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Sherlock

Archaeological dig in Qatar reveals fascinating material

Image
© Emma Tetlow
Excavation of the late Neolithic fish midden at Wadi Debay’an.
Carbon dating of ancient organic remains from Wadi Debay'an, a site a few kilometres south of Al Zubara on Qatar's north-west coastline, has yielded the earliest yet known date for human occupation in Qatar - 7,500 years before present.

This was revealed by Environmental archaeologist Dr Emma Tetlow of the Qatar National Environment Record (QNER) in a presentation last week to members of the Qatar Natural History Group on recent investigations at Wadi Debay'an.

The QNER is a combined project of the Qatar Museums Authority and the University of Birmingham, UK, directed by Dr Richard Cuttler.
Previous to the work of the QNER, the application of environmental archaeology and geoarchaeology to sites in Qatar has been limited, but now geomorphological and sedimentological data are being used to establish sites which would have been favourable for human occupation. Applying analytical techniques to pollen, macroscopic plant remains and those of insects - Tetlow's special field of research - is revealing fascinating material about the terrain and climate of Qatar seven millennia ago.

Info

Castles of 'Lost Cities' Revealed in Libyan Desert

Mudbrick Village
© Toby Savage
An ancient mudbrick village with a castle-like structure visible in the center of the image.

New evidence of a lost civilization in an area of the Sahara in Libya has emerged from images taken by satellites.

Using satellites and air photographs to identify the remains in one of the most inhospitable parts of the desert, a team from the University of Leicester in England has discovered more than 100 fortified farms and villages with castle-like structures and several towns, most dating between AD 1 to 500.

"It is like someone coming to England and suddenly discovering all the medieval castles. These settlements had been unremarked and unrecorded under the Gadhafi regime," said project leader David Mattingly, professor of Roman archaeology at the university. The fall of the regime has opened up Libya to more exploration by archaeologists of its pre-Islamic heritage.

These "lost cities" were built by a little-known ancient civilization called the Garamantes, whose lifestyle and culture was far more advanced and historically significant than ancient sources had suggested.

Info

Was the Spotted Horse an Imaginary Creature?

Spotted Horses
© The Bridgeman Art Library/Getty Images; Thomas Hackmann (insert)
No flight of fancy? DNA evidence suggests that spotted horses (inset) probably existed at the time cave artists were painting them, for example, 25,000 years ago at this cave in Spain.

About 25,000 years ago, humans began painting a curious creature on the walls of European caves. Among the rhinos, wild cattle, and other animals, they sketched a white horse with black spots. Although such horses are popular breeds today, scientists didn't think they existed before humans domesticated the species about 5000 years ago. Now, a new study of prehistoric horse DNA concludes that spotted horses did indeed roam ancient Europe, suggesting that early artists may have been reproducing what they saw rather than creating imaginary creatures.

Archeologists have found more than 100 painted caves depicting at least 4000 animals in Europe, nearly all of them concentrated in southern France and northern Spain. They include France's Chauvet Cave, dated to at least 32,000 years ago and featuring the earliest known cave art, as well as the roughly 15,000-year-old caves of Lascaux in France and Altamira in Spain. Nearly a third of the animals in painted caves are horses; and nearly all of the horses are rendered in brown or black, similar to the bay or black colors of today's horses.

But a small number of caves, including 25,000-year-old Pech Merle in southern France, feature horses painted white with black spots. Some archaeologists have argued that this leopardlike pattern was fanciful and symbol laden rather than realistic. Indeed, in a 2009 analysis of DNA from the bones of nearly 90 ancient horses dated from about 12,000 to 1000 years ago, researchers found genetic evidence for bay and black coat colors but no sign of the spotted variety, suggesting that the spotted horse could have been the figment of some artist's imagination. Although researchers can only speculate on what prehistoric artists were trying to express, hypotheses range from shamanistic and ritualistic activities to attempts to capture the spirit of horses and other animals that ancient humans hunted.

Magic Wand

The mystery of Leonardo's two Madonnas

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© The National Gallery Photographic Department/Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)
Virgin of the Rocks, National gallery version Leonardo Da Vinci: Painter at the court of Milan
Leonardo da Vinci completed fewer than 20 paintings in his lifetime. So why did he paint the same one twice? As a new national Gallery exhibition opens, we investigate.

Painter, sculptor, engineer, architect, botanist, inventor - Leonardo da Vinci was many things, but a fast worker wasn't one of them. As his patrons frequently complained, it was unusual for him to finish even one painting. So how did it happen that he completed two versions of the very same picture, his strange and dream-like Virgin of the Rocks? It's a question that has inspired numerous conspiracy theories, and now, for the first time, the two paintings will hang alongside each other, something even the artist himself would never have gazed upon. Together they will form part of Leonardo da Vinci: Painter at the Court of Milan, a new National Gallery exhibition which will be the most extensive display of Leonardo's paintings ever staged. And, no doubt, inspire numerous more conspiracy theories.

But how did the artist come to paint his Virgin in the first place? In 1483, aged 30, da Vinci had arrived in Milan from Florence. He was armed with a formidable artistic reputation, yet dogged by financial worries. He longed to forge a working relationship, as court artist, with the Duke of Milan, Ludovico Sforza, but the latter was at this point too busy waging war against the Venetians.

Comment: Read The True Identity of Fulcanelli and The Da Vinci Code by Laura Knight-Jadczyk to learn more about the secrets hidden in Leonardo da Vinci's work.


Info

Human Ancestor 'Family' May Not Have Been Related

Early Hominids
© U.S. Bureau of Land Management
U.S. Bureau of Land Management team members Tom Noble (center) and Neffra Matthews (right) partner with the Government of Tanzania in a recent re-excavation of the famous early hominid footprints discovered by the Leakeys at Laetoli in Tanzania.
Las Vegas - A famous trail of footprints once thought to have been left behind by a family of three human ancestors may have actually been made by four individuals traveling at different times.

In a new examination of Laetoli in northern Tanzania, where a 3.6-million-year-old track of footprints of the bipedal human ancestor Australopithecus is preserved, researchers now argue that the classic understanding of this site is mistaken. The footprints have been buried since the mid-1990s for preservation, but a section recently opened for study as Tanzanian officials make plans for a museum on the site.

Preserved at Laetoli are two lines of hominid prints, along the crisscrossing tracks of early rabbits and other animals. The site is the earliest example of an upright, humanlike gait in our ancestors. Early analysis had suggested the tracks were laid down by three individuals, evolutionary relatives of the famous Australopithecus aferensis "Lucy," discovered in Ethiopia. One Australopithecus walked next to another, while a third, smaller individual trailed behind, stepping in the tracks of one of the larger individuals.

Magnify

US: Scientists Find Evidence of Roman Period Megadrought

Image
© Daniel Griffin/Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research
Dendrochronologists extract a small, pencil-shaped sample of wood from a tree with a tool called an increment borer. The tiny hole left in the tree's trunk quickly heals as the tree continues to grow.
A new study at the University of Arizona's Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research has revealed a previously unknown multi-decade drought period in the second century A.D.

Almost nine hundred years ago, in the mid-12th century, the southwestern U.S. was in the middle of a multi-decade megadrought. It was the most recent extended period of severe drought known for this region. But it was not the first.

The second century A.D. saw an extended dry period of more than 100 years characterized by a multi-decade drought lasting nearly 50 years, says a new study from scientists at the University of Arizona.

UA geoscientists Cody Routson, Connie Woodhouse and Jonathan Overpeck conducted a study of the southern San Juan Mountains in south-central Colorado. The region serves as a primary drainage site for the Rio Grande and San Juan rivers.

"These mountains are very important for both the San Juan River and the Rio Grande River," said Routson, a doctoral candidate in the environmental studies laboratory of the UA's department of geosciences and the primary author of the study, which is upcoming in Geophysical Research Letters.

Sherlock

Scotland: Archaeologists Unearth Treasure Trove from Across the Ages in Argyll

Image
© Moira Kerr
Dr Clare Ellis shows the Neolithic axehead from about 6,000 years ago and a clay pipe dating back to 1760-1820.
A routine archaeological survey at a planned housing development has uncovered a treasure trove of Iron and Bronze Age artefacts.

The find, on a hillside near Oban, includes a Neolithic axe-head dating back 5,000 to 6,000 years, three roundhouses around 2,500 to 3,000 years old and the remains of an 18th-century farmstead and metalwork store.

Other objects include a hoard of stone tools dating back 3,000 years, hundreds of fragments of Bronze Age and late 18th- century pottery, plus a clay pipe from around 1760-1820.

Dr Clare Ellis, of Argyll Archaeology, who was commissioned to survey the site at Glenshellach on the outskirts of Oban by local house-builders M & K MacLeod, said: "It's the largest excavation that has happened in recent years in mainland Argyll in this period of archaeology.

Sherlock

Buddha-Era Relics Found in Nepal

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© The Kathmandu Post
Archaeological objects dating back to Gautam Buddha's time have been found at Devdaha in Lumbini (eastern Nepal). The palace of Lord Buddha's maternal uncle is located in Devdaha.

Local people found the remains of a hukka (smoking pot made of clay), bricks, diyo (a small earthen lamp) and a pond under a peepal tree at Bhaluhi's Buddhapath and informed the local administration and the Lumbini Development Trust (LDT) of the finding.

According to elderly people in the area, Lord Buddha used to take bath in the area and it has a small temple too.

Following an inspection, archaeological officer of the LDT Himale Upreti said the relics may be traced back to Buddha's times. He said an excavation needs to be carried out in the area to verify the objects.

"Objects dating back to centuries were found here earlier too. However, people were not aware of them and the place remained unnoticed," Upreti said, adding that there might be various other archaeologically important sites in Devdaha.

Pharoah

Sex of Egyptian Child Mummy Remains a Mystery

A 2,000-year-old child mummy visited an Illinois hospital earlier this year so researchers could use imaging technology to look for clues to the child's life and death.

A computed tomography, or CT, scan, conducted in March, revealed a few tantalizing tidbits: a delicate facial structure; the wads of cloth that had been packed around the body; clearly visible internal organs, including the brain; and the severity of the fracture to the back of the child's head, which appears to have occurred after death. Unfortunately, the scan failed to elucidate a basic question about the mummy's identity: its sex.

"The dismaying part is the pelvis is collapsed, which means the physical anthropologists cannot do traditional measurements on the pelvis to determine its sex, so we still don't know if it's a boy or a girl," said Sarah Wisseman, an archaeologist with the Illinois State Archeological Survey, whose book The Virtual Mummy (University of Illinois Press, 2003) describes this research.

Palette

Long Pilgrimages Revealed in Ancient Sudan Art

Image
© Bogdan Zurawski
The common dead are shown in agony in this medieval artwork. The emotion they display, and the fact that they, along with the first born, are naked, suggest that this painting may have had a European artist.
Excavations of a series of medieval churches in central Sudan have revealed a treasure trove of art, including a European-influenced work, along with evidence of journeys undertaken by travelers from western Europe that were equivalent to the distance between New York City and the Grand Canyon.

A visit by a Catalonian man named Benesec is recorded in one of the churches, along with visits from other pilgrims of the Middle Ages, according to lead researcher Bogdan Zurawski of the Institute of Mediterranean and Oriental Cultures of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

The discoveries were made at Banganarti and Selib, two sites along the Nile that were part of Makuria, a Christian kingdom ruled by a dynasty of kings throughout the Middle Ages.

The art there tells stories of kings, saints, pilgrims and even a female demon, said Zurawski, who presented his findings recently at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.