Secret History
Map


Sherlock

The (still) mysterious death of Edgar Allan Poe

© Bettmann/CORBIS
Like his life's work, Edgar Allan Poe's death remains shrouded in mystery.
It was raining in Baltimore on October 3, 1849, but that didn't stop Joseph W. Walker, a compositor for the Baltimore Sun, from heading out to Gunner's Hall, a public house bustling with activity. It was Election Day, and Gunner's Hall served as a pop-up polling location for the 4th Ward polls. When Walker arrived at Gunner's Hall, he found a man, delirious and dressed in shabby second-hand clothes, lying in the gutter. The man was semi-conscious, and unable to move, but as Walker approached the him, he discovered something unexpected: the man was Edgar Allan Poe. Worried about the health of the addled poet, Walker stopped and asked Poe if he had any acquaintances in Baltimore that might be able to help him. Poe gave Walker the name of Joseph E. Snodgrass, a magazine editor with some medical training. Immediately, Walker penned Snodgrass a letter asking for help.
Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849
Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste,
JOS. W. WALKER
To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.
On September 27 - almost a week earlier - Poe had left Richmond, Virginia bound for Philadelphia to edit a collection of poems for Mrs. St. Leon Loud, a minor figure in American poetry at the time. When Walker found Poe in delirious disarray outside of the polling place, it was the first anyone had heard or seen of the poet since his departure from Richmond.
Blue Planet

The sophisticated water technologies of the ancient Nabataeans

The Nabataeans were an ancient Semitic people dating back to 586 BC, who inhabited northern Arabia and the Southern Levant. The desert climate created agricultural difficulties for the Nabataeans, but they rose to the challenge, creating a sophisticated water collection system, which allowed them to build an impressive trade empire in the heart of Arabia.

The first records of the Nabataeans show that they lived in Edomite territory, although there is some dispute as to how and when the Nabataeans arrived there - some believe that they lived alongside the Edomites for hundreds of years, while others maintain that the Nabataeans migrated to the Edomite territory after the Edomites moved north. They eventually chose the site of Petra to build their city.
Pyramid

Researchers discover remains of Alexander the Great's father

© THEODORE ANTIKAS
Unequal greaves and the Scynthian gorytus
A team of Greek researchers has confirmed that bones found in a two-chambered royal tomb at Vergina, a town some 100 miles away from Amphipolis's mysterious burial mound, indeed belong to the Macedonian King Philip II, Alexander the Great's father.

The anthropological investigation examined 350 bones and fragments found in two larnakes, or caskets, of the tomb. It uncovered pathologies, activity markers and trauma that helped identify the tomb's occupants.

Along with the cremated remains of Philip II, the burial, commonly known as Tomb II, also contained the bones of a woman warrior, possibly the daughter of the Skythian King Athea, Theodore Antikas, head of the Art-Anthropological research team of the Vergina excavation, told Discovery News.

The findings will be announced on Friday at the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki. Accompanied by 3,000 digital color photographs and supported by X-ray computed tomography, scanning electron microscopy, and X-ray fluorescence, the research aims to settle a decades-old debate over the cremated skeleton.
Blue Planet

Closest link to our universal mitochondrial ancestor found

Africans
© Danita Delimont/Getty
Humanity's roots are in Africa
A man who died in 315 BC in southern Africa is the closest relative yet known to humanity's common female ancestor - mitochondrial Eve

He died later than Socrates and Aristotle, but a man who fished along the coast of southern Africa is the closest genetic match for our common female ancestor yet found.

If you trace back the DNA in the maternally inherited mitochondria within our cells, all humans have a theoretical common ancestor. This woman, known as "mitochondrial Eve", lived between 100,000 and 200,000 years ago in southern Africa. She was not the first human, but every other female lineage eventually had no female offspring, failing to pass on their mitochondrial DNA. As a result, all humans today can trace their mitochondrial DNA back to her.

Within her DNA, and that of her peers, existed almost all the genetic variation we see in contemporary humans. Since Eve's time, different populations of humans have drifted apart genetically, forming the distinct ethnic groups we see today.

Comment: "First Ancient Mitochondrial Human Genome from a Prepastoralist Southern African", Genome Biol Evol (2014) 6 (10): 2647-2653 can be found here.

Magnify

Mysterious giant megaliths discovered in remote Russia puzzle scientists

Mysterious stones on Mountain Shoriya (Kemerov region, Russia) have puzzled both scientists and ordinary men. The wall of rectangular stones piled up on top of each other is already being called the "Russian Stonehenge". According to one of the stories, they were found back in ancient times.

Though it aroused the interest of researchers in 1991, it was not explored then due to lack of financing. The research was just resumed in autumn 2013.

The granite blocks impress with their dimensions. They are making up walls in a polygonal masonry technique. Geologists compare them with Stonehenge and Egyptian pyramids.

The walls are 40 meters high, and they stretch for almost 200 meters. The length of some of the stones is about 20 meters, and their height is 5-7 meters. The weight of every block is more than 1000 tons.
Info

Archaeologists unearth remains of oldest Norman ever found which 'fills gap in our knowledge of pre-Neanderthal evolution'

Oldest Norman
© The Independent, UK
The arm bones, dating from 200,000 years ago, are 'the only known example from northern Europe'.
On a bend of the river Seine near Rouen in Normandy, archaeologists have found the remains of the oldest Norman ever discovered.

The three bones from the left arm of a pre-Neanderthal should shed fresh light on a little-known period. In particular, they could help scientists to understand the evolution of the squat, muscular hunters who died out 30,000 to 40,000 years ago, just after the first humans arrived in what is now Europe.

The discovery of the bones at Tourville-la-Rivière, 14km south of Rouen, is exceptional because "this is a period with very few fossils", according to Bruno Maureille, a palaeontologist at the National Centre for Scientific Research. He said the arm bones, dating from 200,000 years ago, in the Middle Pleistocene era, were "the only known example from northern Europe".

Jean-Philippe Faivre, a colleague at the centre, said that although similar discoveries had been made in the UK and Germany, the discovery in Normandy "fills a gap in our knowledge about how they evolved in this geographical area, and how they adapted to their environment".

Debate continues over the origins of Neanderthals but they appear to have evolved in Europe in isolation. One expert said the Tourville specimen had echoes of the discovery of "Boxgrove Man", whose fossilised tibia was found in West Sussex in 1993. "The English Channel didn't exist in those days," the expert added.
Info

Giant stepwell found in Northwestern India

Well
© The Times of India
The stepwell that was found during the excavation by ASI in Dholavira, Kutch.
Ahmedabad: A 5,000-year-old stepwell has been found in one of the largest Harappan cities, Dholavira, in Kutch, which is three times bigger than the Great Bath at Mohenjo Daro.

Located in the eastern reservoir of Dholavira by experts from the Archaeological Survey of India working with IIT-Gandhinagar, the site represents the largest, grandest, and the best furnished ancient reservoir discovered so far in the country.

It's rectangular and 73.4m long, 29.3m wide, and 10m deep. Another site, the ornate Rani ki Vav in Patan, called the queen of stepwells, is already on Unesco list.

"This is almost three times bigger than the Great Bath of Mohenjo Daro that's 12m in length, 7m in width, and 2.4m in depth," said V N Prabhakar, visiting faculty at IIT and superintending archaeologist, ASI.

"We will conduct spot analysis in December as various surveys have indicated other reservoirs and stepwells may be buried in Dholavira," Prabhakar told TOI.

"We also suspect a huge lake and an ancient shoreline are buried in the archaeological site that's one of the five largest Harappan sites and the most prominent archaeological site in India belonging to the Indus Valley civilization," he added.

Experts will investigate the advanced hydraulic engineering used by Harappans for building the stepwell through 3D laser scanner, remote sensing technology and ground-penetrating radar system.
Magnify

How the violin got its shape

Violin
© potowizard / Shutterstock
The elegant shape of the violin evolved over a period of 400 years, largely due to the influence of four prominent families of instrument makers, a new study finds.

Researchers analyzed more than 9,000 violins, violas, cellos and double basses, and found that the shape of violins depended on the makers' family background, country of origin, the time period in which it was constructed, and how precisely the violins imitated the greats, such as the stringed instruments expertly crafted by Antonio Stradivari.

The first violins were made in Italy in the 16th century. Stradivari, one of history's most respected violin makers, lived in Cremona, in northern Italy, from 1644 to 1737. He crafted roughly 1,000 violins, including about 650 that have survived to this day.

In fact, the study found that the shape of modern violins has been disproportionately influenced by the work of Stradivari, said study researcher Daniel Chitwood, a scientist at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis.
Magnify

Ancient rhino-relatives were water-loving

Anthracobunids
© Cooper Lab, NEOMED
Pictured here are two jaws from anthracobunids recovered from 48 million year old sediments next to a horse skull. The study found that anthracobunids were an ancient relative of horses, rhinos, and tapirs.
The discovery of new bones from a large land mammal that lived about 48 million years ago has led scientists to identify a new branch of mammals closely related to modern horses, rhinos, and tapirs, according to a study published October 8, 2014 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Lisa Noelle Cooper from Northeast Ohio Medical University and colleagues.

This family of large mammals, Anthracobunidae, is only known from India and Pakistan and was commonly considered to be ancestors of modern elephants and sea cows. Geographically, this was a puzzling idea, because elephants and their relatives were groups that were known from Africa, not Asia. These new fossils indicate that anthracobunids are related to the tiny tapirs that are well known from the Pakistani rocks, and that perissodactyls probably originated in Asia.

Researchers also analyzed stable isotopes and bone shape, finding that these animals most likely fed on land and were large and lumbering, but spent a considerable amount of time near water, similar to modern rhinos and tapirs. Dr. Lisa Noelle Cooper added, "Anthracobunids are just one of many lineages of vertebrates that evolved from terrestrial animals, but then left to live in a shallow water habitat and had thick bones. These thick bones probably acted like ballast to counteract body buoyancy. You can see that kind of bone structure in modern hippos, otters, penguins, and cormorants."
Info

Prehistoric paintings in Indonesia may be oldest cave art ever

Prehistoric paintings
© Kinez Riza
Europeans may not have been the first cave artists. Some prehistoric paintings in Indonesia, such as the hand stencils shown here, could be more than 40,000 years old.
Paintings of miniature buffalos, warty pigs and human hands covering the walls and ceilings of caves in Indonesia could be among the oldest examples of cave art in the world, a new study finds.

The paintings - some of which might be more than 40,000 years old - challenge Europe's standing as the birthplace of prehistoric art.

"It was previously thought that Western Europe was the centerpiece of a 'symbolic explosion' in early human artistic activity, such as cave painting and other forms of image making, including figurative art, around 40,000 years ago," said study leader Maxime Aubert, an archaeologist and geochemist at Australia's Griffith University.

"However, our findings show that cave art was made at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world at about the same time, suggesting these practices have deeper origins - perhaps in Africa before our species left this continent and spread across the globe." [See Photos of the Stunning Cave Art from Indonesia]
Top