Secret HistoryS


Villagers find ancient sports statue in Mexico

Ancient Statue
© Agence France-PresseHandout picture released by the National Institute of History and Anthropology (INAH) on May 20, 2013.
Villagers installing a water pipe in southwestern Mexico stumbled onto an ancient granite statue depicting a player from a pre-Hispanic ball game, the national anthropology institute said Monday.

The stone had been sliced at the neck, like a decapitation, and buried in a ritual that was common at the time, the National Anthropology and History Institute said in a statement.

There are indications that the 1.65-meter (5-foot-4) tall statue, which depicts a bow-legged ballplayer with his arms crossed, was built onto an I-shaped ball game field before it was buried and could be more than 1,000 years old.

Gold Coins

1000-year-old coins found in Northern Territory may rewrite Australian history

© find of 1000-year-old coins (not pictured) had led archaeologists to launch an expedition that may rewrite Australian history.
Remember when you were taught that Australia was discovered by James Cook in 1770 who promptly declared it "terra nullius" and claimed it for the British throne?

Turns out that could be completely and utterly wrong.

Five copper coins and a nearly 70-year-old map with an "X" might lead to a discovery that could rewrite Australia's history.

Australian scientist Ian McIntosh, currently Professor of Anthropology at Indiana University in the US, is planning an expedition in July that has stirred up the archaeological community.

The scientist wants to revisit the location where five coins were found in the Northern Territory in 1944 that have proven to be 1000 years old, opening up the possibility that seafarers from distant countries might have landed in Australia much earlier than what is currently believed.

Back in 1944 during World War II, after Japanese bombers had attacked Darwin two years earlier, the Wessel Islands - an uninhabited group of islands off Australia's north coast - had become a strategic position to help protect the mainland.

Australian soldier Maurie Isenberg was stationed on one of the islands to man a radar station and spent his spare time fishing on the idyllic beaches.

While sitting in the sand with his fishing-rod, he discovered a handful of coins in the sand.


Cemetery reveals baby-making season in ancient Egypt

© Lana WilliamsHere, the burial of a child found in an 1,800-year-old cemetery at the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt.
The peak period for baby-making sex in ancient Egypt was in July and August, when the weather was at its hottest.

Researchers made this discovery at a cemetery in the Dakhleh Oasis in Egypt whose burials date back around 1,800 years. The oasis is located about 450 miles (720 kilometers) southwest of Cairo. The people buried in the cemetery lived in the ancient town of Kellis, with a population of at least several thousand. These people lived at a time when the Roman Empire controlled Egypt, when Christianity was spreading but also when traditional Egyptian religious beliefs were still strong.

So far, researchers have uncovered 765 graves, including the remains of 124 individuals that date to between 18 weeks and 45 weeks after conception. The excellent preservation let researchers date the age of the remains at death. The researchers could also pinpoint month of death, as the graves were oriented toward the rising sun, something that changes predictably throughout the year.

The results, combined with other information, suggested the peak period for births at the site was in March and April, and the peak period for conceptions was in July and August, when temperatures at the Dakhleh Oasis can easily reach more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius).

The peak period for the death of women of childbearing age was also in March and April (exactly mirroring the births), indicating that a substantial number of women died in childbirth.

Although attempts have been made in the past to piece together ancient Egyptian birth patterns using census records, researchers say this is the first time that these patterns have been determined by looking at burials.

"No one has ever looked at it using the actual individuals themselves, the biological aspects of it," said lead researcher Lana Williams, a professor at the University of Central Florida, in an interview with LiveScience.

The team presented their research recently at the annual meeting of the Society for American Archaeology in Honolulu.


Have scientists found the lost 'white city of gold'? Radar scans taken from the air reveal mysterious ancient city in dense Central American jungle

Researchers believe they may finally have uncovered the lost 'White City of gold' in Honduras using hi-tech scanners that let aircraft 'see' through dense forest.Researchers from the University of Houston and the National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping (NCALM) flew over the Mosquitia region in a small plane shooting billions of laser pulses at the ground to create a 3D digital map of the topology beneath the jungle canopy.

Compiling their data, the analysts revealed what appears to be man-made elevation changes that are thought to show a forgotten city plaza dotted with pyramids reclaimed by the jungle.
© University of HoustonThe University of Houston and National Center for Airborne Laser Mapping team produced this 3D digital topological map which when examined shows a man-made plaza ringed in red

Heart - Black

Black death: DNA analyses finds plague bacteria in pandemic that killed 100 million and triggered decline of Roman empire

© n/a
The same strain of killer bacteria that caused the Black Death and spread around the world in the mid 1800s may have helped finish off the Roman Empire, researchers have claimed.

DNA analyses of skeletal remains of plague victims from the 6th century AD found traces of Yersinia pestis, the bacterium that causes plague, has already been linked with at least two of the most devastating pandemics in recorded history.

Now researchers believe it also caused the Justinianic Plague of the sixth to eighth centuries, which killed more than 100 million people - and some historians believe contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.

Comment: For an in-depth analysis of the problem of DNA testing and cross contamination read Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan from the University of Liverpool. As it is pointed out in New Light on the Black Death: The Viral and Cosmic Connection:
... it is known that the Black Death was carried across the sea to Iceland and that there were two severe and well-authenticated epidemics in the fifteenth century. [...] Yet it is known that no rats were present on the island during the three centuries of the Black Death. Infections continued through the winter when the average temperature was below -3 degrees Celsius, where transmission by fleas is impossible. It is also agreed that there is no mention in any of the accounts of rat mortality during the Black Death. A temperature of between 18 degrees and 27 degrees Celsius and relative humidity of 70% are ideal for flea egg-laying, whereas temperatures below 18 degrees inhibit it. Researchers had collected all the available climatological data for central England during the Black Death and at no time was the average July-August temperature above 18.5 degrees Celsius.
Plagues helped bring down entire civilizations, but they were most likely caused by dangerous viral diseases. For more in-depth reading about the Black Death read Laura Knight-Jadczyk's latest new book Comets and the Horns of Moses.


Mysterious Minoans were European, DNA finds

Palace of Knossos
© Andrei Nekrassov | ShutterstockThe north entrance of the Palace of Knossos on the Greek island of Crete.
The Minoans, the builders of Europe's first advanced civilization, really were European, new research suggests.

The conclusion, published today (May 14) in the journal Nature Communications, was drawn by comparing DNA from 4,000-year-old Minoan skeletons with genetic material from people living throughout Europe and Africa in the past and today.

"We now know that the founders of the first advanced European civilization were European," said study co-author George Stamatoyannopoulos, a human geneticist at the University of Washington. "They were very similar to Neolithic Europeans and very similar to present day-Cretans," residents of the Mediterranean island of Crete.

While that may sound intuitive, the findings challenge a long-held theory that the ancient Minoans came from Egypt.


Stars aligned at ancient tomb in Spain

Elephant's Tomb
© University Pablo OlavideA peek inside the Elephant's Tomb, thought to be originally built as a Mithraic temple.
Some astronomical sleuthing has revealed the cultic past life of a Roman tomb in Spain. Researchers believe the burial site was once used as a Mithraic temple, positioned to line up with the constellations and guide sun through its window during the equinoxes.

The Carmona necropolis in Seville is full of burials from the 1st century B.C. through the 2nd century A.D., including the so-called Elephant's Tomb, named so for an elephant-shaped statue discovered inside the structure.

Researchers have debated what this structure was used for and archaeologists from the University of Pablo de Olavide in Seville now propose that it served as a place of worship for devotees of Mithraism, a cult that thrived during the Roman Empire.

"In some stages, it was used for burial purposes, but its shape and an archaeoastronomical analysis suggest that it was originally designed and built to contain a Mithraeum [temple to Mithras]," study researcher Inmaculada Carrasco told the Spanish news agency SINC.


That prehistoric Marija l-Għawdxija

© Times of MaltaIceman. Right: Maltese prehistoric woman.
I keep looking at the reconstruction of that 5,600-year-old Maltese woman and can't get enough of her. She's got this allure which is almost intimidating, even though she's slightly cross-eyed.

If I squint a lot while looking at her picture, I can see a bit of me in her. But then I'm not the only one, it seems. Everyone was saying how much she looked like his neighbour, his girlfriend, his sister and his nanna.

A colleague said she was the split image of his wife and (romantically, I thought) wrote: "It's nice to know I'm married to a woman with such timeless beauty."

And a beauty she is this age-old woman. I can't get enough of those perfectly arched eyebrows. My groomed-when-I-remember eyebrows look prehistoric next to hers. And that perfect side-plait looks just on the right side of au naturelle.

But, as a girlfriend pointed out, the reconstructed lady from Xagħra Circle in Gozo made her debut at the Malta Fashion Week - hardly the place for excessive facial hair.

But it provoked the question: did they have tweezers? Some hoity-toities commenting online were shocked that people were being so frivolous as to ask about tweezers. Well, no it's not silly. It's actually very legitimate.

This is what brings history and archaeology close to us and not the reserve of fuddy duddies and academic buffs.


Researchers study earliest evidence of human hunting and scavenging

Archaeological Site
© Thomas Plummer Aerial view of the archaeological site Kanjera South, Kenya.
New light has been shed on the diet and food acquisition strategies of some of the earliest human ancestors in Africa, according to a new study led by Baylor University.

Early tool making humans, known as Oldowan hominin, started to exhibit a number of physiological and ecological adaptations beginning around two million years ago. These adaptations, including an increase in brain and body size, heavier investment in their offspring and significant home-range expansion, required greater daily energy expenditures. How these early humans acquired the extra energy to sustain these major shifts has been the subject of much debate among researchers.

Joseph Ferraro, PhD, assistant professor of anthropology at Baylor, led the new study that offers insight into the debate with a wealth of archaeological evidence from the two million-year-old site of Kanjera South (KJS), Kenya.

"Considered in total, this study provides important early archaeological evidence for meat eating, hunting and scavenging behaviors - cornerstone adaptations that likely facilitated brain expansion in human evolution, movement of hominins out of Africa and into Eurasia, as well as important shifts in our social behavior, anatomy and physiology," Ferraro said.

KJS is located on the shores of Lake Victoria. The settlement contains "three large, well-preserved, stratified" layers of animal remains, on which the research team worked for more than a decade to recover thousands of animal bones and rudimentary stone tools.


A new theory about why Egypt stopped building pyramids

© Yoni Appelbaum
Is it possible they were too perfect?

When structural engineer Peter James arrived at the Bent Pyramid, 25 miles south* of Cairo, his task was to secure the structure's remaining "cladding" -- its smooth exterior envelope. But why was it crumbling in the first place?

The foundation seemed completely stable. The prevailing theory -- that "the missing cladding was removed by local opportunist thieves" -- didn't inspire confidence: That could explain the destruction at the lower levels, but the damage extended far up the pyramid and "in an apparently random manner, with no signs of indentations from temporary scaffolding or of any symmetrical cutting of the blocks to aid removal," James writes in STRUCTURE, a structural engineering trade publication. The damage just did not look like the result of thieves. Rather, as James puts it, it "appears to be caused by a giant whose hand has swept across the face of the pyramid with enormous energy, sucking out the facing and leaving the ragged empty sockets.