Secret History


1.8-million-year-old skull shakes mankind's family tree

The discovery eight years ago of a 1.8-million-year-old skull of a human ancestor buried under a medieval Georgian village indicates our family tree may have fewer branches than some believe, scientists say.

The skull, along with other partial remains previously found at the rural site, offer a glimpse of a population of pre-humans of various sizes living at the same time - something that scientists had not seen before in such an ancient era.

This diversity bolsters one of two competing theories about the way our early ancestors evolved, spreading out more like a tree than a bush, according to a study published Thursday in the journal Science.

When examined with the earlier Georgian finds, the skull "shows that this special immigration out of Africa happened much earlier than we thought, and a much more primitive group did it," said David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgia National Museum and the study's lead author.

Cow Skull

Archaeologists rediscover the lost home of the last Neanderthals

A record of Neanderthal archaeology, thought to be long lost, has been re-discovered by NERC-funded scientists working in the Channel island of Jersey.

The study, published today in the Journal of Quaternary Science, reveals that a key archaeological site has preserved geological deposits which were thought to have been lost through excavation 100 years ago.

The discovery was made when the team undertook fieldwork to stabilise and investigate a portion of the La Cotte de St Brelade cave, on Jersey's south eastern coastline.

A large portion of the site contains sediments dating to the last Ice Age, preserving 250,000 years of climate change and archaeological evidence.

The site, which has produced more Neanderthal stone tools than the rest of the British Isles put together, contains the only known late Neanderthal remains from North West Europe. These offer archaeologists one of the most important records of Neanderthal behaviour available.

Blue Planet

500 years too late: Vikings didn't find Faroes Islands first

© Gareth Codd Photography
Irish monks and Pictish warriors were probably here before the Vikings.
The Faroe Islands could have been inhabited 500 years earlier than was previously thought, according to a startling archaeological discovery.

The islands had been thought to be originally colonised by the Vikings in the 9th century AD. However, dating of peat ash and barley grains has revealed that humans had actually settled there somewhere between the 4th and 6th centuries AD.

The Faroes were the first stepping stone beyond Shetland for the dispersal of European people across the North Atlantic. The findings therefore allow speculation as to whether Iceland, Greenland, and even North America were colonised earlier than previously thought

Mike Church from the University of Durham said he and his research partner, Símun V Arge from the National Museum of the Faroe Islands, had not expected to find such evidence.


Pre-Incan culture expanded through trade, not conquest

© Department of Library Services, American Museum of Natural History
An aerial photograph of Pikillacta, the ancient Wari city in the Cusco Valley.
The Wari, an ancestor culture to the Incas that flourished throughout the Andean Highlands, expanded their reign largely through trade and semiautonomous colonies, rather than through the iron fist of conquest and centralized control, new research suggests.

To reach that conclusion, detailed this month in the Journal of Anthropological Archaeology, researchers looked at the settlement patterns of the pre-Columbian culture.

The Wari seemed to use a lighter touch when governing than leaders of the Inca Empire that rose to prominence around the 15th century.

"The identification of limited Wari state power encourages a focus on colonization practices rather than an interpretation of strong provincial rule," said study lead author R. Alan Covey, an anthropologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

"A 'colonization first' interpretation of early Wari expansion encourages the reconsideration of motivations for expansion, shifting from military conquest and economic exploitation of subject populations to issues such as demographic relief and strategic expansion of trade routes or natural resource access."


King Herod's tomb a mystery yet again

© Joseph Patrich
A tomb thought to be Herod's may not be after all. Certain design elements, such as two staircases on top of the mausoleum that block entrance, aren't in keeping with the master builder's design, experts say
Herod the Great, the king of Judea who ruled not long before the time of Jesus, seems to have eluded historians once again.

In 2007 archaeologists announced they had found the great king's tomb, a surprisingly modest mausoleum that was part of the Herodium, a massive complex built by Herod on a cone-shaped hill in the desert outside Jerusalem.

But what everyone thought was his final resting place may not be. The modest structure is too small and modest for the ostentatious king; its mediocre construction and design are at odds with Herod's reputation as a master planner and builder, archaeologists now say.


Was Germany's 'Dark Countess' the daughter of executed French royals Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette?

A 200-year-old mystery that links a castle in a German town, a mysterious 'Dark Countess' and the French royal family may be on the cusp of finally being solved. In 1807 a covered carriage arrived in the central German town of Hildburghausen. A man, now known to be Leonardus Cornelius van der Valck, a secretary in the Dutch embassy in Paris from July 1798 to April 1799, got out. With him was an enigmatic and secretive young woman who would go on to fire the imaginations of historians everywhere.

Known as the 'Dark Countess', many believed she was none other than Marie Thérèse Charlotte de Bourbon - daughter of the French King Louis XVI and his wife, Marie Antoinette, who were executed during the French Revolution. Rarely seen in public and always veiled, she lived under the protection of the Duke and Duchess of Saxony- Hildburghausen in castle of Eishausen.


End of the mystery? A digger clears the earth during the exhumation of the grave of so-called 'Dark Countess' in Hildburghausen, Germany
Now a team of archaeologists, supported by Central German Radio, may be about to shed light on a secret that has gone unsolved for more than two centuries.

Additional images


Did John Steinbeck work as a Citizen Spy for the CIA?

My discovery of John Steinbeck's connection to the CIA could be described as payback for a youthful indiscretion - my own, not the author's. While reading The Grapes of Wrath in high school, I skipped the "turtle" and other chapters that seemed to me superfluous to the plot line of the Joads' journey west. The punishment for my teenage sin of omission came years later, when it first occurred to me that John Steinbeck was a CIA spy. The insane-sounding proposition grew from incongruities in Steinbeck's life that - unlike Tom Joads' turtle - I found I couldn't ignore.

Black Magic

All the world's a stage: CIA arranged for release of American hostages in Iran (who were exchanged for Israeli weapons) to coincide with Reagan's inauguration


No coincidence
We're reviewing a crucial decade in American history...

The 1980s.

This was the decade that federal government criminality went into high gear.

Ad it all started with an act of fraud and high treason, a kind of bloodless coup.

Gary Sick, a retired Naval Captain wrote "All Fall Down," and claimed that in October 1980 Ronald Reagan made a deal with Iran to prevent American hostages from being released until after Election Day. As payback, the US arranged for Israel to give arms to Iran.


Hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived together for 2,000 years in Central Europe

Indigenous hunter-gatherers and immigrant farmers lived side-by-side for more than 2,000 years in Central Europe, before the hunter-gatherer communities died out or adopted the agricultural lifestyle. The results come from a study undertaken by the Institute of Anthropology at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) that has just been published in the journal Science.

© Thomas Hartmann, JGU
Palaeogenetic research in the ultra-clean laboratory at Mainz University.
A team led by Mainz anthropologist Professor Joachim Burger studied bones from the 'Blätterhöhle' cave near Hagen in Germany, where both hunter-gatherers and farmers were buried. "It is commonly assumed that the Central European hunter-gatherers disappeared soon after the arrival of farmers," said Dr. Ruth Bollongino, lead author of the study. "But our study shows that the descendants of Mesolithic Europeans maintained their hunter-gatherer way of life and lived in parallel with the immigrant farmers, for at least 2,000 years. The hunter-gathering lifestyle thus only died out in Central Europe around 5,000 years ago, much later than previously thought."

Until around 7,500 years ago all central Europeans were hunter-gatherers. They were the descendants of the first anatomically modern humans to arrive in Europe, around 45,000 years ago, who survived the last Ice Age and the warming that started around 10,000 years ago. But previous genetic studies by Professor Burger's group indicated that agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle were brought to Central Europe around 7,500 years ago by immigrant farmers. From that time on, little trace of hunter-gathering can be seen in the archaeological record, and it was widely assumed that the hunter-gatherers died out or were absorbed into the farming populations.

Eye 1

Dorothy Comingore: Living the Orwellian life

© Wikipedia
Actress Dorothy Comingore
Sixty-five years ago today, in a remote part of Great Britain, George Orwell was finishing his prescient novel, 1984. At the same moment a continent away in Hollywood, an American woman was actually living Orwell's fictional story. In the fall of 1948, actress Dorothy Comingore of Citizen Kane fame had no clue that the U.S. "thought police" was spying on her, but she could feel a shadow dogging her steps. Dorothy couldn't find a job to save her life and grew so upset about her difficulties, she wondered aloud: "If I've done something wrong, I'd like to know what it is."

It was as if the moody, random terror that Orwell had so vividly created in his manuscript had drifted across the Atlantic and slipped onto a westbound train for California. Unbeknown to Dorothy, she was being tailed by federal agents, monitored by Congressional investigators, and ranked as dangerous on a top-secret "security" list. These facts seemed more ludicrous than Orwell's parody of a "security state." But America already was constructing it.

Today, many U.S. writers, artists and activists undergo similar surreal experiences thanks to the National Security Agency (NSA). While we may think that our government's scrutiny of our private lives is somehow new and shocking, it isn't. America has a tradition of spying on its own. I realized this recently when I picked up my yellowed copy of Orwell's classic after reviewing Dorothy's private papers. I was struck by the parallels between Orwell's imagination, his real-life contemporary in America and what's happening to us today. Covert surveillance, travel restrictions, detentions, loss of work and worse. ... This is what happens to Americans who think differently than those in power.

This is what's happening now.