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Mon, 18 Jan 2021
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Secret History


The brilliance of ancient engineers shows in watermill complex in southern France

Musée de l'Arles antique, Arles, France
© Carole Raddato from FRANKFURT, Germany
Musée de l'Arles antique, Arles, France.
An international team of scientists has reconstructed the hydraulic operations of the 1,900-year-old Barbegal industrial watermill complex in southern France, revealing the subtle brilliance of antiquity's engineers.

The Barbegal watermill complex was a set of sixteen water wheels arranged in two parallel columns of eight along a thirty-meter slope near the French town of Arles. It's been hailed as having the "greatest known concentration of mechanical power in the ancient world." Each wheel was connected to a grinding mechanism, which milled grain into flour, perhaps as much as 25 tonnes per day from the entire complex. When the complex was constructed at the end of the 1st century, the area was part of the Roman Empire. Archaeologists have speculated that Barbegal could have supplied bread to the 27,000 inhabitants of the local town of Arelate. It may also have been used to produce mass quantities of hardtack, a long-lasting, dry, salted biscuit, for sailors at the nearby harbors.

Professor Emeritus Dr. Cees Passchier of Johannes Gutenberg University and his colleagues sought to understand the workings of this impressive industrial watermill. Unfortunately, today it's in ruins and all the wooden machinery has long since decayed.


Fossil footprints mark a toddler's perilous prehistoric journey

human footprint giant sloth foot print
© National Park Service, via Associated Press
A human footprint found inside that of a giant sloth track at White Sands.
Mammoths and giant ground sloths roamed the same terrain that a young adult swiftly moved through while toting a young child.

The human footprint sequence from the Pleistocene era extends more than a mile and includes at least 427 human prints. The out-and-back journey was probably completed in no more than a few hours, the researchers suggested.Credit...Reynolds et al., Quaternary Science Reviews 2020

Several thousand years ago, a young adult moved barefoot across a muddy landscape. A toddler was balanced on the adult's hip. There were large animals — mammoths and ground sloths — just over the horizon. It was a perilous journey, and scientists reconstructed it by closely studying an exceptional set of human and animal footprints found recently in the southwestern United States.

Blue Planet

Bronze Age herders 'less mobile than previously thought'

Caucasus mountain animal
© Sabine Reinhold
Grazing animals on Caucasus mountain pastures.
Bronze Age pastoralists in what is now southern Russia apparently covered shorter distances than previously thought. It is believed that the Indo-European languages may have originated from this region, and these findings raise new questions about how technical and agricultural innovations spread to Europe. An international research team, with the participation of the University of Basel, has published a paper on this topic.

During the Bronze Age (ca. 3900 - 1000 BCE), herders and their families moved across the slopes of the Caucasus and the steppes to the north, taking their sheep, goats and cattle with them. It is believed that the Indo-Germanic groups, who brought the Indo-European languages and technical innovations such as wagons, domestic horses and metal weapons to Europe, may have originated from this region.

Comment: A point that the above does not address is why numerous studies document changes in DNA that occurred with the advent of farming:


Medieval plague outbreaks picked up speed over 300 years

plague london 1665
© National Archives
The Great Plague of 1665
McMaster University researchers who analyzed thousands of documents covering a 300-year span of plague outbreaks in London, England, have estimated that the disease spread four times faster in the 17th century than it had in the 14th century.

The findings, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, show a striking acceleration in plague transmission between the Black Death of 1348, estimated to have wiped out more than one-third of the population of Europe, and later epidemics, which culminated in the Great Plague of 1665.

Researchers found that in the 14th century, the number of people infected during an outbreak doubled approximately every 43 days. By the 17th century, the number was doubling every 11 days.

Comment: For fascinating insight into the Black Death, see: See also: And check out SOTT radio's: Behind the Headlines: Who was Jesus? Examining the evidence that Christ may in fact have been Caesar!


Indus Valley civilization earliest known producer of dairy and dairy products, according to new research.

Dairy Products
© Anthony Arnaud
The lands that make up modern-day Pakistan and India have been producing dairy for almost five thousand years now, according to researchers at the University of Toronto Mississauga. The team explains that dairy has been produced and consumed by the people of the Indus Valley Civilization from as far back as 2500 BCE.

Original cheese
"We found that dairy was an integral part of their diet at a site that dates to about 2500 BCE," says Chakraborty, who is conducting his post-doctoral research with Heather Miller, an anthropology professor at UTM.
The Indus Valley Civilizations, also known as the Harappans, built one of the greatest empires of the ancient world. Much of the foundations of their success have been lost to time — for example, we don't have a great idea of how they managed to feed so many people. The study goes some way towards helping us understand the Harappan diet.

According to the findings, dairy was an important part of their diet. It helped fill hungry bellies at home, and likely greased the wheels of commerce.

Black Cat 2

Huge cat found etched into desert among Nazca lines in Peru, a geoglyph from 200-100BC

Nazca cat
© Jhony Islas/AP
The feline figure, seen on a hillside in Nazca, Peru, has been cleaned and conserved since its discovery.
The dun sands of southern Peru, etched centuries ago with geoglyphs of a hummingbird, a monkey, an orca - and a figure some would dearly love to believe is an astronaut - have now revealed the form of an enormous cat lounging across a desert hillside.

The feline Nazca line, dated to between 200BC and 100BC, emerged during work to improve access to one of the hills that provides a natural vantage point from which many of the designs can be seen.

A Unesco world heritage site since 1994, the Nazca Lines, which are made up of hundreds of geometric and zoomorphic images, were created by removing rocks and earth to reveal the contrasting materials below. They lie 250 miles (400km) south of Lima and cover about 450 sq km (175 sq miles) of Peru's arid coastal plain.
"The figure was scarcely visible and was about to disappear because it's situated on quite a steep slope that's prone to the effects of natural erosion," Peru's culture ministry said in a statement this week.

"Over the past week, the geoglyph was cleaned and conserved, and shows a feline figure in profile, with its head facing the front."
It said the cat was 37 metres long, with well-defined lines that varied in width between 30cm and 40cm.

Blue Planet

Lives of Neolithic peoples in Greece revealed in new findings from Theopetra Cave

Theopetra Cave
© Tolis-3kala/Wikimedia Commons
Theopetra Cave
The Theopetra Cave in Thessaly, Central Greece, was formed in the Upper Cretaceous period, 137,000,000 - 65,000,000 years before the present time. The cave that was created in the limestone there has been inhabited since the Middle Paleolithic period, and new findings give new insight into the lives of those early peoples.

According to archaeologists, the cave is likely to be the place of the oldest human construction on earth, as findings indicate that the shelter was inhabited as early as 130,000 years ago.

Excavations at Theopetra began in 1987 under the direction of the archaeologist Dr. Catherine Kyparissi-Apostolika, honorary head of the Ephorate of Palaeoanthroplogy and Speleography of Greece's Ministry of Culture and Sports.

The findings made there since that time include stone tools of the Paleolithic, Mesolithic and Neolithic periods, as well as Neolithic pottery, bone and shell objects. The findings are important evidence for the transition from the Paleolithic to the Neolithic era way of life in Greece.

Comment: See also:


12-Year-Old unearths 69-million-year old rare fossil in Canada

rare fossil hadrasaur canada
© Nature Conservancy of Canada
The first bone discovered by Nathan Hrushkin
Nathan Hrushkin, a 12-year-old boy, discovered a dinosaur skeleton dating back 69 million years in a fossil-rich part of Alberta, Canada, this past July.

According to the CTV News, the amateur paleontologist discovered the hadrosaur fossil in the Nature Conservancy of Canada's Nodwell property at Horseshoe Canyon.

When Hrushkin first saw the fossils, he was "literally speechless," he told the BBC.

"I wasn't even excited, even though I know I should have [been] ... I was in so much shock that I had actually found a dinosaur discovery," he added.


Leather balls represent oldest evidence of ancient Eurasian ball game

Ancient Leather Balls
© University of Zurich
Leather balls found in an approximately 3,000-year-old cemetery in northwestern China.
Balls found in the ancient graves of horse riders in northwestern China reveal evidence of a 3,000-year-old sport. These fist-sized balls, made of leather and filled with hair and other soft material, predate any balls found in Eurasia so far.

"It is likely that the three balls were used in a team sport," said Patrick Wertmann, an archeologist at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. He is one of the authors of a study published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports.

The oldest known ball in the world is a toy made of linen rags and string that was found in an Egyptian child's tomb dating to about 2500 B.C. In highland Mesoamerica, evidence shows that ball games were played starting at least as far back as 1650 B.C., based on the finding of a monumental ball court, though the oldest rubber ball found in the region dates to about 1600 B.C.

In Europe, the oldest depiction of a ball game -- a field hockey-like match in Greece -- dates to about 500 B.C. The oldest ball in China known before now dated to about 200 B.C., Wertmann said.

The new research found balls in three separate tombs near the modern city of Turfan in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in northwestern China. The three graves date roughly from 1189 B.C. to 911 B.C., based on the way the tombs were built, the artifacts found inside, and radiocarbon dating. The area was part of the Yanghai cemetery site, a group of about 3,000 graves first discovered in the 1970s by archaeologists in China. Of the 531 graves that have been excavated since 2003, those of three males each carried one of the balls analyzed in this study.


Early humans controlled fire to make stone tools

A new study, borrowing techniques from artificial intelligence research, suggests hominins in the eastern Mediterranean forged flint blades in flame, a task that requires creating and controlling heat.
Ancient flint blades
© Filipe Natalio
Researchers found these ancient flint blades in Israel’s Qesem Cave.
Humanity's creation and mastery of fire likely came in stages. Being able to reliably kindle this source of light and heat was only one step, managing the flames was another. It was a crucial turning point in human evolution when Homo sapiens — or one of our species' hominin relatives — first controlled fire not only as a safeguard from predators, but also for sculpting tools from stone.

Now scientists believe they have found evidence of this level of mastery. In an analysis published in Nature Human Behaviour, researchers at the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Sonia and Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology, both in Israel, make the case that more than 300,000 years ago, hominins living in Qesem Cave, a small cavern in what is today Israel, succeeded in controlling fire to enhance the production of tools.

The study suggests that the cave's inhabitants — which hominin resided there remains unknown — used and controlled fire in one way to produce simple stone tools called flakes and another to produce blades. The researchers demonstrated that these tools must be forged at different temperatures.

Considering that a typical fireplace reaches 600 degrees Celsius easily, maintaining heat around the median temperature of 259 degrees Celsius to create blades, for example, was a technological challenge for the Qesem hominins. "If they wanted to produce blades, they would have to think in advance about which protocol to use," says Filipe Natalio, an archaeologist at the Kimmel Centre for Archaeological Science in the Weizmann Institute of Science, and one of the authors on the new study.