Friday, 26 February 2010

Junk Food Diet of the Ancient Egyptians

In Ancient Egyptian temples sumptuous banquets of roasted wildfowl, fruit, bread, cakes, wine and beer were served to the gods. This rich and plentiful food was then eaten by the temple priests and their families.

Scientists have found that this rich diet led to the Ancient Egyptians suffering from some of the same diseases as we do in the 21st century. Mummies that have been examined have shown unmistakeable signs of heart disease and damage to the arteries.  Much of the food offered to the gods would have been saturated with fat, so had the same consequences to the ancient people's health as our consumption of junk food does today.

Reaf on for the whole article on the Ancient Egyptian's junk food diet

Mortuary Temple of Seti I

Thursday, 25 February 2010

New Stingray Species Discovered on Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef

Ningaloo Reef sits just off the coast of Western Australia and is famous for the annual visits paid there to feed by the mighty whale sharks.  But Ningaloo Reef is also home to a myriad of different marine species and scientists are delighted to have discovered a completely new species of stingray.

This new stingray is a member of the maskray family and is a small ray with a wingspan of around only 30cms.  Since the stingray was found at Ningaloo, the new species has also been found further south in Shark Bay.

Ningaloo Reef has been nominated for World Heritage status, and if successful will join 17 other Australian World Heritage sites such as Uluru-Kata Tjuta, Kakadu and Shark Bay.

Read on the whole article on Ningaloo's new stingray species

Osprey Bay, Ningaloo Reef

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Gebel Barkal in Nubia - Home of the Hidden God Amun

So who was the god  Egyptian god Amun? Amun was one of a triad of gods of Thebes that also included his consort, the goddess Mut and their son the moon god Khonsu.  The name Amun is usually translated as ‘the hidden one’ or ‘the secret one’, and it is believed that he created himself and then created the world and everything in it, while remaining separate and distanced from his creation.  Amun had been depicted in the lexicon of gods of Ancient Egypt as far back as the Old Kingdom, but his cult expanded dramatically with the emergence of the New Kingdom.  This was mainly due to the fact that Amun was the local patron deity of Thebes, the city that the rulers of the eighteenth dynasty chose to have as their capital.  Amun was often depicted in human form, seated with two, straight plumes rising from his crown.  He is also associated with the ram, a symbol of fertility, a snake and the goose.

Gebel Barkal in the Sudan

Amun was viewed as the creator and protector of pharaoh, and the king’s wife would often be given the title ‘God’s Wife of Amun’, a title that brought with it a lot of political power and prestige. His consort Mut was a goddess associated with the sun and in early times was depicted as a vulture and later in human form, sometimes wearing a double crown and sometimes with the head of a lioness.  The name Mut means mother and she was a divine mother and a sky goddess.  She was initially linked to Amun because he was a creator god and was a ‘mother’ goddess. She was symbolised by the cobra, a lioness or the royal crowns.  The main festival for the god Amun was the Opet festival where the statue of the god travelled from the temple of Karnak to Luxor Temple in a barge down the Nile to celebrate his divine marriage to his consort Mut.

Barkal is an Arabic word that can mean either ‘holy’ or ‘pure’. It is a small mountain in the Sudan near Karima that is situated approximately 400km north of Khartoum.  Gebel Barkal is 98m high and has a flat top that was used as a landmark to pinpoint the easiest place to cross the river Nile by traders on the ancient trade route between Egypt, Arabia and central Africa.  The ancient Egyptians believed that the god Amun lived inside the mountain, hidden from the view of people.  In addition, the pinnacle jutting from the side of the mountain was seen by the ancients as a phallic symbol and a potent sign of Amun’s creative power.  From the west the pinnacle can look like the uraeus or royal cobra that was found on the brow of the crowns of Egyptian kings, and from the east it resembles the divine serpent with the sun disc on its head.  It is believed by some that the mountain itself was actually shaped into the form of a statue, and that the image of Amun himself was carved into the mountain facing a rearing cobra.  Or that it was regarded as the primeval hill, from which all creation sprang.

In Ancient Egypt’s eighteenth dynasty, around the year 1450BC Pharaoh Thutmosis III took his armies and extended the Egyptian Empire deep into the heart of the Sudan, then known as Nubia or Kush.  Thutmosis III founded the city of Napata, close to Gebel Barkal which around 300 years later was to become the capital of ancient Kush or Nubia. Both the ancient Egyptian’s and the Kushites believed that the mountain was the home of Amun.  Gebel Barkal became the focus of their religion for the ancient Kushites and they came to believe that it was the birthplace of every one of their gods, and that it was even the place where the world itself was created.

The ancient remains around Gebel Barkal were first explored by Europeans in the 1820s.  However, excavations of the thirteen temples and three palaces from the pharaonic period were only started in 1916 by George Reisner who led a joint expedition from Harvard University and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.  Very unusually Reisner used to excavate all year round; in the winter he excavated in the Sudan and in the summer be went back up north to Egypt. Generally, most excavations in Egypt shut down in the summer due to the extreme heat.  Reisner managed to clear nine buildings at the site and to each he assigned them a 100-number prefaced with the letter B for Barkal.

The 1970s saw fresh excavations from an expedition led by Sergio Donadoni and a team from the University of Rome La Sapienza.  In the 1980s they were joined by another team from the Boston Museum under the direction of Timothy Kendall.  Gebel Barkal along with the site of the ancient city of Napata and some other sites in that area of Nubia were identified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 2003.  Even today some of the larger temples and remains at Gebel Barkal, such as the Temple of Amun, are regarded as sacred by the local people.

The Temple of Amun (Temple B500) was started by Thutmosis III in the eighteenth dynasty and extended by Ramses II, known as the ‘Great’ in the nineteenth dynasty.  The temple was extended again by a Kushite king called Piy in the 8th century BC.  In later times there was thought to be an oracle of Amun in the temple, and that Amun would speak directly to the priests and Kushite kings, giving them advice and glimpses of future events.  Temple B500 was dedicated to the southern aspect of Amun, and another temple was constructed, B800, that represented his northern aspects.  This mirrors the position at Thebes, where Karnak Temple is dedicated to the northern aspect of Amun and Luxor Temple to the southern aspect.
The Temple of Mut (Temple B300) was constructed by the Pharaoh Taharqa around 680BC and partly built into the base of the cliff.  Hathor and Bes are also depicted in the temple.  Both these gods can be connected to the ‘Eye of Re’ myth and it is conjectured that images were carved to soothe the anger of the goddess in the story, as Bes is a god of dance and the sistra that Hathor is shaking makes a rhythmic sound.  The goddesses depicted also have an important role in the myths of the divine origin of the pharaoh.

There is a lot more excavation to be done at Gebel Barkal and a lot more information to be uncovered from the sand about the history of the site and the role of the cult of Amun.  Although not as well known as the ancient sites of Egypt itself, the Sudan has a rich and varied archaeological history, and strangely enough has more pyramids than Egypt does!

Image LassiHU Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.5 Generic

Giant Plant Eating Dinosaur Skull Found

Palaeontologists have found four skulls of a new herbivorous dinosaur in a quarry at the Dinosaur National Monument in the US state of Utah.  Complete dinosaur skulls are a rare find, and to find skulls of a previously unknown sauropod that has been named Abydosaurus is very exciting.

Abydosaurus roamed the earth around 105 million years ago and is thought to be a close relative of Brachiosaurus. Abydosaurus had light skulls because their heads were on the end of a very long neck and sauropod skulls are made of thin bones bound together with soft tissue.  This means that sauropod skulls usually fall apart very quickly after the death of the animal and disintegrate.  The discovery of the skulls also sheds new light on how these large dinosaurs ate their food.  They did not chew food, instead they just grabbed it and swallowed it.

Read on for the whole news article on the discovery of a new giant plant eating dinosaur

Friday, 19 February 2010

New Site for the Battle of Bosworth Revealed

A four year project that has cost £1 million led by the Battlefields Trust has led to a new location for the Battle of Bosworth being revealed.  The Battle of Bosworth which was fought in 1485 was the final battle in the War of the Roses and one of the the most important battles in English history.  The battle saw the death of the last Plantagenet king of England, Richard III and the seizing of power by Henry Tudor, signalling the beginning of the Tudor dynasty.

It was previously thought that the Battle of Bosworth had been fought on Ambion Hill in Leicestershire, where there is a flag on the crest of the hill, a small monument to mark the place where King Richard fell and a newly renovated visitors' centre. The project has, however, shown that the actual site of the battle was more than a mile to the south west of this position and a new trail will lead from the visitor's centre to the new location.

The evidence proving the new location for Bosworth includes cannon balls, belt buckles, armour straps and a silver amulet in the shape of a White Boar, which was Richard of York's personal cognizance. Although the original announcement was made in October 2009, the exact location has been kept secret until now to deter treasure hunters.

Read the whole news article on the new location for the Battle of Bosworth


Cat Food is the New Weapon Against Australia's Cane Toad Plague

In 1935 around 100 cane toads were introduced into Queensland with the aim of destroying a destructive pest in the cane fields.  Unfortunately, the cane toads did not deliver, but did start to reproduce in alarming numbers and have colonised many parts of Northern Australia.  Cane toads are venomous, so kill native Australian wildlife if they eat a cane toad, and the sheer numbers of cane toads have pushed native amphibians out of ponds and suitable habitats.

It has been very difficult to find a solution to the rising cane toad numbers that is both effective and humane.  However scientists at the University of Sydney have found a way to utilise a native Australian species against the cane toad which will hopefully help to limit cane toad numbers. Meat ants are carnivorous ants that are immune to the toad's venom and so are able to attack baby cane toads.  Many cane toads are already killed by meat ants, but the scientists have made it easier for them by strategically placing cat food near the ponds where the cane toads breed.

The cat food attracts the ants and when the baby toads emerge from the pond the meat ants then attack them.  In one location where they tested the cat food, 98% of the baby toads were attacked within two minutes.  By boosting the numbers of meat ants in the areas that the cane toads breed in the natural ecological balance is not upset, as the meat ant is a species that would naturally be present in these areas. The baby cane toad's defence against the meat ant is to freeze and let the ant find out that they are venomous, but the ants are not affected so it does not work. Native Australian frogs have developed  much better defences against the meat ant, so are not be affected.

Read on for the whole news article on how cat food can help push back the cane toad plague!


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Weak Bones and Malaria Could Have Contributed to the Death of Tutankhamen

Tutankhamen was an obscure and short-lived pharaoh who lived at the end of Ancient Egypt's glittering 18th dynasty.  If it was not for the fact that his tomb was discovered in the Valley of the Kings in 1922 still intact and bursting with wonderful golden treasures, Tutankhamen's name would have probably have remained as an obscure subnote in history; known only to a handful of learned Egyptologists.

However, since Tutankhamen's tomb was discovered and its contents revealed to the world, more has probably been written about the boy king than any other pharaoh in Ancient Egypt's long history.  Although a lot of information has been gleaned from the study of the tomb and the ancient objects found there, one piece of information has remained elusive and caused a lot of speculation and controversy over the years.  Exactly how did the young pharaoh Tutankhamen die?

Scientists in Egypt have spent the last two years in a detailed examination of the pharaoh's mummy, and have concluded that Tutankhamen probably suffered from malaria, a rare inherited bone disease of the foot called Kohler disease II, a club foot and a curvature of the spine.  Shortly before his death Tutankhamen suffered a fracture to his leg, possibly from a fall, which did not heal properly.  This fracture combined with a bout of malaria could have what led to his death.

The Valley of the Kings


Monday, 15 February 2010

Is The Lost City of Atlantis in Southern Spain?

Archaeologists have started to search for the lost city of Atlantis in the region of Andalucia in Southern Spain.  They believe that in the heart of the Donana National Park a wealthy civilisation dating back 3,000 years called Tartessos could have built their capital city.  The Tartessians grew wealthy from trading silver and gold from the local mines and are a civilisation that has long been associated with the Atlantis myth.

Archaeologists had previously dismissed this site as a possible location for Atlantis as they had believed that in the relevant time frame this area was submerged.  New evidence has shown, however, that the water may have receded in time for the Tartessians to build a large city that was later destoyed by a tsunami. 

Aerial photographs of the pinpointed area show evidence of large circular and rectangular shapes under the soil that could not have been produced by nature.  However there is competition from other locations for the site of Atlantis, such as the Azores, some Mediterranean islands, Antarctica and Central America.

Read the full article to find out more on whether Andalucia in Southern Spain is the location of the lost city of Atlantis


Friday, 12 February 2010

4,000 Year Old Prehistoric Face Revealed

Scientists have for the first time unravelled the human genome from a clump of prehistoric hair found in the permafrost of Greenland, and produced an image of what this ancient man would have looked like.  The clump of hair was discovered alongside some ancient stone tools in north-west Greenland in 1986, and belonged to a member of the first Eskimo group called the Saqqaqs who hunted reindeer and lived away from the coast.

Advances in DNA analysis have allowed the scientists to discover specific traits such as the thickness of the hair and the colour of the skin and prove that Eskimos originated in Asia and not in North America.  The man has been named 'Inuk' and the portrait of him is based on screening for single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are points in the genetic code that vary from individual to individual.

Read the whole news article on revealing the image of the prehistoric face

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Patient in a Vegatative State 'Talks' to Scientists

New light has been shed on the ability of patients in a vegatative state to communicate.  Using MRI, British scientists have had a ground-breaking conversation with a male patient diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state.  The conversation has been achieved by using a brain scanner to tap into the man's thoughts and monitor his responses to 'Yes' and 'No' questions.

To elicite the 'Yes' and 'No' answers, the scientists asked the patient to imagine scenes that signalled the response.  The experts believe that this changes everything about how consciousness disorders are classified.  It opens up the possibility that patients in a vegetative state could have simple conversations and communicate, request pain relief or even indicate whether they wished to stay alive.

Click here for the full news article on the remarkable breakthrough in communicating with patients in a persistent vegatative state.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Earliest Known Animal Trails Found

More than 70 fossilised trails of some of the earliest moving animals known, dating from around 565 million years ago, have been discovered by scientists embedded in rocks in Newfoundland.  The trails show that these early organisms moved across the seafloor like modern anemones.

It is the first proof that animals from this early period of the earth's history had muscles that let them move around, and it is believed that the organisms probably had a muscular disc-shaped 'foot' to get around on.  These early fossils pre-date the 'Cambrian Explosion' between 488 and 542 million years ago when a lot of new species appeared on earth.  Experts had previously believed that animals alive before the Cambrian stayed attached to one spot and were like a static fungi.

Read the whole fossil trails news article