A forensic examination of skeletons discovered in a collection of Yorkshire caves known as Ryedale Windy Pits has revealed that the bodies were probably the victims of a ritual sacrifice 2,000 years ago. The investigation, which was carried out as part of the BBC series History Cold Case, found evidence to suggest that the victims did not die naturally, with one of the skulls revealing parallel cut marks, suggesting it had been scalped. Meanwhile, a shin bone, originally found among other bones in Slip Gill Windy Pit in the 1950s, revealed injuries that were consistent with the removal of flesh from bone. The human remains were first discovered in the caves in the 19th century, with further excavations taking place in the 1950s, but it is only recently that forensic examinations have taken place. It is thought that people from the late Neolithic period used the caves from about 4,500 years ago until the late Romano-British period in the fourth and fifth centuries AD.
History Cold Case: The Skeletons of Windy Pits will be on BBC Two at 9pm BST tonight (30 June 2011)
Newly released files from The National Archives have shown that around 4,000 Britons fought in the Spanish Civil War during the 1930s – almost double the previous estimate of 2,500. MI5 recorded the names of people from Britain and Ireland who were suspected of travelling to join the war, including Eric Blair, better known as author George Orwell. The files comprise more than 200 pages and contain details of those who are thought to have joined the fight against General Franco’s forces between 1936 and 1939, many of whom never returned. The files can be downloaded free from The National Archives for one month.
The secrets of a Mayan tomb thought to be 1,500 years old have been revealed with the help of a tiny video camera the size of a matchbox. The device, which was lowered five metres into the burial chamber in Palenque, south-eastern Mexico, captured images of red paint and nine black figures emblazoned on the chamber’s walls. The tomb, which is thought to date to between AD 431 and AD 550, was discovered in 1999 but archeologists have been unable to excavate for fear of disturbing the pyramid. No sarcophagus has been found and experts believe that the fragmented bones could be lying directly on the stones of the floor.
A sixth-century fresco of St Paul, the apostle famous for his conversion to Christianity from Judaism, has been discovered during restoration work at the Catacombs of San Gennaro in Naples. According to sources, the apostle is depicted with a long neck, a slightly pink complexion, thinning hair, a beard and big eyes. He also wears white and beige robes with the letter ‘I’ on the hem, which may stand for ‘Iesus’ (Latin for Jesus), and is shown approaching a dead person.
Contents of letters written by 18th-century plantation owners from the Highlands have revealed evidence of the keeping of sex slaves. Dr Karley Kehoe, from the Centre for History in Dornoch, discovered the details while reading letters written by slave owners, one of which recounted owners sexually abusing female slaves on plantations in the West Indies. An exhibition on the correspondence is to be staged later this year.
Plans by local authorities in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, to open a museum at the ruins of the Wehrwolf bunker used by Hitler during the Second World War has angered communist and socialist party activists who feel the site could become a shrine for neo-Nazis. Around 10,000 prisoners of war and local civilians who built the bunker, which is situated about five miles outside Vinnitsa, were shot by the Nazis following its completion, and then buried there. The bunker once had its own power generating facility, an airfield, a swimming pool and a water supply, with 81 wooden houses built above ground and three fortified bunkers underground, two of which have yet to be explored.
A Scottish soldier spared from fighting in the First World War after his mother pleaded with the authorities because three of her sons had already died on the front line, has been dubbed the “real life Private Ryan”. Frank Hamilton Cowie was granted exemption from fighting on the grounds of hardship and later moved to South Africa where he died in 1975. Cowie’s case was highlighted by archivists at the National Records of Scotland after examining records documenting men who appealed against their compulsory call-up for military service after the introduction of conscription in 1916. Cowie’s family remarked on the similarities between him and the 1998 film Saving Private Ryan, which sees a group of US soldiers go behind enemy lines to retrieve a paratrooper whose brothers have been killed in action.
A handwritten journal belonging to a 95-year-old army staff sergeant who served in the Second World War has been left on the Bristol Parkway to Penzance train at Redruth by a relative who was transcribing it. The disappearance of the diary, which contained unseen information about the support given by the British Army to the Soviets in their fight against Germany in 1941 to 1942, is being treated as theft and is currently being investigated by British Transport Police who are appealing forthe diary’s safe return. The bag was left on the CrossCountry service at about 11pm BST on 4 April 2011.
BBC Radio 4 has published 60 years’ worth of audio archive and transcripts of the Reith Lectures, which use high-profile speakers to advance public understanding of significant issues of the day. Named in honour of Lord Reith, the BBC’s first director general, the lectures were first broadcast in 1948 and include contributions from philosopher Bertrand Russell, “father of the atomic bomb” J Robert Oppenheimer and pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim.