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All bones tell a story – but not all a tale as amazing as Richard III’s….

Because of Richard III, and all that could be accurately gleaned from his remains, it is now very interesting to read of other cases where bones give up fascinating details.

This article describes a grisly discovery on an Orkney beach. How old might it be? I quote:

“….The world leading forensic bone scientist heads a Glasgow University team that can tell the age of a body from a tiny fragment.

“….His Glasgow University labs at the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre in East Kilbride can identify the remains of the recently murdered to others who died up to 50,000 years ago.

“….After tests, he could tell the island police the arm found on Burray Sands had been around for almost 3,000 years….”

More recent remains in Manchester were of a young woman of 18-24, murdered between 1969 and 1974. In spite of discovering that she was Caucausian with possible African ancestry, and between 5ft 3in and 5ft 6in tall, police are still no closer to identifying her.

So it doesn’t matter whether remains are modern or ancient, they can all tell a story. But the chances of finding someone of such importance as Richard III are very small indeed, so we Ricardians must never lose sight of the fact that we are very fortunate indeed to have him back!

A lock of Leonardo’s locks….?

Leonardo da Vinci, from the link below

There are hopes that a lock of hair in the possession of a private collector in the United States may provide the key to Leonardo da Vinci‘s DNA. The hair is to be put on display at a function that is timed “….to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Leonardo’s death, which occurred on May 2, 1519….” The function will also mark the commencement of scientific investigations into the hair’s origins.

As with Richard III, the DNA of the hair will be traced through generations of Leonardo’s known family, to relatives who are alive now. Let us hope that a successful connection is made!

To read more, go to the Smithsonian magazine.

 

 

 

 

Caxton was way ahead of his time….!

Well, there I was, snooping around for information about Henry V and the 1418/19 Siege of Rouen, when I went to this site and came upon the above. Absolutely brilliant! Caxton was clearly born in the wrong century – he’d fit into the 21st very well indeed.

A passing thought that the boys in the Tower might have been buried at Winchester….

The matter of these intriguing coffins at Winchester Cathedral and whether or not one of the skeletons might be that of Queen Emma, consort of Kings Ethelred and Cnut, is very engrossing. But of even more interest (temporary, I concede) was the thought that two of the twenty-three remains, of juvenile royal personages, might have been those of the boys in the Tower, particularly now that evidence can prove or disprove the identities of the bones in the urn.

The fate of Edward IV’s sons has always been a bone (no pun intended) of contention, with poor old King Richard usually on the receiving end of all blame. Wrongly, of course, but the ignorant traditionalist view still has a grip. Anyway, the theory about the remains at Winchester was only fleeting, because “….Although researchers believe the two juvenile skeletons discovered in Winchester Cathedral were of two boys ‘almost certainly of royal blood’ and aged of a similar age to the princes, they had died sometime between 1050 and 1150 – more than 300 earlier….”

Oh, well, the possibility had me sitting up for a moment! But please read this BBC article to learn more about the Winchester coffins. There are some good illustrations. Worth a visit.

THE STRANGE LEGEND OF USK CASTLE

In a tiny town in Wales, a ruined castle stands on rising ground amidst a haze of dark trees. An atmospheric round tower, cracked  by time; shattered walls, the remains of hall and chapel. Privately owned, a garden drops down the hillside before it, to an old house  which appears to contain much castle stonework. Modern statuary of gargoyles peep out from a tangle of flowers as birds fly from their nests in the towers toward the town beyond, with its grey church, once an ancient priory.

This is  Usk Castle, and it has an interesting history, and a legend that might contain a grain of truth. A Roman fort once stood nearby and the castle itself may be situated on the site of an Iron Age hill-fort. The first castle was likely  built in Norman times by  Richard de Clare and William the Conqueror’s banner-bearer,  Tristram Fitz Rolf . Later, around  1120,  the Marcher Lord,  Richard Fitz Gilbert de Clare strengthened the castle’s defences, perhaps building in stone for the first time. His tenure there was long so long; Iorwerth Ap Owain killed  him in an ambush in a dark, wooded pass called ‘the ill way of Coed Grano.’ The place today still contains a commemorative marker known as the ‘Stone of Revenge.’ Later still,  Usk was held by William Marshal and then returned to the de Clare family with Gilbert de Clare, earl of Hereford (son of Joan of Acre, daughter of Edward I), who was slain at Bannockburn in 1314.

The last events of high drama at the castle seem to have taken place in 1405,  when Welsh prince Owain Glyndwr attacked the town of Usk and the garrison gave battle, capturing Owain’s  son.

The rest of the 1400’s may have been quieter in Usk, but just as interesting. For a time, Usk Castle was held by Edmund Mortimer, earl of the Marches,  and from him it eventually passed to Richard, Duke of York, whose mother was Anne Mortimer, granddaughter of Philippa, the daughter of Lionel of Clarence, Edward III’S third son. The Duke of York was also patron to nearby Usk Priory, today the parish church. William Herbert (senior) was  the Duke’s steward in the area. When Edward IV came to the throne, Usk became a crown possession, and of course it was also subsequently held by Richard III.

Several references of the 1800’s (earliest 1828) to the York family at Usk are rather noteworthy. They state the Duke of York spent ‘considerable time’ at the castle, and that both Edward IV and Richard III were born there. Now, it is known for a fact that Edward was born in Rouen, France and Richard at Fotheringhay, in Northamptonshire, but could there be something in this old tale, which was repeated in more than one source? Is there some sliver of folk memory here, recalling that the Duke’s sons had been in residence in Usk at some time? Edward was not all that far far away at Ludlow with Edmund as a youth, but what about Richard?

It is interesting to look at the stable isotopes detected on Richard’s teeth. They showed that his earliest childhood was spent in a geographic  area of England that would correspond with Fotheringhay; then the isotopes appear to indicate he spent some time in a wetter environment more consistent with western Britain. We know he was with his family at Ludlow at the time of the Battle of Ludford Bridge and the subsequent sacking of the town. Could he have spent some time prior to that at Usk? Was Duchess Cecily in residence there for a while with her younger children?  I somehow doubt  the Duke would have  his wife and children ride all the way from Fotheringhay to Ludlow with hostilities about to break out in the area, so it only makes sense to assume they were already dwelling somewhere in the region.  Perhaps they were at Usk and the Duke ordered them to Ludlow, which had a larger, stronger, more  defensible castle. The distance between Usk and Ludlow is around 50 miles, a much shorter distance than  that between  Fotheringhay  and Ludlow. That latter route would also have taken in more of the Lancastrian dominated areas in the Midlands. Certainly, the possibility is there and many legends are not just pulled from thin air.

Vintage article on the castle:

USK CASTLE FROM VICTORIAN HISTORY BOOK

 

USK CASTLE:

 

 

Has mtDNA identified Jack the Ripper?

“Ripperology” is quite a confused subject and at least a dozen suspects have been conclusively “identified as the Whitechapel fiend. Nevertheless, this article and the book detailed within, if taken at face value, uses the scientific techniques that identified Richard III, Jesse James, Nicholas II and others to claim to solve the East London riddle once and for all.

The critical case is that of the fourth definite, or “canonical”, victim: Catherine Eddowes, who was slain in the early hours of Sunday 30 September 1988 and found in Mitre Square, about an hour after the discovery of Elizabeth Stride. Eddowes’ apron, found nearby, is the first exhibit here and the second is a silk shawl (below left), apparently found by her body and heavily bloodstained. Russell Edwards, who wrote the article in question, located the shawl at an auction in Bury St. Edmunds in 2001 and contacted Jari Louhelainen, a senior biology lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University and crime buff.

Jack the Ripper suspect Aaron Kosminski

First, they traced Eddowes’ great-great-great granddaughter and the multiple-great-niece of leading suspect Aaron Kosminsky (right), who was, in September 1888, a 23 year-old Polish Jewish hairdresser in East London that month, later to die in a lunatic asylum in Colney Hatch, where he was admitted in 1891. Importantly, both of these living relatives were related strictly through the female line and the mtDNA of both matched the blood on the apron and semen on parts of the shawl, thus seemingly demonstrating beyond peradventure that their respective Victorian relatives had both left bodily fluids on them.

Sadly, Edwards and Louhelainen’s research is yet, five years after publication, to be peer reviewed. If it were, we would need look no further for “Jack” as Kosminski briefly entered a workhouse in 1890 and was committed to Colney Hatch (left) the following February.

Here, however, is the counter-argument, quoting Paul Begg and Dr. Turi King, disputing the connection between Eddowes and the shawl, the genealogy and the significance of the DNA match. In summary, Kosminski cannot be eliminated by Edwards and Louhelainen’s research, nor can he yet be identified as “Jack” with forensic certainty. This BBC documentary points towards him in other ways.

A list of unsolved historical mysteries…yes, including the boys in the Tower….

Would YOU trust youthful rivals for the throne to THIS man?

Here is another list of unsolved mysteries from the past. Yes, Richard and his nephews crop up again. Did he? Didn’t he? Well, it’s suggested that Henry VII was the more likely culprit. Hooray! I mean, look at the fellow. I wouldn’t believe a word he said! And he certainly had more reason than Richard III to dispose of those inconvenient boys.

Other, more recent, cases include Jack the Ripper, Amelia Earhart and “Dr.” Hawley Crippen

Richard III’s Prehistoric Foremother?

Recently I came across this fascinating blogpost by an archaeologist called Katharina, who was working on a Bronze Age burial site in Austria. The skeletons her team excavated have recently been DNA tested–and one of them carried the maternal haplogroup J1c2, which is part of the group to which Richard belonged.

Richard’s Bronze Age foremother?

Now there are differences in their DNA sequences; Richard has a rare mutation, making his exact group J1c2c3. So far, only about a dozen people from all worldwide testing sites have been found to carry this exact mutation. None as far as I know, have been found in continental Europe, so it looks as if the rare mutation occurred recently in his maternal line–either with Cecily Neville, his mother, Joan Beaufort, grandmother, Katherine Swynford, his great-grandmother, or Katherine’s mother, who was a migrant to England.

Haplogroup J, called ‘Jasmine’ by geneticist Bryan Sykes, is thought to be one of the last female haplogroups to enter Europe, first appearing in the Near East around Syria. It is a ‘sister’ to Mtdna haplogroup T, with both  groups having split off from  a foremother carrying the Haplogroup JT, which is not commonly found in Europe but still can be  found in the Near and Middle East. (I am Haplogroup T2b4 ,’Tara’, by the way, so part of the ‘sister’ group.) J and T are both considered, in particular,  hallmarks of the Neolithic revolution (agriculture)  in Europe and maybe even associated with the spread of Indo-European languages, although there were probably some earlier people with these haplogroup in the Mesolithic as well.  Today J and T are considered mid-size DNA groups, with about 12% of Europeans carrying some form of J and 9% carrying T.

All the people with haplogroup J will share a common maternal ancestor with Richard at some point…but it might be well be a 100 generations ago or even earlier! Obviously there are different clades of each haplogroup, each with different mutations, which show where the groups split and diversified, and hence some people with MTdna J will be closer  matches to Richard than others, the closest being those who have that elusive ‘3’, who all seem to come from Richard’s close family. (I myself am in the same maternal group as the last Tsar of Russia but my mutations are quite different to his; I’m more closely related to the outlaw Jesse James! And Ozzy Osborne! Still, they are all my relatives on some kind of  remote level, though!)

It’s quite fascinating to be able to look into the deepest past and see where we all came from, and how interrelated we really all are.

 

mtDNA-J-map

Another prominent Talbot

Last year, we brought you the news that the developers of the Stanley knife were descended from Thomas, Baron Stanley, subsequently Earl of Derby. Now we can announce that a great scientist and inventor was a Talbot, authentically descended from John “Old Talbot”, Earl of Shrewsbury and posthumous father-in-law to Edward IV.

William Henry Fox Talbot was already a mathematician and member, from 1831, of the Royal Society for his work on integral calculus when he began to work on the introduction of photography, finally demonstrating a practical system to the Royal Institution in January 1839. Through his use of “salted paper”, images could be developed and this enabled Fox Talbot to be granted the patent for his “calotype” ahead of Louis Daguerre, whose system was very different. Fox Talbot eventually discovered other, better, photographic methods and worked on subjects as diverse as spectral analysis and Assyriology.

As this genealogy shows, his Talbot genealogy is simple although not through a direct paternal line as that surname was reassumed at least once through an heiress. In fact, the younger Sherrington Talbot, who died in 1677, was Fox Talbot’s ancestor three times through cousin marriages but would not share his Y-chromosome. His mother was the daughter of the 2nd Earl of Ilchester, a descendant of Anne, Duchess of Exeter.

Identifying Richard’s remains is one of Sir Alec’s three proudest moments….

Sir Alec Jeffreys, the scientist who revealed the secrets of genetic fingerprinting,  remembers the exact moment of his discovery. “It was 9.05 on the morning of Monday, September 10, 1984 – it’s seared into my memory,” he said.

It may not be seared into ours in the same way, but we still marvel at the importance of his work. Just think of all the advances and mystery-solving that has resulted. He deserves our gratitude.

And Ricardians definitely appreciate him. He rates the identification of Richard III’s remains as one of the three proudest moments of his career.

 

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