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Wyatt Earp Myth: America's most famous vigilante was actually a horse thief and con man

© Bettmann/CorbisWyatt Earp, circa 1882.
Wyatt Earp is one of America's most famous vigilantes who delivered justice the American way - except it's all a lie. Biographer Andrew Isenberg on how Earp built this myth and its dangerous echoes through American history.

Eighty-five years ago in Los Angeles, the Western lawman Wyatt Earp, who participated in an infamous gunfight in Tombstone, Arizona, in 1881, met with an aspiring screenwriter, Stuart Lake, and began to dictate his memoirs. Four years later, Lake sold the screen rights to Earp's story to Fox, and the first of what would be dozens of Earp films went into production.

By now, most Americans have learned what they know of Wyatt Earp from the screen. Older viewers may have first learned of Earp in 1957 from Gunfight at the OK Corral, which starred Burt Lancaster, or, between 1955 and 1961, from the ABC television program The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp, starring Hugh O'Brian. Younger Americans know Earp from 1993's Tombstone, with Kurt Russell as Earp, or 1994's Wyatt Earp, starring Kevin Costner. Harrison Ford is reportedly planning to play Earp in a film adaptation of the 2007 novel Black Hats.

Over the decades, film and television has told a consistent narrative about Earp. According to the screen, he reluctantly pinned on a badge and was drawn into the Tombstone gunfight because of his sense of duty, his unshakable commitment to law and order, and his loyalty to his brothers, also lawmen. After the gunfight resulted in the deaths of three cowboys, the dead men's allies exacted their revenge on the Earps by shooting two of Wyatt's brothers in the back, killing one and crippling the other. Despairing of bringing the men responsible to justice in the frontier courts, Earp, wearing a deputy U.S. marshal's badge, hunted down and killed some of the men he deemed responsible.

Some screen treatments admit some flaws in Earp's character, yet all of the films condone Earp's vigilante killings. Justice, in this view, is found not in fickle courtrooms, but in the character of stalwarts such as Earp, who possess an innate sense of law and order. It is a view that suggests, to paraphrase Mao, that justice grows out of the barrel of a gun.

Fireball 4

Remembering the Great Meteor Procession of 1860

"Year of meteors! Brooding year!" - Walt Whitman
The Meteor of 1860
© Frederic Church, courtesy of Judith Filenbaum HernstadtPainting of The Meteor of 1860 by Hudson River School artist Frederic Church.
July 20th is a red letter date in space history. Apollo 11, the first crewed landing on the Moon, took place on this day in 1969. Viking 1 also made the first successful landing on Mars, seven years later to the day in 1976.

A remarkable astronomical event also occurred over the northeastern United States 153 years ago today on the night of July 20th, known as the Great Meteor Procession of 1860. And with it came a mystery of poetry, art and astronomy that was only recently solved in 2010.

A meteor procession occurs when an incoming meteor breaks up upon reentry into our atmosphere at an oblique angle. The result can be a spectacular display, leaving a brilliant glowing train in its wake. Unlike early morning meteors that are more frequent and run into the Earth head-on as it plows along in its orbit, evening meteors are rarer and have to approach the Earth from behind. In contrast, these often leave slow and stately trains as they move across the evening sky, struggling to keep up with the Earth.


Nok's 500BC terracotta heads

Terracotta Heads
© National Mirror, Nigeria
Nok village is located in Kaduna State. It is about 160 kilometres northeast of Baro. The Nok civilisation was discovered in 1943 due to tin mining that was happening in the area and earned its name due to the Nok civilisation that used to inhabit the area from around 500 BC. Mysteriously the people of the village vanished in about 200 AD.

These people were known for their extremely advanced social system and were the earliest producers of life-sized Terracotta in the Sub-Sahara. Hugely historical, archaeologists have found human skeletons, stone tools and rock paintings around this area, not to mention the main act. The inhabitants of what is now called Nok Village, were known to make some of the oldest and culturally intriguing sculptures found in Africa.

This led to discoveries that the ancient culture of Nok has been around for some 2500 years. When strolling through the village your senses will be delighted to rediscover an amazing group of people culturally and socially.

Not much is known about the purposes of these popular sculptures but some theories have suggested they were used as charms to prevent crop failure, illness and infertility.


Unearthed Mayan tablet tells of power struggle

Snake Queen
© Francico Castaneda; courtesy of Proyecto Arqueológico El Perú-Waka´y PACUNAM The Maya Snake queen Lady Ikoom was described on an nearly 1500-year-old stone monument unearthed at the Mayan city of El Peru.
A nearly 1,500-year-old Mayan stone monument, inscribed with a story of an ancient power struggle, has been unearthed in Guatemala.

The stone slab, which dates to A.D. 564, was found in a small tunnel that adjoins the tomb of an ancient queen beneath the Mayan temple at the site of El Perú-Waka'.

The slab, almost 6 feet (2 meters) high and 3 feet (1 m) wide, is carved with the image of a large man in its center, and is inscribed with Mayan hieroglyphics.

The text on the monument describes a tumultuous seven-year period when two dynasties battled for rule of the ancient kingdom.

Prior to discovering this monument, no one knew the names of Mayan rulers during the sixth century.

"It really does advance our knowledge of the history of this royal family and dynasty," said study co-author David Friedel, an anthropologist at Washington University in St. Louis.


Expert says skeleton found on Matsu linked to Austronesia

Ancient Skeleton
© CNAThis picture shows the remains of a "Liang Islander." The remains date back between roughly 8,200 and 7,530 years. The Lienchiang County magistrate and a research fellow at Taiwan's Academia Sinica unveiled their research findings on the Liang Islanders at a press conference in Taipei, yesterday.
Taipei -- Two sets of skeletal human remains that had been discovered earlier on Liang Island of Matsu are believed to have belonged to people from the Austronesia language family, an expert said yesterday citing results of a DNA research on the remains.

Lienchiang County Magistrate Yang Sui-sheng and Chen Chung-yu, a research fellow at Taiwan's Academia Sinica, unveiled their research findings at a press conference in Taipei. Chen had led an archaeological research team, which had discovered the remains.

According to DNA biochemistry analysis, the skeleton of the "Liang Islander" is related to the Austronesian language family, which had widely dispersed throughout the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including Taiwan and the Philippines, Chen pointed out.

Chen added that it is believed that Liang Island, situated 30 kilometers off China's southeastern Fujian province, was one of the locations where the ancient Austronesian people lived.

Liang Island is part of the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands administered by Lienchiang County.


Long-lost pyramids found?

Lost Pyramids
© Mohamed Aly Soliman The structures were spotted last year by amateur satellite archaeologist Angela Micol. She used Google Earth 5,000 miles away in North Carolina.
Mysterious, pyramid-like structures spotted in the Egyptian desert by an amateur satellite archaeologist might be long-lost pyramids after all, according to a new investigation into the enigmatic mounds.

Angela Micol, who last year found the structures using Google Earth 5,000 miles away in North Carolina, says puzzling features have been uncovered during a preliminary ground proofing expedition, revealing cavities and shafts.

"Moreover, it has emerged these formations are labeled as pyramids on several old and rare maps," Micol told Discovery News.

Located about 90 miles apart, the two possible pyramid complexes appeared as groupings of mounds in curious positions.

One site in Upper Egypt, just 12 miles from the city of Abu Sidhum along the Nile, featured four mounds with an unusual footprint.

Some 90 miles north near the Fayum oasis, the second possible pyramid complex revealed a four-sided, truncated mound approximately 150 feet wide and three smaller mounds in a diagonal alignment.

"The images speak for themselves," Micol said when she first announced her findings. "It's very obvious what the sites may contain, but field research is needed to verify they are, in fact, pyramids,"


'World's oldest calendar' discovered in Scottish field

Warren Field
© BBCAn artist's impression of Warren Field about 10,000 years ago showing burning material in one of the "calendar's" pits.
Archaeologists believe they have discovered the world's oldest lunar "calendar" in an Aberdeenshire field.

Excavations of a field at Crathes Castle found a series of 12 pits which appear to mimic the phases of the moon and track lunar months.

A team led by the University of Birmingham suggests the ancient monument was created by hunter-gatherers about 10,000 years ago.

The pit alignment, at Warren Field, was first excavated in 2004.

The experts who analysed the pits said they may have contained a wooden post.

The Mesolithic "calendar" is thousands of years older than previous known formal time-measuring monuments created in Mesopotamia.

The analysis has been published in the journal, Internet Archaeology.

The pit alignment also aligns on the Midwinter sunrise to provided the hunter-gatherers with an annual "astronomic correction" in order to better follow the passage of time and changing seasons.

Vince Gaffney, Professor of Landscape Archaeology at Birmingham, led the analysis project.


Oldest hiragana writing discovered in ancient pottery from Kyoto

Ancient Script
© Noboru TomuraAncient clay pottery with hiragana written in "sumi" ink on the back.
Kyoto--The oldest and clearest example of hiragana script has been found on ancient clay pottery recovered from the former site of an aristocrat's residence in Kyoto's Nakagyo Ward, officials from Kyoto City Archaeological Research Institute said June 27.

An almost legible iroha uta poem is inscribed on the back of the earthenware dish, which dates back to around 1200. Iroha uta, an ancient Japanese poem that uses 47 Japanese characters only once each, is said to have been created between the late 10th century and the 11th century.

The poem was used for writing practice of hiragana, Japan's basic phonetic script.

In those days, paper was extremely expensive, so someone apparently practiced writing on the dish, said researchers.

Researchers noticed the poem while the institute was re-examining artifacts it unearthed in 1983 from the site of Horikawain, a residence that belonged to the aristocratic Fujiwara family. The dish, measuring 9 centimeters in diameter and 1.5 cm deep, was found inside the ruin of a well.


'Vampire' graves uncovered in Poland

Vampire Grave
© Matteo BorriniThe skull of the "Vampire of Venice" was found in a mass grave with a brick stuck in its jaw.
Archaeologists in Poland believe they've made a startling discovery: a group of vampire graves.

The graves were discovered during the construction of a roadway near the Polish town of Gliwice, where archaeologists are more accustomed to finding the remains of World War II soldiers, according to The Telegraph.

But instead of soldiers, the graves contained skeletons whose heads had been severed and placed on their legs. This indicated to the archaeologists that the bodies had been subject to a ritualized execution designed to ensure the dead stayed dead, The Telegraph reports.

By keeping the head separated from the body, according to ancient superstition, the "undead" wouldn't be able to rise from the grave to terrorize the living. Decapitation was one way of achieving that; another way was hanging the person by a rope attached to the neck until, over time, the decaying body simply separated from the head.

There were other, equally bizarre ways of dealing with vampire burials, according to research published by forensic anthropologist Matteo Borrini. He cites the case of a woman who died during a 16th-century plague in Venice, Italy. The woman was apparently buried with a brick wedged tightly in her open mouth, a popular medieval method of keeping suspected vampires from returning to feed on the blood of the living. The woman's grave might be the earliest known vampire burial ever found.


Inscriptions found in Shanghai pre-date 'oldest Chinese language by 1,400 years'

Primitive Writing
© Associated PressA stone axe from near the Zhuangqiao relics site, in east China, shows a newly discovered form of primitive writing, archaeologists say.
Primitive inscriptions dating back about 5,000 years - and believed to be 1,400 years older than the most ancient written Chinese language - have been discovered in Shanghai, archaeologists report.

Chinese scholars are divided over whether the markings, found on artefacts at the Zhuangqiao relics site south of the modern city, are words or something simpler. But they believe the discovery will shed light on the origins of Chinese language and culture.

The oldest writing in the world is believed to be from Mesopotamia (now Iraq), dating back slightly more than 5,000 years. Chinese characters are believed to have been developed independently.

The Chinese inscriptions were found on more than 200 pieces dug out from the neolithic Liangzhu relics site. The pieces are among thousands of fragments of ceramic, stone, jade, wood, ivory and bone excavated from the site between 2003 and 2006, Xu Xinmin, the lead archaeologist, said.