Secret History


Hindenburg mystery solved after 76 years

© The Independent, UK
The dream was a fleet of hydrogen-filled airships criss-crossing the globe, silvered hulls shining in the sunlight. And for a while the fantasy became reality, For the Hindenburg was the Concorde of its day - able to cross the Atlantic in about three days, twice as fast as going by sea.

With nearly 100 on board, the 245m airship was preparing to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on 6 May 1937, when the age of airship travel ended. In front of horrified onlookers, the Hindenburg exploded and plunged to the ground in flames. Thirty-five of those on board died.

Now, 76 years later, a team of experts claims to have solved one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century: the real cause of the Hindenburg air disaster. And they name static electricity as the culprit.

Led by a British aeronautical engineer, Jem Stansfield, and based at the South West Research Institute in the US, the team blew up or set fire to scale models more than 24m long, in an attempt to rule out theories ranging from a bomb planted by a terrorist to explosive properties in the paint used to coat the Hindenburg.


Was King Richard III a psychopath or a control freak?

University of Leicester psychologists believe Richard III was not a psychopath -- but he may have had control freak tendencies.

University of Leicester psychologists have made an analysis of Richard III's character - aiming to get to the man behind the bones.

Professor Mark Lansdale, Head of the University's School of Psychology, and forensic psychologist Dr Julian Boon have put together a psychological analysis of Richard III based on the consensus among historians relating to Richard's experiences and actions.

They found that, while there was no evidence for Shakespeare's depiction of Richard III as a psychopath, he may have had "intolerance to uncertainty syndrome" - which may have manifested in control freak tendencies.

The academics presented their findings on Saturday, March 2 at the University of Leicester.

Their analysis aims to humanise Richard - to flesh out the bones and get to the character of the man who became one of the most controversial kings in English history.


Most ancient Romans ate like 'animals': study

© Associated Press
Ancient Romans are known for their sumptuous feasts, but according to a new study, an incredible 98 per cent commoners ate food that was seen fit only for animals.
Ancient Romans are known for their sumptuous feasts, but according to a new study, an incredible 98 per cent commoners ate food that was seen fit only for animals.

Romans are known for eating well, with mosaics from the empire portraying sumptuous displays of fruits, vegetables, cakes - and, of course, wine.

However, common people ate millet, a grain looked down upon by the wealthy as fit only for livestock, according to a new study published in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology.

Researchers said the consumption of millet may have been linked to overall social status, with relatively poorer suburbanites eating more of the grain than did wealthier city dwellers.

The results come from an analysis of anonymous skeletons in the ancient city's cemeteries, 'LiveScience' reported.

"We don't know anything about their lives, which is why we're trying to use biochemical analysis to study them," said study leader Kristina Killgrove, an anthropologist at the University of West Florida.


Ice-age flute found in Germany one of oldest instruments discovered


Bone flute from Hohle Fels with an enlarged image of the finger holes.
With its jaw-dropping sculptures and carvings of bulbous women and half-human animals, the British Museum's Ice Age Art exhibition is a sublime reminder of the fact that the creativity of homo sapiens predates what we tend to think of as the dawn of civilisation. But for me, the most moving object in the show is one of the least obviously beautiful: a long, thin flute made from the wing-bone of a griffon vulture. Found in the Hohle Fels cave in south-west Germany, it could be 40,000 years old, making it one of the oldest instruments ever discovered. What's so striking about this ancient wind instrument is how familiar it looks. It's basically an ice age penny whistle: anyone can see it's a tool for making music, with its five finger-holes and a V-shaped notch at one end, through which a prehistoric musician would have blown.

The sounds it makes are strikingly familiar, too. We know this thanks to Wulf Hein, an "experimental archeologist" who made a replica of the instrument - and can be seen on YouTube, dressed in animal skins, using it to play The Star-Spangled Banner. (You will already be familiar with this fascinating figure if you've seen Werner Herzog's 2010 movie Cave of Forgotten Dreams, about the shockingly contemporary-seeming art found in the Chauvet cave in southern France.) Hein shows that the notes the flute can play form the "pentatonic scale", the same scale that's the basis of so many tunes we know and love today. Hein will be on hand at the British Museum next month, to give a carving talk and demonstration, hopefully wearing his animal skins.


Shoe-dunnit? Archaeologists determined to solve the mystery

© 2005 Franco M. Giani - Milano - Italy
The unwrapped shoe bundle showing the two pairs of children's shoes and the adult isolate.
The discovery of shoes deliberately hidden in an ancient Egyptian temple has left archaeologists baffled, not least because they include design features thought to have been invented in Medieval Europe.

Two pairs of tiny children's shoes were among the seven found concealed in a jar placed into a cavity between two mudbrick walls in a temple in Luxor, site of the ancient city of Thebes.

Oddly, they were tied together using palm fibre string and placed within a single adult shoe. A third pair that had been worn by an adult was found alongside them.

But there is no clue as to why the shoes, which would have been costly and unusual footwear for the era, were never retrieved after they were left in the temple just over 2,000 years ago when Egypt was ruled by a dynasty of Greek descent.

Research has shown that at least one of them includes structural elements that historians had previously believed were not invented until the Medieval era, which began in Europe some 500 years later.

At the time the shoes were concealed, most Egyptians would normally have worn sandals.

The shoes were discovered by an Italian archaeological team in 2004, but a new study has now offered fresh insights into them.


God is not the Creator, claims academic

© PA
The Earth was already there when God created humans and animals, says academic.
Professor Ellen van Wolde, a respected Old Testament scholar and author, claims the first sentence of Genesis "in the beginning God created the Heaven and the Earth" is not a true translation of the Hebrew.

She claims she has carried out fresh textual analysis that suggests the writers of the great book never intended to suggest that God created the world -- and in fact the Earth was already there when he created humans and animals.

Prof Van Wolde, 54, who will present a thesis on the subject at Radboud University in The Netherlands where she studies, said she had re-analysed the original Hebrew text and placed it in the context of the Bible as a whole, and in the context of other creation stories from ancient Mesopotamia.

She said she eventually concluded the Hebrew verb "bara", which is used in the first sentence of the book of Genesis, does not mean "to create" but to "spatially separate".

The first sentence should now read "in the beginning God separated the Heaven and the Earth"

According to Judeo-Christian tradition, God created the Earth out of nothing.


Seeking meaning in the earliest female nudes

© Bildersturm/Creative Commons
Changing styles. Prehistoric female figurines started off voluptuous like the Venus of Willendorf (left) but then became schematic like these "Gönnersdorf" style statuettes (right), possibly signaling a shift in their meaning.
London - About 35,000 years ago, prehistoric artists across Europe suddenly discovered the female form - and the art world has never been the same. The explosion of voluptuous female figurines sculpted out of limestone, ivory, and clay directly inspired Picasso and Matisse. Researchers have debated the figurines' meaning for decades. Now, two scientists think they have the answer. Presenting their work here last week at the European Palaeolithic Conference, they claimed that the objects started off as celebrations of the female form, then later became symbols that tied together a growing human society.

The talk, part of a special exhibition on Ice Age art at London's British Museum, surveyed the more than 20,000 year-history of female figurines, which are found at dozens of archaeological sites from Russia to France. The earliest such objects, which include the famous Venus of Willendorf from Austria (see photo) and a statuette recently found in Germany that some have called the "earliest pornography," date from as early as 35,000 years ago and are generally called the "Willendorf style" of prehistoric art.

It's an overtly sexual, earthy style: Many of the intricately carved figurines share features such as large, pendulous breasts, huge buttocks, and chubby legs with no feet. They display "female nakedness in all its splendor," said presenter Sabine Gaudzinski-Windheuser, who co-authored the work with archaeologist Olaf Jöris, both of the MONREPOS Archaeological Research Centre in Neuwied, Germany. Nevertheless, she pointed out, individual figurines differ in many aspects. They vary greatly in size; some are slim rather than fat; and some are hairless while others bear what appear to be elaborate headdresses, possibly reflecting clothing that prehistoric women actually wore. Moreover, during the Willendorf period, male figurines, many anatomically correct with penises and detailed facial features, also appear frequently, and occasional sculptures depict men and women side by side.


Mysterious origins of Malta

In the National Museum of archaeology in Malta there is the 'sleeping lady' an object found in the painted rooms of sort of vaulted cave temple complex from the Saflieni phase. This was a time between 3000-2500 BC.
© Wikimedia Commons
The statue is believed to be that of the Goddess Astarte and is the finest artifact of its type from Malta.

The temple complex, or Hypogeum (Greek for underground), called the Hal-Saflieni is one of many underground temple complexes that make Maltese archaeology one of the most fascinating. The concentration of important pre historical and historical sites of significance makes Malta a real treasure trove for mapping cultural movements throughout the Mediterranean. Its origins remain a mystery. No one knows who built the temples on Malta.

However there are clues or hints at what might be Malta's ancient history, Herotodus points a period in Levantine history where the king of Anatolia splits his kingdom as a result of a great famine. He sends one half West to find new land. The theory is that these early settlers colonised islands in the med. The greatest correlation, in culture is between the ancient sites of Catal Hoyuk and Gobekli Tepe in southern Turkey and the temple complexes on the Islands around Malta. However these somewhat similar cultures seem to be at a significant distance from each other, with the whole of Greece and its Islands standing closer to the proposed point of exodus. There does seem to be a sequence of Ancient sites dedicated to the Goddess leading from southern Turkey through Knossos and to Malta, however as a pattern it leaves many facts to be desired.


Geneticists estimate publication date of the 'Iliad'

© Iliad VIII 245-253 in codex F205/
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.


Found: Prehistoric Indian Ocean mini-continent


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.