Secret History


Terracotta warriors inspired by ancient Greek art

© Lukas Hlavac/Shutterstock
About 8,000 Terracotta Warriors were buried in three pits less than a mile to the northeast of the mausoleum of the First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huangdi. They include infantryman, archers, cavalry, charioteers and generals. Now new research, including newly translated ancient records, indicates that the construction of these warriors was inspired by Greek art.
The Terracotta Warriors, along with other life-size sculptures built for the First Emperor of China, were inspired by Greek art, new research indicates.

About 8,000 Terracotta Warriors, which are life-size statues of infantryman, cavalry, archers, charioteers and generals, were buried in three pits less than a mile to the northeast of the mausoleum of Qin Shi Huangdi, the first emperor. He unified the country through conquest more than 2,200 years ago. Pits containing sculptures of acrobats, strongmen, dancers and civil servants have also been found near the mausoleum.

Now, new research points to ancient Greek sculpture as the inspiration for the emperor's afterlife army. [See Photos of the Terracotta Warriors & Greek Art]


Welsh church uncovers stunning medieval wall paintings hidden for centuries

Built on the site of a 7th century monastery and founded around 1200, St Cadoc's in Llancarfan, Vale of Glamorgan is, from the outside, just another beautiful small Welsh village church.

But inside, conservators have uncovered some stunning 15th century wall paintings to the delight of locals, visitors and experts alike.

After the discovery of a thin red line of paint on the wall, a team of experts were brought in to investigate what else was lurking behind the 20 layers of limewash added over five centuries.


3D map raises the real-life Atlantis from the deep: Scientists recreate Egyptian city of Heracleion buried for 1,200 years

© Unknown
Real-life Atlantis: The sunken city of Heracleion, brought to life by the research team investigating the site 150ft under the sea where it now lays, including the main temple of Amun-Gereb, centre-right
A real-life Atlantis which sunk off the coast of Egypt nearly 1,200 years ago has now been brought back to the surface with the help of 3D.

The city of Heracleion, home of the temple where Cleopatra was inaugurated, was one of the most important trade centres in the Mediterranean area before it disappeared into what is now the Bay of Aboukir.

Heracleion was discovered in 2001, and after more than a decade of excavation, researchers have now been able to create a map depicting life in the ancient trade hub.


The day Vesuvius buried Pompeii

© Unknown
Mount Vesuvius
Mount Vesuvius, a volcano near the Bay of Naples in Italy, is hundreds of thousands of years old and has erupted more than 50 times. Its most famous eruption took place in the year 79 A.D., when the volcano buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii under a thick carpet of volcanic ash. The dust "poured across the land" like a flood, one witness wrote, and shrouded the city in "a the black of closed and unlighted rooms." Two thousand people died, and the city was abandoned for almost as many years.

When a group of explorers rediscovered the site in 1748, they were surprised to find that--underneath a thick layer of dust and debris--Pompeii was mostly intact. The buildings, artifacts and skeletons left behind in the buried city have taught us a great deal about everyday life in the ancient world.

Blue Planet

Megalithic monuments found in Russia possibly date from 25,000 years ago

© The Living Moon
In Russia, in the Caucasus mountains, not far from the cities Tzelentzchik, Touapse, Novorossiysk and Sochi, there are hundreds of megalithic monuments. The Russians call them dolmens. Russian and foreign archaeologists have not yet discovered their use. All these megalithic dolmens you see below in the pictures are dated from 10,000 years to 25,000 years ago, according to the website Kykeon. Other archaeologists put the age of these megalithic structures at 4000 to 6,000 years old.

Thousands of prehistoric megalithic monuments are known throughout the world. Some of the least known outside the former Soviet Union, however, are those in the Caucasus. These dolmens cover the Western Caucasus on both sides of the mountain ridge, in an area of approximately 12.000 square kilometers of Russia and Abkhazia.


Ancient headless remains offer clues to dietary structure of Vikings

© Anne Stalsberg, NTNU Vitenskapsmuseet
In 1975, three intact skeletons from the Iron Age were found on the Tommeide farm in Tomma. Naumann interprets this as a family grave. - Despite possible kinship between them, probably as members of the same household, the child nevertheless had a diet that was different from that of the two adults during the last years of their lives.
It has long been known that ancient Vikings buried dead slaves with their masters, but new isotopic research of ancient skeletal remains is providing at least one researcher with more evidence of how these people lived their lives - more notably what their diets were like.

Elise Naumann, a PhD candidate in archeology at the University of Oslo in Norway, has made several remarkable discoveries using the skeletons that were exhumed at Flakstad in Lofoten. Her research is based on a total of ten individuals, of which at least three were found in double and triple graves and were headless. Her findings are published in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The isotope analyses, combined with analyses of ancient DNA, gave suggestive evidence that the headless skeletons were slaves who were decapitated before being buried with their masters.

This discovery says a lot about the great differences between people in the society of the time. "Life was undoubtedly difficult and brutal for the majority of people. Only a very few were privileged," wrote Mari Kildahl, a journalist with the University of Oslo.

Naumann noted, however, that there is nothing new about the fact that slaves during the Viking era were buried with their masters, often bound hand and foot and beheaded before burial.

What is new, Naumann explains, is how the analytical methods used and their results have offered fresh insights into the society and people of the past. The isotopic analyses have given researchers new information about the diet and health of these people who lived more a thousand years ago. Analyses of the ancient DNA also yield knowledge about genealogy and genetics.


Discovery of 400,000-year-old DNA raises questions about human evolution

© The Guardian
Digital Illustration of DNA with blood cell
Researchers have read strands of ancient DNA teased from the thigh bone of an early human that died 400,000 years ago in what is now northern Spain.

The genetic material was pieced together from a clutch of cells found in bone fragments - the oldest human remains ever to yield their genetic code.

The work deepens understanding of the genetics of human evolution by some 200,000 years, raising hopes that researchers can build a clearer picture of the earliest branches of the human family tree by studying the genetic make-up of fossilised remains dug up elsewhere.

"This is proof of principle that it can be done," said Matthias Meyer at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "We are now very eager to explore other sites of a similar age."

The thigh bone was among the remains of at least 28 early human ancestors found at the bottom of a vertical shaft in a cave complex in the Atapuerca mountains in northern Spain. The Sima de los Huesos, or "pit of bones", lies 30m underground and half a kilometre from the cave system's nearest current entrance.


Oldest javelins found in Great Rift Valley predate modern humans by 80,000 years

© TD White
The discovery of stone-tipped projectiles in Ethiopia like the one pictured above may have been used for striking animals from a distance.
The oldest stone-tipped projectile weapons date to 280,000 years, study says.

The oldest known stone-tipped projectiles have been discovered in Ethiopia. The javelins are roughly 280,000 years old and predate the earliest known fossils of our species, Homo sapiens, by about 80,000 years.

These javelins are some 200,000 years older than previous examples of similar weapons, suggesting that modern humans and their extinct relatives had the know-how to create these sorts of complex thrown projectiles much earlier than often thought.

Scientists investigated stone tools unearthed at the Gademotta Formation on the flanks of an ancient, large collapsed volcanic crater in central Ethiopia's Rift Valley.

"Today, the area represents a ridge overlooking one of the four lakes in the vicinity, Lake Ziway," said researcher Yonatan Sahle, an archaeologist at the University of California, Berkeley.

During much of the Middle Pleistocene, about 125,000 to 780,000 years ago, "the area was overlooking an even bigger paleolake - a megalake composed of today's four separate lakes." Antelope and hippo remains have been recovered from the grassy, forested site.

The oldest artifacts at the site are roughly 279,000 years old. In comparison, the earliest known fossils of Homo sapiens, previously discovered at sites elsewhere in Ethiopia, are about 200,000 years old.

Pointed artifacts with damage suggesting they were used in spears are common at the site. The researchers focused on 141 such obsidian artifacts.


Ancient dogs found buried in pots in Egypt

© With kind permission of the NYU-IFA mission to Abydos
Houdini, a large very furry creature, was found in a large two-handled pot, and was buried without any wrappings. He was found curled up at the bottom of the jar with its nose pointing toward its hind legs. "It seems as if he were put into the pot, hind limbs first, then adjusted and the rest of the body pushed in so that he was curled around," Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo and a leading expert on animal mummies, said.
Archaeologists have found some of the most curious canine burials ever unearthed in Egypt - two well preserved dogs buried in pots some 3,000 years ago.

Nicknamed Houdini and Chewie, the dog pots were discovered at Shunet ez Zebib, a large mud-brick structure located at Abydos - one of Egypt's oldest standing royal monuments. The site was built around 2750 B.C and was dedicated to Khasekhemwy, a second dynasty king.

It is also known for the the thousands of ibis burials in jars that had been recovered in the dunes nearby, and for the interments of other animals, mostly raptors and canines.

"The site provided a very secure structure, with conveniently soft, sandy fill that was easy for quick burials within a sacred space," Salima Ikram, professor of Egyptology at The American University in Cairo, wrote in a recently published Festschrift in honor of Dieter Kessler, a renowned scholar in the field of animal cults and Egyptian religion.


Oldest human DNA reveals mysterious branch of humanity

© Javier Trueba, Madrid Scientific Films
The oldest known human DNA found yet reveals human evolution was even more confusing than before thought, researchers say. The genetic material came from the bone of a hominin living in what is now the Sima de los Huesos in Northern Spain approximately 400,000 years ago during the Middle Pleistocene.
The oldest known human DNA found yet reveals human evolution was even more confusing than thought, researchers say.

The DNA, which dates back some 400,000 years, may belong to an unknown human ancestor, say scientists. These new findings could shed light on a mysterious extinct branch of humanity known as Denisovans, who were close relatives of Neanderthals, scientists added.

Although modern humans are the only surviving human lineage, others once strode the Earth. These included Neanderthals, the closest extinct relatives of modern humans, and the relatively newfound Denisovans, who are thought to have lived in a vast expanse from Siberia to Southeast Asia.

Research shows that the Denisovans shared a common origin with Neanderthals but were genetically distinct, with both apparently descending from a common ancestral group that had diverged earlier from the forerunners of modern humans.

Genetic analysis suggests the ancestors of modern humans interbred with both these extinct lineages. Neanderthal DNA makes up 1 to 4 percent of modern Eurasian genomes, and Denisovan DNA makes up 4 to 6 percent of modern New Guinean and Bougainville Islander genomes in the Melanesian islands.