Secret History


Hobbits were a separate species, ancient chompers show

© Professor Peter Brown, University of New England
Endocasts of the skulls of a hobbit (left) and a modern human (right). Research by Dean Falk of Florida State University and colleagues has suggested features of the hobbit's skull more closely resembled that of a normal human than a microcephalic.
An ancient, 3-foot-tall (0.9 meters) human whose diminutive stature has earned it the nickname "hobbit" has puzzled evolutionary scientists since its little bones were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. Some have suggested the individual was a Homo sapien with some miniaturizing disorder.

Now, teeth from the hobbit suggest it belonged to a unique species rather than a modern human with a growth disorder. The new research also suggests hobbits may share a direct ancestor with modern humans.

The 18,000-year-old fossil remains of the hobbit were discovered in 2003. Since then, scientists have suggested that the hobbit, which had a brain about the size of a grapefruit, was a unique branch of the human lineage Homo, dubbed Homo floresiensis. However, other researchers have argued 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.


Mystery extinct cavemen were more diverse than Neanderthals

© Bence Viola
A molar from a Denisovan individual, found in a cave in Siberia.
A mysterious extinct branch of the human family tree that once interbred with modern humans was more genetically diverse than Neanderthals, a finding that also suggests many of these early humans called Denisovans existed in what is now southern Siberia, researchers say.

In 2008, scientists unearthed a finger bone and teeth in Denisova cave in Siberia's Altai Mountains that belonged to lost relatives now known as the Denisovans (dee-NEE-soh-vens). Analysis of DNA extracted from a finger bone from a young Denisovan girl suggested they shared a common origin with Neanderthals, but were nearly as genetically distinct from Neanderthals as Neanderthals were from living people.

A deeper understanding of extinct human lineages could shed light on modern human evolution. For instance, analysis of the Denisovan genome showed that Denisovans have contributed on the order of 5 percent of their DNA to the genomes of present-day people in Oceania, and about 0.2 percent to the genomes of Native Americans and mainland Asians. These DNA contributions not only signify interbreeding between the two groups (scientists have yet to definitively call Denisovans a separate species), but also may explain the origin of some traits of living humans.


Why do humans care for the bodies of the dead?

© Albert Anker / Wikimedia
The ancient Greek Cynic philosopher Diogenes was extreme in a lot of ways. He deliberately lived on the street, and, in accordance with his teachings that people should not be embarrassed to do private things in public, was said to defecate and masturbate openly in front of others. Plato called him "a Socrates gone mad." Shocking right to the end, he told his friends that when he died, he didn't want to be buried. He wanted them to throw his body over the city wall, where it could be devoured by animals.

"What harm then can the mangling of wild beasts do me if I am without consciousness?" he asked.

What is a dead body but an empty shell?, he's asking. What does it matter what happens to it? These are also the questions that the University of California, Berkeley, history professor Thomas Laqueur asks in his new book The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains.


Ancient board game discovered in looted China tomb

© Chinese Cultural Relics
Archaeologists think this 14-face die was used to play a game called "bo" that hasn't been played in 1,500 years.
Pieces from a mysterious board game that hasn't been played for 1,500 years were discovered in a heavily looted 2,300-year-old tomb near Qingzhou City in China.

There, archaeologists found a 14-face die made of animal tooth, 21 rectangular game pieces with numbers painted on them and a broken tile which was once part of a game board. The tile when reconstructed was "decorated with two eyes, which are surrounded by cloud-and-thunder patterns," wrote the archaeologists in a report published recently in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics.

The skeleton of possibly one of the grave robbers was also discovered in a shaft made within the tomb by looters.


Skeleton of burnt "witch girl" discovered in Italy

© Pontifical Institute of Archaeology
Italian archaeologists have unearthed the remains of a Medieval teenage girl who was burnt and thrown carelessly in a pit, her grave covered with heavy stone slabs.

Her burial shows she was seen as a danger even when dead, according to the archaeologists.

The skeleton was discovered at the complex of San Calocero in Albenga on the Ligurian Riviera, by a team led by scientific director Philippe Pergola, professor of topography of the Orbis Christianus Antiquus at the Pontifical Institute of Archaeology at the Vatican.

At the same location, in September 2014, the team unearthed the remains of another "witch girl," a 13-year-old female who was buried face-down.

Like other deviant burials, in which the dead were buried with a brick in the mouth, nailed or staked to the ground, or even decapitated and dismembered, both the face-down burial and the stone-covered tomb aimed at preventing the dead girls from rising from the grave.

Further analysis determined the "witch girl" who was buried face-down just suffered from scurvy, a disorder caused by an insufficient intake of vitamin C.

Comment: See also: Rare 'prone' burial in Italy attributed to a 'witch girl'


Thomas Muir: The reemergence of a forgotten father of Scottish democracy

© Wikimedia
Thomas Muir, hero of 1790s political reform. Wikimedia
He was public enemy number one for his attempts to stand up for injustice. He was the subversive lawyer and political reformer that for many years was in danger of being forgotten. Yet in the 250th year since his birth, Thomas Muir has made quite a comeback. He is now being touted as the father of Scottish democracy, and could yet become an icon to rival the likes of William Wallace and Keir Hardie.

Muir ended up living the kind of boy's-own story that could inspire a Hollywood movie. He was exiled to Botany Bay for 14 years in an outrageously rigged trial in 1793. He had been prosecuted for encouraging people to read Thomas Paine, who so far as the British were concerned helped to spark both the American and French revolutions. Muir had also been instrumental in the meetings of the radicalist Society of the Friends of the People in Edinburgh, and had personally sent messages of fraternal greetings to the United Irishmen on their way to becoming a revolutionary movement.

Arrow Down

The disgraceful history of genetic racism

© Global Research
Race in human taxonomy - the science of classifying organisms - has a long, disgraceful history.

Individuals have used race to divide and denigrate certain people while promoting their claims of superiority. Some of these individuals were, and are, respected in their time and their fields. They include philosopher and scientist Robert Boyle and sociologists like Hans Günther. Others who've been guilty include biologists like Ernst Haeckel and historians such as Henri de Boulainvilliers.

What is the history of racially based classifications of humans? And does it have any scientific validity?

Starting with Kant

The eminent philosopher Immanuel Kant was arguably the first "scientific racist". He maintained that dark-skinned Africans were "vain and stupid". He insisted that they were only capable of trifling feelings and were resistant to any form of education other than learning how to be enslaved.

Bizarro Earth

Tropical fossil forest unearthed in Norway

A team of UK paleontologists has unearthed three 380-million-year-old fossil forests in Svalbard, an archipelago administered by Norway and located far north of continental Europe in the Arctic Ocean.
© Christopher M. Berry / John E.A. Marshall
Drawing of a fossil forest in Svalbard, Norway.
The fossil forests in Svalbard were formed mainly of lycopod trees, better known for growing millions of years later in coal swamps that eventually turned into coal deposits.

The forests grew near the equator during the Late Devonian, according to the paleontologists - Dr Chris Berry of Cardiff University and Prof. John Marshall of the University of Southampton.

They were extremely dense, with very small gaps around between each of the trees, which probably reached roughly 13 feet (4 m) high.

"In-situ trees are represented by internal casts of arborescent lycopsids with cormose bases and small ribbon-like roots occurring in dense stands spaced 8 inches (20 cm) apart, identified as Protolepidodendropsis pulchra," Dr Berry and Prof. Marshall wrote in a paper published recently in the journal Geology.


Surprising facts about ancient cultures who possessed advanced knowledge of metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry and astronomy

Just a couple of decades ago, the people of ancient civilizations were viewed as simple, primitive people. However, numerous discoveries since then have revealed a number of surprising facts about ancient cultures, namely that many of them possessed advanced knowledge of metallurgy, mathematics, chemistry, astronomy, and more. With this knowledge they forged steel stronger than anything else seen until the Industrial Revolution, created a recipe for concrete so durable that their buildings would endure for millennia longer than the constructions of today, cut stones and assembled walls so precisely that attempts at modern-day replications have failed. Scientists are still scratching their heads over some of the amazing accomplishments of ancient civilizations. Here we feature ten of them.

1. Aqueducts and hydro technology

Who would have thought that 21st century governments would be looking to 1,500-year-old technology for guidance on how to solve water access problems? But that is exactly what is happening in Lima, Peru.

Peru has been facing a severe water crisis as chronic problems, such as polluted water supplies, and environmental change combine to undermine the water security of the entire country. However, a new plan has been put forward by Lima's water utility company, Sedapal, to revive an ancient network of stone canals that were built by the Wari culture as early as 500 AD, in order to supply the population with clean, unpolluted water.

The Wari built an advanced water conservation system that captured mountain water during the rainy season via canals. The canals transported the water to places where it could feed into springs further down the mountain, in order to maintain the flow of the rivers during the dry season.

Many ancient civilizations are known for their advanced construction of cisterns, canals, aqueducts, and water channelling technology, including the Persians, Nabataeans, Romans, Greeks, Harrapans, and many more.

Comment: There is much evidence to support the fact that there have been many highly advanced civilizations that have been destroyed by global cataclysmic events, and there is a distinct possibility that we may be facing a similar catastrophe:


Europeans are a mixture of 4 ancestral populations

© Eppie Jones
The researchers were able to extract DNA from the remains thanks to scientific advances.
Geneticists have detected a fourth ancestral "tribe" which contributed to the modern European gene pool.

Research shows Europeans are a mixture of three major ancestral populations - indigenous hunters, Middle Eastern farmers and a population that arrived from the east during the Bronze Age.

DNA from ancient remains in the Caucasus has now revealed a fourth population that fed into the mix.

Details are published in Nature Communications.

Scientific advances in recent years have allowed researchers to retrieve and analyse genomes from ancient burials. The genome is the genetic blueprint for a human, contained within the nucleus of every cell.

This deluge of data has transformed our understanding of the modern human genetic landscape. It has also shown that present-day genetic patterns are poor guides to ancient ones.

The first layer of European ancestry, the indigenous hunter-gatherers, entered Europe before the Ice Age 40,000 years ago. But 7,000 years ago, they were swept up in a migration of people from the Middle East, who introduced farming to Europe.