Stronge phallus-shaped creature pushes fossil record back 200

Stronge phallus-shaped creature pushes fossil record back 200

TORONTO – Researchers have unearthed evidence of a strangely shaped creature — OK, it looks like a phallus — that lived more than 500 million years ago in the famed Burgess Shale fossil beds in B.C.’s Yoho National Park.

However, it’s not just its form that makes the ancient animal so intriguing, but the fact that the newly discovered species pushes the fossil record back 200 million years to the Cambrian period and fills in an evolutionary blank that connects it with a group of modern-day beach-dwelling worms.

These acorn worms — known scientifically as enteropneusts — are decidedly phallic in appearance.

Their ancient forerunner, dubbed Spartobranchus tenuis, had a flexible body consisting of a short proboscis, collar and narrow elongate trunk terminating in a bulbous structure, which may have served as an anchor.

The animals would have lived in or on a silt-covered sea bottom an estimated 505 million years ago. They were likely quickly buried by mud flows that preserved them surprisingly well, despite having bodies that contained no skeletons that could mineralize, as was the case with dinosaurs.

“Unlike animals with teeth and bones, these spaghetti-shaped creatures were soft-bodied, so the fossil record for them is extremely scarce,” said lead researcher Jean-Bernard Caron, a paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto.

“What’s striking about this fossil is actually it is quite similar to modern forms,” he said. “Despite 500 million years of evolution, this particular group of animal has not really changed much since the first forms that we found here fossilized in the Burgess Shale.”

The largest specimens found are 10 centimetres long, with the proboscis accounting for about half a centimetre. Many of these worms were preserved in tubes, some of which were branched, suggesting the tubes had been constructed by the animals and used as dwelling places.

“It’s astonishing how similar Spartobranchus tenuis fossils are to modern-day acorn worms, except that they also formed fibrous tubes,” which acorn worms do not, said co-author Christopher Cameron, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Montreal and a world expert in enteropneusts.

Another modern-day creature, a tiny deep-sea animal called a pterobranch that lives in colonies and also builds and lives in similar fibrous tubes, has been shown to be genetically related to acorn worms. Yet previously no one could decipher how the vastly different-looking organisms could possibly be connected.

Cameron said Spartobranchus supplies that answer: it appears to be a common ancestor to both acorn worms and pterobranchs — in other words, the missing link between the two specie groups.

The new finding, published online Wednesday in the journal Nature, confirms Spartobranchus tenuis is a member of the acorn worms group.

Acorn worms live in fine sand and mudflats of both shallow and deeper waters and are seldom seen. They are hemichordates, marine animals that are closely related to today’s sea stars and sea urchins.

Acorn worms graze on sand or mud to extract organic matter or feed on material suspended in the water.

Caron said Spartobranchus tenuis probably fed on small particulate matter at the bottom of the oceans.

“There are literally thousands of specimens at the Walcott Quarry in Yoho National Park, so it’s possible Spartobranchus tenuis may have played an important role in recycling organic matter in the early Burgess Shale environment, similar to the ecological service provided by earth worms today on land.”

The Burgess Shale is part of Yoho National Park in the Rocky Mountains. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains one of the planet’s most important fossil deposits for understanding the origin and early evolution of animals during the so-called Cambrian Explosion that began about 542 million years ago.

Archaeologists Dig Up An 800-Year-Old Pot. What They Found Inside Is Changing History!

Archaeologists Dig Up An 800-Year-Old Pot. What They Found Inside Is Changing History!

A group of students from Winnipeg, Canada, had an amazing stroke of luck when they got the rare opportunity to harvest an unusual squash from 800-year-old seeds, and later, taste it. They were “Really Cool Old Squash!”

These mysterious seeds, thought to be extinct for hundreds of years, were unearthed by archaeologists during an archaeological dig on the Menominee Reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin, in the United States.

They found these rare seeds buried in a clay ball. This clay vessel was said to be carbon-dated to 850 years ago.

“There was an archeological dig on First Nations (Native) land in Wisconsin, and they found a clay vessel about the size of a tennis ball, and in that vessel they found seeds,” Brian Etkin, the Curriculum Consultant of the Garden of Learning.

These strange, dried, oval-shaped seeds, believed to be around 8 centuries old, were actually preserved seeds of an extinct, ancient squash variety planted by Native Americans.

Some of these preserved squash seeds were later harvested by students from Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Canada, to prove their viability.

And unexpectedly, these heritage seeds still thrived on Canadian soil in present-day conditions. They produced absolutely huge and delicious squashes!

“By July the vines were more than 25 feet long. … By the time we were done we had two dozen (squash). The largest was 3 feet long, 18 pounds,” said Susan Menzel of Chicago’s American Indian Center.

This once-extinct squash variety was given the name Gete-okosomin, an Anishinaabe word for “really cool old squash”

The students reportedly feasted on these extremely large, elongated-shaped squashes with a bright orange hue when they celebrated their prized harvest in September 2015.

These unique squashes were said to be about a foot in length

The remaining seeds were distributed to Winona LaDuke, an advocate of heritage seeds and food independence for indigenous people in the United States and Canada, and other Native organizations and individuals, in the hope to revive this once-extinct squash variety.

“This squash is representative of a tribe of a large community and everybody in that community having a place and food being a right on citizenship,” said Etkin.

Through the efforts of the students, organizations, and communities, this ancient squash, Gete-okosomin, could likely be one viable food source on our dining tables in the near future!

Inside mysterious woodland cave where Neolithic axe was found

Inside mysterious woodland cave where Neolithic axe was found

Cornwall is well-known for its rugged sea caves, many of which are steeped in legends or stories of smuggling. But there is a remote cave, hidden in a valley far from the sea that is, perhaps, less well-known despite its intriguing history.

Almost a mile inland from the sea caves at Porthcothan Bay, lost in the dense foliage on the steep hillside of a woodland valley, there is a mysterious cave known locally as ‘Long Vugha’ or ‘The Vugha’.

Its small entrance, surrounded by brambles and moss and just big enough for a person to squeeze through, would be easily missed by anyone who was not searching for it and the vast cave that lies within.Clearly marked on the 1888 Ordnance Survey map as a ‘Fogou’, the name given to Cornwall’s ancient underground dry stone structures, there has been some debate about the age of this cave, and whether it is man-made or natural.

This is compounded by the evidence inside the cave that it has been shaped by tools, and the discovery of a Neolithic axe at the site.

The first mention of the Porthcothan cave in print was in 1754, when William Borlase described the site as a ‘Vugha’ in his book, ‘Antiquities Historical and Monumental of the County of Cornwall’.

Vugha is the Cornish word for cave, and it is thought to be the word from which ‘Fogou’ derived, which could go some way to explaining why it was marked as such in the late 19th century.

The long walk from Porthcothan to the cave crosses a stunning packhorse bridge, built in the first half of the 19 century by a man called Copplestone Cross.Whilst living at the nearby Porthcothan Mill, Copplestone also built Trevethan House, adding onto the existing Trevethan Farm. It is stories of the cave’s association with Trevethan Farm that offers us one of its most intriguing histories.

In Elizabeth Dale’s blog about Copplestone Cross’ packhorse bridge, she includes this quote from John Lloyd Warden Page’s 1897 book ‘The North Coast of Cornwall Its Scenery, Its People, Its Antiquities and Its Legends’:

“We come to Port Cothan a knot of cottages at the head of a cove, the sands of which are wet with the waters of a stream coming down the wild half-wooded valley behind. It is up or rather off this valley that we shall find the principal object of interest about Port Cothan. This is a Smugglers’ cave from which it would appear that the little hamlet was not as innocent in the “good old times” as it is now.”

The difficult clamber through dense woods on the way to the Vugha does not seem to lend itself to smuggling, but it is certainly out of the way.Detailed in the Trevethan family history, Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould’s account of Porthcothan cave in his 1899 ‘A Book of the West’ gives us this description: “About a mile up the glen that forms the channel through which the stream flows into Porth Cothan, is a tiny lateral combe, the steep sides covered with heather and dense clumps and patches of furze.”

At the end of a steep, muddy and overgrown path, rising out of the woods, the entrance to the cave would be easy to overlook.And yet, it has never been forgotten, featuring in Cornwall guides and history books for the past two and a half centuries, and even as a postcard in 1910.

For anyone like myself who gets claustrophobic, the thought of squeezing through the small hole into the darkness is daunting.

Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould’s account continues: “Rather more than half-way down the steep slope of the hill is a hole just large enough to admit of a man entering in a stooping posture. To be strictly accurate, the height is 3ft. 6in. and the width 3ft. But once within, the cave is found to be loftier, and runs for 50 feet due west, the height varying from 7ft.6in. to 8ft.6in., and the width expanding to 8ft.3in.”

Sure enough, as your eyes adjust, looking into the darkness of the cave, it is possible to see just how vast it is.The Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s Historic Environment Record describes its measurements as: “about 15m long, 3.0m high, around 2.0m wide at floor level, and smoothly triangular in cross-section.”

At this time of year, it is impossible to access the Vugha without crawling through a large puddle. But having made it through the water, the height of the cave rises quickly and it is possible to stand up.

Unsurprisingly, inside the cave it is very dark. But by using long exposures and a flash, it is possible to see the smooth walls that are white in many places with the calcium in the water dripping through the limestone.

This amount of this white layer on the walls, known as travertine, helps to date the cave, as The Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s Historic Environment Record explains:“Layers of travertine have been deposited over the roof and walls, and also over the floor in some places, indicating that the cave must be quite ancient, though it is clearly an excavated feature and not a fogou.”

With a long exposure photo and some added light, it is possible to see just how white the walls have become at the rear of the cave.It is here that it is possible to see pick marks in the rock, showing that this natural cave has been extended and shaped by man at some time in the past.The Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s Historic Environment Record note that: “Traces of tool marks visible over much of the interior indicate that it has been shaped with sharp metal picks.”However, historian Howard Balmer from Porthcothan wrote a detailed article in Meyn Mamvro on The Vugha in 2003, suggesting that the pick marks were prehistoric, and that the impressive acoustics inside the cave could have been an important attribute for people in that era.This theory sits well with the Neolithic flint axe which was found at this site, and is now on display in the Royal Cornwall Museum in Truro.

Standing at the back of the cave, looking towards the small entrance some 15 metres away, it feels like being inside the belly of a huge whale.Every drip from the ceiling echoes loudly as it splashes on the wet floor.Bats are known to use this cave, although all I saw in the darkness were spiders.It is said that Long Vugha was used by the Home Guard in World War Two. And as a hideout for Royalists escaping from Sir Thomas Fairfax in the 17 century Civil War.The Trevethan family history speculates that, with the cave being on their land, it was most likely family members who were hiding in there in March 1646.

The popular theory of this curious cave’s history is that it was naturally formed, but then enlarged and shaped by man at some point, for some reason.

The Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly’s Historic Environment Record states: “It seems likely that it was originally a much smaller natural cave which has been excavated and enlarged, probably in medieval or post medieval times.”But was smuggling the real purpose for it?

On his visit in the 1800s, Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould noticed: “Immediately within the entrance may be observed notches cut in the rock, into which a beam might be thrust to close the mouth of the cave, which was then filled in with earth and bramble bushes drawn over it, when it would require a very experienced eye to discover it.”

He says that he found an old lady in the village who confirmed this, saying that her father “minded well the time when the Vouggha was filed with casks of spirits right chuck-full.”

Heading back to the opening of the cave, there is a small chamber off to the left. Small enough to squeeze into, but not high enough to stand in, and going back a couple of metres.It seems in the time of Reverend Sabine Baring-Gould’s visit, this chamber went back further, and was a clue to the cave’s secret history:

“At 7 feet from the entrance a lateral gallery branches off to the right, extending at present but 17 feet, and of that a portion of the roof has fallen in. This gallery was much lower than the main one, not being higher than 3 feet, but probably in a portion now choked it rose, at all events in places, to a greater height.

“This side gallery never served for the storage of smuggled goods. It was a passage that originally was carried as far as the little cluster of cottages at Trevethan, whence, so it is said, another passage communicated with the sands of Porth Mear.

“The opening of the underground way is said to have been in a well at Trevethan. But the whole is now choked up. The tunnel was not carried in a straight line. It branched out of the trunk at an acute angle, and was carried in a sweep through the rocks with holes at intervals for the admission of light and air.

“The total length must have been nearly 3500 feet. The passage can in places be just traced by the falling in of the ground above, but it cannot be pursued within.”

So, was The Vugha a natural cave, enlarged by smugglers to become a vast storage space, and connected to the well at Trevethan Farm by a 3500ft tunnel which has since collapsed?Or does its history extend much further into the past, to prehistoric times in Cornwall?The people who know the answer, would have once stood outside the front of this cave and looked at the same view.But for now, their secrets remain inside The Vugha.



Intriguing new details have emerged about a medieval mummy known for her ‘Adidas’ boots – which she wore more than a millennia ago. The body of the woman was discovered a year ago this week in the Altai mountains region of Mongolia.

And her body and possessions remained so remarkably preserved that experts are still uncovering some of the secrets they keep. Now, scientists have discovered that the mummy suffered a significant blow to the head before her death.  

The Mongolian woman – aged between 30 and 40 – hit headlines in April 2016, thanks to her modern-looking footwear, which some likened to a pair of trainers. In the intervening 12 months, scientists have been working to find out more about the mysterious Mongolian mummy.

Scientists believe the body of a woman (pictured) found in April last year, died up to 1,100 years ago from a blow to the head

And her trademark felt boots – boasting red and black stripes – have been carefully cleaned, with new pictures revealed today by The Siberian Times. Experts from the Centre of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia now believe the woman died up to 1,100 years ago after suffering a serious head wound.

Initial examinations found that ‘it was quite possible that the traces of a blow to the mummy’s facial bones were the cause of her death.

They are still seeking to verify the exact age of the burial, but they estimate it took place in the tenth century – more recently than originally thought.  About the boots, Galbadrakh Enkhbat, director of the Centre, said: ‘With these stripes, when the find was made public, they were dubbed similar to Adidas shoes.

New pictures of the leather boots – which feature red and black stripes and metal buckle work (pictured) – have been released

‘In this sense, they are an interesting object of study for ethnographers, especially so when the style is very modern.’ 

And one local fashion expert. quoted by Siberian Times, said: ‘Overall they look quite kinky but stylish – I wouldn’t mind wearing them now in a cold climate.

‘Those high-quality stitches, the bright red and black stripes, the length – I would buy them now in no time.’ 

The high altitude and cold climate helped to preserve both the woman’s body and her belongings.

And a coating of Shilajit – a thick, sticky tar-like substance with a colour ranging from white to dark brown – that covered her body aided this process.  Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt.  The woman was buried alongside a number of her possessions – including a handbag and four changes of clothes.

Experts from the Centre of Cultural Heritage of Mongolia (pictured) have worked for the past 12 months to restore the times they found buried
This included a handbag, four changes of clothes, the ‘Adidas’ boots, and numerous practical and everyday objects (pictured)
The items of clothing found, like this jacket (pictured), were decorated with fine embroidery patterns

A comb and a mirror from her beauty kit were also found, along with a knife. Her horse and a saddle with metal stirrups in such good condition that it could be used today were buried as well. But despite her seemingly lavish possessions archaeologists believe she was an ‘ordinary woman of her time, rather than an aristocrat or royal.

The Mongolian woman (pictured) is believed to have been aged between 30 and 40 when she died. Some skin and hair can be seen on her remains, which were wrapped in felt.
Despite her, seemingly lavish possessions (pictured) archaeologists believe she was an ‘ordinary’ woman of her time, rather than an aristocrat or royal
Experts believe she may have been a seamstress, due to a variety of sewing equipment that was found inside her bag (pictured), as well as the embroidery on her clothing

‘Judging by what was found inside the burial, we guess that she was from ordinary social strata,’ added Mr Enkhbat.

‘Various sewing utensils were found with her.

The preserved remains of a horse (pictured) were uncovered at the burial site
A saddle with metal stirrups (pictured) in such good condition that it could be used today was found alongside it

‘This is only our guess, but we think she could have been a seamstress.’ 

‘Inside (her bag) was the sewing kit and since the embroidery was on both the bag and the shoes, we can be certain that the embroidery was done by locals.’ 

The grave was unearthed at an altitude of 9,200ft (2,803 metres) and the woman is believed to be of Turkik origin. It appears to be the first complete Turkic burial in Central Asia.  At the time of the discovery, commenters on Twitter and Facebook made a number of tongue-in-cheek claims that a woman must be a time traveller.

One Twitter user jokingly quipped: ‘Must be a time traveller. I knew we would dig one up sooner or later, another added: ‘Huh? Time-travelling Mummy? Corpse interfered with?.’

Meanwhile, Facebook users said: ‘Loooooool he’s wearing a pair of gazelles’, and ‘Well I must admit, I’ve got a few pair but I ain’t had them that long.’ 


A host of possessions were found in the grave, offering a unique insight into life in medieval Mongolia. These included a saddle, bridle, clay vase, wooden bowl, trough, iron kettle, the remains of an entire horse, and ancient clothing.

The discovery also appears to be the first complete Turkic burial in Central Asia and the remains were found at an altitude of 9,200 feet. An elaborately embroidered bag is pictured

There were also pillows, a sheep’s head and a felt travel bag in which were placed the whole back of a sheep, goat bones and a small leather bag designed to carry a cup. Archaeologists from the city museum in Khovd were alerted to the burial site by local herdsmen.

The Altai Mountains – where the burial was discovered – unite Siberia, in Russia, and Mongolia, China and Kazakhstan. 

Mummy with a gold tongue found in Egypt

Mummy with a gold tongue found in Egypt

Archaeologists have discovered the remains of three ancient Egyptian inhabitants a man, woman and child outfitted with tongues of gold foil, a treasure likely intended to help them speak with gods in the afterlife, according to the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities.

The burials were found in two neighboring tombs. One of the tombs, which had been plundered by grave robbers, held the remains of the woman and a 3-year-old child, and it had a limestone sarcophagus with a lid shaped like a woman, according to Ahram Online(opens in new tab). But the man’s grave, from the 26th dynasty (664 B.C. to 525 B.C.), also known as the Saite period, was untouched. 

“This is very important, because it’s rare to find a tomb that is totally sealed,” Esther Pons Mellado, co-director of the archaeological mission of Oxyrhynchus, told The National a newspaper that covers the Middle East.

Researchers with the Archaeological Mission of Oxyrhynchus, co-run by Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the University of Barcelona, made the finding at the archaeological site of Oxyrhynchus, near the modern-day town of El Bahnasa, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of Cairo. Oxyrhynchus was the capital of the 19th nome, or province, of Upper Egypt, according to the mission’s website.

It’s known for the Oxyrhynchus papyri, or ancient Greek, Latin and other languages written on hundreds of thousands of papyri that date from the third century B.C. to the seventh century A.D.

The two newfound tombs add to the ancient capital’s history. The man’s tomb contained a mummy interred within a limestone sarcophagus with a man-shaped lid, as well as four canopic jars designed to hold the deceased’s organs, amulets including a scarab, green beads and about 400 funerary figurines, known as ushabti, crafted out of faience, or glazed ceramic, The National reported.

Archaeologists found three gold-foil tongues belonging to an ancient Egyptian man, woman and child.

The identities of the man, woman and child are unknown, but archaeologists are hoping ongoing  excavations will reveal more clues.

This is the second time this year that archaeologists have found gold tongues in ancient Egyptian burials.

In January, the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities announced the discovery of a 2,000-year-old mummy with a gold tongue at Taposiris Magna, an archaeological site on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast. Perhaps that individual received a gold tongue to help him speak in the afterlife, especially to a deity like Osiris, the god of the underworld.



At the British Museum, a silver-gilt Roman helmet of excellent quality and world value found as part of the Hallaton Treasure and ArtFunded in 2007 was returned to its former glory.

The discovery was purchased by the Leicestershire County Council for exhibition at the Harborough Museum and the helmet was restored and repaired with the expertise at the British Museum due to Heritage Lottery funding.


Archaeologists who made the original discovery at Hallaton in Leicestershire, used to finding more glamorous gold and silver coins, joked they had found a fairly modern “rusty bucket”. Little did they know at the time what a hugely significant archaeological find they had come across.

The “Hallaton Helmet” was found ten years ago by members of the Hallaton Fieldwork Group and professional archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services who were excavating the remains of a 2,000-year-old Iron Age shrine.

The site appears to be a major religious center, having produced the largest number of Iron Age coins ever excavated in Britain and possible evidence of ritual feasting dating to the mid-1st century AD.

The helmet would probably have been designed for ceremonial occasions

The finds from this site would later become known as the Hallaton Treasure.

On display

The helmet was too fragile to be excavated in situ so it was removed within a block of earth held together with plaster of Paris.

It was taken to the British Museum in London for conservation, which took nine years of work by conservator Marilyn Hockey and her colleagues Fleur Shearman and Duygu Çamurcuoğlu. 

Corrosion and the effects of time had shattered the helmet into thousands of pieces, most of which were smaller than the nail on a person’s little finger. The reconstructed and conserved helmet was unveiled in January 2012.

Leicester County Council was able to raise £1 million to buy the entire hoard and pay for the conservation of the helmet, with the assistance of donations from the Heritage Lottery Fund (which gave a £650,000 grant), the Art Fund and other trusts and charities.

The helmet was valued at £300,000; under the terms of the Treasure Act, Ken Wallace and the landowner were each awarded £150,000.

The helmet was put on permanent public display at the end of January 2012 at the Harborough Museum in Market Harborough, nine miles from the site where the hoard was found, alongside other objects found at Hallaton.

Ancient DNA Sheds New Light on the Biblical Philistines

Ancient DNA Sheds New Light on the Biblical Philistines

Sometime in the 12th century B.C., a family in the ancient port city of Ashkelon, in what is Israel, mourned the loss of a child. But they didn’t go to the city’s cemetery. Instead, they dug a small pit in the dirt floor of their home and buried the infant right in the place where they lived.

That child’s DNA is now helping scholars trace the origins of the Philistines, a long-standing, somewhat contentious mystery. In accounts from the Hebrew Bible, the Philistines appear mostly as villainous enemies of the Israelites. They sent Delilah to cut the hair of the Israelite leader Samson and thus stripped him of his power. Goliath, the giant slain by David, was a Philistine. The Philistines’ reputation as a hostile, war-mongering, hedonistic tribe became so pervasive that “philistine” is still sometimes lobbed as an insult for an uncultured or crass person.

But who were the Philistines, exactly? In the Bible, ancient cities like Ashkelon, Ashdod and Ekron were mentioned as Philistine strongholds. In the 19th and 20th centuries, scholars finally started to piece together a distinct archaeological record of Philistine culture. Excavations revealed that these cities saw the emergence of new architecture and artifacts at the beginning of the Iron Age, around 1200 B.C., signaling the arrival of the Philistines.

Pottery found at Philistine archaeological sites, for example, appeared to have been made locally, but looked strikingly like wares created by Aegean cultures such as the Mycenaeans, who built their civilization in what is now mainland Greece. And the Bible mentions “Caphtor,” or Crete, as the origin place of the Philistines.

Historians also know that, around the time these changes occur in the archaeological record, civilizations in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean were collapsing.

The Philistines are written about in Egyptian hieroglyphs, where they are referred to as the Peleset, among the tribes of “Sea Peoples” said to have battled against Pharaoh Ramses III around 1180 B.C. Meanwhile, other scholars have suggested that the Philistines were in fact a local tribe, or one that came from present-day Turkey or Syria.

Reconstruction of a Philistine house from the 12th Century B.C.

Now, researchers have extracted DNA from the remains of 10 individuals, including four infants, who were buried at Ashkelon during the Bronze Age and Iron Age. The results, which were published today in the journal Science Advances, suggest the Philistines indeed migrated to the Middle East from southern Europe.

“This is an excellent example of a case where advances in science have helped us answer a question that has been long debated by archaeologists and ancient historians,” says Eric Cline, a professor at George Washington University and director of the Capitol Archaeology Institute, who was not involved in the study.

The new study stems from a discovery in 2013 of a cemetery with more than 200 burials contemporary with the Philistine settlement at Ashkelon just outside the ancient city walls. The cemetery, which was used during the late Iron Age, between the 11th and 8th centuries B.C., was the first Philistine burial ground ever found.

The archaeologists documented burial practices that were distinct from the Philistines’ Canaanite predecessors and their Egyptian neighbors. For example, in several cases, little jugs of perfume were tucked near the head of the deceased. Finding Philistine human remains also meant there might be potential to find Philistine DNA.

“We knew of the revolution in paleogenetics, and the way people were able to gather from a single individual hundreds of thousands of data points,” says Daniel Master, the director of the excavations and a professor of archaeology at Wheaton College in Illinois.

Getting DNA from the newly discovered human remains at Ashkelon, however, proved tricky. The southern Levant does not have a favorable climate for the preservation of DNA, which can break down when it’s too warm or humid, says Michal Feldman, who studies archaeogenetics at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History in Germany, and is the lead author of the new report. Nonetheless, the researchers were able to sequence the whole genome of three individuals from the cemetery.

An infant burial at the Philistine cemetery at Ashkelon

The researchers interpreted these results as evidence that migration indeed occurred at the end of the Bronze Age or during the early Iron Age. If that’s true, the infants may have been the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of the first Philistines to arrive in Canaan.

Intriguingly, their DNA already had a mixture of southern European and local signatures, suggesting that within a few generations the Philistines were marrying into the local population. In fact, the European signatures were not detectable at all in the individuals buried a few centuries later in the Philistine cemetery. Genetically, by then the Philistines looked like Canaanites.

That fact in itself offers additional information about Philistine culture. “When they came, they did not have any kind of taboo or prohibition against marrying into other groups around them,” Master says. Nor, it would seem, did other groups categorically have that taboo about them, either. “One of the things that I think it shows is that the world was really complicated, whether we’re talking about genetics or identity or language or culture, and things are changing all the time,” he adds.

Excavation of the Philistine cemetery at Ashkelon.

Cline cautions that it’s always best to be careful about connecting new genetic data to cultures and historic events, and the researchers recognize that if they had only looked at the DNA from the Philistine cemetery, they might have come up with a totally different story about the identity of the Philistines.

“Our history appears to be full of these transient pulses of genetic mixing that disappear without a trace,” says Marc Haber, a geneticist at the U.K.’s Wellcome Sanger Institute, who was not involved in the study. Haber has previously found evidence of “pulses” of gene flows from Europe to the Near East during the Middle Ages, which disappeared centuries later. “Ancient DNA has the power to look deep into the past and give us information on events that we knew little or nothing about.”

The findings are a good reminder, Feldman says, that a person’s culture or ethnicity is not the same as their DNA. “In this situation, you have foreign people coming in with a slightly different genetic makeup, and their influence, genetically, is very short. It doesn’t leave a long-lasting impact, but culturally they made an impact that lasted for many years.”

1.8-million-year-old skull gives glimpse of our evolution

1.8-million-year-old skull gives glimpse of our evolution

The discovery of a 1.8-million-year-old skull of a human ancestor buried under a medieval Georgian village provides a vivid picture of early evolution and indicates our family tree may have fewer branches than some believe, scientists say.

The fossil is the most complete pre-human skull uncovered. With other partial remains previously found at the rural site, it gives researchers the earliest evidence of human ancestors moving out of Africa and spreading north to the rest of the world.

The skull and other remains offer a glimpse of a population of pre-humans of various sizes living at the same time—something that scientists had not seen before for such an ancient era. This diversity bolsters one of two competing theories about the way our early ancestors evolved, spreading out more like a tree than a bush.

Nearly all of the previous pre-human discoveries have been fragmented bones, scattered over time and locations—like a smattering of random tweets of our evolutionary history. The findings at Dmanisi are more complete, weaving more of a short story. Before the site was found, the movement from Africa was put at about 1 million years ago.

When examined with the earlier Georgian finds, the skull “shows that this special immigration out of Africa happened much earlier than we thought and a much more primitive group did it,” said study lead author David Lordkipanidze, director of the Georgia National Museum. “This is important to understanding human evolution.”

For years, some scientists have said humans evolved from only one or two species, much like a tree branches out from a trunk, while others say the process was more like a bush with several offshoots that went nowhere.

Even bush-favoring scientists say these findings show one single species nearly 2 million years ago at the former Soviet republic site. But they disagree that the same conclusion can be said for bones found elsewhere, such as Africa. However, Lordkipanidze and colleagues point out that the skulls found in Georgia are different sizes but considered to be are the same species.

So, they reason, it’s likely the various skulls found in different places and times in Africa may not be different species, but variations in one species.To see how a species can vary, just look in the mirror, they said.

“Danny DeVito, Michael Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal are the same species,” Lordkipanidze said.

The adult male skull found wasn’t from our species, Homo sapiens. It was from an ancestral species—in the same genus or class called Homo—that led to modern humans. Scientists say the Dmanisi population is likely an early part of our long-lived primary ancestral species, Homo erectus.

Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley wasn’t part of the study but praised it as “the first good evidence of what these expanding hominids looked like and what they were doing.”

Fred Spoor at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, a competitor and proponent of a busy family tree with many species disagreed with the study’s overall conclusion, but he lauded the Georgia skull discovery as critical and even beautiful.

“It really shows the process of evolution in action,” he said.

Spoor said it seems to have captured a crucial point in the evolutionary process where our ancestors transitioned from Homo habilis to Homo erectus—although the study authors said that depiction is going a bit too far.

The researchers found the first part of the skull, a large jaw, below a medieval fortress in 2000. Five years later—on Lordkipanidze’s 42nd birthday—they unearthed the well-preserved skull, gingerly extracted it, putting it into a cloth-lined case and popped champagne.

It matched the jaw perfectly. They were probably separated when our ancestor lost a fight with a hungry carnivore, which pulled apart his skull and jaw bones, Lordkipanidze said.

The skull was from an adult male just shy of 5 feet (1.5 meters) with a massive jaw and big teeth, but a small brain, implying limited thinking capability, said study co-author Marcia Ponce de Leon of the University of Zurich. It also seems to be the point where legs are getting longer, for walking upright, and smaller hips, she said.

“This is a strange combination of features that we didn’t know before in early Homo,” Ponce de Leon said.

These ‘Alien’ Mummies Appear to Be a Mix of Looted Body Parts

These ‘Alien’ Mummies Appear to Be a Mix of Looted Body Parts

This week, reports and bizarre images of a group of five mummy-like bodies from Peru that have three-fingered hands led to claims by some that the mummies are not human … and may be aliens. 

Clearly, they aren’t aliens. But even so, what gives? Are they even real mummies?

Archaeologist has found that some of these mummies may represent a combination of the looting and manipulation of real human mummy parts.

One of the mummies “looks like a typical Nazca mummy, in the flexed, seated position,” said Andrew Nelson, a professor of anthropology at the University of Western Ontario, in London, Canada. (The Nazca people were an ancient culture in Peru who bundled up their mummies in textiles and constructed the sprawling geoglyphs called the Nazca lines.)

Grotesquely, the hands and feet seen on this mummy, and possibly the others, may also be parts of real human mummies that have been manipulated by forgers, the white coating added afterward to hide the manipulations, said Nelson, who is not involved with research on the mummies.

A number of other researchers also believe that real human mummy parts were used to create these fakes. A dozen Peruvian mummy researchers have put out a statement condemning the practice saying that it “has violated numerous national and international norms.”

One of the researchers who signed the statement told Archaeologist that “I particularly find repulsive that anyone would [dare] to dehumanize deceased human bodies. You can’t take away the condition of human to a human being!” said Guido Lombardi a professor of forensic sciences at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia.

According to Jose Jaime Maussan Flota, who is a journalist working with researchers studying these mummies, members of the team pay Mario an undisclosed sum to view the mummies, take samples of them and conduct X-rays and CT scans on them.

Looted in Nazca

The mummies were supposedly discovered in 2015 by tomb robbers working in the Nazca region, an area where the ancient Nazca culture flourished.

The mummies come from “a group of ‘huaqueros,’ or archaeological treasure hunters, from the city of Palpa,” said Thierry Jamin, president of the Inkari-Cusco institute. Jamin is involved with research on the mummies and refers to the head of this looting group as Mario.

“Mario is a treasure hunter. He is a delinquent, who is well known to the police services of the Nazca region. It has looted archaeological sites on the Peruvian coast for more than 20 years. And justice does not do much to stop him,” Jamin said, claiming that he informed Peru’s Ministry of Culture about Mario’s activities, but has not heard back from the ministry. Officials from the Ministry of Culture did not return requests for comment from Archaeologist. 

Mysterious researcher

Videos showing investigations of the mummies have appeared on the sites and The lead researcher for the group studying the mummies, a man named Konstantin Korotkov, gave an interview recently in Russian for the Russian Mir 24 TV station. T

He news site RT (formerly Russia Today) claims that Korotkov said that the mummies have 23 pairs of chromosomes (like a human), but their anatomy looks non-human.

“They [the mummies] could be extraterrestrials or bio robots,” RT quotes Korotkov as saying. In a video on, Korotkov claims that radiocarbon-dating results show that one of the mummies (the same one that Nelson says looks like it was made with parts from a Nazca mummy) dates back around 1,700 years, a time when the Nazca culture was flourishing.

Korotkov did not reply to requests for comment and the university claims he is affiliated with (St. Petersburg University in Russia) shows no record of him online. Officials at the university did not reply to requests for comment.

Another affiliation given in the media for Korotkov — the National Research University in St. Petersburg — doesn’t seem to exist.

The National Research University Higher School of Economics has a campus in St. Petersburg — but again no mention of Korotkov on that university’s website and officials with the university did not return requests for comment. Korotkov’s personal website sells a product called Bio-Well that he claims can detect “human light.

” He makes no mention on his website of being a professor at St. Petersburg University in Russia or a National Research University in St. Petersburg.

Mummy looting

While the three-fingered mummies clearly seem to be fakes of some kind, scientists have discovered numerous mummified remains in Peru, including 171 mummies from tombs excavated near the site of Tenahaha, which date back around 1,200 years.

While some mummies in Peru have been discovered by scientists, others, such as the ones that may have been used to create these “aliens,” are stolen by looters, who are known to ransack ancient Peruvian tombs before archaeologists are able to scientifically excavate them. The United States has restricted the import of artifacts from Peru in an attempt to stem the tide of looting.

While Mario and his gang may still be pillaging tombs, the situation has been improving, said Ann Peters, a consulting scholar at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology.

“The protection of archaeological sites has greatly improved in the last decade with the establishment of legal requirements for environmental and heritage impact studies, the establishment of the Ministry of Culture and the employment of more professional archaeologists,” Peters said. “However, some looters and traffickers in antiquities still exist in Peru, as well as in the United States and other countries.”

30 mummies discovered inside an ancient fire-scorched sacrificial structure

30 mummies discovered inside an ancient fire-scorched sacrificial structure

Archaeologists discovered the mummies inside a unique family tomb hidden inside a fire-scorched structure.

Hidden within a fire-scorched structure near the Nile River in Aswan, Egypt, archaeologists discovered the entrance to a 2,000-year-old family tomb.

Inside, they found 30 mummies of various ages, including several arthritis-ridden elderly people, as well as children and a newborn.

The tomb was discovered beneath a set of stairs.

Though the archaeologists have yet to date the tomb, they suspect a single family buried their dead in it over generations spanning the the Ptolemaic and Roman periods (the first century B.C. to the second or third century A.D.), according to Patrizia Piacentini, a professor of Egyptology and Egyptian Archaeology at the University of Milan, who was co-director of the excavation.

This new tomb is one of more than 300 recently discovered surrounding the Mausoleum of the Aga Khan, a pink granite structure built in the 20th century that sits on top of a slight hill along the Nile River.

But while most of the other tombs were found underground or dug into rocky hills, this particular tomb was unique in that it was found inside a larger above-ground structure, which the researchers think was likely used as a place of sacrifice.

“It seems that, due to its position along a valley of access to the necropolis, this building was used as a sacred enclosure where sacrifices were offered to the god Khnum in the form of aries, creator god and protector of the fertile floods of the Nile, particularly revered in Aswan,” Piacentini. “Who better than him could have propitiated the eternal life of those who rested in this necropolis?”

Further supporting its use as a place of sacrifice, Piacentini and the team discovered signs of fire on the structure walls possibly from offering ceremonies; but some of the fire marks may have also been made by grave robbers, she added. Either way, inside that burned structure, they discovered animal bones, plant remains and offering tables.

Also hidden inside was a mummy of a man next to a copper necklace engraved with his name “Nikostratos.”

At the bottom of a staircase leading to the tomb entrance — which had been dug out of the rock —, they found a broken offering vase that still contained small fruits.

The tomb, which was made up of four deeply-excavated chambers, contained the remains of around 30 mummies. 

Some of the mummies were very well preserved, such as the remains of a child tucked inside a terracotta sarcophagus, while others had their bandages and cartonnage, a material ancient Egyptians used to wrap mummies, cut by ancient robbers.

The researchers also discovered a knife with an iron blade and wooden handle that may have been used by the plunderers. The researchers also say that Nikostratos was likely once inside the tomb with the other 30 mummies, but was taken out by the robbers. 

The excavation was a joint venture between the Aswan and Nibian Antiquities Zone in Egypt and by the University of Milan in Italy; the researchers are continuing to analyze and date the finds.

“The study of the new discovered structure is just beginning,” Piacentini said.