Secret HistoryS

Magic Wand

A burning issue: When did humans master fire?

Early humans may have moved north into the chilly latitudes of Europe hundreds of thousands of years before mastering a crucial technology: Fire.

A survey of 141 archaeological sites in Europe found no evidence of habitual use of fire prior to about 400,000 years ago. Early humans arrived much earlier. Some archeological evidence indicates they arrived in southern Europe more than a million years ago, and the Happisburgh site in the northeastern part of England's Norfolk region contains stone tools dating back more than 800,000 years ago.

Evidence for the use of fire - concentrations of ashes and charcoal, sediments reddened by heat, rocks scarred by heat and burned bones - is nonexistent in Europe until around 400,000 years ago, write the researchers Wil Roebroeks of Leiden University in The Netherlands and Paola Villa of the University of Colorado Museum in Boulder.
Photo Fire Ancient Humans
© NASA / JPL-CaltechA depiction of a Neanderthal family. Neanderthals used fire much more frequently than thought


New Face for an Old Man - 5,300-Year-Old Iceman Mummy Gets a Makeover

© South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology/Foto OchsenreiterÖtzi, the 5,300-year-old mummy from the Alps has a new face thanks to two reconstruction artists.
Iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy also called Ötzi and discovered in the Alps, is showing a new face to the world at the Italian museum where he resides.

The South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology commissioned two reconstruction artists, Dutch brothers Adrie and Alfons Kennis, to recreate the mummy's face using both art and forensic science, including three-dimensional images of his skull. [Images of Iceman's reconstruction]

The finished face reveals a man with deep-set eyes, a long nose, weathered skin and hair that appears to be on its way to dreads.

Ötzi was discovered in 1991 by hikers in the Ötztal Alps along the Austrian-Italian border. Since then, researchers have mined his remains, the artifacts buried with him and his burial site for clues about his life (he lived sometime between 3350 and 3100 B.C.), death and descendants.

Magic Wand

Flashback Did Island Tribes Use Ancient Lore to Evade Tsunami?

© UnknownTwo Great Andamanese men, in an 1875 photograph
One of the regions hardest hit by the December 26 tsunami was an extremely remote chain of more than 500 islands known collectively as the Andamans and Nicobars.

Governed by India, the archipelago separates the Bay of Bengal from the Andaman Sea. The islands are home to several hunter-gatherer tribes who until fairly recently have had very little contact with the outside world.

Anthropologists initially feared the tribes could have been completely wiped out. But Indian Air Force pilots flying sorties over the islands days after the tsunami reported seeing men who fired arrows at their helicopters. Since then there have been reports that the islanders used their ancient knowledge of nature to escape the tsunami.

Bernice Notenboom, president of Moki Treks, a travel company specializing in indigenous cultural tourism, is one of the few outsiders to have visited the tribes. She tells National Geographic of her impressions from her visit in April 2003.


Lost City of Atlantis, Swamped by Tsunami, May Be Found

© unknown
A U.S.-led research team may have finally located the lost city of Atlantis, the legendary metropolis believed swamped by a tsunami thousands of years ago in mud flats in southern Spain.

"This is the power of tsunamis," head researcher Richard Freund told Reuters.

"It is just so hard to understand that it can wipe out 60 miles inland, and that's pretty much what we're talking about," said Freund, a University of Hartford, Connecticut, professor who lead an international team searching for the true site of Atlantis.

To solve the age-old mystery, the team used a satellite photo of a suspected submerged city to find the site just north of Cadiz, Spain. There, buried in the vast marshlands of the Dona Ana Park, they believe that they pinpointed the ancient, multi-ringed dominion known as Atlantis.

The team of archeologists and geologists in 2009 and 2010 used a combination of deep-ground radar, digital mapping, and underwater technology to survey the site.

Freund's discovery in central Spain of a strange series of "memorial cities," built in Atlantis' image by its refugees after the city's likely destruction by a tsunami, gave researchers added proof and confidence, he said.

Atlantis residents who did not perish in the tsunami fled inland and built new cities there, he added.


Anthropologists link human uniqueness to hunter-gatherer group structure

One of the most complex human mysteries involves how and why we became an outlier species in terms of biological success.

Research findings published in the March 11 edition of the journal Science by an international team of noted anthropologists, including several from Arizona State University, who study hunter-gatherer societies, are informing the issue by suggesting that human ancestral social structure may be the root of cumulative culture and cooperation and, ultimately, human uniqueness.

Because humans lived as hunter-gatherers for 95 percent of their species' history, current foraging societies provide the best window for viewing human social evolution, according to the authors. Given that, the researchers focused on co-residence patterns among more than 5,000 individuals from 32 present-day foraging societies around the globe, including the Gunwinggu, Labrador Inuit, Mbuti, Apache, Aka, Ache, Agta and Vedda. Their findings identify human hunter-gatherer group structure as unique among primates.


Dinosaur Discovery: 'Thunder-Thighs' Dinosaur Found in Museum Basement

© AP PhotoThe new dinosaur named Brontomerus mcintoshi or 'thunder-thighs'
Dr Mike Taylor, a researcher in the Department of Earth Sciences at University College London, describes how stumbling upon a set of bones in a museum basement led to the discovery of an unusual new dinosaur.

Of all the work that palaeontologists do, perhaps nothing is as exciting as recognising and naming a new dinosaur.

I've now had the privilege of doing this twice - once in 2007, with Xenoposeidon, and now with Brontomerus. Both times, I've been the beneficiary of others' work: the Xenoposeidon fossil was found in 1893, but never properly studied until I happened across it in the basement of the Natural History Museum. Similarly, Brontomerus was excavated by the Oklahoma Museum of Natural History in 1994, but museum staff were too busy on other projects to give it the attention it deserved until I and some colleagues visited in 2007.

Staff in both museums were gracious in allowing an outsider to come in and work on their fossils.

The new dinosaur is particularly exciting because although only about 10 per cent of the skeleton is preserved, the bones hint at unusual and exotic behaviour.

The hip bone has a huge area for attachment of thigh muscles - more than twice that of most other sauropods, suggesting twice as much thigh muscle. This gave us the name for our new dinosaur: Brontomerus means "thunder thighs". But because the expanded part of the bone is towards the front of the animal, it presents us with a puzzle.


Thousand Year Old 'Irish Hamlet' Mystery: Solved?

© unknown

Who is Hamlet? It's a centuries-old question, but now, a University of Aberdeen academic thinks she may have found a fresh answer.

In an article published today (March 3) in the Review of English Studies, Dr. Lisa Collinson argues that Hamlet's name originally came from a Gaelic word connected with grinding, and was linked at a much earlier date than previously believed to both a character in a play and dangerous waters.

Her theory builds on scholarly agreement that Shakespeare took the core of his Hamlet character from 'Amlethus', a legendary figure found in The History of the Danes, written around 1200. Historians have long accepted that the name 'Amlethus' must be related to 'Amlothi', mentioned by Snow Bear, a tenth or eleventh-century Icelandic poet.

However, Dr. Collinson, of the Centre for Scandinavian Studies at the University of Aberdeen, has uncovered evidence suggesting that Hamlet's name came first from medieval Gaelic, before being incorporated into the Old Norse tradition. There have been Gaelic claims for the name in the past, but Dr. Collinson makes a new link to a player in an overlooked tale about a doomed king.

She said: "Earlier scholars based theories about the Gaelic origins of Hamlet on an odd name - 'Amlaide' - embedded in a short verse found in Irish annals. They constructed interesting arguments which allowed for Celtic influence on 'Amlothi', but they struggled to explain the form of the annal name, which remains obscure."

Dr. Collinson proposes that a better Hamlet name can be found in a mysterious tale called The Destruction of Da Derga's Hostel, which is thought to have been compiled in the eleventh century, based on eighth- or ninth-century materials.

Better Earth

Cave murals in Spain show man may have used magic mushrooms 6,000 years ago

© UnknownThe Selva Pascuala mural has a bull in the centre, but researchers from America and Mexico are focusing on a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects
For all those who thought hallucinogenic drugs took off in the 1960s, think again: scientists believe they have found evidence of magic mushroom use 6,000 years ago.

Cave murals found in Spain appear to depict them in religious rituals - which would be the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala cave mural near the town of Villar del Humo has a bull in the centre, but researchers from America and Mexico are focussing on a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects.

Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico say they believe the objects are Psilocybe hispanica, a local funghi with hallucinogenic properties.

The mushroom has a bell-shaped cap with a dome and lacks a ring around the stalk, just like the objects in the 6,000 year-old mural, they say.

It also has stalks which vary from straight to sinuous - the same as those drawn thousands of years ago, they add in the latest issue of New Scientist.

But, even though it is several millennia old, it is not thought to be the oldest painting showing hallucinogenic mushrooms.


University of Hartford Researchers May Have Found the City of Atlantis

West Hartford - University of Hartford professor Richard Freund and his team are getting national attention for their research into the legendary island city of Atlantis, according to the Associated Press.

They will be featured on the National Geographic Channel's Finding Atlantis on March 13. The university is hosting an advance screening of the documentary on Wednesday from 7 to 9 p.m. in Wilde Auditorium.

Freund is the Director of the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies. He and his team of researchers employed satellite space photography, ground penetrating radar, underwater archaeology and historical sleuthing in an effort to find Atlantis near the coast of Spain.


US: Scientists Dig for Ice Age Fossils in Los Angeles

© The Associated Press / Damian DovarganesIn this photo taken Tuesday, March 8, 2011, Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits chief curator Dr. John Harris, left, and lead excavator Carrie Howard, look at fossil deposits at Box 14 of Project 23 at La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles.
With a dental pick in hand, Karin Rice delicately scraped off a clump of asphalt from a pelvic bone belonging to a horse that roamed Los Angeles tens of thousands of years ago.

Like many unsuspecting creatures of the last Ice Age, the horse probably stopped to take a sip of spring water only to be ensnared - and later preserved - in a pool of sticky asphalt that seeped from underground crude oil deposits.

"You're opening up this ancient world and getting to look back in time," Rice said during a recent dig at the La Brea Tar Pits in the heart of Los Angeles.

For the past three years, scientists have been sifting through a significant trove of bones and a nearly intact mammoth skeleton discovered in 2006 during the construction of an underground garage next to the tar pits.

It's been slow going. To make room for the parking structure, researchers at the George C. Page Museum built wooden crates to house the cache and trucked them to the tar pits complex where excavators use power and hand tools to break up the soil.

Careful to avoid the mistakes of early diggers who only prized large mammals bones and little else, a small army of museum employees and volunteers painstakingly chisels away seven days a week, recovering not only animal bones, but also saving the dirt for later inspection for microfossils.