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Secret History


Researchers to Drill For Ancient DNA in 'Hobbit' Tooth

Hobbit's Skull
© Stephen Hird/Reuters/Corbis
Digging deep into history: A model of a hobbit-sized species' skull, whose teeth researchers will drill into for DNA.

Scientists are planning an attempt to extract DNA from the "hobbit" Homo floresiensis,the 1-meter-tall extinct distant relative of modern humans that was unearthed in Indonesia, following a study that suggests problems in standard sampling methods in ancient-DNA research could have thwarted previous efforts.

This year, geneticists at the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at the University of Adelaide hope to recover DNA from a roughly 18,000-year-old H. floresiensis tooth, which was excavated in 2009 from the Liang Bua site on the Indonesian island of Flores.

The premolar has been kept cold, and has been handled as little as possible to prevent contamination with modern DNA. But little, if any, of the ancient DNA is likely to have survived the heat and moisture of the tropics, and any that has may be highly fragmented.

Tony Djubiantono, director of the Indonesian National Centre for Archaeology in Jakarta, where the tooth is held, says that developments in DNA extraction techniques could overcome previous sampling problems, and have exciting potential for understanding the evolutionary history of H. floresiensis.

If the DNA can be extracted, comparing its sequence to that of other species could settle disputes over classification. For instance, Peter Brown, a paleoanthropologist at the University of New England in Armidale, Australia, who described and named the species in 2004, is rethinking his initial classification. At first he put the species in the human genus Homo, but he now suspects that the hobbit's ancestors left Africa before Homo evolved so the species could belong to a different or new genus.


Evidence of 130,000-Year-Old Sea Voyage Found in Crete

Crete evidence
© eltercero via flickr.com
A rock cave at Preveli in the island of Crete
Athens - Archaeologists in the Greek island of Crete have uncovered startling evidence on Monday showing that early humans navigated across open waters thousands of years earlier than previously believed.

According to the Greek Culture Ministry, archaeological experts from Greece and the United States discovered along the southern coast of the island rough axes and other tools believed to be between 130,000 and 700,000 years old during a survey of the caves and rock shelters located in the areas of Plakias and Preveli, calling the said discovery made by the archaeologists working with the American School of Classical Studies based in Athens as "the most ancient sign of early navigation worldwide."

The tools that have been discovered were described to be simple hand tools that were made out of stone. Archaeologists found a similarity between these tools and those associated to the Homo heidelbergensis (also referred to as the Heidelberg Man) and Homo erectus, early ancestors of modern humans that lived in Africa 200,000 years ago.

"Up to now, we had no proof of Early Stone Age presence on Crete," Maria Vlazaki--Senior Ministry Archaeologist--told the Associated Press, referring to the conclusive evidence previously found on the island that humans settled and inhabited Crete no earlier than the Neolithic Period.


UK: Archaeologists at Jamestown Unearth a Trove of 400-Year-Old Pipes Personalized for Patron

© Michael Lavin/AP Photo
Fragments of pipes and pottery containers used in kilns during ceramic firing that was unearthed during a recent excavation at the Jamestown settlement in Jamestown, Va.
Archeologists at Jamestown have unearthed a trove of tobacco pipes personalized for a who's who of early 17th century colonial and British elites, underscoring the importance of tobacco to North America's first permanent English settlement.

The white clay pipes - actually, castoffs likely rejected during manufacturing - were crafted between 1608 and 1610 and bear the names of English politicians, social leaders, explorers, officers of the Virginia Company that financed the settlement and governors of the Virginia colony. Archeologists also found equipment used to make the pipes.

Researchers believe the pipes recovered from a well in James Fort were made to impress investors and the political elite with the financial viability of the settlement. They are likely the rejects that failed to survive the ceramic firing process in a kiln.

The find comprises more than 100 pipes or fragments. More than a dozen are stamped with diamond shapes and inscribed with the names or initials of luminaries including explorer Sir Walter Raleigh, who dispatched the colonists to the territory he named Virginia. He also is credited with popularizing tobacco in England and is said to have smoked a pipe just before being executed for treason in 1618.

Other names include Capt. Samuel Argall, a major Virginia Company investor and governor of Virginia; Sir Charles Howard, Lord High Admiral of England; and Earl of Southampton Henry Wriothesley, a Virginia Company official who was also William Shakespeare's major patron.


Byzantine and Roman Tombs Unearthed in South of Syria

© Dp-News
Six archaeological tombs and antique finds dating back to the Byzantine and Roman eras were unearthed by Sweida's excavation mission at the site of Imtan in South of Syria.

Head of the mission Hussein Zen-Eddein said the tombs and finds uncovered belong to a family cemetery, adding that they contain clay lanterns and bronze bracelets and earrings.

Former excavation works at the site uncovered a basalt pillar on which Nabatean words dedicated to a Nabatean god were engraved.

In addition, two other phrases (one in Latin and the other in Greek) were engraved on a basalt stone, referring to God Jupiter.


Early Humans Could Navigate, Evidence in Greece Shows

Ancient Tools
© AP Photo/Greek Culture Ministry
This undated hand out photo provided by the Greek Culture Ministry on Monday, Jan. 3, 2011, shows four Early Stone Age axes discovered by a US-Greek team of archaeologists on the southern island of Crete. A ministry statement said Monday that these and other similar finds, dating back at least 130,000 years, point to what may be one of the earliest signs of human seafaring.

Athens - Archaeologists on the Greek island of Crete have found startling evidence that early humans could navigate across open water thousands of years earlier than previously thought, officials said Monday.

A team of US and Greek archaeologists reached that conclusion after finding stone tools and axes dating from at least 130,000 years ago on Crete, which was already an island at the time, the Greek culture ministry said.

"The findings not only prove marine travel in the Mediterranean existed tens of thousands of years prior to what was known until today, but they also change calculations about early man's cognitive abilities," the ministry said.

It noted that the chiseled shards found in the areas of Plakia and Preveli in 2008 and 2009, and attributed to the Homo heidelbergensis and Homo erectus species, "constitute the most ancient sign of early navigation worldwide."


2,600-Year-Old Celtic Tomb Discovered in Germany

© ImageBroker
A reconstruction of a celtic settlement at the Heuneburg hill fort site
Archaeologists have unveiled the treasures of a 2,600-year-old Celtic tomb containing a wealth of art in Germany.

An ancient hill fort at Heuneburg found the 13-by-16-foot burial chamber in an excellent state of preservation and still containing gold and amber jewellery placed there seven years before the birth of Christ.

The jewellery allowed archaeologists to pinpoint a precise date - the first time they've been able to do so with early Celtic remains. It also strongly suggests that the tomb belonged to a noblewoman of the fort's early period of Celtic habitation, the 7th century BC.

The Heuneburg hill fort site is one of the oldest settlements north of the Alps and a major source of information about Iron Age Celtic culture at a time when wealth and population were increasing rapidly in a few population centres.

The Celtic citadel was first enclosed with a wood and earth wall in 700 BC a standard Celtic building technique.


Celtic Noble's Tomb Discovery is a 'Milestone of Archaeology'

Noble's Shoe
© Wikipedia
Shoe decorations from the Hochdorf Chieftain's grave, found in the same area as the Heuneburg.

The dig leader and chief of the Baden-Württemberg State archaeology, Dirk Krausse, referred to the discovery as a "milestone of archaeology," according to The Local.

One reason for the claim is likely the manner of excavation, which is new. In the past, such burial chambers have been dug up piece by piece locally, but now the team lifted the entire burial chamber, measuring four by five square metres (12 by 15 square feet) as one block of earth and placed it on a special truck to be transported to the State Office for the Preservation of Monuments in Stuttgart.
The first results are only expected around June 2011.

The reason for this unusual type of excavation is that scientists want to preserve every scrap of material without exposing it to open air, which can destroy materials like cloth once it has been exposed.

The tomb likely dates from the late Halstatt Period of Celtic culture (640-475 B.C.) and has already been found to contain gold and amber jewellery which will make a very exact dating possible. Photos of the finds can be seen here.


One of King Solomon's Fortresses Wasn't, After All

Tel Qudadi Fortress
© USA Today
Tel Qudadi Fortress

The discovery of a single amphora, or clay jar, found in the ancient fortress of Tel Qudadi in the Israeli city of Tel Aviv could indicate both that the fortress itself is much younger than previously thought, and that trade between the area and Greek city states were much more common.

Writing in the journals Palestine Exploration Quarterly and BABESH: Annual Papers on Mediterranean Archaeology, archaeologists from Tel Aviv University say their work shows the fortress was not from the 10th century B.C.E. at the time of King Solomon, as was previously believed. Instead, it appears to date from the late 8th or early 7th centuries B.C.E.

That dating would make it part of a larger Assyrian trade network. At the time, Assyria was involved in the international trade between Phoenicia, Philistia and Egypt.


Ancient Bible Fragments Reveal a Forgotten History

© Syndics of Cambridge University Library
Geniza palimpsest with Hebrew (shown upside down) written over the top of a 6th-century copy of Akylas' Greek translation (c. 125 CE) of the Books of Kings (shown the right way up); T-S 12.184r.
New research has uncovered a forgotten chapter in the history of the Bible, offering a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture.

The study by Cambridge University researchers suggests that, contrary to long-accepted views, Jews continued to use a Greek version of the Bible in synagogues for centuries longer than previously thought. In some places, the practice continued almost until living memory.

The key to the new discovery lay in manuscripts, some of them mere fragments, discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century. The so-called Cairo Genizah manuscripts have been housed ever since in Cambridge University Library.

Now, a fully searchable online corpus has gathered these manuscripts together, making the texts and analysis of them available to other scholars for the first time.

"The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek between the 3rd and 1st centuries BCE is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization - without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did," explained Nicholas de Lange, Professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the Faculties of Divinity and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies, who led the three-year study to re-evaluate the story of the Greek Bible fragments.


First Ever Nose Jobs in 16th Century Book

© Gaspare Tagliacozzi
A nose job, 16th century style. From the first plastic surgery book ever printed.
Details of the world's first ever nose jobs can be revealed after a 16th century book detailing the operation was sold at auction.

The incredibly rare work is written in Latin and illustrated with diagrams of the process in which the patient's nose was attached to a flap of skin from his upper arm.

The surgery - known as rhinoplasty - is considered a modern phenomenon but this book shows it was used over 400 years ago.

The skill, however, was mysteriously lost until the late 18th century when similar treatments were recorded.

Today, celebrities are keen to undergo nose jobs for reasons of vanity, with the late singer Michael Jackson one of the world's most famous people to have had them done.

But when this astonishing book was written, the operation was carried out to repair faces that had been wounded in battle