New horrors unravelled in the story of the Batavia shipwreck
The story of the Batavia shipwreck is one of the most haunting tales of survival against a group of mutineers committing horrendous acts and atrocities.
The Batavia was the flagship of the Dutch East India Company (VOC), built in Amsterdam in 1628 and launched on her maiden voyage that same year to obtain spices from Batavia (the ship’s namesake) in the Dutch East Indies.
The ship was commanded by Francisco Pelsaert, with Ariaen Jacobsz serving as the skipper. According to an account written by Pelsaert, Jacobsz, along with Jeronimus Cornelisz and several men, plotted a mutiny to take the ship and steal the supply of gold and silver onboard.
Jacobsz is alleged to have deliberately steered the ship off course and had his men sexually assault a prominent passenger, Lucretia Jans, who was travelling to join her husband in Batavia.
Jacobsz had hoped that this would provoke Pelsaert into severely disciplining the crew causing an uprising, however, Lucretia was unable to identify her attackers and the incident was dropped.
On the 4th of June, 1629, the ship foundered upon the reefs of the Houtman Abrolhos Islands off the western coast of Australia. Of the 322 aboard, most of the passengers and crew managed to get ashore to present-day Beacon Island, although 40 people drowned.
Pelsaert and Jacobsz left the marooned ship in the hope of reaching Batavia to form a rescue party. In their absence, Cornelisz was elected to lead and commandeered all weapons and food supplies.
He started to terrorise the remaining survivors, forming a gang of mutineers that murdered and raped, with Cornelisz using Lucretia as his own personal sex slave. In total, the mutineers murdered at least 110 men, women, and children.
Upon Pelsaert and Jacobsz reaching Batavia, Jacobsz was arrested for negligence, while Pelsaert was giving command of another ship to rescue the survivors. After arriving back at Beacon Island, he discovered that a bloody massacre had taken place.
Pelsaert conducted a trial and sentenced the worst offenders to be taken to Seal Island and executed, while Cornelisz and several of his henchmen had both their hands chopped off and were hanged.
Beacon Island burials – Image Credit : The University of Western Australia
An archaeological project led by archaeologists from the University of Western Australia and the Western Australian Museum has unravelled new horrors in the story of the Batavia shipwreck, revealing 12 of the victims buried in a mass grave, single and multiple burials, as well as evidence of the struggle between the survivors and mutineers.
The study, published in the journal Historical Archaeology, has used underwater findings in combination with archaeological evidence on land to understand the behavioural responses of survivors, including their initial movement from the wreck to nearby islands, the struggles they faced, and the shifting power dynamics among mutineers and survivors.
Lead author Professor Alistair Paterson, from UWA’s School of Social Sciences and the Oceans Institute, said: “The excavation of human remains reveals insights into the treatment and burial practices of victims. Notably, centrally located graves on Beacon Island suggest a functioning graveyard, potentially representing victims from the early days following the wreck.”
“Other islands within the vicinity, such as Long (Seals) Island and West Wallabi Island, provide evidence of makeshift weapons, the presence of resistance factions, and structures associated with the survivors. The landscape on Long Island contains a concentration of iron fastenings believed to be the gallows site where mutineers were executed, reflecting the company’s attempt to establish order,” added Professor Paterson.
Future research in a new ARC Project ‘Mobilising Dutch East India Company collections for new global stories’ involves further forensic analysis of the human remains, including physical assessment, stable-isotope technology and DNA studies and new historical research.
The University of Western Australia
Header Image Credit : State Library of New South Wales – Public Domain
Nazca geoglyphs discovered used AI deep learning
Archaeologists from the Yamagata University have used AI deep learning to discover new geoglyphs in the northern part of the Nazca Pampa in the arid Peruvian coastal plain.
Geoglyphs in the Nazca Pampa were first identified during the 1920’s, with ongoing studies since the 1940’s revealing various figurative geoglyphs of zoomorphic designs, geometric shapes, and linear lines.
Geoglyphs can be categorised into three main types: figurative, geometric, and lineal. Archaeologists suggest that the lineal geoglyphs were created by the Nazca, a culture that developed during the Early Intermediate Period and is generally divided into the Proto Nazca (phase 1, 100 BC to AD 1), the Early Nazca (phases 2–4, AD 1 to 450), Middle Nazca (phase 5, AD 450 to 550) and the Late Nazca (phases 6–7, AD 550 to 750).
The relief type dates from the Late Formative period (400 to 200 BC), as the iconography of the geoglyphs are similar to that of Formative petroglyphs found on outcrops of rock. During this period, the region was inhabited by the Paracas Culture, an Andean people that emerged around 800 BC until 100 BC.
Since 2004, Yamagata University has been conducting geoglyph distribution surveys using satellite imagery, aerial photography, airborne scanning LiDAR, and drone photography to investigate the vast area of the Nazca Pampa covering more than 390 km2.
In 2016, the researchers used aerial photography with a ground resolution of 0.1 m per pixel to create a detailed survey of the region. Overtime, the team have identified various geoglyphs, however, the process is very time consuming, so they have adopted AI deep learning to analyse the photographs at a much faster rate.
The results of a study, published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, has revealed the discovery of four new Nazca geoglyphs using this new method by creating an approach to labelling training data that identifies a similar partial pattern between the known and new geoglyphs.
The four new geoglyphs depict a humanoid figure, a pair-of-legs, a fish, and a bird. The humanoid geoglyph is shown holding a club in his/her right hand and measures 5 metres in length. The fish geoglyph, shown with a wide-open mouth measures 19 metres, while the bird geoglyph measures 17 metres and the pair-of-legs 78 metres.
According to the study authors: “We have developed a DL pipeline that addresses the challenges that commonly arise in the task of archaeological image object detection. Our approach allows DL to learn representations of images with better generalisation and performance, enabling the discovery of targets that have been difficult to find in the past. Moreover, by accelerating the research process, our method contributes to archaeology by establishing a new paradigm that combines field surveys and AI, leading to more efficient and effective investigations.”
Header Image Credit : Yamagata University
Archaeologists study fortress in southern Georgia to understand community resilience
A team of archaeologists led by Cranfield University is conducting a detailed study of the fortress of Dmanisis Gora in the Kvemo Kartli region of Georgia.
The study is part of a project to understand why communities in the region were more resilient than other parts of the world during the transition from the Bronze to the Iron Age around 1200 BC.
Dmanisis Gora is located at the north-eastern edge of the highland zone between two such gorges. The site consists of a compact defensive core that has two defensive walls with an enclosed area of 3.7 acres.
On the plateau behind the citadel area, a third wall, extending about 1000 m from edge to edge on the plateau, encloses a much larger area of about 138.3 acres that contains numerous circular and linear stone features.
During the so-called ‘12th Century BC crisis’ and its aftermath, the majority of Middle Eastern regions underwent a period of significant turmoil characterised by the disintegration of empires, famine, crop failures, armed conflicts, and mass migration.
In contrast, the Caucasus region (consisting of present-day Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) appears to have been shielded from this tumultuous period, exhibiting only gradual transformations in material culture and patterns of settlement.
Either the region managed to entirely avoid the widespread disruption, or it did not experience the same cultural, economic, and political repercussions as other areas. This suggests that the communities in the region might have been more resilient, enabling them to withstand and adapt to the challenges in a comparatively effective manner.
Dr Erb-Satullo, from Cranfield University, said: “The key to understanding why the Bronze Age-Iron Age transition is different in the Caucasus is to study the fortress communities that dot the landscape during this period. We’re looking for clues about life in the Late Bronze Age through examining areas such as ceramics, burial rituals, farming practices, tools and social structures.”
“Given the upheaval at that time in other nearby regions, we are intrigued to find out more about one of these sites and determine what underlies their apparent resilience,” added Dr Erb-Satullo.
The project expands upon earlier pilot excavations carried out at the site prior to the pandemic, along with a thorough survey conducted in Autumn 2022 using drone-based photogrammetry. This is done by using the latest forensic technologies including isotopic analysis of animal remains, metallurgy, magnetometry and deploying drones to scan the area.
“What’s really exciting about this site is its size, preservation, and the fact that it has layers dating precisely to the years around the 12th Century BC crisis,” continued Dr Erb-Satullo. “Many fortresses are on hills which are prone to erosion. But this one has relatively flat topography, so the sediment will have built up in layers over time, helping to preserve artefacts and archaeological clues from the Late Bronze age.”
Header Image Credit : BING Maps
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