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Mona Lisa Coming Back from the Grave?

Mona Lisa
© Corbis
Da Vinci's The Mona Lisa.
Lisa Gherardini is coming closer to emerging from the grave. The remains of the woman believed to have inspired Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa likely are about to be exhumed by researchers.

The announcement, at a news conference in Florence, follows the discovery of another skeleton, the fourth since the bone hunt began last year -- beneath an altar in the church of the now-derelict Convent of St. Orsola.

"The skeleton doesn't belong to the Mona Lisa, but it's hinting to her burial. Indeed, she might be just underneath," Silvano Vinceti, president of a private organization known as the National Committee for the Promotion of Historic and Cultural Heritage, told a news conference on Wednesday.

Vinceti's ambitious project aims to possibly reconstruct Lisa's face in order to see if her features match that of the iconic painting hanging at the Louvre Museum in Paris.

Indeed, most scholars believe that the Mona Lisa, known as La Gioconda in Italian or La Joconde in French, is the portrait of Lisa Gherardini, a member of a minor noble family of rural origins who married the wealthy merchant Francesco del Giocondo.

Known for controversial claims, like that letters and numbers are hidden inside the Mona Lisa painting, Vinceti has based his search in the convent on documents found by historian Giuseppe Pallanti some years ago.
Meteor

On display for the first time in 30,000 years: Britain's biggest meteorite, weighing 200lb, enters museum after 80 years as family heirloom

  • Rock was 'used by Druids in a burial mound' before being excavated by an archaeologist 200 years ago, researchers believe
  • The 200lb space rock is four times larger than the next biggest discovered
© Steve Roberts/SWNS.com
Prof Colin Pillinger with the rock, now on display for the first time in 30,000 years
The biggest meteorite to ever fall to Britain has gone on display for the first time.

The rock lay undiscovered on the doorstep of a house for at least 80 years before being revealed as a 200lb space rock, measuring 1.6ft long.

After sitting on the step of Lake House near Wilsford-cum-Lake, Wiltshire, since the 1900s, it is on display for the first time at the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum from today.
Sherlock

Skeleton with Cleaved Skull May Be King Richard III

© University of Leicester
A 14th-century inlaid floor tile belonging to the church of the Greyfriars.
A human skeleton with a cleaved skull discovered beneath a parking lot in England may belong to King Richard III, researchers announced today (Sept. 12), though they have a long way to go in analyzing the bones to determine the identity.

The researchers note they are not saying they have found King Richard III's remains, but that they are moving into the next phase of their search, from the field to the laboratory.

"[W]e are clearly very excited, but the University now must subject the findings to rigorous analysis. DNA analysis will take up to 12 weeks," Richard Taylor, the director of corporate affairs at the University of Leicester, told reporters this morning, as recorded in a tweet.
Hourglass

Archaeologists dig up intact graves in ancient Roman city

Baelo Claudia site in Spain among the best preserved; funerary monuments, goods found
© University of Alicante
A team digs for beachside buried treasure in trenches at Baelo Claudia.

Archaeologists are digging up the necropolis of Baelo Claudia, one of the best preserved Roman cities in Spain, and they report that they've already uncovered several intact graves that likely date back more than 2,000 years.

Founded in the late second century B.C., Baelo Claudia lies near today's town of Tarifa at the southernmost tip of Spain, separated from Morocco by the Strait of Gibraltar.

Since 2009, scientists at the University of Alicante have led excavations at the site, which is considered by some the best preserved city from the high imperial Roman period of the Iberian Peninsula.

During this summer's digging season, archaeologists at the ancient coastal town turned their focus to Baelo Claudia's graveyard. In a blog post, Fernando Prados Martínez, a University of Alicante professor who is leading the project, wrote that Monday began the last week of excavations. But his team has already made several finds.

They've uncovered funerary monuments as well as cremation graves and intact graves, complete with their grave goods, according to a statement from Asociación RUVID, a Valencian nonprofit research association. The team hopes to learn more about the ancient funeral rituals of the city through their excavations.
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Heavenly Egyptian Charm Found in Israeli City

Egyptian fortification gate
© Martin Peilstöcker + The Jaffa Cultural Heritage Project
Scorched mud bricks from an Egyptian fortification gate in Jaffa.
A rare scarab amulet newly unearthed in Tel Aviv reveals the ancient Egyptian presence in this modern Israeli city.

Archaeologists excavating the ancient city of Jaffa, now part of Tel Aviv, have long uncovered evidence of Egyptian influence. Now, researchers have learned that a gateway belonging to an Egyptian fortification in Jaffa was destroyed and rebuilt at least four times. They have also found the scarab, which bears the cartouche of the Egyptian Pharaoh Amenhotep III, who ruled from 1390 to 1353 B.C. Scarabs were common charms in ancient Egypt, representing the journey of the sun across the sky and the cycle of life.

Jaffa was the site of major trading activity since the second millennium B.C. Excavations in the 1950s uncovered the Egyptian fortification, which dates back to the dynasty of Ramses II between 1279 and 1213 B.C. Mud brick architecture and household pottery also point to Egyptian influence, according to researchers from Johannes Gutenberg University in Germany and the University of California, Los Angeles, who have been conducting new explorations at the site.

Jaffa has long been a crossroads for international influence. The city is also the site of a rare marble slab from the era of the Crusades. The slab, which dates back 800 years, bears an inscription in unusual Arabic script referring to Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II. Frederick II led the Sixth Crusade in 1228 in an effort to conquer the Holy Land, and managed to gain the territory through diplomacy instead of violence.
Crusader

16th-Century Trial Records Reveal Priest's Magic 'Superpowers'

Fray Juan de Zumarraga
© Wikimedia
The man who prosecuted Calderon was Fray Juan de Zumarraga (his statue is shown here), the archbishop of Mexico and Apostolic Inquisitor of New Spain. For reasons unknown he gave Calderon a light sentence, prohibiting him from saying mass for two years and exiling him back to Spain.
On Jan. 30, 1540, in Mexico City, at a time when Spain was carving out an empire in the New World, an epic trial got under way.

An ordained Catholic priest named Pedro Ruiz Calderón was being prosecuted for practicing black magic. The priest actually bragged about the powers he had acquired according to records a researcher is working on publishing.

He claimed to be able to teleport between continents, make himself invisible, make women fall in love with him, predict the future, turn metals into gold, summon and exorcise demons and, most importantly, discover buried treasure.

"He really typifies all of the major types of learned magic, from summoning and conjuring demons, to exorcising demons to the powers of cloaking himself, making himself invisible," said John Chuchiak IV, a professor at Missouri State University who translates and publishes documents recording the opening of the trial in his new book The Inquisition in New Spain 1536-1820 (John Hopkins University Press, 2012). [See Photos of the Trial Records]

"He could hypnotize people, too; it's one of the earliest, I think, descriptions of hypnotism, mesmerizing people."

At the start of the trial, Calderón was denounced in a speech by Miguel López de Legazpi, the Secretary of the Holy Office, who would later become a conquistador in the Philippines. In translation, the trial records state that "many persons have made it known before him [Legazpi] that the said Calderón knows of the Black Arts and that he learned them from others." The records go on to claim that Calderón is able to make himself invisible and can travel across great distances in a short amount of time. "It's just fascinating. The story just goes on and on," Chuchiak told LiveScience of the more than 100 pages of trial records.

The prosecutor Fray Juan de Zumárraga, the Franciscan archbishop of Mexico and apostolic inquisitor of New Spain, was known for his extreme punishments. "Other people he had their tongue split for very minor blasphemy," said Chuchiak. In the end, for reasons unknown, the bishop gave Calderón only a minor punishment - exile back to Spain and a prohibition from giving Catholic services for two years; Zumárraga may have wanted to get rid of him without publicly executing a priest. What happens to Calderón after he is exiled is not known.
Bulb

Why doesn't everyone know who Nikola Tesla was?

© Getty Images
Fans have rallied to buy the lab of inventor and electricity pioneer Nikola Tesla to turn it into a museum. But why do so few people appreciate the importance of Tesla's work?

Lots of people don't know who Nikola Tesla was.

He's less famous than Einstein. He's less famous than Leonardo. He's arguably less famous than Stephen Hawking.

Most gallingly for his fans, he's considerably less famous than his arch-rival Thomas Edison.

But his work helped deliver the power for the device on which you are reading this. His invention of the induction motor that would work with alternating current (AC) was a milestone in modern electrical systems.

Mark Twain, whom he later befriended, described his invention as "the most valuable patent since the telephone".
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Counterfeit Fossils Undermine Research Projects

Counterfeit Fossil
© The Archaeology News Network
Fake fossils are duping scientists and museums, a senior paleontologist has warned, after a scholar was forced to retract a controversial essay that stated the cheetah originated in China.

According to Li Chun, associate researcher at the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, counterfeits are now widespread and have become a serious risk to genuine study projects.

"I believe many scholars are victims of fake fossils," he said, before estimating that more than 80 percent of marine reptile specimens on display in Chinese museums "have been altered or artificially combined to varying degrees".

"Without professional training in paleontology, it's impossible for researchers to recognize fakes from the real thing."

Li's alert follows the debunking last month of an essay co-authored by Huang Ji, a Chinese scientist, and Danish researcher Per Christiansen in 2008 about an alleged new species of cheetah.

The key piece of evidence was a fossilized skull unearthed in Gansu province that dated back 2.5 million years.

"Primitive Late Pliocene Cheetah, and Evolution of the Cheetah Lineage," which appeared in 2009 in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, an international journal, stated the "new species" was the oldest cheetah ever found, which overturned people's belief that the animal originated in North America.

On Aug 21, the journal published a retraction.
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Ancient Mayan Theater Was Political Tool

Mayan theater
© Luis Alberto Martos/INAH
The remains of the Mayan theater.
A unique Mayan theater has been unearthed in Mexico, according to researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

Found at the archaeological site of Plan de Ayutla, in Ocosingo, Chiapas, the 1,200-year-old theater did not seem to be a place for art and culture, but was rather used by Mayan elite to legitimize their power and subjugate local minority groups.

"It was a unique theater, since it was found in an acropolis, 137 feet above the other plazas. The stage lay within a palace complex," Luis Alberto Martos López, director of the research project, said in a statement.

Located near the North Acropolis, the theater was enclosed by buildings dating to 250-550 B.C. on all sides. A 26-foot-long façade of one of these buildings was torn down around 850 A.D. to create the forum and make it work as an acoustic shell.

According to Martos López, the unusual architecture makes the theater stand out.
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Lost Medieval Church Discovered Beneath Parking Lot

Richard III
© University of Leicester
Richard III and his queen, Anne of Neville, appear in a stained glass window in Cardiff Castle.
The hunt for King Richard III's grave is heating up, with archaeologists announcing today (Sept. 5) that they have located the church where the king was buried in 1485.

"The discoveries so far leave us in no doubt that we are on the site of Leicester's Franciscan Friary, meaning we have crossed the first significant hurdle of the investigation," Richard Buckley, the lead archaeologist on the dig, said in a statement.

Buckley and his colleagues have been excavating a parking lot in Leicester, England, since Aug. 25. They are searching for Greyfriars church, said to be the final resting place of Richard III, who died in battle during the War of the Roses, an English civil war. A century later, Shakespeare would immortalize Richard III in a play of the same name.

After his death in the Battle of Bosworth Field, Richard III was brought to Leicester and buried at Greyfriars. The location of the grave, and the church itself, was eventually lost to history, though University of Leicester archaeologists traced the likely location to beneath the parking lot for the Leicester City Council offices.

The team announced last week that their first two trenches turned up glazed floor-tile fragments, medieval roof tile and other building fragments, suggesting that they were digging in the right place to find Greyfriars. Now, a third trench has revealed the alignment of the building's walls.
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