Posts Tagged With: cemetery

Shackled remains at ancient Greek site tell tale of intrigue….


By Deborah Kyvrikosaios

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ATHENS (Reuters) – At least 80 skeletons lie in a mass grave in an ancient Greek cemetery, their wrists clamped by iron shackles.

They are the victims, say archaeologists, of a mass execution. But who they were, how they got there and why they appear to have been buried with a measure of respect – that all remains a mystery.

They were found earlier this year in part of the Falyron Delta necropolis – a large ancient cemetery unearthed during the construction of a national opera house and library between downtown Athens and the port of Piraeus.

Few people have been able to get in to have a close look.

But on a rare tour of the site, archaeologists carefully showed Reuters the skeletons, some lying in a long neat row in the dug-out sandy ground, others piled on top of each other, arms and legs twisted with their jaws hanging open.

“They have been executed, all in the same manner. But they have been buried with respect,” Dr. Stella Chryssoulaki, head of excavations, said.

“They are all tied at the hands with handcuffs and most of them are very very young and in a very good state of health when they were executed.”

The experts hope DNA testing and research by anthropologists will uncover exactly how the rows of people died. Whatever happened was violent – most had their arms bound above their heads, the wrists tied together.

But the orderly way they have been buried suggest these were more than slaves or common criminals.

COUP PLOT?

The cemetery dates from between the 8th and 5th century BC.

“It is a period of great unrest for Athenian society, a period where aristocrats, nobles, are battling with each other for power,” said Chryssoulaki.

One of the strongest theories is that they were supporters of Cylon, an Athenian noble and Olympic champion who staged an attempted coup in Athens in 632 BC with the help of his father-in–law, the tyrant of Megara.

The coup failed and Cylon hid in a temple of the Acropolis. He managed to escape, but the people who backed him were killed.

“Perhaps with the DNA tests that we will do on these skeletons we may confirm or not this hypothesis that these deceased, these young people could be … part of a coup … an attempt by a noble to take power by force,” said Chryssoulaki.

More than 1,500 bodies lie in the whole cemetery, some infants laid to rest in ceramic pots, other adults burned on funeral pyres or buried in stone coffins. One casket is made from a wooden boat.

Unlike Athens’ renowned ancient Kerameikos cemetery, the last resting place of many prominent ancient Greeks, these appear to be the inhabitants of regular neighborhoods.

The dig is within a 170,000 sq m landscaped park, shadowed by the vast new modern library and opera house buildings being built by the Stavros Niarchos philanthropic foundation.

High-rise apartments dot the skyline to the north while a noisy motorway snakes by the site’s east side.

Chryssoulaki wants to see a museum built on the spot, as a monument to the daily lives of Athenians from another era.

“A cemetery is a first and last photograph in antiquity of those people that pass from life to death,” she said.

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16 Pyramids discovered in ancient cemetery…


The remains of 16 pyramids with tombs underneath have been discovered in a cemetery near the ancient town of Gematon in Sudan.

 They date back around 2,000 years, to a time when a kingdom called “Kush” flourished in Sudan.Pyramid building was popular among the Kushites. They built them until their kingdom collapsed in the fourth century AD.

Derek Welsby, a curator at the British Museum in London, and his team have been excavating at Gematon since 1998, uncovering the 16 pyramids, among many other finds, in that time. “So far, we’ve excavated six made out of stone and 10 made out of mud brick,” Welsby said.

The largest pyramid found at Gematon was 10.6 meters (about 35 feet) long on each side and would have risen around 13 m (43 feet) off the ground. [See Photos of 2,000-Year-Old Pyramids Discovered at Another Site in Sudan]

Wealthy and powerful individuals built some of the pyramids, while people of more modest means built the others, Welsby said. “They’re not just the upper-elite burials,” he said.

In fact, not all the tombs in the cemetery have pyramids: Some are buried beneath simple rectangular structures called “mastaba,” whereas others are topped with piles of rocks called “tumuli.” Meanwhile, other tombs have no surviving burial markers at all.

Burial goods

In one tomb, archaeologists discovered an offering table made of tin-bronze. Carved into the tableis a scene showing a prince or priest offering incense and libations to the god Osiris, the ruler of the underworld. Behind Osiris is the goddess Isis, who is also shown pouring libations to Osiris.

Though Osiris and Isis originated in Egypt, they were also venerated in Kush as well as other parts of the ancient world. The offering table “is a royal object,” Welsby said. The person buried with this table “must have been someone very senior in the royal family.”

Most of the tombs had been robbed, to some degree, in ancient or modern times. The only tomb with a pyramid that survived intact held 100 faience beads (faience is a type of ceramic) and the remains of three infants. The fact that the infants were buried without gold treasures may have dissuaded thieves from robbing the tomb, Welsby said.

Kingdom’s end

The Kushite kingdom controlled a vast amount of territory in Sudan between 800 B.C. and the fourth century A.D. There are a number of reasons why the Kushite kingdom collapsed, Welsby said.

One important reason is that the Kushite rulers lost several sources of revenue. A number of trade routes that had kept the Kushite rulers wealthy bypassed the Nile Valley, and instead went through areas that were not part of Kush. As a result, Kush lost out on the economic benefits, and the Kush rulers lost out on revenue opportunities. Additionally, as the economy of the Roman Empire deteriorated, trade between the Kushites and Romans declined, further draining the Kushite rulers of income.

As the Kushite leaders lost wealth, their ability to rule faded. Gematon was abandoned, and pyramid building throughout Sudan ceased.

Wind-blown sands, which had always been a problem for those living at Gematon, covered both the town and its nearby pyramids.

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This Week in the Civil War…..


On a moonlight night 150 years ago this month in the Civil War, the hand-cranked Confederate submarine H.L. Hunley sailed from its moorings on the South Carolina coast and into the history books. It was to become the first submarine ever to sink an enemy warship. On Feb. 17, 1864, the Hunley sank the Union ship Housatonic as the Confederates desperately tried to break the Civil War blockade then strangling Charleston. While the Housatonic sank, so did the Hunley. The combat saw the submarine crew set off a black powder charge at the end of a 200-pound spar, sinking the ship before the sub itself went down. The remains of the eight-member Hunley crew would be recovered more than a century later. In April of 2004, thousands of men in Confederate gray and Union blue — as well as women in black hoop skirts and veils — walked in a procession with the crew’s coffins from Charleston’s waterfront to a cemetery in what was called the last Confederate funeral.

hl-hunley-confederate-submarine h-l-hunley-submarine

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Life Can be Immensely Brutal Sometimes……..


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Burial records for military personnel posted online…..


A genealogy website on Monday posted burial records online for more than half a million military personnel for the first time as part of a government bid to digitally preserve the aging paper documents.
The burial and headstone applications records, which include entries for General George Custer and President Abraham Lincoln, were previously available only on paper at the national archives in Washington, D.C.
They were posted on Ancestry.com through a partnership with the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the National Archives and Records Administration, said Todd Godfrey, the Utah-based company’s senior director for U.S. content.
“Every one of these records, except for the small portion the VA had already imaged, were all only available on paper and all in Washington D.C.,” he said. “So you would have had to go to that special National Archives building, know (the record) is there and ask for it. Then they’d spend the morning digging around for it and then bring it to you.”
The U.S. Army began tracking burials at national cemeteries and military posts in the 1860s. In 1973, data for 82 national cemeteries was turned over to the veterans department, where the records are overseen by the National Cemeteries Administration.
On its own, the NCA scanned more than 9,400 pages of entries before turning the work over to Ancestry in 2011.
Godfrey said Ancestry staff spent nearly 3,000 hours scanning and prepping the military records, at no cost to taxpayers, to be accessed by the public.
The military records are available through the paid subscription service, but “we also provided online access to the VA and their cemeteries for free at their locations so that they can search the records and serve their patrons,” he said.
“We have opened the doors to thousands of histories through the information contained in these burial ledgers,” said VA Undersecretary for Memorial Affairs Steve Munro.
Godfrey said amateur genealogists should delight in the records, some of which include handwritten notes that go well beyond a soldier’s name, rank and serial number.
The entry for Lincoln, for example, includes a hand-drawn black border and details that the Civil War-era president was “pistol shot by John Wilkes Booth, the ball entering 2 inches below and behind the left ear and lodged in the brain.”
Lincoln’s entry is honorary, because he was buried in Springfield, Illinois and not in Arlington National Cemetery.
Godfrey said that while digging around in the archive a few weeks ago he came across an entry for his own fourth great-grandfather.
Henry Wells Jackson was a 36-year-old California postal worker at the time of the Civil War. Cheated out of a paycheck, an angry Jackson headed to Washington to collect but was captured by the Confederate army and held in jail, Godfrey said.
“That made him mad, so (after release) he joined the Union army and three months later he was killed in battle.” he said.
The discovery adds a wonderful new piece to Godfrey’s family history, he said, but does leave him with one burning question: “I do wonder if he ever got his paycheck.”

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Ned Kelly…famous outlaw’s final resting place….




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Edward “Ned” Kelly, Australia’s most notorious bushranger and outlaw, sat for a portrait the day before his execution in 1880.
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In the photo taken the day before he was hanged in November 1880, Ned Kelly’s eyes are fixed in a firm, defiant gaze. Though much of his face is hidden beneath a thick beard, it is possible that a little smile plays about his lips. But it’s hard to tell for sure.

Kelly is one of the most iconic and polarizing figures in Australian history. He is the most famed of the guerilla bandits known as bushrangers, some of whom, in their day, personified revolt against the colony’s convict system (“Australia’s Shackled Pioneers,” July/ August 2011) and against the excesses of wealth and authority. There’s no real non-Australian analogue for Kelly—he was part Clyde Barrow, part Jesse James, part Robin Hood, but with media savvy and a strong political sense. To some, particularly Australians of Irish descent, he’s a populist hero. To many others, he’s a cop-killer, and his lionization is distasteful at best. He is, at the very least, an enduring subject of fascination.

For all that is known about his life and the crime spree that ensured his immortality, theories have long abounded about what happened to Kelly’s remains after his execution. “Whilst he was an outlaw, there’s a lot of interest in how he was treated by the police, the courts, and judicial systems,” says David Ranson, a pathologist at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine. In the place of certainty, there was rumor, supposition, and endless questions. Had his skeleton been taken apart by trophy hunters? Was his skull put on display and then stolen in the 1970s? Had doctors conducted a clandestine autopsy and taken his remains away for study? It has taken a decade of archaeological, forensic, and historical sleuthing to understand the convoluted story of Kelly’s remains—and those of more than 40 other executed criminals—and learn that everything we thought we knew about that history was wrong. Finally, many of the mysteries surrounding Kelly’s bones can be laid to rest. But not all of them.
In 1929, construction had begun on a school that would become the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) at the site of the recently closed Old Melbourne Gaol. It was known that around 30 executed criminals had been buried there between 1880 and 1924. The graves were located in a long, narrow yard at the base of a wall that held markers for each burial, including one grave marked “E.K.” with an English broad arrow, signifying the grave of Edward “Ned” Kelly. The construction workers expressed misgivings about digging through a graveyard, but were told that the remains had been covered with quicklime and would have disintegrated. Even though some of the remains had been in the ground for only a few years, workers were still shocked when bodies started turning up.
Plans were made to exhume and rebury the bodies at Pentridge Prison, about five miles away. On April 12, 1929, the first graves were opened, including the one thought to contain Kelly. Onlookers were seized with desire for a souvenir from the great outlaw. “As soon as this gruesome discovery was made a crowd of boys who had been standing around expectantly while eating their luncheons rushed forward and seized the bones,” read a story in the newspaper the next day. Authorities retrieved most of the bones that were taken, reports said, but the process can charitably be described as disorganized. The remains in the graveyard were moved to a series of mass graves at Pentridge in 1929 and, in 1937, four more were relocated there from the jail’s hospital grounds.

In 2002, archaeologists from La Trobe University were monitoring landscaping work at RMIT when they were surprised to find a grave—one had apparently been missed in 1937. Archaeologists believe this was the only body that had been left behind. But they also knew the reburial of the others had been haphazard, leading them to speculate whether these remains moved from the old jail were where they were supposed to be—including the remains of Kelly, if there were any left. Pentridge, where they were reburied, was used as a prison from the 1850s until 1997, but the precise location and layout of the cemetery within its sprawling grounds had been forgotten, and the government had recently sold portions of the site to private developers.

“We decided we really needed to be confident that we knew everything about [Pentridge]—particularly about its archaeology, and particularly about the burials,” says Jeremy Smith, an archaeologist at Heritage Victoria, the state’s historical authority, which oversaw a series of excavations there between 2006 and 2009. Somewhere at this site, unmarked amid the remains of dozens of other criminals, might be the remains of Kelly himself.

Ned Kelly was born in Beveridge, north of Melbourne, in 1855, the son of an Irish convict. Young Kelly ran afoul of the law throughout his teens, but his bushranging career didn’t really begin until April 1878, when a constable arrived at the family home to arrest Ned’s brother Dan, and afterward claimed that the Kelly family had attacked him. The brothers, who denied the accusation, took to the bush. Their mother, Ellen, was charged with attempted murder for the incident and sentenced to three years, fueling Ned’s hatred of the police and distrust of government. Ned and Dan joined up with friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, forming the Kelly gang, which consistently tried to one-up itself over the next 21 months.
Ned Kelly was born in Beveridge, north of Melbourne, in 1855, the son of an Irish convict. Young Kelly ran afoul of the law throughout his teens, but his bushranging career didn’t really begin until April 1878, when a constable arrived at the family home to arrest Ned’s brother Dan, and afterward claimed that the Kelly family had attacked him. The brothers, who denied the accusation, took to the bush. Their mother, Ellen, was charged with attempted murder for the incident and sentenced to three years, fueling Ned’s hatred of the police and distrust of government. Ned and Dan joined up with friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart, forming the Kelly gang, which consistently tried to one-up itself over the next 21 months.

In October 1878, Ned killed three constables at Stringybark Creek. The reward for the gang’s capture went from £100 to £500 per man, dead or alive. In December, they took 22 hostages at a sheep station and then robbed the National Bank in Euroa of £2,000. The reward doubled. In February 1879, the gang took over a police station in Jerilderie, locking up two officers while they robbed the Bank of New South Wales (wearing police uniforms) of another £2,141 pounds, after which they rounded up 60 people at the Royal Hotel next door. There, Ned dictated a fiery, quasi-political, 8,000-word manifesto about his Irish roots and the injustice of the courts and convict system. The reward was doubled again and Aboriginal trackers were brought in to find them. In late June 1880, the gang took over the Ann Jones Inn in Glenrowan (see “Anatomy of a Shootout,” page 31), holding another 60 people hostage, and attempted to derail a special police train sent to bring them in. Surrounded by police at the inn, the gang donned armor made from metal plows. Ned fled the hotel and flanked the cops, coming out of the shadows in his mailbox-like, but no less intimidating for it, armor. His legs weren’t protected, so Ned was taken down with low shots. In the hotel, Byrne was killed in the shootout and Dan Kelly and Hart took poison before the police set fire to the building. On November 11, 1880, Ned, the last surviving member of the gang, was hanged at Old Melbourne Gaol. Reportedly, 8,000 fans and sympathizers turned out at a rally for his reprieve. His last words are said to have been, “Ah well, it has come to this.” It’s the stuff of legends.
According to historical records, 44 bodies had been buried at Pentridge—30 moved there in 1929, another four in 1937, and 10 prisoners executed at Pentridge between 1932 and 1967. One version of the Pentridge cemetery plan showed that the remains moved in 1929 were buried in three mass graves, but wasn’t clear on where they were actually located.

In 2006, Heritage Victoria had private company Terra Culture conduct test excavations at what was thought to have been Pentridge’s cemetery, but they found only one set of remains— those of Ronald Ryan, the last man to be executed there in 1967. “I remember thinking that day,” says Heritage Victoria’s Smith, “we’ve got more than 40 bodies unaccounted for, including some of the most notorious and infamous Australians that there are, including the most famous of all Australians, Ned Kelly.”

A 1955 aerial photo was used to locate mass graves containing the remains of Kelly and more than 40 other executed criminals. (Courtesy State Library of Victoria)
The team then found a 1955 aerial photograph that showed a rectangular, overgrown, fenced yard that appeared to match the dimensions of the cemetery plan. Archaeologists found the area muddy, covered in weeds, and surrounded by the prison’s massive, intimidating bluestone buildings. “As an archaeological site, it’s quite unusual. It almost had echoes of a Bronze Age site. You had these large monolithic structures looming over these equally large open areas,” says Smith. “It still very much had that sense of isolation and remoteness even though it’s only 10 kilometers [six miles] from the center of Melbourne.”
The excavations first uncovered the more recent graves, and later located two of the three mass graves from 1929—roughly where the plan indicated they might be. But the last and largest of the mass graves, containing the remains of 15 more men, probably including Kelly, was not where the plan indicated. In February 2009, the owners of the site phoned Heritage Victoria to say they had uncovered a deeply buried box. Archaeologists investigated and found the third mass grave, 100 feet from where it was indicated on the plan. It contained two layers of burials, with 24 coffins and boxes that held the remains of 15 men (some spread across multiple boxes). It is thought it might have been relocated—without documentation—during drainage work in the 1960s. Somewhere among this jumble of bones and boxes may have been evidence of Ned Kelly himself. “Kelly’s important,” says Smith. “If it wasn’t for the notoriety, the significance, the profile of Ned Kelly, probably the project would have trickled along.”
Most unidentified human remains in Australia go to the coroner, who must determine whether an inquest is required. With so many sets of remains, an inquest would have been lengthy and costly, so it was incumbent on the archaeologists to establish a clear history of the site. “It was all about demonstrating to the coroner, through the archaeological processes, that we were confident that these were late-nineteenth-century executions that had been done as part of the judicial process, and that the stratigraphy showed no signs of recent disturbance,” says Smith.

The oldest remains were sent to the coroner at the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (VIFM). “This is a very unusual case. It was old skeletal remains and they are difficult to examine, but in addition, there was a very large amount of historic interest among the general public and also at a political level,” says Fiona Leahy, Senior Medico-Legal Officer at VIFM. While the excavations were taking place and the remains were being examined by forensic pathologists, anthropologists, and odontologists, another mystery was unfolding. “We had the long-standing, quite interesting, scandalous story of the alleged Ned Kelly skull,” says VIFM pathologist David Ranson.
In 2008, Heritage Victoria reached out to a man named Tom Baxter who claimed to know the whereabouts of Kelly’s skull. A complete cranium thought to be Kelly’s had a long and checkered history. This skull was apparently not reinterred at Pentridge, but was given to government officials and then passed to Colin Mackenzie, first director of the Australian Institute of Anatomy in Canberra. The institute made a cast of the skull, and eventually turned it over to the National Trust in 1972, which put it on display in the museum of the Old Melbourne Gaol, next to a Kelly death mask (a postmortem plaster cast). This skull, which had been labeled “E. Kelly” at some point in its history, was stolen in 1978.

Baxter, without saying how he came into possession of it, agreed to return the skull on November 11, 2009, 129 years to the day after Kelly’s execution. With it in their possession, the experts at VIFM had any number of questions, and a sophisticated arsenal of techniques by which to answer them. Was this the skull held at the Institute of Anatomy? Was it the one on display and stolen from the Old Melbourne Gaol? And, perhaps most importantly, was it Kelly’s?

Researchers at the VIFM took photographs, X-rays, and CT scans, and conducted craniofacial superimposition—layering the new images of the skull over the replica made at the Institute of Anatomy and photos of it on display later at the old jail. All the images matched up. They also located a tooth—kept by the grandson of a workman present at the 1929 exhumation— and it fit perfectly. The pathologists then superimposed the CT scan of the skull over CT scans of death masks from the executed men. While this process cannot provide conclusive evidence, and not all the executed prisoners had death masks, it helped reduce the number of possible candidates. These comparisons eliminated all but two men: Frederick Deeming, a serial killer who was suspected of having been Jack the Ripper, and Ned Kelly.
By September 2010, the coroner had determined no inquest was necessary. The VIFM, working with the experienced Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, subjected the left clavicles from 30 sets of remains from the mass graves to mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) testing. The Baxter skull was also tested, as was a sample from the living great-grandson of Kelly’s sister. “It’s about delivering certainty,” says Smith.

The mtDNA from the surviving Kelly ancestor was a match to a set of remains from the third pit—and not a match for the Baxter skull. Surprisingly, the matching remains were among the most complete of any of the Pentridge burials. They were missing only a few cervical vertebrae, some small bones, and the skull, except for a palm-sized fragment—further proof that the intact Baxter skull could not have been Kelly’s. “The Kelly remains are almost complete. It’s one of the best sets of remains from the entire site. That I did not expect at all,” says Smith. “It contradicted the historical evidence that Kelly’s burial had been targeted by trophy collectors.”

Closer examination of the bones showed unmistakable evidence of Kelly’s injuries from the shootout at the Ann Jones Inn. Injuries to the top of the right tibia, the left arm, and the right foot all matched those documented by prison surgeon Andrew Shields when he examined Kelly after arrest. Using an otoscope and dental instruments, Ranson even removed two lead pellets from the tibia. “We had genetic evidence and a lot of anthropological evidence, and then when we looked at the historical evidence as well, it really tied it all together,” says Soren Blau, the forensic anthropologist who examined the remains. Smith describes the outcome as “staggeringly conclusive.”
As for the Baxter skull, it actually matched another set of remains, one that was in the fragmentary condition that Smith expected of Kelly’s. A closer look at plans from the original cemetery at the Old Melbourne Gaol suggests that Deeming— whose death mask is consistent with the skull—may have been buried close to Kelly. This raises the possibility that the trophy seekers in 1929 simply raided the wrong coffin. But without Deeming family DNA, “we haven’t been able to prove that conclusively,” says Leahy.

If the Baxter skull does not belong to Kelly, and the mass grave contains only a palm-sized fragment, what happened to the rest of Kelly’s head? A lurid account from 1880 refers to rumors that Kelly’s remains were dismembered and taken away by “medical men” after execution. It is now known this didn’t happen, and it is also known that Kelly told the prison surgeon Shields that he did not want his body dissected. Helen Harris, a historian working with the VIFM team, found evidence of a letter from the prison governor, John Castieau, stating that there was no truth to the dissection rumors. But Kelly’s remains have a story of their own to tell, somewhere between rumors and official record.

The skull fragment with the Kelly remains came from the back of his cranium, and shows saw marks across the top and down the sides. The cuts clearly continue on the cervical vertebrae below. A physician had explored the remains of Kelly with more than his eyes. In that era, authorities were concerned with whether hanging was indeed an instantaneous, humane form of execution. Hangings were known to have been botched, resulting in long, drawn-out choking rather than death from a hangman’s fracture— a quick, decisive snap of the neck. “This piece of skull suggests the individual had been subject to a limited autopsy, probably to investigate the interior back half of the neck following an execution,” says Blau. “That was probably not uncommon given that there was interest in whether hangings were effective or not, and it was important for the jail to say that it was a successful hanging.”
It is impossible to say what became of the rest of Kelly’s skull, beyond the fact that any complete skull couldn’t possibly belong to him. “Unfortunately we only have part of the answer,” says Leahy. “It could be sitting in someone’s garage or it could simply have gotten lost, discarded, or disintegrated. We don’t know.”

“The mystery continues,” she adds. “What exactly happened in the jail after his hanging has not been fully explained. We have our theories.”

And theories are the coin of the realm for a figure as nearmythic as Kelly. The stories and speculation will continue— some even refuse to believe the definitive findings from Heritage Victoria and VIFM. Mythos notwithstanding, archaeology and forensic work have provided knowledge about the end of Kelly’s life: The back of his skull was opened, he was buried at the Old Melbourne Gaol, his grave was not looted, and his remains were reburied at Pentridge Prison mostly intact. Almost all the remains of the executed prisoners will be reburied again in an official cemetery at Pentridge. But probably not Kelly’s. Officials are still trying to decide his final resting place.

“It’s introduced certainty,” says Smith, “into a project where 10 years ago everything we knew about this was wrong.”

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Taos Pueblo cemetery, Taos, New Mexico


Taos Pueblo cemetery. Taos Pueblo is the largest existing multistoried pueblo structure in the USA, It lies about 1 mile (1.6 km) north of the modern city of Taos, New Mexico.

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