2000-Year-Old Children’s Shoe Unearthed in Austrian Iron Age Site
An “extremely well-preserved” Iron Age Children’s Shoe was discovered in Austria during excavations at Dürrnberg, near the historic town of Hallein.
Since 2001, the German Mining Museum Bochum, Leibniz Research Museum for Georesources, has been conducting mining archeological investigations with its mining archeology research area on the Dürrnberg near Hallein.
The Dürrnberg near Salzburg is known for its rock salt mining, which already occurred in the Iron Age.
Due to the preservation effect of the salt, organic remains are particularly well preserved, in contrast to other excavations, where such finds are in short supply. During this year’s campaign in the Georgenberg tunnel, a children’s shoe made of leather came to light.
The shoe is made of leather and roughly corresponds to today’s shoe size 30 (12.5-inch). The shape, as well as the lace-up closures, which were likely made of flax or linen, are still intact. The shoe’s design provides additional indications of its manufacture, which was most likely in the second century B.C.
“For decades now, our research activities on the Dürrnberg have repeatedly provided us with valuable finds in order to develop the earliest mining activities scientifically.
The condition of the shoe that was found is outstanding,” says the head of the research area, Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöllne. “Organic materials usually decompose over time.
Finds such as this children’s shoe, but also textile remains or excrement, such as those found on the Dürrnberg, offer an extremely rare insight into the life of the Iron Age miners.”
Several finds of leather shoes are already known from the Dürrnberg, but a child’s shoe is always something special, as it proves the presence of children underground.
In addition, in this case, as an exception, a remnant of a lacing made of flax or linen has been preserved. In this way, conclusions can be drawn as to how the shoes were laced.
In the vicinity of the well-kept find, archaeologists also found other organic materials, namely a fragment of a wooden shovel in the shape of a blade and the remains of fur with lacing that possibly belonged to a fur hood.
The research work on prehistoric salt production at Dürrnberg near Hallein in Austria is part of a long-term research project.
The work is funded by Salinen Austria AG and Salinen Tourismus and is carried out in cooperation with the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at Ruhr University in Bochum.
Why were dozens of people butchered 6,200 years ago and buried in a Neolithic death pit?
Around 6,200 years ago, 41 people in what is now Croatia were killed and buried in a mass grave, and members of their own community may have murdered them, according to new analysis of the remains.
Adult men and women were among the dead, but ages in the group ranged from 2 years old to 50 years old, and about half of the skeletons belonged to children. Many of the killing blows were strikes to the skull that landed from behind, and there were no marks on the arm bones that indicated the victims tried to defend themselves from their attackers, scientists reported in a new study.
Genetic analysis showed that about 70% of the deceased were not closely related to other victims, but all shared common ancestry. Researchers suspect that the massacre may have been prompted by a sudden population boom or shift in climate conditions that depleted resources and led to indiscriminate mass murder.
The grave was discovered in 2007, when a man who lived in a small village in the hills of Potočani, Croatia, was digging a foundation for a garage, and heavy rains exposed a pit holding dozens of skeletons.
Archaeologists with the University of Zagreb happened to be conducting a survey nearby, and they were able to start investigating the mass grave on the day it was discovered, said Mario Novak, lead author of the new study and head of the Laboratory for Evolutionary Anthropology and Bioarchaeology at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb, Croatia.
The pit is small, measuring about 6.5 feet (2 meters) in diameter and 3 feet (1 m) deep, and at least 41 bodies had been unceremoniously dumped there. At first, the archaeologists thought that the remains were modern, either from World War II or the Croatian War of Independence in the 1990s, Novak .
But there were no contemporary objects in the pit — just fragments of pottery that looked to be prehistoric. And when researchers inspected the victims’ teeth, they found no dental fillings. Radiocarbon dating of bones, soil and pottery fragments confirmed the age of the burial, dating it to around 4200 B.C.
The researchers identified 21 of the victims as children between the ages of 2 years and 17 years old, and 20 as adults between 18 years and 50 years old; 21 of the dead were male and 20 were female.
“Just random killing”
But how did they end up buried together? For the new study, Novak and his colleagues sampled DNA from remains and analyzed the bones of 38 individuals. When the researchers inspected the bodies, they found that most had at least one traumatic injury at the back of the skull, and some skulls had as many as four punctures.
Mass graves in medieval Europe frequently contained people of all ages and sexes who succumbed to the Black Death, but the victims in the Potočani pit died by violence, not of infectious disease, Novak explained.
“The only plausible scenario was a massacre,” he said.
Distribution of men and women, and of adults and children, was roughly equal, and there were no wounds to their limbs or faces, so they likely weren’t killed in a skirmish during combat. It is unknown if the victims were restrained or otherwise incapable of defending themselves — “if someone attacks you with a club or a sword, you reflexively raise up your forearm to protect the head,” which would have left at least some remains with cut marks on the arm bones, Novak said. “But we didn’t see any facial injuries, and no defensive injuries whatsoever.”
Genetic data showed that only 11 of the victims were close relatives, so the massacre wasn’t targeting a specific family group. Neither did it look like a planned discriminatory killing, in which foes tended to murder older men while taking women captive.
“In this case, it was just random killing, without any concern for sex and age,” Novak said.
A Neolithic death pit that was recently described in Spain also held a jumble of skeletons — male and female, young and old. DNA showed that the victims were recent arrivals to the region, so they may have been slaughtered by locals protecting their territory, previously reported. But genetic evidence from the site in Potočani indicated that even though most of the dead weren’t closely related, they shared common ancestry.
This means that they weren’t newcomers; rather, they came from a local population that was homogenous and stable, “so we can exclude that this massacre was associated with the influx of new immigrants,” Novak said.
The most likely explanation is one that archaeologists and climatologists have suggested for other ancient massacre sites in Germany and Austria dating to about 5,000 years ago, in which adults and children were also killed indiscriminately and thrown into shallow mass graves. In those scenarios, prolonged climate change that caused flooding or droughts — perhaps combined with an unexpected population boom — could have led to squabbles over precious resources.
And in Potočani, one of those struggles turned deadly.
“By studying such ancient massacres, we might try to get a glimpse into the psychology of these people, and maybe try to prevent similar events today,” Novak said. “We have evidence of ancient massacres going back to 10,000 years ago, at least. Today, we also have modern massacres — the only thing that’s changed is we now have more efficient means and weapons to do such things. But I don’t think human nature or human psychology has changed much.”
Exceptionally Preserved “Still Shining” Bronze Age Sword Unearthed in Bavaria
So well preserved “it almost still shines” is what archaeologists have termed the incredible find of a 3,000-year-old Bronze Age sword found in the town of Nördlingen, Bavaria in Germany.
This fortuitous discovery came to light during the excavation of a burial site containing the remains of a man, woman, and child. As of now, it is unclear whether the three individuals were related or interred in close succession.
3,000 years old, and Still Sharp
The sword’s excellent state of preservation has been a joy to behold for the archaeologists. Crafted from bronze, the weapon has an exquisite ornate octagonal hilt. This has acquired a greenish patina over time due to the oxidation of the copper present in the bronze alloy, according to a press statement from Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection.
Bronze Age Metal Working
The Bronze Age in Western Europe is renowned for its advanced metallurgy and the skilled work of metallurgists, and this sword is a stunning example of this.
Metallurgy played a pivotal role in the development of societies and the advancement of technology. This era, which lasted from around 2500 BC to 800 BC, was characterized by the widespread use of bronze, a copper-based alloy, for the creation of tools, weapons, and other essential objects.
A Unique Design, a Lethal Weapon
The unique design is reflective of the expertise and artistry of its creator. Octagonal swords like this one were exclusively crafted by highly skilled blacksmiths.
The hilt, secured to the blade with two rivets using a technique known as overlay casting, exhibits remarkable craftsmanship. Surprisingly, despite its apparent functionality, the blade bears no visible signs of wear or cut marks, suggesting that it may have served a ceremonial or symbolic purpose.
The dating of the sword places it from the end of the 14th century BC, making it especially significant from an archaeological point of view. The scarcity of sword findings from this particular time and region can be attributed to the looting of many Middle Bronze Age graves over the centuries.
In fact, most swords of this type only exist in the archaeological record from the 19th century AD onwards, when they were found in burial mounds. In the light of that, unearthing such a weapon has been particularly exciting.
Specifically, this type of sword appears in Central Europe in younger burial mounds from around 1450 BC onwards. The pommel plate is oval, which is typical, and the blade shows no sign of use. However, this does not discount the possibility that the sword could have functioned as an active weapon.
With a well-balanced design having a center of gravity positioned towards the front end, it could be very effective in slashing opponents notes the Welt article. Combining aesthetic appeal and highly functional attributes truly makes this sword a lethal weapon!
Center of Manufacture: German Bronze Age
Although two regions in Germany—southern Germany and northern Germany/Denmark—are known to have been centers for manufacturing octagonal swords, the exact origin of this newfound weapon remains a mystery.
The sword is similar to the Bronze D type Rixheim swords as it uses a solid hilt made by overlay casting of the handle over the blade, even though it has been typecast as octagonal.
According to the report, a comparison of the casting techniques and the decoration shows that the octagonal swords in the north were apparently either replicas of southern German models or pieces actually imported.
Perhaps, ‘wandering craftsmen’ manufactured such swords and weapons in different places too, which is also a possibility. Another possible interpretation of the find is that warriors from the south had come to northern Germany.
Most of the Bronze Age remains around Nördlingen belong to the Urnfield Culture . It derived its name from the distinctive burial practice of cremating the deceased and placing their ashes in urns , which were then interred in burial mounds or fields.
It was often divided into several local cultures within a broader Urnfield tradition which emerged around 1300 BC. The Urnfield Culture superseded the previous Tumulus Culture and developed advanced metal working skills in Bronze weaponry and armor, reports Heritage Daily .
The material culture of the Urnfield culture is notable for its technological advancements, particularly in metalworking. Bronze continued to be a significant material, but the period also witnessed a gradual transition to the use of iron, hence its classification as a transitional culture between the Bronze Age and Iron Age.
The skilled metalworkers of the Urnfield culture produced a wide range of tools, weapons, and ornaments, showcasing their mastery of metallurgical techniques.
Archaeologists Discover They’ve Been Excavating Lost Assyrian City
Cuneiform tablets revealed the site in Iraqi Kurdistan is the legendary city of Mardaman.
In 2013, archaeologists from the University of Tübingen in Germany began excavations on an ancient Assyrian city in the Kurdistan region of modern-day Iraq. While they were able to establish the city dated back as early as 2800 to 2650 B.C.E., they weren’t sure exactly what city it was that they were excavating, according .
That is until last summer. While digging in a site that was once a palace, they unearthed 92 cuneiform tablets hidden in a piece of pottery that revealed where, exactly, they were working: the lost city of Mardaman.
According to a press release, the city was once an important commercial hub that’s been cited in many writings. Over the course of its 1,000-year history, Mardaman was captured, destroyed and rebuilt several times.
Notably, during that time span, its position on trading routes between Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Syria made it a desirable slice of geography. It served for a time as a capital of a Mesopotamian province and at one point was its own independent kingdom.
The crumbling tablets were deciphered by Betina Faist of the University of Heidelberg, who is a specialist of the Assyrian language. Using photographs of the texts, she found that they date from the Middle Assyrian Empire and reveal that Mardaman was the administrative seat of a previously unknown Assyrian province.
The texts appear to be documents from a governor of the province named Assur-nasir, and they describe some of his daily activities.
The find adds a coda to the long story of Mardaman. By the time it appears in the historical record around 2250 B.C.E. it was already established and was leveled by Naram-Sin, who ruled the Akkadian Empire, the first multi-national empire in known history.
Between 2000 and 2100 B.C. it was an important trade center on the edge of Mesopotamia and the center of its own kingdom, which was conquered in 1786 B.C.E. by Shamshi-Adad I, who acquired much of the ancient Near East, creating the Upper Mesopotamian Empire and proclaiming himself “King of All.”
After that, Mardaman regained its independence and became a prosperous independent kingdom again. But the good times didn’t last; the Turukkaean people from the nearby Zagros Mountains flattened the city. There Mardaman disappeared from recorded history until the new writings were discovered.
“The cuneiform texts and our findings from the excavations in Bassetki now make it clear that that was not the end,” Peter Pfälzner of the University of Tübingen, who is heading the excavations, says in the press release. “The city existed continuously and achieved a final significance as a Middle Assyrian governor’s seat between 1,250 and 1,200 B.C.E.”
Pfälzner explains that the tablets may have been a sort of message in a bottle. They were found in the earthenware vessel covered in a thick layer of clay.
“They may have been hidden this way shortly after the surrounding building had been destroyed. Perhaps the information inside it was meant to be protected and preserved for posterity.”
Mardaman is not the only lost city in Iraq. Last month, officials revealed that looted artifacts purchased by Hobby Lobby likely came from a lost Sumerian City in the country called Irisagrig.
Last year, researchers also revealed that they are using quantitative analysis to find the locations of 11 lost Assyrian cities by analyzing 12,000 cuneiform tablets from traders, who moved merchandise between those cities and other known cities in the Bronze Age.
Moroccan Cave Find Shows Ancient Humans Made Clothes 120,000 Years Ago
Researchers have announced the discovery of bone tools in a cave in Morocco that appear to have been used to carefully remove skins and fur from the bodies of dead animals. The skins recovered this way were apparently used to make clothing.
Such a find would not normally be considered remarkable. But these particular tools are approximately 120,000 years old, which pushes the timeframe for clothes-making practices farther back into the past than scientists would have once believed was possible.
“These bone tools have shaping and use marks that indicate they were used for scraping hides to make leather and for scraping pelts to make fur,” anthropologist and research team leader Dr. Emily Hallett explained in a press release from science journal publisher Cell Press .
“At the same time, I found a pattern of cut marks on the carnivore bones from Contrebandiers Cave that suggested that humans were not processing carnivores for meat but were instead skinning them for their fur.”
The ancient fur and leather makers were early Homo Sapiens (modern humans), who at this point had yet to leave Africa to explore and colonize the rest of the planet. Even before the original great migration that scattered their populations across the globe, the earliest humans were showing a surprisingly sophisticated range of behaviors.
“Our study adds another piece to the long list of hallmark human behaviors that begin to appear in the archaeological record of Africa around 100,000 years ago,” stated Dr. Hallett, who along with most of the scientists involved in this research project is affiliated with the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany.
Researchers don’t expect to find actual clothing samples during excavations at Contrebandiers Cave. Leather and fur clothing would be too delicate to be preserved for more than 100,000 years.
But fascinating studies of the DNA of clothing lice have shown that they likely evolved from human head lice somewhere between 83,000 and 170,000 years ago. This takes their origin back to the time when modern humans were still living exclusively Africa, offering further evidence that people have been making clothes for a very long time.
The Tools Tell the Tale
As they explain in an article detailing their discoveries in the journal iScience, Dr. Hallett and her colleagues closely examined the remains of animal bones excavated over several decades from Contrebandiers Cave on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. These bones had been unearthed in layers dating back to between 120,000 and 90,000 BC, and had been found alongside the skeletal remains of humans who were using the cave throughout that time period.
Some of the animal bones (62 to be exact) had clearly been fashioned into tools of various kinds, and one type of tool in particular caught their attention. These sturdy objects were made from the rib bones of cattle, and had been rounded into the shape of a spatula on one end.
“Spatulate-shaped tools are ideal for scraping and thus removing internal connective tissues from leathers and pelts during the hide or fur-working process, as they do not pierce the skin or pelt,” the researchers wrote in their iScience article.
A few of the bones Dr. Hallett and her colleagues looked at hadn’t been made into tools at all. But they contained telltale scraping marks showing that attached skin and fur had been thoroughly and carefully removed. It is notable that the bones that contained such markings came from species that likely would have possessed thick coats of fur, including ancient versions of foxes, wildcats, and jackals.
Dr. Hallett found other marked bones that came from species similar to modern cattle. But in these cases, the cuts and scrapings had different characteristics. These marks were of a type that would be caused if meat were being deboned, in preparation for it to be used as food.
One other intriguing discovery found at the cave was a whale’s tooth , which had been partially modified and was likely used to flake stone. Dating to the same 120,000 to 90,000 BC period, this is the oldest tool made from marine mammal bone that has ever been found during an archaeological excavation, anywhere in the world. Nothing of its kind from any time period had ever been found in northern Africa before, Dr. Hallett confirmed.
Prehistoric Humans Were Doing It, and Neanderthals Were Doing It, Too
Dr. Hallett doesn’t think modern humans were the only hominin species to discover the benefits of clothes-making. She believes that European Neanderthals were making clothing from animal skins and furs before modern humans arrived in the region, most likely approximately 40,000 years ago .
Evidence is available that supports this theory. In 2013, archaeologists discovered a particular type of leatherworking tool known as a lissoir during excavations at two caves (Abri Peyrony and Pech-de-l’Azé) in southwestern France. These caves were once occupied by Neanderthals rather than humans, and that the tools in question had apparently been manufactured around 50,000 BC.
Commenting on the latest findings in Morocco, Dr. Matt Pope, an archaeologist from University College London, told the Guardian that these ancient humans must have been accomplished leatherworkers.
“This is an adaptation which goes beyond just the adoption of clothing,” he said. “It allows us to imagine clothing which is more waterproof, closer-fitting and easier to move in, than more simple scraped hides.”
Dr. Pope noted that well-processed leather could have also been used to make containers, windbreaks, shelters, and many other useful products. Since Neanderthals were using similar sophisticated tools in Europe, he theorized, they must have been quite skilled at making leather products of various types as well.
Dr. Hallett is curious to see if other archaeologists exploring human-occupied caves elsewhere in Africa will find similar evidence of ancient clothes-making practices. Now that they know such evidence exists, they will know what to look for and won’t dismiss findings that push the clothes-making timeline back even deeper into prehistory.
10,500-year-old Bones Found in Bog are Germany’s Oldest Human Remains
Archaeologists digging at a Stone Age campsite in northern Germany have found 10,500-year-old cremated human bones. These Mesolithic era ‘bog bones’ are the oldest human remains found so far in northern Germany.
Not only is this the earliest known human burial in northern Germany, it is also the first time human remains have been found at Duvensee Bog, the site of several campsites from the Mesolithic era or Middle Stone Age (between 15,000 and 5,000 years ago) in the Schleswig-Holstein region, according .
Duvensee Bog is a prehistoric inland lake that has completely silted over in the last 8,000 years and formed a peat bog. The bog’s anaerobic environment naturally preserves organic remains, but there was so little of the burnt bones that it wasn’t until the discovery of a human thigh bone that the archaeologists were able to confirm that they had unearthed a human burial, reports Arkeonews.
The Ancient Duvensee Campsites
The campsite where the bog bones were recovered is only one of at least 20 Mesolithic and Neolithic campsites at Duvensee, and it is located at what was once the western shore of the prehistoric lake. The campsites were used for roasting hazelnuts and spearing fish, both very valuable sources of nutrition for hunter gatherers.
The campsites increased in size over time, possibly indicating a wider spread of hazelnut trees as the climate changed. “In the beginning, we have only small hazelnut roasting hearths, and in the later sites, they become much bigger,” Harald Lubke, an archaeologist at the Center for Baltic and Scandinavian Archaeology, an agency of the Schleswig-Holstein State Museums Foundation.
The burial campsite was first discovered by archaeologist Klaus Bokelmann and his students in the late 1980s. They discovered worked flint artifacts there not during an archaeological excavation but as a result of a casual challenge issued during a barbecue at a house in a nearby village.
The entire area has yielded flint fragments although flint doesn’t occur naturally there. According to Lubke, this seems to indicate that the hunter gatherers repaired their tools and weapons here when they used the campsites during the annual hazelnut harvest in autumn.
The Cremated Bog Bones
The first sites Bokelmann and his team investigated were on what must have been islands in the ancient lakes. While they found mats made of bark for sitting on the damp soil, pieces of worked flint, and the remains of many Mesolithic fireplaces for roasting hazelnuts, they didn’t find any burials at the island sites.
“Maybe they didn’t bury people on the islands but only at the sites on the lake border, which seem to have had a different kind of function,” Lubke .
Unlike in the later Mesolithic period, there were no designated burial sites during the early Mesolithic period and the dead seem to have been buried near where they died, according to Lubke.
At the Duvensee burial, pieces of the largest bones were left after the cremation, and it’s not clear if they were wrapped in hide or bark before they were buried.
The find is very significant given that it is extremely rare to find human burials from the early Mesolithic period in Europe. While Late Mesolithic (seventh-sixth millennium BC) graves have been found in northern Germany and southern Scandinavia, the only other early Mesolithic burial found in Europe so far is in Hammelev in southern Denmark, about 120 miles (195 kilometers) to the north of the Duvensee site. Interestingly, that too is a cremation burial, indicating that cremation may have been the preferred funerary practice at the time.
Several sizable bone fragments that were not completely charred were found during the excavation. Lubke hopes that they will be able to recover archaeological DNA from them, Arkeonews reports. The entire grave was raised in a soil block for laboratory study.
A Connection with Mesolithic Sites in Britain
The Duvensee campsites date to around the same time as the Mesolithic site at Star Carr in North Yorkshire and some of the artifacts found there are remarkably similar.
At that time and until about 8,000 years ago, Lubke explains that the Schleswig-Holstein region and Britain were connected by a now-submerged region called Doggerland, and Mesolithic groups would have exchanged technologies across the regions.
While archaeologists have been digging at Duvensee Bog since 1923, according to Arkeonews, and have also discovered Stone Age hunter gatherer shelters there, the recent cremation burial find has been very exciting.
It has energized them to step up excavations in the region in the hope of discovering what other activities its Mesolithic occupants carried out there. “We’ve only opened a new door here at the moment. But behind it, there are only dark rooms at the moment,” Lubke said.
Viking Ring Found in Polish Stronghold is Actually Rare Christian Artifact
What was thought to be a Viking ring has turned out to be something else entirely. Even highly-trained professionals sometimes see what they expect to see, instead of what’s actually there, at least for a little while.
That’s what the Science in Poland website reported in November, when talking about an unusual historical find. The find in question was a medieval ring that dates from the ninth or tenth century.
The ring was originally found in 2003 by Mirosław and Małgorzata Andrałojć together with archaeologist Mariusz Tuszyński, who at the time was head of research work in Grzybowo.
It was found using a metal detector, and was located in a stronghold in Grzybowo, Poland, near a spot where archaeologists had already found a sizable quantity of medieval coins.
When it was first discovered, the team thought it was of Viking make, because it was covered with a tight, dense, weave depicting animals.
Archaeologist Miroslaw Andralojc said that the design first led them to believe it was a Scandinavian object, but after doing a more complete analysis, they realized that the design was more consistent with similar objects from the Carolingians of Western Europe.
He speculated that it may have been made in the Eastern Alps, where Christianity was already well-established by the eighth century. Hence the surprise that occured when they realized they most likely had a Christian artifact on their hands instead of pagan Viking one.
The ring was made of lead brass, which the wealthy of the era valued because it had more of a true golden color than metals like bronze, which means that the ring probably belonged to a person of high status. It was also interesting for its shape; the ring’s interior wasn’t truly round.
Instead, it was shaped in a way that it conformed better to the shape of a human finger and would be less likely to slide off by accident. In order to put it on or take it off, it would have to be rotated 45 degrees one direction or the other, which was the only way it would move freely on or off.
The exterior design of the jewelry showed overlapping images of birds, and a crown wound with flowers. The floral winding was in the shape of a medallion, which, in turn, shows the figure of an animal lying down. A similar design had previously been found on a Carolingian brooch held by the British Museum.
Andralojc stated that his team believes the design to show the Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, surrounded by peacocks. This would be Christian symbolism, since peacocks were considered a symbol of resurrection. Researchers have also seen similar styles of decorative weave on decorative candlesticks at an Abbey in Upper Austria.
The discovery of the “Viking” Christina ring does raise real questions about how it got where it was found. The stronghold existed from the 920s until the middle of the eleventh century, which does encompass the period during which the ring was made, but how did it end up so far from home?
As yet, the researchers have no clear theory about whether the ring was loot, a gift, or proof that the owner belonged to a Christian community.
The Carolingian dynasty or empire was a group of rulers who eventually became the kings of the Franks around 750 AD and ruled for about 150 years. The most generally well-known member of this dynasty was Charlemagne.
They dynasty is thought to have been founded by Arnulf, Bishop of Metz, early in the seventh century, and during its peak, leaders of this dynasty ruled over much of Central and Western Europe, Before coming into its full power,, the early members of the dynasty held the mayoralty of the palace of Austrasia, which covered what is now the Northeastern part of France, Belgium, and central Germany.
Charlemagne became King of the Franks in 768, and was anointed Emperor by Pope Leo III in 800 AD. Making Charlemagne Emperor was a win-win for both the dynasty and the Catholic Church, the Church legitimized the Empire’s rule, and the Empire offered help to the Church in terms of military support.
70,000 Years Ago Something Happened That May Solve The Enduring Mystery Of Language Evolution
Scientists have tried to solve the enduring mystery of language evolution, and it seems something that happened 70,000 years ago may shed light on this ancient enigma.
According to the hypothesis called Romulus and Remus and coined by Dr. Vyshedskiy, a neuroscientist from Boston University, A genetic mutation that slowed down the development of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) in two or more children may have triggered a cascade of events leading to the acquisition of recursive language and modern imagination 70,000 years ago.
Numerous archeological and genetic evidence have already convinced most paleoanthropologists that the speech apparatus has reached essentially modern configurations before the human line split from the Neanderthal line 600,000 years ago. Considering that the chimpanzee communication system already has 20 to 100 different vocalizations, it is likely that the modern-like remodeling of the vocal apparatus extended our ancestors’ range of vocalizations by orders of magnitude.
In other words, by 600,000 years ago, the number of distinct verbalizations used for communication must have been on par with the number of words in modern languages.
On the other hand, artifacts signifying modern imagination, such as composite figurative arts, elaborate burials, bone needles with an eye, and the construction of dwellings arose not earlier than 70,000 years ago. The half million-year-gap between the acquisition of the modern speech apparatus and modern imagination has baffled scientists for decades.
While studying the acquisition of imagination in children, Dr. Vyshedskiy and his colleagues discovered a temporal limit for the development of a particular component of imagination.
It became apparent that modern children who have not been exposed to full language in early childhood never acquire the type of active constructive imagination essential for the juxtaposition of mental objects, known as Prefrontal Synthesis (PFS).
“To understand the importance of PFS, consider these two sentences: “A dog bit my friend” and “My friend bit a dog.” It is impossible to distinguish the difference in meaning using words or grammar alone since both words and grammatical structure are identical in these two sentences. Understanding the difference in meaning and appreciating the misfortune of the 1st sentence and the humor of the 2nd sentence depends on the listener’s ability to juxtapose the two mental objects: the friend and the dog.
Only after the PFC forms the two different images in front of the mind’s eye, are we able to understand the difference between the two sentences.
Similarly, nested explanations, such as “a snake on the boulder to the left of the tall tree that is behind the hill,” force listeners to use PFS to combine objects (a snake, the boulder, the tree, and the hill) into a novel scene.
Flexible object combination and nesting (otherwise known as recursion) are characteristic features of all human languages. For this reason, linguists refer to modern languages as recursive languages,” Dr. Vyshedskiy explains.
Unlike vocabulary and grammar acquisition, which can be learned throughout one’s lifetime, there is a strong critical period for the development of PFS and individuals not exposed to conversations with recursive language in early childhood can never acquire PFS as adults.
Their language is always lacking understanding of spatial prepositions and recursion that depend on the PFS ability. In a similar manner, pre-modern humans would not have been able to learn recursive language as adults and, therefore, would not be able to teach recursive language to their own children, who, as a result, would not acquire PFS. Thus, the existence of a strong critical period for PFS acquisition creates a cultural evolutionary barrier for the acquisition of recursive language.
The second predicted evolutionary barrier was a faster PFC maturation rate and, consequently, a shorter critical period. In modern children the critical period for PFS acquisition closes around the age of five. If the critical period in pre-modern children was over by the age of two, they would have no chance of acquiring PFS. A longer critical period was imperative to provide enough time to train PFS via recursive conversations.
An evolutionary mathematical model, developed by Dr. Vyshedskiy, predicts that humans had to jump both evolutionary barriers within several generations since the “PFC delay” mutation that is found in all modern humans, but not in Neanderthals, is deleterious and is expected to be lost in a population without an associated acquisition of PFS and recursive language. Thus, the model suggests that the “PFC delay” mutation triggered simultaneous synergistic acquisition of PFS and recursive language.
The hypothesis is named after the celebrated twin founders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. Similar to the legendary Romulus and Remus, whose caregiver was a wolf, the real children’s caregivers had an animal-like communication system with many words, but no recursion.
Their parents could not have taught them spatial prepositions or recursion; children had to invent recursive elements of language themselves. Such an invention of a new recursive language has been observed in contemporary children, for example among deaf children in Nicaragua.
“The acquisition of PFS and recursive language 70,000 years ago resulted in what was in essence a behaviorally new species: the first behaviorally modern Homo sapiens,” concludes Dr. Vyshedskiy.
“This newly acquired power for the fast juxtaposition of mental objects in the process of PFS dramatically facilitated mental prototyping and led to a fast acceleration of technological progress. Armed with the unprecedented ability to mentally simulate any plan and equally unprecedented ability to communicate it to their companions, humans were poised to quickly become the dominant species.”
Humans acquired the ability to trap large animals and therefore gained a major nutritional advantage. As the population grew exponentially, humans diffused out of Africa and quickly settled in the most habitable areas of the planet, arriving in Australia around 50,000 years ago.
These humans were very much like modern humans since they possessed both components of full language: the culturally transmitted recursive language along with the innate predisposition towards PFS, enabled by the “PFC delay” mutation.
Fossil of a beetle inside a lizard inside a snake: an ancient food chain
Paleontologists have uncovered a fossil that has preserved an insect inside a Lizard inside a snake – a prehistoric battle of the food chain that ended in a volcanic lake some 48 million years ago.
Pulled from an abandoned quarry in southwest Germany called the Messel Pit, the fossil is only the second of its kind ever found, with the remains of three animals sitting snug in one another.
Earlier excavations have revealed the fossilized stomach contents of a prehistoric horse, whose last meal was grapes and leaves, and pollen grains were identified inside a fossilized bird. Remains of insects have also been detected in a sample of fish excrement.
We have been lucky to glimpse such a primordial food chain of the snake, that ate a lizard, that had previously treated itself to a beetle, and ended up in a volcanic lake of the time. It is uncertain how the snake died.
Perhaps the snake’s body fell dead close to the shores of the lake before the waters claimed it. It had died there not more than 48 hours after its “last supper,” scientists say.
“It’s probably the kind of fossil that I will go the rest of my professional life without ever encountering again, such is the rarity of these things.” Such are the words of Dr. Krister Smith, a paleontologist at the Senckenberg Institute in Germany who took charge of the fossil analysis.
According to Dr. Smith, the almost entirely preserved snake was recovered from a plate found in the pit back in 2009, and the discovery soon turned out to be groundbreaking. Smith remarks, “we had never found a tripartite food chain–this is a first for Messel.”
Dr. Smith and Argentine paleontologist Dr. Agustín Scanferla used high-resolution computer imaging to identify the taxonomy of the snake and the lizard, however, they were unable to name the beetle, the least preserved of the three.
The snake, measuring some 3.4 feet in length, was identified as Palaeophython fischeri, a species which belongs to a group of tree-dwelling snakes that was able to grow to more than 6.5 feet in length and is related to today’s boas.
The preserved sample from Germany was only a juvenile, an assurance being not only the shorter length but also its food choice, the lizard. Adult boas are known to opt for bigger animals.
The lizard would have measured nearly eight inches and a clear hint for paleontologists that it was inside the snake’s body was that the snake’s ribs overlapped it.
It is an example of the now extinct species Geiseltaliellus maarius, a type of iguanian lizard that inhabited the region of what is now Germany, France, and Belgium. Messel has been the site that has provided some of the best-preserved samples of this lizard species.
What’s also interesting is that, even though lizards are known for shedding their tails when under threat, this one has kept it despite falling prey to the snake.
“Since the stomach contents are digested relatively fast and the lizard shows an excellent level of preservation, 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,” explained Dr. Smith.
This is a rare type of fossil, but it’s not the first instance in which a fossil has simultaneously exposed three levels of an ancient food chain. According to National Geographic, in 2008, a fossil dated at more than 250 millions of years old depicted a shark that had devoured an amphibian that had previously consumed a spiny-finned fish.
Both these findings are precious as they reveal significant details on how food chains functioned. In the case of the snake fossil, it is interesting that the lizard had eaten a beetle.
Before that, scientists didn’t know that the Messel lizard liked to dine on insects, as in previous digs they had been able to identify only remains of plants in fossilized lizard bellies. In the case of the shark, it was revealed that amphibians consumed fish before becoming a menu item to the fish itself.
Ancient Egyptian Child Mummies Show High Rates Of Anemia
Anemia was common in mummified Ancient Egyptian children, according to a new study that analyzed child mummies in European museums.
Researchers used computed tomography (CT) scans to peer non-invasively through the mummies’ dressings and discovered that one-third of them had signs of anemia; they found evidence of thalassemia in one case, too.
“Our study appears to be the first to illustrate radiological findings not only of the cranial vault but also of the facial bones and postcranial skeleton that indicate thalassemia in an ancient Egyptian child mummy,” the team writes in their published paper.
Paleopathologist Stephanie Panzer and her colleagues from Germany, the US, and Italy, suggest that anemia was likely common in ancient Egypt, and it was probably caused by factors such as malnutrition, parasitic infections, and genetic disorders, which still cause the health problem today.
Researchers have even speculated that Tutankhamun died of sickle cell disease, a cause of anemia. However, as the researchers of this new study explain, “the direct evidence of anemia in human remains from ancient Egypt is rare.”
Anemia is a condition where the body lacks enough healthy red blood cells to carry oxygen to the body’s tissues. As Panzer and colleagues studied child mummies, the remains are more likely to show signs of anemia than adult mummies, due to their early death.
Whether or not anemia played a role in each of the children’s deaths could not be determined from the CT scans, but the research team believes it is likely to have contributed. They also looked for signs of diseases that could have caused the anemia.
When ancient humans were mummified, their bodies were preserved in ways that kept more information than those buried. Although modern science doesn’t let researchers remove the wrappings used in the mummification process, they often use scans to ‘look’ through the wrappings and see what’s inside.
CT scans can look at the mummies’ bones, which can provide evidence of anemia because the bone marrow makes red blood cells.
Chronic hemolytic anemia and iron deficiency anemia are often accompanied by an enlargement of the cranial vault (the area of the skull that houses the brain). The researchers hoped to look for this along with further indicators of anemia in the bones, such as porosity, thinning, and changes in shape.
Measuring the porosity and thinness of bones requires a certain level of contrast – often reduced in the CT scans by the density of the preserved tissue and surrounding embalming. After consideration, this assessment, as the authors explain in their paper, “was not feasible in this study because of insufficient CT image quality.”
Overall, the team found that 7 of the 21 child mummies they examined in German, Italian, and Swiss museums had measurable signs of anemia, specifically an enlarged frontal cranial vault.
Moreover, one child – referred to as case 2 – had facial and other bone changes present in thalassemia, a genetic disease in which the body can’t make enough hemoglobin. Case 2 also had a tongue that was larger than usual, which the authors say “probably indicated Beckwith–Wiedemann syndrome.”
This genetically unlucky child probably died from thalassemia’s many symptoms, which can include anemia, within 1.5 years of birth.
“The chronologically oldest mummy dated back to the time span between the Old Kingdom (2686–2160 BCE) and the First Intermediate Period (2160–2055 BCE). Most mummies dated to the Ptolemaic (332–30 BCE) and Roman Periods (30 BCE–395 CE),” the researchers state.
As sad as this discovery is, ancient Egyptian mummified remains certainly have revealed some interesting facts and insights about their lives and deaths. While it adds to our understanding, a small-scale study like this does have limitations.
“The collection of investigated child mummies did not represent a population,” the authors note in their paper.
“The purpose of this study was to estimate the prevalence of anemia in ancient Egyptian child mummies and to provide comparative data for future studies.”