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Site of earliest known urban warfare threatened by Syrian war

© Courtesy University of Chicago News Office, released in 2005An aerial photograph of part of Hamoukar that dates back to the fourth millennium B.C. During this time Hamoukar was attacked and burned, the first known victim of urban warfare. Today the site is threatened by the effects of a modern-day war.
An ancient city in Syria, which was the site of the earliest known case of urban warfare, now finds itself threatened by the effects of a modern-day war.

Around 5,500 years ago, before writing was even invented, the people of an ancient city called Hamoukar, located in modern-day Syria, were subjected to the horrors of urban warfare, the earliest case of this style of combat that scholars know about.

They were assaulted by a force armed with slingshots and clay balls. The attackers, possibly from a city named Uruk and perhaps motivated by Hamoukar's access to copper, succeeded in taking the city, destroying part of it through fire.

"The attack must have been swift and intense. Buildings collapsed, burning out of control, burying everything in them under vast piles of rubble," Clemens Reichel, one of the team leaders of the University of Chicago Oriental Institute's Hamoukar Expedition, said in a 2007 University of Chicago news story.

Today, more than 5 millennia after the battle, the horrors of urban warfare are being revisited on the modern-day people of Syria. But rather than slingshots, they face automatic gunfire, helicopter gunships and, as Western intelligence agencies have now verified, chemical weapons.

The conflict has killed more than 60,000 people and resulted in more than a million refugees being forced to flee the country. It has also damaged and otherwise put in peril numerous historical sites, including Hamoukar.


New signs of language surface in mystery Voynich text

Voynich Text_2
© Beinecke RareBook and Manuscript Library, Yale UniversityBeautiful as well as cryptic.
A mysterious and beautiful 15th-century text that some researchers have recently deemed to be gibberish may not be a hoax after all. A new study suggests the text shares quantifiable features with genuine language, and so may contain a coded message.

That verdict emerges from a statistical technique that puts a figure on the information content of elements in a text or code, even if their meaning is unknown. The technique could also be used to determine whether there is meaning in genomes, possible messages from aliens or even the signals between neurons in the brain.

The Voynich manuscript has baffled and captivated researchers since book dealer Wilfred Voynich found it in an Italian monastery in 1912. It contains illustrations of naked nymphs, unidentifiable plants, astrological diagrams and pages and pages of text in an unidentified alphabet.

Although the patterns of word lengths and symbol combinations in the text are similar to those in real languages, several recent studies have suggested that the book was a clever 15th-century hoax designed to dupe Renaissance book collectors, and that the words have no meaning. One study showed that techniques known to 16th-century cryptographers would have allowed someone to create these patterns using a nonsense set of characters. Another study concluded that the statistical properties of the script are consistent with gibberish.


Ruins of Maya city discovered in remote jungle

Ancient Maya City
© National Institute of Anthropology and HistoryArchaeologist Ivan Sprajc led an international team of experts to study the Maya site.
An entire Maya city full of pyramids and palatial complexes has been discovered in a remote jungle in southeastern Mexico, archaeologists report.

Covered in thick vegetation, the ruins were found in Campeche, a province in the western Yucatán peninsula that's littered with Maya complexes and artifacts. The newfound site is dubbed Chactún and it stretches over roughly 54 acres (22 hectares). Researchers think the city was occupied between during the Late Classic Maya period, from roughly 600 A.D. until 900 A.D., when the civilization mysteriously collapsed.

"It is one of the largest sites in the Central Lowlands, comparable in its extent and the magnitude of its buildings with Becan, Nadzcaan and El Palmar in Campeche," archaeologist Ivan Sprajc said in a statement from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

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Revealed: Bush ancestor was heavily invested in kidnapping Africans into slavery

G Bush
© Shutterstock George W. Bush At The New Hampshire Presidential Candidates Youth Forum, January 2000".

Thomas "Beau" Walker, the great-great-great grandfather to U.S. President George W. Bush, was a notorious slave trader who either personally led or heavily invested in expeditions to kidnap Africans from their homeland and bring them to America as slaves, a journalist and historian announced this week.

Word of the presidential ancestor came by way of retired journalist and genealogist Roger Hughes and historian Joseph Opala, who illustrated their findings to Slate.

They made the discovery by comparing the signatures of known Bush ancestor Thomas Walker with a notorious slave trader of the day who bore the same name. Stacked side-by-side, the signatures looked almost exactly the same.

They also recovered several letters Walker wrote, in which he complains about the cost of the people he's kidnapped.

"Times on the coast is by no means as favourable as I expected," Walker reportedly wrote. "Slaves is at the price of 150 [illegible] and the coast seemes [sic] to be lin'd with vessels of all kind."

"I have purchased seventeen fine negroes and am this day proceeding down the coast to try what I do can there," another of Walker's letters reads. "Slaves is at a very greate [sic] price."

There were at least two other known slave-owners in the Bush family, according to Hughes.

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Captive kids forced to act in Shakespeare's day

The Globe Theater
© Public DomainKids in Shakespeare's plays at London's Globe Theater may have been lucky compared to some of their contemporaries; new research shows that many boy players were exploited and abused.
In Shakespeare's England, many kids were coerced into acting careers not by stage moms but by "child catchers," new research shows.

Elizabethan-era boy players were prized in adult theater companies for their prepubescent looks and high-pitched voices, which allowed them to act in female roles alongside men. But some boy players were put into all-children acting troupes, and not all of them voluntarily; rather many were systematically exploited and abused, according to an Oxford University scholar.

While writing his new book Shakespeare in Company (Oxford University Press), Bart van Es found that child catchers seized young boys on their way to school, handing them over to theater company bosses that forced the kids to perform on stage or else face whipping. Van Es even found documents that show Queen Elizabeth I herself signed commissions allowing theaters to kidnap children, he said.

"Technically these warrants were designed to allow the Master of the Children to 'take up' boys for service in the Chapel Royal," which was a group of priests and singers established to serve the British monarchy, van Es explained.

"But the reality was very different. It was well known that the Children of the Chapel Royal was really an acting company, and the Queen did nothing to intervene," van Es said in a statement.


First farmers were also inbred

Inbred Farmers
© Archive of the Basta Joint Archeological Project; (inset) J. Kranzbhler/SIGN ProjectFamily ties that bind? A high percentage of farmers at 9500-year-old Basta in Jordan shared a genetic defect in which two incisors (red numbers) were missing.
Humans have been mating with their relatives for at least 10,000 years. That's the conclusion of a new study, which finds the earliest known evidence of deliberate inbreeding - including missing teeth - among farmers who lived in what is today southern Jordan. Although inbreeding over long periods can lead to a rise in genetic defects, the team concludes that it may have helped prehistoric peoples make the transition from hunting and gathering to village life.

Researchers agree that the best evidence for family ties is DNA. For example, ancient DNA from a group of Neandertal skeletons found in a Spanish cave showed that they belonged to the same extended family.

But DNA often preserves poorly, especially at early farming sites from the so-called Neolithic period in the Near East where high temperatures and burials under house floors or in shallow graves easily degrade the genetic material. So some researchers have searched for signs of family relationships in the skeletons themselves, looking for rare anomalies that might suggest shared genetic heritage.

A team led by Kurt Alt, an anthropologist at the University of Mainz in Germany, examined the skeletons of individuals buried at the Neolithic site of Basta, in southern Jordan. Between about 9500 and 9000 years ago, up to 1000 early farmers lived there; the site was excavated in the 1980s and 1990s by an international team of archaeologists. At least 56 skeletons were found in one area, perhaps a graveyard.

In earlier research, Alt had identified more than 100 skeletal traits that can be used to determine family ties, most of which concern features of the teeth and jaws. Although inbreeding with very close relatives - such as between brothers and sisters, parents and children, or even cousins - boosts the incidence of genetic disease, mating with even more distant family members can increase the prevalence of traits that indicate family relationships. So his team set about looking at the upper jaws, or maxillae, of the Basta skeletons, which were well preserved in 28 individuals.


U.S.'s oldest cave and rock art discovered in Tennessee

© JAN SIMEK, ALAN CRESSLER, NICHOLAS HERRMANN AND SARAH SHERWOOD/ANTIQUITY PUBLICATIONS LTD./DISCOVERY NEWSThe oldest and most widespread collection of prehistoric cave and rock art in the United States has been found in and around Tennessee, according to a new paper in the journal Antiquity that documents the art. It provides intriguing clues about what life was like for Native American societies more than 6,000 years ago. That is the age of the newly discovered cave art, one of which is seen here, showing what appears to be a human hunting. Other images are of a more direct spiritual/mythological nature.
At more than 6,000 years old, prehistoric cave and rock art found in what is today Tennessee is easily the oldest discovered yet within the United States. The art is also the most widespread collection found anywhere in the U.S., according to a new paper in the journal Antiquity that documents the art. The extensive cave and rock art provides intriguing clues about what life was like for Native societies more than 6,000 years ago.

According to the study published in Antiquity, "systematic field exploration in Tennessee has located a wealth of new rock art - some deep in caves, some in the open air. The authors show that these have a different repertoire and use of color, and a different distribution in the landscape - the open sites up high and the caves down low. The landscape has been reorganised on cosmological terms by the pre-Columbian societies. This research offers an exemplary rationale for reading rock art beyond the image and the site."


Airborne laser spots ancient city complex of roads, canals hidden under dense Cambodian forest

Angkor Wat
© AP Photo/Heng SinithIn this photo taken on June 28, 2012, Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples complex stands in Siem Reap province, some 230 kilometers (143 miles) northwest Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roadways and canals, illustrating a bustling ancient city linking Cambodia's Angkor Wat temples complex. The discovery was announced late Monday, June 17, 2013, in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Sydney - Airborne laser technology has uncovered a network of roadways and canals, illustrating a bustling ancient city linking Cambodia's famed Angkor Wat temples complex.

The discovery was announced late Monday in a peer-reviewed paper released early by the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The laser scanning revealed a previously undocumented formal urban planned landscape integrating the 1,200-year-old temples.

The airborne lasers produced a detailed map of a vast cityscape, including highways and previously undiscovered temples, hidden beneath dense vegetation atop Phnom Kulen mountain in Siem Reap province. It was the lost city of Mahendraparvata.

Book 2

Long-lost diary of Nazi leader Rosenberg outlines plans for Soviet occupation

© Charles W. Alexander/Office of the US Chief of Counsel/US Holocaust Museum courtesy of Robert JacksonAlfred Rosenberg reads a document during the Nuremberg war crimes tribunal in 1946.
US authorities have recovered the long-lost diary of top Nazi ideologue Alfred Rosenberg, in which Adolf Hitler's minister for the occupied eastern territories outlines plans for occupying the Soviet Union and exterminating Soviet Jews and other citizens, the Reuters news agency has reported.

The 400 pages of the diary that were recovered in a private home in upstate New York "include details about the German occupation of the Soviet Union and chilling plans for the slaughter of Jews and other eastern Europeans," wrote Reuters, which was given exclusive access to view the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's (USHMM) preliminary assessment of the diary.

In their assessment of the hand-written diary, which Rosenberg penned between 1936 and 1944, USHMM analysts said the Russian-born Nazi leader "sheds new light on a number of important issues relating to the Third Reich's policy."

The diary "will be an important source of information to historians that complements, and in part contradicts, already known documentation," the analysts say, without going into detail about exactly how the diary contradicts accepted Nazi history.


Study dates arrival of humans in Asia

Lake Toba
© NASALake Toba, Sumatra bears the scars of a massive eruption 74,000 years ago. The question is: did modern humans arrive in Asia before or after this time?
The first anatomically modern humans almost certainly arrived in southern Asia within the last 70,000 years, having dispersed as small groups of pioneer settlers along coastal regions from Africa, say UK scientists.

But another expert has disputed their proposal, saying there is still too little evidence to say for certain how humans dispersed into the region.

Using a combination of genetic and archaeological evidence, scientists led by University of Cambridge archaeologist Professor Paul Mellars and geneticist Professor Martin Richards, from the University of Huddersfield, say modern humans left eastern Africa sometime after 70,000 years ago and dispersed along the coast to the region south of the Himalayas.

The research, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science , is the latest volley in a heated debate about how, and when, humans spread around the globe.

The controversy has been particularly intense when it comes to the southern part of the Asian continent, the authors say.

Some scientists think modern humans arrived in the region 50,000 to 60,000 years ago having originated as a small group who left Africa and expanded around the coastlines of southern and southeast Asia.

Others think there was a much earlier dispersal of modern humans from Africa sometime before a massive volcanic eruption on Mount Toba in Sumatra, about 74,000 years ago.