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The oldest ancient Maya ceremonial compound ever discovered in the Central American lowlands dates back 200 years before similar sites pop up elsewhere in the region, archaeologists announced today (April 25). The recently excavated plaza and pyramid would have likely served as a solar observatory for rituals.

The finding at a site called Ceibal suggests that the origins of the Maya civilization are more complex than first believed. Archaeologists hotly debate whether the Maya – famous for their complex calendar system that spurred apocalypse rumors last year – developed independently or whether they were largely inspired by an earlier culture known as the Olmec. The new research suggests the answer is neither.

“This major social change happened through interregional interactions,” said study researcher Takeshi Inomata, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona. But it doesn’t look like the Olmec inspired the Maya, Inomata told reporters. Rather, the entire region went through a cultural shift around 1000 B.C., with all nearby cultures adopting similar architectural and ceremonial styles. [See Images of the Ancient Maya Observatory]

“It’s signaling to us that the Maya were not receiving this sophisticated stuff 500 years later from somebody else, but much of the innovation we’re seeing out of the whole region may be coming out of Ceibal or a place like Ceibal,” said Walter Witschey, an anthropologist at Longwood University in Virginia, who was not involved in the study.

Residential Structures

© Takeshi Inomata
Archaeologists uncover some of the earliest residences in Ceibal. The oldest layers of the city were buried under 23 to 60 feet (7 to 18 meters) of dirt and later construction.

Oldest ritual compound

The finding comes from seven years of archaeological excavations at Ceibal, a site in central Guatemala that was occupied continuously for 2,000 years. Getting to Ceibal’s origins was no small feat: The earliest buildings were buried under 23 to 60 feet (7 to 18 meters) of sediment and later construction, said study co-researcher Daniela Triadan, also a University of Arizona anthropologist.

The earliest structures recently discovered include a plaza with a western building and an eastern platform, a pattern seen at later Maya sites and also at the Olmec center of La Venta on the Gulf Coast of what is now Mexico. The researchers used radiocarbon dating to peg the date of construction to about 1000 B.C. This technique analyzes organic materials for carbon-14, an isotope or variation of carbon that decays predictably. As such, carbon-14 acts as a chemical clock archaeologists can use to figure out how long something has been in the ground.

A construction date of 1000 B.C. makes the Ceibal structures about 200 years older than those at La Venta, meaning the Olmec’s construction practices couldn’t have inspired the Mayans, the researchers report Thursday (April 25) in the journal Science. Instead, it appears that the entire region underwent a shift around this time, with groups adopting each other’s architecture and rituals, modifying them and inventing new additions.

“We are saying there was this connection with various groups, but we are saying it was probably not one directional influence,” Inomata said.

There was an earlier Olmec center, San Lorenzo, which declined around 1150 B.C., but residents there did not build these distinctive ceremonial structures. By 850 B.C. or 800 B.C., the Maya at Ceibal had renovated their platform into a pyramid, which they continued refining until it reached a height of about 20 to 26 feet (6 to 8 m) by 700 B.C.

Starting a civilization

This early phase of Maya culture occurs before the group developed written language and before any record of their elaborate calendar system, so little is known about their beliefs, Inomata said. But the pyramid-and-plaza area was almost certainly a space for rituals. Among the artifacts found in the plaza are numerous greenstone axes, which seem to have been put there as offerings.

The architecture layout is what’s known as a “group-E assemblage,” said Witschey. These assemblages appear all over the Maya world and worked as solar observatories. From the western building, a view could stand and look at the eastern platform or pyramid, which would have posts at each end and at the center. On the summer solstice, the sunrise would occur over the northernmost marker; on the spring and fall equinoxes, it would be right over the center marker; and finally, on the winter solstice, the sun would rise over the southernmost marker, Witschey said.

“The first people who settled at Ceibal had, already, a well-developed idea about what a village would look like,” Triadan said. “The transition from a mobile hunter-gatherer and horticultural lifestyle to permanently settled agriculturalists was rapid.”

It’s not clear what might have prompted the lowland Maya to give up their semi-settled life for permanent villages and cities, Inomata said. One possibility is that maize production became more efficient around 1000 B.C. The coastal Olmec people had long been able to grow maize reasonably well, given fertile soil from rivers feeding into the Gulf of Mexico. But the Maya lowlands were less wet and less fertile, with fewer fish and fowl that the Olmec could have depended on to round out their diets. If maize farming became more productive around 1000 B.C., however, it may have prompted the Maya to start staying put.

“At that point, it probably made sense to cut down many forest trees in the Maya lowlands and then commit more strongly to an agricultural way of life,” Inomata said.

Members of the research team are currently working on environmental analysis to try to better understand the climate and weather of the area around the time of settlement. What does seem clear, Inomata said, is that Maya civilization didn’t have to arise from an earlier, failing civilization.

“This study is not just a study about this specific civilization,” he said. “We also want to think about how human society changed and how human society develops.”

What the Maya findings suggest is that a new civilization doesn’t have to arise from the dust of a previous one, but can happen through the interaction of multiple groups trading ideas, Inomata said.

“What they’re reminding us is how much the jungle still hides, how much more there is to learn and how complex a story of the evolution of this civilization we really have on our hands,” Witschey said.

Stephanie Pappas, Senior writer

Live Science

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MessageToEagle.com – Four mysterious disk-shaped copper plates were discovered by archaeologists conducting excavations close to a necropolis of the ancient archaeological site just east of the Sea of Galilee, Israel.

Recently, from the fascinating region of the Sea of Galilee (also known as Lake of Tiberias), near the Golan Heights, in the Jordan Rift Valley, northeast Israel, archaeologists reported the discovery of a submerged cone-shaped structure.

Now, the four copper plates – first unearthed during a survey two years ago at Hippos-Sussita – baffle archaeologists working in the area.

 


Click on image to enlargeThe excavated remains of Hippos, an aerial view. Credits: Michael Eisenberg/Hippos Excavation Project

What was the plates’ true purpose? How old the artifacts are?

Dr. Michael Eisenberg of the Zinman Institute of Archaeology at the University of Haifa, Israel along with other reseachers of the Hippos Excavation Project asks for help:

 

The four plates, showing the “inner” sides with decorative incisions and apparent nail marks. Courtesy Michael Eisenberg and the Hippos Excavation Project

“Has anyone encountered such plates and if so, do you know if they were set on wooden coffins?”

“They were found in the Hippos necropolis during several surveys”, says Israeli archaeologist Dr. Michael Eisenberg.

He directs the Hippos Excavation Project, which has uncovered remarkably well-preserved monumental remains and artifacts at this ancient mountaintop Greco-Roman city, a site that overlooks the Sea of Galilee.

 

“None were found during excavation, but all were found very near to robbed and open graves.

It was Dr. Alexander Iermolin, conservator from the institute of Haifa, who first found the pieces during a metal detector survey. They were totally ignored even by us as at first glance they look rather modern.”

The disk-shaped plates, approximately 20 cm in diameter, were found at the necropolis hill located 300 m south of Hippos, feature what appear to be incisions in a decorative pattern on what has been interpreted as their inner sides, with clear marks of nails and a hole in the middle of each.

 

As the necropolis has not yet been systematically excavated, the age and specific context of the plates could not be determined.

 


Click on image to enlargeHippos, the main excavation areas. Above and below, aerial views. Credits: Michael Eisenberg/Hippos Excavation Project

 

Hippos – The temenos south wall. Credits: Michael Eisenberg/Hippos Excavation Project

 

Credits: Michael Eisenberg/Hippos Excavation Project

According to Dr. Eisenberg, the necropolis is probably dated to the broad Hellenistic-Byzantine time range, as does the nearby Hippos-Sussita polis, which has been extensively excavated.
However, the plates were found outside of graves, not inside, so it is difficult to determine the provenance as they could not be associated with surrounding artifacts and human remains within the internments.

“The plates seemed to have been thrown out of the graves by ancient robbers,” says Dr. Eisenberg, who suspects that the relics were first exposed as a result of looting.

They may not be the only extant examples. “One similar plate was located recently in the Israeli treasury department, but without any context”, says Eisenberg.

The mystery surrounding the relics still remains.

Single tree on hillside, late afternoon.

When drought hits, trees can suffer—a process that makes sounds. Now, scientists may have found the key to understanding these cries for help.

In the lab, a team of French scientists has captured the ultrasonic noise made by bubbles forming inside water-stressed trees. Because trees also make noises that aren’t related to drought impacts, scientists hadn’t before been able to discern which sounds are most worrisome. (Watch a video: Drought 101.)

“With this experiment we start to understand the origin of acoustic events in trees,” said Alexandre Ponomarenko, a physicist at Grenoble University in France, whose team conducted the research.

This discovery could help scientists figure out when trees are parched and need emergency watering, added Ponomarenko, who presented his team’s results last month at an American Physical Society meeting in Baltimore, Maryland.

Listening to Trees

To figure out how to listen to trees, the French scientists drew on their knowledge of how trees take in water—essentially by drinking from a really long “straw.”

Inside tree trunks are bundles of specialized tubes called xylem, which rely on the attractive forces between water molecules as well as those between water and plant cells to lift liquid to the highest leaves and branches. (See National Geographic’s tree pictures.)

Because trees are so tall, the liquid in the xylem can be under intense pressure—many times that of the atmosphere around us—but the attractive forces between neighboring water molecules keep the water column intact.

Imagine using a straw to slurp the last few drops from the bottom of your glass: You have to increase the pressure even more. In drought-stricken trees, this increased pressure can cause the water column to break, allowing dissolved air to form bubbles that block water flow.

These events are called cavitations, and while trees can withstand some, too many can be deadly.

Since cavitations can kill trees, scientists and forest managers want to know when they are increasing. (Also see “Pictures: Saving and Studying Tasmania’s Giant Trees.”)

Scientists have known for decades that microphones can pick up the noises that cavitations make. But because they couldn’t see inside the tree, they weren’t certain of the origins of these sounds, which could have resulted from wood creaking or breaking or xylem cells collapsing.

To answer the question, the team put a thin slice of pine wood into a liquid-filled gel capsule to mimic conditions inside a living tree.

The scientists then evaporated water from the gel, simulating a drought. As the wood began cavitating, the scientists filmed bubbles forming while recording with a microphone.

The scientists found that around half the sounds they picked up were associated with cavitations. The rest were from other processes, such as bubbles invading neighboring cells. Most important, the sound waves from each type of event made a distinct pattern. All of them are above the range of human hearing.

The researchers think they can compare sounds from living trees with these patterns, and determine which processes are creating the sounds.

Helping Thirsty Trees

According to Ponomarenko, the findings could lead to the design of a handheld device that allows people to diagnose stressed trees using only microphones.

Such a device may be particularly important if droughts become more common and more severe, as many global warming models predict they will. (Read “The New Dust Bowl” in National Geographic magazine.)

In fact, a study published in Nature last fall suggested that trees in many places—from tropical rain forests in South America to arid woodlands in the U.S. West—already “live on the edge,” meaning their cavitation rate is almost as high as they can sustain.

Ponomarenko’s method could provide an early warning that cavitations are increasing.

For instance, he envisions a device that would attach to a tree and constantly listen for sounds of thirst. If needed, the device could then trigger an emergency-watering system.

Ponomarenko’s research is promising, added Cornell University’s Abe Stroock, whose lab designed the gel capsule the French team used. He said the result “opens a new mode of observation” into cavitation. (See pictures of the 2012 drought that parched much of the United States.)

But he also noted that the wood samples used in the team’s study had to be “excised and abused,” so they don’t necessarily behave exactly like wood in a living tree.

“Translating [these findings] to a living plant and into different species is a lot of work, potentially,” he said.

National Geographic

 

World`s oldest harbour, hieroglyphic papyri found Cairo: A team of archaeologists in Egypt has unearthed what are believed to be the world’s most ancient harbour and a set of hieroglyphic papyri dating to the third millennium B.C..

“The port of Wadi el-Jarf located on the Red Sea, 180 km south of Suez, dates to around 2,600 B.C. and the reign of King Khufu,” Minister for Antiquities Mohammed Ibrahim said.

It is considered one of the most important ancient Egyptian ports because it was used to transport copper and other minerals from the Sinai Peninsula, Ibrahim said.

“The papyri, which provide detailed accounts of daily life and traditions at the time of the Old Kindgom, are considered the oldest ever found,” he said.

The papyri are currently being studied by experts at the Suez Museum.

The team of French and Egyptian archaeologists also discovered stone anchors at Wadi el-Jarf that were marked with ropes used to tie the ships inside the port.

A collection of stone tools used for cutting ropes, some wooden remains and ropes as well as remains of ancient houses for port workers and 30 caves whose entrances were closed with stone blocks bearing inscriptions of King Khufu were also discovered at the site.

The pharoah King Khufu is credited with building the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.

IANS

The discovery in Chattisgarh is being billed as India’s biggest archaeological find in at least half a century
New Delhi: Explorers claim they have evidence of a 2,500-year-old planned city—complete with water reservoirs, roads, seals and coins—buried in Chhattisgarh, a discovery that is being billed as the nation’s biggest archaeological find in at least half a century.
The discoveries were made from Tarighat in Durg district and spanned five acres of a sparsely inhabited region beside a river, according to archaeologists from the state’s department of culture and archaeology.
“As of now, we have four 15ft high mounds around which we have evidence of pottery, coins and some terracotta figures,” said J.R. Bhagat, deputy director in the department. “Once we begin, the entire digging could take at least 5-10 years.”
The 5th and 3rd century BC—to which the Tarighat finds date—points to a period when the region was ruled by the Kushan and Satavahana dynasties in central India. While there have been extensive, previous evidence of urban growth after the first century, such finds are extremely rare for preceding periods.
“These were among the most interesting times in early India,” said Abhijit Dandekar, an archaeologist at the Deccan College, Pune. “It was the end of the period of the 16 mahajanapadas (loosely translated to great kingdoms) when the Mahabharata was supposedly set, and the beginning of the Maurya empire. There’s very little known about urban structures in this period, in regions spanning modern-day Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.”
Dandekar, who is not involved in these finds, added that evidence of towns and urbanization spanning five acres was quite significant in an Indian context, though only excavations and peer review would throw true light on the import of these findings.
He added that the excavations at Ahichhatra, near Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh, that began in 1960s were the most recent evidence of large-scale town planning in India for a comparable period and, if the Chattisgarh findings were as extensive, then it would be a significant find.
“In an Indian context, an excavation has rarely been disappointing,” said Dandekar. “If you believed there’s a city, it usually turns out to be one and bigger than what you first expected.”
To be sure, Bhagat clarified that the finds still haven’t been dated using methods such as radiocarbon or thermoluminescence dating—modern, established techniques that measure the amount of carbon or the relative proportions of other elements from which exact ages of materials are deduced—but he added that the texture of the pots, the typical pattern of raised mounds etc all pointed to evidence of an urban agglomeration.
“The kind of pottery called the Red and Black Northern Pottery, the coins, etc., at the surface of the site itself show very visible signs of complex urbanization.”
Arun Raj, a Chhattisgarh-based archaeologist with the Archaeological Survey of India, characterized Chhattisgarh as being an untapped “gold mine” for archaeology.
“We’ve just given them permission for this dig, and I think it will be some time before we understand how important this is,” Raj said. “But this region, which has been relatively unexplored due to Naxalite conflict, could throw up several such finds.”
He added that one strand of Indian archaeological research sought to find common threads urban lifestyle patterns of the Indus Valley civilization that declined around 1300 BC, to urban formations in central India. “This may possibly falsify or add more credibility to such theories,” he said.
Jacob P. Koshy
Livemint.com

HIGASHI-MATSUSHIMA, Japan (Reuters) – The tsunami that engulfed northeastern Japan two years ago has left some survivors believing they are seeing ghosts.

In a society wary of admitting to mental problems, many are turning to exorcists for help.

Tales of spectral figures lined up at shops where now there is only rubble are what psychiatrists say is a reaction to fear after the March 11, 2011, disaster in which nearly 19,000 people were killed.

“The places where people say they see ghosts are largely those areas completely swept away by the tsunami,” said Keizo Hara, a psychiatrist in the city of Ishinomaki, one of the areas worst-hit by the waves touched off by an offshore earthquake.

“We think phenomena like ghost sightings are perhaps a mental projection of the terror and worries associated with those places.”

Hara said post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) might only now be emerging in many people, and the country could be facing a wave of stress-related problems.

“It will take time for PTSD to emerge for many people in temporary housing for whom nothing has changed since the quake,” he said.

Shinichi Yamada escaped the waves that destroyed his home and later salvaged two Buddhist statues from the wreckage. But when he brought them back to the temporary housing where he lived, he said strange things began to happen.

His two children suddenly got sick and an inexplicable chill seemed to follow the family through the house, he said.

“A couple of times when I was lying in bed, I felt something walking across me, stepping across my chest,” Yamada told Reuters.

Many people in Japan hold on to ancient superstitions despite its ultra-modern image.

Yamada, like many other people in the area, turned to exorcist Kansho Aizawa for help.

Aizawa, 56, dressed in a black sweater and trousers and with dangling pearl earrings, said in an interview in her home that she had seen numerous ghosts.

“There are headless ghosts, and some missing hands or legs. Others are completely cut in half,” she said. “People were killed in so many different ways during the disaster and they were left like that in limbo. So it takes a heavy toll on us, we see them as they were when they died.”

In some places destroyed by the tsunami, people have reported seeing ghostly apparitions queuing outside supermarkets which are now only rubble. Taxi drivers said they avoided the worst-hit districts for fear of picking up phantom passengers.

“At first, people came here wanting to find the bodies of their family members. Then they wanted to find out exactly how that person died, and if their spirit was at peace,” Aizawa said.

As time passed, people’s requests changed.

“They’ve started wanting to transmit their own messages to the dead,” Aizawa said.

Shinichi Yamada said life had improved since he put the two Buddhist statues in a shrine and prayed. He still believes the statues are haunted, but now thinks their spirits are at peace.

By Ruairidh Villar and Sophie Knight | Reuters

Alister Doyle / Reuters

Marianne Vedeler of Norway’s Museum of Cultural History shows off a 1,700-year-old tunic in the mountains of southern Norway.

Reuters

OSLO — A pre-Viking woolen tunic found beside a thawing glacier in south Norway shows how global warming is proving something of a boon for archaeology, scientists said on Thursday.

The greenish-brown, loose-fitting outer clothing — suitable for a person up to about 5 feet, 9 inches tall (176 centimeters) — was found 6,560 feet (2,000 meters) above sea level on what may have been a Roman-era trade route in south Norway. Carbon dating showed it was made around the year 300.

“It’s worrying that glaciers are melting, but it’s exciting for us archaeologists,” Lars Piloe, a Danish archaeologist who works on Norway’s glaciers, said at the first public showing of the tunic, which has been studied since it was found in 2011.

A Viking mitten dating from the year 800 and an ornate walking stick, a Bronze Age leather shoe, ancient bows, and arrowheads used to hunt reindeer are also among 1,600 artifacts found in Norway’s southern mountains since thawing accelerated in 2006.
“This is only the start,” Piloe said, predicting many more finds.One ancient wooden arrow had a tiny shard from a seashell as a sharp tip, revealing intricate craftsmanship.

Receding glaciers
The 1991 discovery of Otzi, a prehistoric man who roamed the Alps 5,300 years ago between Austria and Italy, is the best-known glacier find. In recent years, other finds have been made from Alaska to the Andes, many because glaciers are receding.

The shrinkage is blamed on climate change, stoked by human-caused emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.

The archaeologists said the tunic showed that Norway’s Lendbreen glacier, where it was found, had not been so small since 300. When exposed to air, untreated ancient fabrics can disintegrate in weeks because of insect and bacteria attacks.

Oppland County Council via Reuters

A view over a valley in the mountains of south Norway where a 1,700-year-old loose-fitting tunic was found.

“The tunic was well-used — it was repaired several times,” said Marianne Vedeler, a conservation expert at Norway’s Museum of Cultural History.

The tunic is made of lamb’s wool with a diamond pattern that had darkened with time. Only a handful of similar tunics have survived so long in Europe.

Climate’s impact
The warming climate is having an impact elsewhere.

Patrick Hunt, a Stanford University expert who is trying to find the forgotten route that Hannibal took over the Alps with elephants in a failed invasion of Italy in 218 B.C., said the Alps were unusually clear of snow at the level of 2,500 meters last summer.

Receding snows are making searching easier.

“I favour the Clapier-Savine Coche route (over the Alps) after having been on foot over at least 25 passes including all the other major candidates,” he told Reuters by e-mail.

The experts in Oslo said one puzzle was why anyone would take off a warm tunic by a glacier.

One possibility was that the owner was suffering from cold in a snowstorm and grew confused with hypothermia, which sometimes makes suffers take off clothing because they wrongly feel hot.

More about climate change and history:

Copyright 2013 Thomson Reuters.

– Scientists are making a lot of progress in the area of artificial intelligence.

We have previously seen examples of robots like Nico that can learn how to become self-ware.

Researchers are also working on the first ever Super-Turing computer based on Analog Recurrent Neural Networks. A Super-Turing machine should be as adaptable and intelligent as the human brain.

Now, a group of researchers just announced they have successfully developed Zoe, a digital talking head which can express human emotions on demand with “unprecedented realism” and could herald a new era of human-computer interaction.

According to the developers, this virtual “talking head” can express a full range of human emotions and could be used as a digital personal assistant, or to replace texting with “face messaging”.

The lifelike face can display emotions such as happiness, anger, and fear, and changes its voice to suit any feeling the user wants it to simulate. Users can type in any message, specifying the requisite emotion as well, and the face recites the text. According to its designers, it is the most expressive controllable avatar ever created, replicating human emotions with unprecedented realism.

 

Meet Zoe, digital talking head and interface of the future. The virtual talking head, “Zoe”, uses a basic set of six simulated emotions which can then be adjusted and combined. (Credit: Toshiba Cambridge Research Lab / Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge)

The system, called “Zoe,” is the result of a collaboration between researchers at Toshiba’s Cambridge Research Lab and the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering. Students have already spotted a striking resemblance between the disembodied head and Holly, the ship’s computer in the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf.

Appropriately enough, the face is actually that of Zoe Lister, an actress perhaps best-known as Zoe Carpenter in the Channel 4 series, Hollyoaks. To recreate her face and voice, researchers spent several days recording Zoe’s speech and facial expressions. The result is a system that is light enough to work in mobile technology, and could be used as a personal assistant in smartphones, or to “face message” friends.

 

The framework behind “Zoe” is also a template that, before long, could enable people to upload their own faces and voices, but in a matter of seconds, rather than days.That means that in the future, users will be able to customise and personalise their own, emotionally realistic, digital assistants.

If this can be developed, then a user could, for example, text the message “I’m going to be late” and ask it to set the emotion to “frustrated.”

Their friend would then receive a “face message” that looked like the sender, repeating the message in a frustrated way.

“This technology could be the start of a whole new generation of interfaces which make interacting with a computer much more like talking to another human being,” Professor Roberto Cipolla, from the Department of Engineering, University of Cambridge, said.

“It took us days to create Zoe, because we had to start from scratch and teach the system to understand language and expression. Now that it already understands those things, it shouldn’t be too hard to transfer the same blueprint to a different voice and face.”

 

Holly, in the British sci-fi comedy, Red Dwarf is an “intelligent” computer. Holly’s user interface appears on ship screens as a disembodied human head on a black background, and can also be downloaded into a watch worn.

As well as being more expressive than any previous system, Zoe is also remarkably data-light. The program used to run her is just tens of megabytes in size, which means that it can be easily incorporated into even the smallest computer devices, including tablets and smartphones.

It works by using a set of fundamental, “primary colour” emotions. Zoe’s voice, for example, has six basic settings — Happy, Sad, Tender, Angry, Afraid and Neutral. The user can adjust these settings to different levels, as well as altering the pitch, speed and depth of the voice itself.

By combining these levels, it becomes possible to pre-set or create almost infinite emotional combinations. For instance, combining happiness with tenderness and slightly increasing the speed and depth of the voice makes it sound friendly and welcoming. A combination of speed, anger and fear makes Zoe sound as if she is panicking. This allows for a level of emotional subtlety which, the designers say, has not been possible in other avatars like Zoe until now.

“Present day human-computer interaction still revolves around typing at a keyboard or moving and pointing with a mouse.” Cipolla added.

“For a lot of people, that makes computers difficult and frustrating to use.

In the future, we will be able to open up computing to far more people if they can speak and gesture to machines in a more natural way. That is why we created Zoe — a more expressive, emotionally responsive face that human beings can actually have a conversation with.”

© MessageToEagle.com

Early Birds Sported 4 Wings

Posted: March 14, 2013 by phaedrap1 in News
Tags: ,
  • Chinese fossils reveal that ancient birds had feathers on their legs.View PhotoChinese fossils reveal that ancient …

More than 100 million years ago, birds living in what is now China sported wings on their legs, a new study of fossils suggests.

Researchers found evidence of large leg feathers in 11 bird specimens from China’s Shandong Tianyu Museum of Nature. The feathers suggest that early birds had four wings, which may have played a role in the evolution of flight, scientists report in a study published today (March 14) in the journal Science.

Most scientists believe that birds evolved from other feathered dinosaurs; this belief is supported by discoveries of fossils of feathery birdlike creatures. In 2000, scientists discovered a nonavian dinosaur with feathers on its arms and legs, called Microraptor, which could probably fly. In addition, specimens of Archaeopteryx, a transitional fossil between modern birds and feathered dinosaurs, show faint featherlike structures on their legs, but the signs are poorly preserved.

Now, leg feathers have been spotted in the 11 museum fossils that had been collected from the Lower Cretaceous Jehol formation in Liaoning, China, from a period about 150 million to 100 million years ago. The feathers are stiff and stick straight out from the birds’ legs, and have a large enough surface area to be aerodynamic, the researchers say.

The fossils belong to at least four different groups, including the genera Sapeornis, Yanornis and Confuciusornis, as well as the Enantiornithes group. The findings suggest that leg feathers weren’t just an evolutionary rarity.

The researchers also analyzed feathers of other birds and nonbird dinosaurs. Feathers covering the entire leg and feet first developed in dinosaurs, continued in early birds and later disappeared, the results imply. Birds gradually lost feathers on their feet and then their legs, and today, modern birds have wings on their arms only.[Avian Ancestors: Dinosaurs That Learned to Fly]

Whether these early birds used their leg feathers to fly, and how they may have done so, is up for debate. According to the study researchers, the flat surface formed by the stiff perpendicular feathers could have provided lift and maneuverability.

“These new fossils ?ll in many gaps in our view of the early evolution of birds,” animal flight expert David Alexander of the University of Kansas, Lawrence, who was not involved in the study, told Science magazine. Alexander agrees that the feathers probably had some aerodynamic function, “although whether as stabilizers, steering vanes, or full-blown wings remains to be seen.”

Other scientists aren’t convinced. Paleontologist Kevin Padian of the University of California, Berkeley, told Science magazine that the authors don’t provide evidence that the feathers contributed to any sort of flight. In fact, the feathers would create drag that would hinder flight, Padian said. The birds may have used their plumes for courtship instead, another scientist suggested.

More studies are needed to nail down the feathers’ function. Examining more fossils from the thousands in the museum collection will help, the study’s authors say.

Tanya Lewis LiveScience Staff Writer

Cyrus the Great Cylinder – Legacy Of The Ancients

Posted: March 13, 2013 by phaedrap1 in News
Tags:

The Cyrus Cylinder, sometimes referred to as the first “bill of human rights,” traces its origins to the Persian king Cyrus the Great’s conquest of Babylon in the sixth century B.C.

Almost 2,600 years later, its remarkable legacy continues to shape contemporary political debates, cultural rhetoric and philosophy.

One of the most celebrated objects in world history makes its U.S. debut March 9 when “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia” opens at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

 


On loan from the British Museum, the Cylinder will be on view at the Sackler through April 28, travelling afterwards to Houston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

 


Click on image to enlargePersian Empire Map During King Cyrus The Great

“You could almost say that the Cyrus Cylinder is a history of the Middle East in one object, creating a link to a past that we all share and to a key moment in history that has shaped the world around us,” said Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum.

“Objects are uniquely able to speak across time and space, and this object must be shared as widely as possible.”

 

In this text, a clay cylinder now in the British Museum, Cyrus describes how he conquers the old city. Nabonidus is considered a tyrant with strange religious ideas, which causes the god Marduk to intervene. That Cyrus thought of himself as chosen by a supreme god, is confirmed by Second Isaiah; h is claim that he entered the city without struggle corroborates the same statement in the Chronicle of Nabonidus.

The Cylinder—a football-sized, barrel-shaped clay object covered in Babylonian cuneiform, one of the earliest written languages—announced Cyrus’ victory and his intention to allow freedom of worship to communities displaced by the defeated ruler Nabonidus. At the time, such declarations were not uncommon, but Cyrus’ was unique in its nature and scope.

 

When contextualized with other contemporary sources, such as the Bible’s Book of Ezra, it becomes evident that Cyrus allowed displaced Jews to return to Jerusalem.

“One of the goals of this exhibition is to encourage us to reflect that relations between Persians and Jews have not always been marked by the discord that disfigures the political map of the Near East today,” said Julian Raby, The Dame Jillian Sackler Director of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art.

“Cyrus was the very image of a virtuous rule¬—inspiring leaders from Alexander the Great to Thomas Jefferson—so it is apt that the first time it will be seen in the West is in Washington, D.C.”

 

Under Cyrus (ca. 580–530 B.C.), the Persian Empire became the largest and most diverse the world had known to that point. Subsequent generations of rulers considered it to be the ideal example of unified governance across multiple cultures, languages and vast distances.

 

Cyrus – The Great Of Persia

Cyrus’ declarations of tolerance, justice and religious freedom provided inspiration for generations of philosophers and policymakers, from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, and from the Founding Fathers to modern-day Iran, so much so that a copy now resides in the United Nations’ headquarters in New York.

The message of the Cylinder and the larger legacy of Cyrus’ leadership have been appropriated and reinterpreted over millenia, beginning with its creators. The Babylonian scribe who engraved the Cylinder attributed Cyrus’ victory to the Babylonian god Marduk, a stroke of what could be considered royal and religious propaganda.

In the fourth century B.C., the Greek historian Xenophon wrote Cyropaedia, a text that romanticizes the philosophies and education of Cyrus as the ideal ruler, which greatly influenced both Alexander the Great and, much later, Thomas Jefferson in his creation of the Declaration of Independence.

When the Cylinder was rediscovered in 1879, it immediately entered the fray of public debate as invaluable proof of the historical veracity of events described in biblical scripture. In the early 20th century, supporters of the creation of the state of Israel compared the actions of British King George V to those of Cyrus, allowing Jews to return to Jerusalem. When the Cylinder was loaned to Iran in 2010, it was viewed by more than 1 million people, one of the most visited exhibitions in the country’s history.

“The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia” includes related objects that highlight some of the artistic, cultural and historical achievements of the Achaemenid Empire (550–330 B.C.) of Iran, such as architectural fragments, finely carved seals and luxury objects from the Oxus Treasure.

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