Tag Archives: tia ghose

Ancient Celtic Prince’s grave and chariot unearthed

princely-grave-aerial-1

This aerial view shows the funerary complex where archaeologists discovered a Celtic prince’s tomb dating to the fifth century B.C. (Copyright Denis Gliksman/Inrap)

The 2,500-year-old lavish tomb and chariot of an ancient Celtic prince have been unearthed in France.

The ancient princely tomb, which was discovered in a large burial mound, was filled with stunning grave goods, including gorgeous pottery and a gold-tipped drinking vessel. The giant jug was decorated with images of the Greek god of wine and revelry, and was probably made by Greek or Etruscan artists.

The stunning new finds “are evidence of the exchanges that happened between  the Mediterranean and the Celts,” Dominique Garcia, president of France’s National institute of Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP), told journalists at a field visit, according to France 24. [See Photos of the Ancient Celtic Prince’s Tomb]

Ancient trade routes

Though the heartland of the Greek  city-states was clustered in Greece in the fifth and sixth centuries B.C., the economic powerhouses later expanded their reach throughout the Mediterranean. At their peak, the Greek and Western Etruscan city-states had settlements dotting coastlines all the way to modern-day southern Spain to the south and to the Black Sea, near modern-day Russia, to the north.

One of the key trading centers for this region was Massilia, in what is now modern-day Marseille, France. Merchants from the East came to the region seeking slaves, metals and amber, according to an INRAP statement about the find.

Many of the Mediterranean merchants bestowed impressive goods from Greek and Etruscan cultures as diplomatic gifts, in hopes of opening new trade channels. As a result, the Celts who ruled centrally located inland regions in the central river valleys amassed great wealth. The most elite of these ancient rulers were buried in impressive burial mounds, some of which can be found in Hochdorf, Germany, and Bourges, France.

Long burial tradition

The current site — located in the little village of Lavau, France, just a few hours’ drive south of Paris — served as an ancient burial place for centuries. In 1300 B.C., the ancient inhabitants left burial mounds with bodies and the cremated remains of people, archaeologists have found. Another burial at the site, dating to about 800 B.C., holds the body of an ancient warrior bearing a sword, along with a woman bedecked in solid-bronze bracelets.

The current tomb was part of a set of four burial mounds that were grouped together, dating to about 500 B.C., though the tomb itself is likely younger than the rest of the burials. People continued to use the ancient cemetery during the Roman period, when some of the graves were emptied and replaced by newer graves.

The newly discovered funeral chamber was found in a giant mound about 130 feet wide — one of the largest found from that time period. Inside lies the body of an ancient prince in his chariot. In a corner of the tomb, someone had placed several basins; a bronze bucket; a fluted piece of pottery; and a large, sheathed knife.

The most striking find was a stunning bronze cauldron, about 3.3 feet in diameter, that may have been made by the Greeks or the Etruscans.

The giant jug has four handles, with images of the Greek god Achelous, a Greek river deity. In this depiction, Achelous is shown with horns and bulls’ ears, as well as a beard and three moustaches. The stunningly worked cauldron also depicts eight lion heads, and the interior contains an image of the Greek god Dionysus, the god of winemaking, lying under a vine and looking at a woman.

“This appears to be a banquet scene, a recurrent theme in Greek iconography,” researchers from INRAP, which is overseeing the excavations at the site, said in a statement.

The cauldron, which was likely used by the ancient Celtic aristocrats in feasts, is also covered in gold at the top and the base.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

Two ‘pseudoscorpions’ discovered in Grand Canyon cave

tuberochernes-cohni

Two new species of cave-adapted, eyeless pseudoscorpions have been discovered in a cave on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon. Here, one of the species, Tuberochernes cohni. (Courtesy of J. Judson Wynne, Northern Arizona University)

This story was updated on Wednesday. Dec. 10 at 9:15 a.m. ET.

Two new species of so-called pseudoscorpions have been discovered in a cave on the northern rim of the Grand Canyon.

The elusive creatures, which have adapted to their lightless environment by losing their eyes, were discovered in Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, which abuts the better-known Grand Canyon National Park.

Unlike true scorpions, these scorpion imposters lack a tail with a venomous stinger. Instead, the arachnids use venom-packed stingers in their pincers to immobilize their prey, study author J. Judson Wynne, an assistant research professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, wrote in an email.

The tiny cave where the team discovered the new species just 250 feet in length nevertheless supports the highest diversity of cave-adapted arthropods of any known cave in the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, Wynne said. [Creepy Crawlies & Flying Wonders: Incredible Cave Creatures]

New species?

The researchers first discovered the two false scorpions during expeditions in a cave along the north rim of the Grand Canyon, between 2005 and 2007. But it took years before the team identified the species as unique.

“Contrary to popular belief, rarely are we in the field, collect an animal and then brandish our grubby field flasks of whiskey to toast a new species discovery,” Wynne told Live Science in an email.

To confirm the scorpion lookalikes were a new species, the team had to take them back to a taxonomic specialist, who analyzed all the details of the species and pored over all the existing data on similar species. In this case, the team found that one of the species had a thickened pair of legs and a mound on the pincer, while another had a much deeper pincer than other pseudoscorpionsqualifying each as a distinct species, study co-author Mark Harvey, senior curator at the Western Australian Museum in Perth, said in an email.

The creatures, dubbed Hesperochernes bradybaughii and Tuberochernes cohni, respectively, are about 0.12 inches long and feed on tiny invertebrates, including springtails, book lice, mites and possibly cricket nymphs. Many of their prey are just one-fourth the length of a grain of rice.

The two species are named after Jeff Bradybaugh, an advocate for cave research and the former superintendent of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, and Theodore Cohn, an entomologist who identified a new genus of cave cricket and passed away in 2013.

The fact that two separate species of pseudoscorpion can live in the cave while competing for the same food source suggests the cave supports a robust food web. The cave is one of the largest roosts of crickets in northern Arizona, and the pseudoscorpion prey feed on the cricket “frass,” or poop, as well as the fungus that grows on the poop. The cave is also home to a bizarre, eyeless fungus beetle that feeds on the poop fungus.

At one time, the pseudoscorpions’ ancestors lived in the desert environment outside the cave, but they have since adapted to hunting in an environment devoid of light, losing their eyes and gaining an elongated bodies in the process.

Odd insects

In general, pseudoscorpions are odd creatures. Not only are their pincers good for immobilizing prey, they also help the insects hitchhike to new locales.

“They will grasp onto another animal such as birds, mammals and even other insects. They hold on and can be transported long distances,” Wynne said.

This allows the insects to travel farther than they ordinarily could, so they can mate and disperse genes farther than they could walking on their own eight legs. These journeys may also take the scorpions to better hunting grounds, although there’s no guarantee that the next spot is better than their previous one, Wynne said.

But the pseudoscorpions aren’t just freeloaders; they help their animal hosts by devouring parasites such as mites.

The new species were described in the November issue of the Journal of Arachnology.

Editor’s Note: This story was corrected to note that pseudoscorpions don’t have a tail and that the ancestors to the cave pseudoscorpions probably lived in a desert environment, not a sunny one.

1 Comment

Filed under Animals, Humor and Observations

Oldest animal-built reef discovered in Namibia

The oldest animal-built reef was discovered in southern Namibia, in a region known for its ancient sediments.Fred Bowyer

An ancient reef that once teemed with primitive sea life has been unearthed in Africa.

The reef, which dates to 548 million years ago, is the oldest animal-built reef ever found.

The coral-like creatures, dubbed Cloudina, may have built the superstructures to protect themselves from predators or to soak up the nutrients from ocean currents, said study co-author Rachel Wood, a geologist at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. [See Images of the Ancient Reef Fossils]

Explosion

During the Ediacaran Period, which lasted from about 635 million to 542 million years ago, all life lived in the sea, and most creatures were immobile and soft-bodied, with mysterious wavy, frondlike shapes.

But in the 1970s, scientists discovered evidence of Cloudina, the earliest fossil animals to have skeletons. The pencil-shaped sea creature could grow to about 5.9 inches long. A cross-section of the tubular shape shows that it would’ve been about 0.3 inches in diameter, Wood said.

“It’s like a series of hollow ice-cream cones all stacked up,” Wood told Live Science, referring to the appearance of the Cloudina skeleton. “It might have been related to corals and anemones and jellyfish.”

Like modern-day corals, the youngest cone in the stack would have been alive, while the rest would be dead, Wood said.

But scientists knew little about how these enigmatic creatures lived.

Oldest reef

Late last year, while excavating in Namibia in a region known for Ediacaran fossils, Wood and her colleagues found evidence for a vast network of reefs built by Cloudina about 548 million years ago. Like modern-day corals, the primeval creatures excreted calcium carbonate, which cemented them to each other and helped grow the reef.

The new finds are the oldest animal-built reefs ever discovered. Previously, the oldest animal-built reefs dated to around 530 million years ago, during the Cambrian Period, when the complexity and diversity of life on Earth exploded. (Slimy bacterial communities known as stromatolites have built vast, limestone reefs for almost 3 billion years, Wood said.)

The ancient Cloudina reefs the team discovered grew in patches atop a massive stromatolite-formed reef complex that spans nearly 4.3 miles, Wood said.

“If you were snorkeling over it nearly 550 million years ago, you’d see areas of green surface, from stromatolites, and then you’d see these little patches of tubes all growing together, forming a little thicket, or mound, on the seafloor,” Wood said.

Avoiding predators?

Cloudina likely formed reefs to protect itself from predators. In China, for instance, scientists have unearthed Cloudina fossils with holes drilled in them, likely from acid secreted by a predator animal, Wood said.

Clumping together on reefs would have also brought nutrient-rich currents close to the filter feeders at a time when more life forms were competing for space and food, the authors said.

“All together it paints a picture of quite significant ecological complexity,” Wood said.

The fossils were described today June 26 in the journal Science.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Animals, Humor and Observations

Woolly mammoths (and rhinos) ate flowers

Woolly mammoths (and rhinos) ate flowers

By Tia Ghose

Published February 06, 2014

  • pleistocene-arctic

    The Arctic had much more diverse flora than previously thought during the Pleistocene Era (Mauricio Anton)

Woolly mammoths, rhinos and other ice age beasts may have munched on high-protein wildflowers called forbs, new research suggests.

And far from living in a monotonous grassland, the mega-beasts inhabited a colorful Arctic landscape filled with flowering plants and diverse vegetation, the study researchers found.

The new research “paints a different picture of the Arctic,” thousands of years ago, said study co-author Joseph Craine, an ecosystem ecologist at Kansas State University. “It makes us rethink how the vegetation looked and how those animals thrived on the landscape.”

The ancient ecosystem was detailed Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Pretty landscape In the past, scientists imagined that the now-vast Arctic tundra was once a brown grassland steppe that teemed with wooly mammoths, rhinos and bison. But recreations of the ancient Arctic vegetation relied on fossilized pollen found in permafrost, or frozen soil. Because grasses and sedges tend to produce more pollen than other plants, those analyses produced a biased picture of the landscape. [Image Gallery: Ancient Beasts Roam an Arctic Landscape]

To understand the ancient landscape better, researchers analyzed the plant genetic material found in 242 samples of permafrost from across Siberia, Northern Europe and Alaska that dated as far back as 50,000 years ago.

They also analyzed the DNA found in the gut contents and fossilized poop, or coprolites, of eight Pleistocene beasts woolly mammoths, rhinos, bison and horses found in museums throughout the world.

The DNA analysis showed that the Arctic at the time had a varied landscape filled with wildflowers, grasses and other vegetation.

And the shaggy ice age beasts that roamed the landscape took advantage of that cornucopia. The grazers supplemented their grassy diet with a hefty helping of wildflowerlike plants known as forbs, the stomach content analysis found.

These forbs are high in protein and other nutrients, which may have helped the grazers put on weight and reproduce in the otherwise sparse Arctic environment, Craine told Live Science.

Vanishing wildflowers Between 10,000 and 15,000 years ago, forbs declined in the Arctic,study co-author Mary E. Edwards, a physical geographer at the University of Southampton in England, wrote in an email.

Though it’s not exactly clear why, “we do know from much other evidence that the climate changed at this time,” Edwards said.

The ice age was ending and warmer, wetter weather was prevailing. That climate “allowed trees and shrubs to flourish and these would have outgrown forbs by shading them for example,” Edwards said.

It’s also possible that the vanishing of these high-protein plants hastened the extinction of ice age beasts such as the woolly mammoth. For example, grasslands may have been delicately balanced, with poop from the grazers nourishing the plants, which in turn kept the animals alive. If a big jolt in climate disrupted one part of the chain for instance by depleting the forbs that may have led the whole system to collapse, Edwards speculated.

The findings also raise questions about modern grazers such as bison, Craine said. If the ancient beasts dined on forbs, it’s possible these wildflower-like plants play a bigger role in the diet of modern bison as well, he said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

Ancient nursery of bizarre spoon-billed sharks discovered

Ancient nursery of bizarre spoon-billed sharks discovered

By Tia Ghose

Published January 10, 2014

LiveScience
  • bandringa-painting

    An artist’s rendering of Bandringa, a 310 million-year-old shark originally found in fossil deposits from Mazon Creek, Illinois. (Painting by John Megahan, University of Michigan.)

Stunningly preserved baby sharks with bizarre, long snouts as well as egg cases from the same species may be the oldest convincing evidence of an ancient shark nursery.

The fossils date to about 310 million years ago.

In unpublished work on egg casings found in Germany, paleontologists have inferred the presence of another ancient shark nursery that is 330 million years old, but “this is the first time we have eggs and fossilized hatchlings in the same place, proving it’s a shark nursery,” said study co-author Lauren Sallan, a paleontologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

‘It has these giant, needle-like spines on the top of its head and cheeks.’

– study co-author Lauren Sallan

The new research, detailed Tuesday in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology, also revealed that even back then, the sharks, known as Bandringas, migrated to spawn. [8 Weird Facts About Sharks]

The study also revealed new details about the oddball creature’s anatomy, including a long snout studded with electrical receptors and spines on its head and cheeks.

Known entity The Bandringa fossils were discovered in a coal mine in Mazon Creek, Ill., in 1969. The primitive sharks which had long, spoon-shaped snouts started out as babies measuring just 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 centimeters) long and eventually grew to be about 10 feet long.

Over time, researchers discovered many other fossils that looked somewhat different from the Mazon Creek specimens, and concluded they were two separate species of Bandringa.

But Sallan and co-author Michael Coates, a biologist at the University of Chicago, went back to museum collections to take a second look at 24 of these fossils. They found that all of the shark fossils were the same species, but the marine samples had preserved the bone, whereas the freshwater samples had preserved soft tissue and cartilage, making them look somewhat different.

Migratory behavior The eggs and hatchlings were found only in the Mazon Creek site, whereas fossils of teenage sharks were found upstream in a river in Ohio, and full-grown sharks were found in Pennsylvania.

The new information suggests the sharks spent different phases of their lives in distinct locations, Sallan said.

About 300 million years ago, much of the area that makes up the present-day midwestern United States was covered by a vast inland sea. The sharks probably laid their eggs along the shoreline of that sea, in present-day Illinois, and when the hatchlings matured, they made their way through a network of rivers to a giant freshwater basin farther east, she said.

New anatomy Some of the specimens’ scaly skin was preserved, as was pigment from the iris of the eye, Sallan said.

By combining the detail found in both the soft tissue and the bone, the team was also able to learn new details about the strange creature’s anatomy.

“It has these giant, needle-like spines on the top of its head and cheeks,” probably to defend against other predators living above it, Sallan told LiveScience.

The new study also revealed that the Bandringas’ snouts were studded with tiny receptors. The bottom-feeders used these receptors to sense the electrical activity of prey in the murky shoreline waters, and then used their vacuum-like mouths to suction up those prey, the studied showed.

Not proven yet Except for examples such as mating insects frozen in time, it’s very difficult to infer the behavior of long-dead species.

But the careful work provides “convincing evidence to support the hypothesis that these rocks preserve a shark nursery from 300 million years ago,” Mark Purnell, a paleobiologist at the University of Leicester in England, who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

But not everyone is fully convinced that the findings are evidence of nurseries and shark migration.

“The arguments are cogently presented, but they should be treated cautiously,” said John Maisey, a paleontologist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who was not involved in the study.

For instance, sharks of all ages may have lived in all of these environments, but certain environments may simply have preserved the soft tissue of baby animals better, whereas others could have made whole-body preservation of adults more likely, Maisey said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

‘Lost’ remains of martyred queen unearthed

‘Lost’ remains of martyred queen unearthed

By Tia Ghose

Published January 13, 2014

LiveScience
  • queen-ketevan

    New DNA analysis of a bone fragment found in an Indian Church suggest that the relic belongs to Queen Ketevan, who was martyred in the 1600s. (Wikimedia Commons)

The remains of a woman kept in an Indian church likely belong to an ancient queen executed about 400 years ago, a new DNA analysis suggests.

The DNA analysis suggests the remains are those of Queen Ketevan, an ancient Georgian queen who was executed for refusing to become a member of a powerful Persian ruler’s harem. The findings are detailed in the January issue of the journal Mitochondrion.

Tumultuous life Ketevan was the Queen of Kakheti, a kingdom in Georgia, in the 1600s. After her husband the king was killed, the Persian Ruler, Shah Abbas I, besieged the kingdom.

“Shah Abbas I led an army to conquer the Georgian kingdom and took Queen Ketevan as prisoner,” said study co-author Niraj Rai, a researcher at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India.

‘[It’s] the first genetic evidence for the sample being a relic of Saint Queen Ketevan.’

– Niraj Rai, a researcher at the Center for Cellular and Molecular Biology in Hyderabad, India

Queen Ketevan languished in Shiraz, Iran, for about a decade. But in 1624, Shah Abbas asked the queen to convert to Islam from Christianity and join his harem. She refused, and he had her tortured, then executed on Sept. 22, 1624. Ketevan the Martyr was canonized as a saint by the Georgian Orthodox Church shortly after. [Saintly? The 10 Most Controversial Miracles]

Missing relics Before her death, Queen Ketevan had befriended two Augustinian friars who became devoted to her. Legend had it that, in 1627, the two friars secretly dug up her remains and smuggled them out of the country. An ancient Portuguese document suggested her bones were held in a black sarcophagus kept in the window of the St. Augustinian Convent in Goa, India.

But the centuries had not been kind to the church: Part of the convent had collapsed and many valuables had been sold off in the intervening centuries. Early attempts to find her remains failed.

But starting in 2004, Rai and colleagues excavated an area they believed contained the remains and found a broken arm bone and two other bone fragments, as well as pieces of black boxes.

Rare lineage To find out if the bones belonged to the martyred queen, the researchers extracted mitochondrial DNA, or DNA found only in the cytoplasm of an egg that is passed on through the maternal line.

The arm bone once belonged to a female with a genetic lineage, or haplogroup, known as U1b, the analysis showed. In a survey of 22,000 people from the Indian subcontinent, the researchers found none with U1b lineage. By contrast, the lineage was fairly common in a sample of 30 people from Georgia.

The other two bones showed evidence they were part of genetic lineages common in India, which supported documents suggesting the queen’s relics were stored in a room with the bones of two local friars.

“The complete absence of haplogroup U1b in the Indian subcontinent and its presence in high-to-moderate frequency in the Georgia and adjoining regions, provide the first genetic evidence for the [arm bone] sample being a relic of Saint Queen Ketevan of Georgia,” Rai told LiveScience.

The study is well done and honest, Jean-Jacques Cassiman, a geneticist at the University of Leuven in Belgium who was not involved in the study, wrote in an email.

“It is a bone presumed to be of the queen and will remain so until its DNA can be compared to that of preferably living relatives and if not available dead relatives,” Cassiman said, referring to nuclear DNA that is in all the body’s cells.

But until that point, the conclusion is based on statistics. Those statistics strengthen the idea that the bone belongs to St. Ketevan, but aren’t strong enough to positively identify the remnant, Cassiman said.

Leave a comment

Filed under Humor and Observations

Deformed, pointy skull from Dark Ages unearthed in France

Deformed, pointy skull from Dark Ages unearthed in France

By Tia Ghose

Published November 18, 2013

LiveScience
  • deformed-skull

    A woman’s deformed skull was found in one of the tombs, which dates to around 1,650 years ago. (© DENIS GLIKSMAN, INRAP)

The skeleton of an ancient aristocratic woman whose head was warped into a deformed, pointy shape has been unearthed in a necropolis in France.

The necropolis, found in the Alsace region of France, contains 38 tombs that span more than 4,000 years, from the Stone Age to the Dark Ages.

Rich valley
The Obernai region where the remains were found contains a river and rich, fertile soil, which has attracted people for thousands of years, Philippe Lefranc, an archaeologist who excavated the Stone Age burials, wrote in an email.

‘These deformed skulls appear in tombs rich in objects.’

– Archaeologist Philippe Lefranc

Archaeologists first found the tombs in 2011 while doing a preliminary excavation of the area prior to the start of a big industrial building project. This year, Lefranc and his colleagues went back to do a more in-depth excavation.

They found that the tombs were well preserved by the limestone rock in which they were buried. One of the burials contained 20 tombs of men, women and children. [See Images of the Tombs & Deformed Skull]

“The corpses are lying on their backs, with outstretched legs and heads turned westwards,” Lefranc said.

The tombs, which date to between 4900 B.C. and 4750 B.C., also contained a few stone vases and tools, along with ornaments such as mother-of-pearl elbow bracelets and collars. The small group may have been a family from a Neolithic farming and animal-herding culture that lived in long houses and buried their dead in cemeteries, Lefranc said.

Eastern transplants
In the second burial, which was in a separate area, they found 18 tombs from either the late Roman period or the early Dark Ages, about 1,650 years ago. One of the tombs held a woman, likely an aristocrat, who had a deformed, flattened forehead.

“The deformation of the skull with the help of bandages (narrow strips of cloth) and small boards is a practice coming from central Asia,” Lefranc said in an email. “It was popularized by the Huns and adopted by many German people.”

In those times, the deformed, alienlike skull was a privilege reserved for the aristocracy after death.

“In France, Germany and eastern Europe, these deformed skulls appear in tombs rich in objects,” Lefranc said.

The wealthy lady’s tomb also contained gold pins, belts known as chatelaines, pearls, a comb made of a stag antler, and a bronze mirror that likely came from the Caucasus region of central Asia, he said.

The team speculates that the 1,650-year-old graves held mercenary soldiers from the East and their families, who were employed by the Roman Army during the waning days of the Roman empire.

3 Comments

Filed under Humor and Observations