Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mysterious 4,000-Year-Old 'CD-ROM' Code Cracked

Phaistos disk Side A

A fired-clay disk from the Second Millenium B.C. may finally have had some of its markings decoded.
The mysterious "Phaistos disk," found in 1908 in a palace called Phaistos on the island of Crete, contains symbols on both sides, in a spiral configuration meant to be read from the outside toward the center. It is estimated to date from about 1,700 B.C.
For better than a century, scientists have been trying to decode the meaning behind the symbols, and now Dr. Gareth Owens, of the Technological Educational Institute of Crete, says he has figured out some of its keywords and the general message it conveys.

PHOTOS: Egyptian Coffin Holds Bronze Age Artifacts

The disk contains 241 "picture" segments created from 45 individual symbols. Owens argues that the disk -- about 6 inches in diameter -- contains a prayer to the mother goddess of the Minoan era.
"The most stable word and value is 'mother,' and in particular the mother goddess of the Minoan era," said Owens, according to Archaeology News Network.
Using specific groups of symbols Owens says one side of the disk contains the translated wording "great lady of importance" while the other uses the expression "pregnant mother." One side, Owens says, is dedicated to a pregnant woman and the other to a woman giving birth.
Owens spent six years working on the code with a colleague at Oxford University and says about 90 percent of one side of the disk can now be deciphered. In a talk, he jokingly referred to it as the first Minoan "CD-ROM" for its shape and hard-coded data.
Discovery News

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The Real Dracula: Vlad the Impaler

by Elizabeth Palermo
dracula, vlad the impaler, translyvania, vampires, vlad, vlad tepes, vlad Dracula, wallachia, real vampire
This portrait of Vlad Tepes, painted in the early 16th century, hangs in the museum at Castle Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria.
Credit: Public domain
Few names have cast more terror into the human heart than Dracula. The legendary vampire, created by author Bram Stoker for his 1897 novel of the same name, has inspired countless horror movies, television shows and other bloodcurdling tales of vampires.
Though Dracula may seem like a singular creation, Stoker in fact drew inspiration from a real-life man with an even more grotesque taste for blood: Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia or — as he is better known — Vlad the Impaler (Vlad Tepes), a name he earned for his favorite way of dispensing with his enemies.
Vlad III was born in 1431 in Transylvania, a mountainous region in modern-day Romania. His father was Vlad II Dracul, ruler of Wallachia, a principality located to the south of Transylvania. Vlad II was granted the surname Dracul ("dragon") after his induction into the Order of the Dragon, a Christian military order supported by the Holy Roman Emperor. [8 Grisly Archaeological Discoveries]

Situated between Christian Europe and the Muslim lands of the Ottoman Empire, Transylvania and Wallachia were frequently the scene of bloody battles as Ottoman forces pushed westward into Europe, and Christian Crusaders repulsed the invaders or marched eastward toward the Holy Land.
When Vlad II was called to a diplomatic meeting in 1442 with Sultan Murad II, he brought his young sons Vlad III and Radu along. But the meeting was actually a trap: All three were arrested and held hostage. The elder Vlad was released under the condition that he leave his sons behind.
Vlad and turks
This painting, "Vlad the Impaler and the Turkish Envoys," by Theodor Aman (1831-1891), hangs in the National Museum of Art of Romania.
Credit: Public domain

Years of captivity

Under the Ottomans, Vlad and his younger brother were tutored in science, philosophy and the arts — Vlad also became a skilled horseman and warrior. According to some accounts, however, he may also have been imprisoned and tortured for part of that time, during which he would have witnessed the impalement of his the Ottomans' enemies.
The rest of Vlad's family, however, fared even worse: His father was ousted as ruler of Wallachia by local warlords (boyars) and was killed in the swamps near Balteni, Wallachia, in 1447. Vlad's older brother, Mircea, was tortured, blinded and buried alive.
Whether these events turned Vlad III Dracula ("son of the dragon") into a ruthless killer is a matter of historical speculation. What is certain, however, is that once Vlad was freed from Ottoman captivity shortly after his family's death, his reign of blood began. [7 Strange Ways Humans Act Like Vampires]
In 1453, the city of Constantinople fell to the Ottomans, threatening all of Europe with an invasion. Vlad was charged with leading a force to defend Wallachia from an invasion. His 1456 battle to protect his homeland was victorious: Legend holds that he personally beheaded his opponent, Vladislav II, in one-on-one combat.
Though he was now ruler of the principality of Wallachia, his lands were in a ruinous state due to constant warfare and the internal strife caused by feuding boyars. To consolidate power, Vlad invited hundreds of them to a banquet. Knowing his authority would be challenged, he had his guests stabbed and their still-twitching bodies impaled.
Vlad and impaled victims
A woodcut from a 1499 pamphlet depicts Vlad III dining among the impaled corpses of his victims.
Credit: Public domain

What is impaling?

Impaling is a particularly gruesome form of torture and death: A wood or metal pole is inserted through the body either front to back, or vertically, through the rectum or vagina. The exit wound could be near the victim's neck, shoulders or mouth.
In some cases, the pole was rounded, not sharp, to avoid damaging internal organs and thereby prolong the suffering of the victim. The pole was then raised vertically to display the victim's torment — it could take hours or days for the impaled person to die.
Though Vlad is widely credited with bringing order and stability to Wallachia, his rule was undisputedly vicious: Dozens of Saxon merchants in Kronstadt, who were once allied with the boyars, were also impaled in 1459.
The Ottoman Turks were never far from Vlad's thoughts — or his borders. When diplomatic envoys had an audience with Vlad in 1459, the diplomats declined to remove their hats, citing a religious custom. Commending them on their religious devotion, Vlad ensured that their hats would forever remain on their heads by having the hats nailed to the diplomats' skulls.
During one of his many successful campaigns against the Ottomans, Vlad wrote to a military ally in 1462, "I have killed peasants, men and women, old and young, who lived at Oblucitza and Novoselo, where the Danube flows into the sea … We killed 23,884 Turks, without counting those whom we burned in homes or the Turks whose heads were cut by our soldiers ...Thus, your highness, you must know that I have broken the peace."
Vlad's victories over the invading Ottomans were celebrated throughout Wallachia, Transylvania and the rest of Europe — even Pope Pius II was impressed. But Vlad also earned a much darker reputation: On one occasion, he reportedly dined among a veritable forest of defeated warriors writhing on impaled poles. It's not known whether tales of Vlad III Dracula dipping his bread in the blood of his victims are true, but stories about his unspeakable sadism swirled throughout Europe.

Tens of thousands killed

In total, Vlad is estimated to have killed about 80,000 people through various means. This includes some 20,000 people who were impaled and put on display outside the city of Targoviste: The sight was so repulsive that the invading Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, after seeing the scale of Vlad's carnage and the thousands of decaying bodies being picked apart by crows, turned back and retreated to Constantinople.
In 1476, while marching to yet another battle with the Ottomans, Vlad and a small vanguard of soldiers were ambushed, and Vlad was killed and beheaded — by most reports, his head was delivered to Mehmed II in Constantinople as a trophy to be displayed above the city's gates.
The Middle Ages were notoriously violent, and the name of Vlad III Dracula may have been a mere historical footnote were it not for an 1820 book by the British consul to Wallachia, William Wilkinson: "An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: With Various Political Observations Relating to Them." Wilkinson delves into the history of the region, mentioning the notorious warlord Vlad Tepes.
Stoker, who never visited Vlad's homeland, was nonetheless known to have read Wilkinson's book. And if ever there were a historical figure to inspire a bloodthirsty, monstrous fictional character, Vlad III Dracula was one.
Live Science
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Ancient City Ruled by Genghis Khan's Heirs Revealed

by Owen Jarus
Archaeologists with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore have uncovered part of the ancient city of Ukek, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan.
Archaeologists with the Saratov Regional Museum of Local Lore have uncovered part of the ancient city of Ukek, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan.
Credit: Photo courtesy Dmitriy Kubankin
Remains of a 750-year-old city, founded by the descendents of Genghis Khan, have been unearthed along the Volga River in Russia.
Among the discoveries are two Christian temples one of which has stone carvings and fine ceramics.
The city’s name was Ukek and it was founded just a few decades after Genghis Khan died in 1227. After the great conqueror’s death his empire split apart and his grandson Batu Khan, who lived from 1205 to 1255, founded the Golden Horde (also called the Kipchak Khanate).The Golden Horde kingdom stretched from Eastern Europe to Central Asia and controlled many of the Silk Road trade routes that connected China to Medieval Europe.
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History Trivia - Henry V victorious at Battle of Agincourt

October 25

1154 King Stephen of Blois (grandson of William the Conqueror) died. After the death of King Henry I, Stephen took the throne, preventing Henry's daughter Matilda from ruling, and setting off a civil war.

1400 Geoffrey Chaucer died at the age of 57. He was the first poet to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

1415, in Northern France, England led by Henry V won the Battle of Agincourt over France during the Hundred Years' War.  Almost 6000 Frenchmen were killed while fewer than 400 were lost by the English.
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Friday, October 24, 2014

History Trivia - Carthage falls to Genseric and the Vandals

October 24

 69 Second Battle of Bedriacum, forces under Antonius Primus, the commander of the Danube armies, loyal to Vespasian, defeated the forces of Emperor Vitellius.

439 Carthage, the leading Roman city in North Africa, fell to Genseric and the Vandals.

1260 The spectacular Cathedral of Chartres was dedicated in the presence of King Louis IX of France; the cathedral is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

1360 The Treaty of Brétigny was ratified at Calais, marking the end of the first phase of the Hundred Years' War.

1375 Ki
ng Valdemar IV died. He united Denmark after a brief period of domination by foreign rulers.

1537 Jane Seymour, the third wife of England's King Henry VIII, died after giving birth to Prince Edward.  Prince Edward became King Edward VI.
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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Oldest High-Altitude Human Settlement Discovered in Andes

by Tia Ghose

rockshelter excavations
Archaeologists excavate a rockshelter in the Peruvian Andes that was used more than 12,000 years ago by human settlers.
Credit: Kurt Rademaker

The oldest-known evidence of humans living at extremely high altitudes has been unearthed in the Peruvian Andes, archaeologists say.
The sites — a rock shelter with traces of Ice Age campfires and rock art, and an open-air workshop with stone tools and fragments — are located nearly 14,700 feet (4,500 meters) above sea level and were occupied roughly 12,000 years ago.
The discovery, which is detailed today (Oct. 23) in the journal Science, suggests ancient people in South America were living at extremely high altitudes just 2,000 years after humans first reached the continent.

The findings also raise questions about how these early settlers physically adapted to sky-high living.
"Either they genetically adapted really, really fast — within 2,000 years — to be able to settle this area, or genetic adaptation isn't necessary at all," said lead study author Kurt Rademaker, who was a University of Maine visiting assistant professor in anthropology when he conducted the study. [See Images of the High-Altitude Ancient Settlement]
In follow-up work, the team plans to look for more evidence of occupation, such as human remains.
Coastal clue
The recent discovery of these high-altitude artifacts was made possible by work that started in the 1990s. At that time, Rademaker and his colleagues were studying a 13,000-year-old Paleoindian fishing settlement on the coast of Peru called Quebrada Jaguay. There, they found tools made of obsidian, a volcanic rock. There were no rivers or other geologic forces to carry the volcanic rock to the coast, and the closest volcanoes were in the Andes Mountains, roughly 100 miles (160 kilometers) away, said Rademaker, who is now a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Tübingen in Germany.
"This obsidian told us that early on, Paleoindians must have gone to the highlands," Rademaker told Live Science.
Rademaker and his colleagues analyzed the obsidian and determined that it likely came from around the Pucuncho Basin, an arid, cold plateau ringed by 21,000-foot-tall (6,400 meters) volcanoes, Rademaker said.
High life
After years of searching around the plateau, the researchers found a rock shelter with two alcoves, ceilings blackened with soot and walls decorated with rock art. The site also showed evidence of burnt detritus from ancient people's campsites. The rock shelter was used for thousands of years, starting around 12,400 years ago, and may have been a temporary base camp where herders sheltered from the rain, Rademaker said.
The coastal obsidian point likely came from a nearby outcropping, near what would've been an ancient open-air workshop at the time, the researchers said. The workshop contained hundreds of ancient tools, from spear points to scrapers to bifaces, or hand axes, some of which dated to 12,800 years old. The researchers also found large mammal bones from vicuña, the wild ancestors to alpacas, similar animals called guanacos, and taruca deer.
It's still not clear whether the people living along the coast and in the highlands were the same individuals, or whether they maintained trading networks across large distances, Rademaker said. [In Photos: Human Skeleton Sheds Light on First Americans]
Early settlers
The findings suggest people were living at high altitudes earlier than previously thought.
"People were really settled in and using this environment at the end of the ice age around 12,400 years ago," said Michael Waters, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University in College Station, who was not involved in the study. "They were going back and forth between the coast and this high-altitude site."
People in modern culture, perhaps because of stories of pioneers going west and getting trapped in the mountains (and eating each other), tend to see the highlands as poor living environments, said Bonnie Pitblado, an archaeologist at the University of Oklahoma, who was not involved in the study.
"There was this cultural stereotype that mountains are just impediments, that they get in the way," Pitblado told Live Science. But for prehistoric cultures, "mountains are these places with just the most amazing array of resources."
For instance, the highlands may have had hot springs and ice caves, glacial melt streams and other water sources, and the rock needed for stone tools, such as quartz, chert and obsidian, Pitblado said.
The findings also call into question just what is needed for people to live in high altitudes. At those locations, the air is much cooler and thinner, meaning it holds less oxygen than lower elevations. So, past studies have found that people living at high elevations have genetic adaptations that help them efficiently use oxygen from the thin mountain air, as well as mutations that can shield them from heart disease and strokes caused by chronic mountain sickness.
But the current research suggests that either people evolved these adaptations in just a few thousand years, or that these mutations weren't necessary for the first inhabitants.
After all, lowlanders like Rademaker live at high elevations all the time and do just fine, he said.
Live Science
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New generation of archaeologists takes ancient Egypt into 21st century

The Guardian

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