Secret History


Archeologists discover thousands of stone-age etchings in Mexico carved into rocks by our ancestors 6,000 years ago

Mexican archeologists have found 500 carved rocks on a mountain that was inhabited by stone age tribes

The etchings, known as petroglyphs are generally patterns made up of concentric circles and wavy lines - there even seems to be a fish

Scientists think that the carvings could have been made as part of hunting initiation rites or even represent the stars.

Symbols of fish and the sun, as well as intricate pattens of concentric circles and lines drawn by our ancestors, have been found etched into stones on a remote mountain in Mexico.

Archeologists have discovered thousands of stunning stone-age carvings etched into rocks.

They believe that they were made by our hunter-gatherer ancestors more than 6,000 years ago.

The etchings are known as petroglyphs and are generally patterns made up of concentric circles and wavy lines, although there are also more representative images of deer tracks.


A detail of one of 500 stones, which have been found by Mexican archeologists in Narigua, Coahuila state, Mexico


Archeologists said the characteristics of the carved stones vary depending on their location. Stones found in the main cluster in Narigua Sierra have etchings of strong points and concentric circles, although there are also wavy and broken lines. This image seems to show a fish in the foreground

Magic Wand

Did Neandertals have language?

A recent study suggests that Neandertals shared speech and language with modern humans.

Fast-accumulating data seem to indicate that our close cousins, the Neandertals, were much more similar to us than imagined even a decade ago. But did they have anything like modern speech and language? And if so, what are the implications for understanding present-day linguistic diversity? The Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Nijmegen researchers Dan Dediu and Stephen C. Levinson argue in their paper in Frontiers in Language Sciences that modern language and speech can be traced back to the last common ancestor we shared with the Neandertals roughly half a million years ago.

The Neandertals have fascinated both the academic world and the general public ever since their discovery almost 200 years ago. Initially thought to be subhuman brutes incapable of anything but the most primitive of grunts, they were a successful form of humanity inhabiting vast swathes of western Eurasia for several hundreds of thousands of years, during harsh ages and milder interglacial periods. We knew that they were our closest cousins, sharing a common ancestor with us around half a million years ago (probably Homo heidelbergensis), but it was unclear what their cognitive capacities were like, or why modern humans succeeded in replacing them after thousands of years of cohabitation. Recently, due to new palaeoanthropological and archaeological discoveries and the reassessment of older data, but especially to the availability of ancient DNA, we have started to realise that their fate was much more intertwined with ours and that, far from being slow brutes, their cognitive capacities and culture were comparable to ours.


Archaeologists baffled after ancient Egyptian sphinx discovered in northern Israel

© Photo courtesy of Hebrew University archaeologists, Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman.
This fragment of a Sphinx statue was found by Hebrew University of Jerusalem archaeologists at the excavations at Tel Hazor, Israel, north of the Sea of Galilee. A hieroglyphic inscription ties the Sphinx to an Egyptian king who was a builder of the Giza pyramids, approximately 2500 BCE. The statue is unique, as the only one anywhere bearing this pharaoh's name.
Sphinx fragment of pyramid-building pharaoh unearthed by Hebrew University team.

As modern Egypt searches for a new leader, Israeli archaeologists have found evidence of an ancient Egyptian leader in northern Israel.

At a site in Tel Hazor National Park, north of the Sea of Galilee, archeologists from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem have unearthed part of a unique Sphinx belonging to one of the ancient pyramid-building pharaohs.

The Hazor Excavations are headed by Prof. Amnon Ben-Tor, the Yigael Yadin Professor in the Archaeology of Eretz Israel at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology, and Dr. Sharon Zuckerman, a lecturer at the Hebrew University's Institute of Archaeology.

Working with a team from the Institute of Archaeology, they discovered part of a Sphinx brought over from Egypt, with a hieroglyphic inscription between its front legs. The inscription bears the name of the Egyptian king Mycerinus, who ruled in the third millennium BCE, more than 4,000 years ago. The king was one of the builders of the famous Giza pyramids.

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Horticultural Hate: The mystery of the forest swastikas

© Spiegel International
For decade, this swastika of larch trees stood undiscovered in the middle of dense pine forest near the village of Zernikow, about 110 kilometers (68 miles) northeast of Berlin. After the Nazi symbol was discovered in an aerial photograph in 1992, a scandal broke out that did serious damage to the area's reputation.
Over 20 years ago, a landscaper in eastern Germany discovered a formation of trees in a forest in the shape of a swastika. Since then, a number of other forest swastikas have been found in Germany and beyond, but the mystery of their origins persist.

Blame it on the larches. Brandenburg native Günter Reschke was the first one to notice their unique formation, according to a 2002 article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. To be more precise, however, it was the new intern at Reschke's landscaping company, Ökoland Dederow, who discovered the trees in 1992 as he was completing a typically thankless intern task: searching aerial photographs for irrigation lines.

Instead, he found a small group of 140 larches standing in the middle of dense forest, surrounded by hundreds of other trees. But there was a crucial difference: all the others were pine trees. The larches, unlike the pines, changed color in the fall, first to yellow, then brown. And when they were seen from a certain height, it wasn't difficult to recognize the pattern they formed. It was quite striking, in fact.

As he was dutifully accomplishing the task he had been given, the intern suddenly stopped and stared, dumbfounded, at the picture in his hand. It was an aerial view of Kutzerower Heath at Zernikow -- photo number 106/88. He showed it to Reschke: "Do you see what this is?" But the 60-by-60 meter (200-by-200 foot) design that stood out sharply from the forest was obvious to all: a swastika.

Reschke is actually a fan of his native Uckermark region of northeastern Germany, extolling its gently rolling hills, lakes and woods, as the "Tuscany of the north." But what the two men discovered in 1992 in that aerial photograph thrust this natural idyll into the center of a scandal.


Debunking another contemporary myth: New exposé of Mother Teresa shows that she and the Vatican were even worse than we thought

A new exposé of Mother Teresa shows that she - and the Vatican - were even worse than we thought

Talking the talk but not walking the walk?
First Christopher Hitchens took her down, then we learned that her faith wasn't as strong as we thought, and now a new study from the Université de Montréal is poised to completely destroy what shreds are left of Mother Teresa's reputation. She was the winner of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, was beatified and is well on her way to becoming a saint, and she's universally admired. As Wikipedia notes:
[She was] named 18 times in the yearly Gallup's most admired man and woman poll as one of the ten women around the world that Americans admired most. In 1999, a poll of Americans ranked her first in Gallup's List of Most Widely Admired People of the 20th Century. In that survey, she out-polled all other volunteered answers by a wide margin, and was in first place in all major demographic categories except the very young.
The criticisms of Agnes Gonxha, as she was christened, have been growing for a long time. I wasn't aware of them until I read Christopher Hitchens's cleverly titled book, The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, which I found deeply disturbing. The book is polemic at Hitchens's best, and though the facts were surprising, he was never sued and his accusations were never refuted - nor even rebutted. (You can read excerpts here and here, but I urge you to read the book.) In light of that, I accepted Mother Teresa as a deeply flawed person.


Ancient City of Angkor much bigger than thought

© Alexey Stiop | Shutterstock
Aerial view of Angkor Wat, showing the moat and causeway and the central tower surrounded by four smaller towers
Angkor, the ancient capital of the Khmer Empire, has been mapped for the first time using laser light.

The technique called LIDAR, which uses billions of reflected light beams to map the topography below a thick forest canopy, revealed that the city was even more massive than previously thought.

The new analysis "shows there were hundreds, if not thousands of settlements, mounds, ponds, roads and urban blocks which actually organized a quite dense city," said study co-author Christophe Pottier, an archaeologist and co-director of the Greater Angkor Project. "This area of dense occupation was much bigger than what we were expecting." [See Images of Angkor Wat, New Temple City]

The findings were published today (July 8) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The mysterious plague of 1770

© Arthur Friedlander
Over 200 years ago, Haiti was rocked by a terrible earthquake, and then by something worse. Over 15,000 people died from a mysterious plague that no one could quite figure out. It was a hundred years before people discovered the cause of the disease.

On June 3, 1770, the earthquake struck Haiti, centering on the city of Port-au-Prince. Few buildings were engineered up for a seismic event, and there was widespread architectural devastation. The earthquake shook up the social and political institutions of the time as well. In the chaos, many slaves took the opportunity to escape into the countryside. Their escape proved exactly how much Haiti had depended on their labor for stability. An entire group of people responsible for harvesting and cooking the food had gone, and people everywhere faced starvation. The slaves hiding in the countryside also reduced the amount of wild food available for gathering by city-dwellers. Haitians were facing starvation.

Which might explain why people bought shipments of meat that were otherwise unsaleable from Spanish merchants. The meat had come from cattle that had been sick, and soon afterwards, people began dying in droves. The sickness, which started with weakness and fever and ended with painful, blackened lesions and death, spread through the cities and the countryside. No one could figure out what exactly the sickness was, or how to avoid it.

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Recalling a dark secret of the slave trade, buried in the deep

© Bibi Neuray
The Leusden exhibition includes a replica of the ship, which sank in 1768, drowning 664 Africans.
Amsterdam - On Jan. 1, 1738, the Leusden, a Dutch West India Company slave ship carrying nearly 700 African men, women and children through what is now Suriname, became caught in a terrible storm. Fearing that the captives would scramble for the vessel's few lifeboats, the captain ordered the crew to shut the hold and lock the Africans below deck.

Six hundred and sixty-four people suffocated or drowned while the boat sank in the Maroni River, and the crew escaped: the greatest tragedy of its kind in the Atlantic slave trade, according to the historian Leo Balai. The death toll was almost five times that of the next-largest tragedy: the 1781 massacre of 132 slaves on the Zong, a British-owned ship that was transporting slaves from Africa to Jamaica. They were thrown overboard for insurance money.

"The story of the Leusden was never told in Holland," Mr. Balai said. "It was the largest murder case in the history of the slave trade, but no one ever talked about it."

It's now the subject of an exhibition at the Scheepvaart Museum, the maritime history museum here. The interactive show, created by a theater set designer, strives to give visitors the experience of being inside the ship. The exhibition begins below deck, later taking museumgoers above to meet the captain and others who benefited from the slave trade.

While in the dark hold, visitors hear fearful voices asking where they are headed and why they are being held captive. Paper tags hang from the ceiling, scribbled with the names, ages and dates of capture of the Africans on board - information from the West India Company archives. In the final room those name tags appear as gravestones, with pictures of real people in place of the data, to convey the true human toll.


Evidence of ancient farming in Iran discovered

Archaeologists have unearthed evidence of early agriculture at a 12,000-year-old site in the Zagros Mountains in Iran.
Agriculture may have arisen simultaneously in many places throughout the Fertile Crescent, new research suggests.

Ancient mortars and grinding tools unearthed in a large mound in the Zagros Mountains of Iran reveal that people were grinding wheat and barley about 11,000 years ago.

The findings, detailed Thursday (July 4) in the journal Science, are part of a growing body of evidence suggesting that agriculture arose at multiple places throughout the Fertile Crescent, the region of the Middle East believed to be the cradle of civilization.

"The thing that's most astounding is that it extends the Fertile Crescent much farther east for the early agricultural sites, which are dated to 11,500 to 11,000 years ago," said George Willcox, an archaeologist at the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) in France, who was not involved in the study.


Mysterious toe rings found on ancient Egyptian skeletons

© The Amarna Project
The male ancient Egyptian skeleton lived more than 3,300 years ago and died at the age of 35-40, before being buried with a ring on his right toe.
Archaeologists have discovered two ancient Egyptian skeletons, dating back more than 3,300 years, which were each buried with a toe ring made of copper alloy, the first time such rings have been found in ancient Egypt.

The toe rings were likely worn while the individuals were still alive, and the discovery leaves open the question of whether they were worn for fashion or magical reasons.

Supporting the magical interpretation, one of the rings was found on the right toe of a male, age 35-40, whose foot had suffered a fracture along with a broken femur above it. [See Images of Skeletons & Toe Rings]