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Wed, 13 Nov 2019
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Secret History


Ancient Egyptian ibises were wild birds

Egyptian Book of the Dead Depiction
© Wasef et al, 2019
A scene from the Books of the Dead (The Egyptian Museum) showing the ibis-headed God Thoth recording the result of the final judgement.
An analysis of ancient DNA extracted from the mummified remains of sacred ibises suggests ancient Egyptians captured the birds from the wild rather than farming them.

In Australia, the white ibis is unceremoniously referred to as a bin chicken, for its propensity to scavenge scraps from rubbish bins.

But in ancient Egypt, its relative, the sacred ibis (Threskiornis aethiopicus), was revered.

It was seen as a living representation - or even physical manifestation - of the God of Wisdom, Thoth, perhaps because it looks like a scribe writing on water when it dips its long slender beak into the water to feed.

Archaeologists have unearthed several million mummified ibises from a roughly 800-year period between 600 BCE and 250 CE.

Unlike victual mummies, which were buried in a person's tomb to come alive in the afterlife, ibis mummies were usually what's known as votive mummies.

These would have been purchased from a temple devoted to the God Thoth and displayed as an offering, much like candles or sticks of incense in Buddhist temples today.

After a period of time, the ibis mummies - some roughly wrapped in bandages, others exquisitely decorated - were moved into catacombs, vast underground tunnels and storage rooms beneath the temple.

Book 2

Unknown Irish translation of Ibn Sīna's Canon of Medicine discovered in spine of book in Cornwall

Fragment of Ibn Sīna or Avicenna Canon of Medicine
© University College Cork
The rediscovered fragment of Ibn Sīna’s Canon of Medicine, folded into the binding of a later book.
A 15th-century vellum manuscript of the writing of the revered Persian physician Ibn Sīna, or Avicenna, has been found being used to bind a later book, revealing for the first time that his seminal Canon of Medicine was translated into Irish.

The manuscript had been trimmed, folded and stitched to the spine of a pocket-sized Latin manual about local administration, which was printed in London in the 1530s. It had been owned by the same family in Cornwall since the 16th century. When they decided to satisfy their curiosity about the unusual binding last year, they consulted University College Cork professor of modern Irish Pádraig Ó Macháin, who said he "knew pretty much straight away" that it was a significant find.

"It really was very, very exciting, one of those moments which makes life worthwhile," said Ó Macháin.

Professor Aoibheann Nic Dhonnchadha of the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, an expert on medieval Irish medicine, identified the text as a fragment of Ibn Sīna's Canon of Medicine, a previously unknown Irish translation. Ibn Sīna lived between 980 and 1037 and was one of the Islamic golden age's most influential scholars.

Comment: See also: German scientists discover 11th century Persian scholar's supernova surveillance


Fossils of two new snake species found in Greece

Fossilized snake bones
© Palaeontologia Electronica
Cryptobranchidae indet. from Maramena: atlas (UU MAA 7441) in anterior (1), left lateral (2), posterior (3), ventral (4), and dorsal (5) views. Abbreviations: ct, cotyle; ffsn, foramen for the first spinal nerve; op, odontoid process.
Fossilised remains of two new species of snakes found for the first time were discovered near the city of Serres in northern Greece.

Greek researcher George Georgalis from the University of Toronto named the 5.5- to 6-million-year-old snakes: periergophis micros and paraxenophis spanios.

"These two new snakes have new names because they belong to a totally new species and are completely different from any other species," Dr Georgalis told the Athens Macedonia News Agency. "The strange thing is that such vertebral anatomy has not been observed anywhere else and there is nothing, either in modern or in extinct serpent species, that even comes close to the morphology of these new species."


'They thought it was judgment day': The night in 1833 when 'stars fell' on the southern US

Leonid fireball in 1966
© Nasa/Getty Images
A bright Leonid fireball in 1966 above Wrightwood, California.
November 1833. As the night skies exploded and the stars fell on America's Deep South, the slavers on one plantation in Tennessee - terrified of the end of the world - attempted to make restitution to those they had enslaved.

Every year, in mid-November, the Earth passes through the Leonids, a huge meteor cloud left behind by the Comet Tempel-Tuttle. Each year sees impressive displays, with certain nights offering particularly spectacular meteor showers.

It is 186 years since the Leonids put on that striking show over the US south, and it is still remembered there as "The Night the Stars Fell". The 1930s jazz standard Stars Fell on Alabama immortalised the night.

"On the night of November 12th to 13th, 1833," wrote Victorian astronomy writer Agnes Clerke, "a tempest of falling stars broke over the Earth.

"The sky was scored in every direction with shining tracks and illuminated with majestic fireballs. At Boston, the frequency of meteors was estimated to be about half that of flakes of snow in an average snowstorm. Their numbers ... were quite beyond counting; but as it waned, a reckoning was attempted, from which it was computed, on the basis of that much-diminished rate, that 240,000 must have been visible during the nine hours they continued to fall."

In Alabama, the Florence Gazette reported there were: "thousands of luminous bodies shooting across the firmament in every direction.

"There was little wind and not a trace of clouds, and the meteors succeeded each other in quick succession."

Several Native American nations noted the celestial drama, with the Lakota people resetting their calendar to commemorate the occurrence. Along the banks of the Missouri river, Mormon refugees, driven from their homes by settlers, watched as the stars fell, while Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of the Latter-Day Saints, recorded the event in his diary as a sign that the second coming of Christ was at hand.


'Stone age seafarers' depicted in newly discovered rock art in Sweden

seafarer sweden rock art
© CC0 Public Domain
South-west Sweden's best preserved rock painting has now been dated — it is from the late Stone Age. With the aid of new technologies, researchers at the University of Gothenburg have been able to reveal a number of previously unknown motifs that are no longer visible to the naked eye. The most important of these newly discovered motifs are boats with elk-head stems. This is the first time that these kinds of boats have been documented in southern or western Scandinavia and these motifs provide further evidence of the long-distance sea voyages undertaken by Stone Age maritime hunters.

Archaeology students from the University of Gothenburg have been visiting Tumlehed on excursions for many years. There — in the Gothenburg suburb of Torslanda, on the island of Hisingen and barely 15 kms from the center of the city — lies the best-preserved and most complex prehistoric rock painting in south-west Sweden.

Comment: See also:

Magic Wand

Centuries-old 'witch marks' in Creswell Crags, England can finally be seen thanks to 3D modeling

Witch marks at Creswell Crags
© Creswell Crags Museum and Heritage Centre
A cave at Creswell Crags in the U.K. contained hundreds of marks upon its walls, carved to ward off evil.
Mysterious "witch marks" that were carved into a cavern's walls centuries ago to ward off evil are getting a public viewing, thanks to 3D modeling and animation.

The marks were discovered earlier this year in Creswell Crags, an enclosed limestone gorge in the United Kingdom that houses a cave used by humans during the Ice Age, Creswell Crags Museum & Heritage Centre representatives said in a statement. But humans were also using the cave during the medieval period, covering its walls and ceilings with so-called witch marks as a form of protection against evil spirits and witches.

During a tour in February, a team of cavers spied marks on the cavern walls that had previously gone unnoticed, or were dismissed as modern graffiti. Further investigation revealed hundreds of marks; carved emblems such as these were common in the medieval U.K., etched around doorways, windows and fireplaces to keep evil spirits out, site representatives said in the statement.

A chamber that held the most witch marks was inaccessible to the public, but site officials partnered with researchers at Sheffield Hallam University in South Yorkshire, England, to scan the marks and create a virtual tour of the remarkable sight, university representatives said.


New revelations about life on the edge of the Roman empire


The letter from Masclus
What are the earliest written historical records from the North East have emerged from a batch of new letters discovered at a Northumberland Roman fort.

The writing tablets are from, and to, Julius Verecundus, the first commander of the original wooden fort at Vindolanda before the building of Hadrian's Wall.

This fort dates from between 85-92AD and Verecundus was the colonel in charge of the First Cohort of Tungrians, from what is modern-day Belgium.

Comment: See also:

Blue Planet

Was the Neanderthal extinction caused by human diseases?

© Vivian Chen Wong
Illustration of modern humans overcoming disease burden before Neanderthals.
Growing up in Israel, Gili Greenbaum would give tours of local caves once inhabited by Neanderthals and wonder along with others why our distant cousins abruptly disappeared about 40,000 years ago. Now a scientist at Stanford, Greenbaum thinks he has an answer.

In a new study published in the journal Nature Communications, Greenbaum and his colleagues propose that complex disease transmission patterns can explain not only how modern humans were able to wipe out Neanderthals in Europe and Asia in just a few thousand years but also, perhaps more puzzling, why the end didn't come sooner.

"Our research suggests that diseases may have played a more important role in the extinction of the Neanderthals than previously thought. They may even be the main reason why modern humans are now the only human group left on the planet," said Greenbaum, who is the first author of the study and a postdoctoral researcher in Stanford's Department of Biology.

Comment: It's notable that this theory is based on models rather than hard evidence of disease and transmission.

See also:


Many imperial Romans had roots in the Middle East

Forum Rome
Many people from the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East settled in the city of Rome, with its famous Forum, during the imperial period.
Many people from the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East settled in the city of Rome, with its famous Forum, during the imperial period.

Two thousand years ago, the streets of Rome bustled with people from all over the ancient world. The empire's trade routes stretched from North Africa to Asia, and new immigrants poured in every day, both by choice and by force. Now, an ancient DNA study has shown those far-flung connections were written in the genomes of the Romans.

People from the city's earliest eras and from after the Western empire's decline in the fourth century C.E. genetically resembled other Western Europeans. But during the imperial period most sampled residents had Eastern Mediterranean or Middle Eastern ancestry. At that time, "Rome was like New York City ... a concentration of people of different origins joining together," says Guido Barbujani, a population geneticist at the University of Ferrara in Italy who wasn't involved in the study. "This is the kind of cutting-edge work that's starting to fill in the details [of history]," adds Kyle Harper, a Roman historian at the University of Oklahoma in Norman.

Comment: See also: Also check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: Who was Jesus? Examining the evidence that Christ may in fact have been Caesar!


Murderous meteorites in history: The sky is falling every day, but how many people get hit each year?

Meteor fireball (stock)
© Pedro Puente Hoyos, European Pressphoto Agency)
A meteorite burns up in the atmosphere above San Miguel de Aguayo village, in Cantabria, northwest Spain.
Every day, about 100 metric tons of space debris falls onto Earth. That includes pieces of asteroids, comets or other extra-terrestrial material raining down on our planet. The larger ones, you can see as shooting stars or meteors streaking across the nighttime sky. Once they hit Earth, they're called meteorites.

Tons of falling space rocks sounds really scary, but how many people are struck and killed by meteorites each year? In the last 100 years? The answer to both questions is zero. In fact, there is only one case of a human being hit by a meteorite in the 20th and 21st centuries - and she lived! The unlucky victim was Ann Hodges of Sylacauga, Alabama. In 1954, she was lying on the couch taking a nap when a softball-sized rock broke through the roof, punched through the ceiling, bounced off her radio, and hit her on her left side. Despite minor injuries and one heck of a bruise, Hodges lived to tell the tale. The space rock, now known as the Hodges Meteorite, is owned by the Smithsonian Institution.

Murderous Meteorites in History

May 1, 1860, New Concord, Ohio: Farmers around the area heard loud noises and witnessed meteorites raining down from the sky. This was one of the most widely witnessed meteorite falls in history and people immediately crowded around the many impacting rocks. When they dug them out of the ground, they still felt warm to the touch. A rumor started that one stray rock fell and killed a colt. Whether or not it's true, the New Concord Meteorite is still known as the "Colt Killer."

Comment: The number of meteors falling to Earth is growing every day. The likelihood of them doing some serious damage is real. From a historical perspective, it's' nothing new. You can read a list of events throughout history in Laura Knight-Jadczyk's article, Meteorites, Asteroids, and Comets: Damages, Disasters, Injuries, Deaths, and Very Close Calls. It's a long list!

NASA recognizes the threat is serious and is raising the alarm. NASA chief Jim Bridenstine warned meteors that can destroy an entire state or country were a real threat:
Speaking at the Planetary Defense Conference in Washington, D.C., NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine warned that the risk posed by meteor crashes was not being taken seriously.

"This is not about Hollywood, this is not about movies, this is about ultimately protecting the only planet we know right now to host life," he said.

Bridenstine pointed to the meteorite that exploded over the Russian city of Chelyabinsk in 2013, which had "30 times the energy of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima" and injured around 1,500 people. Just 16 hours after the crash, NASA detected an even larger object that approached the earth but did not land on it, he revealed.

"I wish I could tell you that these events are exceptionally unique, but they are not," Bridenstine said. "These events are not rare - they happen. It's up to us to make sure that we are characterizing, detecting, tracking all of the near-Earth objects that could be a threat to the world."
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