Category Archives: EUROPE

Christians Hid a Dinosaur Fossil 170 Years Ago Because It Contradicted the Bible

Christians Hid a Dinosaur Fossil 170 Years Ago Because It Contradicted the Bible

After 170 years of being concealed by god-fearing individuals, a fossil from a prehistory sea dinosaur, the Ichthyosaurus, has finally been identified, with 160 million years old evidence of life in tow.

Religions have historically not been too open about new scientific findings that clash with established dogma.

So when a family in England in 1850 inadvertently unearthed a dinosaur fossil, an Ichthyosaurus, to be precise, they promptly re-buried it because it flew in the face of the religious teachings the family held dear.

And the find preceded Charles Darwin and his theory of evolution by a few years, so one can only imagine how mystified these folks were at the sight of this enormous, lizard-like fish skeleton.

Fossil of Ichthyosaurus.

In fairness to the Temperley clan, of Somerset, the discovery must be framed within the context of their times, Victorian England, a time in which faith ruled communities and folks believed their origin stories lay in the Bible.

Understanding the period in which they lived makes the reasons they re-buried the fossil all the more clear. Now, however, the fossil is the family’s pride and joy, and more than that, it’s part of their brand and business.

Julian Temperley is the head of the family’s distillery, which makes brandy cider, and he is featuring the fossil on an array of product logos. How times have changed!

Ichthyosaurus.

He told the story of how his ancestors first discovered the Ichthyosaurus in an interview with IFL Science, a web page devoted to science and nature. He explained how his relatives first found the fossil on their property in 1850.

Initially, they took it back to the family home, where everyone marvelled over this curious object. But they felt keeping it, or trying to understand what it actually was, or displaying it, was “denying god,” Temperley said.

Hence, they took it back to the quarry where it had been unearthed and promptly re-buried it.  “Fossils weren’t really explained until Darwin came along,” Temperley said. “Up until then, if you believed in fossils you were denying the Bible.”

Ichthyosaurus fossil.

Over the ensuing decades, he added, “whenever we visited Somerset as kids, we dug it up and were generally amazed.”

As the years passed and the strictures of the church loosened, the family came to realize the fossil was something to be prized and shown.

But it was an act of nature, a flood in 2013 — 2014, that was the deciding factor in the skeleton’s favor.

“We realized it was not a good idea to leave it buried,” Temperley told IFL Science. “I thought we ought to look after it.” Consequently, he spent more than $3,500 (USD) to have the skeleton fully restored and mounted.

Ichthyosaurus skeleton.

But the “fish lizard” is paying him back, as it’s now an integral part of his family’s brand of brandy cider. “Putting it with ageing spirits,” Temperley noted wryly, “seems like the right thing to do.”

Although the hidden dinosaur fossil of the Ichthyosaurus found on the Temperley property so long ago is a rare discovery, the 90 million-year-old remains are not the only one of their kind.

Though the creature has been extinct for many centuries, the longest skeleton found was almost 11.5 feet, discovered by an archaeologist in the 1990s.

That one hangs at a museum in London, and while it may be the largest, it doesn’t have the distinction of adorning a family label — that unique honour goes only to the Temperley creature, truly one of a kind.

Ancient images of gladiators unearthed at the city of Pompeii

Ancient images of gladiators unearthed at the city of Pompeii

Archeologists in the ancient Roman city of Pompeii have uncovered a well-preserved fresco showing fighting gladiators.

This scene marks the end of a war between a murmullo and a Thracian form of gladiator, one victorious and the other losing. Both types are described by weapons and armor.

It is the latest discovery in Regio V, a 21.8-hectare (54-acre) site to the north of the archaeological park that is yet to open to the public.

A detail from the fresco of two gladiators fighting that was found at a site north of Pompeii’s archaeological park

The fresco was found on a wall beneath the stairwell of what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators and which provided accommodation on a higher floor for them to sleep with sex workers.

“It’s very probable that this place was frequented by gladiators,” said Massimo Osanna, the director-general of Pompei’s archaeological park.

The fresco was discovered on a wall in what was probably a tavern frequented by gladiators.

“We are in Regio V, not far from where there were barracks for gladiators, where among other things, there was graffiti referring to this world.

“Of particular interest in this fresco is the very realistic representation of wounds on the wrist and chest of the unsuccessful gladiator … we don’t know the outcome of the fight, he could have died or was given grace.”

A well-preserved ‘fast food’ counter was unearthed in March.

Excavations at Regio V have yielded dozens of discoveries since work began last year as part of the EU-funded Great Pompeii Project.

A frescoed “fast food” counter, or thermopolium, was found in March and another depicting the mythological hunter Narcissus enraptured by his own reflection in a pool of water was discovered in February.

Human remains have also been found, including the skeletons of two women and three children huddled together in a villa, as well as the remains of a harnessed horse and saddle.

Much work has been done across the entire park, which has attracted almost 4 million visitors a year since 2013 when Unesco threatened to place it on its list of world heritage sites in peril unless Italian authorities improved on preservation.

“A few years ago the archaeological site of Pompeii was known throughout the world for its negative image: the collapses, the strikes and the queues of tourists under the sun,” said Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini.

“Today’s story is one of redemption and millions of more tourists. It is a welcoming site, but above all, we have returned to doing research through new digs.

“The discovery of the fresco shows that Pompeii is an inexhaustible mine of research and knowledge for today’s archaeologists and for those of the future.”

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters

Archaeologists have been keen in recent years to apply all kinds of modern methods for monitoring prehistoric migration; they analyze DNA and strontium isotopes in human remains.

“To illuminate the migration of potters in ancient Greece about 3200 years ago by more traditional methods,” says Dr. Bartłomiej Lis, who carries out his research at the British School at Athens as part of a grant obtained thanks to the EU Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions program.

His analysis shows that around 1200 BC, potters from the island of Aegina (near Athens) left their homes and began to make characteristic vessels in many places scattered along the Gulf of Euboea, north of Aegina.

Aegina seen from the shores of Attica

Dr. Lis drew his conclusion on the basis of meticulous analysis of ceramic vessels in terms of methods of their manufacture, from the moment of obtaining clay and its preparation for firing the vessels.

“Thanks to this, I understood the process of making ceramic vessels in Aegina and I was able to compare these vessels with those found in other Greek regions”, the scientist says.

It turned out that the potters working on the island of Aegina were making their vessels in a very different way from other potters operating at the same time in Greece.

These differences concerned both the method of building the walls of the vessel without using a potter`s wheel, as well as other details of the production process.

In addition, potters from Aegina used to mark their products, which was probably associated with the fact that they shared kilns, but could also be their trademark.

“These observations led to the identification in many places along the Gulf of Euboea, the water corridor leading from Athens and the Saronic Gulf to the north, of the same characteristic vessels, but made of ceramic pastes different from those used in Aegina”, says Dr. Lis.

The analysis of ceramic pastes was deepened by the use of petrography, a technique borrowed from geology, in which the Fitch Laboratory at the British School specializes.

Dr. Lis learned this method under the guidance of the laboratory director, Dr. Evangelii Kiriatzi. Petrography allows to both determine the origin of the vessels and better understand the techniques of their manufacture.

The Polish scientist emphasizes that both aspects were crucial for the success of his project.

Dr. Lis during petrographic analysis

The researcher believes that the potters from Aegina left the island in at least two stages over the course of several decades.

In turn, the large variety of used pottery pastes clearly indicates the acquisition of raw material from various places and thus the production of vessels typical of the island of Aegina in many locations along the Gulf of Euboea.

“The first stage of migration may have resulted from problems with the sale of manufactured vessels. During this period, we observe a collapse of trade in pottery, which probably also affected the potters from Aegina. Seasonal wandering could be a way to take fate into their own hands”, the archaeologist speculates.

Pottering of potters: archaeologist traces the migration of ancient Greek potters
Examples of Aegina-type vessels made outside of Aegina, Pefkakia.

According to the researcher, the second stage was associated with the permanent relocation of potters, supposedly as a result of economic and political changes ca. 1200 BC. At that time, Aegina, as well as its immediate surroundings, were not a safe place to live.

“Many of the previously flourishing settlements were deserted, and people apparently moved to safer areas. In fact, the only trace of these movements are vessels made by potters who were part of these migrations”, Dr. Lis emphasizes.

Microscopic images of ceramic fabrics of the vessel made on Aegina (left) and near Pefkakia (right)

The scientist failed to unambiguously determine the sex of ceramics makers in Aegina.

“However, both the specialization visible in the production of vessels and the fact of their itinerant production, which according to ethnographic sources, women never undertook, suggest that they were men” – the scientist believes.

How white skin evolved in Europeans: Pale complexions only spread in the region 8,000 years ago, study claims

How white skin evolved in Europeans: Pale complexions only spread in the region 8,000 years ago, study claims

Humans around the world display myriad skin tones and eye colors that are fascinating and wonderful in their variety. Research continues on to see how people have acquired the features they have now and when to complete our puzzle of ancient human history.

New anthropology research now suggests that light-colored skin and the tallness associated with European genetics are relatively recent traits to the continent.

An international team of researchers as headed by Harvard University’s Dr. Iain Mathieson put forth a study at the 84th annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists recently.

Based on 83 human samples from Holocene Europe as analyzed under the 1000 Genomes Project, it is now found that for the majority of the time that humans have lived in Europe, the people had dark skin, and the genes signifying light skin only appear within the past 8,000 years.

This recent and relatively quick process of natural selection suggests to researchers that the traits which spread rapidly were advantageous within that environment, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

This dramatic evidence suggests modern Europeans do not appear as their long ancient ancestors did.

Spreading Genetics

The samples are derived from a wide range of ancient populations, rather than a few individuals, and they supplied researchers with five specific genes associated with skin color and diet.

AAAS reports that the “modern humans who came out of Africa to originally settle Europe about 40,000 years are presumed to have had dark skin, which is advantageous in sunny latitudes.

And the new data confirm that about 8500 years ago, early hunter-gatherers in Spain, Luxembourg, and Hungary also had darker skin: They lacked versions of two genes—SLC24A5 and SLC45A2—that lead to depigmentation and, therefore, pale skin in Europeans today. 

Then, the first farmers from the Near East arrived in Europe; they carried both genes for light skin. As they interbred with the indigenous hunter-gatherers, one of their light-skin genes swept through Europe, so that central and southern Europeans also began to have lighter skin. The other gene variant, SLC45A2, was at low levels until about 5800 years ago when it swept up to high frequency.”

This differed from the situation farther north. Ancient remains from southern Sweden 7,700 years ago were found to have the gene variants indicating light skin and blonde hair, and another gene, HERC2/OCA2, which causes blue eyes.

This indicated to researchers that ancient hunter-gatherers of northern Europe were already pale and blue-eyed. This light skin trait would have been advantageous in the regions of less sunlight.

Natural Selection

Mathieson and colleagues do not specify in the study why the genes were favored and spread as quickly as they did, but it is suggested that Vitamin D absorption likely played a role. Ancient hunter-gatherers in Europe also could not digest milk 8,000 years ago. The ability to do so only came about 4,300 years ago.

Paleoanthropologist Nina Jablonski of Pennsylvania State University notes that people in less sunny climates required different skin pigmentations in order to absorb and synthesize Vitamin D. The pale skin was advantageous in the region, as well was the ability to digest milk.

“Natural selection has favored two genetic solutions to that problem—evolving pale skin that absorbs UV more efficiently or favoring lactose tolerance to be able to digest the sugars and vitamin D naturally found in milk,” writes AAAS.

This new research follows related studies on pre-agricultural European genomes and modern humans in Europe before the rise of farming.

Artist’s depiction of Stone Age peoples

DNA taken from the wisdom tooth of a 7,000-year-old human found in Spain in 2006 overturned the popular image of light-skinned European hunter-gatherers. The study revealed that the individual had dark hair and the dark-skinned genes of an African. However, the man had blue eyes, an unexpected find by researchers. The hunter-gatherer is the oldest known individual in Europe found to have blue eyes.

Artist’s impression of a blue-eyed hunter gatherer

Previous research published in 2008 found that the earliest mutations in the eye-color genes that led to the evolution of blue eyes probably occurred about 10,000 years ago in individuals living in around the Black Sea.

The surprising aspect of the findings is that while it is fundamental to natural selection that advantageous genetic attributes spread, it is not often a speedy process. The study shows that these genetic pale skin traits swept across Europe speedily, and that phenomenon is of particular interest to researchers.

The preprint study “Eight thousand years of natural selection in Europe” by Mathieson and colleagues has been published in the online journal BioRxiv. These new findings shed light on humanity’s genetic past, giving us a clearer vision of our ancient origins.

What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals’ Diet

What Discovery of Oldest Human Poop Reveals About Neanderthals’ Diet

Neanderthals have consumed vegetables — we know that it has definitely been put under the microscope, thanks to the oldest piece of human fecal matter ever found.

The site where the poop was sampled from

Five soil samples from a known Neanderthal site in El Salt in Spain are thought to be obtained and are estimated to date back around 50,000 years.

The find puts to shame the previous oldest hominid poop discovered in the Western Hemisphere, a 14,000-year-old piece of shit found in an Oregon cave (that particular fecal find is in dispute).

Some brave souls from MIT and the University of La Laguna (“samples were collected by hand,” the researchers said) analyzed the makeup of the samples and found that Neanderthals ate a diet dominated by meat, but definitely ate some plants, as well.

That’s because lead researcher Ainara Sistiaga and his team were able to identify, for the first time, the presence of metabolites such as 5B-stigmastanol and 5B-epistigmastanol, which are created when the body digests plant matter.

The existence of those metabolites “unambiguously record the ingestion of plants,” Sistiage writes in a study published today in PLOS One.

Obtaining the poop wasn’t as gross as you might expect—Sistiage and his team took soil samples, crushed them into a fine powder, and used laboratory equipment to identify tiny pieces of fecal matter.

And direct evidence from something like poop is much better at painting a picture of what Neanderthals ate than analyzing their tools or dental records.

“Except for the evidence of entrapped microfossils and organic residues in Neanderthal teeth, all previous palaeodietary reconstructions have been based on indirect evidence where preferential or selective preservation plays a key role,” Sistiage wrote.

In other words, our previous analyses had a bias toward identifying proteins, because they are easier to detect.

Recent dental records suggested that Neanderthals probably ate plants, but now we know for sure.

We also know, thanks to various biomarkers found in the poop, that Neanderthals had a pretty advanced digestive system that is similar to modern humans.

Advanced digestion, healthy diets, and smarts—Neanderthals are beginning to look a lot more like us than we ever could have expected.