Monday, February 27, 2006


Some years ago, at a site called Jinniushan, near the town of Yinkou in northeastern China, researchers found the fossilized remains of a woman who lived some 260,000 years ago. Although the climate may have been milder, she still lived near the edge of human existence in a time before fire. In fact, the lady from Jinniushan is the biggest woman yet found from the Pleistocene, weighing an estimated 163 pounds and standing some five feet five and 1/2 inches tall. In fact, at first they thought she was male but the shape of her pelvis suggests differently. The woman belonged to the Homo genus but her species is uncertain.

Now a fresh analysis of the specimen has been made by a team that included Anthropologist Karen Rosenberg from the University of Delaware, Chris B. Ruff of Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and Lu Zune of Peking University in Beijing. They say that this is the first time that we have a body size and a brain size estimate from one individual... other estimates were made from bones that came from different specimens; that is, body size based on a tiny samples from a bunch of long bones and brain size from a bunch of skulls.

But the Jinniushan specimen bears out that brain size was increasingly relative to body size during the Pleistocene. Her brain was large for her body size, even though she was larger-bodied than more primitive peoples.

Her size and apparent strength may have been an adaptation to a cold climate. Much like elk or bears, these cold-adapted humans grew larger but with shorter limbs from those of their tropical peers in order to conserve heat more efficiently.

The research appears online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences at

Sunday, February 26, 2006


The movies such as Ridley Scott's film "Gladiator" have misled us again! That film depicted an arena where savage violence took place and the defeated gladiator was slain after being condemned to death by a blood-thirsty crowd.

Recently Austrian experts carried out a painstaking forensic analysis of 67 gladiators whose remains were found in a cemetery at Ephesus in Turkey, the Roman empire's hub of power in western Asia.

They found that the gladiators had a remarkable lack of multiple injuries and mutilation, which suggests the fighters were restricted to only one type of weapon per one-on-one bout and were barred from savaging their wounded opponent. Even though most gladiators wore helmets, 10 of the 67 had died from a squarish hammer-like injury to the side of the head -- a blow that appears to have been inflicted by a back-stage executioner. Evidently mortally wounded gladiators were still alive when taken from the arena and were put out of their agony by that massive blow to the skull.

If you would like to indulge in fiction about Rome with a very authentic ring to it, try White Murder, a Marcus Corvinus Mystery by David Wishart, a Scots classic professor. The focus is on charioteers not gladiators. But you get a very good idea of the sports of Rome in the 1st century AD and its street life, wine bars, corruption and intrigues.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


New evidence shows that often dog skeletons lay alongside human ones in ancient times. One of the most extensive surveys of the earliest known dog burials suggests humans domesticated canines between 17,000 and 13,000 years ago. The new study is published in the February issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The earliest known evidence of a dog burial dates to around 17,000 years ago in Russia. But the practice of burying dogs appears to have begun about 15,000 years ago. Burying dogs became more common around 12,000 years ago.

A grave found in what is now Rhode Island contains a prehistoric dog that was arranged to lie on its left side with its front paw under its head. A burial dating from about 6700 years ago in what is now Tennessee was discovered to be unusually old. Its skeleton indicated the animal suffered traumatic injuries, arthritis and other ailments suggesting that the owner insured the safety and well being of the dog since it probably couldn't have survived otherwise. Even today, most dogs are so reliant on humans that they could never fend for themselves in the wild, says Chrityann Darwent, an assistant professor of anthropoloogy at the University of California at Davis.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Jerusalem's Old City Walls Could Collapse!

Immediate restoration is called for on large sections of the 16th century walls surrounding Jerualem's Old City. An engineering survey conducted by the Israel Antiquities Authority came to this conclusion. The cost of the work would be about $12 million dollars. It would seem that grants for such a project would not be difficult to obtain.

The problem is that the deteriorating wall, built by Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificient between 1536 and 1541, is located along the Moslem and Jewish Quarters. This especially problematic area borders the southern supporting wall of the Temple Mount, the holiest place in Judaism. This worries Israeli officals because the Mount is also home to the Mosque of Al Aksa, the third holiest place in Islam.

It's tragic that it is unlikely that the two groups can agree on this reconstruction that would save both of their holy places. Will a portion of the wall collapsing force them to agree?


A statue of Queen Ti, grandmother to Tutankamun and wife of Amenhotep III, has been discovered at an ancient temple in Luxor, Egypt. The 3,400 year old statue was very well preserved. Queen Ti was also mother to Akhenaten, the sun-worshiper who some say was the founder of the first known monotheistic religion.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University discovered the 5 foot-high black granite statue at the Temple of Mut in the ancient temple complex at Karnak. Although the statue is missing its legs, it is otherwise well preserved. It was identified by a number of cartouches (royal names) found on the statue as well as the features that were definitely in the style of the 18th century New Kingdom dynasty. Cartouches of a late king also on the statue showed it may have been re-used about 300 years later by a 21st dynasty ruler.