Water drilled from rock in a North American mine is among the oldest yet found on Earth, say scientists.
Novel dating techniques used by the Canadian and UK team suggest the fluid is at least 1.5 billion years old.
The water was probably once on the surface and then percolated through the ground where it became trapped at a depth of 2.4km.
The discovery, made under Timmins, Ontario, is reported in this week’s edition of the journal Nature.
Although far from any light source, particular types of micro-organism could survive in the water – it has the right chemistry; it is rich in dissolved gases like hydrogen and methane.
The team is currently testing its samples to determine whether any such lifeforms are indeed present.
“There are similar waters in South Africa with almost identical chemistry that are tens of millions of years old, and they contain microbes that have adapted to that environment,” explained Prof Chris Ballentine from Manchester University.
“These are microbes that can survive on the energy from the natural water-rock interactions,” he told BBC News.
A positive identification would have fascinating implications for our understanding of how life evolved on the early Earth and where it could exist underground today on other planets, such as Mars, Prof Ballentine added. …
The water was recovered from deeply buried sulphide ores containing zinc and copper. The researchers collected the water as mineworkers drilled new exploratory holes. Temperature increases with depth and so the fluid emerged at 40-50C. Three dating techniques were employed to work out how long the water trapped in the rock had been isolated.
A key method involved studying the different types, or isotopes, of xenon dissolved in the fluid. The noble gas can be used as a marker to time when the fluid was last in contact with the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface.
This approach only produces a broad age range, so the best the team can say is that the Timmins water had been resident underground for between 1.5 billion and 2.6 billion years. Even so, this is still hundreds of millions of years older than samples recovered from deep under South Africa’s Witwatersrand Basin.
The only water known to be more ancient is found in minute quantities trapped in the voids in some rock minerals. These inclusions can be billions of years old. …
Members of the research group at Toronto University are now examining the Timmins samples for their biological content.
Identifying microbes would go to the heart of issues about the habitability of deep Earth environments and for the prospects of finding life on other worlds. …
Scientists said Wednesday they had found life-giving chemicals in water at least 1.5 billion years old, which they are now combing for signs of microscopic organisms surviving from a prehistoric age.
The water, isolated in pockets deep underground for billions of years, is now pouring out of boreholes from a mine 2.4 kilometres (1.5 miles) beneath Ontario, Canada, they wrote in the journal Nature.
“This water could be some of the oldest on the planet and may even contain life,” the team said in a statement.
Not only that — the similarity between the rocks that trapped the fluid and those found on Mars raised hopes that similar life-sustaining water could be buried deep inside the Red Planet, they said.
Archive for the ‘Archaeology’ Category
Posted by Xeno on May 16, 2013
Posted by Xeno on May 16, 2013
South east of Kabul lies Logar, the latest province to backslide into the clutches of insurgency and Taliban rule. Upon the region’s barren landscape sits a cluster of rocky foothills known collectively as Mes Aynak. To the Afghan and Chinese governments, Mes Aynak is the site of massive copper reserves, the world’s second largest, with an estimated worth exceeding $100bn (£66bn). To others, it is a site of enormous historical importance, a settlement dating back to the Bronze Age which includes a 100-acre ancient monastery complex, and a mere 10 per cent of which has been excavated. Its destruction would see Afghan society robbed of a unique link to its rich heritage.
Decades of conflict mean Afghans have already lost countless historical artefacts from heritage sites and museums. In 2012, a single consignment handed over by the British Armed Forces to the National Museum of Afghanistan saw the return of more than 800 items that were carried illegally into the UK. This slow leak compounds catastrophic losses such as the Taliban’s demolition of the 35- and 53-metre tall Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001.
Mes Aynak is the latest piece of heritage facing an existential threat, only this time the threat is government sponsored. The Ministry of Mines sold rights to the copper reserves directly below and around the archaeological site to the Chinese state-owned China Metallurgical Group (MCC) roughly four years ago. This despite international experts repeatedly describing it, since its rediscovery in the 1960s, as a hugely important cradle of Bronze Age, Buddhist and Islamic heritage.
Mes Aynak also satisfies the criteria for becoming a Unesco World Heritage Site. Yet, unlike at Bamiyan, the process has never been initiated. Campaigners insist it is not too late. However, a valid proposal can only come from government officials, and herein lies the tragedy. No one with the power to save Mes Aynak will or, perhaps, can defy the Ministry of Mines to contact Unesco or another conservation body, such as the International Council on Monuments and Sites.
It is hard to explain how echoes of Mes Aynak’s magnificence bewitch its self-appointed protectors and increasingly rare visitors. Imagine an intricate complex of Buddhist monasteries and settlements, bustling with a religious and civil life, as early as the 1st century BC, that thrived for a millennium.
Now consider these centuries of vigorous and diverse human activity lying excellently preserved, above and well below ground, mere miles from the capital. Lastly, bear in mind that general lack of access, resources and time mean that, to this day, no one knows how far the site extends or how revelatory its historical secrets could prove. The only firm conclusion to be drawn so far is that Mes Aynak represents a people’s history waiting to be discovered which could, perhaps, reinforce an embattled national identity and pride.
A report released by the National Museum of Afghanistan in 2011, in collaboration with European experts, says that only 10 per cent of the Buddhist settlement has so far been excavated. Of that, much has been subject to the harsh procedures of “rescue” or “salvage” archaeology, which is necessary when time constraints and other pressures – in this case mostly security related – prevent the painstaking processes of conventional archaeology.
Expert consensus currently holds that at least 30 years is needed, from now, to carry out a satisfactory excavation of the entire site. Current rumour – for clarity and transparency have never prevailed in this process – suggests that the woefully under-resourced team on site now has only until June of this year before time is called on archaeology at Mes Aynak forever.
Yet even the relatively tiny area haphazardly excavated so far has been found bursting with archaeological treasures. A cursory glance over initial surveys shows mention of over 100 clay statues of Buddha – many measured in metres not centimetres, ornate engravings, extremely rare manuscripts and huge quantities of smaller icons, coins, pot shards and tools.
Posted by Xeno on May 16, 2013
The Google Map of eastern Honduras is almost blank. A vast and virtually unexplored rainforest region known as the Mosquitia covers around 32,000 square miles, home to dense jungle, hostile terrain and the terrifying-sounding jumping viper. Legend has it that somewhere beneath the forest canopy lies the ancient city of Ciudad Blanca – and now archaeologists think they may have found it. …
Tomorrow in Cancun, Mexico, an interdisciplinary group of scientists from fields including archaeology, anthropology and geology will appear at the American Geophysical Union’s annual conference to present the technology that has allowed them to discover a “lost world” in the Honduran interior. The team photographed the ground using new technology known as airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR). They found what appears to be a network of plazas and pyramids, hidden for hundreds of years.
The legend of Ciudad Blanca (“The White City”) has captivated Western explorers ever since the Conquistador Hernan Cortes mentioned it in a letter to Spanish Emperor Charles V in 1526. Cortes never found the city, nor the gold it was said to contain, and the inhospitable region remained unconquered by the Europeans. In 1940, an American adventurer, Theodore Morde, emerged from the jungle claiming to have a found a “lost city of the monkey god”, where the local indigenous people worshipped huge ape sculptures. He was said to have been tipped off about the ruins by Charles Lindbergh, the first solo aviator to cross the Atlantic, who glimpsed “an amazing ancient metropolis” when he was flying above the forest. Morde was killed in a car accident before he could reveal its location.
Steve Elkins, a film-maker and amateur archaeologist from Los Angeles, became interested in the legend during the 1990s, when he travelled to the region in an unsuccessful attempt to find the rumoured ruins of Ciudad Blanca. “Some people believe it’s a bunch of hooey. Others believe that where there’s smoke there’s fire,” said Elkins, who is now 62. “I became captivated by it, and I decided to wait until technology advanced to produce a better way to find it than walking aimlessly through the jungle. Many years later, that opportunity presented itself.”
Elkins won the backing of private investors to fund the LiDAR mapping of the forest in 2012. For a week, researchers flew Cessna light aircraft over a 60 sq mile area of the Mosquitia. The planes were fitted with the $1.5m (£980,000) laser scanning system, which creates a 3D digital map of the topology beneath the canopy by firing billions of laser pulses at the ground.
The project’s lead archaeologists, Christopher Fisher and Stephen Leisz of Colorado State University, say the hidden city was probably home to a sophisticated Mesoamerican society, with paved streets, parks, pyramids and an advanced irrigation system. The discovery of the ruins, which could date back to as early as 500AD, suggests the region’s pre-Hispanic civilisation was significantly more developed than was previously thought.
In a week, the revolutionary LiDAR technology collected more data than a ground search might have done in a decade. “It opens the door into a lost world,” Fisher said. “Archaeology is on the cusp of a technological transformation. It’s going to transform our understanding of the Americas.”
The city’s precise location remains a secret, to prevent potential looting. In cooperation with the Honduran government, Elkins is planning a ground expedition to explore the site at close quarters in the autumn. He is also making a documentary film about the project. …
Posted by Xeno on May 15, 2013
The overgrown ruins of a 2,300-year-old Mayan Temple in Belize were partially destroyed by contractors who wanted to use the limestone bricks for gravel to build a village road, according to the National Institute of Culture and Heritage.
“There was massive destruction and there’s very little we can do about it now,” John Morris, an archaeologist at the institute, said in phone interview today. “Now we have to ensure that we proceed with finding those who are guilty of it and start the process of prosecution.”
The site, known as Noh Mul, or Big Hill, is on private property and consists of 81 ancient buildings, which are protected by the National Institute of Culture and History Act. Archaeologists told 7 News Belize they were chased from the scene by a man with a machete before returning later with police to halt the destruction. Photos on the television station’s website showed a yellow excavator digging into the temple ruins.
The Mayan civilization extended through portions of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala andHonduras. There are hundreds of archaeological sites in Belize, 12 of which are managed by the Institute of Archeology, part of the National Institute of Culture.
Morris said Belize’s Cabinet is expected to address the incident in its weekly meeting today.
The archaeologists need to watch this:
But seriously, the guy with the machete and bulldozer needs to spend the next 2,300 years fixing what he broke.
Posted by Xeno on May 12, 2013
Image: A 3-D visualization of underwater ruins of St Katherine’s Church, Dunwich, UK.
A University of Southampton professor has carried out the most detailed analysis ever of the archaeological remains of the lost medieval town of Dunwich, dubbed ‘Britain’s Atlantis’.
Funded and supported by English Heritage, and using advanced underwater imaging techniques, the project led by Professor David Sear of Geography and Environment has produced the most accurate map to date of the town’s streets, boundaries and major buildings, and revealed new ruins on the seabed. Professor Sear worked with a team from the University’s GeoData Institute; the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton; Wessex Archaeology; and local divers from North Sea Recovery and Learn Scuba.
He comments, “Visibility under the water at Dunwich is very poor due to the muddy water. This has limited the exploration of the site.
“We have now dived on the site using high resolution DIDSON ™ acoustic imaging to examine the ruins on the seabed – a first use of this technology for non-wreck marine archaeology.
“DIDSON technology is rather like shining a torch onto the seabed, only using sound instead of light. The data produced helps us to not only see the ruins, but also understand more about how they interact with the tidal currents and sea bed.”
Peter Murphy, English Heritage’s coastal survey expert who is currently completing a national assessment of coastal heritage assets in England, says: “The loss of most of the medieval town of Dunwich over the last few hundred years – one of the most important English ports in the Middle Ages – is part of a long process that is likely to result in more losses in the future. Everyone was surprised, though, by how much of the eroded town still survives under the sea and is identifiable.
“Whilst we cannot stop the forces of nature, we can ensure what is significant is recorded and our knowledge and memory of a place doesn’t get lost forever. Professor Sear and his team have developed techniques that will be valuable to understanding submerged and eroded terrestrial sites elsewhere.”
Present day Dunwich is a village 14 miles south of Lowestoft in Suffolk, but it was once a thriving port – similar in size to 14th Century London. Extreme storms forced coastal erosion and flooding that have almost completely wiped out this once prosperous town over the past seven centuries. This process began in 1286 when a huge storm swept much of the settlement into the sea and silted up the Dunwich River. This storm was followed by a succession of others that silted up the harbour and squeezed the economic life out of the town, leading to its eventual demise as a major international port in the 15th Century. It now lies collapsed and in ruins in a watery grave, three to 10 metres below the surface of the sea, just off the present coastline.
The project to survey the underwater ruins of Dunwich, the world’s largest medieval underwater town site, began in 2008. Six additional ruins on the seabed and 74 potential archaeological sites on the seafloor have since been found. Combining all known archaeological data from the site, together with old charts and navigation guides to the coast, it has also led to the production of the most accurate and detailed map of the street layout and position of buildings, including the town’s eight churches. Findings highlights are:
Identification of the limits of the town, which reveal it was a substantial urban centre occupying approximately 1.8 km2 – almost as large as the City of London
Confirmation the town had a central area enclosed by a defensive, possibly Saxon earthwork, about 1km2
The documentation of ten buildings of medieval Dunwich, within this enclosed area, including the location and probable ruins of Blackfriars Friary, St Peter’s, All Saint’s and St Nicholas Churches, and the Chapel of St Katherine
Additional ruins which initial interpretation suggests are part of a large house, possibly the town hall
Further evidence that suggests the northern area of the town was largely commercial, with wooden structures associated with the port
The use of shoreline change analysis to predict where the coastline was located at the height of the town’s prosperity
Commenting on the significance of Dunwich, Professor Sear says: “It is a sobering example of the relentless force of nature on our island coastline. It starkly demonstrates how rapidly the coast can change, even when protected by its inhabitants.
“Global climate change has made coastal erosion a topical issue in the 21st Century, but Dunwich demonstrates that it has happened before. The severe storms of the 13th and 14th Centuries coincided with a period of climate change, turning the warmer medieval climatic optimum into what we call the Little Ice Age.
“Our coastlines have always been changing, and communities have struggled to live with this change. Dunwich reminds us that it is not only the big storms and their frequency – coming one after another, that drives erosion and flooding, but also the social and economic decisions communities make at the coast. In the end, with the harbour silting up, the town partly destroyed, and falling market incomes, many people simply gave up on Dunwich.”
Posted by Xeno on May 1, 2013
The archaeologists used a 3-foot-long, remote-controlled robot which was able to explore the last part of the tunnel.
Hundreds of mysterious spheres lie beneath the Temple of the Feathered Serpent, an ancient six-level step pyramid just 30 miles from Mexico City.
The enigmatic spheres were found during an archaeological dig using a camera-equipped robot at one of the most important buildings in the pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan.
“They look like yellow spheres, but we do not know their meaning. It’s an unprecedented discovery,” said Jorge Zavala, an archaeologist at Mexico’s National Anthropology and History Institute.
The Mesoamerican ruins of Teotihuacan, a World Heritage Site, represent one of the largest urban centers of the ancient world. Thought to have been established around 100 B.C., the pyramid-filled city had more than 100,000 inhabitants at its peak, but was abandoned for mysterious reasons around 700 A.D. — long before the Aztecs arrived in the 1300s.
The excavation at the temple focused on a 330-foot-long tunnel which runs under the structure. The conduit was discovered in 2003 when heavy rain uncovered a hole a few feet from the pyramid.
Exploring the tunnel, which was deliberately filled with debris and ruins by the Teotihuacan people, required several years of preliminary work and planning…
Are they solid gold, painted skulls, ancient computers, just rocks, coconuts? Now is the time to test your ESP. Leave your comment and tell us what these spheres really are.
Posted by Xeno on April 15, 2013
A 2 million-year-old ancestor of man had a mixture of ape and human-like features that allowed it to hike vast distances on two legs with as much ease as it could scurry up trees, according to research published on Friday.
Discovered in cave near Johannesburg in 2008, the fossils of a species named “Australopithecus sediba” have given researchers clues about the evolution of man and which traits in our ancestors fell by the wayside.
Standing about 1.3 meters (4 ft) tall, sediba had a narrow rib cage similar to apes but a flexible spine more similar to that of a human. Its long arms and powerful torso helped in climbing, according to the research published in the journal Science.
Sediba’s small heel resembled a chimpanzee’s and it walked with an inward rotation of the knee and hip on slightly twisted feet with a flat-footed gait that would have helped it cover ground, the researchers said.
“It is the perfect compromise of something that has the need to walk on the ground efficiently for long distances. At the same time, it is a very capable climber,” said Lee Berger, project leader at the Wits Evolutionary Studies Institute in South Africa.
The researchers plan further studies to see how these fossils of early human relatives known as hominin compare to other remains, to help put together the pieces of evolution.
“We have more complete specimens of fossils than for any other early hominin species that has ever been discovered. What this means is that we can make assessments of the anatomy and behavior of this species with a great deal of confidence,” … Read more
Posted by Xeno on April 5, 2013
… A new exhibition opening today at The Vyne, now owned by the National Trust, raises the intriguing possibility that the Roman ring in the case, and the ring of power in JRR Tolkien’s book The Hobbit, and in his Lord of the Rings trilogy, are one and the same.
As Dave Green, the property manager, explains, there’s more to the story than the ring – an iron-age site with ancient mine workings known as “the Dwarf’s Hill”, a curse on the thief who stole the ring, and a strong link to Tolkien himself.
Tolkien was a professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford before he found fame as an author, with the publication of The Hobbit in 1937, and the first of the Rings trilogy in 1954. He certainly knew the story of the curse and the ring, and was researching the subject two years before he began work on The Hobbit.
The ring was in the collection of the Chute family – which for generations was interested in politics, collecting, and antiquarian research – for centuries before the house came to the National Trust in the 1930s.
“I was looking for the ring to show a visitor, and I walked right past the case with it – that’s when I decided we really had to make more of this amazing thing,” Green said. As well as the exhibition room, created with the help of the Tolkien Trust, the house now has a dwarf trail for children and a new playground with circular tunnels and green hillocks recalling Bilbo’s home, Bag End.
The ring was probably found in 1785 by a farmer ploughing a few miles away within the walls of Silchester, one of the most enigmatic Roman sites in the country – a town which flourished before the Roman invasion, was abandoned by the 7th century and was never reoccupied.
There are no details of exactly when it was found, but historians assume the farmer sold it to the history loving wealthy family at The Vyne. It was a strikingly odd object, 12g of gold so large that it would only fit on a gloved thumb, ornamented with a peculiar spiky head wearing a diadem, and a Latin inscription reading: “Senicianus live well in God”.
A few decades later and 100 miles away, more of the story turned up: at Lydney in Gloucestershire, a Roman site known locally as the Dwarf’s Hill, a tablet with an inscribed curse was found. A Roman called Silvianus informs the god Nodens that his ring has been stolen. He knows the villain responsible, and he wants the god to sort them out: “Among those who bear the name of Senicianus to none grant health until he bring back the ring to the temple of Nodens.”
Lydney was re-excavated by the maverick archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler, who called in Tolkien in 1929 to advise on the odd name of the god – and also spotted the connection between the name on the curse and the Chute family’s peculiar ring. It seems that Senicianus only got as far as Silchester before he lost his booty.
Dr Lynn Forest-Hill of the Tolkien Society said Tolkien’s source was usually assumed to be literary sources, including the Niebelung legends. “It is, then, particularly fascinating to see the physical evidence of the Vyne ring, with its links to Tolkien through the inscription associating it with a curse.”
The ring is now on display with a first edition of The Hobbit and a copy of the curse – visitors are invited to vote on whether they are looking at the original of Bilbo’s ring. …
Posted by Xeno on April 2, 2013
In 1900, a worn bronze machine was hauled from an ancient Greek shipwreck. With dozens of crumbling gears, the machine puzzled experts for more than a century. This documentary follows researchers who have come to suspect the machine, known as the Antikythera mechanism, is a miniature planetarium that tracked the Sun and the Moon and could predict eclipses. They have created working models, down to the pin-and-slot mechanism that gives a slight wobble to the lunar orbit, and have used a custom X-ray machine to probe layers of corroded clockwork. The Greeks “managed to cram nearly all their knowledge of astronomy into this small-geared device,” the mathematician Tony Freeth says on-screen. The maker of this “analog computer” — perhaps a thousand years ahead of its time — is still unknown, but some believe it might have been inspired by the work of Archimedes.
After a closer examination of the Antikythera Mechanism, a surviving marvel of ancient Greek technology, scientists have found that the device not only predicted solar eclipses but also organized the calendar in the four-year cycles of the Olympiad, forerunner of the modern Olympic Games.
The new findings, reported Wednesday in the journal Nature, also suggested that the mechanism’s concept originated in the colonies of Corinth in what is now Italy – possibly Syracuse, in Sicily. The scientists said this implied a likely connection with Archimedes.
Archimedes, who lived in Syracuse and died in 212 B.C., invented a planetarium calculating motions of the Moon and the known planets and wrote a manuscript, now lost, on astronomical mechanisms. Some evidence had previously linked the complex device of gears and dials to the island of Rhodes and the astronomer Hipparchos, who made a study of irregularities in the lunar orbit.
The Antikythera Mechanism, sometimes called the first analog computer, was recovered more than a century ago in the wreckage of a ship that sank off the tiny island of Antikythera, north of Crete. Earlier research showed that the device was probably built between 140 and 100 B.C.
Only now, applying high-resolution imaging systems and three-dimensional X-ray tomography, or imaging by sections, have experts been able to decipher inscriptions and reconstruct functions of the bronze gears on the mechanism. The latest research has revealed details of dials on the instrument’s back side, including the names of all 12 months of an ancient calendar. …
Posted by Xeno on April 1, 2013
Research by a University of Tennessee, Knoxville professor has found that about a thousand bird species became extinct following human colonization.
Research by Alison Boyer, a research assistant professor in ecology and evolutionary biology, and an international team studied the extinction rates of nonperching land birds in the Pacific Islands from 700 to 3,500 years ago. Some of the birds studied included birds of prey and ducks. The team uncovered the magnitude of the extinctions and insight into how and why human impacts varied across the region.
The findings are published in the current issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Scientists had long known extinction rates were high but estimates varied from 800 to 2,000 species due to an incomplete fossil record on the islands. The researchers used fossil records from 41 Pacific islands such as Hawaii and Fiji to run an analytical technique called the Bayesian mark-recapture method. This allowed them to model gaps in the fossil record for more than 300 Pacific islands and estimate the number of unknown extinct species.
“We used information on what species are currently on the islands and what species are in the fossil record to estimate the probability of finding a species in the fossil record,” Boyer said.
Boyer and her colleagues found that nearly 983, or two-thirds, of land bird populations disappeared between the years of the first human arrival and European colonization. Disappearances are linked to overhunting by people, forest clearance and introduced species.
“We calculate that human colonization of remote Pacific islands caused the global extinction of close to a thousand species of nonperching land birds alone,” said Boyer. “However, it is likely there are more species that were affected by human presence. Sea bird and perching bird extinctions will add to this total.”
Researchers found the extinction rates differed depending on island and species characteristics. For example, larger islands had lower rates of extinction because they had larger populations of each bird species. Islands with more rainfall also had lower extinction rates because they experienced less deforestation by settlers. Bird species that were flightless and large-bodied had a higher rate of extinction because they were easier and more profitable to hunt and their lower rates of population growth inhibited recovery from overhunting or habitat loss.
“Flightless species were 33 times more likely to go extinct than those that could fly,” said Boyer. “Also, species that only populated a single island were 24 more times likely to go extinct than widespread species.”…
No one is protecting us from irresponsibility.