Secret HistoryS


'Peking Man' was a fashion plate

Homo Erectus Skull
© Russell L. Ciochon, Univ. of IowaHomo erectus fossil from Zhoukoudian caves.
"Peking Man," a human ancestor who lived in China between roughly 200,000 and 750,000 years ago, was a wood-working, fire-using, spear-hafting hominid who, mysteriously, liked to drill holes into objects for unknown reasons.

And, yes, these hominids, a form of Homo erectus, appear to have been quite meticulous about their clothing, using stone tools to soften and depress animal hides.

The new discoveries paint a picture of a human ancestor who was more sophisticated than previously believed.

Peking Man was first discovered in 1923 in a cave near the village of Zhoukoudian, close to Beijing (at that time called Peking). During 1941, at the height of World War II, fossils of Peking Man went missing, depriving scientists of valuable information.

Recently, researchers have embarked on a re-excavation of the cave site searching for artifacts and answers as to how the Peking Man lived. Just as importantly, they engaged in new lab work that includes using powerful microscopes to look at artifacts made by Peking Man to determine how they were used, a process archaeologists called "use-wear" analysis.

On Dec. 15, four of these scientists gathered at Toronto's Royal Ontario Museum to give an update on their most recent findings. Three of the scientists, Xing Gao, Yue Zhang and Shuangquan Zhang are with the Chinese Academy of Science's Institute of Vertebrate Palaeontology and Palaeoanthropology. The fourth, Chen Shen, is a curator at the Toronto museum and a special member of the academy.

Among their archaeological findings is a 300,000-year-old "activity floor" (as the scientists call it) containing what may be a hearth and fireplace, akin to a prehistoric living room. Analysis is ongoing and Yue Zhang noted that 3D scanners are being used to map it. If the results hold up, it may prove once and for all that Peking Man was able to control fire, an important skill given the chilly weather at times in northern China.

Bizarro Earth

Remains of 6th century high-caste man in armour found at 'Pompeii of Japan'

The remains of a high-caste man wearing armour who was buried by hot ash -- possibly as he tried to calm the wrath of an erupting volcano -- have been found in an area known as the "Pompeii of Japan". Archaeologists say they have unearthed the well-preserved body of a sixth-century man who had apparently turned to face a flow of molten rock as it gushed through his settlement.
© AFPThis handout picture taken by Gunma Archaeological Research Foundation on November 30, 2012 and received on December 18, 2012 shows a well-preserved body of a sixth-century man in a suit of armor (yellow), found at the Kanai Higashiura dig in Shibukawa city in Gunma prefecture, 110km north of Tokyo.
"Under normal circumstances, you would flee if pyroclastic flows are rushing toward you and bringing waves of heat. But this person died facing it," said Shinichiro Ohki, of Gunma Archaeological Research Foundation.

"Maybe, if he were someone of a high position, he might have been praying, or doing something in the direction of the volcano and attempting to appease its anger," Ohki told AFP on Monday.

The remains, along with a part of an infant's skull, were found in the Kanai Higashiura dig in Gunma prefecture, roughly 110 kilometres (70 miles) northwest of Tokyo, at the site of the volcanic Mount Haruna.

Wine n Glass

Alcohol: Social lubricant for 10,000 years

Gobekli Tepe
© Teomancimit | Wikimedia CommonsAbout 10,000 years ago, ancient Neolithic hunter-gatherers may have gathered at sites such as Gobekli Tepe for cultic feasts and primitive beers.
As people ring in the New Year with dancing and a bit of bubbly, they can consider themselves part of an ancient human tradition.

Several new archaeological finds suggest that alcohol has been a social glue in parties, from work festivals to cultic feasts, since the dawn of civilization.

In the December issue of the journal Antiquity, archaeologists describe evidence of nearly 11,000-year-old beer brewing troughs at a cultic feasting site in Turkey called Göbekli Tepe. And archaeologists in Cyprus have unearthed the 3,500-year-old ruins of what may have been a primitive beer brewery and feasting hall at a site called Kissonerga-Skalia. The excavation, described in the November issue of the journal Levant, revealed several kilns that may have been used to dry malt before fermentation.

The findings suggest that alcohol has been a social lubricant for ages, said Lindy Crewe, an archaeologist at the University of Manchester, who co-authored the Levant paper.


Monroe and Communism: FBI releases classified files on the Hollywood star

Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller
© Agence France-PressePicture dated 11 October 1956, showing actress Marilyn Monroe (L) and her husband, writer Arthur Miller, at the Comedy Theatre in London as they are waiting first night of Miller's new play, A view from the Bridge
The FBI has released classified document confirming Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe was under surveillance for allegedly having "drifted into the Communist orbit" from the mid 1950s through to months before her death.

The classified files on the actress and her husband Arthur Miller have been rediscovered after going missing. The documents reveal some of the names of Monroe's alleged Communist friends, and that the FBI kept close track of the movie star, The Daily News reports.

Information that the Some Like It Hot star had ties to the Communist Party emerged in the 1950s, after Monroe married playwright Arthur Miller in 1956.

That year the FBI recorded an anonymous phone call to the New York Daily News that sparked interest in Monroe's affairs. The caller implied that Arthur Miller whom she had just married was a Communist and that Monroe had 'drifted into the communist orbit'. The caller also reported "that the actress's company, Marilyn Monroe Productions, was 'filled with communists' and that money from the company was being used to finance communist activities," The Daily Mail says.

Comment: Marilyn Monroe mystery: Where are her FBI files?


Nazca lines: Mysterious desert drawings form labyrinth

© Unknown
Some of the Nazca Lines, mysterious geoglyphs that span a vast swath of the rugged Peruvian desert, may have once been a labyrinth with a spiritual purpose, a new study suggests.

The new insight, published in the December issue of the journal Antiquity, came because two archaeologists decided to use a decidedly low-tech method to understand the sand drawing's ancient secrets: by walking it.

At the time the Nazca Lines, which span 85 square miles (220 square kilometers), were drawn, "people were not looking at this stuff from the air, they were looking at stuff from the ground level," said Timothy Ingold, a cultural anthropologist at the University of Aberdeen, who was not involved in the study. "To appreciate what they might have meant to ordinary people, then you have to walk them."

While that seems like an obvious first step, in actuality, very few archaeologists have studied the Nazca Lines from that vantage point, because most of the pictures drawn out by the lines are only visible from foothills above or from space.


Archaeologists think hidden imperial tomb may be too deadly to explore

After discovering a secret palace hidden in China's first emperor massive burial complex, Chinese technicians are nervous. Not because Qin Shi Huang's tomb is the most important archeological discovery since Tutankhamun, but because they believe his burial place is full of deadly traps that will kill any trespassers. Not to talk about deadly quantities of mercury.

The secret courtyard-style palace tomb is a mind-numbing discovery. Situated in the heart of the Emperor's 22-square-mile (56-square-kilometer) mortuary compound guarded by more than 6,000 (and counting) full-size statues of warriors, musicians and acrobats, the buried palace is 2,263 by 820 feet (690 by 250 meters).
Terracota Warriors
© contax66/ShutterstockQin Shihuang's terracota warriors.
It includes 18 courtyard houses overlooked by one main building, where the emperor is supposed to be. The palace - which has already been partially mapped in 3D using volumetric scanners - occupied a space of 6,003,490 cubic feet (170,000 cubic meters). That's one fourth the size of the Forbidden City in Beijing - for just one tomb.

Experts believe that the 249-foot-high (76-meter) structure covered with soil and kept dry thanks to a complex draining system, hides the body of the emperor and his courtiers. Nobody knows what's the state of their bodies, but one of the leading archeologists believes that they are most likely destroyed by now.

What probably are intact are the countless treasures that - according to the ancient scrolls that describe the emperor's long lost burial site - fill the interior of the tomb. And perhaps the deadly traps guarding them too.


Our calendar: A history of how and when it was adopted

© Alameda Patch
Our current calendar is named after a pope, but it all began with the most famous leader of the Roman empire.

Julius Caesar instituted the model for what our calendar is based on in 45 B.C. when he approved what was called the Julian calendar.

According to, that calendar consisted of 11 months of 30 or 31 days each with 28 days in February. Quite accurate for its time, but with a major flaw.

The calendar was off from the real solar year (the time it takes the Earth to circle the sun) by 11 minutes. Over the centuries, that added up.

By the late 1500s, the Julian calendar was off by 10 days from the solar year. So, in 1582, Pope Gregory XIII approved a new calendar that include 365 days and a leap year every four years.

To catch up with the sun, the pope ordered the calendar to advance by 10 days. That officially happened on Oct. 15, 1582.

Not every country immediately accepted the pope's decree and adopted the Gregorian calendar.

Arrow Up

Sand Creek Massacre descendants seek justice 148 years later

Pastor Simpson
© Andy Cross, The Denver PostSand Creek Massacre descendant Robert Simpson, a Methodist pastor, stands in his church in Anadarko, Okla.
Anadarko, Oklahoma - They dance for the dead.

The foreman, the minister and the princess in the buckskin dress stomp and twirl and sing on a gymnasium floor protected by a tarp.

About 100 people watch from chairs arranged around a drum circle. All of them are family, in a way, bound to a terrible event 148 years ago on the banks of an ice-encrusted creek in Colorado.

The old lawyer is here, too, the former Oklahoma attorney general who smoked the truth pipe in a tepee as the Cheyenne arrow keeper looked on.

They gather every year - descendants of the Sand Creek Massacre and their unlikely allies - in a long search for justice that started with optimism, languished and now has a breath of new life.

At dawn on Nov. 29, 1864, Colorado soldiers attacked peaceful Indians camped on the banks of Sand Creek in what is now southeastern Colorado, slaughtering an estimated 163 - mainly women, children and the elderly - and desecrating their bodies.

The backlash was so severe, the U.S. government not only acknowledged wrongdoing but promised reparations of land and cash to survivors and relatives of victims.

That promise - spelled out in an 1865 treaty - remains unfulfilled, according to descendants and their attorneys.

Champions of the cause have died or moved on. And descendants who once stood as allies now view one another with scorn.
© The Denver Post / Andy CrossA painting depicting the 1864 Sand Creek massacre on a buffalo skin hangs on a wall of Sand Creek Massacre Descendants Trust attorney Larry Derryberry in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma November 30th, 2012.
But on this early December day, in a town that calls itself the "Indian Capital of the Nation," descendants receive a rare progress report.

The newly expanded legal team for the Sand Creek Massacre Descendants Trust has opened a dialogue with Department of Interior officials about the claim. At the least, the discussions could lay the groundwork for a federal lawsuit, the lawyers say.

And after decades of research and recruitment, about 15,000 descendants have been identified - a step that trust leaders believe is necessary.

Homer Flute, a former auto-parts- factory foreman who has headed the trust since 1990, sits on the gym's wooden bleachers and considers the unlikely group of people in his company.

"Sand Creek is like a cobweb," Flute says. "It links in all different directions, and you don't know where it's going. You find people you didn't know existed, and they are kin to you somehow. The idea is you belong to these people and they belong to you."


Effort to return Hopi artifacts stirs questions

Indian Artifacts
© The Arizona RepublicDozens of arrowheads were among the more than 600 items recovered by archaeologists from an ancient Sinagua grave near Flagstaff, Ariz.; those sacred items and remains of a man nicknamed “the Magician” reportedly were repatriated to the Hopi Tribe in secret proceedings.
Phoenix -- On an unknown date at an unidentified location, the U.S. government turned over a collection of undisclosed Sinagua artifacts to anonymous members of the Hopi Tribe for unspecified disposition.

The mysterious proceedings this fall involved an archaeological treasure trove and a substantial expenditure of tax dollars. Yet virtually everything about it remains secret under a federal law known as the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA.

The 1990 law enables Indian tribes to reclaim ancestral remains and sacred objects that were unearthed from native burial sites by scientists or looters. Along with supplemental statutes, it also authorizes U.S. agencies to conceal virtually all details of those transactions.

The recent Hopi event involved archaeological digs from Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff. When The Arizona Republic sought a description of the repatriated items and an accounting of federal money spent, the government repeatedly answered, "Our intent is to honor the tribe's request, made in consultation, not to disclose information."

The secrecy and phrasing hint at an underlying controversy that has festered since the repatriation act was adopted.

For Native Americans, the repatriation of remains and funerary objects is a matter of justice - the return of sacred possessions that were dug up, defiled and displayed for decades in violation of tribal beliefs and human rights. To this day, activists are pushing to expand the law in the name of privacy, religious freedom and tribal sovereignty.


Buried Christian empire casts new light on early Islam

Zafar yemen christian pre islamic empire
© Paul YuleThe "crowned man" relief found in Zafar, Yemen is seen as evidence that there was a Christian empire in the region before Islam took hold.
Archeologists are studying the ruins of a buried Christian empire in the highlands of Yemen. The sites have sparked a number of questions about the early history of Islam. Was there once a church in Mecca?

The commandment "Make yourself no graven image" has long been strictly followed in the Arab world. There are very few statues of the caliphs and ancient kings of the region. The pagan gods in the desert were usually worshipped in an "aniconic" way, that is, as beings without form.

Muhammad had a beard, but there are no portraits of him.

But now a narcissistic work of human self-portrayal has turned up in Yemen. It is a figure, chiseled in stone, which apparently stems from the era of the Prophet.

Paul Yule, an archeologist from the southwestern German city of Heidelberg, has studied the relief, which is 1.70 meters (5'7") tall, in Zafar, some 930 kilometers (581 miles) south of Mecca. It depicts a man with chains of jewelry, curls and spherical eyes. Yule dates the image to the time around 530 AD.

The German archeologist excavated sites in the rocky highlands of Yemen, an occupation that turned quite dangerous recently because of political circumstances in the country. On his last mission, Yule lost 8 kilograms (18 lbs.) and his equipment was confiscated.