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Snow Globe

Rudolph and our early ancestors - a love story

Ice age reindeer
© Discott
Ice Age carving of two swimming reindeer made from the tip of a mammoth tusk.

Reindeer are almost mythical creatures. They are associated with Santa Claus and sleighs, with the idea of a Scandinavian icy white Christmas that is far more magical than the reality we normally experience in warmish, wettish Britain.

But for me there's also something very special about reindeer because they are survivors from the Ice Age, clinging on when so many other magnificent large mammals died out at the end of the Pleistocene, through climate change or human hand or a bit of both. They are animals that were important to our ancestors, and animals that are still revered by the Siberian tribes who have a long history of hunting and herding them.

I first visited the icy north of Siberia five years ago while making a BBC documentary about ancient human migrations. We were filming with indigenous Siberians of the Evenki tribe, and staying in a remote reindeer-herders camp - living in tents that were kept warm with larch stoves while it was a bone-chilling -40C outside. (The stoves went out overnight and in the morning I would wake up to find my eyelashes stuck together with ice.)

There were reindeer all around us in the snowy, sparse larch forest. At night, they came in, walking cautiously around our tents, the thick fur behind their large hooves muffling their footsteps. One morning I wandered off into the forest to answer a call of nature. A single pure-white reindeer followed me. I wandered further and further with the reindeer following me a few paces behind. It felt as though I had made some kind of connection with this beautiful, ethereal creature. After I had done what I'd come for, I started to make my way back to camp, and wondered if the reindeer would follow me back. He didn't. Instead, he started tucking into the yellow snow I'd created. The mystical moment was shattered. He wanted nothing more than a few salts from my urine. Later I discovered that this apparently common behaviour was enshrined in a Siberian myth about the domestication of the first reindeer: a woman who went for a wee managed to catch and tame a reindeer who, like mine, had been after the yellow snow.
Wreath

Birth of Jesus celebrated in 'wrong Bethlehem'

Bethlehem Jesus
© AP
A woman lights candles in the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem

Each year, Christians flock from all over the world to celebrate the birth of Jesus in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, but archaeologists believe they are in the wrong place.

Instead, Jesus was more likely to have been born in Bethlehem of the Galilee, a hillside village in northern Israel, The Times reports.

Aviram Oshri, an Israeli archaeologist, told the paper that the genuine site of the Nativity had been mistaken by thousands.

"Bethlehem in the Galilee was inhabited by Jews at the time of Jesus, whereas the other Bethlehem? There is no evidence that it was a living site, an inhabited area in the first century."

Mr Oshri has found some evidence that Jewish purification rituals took place in Bethlehem of the Galilee around the time Jesus was born. The village is also less than five miles from Nazareth, Jesus's childhood home.
Magnify

Unique 2,000-year-old Roman theatre discovered in Faversham, U.K.

roman theater

Theatres were unheard of in Britain before the arrival of the Romans. This illustration depicts a theatre near St Albans that would have been used around the same time as the Faversham cockpit theatre.
Roman remains reveal first British example of ancient cockpit-style theatre

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of a Bronze Age Roman theatre - dating back 2,000 years.

Dr Paul Wilkinson, founder of the Kent Archaeological Field School, believes it is the first of its kind to be found in Britain.

The theatre with a nearly circular cockpit-style orchestra, which would have seated 12,000 people. It was found in Faversham, Kent - just behind Dr Wilkinson's back garden where his field school is based.

Theatres were unheard of in Britain before the arrival of the Romans. This illustration depicts a theatre near St Albans that would have been used around the same time as the Faversham cockpit theatre

The site shows activity dating back to the Bronze Age, but it is the Roman theatre - which would have been used for religious occasions - that has really excited history buffs.

Dr Wilkinson is fighting to preserve the unique find for future generations and has applied for it to become an ancient monument site.

He said: 'It really is an amazing find, the first one in Britain, and it is just beyond my garden. This is a unique and wonderful discovery, not only for Faversham but for all of Britain.

'The theatre could have held 12,000 people and we are going to request for it to become an ancient monument site because it is so important and we can preserve it for future generations.
Sherlock

7,000-year-old water wells unearthed in eastern Germany suggest that prehistoric farmers in Europe were skilled carpenters

The finds, reported in a paper in the journal PLoS ONE, contradict the common belief that metal tools were required to make complex wooden structures. The wooden water wells discovered in Germany by the team led by Dr Willy Tegel of the University of Freiburg are over 7,000 years old, and suggest that early farmers had unexpectedly refined carpentry skills. "This early Neolithic craftsmanship now suggests that the first farmers were also the first carpenters," the archeologists said.

These first Central European farmers migrated from the Great Hungarian Plain approximately 7,500 years ago, and left an archeological trail of settlements, ceramics and stone tools across the fertile regions of the continent, a record named Linear Pottery Culture.
© Tegel W et al / PLoS ONE
Top, from left to right: prehistoric wooden wells unearthed in Saxony, Germany – Eythra 1, Eythra 2, Brodau and Altscherbitz. Bottom: Central European loess distribution and the 12 known early Neolithic wells
Question

Santa's 'flying' reindeer story traced back to magic mushrooms

Santa
© David Carillet/Shutterstock
Shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions used to give dried Amanita muscaria mushroom as gifts on the winter solstice.

This Christmas, like many before it and many yet to come, the story of Santa and his flying reindeer will be told, including how the "jolly old elf" flies on his sleigh throughout the entire world in one night, giving gifts to all the good children. But according to one theory, the story of Santa and his flying reindeer can be traced to an unlikely source: hallucinogenic or "magic" mushrooms.

"Santa is a modern counterpart of a shaman, who consumed mind-altering plants and fungi to commune with the spirit world," said John Rush, an anthropologist and instructor at Sierra College in Rocklin, Calif.

According to the theory, the legend of Santa derives from shamans in the Siberian and Arctic regions who dropped into locals' teepeelike homes with a bag full of hallucinatory mushrooms as presents in late December, Rush said. "As the story goes, up until a few hundred years ago these practicing shamans or priests connected to the older traditions would collect Amanita muscaria (the Holy Mushroom), dry them, and then give them as gifts on the winter solstice," Rush told LiveScience. "Because snow is usually blocking doors, there was an opening in the roof through which people entered and exited, thus the chimney story."

But that's just the beginning of the symbolic connections between the Amanita muscaria mushroom (at right) and the iconography of Christmas, according to several historians and ethnomycologists, or people who study the influence fungi has had on human societies. Of course, not all scientists agree that the Santa story is tied to a hallucinogen.
Roses

Medieval bras uncover the fascinating history of women's daily support needs

Lengberg bras
© Associated Press
'The Lengberg bras come to us like a secret whispered directly from the past.'
Discovery of Austrian bras shows that how to dress one's breasts has always been a prominent concern for women

This morning, millions of women have got up and put on a bra - push-up, plunge, balconette, in myriad colours and shapes (the number of sports bras in London is increasing daily). What you do with your breasts when dressing is a question women have dealt with for a good 100,000 years, as long as we've worn clothes. Do you show them, hide them, lift them up, squeeze them together, go au naturel, or turn them into a different shape? They're flexible, functional, and desirable: a prominent feature of femaleness.

The way people dress tells you about their relationship with themselves and their world. It's the reason I'm a clothing historian. How women wrangle their breasts is one of the most intimate and fascinating ways to understand the social concerns of an age. So the discovery of early 15th-century linen bras in Lengberg Castle, Austria, is a five-line jackpot for dress historians. In her article on the finds in BBC History Magazine, researcher Beatrix Nutz from the University of Innsbruck elaborates on medieval documentary evidence for "breastbags". She brings to life that people had similar daily concerns to now: enhancing or reducing the bust "so there is no gossip in the city".
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Silchester Iron Age finds reveal secrets of pre-Roman Britain

Silchester dig

The tiny skeleton of a sacrificial dog is unearthed at the Silchester dig.
By the gap in a hedge bordering the entrance off a muddy lane in Hampshire, the young diggers on one of the most fascinating archaeological sites in Britain have made a herb garden: four small square plots. The sudden blast of sunshine after months of heavy rain has brought everything into bloom, and there's a heady scent of curry plant and dill, marigold and mint.

Many of the plant seeds are familiar from Roman sites across Britain, as the invaders brought the flavours and the medical remedies of the Mediterranean to their wind-blasted and sodden new territory, but there is something extraordinary about the seeds from the abandoned Iron Age and Roman town of Silchester.
Hourglass

Dead Sea scrolls go online

Dead Sea scrolls online
© AFP
Thousands of images from the Dead Sea scrolls, which date back more than two millennia, were made available to the world.
Thousands of images from the Dead Sea scrolls, which date back more than two millennia, were on Tuesday made available to the world on a joint Israel Antiquities Authority and Google website.

The new website ims to make "the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century accessible to both scholars and the general public," an IAA statement said.

Using technology developed for NASA, the website offers high-resolution images of the ancient scrolls along with an advanced search engine.

The IAA is in the process of uploading images of the 900 biblical and other manuscripts, comprising some 30,000 fragments, which were discovered between 1947 and 1956 in the Qumran caves above the Dead Sea and photographed in their entirety with infra-red technology in the 1950s.

The parchment and papyrus scrolls contain Hebrew, Greek and Aramaic script, and include several of the earliest-known texts from the Bible, including the oldest surviving copy of the Ten Commandments.

The oldest of the documents dates to the third century BC and the most recent to about 70 AD, when Roman troops destroyed the Second Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

The artefacts are housed at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the larger pieces are shown at the dimly lit Shrine of the Book on a rotational basis in order to minimise damage from exposure.

When not on show, they are kept in a dark, climate-controlled storeroom in conditions similar to those in the Qumran caves, where the humidity, temperature and darkness preserved the scrolls for two millennia.
Info

Who killed Ramesses III?

CT Scan
© BMJ
For more than a century, Egyptologists have puzzled over the mysterious demise of Ramses III in 1155 B.C.E. According to trial records preserved on the Judicial Papyrus of Turin, an assassin murdered the pharaoh during a bloody palace coup. But was this truly the case, and if so, who led the plot?

A new study published today in BMJ shows that Ramesses III died violently after conspirators slashed his throat and reveals that one of the alleged ringleaders, Ramesses's son Pentawere, may have later been strangled. The research team arrived at these findings after analyzing both DNA samples and CT scans from two mummies: Ramesses III (with linen bandage, above right) and a previously unidentified young man found with him in a cache in Deir el Bahari.

The unidentified 20-year-old (shown with arrows pointing to unusual compressed skin folds) proved to be one of Ramesses's sons: He appeared to have been strangled (also evidenced in the scan by overinflated thorax) and buried with a goat skin, a pelt that ancient Egyptians deemed ritually impure and therefore a mark of dishonor befitting an assassin. Sitting on a throne has long been a perilous business, it seems.
Info

Cranial deformation discovered in 1000 year old Mexican cemetery

Close to the small Mexican village of Onavas, south Sonora, archaeologists have uncovered the first pre-Hispanic cemetery of that area, dating to around 1,000 years ago.
Skeleton
© INAH
Juvenile burial with shell bracelet and earrings.
A unique burial ground
Skeleton_1
© INAH
Individual buried with a turtle shell placed over the abdomen.
The burial ground consists of 25 individuals; 13 have intentional cranial deformation and five also have dental mutilation, cultural practices which are similar to those of pre-Hispanic groups in southern Sinaloa and northern Nayarit, but until now, have not been seen in Sonora.

Some of the individuals were wearing ornaments such as as bangles, nose rings, earrings, pendants made from shells found in the Gulf of California, and one burial contained a turtle shell, carefully placed over the abdomen.

However, the archaeologists noted that the burials were not accompanied by the expected offerings and containers.

For archaeologists, the discovery is exciting new evidence of cranial deformation, something which has not been recorded before in the Sonora cultural groups.

"This unique find shows a mix of traditions from different groups of northern Mexico. The use of ornaments made from sea shells from the Gulf of California had never been found before in Sonoran territory and this discovery extends the limit of influence of Mesoamerican peoples farther north than has been previously recorded," said archaeologist Cristina Garcia Moreno, director of the research project.

Garcia Moreno has been conducting work on behalf of Arizona State University with approval of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).
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