1969 Murder of Jane Britton, Harvard Archaeology Grad Student, Solved by DNA Testing – No Primitive Rites Necessary

“Remember me any way you like, but remember me”
-Jane Sanders Britton

Jane Britton’s Anthropology Notebook. Photo released by Middlesex County (Massachusetts) District Attorney Office.

Almost 50 years after her murder, police in Massachusetts say they have solved the murder of Jane Britton, who was a graduate student in Harvard’s anthropology department. DNA evidence indicates that Britton was  murdered in her apartment by Michael Sumpter, who died in 2001 while serving a sentence for the rape of another woman in 1975. He has since been linked to two other murder/rapes.

Britton’s death was sensationalized at the time, not only because she was a Harvard coed, but because newspapers, quoting a police detective, reported that her murder was part of a “primitive rite” involving red ochre found on her body and the walls of her apartment. Britton, as an archaeologist, had done fieldwork at Tepe Yahya in Iran and in France, and some people made a connection with the red ochre sometimes found in prehistoric burials. Furthermore, a sharp stone tool (possibly a prehistoric hand ax?) that an archaeologist friend had given to her was reported missing from her apartment. Her boyfriend, who found her body, was also an anthropology grad student, as were two of her neighbors, who had been with her before her death, and a “Peru hippie” she had previously dated. Rumors later tried to link her death with other Harvard anthropology students who had died or disappeared, and other women in the Cambridge area who were murdered before or after Britton.

Police and anthropologists at Harvard quickly denied the “primitive rites” story, and the chief instituted a news blackout because of “inaccuracies” in the reporting. No one was ever arrested for the crime. Anthropologist Don Mitchell, one of the last people to see her alive, said he

had long suspected the killer was someone Britton knew at Harvard. “I was surprised,” Mitchell said Tuesday. “Very few people at the time thought it was somebody random who came in and killed her. Everyone thought it was connected to the anthropology department.”

Yet the man now identified as responsible for her murder had no other connection to Britton. The missing stone tool was found soon after the first newspaper reports came out, and the “red ochre” was, according to the new report, from painting supplies that Britton had.

Details on the DNA investigation are at The Boston Globe. More details in a 2017 article, when amateur investigators and a reporter were trying to get the prosecutors to release records of the investigation. Official press release of the Middlesex County District Attorney

 

“Tall, Dark, and Tweedy”: Jazz Age Artist John Held Jr. was also an archaeological illustrator – and a World War I spy

Life Magazine cover from 1926, by John Held, Jr. Source: Washington University in St. Louis.

In the 1920s, John Held, Jr., became famous for his drawings in Life, Vanity Fair, and other magazines that enshrined the iconic flapper image: lean and leggy, with beaded necklace swinging as she danced the Charleston with her companion, the round-headed, pencil-necked, Joe College.

The “tall, dark and tweedy” (Shuttleworth 1965) artist had come to New York City from Utah in 1912, where he found work as a commercial artist. As America entered World War I, John Held would take on another, clandestine, responsibility. Continue reading ““Tall, Dark, and Tweedy”: Jazz Age Artist John Held Jr. was also an archaeological illustrator – and a World War I spy”

A Camel at Greenwich? Zooarchaeology and Negative Evidence for Camels in Roman Britain

Roman mound n Greenwich Park
Mound on which Roman remains were found in Greenwich Park. Photo by Sturdee. Source: Webster 1902.

T. Cregg Madrigal
©2018

Abstract

Reviews of the archaeological record of camels in Europe include one reported occurrence from a Roman site in Greenwich Park, England. Examination of the site reports and the surviving bones from the Greenwich Park site indicates that it is unlikely that camel remains were ever found there, and therefore there is no existing osteological evidence for camels in Roman-Britain.

Download a pdf version of this article from the Research page.

Did the Romans bring camels to Great Britain?

Neither the one-hump dromedary (Camelus dromedarius) nor the two-hump Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) is native to Europe, but both species of camel were used by the Romans. Scattered remains of both species of camel, as well as hybrids of the two, have been reported in Roman-era archaeological sites in Europe, including a single site in Great Britain, at Greenwich Park near London (Applebaum 1987:514; Bond 2017; Green 2017; Pigière and Henrotay 2012; Webster 1902).

Bactrian Camel. Source: J. Patrick Fischer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Other finds of one or a few isolated camel bones have been reported from Roman sites in Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Switzerland, Serbia, Slovenia, Bulgaria, and Russia (Albarella et al. 1993; De Grossi Mazzorin 2006; Muñiz et al. 1995; Pigière and Henrotay 2012; Tomczyk 2016), and a partially complete skeleton was found at both Saintes in France and Viminacium in Serbia (Pigière and Henrotay 2012; Tomczyk 2016; Vuković and Bogdanović 2013).
While most of the other camel finds in continental Europe are based on relatively recent analyses of actual osteological material, the Greenwich Park record is based on a report dating back to the very early twentieth century (Webster 1902). A review of the published reports and an examination of the surviving bones from this site cast doubt on the presence of camel at Greenwich Park.

Continue reading “A Camel at Greenwich? Zooarchaeology and Negative Evidence for Camels in Roman Britain”

Professional Baseball Player Becomes Semi-Pro Archaeologist

Former MLB relief pitcher Brad Lidge is most famous for his perfect season in 2008, when he went 48 for 48 in saves, including closing out the Philadelphia Phillies’ victory in Game 5 of the World Series. Since retiring from baseball in 2013, Lidge has earned a Master’s Degree in Roman Archaeology from the University of Leicester (thesis: Nails: An Underutilized Tool in Ancient Roman Archaeology), and has worked on excavations in Italy and England. Will he continue on for the Ph.D.? See the story in USA Today.

Bobblehead Recreation of Lidge Celebrating the 2008 World Series Victory.

Radiotelephone Service to Europe and Beyond: The Pole Farm in Lawrence, New Jersey

Paramaribo, Willemstad: detail of Antenna map at the Pole Farm, Mercer Meadows.

Last Pole Standing, viewed from the Reed/Bryan farm.

The original telephone system connected phones by copper wire strung up on poles. These “land-lines” faced a problem when confronted with obstacles like the Atlantic ocean, so it was not possible to connect the phone systems of distant countries. In the 1920s, AT&T developed a way of using short wave radio to transmit telephone signals over long distances without wires. In 1928, AT&T bought several farms in Lawrence, New Jersey, cleared the land, and began building a vast antenna array for trans-Atlantic telephone calls. The facility, officially called the American Telegraph & Telephone International Radio Telephone Transmission Station, was only responsible for calls originating in the United States. A separate facility in Netcong, New Jersey, received incoming calls from overseas.

The Lawrence station became known as the Pole Farm because the rhombic antennas that AT&T installed at the site were arranged in a diamond-shaped pattern on wooden poles up to ten stories tall. Each antenna covered 10 acres and connected New Jersey and the rest of the U.S.A. with a single city in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, or South America. Hundreds of these poles were arranged over the 800 acre facility. Open areas between the poles were leased to farmers, who had to plow around the many antennas.

Fewer than 50 calls were made on an average day in 1929, in part because a three-minute call to England cost over thirty dollars. The station, however, allowed almost instantaneous communication across the Atlantic Ocean (once trained telephone operators had arranged the connection). By the 1960s, however, international calls were more affordable and over 16,000 telephone calls were transmitted daily through the Pole Farm.

The Pole Farm shut down in 1975, replaced by undersea cables and satellites. Where once there were hundreds of wooden poles, there is now only one. That pole, which once transmitted phone calls to Israel, survived because the farmhouse next to it used it as a lightning rod.

The last pole.

Two buildings, imaginatively named Building One and Building Two, bracketed the antenna field. Both buildings have been demolished, but a memorial to the facility, built over Building One, includes a large concrete and stone map set into the ground, showing the layout of the antennas around the time of World War II. Each antenna is labeled with the city to which it transmitted phone calls.

Berlin, Reykjavik, Moscow, London: detail of Antenna map at the Pole Farm, Mercer Meadows.

The Pole Farm is now part of the Mercer Meadows county park and features restored grasslands, nature trails, and interpretive signs.

Reference:

Yearley, Alexandra
2013 “Pole Farm” remembered in Mercer Meadows plans. https://communitynews.org/2013/02/01/pole-farm-remembered-in-mercer-meadows-plans/