New technology reveals hidden secrets of ancient Mexican codex

  • Mexican Codex Latino.jpg

A new technique in scanning ancient documents has revealed a multi-cultured pictograph hidden under layers of chalk and plaster and sheds light about what life in Mexico was like before the arrival of Europeans.

Hidden for 500-years under a layer of thick chalk and plaster, scientists used hyperspectral imaging to reveal dozens of colorful figures arranged in storytelling scenes on what has been called the Codex Selden.

Many codices have been recovered from Mexico and Central America and translated to tell stories of battles, rituals and genealogies, but only a handful predate the arrival of Europeans in the region. The Codex Selden – named after the English jurist, John Selden, who donated it to Oxford University in 1654 – seemed to be a blank, 16-feet long piece of deerskin.

But cracks in the chalk and plaster surface – originally put on, it’s thought, so the codex could be reused – showed glimpses of what seemed to be richly-colored pictographs. Over the years, researchers have tried scraping away the plaster layer, X-ray and even infrared scanning to uncover the images, but it wasn’t until the hyperspectral imaging that the codex’s truly revealed its secrets.

“This is very much a new technique,” David Howell, study co-author and head of heritage science at Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries, told LiveScience. “We’ve learned valuable lessons about how to use hyperspectral imaging in the future – both for this very fragile manuscript and for countless others like it.”

The codex – which is believed to date back to 1560 – shows a cast of different people, including two figures identified as siblings as they were connected by a red umbilical cord. There are also drawings of seven women with red hair and a number of figures walking with sticks or spears.

Researchers also noticed two recurring glyphs in the codex, one being a flint or knife and the other a name that may belong to a figure that appears in other codices and could be that of an important ancestral figure.

300-year-old secret ‘lucky’ shoe found in Cambridge University wall

This remarkably well-preserved shoe was likely used to ward off evil spirits some 300 years ago, researchers say.

This remarkably well-preserved shoe was likely used to ward off evil spirits some 300 years ago, researchers say.(Cambridge Archaeological Unit)

A 300-year-old shoe found in the walls of a University of Cambridge building was likely put there to ward off evil spirits.

Maintenance staff found the leather shoe — a men’s size 6, by today’s measurements — on Aug. 1 while installing electrical cables in a common room at St. John’s College, one of the constituent colleges that make up the university. The shoe was found between a chimney and a window, Cambridge archaeologist Richard Newman said in a statement. It was probably placed there during renovations between the end of the 1600s and the middle of the 1700s.

“Given its location, it is very likely that it was placed there to play a protective role for the Master of the College,” Newman said. “It may have even been one of his own shoes.”


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The practice of concealing shoes in walls is a tradition that dates back to at least the 1300s, according to the Northampton Museums & Art Gallery, which keeps a database of nearly 2,000 hidden shoes found since the 1950s. Superstition held that the concealed footwear warded off evil spirits, perhaps because the shoes took on the shape of the owner’s foot and therefore were thought to contain a little bit of the owner’s spirit. The typical hidden shoe was a child’s shoe, well-worn, usually hidden in a chimney, wall or roof. [The Surprising Origins of 9 Common Superstitions]

The Cambridge find was a left shoe measuring about 9.6 inches (24 centimeters) long. It had been worn long enough to wear a hole in the sole, but was otherwise well-preserved. It was found in the Second Court area of the college, in a room where senior academics often eat lunch. The building was completed by 1602, but archaeologists think the shoe was placed later, when the interior was being renovated.

Concealed shoes are an example of apotropaic magic, or magic meant to ward off evil and misfortune. According to a 1997 meeting of the Archaeological Leather Group, concealed shoes have been found in a Swiss monastery and in a Northamptonshire insane asylum. One was found at Hampton Court Palace on the River Thames. Even a few church-builders snuck their superstitions into the architecture: Concealed shoes have been found at Winchester and Ely cathedrals in England and at a Baptist church in Cheshire, according to a 1996 article in Costume.

Shoes aren’t the only type of good-luck charm once routinely embedded into walls. In the 1600s and onward, people would sometimes create “witch bottles” by placing hair or urine in a small pottery or glass bottle along with wine, needles or herbs. The bottles would then be hidden in a wall or beneath a floorboard to trap and destroy evil. Even creepier, perhaps, was the northern European tradition of placing a dried-out corpse of a cat inside a wall as a protective talisman.

The St. John’s shoe will be placed back in the wall alongside a small time capsule containing a newspaper and coins, according to the college.

“The tradition of leaving coins, or other things, in a wall when we finish work on a building is actually something that we still do today, although not out of superstition, of course. These days it’s more like leaving a signature to say we were here,” Steve Beeby, the head of maintenance at the college, said in the statement. “In terms of keeping evil spirits away, though, this shoe seems to have done a good job so far.”

Original article on Live Science. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Bunnies were butchered at ancient city of Teotihuacan

Scientists found a stone sculpture of a rabbit (shown here in an illustration) on one of the courtyards of a complex in the ancient city of Teotihuacan.

Scientists found a stone sculpture of a rabbit (shown here in an illustration) on one of the courtyards of a complex in the ancient city of Teotihuacan. (F. Botas)

Humans may have raised rabbits and hares in Mexico’s ancient city of Teotihuacan — but not to keep them as pets.

The bunnies were probably butchered 1,500 years ago for their meat, hide and fur, according to new research.

“Because no large mammals such as goats, cows or horses were available for domestication in pre-Hispanic Mexico, many assume that Native Americans did not have as intensive human-animal relationships as did societies of the Old World,” study author Andrew Somerville, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, said in a statement. Somerville’s study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, might change that perception. [In Photos: Human Sacrifices Discovered in Ancient City of Teotihuacan]

Bunny shop

Teotihuacan, about 30 miles northeast of modern-day Mexico City, was a sprawling city that flourished between about 2,100 years ago and 1,400 years ago. Built on a grid, the city might be most famous for its monumental pyramids, but Teotihuacan also had vast domestic complexes.

Inside one of these compounds, Oztoyahualco — which was used during the city’s Xolalpan phase (A.D. 350-550) — scientists found a high concentration of bones from cottontails and jackrabbits (collectively known as leporids, the family that includes rabbits and hares).


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Some of the rooms in this complex showed traces of animal butchering, including signatures of feces and blood in the soil, large collections of sharp obsidian blades, and a ground stone that was possibly used for cutting hides. A stone sculpture of a rabbit was even found in one of the courtyards of the complex.

To confirm that the animals were being intentionally bred by humans, Somerville and his colleagues tried to reconstruct the rabbits’ diet, by looking at isotope concentrations in the ancient bones.

Rabbit food

Isotopes are variations of chemical elements. The concentration of certain isotopes in skeletal remains can reveal what types of food animals ate and where they lived. The same type of technique has been used to reveal that Britain’s King Richard III ate game birds and drank wine, and that the first settlers of Sicily avoided seafood.

The researchers examined a total of 134 rabbit and hare bone samples from Teotihuacan, including 17 from the Oztoyahualco compound. They also looked at 13 bone samples from modern specimens in central Mexico.

Compared to modern wild specimens, the rabbits and hares from Teotihuacan had carbon isotope ratios that suggested they ate more human-farmed crops, such as maize and nopal cactus, the study found. What’s more, the specimens from Oztoyahualco had the strongest signatures of human-farmed food in their diet.

Somerville and his colleagues speculated that humans and rabbits might have once had a hunter-prey relationship, with the rabbits raiding crops in Teotihuacan and humans hunting them in their gardens. But this relationship may have eventually given rise to “active management and controlled reproduction,” with humans feeding the rabbits as they bred them to be used for food and their other products, such as fur, the authors of the study wrote.

“Our results suggest that citizens of the ancient city of Teotihuacan engaged in relationships with smaller and more diverse fauna, such as rabbits and jackrabbits, and that these may have been just as important as relationships with larger animals,” Somerville said in the statement.

Archaeologists are interested in evidence of animal domestication because it can signal other developments in complex society, and new discoveries can illuminate some surprising human-animal relationships, beyond the farmer-livestock one. Bird mummies, for instance, suggest that ancient Egyptians may have practiced falconry. And bones found in prehistoric villages in China suggest that farmers may have domesticated wild Asian leopard cats to keep as pets more than 5,000 years ago.

Original article on Live Science. Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

World’s largest pyramid is hidden in a mountain in Mexico

In this Nov. 21, 2006 file photo, the Our Lady of Remedios church is backdropped by the snowcapped volcano Popocatepetl, in Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla. It's perched atop an ancient pyramid.

In this Nov. 21, 2006 file photo, the Our Lady of Remedios church is backdropped by the snowcapped volcano Popocatepetl, in Cholula, in the Mexican state of Puebla. It’s perched atop an ancient pyramid. (AP Photo/Joel Merino, File)

When Hernan Cortez and his Spanish army marched into Cholula in present-day Mexico nearly 500 years ago, they were greeted by a peaceful people prone to building pyramids instead of stockpiles of weapons.

Those people and their pyramids fell, and fast, with 10% of the local population murdered in a day as their pyramids were torched into oblivion. But as legend has it, one mud-brick pyramid was hidden, perhaps accidentally by vegetation, and was for centuries mistaken for a mountain, until locals began to construct an insane asylum in 1910.

That’s when they discovered the largest monument ever constructed anywhere in the world. Tlachihualtepetl, or the Great Pyramid of Cholula, stands more than 200 feet tall and nearly 1,500 feet wide, dwarfing the Great Pyramid of Giza in volume, reports the BBC.


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The Spaniards settled in Cholula and kept up with the local affinity for religious monuments, erecting enough churches so that there is now at least one for every day of the year.

But when they built the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remediosa on what they believed was a big hill, they were actually placing a sort of ornamental top on what is in reality a pyramid setup modeled similarly to Russian stacking dolls, this one stacked at least six pyramids high.

The original is thought to date back to around 300 BC, with each successive pyramid built over it by future civilizations. Today the “odd landmark” doesn’t look like much more than a “grassy pre-Hispanic pyramid,” as Afar magazine reports, but the marketplace that winds up from the pyramid’s base to the church at its top is a testament to its exceptional endurance.

(Giza stands slightly askew.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: World’s Largest Pyramid Was Mistaken as a Mountain

Large piece of snake skin found near Maine river

Large snake skin found in Maine.

Large snake skin found in Maine. (Westbrook Police Department)

Authorities in Maine have warned the public about snakes after a large snake skin was found near the Presumpscot River on Saturday.

Westbrook police said they have been searching for a 10-foot snake since June after a woman reported seeing it near a playground. There have been several other sightings of the reptile, dubbed “Wessie,” since, according to WMTW-TV.

The snake skin was found near Riverbank Park at around 3 p.m., Police Chief Janine Roberts said.

Police are trying to determine the type of snake.

“Until the type of snake is determined and we can assess the safety risk, we caution people who recreate along the Presumpscot River to remain alert, maintain a safe distance from any wildlife, and report any sightings of the snake to the Westbrook Police Department,” authorities said in a statement.

Googly-eyed purple squid sighting delights scientists

NOW PLAYINGScientists spot adorable squid with googly eyes

A purple squid with eyes so googly it could easily be mistaken for a character in the movie “Finding Nemo” was recently spotted by scientists off the coast of Southern California.

The so-called stubby squid (Rossia pacifica) is a species of bobtail squid native to the northern Pacific Ocean. These adorable sea creatures can be found in waters from Japan to Southern California, and typically dwell along the ocean floor, at depths of around 984 feet, though they have been spotted as deep as 4,260 feet, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI).

The stubby squid’s giant eyes, that “look painted on,” delighted the scientists aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus. In a live stream of the Nautlius’ undersea explorations, one researcher said the googly-eyed squid looks “like some little kid dropped their toy.” [Photos: See the World’s Cutest Sea Creatures]

“On that watch it happened to be a lot of geology folks or ecology folks, so a lot of the commentary was of course more like ‘What is this thing, it’s so cute!’ and sometimes we have less of that when we see rocks,” Samantha Wishnak, a science communication fellow aboard the E/V Nautilus, told Live Science.

The scientists on watch during the squid sighting also initially misidentified the stubby squid as a cuttlefish, which the squid is closely related to. Wishnak said the E/V Nautilus team was able to rule out cuttlefish, as the species is not found in the eastern Pacific Ocean. With a few other ideas for what the species might be, the researchers on board collaborated with scientists ashore and at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and MBARI, to identify the stubby squid.

Stubby squids are nocturnal hunters, so Wishnak said it was exciting to see the animal in its “somewhat natural behavior” rather than hidden in the sea floor.

“They actually have this pretty awesome superpower, they can turn on a little sticky mucus jacket over their body and sort of collect bits of sand or pebbles or whatever they’re burrowing into and make a really nice camouflage jacket,” Wishnak said. “When they go to ambush something and prey on something, they’re able to sort of turn off that mucus jacket.”

Other stubby squid sightings by divers have resulted in the same “deer in the headlights” kind of reaction, Wishnak said. The animals are used to being in darker waters, camouflaged from view.

“I think what we encountered was a squid who was not expecting to see us in any way,” Wishnak said.

The E/V Nautilus is currently on a four-month expedition to explore the eastern Pacific Ocean. Next, the ship will move from the coast of Southern California to the San Francisco Bay. The vessel’s mission is to explore the oceans and seek out the unknown, and is operated by the Ocean Exploration Trust, a nonprofit organization founded by oceanographer Robert Ballard.

Recent discoveries on this expedition have included a mysterious purple sea orband a sighting of the world’s largest bony fish, the Mola mola.

Original article on Live Science.

Copyright 2016 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Huge helium-filled Airlander 10 airship makes maiden flight

NOW PLAYINGWorld’s largest aircraft takes maiden voyage

The massive blimp-shaped Airlander 10 airship made its maiden flight in the U.K. Wednesday.

Engines roaring, the 302-foot helium-filled vehicle rose slowly into the air from Cardington airfield, 45 miles north of London.

Developed by Hybrid Air Vehicles, the Airlander is a hybrid of blimp, helicopter and airplane. Nicknamed the “flying bum” because of its bulbous front end, the vehicle can stay aloft for days at a time.

The stately aircraft performed a circuit of the area — watched by hundreds of local people who had parked their cars around the perimeter of the airfield.


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The airship reached a maximum speed of 35 knots and climbed to 500 feet during its 19-minute flight.

Two test pilots were involved in the maiden flight. “It was privilege to fly the Airlander for the first time and it flew wonderfully,” said Chief Test Pilot Dave Burns, in a statement. “I’m really excited about getting it airborne. It flew like a dream.”

“Medal winning performance? First flight of world’s largest aircraft today created by British company,” tweeted Hybrid Air Vehicles Wednesday, in a reference to the Rio Olympics.

Medal winning performance? First flight of world’s largest aircraft today created by British company

The flight marked the start of Airlander 10’s Flight Test Programme, which is expected to last for a number of months. The maiden flight was originally planned for Sunday, but was postponed as a result of an unspecified technical issue.

All test objectives were met during the flight, which included safe launch, flight, landing and a series of gentle turns at increasing speed, according to Hybrid Air Vehicles.

Touted as a way to provide low-carbon aviation, the Airlander is designed to use less fuel than a plane, but carry heavier loads than conventional airships Its developer says it can reach 16,000 feet, travel at up to 90 mph and stay aloft for up to two weeks.

The aircraft was initially developed for the U.S. military, which planned to use it for surveillance in Afghanistan. The U.S. blimp program was scrapped in 2013 and since then Hybrid Air Vehicles, a small British aviation firm that dreams of ushering in a new era for airships, has sought funding from government agencies and individual donors.

Hybrid Air Vehicles says that customer interest in the blimp is increasing, particularly in the defense and security sectors.

The vast aircraft is based at Cardington, where the first British airships were built during and after World War I. That program was abandoned after a 1930 crash that killed almost 50 people, including Britain’s air minister.

That accident and others — including the fiery 1937 crash in New Jersey of the Hindenburg, which killed 35 — dashed the dream of the airship as a mode of transportation for decades.

Unlike hydrogen, the gas used in the Hindenburg, helium is not flammable.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Devastating plant fungus may eradicate bananas within five years


Cavendish bananas are the most popular variety in the U.S. But they are facing a deadly fungal disease compound. (AP)

If you love bananas, better buy all the bunches you can because the sweet yellow fruit you know and love might be extinct within the next five to 10 years.

According to plant pathologist Ioannis Stergiopoulos, a fast-advancing disease compound, known as the Sigatoka complex, could be a lethal threat to the world’s banana supply.

The Sigatoka complex is made up of three fungal diseases — yellow Sigatoka, eumusae leaf spot and black Sigatoka.

Of the three, black Sigatoka poses the greatest risk to the 100 million tonnes of bananas grown annually in almost 120 countries.

To understand how the fungi attack, Mr Stergiopoulos sequenced the genomes of eumusae leaf spot and black Sigatoka, and then compared results with the previously sequenced yellow Sigatoka genome.

What he found was the three fungal diseases not only shut down the immune system of the banana tree, but the metabolism of the fungi also adapted to match that of the host plant.

This means the fungi can produce enzymes to break down the plant’s cell walls to feed on its sugars and other carbohydrates.

“We have demonstrated that two of the three most serious banana fungal diseases have become more virulent by increasing their ability to manipulate the banana’s metabolic path ways and make use of its nutrients,” he told Digg.

“This parallel change in metabolism of the pathogen and the host plant has been overlooked until now and may represent a ‘molecular fingerprint’ of the adaptation process.

“It is really a wake-up call to the research community to look at similar mechanisms between pathogens and their plant hosts.”

Mr Stergiopoulos pointed out Cavendish bananas — those most commonly found in the supermarket — are grown from shoot cuttings, which means a disease capable of wiping out one plant could destroy them all.

“The Cavendish banana plants all originated from one plant and so as clones, they all have the same genotype — and that is a recipe for disaster,” he said.

Mr Stergiopoulos suggested the ready availability of bananas gives them an “image problem” because consumers think the supply will never cease to exist.

In order to prevent the global banana industry from being wiped out in the next decade, farmers need to make 50 fungicide applications to their banana crops annually.

“Thirty to 35 per cent of banana production cost is in fungicide applications,” he said.

“Because many farmers can’t afford the fungicide, they grow bananas of lesser quality, which bring them less income.”

Despite the negative outlook, there is the possibility scientists can create a defense against the complex. In 2001, Australia’s largest banana production area – Tully in far north Queensland – was close to extinction after Black sigatoka was discovered.

An intense de-leafing programme was undertaken for the entire production area within a 50-kilometre radius. Additionally, Tully growers conducted a weekly aerial spraying campaign, covering some 4,500 hectares. In 2003, a team of scientists confirmed a world-first had been completed, with the Black sigatoka being completely eradicated.

However, as this complex is made up of three fungal diseases, it might not be so easy to destroy.

The discovery was reported online in PLOS Genetics.

Explorers find 2nd-oldest confirmed shipwreck in Great Lakes

 Image result for Explorers find 2nd-oldest confirmed shipwreck in Great Lakes Associated Press

This July 16, 2016, photo taken from underwater video shows the "Washington", which sank during a storm in 1803. The team of underwater explorers says it has found the second-oldest confirmed shipwreck in the Great Lakes, an American-built, Canadian owned-sloop that sank in Lake Ontario 213 years ago. The three-member western New York-based team says it discovered the wreck of the Washington earlier this summer in deep water off Oswego. (Roger L. Pawlowski via AP)

This July 16, 2016, photo taken from underwater video shows the “Washington”, which sank during a storm in 1803. The team of underwater explorers says it has found the second-oldest confirmed shipwreck in the Great Lakes, an American-built, Canadian owned-sloop that sank in Lake Ontario 213 years ago. The three-member western New York-based team says it discovered the wreck of the Washington earlier this summer in deep water off Oswego. (Roger L. Pawlowski via AP)

The second-oldest confirmed shipwreck in the Great Lakes, an American-built, Canadian-owned sloop that sank in Lake Ontario more than 200 years ago, has been found, a team of underwater explorers said Wednesday.

The three-member western New York-based team said it discovered the shipwreck  this summer in deep water off Oswego, in central New York. Images captured by a remotely operated vehicle confirmed it is the Washington, which sank during a storm in 1803, team member Jim Kennard said.

“This one is very special. We don’t get too many like this,” said Kennard, who along with Roger Pawlowski and Roland “Chip” Stevens has found numerous wrecks in Lake Ontario and other waterways.

The sloop Washington was built on Lake Erie in Pennsylvania in 1798 and was used to transport people and goods between western New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario. It was placed on skids and hauled by oxen teams across the Niagara Isthmus to Lake Ontario in 1802 after being sold to Canadian merchants.

The 53-foot-long ship was carrying at least five people and a cargo of merchandise, including goods from India, when it set sail from Kingston, Ontario, for its homeport of Niagara, Ontario, on Nov. 6, 1803. The vessel was caught in a fierce storm and sank.

At least three crew members and two merchants were on the sloop. All aboard died. According to Kennard, contemporary records said portions of the cargo and pieces of the ship were found the following day on a shore near Oswego.

The Washington is the oldest commercial sailing vessel found in the Great Lakes and the only sloop known to have sailed on lakes Erie and Ontario, Kennard said. Single-masted sloops were replaced in the early 19th century by two- and three-masted schooners, which were much easier to sail, according to Carrie Sowden, archaeological director at the National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio, which sponsors the New York team’s explorations.

Since there are no known drawings of the Washington, the sloop’s discovery will help maritime historians learn more about the design and construction of that type of sailing vessel used on the Great Lakes between the American Revolution and the War of 1812, she said.

“Every shipwreck offers something different that adds to our knowledge base,” Sowden said.

The oldest vessel found in the Great Lakes is HMS Ontario, a British warship that sank in Lake Ontario in 1780. Kennard and another explorer found that wreck in 2008.

NASA is going to an asteroid, and it wants your help



NASA is seeking research partners for its ambitious asteroid redirect mission, the space agency recently announced.

The asteroid mission sounds like science fiction. In December 2021, NASA plans to launch a robotic mission that will travel to an asteroid, grab a multiton boulder off its surface, bring it back—and then put it in orbit around the moon. The space agency says they’ve already identified four asteroid candidates.

After that, with a launch in 2026, astronauts will travel to the asteroid and research it, bringing back samples to Earth.

“These samples will contain far more asteroid material than has ever been returned by a space mission, which could open new scientific discoveries about the formation of our solar system, the origin of life on Earth, and help determine the potential for use of asteroid resources,” NASA said in a statement.

That statement was announcing that they would soon be releasing a Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) related to the asteroid mission, meaning that they will be looking for scientific research proposals.


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Not only will this mission help the space agency better understand asteroids and our solar system, but NASA says it will also help prepare them to protect the Earth from potentially hazardous asteroids, as well as prepare for a Mars journey.

“The robotic mission also will demonstrate planetary defense techniques to deflect dangerous asteroids and protect Earth if needed in the future,” NASA says. (The one they capture will be too small to harm Earth, even if it will be nowhere near it, according to NASA.)

The space agency says that there could be commercial and other benefits stemming from the asteroid mission.

“This BAA anticipates that capabilities and technologies developed through these partnerships will also provide significant commercial, scientific, exploration technology/capability and/or planetary defense applications beyond [the asteroid redirect mission],” NASA said.

The space agency anticipates keeping the window for proposals open until 2018.

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger