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Controversy surrounds artifacts on Azores Islands: Evidence of advanced ancient seafarers?

© Antoneita Costa
Mysterious marks found in rocks in the Azores archipelago, Portugal.
The Azores archipelago is about 1,000 miles off the coast of Europe, about a third of the way to North America across the Atlantic. The islands belong to Portugal, and the official historical record has long held that they were uninhabited until Portuguese expeditions colonized them in the 15th century. But a controversial alternative theory is gaining ground.

Some experts, including the president of the Portuguese Association of Archaeological Research, Nuno Ribeiro, have said rock art and the remnants of human-made structures on the islands suggest the Azores were occupied by humans thousands of years ago.

This assertion is controversial because it has been used to support a theory that a trade route existed between the Phoenicians, the Norse, and the New World—long before contact with the New World is conventionally thought to have taken place. We will explore this theory and its connection to the Azores in more detail later.

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Question

How did a chunk of India and Eurasia disappear?

© ixpert / Shutterstock.com
What happened to half of the mass of India and Eurasia?
Half of the mass of Eurasia and India is missing, new research finds, and may have been swallowed up by the Earth's mantle.

If so, that would be a surprise, as geoscientists thought that continental crust — the kind that makes up major landmasses — was too buoyant to dive down into the mantle, the pliable middle layer of the planet upon which the crust rides.

"It used to be thought that the mantle and the crust interacted only in a relatively minor way," study researcher David Rowley, a geoscientist at the University of Chicago, said in a statement. "This work suggests that, at least in certain circumstances, that's not true."

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Archaeology

Ain Ghazal: Studying the earliest farmers

© C. Blair/The Ain Ghazal Archaeological Project
A fossilized skeleton of a human who was buried beneath a floor in a family home in Ain Ghazal, a 10,000-year-old farming village in Jordan.
Beneath a rocky slope in central Jordan lie the remains of a 10,000-year-old village called Ain Ghazal, whose inhabitants lived in stone houses with timber roof beams, the walls and floors gleaming with white plaster.

© P. Dorrell and S. Laidlaw/The Ain Ghazal Archaeological Project
Two of the sculptures recovered at Ain Ghazal. They likely represent mythical ancestors to whom the plastered skulls were directed.
Hundreds of people living there worshiped in circular shrines and made haunting, wide-eyed sculptures that stood three feet high. They buried their cherished dead under the floors of their houses, decapitating the bodies in order to decorate the skulls.

But as fascinating as this culture was, something else about Ain Ghazal intrigues archaeologists more: It was one of the first farming villages to have emerged after the dawn of agriculture.

Around the settlement, Ain Ghazal farmers raised barley, wheat, chickpeas and lentils. Other villagers would leave for months at a time to herd sheep and goats in the surrounding hills.

Sites like Ain Ghazal provide a glimpse of one of the most important transitions in human history: the moment that people domesticated plants and animals, settled down, and began to produce the kind of society in which most of us live today.

But for all that sites like Ain Ghazal have taught archaeologists, they are still grappling with enormous questions. Who exactly were the first farmers? How did agriculture, a cornerstone of civilization itself, spread to other parts of the world?

Pyramid

Use of cosmic rays, space particles, reveal two 'secret chambers' in Egypt's Great Pyramid

© ScanPyramids
Two secret chambers have been discovered in Egypt's 4,500-year-old Great Pyramid of Giza. Researchers confirmed they had found the mysterious cavities after scanning the centuries old tomb using revolutionary radiography equipment.

The Scan Pyramids project made the latest discovery after being able to demonstrate the efficiency of non-evasive Muons technology at the Bent Pyramid in Dahshour this May. Last year thermal scanning identified a major anomaly in the Great Pyramid, sparking a debate over whether there was a long-running network of tunnels hidden away inside.

But now the mystery has been answered as the Ministry of Antiquities announced on Thursday that 'two anomalies' were found in the pyramid built under King Khufu. They are now looking to conduct further tests on the 146m-high monument to determine their function, nature and size.

The pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, named after the son of Phara oh Snefru, is considered one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It has three known chambers, and like other pyramids in Egypt was intended as a pharaoh's tomb.
© ScanPyramids
Muons emulsion plate setup in Khufus lower chamber.

Galaxy

Extinction event: Evidence of supernova blast found in fossils

© Brocken Inaglory
German scientists have found remnants of a supernova, in the form of iron-60, in fossils left by magnetotactic bacteria. The scientists are also looking at the timing of the supernova, which coincides with an extinction event that effected mollusks.

Fossils are one of the major ways scientists can have windows to what happened in the past. The biology and chemistry of ancient Earth is locked up in these primitive time capsules, giving great insight into what was going on millions of years ago.

Still, no one expected a case of ancient astronomy with the use of fossils. German scientists have found remnants of a supernova encased in the fossilized chains of "magnetofossils," extracted from two Pacific Ocean sediment cores.

Bug

100-million-year-old 'Frankenstein' wasp unlike any other on Earth

© George Poinar, Jr./Oregon State University
About 100 million years ago during the Cretaceous period, Mother Nature was apparently channeling her inner Frankenstein.

Researchers at Oregon State University have unveiled the preserved remains of an ancient parasitic wasp named Aptenoperissus burmanicus, which has the legs of a grasshopper, the abdomen of a cockroach and the antenna of an ant.

"When I first looked at this insect, I had no idea what it was," professor George Poinar Jr., one of the world's leading experts on life forms found preserved in amber, said in a statement. "You could see it's tough and robust, and could give a painful sting."

As detailed in a paper published in the journal Cretaceous Research , the unusual insect was discovered encased in amber retrieved from China's Hukawng Valley in Myanmar.

Researchers studying the female wasp believe it crawled along the forest floor hunting for insects hidden in crevices and other concealed habitats. When it encountered prey, it would paralyze its victims and lay its eggs. The eggs would then hatch and consume their host alive, much like modern day parasitic wasps do.

Question

The enduring mystery of Oak Island

© Oak Island Money Pit
There's no shortage of stories when it comes to buried pirate treasure, and at least a few of those tales have turned out to be true. Pirates raided the seas for nearly two centuries, many with tremendous success. Victorious pirates collected a lot of loot and such thievery was how the crew got paid. The problem: Where to store all that treasure? It's not like newly wealthy buccaneers could take their liberated gold and jewels down to the First Pirate Bank & Trust. Just the name Pirate Bank is kind of an oxymoron. One possible solution may be what's today known as the Oak Island Money Pit.

To hide their booty, which was sometimes sizable, victorious pirates would bury it in small caches in lonely spots in the world's oceans. Really successful pirates had so much treasure buried that they needed to mark the locations on cryptic maps or leave signs in those remote places. It seems crazy now, but the world was a very different place in the 1700s. Of course, many times the owners would never return to claim their buried gold, silver and jewels. It's a tough gig, piracy.

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Info

14,500-year-old cave art hailed as 'Iberia's most spectacular'

© Agence France-Presse
This undated handout picture released by Diputacion Foral de Bizkaia on 13 October 2016 shows cave engravings representing horses and goats, in the Armintxe cave in the Basque village of Lekeitio.
Cave art as much as 14,500 years old has been pronounced "the most spectacular and impressive" ever discovered on the Iberian peninsula. About 50 etchings were found in the Basque town of Lekeitio.

They include horses, bison, goats and - in a radical departure from previously discovered Palaeolithic art in the Biscay province - two lions.

Some depictions are also much bigger than those found previously - with one horse about 150cm (4ft 11in) long.

"It is a wonder, a treasure of humanity," senior Biscay official Unai Rementeria said.

He was announcing the discovery, which was made in the Armintxe cave in May and has since been investigated by Biscay experts.

The cave was well-known to locals, said reports, but no-one had until then ventured the 50m inside where this latest 15m-long panel of etchings was found.

Together with two side panels, the depictions comprise some 30 animals along with forms comprising semi-circles and lines - including some "identical" to forms found in the French Pyrenees.

Other similar shared features - including the depictions of lions and the etching technique used - have suggested there could have been links between groups of hunter-gatherers in both areas.The etchings are thought to date from between 12,000 and 14,500 years ago.

The cave will not be opened to the public, both due to its inaccessibility and because of the need to preserve the paintings - but authorities say they will use technology to give the public as good a view of the new finds as possible.

Experts will discuss the finds at a special congress at the end of the month.

Info

Ancient Greeks may have designed China's Terracotta Army

© Philippe Wojazer/Reuters
The new evidence is to be shown in a documentary.
Marco Polo may have been beaten to China by 1,500 years according to new evidence. Not only did the travelers get to China earlier than previously believed, but they played a key role in the county's iconic Terracotta Army according to researchers.

"By systematically examining the First Emperor's main tomb and subsidiary burials we have discovered something more important even than the Terracotta Army," Professor Zhang Weixing, lead archaeologist at the tomb site, told BBC documentary makers.

The revised timeline of the West's presence in China emerged after new pieces of evidence including DNA was discovered in China's Xinjiang province dating back to the Third Century BC. Tests on the DNA show it to be of European origin.

Researchers also believe the sudden appearance of life-sized statues in China around this time point to a presence of Greek artists, who would have brought their sculpting techniques to the East following Alexander the Great's reign. Prior to this, Chinese statues were typically no taller than 20cm.

"I imagine that a Greek sculptor may have been at the site to train the locals," Professor Lukas Nickel, chair of Asian art history at Vienna University said when speaking about China's famous Terracotta Army, consisting of life-sized models of the soldiers of the First Emperor of China.

Info

Ancient site in Australia could rival Stonehenge as world's oldest observatory

© Computer image of Stonehenge Site by Richard Patterson 2015
Artist's rendition of the site outside of Mullimbimby, based on old, diary descriptions from a '30s archaeologist.
An ancient Aboriginal site at a secret location in the Victorian bush could be the oldest astronomical observatory in the world, pre-dating Stonehenge and even the Great Pyramids of Giza.

Scientists studying the Wurdi Yuangstone arrangement say it could date back more than 11,000 years and provide clues into the origins of agriculture.

Duane Hamacher, a leader in the study of Indigenous astronomy, has been working with Aboriginal elders at the site to reconstruct their knowledge of the stars and planets.

"Some academics have referred to this stone arrangement here as Australia's version of Stonehenge," Dr Hamacher said.

"I think the question we might have to ask is: is Stonehenge Britain's version of Wurdi Yuang? Because this could be much, much older."

If the site is more than 7,000 years old, it will rewrite history and further disprove the notion that first Australians were uniformly nomadic hunter-gatherers.