Tag Archives: smithsonian

Does ‘Blue Hole’ hold secret to Mayan collapse?

Does 'Blue Hole' hold secret to Mayan collapse?

This undated image provided by the Belize Tourist Board shows an aerial view of the Great Blue Hole, a popular diving site that’s part of Belize���s barrier reef. (AP Photo/Belize Tourist Board)

Everything from overhunting and a peasant uprising to deforestation and an alien invasion has been proposed to explain why the Mayan civilization collapsed,Smithsonian notes. But one theory has been gaining ground in recent years: extreme drought.

Now more evidence has surfaced to support the drought postulation—and the proof may just lie in Belize’s most famous underwater cave. Rice University professor Andre Droxler’s team analyzed sediment found in the “Great Blue Hole,” a 410-foot-deep sinkhole in the middle of Lighthouse Reef, LiveSciencereports.

Not only did the chemical composition of the silt indicate periods of sparse rainfall during the Mayan decline (likely between AD800 and AD1000): It also showed that a second huge drought probably occurred between AD1000 and AD1100—right around the time the Mayans’ relocation site of Chichen Itza is said to have fallen.

Over thousands of years, runoff from rivers and streams during periods of ample rainfall deposited layers of sediment in the Blue Hole’s lagoon, offering scientists a geological timeline to examine.

“It’s like a big bucket,” Droxler tells LiveScience. “It’s a sediment trap.” Excessive rain also erodes volcanic rock, which contains titanium. Droxler’s team found that the sediment’s mineral composition—specifically, the low ratio of titanium to aluminum—in the lagoon indicated periods of low rainfall during the times when the Mayas, for the most part, disappeared.

Scientists surmise that due to a climate glitch, monsoons may have skipped over the Yucatan Peninsula during these periods, leading to eventual catastrophe all around. “When you have major droughts, you start to get famines and unrest,” Droxler explains.

(A “lost” Mayan city with 15 pyramids was discovered in Mexico last year.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: ‘Blue Hole’ May Hold Secret to Mayan Collapse

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Archaeologists: For centuries, Rome’s Colosseum was a ‘condo’

Archaeologists: For centuries, Rome's Colosseum was a 'condo'

This once used to be a … “condo”?AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

If only these walls could talk. Rome’s iconic Colosseum, built nearly 20 centuries ago in 72 AD, has long been known as the site of gory gladiator battles and animal slaughter.

Now, archaeologists who spent three weeks studying an excavated area beneath some 80 arched entrances that opened up into the arena say that after the Roman empire crumbled, the ancient structure came to house—gasp!—ordinary Romans, reports the Telegraph.

Discovery likens the Colosseum to a “huge condominium” from the 800s until at least 1349, when a major earthquake inflicted significant damage. “This excavation has allowed us to identify an entire housing lot from the late medieval period,” explains the Colosseum’s director.

Among the findings: terracotta sewage pipes, pottery shards, the likely presence of stables and workshops, and the foundation of a wall that marked the boundaries of one of the properties.

They believe that friars from the nearby Santa Maria Nova convent, who controlled the building for a time, rented out square feet within the Colosseum as housing.

The amphitheater, no longer used as an arena, became a huge courtyard, they say, thriving with people, animals, and goods. Archaeologists even found a tiny monkey figurine carved in ivory, likely a chess pawn.

Smithsonian notes other unexpected uses followed: In the 1500s, Pope Sixtus attempted to make the Colosseum a wool factory. (On US shores, archaeologists are trying to solve the mystery of Plymouth colony.)

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6,100-YEAR-OLD POTS REVEAL EARLIEST EVIDENCE OF COOKING WITH SPICES

6,100-YEAR-OLD POTS REVEAL EARLIEST EVIDENCE OF COOKING WITH SPICES

KITCHEN DAILY 8/22/13

Prehistoric palates may be more refined than we think.

NBC News reports that the earliest conclusive evidence of humans cooking with spicehas been discovered from 6,100-year old clay cooking pots found in Neolithic sites in Denmark and Germany. Burnt food remains on the pots revealed traces of garlic mustard seeds along with meat and fish fats.

old pot

While spices have been found in older sites, it is unclear whether they were used in food or for medicinal or decorative purposes. This new discovery shows well-preserved food scraps without any whole seeds, suggesting that the seeds were crushed to release flavor.

According to a Smithsonian magazine blog post, experts previously thought that cooking with plants during this time period was largely motivated by a need for calories, but garlic mustard seeds have little nutritional value.

The findings suggest culinary spices were in use more than 1,000 years earlier than previously thought, predating the discovery of tumeric and ginger in 4,500-year old cooking pots from northern India.

spices

Lead researcher Dr. Hayley Saul tested the primitive recipe and likened it to today’s popular mustard seeds. “It went down very well,” she tells NBC News.

Check out the slideshow above to find out more about this surprising discovery and what other ancient spices have been found.

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New mammal species discovered

New mammal species discovered: a raccoon-sized critter with teddy bear looks

Published August 15, 2013

Associated Press
  • New Mammal Olinguinto 1.jpg

    Aug. 15, 2013: The Smithsonian announced that the olinguito, which they had previously mistaken for an olingo, is actually a distinct species. (AP Photo/Smithsonian Institution, Mark Gurney)

  • New Mammal Olinguinto.jpg

    Aug. 15, 2013: The Smithsonian announced that the olinguito, which they had previously mistaken for an olingo, is actually a distinct species. (AP Photo/Smithsonian Institution, Mark Gurney)

WASHINGTON –  Imagine a raccoon with a teddy bear face that is so cute it’s hard to resist, let alone overlook. But somehow science did — until now.

Researchers announced Thursday a rare discovery of a new species of mammal called the olinguito. It belongs to a grouping of large creatures that include dogs, cats and bears.

The raccoon-sized critter leaps through the trees of mountainous forests of Ecuador and Colombia at night, according to a Smithsonian researcher who has spent the past decade tracking them.

SUMMARY

The olinguito lived in the National Zoo in Washington, mistaken for an olingo.

Olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur.

Researchers guess there are thousands of olinguitos in the mountainous forest.

But the adorable olinguito (oh-lihn-GEE’-toe) shouldn’t have been too hard to find. One of them lived in the Smithsonian-run National Zoo in Washington for a year in a case of mistaken identity.

“It’s been kind of hiding in plain sight for a long time” despite its extraordinary beauty, said Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals.

The zoo’s little critter, named Ringerl, was mistaken for a sister species, the olingo. Ringerl was shipped from zoo to zoo from 1967 to 1976: Louisville, Ky., Tucson, Ariz., Salt Lake City, Washington and New York City to try to get it to breed with other olingos.

It wouldn’t.

“It turns out she wasn’t fussy,” Helgen said. “She wasn’t the right species.”

The discovery is described in a study in the journal ZooKey.

Helgen first figured olinguitos were different from olingos when he was looking at pelts and skeletons in a museum. He later led a team to South America in 2006.

“When we went to the field we found it in the very first night,” said study co-author Roland Kays of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. “It was almost like it was waiting for us.”

It’s hard to figure how olingos and onlinguitos were confused for each other.

“How is it different? In almost every way that you can look at it,” Helgen said.

‘It looks kind of like a fuzzball … a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat.’

– Kristofer Helgen, the Smithsonian’s curator of mammals 

Olinguitos are smaller, have shorter tails, a rounder face, tinier ears and darker bushier fur, he said.

“It looks kind of like a fuzzball … kind of like a cross between a teddy bear and a house cat,” Helgen said.

It eats fruit, weighs about 2 pounds and has one baby at a time. Helgen figures there are thousands of olinguitos in the mountainous forest, traveling through the trees at night so they are hard to see.

While new species are found regularly, usually they are tiny and not mammals, the warm-blooded advanced class of animals that have hair, live births and mammary glands in females.

Outside experts said this is not merely renaming something, but a genuine new species and a significant find, the type that hasn’t happened for about 35 years.

“Most people believe there are no new species to discover, particularly of relatively large charismatic animals,” said Case Western Reserve University anatomy professor Darin Croft. “This study demonstrates that this is clearly not the case.”

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/science/2013/08/15/new-mammal-species-discovered-with-teddy-bear-looks/?intcmp=features#ixzz2c6OAAK8p

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