Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Donkey, the Horse and the War ~ Fable Number 410

A donkey and a horse belonged to the same man, and each of them did his duty. The horse was granted many special privileges: he had plenty of food to eat, his flowing mane was braided and decorated, and his grooms washed him down with water each and every day. The donkey, on the other hand, was always bent down under the weight of the burden he had to carry. One day the horse’s owner mounted him and rode off into battle. In the clash of opposing forces, the horse was wounded on more than one occasion. When the donkey saw how the horse had been injured and degraded, he congratulated himself on his hard-working life of labor.

Moral: An impoverished life free from fear is much to be preferred to wealth and all its dangers.

A Week's Glimpse at Global Warming

Global warming is dramatically affecting  archaeology, as we could easily see in two Ancient Tides postings this past week. 

On the positive side, retreating glaciers in the Alps are revealing a number of artifacts previously encased in ice, indicating that Neolithic humans inhabited the high altitudes over 5,000 years ago in greater numbers than previously believed. The ensuing colder era drove them to the valleys, where archaeological evidence of their existence has been more accessible.

The flip side of the climate coin was obvious with investigations into ancient Scythian culture, where melting ice in the Altai Mountains of Mongolia is destroying tombs just below ground level and prompting at least one scientist to call out for “rescue archaeology.” Some of archaeology’s most significant recent finds have centered on Scythian mummies and artifacts preserved by permafrost for more than 4,000 years in the Siberian steppes.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Defensive Trench Indicates Larger Troy

Ruins at the presumed site of Troy.

Archaeologists have determined that the legendary city of Troy was considerably larger than earlier thought.

Ernst Pernicka, professor of Archeometry at the University of Tuebingen and who is in charge of excavation activity at the site, this week told German media that archaeologists recently discovered a defensive trench indicating a larger perimeter for the Bronze Age city.

Scholars earlier believed that Troy encompassed 66.7 acres. The trench, however, has prompted the revision to 86.5 acres (27 up to 35 hectares).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Warmer Climate Threatens Scythian Research

Archaeologists fear the warming of central Asia’s climate will endanger their research into the ancient Scythian culture. In recent years scientists have unearthed graves and recovered rare artifacts preserved by the region’s icy temperatures. The discoveries have greatly expanded the world’s knowledge of the people who ruled from Siberia to Egypt 3,000 years ago.

“Right now we’re facing a rescue archeology situation,” Parzinger says. “It’s hard to say how much longer these graves will be here.”

Geographer Frank Lehmkuhl of the University of Aachen in Germany noted, “According to our research, the glaciers are retreating and the lakes are rising. With no increase in the region’s rainfall, that change can only come from melting permafrost and glaciers.”

Ice has helped preserve a number of Scythian mummies in Mongolia’s Altai Mountains. Some of the best-preserved bodies were found in wooden underground chambers that were lined with felt blankets and wool carpets. The mummies—which had undergone a primitive form of embalming and then been frozen by the harsh climate—were clothed, displayed elaborate animal tattoos and were surrounded by weapons, ornaments and other relics.

The degree of preservation has been remarkable, with archaeologists learning much more about the Scythians, whom the Greek historian Herodotus described as murderous nomads. The Scythians had no written language and no real empire. Their origin and language remain unknown.

Nomads who spent almost all of their time on horseback—desiccated corpses of horses have been found in some of the Scythian tombs alongside human corpses—they are generally regarded as having been a bloodthirsty people, who for 1,000 years swept back and forth across the steppes, killing many and sparing only those they wished to keep as slaves.

Their women fought as warriors alongside the men, giving rise to speculation about a link between the Scythians and the legendary Amazons. A fierce confederation of Sarmatians eventually forced the Scythians into the Crimean peninsula, where by 300 AD their culture had dwindled and disappeared.

At top is ancient depiction of Scythians; middle photo shows opened Scythian tomb; gold warrior plaque was recovered from one of the Scythian burial tombs.

Click here for the Discover magazine article on the archaeological effort.
Click here for more about the Scythian culture and artifacts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Masked Female Mummy Discovered in Peru

Archaeologists in Lima, Peru, have unearthed a well-preserved 1,300-year-old female mummy. The woman was likely a noblewoman from the Wari culture, an Andean society that thrived between 600 and 1100 AD.

“It is an important find because we have found over the years several tombs that had been looted, but never one that was intact,” said archeologist Isabel Flores. She described the find as “a multiple tomb in which three funeral bundles were found – one with an impressive mask with the human characteristics of a woman.” 

The tomb was located in what is now a residential neighborhood of the capital city and was buried within an ancient pyramid called Huaca Pucllana. Other remains in the tomb are of two other adults and a child who may have been the victim of human sacrifice. The tomb also contained textiles and ceramics.

The mask has an aquiline nose, narrow lips, and large eyes with white irises and round black pupils. The Waris are known to have attached funeral masks to the mummies of noble women. Archaeologists who made the discovery refer to the mummy as “The Lady in the Mask.”

At top, the mummy rests in the tomb; at middle, the mask indicating she was a noblewoman; at bottom, archaeologists wrap the mummy for transport.

Click here for the AFP article.
Click here for the Reuters article.
Click here for the National Geographic 1-minute video.

Marcus Aurelius Statue Found in Turkish Ruins

Archaeologists working in the ancient Roman baths in Sagalassos, Turkey, this week unearthed a 15-foot statue of Marcus Aurelius. Two other large statues – one of the Roman emperor Hadrian and one of Faustina the Elder, wife of the emperor Pius – also have been found recently in the ruins of the Roman bath there.

Sagalassos is located high in the Toros mountains in southern Turkey. An earthquake destroyed it between 540 and 620 AD, knocking down the baths and filling the site with rubble. Archaeologists now believe the baths had several large statues running along the walls, indicating potentially more will be found.

So far, they’ve recovered the head, right arm and lower legs of the Marcus Aurelius statue. The head is three feet tall and features contemplative eyes and a ruffled beard. Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD and was a respected Stoic philosopher noted his wise governance.  

Click here for London Telegraph article.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Ancient Mayan Cloth Rivals Today's Weaving

Fabrics found in the tomb of an unknown Mayan queen who lived around 400 AD rival today’s fabrics in quality and complexity. The tomb was discovered nearly four years ago, and analysis of the fabric fragments has continued since then.

Some of the fabrics have thread counts of over 80 weft yarns per inch. “This is in the range of clothing that we wear,” said textile expert Margaret Ordonez of the University of Rhode Island, who has studied the cloth fragments. “This is a higher thread count than your jeans.”

“What’s surprising is that the fragments still exist,” she said. “We’re talking about a humid climate, and to have fragments of fabric exist in a tomb for that long is just amazing.”

The fabrics are made of cotton, grasses, leaves and tree bark. Some have retained hints of their hues, including a bright red made from cinnabar and a deep black, possibly created using iron. Some of the fragments have 25 layers of fabric stacked on top of each other.

It’s unknown how the Maya wove the fabrics, but Ordonez suspects it was with a backstrap loom, a device with one end tied to a tree and the other around the weaver’s waist, so that tension is created and released when the weaver leans forward and backward.

“We finally get to look at the very fabrics themselves rather than just the images of them in art,” said William Saturno, a Maya expert at Boston University. He said the fabric’s sophistication is consistent with attire worn by figures in Mayan paintings.

(Painting at top is depiction of Mayan women weaving and washing textiles, in middle is a fragment of fabric from the tomb, and at right is a woman using a backstrap loom.)

Click here for National Geographic article.

Retreating Glaciers Reveal Neolithic Artifacts

As a warmer climate continues to melt glaciers in the Alps, archaeologists are unearthing an unexpected number of Neolithic artifacts indicating the high mountains were far more populated than earlier believed.

The array of artifacts date to a period when Europe’s climate was much warmer, prompting people to live high in the Alps. A subsequent cooling period drove them to lower altitudes and created the massive glaciers that now are retreating as we enter another warmer period.

Of course the well-preserved body of Oetzi the Ice Man – who lived around 3300 BC and died of an arrow wound – was discovered in 1991 on an ice-covered slope at 9,800 feet, but he was believed to have been on some sort of high-mountain trek when he perished.

Then in the summer of 2003, a Swiss couple hiking on the Schnidejoch glacier found a piece of wood at about 9,000 feet. They turned it over to archaeologists who carbon-dated it to about 3000 BC and identified it as a piece of an ancient birch-bark arrow quiver.

The discovery, however, was kept secret until a team of archaeologists could explore the site, where they found much more. “We now have the complete bow equipment, quiver and arrows,” reported Albert Hafner, chief archaeologist with the canton of Berne. “And we have, surprisingly, a lot of organic material like leather, parts of shoes and a trouser leg, that we wouldn’t normally find.”

A piece of a wooden bowl also recovered dates even earlier, to about 4500 BC. Other finds include a Bronze Age pin, Roman coins, a fibula and items from the Middle Ages.

And it’s not just Europe where the retreating ice is unveiling ancient artifacts. Researchers in the Canadian Yukon recently found evidence of Neolithic farming and domesticated animals at high altitudes. Again, the date of the artifacts corresponds with calculations climatologists have made about Earth’s warmer period.

(Photo at top shows the retreating Schnidejoch glacier, middle is a team of archaeologists on the glacier, at bottom a piece of leather preserved in ice on the glacier.) 

Click here for the complete BBC News article.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Shroud's Age to be Re-Tested

Scientists at Oxford University have agreed – at the urging of an American physicist – to do new radiocarbon tests to determine the age of the mysterious Shroud of Turin.

The 14-by-4-foot linen cloth is stained with the image of an injured man and through the centuries has been purported by some to be the burial shroud of Jesus of Nazareth. That idea was dashed in 1988 when extensive radiocarbon tests concluded the cloth dated only as far back as the Middle Ages. Oxford University participated in the radiocarbon testing of the shroud at that time.

The physicist, John Jackson of the University of Colorado, has doubted the radiocarbon findings since they were done. He believes the readings were skewed by elevated levels of carbon monoxide and that the findings could be as much as 1,300 years off.

“It’s the radiocarbon date that, to our minds, is like a square peg in a round hole,” Jackson told the Los Angeles Times. “It’s not fitting properly, and the question is why?”

He has convinced the Oxford scientists that he may be right. Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, said: “There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow, and so further research is certainly needed.”

Click here for complete Los Angeles Times article.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Did Cooking Food Make Man Smarter?

A big jump in human intelligence about 150,000 years ago likely was due to man learning to cook. Food prepared over a fire is easier to digest, which frees up more energy for the brain and may have resulted in cognitive advances capable of creating civilizations.

The new research is the work of scientists at the Partner Institute for Computational Biology in Shanghai and was published in this month’s edition of the journal Genome Biology.

According to Philip Khaitovich of the institute, the human brain grew substantially in size about 2 million years ago when man’s diet expanded to include meat, as an example. But further development of the brain stalled from then until about 150,000 years ago.

That’s about the time man first developed the cooking hearth, resulting eventually in a major cognitive difference between humans and apes. Cooking breaks down fibers in foods, lessens the caloric needs of the digestive system, and makes nutrients more readily available to the brain. When they began eating cooked food, humans acquired the ability to develop new tools, such as needles for beadwork and many others. Humans also began to think more abstractly, leading to development of art and religion.

Some scientists are also wondering if this evolutionary cognitive spurt may have happened too quickly. A number of man’s most common mental health problems, ranging from depression and bipolar disorder to autism and schizophrenia, may be by-products of the metabolic changes that happened in an evolutionary blink of an eye, Khaitovich told Live Science online magazine.

Click here for the Live Science article.
Image above from 1981 movie Quest for Fire.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Japanese to Study Parthenon's Tremor Resistence

Japanese scientists plan to examine the Parthenon temple in Greece to discover the secret of how it has withstood earthquakes for 2,500 years.

“The Parthenon had great resilience to earthquakes, as did most classical Greek temples,” says archeologist Maria Ioannidou, who oversees the Acropolis citadel. “The ancient Greeks apparently had very good knowledge of quake behavior and excellent construction quality.”

The Japanese research team will visit Greece in September to study the famed marble temple built in the 5th century B.C. on the Acropolis in Athens to honor the goddess Athena. It is considered the most important surviving building of Classical Greece. Built on solid rock, it has stone foundations nearly 40 feet deep. Its walls are held together by metal joints coated in lead to prevent rust.

Both Greece and Japan are sites of frequent earthquakes, with several ancient Japanese monuments also having withstood severe tremors. The scientist want to identify any common construction techniques that could be contributing to the stability of these ancient structures.

The Parthenon has withstood earthquakes as far back as 373 BC when one destroyed the city of Elike and another in 226 BC that toppled the Colossus of Rhodes. A 5.9-Richter quake in 1999 killed 150 people in Athens and shifted some of the temple’s architectural elements, but caused no major damage.

Through two millennia, people have caused most of the significant damage the temple has suffered, not nature.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Anasazi Dwelling Studied in Utah

An Anasazi site in southern Utah about 100 miles from the location of the recent discovery.

Ruins unearthed in southern Utah are confirmed to be a house Anasazi Indians built about 1,200 years ago. Over the centuries, the dwelling had been buried just beneath the surface of the area’s red sandy soil.

“What is so amazing about the site is the pristine condition it is in,” Pam Higgins, an archeaologist with the Utah Department of Transportation, told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Surveyors first found the site in 2006 while working on a road project. This summer the site was studied and evaluated by an archeological team. The Anasazi were a prehistoric culture inhabiting a number of areas in the American Southwest. Their settlements included cliff-dwellings as well as single-family homes.

The pit house is 13 feet in diameter and was apparently home to a single family. No remains have been found. The discovery also revealed pottery, stone drill bits for making jewelry and clothing, numerous stone tips, plus a number of rabbit and deer bones indicative of hunting activity.

“What was interesting was finding shells and what appears to be turquoise,” archaeologist Jody Patterson said. 

The recovered items will now be studied to determine origin and other information. After the site was examined, it was re-buried last week, with a final report on the findings expected in about two years.

Click here for the Salt Lake Tribune article.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Britain's Largest Roman Villa is Unearthed

This mosaic depicting Orpheus is from the Roman villa unearthed several years ago, near where the larger and older villa has been discovered.

Archaeologists have discovered one of the largest and best-preserved Roman villas yet discovered in Britain. It is located on the Isle of Wight near the site of another villa found five years ago in the town of Brading.

“It would have sung out the status of the owner,” Sir Barry Cunliffe, emeritus professor of European Archaeology at Oxford University and head of the excavation, told The London Times yesterday. “It's a very impressive building, absolutely magnificent. It could have been seen for miles around.”

The 1,800-year-old villa is located near another Roman villa unearthed in 1879 at Brading. The most recently discovered villa – about 150 years older than the other one -- is similar in layout to a church, with a central nave and two side aisles. Massive pairs of timbers supporting the roof would have soared up to 20 feet in height.

Sir Barry likened it to a medieval hall with the lord of the manor living at one end and a communal space for the estate's inhabitants at the other.

The residential part had under-floor heating and walls plastered and painted with mock marble patterns. The communal end would have been used for meetings and legal matters such as boundary disputes and payment of dues. 

Although the Victorians explored this part of the site in the 1880s, they dismissed the remains as a barn. Sir Barry said: “They didn't understand what they were excavating. But this was the main building for at least 150 years before the other villa was put up.”

The symmetry and precision of the construction reveals the extraordinary skill of its builder. The tops of the pier bases are all level to within half an inch. The discovery is so noteworthy that about 30 archaeologists from America and Europe are involved in the effort.

Click here for the London Times article.

Skeletons and Relics Found at Macchu Picchu

An archeologist last week discovered the skeletons of around 15 people plus several textile and pottery relics in a hidden tomb at Machu Picchu in Peru. 

The tomb was concealed in a cave near the tracks of the modern railroad leading to the citadel of the famous Incan ruins.

“This is a very important discovery because humidity and the passage of time usually damages funerary bundles and clothes of long-buried people,” said Machu Picchu Archeological Park Director Fernando Astete in making the announcement today. “It’s unusual to find textiles in such good condition.”

He said the textiles are knitted and dyed orange, but the material has not been identified.

The discovery was made by archeologist Francisco Huarcaya. Excavation of the tomb is scheduled to begin so the remains can be exhumed in September. Scientific analysis will determine the number of people buried in the tomb as well as whether the relics are Incan or belong to another culture.

Machu Picchu was built in the 15th century and abandoned a century later. The spectacular ruins came to the attention of archeologists in 1911 when Peruvian villages led historian Hiram Bingham to the site.

Click here for Peru News Agency article.
Photo courtesy Peru News Agency

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Neanderthal Genome Reveals DNA Traits

Scientists have mapped the world’s first complete Neanderthal mitochondrial genome sequence, enabling them to learn more about the split between modern man and his prehistoric ancestor of 300,000 years ago.

This latest breakthrough offers insight into mankind’s evolutionary path, and is vital for eventual construction and analysis of the complete Neanderthal genome – providing full genetic information – expected by the end of this year.

Though the findings still are sketchy, they prove conclusively that humans and Neanderthals did not interbreed to the extent that would influence either group’s DNA. There was also minimal genetic mixing within the Neanderthal DNA, indicating that they lived in small, self-contained groups—with very little intermingling with other groups—suitable to their hunter-gatherer way of life.

These latest genome findings result from DNA analysis of a 38,000-year-old Neanderthal bone at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. Researchers said they went to extraordinary lengths to keep the Neanderthal DNA uncontaminated by human handling.

Click here for the New Scientist article.
Click here for an in-depth article in The Independent.

Austrians Celebrate Little Venus Statue

She’s a mere four inches tall and is known for her ample curves plus the fact that she was carved about 25,000 years ago, making her one of the world’s earliest depictions of a woman. She was created during the Paleolithic era when wooly mammoths and bison roamed the area of Austria where an archeologist found her 100 years ago this month.

She’s known as Venus of Willendorf after the village where she was unearthed. Her creators remain unknown but similar statues have been found in France and Russia. Their purpose - fertility charm, goddess, or even good-luck charm - remains equally mysterious.

Austrians are celebrating their Venus with a new postage stamp and even reproductions in chocolate, marzipan and soap.

“She’s very corpulent but still very beautiful,” says Walpurga Anti-Weiser of Vienna’s Natural History Museum, who has written a book about Venus of Willendorf. “One gets the feeling she has become an icon.”

Click here for the Associated Press article.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Mayan Road to Underworld is Found

Part of an underground Mayan temple discovered in the Yucatan.
Archaeologists in the Yucatan Peninsula said this week that the underground caves they’ve explored during the last five months there are part of the ancient Mayan road to Xibalba, mythical land of the dead.

Using scuba gear to explore the chain of submerged caves leading to dry underground chambers, archaeologists have located stone ruins of eleven sacred temples.

Ancient Mayan scripture describes the route to Xibalba as frightening, with underground rivers filled with scorpions, blood and pus. Houses along the route were shrouded in darkness and swarming with shrieking bats. Souls of the dead traveled this horrifying route by following a mythical dog who could see in the darkness.

“They believed this place was the entrance to Xibalba,” says Guillermo de Anda, a leading investigator at the site. “That’s why we’ve found the offerings.” He referred to the stone carvings, pottery and human bones left in the underground temples for the deceased souls. Most of the artifacts date to between 700 and 850 AD.

Different Mayan groups in southern Mexico, northern Guatemala and Belize had their own entrances to Xibalba, several of which have been discovered in those places. Almost always they are underground cave systems deep in the jungle, with subterranean temples connected to above-ground ones.

Click here for the Reuters news article.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Large Head of Roman Empress Unearthed

Archaeologists this week in Turkey unearthed a colossal portrait head of the Roman empress Faustina the Elder, wife of Antoninus Pius, who ruled the Roman Empire from 138 to 161 AD.

The head is 2.5 feet tall with large almond-shaped eyes, fleshy lips, and hair parted in the middle and swept around the ears toward the back.

The Faustina head was discovered facedown only 20 feet from last year’s discovery of parts of a 16-foot statue of the emperor Hadrian, who ruled from 117 to 138 AD. Both statues are from the largest room of the Roman Baths at Sagalassos, Turkey, which have been the site of an archaeological dig for 12 years now. Archeologists at the site believe more fragments of statues soon will be discovered there.

Click here for the article in Archaeology Magazine.
Click here for the BBC News article.

Ancient Mystery: Valley Temple's Monoliths

At more than 200 tons each, one wonders how these stones were cut with such precision and lifted into place over 4500 years ago when we cannot duplicate those feats today.

The Valley Temple of Khafre, located on the Giza plateau not far from the pyramids and the Sphinx, features a core structure constructed entirely of enormous limestone blocks. They tend to be of two sizes: either 30 feet by 12 feet by 10 feet, or 18 feet by 10 feet by 8 feet. Any of these – and there are hundreds of them – weighs more than 200 tons.

Why are they so huge? How were they cut? How were they lifted into place?

Why, for example, insist on using these cumbersome 200-ton monoliths when you could simple slice each of them up into 10 or 20 or 40 or 80 smaller and more maneuverable blocks? Why make things so difficult for yourself when you could achieve much the same visual effect with much less effort?

And how had the builders of the Valley Temple lifted these colossal megaliths to highest of more than 40 feet?

At present there are only two land-based cranes in the world that could lift weights of this magnitude. At the very frontiers of construction technology, these are both vase, industrialized machines, with booms reaching more than 220 feet into the air, which require on-board counterweights of 160 tones to prevent them from tipping over. …

In other words, modern builders with all the advantage of high-tech engineering at their disposal, can barely hoist weights of 200 tons. Was it not, therefore, somewhat surprising that the builders at Giza had hoisted such weights on an almost routine basis?

Plus, the stones are cut with multi-angled notches so they can fit together with jigsaw-puzzle perfection.

Egyptologists tend to put the age of this Valley Temple at about 2500 BC, but some researchers consider it much older.

Quoted section from Hancock's Fingerprints of the Gods.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Jadelike Mayan Pigment Discovered

Mayan burial mask showing jade mosaic.

Researchers have concluded the Mayans used a blue-green pigment called veszelyite – until now unknown to art historians – to blend with, or possibly imitate, jade.

Jade is the most precious substance found on Mayan artifacts. Tombs excavated during the 1990s in the Yucatan peninsula revealed items such as a jade mosaic funerary mask belonging to the ruler Yuknoom Yick’aak K’ak – translated as “Smoking Jaguar Paw” – who reigned from 686 to 695. On the mask, the jade plaques were set into a white lime stucco painted green to match the jade. Several other jade items were found in nearby tombs, all with the green-tinted stucco into which pieces of jade were set.

Archaeologists and other researchers previously believed the green pigment was derived from malachite or chrysocolla, but that assumption was recently refuted when the pigment was analyzed with X-ray diffraction, proton-induced X-ray emission and a scanning electron microscope. Use of veszelyite “had never been reported for any civilization, to our knowledge,” said Dr. R. Garcia Morena in the latest issue of the journal Archaeometry.

Veszelyite is found in Europe, Japan, Africa and Mexico. The pigment in the stucco of the Mayan artifacts was determined to be from the state of Puebla, southeast of Mexico City.

Click here for the article in the London Times Online.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Shamans, Symbols and Genetic Change

Shaman's mountaintop ritual in southern Siberia.

Meditation and shamanic ritual may have been a factor provoking the genetic change that, about 200,000 years ago, separated Neanderthal man from the modern human.

This unusual proposition has been put forth by psychologist Matt J. Rossano in a recent issue of the Cambridge Archaeological Journal and written up on “We have decent evidence that shamanistic rituals may go very deep into history, and that these rituals might have had positive psychological effects,” Rossano says.

Shamanic rituals – often involving groups sitting for hours or days at a time – strengthened parts of the Neanderthal brain. As the neural areas associated with attention and memory grew stronger, the brains of descendent generations were better able to hold information and to make connections such as we do with modern working memory. This led to the ability to comprehend complex symbolism, and presumably, a genetic change in the structure of the brain.

Symbolism became apparent by 50,000 years ago in cave paintings. “If you’re going to use symbols, you have to be able to think abstractly and hold one thing in mind while recognizing that the literal thing is not really its meaning,” Rossano says.

Even today, practicing meditation has measurable effects on our brains. Harvard neuroscientist Sara Lazar discovered in 2005 that the brains of meditators were generally more developed in certain parts, especially those pertaining to attention, according the Smithsonian article.

Click here for the article on

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Thousands of Bones Found in Remote Cave

Did a cataclysmic prehistoric flood trap thousands of animals in caves in the Atacama Desert?

Scientists this week discovered caves in Chile’s barren Atacama Desert containing two surprises: One was water in this parched part of the world, the other was hundreds of thousands of prehistoric animal bones.

The discovery of so many animal bones in a remote cave is potential evidence of a prehistoric flood brought on by an ancient cataclysm. Several scientists and researchers have put forth the possibility of countless humans and animals seeking safety in caves from a Great Deluge about 12,000 years ago.

The scientific expedition into the Atacama Desert was to learn more about finding caves, in an effort to support current exploration on Mars. The desert is likely the second-driest place on Earth – Anarctica being the driest – with its average rainfall less than a millimeter a year.

Scientists this week were exploring one of the largest caves in the desert when they unexpectedly encountered mud and then a salt stream winding through a passage. “In arguably the driest desert in the world, we’ve found water in a cave far away from any known water source,” Judson Wynne, a cave expert with the SETI Institute, said.

In a nearby cave, they made another unexpected discovery. “We found hundreds of thousands of bones and skulls eroding out of the cave walls,” Wynne said, adding that the bones were mixed in with tree branches.

The researchers said a prehistoric flood could have the animals could have been trapped in the large cave. At this point, they have not determined the age of the bones.

Click here for the LiveScience article.

Winds and Ice Caused Abrupt European Cooling

Ice Age glaciers expanded over Europe as the climate rapidly cooled.

Scientists have found new evidence of an abrupt climate change about 12,700 years ago in Western Europe. Extreme cooling within a short number of years was determined from sediments of a volcanic lake in the Eifel region of Germany.

In explaining their findings, researchers from Germany, Switzerland and Germany said they used a combination of microscopic research studies and modern geochemical scanner procedures to reconstruct climatic conditions even to the level of individual seasons. According to an article in Science Daily, “In particular, the changes in the wind force and direction during the winter half-year caused the climate to topple over into a completely different mode within one year after a short instable phase of a few decades.”

While admitting that the findings are puzzling, the researchers apparently made no mention of the possibility of a global cataclysm being responsible for the abrupt changes. There is considerable speculation among some scientists and researchers that a catastrophic event such as a comet, asteroid, or supernova remnants could have collided with the earth and endangered life on the planet. Such an event would have precipitated massive geophysical upheaval, including thousands of volcanic eruptions, filling the atmosphere with ash and leading to plunging temperatures for decades.

An abrupt shift of winds blowing across rapidly spreading ice is the dominant theory being put forth regarding these latest findings.

Click here for the article in Science Daily.