Secret HistoryS


Lock of hair pins down early migration of Aborigines

 Lock of Aboriginal hair A lock of hair is all that is needed to decode the history of an entire race
© BBC News
Lock of Aboriginal hair A lock of hair is all that is needed to decode the history of an entire race

A lock of hair has helped scientists to piece together the genome of Australian Aborigines and rewrite the history of human dispersal around the world.

DNA from the hair demonstrates that indigenous Aboriginal Australians were the first to separate from other modern humans, around 70,000 years ago.

This challenges current theories of a single phase of dispersal from Africa.

An international team of researchers published their findings in the journal Science.


Old Fossils Solve Mystery of Earliest Bird Extinction

Bird bone fragments
© Nicholas LongrichBird fossils are very rare because the bones are fragile and easily damaged.
Many early bird species suffered from the same catastrophic extinction as the dinosaurs, new research has shown.

The meteorite impact that coincided with the disappearance of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, also saw a rapid decline in primitive bird species.

Only a few bird groups survived through the mass extinction, from which all modern birds are descended.

Researchers at Yale University have published their findings in PNAS this week.


Alaska: Kodiak archaeology project unearths prehistoric questions

© AP Photo/Kodiak Daily Mirror, Wes HannaAlutiiq Museum curator Patrick Saltonstall holds up a 3,000-year-old stone bayonet point Sept. 13, 2011 at the museum in Kodiak, Alaska. The point was recovered during the Kodiak, Alaska community archaeology project.
Going into the community archaeology dig this summer, Alutiiq Museum curator Patrick Saltonstall hoped to find one of the oldest inhabited sites on the Kodiak archipelago.

What Saltonstall and a team of volunteers unearthed this year at the Amak site, near the Salonie Creek Rifle Range, was something different but no less important for understanding the people who lived on Kodiak Island thousands of years ago.

While the ocean is about a mile away from the site today, 3,000 years ago Womens Bay extended farther inland. The Amak site would have been overlooking a beach area at the head of the bay.

Saltonstall said instead of encountering a fishing camp or a winter site as he expected, the artifacts gathered at the site suggest a temporary hunting camp. It offers a glimpse into an aspect of the seasonal life of prehistoric Alutiiq people that has not been well understood or documented.


Sada Mire: Uncovering Somalia's heritage

Sada Mire fled Somalia's civil war as a child, and lived as a refugee in Sweden. But now she is back in the Horn of Africa as an archaeologist, making some incredible discoveries.

Sada Mire is only 35, but she has already revealed a dozen sites that could be candidates for Unesco world heritage status.

© Unknown

She has a fellowship in the department of art and archaeology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and is head of the department of antiquities in the breakaway territory of Somaliland, in the north-west region of Somalia. She is the only archaeologist working in the region.

It's a remarkable journey for a girl who fled Mogadishu in 1991, aged 14, as Somalia descended into the chaos of civil war.


US: Wyoming - Archeologists digs into Jackson Hole's prehistoric past

© Trey Ratcliff
Some of more than 40,000 artifacts recently discovered at the mouth of Game Creek suggest prehistoric people might have lived in Jackson Hole year round, archeologists say.

Further, radio-carbon dating shows that some of the unearthed artifacts are thousands of years older than expected.

Archeologists began excavating the site last summer after the Wyoming Department of Transportation made plans to widen Highway 26/89/191.

Now, after two summers of digging, the artifacts are beginning to develop a picture of life at the site that ranges over thousands of years, from a roasting pit dated at 10,100 years old to a .38-caliber bullet that is likely from the early 1900s, said Michael Page, a senior archeologist with the Wyoming state archeologist office.

During some periods, the abundance of projectile points crafted from local sources could mean that people lived in the region year round, Page said. By contrast, projectile points from outside the area could suggest people migrated out of the region during some part of the year, most likely winter.


Excavation of Islands Around Britain to Establish Origins of Neolithic Period

Archaeologists at the University of Liverpool are investigating three island groups around Britain to further understanding of why, in approximately 4,000 BC, humans altered their lifestyle from hunting and gathering to farming the land.

Some scholars believe that this change occurred due to colonists from the continent moving into Britain, bringing farming and pottery-making skills with them, but others argue that the indigenous population of Britain adopted this new lifestyle gradually on their own terms.

© University of Liverpool
To shed new light on the debate, archaeologists, in collaboration with the University of Southampton, are excavating three island groups in the western seaways and producing oceanographic models to understand what sailing across this area would have been like in 4,000 BC. The team will also construct a database of 5th and 4th millennium occupation sites.

The work aims to use evidence gathered from the seaways to answer significant questions about the processes and timing of the transition from a society that hunted wild animals to people that farmed the land as their primary means of survival.


Ancient stone structures in the Middle East are reminiscent of the Nazca lines of Peru

David Kennedy at the University of Western Australia in Perth is an armchair archaeologist. He has just found thousands of ancient stone structures in the Middle East that are reminiscent of the Nazca lines of Peru - simply by using Google Earth and vintage aerial photographs. New Scientist takes a virtual tour.

Grounded kite

Using Google Earth and aerial photographs taken in the 1920s, Kennedy uncovered over 2000 "kites" throughout the Arabian peninsula. These stony structures, each with a number of graceful "tails", were used as animal traps. Gazelle and oryx were funnelled between the tails towards the kite's "head". Kennedy says that once the head was packed with animals, the tail was blocked and the hunters killed the game. Found in Jordan, the head of this structure - the Safawi kite - is around 200 metres across, and its tails are 600, 900 and 1300 metres long.

© Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East


North-South vs East-West Long-Distance Love

Indians in Tepee
© Wikimedia CommonsThe Interior of the Hut of a Mandan Dipäuch. Mixed media on paper by Karl Bodmer 1833 – 1834.

Indigenous Americans may have had a harder time making a long-distance love connection or returning to an ancestral homeland to marry the descendant of grandfather's girl-next-door because of the difficulty of traveling along the north to south axis of the Americas.

Human populations living on the east to west orientation of Eurasia, however, had better luck.

Evolutionary biologists at Brown and Stanford Universities found that genetic differences in indigenous American peoples were greater than those of indigenous Eurasian populations. This suggested that populations in the Americas tended to stay separated after moving north or south, and the researchers propose geography kept people apart.

Throughout history, people could hypothetically travel from Spain to China along a corridor of relatively similar climates.

But to travel from Cahokia in what is now Illinois to Cuzco, Peru, an indigenous American would have had to leave their accustomed temperate climate. They would then pass through thousands of miles of different environments before finding a climate like the one they left behind.


Discovery of "Oetzi" the iceman: 20 years ago today

© UnknownScientists have recreated the face of "Oetzi," who is believed to have been slightly over 5 foot, 2 inches tall and around 46 years old.
Twenty years ago today Oetzi, the iceman was found frozen in the Alps.

Oetzi, as scientists named the well-preserved remains of this splendidly preserved Stone Age hunter, is believed to have lived in Europe between 5,375 and 5,128 years ago. When the mummified remains were discovered by a couple of German hikers in the Otztal Alps between Austria and Italy, the body was in relatively good shape, thus providing researchers with a rare opportunity to turn back the clock.

He is believed to have lived until he was 45 or 46 but then died a violent death. A flint arrowhead had penetrated his skin and researchers say that the arrow cut a major blood vessel in the man's left arm. That led to heavy bleeding and possibly paralysis of the arm. The body also showed evidence of a deep hand wound as well as several abrasions and bruises. A similarly well-preserved copper axe was also found near the remains, leading some to suggest that Oetzi belonged to a warrior class.


The mysterious disappearance (or not) of the physicist who discovered neutrons (or not)

© Unknown
In 1938, Ettore Majorana boarded a ship to Naples, and never got off at the other end. Since then people have been debating what happened to the physicist, and whether or not he had a larger part in the history of physics than he's given credit for.

Enrico Fermi, the brilliant physicist who developed the first nuclear reactor and won the Nobel prize for his explorations of radioactivity, might possibly have been eclipsed in his own time by one of his colleagues. Five years younger than Fermi, Ettore Majorana was a rising star in physics when he disappeared in 1938, at the age of 32. Rumors have been swirling around his disappearance since the moment he failed to step off the boat that he was spotted boarding in March - a boat set for Naples.

It's no surprise that Majorana was the center of such a mystery. During his life, he was famously enigmatic. There is evidence that he came up with the proof of the neutron before the official confirmation by James Chadwick, but did not publish his findings. Majorana, it is said, was sure that someone else would discover them and unlike almost everyone else in his profession he hated the spotlight. Fermi, though only slightly older, took it upon himself to mentor Majorana, including hounding him into publishing his paper about some particles, like photons, being their own antiparticles. This brought attention to Majorana; attention he responded to by working in near-complete isolation for years.