Category Archives: CHINA

4,000-year-old skeletons of a mother and her child embrace

4,000-year-old skeletons of a mother and her child embrace

Victims of an ancient earthquake that had once struck the Chinese community of Lajia are now on display at the Lajia Ruins Museum.

The ruins of Lajia are in Qinghai Province in Northwest China, near the Upper Yellow River. China People’s Daily has said that the site is bringing people to tears; victims are shown to be huddling together in what were their final moments. One display shows women embracing their children in an attempt to protect them.

Heartbreaking: Skeletal remains show the mother kneeling down on the ground with her arms around her son in central China

This scene is reminiscent of the victims of the Roman city Pompeii, which was destroyed by the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD.

One difference is that the Pompeiian people are shown with such humanity because they have been preserved by volcanic ash and mud, while the skeletal remains at Lajia inspire horror.

An earthquake shook the ground around them, triggering a mudslide that came down and demolished a Bronze Age building that the people had taken cover in.

The building was a family home that the people ran into thinking they would be safe. On one of the walls preserved for all of the eternity is a woman embracing her child, her skull looking upwards as she caresses the child in her arms.

The remains of two children clinging to an adult lie against another wall. Upstairs, you will find another woman and child in almost the same position as the first two. These people are from the Bronze Age Qijia culture, their remains date back to around 2,000 BC, making them 4,000 years old.

Earlier this year the remains of a child clinging to his mother were displayed in Pompeii. There are no skeletons in Pompeii – the ancient mud and ash saw to that.

Pompeii was destroyed by a pyroclastic flow: an extremely fast-moving cloud of rock and hot gas that can move at speeds of 450 miles an hour. Given these speeds, it is instantaneous death for those that chose to ignore the warnings given by Vesuvius.

It hugs the ground while it moves and spreads laterally, consisting of two parts: a hot ash plume that hovers above and the basal flow that consists of heavy rocks.

The ash plume incinerates anything it touches while the basal flow destroys anything in its path. Herculaneum was also devastated when Vesuvius exploded.

It is unknown how many died when Vesuvius exploded but it is estimated to be between 10,000 and 25,000. Many victims perished at the city port while trying to take cover in warehouses that were near the dock.

Others tried to get to the last remaining boats while others ran for their homes, most likely then praying to their household gods.

The mother and child were discovered in what archaeologists call the House of the Golden Bracelet. The home of a wealthy family, the walls covered in frescoes and also contained a large garden. It was all carbonized when the 300 degree cloud hit.

“Even though it happened 2000 years ago, it could be a boy, a mother, or a family,” said Stefania Giudice of Naples National Archaeological Museum. “It’s not just archaeology; it’s human archaeology.”

Now branded as the “Pompeii of the East,” the poor town of Lajia is now one of the most important archaeology sites in China.

Mirrors, oracle bones, and stone knives are just a few of the artifacts found at the site.

The victims of Lajia were first found in 2000 in a loess cave, one of many in the settlement that consisted of caves and houses.

518 Million-Year-Old-Rocks Suggest Animal And Human Life May Have First Emerged In China

518 Million-Year-Old-Rocks Suggest Animal And Human Life May Have First Emerged In China

A new study based on an analysis of 518 million-year-old rocks that contain the oldest collection of fossils that researchers have on record. The researchers believe that Chengjian, a city in the mountainous Yunnan Province of China, is the origin of many of today’s species, including humans.

This site is where complex organisms first developed, an event known as the ‘Cambrian Explosion’, a major time period in the history of the Earth.

The ancestors of many animal species alive today may have lived in a delta in what is now China, new research suggests.

Arthropod (Naroia)

The Cambrian Explosion, more than 500 million years ago, saw the rapid spread of bilaterian species—symmetrical along a central line, like most of today’s animals (including humans).

The 518-million-year-old Chengjiang Biota—in Yunnan, southwest China—is one of the oldest groups of animal fossils currently known to science and a key record of the Cambrian Explosion.

Fossils of more than 250 species have been found there, including various worms, arthropods (ancestors of living shrimps, insects, spiders, scorpions), and even the earliest vertebrates (ancestors of fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals).

The Cambrian seas teemed with new types of animals, such as the predator Anomalocaris (center)

The new study finds for the first time that this environment was a shallow -marine, nutrient-rich delta affected by storm floods. The area is now on land in the mountainous Yunnan Province, but the team studied rock core samples that show evidence of marine currents in the past environment.

“The Cambrian Explosion is now universally accepted as a genuine rapid evolutionary event, but the causal factors for this event have been long debated, with hypotheses on environmental, genetic, or ecological triggers,” said senior author Dr. Xiaoya Ma, a palaeobiologist at the University of Exeter and Yunnan University.

“The discovery of a deltaic environment shed new light on understanding the possible causal factors for the flourishing of these Cambrian bilaterian animal-dominated marine communities and their exceptional soft-tissue preservation.

“The unstable environmental stressors might also contribute to the adaptive radiation of these early animals.”

Co-lead author Farid Saleh, a sedimentologist and taphonomic at Yunnan University, said: “We can see from the association of numerous sedimentary flows that the environment hosting the Chengjiang Biota was complex and certainly shallower than what has been previously suggested in the literature for similar animal communities.”

Changshi Qi, the other co-lead author, and a geochemist at Yunnan University added: “Our research shows that the Chengjiang Biota mainly lived in a well-oxygenated shallow-water deltaic environment.

“Storm floods transported these organisms down to the adjacent deep oxygen-deficient settings, leading to the exceptional preservation we see today.”

Fish (Myllokunmingia)

Co-author Luis Buatois, a palaeontologist and sedimentologist at the University of Saskatchewan, said: “The Chengjiang Biota, as is the case of similar faunas described elsewhere, is preserved in fine-grained deposits.

“Our understanding of how these muddy sediments were deposited has changed dramatically during the last 15 years.

“Application of this recently acquired knowledge to the study of fossiliferous deposits of exceptional preservation will change dramatically our understanding of how and where these sediments accumulated.”

The results of this study are important because they show that most early animals tolerated stressful conditions, such as salinity (salt) fluctuations, and high amounts of sediment deposition. This contrasts with earlier research suggesting that similar animals colonized deeper-water, more stable marine environments.

“It is hard to believe that these animals were able to cope with such a stressful environmental setting,” said M. Gabriela Mángano, a palaeontologist at the University of Saskatchewan, who has studied other well-known sites of exceptional preservation in Canada, Morocco, and Greenland.

Lobopodian worm (Luolishania)

Maximiliano Paz, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Saskatchewan who specializes in fine-grained systems, added: “Access to sediment cores allowed us to see details in the rock which are commonly difficult to appreciate in the weathered outcrops of the Chengjiang area.”

This work is an international collaboration between Yunnan University, the University of Exeter, the University of Saskatchewan, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the University of Lausanne, and the University of Leicester.

The research was funded by the Chinese Postdoctoral Science Foundation, the Natural Science Foundation of China, the State Key Laboratory of Palaeobiology and Stratigraphy, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, and the George J. McLeod Enhancement Chair in Geology.

Exquisite jewellery from the past was discovered in a Chinese woman’s tomb.

Exquisite jewellery from the past was discovered in a Chinese woman’s tomb.

A 1,500-year-old tomb unearthed in China was found to contain spectacular golden jewelry inlaid with gemstones and amethysts and a 5,000 bead necklace.

A number of burials from the Northern Wei Dynasty, which this tomb belongs to, have yielded beautiful gold earrings, but experts have said the earrings discovered in this tomb are the most exquisite to have been found from this time period.

Live Science reports that the tomb was first discovered in 2011 but the finding has only recently been described in the journal Chinese Cultural Relics .

The burial was discovered in Datong City, Shanxi Province, by the Datong Municipal Institute of Archaeology, who were assessing a site prior to a construction project.

Datong City was founded in 200BC and located near the Great Wall Pass to Inner Mongolia.

It flourished during the following period and became a resting place for camel caravans traveling from China to Mongolia.

In the 4th and 5th centuries AD, the same era as the burial, Datong (then named Pincheng) became the capital of the Northern Wei Dynasty.

This was also the period that the famous Yungang Grottoes were constructed.

An epitaph found in the tomb’s entrance revealed that the tomb belonged to a woman named Farong, who was the wife of a magistrate.

Farong Tomb

Her skeleton, which was not well preserved, was found in a coffin with her skull resting on a pillow of lime.

The gold earrings have ornate designs, inlaid gemstones, gold chains and amethysts. They contain images of dragons and a human face.

“The human figure has curly hair, deep-set eyes and a high nose; wears a pendant with a sequin-bead pattern on its neck; and has inverted lotus flowers carved under its shoulders,” wrote archaeologists in the journal article.

The necklace was made with around 5,000 beads, including 10 gold beads, 9 gold pieces, 2 crystals, 42 pearls, and over 4,800 glass beads.

The jewelry found in the 1,500-year-old tomb in Datong City. Credit: Chinese Cultural Relics

Interestingly, gold earrings with very similar designs have been found in northern Afghanistan, suggesting trade between the two cultures in ancient times.

Gold earrings have been recovered from numerous other Northern Wei Dynasty tombs, such as those pictured below, but archaeologists have said that the earrings found in this tomb are among the most beautiful ever found from this period.

Archaeological Treasure Trove! 21 Royal Han Tombs Unearthed in China

Archaeological Treasure Trove! 21 Royal Han Tombs Unearthed in China

Archeologists exploring a mountainside in China have discovered 21 tombs dating back 2,000 years. The presence of luxury artifacts and a rare “couple’s grave” suggests this was an ancient royal burial site.

The discovery of the 2,000-year-old royal tombs was made at the Changsha archaeological site, which is located just over 665 miles (1,000 kilometers) southwest of Shanghai. Located in the present-day Hunan district, the ancient Changsha Kingdom was founded in 203 or 202 BC and represented the largest and longest-lasting kingdom of the Han Empire of China.

The discovery of the 21 tombs was announced earlier this week by a team of archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology , at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and Hunan Provincial Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Located along a remote mountainside, the researchers said the tombs have laid buried for two millennia and that they “potentially held regal past, but not anymore”.

21 Vertical Pits Loaded with Ancient Artifacts

The imperial Han dynasty of ancient China was established by Liu Bang around 200 BC and was subsequently ruled by the House of Liu. This dynasty was preceded by the short-lived Qin dynasty , and succeeded by the Three Kingdoms period from 220 to 280 AD, which represented the tripartite division of China among the dynastic states of Cao Wei , Shu Han, and Eastern Wu.

On Tuesday this week, via China’s state-affiliated news outlet, Xinhua, the Institute of Archaeology at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences announced that a team of archaeologists have excavated “21 vertical pit tombs containing over 200 artifacts.”

One particular tomb was filled with pottery grave goods that dated back 2,000 years to the Western Han Dynasty, which the team of researchers said flourished during the earlier half of the Han dynasty, from about 200 BC to 25 AD.

Photo of the ancient Han tomb after the fill was removed. The Chinese burial tomb contained numerous luxury artifacts.

Rows of Tombs Whispering Ancient Royal Secrets

The archaeologists said they grouped the 21 tombs into two types: “tombs with passageways and tombs without.” Many of the tombs were found side-by-side; at one end of the site, three tombs were found in a row, while at the other end four further tombs were lined up together.

One of the 21 tombs unearthed in Changsha held the remains of five decaying pillars and outer coffins shaped like “Ⅱ” or like double ‘I’s, according to the press release.

The researchers said this type of double layered tomb “is rarely found in the Hunan province.” In this tomb, excavators recovered “two iron relics, walls covered in glaze and a mineral known as talc and a tan-colored talc disk (or bi) with a rhombus and circle pattern.” Furthermore, it is thought that the rare “pair of tombs” may have accommodated the joint burials of a husband and wife.

The picture shows the unearthed talc bi, decorated with lozenge pattern + dotted pattern, recovered from the ancient Han dynasty tomb

After studying the assemblage of 21 tombs, which are all of a similar age, the archaeologists concluded they likely belonged to “a royal family buried together in an ancient mausoleum”.

Looking To Ancient Chinese Texts for Answers

The Lunheng is a wide-ranging classical Chinese classic text written by Wang Chong around 27-100 AD, containing detailed essays about ancient Chinese mythology , natural science, philosophy, and literature.

These texts describe Western Han imperial burial practices as having involved “sacrificial offerings” at ancestral temples, which accounts for the amount of pottery vessels and grave goods discovered among the 21 tombs.

Well-known examples of Western Han tombs have been excavated in the past, including Mawangdui and the tombs of Liu Sheng , prince of Zhongshan and his wife, Dou Wan.

The tomb at Mawangdui was a nested tomb and the “paired tombs” of Liu Sheng and his wife, Dou Wan were cave tombs . It is known that “couple burials” emerged as the standard form of royal burial during the late Han period, along with the pairing of male/female motifs in the styling of the tombs.

This is why the archaeologists point towards their discovery of a rare “paired tomb” as the smoking gun for this being the burial site of a Han “royal” family.

The ornate jade burial suit of Liu Sheng and his wife Dou Wan, the first undisturbed Western Han tomb ever discovered

Discovery of oldest known trousers in the world

Discovery of oldest known trousers in the world

In 2022, a team of archaeologists excavating tombs in western China uncovered the remains of two nomadic herders and a 3,000-year-old pair of trousers with woven patterns, which are the oldest known pair ever discovered, according to a report in  . The finding gives support to the theory that the transition from tunics to trousers was a practical development for horse-riders of the time. 

It is not known when humans first began making clothing due to the fast deterioration of fabrics and materials, but estimates range between 100,000 and 500,000 years ago.  The first clothes were made from animal skins and furs, grasses, leaves, bones, and shells.

Clothing was often draped or tied however, simple needles made out of animal bone provide evidence of sewn leather and fur garments from at least 40,000 years ago. When settled Neolithic cultures discovered the advantages of woven fibres, the making of cloth emerged as one of humankind’s fundamental technologies. The earliest dyed fibres have been found in a prehistoric cave in the Republic of Georgia and date back to 36,000 BC.

The first clothing made from woven fabrics, in both Europe and Asia, included simple tunics, robes, togas, wraps, and tied cloths. But at some point, this progressed to more sophisticated garments, which included trousers. Researchers have been eager to find out when and why this development occurred and the latest finding has helped to shed light on these questions.

Painted Egyptian Tunic

The ancient trousers, which are made of wool, have straight-fitting legs, a wide crotch, and decorative designs on the legs. The trousers were sewn together from three pieces of brown-coloured wool cloth, one piece for each leg and an insert for the crotch.

The tailoring involved no cutting – the pant sections were shaped on a loom in the final size. Finished pants included side slits, and strings for fastening at the waist.

The team led by archaeologists Ulrike Beck and Mayke Wagner of the German Archaeological Institute in Berlin, called the ancient invention of trousers “a ground-breaking achievement in the history of cloth making.” 

The discovery was made within tombs in the Yanghai graveyard in China’s Tarim Basin, where dry climate and hot summers helped preserve human corpses, clothing and other organic material. It is most famous for the Tarim mummies , a set of very well-preserved mummies with distinctly Caucasian features.

Within the tomb, archaeologists found the remains of two middle-aged men, a decorated leather bridle, a wooden horse bit, a battle-axe, a leather bracer for arm protection, whip, decorated horse tail, bow sheath, and bow.  

The grave goods suggest that the men were both warriors and herders, and supports previous research which has suggested that nomadic herders invented trousers to provide bodily protection and freedom of movement for horseback journeys and mounted warfare.

“This new paper definitely supports the idea that trousers were invented for horse riding by mobile pastoralists, and that trousers were brought to the Tarim Basin by horse-riding peoples,” said linguist and China authority Victor Mair of the University of Pennsylvania.

Mair suspects that horse riding began among the nomadic herders about 3,400 years ago and trouser-making came shortly thereafter in wetter regions to the north and west of the Tarim Basin.

Archaeologists Are Surprised to Find a 2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Burial Shroud Found in China

Archaeologists Are Surprised to Find a 2,500-Year-Old Cannabis Burial Shroud Found in China

Thirteen cannabis plants were found covering the body of a man who was buried in Turpan, China, around 2,500 years ago. This is the first time archaeologists have discovered a quantity of well-preserved cannabis plants and it provides information on how the plant was used in ancient Eurasian cultures.

National Geographic reports that the plants were placed across the 35-year-old man’s chest with their roots below his pelvis and the tops of the plants reaching up past his chin to the left side of his face – as if they were a shroud. Each plant measures about 3 feet (0.91 meters) long.

The grave of the man found with a “cannabis shroud” in the Jiayi cemetery, China.

A previous example of cannabis found in a burial comes from nearby Yanghai cemetery – where the herb was discovered nearly a decade ago . That grave contained almost two pounds of cannabis seeds and powdered leaves.

Regarding the Altai Mountains region , another grave which was found to contain cannabis belonged to the famous Siberian Ice Maiden, who is also known as the Princess of Ukok and the Altai Princess of Ochi-Bala.

This burial has been dated back about 2,500 years and was found in 1993 in a kurgan (mound) of the Pazyryk culture in the Republic of Altai, Russia. It has been suggested that the cannabis found near the mummified woman’s remains may have been used to help her cope with breast cancer.

Reconstruction of the Princess of Ukok’s face.

But what makes the recently discovered cannabis shroud unique is that it provides the first example of complete cannabis plants found in the archaeological record. This is also the first time that the plant has been found acting as a burial shroud.

According to China Topix , the man with the cannabis shroud was found placed on a wooden bed with a reed pillow beneath his head. He is said to have Caucasian features and his grave is one of 240 burials which were excavated at the Jiayi cemetery of Turpan.

Some of the plants which were found laid across the man’s chest as a shroud.

Radiometric dating of the tomb and the archeobotanical remains within it shows an age of about 2800–2400 years old. At that time, the area was occupied by the Gushi Kingdom and the desert oasis was an important location on the Silk Road .

With the importance of the site on the trade route, Hongen Jiang and the rest of the team of researchers wondered if the plant was locally-sourced or came from another location.

National Geographic reports that the fact that the plants were found flat on the man’s body led the archaeologists to decide they were fresh when they were placed in his grave – and therefore were local.

Detail showing the “cannabis shroud”.

Moreover, a few of the plants had flowering heads which were nearly ripe and had immature fruit. This allowed the researchers to conclude that the man was buried in late summer.

The flowering heads of the cannabis plants also provided inspiration for the researchers in deciding the common purpose of plant in the region at the time of the man’s burial.

It is believed that there were three general uses for the cannabis plant in that location during that time period: as a psychoactive substance, for textiles via hemp fibers, and as a food source with its seeds.

However, as Jiang noted to National Geographic, “no hemp textiles have been found in Turpan burials, and the seeds of the plants in the Jiayi burial are too small to serve as a practical food source.”

The flowering heads that were found on the plants were, however, covered with glandular trichomes that secrete resin containing psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC – supporting the psychoactive substance hypothesis.

Thus, the researchers concluded that the plant was “grown and harvested for its psychoactive resin, which may have been inhaled as a sort of incense or consumed in a beverage for ritual or medicinal purposes.”

A detail from one of the ancient cannabis plants found in the grave.

In another recent discovery regarding ancient cannabis, it was found that the nomad tribe known as the Yamnaya may have facilitated the first transcontinental trade of the plant.

As Natalia Klimczak wrote “the herb was not first used and domesticated somewhere in China or Central Asia. Rather, it was used in Europe and East Asia at the same time – between 11,500 and 10,200 years ago.”

The tribe of Yamnaya nomads came from the eastern Steppe region, which is nowadays Russia and Ukraine, and entered Europe about 5,000 years ago. And, as Klimczak notes “Carbonized achenes and signs of cannabis burning were discovered at archeological sites which suggests that the Yamnaya brought the practice of cannabis smoking with them as they spread across Eurasia.”

The trade route created by Yamnaya and their neighbors became a part of the Silk Road several millennia later. The researchers in that study suggested that “the fact that cannabis had multiple uses made it an ideal candidate for being a “cash crop before cash.””

Cache in Chinese Mountain Reveals 20,000 Prehistoric Fossils

Cache in Chinese Mountain Reveals 20,000 Prehistoric Fossils

A giant cache of nearly 20,000 fossil reptiles, shellfish and a host of other prehistoric creatures unearthed from a mountain in China is now revealing how life recovered after the most devastating mass extinction on Earth.

This research could help point out which species might be more or less susceptible to extinction nowadays, and how the world might recover from the damage caused by humanity, scientists added.

Life was nearly completely wiped out approximately 250 million years ago by massive volcanic eruptions and devastating global warming.

A fossil of the dolphin-bodied marine reptile known as an ichthyosaur.

Only one in 10 species survived this cataclysmic end-Permian event.
Much was uncertain regarding the steps life took to piece itself back together after this disaster, or even how long it took.

Now the clearest picture yet of this recovery has been discovered by a team of researchers, who excavated away half a mountain in Luoping in southwest China to unearth thousands of marine fossils, the first fully functional ecosystem seen after the end-Permian.

“The pattern and timing of recovery can tell us something about how life today might recover after human-induced crises,” said researcher Michael Benton, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Bristol in England.

A trove of fossils

The 50-foot-thick (16 meters) layer of limestone that held these fossils dates back to when south China was a large island just north of the equator with a tropical climate. A smattering of fossil land plants suggest this marine community lived near a conifer forest.

The fossils are exceptionally well-preserved, with more than half of them completely intact, including soft tissues. Apparently they were protected across the ages by mats of microbes that rapidly sealed their bodies off from decay after death.

“Soft tissues can give us more profound information about larger patterns of evolution and relationships, such as the feathers on dinosaurs,” Benton said. “Soft tissues in some of the marine creatures may help us understand diet and locomotion.”

Ninety percent of the fossils are bug-like creatures, such as crustaceans, millipedes and horseshoe crabs. Fish make up 4 percent, including the “living fossil” known as the coelacanth, which is still alive today nearly 250 million years later.

Snails, bivalves (creatures including clams and oysters), squid-like belemnoids, nautilus-like ammonoids and other mollusks make up about 2 percent of the fossils.

The largest creature the scientists found was a thalattosaur, a marine reptile about 10 feet (3 meters) in length, which would have preyed on the larger fishes there, which reached lengths of about 3 feet (1 m). Other predatory marine reptiles the scientists found include dolphin-bodied ichthyosaurs.

“Every time we find a new site like this, we get closer to what life in the past was really like,” Benton told LiveScience.

A long time to heal

This extraordinarily detailed snapshot of a diverse bygone ecosystem reveals that life took a long time to heal from the massive damage it received — 10 million years, which is even more than it took life to recover after the K-T event that claimed the dinosaurs.

“Recovery after most mass extinctions, including the K-T, seems to have taken 1 million to 4 million years,” Benton said. “The end-Permian event was so profound, killing perhaps 90 percent of species, that ecosystems had nothing left to hang their structure on.”

“The importance of the discovery that ecosystems took 10 million years to recover completely reflects the unequalled severity of the event,” Benton said.

Some marine animals such as the ammonoids did recover fast, within 1 million to 2 million years, but “physical environmental conditions continued to suffer setbacks for the 4 million to 5 million years of the Early Triassic, with four or five pulses of sudden heating and ocean stagnation,” Benton said, referring to severe climate changes and reduced ocean water circulation.

“The Luoping site and evidence from older locations in south China shows that ecosystems in total had not recovered until some 10 million years after the crisis.”

The researchers now plan to explore the recovery over the ecosystem’s entire life span to see which species recovered when and how the food web rebuilt itself. In addition, “we hope to now explore all the amazing fossil organisms from Luoping — this has only just begun and will take many years to document in detail,” Benton said.

500-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature With Limbs Under Its Head Unearthed

500-Million-Year-Old Sea Creature With Limbs Under Its Head Unearthed

Scientists have unearthed extraordinarily preserved fossils of a 520-million-year-old sea creature, one of the earliest animal fossils ever found, according to a new study.

Scientists have unearthed a stunningly preserved arthropod, called a fuxhianhuiid, in a flipped position that reveals its feeding limbs and nervous system.

The fossilized animal, an arthropod called a fuxhianhuiid, has primitive limbs under its head, as well as the earliest example of a nervous system that extended past the head.

The primitive creature may have used the limbs to push food into its mouth as it crept across the seafloor. The limbs may shed light on the evolutionary history of arthropods, which include crustaceans and insects.

“Since biologists rely heavily on organization of head appendages to classify arthropod groups, such as insects and spiders, our study provides a crucial reference point for reconstructing the evolutionary history and relationships of the most diverse and abundant animals on Earth,” said study co-author Javier Ortega-Hernández, an earth scientist at the University of Cambridge, in a statement. “This is as early as we can currently see into arthropod limb development.”

Primordial animal

The fuxhianhuiid lived nearly 50 million years before animals first emerged from the sea onto land, during the early part of the Cambrian explosion, when simple multicellular organisms rapidly evolved into complex sea life. [See Images of the Wacky Cambrian Creatures ]

While paleontologists have unearthed previous examples of a fuxhianhuiid before, the fossils were all found in the head-down position, with their delicate internal organs obscured by a large carapace or shell.

However, when Ortega-Hernández and his colleagues began excavating in a fossil-rich region of southwest China around Kunming called Xiaoshiba, they unearthed several specimens of fuxhianhuiid where the bodies had been flipped before fossilization.

All told, the team unearthed an amazingly preserved arthropod, as well as eight additional specimens.

These primeval creatures probably spent most of their days crawling across the seabed trawling for food and may have also been able to swim short distances. The sea creatures, some of the earliest arthropods or jointed animals, probably evolved from worms with legs.

The discovery sheds light on how some of the earliest ancestors of today’s animals may have evolved.

“These fossils are our best window to see the most primitive state of animals as we know them – including us,” Ortega-Hernández said in a statement.

“Before that there is no clear indication in the fossil record of whether something was an animal or a plant – but we are still filling in the details, of which this is an important one.”

A Fossil Spider Discovery Just Turned Out to Be a Crayfish With Some Legs Painted on

A Fossil Spider Discovery Just Turned Out to Be a Crayfish With Some Legs Painted on

When scientists at the Dalian Natural History Museum in China copped a load of a fossil unearthed in the Lower Cretaceous Yixian Formation, they couldn’t believe their eyes. The eight-legged beastie looked like nothing anyone had seen before. Exceptionally preserved.

They described it as a new spider, publishing their analysis in the journal Acta Geologica Sinica, and named the species Mongolarachne chaoyangensis. There was just one problem: the fossil was a big old fake.

The cunning ruse was discovered by invertebrate paleontologist Paul Selden of the University of Kansas, whose spidey senses started tingling when he got his hands on the paper.

“I was obviously very sceptical,” Selden said.

“The paper had very few details, so my colleagues in Beijing borrowed the specimen from the people in the Southern University, and I got to look at it. Immediately, I realised there was something wrong with it – it clearly wasn’t a spider. It was missing various parts, had too many segments in its six legs, and huge eyes.”

The penny dropped, he said, when palaeobiologist Chungkun Shih of Capital Normal University in Beijing remarked that a lot of Cretaceous crayfish are found in the same formation, dating back to around 120 to 130 million years ago.

“I realised what happened,” Selden said, “was I got a very badly preserved crayfish onto which someone had painted on some legs.”

Yep. Those wacky legs that didn’t look right? Not actually fossilised material at all.

To confirm this suspicion, Selden teamed up with University of Kansas geologists Matt Downen and Alison Olcott to analyse the fossil specimen using fluorescence microscopy. Because the fossil was so big, they had to image it in sections.

These images returned four main fluorescence colours: white, which likely indicated a mended crack; blue, which is the mineral composition of the host rock; red, indicating actual fossilised material; and yellow. That yellow fluorescence, the researchers said, is most likely created by oil-based paint.

But it’s a very convincing forgery. You wouldn’t necessarily know parts of it were fake just by looking at it, unless you specifically knew what you were looking for. That, Selden said, is how the Dalian Natural History Museum scientists were taken in.

“These things are dug up by local farmers mostly, and they see what money they can get for them,” he explained.

“They obviously picked up this thing and thought, ‘Well, you know, it looks a bit like a spider.’ And so, they thought they’d paint on some legs – but it’s done rather skilfully. So, at first glance, or from a distance, it looks pretty good.

“It’s not until you get down to the microscope and look in detail that you realise there are clearly things wrong with it. And, of course, the people who described it are perfectly good palaeontologists – they’re just not experts on spiders.”

A Yixian crayfish for comparison.

Fake fossils are nothing new; in fact, recent history – going back the last few centuries – is rife with hoaxes and frauds. And, although we did eventually wise up about the Piltdown Man, a 2010 Science investigation found that fake fossils were finding their way into museums in China in shocking numbers.

Farther afield, the online marketplace for trilobite fossils, for instance, is awash with extremely clever fakes.

“I’ve seen lots of forgeries, and in fact I’ve even been taken in by fossils in a very dark room in Brazil,” Selden said.

“It looks interesting until you get to it in the daylight the next day and realise it’s been enhanced, let’s say, for sale. I have not seen it with Chinese invertebrates before.

“It’s very common with, you know, really expensive dinosaurs and that sort of stuff… They’re not necessarily going to be bought by scientists, but by tourists.”

Look. There’s even brushstrokes!

While it’s less common to find a fake fossil in an academic journal, the case highlights the importance of performing a thorough analysis, and that even the peer-review process can be flawed.

As a result of this new paper, Mongolarachne chaoyangensis no longer exists; the specimen has been reclassified as a common crayfish. As for what will become of the fossil, that’s yet to be decided. Perhaps it will be put on display in a museum.


Remains of horses from 2,700 years ago found in Chinese family tomb

In central China, a tomb complex containing the remains of horses thought to belong to an ancient royal household was discovered.

Excavation of the surrounding land yielded 21 large tombs, six horse pits, and 500 copper, ceramic, and jade relics.

A 2,700-year-old tomb complex containing the remains of horses believed to belong to a member of an ancient royal household has been unearthed in central China

The tomb, which could date back 2,700 years, is thought to belong to a royal family from the Spring and Autumn Period.

Chinese archaeologist made the discovery in the city of Sanmenxia, in central China’s Henan Province on Saturday, according to Xinhua News.

Skeletons of 28 horses were found in the six pits. The horses were lying on their sides and were accompanied by dogs.

Out of the 21 large tombs, 20 of them contained coffins, according to archaeologists.

According to preliminary analysis, the Shangshihe village tomb complex is thought to be the burial site of nobles from the middle Spring and Autumn Period

According to preliminary analysis, the Shangshihe village tomb complex is thought to be the burial site of nobles from the early to the middle Spring and Autumn Period (771-476 BC).

The tomb was arranged in an orderly manner and all the relics were very well preserved, the experts said. This shows that the household had a clear layout planned and a strict burial system in place.

Other bronzeware, ceramics and anicent food vessels were also unearthed from the complex, indicating the owner’s noble status, according to Yang Haiqing, a researcher at the Sanmenxia Municipal Institute of Cultural Relics and Archaeology.

Experts say the discovery will provide valuable material for the study of funeral rituals of the period in central China

Four dings (鼎), which were prehistoric and ancient Chinese cauldrons that stand upon legs with a lid and two facing handles were discovered along with four guis (簋), a type of bowl-shaped ritual bronze vessel used to hold offerings of food, usually grain, for ancestral tombs.

Experts said these reveal details about the technology and production methods used by noble households at the time, as well as the social status of the family and funeral customs of the period.

The site was discovered in July last year, when a local chemical enterprise was expanding construction.

Experts said the relics reveal details about the technology and production methods used by noble families at the time

This is not the first time that such burials have been uncovered in China.

Last November, archaeologists discovered a 2,400-year-old tomb in Xinzheng city in the same province, thought to hold the remains of noble families of the Zheng State, who ruled the region intermittently between 770 and 221 BC.

Excavation of the surrounding land had uncovered 18 large pits containing horses and chariots and more than 3,000 tombs.

Around 500 pieces of burial objects such as bronzeware, pottery and jade were excavated from the tomb complex

In 2022, archaeologists uncovered the almost 3,000-year-old remains of horses and wooden chariots in a Zhou Dynasty tomb in Luoyang city, also in Henan province.

The pits also contained well-preserved evidence of bronzeware and ceramics from the Early Western Zhou dynasty.