Sunday, 31 January 2010

The Source of an Ancient Roman Aqueduct is Discovered Near Rome

British and Italian experts have discovered the source of a 1900 year old Roman Aqueduct.  The chance discovery was made 25 miles north of Rome and as well as the source of the aqueduct a nymphaeum was also discovered. The aqueduct was previously known about and was thought to have dated from medieval times, but it has been discovered that the aqueduct actually dates from the time of the Roman Emperor Trajan.

The ancient site is, unfortunately, in need of urgent restoration and is being threatened by the roots of a giant fig tree.

To read the full news article, click here

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Dinosaur Found In China is Oldest Known Ancestor of Birds

The fossil of a two-legged carnivorous dinosaur has been unearthed in China which is being hailed as the oldest known ancestor of birds.  This dinosaur called 'Haplocheirus sollers' lived around 160 million years ago and preyed on primitive lizards, reptiles and small mammals. It had a long, narrow skull, lots of small teeth, powerful forelimbs and biceps and would have stood between 6-7 1/2 feet tall.

The species belongs to a family of bird-like dinosuars called Alvarezsauridae, and pushes back the fossil record for this group of dinosaurs 60 million years into the Late Jurassic.

For the full article, please click here

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The End of the Australian Megafauna Caused By Humans

Researchers at the University of Adelaide have produced a report that gives strong evidence that it was humans and not climate change that brought about the extinction of the Australian megafauna, such as giant marsupials, flightless birds and reptiles, around 40,000 year ago.

Australian scientists have claimed that improving dating techniques has shown that humans and megafauna only co-existed in Australia for a short time.  This indicates that hunting by humans could have played a major part in the demise of the megafauna.  New methods of directly dating bones and teeth show that aboriginal tools and megafauna fossils do not all date from the same period.  Another argument for the human cause rather than climate change, is it is believed that humans moved into Australia in a time of a relatively benign and stable climate.

To read the whole article, please click here

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Dinosaur Footprints Become A Death Trap?

A new study suggests that three pits filled with dinosaur fossils unearthed in a remote part of China, are actually the preserved footprints of a much larger dinosaur.

These mysterious pits held the skeletons of nearly two dozen small dinosaur species and scientists have discovered that the animals were piled up in a mixture of volcanic mudstone and sandstone.  As the holes were not to have been believed to be a natural part of the landscape, it is thought that the pits were created by the feet of a massive sauropod dinosaur called Mamenchisaurus wandering across the landscape.

At some stage in the Jurassic, erupting volcanoes showered the area with ash and this ash created a semi-solid film over pockets of molten volcanic mud.  The gigantic dinosars feet would have left holes that quickly backfilled with liquid mud.  With the holes not being visible, much smaller dinosaurs would have fallen through and become trapped in the mud, and it is believed that the therapods would have had a harder time trying to get themselves out as they only used their back legs to move.

To read the whole news article, click here

Humans May Have Faced Extinction 1 Million Years Ago

This article from Paleontology News looks at the new genetic findings that suggest that the humans on this planet around one million years ago were very close to extinction.  The evidence points to an effective population of early human species of around only 18,500 individuals, which means that the total worldwide population would not have been more than 55,000 individuals.

The current study by Lynn Jorde, a human geneticist at the University of Utah, shows that the human population faced challenging circumstances around a million year ago that threatened their very survival, maybe something like a catastrophic natural event such as a supervolcano.

To read the whole article, please click here

Thursday, 21 January 2010

New Ptolemaic Temple Discovered in Alexandria

The remains of a Ptolemaic temple of Queen Berenike, wife of Ptolemy III of Egypt have been unearthed in Alexandria.  The finds so far include a cachette of 600 Ptolemaic statues, a Roman water cistern, several wells, and a great number of clay pots and sherds.

There were a large number of statues depicting the cat goddess Bastet among the haul, which suggests that the temple was dedicated to Bastet and proves that the worship of Bastet continued into the late period of Egyptian history.  In Ancient Egypt, Bastet was a goddess of protection and motherhood.

Dr Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the SCA, explained that the temple had been used as a quarry in later time periods and that many of the stone blocks had been taken away.

To read the whole press release, please click here

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Bones of a Saxon Queen Discovered

Archaeologists in Germany believe that they have discovered the almost intact bones of a Saxon Queen.  The bones were found wrapped in silk in a lead coffin bearing her name in her tomb in Magdeburg Cathedral.  Historians had previously believed that the tomb was empty.

The Saxon Queen in question was Queen Eadgyth, a granddaughter of King Alfred the Great.  She was married to the Holy Roman Emperor Otto I, had two children and died in 946 AD aged 36.  The remains have been brought back to England to see if scientists can fully confirm her identity.

For the full news article, please click here

Monday, 18 January 2010

Aurochs To Be Bred Back From Extinction

Aurochs were an ancient species of cattle of immense size and with sweeping horns that were immortalised in the cave paintings of prehistoric Europeans.  The last Auroch died over 400 years ago and scientistists are now planning to breed these iconic animals back from extinction.

Italian scientists are hoping to use selective breeding and genetic knowledge to recreate these huge animals that weighed in at around 2,200lb and stood about six and a half feet at the shoulder.  For the first time a map of the Auroch's genome has been created, so that they know precisely what type of animal they are trying to create.

To read the whole news article on bringing back this ancient breed of cattle from extinction click here

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Mystery of Duck-Billed Platypus Venom Being Solved

Australia is home to some of the most fascinating and unique animal species on the planet, including the duck-billed platypus.  The duck-billed platypus is one of only two monotremes in the world, the other being the echidna or spiny anteater.  A monotreme is a mammal that lays eggs, and the duck-billed platypus is found in the the rivers of Eastern Australia.  They dig burrows in the riverbank and and spend the hours of darkness swimming and diving for prey.

They have several peculiarities of appearance such as the 'duck-bill' and no visible ears, but one of the more surprising attribute of male platypuses is that they are venomous.  Both male and female platypuses have spurs on the ankle, but the male playpus's spur is capable of injecting a cocktail of venom composed of mainly defensin-like proteins.  Although the venom can kill smaller animals, it generally does not kill humans.  However, the pain that the venom causes is excruciating and can incapacitate it's victim.

Scientists are now reporting that for the first time they are beginning to unlock the mysteries of the chemical composition of the platypus venom by identifying a dozen protein building blocks.

To read the whole fascinating article click here

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Tomb Discovery Helps Solve Ancient Slavery Riddle of the Pyramids

A set of tombs belonging to the workers who built the pyramids at Giza have been discovered which help to prove that they were not slaves after all.

The workers were accorded the honour of being buried in mud brick tombs within the shadow of the pyramids that they helped to build.

The tombs were constructed during Ancient Egypt's fourth dynasty and show that the workers ate meat regularly and worked on three-month rotating shifts.  The archaeological evidence shows that around 10,000 workers ate 21 cattle and 23 sheep a day.

To read the full news article click here


Friday, 8 January 2010

Archaeologists Claim Discovery of Oldest Known Hebrew Writing

Archaeologists have discovered a 3,000 year old inscription on a pottery shard found at the site where it is said that David slew Goliath. The pottery shard has five lines of text written in the proto-Canaanite script that was used by the Hebrews and Philistines of the region at that time.

The script was discovered 18 months ago and was decrypted by Gershon Galil of the University of Haifa who has discovered that it was a Hebrew inscription. Carbon-dating has shown that the pottery shard dates back to the 10th century BC making it the earliest known Hebrew writing.

For the whole news article click here

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Oldest Footprints Reveal When Sea Creatures Took First Step on Land

Very little is still known about when the earliest animals left the seas to colonise the land. But new evidence has been unearthed by scientists that give us some clues in the form of the earliest known fossil footprints of four-legged creatures ever found.

The discovery of these fossilised tracks that were left 395 million years ago by animals up to eight feet long has been hailed as a 'missing link' in the transition of life from water to dry land.  The discovery has amazed scientists as these unique footprints date to around 18 million years before it was thought that four-limbed vetebrates known as tetrapods were known to have existed. 

These fossil footprints were left in the mud in the shallow waters of an ancient marine lagoon, and were discovered by scientists  in the Holy Cross Mountains in south-eastern Poland and have 'hand' and 'foot' shapes but show no evidence of a dragging body.  Scientists believe that tetrapods evolved from fish through an intermediate type of animal known as elpistostogids that retained many fish-like characteristics such as paired fins instead of feet and hands even though they had evolved tetrapod body and head shapes.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Supernova Star Blast 'Could Wipe Out Earth'

According to American Astronomers, a white dwarf star is growing in mass and could be getting ready to explode in a blast that could wipe out our planet and solar system.  This star is called T Pyxidis  and it is in a binary star system with another star that is like our Sun, and together they form part of our galaxy the Milky Way. Scientists have shown that T Pyxidis is much closer to the Earth than they previously thought, perhaps being only 3260 light years away.

T Pyxidis Image from Hubble Telescope - Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

In galactic terms this makes T Pyxidis a very close neighbour and it is due to explode into a supernova in a blast that would have a force of 20 billion billion billion tons of TNT.  Scientists believe that the blast could strip our vital ozone layer, which is the layer that protects us from deadly space radiation.

This close binary star system that includes T Pyxidis is known as a recurrent nova because the huge white dwarf star experiences thermonuclear or nova explosions in a regular cycle every 20 years.  However, the next expected explosion is overdue by around 44 years, and the experts are not sure why.  The explosions are caused by gases containing large quantities of hydrogen being transferred from the nearby Sun-like star, which raises the question of whether the white dwarf T Pyxidis grow in mass because of this transfer of gasses, or decreases in mass because the continuing thermonuclear explosions expel more mass than it gains from its close stellar companion.

If the white dwarf continues to increase in mass, this could lead to what is known as a Type 1a supernova, as once the mass of the star reaches what is known as the Chandrasekhar Limit it is believed that it will experience an immediate gravitational collapse which will trigger an enormous thermonuclear blast which will completely destroy the binary star system and leave a black hole.