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Oldest Known Crocodile Had a Shield-Like Head: Study

Image
© Henry Tsai/University of Missouri
University of Missouri professor Casey Holliday nicknamed Aegisuchus witmeri 'Shieldcroc' because of its thick-skinned shield.
The oldest known species of crocodile had an armor-plated head and a body half the length of a subway car, according to research released Tuesday by US scientists who identified the now-extinct creature.

Nicknamed "Shieldcroc" for its impressive head plate, the aquatic reptile swam in the waters of Africa some 95 million years ago and is the newest discovery of an ancient crocodile species, said the study in the journal PLoS ONE.

University of Missouri anatomy professor Casey Holliday identified the croc, Aegisuchus witmeri, by studying a fossilized partial skull specimen that was first discovered in Morocco.

The croc's shield was likely used as a way to intimidate foes, attract mates and even control its head temperature, researchers said. Its head was considerably flatter than other known species of crocodile.

Palette

Earliest copy of Mona Lisa found in Museo Nacional de Prado

A painting thought to be the earliest replica of Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa has been discovered at Madrid's Prado Museum. Experts say the painting was completed at the same time as Leonardo's original
painting mona lisa copy
© Museo Nacional de Prado
The restored painting (right) offers more detail than the original (left)

A copy of the Mona Lisa has been discovered in the Prado which was painted in Leonardo's studio - created side by side with the original that now hangs in the Louvre. This sensational find will transform our understanding of the world's most famous picture.

Conservators at the Prado in Madrid recently made an astonishing discovery, hidden beneath black overpaint. What was assumed to be a replica of the Mona Lisa made after Leonardo's death had actually been painted by one of his key pupils, working alongside the master. The picture is more than just a studio copy - it changed as Leonardo developed his original composition.

The final traces of overpaint are now being removed by Prado conservators, revealing the fine details of the delicate Tuscan landscape, which mirrors the background of Leonardo's masterpiece. Darkened varnish is also being painstakingly stripped away from the face of the Mona Lisa, giving a much more vivid impression of her enticing eyes and enigmatic smile.

In the Louvre's original, which will not be cleaned in the foreseeable future, Lisa's face is obscured by old, cracked varnish, making her appear almost middle aged. In the Prado copy we see her as she would have looked at the time - as a radiant young woman in her early 20s.

Sherlock

Scotland: Archaeologists and Pagans Alike Glory in the Brodgar Complex

The Ring of Brodgar
© Murdo Macleod
The Ring of Brodgar ancient standing stones in Orkney, Scotland, flank the Brodgar complex, now thought to be older than Stonehenge.
Let's not jump to conclusions about ritual significance, but this site is clearly immensely important to ancient British history

Archaeologists are notoriously nervous of attributing ritual significance to anything (the old joke used to be that if you found an artefact and couldn't identify it, it had to have ritual significance), yet they still like to do so whenever possible. I used to work on a site in the mid-1980s - a hill fort in Gloucestershire - where items of potential religious note occasionally turned up (a horse skull buried at the entrance, for example) and this was always cause for some excitement, and also some gnashing of teeth at the prospect of other people who weren't archaeologists getting excited about it ("And now I suppose we'll have druids turning up").

The Brodgar complex has, however, got everyone excited. It ticks all the boxes that make archaeologists, other academics, lay historians and pagans jump up and down. Its age is significant: it's around 800 years older than Stonehenge (although lately, having had to do some research into ancient Britain, I've been exercised by just how widely dates for sites vary, so perhaps some caution is called for). Pottery found at Stonehenge apparently originated in Orkney, or was modeled on pottery that did.

Info

Closest Photos of Uncontacted Tribe Reveal Hidden Way of Life

Lost Tribe
© D. Cortijo/Survival/uncontactedtribes.org
A Mascho-Piro man and woman. The group choses to live away from civilization, likely because of past brutalities when outsiders encroached on their land.

New images of an uncontacted Peruvian tribe reveal a small band of people, clad in little more than beads and bands of fabric, sitting by a river in the southeastern part of the country.

The photographs, released by advocacy group Survival International, are the closest-ever glimpse of uncontacted Indians ever caught on camera, according to the organization. They provide considerably more detail than earlier images taken from aircraft over settlements.

The people in the photograph belong to the Mashco-Piro tribe. This tribe likely descends from a group that was attacked and displaced in 1894, when rubber baron Carlos Fermin Fitzcarrald encroached on their ancestral lands. Surviving members of the tribe maintain voluntary separation from the outside world, though oil exploration may be encroaching on their solitude, according to Survival International.

The dangers inherent in contacting tribes who'd rather be uncontacted came to the forefront this November, when a local Peruvian man of the Matsigenka tribe, Nicolas Shaco Flores, was found shot through the heart by a Mashco-Piro arrow. Flores had long been in touch with the tribe, albeit at a distance, wrote anthropologist and friend Glenn Shepard on his blog "Notes from the Ethnoground."

Info

Penn research finds genetic link between Native Americans, Russian region

Sitting Bull
© sonofthesouth.net
Chief Sitting Bull
By comparing DNA samples from hundreds of volunteers, a Penn anthropologist and his colleagues have tied Native Americans to a group of people living in a small region of Russia called the Altai, near the borders of Mongolia, China, and Kazakstan.

The results, published in Friday's issue of the American Journal of Human Genetics, add another chapter to the story of the settlement of the Americas. Increasingly efficient DNA technology is helping scientists flesh out the prehistory of the Native Americans and of the human race in general.

Archaeologists have long surmised that Native Americans came from Asia, migrating to Alaska during a time when sea levels were lower and it was possible to walk over the Bering Strait.

But these latest results use the most complete genetic profiling done on the Asian and American sides, offering new insights into the ancestry of Native Americans, the routes they took to the New World, and the timing of the migration.

Artifacts show that humans were living in North America 15,000 years ago; they reached the tip of South America over the next 2,000 years.

Using techniques akin to DNA fingerprinting, scientists have continued to gather evidence that the majority of current native people of North and South America derive their ancestry from Asia.

Palette

Hitler Painting Fetches €32,000 in Slovak Auction

Image
© Agence France-Presse/Samuel Kubani
A man looks on a computer screen at an image of a painting by Adolf Hitler, done before he became Nazi Germany's dictator, titled Maritime Nocturno, on January 26.
A 1913 painting by Nazi Germany's dictator Adolf Hitler sold for 32,000 euros ($42,300) in a Slovak internet auction on Sunday, the Darte auction house said.

The starting price for the painting titled Maritime Nocturno was set at 10,000 euros, while an expert put its value at 25,000 euros, said Darte, which sold the painting in a closed VIP auction.

The mixed-media painting depicts a full moon over a glittering seascape.

"The painting has been offered for sale by an unnamed family of a Slovak painter who probably met Hitler personally when he was struggling to become an artist in Vienna during the early 20th century," Darte owner Jaroslav Krajnak said earlier.

Cookie

Sugar High: The Dark History and Nasty Methods Used to Feed Our Sweet Tooth

sugar
© Unknown
Sugar is now 20 percent of the American diet, but it's not just our health that suffers from its pervasiveness.

Americans think an awful lot about sucrose -- table sugar -- but only in certain ways. We crave it and dream up novel ways to combine it with other ingredients to produce delectable foods; and we worry that we eat too much of it and that it is making us unhealthy or fat. But how often do Americans think about where sugar actually comes from or the people who produce it? As a tropical crop, sugarcane cannot grow in most U.S. states. Most of us do not smell the foul odors coming from sugar refineries, look out over vast expanses of nothing but sugarcane, or speak to those who perform the hard labor required to grow and harvest sugarcane.

Of course, sugar can be made from beets, a temperate crop, and more than half of sugar produced in the United States is. But globally, most of the story of sugar, past and present, centers around sugarcane, not beets, and as biofuels become more common, it is sugarcane that is cultivated for ethanol. What's more, some conscious eaters avoid beet sugar as most of it is now made from genetically modified sugar beets.

While I do not fool myself that sugar is "healthy," if I am going to satisfy my sweet tooth, I prefer cane sugar, maple syrup, agave nectar, or honey over the other choices: beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. Of the bunch, most Americans can find only honey and perhaps maple syrup sustainably and locally produced, but cane sugar is often the most versatile product for baking.

As a major consumer of cane sugar, I was disturbed to learn the realities of cane sugar production when I visited a sugarcane-producing area in Bolivia.

Einstein

Einstein Letters About Nazis to be Auctioned in US

Albert Einstein
Three letters by Albert Einstein to a American-German group which campaigned against the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s will go on the auction block in Los Angeles next week.

In one, the father of relativity praises the "Friends of Truth," a Cincinnati-based German-American group, for not allowing Jews to join it because it would weaken their anti-Nazi message.

"I welcome your association and their work from the bottom of my heart," Einstein, who made his home in the United States after Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933, wrote in an August 1934 letter to group member August Hamelberg.

"Every German who has the opportunity, by living away from Germany, to be healthy and stay out of life-threatening danger, should see it as their obligation to do so.

Sherlock

Ancient Walled City, Older than Egypt's Pyramids, Unearthed off US Georgia Coast

Sapelo- an artist's rendition.
© Gary C. Daniels, LostWorlds.org
Sapelo- an artist's rendition.
Six hours southeast of Atlanta off the Georgia coast on Sapelo Island, archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient walled city which predates the construction of Egypt's pyramids. Known as the Sapelo Shell Ring Complex, this ancient city was constructed around 2300 B.C. and featured three neighborhoods each surrounded by circular walls twenty feet in height constructed from tons of seashells. Some of the earliest pottery in North America was also found buried in the remains of this lost city.

The site is quite an enigma because at the time of its construction the Native Americans living in the area were simple hunters and gatherers who had yet to invent agriculture. Many scholars believe agriculture is a prerequisite for civilization. Did these simple tribal people somehow make the leap from hunting-and-gathering to civilization in a single bound producing not only a walled city but also the new technology of pottery without the benefit of agriculture? Or did an already civilized people arrive on the coast of Georgia from elsewhere and, if so, where did they come from and why?

Just thirty years before the construction of the Sapelo Shell Rings researchers have noted that Bronze Age civilizations around the world show a pattern of collapse. According to the website LostWorlds.org:

Info

Sex, Beer & Politics: Riddles Reveal Life of Ancient Mesopotamians

Babylon Ruins
© G. Eric and Edith Matson Photograph Collection, Library of Congress, in public domain
At the time the tablet was written, more than 3,500 years ago, Babylon (shown here as seen in 1932) Babylon was one of the most important cities in southern Mesopotamia, controlling an empire in the region. It's possible the writer of the tablet's riddles lived within this kingdom. The tablet's current location is unknown.
Millennia before modern-day Americans made fun of their politicians or cracked crude jokes over a cold one, people in ancient Mesopotamia were doing much the same thing.

The evidence of sex, politics and beer-drinking comes from a newly translated tablet, dating back more than 3,500 years, which reveals a series of riddles.

The text is fragmentary in parts and appears to have been written by an inexperienced hand, possibly a student. The researchers aren't sure where the tablet originates, though they suspect its scribe lived in the southern part of Mesopotamia, near the Persian Gulf.

The translation, by Nathan Wasserman, a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem's Institute of Archaeology, and Michael Streck, a professor with the Altorientalisches Institut at Universität Leipzig, is detailed in the most recent edition of the journal Iraq.