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Tue, 26 Jul 2016
The World for People who Think

Secret History
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Book 2

How China is rewriting the book on human origins

Fossil finds in China are challenging ideas about the evolution of modern humans and our closest relatives


On the outskirts of Beijing, a small limestone mountain named Dragon Bone Hill rises above the surrounding sprawl. Along the northern side, a path leads up to some fenced-off caves that draw 150,000 visitors each year, from schoolchildren to grey-haired pensioners. It was here, in 1929, that researchers discovered a nearly complete ancient skull that they determined was roughly half a million years old. Dubbed Peking Man, it was among the earliest human remains ever uncovered, and it helped to convince many researchers that humanity first evolved in Asia.

Since then, the central importance of Peking Man has faded. Although modern dating methods put the fossil even earlier — at up to 780,000 years old — the specimen has been eclipsed by discoveries in Africa that have yielded much older remains of ancient human relatives. Such finds have cemented Africa's status as the cradle of humanity — the place from which modern humans and their predecessors spread around the globe — and relegated Asia to a kind of evolutionary cul-de-sac.

But the tale of Peking Man has haunted generations of Chinese researchers, who have struggled to understand its relationship to modern humans. "It's a story without an ending," says Wu Xinzhi, a palaeontologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences' Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in Beijing. They wonder whether the descendants of Peking Man and fellow members of the species Homo erectus died out or evolved into a more modern species, and whether they contributed to the gene pool of China today.

Comment: Further reading:


Magnify

Mainstream acknowledges Hitler never killed himself, was allowed to escape to South America and die an old man

Long considered the purely fictitious musings of conspiracy theorists, rumors Adolf Hitler did not die in a murder-suicide pact with his newlywed, Eva Braun — but instead escaped to live under the radar in South America — might actually hold weight, after all.

Officially, whatever worth that could offer, Hitler met his fate with a gunshot to the head, while Braun ingested cyanide in a subterranean bunker on April 30, 1945, as the Allies finally quashed the Nazis. Forces then burned their bodies and the pair was subsequently buried in a shallow grave nearby.

But what if this narrative had merely been a comfortable cover spoon fed the public to mask the Führer actually being whisked away in a shadowy plot to ensure he wouldn't fall into the clutches of advancing Soviets?

If the thought perhaps seems a bit 'tin-foily' for your taste, first consider the United States' morals-thwarting Operation Paperclip.

Nearly 500 Nazi scientists — particularly those specializing in aerodynamics, rocketry, chemical weapons and reaction technology, and medicine — were secreted to White Sands Proving Ground in New Mexico; Huntsville, Alabama; and Texas' Fort Bliss without even the knowledge of the State Department. As obvious security threats and war criminals, those scientists wouldn't have qualified for visas through official channels — but the government, foregoing ethical implications in pursuit of their knowledge, indeed facilitated safe passage to the U.S.

Comment: See also: Hitler - Committed suicide or escaped to Latin America?


Pyramid

Ancient logbook documenting Great Pyramid's construction unveiled

© Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities
Here, one of the papyri in the ancient logbook, which documented the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
A logbook that contains records detailing the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza has been put on public display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo.

The Great Pyramid of Giza was built in honor of the pharaoh Khufu (reign ca. 2551 B.C.-2528 B.C.) and is the largest of the three pyramids constructed on the Giza plateau in Egypt. Considered a "wonder of the world" by ancient writers, the Great Pyramid was 481 feet (146 meters) tall when it was first constructed. Today it stands 455 feet (138 meters) high.

The logbook was written in hieroglyphic letters on pieces of papyri. Its author was an inspector named Merer, who was "in charge of a team of about 200 men," archaeologists Pierre Tallet and Gregory Marouard wrote in an article published in 2014 in the journal Near Eastern Archaeology.

Comment: Related articles:


Nuke

Empire Files: 100 years of war experimentation using American soldiers as lab rats

© telSur
Abby Martin examines how the U.S. military-industrial complex has contaminated the health and lives of countless soldiers over the years.

The latest episode of teleSUR's Empire Files looks into decades of experimentation on U.S. troops — from nuclear tests to psychotropic drugs — as well as knowingly exposing them to deadly poisons, from sarin gas to Agent Orange.

Abby Martin delves into the decades of abuse perpetrated by the U.S. dating back to post-WWII, servicemen were subjected to countless, clandestine "tests" on the effects of radiation exposure.

In this same period, lobotomies were performed on 2,000 soldiers, for things like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, and even homosexuality. The procedure left these soldiers as little more than oversized children.

"There was never any accountability for destroying the lives and minds of thousands of soldiers," Martin explains.

Map

1958 Alaska: The Lituya Bay 1720 ft. Tsunami

© Geology.com
Fifty years ago this week, the Great Alaska Earthquake ravaged the Pacific Northwest, killing more than 100 people. Nine-tenths of those weren't caused by the earthquake, though, but by a series of tsunamis that pummeled the coast, one of which towered 219 feet (66 meters) high.

They come taller than that, though. The 1958 tsunami that ripped through Lituya Bay, a sleepy fjord near the Gulf of Alaska, was eight times bigger. And though its causes make it different from the far-traveling waves that slammed Southeast Asia in 2004 or Japan in 2011, the warming of the atmosphere will make both types become more common.

Beaker

The world's first farmers had surprisingly diverse genetics

© Vahid Salemi/Associated Press
Zoroastrians, who practice Iran’s ancient religion, still carry DNA from the earliest farmers in the Zagros Mountains.
Ancient DNA has a way of uncovering complexity in seemingly simple stories of our past. Most famously, it has shown that modern humans didn't simply replace our archaic cousins as we spread across the world; we interbred with them along the way. Now, this method is adding nuance to the story of farming, long known to have originated in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.

According to three teams who used new techniques to gain glimpses of the nuclear DNA of the world's very first farmers, farming was adopted not by one group of people, but by genetically distinct groups scattered across the region. "It was not one early population that sowed the seeds of farming in western Asia, but several adjacent populations that all had the good fortune to live in the zone where potential plant and animal domesticates were to be found and exploited," says archaeologist Colin Renfrew of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, who was not involved in the work.

The research—a paper published online in Science this week and two studies posted last month on the bioRxiv server—can't pin down whether agriculture spread quickly among diverse peoples or was independently invented more than once. But the diversity of the first farmers is "very surprising," says statistical geneticist Garrett Hellenthal of University College London, a co-author of the Science paper. "These early farmers who lived pretty close to each other were completely different."

Top Secret

Remembering the United Nations & Canadian role in deposing and assassinating Patrice Lumumba

56 years ago today the United Nations launched a peacekeeping force that contributed to one of the worst post-independence imperial crimes in Africa. The Organisation des Nations Unies au Congo (ONUC) delivered a major blow to Congolese aspirations by undermining elected Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Canada played a significant role in ONUC and Lumumba's assassination, which should be studied by progressives demanding Ottawa increase its participation in UN "peacekeeping".

After seven decades of brutal rule, Belgium organized a hasty independence in the hopes of maintaining control over the Congo's vast natural resources. When Lumumba was elected to pursue a genuine de-colonization, Brussels instigated a secessionist movement in the eastern part of country. In response, the Congolese Prime Minister asked the UN for a peacekeeping force to protect the territorial integrity of the newly independent country. Washington, however, saw the UN mission as a way to undermine Lumumba.

Comment: Behind the Headlines: Assassinated Heroes
The pages of human history are not only long, they are largely redacted and distorted in a way that not only bolsters the official history of the righteous rule of the 'elite', but simultaneously covers up their long-term corruption and criminality. Those same pages are also replete with, and at times defined by, iconic and notable figures who rose to positions of either power or notoriety (or both) by either chance or design.

Some historical figures are lauded as heroes or even saviors, while others are remembered only as a warning of what can happen when human potential goes horribly awry. Yet, more often than not, when the true details of their lives are subjected to close and objective scrutiny, even the lauded heroes of history fall from grace to one degree or another.

There are however, a vanishingly small group of historical figures who, when scrutinized in the same way, provoke precisely the opposite effect; they are revealed to be true, and largely unsung, heroes. This details of their lives, and their deaths, tell a story of their ultimately unrealized potential to not only change human society for the better but to serve as role models for us all.



Flashlight

Bronze age settlement destroyed by fire has remained intact for 3000 years, preserving remarkable record of ordinary life

© Cambridge Archaeological Unit
At Must Farm quarry in Cambridgeshire, archaeologists work on the site of a Bronze Age settlement destroyed in a fire 3,000 years ago.
Most likely, a raiding party torched the village. Flames raced through the wooden roundhouses so quickly that the inhabitants fled without their belongings. The scorched remains, perched on stilts, eventually collapsed into the river below. Buried in silt, the debris remained intact for 3000 years, preserving a remarkable record of ordinary life in the Late Bronze Age.

Now, this history is coming to light. Archaeologists will wrap up a £1.4 million excavation next week and begin the years-long work of analyzing the site's many artifacts. At a media tour in Whittlesey, U.K., today, they unveiled some of the homes' contents, including textiles, intact pottery, and metal tools such as axes and chisels. "It's the best Bronze Age settlement ever found in the United Kingdom," said Mark Knight, project manager with the Cambridge Archaeological Unit (CAU) in the United Kingdom, a contract firm that has done the excavation. "We may have to wait a hundred years before we find an equivalent."

In the United Kingdom, the Bronze Age began between 4500 and 4000 years ago with the expansion of large monuments like Stonehenge. By the Late Bronze Age, farming was a focus of innovation. People developed extensive systems of fields and dug watering holes for livestock. Life wasn't entirely bucolic; bronze swords and spears at many sites testify to a threat of violence. But domestic details are scarce. Little is left of Bronze Age houses except postholes and hearths.

The first clues that Must Farm, about 120 kilometers north of London, might reveal more were oak posts poking from beds of clay at a brick quarry. Tree ring analysis dated the posts to 1290 to 1250 B.C.E, and excitement grew when preliminary digs unearthed intact pottery and rare Bronze Age textiles. Wooden boats hinted at the vast wetlands that once covered the region.

Wolf

2,000-year-old dog graveyard discovered near the Arctic Circle in Siberia

© University of Alberta/Robert Losey
Archaeologists have discovered a prehistoric dog graveyard at a 2,000-year-old village near the Arctic Circle in Russia's Siberia.
The carefully buried remains of five dogs were recently found in a 2,000-year-old doggy graveyard near the Arctic Circle in Siberia, according to archaeologists. This discovery at the Ust-Polui archaeological site, in Salekhard, Russia, reveals close relationships between the region's people and their animal "best friends" two millennia B.C. The dogs likely served as pets, workers and sources of food — and possibly as sacrificial offerings in religious ceremonies, the researchers said.

"The role of dogs at Ust-Polui is really complex and variable," Robert Losey, an archaeologist at the University of Alberta in Canada, wrote in an email to Live Science from Salekhard, where he is carrying out fieldwork at Ust-Polui. "The most striking thing is that the dog remains are really abundant compared to all other sites in the Arctic — there are over 115 dogs represented at the site," Losey said. "Typically, sites have only a few dog remains — 10 at most."

Working dogs

The dogs were likely involved in various tasks in the ancient Arctic village, including pulling sleds, he said. The remains of two sleds, as well as a carved bone knife handle thought to depict a sled dog in a harness, have been found at the site.

"Some [dogs] were probably also used in hunting, for reindeer and birds, the remains of which were both abundant at the site," Losey said. Parts of a reindeer harness had also been found at Ust-Polui, he added, and dogs may have been used to herd reindeer, as is still done today by some communities in the region.

Pistol

Turkey's troubled history of unrest and military coups

© Murad Sezer / Reuters
Turkey has experienced several coups since 1960.
Since becoming a republic in 1923, Turkey has undergone several coups due to a constitution that states the military are not beholden to the country's political leaders. The most recent attempt continues a history of unrest between politicians and the military.

The Republic's first president, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, implemented an ideology known as "Kemalism" in order to distinguish the new state from its Ottoman predecessor. Under Kemalism, religion is separate from the state, including with respect to education and culture.

The military have historically viewed themselves as guardians of this ideology, with the freedom to intervene when it is perceived as being under threat.

Comment: For more information and updates on the current situation in Turkey, see: Breaking news: Military coup under way in Turkey - Jets, troops, helicopters surround government buildings