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Why Orkney is the centre of ancient Britain

Image
© Adam Stanford
Circle of life: the Ring of Brodgar – a stone circle, or henge – is a World Heritage Site.
Long before the Egyptians began the pyramids, Neolithic man built a vast temple complex at the top of what is now Scotland. Robin McKie visits the astonishing Ness of Brodgar

Drive west from Orkney's capital, Kirkwall, and then head north on the narrow B9055 and you will reach a single stone monolith that guards the entrance to a spit of land known as the Ness of Brodgar. The promontory separates the island's two largest bodies of freshwater, the Loch of Stenness and the Loch of Harray. At their furthest edges, the lochs' peaty brown water laps against fields and hills that form a natural amphitheatre; a landscape peppered with giant rings of stone, chambered cairns, ancient villages and other archaeological riches.

This is the heartland of the Neolithic North, a bleak, mysterious place that has made Orkney a magnet for archaeologists, historians and other researchers. For decades they have tramped the island measuring and ex- cavating its great Stone Age sites. The land was surveyed, mapped and known until a recent chance discovery revealed that for all their attention, scientists had completely overlooked a Neolithic treasure that utterly eclipses all others on Orkney - and in the rest of Europe.

Info

Experts: Mayan ballgame had astronomical function

Mayan Ball Game
© Latin American Herald Tribune
Mexico City - Restoration works at Chichen Itza have confirmed the hypothesis that the ballgame played in that ancient Mayan city in southeastern Mexico had an astronomical function, the National Anthropology and History Institute, or INAH, said.

After almost two years of restoration and preservation work, the Great Ballcourt at Chichen Itza, at 120 meters (130 yards) long the largest in Mesoamerica, is gradually recovering its original appearance with the reincorporation of different elements, including the five "passages" that the ancient Mayas built on the site.

The passages are structures that, according to recent studies, were used to observe the path of the sun during the equinoxes and solstices, INAH said in a communique.

Archaeologist Jose Huchim, coordinator of the Chichen Itza comprehensive conservation project, said that observers were possibly stationed in those structures to follow the game and see if the ball went through the vertical stone ring and make sure players hit the ball according to the rules of the ritual.

Huchim said that 25 years ago, when he was studying archaeology, he observed the site with his then-professor Victor Segovia, a pioneer in the study of pre-Colombian astronomy, because both were convinced that the passages were oriented to the equinoxes and solstices.

Cowboy Hat

Archaeologists return to ancient Greek 'computer' wreck site: official

Image
© Unknown
A new search has begun at a Greek island where an ancient device known as the world's "oldest computer" was found over a century ago, an official said Thursday, adding that other discoveries were possible.

Archaeologists this week returned to Antikythera, the Aegean Sea island where sponge divers in 1900-1901 found the so-called Antikythera Mechanism, a remarkable 2nd-century BCE device that tracked the cycles of the solar system.

"These are unexplored sea depths beneath a trade route known since antiquity," said Angeliki Simosi, head of Greece's ephorate of underwater antiquities.

Magic Wand

Russian boy stumbles upon best wooly mammoth discovery since 1901

Young boys are often keen to go off exploring close to where they live, digging around in the hope they'll make an extraordinary discovery.

But when one 11-year-old Russian boy decided to explore his local neighborhood, he came across something which hadn't been seen in more than 100 years.

The curious youngster uncovered a nearly intact wooly mammoth - which was discovered complete with flesh, bones, fur and layers of fat.
Mammoth
© Photoshot
Incredible: An 11-year-old boy uncovered this nearly intact wooly mammoth in north Russia
It is believed the remains - which include a tusk - are the right half of the body, weighing in at 500kg.

The Moscow News reports it is a male which died about 30,000 years ago at the age of 15. It has remained frozen in permafrost ever since.

Info

Mayan tomb may belong to warrior queen

Mayan Tomb
© El Peru Waka Regional Archaeological Project
The carved alabaster vessel (shown from two sides) found in the burial chamber caused the archaeologists to conclude the tomb was that of Lady K’abel.
Archaeologists say they've discovered what could be the tomb of one of the greatest Mayan rulers, the 7th century warrior queen Lady K'abel.

The tomb was revealed during digging at the ancient Maya city of El Perú-Waka' in the rain forest of northern Guatemala. Alongside the body, excavators found a white jar shaped like conch shell with the head and arm of a woman carved at the opening. The artifact had four hieroglyphs that suggest it belonged to K'abel.

"Nothing is ever proven in archaeology because we're working with circumstantial evidence. But in our case we have a carved stone alabaster jar that is named K'abel's possession," David Freidel, an archaeologist working on the site, explained in a video. Freidel, of Washington University in St. Louis, said the find is "as close to a smoking gun" as you get in archaeology.

The plazas, palaces, temple pyramids and residences of El Perú-Waka' belong to the Classic Maya civilization (200-900 A.D.). K'abel was part of a royal family and carried the title "Kaloomte'," which translates to "Supreme Warrior," meaning she had even higher in authority than her king husband, K'inich Bahlam, according to Freidel and his excavation team. K'abel is believed to have reigned with him from about 672-692 A.D.

Book

Irish historian discovers that Abraham Lincoln donated to Ireland during the Great Famine

Image
© Unknown
Former president of the United States Abraham Lincoln donated money to struggling Ireland during the Great Famine
Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was one of 15,000 people worldwide to donate money to Ireland during the Great Irish Famine. This is according to evidence unearthed by respected Irish historian Christine Kinealy, who has studied and written extensively on the Famine for 20 years.

Kinealy, a Professor at Drew University in Madison, New Jersey, was rustling through the list of donations and was taken aback when she saw the name of the legendary president who donated $10 or $500 in today's financial climate.

'This was back in 1847 when Lincoln was only a newly elected politician to the House of Representatives. It was an insubstantial sum from an unimportant figure at the time but it is retrospectively very interesting,' the Trinity College graduate stated.

The 2009 winner of the Will Herberg Award for Excellence in Teaching asserts that this donation was not out of character for Lincoln, who had a lifelong rapport with the Irish.

'I suppose Lincoln always had a great affinity for the Irish and their plight. He knew and recited Robert Emmet's speech from the dock and his favourite ballad was Lady Dufferin's poem 'The Lament of the Irish Emigrant' set to music.'

Info

Oldest fake toes made walking easier in Egypt

Prosthetic Toe
© The University of Manchester
The original Cairo toe, made out of wood and leather, is housed at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. The toe was found attached to a female mummy.
Researchers have suspected that two Egyptian artificial toes are the world's oldest known prosthetic body parts. Volunteers without a big toe in a new study showed that the prosthetics would have made walking around in ancient Egyptian sandals much easier.

One of the artifacts in question is the Greville Chester toe, now in the British Museum. It dates back before 600 B.C. and is made of cartonnage, an ancient type of papier maché made with a mixture of linen, animal glue and tinted plaster. The other is the wood and leather Cairo toe at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, which was found on a female mummy near Luxor and is thought to date back to between 950 and 710 B.C.

If the parts were indeed used to help ancient Egyptians missing a big toe walk normally, they would be the earliest known practical prostheses - older than the bronze and wooden Roman Capua leg, which dates back to 300 B.C.

"Several experts have examined these objects and had suggested that they were the earliest prosthetic devices in existence," University of Manchester researcher Jacky Finch, who led the study, said in a statement. "There are many instances of the ancient Egyptians creating false body parts for burial but the wear plus their design both suggest they were used by people to help them to walk."

Info

La Bastida Unearthed: A 4,100 Year-Old Fort In Europe

La Bastida
© ASOME - UAB. Proyecto La Bastida
Spanish archeologists have announced the discovery of continental Europe's biggest Bronze Age settlement that dates back 4,200 years and represents the pinnacle of architecture and engineering for that time.

The site, known as La Bastida, was protected by 20-foot high walls and towers designed to keep its upper class residents protected and in power. The design of these structures suggests that those who built it were from Asia Minor and the Middle East.

One of the key clues to uncovering the story of La Bastida is the ogival arched postern gate, or secondary door, near the main entrance. The arch is the first one to be found in Europe from this time period, and its roots can be traced to Troy, in modern day Turkey, and urban locations in Palestine, Israel and Jordan. The construction techniques found at La Bastida would not show up in Europe until 400 to 800 years later when Mycenaeans, or city-states residents in Southern Europe, incorporated them into their military architecture.

The structure shows people from the Middle East had a hand in the construction of the fortification. The Spanish archeologists theorized the people who lived in La Bastida moved there after a mysterious crisis devastated the region 4,300 years ago. The archeological record shows the people living in Jordan and Israel at the time abandoned the safety and security of settlements for pastoral life.

Info

Ancient burial shroud made of surprising material, scientists find

Burial Cloth
© The National Museum of Denmark
The 2,800-year-old Lusehøj textile made from imported nettles and found in a grave along with the bones from what may be a Scandinavian man, scientists report on Sept. 28, 2012.
Ancient scraps of fabric found in a grave in Denmark are not made of cultivated flax as once believed, but instead are woven from imported wild nettles, suggesting the grave's inhabitant may have traveled far for burial.

This discovery, announced today (Sept. 28) in the journal Scientific Reports, casts a new light on the textile trade in Bronze Age Europe, said study researcher Ulla Mannering, an archaeologist at the University of Copenhagen.

"Since the Stone Age, they had very well-developed agriculture and technology for producing linen textiles," Mannering told LiveScience. "So it's really unusual that a society which has established agriculture would also take in material from things that are not of the normal standardized agricultural production" - in other words, wild plants.

A luxurious shroud

The soft and shiny fabric dates back to between 940 B.C. and 750 B.C., making it about 2,800 years old. It was discovered in Voldtofte, Denmark, at a rich Bronze Age burial ground called Lusehøj. The Bronze Age ran from about 3200 B.C. to 600 B.C. in Europe.

The fabric was wrapped around a bundle of cremated remains in a bronze urn. It was a luxurious piece of material, Mannering said.

"The fibers we get from the European nettle are very, very fine and soft and shiny, and we often say this is a sort of prehistoric silk textile," Mannering said. (Silk, made from insect cocoons, is known for its shimmery texture.)

Meteor

Nazi-Acquired Buddha Statue Came From Space

Meteorite Statue
© Elmar Buchner
A Buddha statue dating back to the 8th to 10th centuries is carved from a rare iron meteorite.
It sounds like a mash-up of Indiana Jones' plots, but German researchers say a heavy Buddha statue brought to Europe by the Nazis was carved from a meteorite that likely fell 10,000 years ago along the Siberia-Mongolia border.

This space Buddha, also known as "iron man" to the researchers, is of unknown age, though the best estimates date the statue to sometime between the eighth and 10th centuries. The carving depicts a man, probably a Buddhist god, perched with his legs tucked in, holding something in his left hand. On his chest is a Buddhist swastika, a symbol of luck that was later co-opted by the Nazi party of Germany.

"One can speculate whether the swastika symbol on the statue was a potential motivation to displace the 'iron man' meteorite artifact to Germany," the researchers wrote online Sept. 14 in the journal Meteoritics & Planetary Science.

Iron man adventure

The iron man first came to Germany after a 1938-1939 Tibet expedition by zoologist and ethnology Ernst Schäfer, who was sent to the region by the Nazi party to find the roots of Aryan origin. The statue then passed into the hands of a private owner.

Stuttgart University researcher Elmar Bucher and his colleagues first analyzed the statue in 2007, when the owner allowed them to take five miniscule samples of it. In 2009, the team had the opportunity to take larger samples from the inside of the statue, which is less prone to contamination by weathering or human handling than the outside where the initial samples were taken.

They found that the statue is carved from a rare class of space rocks known as ataxite meteorites. These mostly iron meteorites have a high level of nickel. The largest-ever known meteorite, the Hoba meteorite of Namibia, is an ataxite meteorite that may weigh more than 60 tons.