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CSI Turin: The Shroud's DNA

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The case isn't closed yet on Christendom's most famous relic. A team of investigators from the Università di Pavia got a second crack at the Vatican's dirty laundry, opening up a whole new can of worms.

Back in 1988 an international team announced the Shroud of Turin was 600-700 years old with 95% certainty. The niggling 5% lay in science's inability to duplicate the image, and the shroud's cloth.

The original investigation's protocol called for taking several samples for dating. Luigi Gonnella, the scientific advisor to the Archdiocese of Turin, allowed only one from an outside corner. Instead of dating different sections of the artifact, ensuring the samples were representative of the whole shroud, investigators could only say that corner was from the middle ages.

The problem begins with a fire that badly burnt the relic in 1532, leaving several holes burned on the shroud. Two years later artisans filled them in with a technique called invisible mending. Most likely the tested fibers were from the artisan's repairs, rather than the original cloth. Another circumstance casting doubt on the sample was possible contamination from repeated handling throughout the centuries, skewing the radiocarbon results.

Earlier this year Gianni Barcaccia and pals got their hands on the dust vacuumed off the fibers in 1978, hoping trace the artifact's travels. Over the centuries it's picked up pollen, dust, and other particles from around the globe. Using DNA testing, they've turned up some interesting discoveries. Either the cloth's from medieval times, coming into contact from people from around the world. Or the Shroud of Turin is from the mideast, travelling around the Mediterranean, qne being exposed to different people over a longer time span suggesting it's much older than believed.

Stranger still, Barcaccia and company found data suggesting another hypothesis.

One obvious possibility is that during the course of centuries, individuals of Indian ancestry came into contact with TS. Taking into account the rate of DNA degradation and PCR-biases toward undamaged DNA, the recent contamination scenario is extremely likely. However, one alternative and intriguing possibility is that the linen cloth was weaved in India, as supported perhaps by the original name of TS - Sindon - which appears to derive from Sindia or Sindien, a fabric coming from India.

Check out the full text of Uncovering the sources of DNA found on the Turin Shroud at Nature.

Return to Antikythera: Team Goes in Search of More Lost Treasures of Antiquity

In 1900 Greek sponge divers located the wreck of an ancient Greek ship near Antikythera Island, which is thought to have sunk over 2000 years ago. They salvaged a large number of treasures from the wreck, including hundreds of bronze and marble statues, and more famously, the remains of a mysterious device that has become known as the 'Antikythera Mechanism'. This advanced clockwork machine turned out be "a complex mechanical 'computer' which tracked astronomical phenomena and the cycles of the Solar System."

However, since the original salvage, very little further investigation of the wreck had been done until a new team - under the banner of 'Return to Antikythera' - resumed investigations in October 2012. The latest expedition has just begun, and you can keep up with the latest developments at the website as they are posting updates from the wreck.

What does the wreck still hold? Locals on Antikythera tell tales of giant marble statues lying beyond the sponge divers’ reach. Records from the 1901 salvage indicate at least one large marble statue was dropped during recovery operations, and there are hints that others were dragged into deeper water under the mistaken belief they were just boulders. Meanwhile, ancient technology geeks like us wonder whether the site might be hiding another Antikythera mechanism, more pieces of the original, or at least some clues as to whom this mysterious object belonged to.

For those seeking a more detailed exploration of the history and possible functions of the Antikythera Mechanism, grab a copy of Decoding the Heavens: A 2000-Year-Old Computer and the Century-long Search to Discover Its Secrets, by Jo Marchant.

Link: Return to Antikythera

Beebs of the Gods: Graham Hancock on BBC News

Graham Hancock made an appearance on BBC News yesterday to discuss his recently-released book, Magicians of the Gods [Amazon US & UK].

I can already envision Zahi's screen all smeared in orange juice and Earl Grey...

Previously:

Superhenge: Archaeologists Discover Massive Megalithic Site That May Predate Stonehenge

Durrington Walls Superhenge

British researchers have discovered the remains of a major new prehistoric stone monument that dwarfs the nearby, more well-known site of Stonehenge. Using non-invasive remote sensing technologies, the 'Stonehenge Hidden Landscapes Project' team found evidence for a row of up to 90 standing stones - some of which may have originally stood 4.5 metres in height - beneath the massive bank of a henge later raised over the top of the megaliths, burying them out of sight for millennia.

The discovery was made at Durrington Walls, one of the largest known henge monuments (measuring 500m in diameter), which is thought to have been built around 4,500 years ago.

Although none of the stones have yet been excavated a unique sarsen standing stone, "The Cuckoo Stone", remains in the adjacent field and this suggests that other stones may have come from local sources.

...Previous, intensive study of the area around Stonehenge had led archaeologists to believe that only Stonehenge and a smaller henge at the end of the Stonehenge Avenue possessed significant stone structures. The latest surveys now provide evidence that Stonehenge's largest neighbour, Durrington Walls, had an earlier phase which included a large row of standing stones probably of local origin and that the context of the preservation of these stones is exceptional and the configuration unique to British archaeology.

Location of new Superhenge

The discovery of these buried megaliths has significant implications for British archaeology. As the enclosure at Durrington Walls was built about a century after the Stonehenge sarsen circle, the newly discovered stone row is likely from an earlier period than this. With evidence of up to 90 stones discovered, some of massive size, this could demonstrate an earlier phase of megalithic architecture previously unrecognised.

The discovery also reimagines the landscape that was already in place when Stonehenge was being constructed.

"This discovery of a major new stone monument, which has been preserved to a remarkable extent, has significant implications for our understanding of Stonehenge and its landscape setting," said Professor Vince Gaffney, one of the archaeologists leading the project. "Not only does this new evidence demonstrate a completely unexpected phase of monumental architecture at one of the greatest ceremonial sites in prehistoric Europe, the new stone row could well be contemporary with the famous Stonehenge sarsen circle or even earlier."

This new discovery - see computer-visualisation below - will quite literally rewrite the history of books of Great Britain.

(h/t Fintan)

Time Travel Rookie Error: Aiming at Days That Never Existed

Rookie Time Travel Error

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In the year 1752, British and (soon-to-be) American citizens went to bed on the night of September 2nd...and all woke up on September 14th. How did they lose 11 days?

From Roman times, the Western world had worked with a calendar developed by Julius Caesar - the 'Julian Calendar'. But this calendar wasn't perfectly accurate, with its years actually being around 11 minutes out. Which isn't so bad over a few years, but after a millennium or two adds up to days.

By 1582 the mistake had multiplied out to 10 days, and the Catholic Church didn't like what it was doing to the timing of Easter. So Pope Gregory XIII instituted a new calendar - the one we use today (the Gregorian calendar) - but to do so the error needed to be corrected. Pope Gregory therefore decreed that that October 4th 1582 would become October 15th.

Protestants weren't such big fans of the Catholics, so they weren't about to listen to any papal decrees. It took them another 170 years to start instituting the change to the Gregorian calendar, with Britain and its colonies (including the soon to be United States) not changing over until 1752.

By that time, the error in the Julian calendar had built up to 11 days - so to fix the problem, in 1752 September 2nd was immediately followed by September 14th. Children with birth certificates showing each of those two dates were only born a day apart.

And if that isn't confusing enough: at that time the year began on March 25th, but with the calendar revision this was shifted to January 1 - so the year 1752 ran from March 25 to December 31, with September only being 19 days long as well.

This change in calendar results in some odd historical quirks, such as George Washington's birth certificate showing that he was born on February 11, 1731, while his birthday is now celebrated by us on February 22nd, 1732.

An important historical note to remember when setting the dates on your DeLorean!

Introducing 'Magicians of the Gods'

If you thought the last cool thing worth waiting for in 2015 was the release of Episode VII, you're probably not a fan of Alternative History.

For us, there's the long-awaited publication of Graham Hancock's Magicians of the Gods --September 10 in the UK, one month later in the US-- 20 years after his international bet-seller Fingerprints of the Gods implanted the seed for a paradigm shift in our appreciation of the ancient past; a seed which has flourished and blossomed not only because of the Graham's international acclaim, but also because of the archeological evidence discovered after "Fingerprints..." which have proved his basic thesis --the existence of an advanced civilization of megalithic builders, with great knowledge of mathematics and astronomy, which was destroyed after the end of the last Ice Age but not before managing to inculcate their knowledge all around our planet-- to be very much on the right track.

Even though he rightly points out how ours is a species suffering from amnesia, I truly believe Graham's name has secured an enduring place in the annals of History; if nothing else, for inspiring an entire generation to look at our ancient legacy --our heritage as human beings and inhabitants of this wonderful and troubled world-- with fresh new eyes; offering us a vantage view from which to appreciate where we came from, how we got here, and where we are destined to go... if we deign to learn the lessons of our forefathers, that is.

You can pre-order your copy of Magicians of the Gods by clicking here.

Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century

Stranger Than We Can Imagine Book Cover

A breathtakingly lucid and coherent map of the tectonic shifts which drastically reshaped the human psyche, and the human world, within a hundred thrilling, terrifying years [and which] leaves us asking ourselves how we could have missed so much about the wider implications of a time we lived through. An illuminating work of massive insight, I cannot recommend this magnificent work too highly.

-Alan Moore

When Alan Moore describes a book - Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century - in such an effusive manner, you can bet that it's going to be a fantastic read. And when the author is our good friend John Higgs, and the subject is a tour of the backwaters of history and science, you can double down on that bet. John's the writing genius behind, among others, two brilliant non-fiction books on counter-culture icons Timothy Leary (I Have America Surrounded) and The KLF (KLF: Chaos Magic Music Money), as well as a couple of wonderful 'strange fiction' books (The Brandy of the Damned and The First Church on the Moon).

If you've read John's non-fiction, you'll know how adept he is at illustrating history in a different light, by finding and connecting various esoteric moments via synchronicities and hidden history. If you haven't, see as an example his Darklore 7 article "From Operation Mindf**k to The White Room: The Strange Discordian Journey of the KLF" (PDF), or more quickly this article I wrote discussing some of the wonderfully odd material about Doctor Who covered in John's KLF book.

John's a long-time collaborator and friend - he's contributed to multiple Darklore releases - and was closely involved with the Cosmic Trigger revival last year in the UK. But even if I only knew him through his writing, this would likely be the book release of the year for me - so I can't recommend this highly enough. And I'm not the only one - apart from Alan Moore's high praise, Stranger Than We Can Imagine is already getting big ups from many quarters, from New Scientist to Robin Ince.

The book is released today in the UK (later this year in the Americas, but since when do geographical boundaries bother us anymore?), so head to Amazon UK and grab a copy, stat! For those interested, here's the blurb:

The twentieth century should make sense. It's the period of history that we know the most about, an epic geo-political narrative that runs through World War One, the great depression, World War Two, the American century and the fall of the Berlin Wall. But somehow that story doesn't quite lead into the world we find ourselves in now, this bewildering twenty-first century, adrift in a network of constant surveillance, unsustainable competition, tsunamis of trivia and extraordinary opportunity.

Time, then, for a new perspective. With John Higgs as our guide, we step off the main path and wander through some of the more curious backwaters of the twentieth century, exploring familiar and unfamiliar territory alike, finding fresh insight on our journey to the present day. We travel in the company of some of the most radical artists, scientists, geniuses and crazies of their age. They show us that great innovations such as relativity, cubism, quantum mechanics, postmodernism and chaos maths are not the incomprehensible, abstract horrors that we assume them to be, but signposts that bring us to the world we live in now.

John Higgs brings us an alternative history of the strangest of centuries. He shows us how the elegant, clockwork universe of the Victorians became increasingly woozy and uncertain; and how we discovered that our world is not just stranger than we imagine but, in the words of Sir Arthur Eddington, 'stranger than we can imagine'.

For those wanting to learn more about the book, check out John's recent appearance on the Little Atoms radio show. And to put a face to the name - and learn a little bit along the way - see John's talk about Robert Anton Wilson embedded below.

Link: Stranger Than We Can Imagine: Making Sense of the Twentieth Century on Amazon

Has an Egyptologist Discovered the Lost Tomb of Nefertiti?

Is this Nefertiti's Tomb

Few archaeological discoveries have captured the public's imagination more than Tutankhamun's tomb. Since Howard Carter first uncovered the lost burial site of the boy pharaoh, people have marvelled at the artefacts recovered, spun myths about the curse of Tutankhamun, and speculated about how he died.

But King Tut's tomb may hold one more object of fascination - indeed, something that would likely be considered a more important archaeological moment than the discovery of his own tomb: the whereabouts of the lost tomb of the iconic queen of the 18th dynasty, Nefertiti.

Egyptologist Nicolas Reeves has put forward the startling theory that Nefertiti may lie buried right beside Tut's tomb. His interest was piqued when he noticed a number of fissures and cracks in the walls of Tutankhamun's burial chamber, suggesting the presence of passages that had been blocked and plastered to conceal their existence:

One of these would probably lead to a storeroom; its position and small size mirror that of an already-uncovered storeroom inside the multi-chambered tomb. The other, bigger possible doorway in the north wall of Tutankhamun’s burial chamber suggests something much more exciting.

There are several oddities about Tutankhamun’s tomb. It is small compared with others in the valley. The objects found in it, while magnificent, seemed hurriedly placed and were found to be largely second-hand; even the boy-king’s famous gilded funerary mask sports the strangely unmanly feature of pierced ears. The tomb’s main axis is angled to the right of the entrance shaft, an arrangement typical of Egyptian queens rather than kings.

Noting that the bigger of the two doorways he may have located aligns perfectly with both sides of the tomb’s entrance chamber, Mr Reeves thinks it could conceal a corridor continuing along the same axis, in the scale and shape of other nearby royal tombs. All this, as well as evidence that the tomb’s decoration and construction were executed at different stages, leads him to conclude that this corridor would lead to the burial chamber of a queen, or perhaps several princesses.

Link: A tantalising clue to the location of a long-sought pharaonic tomb

Twelve Metre Long Monolith Found Off the Sicilian Coast Is At Least 9000 Years Old

12 metre monolith on the sea floor off Italy

Things just keep getting older: A new paper in the Journal of Archaeological Science has claimed the discovery of a man-made 12 metre long monolith on the bottom of the sea-floor between the island of Sicily and the Tunisian coastline.

Researchers believe the site was abandoned as it was inundated by the rising sea at the end of the last Ice Age, almost 10,000 years ago (although they seem careful not to suggest when the monolith may have been created...though one of their samples appears to date to around 40,000 B.P.?).

The discovery was made at 'Adventure Plateau' - the shallowest part of the entire Sicilian Channel, but a location that saw the most dramatic and intense consequences of changing sea levels at the time. During the Last Glacial Maximum, the area formed a southern peninsula of the Sicilian mainland.

The monolith, found at a water depth of 40 metres, is broken into two parts, and has what appear to be three regular-sized holes bored into it, one which passes right through, and two others part-way through midway along it.

Various angles of the monolith

The massive stone was first discovered in late 2012, when detailed sonar sea-floor surveys were conducted in the area. Follow-up scans encouraged researchers to send divers down in 2013 and 2014, who collected rock samples and took around 8 hours of video.

After analysis of various aspects of the discovery, the researchers concluded that the block was made by human hands:

From the data we have here presented and analysed, it can be inferred that the monolith discovered in the PVB is not a natural feature, but man-made. The elements that combine to formulate this interpretation can be listed as follows:

  • the monolith has a rather regular shape;
  • the monolith has three regular holes of similar diameter: one that crosses it completely on its top, and another two at two sides of the monolith; there are no reasonable known natural processes that may produce these elements;
  • the monolith is made from stone other than those which constitute all the neighbouring outcrops, and is quite isolated with respect to them; and
  • the lithology and age of the rock that makes up the monolith are similar to those that make up the blocks of the rectilinear ridge closing the embayment.

The presence of the monolith suggests extensive human activity in the PVB. It was cut and extracted as a single stone from the outer rectilinear ridge situated about 300 m to the south, and then transported and possibly erected. From the size of the monolith, we may presume that it weights about 15 t.

The researchers noted that as a consequence of the discovery, "the belief that our ancestors lacked the knowledge, skill and technology to exploit marine resources or make sea crossings, must be progressively abandoned...recent findings of submerged archaeology have definitively removed the idea of “technological primitivism” often attributed to hunter-gatherers coastal settlers."

Image showing the flooding of the area

Readers of alternative historian Graham Hancock's 2003 book Underworld: Flooded Kingdoms of the Ice Age might be interested in the conclusion reached by these researchers in 2015: that "the vast majority of marine geophysicist and archaeologists have now realized that to trace the origins of civilization in the Mediterranean region, it is necessary to focus research in the now submerged shelf areas."

Obviously, further investigation and debate will be required before this discovery is confirmed. Will this monolith be consigned to the 'mystery' category along with other underwater sites such as Yonaguni and Bimini Road, or will it completely rewrite the history books like Göbekli Tepe?

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Migration Mystery: Genetic Study Links Native Americans in the Amazon to Indigenous Australians

Surui tribesman from the Amazon

A new study has found that Native Americans in the Amazon bear an unexpected genetic connection to indigenous people of Australasia. The results suggest a previously unknown wave of migration to the Americas thousands of years ago:

“It’s incredibly surprising,” said David Reich, Harvard Medical School professor of genetics and senior author of the study. “There’s a strong working model in archaeology and genetics, of which I have been a proponent, that most Native Americans today extend from a single pulse of expansion south of the ice sheets—and that’s wrong. We missed something very important in the original data.”

Previous research had shown that Native Americans from the Arctic to the southern tip of South America can trace their ancestry to a single “founding population” called the First Americans, who came across the Bering land bridge about 15,000 years ago. In 2012, Reich and colleagues enriched this history by showing that certain indigenous groups in northern Canada inherited DNA from at least two subsequent waves of migration.

The new study, published July 21 in Nature, indicates that there’s more to the story.

Researcher Pontus Skoglund was studying genetic data gathered as part of a previous study when he noticed the link between a couple of Native American groups in Brazil and indigenous groups in Australasia. Reich admitted that it was “an unexpected and somewhat confusing result...we spent a really long time trying to make this result go away and it just got stronger.”

After looking into this link further, they found that the Tupí-speaking Suruí and Karitiana, and the Ge-speaking Xavante of the Amazon shared a common ancestor - no longer in existence - more closely related to indigenous Australasians than any other present-day population, though no traces of this ancestor's genetic lineage were found in other Native American groups in South, Central or North America.

While the migration route of this ancestral group remains a mystery, the study proposes that 'Population Y' came down from the ice sheets along with the First Americans, forming the two founding populations of the Americas.

Link: Genetic studies link indigenous peoples in the Amazon and Australasia

(h/t @AnomalistNews)

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