Secret HistoryS


Climate Played Big Role in Vikings' Disappearance From Greenland

Climate History
© William D'Andrea, Brown UniversityWilliam D'Andrea, right, and Yongsong Huang of Brown University took cores from two lakes in Greenland to reconstruct 5,600 years of climate history near the Norse Western Settlement.

The end of the Norse settlements on Greenland likely will remain shrouded in mystery. While there is scant written evidence of the colony's demise in the 14th and early 15th centuries, archaeological remains can fill some of the blanks, but not all.

What climate scientists have been able to ascertain is that an extended cold snap, called the Little Ice Age, gripped Greenland beginning in the 1400s. This has been cited as a major cause of the Norse's disappearance. Now researchers led by Brown University show the climate turned colder in an earlier span of several decades, setting in motion the end of the Greenland Norse. Their findings appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Brown scientists' finding comes from the first reconstruction of 5,600 years of climate history from two lakes in Kangerlussuaq, near the Norse "Western Settlement." Unlike ice cores taken from the Greenland ice sheet hundreds of miles inland, the new lake core measurements reflect air temperatures where the Vikings lived, as well as those experienced by the Saqqaq and the Dorset, Stone Age cultures that preceded them.

"This is the first quantitative temperature record from the area they were living in," said William D'Andrea, the paper's first author, who earned his doctorate in geological sciences at Brown and is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst. "So we can say there is a definite cooling trend in the region right before the Norse disappear."


Maybe Mona Lisa? Buried Skeleton Found

Mona Lisa
© Louvre Museum, Wikimedia Commons, Public DomainThis is a retouched picture of the Mona Lisa, a painting by Leonardo DaVinci, currently housed at the Louvre museum in Paris, France. It has been digitally altered from it's original version by modifying its colors.

Archaeologists searching for the remains of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa have uncovered a skeleton that may belong to the mysterious woman.

The skeleton was unearthed in a Florence convent where researchers are searching for the remains of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, the women believed to be the model for da Vinci's famous painting. Based on an early look at the cranium and pelvis, the skeleton appears to be female, Bologna University anthropologist Giorgio Gruppioni told news agencies Friday (May 27).

However, more study is needed to determine if the skeleton is, in fact, female, much less whether she lived and died around the same time as Del Giocondo.The researchers were led to the church by historical records, including Gherardini's death certificate discovered a few years ago. She reportedly spent her last two years (until her death in 1542) at St. Ursula in Florence after her husband's death. The documents note that there is a crypt beneath the church floor where Gherardini would have been buried.

Researchers plan to continue the excavation of the skeleton. If the bones do belong to a woman and are from the right time period, the archaeologists will attempt to extract DNA from the skeleton to compare it with the remains of two of Del Giocondo's children, buried in a separate cemetery. They also hope to reconstruct her face to compare it with that of the Mona Lisa painting.

Arrow Down

The 6ft shrimp that BIT BACK! Fossil found of prehistoric prawn monster that used razor- sharp teeth to crack shellfish

A giant prehistoric shrimp-like monster which terrorised the oceans more than half a billion years ago has been discovered by scientists.

The fearsome-looking beasts, known as anomalocaridids, grew up to 6ft long and - unlike today's prawns - could bite back, using its razor-sharp teeth to crack open shellfish.

They were already believed to be the largest animals of the 'Cambrian' period which first spawned our complex ecosystem.

© AFP/Getty ImagesPrawn to be wild: A recreation of a anomalocaridids, fearsome beasts that killed their prey using giant sharp teeth


US: A Stonehenge Under Lake Michigan

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While scanning underneath the waters of Lake Michigan for shipwrecks, archeologists found something a lot more interesting than they bargained for, as they discovered a boulder with a prehistoric carving of a mastodon, as well as a series of stones arranged in a Stonehenge-like manner.

At a depth of about 40 feet into Lake Michigan's Grand Traverse Bay, using sonar techniques to look for shipwrecks, archeologists discovered sunken boats and cars and even a Civil War-era pier, but among all these they found this prehistoric surprise, which a trained eye can guess by looking at the sonar scans photos in this article.
© unknown

"When you see it in the water, you're tempted to say this is absolutely real," said Mark Holley, a professor of underwater archaeology at Northwestern Michigan University College who made the discovery, during a news conference with photos of the boulder on display in 2007. "But that's what we need the experts to come in and verify.


Pyramid-Exploring Robot Reveals Hidden Hieroglyphs

Ancient Hieroglyphs
© Djedi TeamA composite of images of the floor of the Great Pyramid is shown. Red hieroglyphs are visible.
A robot explorer sent through the Great Pyramid of Giza has begun to unveil some of the secrets behind the 4,500-year-old pharaonic mausoleum as it transmitted the first images behind one of its mysterious doors.

The images revealed hieroglyphs written in red paint that have not been seen by human eyes since the construction of the pyramid. The pictures also unveiled new details about two puzzling copper pins embedded in one of the so called "secret doors."

Published in the Annales du Service Des Antiquities de l'Egypte (ASAE), the images of markings and graffiti could unlock the secrets of the monument's puzzling architecture.

"We believe that if these hieroglyphs could be deciphered they could help Egyptologists work out why these mysterious shafts were built," Rob Richardson, the engineer who designed the robot at the University of Leeds, said.

Built for the pharaoh Cheops, also known as Khufu, the Great Pyramid is the last remaining wonder of the ancient world.

The monument is the largest of a family of three pyramids on the Giza plateau, on the outskirts of Cairo, and has long been rumored to have hidden passageways leading to secret chambers.

Archaeologists have long puzzled over the purpose of four narrow shafts deep inside the pyramid since they were first discovered in 1872.

Cloud Lightning

Biggest Floods in History - Does Mississippi Make the List?

See how current flood compares with epic deluges of past two million years.
© UnknownA home sits surrounded by floodwater from the Yazoo River in May 2011 near Vicksburg, Mississippi.

This story is part of a special National Geographic News series on global water issues.

As the crest of the Mississippi River flood moves through New Orleans and out to sea this week, peak river levels recorded during the month-long deluge threaten to top even the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

The most destructive river flood in U.S. history, the 1927 event moved about 2 million cubic feet (65,000 cubic meters) of water - enough to fill about 26 Olympic-size swimming pools - every second. (See pictures: "Mississippi River at Its Worst.")

"The numbers are still provisional, but [the current flood's peak water discharge] looks to be about the same" as the 1927 flood, said James O'Connor, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Still, the 1927 and 2011 Mississippi River floods remain just drops in the bucket compared to other known freshwater "megafloods" around the world, according to O'Connor.

The scientist co-authored a 2004 USGS report that ranked all freshwater floods known to have occurred during the past two million years. The list, which remains largely unchanged since its release, includes only floods that had peak discharges of 3.5 million cubic feet (100,000 cubic meters) a second or more.

Comment: The 'time of Noah' was several thousands of years ago. Is it possible there was "that much water in the atmosphere" then?


8 Bizarre Body Parts On Display Around The World

The tradition of putting body parts on display is almost as old as religion itself. Reliquaries containing the hands, feet, teeth, and other parts of holy people have been touted around the globe for thousands of years. But 20th-century cultural icons and ancient historical figures? Yeah, those get around too.

While some are proudly on display, many are decidedly better hidden. But with careful planning and a discerning eye, there are some pretty incredible body parts to be seen out there. You just have to know where to look.

© mansionwb/cogdogblog/Flickr
Einstein's Brain, University Medical Center, Princeton, New Jersey

All of us have one, some are a lot more developed than others, and Einstein's was incredible. Yep! We're talking about brains.

When Einstein died in 1955, his brain was removed by Thomas Harvey, a doctor working in the Princeton Hospital in New Jersey where the scientist passed away. Harvey thought that careful study of Einstein's brain would help him figure out what made the guy so gosh darn smart. Harvey was not granted permission to remove Einstein's brain, but he did it anyway, which landed him in some pretty hot water. And after Harvey became frighteningly obsessed with the brain and refused to relinquish possession of the specimen, he was fired from the Princeton Hospital and left in shame. But not before stealing the brain.

Harvey left New Jersey and went on a wild scientist goose chase. He traveled to any research facility or lab that agreed to perform tests on the brain. And here's where things really get weird: after a divorce and a downward spiral that brought him across the Midwest, Harvey ended up losing his medical license. His tragic tale ends with a cross-country road trip intended to return Einstein's brain to his granddaughter, only for her to tell him she didn't want it. 40 years later, Harvey returned the brain, in pieces, to the pathology lab in Princeton.

The bits of brain are somewhere in the Princeton Hospital, although we're not sure exactly where. Anyone got any insider info? We'd love to know.


UK: Housing Excavation Uncovers Remains of Medieval Village

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Construction work on a new housing development in Runcorn has unearthed what are thought to be the final remains of the medieval village of Norton.

Around 80 archaeological features have been found at the site near Lodge Farm, off Highgate Close, Norton village, since excavation began at the end of April.

Archaeologists have unearthed shards of pottery they believe date from the 13th and 14th centuries, as well as the footings and post holes of former timber-framed houses close to site of the old village road.

Social landlord Riverside is currently developing the site to provide three new pairs of three-bedroom semi-detached homes. The homes, designed by Croft Goode Architects, will provide sustainable housing for local people and will be made affordable under a shared ownership scheme.


Egyptian Pyramids Found by Infra-red Satellite Images

© AFP/Getty ImagesTwo new finds are at Saqqara, an older but less known pyramid site than Giza
Seventeen lost pyramids are among the buildings identified in a new satellite survey of Egypt.

More than 1,000 tombs and 3,000 ancient settlements were also revealed by looking at infra-red images which show up underground buildings.

Initial excavations have already confirmed some of the findings including of two suspected pyramids.

"To excavate a pyramid is the dream of every archaeologist," says Dr Sarah Parcak.

She has pioneered the work in space archaeology from a Nasa-sponsored laboratory in Birmingham, Alabama and says she was amazed at how much she and her team have found.

© unknownAn infra-red satellite image shows a buried pyramid, located in the centre of the highlight box.
"We were very intensely doing this research for over a year. I could see the data as it was emerging, but for me the "A-Ha" moment was when I could step back and look at everything that we'd found and I couldn't believe we could locate so many sites all over Egypt."

The team analysed images from satellites orbiting 700km above the earth, equipped with cameras so powerful they can pin-point objects less than 1m in diameter on the earth's surface.

Infra-red imaging was used to highlight different materials under the surface.


US: 4th-Grade 'Paleontologists' Discover 11,500-Year-Old Mastodon Hair

© Linda AzaroffFourth-grade scientists in action, sifting through dirt from a mastodon excavation.
Earlier this year, Linda Azaroff's fourth-grade class received a 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) box containing what one student described as a "clump of dirt."

But this wasn't just any dirt - it was sediment, or matrix, collected from a backyard in Hyde Park, N.Y., in 2000, where a project to deepen a backyard pond uncovered the remains of a mastodon - an extinct elephantlike animal. Working under a deadline, but not wanting to miss any important pieces, excavators carted away about 22,000 pounds (10,000 kg) of matrix from around the bones, more than they could realistically sort through in the years to come.

The excavators turned to citizen scientists volunteering for the Mastodon Matrix Project, which enlists school classes, hobbyists, families and other volunteers scour the matrix from mastodon excavations. Since 2008 alone, more than 3,500 participants from around the U.S. have worked on matrix from Hyde Park.

"One of the huge limiting things form a scientific standpoint is we often don't have the staff time either from interns or scientists themselves to go through all of this stuff," said Carlyn Buckler, an education and outreach associate at the Paleontological Research Institution (PRI), which operates the Mastodon Matrix Project. "The more data we can get, the more complete a picture we will come up with about the environment."

This approach isn't unique; students and other citizen scientists can contribute their time and effort to a variety of projects, from recording road kill to counting stars. In return, volunteers get hands-on experience with science and the chance to contribute to real research projects.