Nazis ‘planned gas attack’ on Britain

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Newly-released documents from the National Archives have revealed that Germany planned chemical and biological attacks as part of its invasion plans for Britain during the Second World War. The papers, belonging to the Ministry of Home Security and other bodies, show proposed plans for specially adapted German aircraft to spray gas or foot-and-mouth disease over parts of Britain, and even suggested the use of anthrax shells, all with the aim of creating mass panic. Among the documents, which date between 1939 and 1941, are details of the movement of large amounts of chemicals from German factories to “areas occupied by troops likely to take part in an invasion”.

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British Library strikes deal with Google

The British Library has struck a deal with internet search engine Google to allow readers to view, search and copy around 250,000 historic texts, free of charge. The works selected date from between 1700 and 1870 and include a pamphlet about the French queen Marie Antoinette, as well as Spanish inventor Narciso Monturiol’s 1858 plans for one of the world’s first submarines. Google will cover the costs of the digitisation, which will take several years to complete.

Jersey labelled an “Ice Age time capsule”

Archaeologists working at a possible Ice Age camp in Jersey have described the island as an “Ice Age time capsule”. The team, which comprises experts from four universities, uncovered sediment dating back to the Ice Age at a site in St Brelade in 2010, but has returned to island to explore a second 14,000-year-old site at St Saviour. The team will also use sonar technology to map other ancient sites beneath the seas off Jersey, and expects to find more of the island’s ancient heritage.

Jewish skeletons show evidence of persecution

DNA analysis, carbon dating and bone chemical studies on 17 skeletons found at the bottom of a medieval well in Norwich in 2004 has suggested that the bodies may have been persecuted Jews who were murdered or forced to commit suicide. DNA analysis of the skeletons, which date back to the 12th or 13th centuries, revealed that five possessed a DNA sequence suggesting they were probably members of a single Jewish family. Eleven of the skeletons were children aged between two and 15; the remaining six were adult men and women whose skeletons showed fractures caused by the impact of hitting the well bottom. Pictures taken during the initial excavation have suggested the bodies were thrown in headfirst.

The story of the skeletons is explored in History Cold Case: The Bodies in the Well, which airs on BBC Two tonight (23 June), at 9pm.

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Darwin’s personal library goes online

Notes and comments scribbled by the 19th-century scientist Charles Darwin on the pages and margins of 330 books from his personal library have been made available online for the first time. Darwin’s library holds 1,480 books, 730 contain of which contain abundant research notes in their margins. According to the project team, the series of transcriptions accompanying each page will enable readers to see which passages Darwin found relevant to his work, stimulated his thinking, or just annoyed him as he read the work of others. The project, the first part of which has just been completed, is a collaborative effort involving Cambridge University Library, the Darwin Manuscripts Project at the American Museum of Natural History, the Natural History Museum, and the Biodiversity Heritage Library. You can read the documents for yourself on the Biodiversity Heritage Library website.

 

Roman baths uncovered in York

The remains of a Roman bath complex dating to between the second and third centuries AD have been uncovered in York during the construction of a new council building. The edge of the complex was originally discovered in the 1840s but archaeologists have been unable to investigate the site since then. It is thought that the baths once served the civilian population of York, while the army used its own facilities on the other side of the River Ouse.

Van Gogh self-portrait is actually his brother

Experts examining a painting by Vincent Van Gogh that has traditionally been viewed as a self-portrait, have concluded that the piece is actually portrait of the artist’s brother, Theo. The painting, which was created in 1887 when the pair lived together in Paris, has been compared to a known self-portrait of Van Gogh and several differences have been noted, including ear shapes and beard colouring.


Roman Vindolanda Fort & Museum reveals ‘refuge’ huts

Archaeologists at the Roman Vindolanda Fort & Museum in Northumberland have discovered a number of circular huts that they believe could once have been used as temporary refuges during Emperor Septimius Severus’s invasion of Scotland in AD 208–211. The finds have been labelled unusual, as Roman soldiers did not build round houses, but experts believe they may have been built for use as temporary shelters for vulnerable farming communities during periods of fighting.

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Stradivarius violin sells for £9.8 million

An 18th-century Stradivarius violin, named Lady Blunt after Lady Anne Blunt who owned the instrument for 30 years, has sold for £9.8 million at a charity auction – four times the previous record for a Stradivarius. The violin, which was made in 1721, was put up for sale by the Nippon Music Foundation, owner of some of the world’s finest Stradivari and Guarneri instruments. The funds raised will be donated to victims of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami in March.