Secret HistoryS


Sex of Egyptian Child Mummy Remains a Mystery

A 2,000-year-old child mummy visited an Illinois hospital earlier this year so researchers could use imaging technology to look for clues to the child's life and death.

A computed tomography, or CT, scan, conducted in March, revealed a few tantalizing tidbits: a delicate facial structure; the wads of cloth that had been packed around the body; clearly visible internal organs, including the brain; and the severity of the fracture to the back of the child's head, which appears to have occurred after death. Unfortunately, the scan failed to elucidate a basic question about the mummy's identity: its sex.

"The dismaying part is the pelvis is collapsed, which means the physical anthropologists cannot do traditional measurements on the pelvis to determine its sex, so we still don't know if it's a boy or a girl," said Sarah Wisseman, an archaeologist with the Illinois State Archeological Survey, whose book The Virtual Mummy (University of Illinois Press, 2003) describes this research.


Long Pilgrimages Revealed in Ancient Sudan Art

© Bogdan ZurawskiThe common dead are shown in agony in this medieval artwork. The emotion they display, and the fact that they, along with the first born, are naked, suggest that this painting may have had a European artist.
Excavations of a series of medieval churches in central Sudan have revealed a treasure trove of art, including a European-influenced work, along with evidence of journeys undertaken by travelers from western Europe that were equivalent to the distance between New York City and the Grand Canyon.

A visit by a Catalonian man named Benesec is recorded in one of the churches, along with visits from other pilgrims of the Middle Ages, according to lead researcher Bogdan Zurawski of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The discoveries were made at Banganarti and Selib, two sites along the Nile that were part of Makuria, a Christian kingdom ruled by a dynasty of kings throughout the Middle Ages.

The art there tells stories of kings, saints, pilgrims and even a female demon, said Zurawski, who presented his findings recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.


Humans ventured as far as Torquay more than 40,000 years ago

The early humans were pioneers who took advantage of a temporary warm spell to visit Britain during the last ice age

© Chris Collins/Natural History Museum, London/Torquay MuseumJawbone and teeth reveal humans living at the edge of what was then the habitable world.
A fragment of human jaw unearthed in a prehistoric cave in Torquay is the earliest evidence of modern humans in north-west Europe, scientists say.

The tiny piece of upper jaw was excavated from Kents Cave on the town's border in the 1920s but its significance was not fully realised until scientists checked its age with advanced techniques that have only now become available.

The fresh analysis at Oxford University dated the bone and three teeth to a period between 44,200 and 41,500 years ago, when a temporary warm spell lasting perhaps only a thousand years, made Britain habitable.

The age of the remains puts modern humans at the edge of the habitable world at the time and increases the period over which they shared the land with Neanderthals, our close relatives who evolved in Europe and Asia.


First Known Europeans Identified

Molar Tooth
© Stefano BenazziA baby molar tooth from what is believed to be the remains of the first European anatomically modern human.

Europe's earliest known modern humans existed around 45,000 years ago in a southern Italian prehistoric cave, according to new research.

The discovery means that members of our own species have been present in Europe longer than previously thought, sharing turf with Neanderthals for at least 5,000 years.

"During this time it is very likely that some contact must have been achieved, but there is no direct evidence for it," Stefano Benazzi, a physical anthropologist at the University of Vienna, told Discovery News.

He explained that "Neanderthals must have survived until about 40,000 years ago."

Before the findings of Benazzi and his team, the first known modern humans in Europe came from Romania and dated to 40,000 years ago. Early Upper Paleolithic modern human cultures are documented in the Near East to about 45,000 years ago, which previously left a gap of 5,000 years between these Homo sapiens and the ones from Romania.

"With our findings, the gap is filled," said Benazzi, whose research was published this week in the journal Nature.

Cow Skull

'Magic' Viking Sunstone Just Natural Crystal

Stone Compass
© Guy Ropars, University of RennesThe researchers, lead by Guy Ropars of the University of Rennes in France, build their own Viking sunstone compass from a calcite crystal. The two beams of light can be seen on the reflective surface inside.

Before the invention of the magnetic compass, navigating with a sundial would have been difficult, particularly on overcast days. Ancient Viking lore suggests that they had a magical tool to find the sun, even when the star was hidden.

Researchers have now discovered the crystal that would have made such a magical apparatus possible. The Vikings could have used a common calcite crystal, called an Icelandic spar, to find the sun in the high latitudes where they would have had to battle long twilights and cloudy skies to navigate. This special "sunstone" could find the direction of the sun even when it was out of view because it plays a trick with the light.

"The Vikings could have discovered this, simply by choosing a transparent crystal and looking through it through a small hole in a screen," study researcher Guy Ropars wrote in an email to LiveScience. "The understanding of the complete mechanism and the knowledge of the polarization of light is not necessary."


Iran: 40,000-Year-Old Engravings Discovered in Central Province

Ancient Engravings
© IRNAThe photo shows a rock bearing one of the 40,000-year-old hand pattern engravings, which have recently been discovered in the Teimareh region near the city of Khomein in Central Province.
Tehran -- Eleven engravings, which are believed to date back to 40,000 years ago, have been discovered in the Teimareh region near the city of Khomein in Central Province.

The engravings depict patterns of hands, expert of ancient stone engravings Mohammad Nasseri told the Persian service of the IRNA on Sunday.

Although the engravings date back to 40,000 years ago, some Elamite pictographs, some marks of the Pahlavi and Arabic scripts, and a number of cup-shaped motifs have been etched around each engraving, he added.

According to the semiotics, the hand patterns and the cup-shaped motifs refer to a temple or a place of worship, Nasseri stated.


Medieval Graves Disturbed For Surprising Reasons?

Grave Robbery
© Peter Stadler, Department of Prehistory, Museum of Natural History ViennaWhen this grave, in the Austrian medieval cemetery Brunn am Gebirge, was excavated, the jumbled bones of the corpse revealed that someone else had beat the excavators to it and had opened it up to rummage around inside. While this scenario may call to mind grave robbers, one archeologist suspects that the people who opened graves like this one weren't re-opening to uncover to loot.

Once laid to rest, the remains of many who died in medieval Europe were not left in peace. As much as 40 percent of graves from the mid-fifth to mid-eighth centuries appear to have been disturbed after burial.

Grave robbers, searching for wealth buried along with the dead, have frequently born the blame from archaeologists.

"This sort of behavior has always been described as grave robbery," said Edeltraud Aspöck, a postdoctoral researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. "It has always been thought that it was criminal gangs and foreigners that have been plundering, and it was all about material gain."

But after carefully examining disturbed graves, Aspöck believes something much more complex was happening.

For instance, in a sixth-century Austria cemetery, only certain types of objects appear to have been taken, and there's a pattern to how the excavated bodies were handled, indicating that more than mere plundering was occuring. And in a slightly more recent English cemetery, some corpses were discovered with their bodies placed in strange poses - possibly the work of people who reopened their graves to ease the restless souls, Aspöck suggests.


Asian Ancestors Had Sex with Mysterious Human Cousins

Ancient Molar
© David Reich et al., Nature.A molar tooth belonging to a Denisovan, thought to be a new branch of ancient humans.

Neanderthals weren't the only ancient cousins that humans frequently mated with, according to a new study that finds that East Asian populations share genes with a mysterious archaic hominin species that lived in Siberia 40,000 years ago.

This group, the Denisovans, is known only by a few bone fragments: A finger bone, a tooth and possibly a toe bone, which is still undergoing analysis. The Denisovans likely split off from the Neanderthal branch of the hominin family tree about 300,000 years ago, but little else is known about their appearance, behavior or dress. But just as researchers have learned that ancient humans and Neanderthals mated, they've also found genetic echoes of the Denisovans in modern residents of Pacific islands, including New Guinea and the Philippines.

The new research expands the Denisovan genetic influence, uncovering Denisovan genes in modern East Asian populations. The genetic signal is less strong than it is in the Oceanic islands such as the Philippines, said study researcher Mattias Jakobsson, a professor of evolutionary biology at Uppsala University in Sweden. On the Asian mainland, the genetic similarities to Denisovans are strongest in southern China and Southeast Asia.

"We are actually finding gene flow in Southeast Asia," Jakobsson told LiveScience. "So it's not restricted to the Oceanian parts of the world."


Israel Archaeologists Say Find 1,400-Year-Old Christian Relic

A small box with a cross carved on its lid found in Jerusalem, containing what may have been portraits of Jesus and Mary.

© AP PhotoChristian relic found in Jerusalem, Oct. 30, 2011.
Israeli archaeologists said Sunday they have found a tiny 1,400-year-old relic of Christian faith among the remains of an ancient road in Jerusalem.

The finding, an exquisitely made 2 centimeter by 1.5 centimeter box of bone with a cross carved on the lid, was likely carried by a Christian believer around the end of the 6th century A.D.

When its lid is removed, the remains of two portraits are still visible in gold and paint a man and a woman, possibly Jesus and Mary.

Archaeologist Yana Tchekhanovets of the Israel Antiquities Authority said Sunday that the box is the first well preserved example of its kind and is important because it shows that icon use was not limited to church ceremonies in Byzantine times.


Wales: Bronze Age Hoard Found in Manorbier, Pembrokeshire

© National Museum WalesThe items can be dated to the Late Bronze Age
A collection of Bronze Age artefacts found by a man with a metal detector in a Pembrokeshire field may end up at the National Museum Wales.

The tools, a weapon, and other items which were found by Gavin Palmer near Manorbier have been declared treasure by the county's coroner.

The museum says the find helps shed light on how people lived in west Wales 3,000 years ago.

It is having the find independently valued with a view to buying the items.

The money would be split between Mr Palmer and the landowner.