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Wed, 26 Oct 2016
The World for People who Think

Secret History


The Mayans were tracking the planets long before Copernicus

© Alexander von Humboldt/Wikimedia Commons
An ancient Mayan Text called the Dresden Codex contains detailed recordings of the phases of Venus in its Venus Table, on pages 46 to 50. Data in the Venus Table may have been gathered by astronomers to help time ritual events with the cycles of the planet.
An ancient Mayan text captured the moment when a royal astronomer made a scientific discovery about the movement of Venus across the night sky.

The text, called the Dresden Codex, contains laborious measurements of the rising and setting of Venus. Based on these recordings, historians can now place this astronomer within a 25-year span within the first half of the 10th century.

"We can see the moment when this person puts it all together," said Gerardo Aldana, a science historian in the Department of Chicano Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara and a co-author of a new study describing the findings.


The U.S. military planned a nuclear first strike against Russia during the 1960s

Several years ago, my articles advocating a large hike in the minimum wage caught the attention of James Galbraith, the prominent liberal economist, and we became a little friendly. As president of Economists for Peace and Security, he invited me to speak on those issues at his DC conference in late 2013. And after the presentations, he arranged a meeting with a friend of his, influential in DC political circles, at which the two of us could present my minimum wage proposals.

While we were waiting for the taxi to take us to that meeting, I heard him quietly discussing a few other matters with a friend standing next to him. Phrases such as "attacking Russia," "a nuclear first strike," and "Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs" came to my ears. I can't recall the exact words, but the conversation stuck in my mind both at the time and on my later flight home that evening, and although I hadn't mentioned anything, I wondered what remarkable historical facts he had been discussing. His father, the legendary economist John Kenneth Galbraith, had spent decades as one of America's most prominent public intellectuals and was a very influential figure in the Kennedy Administration, so I assumed that he was not merely engaging in casual speculation.

Finally, a week or two later, my curiosity got the better of me, and I dropped him a note, gingerly raising the topic I'd accidentally overheard. I suggested that if he possessed any private information regarding so astonishing a possibility—that the Kennedy Administration might have considered a nuclear first strike against the USSR—perhaps he had a duty to bring the facts to public awareness lest they be lost to history.

He replied that he'd indeed found persuasive evidence that the US military had carefully planned a nuclear first strike against the Soviet Union in the early 1960s, and agreed about the historical importance. But he'd already published an article laying out the case. Twenty years earlier. In The American Prospect, a very respectable though liberal-leaning magazine.


Mysterious unbreakable Voynich Manuscript to be reproduced and distributed by Spanish publisher

© Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library/Wikimedia
A page from the mysterious Voynich manuscript, which is undeciphered to this day.
A mysterious Renaissance-era manuscript filled with an unknown coded language is due to be reproduced and distributed by a Spanish publisher following the company's 10-year campaign to secure the deal.

No cryptographer in the world has managed to decipher the Voynich Manuscript, which is an eclectic mix of intricate writing and bizarre drawings of nude women, flowers, herbs and constellations.

The book's author, origin, date and language remains a mystery, although it's thought to have been written in Central Europe between the 15th and 16th century - it's named after the Polish-American bookseller, Wilfrid M. Voynich, who acquired it in 1912.

Speculation as to who or what could have written the book varies from the extraterrestrial to the magical, with some wondering if it's nothing more than the work of jokester who scrolled some jibberish. Whatever their views on its origins, many have craved the chance to get their hands on the priceless piece of literature and study it in detail.

Mexican plants could break code on Voynich manuscript

New signs of language surface in mystery Voynich text

University of Arizona scientists carbon-date mysterious Renaissance-era document


Found grave of Siberian noblewoman up to 4,500 years old

Undisturbed by pillaging grave robbers, the burial site of the woman, also containing the remains of a child, offers a wealth of clues about the life of these ancient people.
Her treasures include an incense burner decorated by solar symbols, 1,500 beads that once adorned her costume, and 100 pendants made from animal teeth.

The intriguing find of the remains of a 'noblewoman' from the ancient Okunev Culture was made in the Republic of Khakassia.

The Okunev people are seen as the Siberian ethnic grouping most closely related to Native Americans. In other words, it was ancestors of the Okunevs who populated America, evidently using primitive boats to venture to the ice-covered Beringia land bridge some 12,600 years ago.

The mysterious ancient culture was 'unparalleled' in Siberia in terms of its artistic richness and diversity, according to experts.

Undisturbed by pillaging grave robbers, the burial site of the woman, also containing the remains of a child, offers a wealth of clues about the life of these ancient people.


25 years since the failed coup that ended the Soviet Union

© www.rt.com
Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, right, and Vice President Gennady Yanayev, left.
The junta that tried to seize power in the Soviet Union on August 18-21, 1991, is one of the most inept in the history of palace coups. Not only did it fail to take power, but it also brought about the opposite of its aims - the collapse of the USSR.

The coup was triggered by the New Union Treaty, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's stillborn, last-ditch attempt to save the USSR. The union was in the midst of an uncontrollable collapse of its command economy and being torn apart by its increasingly-nationalist minorities. With six Soviet republics, led by the Baltic States, already virtually seceding over the previous year, and upstart Boris Yeltsin threatening to marginalize Gorbachev in Moscow, the perestroika ideologist attempted to consolidate the remaining nine members into a new, looser confederacy of autonomous states.

"I thought that the worst instability was behind us at the time," Gorbachev said on the eve of the anniversary of the attempted coup, insisting that he still has no regrets over the plan. "There would have been difficult times ahead, but nothing like the momentous suffering caused by the economic reforms undertaken after the breakup of the country."

Yet while Gorbachev drew up new borders, destined to remain only as historical curios, his hard-line opponents saw a different picture - that he was simply paving the way for the dissolution of the country, not striking the workable compromise that he intended. "The treaty was an act of treason," Vasily Starodubtsev, one of the plotters, said simply when interviewed years later.

The 1991 Soviet coupt d'etat attempt, also known as the August Putsch.


Danes stumble upon mysterious WW1 German submarine

© Wikipedia
A surprising find of an ancient submarine loaded with weaponry on the seabed of the North Sea prompted Danish Maritime Authority to issue a prohibition on fishing and diving in the area.

The ban on fishing, diving or dropping anchor anywhere within a radius of 1,000 meters from the old wreckage came after Danish Maritime Authority and Defense Ministry received a warning from a team of divers, who found a WW1 submarine with unexploded mines and torpedoes on board.

On board the wreck there are 18 fully-intact mines and six torpedoes, Gert Normann Andersen, director of Sea War Museum Jutland and diving company JD-Contractor, which carried out the expedition, told the Danish tabloid newspaper BT. According to him, this is a rare find.


Amazingly intact 18th century shipwreck discovered on bed of Lake Ontario

© shipwreckworld / YouTube
A trio of senior 'shipwreck hunters' have found a superbly-preserved trading boat which sank some 213 years ago at the bottom of Lake Ontario.

The 16-meter (53ft) Washington is believed to be the oldest commercial vessel ever discovered in one of the Great Lakes. It has remained in good condition because the deep, cold waters which surround it contain low oxygen levels, so its wood hasn't rotted to any great extent.

Built in 1797 in Pennsylvania, it was the first known boat to sail on both Lake Erie and Lake Ontario and would typically transport furs.

The ship's final voyage was a November 1803 attempt to travel from from Kingston in Ontario to Niagara. A violent storm sank the vessel and killed all five men on board.


DNA reveals Ötzi the Iceman's clothes were made from many different animals

© OetziTheIceman /Flickr CC
A reconstruction of Ötzi the Iceman at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology.
Since 1991, when the 5,300-year-old mummy commonly known as Ötzi was discovered atop a mountain in the Italian Alps, researchers have studied every inch of his remarkably preserved remains. Scientists have uncovered hints as to what he ate, how he lived, diseases he suffered from and even how he died.

While Ötzi's frozen body has provided a wealth of knowledge about the lives of ancient Europeans, there are still many limits to what researchers can learn about him. Of particular interest is the species of animals that lent their hides for Ötzi to wear. After being frozen in ice for millennia, the hair and leather samples are too damaged for archaeologists to analyze with standard DNA techniques.

But using new analysis methods, scientists have unlocked a trove of information from the Copper Age man. They describe their results in a study published today in the journal Scientific Reports.

"Just based on the hair or just based on the type of leather, it's not easy sometimes to come down to the species level," microbiologist Frank Maixner, one of the study's authors, tells Smithsonian.com. "It was clear to have a little bit more insight, we had to go for the DNA."

In order to learn more about Ötzi's fashion choices, Maixner and his colleagues at the European Academy of Bozen/Bolzano (EURAC) used a form of DNA analysis that relies on markers found in mitochondrial DNA. While most DNA is stored in chromosomes within cells, mitochondria contain a tiny piece of their own DNA. It's a small fraction of the total human genome, but for the scientists, it was enough to pinpoint several animals that Ötzi turned into specific pieces of clothes.


Cold War: US mulled storing secret nukes in unwitting Iceland, considered a deployment location option for WWIII

© Wikipedia
Keflavik Naval Air Station
Newly declassified documents dating back to the Cold War era show US authorities contemplated storing nuclear weapons in Iceland in the 1950s-60s without alerting the country's authorities. Recently declassified State Department documents obtained by the National Security Archive show that US government officials debated using Iceland, where they had a then-operational naval air station in Keflavik, as an "atomic base," including through "secret deployments."

A letter from the US ambassador to Iceland at that time, Tyler Thompson, dated August 1960, shows the Icelandic authorities inquired whether US "nuclear weapons were kept at Keflavik or carried through it in transit." Despite all references to Iceland being deleted from Thompson's letter, as this archival release shows, his signature and a daily staff summary from the US State Department, dated June 1960, which refers to the letter, indicate that Iceland was the site on the agenda.

In his letter, Thompson opposes the plan to use Iceland as a nuclear storage site, especially without alerting the authorities. He calls the plan a mistake, but the letter itself indicates that internal discussions were held on the matter.

Thompson warns of a "dramatic row" which could "be expected to have an unfortunate effect on our friends and allies, to affect adversely our interests as far as neutrals are concerned, and to provide a propaganda field day for our enemies" if Reykjavik learned about a secret deployment of nuclear weapons. The ambassador also appears concerned that Iceland could withdraw itself from NATO "in protest" against such deployment. In the end, these concerns won out and the plan was scrapped.

Comment: The National Security Archive reported 27 nuclear deployment sites. Nine were listed in the appendix; 18 were redacted and subsequently Belgium, Greece, Italy, Netherlands and Turkey were disclosed. Iwo Jima was later identified as an actual deployment site. Iceland was considered a 'conditional' deployment location in the event of war. Go here for the list of documents and synopses.


Newly discovered Hindu epic Ramayana portrays Indian gods more as humans

© Wikimedia Commons
Lord Rama and Sita.
A different version of the integral Hindu epic Ramayana, written by Valmiki has been extracted from a Sanskrit library in Kolkata. As much as it has moved the scholars who found it, it might as well widen the readers' horizon.

Last year in December, the manuscript was found by accident at the Asiatic Society Library by scholars who were researching on Vanhi Purana of the 6th century. The scholars were searching through a global informational storage known as Catalogus Catalogorum, where they found that a manuscript of the other version of Ramayana was tucked at the 100-year-old Samskrita Sahitya Parishad, Kolkata.

This version of Ramayana is different from the one widely read by people out of its difference that this manuscript talks more about the separation of Sita and Lord Rama as a husband and wife than the separation of father and son. Ram and Sita have also been portrayed more as humans than God and goddess, mentioned indiadivine.org report.

The scholars found the second manuscript of Vanhi Purana in the library's archives, and analysed the slokas that they were different yet familiar to Ramayana, for the story revolves around Ram, Sita, and Ravana. This manuscript, the Dasa Griba Rakshash Charitram Vadha, was perhaps a result of various interpolations.