Secret History


New forms of earliest known Chinese characters discovered

Ancient Chinese characters
© AbsoluteChinaTours
Ancient Chinese characters seen on an oracle bone.
Archaeologists have discovered new forms of the first known Chinese characters including an unusual human skull.

The discovery was part of the latest research on a number of ancient tortoise shells as well as inscribed animal bones. Archaeologists announced the discovery on Thursday, reported state news agency Xinhua.

Archaeologists found two Chinese characters, Gou and Shou, in their earliest forms. They also unearthed extraordinary tortoise shells with military tokens. This was according to Chinese Academy of Social Sciences researcher, Song Zhenhao.

Skeleton may solve mystery of first Americans

Human Skull
© Paul Nicklen/National Geographic
Diver Susan Bird working at the bottom of Hoyo Negro, a large dome-shaped underwater cave on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. She carefully brushes the human skull found at the site while her team members take detailed photographs.
The ancient skeleton of a teenage girl found in an underwater cave in Mexico may be the missing link that solves the long-standing mystery behind the identity of the first Americans, researchers say.

These findings, the first time researchers have been able to connect an early American skeleton with modern Native American DNA, suggest the earliest Americans are indeed close relatives of modern Native Americans, scientists added.

The newfound skeleton was named "Naia," after Greek water spirits known as naiads. The bones are the nearly intact remains of a small, delicately built teenage girl who stood about 4 feet 10 inches (149 centimeters) tall and was about 15 or 16 years old at the time of her death, based on the development of her skeleton and teeth.

Naia reveals that despite any differences in the face and skull between the earliest Americans and modern Native Americans, they were, in fact, significantly related, probably deriving from the same gene pool.

"Naia is a missing link filling in a gap of knowledge we had about the earliest Americans and modern Native Americans,"lead study author James Chatters, owner of Applied Paleoscience, an archaeological and paleontological consulting firm in Bothell, Washington, told Live Science. Chatters is best known for his work on Kennewick Man, an ancient skeleton found in Kennewick, Washington, in 1996, whose origins were debated, because his skull was markedly different from those of modern Native Americans.

Mind-altering substances not just a modern thing: They have been used for centuries

© Thinkstock
In our current society, alcohol and drug use have become almost ubiquitous. We have declared a War on Drugs, we have movies and TV shows glorifying Prohibition and the outlaws who evaded it, and we have more references to alcohol and drugs in our music than could ever be counted.

This all-pervading presence - and our tendency as a society to romanticize the past - makes us think that these are modern problems.

Perhaps the hedonistic manner in which we use them today is a modern problem, but according to a study from the Universidad de Valladolid (UVA) in Spain, the use of mind-altering substances is an ancient practice.

UVA Professor of Archaeology Elisa Guerra-Doce reports that the use of alcohol and plant-based drugs such as opium poppies and hallucinogenic mushrooms was a highly regulated part of the belief system and sacred burial rites of many preindustrial societies. Her findings, published in the Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, suggest such substances were believed to aid in communication with the spiritual world.

It has been known for quite some time that humans have consumed such mind-altering substances for nearly as long as there has been human society. Only recently, however, have scientists started to investigate the historical and cultural contexts in which such products were used in ancient Europe.

Guerra-Doce used a systematic approach to document the cultural significance of drug and alcohol consumption in these cultures to increase the anthropological knowledge of intoxication in prehistoric European societies.

Letters to priest provide rare insight into life of Jackie Kennedy

Jackie's Letters
© Courtesy of Sheppard’s Irish Auction House
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy’s correspondence with Father Joseph Leonard.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy's thoughts about her marriage to President John F Kennedy, their life in the White House and her reaction to his assassination are revealed in newly discovered letters she wrote to an Irish priest before and after she became first lady of the United States.

The archive of her 14-year-long correspondence with Fr Joseph Leonard - a Vincentian priest who lived in All Hallows in Drumcondra in Dublin - will be sold at an auction in Ireland next month.

In the previously unpublished letters, Jackie tells Fr Leonard how Kennedy, who was then a rising star in American politics, was consumed by ambition "like Macbeth".

In a letter sent in July 1952, she said her time with him had given her "an amazing insight on politicians - they really are a breed apart".

She described with great excitement how she was in love with "the son of the ambassador to England", but expressed concern he might prove to be like her father, John Vernou Bouvier.

"He's like my father in a way - loves the chase and is bored with the conquest - and once married needs proof he's still attractive, so flirts with other women and resents you. I saw how that nearly killed Mummy."

Ancient Roman military camp unearthed in Eastern Germany

Ancient Roman Camp
Ancient camp. Boot nails and other objects were found at the Hachelbich site, along with soil marks where Roman soldiers once dug a trench to defend their temporary camp.
Archaeologists have confirmed the presence of a long-lost Roman military camp deep in eastern Germany. The 18-hectare site, found near the town of Hachelbich in Thuringia, would have sheltered a Roman legion of up to 5000 troops. Its location in a broad valley with few impediments suggests it was a stopover on the way to invade territory further east.

"People have been searching for evidence of the Romans in this part of Germany for 200 years," says team leader Mario Kuessner, an archaeologist working for the state of Thuringia. "It took a long time before we realized what we had, and we wanted to be sure."

After a stinging defeat in 9 C.E., Rome largely abandoned hope of conquering the fractious German tribes north of the Rhine River. Yet written sources suggest that the Romans occasionally campaigned in Germany, probably to punish German tribes for raids on Roman territory. Until recently, the reports have been largely dismissed as braggadocio. The Hachelbich site, along with a battlefield near Hannover uncovered in 2008, show that the reports had more than a kernel of truth to them - and that the Romans were willing to cross their frontier when it suited their political or military needs.

Wreckage of Columbus' famous ship, Santa Maria possibly found

Santa Maria
© Library of Congress
A replica of Christopher Columbus' famous ship, the Santa Maria.
The wreckage of Christopher Columbus' long-lost ship, the Santa Maria, may have been found off the coast of Haiti, according to news reports. If verified, the discovery could solve a more than 500-year-old mystery of the famous vessel's final resting place.

The Santa Maria sank in 1492 after it crashed into a coral reef in the Caribbean Sea. Now, archaeologist Barry Clifford says he has located the shipwreck at the bottom of the sea, off the north coast of Haiti, reported the Independent. In 2003, a separate team of archaeologists identified the probable location of Columbus' fort on the island of Hispaniola. Clifford combined these findings with information gleaned from the explorer's own diary to figure out where the Santa Maria likely sank.

"All the geographical, underwater topography and archaeological evidence strongly suggests that this wreck is Columbus' famous flagship, the Santa Maria," Clifford told the Independent.

"The Haitian government has been extremely helpful - and we now need to continue working with them to carry out a detailed archaeological excavation of the wreck."

So far, Clifford and his colleagues have only surveyed and photographed the site of the shipwreck, according to the Independent, but the researchers say the discovery could be one of the most important underwater archaeological finds.

"We've informed the Haitian government of our discovery - and we are looking forward to working with them and other Haitian colleagues to ensure that the site is fully protected and preserved," Clifford said. "I am confident that a full excavation of the wreck will yield the first ever detailed marine archaeological evidence of Columbus' discovery of America."

Stone circles found on Virginia property

Stone Circles_1
© Associated Press
Chris White looks over a rock carved to look like a bear on his property near Bluemont. When White, who is of Cherokee descent, was building a home for himself and his wife, who is a Lumbee Indian, he found several concentric stone circles near his property.
Concentric stone circles near rocks weighing more than a ton - apparently aligned to mark solar events - are believed to be part of a Paleo-Indian site in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Clarke County that an expert has dated to about 10,000 B.C.

The complex along Spout Run has 15 above-ground stone features. Though still under study, it could be one of the oldest man-made structures in North America still in existence and twice as old as England's Stonehenge.

Christ and Rene White, who own the property near Bluemont and made the initial discovery, credit their Native American heritage for the finding.

When Chris White, who is of Cherokee descent, was building a home for himself and his wife - who is a Lumbee Indian - on the wooded land, he said he often took a break to walk by Spout Run, which tumbles downhill in its rocky bed across his land.

Something told him that the area was important, and he decided to create a stone medicine wheel on the 20-acre property below Bears Den Trail Center - a lodge owned by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

To his surprise, he realized the area across the stream already had a stone circle. In fact, it had several concentric stone circles.

For a professional opinion, the Whites contacted retired archaeologist Jack Hranicky of Alexandria, who had investigated five other Paleo-Indian sites in Virginia.

It was Hranicky who realized that the rocks in and outside the circles aligned with special features on the Blue Ridge.

A line from a center rock, over a specific boundary rock, intersects the feature called Bears Den Rocks on the mountain. Standing on that center rock, looking northeast, a viewer can see the sun rise over Bears Den on the day of the summer solstice in June.

Moving around the circle, another set of rocks points to Eagle Rock on the Blue Ridge, and also to sunrise on the day of the spring and fall equinox in March and September.

Who made the desert bloom in Palestine before over half of it was allocated to Israel?

In December 1945 and January 1946, the British Mandate authorities carried out an extensive survey of Palestine, in support of the work of the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine. The results were published in the Survey of Palestine, which has been scanned and made available online by Palestine Remembered; all 1300 pages can be read here.

One of the subjects investigated in the Survey of Palestine is land use; specifically, which crops were Palestine's leading agricultural products at the end of the British Mandate, and whose farms were producing them.

So, according to the Survey of Palestine, who really made the barley fields of Beersheba bloom?

The British government survey found that in 1944-45 Palestine's farmers produced approximately 210,000 tons of grain.

About 193,400 tons of that grain were cultivated on Palestinian farms; about 16,600 tons were cultivated on Jewish farms.

See the precise numbers, from a scan of the relevant page of the Survey of Palestine, here.
Magic Wand

Mysterious rock lines Found in Peru predate ancient Nazca lines by centuries, scientist say

© David W. Haynes via Getty Images
Nazca lines. The newfound glyphs are believed to be centuries older.
New rock lines discovered in Peru predate the famous Nazca Lines by centuries and likely once marked the site of ancient fairs, researchers say.

The lines were created by people of the Paracas, a civilization that arose around 800 B.C. in what is now Peru. The Paracas culture predated the Nazca culture, which came onto the scene around 100 B.C. The Nazca people are famous for their fantastic geoglyphs, or rock lines, built in the shapes of monkeys, birds and other animals.

The new lines date to around 300 B.C., making them at least 300 years older than the oldest Nazca lines, said Charles Stanish, the director of the Cotsen Institute of Archaeology at the University of California, Los Angeles, who reported the new find today (May 5) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The somber history of Mother's Day

Anna Jarvis
© Bettmann, Corbis
Anna Jarvis was the driving force behind the first Mother's Day observances in 1908
As Mother's Day turns 100 this year, it's known mostly as a time for brunches, gifts, cards, and general outpourings of love and appreciation.

But the holiday has more somber roots: It was founded for mourning women to remember fallen soldiers and work for peace. And when the holiday went commercial, its greatest champion, Anna Jarvis, gave everything to fight it, dying penniless and broken in a sanitarium.

It all started in the 1850s, when West Virginia women's organizer Ann Reeves Jarvis - Anna's mother - held Mother's Day work clubs to improve sanitary conditions and try to lower infant mortality by fighting disease and curbing milk contamination, according to historian Katharine Antolini of West Virginia Wesleyan College. The groups also tended wounded soldiers from both sides during the U.S. Civil War from 1861 to 1865.