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Deep History of Coconuts Decoded: Origins of Cultivation, Ancient Trade Routes, and Colonization of the Americas

Coconut DNA
© Kenneth Olsen / WUSTL
Analysis of coconut DNA revealed much more structure than scientists expected given the long history of coconut exploitation by people. Written in the DNA are two origins of cultivation and many journeys of exploration and colonization.

The coconut (the fruit of the palm Cocos nucifera) is the Swiss Army knife of the plant kingdom; in one neat package it provides a high-calorie food, potable water, fiber that can be spun into rope, and a hard shell that can be turned into charcoal. What's more, until it is needed for some other purpose it serves as a handy flotation device.

No wonder people from ancient Austronesians to Captain Bligh pitched a few coconuts aboard before setting sail. (The mutiny of the Bounty is supposed to have been triggered by Bligh's harsh punishment of the theft of coconuts from the ship's store.)

So extensively is the history of the coconut interwoven with the history of people traveling that Kenneth Olsen, a plant evolutionary biologist, didn't expect to find much geographical structure to coconut genetics when he and his colleagues set out to examine the DNA of more than 1300 coconuts from all over the world.

"I thought it would be mostly a mish-mash," he says, thoroughly homogenized by humans schlepping coconuts with them on their travels.

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Micro-camera Provides First Peek Inside Mayan Tomb

Mayan Burial Chamber
© National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH)
A stepped ceiling and the thick slab gateway of the burial chamber.
A Mayan tomb closed to the world for 1,500 years has finally revealed some of its secrets as scientists snaked a tiny camera into a red-and-black painted burial chamber.

The room, decorated with paintings of nine figures, also contains pottery, jade pieces and shell, archaeologists from Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) reported Thursday (June 23).

The tomb is located in Palenque, an expansive set of stone ruins in the Mexican state of Chiapas. According to the INAH, the tomb was discovered in 1999 under a building called Temple XX. But the stonework and location prevented exploration.

Sherlock

US: 13,000-Year-Old Mammoth Carving Found in Florida

Image
© Smithsonian/AP Photo
Scientists think this bone fragment with the carved image of a mammoth or mastodon is at least 13,000 years old.
A bone fragment at least 13,000 years old, with the carved image of a mammoth or mastodon, has been discovered in Florida.

While prehistoric art depicting animals with trunks has been found in Europe, this may be the first in the Western Hemisphere, researchers have reported in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

"It's pretty exciting, we haven't found anything like this in North America," said report co-author Dennis J. Stanford, curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

They hunted these animals, Stanford explained, and "you see people drawing all kinds of pictures that are of relevance and importance to them."

"Much of the significance of such finds is in the tangible, emotional connection they allow us to feel with people in the deep past," said Emory University anthropologist Dietrich Stout.

Footprints

New Thracian grave found in northeastern Bulgaria

Image
© Assen Tonev
Ancient Thracian golden and bronze finds have been excavated by archaeologists in the town of Opaka, district Turgovishte, in northeastern Bulgaria, private channel bTV reported on June 23 2011.

During excavations of the grave park, scientists found a preserved Thracian tumulus from 2nd century CE full of rich funeral artifacts.

The sites yielded unique discoveries - six leaves of a golden wreath and bronze figurines - and provided more proof of the continued importance of the town of Opeka in northeastern Bulgaria.

"The man buried must have been a prominent and wealthy Thracian public figure. As these golden and bronze jewellery and figurines are put only in the graves of the richest," archaeologist and historian Stamen Stanev from Popovo History Museum told bTV.

The body in the grave was burnt but the funeral objects around it had been preserved - glass, bronze and ceramic artifacts.

Archaeologists believe that all these funeral objects had been imported from abroad.

There were two ancient Thracian towns near the newly found tumulus, which altogether form a larger tumulus acropolis.

All findings will be restored and transferred to a museum.

Compass

Crusader city discovered under an old Israeli port

Image
© stock.xchng
The ancient site of Khan al-Umdan in the old city of Acre in Israel.
Archaeologists have unearthed an old city of Crusaders, which had been hidden for centuries under the port city of Acre along the Mediterranean Sea in Israel.

The newly excavated city adds to Israel's many heritage sites. It is believed to be last inhabited by residents in 1291, the year the crusader state power fell to a Muslim army from Egypt.

The existing Acre city, which was reduced to ruins by the end of seventeenth century, was built by the Ottoman Turks around 1750.

Preserving the newly discovered ruins of the older town is yet to be named and lay preserved under Acre's crust for hundreds of years.

"It's like Pompeii of Roman times - it's a complete city. It is one of the most exciting sites in the world of archaeology," Eliezer Stern, the Israeli archaeologist in charge of Acre, told the Associated Press.

The site will open to public later this year, he said.

Archaeologists disclosed some of the features of the new town that includes an arched passageway underground, graffiti of medieval times on walls, a cobblestone street and a row of shops that probably sold souvenirs for pilgrims, ampoules for holy water, clay figurines and more.

Acre was ruled by rules of many religions. The city houses fortresses, castles, churches and mosques that are evidences of its diverse history. Buildings from the Hellenistic-Roman period and the Crusader and Ottoman periods, Turkish baths, walled port and a Bahai temple suggest that the UNESCO World Heritage Site has strong Holy implications.

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St. Sophia's Ancient Gospel

Queen Anna
© liveinternet.ru
French queen Anna from Kyiv left a manuscript in the 11th century, on which French kings took oath for centuries.

Guides at Kyiv's famed St. Sophia Cathedral like to tell a story about this architectural wonder from the Kyivan Rus period.

Sometime in the 1920s, when tyrant Josef Stalin was demolishing churches throughout the Soviet Union, the government decided to tear down the 11th century cathedral.

The plan was to transform its grounds into a park commemorating a 1917 Crimean Red Army victory.

Along with others who lobbied the dictator to leave the cathedral alone were the French. St. Sophia, they said, also had important cultural meaning for them: Their 11th century queen, Anna, hailed from Kyiv and a book she carried to her new home was the one on which French
kings for generations had taken their oath.

The Soviets relented and St. Sophia was saved.

Now, a millennium after Anna left Kyiv, Ukrainians are able to get a better understanding of what all the fuss was about with the 2010 publication of the Reim's Gospel of Anna Yaroslavivna.

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Sacks of Human Waste Reveal Secrets of Ancient Rome

Ancient Chamber
© Domenico Camardo, Herculaneum Conservation Project
Now excavated, an ancient Roman chamber once held tons of decayed garbage and human waste.

You might turn your nose up at sifting through hundreds of sacks of human excrement, but researchers are doing just that in Italy - and happily.

The unprecedented deposit is said to be yielding new insights into everyday life in the ancient Roman Empire.

Admittedly, at 2,000 years old, the feces "isn't remotely unpleasant," Roman historian Andrew Wallace-Hadrill said. "There's absolutely no scent. It's exactly like earth compost."

Ten tons of the stuff has been excavated from a cesspit beneath the ancient town of Herculaneum, near Naples.

Flushed down sewers from apartment blocks and shops, the deposit - the largest collection of ancient Roman garbage and human waste ever found, researchers say - dates to about A.D. 79. That year a catastrophic volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius buried Herculaneum, along with its more famous neighbor, Pompeii.

Lost jewelry, coins, and semiprecious stones from a gem shop have been found, along with discarded household items such as broken lamps and pottery, according to Wallace-Hadrill, director of the Herculaneum Conservation Project, a Packard Humanities Institute initiative.

And, coming from a onetime district of shopkeepers and artisans, the organic material has revealed just what your run-of the-mill Roman might have eaten in this coastal town, according to project scientists, who collaborated with the British School at Rome and the archaeological authorities for Naples and Pompeii.

Arrow Down

Van Gogh's "Self-Portrait" Actually His Brother: Study

Image
© unknown
Art researchers at Amsterdam's Van Gogh Museum said Tuesday they have "discovered" a work by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh -- long thought to have been a self-portrait -- was in fact a picture of his younger brother Theo.

"According to current opinion, Vincent van Gogh never painted his brother Theo, on whom he was dependent," the Van Gogh Museum said in a statement.

But senior researcher Louis van Tilborgh now believed the 1887 painting of a man wearing a light-coloured hat and a dark blue jacket was in fact Van Gogh's brother Theo, Vincent's junior by five years.

"The conclusion is based on a number of obvious differences between the two brothers," said the museum, pointing out dissimilar features including the neatness of the subject's beard and his round-shaped ear, "something Vincent did not have."

2 + 2 = 4

Are We All Asian After All

New research suggests that the ancestors of Homo sapiens may not have evolved in Africa at all, but Asia instead. Are we all secret Chinese clones?

It has long been held by evolutionary experts that the original ancestors of humanity were found in Africa, but new research is suggesting that early examples of the genus Homo - we are the Homo sapiens variety - might well have actually evolved in Asia before journeying to Africa, not,as many scientists have assumed in the past, the other way round.

Paleoanthropologists have long favored an African origin option, especially for the evolution of our human ancestor Homo erectus, though the latest finds reveal that these 'people' lived at Dmansi, a West Asian site between1.85 and 1.77 million years ago, quite possibly a little sooner in time than the earliest African so far discovered.

Clock

Image of Ancient Mammoth or Mastodon Found on Bone in Florida

Image
© Jeff Gage/Florida Museum of Natural History
Washington - Some of the earliest Americans turn out to have been artists.

A bone fragment at least 13,000 years old, with the carved image of a mammoth or mastodon, has been discovered in Florida, a new study reports.

While prehistoric art depicting animals with trunks has been found in Europe, this may be the first in the Western Hemisphere, researchers report Wednesday in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

"It's pretty exciting, we haven't found anything like this in North America," said Dennis J. Stanford, curator of North American Archaeology at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History, who was a co-author of the report.

They hunted these animals, Stanford explained, and "you see people drawing all kinds of pictures that are of relevance and importance to them."

"Much of the real significance of such finds is in the tangible, emotional connection they allow us to feel with people in the deep past," said Dietrich Stout, an anthropologist at Emory University in Atlanta, who was not part of the research team.

The bone fragment, discovered in Vero Beach, Fla., contains an incised image about 3 inches long from head to tail and about 1 3/4 inches from head to foot.