Crocs Uncover

Bizarre Species

lunes, 30 de junio de 2008

Giza Pyramids Hold Pharaohs' Ancient Secrets

Photograph by James Stanfield

By Brian Handwerk

The Giza Pyramids, built to endure an eternity, have done just that. The monumental tombs are relics of Egypt's Old Kingdom era and were constructed some 4,500 years ago.

Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

Egypt's pharaohs expected to become gods in the afterlife. To prepare for the next world they erected temples to the gods and massive pyramid tombs for themselves—filled with all the things each ruler would need to guide and sustain himself in the next world.

Pharaoh Khufu began the first Giza pyramid project, circa 2550 B.C. His Great Pyramid is the largest in Giza and towers some 481 feet (147 meters) above the plateau. Its estimated 2.3 million stone blocks each weigh an average of 2.5 to 15 tons.

Khufu's son, Pharaoh Khafre, built the second pyramid at Giza, circa 2520 B.C. His necropolis also included the Sphinx, a mysterious limestone monument with the body of a lion and a pharaoh's head. The Sphinx may stand sentinel for the pharaoh's entire tomb complex.

The third of the Giza Pyramids is considerably smaller than the first two. Built by Pharaoh Menkaure circa 2490 B.C., it featured a much more complex mortuary temple.

Each massive pyramid is but one part of a larger complex, including a palace, temples, solar boat pits, and other features.

Building Boom

The ancient engineering feats at Giza were so impressive that even today scientists can't be sure how the pyramids were built. Yet they have learned much about the people who built them and the political power necessary to make it happen.

The builders were skilled, well-fed Egyptian workers who lived in a nearby temporary city. Archaeological digs on the fascinating site have revealed a highly organized community, rich with resources, that must have been backed by strong central authority.

It's likely that communities across Egypt contributed workers, as well as food and other essentials, for what became in some ways a national project to display the wealth and control of the ancient pharaohs.

Such revelations have led Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities and a National Geographic explorer-in-residence, to note that in one sense it was the Pyramids that built Egypt—rather than the other way around.

Preserving the Past

If the Pyramids helped to build ancient Egypt, they also preserved it. Giza allows us to explore a long-vanished world.

"Many people think of the site as just a cemetery in the modern sense, but it's a lot more than that," says Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Tufts University Egyptologist Peter Der Manuelian. "In these decorated tombs you have wonderful scenes of every aspect of life in ancient Egypt—so it's not just about how Egyptians died but how they lived."

Tomb art includes depictions of ancient farmers working their fields and tending livestock, fishing and fowling, carpentry, costumes, religious rituals, and burial practices.

Inscriptions and texts also allow research into Egyptian grammar and language. "Almost any subject you want to study about Pharaonic civilization is available on the tomb walls at Giza," Der Manuelian says.

To help make these precious resources accessible to all, Der Manuelian heads the Giza Archives Project, an enormous collection of Giza photographs, plans, drawings, manuscripts, object records, and expedition diaries that enables virtual visits to the plateau.

Older records preserve paintings or inscriptions that have since faded away, capture artifacts that have been lost or destroyed, and unlock tombs not accessible to the public.

Armed with the output of the longest-running excavations ever at Giza, the Harvard-Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Expedition (1902-47), Der Manuelian hopes to add international content and grow the archive into the world's central online repository for Giza-related material.

But he stresses that nothing could ever replicate, or replace, the experience of a personal visit to Giza.

And people the world over seem to agree. Each year they flock to see the last wonder of the ancient world and infuse the modern Egyptian economy with billions of dollars—continuing another ancient Giza tradition as one of the world's most popular tourist destinations.

viernes, 27 de junio de 2008

"Arab" Found in Danish Iron-Age Grave

James Owen
for NGN

An ancient Dane with Arabian genes is part of a DNA study that suggests Scandinavians of 2,000 years ago were more genetically diverse than today.

Researchers say the Iron Age man may have been a soldier serving on the Roman Empire's northern frontier or a descendant of female slaves transported from the Middle East.

The Genographic Project

The Roman Empire at the time stretched as far as the Middle East, while Roman legions were based as far north as the River Elbe in northern Germany.

The study analyzed 18 well-preserved bodies from two burial sites dating from 0 to A.D. 400 in eastern Denmark. The sites were originally excavated some 20 years ago.

Mitochondrial DNA, which provides a genetic record of an individual's maternal ancestry, was taken from teeth by a team led by Linea Melchior of the Institute of Forensic Medicine at the University of Copenhagen.

One skeleton had a type of DNA signature—known as a haplogroup—closely associated with the Arabian Peninsula, according to Melchior.

"It's especially found among some Bedouin tribes, but it has also been found in the southern part of Europe," the researcher said.

Iron Age Grave

The skeleton came from Bøgebjerggård, an Iron Age site on the southern part of the island of Sjælland (Zealand).

The bodies likely belonged to poor farmers, the team said.

Other unusual haplogroups were identified, including one representing a prehistoric European lineage which today is found in only about 2 percent of Danes, Melchior said.

It may have been one of the ancient Nordic types which has been diluted by later immigrations from Scandinavia and Germany," she said.

In contrast, the other burial site, at nearby Skovgaarde, contained bodies with a genetic signature common to modern Scandinavians, the study found.

"They were typically of a Nordic type and the diversity is lower," Melchior said.

This group consisted mainly of women and was distinguished by rich grave goods, including finely made rings, necklaces, and ornate hairpins.

"You can see they were dressed up very nicely with beautiful jewelry before being buried," Melchior said.

The Skovgaarde burials are thought to represent the elite of society—people the researchers think arrived from elsewhere in Scandinavia.

The findings, published in November in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, are part of a wider study that suggests Denmark's ancient populations were much more diverse genetically than they are today.

DNA Findings

Reliable DNA results have been obtained for 56 individuals from the late Stone Age through medieval times, Melchior said.

"At all the sites we have investigated in Demark we have found rare [genetic] types and types that are not common or present in Europe today," she said.

"When we go back in time we find much higher diversity," the Melchior added. "It was quite surprising that the lowest diversity was found among Danes of the present day."

One possible explanation put forward by the team is that certain groups were more vulnerable than others to medieval outbreaks of bubonic plague, most notably the Black Death, which alone wiped out around a third of the European population between 1347 and 1351.

Such a theory has been proposed by another recent study, which recorded a similar loss of genetic diversity in English people.

Researchers, including Rus Hoelzel of the School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences at Durham University, U.K, found that during the medieval period one particular haplogroup in England became much more widespread.

This may reflect the fact that families who shared certain genes survived the plague much better than others, said Hoelzel , who was not involved in the Danish study.

"Plague, given the timing, seems a strong candidate, though it isn't the only one," he said.

miércoles, 25 de junio de 2008

North Pole May Be Ice Free for First Time This Summer

Aalok Mehta aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen

Arctic warming has become so dramatic that the North Pole may melt this summer, report scientists studying the effects of climate change in the field.

"We're actually projecting this year that the North Pole may be free of ice for the first time [in history]," David Barber, of the University of Manitoba, told National Geographic News aboard the C.C.G.S. Amundsen, a Canadian research icebreaker.

Firsthand observations and satellite images show that the immediate area around the geographic North Pole is now mostly annual, or first-year, ice—thin new ice that forms each year during the winter freeze.

Such ice is much more prone to melting during the summer months than perennial, or multiyear, ice, which is thick and dense ice that has lasted through multiple cycles of thawing and refreezing.

"I would say the ice in the vicinity of the North Pole is primed for melting, and an ice-free North Pole is a good possibility," Sheldon Drobot, a climatologist at the Colorado Center for Astrodynamics Research at the University of Colorado, said by email.

The melt would be mostly symbolic—thicker ice, pushed against the Canadian continental shelf by weather and Earth's rotation, would still survive the summer.

Recent models suggest that the Arctic won't see its first completely ice-free summer until somewhere between 2013 and 2030.

But this summer's forecast—and unusual early melting events all around the Arctic—serve as a dire warning of how quickly the polar regions are being affected by climate change.

Massive Melt

Scientists are particularly interested in the North and South Poles because they are expected to show the most dramatic effects of global warming.

Models predict that the regions will see temperature increases roughly three times as quickly as the rest of the globe because of an effect known as ice albedo feedback, which occurs when highly reflective ice gives way to dark water.

The water absorbs much more of the sun's energy, increasing temperatures and causing further ice melting.

That has been reflected in the satellite record, which shows a gradual decrease in the extent of Arctic ice coverage over the years.

But the North Pole's current plight stems from a much more startling reduction in sea ice that took place last summer. That extensive melt shattered all previous records and destroyed a significant portion of the Arctic's multiyear ice.

"We lost 65 percent of the ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere all in one year," Barber said. "So it was a whopping decrease. We didn't even think it was possible for the system to lose so much ice all at once."

Scientists say the record loss last year was due to a combination of warm ocean currents, fluke winds, and unusually sunny weather. (See: "Warming Oceans Contributed to Record Arctic Melt" [December 14, 2007].)

It's unlikely that such a mixture of conditions will occur again, University of Colorado's Drobot said.

But forecasts for this summer's ice suggest the damage has already been done.

An unusually cold winter had raised hopes for a recovery, but much of the ice that formed froze later than usual, ending up so thin that it has already started to break up.

"Endangered Species"

Scientists are hesitant, however, to offer a definitive prediction specifically about the North Pole, since that is dependent on weather conditions that are highly erratic.

"Nobody knows for sure," Ron Lindsay, of the University of Washington, Seattle's Polar Science Center, said by email.

"While much of the first-year ice melts in the summer, not all of it does, so we can't be sure it will melt at the Pole," he said. "We also don't know what the winds will be like this summer, and they play an important role in determining just what parts of the Arctic Ocean are ice-free."

But given the rapid changes now evident in the Arctic, the ultimate fate of the North Pole—in fact, all permanent ice in the Arctic—may be all but assured. Almost all models have the Arctic completely ice free in the summer by 2100.

"We jokingly call [perennial ice] an endangered species," Barber said. "It's on its way out. And so we're studying it as quickly as we can, because there isn't going to be any of it left pretty soon."

martes, 24 de junio de 2008

'Lost' Amazon tribe a hoax to raise awareness on logging

June 23, 2008 06:44pm

THE man behind photos of warriors from an "undiscovered" Amazon tribe that were beamed around the world has admitted it was a hoax.

Indigenous tribes expert, José Carlos Meirelles, said the tribe's existence had been noted since 1910, and they had been photographed to prove that "uncontacted" tribes still existed in an area endangered by logging, The Guardian reported.

Mr Meirelles, who was working for Funai, the Brazilian Indian Protection Agency dedicated to finding remote tribes and protecting them, said he found the group, recorded they lived, and planned the publicity to protect them from losing their habitat.

Mr Meirelles, 61, said the "chance encounter" that produced the famous photographs was no accident.

"When we think we might have found an isolated tribe, a sertanista (tribe expert) like me walks in the forest for two or three years to gather evidence and we mark it in our (global positioning system," he told al-Jazeera.

"We then map the territory the Indians occupy and we draw that protected territory without making contact with them. And finally we set up a small outpost where we can monitor their protection."

In this case Mr Meirelles appears, controversially, to have gone out to seek and find the uncontacted tribe in an area where it was known to be living.

According to his account, the Brazilian state of Acre offered him the use of an aircraft for three days.
"I had years of GPS co-ordinates,"he said.

Mr Meirelles had another clue to the tribe's precise location.

"A friend of mine sent me some Google Earth co-ordinates and maps that showed a strange clearing in the middle of the forest and asked me what that was,"he said.

"I saw the co-ordinates and realised that it was close to the area I had been exploring with my son – so I needed to fly over it."

Mr Meirelles said he he flew a 150km-radius route over the border region with Peru and saw huts that belonged to isolated tribes. But he did not see people.

"When the women hear the plane above, they run into the forest, thinking it's a big bird,' he said. 'This is such a remote area, planes don't fly over it.'

What he was looking for was not only proof of life, but firm evidence that the tribes in this area were flourishing – proof in his view that the policy of no contact and protection was working.

On the last day, with only a couple hours of flight time remaining, Mr Meirelles spotted a large community.

"When I saw them painted red, I was satisfied, I was happy," he said.

"Because painted red means they are ready for war, which to me says they are happy and healthy defending their territory."

Survival International, the organisation that released the pictures along with Funai, conceded yesterday that Funai had known about this nomadic tribe for around two decades.

It defended the disturbance of the tribe saying that, since the images had been released, it had forced neighbouring Peru to re-examine its logging policy in the border area where the tribe lives, as a result of the international media attention.

lunes, 23 de junio de 2008

Interactive Digs

Windows on the Past

Text and photographs by Jorge Pérez de Lara

As a child I was taught that Mexico City was built atop the remains of the ancient Mexica (Aztec) capital of Tenochtitlán. Along with my multiplication tables, I dutifully learned about Cuauhtémoc, the last Mexica tlatoani (ruler), who led the final resistance to the invading Spaniards in 1521. But for most of the city's almost 20 million inhabitants going about their daily business like me, the past is far removed from current life. The downtown area is made up of splendid but rapidly decaying colonial buildings, covered in equal parts by the patina of centuries and the filth of smog and neglect. Streets and sidewalks are obscured from view by legions of vendors who peddle everything from toys, to sneakers, to pirated CDs, many smuggled from China. There is little to suggest what the city may have looked like in the days when Aztec poets wrote about its grandeur. But an innovative program called Ventanas Arqueológicas (Archaeological Windows) is bridging the gap between past and present by allowing visitors into many previously inaccessible or forgotten archaeological sites.

As a young man in the late '70s, one of my first jobs as a messenger involved a lot of walking around Mexico City's downtown area, which was not yet known by today's fanciful name "Centro Histórico." Back then for us Mexico City dwellers, the city's Aztec past was not tangible, but more the stuff of legend. But in 1978, when telephone company workers accidentally discovered a carved stone depicting the legend of Coyolxauhqui, daughter of the earth goddess, this began to change. The government decided to support further investigations that eventually led to the discovery of the area where the Templo Mayor once stood. Digs in the "Mariano" (northern) wing of the modern-day Presidential Palace have uncovered these steps, dating from 1427 to 1486, which originally led to the top of the temple's platform.

Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (INAH), the national authority in charge of Mexico's cultural and historical patrimony, has created a twice-monthly tour, blending several previously visible sites with more recently excavated ones that, contrary to normal practice, were not filled in. For the many people who live in the city and have known its contemporary face for decades, and for first-time visitors attracted to its rich cultural offerings, looking through these windows is a unique opportunity for firsthand contact with the city's underground history.

The fall of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán to Spanish conquerors signaled the end not only of an era, but of a unique worldview. When we picture archaeology in Mexico, we often find ourselves thinking of the vestiges of the cultures that Western European religion, thought, and language attempted to supplant. It is easy to forget that our "new" capital city is almost 500 years old and has had ample time to produce its fair share of archaeological relics. Under the buildings we use today, there are buried layers that bear witness to lives that have come and gone well after the Aztecs, and are now all but forgotten. In one of the most dramatic archaeological windows, a modern art gallery has a glass floor, where visitors get to walk over the remains of a colonial home. The tilework of its luxurious bathing pools speaks to the splendor of the reborn city after the destruction of the Aztecs.

Sperm Whale

Sunlight reflected through water ripples illuminates a sperm whale.
Photograph by Brian J. Skerry

Sperm whales are easily recognized by their massive heads and prominent rounded foreheads. They have the largest brain of any creature known to have lived on Earth. Their heads also hold large quantities of a substance called spermaceti. Whalers once believed that the oily fluid was sperm, but scientists still do not understand the function of spermaceti. One common theory is that the fluid—which hardens to wax when cold—helps the whale alter its buoyancy so it can dive deep and rise again. Sperm whales are known to dive as deep as 3,280 feet (1,000 meters) in search of squid to eat. These giant mammals must hold their breath for up to 90 minutes on such dives.

These toothed whales eat thousands of pounds of fish and squid—about one ton (907 kg) per day.

Sperm whales are often spotted in groups (called pods) of some 15 to 20 animals. Pods include females and their young, while males may roam solo or move from group to group. Females and calves remain in tropical or subtropical waters all year long, and apparently practice communal childcare. Males migrate to higher latitudes, alone or in groups, and head back towards the equator to breed. Driven by their tale fluke, approximately 16 feet (5 meters) from tip to tip, they can cruise the oceans at around 23 miles (37 kilometers) per hour.

These popular leviathans are vocal and emit a series of "clangs" that may be used for communication or for echolocation. Animals that use echolocation emit sounds that travel underwater until they encounter objects, then bounce back to their senders—revealing the location, size, and shape of their target.

Sperm whales were mainstays of whaling's 18th and 19th century heyday. A mythical albino sperm whale was immortalized in Herman Melville's Moby Dick, though Ahab's nemesis was apparently based on a real animal whalers called Mocha Dick. The animals were targeted for oil and ambergris, a substance that forms around squid beaks in a whale's stomach. Ambergris was (and remains) a very valuable substance once used in perfumes.

Despite large population drops due to whaling, sperm whales are still fairly numerous.

viernes, 20 de junio de 2008

"Amazing" Dinosaur Trove Discovered in Utah

Brian Handwerk
for NGNews
Crowded with dinosaurs, petrified trees, and other prehistoric treasures, an ancient riverbed in Utah is surprising scientists.

The discovery sheds new light on a Jurassic landscape dominated by dinosaur giants that lived 145 to 150 million years ago (prehistoric time line).
In just three weeks of work on federal land near Hanksville, Utah, paleontologists say they unearthed at least two meat-eating dinosaurs, a probable Stegosaurus, and four sauropods—long necked, long-tailed plant-eaters that could reach 130 feet (40 meters) long, making them the largest animals ever to have walked the Earth.
"So far [the paleontologists] have found not only scattered bones but partial and complete skeletons. It's really amazing," said Scott Foss, a paleontologist in the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM's) Salt Lake City office.
Big Sexy Dinosaurs
Some BLM employees and many locals had known that there were dinosaur bones to be found near Hanksville. But the recent dig led by scientists from the Burpee Museum of Natural History in Rockford, Illinois, was still a shocker.
"Nobody anticipated the scale or the scope of what was there. Once they started excavating, they realized that the magnitude was far more than they had expected," Foss said.
"About two weeks ago they notified us that this was pretty big and we'd better come and take a look."
The site, now known as the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry, is part of the Morrison formation. "[The formation is] where all the big sexy dinosaurs that we grew up learning about are most commonly found," Foss said.
Matthew Bonnan, of Western Illinois University, said, "In the late Jurassic you had the largest animals that ever walked the Earth.
"The sauropods sort of reached their zenith of size at this point," added Bonnan, who had just returned from the dig site.

Riverbed Graveyard Uncovered

Though the Hanksville-Burpee Quarry today is high and dry, it appears to have once been at a bend in a large, long-gone river. A bar or other river feature likely collected the corpses of dinosaurs and other animals that died upstream and were washed down during high-water events over several centuries. The result is a logjam of fossilized bones.
The site's sandstone also encases freshwater clams, petrified trees, and other preserved matter. "There is potential that there could be burrows that contain fossil mammals. We have petrified logs—a whole group of things that I think are going to tell us something very detailed about this environment," Bonnan said.
The late Jurassic has been studied intensively for more than a century, yet some key questions linger.
"The big open question that remains is the environment in which the Morrison fauna and flora existed," said Hans-Dieter Sues, associate director for research and collections at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Sues has received funding from the National Geographic Society's Committee for Research and Exploration.

Early geologists imagined the Morrison-formation region as a vast swamp, the imagined prime real estate for all those sauropods.
"But later geologists argued that the Morrison was deposited in a dry environment with just some large bodies of water," said Sues, who is not involved with the Hanksville-Burpee dig.

New Look at Familiar Dinos?

Whatever mysteries the new site may hold, it is unlikely to produce any new dinosaur species, Sues said.
"Except for some really small dinosaurs—including possible bird relatives/precursors—or a good skeleton of the giant Brachiosaurus, there is going to be little that is newsworthy regarding Morrison dinosaurs," he said.

"The big discoveries to be made lie with other groups of Morrison animals, such as flying reptiles and mammals, which are still mostly known from very fragmentary remains."

But team member Bonnan hopes the Hanksville-Burpee will eventually rival Utah's other major Jurassic fossil troves—Dinosaur National Monument and the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry.

"Even if we don't find anything new in terms of species, we're looking at old bones with new eyes and new technologies," he said.
"In the old days it was more about finding the 'biggest, baddest, bestest' dinosaurs, and a museum might have just cherry-picked those best specimens.
"Now there is more interest in the fossil assemblage—what does it tell you about the environment?"

The site will close for the season on Friday. But scientists are already anxiously awaiting the resumption of excavations next summer.
"It will take years to understand the real potential, or how big this site really is," BLM's Foss said. "But there is something there worth taking a really good look at."

jueves, 19 de junio de 2008

1780 British Warship Found in Lake Ontario

A drawing from a 1997 history of the Ontario gives a sense of the 80-foot (24-meter) ship's short-lived grandeur.

The account's author, Canadian Arthur Britton Smith, called the June 2008 discovery of the 228-year-old ship an "archaeological miracle," according to the Associated Press. "To have a revolutionary war vessel that's practically intact is unbelievable."

Ontario discoverer Jim Kennard said the ship is the property of Great Britain and will remain undisturbed unless U.K. officials decide to excavate it.

June 17, 2008—The prow of the 1780 British warship H.M.S. Ontario is shown 500 feet (150 meters) below Lake Ontario near Rochester, New York, upon the ship's discovery in early June.

Called a "holy grail" of Great Lakes wreck hunters, the 80-foot (24-meter) brig-sloop sank in a sudden gale during the U.S. Revolutionary War on October 31, 1780.

At times a sail would have been attached to the large forward pole, or bowsprit, at right. Just below, the ship's ornate, handcarved bow stem is a testament to the "personal pride" shipbuilders took in their vessels, said Dan Scoville, who found the Ontario along with fellow shipwreck enthusiast Jim Kennard.

At the back end of the 1780 British warship Ontario, the Union Jack would have flown from the flagpole (top left). Just below, some of the six windows of captain's quarters retain their panes, according to the wreck's discoverers.

Found in June 2008, the ship had sunk during a sudden storm while carrying about 120 people from Fort Niagara to Rochester, New York.
Near the top of one of the Ontario's two 80-foot (25-meter) masts, the crow's nest served as a lookout station and, during battles, a perch for musket-bearing snipers.

Built in New York State in 1780, the British warship foundered during an autumn nor'easter in October of that same year. Winds may have exceeded 60 miles (97 kilometers) an hour, said Jim Kennard, who helped find the wreck in June 2008.Encrusted with quagga mussels, a cannon protrudes from the front of the 22-gun British warship Ontario, found in Lake Ontario in June 2008.

The 1780 vessel is the oldest wreck and the only intact British war vessel found in Lake Ontario.

Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville, who discovered the ship, attribute the Ontario's remarkable preservation to the lake's cold waters and the absence of oxygen at the ship's 500-foot-deep (152-meter-deep) resting place

"That's back when they cared about how a ship looked," Scoville said.

miércoles, 18 de junio de 2008

Ice Shelf Collapses in Antarctica

June 16, 2008—Another large plate of ice has broken off the rapidly disintegrating Wilkins Ice Shelf in the Antarctic Peninsula, the above satellite images show.

While the ice shelf, located directly below South America, shrank significantly in previous months (see March images), this is the first documented occurrence of an ice shelf collapsing during the Southern Hemisphere's winter.

The European Space Agency's Envisat satellite revealed that approximately 62 square miles (160 square kilometers) of ice detached from the ice shelf between May 30 and May 31. This most recent loss narrowed the strip to a width of 1.7 miles (2.7 kilometers).

The Wilkins Ice Shelf connects the islands of Charcot and Latady and protects many miles of Antarctica's ice shelves from additional collapse.

A trend of "extraordinary warming" over the past 50 years in Antarctica has caused the loss of several ice shelves, Matthias Braun of Bonn University, and Angelika Humbert of Münster University, said in a statement.

The researchers also warned that the last strip of ice on Wilkins would disappear soon.

"The remaining plate has an arched fracture at its narrowest position," they said, "making it very likely that the connection will break completely in the coming days."

martes, 17 de junio de 2008

Archaeologists uncover Aztec palace in Mexico City

Montezuma’s palace unearthed in Mexico

Archaeologist Elsa Hernandez and her team have found remains belonging to an Aztec palace once inhabited by the emperor Montezuma. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/AP

The remains of an Aztec palace once inhabited by the emperor Montezuma have been discovered in the heart of downtown Mexico City, archaeologists said today.

During a routine renovation project on a colonial-era building, experts uncovered pieces of a wall as well as a basalt floor believed to have been part of a dark room where Montezuma meditated, team leader Elsa Hernandez said.

Montezuma was the Aztec emperor when Spanish conqueror Hernán Cortés marched into the Mexico Valley in 1519. He died after being taken hostage by the Spaniards, while the city and the Aztec empire fell in 1521.

His palace complex, known as the Casas Nuevas, or New Houses, to distinguish them from his predecessors' palaces, is thought to have comprised five interconnected buildings containing the emperor's office, chambers for children and several wives and even a zoo.

The Aztec constructions were razed by the Spanish, who built what is now Mexico City atop their ruins.

Experts had long thought Montezuma's palace stood roughly on the site where the ruins were found, next door to the National Palace, said Hernandez.

She described the find as "another piece of a puzzle".

Excavations are planned beneath several parts of the colonial building, which now houses the Museum of Culture.

The basalt floor most likely belongs to the Casa Denegrida, or the Black House, which Spanish conquerors described as a windowless room painted in black, said Hernandez.

The emperor was believed to have reflected there on visions recounted by professional seers and shamans.

His reliance on such predictions may have contributed to his downfall, possibly prompting him to initially mistake the conquistadors for divine figures.

MEXICO CITY - Mexican archaeologists say they have unearthed the remains of an Aztec palace once inhabited by the emperor Montezuma in the heart of what is now downtown Mexico City.

During a routine renovation project on a Colonial-era building, experts uncovered pieces of a wall as well as a basalt floor believed to have been part of a dark room where Montezuma meditated, archaeology team leader Elsa Hernandez said Monday.

Montezuma's palace complex — known as the Casas Nuevas, or New Houses to distinguish them from his predecessors' palaces — is thought to have comprised five interconnected buildings containing the emperor's office, chambers for children and several wives and even a zoo, according to Hernandez.he Aztec constructions were razed by the Spanish, who built what is now Mexico City atop their ruins. Experts had long thought Montezuma's palace stood roughly on the site where the ruins were found, next door to the National Palace, Hernandez said.

The find is "another piece of a puzzle, [and] we hope to find several pieces," Hernandez said. Excavations are planned beneath several parts of the colonial building, which now houses the Museum of Culture, she said.

The basalt floor likely belongs to the Casa Denegrida, or the Black House, which Spanish conquerors described as a windowless room painted in black, Hernandez said. The emperor was believed to have reflected there on visions recounted by professional seers and shamans.

His reliance on such predictions may have contributed to his downfall, possibly prompting him to mistake Spanish conquerors for divine figures when they arrived.

Montezuma was the Aztec emperor when Spanish conqueror Hernan Cortes marched into the Mexico Valley in 1519. He died after the Spaniards took him captive. The city — and the Aztec empire — finally fell in 1521.

lunes, 16 de junio de 2008

El Dorado Legend Snared Sir Walter Raleigh

Gold Muisca artwork in Colombian museum
Photograph by Mauricio Duenas/AFP/Getty Images

Through the centuries, this passion gave rise to the enduring tale of a city of gold. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Europeans believed that somewhere in the New World there was a place of immense wealth known as El Dorado. Their searches for this treasure wasted countless lives, drove at least one man to suicide, and put another man under the executioner's ax.
"El Dorado shifted geographical locations until finally it simply meant a source of untold riches somewhere in the Americas," says Jim Griffith, a folklorist in Tucson, Arizona.
But this place of immeasurable riches hasn't been found.
The origins of El Dorado lie deep in South America. And like all enduring legends, the tale of El Dorado contains some scraps of truth. When Spanish explorers reached South America in the early 16th century, they heard stories about a tribe of natives high in the Andes mountains in what is now Colombia. When a new chieftain rose to power, his rule began with a ceremony at Lake Guatavita. Accounts of the ceremony vary, but they consistently say the new ruler was covered with gold dust, and that gold and precious jewels were thrown into the lake to appease a god that lived underwater.
The Spaniards started calling this golden chief El Dorado, "the gilded one." The ceremony of the gilded man supposedly ended in the late 15th century when El Dorado and his subjects were conquered by another tribe. But the Spaniards and other Europeans had found so much gold among the natives along the continent's northern coast that they believed there had to be a place of great wealth somewhere in the interior. The Spaniards didn't find El Dorado, but they did find Lake Guatavita and tried to drain it in 1545. They lowered its level enough to find hundreds of pieces of gold along the lake's edge. But the presumed fabulous treasure in the deeper water was beyond their reach.
Raleigh's Quest
English courtier Sir Walter Raleigh made two trips to Guiana to search for El Dorado. During his second trip in 1617, he sent his son, Watt Raleigh, with an expedition up the Orinoco River. But Walter Raleigh, then an old man, stayed behind at a base camp on the island of Trinidad. The expedition was a disaster, and Watt Raleigh was killed in a battle with Spaniards. Eric Klingelhofer, an archaeologist at Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, says Walter Raleigh was furious at the survivor who informed him of Watt's death and accused the survivor of letting his son be killed. "The man goes into his cabin on the ship and kills himself," says Klingelhofer, who is trying to find the site of Raleigh's base camp on Trinidad.
Raleigh returned to England, where King James ordered him beheaded for, among other things, disobeying orders to avoid conflict with the Spanish.
The legend of El Dorado endures because "you want it to be true," says Jose Oliver, a lecturer at the Institute of Archaeology at University College London. "I don't think we've ever stopped seeking El Dorado."
So where is this lost city of gold? In his 1849 poem "El Dorado," writer Edgar Allan Poe offers an eerie and eloquent suggestion: "Over the Mountains of the Moon, down the Valley of the Shadow, ride, boldly ride…if you seek for El Dorado."

viernes, 13 de junio de 2008

Endangered sea dragon at Ga. aquarium pregnant

Endangered sea dragon at Ga. aquarium pregnant

ATLANTA - A weedy sea dragon at the Georgia Aquarium has something to celebrate this Father's Day. One of the rare creatures is pregnant for only the third time ever at a U.S. aquarium, aquarium officials said. But don't look for the expectant mom — dads carry the eggs in this family.
The aquarium's sea dragon has about 70 fertilized eggs — which look like small red grapes — attached to his tail. He is expected to give birth in early to mid-July, said Kerry Gladish, a biologist at the aquarium.
Sea dragons, sea horses and pipe fish are the only species where the male carries the eggs, Gladish said. Sea dragon pregnancies are rare because researchers don't know what gets them in the mood to mate.
"We know there's something biologically or environmentally that triggers them to want to reproduce, but in the aquarium world, we're not sure what that is," Gladish said.
The aquarium recently changed the lighting and thinned out the plants in the sea dragons' tank to give them room to court each other.
The aquarium has seven of the 18-inch sea dragons, which resemble Dr. Seuss characters with long aardvark-like snouts, colorful sea horse bodies and multiple paddle-like fins.
During mating, the female lays dozens of eggs and then transfers them to the male's tail.
In the wild, the survival rate for sea dragon babies is low, but in captivity it's about 60 percent, Gladish said. The fish is on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's list of threatened species, mostly because of pollution and population growth in its native Australia.
Only about 50 aquariums worldwide have sea dragons

jueves, 12 de junio de 2008

New Dinosaur May Link S. American, Aussie Dinos

James Owen
for NGN

A rare fossil found in Australia suggests dinosaurs were able to traverse the vast prehistoric continent of Gondwana, scientists report.

The hundred-million-year-old fossil belonged to a two-legged meat-eater, or theropod, that is closely related to Megaraptor namunhuaiquii, a giant, big-clawed carnivore from Argentina, says a team led by Nathan Smith of the University of Chicago's Field Museum.

Bizarre Dinosaurs Interactive

The discovery could help redraw the world map during the dinosaur era, researchers add.

That's because the newfound Australian dinosaur shows that animals could travel across Gondwana during the Cretaceous period, about 145 to 65 million years ago.

This in turn suggests that Gondwana's Southern Hemisphere landmasses broke up later than traditionally thought.

Strange Forearm

The study is based on the unidentified theropod's arm bone, which was discovered at Dinosaur Cove in southeastern Australia in 1989.

The fossil has unique features that solidly link it to the South American Megaraptor that was first described in 1998, Smith said.

"Megaraptor has a huge hand with a big [clublike] claw and a very strange forearm, so if you had to pick one bone to refer to, then the ulna [arm bone] might be that bone," Smith said.

The length of the fossil bone, 7.6 inches (19.3 centimeters), suggests the dinosaur was about half the size of Megaraptor.

This size difference could be because it is a smaller species or because it was a juvenile, Smith said.

The still-nameless Australian specimen is described this week in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

Animal Exchange

Previously scientists thought that Australian animals were isolated from life on other Gondwana landmasses during most of the Cretaceous because of geography and climate, the study authors said.

Bizarre Dinosaurs Interactive
"What we now have is demonstration that there must have been some kind of [animal] exchange between Australia prior to about a hundred million years ago," Smith said.

The new study also supports alternative models for the break up of Gondwana.

Traditionally it was thought that Africa and South America separated from eastern Gondwana—which included Antarctica, Australia, India, and Madagascar—some 138 million years ago.

The alternative models show Africa separating first.

The new study is not the final say on the matter, Smith emphasized.

But "I think in the future we are going to start seeing more [Australian fossils] that really demonstrate close affinities with other animals in South America."

Little Evidence

Yet the Australian husband-and-wife team who led the excavation of the theropod fossil aren't convinced by the findings.

Patricia Vickers-Rich, a paleontologist at Monash University in Victoria, said "too much is being interpreted based on a single bone."

The Australian dinosaur fossil record is "very scanty," she said, so "rather sweeping generalizations about biogeography are made based on very little evidence."

Tom Rich, curator of vertebrate paleontology at Museum Victoria, echoed his wife's comments.

He added that other Australian dinosaurs from the same period seem to be more closely allied with those from Asia than South America.

The reason for this is a "complete mystery to me," he wrote in an email, since a map of the world of that time would show "Australia was much further from Asia than it is today."

But, he said, "fossils should not be identified on the basis of geography if one is going to do meaningful paleobiogeographic reconstructions—otherwise one will be going around in a very tight logical circle."

The Riches said that more theropod bones from the Dinosaur Cove area are currently being studied. "There could be half a dozen different theropods," Tom Rich said, though the condition of the fossil bones may not allow individual species to be identified.

miércoles, 11 de junio de 2008

More Underground Wonders part 2

Pembrokeshire, Wales

Edinburgh, Scotland has a long and strange history, though perhaps the oddest story of all is the tale of a bridge that was buried underground. After this bridge was built, superstition following a prominent death led to its disuse. As property values in the area grew, however, people first built under and then even on top of the bridge. Eventually leaks forced the abandonment of the spaces below, which were subsequently filled in. They were recently rediscovered and opened for tourists!

Tokyo, Japan is at the heart of a strange and gripping mystery involving seven riddles and a supposed secret underground city. It all began when Japanese researcher Shun Akiba found an old map of the Tokyo tunnel system that didn’t match current maps. Since then, he has found six other strange inconsistencies in historical maps and other records that suggest the existence hidden spaces. His claims have been vehemently denied by the Japanese government.

Seattle, Washington’s Pioneer Square district has a very peculiar historical quirk: a century ago, they raised the streets by an entire floor. People actually died falling off of the street to the lower sidewalks below before they managed to raise the sidewalks to the same level. Eventually, what was street level became completely unused and abandoned, though it was recently reopened for visitors.

7 (More!) Underground Wonders of the World: Lost Caverns and Buried Cities 1

The world is full of wonders, from abandoned towns and deserted settlements to underwater cities and underground architecture. Humans burrow into the Earth out of anything from necessity to superstition, driven by coincidence or coerced by circumstance. Without further ado, here are seven more underground wonders of the world.

Kapadokya, Turkey is home to hundreds of linked rooms that, together, form an ancient system of underground cities over 2,500 years old. Areas are separated by narrow corridors lit once lit by oil lamps as well as other architectural devices for maximizing the defensibility of the spaces. Settlement initially started on the surface, then slowly moved underground over time.

Pembrokeshire, Wales is home to a family with a house straight out of The Hobbit. This amazing architectural wonder is created virtually completely from the natural materials found around the residence. The walls are made out of stone and mud and water enters the house by gravity from a nearby spring. Non-natural materials, such as windows and plumbing, were recovered from trash.

martes, 10 de junio de 2008

Egypt Mummies Moved for DNA Tests; Pharaoh Among Them?

Andrew Bossone in Cairo
for NGN

Three mummies have been moved from the Valley of the Kings in Luxor to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo to begin extensive studies of their origins, Egyptian authorities recently announced.

Two female mummies found in a tomb known as KV21 and one male mummy found outside the tomb of Pharaoh Seti II, who ruled Egypt from 1200 to 1194 B.C., will undergo CAT scans and DNA analysis.

Such tests could tell researchers the mysterious mummies' ancestry and could even pinpoint their identities, although it may be years before scientists can say anything definitive.

Still, the females already show promise that they may be among several Egyptian queens that archaeologists have been searching for.

Both bodies were found in the Egyptian royal pose of women: the left arm bent at the elbow with the hand clenched diagonally across the chest, and the right arm laid straight alongside the body.

"We'll try to look at the two females in KV21, because we are now looking for the families of Tutankhamun through the Egyptian Mummy Project," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The project is a five-year plan launched by Hawass to test and catalog the DNA of every mummy in the country.

"Maybe one of them could be Nefertiti or Tiye or Kiya, we do not know," said Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

DNA Trace

An Egyptian team will examine the mummies' genes in what Hawass describes as the only DNA lab in the world dedicated exclusively to the study of mummies.

The best way to study ancient genes is to examine mitochondrial DNA, said Angelique Corthals, a lecturer in biomedical and forensic studies at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, who trained the Egyptian team.

This type of DNA is passed on through the mother and contains thousands of copies of genetic information in each cell.

Comparing mitochondrial DNA from an unidentified mummy to the genetic code of an identified female mummy can establish a family relationship.

But the technique limits researchers to tracing a mummy's lineage through its female bloodline, which may not be available in many cases.

So instead the Egyptian team will examine the male mummy's nuclear DNA, which yields just one copy of the genetic code in each cell but can be traced from either parent.

This exhaustive testing process is made more difficult by contamination of the mummies' DNA over time and from chemicals used in the mummification process.

"[The DNA samples] are not just damaged because they are really old," Corthals said.

"They are also damaged because of the process of mummification. Ironically, what preserves the mummies best for their appearance destroys the DNA."

Several queens of the 18th dynasty, which lasted from 1550 to 1069 B.C. and preceded Tutankhamun's reign, have yet to be identified.

These include Kiya, who was likely Tut's mother and thus would share his mitochondrial DNA.

The queens Nefertiti, Tut's father's primary wife, and Tiye, Tut's paternal grandmother, have also not been found.

Mislabeled King

Scientists will study the male mummy on a hunch that it belongs to Thutmose I, who ruled from 1504 to 1492 B.C. and was the father of Queen Hatshepsut.

A mummy on display in the Egyptian Museum is labeled as Thutmose I, but recent tests revealed that the body is misidentified, Hawass noted.

"We found the mummy in the museum died at the age of 30, and Thutmose I died at the age of 50," he said. "He is not a royal mummy."

In 2007 Corthals and the Egyptian scientists conducted tests on a female mummy that is believed to be that of Hatshepsut.

The scientists will compare DNA from that mummy to the one recently found, but they note that making a connection will be hard because Thutmose I's family line is dubious.

His father is unknown and his mother was called Seniseneb, which was a common name during her time.

Inscriptions indicate that Thutmose I married his sister Ahmose, who was likely named after the first pharaoh of the 18th dynasty. But her exact parentage is also in doubt.

"It's not always clear who's in the family tree," Corthals said. "You may be testing who you think is the mother, but it might not be the mother at all."

In general, Corthals added, results from testing ancient DNA are not always certain.

"In the best of cases you can be only sure of a maximum … if you are really lucky of 90 percent [with mitochondrial DNA], but that's about it," Corthals said.

"There are to date no published studies that have successfully retrieved and compared ancient nuclear DNA from Egyptian mummies for the purpose of interfamily lineage."

lunes, 9 de junio de 2008

Martyrs or Imperial Guard?

Details of faces—7th century fresco devotional fresco (The Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology)
Crypt of San Pietro e Marcellino (The Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology)

New discoveries in the catacombs of San Pietro and Marcellinus

When a sinkhole opened up after a pipe broke underneath the convent and school of the Instituto Sacra Famiglia on Rome's Via Casilina, the sisters there received a surprise--about 1,200 surprises, in fact. The partial collapse of the building's foundation revealed five large chambers in which the remains of more than a thousand individuals had been interred almost simultaneously sometime at the beginning of the third century A.D.

Perhaps equally surprising is the location in which they were found. The convent under which the burial chambers are located sits atop the vast catacomb complex of San Pietro and Marcellinus. With three distinct gallery levels, the deepest of which is 36 feet (11m) below the surface, it is one of the largest such burial complexes in the city.

But the newly discovered burial chambers pre-date the extensive catacomb complex, which was believed to have been used by Christians from the mid-third century A.D. with permission from the emperor Gallienus who was anxious to make peace with them after the savage persecution they suffered at the hands his father, Valerian. And although the famed archaeologist Giovanni Battista de Rossi explored and recorded the catacomb at the end of the nineteenth century, there is no indication that he ever even knew of the presence of these chambers.

Given that these catacombs were thoroughly explored and mapped by De Rossi, how is it possible that these chambers were overlooked? "We're not entirely sure," says Raffaella Giuliani, an archaeologist and the Inspector of Catacombs for the Pontifical Commission for Sacred Archaeology in Rome, "but it is very likely that he and his team simply did not have the resources to shore up the site in order to prevent the collapse of the convent structure directly above it in order to pursue systematic excavation. The building's foundations come directly down into this area of the catacombs, and we had a great deal of work to do in order to reinforce the structure above us before we could excavate after the development of the sinkhole. It was a long and expensive process, even by today's standards."

It is not even certain that the newly discovered remains are of Christians, despite the fact that they are firmly ensconced within one of the most important Christian catacomb sites of ancient Rome. According to Giuliani, "there is at the moment no conclusive proof that can exclude the possibility that these may in fact be pagan burials." Which begs the question: What would pagan burials be doing in the middle of a Christian catacomb?

The answer may lie with the history of the land in which the catacombs are located. The property was originally the site of the barracks and training grounds of the equites singulares Augusti, a private corps of mounted Imperial bodyguards thought to have been formed by the emperor Trajan at the end of the first century A.D. At the beginning of the fourth century, they found themselves on the losing side of the war between Constantine and Maxentius, and were subsequently disbanded by the victorious Constantine after the battle of the Milvian Bridge in A.D. 312. At this point, the land--already in use by them underground--was turned over to the Christians. It was considered so sacred to the Christian community that the mausoleum of Constantine's mother, St. Helena, was constructed there.

During the period of use by the equites, however, this site was also used as a cemetery for the soldiers who served here. So the presence of pagan burials would not be as surprising as one might think. But more than a thousand of them interred almost at the same time? Giuliani explains that "it is very possible that what we are seeing here is the occurrence of some sort of plague or epidemic, perhaps a recurrence of the famous Antonine plague that took almost 1,200 lives a day during the reign of Antoninus Pius [A.D. 138-161]. The bodies are layered very carefully, one on top of the other, without lavish ceremony but nevertheless with great care. It seems as if these individuals were all interred within a short period--perhaps a few months at the most. Initially there was a great deal of excitement that these could perhaps represent martyrdoms [Christians executed for adhering to their faith], but this now appears unlikely as the Carbon 14 evidence and coins found among the remains date the burials to a period of relative peace between the Christian community and the Imperial government."

Stacked skeletons (The Pontifical Commission of Sacred Archaeology)
Further evidence that these may in fact be soldier burials is found in a close examination of the remains. Between the shrouds, a layer of gesso (a type of chalky plaster) covers each body. "This is a rather inexpensive and simple way to attempt to conserve the body, like a crude sort of mummification. We see this in soldier burials of the Roman period at times, particularly up in the northern parts of the Empire," says Giuliani, "and yet while we have found bits of amber and a limited amount of jewelry buried with the remains, we do not as yet have any conclusive proof one way or another as to whether or not these were Christian or pagan individuals. The fact that there are many women and several children present within these chambers does not necessarily preclude the fact that that these are the remains of the soldier of the equites it's possible and even probable that the soldiers would have had their families with them here on this property."

To date, approximately 100 skeletons have been excavated by a team of anthropologists from the University of Bordeaux whose specialty is the study of epidemic burials. They are currently studying the osteological remains for indications of trauma, which would perhaps point to a mass persecution rather than disease, but have found no such evidence. "So far,' explains Giuliani, "it would seem as if we are not dealing with victims of a persecution, but rather of a plague or epidemic of some sort. However, we still have a great deal more to excavate and study, for the moment we can make no conclusive statements as to who these individuals were or how they died." One thing that we can be certain of, however, is that the dark catacombs of Rome still have light to shed on our understanding of ancient history.

Sarah Yeomans is a journalist and archaeologist based in Rome and Washington, D.C. For more about Rome's catacombs, see Yeomans' "City of the Dead

viernes, 6 de junio de 2008

"Lost" Pyramid Found Buried in Egypt

Andrew Bossone in Cairo
for NGN

The pyramid of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh has been rediscovered after being buried for generations, archaeologists announced today.

The pyramid is thought to house the tomb of King Menkauhor, who is believed to have ruled in Egypt's 5th dynasty for eight years in the mid-2400s B.C.
Long since reduced to its foundations, the structure was previously known as Number 29 or the "Headless Pyramid." It was mentioned in the mid-19th century by German archaeologist Karl Richard Lepsius.

Then it disappeared in the sands of Saqqara, a sprawling royal burial complex near current-day Cairo.

It took Egyptian archaeologists about a year and a half just to remove all the sand above the pyramid.

"After Lepsius the location of the pyramid was lost and the substructure of [the] pyramid never known," said Zahi Hawass, secretary general of Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities.

"It was forgotten by people until we began to search this area and a hill of sand, maybe 25 feet [7.6 meters] high."

Hawass is a National Geographic explorer-in-residence. (The National Geographic Society owns National Geographic News.)

Old Kingdom Clues

Nothing on the pyramid specifically names its owner, and the majority of the structure has been destroyed, so Egyptian archaeologists had to put several clues together to identify it.

Past archaeologists have disputed the date of the pyramid, usually putting it in either the Old Kingdom, between 2575 and 2150 B.C., or the Middle Kingdom, between 1975 and 1640 B.C.

But the recent research determined that the pyramid lacked the winding mazes typical of a Middle Kingdom temple.

Instead, the lack of artwork and inscriptions, as well as the structure's red granite blocks, were typical of Old Kingdom pyramids, according to Hawass.

The burial chamber also contained the lid of a sarcophagus made of gray schist, a type of rock often used in the Old Kingdom.

What's more, the newfound pyramid resembles the pyramid next to it, which belongs to the first pharaoh of the 6th dynasty, Teti, who ruled from 2345 to 2181 B.C. That suggested the lost pyramid could also come from the 5th dynasty.

The neighboring pyramid also pointed to the owner of the pyramid as Menkauhor, since he was without a discovered burial tomb.

"There were missing pyramids of the kings, and this is one of them," Hawass said.

Sacred Road

Archaeologists also announced the discovery of new parts of a sacred road, dating to the Ptolemaic period, some 2,000 years after the Old Kingdom.

The discovery shows the sustained importance of Saqqara, which was located in the ancient capital of Memphis, the researchers added.

"During the whole history of Egypt, Memphis and Saqqara had remained very, very important," El Aguizy said.

"I am discovering tombs of people of the 26th dynasty [in Saqqara] that were reusing tombs of the 19th dynasty. It is a sacred place, and so many important people wanted to be buried there."

Another reason people wanted to be buried in Saqqara was the sacred road, which was used for the procession of mummified bulls of the god of the dead, Osiris.

"[Osiris] was enthroned like a king and when he died they made funerals like those of a king," El Aguizy said.

The bulls also had a historical significance: Their deaths were used to determine when a pharaoh reigned.

"It's a way of dating the pharaohs," El Aguizy said. "Sometimes we know how many bulls died during the reign of a king, or vice versa."

(See a photo of an underground tunnel for sacred bulls.)

More Discoveries Expected

The sacred path, first discovered by French archaeologist Auguste Mariette in 1850, is nicknamed the Way of the Sphinxes because of its long row of statues often found at the gates of Egyptian temples.

"The modern name of ancient Memphis is Mit Rahina … which means the way of the Sphinx," El Aguizy said.

"So [this path is] presumably the Way, with sphinxes [formerly] on the two sides."

Archaeologists hope the path will lead to more discoveries in the area. Plans are underway to relocate modern-day workers who live in a village beside the Menkauhor site to allow an expanded search for more temples.

"When I say we've discovered 30 percent of the Egyptian monuments, I take Saqarra as the first example," Hawass said.

"Saqqara is a virgin site," he added. "It's very important for us to do this excavation to understand more about the pyramids of the Old Kingdom."


Stingrays are commonly found in the shallow coastal waters of temperate seas. They spend the majority of their time inactive, partially buried in sand, often moving only with the sway of the tide. The stingray's coloration commonly reflects the seafloor's shading, camouflaging it from predatory sharks and larger rays. Their flattened bodies are composed of pectoral fins joined to their head and trunk with an infamous tail trailing behind.

While the stingray's eyes peer out from its dorsal side, its mouth, nostrils, and gill slits are situated on its underbelly. Its eyes are therefore not thought by scientists to play a considerable role in hunting. Like its shark relatives, the stingray is outfitted with electrical sensors called ampullae of Lorenzini. Located around the stingray's mouth, these organs sense the natural electrical charges of potential prey. Many rays have jaw teeth to enable them to crush mollusks such as clams, oysters, and mussels.

When they are inclined to move, most stingrays swim by undulating their bodies like a wave; others flap their sides like wings. The tail may also be used to maneuver in the water, but its primary purpose is protection.

The stingray's spine, or barb, can be ominously fashioned with serrated edges and a sharp point. The underside may produce venom, which can be fatal to humans, and which can remain deadly even after the stingray's death. In Greek mythology, Odysseus, the great king of Ithaca, was killed when his son, Telegonus, struck him using a spear tipped with the spine of a stingray.

jueves, 5 de junio de 2008

Cleopatra Bust Among Treasures Found in Egypt Temple

Mati Milstein
for NGN

An alabaster bust of Cleopatra and a mask that might have belonged to her lover Marc Antony are part of a slew of treasures found north of Alexandria, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities announced on Monday.

The artifacts were discovered inside the Taposiris Magna, a large temple in what is now Abusir that was built during the reign of Ptolemy II, which lasted from 282 to 246 B.C. Zahi Hawass, secretary general of the antiquities council, had been at the site leading a team searching for the lost tombs of Antony and Cleopatra.

According to legend, the famous couple committed suicide when Antony was defeated in 31 B.C. during a short series of land and sea battles that cemented Octavian's rule over Rome.

Hawass, who is also a National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence, said that in addition to the bust and mask, the team found 22 coins stamped with Cleopatra's face and a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Aphrodite.

While searching the site's network of underground shafts and tunnels, Hawass also stumbled across skeletons that he said were likely the remains of early Christians hiding from Roman authorities.

Though adamant that the most recent discoveries mean they are no closer to finding the tombs, the researchers think Taposiris is "a perfect place for us to look for Cleopatra and Marc Antony," Hawass said.

"It's just a theory—we are not 100 percent—that this was a typical place to hide the tombs away from Octavian."

Bigger Than Tut?

Cleopatra was the last ruler during Egypt's Greco-Roman Period, in which a Greek royal family governed from 323 to 30 B.C. She was arguably one of the most powerful and influential women in the ancient world.

In 48 B.C. she seduced Roman emperor Julius Caesar and bore him a son.

Years later she had three children with Marc Antony, then a key Roman political and military leader.

Their ill-fated love affair has been the subject of countless artworks, including paintings, movies, an opera, and a Shakespeare play.

One theory is that Taposiris Magna may have been chosen as the couple's burial site because of its temples to the Egyptian god Osiris and his wife, Isis.

"We hope Cleopatra's tomb is located in this site," Hawass said. "This could be an important discovery—bigger than that of King Tutankhamun's tomb."

John Baines is an Egyptologist at Oxford University's Oriental Institute who was not involved in the excavation.

"Aphrodite is not associated with indigenous Egyptian temples, so her presence may suggest a non-Egyptian, perhaps Ptolemaic connection," Baines said.

And masks similar to the one Hawass thinks might have belonged to Marc Antony were "normally part of a burial and are relatively common objects from Greco-Roman Egypt," he added.

Mary Beard, professor of classics at Cambridge University, said she is very doubtful that the site will contain the tomb of Cleopatra.

"I would have thought it very unlikely that Marc Antony was buried with her. Of course, if the title 'Tomb of Cleopatra' was pinned on [this site], it would be a huge tourist attraction," she said.

"I am not, needless to say, impugning the archaeological credentials of Mr. Hawass, but it's hard not to think that such factors play some part in the enthusiasm surrounding this discovery."

Hawass has been digging at Taposiris Magna for the past two years and has explored about 95 percent of the site.

Excavations are now on hold and will resume in November, when the team plans to use radar to further map buried features.