Rare fossil captures a snake that ate a lizard that ate a beetle

snakelizardbeetle

(Springer Heidelberg)

The circle of life has been captured in a unique 48-million-year-old fossil.

Sometime in the very distant past, this is what presumably happened: A lizard ate an unlucky beetle, and then a roughly 41-inch snake gobbled down that unfortunate lizard. Then the snake, a Palaeophython fischeri, also met its end, and was fossilized. It was probably just a juvenile.

Like Russian nesting dolls, the resulting fossil shows a three-part sequence— a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake.

The rare find originated from theMessel Pit Fossil Site in Germany, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

“In the year 2009, we were able to recover a plate from the pit that shows an almost fully preserved snake,” Krister Smith, of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum Frankfurt, said in astatement. “And as if this was not enough, we discovered a fossilized lizard inside the snake, which in turn contained a fossilized beetle in its innards!”

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There are other fossils similar that show what a deceased animal had in its stomach— for example, scientists have found leaves and grapes in the stomach of fossilized horses at Messel, according to the snake/lizard/beetle study, which was published in the journal Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments in August. But there is only one other three-part fossil like this one, and it’s an ancient shark.

The lizard, for its part, was a Geiseltaliellus maarius, which was the type that could disconnect its tail, although in this case it didn’t do so.

“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation,” Smith added, in the statement, “we assume that the snake died no more than one to two days after consuming its prey and then sank to the bottom of the Messel Lake, where it was preserved.”

Follow Rob Verger on Twitter: @robverger

Goddess name inscribed in lost language on ancient tablet

By Stephanie Pappas, Live Science Contributor Published August 30, 2016
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A close-up of a stele found at Poggio Colla, a site of religious ritual for the ancient Etruscans.
A close-up of a stele found at Poggio Colla, a site of religious ritual for the ancient Etruscans. (Mugello Valley Project)
An ancient tablet recently unearthed in Tuscany has revealed its first secret: the engraved name of a goddess linked to fertility.

The 500-pound stone slab, or stele, was unearthed earlier this year at Poggio Colla, a sixth century B.C. site built by the Etruscans. The stele bears a long inscription in a language that has not been used for 2,500 years, project archaeologist Gregory Warden, a professor emeritus at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, told Live Science in April.

Now, translation is underway and archaeologists have discovered that the tablet references the goddess Uni. [Photos: The Tomb of an Etruscan Prince]

“We can at this point affirm that this discovery is one of the most important Etruscan discoveries of the last few decades,” Warden said in a statement. “It’s a discovery that will provide not only valuable information about the nature of sacred practices at Poggio Colla, but also fundamental data for understanding the concepts and rituals of the Etruscans, as well as their writing and perhaps their language.”

Mother goddess?
Uni was an important goddess linked to fertility. Previously, the most famous find at Poggio Colla was a piece of ceramic depicting a woman squatting to give birth, perhaps suggesting that a fertility cult worshiped at the site, according to Warden.

The Etruscans were a heavily religious society that started around 700 B.C. in modern-day northern and eastern Italy. They flourished until they were absorbed by Rome, a gradual process that took place between 500 B.C. and 100 B.C.

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There are at least 120 characters on the Poggio Colla stele, making it the longest Etruscan inscription ever found on stone and among the longest three sacred texts ever discovered, researchers will report in a yet-unpublished article in the journal Etruscan Studies. The inscription might express the laws of the sanctuary, Warden said, perhaps outlining the ceremonies that took place there. Archaeologists have deciphered another word on the tablet, “Tina,” which refers to the head god of the Etruscan Pantheon (much like Zeus for the Greeks).

Striking find
Archaeologists have been digging at Poggio Colla for 21 years, and found the slab at the very end of the most recent field season at the site. It’s about 4 feet tall and 2 feet wide and made of sandstone. Because the stone is scuffed and chipped, researchers are painstakingly cleaning it in order to translate the words. Etruscans left behind few texts because they mostly wrote on linen or erasable wax tablets. Understanding Etruscan religious belief and ritual is important because as the civilization was engulfed by Rome, it influenced Roman culture and belief.

Most previously discovered texts are short inscriptions on graves, according to Warden. One linen book written in the Etruscan language was found on an Egyptian mummy — recycled as wrappings. Otherwise, researchers know little about Etruscan religious rituals, other than that they were polytheistic.

Though the stele is still being cleaned and studied, a hologram projection of it will be displayed in Florence on Aug. 27 as researchers announce the translations they’ve made 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.

New technology reveals hidden secrets of ancient Mexican codex

  • Mexican Codex Latino.jpg
    (PHOTO BY JOERN HAUFE/GETTY IMAGES)

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

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.

Ancient Greek skeleton may be remains of human sacrifice to Zeus

The 3,000-year-old skeletal remains of a teenage male were found buried at an altar used for sacrifice on Mount Lykaion. Part of the skeleton's skull is missing, according to archaeologists.

The 3,000-year-old skeletal remains of a teenage male were found buried at an altar used for sacrifice on Mount Lykaion. Part of the skeleton’s skull is missing, according to archaeologists. (Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs)

A 3,000-year-old skeleton has been discovered at an altar dedicated to Zeus at Mount Lykaion in Greece, and archaeologists say the new finding may be the remains of a human sacrifice offered to the Greek god.

The discovery was announced Wednesday (Aug. 10) in a statement from the Hellenic Ministry of Culture, Education and Religious Affairs.

Archaeologists from the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project excavated the skeleton, which appears to be that of a male teenager, this summer. Mount Lykaion is known to be the site of a sanctuary dedicated to Zeus, the ancient Greek god of sky and thunder. [The 7 Most Mysterious Archaeological Finds on Earth]

Since 2007, these researchers have been excavating a massive “ash altar” containing the remains of drinking cups, animal and human figurines, vases, coins, and a vast quantity of burnt animal offerings, most of which come from sheep and goats.

“Several ancient literary sources mention rumors that human sacrifice took place at the altar, but up until a few weeks ago, there has been no trace whatsoever of human bones discovered at the site,” excavation leader David Gilman Romano, a professor of Greek archaeology at the University of Arizona, told the Associated Press.

The ancient writer Pausanias (A.D. 110-180) told of a legend he heard of a king named Lycaon who was turned into a wolf while sacrificing a child.

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“Lycaon brought a human baby to the altar of (Zeus) and sacrificed it, pouring out its blood upon the altar, and according to the legend, immediately after the sacrifice, he was changed from a man to a wolf,” Pausanias wrote in a book on the geography of Greece (translation from a “Description of Greece with an English Translation” by W.H.S. Jones, Litt.D., and H.A. Ormerod, Harvard University Press, 1918).

Archaeologists told the Associated Press that they don’t know whether the teenager they found was sacrificed and that much of the altar has yet to be excavated.

“Whether it’s a sacrifice or not, this is a sacrificial altar … so it’s not a place where you would bury an individual. It’s not a cemetery,” Romano told the news agency, adding that the upper part of the teenager’s skull is missing.

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

Study gets to truth of one of ‘greatest scientific crimes ever’

A image of the Piltdown Man, supposedly a missing link in human evolution but actually a scientific hoax perpetrated in 1912.

A image of the Piltdown Man, supposedly a missing link in human evolution but actually a scientific hoax perpetrated in 1912. (AP Photo/Natural History Museum)

In 1912, an ambitious lawyer named Charles Dawson discovered a fossilized skeleton with the skull of a man but the jaws of an ape in a British gravel pit, theTelegraph reports.

For the next three decades, Eoanthropus dawsoni—better known as Piltdown Man, named for the location it was discovered—was seen as an important step in human evolution, a “missing link” between apes and humans.

In reality, it was “arguably the greatest scientific crime ever committed in Britain,” paleoanthropologist Isabelle De Groote writes in Scientific American. In a study published Wednesday in Royal Society Open Science, De Groote and her team believe they’ve finally solved once and for all who faked Piltdown Man by combining, carving, and dyeing human and orangutan bones.

After new scientific methods proved Piltdown Man was a fake in 1953, blame was placed alternately at the feet of Dawson, a British paleontologist, a priest who helped with the excavation, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes—or some combination thereof, Science reports.

An expert says Conan Doyle’s motivation would have been to get revenge on “the scientists who mocked him for expressing a belief in spiritualism.” But De Groote’s research puts the blame solely on Dawson, who likely worked alone.

She says Piltdown Man shows “evidence of one hand, one maker, one signature.” That maker is probably Dawson, who was found to have committed at least 38 forgeries and desperately wanted to be recognized by the scientific community.

(These real-life hobbit fossils are almost certainly not hoaxes.)

This article originally appeared on Newser: Study Names Man Behind One of Great Scientific Hoaxes

Archaeologists discover world’s oldest axe

The world's oldest axe fragment, seen here under a microscope, is the size of a thumbnail.  (Australian Archaeology)

The world’s oldest axe fragment, seen here under a microscope, is the size of a thumbnail. (Australian Archaeology)

It’s less than half an inch long, but a small stone chip discovered in western Australia is a piece of the world’s oldest ground-edge axe, an archaeologist at the University of Sydney reports.

In fact, the axe’s creation likely coincides with the general time period when humans arrived on the continent, tens of thousands of years ago.

The axe fragment, which weighs just .16 grams, is nearly 50,000 years old, and was first unearthed at a site in Australia called Carpenter’s Gap in the 1990s. But it’s only recently that, after analysis, archaeologists have announced the significance of the discovery. The results are published in the journal Australian Archaeology.

Peter Hiscock, a professor at the University of Sydney and the lead author on the paper, said that the axe fragment dates to between 45,000 to 49,000 years old.

“This fragment is small, but it’s very distinctive,” Hiscock said in a videoexplaining the find. “It has a smooth surface, a high polish, that doesn’t occur naturally. It doesn’t occur by accident. Someone has to sit and grind the edge in order to make an axe.”

Hiscock said that before this discovery, the oldest known Australian axe was about 35,000 years old.

“This discovery is part of the grand out-of-Africa narrative,” Hiscock said. “Modern humans emerge from Africa, they spread across South Asia, and when they reach Australia, they create the oldest edge-ground axes in the world.”

Scientists used radiocarbon analysis to date the age of charcoal found at the same level of the archaeological site as the axe fragment, which is how they arrived at its age.

“The ancestors of Aboriginal people, arriving on the Australian shores, were adapting to the continent,” Hiscock added. “They were inventing new forms of tools to enable them to explore and settle the landscape.”