Secret HistoryS


Gigantic Birds Trod Earth During Age of Dinosaurs

Giant Birds_1
© John ConwayScientists aren't sure if the ancient bird flew or was grounded (both body shapes shown here), but either way it was enormous, much larger than "normal size" Mesozoic birds (shown in background) and larger than humans.
An enormous bird, taller than an adult human, walked the Earth (and maybe flew above it) more than 80 million years ago, according a newly discovered fossilized jaw. The finding suggests oversize birds were more common during the Age of Dinosaurs than scientists thought.

Scientists have long known that birds, or avian dinosaurs, lived during the Mesozoic, the era when dinosaurs ruled the Earth. Although researchers have discovered numerous Mesozoic bird species, these were virtually all the size of crows or smaller.

The ostrich-size Gargantuavis philoinos, was known from France, dating back from the Late Cretaceous near the end of the Age of Dinosaurs. However, it was uncertain whether or not it was the lone exception among its puny relatives. Now another has popped up in Central Asia, revealing giant birds were no flukes.

"Big birds were living alongside Cretaceous non-avian dinosaurs," researcher Darren Naish, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Portsmouth in England, told LiveScience. "In fact, these big birds fit into the idea that the Cretaceous wasn't a 'non-avian-dinosaurs-only theme park' - sure, non-avian dinosaurs were important and big in ecological terms, but there was at least some 'space' for other land animals."


Ancient DNA Reveals Secrets of Human History

Ancient DNA
© Nature
For a field that relies on fossils that have lain undisturbed for tens of thousands of years, ancient human genomics is moving at breakneck speed. Barely a year after the publication of the genomes of Neanderthals1 and of an extinct human population from Siberia,2 scientists are racing to apply the work to answer questions about human evolution and history that would have been unfathomable just a few years ago.

The past months have seen a swathe of discoveries, from details about when Neanderthals and humans interbred, to the important disease-fighting genes that humans now have as a result of those trysts.

Neanderthals were large-bodied hunter-gatherers, named after the German valley where their bones were first discovered, who roamed Europe and parts of Asia from 400,000 years ago until about 30,000 years ago. The Neanderthal genome - shepherded by Svante Pääbo at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany - indicates that their evolutionary story began to split from the lineage of modern humans less than half a million years ago, when their common ancestor lived in Africa (see 'The human strain'). In December last year, Pääbo's team released the genetic blueprint of another population of ancient humans - unlike ourselves or the Neanderthals - that was based on DNA recovered from a 30,000 - 50,000-year-old finger bone found in a cave in Denisova in southern Siberia.2 Palaeoanthropologists call these groups archaic humans, distinguishing them from modern Homo sapiens, which emerged in Africa only around 200,000 years ago.


Archaeologists uncover 3,000-year-old lion adorning citadel gate complex in Turkey

© Jennifer JacksonThe stone lion sculpture that adorned the Tayinat citadel gate was uncovered in southeastern Turkey by University of Toronto archaeologists.
Archaeologists leading the University of Toronto's Tayinat Archaeological Project in southeastern Turkey have unearthed the remains of a monumental gate complex adorned with stone sculptures, including a magnificently carved lion. The gate complex provided access to the citadel of Kunulua, capital of the Neo-Hittite Kingdom of Patina (ca. 950-725 BCE), and is reminiscent of the citadel gate excavated by British archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley in 1911 at the royal Hittite city of Carchemish.

The Tayinat find provides valuable new insight into the innovative character and cultural sophistication of the diminutive Iron Age states that emerged in the eastern Mediterranean following the collapse of the great civilized powers of the Bronze Age at the end of second millennium BCE.

"The lion is fully intact, approximately 1.3 metres in height and 1.6 metres in length. It is poised in a seated position, with ears back, claws extended and roaring," says Timothy Harrison, professor of near eastern archaeology in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations and director of U of T's Tayinat Archaeological Project (TAP). "A second piece found nearby depicts a human figure flanked by lions, which is an iconic Near Eastern cultural motif known as the Master and Animals. It symbolizes the imposition of civilized order over the chaotic forces of the natural world."


Best of the Web: Senior Israeli archaeologist casts doubt on Jewish heritage of Jerusalem

© UnknownOn the alleged Temple of Solomon, Finkelstein said that there is no archaeological evidence to prove it really existed.
A senior archaeologist at Tel Aviv University has cast doubt on the alleged Jewish heritage of Jerusalem. Israel Finkelstein's claims have been made in the face of official Israeli and biblical claims to the occupied city.

Professor Finkelstein, who is known as "the father of biblical archaeology", told the Jerusalem Post that Jewish archaeologists have found no historical or archaeological evidence to back the biblical narrative on the Exodus, the Jews' wandering in Sinai or Joshua's conquest of Canaan. On the alleged Temple of Solomon, Finkelstein said that there is no archaeological evidence to prove it really existed.

According to Finkelstein's university colleague, archaeology lecturer Rafi Greenberg, Israel is supposed to find something if it digs for a period of six weeks. But, Greenberg told the Jerusalem Post, Israelis have been excavating the so-called City of David in the occupied Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan for two years to no avail.


Egypt: Archaeologists Uncover Two Major Monuments at Karnak Temple

French-Egyptian archaeologists have unearthed two major monuments while working at the Karnak Temple in Luxor.

The first is the wall that once enclosed the New Kingdom temple of the god Petah and the second is a gate dated back to the reign of 25th dynasty King Shabaka (712-698 BC), reports the Palestine Telegraph.

Christophe Tiers, director of the Karnak French mission, said that the mission has also uncovered a number of engraved blocks from the Petah temple. During the restoration process, archaeologists realised that the blocks date to the reign of King Tuthmosis III (1479-1425 BC) which means that the construction of the temple started under Egyptian rule and not during the Ptolemaic dynasty as was previously thought.

Ptolemaic mud brick walls, which surrounded the temple, were also uncovered.

Dominique Velballe, professor at the faculty of archaeology at the Sorbonne, said that French restorers are now carrying out comprehensive work to reconstruct the temple and open it to the public next year.


Canada: Ancient Settlement May Have Been Discovered on British Columbia Coast

© Photo by Edward Dossetter, 1881Detail of the Heiltsuk village of 'Qlc (Bella Bella).

Vancouver - Oral traditions of the Heiltsuk people tell of the ancient village of Luxvbalis, abandoned after a small pox epidemic in the late 1800s and lost because so few were left to tell the tale.

The village may just have been discovered on a site on Calvert Island, in Hakai Luxvbalis Conservancy, located off British Columbia's central coast and its history could date back to as much as 10,000 years.

"People lost information about the exact location after they were decimated during the epidemics in the 1800s. Based on that oral tradition and how old it was, we think this might be that village," anthropologist Farid Rahemtulla said Monday.

"But we still need to work with the elders of the Heilstuk nation to conclusively establish this," he cautioned.

The discovery started with a routine dig on Calvert Island as part of University of Northern B.C. anthropology program's intensive archeology field school, held every summer.

"Most excavations we have done as part of the field school have been in the (B.C.) Interior. This time, I wanted to explore the coast, which has some of the oldest archeological sites in the province," said Rahemtulla, the director of the project.

He chose one of several shell middens found along the central coast and previously identified by Simon Fraser University researchers, but not yet explored.


Flashback Study: Man Did Not Evolve from Apes

© UPI Photo/St. Louis ZooGorillia found dead at St. Louis Zoo
A U.S. biological anthropologist says he's determined humans did not evolve from apes, but, rather, apes evolved from humans.

Kent State University Professor C. Owen Lovejoy, who specializes in the study of human origins, said his findings came from a study of Ardipithecus ramidus, a hominid species that lived 4.4 million years ago in what now is Ethiopia.

"People often think we evolved from apes, but no, apes in many ways evolved from us," Lovejoy said. "It has been a popular idea to think humans are modified chimpanzees. From studying Ardipithecus ramidus, or Ardi (a partial female skeleton) we learn that we cannot understand or model human evolution from chimps and gorillas."

Ardi is "not a chimp," paleoanthropologist Tim White of the University of California-Berkeley, told the San Jose Mercury News. "It shows us what we used to be. It bridges a gap."


"Hobbit" Just a Deformed Human?

Hobbit Skull?
© Richard Lewis / AP PhotoA tiny skull - but a big argument for anthropologists.
Homo floresiensis, dubbed the 'hobbit' of Indonesia, is once again igniting debate. A skull-scanning study supports the idea that the diminutive individual was not a separate species, but simply a stunted human.

The study is published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.1 But other anthropologists are far from impressed with the analysis, claiming that 'hobbit politics' is yet again clouding the debate.

The 18,000-year-old fossil stunned the anthropology community when it was discovered in a limestone cave on the Indonesian island of Flores in 2003. The young adult female lived relatively recently, yet was unlike any other hominid species known - she was only a metre tall, with long limbs relative to her torso and a tiny cranium compared with the modern humans living elsewhere on the planet at the time. She was reported in Nature as a new and completely unexpected species of human: H. floresiensis.2

Researchers have since clashed over whether the skull really does represent a different species or merely a deformed Homo sapiens - perhaps the result of dwarfism or microcephaly, a developmental disorder that results in a very small skull and brain.


Israel: Crusader city emerges under Akko port

© APWorkers clean stones in arched passageway underground
'It's like Pompeii of Roman times,' says Israeli archaeologist, calling Ottoman-era town 'one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology'

Off the track beaten by most Holy Land tourists lies one of the richest archaeological sites in a country full of them: The walled port of Akko, where the busy alleys of an Ottoman-era town cover a uniquely intact Crusader city now being rediscovered.

Preparing to open a new subterranean section to the public, workers clean stones in an arched passageway underground.

Etched in plaster on one wall was a coat of arms - graffiti left by a medieval traveler. Nearby was a main street of cobblestones and a row of shops that once sold clay figurines and ampules for holy water, popular souvenirs for pilgrims.


New battle erupts over 'Sweden's Stonehenge'

swedish stonehenge
© Jorchr/Wikipedia
A new archaeological examination of Ales stenar, a massive stone relic perched atop a cliff in southern Sweden, has sparked a heated crossfire between scientists about the origins of the famed stone ship.

Speculative argument over the astronomical, geometrical, geographical and mythological significance of the 67-metre long stone ship has a long history.

Now, in direct contrast to previous studies, a group currently digging at the site in Kåseberga on Sweden's southern coast, has reported finding no evidence linking the 59 large sandstone boulders to the Iron Age and Viking era, putting previous theories about the site into question.

"No wonder," Swedish archaeologist Martin Rundkvist told newspaper Svenska Dagbladet (SvD).

"They aren't even digging in the right place."

Ales stenar, sometimes referred to as "Sweden's Stonehenge" is located about 10 kilometres southeast of Ystad in Skåne overlooking the sea.

The 1.8-tonne boulders are set in the shape of a large ship and, according to Scanian folklore, a legendary king named King Ale lies buried there.

Most stone ship settings are believed to be burial monuments, and many found in Scandinavia do indeed contain one or more graves.

Yet no grave has ever been positively identified at Ales stenar, a limited geographical area given its position atop a cliff.