Secret History

Christmas Tree

The forgotten Christmas truce of 1914 - Psychopaths versus the rest of us

It was exactly 100 years ago this month when the Christmas Truce of 1914 occurred, when Christian soldiers on both sides of the infamous No Man's Land of the Western Front, recognized their common humanity, dropped their guns and fraternized with the so-called enemies that they had been ordered to kill without mercy the day before. As mentioned in last week's column, the truth of that remarkable event has since been effectively covered up by state and military authorities (and the embedded journalists at the time) because they were angered (and embarrassed) by the breakdown of military discipline.

In the annals of war, such "mutinies" are now unheard of. The generals and (as well as the saber-rattling, chest-thumping politicians and war profiteers back home) rapidly developed strategies to prevent such behavior from happening again.

Christmas Eve of 1914 was only 5 months into World War I, and the cold, weary, homesick soldiers found themselves not heroes, as expected, but rather miserable, frightened and disillusioned wretches living in rat- and louse-infested trenches. Most of them had dreamed heroic dreams when they had signed up to kill and die for King and Country a few months earlier, and hey had been fully expecting to be home for the holidays.

Lower echelon officers on both sides of No Man's Land, who were suffering right along with the troops, allowed a lull in the war - just for Christmas Eve. Then they allowed the troops to sing Christmas hymns, and many of the not-yet hardened soldiers started to recognize the humanity of the demonized "other" that had been fingered as sub-humans deserving of death.

Comment: "As tantalizing as is the story of the Christmas Truce, it is also a reminder of what could have happened if there had been less obedience to authority and more organized opposition to senseless war in the families, schools and churches."

Unfortunately, not much has changed since WWI, in fact things have gotten much worse. Control of the press has been massively increased, authoritarianism has been institutionalised into every seam of our society, the citizenry is being relentlessly spied on, and basic human rights have been watered down or abolished.

Would such a Christmas truce still be possible today - probably not!


1 million bodies found in Egyptian cemetery - scientists stumped

A mummy of a 18 months old girl was found
An ancient cemetery in Egypt contains 1 million bodies, according to a team of archeologists who discovered the burial ground. What the site represents remains a mystery, as the scientists are still puzzled about where exactly all the people came from.

"We are fairly certain we have over a million burials within this cemetery. It's large, and it's dense," said Project Director Kerry Muhlestein, an associate professor in the Department of Ancient Scripture at Brigham Young University (BYU). Muhlestein presented his findings at the Society for the Study of Egyptian Antiquities Scholars Colloquium, held in Toronto in November, Live Science reported.

Archaeologists from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, have been exploring a mysterious cemetery in Egypt for about 30 years. They excavated about 1,700 mummies within the project in Egypt so far. But there is still much work to do.

The cemetery is now called Fag el-Gamous, which means "Way of the Water Buffalo," a title that comes from the name of a nearby road. Archaeologists from Brigham Young University have been excavating Fag el-Gamous, along with a nearby pyramid, for about 30 years. Many of the mummies date to the time when the Roman or Byzantine Empire ruled Egypt, from the 1st century to the 7th century A.D.cemetery]

Restored colossal statue of Amenhotep III unveiled in Egypt

© AP
A tourist takes a picture of two colossal statues of Pharaoh Amenhotep III in Luxor on December 14, 2014.
Archaeologists on Sunday unveiled a restored colossal statue of Amenhotep III that was toppled in an earthquake more than 3,000 years ago at Egypt's famed temple city of Luxor.

The statue showing him in a striding attitude was re-erected at the northern gate of the king's funerary temple on the west bank of the Nile.

The temple is already famous for its existing 3,400-year-old Memnon colossi - twin statues of Amenhotep III whose reign archaeologists say marked the political and cultural zenith of ancient Egyptian civilisation.

The 12.92-metre (43-foot) statue unveiled on Sunday stands west of an existing effigy of the king, also depicting him walking, which was unveiled in March.

"These are up to now the highest standing effigies of an Egyptian king in striding attitude," said German-Armenian archaeologist Hourig Sourouzian, who heads the project to conserve the temple.

The world-famous twin Memnon colossi are 21 metres tall but show the pharaoh seated.

The restored statue now stands again for the first time since its collapse 3,200 years ago, Sourouzian told AFP from Luxor.

Consisting of 89 large pieces and numerous small fragments and reassembled since November, the monolith weighs 110 tonnes.

It had lain broken in pieces after the earthquake in 1200 BC, Sourouzian said.

The statue shows the king wearing the white crown of Upper Egypt, and each hand holding a papyrus roll inscribed with his name, like the one standing next to it that was unveiled earlier this year.

His belt, holding a dagger with a falcon-head handle, is fastened with a rectangular clasp bearing the names of the king.

Work to conserve the Amenhotep III temple is entirely funded through private and international donations.

Pharaoh Amenhotep III inherited an empire that stretched from the Euphrates to Sudan, archaeologists say.

The 18th dynasty ruler became king aged around 12, with his mother as regent.

Amenhotep III died in around 1354 BC and was succeeded by his son Amenhotep IV, widely known as Akhenaten.

Luxor, a city of some 500,000 people on the banks of the Nile in southern Egypt, is an open-air museum of intricate temples and pharaonic tombs.

Collection of Roman artifacts found buried in garden of Rome's British embassy

roman funerary relief

An expert has said this funerary relief showing five freed slaves and a child is 'very rare' and unusual
More than 350 ancient Roman statues and artifacts have been found buried in the overgrown garden of the British ambassador in Rome.

The important collection had been hidden for decades in the garden which had been allowed to grow wild after years of neglect.

During a painstaking three-year landscaping project to restore the garden to its former glory, gardeners were astonished to find the statues, each covered in moss, lichen and slime.

Rare 520 million year old fossil discovered in China

Nidelric pugio fossil
© Prof Derek J Siveter of Oxford University
Nidelric pugio named in honour of University of Leicester scientist who passed away earlier this year.

Nidelric pugio fossil dates back half a billion years and teaches us about the diversity of life in Earth's ancient seas. In life the animal was a 'balloon' shape, covered in spines but the squashed fossil resembles a bird's nest. The fossil has been named in honour of Professor Richard Aldridge from the University of Leicester.

This rare 520 million year old fossil has been discovered in China by an international research team.

The research team behind the discovery was led by Professor Xianguang Hou from the Yunnan Key Laboratory for Palaeobiology at Yunnan University in China with collaboration from the Universities of Leicester and Oxford.

The fossil, from Chengjiang in southern China, is of a probably 'chancelloriid', a group of bizarre, balloon-shaped animals with an outer skeleton of defensive spines. The animal was flattened during the fossilisation process so that it looks like a squashed bird's nest.

Comment: China has provided a plentiful source of discoveries for archeologists:

Cache in Chinese Mountain Reveals 20,000 Prehistoric Fossils

Rare skull of fossil ape discovered

Fossilized Cells Found in China May Challenge Theory of Evolution

Mysterious Chinese Fossils May Be New Human Species

China: Fossils Show Path of the Dinosaurs in Shaanxi


Ancient cave art reveals origins of symbolic thought

cave popcorn
© Christopher Brand
Three years ago, on an expedition to Sulawesi, one of the larger islands in the Indonesia archipelago, the archaeologist Adam Brumm visited a cave decorated with ancient art: mulberry-colored hand stencils and paintings of corpulent pig-deer and midget buffalo, complete with hairlike brush strokes. Squeezing past a giant block of limestone at the cave's entrance, Brumm made his way toward a narrow nook and crawled along it. There, on a section of ceiling less than a foot above his head, he saw ghostly silhouettes of human hands speckled with warty growths of calcite known as "cave popcorn."

A year later, Brumm returned with his colleague Maxime Aubert and a diamond-bladed saw. Aubert specializes in using calcite - which contains trace amounts of steadily decaying radioactive uranium - to determine precise dates for ancient rock art. Researchers had long assumed that Sulawesi's cave paintings were less than 10,000 years old; anything older, the thinking went, would have eroded in the island's humid climate. But Brumm and Aubert's analysis, published in October, revealed that one hand stencil is at least 39,900 years old - the oldest hand stencil on record. A nearby painting of a female pig-deer was estimated to be 35,400 years old, making it one of the most ancient examples of figurative art.

Einstein's letter defending Marie Curie shows just how long trolls and 'reptiles' have been slut-shaming women

Albert Einstein
© Wikimedia Commons
In 1911, nearly a decade after winning a Nobel Prize for her pioneering work on radiation, Marie Curie received a letter from Albert Einstein in which he urged her not to be beaten down by people who would, today, be called trolls.

The letter is among the thousand of Einstein's documents released last week - which are being called "the Dead Sea Scrolls of physics" - and it begins by Einstein asking Curie "not [to] laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say."

"But I am so enraged by the base manner in which the public is presently daring to concern itself with you," he continued, "that I absolutely must give vent to this feeling."

The treatment to which Einstein referred included the fact that the French Academy of Sciences denied her application for a seat, possibly because of rumors that she was Jewish - or because she was having an affair with a married man, the physicist Paul Langevin.

"I am convinced that you consistently despise this rabble," Einstein wrote, "whether it obsequiously lavishes respect on you or whether it attempts to satiate its lust for sensationalism!"

"Anyone who does not number among this reptiles," he said of her critics, "is certainly happy, now as before, that we have such personages among us as you, and Langevin too, real people with whom one feels privileged to be in contact."

Einstein concluded that "[i]f the rabble continues to occupy itself with you, then simply don't read that hogwash, but rather leave it to the reptiles for whom it has been fabricated."

Comment: Interesting choice of the word "reptiles". Einstein's letter was absolutely correct in pointing out the state of science then and still goes on today.


Ghost ship lost for over 60 years discovered in Hawaiian ocean

The U.S.S. Kailua, a sunken cable repair ship that was torpedoed in 1946, was recently rediscovered off the shores of Oahu, Hawaii. The ship's wheel, shown here, was still in its original location.
A "ghost ship" that has been lost beneath the waves for more than 60 years has been discovered nearly a half-mile below the ocean surface off the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

A small submersible vehicle came upon the shipwreck last year, researchers at the University of Hawaii announced today (Dec. 5). Despite being torpedoed after World War II, many parts of the ship, including the ship's wheel, are still in their original locations.

"The upper deck structures from the bow to the stern were well-preserved and showed no sign of torpedo damage," Terry Kerby, a submersible pilot with the university's Hawai'i Undersea Research Laboratory, said in a statement.

Comment: See also:

Shipwrecks Gallery: Secrets of the Deep

Six haunting tales of ghost ships throughout history


Archeologists discover first century farm and artifacts in center of Rome during subway construction

amphoras subway rome
© AP Photo/Cooperativa Archeologia
Lined up amphoras were discovered during a subway construction in Rome. Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient commercial farm in the heart of modern Rome.
Archaeologists have unearthed an ancient commercial farm in the heart of modern Rome, taking advantage of subway construction to explore deeply in urban settings.

They worked some 20 meters down (some six stories deep) near St. John in Lateran Basilica. Today's Rome rests upon medieval layers and, under those, more ancient strata of life.

Rossella Rea, the dig's leader and a culture ministry official, said Wednesday that archaeologists discovered a first-century agricultural business, the closest to Rome's ancient center ever found, an irrigation basin measuring 35 by 70 meters (115 feet by 230 feet), and an extensive drainage system near the ancient Aqua Crabra water source.

Notable finds included a three-pronged iron pitchfork, storage baskets, leather fragments possibly from a farmhand's glove or shoe, and traces carved into stone by a waterwheel's repeated turning. Also extraordinary are well-preserved vestiges of willow and other tree roots and stumps.

Comment: Archeologists are continually finding artifacts from Rome's vast civilization:

'Entire streets' of Roman London uncovered in the City

Magnificent ancient Roman silver treasure revealed

Finest Roman-British Sculpture Found in London

Latrines, sewers show varied ancient Roman diet


Oldest engravings to date discovered on 500,000-year-old shells

Homo erectus living in Java, Indonesia, half a million years ago used freshwater shellfish for the production of tools and what appears to be art. These newly discovered engravings, described in Nature this week, are the oldest ever found.
oldest shell carvings
© Henk Caspers, Naturalis, Leiden, The Netherlands
Inside of the fossil Pseudodon shell (DUB7923-bL) showing that the hole made by Homo erectus is exactly at the spot where the adductor muscle is attached to the shell
We used to think that geometric engravings were a sure sign of modern cognitive abilities, and experts have long debated over the origins of these behaviors. "Until this discovery, it was assumed that comparable engravings were only made by modern humans - Homo sapiens - in Africa, starting about 100,000 years ago," Josephine Joordens of Leiden University says in a news release. Not so, Asian Homo erectus appears to be fully capable of this "modern" behavior as well.

Comment: The origins of man keep getting pushed further and further back into time. Plus the discovery of sophisticated mechanisms like the Greek Antikythera continue to confound mainstream archeologists and historians. Maybe we aren't getting the whole story?