JUST IN: Fresco Painting of Narcissus Discovered in Pompeii

Archaeologists have discovered a fresco in an ancient Pompeii residence that portrays the mythological hunter Narcissus, who fell in love with his own reflection.

The discovery announced Thursday is in the atrium of a house where a fresco was found late last year depicting a sensual scene between the Roman god Jupiter disguised as a swan and Leda, a queen of Sparta from Greek mythology.

Pompeii director Alfonsina Russo said that the “beauty of these rooms” has prompted officials to continue to uncover more treasures so that one day the house can be at least partially opened to the public.

Officials noted archaeologists also found inside the ancient atrium a dozen glass containers, eight terracotta vases and a bronze funnel in a space underneath a staircase.

MERMAIDs Reveal Secrets from Below the Ocean Floor

Seismologists use waves generated by earthquakes to scan the interior of our planet, much like doctors image their patients using medical tomography. Earth imaging has helped us track down the deep origins of volcanic islands such as Hawaii, and identify the source zones of deep earthquakes.

“Imagine a radiologist forced to work with a CAT scanner that is missing two-thirds of its necessary sensors,” said Frederik Simons, a professor of geosciences at Princeton. “Two-thirds is the fraction of the Earth that is covered by oceans and therefore lacking seismic recording stations. Such is the situation faced by seismologists attempting to sharpen their images of the inside of our planet.”

Some 15 years ago, when he was a postdoctoral researcher, Simons partnered with Guust Nolet, now the George J. Magee Professor of Geoscience and Geological Engineering, Emeritus, and they resolved to remediate this situation by building an undersea robot equipped with a hydrophone—an underwater microphone that can pick up the sounds of distant earthquakes whose waves deliver acoustic energy into the oceans through the ocean floor.

This week, Nolet, Simons and an international team of researchers published the first scientific results from the revolutionary seismic floats, dubbed MERMAIDs—Mobile Earthquake Recording in Marine Areas by Independent Divers.

The researchers, from institutions in the United States, France, Ecuador and China, found that the volcanoes on Galápagos are fed by a source 1,200 miles (1,900 km) deep, via a narrow conduit that is bringing hot rock to the surface. Such “mantle plumes” were first proposed in 1971 by one of the fathers of plate tectonics, Princeton geophysicist W. Jason Morgan, but they have resisted attempts at detailed seismic imaging because they are found in the oceans, rarely near any seismic stations.

MERMAIDs drift passively, normally at a depth of 1,500 meters—about a mile below the sea surface—moving 2-3 miles per day. When one detects a possible incoming earthquake, it rises to the surface, usually within 95 minutes, to determine its position with GPS and transmit the seismic data.

By letting their nine robots float freely for two years, the scientists created an artificial network of oceanic seismometers that could fill in one of the blank areas on the global geologic map, where otherwise no seismic information is available.

The unexpectedly high temperature that their model shows in the Galápagos mantle plume “hints at the important role that plumes play in the mechanism that allows the Earth to keep itself warm,” said Nolet.

“Since the 19th century, when Lord Kelvin predicted that Earth should cool to be a dead planet within a hundred million years, geophysicists have struggled with the mystery that the Earth has kept a fairly constant temperature over more than 4.5 billion years,” Nolet explained. “It could have done so only if some of the original heat from its accretion, and that created since by radioactive minerals, could stay locked inside the lower mantle. But most models of the Earth predict that the mantle should be convecting vigorously and releasing this heat much more quickly. These results of the Galápagos experiment point to an alternative explanation: the lower mantle may well resist convection, and instead only bring heat to the surface in the form of mantle plumes such as the ones creating Galápagos and Hawaii.”

To further answer questions on the heat budget of the Earth and the role that mantle plumes play in it, Simons and Nolet have teamed up with seismologists from the Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) in Shenzhen, China, and from the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology (JAMSTEC). Together, and with vessels provided by the French research fleet, they are in the process of launching some 50 MERMAIDs in the South Pacific to study the mantle plume region under the island of Tahiti.

“Stay tuned! There are many more discoveries to come,” said professor Yongshun (John) Chen, a 1989 Princeton graduate alumnus who is head of the Department of Ocean Science and Engineering at SUSTech, which is leading the next phase of what they and their international team have called EarthScope-Oceans.

Researchers Unearth an Ice Age in the African Desert

A field trip to Namibia to study volcanic rocks led to an unexpected discovery by West Virginia University geologists Graham Andrews and Sarah Brown.

While exploring the desert country in southern Africa, they stumbled upon a peculiar land formation—flat desert scattered with hundreds of long, steep hills. They quickly realized the bumpy landscape was shaped by drumlins, a type of hill often found in places once covered in glaciers, an abnormal characteristic for desert landscapes.

“We quickly realized what we were looking at because we both grew up in areas of the world that had been under glaciers, me in Northern Ireland and Sarah in northern Illinois,” said Andrews, an assistant professor of geology. “It’s not like anything we see in West Virginia where we’re used to flat areas and then gorges and steep-sided valleys down into hollows.”

After returning home from the trip, Andrews began researching the origins of the Namibian drumlins, only to learn they had never been studied.

“The last rocks we were shown on the trip are from a time period when southern Africa was covered by ice,” Andrews said. “People obviously knew that part of the world had been covered in ice at one time, but no one had ever mentioned anything about how the drumlins formed or that they were even there at all.”

WVU researcher unearths an ice age in the African desert
Andrew McGrady. Credit: WVU

Andrews teamed up with WVU geology senior Andy McGrady to use morphometrics, or measurements of shapes, to determine if the drumlins showed any patterns that would reflect regular behaviors as the ice carved them.

While normal glaciers have sequential patterns of growing and melting, they do not move much, Andrews explained. However, they determined that the drumlins featured large grooves, which showed that the ice had to be moving at a fast pace to carve the grooves.

These grooves demonstrated the first evidence of an ice stream in southern Africa in the late Paleozoic Age, which occurred about 300 million years ago.

“The ice carved big, long grooves in the rock as it moved,” Andrews said. “It wasn’t just that there was ice there, but there was an ice stream. It was an area where the ice was really moving fast.”

McGrady used freely available information from Google Earth and Google Maps to measure their length, width and height.

WVU researcher unearths an ice age in the African desert

“This work is very important because not much has been published on these glacial features in Namibia,” said McGrady, a senior geology student from Hamlin. “It’s interesting to think that this was pioneer work in a sense, that this is one of the first papers to cover the characteristics of these features and gives some insight into how they were formed.”

Their findings also confirm that southern Africa was located over the South Pole during this period.

“These features provide yet another tie between southern Africa and south America to show they were once joined,” Andrews said.

The study, “First description of subglacial megalineations from the late Paleozoic ice age in southern Africa” is published in the Public Library of Science’s PLOS ONE journal.

“This is a great example of a fundamental discovery and new insights into the climatic history of our world that remain to be discovered,” said Tim Carr, chair of the Department of Geology and Geography.

How Climate Change Caused the World’s First Empire to Collapse

Not one smoke stack, vehicle, or petroleum of any form was mentioned in this scientific article. However, there does appear to be an assumption of rhythmic cycles.

Gol-e-Zard Cave lies in the shadow of Mount Damavand, which at more than 5,000 meters dominates the landscape of northern Iran. In this cave, stalagmites and stalactites are growing slowly over millennia and preserve in them clues about past climate events. Changes in stalagmite chemistry from this cave have now linked the collapse of the Akkadian Empire to climate changes more than 4,000 years ago.

Akkadia was the world’s first empire. It was established in Mesopotamia around 4,300 years ago after its ruler, Sargon of Akkad, united a series of independent city states. Akkadian influence spanned along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers from what is now southern Iraq, through to Syria and Turkey. The north-south extent of the empire meant that it covered regions with different climates, ranging from fertile lands in the north which were highly dependent on rainfall (one of Asia’s “bread baskets”), to the irrigation-fed alluvial plains to the south.

It appears that the empire became increasingly dependent on the productivity of the northern lands and used the grains sourced from this region to feed the army and redistribute the food supplies to key supporters. Then, about a century after its formation, the Akkadian Empire suddenly collapsed, followed by mass migration and conflicts. The anguish of the era is perfectly captured in the ancient Curse of Akkad text, which describes a period of turmoil with water and food shortages: “… the large arable tracts yielded no grain, the inundated fields yielded no fish, the irrigated orchards yielded no syrup or wine, the thick clouds did not rain.”

Drought and dust

The reason for this collapse is still debated by historians, archaeologists and scientists. One of the most prominent views, championed by Yale archaeologist Harvey Weiss (who built on earlier ideas by Ellsworth Huntington), is that it was caused by an abrupt onset of drought conditions which severely affected the productive northern regions of the empire.

Weiss and his colleagues discovered evidence in northern Syria that this once prosperous region was suddenly abandoned around 4,200 years ago, as indicated by a lack of pottery and other archaeological remains. Instead, the rich soils of earlier periods were replaced by large amounts of wind-blown dust and sand, suggesting the onset of drought conditions. Subsequently, marine cores from the Gulf of Oman and the Red Sea which linked the input of dust into the sea to distant sources in Mesopotamia, provided further evidence of a regional drought at the time.

Many other researchers viewed Weiss’s interpretation with skepticism, however. Some argued, for example, that the archaeological and marine evidence was not accurate enough to demonstrate a robust correlation between drought and societal change in Mesopotamia.

A new detailed climate record

Now, stalagmite data from Iran sheds new light on the controversy. In a study published in the journal PNAS, led by Oxford palaeoclimatologist Stacy Carolin, colleagues and I provide a very well dated and high resolution record of dust activity between 5,200 and 3,700 years ago. And cave dust from Iran can tell us a surprising amount about climate history elsewhere.

Gol-e-Zard Cave might be several hundred miles to the east of the former Akkadian Empire, but it is directly downwind. As a result, around 90% of the region’s dust originates in the deserts of Syria and Iraq.

That desert dust has a higher concentration of magnesium than the local limestone which forms most of Gol-e-Zard’s stalagmites (the ones which grow upwards from the cave floor). Therefore, the amount of magnesium in the Gol-e-Zard stalagmites can be used as an indicator of dustiness at the surface, with higher magnesium concentrations indicating dustier periods, and by extension drier conditions.

The stalagmites have the additional advantage that they can be dated very precisely using uranium-thorium chronology. Combining these methods, our new study provides a detailed history of dustiness in the area, and identifies two major drought periods which started 4,510 and 4,260 years ago, and lasted 110 and 290 years respectively. The latter event occurs precisely at the time of the Akkadian Empire’s collapse and provides a strong argument that climate change was at least in part responsible.

The collapse was followed by mass migration from north to south which was met with resistance by the local populations. A 180km wall – the “Repeller of the Amorites” – was even built between the Tigris and Euphrates in an effort to control immigration, not unlike some strategies proposed today. The stories of abrupt climate change in the Middle East therefore echo over millennia to the present day.

Peruvian Scientists Use DNA To Trace Origins Of Inca Emperors

Researchers in Peru believe they have traced the origins of the Incas —the largest pre-Hispanic civilization in the Americas—through the DNA of the modern-day descendants of their emperors.

From their ancient capital Cusco, the Incas controlled a vast empire called Tahuantinsuyo, which extended from the west of present-day Argentina to the south of Colombia.

They ruled for more than two hundred years before being conquered by the invading Spanish in the 16th century.

The empire included the mountain-top citadel of Machu Picchu in modern-day Peru—now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction.

After becoming fascinated by the Inca culture, their organizational skills and their mastery of engineering, researchers Ricardo Fujita and Jose Sandoval of Lima’s University of San Martin de Porresit became interested in the genetic profile of their descendants.

They said the aim of the study, the first of its kind, was to reveal whether there was a unique Inca patriarch.

“It’s like a paternity test, not between father and son but among peoples,” Fujita told AFP.

The scientists wanted to verify two common legends about the origin of the Incas.

One attributes them to a couple from around Lake Titicaca, in Peru’s Puno region. The other identifies the first Incas as the Ayar brothers from the Pacaritambo mountain in the Cusco region.

DNA samples were taken from inhabitants of both places.

“After three years of tracking the genetic fingerprints of the descendants, we confirm that the two legends explaining the origin of the Inca civilization could be related,” said Fujita.

Genetic similarities

“They were compared with our genealogical base of more than 3,000 people to reconstruct the genealogical tree of all individuals,” said Fujita.

“We finally reduced this base to almost 200 people sharing genetic similarities close to the Inca nobility.”

The study released some preliminary results in April, in the review Molecular Genetics and Genomics.

“The conclusion we came to is that the Tahuantinsuyo nobility is descended from two lines, one in the region of Lake Titicaca, the other around the mountain of Pacaritambo in Cusco. That confirms the legends,” said Sandoval.

But it also confirms that the two legends were linked.

“Probably the first migration came from the Puno region and was established in Pacaritambo for a few decades before heading to Cusco and founding Tahuantinsuyo,” he said.

But the work of the researchers does not stop there. Now they want to go further back in time.

For that, they have to test the DNA of ancient relics, such as mummies, “to form the most complete picture of the origin of the most important pre-Hispanic civilization,” said Fujita.

The task looks complicated because the Spanish Conquistadores, who arrived 1532, destroyed Inca mummies that families venerated, as they sought to convert people to Christianity.

The researchers are now looking for where the Incas’ most direct descendants are buried in order to trace their history.

The DNA analysis would add to archeological and anthropological research to understand the exact origin of the people.

“In this case, we use … genetics, the transmission of molecular features across the generations,” said Fujita.

Mysterious Head Of A Pharaoh Discovered By Swansea Egyptologist

Swansea University Egyptology lecturer Dr Ken Griffin has found a depiction of one of the most famous pharaoh’s in history Hatshepsut (one of only a handful of female pharaohs) on an object in the Egypt Centre stores, which had been chosen for an object handling session.

The opportunity to handle genuine Egyptian artefacts is provided by the Egypt Centre to students studying Egyptology at Swansea University. During a recent handling session for an Egyptian Art and Architecture module Dr Kenneth Griffin, from the University’s Department of Classics, Ancient History and Egyptology, noticed that one of the objects chosen was much more interesting than initially thought.

Consisting of two irregularly shaped limestone fragments that have been glued together, the object had been kept in storage for over twenty years and was requested for the handling session based only on an old black and white photograph.

The front side depicts the head of a figure whose face is unfortunately missing, with the remains of a fan directly behind. Traces of hieroglyphs are also present above the head. The iconography of the piece indicates that it represents a ruler of Egypt, particularly with the presence of the uraeus (cobra) on the forehead of the figure. Who is this mysterious pharaoh and where did the fragment originate from?

A search of the Egypt Centre records provides no information on the original provenance or find spot of the object. What is known is that it came to Swansea in 1971 as part of the distribution of objects belonging to Sir Henry Wellcome (1853-1936), the pharmaceutical entrepreneur based in London. The fragments are less than 5cm thick and had clearly been removed from the wall of a temple or tomb, as can be seen from the cut marks on the back.

Having visited Egypt on over fifty occasions, Dr Griffin quickly recognised the iconography as being similar to reliefs within the temple of Hatshepsut at Deir el-Bahri (Luxor), which was constructed during the height of the New Kingdom. In particular, the treatment of the hair, the fillet headband with twisted uraeus, and the decoration of the fan are all well-known at Deir el-Bahri.

Most importantly, the hieroglyphs above the head — part of a formulaic text attested elsewhere at the temple — use a feminine pronoun, a clear indication that the figure is female.

Hatshepsut was the fifth pharaoh of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c.1478-1458 BC) and one of only a handful of women to have held this position. Early in her reign she was represented as a female wearing a long dress, but she gradually took on more masculine traits, including being depicted with a beard. The reign of Hatshepsut was one of peace and prosperity, which allowed her to construct monuments throughout Egypt. Her memorial temple at Deir el-Bahri, built to celebrate and maintain her cult, is a masterpiece of Egyptian architecture.

Many fragments were taken from this site during the late nineteenth century, before the temple was excavated by the Egypt Exploration Fund (now Egypt Exploration Society) between 1902-1909. Since 1961 the Polish Archaeological Mission to Egypt has been excavating, restoring, and recording the temple.

Yet the mystery of the precious find doesn’t end there. On the rear of the upper fragment, the head of a man with a short beard is depicted. Initially there was no explanation for this, but it is now clear that the upper fragment had been removed and recarved in more recent times in order to complete the face of the lower fragment. The replacement of the fragment below the figure would also explain the unusual cut of the upper fragment. This was probably done by an antiques dealer, auctioneer, or even the previous owner of the piece in order to increase its value and attractiveness. It was eventually decided at an unknown date to glue the fragments together in the original layout, which is how they now appear.

While Deir el-Bahri seems the most likely provenance for this artefact, further research is needed in order to confirm this and it may even be possible to one day determine the exact spot the fragments originated from.

Given the importance of the object, the head of Hatshepsut has now been placed on display in a prominent position within the House of Life at the Egypt Centre so that the relief can be appreciated by visitors to the Centre.

Dr Griffin said: “The Egypt Centre is a wonderful resource and is certainly one of the major factors in attracting students to study Egyptology at Swansea University.”

“The identification of the object as depicting Hatshepsut caused great excitement amongst the students. After all, it was only through conducting handling sessions for them that this discovery came to light.”

“While most of the students have never visited Egypt before, the handling sessions help to bring Egypt to them.”

Scientists Discover Hidden Chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid

Scientists say they have found a hidden chamber in Egypt’s Great Pyramid of Giza, in what would be the first such discovery in the structure since the 19th century and one likely to spark a new surge of interest in the pharaohs.

In an article published in the journal Nature on Thursday, an international team said the 30-meter void deep within the pyramid is situated above the structure’s Grand Gallery, and has a similar cross-section.

The purpose of the space is unclear, and it’s not yet known whether it was built with a function in mind or if it’s merely a gap in the pyramid’s architecture. Some experts say such empty spaces have been known for years.

“This is a premier,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, a co-founder of the ScanPyramids project and president of the Heritage Innovation Preservation Institute. “It could be composed of one or several structures… maybe it could be another Grand Gallery. It could be a chamber, it could be a lot of things.”

The scientists made the discovery using cosmic-ray imaging, recording the behavior of subatomic particles called muons that penetrate the rock similar to X-rays, only much deeper. Their paper was peer-reviewed before appearing in Nature, an international, interdisciplinary journal of science, and its results confirmed by other teams of scientists.

Chances of the space containing treasure or burial chambers are almost nil, said Aidan Dodson, an Egyptologist at the University of Bristol, but the discovery helps shed light on building techniques.

“The pyramid’s burial chamber and sarcophagus have already been discovered, so this new area was more likely kept empty above the Grand Gallery to reduce the weight of stone pressing down on its ceiling,” he said, adding that similar designs have been found in other pyramids.

Egypt’s former antiquities minister and famed archaeologist Zahi Hawass, who has been testing scanning methods and heads the government’s oversight panel for the new techniques, said that the area in question has been known of for years and thus does not constitute a discovery. He has long downplayed the usefulness of scans of ancient sites.

“The Great Pyramid is full of voids. We have to be careful how results are presented to the public,” he said, adding that one problem facing the international team is that it did not have an Egyptologist as a member. He said the chamber was likely empty space builders used to construct the rooms below.

“In order to construct the Grand Gallery, you had to have a hollow, or a big void in order to access it—you cannot build it without such a space,” he said. “Large voids exist between the stones and may have been left as construction gaps.”

The pyramid is also known as Khufu’s Pyramid for its builder, a 4th Dynasty pharaoh who reigned from 2509 to 2483 B.C. Visitors to the pyramid, on the outskirts of Cairo, can walk, hunched over, up a long tunnel to reach the Grand Gallery. The space announced by the scanning team does not appear to be connected to any known internal passages.

Scientists involved in the scanning called the find a “breakthrough” that highlighted the usefulness of modern particle physics in archaeology.

“It was hidden, I think, since the construction of the pyramid,” Tayoubi added.

The Great Pyramid, the last surviving wonder of the ancient world, has captivated visitors since it was built as a royal burial chamber some 4,500 years ago. Experts are still divided over how it and other pyramids were constructed, so even relatively minor discoveries generate great interest.

Late last year, thermal scanning identified a major anomaly in the Great Pyramid with three adjacent stones at its base which registered higher temperatures than others.

Speculation that King Tutankhamun’s tomb contains additional antechambers stoked interest in recent years, before scans by ground-penetrating radar and other tools came up empty, raising doubts about the claim.

The muon scan is accomplished by planting special plates inside and around the pyramid to collect data on the particles, which rain down from the earth’s atmosphere. They pass through empty spaces but can be absorbed or deflected by harder surfaces, allowing scientists to study their trajectories and discern what is stone and what is not. Several plates were used to triangulate the void discovered in the Great Pyramid.

While the technology can detect large open spaces, it cannot discern what is inside, so it’s unclear if the empty space contains any objects. Tayoubi said the team plans now to work with others to come up with hypotheses about the area.

“The good news is that the void is there, and it’s very big,” he said.