Secret History


Australian archaeologists seek to solve mystery of the lost city of Zagora

© Powerhouse Museum/Source: Supplied
The dig's co-director, Lesley Beaumont from Sydney University's Department of Archaeology, uses modern testing methods at the site of the abandoned town of Zagora in Greece.
Before the first ancient Olympics, as Homer was writing his Iliad, there was a bustling early Iron Age city in Greece. And then it all but disappeared.

Australian archaeologists will try to solve the ancient mystery of why the city was abandoned and whether a lack of fresh water was the cause.

They're off to Zagora, a city that was thriving with farming and industry on the island of Andros in the 9th century BC before it was inexplicably abandoned.

That was about the time of Homer and before Sparta and the Athenian democracy.

Australia's first archaeological dig in Greece was at Zagora in the 1960s and 1970s and they managed to excavate about 10 per cent of the 6.5 hectare site but did not solve the riddle.

Now 50 Australians will begin working there again next week, hoping to finally explain why an entire population would leave a city at the heart of a major sea trading route. Some things haven't changed.

They'll have to hike in and out to the isolated site each day and use pack mules to carry heavy equipment. But some things are different.

Ground penetrating radar, satellite imaging analysis and multi-spectral treatment of those images might help, says one of the dig's co-directors, Lesley Beaumont from Sydney University's Department of Archaeology.

When people started wearing clothes

Monkey Wearing Clothes
© TodayIFoundOut
Determining exactly when humans began wearing clothes is a challenge, largely because early clothes would have been things like animal hides, which degrade rapidly. Therefore, there's very little archaeological evidence that can be used to determine the date that clothing started being worn.

There have been several different theories based on what archaeologists have been able to find. For instance, based on genetic skin-coloration research, humans lost body hair around one million years ago - an ideal time to start wearing clothes for warmth. The first tools used to scrape hides date back to 780,000 years ago, but animal hides served other uses, such as providing shelter, and it's thought that those tools were used to prepare hides for that, rather than clothing. Eyed needles started appearing around 40,000 years ago, but those tools point to more complex clothing, meaning clothes had probably already been around for a while.

All that being said, scientists have started gathering alternative data that might help solve the mystery of when we humans started covering our bits.

A recent University of Florida study concluded that humans started wearing clothes some 170,000 years ago, lining up with the end of the second-to-last ice age. How did they figure that date out? By studying the evolution of lice.

Scientists observed that clothing lice are, well, extremely well-adapted to clothing. They hypothesized that body lice must have evolved to live in clothing, which meant that they weren't around before humans started wearing clothes. The study used DNA sequencing of lice to calculate when clothing lice started to genetically split from head lice.

Gobekli Tepe was no laughing matter

Gobekli Tepe
© arXiv:1307.8397
Gobekli Tepe megalithic enclosures, view from the south (image in the public domain).
The circular stone enclosures known as the temple at Göbekli Tepe in southeastern Turkey remain the oldest of its kind, dating back to around the 10th millennium B.C.

But Göbekli Tepe may also be the world's oldest science building.

Giulio Magli of the Polytechnic University of Milan hypothesizes it may have been built due to the "birth" of a "new" star; the brightest star and fourth brightest object of the sky, what we call Sirius (Greek for "glowing").

Sirius, which we also call the 'dog star' due to its location in the constellation Canis Major, was obviously not born 12,000 years ago, but Hipparchus would not discover the phenomenon of "precession" until 200 BC, when he compared the equinoxes in his time with older charts and made the connection. Precession at the latitude of Göbekli Tepe would have sent Sirius under the viewing horizon of those in ancient Turkey around 15,000 BC, where it remained unseen again until around 9,300 B.C. To those residents it was a new star appearing for the first time.

Faces of ancient Mexico revealed in newfound skulls

Prehistoric Skulls
© Ashley Humphries
Highlighted areas show regions where the prehistoric skulls came from in a study showing physical diversity among indigenous people.
Long before the arrival of European colonizers, the indigenous people of Mexico showed wide variation in their facial appearance, a diversity that perhaps has not been fully appreciated, a new study of skulls suggests.

"There has long been a school of thought that there was little physical variation prior to European contact," study researcher Ann Ross, a forensic anthropologist at North Carolina State University, said in a statement.

"But we've found that there were clear differences between indigenous peoples before Europeans or Africans arrived in what is now Mexico."

In other words, the researchers say there is not one phenotype, or bundle of physical characteristics, for all native people - contrary to earlier studies that looked at hair color, skin color and body form, and concluded that physical variation among indigenous Mexican people was modest.

New discovery shows ancient Mayans dismembered their enemies

Ancient Human Remains
© Nicolaus Seefeld/Uni Bonn
Scientists from the University of Bonn discover the remains of dismembered human bodies in an artificial cave in the Classic Maya city Uxul in Mexico. The image shows the artificial cave's interior during the excavations with several skulls, lower jaws and ribs.
The latest finding about the ancient Maya shows that you wouldn't have wanted to be on the bad side of the ancient culture.

Scientists from the Department of Anthropology of the Americas at the University of Bonn discovered a mass grave in an artificial cave in the historical Maya city of Uxul containing 24 individuals who were decapitated and dismembered. The bones discovered are about 1,400 years old, and the scientists assume that the victims were either prisoners of war or nobles from Uxul itself.

The team has been excavating in the historical Maya city of Uxul in Campeche, Mexico for the past five years in hopes of researching the origins and the collapse of regional states in the Maya lowlands. Their findings indicate that the artificial cave was not always a mass grave site, but was also used as a water reservoir.

"Aside from the large number of interred individuals, it already became apparent during the excavation that the skeletons were no longer in their original anatomical articulation", says archaeologist Nicolaus Seefeld.
Eye 1

NSA may have key evidence about mysterious death of UN chief Hammarskjold, says panel

America’s National Security Agency may hold crucial evidence about one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the Cold War: the cause of the 1961 plane crash which killed United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold.
America's National Security Agency may hold crucial evidence about one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of the Cold War - the cause of the 1961 plane crash which killed United Nations Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjold, a commission of prominent jurists says.

Widely considered the UN's most effective chief, Hammarskjold died as he was attempting to bring peace to the newly independent Congo. It's long been rumoured that his DC-6 plane was shot down, and an independent commission set up to evaluate new evidence surrounding his death on Monday recommended a fresh investigation - citing radio intercepts held by the NSA as the possible key to solving the case.

"The only dependable extant record of the radio traffic, if there is one, will so far as we know be the NSA's," Commission Chairman Stephen Sedley said in his introduction to the report. "If it exists, it will either confirm or rebut the claim that the DC-6 was fired on or threatened with attack immediately before its descent."

Stonehenge was built on solstice axis, dig confirms

© Francis Dean/Rex
Archeologists found ridges, formed by Ice Age meltwater, that align Stonehenge with the solstice axis.
English Heritage says it has discovered a "missing piece in the jigsaw" in our understanding of Stonehenge, England's greatest prehistoric site. Excavations along the ancient processional route to the monument have confirmed the theory that it was built along an ice age landform that happened to be on the solstice axis.

The Avenue was an earthwork route that extended 1.5 miles from the north-eastern entrance to Wiltshire's standing stones to the River Avon at West Amesbury. Following the closure of the A344 road, which cut across the route, archaeologists have been able to excavate there for the first time.

Just below the tarmac, they have found naturally occurring fissures that once lay between ridges against which prehistoric builders dug ditches to create the Avenue. The ridges were created by Ice Age meltwater that happen to point directly at the mid-winter sunset in one direction and the mid-summer sunrise in the other.

Secret 'slave' tunnels discovered under Roman Emperor's villa

Amateur archaeologists have uncovered a massive network of tunnels under the Roman Emperor Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, Italy. The underground passageways likely allowed thousands of slaves and merchants to keep the estate running without creating any distraction at the street level.

Though similar tunnels have been discovered at the complex before, the new discovery is exciting because the passageways were not mentioned in any ancient plans of the grounds, Marina De Franceschini, an archaeologist heading the excavation who works with the University of Trento, wrote in an email. [See Photos of Hadrian's Villa and Secret Passageways]

The Roman Empire's other Hadrian's Wall? Declassified spy photos reveal 'Trajan's Rampart' that once stretched from the Danube to the Black Sea

  • Trajan's Rampart ran 60 kilometres from the Danube to the Black Sea and
    would have measured 3.8 metres tall and over eight metres thick
  • British archaeologists consider it the most easterly example of a man-made frontier barrier system in the Roman Empire
  • University of Exeter experts believe declassified photographs taken during covert surveillance may herald a new era for archaeological discovery
Declassified spy photography has uncovered a long-lost Eastern frontier built by the Romans dating from the second century AD.The site of the wall, which once stood over three metres tall with numerous forts along its length is situated in Romania.

Named Trajan's Rampart, the long wall ran 60 kilometres from the Danube to the Black Sea and isconsidered the most easterly example of a man-made frontier barrier system in the Roman Empire.Built in the mid-second century AD the wall once stood eight-and-a-half metres wide and over 3-and-a-half metres high, including at least 32 forts along its course.

Declassified spy photography (pictured) has uncovered an Eastern frontier built by the Romans dating from the second century AD. The site of the wall, which once stood over three metres tall with numerous forts along its length is situated in Romania. Here you can see the square outline of forts along its length

Who built these ancient metal pipes deep inside a mountain cave?

Rusty Pipes
© io9
It's one of the great mysteries of the ancient world. Mt. Baigong in the Qinghai Province of China is crowned by a strange pyramid-like structure, full of caves that contain perfectly symmetrical, time-eaten metal pipes. They're inserted deep into the rock, and seem to feed into a nearby lake.

Could it be . . . aliens? According to Atlas Obscura, that's a common belief:
The rusty tubes, ranging from needle-size to 16 inches in diameter, reach from deep inside the mountain to a saltwater lake 260 feet away. Many of the hollow pipes are uniform in size and seem to be placed purposefully. The ancient objects are embedded deep enough into the mountain wall and floor to preclude modern human handling. The inhospitable environment surrounding the mountain sees only the occasional nomad. Unless these wanderers developed secret advanced metallurgy skills, the pipes were not formed by human hands.