Chili

Inhabitants of the New World had chile peppers and the makings of taco chips 6,100 years ago, according to new research that examined the bowl-scrapings of people sprinkled throughout Central America and the Amazon basin.

Upcoming questions on the research agenda — and this is not a joke — include: Did they have salsa? When did they get beer?

The findings described today in a 15-author report in the journal Science make chile pepper the oldest spice in use in the Americas and one of the oldest in the world.

The researchers believe further study may show the fiery pod was used 1,000 years earlier than their current oldest specimen, as it shows evidence of having been domesticated, a process that would have taken time. If so, that would put chile pepper in the same league (although probably not the same millennium) as hoarier spices such as coriander, capers and fenugreek. Read the rest of this entry »

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A village of small houses about three kilometers from Britain’s mysterious Stonehenge that may have sheltered its builders has been found, local media reported Wednesday.

The ancient houses have been excavated by a group of archaeologists studying the stone circle in England at a site known as Durrington Walls, where it is also the location of a wooden version of the stone circle, said Mike Parker Pearson of Sheffield University at the National Geographic Society.

“Eight of the houses, with central hearths, have been excavated, and there may be as many as 25 of them,” said Parker Pearson, “the village was carbon dated to about 2600 B.C., about the same time Stonehenge was built.”

Both Stonehenge and Durrington Walls have avenues connecting them to the Avon River, indicating a pattern of movement between the sites, according to researchers.

“Clearly, this is a place that was of enormous importance,” said Julian Thomas of Manchester University.

Stone tools, animal bones, arrowheads and other artifacts were uncovered in the village. Remains of pigs indicated they were about nine months old when killed, which would mark a midwinter festival.

The researchers speculated that Durrington Walls was a place for the living and Stonehenge — where cremated remains have been found — was a cemetery and memorial, media reported.

The megalithic ruin known as Stonehenge stands on the open downland of Salisbury Plain west of the town of Amesbury, Wiltshire, in Southern England. It is not a single structure but consists of a series of earth, timber, and stone structures that were revised and re-modelled over a period of more than 1400 years. Source

Before the great pyramids, ancient Egyptian kings left less grandiose monuments to themselves: fortresslike sanctuaries enclosed by mud-brick walls. Inside these mortuary complexes, people presumably gathered to worship and perpetuate the memory of their departed ruler.

The crumbling, almost vanished remains of such structures, archaeologists say, attest to the political hierarchy and religion of the newly unified Egyptian state, beginning more than 5,000 years ago. As symbols of the early power of kings and their roles in the cosmic order, these mysterious funerary centers are considered ancestral in purpose to the classic pyramids of Giza. Read the rest of this entry »

From a new analysis of a human skull discovered in South Africa more than 50 years ago, scientists say they have obtained the first fossil evidence establishing the relatively recent time for the dispersal of modern Homo sapiens out of Africa.

The migrants appeared to have arrived at their new homes in Asia and Europe with the distinct and unmodified heads of Africans. Read the rest of this entry »

Discovery rewrites history of ancient Mediterranean civilizations

Compared to the well-studied world of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, the civilizations that flourished in the eastern Mediterranean just before Homer’s time are still cloaked in mystery.

Even the basic chronology of the region during this time has been heatedly debated. Now, a resolution has finally emerged — initiated, quite literally, by an olive branch.

Scientists have discovered the remains of a single olive tree, buried alive during a massive volcanic eruption during the Late Bronze Age. A study that dates this tree, plus another study that dates a series of objects from before, during and after the eruption, now offer a new timeline for one of the earliest chapters of European civilization.

The new results suggest that the sophisticated and powerful Minoan civilization (featured in the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur) and several other pre-Homeric civilizations arose about a century earlier and lasted for longer than previously thought. read more…

After being ensconced for millions of years in the heart of a South African cave, the most complete hominid fossil found to date is finally seeing the light of day … or almost. A cast of Little Foot, a fossil with both ape-like and human features, was unveiled last week at an interactive museum at Maropeng, near the Sterkfontein caves where it was found, effectively bringing it closer to an eager public.

Another cast will be displayed at New York’s natural history museum and a third is already there for all to see at the Sterkfontein caves.

Little Foot generated huge excitement when it was found in the 1990s at the Sterkfontein caves north of Johannesburg as it was first dated to between 3.0 and 3.5 million-years-old. read more…

Humans first moved out of Africa about 70,000 years ago, but 30,000 years later some of them moved back.

That’s according to a new study based on DNA evidence from ancient human remains found in Africa. The findings are reported in tomorrow’s issue of the journal Science. read more…

CAIRO (Reuters) – Statues weighing up to five tonnes and thought to be of one of ancient Egypt’s greatest pharaohs, Ramses II, have been found northeast of Cairo, Egypt’s Supreme Antiquities Council said in a statement on Sunday.

Ramses II ruled Egypt from 1304 to 1237 BC, and presided over an era of great military expansion, erecting statues and temples to himself all over Egypt. He is traditionally believed to be the pharaoh mentioned in the biblical story of Moses.

“Many parts of red granite statues were found, the most important of which had features close to Ramses II … The statue needs some restoration and weighs between four and five tonnes,” the statement quoted the Council’s Zahi Hawass as saying.

A royal head weighing two to three tonnes and a seated 5.1 meter (16.7 foot) statue were also found, with cartouches, or royal name signs, of Ramses II on the side of the seated statue.

The discoveries were made at a sun temple northeast of Cairo in ancient Heliopolis, a region known in ancient times for sun worship and where the Council says a calendar based on the solar year was invented. Source: Yahoo

It was a time when giants roamed the earth. Giants like the palaeeudyptes, a 1.5m-high penguin – the 40 million-year-old remains of which have been found near Kawhia, an hour’s drive south of Hamilton.

The remains of this giant bird were found last month by Tony Lorimer who stumbled across the find while on a trip escorting the Hamilton junior naturalists club.

Dwarfing the huge emperor penguin, the palaeeudyptes would have cut an imposing figure across the Waikato landscape.

It seems to have died on the foreshore and sunk into the mud at a time when much of the area was just small low-lying islands.

“Two of us were walking along when we almost banged heads going for a look and realised they were bones,” Mr Lorimer said.

Ewan Fordyce, associate professor of paleontology at Otago University, said the find was extremely significant.

The bones may now become the showpiece of a small museum run by the Hamilton junior naturalists club. But Alan Tennyson, curator of fossils at Te Papa, said the fossil was a national treasure and should be somewhere where it could be appreciated by everyone. NZ Herald

Discovery of an ancient village just outside Jerusalem has brought into question one of the strongest images of biblical times — the wholesale flight of Jews running for their lives after the Roman destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D.

Just beneath the main road leading north from Jerusalem, archaeologists have found the walls of houses in a well-planned community that existed after the temple’s destruction. It might lead to rewriting the history books if it was really Jewish. But at least one expert isn’t sure it was. Read the rest of this entry »