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1,700-year-old Silk Road cemetery contains mythical carvings

A cemetery discovered in Kucha
© Credit: Chinese Cultural Relics
A cemetery dating back around 1,700 years has been discovered in Kucha, a city in China. The city played an important role along the Silk Road trade routes that connected China to the Roman Empire. Archaeologists have uncovered 10 tombs in the cemetery, seven of which are large structures made with bricks. This image shows part of the cemetery facing north.
A cemetery dating back roughly 1,700 years has been discovered along part of the Silk Road, a series of ancient trade routes that once connected China to the Roman Empire.

The cemetery was found in the city of Kucha, which is located in present-day northwest China. Ten tombs were excavated, seven of which turned out to be large brick structures.

One tomb, dubbed "M3," contained carvings of several mythical creatures, including four that represent different seasons and parts of the heavens: the White Tiger of the West, the Vermilion Bird of the South, the Black Turtle of the North and the Azure Dragon of the East.

The M3 tomb also "consists of a burial mound, ramp, sealed gate, tomb entrance, screen walls, passage, burial chamber and side chamber" the researchers wrote in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The cemetery was first found in July 2007 and was excavated by the Xinjiang Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology, with assistance from local authorities. The research team, led by Zhiyong Yu, director of the Xinjiang Archaeological Institute, published the findings in Chinese in the journal Wenwu. The article was recently translated into English and published in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.
Satellite

Laser from a plane discovers Roman goldmines in Spain

Hidden under the vegetation and crops of the Eria Valley, in León (Spain), there is a gold mining network created by the Romans two thousand years ago, as well as complex hydraulic works, such as river diversions, to divert water to the mines of the precious metal. Researchers from the University of Salamanca made the discovery from the air with an airborne laser tele-detection system.

© J. Fernández Lozano, et al.
Ancient goldmines in the Eria river valley, with channels and reservoirs for exploitation. The model generated with LiDAR data (left) allows these structures to be located on aerial photos (right).
Las Médulas in León is considered to be the largest opencast goldmine of the Roman Empire, but the search for this metal extended many kilometres further south-east to the Erica river valley. Thanks to a Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) laser system attached to an aircraft, the ancient mining works of the area and the complex hydraulics system used by the Romans in the 1st century BC to extract gold (including channels, reservoirs and a double river diversion) have been discovered.

"The volume of earth exploited is much greater than previously thought and the works performed are impressive, having achieved actual river captures, which makes this valley extremely important in the context of Roman mining in the north-east of the Iberian Peninsula," as Javier Fernández Lozano, geologist at the University of Salamanca and co-author of this study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, tells SINC.

The specialists consider that the systems for the transport and storage of water were copied from those already existing in North Africa, where the Egyptians had been employing them for centuries. Some details of the methodology used appear in texts such as those of the Pliny the Elder, the Roman procurator in charge of overseeing mining in Hispania.
Book

Ancient Egyptian handbook of spells deciphered

© Effy Alexakis
An Egyptian Handbook of Ritual Power (as researchers call it) has been deciphered revealing a series of invocations and spells. It includes love spells, exorcisms and a cure for black jaundice (a potentially fatal infection). Written in Coptic (an Egyptian language) the 20 page illustrated codex dates back around 1,300 years. This image shows part of the text.
Researchers have deciphered an ancient Egyptian handbook, revealing a series of invocations and spells.

Among other things, the Handbook of Ritual Power, as researchers call the book, tells readers how to cast love spells, exorcise evil spirits and treat "black jaundice," a bacterial infection that is still around today and can be fatal.

The book is about 1,300 years old, and is written in Coptic, an Egyptian language. It is made of bound pages of parchment - a type of book that researchers call a codex.

"It is a complete 20-page parchment codex, containing the handbook of a ritual practitioner," write Malcolm Choat and Iain Gardner, who are professors in Australia at Macquarie University and the University of Sydney, respectively, in their book, A Coptic Handbook of Ritual Power (Brepols, 2014).
Binoculars

Ancient settlement dubbed 'Underwater Pompeii' found near Delos at bottom of Aegean sea

underwater pompeii

Remains of an ancient settlement, complete with a ruined pottery workshop, have been found on the bottom of the Aegean sea off the small island of Delos. Dubbed by the Greek media as "a small underwater Pompeii," the structures lay at a depth of just 6 feet on the northeastern coast of Delos.
Remains of an ancient settlement, complete with a ruined pottery workshop, have been found on the bottom of the Aegean sea off the small island of Delos, the Greek ministry of culture has announced.

Dubbed by the Greek media "a small underwater Pompeii," the structures lay at a depth of just 6 feet on the northeastern coast of Delos.

"In the past these ruins were identified as port facilities," the culture ministry said.

But a new investigation by the National Hellenic Research Foundation and the Ephorate of Undersea Archaeology, led to different conclusions. Rather than a dock, a pottery workshop and other buildings once stood at the site.
Sherlock

Potentially historic discovery on Oregon coast by treasure hunter

© Ben Hidy
Seaside, Oregon - A man who was trying out his newly-purchased metal detector on the Oregon coast stumbled upon what might be historical artifact. Seaside resident Ben Hidy said he was just hoping to find some coins when he ventured out to the dunes to try out his new metal detector.

However, Hidy said he picked up a reading for "solid iron" and started digging. He and a friend found about 20 feet of wood with metal pieces attached to it buried under the sand. He and an archaeologist who examined it think the wood could be the keel of an old ship.

Hidy said his research shows the area where he found the wood was once the tide line in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

"I'm still kind of in shock about it, like it really hasn't set in," Hidy said. "There is still a lot more to learn about it. We're gradually learning more every day about it. I really don't know what to think yet. I want to be excited, but cautious. I don't want to get too far into it."

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Agriculture began the gradual degradation of the human species and nearly destroyed ancient civilization

farmers
Roughly 9,000 years ago, humans had mastered farming to the point where food was plentiful. Populations boomed, and people began moving into large settlements full of thousands of people. And then, abruptly, these proto-cities were abandoned for millennia. It's one of the greatest mysteries of early human civilization.

The dawn of the age of agriculture falls during the "Neolithic," also known as the late stone age. At that time, about 12,000 years ago, people had already developed incredibly sophisticated stone tools, weapons, and clay vessels for cooking and storage. And when they found seeds that grew into particularly delicious plants, they took them along on their treks, planting them in river valleys on their route, so that they would have a tasty harvest the following year. Once these informal farms had gotten a little bigger, it started to seem less advantageous to keep roaming when there was so much food in one place. In the Levant area along the eastern Mediterranean, nomadic groups who had once lived by hunting and gathering began settling down in small villages for part of the year.

Comment: The advent of farming was not necessarily a positive step forward for humans. Skeletal evidence tends to support the idea that the first farmers were shorter, weaker and died younger than their forebears. People have been shrinking for millennia since paleolithic times and only very recently have those in the developed world begun to approach the statures of our prehistoric ancestors. Farming ushered in a new era of property rights, created huge inequalities, paved the way for a wealth-based economy, divided the sexes and led to the creation of military machines needed to defend all this. In short, the onset of agriculture has caused the gradual deterioration of the human species.

Agriculture: The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race

Sherlock

Geologists discover ancient buried canyon in South Tibet

© Ping Wang
This photo shows the Yarlung Tsangpo Valley close to the Tsangpo Gorge, where it is rather narrow and underlain by only about 250 meters of sediments. The mountains in the upper left corner belong to the Namche Barwa massif. Previously, scientists had suspected that the debris deposited by a glacier in the foreground was responsible for the formation of the steep Tsangpo Gorge - the new discoveries falsify this hypothesis.
A team of researchers from Caltech and the China Earthquake Administration has discovered an ancient, deep canyon buried along the Yarlung Tsangpo River in south Tibet, north of the eastern end of the Himalayas.

The geologists say that the ancient canyon--thousands of feet deep in places--effectively rules out a popular model used to explain how the massive and picturesque gorges of the Himalayas became so steep, so fast.

"I was extremely surprised when my colleagues, Jing Liu-Zeng and Dirk Scherler, showed me the evidence for this canyon in southern Tibet," says Jean-Philippe Avouac, the Earle C. Anthony Professor of Geology at Caltech. "When I first saw the data, I said, 'Wow!' It was amazing to see that the river once cut quite deeply into the Tibetan Plateau because it does not today. That was a big discovery, in my opinion."

Geologists like Avouac and his colleagues, who are interested in tectonics--the study of the earth's surface and the way it changes--can use tools such as GPS and seismology to study crustal deformation that is taking place today. But if they are interested in studying changes that occurred millions of years ago, such tools are not useful because the activity has already happened. In those cases, rivers become a main source of information because they leave behind geomorphic signatures that geologists can interrogate to learn about the way those rivers once interacted with the land--helping them to pin down when the land changed and by how much, for example.

"In tectonics, we are always trying to use rivers to say something about uplift," Avouac says. "In this case, we used a paleocanyon that was carved by a river. It's a nice example where by recovering the geometry of the bottom of the canyon, we were able to say how much the range has moved up and when it started moving."
Magnify

Vases in Pompeii reveal panic before eruption

© Laëtitia Cavassa
An unfinished vase from the Pompeii site.
French and Italian archaeologists digging out a pottery workshop in Pompeii have brought to light 10 raw clay vases, revealing a frozen-in-time picture of the exact moment panicked potters realized they were facing an impending catastrophe.

The vases were found sealed under a layer of ash and pumice from Mount Vesuvius' devastating eruption of 79 A.D. and it appears they were just ready to be fired.

They were dropped and abandoned, along with the kilns, after frightened potters saw a pine tree-shaped column of smoke bursting from Vesuvius on Aug. 24, 79 A.D.

Reaching nine miles into the sky, the column began spewing a thick pumice rain. Like many Pompeii residents, the scared potters probably rushed in the streets, trying to leave the city.
Magnify

Ancient New Zealand "Dawn Whale" identified

© Robert Boessenecker
University of Otago researchers have described a new genus of ancient baleen whales that they have named Tohoraata (a Māori term which can be translated as Dawn Whale). The genus belongs to the toothless filter-feeding family Eomysticetidae, and it is the first time members of this family have been identified in the Southern Hemisphere. They named the younger of the two fossil whales, which may be a descendent of the elder, as Tohoraata raekohao.
University of Otago palaeontologists are rewriting the history of New Zealand's ancient whales by describing a previously unknown genus of fossil baleen whales and two species within it.

Otago Department of Geology PhD student Robert Boessenecker and his supervisor Professor Ewan Fordyce have named the new genus Tohoraata, which translates as "Dawn Whale" in Māori.

The two whales, which lived between 27-25 million years ago, were preserved in a rock formation near Duntroon in North Otago. At that time the continent of Zealandia was largely or completely under water and the whales were deposited on a continental shelf that was perhaps between 50 to 100 metres deep.

The new genus that the fossils represent belongs to the toothless filter-feeding family Eomysticetidae, and it is the first time members of this family have been identified in the Southern Hemisphere.
Document

New research suggests Neanderthals were a distinct species - not a subspecies of modern humans

Neanderthal skeleton
© Credit: American Museum of Natural History
A Neanderthal skeleton, left, compared with a modern human skeleton.
In an extensive, multi-institution study led by SUNY Downstate Medical Center, researchers have identified new evidence supporting the growing belief that Neanderthals were a distinct species separate from modern humans (Homo sapiens), and not a subspecies of modern humans.

The study looked at the entire nasal complex of Neanderthals and involved researchers with diverse academic backgrounds. Supported by funding from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, the research also indicates that the Neanderthal nasal complex was not adaptively inferior to that of modern humans, and that the Neanderthals' extinction was likely due to competition from modern humans and not an inability of the Neanderthal nose to process a colder and drier climate.

Samuel Márquez, PhD, associate professor and co-discipline director of gross anatomy in SUNY Downstate's Department of Cell Biology, and his team of specialists published their findings on the Neanderthal nasal complex in the November issue of The Anatomical Record, which is part of a special issue on The Vertebrate Nose: Evolution, Structure, and Function (now online).

They argue that studies of the Neanderthal nose, which have spanned over a century and a half, have been approaching this anatomical enigma from the wrong perspective. Previous work has compared Neanderthal nasal dimensions to modern human populations such as the Inuit and modern Europeans, whose nasal complexes are adapted to cold and temperate climates.
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