Radar reveals entire ancient Roman city in stunning detail

Experts have revealed an entire ancient Roman city in Italy through Ground Penetrating Radar technology.

Archaeologists from the University of Cambridge and Ghent University in Belgium, discovered a temple, a bath complex, a market and a public monument, according to a statement. The radar even revealed a complex of water pipes beneath the city.

Falerii Novi, they discovered, was just under half the size of the famous ancient city of Pompeii.

Jupiter's gate in the walls of Falerii Novi, Lazio, Italy - file photo.

Jupiter’s gate in the walls of Falerii Novi, Lazio, Italy – file photo. (Photo by DeAgostini/Getty Images)

The study is published in the journal Antiquity. Experts say that the findings could have major implications for archaeological research.

“The astonishing level of detail which we have achieved at Falerii Novi, and the surprising features that GPR has revealed, suggest that this type of survey could transform the way archaeologists investigate urban sites, as total entities,” said University of Cambridge professor Martin Millett, one of the study’s authors, in the statement.

Ground Penetrating Radar map of the newly discovered temple in the Roman city of Falerii Novi, Italy.

Ground Penetrating Radar map of the newly discovered temple in the Roman city of Falerii Novi, Italy. (L. Verdonck)

The Roman Empire continues to reveal its secrets. A sinkhole that recently appeared near the famous Pantheon in Rome, for example, revealed an ancient imperial pavement.

In 2017, in a separate project, archaeologists said that they had found a lost Roman city that was once home to Jesus’ apostles Peter, Andrew and Philip.

Archaeologists from the Kinneret Institute for Galilean Archaeology at Kinneret College, Israel and Nyack College in New York, completed excavations at el-Araj on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. El-Araj has long been considered a possible location of the ancient city of Julias, which was also known as Bethsaida.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Incredible bioluminescent waves create stunning scenes on California beaches

By James Rogers | Fox News

Incredible bioluminescent waves have been creating remarkable scenes at Southern California’s beaches.

A surfer rides on a bioluminescent wave at the San Clemente pier on April 30, 2020 in San Diego, California.

A surfer rides on a bioluminescent wave at the San Clemente pier on April 30, 2020 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Joe Scarnici/Getty Images)

The striking blue nighttime waves have generated plenty of buzz on social media.

“#USCG Marine Safety and Security Team LA/LB got a great view of bioluminescent plankton as their boat churned up a light show!,” tweeted the U.S. Coast Guard.


A strong Red tide sees Pacific Ocean waters turn a glowing bioluminescent Blue, as well as drawing the attention of curious Los Angelenos, despite Coronavirus stay-at-home orders and closed beaches, in Playa Del Rey, CA, USA, on May 7, 2020.(Photo by John Fredricks/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

A strong Red tide sees Pacific Ocean waters turn a glowing bioluminescent Blue, as well as drawing the attention of curious Los Angelenos, despite Coronavirus stay-at-home orders and closed beaches, in Playa Del Rey, CA, USA, on May 7, 2020.(Photo by John Fredricks/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Newport Beach-based photographer Patrick Coyne also captured phenomenal footage of dolphins swimming in the bioluminescent waters. “Last night was truly one of the most magical nights of my life,” he wrote on Instagram.

On Friday, CBS Los Angeles reported that police in Manhattan Beach will be increasing their patrols this weekend in response to the bioluminescent phenomenon, which has drawn significant visitors in recent weeks. LA County beaches, which were closed amid the coronavirus crisis, reopened with restrictions on May 13.

On its website, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography notes that the cellular regulation of dinoflagellate bioluminescence is complex and only partially understood. However, the luminescent chemistry is ultimately caused by a drop in pH, or or an increase in acidity, due to an influx of protons within the cell.

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Robot ‘spy’ gorilla records wild gorillas singing and farting, because nature is beautiful

This is the first time that singing mountain gorillas have been caught on camera.

A mountain gorilla family in Uganda peers into the "spy" camera.

A mountain gorilla family in Uganda peers into the “spy” camera.
(Image: © Copyright John Downer Productions)

Mountain gorillas have been caught on camera as they “sing” during their supper, a behavior that has never before been documented on video. Filmmakers captured the astonishing footage of the primate crooners with a little help from a very special camera: a robotic “spy” designed to look like a young gorilla.

The singing apes make their television debut on April 29 in the returning PBS series, “Nature: Spy in the Wild 2.” Like its predecessor, which first aired in 2017, the program documents remarkable up-close glimpses of elusive wildlife behavior, seen through the “eyes” of robots that are uncanny lookalikes of the creatures that they film.

Though human camera operators typically keep a safe distance from wild gorillas, the lifelike animatronic gorilla spy was able to infiltrate a troop and film their daily routines, which included an impromptu suppertime serenade.

Footage of the singing gorillas is featured in the first episode of “Spy in the Wild 2” and shows the apes reclining amid dense foliage in a sanctuary in Uganda. As they munched on leaves and stems, they hummed to themselves in contentment, accompanying their vegetarian meal with a vocal “chorus of appreciation,” according to the episode’s narrator.

And the gorillas produced a chorus of mealtime music in more ways than one. Under the spy robot’s watchful camera eye, the great apes also revealed that they were extremely gassy, punctuating their dinner with near-constant bursts of flatulence.

Scientists confirmed in 2016 that gorillas sing to themselves while eating, recording audio of behavior that had long been anecdotal. The researchers observed those western lowland gorillas in a protected forest in the Republic of Congo and published their findings in the journal PLOS ONE.

The PLOS ONE study authors also learned that older gorillas performed mealtime humming and singing more than young gorillas; that males “sang” more often than females did; and that gorillas were more likely to sing while eating aquatic plants and seeds, rather than insects.

Expressive face

Creating a realistic robot spy that could fool a gorilla meant designing a face that was mobile and expressive, particularly around the eyes, said “Spy in the Wild 2” producer Matt Gordon.

“Eye communication is very important amongst gorillas,” Gordon told Live Science. “You’ll see in the footage in the first episode; the gorillas came straight over to our spy gorilla and peered right into its eyes. So we made sure that the gorilla had the most amount of detail put into the face.”

A robotic spy "gorilla" enabled filmmakers to capture never-before-seen footage of gorillas singing during their dinner.

A robotic spy “gorilla” enabled filmmakers to capture never-before-seen footage of gorillas singing during their dinner. (Image credit: Copyright John Downer Productions)

Other types of robotic animal spies might need greater mobility in the air or water, such as an animatronic pelican or sea otter. And infiltrating communities of animals that live in colonies, like meerkats, requires a robot to smell like its animal subjects in order to get close to them.

“We sometimes have to anoint them in feces to allow them to be accepted into the group,” Gordon said. “It’s not the most pleasant of jobs.”

A submissive gaze

One tricky challenge for the gorilla robot was hat it had to pass inspection by a dominant male. “We wanted to make sure that we were not being threatening, so we averted the gaze of our spy gorilla,” Gordon said. This display of submissiveness convinced the male that the robot wasn’t a threat; he then signaled to the troop that it was safe for them to take a closer look at the “stranger.”

The robot was also able to beat its chest in response to a baby gorilla’s chest-beating, allowing the filmmakers to capture a rare glimpse of primate playtime.

“A young gorilla came over and did the natural thing for him, which was to beat its chest. For a baby gorilla, that means ‘I want to play,’ and if our gorilla was lifeless, not moving, I think the gorilla would have lost interest. But our spy gorilla was able to beat its chest too,” Gordon said.

“We had this wonderful, magical moment where there was this lovely to and fro between our spy gorilla and the baby gorilla, where they were really interacting,” he said. “That would be very difficult to see with traditional filming techniques.”

Nature: Spy in the Wild 2” airs nationwide on Wednesdays from April 29 to May 20 at 8 p.m. on PBS (check local listings), and streams on pbs.org/spyinthewild and on the PBS Video app.

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History’s 5 deadliest pandemics and epidemics


The symptoms, described by famous Roman physician Galen, were unpleasant: diarrhea, coughing, fever, dry throat and the aforementioned papules.

One legend floating around during the time had it that the disease was released when a Roman soldier accidentally opened a golden casket in the temple of Apollo, freeing the cursed plague from confinement. Either way, many were certain that they had done something to anger the gods, such as the sack of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Seleucia. Christians also were blamed for angering the gods.


Believed to have been brought over by rat-infested merchant ships sailing into Egypt, at one point the Plague of Justinian (named after the ruling Byzantine emperor at the time) is said to have killed up to 100,000 people a day on average. Recently these figures have been called into question, but researchers have said the Bubonic Plague (Yersinia pestis) spread and continued to pop up from time to time in Europe, Asia, and Africa for years after its arrival in 541 AD, killing millions of people.

Byzantine Greek scholar Procopius wrote of the plague’s beginnings, “It began with the Egyptians who live in Pelusium. It divided and part went to Alexandria and the rest of Egypt, and part to the people of Palestine, the neighbors of the Egyptians, and from there, overran the whole earth.”

The bubonic plague can be transferred from rats to humans through flea bites. Pus filled buboes then grow on parts of the body — generally in the armpit and groin area — and a fever develops. Though the Black Death was caused by the same disease, researchers have determined that a different strain caused the Justinian Plague.


Thought to have originated in the Congo when the virus was transmitted from chimpanzee to human in 1920, HIV — the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) — didn’t begin to spread in America until the early ’80s, though some research indicates it may have arrived in New York City from Haiti as early as 1970. In 1981, gay men began being hospitalized for rare cancers and lung infections. Doctors didn’t know how these rare diseases were cropping up, though they believed some condition must have been causing them. In 1982, heroin users began getting these diseases as well, and that year they named the condition AIDS.  HIV was isolated in a lab and identified in a French lab in 1983.

The World Health Organization characterizes HIV/AIDS as a global epidemic, whereas the CDC describes it as a pandemic.

According to UNAIDS, an estimated 36 million people are estimated to have died from AIDS-related causes, the peak occurring in 2005 with 2.3 million deaths. The worst area hit was Sub-Saharan Africa, where in 2005, an estimated 2.7 million people became infected with HIV and 2 million adults and children died of AIDS.

In the years since, while antivirals and preventative medication PrEP have helped to prevent transmission of the disease, the number in the United States has leveled off since 2013 with around 39,000 new HIV infections annually.


The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was the worst in recent history, with one-third of the earth’s population becoming infected with the H1N1 virus, eventually killing 50 million people. Researchers still can’t pinpoint what made the virus so deadly, but like the current coronavirus pandemic, there was no vaccine at the time. People were instructed to quarantine, maintain social distance, wash hands and sterilize, which was basically all they could do. Some U.S. cities, such as San Francisco, also passed ordinances forcing people to wear masks.

The disease is believed to have first appeared in 1916 in a British army hospital, located in Étaples, France, and like the H5N1 Virus, may have been caused by birds. This severe pneumonia-like influenza festered and spread in the cold, wet trenches of World War I, and from there, it circled the globe.

1) THE BLACK DEATH (1347-1353 AD): 50 to 200 MILLION+ DEAD

Some figures of the Black Death’s toll range from 50 million, others 200 million or higher, which arguably would make it the most deadly pandemic in world history.

Many scholars believe that, like COVID-19, the Black Death originated in Asia. It was spread by the movement of Batu Khan’s Golden Horde. During the horde’s siege of Caffa (A major seaport on the Black Sea), the Mongols — who were losing numbers rapidly to the disease — catapulted buboe-riddled bodies over the city walls. It spread to the fleeing populace, whose merchants then took it over the Black Sea.

The nightmare began for Europe one October day in 1347 as 12 ships from the Black Sea arrived in Sicily. Porters greeting the ships found a grisly sight: a few ill sailors, their bodies ravaged with black, oozing buboes, standing on deck among their dead crewmates. Despite soon banishing the ships from the port, the damage already was done.

From Sicily, the disease spread like wildfire, ravaging the European population until 1353. Symptoms included high fever, chills, vomiting and diarrhea. It also caused the aforementioned pus-filled buboes as well as parts of the body (nose, fingers, toes, etc.) to become black with gangrene. While it has long been maintained that the Black Death was spread through fleas from rats, many now believe it was spread through human fleas and body lice. Dr. Samuel K. Cohn, a medieval history professor at the University of Glasgow and author of “The Black Death Transformed (2002), was one of the original proponents of the theory that it was spread via human-to-human transmission.

“It spread very quickly,” Cohn told Fox News. “It was not spread by the inefficient mechanism of fleas on rats, although the textbooks demand that that must be the case, especially now with ancient DNA which shows with a strain of Yersinia pestis – however as we know from diseases like SARS and syphilis, different pathogens can be very closely related and produce completely different diseases.”

In his book, Cohn noted that people developed a resistance to the Black Death, which was a medical impossibility with the “classic” Bubonic Plague. Also, the Black Death thrived in temperatures and seasons when rat fleas were at their lowest ebb. What exactly the Black Death was remained unknown, though one thing was sure- it spread fast and would spread even faster today than COVID-19 thanks to modern modes of transportation.

“I would say the Black Death was even faster spreading [than coronavirus] in some ways given its track-record in circumnavigating Europe,” Cohn explained. “The Black Death could only move as fast as people and horses could move, so it couldn’t spread faster than an airplane can carry people. But, the whole dissemination seems to have been from 1348-49, a more quickly spreading disease within a certain area over time, and the disease knocked out anywhere from a half to 3/4 of the population of Florence in the space of three or four months.”

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Ancient Mars had 2 reservoirs of water deep underground, study claims

Scientists have discovered that two unique reservoirs of ancient water once flowed deep beneath the surface of Mars.

It’s hard to believe, but at one time the dry and dusty Red Planet was wet and lush.

“A lot of people have been trying to figure out Mars’ water history,” University of Arizona planetary scientist Jessica Barnes said in a statement. “Like, where did water come from? How long was it in the crust [surface] of Mars? Where did Mars’ interior water come from? What can water tell us about how Mars formed and evolved?”

Barnes and her colleagues examined the isotopes of hydrogen locked inside Mars rocks. Isotopes are variants of an element with different numbers of neutrons. They studied samples they knew were originated from the planet’s crust: the Black Beauty and Allan Hills meteorites.

A recent impact crater on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

A recent impact crater on Mars. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona) (NASA/JPL-Caltech/University of Arizona)

Two geochemically different types of Martian volcanic rocks — enriched shergottites and depleted shergottites — contain water with different hydrogen isotope ratios, the researchers found.

Their analysis, which was published today in Nature Geoscience, showed that Mars likely received water from at least two vastly different sources early in its history.

The variability the researchers found seems to imply that Mars, unlike Earth and the moon, never had an ocean of magma completely encompassing the planet.

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Scientists discover extraterrestrial superconductivity in meteorites

Scientists at UC San Diego and the Brookhaven Laboratory in New York have discovered superconductivity in meteorites.

After analyzing 15 pieces of comets and asteroids the researchers found two meteorites with superconductive grains, dubbed “Mundrabilla” and “GRA 95205.” This is the first time that extraterrestrial superconductive grains have been identified.

A paper on the research is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meteorites have a wide range of “material phases” from the oldest states of the solar system, researchers say. In a statement, naturally occurring superconductive materials are described by UC San Diego researcher James Wampler as unusual, but significant because they could be superconducting in extraterrestrial environments.

Superconductive grains were found in this piece of the Mundrabilla meteorite, which scientists say is the first identification of extraterrestrial superconductive grains.

Superconductive grains were found in this piece of the Mundrabilla meteorite, which scientists say is the first identification of extraterrestrial superconductive grains. (Image courtesy of James Wampler)

In the paper, scientists characterize the meteorites’ material phases as alloys of lead, tin and indium, which is the softest non-alkali metal. The research was undertaken by UC San Diego researchers Mark Thiemens, Ivan Schuller and the paper’s first author Wampler, along with Brookhaven Lab’s Shaobo Cheng and Yimei Zhu

The findings could boost our knowledge of a number of astronomical environments, according to the researchers. Superconducting particles in cold environments could affect planet formation, shape and origin of magnetic fields, dynamo effects, motion of charged particles, they say.

A small chunk of an asteroid or comet is also known as a meteoroid. When it enters Earth’s atmosphere, it becomes a meteor or fireball or shooting star. The pieces of rock that hit the ground, valuable to collectors, are meteorites.

In 2017 a meteor made headlines when it flashed across the sky in Michigan. The blazing fireball sent meteorite hunters scrambling to find fragments of the rare space rock.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Ice age ‘house’ made from bones of more than 60 mammoths mystifies archaeologists

Archaeologists found bones belonging to mammoths, reindeer, horses, bears, wolves, red foxes and Arctic foxes at the site.

Archaeologists found bones belonging to mammoths, reindeer, horses, bears, wolves, red foxes and Arctic foxes at the site.
(Image: © Alex Pryor)

Archaeologists in Russia have found a large circle made out of the stuff of horror movies: the bones of mammoths and other ice age creatures that lived more than 20,000 years ago, a new study finds.

Among the remains are the bones of more than five dozen mammoths, as well as bones from reindeer, horses, bears, wolves, red foxes and Arctic foxes, the study researchers said.

“It is made up of thousands of bones that come from at least 60 different woolly mammoths,” study lead researcher Alexander Pryor, a lecturer of prehistoric archaeology at the University of Exeter in England, told Live Science. “All parts of the mammoth bodies are represented, from very large bones like skulls and leg bones to smaller bones like vertebrae.”

There are about 70 other ice age “bone circles” at about 25 sites in Ukraine and Russia already known to archaeologists, but the newly discovered one is the oldest on record, Pryor said. It was found by study co-researcher Alexander Dudin, the director of the Kostenki Museum-Preserve in Voronezh, Russia, who was doing survey work in 2015 at the archaeological site of Kostenki 11, about 350 miles (560 kilometers) south of Moscow.

The bone circle measures about 36 feet (11 meters) in diameter. It’s difficult to say what this and other bone-made structures would have looked like during the last ice age, Pryor said, “but at Kostenki 11, we can imagine a ring of mammoth bones piled up on top of each other. Some of the bones were still in articulation [joined together], indicating that at least some of the bones still had flesh on them when they were added to the pile.”

He added that, “beyond this, some have speculated about wooden poles used to support a roof made of animal hides, but there is no evidence for this yet at Kostenki 11.”

The bones used to construct the structure were likely scavenged, Pryor said. There is some evidence that during the ice age people hunted mammoths, as evidenced by the discovery of a javelin embedded in a 25,000-year-old mammoth rib in Poland, but this may have been an exception, not the norm, Pryor said.

Archaeologists excavate the incredible bone structure made during the last ice age.

Archaeologists excavate the incredible bone structure made during the last ice age. (Image credit: Alex Pryor)

During the last ice age, humans arranged these bones in a circle.

During the last ice age, humans arranged these bones in a circle. (Image credit: Alex Pryor)

A view of the sheer amount of bones at the site.

A view of the sheer amount of bones at the site. (Image credit: Alex Pryor)

A bird's-eye view of the site.

A bird’s-eye view of the site. (Image credit: Alex Pryor)

Notice the mammoth tooth just above this researcher's arm.

Notice the mammoth tooth just above this researcher’s arm. (Image credit: Alex Pryor)

This structure may have served as a house, a storage facility for meat or even a place for rituals. (Image credit: Alex Pryor)

Extreme cold

The last ice age swept northern Europe between 75,000 and 18,000 years ago, but it reached its most bone-chilling temperatures during a period lasting from about 23,000 to 18,000 years ago, when the circle at Kostenki 11 was built.

During this time, the summers were short and cool, while the winters were long and cold, reaching temperatures as low as minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 20 degrees Celsius). These freezing temperatures prompted many human groups to head south, where prey and other resources were more abundant. Eventually, the community that built this bone circle left, too, even though there was a river nearby that could have provided them with fresh water, Pryor said.

That community didn’t leave behind many clues about how it used this structure. Maybe it was a dwelling, archaeologists have suggested. But Pryor and his colleagues have another idea; perhaps these boney buildings were used for rituals or even for food storage, given that each mammoth had a “mammoth” amount of meat on it, he said.
It’s unlikely that it was a dwelling because there’s less evidence of human activity there than would be expected of a full-blown abode, he said. Moreover, this sort of house wouldn’t have been safe. “The fact that some of the bones are still articulated means that they would have still been smelly,” because they would have had meat on them, Pryor said. “They would have been attractive to wolves and foxes and other scavengers.”

An analysis of tiny debris found within the bone circle and three pits located outside of it revealed burned pieces of charcoal and bone. These findings indicate that, despite the bitter cold, there were trees nearby that could be burned, Pryor said. In addition, it shows that these people were burning bone, which produces a brighter fire with less heat compared with a wood fire, he said.

“This is a story about our human ancestors innovating to survive the coldest point of the last ice age and using all resources and materials that they had,” Pryor said. “It would have been a challenging place to live, but they were making a success out of it.”

The suggestion that the bone structure was used for storage and the pits around it as trash cans “are not Earth-shattering revelations, [but] they do provide useful insights into the lives of the people who once occupied the site,” said E. James Dixon, an emeritus professor of anthropology at the University of New Mexico who was not involved in the study.

The last ice age is a “fascinating time period in Eurasian archeology,” Dixon told Live Science in an email, and the study “clearly demonstrates that modern humans were adapted to higher latitudes at the very height of the last ice age.”

The study was published online March 17 in the journal Antiquity.

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Long-lost Maya capital discovered in backyard in Mexico

Archaeologists have discovered the capital of a long-lost Maya kingdom in the backyard of a cattle rancher in Mexico.

Experts from Brandeis University and Brown University were part of an international team that excavated the site, dubbed Lacanja Tzeltal, in Chiapas in southeastern Mexico. The site, which was settled in 750 B.C.E and occupied for 1,000 years, was the capital of the ancient kingdom of Sak Tz’i’, according to Brandeis University.

The discovery came about in unusual circumstances. In 2014, Whittaker Schroder, a graduate student of archaeology at the University of Pennsylvania, was waved down by a carnita seller on a highway in Chiapas. He told Schroder, who was researching archaeological sites in the area for a dissertation topic, that his friend had uncovered an ancient stone tablet. When Schroder and Harvard graduate student Jeffrey Dobereiner visited the friend, a cattle rancher, he showed them the tablet and they were able to verify its authenticity.

Schroder informed Charles Golden, an associate professor of archaeology at Brandeis University, and Brown University Bioarchaeologist Andrew Scherer. It took a number of years to gain permission to excavate the site, which is in the cattle rancher’s backyard. Archaeological work began in June 2018, with researchers having to carefully fence off the site from the rancher’s cows.

Schroder (left) and Scherer (right) excavate in the ancient city's ballcourt.

Schroder (left) and Scherer (right) excavate in the ancient city’s ballcourt. (Charles Golden)

Although not as large as the well-known ancient cities of Chichen Itza or Palenque, the Sak Tz’i’ capital contains the remains of a 45-foot high pyramid and nearby buildings that were once the homes of the city’s elite and religious sites. A 1.5-acre “Monuments Plaza,” which served as the city’s ceremonial center, was also found, along with the remains of ancient fortifications and dozens of sculptures. An ancient ballcourt was also uncovered.

The research is described in the Journal of Field Archaeology.

The archaeologists, with the permission of the Mexican government and the local community, are planning to return to excavate the site in June. The next stage of their research will also include LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveys of the area. LiDAR uses a laser to measure distances to the Earth’s surface and can prove extremely valuable to study what is hidden in areas with thick vegetation.

A map of the excavation site.

A map of the excavation site. (Courtesy of Charles Golden)

The find is the latest in a series of fascinating Maya discoveries.

Last year, experts discovered a unique ancient tool in southern Belize that was used by Maya salt workers more than 1,000 years ago.

In 2018, an ancient mask depicting a 7th-century Maya king was discovered in southern Mexico.

A drawing of a tablet found at the site (left) and a 3D-model of the tablet (left).

A drawing of a tablet found at the site (left) and a 3D-model of the tablet (left).

Also in 2018, archaeologists harnessed sophisticated technology to reveal lost cities and thousands of ancient structures deep in the Guatemalan jungle, confirming that the Maya civilization was much larger than previously thought.

LiveScience reports that hundreds of Maya artifacts that may have been used in ritual animal sacrifices have also been discovered at the bottom of a Guatemalan lake.

From its heart in what is now Guatemala, the Maya empire reached the peak of its power in the 6th century A.D., according to History.com, although most of the civilization’s cities were abandoned around 900 A.D.

The Associated Press contributed to this article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers

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Scottish storms unearth 1,500-year-old Viking-era cemetery

Powerful storms on the Orkney Islands in the far north of Scotland recently exposed ancient human bones in a Pictish and Viking cemetery dating to almost 1,500 years ago. Volunteers are piling sandbags and clay to protect the remains and limit the damage to the ancient Newark Bay cemetery on Orkney’s largest island.

The cemetery traces its origins to the middle of the sixth century, when the Orkney Islands were inhabited by native Pictish people, akin to the Picts who inhabited most of what is now Scotland.

“Every time we have a storm with a bit of a south-easterly [wind], it really gets in there and actively erodes what is just soft sandstone,” Higgins told Live Science.

About 250 skeletons were removed from the cemetery about 50 years ago, but it’s not known exactly how far the graveyard extends back from the beach, he said. Hundreds of Pictish and Norse bodies are thought to be buried there still, Higgins added.

The Orkney Islands have been inhabited for thousands of years and have many of the best-preserved archaeological sites in Europe. That includes the prehistoric village of Skara Brae and the standing stones of the Ring of Brodgar, a ceremonial site that includes 13 burial mounds and dates to 3,000 B.C., according to the government agency Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

The ancient cemetery at Newark Bay was excavated in the 1960s and 1970s by the famed British archaeologist Don Brothwell, who preserved the skeletons for future study, Higgins said. Brothwell’s methods were current at the time, but they were very different from modern archaeological techniques, and “the archive isn’t quite the way we’d have it nowadays,” Higgins added. Volunteers now hope to preserve the bones until the remains can be examined by scientists over the next three years, in HES-funded studies.

But a more immediate concern is the vulnerability of the remaining graves to flooding and damage from Orkney storms, which batter the sandstone cliff with enormous waves and storm surges, representatives of the Archaeology Institute said in a statement.

“The local residents and the landowner have been quite concerned about what’s left of the cemetery being eroded by the sea,” Higgins said.

Exposed bones are typically either covered with clay to protect them or removed from the sandstone cliff after their positions are carefully recorded, so it is rare for bones to end up on the beach, he said

It’s not known yet if the exposed bones are those of Picts or Vikings; no burial objects or traces of funeral clothing remain, and bodies in the cemetery were buried four or five layers deep.

Cultural transition

Historians say the first Norse immigrants to the Orkney Islands settled there in the late eighth century, fleeing an emerging new monarchy in Norway. They used the Orkney Islands to launch their own voyages and Viking raids, and eventually, all Orkney was dominated by the Norse, The Scotsman reported. The islands became a Norwegian earldom late in the ninth century, and they remain the region of the British Isles that is most influenced by Norse culture.

Related: Photos: Viking settlement discovered at L’Anse aux Meadows

The relationship between the Picts and the Norse on the Orkney Islands is hotly debated among scholars: Did the Norse take over by force, or were they settlers who traded and intermarried with the Picts? The ancient cemetery at Newark Bay may help to answer that question, Higgins said.

“The Orkney Islands were Pictish, and then they became Norse,” he said. “We’re not really clear how that transition happened, whether it was an invasion or people lived together. This is one of the few opportunities we’ve got to investigate that.”

Excavations at the site had unearthed a carved Pictish stone and the buried remains of a medieval Christian chapel. However, some of the graves could be pre-Christian, Higgins said.

Part of the scientific work on the remains would involve testing genetic material from the ancient bones, which might show that some people living on Orkney today are descended from people who lived on the islands over 1,000 years ago.

“We’re fairly confident that we’re going to find that some local residents are related to people in the cemetery,” Higgins said.

Originally published on Live Science

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How does hand sanitizer work?


Hand sanitizer works to kill germs, but not as well as soap and water and only if it has at least 60% alcohol in it.
(Image: © Shutterstock)

Hand sanitizers provide a convenient and effective way to clean your hands if soap and water aren’t available and your hands aren’t covered in visible dirt or grease. According to a 2019 ruling by the FDA, a product can be marketed as a hand sanitizer if it contains ethyl alcohol (also called ethanol), isopropyl alcohol (isopropanol) or benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient.

The FDA hasn’t made a decision on whether to categorize those three ingredients as “generally recognized as safe” because the agency doesn’t think there is enough research to say. But they’re also not pulling the products from shelves. Ingredients other than those three have shown little to no evidence of being effective at killing germs and have not won the FDA’s approval.

How does hand sanitizer work?

The key ingredient in most hand sanitizers is alcohol. Chemically speaking, alcohols are organic molecules made of carbonoxygen and hydrogen. Ethanol is the chemical in alcoholic drinks and is the chemical most people are thinking of when they say alcohol. Propanol and isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol) are two other alcohols that are common in disinfectants because they’re highly soluble in water, just like ethanol.

Alcohols destroy disease-causing agents, or pathogens, by breaking apart proteins, splitting cells into pieces or messing with a cell’s metabolism, according to a 2014 review published in the journal Clinical Microbiology Reviews. Solutions with as little as 30% alcohol have some pathogen-killing ability, and the effectiveness increases with increasing alcohol concentration. Studies have shown that alcohol kills a more broad variety of bacteria and viruses when the concentration exceeds 60%, and it works faster as the concentration increases. But the effectiveness of alcohol seems to top out at about a 90-95% concentration.

Another strength of alcohol is that the bacteria it kills don’t develop a resistance to it, so alcohol doesn’t lose effectiveness with continued use.

According to the 2014 review, ethanol is so powerful that a few studies have found that in high concentrations, it’s better at getting rid of three species of disease-causing bacteria — Escherichia coliSerratia marcescens and Staphylococcus saprophyticus — compared with washing hands with regular or antibacterial soap.

Related: Hand sanitizer sold out? Here’s how to make your own.

But alcohol doesn’t work for all germs, such as norovirus; Clostridium difficile, which can cause life-threatening diarrhea; or Cryptosporidium, a parasite that causes a diarrheal disease called cryptosporidiosis, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says. Hand sanitizers also don’t remove harmful chemicals like pesticides or heavy metals, nor does hand sanitizer work well on especially dirty or greasy hands. So, soap and water still win the contest overall.

There are a few small-scale studies demonstrating that an alcohol-free hand sanitizer containing benzalkonium chloride as the active ingredient, at a concentration of 0.13%, is just as effective and even more effective than alcohol at getting rid of bacteria. The alcohol-free hand sanitizer that was tested was called HandClens, and the scientists who conducted the research on it worked for the now-closed laboratory that developed the product. That doesn’t mean benzalkonium chloride isn’t effective, but there doesn’t seem to be independent research to suggest that it’s better than alcohol. Plus, benzalkonium chloride might be harmful for some individuals, especially at higher concentrations, according to the Hazardous Substances Database.

According to the CDC, hand sanitizer without alcohol may not kill as many germs and may only reduce the growth of germs rather than killing them outright. The CDC recommends hand sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol in them for maximum effectiveness.

Does hand sanitizer expire?

Hand sanitizer doesn’t really expire. There will likely be an expiration date on the bottle because hand sanitizers are regulated by the FDA, which requires certain things to be on the packaging, including an expiration date. The expiration date is supposed to be the last date at which the product contains the ingredients in the amount specified on the label. Whether the manufacturer has tested how long the product meets the label claim or they just came up with an arbitrary date to determine the expiration date is mostly unknown to consumers. (Manufacturers are supposed to conduct testing, but not all do.)

Alcohol is a shelf-stable chemical according to its safety data sheet from chemical-supplier Sigma Aldrich. This means that if alcohol is kept in a sealed container at room temperature it will remain at the same concentration for a very, very long time.

However, alcohol evaporates easily because of its relatively low boiling point, and over time, as the bottle is opened and closed, some alcohol may escape and the concentration of alcohol in your hand sanitizer might start to decrease. Still, if you keep the bottle closed and at room temperature, you’re likely to have an effective product for as long you need it.

Is hand sanitizer bad for you or toxic?

Alcohols are considered safe for use as an antiseptic and generally have no toxic effect on the skin, although repeated use may cause dryness or mild irritation, according to the Hazardous Substances Database. Several studies have shown that repeated use of hand sanitizer is less irritating than repeated hand washing with soap. But damaged skin is more susceptible to irritation from alcohol.

And let’s be honest, would you rather have some mild skin irritation, or distribute and contract an illness?

Additional resources: 

  • Read more about why hand sanitizer is a good alternative to soap and water, according to the FDA.
  • Here’s more info on what the FDA considers hand sanitizers to be.
  • And here are the guidelines from the CDC on hand washing and hand sanitizer use.

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