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Mysterious earthen rings predate Amazon rainforest

Ring Ditch
© Heiko Prumers
Shown here, a ring ditch next to Laguna Granja in the Amazon of northeastern Bolivia.
A series of square, straight and ringlike ditches scattered throughout the Bolivian and Brazilian Amazon were there before the rainforest existed, a new study finds.

These human-made structures remain a mystery: They may have been used for defense, drainage, or perhaps ceremonial or religious reasons. But the new research addresses another burning question: whether and how much prehistoric people altered the landscape in the Amazon before the arrival of Europeans.

"People have been affecting the global climate system through land use for not just the past 200 to 300 years, but for thousands of years," said study author John Francis Carson, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom. [See Images of the Ancient Amazonian Earthworks]
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Remains of long-lost temple discovered in Iraq

Ancient Iraqi Temple
© Dlshad Marf Zamua
Life-size human statues and the remains of an ancient temple dating back some 2,500 years have been discovered in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq. The region's hilly environment, shown here.
Life-size human statues and column bases from a long-lost temple dedicated to a supreme god have been discovered in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq.

The discoveries date back over 2,500 years to the Iron Age, a time period when several groups - such as the Urartians, Assyrians and Scythians - vied for supremacy over what is now northern Iraq.

"I didn't do excavation, just archaeological soundings - the villagers uncovered these materials accidentally," said Dlshad Marf Zamua, a doctoral student at Leiden University in the Netherlands, who began the fieldwork in 2005. The column bases were found in a single village while the other finds, including a bronze statuette of a wild goat, were found in a broad area south of where the borders of Iraq, Iran and Turkey intersect. [See Photos of the Life-Size Statues & Other Discoveries in Iraq]

For part of the Iron Age, this area was under control of the city of Musasir, also called Ardini, Marf Zamua said. Ancient inscriptions have referred to Musasir as a "holy city founded in bedrock" and "the city of the raven."
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Roman coin hoard found in UK cave

Ancient Coins
© Richard Davenport/National Trust
Experts say the find is highly unusual as it is the first time coins from these two separate civilisations have been buried together.
A precious hoard of Roman and Late Iron Age coins has been discovered in a cave where it has lain undisturbed for more than 2,000 years.

The treasure trove was initially unearthed by a member of the public, who stumbled across four coins in the cave in Dovedale, Derbyshire.

The discovery prompted a full-scale excavation of the site.

Experts say it is the first time coins from these two separate civilisations have been buried together.

'Wealth and power'

Archaeologists discovered 26 coins, including three Roman coins which pre-date the invasion of Britain in AD 43, and 20 other gold and silver pieces which are Late Iron Age and thought to belong to the Corieltavi tribe.

Although Roman coins have often been found in fields, this is understood to be the first time they have been unearthed in a cave.

The cache has been declared as "treasure".

National Trust archaeologist Rachael Hall said: "The coins would suggest a serious amount of wealth and power of the individual who owned them.
Sherlock

Pristine fossil found in Germany confirms Archaeopteryx as original bird

"Since its first discovery in the 1860s, Archaeopteryx has been the object of many debates in relation to bird evolution," said paleontologist Oliver Rauhut

In a study published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, researchers described the discovery of a near perfect fossil of Archaeopteryx, the "original bird."
Archaeopteryx original bird fossil
© R. Liebreich/Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology
An artist's reconstruction of Archaeopteryx.
Though the Archaeopteryx had previously been fingered by paleontologists as the first bird to fly, the inconsistent nature of the fossil record made it difficult for scientists to confirm that the ancient creature could indeed take to the air.

But the latest Archaeopteryx fossil, unearthed in 2011, was preserved in fine-grain limestone after succumbing to fate in an ancient lagoon in modern day Bavaria, a region of southern Germany -- thus revealing the bird's full plumage in remarkable detail. The details confirm a lightweight suit (including a strange pair of "feather trousers" on the legs) likely capable of lifting Archaeopteryx skyward, researchers say.

"Since its first discovery in the 1860s, Archaeopteryx has been the object of many debates in relation to bird evolution, especially flight and feather evolution," explained study co-author Oliver Rauhut, a paleontologist at the Bavarian State Collection for Paleontology and Geology in Munich. "There were debates if it was ground-dwelling or arboreal, if it could fly or not."

Archaeopteryx lived 150 million years ago, and though its not the only ancient bird to sport plumage, it is one of the first that used their feathers to take to the air.

The new fossil further informs the evolution of ancient bird feathers.
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Oldest case of Down's syndrome from medieval France

Down's syndrome
© SPL
Key features of the skull indicate that the owner of this 1500-year old skeleton had Down's syndrome.
The oldest confirmed case of Down's syndrome has been found: the skeleton of a child who died 1500 years ago in early medieval France.

According to the archaeologists, the way the child was buried hints that Down's syndrome was not necessarily stigmatised in the Middle Ages.

Down's syndrome is a genetic disorder that delays a person's growth and causes intellectual disability. People with Down's syndrome have three copies of chromosome 21, rather than the usual two.

It was described in the 19th century, but has probably existed throughout human history. However there are few cases of Down's syndrome in the archaeological record.

The new example comes from a 5th- and 6th-century necropolis near a church in Chalon-sur-Saône in eastern France. Excavations there have uncovered the remains of 94 people, including the skeleton of a young child with a short and broad skull, a flattened skull base and thin cranial bones.

These features are common in people with Down's syndrome, says Maïté Rivollat at the University of Bordeaux in France, who has studied the skeleton with her colleagues.

"I think the paper makes a convincing case for a diagnosis of Down's syndrome," says John Starbuck at Indiana University in Indianapolis.

He has just analysed a 1500-year-old figurine from the Mexican Tolteca culture that he says depicts someone with Down's syndrome.
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Prehistoric circle dated to same summer as Seahenge neighbour

Holme II
© Andrew Parsons/PA
The timber circle Holme II on the coast of Norfolk near Seahenge.
A second prehistoric circle on a Norfolk beach has been dated to the same summer more than 4,000 years ago as its famous neighbour, Seahenge.

Archaeologists believe the two circles, which originally stood inland in boggy freshwater but are now being eroded gradually by the tides, were part of the same monumental complex connected with rites to honour the dead.

Unlike the giant boulders of monuments such as Stonehenge, the only evidence for most prehistoric timber structures is post holes in the ground. However in Norfolk, because the salty silt preserved the wood, the two circles at Holme Beach are the only ones in Britain to have been dated precisely, to 2049BC.

In 1999, images went round the world of druids and other protesters chanting, weeping and trying to block the diggers from dragging the ancient timbers of Seahenge out of the silt and removing them from the beach.

It was the eerie beauty of Seahenge, with the posts half submerged in the waves surrounding the upended stump of a giant oak tree, which made it international news. But the protesters who demanded it be left on the beach missed the second Bronze Age circle, just visible at the lowest tides.
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Roman skeleton discovery could rewrite British history

Archaelogical dig
© Bournemouth University/BNPS

Bournemouth University students working at the Winterbourne Kingston Archaelogical dig.
For most archaeology students finding a piece of broken pottery or a glass bead is the highlight of their first dig.

But undergraduates at Bournemouth University have stumbled upon a major find which could rewrite Roman history in Britain.

For the first time the skeletons of a family have been uncovered at a Roman villa in Dorset field.

The discovery has been described as 'hugely significant' by experts.

It could provide vital clues as to who was living in Britain around 350AD when the Roman Empire was beginning to decline.

Dr Miles Russell, a senior lecturer in archaeology at Bournemouth University, said: "This find is hugely significant because there have been more than 700 Roman villas found in Britain but before now no-one has ever found their occupants.

"Our find could lead to graves of Roman villa owners all round the country being discovered."

"Who lived in Roman villas is one of the big questions in British archaeology and we might finally be able to provide some answers."
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Archaeologists discovered burial site of unknown culture in Peru

Ancient Mummies
© Archives of the Tambo Project of the University of Wrocław
The mummies wrapped in burial shrouds and mats. One of the dead has a bow.
Archaeologists from the University of Wrocław discovered more than 150 graves belonging to a previously unknown culture in Peru. The find, dated to the 4th-7th century AD, indicates that the northern part of the Atacama Desert had been inhabited by a farming community before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilization.

The team from Institute of Archaeology of the University of Wrocław has performed research in southern Peru since 2008. The cemetery was discovered in the Tambo River delta, in the northern part of the Atacama Desert. "These graves had been dug in the sand without any stone structures, and for this reason they were so difficult to locate that they have not fallen prey to robbers" - told PAP Prof. Józef Szykulski, leader of the research project, in which, in addition to Polish archaeologists, researchers from Peru and Colombia are also involved.

Desert conditions also preserved the contents of the graves. "These burials are of the virtually unknown people, who inhabited the area before the expansion of the Tiwanaku civilization. Items found in individual graves indicate that the people already had a clear social division" - said Prof. Szykulski.

In the tombs, archaeologists have found objects including massive headgear made of camelid wool, which could have the function of helmets. Some of the bodies were wrapped in mats, others in cotton burial shrouds, and others in nets, which means that one of the forms of activity of that culture was fishing.

"Inside some of the graves we have found bows and quivers with arrows tipped with obsidian heads. This is a very interesting find, because bows are a rarity in Peru" - said the archaeologist. Another interesting find is the skeleton of a young llama, which proves that the animal had been brought to the Tombo Delta earlier than thought.
Wedding Rings

The genetic origins of high-altitude adaptations in Tibetans

Thame village Nepal
© Cynthia Beall
Thame village at 3,800 m in the Khumbu District of Nepal is the home of many outstanding Sherpa climbers and was a site of data collection for the present study. The yak in the foreground came from the Tibet Autonomous Region loaded with agricultural and trade goods; there is a flourishing cross-border trade in this area.
Genetic adaptations for life at high elevations found in residents of the Tibetan plateau likely originated around 30,000 years ago in peoples related to contemporary Sherpa. These genes were passed on to more recent migrants from lower elevations via population mixing, and then amplified by natural selection in the modern Tibetan gene pool, according to a new study by scientists from the University of Chicago and Case Western Reserve University, published in Nature Communications on February 10.

The transfer of beneficial mutations between human populations and selective enrichment of these genes in descendent generations represents a novel mechanism for adaptation to new environments.

"The Tibetan genome appears to arise from a mixture of two ancestral gene pools," said Anna Di Rienzo, PhD, professor of human genetics at the University of Chicago and corresponding author of the study. "One migrated early to high altitude and adapted to this environment. The other, which migrated more recently from low altitudes, acquired the advantageous alleles from the resident high-altitude population by interbreeding and forming what we refer to today as Tibetans."

High elevations are challenging for humans because of low oxygen levels but Tibetans are well adapted to life above 13,000 feet. Due to physiological traits such as relatively low hemoglobin concentrations at altitude, Tibetans have lower risk of complications, such as thrombosis, compared to short-term visitors from low altitude. Unique to Tibetans are variants of the EGLN1 and EPAS1 genes, key genes in the oxygen homeostasis system at all altitudes. These variants were hypothesized to have evolved around 3,000 years ago, a date which conflicts with much older archaeological evidence of human settlement in Tibet.
Colosseum

Rome's Colosseum: Medieval condominium

colosseum
© Diliff/Wikimedia Commons
Condos: they don't make 'em like they used to!
Forget gory shows and gladiatorial combat. In the late Middle Ages, Rome's Colosseum was a huge condominium, says the latest archaeological investigation into Rome's most iconic monument.

Archaeologists from Roma Tre University and students from the American University of Rome unearthed evidence showing that ordinary Romans lived within the Colosseum from the ninth century until at least 1349, when the building was seriously damaged by an earthquake.

During a three-week excavation beneath some of the arched entrances that lead into the arena, the archaeologists discovered terracotta sewage pipes, potsherds and the foundations of a 12th-century wall that once enclosed one of the properties.

"This excavation has allowed us to identify an entire housing lot from the late medieval period," Rossella Rea, the director of the Colosseum, said.

The unusual medieval condo also included stables and workshops. Square feet inside the Colosseum were rented out as areas of housing by friars of the nearby Santa Maria Nova convent, who had taken control of the monument.
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