough”. Ofsted then went on to comment that it was a “myth” that not enough UK history was taught, while a recent study by the body said that although the subject was generally taught well at secondary level, some teachers had a tendency to “spoon feed” students.
Archaeologists in Didcot, Oxfordshire, have unearthed a 5,500-year-old pot, which they believe could be one of the oldest complete pots in England. The remains of a later Iron Age village consisting of a number of round houses defined by post holes in the ground, each with a porch facing east, have also been discovered at the site.
A small painting originally bought in 1964 for £65 has sold at auction in Australia for £82,000. Athenian Suburb, painted by Australian artist Frank Jeffrey Edson Smart, was found at a rural cottage near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk and identified by a picture specialist from Bonhams Auctioneers.