Secret History


17th-century vaults unearthed in 13th-century Irish church

© Sean O’Riordan
Archaeologists working on a church in Cork have discovered three burial vaults dating back to the 1600s, pottery, and coins from that period and a 300-year-old underground central heating system copied from the Romans.

The discoveries have been made at the 1250-built St Mary's Collegiate Church in Youghal - the longest, constantly used church in the country.

Archaeologist Caroline Desmond said they moved onto the site after subsidence was noticed in the aisle. Discoveries show that in the 17th century, Youghal was a far more prosperous town than Cork and had more trade in its port.

Excavations began six weeks ago and they discovered vaults underneath the aisle.

One vault, dated February 1661, contains the remains of John Luther, an alderman of the town and his wife, Elizabeth.
Magic Wand

Mysterious 4,000 year-old Phaistos Disk finally decoded after a century

Phaistos Disk
© Yves Brise/Flickr
Discovered in 1907 in the Minoan palace of Phaistos in Crete, the disk has been the subject of many an interpretation attempt. However, the small total body of text - it consists of only 241 signs on both sides, based on 45 individual signs - defies any
decisive conclusion
The decoding of the Phaistos Disk has puzzled specialists for over a century, however new findings describe the disk as "the first Minoan CD-ROM' featuring a prayer to a mother. Gareth Owens, Erasmus coordinator at the Technological Educational Institute (TEI) of Crete, speaking at the TEI of Western Macedonia on Monday, said the disk is dedicated to a "mother".

"The most stable word and value is 'mother', and in particular the mother goddess of the Minoan era," said Dr. Owens. He says there is one complex of signs found in three parts of one side of the disk spelling I-QE-KU-RJA, with I-QE meaning "great lady of importance" while a key word appears to be AKKA, or "pregnant mother," according to the researcher.

One side is devoted to a pregnant woman and the other to a woman giving birth. The disk was discovered in 1908 at the palace of Phaistos, in the northeastern part of the Aegean Island of Crete.The round clay object, tentatively dated close to 1700 B.C., displays an unknown language on both sides which is carved in a circular fashion, from outside to the centre.

Ancient city ruled by Genghis Khan's heirs discovered

Ancient city of Ukek
© Dmitriy Kubankin
Archaeologists with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore have uncovered part of the ancient city of Ukek, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan.
Remains of a 750-year-old city, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan, have been unearthed along the Volga River in Russia.

Among the discoveries are two Christian temples one of which has stone carvings and fine ceramics.

The city's name was Ukek and it was founded just a few decades after Genghis Khan died in 1227. After the great conqueror's death his empire split apart and his grandson Batu Khan, who lived from 1205 to 1255, founded the Golden Horde (also called the Kipchak Khanate).The Golden Horde kingdom stretched from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and controlled many of the Silk Road trade routes that connected China to Medieval Europe.

This city of Ukek was built close to the khan's summer residence along the Volga River, something which helped it become prosperous. The name "Golden Horde" comes from the golden tent from which the khan was said to rule.

High-tech images reveal texts of the Philae Obelisk

Fresh information is being obtained on the Philae obelisk, the stone monument that played such a key role in helping to decipher Egyptian hieroglyphs.

© B. Altshuler/CSAD/Oxford University
Philae hieroglyphs pictured in normal daylight (L) and using Reflectance Transformation Imaging (R)
Today, the pink granite shaft stands on the UK National Trust's Kingston Lacy estate in Dorset, where it was brought from the Nile in the 1820s.

The obelisk's inscriptions, with those on the famous Rosetta stone, contained clues to interpret the ancient symbols.

Now, the monument is being studied anew with modern imaging techniques.

Oxford University researchers say their investigations are revealing markings that were previously too worn to be investigated properly.

"The last time anyone made a good record of what was on this stone was in 1821 when a lithograph was commissioned to celebrate the obelisk's arrival at Kingston Lacy," explained Dr Jane Masséglia from the Centre for the Study of Ancient Documents.

Remains of French ship being reassembled in Texas

Roman numerals
© AP Photo/Eric Gay
In this Oct. 22, 2014 photo Roman numerals mark a timber from the 54-foot oak French frigate La Belle at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin, Texas. Archaeologists are beginning to reassemble the remains of the ship recovered more than 300 years after the vessel was lost in a storm off the coast of Texas.
A frigate carrying French colonists to the New World that sank in a storm off the Texas coast more than 300 years ago is being reassembled into a display that archeologists hope will let people walk over the hull and feel like they are on the ship's deck.

The 1686 wreck of the 54-foot oak frigate La Belle - in an expedition led by famed Mississippi River explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle - is blamed for dooming France's further exploration of what would become Texas and the American Southwest.

But La Salle's short-lived Fort St. Louis near the shipwreck site in Matagorda Bay, about 100 miles southwest of present-day Houston, also convinced Spain to boost its presence in the region to ward off a feared French territorial expansion.

"In a very real way, it's responsible for our Hispanic heritage we have today," said Jim Bruseth, curator of the La Belle project at the Bullock Texas State History Museum. "They had nobody here, and it started the process of settling Texas.

Vatican library digitizes 4,400 ancient manuscripts and gives them away for free

Ancient Manuscript
© Vatican Apostolic Library
The Vatican Apostolic Library is now digitizing its valuable ancient religious manuscripts and putting them online via its website. All of the content is available for free.

The Library was originally founded in 1451 AD and holds over 80,000 manuscripts, prints, drawings, plates and books printed prior to 1500 AD. The titles are all written throughout history by people who had different faiths or religions, from all over the world.

Not only are paintings, religious iconography and books being published online, but also letters by from important historical figures, drawings and notes by artists and scientists such as Michelangelo and Galileo, as well as treaties from all eras in history.

Oldest high-altitude human settlement discovered in Andes

Rock Shelter
© Kurt Rademaker
Archaeologists excavate a rockshelter in the Peruvian Andes that was used more than 12,000 years ago by human settlers.
The oldest-known evidence of humans living at extremely high altitudes has been unearthed in the Peruvian Andes, archaeologists say.

The sites - a rock shelter with traces of Ice Age campfires and rock art, and an open-air workshop with stone tools and fragments - are located nearly 14,700 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level and were occupied roughly 12,000 years ago.

The discovery, which is detailed today (Oct. 23) in the journal Science, suggests ancient people in South America were living at extremely high altitudes just 2,000 years after humans first reached the continent.

The findings also raise questions about how these early settlers physically adapted to sky-high living.

"Either they genetically adapted really, really fast - within 2,000 years - to be able to settle this area, or genetic adaptation isn't necessary at all," said lead study author Kurt Rademaker, who was a University of Maine visiting assistant professor in anthropology when he conducted the study.

In follow-up work, the team plans to look for more evidence of occupation, such as human remains.

The arrival of people doomed New Zealand's Moa

© University of Auckland
MOA: Artist's impression of an Upland Moa, Megalapteryx didinus.
The flightless moa was doomed the moment humans landed in New Zealand, new research suggests.

Whether they were big or small, moa were wiped out in 200 years and the last were killed nearly 600 years ago, between 1440 and 1445.

When humans arrived there were an estimated 58,000 moa in the country.

"Moa were hunted to the point of being critically endangered within 150 years of settlement, after which only a few small populations clung on in remote mountain regions, but only for another 50 years before they vanished forever," George Perry of the University of Auckland's School of Environment and School of Biological Sciences says.

The findings, with input from Landcare Research, used a large database of radiocarbon dates and has been published in the journal Quaternary Science Reviews.

"This is the first time we have been able to show that extinction was both rapid and synchronous across New Zealand," Perry said.
Cow Skull

Welcome to the Altai Mountains, nature's own ancient gallery: Thousands of 5,000 year old rock paintings

© Dr.Borodovsky
Drawings dating from the early nomadic era depict deer, shown with strangely disproportionate large size horns.
It is a place unlike any other and is, arguably, one of the greatest art galleries anywhere in the world. Yet you won't find masterpieces in the traditional sense here, with no Rembrandts, Monets, or Da Vinci's anywhere in sight.

Instead, this is the Russian Altai mountain range, where art exists in its most natural sense, carved into the rocks by ancient civilisations 5,000 years ago.

Located in Siberia, at its borders with China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, it is home to literally thousands of petroglyphs and drawings that continue to fascinate archaeologists today. Experts have been studying the area for more than a century, with each expedition deep into the heart of the valleys and gorges uncovering more fingerprints of the past.

Epic pre-Columbian voyage suggested by genes

Wooden canoe
© Mary Evans Picture Library/Alamy
Wooden canoes like this one from Easter Island may have brought Native Americans and Polynesians together.
Polynesians from Easter Island and natives of South America met and mingled long before Europeans voyaged the Pacific, according to a new genetic study of living Easter Islanders.

In this week's issue of Current Biology, researchers argue that the genes point to contact between Native Americans and Easter Islanders before 1500 C.E., 3 centuries after Polynesians settled the island also known as Rapa Nui, famous for its massive stone statues. Although circumstantial evidence had hinted at such contact, this is the first direct human genetic evidence for it.

In the genomes of 27 living Rapa Nui islanders, the team found dashes of European and Native American genetic patterns. The European genetic material made up 16% of the genomes; it was relatively intact and was unevenly spread among the Rapa Nui population, suggesting that genetic recombination, which breaks up segments of DNA, has not been at work for long. Europeans may have introduced their genes in the 19th century, when they settled on the island.

Native American DNA accounted for about 8% of the genomes. Islanders enslaved by Europeans in the 19th century and sent to work in South America could have carried some Native American genes back home, but this genetic legacy appeared much older. The segments were more broken and widely scattered, suggesting a much earlier encounter - between 1300 C.E. and 1500 C.E.