German prison camp testimonies found in wardrobe

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A 200-page file containing the testimonies of Guernsey people deported to German prison camps during the Second World War has been discovered in a wardrobe and given to a team of researchers from Cambridge University. The statements, compiled by Guernseyman Frank Falla, describe in graphic detail the appalling experiences endured by islanders in the prison camps following their arrests for acts of resistance during the wartime occupation of the island.

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Meanwhile, part of one of Roman Britain’s most important roads, which would have linked Londinium with the Roman town of Silchester and an ancient tributary of the Thames, has been unearthed in Syon Park in West London. Over 11,500 Roman artefacts have been uncovered so far, including two shale armlets, fragments of a lava quernstone and 100 Roman coins.

It’s been an exciting week for south-west England after the remains of an 18th-century French frigate, believed to be the first privateer found off the UK, was discovered 60 miles off the coast of Devon. The La Marquise de Tourny, which has historically been blamed for attacking British merchant ships, was lost in a storm in the late 1740s or early 1750s.

In archaeology news, researchers are racing against time to salvage a 2,600-year-old Buddhist monastery unearthed along the famous Silk Road in an eastern province of Logar, Afghanistan, before the development of a copper mine lying underneath the site begins. Archaeologists were initially given three years to excavate the site but are now under pressure to finish by the end of 2010. So far, more than 150 statues have been found, along with hallways and rooms decorated with frescoes.

Elsewhere, archaeological debates are raging after a Spanish-led team of researchers challenged the theory that human ancestors used stone tools 3.4 million years ago. The original claim was made after alleged butchery marks were found on animal bones in Ethiopia, a find that was thought to push the earliest-known tool use back some 800,000 years. However, researchers from the University of Madrid have told PNAS Journal that the marks are more likely to be animal scratches than tool marks.

In Scotland, scientists claim to have developed a genetic test that can tell if someone’s ancestors were from a large populated area or a rural village, as well as identify whether a person’s ancestors were related or if they came from somewhere where marriage between cousins was commonplace. DNA from more than 1,000 people across 51 different ethnic groups, from Europeans to Amazonian tribes, was analysed during the study.

A slightly macabre story making the history headlines this week was the news that the body of a 16th-century Danish astrologer is to be exhumed in Prague to establish the cause of his death. Tycho Brahe served as royal mathematician to the Bohemian Emperor Rudlolf II and was thought to have died of a bladder infection. However, a previous exhumation revealed traces of mercury in his hair, which could indicate that the nobleman had been poisoned. Brahe was a colourful figure who lost the bridge of his nose during a duel; he wore a metal prosthetic for the rest of his life, and allegedly had an affair with the emperor’s mother.

It would seem that cuts to funding are not restricted to the UK after the Italian government announced that it is to cut 280 million euros (£237 million) from the country’s culture budget over the next three years. The move recently caused the closure of most of Italy’s major cultural attractions in a one-day strike.    

In art news, a previously unseen work by the 19th-century artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti depicting the wife of designer William Morris is to go on show at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery next year. Mnemosyne, which was started in 1876 and completed in 1881, has been in a private collection since the artist’s death in 1882.

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And finally, an 18th-century Qianlong Chinese porcelain vase found in a house clearance in London has sold for £43 million at auction. The 16-inch high vase was expected to fetch in the region of £1.2 million and would probably have been made for the Qianlong emperor. The price is thought to be a record for any Chinese artwork.