Secret History
Map


Smoking

Found: First Solid Evidence of Ancient Mayans' Tobacco Use

Ancient Pot
© Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman
Archeologists found traces of nicotine in the ancient Mayan container, suggesting that it once held tobacco leaves.

Traces of nicotine discovered in a Mayan flask dating back more than 1,000 years represent the first physical evidence of tobacco use by the Mayans, researchers say.

The flask was decorated with text that seemed to read "Yo-'OTOT-ti 'u-MAY," which translates to "the home of his tobacco" (or "her tobacco" or "its tobacco"), the archaeologists said, but that by itself wasn't enough to convince them.

"Textual evidence written on pottery is often an indicator of contents or of an intended purpose - however, actual usage of a container could be altered or falsely represented," said study researcher Jennifer Loughmiller-Newman of the University at Albany.

Their analysis of the samples extracted from the flask identified nicotine, the signature alkaloid in tobacco, as a major component. That indicated the vessel was likely used to hold tobacco leaves, the researchers wrote in the study.
Question

The Curious Case of Clever Hans

Clever Hans
© Wiki Commons/Public Domain

You may think your dog or cat is smart and amazing, but it's got nothing on a horse that drew huge crowds in Germany and throughout Europe over a century ago.

The horse, named Clever Hans, was known around the world for his inexplicable abilities. William Von Osten put his amazing horse on display in 1891, and together he and Hans treated crowds to sights never before seen.

Not only could Hans count -- something no other animals were said to do -- but he could also tell time, read, and spell (in German, of course).

Since the horse couldn't speak (that would have been a remarkable feat indeed), he communicated mainly by stamping one foot on the ground. If Hans was asked what five and two added up to, he would tap seven times; if he was asked what day came after Monday, he would be told to tap once for Tuesday, twice for Wednesday, and so on.

Clever Hans was examined by a group of researchers led by a philosophy professor named Carl Stumpf. What was the secret -- if indeed there was one? Was it all a hoax or trick? Or was this a truly unique horse, a pillar of equine intellect that could rival any schoolchild -- or at least an elected official?

In 1904 the group issued a statement saying that they could find no evidence of trickery. However Prof. Stumpf and one of his students, Oskar Pfungst, would finally solve the mystery. They noticed that Hans could rarely answer questions that Von Osten did not know the answer to, suggesting that that there must be some link between the two.
Info

Animals Mummified by the Millions in Ancient Egypt

Mummified cat
© Courtesy of National Museum of Natural History
Head of mummified cat.

Millions of animals were‭ ‬ritually slaughtered in ancient Egypt to foster a huge mummification industry that even drove some species extinct.‭ ‬

As an exhibition‭ ‬at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. shows,‭ ‬almost no animals escaped the carnage.

‭Although ‬pets died of natural causes before their mummification,‭ and sacred beasts were pampered by adoring priests, most‬ animals in ancient Egypt had miserable, short lives. ‭

Many ‬were simply bred to become votive mummies -- offered to the gods in the same way that people light up candles in churches today.

"Various gods had different animal totems or avatars.‭ ‬Priests who maintained temples for these different gods offered a service whereby people could have an associated animal mummified and placed in a catacomb in their name," exhibition curator Melinda Zeder, director of the archeobiology program at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, told Discovery News.

Began as early as‭ ‬3,000 BC, the practice reached its zenith from about‭ ‬650‭ ‬BC to‭ ‬200‭ ‬AD. ‭

"‬Literally millions of animals like dogs and cats were raised by temple priests and mummified.‭ ‬This practice extended to wild animals like the sacred and glossy ibis and the baboon‭ ‬--‭ ‬and may have contributed to the extinction of these animals in Egypt," Zeder said.

The sacred ibis and baboons were mummified in the millions because they were sacred to Thoth,‭ ‬the god of wisdom and writing. Raptors were ‭ ‬associated with Horus, the falcon god, while cats were sacrificed to the protective goddess Bastet.
Key

The Lost City of Cahokia

Cahokia City

In last week's issue of the journal Science, Andrew Lawler gives a lengthy report on the forgotten city of Cahokia. For a while now archaeologists have known about this Native American settlement beneath modern East St. Louis, but many believed it was what Lawler calls a "seasonal encampment." A new round of archaeological digs, done in preparation for a bridge being constructed across the Mississippi River between Missouri and Illinois, has unearthed evidence of "a sophisticated, sprawling metropolis stretching across 13 kilometers on both sides of the Mississippi" that existed about a thousand years ago, Lawler writes:
[A] millennium ago, this strategic spot along the Mississippi River was an affluent neighborhood of Native Americans, set amid the largest concentration of people and monumental architecture north of what is now Mexico.

Back then, hundreds of well-thatched rectangular houses, carefully aligned along the cardinal directions, stood here, overshadowed by dozens of enormous earthen mounds flanked by large ceremonial plazas. ... Cahokia proper was the only pre-Columbian city north of the Rio Grande, and it was large even by European and Mesoamerican standards of the day, drawing immigrants from hundreds of kilometers around to live, work, and participate in mass ceremonies.
Archaeologists believe people began to gather at Cahokia around the year 1000 A.D. Inspired perhaps by the sighting of Halley's Comet in the year 989, settlers erected ceremonial mounds at the site, some of which line up with the sun's position during the winter solstice. Around the year 1100 they began to build Monks Mound - the largest mound, reaching some 100 feet off the ground, created from millions of baskets of dirt. A vast palisade that enclosed Monks Mound and other parts of the settlement was constructed around the year 1200. For reasons still debated, the whole city failed around the start of the following century.
Boat

US: Titanic Items to be Sold 100 Years After Sinking

Items as small as a hairpin and as big as a chunk of the Titanic's hull are among 5,000 artifacts from the world's most famous shipwreck that are to be auctioned in April, close to the 100th anniversary of the disaster.

Nearly a century after the April 15, 1912, sinking of the ocean liner that hit an iceberg in the North Atlantic, a New York City auction is being readied by Guernsey's Auctioneers & Brokers.
© The Associated Press/RMS Titanic Inc.
This July 22, 2009 image provided by RMS Titanic, Inc. shows the 17-ton section of the RMS Titanic that was recovered from the ocean floor during an expeditions to the site of the tragedy, on display.
That auction house has garnered headlines in the past by selling off such historical curiosities as prized Beatles photos, famous jewels of the late Princess Diana, beloved Jerry Garcia guitars and a police motorcycle used in the Texas motorcade when John F. Kennedy was slain. But nothing as titanic as the so-called Titanic collection.

On April 11, all of the salvaged items are to be sold as one lot in what Guernsey's President Arlan Ettinger describes as the most significant auction ever handled by that house.

"Who on this planet doesn't know the story of the Titanic and isn't fascinated by it?" he asked. "Could Hollywood have scripted a more tragic or goose-bump-raising story than what actually happened on that ship?"
Sherlock

UK: Roman Brothel Token Discovered in Thames

A Roman coin that was probably used by a lustful legionary has washed up on the banks of the Thames.

© Stephanie Schaerer
The brothel token is set to go on display at the Museum of London
Made from bronze and smaller than a ten pence piece, the coin depicts a man and a woman engaged in an intimate act.

Historians believe it is the first example of a Roman brothel token to be found in this country.

It lay hidden in mud for almost 2,000 years until it was unearthed by an amateur archaeologist with a metal detector.

On the reverse of the token is the numeral XIIII, which experts say could indicate the holder handed over 14 small Roman coins called asses to buy it.

This would have been the equivalent of seven loaves of bread or one day's pay for a labourer in the first century AD.
Info

Mystery of Pompeii's Trashy Tombs Explained

Pompeii's Tomb
© Pompeii Archaeological Research Project: Porta Stabia
A composite photo shows the location of two trash pits in close proximity to a cistern that held drinking and washing water in a home in Pompeii. Residents' casual attitude toward trash explains why tombs were filled with household garbage, an archaeologist says.

The tombs of Pompeii, the Roman city buried by a volcanic eruption in A.D. 79, had a litter problem. Animal bones, charcoal, broken pottery and architectural material, such as bricks, were found piled inside and outside the tombs where the city's dead were laid to rest.

To explain the presence of so much garbage alongside the dead, archaeologists have theorized that 15 years before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, an earthquake left Pompeii in disrepair.

However, this theory is unlikely, according to an archaeologist who says the citizens of Pompeii may have just been messy, at least by modern, Western standards.

"We tend to assume things like that are universal, but attitudes toward sanitation are very culturally defined, and it looks like in Pompeii attitudes were very different than ours," said Allison Emmerson, a graduate student studying Roman archaeology in the classics department of the University of Cincinnati.
Sherlock

Orcadian Temple Predates Stonehenge by 500 Years

Stonehenge
© n/a
Stonehenge in south-west England.
The discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.

Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.

Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.

It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.
People

DNA Unlocks Secret of Early Humans

Homo sapiens may have gone to India first

© Shutterstock
Early humans may not have journeyed north out of Africa after all.
Instead, DNA experts say, they built boats about 60,000 years ago and floated their way from East Africa over to India. That and other interesting tidbits are emerging from a DNA study called the Genographic Project, the Independent reports. Modern-day volunteers are offering their DNA samples in order to help scientists track how Homo sapiens emerged in Africa about 200,000 years ago and later traveled out into the world.

Examination of the female X chromosome shows that their first major migration was via the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait to India. DNA evidence also reveals that the most genetic variation exists in Africa, where early humans spent the most time. Second-most is in India, probably because early humans went there first. The Independent looks at the DNA of several volunteers, revealing whether each person's DNA dates back only to the Ice Age or all the way back to "Mitochondrial Eve."
Info

Drought Led to Demise of Ancient City of Angkor

Angkor Wat
© Mary Beth Day, University of Cambridge
The ancient city of Angkor is best known for its ruined temple of Angkor Wat.

The ancient city of Angkor - the most famous monument of which is the breathtaking ruined temple of Angkor Wat - might have collapsed due to valiant but ultimately failed efforts to battle drought, scientists find.

The great city of Angkor in Cambodia, first established in the ninth century, was the capital of the Khmer Empire, the major player in southeast Asia for nearly five centuries. It stretched over more than 385 square miles (1,000 square kilometers), making it the most extensive urban complex of the preindustrial world. In comparison, Philadelphia covers 135 square miles (350 sq. km), while Phoenix sprawls across more than 500 square miles (1,300 sq. km), not including the huge suburbs.

Suggested causes for the fall of the Khmer Empire in the late 14th to early 15th centuries have included war and land overexploitation. However, recent evidence suggests that prolonged droughts might have been linked to the decline of Angkor - for instance, tree rings from Vietnam suggest the region experienced long spans of drought interspersed with unusually heavy rainfall.

Angkor possessed a complex network of channels, moats, and embankments and reservoirs known as barays to collect and store water from the summer monsoons for use in rice paddy fields in case of drought. To learn more about how the Khmer managed their water, scientists analyzed a 6-foot (2-meter)-long core sample of sediment taken from the southwest corner of the largest Khmer reservoir, the West Baray, which could hold 1.87 billion cubic feet (53 million cubic meters) of water, more than 20 times the amount of stone making up the Great Pyramid at Giza.
Top