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Sex, Beer & Politics: Riddles Reveal Life of Ancient Mesopotamians

Babylon Ruins
© G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, in public domain
At the time the tablet was written, more than 3,500 years ago, Babylon (shown here as seen in 1932) Babylon was one of the most important cities in southern Mesopotamia, controlling an empire in the region. It's possible the writer of the tablet's riddles lived within this kingdom. The tablet's current location is unknown.
Millennia before modern-day Americans made fun of their politicians or cracked crude jokes over a cold one, people in ancient Mesopotamia were doing much the same thing.

The evidence of sex, politics and beer-drinking comes from a newly translated tablet, dating back more than 3,500 years, which reveals a series of riddles.

The text is fragmentary in parts and appears to have been written by an inexperienced hand, possibly a student. The researchers aren't sure where the tablet originates, though they suspect its scribe lived in the southern part of Mesopotamia, near the Persian Gulf.

The translation, by Nathan Wasserman, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, and Michael Streck, a professor with the Altorientalisches Institut at Universität Leipzig, is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Iraq.

Boat

7,500-Year-Old Fishing Seines and Traps Discovered in Russia

An international team of archaeologists led by the Spanish National Research Council (CSIC) has found a series of more than 7,500-year-old fish seines and traps at an archaeological site near Moscow.

According to the CSIC, the newly discovered seines and traps display a great technical complexity and are among the oldest fishing equipment ever found in Europe.
Image
© Dr. Ignacio Clemente/CSIC
Tools found at the Zamostje 2 site
"Until now, it was thought that the Mesolithic groups had seasonal as opposed to permanent settlements. According to the results obtained during the excavations, in both Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, the human group that lived in the Dubna river basin, near Moscow, carried out productive activities during the entire year," said Dr. Ignacio Clemente, a researcher at the CSIC.

Info

Origin of Ancient Jade Tool Baffles Scientists

Jade Tools
© Les O’Neil, University of Otago
A composite photograph of the front and back of the jade gouge shown with a centimeter scale.

The discovery of a 3,300-year-old tool has led researchers to the rediscovery of a "lost" 20th-century manuscript and a "geochemically extraordinary" bit of earth.

Discovered on Emirau Island in the Bismark Archipelago (a group of islands off the coast of New Guinea), the 2-inch (5-centimeters) stone tool was probably used to carve, or gouge, wood. It seems to have fallen from a stilted house, landing in a tangle of coral reef that was eventually covered over by shifting sands.

The jade gouge may have been crafted by the Lapita people, who appeared in the western Pacific around 3,300 years ago, then spread across the Pacific to Samoa over a couple hundred years, and from there formed the ancestral population of the people we know as Polynesians, according to the researchers.

Jade gouges and axes have been found before in these areas, but what's interesting about the object is the type of jade it's made of: it seems to have come from a distant region. Perhaps these Lapita brought it from wherever they originated.

Sherlock

Ancient Dog Skull Suggests We've Lived with Dogs for 33,000 Years

dog skull
© Nikolai D. Ovodov
A dog skull unearthed in a Siberian cave presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and suggests modern dogs may be descended from multiple ancestors.

The ancient skull, preserved in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia for 33,000 years, presents some of the oldest known evidence of dog domestication and, together with equally ancient dog remains from a cave in Belgium, indicates that domestication of dogs may have occurred repeatedly in different geographic locations rather than with a single domestication event.

In other words, today's dogs might have originated from more than one ancient ancestor, contrary to what some DNA evidence previously has indicated.

Greg Hodgins, a researcher at the University of Arizona's Accelerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory is co-author of the study that reported the find. He said:
Both the Belgian find and the Siberian find are domesticated species based on morphological characteristics. Essentially, wolves have long thin snouts and their teeth are not crowded, and domestication results in this shortening of the snout and widening of the jaws and crowding of the teeth.

Info

Ancient Astronomers Were No Fools

Ancient Astronomers
© Casey Reed

There's no doubt ancient astronomers were clever folk. Realizing Earth was round, estimating the Sun's distance, discovering heliocentricity - it's quite a list. But Brad Schaefer (Louisiana State University) suggested at the recent American Astronomical Society meeting in Austin that we should add another light bulb to the glow shining from history: ancient astronomers may have corrected for dimming caused by the atmosphere, centuries before anyone came up with a physical model for it.

This dimming is called atmospheric extinction. Extinction happens because starlight has to pass through Earth's atmosphere in order to reach us. But the effect isn't uniform: if you spend time stargazing you've probably noticed that a star high up in the sky's dome looks brighter than it does as it slides toward the horizon. That's because light coming to us from near the horizon passes through more atmosphere than if it shines straight down from overhead. (The Sun looks redder at sunset and sunrise for the same reason.)

Astronomers have catalogued stars' magnitudes for at least two millennia, all the way back to an ancient document called the Almagest. It was the Almagest that Schaefer began with - but his goal wasn't to determine if astronomers in olden days accounted for extinction. He wanted to use the brightnesses reported in it to decide a long-standing debate over who wrote the catalog in the first place, Hipparchus of Rhodes (circa 150 BC) or Ptolemy of Alexandria (circa AD 150).

Boat

Aegean Sea: Hunt for the ancient mariner

Armed with high-tech methods, researchers are scouring the Aegean Sea for the world's oldest shipwrecks

Brendan Foley peels his wetsuit to the waist and perches on the side of an inflatable boat as it skims across the sea just north of the island of Crete. At his feet are the dripping remains of a vase that moments earlier had been resting on the sea floor, its home for more than a millennium. "It's our best day so far," he says of his dive that morning. "We've discovered two ancient shipwrecks."

Image
© J. Hios/akg-images
The Minoans were pioneers in long-distance ocean travel, as seen in this sixteenth-century BC wall mural from the Greek island of Santorini, which depicts Minoan ships.

Better Earth

Space station sees southern lights

We've been talking a lot about the northern lights lately, but here's a must-see view of the southern lights, as captured by the crew of the International Space Station on Jan. 3.

The time-lapse video begins over the Indian Ocean, with the camera looking eastward toward southern Australia. The red and green lights of the aurora shimmer just before sunrise, which comes when the station is south of Australia and west of Tasmania. Go full screen for the full effect.


The differences in the colors of the aurora are due to the various emissions sparked by the interaction of solar particles with oxygen and nitrogen atoms in the upper atmosphere. This previous posting delves into the colors of the auroral sky as seen from space.

I've got to think the space station's astronauts are closely watching the current uptick in solar activity. NASA says the solar storm poses no danger to the crew, so they'll be free to snap photos and send them along to the Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth, which is the source of this imagery. Be sure to check out Jason Major's report on Universe Today about the whole space-storm safety issue as it relates to the station's crew.

Alan Boyle is msnbc.com's science editor.

Sherlock

Ancient Jewish Scrolls Found in North Afghanistan

Jewish scrolls
© SXC.HU
A cache of ancient Jewish scrolls from northern Afghanistan that has only recently come to light is creating a storm among scholars who say the landmark find could reveal an undiscovered side of medieval Jewry.

The 150 or so documents, dated from the 11th century, were found in Afghanistan's Samangan province and most likely smuggled out - a sorry but common fate for the impoverished and war-torn country's antiquities.

Israeli emeritus professor Shaul Shaked, who has examined some of the poems, commercial records and judicial agreements that make up the treasure, said while the existence of ancient Afghan Jewry is known, their culture was still a mystery.

"Here, for the first time, we see evidence and we can actually study the writings of this Jewish community. It's very exciting," Shaked told Reuters by telephone from Israel, where he teaches at the Comparative Religion and Iranian Studies department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Question

Mysterious 'Winged' Structure from Ancient Rome Discovered

Mystery Structure
© Michael Page
The Y-shaped Roman structure, discovered in eastern England in the Norfolk area, can be seen in this aerial shot. Nothing like it has been discovered before from the Roman Empire. Sometime later another Roman structure (whose postholes can be seen) was built on top of it.
A recently discovered mysterious "winged" structure in England, which in the Roman period may have been used as a temple, presents a puzzle for archaeologists, who say the building has no known parallels.

Built around 1,800 years ago, the structure was discovered in Norfolk, in eastern England, just to the south of the ancient town of Venta Icenorum. The structure has two wings radiating out from a rectangular room that in turn leads to a central room.

"Generally speaking, [during] the Roman Empire people built within a fixed repertoire of architectural forms," said William Bowden, a professor at the University of Nottingham, who reported the find in the most recent edition of the Journal of Roman Archaeology. The investigation was carried out in conjunction with the Norfolk Archaeological and Historical Research Group.

The winged shape of the building appears to be unique in the Roman Empire, with no other example known. "It's very unusual to find a building like this where you have no known parallels for it," Bowden told LiveScience. "What they were trying to achieve by using this design is really very difficult to say."

The building appears to have been part of a complex that includes a villa to the north and at least two other structures to the northeast and northwest. An aerial photograph suggests the existence of an oval or polygonal building with an apse located to the east.

Pharoah

Indonesia: Finding on Garut Pyramid Verified - structure is highly unlikely to be of natural formation

The phenomenon of "Garut Pyramid" found on a mount in Garut, West Java, has encouraged the Ancient Catastrophic Disaster Team to conduct verification.
Image
© Turangga Seta
Sadahurip Mountain in Garut, West Java
The verification is carried out to determine the existence of a man-made structure that formed Mount Putri in Garut using Superstring geo-electric instruments. The geo-electric instruments were used to scan geological layers on the hill by measuring its resistivity.

In a written statement received by VIVAnews, Monday, Dec 19, a member of the Ancient Catastrophic Disaster Team, Iwan Sumule, said that the results of the geo-electric instruments within 20 meters and 10 meters electrodes showed that there was a horizontal unconformity on the intrusion (red) rocks within around 120 meters from the summit.

The finding shows that the right-side intrusion branch seems to form a terrain morphological base that has similar topographical elevation with Cirahong valley. Then, the 120 meter-limit seems to coincide with the base of a steeper ascending topography, where the rocks turn red.