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Saturday, 27 November 2010

Miracles of life, 2010

Today:

  1. Dolphins learn to 'walk on water'
  2. How smart are killer whales? Orcas have 2nd-biggest brains of all marine mammals
  3. Heroic altruistic ants face death alone to save colony
  4. Ravens console each other after fights 
  5. Scientists discover first multicellular life that doesn't need oxygen (!!!)
  6. World's largest, most complex marine virus is major player in ocean ecosystems: researce
  7.  First case of animals making their own carotene
As you can see today's edition is dedicated to life in all of its forms and complexity. Enjoy!

Dolphins learn to 'walk on water'

By Matt Walker, Editor, Earth News 
Wild dolphins in Australia are naturally learning to "walk" on water.
Six dolphins have now been seen mastering the technique - furiously paddling their tail fluke, forcing their body out and across the water.
The dolphins seem to walk on water for fun, as it has no other obvious benefit, say scientists working for the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.
That makes the behaviour a rare example of animals "culturally transmitting" a playful rather than foraging behaviour.
Only a few species are known to create their own culture - defined as the sharing or transmitting of specific novel behaviours or traditions between a community of animals.
The discovery was made by Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) scientist Dr Mike Bossley, who has spent 24 years studying dolphins living in the Port River in Adelaide, Australia.
In past years, Dr Bossley has witnessed two wild adult female dolphins, named Billie and Wave for research purposes, attempting to walk on water.
Now four other dolphins, including young infants, have been recorded trying to learn the trick from the two adults, and have been seen practising, less successfully, in the river.
The behaviour, when a dolphin beats its tail fluke repeatedly, so it lifts its body vertically out of the water and then along the surface, is more commonly seen among captive dolphins trained to perform tricks.
A composite image showing Bianca the dolphin attempting to tail-walk on 10 Oct, 2010
A composite image showing Bianca the dolphin attempting to tail-walk on 10 Oct, 2010
In the wild it is extremely rare.
 source 
My comment: It's absolutely amazing how little we know about non-human intelligence. And I think that this article leave very little place for doubt about the intelligence of dolphins. Because while many species are observed until now to use tools and show creativity when it comes to food, not so much do that just for fun. Although that's not completely truth since I have seen baby goats do tricks just for the fun of it. But then the behavior do not pass over to different generations. The mother goat doesn't show new tricks to her babies. While dolphins do. Which maybe make them unique. Or maybe not. Because the more we observe the subtler demonstration of intelligence we find in all species.

How smart are killer whales? Orcas have 2nd-biggest brains of all marine mammals

March 8, 2010 By Kevin Spear
Neuroscientist Lori Marino and a team of researchers explored the brain of a dead killer whale with an MRI and found an astounding potential for intelligence.

Killer whales, or orcas, have the second-biggest brains among all ocean mammals, weighing as much as 15 pounds. It's not clear whether they are as well-endowed with as humans, but scientists have found they are amazingly well-wired for sensing and analyzing their watery, three-dimensional environment.
Scientists are trying to better understand how killer whales are able to learn local dialects, teach one another specialized methods of hunting and pass on behaviors that can persist for generations -- longer possibly than seen with any other species except humans.
These researchers have yet to find evidence that an orca in the wild has ever killed a person.
Human interaction with captive killer whales has come under scrutiny since Feb. 24, when a large male orca with a checkered past killed a trainer at SeaWorld Orlando by dragging her into a tank.
Years of tediously difficult research has given scientists some understanding of killer whales -- but also has made them aware of how little they know about the creatures.For starters, there's puzzlement over exactly how to categorize them.
They swim the world's oceans -- they are more widely distributed than any whale, dolphin or porpoise -- in at least three distinct populations. There are fish-eating orcas that stay in one area, flesh-eaters that wander more widely along coasts, and a third group that roams the deep-blue waters.
The three groups have starkly different diets, languages, hunting techniques and manners of behaving around other marine life, and they don't seem to interact much with one another.

Yet the orcas' DNA tells a different story. Instead of the world's varied populations having genetics that spread outward like a tree with several main branches, theirs is but a single, nearly straight trunk, except for a mismatched pair of genes here and there.
If genetic variety isn't what makes these killer-whale groups so different, scientists suspect, their enormous brains might be the telltale factor.Hal Whitehead, a biology professor at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, awakened the world of cetacean research in 2001 when he co-authored a controversial paper that suggested no species other than humans are as "cultural" as orcas."Culture is about learning from others," Whitehead said. "A cultural species starts behaving differently than a species where everything is determined genetically."
One example of a killer-whale culture, he said, is the teaching of a particularly difficult and dangerous hunting technique observed by researchers on Antarctic islands. They watched as mothers repeatedly pushed their young onto beaches in pursuit of seals and sometimes had to drag their stranded young back into the water.
" also are quite conservative animals," he added. "If this is the way they do things, then they are quite loath to do it another way."That last point, he said, is important to consider when it comes to orcas held in captivity.
Equally remarkable to researchers is the orca's ability to communicate with whistles and pulsed calls, and to "see" by making a clicking sound that works like sonar.Many cetaceans -- whales, dolphins and porpoises included -- have these abilities to some degree. But orcas learn local and complex languages that are retained for many generations. And their bio-sonar, or echolocation, abilities also amaze researchers.
Professor Whitlow Au, of the University of Hawaii's Marine Mammal Research Program, finished a study recently adding to evidence that orcas can use their bio-sonar not just to find fish in murky water and not just to single out salmon, but to identify their favorite meal: Chinook salmon.
Sam Ridgway, a neurobiologist and research veterinarian at San Diego's National Marine Mammal Foundation, which works for the Navy, said the orca brain has a relatively smaller amount of cerebral cortex -- the gray matter involved in memory, attention and thought -- than the human brain does. But it has large-diameter myelinated axons, which carry nerve impulses."The bigger the axon, the faster the nerve impulses travel."
Patrick Hof, vice chairman of the Department of Neuroscience at New York's Mount Sinai School of Medicine, summed up the orca noodle as a "big brain, a really big brain" with enormous capacity.
 source 
My comment: Very interesting. I didn't have any idea how complex orcas society actually is. I knew they take care of the offspring together, but that was all. If they have different languages and habits and all those capacity for intellect, I don't understand how it could be allowed for people to keep them in captivity. We need to study them and sometimes watching them in their natural habitat is not enough, but should we keep them for entertainment? Basically, we make slaves of them. And that's so sad.

Heroic altruistic ants face death alone to save colony

By Matt Walker Editor, Earth News

Ants live altruistically, but some die altruistically too.
When ants of the species Temnothorax unifasciatus get sick, they abandon their nest, walking far away from their relatives to die alone.
They perform this act of heroism to prevent the illness that is killing them from spreading to the colony.
The discovery, published in Current Biology, is the first time that such behaviour has been shown in ants or any other social insect.
Such behaviour has been reported in dogs, cats, elephants and even people.
But because it happens occasionally, it cannot be quantifiably studied.
So Prof Heinze decided to set up an experiment to study the phenomenon in ants, which he also noticed would occasionally leave the colony for no apparent reason.
The researchers exposed a colony of Temnothorax unifasciatus ants reared in their laboratory to the spores of a lethal parasitic fungus called Metarhizium anisopliae.
Most of the workers who died from the fungal infection permanently left the nest hours or days before death, and died in a foraging area far from their nest mates.
"Our study suggests that infected ants at least in some species walk away from a colony and die alone, rather than risk infecting others," Prof Heinze told the BBC.
Crucially, the researchers were able to rule out the possibility that the fungus itself caused the diseased ants to walk away.
Many parasites manipulate their hosts in order to increase their own transmission.
Flu viruses make people cough, while in ants, one cordyceps fungus effectively turns its victims into zombies, impelling ants to climb up a stem where they die.

But by exposing the ants to CO2, the researchers artificially reduced their lifespan.
Uninfected ants who survived this treatment, but still knew they would die prematurely, also left the nest before death took hold, proving the fungus itself did not drive them out.
"Another interesting finding was that the workers left the nest voluntarily and were not carried away by other workers," he writes in the same issue of the journal. By choosing to face death alone, the ants were making a truly altruistic act.
That is important because the exact opposite has been found in the bumblebee, another social insect.
Bees infected by fly larvae move out of the hive into colder air.
But in doing so, the cold temperatures slow the lifecycle of the parasite.
So the infected bees are actually trying to extend their own lives, rather than save their nest mates.
The heroic act by the terminally ill ants is the latest in a line of extraordinary behaviours discovered among social insects.
In order to help protect close relatives, termites have been found to explode during fights, bees die after stinging, while the members of another species of ant have been found to condemn themselves to death by sealing in a nesting colony from the outside. source
My comment: How about that?! I think the line between humans and all other species gets tinner with every new discovery. After all, how much people would go away from their home and city, to die alone, just to be able to save the others? Few will do it. But not everyone. So it's amazing the little ants do that automatically. Amazing and little sad. 

Ravens console each other after fights

May 18, 2010 by Lin Edwards
 (PhysOrg.com) -- A new study investigating the behavior of ravens has found strong evidence that after conflicts bystanders appear to console and relieve the distress of victims with whom they have a relationship, and that victims are likely to seek affiliations with bystanders. The results suggest ravens may be sensitive to the emotions of others.
Many species of birds fight aggressively from time to time over resources, to assert , and so on, but such conflicts can waste valuable energy, cause injuries, and damage relationships that are usually mutually beneficial. One way of reducing the cost of conflicts is through reconciliation and through consoling victims, but until relatively recently such behaviors were thought to be unique to humans.
Previous studies of rooks have shown that pair-bonded birds do show such behaviors, so the researchers chose ravens to see if the same kinds of behaviors occurred in birds that were not paired, because ravens live up to ten years in socially complex before pairing off.
A statistical analysis of the observations showed the affiliations were randomly timed and did not appear to be a deliberate attempt to reduce the tension. Victims soliciting affiliations were at greater risk of renewed aggression by their attacker immediately after conflict, but if they solicited affiliations from other members of the flock renewed aggression was less likely to occur. The researchers also found that victims did not attack other birds, so there was little risk involved in approaching them, and many members of the flock offered affiliation spontaneously, especially if they were related or regularly spent a lot of time together. Surprisingly, unsolicited affiliations did not reduce the likelihood of renewed aggression.
 source
My comment:Interesting, but I wonder if the statistics actually points to compassion and so on or to merely random affiliation between individual birds. But still, I find it interesting that even birds can show compassion. After all, they are so small. But it's very interesting that the victims affiliate with bystanders and not with aggressors, as one would naively expect. Obviously whatever they fight for is important enough to keep them separated.  

Scientists discover first multicellular life that doesn't need oxygen

April 7, 2010 by Lisa Zyga
PhysOrg.com) -- Oxygen may not be the staple of modern complex life that scientists once thought. Until now, the only life forms known to live exclusively in anoxic conditions were viruses, bacteria and Archaea. But in a new study, scientists have discovered three new multicellular marine species that appear to have never lived in aerobic conditions, and never metabolized oxygen.
The discovery of the new species, which live buried in sediment under the Mediterranean , is significant in that it marks the first observation of multicellular organisms, or metazoans, that spend their entire lifecycle under permanently anoxic conditions. A few metazoans have been known to tolerate anoxic conditions, but only for limited periods of time.
The team of Italian and Danish researchers, Roberto Danovaro, et al., that discovered the new life forms has identified the creatures as belonging to the animal phylum Loricifera, the most recently described animal phylum. Loriciferans, which have a length of less than one millimeter, typically live in sediment. The three new organisms belong to different genera (Spinoloricus, Rugiloricus, and Pliciloricus), although their species have not yet been named.
Despite belonging to previously known taxonomic groups, the new species possess some radical differences compared with other metazoans. Most significantly, the new species do not have mitochondria, the cellular organelles that use and sugar to generate the cell’s energy. Instead, the new loriciferans have organelles that resemble hydrogenosomes, which are used by some single-celled eukaryotes to generate energy without oxygen. However, this is the first time that these organelles have been observed in multicellular organisms. Previous research has indicated that hydrogenosomes may have evolved from mitochondria, while other research suggests they evolved independently.
The researchers focused on an area called the L’Atalante basin, which is located off the southern coast of Greece. As the scientists explain, this type of “deep hypersaline anoxic basin” was created by the flooding of mineral sediments from 5.5 million years ago. For the past 50,000 years, the basin has possessed a dense hypersaline brine layer up to 60 meters thick. The brine serves as a physical barrier that prohibits oxygen exchange between the water and , making the basin completely oxygen-free. In addition, the basin is rich in methane and hydrogen sulphide, and is also home to a diverse assembly of prokaryotes that have adapted to these conditions.
Because previous studies have reported the presence of cadaverous metazoans that had sunk to anoxic deep-sea sediments in the Black Sea, the researchers here stained the newly collected specimens with Rose Bengal, a protein binding stain that colors living organisms with a much greater intensity than deceased organisms, demonstrating that the new species were indeed alive. In addition, the scientists observed specimens of the undescribed species of both genera Spinoloricus and Rugiloricus that had a large oocyte in their ovary, which showed a nucleus containing a nucleolus, providing evidence of reproduction. source
My comment: WOW! I didn't know that lurks underneath the Black Sea. I had suspicions about the flooding of Black Sea, but that's much more than I ever hoped for. Because if you think about it, that organism is hardly Earh-like. For a little explanation, Black Sea depths are like very few other places on the world (another example are the blue holes on the Bahamas) - they are essentially deadly for anything we know. There's no oxigen, only methan and sulfur. It's the closest thing to alien world with normal temperature we can imagine on Earth. And still, there are living organisms in it! What's more, this is a multicellular oragnism. I wonder if there are bigger organisms as well. And what kind of odd creatures they will be! But in any case, if we believe the theory that the Black Sea was flooded approximately 5-7000 years ago, that means that we observed evolution in under 10 000 years! How cool is that! 

World's largest, most complex marine virus is major player in ocean ecosystems: research

October 25, 2010
UBC researchers have identified the world's largest marine virus--an unusually complex 'mimi-like virus' that infects an ecologically important and widespread planktonic predator.
Cafeteria roenbergensis has a genome larger than those found in some cellular organisms, and boasts genetic complexity that blurs the distinction between "non-living" and "living" entities.
"Virus are classically thought of small, simple organisms in terms of the number of genes they carry," says UBC professor Curtis Suttle, an expert in marine microbiology and environmental virology and lead author of the study.
"Much of the we found in this virus you would only expect to find in living, cellular organisms, including many genes required to produce DNA, RNA, proteins and sugars."
The findings are reported in this week's issue of the .
Viruses cannot replicate outside of living host cells and they depend on proteins provided by the cell, a boundary that is often used to delineate "non-living" from "living" organisms. Giant viruses challenge this definition, as they still need a cell to replicate, but encode in their own genome most of the proteins required for replication.
Discovered in Texas coastal waters in the early 1990s, Curtis and his team where able to determine that the pathogen's genome contains approximately 730,000 base pairs. That makes Cafeteria roenbergensis virus the largest known marine virus, and the second largest known virus, after the fresh water-borne Acanthamoeba polyphaga , which weighs in at 1.2 million base pairs.
Cafeteria roenbergensis virus also infects a major marine zooplankter which occupies a key position in marine food webs.source
My comment: 730 000 base pairs. Pretty big virus is that. As I already have said, I think we know way too little about viruses and their role in the life cycle. So every new discovery is another door opened to our understanding of life itself. 


First case of animals making their own carotene

April 29, 2010

The insects known as aphids can make their own essential nutrients called carotenoids, according to University of Arizona researchers.

No other animals are known to make the potent antioxidants. Until now scientists thought the only way animals could obtain the orangey-red compounds was from their diet. source




 

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Electrodes melt in between you brain and more, 2010

Mars, people! Mars!
Image: Chocolate Hills

NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell

source

Today:
  1. Hopes soar for burn victims as 'mother' of all skin cells found
  2. Gene bandage rejuvenates wasted muscle
  3. Chemical cocktail affects humans and the environment
  4. A brain-recording device that melts into place
  5. MEMS device generates power from body heat
  6. Bladeless wind turbine inspired by Tesla

Hopes soar for burn victims as 'mother' of all skin cells found

Scientists have found the "mother", or origin, of all skin cells and say their discovery could dramatically improve skin treatments for victims of wounds and burns.

Hans Clevers and a team of Dutch and Swedish researchers conducted a study in mice and found that Lrg6, the stem cell that produces all the different cells of the skin, actually lives in hair follicles.

The findings, which they say will translate for human use, mean it may be possible to harness these stem cells to help with wound repair or skin transplants for burns victims, they said in a study in the Science journal on Thursday.

The skin has three different populations of cells — hair follicles, moisturizing sebaceous glands, and the tissue in between, known as the interfollicular epidermis.

Clevers said the advantage offered by the "mother" stem cell finding would be that they could grow skin from its original basis — allowing it to be "real new skin" with moisture from sebaceous glands and the ability to grow hair. He said experts now need to learn how to isolate the Lrg6 cells from human skin. source

My comment: Cool! Really, really cool. I had burns, I know how difficult they heal and how painful they are. So as always, this is a great hope for better medicine. Just not on what strange place they found it. In the hair!

Gene bandage rejuvenates wasted muscle

Around 1 in 3500 boys are born with DMD, the result of mutations in a gene on the X chromosome for the protein dystrophin. Boys with DMD tend to need wheelchairs by age 12 and die of cardiac or respiratory failure before they reach 30.
Rather than trying to correct the genetic defects, Wilton's team created nucleic acid snippets that bind to sections of messenger RNA corresponding to the DMD mutations. If injected, these bandages cause the mutations, which normally prevent dystrophin production, to be skipped over during protein-making.
In 2003 the approach seemed to work in mice. In 2009, injecting the snippets into the foot muscle of seven boys with DMD triggered dystrophin production there. Now the team has injected the snippets into the blood of 20 boys with DMD.
Last week, Wilton told the World Congress of Internal Medicine in Melbourne, Australia, that tissue biopsies suggest dystrophin is being produced throughout the bodies of boys who received high doses of the bandage.
It is not yet clear if the dystrophin will increase the boys' muscle strength, but Wilton points out it did in animals.  source
My comment: Nice, huh?! I love telling about working treatments. Because most of the time, there are announcements of great breakthrough that need years or decades to reach common people. Well, this one is almost there. 

Chemical cocktail affects humans and the environment

March 29, 2010
Throughout our lives we are exposed to an enormous range of man-made chemicals, from food, water, medicines, cosmetics, clothes, shoes and the air we breathe. At the request of the EU, researchers at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have looked at the risk of "chemical cocktails" and have proposed a number of measures that need to be implemented in the current practice of chemical risk assessment.
In 2005 an American study showed that newborn babies have an average of 200 non-natural chemicals in their blood - including pesticides, dioxins, and . In a Swedish study, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences found 57 different pesticides in Swedish rivers and streams, many of them occurring simultaneously. However, the effects of chemicals on humans and the environment are traditionally evaluated on the basis of single substances, chemical by chemical.


The European Commission has been tasked with producing recommendations in 2010 on how combinations of hormone-disrupting substances should be dealt with on the basis of existing legislation, and with assessing suitable legislative changes in 2011.


In order to map out the current situation, researchers from the University of Gothenburg and the University of London carried out a review of the state of the art of mixture toxicology and ecotoxicology. The study showed that all the relevant research is unambiguous: the combined "cocktail effect" of is greater and more toxic than the effect of the chemicals individually.


"Assessing every conceivable combination is not therefore realistic, and predictive approaches must be implemented in risk assessment. " source
My comment: Any surprise here? No, not at all. We all know that chemical cocktails ought to react different with out body that the single chemicals in them. But nobody researched and nobody cared, because nobody wanted to put breaks to the overgrowing chemical industry. Well, happy us, now we have a boom of cancers, allergies and weird diseases. Obviously we cannot ban every chemical cocktail, because that will bring us back 2 centuries ago. What we can do is to at least take the most frequent combinations and to study them in detail. And then to look for patterns and to build models. If we want to keep humans and Nature healthy and safe, that is.

A brain-recording device that melts into place

April 18, 2010

Scientists have developed a brain implant that essentially melts into place, snugly fitting to the brain's surface. The technology could pave the way for better devices to monitor and control seizures, and to transmit signals from the brain past damaged parts of the spinal cord.
The study, published in , shows that the ultrathin flexible implants, made partly from silk, can record more faithfully than thicker implants embedded with similar electronics.
The simplest devices for recording from the brain are needle-like electrodes that can penetrate deep into brain tissue. More state-of-the-art devices, called micro-electrode arrays, consist of dozens of semi-flexible wire electrodes, usually fixed to rigid silicon grids that do not conform to the brain's shape.
In people with epilepsy, the arrays could be used to detect when seizures first begin, and deliver pulses to shut the seizures down. In people with injuries, the technology has promise for reading complex signals in the brain that direct movement, and routing those signals to healthy muscles or prosthetic devices.
"The focus of our study was to make ultrathin arrays that conform to the complex shape of the brain, and limit the amount of tissue damage and inflammation," said Brian Litt, M.D., an author on the study and an associate professor of neurology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine in Philadelphia. The silk-based implants developed by Dr. Litt and his colleagues can hug the brain like shrink wrap, collapsing into its grooves and stretching over its rounded surfaces.
The implants contain metal electrodes that are 500 microns thick, or about five times the thickness of a human hair. The absence of sharp electrodes and rigid surfaces should improve safety, with less damage to brain tissue.
Recently, the team described a flexible silicon device for recording from the heart and detecting an abnormal heartbeat.
In the future, the researchers hope to design implants that are more densely packed with electrodes to achieve higher resolution recordings.sourceMy comment: That sounds very very creepy. I know it's a good research, good science and good product, but still, it's very very spooky to think of ultra-thin electrodes that melt in between you brain. Brrr. But from the other side, if they can help people with brain damage and/or to lead to new computer interface, I guess we'll have to swallow our disgust and say "Wepee".
More:

MEMS device generates power from body heat

April 29, 2010 By Lisa Zyga
(PhysOrg.com) -- In an attempt to develop a power source that is compact, environmentally friendly, and has an unlimited lifetime, a team of researchers from Singapore has fabricated an energy harvesting device that generates electricity from body heat or any environment where there is a temperature gradient. Their device, called a thermoelectric power generator, attaches to the body and generates a power output of a few microwatts, which could be useful for powering implanted medical devices and wireless sensors. source

Bladeless wind turbine inspired by Tesla

May 7, 2010 by Lisa Zyga

(PhysOrg.com) -- A bladeless wind turbine whose only rotating component is a turbine/driveshaft could generate power at a cost comparable to coal-fired power plants, according to its developers at Solar Aero. The New Hampshire-based company recently announced its patent on the Fuller wind turbine, which is an improvement on a patent issued to Nikola Tesla in 1913.

The bladeless wind turbine is completely enclosed in a relatively small compact unit. Instead of using wind-powered blades to rotate a shaft and generator, the Tesla-inspired design consists of an array of closely spaced, parallel, thin metal disks separated by spacers. When air flows in the spaces between the disks, the spacers are arranged in such a way as to provide inward momentum to the air, causing the disks to move. The disks are connected to a shaft by spokes, so that the rotating disks cause the shaft to rotate as well. As explained in the patent held by Howard Fuller, the turbine design “provides in converting to mechanical power.” source
My comment: That also sound pretty cool and I would gladly buy something like this. Big wind turbines are kind of ugly, something more compact will be more unobtrusive to the eye (and probably the ear). Though, with those serious investments in the wind power, I think the efficiency must be really really good in order for that product to earn money to the creators and to get introduced on the market. Well, good luck!


Sunday, 7 November 2010

Archaeological summer 2010, Part 1

Today:
  1. Important archaeological finds at Knossos
  2. Newly Discovered Archaeological Sites In India Reveals Ancient Life
  3. Ancient Texts Present Mayans As Literary Geniuses
  4. A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets
  5. 4,500-year-old Harappan settlement excavated in Kutch
  6. Bulgarian Archaeologists Make Breakthrough in Ancient Thrace Tomb
 Important archaeological finds at Knossos
Geophysical studies at Kefala Hill in the Knossos archaeological site on Crete island, have revealed findings of the most ancient farm houses in Greece, and perhaps in all of Europe, dating back between 7,000- 6,400 BC.source
My comment: Of course, we're not talking about anything GREEK, because during that time, there were no Greece in any form. That's a Pelasgians settlement and I think the news should announce that clearly. Even though if you read Wikipedia you get the impression those guys were some ancient Greeks - they weren't. Those are the inhabitants of the Balkans before the Greek arrived. And since they spoke similar languages and since some of the islands they lived on are proved to be Thracian we can safely assume that they belonged to the same group, if they weren't the same people. But anyway, they are not Greek.
Newly Discovered Archaeological Sites In India Reveals Ancient Life
LONDON, Feb 23, 2010 (Bernama) -- Newly discovered archaeological sites in southern and northern India have revealed how people lived before and after the colossal Toba volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago, according to Press Trust of India (PTI) on Tuesday.
"This suggests that human populations were present in India prior to 74,000 years ago, or about 15,000 years earlier than expected based on some genetic clocks," said project director Michael Petraglia, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford.
Stone tool analysis has revealed that the artefacts consist of cores and flakes, which are classified in India as Middle Palaeolithic and are similar to those made by modern humans in Africa.The fact that the Middle Palaeolithic tools of similar styles are found right before and after the Toba super-eruption, suggests that the people who survived the eruption were the same populations, using the same kinds of tools, says Petraglia.
The research agrees with evidence that other human ancestors, such as the Neanderthals in Europe and the small brained Hobbits in Southeastern Asia, continued to survive well after Toba. source
My comment: Ok, I never heard of Toba eruption but it hardly matters. What's important is that they keep on finding earlier and earlier signs of human life on Earth. I find this quite exciting.

Ancient Texts Present Mayans As Literary Geniuses

March 5, 2010
(PhysOrg.com) -- Literary critics, cultural scholars and aficionados of the Mayans, the only fully literate people of the pre-Columbian Americas, have lined up to call the first fully illustrated survey of two millennia of Mayan texts assembled by award-winning scholar Dennis Tedlock, "stunning," "astounding," "groundbreaking" and "literally breathtaking."

The book is "2000 Years of Mayan Literature," published in January by the University of California Press. Its author, a SUNY Distinguished Professor, James McNulty Chair in English and Research Professor in Anthropology at the University at Buffalo, has long been recognized as one of the world's principle experts in Mayan culture and literature.
In "2000 Years," a beautifully illustrated and highly readable book, Tedlock makes the intellectual world of the ancient Mayans visible and meaningful in distinctive new ways.
His most notable accomplishment is that he establishes for the first time that two millennia of Mayan writings produced in various writing systems and media -- from stone glyphs and paper documents produced in the post-Columbian Roman alphabet -- constitute a single literary history and tradition.
He describes what Mayans dreamed and the stories they told themselves about astronomy, math, medicine and other sciences to history, mythology, poetry and spiritual practice.Tedlock says part of his inspiration lies with the late Linda Schele, an expert in the field of Maya epigraphy and iconography whose role in the decipherment of Mayan hieroglyphics he considers invaluable.
He presents the material chronologically, beginning with early "calculiform" hieroglyphic materials and moving on to paper codices considered "works of the devil" by the Spanish, who systematically destroyed most of them. Tedlock also considers literature written in their native languages by Christianized Mayans after the Spanish conquest, and ends with writings composed by contemporary Mayans, whose literature is not only thriving, but experiencing a renaissance.The author drew on his decades of work among the Mayans and the work of major scholars in this field, to assemble the book, and to challenges a number of other commonly held assumptions about this culture.
He firmly establishes, for instance, that many Mayan writers (not just a few) were women, and that Mayan inscriptions on monuments were not just the abstract speculations of priests or stories of royal life, but descriptions of the lives of every day flesh and blood human beings. Tedlock says they also simultaneously describe events in the skies among the gods.
He also challenges notions that Mayan rulers claimed the status of gods, claiming that inscriptions previously cited by scholars as describing the kings as gods are actually accounts of their good deeds as religious practitioners.
"It is clear that these rulers were not considered gods, nor did they claim to be gods," says Tedlock. "Rather, they were priest-kings whose role was to mediate between men and gods.". source
My comment: Wow, this book for sure is a must-read. I just wonder how expensive it would be. And I find it quite interesting both that the writers were women (contrary to European tradition) and the role of kings as mediators between men and gods. It resembles the role of Thracian kings - to give immortality to men. Very interesting, indeed.

A Host of Mummies, a Forest of Secrets


In the middle of a terrifying desert north of Tibet, Chinese archaeologists have excavated an extraordinary cemetery. Its inhabitants died almost 4,000 years ago, yet their bodies have been well preserved by the dry air.

The cemetery lies in what is now China’s northwest autonomous region of Xinjiang, yet the people have European features, with brown hair and long noses. Their remains, though lying in one of the world’s largest deserts, are buried in upside-down boats. And where tombstones might stand, declaring pious hope for some god’s mercy in the afterlife, their cemetery sports instead a vigorous forest of phallic symbols, signaling an intense interest in the pleasures or utility of procreation.
The long-vanished people have no name, because their origin and identity are still unknown. But many clues are now emerging about their ancestry, their way of life and even the language they spoke.
Their graveyard, known as Small River Cemetery No. 5, lies near a dried-up riverbed in the Tarim Basin, a region encircled by forbidding mountain ranges. Most of the basin is occupied by the Taklimakan Desert, a wilderness so inhospitable that later travelers along the Silk Road would edge along its northern or southern borders.
In modern times the region has been occupied by Turkish-speaking Uighurs, joined in the last 50 years by Han settlers from China.
The 200 or so mummies have a distinctively Western appearance, and the Uighurs, even though they did not arrive in the region until the 10th century, have cited them to claim that the autonomous region was always theirs. Some of the mummies, including a well-preserved woman known as the Beauty of Loulan, were analyzed by Li Jin, a well-known geneticist at Fudan University, who said in 2007 that their DNA contained markers indicating an East Asian and even South Asian origin.
The mummies in the Small River Cemetery are, so far, the oldest discovered in the Tarim Basin. Carbon tests done at Beijing University show that the oldest part dates to 3,980 years ago. A team of Chinese geneticists has analyzed the mummies’ DNA.
Despite the political tensions over the mummies’ origin, the Chinese said in a report published last month in the journal BMC Biology that the people were of mixed ancestry, having both European and some Siberian genetic markers, and probably came from outside China.
All the men who were analyzed had a Y chromosome that is now mostly found in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and Siberia, but rarely in China. The mitochondrial DNA, which passes down the female line, consisted of a lineage from Siberia and two that are common in Europe. Since both the Y chromosome and the mitochondrial DNA lineages are ancient, Dr. Zhou and his team conclude the European and Siberian populations probably intermarried before entering the Tarim Basin some 4,000 years ago.
In the women’s coffins, the Chinese archaeologists encountered one or more life-size wooden phalluses laid on the body or by its side.
The men’s boats, on the other hand, all lay beneath the poles with bladelike tops. These were not the oars they had seemed at first sight, the Chinese archaeologists concluded, but rather symbolic vulvas that matched the opposite sex symbols above the women’s boats.
Several items in the Small River Cemetery burials resemble artifacts or customs familiar in Europe, Dr. Mair noted. Boat burials were common among the Vikings. String skirts and phallic symbols have been found in Bronze Age burials of Northern Europe. There are no known settlements near the cemetery, so the people probably lived elsewhere and reached the cemetery by boat. No woodworking tools have been found at the site, supporting the idea that the poles were carved off site.
The Tarim Basin was already quite dry when the Small River people entered it 4,000 years ago. They probably lived at the edge of survival until the lakes and rivers on which they depended finally dried up around A.D. 400. Burials with felt hats and woven baskets were common in the region until some 2,000 years ago.
The language spoken by the people of the Small River Cemetery is unknown, but Dr. Mair believes it could have been Tokharian, an ancient member of the Indo-European family of languages. Manuscripts written in Tokharian have been discovered in the Tarim Basin, where the language was spoken from about A.D. 500 to 900. Despite its presence in the east, Tokharian seems more closely related to the “centum” languages of Europe than to the “satem” languages of India and Iran. The division is based on the words for hundred in Latin (centum) and in Sanskrit (satam).
The Small River Cemetery people lived more than 2,000 years before the earliest evidence for Tokharian, but there is “a clear continuity of culture,” Dr. Mair said, in the form of people being buried with felt hats, a tradition that continued until the first few centuries A.D.
source
My comment: Very very interesting. Especially the Tokharian language which so closely sounds like Thrakian - just its name, not the very language which should be researched. But seriously, it's so interesting. There are theories backed up by some historians saying that there were expeditions from the Balkans to India at some ancient time. Wouldn't it be interesting to know where those expeditions went and why?


4,500-year-old Harappan settlement excavated in Kutch
Ahmedabad, Mar 7 (PTI)

A vast settlement surrounded by a fortified structure believed to be about 4,500 years old and belonging to the Harappan civilisation has been excavated at Shikarpur village in Kutch district.
"A huge fortified structure made out of unbaked mud bricks has been excavated by our team. The ratio of height, width and length of the bricks is 1:2:4 which is what we call Harappan ratio," Ajithprasad told PTI.
"The fortification is spread over nearly one hectare area, with 10 m thick walls," he said.
"Though the exact period when this structure could have been constructed is yet to be ascertained, primarily it appears to be roughly 4500-years-old, built between 2500 BC and 2200 BC and is part of the Harappan civilisation," Ajithprasad said. source
My comment:

Bulgarian Archaeologists Make Breakthrough in Ancient Thrace Tomb

One of Bulgaria’s top Ancient Thrace sites, the Starosel Tomb, has been dated to the 4th century BC after years of research.
With German help a team of archaeologists of the Bulgarian National History Museum led by Dr. Ivan Hristov has managed to estimate the timing of the construction of the largest underground temple on the Balkan Peninsula, the Starosel Tomb, located in the Hisarya Municipality, Plovdiv District.
In the summer of 2009, the archaeological team took samples from a stake in the middle of the tomb where gifts to the Greek goddess of the hearth Hestia were laid.
The radio carbon dating analysis carried out in Heidelberg, Germany, in the laboratory of Dr. Bernd Krommer, have shown that the stake was burned in the period after 358 BC, when the temple was constructed, and the earth was heaped on top of it to form a burial mound.
The analysis of the lab research and of the events which happened at that time have given archaeologist Ivan Hristov grounds to conclude that the temple in the village of Starosel, in the so called Chetinyova Mound, and the nearby Thracian ruler’s residence under Mount Kozi Gramadi were built during the reign of the Thracian King Amatokos II (359-351 BC), of the Thracian Odrysian state (5th-3rd century BC).
The family coat of arms of King Amatokos was a doubleheaded ax, or a labrys. Symbols of a labrys were discovered on several items around Starosel, including Thracian coins.
The archaeologists believe that the region was the power center of Ancient Thrace in the 4th century BC. It was destroyed during the rise of the Macedonian state of Philip II in 342-341 BC.The Bulgarian archaeologists have reconstructed the so called “Holy Road” of the Thracians leading to their underground temples in Starosel, and are determined to continue revealing its secrets.
source
My comment: Hm, how did they understand the Temple is dedicated to Greek Goddess? That doesn't make sense at all? Thracians had enough god and goddesses and to put a Greek one on their Holy Road sounds absolutely crazy. Even more, if it's the same temple I've been to, it looked much more Egyptian than Greek. Though maybe I'm wrong, I'm not an expert, it just looks weird. Besides, at that time, deities were transferred from one people to the others and often, their meaning changed in the process, so who knows...
More evidence unearthed at ancient port of Muziris - A figure of a pouncing lion carved in great detail on a semi precious stone and a bright micro metal object with intricate designs are two of the special objects found during the ongoing excavations that began in February. Copper antimony rods, usually associated with cosmetic use, were also found.
Kerala's possible Mediterranean links unearthed by researchers
News Date: 9th March 2010
A wide range of megalithic burials recently discovered in some northern districts of Kerala during a research project have thrown light on possible links between the Mediterranean and Kerala coasts in the prehistoric stone age that occurred between 6000 BC and 2000 BC. 
Interestingly, the finds were unearthed at a time when the researchers have firmly established the maritime links between the Mediterranean region with Kerala since ancient times.  source