Secret HistoryS


Explorer Marco Polo "Never Actually Went to China"

Marco Polo's journeys to China and the Far East established him as one of history's greatest explorers but archeologists now believe he never actually went there.

© Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesExplorer Marco Polo
They think it more likely that the Venetian merchant adventurer picked up second-hand stories of China, Japan and the Mongol Empire from Persian merchants whom he met on the shores of the Black Sea - thousands of miles short of the Orient.

He then cobbled them together with other scraps of information for what became a bestselling account, A Description of the World, one of the first travel books.

The archeologists point in particular to inconsistencies and inaccuracies in his description of Kublai Khan's attempted invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281.


Roman-Era Sword Uncovered in Ancient Ditch

Ancient Sword
© Clara Amit, courtesy of the Israel Antiquities AuthorityThe sword with remains of the scabbard on it.

A sword used by a Roman soldier during the brutal pacification of the Jews and the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem nearly 2,000 years ago, has emerged from an ancient drainage tunnel beneath the city, Israeli authorities announced this week.

Excavated since 2007, the tunnel, which was used by Jewish rebels as a hiding place from the Romans, has also yielded a stone object adorned with a rare engraving of a menorah, the seven-branched temple candelabra that was the symbol of ancient Judaism.

The 60-centimetre (23.6-inches) long weapon, still in its leather scabbard, is the third Roman sword found in Jerusalem.

What makes the finding unique is the fine state of preservation, said the excavation directors Eli Shukron of the Israel Antiquities Authority and Ronny Reich of the University of Haifa.

"It seems that the sword belonged to an infantryman of the Roman garrison stationed in Israel at the outbreak of the Great Revolt against the Romans in 66 AD," the researchers said in a statement.

At that time, the Jewish people revolted against the tyranny of Rome, but despite a remarkable resistance, they were ultimately crushed.


Egypt: World's First Pyramid to Be Restored

The newly appointed Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt Mohammad Abdel-Maksoud announced Sunday that a committee has decided to make funds available to restart restoration work on the Zoser pyramid.

Local media had claimed the inside of the pyramid was falling down, following a default in payment to the company that was operating the restoration works. A statement from the council said that a technical committee met Sunday, and decided that payments would be in three phases with a priority for the workers' salaries and for the delayed company payments.

© UnknownKing Zoser’s step Pyramid of Saqqara
King Zoser's step Pyramid of Saqqara stands about 30 kilometers south of Cairo.

It is thought to be the first pyramid ever built in Egypt and the oldest stone building still standing in the country.


UK: Roman dead baby 'brothel' mystery deepens

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New research has cast doubt on the theory that 97 infants were killed at a Roman brothel in Buckinghamshire.

In 2008, the remains of the newborn babies were rediscovered packed in cigarette cases in a dusty museum storeroom by Dr Jill Eyers from Chiltern Archaeology.

They were excavated from the remains of a lavish Roman villa complex in Buckinghamshire almost 100 years earlier, but had remained hidden ever since.

The story caught the attention of the world's press last year as Dr Eyers suggested that the villa was operating as a brothel and its occupants committing infanticide to dispose of unwanted offspring.


Canada, British Columbia: The Ghost Ships of Royston

It is impossible to paddle alongside the rusting severed hull of the Melanope - a three-masted iron ship dating back to the last great days of the sail - and not consider its remarkable voyage through history.

The Melanope was launched in Liverpool, England, in 1876, when Alexander Graham Bell was awarded the patent for the telephone and Lt.-Col. George Armstrong Custer died in the Battle of the Little Bighorn.

© J. Marc, PNG Merlin ArchiveExamining porthole on the stern of the windjammer Comet. Underwater images from a graveyard of historic ships at Royston near Comox.
The 78-metre windjammer began its life as an Australian emigrant ship, served as a cargo carrier - rice, cotton, lumber, heavy machinery, grain, rail, coal, salt - and encountered its share of misadventure along the way.

She ran ashore at the mouth of Burma's Irrawaddy River, became partly dismasted while rounding South America's Cape Horn, and entertained a near-mutiny during a voyage between Washington state and Cape Town, South Africa, over the perceived unjust punishment of a crewman.


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.