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Ancient Civilizations

Maya scholar debunks world-ending myth

David Stuart discusses the new inscriptions with colleagues from Tulane University and Universidad del Valle de Guatemala. Seated left to right: Marcello Canuto (Tulane), Stuart, Tomás Barrientos (UVG), Jocelyn Ponce (UVG). (Credit: Image courtesy of University of Texas at Austin)

As we hurtle toward the end of 2012, the conversation about a certain date with roots in an ancient Maya calendar has reached a fever pitch.

Dec. 21, 2012, has taken over popular culture this year: It's been the subject of movies, books and news shows. The date and its supposed prophecy that the world will come to an end has been the subject of water cooler conversations and international media attention.

But the truth regarding the date...

Dead guts spill history of extinct microbes: Fecal samples from archeological sites reveal evolution of human gut microbes

This shows microbiomes across time and populations. (Credit: Tito RY, Knights D, Metcalf J, Obregon-Tito AJ, Cleeland L, et al. (2012) Insights from Characterizing Extinct Human Gut Microbiomes. PLoS ONE 7(12):e51146.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0051146)

Extinct microbes in fecal samples from archaeological sites across the world resemble those found in present-day rural African communities more than they resemble the microbes found in the gut of cosmopolitan US adults, according to...

Mining ancient ores for clues to early life

Scientists probe Canadian sulfide ore to confirm microbial activity in seawater 2.7 billion years ago. (Credit: Image courtesy of McGill University)

An analysis of sulfide ore deposits from one of the world's richest base-metal mines confirms that oxygen levels were extremely low on Earth 2.7 billion years ago, but also shows that microbes were actively feeding on sulfate in the ocean and influencing seawater chemistry during that geological time period.

The research, reported by a...

First harbor of ancient Rome rediscovered

Aerial view of Ostia and the position of its filled in ancient harbour basin (in the foreground). On the left of the picture, the Tiber flows along the Imperial Palace. In red, the coring sites. (Credit: © S. Keay)

Archaeologists have unearthed the great ancient monuments of Ostia, but the location of the harbour which supplied Rome with wheat remained to be discovered. Thanks to sedimentary cores, this " lost " harbour has eventually been located northwest of the city of Ostia, on...

Researchers unlock ancient Maya secrets with modern soil science

After emerging sometime before 1000 BC, the Maya rose to become the most advanced Pre-Columbian society in the Americas, thriving in jungle cities of tens of thousands of people, such as the one in Guatemala's Tikal National Park. But after reaching its peak between 250 and 900 AD, the Maya civilization began to wane and exactly why has been an enduring mystery to scientists.

Writing in the Nov.-Dec. issue of the Soil Science of America Journal (SSSA-J), an interdisciplinary team led...

Want the shortest path to the good life? Try cynicism

Are cynics and happiness mutually exclusive? For modern cynics, perhaps. But for the ancient Cynics, not necessarily.

Research by the University of Cincinnati's Susan Prince shows that despite the historical perception of the ancient Cynics as harsh, street-corner prophets relentlessly condemning all passersby and decrying society's lack of virtue, these Greek philosophers, indirectly descended from Socratic teaching, weren't all doom and gloom. They actually might have espoused a...

Spanish researchers find the exact spot where Julius Caesar was stabbed

This is the monumental complex in Torre Argentina (Rome), where Julius Caesar was stabbed. (Credit: Antonio Monterroso/CSIC)

Several ancient Roman texts describe the assassination of Julius Caesar in Rome, at the Curia of Pompey in 44 BC, which was the result of a plot among a group of senators to eliminate the General. This fact led to the formation of the second triumvirate and to the final outbreak of civil wars. Now, 2,056 years later, a team of researchers from the Spanish...

Egyptian toe tests show they're likely to be the world's oldest prosthetics

The results of scientific tests using replicas of two ancient Egyptian artificial toes, including one that was found on the foot of a mummy, suggest that they're likely to be the world's first prosthetic body parts.

The University of Manchester researcher Dr Jacky Finch wanted to find out if a three part wood and leather toe dating from between 950 to 710 BC found on a female mummy buried near Luxor in Egypt, and the Greville Chester artificial toe from before 600 BC and made of...

Prehistoric builders reveal trade secrets: Long-overlooked museum fossil is clue to vanished skills of prehistoric animal architects

The fossil specimen, displaying the change from the interlacing tubes to the hourglass structures. (Credit: Paul Witney, BGS, Copyright NERC 2012)

A fossil which has lain in a museum drawer for over a century has been recognized by a University of Leicester geologist as a unique clue to the long-lost skills of some of the most sophisticated animal architects that have ever lived on this planet.

It has provided evidence that early organisms developed specialised roles and that these...

Engineering technology revealing secrets of Roman coins

Archaeologists and engineers from the University of Southampton are collaborating with the British Museum to examine buried Roman coins using the latest X-ray imaging technology.

Originally designed for the analysis of substantial engineering parts, such as jet turbine blades, the powerful scanning equipment at Southampton's µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography is being used to examine Roman coins buried in three archaeological artefacts from three UK hoards.

The centre's...

Roman military camp dating back to the conquest of Gaul throws light on a part of world history

In the vicinity of Hermeskeil, a small town some 30 kilometers southeast of the city of Trier in the Hunsrueck region in the German federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, archaeologists from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) have confirmed the location of the oldest Roman military fortification known in Germany to date. These findings shed new light on the Roman conquest of Gaul. The camp was presumably built during Julius Caesars’ Gallic War in the late 50s B.C.

Nearby...

Feces fossils show connection between Native-Americans, diabetes: Did fat-hoarding genes develop from the nature of ancient feasts?

Why do Native Americans experience high rates of diabetes? A common theory is that they possess fat-hoarding "thrifty genes" left over from their ancestors -- genes that were required for survival during ancient cycles of feast and famine, but that now contribute to the disease in a modern world of more fatty and sugary diets.

A newly published analysis of fossilized feces from the American Southwest, however, suggests this "thrifty gene" may not have developed because of how often...

Oldest Neolithic bow discovered in Europe

1000pa (June 29, 2012) — Researchers from UAB and CSIC have discovered the oldest Neolithic bow in Europe at La Draga Neolithic site in Banyoles yields. The complete bow measures 108 cm long and was constructed of yew wood.

Archaeological research carried out at the Neolithic site of La Draga, near the lake of Banyoles, has yielded the discovery of an item which is unique to the western Mediterranean and Europe. The item is a bow dating from the period between 5400-5200 BCE...

Maya archaeologists unearth new 2012 monument with 'end date' of Dec. 21, 2012

1000pa (June 28, 2012) — Archaeologists working at the site of La Corona in Guatemala have discovered a 1,300-year-old-year Maya text that provides only the second known reference to the so-called "end date" of the Maya calendar, December 21, 2012. The discovery, one of the most significant hieroglyphic finds in decades, was announced June 28 at the National Palace in Guatemala.

"This text talks about ancient political history rather than prophecy," says Marcello A. Canuto...

Earliest record of mating fossil vertebrates: Nine pairs of fossilized turtles died while mating 47 million years ago

1000pa (June 20, 2012) — The fossil record consists mostly of the fragmentary remains of ancient animals and plants. But some finds can provide spectacular insights into the life and environment of ancient organisms. The Messel Fossil Pit, a UNESCO world heritage site south of Frankfurt in western Germany, is well known for yielding fossils of unusual quality, including early horses complete with embryos and insects and birds with fossilized colors.

In the latest edition of...

New secrets from 'Bay of the Pirates' warship that sunk 2,300 years ago

1000pa (June 6, 2012) — A new study puts some finishing touches on the 2,300-year history of the beak-like weapon that an ancient warship used to ram enemy ships in the First Punic War, the conflict between ancient Rome and Carthage. The report, in ACS' journal Analytical Chemistry, also identifies a major threat that conservators must address in preserving this archaeological treasure for future generations.

Patrick Frank and colleagues explain that the ram, called a rostrum...

16th-century Korean mummy provides clue to hepatitis B virus genetic code

1000pa (May 29, 2012) — The discovery of a mummified Korean child with relatively preserved organs enabled an Israeli-South Korean scientific team to conduct a genetic analysis on a liver biopsy which revealed a unique hepatitis B virus (HBV) genotype C2 sequence common in Southeast Asia.

Additional analysis of the ancient HBV genomes may be used as a model to study the evolution of chronic hepatitis B and help understand the spread of the virus, possibly from Africa to...

300-million-year-old forest discovered preserved in volanic ash

1000pa (Feb. 20, 2012) — Pompeii-like, a 300-million-year-old tropical forest was preserved in ash when a volcano erupted in what is today northern China. A new study by University of Pennsylvania paleobotanist Hermann Pfefferkorn and colleagues presents a reconstruction of this fossilized forest, lending insight into the ecology and climate of its time.

Pfefferkorn, a professor in Penn's Department of Earth and Environmental Science, collaborated on the work with three Chinese...

Fossilized pollen unlocks secrets of ancient royal garden

1000pa (Feb. 16, 2012) — Researchers have long been fascinated by the secrets of Ramat Rahel, located on a hilltop above modern-day Jerusalem. The site of the only known palace dating back to the kingdom of Biblical Judah, digs have also revealed a luxurious ancient garden. Since excavators discovered the garden with its advanced irrigation system, they could only imagine what the original garden might have looked like in full bloom -- until now.

Using a unique technique for...

The fermented cereal beverage of the Sumerians may not have been beer

1000pa (Jan. 17, 2012) — Archaeological finds from cuneiform tablets and remnants of different vessels from over 4,000 years ago show that even around the dawn of civilisation, fermented cereal juice was highly enjoyed by Mesopotamia's inhabitants. However, besides the two basic ingredients, barley and emmer (a type of wheat) the brew produced in the clay jars of the Sumerians is shrouded in mystery. Despite an abundance of finds and scribal traditions which point to an early love of...

Ancient meat-loving predators survived for 35 million years

1000pa (Dec. 6, 2011) — A species of ancient predator with saw-like teeth, sleek bodies and a voracious appetite for meat survived a major extinction at a time when the distant relatives of mammals ruled Earth.

A detailed description of a fossil that scientists identify as a varanopid "pelycosaur" is published in the December issue of Naturwissenschaften -- The Science of Nature. Professors Sean Modesto from Cape Breton University, and...

1000pa (Dec. 6, 2011) — A species of ancient...

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Dinosaurs Encyclopedia

Book Review

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