Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Medieval English monasteries found ways to survive Viking attacks, archaeologists find



English monasteries were more resilient to Viking attacks than previously thought, archaeologists have concluded.
Lyminge, a monastery in Kent, was on the front line of long-running Viking hostility which ended in the victories of Alfred the Great. The monastery endured repeated attacks, but resisted collapse for almost a century, through effective defensive strategies put in place by ecclesiastical and secular rulers of Kent, University of Reading archaeologists say.
The new evidence is presented after a detailed examination of archaeological and historical evidence by Gabor Thomas from the University of Reading. “The image of ruthless Viking raiders slaughtering helpless monks and nuns is based on written records, but a re-examination of the evidence show the monasteries had more resilience than we might expect,” Thomas explains.
Despite being located in a region of Kent which bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, the evidence suggests that the monastic community at Lyminge not only survived these attacks but recovered more completely than historians previously thought, Dr Thomas concludes in research, published this month in the journal Archaeologia.

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Tuesday, January 31, 2023

New Evidence Vikings Failed To Wipe Out Communities And Anglo-Saxon Monasteries



St Paul's Church, Jarrow. Credit: Adobe Stock - Electric Egg Ltd.

The new evidence is presented after a detailed examination of archaeological and historical evidence by Dr. Gabor Thomas from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Reading.

“The image of ruthless Viking raiders slaughtering helpless monks and nuns is based on written records, but a re-examination of the evidence shows the monasteries had more resilience than we might expect,” Dr. Thomas said.

Despite being located in a region of Kent that bore the full brunt of Viking raids in the later 8th and early 9th centuries, the evidence suggests that the monastic community at Lyminge not only survived these attacks but recovered more completely than historians previously thought, Dr Thomas concludes in research, published today (30 January 2023) in the journal Archaeologia

During archaeological excavations between 2007-15 and 2019, archaeologists uncovered the main elements of the monastery, including the stone chapel at its heart surrounded by a wide swathe of wooden buildings and other structures where the monastic brethren and their dependents lived out their daily lives. Radiocarbon dating of butchered animal bones discarded as rubbish indicates that this occupation persisted for nearly two centuries following the monastery’s establishment in the second half of the 7th century.

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Thursday, January 26, 2023

The Oldest Rune Stones in the World

The Svingerud Stone is the oldest rune stone, created almost two thousand years ago

There are many things that come into mind when thinking of Vikings – horned helmets, which are historically inaccurate, longships that brought terror to Europe, Norse gods that have been turned into Hollywood super heroes and, the subject of this article, their unique way of writing.

The runic alphabet developed among the early Germanic people of Northern Europe almost 2,000 years ago. How it was created it still not fully understood, though it is widely believed that contact with Mediterranean civilisations – Greeks, Etruscans and Romans – influenced the creation of this writing system.

Some of the best preserved examples of this script can be found on rune stones, including the lions-hare located in Sweden. They had many varied purposes ranging from marking territory to memorialising fallen kinsmen. Rune stones used to be highly colourful, though hundreds of years of being out in the open means very little is left for modern observers.

Here were look at some of the oldest rune stones found by archeologists.

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Monday, January 23, 2023

How does the Nordic Cosmic System Depend on the Yggdrasil Tree?


The concept of a world tree is present in many cultures’ legends. Examples of this include the sacred Bodhi fig tree under which the Buddha reached Enlightenment, and the holy Aśvattha tree believed by Hindus to have no beginning or end. Certain trees are still considered to hold power in Scandinavian culture. Thought to bless their caretakers with good luck, farmers still plant warden trees in Norway and Sweden. In Norse mythology, the cosmic tree of life is arguably the most important element of their spiritual world. The Yggdrasil tree is grounded at the center of the universe, with the nine worlds revolving around it, held in place by its branches and roots. Here is an exploration into why this tree is deeply significant in the Norse spiritual cosmos.

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Newport Ship: Medieval vessel is 'world's largest 3D puzzle'

This is what builders uncovered in 2002 when constructing a new theatre in Newport

With almost 2,500 pieces, measuring 30 metres and weighing 25 tonnes, it has been called the world's largest 3D puzzle.

Archaeologists can now, after 20 years of painstaking restoration, start to reassemble the wreck of a 15th Century ship found in a south Wales riverbank.

Experts believe the medieval vessel is as significant a find as the Mary Rose - and it is a century older.

"The ship is of global significance and interest," said TV historian Dan Snow.

Specialists have been working on the Newport Ship conservation project since the discovery of almost a third of the former wine- trading vessel and 1,000 medieval artefacts in the banks of the River Usk in 2002.

They have reached an important milestone on Thursday as all of its timbers, which had been preserved for more than 550 years, have now dried out and restored ready to go on display.

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Norwegian archaeologists uncover the world's oldest runestone

The runestone found at Tyrifjorden, Norway, shown at the Museum of Cultural History in Oslo
AP Photo

Runestones, typically raised at gravesites during the Viking era, are stones inscribed with runic letters, the oldest known alphabet in Scandinavia. 


The discovery of this runestone is particularly significant as it predates previously known examples by several hundred years, and could date back to the time of Jesus Christ. 

"We thought that the first runestones in Norway and Sweden appeared in the 300s or 400s, but it turns out that some could be even older than we previously believed," said runologist Kristel Zilmer. "It's a unique discovery," she added.

The inscription on the runestone, which has been retranscribed into the Latin alphabet, is believed to be in honor of the person buried in the grave. The meaning of the word "idiberug" is still a mystery, but researchers are working to uncover its significance. 

“This find will give us a lot of knowledge about the use of runes in the early Iron Age. This may be one of the first attempts to use runes in Norway and Scandinavia on stone,” Kristel Zilmer, a professor at University of Oslo says. The runestone found at Tyrifjorden, Norway, shown at the Museum of Cultural History in OsloAP Photo

Runestones, typically raised at gravesites during the Viking era, are stones inscribed with runic letters, the oldest known alphabet in Scandinavia. 


The discovery of this runestone is particularly significant as it predates previously known examples by several hundred years, and could date back to the time of Jesus Christ. 

"We thought that the first runestones in Norway and Sweden appeared in the 300s or 400s, but it turns out that some could be even older than we previously believed," said runologist Kristel Zilmer. "It's a unique discovery," she added.

The inscription on the runestone, which has been retranscribed into the Latin alphabet, is believed to be in honor of the person buried in the grave. The meaning of the word "idiberug" is still a mystery, but researchers are working to uncover its significance. 

“This find will give us a lot of knowledge about the use of runes in the early Iron Age. This may be one of the first attempts to use runes in Norway and Scandinavia on stone,” Kristel Zilmer, a professor at University of Oslo says. 

Luxury fabrics from 1,300 years ago apparently from China, India and Sudan found in Arava

Luxury fabrics from 1,300 years ago apparently from China, India and Sudan found in Arava
(photo credit: UNIVERSITY OF HAIFA)

Cotton and silk fabrics from about 1,300 years ago found in the Arava are evidence of ancient trade from the Far East, through Israel and Europe, according to archaeologists at the University of Haifa who are leading the excavation.

“Our findings are apparently the first evidence that there was also an ‘Israeli Silk Road’ that passed through the Negev and the Arava and is a new link that was not known until today in the international traderoutes that connected East and West, between Asia and Europe from the main Silk Road,” said Prof. Guy Bar-Oz from the university’s School of Archeology and Maritime.

In an excavation he conducted at the Nahal Omer site in the Arava in collaboration with Dr. Roy Galili from Ben-GurionUniversity of the Negev in Beersheba, Dr. Orit Shamir from the Israel Antiquities Authority, Dr. Britt Hildebrandt from Germany’s University of Gottingen and Nofar Shamir from the University of Haifa, the researchers found a wealth of artifacts imported from the East dating from to the early Islamic period.

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Waterlogged Wood in Poland Dates Founding of Medieval City

(A. Grabowska/Museum of Gdańsk)

New dates obtained from traces of a tenth-century Slavic settlement found in the cellars under the Main City Hall in Gdańsk have pushed back the founding of the city to A.D. 930, according to a Science in Poland report. “Radiocarbon dating gave a result between the years 911 and 951, while dendrochronology indicated the year 930,” said Waldemar Ossowski of the Museum of Gdańsk. He explained that previous dates for the founding of the city had been based upon the remains of thirteenth-century buildings and a possible tenth-century rampart found nearby in the 1970s.

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The History of Rome With Mary Beard


The Odyssey YouTube channel is a trove of documentaries about the ancient world, “from the dawn of Mesopotamia to the fall of Rome”. Several of their videos about Rome are presented by classicist Mary Beard, perhaps the best-known Roman scholar in the world and the author of SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome, which you couldn’t enter a bookstore in the late 2010s without seeing. I’ve embedded her videos on The Ancient Origins Of The Roman Empire and Why Did The Roman Empire Collapse above and you can head to YouTube to watch several more hours of Beard explaining Rome: Who Were The Citizens Of Ancient Rome?, How Did The Ancient Roman World Work?, The Meteoric Rise And Fall Of Julius Caesar, What Was Normal Life Like In Pompeii Before Its Destruction?, and Caligula And Corruption In Imperial Rome. (via 3 quarks daily)

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Archaeological Treasures Hidden Beneath the Colosseum

(Credit: astudio/Shutterstock)

Gladiator fights, exotic animals, rowdy, toga-wearing spectators. These are some of the images Rome’s Colosseum may conjure in your mind.

But last year, archaeologists took to the sewer networks beneath the infamous amphitheater to learn more about what a day there really looked like.

Colosseum Background

Construction work on the Colosseum began between A.D. 70 and 72, under the rule of Emperor Vespasian, and the Flavians completed it around A.D. 80. (This is where the world wonder gets its alternative name: the Flavian Amphitheatre.) It is said to have opened with 100 days of games.

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Lasers Are Mapping Scotland’s Mysterious Iron Age Passages

A laser scan of Cracknie souterrain, capturing every detail in 3D
PHOTOGRAPH: AOC ARCHAEOLOGY

In February 2022, Graeme Cavers and his team of archaeologists set off in search of a mysterious underground passage called a souterrain. There are around 500 of these Iron Age structures scattered throughout the Scottish Highlands, but nobody knows what they were built for, and no one has ever discovered one intact.

“Perhaps they were for storage, such as grain in sealed pots or dairy products like cheese,” says Matt Ritchie, resident archaeologist at Forestry and Land Scotland. “Perhaps they were for security, keeping valuables safe, or slaves or hostages secure. Or perhaps they were for ceremonial purposes, for household rituals, like a medieval shrine or private chapel.”

Site surveys can help shed light on the condition and structure of souterrains, but they can take at least a week using traditional methods, says Cavers, whose company AOC Archaeology was enlisted by Ritchie to help map the Cracknie Souterrain in Scotland’s Borgie Forest.

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Enigmatic Ale’s Stones – Sweden’s Megalithic Ship-Like Formation



Ales stones, Hesten and others (Valleberga 20:1). Image credit: Jorchr - CC BY-SA 4.0

Myths, legends, and mystery surround this fascinating megalithic formation consisting of 58 (59) upright boulders and one vertical (weighing up to 1.8 tons each) - placed in a gigantic ship formation, 67 meters in length and 19 meters wide.

The largest stones are almost 3.5-meter and are called "bow" and "stern." They are directed towards the sunrise at the time of the summer solstice, and the sunset at the time of the winter solstice.

The Ales Stenar - Sweden's largest stone complex dates back to the Bronze or Iron Age. From a bird's eye view, it resembles the shape of a boat. It is not known who and for what purpose built it. Not even experts know why this complex was built.

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Mysterious Svingerud Stone – World’s Oldest Rune Stone With Enigmatic Inscriptions Investigated By Experts – What Does It Say?



These runes were inscribed between the years 1 and 250 AD and date back to the earliest days of the enigmatic history of runic writing. Credit: Photo - Alexis Pantos/KHM, UiO

The story goes back to the autumn of 2021, archaeologists of the Museum of Cultural History investigated a grave field by Tyrifjorden in Ringerike. They discovered a stone with several runic inscriptions in one of the graves. Burnt bones and charcoal from the grave reveal that the runes were inscribed between 1 and 250 AD. This makes it the earliest known rune stone.

The stone has been named after the place of discovery and is now called the Svingerud stone.

Sometime between 1,800 and 2,000 years ago, someone stood near Tyrifjorden and carved runes into the 31x32 cm block of reddish-brown Ringerike sandstone. They spoke an early form of the ancient Nordic language, the ancestor language of modern Nordic languages in Scandinavia today.

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Science has finally identified the cause of the Black Death

A disease then disseminated across Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa claiming up to 60 percent of the population in a large-scale outbreak known as the Black Death.
(CREDIT: Getty Images)

In 1347, plague first entered the Mediterranean via trade ships transporting goods from the territories of the Golden Horde in the Black Sea. The disease then disseminated across Europe, the Middle East and northern Africa claiming up to 60 percent of the population in a large-scale outbreak known as the Black Death. This first wave further extended into a 500-year-long pandemic, the so-called Second Plague Pandemic, which lasted until the early 19th century.

The origins of the Second Plague Pandemic have long been debated. One of the most popular theories has supported its source in East Asia, specifically in China. To the contrary, the only so-far available archaeological findings come from Central Asia, close to Lake Issyk Kul, in what is now Kyrgyzstan. 

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Norway reveals stone tablet providing clues to origins of Western writing

The ancient rune stone found by Norwegian researchers is believed to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old. It was found buried beneath a later grave.
Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural History

Norway is set to unveil an ancient rune stone found in the east of the country dating back as much as 2,000 years that is providing the missing pieces to the puzzle of the origins of writing in northern Europe.

Researchers from the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History found the block of sandstone on an Iron Age grave site dig near Tyrifjorden, northwest of Oslo, in late 2021. They now believe it is the world's oldest rune stone and that the characters on the stone are one of the earliest examples of writing in Scandinavia because radiocarbon dating shows the grave dates back to 1-250 CE.

The stone, which is creating a stir internationally among runologists and archaeologists, is going on display to the public as the centerpiece of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2023

Found the world's oldest rune stone

Photo: Alexis Pantos/KHM, UiO.

During the first few centuries of the Common Era, during the period that archaeologists call the Roman Iron Age, Scandinavians came into contact with Roman society by trading goods and through their encounters with the Roman army. Archaeological material testifies to the fact that this is how they acquired knowledge about new customs and forms of organisation, and not least a written culture. 

Inspired by the classical alphabets, such as the Roman alphabet, the Germanic peoples created their own characters – runes. But exactly how old is the runic alphabet, and when were the first rune stones made? These are questions that researchers have been seeking to answer for many years. 

A new archaeological find is attracting international attention among runic scholars and archaeologists: the world's oldest dated rune stone was discovered during the autumn of 2021 when archaeologists at the Museum of Cultural History, University of Oslo, investigated a grave field in Hole near Tyrifjorden, Eastern Norway. Radiocarbon dates show that the age of the grave and thus the inscriptions on the stone probably date back to 1-250 CE. This rune stone is thus one of the very earliest examples of words recorded in writing in Scandinavia, and the inscriptions provide new insights into the development and use of runic writing during the early Iron Age. 

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Norway reveals stone tablet providing clues to origins of Western writing

The ancient rune stone found by Norwegian researchers is believed to be between 1,800 and 2,000 years old. It was found buried beneath a later grave.
Photo courtesy of Museum of Cultural History

Jan. 17 (UPI) -- Norway is set to unveil an ancient rune stone found in the east of the country dating back as much as 2,000 years that is providing the missing pieces to the puzzle of the origins of writing in northern Europe.

Researchers from the University of Oslo's Museum of Cultural History found the block of sandstone on an Iron Age grave site dig near Tyrifjorden, northwest of Oslo, in late 2021. They now believe it is the world's oldest rune stone and that the characters on the stone are one of the earliest examples of writing in Scandinavia because radiocarbon dating shows the grave dates back to 1-250 CE.

The stone, which is creating a stir internationally among runologists and archaeologists, is going on display to the public as the centerpiece of a new exhibition opening on Saturday at the Historical Museum in Oslo.

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Waterlogged Wood in Poland Dates Founding of Medieval City

(A. Grabowska/Museum of Gdańsk)

GDAŃSK, POLAND—New dates obtained from traces of a tenth-century Slavic settlement found in the cellars under the Main City Hall in Gdańsk have pushed back the founding of the city to A.D. 930, according to a Science in Poland report. “Radiocarbon dating gave a result between the years 911 and 951, while dendrochronology indicated the year 930,” said Waldemar Ossowski of the Museum of Gdańsk. He explained that previous dates for the founding of the city had been based upon the remains of thirteenth-century buildings and a possible tenth-century rampart found nearby in the 1970s. 

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Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Seven skeletons discovered under Holy Island car park could date back to early


Seven skeletons have been discovered in graves beneath a Lindisfarne car park during construction work.

The graves were found before the new year by Northumberland County Council archaeologists during work to install a new water pipe.

Speaking at Wednesday's meeting of the Ashington and Blyth Local Area Council, assistant county archaeologist Nick Best told councillors about the findings.

He said: "This is a hot off the press find from just before the new year under the former car park which is now a coach park. Teams uncovered a group of burials of at least seven individuals.

"The assumption is there is probably more. We haven't dated them yet, but they might be medieval it's very likely they're medieval and there's a chance they could be very early medieval.

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What Was The Frankish Empire?


The Frankish Empire, established and ruled by the powerful Germanic tribe known as the Franks, played a pivotal role in shaping the history and culture of Western and Central Europe from the 5th to the 10th century. With its capital nestled in the ancient Roman province of Gaul, this sprawling empire reached as far as France and comprised a diverse array of territories. Ruled mainly by two dynasties, the Merovingian and Carolingian, both left an indelible mark on Europe's political, religious, and cultural development during the Middle Ages. This article discusses the impressive achievements and lasting legacy of the Frankish Empire and how it shaped European history.

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'Princely' tomb of Hun warrior unearthed in Romania

The warrior's tomb was found at one of four archaeological sites unearthed during the construction of a motorway in southeastern Romania.
(Image credit: CNAIR/Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archeology)

Workers building a new highway in Romania have unearthed the treasure-laden tomb of a wealthy warrior and his horse. The tomb dates to the fifth century A.D., when the region was controlled by a people known as the Huns.

The tomb is filled with more than 100 artifacts, including weapons, gold-covered objects and pieces of gold jewelry inlaid with gemstones, Silviu Ene(opens in new tab) of the Vasile Pârvan Institute of Archeology in Bucharest, Romania, told Live Science. 

Ene is the lead archaeologist investigating the tomb, which was discovered late last year during the construction of a motorway near the town of Mizil in the southeast of Romania, about 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the Black Sea.

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Wishing well used for Bronze Age 'cult rituals' discovered in Bavaria

The wooden wishing well discovered by archaeologists in Bavaria, Germany.
(Image credit: The Bavarian State Office for Monument Protection)

Archaeologists in Bavaria, Germany, have unearthed a 3,000-year-old wooden wishing well overflowing with more than 100 artifacts dating to the Bronze Age.

Unlike modern-day wishing wells, where people toss in coins and make a wish, the items in this well were placed there for "ritual purposes" in what is now the Bavarian town of Germering. The artifacts included more than 70 well-preserved clay vessels, including numerous decorative bowls, cups and pots that were used for special occasions and not "simple everyday crockery," according to a translated statement(opens in new tab). 

Archaeologists also found more than two dozen bronze robe pins, a bracelet, four amber beads, two metal spirals, a mounted animal tooth and a wooden scoop. 

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Vikings in North America? Here's what we really know


Anyone standing today by the wind-swept shore of Epaves Bay at the northern tip of Newfoundland might find it hard to comprehend the enormity of the modest archaeological site that extends around them. Here, at L’Anse aux Meadows—the name is probably a garbled reference to an old French naval vessel—lies what is still the only known Norse settlement in North America. A few humps and bumps in the grass, a replica building, and a fine museum mark the point of first contact between human populations across the Atlantic. It is an astonishing place, but its significance was only recognised in relatively recent decades.

Until as late as the 1960s, the Viking adventure in North America was known only second-hand from the Icelandic sagas, the great epic tales that form one of the jewels of northern medieval literature. These stories mostly concern the Viking age of roughly A.D. 750-1050, but they were written down hundreds of years later, primarily in the 13th century. The degree to which they preserve genuine memories of the saga-writers’ ancestors, or whether they are more a form of historical fiction, still divides scholars today. The entire narrative of Norse voyages to North America is contained in just two of these texts, the Saga of the Greenlanders (Grænlendinga saga) and the Saga of Erik the Red (Eiríks saga rauða).

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Archbishop Wulfstan of York (c. 946/66 – 1023)


Wulfstan played a significant political role in Anglo-Saxon England at the turn of the first millennium and the events surrounding the political and personal demise of King Æthelred (r. 978–1013, 1014–1016) and the conquest (996 – 1018) of Sweyn Forkbeard and Cnut the Great

Wulfstan was not just a prominent figure in high political circles during the turn of the first millennium in Anglo-Saxon England. He was also a prolific writer of legislative texts, homilies and other devotional and poetic texts in which he called for repentance and reform.

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Brutality of prehistoric life revealed by Europe’s bog bodies

At Alken Enge in Denmark, the remains of at least 380 individuals were deposited in a wetland almost 2,000 years ago.


In 1984, a peat cutter discovered human remains in a bog in Cheshire, England. They belonged to a man who died a brutal death some 2,100 years ago before being placed in the bog — examination of his well-preserved mummy revealed blows to the head, a possible stab wound and a broken neck. Twisted sinew found still wrapped around his neck may have also been a garotte.

Now in the British Museum in London, the remains of the Lindow Man are perhaps the best known of Europe’s 2,000 or so “bog bodies.” These are mummies and skeletons that have been found mired in the peat and wetlands of Ireland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany, Scandinavia, Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe.

The bodies — often exquisitely preserved by the bogs’ cool, acidic conditions and organic compounds— provide an exciting snap shot of the past. Archaeologists study their skin, bones, clothes, belongings and sometimes even their last meal. Now, researchers have undertaken the first comprehensive survey of bog bodies — a burial tradition they believe spanned 7,000 years — to build up a fuller picture of the phenomenon.

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Riddle solved: Why was Roman concrete so durable?


The ancient Romans were masters of engineering, constructing vast networks of roads, aqueducts, ports, and massive buildings, whose remains have survived for two millennia. Many of these structures were built with concrete: Rome’s famed Pantheon, which has the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome and was dedicated in A.D. 128, is still intact, and some ancient Roman aqueducts still deliver water to Rome today. Meanwhile, many modern concrete structures have crumbled after a few decades.

Researchers have spent decades trying to figure out the secret of this ultradurable ancient construction material, particularly in structures that endured especially harsh conditions, such as docks, sewers, and seawalls, or those constructed in seismically active locations.

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First of its kind study identifies how humans lost their body hair

Humans appear to have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but evolution has disabled them,  scientists at University of Utah Health and University of Pittsburgh report.
(CREDIT: Creative Commons)


Orangutans, mice, and horses are covered with it, but humans aren’t. Why we have significantly less body hair than most other mammals has long remained a mystery. But a first-of-its-kind comparison of genetic codes from 62 animals is beginning to tell the story of how people—and other mammals—lost their locks.

Humans appear to have the genes for a full coat of body hair, but evolution has disabled them,  scientists at University of Utah Health and University of Pittsburgh report in the journal eLife. The findings point to a set of genes and regulatory regions of the genome that appear to be essential for making hair.

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Svante Pääbo: ‘It’s maybe time to rethink our idea of Neanderthals’

Svante Pääbo says becoming a Nobel laureate has been ‘a burden … but a pleasant burden’. Photograph: Jens Schlueter/Getty Images

A greyish neanderthal skeleton stands at the door of Svante Pääbo’s office, acting like a doorman to check up on his visitors, who have grown considerably in number since it was announced he was to receive a Nobel prize. It clutches a white party balloon in its left hand and is missing its right lower arm.

“Unfortunately my son broke it off once,” says Pääbo with a chuckle, patting the skeleton’s head.

On the day the Guardian visits, the Swedish geneticist is still reeling from the shock of having been chosen as Nobel laureate for Medicine or physiology (the prize straddles both fields) in October. A bottle of champagne stands on his desk along with messages of congratulations from friends and colleagues. Over coffee and shortbread in a rare interview, he admits: “It’s a bit of a burden, to be honest, all the attention I’ve been getting. But it’s a pleasant burden, and one for which I know I can’t expect much sympathy.”

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Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Why is Christmas Day on 25 December?

'Nativity of Christ', medieval illustration from the Hortus deliciarum of Herrad of Landsberg (12th century)

Christmas became one of the most important religious festivals in medieval Christendom, second only to Easter. Much of what we associate with Christmas today has its origins in the Middle Ages, including the name. We can also trace the date and some familiar elements like the crib scene to their early roots too.

Why is it called Christmas?
Christmas is a slightly shortened version of Christ’s mass. It appears in various forms through the medieval period, combining Christos from the Greek translation of the Hebrew word, meaning messiah, or anointed, and the Latin Missa, the celebration of the Eucharist. ‘Xmas’ is another further abbreviation of the word, which is often frowned upon and discouraged, and you can find online style guides that will advise you not to use Xmas as it’s too informal, but it does appear in middle English texts. What we recognise as the letter X is in fact the Greek letter chi and it’s used as an abbreviation of the Greek Christos, which begins with the letter chi.

Anglo-Saxons referred to the period as midwinter and sometimes as nativity. Old English contains references to Yule, a word and a celebration that has Viking and Scandinavian heritage, which covered December and January and eventually became associated with Christmas by the late 14th century. The old French word Noel derived from the Latin natalis, meaning birth, was beginning to enter use in English too.

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Winter solstice: Explore these new 3D scans of passage tomb megalithic art




A TREASURE TROVE of megalithic art imagery from a recently uncovered passage tomb is being released to mark the winter solstice.

The Dowth Hall tomb is part of the Brú na Boinne complex, and is located a stone’s throw away from the more famous Newgrange, Knowth, and Dowth tombs.

It was hidden underground until an excavation in 2017. What remains was damaged by the construction of a building above it in the 18th century.

The find was described as ‘the most significant’ of the past 50 years in Ireland.

An estimated one-third of the kerbstones – which would have surrounded the tomb – and orthostats – upright stones – found at Dowth Hall are decorated in Neolithic art.

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Video: Marking the winter solstice at Maeshowe chambered cairn



With its south-westerly facing entrance,perhaps Maeshowe’s best known attribute is its orientation towards the setting sun around midwinter.

Five thousand years ago, as now, it may be that the solstice marked the passing of time – the death of the old year and the birth of the new one. In the dark depths of an Orkney winter today, the solstice remains a welcome indicator that the sun is returning.

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