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Secret History


Genomic data support early contact between Easter Island and Americas

© Natalia Solar
The Rapanui are famous for building giant stone platforms and statues.
People may have been making their way from Easter Island to the Americas well before the Dutch commander Jakob Roggeveen arrived with his ships in 1722, according to new genomic evidence showing that the Rapanui people living on that most isolated of islands had significant contact with Native American populations hundreds of years earlier. The findings reported in the Cell Press journal Current Biology on October 23 lend the first genetic support for such an early trans-Pacific route between Polynesia and the Americas, an impressive trek of more than 4,000 kilometers (nearly 2,500 miles).

The findings are a reminder that "early human populations extensively explored the planet," says Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas from the Natural History Museum of Denmark's Centre for GeoGenetics. "Textbook versions of human colonization events -- the peopling of the Americas, for example -- need to be re-evaluated utilizing genomic data."

On that note, a second article that will appear in the same issue of Current Biology by Malaspinas along with Eske Willerslev and their colleagues examined two human skulls representing the indigenous "Botocudos" of Brazil to find that their genomic ancestry is Polynesian, with no detectable Native American component at all.


A 45,000-year-old leg bone reveals the oldest human genome yet

© Bence Viola/Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology
The DNA in the man's femur shows that he had some Neanderthal ancestors.
Researchers have successfully decoded the genes of a 45,000-year-old man from Siberia. The results offer clues about early human life outside of Africa as well as how humans interacted with Neanderthals and other groups around at the time.

The complete set of genes is the oldest genome of its kind, according to Svante Pääbo, a director at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. "It's almost twice as old as the next oldest genome that has been sequenced."

The work of Pääbo and his colleagues was published Wednesday in the journal Nature.


Sphinx head found in mysterious Greek tomb

© Greek Ministry of Culture
The newly found head of the sphinx.
Greek archaeologists made another amazing find on Tuesday as they unearthed the missing head of one of the two wingless sphinxes guarding the large and mysterious burial site in Amphipolis, in Greece's northeastern Macedonia region.

According to a statement by the Culture Ministry, the finely carved head was found inside the tomb's third chamber. Fragments of the wings were also unearthed.

About 24 inches high, the marble head depicts a beautiful woman who appears to smile slightly. Apart from some minor damage to the nose and lips, the sculpture is largely intact.

The life-like work features curls falling on the left shoulder and tied around the head with a thin band. There are traces of a reddish color in the hair.


Was Iran's Islamic Revolution another 'color revolution'? Evidence suggests Ayatollah Khomeini's father was a British agent


We can't vouch for the legitimacy of the photo on the right
The claim that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was born into a Jewish family appeared in the Daily Telegraph last week. His identity card, which he had proudly displayed to press cameras during the last election, when closely examined revealed his original family name as "Sabourjian" - meaning someone in the schmatte trade and usually denoting Jewish roots, because it refers specifically to the weaving of Jewish religious garments. A number of commentators felt that Ahmadinejad's fierce anti-Israeli sentiments now made sense. His father had converted to Islam in order to marry his Muslim mother and the son grew up with the zeal of a convert.

Will anyone in Iran believe the allegations, and will they care? And even then, can they do anything anyway? Ahmadinejad's unpopularity matters little at his point in a system founded on interlocking power blocs rather than popular consent. If the regime has any pretence to legitimacy left, it derives from the residual authority inherited from the cult of Ayatollah Khomeini.

What of Khomeini's legitimacy? Three years ago some astonishing documents came into my possession regarding that point. I have not been able to verify the allegations contained in them. The Internet bubbles and boils on the subject and fades into conspiracy with no concrete verdict. Quite simply, it needs further hard investigation in Iranian or Middle Eastern archives by qualified impartial researchers. No doubt they wouldn't survive long if they tried. So I offer the information raw, in the hope that others more qualified than myself will look further.

Comment: Even if the 'Khomeini-as-Brit' angle is baseless, we're still left with some unanswered questions regarding the 'Islamic revolution'. We know that Britain and the US supported Islamic extremists into power, before and since, so why would what happened in Iran in 1979 have been an exception?


Twelve statues of Jain Tirthankara idols dating early as 4th-5th century found near Hyderabad

© Wikipedia/ J.M.Garg
Temple at Keesaragutta in Keesara, Rangareddy district, Andhra Pradesh, India.
Twelve statues of Jain Tirthankara idols which could date back to as early as the 4th-5th century AD, have been found at Keesaragutta temple on the outskirts the Indian city of Hyderabad, Indian media reported on Tuesday.

"Twelve panchaloha idols of the Jain Tirthankaras were unearthed during the course of conservation work 18, while the pathways were being laid between two temples near steps at a depth of one foot," the media quotes the director of Archaeology and Museums (Telangana), B Srinivas as telling reporters.

Objects made from Panchaloha are composed of five metals of some sacred significance, and are often used for making Hindu temple idols.

"Twelve idols of varying sizes, along with loose circular prabharahs (auras), circular parasols of different sizes, pedestals and broken elephant have been found.


Anglo-Saxons left language, but maybe not genes to modern Britons

© T. Hartmann/Paleogenetics Laboratory, Mainz, Germany
San Diego - Britons might not be Anglo-Saxons, a genetic analysis of five ancient skeletons hints.

When archaeological digs revealed ancient graves on the grounds of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in Hinxton, England, researchers there took it as a sign that they should analyze the ancient people's DNA. Two skeletons were from men who were buried about 2,000 years ago. The other three skeletons were from women who died about 1,300 years ago, not long after the Anglo-Saxons invaded Britain.

The researchers were surprised to find that the older Iron Age men were genetically more similar to people living in Britain today than the Anglo-Saxon women were. Stephan Schiffels of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute reported the results October 20 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Human Genetics.

"It doesn't look like these Anglo-Saxon immigrants left a big impact on the genetic makeup of modern-day Britain," Schiffels said.

The finding raises an intriguing possibility that indigenous people in Britain may have repelled the Anglo-Saxons but adopted the invaders' language and culture, says Eimear Kenny, a population geneticist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City, who was not involved in the work. More ancient samples from other times and parts of Britain should give a clearer picture of that episode of history, she said.

Reference: S. Schiffels et al. Insights into British and European population history from ancient DNA sequencing of Iron Age and Anglo-Saxon samples from Hinxton, England. American Society of Human Genetics annual meeting, San Diego, October 20, 2014.


500-year-old traces of monster Hawaii tsunami discovered

A mighty tsunami at least three times the size of the destructive 1946 tsunami, its aftermath pictured here, hit Kauai about 500 years ago.
A powerful earthquake in Alaska sent towering waves up to 30 feet (9 meters) tall crashing down on Hawaii about 500 years ago, leaving behind fragments of coral, mollusk shells and coarse beach sand in a sinkhole located on the island of Kauai, new research finds.

The quake, likely a magnitude 9.0, sent the mighty waves toward Hawaii sometime between 1425 and 1665, the study found. It's possible that another large Alaskan earthquake could trigger a comparable tsunami on Hawaii's shores in the future, experts said.

The tsunami was at least three times the size of the damaging 1946 tsunami, which was driven by an 8.6-magnitude earthquake off the Aleutian Islands. Mammoth tsunamis, like the one described in the study, are rare, and likely happen once every thousand years.

There's a 0.1 percent chance it could happen in any given year, the same probability that northeastern Japan had for the 9.0-magnitude 2011 Tohoku earthquake and related tsunami, said Gerald Fryer, a geophysicist at the pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Ewa Beach, Hawaii, who was not involved in the study.

Results of the study have already prompted Honolulu officials to revise their tsunami evacuation maps, Fryer said. The new maps, which will affect nearly 1 million people who live in Honolulu County, would include more than twice the area of evacuation in some areas, Fryer said in a statement. County officials hope to distribute the new maps by the end of 2014, Fryer said.


King Tut re-creation presents a shocking image

A virtual reconstruction depicts King Tut at the time of death.
Tutankhamun's beautiful golden mask, the embodiment of a man secure in his power, has been flattering the pharaoh for many centuries, according to the most detailed image yet of the teenage king's face and body.

In the flesh, King Tut had a club foot, a pronounced overbite and girlish hips, says a "virtual autopsy" built using more than 2,000 computerized tomography (CT) scans of the pharaoh's body.

Built for the BBC documentary, Tutankhamun: the Truth Uncovered, the shocking 3-D computer model could shed new light on the death of the boy pharaoh at the age of 19.

Previous theories suggested King Tut may have died as a result of a chariot accident, but the virtual reconstruction showed a different scenario.

"It was important to look at his ability to ride on a chariot and we concluded it would not be possible for him, especially with his partially clubbed foot, as he was unable to stand unaided," Albert Zink, head of the Institute for Mummies and Icemen in Italy, told the U.K. daily The Independent.


Ebola panic echoes the 19th-century fear of cholera

© Graetz 1883/Historical Society of Pennsylvania
Fears of cholera coming.
On October 19th, an inspector sent north from London to Sunderland reported a long-awaited arrival: the first British case of cholera. It was 1831 and as part of a second pandemic cholera had again progressed from its Bengal heartland through Europe, before reaching the Baltic ports. It was only a matter of time.

The British public, informed by newspaper reports, were acquainted with the symptoms: profuse watery diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain and often death within a matter of hours. In advance of its arrival in Russia thousands fled from the cities. In Poland it was killing one in two victims. And unlike today, where oral rehydration solution can prevent dehydration and shock, there was no effective treatment.

Cholera was (and is) caused by vibrio cholerae bacteria and spread by poor sanitation and unsafe drinking water. Although most people infected do not develop symptoms the bacteria remain present in faeces for one to two weeks after infection and contamination can go on to infect others.

In 1831, the conditions in which the second pandemic spread (there were six in total between 1817 and 1923) were little different to those in which Ebola is travelling today. And indeed there are some interesting parallels - from the developing official response, to riots and suspicion of the medical community.

The government's reaction as cholera made its way through Europe was to wait and see; although there was a greater degree of protection as an island then - with fewer travellers coming and going than we see today - a traditional quarantine policy would never have been 100% reliable. Screening ships' passengers and crews would not, as is happening with Ebola, have picked up the newly infected, although this was considered. Quarantine was seen as a greater risk to economic prosperity than the disease was to human life.


6,000-year-old temple with possible sacrificial altars discovered in Ukraine

© Nataliya Burdo and Mykhailo Videiko
A temple dating back about 6,000 years has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine.
A 6,000-year-old temple holding human-like figurines and sacrificed animal remains has been discovered within a massive prehistoric settlement in Ukraine.

Built before writing was invented, the temple is about 60 by 20 meters (197 by 66 feet) in size. It was a "two-story building made of wood and clay surrounded by a galleried courtyard," the upper floor divided into five rooms, write archaeologists Nataliya Burdo and Mykhailo Videiko in a copy of a presentation they gave recently at the European Association of Archaeologists' annual meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.

Inside the temple, archaeologists found the remains of eight clay platforms, which may have been used as altars, the finds suggested. A platform on the upper floor contains "numerous burnt bones of lamb, associated with sacrifice," write Burdo and Videiko, of the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. The floors and walls of all five rooms on the upper floor were "decorated by red paint, which created [a] ceremonial atmosphere."

The ground floor contains seven additional platforms and a courtyard riddled with animal bones and pottery fragments, the researchers found.