Tag Archive: History


photo of oldest globe depicting the new world, carved out of ostrich egg

The first known globe to include the New World was recently found at a London map fair—an impressive 500 year survival for it being engraved into ostrich eggs.

According to analysis by an independent Belgian scholar, Stefaan Missinne, PhD., the globe not only predates the previous record holder—a globe made of copper alloy between 1504 and 1506, now on display at the New York Public Library—but the evidence suggests it was actually the model used to cast that previous record holder. The two globes are identical down to their smallest details, from the wave patterns on the ocean to the disproportionate size of continents. The handwriting is the same, and even the typos match up: “HISPANIS” instead of HISPANIA and “LIBIA INTEROIR” in place of LIBIA INTERIOR.

The grapefruit-sized globe was spotted at the London map fair in 2012 by an anonymous globe and map collector. By that point it had already passed through two dealers’ hands since being purchased from a unnamed but apparently important European collection. Due to these layers of mystery, globe expert Stefaan Missinne was called in to figure out if the globe was legitimate, and if so, when and where it originated.

The globe’s northern and southern hemispheres each came from the round bottom half of an ostrich egg. To figure out its age, Missinne sent the globe to a radiologist who used CT scans to measure the bone density loss in the shell. By comparing the density to that of modern ostrich eggs, and eggs of known ages in museum collections, Missinne calculated the rate an ostrich egg loses bone density: about 10 percent each century. This means the ostrich egg globe would have been engraved around the year 1500, consistent with the idea of it being the cast for the copper globe. And since copper can be melted but egg cannot, the egg would have had to come first.

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The world’s oldest temple, Göbekli Tepe in southern Turkey, may have been built to worship the dog star, Sirius.

World's oldest temple built to worship the dog star?

The 11,000-year-old site consists of a series of at least 20 circular enclosures, although only a few have been uncovered since excavations began in the mid-1990s. Each one is surrounded by a ring of huge, T-shaped stone pillars, some of which are decorated with carvings of fierce animals. Two more megaliths stand parallel to each other at the centre of each ring.

Göbekli Tepe put a dent in the idea of the Neolithic revolution, which said that the invention of agriculture spurred humans to build settlements and develop civilisation, art and religion. There is no evidence of agriculture near the temple, hinting that religion came first in this instance.

“We have a lot of contemporaneous sites which are settlements of hunter-gatherers. Göbekli Tepe was a sanctuary site for people living in these settlements,” says Klaus Schmidt, chief archaeologist for the project at the German Archaeological Institute (DAI) in Berlin.

But it is still anybody’s guess what type of religion the temple served. Giulio Magli, an archaeoastronomer at the Polytechnic University of Milan in Italy, looked to the night sky for an answer. After all, the arrangement of the pillars at Stonehenge in the UK suggests it could have been built as an astronomical observatory, maybe even to worship the moon.

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Archaeological dig at Tel Hazor finds Sphinx fragment of pyramid-building Egyptian king

Part of an ancient Egyptian king’s unique sphinx was unveiled at a dig in northern Israel on Tuesday, with researchers struggling to understand just how the unexpected find ended up there. The broken granite sphinx statue—including the paws and some of the mythical creature’s forearms—displayed at Tel Hazor archaeological site in Israel’s Galilee, is the first such find in the region. Its discovery also marks the first time ever that researchers have found a statue dedicated to Egyptian ruler Mycerinus who ruled circa 2,500 BC and was builder of one of the three Giza pyramids, an expert said. “This is the only monumental Egyptian statue ever found in the Levant – today’s Israel, Lebanon, Syria,” Amnon Ben-Tor, an archaeology professor at the Hebrew University in charge of the Tel Hazor dig, told AFP.

“It is also the only sphinx of this particular king known, not even in Egypt was a sphinx of that particular king found.” Ben-Tor said that besides Mycerinus’s name, carved in hieroglyphics between the forearms, there are symbols reading “beloved by the divine souls of Heliopolis”. “This is the temple in which the sphinx was originally placed,” Ben-Tor said of Heliopolis, an ancient city which lies north of today’s Cairo. Tel Hazor, which Ben-Tor calls “the most important archaeological site in this country,” was the capital of southern Canaan, founded circa 2,700 BC and at its peak covering approximately 200 acres and home to some 20,000 Canaanites. It was destroyed in the 13th century BC.

“Following a gap of some 150 years, it was resettled in the 11th century BC by the Israelites, who continuously occupied it until 732 BC,” when it was destroyed by the Asyrians, Ben-Tor said.

He said the find was approximately 50 centimetres (20 inches) long, and estimated the entire statue was 150 centimetres (60 inches) long and half a metre (20 inches) high”.

How, when and why it reached Tel Hazor remains a mystery.

An excavation volunteer on July 9, 2013, displays the remains of a Sphinx found in northern Israel

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Strange Prehistoric Carved Stone Balls - Atom

Five carved stone balls are part of the collection at the Ashmolean Museum that were discovered in Scotland (Kincardineshire, Aberdeenshire and Banff). The purpose of those objects is unknown and is baffling archaeologists.

They are made of different stones like sandstone and granite and they are dated back to the Neolithic period between 3000 and 2000 BC. More than 400 stones have been found in Scotland and, including the five stones of the Ashmolean Museum, they have something peculiar about them. As you can see in the picture, on the stones around the surface there are engraved symmetrical patterns.

Most of the stones are of similar size with a diameter of 70mm with the exception of a few larger ones up to 114mm in diameter. The number of knobs on the stones varies from 4 up to 33 with some of the stones also including strange spiral patterns. The stone on the image was found at Skara Brae on Orkney and dates back to 3400 to 2000 BC.

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14,000 Year-Old Burial Rituals

A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports on a discovery revealing 14,000-year-old burial rituals conducted by one of the earliest human cultures living in fixed settlements in what is now Israel.

Nearly 50 years ago, archaeologists uncovered the first true gravesites in the world in Raqefet Cave in Mount Carmel, Israel. However, a more thorough excavation was recently carried out which revealed four burial sites containing a total of 29 skeletons, which contained impressions from plant stems and flowers, including mint, sage and other aromatic plants.  The research team concluded that the flowers were placed in the grave before the bodies were buried there between 13,700 and 11,700 years ago.

The new find “is the oldest example of putting flowers and fresh plants in the grave before burying the dead,” said study co-author Dani Nadel, an archaeologist at the University of Haifa in Israel.

The people who made the tombs were part of a Natufian culture that flourished in the Near East beginning about 15,000 years ago. They were the first people who transitioned from a nomadic, hunter-gathering lifestyle to a more sedentary one. They formed fixed settlements, built heavy furniture, domesticated the wolf, and began to experiment with domesticating wheat and barley. Soon after, humans evolved the first villages, developed agriculture and went on to develop some of the first empires in the world.  It is also believed that the Natufian communities are the ancestors of the builders of the first Neolithic settlements of the region, which may have been the earliest in the world.

A lot is still unknown about the Natufians and how they came to develop such a sophisticated culture.

Further research continues to try to uncover who the skeletons belonged to, what type of people they were and why the graves were decorated with flowers.

Nearly 5,000 ancient cave paintings have been discovered in Burgos, Mexico.

The red, white, black and yellow images depict humans hunting, fishing and gathering, as well as animals such as deer, lizards and centipedes.

The 4,926 paintings were discovered in 11 different sites and are thought to have been created by at least three groups of hunter gatherers.

In one cave more than 1,550 images were found, including an image of an atlatl, a Hispanic weapon used for hunting that has not been seen before in paintings in the Tamaulipas region.

The archaeologists have been unable to date the paintings, but hope to take some samples of the pigments to find out their approximate age.

The area was not previously thought to have been inhabited by ancient civilisations.

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This map, from the United States Geological Survey, shows the age of bedrock in different regions of North America.  Scientists found ancient water in bedrock north of Lake Superior.  This region, colored red, was formed more than 2.5 billion years ago.

Scientists have discovered water that has been trapped in rock for more than a billion years. The water might contain microbes that evolved independently from the surface world, and it’s a finding that gives new hope to the search for life on other planets.

The water samples came from holes drilled by gold miners near the small town of Timmins, Ontario, about 350 miles north of Toronto. Deep in the Canadian bedrock, miners drill holes and collect samples. Sometimes they hit pay dirt; sometimes they hit water, which seeps out from tiny crevices in the rock.

Recently, a team of scientists (who had been investigating water samples from other mines) approached the miners and asked them for fluid from newly drilled boreholes.

Greg Holland, a geochemist at Lancaster University in England, and his colleagues wanted to know just how long that fluid had been trapped in the rock. So they looked at the decay of radioactive atoms found in the water and calculated that it had been bottled up for a long time — at least 1.5 billion years.

“That is the lower limit for the age,” Holland says. It could be a billion years older. That means the water was sealed in the rock before humans evolved, before pterosaurs flew and before multicellular life.

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At least 1,000 Aboriginal founders first arrived in Australia some 50,000 years ago, a reconstruction indicates — numbers that could be evidence of an intentional migration rather than the accidental stranding of a few individuals at a time. The study also finds that the population was devastated during the latest Ice Age, but later rebounded.

The prehistoric settlement of Australia has long been considered a simple story: a founding group of 150 people or fewer made it to the Australian mainland 50 millennia ago and grew to no more than 1.2 million by the time European settlers arrived in 1788. Debate focused on whether the founding population grew immediately after colonization or boomed later, in the past 5,000 years.

But a paper published today in Proceedings of the Royal Society B uses radiocarbon dating to estimate prehistoric populations, and reveals a more complex plot.

To tease out a demographic signal from the past, Alan Williams, an archaeologist at the Australian National University in Canberra, amassed the most comprehensive radiocarbon data set ever put together for the continent, from both published and unpublished sources. He analysed the dates of 4,575 artefacts from 1,750 archaeological sites.

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Stone tools unearthed at a Brazilian rock-shelter may date to as early as 22,000 years ago. Their discovery has rekindled debate about whether ancient people reached the Americas long before the famed Clovis hunters spread through parts of North America around 13,000 years ago.

These relics of ancient South Americans add to evidence from nearby sites challenging the longstanding view of Clovis people as the first Americans, a team led by geochronologist Christelle Lahaye of the University of Bordeaux 3 and archaeologist Eric Boëda of the University of Paris X reports March 4 in the Journal of Archaeological Science.

“We have new, strong evidence that the Clovis-first model is out of date,” Lahaye says.

Among other South American locations proposed as human settlements well before North America’s Clovis culture, the most controversial is Brazil’s Pedra Furada rock-shelter. There, archaeologists unearthed burned wood and sharp-edged stones and dated them to more than 50,000 years ago. Pedra Furada’s excavators regard the finds as evidence of ancient human hearths and stone tools. Critics, and especially many Clovis investigators, say the Brazilian discoveries could have resulted from natural fires and rock slides.

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Map of Rodinia

Fragments of an ancient continent are buried beneath the floor of the Indian Ocean, a study suggests.

Researchers have found evidence for a landmass that would have existed between 2,000 and 85 million years ago.

The strip of land, which scientists have called Mauritia, eventually fragmented and vanished beneath the waves as the modern world started to take shape.

The study is published in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Until about 750 million years ago, the Earth’s landmass was gathered into a vast single continent called Rodinia.

And although they are now separated by thousands of kilometres of ocean, India was once located next to Madagascar.

Now researchers believe they have found evidence of a sliver of continent – known as a microcontinent – that was once tucked between the two.

The team came to this conclusion after studying grains of sand from the beaches of Mauritius.

While the grains dated back to a volcanic eruption that happened about nine million years ago, they contained minerals that were much older.

Professor Trond Torsvik, from the University of Oslo, Norway, said: “We found zircons that we extracted from the beach sands, and these are something you typically find in a continental crust. They are very old in age.”

The zircon dated to between 1,970 and 600 million years ago, and the team concluded that they were remnants of ancient land that had been dragged up to the surface of the island during a volcanic eruption.

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Proto-Elamite script

The world’s oldest undeciphered writing system, which has so far defied attempts to uncover its 5,000-year-old secrets, could be about to be decoded by Oxford University academics.

This international research project is already casting light on a lost bronze age middle eastern society where enslaved workers lived on rations close to the starvation level.

“I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough,” says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.

Dr Dahl’s secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.

In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.

This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets. This is Indiana Jones with software.

This way of capturing images, developed by academics in Oxford and Southampton, is being used to help decode a writing system called proto-Elamite, used between around 3200BC and 2900BC in a region now in the south west of modern Iran.

And the Oxford team think that they could be on the brink of understanding this last great remaining cache of undeciphered texts from the ancient world.

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A woodcut showing bloodletting

Old medical practices, like bloodletting, are typically seen as reminders of a time when the human body was misunderstood. But some of these practices are now being revived – with scientific backing.

Scientists at the Charité Hospital in Berlin recently undertook a clinical study to test the benefits that bloodletting can have on obese people suffering from the metabolic syndrome, with symptoms including high blood pressure, high blood-sugar levels and excessive iron in their blood.

After withdrawing two vials of blood from patients with the syndrome, scientists compared the samples with patients from a control group, according to head researcher Andreas Michalsen. They noticed “a significant reduction of blood pressure” among the participants after four to six weeks, he told DW.

Image showing the equipment used for cupping
Cupping involves placing heated cups were placed on the skin to draw the blood to the surface

The German study was inspired by an old medical tradition – people with high blood pressure or those at high risk of having a stroke often had blood drawn from their bodies.

The practice dates back to ancient Roman times, according to Lindsay Fitzharris, a medical historian with Wellcome Trust in the United Kingdom.

“Galen, a Roman physician in the 2nd Century A.D., believed blood was the product of food, so that when we eat, food is processed in the stomach and then moves into the liver, where it is processed as blood,” says Fitzharris.

Galen, she adds, also believed that the excess blood needed to be removed from the body to restore “harmony and balance.”

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Life may have first emerged on land about 100 million years earlier previously thought, suggests a study that has scientists up in arms, many of whom are arguing that the research paper should never been published in the first place.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Nature, suggests that ancient fossilized creatures found in Southern Australian sediments actually came from land, not from the ocean. If the findings are true, the fossils would have been lichenlike plants that first colonized land, not ocean-dwelling ancestors of jellyfish.

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Ancient rock sculptures discovered in Maharashtra

Rock sculptures dating back to between 4,000-7,000 BC have been found in a well-preserved condition in the forests near Kudopi village in Sindhudurg district of coastal Konkan region, an official said here Tuesday.

There are more than 60 big and small images of Mother Goddess, birds and animals, found in a single location of around 20,000 square feet, considered one of the biggest such concentration anywhere in the country, Satish Lalit, leader of an expedition team which made the discovery last May, told reporters.

“Though similar carvings have been found in other parts of India, this is the first find on a red soil laterite plateau. These are petro-glyphs unlike the picto-graphs found in places like Amravati,” Lalit, a member of Rock Art Society of India (RASI), said.

With this significant historical find dating back to over 6,000 years from now, Sindhudurg district, around 490 km from Mumbai on the Maharashtra-Goa border, will be catapulted onto the global rock-art map.

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The 10 Most Puzzling Ancient Artifacts

The Bible tells us that God created Adam and Eve just a few thousand years ago, by some fundamentalist interpretations. Science informs us that this is mere fiction and that man is a few million years old, and that civilization just tens of thousands of years old. Could it be, however, that conventional science is just as mistaken as the Bible stories? There is a great deal of archeological evidence that the history of life on earth might be far different than what current geological and anthropological texts tell us. Consider these astonishing finds:

The Grooved Spheres

Over the last few decades, miners in South Africa have been digging up mysterious metal spheres. Origin unknown, these spheres measure approximately an inch or so in diameter, and some are etched with three parallel grooves running around the equator. Two types of spheres have been found: one is composed of a solid bluish metal with flecks of white; the other is hollowed out and filled with a spongy white substance. The kicker is that the rock in which they where found is Precambrian – and dated to 2.8 billion years old! Who made them and for what purpose is unknown.

The Dropa Stones

In 1938, an archeological expedition led by Dr. Chi Pu Tei into the Baian-Kara-Ula mountains of China made an astonishing discovery in some caves that had apparently been occupied by some ancient culture. Buried in the dust of ages on the cave floor were hundreds of stone disks. Measuring about nine inches in diameter, each had a circle cut into the center and was etched with a spiral groove, making it look for all the world like some ancient phonograph record some 10,000 to 12,000 years old. The spiral groove, it turns out, is actually composed of tiny hieroglyphics that tell the incredible story of spaceships from some distant world that crash-landed in the mountains. The ships were piloted by people who called themselves the Dropa, and the remains of whose descendents, possibly, were found in the cave.


The Ica Stones

Beginning in the 1930s, the father of Dr. Javier Cabrera, Cultural Anthropologist for Ica, Peru, discovered many hundreds of ceremonial burial stones in the tombs of the ancient Incas. Dr. Cabrera, carrying on his father’s work, has collected more than 1,100 of these andesite stones, which are estimated to be between 500 and 1,500 years old and have become known collectively as the Ica Stones. The stones bear etchings, many of which are sexually graphic (which was common to the culture), some picture idols and others depict such practices as open-heart surgery and brain transplants. The most astonishing etchings, however, clearly represent dinosaurs – brontosaurs, triceratops (see photo), stegosaurus and pterosaurs. While skeptics consider the Ica Stones a hoax, their authenticity has neither been proved or disproved.

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DNA sequencing of 36 complete Y chromosomes has uncovered a previously unknown population explosion that occurred 40 to 50 thousand years ago, between the first expansion of modern humans out of Africa 60 to 70 thousand years ago and the Neolithic expansions of people in several parts of the world starting 10 thousand years ago. This is the first time researchers have used the information from large-scale DNA sequencing to create an accurate family tree of the Y chromosome, from which the inferences about human population history could be made.

“We have always considered the expansion of humans out of Africa as being the largest population expansion of modern humans, but our research questions this theory,” says Ms Wei Wei, first author from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the West China University of Medical Sciences. “The out-of-Africa expansion, which happened approximately 60,000 years ago, was extremely large in geographical terms with humans spreading around the globe. Now we’ve found a second wave of expansion that is much larger in terms of human population growth and occurred over a very short period, somewhere between 40,000 to 50,000 years ago.”There is no obvious archaeological event that would explain why this sudden expansion in the human population occurred. One possible theory is that during the original out-of-Africa expansion, humans moved along the coastlines of the world, settling as they went. Their origins and genetic makeup would mean that these people were suited to coastal life, but not to the demands of living inland. This would have prevented large population growth as the coasts could only sustain a certain number of people. Continue reading

You may have seen them before—the graphs from Antarctic ice cores showing the heartbeat of “ice ages” (or glaciations). If so, you probably noted a cyclical pattern, with each glaciation lasting about 100,000 years before being abruptly interrupted by a relatively brief warm period—the interglacial. Soon, the slow freeze inexorably gripped the planet again. There’s a reason for this rhythmic pattern—cycles in Earth’s orbit that subtly alter the sunlight reaching the Earth.

But the graphs have long contained a couple head-scratching mysteries to climate scientists, though. First, why is the 100,000 year cycle dominant? There are several orbital cycles—some around 20,000 years long, another about 41,000 years long, and then the 100,000 year cycle. By itself, the 100,000 year cycle changes things the least, yet it drives the glacial heartbeat.


Glacial cycles experienced a sudden change in behavior at 400,000 years ago.

There are some good answers to that question, but then there’s the other mystery: once you look back about a million years into the past, the heartbeat changes. Instead of glacial cycles 100,000 years long, a more rapid pulse of 41,000 years becomes the norm. Something happened to change that. Here, too, there are some hypotheses, but the data to test them has been scarce.

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brain

A human skull dated to about 2,684 years ago with an “exceptionally preserved” human brain still inside of it was recently discovered in a waterlogged U.K. pit, according to a new Journal of Archaeological Sciencestudy.

The brain is the oldest known intact human brain from Europe and Asia, according to the authors, who also believe it’s one of the best-preserved ancient brains in the world.

“The early Iron Age skull belonged to a man, probably in his thirties,” lead author Sonia O’Connor told Discovery News. “Cause of death is rarely possible to determine in archaeological remains, but in this case, damage to the neck vertebrae is consistent with a hanging.”

“The head was then carefully severed from the neck using a small blade, such as a knife,” added O’Connor, a post-doctoral research associate at the University of Bradford. “This was used to cut through the throat and between the vertebrae and has left a cluster of fine cut marks on the bone.”

The brain-containing skull was found at Heslington, Yorkshire, in the United Kingdom. O’Connor and her team suspect the site served a ceremonial function that persisted from the Bronze Age through the early Roman period. Many pits at the site were marked with single stakes. The remains of the man were without a body, but the scientists also found the headless body of a red deer that had been deposited into a channel.

Laser imaging, chemical analysis and other examinations revealed that the brain naturally preserved over the millennia. The scientists found no evidence for bacterial or fungal activity, and described the tissue as being “odorless…with a resilient, tofu-like texture.”

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The intricate patterns of 2,500-year-old tattoos – some from the body of a Siberian ‘princess’ preserved in the permafrost – have been revealed in Russia.

The remarkable body art includes mythological creatures and experts say the elaborate drawings were a sign of age and status for the ancient nomadic Pazyryk people, described in the 5th century BC by the Greek historian Herodotus.

But scientist Natalia Polosmak – who discovered the remains of ice-clad ‘Princess Ukok’ high in the Altai Mountains – is also struck about how little has changed in more than two millennia.

Researchers have revealed the stunning tattoo of a Russian princess, which have been preserved for 2,500 years

Balmy tropical temperatures and frost-sensitive vegetation prevailed on the coast of Antarctica 52 million years ago, according to a study of drill cores from under the seafloor off the coast of Antarctica.

Scientists studying pollen and micro-fossils from under the seafloor near Wilkes Land have confirmed that tropical vegetation such as shown here on the Queensland coast  thrived in coastal Antarctica 52 million years ago.

Tropical vegetation, similar to what can be seen on the Queensland coast today, was growing in the area now known as Wilkes Land due south of Australia, the study has shown.

And summer temperatures in coastal Antarctica ranged between 20 and 27 degrees Celsius.

The finding, published in the science journal Nature this week, confirmed what earlier studies had indicated – that Antarctica would have been an ideal summer playground.

It also underlined the extreme contrast between modern and past climate conditions in Antarctica and the extent of global warming during periods of elevated carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

The exceptionally warm period 55 to 48 million years ago was the warmest era in the Earth’s history during the past 70 million years.

The study was undertaken by an international team, led by Goethe University and the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre in Frankfurt, Germany. The team included micro-paleontologist Dr Ian Raine of GNS Science.

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