Tag Archives: ancient history
Archaeologists in Scotland have unearthed a hoard of stunning prehistoric artifacts, including a bronze sword and rare gold-decorated spearhead.
The trove was found prior to the construction of two soccer fields in Carnoustie by experts from GUARD Archaeology, working on behalf of the local government. A spokesman for GUARD Archaeology told Fox News that excavations at the site have just finished.
The artifacts, which date to around 1,000 B.C. to 800 BC, have delighted archaeologists. “It is very unusual to recover such artefacts in a modern archaeological excavation, which can reveal so much about the context of its burial,”said GUARD Archaeology Project Officer Alan Hunter, who directed the excavation, in a statement.
The excavation site contains a host of archaeological features, including 12 circular houses that probably date the Bronze Age, as well as two halls likely dating to the Neolithic period, one of which is the largest of its type ever found in Scotland, estimated to be 6,000 years old. Clusters of large pits were also discovered, one of which contained the haul of metalwork.
In addition to the bronze spearhead and sword, archaeologists also found a lead and tin pommel from the end of a sword’s hilt, a bronze scabbard mount and chape (the metal point of a scabbard), and a bronze pin.
Archaeologists say that the spearhead’s gold ornament is particularly noteworthy, with the precious metal likely used to enhance the weapon’s visual impact.
The Carnoustie excavation also unearthed rare organic remains, such as a wooden scabbard that encased the sword blade, fur skin around the spearhead and textile around the pin and scabbard.
‘Organic evidence like Bronze Age wooden scabbards rarely survive on dryland sites so this just underlines how extraordinary these finds are,’ said GUARD Project Officer, Beth Spence, in the statement.
Because the remains discovered at Carnoustie are so fragile, archaeologists removed the entire pit and its surrounding subsoil and transported it to GUARD Archaeology’s lab, where it was CT scanned and X-rayed by the School of Veterinary Medicine at Glasgow University. Scan and X-ray data helped experts remove the artifacts from the block of soil. The bronze sword, pin, and scabbard fittings were unearthed near the spearhead.
This is just the latest fascinating archaeological discovery in Scotland. Experts, for example, have spent the last few years piecing together the history of a long-lost early medieval kingdom in southern Scotland.
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BOSTON – In a Mexican cave system so beautiful and hot that it is called both Fairyland and hell, scientists have discovered life trapped in crystals that could be 50,000 years old.
The bizarre and ancient microbes were found dormant in caves in Naica, Mexico, and were able to exist by living on minerals such as iron and manganese, said Penelope Boston, head of NASA’s Astrobiology Institute.
“It’s super life,” said Boston, who presented the discovery Friday at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Boston.
If confirmed, the find is yet another example of how microbes can survive in extremely punishing conditions on Earth.
Though it was presented at a science conference and was the result of nine years of work, the findings haven’t yet been published in a scientific journal and haven’t been peer reviewed. Boston planned more genetic tests for the microbes she revived both in the lab and on site.
The life forms — 40 different strains of microbes and even some viruses — are so weird that their nearest relatives are still 10 percent different genetically. That makes their closest relative still pretty far away, about as far away as humans are from mushrooms, Boston said.
The Naica caves — an abandoned lead and zinc mine — are half a mile (800 meters) deep. Before drilling occurred by a mine company, the mines had been completely cut off from the outside world. Some were as vast as cathedrals with crystals lining the iron walls. They were also so hot that scientists had to don cheap versions of space suits — to prevent contamination with outside life — and had ice packs all over their bodies.
Boston said the team could only work about 20 minutes at a time before ducking to a “cool” room that was about 100 degrees (38 Celsius).
NASA wouldn’t allow Boston to share her work for outside review before Friday’s announcement so scientists couldn’t say much. But University of South Florida biologist Norine Noonan, who wasn’t part of the study but was on a panel where Boston presented her work, said it made sense.
“Why are we surprised?” Noonan said. “As a biologist I would say life on Earth is extremely tough and extremely versatile.”
This isn’t the oldest extreme life. Several years ago, a different group of scientists published studies about microbes that may be half a million years old and still alive. Those were trapped in ice and salt, which isn’t quite the same as rock or crystal, Boston said.
The age of the Naica microbes was determined by outside experts who looked at where the microbes were located in the crystals and how fast those crystals grow.
It’s not the only weird life Boston is examining. She is also studying microbes commonly found in caves in the United States, Ukraine and elsewhere that eat copper sulfate and seem to be close to indestructible.
“It’s simply another illustration of just how completely tough Earth life is,” Boston said.
New discovery fills gap in ancient Jerusalem history
Archaeologists have discovered the first ruins of a building from the Hasmonean period in Jerusalem, filling a gap in the ancient city’s history, the Israeli Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced.
The building’s remains were uncovered during an extensive dig at the Givati Parking Lot, located in Jerusalem’s oldest neighborhood, the City of David. Excavations over several years at the site have turned up some remarkable finds, including a building from the Second Temple period that may have belonged to Queen Helene, a trove of coins from the Byzantine period, and recently, a 1,700-year-old curse tablet in the ruins of a Roman mansion.
Despite extensive excavations in Jerusalem, IAA archaeologists Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said there has been an absence of buildings from the Hasmonean period in the city’s archaeological record. Simon Maccabeus founded the Hasmonean dynasty in 140 B.C. This group ruled Judea until 37 B.C., when Herod the Great came into power. [In Photos: The Controversial ‘Tomb of Herod the Great’]
“Apart from several remains of the city’s fortifications that were discovered in different parts of Jerusalem, as well as pottery and other small finds, none of the Hasmonean city’s buildings have been uncovered so far, and this discovery bridges a certain gap in Jerusalem’s settlement sequence,” excavators Doron Ben Ami and Yana Tchekhanovets said in a statement. “The Hasmonean city, which is well-known to us from the historical descriptions that appear in the works of Josephus, has suddenly acquired tangible expression.”
Flavius Josephus recounted Jewish history and the Jewish revolt against the Romans in his first century A.D. books “The Jewish War” and “Antiquities of the Jews.” Some archaeologists have used his texts to guide their work and interpretations. For example, excavators who recently found cooking pots and a lamp in an underground chamber in Jerusalem think these objects could be material evidence of Josephus’ account of famine during the Roman siege of the city.
IAA officials said the Hasmonean building has only come to light in recent months, adding that the structure boasts quite impressive dimensions. It rises 13 feet (4 meters) and covers 688 square feet (64 square meters) with limestone walls more than 3 feet (1 m) thick.
Inside, the excavators found pottery and coins, the latter of which helped them determine the age of the building. IAA researchers think construction on the building began in the early second century B.C. and continued into the Hasmonean period, when the most significant changes were made inside the structure.
By Arden Dier
Published August 06, 2015
Archaeologists digging for ruins ahead of a new construction project in Jerusalem made an incredible discovery—that immediately began to vanish. During the last hours of a “salvage excavation” two months ago, the Israel Antiquities Authority stumbled upon a 2,000-year-old ritual bath when a stone suddenly disappeared into a black hole, reports Haaretz.
That hole turned out to be the remains of the bath, accessible by a stone staircase, which includes an anteroom with benches and a winepress. Carved into a natural stone cave, the bath itself wasn’t so unusual, but the graffiti that covered the plaster walls was.
Archaeologists were therefore horrified to find the Aramaic inscriptions and paintings in mud and soot, dating to the Second Temple era from 530BC to 70AD, per Discovery News, disappearing within hours of their discovery.
“The wall paintings are so sensitive that their exposure to the air causes damage to them,” the IAA says, per Ynetnews. Crews quickly removed and sealed the plaster so the graffiti, along with a few carvings, can be preserved.
Archaeologists say the Aramaic inscriptions are particularly special as few such writings have been found, though the script is hardly legible now. They guess at a few words, including what translates to “served” and the name “Cohen.” Still, the inscriptions back up the argument that Aramaic was commonly used at the time and perhaps even the language of Jesus.
The plaster also holds drawings of a boat, palm trees and other plants, and what might be a menorah—portrayals of which were then considered taboo. An IAA rep says graffiti in baths may have been “common, but not usually preserved.” (Another recent find: the remnants of a “treasured landmark” destroyed by the Nazis.)
These would make a big omelette! Chinese roadworkers unearth nest of FORTY-THREE fossilised dinosaur eggs
- Fossils found as workman laid sewage pipe on major road
- One man tried to steal two eggs but was stopped in his tracks
- He fled as passers-by formed human chain to protect archaeological site
- Experts are not working to determine what type of dinosaur laid them
A giant clutch of 43 fossilised dinosaur eggs were discovered by workmen doing roadworks in China.
The egg-straordinary find was made in the city centre of Heyuan, south-east China, by workman laying a sewage pipe.
The giant fossils, which included 19 eggs that are fully intact, were the first to be found in the city and are now being studied by experts from the Heyuan Dinosaur Museum, to determine the type, the People’s Daily Online reports.
Egg-straordinary find: Workers point to the dinosaur eggs that were discovered as they were fitting a new sewage pipe in Heyuan, south-east China
Each range from 10 to 12 centimetres in diameter and have been well preserved by the red sandstone beds in the area.
Passers-by then formed a human chain to protect the site until police came and the artifacts were taken away for examination.
Unexpected: Crowds gather as a construction worker handles the red sandstone containing the fossils
Egg box: The fossilised dinosaur eggs are carefully removed from the site and taken to the local museum for examination
Head curator Du Yanli said: ‘There are fossilised dinosaur eggs everywhere in the red sandstone layer but they were never found because the city was built on top of the layers.
‘With the recent road and sewage system upgrade, the red sandstone layer is being exposed and has led to the discovery of the fossils’.
The Heyuan Dinosaur Museum said that more than seventeen thousand fossilised dinosaur eggs have been found in China since the first discovery in 1996.
Carefully done: A workman examines the fossils that have been preserved by the red sandstone
Big batch: A total of 43 dinosaur eggs, 19 of which were unbroken, were found during the roadworks in Heyuan, south-east China
The museum prides itself for having the largest fossilised dinosaur eggs collection in the world.
Heyuan has now dubbed itself as China’s ‘home of dinosaurs’.
Work has temporarily halted as a 1.3 square kilometre dinosaur fossil and geological protected zone is set up in the area for further scientific research.
Human ancestors may have begun evolving the knack for consuming alcohol about 10 million years ago, long before modern humans began brewing booze, researchers say.
The ability to break down alcohol likely helped human ancestors make the most out of rotting, fermented fruit that fell onto the forest floor, the researchers said. Therefore, knowing when this ability developed could help researchers figure out when these human ancestors began moving to life on the ground, as opposed to mostly in trees, as earlier human ancestors had lived.
“A lot of aspects about the modern human condition everything from back pain to ingesting too much salt, sugar and fat goes back to our evolutionary history,” said lead study author Matthew Carrigan, a paleogeneticist at Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida. “We wanted to understand more about the modern human condition with regards to ethanol,” he said, referring to the kind of alcohol found in rotting fruit and that’s also used in liquor and fuel.
To learn more about how human ancestors evolved the ability to break down alcohol, scientists focused on the genes that code for a group of digestive enzymes called the ADH4 family. ADH4 enzymes are found in the stomach, throat and tongue of primates, and are the first alcohol-metabolizing enzymes to encounter ethanol after it is imbibed.
The researchers investigated the ADH4 genes from 28 different mammals, including 17 primates. They collected the sequences of these genes from either genetic databanks or well-preserved tissue samples. [Holiday Drinking: How 8 Common Medications Interact with Alcohol]
The scientists looked at the family trees of these 28 species, to investigate how closely related they were and find out when their ancestors diverged. In total, they explored nearly 70 million years of primate evolution. The scientists then used this knowledge to investigate how the ADH4 genes evolved over time and what the ADH4 genes of their ancestors might have been like.
Then, Carrigan and his colleagues took the genes for ADH4 from these 28 species, as well as the ancestral genes they modeled, and plugged them into bacteria, which read the genes and manufactured the ADH4 enzymes. Next, they tested how well those enzymes broke down ethanol and other alcohols.
This method of using bacteria to read ancestral genes is “a new way to observe changes that happened a long time ago that didn’t fossilize into bones,” Carrigan said.
The results suggested there was a single genetic mutation 10 million years ago that endowed human ancestors with an enhanced ability to break down ethanol. “I remember seeing this huge difference in effects with this mutation and being really surprised,” Carrigan said.
The scientists noted that the timing of this mutation coincided with a shift to a terrestrial lifestyle. The ability to consume ethanol may have helped human ancestors dine on rotting, fermenting fruit that fell on the forest floor when other food was scarce.
“I suspect ethanol was a second-choice item,” Carrigan said. “If the ancestors of humans, chimps and gorillas had a choice between rotten and normal fruit, they would go for the normal fruit. Just because they were adapted to be able to ingest it doesn’t mean ethanol was their first choice, nor that they were perfectly adapted to metabolize it. They might have benefited from small quantities, but not to excessive consumption.”
In people today, drinking in moderation can have benefits, but drinking in excess can definitely cause health problems, experts agree. Scientists have suggested that problems people have with drinking, such as heart disease, liver disease, and mental health problems, result because humans have not evolved genes to sufficiently process ethanol. Similarly, humans have not evolved genes to handle large amounts of sugar, fat and salt, which, in turn, have given way to obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and many other health problems.
One model for the evolution of alcohol consumption suggests that ethanol only entered the human diet after people began to store extra food, potentially after the advent of agriculture, and that humans subsequently developed ways to intentionally direct the fermentation of food about 9,000 years ago. Therefore, the theory goes, alcoholism as a disease resulted because the human genome has not had enough time to fully adapt to alcohol.
Another model suggests that human ancestors began consuming alcohol as early as 80 million years ago, when early primates occasionally ate rotting fermented fruit rich in ethanol. This model suggests that the attraction to alcohol started becoming a problem once modern humans began intentionally fermenting food because it generated far more ethanol than was normally found in nature. The new findings support this model.
In the future, Carrigan and his colleagues want to investigate what the ethanol content of fallen fruit might be, and find out whether apes, such as chimpanzees or gorillas, are willing to consume fermented fruit with varying levels of ethanol.
“We also want to look at other enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism, to see if they’re co-evolving with ADH4 at the same time,” Carrigan said.
The scientists detailed their findings online Dec. 1 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
By Jenn Gidman
Published April 08, 2015
Science notes that Europe is often thought of as the “ancestral home of white people.” But a new DNA study suggests that pale skin and other traits we associate with the continent may have emerged only within the last 8,000 years—a “relatively recent” occurrence.
The study—published last month on the bioRxiv.com server and presented last week at the American Association of Physical Anthropologists’ annual meeting—compared genome DNA across three populations of farmers and hunter-gatherers who crossed over into Europe in discrete migrations within the past eight millennia, Science notes.
What scientists found: a handful of genes tied to diet and skin pigmentation that withstood natural selection and thrived in the northern regions. The data indicates hunter-gatherers who settled in Spain, Hungary, and Luxembourg about 8,500 years ago lacked two specific genes—SLC24A5 and SLC45A2—and had darker skin, Science notes.
But hunter-gatherers hunkered down further north in Sweden had both those light-skin genes and also a third gene that leads to blue eyes (and possibly fair skin and blond hair).
When the third demographic, the Near East farmers, arrived, they also carried the SLC24A5 and SLC45A2 genes, so paler skin started emerging throughout the continent as the populations interbred.
Although researchers don’t offer a definitive answer as to why natural selection picked those genes to thrive in the north, one paleoanthropologist speculated at the meeting that the lack of sun in the northern parts of Europe required people to adapt by developing lighter skin to better absorb more vitamin D, as well as the LCT gene that allowed them to digest the sugars their ancestors couldn’t in milk, also filled with vitamin D.
(This one infant could tell us where the first Americans came from.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: Europeans’ White Skin Came Later Than Thought
By Matt Cantor
Published March 30, 2015
Scientists are puzzling over a new discovery regarding Stone Age sex: It seems that for every 17 women who reproduced at the time, just one man did the same.
The findings are based on an analysis of the DNA of 450 people from geographically diverse locations. Researchers compared Y-chromosome DNA, which is inherited only from our male forbears, with mitochondrial DNA, which comes from women, Pacific Standard reports.
Such analysis can show experts our numbers of male and female ancestors, and the mystery here is why these ancient numbers are so out of whack.
“It wasn’t like there was a mass death of males,” says Melissa Wilson Sayres of Arizona State University. “They were there, so what were they doing?” Her team has suggested that perhaps a few males accumulated a great deal of wealth, pushing out others when it came to reproduction.
As Danielle Paquette puts it at the Washington Post, “Survival of the fittest might have actually been survival of the richest.” This would have occurred after the dawn of agriculture, suggesting that the top male reproducers were essentially the best farmers.
Amanda Marcotte writes at Slate that the findings would seem to run counter to the thinking of evolutionary biologists who believe our nature was defined during the earlier hunter-gatherer period of cavemen.
She’s also glad that an age in which a few men got all the women is long gone. “That sounds terrible for both men and women.” (Other recent evolutionary research examines why men like curvy women.)
This article originally appeared on Newser: 8K Years Ago, Women Reproduced Way More Often Than Men