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Sun, 14 Feb 2016
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Medieval crypt discovered in Sudan with 7 male mummies

© Polish Centre of Mediterranean Archaeology Archives
The 900-year-old crypt (entranceway shown) uncovered in Old Dongola in modern-day Sudan contains seven naturally mummified bodies and walls covered with inscriptions written in Greek and Sahidic Coptic.
A 900-year-old medieval crypt, containing seven naturally mummified bodies and walls covered with inscriptions, has been excavated in a monastery at Old Dongola, the capital of a lost medieval kingdom that flourished in the Nile Valley.

Old Dongola is located in modern-day Sudan, and 900 years ago, it was the capital of Makuria, a Christian kingdom that lived in peace with its Islamic neighbor to the north.

One of the mummies in the crypt (scientists aren't certain which one) is believed to be that of Archbishop Georgios, probably the most powerful religious leader in the kingdom. His epitaph was found nearby and says that he died in A.D. 1113 at the age of 82.

Telephone

Smithsonian Collections houses 1,200-year-old Phone

© Travis Rathbone
From the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian
One of the earliest examples of ingenuity in the Western Hemisphere is composed of gourds and twine

As a nomadic cultural historian, my subjects have led me in wildly different directions. I spent every Friday for five years in a dim, dusty reading room in West Orange, New Jersey, formerly a laboratory on the second floor of Thomas Edison's headquarters, deciphering the blunt-penciled scrawls of the celebrated inventor. Two years after my biography of Edison appeared, I found myself laboring up vertiginous stairs at daybreak in Mexico, photographing the faded ocher outlines of winged snakes etched into stone temples at the vast ruins of Teotihuacán. The daunting treks led to a book on Mesoamerican myth, Legends of the Plumed Serpent.

Those two disparate worlds somehow collided unexpectedly on a recent afternoon in the hushed, temperature-controlled precincts of the National Museum of the American Indian storage facility in Suitland, Maryland. There, staffers pushing a rolling cart ushered one of the museum's greatest treasures into the high-ceilinged room. Nestled in an acid-free corrugated cardboard container was the earliest known example of telephone technology in the Western Hemisphere, evoking a lost civilization - and the anonymous ancient techie who dreamed it up.

The gourd-and-twine device, created 1,200 to 1,400 years ago, remains tantalizingly functional - and too fragile to test out. "This is unique," NMAI curator Ramiro Matos, an anthropologist and archaeologist who specializes in the study of the central Andes, tells me. "Only one was ever discovered. It comes from the consciousness of an indigenous society with no written language."

We'll never know the trial and error that went into its creation. The marvel of acoustic engineering - cunningly constructed of two resin-coated gourd receivers, each three-and-one-half inches long; stretched-hide membranes stitched around the bases of the receivers; and cotton-twine cord extending 75 feet when pulled taut - arose out of the Chimu empire at its height. The dazzlingly innovative culture was centered in the Río Moche Valley in northern Peru, wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the western Andes. "The Chimu were a skillful, inventive people," Matos tells me as we don sterile gloves and peer into the hollowed interiors of the gourds. The Chimu, Matos explains, were the first true engineering society in the New World, known as much for their artisanry and metalwork as for the hydraulic canal-irrigation system they introduced, transforming desert into agricultural lands.

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Human hand fossil turns back clock 500,000 years on complex tool use

© University of Missouri
Researchers have discovered a 1.42-million-year-old hand fossil that possesses the styloid process, a vital anatomical feature that allows the hand to lock into the wrist bones, giving humans the ability to make and use complex tools.
The discovery of a 1.4-million-year-old hand-bone fossil reveals that the modern human ability to make and use complex tools may have originated far earlier than scientists previously thought, researchers say.

A critical trait that distinguishes modern humans from all other species alive today is the ability to make complex tools. It's not just the extraordinarily powerful human brain, but also the human hand, that gives humans this unique ability. In contrast, apes - humans' closest living relatives - lack a powerful and precise enough grip to create and use complex tools effectively.

A key anatomical feature of the modern human hand is the third metacarpal, a bone in the palm that connects the middle finger to the wrist.

"There's a little projection of bone in the third metacarpal known as a "styloid process" that we need for tools," said study lead author Carol Ward, an anatomist and paleoanthropologist at the University of Missouri.

"This tiny bit of bone in the palm of the hand helps the metacarpal lock into the wrist, helping the thumb and fingers apply greater amounts of pressure to the wrist and palm. It's part of a whole complex of features that allows us the dexterity and strength to make and use complex tools."

Until now, this styloid process was found only in modern humans, Neanderthals and other archaic humans. Scientists were unsure when this bone first appeared during the course of human evolution. (The human lineage, the genus Homo, first evolved about 2.5 million years ago in Africa.)

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Explorers hot on the trail of Atahualpa and the Treasure of the Llanganates

© The Telegraph, UK
The vast structure is a wall, sloping at a 60 degree angle, with a flat area at the top where many of the artefacts have been found.
It sounds like a plot from an Indiana Jones film, but explorers claim to have found ruins hidden deep in a dense and dangerous Amazonian jungle that could solve many of South America's mysteries - and lead to one of the world's most sought-after treasures.

The multinational team, including Britons, has located the site in a remote region in central Ecuador which it believes could represent one of the great archaeological discoveries.

They have already unearthed a 260ft tall by 260ft wide structure, made up of hundreds of two-ton stone blocks, and believe there could be more, similar constructions over an area of about a square mile.

Investigations of the site, in the Andes mountain range, are at an early stage and theories as to what it contains vary.

Some of those involved believe it could be the mausoleum of Atahualpa, the last Incan emperor who was captured by the conquering Spaniards, or hold the Treasure of the Llanganates, a vast haul of gold and other riches amassed by his followers to pay for his release.

Better Earth

Swedish study finds that earth was warmer in ancient Roman times and the Middle Ages than today

If you think the Earth is hot now, try wearing plate armor in the Middle Ages.

A Swedish study found that the planet was warmer in ancient Roman times and the Middle Ages than today, challenging the mainstream idea that man-made greenhouse gas emissions are the main drivers of global warming.

The study, by scientist Leif Kullman, analyzed 455 "radiocarbon-dated mega-fossils" in the Scandes mountains and found that tree lines for different species of trees were higher during the Roman and Medieval times than they are today. Not only that, but the temperatures were higher as well.

"Historical tree line positions are viewed in relation to early 21st century equivalents, and indicate that tree line elevations attained during the past century and in association with modern climate warming are highly unusual, but not unique, phenomena from the perspective of the past 4,800 years," Kullman found. "Prior to that, the pine tree line (and summer temperatures) was consistently higher than present, as it was also during the Roman and Medieval periods."

Comment: See also: Tree-rings prove climate was warmer in Roman and Medieval times than it is now - and world has been cooling for 2,000 years


Book

1,500 year-old Bible found in Ankara, Turkey: Vatican in shock!

Image
© Unknown.
Ancient Bible in Aramaic dialect Syriac rediscovered in Turkey
A 1,500-year-old Bible in which Jesus is believed to have foretold the coming of the Prophet Mohammed to Earth has attracted attention from the Vatican this week.

Pope Benedict XVI has reportedly requested to see the book, which has been hidden in Turkey for the last 12 years, according to the Daily Mail.

The text, reportedly worth $22 million, is said to contain Jesus' prediction of the Prophet's coming but was suppressed by the Christian Church for years for its strong resemblance to the Islamic view of Jesus, Turkish culture and tourism minister Ertugrul Gunay told the newspaper.

"In line with Islamic belief, the Gospel treats Jesus as a human being and not a God. It rejects the ideas of the Holy Trinity and the Crucifixion and reveals that Jesus predicted the coming of the Prophet Mohammed," the newspaper reported.

"In one version of the gospel, he is said to have told a priest: 'How shall the Messiah be called? Mohammed is his blessed name.'

"And in another, Jesus denied being the Messiah, claiming that he or she would be Ishmaelite, the term used for an Arab," the newspaper added.

According to the report, Muslims claim the text, which many say is the Gospel of Barnabas, is an addition to the original gospels of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John.

St. Barnabas is traditionally identified as the founder of the Cypriot Church, an early Christian later named an apostle.

Gunay said the Vatican has officially requested to see the book, which Turkey had discovered during a police anti-smuggling operation in 2000.

Sherlock

Pig-shaped bottle among finds in ancient grave

Italian archaeologists have discovered an ancient terracotta pig which worked as a toy as well as a baby bottle. Known as a guttus, the unique vessel dates back about 2,400 years and was found in a tomb cut out of a rock.

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Green Light

World War II was decided prior to the invasion of Poland

© BNPS.co.uk
This early draft of the King's Speech, announcing the outbreak of war, was written at least nine days before George VI addressed the nation

In a few weeks, Sotheby's will be auctioning the draft of a speech delivered by King George the VI, announcing England's entry into the Second World War.

The document is dated 25 August 1939, that is to say one week before the III Reich invaded Poland.

It would thus appear that, contrary to the official version, the UK did not go to war because Germany invaded Poland, which only served as a pretext, but for other reasons.

"It's too long-winded ! What George VI's adviser thought of early draft of the King's Speech", by William Turvill, Daily Mail, November 24th 2013.

Translation
Alizée Ville

Family

In search of the first human home

When did the savanna give way to the crash pad?

Image
© Jon Han
What is home? This is a deceptively simple question. Is it the place where you were born? Is it where you happen to live right now? Does it have to be a dwelling, or can it be a spot on the landscape, or even a state of mind?

For archaeologists tracing human origins, these are challenging questions. Yet answering them provides key insights into our evolution from hominids at the mercy of our surroundings to humans in control of them. Having a sense of home, as we understand it today, is a product of symbolic thinking, a capacity that makes us unique among animals, including our own ancestors.

Intimations of home likely began in early hominids' need for shelter. Australopithecus species, to which the famous 3-million-year-old Lucy belonged, often sheltered in trees, where they may have sought cover under dense clumps of leaves in the way in which great apes do today when it rains. Much later, about 400,000 years ago, hunter-gatherers, probably belonging to the species Homo heidelbergensis, constructed a camp on a beach at Terra Amata, now a suburb of the French city Nice. One large hut was about 30 feet long, and consisted of an oval palisade of saplings stuck in the ground, reinforced with a ring of stones, and presumably brought together to form a roof. Just inside a break in the ring where the doorway was, a campfire had burned in a hearth.

It is hard to not think that these early humans felt at home in this basic structure. Some might even argue that the crucial element was not the shelter itself but the hearth, where the flames would have formed a center of attention and social activity. In this limited sense, feelings of home were evidently there from the very beginning.

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Terracotta warriors inspired by ancient Greek art

© Lukas Hlavac/Shutterstock
About 8,000 Terracotta Warriors were buried in three pits less than a mile to the northeast of the mausoleum of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi. They include infantryman, archers, cavalry, charioteers and generals. Now new research, including newly translated ancient records, indicates that the construction of these warriors was inspired by Greek art.
The Terracotta Warriors, along with other life-size sculptures built for the First Emperor of China, were inspired by Greek art, new research indicates.

About 8,000 Terracotta Warriors, which are life-size statues of infantryman, cavalry, archers, charioteers and generals, were buried in three pits less than a mile to the northeast of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor. He unified the country through conquest more than 2,200 years ago. Pits containing sculptures of acrobats, strongmen, dancers and civil servants have also been found near the mausoleum.

Now, new research points to ancient Greek sculpture as the inspiration for the emperor's afterlife army. [See Photos of the Terracotta Warriors & Greek Art]