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Lost Nazi Weather Station Kurt

Fri, 2014-06-06 14:09
When you think of Northern Labrador, the images that come to mind for most people are of snow and ice covered rugged mountains, or Caribou or perhaps Polar Bears.

Few people would equate this place with World War II German Nazis. And yet in 1943 a U-Boat installed a German weather station code named “Kurt” in Martin Bay, northern Labrador.

On September 18, 1943, U-537, commanded by Peter Schrewe, left Germany carrying a Wetter-Funkgerät Land weather station or WFL, codenamed “Kurt”. Also on board were meteorologist Dr. Kurt Sommermeyer, and his assistant, Walter Hildebrant. Nearly a month later on October 22 the U-boat glided into Martin Bay, Labrador. Shortly after arriving some of the crew and Dr. Sommermeyer were assembling the station ¼ mile inland.

A view of U-537 anchored in Martin Bay on Labrador Coast northern Canada : National WW2 Museum

There were 26 similar stations manufactured by Siemens. Fourteen were established in Arctic and sub-Arctic areas and five were placed around the Barents Sea. Two were supposed to be in North America but the U-Boat carrying the second was sunk.

Getting the station on shore would have been a difficult and dangerous task. It consisted of several measuring instruments, a telemetry system and a 150 watt Lorenz 150 FK-type transmitter. It also had 10 cylindrical canisters which were about 3 feet tall and weighed around 220 lb each. One canister contained the instruments and was attached to a 10-metre (33 ft) antenna mast. A second, shorter mast carried an anemometer and wind vane.

The other canisters contained nickel-cadmium batteries that powered the station. The WFL would broadcast weather readings every three hours during a two minute transmission on 3940 kHz. The system could work for up to six months, depending on the number of battery canisters. All of this material had to be carried from the U-Boat, put into rubber dinghies, rowed ashore and carried ¼ of a mile inshore to be installed at the station. This was all done in a little over 24 hours by hand and in October in northern Labrador, meaning most of it was done in near darkness.

After having the station assembled, Dr. Sommermeyer ensured that it was operating and U-537 departed Martin Bay. According to German records the station operated for about 2 weeks.

Header Image : U-boat crew placing Weather Station “Kurt” on isolated coast of Labrador : Credit : War Writing

There is no record of the Canadian or American Military ever having become aware of the stations existence.

As far as we know, the first North Americans to find the site were part of the Torngat Archaeological Project in 1977. In terms of sites found and ground covered this two year project (1977-78), conducted by the Smithsonian Institution and Bryn Mawr College with the assistance of personnel from a number of American and Canadian institutions, was the most successful archaeology project in Provincial history. The project surveyed from Nain to the Button Islands and located nearly 350 archaeological sites and gathered data from many geological and botanical stations.

Weather Station Kurt CC

In 1977 Peter Johnson, a geomorphologist working with the project stumbled upon the German weather station but didn’t realize what he had found. He suspected it was a Canadian military installation. As part of the project the weather station was named Martin Bay 7 and issued Borden number JaDc-07.

Around the same time as the Torngat Archaeological Project discovery Franz Selinger, a retired engineer gathering information for a book on Nazi weather stations contacted Dr. Alec Douglas.

At the time Douglas was the official historian for the Canadian Armed Forces. Selinger told Douglas that during his research he came across a reference to an automatic land weather station in Labrador. Eventually Selinger was able to locate the log book of the U-537 which confirmed that the U-Boat had indeed set up a weather station in northern Labrador.

With this information Douglas arranged a trip on a Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker to Martin Bay. Shortly after arriving in Martin Bay Douglas & Selinger located the remains of the station. What remained of the only German military operation on land in North America during the World War II was collected and eventually ended up on display in the Canadian War Museum.

Written by Stephen Hull

Inside New Foundland and Labrador Archaeology – Header Image : U-boat crew placing Weather Station “Kurt” on isolated coast of Labrador : Credit : War Writing

 

Categories: General

Mitochondrial DNA of first Near Eastern farmers is sequenced for the first time

Fri, 2014-06-06 13:50
In the research, published in the journal PLOS Genetics, experts analysed samples from three sites located in the birthplace of Neolithic agricultural practices: the Middle Euphrates basin and the oasis of Damascus, located in today’s Syria and date at about 8,000 BC.

The paper is signed by Daniel Turbón and Alejandro Pérez Pérez, from the Department of Animal Biology of the University of Barcelona (UB); Eva Fernández, from Liverpool John Moores University; Cristina Gamba, Eduardo Arroyo Pardo and Pedro Cuesta, from Complutense University of Madrid; Eva Prats, from the Spanish National Research Council, and Josep Anfruns and Miquel Molist, from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB). The study is focused on the analysis of mitochondrial DNA —a type of non-Mendelian maternally inherited DNA— from the first Neolithic farmers, by means of samples obtained by the UAB research group which were first processed by the UB research group.

The Neolithic: a deep revolution in human societies

Agricultural and husbandry practices originated around 12,000 years ago in a region of the Near East known as the Fertile Crescent. This phenomenon, known as “Neolithic”, meant a profound social, cultural and economic transformation of human populations (agricultural production, sedentary farming lifestyle, origin of the first cities and modern societies, etc.).

Experts analysed samples from three sites located in the birthplace of Neolithic agricultural practices (photo: Dr. Alejandro Pérez-Pérez)

Eva Fernández, first author of the article who got her PhD from UB, explains that “the Neolithic Revolution rapidly expanded from these territories into Europe, where the hunter-gatherer subsistence economy —prevailing till then— was replaced by an agropastoral producing system”. To know the nature of the diffusion of the Neolithic —in other words, to know if it was a population migration process or a cultural adoption— has been widely debated for the last fifty years. Different research fields, for instance archaeology, physical anthropology, linguistics and, more recently, human paleogenetics, have made contributions to the discussion.

The unknown genetics of first Near Eastern farmers

The genetic composition of first Neolithic populations was one of the mysteries of science till today, although some advances in European Neolithic populations’ genetics were made during the last decade. Professor Daniel Turbón points out that the results revealed by the study published in PLOS Genetics “are the first ones regarding first Near Eastern farmers; in other words, the genetic stock of original Neolithic”. However, it is important to remember that other data have been published about European first farmers, to be exact in Catalonia (by Cristina Gamba et al., 2012), the Basque Country (by Hervella et al.) and Germany (by Wolfgang Haak et al., 2010, and Brandt et al., 2013).

“Conclusions of previous studies —explains Turbón— are based on the comparison with current Near East populations, as first agricultural societies’ genetics have remained unknown until now”.

From the Near East to Europe

The study published in PLOS Genetics provides a new framework to interpret the results of other studies about European Neolithic populations, stress the authors. According to conclusions, genetic affinities have been observed between the mitochondrial DNA of first Neolithic populations and the DNA of first Catalan and German farmers. This suggests that probably Neolithic expansion took place through pioneer migrations of small groups of population. Moreover, the two main migration routes ―Mediterranean and European― might have been genetically linked.

“The most significant conclusion —highlights Eva Fernández— is that the degree of genetic similarity between the populations of the Fertile Crescent and the ones of Cyprus an Crete supports the hypothesis that Neolithic spread in Europe took place through pioneer seafaring colonization, not through a land-mediated expansion through Anatolia, as it was thought until now”.

 How did the Neolithic Revolution spread?

Other scientific studies had already provided signs of an alternative scenario of Neolithic spread in Europe different from the one through Anatolia. According to Turbón, “recent archaeological finds have proved that the Neolithic arrived to Cyprus around 10,600 years ago, some years after the first documentation of agricultural practices in the Near East”. Architecture and burial models found in Cyprus’ sites are similar to the ones found in the Middle Euphrates basin, “that indicates a direct colonisation of these territories”, highlights the author. “Besides, spatial interpolation of radiocarbon dates from different Neolithic sites in the Near East and Europe also suggests a first seafaring expansion through Cyprus”, he concludes.

In order to support these conclusions, the scientific team aims at analysing a greater number of human Neolithic samples from other regions of the Fertile Crescent, and at increasing the number of genetic markers analysed in the samples.

Universidad de Barcelona – Header Image : Middle Euphrates basin – WikiPedia

 

Categories: General

What a 66-million-year-old forest fire reveals about the last days of the dinosaurs

Thu, 2014-06-05 18:55
As far back as the time of the dinosaurs, 66 million years ago, forests recovered from fires in the same manner they do today, according to a team of researchers from McGill University and the Royal Saskatchewan Museum.

During an expedition in southern Saskatchewan, Canada, the team discovered the first fossil-record evidence of forest fire ecology – the regrowth of plants after a fire – revealing a snapshot of the ecology on earth just before the mass extinction of the dinosaurs. The researchers also found evidence that the region’s climate was much warmer and wetter than it is today.

A McGill field crew is collecting fossils as part of a field course in Grasslands National. Credit: Hans Larsson/Emily Bamforth

“Excavating plant fossils preserved in rocks deposited during the last days of the dinosaurs, we found some preserved with abundant fossilized charcoal and others without it. From this, we were able to reconstruct what the Cretaceous forests looked like with and without fire disturbance”, says Hans Larsson, Canada Research Chair in Macroevolution at McGill University.

The researchers’ discovery revealed that at the forest fire site, the plants are dominated by flora quite similar to the kind that begin forest recovery after a fire today. Ancient forests recovered much like current ones, with plants like alder, birch, and sassafras present in early stages, and sequoia and ginkgo present in mature forests.

“We were looking at the direct result of a 66-million-year old forest fire, preserved in stone,” says Emily Bamforth, of the Royal Saskatchewan Museum and the study’s first author. “Moreover, we now have evidence that the mean annual temperature in southern Saskatchewan was 10-12 degrees Celsius warmer than today, with almost six times as much precipitation”.

“The abundant plant fossils also allowed us for the first time to estimate climate conditions for the closing period of the dinosaurs in southwestern Canada, and provides one more clue to reveal what the ecology was like just before they went extinct”, says Larsson, who is also an Associate Professor at the Redpath Museum.

Forest fires can affect both plant and animal biodiversity. The team’s finding of ancient ecological recovery from a forest fire will help broaden scientists’ understanding of biodiversity immediately before the mass extinction of dinosaurs. “We won’t be able to fully understand the extinction dynamics until we understand what normal ecological processes were going on in the background”. says Larsson.

McGill University – Header Image : WikiPedia

Categories: General

Of Dinosaurs and Mathematics

Thu, 2014-06-05 13:10
Dinosaurs and mathematics do not seem like an obvious pair, but for Professor Robert Sinclair and his Mathematical Biology Unit, they are a logical match.

Sinclair was part of a team that recently published a paper in Alcheringa: An Australasian Journal of Palaeontology that reexamined the classification of a dinosaur bone found in Australia. Using his expertise in mathematics, Sinclair was able to help the paleontologists reclassify a single arm bone as belonging to a dinosaur family previously believed not to have existed in the Southern Hemisphere. Sinclair contributed to an international, interdisciplinary collaboration that may lead to revisions in the current thinking about how continents were connected in the ancient world.

The bone in question, an ulna, or arm bone, was found in southern Australia. The researchers named this new species of dinosaur Serendipaceratops arthurcclarkei, and classified it as belonging to the Neoceratopsia family, which includes the famous dinosaur Triceratops.

Not long after that paper was published, another research group published a paper saying that the bone could not be ceratopsian, partly because that family of dinosaurs existed only in the Northern Hemisphere and the land masses had already split, therefore there was no way that a bone from that family could be found in Australia. One caveat to this logic is that the data used to determine when the continents split is based on fossil data. “It becomes a chicken and egg scenario,” says Sinclair. If the data used to establish a theory is then refuted by finding something unexpected, that theory should be challenged, which is not an easy thing to do.

This is where Sinclair can use mathematics to provide solid evidence for one theory or another. He is interested in using mathematics to solve difficult problems in fields of research where current methodologies are not sufficient. He was attracted to paleontology for this reason, particularly in his native Australia. After an invitation to speak at OIST, Dr. Thomas Rich, one of the Australian paleontologists on the paper, asked Sinclair for help in showing that the bone he had analyzed belonged to Ceratopsia.

Sinclair went about investigating whether the dimensions and characteristics of the bone matched other members of the Ceratopsia family, or whether they matched a different family. Sinclair said the challenge was to “use mathematics in a field where it is not commonly used or well understood and utilize it in a way that is understandable to those in the field.” First he had to find a characteristic that could be measured on the bone in question and the same type of bone in other species and families of dinosaurs, in this case, the flatness of the bone.

He had to mathematically account for variability in the bones since fossils tend to become broken or deformed over time. Some paleontologists were still skeptical of what the mathematics really meant. This is where the hard work began, and Sinclair had to find other measurements to make and used several different mathematical techniques to show that they all reached the same conclusion.

In the end, he showed mathematical data of three different types in order to convince certain paleontologists that the bone in question belonged to the Ceratopsia family. The driving point for Sinclair is using mathematics to tackle difficult questions when conventional methods in the field are not sufficient. His statistical analysis, combined with other analyses provided by the co-authors, was convincing enough to put the bone back into the Ceratopsia family.

Sinclair says he is excited about people finding more dinosaur bones in Australia to see how it challenges the current thinking about what did and did not exist on the continent. As for his other endeavors, he looks forward to working in new fields and figuring out the “dance of what you would do as a mathematician and what is accepted in that community.” With that goal in mind, it is easy to see how dinosaurs and mathematics formed a logical pair for Sinclair.

Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology – OIST

Categories: General

Climate not to blame for the disappearance of large mammals

Wed, 2014-06-04 20:38
A new study unequivocally points to humans as the cause of the mass extinction of large animals all over the world during the course of the last 100,000 years.

Was it mankind or climate change that caused the extinction of a considerable number of large mammals about the time of the last Ice Age? Researchers at Aarhus University have carried out the first global analysis of the extinction of the large animals, and the conclusion is clear – humans are to blame.

“Our results strongly underline the fact that human expansion throughout the world has meant an enormous loss of large animals,” says Postdoctoral Fellow Søren Faurby, Aarhus University.

Was it due to climate change?

For almost 50 years, scientists have been discussing what led to the mass extinction of large animals (also known as megafauna) during and immediately after the last Ice Age.

One of two leading theories states that the large animals became extinct as a result of climate change. There were significant climate changes, especially towards the end of the last Ice Age – just as there had been during previous Ice Ages – and this meant that many species no longer had the potential to find suitable habitats and they died out as a result. However, because the last Ice Age was just one in a long series of Ice Ages, it is puzzling that a corresponding extinction of large animals did not take place during the earlier ones.

Theory of overkill

The other theory concerning the extinction of the animals is ‘overkill’. Modern man spread from Africa to all parts of the world during the course of a little more than the last 100,000 years. In simple terms, the overkill hypothesis states that modern man exterminated many of the large animal species on arrival in the new continents. This was either because their populations could not withstand human hunting, or for indirect reasons such as the loss of their prey, which were also hunted by humans.

First global mapping

In their study, the researchers produced the first global analysis and relatively fine-grained mapping of all the large mammals (with a body weight of at least 10 kg) that existed during the period 132,000–1,000 years ago – the period during which the extinction in question took place. They were thus able to study the geographical variation in the percentage of large species that became extinct on a much finer scale than previously achieved.

The researchers found that a total of 177 species of large mammals disappeared during this period – a massive loss. Africa ‘only’ lost 18 species and Europe 19, while Asia lost 38 species, Australia and the surrounding area 26, North America 43 and South America a total of 62 species of large mammals.

The extinction of the large animals took place in virtually all climate zones and affected cold-adapted species such as woolly mammoths, temperate species such as forest elephants and giant deer, and tropical species such as giant cape buffalo and some giant sloths. It was observed on virtually every continent, although a particularly large number of animals became extinct in North and South America, where species including sabre-toothed cats, mastodons, giant sloths and giant armadillos disappeared, and in Australia, which lost animals such as giant kangaroos, giant wombats and marsupial lions. There were also fairly large losses in Europe and Asia, including a number of elephants, rhinoceroses and giant deer.

Weak climate effect

The results show that the correlation between climate change – i.e. the variation in temperature and precipitation between glacials and interglacials – and the loss of megafauna is weak, and can only be seen in one sub-region, namely Eurasia (Europe and Asia). “The significant loss of megafauna all over the world can therefore not be explained by climate change, even though it has definitely played a role as a driving force in changing the distribution of some species of animals. Reindeer and polar foxes were found in Central Europe during the Ice Age, for example, but they withdrew northwards as the climate became warmer,” says Postdoctoral Fellow Christopher Sandom, Aarhus University.

Extinction linked to humans

On the other hand, the results show a very strong correlation between the extinction and the history of human expansion. “We consistently find very large rates of extinction in areas where there had been no contact between wildlife and primitive human races, and which were suddenly confronted by fully developed modern humans (Homo sapiens). In general, at least 30% of the large species of animals disappeared from all such areas,” says Professor Jens-Christian Svenning, Aarhus University.

The researchers’ geographical analysis thereby points very strongly at humans as the cause of the loss of most of the large animals.

The results also draw a straight line from the prehistoric extinction of large animals via the historical regional or global extermination due to hunting (American bison, European bison, quagga, Eurasian wild horse or tarpan, and many others) to the current critical situation for a considerable number of large animals as a result of poaching and hunting (e.g. the rhino poaching epidemic).

The results have just been published in the article Global late Quaternary megafauna extinctions linked to humans, not climate change in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Aarhus University – Header Image : WikiPedia

Categories: General

Scientist Uses Fossils to Confirm Historic Ohio Millstones Have French Origins

Wed, 2014-06-04 20:07
A geologist studied fossils to confirm that stones used in 19th century Ohio grain mills originated from France.

Fossils embedded in these millstones were analyzed to determine that stones known as French buhr were imported from regions near Paris, France, to Ohio in the United States. Dr. Joseph Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, was lead author on research published in the Society for Sedimentary Geology journal PALAIOS.

Millstone made of French buhr at the site of Clover Hill Mill, Trumbull County, Ohio. © SEPM

The study documents a technique that uses fossils to definitively distinguish French buhr from similar-looking Ohio chert (also known as flint). The most revealing fossil is a one-millimeter wide reproductive structure of a charophyte (a type of algae also known as a stonewort) that occurs in the rocks of the Paris Basin, a geological province centered around Paris, France.

Millstones made of Ohio chert were found to contain typical saltwater marine fossils that are much older than the fossils found in French buhr. These include brachiopods and small oval fossils called fusulinids and brachiopods. These Ohio rocks date from the latter part of the Paleozoic era (about 300 million years ago). Alternatively, the French stone is made from rock derived from freshwater deposits. The fossils found in this stone include freshwater snails and algae. The French stone dates from the Tertiary Period (from 65 to 2.6 million years ago), which is geologically younger than the Ohio stone.

“The story of the importation of this stone from France is not widely known,” said Dr. Joseph Hannibal, curator of invertebrate paleontology at The Cleveland Museum of Natural History. “They are not always correctly identified as being from France. Based on the stones we have examined, it is clear that the French stone was more popular. Examples of millstones made of this stone are widespread in North America and throughout the world. So the use of fossils for their identification is a broadly applicable concept.”

Latex impression of a freshwater snail found in a French buhr millstone at Lanterman’s Mill, Youngstown, Ohio. © SEPM

During the late 18th and 19th century, large amounts of stone known as French buhr were imported from France to Ohio and other states in North America for the manufacture of millstones. The French stone was preferred by grain millers over locally found stone because it was considered superior in cutting grain that sifted more easily to produce white flour. The Ohio cities of Cleveland and Cincinnati were major centers for manufacture of millstones made of this French stone. However, local Ohio stone, some of it similar in color and texture to the French stone, was quarried in eastern and southeastern Ohio at localities including the famous locality of Flint Ridge.

“Many millstones have been identified as being made of French stone or Ohio stone,” said Hannibal. “But since the stones used are generally similar in color and other properties, I questioned how these stones had been identified as originating from France or Ohio. When visiting the remains of an old mill in Trumbull County, Ohio, we first noticed that there were charophytes in some millstones. Our study progressed from there.”

The study was done over a period of five years. The research team searched 60 millstone sites, looking at several hundred millstones. A total of 16 millstones containing fossils were included in the study. The research team, which included college students and high school students, analyzed wafer thin samples of rock under microscopes. The team also applied liquid rubber latex to stone surfaces to obtain impressions of fossils such as snails for investigation. Four college students, two from Kent State University, one from Heidelberg University, and one from Oberlin College, are coauthors of this study.

The study is ongoing and is part of a broader research project on the geology of millstones and the trans-Atlantic stone trade. Millstones in about 30 Ohio counties have been studied to date as part of this larger project.

Cleveland Museum of Natural History – Header  Image : WikiPedia

Categories: General

Early Bronze Age industrial, agricultural and domestic activity dating from up to 4,000 years ago discovered

Wed, 2014-06-04 17:22
Evidence of industrial, agricultural and domestic archaeology, dating from up to 4,000 years ago has been found at the site of the Dyce Park and Choose and Dyce Drive link road site.

The finds include 4,000-year-old pottery from the early Bronze Age, the remains of timber roundhouses, and evidence of Iron Age smithing and domestic life. The site has real regional significance and adds considerably to a wider understanding of early habitation in the area.

Aberdeen City Council employed AECOM and Headland Archaeology to carry out an archaeological investigation ahead of construction work for the 999 space Dyce Park and Choose site and the Dyce Drive link road getting under way.

The team has discovered evidence of industrial, agricultural and domestic activity dating from the early Bronze Age (2300BC) through to the 1800s.

The work has been carried out on a relatively undisturbed piece of ground in an area where finds from prehistory onwards have been made in the past. For that reason, a condition was attached to the planning permission for the site requiring archaeological work to be carried out prior to development.

This dig was carried out because the initial archaeological evaluation revealed a range of archaeological features which required further examination.

Archaeologist Steve Thomson said: “Domestic occupation in the area has been found in the form of the remains of timber constructed roundhouses, with hearths and remnants of compacted floor and activity surfaces, which so far seem to indicate prolonged occupation on the same site, with phases of rebuilding occurring.

“The site appears to have been significant over a 2,000 year period with Iron Age occupation and evidence of smithing and domestic life. Partial quern stones, used for grinding cereal crops, have been found along with metal working residues and puts containing probable fire rakings of meals and every day life.”

Medieval agricultural activity has also been discovered and later ridge and furrow field systems, with the remains of possible farm buildings evidenced on site.

Councillor Barney Crockett, convener of Enterprise, Strategic Planning and Infrastructure said: “The discoveries made by the team of archaeologists during this dig are and very exciting. I think the people of Aberdeen and much further afield will be absolutely fascinated by what has been discovered and keen to see some of the finds for themselves.”

Mr Thomson added: “There is a wonderful jigsaw of people working and living within a landscape, which seems to have provided all they needed right up to the present day, and the pieces of that jigsaw are allowing the archaeological team to truly see the picture.

Image Credit : Aberdeen City Council

“The continuity of use of the land is remarkable. Clearly a sense of place was important, not purely for practical reasons. Seeing the landscape, even today, helps the team understand why it was a focus for so long for continued use. It is genuinely exciting to be so close and even walk on surfaces our predecessors used thousands of years ago.

“The Headland Archaeology team are genuinely excited by the opportunity to excavate the site, and while there is still much to do to fully understand the picture, once the excavation has been completed, the team have welcomed the opportunity to begin to tell a real story of early life in Aberdeen.”

Small pits and post-holes can be seen on the ground. Some of the post-holes are arranged in circular groups with entrance ways interrupting the circle. These are from the foundation posts of roundhouses.

Once the excavation is complete, the results and finds will be carefully analysed by the excavators and a variety of experts, before a report is written and published. This will include radiocarbon dating of suitable charred material (charcoal).

Objects which have been found will be reported to the Scottish Archaeological Finds Allocation Panel, which will allocated them to a registered museum.

Aberdeen City Council

Categories: General

Finding the lost art of Angkor Wat

Wed, 2014-06-04 15:40
Long-lost paintings have been discovered on the walls of Cambodia’s ancient Angkor Wat temple, thanks to the keen observations of an Australian National University (ANU) researcher.

The ancient paintings date back almost 500 years and depict deities, animals, boats and the temple itself, giving historians a new understanding of life in a relatively unknown period of Cambodia’s history.

Rock art researcher Noel Hidalgo Tan discovered the hidden images while working as a volunteer at an archaeological excavation in Angkor Wat during a university break in 2010.

Caption: A hidden image at Angkor Wat temple showing life scenes. The enhanced image is below, and the original image is above. Credit: Noel Hidalgo Tan

“I was walking through the temple on a lunch break and I saw some pigments on the wall. I took some pictures, but didn’t think they would be anything special,” he said.

It was only when Tan enhanced the images on his computer that the paintings emerged, revealing the long-lost artworks.

“It was an amazing moment,” Tan said. “I didn’t expect the images would be so elaborate and detailed.”

Angkor Wat is one of the world’s most famous monuments and a national symbol of Cambodia. Built in the 12th century, Angkor Wat was in the centre of the city of Angkor, which was the capital of the Khmer Empire from the 9th to the 15th centuries.

The world-heritage site attracts around two million tourists a year.

Despite the large number of visitors, the paintings had not been noticed. They were largely faded to the naked eye, and many were in dark areas of the temple.

an, from the ANU Department of Archaeology and Natural History, returned to the temple in 2012 to carry out a detailed investigation in collaboration with Cambodian researchers Im Sokrithy, Heng Than and Khieu Chan.

Remnants of paintings were originally thought to be graffiti left by early travellers to the temple. But to Tan’s surprise, many of the paintings portrayed elaborate details of daily life, with little resemblance to other documented graffiti images.

Caption: This shows enhanced image of elephants from the Angkor Wat temple. Credit: Noel Hidalgo Tan

The team suggests that the paintings seem to come from the 16th century reign of King Ang Chan, who commissioned a restoration of the temple to Theravada Buddhist use from a Vishnavaite Hindu temple.

Australian National University

Categories: General

Gilded female figure gives a glimpse of the Viking Age

Wed, 2014-06-04 15:01
The Viking Age can often seem like something from mythology rather than reality – and it can be difficult to imagine how the Viking people actually looked.

The discovery of a small female figurine made of gilded silver by amateur archaeologists in Revninge (Denmark), has given a face and body to the Danish ancestors of the Viking Age.

Dating from around 800AD, archaeologists believe the figurine now named the “Revninge – woman”, may depict the goddess Freya by the hand posture holding the stomach. Other interpretations include the Norns, Diser, vølver or possibly the Valkyries.

” Small humanoid characters from the Viking period are extremely rare and the Revninge – woman’s dress is incredibly detailed. The discovery will no doubt contribute to the discussion on how clothes from this period may be worn.

What is exceptional is the head, which is three dimensional with a two dimensional body, compared to most other figurines which are usually two dimensional in design.” Said Archaeologist Claus Feveile – Department of Landscape & Archaeology at Østfyns Museums.

Image Credit : ØSTFYNS MUSEER

">Figurine Description

The female figurine is 4.6 cm high and made ​​of solid silver gilded with gold. Through the neck there are small holes, which shows the figurine was used as a type of hanging ornament.

The hair is combed back tightly down the back center and assembled into a small knoll. The dress has long sleeves and runs all the way to the feet where e ">ach dragtdel has its own design : furrows, pearl ribbon or stamped circles.

Between the hands and around the abdomen she is wearing jewelry that corresponds to the known finds of Viking lobed range. Whereas in contrast, other figurines normally discovered i ">n Viking graves are adorned on the chest.

In 2013 at Hårby a similar three-dimensional Valkyrie figurine was found with characteristics similar to that of the Revninge – woman.

In Norse mythology, a valkyrie (from Old Norse valkyrja “chooser of the slain”) is one of a host of female figures who choose those who may die in battle and those who may live. Selecting among half of those who die in battle (the other half go to the goddess Freyja’s afterlife field Fólkvangr). 

Freyja (Old Norse the “Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death.

Freja by John Bauer (1882–1918)

Unlike the Valkyrie from Hårby, Revninge – woman carries no weapons, but instead has characteristics that are highly suggestive of fertility. These are indicated by the lobed clamping, jewelry around stomach area and positioning of hands. All interpretive that the figurine may indeed be that of the Norse goddess Freyja.

Østfyns Museer

Categories: General

One of the World’s Most Significant Finds of Marine Reptile Fossils from the Cretaceous Period

Wed, 2014-06-04 12:36
The cache of skeletal ichthyosaurs stumbled upon ten years ago in Chile turns out to be one of the world’s most significant fossil finds of marine reptiles from the Cretaceous period, containing many nearly fully preserved ichthyosaur skeletons as well as numerous other fossils.

This is the conclusion of a German-Chilean research team of geoscientist Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Stinnesbeck of Heidelberg University and palaeontologist Prof. Dr. Eberhard Frey of the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe. The scientists have fully catalogued the discovery for the first time, while at the same time reconstructing the conditions that led to the excellent preservation and unusual concentration of “fish-lizard” skeletons. Their results were published in the journal “Geological Society of America Bulletin”.

In the southern summer of 2004, in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia near Chile’s southern tip, glaciologists stumbled upon the skeletal remains of ichthyosaurs, or fish-lizards, probably exposed just a few years earlier as the Patagonian glacier receded. Prof. Stinnesbeck and Prof. Frey as well as scientists in Chile have spent the last few years studying this new and scientifically rich site.

In three expeditions the German-Chilean team of experts uncovered more than 40 virtually complete skeletons of adult and juvenile ichthyosaurs, and even embryos, as well as ammonites, belemnites, bivalves, bony fishes and plant remains. “This concentration is unique for Chile and South America, making the fossil site significant internationally,” explains the researcher from Heidelberg University’s Institute of Earth Sciences.

According to the German-Chilean research team, the fish-lizard lived and hunted along the northeastern edge of a deep sea that then separated the Antarctic continent from Patagonia.

Articulated skeleton of an ichthyosaur from the Torres del Paine National Park. Photo: W. Stinnesbeck

Adults and juveniles hunted in groups in an underwater canyon rich with squid and small fish, their most important prey. As the continent gradually broke apart, earthquakes or avalanches on the steep slope occasionally unleashed devastating mudflows that sucked everything in their path down with them, including the marine reptiles. “The air-breathing fish-lizards became disoriented in the turbidity currents. They were sucked down hundreds of metres into the deep ocean,” says Prof. Stinnesbeck. “The fine sediment that was swept along immediately entombed the dead or dying animals.”

The German Research Foundation funded the studies at the site. In addition to Prof. Stinnesbeck and Prof. Frey, Dr. Marcelo Leppe Cartes of the Instituto Antárctico Chileno (INACH), the Chilean Antarctic Institute in Punta Arenas, as well as the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF), the Chilean National Forest Corporation, took part in the project.

Heidelberg, Universität

Categories: General

Medieval manholes: the plumbers who led the way in utility maintenance

Wed, 2014-06-04 12:22
Research by a University of Southampton professor has revealed the story of the medieval plumbers who maintained a complex water supply system, which was centuries ahead of its time.

A unique network of subterranean tunnels, partly dating back to the 14th century, still lies beneath the streets of Exeter, Devon. These once channeled fresh drinking-water from springs outside the town-walls to public fountains at the heart of the city.

Professor Mark Stoyle is a historian at the University of Southampton who this week publishes the first comprehensive history of the tunnels. He says: “People from all social backgrounds relied on the system to provide their drinking water, so it was vital to keep it running smoothly. The city retained a plumber to carry out regular maintenance and he, in turn, hired in a team of workers to help with specific jobs.”

Views of the C14th Cathedral Passage

Originally, the water was carried in lead pipes buried underground, but they regularly sprang leaks and had to be dug up, so local people came up with a novel idea, building a labyrinth of stone-lined, vaulted tunnels to house the pipes. These tunnels – now known as ‘the underground passages’ – allowed quick, direct access below ground for the plumbers to carry out repairs..

Professor Stoyle says: “The tunnels gave maintenance access to the pipes which was way ahead of its time – providing the kind of opportunity to quickly mend a fault that modern utility companies can only dream of. Imagine if today there was no more digging up the roads to mend a water main!

“Even so, conditions for the plumbers were often very difficult – they were working by candlelight and creeping along the passages in extremely cramped conditions as they tried to find and repair the leaks.”

Professor Stoyle has examined hundreds of original documents relating to the plumbers’ activities, including accounts detailing payments for supplies like lead, candles and lanterns. He has also discovered a mass of evidence about the individual craftsmen who worked to keep the city fountains flowing.

John Date, for example, was the first plumber known to have worked on the main city aqueduct, and was employed during the 1420s, while William Frost came down to Exeter from London in the 1440s to upgrade the city system. The city accounts provide a detailed picture of the work Frost carried out on the pipes, showing that he and his colleague John Were were provided with regular meals at the city’s expense.

The city’s most prominent plumber during the Tudor period was Nicholas Walrond, who oversaw the pipes for more than 30 years from the 1520s. Walrond witnessed two major historical events; the old monastic aqueducts passing into lay hands as a result of Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries and the devastation caused by the Prayer Book Rebellion of 1549 – when Exeter was besieged by the rebels for over a month, the pipes were dug up and their lead was melted down by the insurgents for ammunition. This meant major repairs for Walrond once the emergency was over. ‘Nicholas Plumber’, as Walrond was usually known, was still working on the aqueducts as late as the 1560s, by which time he was a relatively old man.

Professor Stoyle has recovered the stories of countless other characters whose lives intersected with Exeter’s aqueducts and underground passages over the years. For example, Richard and John Deymond were two stone masons who carved a splendid figure of Queen Elizabeth I, which was set up on one of the city’s public fountains in the 1590s and which still survives today – having narrowly escaped destruction during the Blitz of World War Two. An altogether more alarming figure was Dr William Cox, one of the cathedral canons, who – during the English Civil War – was accused of plotting to blow up the city with gunpowder laid in the passage vaults.

University of Southampton

Categories: General

Vanishing da Vinci

Tue, 2014-06-03 17:23
Studying a famous Leonardo self-portrait, a team of scientists has developed a new, nondestructive way to gauge degradation of ancient paper art and docs.

One of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpieces, drawn in red chalk on paper during the early 1500s and widely believed to be a self-portrait, is in extremely poor condition. Centuries of exposure to humid storage conditions or a closed environment has led to widespread and localized yellowing and browning of the paper, which is reducing the contrast between the colors of chalk and paper and substantially diminishing the visibility of the drawing.

A group of researchers from Italy and Poland with expertise in paper degradation mechanisms was tasked with determining whether the degradation process has now slowed with appropriate conservation conditions — or if the aging process is continuing at an unacceptable rate.

To do this, as they describe in Applied Physics Letters, from AIP Publishing, the team developed an approach to nondestructively identify and quantify the concentration of light-absorbing molecules known as chromophores in ancient paper, the culprit behind the “yellowing” of the cellulose within ancient documents and works of art.

“During the centuries, the combined actions of light, heat, moisture, metallic and acidic impurities, and pollutant gases modify the white color of ancient paper’s main component: cellulose,” explained Joanna Łojewska, a professor in the Department of Chemistry at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. “This phenomenon is known as ‘yellowing,’ which causes severe damage and negatively affects the aesthetic enjoyment of ancient art works on paper.”

Chromophores are the key to understanding the visual degradation process because they are among the chemical products developed by oxidation during aging and are, ultimately, behind the “yellowing” within cellulose. Yellowing occurs when “chromophores within cellulose absorb the violet and blue range of visible light and largely scatter the yellow and red portions — resulting in the characteristic yellow-brown hue,” said Olivia Pulci, a professor in the Physics Department at the University of Rome Tor Vergata.

This is Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait as acquired during diagnostic studies carried out at the Central Institute for the Restoration of Archival and Library Heritage in Rome, Italy. Credit: M. C. Misiti/Central Institute for the Restoration of Archival and Library Heritage, Rome

To determine the degradation rate of Leonardo’s self-portrait, the team created a nondestructive approach that centers on identifying and quantifying the concentration of chromophores within paper. It involves using a reflectance spectroscopy setup to obtain optical reflectance spectra of paper samples in the near-infrared, visible, and near-ultraviolet wavelength ranges.

Once reflectance data is gathered, the optical absorption spectrum of cellulose fibers that form the sheet of paper can be calculated using special spectroscopic data analysis.

Then, computational simulations based on quantum mechanics — in particular, Time-Dependent Density Functional Theory, which plays a key role in studying optical properties in theoretical condensed matter physics — are tapped to calculate the optical absorption spectrum of chromophores in cellulose.

“Using our approach, we were able to evaluate the state of degradation of Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait and other paper specimens from ancient books dating from the 15th century,” said Adriano Mosca Conte, a researcher at the University of Rome Tor Vergata. “By comparing the results of ancient papers with those of artificially aged samples, we gained significant insights into the environmental conditions in which Leonardo da Vinci’s self-portrait was stored during its lifetime.”

Their work revealed that the type of chromophores present in Leonardo’s self portrait are “similar to those found in ancient and modern paper samples aged in extremely humid conditions or within a closed environment, which agrees with its documented history,” said Mauro Missori, a researcher at the Institute for Complex Systems, CNR, in Rome, Italy.

One of the most significant implications of their work is that the state of degradation of ancient paper can be measured and quantified by evaluation of the concentrations of chromophores in cellulose fibers. “The periodic repetition of our approach is fundamental to establishing the formation rate of chromophores within the self-portrait. Now our approach can serve as a precious tool to preserve and save not only this invaluable work of art, but others as well,” Conte noted.

American Institute of Physics

Categories: General

Free online course explores Hadrian’s Wall

Tue, 2014-06-03 15:39
Newcastle University is bringing learners around the world to Hadrian’s Wall with its first ever free online course on the FutureLearn social learning platform.

The six-week course, entitled ‘Hadrian’s Wall: life on the Roman frontier’, offers a comprehensive introduction to the most heavily fortified frontier in the Roman Empire, its people and their lives, and raises fascinating issues concerning colonisation, cultural transformation, immigration, integration and imperialism.

Exploring life in the region before the construction of the Wall, the changing face of the Roman army and the civilian population, this interactive course is open to anyone. The rich archaeological evidence for the garrison, their families, the native population, slaves, merchants and settlers will be presented by world experts, who will be on hand to discuss questions. This is the only free online course in the world focused entirely on this iconic 73 mile long landmark, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Professor Suzanne Cholerton, Newcastle University Pro-Vice Chancellor Learning and Teaching, said: “Our partnership with FutureLearn offers a unique opportunity to anyone, anywhere in the world to experience the historical and cultural significance of Hadrian’s Wall in a stimulating learning environment.

“This free online course draws on the University’s long-standing academic reputation and FutureLearn’s social learning leadership expertise. It was developed with an extensive range of specifically designed interactive resources to offer an engaging way to learn about the history of this important place in Roman history.”

The CEO of FutureLearn, Simon Nelson, said: “The course on Hadrian’s Wall from Newcastle University promises to showcase compelling storytelling techniques while delivering effective learning. This is a hallmark of FutureLearn courses, which use strong narratives alongside social learning to bring education to life for our hundreds of thousands of learners.”

The course is led by Ian Haynes, Professor of Archaeology, from Newcastle University’s School of History, Classics and Archaeology.

Professor Haynes said: “I am delighted to have this opportunity to reach a large audience with the exciting story of Hadrian’s Wall. Newcastle University has a strong relationship with the Wall both ancient and modern and the free online course is a marvellous opportunity to celebrate this and provide new ways of exploring this amazing landmark.

“Multiple organisations joined us in the preparation of this important project, including Newcastle City Council, English Heritage, The Clayton Trust, National Trust, Vindolanda Trust, Tyne and Wear Archives & Museums and the Senhouse Museum.”

The course features videos from key archaeological sites along Hadrian’s Wall, such as Vindolanda, Arbeia, Segedunum, Maryport, Corbridge and Chesters. In addition, online participants can interact with each other, tutors and experts via discussions, and online live events.

As part of the course participants can explore real forensic case studies in detail such as The Bairn in the Barracks, The Strange Case of Skull 8556, and a mystery at a reconstructed Roman banquet, all designed to illuminate the complexities of daily life on Rome’s most famous frontier.

Registration is free and is open now until the end of the course in October via FutureLearn.

FutureLearn is a social learning platform that brings together 27 leading universities and three renowned content providers – the British Library, British Museum and British Council – in a unique partnership to deliver free online courses in a wide-range of academic disciplines.

Free online courses have grown rapidly in a short period of time. Currently there are more than six million people enrolled worldwide.

The course starts on 22 September, Register Today 

Newcastle University

Categories: General

WWI – The Great War bred a moment of unity in British patriotism

Mon, 2014-06-02 19:59
NIGHT after night, while guns thundered and soldiers died on the battlefields of France, the Yeoman Warders of the Tower of London dutifully carried out their ancient Ceremony of the Keys.

It took place without fail, from the declaration of war in August 1914 to the Armistice of November 1918.  And during the post-war years, the ranks of the Beefeaters were increasingly filled by veterans of the Great War.  This symbol of institutional continuity and how British identities were reinforced by the conflict fascinates University of Huddersfield historian Professor Paul Ward.

He is heading a project which researches the Beefeaters and Britishness and he has already delivered a sequence of lectures that describe how the Tower’s Yeoman Warders have represented the longevity of English history, providing underpinning for the monarchy in a rapidly-changing world.

“During 1914-18, the Ceremony of the Keys went on without interruption and at the end of the war, British victory seemed to prove that these sorts of ritual were valid and important and had allowed Britain to survive in difficult circumstances.  They gave the British a sense of what they were fighting for,” says Professor Ward.

One of his arguments is that the First World War – far from representing a great social upheaval – led to a triumph of political and social conservatism in Britain.  An article – ‘Women of Britain Say Go’: Women’s Patriotism in the First World War – explored the theme on the basis of gender.  Professor Ward dismantles the traditional view that women were given the vote in 1918 as a reward for taking over from men in industrial jobs.  Most of these women were under 30, which meant they were ineligible to vote in 1918.

“Women got the vote because they were considered to have contributed to the defence of the home – and very much a traditional, gendered version of the home,” says Professor Ward.  “This is another way that that this massively challenging and traumatic event can be seen as leading towards a triumph of social or domestic conservatism.”

People’s patriotism

Professor Ward – who is Head of History, English, Languages and Media at the University of Huddersfield – is a leading authority on issues of British national identity and left-wing patriotism.  The First World War and its aftermath have been an important theme in many of his books and articles, including Red Flag and Union Jack: Englishness, Patriotism and the British Left, 1881-1924  and Britishness since 1870.

“During war, people’s interest in their national affiliation becomes heightened, so although I am not a military historian, the First World War has become a site in which I have explored many of aspects of people’s patriotism,” says Professor Ward.

One of his latest books is a biography of Welsh trades unionist, politician and WWI veteran Huw T. Edwards, who late in life became known as the unofficial Prime Minister of Wales.

“I have been looking at the ways in which people from different parts of the UK experienced the First World War as a moment of unity that led them to think about being British and part of the union, seeing that as a valuable identity.  There was the sense of Britain being in the right, standing up for small nations, and this actually allowed the Welsh, the Scots and the Northern Irish to accommodate their sub-national identities within Britishness.

“Huw T. Edwards was a miner before the war and he took a class-based view of his life.  His first language was Welsh and when he had been into England he had found it strange and unusual, almost a foreign country.  But then he served in the field artillery and this gave him a greater sense of being part of the UK or Britain.”

Professor Ward is also exploring the extent to which memorials to soldiers who died in the First World War became a part of national identity, acting as daily reminders of people’s sense of Britishness.

University of Huddersfield- Header Image : WikiPedia

Categories: General

Skeleton discovered may be Viking King Olaf Guthfrithsson

Fri, 2014-05-30 16:52
A skeleton discovered on an archaeological dig in East Lothian may be that of Olaf Guthfrithsson – an Irish Viking who was the King of Dublin and Northumbria from 934 to 941 – or a member of his entourage.

The hypothesis – which will be published next year by the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland in a book funded by Historic Scotland – was revealed as Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs today visited Newgrange, a Neolithic monument in County Meath, to highlight archaeological links between Scotland and Ireland.

Fiona Hyslop (Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs) viewing a tenth-century belt buckle which was discovered on an archaeological dig at Auldhame (East Lothian). The belt was found with a skeleton which may be that of Olaf Guthfrithsson. Credit : Historic Scotland

The remains, which were excavated by AOC Archaeology Group at Auldhame in East Lothian in 2005, are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank. These include a belt similar to others from Viking Age Ireland.

This artefact signals that the body was that of a man who may have spent time in the household of the kings of the Uí Ímar dynasty which dominated both sides of the Irish Sea from about 917 until at least the middle of the 10th century.

Olaf Guthfrithsson sacked Auldhame and nearby Tyninghame – both part of a complex of East Lothian churches dedicated to the eighth-century Saint Balthere – shortly before his death in 941, and the proximity of the burial to the site of the conflict along with the high-status items found with the body, and the age of the skeleton, has led archaeologists and historians to speculate that it may be that of the young Irish king or one of his followers.

In the absence of known living descendants, DNA analysis cannot be carried out to confirm the identity of the body, leaving archaeologists and historians to rely on circumstantial evidence to reach their hypothesis.

Fiona Hyslop (Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs) viewing a tenth-century belt buckle which was discovered on an archaeological dig at Auldhame (East Lothian). The belt was found with a skeleton which may be that of Olaf Guthfrithsson. Credit : Historic Scotland

Olaf Guthfrithsson was a member of the Uí Ímar dynasty. In 937 he defeated his Norse rivals in Limerick, and pursued his family claim to the throne of York. He married the daughter of King Constantine II of Scotland and allied himself with Owen I of Strathclyde.

A seminar will take place at Edinburgh Castle on 30 October 2014 to look at archaeological collaboration between Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The day will be a chance for those involved in archaeological research and management to look at opportunities for greater collaboration between the countries.

Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture and External Affairs said: “This is a fascinating discovery and it’s tantalising that there has been the suggestion that this might be the body of a 10th century Irish Viking king. Scotland and Ireland’s archaeological communities enjoy a close working partnership, and this find and subsequent research is of particular interest to both, further emphasising the myriad ways in which the two countries’ histories are entwined.”

he remains – which were excavated by AOC Archaeology Group in 2005 – are those of a young adult male who was buried with a number of items indicating his high rank. Credit : Historic Scotland

Dr Alex Woolf, senior lecturer in the School of History at the University of St Andrews, and a historical consultant on the project said: “Whilst there is no way to prove the identity of the young man buried at Auldhame, the date of the burial and the equipment make it very likely that this death was connected with Olaf’s attack on the locale.

Since we have a single furnished burial in what was probably perceived as St Balthere’s original foundation there is a strong likelihood that the king’s followers hoped that by burying him in the saint’s cemetery he might have benefitted from some sort of post-mortem penance.”

Contributing Source : Historic Scotland

Categories: General

Australia’s deadly eruptions the reason for the first mass extinction

Fri, 2014-05-30 16:25
A Curtin University researcher has shown that ancient volcanic eruptions in Australia 510 million years ago significantly affected the climate, causing the first known mass extinction in the history of complex life.

Published in prestigious journal Geology, Associate Professor Fred Jourdan from Curtin’s Department of Applied Geology, along with colleagues from several Australian and international institutions, used radioactive dating techniques to precisely measure the age of the eruptions of the Kalkarindji volcanic province – where lavas covered an area of more than 2 million square kilometres in the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

Dr Jourdan and his team were able to prove the volcanic province occurred at the same time as the Early–Middle Cambrian extinction from 510-511 million years ago – the first extinction to wipe out complex multicellular life.

“It has been well-documented that this extinction, which eradicated 50 per cent of species, was related to climatic changes and depletion of oxygen in the oceans, but the exact mechanism causing these changes was not known, until now,” Dr Jourdan said.

“Not only were we able to demonstrate that the Kalkarindji volcanic province was emplaced at the exact same time as the Cambrian extinction, but were also able to measure a depletion of sulphur dioxide from the province’s volcanic rocks – which indicates sulphur was released into the atmosphere during the eruptions.

“As a modern comparison, when the small volcano Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the resulting discharge of sulphur dioxide decreased the average global temperatures by a few tenths of a degree for a few years following the eruption.

“If relatively small eruptions like Pinatubo can affect the climate just imagine what a volcanic province with an area equivalent to the size of the state of Western Australia can do.”

The team then compared the Kalkarindji volcanic province with other volcanic provinces and showed the most likely process for all the mass extinctions was a rapid oscillation of the climate triggered by volcanic eruptions emitting sulphur dioxide, along with greenhouse gases methane and carbon dioxide.

“We calculated a near perfect chronological correlation between large volcanic province eruptions, climate shifts and mass extinctions over the history of life during the last 550 million years, with only one chance over 20 billion that this correlation is just a coincidence,” Dr Jourdan said.

Dr Jourdan said the rapid oscillations of the climate produced by volcanic eruptions made it difficult for various species to adapt, ultimately resulting in their demise. He also stressed the importance of this research to better understand our current environment.

“To comprehend the long-term climatic and biological effects of the massive injections of gas in the atmosphere by modern society, we need to recognise how climate, oceans and ecosytems were affected in the past,” he said.

Curtin University – Header Image : WikiPedia

Categories: General

Chinese scientists map reproductive system’s evolution as dinosaurs gave rise to birds

Fri, 2014-05-30 16:21
As winged dinosaurs underwent a series of evolutionary changes during the transition into Aves, or birds, one pivotal transformation was the appearance of a single-ovary reproductive system.

“The most widely accepted hypothesis for the presence of a single functional ovary in living birds is that the right ovary … was lost to reduce body mass in gravid females during flight,” report a team of Chinese scientists who are adding new details to the mosaic of understanding how terrestrial dinosaurs gave rise to birds and powered flight.

These scientists, led by the director of the prestigious Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology in Beijing, posit that this adaptation of the reproductive system likely occurred “gradually during the evolution of dinosaurs and basal birds,” yet add that until recently, the fossil record provided only scattered evidence on the timeline of these phylogenetic changes.

But the discovery of a series of fossils that include evidence of single ovaries in the basal bird Jeholornis and in an array of more derived enantiornithine birds from the Cretaceous, in what is now eastern China, is helping them pinpoint the timing of the pared-down reproductive system of avian dinosaurs.

Members of Aves, which includes the common ancestor of the 150 million-year-old Archaeopteryx and all living birds, are unique among amniotes in terms of featuring a single-ovary system, notes Zhonghe Zhou, director of the IVPP and lead author of the study “Ovarian follicles shed new light on dinosaur reproduction during the transition towards birds.”

One feathered dinosaur considered closely related to birds, the oviraptorosaurian maniraptoran theropod, had two functional ovaries, according to Zhou and co-authors of the paper.

In contrast, they add, the fossil of the primitive bird Jeholornis that was recently uncovered in the northeastern Chinese province of Liaoning featured the lighter-weight single ovary system. “Jeholornis,” they explain, “with its long dinosaurian boney tail, is only slightly more derived than Archaeopteryx, indicating that even the most basal birds were already modern in this aspect.”

This provides evidence that the evolution in the reproductive structure “occurred at — or very near — the dinosaur–avian transition, supporting the hypothesis that birds lost the use of [one] ovary due to the energetic pressures of flight,” Zhou and colleagues state.

Zhonghe Zhou and IVPP scholar Jingmai K. O’Connor, along with Xiaoting Zheng, Xiaoli Wang, and Yan Wang of the Institute of Geology and Paleontology at Linyi University, in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong, presented their findings in a study published by the just-launched journal National Science Review.

The National Science Review is the first comprehensive scholarly journal published in English in China that is aimed at linking the country’s rapidly advancing community of scientists with the global frontiers of science and technology. The journal also aims to shine a worldwide spotlight on scientific research advances across China.

Zhonghe Zhou and the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, which is part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, have long been at the forefront of characterizing the remarkable winged dinosaurs that are being uncovered across China.

Following the discovery of microscopic evidence of feather coloring and patterns in dinosaur and bird fossils dating back to the late Jurassic, the IVPP set out to begin depicting these species in living color. The finding of melanosomes, or pigment-bearing organelles, embedded in the fossil feathers of select dinosaur specimens unexpectedly provided a means to reconstruct a wide array of feathered dinosaurs with a scientifically precise palette, Zhou said in an earlier interview with EurekAlert!.

The examination of a sampling of dinosaur fossils from the Early Cretaceous Jehol Biota and the Jurassic Yanliao Biota (dating back about 160 million years) using a scanning electron microscope uncovered the color-triggering melanosomes. The discovery, Zhou said, could enable the reconstruction across a full-color spectrum of dinosaurs featuring pennaceous feathers resembling the flight feathers of modern birds. Studies have already involved Sinosauropteryx, the dromaeosaurid Microraptor gui and the Jurassic Anchiornis. They could also extend to more dinosaurs and other vertebrates such as mammals, pterosaurs, and lizards.

In the new study published in the National Science Review, the Chinese scientists also report that the number of ovary follicles discovered in Aves specimens tended to decrease over the course of evolution, with Jeholornis featuring 20 eggs and some fossils of enantiornithine birds, which became extinct, along with non-avian dinosaurs, at the end of the Cretaceous 66 million years ago, carrying only 5-6 follicles.

This decrease likely reflects “a broad trend toward more K-selected life history strategies,” they posit in the paper. “This trend toward more K-selected lifestyles continues into Neornithes, in parallel to the Cretaceous radiation of enantiornithines,” they explain.

Zhonghe Zhou says the new paper chronicles progress made following a previous report in Nature, while adding some new specimens. “It is also notable,” he says, “that we are looking for more fossil evidence of follicles in birds and hopefully more information will be revealed in the future.”

Science China Press : Header Image : Liaoxiornis delicatus – WikiPedia

Categories: General

The engraved rocks of Montravail

Fri, 2014-05-30 16:08
Rock art represents an important aspect of the Pre-Columbian heritage of the Lesser Antilles, where it appears, mainly, in the form of petroglyphs.

In Martinique, in the French West Indies, engraved rocks have been discovered at two sites: one is embedded in the lake forest of Le Galion, in Trinité (on the Atlantic coast), while the other is on the edge of the forest of Montravail, in Sainte-Luce (in the south of the island).

Location of the archaeological site of Montravail (after a blank map by Eric Gaba – Wikimedia Commons user: Sting).

Unlike most of the sites of the same type, in the Lesser Antilles, the engraved rocks of Montravail are neither associated with the coast nor with a stream or river. They are located 3.5 km from the coastline, on the top of a hill, at an altitude of about 200 m. This area offers a spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea, Diamond Rock (the most emblematic islet of Martinique) and Morne Larcher (an extinct volcano, popularly called “the lying woman”).

The engraved rocks of Montravail. In the center, the main rock. Photo: Sébastien Perrot-Minnot.

The rock art of Montravail has been reported to the Departmental museum of archaeology of Martinique in 1970, by the academic Jean Crusol. It has been published for the first time in 1973, by Mario Mattioni, who then managed the museum. Subsequently, it has motivated various archaeological studies, in particular, those by Henry Petitjean Roget (1975a, b), Cornelis N. Dubelaar (1995), Sofia Jönsson Marquet (2002) and Fabrice Casagrande (2008, 2014). Casagrande dug test pits at the site, in 2007, as part of a mission of the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP, in French).

Drawing of the petroglyphs of the main rock (Jönsson Marquet 2002).

The petroglyphs have been made by pecking-hammering, on five andesite boulders distributed on a surface of some 220 m². They represent 16 very simplified human faces, showing the eyes, generally the mouth and sometimes the nose; a few are surmounted by motifs difficult to interpret. The main rock, which measures approximately 1.50 x 1.70 m, alone gathers twelve faces; eleven of them occupy a great, smooth surface, produced by the natural breaking off of a block.

This kind of stylized face is a recurrent theme in the rock art of the Lesser Antilles. Actually, the composition of the main rock of Montravail evokes other sites of the area, such as those of Trois-Rivière and Rivière du Plessis, in Guadeloupe, Stone Fort River in Saint Kitts or Yambou, in Saint Vincent; yet, the comparisons could be extended to South America, or even Central America. If we go into the details, we note that a trident-shaped mouth symbol, from the iconographic repertoire of Montravail, is also found among the petroglyphs of Le Galion.

The archaeological zone of Montravail includes, moreover, three boulders with cup marks of different sizes. These curious artificial depressions often accompany the Antillean rock art. They are traditionally interpreted as polishers, serving for the completion of blades, axes and objects of shell, but they could also be used as grindstones, mortars or recipients for various substances.

Petroglyphs of Rivière du Plessis, in Guadeloupe. Photo: Gérard Richard.

The ceramics uncovered by Casagrande in 2007, and the analogies between the iconography of the petroglyphs and that of certain vessels, seem to indicate that the site was occupied during the Middle/Late Cedrosan Saladoid phase (end of the 4th – beginning of the 8th century). Then, it would bear witness to the Saladoid culture, which developed along the Orinoco River (Venezuela) and the north coast of South America, before spreading across the Antillean archipelago, from the 5th century BC on. The bearers of this culture had an egalitarian social organization, whose framework limited itself to the village. Their subsistence depended, especially, on agriculture. But the nature of the occupation of the Pre-Columbian site of Montravail remains mysterious, in the absence of known traditions or testimonies, relating to the remnants. Nevertheless, we can reasonably suppose that the engravings were linked to ritual practices.

Nowadays, the authorities and the public show a particular interest in this Amerindian heritage. In 1996, the engraved rocks were inscribed on the National Register of Historical Monuments of France; four years ago, they were the object of an expert assessment and a cleaning by two members of the Historical Monuments Research Laboratory, Stéphanie Touron and Geneviève Orial, in response to a request of the town council of Sainte-Luce.

The town council purchased the land of the rocks in 2009, with the purpose of promoting cultural tourism there. In 2012, a modern monumental sculpture referring to the petroglyphs was inaugurated at the roundabout of Anse Mabouya, on the National Road 5, by the Mayor of Sainte-Luce, Louis Crusol, and the President of the agglomeration community of Espace Sud Martinique, Eugène Larcher. The same year, the municipality of Sainte-Luce put the research unit EA 929 AIHP – GEODE, of the University of the Antilles and Guyana, in charge of the conception of a cultural park and an interpretative center of the Montravail site. This mission in conducted along with works of the National Forests Office of France, aiming to enhance the departmental-national forest of Montravail, which extends over 70 ha.

As for the rest, the tourist promotion of the engraved rocks of Sainte-Luce will be destined to fit into broader projects –for example, a trip of the Pre-Columbian archaeology of Martinique, which would connect the site of Montravail, that of Le Galion, the “polisher” rock of Macouba, the vast site of Vivé (Le Lorrain), the Ecomuseum of Martinique (Rivière-Pilote) and the Departmental museum of archaeology and prehistory (Fort-de-France); and a route of the petroglyphs of the Lesser Antilles (Petitjean Roget 2010).

Written by Sébastien Perrot-Minnot, PhD in Archaeology References :

CASAGRANDE, Fabrice

2008 Sainte-Luce : roches gravées de Montravail (Martinique – 972). Rapport de diagnostic, 2007. Institut National de Recherches Archéologiques Préventives.

2014 “Una interpretación de la distribución de grabados rupestres en el bosque de Montravail (Sainte-Luce, Martinique, Antillas Francesas)”. In: Rupestreweb, http://www.rupestreweb.info/bosquemontravail.html (article consulted in May 2014).

CELMA, Cécile

2008 “Les pétroglyphes de la Martinique”. In : L’art rupestre dans les Caraïbes. Vers une inscription transnationale en série sur la Liste du patrimoine mondial de l’UNESCO (N. Sanz, ed.) : 284-290. World Heritage Papers, 24. UNESCO. Paris.

DUBELAAR, Cornelis N.

1995 The Petroglyphs of the Lesser Antilles, the Virgin Islands and Trinidad. Publications of the Foundation for Scientific Research in the Caribbean Region, N°35. Amsterdam.

JÖNSSON MARQUET, Sofia

2002 Les pétroglyphes des Petites Antilles Méridionales : contextes physique et culturel. British Archaeological Reports, International Series 1051, Paris monographs in American archaeology 11 (E. Taladoire, ed.). Oxford.

MATTIONI , Mario

1973 « Communication sur les pétroglyphes de la Martinique ». In : Actes du IVe congrès international d’étude des civilisations précolombiennes des Petites Antilles. Saint Lucia Archeological and Historical Society. Castries.

PETITJEAN ROGET, Henry

1975a « Notes sur quelques pétroglyphes des Antilles ». In: Compte rendu des communications du VIème congrès international d’études des civilisations précolombiennes des Petites Antilles. Pointe-à-Pitre.

1975b Contribution à l’étude de la préhistoire des Petites Antilles. Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes. Paris (PhD dissertation).

2010 « Un projet pour la protection de biens culturels et la création d’un produit touristique : la route des pétroglyphes des Petites Antilles ». In : Patrimoine, tourisme, environnement et développement durable. Europe – Afrique – Caraïbes – Amériques – Asie – Océanie (J. – M. Breton, ed.) : 289-309. Editions Karthala. Paris.

TOURON, Stéphanie and Geneviève ORIAL

2010 Roches gravées de Montravail : bilan sanitaire, nettoyage et préconisations. Laboratoire de Recherche des Monuments Historiques. Direction Générale des Patrimoine. Ministère de la Culture et de la Communication. Paris.

Categories: General

New 3D representation of Richard III’s spine shows ‘spiral nature’ of his scoliosis

Fri, 2014-05-30 15:04
Shakespeare may have characterised Richard III as a hunchback, but now everyone can explore the true shape of one of history’s most famous spinal columns.

University of Leicester scientists and multimedia experts have created a 3-D model of Richard III’s spine, based on findings in a new academic paper. The paper, due to be published on Friday 30 May, gives the complete picture of the king’s scoliosis for the first time.

This means that web users around the world can use their mouse to rotate 360 degrees around the representation of the late king’s spine – showing that the king suffered from scoliosis, or a sideways curvature of the spine.

Crucially, the visualisation reveals how the king’s spine had a curve to the right, but also a degree of twisting, resulting in a “spiral” shape.

The visualisation is based on research carried out by a team of researchers led by University of Leicester osteoarchaelogist Dr Jo Appleby, of the University’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History.

(Click on frame with mouse – and drag left or right to rotate)

The findings are set out in The scoliosis of Richard III, last Plantagenet King of England: diagnosis and clinical significance, a paper due to be published in The Lancet on Friday 30 May.

Among the key findings in the paper are:

Richard III had a severe scoliosis, with a particularly pronounced right-sided curve

Richard’s scoliosis had a “spiral” nature

His right shoulder would have been higher than his left, and his torso would have been relatively short compared to his arms and legs

But he had a “well-balanced curve” – meaning that his head and neck were straight and not tilted to one side. In consequence the condition would not have been immediately visible to those he met, particularly if he wore well-designed clothes or armour

The Cobb angle – a measurement used to assess the level of spinal deformity in scoliosis patients – was 65-85 degrees. This would be considered a large curvature these days, though many with the condition today undergo surgery to stabilise it

His scoliosis would have started to develop during the last few years of growth

The researchers have already established that Richard would have been about 5ft 8 inches tall without his scoliosis – about average for a man during medieval times. However, his condition meant he would have appeared several inches shorter than this

During analysis, the skeleton was analysed macroscopically for evidence of spinal deformity and any changes to the tissue caused by the condition.

The spine was then scanned using computed tomography (CT), with 3D reconstructions of each bone made from the digital model. The team used a 3D printer to create polymer replicas of each vertebra – which were put together to recreate the shape of Richard’s spine during his life.

The polymer reconstruction was photographed from 19 different points, and the pictures were then stitched together digitally to create the interactive 3D model – which can be accessed on any web browser and embedded into websites.

Dr Jo Appleby said: “The major finding we have made is being able to reconstruct the three-dimensional nature of the scoliosis and understand what it would have looked like.

“Obviously, the skeleton was flattened out when it was in the ground. We had a good idea of the sideways aspect of the curve, but we didn’t know the precise nature of the spiral aspect of the condition.

“The arthritis in the spine meant it could only be reconstructed in a specific way, meaning that we can get a very accurate idea of the shape of the curve. It’s really good to be able to produce this 3D reconstruction rather than a 2D picture, as you get a good sense of how the spine would have actually appeared.”

“Although the scoliosis looks dramatic, it probably did not cause a major physical deformity. This is because he had a well-balanced curve. The condition would have meant that his trunk was short in comparison to the length of his limbs, and his right shoulder would have been slightly higher than the left, but this could have been disguised by custom-made armour and by having a good tailor.”

“A curve of 65-85 would not have prevented Richard from being an active individual, and there is no evidence that Richard had a limp as his curve was well balanced and his leg bones were normal and symmetric.”

Dr Phil Stone, Chairman, Richard III Society, said: “Examination of Richard III’s remains shows that he had a scoliosis, thus confirming that the Shakespearean description of a ‘bunch-backed toad’ is a complete fabrication – yet more proof that, while the plays are splendid dramas, they are also most certainly fiction not fact.

“History tells us that Richard III was a great warrior. Clearly, he was little inconvenienced by his spinal problem and accounts of his appearance, written when he was alive, tell that he was “of person and bodily shape comely enough” and that he “was the most handsome man in the room after his brother, Edward IV”.

“Thanks must be given to the University of Leicester for the work they have done on the remains, completing the work begun by the Richard III Society.”

The work was carried out by Jo Appleby, Osteoarchaeologist in the University of Leicester’s School of Archaeology and Ancient History; Professor Bruno Morgan, forensic radiologist in the University of Leicester’s Department of Cancer Studies and Molecular Medicine; Professor Guy Rutty and Alison Brough, of the East Midlands Forensic Pathology Unit, based at the University of Leicester; Dr Piers Mitchell, University of Cambridge; Claire Robinson, University Hospitals of Leicester; and Professor Russell Harris and David Thompson, Loughborough University.

· The Dig for Richard III was led by the University of Leicester, working with Leicester City Council and in association with the Richard III Society. The originator of the Search project was Philippa Langley of the Richard III Society.

University of Leicester : Header Image Credit : University of Leicester

Categories: General

Domestication of Dogs May Explain Mammoth Kill Sites and the Success of Early Modern Humans

Fri, 2014-05-30 14:01
A new analysis of European archaeological sites containing large numbers of dead mammoths and dwellings built with mammoth bones has led Penn State Professor Emerita Pat Shipman to formulate a new interpretation of how these sites were formed.

She suggests that their abrupt appearance may have been due to early modern humans working with the earliest domestic dogs to kill the now-extinct mammoth — a now-extinct animal distantly related to the modern-day elephant. Shipman’s analysis also provides a way to test the predictions of her new hypothesis. Advance publication of her article “How do you kill 86 mammoths?” is available online through Quaternary International.

Spectacular archaeological sites yielding stone tools and extraordinary numbers of dead mammoths — some containing the remains of hundreds of individuals — suddenly became common in central and eastern Eurasia between about 45,000 and 15,000 years ago, although mammoths previously had been hunted by humans and their extinct relatives and ancestors for at least a million years. Some of these mysterious sites have huts built of mammoth bones in complex, geometric patterns as well as piles of butchered mammoth bones.

“One of the greatest puzzles about these sites is how such large numbers of mammoths could have been killed with the weapons available during that time,” Shipman said. Many earlier studies of the age distribution of the mammoths at these sites found similarities with modern elephants killed by hunting or natural disasters, but Shipman’s new analysis of the earlier studies found that they lacked the statistical evaluations necessary for concluding with any certainty how these animals were killed.

Surprisingly, Shipman said, she found that “few of the mortality patterns from these mammoth deaths matched either those from natural deaths among modern elephants killed by droughts or by culling operations with modern weapons that kill entire family herds of modern elephants at once.” This discovery suggested to Shipman that a successful new technique for killing such large animals had been developed and its repeated use over time could explain the mysterious, massive collections of mammoth bones in Europe.

The key to Shipman’s new hypothesis is recent work by a team led by Mietje Germonpré of the Royal Belgian Institute of Natural Sciences, which has uncovered evidence that some of the large carnivores at these sites were early domesticated dogs, not wolves as generally had been assumed. Then, with this evidence as a clue, Shipman used information about how humans hunt with dogs to formulate a series of testable predictions about these mammoth sites.

“Dogs help hunters find prey faster and more often, and dogs also can surround a large animal and hold it in place by growling and charging while hunters move in. Both of these effects would increase hunting success,” Shipman said. “Furthermore, large dogs like those identified by Germonpré either can help carry the prey home or, by guarding the carcass from other carnivores, can make it possible for the hunters to camp at the kill sites.” Shipman said that these predictions already have been confirmed by other analyses. In addition, she said, “if hunters working with dogs catch more prey, have a higher intake of protein and fat, and have a lower expenditure of energy, their reproductive rate is likely to rise.”

Another unusual feature of these large mammoth kill sites is the presence of extraordinary numbers of other predators, particularly wolves and foxes. “Both dogs and wolves are very alert to the presence of other related carnivores — the canids — and they defend their territories and food fiercely,” Shipman explained. “If humans were working and living with domesticated dogs or even semi-domesticated wolves at these archaeological sites, we would expect to find the new focus on killing the wild wolves that we see there.”

Two other types of studies have yielded data that support Shipman’s hypothesis. Hervé Bocherens and Dorothée Drucker of the University of Tubingen in Germany, carried out an isotopic analysis of the ones of wolves and purported dogs from the Czech site of Predmostí. They found that the individuals identified as dogs had different diets from those identified as wolves, possibly indicating feeding by humans. Also, analysis of mitochondrial DNA by Olaf Thalmann of the University of Turku in Finland, and others, showed that the individuals identified as dogs have a distinctive genetic signature that is not known from any other canid. “Since mitochondrial DNA is carried only by females, this finding may indicate that these odd canids did not give rise to modern domesticated dogs and were simply a peculiar, extinct group of wolves,” Shipman said. “Alternatively, it may indicate that early humans did domesticate wolves into dogs or a doglike group, but the female canids interbred with wild wolf males and so the distinctive female mitochondrial DNA lineage was lost.”

As more information is gathered on fossil canids dated to between 45,000 and 15,000 years ago, Shipman’s hunting-dog hypothesis will be supported “if more of these distinctive doglike canids are found at large, long-term sites with unusually high numbers of dead mammoths and wolves; if the canids are consistently large, strong individuals; and if their diets differ from those of wolves,” Shipman said. “Dogs may indeed be man’s best friend.”

Penn State – Header Image : WikiPedia

Categories: General