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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."
Sherlock

Archaeologists Return to Excavate Major 3,300-Year-Old Bronze Age Site in England

Some of the world's greatest archaeological finds don't emerge as a result of planned investigation. They were accidental. They were stumbled upon. And such was literally the case in 1982 when Francis Pryor, MBE, was in the midst of conducting a survey of dykes in the Peterborough area in England for English Heritage, a public commission responsible for managing historic buildings.

"I was walking back to the pub," says Pryor, "when I caught my foot on a large piece of wood. When I picked up the piece of wood, I looked at it, and then when I spotted the axe marks, about an inch and one-half wide, I knew that it had to be Bronze Age........"
© Wikimedia Commons
Bronze Age dwelling at Flag Fen.
For the following several weeks, Pryor and his team proceeded to excavate along the side of a dyke, in the area where the initial wood sample had been found, and recovered hundreds of additional pieces of similar timber.

"It was fantastic," said Pryor. "I didn't sleep for weeks after that."
Sherlock

Remains of dark ages princess found in field in Cambridge

© Cambridge University Archaeological Unit
The gold cross following restoration
The remains of a mysterious Anglo-Saxon princess, who died thirteen and a half centuries ago, have been found in a field three miles south of Cambridge. Aged just 16 when she died, and buried lying on a special high status funerary bed, she was laid to rest with a small solid gold, garnet encrusted, Christian cross upon her chest.

Her exact identity is as yet a complete mystery. However, it's likely that she was a member of one of the newly Christianized Anglo-Saxon royal families of the period. She was buried fully clothed, her bronze and iron chatelaine (belt hook) and purse, still attached to her leather belt.

A clue to the circumstances of her death is the presence of three other individuals buried in separate graves alongside her (two women aged around 20 and one other slightly older individual of indeterminate sex, but conceivably female). It's likely that they died at the same time - probably from some sort of epidemic. Significantly, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle mentions that England was devastated by the plague in 664 AD (around the very time that the archaeological evidence also suggests they died).
Top Secret

Science and UFOs: Part 1 - The Condon Committee Con Job

© Unknown
The late Dr. James E. McDonald - who held the title "Senior Physicist, Institute of Atmospheric Physics" at the University of Arizona - is one of the very few scientists to actually study the UFO phenomenon. In a prepared statement before the U.S. Congress' House Committee on Science and Astronautics, delivered on July 29, 1968, McDonald said this:
"From time to time in the history of science, situations have arisen in which a problem of ultimately enormous importance went begging for adequate attention simply because that problem appeared to involve phenomena so far outside the current bounds of scientific knowledge that it was not even regarded as a legitimate subject of serious scientific concern. That is precisely the situation in which the UFO problem now lies. One of the principal results of my own recent intensive study of the UFO enigma is this: I have become convinced that the scientific community, not only in this country but throughout the world, has been casually ignoring as nonsense a matter of extraordinary scientific importance." 1
And how did McDonald arrive at that opinion? After several authorized, extended visits to the U.S. Air Force's UFO Project Blue Book, to review its files, he wrote, "There are hundreds of good cases in the Air Force files that should have led to top-level scientific scrutiny of [UFOs] years ago, yet these cases have been swept under the rug in a most disturbing way by Project Blue Book investigators and their consultants."2

McDonald's full statement before Congress may be found in the U.S. Congressional Record, as well as on the Internet. While acknowledging that the overwhelming majority of UFO sightings undoubtedly had prosaic explanations, and that a great many questions about the phenomenon remained unanswered, McDonald succinctly summarized his conclusions regarding the most credible of the unexplained cases: "My own present opinion, based on two years of careful study, is that UFOs are probably extraterrestrial devices engaged in something that might very tentatively be termed 'surveillance.'"3
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