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1,500-year-old Church Found in Israel

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© The Associated Press / Ariel Schalit
A view of a mosaic in the archaeological site where an ancient church was found in Hirbet Madras, central Israel, Wednesday, Feb. 2, 2011. Israeli archaeologists say they have uncovered a 1,500-year-old church, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks. According to Amir Ganor of the IAA (Israel Antiquities Authority) the church in the hills southwest of Jerusalem was active between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D.
Israeli archaeologists presented a newly uncovered 1,500-year-old church in the Judean hills on Wednesday, including an unusually well-preserved mosaic floor with images of lions, foxes, fish and peacocks.

The Byzantine church located southwest of Jerusalem, excavated over the last two months, will be visible only for another week before archaeologists cover it again with soil for its own protection.

The small basilica with an exquisitely decorated floor was active between the fifth and seventh centuries A.D., said the dig's leader, Amir Ganor of the Israel Antiquities Authority. He said the floor was "one of the most beautiful mosaics to be uncovered in Israel in recent years."

"It is unique in its craftsmanship and level of preservation," he said.

Archaeologists began digging at the site, known as Hirbet Madras, in December. The Antiquities Authority discovered several months earlier that antiquities thieves had begun plundering the ruins, which sit on an uninhabited hill not far from an Israeli farming community.

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University of Toronto Anthropologists Discover Earliest Cemetery in Middle East

Ancient Cemetary
© Lisa Maher et al.

Anthropologists at the University of Toronto and the University of Cambridge have discovered the oldest cemetery in the Middle East at a site in northern Jordan. The cemetery includes graves containing human remains buried alongside those of a red fox, suggesting that the animal was possibly kept as a pet by humans long before dogs ever were. The 16,500-year-old site at 'Uyun al-Hammam was discovered in 2000 by an expedition led by University of Toronto professor Edward (Ted) Banning and Lisa Maher, an assistant professor of anthropology at U of T and research associate at the University of Cambridge. "Recent archaeological excavations have uncovered the remains of at least 11 individuals - more than known from all other sites of this kind combined," says Banning, of U of T's Department of Anthropology.

Previous research had identified the earliest cemeteries in the region in a somewhat later period (the Natufian, ca. 15,000-12,000 years ago). These were notable for instances of burials of humans with dogs. One such case involved a woman buried with her hand on a puppy, while another included three humans buried with two dogs along with tortoise shells. However, this new research shows that some of these practices occurred earlier.

Most of the individuals buried at the Jordan site were found with what are known as "grave goods," such as stone tools, a bone spoon, animal parts, and red ochre (an iron mineral). One grave contained the skull and right upper arm bone of a red fox, with red ochre adhered to the skull, along with bones of deer, gazelle and wild cattle. Another nearby grave contained the nearly complete skeleton of a red fox, missing its skull and right upper arm bone, suggesting that portions of a single fox had been moved from one grave to another in prehistoric times.

Sun

Did Vikings navigate by polarized light?

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© BRYNA PRODS/UNITED ARTISTS / THE KOBAL COLLECTION
As highly skilled navigators, Vikings crossed thousands of kilometres of open sea.
'Sunstone' crystals may have helped seafarers to find the Sun on cloudy days.

A Viking legend tells of a glowing 'sunstone' that, when held up to the sky, revealed the position of the Sun even on a cloudy day. It sounds like magic, but scientists measuring the properties of light in the sky say that polarizing crystals - which function in the same way as the mythical sunstone - could have helped ancient sailors to cross the northern Atlantic. A review of their evidence is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (1).

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Ancient Church Discovered in Western Turkey

Laodicea Church
© AA Photo
Culture Minister Eruğrul Günay (L) visits the ancient city of Laodicea in the Aegean province of Denizli.

An ancient church mentioned in the Bible has been discovered in western Turkey, according to the head of the excavation.

Culture and Tourism Minister Ertuğrul Günay visited the ancient city of Laodicea on Sunday in Denizli province and was briefed by Professor Celal Şimşek, head of the excavation team. The professor said they have discovered the Laodicea Church, one of the seven mentioned in the Bible. Şimşek said the church from the fourth century A.D. was found by underground radar search, a system they have tried this year for the first time. "The major part of the church, which is built on an area of 2,000 square meters, has kept its original [status]."

Minister Günay said he is very excited about the discovery, adding that archeology in Turkey developed greatly recently and the ministry is supporting academics fully. The minister said the excavations have been running nonstop since the site was transferred to the municipality of Denizli. "This summer we may invite the foreign press and organize a gathering after important steps are taken for renovation and the building is fully unearthed."

Sherlock

Norwegian petroglyphs found beneath burial mounds

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© Unknown
It looked to be a routine excavation of what was thought to be a burial mound. But beneath the mound, archaeologists from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology's Museum of Natural History and Archaeology found something more: unusual Bronze Age petroglyphs. 

"We believe these are very special in a Norwegian context," says museum researcher and project manager Anne Haug.

The excavation in Stjordal, just north of Trondheim, was necessitated by the expansion of a gravel pit. Given that project archaeologists didn't anticipate that the dig would be very complicated, the museum researchers dedicated just three weeks to the effort.

Petroglyphs under a cremation site

Then came the surprises. First, it turned out that mound builders had used an existing hill as a starting point - which of course saved them time and effort. The hill itself made the burial mound even larger and more monumental than it might have otherwise been.

But researchers suspected there might be another reason for the choice of the hilltop when they uncovered the remains of two cremations, or rather a fire layer that also contained bits of bone. Underneath they found many petroglyphs, including eight drawings showing the soles of feet, with cross hatching. There were also five shallow depressions, Haug says.

Two boat drawings and several other drawings of feet soles with toes were also found just south of the burial mound.

Sherlock

Was the Fox Prehistoric Man's Best Friend?

Foxes and humans
© PhysOrg.com
Was the fox prehistoric man's best friend?
Early humans may have preferred the fox to the dog as an animal companion, new archaeological findings suggest.

Researchers analysing remains at a prehistoric burial ground in Jordan have uncovered a grave in which a fox was buried with a human, before part of it was then transferred to an adjacent grave.

The University of Cambridge-led team believes that the unprecedented case points to some sort of emotional attachment between human and fox. Their paper, published today, suggests that the fox may have been kept as a pet and was being buried to accompany its master, or mistress, to the afterlife.

If so, it marks the first known burial of its kind and suggests that long before we began to hunt foxes using dogs, our ancestors were keeping them as pets - and doing so earlier than their canine relatives.

The cemetery, at Uyun-al-Hammam, in northern Jordan, is about 16,500 years old, which makes the grave 4,000 years older than the earliest known human-dog burial and 7,000 years earlier than anything similar here involving a fox.

Cloud Lightning

The Huangshang Mountains: Electrically Formed?

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© Garry Maxfield
"Carved by the Gods."
Scientists tell us that Earth's geology has been shaped over million of years.

Millions of years might actually be involved in forming the topography we see. But if that is the case, then there are anomalies that occasionally surface. For example, there appear to be eyewitness accounts in myths and legends that refer to massive geological processes.

Rather than the slow processes of plate tectonics, wind, and weather there is another process that can cause exactly the same events but in an almost instantaneous period: electric discharge, or "spark machining." Electric currents might once have flowed through Earth's conductive strata with energies like nothing we know today.

Evidence can be found on Earth and throughout the Solar System.

Pharoah

Canyonitis: Seeing evidence of ancient Egypt in the Grand Canyon

Is there, within the Grand Canyon, an enigmatic system of tunnels that is evidence of an ancient Egyptian voyage to America? Is it all bogus? Or is the truth most likely somewhere in between?
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On April 5, 1909, a front page story in the Arizona Gazette reported on an archaeological expedition in the heart of the Grand Canyon funded by the Smithsonian Institute, which had resulted in the discovery of Egyptian artefacts. April 5 is close to April 1 - but then not quite... so perhaps the story could be true?

Nothing since has been heard of this discovery. Today, over five million tourists visit the Grand Canyon each year. You would thus expect that if anything was hidden in the canyons, it would thus since long have been uncovered. However, most tourists only spend around 3 hours of time at the canyon, usually visiting the legendary South Rim view around mile 89, where most of the best and oldest tourist facilities are located. Furthermore, some have said that the entire discovery has since become the centre of a major cover-up, apparently in an effort to maintain the old status quo, which is that the ancient Egyptians never ventured outside of the tranquil waters of the river Nile.

The original story goes that the team found an underground network of tunnels, high above the Colorado River, containing various ancient artefacts, statues and even mummies. A major discovery, no doubt about it. Impossible to slip off the archaeological radar. Still, the Smithsonian Institute will report it has no records on the subject. So what happened? To find out, there is only one guide: the article itself. Though the article was anonymous, it did identify some of the archaeologists involved: "under the direction of Prof. S. A. Jordan", with Smithsonian-backed adventurer G. E. Kinkaid, who then relates his findings.

Palette

Coming at you in 3D: Legendary filmmaker Werner Herzog brings paleolithic cave to life

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© IFC Films/History Channel
Brought to life: The Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc cave in southern France is now the subject of a 3D documentary by filmmaker Werner Herzog called Cave Of Forgotten Dreams
Covered in ancient dots and lines, it's thought to be where man made his first attempts to write.

Since its (re)discovery in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont-d'Arc Cave in southern France has offered scientists a veritable treasure trove of perfectly preserved paintings.

Alongside these are and evidence of attempts at communication 30,000 to 40,000 years ago.

Now the long-abandoned underground enclosure is the subject of a 3D documentary by German filmmaker Werner Herzog, called Cave Of Forgotten Dreams.

Among the riches on offer is a chamber full of painted monsters 400metres below the surface, where a mixture of carbon dioxide and radon gas leads to hallucinations.

It is here that the paintings start to become a strange, so strange in fact that scientists think heading down to the chamber may have formed part of a ritual for prehistoric man.

Alongside the paintings lie drawings of dots and lines that had previously been dismissed as little more than doodles.

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Stone Tools Discovered in Arabia Force Archaeologists to Rethink Human History

Stone Tools
© AAAS/Science/PA
Stone hand axes belonging to humans who lived in Arabia more than 100,000 years ago.

A spectacular haul of stone tools discovered beneath a collapsed rock shelter in southern Arabia has forced a major rethink of the story of human migration out of Africa. The collection of hand axes and other tools shaped to cut, pierce and scrape bear the hallmarks of early human workmanship, but date from 125,000 years ago, around 55,000 years before our ancestors were thought to have left the continent.

The artefacts, uncovered in the United Arab Emirates, point to a much earlier dispersal of ancient humans, who probably cut across from the Horn of Africa to the Arabian peninsula via a shallow channel in the Red Sea that became passable at the end of an ice age. Once established, these early pioneers may have pushed on across the Persian Gulf, perhaps reaching as far as India, Indonesia and eventually Australia.

Michael Petraglia, an archaeologist at Oxford University who was not involved in the work, told the Science journal: "This is really quite spectacular. It breaks the back of the current consensus view."

Anatomically modern humans - those that resemble people alive today - evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago. Until now, most archaeological evidence has supported an exodus from Africa, or several waves of migration, along the Mediterranean coast or the Arabian shoreline between 80,000 and 60,000 years ago.

A team led by Hans-Peter Uerpmann at the University of Tübingen in Germany uncovered the latest stone tools while excavating sediments at the base of a collapsed overhang set in a limestone mountain called Jebel Faya, about 35 miles (55km) from the Persian Gulf coast. Previous excavations at the site have found artefacts from the iron, bronze and neolithic periods, evidence that the rocky formation has provided millennia of natural shelter for humans.