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The real 'hobbit' had larger brain than thought

© National Museum of Nature and Science, Tokyo
The hobbit, Homo floresiensis, lived on the island of Flores some 18,000 years ago, and now researchers have more evidence (its relatively large brain) the diminutive creature was a unique human species.
The brain of the extinct "hobbit" was bigger than often thought, researchers say.

These findings add to evidence that the hobbit was a unique species of humans after all, not a deformed modern human, scientists added.

The 18,000-year-old fossils of the extinct type of human officially known as Homo floresiensis were first discovered on the remote Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. Its squat, 3-foot-tall (1 meter) build led to the hobbit nickname. [Image Gallery: A Real-Life Hobbit]

Scientists had suggested the hobbit was a unique branch of the human lineage Homo. It may have descended from Homo erectus, the earliest undisputed ancestor of modern humans, or an even more primitive extinct species of human, Homo habilis, which had a more apelike skeleton. However, other researchers have argued it was unlikely another species of human lasted so close to the present day, and that the hobbit was really a modern human with microcephaly, a condition that leads to an abnormally small head, a small body and some mental retardation.

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Tiwanaku: Did this ancient site experience a catastrophic end?

© Unknown

Reconstructed ruins of Tiwanaku in Bolivia
Tiwanaku, or Tiahuanaco in Spanish, is a ruined citadel occupying almost 10 square kilometers in the Bolivian Andes at an altitude greater than 3800 meters. Carbon-14 dating methods suggest that the site is no more than 3700 years old. However, as previous Picture of the Day articles discuss, radiometric dating is, at best, an unreliable system for establishing age.

According to the book, Tiahuanaco, The Cradle of American Man by University of La Paz Professor Arthur Posnansky, Tiwanaku is closer to 17,000 years old, perhaps one of the oldest surviving human habitations on Earth.

Posnansky based his estimate on the alignment of the Kalasasaya temple stones. "Kalasasaya" means "standing stones" and refers to the large stone pylons apparently aligned deliberately around a central courtyard. The current temple is a reconstruction and does not reflect the original architecture that the pre-Incan inhabitants intended. There was no wall between the standing stones as there is today.

Many ancient civilizations used astronomical alignments in their structures. Norse burial mounds were made with apertures that allowed a shaft of sunlight to shine into their deepest recesses on only one particular day of the year: usually the winter solstice. The inhabitants of Chaco Canyon built rock buttresses with slots in them set up so that a beam of sunlight could pierce the heart of a chiseled spiral petrogram on the summer solstice. The walls of many Chaco Canyon buildings are also lined up with the sunrise and sunset on specific days of the year.

Posnansky's research over several decades showed him that the alignments in Tiwanaku were offset from what should have been "true" positions. Instead of being sited to the south, some of them were slightly offset to the southwest. According to Posnansky, that offset indicated that the site lines were from a time when the stones were aligned with true south.

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Michelangelo's ugliest drawing may not be his

© Courtesy of the Muscarelle Museum of Art
Michelangelo's portrait of Cleopatra

Michelangelo's portrait of Cleopatra holding an asp to her breast has been celebrated as an ideal Renaissance composition of an idealized woman. With pearls, braided hair and a slender neck, the last pharaoh of ancient Egypt faces her death by snakebite with a detached, elegant gaze.

Curators had suspected there was another Michelangelo sketch on black-chalk drawing's reverse side; they could vaguely make out a hidden picture when the work was held up to light.

But 25 years ago, when conservators finally peeled off its thick paper backing, art historians were astounded by the ugliness of the secret portrait of Cleopatra that was revealed.

The drawing that had been concealed for centuries showed the Ptolemaic ruler in a grotesque state of anguish, with her bulging, blank eyes looking forward and her mouth gracelessly agape, baring big teeth. Perhaps even more puzzling was the poor draftsmanship of the sketch.

Michelangelo knew how to how to make stylishly tormented figures, so why was this one so especially ugly? At least one art historian thinks the reverse drawing is merely misattributed to the Renaissance master, and may have been sketched by his student instead.

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Earliest cookware was used to make fish soup

© Tokomachi City Museum


Pots like this 15,000-year-old vessel from Japan are among the world's earliest cookware.
Humans were using cookware as early as 15,000 years ago, according to a new analysis of ancient Japanese ceramic pots. Those first meals? Fish soup.

Roasted fish on a stick is OK, but wouldn't it be nice to be able to cook up some fish soup?

That's what might have crossed the minds of hunter-gatherers who made the world's first cooking pots. A new analysis of pottery made 15,000 years ago in what's now Japan reveals that it was used to cook seafood, probably salmon.

Not so long ago, scientists thought hunter-gathers were too busy roaming and foraging to invent cookware. But more recent archeological discoveries in China and Japan suggest that people were making ceramic containers as early as 20,000 years ago, long before the advent of farming.

What were they cooking? Speculation first centered on nuts and plants. But this new study, published online in the journal Nature, says it was fish soup.

To find out, a multinational team analyzed the residue on pot shards found in 13 places in what's now Japan. They were made 15,000 to 11,000 years ago.

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Mysterious structure discovered beneath Sea of Galilee

© Deror Avi/Wikimedia
This shot of the Sea of Galilee was taken near the old city of Tiberias. The newly discovered structure is located just to the south.
A giant "monumental" stone structure discovered beneath the waters of the Sea of Galilee in Israel has archaeologists puzzled as to its purpose and even how long ago it was built.

The mysterious structure is cone shaped, made of "unhewn basalt cobbles and boulders," and weighs an estimated 60,000 tons the researchers said. That makes it heavier than most modern-day warships.

Rising nearly 32 feet (10 meters) high, it has a diameter of about 230 feet (70 meters). To put that in perspective, the outer stone circle of Stonehenge has a diameter just half that with its tallest stones not reaching that height.

It appears to be a giant cairn, rocks piled on top of each other. Structures like this are known from elsewhere in the world and are sometimes used to mark burials. Researchers do not know if the newly discovered structure was used for this purpose.

The structure was first detected in the summer of 2003 during a sonar survey of the southwest portion of the sea. Divers have since been down to investigate, they write in the latest issue of the International Journal of Nautical Archaeology.

"Close inspection by scuba diving revealed that the structure is made of basalt boulders up to 1 m (3.2 feet) long with no apparent construction pattern," the researchers write in their journal article. "The boulders have natural faces with no signs of cutting or chiselling. Similarly, we did not find any sign of arrangement or walls that delineate this structure." [See Photos of the Mysterious Sea of Galilee Structure]

They say it is definitely human-made and probably was built on land, only later to be covered by the Sea of Galilee as the water level rose. "The shape and composition of the submerged structure does not resemble any natural feature. We therefore conclude that it is man-made and might be termed a cairn," the researchers write.

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Truth behind Gospel of Judas revealed in ancient inks

© Joseph Barabe, McCrone Associates, Inc
The Gospel of Judas, a text dated to about A.D. 280, tells the story of Judas as a collaborator with Jesus instead of a betrayer.
A long-lost gospel that casts Judas as a co-conspirator of Jesus, rather than a betrayer, was ruled most likely authentic in 2006. Now, scientists reveal they couldn't have made the call without a series of far more mundane documents, including Ancient Egyptian marriage licenses and property contracts.

The Gospel of Judas is a fragmented Coptic (Egyptian)-language text that portrays Judas in a far more sympathetic light than did the gospels that made it into the Bible. In this version of the story, Judas turns Jesus over to the authorities for execution upon Jesus' request, as part of a plan to release his spirit from his body. In the accepted biblical version of the tale, Judas betrays Jesus for 30 pieces of silver.

As part of a 2006 National Geographic Society (the Society) investigation of the document, microscopist Joseph Barabe of McCrone Associates in Illinois and a team of researchers analyzed the ink on the tattered gospel to find out if it was real or forged. Some of the chemicals in the ink raised red flags - until Barabe and his colleagues found, at the Louvre Museum, a study of Egyptian documents from the third century A.D., the same time period of the Gospal of Judas.

"What the French study told us is that ink technology was undergoing a transition," Barabe told LiveScience. The Gospel of Judas' odd ink suddenly fit into place.

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Djehuty Project uncovers significant evidence of the 17th dynasty of ancient Egypt

© Spanish National Research Council
The Djehuty Project, led by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC), has discovered on the hill of Dra Abu el-Naga in Luxor (ancient Thebes), the burials of four personages belonging to the elite of the 17th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, who lived about 3.550 years ago.

These findings, discovered during the 12th campaign of archeological excavations of the project, shed light on a little-known historical period in which Thebes becomes the capital of the kingdom and the empire's foundations become established with the dominance of Egypt over Palestine and Syria to the north, and over Nubia to the south.

The project is led by the CSIC researcher José Manuel Galán, from the Institute of Mediterranean and Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (ILC), and funded by Unión Fenosa Gas and the Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport.

The 17th Dynasty belongs to the historical period called Second Intermediate Period of Egypt (between 1800 and 1550 BC), characterized by the hegemony of rulers of Syrian-Palestinian origin settled in the eastern Delta. This is a period of great political complexity in which the monarchy did not control all the territory and the real power was in the hands of local rulers.

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Massive archeological find points to origins of civilization

© Stuart Campbell/University of Manchester
This photo taken on March 31, 2013 photo provided by Manchester University professor Stuart Campbell shows excavation in progress at Tell Khaiber, Iraq. A British archaeologist says he and his colleagues have unearthed a huge, rare complex near the ancient city of Ur in southern Iraq, home of the biblical Abraham. Stuart Campbell of Manchester University's Archaeology Department says it goes back about 4,000 years, around the time Abraham would have lived there. It's believed to be an administrative center for Ur.
A team of British archaeologists from the University of Manchester has discovered what they believe to be a large building complex underground in an area of Iraq near Tell Khaiber. Using a satellite, the team spotted the 87-yard-long building before confirming its presence by way of geographical survey and trial excavations. They now believe this 4,000-year-old building could have had a critical function in Ur, one of the world's earliest cities.

"This is a breathtaking find and we feel privileged to be the first to work at this important site," explained Professor Stuart Campbell, the head of the University of Manchester archeology department.

This small team also feels privileged to be the first group of British archeologists to dig in South Iraq since the discovery of the Royal Tombs in the 1920s by Sir Leonard Woolley.

"It has been off-limits to international archaeologists for many decades, so the opportunity of re-engaging with the study of the earliest cities is a truly exciting one," said Campbell.

According to the University, this building features a collection of rooms and a small courtyard outside. The entire complex is situated about 12 miles away from the ancient city of Ur.

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Clamshells reveal secrets of pre-Columbian society's decline

© Juan Carlos Martins
Moche pottery.

Dramatic changes in the ocean's environment could be one of the reasons why the Moche, an early pre-Columbian civilization in Peru, fell apart over 1000 years ago.

Upwelling of cold, deep water diminished because of changes in El Niño in the Pacific, and interrelated climate changes upset the life of the Moche (pronounced Mo-CHAY) in ways that undermined their social structure and life so badly that within a few generations, their society collapsed.

The history of that social catastrophe is told in clamshells, which reveal the local climate much like tree rings can.

The Moche Empire didn't suddenly collapse, said Fred Andrus, a geologist at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa.

"The people adapted but did it in a way that was uncomfortable," he said. "They faced a series of challenges and dealt with them in ways that must have been difficult, and unpleasant."

The stable societies they built could not cope with the difficulties. Civil wars may have broken out, along with civil unrest. After a couple of centuries of upheaval new social organizations replaced the old, and the Moche simply became a different people, a culture known as the Chimu.

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Bones from time of Christ reveal a brutal history

© Ejvind Hertz/Skanderborg Museum
Among the remains found at an archeological site in what is now Aiken, Denmark is a skull from early Roman Empire times.
In the days of ancient Rome, it was never a good idea to send amateurs to pacify the Germanic tribes. The Emperor Augustus found this out in A.D. 9, when his handpicked crony, Varus, blundered into a series of ambushes in the Teutoburg Forest and lost about 20,000 men in three days.

Several years later, another Roman army stopped at that battlefield, a bit south of the modern German city of Bremen, to clean up the scene. According to the historian Tacitus, they found "bleaching bones, scattered or in little heaps," while "hard by lay splintered spears and limbs of horses." Human skulls "were nailed prominently on the tree-trunks." There were "gibbets and torture pits for the prisoners," and "in the neighboring groves stood the savage altars at which they [the Germanic tribes] had slaughtered the tribunes and chief centurions." Varus had fallen on his sword after the battle, either out of shame or because he was terrified. It was impossible to know which.

Scattered archaeological evidence has long suggested that the warriors of ancient Germania were not kind-hearted in victory. But new evidence suggests just how grisly things were at about the time of Christ, when an aggressive and well-organized young Roman empire was trying - ultimately, unsuccessfully - to subdue the equally aggressive inhabitants of Germania.

A Danish team, working in a bog about 325 miles south of the site of the Roman massacre, is analyzing the recently excavated remains of 40 men, part of a larger contingent of as many as 200 soldiers, whose bodies were apparently hacked to bits and thrown into the shallows of Lake Mosso after a battle that took place between German rivals, probably a few years before the Varus massacre. The Alken bog, lying today beneath a lakeside meadow, conceals the largest concentration of apparent war dead ever found from that era. These findings, added to artifacts from other sites and the writings of the ancient Romans, are supplying insights into a warlord culture of fiercely egalitarian German tribes that fought constantly, routinely slaughtered their enemies and offered their bodies - and their weapons - to their gods.