15 Shocking Ancient Secrets | Smithsonian Channel

15 Shocking Ancient Secrets | Smithsonian Channel

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- The DNA analysis said that this is a female head, not a male. - [Narrator] It's a shocking revelation. Genuine ceremonial shrunken heads are always male because the Shuar shrank heads to stop the soul of a slain warrior from taking revenge, and in Shuar society women were never warriors. At 1:00 PM on August 24th, 79 AD, after centuries of inactivity, Mount Vesuvius erupts. (eruption rumbling) Volcanologist Dougal Jerram believes the residents of Pompeii had no idea of the potential danger they were in.

- Prior to this volcano actually coming to life again, many of the people on the ground might not have known exactly what the mountain was. It started at one o'clock in the afternoon with this big plinian cloud rising high in the sky. - [Narrator] As hot ash rained down on Pompeii, the city fell into total chaos. In the Pompeii suburb of Oplontis a wealthy family took refuge in a basement storeroom. Knowing thieves were everywhere, they took all their movable wealth with them but were killed by the eruption. Experts now suspect shortly after the first group died a second group found their bodies in the basement and took their valuables because Pompeii wasn't destroyed in the blink of an eye.

- For me, the real key to understanding this cataclysmic eruption is that it didn't take place in an instant. We can go and look at the layers that formed the deposit from that eruption episode. - [Narrator] By examining the sediment layers in the ash deposits, Dougal can read the different stages of the eruption.

- People think that the whole eruption happened almost instantaneously, but actually this white pumice built up to about this point over seven hours. - [Narrator] Then, at 8:00 in the evening, the volcano entered its second stage of eruption. - A different type of magma started coming out of the volcano, so the volcano was plumbing the depths of its roots at this stage, but it's still this very light pumice just falling out of the sky. - [Narrator] At seven o'clock the next morning, the volcano entered its final devastating phase. - As we move up, you can see that there's a sharp transition. You go from this gravelly layered gray pumice horizon, about 10 hours maybe or so of deposit within there, and then it becomes a sharp change.

The size of the particles is much more varied. There's a lot of small particles in there. And you can actually see layers within it that show me as a volcanologist that there was current, there was turbulent currents depositing this material. - [Narrator] This distinct layer of solidified ash is evidence of a high speed current of heated gas and volcanic debris.

Known as a pyroclastic flow, it devastated everything in its path. The history and fate of Neapolis has intrigued archeologists for hundreds of years, because ancient documents reveal next to nothing on how this once thriving Roman city gained its importance. For the past 15 years, archeologist Dr. Mounir Fantar has attempted to solve this mystery. (Dr. Fantar speaking foreign language)

The few records of Neapolis that do exist mention the city had a commercial port, but Fantar had failed to find any evidence of it in the site's archeology (Dr. Fantar speaking foreign language) It took a massive storm to finally give Fantar his answer. (lightning cracks) In 2013, heavy winds hit the Southern Mediterranean, ravaging the seabed off the coast of Nabeul. Days later, strange stone shapes began to emerge from the sea floor, shapes that appeared unnaturally straight. Further investigations revealed something startling. They were the remains of a Roman settlement, stone blocks, columns, and foundations.

Could these remains be the missing harbor front of Neapolis Fantar had been searching for? To find out he and his team took their investigation to the sky. Using drone imagery, they built up a full view from above of the ruins on land and underwater. And it revealed something astounding. The remains in the sea lined up with those on the shore.

For Fantar, this could only mean one thing. They must have belonged to the same Roman settlement. It was a discovery that stunned archeologists. Now, after years of underwater investigation, Fantar's team has mapped out a complex of buildings, streets, and a large industrial site. The remains of Neapolis have grown from a suburban community to a vast urban layout, and these newly discovered submerged ruins could finally unlock the mystery of Neapolis's importance because they seem to include what Fantar had spent years searching for: ruins of a harbor, just as the historical records suggested, large enough to make it a major hub for international trade. (Dr. Fantar speaking foreign language)

On land and underwater, the ruins of Neapolis now bear all the hallmarks of a major Roman port. But what was the secret of the city's success? And what ultimately destroyed it? The remains of Pompeii don't just capture scenes of everyday Roman life 2,000 years ago, they preserve evidence of a city living in fear. And with no police force to keep the population safe, it would fall to the citizens to dish out their own form of justice. Evidence from the remains of the legendary city suggest that in the years leading up to the volcano crime in Pompeii was rife.

- So, theft is a problem because goods are portable. It's easy to walk off with them. And especially if you think about the fact that there are no banks and there'd be no way to get it back. - If you think that you want to live in the Roman period, I don't think you'd want to be a slave.

I don't think you'd want to be a freedman. I don't think you'd want to be a poor person. Ordinary people had a difficult life, had a short life, lived a much more violent life. - [Narrator] Historical records tell us that for the poor in Roman society breaking the law was often their only chance of survival, but it was a risk worth taking because for a sophisticated civilization the Roman empire was surprisingly lawless. In the commercial heart of Pompeii there are still the faint traces of how everyday Romans took the law into their own hands. Rebecca Benefiel is an expert in decipher ancient messages written on countless walls across the Roman world.

On the side of a former tavern, Rebecca has spotted faint outline of an ancient message. Having meticulously mapped out the inscription, it reveals thieves once roamed these streets. - The inscription was right here next to the entrance to the tavern. It said, "A bronze vessel has gone missing from this shop." And then it said, "If someone will bring it back," and then in much larger letters it said, "they will be given a reward of 65 sesterce." 65 sesterces was a lot of money.

- [Narrator] It offers a bonus reward in exchange for the thief. In a country with no police force and little state justice residents were dishing out their own punishment. If apprehended, the thief who stole the bronze vessel could have faced untold suffering, because for many Roman citizens justice came in the form of vigilante punishment. (whip cracks) (man screams) And evidence from the layout of a middle-class home in Pompeii provides clues as to who residents would rely on to meet out their rough justice.

- This room would be occupied by one of the trusted slaves, and what he would do is control access into the house. And we can think of some slaves as very frightening characters. Think of the gladiators, for example, doing the master's bidding. And they could be prone to violence. - [Narrator] Just like the mafioso families that were to come, in Pompeii gangs of citizens could be called upon to dish out the punishment.

In a wealthy suburb of Pompeii, experts are trying to solve a 2,000 year old murder mystery. They're investigating if a group of super rich citizens were targeted by thieves as Mount Vesuvius erupted, burying everyone under volcanic ash. Because there is evidence throughout Pompeii that the population were doing all they could to protect their valuables from robbers.

- It really is interesting that we have so much evidence that people were very concerned about the safety, the welfare of their houses. - [Narrator] The most impressive example of this fear of violent theft was found at the warehouse where the two groups of bodies were discovered. - At Oplontis archeologists found a very large, strong box that they think belonged to the owner of this large commercial area. And it's possible that that person was found in room 10 as one of the skeletons. - [Narrator] This ornate strong box was the Roman answer to a state-of-the-art home security system. It's a clear indication of the lengths to which the wealthy would go to protect their valuables.

Following a painstaking restoration, the exquisite detailing of the ancient safe can at last be revealed. The highly prized item featured a four stage locking mechanism to protect any riches inside. The strong box was so well-made it took a full scale natural disaster to breach its defenses. And evidence from elsewhere in Pompeii suggests in the lead up to the devastating eruption crime was rampant across the city. Roman historian Kevin Dicus is examining a tragic remnant of one of Pompeii's most popular security measures: a guard dog that died protecting its master's home. - Most of the people that come here look at this and they see their family pet.

We see something different here. He's contorted, he's on his back, and the story is he was chained to his post. (eruption rumbling) - [Narrator] When Vesuvius erupted, this guard dog, like hundreds of Pompeii's residents, was encased in layers of pumice and ash. The void left when the body decayed allowed experts to create a perfect plaster cast of the animal. - So it's entirely possible that the dog was left behind specifically to guard the house as the owners fled to protect the home from looters. - [Narrator] Swedish archeologists are trying to solve a 1,500 year old murder mystery.

At the ancient ringfort of Sandby borg dozens of pre-Viking warriors were brutally killed and left to rot where they fell. The death toll is shocking. But what could have provoked the perpetrators to wipe out so many people? One theory is this was not a military attack, but a robbery.

But the team suspects a different story, because it wasn't just the victims' bodies that were left behind, but exquisite hordes of gold and fine jewelry. Dr. Helena Victor has been studying the Norse valuables found at the site, the most precious of which are gilded silver brooches with intricate mythical designs.

- All of the brooches are unique and some of them include parts of what we think are old Norse sagas or mythology. - [Narrator] The late fifth century style of these brooches has led experts to date the massacre to around 480 AD. Each one of these prized pieces would have been the sacred keepsake of the ruling family of a local tribe, passed on from generation to generation. - These brooches were worn by high born, petty queen possibly, and they were made to be seen. It's like a crown. Everyone knew your status when you were wearing this.

- [Narrator] This makes the number of brooches found particularly astonishing. In total, the team has uncovered seven. - We have never found this many in one place. Usually find one. It was mind-boggling.

- [Narrator] But what could explain so many brooches in one place? For Dr. Helena Victor, it suggests the highest ranking members of a number of tribes may have come together at Sandby borg for what would be a fateful gathering. - Maybe they were meeting to form an alliance or negotiate for peace. Maybe they were there to celebrate their wedding. We don't really know, but we do know that they probably never left.

- [Narrator] For the archeologists, the presence of so many riches at the murder scene suggests the violent attack at Sandby borg can't have been motivated by the lure of treasure. Even the ringfort itself would have been invaluable to anyone seizing it. Sat on the very edge of the Baltic Sea, it could have controlled valuable trade routes for hundreds of miles, but there is no evidence that anyone ever lived here after the massacre. But if the motive behind the mass murder at Sandy borg wasn't military or a robbery, what was it? It's unlike any post-mortem ritual they've ever seen in Norse tradition. The wealth of King Solomon is legendary, and now archeologists may have discovered a source for Solomon's celebrated fortune: a network of mines in Timnath, Southern Israel.

Erez Ben-Yosef has determined that production on this vast site was booming at the time of Solomon's reign 3,000 years ago. But these aren't gold or silver mines. The clue is in the telltale streaks of green still visible in the rocks. These mines were once full of copper. And further proof is scattered all over the site in the residue from copper production. - All of this black material is slag.

It's the waste from the furnaces. And this is a very important evidence for the ancient copper production in Timnath. - [Narrator] Today, copper is a common commodity, but in ancient times it was one of the most sought after metals on earth.

- Popular in this particular time in history. It was the most important economic resource. This was the most lucrative industry. - Copper was very precious. Comparing with our days, you can compare copper ores to crude oil, 'cause you cannot do without oil, and at that time you couldn't do without copper.

- [Narrator] Copper was at the heart of a radical turning point in human history. For the first time ever, people were extracting metals from rock and turning them into tools and weapons. - Humans made the quantum leap and they started to produce their own materials, to add to nature. - [Narrator] Dr. Mohammad Najjar has been studying ancient copper production techniques. It was a laborious process.

Once mined, the metal was separated from its natural ore in the rock in a process called smelting. - For copper smelting we need the fire, of course a bowl, made of clay. We need to put some charcoals inside, and then we need some crushed copper ore. - [Narrator] The ore had to be heated to an incredible 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit. To achieve such scorching heat, the smelter had to blow continuously on the flames, adding oxygen to the fire so it would burn hotter. - This is the most primitive technology.

Usually it takes many, many hours. - [Narrator] The end result was copper in its pure form. - It's metal revolution, and this is how humans were acting almost like gods, if you want. - [Narrator] In Fregerslev, central Denmark archeologists have opened a fascinating gateway into the late Viking age and the life of an elite warrior. But one shock discovery then stop the in its tracks.

They could find no evidence of a body in his grave. - We were, of course, hoping there would be some remnant, parts of the body in some way that could prove to us that this man was here. - [Narrator] The team suspected that some of the bones may have dissolved in the acidic soil, but they had expected to find at least some evidence of the most durable part of the human body. - I did hope for teeth, of course, because there's more calcium in teeth, but no, no teeth. - [Narrator] All they eventually found was one tiny artifact: a brooch, discovered where the body should have lain.

- This is the small brooch that was placed on what we suppose is the deceased's chest. It's actually silver. - [Narrator] There was a chance that after 1,000 years in the ground the Viking's corpse had completely decomposed, but there was also another alternative explanation.

- One of the possibilities is certainly that the man himself was taken from the grave. - [Narrator] But why would his body have been taken from his grave? There may be a clue from another high-profile Viking tomb. Because experts had already discovered another elite Viking grave that had its body removed, and that grave belonged to the illustrious King Gorm the Old. The discovery was made when 19th century archeologists set out to exhume the king from his lavish royal burial, but came back empty handed. - When, in 1861, they failed to find a burial, they had a problem, because where was then King Gorm? In 1941, a new attempt was made to uncover a burial and it failed yet again. - [Narrator] The riddle of the missing royal body endured for decades until a major find in 1978 turned the story of King Gorm's fate on its head.

Archeologists investigating the origins of a church next to the mound discovered the wooden foundations of a much earlier structure from the mid 10th century and the grave of a man aged around 50. - There's no doubt that we have two graves, one beneath the church and the other in the mound. - [Narrator] But what really struck the archeologists were the similarities between the two.

- The two graves are from roughly the same time. Both burials contain items of high quality in the jelling style closely linked, so we must say that the two burials were made by the same family. - [Narrator] But were they made for the same man? - The bones beneath the church were disarticulated, indicating that perhaps it had been moved from a burial somewhere else. So, suddenly we have an interpretation that says that the deceased in the mound is brought into the church.

- [Narrator] Could this have also been the fate of the missing Fregerslev Viking? The world's oldest monumental stone structure. The ornately carved complex of enclosures at Gobekli Tepe seems to have been the focus for huge congregations of stone age hunter-gatherer tribes assembling for ritual purposes. It may represent the first step towards an organized religion, shattering the theory that religious behavior came out of later settled societies. For those who believe the teachings of the Old Testament retell a version of human history, the discoveries that go Gobekli Tepe are an exciting development. For Adam and Eve, the next step was expulsion from paradise to a life in the fields.

Now, researchers believe the ritual celebrated by the people of Gobekli Tepe may have been the trigger for a revolution in their way of living. Dr. Reinder Neef is a specialist in ancient plants. His analysis of the remains preserved at Gobekli Tepe suggests it was the perfect cradle for a seismic shift in human history: the transition to crop farming. Some of the most common plants extracted from the samples were the grass species, or cereals.

- We have some wild cereals, like wild einkorn and wild barley. And the interesting thing, of course, is that they belong to the first cereals cultivated ever by a human being. - [Narrator] Cultivation simply means seeds are collected and planted.

It's a key step towards farming. But einkorn is known to be one of the first species ever domesticated, cultivated often enough to become totally dependent on people. Plant geneticists have matched the domesticated einkorn grown by modern farmers to wild species growing just 20 miles from Gobekli Tepe.

It means scientists can be confident the original domestication of einkorn happened somewhere nearby. Compared with modern samples under the microscope, ancient einkorn from Gobekli Tepe still shows the shape of wild varieties, but Dr. Neef believes the process of domestication had already begun. - They were probably experimenting with cultivation of cereals, and that is something which you can expect from people who are building such incredible monuments. They were experimenting, and not only with stone, but also with plant material.

- [Narrator] Scientists think Gobekli Tepe was blessed with the perfect grassland environment to begin humanity's experiment with plant cultivation Southeast Turkey, 1994. A local farmer's plow had uncovered a set of carved rocks protruding from the ground on the crest of a mound called Gobekli Tepe near today's war torn border with Syria. But the most breathtaking discovery was not the size of the complex, it was its age. It was once thought Britain was home to the world's oldest stone circles, but Gobekli Tepe blows Stonehenge out of the water. The most ancient organic material found in the fabric of the stonework was radiocarbon dated to before 9,000 BC, more than 11,000 years ago, 6,000 years before construction at Stonehenge even began.

- We today actually are closer to the builders of Stonehenge than the people building Stonehenge were to Gobekli Tepe. - [Narrator] Gobekli Tepe represents the oldest monumental structure ever built. Carved, moved, and erected without anything more sophisticated than manpower and stone tools.

- We're talking about a period here which has not seen metal tools and even the wheel was not invented yet, so these monuments were put together by hand. - [Narrator] The art and architecture at Gobekli Tepe is rewriting prehistoric archeology. But it was the identity of the architects that would cause the greatest shock. Archeologists found the clues not in the stonework, but in the trash.

Joris Peters has spent more than two decades examining 11,000 year old animal remains from the landscape around Gobekli Tepe, but it's the animal bones discovered within the enclosures which were the most revealing. Most had been shattered, a clear sign they'd been butchered to extract bone marrow. But the key clue was in the type of bones discovered: only the richest cuts. - Normally, when you have domestic animals living in a place, when you slaughtered them you will find all the elements of the body. The head, the spine, the lower legs, it's all there.

But for Gobekli Tepe the picture is totally different. Most of the bones we found are the ones that carry a lot of meat. - [Narrator] The animals hadn't been butchered on site. They'd been carved up wherever they'd been killed, and the meatiest joints brought up the hill.

For archeologists, it was evidence that these animals were wild. And for the builders of Gobekli Tepe, they were prey. - The focus on meat bearing parts points to hunter-gatherers.

- [Narrator] It goes against everything archeologists thought they knew about the lives of stone age hunters. Ancient hunter-gatherers lived off the land, roaming across vast distances, following prey and collecting edible plants. The idea that they might've stayed in one place long enough to build giant monuments in stone defied belief. The discovery of Gobekli Tepe threw anthropologists' theories about life in the stone age into chaos, and rumor quickly spread of a monument to nature in an ancient land of plenty. Could Gobekli Tepe hold the secret to the location of the Bible's garden of Eden? A family of farmers are digging for peat in a remote bog.

- One of the diggers hit something hard and was a bit annoyed about it, but his wife said, "No, no, no. "Take care. "It might be something interesting." - Hey, stop, stop, stop.

- [Narrator] The object they strike is a human corpse. It appears to be male, and apart from a cap and leather belt he is stark naked. Shockingly, he also has a noose around his neck. - The body was well preserved, made to believe that this was a reasonably dead person, and so they called the police. The police came, and they looked at him and said, "Well, this may be a murder case, but it's a very cold one, "so you need an archeologist, not the police."

- [Narrator] The dead man is shipped to the capital, Copenhagen. Investigators at the National Museum of Denmark confirm he was indeed murdered, but there's no chance of catching the killers. This crime took place more than 2,400 years ago, because this is a bog body, a natural mummy preserved by the peat bogs of Northern Europe. - A bog body is a human corpse of some sort that was submerged within the bog or a wetland environment and has become preserved within the environmental context that's found there. - [Narrator] The cold acidic conditions of the bog have effectively frozen this man's body in time, but incredibly, he's not unique.

Dozens of similar corpses have been found, offering an exceptional glimpse into the past. - I think bog bodies are fascinating because you get up really close and personal to somebody who's 2,000 years old. Normally we're dealing with burials that have skeletons, and these are the only bodies in Europe where you've got the entire body. You've got the innards, you've got the brain, but most important for me is you've got their facial expressions and they've got real identities. - [Narrator] Bog bodies have been emerging across a swathe of Northern Europe for centuries, and investigations have revealed almost all were killed violently. Now, forensic techniques borrowed straight from police crime labs have brought archeologists a giant step closer to cracking these ancient cold cases.

On a mission to reveal the secrets of shrunken heads, anthropologist Dr. Tobias Houlton has come to Cuenca, Ecuador. He's investigating the science behind head shrinking.

Shuar tribal elder Nawak Ensakaya Pedro is one of the few people alive today who know how to make a ceremonial tsantsa. For Houlton, this meeting is a unique opportunity to discover the secrets of the tsantsa at firsthand. Houlton's trip to Ecuador has given him step by step instructions on how to shrink a head. Now, he must put this newfound knowledge into practice. His goal: to create a shrunken head.

With smooth, relatively hairless skin a pig's head provides the closest analogy to a human head. - So, I'm just taking dimensions across the face, and this will acts the means of comparison following head shrinking to get a general idea of how much the head's reduced. - [Narrator] Using the techniques learned in Ecuador, Houlton begins the gruesome process. First, he removes the one thing that won't shrink: the skull. - What most people don't realize is that the Shuar had to remove the skull in order to make shrinkage possible. So, that's the reason for removing the skin from the head.

This is pretty much what the Shuar would have done when shrinking a head. - [Narrator] Next, three wooden pins seal the mouth shut. - Amongst the Shuar it was essential that the mouth was well and truly fastened, because that was believed to be the central orifice that the enemy spirit would escape from. - [Narrator] He uses thick twine to sew the eyes shut. - So, the significance of stitching the eyelids shut was that it was a means of trapping the enemy spirit within the head.

- [Narrator] With the mouth and eyes sealed, Houlton places the head into boiling water and leaves it for an hour. Like human skin, the pig skin is made up of collagen fibers, and when these fibers are exposed to temperatures above 145 degrees they contract, causing the skin to shrink. To dry the skin and shrink the head even further, Houlton fills it with hot pebbles and sand. This absorbs any remaining moisture. Finally, he irons the skin. - This is essentially the final touches of the head shrinking process.

What I'm doing is taking a hot flat pebble and ironing the outer face with it. And what this is doing is helping me mold the skin and and dry it out entirely from the outside. - [Narrator] By the end of the process, the pig's head is significantly smaller. Now he's seen firsthand how the shrinking process changes a head, Houlton can embark on the final part of his quest. - The next stage is to take all the information that I've got so far and actually go through the process of reconstructing the face of a shrunken head to revive the warrior that once existed.

- [Narrator] Using cutting computer modeling technology, Houlton will attempt something that's never been done before: to reverse the head shrinking process and discover the man behind the shrunken head. In the mid 19th century, the Amazon's rubber trees and mineral riches brought traders, miners, and missionaries to the region. Settlements sprung up in or near Shuar territory. The fake head suggests some of these colonial settlers wanted a piece of the lucrative trade in shrunken heads, making a fast buck selling fake heads to eager traders and explorers. - A lot of collectors were being duped and paying a lot of money for essentially what was a fake shrunken head at this time.

And they were being sold, you know, incredible stories that were attached to these objects to go along with them. - [Narrator] Another hand in the museum's collection came with exactly this kind of tall tale. Could this be another fake head? The head was acquired by the museum in 1915. The information that they gave us was that it was a male shaman who was trying to cure a child of one of his tribesmen, but since he couldn't do it the father of the child killed the shaman and took his head. That's what we thought during a very long time.

- [Narrator] In 2016, the museum analyzed the head's DNA. The analysis revealed this is not made of animal skin. It's a real human head, but something was wrong.

- The DNA analysis said that this is a female head, not a male. - [Narrator] It's a shocking revelation. Genuine ceremonials shrunken heads are always male because the Shuar shrank heads to stop the soul of a slain warrior from taking revenge, and in Shuar society women were never warriors.

So, the only reason to shrink a woman's head would be to satisfy the Victorian demand for morbid curios. She wasn't a victim of tribal conflict, but of cold blooded murder. - The killing started to increase in order to supply for the demand. So, it was most probably an innocent female. - [Narrator] This woman's death had nothing to do with ceremony and everything to do with money.

This is a commercial shrunken head. The grim discovery of a mass grave in Northern Britain containing dozens of young males skeletons. The remains suggest the men were all of fighting age, but they're not soldiers. Many of them are decapitated, their skulls buried alongside them.

The archeologists are now beginning to form a new, groundbreaking theory. This could be a cemetery of battle hardened gladiators. If they're correct, it will rewrite the history of the Romans in Britain. With the bodies exhumed from their graves, the team begins to investigate the remains for evidence that may support that theory. The skeletons revealed that these were, without doubt, men who experienced hard and ferocious combat. The cleanly sliced bones provide evidence that these men were decapitated with heavy blows from sharp weapons, a sword or an ax.

There is one final overwhelming piece of evidence. The burial ground may be unlike any other Roman cemetery in Britain, but it is almost identical to one 2,000 miles away in Turkey. This is Ephesus. Once a regional capital of ancient Rome, its centerpiece was a theater that could accommodate 25,000 people. In 1993, just yards from the arena, archeologists discovered a cemetery. Just like York, the bodies were violent men of fighting age, and they too had been savagely executed, but in Ephesus there is no doubt about who these men were.

Ancient tombstones reveal that they were gladiators. The similarity between the two cemeteries is too great to be a coincidence. - What we're looking at is a population that could be compared with the Ephesus. I favor the gladiatorial explanation because that fits in with the population and the lifestyle that we're dealing with.

We've got something that would really only apply to a particular group of people who fought in the arena. (men grunting) - [Narrator] The gladiatorial games. - The gladiators extraordinary human beings.

Going into an arena, facing death, performing for the benefit of the general public, these guys were like living legends. - [Narrator] It's estimated that over 700,000 gladiators were killed fighting in the Colosseum. - You were going in there as a spectator and expecting to see blood spilled. Somebody disemboweled, somebody's getting an arm chopped off, somebody's head swiped off. I mean really, really, really sick stuff. - [Narrator] Today, gladiators may have the reputation as being the superstars, the elite of the Roman empire, but further analysis of the teeth of the York skeletons reveals astonishing new insights into the harsh lives they lived.

- There's a lot of teeth that have got enamel defects, basically horizontal lines across the teeth. And you can see it, a good example on this canine tooth. Horizontal lines indicating that this person was stressed when they were growing up, when their teeth were developing. Not the most ideal situation for that person when they were a child, something going on in their lives that led to those defects. - [Narrator] These lines were found on the teeth of many of the men.

It's a sign of infant malnourishment. But while these individuals may have starved as children, their teeth show that as adults this group ate unusually well. The evidence of the teeth suggests poor men were selected from across the Roman empire and then beefed up to make them literally fighting fit.

- These were the lowest of the low, but something was seen in them and they were purchased by a manager, the lanista, who then trained them, and fed them, and housed them, hoping to recoup their investment. - [Narrator] It's at gladiator school that these men were fed a high protein athlete's diet, purposefully bulking them up for combat before taking center stage in the arena. - These men would have had massive bodies. These rippling muscular bodies absolutely stood out in society. - [Narrator] The four and a half thousand year history of Stonehenge is being reshaped after the discovery of a vast stone age village just two miles away.

Archeologists have found this settlement hosted the builders of the great monument at Stonehenge, a group of people who came from all over Britain to erect the stones and celebrate the winter solstice with epic feasts. - Stonehenge wasn't simply a local monument for local people. This was something that involved people from miles and miles away. - [Narrator] Now, scientists may hold the key to the mystery of why a remote part of Britain was chosen for such a massive project, thanks to the exhumation of half a million fragments of ancient human bone just yards from the stones. - I think most people don't even realize that Stonehenge was a place where people were buried. What we've discovered is it's actually the biggest cemetery that we have anywhere in Britain throughout the whole of the third millennium BC.

- [Narrator] The earliest bones were buried around 3,000 BC. That's 500 years before Stonehenge as we know it today was even erected. - These results, not only did they rewrite what we knew about Stonehenge, but they rewrote what we knew about neolithic Britain. - [Narrator] Could these burials be the very reason Stonehenge exists? Was this vast cemetery the motivation for the construction of the monument? To find out, archeologists need to understand the nature of the burial ground. Who was buried here and why? Neolithic burials often show the scars of stone age existence, a life spent under the constant threat of violence and disease.

- Given this many cremated remains, I would have expected to see at least one form of evidence that there was some kind of a violent conflict, evidence of arrowheads and of spears having passed through the body, hitting the bones, deflecting off the bones. There is just no evidence of any kind of violence on these bones. Looking at the examples of bones we have here, the majority of bones are actually quite big, but we also have incredibly small bones. Even the most minute bone was picked up for burial, so this tells us something about how they honored their dead. - [Narrator] Each burnt fragment of bone buried at Stonehenge had been meticulously collected and treated with the greatest care.

It suggested what linked the burials was the status and respect these people commanded in life. (pensive music)

2021-05-02 17:13

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