Posts Tagged ‘Archaeology’

Scientists briefly trap a form of antimatter [via The Los Angeles Times]

Physicists at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, have confirmed that they successfully trapped 38 particles of antihydrogen for two-tenths of a second. The achievement is being hailed as a scientific breakthrough, although the amount stored wouldn’t provide enough energy to power a light bulb for more than half a nanosecond. The process involves cooling the antihydrogen to a half a degree abolve absolute zero and containing the atoms in a “magnetic bowl” suspended in a vacuum, briefly preventing the antimatter from touching matter and annihilating. Fine-tuning the process may allow scientists to create far more antimatter and examine why the universe appears to contain only matter.

Roman settlement found on historic estate [via The Independent]

Archaeologists excavating the site of a future west London hotel have discovered more than 11,000 artifacts from an ancient Roman settlement just half a meter below the surface. Among the 2,000-year-old finds are myriad pottery shards, coins, human remains and a road. “The archaeology at Syon Park has given us a valuable, rare insight into the daily life of an agricultural village on the outskirts of Londinium (London) that would have supplied the Roman city and provided shelter for travellers passing through,” archaeologist Jo Lyon said. “It helps us build a picture of the Roman landscape and shows how the busy metropolis of Londinium connected with the rest of Roman Britain.”

Russian woman calls in fake bomb threat to prevent daughter’s marriage [via CNN]

According to officials a Russian woman hoping to stop her daughter from marrying in Morocco told police her daughter was planning to blow up the plane. The daughter was questioned and cleared for the flight, which left late after officials determined there was no threat. The mother was arrested for making a terror threat after the call was traced to her.


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Three new archaeological finds have provided evidence questioning anthropologists’ previous theory that primates originated in Africa and pushing back accepted dates on migration to Asia and the origins of stone tool-making.

The questions start with a new study published in Nature describing newly discovered anthropoid fossils in Dur At-Talah in Libya. Anthropoids are the primate group including humans, apes and monkeys; the fossils, composed only of teeth but providing immense data for anthropologists, date to 39 million years ago and indicate the early anthropoids weighed between one-quarter and one pound. Furthermore, the fossils indicate at least three anthropoid species had already diverged from a common ancestor through evolution, corresponding to earlier described anthropoid species from Asia.

These new fossils appear suddenly in the archaeological record, researchers say, prompting one of two explanations. The first, and less likely, is a massive gap in Africa’s fossil record; scientists believe it to be unlikely because Eocene epoch sites in northern Africa have been thoroughly sampled and no diverse anthropoid fossils have been found predating these new fossils. Most likely, the study’s authors argued, is that these new anthropoids “colonized” Africa from another continent, most likely Asia approximately 39 million years ago, in the middle of the Eocene.

“If our ideas are correct, this early colonization of Africa by anthropoids was a truly pivotal event — one of the key points in our evolutionary history,” says Christopher Beard, Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at Carnegie Museum of Natural History and an author on the paper. “At the time, Africa was an island continent; when these anthropoids appeared, there was nothing on that island that could compete with them. It led to a period of flourishing evolutionary divergence amongst anthropoids, and one of those lineages resulted in humans. If our early anthropoid ancestors had not succeeded in migrating from Asia to Africa, we simply wouldn’t exist.”

Meanwhile, researchers working in south China have uncovered fossils pushing back the emergence of anatomically modern humans by almost 60,000 years. A partial jawbone and several teeth found in Zhirendong in 2007 have been dated to 100,000 years ago, well before archaeologists believed modern humans had made it from Africa to Asia.

Researchers say the fossils have a mix of modern and Neanderthal features. While the Daily Mail notes Chinese scientists may pounce on the fossils as evidence for a controversial theory that humans in China descend from a species called Homo Pekinensis rather than from the African-borne Homo Sapiens. The researchers say the Zhirendong fossils really indicate that modern humans and Neanderthals coexisted for some time in that region, mating and creating a hybrid species.

“There was mating between these ‘archaic’ and ‘modern’ groups across Asia, and not just in Europe and the remainder of Africa,” researcher and Neanderthal expert Erik Trinkaus said. “Of more interest than who had sex with whom is the fact that modern humans had spread across southern Eurasia by 100,000 years ago, and yet archaic humans remained across the more northern areas, and even displaced the modern humans in Southwest Asia for an additional 50,000 to 70,000 years. … It argues for very little adaptive advantage on the part of these modern humans.”

Although the find is exciting, anthropologists caution against reading too much into it as there is so far only one sample.

Back in Africa, a new expedition has found relatively sophisticated stone artifacts in a cave in South Africa dating back 75,000 years, 50,000 years earlier than prehistoric peoples’ tool use was thought. The tools, found in the Blombos Cave near the southern tip of South Africa, were created with a technique known as pressure flaking, which, according to Wired, “consists of trimming the edges of a finished tool by pressing with a bone point hard enough to remove thin slices of rock. This process creates the narrow, evenly spaced grooves found on flint tools from Europe’s 20,000-year-old Solutrean culture and prehistoric Native American groups.” The technique better controls the sharpness, thickness and shape of spearheads and stone knives.

The researchers analyzed 159 silcrete points and fragments, 179 other retouched pieces and more than 700 flakes from the cave. They also experimented with replicating the procedure for comparative purposes; pressure flaking can be taught to a novice in about half an hour, according to archaeologist John Shea. “It is, literally, so easy a caveman can do it,” he said.

Again, archaeologists caution, while this is an interesting discovery, it merely indicates the technique appeared earlier than previous thought and is not a game-changer on questions of origins or cognitive development.

Finally, some quick summaries of other recent anthropological developments:

  • A new paper will likely spark debate for arguing that the so-called Homo floresiensis, a 3.5-foot-tall, 15,000-year-old “hobbit”-like human species discovered in Indonesia in 2003, is actually an idodine-deprived Homo sapiens. The lack of iodine combined with endemic dwarf cretinism derived from congenital hypothyroidism gave the nine skeletons their short stature, the researchers argue.
  • Archaeologists from the Smithsonian, Southern Methodist University and the University of Oregon are concerned about rising ocean levels threatening seaside archaeological sites. In the Journal of Coastal Conservation they argue for using “quantifiable factors such as historical rates of shoreline change, wave action, coastal slope and shoreline geomorphology” to create an index of threatened sites in order to inform decision-making about preservation and salvageability.
  • Israeli archaeologist Ehud Netzer, famous for excavating King Herod’s winter palace and discovering Herod’s tomb, died at 76 years of age after accidentally falling at the site this week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called his death “a loss for his family, scholars of Israel’s history and the science of archaeology.”

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Pocahontas’ Wedding Site Found [via Discovery News]

Archaeologists working in the historic site of the Jamestown settlement in Virginia have uncovered what they believe to be the Anglican church where Pocahontas was wed to English settler John Rolfe in 1619. Lead archaeologist Bill Kelso and his team have found a number of deep holes they believe were once used as wooden support columns for the 60-foot-long church. A number of graves found near what is believed to be the alter indicates it is the church; important Anglican settlers would have been buried in that area.

Blind People Perceive Touch Faster Than Those With Sight [via Science Daily]

A new study in the Journal of Neuroscience indicates that people born blind can detect tactile information more quickly than the sighted. The scientists wanted to study whether those who rely more heavily on a particular sense, as the blind do touch, could process such sensory information faster. “Our findings reveal that one way the brain adapts to the absence of vision is to accelerate the sense of touch,” lead researcher Daniel Goldreich said. “The ability to quickly process non-visual information probably enhances the quality of life of blind individuals who rely to an extraordinary degree on the non-visual senses.”

Sterling’s Gold: How Mad Men’s Fake Memoir Became the Real Deal [via New York Magazine]

“Sterling’s Gold,” a fictional memoir featured multiple times throughout the latest season of AMC’s “Mad Men” this summer, has become a real book. “Sterling’s Gold will be subtitled ‘The Wit and Wisdom of an Ad Man’ and feature the same kitschily framed front cover seen on the show (except for a prominent John Slattery head shot). The text will consist of many of the one-liners you’ve already heard, divided by chapters on ‘Clients,’ ‘Women,’ ‘Drinking,’ and such. ‘Being with a client is like being in a marriage,’ reads one familiar koan. ‘Sometimes you get into it for the wrong reasons and eventually they hit you in the face.’”

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Most distant galaxy identified [via The Daily Telegraph]

Writing in Nature yesterday a group of European scientists announced the discovery of the galaxy most distant from our own — UDFy-38135539, 13.1 billion lightyears away. Light from the galaxy, therefore, has taken most of the universe’s life to reach us; the Big Bang happened approximately 13.7 billion years ago. ”These observations are at the limit of what can be achieved with the best current technology on the best telescopes available today,” said University of Bristol professor Malcolm Bremer. “In the near term, improvements to that technology and the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope (successor to the Hubble Space Telescope) will improve our ability to carry out studies like this.”

Britain’s ‘earliest hospital’ discovered [via The Guardian]

British archaeologists have uncovered what may be Britain’s first hospital, a site in Winchester carbon dating to between 960 and 1030 — before the Norman invasion of 1066. “This is an important archaeological development,” said Dr Simon Roffey from the University of Winchester, which conducted the dig. “Historically, it has always been assumed that hospitals were a post-conquest phenomenon, the majority founded from the late 11th century onwards. However, our excavations have revealed a range of buildings and, more significantly, convincing evidence for a foundation in the 10th century.” Winchester, near the southern coast of the county of Hampshire, was the capital of England at the time.

End of the Earth Postponed [via LiveScience]

A new textbook argues that “the accepted conversions of dates from Mayan to the modern calendar may be off by as much as 50 or 100 years,” throwing doubt on the widely popularized claim that the world will end in 2012 because the ancient Mayan stops then. The error occurred in early calculations from Mayan to Gregorian dates. The author, however, does not offer any solution to a proper conversion.

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Editor’s note: Today’s Morning Briefing is all from the Daily Telegraph, because Britons do it better.

First World War officially ends [via The Daily Telegraph]

World War I will technically end this weekend, 92 years after guns stopped firing, when Germany makes its final payment of £59.5 million in reparations. Germany originally owed France, Belgium and the Allied Powers about £22 billion under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and would have paid off the debt earlier if Adolf Hitler hadn’t reneged on the deal before and during World War II.

Meteor crater found on Google Earth could help prepare for future impacts [via The Daily Telegraph]

Satellite images from Google Earth were used to discover a previously-unknown crater deep in the Egyptian desert, one of the best-preserved impact sites ever found. Scientists are excited because the crater appears to be only a few thousand years old and could therefore have been witnessed by humans. The European Space Agency said data from the site could help develop plans to deal with small asteroids on a course for Earth.

Lesbian martial arts expert frees under age lover in Indonesia [via The Daily Telegraph]

This one just needs to be quoted directly: “A lesbian martial arts expert has staged a jailbreak to free her under age female lover from protective custody where she was being “cured” of her attraction to women, according to reports. Police are investigating the escape of the 15-year-old girl, who allegedly admitted to having a sexual relationship with her 26-year-old taekwondo teacher in east Jakarta.”

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Bearded Lady Reunites With Long-Lost Son [via AOL News]

33-year-old Kansan Richard Lorenc began searching for his biological parents, he probably didn’t expect to find this. Lorenc discovered his mother is Vivian Wheeler, who suffers from a disease called hypertrichosis, or werewolf syndrome. Wheeler (and her mother) were both born with inch-and-a-half beards, and she worked as a bearded woman at carnivals for years.

Missing Iraqi antiquities located in PM Maliki’s office [via the BBC]

More than 600 ancient Iraqi artifacts have been discovered in boxes in Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki’s office. The artifacts were among those stolen from the Iraqi National Museum after the U.S. invasion in 2003 and were recovered and sent back to Iraq in 2009, where they were promptly lost. Antiquities Minister Qahtan al-Jubouri blamed “inappropriate handover procedures” for their disappearance.

Christine O’Donnell Angers Wiccan Community with “Witchcraft” Comments [via CBS News]

Delaware Republican senate candidate Christine O’Donnell is taking flack from the Wiccan community after equating witchcraft with Satanism. O’Donnell made the connection after video from 1999 surfaced in which she claimed to have “dabbled in witchcraft.” “Any political candidate that is going to equate witchcraft with Satanism is ill informed and is not likely to get the support of people involved in nature religion,” Reverend Selena Fox, the High Priestess and Senior Minister of the Circle Sanctuary, said.

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Are You Reading What He’s Reading? [via The New York Times]

Jonathan Franzen’s new novel, “Freedom,” was likely to be a bestseller, but when news leaked that President Barack Obama had obtained a copy before its publication date, sales were pushed “over the top.” Obama has previously given sales bumps to Joseph O’Neill’s “Netherland” and Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead” after mentioning they are among his favorite reads. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work; in addition to “Freedom,” Obama picked up Brad Leithauser’s “A Few Corrections,” but it has achieved no extra notoriety.

Bones found at William and Mary are canine, not human [via The Williamsburg-Yorktown Daily]

Archaeologists digging on the campus of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. have discovered the bones of canines in a formal burial, the first known discovery of formal pet burial from the colonial period. “I don’t know of any instance of the formal, intentional interment of animals in the 18th century, either dogs or cats,” said Joanne Bowen, a research professor in the college’s Department of Anthropology and a zooarchaeologist with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. “We find them in the 19th century. But in the Colonial period, people didn’t think of their dogs and cats in the same way we do now.”

More Mr Nice Guy: Why everyone loves Russell Tovey [via The Independent]

The Independent profiles British actor Russell Tovey, best known for his roles in the original run and movie adaptation of the popular play “The History Boys” and as a werewolf on the BBC’s “Being Human.” “Tovey is a bit Norman Wisdom, a bit Lee Evans, verbally and physically dextrous, all high-pitched splutters and facial gymnastics.” Tovey also discusses acting, his new sitcom, “Him & Her,” and the impact coming out had on his family.

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