400-year-old embalmed hearts found under French convent

This is a heart-shaped lead urn with an inscription identifying the contents as the heart of Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac.

This is a heart-shaped lead urn with an inscription identifying the contents as the heart of Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac. (Rozenn Colleter, Ph.D./INRAP)

Four hundred years after they were buried in heart-shaped lead urns, five embalmed human hearts have been discovered in a cemetery in northwestern France.

Scientists said they were able to peer inside those organs with modern medical imaging techniques, revealing the hearts’ chambers, valves and arteries, some still bearing marks of disease.

The hearts were discovered underneath the basement of the Convent of the Jacobins in Rennes, where archaeologists with France’s National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research have been excavating graves for the past several years, ahead of a plan to turn the site into a conference center. [The 10 Weirdest Ways We Deal With the Dead]

So far, the archaeologists have unearthed hundreds of burials dating back to the late 16th or early 17th centuries, including the well-preserved corpse of a widow named Louise de Quengo, Lady of Brefeillac, who died in 1656. De Quengo’s body had been sealed in a lead coffin, and when that container was opened for an autopsy recently, the woman’s clothes —a cape, linen shirt, wool leg warmers and cork-soled shoes —were remarkably still intact, according to a report in The Guardian.

Inside de Quengo’s coffin, archaeologists also found a lead case containing theheart of her husband, Toussaint Perrien, Knight of Brefeillac.

“It was common during that time period to be buried with the heart of a husband or wife,” Dr. Fatima-Zohra Mokrane, a radiologist at Rangueil Hospital at the University Hospital of Toulouse in France, who led the new study, said in a statement. “It’s a very romantic aspect to the burials.”

Four other heart-shaped urns had been discovered in the funerary vaults of elite-class families at the Convent of the Jacobins. In an effort to learn more about the health of those 400-year-old hearts, Mokrane and a team of scientists cleaned the organs and removed the embalming material so that they could scan the hearts using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT).

“Since four of the five hearts were very well-preserved, we were able to see signs of present-day heart conditions, such as plaque and atherosclerosis,” Mokrane said in a statement.

One heart showed no signs of disease, but three others showed a buildup of plaque on the coronary arteries, which can cause a blockage of the heart, Mokrane and her colleagues found. The findings were reported Dec. 2 at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, in Chicago.

It’s not the first time scientists have studied preserved hearts from the archaeological record. After England’s King Richard I, nicknamed “Richard the Lionheart,” died in 1199, his heart was embalmed separately from his body and deposed in the church of Notre-Dame in Rouen. A study published in the journal Nature Scientific Reports in 2013 found that the king’s heart had been treated with myrtle, daisy, mint, frankincense, creosote and mercury—substances that were likely inspired by both biblical texts and the necessities of preservation.

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Stonehenge stones may have been first erected in another country

In this Tuesday Dec. 17, 2013 file photo, visitors take photographs of the world heritage site of Stonehenge, England.

In this Tuesday Dec. 17, 2013 file photo, visitors take photographs of the world heritage site of Stonehenge, England. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, File)

Stonehenge may reside in England, but it “was a Welsh monument from its very beginning.” So says Professor Mike Parker Pearson in reference to what is a big step forward in our understanding of Stonehenge, reports the BBC.

His team’s research, published Monday in the journal Antiquity, establishes the source of the monument’s “bluestones,” the smaller of its stones, which for nine decades were known to generally hail from the Preseli Hills in Wales.

Now, scientists say they know exactly where in Wales they came from: the “spotted dolerite” bluestones hail from Carn Goedog, while the “rhyolite” were extracted from Craig Rhos-y-felin, reports Phys.org.

The burnt hazelnuts and charcoal that persist as remnants of millennia-old campfires at the quarries further flesh out the tale of the rocks. “We have dates of around 3400 BC for Craig Rhos-y-felin and 3200 BC for Carn Goedog, which is intriguing because the bluestones didn’t get put up at Stonehenge until around 2900 BC,” says Parker Pearson per Phys.org.

“It could have taken those Neolithic stone-draggers nearly 500 years to get them to Stonehenge, but that’s pretty improbable.” His theory: The stones were put to use in a local monument, which was latter disassembled.

His team suspects the remnants of that monument could sit between the two quarries; “we may find something big in 2016,” says one scientist. If they do, Parker Pearson believes it could reveal “the mystery of why Stonehenge was built and why some of its stones were brought so far.” One theory he shares with the Guardian: that it’s a “monument of unification, bringing together people from across the many parts of Britain.” (This massive site might put Stonehenge to shame.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Stonehenge May Have Been Erected in Another Country

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Ancient ‘wand’ may be oldest example of lead work in the Levant

The ancient lead and wood artifact isn't much larger than a modern pocketknife.

The ancient lead and wood artifact isn’t much larger than a modern pocketknife. (Yahalom-Mack et al.)

A lead and wood artifact discovered in a roughly 6,000-year-old grave in a desert cave is the oldest evidence of smelted lead on record in the Levant, a new study finds.

The artifact, which looks like something between an ancient wand and a tiny sword, suggests that people in Israel’s northern Negev desert learned how to smelt lead during the Late Chalcolithic, a period known for copper work but not lead work, said Naama Yahalom-Mack, the study’s lead researcher and a postdoctoral student of archaeology with a specialty in metallurgy at the Institute of Earth Sciences and the Institute of Archaeology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Moreover, an analysis of the lead suggests that it came from Anatolia (in modern-day Turkey), which is part of the Levant, or the area encompassing the eastern Mediterranean. The artifact was likely a valuable tool, given that it shows signs of wear and was placed in a grave alongside the remains of an individual in the cave, she said. [See Photos of Another Ancient Burial in the Southern Levant]

“This is an incredible find,” Yahalom-Mack told Live Science. “It’s a uniquely preserved object from the late fifth millennium, which includes metal that was brought all the way from Anatolia. It probably had very high significance for the people who were buried with it.”

Researchers discovered the artifact in Ashalim Cave, a sprawling underground cavern that’s been on archaeologists’ radar since the 1970s. In 2012, the Israel Cave Research Center remapped the cave, and called in a team of archaeologists when they discovered artifacts.

Archaeologists Mika Ullman and Uri Davidovich led the archaeological survey and studied the mazelike rooms, including one used for a burial chamber. The chamber was so small and low that they had to get down on their stomachs and wiggle forward to see the secluded space, Yahalom-Mack said.

It was there that they found the lead artifact.

“It was just lying there,” Yahalom-Mack said. “All they needed to do was pick it up from the surface of the cave.”

The artifact is small — a stick of wood attached to a sculpted lead piece. The wood measures 8.8 inches long, and is made of tamarisk (a group of plants common in the Negev desert, from the genus Tamarix). The lead piece is 1.4 inches long and weighs about 5.5 ounces, according to the study.

Radiocarbon dating suggests the wood was created between 4300 B.C. and 4000 B.C., “which is extremely early,” Yahalom-Mack said. “For a wooden artifact to be preserved [that long] is incredible.”

Smelting lead

Lead, a bluish-white and malleable metal, is typically found with other elements — such as zinc, silver and copper — in nature. Lead is rarely found by itself, meaning that metal workers have to smelt it — or heat and extract it from rocks known as ore that contain metals and other minerals.

In fact, smelted lead is unheard of during the Late Chalcolithic, Yahalom-Mack said. During that time, people had figured out how to smelt copper and copper alloys — which is unusual, given that copper is more difficult to smelt than lead because lead can be smelted at lower temperatures.

Lead doesn’t tend to occur naturally in the Negev desert, so after discovering the artifact, the researchers studied its isotopes (variations of an element) to determine its origin. An analysis showed that the artifact “was made of almost pure metallic lead, likely smelted from lead ores originating in the Taurus [mountain] range in Anatolia,” the researchers wrote in the study. [In Photos: Amazing Ruins of the Ancient World]

Perhaps the finished artifact was brought from Anatolia, or maybe the raw materials made their way to the southern Levant, where the object was assembled, the researchers said.

“In this respect, it fits very well with what we know about the Chalcolithic culture, which was a highly developed culture with amazing abilities in art and craft,” Yahalom-Mack said. People from the Chalcolithic period also carved ivory and used a sophisticated method known as “lost-wax casting” to fashion metal objects, she said.

Ultimate purpose

How the Late Chalcolithic people used the artifact, however, is anyone’s guess.

It could be a mace-head used mostly for ceremonial purposes, as mace-heads (clublike objects) were found at another Late Chalcolithic archaeology site known as Nahal Mishmar, or the Cave of the Treasure, in the southern Levant. But unlike the Nahal Mishmar mace-heads, the newfound artifact is likely not made of cast metal, and it’s also smaller, so it may have served another purpose, Yahalom-Mack said.

Another idea is that the artifact is a spindle, with the wooden shaft serving as the spindle rod and the lead object serving as a weight known as a whorl. There are abrasions on the lead that could have been made by spinning, and Dafna Langgut, a co-researcher of the study and the director of the Laboratory of Archaeobotany and Ancient Environments at Tel Aviv University, is investigating this idea.

If the object were a spindle, its whorl would have been slightly heavier than most known whorls (which are typically made of stone), meaning the artifact would have produced only coarse yarn, Yahalom-Mack noted. Because of this discrepancy, the researchers speculate that the artifact was used for some unknown purpose before being repurposed as a spindle whorl, they said in the study.

“Its eventual deposition in the deepest section of Ashalim Cave, in relation to the burial of selected individuals, serves as evidence of the symbolic significance it possessed until the final phase of its biography,” the researchers wrote.

Other lead work

There are a few examples of lead work during the Late Chalcolithic, but none has been studied as thoroughly as the new artifact.

For instance, archaeologists have found two lead objects dating to before the fourth millennium B.C. in northern Mesopotamia and eastern Anatolia. But because these objects haven’t been examined, it’s unknown whether they were smelted or crafted from native lead, Yahalom-Mack said.

However, if these two objects were smelted, it would suggest that ancient people in the Middle East had learned how to smelt lead but that the groups likely learned this skill independently of each other, at around the same time during the Late Chalcolithic, Yahalom-Mack said.

The findings were published online Dec. 2 in the journal PLOS ONE.


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Colombia possibly discovers world’s largest sunken treasure

Dec. 5, 2015: Ernesto Montenegro, Director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History of Colombia, talks to the media while he shows a picture of remains of the Galleon San Jose during a press conference in Cartagena, Colombia,

Dec. 5, 2015: Ernesto Montenegro, Director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History of Colombia, talks to the media while he shows a picture of remains of the Galleon San Jose during a press conference in Cartagena, Colombia, (Ernesto Montenegro, Director of the Colombian Institute of Anthropology and History of Colombia, talks to the media while he shows a picture of remains of the Galleon San Jose during a press conference in Cartagena, Colombia,)

President Juan Manual Santos on Saturday hailed the discovery of a Spanish galleon that went down off the South American nation’s coast more than 300 years ago with what may be the world’s largest sunken treasure.

At a news conference in this colonial port city, Santos said the exact location of the galleon San Jose, and how it was discovered with the help of an international team of experts, was a state secret that he’d personally safeguard. The ship sank somewhere in the wide area off Colombia’s Baru peninsula, south of Cartagena.

While no humans have yet to reach the wreckage site, autonomous underwater vehicles had gone there and brought back photos of dolphin-stamped bronze cannons in a well-preserved state that leave no doubt to the ship’s identity, the government said.

The discovery is the latest chapter in a saga that began three centuries ago, on June 8, 1708, when the galleon ship with 600 people aboard sank as it was trying to outrun a fleet of British warships. It is believed to have been carrying 11 million gold coins and jewels from then Spanish-controlled colonies that could be worth billions of dollars if ever recovered.

The ship, which maritime experts consider the holy grail of Spanish colonial shipwrecks, has also been the subject of a legal battle in the U.S., Colombia and Spain over who owns the rights to the sunken treasure.

In 1982, Sea Search Armada, a salvage company owned by U.S. investors including the late actor Michael Landon and convicted Nixon White House adviser John Ehrlichman, announced it had found the San Jose’s resting place 700 feet below the water’s surface.

Two years later, Colombia’s government overturned well-established maritime law that gives 50 percent to whoever locates a shipwreck, slashing Sea Search’s take to a 5 percent “finder’s fee.”

A lawsuit by the American investors in a federal court in Washington was dismissed in 2011 and the ruling was affirmed on appeal two years later. Colombia’s Supreme Court has ordered the ship to be recovered before the international dispute over the fortune can be settled.

Santos didn’t mention any salvage company’s claim during his presentation, but the government said the ship had been found Nov. 27 in a never-before referenced location through the use of new meteorological and underwater mapping studies.

Danilo Devis, who has represented Sea Search in Colombia for decades, expressed optimism that the sunken treasure, whose haul could easily be worth more than $10 billion, would finally be recovered.

But he bristled at the suggestion that experts located the underwater grave anywhere different from the area adjacent to the coordinates Sea Search gave authorities three decades ago.

“The government may have been the one to find it but this really just reconfirms what we told them in 1982,” he told The Associated Press from his home in Barranquilla, Colombia.

The president said any recovery effort would take years but would be guided by a desire to protect the national patrimony.

During his presentation, Santos showed an underwater video that appears to show jewels and the cannons. In the footage, English-speaking crew members aboard a Colombian naval ship can be seen launching the underwater vehicle into the ocean.

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8-year-old ‘young Indiana Jones’ discovers ancient artifact near Jerusalem

(Israel Antiquities Authority)

(Israel Antiquities Authority)

An eight-year-old with aspirations of becoming a real-life ‘Indiana Jones’ had his wish partially come true after uncovering an artifact at Tel Beit Shemesh, an archaeological dig site located to the southwest of Jerusalem.

Itai Halperin was there with his family when an object on the ground caught his eye. Halperin’s family decided to immediately turn it over to the Israel Antiquities Authority.

At a meeting with archaeologist Alexander Glick, Halperin learned that the object was the head of a statue of the goddess of fertility.

Related: Archaeologists may be on verge of finding Nefertiti’s tomb

On the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, Alon de Groot, an Israel Antiquities Authority expert in the Iron Age period, said, “Such figurines, in the form of a nude woman symbolizing fertility, were common in the homes of residents of the Kingdom of Judah from the 8th century BCE to the destruction of the kingdom by the Babylonians in the days of Zedekiah (586 BCE).”

Beit Shemesh is referenced in the Bible as a city of the tribe of Judah.

Past excavations at the site have revealed that it was a large city during the First Temple period (960-586 BC). It served as a regional industrial and commercial center and it was surrounded by a wall. The city boasted residential and public buildings, as well as warehouses and an impressive water system.

The Assyrian king Sennacherib destroyed Bet Shemesh in 701 BCE. In 586 BC, Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar carried out its final destruction.

Related: Archaeologists on hunt to unearth long-buried movie set

Halperin will receive a certificate of appreciation from the Israel Antiquities Authority, and he and his classmates will be invited to take part in an archaeological dig.

Halperin had recently seen an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie and this further cements his dream of growing up to be like him.

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Paleo campouts depicted in cave etchings

A 13,800-year-old engraving of seven semi-circular dome-like structures may be the oldest known representation of human dwellings.

A 13,800-year-old engraving of seven semi-circular dome-like structures may be the oldest known representation of human dwellings. (García-Diez et al.)

The world’s oldest depiction of a campsite may have been unearthed outside a cave in Spain.

Newfound etchings, discovered near the Molí del Salt rock shelter in northeastern Spain, show primitive huts drawn by hunter-gatherers about 13,800 years ago. The findings suggest that the ancient people may have lived in dwellings similar to those of modern-day hunter-gatherers, and could shed light on the lifestyle of these elusive people. [See Images of Amazing Art Found in El Castillo Cave in Spain]

Ancient campsite

From about 15,000 to 9,000 years ago, ancient nomadic people kept returning to the Molí del Salt rock shelter.

“This site was fully incorporated in the annual cycle of these nomadic societies. During this time, the Paleolithic human groups produced instruments for hunting and for work on the skin, dismembered animals to consume meat, cooked food and possibly they slept in that space,” said study co-author Manuel Vaquero, an art historian at the Catalan Institute of Human Paleoecology and Social Evolution in Tarragona, Spain.

Ample evidence points to human occupation of the site. But scientists haven’t known exactly what those Paleo villages looked like, because drawings or other representations of human dwellings have not been found from this time. However, postholes from ancient settlements around Europe suggest hunter-gatherers used huts made with wood for framing and with an oval floorplan. And debris from a 19,400-year-old human settlement in what is now Israel, called Ohalo II, suggests the walls were made of plant material.

The new drawings provide the missing piece to the puzzle over how these people lived.

Enigmatic etchings

Vaquero and his colleagues first uncovered the etchings in 2013, while excavating at Molí del Salt. The slab showed a row of seven semicircular shapes, with parallel lines within each.

The ancient etchings wouldn’t win any art awards: To the naked (and novice) eye, the etchings look like a 4-year-old’s crude line drawing of a tent. But the team decided to take a closer look under a microscope, where they analyzed the depth and shape of the lines. The etchings were made by the same technique in a short period of time, the researchers reported Dec. 2 in the journal PLOS ONE.

The team also analyzed the dimensions of the etched domes and found they matched those commonly found in domes or semicircular huts used by modern hunter-gatherer societies, such as the wigwams historically used by many Native American tribes.

Assuming people lived four or five to a hut, as modern people do, each hunter-gatherer enclave would have included at least 28 to 35 people, said study co-author Marcos García Diez, an archaeologist at the University of the Basque Country in Vitoria, Spain.

The art’s subject matter is also unusual for its time, Diez said.

“We think that the Molí del Salt engraving supports the hypothesis that there was a secular art in the Paleolithic, devoid of spiritual or religious meaning. Due to its singularity, we think that it was the expression of the individual feeling of someone who departed from the conventions that ruled Paleolithic art,” Diez told Live Science.

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Incredible images reveal US Navy seaplane lost in Pearl Harbor attack

Archaeologists from NOAA and the University of Hawaii have released incredible images of a U.S. Navy plane sunk during the opening minutes of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 1941.

Just minutes before the attack on Pearl Harbor, aircraft from the Japanese Imperial Navy bombed the nearby U.S. Naval Air Station on the east coast of Oahu, NOAA explained in a press release. Some 27 Catalina PBY “flying boats” on the ground or moored on Kāne‛ohe Bay were destroyed in the attack.

Related: The ‘Ghost Fleet of Mallows Bay’ in pictures

A University of Hawaii dive team attempted to photograph the wreck of a Catalina PBY-5 in 1994 but was thwarted by the murky waters of Kāne‛ohe Bay. An attempt by a local sport diving group, Hawaii Underwater Explorers, met with limited success 14 years later.

However, in June, with better visibility and using improved camera equipment, a team of students from the University of Hawaii Marine Option Program returned to the wreck and conducted a detailed archaeological survey, NOAA said. The effort was coordinated by Hans Van Tilburg, a maritime archaeologist with NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.

Related: Wreck of steamship found in Lake Ontario

The plane, which is protected by the Sunken Military Craft Act of 2004, rests in three large pieces at a depth of 30 feet. Van Tilburg explained that while the precise identity of the aircraft remains unknown, it is possible the crew died while attempting to take off in the face of the attack.

“The new images and site plan help tell the story of a largely forgotten casualty of the attack,” Van Tilburg said, in the press release. “The sunken PBY plane is a very important reminder of the ‘Day of Infamy,’ just like the USS Arizona and USS Utah. They are all direct casualties of December 7.”

Related: Historic tanks in pictures

“This sunken flying boat is a window into the events of the attack, a moment in time that reshaped the Pacific region,” said June Cleghorn, senior archaeologist at Marine Corps Base Hawaii. “Understanding this site sheds light on the mystery of the lost PBYs and honors the legacy of the Navy and Marine Corps Base in Hawaii.”

Catalina PBY seaplanes were used as long-range patrol bombers by the U.S. military. NOAA notes that the strike on the planes’ Oahu base was a significant loss, adding that the bombers could have followed the Japanese planes back to their carriers.



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Huge geometric shapes in Middle East may be prehistoric

Wheel structures in the Azraq Oasis in Jordan, as seen in this Google Earth image.

Wheel structures in the Azraq Oasis in Jordan, as seen in this Google Earth image. (Image courtesy Google Earth))

Thousands of stone structures that form geometric patterns in the Middle East are coming into clearer view, with archaeologists finding two wheel-shaped patterns date back some 8,500 years. That makes these “wheels” older than the famous geoglyphs in Peru called Nazca Lines.

And some of these giant designs located in Jordan’s Azraq Oasis seem to have an astronomical significance, built to align with the sunrise on the winter solstice.

Those are just some of the findings of new research on these Middle East lines, which were first encountered by pilots during World War I. RAF Flight Lt. Percy Maitland published an account of them in 1927 in the journal Antiquity, reporting that the Bedouin called the structures “works of the old men,” a name still sometimes used by modern-day researchers.  [See Photos of the ‘Nazca Lines’ in the Middle East]

The “works of the old men” include wheels, which often have spokes radiating out from the center, kites (stone structures used for funnelling and killing animals), pendants (lines of stone cairns) and meandering walls, which are mysterious structures that meander across the landscape for up to several hundred feet.

The works “demonstrate specific geometric patterns and extend from a few tens of meters up to several kilometers, evoking parallels to the well-known system of geometric lines of Nazca, Peru,” wrote an archaeological team in a paper published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science. (Peru’s Nazca Linesdate to between 200 B.C. and A.D. 500.)

They “occur throughout the entire Arabia region, from Syria across Jordan and Saudi Arabia to Yemen,” wrote the researchers. “The most startling thing about the ‘Works’ is that they are difficult to identify from the ground. This stands in contrast to their apparent visibility from the air.”

New research on the Middle East lines was published recently in the Journal of Archaeological Science and the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy.  Live Science also got an advance copy of an article set to be published in the journal Antiquity.

Prehistoric date

Tests indicate that some of the wheels date back around 8,500 years, a prehistoric time when the climate was wetter in parts of the Middle East.

Using a technique called optically stimulated luminescence (OSL), archaeologists dated two wheels at Wadi Wisad, in the Black Desert of Jordan. One wheel dated back 8,500 years, while the other wheel had a mix of dates that suggest it was built about 8,500 years and was remodeled or repaired around 5,500 years ago. [See Aerial Photos of the Giant Wheels]

At the time these wheels were built, the climate in the Black Desert was more hospitable, and Wadi Wisad was inhabited. “Charcoal from deciduous oak and tamarisk [a shrub] were recovered from two hearths in one building dated to ca. 6,500 B.C.,” wrote researchers in a forthcoming issue of Antiquity.

Solar alignments?

Spatial analysis of the wheels showed that one cluster of wheels, located in the Azraq Oasis, has spokes with a southeast-northwest orientation that may align with sunrise during the winter solstice.

“The majority of the spokes of the wheels in that cluster are oriented for some reason to stretch in a SE-NW direction,” researchers wrote in the Journal of Archaeological Science. This points to “where the sun rises during the winter solstice.”

Whether this alignment was intentional is unknown, researchers wrote in the journal article. “As for the rest of the wheels, they do not seem to contain any archaeoastronomical information.”

What were they used for?

The two dated wheels “are simple in form and not very rigidly made, according to geometric standards,” said Gary Rollefson, a professor at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. “They contrast sharply with some other wheels that appear to have been set out with almost as much attention to detail as the Nazca Lines.”

It’s possible that different wheels may have served different uses, Rollefson said. In the case of the two dated wheels, “the presence of cairns suggests some association with burials, since that is often the way of treating people once they died.” Rollefson is careful to point out that “there are other wheels where cairns are entirely lacking, pointing to a different possible use.”

Rollefson is co-director of the Eastern Badia Archaeological Project. His team is hoping to excavate a few of the cairns, which are located within the wheels, in the next few years.

Visible from the sky

Why people in prehistoric times would build wheel-shaped structures that can’t be seen well from the ground remains a mystery. No balloon or glider technologies existed at that time. Additionally, researchers say that climbing to a higher elevation to view them was probably not possible, at least not in most cases. [In Photos: Google Earth Reveals Sprawling Geoglyphs in Kazakhstan]

Though the wheels are often difficult to make out on the ground, they are not invisible. “Granted, one can’t see the finished product standing at ground level, but one can still determine a general geometric configuration,” Rollefson told Live Science.

He said that to create the more precisely designed wheels, people might have used a long rope and stake.

Saudi Arabia wheels

Wheels located in Saudi Arabia and Yemen look different than those found farther north, a team with the Aerial Photographic Archive for Archaeology in the Middle East (APAAME) has found.

They’ve been investigating wheels, and other “works of the old men,” by using free satellite imagery that is available through Google Earth and Bing. They are also using historical aerial images taken of Saudi Arabia and Yemen during the 20th century.

The circles tend to be small and have only one or two bars instead of spokes, said David Kennedy, of the University of Western Australia, who co-directs the project.  Some of the “wheels” are actually shaped like squares, rectangles or triangles, he said.

One type of wheel structure actually looks like a bull’s-eye, according to an image of the structure that Kennedy sent to Live Science. Three triangles point toward the bull’s-eye wheel, and there are small piles of stones that lead from the three triangles to the wheel. Kennedy calls it “a central bull’s-eye tomb with, in this case, three triangles each with at least a part of a connecting line of stone heaps running to the center.”

At present, the archaeologists are not able to conduct fieldwork or aerial imaging (using planes or helicopters) in Saudi Arabia or Yemen.

Desert gates

Another form of “works of the old men,” which Kennedy and his team have found in Saudi Arabia, is of structures that he calls “gates.”

So far, 332 gates have been found in Saudi Arabia (none are known to exist farther north). The gates “consist of two short thick walls or heaps of stones, between which one or more connecting walls stretch,” wrote researchers in an article published recently in the journal Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy. The researchers note that, “from above, these features resemble an old-fashioned barred gate laid flat.” The longest gate is over 1,640 feet, but most are much smaller.

Scientists don’t know how far back the gates date, nor their purpose. “I coined the term ‘gate’ for no better reason than that I needed a convenient label to describe them and they reminded me of the sort of field gates I saw all around in my rural childhood in Scotland,” said Kennedy.

The researchers found that gates tend not to be located near kites (which were used for hunting). Indeed, some of the gates were built in places, such as barren volcanic slopes, which were unlikely to support large animal herds. Archaeologists found “five [gates] on the outer slopes of the bowl of one of the volcanoes [called Jabal al-Abyad]” in Saudi Arabia, they wrote in the Arabian Archaeology and Epigraphy journal article.

Kennedy said that his team is finishing up its research on the gates and will be publishing another journal article in the future describing the team’s findings in greater detail.

Copyright 2015 LiveScience, a Purch company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Lost island of Ancient Greece may have been found in the Aegean Sea

Archaeologists believe part of this peninsula in the Aegean was once the ancient city of Kane. (German Archaeological Institute)

Archaeologists believe part of this peninsula in the Aegean was once the ancient city of Kane. (German Archaeological Institute)

An international team of archaeologists believe they had discovered an island in the Aegean Sea that was once the ancient city of Kane, site of an epic sea battle between the Athenians and the Spartans in 406 B.C.

The Arginusae islands, now called the Garip islands, lie only a few hundred yards off the coast of Turkey, National Geographic reported Friday. Ancient historical sources refer to three Arginusae islands but the exact location of the third has long been unclear, disappearing from maps as far back as the 16th century.

Researchers determined what is now a peninsula was once an island after drilling into the ground and examining rock samples, the magazine reported.

The Athenians crushed the Spartans in the battle of Arginusae, but the victory was short-lived.

A storm stranded Athenians whose ships had been destroyed, according to the magazine. When the victorious admirals returned home, the citizens of Athens voted to execute them for failing to rescue those left behind.

The archaeological team drilled down into the filled-up gap that once separated Kane from the Turkish coast to discover that it was made up of loose soil and rock, ScienceAlert reported.

“It had been a matter of discussion if the islands here were the Arginus Islands or not until our research began,” one of the team, archaeologist Felix Pirson from the German Archaeology Institute, told the Dogan News Agency, according to the website.

“But then we revealed that the ancient Kane was located on an island in the past,” he said. “The strait between this island and the land was filled with alluviums and created this peninsula. We will get more evident information after examining the geological samples.”


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‘Hobbits’ were a separate species, ancient chompers show

Endocasts of the skulls of a hobbit (left) and a modern human (right). Research by Dean Falk of Florida State University and colleagues has suggested features of the hobbit's skull more closely resembled that of a normal human than a microcepha

Endocasts of the skulls of a hobbit (left) and a modern human (right). Research by Dean Falk of Florida State University and colleagues has suggested features of the hobbit’s skull more closely resembled that of a normal human than a microcepha (Professor Peter Brown, University of New England)

An ancient, 3-foot-tall human whose diminutive stature has earned it the nickname “hobbit” has puzzled evolutionary scientists since its little bones were discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores. Some have suggested the individual was a Homo sapien with some miniaturizing disorder.

Now, teeth from the hobbit suggest it belonged to a unique species rather than a modern human with a growth disorder. The new research also suggests hobbits may share a direct ancestor with modern humans.

The 18,000-year-old fossil remains of the hobbit were discovered in 2003. Since then, scientists have suggested that the hobbit, which had a brain about the size of a grapefruit, was a unique branch of the human lineage Homo, dubbed Homo floresiensis. However, other researchers have argued the hobbit was really a modern human with microcephaly, a condition that leads to an abnormally small head, a small body and some mental retardation. [Real-Life Hobbit: See Photos of Homo floresiensis]

To learn more about the hobbit, scientists have now performed the first comprehensive analysis of the ancient human’s teeth. The researchers compared the 40 known hobbit teeth with those from 490 modern humans from Asia, Oceania, Africa and Europe, as well as from a variety of extinct hominins, such as Homo habilis, which is suspected to be among the first makers of stone tools. (Hominins consist of humans and their relatives dating after the split from the chimpanzee lineage.)

The researchers found hobbit teeth were as small as those from short modern humans. However, other features of these teeth looked completely dissimilar from those of modern humans.

The hobbit teeth displayed a unique mosaic of primitive traits seen in early hominins mixed with more-advanced traits seen in later hominins, the researchers said. For instance, the canine and premolar teeth looked primitive, whereas the molar teeth looked advanced, or as if they had emerged later in the evolution of Homo sapiens, the scientists said.

These findings contradict earlier claims that hobbits possessed teeth entirely like those of modern humans. The results also suggest hobbits were not just modern humans with severe abnormalities, the researchers said.

The researchers found that the hobbit’s primitive dental features are most similar to specimens of Homo erectus, the earliest undisputed ancestor of modern humans, from the Indonesian island of Java. However, H. erectus was about as tall as modern humans. The scientists suggest that on isolated islands, the ancestors of the hobbit underwent dramatic dwarfism, with their bodies shrinking from about 5.4 feet to 3.6 feet, and brains dwindling from about 52 cubic inches to 26 cubic inches.

“For me, this work will turn the tide about the question of evolutionary origin of H. floresiensis,” study lead author Yousuke Kaifu, a paleoanthropologist at Japan’s National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, told Live Science.

While the human lineage generally evolved larger bodies and brains over time, the hobbit suggests that isolation on islands could substantially reverse this evolutionary trend, Kaifu said.

The scientists detailed their findings online Nov. 18 in the journal PLOS ONE.

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