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Geneticists estimate publication date of the 'Iliad'

© Iliad VIII 245-253 in codex F205/http://bit.ly/Yyof3T
Homer's Iliad codex from approximately the late 5th-early 6th century A.D.
Scientists who decode the genetic history of humans by tracking how genes mutate have applied the same technique to one of the Western world's most ancient and celebrated texts to uncover the date it was first written.

The text is Homer's Iliad, and Homer -- if there was such a person -- probably wrote it in 762 B.C., give or take 50 years, the researchers found. The Iliad tells the story of the Trojan War -- if there was such a war -- with Greeks battling Trojans.

The researchers accept the received orthodoxy that a war happened and someone named Homer wrote about it, said Mark Pagel, an evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England. His collaborators include Eric Altschuler, a geneticist at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, in Newark, and Andreea S. Calude, a linguist also at Reading and the Sante Fe Institute in New Mexico. They worked from the standard text of the epic poem.

The date they came up with fits the time most scholars think the Iliad was compiled, so the paper, published in the journal Bioessays, won't have classicists in a snit. The study mostly affirms what they have been saying, that it was written around the eighth century B.C.

That geneticists got into such a project should be no surprise, Pagel said.

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Found: Prehistoric Indian Ocean mini-continent

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Scientists said today that they had found traces of a micro-continent hidden underneath the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius
Scientists said Sunday they had found traces of a micro-continent hidden underneath the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

The slab, dubbed Mauritia, was probably formed around 61-83 million years ago after Madagascar split from India, but eventually broke up and became smothered by thick lava deposits, they said.

In a study published in the journal Nature Geoscience, scientists analysed beach sand on Mauritius that contained ancient zircons between 660 million and about two billion years old.

Sherlock

Mysterious Arizona canals believed to come from ancient civilization

Two things you might not expect to find if you visit the foothills of Mount Graham in eastern Arizona:

1) An elaborate network of "hanging canals" likely built nearly a thousand years ago on steep mesas by long-forgotten ancients.

2) An endearingly eccentric electrical engineer and author who, long before he started trying to solve the archaeological mystery, helped pioneer the world of personal computers.

Nevertheless, on a sunny morning, Don Lancaster wrestles his four-wheel-drive SUV over ruts and boulders into the bajada above the Gila River Valley.


His voice rising with excitement, the bearded 73-year-old urges passengers to hold tight and keep their eyes on the slope of a nearby butte.

"Right around this corner," he promises. "You won't miss it. One of the most spectacular of the hanging canals.... As far as I know, what we have here is unique in the Southwest - and could be in the world."

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British academic discovers a 500-year-old arrest warrant for Machiavelli

© Wikimedia Commons
Portrait of Niccolò Machiavelli by Santi di Tito.
A British academic stumbled across a rare find while combing through historical archives in Florence: an arrest warrant for the famous Italian writer and strategist Niccolò Machiavelli, dated to 1513 and subsequently forgotten.

"When I saw it I knew exactly what it was and it was pretty exciting," said Manchester University professor Stephen Milner in a university press release.

"When you realize this document marked the fall from grace of one the world's most influential political writers, it's quite a feeling."

The academic had been looking through town criers proclamations when he stumbled upon the document, says The Independent, as well as documents securing the pay of the horsemen who hunted for the political writer in Florence.

Florence celebrates the 500th anniversary of The Prince this year, a legendary (and infamous) document intimately linked with Machiavelli's political downfall.

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One million 'Romans' in Britain

Around one million men in the UK can claim to be direct descendants of the Romans, scientists have revealed.

The Roman army invaded Britain in 43 AD and left around 400 years later, in the early 5th century. But historians and scientists claim that the legions left behind their legacy in the genes of many Britons.

A study by BritainsDNA, a commercial DNA testing company, compared Y chromosome markers found in men in Britain with those found in modern Italy. The results found five major types of DNA which were likely to have come from the Roman legions.

The first, known as Alpine, was found in 13% of Italian men, 6.5% of men in England and Wales, 4.3% in Scotland and 1.8% in Ireland.

As Ireland was never conquered and Scotland was only occupied for a short time, the researchers said these figures suggested this DNA was a "probable candidate" to be linked to the Romans.

Eiffel Tower

Mona Lisa may have younger sister: The Isleworth Mona Lisa

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After being alone in the Louvre for more than three centuries, the Mona Lisa may have a younger sister - although experts have hugely conflicting views on whether the latest portrait was actually painted by Leonardo da Vinci.

Called the Isleworth Mona Lisa after the London borough where its former owner lived, the painting has been authenticated by experts hired by the Swiss art foundation which now owns it.

It has been kept in a Swiss bank vault for the past 40 years and shows a significantly younger version of the woman with the enigmatic smile.

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Walking moai stone statues and "Levitated Mass"

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As director of the UCLA Rock Art Archive, I have had the privilege of studying the seminal research of renowned California archaeologist Robert F. Heizer. He spent much of his professional life researching prehistoric art, known as rock art. His son, the famous artist Michael Heizer, grew up exploring his father's excavations throughout California. Michael Heizer's masterwork, entitled "Levitated Mass," is a massive granite boulder weighing 340 tons. Installed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, "Levitated Mass" is a profoundly literal interpretation of "rock art." Transported from a distant desert quarry, the boulder was moved along a 105 mile route with minimal environmental impact and accompanied by a cacophony of Internet tweets. The space shuttle Endeavor, in contrast, recently traversed the city in a challenging 12 mile journey that Los Angeles Times architecture critic Christopher Hawthorne likened to an ancient ceremonial procession. Both events involved advanced industrial technology, enormous resources, careful and farsighted planning, large numbers of participants and crowds of observers, and were motivated by the goals of history, private passion, and public education.

Comment: Easter Island heads have bodies!?
Archaeologists Upset Theory About Easter Island Statues


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Archaeologists analyze previously undiscovered Stonehenge carvings

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When ArcHeritage researchers used Bentley Pointools to analyze 850 GB of laser-scanning data, they discovered 72 previously unknown prehistoric carvings.
While the mysteries of Stonehenge, constructed in England between 3,000 and 2,000 BC, may never be truly revealed or understood, a recent examination of the historic monument using cutting-edge visualization tools has unearthed some fascinating carvings that date to the Bronze Age. It is not yet known what questions about Stonehenge these carvings will answer, but the project did demonstrate the potential for using laser-scanning and visualization technology on the world's antiquities.

The plan to more closely examine the stone structure began in November 2011 when English Heritage, the U.K. government's statutory adviser on the historic environment, commissioned the most detailed laser scan survey of Stonehenge ever undertaken. During the project, each stone was recorded with point spacing of 0.5 millimeters by the Greenhatch Group survey company. The resulting resource, comprising more than 850 GB of survey data, would lead to new discoveries about the monument.

In April 2012, the enormous task of examining the data was awarded to ArcHeritage, part of the York Archaeological Trust, whose Geomatics and Visualisation team examined the laser scan survey. One challenge was to visualise a large amount of information and identify and isolate very subtle features. Preliminary examination of meshed models showed promising signs of useful information in the data set. For example, individual tool marks more than 5,000 years old could be seen and identified, but there were also tantalizing hints that the data contained prehistoric artwork carved onto the surfaces of the stones.

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Scottish Island discovery digs up new information about Neolithic religion


A new archaeological find on an island off of Scotland could have a connection to Neolithic religion. Jeffrey Brown examines background of the discovery and explores some of its surrounding mysteries, including why the site might have been part of the biggest barbecues in history.

Transcript

JUDY WOODRUFF:
Finally tonight: the unfolding mystery of a huge and exciting new archaeological find. It's all happening on a group of islands off the northern tip of Scotland.

Jeffrey Brown reports.

JEFFREY BROWN: Drive across the windswept, almost treeless landscape of the Orkney Islands, and you will see sheep, cattle and farmland. But it won't be long before you come across an ancient standing stone, or two or three.

The islands are littered with a collection of world-famous archaeological sites. There's Skara Brae, a superbly preserved Neolithic hut settlement, Maeshowe, a chambered stone tomb, built so the midwinter sun shines along its low entrance hall, and the Standing Stones of Stenness.

But now, nearby, a site recently unearthed site to top them all, the Ness of Brodgar, a vast temple-like complex, one of the most important Neolithic discoveries in Europe that may provide new insight into Stone Age religious practice.

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Treasure-filled warrior's grave found in Russia

© Valentina Mordvintseva
The burial of the warrior was richly adorned and contained more than a dozen gold artifacts. This fibula-brooch, despite being only 2.3 by 1.9 inches in size, contains intricate decorations leading toward the center where a rock crystal bead is mounted.
Hidden in a necropolis situated high in the mountains of the Caucasus in Russia, researchers have discovered the grave of a male warrior laid to rest with gold jewelry, iron chain mail and numerous weapons, including a 36-inch (91 centimeters) iron sword set between his legs.

That is just one amazing find among a wealth of ancient treasures dating back more than 2,000 years that scientists have uncovered there.

Among their finds are two bronze helmets, discovered on the surface of the necropolis. One helmet (found in fragments and restored) has relief carvings of curled sheep horns while the other has ridges, zigzags and other odd shapes.

Although looters had been through the necropolis before, the warrior's grave appears to have been untouched. The tip of the sword he was buried with points toward his pelvis, and researchers found "a round gold plaque with a polychrome inlay" near the tip, they write in a paper published in the most recent edition of the journal Ancient Civilizations from Scythia to Siberia.