Secret History


Newly identified human ancestor handy with tools, walked like a person, scientists say

© Peter Schmid/Will Harcourt-Smith
The hand and foot of the newly-discovered hominin species Homo naledi.
Homo naledi, the ancient human ancestor whose fossils have been retrieved from a South African cave, may have been handy with tools and walked much like a person, according to scientists who examined its well-preserved foot and hand bones.

Its foot and hand anatomy shared many characteristics with our species but possessed some primitive traits useful for tree climbing, the researchers said on Tuesday.

Scientists last month announced the discovery of this previously unknown species in the human linage, in a cave northwest of Johannesburg.

The new research offers fresh insight into a creature that is providing valuable clues about human evolution.

Paleoanthropologist Tracy Kivell from Britain's University of Kent said it boasted a hand "specialised for fine, powerful manipulation".

Its wrist bones and thumb showed features shared with modern people and Neanderthals, and indicated powerful grasping and the ability to employ stone tools.

Its strongly curved fingers, rather than the straight ones of people and Neanderthals, suggested it also regularly used its hands for climbing.Its foot was largely like ours, particularly in the ankle joint anatomy, the presence of a non-grasping big toe and the proportions of the region from the ankle to toes.

Dartmouth College anthropologist Jeremy DeSilva said it was well-adapted for long distance walking and perhaps running.

"The legs are long, the knees are like ours, the feet are human-like," he said.

"Homo naledi walked a lot like us."


Mona Lisa: Another mystery resolved?

© Reuters
Remains found in Florence, Italy, are strongly believed to belong to Lisa Gherardini, who posed for the Mona Lisa.
Experts strongly believe they've come across bone fragments that belong to Lisa Gherardini, who posed Leonardo da Vinci's for the Mona Lisa.

One of history's greatest mysteries seems to have been finally resolved, after remains that are strongly believed to belong to Lisa Gherardini del Giocondo, better known as the Mona Lisa, were found in convent in Florence, Italy.

"There are converging elements, above and beyond the results of the carbon-14 tests, that say we may well have found Lisa's grave," said lead researcher Silvano Vincenti. "I'm speaking of historical, anthropological and archaeological analyses that have been carried out very rigorously."

Vincenti spoke cautiously, saying, "We can't provide absolute certainty that some of the remains examined are Lisa's but the likelihood is very high. I have to say that many historians would have stated this was Lisa on the basis of written records, with many fewer elements and without scientific data."

The remains of the Gherardini - the woman immortalized by Leonardo Da Vinci's painting - were found in her tomb at the former convent of Santa Orsola in Florence.

Comment: Da Vinci' masterpiece has inspired speculation for centuries:


Moral decay and wealth inequality: Following in the footsteps of ancient Rome

© Unknown
Rome Burning
If you want to understand why Rome declined, look no further than the moral decay of ruling Elites.

There are many reasons why Imperial Rome declined, but two primary causes that get relatively little attention are moral decay and soaring wealth inequality. The two are of course intimately connected: once the morals of the ruling Elites degrade, what's mine is mine and what's yours is mine, too.

I've previously covered two other key characteristics of an empire in terminal decline: complacency and intellectual sclerosis, what I have termed a failure of imagination.

Michael Grant described these causes of decline in his excellent account The Fall of the Roman Empire, a short book I have been recommending since 2009:

Comment: Is the U.S. Republic ending? 8 striking parallels between the Fall of Rome and the U.S.


The Exceptional Kokino Observatory - Ancient Megalithic Site, Holy Mountain

© CC BY-SA 3.0
The beautiful and astounding archaeo-astronomical site, Kokino Observatory, or Tatic’s Stone.
At the dawn of the 21st century, at a place called Tatic's Stone, near the village of Kokino, in the Republic of Macedonia, archaeologists discovered an exceptional prehistoric megalithic site which dates back to the Bronze Age. It was built on a mountain top at 1013 meters (3323 feet) above sea level, right upon a neo-volcanic plate made of craggy andesite rocks.

According to the movable archaeological material unearthed at the site, archaeologists believe that certain cult activities took place there. Researchers found an abundance of fractured ceramic vessels, molds for bronze axes, and jewelry. Within cracks in the rocks of the towering archaeological site, the remains of vessels filled with offerings were found, leading to the site being dubbed a "holy mountain".

Cow Skull

Woolly mammoth bones uncovered by Chelsea, Michigan farmer

A farmer near Chelsea made a startling discovery Monday night: bones of a woolly mammoth possibly butchered by early human hunters thousands of years ago.

James Bristle and a friend were digging in a soy field off of Scio Church Road west of Fletcher in Washtenaw County's Lima Township when they came up with something very out of the ordinary.

"It was probably a rib bone that came up," he said. "We thought it was a bent fence post. It was covered in mud."

Comment: Read more about the woolly mammoth:
  • 'Young' 126,000-year-old steppe mammoth skeleton found in Siberia
  • Ice Age fossils, including bones of ancient mammoths discovered at California construction site


Lost 'Epic of Gilgamesh' verse depicts cacophonous abode of gods

© Farouk Al-Rawi
This is the clay tablet, carved with the new verse from the ancient, epic story.
A serendipitous deal between a history museum and a smuggler has provided new insight into one of the most famous stories ever told: The Epic of Gilgamesh.

The new finding, a clay tablet, reveals a previously unknown "chapter" of the epic poem from ancient Mesopotamia. This new section brings both noise and color to a forest for the gods that was thought to be a quiet place in the work of literature. The newfound verse also reveals details about the inner conflict the poem's heroes endured.

In 2011, the Sulaymaniyah Museum in Slemani, in the Kurdistan region of Iraq, purchased a set of 80 to 90 clay tablets from a known smuggler. The museum has been engaging in these backroom dealings as a way to regain valuable artifacts that disappeared from Iraqi historical sites and museums since the start of the American-led invasion of that country, according to the online nonprofit publication Ancient History Et Cetera.

Among the various tablets purchased, one stood out to Farouk Al-Rawi, a professor in the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near and Middle East at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) at the University of London. The large block of clay, etched with cuneiform writing, was still caked in mud when Al-Rawi advised the Sulaymaniyah Museum to purchase artifact for the agreed upon $800.


New finds of a living fossil - ancestors of coelacanth unearthed

Coelacanth fish
The coelacanth fish, found today in the Indian Ocean, is often called a 'living fossil' because its last ancestors existed about 70 million years ago and it has survived into the present -- but without leaving any fossil remains younger than that time. Now, some much older coelacanth remains have been uncovered in a fossil deposit near Bristol by Harry Allard, a student at the University of Bristol, UK. Credit: Harry Allard

The coelacanth fish, found today in the Indian Ocean, is often called a 'living fossil' because its last ancestors existed about 70 million years ago and it has survived into the present - but without leaving any fossil remains younger than that time. Now, some much older coelacanth remains have been uncovered in a fossil deposit near Bristol by a student at the University of Bristol.

While working last summer in Bristol's School of Earth Sciences, Harry Allard, a recent graduate from the University of Exeter, found remains of coelacanth fishes, ranging in size from juveniles to adults, in a section of Late Triassic rocks, dated at about 210 million years old, at Manor Farm, Aust, close to the first Severn crossing.

He discovered the new fossils in a large collection of fish and reptile teeth and bones, representing animals that lived in the shallow seas, and on the neighbouring landmass at that time when Bristol teemed with dinosaurs, and the landscape consisted of numerous tropical islands.


Amber encases a flea infected 20 million years ago with bubonic plague-type bacteria

© George Poinar Jr.
The flea caught in amber
Closely related ancestors of the bacteria that cause the bubonic plague may be millions of years older than the 14th century, when the disease devastated Asia and killed more than half of Europe's population. And diseases like it, borne by insects, may have played a role in the mass extinctions of dinosaurs, a researcher says.

Comment: Or maybe they were brought in on cosmic bodies such as comets. Learn more: The Apocalypse: Comets, Asteroids and Cyclical Catastrophes by Laura Knight-Jadczyk

Dr. George Poinar Jr., an entomologist at Oregon State University in the United States has possibly identified a previously unknown strain of the plague bacteria. The fossilized bacteria are preserved on a flea encased in amber. If the bacteria do belong to the bubonic plague, then at 20 million years, they are the oldest known evidence for that disease.

Poinar, who specializes in specimens caught in amber, says if the fossilized bacteria are related to the plague's Yersinia pestis bug, the disease predates the human race and traveled around much of the world.


Possible ancient Chinese disk strangely found in a Kentucky garden

© Jon R. Haskell/
Two sides of a jade disk, about 2.5 inches in diameter, found in Harrison County, Ky. The red arrows on the right point to dragon and bird motifs.
What may be an ancient Chinese artifact mysteriously appeared in a small garden next to a pond, on a heavily wooded acreage in a remote and sparsely populated area of Harrison County, Ky.

"It was just laying there," said the finder, recalling the moment two years ago when his quest began to understand what the disc is and how it got in his garden. It's been a frustrating, inconclusive quest. With a look on his face of expecting me to have all the answers, he asked, "How do you think it got here?"

As with other such artifacts, which appear to be of ancient Chinese origin found in North America without supporting contextual information, I could only respond that there are multiple possible explanations.


Anger over London housing reminiscent of 1915 Glasgow rent protests

© Wikimedia
Protesters prevent sheriff officers entering the tenements of rent refusers.
Anger over government housing policy is undoubtedly one of the running themes of the 2010s. Most recently we have seen anti-gentrification protests in east London over people being pushed out due to huge increases in private rent costs and a lack of social housing, which made headlines for targeting the hipster Cereal Killer Cafe in Brick Lane.

This is an era of severe shortages in social housing, aggravated by Tory plans to extend the right to buy scheme to housing associations. We have seen staggering increases in the costs of private renting, dwindling owner occupation and of course the bedroom tax. The London protests were a reaction to the effective social cleansing of working-class residents by Tory/Lib Dem coaliton policy. Local tenants' organisations and protest groups have also been formed to co-ordinate discontent. Meanwhile, Corbyn's Labour is proposing the biggest social-housing programme since the 1970s.