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Wed, 24 Aug 2016
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Cow Skull

The mysterious "accidental mummies" of medieval Siberia

© The Siberian Times, Natalya Fyodorova/Kate Baklitskaya/Go East
Russian archaeologists are once again digging at Zeleniy Yar, a remote excavation site near the Arctic circle. This same site produced nearly a dozen extraordinary mummies a few years ago - including unintentionally preserved corpses wearing copper masks. The researchers are now hoping to learn more about this mysterious northern community.

Magic Wand

Blood moon: Lunar eclipse myths from around the world

Marauding demons, murderous pets, and ravenous jaguars are just some of the culprits that cultures around the world have blamed for the moon's disappearance during lunar eclipses.
© Leonard De Selva, Corbis
The Inca feared that a lunar eclipse was caused by a jaguar attacking the moon. They'd try to drive it away by making noise, including beating their dogs to make them howl and bark.
During the night of April 14 through April 15, the first total lunar eclipse in more than two years will be visible across North and South America, and from Hawaii. (See "Viewing Guide: Watch Moon Turn Red During Total Lunar Eclipse.")

While such celestial events are celebrated today with viewing parties, road trips, and astronomy talks, eclipses haven't always been events that people looked forward to.


The Vatican's ancient texts go online

Japanese Tech Firm NTT is scanning the ancient texts in the Vatican Apostolic Library

This copy of Homer's Iliad in ancient Greek and Latin dates from the 15th century.
Almost 600 years after Pope Nicholas V founded the Vatican Apostolic Library, the Holy See is now turning to 50 experts, five scanners and a Japanese IT firm to digitize millions of pages from its priceless manuscripts, opening them to the broader public for the first time.

When the project is finished, one of the richest and most important collections of historical texts in the world will be available with a click of the mouse - and free.

The plan marks a revolution for an institution known as the Popes' Library, which houses more than 82,000 manuscripts, some dating back to the second century. Scholars must now submit a detailed request to gain access to the library, which sits within the Vatican walls. The most precious works of art, such as a 1,600-year old manuscript displaying Virgil's poems once studied by Raphael, have been mostly off-limits.


How the CIA used 'Doctor Zhivago' as a tool to undermine Soviet Union during Cold War

© Associated Press/Harold K. Milks
Soviet writer and poet Boris Pasternak near his home in the countryside outside Moscow on Oct. 23, 1958
A secret package arrived at CIA headquarters in January 1958. Inside were two rolls of film from British intelligence - pictures of the pages of a Russian-language novel titled "Doctor Zhivago."

The book, by poet Boris Pasternak, had been banned from publication in the Soviet Union. The British were suggesting that the CIA get copies of the novel behind the Iron Curtain. The idea immediately gained traction in Washington.

"This book has great propaganda value," a CIA memo to all branch chiefs of the agency's Soviet Russia Division stated, "not only for its intrinsic message and thought-provoking nature, but also for the circumstances of its publication: we have the opportunity to make Soviet citizens wonder what is wrong with their government, when a fine literary work by the man acknowledged to be the greatest living Russian writer is not even available in his own country in his own language for his own people to read."

The memo is one of more than 130 newly declassified CIA documents that detail the agency's secret involvement in the printing of Doctor Zhivago - an audacious plan that helped deliver the book into the hands of Soviet citizens who later passed it friend to friend, allowing it to circulate in Moscow and other cities in the Eastern Bloc. The book's publication and, later, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature to Pasternak triggered one of the great cultural storms of the Cold War.


Gospel of Jesus' wife is no forgery, experts rule

© Karen L. King 2012
Gospel of Jesus' Wife: front.
The Gospel of Jesus' Wife, a papyrus fragment of Coptic script containing a suggestion that Jesus may have been married, is an ancient document, and not a modern forgery, says a paper published in the Harvard Theological Review on Tuesday.

Tests by teams of engineering, biology, and chemistry professors from Columbia University, Harvard University, and MIT indicate the papyrus dates to between the sixth and ninth centuries, and possibly as far back as the second to fourth centuries.

The brownish-yellow, tattered fragment, about 1 1/2 inches by 3 inches, caused international uproar when it was presented at a conference in Rome in September 2012 by Harvard Professor Karen L. King.

Written in Coptic, a language of ancient Egyptian Christians, the fragment appears to be a broken conversation between Jesus and his disciples.

The center of the business-card-sized papyrus, which features just eight lines of text on the front and six lines on the back, contained the bombshell phrase "Jesus said to them, 'My wife ...'

"She will be able to be my disciple," said the next line. And then: "I dwell with her."

Dismissed as a "clumsy forgery" by the Vatican newspaper, the Gospel of Jesus' Wife was widely debated by scholars. Skepticism abounded, with several experts arguing over the document's poor grammar and its uncertain provenance.

But according to Harvard Divinity School, "none of the testing has produced any evidence that the fragment is a modern fabrication or forgery."


Disease, beauty tips and jewellery exposed: Secrets of Egyptian mummies in the CT scanner

The "astonishingly well preserved" Egyptian singer Tamut wore a glamorous wig, was adorned with amulets but suffered furred arteries and may have died of a heart attack

For a stylish Ancient Egyptian lady the thought of appearing in public without her wig may have proved horrifying.

But the intimate details of Tamut, a singer in a temple in Luxor, will be displayed for the first time in a groundbreaking exhibition at the British Museum, including her shorn locks.

Archaeologists have used the latest technology to scan Tamut's mummified body and discovered a wealth of new information, including that she suffered from furred arteries and may have died of a heart attack or a stroke.
© Geoff Pugh
On her exquisitely painted grave wrappings, Tamut, who lived around 900BC, is shown as a young woman with dark, flowing hair.

But archeologists found she was probably around 40 years old, with a cropped urchin-like hair cut and was suffering the effects of a poor diet.

The museum's director Neil MacGregor said technology was becoming so advanced that within five years it would even be possible to find out what her singing voice sounded like.


Napoleon's penis size confirmed: teeny weeny

© Independent
The political and military leader was right to have his famous complex
Poor Napoleon. Nearly two centuries after his death, it has been confirmed that the French military and political leader had a "very small" penis, measured at a modest one-and-a-half inches.

In what sounds like a very morbid, yet compelling, new Channel 4 series, Dead Famous DNA aims to find the remains of history's most famous figures - from Hitler's hair and Elvis's DNA to Napoleon and his penis. Presenter Mark Evans travelled to New Jersey to find the artifact, which now belongs to Evan Lattimer - who was given it by his father, a renowned urologist, after it was bought at a Paris auction for $3,000. The relic is known among the Lattimer family as "Napoleon's Item".

"Dad believed that urology should be proper and decent and not a joke," said Lattimer. "It's very small, but it's famous for being small. It's perfect structurally, the university have done X-rays and examinations and it's obviously what it is."


One million buried in mass graves on forbidden New York island

© Agence France-Presse
Most New Yorkers don't even know it exists. But a million forgotten souls are buried in mass graves dug by convicts on a tiny, forbidden island east of the Bronx.

Since 1869, still-born babies, the homeless, the poor and the unclaimed have been stacked one upon the other, three coffins deep, on Hart Island.

Corpses are interned in great, anonymous trenches. There are no tombstones. Small white posts in the ground mark each 150 adult bodies. A thousand children and infants are buried together per grave.


No bones about it: Technology made ancient humans less active

© Ann Ross, North Carolina State University
Two femur, or thigh, bones.
Human bones can serve as a historical record of their owners' lifestyles, and now ancient human skeletons from Central Europe may reveal how humans shifted from rugged nomads to plow-pushers, researchers say.

Leg bones of people living in the Danube River valley became weaker after 5,300 B.C., around the time when agriculture emerged in Europe, a new study suggests. The decline was most noticeable in men's bones, but both sexes lost bone strength.

The bones show "it was initially men who were performing the majority of high-mobility tasks, probably associated with tending crops and livestock," study researcher Alison Macintosh, an anthropologist at Cambridge University in England, said in a statement.

But with the rise of technological innovation, tasks became less strenuous and people became less mobile, so leg bones got weaker, said Macintosh, who will present her findings at a meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists in Calgary, Alberta, this week.


Intense, frequent storms of The Little Ice Age

With the recent run of stormy weather in the UK, it is worth reflecting on just how stormy it was during the Little Ice Age, and even before.

Brian Fagan, in his book "The Little Ice Age", states that,"throughout Europe, the years 1560-1600 were cooler and stormier, with late wine harvests and considerably stronger winds than those of the 20th Century. Storm activity increased by 85% in the second half of the 16th Century and the incidence of severe storms rose by 400%.".

HH Lamb comes to similar conclusions, "there was a greater intensity, and a greater frequency, of intense storm development during the Little Ice Age", in his book "Historic Storms of the North Sea, British Isles and Northwest Europe".