Category Archives: CHINA

12,000-Year-Old Elongated Skulls Discovered in Asia Stun Experts

12,000-Year-Old Elongated Skulls Discovered in Asia Stun Experts

A new study has found that elderly people in China had a human head shaping about 12,000 years ago — meaning they bound some children’s maturing skulls, encouraging the heads to grow into elongated ovals — making them the oldest group on record to purposefully squash their skulls, a new study finds.

The skull is known as M45, the earliest known case of head modification on record. It dates to about 12,000 years ago.

While excavating a Neolithic site (the last period of the Stone Age) at Houtaomuga, Jilin province, in northeast China, the archaeologists found 11 elongated skulls — belonging to both males and females and ranging from toddlers to adults — that showed signs of deliberate skull reshaping, also known as intentional cranial modification (ICM).

“This is the earliest discovery of signs of intentional head modification in Eurasia continent, perhaps in the world,” said study co-researcher Qian Wang, an associate professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the Texas A&M University College of Dentistry.

“If this practice began in East Asia, it likely spread westward to the Middle East, Russia, and Europe through the steppes as well as eastward across the Bering land bridge to the Americas.” 

The Houtaomuga site is a treasure trove, holding burials and artifacts from 12,000 to 5,000 years ago.

During an excavation there between 2011 and 2015, archaeologists found the remains of 25 individuals, 19 of which were preserved enough to be studied for ICM.

After putting these skulls in a CT scanner, which produced 3D digital images of each specimen, the researchers confirmed that 11 had indisputable signs of skull shaping, such as flattening and elongation of the frontal bone, or forehead.

The oldest ICM skull belonged to an adult male, who lived between 12,027 and 11,747 years ago, according to radiocarbon dating.

The M72 skull is between 6,300 and 5,500 years old.

Archaeologists have found reshaped human skulls all around the world, from every inhabited continent. But this particular finding, if confirmed, “will [be] the earliest evidence of the intentional head modification, which lasted for 7,000 years at the same site after its first emergence,” Wang told Foxnews.

The 11 ICM individuals died between ages 3 and 40, indicating that skull shaping began at a young age when human skulls are still malleable, Wang said.

An excavation at the site during 2010.

It’s unclear why this particular culture practiced skull modification, but it’s possible that fertility, social status, and beauty could be factors, Wang said. The people with ICM buried at Houtaomuga were likely from a privileged class, as these individuals tended to have grave goods and funeral decorations.

“Apparently, these youth were treated with a decent funeral, which might suggest a high socioeconomic class,” Wang said.

Even though the Houtaomuga man is the oldest known case of ICM in history, it’s a mystery whether other known instances of ICM spread from this group, or whether they rose independently of one another, Wang said.

“It is still too early to claim intentional cranial modification first emerged in East Asia and spread elsewhere; it may have originated independently in different places,” Wang said. More ancient DNA research and skull examinations throughout the world may shed light on this practice’s spread, he said.

Archaeologists discover 4,800-year-old fossil of a mother cradling a baby

Archaeologists discover 4,800-year-old fossil of a mother cradling a baby

The ancient remains of a young mother and a child locked in a 4,800-year-old embrace were discovered by archeologists.

Of 48 sets of remains discovered from tombs in Taiwan, including five children’s fossils, this makes a remarkable discovery.

The scientists were shocked to find the maternal moment, which they claim are the first evidence of human activity in central Taiwan.

Archaeologists discover 4,800-year-old fossil of a mother cradling a baby
Archaeologists have uncovered the ancient remains of a young mother and an infant child locked in a 4,800-year-old embrace. The remarkable find was among 48 sets of remains unearthed from graves in Taiwan, including the fossils of five children

Preserved for nearly 5,000 years, the skeleton found in the Taichung area shows a young mother gazing down at the baby cradled in her arms.

Researchers turned to carbon dating to determine the ages of the fossils, which they traced back to the Neolithic Age, a period within the Stone Age.

Excavation began and took a year for archaeologists to complete. But of all the remains found in the ancient graves, one pair set stood out from the rest.

‘When it was unearthed, all of the archaeologists and staff members were shocked.

‘Why? Because the mother was looking down at the baby in her hands,’ said Chu Whei-lee, a curator in the Anthropology Department at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science.

According to the researchers’ measurements, the mother was just 160 cm tall, or 5 foot 2 inches. The infant in her arms is 50 cm tall – just over a foot-and-a-half.

This breathtaking discovery came as a surprise to the researchers on sight, but it isn’t the first of its kind. In the past, archaeologists have dug up remains of similar moments that have been preserved for thousands of years.

Notably, Chinese archaeologists unearthed the interlocked skeletons of a mother and child last year from an Early Bronze Age archaeological site branded the ‘Pompeii of the East’, the People’s Daily Online reported.

The mother is thought to have been trying to protect her child during a powerful earthquake that hit Qinghai province, central China, in about 2,000 BC.

Experts speculated that the site was hit by an earthquake and flooding of the Yellow River.

Photographs of the skeletal remains show the mother looking up above as she kneels on the floor, with her arms around her young child. Archaeologists say they believe her child was a boy.

Researchers turned to carbon dating to determine the ages of the fossils, which they traced back to the Neolithic Age, a period within the Stone Age. Excavation began in May 2014 and took a year for archaeologists to complete

Archaeologists discover fossil of ancient turtle species that never grew a shell

Archaeologists discover fossil of ancient turtle species that never grew a shell

A fossil freshly discovered turtle, that lived 228 million years ago, illustrates how modern turtles have developed these traits. It had a beak, but while its body was Frisbee-shaped, its wide ribs hadn’t grown to form a shell-like we see in turtles today.

“This reptile was more than six feet long and with a curious body and a long tail and its anterior part became this strange beak,” says Olivier Rieppel, a paleontologist at Chicago’s Field Museum and one of the authors of a new paper in Nature. “It probably lived in shallow water and dug in the mud for food.”

The new species has been christened Eorhynchochelys Sinensis — a mouthful, but with a straightforward meaning.

Eorhynchochelys (“Ay-oh-rink-oh-keel-is”) means “dawn beak turtle” — essentially, the first turtle with a beak — while Sinensis, meaning “from China,” refers to the place where it was found by the study’s lead author, Li Chun of China’s Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology.

Eorhynchochelys isn’t the only kind of early turtle that scientists have discovered — there is another early turtle with a partial shell but no beak.

Until now, it’s been unclear how they all fit into the reptile family tree. “The origin of turtles has been an unsolved problem in paleontology for many decades,” says Rieppel. “Now with Eorhynchochelys, how turtles evolved has become a lot clearer.”

The fact that Eorhynchochelys developed a beak before other early turtles but didn’t have a shell is evidence of mosaic evolution — the idea that traits can evolve independently from each other and at a different rate, and that not every ancestral species has the same combination of these traits.

Modern turtles have both shells and beaks, but the path evolution took to get there wasn’t a straight line. Instead, some turtle relatives got partial shells while others got beaks, and eventually, the genetic mutations that create these traits occurred in the same animal.

“This impressively large fossil is a very exciting discovery giving us another piece in the puzzle of turtle evolution,” says Nick Fraser, an author of the study from National Museums Scotland.

“It shows that early turtle evolution was not a straightforward, step-by-step accumulation of unique traits but was a much more complex series of events that we are only just beginning to unravel.”

Fine details in the skull of Eorhynchochelys solved another turtle evolution mystery.

For years, scientists weren’t sure if turtle ancestors were part of the same reptile group as modern lizards and snakes — diapsids, which early in their evolution had two holes on the sides of their skulls — or if they were anapsids that lack these openings. Eorhynchochelys’s skull shows signs that it was a diapsid.

“With Eorhynchochelys’s diapsid skull, we know that turtles are not related to the early anapsid reptiles, but are instead related to evolutionarily more advanced diapsid reptiles. This is cemented, the debate is over,” says Rieppel.

The study’s authors say that their findings, both about how and when turtles developed shells and their status as diapsids, will change how scientists think about this branch of animals.

“I was surprised myself,” says Rieppel. “Eorhynchochelys makes the turtle family tree make sense. Until I saw this fossil, I didn’t buy some of its relatives as turtles. Now, I do.”

This study was contributed to by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, the CAS Center for Excellence in Life and Paleoenvironment, National Museums Scotland, the Field Museum, and the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

In the Tibetan plateau of China the Earth’s oldest glacial ice is found. It is home to a group of frozen viruses for more than 15,000 years, most of them until now unknown.

Scientists have now pointed out that viruses and have warned that more and more infections could also appear as climate change continues to melt more and more ice

Two Tibetan glacier ice cores were studied by the team and unveiling the presence of 28 previously unknown virus groups. Investigating them will be key to learn which viruses have developed in different climates over time, researchers argued in their paper on server bioRxiv.

Ancient Viruses Buried in Tibetan Glaciers for 15,000 Years Discovered by Scientists

“The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores, presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition that is similar to findings in other cores,” the researchers wrote, claiming the experiment will help to establish a baseline for glacier viruses.

Sampling ice cores is no easy feat. You not only have to do it in the right conditions to ensure that the ice is unaffected, but you also have to ensure that no contamination is caused.

The team created a protocol for ultraclean microbial and viral sampling, applying it to two preserved ice core samples from 1992 and 2015.

These cores were not handled in a way that prevents contamination during drilling, handling, and transportation — which means that the exterior of the ice was most likely contaminated. In order to avoid this effect, researchers only analyzed the inside of the core, which was presumed to be unaffected.

The team worked in a cold room at minus 5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) to access the inner part of the cores, using a saw to cut 0.2 inches (0.5 centimeters) of ice from the outside later.

Then, the team used ethanol to wash and melt another 0.2 inches of ice and then sterile water to wash another 0.2 inches. This allowed them to access the inner layer to do their study, having in total shaved off about 0.6 inches or 1.5 centimeters of ice of the sample.

A total of 33 groups of viruses were found in the ice cores, of which 28 were completely new to science. “The microbes differed significantly across the two ice cores,” the researchers wrote, “presumably representing the very different climate conditions at the time of deposition.”

The growing temperatures of the world because of climate change is melting glaciers across the planet, so these viral archives could soon be lost, the researchers said. But that’s not the only bad news, as the ice melt could challenge our ability to stay safe from them.

“At a minimum, [ice melt] could lead to the loss of microbial and viral archives that could be diagnostic and informative of past Earth climate regimes,” they wrote. “However, in a worst-case scenario, this ice melt could release pathogens into the environment.”

Farmer Digging a well find the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in China

Farmer Digging a well find the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in China

When farmers Yang Zhifa found a piece of an old terracotta as he dug a well, he thought he’d stumbled on a disused kiln that could supply him with free jars. How wrong he was: it turned out to be the first warrior of the famous Chinese terracotta army.

It was in the Chinese New Year in March 1974 and was especially dry in that time, Yang’s production unit decided to dig a well to water the crops of the cooperative farm.

“At first the digging went well. The second day we hit hard red earth. The third day, my hoe dug out the neck of a terracotta statue without a head, but the opening at the bottom was about the size of a bowl,” he recalled.

Farmer Digging a well find the Terracotta Army of Emperor Qin Shi Huang in China
When archaeologist Zhao Kangmin picked up the phone in April 1974, all he was told was that a group of farmers digging a well nearby had found some relics.

“I commented to my workmate that it was probably the site of an old kiln. He advised me to dig carefully so that we’d be able to dig out any old jars and take them home for our own use.”

As they went on digging, the peasants came across the shoulders and torso of a statue. So it evidently wasn’t a kiln, they thought, but a temple. Then they realised that it was a complete body, apart from one leg that had been cut off, and the missing head. As they went on digging, they turned up bronze items. One of Yang’s colleagues teased him: “You like a nice pipe, and these things will be worth quite a bit of money. You’ll be able to swap them for tobacco.”

Suspicious villagers

“It was the middle of the Cultural Revolution at the time, and everything was topsy-turvy in the villages. People had gathered round and were watching us. When the older ones saw these ‘statues of gods’ and the bronze objects we had dug up, they weren’t at all pleased. They said they were part of the local feng shui, and that digging them up would do no good either to the village or to us.” But Yang had spent six years in the army and knew something about ancient objects.

“People had always said that the tomb of the Qin emperor covered an area of just over 9 hectares and that our village was about two kilometres from the mausoleum. These objects could be of historic interest. So I called some women and harnessed up three two-wheeled carts to transport them […] to the Lintong district museum several kilometres away.“

Yang wasn’t too sure what the museum would say about his find. “If they aren’t of any historic interest, I’ll throw them into the river, have a wash and go home,” he thought as he and his colleagues transported their unusual load. The experts at the museum recognised the fragments and the “statue of the god” as dating from the Qin dynasty – the third century B.C. – and that they were therefore extremely valuable.

“They paid us CNY10 (yuan) per cart, so a total of CNY30. We were really happy to get so much for having brought three carts of terracotta,” said Yang. At the time CNY10 was the equivalent of an annual salary in poor rural areas.

When they got back to the village they handed the money to their production unit, as was required under the collective system. Each one of them was awarded five points – the equivalent of half a day’s work – or 13 fen (a fen being a hundredth of a yuan) that they could use to buy food or other goods. At first, that was their entire reward.

Hour of glory

Yang Zhifa is one of the discoverers of the Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor
Archaeologists at the site in 1979 – Zhao is not pictured

The authorities then decided to build a museum on the site of the mausoleum. The villagers – including Yang – were displaced. He received 5,000 yuan in compensation for his 167 square metres of land.

He moved to a new village, called Qinyong (meaning “Qin warriors”), six kilometres from the museum. He was given a three-room flat, similar to the ones allocated to other relocated villagers. But they were angry with him: if they had to leave their homes it was “because of him”, he explained. To get away from their hostile looks and remarks, he moved about a kilometre away.

When he thinks about it now, it didn’t really make much difference to his life. But he says that the discovery of the site and the reforms introduced by the authorities led to a rise in the standard of living and some of the villagers have been able to make money by setting up businesses.

But Yang doesn’t have a head for that sort of thing. The museum gave him job signing autographs for visitors. “At first I was earning CNY300 a month. By the time I retired it was 1,000.” Yang had his hour of glory when Bill Clinton visited the museum and asked for his autograph. The former US president isn’t the only world leader Yang met. He can’t remember all the names, but he has their photos on his wall. At the end of March 1990, Swiss photographer Daniel Schwartz, together with an assistant and a technician from Hong Kong, travelled to Lintong to.

Philosophical

When he stopped working at the museum, Yang found himself with practically no income. But he is philosophical about it.

“Whether it’s fair or not, I can’t do anything about it. I’m only a simple peasant,” he commented, but he is not unhappy either. “There were too many people at the museum. Sometimes I didn’t feel too well after working all day.” The museum now draws millions of visitors a year and earns some CNY480 million from them (about CHF72 million).

But few people still remember Yang. His name does not even appear on the explanatory board at the entrance to the display, which says simply that the terracotta army was discovered by local peasants. The People’s Daily wrote that “peasants don’t know anything about science. It’s impossible that they should have discovered anything,” said Yang.

“That’s life. Even if there is a lot of injustice in society, there’s no point in getting angry about it.” And as he pointed out, the discovery of the “eighth wonder of the world” may not have made him rich, but it still makes him proud.