Ancient Roman coins dating to the 3rd century have been found in Iceland, but it is unknown whether they were brought there at that time or came later with Viking settlers, having circulated as currency already for centuries.
Campaigners hoping to prevent the export of the historic clipper ship City of Adelaide have obtained advice from leading QC Richard Harwood, that the export of the ship to Dordrecht in the Netherlands was “unlawful” and her onward export to Australia would be equally unlawful unless the UK Authorities grant an EU Export licence.
HeritageDaily can also reveal that Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey at the Department of Culture Media and Sport [DCMS], Arts Council England [ACE] which administers export licences for cultural items such as museum artefacts, and National Historic Ships UK which administers the UK Historic Fleet of nationally important ships, were warned in writing that the Open General Export Licence obtained by the City of Adelaide’s owners was almost certainly not lawful before the vessel left the UK in October 2013, but they declined to act.
All three organisations have in the past maintained that the process leading to the sale of the ship to an Australian group, Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Ltd [CSCoAL], and her subsequent export was properly conducted, but they have never quoted specific legal advice that this is the case.
Mr Harwood’s opinion was obtained as part of a last minute effort to prevent the export of the City of Adelaide to her name city in South Australia which is due to continue in the next few days with the City of Adelaide, the World’s oldest surviving Clipper, scheduled to be piggy backed on board the heavy lift cargo vessel MV Palanpur. Mr Harwood’s argues that the export licence is unlawful because there is a strong case that the City of Adelaide should be treated as a Listed Monument because she was a Class A Historic Building [Scotland] and that in any case her value was not properly calculated for export licence purposes and far exceeds the threshold value of £43,484 required to trigger the process for an Individual Export Licence. As a result he concludes…
” . … an EU licence is required to export it [the City of Adelaide] from the European Union and an individual application for a UK licence was required to export it to Holland. The Dutch authorities should only permit its export if an EU licence is granted. As the ship was unlawfully exported to the Netherlands that licence can only be granted by the UK authorities.”
Of course, it is important to stress that in legal terms “unlawful” does not mean any individual or entity has acted with deliberate illegality. Even if the export of the ship is unlawful Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Limited, their agent arranging the export licence, or another party to the process such as the DCMS or ACE, may have made a genuine mistake in good faith and there is no evidence of any deliberate attempt to circumvent the export licence process.
That said, and even allowing that everyone agrees the engineering expertise deployed by CSCoAL Ltd and its contractors has been impressive, it is clear that there are serious questions to be asked about the apparently shambolic licensing process overseen by Heritage Minister Vaizey. Added to which there is a growing sense of confusion surrounding the future of the ship even if she does reach Australia.“…the Australian Government will not provide any further funding…”
The export of the City of Adelaide to her name city was meant to secure the ship’s future after the failure of the UK Historic Ships community to fund her conservation over more than twenty years in spite of her national importance. However, the whole basis of that calculation is now in question, because the controversy over the validity of the Export Licence and the probably unlawful nature of the initial export of the City of Adelaide to the Netherlands, comes on top of a series of blows to the financial credibility of the Australian project.
In October 2013, as the ship was lying at Greenwich prior to a renaming ceremony attended by HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, State and Federal Authorities in Australia stated publicly that once a grant to help bring the ship to Australia was confirmed, no further funds will be made available for the City of Adelaide under any circumstances and the ship’s Australian owners, CSCoAL Ltd, are not even allowed to apply for further State or Federal funding.
This is of considerable importance for the long term viability of the project as it is well known that conservation projects for historic ships are ferociously expensive, with the analogous Cutty Sark Project at Greenwich being budgeted at £25 million even before the fire which destroyed much of the fabric of the ship and doubled the cost of the project.
In spite of the UK Authorities including Historic Scotland claiming that CSCoAL had met a series of criteria put in place to ensure the future conservation of the ship, it is argued by some that the Australian business plan is fragile and depends on what are argued to be over optimistic projections for private fund raising which are already unravelling.
The reasoning behind this view was apparently reinforced when on 17 October 2013, the incoming Australian Government agreed to pay the $A850,000 to subsidise the transport of the ship to Australia pledged by their predecessors, but only under stringent conditions which deny all future responsibility for the ship once it arrives in Australia…
“The Australian Government’s offer of funding is subject to Clipper Ship “City of Adelaide”
“Limited’s acceptance that the Australian Government will not provide any further funding to either the Clipper Ship “City of Adelaide” Limited or the historic vessel City of Adelaide and that neither will further funding be sought.”
This announcement echoed a similar announcement by Fred Hansen, Chief Executive of renewal South Australia who said…
“Access to the site was provided on the basis that there is no additional cost to taxpayers for developing the facility or refurbishing and maintaining the vessel.”
Research by Andy Brockman, working with the UK Campaigners from SOS City of Adelaide, a consortium of concerned heritage groups including two organisations from the ship’s home port of Sunderland where the City of Adelaide was built in 1864, the Jack Crawford Trust [JCT] and the Sunderland City of Adelaide Rescue Fund [SCARF], suggests this apparently less than ringing endorsement of the project highlights what appears to be an almost complete lack of support for the City of Adelaide project among maritime heritage professionals, museums and government agencies in Australia. All of which suggests the UK campaigners may be right when they allege there is a significant risk that the ship could simply be left to rot if the CSCoAL Ltd Project were to fail to reach its financial targets and so should never have been sold to the Australians in the first place.“…it looks like it will now just lay derelict in an area no one will visit,”
Adding to the sense of improvisation and uncertainty which surrounds the CSCoAL project is further controversy in Australia over the site allocated to the ship at Largs, over five kilometres from the site in the centre of the new Port Adelaide Development which CSCoAL wanted. CSCoAL gave the gifting of “the backwaters” Largs North site a muted welcome, with Director Peter Christopher telling the Adelaide Messenger that he was disappointed.
“Our group would have preferred a site in central Port Adelaide but we are also appreciative of the fact we’ve been given this land,” Christopher continued “We have accepted the site from Renewal SA but if another or better site became available before the ship’s arrival, we would explore other options.
“If the council had any other prime land available in the Port that they are able to give to us, we would explore that option.”
However, Councillor Bruce Johanson was more outspoken when he told “the Australian”…
“So much money has been spent getting the City of Adelaide to Port Adelaide and it was meant to be a big attraction for the area, but instead it looks like it will now just lay derelict in an area no one will visit,”
Another local politician, Port Adelaide Enfield Mayor Gary Johanson said the government “needed to go back to the drawing board” adding “Putting the ship down at Largs North will do nothing for the Port”.
HeritageDaily understands that these issues were laid before the UK Authorities, including the DCMS and National Historic Ships UK, before the ship left UK jurisdiction in October, but they felt it unnecessary to intervene to delay the export of the ship until the issue of an appropriate permanent site for the vessel was resolved.
At the time of writing, the Dutch Authorities have confirmed that they require a request from the UK in order to act in the matter of the Export Licence – EU Directives allow for the return of improperly exported cultural material – however it is understood that no such request has been received from London.
The Dutch have also confirmed that the UK Authorities have told them that they do not regard the City of Adelaide as a “historic treasure” in the UK; a designation which would allow the Dutch to intervene to stay the export. The UK campaigners are baffled by this stance pointing out that if the City of Adelaide has no historic importance why was she listed as a Class A Historic Building in Scotland and subsequently placed on the Scottish Buildings at Risk register; why was she a member of the UK Historic Fleet, maintained on behalf of the Government by National Historic Ships UK, based in Greenwich, home of the Cutty Sark and why would campaigners in the UK and Australia want her in the first place?
Meanwhile in Scotland, where until the sale to the Australian group the City of Adelaide formed part of the collection of the Scottish Maritime Museum at Irvine, the grant of £750,000 given to Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Ltd by Scottish Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, is currently under investigation by Audit Scotland following complaints that the grant was made inappropriately and without due diligence.
The campaigners also point out that taking into account the grant of £500,000 given to save the ship in 1992 and the controversial grant given by SNP Culture Minister Hyslop, the UK Heritage establishment has spent a minimum of £1,250,000 in order that CSCoAL can export one of the UK’s most important historic ships at the reported cost for the ship of just £1. To this can be added the Australian Government grant of $A850,000 to assist in the transport of the ship to Australia. All in all this represents a level of public subsidy most UK heritage projects can only dream of and it is a lot to pay for what is effectively a pile of firewood on a frame of scrap iron of no historical value as the UK Authorities maintain.
If Mr Harwood is correct and the export of the City of Adelaide is indeed unlawful there is also a wider issue at stake which affects the entire heritage community. Any unlawful export in this field creates a dangerous precedent potentially enabling unscrupulous would be exporters to circumvent certain export regulations designed to prevent the inappropriate trade in heritage and cultural items. In this case the export of the ship exposes a mechanism whereby the owner of an artefact can override listed status and other designations of historic importance which are supposed to prevent such exports without individual scrutiny by assigning an artificially low financial value to the item and redefining its historic importance.
Both Heritage Minister Ed Vaizey, and Arts Council England were supplied with Mr Harwood’s legal opinion and asked to comment. Heritage Daily also understands the DCMS and other UK bodies have also been asked to intervene to prevent the onward export of the City of Adelaide to Australia from the Netherlands until the issue of the Export Licence is clarified. Thus far the DCMS has declined to comment. However a spokesperson for Arts Council England told Heritage Daily “We take all such concerns seriously, and these have been passed to senior officers in the Export Licensing Unit who will be meeting to discuss this matter in due course.”
Clipper Ship City of Adelaide Ltd was also approached for a comment, but they too have so far declined to do so.
Header Image : Farewell City of Adelaide in the Thames at Greenwich Ocober 2013 copyright Andy BrockmanWritten by Andy Brockman
Rain as acidic as undiluted lemon juice may have played a part in killing off plants and organisms around the world during the most severe mass extinction in Earth’s history.
About 252 million years ago, the end of the Permian period brought about a worldwide collapse known as the Great Dying, during which a vast majority of species went extinct.
The cause of such a massive extinction is a matter of scientific debate, centering on several potential causes, including an asteroid collision, similar to what likely killed off the dinosaurs 186 million years later; a gradual, global loss of oxygen in the oceans; and a cascade of environmental events triggered by massive volcanic eruptions in a region known today as the Siberian Traps.
Now scientists at MIT and elsewhere have simulated this last possibility, creating global climate models of scenarios in which repeated bursts of volcanism spew gases, including sulfur, into the atmosphere. From their simulations, they found that sulfur emissions were significant enough to create widespread acid rain throughout the Northern Hemisphere, with pH levels reaching 2 — as acidic as undiluted lemon juice. They say such acidity may have been sufficient to disfigure plants and stunt their growth, contributing to their ultimate extinction.
“Imagine you’re a plant that’s growing happily in the latest Permian,” says Benjamin Black, a postdoc in MIT’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences. “It’s been getting hotter and hotter, but perhaps your species has had time to adjust to that. But then quite suddenly, over the course of a few months, the rain begins to sizzle with sulfuric acid. It would be quite a shock if you were that plant.”
Black is lead author of a paper reporting the group’s results, which appears in the journalGeology. Co-authors include Jean-François Lamarque, Christine Shields, and Jeffrey Kiehl from the National Center for Atmospheric Research and Linda Elkins-Tanton of the Carnegie Institution for Science.
Lemon juice spike
Geologists who have examined the rock record in Siberia have observed evidence of immense volcanism that came in short bursts beginning near the end of the Permian period and continuing for another million years. The volume of magma totaled several million cubic kilometers — enough to completely blanket the continental United States. This boiling stew of magma likely released carbon dioxide and other gases into the atmosphere, leading to gradual but powerful global warming.
The eruptions may also have released large clouds of sulfur, which ultimately returned to Earth’s surface as acid rain. Black, who has spent several summers in Siberia collecting samples to measure sulfur and other chemicals preserved in igneous rocks, used these measurements, along with other evidence, to develop simulations of magmatic activity in the end-Permian world.
The group simulated 27 scenarios, each approximating the release of gases from a plausible volcanic episode, including medium eruptions, large eruptions, and magma erupted through explosive pipes in the Earth’s crust. The researchers included a wide range of gases in their simulations, based on estimates from chemical analyses and thermal modeling. They then tracked water in the atmosphere, and the interactions among various gases and aerosols, to calculate the pH of rain.
The results showed that both carbon dioxide and volcanic sulfur could have significantly affected the acidity of rain at the end of the Permian. Levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases may have risen rapidly at the time, in part because of Siberian volcanism. According to their simulations, the researchers found that this elevated carbon dioxide could have increased rain’s acidity by an order of magnitude.
Adding sulfur emissions to the mix, they found that acidity further spiked to a pH of 2 — as acidic as undiluted lemon juice — and that such acidic rain may have fallen over most of the Northern Hemisphere. After an eruption ended, the researchers found that pH levels in rain bounced back, becoming less acidic within one year. However, with repeated bursts of volcanic activity, Black says the resulting swings in acid rain could have greatly stressed terrestrial species.
“Plants and animals wouldn’t have much time to adapt to these changes in the pH of rain,” Black says. “I think it certainly contributed to the environmental stress which was making it difficult for plants and animals to survive. At a certain point you have to ask, ‘How much can a plant take?’”
Life as an end-Permian organism
In addition to acid rain, the researchers modeled ozone depletion resulting from volcanic activity. While ozone depletion is more difficult to model than acid rain, their results suggest that a mix of gases released into the atmosphere may have destroyed 5 to 65 percent of the ozone layer, substantially increasing species’ exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The greatest ozone depletion occurred near the poles.
Cynthia Looy, an assistant professor in integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley, studies plant environments in the geologic past. Looy, who was not involved in the research, says Black’s findings confirm the theory that this mass extinction was likely caused not by one trigger, but by many.
“We often call this the ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ scenario,” Looy says. “Very often we look for one kill mechanism, but it’s probably everything together. The end-Permian is still a big puzzle for us, and what Ben has done is add really nice pieces to complete this puzzle.”
Going forward, Black hopes paleontologists and geochemists will consider the results as a point of comparison for their own observations of the end-Permian mass extinction. In the meantime, he says he now has a much more vivid picture of that catastrophic time.
“It’s not just one thing that was unpleasant,” Black says. “It’s this whole host of really nasty atmospheric and environmental effects. These results really made me feel sorry for end-Permian organisms.”
Contributing Source : Massachusetts Institute of Technology
But this assumes that the mineral species found on Earth today are much the same as they were during Earth’s first 550 million years—the Hadean Eon—when life emerged. A new analysis of Hadean mineralogy challenges that assumption. It is published in American Journal of Science.
Carnegie’s Robert Hazen compiled a list of every plausible mineral species on the Hadean Earth and concludes that no more than 420 different minerals—about 8 percent of the nearly 5,000 species found on Earth today—would have been present at or near Earth’s surface.
“This is a consequence of the limited ways that minerals might have formed prior to 4 billion years ago,” Hazen explained. “Most of the 420 minerals of the Hadean Eon formed from magma—molten rock that slowly crystallized at or near Earth’s surface—as well as the alteration of those minerals when exposed to hot water.”
By contrast, thousands of mineral species known today are the direct result of growth by living organisms, such as shells and bones, as well as life’s chemical byproducts, such as oxygen from photosynthesis. In addition, hundreds of other minerals that incorporate relatively rare elements such as lithium, beryllium, and molybdenum appear to have taken a billion years or more to first appear because it is difficult to concentrate these elements sufficiently to form new minerals. So those slow-forming minerals are also excluded from the time of life’s origins.
“Fortunately for most origin-of-life models, the most commonly invoked minerals were present on early Earth,” Hazen said.
For example, clay minerals—sometimes theorized by chemists to trigger interesting reactions—were certainly available. Sulfide minerals, including reactive iron and nickel varieties, were also widely available to catalyze organic reactions. However, borate and molybdate minerals, which are relatively rare even today, are unlikely to have occurred on the Hadean Earth and call into question origin models that rely on those mineral groups.
Several questions remain unanswered and offer opportunities for further study of the paleomineralogy of the Hadean Eon. For example, the Hadean Eon differs from today in the frequent large impacts of asteroids and comets—thousands of collisions by objects with diameters from a mile up to 100 miles. Such impacts would have caused massive disruption of Earth’s crust, with extensive fracture zones that were filled with hot circulating water. Such hydrothermal areas could have created complex zones with many exotic minerals.
This study also raises the question of how other planets and moons evolved mineralogically. Hazen suggests that Mars today may have progressed only as far as Earth’s Hadean Eon. As such, Mars may be limited to a similar suite of no more than about 400 different mineral species. Thanks to the Curiosity rover, we may soon know if that’s the case.
Header Image : The newly formed Hadean Earth experienced very high temperatures due to extreme volcanism and frequent collisions with other bodies, but eventually began to cool. WikiPedia
Contributing Source : Carnegie Institution
Mary Schweitzer, an NC State paleontologist with a joint appointment at the N. C. Museum of Natural Sciences, first announced the surprising preservation of soft tissues in a T. rex fossil in 2005. Her subsequent work identified proteins in the soft tissue that seemed to confirm that the tissue was indeed T. rex tissue that had been preserved for millions of years. But the findings remained controversial in part because no one understood the chemical processes behind such preservation.
Schweitzer’s latest research shows that the presence of hemoglobin – the iron-containing molecule that transports oxygen in red blood cells – may be the key to both preserving and concealing original ancient proteins within fossils. Her results appear in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
“Iron is necessary for survival, but it’s also highly reactive and destructive in living tissues, which is why our bodies have proteins that transport iron molecules to where they are needed but protect us from unwanted reactions at the same time,” Schweitzer says. “When we die, that protective mechanism breaks down and the iron is turned loose on our tissues – and that destructive process can act in much the same way formaldehyde does to preserve the tissues and proteins.”
Hemoglobin seems to be the key. Both birds and crocodiles, the dinosaur’s closest living relatives, have large, nucleated red blood cells. Therefore they also have more hemoglobin per cell than mammals. If dinosaur blood cells were similar to either one of those species, which seems likely, then their blood cells would also contain much more hemoglobin than human cells, amplifying iron’s preservative effect on the tissues. If the hemoglobin were contained in a bone in a sandstone environment, keeping it dry and insulated from microbes, preservation becomes more likely.
Schweitzer and her team noticed that iron particles are intimately associated with the soft tissues preserved in dinosaurs. But when they chelated – or removed the iron from – soft tissues taken from a T. rex and aBrachyolophosaurus, the chelated tissues reacted much more strongly to antibodies that detect the presence of protein, suggesting that the iron may be masking their presence in these preserved tissues. They then tested the preservation hypothesis by using blood vessels and cells taken from modern ostrich bone. They soaked some of these vessels in hemoglobin taken from red blood cells, while placing other vessels in water. Two years later, the hemoglobin-treated soft vessels remained intact, while those soaked in water degraded in less than a week.
“We know that iron is always present in large quantities when we find well-preserved fossils, and we have found original vascular tissues within the bones of these animals, which would be a very hemoglobin-rich environment after they died,” Schweitzer says. “We also know that iron hinders just about every technique we have to detect proteins. So iron looks like it may be both the mechanism for preservation and the reason why we’ve had problems finding and analyzing proteins that are preserved.”
Header Image : Albertosaurus : Wiki Commons
Contributing Source : North Carolina State University
Pioneering excavations within the sacred Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini, Nepal, a UNESCO World Heritage site long identified as the birthplace of the Buddha, uncovered the remains of a previously unknown sixth-century B.C. timber structure under a series of brick temples. Laid out on the same design as those above it, the timber structure contains an open space in the center that links to the nativity story of the Buddha himself.
Until now, the earliest archaeological evidence of Buddhist structures at Lumbini dated no earlier than the third century B.C., the time of the patronage of the Emperor Asoka, who promoted the spread of Buddhism from present-day Afghanistan to Bangladesh.
“Very little is known about the life of the Buddha, except through textual sources and oral tradition,” said archaeologist Professor Robin Coningham of Durham University, U.K., who co-led the investigation. Some scholars, he said, have maintained that the Buddha was born in the third century B.C. “We thought ‘why not go back to archaeology to try to answer some of the questions about his birth?’ Now, for the first time, we have an archaeological sequence at Lumbini that shows a building there as early as the sixth century B.C.”Early Buddhism revealed
The international team of archaeologists, led by Coningham and Kosh Prasad Acharya of the Pashupati Area Development Trust in Nepal, say the discovery contributes to a greater understanding of the early development of Buddhism as well as the spiritual importance of Lumbini. Their peer-reviewed findings are reported in the December 2013 issue of the international journal Antiquity. The research is partly supported by the National Geographic Society.
To determine the dates of the timber shrine and a previously unknown early brick structure above it, fragments of charcoal and grains of sand were tested using a combination of radiocarbon and optically stimulated luminescence techniques. Geoarchaeological research also confirmed the presence of ancient tree roots within the temple’s central void.
“UNESCO is very proud to be associated with this important discovery at one of the most holy places for one of the world’s oldest religions,” said UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova, who urged “more archaeological research, intensified conservation work and strengthened site management” to ensure Lumbini’s protection.
“These discoveries are very important to better understand the birthplace of the Buddha,” said Ram Kumar Shrestha, Nepal’s minister of culture, tourism and civil aviation. “The government of Nepal will spare no effort to preserve this significant site.”
Buddhist tradition records that Queen Maya Devi, the mother of the Buddha, gave birth to him while holding on to the branch of a tree within the Lumbini Garden, midway between the kingdoms of her husband and parents. Coningham and his colleagues postulate that the open space in the center of the most ancient, timber shrine may have accommodated a tree. Brick temples built later above the timber shrine also were arranged around the central space, which was unroofed.Four main Buddhist sites
Lumbini is one of the key sites associated with the life of the Buddha; others are Bodh Gaya, where he became a Buddha or enlightened one; Sarnath, where he first preached; and Kusinagara, where he passed away. At his passing at the age of 80, the Buddha is recorded as having recommended that all Buddhists visit “Lumbini.” The shrine was still popular in the middle of the first millennium A.D. and was recorded by Chinese pilgrims as having a shrine beside a tree.
The Maya Devi Temple at Lumbini remains a living shrine; the archaeologists worked alongside meditating monks, nuns and pilgrims.
In the scientific paper in Antiquity, the authors write: “The sequence (of archaeological remains) at Lumbini is a microcosm for the development of Buddhism from a localized cult to a global religion.”
Lost and overgrown in the jungles of Nepal in the medieval period, ancient Lumbini was rediscovered in 1896 and identified as the birthplace of the Buddha on account of the presence of a third-century B.C. sandstone pillar. The pillar, which still stands, bears an inscription documenting a visit by Emperor Asoka to the site of the Buddha’s birth as well as the site’s name — Lumbini.
Despite the rediscovery of the key Buddhist sites, their earliest levels were buried deep or destroyed by later construction, leaving evidence of the very earliest stages of Buddhism inaccessible to archaeological investigation, until now.
Half a billion people around the world are Buddhists, and many hundreds of thousands make a pilgrimage to Lumbini each year. The archaeological investigation there was funded by the government of Japan in partnership with the government of Nepal, under a UNESCO project aimed at strengthening the conservation and management of Lumbini. Along with the National Geographic Society, the research also was supported by Durham University and Stirling University.
Header Image : Maya Devi Temple. Credit : Taylorandayumi
Contributing Source : National Geographic Society
U-CAT’s locomotion principle is similar to sea turtles. Independently driven four flippers make the robot highly maneuverable; it can swim forward and backward, up and down and turn on spot in all directions. Maneuverability is a desirable feature when inspecting confined spaces such as shipwrecks. The robot carries an onboard camera and the video footage can be later used to reconstruct the underwater site.
“U-CAT is specifically designed to meet the end-user requirements. Conventional underwater robots use propellers for locomotion. Fin propulsors of U-CAT can drive the robot in all directions without disturbing water and beating up silt from the bottom, which would decrease visibility inside the shipwreck”, says Taavi Salumäe, the designer of the U-CAT concept and researcher in Centre for Biorobotics, Tallinn University of Technology.
“The so called biomimetic robots, robots based on animals and plants, is an increasing trend in robotics where we try to overcome the technological bottlenecks by looking at alternative technical solutions provided by nature ”, explains Prof. Maarja Kruusmaa, a Head of Centre for Biorobotics.
Underwater robots are nowadays mostly exploited in oil and gas industry and in defense. These robots are too big and also too expensive to be used for diving inside wrecks. Shipwrecks are currently explored by divers, but this is an expensive and time consuming procedure and often too dangerous for the divers to undertake. U-CAT is designed with the purpose of offering an affordable alternative to human divers.
U-CAT is part of an EU funded research project ARROWS, which is developing technologies to assist underwater archaeologists. The technologies of the ARROWS project will be tested in the Mediterranean Sea and in the Baltic Sea, two historically important but environmentally different regions of Europe. “In the ARROWS project, the U-CATs would work in cooperation with larger underwater robots and together with image recognition technologies for discovery, identification and reconstruction of underwater sites, would facilitate the work in all phases of an archaeological campaign”, says Dr. Sebastiano Tusa, an underwater archaeologist from Sicilian Regional Government.
In London Science Museum, the team will show the U-CAT robot as well as its interactive downscaled models u-CATs operating in an aquarium. Robot Safari is open for visitors from 28 November to 1 December.
Contributing Source : Tallinn University of Technology
Dr Helen Wickstead said the find was completely unexpected and had initially confused the team digging on the farmland. This is the sixth year of the project at Damerham, located about 15 miles from the iconic British monument Stonehenge, with four areas of a temple complex excavated during the summer. The surprise came in the largest of the openings, approximately 40 metres long, where careful extractions revealed a layer of uncharacteristic orange sand and clay. Typically the archaeological survey would involve mapping and cataloguing such finds as bone, pottery and tool-making waste fragments.
“The site at Damerham is on chalk land, so we don’t often find materials like this that capture and preserve the plant remains – pollen or phytoliths – from a specific time period,” Dr Wickstead explained. “The sink hole contained orange sand with a yellow and grey clay and we are very hopeful that, within this material, there will be evidence of plant life that will help us continue to piece together the puzzle of human habitation on this significant site.”
It was evident that prehistoric people living in the area had also come across the sink hole and excavated the material during their own construction work, Dr Wickstead said. A pile of matching waste material was also seen at one of the other mounds. “We didn’t expect to find this and suspect it would have surprised the original architects of the site too,” she said. “Moments of unexpected discovery could have had cultural significance for prehistoric people. The henge itself was a focus for rituals, life and death, so questions about the impact such a discovery would have had on their activity will be interesting to consider.”
The prehistoric temple complex at Damerham is unusual because of the number of structures that are focused in one area, Dr Wickstead added. “The diversity of burial architecture here is intriguing,” she said. “What is special about this place that meant generation after generation returned to the site to live, hunt, build and commemorate life?”
Various scientific techniques, including geophysical imaging which uses electrical currents to test the density of materials below the surface, were employed during the project. Kingston University MA Heritage student Jack Bartley joined Dr Wickstead on site to take part in the field walking survey.
“Once the field was clear of crops, we were able to walk across sections in search of items that will have been turned over by the plough,” Jack explained. “This is important because it helps researchers understand how people used the land by examining what they left behind. We’ve been using GPS satellite technology to measure the search zones systematically. It’s been great to be out in the field experiencing a real archaeological dig, especially since my dissertation is examining communities of interest, such as those involved in archaeology,” the 24 year old from Surbiton added.
Evidence of archaeological remains at Damerham was first detected in 2003 when English Heritage’s senior aerial survey investigator Martyn Barber spotted crop marks in a photograph. The different colours visible in the crops indicated that there were historical earthworks just beneath the soil and Dr Wickstead teamed up with Mr Barber to begin the long process of trying to find out more about the site.
“During the six years since we first opened the site, we’ve not only involved the local community but also brought together expertise from a range of specialists from geochemical analysts to artists, to make sure we make the most of the opportunity while we can,” Dr Wickstead explained. “Doing the dig is only a tiny portion of the work required to document these important sites, but it is the more urgent part because erosion by farming and other environmental factors will gradually diminish what’s there.”
Dr Wickstead, who is based in Kingston University’s Faculty of Art, Design and Architecture, suspects the Damerham site holds many more secrets about human life in the Neolithic period. Although excavations are expensive and rely on funding from a variety of organisations, she hopes her team has demonstrated how important it is to stage similar projects in the future.
“The clues to earlier human life are all around us in the landscape and I would love to return and undertake a larger-scale dig at Damerham,” Dr Wickstead said. “For now, the team will be examining and compiling the data already gathered and, as well as analysing the soil samples, plotting the artefacts and mapping the earthworks, we may also be able to undertake some gene sequencing on the bone fragments we found. All of this will help tell us more about how the people of this period lived and died in Damerham more than 6,000 years ago.”
Header Image : Dr Helen Wickstead, from London’s Kingston University, headed the team of archaeologists searching for evidence of Neolithic life in England.
Contributing Source : Kingston University
A research group at Bonn University and international collaborators discovered a novel receptor, which allows the immune system of modern humans to recognize dangerous invaders, and subsequently elicits an immune response. The blueprint for this advantageous structure was in addition identified in the genome of Neanderthals, hinting at its origin. The receptor provided these early humans with immunity against local diseases. The presence of this receptor in Europeans but its absence in early men suggests that it was inherited from Neanderthals. The results have been published in advance online in theJournal of Biological Chemistry. The printed edition is expected in a following issue.
When pathogens infect the human body, the immune system identifies and attacks dangerous invaders. During evolution, an efficient defence system developed, which vaguely resembles methods used by secret agents. With the help of certain genes, the human leukocyte antigen system (HLA) produces receptors that assess the risk rate of the pathogens using their profile which has just eight amino acids. “This function can be compared to a text which is identified by a spy as being suspicious, based on just a few letters of a word,” says Prof. Dr. Norbert Koch from the Institute for Genetics, Department of Immunobiology at the University of Bonn.
Immune System Scans the Amino Acids of the Pathogens
In order to decipher this message, the immune system breaks down the invaders proteins into peptides and subsequently scans a proportion of the peptides for their amino acid sequences. Up until now, a total of three different peptide receptors of more than 1000 different manifestations were known, which in humans can read the telltale letter combinations. “This variety is needed so that the immune system can rate the entire spectrum of pathogens relevant for humans,” explains Prof. Koch. A fourth receptor, or another “spy”, has now been found by an international team of scientists from the University of Düsseldorf, the Technical University of Munich, Jacobs University Bremen and Cambridge University under the leadership of the immunobiologists at the University of Bonn.
This receptor, which is abbreviated as “HLA-DRaDPb”, consists of the combination of subunits of already known receptors. Scientists compared the gene sequence, which encodes the discovered receptor, with data bases and determined that an estimated two-thirds of Europeans carry this important structure. Even Prof. Koch carries the blueprint for this “spy”, as one of his students found out by sequencing his DNA. Scientists were nonetheless surprised to learn that the gene sequence required for this receptor is rare in people in southern Africa, the region known as the cradle of mankind. “When early man, the ancestor of today’s humans, left Africa and migrated a few hundred thousand years ago to Europe, he did not yet have this receptor,” says Prof. Koch.
Modern Man Owes Receptor to Neanderthals
Prof. Dr. Svante Pääbo from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig played a leading role in 2010 in sequencing and presenting the Neanderthal genome. So, scientists examined whether Neanderthals as an example of early men had the key gene sequence which contains the blueprint for the receptor. Dr. Sebastian Temme, who conducted a major part of the experimental work, compiled, together with colleagues from Düsseldorf, the sequence of the Neanderthal genome, from small fragments obtained from the Neanderthal data base. “The identified Neanderthal gene sequence is almost identical with that of modern humans,” concludes Prof. Koch.
Neanderthals probably lived many hundreds of thousands of years in Europe during which time they developed the HLA receptor that provided them with immunity against many pathogens. This means that different to our ancestors from Africa, the Neanderthals which were resident in Europe, carried this receptor on their immune cells. That was a distinct evolutionary advantage,” says the immunobiologist from the University of Bonn, who presumes that we modern humans in Europe owe this advantageous receptor to the Neanderthals.
Contributing Source : University of Bonn
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.
“This is a hugely significant discovery — it’s a wine cellar that, to our knowledge, is largely unmatched in age and size,” says Eric Cline chair of the Department of Classical and Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations of at The George Washington University. Cline and Assaf Yasur-Landau, chair of the Department of Maritime Civilizations at the University of Haifa, co-directed the excavation. Andrew Koh, assistant professor of classical studies at Brandeis University, was an associate director.
The team’s findings will be presented this Friday in Baltimore at the annual meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research.
Koh, an archaeological scientist, analyzed the jar fragments using organic residue analysis. He found molecular traces of tartaric and syringic acid, both key components in wine, as well as compounds suggesting ingredients popular in ancient wine-making, including honey, mint, cinnamon bark, juniper berries and resins. The recipe is similar to medicinal wines used in ancient Egypt for two thousand years.
Koh also analyzed the proportions of each diagnostic compound and discovered remarkable consistency between jars.
“This wasn’t moonshine that someone was brewing in their basement, eyeballing the measurements,” Koh notes. “This wine’s recipe was strictly followed in each and every jar.”
Important guests drank this wine, notes Yasur-Landau.
“The wine cellar was located near a hall where banquets took place, a place where the Kabri elite and possibly foreign guests consumed goat meat and wine,” he says.
At the end of the season, the team discovered two doors leading out of the wine cellar—one to the south, and one to the west. Both probably lead to additional storage rooms. They’ll have to wait until 2015 to find out for sure.
Header Image : Tel Kabri
Contributing Source : Brandeis University
This newly discovered species, Siats meekerorum, (pronounced see-atch) was the apex predator of its time, and kept tyrannosaurs from assuming top predator roles for millions of years.
Named after a cannibalistic man-eating monster from Ute tribal legend, Siats is a species of carcharodontosaur, a group of giant meat-eaters that includes some of the largest predatory dinosaurs ever discovered. The only other carcharodontosaur known from North America is Acrocanthosaurus, which roamed eastern North America more than 10 million years earlier. Siats is only the second carcharodontosaur ever discovered in North America;Acrocanthosaurus, discovered in 1950, was the first.
“It’s been 63 years since a predator of this size has been named from North America,” says Lindsay Zanno, a North Carolina State University paleontologist with a joint appointment at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, and lead author of a Nature Communications paper describing the find. “You can’t imagine how thrilled we were to see the bones of this behemoth poking out of the hillside.”
Zanno and colleague Peter Makovicky, from Chicago’s Field Museum of Natural History, discovered the partial skeleton of the new predator in Utah’s Cedar Mountain Formation in 2008. The species name acknowledges the Meeker family for its support of early career paleontologists at the Field Museum, including Zanno.
The recovered specimen belonged to an individual that would have been more than 30 feet long and weighed at least four tons. Despite its giant size, these bones are from a juvenile. Zanno and Makovicky theorize that an adult Siats might have reached the size of Acrocanthosaurus, meaning the two species vie for the second largest predator ever discovered in North America. Tyrannosaurus rex, which holds first place, came along 30 million years later and weighed in at more than twice that amount.
Although Siats and Acrocanthosaurus are both carcharodontosaurs, they belong to different sub-groups. Siats is a member of Neovenatoridae, a more slender-bodied group of carcharodontosaurs. Neovenatorids have been found in Europe, South America, China, Japan and Australia. However, this is the first time a neovenatorid has ever been found in North America.
Siats terrorized what is now Utah during the Late Cretaceous period (100 million years ago to 66 million years ago). It was previously unknown who the top meat-eater was in North America during this period. “Carcharodontosaurs reigned for much longer in North America than we expected,” says Zanno. In fact,Siats fills a gap of more than 30 million years in the fossil record, during which time the top predator role changed hands from carcharodontosaurs in the Early Cretaceous to tyrannosaurs in the Late Cretaceous.
The lack of fossils left paleontologists unsure about when this change happened and if tyrannosaurs outcompeted carcharodontosaurs, or were simply able to assume apex predator roles following carcharodontosaur extinction. It is now clear that Siats‘ large size would have prevented smaller tyrannosaurs from taking their place atop the food chain.
“The huge size difference certainly suggests that tyrannosaurs were held in check by carcharodontosaurs, and only evolved into enormous apex predators after the carcharodontosaurs disappeared,” says Makovicky. Zanno adds, “Contemporary tyrannosaurs would have been no more than a nuisance to Siats, like jackals at a lion kill. It wasn’t until carcharodontosaurs bowed out that the stage could be set for the evolution of T. rex.”
At the time Siats reigned, the landscape was lush, with abundant vegetation and water supporting a variety of plant-eating dinosaurs, turtles, crocodiles, and giant lungfish. Other predators inhabited this ecosystem, including early tyrannosaurs and several species of other feathered dinosaurs that have yet to be described by the team. “We have made more exciting discoveries including two new species of dinosaur,” Makovicky says.
“Stay tuned,” adds Zanno. “There are a lot more cool critters where Siatscame from.”
Contributing Source : North Carolina State University
It was arguably the best equipped species of human to tackle the harsh environmental conditions of most of west Eurasia for nearly 400,000 years. It used the Mousterian stone tool industry to cope with the tundra conditions. This technocomplex is made up of flakes, for the most part, produced using a technique called Levallois. This used the structure of stone to its advantage to produce a near symmetrical flakes, usually large a bulky.
It got its name from the Parisienne suburb of Lavallois-Perret, where a lot of these flakes were found in the 19th century. This a prepared core technology, involving the knapping of flakes around the core and the creation of a key striking platform, which, when struck will produce a flake with a noticeable plano-convex profile. Retouch can then be conducted on the newly created flake. Levallois can be found throughout Europe and in the Levant. Initial hypotheses pointed to this technocomplex being associated with a group of humans, a culture. This however has not been supported by the evidence and such a hypothesis has been laid to rest since the early 1990’s.
Palaeoanthropology and prehistoric archaeology are ever changing fields, quite dynamic, evident in the hypotheses that come and go in light of new research. The latest paper on the Levallois technocomplex aimed to date the stratigraphic layer in which the stone tools were found. The dating technique used, optically stimulated luminescence or OSL, for short, examines the wavelength of light given off by the defects within the lattice structure of the rock being tested.
Basically, the number of electrons determines the wavelength of light, so for example the sodium has 11 electrons contained within three shells. The exciting stuff begins here. Using green, blue or infrared lighting, the electrons are excited (photoexcitation), resulting in the emission of light. This light is detected by the machine and calculated to determine the age of the rock.
Take a flint flake, it is knapped and is eventually discarded on a campsite fire. Over thousands of years burial runs its course, until palaeoanthropologists or geologists find it. Care must be taken to seal the artefact in appropriate opaque bags to prevent sun radiation from interfering with the electrons in the mineral structure. What we are dating here is the last time the mineral was exposed to 400o of heat and in order to do that we need to assess the extent of radiation damage within the structure. The rock absorbs the radiation and throughout its burial, the radioactive materials within damage the rock, leaving unstable electrons and it is these that are excited. The stronger the signal the older the rock.
There are some major problems with this and one rather massive problem is assumption. Not something you particularly want in scientific analysis, but when there is little else to date more difficult archaeological sites, we use what we can. We assume the mineral has been exposed to enough sun radiation. If there is not enough exposure of the stone tool to adequate sunlight, the clock is not reset and we would be dating the previous time it was exposed to large volumes of radiation. The Lake Mungo skeleton was dated using OSL. Enough, what about this new mousterian site?
We are in Nesher Ramla, Israel, an open-air site located in an interesting geological landscape, which has presented archaeologists with a rather special treasure trove of zooarchaeological and lithic deposits. The karstic landscape in which this site is situated, has numerous depressions characteristic of chemically eroded carbonate rocks. An 8m thick depression at the site revealed a collection of stone tools and animal remains. While the team of scientists say something about the lithics and their accompanying animal remains, the aim of the paper involves the need to firmly date the remains.
The bottom of the 8m sequence was dated to 170,000 years ago. If you are not well up on your prehistoric Levantine archaeology, that makes Nesher Ramla the oldest Middle Palaeolithic site in this part of the world. The site was occupied by Homo neanderthalensis for about 30,000 years on a regular basis, with the remaining 40,000 years seeing much less activity. How do we know this? Well, increase in the presence of artefacts, coupled with the manuport and bone concentration lends some support to such a hypothesis. So what can we say about the stone tools. Well quite a lot actually, thanks to the 81,000 strong assemblage recovered. As mentioned earlier there is more intensive activity the further back in time you go and this is evident from the intensity of lithics, increasing from 20 artefacts per 10 cm to 300 artefacts (in some places) per 10 cm.
The most common method of flaking at the site is Levallois, exhibiting short, squat flakes, unlike those laminar and longer Levallois flakes of other European sites. Retouch is a notable feature of the Nesher Ramla Flakes, with the odd discarded side scraper rejuvenated (reused) using retouching processes. Until the publication of this article there were no Levantine Mousterian sites with rejuvenation activities, making Homo neanderthalensis (if indeed it is that species that occupied Nesher in the later part of the sites history) more Homo sapien-like. As we reach the 100,000 year mark, the stone tool kit has changed remarkably (in the context of the small size of the assemblage), with an intensity of denticulates and irregularly retouched flakes.
The stone tools of trench three were analysed with a total assemblage number of 4224 artefacts in that one trench. More analysis has yet to be conducted and could reveal more about the nature of the Nesher Ramla assemblage. The manuports included ochre, small amounts of it, scattered throughout the sequence. This makes it the third Levantine site including the famous caves of Skhul and Qafzeh to possess ochre chunks. Little more can be said for these. The faunal remains tell us a great deal and appear to bust a few myths about the animals we might expect at cave sites or open-air sites. Let’s get into the myths, first. A Levantine cave will usually produce gazelles or deer, small ungulates in general. Open-air sites usually produce aurochs remains usually in small numbers. Nesher Ramla produce an unexpected and enormous amount of faunal remains (similar to the quantity you might expect at a cave site), but unsurprisingly dominated by Aurochs.
Based upon the unbutchered fauna, the complete bones, presence of Aurochs and the standard nature of the stone tool kit, the palaeoanthropologists suggest that the site was an initial processing site, where some consumption did take place. But the team wish to put this hypothesis through further testing. The site saw extensive activity over its 70,000 year use. For whatever reason it lost its importance about 100,000 years ago. The site is very intriguing and boasts a few interesting twists in our understanding of Levantine Middle Palaeolithic open-air sites. The site does not follow the norm as far as the faunal assemblage is concerned, the stone tools change over time in form, but did not follow the classic Levallois knapping technique of the Mousterian technocomplex, Nesher Ramla is the third site to possess ochre chunks and it is the oldest Levantine Middle Palaeolithic site known (provided you are happy with OSL Dating).
Header Image : Homo neanderthalensis : Wiki CommonsWritten by Charles T. G. Clarke
The researchers compared genetic data from fossils of Neanderthals and another group of ancient human ancestors called Denisovans to data from modern-day cancer patients. They found evidence of Neanderthal and Denisovan viruses in the modern human DNA, suggesting that the viruses originated in our common ancestors more than half a million years ago.
This latest finding, reported in Current Biology, will enable scientists to further investigate possible links between ancient viruses and modern diseases including HIV and cancer, and was supported by the Wellcome Trust and Medical Research Council (MRC).
Around 8% of human DNA is made up of ‘endogenous retroviruses’ (ERVs), DNA sequences from viruses which pass from generation to generation. This is part of the 90% of our DNA with no known function, sometimes called ‘junk’ DNA.
‘I wouldn’t write it off as “junk” just because we don’t know what it does yet,’ said Dr Gkikas Magiorkinis, an MRC Fellow at Oxford University’s Department of Zoology. ‘Under certain circumstances, two “junk” viruses can combine to cause disease – we’ve seen this many times in animals already. ERVs have been shown to cause cancer when activated by bacteria in mice with weakened immune systems.’
Dr Gkikas and colleagues are now looking to further investigate these ancient viruses, belonging to the HML2 family of viruses, for possible links with cancer and HIV.
‘How HIV patients respond to HML2 is related to how fast a patient will progress to AIDS, so there is clearly a connection there,’ said Dr Magiorkinis, co-author of the latest study. ‘HIV patients are also at much higher risk of developing cancer, for reasons that are poorly-understood. It is possible that some of the risk factors are genetic, and may be shared with HML2. They also become reactivated in cancer and HIV infection, so might prove useful as a therapy target in the future.’
The team are now investigating whether these ancient viruses affect a person’s risk of developing diseases such as cancer. Combining evolutionary theory and population genetics with cutting-edge genetic sequencing technology, they will test if these viruses are still active or cause disease in modern humans.
‘Using modern DNA sequencing of 300 patients, we should be able to see how widespread these viruses are in the modern population. We would expect viruses with no negative effects to have spread throughout most of the modern population, as there would be no evolutionary pressure against it. If we find that these viruses are less common than expected, this may indicate that the viruses have been inactivated by chance or that they increase mortality, for example through increased cancer risk,’ said Dr Robert Belshaw, formerly of Oxford University and now a lecturer at Plymouth University, who led the research.
‘Last year, this research wouldn’t have been possible. There were some huge technological breakthroughs made this summer, and I expect we’ll see even greater advances in 2014. Within the next 5 years, we should be able to say for sure whether these ancient viruses play a role in modern human diseases.’
Header Image : Neanderthal Skull (RIght) compared to a modern human skull – WikiPedia
Contributing Source : University of Oxford
Kelly Graf, assistant professor in the Center for the Study of First Americans and Department of Anthropology at Texas A&M, is part of an international team spearheaded by Eske Willerslev and Maanasa Raghaven from the Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark and additional researchers from Sweden, Russia, United Kingdom, University of Chicago and University of California-Berkeley. Their work, funded by the Danish National Science Foundation, Lundbeck Foundation, and the National Science Foundation, is published in the current issue of Nature magazine.
Graf and Willerslev conceived the project and traveled to the Hermitage State Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, where the remains are now housed to collect samples for ancient DNA. The skeleton was first discovered in the late 1920s near the village of Mal’ta in south-central Siberia, and since then it has been referred to as “the Mal’ta child” because until this DNA study the biological sex of the skeleton was unknown.
“Now we can say with confidence that this individual was a male” says Graf.
Graf helped extract DNA material from the boy’s upper arm and “the results surprised all of us quite a bit,” she explains.
“It shows he had close genetic ties to today’s Native Americans and some western Eurasians, specifically some groups living in central Asia, South Asia, and Europe. Also, he shared close genetic ties with other Ice-Age western Eurasians living in European Russia, Czech Republic and even Germany. We think these Ice-Age people were quite mobile and capable of maintaining a far-reaching gene pool that extended from central Siberia all the way west to central Europe.”
Another significant result of the study is that the Mal’ta boy’s people were also ancestors of Native Americans, explaining why some early Native American skeletons such as Kennewick Man were interpreted to have some European traits.
“Our study proves that Native Americans ancestors migrated to the Americas from Siberia and not directly from Europe as some have recently suggested,” Graf explains.
The DNA work performed on the boy is the oldest complete genome of a human sequenced so far, the study shows. Also found near the boy’s remains were flint tools, a beaded necklace and what appears to be pendant-like items, all apparently placed in the burial as grave goods.
The discovery raises new questions about the timing of human entry in Alaska and ultimately North America, a topic hotly debated in First Americans studies.
“Though our results cannot speak directly to this debate, they do indicate Native American ancestors could have been in Beringia—extreme northeastern Russia and Alaska—any time after 24,000 years ago and therefore could have colonized Alaska and the Americas much earlier than 14,500 years ago, the age suggested by the archaeological record.”
“What we need to do is continue searching for earlier sites and additional clues to piece together this very big puzzle.”
Header Image : Remains of 24,000 Year-Old Mal’ta Boy (photo courtesy of State Hermitage Museum in Russia)
Contributing Source : Texas A&M University
The connection between formal education and corporal punishment is a venerable and persistent one.
Although the UK abolished corporal punishment in state-run schools in 1987, the issue lingers on even now – with some still insisting schools would benefit from a return to ’the rule of the rod’.
At the other end of the timeline, beating features in surviving teaching materials from ancient Egypt and Assyria, and its commonness in Greece and Rome is attested by a string of sources.
New research looks further into classroom beating, and the reasons used to justify it, at the time when grammar schools and universities first began to appear as separate institutions.
Discipline and Violence in the Medieval Classroom is a research project led by Dr Ben Parsons, a Lecturer in Medieval and Early Modern Literature in the University’s School of English, and funded by an Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) fellowship.
The project examines writing from the Middle Ages and highlights historical debates on the use of corporal punishment – many of which are echoed in discussions to this day.
The project explains how the picture of “unremitting brutality” put forward by Renaissance writers such as Erasmus, Roger Ascham and Michel de Montaigne is not consistent with medieval accounts of school discipline.
Although they were certainly more aggressive than modern schools, medieval schools did not use discipline in arbitrary and unreasoned ways as suggested by these writers.
Instead, medieval writing suggests classroom punishments such as beating, flogging and whipping were carefully regimented – and were only meant to be used to aid learning.
Medieval scholars writers in the 12th to 14th centuries – such as Alexander of Neckam, Vincent of Beauvais and John Bromyard – put forward the idea that careful limits should be placed around beating.
Alexander of Neckam states “in truth the rod is withdrawn when things are done as required. Whips and scourges are put away, so that no form of censure might be excessive”.
In addition, the punishment should be proportional to the offence committed by the student and, as John Bromyard states, only “when the ugliness of the crime is great should the weight of the penalty inflicted be bitter”.
There were strict rules for when and how pupils should be beaten put forward by writers.
Vincent of Beauvais argued that beating should always be accompanied by a formal warning. In addition, the punishment should vary according to the character of the offender, and beating should always happen before an audience.
However, there was no fixed consensus about why beating was such an important part of teaching.Among the reasons given were:
- pain helped students memorise their mistakes
- beating could be used to mould the students’ bodies, just as teaching was used to mould their minds
- fear was “the origin of wisdom”
- beating could instil morality into the students
- teachers could use beating to assert control over the students – which teaches them to obey authority
Dr Ben Parsons said: “Why do schoolchildren need to be beaten? For much of the history of education, there has been a general acceptance that instruction should be accompanied by violence.
“The longstanding link between schooling and flogging is attested by a whole host of artefacts, from the whipping stools that survived in many early schools, to the Harrow Punishment Book, in which Edwardian schoolmasters assiduously recorded the punishments meted out to their charges.
“Even today the association persists. After the riots of August 2011, there were widespread calls to ‘bring back the strap’ or ‘return to a clip round the ear culture’, voiced by MPs and journalists alike.
“However, what these sources and statements fail to reveal is exactly why corporal punishment should make instruction more effective, and how exactly it assists in the acquisition of knowledge. It is the purpose of this research project to account for this strange association.
“Although their assumptions fall far outside the bounds of acceptability for us, the ways in which medieval writers treated corporal punishment is still very much to their credit.
“What is remarkable about these discussions is how methodically the subject was approached; even when in agreement that boys needed to be beaten, teachers did not take this responsibility lightly, but with a level of care and sensitivity that remains impressive.”
Dr Parsons will outline some of the findings from the research project so far in an upcoming paper titled “The Way of the Rod: the Functions of Beating in Late Medieval Pedagogy”, which is due to appear in the journal Modern Philology next year.Painful punishments
Classrooms in the Middle Ages may not have been as unremittingly brutal as stereotypes suggest – but punishments were still pretty fierce by modern standards.
Medieval schoolchildren would often have found themselves at the wrong end of these painful items:
- The lash (scutica)
- The palmer (palmatoria)
- The birch (virgas or scopa)
- The rod (ferula or virga)
Header Image : A typically frenzied Renaissance depiction of a birching – Hans Holbein’s image of the ‘tyranny of schoolmasters’, from his illustrations for Erasmus’ Praise of Folly, c.1515.
Contributing Source : University of Leicester
Fossils are often stored in plaster casts, or jackets, to protect them from damage. Getting information about a fossil typically requires the removal of the plaster and all the sediment surrounding it, which can lead to loss of material or even destruction of the fossil itself.
German researchers studied the feasibility of using CT and 3-D printers to nondestructively separate fossilized bone from its surrounding sediment matrix and produce a 3-D print of the fossilized bone itself.
“The most important benefit of this method is that it is non-destructive, and the risk of harming the fossil is minimal,” said study author Ahi Sema Issever, M.D., from the Department of Radiology at Charité Campus Mitte in Berlin. “Also, it is not as time-consuming as conventional preparation.”
Dr. Issever and colleagues applied the method to an unidentified fossil from the Museum für Naturkunde, a major natural history museum in Berlin. The fossil and others like it were buried under rubble in the basement of the museum after a World War II bombing raid. Since then, museum staff members have had difficulty sorting and identifying some of the plaster jackets.
Researchers performed CT on the unidentified fossil with a 320-slice multi-detector system. The different attenuation, or absorption of radiation, through the bone compared with the surrounding matrix enabled clear depiction of a fossilized vertebral body.
After studying the CT scan and comparing it to old excavation drawings, the researchers were able to trace the fossil’s origin to the Halberstadt excavation, a major dig from 1910 to 1927 in a clay pit south of Halberstadt, Germany. In addition, the CT study provided valuable information about the condition and integrity of the fossil, showing multiple fractures and destruction of the front rim of the vertebral body.
Furthermore, the CT dataset helped the researchers build an accurate reconstruction of the fossil with selective laser sintering, a technology that uses a high-powered laser to fuse together materials to make a 3-D object.
Dr. Issever noted that the findings come at a time when advances in technology and cheaper availability of 3-D printers are making them more common as a tool for research. Digital models of the objects can be transferred rapidly among researchers, and endless numbers of exact copies may be produced and distributed, greatly advancing scientific exchange, Dr. Issever said. The technology also potentially enables a global interchange of unique fossils with museums, schools and other settings.
“The digital dataset and, ultimately, reproductions of the 3-D print may easily be shared, and other research facilities could thus gain valuable informational access to rare fossils, which otherwise would have been restricted,” Dr. Issever said. “Just like Gutenberg’s printing press opened the world of books to the public, digital datasets and 3-D prints of fossils may now be distributed more broadly, while protecting the original intact fossil.”
Header Image : 3D print next to the original unprepared and erroneously labeled plaster jacket.
Contributing Source : Radiological Society of North America
UCLA biologists reported last year on the evolution of 129 primate faces in species from Central and South America. This research team now reports on the faces of 139 Old World African and Asian primate species that have been diversifying over some 25 million years.
With these Old World monkeys and apes, the species that are more social have more complex facial patterns, the biologists found. Species that have smaller group sizes tend to have simpler faces with fewer colors, perhaps because the presence of more color patches in the face results in greater potential for facial variation across individuals within species. This variation could aid in identification, which may be a more difficult task in larger groups.
Species that live in the same habitat with other closely related species tend to have more complex facial patterns, suggesting that complex faces may also aid in species recognition, the life scientists found.
“Humans are crazy for Facebook, but our research suggests that primates have been relying on the face to tell friends from competitors for the last 50 million years and that social pressures have guided the evolution of the enormous diversity of faces we see across the group today,” said Michael Alfaro, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology in the UCLA College of Letters and Science and senior author of the study.
“Faces are really important to how monkeys and apes can tell one another apart,” he said. “We think the color patterns have to do both with the importance of telling individuals of your own species apart from closely related species and for social communication among members of the same species.”
Most Old World monkeys and apes are social, and some species, like the mandrills, can live in groups with up to 800 members, said co-author Jessica Lynch Alfaro, an adjunct assistant professor in the UCLA Department of Anthropology and UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics. At the other extreme are solitary species, like the orangutans. In most orangutan populations, adult males travel and sleep alone, and females are accompanied only by their young, she said. Some primates, like chimpanzees, have “fission–fusion societies,” where they break up into small sub-groups and come together occasionally in very large communities. Others, like the hamadryas baboons, have tiered societies with harems, clans, bands and troops, she said.
“Our research suggests increasing group size puts more pressure on the evolution of coloration across different sub-regions of the face,” Michael Alfaro said.
This allows members of a species to have “more communication avenues, a greater repertoire of facial vocabulary, which is advantageous if you’re interacting with many members of your species,” he said.
The research, federally funded by the National Science Foundation and supported through a postdoctoral fellowship from the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, was published Nov. 11 in the journal Nature Communications.
Lead study author Sharlene Santana used photographs of primate faces for her analysis and devised a new method to quantify the complex patterns of primate faces. She divided each face into several regions; classified the color of each part of the face, including the hair and skin; and assigned a score based on the total number of different colors across the facial regions. This numerical score is called the “facial complexity” score. The life scientists then studied how the complexity scores of primate faces were related to primates’ social systems.
The habitat where species live presents many potential pressures that could have influenced the evolution of facial coloration. To assess how facial colors are related to physical environments, the researchers analyzed environmental variables such as geographic location, canopy density, rainfall and temperature. They also used statistical methods that took into account the evolutionary history and relationships among the primate groups to better understand the evolution of facial diversity and complexity.
While facial complexity was related to social variables, such as group size and the number of closely related species in the same habitat, facial pigmentation was best explained by ecological and spatial factors. Where a species lives is a good predictor of its degree of facial pigmentation — how light or dark the face is.
“Our map shows clearly the geographic trend in Africa of primate faces getting darker nearer to the equator and lighter as we move farther away from the equator,” Lynch Alfaro said. “This is the same trend we see on an intra-species level for human skin pigmentation around the globe.”
Species living in more tropical and more densely forested habitats also tend to have darker, more pigmented faces. But the complexity of facial color patterns is not related to habitat type.
“We found that for African primates, faces tend to be light or dark depending on how open or closed the habitat is and on how much light the habitat receives,” Alfaro said. “We also found that no matter where you live, if your species has a large social group, then your face tends to be more complex. It will tend to be darker and more complex if you’re in a closed habitat in a large social group, and it will tend to be lighter and more complex if you’re in an open habitat with a large social group. Darkness or lightness is explained by geography and habitat type. Facial complexity is better explained by the size of your social group.”
In their research on primates from Central and South America published last year, the scientists were surprised to find a different pattern. For these primates, species that lived in larger groups had more plain facial patterns.
“We expected to find similar trends across all primate radiations — that is, that the faces of highly social species would have more complex patterning,” said Santana, who conducted the research as a postdoctoral fellow with the UCLA Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology and UCLA’s Institute for Society and Genetics and who is now an assistant professor at the University of Washington and curator of mammals at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture. “We were surprised by the results in our original study on neotropical (Central and South American) primates.”
In the new study, they did find the predicted trends, but they also found differences across primate groups — differences they said they found intriguing. Are primate groups using their faces differently?
“In the present study, great apes had significantly lower facial complexity compared to monkeys,” Lynch Alfaro said. “This may be because apes are using their faces for highly complex facial expressions and these expressions would be obscured by more complex facial color patterns. There may be competing pressures for and against facial pattern complexity in large groups, and different lineages may solve this problem in different ways.”
“Our research shows that being more or less social is a key explanation for the facial diversity that we see,” Alfaro said. “Ecology is also important, such as camouflage and thermal regulation, but our research suggests that faces have evolved along with the diversity of social behaviors in primates, and that is the big cause of facial diversity.”
Alfaro and his colleagues serve as “evolutionary detectives,” asking what factors produced the patterns of species richness and diversity of traits.
“When evolutionary biologists see these striking patterns of richness, we want to understand the underlying causes,” he said.
Human faces were not part of the analysis, although humans also belong to the “clade Catarrhini, which includes Old World monkeys and apes.
Contributing Source : University of California – Los Angeles
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The results suggest that atmospheric oxygen was considerably lower in the Earth’s geological past than previously assumed. This new study questions some of the current theories about the evolution of climate and life, including the causes for the gigantism of dinosaurs.
Scientists encounter big challenges when reconstructing atmospheric compositions in the Earth’s geological past because of the lack of useable sample material. One of the few organic materials that may preserve reliable data of the Earth’s geological history over millions of years are fossil resins (e.g. amber). “Compared to other organic matter, amber has the advantage that it remains chemically and isotopically almost unchanged over long periods of geological time,” explains Ralf Tappert from the Institute of Mineralogy and Petrography at the University of Innsbruck. The mineralogist and his colleagues from the University of Alberta in Canada and universities in the USA and Spain have produced a comprehensive study of the chemical composition of the Earth’s atmosphere since the Triassic period. The study has been published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta. The interdisciplinary team, consisting of mineralogists, paleontologists and geochemists, use the preserving properties of plant resins, caused by polymerization, for their study. “During photosynthesis plants bind atmospheric carbon, whose isotopic composition is preserved in resins over millions of years, and from this, we can infer atmospheric oxygen concentrations,” explains Ralf Tappert. The information about oxygen concentration comes from the isotopic composition of carbon or rather from the ratio between the stable carbon isotopes 12C and 13C.Atmospheric oxygen between 10 and 15 percent
The research team analyzed a total of 538 amber samples from from well-known amber deposits worldwide, with the oldest samples being approximately 220 million years old and recovered from the Dolomites in Italy. The team also compared fossil amber with modern resins to test the validity of the data. The results of this comprehensive study suggest that atmospheric oxygen during most of the past 220 million years was considerably lower than today’s 21 percent. “We suggest numbers between 10 and 15 percent,” says Tappert. These oxygen concentrations are not only lower than today but also considerably lower than the majority of previous investigations propose for the same time period. For the Cretaceous period (65 – 145 million years ago), for example, up to 30 percent atmospheric oxygen has been suggested previously.Effects on climate and environment
The researchers also relate this low atmospheric oxygen to climatic developments in the Earth’s history. “We found that particularly low oxygen levels coincided with intervals of elevated global temperatures and high carbon dioxide concentrations,” explains Tappert. The mineralogist suggests that oxygen may influence carbon dioxide levels and, under certain circumstances, might even accelerate the influx of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. “Basically, we are dealing here with simple oxidation reactions that are amplified particularly during intervals of high temperatures such as during the Cretaceous period.” The researchers, thus, conclude that an increase in carbon dioxide levels caused by extremely strong vulcanism was accompanied by a decrease of atmospheric oxygen. This becomes particularly apparent when looking at the last 50 million years of geological history. Following the results of this study, the comparably low temperatures of the more recent past (i.e. the Ice Ages) may be attributed to the absence of large scale vulcanism events and an increase in atmospheric oxygen.Oxygen may not be the cause of gigantism
According to the results of the study, oxygen may indirectly influence the climate. This in turn may also affect the evolution of life on Earth. A well-known example are dinosaurs: Many theories about animal gigantism offer high levels of atmospheric oxygen as an explanation. Tappert now suggests to reconsider these theories: “We do not want to negate the influence of oxygen for the evolution of life in general with our study, but the gigantism of dinosaurs cannot be explained by those theories.” The research team highly recommends conducting further studies and intends to analyze even older plant resins.
Contributing Source : University of Innsbruck
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