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Mon, 30 May 2016
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Pyramid

Fair-haired peoples dotted ancient Egyptian population

© Penny Stephens
Forensic egyptologist Dr. Janet Davey has proved that fair-haired Egyptian mummies were natural blondes, contrary to popular belief.
Fair-haired Egyptian mummies were natural blondes, according to a Melbourne researcher who has blown open the urban myth surrounding the appearance of some of the youngest mummified Egyptians.

Forensic egyptologist Janet Davey said while the blonde locks, brows and eyelashes were hard to miss on the mummified remains of ancient Egyptian children, many egyptologists believed the hair had lightened during the mummification process.

To solve the ancient mystery, Dr Davey from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine decided to do her own experiments and called on her friend, retired industrial chemist Alan Elliott.

Mr Elliott prepared a quantity of synthetic natron, a kind of salt used in the mummification process to dry out the remains.

Dr Davey then took 16 hair samples and covered them in the salty powder for 40 days, the same amount of time the ancient Egyptians took to dry out the bodies with natron.

The hair samples selected were dark, with one grey and one fair specimen for comparison. They came from male and female donors aged four to 92.

Dr Davey also used hair with henna on it, given this was used as a dye by the ancient Egyptian embalmers including those who worked on Ramesses II following his death, aged 90.

Map

A river once ran through the Sahara

© CHRISTOPHE SIMON/AFP/Getty Images
Aerial view of the Amazon river.
No one ever says of the Sahara that a river runs through it. But somewhere between 11,700 and 5,000 years ago, one did. In full flow, it would rank 11th among the largest rivers on the earth today.* Paleoclimatologist and geochemist Charlotte Skonieczny of the French Research Institute for Exploration of the Sea and her colleagues report the evidence for the ancient channel in a recent issue of Nature Communications. The team discovered the so-called Tamanrasett River when examining microwave data collected by a Japanese satellite that had been mapping geologic features in the area. The hidden bedrock valley winds for more than 500 kilometers from the Atlas Mountains in northern Africa to the Atlantic Ocean.

Books

May Day protests ushered in the 8-hour workday

© Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain
Workers in a fuse factory in the 1800s.
May Day is a confusing holiday in America. For most who think of it, it celebrates the ancient Celtic day of flowers and rebirth, with laughing children dancing around the maypole. Many might remember picking a flower as the subtle celebration of this on the first of May.

But May Day has a bloodier, revolutionary past in this country. The International Workers' Day of May Day, the holiday's full name, originated in the United States in 1886 as a radical response to abusive employers, for something many people take for granted today: the eight-hour workday.

Comment: American May Day tradition inspired by anarchist Lucy Parsons


Crusader

American May Day tradition inspired by anarchist Lucy Parsons

© The Independent Workers Party of Chicago
Workers shouldn't strike and go out and starve, but strike and remain in, and take possession, said Lucy parsons. Lifelong partner of Albert parsons, one of the American Labor Leaders, most associated with the founding of the American May Day tradition.

Lucy Parsons was of Mexican American, African American, and Native American Descent. She was born into slavery and she was an intersectional thinker and activist a century before the term was coined.

Her work after emancipation led her directly into conflict with the Ku Klux Clan and into a lifelong partnership with radical typographer and organizer Albert Parsons.

Gold Coins

19 amphorae filled with Roman coins found in Spain

© El Pais
Construction workers in southern Spain have dug up a little more than they bargained for whilst doing routine work on water pipes.

Over 600 kilograms of ancient Roman coins were discovered inside 19 amphorae (large clay pots) in the town of Tomares, near Seville, dating back to the late third and early forth centuries. Emperors Maximian and Constantine appear on the bronze coins, which show little signs of handling, leading to the belief they made have been used to pay the army or civil servants.

Head of Seville's archaeology museum, Ana Navarro, said the finding is a 'unique collection' with 'very few similar cases around the world'.

As for how much the treasure trove is worth, Navarro's guess is 'certainly several million Euros'.It's believed some of the coins were also dipped in silver as well as bronze.

Construction has ceased at the site which is now being excavated by archaeologists.

The Romans conquered the area in 218 BC, ruling until the early 5th century when they were overtaken by the Visigoths.

Binoculars

Russia's missing Amber Room found? Polish museum thinks treasure may be hidden in secret room in underground bunker


Treasure: The Amber Room (pictured in 1932) was located in Catherine Palace near St Petersburg before the Nazis seized control of the area and looted it. It took them 36 hours to dismantle it
The search for a one of the greatest missing treasures of the Second World War - an Amber Room worth £250million - has taken a fresh twist as treasure hunters say it may be in a secret room in a Polish museum.

The room, built for Russian tsar Peter the Great in the 1700s and packed with amber, gold and precious jewels, was stolen by the Nazis and mysteriously disappeared at the end of the Second World War.

For decades, hunters have scoured Europe searching for the missing treasure to no avail.

But now, bosses at the Mamerki museum near Wegorzewo, north east Poland, say it may have been hidden behind a false wall that was sealed shut inside an old wartime bunker - after finding an unknown room measuring 6.5ft wide and 10ft long using geo-radar.

Blackbox

Dark secrets of the American Revolution: Who really fired the 'shot heard round the world'?

© Desconocido
I grew up mostly in Lexington, Mass., where the famed "shot heard round the world" was fired. On my way home from high school each day, I would pass Lexington Green, where colonial militia had assembled on the morning of April 19, 1775, and encountered a force of British redcoats who were on their way to neighboring Concord to confiscate armaments. Shots rang out; eight militiamen died; nine were wounded; the Revolutionary War had begun. The redcoats suffered only one minor wound and continued to Concord, where they found fewer munitions than expected. They spent the rest of the day being routed by superior numbers of militia, on a long and bloody retreat back to their garrison in the city of Boston.

As I walked home, I would pass still-standing Buckman's Tavern, where the militia had assembled before the battle; and continuing my trek up Hancock Street, would pass the Hancock-Clarke House, another historic site. It was here that Samuel Adams and John Hancock - leaders of the revolution in Massachusetts - had been staying the night before the battle. Paul Revere stopped there to see them on his famous "Midnight Ride."

These historic matters were hardly on my mind at the time. However many years later, having written widely on political affairs, I took my son on a tour of historic Lexington at his request, and questions began troubling me.

People 2

Humans became the large-brained, large-bodied animals we are today because of natural selection to increase brain size

© AMNH/R. Mickens
New research suggests that humans became the large-brained, large-bodied animals we are today because of natural selection to increase brain size. The work, published in the journal Current Anthropology, contradicts previous models that treat brain size and body size as independent traits responding to separate evolutionary pressures. Instead, the study shows that brain size and body size are genetically linked and that selection to increase brain size will "pull along" body size. This phenomenon played a large role in both brain- and body-size increases throughout human evolution and may have been solely responsible for the large increase in both traits that occurred near the origins of our genus, Homo.

"Over the last four million years, brain size and body size increased substantially in our human ancestors," said paper author Mark Grabowski, a James Arthur postdoctoral fellow in the Division of Anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History. "This observation has led to numerous hypotheses attempting to explain why observed changes occurred, but these typically make the assumption that brain- and body-size evolution are the products of separate natural selection forces."

Music

Ancient song repertory heard for first time in 1,000 years after being reconstructed by researchers


Missing leaf from 'Cambridge Songs'
'Songs of Consolation', performed at Pembroke College Chapel, Cambridge on April 23, is reconstructed from neumes (symbols representing musical notation in the Middle Ages) and draws heavily on an 11th century manuscript leaf that was stolen from Cambridge and presumed lost for 142 years.

Saturday's performance features music set to the poetic portions of Roman philosopher Boethius' magnum opus The Consolation of Philosophy. One of the most widely-read and important works of the Middle Ages, it was written during Boethius' sixth century imprisonment, before his execution for treason. Such was its importance, it was translated by many major figures, including King Alfred the Great, Chaucer and Elizabeth I.

Hundreds of Latin songs were recorded in neumes from the 9th through to the 13th century. These included passages from the classics by Horace and Virgil, late antique authors such as Boethius, and medieval texts from laments to love songs.

However, the task of performing such ancient works today is not as simple as reading and playing the music in front of you. 1,000 years ago, music was written in a way that recorded melodic outlines, but not 'notes' as today's musicians would recognise them; relying on aural traditions and the memory of musicians to keep them alive. Because these aural traditions died out in the 12th century, it has often been thought impossible to reconstruct 'lost' music from this era - precisely because the pitches are unknown.

Now, after more than two decades of painstaking work on identifying the techniques used to set particular verse forms, research undertaken by Cambridge University's Dr Sam Barrett has enabled him to reconstruct melodies from the rediscovered leaf of the 11th century 'Cambridge Songs'.

Info

First direct evidence found of a C-section performed on a Hungarian mummy

© Rossella Lorenzi
The mummified remains are part of an exhibition in Hildesheim.
By analyzing 18th century mummified remains, Hungarian researchers have found the first direct evidence of a C-section performed on a deceased mother.

The procedure was widely performed in the 18th century on dead mothers in order to attempt baptize the baby while still alive.

"Caesarean section was made exclusively on women who had died in childbirth," Ildikó Szikossy, an anthropologist and senior curator at the Department of Anthropology at the Hungarian Natural History Museum in Budapest, told Discovery News.

"Indeed, alive patients could have not survived the operation at that time."

"In most cases the baby too died shortly after receiving the sacrament," she added.

Szikossy and colleagues found traces of a sharp-edged 5.7 inch long cut, running from the umbilical ring to the pubic symphysis, in one of the 265 natural mummified bodies kept at the Natural History Museum in Budapest.

The mummies were uncovered in 1994-1995 from a long forgotten crypt in the Dominican church of Vác, a town 22 miles north of the capital on the eastern bank of the Danube river.

"The coffins were beautiful decorated and contain the name, age and age of death of each individual," Szikossy said.

She presented her findings at the International Conference of Comparative Mummy Studies in Hildesheim, Germany. Szikossy and colleagues explained that the mummified remains of a young woman buried with her baby are so far the only evidence for a procedure widely performed in the 18th century.