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Fri, 31 Mar 2023
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Secret History


'A total fiasco in all aspects': 20 years on, how the illegal invasion of Iraq backfired on the US

© Joe Raedle/Getty Images
155 mm howitzers • February 20, 2003 • Iraqi border in Kuwait
In March 2003, then President George W Bush approved the military attack, with major repercussions for US politics, and global perceptions of the country...

Twenty years ago, the world was shaken by one of the major geopolitical events of this century. On the morning of March 20, 2003, the US officially launched its illegal invasion of Iraq. The rationale was based on Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's alleged ties with terrorists, and intelligence regarding the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. However, both claims turned out to be false and were later refuted.

Russian political analysts believe that the real reasons behind the invasion of Iraq included a desire for control over oil fields, the naive hope of creating a 'showcase of democracy' in the Middle East, and a demonstration of the 'fight against terrorism' to US voters. None of these goals were achieved, but the grievous consequences of the endeavor are evident.


Indigenous people of the American West used 'sacred' horses a half-century earlier than previously thought

Indigenous oral histories and archaeological evidence are rewriting the story of how horses came to the American West.
A petroglyph

Centuries-old horse skeletons from the American Southwest are helping rewrite a colonial myth: When the Spanish colonized the region in the 17th century, they didn't introduce horses to Indigenous people, as long thought. Instead, horses were present in the Southwest long before Europeans, and were traded by Indigenous people who formed close, sacred relationships with them, a new study finds.

Horses lived in North America for millions of years but went extinct at the end of the last ice age, about 11,000 years ago. When Europeans reintroduced horses to what is now the eastern U.S. in 1519, these hoofed mammals radically altered Indigenous ways of life, rapidly causing changes to food production methods, transportation and warfare. In the Southwest, historical Spanish records suggest horses spread throughout the area after the Pueblo Revolt in 1680, when Indigenous people forced Spanish settlers out of what is now New Mexico. But these records, made a century after the revolt, do not align with the oral histories of the Comanche and Shoshone people, who document horse use far earlier.

Using tools such as radiocarbon dating, ancient and modern DNA analysis and isotope analysis (isotopes are elements with varying numbers of neutrons in their nuclei), a large and diverse team of researchers from 15 countries and multiple Native American groups, including members of the Lakota, Comanche and Pawnee nations, have now determined that horses did indeed spread across the continent earlier and faster than previously assumed.


2,000 ram heads discovered at Temple of Rameses II in Egypt

Some of the 2,000 ram heads discovered in Egypt.
© Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities
Some of the 2,000 ram heads discovered in Egypt.
More than 2,000 mummified ram heads and a palatial Old Kingdom structure have been uncovered by archaeologists at the King Ramses II Temple of Abydos.

The finds, located roughly 270 miles south of Cairo, come from a period of over 1,000 years, from the Sixth Dynasty to the Heroic Age, making some of the discoveries over 4,300 years old.

In addition to the ancient ram's head, archaeologists from the University of New York also discovered a group of mummified dogs, wild goats, cows, deer and an ostrich.

The mummified remains are believed to have been left at the site to honor Ramses II about 1,000 years after his death, the Egyptian Ministry for Tourism and Antiquities said.

It is thought that the rams and other animals would have been used as offerings during worship of the rams in Abydus during the Bipidus period, Dr Sameh Iskandar, head of the mission added in a statement.


Fire reveals Notre-Dame de Paris Cathedral was historical first in using iron reinforcements in the 12th century

© Maxime L'Héritier, CC-BY 4.0 /creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
View of the chevet of Notre-Dame de Paris under restoration.
The Notre-Dame de Paris is the first known cathedral of Gothic-style architecture to be initially constructed with extensive use of iron to bind stones together. The 2019 fire that significantly damaged the cathedral enabled analyses leading to this discovery, by Maxime L'Héritier of Université Paris 8, France and colleagues, who present these findings in PLOS ONE on March 15, 2023.

At the time of its construction in the mid-12th century, Notre-Dame was the tallest building ever erected, reaching a height of 32 meters.
Previous research suggests that this record was made possible by combining a number of architectural innovations. However, despite extensive use of iron reinforcements in more recent cathedrals and in efforts to restore old buildings, it has been unclear what role iron might have played in Notre-Dame's initial construction.

Comment: See also:


Unique and very well-preserved prehistoric engravings found in southwestern Catalonia

Rock Art1
Significant prehistoric rock art has been discovered in La Febro, in southwestern Catalonia.

The team that discovered the art inside Cova de la Vila described it as "exceptional, both for its singularity and excellent state of conservation."

In the Cova de la Vila cave in La Febró (Tarragona), in northeastern Spain's region of Catalonia, more than 100 prehistoric engravings have been found, arranged on an eight-meter panel.

According to experts, it is a composition related to the worldview of agricultural societies and farmers of the territory. One of the singularities of this mural is that it is made exclusively with the engraving technique, with stone or wood tools.

The engravings include shapes that resemble horses, cows, suns, and stars.

Julio Serrano, Montserrat Roca, and Francesc Rubinat were the cavers responsible for the discovery; they collaborated with Josep Vallverd, Antonio Rodrguez-Hidalgo, and Diego Lombao, researchers from the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution (IPHES-CERCA), and Ramón Vias, an expert in prehistoric rock art.

It was in May 2021, during some scans and topographical work by a group of speleologists in the Barranc de la Cova del Corral, that they discovered the Cova de la Vila, a cavity excavated by Salvador Vilaseca in the 1940s and whose coordinates appear to have been lost.


Research team uncovers further ceiling paintings in the temple of Esna, Egypt

Representation of the zodiac sign Sagittarius
© University of Tübingen
Representation of the zodiac sign Sagittarius.
An Egyptian-German research team has uncovered yet another series of colorful ceiling paintings at the Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt. The researchers reported that the Egyptian restoration team, led by Ahmed Emam, succeeded in completely restoring and re-coloring a representation of the heavens. The images, executed in relief, include a complete depiction of the signs of the zodiac. Other reliefs show the planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars, as well as a number of stars and constellations used in ancient times to measure time. The overall project is in the hands of Hisham El-Leithy of the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and Professor Christian Leitz of the University of Tübingen.

"Representations of the zodiac are very rare in Egyptian temples," Leitz says, adding "The zodiac itself is part of Babylonian astronomy and does not appear in Egypt until Ptolemaic times." Researchers think the system of zodiac signs and their related constellations was introduced to Egypt by the Greeks and subsequently became popular. "The zodiac was used to decorate private tombs and sarcophagi and was of great importance in astrological texts, such as horoscopes found inscribed on pottery sherds," says Dr. Daniel von Recklinghausen, a Tübingen researcher. "However, it is rare in temple decoration: Apart from Esna, there are only two completely preserved versions left, both from Dendera," he says.
Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt
© University of Tübingen
Temple of Esna in Upper Egypt.

Better Earth

'Prehistoric' mummified bear discovered in Siberian permafrost isn't what we thought, nor do we know how it got there

mummified bear
© North-Eastern Federal University
A close-up of the mummified bear's head. The bear, unearthed in 2020, was originally assumed to be an extinct cave bear that dated back at least 22,000 years. But a new necropsy reveals it is actually a brown bear that lived 3,500 years ago.
A perfectly preserved, mummified bear found entombed in the Siberian permafrost in 2020 isn't what scientists thought it was, a new analysis reveals. It turns out that the eerily intact carcass is much younger than first assumed and belongs to an entirely different species.

Reindeer herders unearthed the remains, which include the bear's intact skin, fur, teeth, nose, claws, body fat and internal organs, on Bolshoy Lyakhovsky Island, a remote Russian island located in the East Siberian Sea. Researchers named it the Etherican bear, after the nearby Bolshoy Etherican River.

Comment: Ice bridge? Land bridge? Either way, it may reveal how significantly different the geography of certain regions has been at different times in the past.


Ancient ring ditch unearthed in Derbyshire, UK

Ring Ditch
© Pre-Construct Archaeology
Staff from our Newark office have unearthed some exciting archaeology at a new industrial development at Dove Valley Park in Derbyshire, working on behalf of Orion Heritage and Clowes Developments (UK) Ltd.

Cropmarks on aerial photographs hinted at the presence of several ring ditches and linear ditches on and close to the site. Our team confirmed the existence of these features through trial trench evaluation. We then conducted a strip, map and sample excavation to fully reveal and investigate the remains, leading to the discovery of a complete ring ditch and a substantial linear ditch.

The ring ditch during excavation, with a possible entrance visible in the foreground. There was at least one re-cutting of the ring ditch, suggesting maintenance and possible longevity of use.


Ancient structures in the Arabian desert reveal fragments of mysterious rituals

© Kennedy et al., PLOS One, 2023
Interlocking stone cells found outside of the base of mustatil IDIHA-F-0011081.
We might be getting closer to understanding why hundreds of large stone structures were built across the deserts of northwest Saudi Arabia thousands of years ago.

According to an in-depth new analysis, the mysterious, rectangular enclosures were used by Neolithic people for unknown rituals, depositing animal offerings, perhaps as votives to an unknown deity or deities. Excavations have revealed hundreds of fragments of animal remains, clustered around an upright slab of stone interpreted as sacred.

The roughly 7,000-year-old monuments known as mustatils (an Arabic word meaning rectangles) have baffled archaeologists since attracting scientific attention in the 1970s.

It wasn't until 2017, however, that the full extent of their spread across the Arabian Peninsula was revealed in the first scientific paper documenting their discovery. Aerial surveys have aided in the identification of over 1,600 mustatils, sometimes in groups, scattered throughout the desert.

Nicknamed 'gates' because of their appearance from the air, mustatils were described in that paper as "two short, thick lines of heaped stones, roughly parallel, linked by two or more much longer and thinner walls."

They consist of two short, thick platforms, linked by low walls of much greater length, measuring up to 600 meters (2,000 feet), but never more than half a meter (1.64 feet) high.


The world's oldest swords discovered in Turkey

Oldest Swords
© Malatya
The 5,000-year-old swords found 43 years ago during the excavations in the old mud-brick palace structure in Malatya Arslantepe Mound are the oldest swords in the world.

Many archaeologists believed that the earliest swords only dated to around 1600 or 1500 BCE before the discovery of a cache of swords at the archaeological site of Arslantepe in Turkey.

The nine swords from the archaeological site of Arslantepe (Melid) attest to the use of this weapon for the first time in the world - at least a millennium before the already-known examples. They date back to the Early Bronze Age (c. 33rd to 31st centuries).

In the 1980s, Marcella Frangipane's team at Rome University discovered a cache of nine swords and daggers dating all the way back to 3300 BCE. Frangipane declared the swords of Arslantepe the world's oldest and first swords ever discovered.

They are made of an alloy of arsenic and copper. Three of the swords were exquisitely inlaid with silver. These weapons have a total length of 45 to 60 cm, which points to either a short sword or a long dagger classification.