Secret HistoryS


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.


Plague helped bring down Roman Empire, graveyard suggests

© Public DomainNew evidence suggests the Black Death bacterium caused the Justinianic Plague of the sixth to eighth centuries. The pandemic, named after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I (shown here), killed more than 100 million people.
Plague may have helped finish off the Roman Empire, researchers now reveal.

Plague is a fatal disease so infamous that it has become synonymous with any dangerous, widespread contagion. It was linked to one of the first known examples of biological warfare, when Mongols catapulted plague victims into cities.

The bacterium that causes plague, Yersinia pestis, has been linked with at least two of the most devastating pandemics in recorded history. One, the Great Plague, which lasted from the 14th to 17th centuries, included the infamous epidemic known as the Black Death, which may have killed nearly two-thirds of Europe in the mid-1300s.

Another, the Modern Plague, struck around the world in the 19th and 20th centuries, beginning in China in the mid-1800s and spreading to Africa, the Americas, Australia, Europe and other parts of Asia.

Although past studies confirmed this germ was linked with both of these catastrophes, much controversy existed as to whether it also caused the Justinianic Plague of the sixth to eighth centuries.

This pandemic, named after the Byzantine emperor Justinian I, killed more than 100 million people. Some historians have suggested it contributed to the decline of the Roman Empire.

To help solve this mystery, scientists investigated ancient DNA from the teeth of 19 different sixth-century skeletons from a medieval graveyard in Bavaria, Germany, of people who apparently succumbed to the Justinianic Plague.

Comment: Plagues helped bring down entire civilizations, but they were most likely caused by dangerous viral diseases. It is well known that studies like this are often led astray by cross contamination. For more info see Return of the Black Death: The World's Greatest Serial Killer by Susan Scott and Christopher Duncan from the University of Liverpool. See New Light on the Black Death: The Viral and Cosmic Connection for a review on the subject.

For more in-depth reading about the Black Death read Laura Knight-Jadczyk's latest new book Comets and the Horns of Moses.


The streets of 'Britain's Atlantis' seen for the first time in centuries: 3D scans reveal the 'drowned' medieval town of Dunwich

Town was once a thriving port similar in size to 14th Century London

Coastal erosion left it 10M underwater in process than began in 1286

British researchers have revealed the street of a lost medieval town dubbed 'Britain's Atlantis', for the first time.

The team from the University of Southampton used advanced 3D scanning to reveal the port town of Dunwich.

Present day Dunwich is a village 14 miles south of Lowestoft in Suffolk, but it was once a thriving port - similar in size to 14th Century London until coastal erosion left it 10M underwater.
© Digital South/University of SouthamptonA 3D visualisation of the Chapel of St Katherine: A University of Southampton professor has carried out the most detailed analysis ever of the archaeological remains of the lost medieval town of Dunwich, dubbed 'Britainís Atlantis'

Funded and supported by English Heritage, the project led by Professor David Sear has produced the most accurate map to date of the town's streets, boundaries and major buildings, and revealed new ruins on the seabed.

'Visibility under the water at Dunwich is very poor due to the muddy water.

'This has limited the exploration of the site.


Electric Universe: Mohenjo Daro

Some of the skeletons found at Mohenjo Daro
© UnknownSome of the skeletons found at Mohenjo Daro
Some have suggested ancient technology glassified these Indus Valley ruins but electricity is a more plausible explanation.

Mesopotamia and the Fertile Crescent region are thought to be the "birthplace" of civilization and the central focus for human culture dating back to the beginning of recorded history. No one knows for sure just how old the generalized composite that we call "society" really is - both because of archeological deficiencies and because of radiometric disconformity - but one of the oldest sites is located in the Indus Valley of Pakistan and appears to date from around 3000-2500 BCE.

There are many ways to date ancient artifacts and there are just as many ways to interpret the results from those techniques. It is not the purpose of this paper to address the difficulties inherent with using carbon 14, tree-rings, stratigraphic distribution, or any other methodology when attempting to place artifacts or habitations within a chronological sequence. Other articles have addressed those issues, as well as previous Picture of the Day discussions about radioactive decay rates and how external, ionizing sources can change isotope ratios.

There is one intriguing aspect to Mohenjo-Daro that sets it apart from most ancient ruins. It is the one anomaly among several at the site that has caused some researchers to suggest that there might have been forces unleashed in the past that are comparable to modern weapons. Walls, pottery and other items found in the city have been turned into a kind of ceramic glass, indicating that they were exposed to thermal energy equivalent to 1500 Celsius. Evidence of ionizing radiation has also been found in some burial sites.


First western painting of native Americans discovered at the Vatican

Native Americans in Painting
© History BlogA detail of what some art historians believe to be the first European painting of Native Americans.
During the recent restoration of Pinturicchio's Resurrection fresco (1494) on the wall of the Hall of Mysteries in the Borgia Apartment at the Vatican has revealed what may be the first images of Native Americans in European art. Vatican Museums Director Antonio Paolucci believes a detail in the artwork refers to the natives of the American continent that explorer Christopher Columbus encountered when he travelled to the New World for the first time.

"Just behind the Resurrection, behind a soldier who is enthralled by the incredible event he is seeing, you are able to discern nude men wearing feathers who appear to be dancing," Paolucci said.

The History Blog gives the images some context and offers a possible explanation for the imprecise representation considering the artist was working on the Papal apartment between 1492 and 1494, and Columbus had just traveled to the New World:
Since Pinturicchio painted Pope Alexander VI's suite of rooms between 1492 and 1494, these could well be the artist's vision of the friendly naked natives bedecked in parrots that Columbus described upon his return from the first voyage.


Ancient languages research finds 23 words still used 15,000 years later

Ancient Language
© ReutersPeople walk over a world map engraved in marble.
Linguists have found a group of words consisting of nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs that date back 15,000 years. The words have remained unchanged and have the same meaning and also sound almost the same as they did at the end of the Ice Age.

Words have an expiration date and can't survive more than 8,000 to 9,000 years, according to traditional views. Just as the dinosaurs were driven into extinction, so do words evolve and the adoption of replacements from other languages is introduced.

A new study shows that this is not always the case, however, as a team of researchers discovered that there are about two dozen words that have lived 15,000 years. Some of the words, referred to as "ultraconserved words," are predictable, such as "mother," "not," "what," "to hear" and "man."

It's suggested that there was a "proto-Eurasiastic" language that was the common ancestor of the native tongues of over half of the people in the world. This "mother language" gave birth to approximately 700 contemporary languages.

"We've never heard this language, and it's not written down anywhere. But this ancestral language was spoken and heard. People sitting around campfires used it to talk to each other," evolutionary theorist at the University of Reading in England, Mark Pagel, said.


Hanging Gardens of Babylon discovered 300 miles away in Nineveh

Hanging Gardens of Babylon_1
© WhiteHaven / Shutterstock
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have long been regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, although not without controversy. It seems that the Gardens have also been regarded as purely legendary, with no evidence that this ancient site ever existed in Babylon.

For centuries, historians, archaeologists and others have imagined what the Hanging Gardens may have looked like and several artists, most notably Dutch artist Maarten van Heemskerck in the 16th century painted his concept of the Gardens, complete with the Tower of Babel in the background.

Now, a historian with Oxford University may have cracked the case wide open, potentially solving centuries-old theories of the Hanging Gardens.

Dr. Stephanie Dalley, of Oxford's Oriental Institute, said the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon were not actually located in Hillah and were not built by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. In fact, she says the site was not even in Babylon at all, but rather 300 miles north in Nineveh, and built by the Assyrian ruler Sennacherib.