Secret History


Oldest case of Down's syndrome from medieval France

Down's syndrome
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.

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.

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."

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.

Rome's Colosseum: Medieval condominium

© 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.

Six more ancient birch-bark letters unearthed in Russia's Novgorod

Birch-bark text
Archeologists have unearthed six ancient Russian birch-bark texts in the historical part of Vekliky Novgorod in northwestern Russia in less than a month.

"On June 2, two birch-barks were found in the 14-century cultural layer during excavations in Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street. And four more 'letters from the past' were discovered there later," a spokesman for the Novgorod Archeological Expedition told reporters.

The findings, all of them fragments of larger texts, apparently business records, are being studied by linguists.

More than a thousand ancient birch-bark texts have been found in Veliky Novgorod over more than 60 years of archeological excavations in that ancient Russian city.

The truth about giant skeletons in American Indian mounds, and the Smithsonian cover-up


Ancient American giants? 9-foot mummy allegedly found in California in 1895.
During the past few years a huge controversy has emerged accusing the Smithsonian (and a host of skeptics and archaeologists) of covering up the discovery of hundreds of giant skeletons from Native American Indian mounds. Jim Vieira is one of the key people who began uncovering hundreds of newspaper accounts of giant skeletons after he became intrigued by his visits to stone chambers found primarily in northeastern states. To date, Vieira has pulled together about 1,500 accounts from newspapers and books published in the 1800s and early 1900s.

The newspaper stories relate that the skeletons ranged in size from 7 feet to well over 18 feet in length. Vieira began issuing the reports, one at a time, every day on a popular Facebook page called Your Daily Giant. Vieira was subsequently attacked by skeptical bloggers. One of the skeptics, Jason Colavito, related that the giant reports came from misidentified mastodon/mammoth bones to outright hoaxes. However, Colavito didn't cite a single example of a hoax or a giant skeleton found in America that turned out to be a mastodon or mammoth. Colavito also wrote that modern paleopathology textbooks could explain other reports because repeated freezing and thawing of buried bones would expand bones "enough to turn a slightly average body into a gigantic one." Both of Colavito's assertions are astonishing claims evaluated below.

In February 2014 Andrew Collins and I began a detailed investigation into many of the giant reports as well as the assertions by the skeptics. We visited a host of mound sites, spoke with several archaeologists, and ran many of the giant skeleton reports down to their source. What we found was intriguing to the extent that I wrote a book on the topic and Andrew wrote the Foreword and an extensive Afterword to it. The book is entitled Path of Souls: The Native American Death Journey; Cygnus, Orion, the Milky Way, Giant Skeletons in Mounds, & the Smithsonian.

The main title reflects our original intent, which was to detail new information about the mysterious symbols found on artifacts excavated from mounds and what they mean with respect to Native American beliefs about death. We were essentially sidetracked by the "giant skeleton" issue and spent a great deal of time finding original sources of the stories. This article focuses only on the skeleton findings.

From ancient Egypt to modern America, spying has always been used to crush dissent

spy vs spy
© Mario Bordieri
Americans are told that we live in a "post-9/11 reality" that requires mass surveillance.

But the NSA was already conducting mass surveillance prior to 9/11 ... including surveillance on the 9/11 hijackers.

And top security experts - including the highest-level government officials and the top university experts - say that mass surveillance actually increases terrorism and hurts security. And they say that our government failed to stop the Boston bombing because they were too busy spying on millions of innocent Americans instead of focusing on actual bad guys.

So why is the government conducting mass surveillance on the American people?

Scientists reveal a suspected Bronze Age murder (and dental secrets from around 4,000 years ago)

Power of science brings to life our past from 'unique' skull discovered in a grave northwest of Lake Baikal.
© Canadian Light Source
This specimen really intrigued me,' said bioarchaeologist Angela Lieverse, associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan.
The extraordinary ability of modern scientists to play the role of detectives delving into the deep past is highlighted by work of Canadian experts in co-operation with their Russian colleagues on the skull of a man from the early Bronze Age - some 3,995 to 4,420 years ago.

The man was aged 35 to 40, the evidence suggests he did not die a natural death.

'This specimen really intrigued me,' said bioarchaeologist Angela Lieverse, associate professor at the University of Saskatchewan. 'I've known about this skull for about ten years and there are a couple things about it that are fascinating.'

One was that the man was missing two front teeth on the lower jaw.

The other was an obvious stone projectile tip embedded in the exact same spot where the two incisors should be.

'We knew there was a projectile, we could see it, but we didn't know if it occurred years before the individual died or if it happened around the same time as his death. I suspected it happened earlier and had something to do with the very unusual missing teeth.'