Monday, 1 November 2010

Study Of Mummies Shows That Cancer Was Not Common in the Ancient World

If you have ever wondered what you would have died of if you lived several thousands of years ago, you will be relieved to know that our modern scourge, cancer, would have been the least of your problems. A massive study of around 1,000 ancient mummies from Egypt and South America undertaken by the University of Manchester has revealed only 1 case of cancer.  So was cancer absent from the population in ancient times because they did not live in modern conditions, or was it because they did not live long enough to develop the disease?

A lifespan of between 30-40 years was about the going rate in Ancient Egypt and pre-Columbian South America, although a few individuals did live for considerably longer.  For example, Ramsses II lived into his nineties.  So if cancer wasn't a killer, what was killing off these populations so young?  In all ancient populations, poor nutrition, and even starvation, was not an uncommon occurrence in the lower classes. Ancient Egyptians also commonly suffered from quite severe dental problems, as sand would find its way into grain that was going to be used to make bread, and by eating this bread on a daily basis the teeth of the Egyptians would be worn down and the pulp exposed.  Cooking was also done over fires, and often in enclosed  spaces, so acrid smoke would be regularly be breathed into the lungs.  Workers on the tombs and temples risked accidents from falling masonry, lung disease from breathing in dust and immense wear and tear on their joints and spines.

There were also still a lot of dangerous animals in Egypt in ancient times, so people would have been killed by hippos, crocodiles, snakes and scorpions.  Infectious diseases would have regularly swept through the population as there were no vaccinations and no effective drugs to cure the illness.  Back then, childbirth would also have been a very risky business, and there was a very high mortality rate for both mother and infant.

So although cancer was not a worry, your average ancient person had more than enough health worries and ways to die.

Read more on the cancer free Ancient Mummies

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Did Dinosaurs Walk the Earth Nine Million Years Earlier Than Believed?

New research on dinosaur footprints discovered in Poland have led scientists to think that dinosaurs were walking our earth at least nine million years earlier than previously thought. The Polish dinosaur footprints date from the early Triassic period and are around 250 million years old.  The dinosaur that created the footprints has been dubbed Prorotodactylus and they evolved not long after the Permian-Triassic mass extinction, which saw many species disappear.

These early dinosaurs were only around the size of a modern domestic cat and walked on four legs. These diminutive dinosaurs would have been very rare compared to the numerous reptile species of the time and how dinosaur species evolved and spread over the globe is still not fully understood.

Read the whole newspaper article on did dinosaurs appear on the earth nine million years earlier than thought

Monday, 20 September 2010

Outback Legends - The Search for Lasseter's Reef of Gold

Do you know the legend of Harold Lasseter’s Reef of Gold? Australia is a huge country that offers many different landscapes and climates.  However, the majority of the population live within a short distance of the ocean enjoying the laid back Aussie beach lifestyle. But the interior of Australia is a totally different type of country.  The landscape here varies from semi-arid to desert and is known as the ‘Red Centre’ due to the reddish-brown colour of the soil. The most common name for these remote, rural parts is the Outback and it covers thousands of square miles. Vegetation and water is scarce, temperatures are extreme and human settlements are very few and far between.

Harold Lasseter's Tomb in Alice Springs
Harold Lasseter's Tomb in Alice Springs

When the Outback was being explored by the Europeans for the first time in the 19th century, many expeditions were led into Australia’s interior to discover new routes to the north or the fabled ‘inland sea’, some of them ending in death and disaster.  These intrepid explorers were followed by the cattle men, sheep farmers and crop growers who were looking to open up new areas for agriculture. There were also miners and prospectors who had been bitten by gold fever or the lust for opals and were looking to stake new claims.  They had to carve out lives in a harsh, unforgiving landscape, and for every story of untold riches and success, there was a story of despair, crushed dreams and death.  So it is not surprising that the Australian Outback is a place where legends grew up, myths that endure to this day of the trials, adventures and lost dreams of these early explorers.

The dream of striking it rich and discovering a top quality new seam of gold or opals drove many men into the Outback, always looking for their lucky break.  One of these men was called Harold Lasseter and his claim that he had found a fabulous reef of gold created one of the Outback’s most enduring legends.  He was born in 1880 in Victoria and when he grew up he prospected throughout the Outback. He then travelled extensively around the United States where he became a Mormon, before returning to Australia.  He had a somewhat chequered romantic life, having several wives and five acknowledged children.  He legally married his first wife in America in 1903 and after his return to Australia he first married a nurse in 1921 without obtaining a divorce, and then in 1924 bigamously married Irene Lillywhite. He was also alleged to have had numerous affairs with other women and fathered several other children.

Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) - own image
Kata Tjuta (The Olgas)

It was in 1929 that he made the sensational claim that when he was riding from Queensland to the Gold Fields of Western Australia looking for rubies, that he had discovered a huge reef of pure gold somewhere near the MacDonnell or Petermann Ranges on the borders of the Northern Territory and Western Australia.  This reef of gold-bearing rock was claimed to be seven miles long, twelve feet wide and up to seven feet high. He claimed to have collected specimens of the gold in a bag, but had gotten lost as he was trying to find his way back to civilisation and was rescued, half-crazed with thirst and totally disorientated, by an Afghan camel driver.  He then mounted a two-man expedition with a surveyor called Harding a couple of years later to find the elusive gold reef again, and when they found it they charted its position by using the sun and the time on their watches.  They collected more samples of the gold ore, but when they reached the coast of Western Australia again they found that their two watches had a time discrepancy of an hour, which made it impossible to chart the position of the gold reef on a map.

Lasseter managed to get funding and raised an expedition to go in search of his fabled gold reef in 1930 and set off with two trucks and an aircraft that could survey a much wider area than those on the ground.  He was accompanied by two experienced bushmen, an engineer, a prospector, an explorer and the pilot. The expedition experienced a lot of technical difficulties, including damage to the plane and shortages of food and water. Exasperation among the expedition members peaked when, after reaching Mount Leisler, Lasseter declared that they had gone too far north. The expedition parted company with Lasseter at Ilbilba and he carried on with a few camels and a dingo-shooter called Paul Johns. They set off in the direction of the Olgas, with Lasseter’s behaviour apparently becoming more and more unpredictable by the day. Lasseter returned to the camp one day announcing that he had once again found the reef of gold, but refusing to tell Johns where it was located.  They got into a quarrel which became violent and Lasseter took two of the camels and went off into the bush.   Unfortunately for Lasseter, the camels ran away and he had to rely on a nomadic band of Aboriginals for food and water, but he was too sick and weak to keep up with them and eventually died alone in the desert.

A bushman called Bob Buck was sent out to locate the missing Lasseter and he found a body that he believed to that of the prospector and buried it. He also retrieved some of Lasseter’s personal effects from a cave where he had been sheltering, including a diary.  However, questions were soon asked about whether it was really Lasseter who was buried in the grave and Bob Buck himself admitted that the body had been so badly decomposed that he could not even tell if it had been the body of a white man or an Aborigine. Whoever it was that was really interred in that grave, they were not to rest in peace for long. In 1957 an Australian television company illegally disinterred the body and took it to Alice Springs.  After a legal wrangle, the remains were buried once more in the cemetery in Alice Springs and covered with a sculpted figure of Lasseter.

The real mystery here is did Harold Lasseter really discover the fabled gold reef and was then unable to locate it again, or was he really just a conman who was trying to rip off those who had invested in his expedition?  Or was he just a poor, deluded soul who had lost his grip on reality? Certainly, when the gold specimens that he claimed to have dug out of the reef were assessed they were found to have been very high grade gold ore, calculated to produce three ounces of gold per ton of rock. But did they really come from the mythical gold reef? Also, some traces of gold found in the pockets of the jacket that had supposedly belonged to Lasseter were analysed and found to have originated in Kalgoorlie in Western Australia, which was not the supposed location of the gold reef.

There is also a big question mark over whether Harold Lasseter really did die out there in the desert in 1930, as there have be many sightings and reports of him still being alive since then. It has been reported that he fled to San Francisco with the investor’s money and lived there until he died in the late 1950’s. An Australian lady called Nellie Edwards also recognised a photograph of Harold Lasseter that was published in a magazine in 1956, saying that this was the same man who had shown her samples of gold and a picture of his wife and children.  The researcher Murray Hubbard has also unearthed documentary proof that Lasseter was incarcerated in a Salvation Army Home for Boys after being charged with burglary in 1897, so could not have been prospecting for gold in Central Australia during that year.

So what is the truth concerning Lasseter’s gold reef?  Modern geological surveys say that there is now way that gold could have formed in the rocks in the area that Lasseter was pinpointing, but this has not stopped many people mounting expeditions to try and find the famous reef of gold.  There is no known map of the position of the gold-bearing outcrop, so they only have the stories and anecdotal evidence to go by.  So far nobody has found it, but is Lasseter’s gold reef just a myth or is there really a huge outcrop of quartz rock out there in the desert waiting to be found, with nuggets of pure gold glinting under the burning hot sun of the Australian Outback?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Ancient Tomb Uncovered in Luxor

Dr Zahi Hawass has announced that an ancient tomb has been rediscovered on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor. The tomb is situated in the area of the West Bank known as south Assasif, and is that of a priest called Karakhamun.  The tomb was first discovered in the 19th century and was subsequently lost.

The tomb dates from the 25th dynasty and the reign of the Pharaoh Shabaka, who was the second of the Nubian pharaohs who ruled Egypt around 700BC.

The burial chamber of the tomb was discovered at the bottom of an 8ft shaft, and is beautifully painted with images of stars in the night sky and the goddess Nut. The entrance is decorated with an image of the tomb's owner Karakhamun.

The tomb is comprised of two pillared halls and a burial chamber divided into five rooms and is currently the largest tomb to ever have been discovered in the south Assasif.  The mystery is that Karakhamun is not a well known historical character and does not list any particularly important titles in his tomb. It has been suggested that Karakhamun must therefore have had close connections to the Nubian royal family, and the tomb has been dated to the 25th dynasty because of the tomb owner's Nubian name and the style of the tomb architecture.

Read on to discover more about the discovery of the tomb of Karakhamun

West Bank of Luxor - Assasif

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Unique Roman Helmet with Mask Unearthed in Cumbria

A unique bronze Roman helmet with a full face mask has been discovered by a treasure hunter with a metal detector in Cumbria. It is thought that the helmet was designed to have been worn at cavalry sports parades by Roman soldiers, as a badge of excellence.  This helmet with mask is one of only three of its kind that has ever been excavated in Britain.

The original owner of this superb piece of Roman metalwork is not known, but the Roman helmet has been named the Crosby Garrett Helmet after the village in Cumbria where it was found.  The Roman helmet has been dated to the 1st or 2nd century AD, and is expected to fetch around £300,000 at Christie's Antiquities Auction.

Click here for the whole article and photographs of the unique Roman helmet

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Two New 6th Dynasty Tombs Discovered at Saqqara

There have been some exciting discoveries made at Saqqara over the last few years, and in July 2010, it was announced that two sixth dynasty tombs had been discovered.  These were the tombs of a father and son called Shendwa and Khonsu.  Both of these individuals had important jobs, with Shendwa's titles including 'Head of the Royal Scribes' and 'Supervisor of the Missions'.  His son Khonsu appears to have taken over theses same titles from his father.

Shendwa's tomb incorporates a beautifully painted false door, which pictures the deceased Shendwa seated before an offering table.The tomb contained a wooden sarcophagus, that had unfortunately deteriorated badly because of the conditions in the tomb, and a set of offering vessels in the shape of a duck.

Khonsu's tomb also contains a painted false door, an offering table and an engraved stone lintel on the floor.

Read on to find out more about the discovery of the 6th dynasty tombs at Saqqara

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Discovery of Sea Sponge Fossils Pushes Back Animal Life on Earth By 90 Million Years

American geologists from Princeton University have discovered tiny sea sponge fossils in rocks that are estimated to be between 640 and 650 million years old.  These ancient sea sponges only measured up to 1 cm across and lived on reefs off the coast of South Australia. These remarkable finds are the earliest fossils of of primitive early animals ever found.

It has been believed for a long time that animal life on earth emerged after the Marinoan glaciation, or 'Snowball Earth', when the whole planet was covered in ice and snow, but these new fossils push the emergence of animal life back before this cataclysmic event. This raises the question of how the reef-dwelling ancient sea sponges managed to survive the evastating period of glaciation.

Now there has been a discovery of ancient sponge fossils that are even older in the Etosha National Park in Namibia.  These tiny sponge fossils have been found in rocks that are estimated to be around 760 million years old, and scientists believe that it proves that sponges are the oldest forms of animal life on the planet.  These very early fossils are shaped like a vase and are no bigger than a speck of dust,and have been examined under electron microscope and x-rayed to find out their secrets. This exciting discovery points to the fact that animal life emerged on Earth at least 100-150 million years earlier than was previously thought, and that our very earliest ancestors were most probably sponges, from which all other animal life evolved.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Chipmunks in France - Invasive Species Spreading Through France

Invasive species are becoming a huge problem in many countries of the world, and although many countries now take stringent measures to prevent invasive animal or plant species taking hold, the problem continues to grow.  Northern France is currently being overun by Siberian chipmunks, a species that is not native to France.  The problem started over the border in Belgium, when a group of chipmunks were released into a park in Brussels.  The group of chipmunks began to breed and started to colonise large parts of Belgium and Northern France. They were joined by chipmunks that were bought as pets and then released by their owners, and it is estimated that there are now over 100,000 chipmunks living in the wild in France.

You might ask what the problem is, because after all aren't Siberian chipmunks cute little critters?  Well the big problem is that chipmunks are not a part of that native ecosystem, and are taking the food and out-competing native mamals and rodents.  They destroy vegetation and can be carriers of diseases such as Lyme disease and Rabies.  Experts believe that it is only a matter of time before they reach the UK, to add yet another burden on our already challenged environment.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Gladiator Cemetery Unearthed in York

The remains of 80 gladiators dating from the time of the Roman Empire have been unearthed in the centre of York. The ancient skeletons were found beneath the gardens of an elegant street of 18th century houses, and many of them still showed the evidence of the horrific injuries that they had suffered.

York was a very important city in Roman Britain and was the capital of the northern province of Britannia Inferior.  It was a very heavily fortified city, due to its proximity to Hadrian's Wall and the marauding Picts, and several Roman Emperors held court there.

The gladiators in these Yorkshire graves were all slaves who had been imported from all corners of the Roman Empire to fight in the arena. The skeletons show that these young men were taller and had been better fed than the average person of that period, and their sword arms showed evidence of stronger muscle development than their defence arms due to all the training they were required to undertake.

Some of the skeletons were decapitated, which was a common way to despatch a defeated gladiator in the arena, others had had their skulls caved in by a heavy, blunt instrument, and one of the skeletons carried a bite mark that came from a large predator, such as a lion, leopard or bear.

These young men who fought as gladiators were revered by the public and were the popstars and footballers of their day.  But the only future that they could look forward to was a violent, bloody and painful death in front of a large crowd baying for blood.  Moreover, being slaves, they had had no choice as to whether or not they wanted to train and fight.  So although they were well fed in life, and honoured with rich grave goods in death, their lives were short, violent and brutish.

Read more on the gladiators of York

Tuesday, 1 June 2010

New Ancient Egyptian Tombs Discovered at Lahun

A group of 45 ancient Egyptian tombs has recently been discovered at Lahun, which is south of Cairo in the Fayum. There are four seperate cemeteries, one that dates back to the first and second dynasties and is composed of 14 tombs, one which dates from the Middle Kingdom containing 31 tombs, one from the New Kingdom and one from the Late Period.

One of the tombs from the first and second dynasty cemetery has been discovered almost completely intact with all its funerary equipment and a sarcophagus containing a mummy.  Many of the other tombs were also found to contain mummies still within their wooden painted sarcophagi.  One of the tombs dating to the 18th dynasty was found to have 12 painted wooden sarcophagi piled on top of one another.

Read on to find out more about the discovery of amazing new tombs at Lahun

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Korean Mummy Discovered Complete with Handbag!

To prove that designer handbags are not just a modern phenomenon, a 500 year old mummy has been discovered in South Korea complete with a handbag!  Although more commonly associated with Ancient Egypt, people were commonly mummified in Korea and took their treasured possessions to the grave with them.  The mummy of this Korean lady was found in an industrial complex site in Osan, south of Seoul, and she is believed to have been the wife of a senior official during the Joseon Dynasty in the 16th century. She was buried with her favourite satchel, clothes and ornaments.

The mummification process was different in Korea to that which was practised in Ancient Egypt.  The Korean method relied on natural mummification where the body was placed in a type of tomb called a hoegyeok in a double-sided coffin that was covered with a limestone mixture.  This completely sealed off the body from air and moisture and the body dried out naturally.

Read the whole article on the Korean mummy and her handbag

Monday, 3 May 2010

Could Woolly Mammoths Walk The Earth Again?

Could woolly mammoths soon be walking on this planet again for the first time in around 10,000 years?  Scientists have been conducting a Jurassic Park-style experiment to extract DNA from a frozen woolly mammoth.  From this experiment they were able to reproduce the blood of this massive elephant-like creature with a thick, shaggy coat, and discovered that it contained a kind of anti-freeze that helped to keep the creatures warm in the blisteringly cold winters of the Ice Age.

The scientists believe that the technique that they have used could help to recreate proteins and body parts from other extincts animals, but being able to recreate a single protein from an animal from the Ice Age does not mean that they are yet able to create a whole, live animal.

Read the whole article on woolly mammoths and how woolly mammoths may be brought back from the dead

Friday, 23 April 2010

We May All Be A Little Bit Neanderthal After All

A major new DNA study shows that we may all be carrying a few Neanderthal genes in our makeup. Neanderthals vanished off the face of the earth around 25,000 years ago, and the reasons why they disappeared has been a cause of major controversy between scientists.  Theories about why they disappeared range from climate change, to competition for food and resources, to being absorbed into the modern human population even through to the modern human population killing off the Neanderthal population.

The DNA study, undertaken by the University of Mexico, looked at 1,983 people from Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas and the scientists involved then produced an 'evolutionary tree' that shows how and when differences in DNA of the people's of the world occurred.  There were two periods of interbreeding of the modern human population and another early human species, with the Neanderthals being the most likely candidate species.  One of the periods of interbreeding occurred in the eastern Mediterranean around 60,000 years ago and another around 45,000 years in the area of East Asia.

Read the whole article on how we may all be carrying Neanderthal DNA

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Nose-Dwelling Leech Discovered in the Amazon

Scientists have discovered a new species of nose-dwelling leech in the remoter parts of the Upper Amazon.  This new species was first seen in 2007 in Peru, when one of the leeches was removed from the nose of a young girl who had been bathing in the river.

The new species of leech has been named Tyrannobdella rex or 'tyrant leech king' and it enters the body orifices of both humans and animals and attaches itself to the mucous membranes by it's eight huge teeth. The leech's favourite orifice to inhabit seems to be the nose. The leech has some unusual characteristics, including one single jaw, the eight large teeth and extremely small genitalia. The scientists believe that the leech could live in the nose or mouth of an aquatic animal, and stay there feeding for months at a time.

Find out more about the new species of nose-dwelling leech

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

New Discovery of Roman-Era Style Mummy in Bahariya Oasis

In the remote Bahariya Oasis in Egypt, Egyptologists have made a new discovery of a mummy from the Roman era.   Bahariya Oasis is famous for being the home of the Valley of the Golden Mummies, which is a vast ancient necropolis from which hundreds of mummies of the Greco-Roman period have been excavated.

This new discovery is the first Roman-style mummy to be found at Bahariya and the mummy is encased in an elaborately carved plaster sarcophagus. The plaster sarcophagus portrays a diminutive woman with open eyes, dressed in a long robe with a head scarf, beaded jewellery and shoes.The new discovery has not yet been dated and was found in a cemetery containing around 14 tombs.

Read on for the whole article on the new mummy discovered in Bahariya Oasis

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

New Species of Dragon-Sized Lizard Discovered in the Philippines

Scientists have announced that they have identified a new species of dragon-sized lizard on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. This new lizard is a brightly coloured forest monitor that can grow to around 6ft in length but only weighs about 22lbs.  This lizard is unusual as it lives only on fruit and is one of only three fruit eating lizards in the world.  This lizard spends much of its time up in trees, so cannot carry the weight of the mighty Komodo dragons, who are also predator anf gain much of their bulk from eating meat.

This new lizard was first seen by scientists in photographs in 2001, but it was not until a month-long expedition in 2009 that one of the forest monitors was brought into camp and positively identified.  The lizard is a news species of the genus Varanus, and DNA testing shows that it nearest relative is Gray's monitor lizard that lives in the southern part of Luzon.

Read the whole news article for more on the discovery of a new dragon-like lizard

Monday, 5 April 2010

Human Evolutionary Missing Link Discovered in South Africa

Scientists believe that a 2 million old fossil skeleton of a young child discovered in South Africa could represent an entirely new species and could be the intermediary evolutionary step between our more ape-like ancestors and modern humans.

Scientists are hoping that studying the fossilised remains will help them to understand how humans started walking on two feet.  Unlike earlier finds that comprised mainly of teeth and bone fragements, this skeleton, which was found in the Malapa cave in the Sterkfontein region of South Africa, is almost complete. To have a spinal column, pelvis and leg and arm bones could gives the clues as to whether this species walked fully unpright or on all fours.  Studying the hand bones could also show how dextrous this species was.

Hopefully this new fossil will help scientists piece together how the apelike Australopithecus evolved into the more human Homo Habilis around 2.4 million years ago.

Read the full news article on finding the missing link in human evolution

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Giant 'Woodlouse' Shocks Oil Workers in the Gulf of Mexico

Oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico were stunned when a creature that looked like a giant woodlouse hitched a ride on the back of one of their submarines and was hauled onto their oil rig.

However, this was no alien creature from a far off planet, but is in fact a fairly common species of giant isopod that is usually found in deep sea waters at around depths of 8,500ft.  This specimen is a Bathynomous Giganteus and at two and a half feet long is possibly the largest of its kind ever to have been caught.  Usually members of this family are around half this size.  Bathynomous Giganteus is, in fact, a relative of the woodlouse commonly found in our back gardens, and is an example of deep-sea gigantism.  Crustaceans and invetebrates found in deep waters are commonly much larger than their counterparts who inhabit shallower waters, and Bathynomous Giganteus is abundant in the deeper, colder waters of the Atlantic and Pacific.

Read on for the whole news article on the giant 'woodlouse' that shocked the oil workers in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

All About Thread-Waisted Wasps

It truly is a world of fascination when it comes to the insect world.  Insects are the most numerous and successful species on earth, and the life-cycles and habits of some insects are really amazing. In this fascinating and informative Hub, Bard of Ely tells us all about sand or thread-waisted wasps.

The Bard has been trying to encourage Monarch butterflies into his garden on Tenerife, and he believes that the predatory sand wasp is one of the reasons they are not arriving.  The sand wasp is a large insect that is native to Tenerife.  They are members of the crabonid wasps group known as Bembicini, and are commonly striped black and yellow, but there are some specimens that are black and white with green eyes.

They are predatory insects and the caterpillars of the Monarch butterfly are one of their very favourite meals. A female sand wasp searches for these caterpillars to feed her young and stings them in order to stun them.  The caterpillars are then carried off to be placed in a burrow that the wasp has dug in the sandy soil and sealed in along with a sand wasp egg. These burrows are generally only very short, simple affairs with a bigger space excavated at the end for the larva to grow and feed in. The egg then hatches and uses the helpless caterpillar as a source of nourishment as it grows and develops.

The female sand wasps sometimes choose to dig their nesting burrows close together if they find an area where the ground is especially suitable for their needs, creating a large clusters of these insects.  This inevitably leads to parasites of the thread-waisted wasps, such as cleptoparasites, also being attracted to the area, and the opportunistic sand wasps are not above preying on their own parasites, which is not that common in the insect kingdom.

To find out more read the whole of the Hub on sand wasps or thread-waisted wasps

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Volcanic Eruptions Aided The Rise of the Dinosaurs

From about 200 million years ago dinosaurs were the prominent vetebrates on our planet.  They held onto this prominence for around 135 million years before they became extinct.  But how did the dinosaurs manage to outcompete other species like this?

A recent study suggests that a huge amount of volcanic activity was one of the reasons for the rise of the dinosaurs. It is believed that these volcanic eruptions disrupted the climate enough to cause a mass extinction of species that knocked out the dinosaurs main competitors. The lava flows from the eruptions at the end of the Triassic period coincided with the extinction of 50% of the four-limbed creatures called tetrapods, 50% of the world's plants and 20% of marine species.

However, it is not known how the dinosaurs survived these extremely challenging conditions, when other species failed to.  Maybe it was because their biggest competitors, the crurotarsans, which had competed vigorously with the dinosaurs during the Triassic had disappeared or mabe it was pure chance. 

So read on to find out more about how volcanic eruptions may have aided the rise of the dinosaurs

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Life Discovered Beneath Antarctic Ice Sheet

A team of NASA scientists exploring beneath an Antarctic ice sheet 600 feet thick were surprised to find signs of life in the dark, icy water.  As they lowered their video camers a strange shrimp-like creature swam by and then perched on the cable of the camera.  The scientists also recovered a tentacle that they believe was part of a jelly fish that was a foot long.

The NASA scientists has made the assumption that nothing could survive living under the ice, but the existence of the shrimp-like creature, later identified as a Lyssianasid amphipod, and the jelly fish indicates that there would be other creatures living in the area.

Read on for the whole article on life found beneath the Antarctic ice sheet

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Headless Remains Were Probably Executed Vikings

Archaeologists have announced that they believe that the remains of 50 young men that had been beheaded were probably those of executed Vikings. The remains were discovered last year in Weymouth and analysis of teeth samples from ten of the bodies has shown that the men were of Scandinavian origin.

The remains in the burial pit date back to between 910 AD and 1030 AD, when the Vikings were making regular raids on the British coastline.  It appears that the young Viking men were executed at one spot, probably in front of an audience, by the local Anglo Saxons.  The decapitated skulls were then placed into one part of the burial pit and the rest of the body flung into another part of the hole.

Read on for the whole of the article on the burial pit of the headless Vikings

Friday, 5 March 2010

Egyptian Queen's Tomb Discovered at Saqqara

Egyptologists have discovered the tomb of an Ancient Egyptian Queen at Saqqara, which is 30 kms south of Cairo. The burial chamber of Queen Behenu was discovered near her pyramid, which lies within the necropolis of Pharaoh Pepi I, and contains an intact sarcophagus and the walls are inscribed with pyramid texts.  Pyramid texts are spells and instructions designed to help the deceased make the dangerous passage into the afterlife.

The sarcophagus is carved from granite and gives the Queen's name and titles but does not give the identity of her husband.  Egyptologists are unsure as to whether Behenu's husband was Pepi I or Pepi II, both pharaohs of the 6th Dynasty of Ancient Egypt's Old Kingdom.

Read on for the whole article on the discovery of the tomb of Queen Behenu

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Enormous Statue of Amenhotep III Discovered at Luxor

A huge statue of Amenhotep III is being reconstructed from many pieces of red granite that were discovered in the southern part of the great courtyard of Amenhotep III's mortuary temple on the West Bank of the Nile at Luxor.  The 3000 year old smoothly polished red granite head depicts Amenhotep III with youthful features and the head is 2.5 metres high.

The statue of Amenhotep III that the head belongs to is in the standing position and wears the white crown of Upper Egypt.  Amenhotep III was a pharaoh of Ancient Egypt's glittering 18th Dynasty, who built many temples and monuments throughout Egypt.  He was also the father of the famous heretic pharaoh Akhenaten, and after recent DNA testing on the royal mummies, it is believed that he is the grandfather of Tutankhamen.

Read on for the whole news article on the discovery of the colossal statue of Amenhotep III

Colossi of Memnon, Mortuary Temple of Amenhotep III

Friday, 26 February 2010

Junk Food Diet of the Ancient Egyptians

In Ancient Egyptian temples sumptuous banquets of roasted wildfowl, fruit, bread, cakes, wine and beer were served to the gods. This rich and plentiful food was then eaten by the temple priests and their families.

Scientists have found that this rich diet led to the Ancient Egyptians suffering from some of the same diseases as we do in the 21st century. Mummies that have been examined have shown unmistakeable signs of heart disease and damage to the arteries.  Much of the food offered to the gods would have been saturated with fat, so had the same consequences to the ancient people's health as our consumption of junk food does today.

Reaf on for the whole article on the Ancient Egyptian's junk food diet

Mortuary Temple of Seti I

Thursday, 25 February 2010

New Stingray Species Discovered on Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef sits just off the coast of Western Australia and is famous for the annual visits paid there to feed by the mighty whale sharks.  But Ningaloo Reef is also home to a myriad of different marine species and scientists are delighted to have discovered a completely new species of stingray.

This new stingray is a member of the maskray family and is a small ray with a wingspan of around only 30cms.  Since the stingray was found at Ningaloo, the new species has also been found further south in Shark Bay.

Ningaloo Reef has been nominated for World Heritage status, and if successful will join 17 other Australian World Heritage sites such as Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu and Shark Bay.

Read on the whole article on Ningaloo's new stingray species

Osprey Bay, Ningaloo Reef

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gebel Barkal in Nubia - Home of the Hidden God Amun

So who was the god  Egyptian god Amun? Amun was one of a triad of gods of Thebes that also included his consort, the goddess Mut and their son the moon god Khonsu.  The name Amun is usually translated as ‘the hidden one’ or ‘the secret one’, and it is believed that he created himself and then created the world and everything in it, while remaining separate and distanced from his creation.  Amun had been depicted in the lexicon of gods of Ancient Egypt as far back as the Old Kingdom, but his cult expanded dramatically with the emergence of the New Kingdom.  This was mainly due to the fact that Amun was the local patron deity of Thebes, the city that the rulers of the eighteenth dynasty chose to have as their capital.  Amun was often depicted in human form, seated with two, straight plumes rising from his crown.  He is also associated with the ram, a symbol of fertility, a snake and the goose.

Gebel Barkal in the Sudan

Amun was viewed as the creator and protector of pharaoh, and the king’s wife would often be given the title ‘God’s Wife of Amun’, a title that brought with it a lot of political power and prestige. His consort Mut was a goddess associated with the sun and in early times was depicted as a vulture and later in human form, sometimes wearing a double crown and sometimes with the head of a lioness.  The name Mut means mother and she was a divine mother and a sky goddess.  She was initially linked to Amun because he was a creator god and was a ‘mother’ goddess. She was symbolised by the cobra, a lioness or the royal crowns.  The main festival for the god Amun was the Opet festival where the statue of the god travelled from the temple of Karnak to Luxor Temple in a barge down the Nile to celebrate his divine marriage to his consort Mut.

Barkal is an Arabic word that can mean either ‘holy’ or ‘pure’. It is a small mountain in the Sudan near Karima that is situated approximately 400km north of Khartoum.  Gebel Barkal is 98m high and has a flat top that was used as a landmark to pinpoint the easiest place to cross the river Nile by traders on the ancient trade route between Egypt, Arabia and central Africa.  The ancient Egyptians believed that the god Amun lived inside the mountain, hidden from the view of people.  In addition, the pinnacle jutting from the side of the mountain was seen by the ancients as a phallic symbol and a potent sign of Amun’s creative power.  From the west the pinnacle can look like the uraeus or royal cobra that was found on the brow of the crowns of Egyptian kings, and from the east it resembles the divine serpent with the sun disc on its head.  It is believed by some that the mountain itself was actually shaped into the form of a statue, and that the image of Amun himself was carved into the mountain facing a rearing cobra.  Or that it was regarded as the primeval hill, from which all creation sprang.

In Ancient Egypt’s eighteenth dynasty, around the year 1450BC Pharaoh Thutmosis III took his armies and extended the Egyptian Empire deep into the heart of the Sudan, then known as Nubia or Kush.  Thutmosis III founded the city of Napata, close to Gebel Barkal which around 300 years later was to become the capital of ancient Kush or Nubia. Both the ancient Egyptian’s and the Kushites believed that the mountain was the home of Amun.  Gebel Barkal became the focus of their religion for the ancient Kushites and they came to believe that it was the birthplace of every one of their gods, and that it was even the place where the world itself was created.

The ancient remains around Gebel Barkal were first explored by Europeans in the 1820s.  However, excavations of the thirteen temples and three palaces from the pharaonic period were only started in 1916 by George Reisner who led a joint expedition from Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Very unusually Reisner used to excavate all year round; in the winter he excavated in the Sudan and in the summer be went back up north to Egypt. Generally, most excavations in Egypt shut down in the summer due to the extreme heat.  Reisner managed to clear nine buildings at the site and to each he assigned them a 100-number prefaced with the letter B for Barkal.

The 1970s saw fresh excavations from an expedition led by Sergio Donadoni and a team from the University of Rome La Sapienza.  In the 1980s they were joined by another team from the Boston Museum under the direction of Timothy Kendall.  Gebel Barkal along with the site of the ancient city of Napata and some other sites in that area of Nubia were identified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2003.  Even today some of the larger temples and remains at Gebel Barkal, such as the Temple of Amun, are regarded as sacred by the local people.

The Temple of Amun (Temple B500) was started by Thutmosis III in the eighteenth dynasty and extended by Ramses II, known as the ‘Great’ in the nineteenth dynasty.  The temple was extended again by a Kushite king called Piy in the 8th century BC.  In later times there was thought to be an oracle of Amun in the temple, and that Amun would speak directly to the priests and Kushite kings, giving them advice and glimpses of future events.  Temple B500 was dedicated to the southern aspect of Amun, and another temple was constructed, B800, that represented his northern aspects.  This mirrors the position at Thebes, where Karnak Temple is dedicated to the northern aspect of Amun and Luxor Temple to the southern aspect.
The Temple of Mut (Temple B300) was constructed by the Pharaoh Taharqa around 680BC and partly built into the base of the cliff.  Hathor and Bes are also depicted in the temple.  Both these gods can be connected to the ‘Eye of Re’ myth and it is conjectured that images were carved to soothe the anger of the goddess in the story, as Bes is a god of dance and the sistra that Hathor is shaking makes a rhythmic sound.  The goddesses depicted also have an important role in the myths of the divine origin of the pharaoh.

There is a lot more excavation to be done at Gebel Barkal and a lot more information to be uncovered from the sand about the history of the site and the role of the cult of Amun.  Although not as well known as the ancient sites of Egypt itself, the Sudan has a rich and varied archaeological history, and strangely enough has more pyramids than Egypt does!

Image LassiHU Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 Generic

Giant Plant Eating Dinosaur Skull Found

Palaeontologists have found four skulls of a new herbivorous dinosaur in a quarry at the Dinosaur National Monument in the US state of Utah.  Complete dinosaur skulls are a rare find, and to find skulls of a previously unknown sauropod that has been named Abydosaurus is very exciting.

Abydosaurus roamed the earth around 105 million years ago and is thought to be a close relative of Brachiosaurus. Abydosaurus had light skulls because their heads were on the end of a very long neck and sauropod skulls are made of thin bones bound together with soft tissue.  This means that sauropod skulls usually fall apart very quickly after the death of the animal and disintegrate.  The discovery of the skulls also sheds new light on how these large dinosaurs ate their food.  They did not chew food, instead they just grabbed it and swallowed it.

Read on for the whole news article on the discovery of a new giant plant eating dinosaur

Friday, 19 February 2010

New Site for the Battle of Bosworth Revealed

A four year project that has cost £1 million led by the Battlefields Trust has led to a new location for the Battle of Bosworth being revealed.  The Battle of Bosworth which was fought in 1485 was the final battle in the War of the Roses and one of the the most important battles in English history.  The battle saw the death of the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III and the seizing of power by Henry Tudor, signalling the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

It was previously thought that the Battle of Bosworth had been fought on Ambion Hill in Leicestershire, where there is a flag on the crest of the hill, a small monument to mark the place where King Richard fell and a newly renovated visitors' centre. The project has, however, shown that the actual site of the battle was more than a mile to the south west of this position and a new trail will lead from the visitor's centre to the new location.

The evidence proving the new location for Bosworth includes cannon balls, belt buckles, armour straps and a silver amulet in the shape of a White Boar, which was Richard of York's personal cognizance. Although the original announcement was made in October 2009, the exact location has been kept secret until now to deter treasure hunters.

Read the whole news article on the new location for the Battle of Bosworth


Cat Food is the New Weapon Against Australia's Cane Toad Plague

In 1935 around 100 cane toads were introduced into Queensland with the aim of destroying a destructive pest in the cane fields.  Unfortunately, the cane toads did not deliver, but did start to reproduce in alarming numbers and have colonised many parts of Northern Australia.  Cane toads are venomous, so kill native Australian wildlife if they eat a cane toad, and the sheer numbers of cane toads have pushed native amphibians out of ponds and suitable habitats.

It has been very difficult to find a solution to the rising cane toad numbers that is both effective and humane.  However scientists at the University of Sydney have found a way to utilise a native Australian species against the cane toad which will hopefully help to limit cane toad numbers. Meat ants are carnivorous ants that are immune to the toad's venom and so are able to attack baby cane toads.  Many cane toads are already killed by meat ants, but the scientists have made it easier for them by strategically placing cat food near the ponds where the cane toads breed.

The cat food attracts the ants and when the baby toads emerge from the pond the meat ants then attack them.  In one location where they tested the cat food, 98% of the baby toads were attacked within two minutes.  By boosting the numbers of meat ants in the areas that the cane toads breed in the natural ecological balance is not upset, as the meat ant is a species that would naturally be present in these areas. The baby cane toad's defence against the meat ant is to freeze and let the ant find out that they are venomous, but the ants are not affected so it does not work. Native Australian frogs have developed  much better defences against the meat ant, so are not be affected.

Read on for the whole news article on how cat food can help push back the cane toad plague!


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Weak Bones and Malaria Could Have Contributed to the Death of Tutankhamen

Tutankhamen was an obscure and short-lived pharaoh who lived at the end of Ancient Egypt's glittering 18th dynasty.  If it was not for the fact that his tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 still intact and bursting with wonderful golden treasures, Tutankhamen's name would have probably have remained as an obscure subnote in history; known only to a handful of learned Egyptologists.

However, since Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered and its contents revealed to the world, more has probably been written about the boy king than any other pharaoh in Ancient Egypt's long history.  Although a lot of information has been gleaned from the study of the tomb and the ancient objects found there, one piece of information has remained elusive and caused a lot of speculation and controversy over the years.  Exactly how did the young pharaoh Tutankhamen die?

Scientists in Egypt have spent the last two years in a detailed examination of the pharaoh's mummy, and have concluded that Tutankhamen probably suffered from malaria, a rare inherited bone disease of the foot called Kohler disease II, a club foot and a curvature of the spine.  Shortly before his death Tutankhamen suffered a fracture to his leg, possibly from a fall, which did not heal properly.  This fracture combined with a bout of malaria could have what led to his death.

The Valley of the Kings


Monday, 15 February 2010

Is The Lost City of Atlantis in Southern Spain?

Archaeologists have started to search for the lost city of Atlantis in the region of Andalucia in Southern Spain.  They believe that in the heart of the Donana National Park a wealthy civilisation dating back 3,000 years called Tartessos could have built their capital city.  The Tartessians grew wealthy from trading silver and gold from the local mines and are a civilisation that has long been associated with the Atlantis myth.

Archaeologists had previously dismissed this site as a possible location for Atlantis as they had believed that in the relevant time frame this area was submerged.  New evidence has shown, however, that the water may have receded in time for the Tartessians to build a large city that was later destoyed by a tsunami. 

Aerial photographs of the pinpointed area show evidence of large circular and rectangular shapes under the soil that could not have been produced by nature.  However there is competition from other locations for the site of Atlantis, such as the Azores, some Mediterranean islands, Antarctica and Central America.

Read the full article to find out more on whether Andalucia in Southern Spain is the location of the lost city of Atlantis


Friday, 12 February 2010

4,000 Year Old Prehistoric Face Revealed

Scientists have for the first time unravelled the human genome from a clump of prehistoric hair found in the permafrost of Greenland, and produced an image of what this ancient man would have looked like.  The clump of hair was discovered alongside some ancient stone tools in north-west Greenland in 1986, and belonged to a member of the first Eskimo group called the Saqqaqs who hunted reindeer and lived away from the coast.

Advances in DNA analysis have allowed the scientists to discover specific traits such as the thickness of the hair and the colour of the skin and prove that Eskimos originated in Asia and not in North America.  The man has been named 'Inuk' and the portrait of him is based on screening for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are points in the genetic code that vary from individual to individual.

Read the whole news article on revealing the image of the prehistoric face

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Patient in a Vegatative State 'Talks' to Scientists

New light has been shed on the ability of patients in a vegatative state to communicate.  Using MRI, British scientists have had a ground-breaking conversation with a male patient diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state.  The conversation has been achieved by using a brain scanner to tap into the man's thoughts and monitor his responses to 'Yes' and 'No' questions.

To elicite the 'Yes' and 'No' answers, the scientists asked the patient to imagine scenes that signalled the response.  The experts believe that this changes everything about how consciousness disorders are classified.  It opens up the possibility that patients in a vegetative state could have simple conversations and communicate, request pain relief or even indicate whether they wished to stay alive.

Click here for the full news article on the remarkable breakthrough in communicating with patients in a persistent vegatative state.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Earliest Known Animal Trails Found

More than 70 fossilised trails of some of the earliest moving animals known, dating from around 565 million years ago, have been discovered by scientists embedded in rocks in Newfoundland.  The trails show that these early organisms moved across the seafloor like modern anemones.

It is the first proof that animals from this early period of the earth's history had muscles that let them move around, and it is believed that the organisms probably had a muscular disc-shaped 'foot' to get around on.  These early fossils pre-date the 'Cambrian Explosion' between 488 and 542 million years ago when a lot of new species appeared on earth.  Experts had previously believed that animals alive before the Cambrian stayed attached to one spot and were like a static fungi.

Read the whole fossil trails news article

Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Source of an Ancient Roman Aqueduct is Discovered Near Rome

British and Italian experts have discovered the source of a 1900 year old Roman Aqueduct.  The chance discovery was made 25 miles north of Rome and as well as the source of the aqueduct a nymphaeum was also discovered. The aqueduct was previously known about and was thought to have dated from medieval times, but it has been discovered that the aqueduct actually dates from the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

The ancient site is, unfortunately, in need of urgent restoration and is being threatened by the roots of a giant fig tree.

To read the full news article, click here