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Secret History


Breathing Life Into an Extinct Ethnicity

The Taínos
© Peter Newark American Pictures / The Bridgeman Art Library
The Taínos were the first Native Americans to encounter European explorers, but this ethnic group is now extinct.

The Taínos were the first Native Americans to meet European explorers in the Caribbean. They soon fell victim to the diseases and violence brought by the outsiders, and today no Taínos remain.

But the footprints of this extinct ethnicity are scattered throughout the genomes of modern Puerto Ricans, according to geneticist Carlos Bustamante at the Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California. On average, the genomes of Puerto Ricans contain 10 to 15% Native American DNA, which is largely Taíno, says Bustamante.

At a presentation at the 12th International Congress of Human Genetics in Montreal, Canada, Bustamante described preliminary results from a study that aims to reconstruct the genetic features of the Taíno people. The cryptic information was found in the genomes of 70 modern Puerto Ricans, some of the latest additions to the ongoing 1000 Genomes project, an international consortium whose goal is to find the variations in DNA sequence among the genomes of all human populations.


Is This the First Self-Portrait of Michelangelo?

© Rossella Lorenzi
The marble relief. A self portrait by Michelangelo?

A unique marble relief might be the first known self-portrait of Michelangelo, Italian art historians have announced this week.

Belonging to a private collection, the sculpture is a white marble tondo, or circle, about 14 inches in diameter. It depicts a bearded head in three-quarter profile.

"It's a very high-quality sculpture, carved with precision and delicacy. It certainly deserves much attention," Alessandro Vezzosi, director of the Museo Ideale in the Tuscan town of Vinci, told Discovery News.

The carving was identified as a possible work by Michelangelo back in 1999 by the late James Beck, professor of art history at Columbia University.

In his monograph The Three Worlds of Michelangelo, Beck called the artwork a "possible Michelangelo self portrait" and dated it to about 1545.

At that time, 70-year-old Michelangelo Buonarroti (1475-1564) had already completed masterpieces such as the David, the Pieta in the Basilica of St. Peter, the Medici chapels in Florence and the Last Judgement in the Sistine Chapel.

According to Beck, there was no doubt that the carved face of the old bearded man belonged to Michelangelo.


100,000 year old "Art Studio" Found; Evidence of Early Chemistry

© Science/AAAS
The abalone shell was found with an ochre-covered grindstone on its lip.
Abalone shells used to mix paint found in South African cave, new study says.

A coating of bright red powder on the insides of a pair of 100,000-year-old abalone shells is evidence of the oldest known art workshop, a new study says.

The powder was found inside two shells in Blombos Cave near Still Bay, South Africa (map). The substance is the dried remains of a primitive form of paint made by combining colorful clay called ochre, crushed seal bones, charcoal, quartzite chips, and a liquid, such as water.

"A round [stone] covered the opening of one of the shells, and underneath it was absolutely bright red," said study leader Christopher Henshilwood, an archaeologist at the University of Bergen in Norway and the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.

In addition to the shells, the team also found grindstones, hammerstones, the remains of a small fire pit, and animal bones that were used to transfer small amounts of the paint.


Ancient artifacts yield their secrets under neutron imaging

For the first time, neutron images in 3 dimensions have been taken of rare archaeological artifacts here at ORNL. Bronze and brass artifacts excavated at the ancient city of Petra, in Jordan were recently imaged in 3 dimensions using neutrons at HFIR's CG-1D Neutron Imaging instrument. The data that is now being analyzed will for the first time give eager archeologists and ancient historians significant, otherwise wholly inaccessible insight into the manufacturing and lives of cultures that once occupied settlements within the Roman Empire, Middle East, and Colonial-period New England.

© Brown University
Neutron image in 3 dimensions
The samples that were imaged in 3-D in August came from the collections of the Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology and the Ancient World at Brown University. They include an elaborate hanging bronze oil lamp, a large Roman coin, and - most charmingly - a standing dog figure, which might have been either a religious dedication or perhaps a toy. Although their original provenance is unknown, they are all excellent examples of common metal finds from antiquity.

Principal Investigator Krysta Ryzewski, an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Wayne State University and her co-PI Brian W. Sheldon, Professor of Engineering at Brown University loaned the artifacts for study from Prof. Susan E. Alcock, Director of Brown's Joukowsky Institute.


UK: Rare 18th century iron foundry unearthed in archaeological dig on Church Street in Ormskirk

© Unknown
An archaeological dig has unearthed an 18th century iron foundry in the heart of Ormskirk.

A site at the back of Church Street was stripped and excavated over three weeks by archaeologist Stephen Baldwin and his team in March 2009.

The final report has now been released and the foundry is thought to have dated back to as early as 1796.

The discovery was made after the land belonging to Aughton developer Alan Stockton was surveyed as part of the requirements of planning permission to develop the site.

Stockton Properties plans to develop the land into a wine bar and student accommodation.

Alan told the Advertiser: "I wasn't happy when they told me I'd have to dig up the site first. But when I realised what Steve had found, I got quite interested.

"It's an historic find and it's nice to part of that."


Rarest of Ancient Oil Lamps Proven to be Authentic

Ancient oil lamps are not terribly rare in the archaeology of Israel. They are one of the more frequent types of Biblical artifacts found during archaeological excavations in the Holy Land. About ten years ago, however, a very special lamp surfaced in the archaeological world.

The lamp is made of stone, not clay, and has seven nozzles rather than the single nozzle typically found on ancient oil lamps made of stone. This lamp is unique - there are no other lamps of this type known among the thousands of Biblical artifacts found in the land of Israel.

© Unknown
This stone oil lamp, once believed to be a forgery, has been proven to be one of the rarest types of ancient oil lamps.
Ten years ago, Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR) editor Hershel Shanks was approached by the lamp's owner, who wanted to have the rare artifact published in BAR. At the time, Shanks declined the offer, since the authenticity of the object - one of the rarest ancient oil lamps from the Biblical world - could not be confirmed.


Inca takeovers not usually hostile

© V. Andrushko and E. Torres/American Journal of Physical Anthropology 2011
A missing piece of bone above the left eye socket and adjacent fracture lines likely represent war wounds suffered by this man when the Inca conquered his settlement sometime between 1400 and 1532. Skeletal evidence of imperialistic Inca warfare is rare, a new study finds.
South America's ancient Inca rulers didn't establish the largest empire in the New World by being sweethearts. But their reputation as warmongers, at least according to some influential 16th- and 17th-century Spanish accounts of Inca history, appears to be undeserved, a new study of skeletal remains suggests.

It's more likely that Inca bigwigs adopted a range of largely nonviolent takeover tactics starting around 1000, say anthropologists Valerie Andrushko of Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven and Elva Torres of the National Institute of Culture in Cuzco, Peru, once the capital of the Inca empire. Head injuries suggestive of warfare appear on only a small proportion of skeletons previously excavated at Inca-controlled sites located near Cuzco, the researchers report in a paper published online September 30 in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.

"It appears that the Inca relied less on warfare to conquer other groups and more on political alliances, bloodless takeovers and ideological control tactics," Andrushko says.

An Inca conquest gambit mentioned in some Spanish accounts involved sending a diplomatic team to offer local groups gifts and military protection. Accepting this proposal required groups to submit to Inca rule. The Inca army waited nearby to make clear what happened to those who declined the offer.


Dog fossils show early relationship with humans

dog fossil
© Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences
This skull of a dog found with a bone in its mouth may be an early indication of man's relationship with his best friend.
Palaeontologists have unearthed the remains of three prehistoric dogs, including one with the bone from a mammoth in its mouth, a finding they claim could be an early indication of man's relationship with his best friend.

A team, led by the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, claims that the brains of the paleolithic dogs were also removed after their death which could indicate a human's attempt to release the animals' spirits.

This is because the dog skulls show evidence that humans perforated them in order to remove the brains, and as better meat was available, it's unlikely that the brains served as food, the team says.


Top archaeologist decries Jerusalem dig as unscientific 'tourist gimmick'

Dr. Eilat Mazar, who worked in close cooperation with the group - which promotes the 'Judaization' of East Jerusalem - says excavations carried out in violation of accepted procedures. An archaeologist who worked with the Elad association in Jerusalem's City of David claims that the association and the Antiquities Authority are carrying out excavations "without any commitment to scientific archaeological work."

Dr. Eilat Mazar - a Hebrew University archaeologist who worked in close cooperation with Elad over past years, and who is considered one of the most productive researchers in Jerusalem and in the City of David area in particular - has castigated Elad for the excavation of a large subterranean pit, called "Jeremiah's Pit," at the entrance to the City of David visitors' center complex.

In a sharply worded letter she sent 10 days ago to Prof. Ronny Reich, chairman of the Archaeological Council, Mazar demanded an urgent discussion of the excavations, which she says are being carried out in violation of accepted procedures.

Mazar's claims against Elad are being leveled at a crucial time as a proposed law to privatize public parks is being considered. If approved, the bill will enable Elad, a private association which excavates, maintains and conducts tours of the City of David, to maintain control of the historic site - situated in the predominantly Arab village of Silwan, adjacent to the Old City.


US: Large Field of Dinosaur Tracks Uncovered in Southwest Arkansas

Arkansas dinosaur tracks
The discovery of a large field of dinosaur tracks in Arkansas has researchers busy using cutting-edge technology and traditional techniques to learn all that they can about the animals and environment that existed there 120 million years ago.

The track site, found in southwest Arkansas, covers an area of about two football fields and contains the fossilized tracks of several species and tracks from multiple animals of the same species, some of which have never been previously documented in Arkansas. The site will help researchers learn not only about the creatures that once roamed through the area, but also about the climate during the Early Cretaceous period 115 to 120 million years ago.

"The quality of the tracks and the length of the trackways make this an important site," said Stephen K. Boss, who led the National Science Foundation-funded project. Based on the rock in which the footprints were found, researchers have a good idea of what the climate would have been like.