Electromagnetic radiation revealed parts of the 1.9-million-year-old brain, as well as eggs of insects that fed on it.

By Jennifer Viegas | Mon Apr 12, 2010 08:01 AM ET




Remains of a 1.9-million-year-old human ancestor are so well preserved that they may contain a remnant of the male individual's brain, according to the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France, where the remains were recently examined.


While DNA is very fragile and deteriorates over time, the discovery opens up the remote possibility that soft tissue with preserved DNA still exists in the prehistoric hominid, which could hold an important place on the human family tree.


The examination also turned up what seemed to be fossilized insect eggs, according to scientists. They said larvae from the eggs could have fed on the flesh of the human ancestor, Australopithecus sediba, right after his death.


While gazing at the hominid's skull as it was being studied with a powerful electromagnetic radiation X-ray process, project leader Lee Berger said he and his team were seeing "structures we can't even imagine in a way that's quite literally unprecedented in paleontological sciences."


Berger, a senior research officer and director of the School of Geosciences at the University of Witwatersrand, and his colleagues focused on the teeth and "parts of the body that don't normally fossilize," such as the brain. While further testing is needed, the researchers believe an "extended shadow" hints that a remnant of the brain after its bacterial decay is still present in the ancient remains.


"We actually think we have found the best candidate for a direct ancestor of Homo, the genus to which humans belong," Berger's colleague Darryl de Ruiter of Texas A&M University said. They and other researchers co-authored a paper on Australopithecus sediba that appears in the latest issue of Science.


So far, two fossilized skeletons for this species with both primitive and more human-like traits have been excavated. One set belonged to an adult female. The other belonged to a nine- to 13-year-old male, which underwent the X-ray synchrotron process that allows scientists to visualize minute details inside a fossil without having to break it open.


"When I first saw the skeletons, I knew we had something special," said de Ruiter. "Both were remarkably complete and extremely well preserved."


The fossilized skeletons were found deep in a South African cave, where the prehistoric individuals had likely sought water before plunging to their deaths and being buried by a roof collapse within the cave.


The researchers are not providing further details yet on the possibly detected brain segment and fossilized insect eggs, as they say the results are still "preliminary" and have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.


Human brain tissues have been found dating to over 8,000 years ago, but there is little direct evidence for hominid brain structure before that time, aside from what is suggested by the shape of skulls.


"For a long time, paleontologists have used the shape of the cranial cavity to research the general morphology of the brain -- because soft tissue was not available until today," said Alan Pradel of Paris' National Museum of Natural History.


Pradel was one of the scientists who recently discovered a 300-million-year-old fossilized brain in a now-extinct relative of a modern "ghost shark" chimaera.


"Soft tissue has fossilized in the past, but it is usually muscle and organs like kidneys because of phosphate bacteria from the gut that permeates into tissue and preserves its features," added the American Museum of Natural History's John Maisey, who worked with Pradel in identifying the chimaera brain, which is now believed to be the world's oldest fossil brain.


Berger and his team are at present still analyzing the "terabytes of data" from the X-ray synchrotron examination of the hominid remains. In the future, they hope to use this process to not only reveal further information about A. sediba, but also other fossils that they have found in South Africa.




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Wed Apr 14, 2010 12:39 PM ET


The elaborate burial tomb of an ancient royal scribe has been unearthed near Ismailia, 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Cairo.


Dating to the 19th Dynasty B.C (1315-1201 BC), the burial is the first ever Ramesside-period tomb uncovered in Lower Egypt, Dr. Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said on Wednesday.


Built of mud bricks, the tomb consists of a rectangular room with a domed ceiling made of stone, and a deep square-shaped shaft. Inside the tomb, Egyptian archaeologists found a large limestone sarcophagus covered with inscriptions.


“It belonged to Ken Amun. He was the overseer of the royal records during the 19th Dynasty,” Dr. Mohamed Abdel Maqsud, the supervisor of the Department of Antiquities of Lower Egypt, said in a statement.


Indeed, the tomb’s walls were inscribed with the titles of the deceased and the names of his wife, Isis. The inscriptions revealed she was a singer of the god Atum.



Beautifully decorated, the tomb features scenes from the Book of the Dead, culminating with the famous vignettes from Chapter 125, which depict the critical judgment ceremony.


Called "Weighing of the Heart," this symbolic judgment involved weighing and comparing the deceased’s heart to a feather of Maat, goddess of Justice, Truth and Order.


If the heart is lighter than the feather, the deceased is judged worthy the company of the gods. If it fails, the heart is devoured by the crocodile-headed monster Ammit and the deceased is condemned to an existence between worlds.


Other important scenes in the tomb include a depiction of the goddess Hathor in the shape of a cow, as she emerges from the Delta marshes, as well as a scene of the four sons of Horus -- Imsety, Duamutef, Hapi and Qebehsenuef.


These were believed to protect the stomach, liver, intestines and lungs of mummified bodies.


 “The scenes and titles in the tomb show that Ken-Amun, who in charge of keeping the royal records, was an important man,” Maqsud said.


According to Dr. Hawass, the finding will help provide information about the history of the Delta and the relationship between this area and the eastern border of Egypt.


While conservation and restoration work will begin at the tomb, excavations will continue at the site. Indeed, 35 other Roman-period tombs have been uncovered nearby.


Picture: Ken Amun's tomb in Tell el-Maskhuta; scenes from the Book of the Dead, Chapter 125; a group of women mourning Ken-Amun. Courtesy Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.




Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi

Mon Apr 12, 2010 06:00 AM ET


A bejewelled mummy dressed in Roman robes has emerged from the sands of Egypt's Bahariya Oasis, the Supreme Council of Antiquities said Monday.


Entombed in a decorated gypsum sarcophagus, the 38-inch tall mummy  belonged to a woman or girl who died in the Greco-Roman period about 2,300 years ago.


Unearthed in a rock-hewn tomb at a modern construction site near the town of Bawiti, in Bahariya Oasis, some 185 miles southwest of Cairo, the mummy points to the existence of a large Greco-Roman necropolis nearby, Mahmoud Affifi, director of Cairo and Giza antiquities, said in a statement.


Indeed, Egyptian archaeologists uncovered 14 Graeco-Roman tombs at the site dating to the third century B.C.


They also found four anthropoid masks made of plaster, a collection of coins, clay and glass vessels of different shapes and sizes, and a sheet of gold depicting  Imsety, Duamutef, Hapi and Qebehsenuef -- the four sons of the ancient Egyptian sky god Horus.


According to Affifi, the tombs have a unique interior design. They consist of a long stairway leading to a corridor which ends in a hall. Each corner of the hall contains mastabas (rectangular structures found above many Egyptian tombs) that were used in burning the deceased.


Set in a depression covering over 1,250 square miles in Egypt's Western Desert near the city of Bawiti, the Bahariya Oasis consists of colonies of palm trees and hot springs, with black hills in the background. There is no trace of pyramids -- tombs par excellence -- or of mausoleums.


Yet it is here that in 1996 Dr. Zahi Hawass discovered 17 tombs with 254 golden masked mummies.


Called the Valley of the Golden Mummies, the site has turned out to be the biggest ancient Egyptian cemetery ever uncovered -- holding perhaps as many as 10,000 mummies buried more than 2,000 years ago.



Unearthed: 2,000-yr-old study centre

HT Correspondent, Hindustan Times

Email Author

Patna, April 18, 2010

First Published: 23:24 IST(18/4/2010)

Last Updated: 23:25 IST(18/4/2010)


Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of an ancient Buddhist study centre at Telhara village in Bihar’s Nalanda district. The centre is believed to be nearly 2,000 years old.

A 34-metre-long prayer hall, residential cells for monks, images of Buddha, pottery and a stone plaque were among the discoveries made during excavation at the 40-foot high Bulandi mound over the past four months.

“Important evidence of a three-storeyed ancient monastic structure has been discovered within a short period of excavation. Further digging may reveal more facts about the past,” said Bihar’s Culture Secretary Vivek K. Singh.

The prayer hall is dotted with Buddha statues. Archaeologists believe this could be the same prayer hall Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang mentions in his accounts.

Tsang, who toured India in the 7th century, has written about a three-storeyed monastic building at ‘Teliadhaka’, which is identified as present-day Telhara. He also wrote that the monastery was home to nearly 1,000 monks at the time.

“A four-feet high basalt image of Buddha in abhay mudra (a gesture of fearlessness or protection) and another in dharmachakra pravartana mudra (turning the wheel of law) are among the many Buddha images in the hall,” Verma said.

A brick-paved floor has also been discovered more than 15 feet below the prayer hall. “The size of the brick on the floor suggests it belongs to the Kushan age (1st century AD),” said Atul Verma, director of the excavation team. Other finds include a stone plaque with inscriptions in proto-Nagri and a black terracotta seal.

Bihar is known for its three Buddhist study centres — Nalanda University, Udwantpuri near Biharsharif and Vikramshila University near Bhagalpur.



Hundreds of rare Roman pots discovered by accident off Italy's coast by British research ship


Last updated at 3:32 PM on 13th April 2010


A British underwater research team has discovered hundreds of rare Roman pots by accident, while trawling the wreckages of ships on the sea bed.

The team had been using remote operated vehicles (ROVs) to scour modern wrecks for radioactive materials.

They were amazed to come across the remains of a Roman galley which sank off the coast of Italy thousands of years ago.


The crew from energy company Hallin Marine International, based in Aberdeen, found a number of ancient pots lying in the mud 1,640ft below the waves.

After the first sighting the crew worked around the clock for two days to bring them to the surface without damaging them.

Supervisor Dougie Combe  said the team managed to recover five of the 2,000 year-old vessels intact. They cleared debris off them using water jets.


They were then handed over to an archaeology museum in the historic Graeco-Roman city of Paestum, in northern Italy.

Mr Combe, from Speyside, Scotland, said: 'They would have probably been loaded on some kind of merchant ship which sank all those years ago.'


An underwater research team brought up five pots from the seabed, but said there were hundreds still down there

He added: 'It was a big surprise when we came across the pots as we were looking for modern wrecks from the last 20 years or so.

'It's certainly the oldest thing we've come across on the seabed.

'We managed to get five up altogether, but there must have been hundreds of them there.'

The Mare Oceano was searching for low-grade radioactive material alongside Italian company GeoLab when they made the discovery.

They were trawling off the coast of Capo Palinuro, near Policastro, Italy.

The jars that were found are believed to be ancient Greek or Roman and are thought to date back at least 2,000 years.


Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-1265668/Hundreds-rare-Roman-pots-accidentally-uncovered-seabed-British-research-ship.html#ixzz0l9k8Mw7G



Lead from a Roman ship to be used for hunting neutrinos

April 16, 2010



Italy's National Institute of Nuclear Physics, at its laboratories in Gran Sasso, has received 120 lead bricks from an ancient Roman ship that sunk off of the coast of Sardinia 2,000 years ago. The ship's cargo was recovered 20 years ago, thanks to the contribution of the INFN, which at the time received 150 of these bricks. The INFN is now receiving additional bricks to complete the shield for the CUORE experiment, which is being conducted to study extremely rare events involving neutrinos. After 2,000 years under the sea, this lead will now be used to perform a task 1,400 metres under the Apennine mountain.

The National Laboratories of Gran Sasso (LNGS) of Italy's National Institute of Nuclear Physics (INFN) has received 120 2,000-year-old lead bricks from the National Archaeological Museum of Cagliari in Sardinia. The lead bricks, together with the ship that transported them, had remained in the sea for 2,000 years, which reduced by approximately 100,000 times the albeit very low original radioactivity represented by one of its radionuclides, lead-210. In fact, lead-210 has a half-life of 22 years, so that by now it has practically disappeared in the bricks.

It is precisely this characteristic that makes the lead extremely useful, in that it can be used to perfectly shield experiments of extreme precision, such as those conducted in the underground INFN laboratories in Gran Sasso. After 2,000 years under the sea, this lead will now be used to perform a task 1,400 metres under the Apennine mountain.

The part of the bricks that is "adorned" with inscriptions will be removed and conserved, whereas the remaining part will be cleaned of incrustations and melted to construct a shield for the international experiment CUORE, a study on neutrinos, whose discoveries could contribute to the knowledge of this elusive particle and of the evolution of the Universe.

Moreover, the INFN will perform important precise measures on the lead (and possibly on the copper found on the ship), to study the materials used in the Bronze Age.

The lead bricks were made available as the result of a 20-year collaboration involving the INFN, its facilities in Cagliari, and the Archaeological Superintendency of Cagliari, with the support of the General Direction of Antiquity. As part of this collaboration, 20 years ago the INFN contributed 300 million lira for the excavation of the ship and the recovery of its cargo.

The INFN would like to thank the superintendents Drs. Fulvia Lo Schiavo and Marco Minoja, as well as Doctor Donatella Salvi, for their collaboration.

"The commander of that ship would certainly never have imagined that the lead would be used 2,000 years later for something that had to do with the Universe and the stars" - comments INFN President Roberto Petronzio - "History and Science can now speak to one another across the centuries, thanks to the research in High-Energy Physics".

"This lead," - explains Professor Ettore Fiorini - "which is responsible for the CUORE experiment, represents an extremely important material for shielding the apparatuses used to conduct research on rare events - a material that must be totally free of radioactive contamination".

Lucia Votano, Director of the INFN laboratories in Gran Sasso, explains that "it's great and unique that the most advanced and innovative technologies must rely on archaeology and the technology of the ancient Romans. The ancient lead recoverd from the bottom of the sea will be essential for protecting the experiment from natural radioactivity, which could obscure the rare process of neutrinoless double beta decay".

Provided by INFN



Remains in Southwell 'could be Roman temple'


Remains unearthed in Nottinghamshire could be an unknown Roman temple, archaeologists have claimed.

Excavations on the Minster C of E School site in Southwell between September 2008 and May 2009 revealed walls, ditches and ornate stones.

The team analysing the finds said the shape and quality of the remains suggest it could have been an important place of worship.

This could mean Southwell enjoyed a high status Roman Britain, they added.

A wall of large block masonry that was probably plastered and possibly painted, with a ditch that may have contained water, was possibly the boundary of a large temple.

Roman pilgrims

The remains of timber scaffolding for the wall were also uncovered. Radiocarbon dating of this dated it to the first century.

Ursilla Spence from Nottinghamshire County Council, the archaeologist who supervised the work, said a lack of domestic remains, like pots and tools, also indicated a ceremonial use.

"This is a fascinating site," she said. "But, so far, it has raised more questions than it has answered.

"I hope that future excavation work, when the site is developed, will throw more light on exactly what was going on here 2,000 years ago.

"But, whatever we might find in future, I believe we have already shown that Roman Southwell was a much more significant place than anyone previously thought."

She added that if the site was a temple, a nearby 'villa' with mosaics, excavated in 1959, could actually have been a hotel for pilgrims.

The site is expected to be developed for housing and further excavation would take place during the building work.



300-year-old shoes found in castle wall during restoration

Published: 13 Apr 10 08:40 CET


A collection of 300-year-old shoes has been found walled into a Gothic tower at a palace in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia, regional authorities said late on Monday.


Eight women’s, men’s and children’s shoes were uncovered within the wall during restorations at the Liedberg Palace in Korschenbroich, a spokesperson for the Neuss district authority said.


Scholars working for the authority believe that the shoes were immured 12 metres high in the wall around 1708, she said.


While most of the shoes were heavily worn, they were high-value Baroque models that probably belonged to the family of the castle lord.


Two other pairs of shoes from the 19th century were also found in the wall.


According to the spokesperson, the find is not uncommon. Scholars frequently find shoes in walls during monument restoration – but there is no official explanation for their presence.


Some clues point to a superstitious, symbolic ritual meant to ward off bad luck for the building’s residents or builders.


Neuss authorities said the shoes will be cleaned, examined, documented and later placed back inside the palace wall.


DDP/The Local (news@thelocal.de)