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New research shows ancient Maya women were powerful leaders

Maya deity statue
© Shankari Patel
Some ancient Maya deities were female and the women themselves served as heads of state and warlords until the Spanish colonization of Mexico in the 1500s.
To cell phone-toting, internet-obsessed citizens of the modern world, ancient cultures may seem difficult to relate to. But a new look at Maya art and artifacts shows one of the most advanced ancient societies allowed women much more contemporary power than previously believed.

"I think the popular belief is that they were restricted to the private household," said Shankari Patel, an anthropology graduate student at the University of California-Riverside. "The popular belief would be that women stay at home, they didn't really participate in the rituals that were very important in Maya society. The previous research I looked at left out women completely."

Sherlock

Bristol archaeologists unearth slave burial ground on St Helena

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© University of Bristol
A book detailing the excavations is published by the Council for British Archaeology
Archaeologists from the University of Bristol have unearthed a unique slave burial ground on the remote South Atlantic island of St Helena. The excavation, which took place in advance of construction of a new airport on the island, has revealed dramatic insights into the victims of the Atlantic slave trade during the notorious Middle Passage.

The tiny island of St Helena, 1,000 miles off the coast of south-west Africa, acted as the landing place for many of the slaves, captured by the Royal Navy during the suppression of the slave trade between 1840 and 1872. During this period a total of around 26,000 freed slaves were brought to the island, most of whom were landed at a depot in Rupert's Bay. The appalling conditions aboard the slave ships meant that many did not survive their journey, whilst Rupert's Valley - arid, shadeless, and always windy - was poorly suited to act as a hospital and refugee camp for such large numbers. At least 5,000 people are likely to have been buried there.

Part of the cemetery was investigated between 2006 and 2008 in advance of a new road that had to pass through Rupert's Valley to provide access to the proposed airport project. Some 325 bodies in a combination of individual, multiple and mass graves were discovered. Only five individuals were buried in coffins: one adolescent and four still- or newborn babies. The remainder had been placed (or thrown) directly into shallow graves, before being hastily covered. In some cases mothers were buried with their presumed children, or sometimes the bodies were so close that there might have been a familial relationship.

Sherlock

Roman slabstone, early-Ottoman column discovered after Bisser disaster

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© Georgi Kozhouharov
Village of Bisser February 8, 2012
Several archaeological finds have been unearthed as work continues on clearing the debris following the flooding of the village of Bisser in southern Bulgaria, public broadcaster Bulgarian National Television (BNT) said.

At least eight people died and dozens had to be evacuated as the village was flooded because of a burst wall in the nearby Ivanovo dam. The flood destroyed several houses.

It was unclear whether the finds had been unearthed by the water flow or carried by the water, archaeologists from the Harmanli historical museum said.

The stone slab appeared to be part of a Roman-era public building, while the hexagonal column was specific for the early Ottoman era. A similar column had been found near the village in the 1960s, BNT said.

Info

Basque Origins Predate Arrival of Farmers in Iberian Peninsula, DNA Analysis Finds

Basque Region
© Jonathan Blair/National Geographic
Hundreds of sheep walk up cloud-veiled mountain with herder following in the Basque region.
Comprehensive analysis of Basque genetic patterns has found that Basque genetic uniqueness predates the arrival of agriculture in the Iberian Peninsula some 7,000 years ago, the Genographic Project announced today.

"Through detailed DNA analysis of samples from the French and Spanish Basque regions, the Genographic team found that Basques share unique genetic patterns that distinguish them from the surrounding non-Basque populations," Genographic said in a news statement. The Genographic Project seeks to chart new knowledge about the migratory history of the human species and answer age-old questions surrounding the genetic diversity of humanity.

The project is a nonprofit, multi-year, global research partnership of National Geographic and IBM with field support by the Waitt Family Foundation. At the core of the project is a global consortium of 11 regional scientific teams following an ethical and scientific framework and who are responsible for sample collection and analysis in their respective regions.

Published in the American Journal of Human Genetics, the Basque study was led by Lluis Quintana-Murci, principal investigator of Genographic's Western European regional center. "Our study mirrors European history and could certainly extend to other European peoples. We found that Basques share common genetic features with other European populations, but at the same time present some autochthonous (local) lineages that make them unique," said Quintana-Murci. "This is reflected in their language, Euskara, a non-Indo-European language, which altogether contributes to the cultural richness of this European population."

Magic Wand

Five hundred new fairytales discovered in Germany

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© Barbara Stefan
Spinning a yarn … King Golden Hair, one of the newly-discovered fairytales.
Collection of fairytales gathered by historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth had been locked away in an archive in Regensburg for over 150 years

A whole new world of magic animals, brave young princes and evil witches has come to light with the discovery of 500 new fairytales, which were locked away in an archive in Regensburg, Germany for over 150 years. The tales are part of a collection of myths, legends and fairytales, gathered by the local historian Franz Xaver von Schönwerth (1810 - 1886) in the Bavarian region of Oberpfalz at about the same time as the Grimm brothers were collecting the fairytales that have since charmed adults and children around the world.

Last year, the Oberpfalz cultural curator Erika Eichenseer published a selection of fairytales from Von Schönwerth's collection, calling the book Prinz Roßzwifl. This is local dialect for "scarab beetle". The scarab, also known as the "dung beetle", buries its most valuable possession, its eggs, in dung, which it then rolls into a ball using its back legs. Eichenseer sees this as symbolic for fairytales, which she says hold the most valuable treasure known to man: ancient knowledge and wisdom to do with human development, testing our limits and salvation.

Butterfly

Mozart Piece Previously Unknown Discovered in 18th Century Music Book

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© wbsgallery.org
A previously unknown work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart has been uncovered in the state of Tyrol in Austria. The Mozart Foundation in Salzburg reported the music was discovered in the western Austrian state tucked inside a late 1700s music music book.

The Austrian Independent reported a professional music copyist in Tyrol identified the work was Mozart's and the Mozart Foundation said the find "is clearly written by the young Wolfgang Mozart." The previously unknown piece, which also dates back to the 18th century, is said to be an authentic Mozart creation. The exciting find was stumbled upon by a university lecturer as he was gathering pieces of music.

Hildegard Herrmann-Schneider, from the institute for Tyrolean music research at Innsbruck University, was reported to have been compiling handwritten pages for the Répertoire International des Sources Musicales, an international organization that catalogues preserved music, when he came across the centuries-old piano composition inside a music book that is estimated to originate around 1780.

Blackbox

Could the first humans to reach the Americas have come from Europe - across Atlantic ice?

Image
© John Winkelman on Flickr.
It's one of the most controversial ideas in archaeology. Humans from Europe supposedly could have crossed the frozen Atlantic and reached America first. It's a fringe idea...but now two archaeologists have released a book explaining how it could have happened.

In their new book Across Atlantic Ice, University of Exeter archaeologist Bruce Bradley and Smithsonian Institution colleague Dennis Stanford outline how they think early humans could have made it from Europe to the Americas between 18,000 and 25,000 years ago. The pair first proposed their controversial hypothesis thirteen years ago, but their new book attempts to solve one of the hypothesis's biggest problems: just how could humans have crossed the Atlantic?

Earlier versions of this hypothesis had required Bradley and Stanford to suggest the presence of advanced seafaring technology among these ancient humans that was on par with what the Polynesians used to colonize the Pacific. Their new idea is rather less far-fetched, suggesting that climate conditions during the time period created a sort of icy highway between France and North America. The authors say these ancient humans, known as the Solutrean culture, could have made it across the Atlantic use technology known to be in their possession.

Info

Gate Found in Karnak Temple Adds New Name to Ancient Kings' List

Ancient Engraving
© Ahram Online

During routine excavations on the northern side of the Amun-Re Temple in Luxor's famous Karnak temple complex, a team from the French-Egyptian Centre for the Study of the Karnak Temples this week unearthed a gate that they say has led to a significant breakthrough in archaeologists' understanding of Egypt's enigmatic 17th Dynasty. It was this dynasty that launched the military campaign that eventually succeeded in ridding Egypt of the tribe of invaders known as the "Hyksos."

The gate, carved out of limestone, is engraved with the name of a king called "Sen-Nakht-En-Re." Mansour Boreik, general supervisor of monuments in Luxor, told Ahram Online that this king's name was previously mentioned twice - during the Rameside period and during the reign of King Ahmose, the latter of whom is traditionally given credit for expelling the Hyksos from Egypt.

Boreik went on to note that, despite these earlier references to Sen-Nakht-En-Re, archaeologists had believed him to be an imaginary king, since no monuments had ever been found bearing his name. The recent discovery of the pharaoh's name on the gate in Karnak, however, strongly suggests that the king was, in fact, once a ruler of ancient Egypt.

Boat

New archaeological site discovered at the coast of Brazil

Archaeological discovery coast Brazil

Brazil, Sao Paulo's state. At "Ilhabela", (Beautiful Island) - an archipelago and city situated 4 miles off the coast of São Paulo state in Brazil, the coodinator of the Projeto de Gestão e Diagnóstico do Patrimônio Arqueológico de Ilhabela (Project Management and Diagnosis of the Archaeological Heritage of Ilhabela - GEDAI), maintained by the Instituto Histórico, Geográfico e Arqueológico da the Secretaria Municipal de Cultura (History, Geography and Archaeology Institute of the Municipal Culture), the archaeologist Mrs. Cintia Bendazzoli discovered an impotant mortuary archaeological site. The excavation was done on an emergency basis because of the imminent destruction of the material.

The place that was named "Toca da Caveira" (something like Hole of Skull or "Skull Burrow") had human skeletal remains, and funerary accompaniments like clay pot and stone tool, revealing a complex Indigenous funerary ritual. At the same time another two more sites were identified how belonging to the pré-colonizations epoch, but these - still have not been subjected to more detailed research.

2 + 2 = 4

Radical Theory of First Americans Places Stone Age Europeans in Delmarva 20,000 Years Ago

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© Bonnie Jo Mount/Post
Smithsonian Institute anthropologist Dennis Stanford, left, and University of Exeter archeologist Bruce Bradley examine knives from the last Ice Age.
When the crew of the Virginia scallop trawler Cinmar hauled a mastodon tusk onto the deck in 1970, another oddity dropped out of the net: a dark, tapered stone blade, nearly eight inches long and still sharp.

Forty years later, this rediscovered prehistoric slasher has reopened debate on a radical theory about who the first Americans were and when they got here.

Archaeologists have long held that North America remained unpopulated until about 15,000 years ago, when Siberian people walked or boated into Alaska and then moved down the West Coast.

But the mastodon relic found near the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay turned out to be 22,000 years old, suggesting that the blade was just as ancient.

Whoever fashioned that blade was not supposed to be here.