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Latest archaeology news, archaeological discoveries from across the globe
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Amber fossil reveals ancient reproduction in flowering plants

Fri, 2014-01-03 20:23
A 100-million-year old piece of amber has been discovered which reveals the oldest evidence of sexual reproduction in a flowering plant – a cluster of 18 tiny flowers from the Cretaceous Period – with one of them in the process of making some new seeds for the next generation.

The perfectly-preserved scene, in a plant now extinct, is part of a portrait created in the mid-Cretaceous when flowering plants were changing the face of the Earth forever, adding beauty, biodiversity and food. It appears identical to the reproduction process that “angiosperms,” or flowering plants still use today.

Researchers from Oregon State University and Germany published their findings on the fossils in the Journal of the Botanical Institute of Texas.

The flowers themselves are in remarkable condition, as are many such plants and insects preserved for all time in amber. The flowing tree sap covered the specimens and then began the long process of turning into a fossilized, semi-precious gem. The flower cluster is one of the most complete ever found in amber and appeared at a time when many of the flowering plants were still quite small.

Even more remarkable is the microscopic image of pollen tubes growing out of two grains of pollen and penetrating the flower’s stigma, the receptive part of the female reproductive system. This sets the stage for fertilization of the egg and would begin the process of seed formation – had the reproductive act been completed.

“In Cretaceous flowers we’ve never before seen a fossil that shows the pollen tube actually entering the stigma,” said George Poinar, Jr., a professor emeritus in the Department of Integrative Biology at the OSU College of Science. “This is the beauty of amber fossils. They are preserved so rapidly after entering the resin that structures such as pollen grains and tubes can be detected with a microscope.”

The pollen of these flowers appeared to be sticky, Poinar said, suggesting it was carried by a pollinating insect, and adding further insights into the biodiversity and biology of life in this distant era. At that time much of the plant life was composed of conifers, ferns, mosses, and cycads.  During the Cretaceous, new lineages of mammals and birds were beginning to appear, along with the flowering plants. But dinosaurs still dominated the Earth.

“The evolution of flowering plants caused an enormous change in the biodiversity of life on Earth, especially in the tropics and subtropics,” Poinar said.

“New associations between these small flowering plants and various types of insects and other animal life resulted in the successful distribution and evolution of these plants through most of the world today,” he said. “It’s interesting that the mechanisms for reproduction that are still with us today had already been established some 100 million years ago.”

The fossils were discovered from amber mines in the Hukawng Valley of Myanmar, previously known as Burma. The newly-described genus and species of flower was named Micropetasos burmensis.

Header Image Credit : Oregon State University

Contributing Source : Oregon State University

Categories: General

Reconstructing the New World monkey family tree

Fri, 2014-01-03 20:18
When monkeys landed in South America 37 or more million years ago, the long-isolated continent already teemed with a menagerie of 30-foot snakes, giant armadillos and strange, hoofed mammals.

Over time, the monkeys forged their own niches across the New World, evolved new forms and spread as far north as the Caribbean and as far south as Patagonia.

Duke University evolutionary anthropologist Richard Kay applied decades’ worth of data on geology, ancient climates and evolutionary relationships to uncover several patterns in primate migration and evolution in the Americas. The analysis appears online this week in the journal Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.

Today, more than 150 species of monkeys inhabit the New World, ranging in size from the pygmy marmoset, which weighs little more than a bar of soap, to the muriqui, a long-limbed monkey that tips the scales at 25 pounds.

“We know from molecular studies that the monkeys have their closest relatives in Africa and Asia — but that doesn’t explain how they got to South America, just that they did,” said Kay, a professor in the evolutionary anthropology department and division of earth and ocean sciences at Duke.

South America split from Africa long before monkeys evolved, and the scarcity of monkey ancestors in the North American fossil record makes a southward migration highly unlikely. That’s led scientists to speculate that the animals made the ambitious transatlantic crossing on a vegetation raft, perhaps hurled seaward by a powerful storm. Or, they could have hopped more gradually, using islands that now lie at the bottom of the ocean.

About 11 million years passed between their arrival and the first fossil evidence of monkeys in the Americas, leaving the details of their early evolution an unknown ‘ghost lineage.’ The humid, heavily forested environment of what is now the Amazon Basin has made both fossil formation and modern-day discovery difficult, but understanding what happened there is the key to New World monkey evolution.

“However they got to South America, they were evolving in the Amazon Basin, and from time to time they managed to get out of the basin,” Kay said. “So if you want to learn about what was going on in the Amazon, you have to look at its periphery.” Luckily, Kay said, scientists can do that in places like Chile and Patagonian Argentina, where he has worked collaboratively for the past quarter century.

“We know the Amazon has been warm and wet for a very long time, and that from time to time we got expansions and contractions of these climatic conditions, like an accordion.”

The Amazon Basin functioned as a reservoir of primate biodiversity. When climate and sea level were just right, the animals spread and new species emerged in peripheral regions — Patagonia, the Caribbean islands, Central America — where the geology was more conducive to fossil preservation. Kay has uncovered and meticulously studied the monkey fossils from these areas to piece together their evolutionary relationships.

“The gold standard is molecular evidence,” he said. By sequencing the DNA of living monkeys, scientists have come to a clear consensus of how the different species and genera are related. But genetic material deteriorates, so researchers studying extinct species must rely on a proxy: the minute differences in shape, size and structure in fossilized bones. “It’s the only tool we have,” said Kay, but “it does a pretty good job.”

Kay studied 399 different features of teeth, skulls and skeletons from 16 living and 20 extinct monkey species from South America and Africa. Then, using software that reconstructs evolutionary relationships, he built a family tree. He compared that to a second tree, built strictly from the molecular studies of living species, to see if the two types of studies affirmed or contradicted one another. Except for a few cases, the trees looked remarkably similar, validating conclusions based on the anatomy of fossils.

Kay also looked at how long-term changes in South America’s ancient climate, mountain-building and fluctuating sea levels might make sense of the evolutionary pattern revealed by the monkey fossils. His research zeroes in on when and how monkeys extended their ranges to the Caribbean islands and the far southern end of South America, which is thousands of miles south of where they now live and only 600 miles from Antarctica.

The analysis further explains why the lineages that evolved outside the Amazon Basin were evolutionary dead ends. When the climate in Patagonia, for instance, turned cool and arid, the primates there went extinct, leaving no living descendants. Within the past 6,000 years, monkeys of the Caribbean islands also went extinct as a result of the appearance of humans and/or sea level rise. The paper suggests these monkeys came from South America rather than Central America, floating there by chance, the same way their ancestors crossed the Atlantic.

Contributing Source : Duke University

Categories: General

Ancient Artists Used Palace Floor as a Creative Canvas

Fri, 2014-01-03 20:10
New research finds that the Throne Room floor in the Bronze Age Palace of Nestor located in what is today Pylos, Greece, is an unusual example of artistic innovation for its time.

The floors of Greek Bronze Age palaces were made of plaster that was often incised and painted with grids containing brightly colored patterns and/or marine animal figures.

In researching one such floor in the Throne Room at the Palace of Nestor, one of the best-preserved palaces of the Mycenaean civilization, University of Cincinnati Department of Classics doctoral student Emily Catherine Egan has found evidence that the floor’s painted designs, dating back to between 1300-1200 BC, were meant to replicate a physical hybrid of cloth and stone – serving not only to impress but also to instruct the ancient viewer.

She will present her findings at the Annual Meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America, Jan. 2-5, in Chicago, one of anumber of UC presentations at the conference. Her work at the Palace of Nestor builds on a long tradition in UC’s McMicken College of Arts and Sciences  since the remains of the site were first discovered in 1939 by UC archaeologist Carl Blegen.

Watercolor reconstruction of the Pylos Throne Room by Piet de Jong, courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati.

According to Egan, “Mycenaean palatial floor paintings are typically believed to represent a single surface treatment – most often cut stone or pieced carpets. At Pylos, however, the range of represented patterns suggests that the floor in the great hall of the palace was deliberately designed to represent both of these materials simultaneously, creating a new, clever way to impress visitors while simultaneously instructing them on where to look and how to move within the space.”

As part of her work with UC’s Hora Apotheke Reorganization Project (HARP), Egan conducted research on the painted floor at the Palace of Nestor from 2012-13. She examined firsthand sections of the floor, as well as published and unpublished excavation documents and drawings.

During her research, Egan noted that some of the intricate motifs of the Throne Room floor recalled the mottled and veined patterns of painted stone masonry, while other elements mimicked patterns on depictions of textiles in wall paintings both from Crete and the Greek mainland.

She contended that the hybrid combination of these materials on the Throne Room floor (also evident in other paintings in the palace) was specifically designed to “supersede reality. It depicted something that could not exist in the real world, a floor made of both carpet and stone. As such, the painting would have communicated the immense, and potentially supernatural power of the reigning monarch, who seemingly had the ability to manipulate and transform his physical environment.”

Egan also argued that the hybrid quality of the floor was intended to draw attention to one of its other notable features – a dramatic diagonal in the grid design, apparent upon standing at the doorway of the room. Past studies had posited that this introduction of a strong diagonal into the floor’s otherwise regular grid pattern had been an uncorrected mistake.

Watercolor of the painted floor of the Throne Room of the Palace of Nestor by Piet de Jong, courtesy of the Department of Classics, University of Cincinnati.

However, Egan’s firsthand examination of parts of the floor found evidence that small mistakes on individual painted tiles had been corrected by the ancient artists. Thus, she reasoned, “Since they corrected such small mistakes, it seems highly unlikely that those same artists would have left a major error, like misaligning a large portion of the room’s floor, uncorrected. Instead, I believe that the diagonal was intentional – a way to draw both a visitor’s eyes and his or her footsteps toward the throne positioned along the right-hand wall of the room. It was painting with a purpose.”

In addition, Egan’s study at the Palace of Nestor has uncovered the first evidence for the use of a drafting technique called an artist’s grid to paint a floor. Until now, artists’ grids have only been identified in Bronze Age wall paintings, almost all of them from Crete. (An artist’s grid is just that, a faint grid laid down on a surface to be painted in order to subdivide that surface and aid in breaking down and accurately spacing a complex, repeating pattern or design.)

According to Egan, “A fragment of wall painting from Pylos shows evidence of the use of an artist’s grid, and nine squares of the Throne Room’s floor feature the same technique. As on walls, the floor grids were used to create a range of sophisticated, balanced designs – only this time on a horizontal rather than vertical canvas. This find is particularly exciting because it solves a longstanding riddle. When first excavated, these ‘mini grids’ were tentatively identified as functional elements of the room – marking out places for dignitaries to stand on occasions of state. My re-study of the grids, however, now shows that they were artists’ tools, providing us with important new information about how the painted floor was designed and constructed.”

Egan’s research was supported by the Louise Taft Semple Fund of the UC Department of Classics, in support of the Pylos Excavations, and the Institute for Aegean Prehistory, under a grant awarded to Sharon Stocker, UC senior research associate of classics, in support of the Pylos Excavations. Preliminary research for Egan’s work was also conducted with the support of an Ione Mylonas Shear Fellowship from the American School of Classical Studies at Athens from 2010-11.

Contributing Source : University of Cincinnati


Categories: General

Ball State simulation helps unravel ancient Roman puzzle

Fri, 2014-01-03 01:33
An enduring mystery of archaeology involving a well-known historical site in ancient Rome is being quietly unraveled in Indiana, thanks to a sophisticated computer simulation created by Ball State University digital artists.

The simulation, crafted by the Institute for Digital Intermedia Arts (IDIA) and commissioned by Indiana University’s School of Informatics and Computing, re-creates the Campus of Mars. The site was built around 9 B.C.E. for the Emperor Augustus just outside the city walls of ancient Rome.

By integrating precise NASA historical data on the movements of the sun and moon with archaeological surveys of the site, researchers can examine suspected solar alignments involving structures that were part of the campus.

Among other things, says John Fillwalk, director of IDIA — a lab of Ball State’s Office of Information Technology — the simulation looks at the relationship between the Ara Pacis (or Altar of Peace) and a nearby obelisk. The obelisk was moved by Augustus from its original home in Egypt and installed on the Campus of Mars.

“In simple terms, this site was the largest sundial of the ancient world — although it did much more than keep track of time,” says Fillwalk, who is also an associate professor of electronic art at Ball State. “It primarily served as an astronomical calendar. “

The simulation already has helped historians revise a long-held theory about the campus — specifically the relationship between the Egyptian obelisk and the Ara Pacis. For decades, archaeologists have believed that the obelisk was oriented so it would cast its shadow inside of the altar on Sept. 23, the birthday of Augustus.

“This project looks at that question,” Fillwalk says. “Did the obelisk align to the altar doorway on that day?”

The simulation shows that it did not — it comes fairly close but does not reach or line up precisely enough to be considered an alignment.

Archaeologists have been unable to research that alignment in real life because the Campus of Mars no longer exists in its original form. What then was the surface of the campus now lies roughly 20 feet below the topsoil of today’s Rome — a segment of pavement has been excavated and, in fact, lies in the basement of a building that now sits atop the original location.

In addition, the Ara Pacis — an ornate structure covered with exquisite carvings — has been moved to a museum and the obelisk, too, has been reassembled and moved to a new site.

Fillwalk says a key contribution of the simulation is that it digitally reassembles the ancient campus with precision, allowing archaeologists to explore its workings in ways that were not previously possible.

In fact, Bernard Frischer — an IU professor of informatics who is the lead archeologist on the project and director of the Virtual World Heritage Laboratory — presented a paper on the simulation and its findings this month at the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Archaeology in Rome. Fillwalk is a co-author of the paper.

Interest in Augustus and the Rome of his day has been on the upswing in Italy because next year will mark the 2,000th anniversary of the emperor’s death.

IDIA staff members have been working on the computer simulation for about a year and a half, Fillwalk says, and recently rebuilt it from the ground up after receiving new, more detailed archaeological surveys and measurements of the site.

“We took it back down to the level of data and pixels — reworking it entirely,” Fillwalk says. “Interestingly enough, we’re basically where we were before, and we have had our process validated independently by several archeoastronomers. So, we feel good about the precision of the simulation. The science and the data behind it are solid.”

Header Image : Ball State University

Contributing Source : Ball State University

Categories: General

The Archaeology of the Future, Part 2

Fri, 2014-01-03 01:05
Following on from Part 1 (Click Here), in which I consider the digital record and how much of it might survive into the near and distant future.

There are, of course, other historical records. Great works of art and literature are likely to survive for a fair amount of time through replication or conservation, whether or not they are stored digitally. But there are limits to physical preservation, and the destruction of intentionally conserved records tends to be down to human, rather than natural processes. Julius Caesar is thought to have (accidentally) burnt down the centuries old library at Alexandria; in modern day Greece, Iraq, and Egypt political and economic factors have allowed looters to raid important museum collections. We might put books, photographs, and even dead bodies into cold storage, but the fact is that we can’t guarantee the maintenance of such facilities indefinitely. The further into the future we go, the more likely it becomes that our unintended material remains will be the ones to survive.

Environmental concerns

In what sort of environment might such remains survive? Well, that depends to a large extent on the materials themselves, but there are certain extreme environments in which the preservation of a large number of both organic and inorganic materials is likely. Organic materials in particular are prone to degradation, so such rare finds provide an important resource for contemporary archaeologists. The greatest enemies of long-term preservation are oxygen, moisture, and variable temperature. Consistently dry environments, such as the deserts of Egypt; oxygen-free environments, such as peat bogs in Britain, Ireland, and Denmark; and environments of extreme (and persistent) cold are top of the list for long-term preservation.

In 1991, a pair of hikers in the Ötztal Alps came across a body, face down in ice and melt water. Thinking they had stumbled upon a modern murder case, they immediately contacted the authorities. It quickly became apparent, however, that what was being dealt with – though it may indeed have been a murder case – was pretty far from modern. The man, who was named Ötzi by his modern investigators, had been killed over 5,000 years ago, by an arrow in the back and a blow to the head, before his body was buried by snow and later ice, preserving him along with his tools, weapons, clothes, shoes, and backpack. Just to be clear here, no other finds of this antiquity are so well preserved. Climate change was behind the melting of the ice and, had it not been discovered in the nick of time by the hikers, Ötzi’s body and accessories would no doubt have succumbed very quickly to the effects of exposure.

One organic material that may last rather longer than most is plastic. This may not be such good news for the environment, as shown by the marine biodegradation timeline provided by the Centre for Microbial Oceanography (#mce_temp_url#): the idea of disposable nappies floating around in various stages of decay for up to 100 years is not desirable in any sense. Anybody who has seen the harrowing photographs in Chris Jordan’s project ‘Midway: message from the Gyre’ (#mce_temp_url#) will agree that contemporary plastic waste can be a hazard, but just how long will plastics last? Depending on the composition of a plastic, its degradation can be affected by factors such as heat and light, or in a buried environment pH, but most are thought to be durable enough to survive for 100s of years. There is no way of being certain, however, because the first plastics were developed just over 100 years ago, and the composition of those in use today was only developed over the last 50 years.

“Forget your mobile phone, laptop, books, clothes, and all that they say about you.”

In fact, ‘organic’ plastics are now being developed, which should biodegrade more quickly (#mce_temp_url#). All of this is rather relevant for us and our children, but in the distant future – 1,000 and more years away – it is unlikely that many plastics will survive from our time and, if they do, they may be in a state of severe corrosion. Archaeologists of the yet more distant future, two, three, or four thousand years away, may find themselves reconstructing the flesh of our material world – paper, plastics, wood – based only on surviving ceramics, the odd fossil, and certain stable metals or alloys: just as we today attempt to reconstruct the wooden hafts of stone tools, or the architecture of ancient houses based only on the holes into which supporting posts were fitted.

Inorganic materials, of course, are also vulnerable to degradation and corrosion. Early Medieval iron swords on display in the British Museum are corroded almost beyond recognition, but careful analysis with radiography and other scientific techniques shows that they were once items of outstanding beauty and terrifying functionality. Replica swords are displayed alongside these corroded remains, in order to show their complex pattern-welded designs, the work of master craftsmen, and the product of a developed understanding of the behavior of metals.

What will future generations make of our everyday items?

With the exception of gold, which the ancient Egyptians equated with the flesh of the gods because it resists even the faintest tarnishing over time, most metals will suffer the effects of oxygen and other chemical action on their surface. Modern metallurgy has developed various means to combat this, including non-metal coatings and various specialist alloys, but these are mainly designed for use in architectural and industrial settings. In any case they can’t protect a piece once it has suffered physical damage, such as bending. Nor do they prevent recycling: copper is today so valuable that the theft of copper piping from unused buildings is a commonplace problem.

So, forget your mobile phone, laptop, books, clothes, and all that they say about you. Ceramics (including bricks), glass, and stone are likely to form the basis of the long-term material record of your life. Ceramics – in the form of pottery – are already of incredible value to contemporary archaeologists. As well as being pretty much ubiquitous in archaeological sites of the Neolithic and later due to its resistance and functionality, pottery is an extraordinarily accurate marker of change over time. We are accustomed to thinking of the archaeologist carbon dating everything, but in fact the expense and limitations of carbon dating (it can only be performed on certain organic remains) mean that it is more commonly used as an ‘anchor’ for dating by more old-fashioned means. One of these is simply to look at the style of pottery found in a given layer, and compare it with others of known date.

Cola Bottle found on an Excavation Site in Washington, DC : Wiki Commons


Chemically speaking, modern glasses are pretty resistant and should survive for 1000s of years. It is unclear how they will be used by future archaeologists, though, given that very few glasses are likely to survive intact due to their combination of delicacy and relatively low value. Current archaeologists use the chemical signature of ancient glass to investigate where it was originally made, so perhaps glass will become one marker of international trade relations. Stone, of course, is the ultimate chemically resistant material. Where they have not been re-used or robbed, building facades and sculptures will be available for recording, and will at least show our interconnectedness in bringing together materials from many parts of the world.

Living in a material world

This brings me onto another very important point in our consideration of the remains we will leave behind: the uniqueness of the modern situation. Although I have been rather scathing of ‘end time’ arguments, there is no doubt that we are living through a period of extraordinarily rapid growth and change. Assuming that anatomically modern Homo sapiens appeared at around 50,000 BC, the total number of people ever to have existed is estimated at 108 billion. Given that between 6.25 and 7 billion of those are alive at the current time, the current global population makes up around 6% of all the humans who have ever lived (some rather more outrageous estimates are debunked here: #mce_temp_url#). Added to this, we live – at least, in the West – in a time of unprecedented material consumption.

The effects of these factors on archaeology will depend on how far into the future we want to look. In the near future, rebuilding in urban areas will likely mean that older architectural remains will be destroyed by successive generations. Archaeologists will have to look to abandoned areas for clues to material culture and everyday life. Such sites are fascinating even to the contemporary eye, as illustrated in the extraordinary photos of abandoned parts of Detroit posted at buildingsofdetroit.com (site currently under construction: see instead #mce_temp_url#). In the long-term, however, abandoned sites are likely to yield surprisingly few remains. Even close to the centre of the Chernobyl exclusion zone, where radiation levels were still at 40ci/km2 a whole ten years after the disaster, looters and former residents are known to have started returning within a few years and even months to recover possessions and valuable items.

Chernobyl power plant taken from the roof of an abandoned residential building in Pripyat : Wiki Commons


Time capsules and landfill sites

If urban sites are too complex, and abandoned sites are looted, where will archaeologists be able to look for our material remains? One obvious choice might be landfill sites. In the ancient Middle East, people occupied the same sites for long periods of time, and as layer upon layer of discarded material was laid down over the centuries, artificial hills known as ‘tells’ were formed. Such sites are invaluable for present day archaeologists, as are middens (discard heaps) and other disposal sites. The size of landfills, however, may prove limiting. Tells and middens have a clear stratigraphy; that is, they show change over time. The sheer quantity of modern waste means that landfill sites are rapidly filled, reflecting just a few years’ of use, and they are spatially disassociated from other sites such as houses or factory sites.

Some of the future gaps in knowledge about us may be filled in by so-called ‘time capsules’; archaeological remains of a single event, such as the burial of Pompeii under volcanic ash and pumice. Shipwrecks in particular could prove promising sources of information, as underwater environments can aid preservation due to the lack of warmth, light, and oxygen. The famous wreck of a Bronze Age trading ship at Ulu Burun, off the southern coast of Turkey, offers an insight into the luxury goods prized over 3000 years ago, including perfumes, ostrich shells, ivory, and various foodstuffs. Modern warfare may also contribute to the archaeological record, and – like it or not – much could be made of submarines, tanks, and the wreckage of fighter planes in the future.

Will they get it right?

It is admittedly rather amusing to think about the mistakes future generations might make about us, based on the foibles of the material record. Will it be assumed that in the west, people who wear large amounts of gold jewellery belong to the ruling class, for example?

Actually, I don’t think this sort of mistake very likely. Archaeologists currently recognise that what may seem ‘common sense’ to us could be completely alien to the people of the past, or even to other groups in the present. To refer to the example above, status can be determined by many factors, including where a person is buried in relation to others, and their health as determined by bone condition. What is probable, by contrast, is that we will only be understood in a limited sense: the complexity of our thoughts and beliefs will become more difficult to reconstruct as time goes on, and the finer twists and turns of history will eventually become lost against the vast timescale of human existence.

All of this, of course, supposes that archaeologists themselves will survive the test of time. That may be rather an arrogant idea, though admittedly necessary for the current thought experiment. In any case, the archaeologists of today might learn a little from considering the future as well as the past. In particular, there is a rather ‘gung ho’ attitude to archaeology in the media and in the eyes of many archaeologists themselves, leading to an over-emphasis on excavation by comparison with conservation and publication. There exist a finite number of archaeological sites, and more money must be spent on preserving them in situ wherever possible. After all, what has survived for millennia in one place is unlikely to do better in a museum store cupboard.


Written by Dr Chloë N. Duckworth | Adjunct Lecturer | Department of Archaeology | University of Nottingham
Categories: General

The Archaeology of the Future, Part 1

Fri, 2014-01-03 01:02
How will our descendants in the very distant future view us, assuming they exist? Will they have a better understanding of us than we do of, say, the Romans? Or will differential preservation lead them to think we lived in a mad world full of glazed china figurine shrines, toilet bowls as status symbols, and the ritual deposition of jewellery in sinks?

These questions are to some extent the realm of science fiction, but by applying what we know from current historiography and archaeological theory, we might hypothesise what clues to modern day cultures will survive into the near and distant future.

What future?

It is a popular idea that we shouldn’t look too far ahead. Brandon Carter’s Doomsday argument predicts the end of humanity in less than 10,000 years’ time, based on probabilistic projections of population figures; others believe we won’t last 1,000. What interests me most about such predictions of doom is that we have been making them for millennia (early Christianity, for example, was largely built upon the idea that the end of the world was imminent).

I’m not saying we should ignore current population growth or our responsibilities towards other life on the planet, but there seems to be a long tradition of certain innate feelings among human groups that we are at the end time, and that this is somehow our own fault. Others are more optimistic: a recent paper published in New Scientist (#mce_temp_url#) summarises research suggesting we will still be thriving in not merely 10,000, but 100,000 years.

A digital history?

Assuming our basic and intellectual survival, a key factor in all of this is whether you believe in the longevity of digital media. Will future generations end up sifting through ‘trash heaps’ of digitally stored data, overwhelmed by the volume of evidence available? Or will we be trying to reconstruct the vast and forgotten world that was once so rashly committed to memory in digital format only? In the next 50 to 100 years the former problem seems more likely, but even if a fair proportion of the digital record survives into the more distant future, it may not reflect us in a way we would like, or even expect.

Stock Piles of IT equipment dumped at landfill sites : Wiki Commons

In the first place, historical data needs to be reproduced if it is to survive. This is no less true of modern records than it was of the Greek and Latin texts preserved for Europe by Muslim scholars, or the fastidious copying of medieval manuscripts by monks.

Even among some of the earliest texts known to us from ancient Mesopotamia, many that survive are copies used by scribes to practice their handwriting. Marc Weber of the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, is quoted as saying, ‘digital records are more like an oral tradition than traditional documents … if you don’t copy them regularly enough, they simply disappear’ (#mce_temp_url#). The thing is that much of the information currently being stored and reproduced will be useless in a few years’ time when it is no longer relevant for the generation of advertising revenue. And expecting companies which currently sit on a lot of data (Google, Facebook, Yahoo) to persist, well, indefinitely seems hopeful at best.

“As we make photocopies of photocopies of photocopies, errors creep in and multiply. The same is also true, of course, of historical methods of reproducing human history and literature. “

In one sense, however, digital reproduction has an edge over more traditional methods. The hazards of reproduction are best documented in biology. For example, it seems that cloned mammals die younger because their DNA is not ‘new’, and aging is irreversible for the same reason; the commonly used analogy is that of continually photocopying a document. As we make photocopies of photocopies of photocopies, errors creep in and multiply.

The same is also true, of course, of historical methods of reproducing human history and literature. The marvelous thing about digital reproduction is that it is, in principle, infallible. Surely it is more difficult to corrupt information that essentially boils down to a series of 1s and 0s? Well, perhaps not, argues blogger Claire L. Evans with reference to art (#mce_temp_url#), but it is certainly an improvement on the clarity, if not the quantity of preservation.

The element of choice

So, what is likely to survive from our vast digital databanks in the long term? Unsurprisingly, the majority of the most visited global websites from 2011-12, as ranked by alexa.com , are search engines and shopping or social networking sites. Much of the data stored in these will cease to become relevant or useful in a relatively short space of time, and may well disappear as a consequence. It is thus interesting that Wikipedia is listed at number 6. As the Wikimedia foundation is a non-profit organisation, it does not need to store vast amounts of data for advertising purposes, and can thus concentrate on maintaining its pages alone.

Perhaps most importantly, because not just the current version, but the entire history of its articles is available for download by individual users, it is likely that a large amount of information from the site will be preserved long enough for its historical value to become appreciated. If the idea of being judged in the future by open-access, publicly generated content worries you, consider this: for a contemporary Athenian it would have been equally unimaginable that the plays of Aristophanes – lewd, crude and bawdy – would have become the sole survivors of early Greek comedy.

“The ancient Egyptians knew what they were doing when they inscribed records in solid stone.”

The point is that most of what survives will not be determined by conscious decisions on our part. This may not be for want of trying, as shown by the current popularity of time capsules. The most impressive of these must be the KEO satellite, due to be launched in 2014 and to return to Earth 50,000 years later. The satellite’s contents are to include samples of air, sea, earth, water, and human blood along with a digital archive of current knowledge and personal messages from members of the public (to submit your own message, visit keo.org). We have no way of knowing what future generations will make of this, should it succeed. But perhaps that doesn’t matter.

Temple Pillars : KomOmbo


The ancient Egyptians knew what they were doing when they inscribed records in solid stone. Theirs was a culture that prized longevity and durability, and they have certainly been granted that. It’s just that being displayed in museums for the amusement of the general public wasn’t quite what they had in mind. The record we leave for future generations may be written by us, but it will belong to them.

The Archaeology of the Future, Part 2 Written by Dr Chloë N. Duckworth | Adjunct Lecturer | Department of Archaeology | University of Nottingham
Categories: General

Ancient crater may be clue to Moon’s mantle

Fri, 2014-01-03 01:01
A massive impact on the Moon about 4 billion years ago left a 2,500-km. crater, among the largest known craters in the solar system. Smaller subsequent impacts left craters within that crater.

Comparing the spectra of light reflected from the peaks of those craters may yield clues to the composition of the Moon’s lower crust and mantle — and would have implications for models of how the Moon formed.

Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India’s Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin. The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, the researchers say. If that’s true, then the South Pole Aitken (SPA) basin could hold important information about the Moon’s interior and the evolution of its crust and mantle.

The study, led by Brown graduate student Dan Moriarty, is published in online early view in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Planets.

At 2,500 kilometers across, the SPA is the largest impact basin on the Moon and perhaps the largest in the solar system. Impacts of this size turn tons of solid rock into molten slush. It has been assumed generally that the melting process would obliterate any distinct signatures of pre-existing mineralogical diversity through extensive mixing, but this latest research suggests that might not be the case.

The study looked at smaller craters within the larger SPA basin made by impacts that happened millions of years after the giant impact that formed the basin. Those impacts uncovered material from deep within the basin, offering important clues about what lies beneath the surface. Specifically, the researchers looked at the central peaks of four craters within the basin. Central peaks form when material under the impact zone rebounds, forming an upraised rock formation in the middle of the crater. The tops of those peaks represent pristine material from below the impact zone.

Using Moon Mineralogy Mapper data, the researchers looked at the light reflected from each of the four central peaks. The spectra of reflected light give scientists clues about the makeup of the rocks. The spectra showed substantial differences in composition from peak to peak. Some crater peaks were richer in magnesium than others. One of the four craters, located toward the outer edge of the basin, contained several distinct mineral deposits within its own peak, possibly due to sampling a mixture of both upper and lower crust or mantle materials.

The varying mineralogy in these central peaks suggests that the SPA subsurface is much more diverse than previously thought.

“Previous studies have suggested that all the central peaks look very similar, and that was taken as evidence that everything’s the same across the basin,” Moriarty said. “We looked in a little more detail and found significant compositional differences between these central peaks. The Moon Mineralogy Mapper has very high spatial and spectral resolution. We haven’t really been able to look at the Moon in this kind of detail before.”

The next step is figuring out where that diversity comes from.

It’s possible that the distinct minerals formed as the molten rock from the SPA impact cooled. Recent research from Brown and elsewhere suggests that such mineral formation in impact melt is possible. However, it’s also possible that the mineral differences reflect differences in rock types that were there before the giant SPA impact. Moriarty is currently undertaking a much larger survey of SPA craters in the hope of identifying the source of the diversity. If indeed the diversity reflects pre-existing material, the SPA could hold important clues about the composition of the Moon’s lower crust and mantle.

“If you do the impact scaling from models, [the SPA impact] should have excavated into the mantle,” Moriarty said. “We think the upper mantle is rich in a mineral called olivine, but we don’t see much olivine in the basin. That’s one of the big mysteries about the South Pole Aitken basin. So one of the things we’re trying to figure out is how deep did the impact really excavate. If it melted and excavated any material from the mantle, why aren’t we seeing it?”

If the impact did excavate mantle material, and it doesn’t contain olivine, that would have substantial implications for models of how the Moon was formed, Moriarty said.

Much more research is needed to begin to answer those larger questions. But this initial study helps raise the possibility that some of the original mantle mineralogy, if excavated, may be preserved in the Moon’s largest impact basin.

Carle Pieters, professor of geological sciences at Brown, and Peter Isaacson from the University of Hawaii were also authors on the paper. The work was supported by NASA’s Lunar Advanced Science and Exploration Research (LASER) program and the NASA Lunar Science Institute (NLSI).

Contributing Souce : Brown University

Categories: General

Fossil primate shakes up history of strepsirrhines

Fri, 2014-01-03 00:43
Fossils discovered in Tunisia challenge several hypotheses concerning the origin of tooth-combed primates (Malagasy lemurs, Afro-Asian lorises and African galagos).

The fossils are of a small primate called Djebelemur, which lived around 50 million years ago. They were discovered by a French-Tunisian team from the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution in Montpellier (CNRS/Université Montpellier 2/IRD) and the Office National des Mines (ONM) in Tunis. According to the paleontologists, Djebelemur was probably a transitional form leading to the appearance of tooth-combed primates. However, according to genetic data, these primates appeared at least 15 million years earlier. Djebelemur therefore challenges the hypotheses put forward by molecular biology. The work, which has just been published in Plos One, makes it possible to reconstruct a chapter in the evolutionary history of this lineage. In addition, it may help to refine genetic models.

Tooth-combed primates, also called strepsirrhines, comprise lemurs and lorisiforms (small primates which include lorises and galagos). In these primates, the anterior teeth of the lower jaw take the form of a comb. This is mainly used for grooming, but also, in some species, for procuring the natural gums that make up part of their diet.

A key question debated by primatologists concerns the time when strepsirrhine primates first appeared. Recent genetic data dates the origin of lemurs and lorises to the onset of the Tertiary period, just after the disappearance of the dinosaurs (approximately 65 million years ago). Some molecular biologists even believe that divergence of the two groups occurred 80 million years ago. However, paleontological data does not corroborate these hypotheses: the oldest known lorisiform fossil dates from a mere 37 million years ago. Could this simply be due to a gap in the fossil record? The fossils discovered by the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution in Montpellier (CNRS/Université Montpellier 2/IRD) and the ONM in Tunis suggest otherwise: it is the genetic models that may need to be revised.

Discovered in the sediments of a former lake in Djebel Chambi National Park, Tunisia, the approximately 50 million-year-old fossils belong to a small primate called Djebelemur (lemur of the Djebel). This was a tiny animal weighing scarcely 70 g. It was most certainly nocturnal, a predator of insects and a tree-dweller. Some of its morphological characteristics suggest that it was a distant relative of lemurs, galagos and lorises. However, although it did not yet have such a specialized toothcomb, it exhibited a tooth structure that had already been transformed, an early stage of the anterior dentition of today’s strepsirrhines.

Djebelemur thus appears to be a transitional form, pre-dating the lorisiform-lemuriform divergence. Therefore, tooth-combed primates probably did not originate as early as molecular biologists have claimed. This is likely to have occurred less than 50 million years ago, the age of the Djebelemur fossil.

This is not the first time that genetic data disagrees with paleontological data. For many groups of mammals, geneticists tend to put forward earlier dates of origin than those provided by direct observation of the fossil record. Molecular biology increasingly seeks to refine its models by constraining them with fossil data. In the case of the origin of tooth-combed primates, Djebelemur could prove to be a significant milestone making it possible to reset the molecular clock and improve estimates of divergence dates derived from molecular phylogenies.

Header Image : © Laurence MESLIN / CNRS, Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier (ISE-M). Djebelemur martinezi, artist’s reconstructions based on life-history traits inferred from the study of new fossil remains.

Contributing Source : CNRS (Délégation Paris Michel-Ange)

Categories: General

2,000 Years Old Fabrics that were Dyed with an Extract from the Murex Snail

Fri, 2014-01-03 00:03
To date, only two pieces of fabric treated with actual dye-murex have been found in Israel.

The fabrics identified by Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority represent the most prestigious colors in antiquity: indigo, purple and crimson, which are mentioned in Jewish sources.

Thousands of fabrics dating to the Roman period have been discovered in the Judean Desert and regions of the Negev and the ‘Arava. So far only two were colored with dye extracted from the murex snail. Now, within the framework of a study conducted by Dr. Na‘ama Sukenik of the Israel Antiquities Authority, three other rare fabrics belonging to pieces of prestigious textiles were exposed that might have been used as clothing in the Roman period.

Dr. Sukenik’s doctoral dissertation was supervised by Professor Zohar Amar of the Department of the Land of Israel Studies and Archaeology and Dr. David Illuz of the Department of Life Sciences at Bar-Ilan University. The textiles were examined by Dr. Orit Shamir, Curator of Organic Materials at the Israel Antiquities Authority.

These prestigious textiles, from the Wadi Murabba‘at caves located south of Qumran, were revealed in a study that analysis the dye of 180 textiles specimens from the Judean Desert caves. Among the many textiles, most of which were dyed using substances derived from plants, were two purple-bordeaux colored textiles – parts of tunics that were double dyed utilizing two of the most expensive materials in antiquity: Murex trunculus (Hexaplex trunculus) and American Cochineal insect .

A third textile, made of wool, indicating the thread fibers were dyed by exposing them to sunlight or heated after having been dyed, represent another use of the murex snail for achieving a shade of blue, and it is possible that the item in question is an indigo fabric made by means of a technique similar to making the tekhelet (blue)in a tzitzit.

The importance of this fabric is extremely significant as there are practically no parallels for it in the archaeological record.

Dr. Sukenik, assisted by Dr. Alexander Varvak, examined the colors using advanced analytical instrumentation for identifying dye substances (HPLC).

The testing of the fabrics, performed by Dr. Orit Shamir of the Israel Antiquities Authority, revealed that the two purple textiles were spinning in a unique manner characteristic of imported textiles, whereas the blue textile was spinning in the same fashion as the local textiles.

Of all of the dyes that were in use, purple is considered the most prestigious color of the earlier periods; however it seems the public’s fondness for this reached its peak in the Hellenistic-Roman period. The purple dyed fabrics attested to the prestige of the garment and the social status of its owner. There were times when the masses were forbidden from dressing in purple clothing, which was reserved for only the emperor and his family. These measures only served to increase the popularity of that color, the price of which soared and was equal to that of gold.

It is difficult to know for certain how such prestigious fabrics came to be in the Murabba‘at caves. They might have been part of the property belonging to Jewish refugees from the time of the Bar-Kokhba revolt and demonstrate their economic prosperity prior to the outbreak of the uprising.

Another possibility is that they were part of the possessions of a small Roman unit, which on the basis of the artifacts was stationed in the Murabba‘at caves following the Bar Kokhba revolt. It is likely these same soldiers brought some of their belongings from overseas to Israel and others they purchased from the local Jewish population during their service in the country.

The three fabrics shed light on the Murabba‘at caves and represent the most prestigious colors in antiquity: indigo, purple and crimson.

Contributing Source : IAA

Categories: General

Earth’s crust was unstable in the Archean eon and dripped down into the mantle

Thu, 2014-01-02 23:13
Earth’s mantle temperatures during the Archean eon, which commenced some 4 billion years ago, were significantly higher than they are today.

According to recent model calculations, the Archean crust that formed under these conditions was so dense that large portions of it were recycled back into the mantle. This is the conclusion reached by Dr. Tim Johnson who is currently studying the evolution of the Earth’s crust as a member of the research team led by Professor Richard White of the Institute of Geosciences at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU).

According to the calculations, this dense primary crust would have descended vertically in drip form. In contrast, the movements of today’s tectonic plates involve largely lateral movements with oceanic lithosphere recycled in subduction zones. The findings add to our understanding of how cratons and plate tectonics, and thus also the Earth’s current continents, came into being.

Because mantle temperatures were higher during the Archean eon, the Earth’s primary crust that formed at the time must have been very thick and also very rich in magnesium. However, as Johnson and his co-authors explain in their article recently published in Nature Geoscience, very little of this original crust is preserved, indicating that most must have been recycled into the Earth’s mantle.

Moreover, the Archean crust that has survived in some areas such as, for example, Northwest Scotland and Greenland, is largely made of tonalite–trondhjemite–granodiorite complexes and these are likely to have originated from a hydrated, low-magnesium basalt source. The conclusion is that these pieces of crust cannot be the direct products of an originally magnesium-rich primary crust. These TTG complexes are among the oldest features of our Earth’s crust. They are most commonly present in cratons, the oldest and most stable cores of the current continents.

With the help of thermodynamic calculations, Dr. Tim Johnson and his collaborators at the US-American universities of Maryland, Southern California, and Yale have established that the mineral assemblages that formed at the base of a 45-kilometer-thick magnesium-rich crust were denser than the underlying mantle layer. In order to better explore the physics of this process, Professor Boris Kaus of the Geophysics work group at Mainz University developed new computer models that simulate the conditions when the Earth was still relatively young and take into account Johnson’s calculations.

These geodynamic computer models show that the base of a magmatically over-thickened and magnesium-rich crust would have been gravitationally unstable at mantle temperatures greater than 1,500 to 1,550 degrees Celsius and this would have caused it to sink in a process called ‘delamination’.

The dense crust would have dripped down into the mantle, triggering a return flow of mantle material from the asthenosphere that would have melted to form new primary crust. Continued melting of over-thickened and dripping magnesium-rich crust, combined with fractionation of primary magmas, may have produced the hydrated magnesium-poor basalts necessary to provide a source of the tonalite–trondhjemite–granodiorite complexes. The dense residues of these processes, which would have a high content of mafic minerals, must now reside in the mantle.

Header Image : Mantle – Wiki Commons

Contributing Source : Johannes Gutenberg Universitaet Mainz

Categories: General

Research Uncovers the Diets of the Middle and Lower Class in Pompeii

Thu, 2014-01-02 22:55
University of Cincinnati archaeologists are turning up discoveries in the famed Roman city of Pompeii that are wiping out the historic perceptions of how the Romans dined, with the rich enjoying delicacies such as flamingos and the poor scrounging for soup or gruel.

Steven Ellis, a University of Cincinnati associate professor of classics, will present these discoveries on Jan. 4, at the joint annual meeting of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) and American Philological Association (APA) in Chicago.

UC teams of archaeologists have spent more than a decade at two city blocks within a non-elite district in the Roman city of Pompeii, which was buried under a volcano in 79 AD. The excavations are uncovering the earlier use of buildings that would have dated back to the 6th century.

Ellis says the excavation is producing a complete archaeological analysis of homes, shops and businesses at a forgotten area inside one of the busiest gates of Pompeii, the Porta Stabia.

The area covers 10 separate building plots and a total of 20 shop fronts, most of which served food and drink. The waste that was examined included collections from drains as well as 10 latrines and cesspits, which yielded mineralized and charred food waste coming from kitchens and excrement. Ellis says among the discoveries in the drains was an abundance of the remains of fully-processed foods, especially grains.

“The material from the drains revealed a range and quantity of materials to suggest a rather clear socio-economic distinction between the activities and consumption habits of each property, which were otherwise indistinguishable hospitality businesses,” says Ellis. Findings revealed foods that would have been inexpensive and widely available, such as grains, fruits, nuts, olives, lentils, local fish and chicken eggs, as well as minimal cuts of more expensive meat and salted fish from Spain. Waste from neighboring drains would also turn up less of a variety of foods, revealing a socioeconomic distinction between neighbors.

Credit : University of Cincinnati


A drain from a central property revealed a richer variety of foods as well as imports from outside Italy, such as shellfish, sea urchin and even delicacies including the butchered leg joint of a giraffe. 

“That the bone represents the height of exotic food is underscored by the fact that this is thought to be the only giraffe bone ever recorded from an archaeological excavation in Roman Italy,” says Ellis. “How part of the animal, butchered, came to be a kitchen scrap in a seemingly standard Pompeian restaurant not only speaks to long-distance trade in exotic and wild animals, but also something of the richness, variety and range of a non-elite diet.”

Deposits also included exotic and imported spices, some from as far away as Indonesia.

Ellis adds that one of the deposits dates as far back as the 4th century, which he says is a particularly valuable discovery, since few other ritual deposits survived from that early stage in the development of Pompeii.

“The ultimate aim of our research is to reveal the structural and social relationships over time between working-class Pompeian households, as well as to determine the role that sub-elites played in the shaping of the city, and to register their response to city-and Mediterranean-wide historical, political and economic developments. However, one of the larger datasets and themes of our research has been diet and the infrastructure of food consumption and food ways,” says Ellis.

He adds that as a result of the discoveries, “The traditional vision of some mass of hapless lemmings – scrounging for whatever they can pinch from the side of a street, or huddled around a bowl of gruel – needs to be replaced by a higher fare and standard of living, at least for the urbanites in Pompeii.”

Contributing team leaders on the project who have focused on diet and food ways are Michael MacKinnon, a professor the University of Winnipeg; Mark Robinson, professor at Oxford University; Jennifer Robinson, also of Oxford University; Emily Holt, professor at Oberlin College and Professor Andrew Fairbairn of the University of Queensland.

Funding for the research was supported by the UC Department of Classics Louise Taft Semple Fund, with generous additional support from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Geographic Society, the Loeb Classical Library Foundation and several private benefactors.

Ellis’ presentation, “Explorations into the Complexities of Foodways of Non-elite Roman Urbanites,” will be presented at the Presidential Plenary Session focusing on food and drink. The Presidential Plenary Session is considered one of the highlights of the conference.

A total of 12 University of Cincinnati researchers will be represented at the conference.

The AIA and APA Joint Annual Meeting is the largest and oldest established meeting of classical scholars and archaeologists in North America, and regularly draws more than 3,000 attendees from more than 30 countries and nearly every state in the U.S.

UC’s Classics Department in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences is one of the most active centers for the study of the Greek and Roman Antiquity in the United States.

Contributing Source : University of Cincinnati

Categories: General

Money Talks When Ancient Antioch Meets Google Earth

Thu, 2014-01-02 22:45
UC research puts a high-tech spin on studying the ancient world in a project that could affect how historians analyze data. WATCH as Google Earth zooms along the boundaries of ancient Antioch in 30 seconds.

There’s a map of an ancient Syrian trade route that shows how one city’s political sway extended farther than once thought.

This map isn’t a time-worn and mysterious etching on a stone tablet. Turns out it’s easily found on a different type of tablet – the kind with apps.

With the swipe of a finger, the University of Cincinnati’s Kristina Neumann can zoom along the boundaries of ancient Antioch during the beginning of Roman takeover thanks to the modern cartography of Google Earth software. The simplicity with which she flicks across the Middle Eastern landscape belies the depth of information available at her fingertips and the effort that’s gone into her research.

“I trace the process of change by working with historical proxies, in this case coins,” says Neumann, a doctoral candidate in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences Department of Classics. “I created my own database from previously published excavation reports and lists of coin hoards, and imported it to Google Earth. My criteria are so detailed that I can see all the coins for a particular emperor or of a particular material.”

She hopes this visual, interactive way of presenting the ancient world inspires other historians to get more creative in today’s “there’s an app for that” world.

“I’m trying to help historians think outside the box,” Neumann says. “There’s a huge movement in the digital humanities in general, and this research speaks to that. Using tools such as Google Earth to visualize the ancient world could also have ramifications for how we look at data today.”

With the swipe of a finger, the University of Cincinnati’s Kristina Neumann can zoom along the boundaries of ancient Antioch during the beginning of Roman takeover thanks to the modern cartography of Google Earth software. The simplicity with which she flicks across the Middle Eastern landscape belies the depth of information available at her fingertips and the effort that’s gone into her research.

“I trace the process of change by working with historical proxies, in this case coins,” says Neumann, a doctoral candidate in the McMicken College of Arts & Sciences Department of Classics. “I created my own database from previously published excavation reports and lists of coin hoards, and imported it to Google Earth. My criteria are so detailed that I can see all the coins for a particular emperor or of a particular material.”

She hopes this visual, interactive way of presenting the ancient world inspires other historians to get more creative in today’s “there’s an app for that” world.

“I’m trying to help historians think outside the box,” Neumann says. “There’s a huge movement in the digital humanities in general, and this research speaks to that. Using tools such as Google Earth to visualize the ancient world could also have ramifications for how we look at data today.”

Neumann will present her research “Using Google Earth to Visualize an Ancient City’s Influence: Roman Antioch” at theArchaeological Institute of America and American Philological Association Joint Annual Meeting to be held Jan. 2-5 in Chicago. The meeting attracts more than 3,000 international attendees to share news and ideas among the top archaeological and classical scholars.

In ancient times, much like now, authorities determined which foreign currency was accepted in a community. For Neumann, this made coins an ideal representation of a political relationship among cities. For example, if lots of Antiochene coins were discovered in a neighboring city, it’s likely a political agreement existed between the two governments.

Coins were also a data-rich resource for Neumann. In addition to tracking where the coins were found, she cataloged critical information about a coin – such as when it was minted and under whose authority it was made – that has been derived from the images and inscriptions imprinted on it. Other artifacts, like pottery, were less likely to have such identifiers.

Neumann uses Google Earth to convert the vast information in her coin database into a visual representation of Antioch’s political borders. She analyzes how the software plots which coins were found where and in what quantity across different historic time periods. This way she can follow the transformation of Antioch’s political influence as it was absorbed by the Roman empire.

She has found Antioch’s civic coins were spread farther out than previously theorized, and they were particularly abundant along a known trade route. Neumann can scan centuries of change in seconds with Google Earth to show the overall contraction of Antioch’s political authority but also its continued and evolving influence in selected regions and cities – and eventually its greater integration within the empire.

“I’m very interested in the idea of empire – physical empires, but also empires similar to what America has with its cultural and informational empires, and the idea of globalization,” Neumann says. “My bigger question is, ‘How do you get one empire which absorbs a lot of different people and yet lasts so long? How is stability achieved even with vast diversity?’ I think that can speak to today’s society with the culture changes we’re seeing.”

Neumann’s high-tech spin on ancient history supports theUC2019 Academic Master Plan by producing new ways of understanding and transforming the world through research and scholarship. Neumann has been assisted in her research by her adviser, associate professor Barbara Burrell, and senior research associate John Wallrodt. Funding for Neumann’s research was partially provided through the Department of Classics’ Louise Taft Semple Fellowship.

Contributing Source : University of Cincinnati


Categories: General

Scientists highlight the resurrection of extinct animals

Mon, 2013-12-30 18:33
Scientists from across the world have “scanned the horizon” in order to identify potentially significant medium and long-term threats to conservation efforts.

Resurrection of several extinct species, the increasingly accelerated loss of wild rhinoceroses and a disastrous financial response to unburnable carbon are just some future global conservation issues flagged up in this year’s Horizon Scan, recently published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution.

Professor William Sutherland and Dr Mark Spalding are amongst the 18 scientists who took part in this year’s Horizon Scan, seeking to identify potential future conservation issues in order to reduce the “probability of sudden confrontation with major social or environmental changes”.

One such plausible issue is the resurrection or re-construction of extinct species, such as the woolly mammoth, passenger pigeon or the thylacine (a carnivorous marsupial). However, though there may be many benefits to the restoration of these animals, such a high-profile project could lead to attention and resources being diverted from attempts to thwart current threats to non-extinct species’ survival.

Professor Sutherland said ‘There has been discussion of this idea for some time but it is now looking more practical and the idea is being taken seriously. A key issues is whether this is really a conservation priority’.

Though the last woolly mammoth died around 4000 years ago, methods such as back-breeding, cloning and genetic engineering may lead to their resurrection. Not only could these extinct animals, and others such as the thylacine and the passenger pigeon, be re-constructed and returned to their native environments, they could potentially be used to “provide tools for outreach and education”.

However, though this would be a conservational triumph, it could also hamper efforts to protect animals that are currently facing extinction, as both attention and resources would be diverted from preserving existing species and their habitats. Furthermore, there has not been any investigation into the “viability, ethics and safety of releasing resurrected species”, nor the effect their presence may have on indigenous flora and fauna.

Another potential conservational issue identified by the Horizon Scan further highlights the problems facing species today. The loss of wild rhinoceroses and elephants is set to reaccelerate within the next few years, partially stimulated by a growing desire for ivory and horn.

In 2013, it is estimated that over 600 rhinoceroses were poached for their horn in South Africa alone, out of a total global population of less than 26,000. Though an increased human population and proximity to growing infrastructure is partially responsible, organised crime syndicates and intensive hunting carry the weight of the blame. In the Asian countries that use it, rhinoceros horn is more expensive than gold. Demand for the precious horn is ever increasing, resulting in elevated levels of poaching. If attention and resources are diverted from the protection of these majestic animals, we may have yet more candidates for resurrection in the future.

Altogether, this group of scientists identified the top 15 potential conservation issues (out of an initial group of 81 issues). In addition to the above topics, extensive land loss in southeast Asia from subsidence of peatlands, carbon solar cells as an alternative source of renewable energy, and an emerging fungal disease amongst snakes, have also been voted as plausible threats that need to be stopped before they can be realised.

‘A Horizon Scan of Global Conservation Issues for 2014’ can be read at http://authors.elsevier.com/sd/article/S0169534713002772

Contributing Source : Cambridge University

Categories: General

The (Victorian) case for a referendum on independence

Mon, 2013-12-30 17:48
As the referendum on Scottish independence approaches in 2014, new research shows how a founding father of constitutional law in the United Kingdom was advocating a referendum at the height of the Victorian age.

His hope was that it would hold the Union together despite parliamentary initiatives to establish Home Rule in Ireland.

An independence referendum, which might now result in the break-up of the United Kingdom, was being advocated as early as 1888, newly-published papers reveal.

The documents appear in the book Comparative Constitutionalism, a compilation of largely-unpublished lectures by the British jurist A. V. Dicey.

It shows that, 125 years prior to the forthcoming Scottish referendum, the leading British constitutional lawyer was, similarly, advocating a referendum, not to break up the Union but specifically to prevent national separation.

Dicey was calling for this in Ireland, but the book’s editor, Dr John Allison, from the University of Cambridge, suggested that his ideas could be realised in Scotland next year if the “no” vote wins out.

Albert Venn Dicey in academic robes : WikiPedia


“If the popular vote goes against Scottish independence, it may well have the result that Dicey himself was contemplating when he advocated the referendum,” Allison said. “The referendum could end up having been an effective obstacle to national separation if this is the result, maintaining the Union and deferring further initiatives on Scottish independence for the foreseeable future. In short, it will have served the main political purpose Dicey originally hoped it would.”

Dicey (1835-1922), who popularised the phrase “the rule of law” and helped to enshrine parliamentary sovereignty as the constitution’s other main principle, is widely recognised as the founder of modern constitutional law.

But he was also the referendum’s first English advocate – not because he was against the Union, but out of a respect for popular sovereignty and the will of the people. Dicey advocated the referendum to counteract the domination and machinations of the leading political parties in Parliament. His hope was that a popular vote in a referendum would, in practice, go against Home Rule, and therefore preserve the Union in which he believed.

He advocated the referendum after the Government of Ireland Bill 1886 (the First Home Rule Bill) had been defeated in Parliament by a narrow margin. His fear was that Parliament would later successfully pass a bill that repealed the 1800 Act of Union and establish Irish independence. Believing that the people of the United Kingdom desired Union, and that the parliamentary initiatives on Home Rule reflected the manoeuvrings of the leading political parties, Dicey saw the referendum as a desirable obstacle to independence.

He hoped that this device would enable any future parliamentary bills on the subject to be defeated as well. In his “Memorandum on English Party System of Government” (1888), believed to be the earliest English advocacy of a referendum, he specifically promoted the idea of a popular vote in a referendum as a “remedy […] for lessening […] the bad results of the party system”.

Comparative Constitutionalism also features a previously unpublished lecture in which Dicey expressed comparable ideas about Scotland. In his lecture entitled “Scottish Constitution – The Union” (1906), he stressed the numerous advantages the country derived from its connection with Britain. Dicey firmly believed in both the power and economic advantages of a united nation. He characterised the Union as “a distinct bargain” for all involved, with advantages including “freedom of trade throughout the whole of Great Britain”.

Dicey’s support for a popular vote in a referendum was not, however, simply a mechanism to achieve his own political ends. He seems truly to have believed not only in Parliament’s sovereignty, but also in a more fundamental popular sovereignty.

According to another previously unpublished lecture, entitled “Representative Government” (1900), it was a representative parliament’s basic duty to represent the people, and when their parliamentary representatives did not do so, they would have to sustain a “heavy blow” struck against their moral authority. The newly-published lectures highlight the strength of his belief in the importance of popular sovereignty, expressed both in his advocacy of the referendum, and his account of representative government.

For Dr. Allison, critics (and advocates) of Dicey’s work should pay careful attention to these lectures and be open to reconsidering their original positions under the further light they shed on his constitutional thought. “Though commentators have in the past criticised Dicey’s preoccupation with parliament and the common law courts, and relative inattention to executive government, it is crucial that they now examine the careful attention he later gave in his comparative constitutional lectures to representative government, party government, and parliamentarism,” he said.

Contributing Source : Cambridge University

Categories: General

Top 10 archaeological discoveries for 2013

Sun, 2013-12-29 21:11
1 : University of Leicester announces discovery of King Richard III

The University of Leicester today confirms (Monday, Feb 4) that it has discovered the remains of King Richard III.

At a specially convened media conference, experts from across the University unanimously identified the remains discovered in Leicester city centre as being those of the last Plantagenet king who died in 1485.

Rigorous scientific investigations confirmed the strong circumstantial evidence that the skeleton found at the site of the Grey Friars church in Leicester was indeed that of King Richard III. Find out more

2 : Pristine Roman sculp​ture discovered by ​archaeologists​

Archaeologists have discovered an extraordinary Roman sculpture in the form of an eagle firmly grasping a writhing serpent in its beak.

The find was uncovered on a site in the City of London, ahead of development of a 16 storey 291 bed hotel by Scottish Widows Investment Partnership (SWIP) and its development partners Endurance Land. The team from MOLA (Museum of London Archaeology) were at first hesitant to announce the discovery and to proclaim its Roman origins, owing to its almost unbelievable condition. Find out more

3 : Archaeologists discover largest, oldest palatial wine cellar

3,700 year-old store room held 2,000 liters of strong, sweet wine. Would you drink wine flavored with mint, honey and a dash of psychotropic resins? Ancient Canaanites did more than 3,000 years ago.

Archaeologists have unearthed what may be the oldest — and largest — ancient wine cellar in the Near East, containing forty jars, each of which would have held fifty liters of strong, sweet wine. The cellar was discovered in the ruined palace of a sprawling Canaanite city in northern Israel, called Tel Kabri. The site dates to about 1,700 B.C. and isn’t far from many of Israel’s modern-day wineries. Find out more

4 : The discovery of an early henge at Norton, Hertfordshire by local archaeologists

The story begins in 1936. Major Allen, a pioneer of aerial photography in Britain, flew over a field to the east of the young Letchworth Garden City and spotted a large ring in the crop, which he duly photographed.

Like so many such cropmarks in North Hertfordshire, it was long assumed to be the traces of a ditch that would have formed a quarry for material to make an earlier Bronze Age burial mound. Excavations by community archaeologists have now revealed an early henge monument in North Hertfordshire, England. Find out more

5 : Early Roman period mansion discovered by archaeologists

In excavating sites in a long-inhabited urban area like Jerusalem, archaeologists are accustomed to noting complexity in their finds — how various occupying civilizations layer over one another during the site’s continuous use over millennia.

But when an area has also been abandoned for intermittent periods, paradoxically there may be even richer finds uncovered, as some layers have been buried and remainundisturbed by development.

Such appears be the case at an archaeological dig on Jerusalem’s Mount Zion, conducted by the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where the 2013 excavations have revealed the well-preserved lower levels of what the archaeological team believes is an Early Roman period mansion(first century CE), possibly belonging to a member of the Jewish ruling priestly caste. Find out more

6 : Archaeologists discover the 4,000 year old tomb of a doctor at Abusir

Czech Archaeologists excavating at Abusir have discovered a 4,000 year old tomb of what is believed to be a high status doctor to the Pharaohs.

Abusir is an extensive necropolis from the old Kingdom close to the vicinity of modern Cairo. Found several kilometers north of Saqqara, it severed as one of the main elite cemeteries for the ancient capital city of Memphis. Find out more

7 : Archaeologists discover 6000-year-old ‘halls of the dead’ in UK

The remains of two large 6000-year-old halls, each buried within a prehistoric burial mound, have been discovered by archaeologists from The University of Manchester and Herefordshire Council – in a UK first. Find out more

8 : 14th Century burial ground discovered in central London

Archaeologists working on the UK’s largest infrastructure project, Crossrail, have discovered an historical burial ground in central London.

Thirteen skeletons have been uncovered lying in two carefully laid out rows on the edge of Charterhouse Square at Farringdon, and are believed to be up to 660 years old.

Historical records reference a burial ground in the Farringdon area that opened during the Black Death Plague in 1348. The limited written records suggest up to 50,000 people may have been buried in less than three years in the hastily established cemetery, with the burial ground used up until the 1500s. Find out more

9 : 1,500 Year Old Mosaic discovered At Kibbutz Bet Qama

A spectacular colorful mosaic dating to the Byzantine period (4th–6th centuries CE) was exposed in recent weeks in the fields of Kibbutz Bet Qama, in the B’nei Shimon regional council.

The mosaic was discovered within the framework of an archaeological excavation the Israel Antiquities Authority is carrying out prior to the construction of an interchange between Ma’ahaz and Devira Junction, undertaken and funded by the Cross-Israel Highway Company. Find out more

10 : Archaeologists unearth more than 300 prehistoric clay figurines in Greece.

Archaeologists from the University of Southampton studying a Neolithic archaeological site in central Greece have helped unearth over 300 clay figurines, one of the highest density for such finds in south-eastern Europe. Find out more


Categories: General

World’s oldest communal dinosaur toilet

Sun, 2013-12-29 20:03
Fossils can tell us lots about animals – their size, age or sex, which is mostly physical characteristics. Evidence about how they may have behaved is rare.

But the 240m-year-old fossil dung that I found, along with my colleagues, in Argentina gave us some of those rare insights into the behaviour of a long-extinct animal. Simply put, we unearthed what are the oldest-known communal toilets used by animals.

The fossils were found in northwestern Argentina, at a site which has some of the best-preserved fossils from the Middle to Late Triassic period (about 240m years ago). This time interval witnessed the origins and early evolution of numerous important vertebrate groups, including dinosaurs, lizards, turtles and mammals.

Coprolites, or fossilised dung. Credit: Martin Ezcurra


During our fieldwork here in 2011, we found eight sites full of fossil dung. The discovered fossil dung, known scientifically as coprolites, are whitish grey to dark grey, spiral to sausage-like in shape, and their diameter ranges from 0.5 to 35 centimeters

Fossil dung is quite common in the geological record, but it don’t always tell us much. This time, however, it was different. The sheer number of coprolites (more than 30,000) in the most abundant areas could not have been produced by one individual, but we needed more data to be sure.

Using CT scans, we looked inside the coprolites to identify the last meals the animals may have had before defecating. It was mostly plant remains, which meant the animal was herbivorous. The content plants pointed to a group of animals called dicynodonts, which are distant relatives of mammals. The presence of hundreds of bones of dicynodonts preserved in rocks nearby allowed us to narrow the identification to a single species, Dinodontosaurus turpior, which were rhino-like creatures weighing more than three tonnes and with skulls with a pair of large tusks.

Knowing the herbivorous nature of these animals, and given the lack of any rivers around, which could have transported the coprolites to one area, we concluded that the area was used as a communal toilet. This defecation behaviour is present in several large living herbivores, such as rhinos and elephants. It plays a role in communication with members of the same species and with other species, as well as in prevention of parasite re-infestation.

The find is exciting because it is the oldest record of this behaviour in the fossil record, and it is the first evidence of communal toilets in non-mammal herbivores.

We reported the findings in the journal Scientific Reports, but we’re not done with the dung yet. It can tell us about how seasonal variations caused changes in the food these animals ate. It is important that we learn more about the flora and fauna from this period, because it will help reveal how immediately after this period dinosaurs came to dominate our planet for 160m years.

Header Image : Dinodontosaurus : WikiPedia

Contributing Source : The Conversation



Categories: General