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Researchers Uncover 8,000 Years of Human History Hidden in the Middle East

Ancient Civilizations
© PNAS

How do you map the expansion of Earth's earliest civilizations? For years, researchers have tackled this daunting task on a settlement-by-settlement basis, searching for clues in mounds of earth throughout the Middle East.

But now, researchers have turned to satellite imagery to uncover a vast network of over 14,000 long-overlooked Mesopotamian settlements, spanning 8,000 years of ancient civilization. Their findings represent a monumental step forward for the fields of archeology and anthropology, and suggest that an aerial perspective may hold the key to unlocking the mysteries of humanity's first major settlements.

A significant body of archaeological evidence suggests that the earliest civilizations arose in Mesopotamia, the geographic region that today comprises Iraq, northeast Syria, southeast Turkey and southwest Iran. The size and distribution of these settlements throughout the Mesopotamian landscape, however, has long remained something of a mystery.

Traditional archeological techniques require researchers to search for evidence of these ancient civilizations up close, at the ground level. This is an excellent method for learning about individual settlements, but is a painstaking way to make sense of how these communities may have interacted with one another, or spread across the landscape over time.
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Ancient Civilizations Reveal Ways To Manage Fisheries For Sustainability

Ancient Fisheries
© National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce
Historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets, according to researchers at the Center for Ocean Solutions and Colby College.

In the search for sustainability of the ocean's fisheries, solutions can be found in a surprising place: the ancient past.

In a study published on March 23 in the journal Fish and Fisheries, a team of marine scientists reconstructed fisheries yields over seven centuries of human habitation in Hawaii and the Florida Keys, the largest coral reef ecosystems in the United States, and evaluated the management strategies associated with periods of sustainability. The results surprised them.

"Before European contact, Native Hawaiians were catching fish at rates that far exceed what reefs currently provide society," said John "Jack" N. Kittinger, co-author and an early career fellow at the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University. "These results show us that fisheries can be both highly productive and sustainable, if they're managed effectively." In contrast, historical fisheries in Florida were characterized by boom and bust, with serial depletions of highly valuable species for export markets. Today many species that were the target of 19th and early 20th century fisheries in Florida - including green turtles, sawfish, conch and groupers - have severely reduced populations or are in danger of extinction.

"Seven hundred years of history clearly demonstrate that management matters," said Loren McClenachan, co-author and assistant professor of environmental studies at Colby College. "Ancient Hawaiian societies used sophisticated tools similar to innovative conservation strategies used today, like marine protected areas and restrictions on harvest of vulnerable species like sharks." The difference, the authors explained, was in the way fisheries governance systems were structured. Regulations were developed locally with the buy-in of community members, but they were also effectively enforced with methods that now would be considered draconian. "Today, no management system comes close to achieving this balance, and as a result, resource depletion and collapse is common," said McClenachan.
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Egyptians, Greeks Came to New Zealand First - New Book

Jesus Watch
© Stuff.co.nz
Jesus Watch: Investigations into this unusual rock carving have uncovered that an ancient Greek celestial calendar had been carved into it. The rock carving dubbed Jesus Watch by those who found it was discovered on a Northland farm recently.

Captain James Cook and Abel Tasman could lose their place in history as the first Europeans to reach New Zealand.

A controversial book, To the End of the Earth, claims to contain evidence that Greeks, Spanish and Egyptians settled in New Zealand long before the Maori people. The 378-page book, to be released this weekend, was co-authored by researchers Maxwell C Hill, Gary Cook and Noel Hilliam.

It shows ancient maps drawn before the birth of Christ, which the authors said detail the coastlines of Australia and New Zealand.

Skeletons, rock carvings, stone buildings and monuments all attest to people of European origin living in New Zealand for centuries before the arrival of Polynesians, they said.

The artefacts include a rock carving of an ancient Greek ship found in Taupo, a stone pillar with an accurate coastal map of New Zealand showing Lake Taupo in its pre-232AD eruption shape, and carvings on rocks at Raglan.

Hill said a huge boulder weighing several tonnes, deeply cut into a huge circular star calendar and marked with what were believed to be figures and rebuses, was the most stunning find.
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Did Belief in Gods Lead to Mayan Demise?

Mayan Temple
© Science/AAAS
Temple in the Kingdom of Tikal, one of the most prominent of the Classic Period.

A dread of malevolent spirits haunting forsaken areas could, along with environmental catastrophes, help to explain why some areas in the ancient Mayan world proved less resilient than others when their civilization disintegrated, researchers suggest.

The ancient Maya once claimed an area about the size of Texas, with cities and fields that occupied what is now southern Mexico and northern Central America, including the countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras. The height of the Mayan civilization, known as the Classic period, extended from approximately A.D. 250 to at least 900.

For unknown reasons, the Classic Mayan civilization then collapsed. The population declined catastrophically to a fraction of its former size, and many of their great cities were left mostly abandoned for the jungle to reclaim.

Scientists have long drawn connections between the decline of the ancient Maya and environmental catastrophes, especially drought. Deforestation linked with farming could also have triggered disaster - for instance, reduced tree cover of the ground would have led to loss of fertile topsoil by erosion, as well as greater evaporation of water by sunlight, exacerbating drought.
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Indonesian Women (Accidentally) Founded Madagascar

Madagascar Founders
© Francois Ricaut
Women, like this one from Indonesia, played a major role in founding Madagascar.

The land of freaky animals and amazing biodiversity, Madagascar was also one of the last places to be settled by humans. And new research suggests that didn't happen until about 1,200 years ago.

The colonization might even have been an accident, the researchers say. A small group of Indonesian women settled the island in one fell swoop, possibly making their way there after their trading vessel capsized.

"The unusual thing about this island is Madagascar is a long way away from Indonesia. ... It was also settled very recently; by this time, most of the world had already been settled," study researcher Murray Cox, of Massey University in New Zealand, told LiveScience. "We are talking about an entire culture being trans-located across the Indian Ocean."

Mad about Madagascar

Previous genetic research showed that, surprisingly, instead of coming from Africa, the people living on the island off the east coast of Africa seem to have come from Indonesia, another island nation a quarter of the world, or some 3,500 miles (about 5,600 kilometers), away.

What we haven't known is exactly how that happened. When did those people arrive and how did they arrive?" Cox said.

To find out, Cox and his colleagues analyzed genes from the mitochondria of 300 native Madagascans and 3,000 Indonesians. Mitochondria are the cell's energy factories, but they are special because their genes are inherited only from our mothers.

These genes showed a clear similarity between the Indonesian and Madagascar genomes. To find out how long ago and how many Indonesian settlers there when the island's population was founded, the team ran various computer simulations that started out with different founding populations at different times until the results matched their real-life data. The researchers found that the island was most likely settled by a small population of about 30 women, who arrived in Madagascar around 1,200 years ago. Ninety-three percent (28) of these women were Indonesian, and the other 7 percent (two individuals) were African.

Almost all native Madagascans are related to these 30 women, they found.
Sherlock

Amelia Earhart mystery: New clue

© Associated Press
The fate of pioneering US pilot Ameila Earhart is still unknown
A new clue in one of flying's most enduring mysteries could uncover the fate of American pilot Amelia Earhart, who went missing without a trace over the South Pacific 75 years ago.

Enhanced analysis of a photograph taken just months after Earhart's Lockheed Electra plane vanished shows what experts think may be the landing gear of the aircraft protruding from the waters off the remote island of Nikumaroro, in what is now the Pacific nation of Kiribati, experts said.

Armed with that analysis by the US State Department, historians, scientists and salvagers from The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, are returning to the island in July in the hope of finding the wreckage of Earhart's plane and perhaps even the remains of the pilot and her navigator Fred Noonan.

Ric Gillespie, executive director of the group, acknowledged that the evidence was "circumstantial" but "strong" but stopped short of predicting success. The new search is scheduled to last for 10 days in July and will use state-of-the-art underwater robotic submarines and mapping equipment.
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Were Some Neandertals Brown-Eyed Girls?

Neandertals
© Philippe Plailly & Atelier Daynes / Photo Researchers, Inc
True visage? Not all Neandertals sported this look, according to new research.

In museums around the world, reproductions of Neandertals sport striking blue or green eyes, pale skin, and gingery hair. Now new DNA analysis suggests that two of the most closely studied Neandertals - a pair of females from Croatia - were actually brown-eyed girls, with brunette tresses and tawny skin to match. The results could help shed new light on the evolution of the family that includes both modern humans and Neandertals, who died out some 30,000 years ago.

The study has provoked deep skepticism among several outside researchers, however, who criticize numerous aspects of its methodology. The results also run contrary to other genetic evidence and to a long-held hypothesis that Neandertals, who lived mostly in northern latitudes, must've had light skin to get enough vitamin D.

But even scientists who have doubts about the new research say it still provides food for thought. "Neandertals occupied a wide geographical range," says John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, who was not involved in the study and who is also studying the physical traits of ancient humans, so "it's likely that they were variable in pigmentation. ... We are really at the first step."

The new study, to be published in the American Journal of Human Biology later this spring, looks at the genomes of three female Neandertals from Croatia. Their DNA was the basis of the first effort to compile a complete Neandertal genetic sequence, which was published in 2010.
Sherlock

Satellites reveal thousands of ancient human settlements

Ancient humans have changed the landscape around their settlements in such ways that even today archaeologists can distinguish between "lived in" spots and those never occupied by humans. Now, two scientists have figured out a more efficient way of locating these sites, via their footprints, from space.
© Jason Ur
Archaeologists inspect the mound at Tell Brak, in northeastern Syria. The 283 million-cubic-foot (8 million-cubic-meter) mound is entirely artificial, accumulating over 6,000 years, as residents built on top of old mud brick buildings.
The scientists relied on two distinct features of ancient settlements in the Near East: soils altered by human activity and little hills that formed over time as residents successively built on top of older structures. By examining satellite images for these two features, they have found evidence of about 9,500 possible human settlements across an area of 8,880 square miles (23,000 square kilometers) in northern Mesopotamia, located in the northeast of modern Syria.

Data recorded by satellites as they orbit the Earth has been used in archaeological surveys before. However, this new survey, produced by looking at soil and mounds, is "to the best of our knowledge, the largest systematic satellite-imagery-based survey in archaeology," they write in a study published Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Cow Skull

Vikings invaded with fire, the sword... and MICE: Rodents 'hitched lifts' on longboats in 10th Century

Mice hitched a ride with Vikings to mount their own invasions in the 10th century, research has shown.

Viking longboats carried house mice to colonies in Iceland and Greenland - and their descendants are still alive today.

Scientists compared modern mouse DNA with ancient samples from mouse bones found at archaeological sites.

© Unknown
Shetland's 'Up Helly Aa' Viking festival: As the Norsemen conquered and colonised areas, they brought with them the pitter-patter of tiny feet - Scientists found that mice in Iceland are descended from 10th century 'hitchhikers'
The analysis showed that the house mouse, Mus musculus domesticus, hitched lifts with Vikings in the early 10th century from either Norway or the northern British Isles.

Descendants of these stowaways can still be found in Iceland where DNA samples were collected from nine sites.

From Iceland, the mice continued their Viking voyages to settlements in Greenland.

However, no trace of the Norse mice could be found in Newfoundland, even though the Vikings are known to have reached the Canadian province.
Magic Wand

Tuh beh oar nat tuh beh?' That was the question

Shakespeare original language
© Unknown
This radically different pronunciation is, according to a new scholarly recording of Shakespeare's works, much closer to the way the line would have been spoken

"To be, or not to be, that is the question." Or is it "Tuh beh oar nat tuh beh"? If you were to ask the Bard himself, he'd probably say the latter.

This radically different pronunciation is, according to a new scholarly recording of Shakespeare's works, much closer to the way the line would have been spoken by the company of actors who first performed Hamlet 400 years ago.

Far from the haughty clipped vowels we are used to hearing from a thousand actors since Laurence Olivier, the "real" Shakespeare sounds more like a West Country farmer, with a dash of Irish and even a hint of east coast American.

"People from all over the country were coming to Elizabethan London and their accents were fusing," said Ben Crystal, an actor, director and expert in OP (original pronunciation) Shakespeare. "Not long after Shakespeare's time people started getting on the boats to America, and later Australia. Some sounds in modern accents from these places, are the same sounds that would have been heard on the tongues of Shakespeare's contemporaries."
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