Secret HistoryS


Ancient languages research finds 23 words still used 15,000 years later

Ancient Language
© ReutersPeople walk over a world map engraved in marble.
Linguists have found a group of words consisting of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that date back 15,000 years. The words have remained unchanged and have the same meaning and also sound almost the same as they did at the end of the Ice Age.

Words have an expiration date and can't survive more than 8,000 to 9,000 years, according to traditional views. Just as the dinosaurs were driven into extinction, so do words evolve and the adoption of replacements from other languages is introduced.

A new study shows that this is not always the case, however, as a team of researchers discovered that there are about two dozen words that have lived 15,000 years. Some of the words, referred to as "ultraconserved words," are predictable, such as "mother," "not," "what," "to hear" and "man."

It's suggested that there was a "proto-Eurasiastic" language that was the common ancestor of the native tongues of over half of the people in the world. This "mother language" gave birth to approximately 700 contemporary languages.

"We've never heard this language, and it's not written down anywhere. But this ancestral language was spoken and heard. People sitting around campfires used it to talk to each other," evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England, Mark Pagel, said.


Hanging Gardens of Babylon discovered 300 miles away in Nineveh

Hanging Gardens of Babylon_1
© WhiteHaven / Shutterstock
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have long been regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although not without controversy. It seems that the Gardens have also been regarded as purely legendary, with no evidence that this ancient site ever existed in Babylon.

For centuries, historians, archaeologists and others have imagined what the Hanging Gardens may have looked like and several artists, most notably Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck in the 16th century painted his concept of the Gardens, complete with the Tower of Babel in the background.

Now, a historian with Oxford University may have cracked the case wide open, potentially solving centuries-old theories of the Hanging Gardens.

Dr. Stephanie Dalley, of Oxford's Oriental Institute, said the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon were not actually located in Hillah and were not built by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In fact, she says the site was not even in Babylon at all, but rather 300 miles north in Nineveh, and built by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib.


Before Babel? Ancient mother tongue reconstructed

Towr of Babel
© Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1526/1530–1569)The idea of a universal human language goes back at least to the Bible, in which humanity spoke a common tongue, but were punished with mutual unintelligibility after trying to build the Tower of Babel all the way to heaven. Now scientists have reconstructed words from such a language.
The ancestors of people from across Europe and Asia may have spoken a common language about 15,000 years ago, new research suggests.

Now, researchers have reconstructed words, such as "mother," "to pull" and "man," which would have been spoken by ancient hunter-gatherers, possibly in an area such as the Caucusus. The word list, detailed today (May 6) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, could help researchers retrace the history of ancient migrations and contacts between prehistoric cultures.

"We can trace echoes of language back 15,000 years to a time that corresponds to about the end of the last ice age," said study co-author Mark Pagel, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Reading in the United Kingdom.


Stunning astronomical alignment found at Peru pyramid

Astro Alignment_1
© Laura GriffinArchaeologists have discovered a pyramid in southern Peru, built between 600 B.C. and 50 B.C. ago, would have aligned with two stone lines and the setting sun during the winter solstice. Here, a 3D model shows the event that happened at the Cerro del Gentil pyramid during the winter solstice. The two stone lines frame the pyramid with the sun setting directly behind it. This alignment may have had cosmological significance for the people who lived there.
An ancient astronomical alignment in southern Peru has been discovered by researchers between a pyramid, two stone lines and the setting sun during the winter solstice. During the solstice, hundreds of years ago, the three would have lined up to frame the pyramid in light.

The two stone lines, called geoglyphs, are located about 1.2 miles (2 kilometers) east-southeast from the pyramid. They run for about 1,640 feet (500 meters), and researchers say the lines were "positioned in such a way as to frame the pyramid as one descended down the valley from the highlands."

Using astronomical software and 3D modeling, the researchers determined that a remarkable event would have occurred during the time of the winter solstice. [See Images of the Pyramid and Solstice Alignment]

"When viewed in 3D models, these lines appear to converge at a point beyond the horizon and frame not only the site of Cerro del Gentil [where the pyramid is], but also the setting sun during the time of the winter solstice," the research team wrote in a poster presentation given recently at the Society for American Archaeology annual meeting in Honolulu.

"Thus someone viewing the sunset from these lines during the winter solstice would have seen the sun setting directly behind, or sinking into, the adobe pyramid," they write. "Thus the pyramid and the linear geoglyph constitute part of a single architectural complex, with potential cosmological significance, that ritualized the entire pampa landscape." (The word "pampa" stands for plain.)

The flattop pyramid is 16 feet (5 m) high and was built sometime between 600 B.C. and 50 B.C., being reoccupied somewhere between A.D. 200 and 400. Finds near the pyramid include textiles, shells and ceramics. The stone lines were constructed at some point between 500 B.C. and A.D. 400.


Mystery of the Mexican 'goldenballs' cave: Scientists baffled by hundreds of spheres found in hidden tunnels

Hundreds of yellow spheres have been found scattered in hidden chamber

Mexican archaeologists admit they have no idea what the orbs are for

Drones and robots made the discovery using infrared scanners

Hundreds of mysterious golden-coloured orbs have been found buried in a hidden chamber deep beneath the Temple of Feathered Serpent in Mexico.

The discovery was made by archaeologists from the Mexico National Institute of Anthropology and History, who admit they have no idea what the spheres are for.

A tiny robot called Tláloc II-TC, which has been scanning tunnels deep beneath the famous temple, found the orbs using infrared scanners.
According to archaeologists from the Mexico National Institute of Anthropology and History, the spheres would have appeared to be made of gold because they are covered in jarosite - a bi-product of the oxidisation of pyrite, also known as Fool's Gold

They were hiding in a previously unexplored ancient chamber at the end of a stretch of 2,000-year-old unexplored tunnel on the Teotihuacan site, near the Pyramid of the Sun.

Jorge Zavala, an archaeologist on the dig said: 'They look like yellow spheres, but we do not know their meaning.

It's an unprecedented discovery.'

Cow Skull

Flashback First cannibals ate each other for extra nutrition

cannibal nutrition
© AP PhotoHomo antecessor was the last common ancestor between the African lineage that gave rise to our species and Neanderthals.


- The world's first known cannibals ate each other to satisfy their nutritional needs.

- The cannibals belonged to the species Homo antecessor, related to both Neanderthals and modern humans.

- Homo antecessor appears to have preyed on competing groups, treating victims like any other meat source.

The world's first known human cannibals ate each other to satisfy their nutritional needs, concludes a new study of the remains of cannibal feasts consumed about one million years ago.

The humans-as-food determination negates other possibilities, such as cannibalism for ritual's sake, or cannibalism due to starvation. In this oldest known case of humans eating humans, other food was available to the diners, but human flesh was just part of their meat mix.

"These practices were conducted by Homo antecessor, who inhabited Europe one million years ago," according to the research team, led by Eudald Carbonell.

Carbonell, a professor at the University of Rovira and Virgili, and his colleagues added that Homo antecessor was "the last common ancestor between the African lineage that gave rise to our species, Homo sapiens, and the lineage leading to the European Neanderthals of the Upper Pleistocene."

Cow Skull

Jamestown, VA, colonists resorted to cannibalism

Jane cannibalism victim
© Don Hurlbert, SmithsonianFacial reconstruction of the cannibalized girl
The first permanent British settlers in North America turned to cannibalism to survive harsh conditions, finds an analysis of human remains with sharp cuts and chopping blows.

Excavated last year from a dump at James Fort in Jamestown, Va., the fragmented remains belonged to a 14-year-old girl and date back to the "starving time" winter of 1609-1610, when three-quarters of the colonists died.

Found with several butchered horse and dog bones, the skeletal remains - a tibia (shin bone) and a skull - featured a series of marks that provide grisly evidence of the dead girl becoming food for the starving colonists.

The researchers were first struck by four shallow chops to the forehead which indicate a hesitant, failed attempt to open the skull.

"The bone fragments have unusually patterned cuts and chops that reflect tentativeness, trial and complete lack of experience in butchering animal remains," Doug Owsley, a forensic anthropologist at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., said in a statement.

"Nevertheless, the clear intent was to dismember the body, removing the brain and flesh from the face for consumption," he added.


Starving settlers in Jamestown Colony resorted to cannibalism

Jaw Bones
© Smithsonian Institution/Don HurlbertDetail of cut marks found on the girl’s jaw, or lower mandible in a stereo-microscopic photo.
The harsh winter of 1609 in Virginia's Jamestown Colony forced residents to do the unthinkable. A recent excavation at the historic site discovered the carcasses of dogs, cats and horses consumed during the season commonly called the "Starving Time." But a few other newly discovered bones in particular, though, tell a far more gruesome story: the dismemberment and cannibalization of a 14-year-old English girl.

"The chops to the forehead are very tentative, very incomplete," says Douglas Owsley, the Smithsonian forensic anthropologist who analyzed the bones after they were found by archaeologists from Preservation Virginia. "Then, the body was turned over, and there were four strikes to the back of the head, one of which was the strongest and split the skull in half. A penetrating wound was then made to the left temple, probably by a single-sided knife, which was used to pry open the head and remove the brain."

Much is still unknown about the circumstances of this grisly meal: Who exactly the girl researchers are calling "Jane" was, whether she was murdered or died of natural causes, whether multiple people participated in the butchering or it was a solo act. But as Owsley revealed along with lead archaeologist William Kelso today at a press conference at the National Museum of Natural History, we now have the first direct evidence of cannibalism at Jamestown, the oldest permanent English colony in the Americas. "Historians have gone back and forth on whether this sort of thing really happened there," Owsley says. "Given these bones in a trash pit, all cut and chopped up, it's clear that this body was dismembered for consumption."

It's long been speculated that the harsh conditions faced by the colonists of Jamestown might have made them desperate enough to eat other humans - and perhaps even commit murder to do so. The colony was founded in 1607 by 104 settlers aboard three ships, the Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed, but only 38 survived the first nine months of life in Jamestown, with most succumbing to starvation and disease (some researchers speculate that drinking water poisoned by arsenic and human waste also played a role). Because of difficulties in growing crops - they arrived in the midst of one of the worst regional droughts in centuries and many settlers were unused to hard agricultural labor - the survivors remained dependent on supplies brought by subsequent missions, as well as trade with Native Americans.


Surprising discoveries from the Indus Civilization

© James P. Blair, National GeographicThe Indus civilization was first identified at Harappa, once a city of 80,000 people.
They lived in well-planned cities, made exquisite jewelry, and enjoyed the ancient world's best plumbing. But the people of the sophisticated Indus civilization - which flourished four millennia ago in what is now Pakistan and western India - remain tantalizingly mysterious.

Unable to decipher the Indus script, archaeologists have pored over beads, slivers of pottery, and other artifacts for insights into one of the world's first city-building cultures.

Now scientists are turning to long-silent witnesses: human bones. In two new studies of skeletons from Indus cemeteries, researchers have found intriguing clues to the makeup of one city's population - and hints that the society there was not as peaceful as it has been portrayed.

Peaceful or not, the Indus civilization accomplished great things. At its peak, its settlements spanned an area greater than that of ancient Egypt, a contemporary culture. Indus jewelry was so coveted that examples have been found as far as Mesopotamia, some 1,500 miles (2,500 kilometers) away. Indus cities boasted blocks of houses built on a grid pattern and drains that funneled sewage from homes to dumping grounds outside the city walls.

Magic Wand

Early human ancestors were 'aquatic apes': Living in water helped us evolve big brains and walk upright, scientists say

© AFP/Getty ImagesA controversial theory that humans evolved from amphibious apes has won new support
A controversial theory that humans evolved from amphibious apes has won new support.

The aquatic ape theory, whose supporters include David Attenborough, suggests that apes emerged from the water, lost their fur, started to walk upright and then developed big brains.

While it has been treated with scorn by some scientists since it first emerged 50 years ago, it is backed by a committed group of academics, including Sir David.

The group will hold a major London conference next week featuring several speakers who will voice support for the theory.

Peter Rhys Evans is one of the organisers of Human Evolution: Past, Present and Future.

He told the Observer that humans are very different from other apes, as we lack fur, walk upright, have big brains and subcutaneous fat and have a descended larynx - which is common among aquatic animals.

According to evolutionary theories, these features appeared at separate times, for different reasons.

But the aquatic ape theory says they appeared because our ancestors decided to live in or near water for millions of years.

British biologist Sir Alister Hardy first theorised that we were descended from aquatic apes.

He wrote that apes came down from the trees to live in the food rich creeks, river and seas.