Category Archives: CHINA

Meet Shuvuuia deserti, a nocturnal dinosaur that lived 70 million years ago

Meet Shuvuuia deserti, a nocturnal dinosaur that lived 70 million years ago

Under the cover of darkness in desert habitats about 70 million years ago, in what is today Mongolia and northern China, a gangly looking dinosaur employed excellent night vision and superb hearing to thrive as a menacing pint-sized nocturnal predator.

Scientists said on Thursday an examination of a ring of bones surrounding the pupil and a bony tube inside the skull that houses the hearing organ showed that this dinosaur, called Shuvuuia deserti, boasted visual and auditory capabilities akin to a barn owl, indicating it could it hunt in total darkness.

Their study, published in the journal Science, showed that predatory dinosaurs overall generally possessed better-than-average hearing — helpful for hunters — but had vision optimized for daytime. In contrast, Shuvuuia loved the nightlife.

The fossilized skeleton of the small bird-like dinosaur Shuvuuia deserti is seen in this undated handout image.

Shuvuuia was a pheasant-sized, two-legged Cretaceous Period dinosaur weighing about as much as a small house cat. Lacking the strong jaws and sharp teeth of many carnivorous dinosaurs, it had a remarkably bird-like and lightly built skull and many tiny teeth like grains of rice.

Its mid-length neck and small head, coupled with very long legs, made it resemble an awkward chicken. Unlike birds, it had short but powerful arms ending in a single large claw, good for digging.

“Shuvuuia might have run across the desert floor under cover of night, using its incredible hearing and night vision to track small prey such as nocturnal mammals, lizards and insects.

With its long legs it could have rapidly run down such prey, and used its digging forelimbs to pry prey loose from any cover such as a burrow,” said palaeontologist Jonah Choiniere of the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, the study’s first author.

“It’s such a strange animal that palaeontologists have long wondered what it was actually doing,” added palaeontologist Roger Benson of the University of Oxford in England, who helped lead the study.

Professor Jonah Choiniere of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, is seen holding a 3D printed model of the lagena, an inner-ear structure, of the small bird-like dinosaur Shuvuuia deserti, in this undated handout photograph.

The researchers looked at a structure called the lagena, a curving and finger-like sac that sits in a cavity in the bones surrounding the brain and is connected to the part of the ear that lets reptiles and birds keep balance and move their heads while walking.

Acute hearing helps nocturnal predators locate prey. The longer the lagena, the better hearing an animal has.

The barn owl, a proficient nocturnal predator even in pitch-black conditions, has the proportionally longest lagena of any living bird. Shuvuuia is unique among predatory dinosaurs with a hyper-elongated lagena, almost identical in relative size to a barn owl’s.

The researchers also looked at a series of tiny bones called the scleral ring that encircles the pupil of the eye. It exists in birds and lizards and was present in the ancestors of today’s mammals. Shuvuuia had a very wide scleral ring, indicating an extra-large pupil size that made its eye a specialized light-capture device.

The study found that nocturnality was uncommon among dinosaurs, aside from a group called alvarezsaurs to which Shuvuuia belonged. Alvarezsaurs had a nocturnal vision very early in their lineage, but super-hearing took more time to evolve.

“Like many palaeontologists, I once considered that nighttime in the age of dinosaurs was when the mammals came out of hiding to avoid predation and competition.

The importance of these findings is that it forces us to imagine dinosaurs like Shuvuuia evolving to take advantage of these nocturnal communities,” Choiniere said.

Benson added, “This really shows that dinosaurs had a wide range of skills and adaptations that are only just coming to light now. We find evidence that there was a thriving ‘nightlife’ during the time of dinosaurs.”

Over 2,000-year-old bronze mirrors unearthed at a cemetery in NW China

Over 2,000-year-old bronze mirrors unearthed at a cemetery in NW China

Xinhua reports that pottery and more than 80 delicate bronze mirrors and other bronze items have been discovered in a cemetery of more than 400 tombs in northwest China. 

Situated in the Gaozhuang Township of Shaanxi’s Xixian New Area, the graveyard is home to more than 400 tombs and a collection of pottery and bronze ware that can be traced back to the early Western Han Dynasty (202 BC-AD 25).

The bronze mirrors, with diameters ranging from 8 cm to 22.1 cm, were discovered during the recent excavation of the site, according to the archaeologists.

An archaeologist is cleaning a bronze mirror in Xixian New Area, Shaanxi Province, China.

They are believed to have been manufactured mainly between the late Warring States Period (475-221 BC) and the late Western Han Dynasty.

The high gloss of some mirrors was well preserved, as researchers found one still showed clear images.

Archaeologists carry out the excavation work at the Dabaozi Cemetery in Xixian New Area, Shaanxi Province, China.

The researchers also found that most of the mirrors were placed close to the head or around the upper body of the tomb owners, with inscriptions showing people’s expectations of a better life.

Not only did the women of yore enjoy their reflection, but also the men, as they were buried along with their delicate mirrors.

According to historical records, in order to ensure the construction and service of the emperor’s mausoleum as well as to better supervise the aristocrats, Liu Bang, founder of the Han Dynasty (206 BC-220 AD), set up a centralized residence area for the nobility, which was located about 4 km from the cemetery.

Therefore, the ancient tombs are believed to belong to the dynasty’s upper-class residents, said the researchers. 

Mother Found Still Cradling Baby After 4,800 Years

Mother Found Still Cradling Baby After 4,800 Years

It is a fitting discovery as Mother’s Day approaches. Archaeologists have uncovered the ancient remains of a young mother and an infant child locked in a 4,800-year-old embrace. The remarkable find was among 48 sets of remains unearthed from graves in Taiwan, including the fossils of five children.

The mother is seen looking towards the child

Researchers were stunned to discover the maternal moment, and they say these Stone Age relics are the earliest sign of human activity found in central Taiwan.

Preserved for nearly 5,000 years, the skeleton found in the Taichung area shows a young mother gazing down at the baby cradled in her arms.

Researchers turned to carbon dating to determine the ages of the fossils, which they traced back to the Neolithic Age, a period within the Stone Age.

Excavation began in May 2014 and took a year for archaeologists to complete. But of all the remains found in the ancient graves, one pair set stood out from the rest.

‘When it was unearthed, all of the archaeologists and staff members were shocked.

‘Why? Because the mother was looking down at the baby in her hands,’ said Chu Whei-lee, a curator in the Anthropology Department at Taiwan’s National Museum of Natural Science.

According to the researchers’ measurements, the mother was just 160 cm tall, or 5 foot 2 inches. The infant in her arms is 50 cm tall – just over a foot-and-a-half.

Archaeologists say they have discovered the earliest trace of human activity in central Taiwan among graves from 4,800 years ago

This breathtaking discovery came as a surprise to the researchers on sight, but it isn’t the first of its kind.

In the past, archaeologists have dug up remains of similar moments which have been preserved for thousands of years.

Notably, Chinese archaeologists unearthed the interlocked skeletons of a mother and child last year from an Early Bronze Age archaeological site branded the ‘Pompeii of the East, the People’s Daily Online reported.

The mother is thought to have been trying to protect her child during a powerful earthquake that hit Qinghai province, central China, in about 2,000 BC.

Experts speculated that the site was hit by an earthquake and flooding of the Yellow River.

Photographs of the skeletal remains show the mother looking up above as she kneels on the floor, with her arms around her young child. Archaeologists say they believe her child was a boy.

Atlit Yam, a 9,000-year-old underground megalithic settlement

Atlit Yam, a 9,000-year-old underground megalithic settlement

On the Levantine coast, Atlit-Yam offers the earliest known evidence for an agro-pastoral-marine subsistence system. The site of Atlit Yam has been carbon-dated to be between 8,900 and 8,300 years old (calibrated dates) and belongs to the final Pre-Pottery Neolithic B period.

Atlit Yam is an ancient submerged Neolithic village off the coast of Atlit, Israel

It is currently 8-12 meters (25-40 feet) below sea level in the Bay of Atlit, near the mouth of the Oren river on the Carmel coast. It covers an area of ca. 40,000 square meters (10 acres).

Underwater excavations have uncovered rectangular houses and a well. The site was covered by the eustatic rise of sea levels after the end of the Ice age. It is assumed that the contemporary coastline was about 1 km (a half-mile) west of the present coast.

Piles of fish ready for trade or storage have led scientists to conclude that the village was abandoned suddenly. An Italian study led by Maria Pareschi of the Italian National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Pisa indicates that a volcanic collapse of the eastern flank of Mount Etna 8,500 years ago would likely have caused a 10-story (40 m or 130 ft) tsunami to engulf some Mediterranean coastal cities within hours.

Some scientists point to the apparent abandonment of Atlit Yam around the same time as further evidence that such a tsunami did indeed occur.

Submerged settlements and shipwrecks have been found on the Carmel coast since 1960, in the wake of large-scale sand quarrying. In 1984, marine archaeologist Ehud Galili spotted ancient remains whilst surveying the area for shipwrecks.

Remains of rectangular houses and hearth-places have been found, along with a well that currently lies 10.5 m (35 ft) below sea level, constructed of dry-stone walling, with a diameter of 1.5 m (5 ft) and a depth of 5.5 m (20 ft) lower. The fill contained flints, artifacts of ground stone, and bone and animal bones in two separate layers.

The upper layer contained partly articulated animal bones, which were presumably thrown in after the well went out of use. Other round structures at the site may also be wells. Galili believes that the water in the wells gradually became contaminated with seawater, forcing the inhabitants to abandon their homes.

A stone semicircle, containing seven 600 kg (1,300 lb) megaliths, has been found. The stones have cup marks carved into them and are arranged around a freshwater spring, which suggests that they may have been used for a water ritual.

Top: A diver examines megaliths at Atlit Yam. Bottom: Artist’s reconstruction of stone formation

Ten flexed burials have been discovered, both inside the houses and in their vicinity.

The skeletons of a woman and child, found in 2008, have revealed the earliest known cases of tuberculosis. Bonefish hooks and piles of fish bones ready for trade or storage point to the importance of marine resources.

The men are also thought to have dived for seafood as four skeletons have been found with ear damage, probably caused by diving in cold water. Anthropomorphic stone stelae have been found. The lithics include arrowheads, sickle blades, and axes.

An excavation was mounted by the University of Haifa on Oct 1, 1987. A complete human burial was discovered under 10m of water on Oct. 4th with the skeleton oriented in a fetal position on the right side in an excellent state of preservation. Subsequent carbon dating of plant material recovered from the burial placed the age of the site at 8000 +-200 years.

Animal bones and plant remains have also been preserved. Animal bones come mainly from wild species. The plant remains to include wild grape, poppy, and caraway seeds.

Granary weevils indicate the presence of stored grain. Pollen analysis and the remains of marsh plants indicate the local presence of swamps.

Archaeologists Uncover 3,000-Year-Old Gold Mask In China Belonging To A Mysterious Ancient Society

Archaeologists Uncover 3,000-Year-Old Gold Mask In China Belonging To A Mysterious Ancient Society

A 3,000-year-old ceremonial gold mask has become an unexpected social media sensation in China after its recent discovery in Sichuan province. The artefact was one of 500 Bronze-Age relics found at the Sanxingdui archaeological site.

The mask was one of hundreds of ancient objects uncovered at the site.

Experts say the discovery could provide new insights into the ancient Shu state, which ruled the area before 316 BC. But the mysterious half-faced mask has also spawned popular meme and tribute videos on social media.

As soon as the latest batch of discoveries was announced on Saturday, users of the microblogging platform Weibo started making pictures superimposing the mask on the faces of pop culture figures.

The hashtag “Sanxingdui gold mask photo editing competition” has been viewed nearly 4 million times, and has spawned numerous posts as netizens praised the “stunning” and “beautiful” mask.

Officials at the museum for Sanxingdui – one of the most important archaeological sites in China – soon joined in on the fun.

“Good morning, we’ve just woken up, apparently everyone’s been busy doing some Photoshopping?” the museum said in a recent Weibo post while sharing its own take on the meme.

The museum also released a promotional animated music video starring the mask and other artefacts, while a rap song created by a TV host praising the “intelligence” of the ancient civilisation has gone viral.

It is not the first time a Chinese artefact has attracted the attention of social media users – in August, another relic was found to resemble the pig characters in the popular video game Angry Birds.

In addition to the gold mask, archaeologists at Sanxingdui have found bronze pieces, gold foils as well as artefacts made from ivory, jade and silk.

Archaeologists unearthed bronze and ivory artifacts at the site as well.

The items were uncovered in six “sacrificial pits”, said the National Cultural Heritage Administration, which the Shu civilisation used to offer sacrifices in prayers for prosperity and peace.

The Sanxingdui ruins were discovered by accident by a farmer in 1929. To date, more than 50,000 relics have been unearthed at the site, which is around 60km (37 miles) from the city of Chengdu.

3,000-Year-Old Artifacts Unearthed in Southwestern China

3,000-Year-Old Artifacts Unearthed in Southwestern China

CNN reports that more than 500 artifacts have been found in six sacrificial pits at Sanxingdui, a Bronze Age site in southwestern China discovered in the 1920s and thought to have belonged to the independent Shu state, which was conquered in 316 B.C. 

Weighing about 280 grams (0.6 pounds) and estimated to be made from 84% gold, the ceremonial mask is one of over 500 items unearthed from six newly discovered “sacrificial pits,” according to the country’s National Cultural Heritage Administration.

The finds were made at Sanxingdui, a 4.6-square-mile area outside the provincial capital of Chengdu. Some experts say the items may shine further light on the ancient Shu state, a kingdom that ruled in the western Sichuan basin until it was conquered in 316 BC.

A bronze item recently unearthed from a sacrificial pit at the Sanxingdui archaeological site

In addition to the gold mask, archaeologists uncovered bronzes, gold foils, and artifacts made from ivory, jade, and bone. The six pits, of which the largest has a footprint of 19 square meters (205 square feet), also yielded an as-yet-unopened wooden box and a bronze vessel with owl-shaped patterning.

More than 50,000 ancient artifacts have been found at Sanxingdui since the 1920s when a local farmer accidentally came upon a number of relics at the site.

A major breakthrough occurred in 1986, with the discovery of two ceremonial pits containing over 1,000 items, including elaborate and well-preserved bronze masks.

3,000-Year-Old Artifacts Unearthed in Southwestern China
A gold decoration was among more than 500 other items recently unearthed from the site.

After a long hiatus in excavations, a third pit was then found in late 2019, leading to the discovery of a further five last year. Experts believe the pits were used for sacrificial purposes, explaining why many of the items contained were ritually burned as they were dropped in and buried.

Independent civilization

Sanxingdui is believed to have sat at the heart of the Shu state, which historians know relatively little about due to scant written records.

Discoveries made at the site date back to the 12th and 11th centuries BC, and many of the items are now on display at an on-site museum.
The site has revolutionized experts’ understanding of how civilization developed in ancient China.

In particular, evidence of a unique Shu culture suggests that the kingdom developed independently of neighboring societies in the Yellow River Valley, which was traditionally considered to be the cradle of Chinese civilization.

An archaeologist pictured working at one of the pits earlier this month.

The deputy director of the National Cultural Heritage Administration, Song Xinchao, told state-run press agency Xinhua that the latest finds “enrich and deepen our understanding of the Sanxingdui culture.”

The discovery of silk fibers and the remains of textiles may also expand our understanding of the Shu.

Head of the excavation team and chief of the Sichuan Provincial Cultural Relics and Archaeology Research Institute, Tang Fei, said in a press conference that the discovery indicates that the kingdom “was one of the important origins of silk in ancient China,” according to Xinhua.

A bronze head and mask uncovered from Sanxingdui in 1986 when the first sacrificial pits were found at the site.

Though not yet recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Sanxingdui is on the organization’s “tentative list” for possible future inclusion.

Along with other Shu archaeological sites, it is credited by the UN agency as “an outstanding representative of the Bronze Age Civilization of China, East Asia, and even the world.”

Decorative Roof Tiles from Tang Dynasty Temple Analyzed

Decorative Roof Tiles from Tang Dynasty Temple Analyzed

According to a statement released by Kanazawa University, researchers from Kanazawa University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences examined the end caps of more than 400 curved roof tiles recovered from Ximing Temple, which is located at the site of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 618–907) imperial capital in central China.

Decorative Roof Tiles from Tang Dynasty Temple Analyzed

Any visitor to China will have noticed the spectacular roofs on buildings dating from imperial times. However, the question of how these roof tiles were produced has attracted relatively little attention from archaeologists.

Now, a team of researchers has conducted a major study of tile ends unearthed at the Ximing Temple in Xi’an, yielding exciting insights into their production.

In a study published in Archaeological Research in Asia, researchers from Kanazawa University and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences have revealed the significance of minute variations in the tile ends used in the roof of the famous Ximing Temple in Xi’an, built during the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD) when Xi’an (then known as Chang’an) was the imperial capital.

The researchers conducted an investigation of 449 tile ends with lotus patterns from various periods during the Tang dynasty that had been recovered from the Ximing Temple.

Basic information about tile ends and imbrices. The figure shows the structure of a tile end and how tile ends and imbrices are used.

“We were interested in the variations in the tile ends, both those within the conscious control of the artisans who made the tiles, such as whether to use simple or complex lotus patterns and those outside their control, such as the marks left by the deterioration of the molds used to make the tiles,” says lead author of the study Meng Lyu.

“We discovered that the degree of minor variation in the tile ends increases significantly in the later samples,” adds author Guoqiang Gong.

“This suggests to us that there was a shift away from the centralized manufacturing of imperial building materials during the Early Tang period toward one in which small private artisans played an important role in the Late Tang period.”

Intriguingly, the study has revealed traces of the coming together of two distinct cultural traditions. “We found that there were, in fact, two separate production systems at work to make the title ends,” notes author Chunlin Li.

“One produced tile ends with compound petal patterns and curved incisions, whereas the other made end tiles with simple petal patterns and scratched incisions.”

These two styles may ultimately have their origins during an earlier historical period when the Northern Wei dynasty was divided into two regimes on either side of the Taihang mountain range.

This study demonstrates that studying the roof tiles of China’s grand imperial buildings can reveal a great deal about the circumstances of their production and yield insights into larger historical questions.

Chinese mummy suggests brain surgery was carried out 3,600 years ago

Chinese mummy suggests brain surgery was carried out 3,600 years ago

A three-and-a-half-millennia-old skull has uncovered evidence of an early form of brain surgery. The mummified woman’s perforated skull was discovered in the Xiaohe tomb in China’s Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Experts said that the hole, which measures around 2 inches (50mm) in diameter, was most likely an early form of craniotomy. The amount of skull removed depends on the type of surgery being performed, and the flap is later replaced using screws.

It may have also been a form of trepanation, which involves the removal of a piece of bone from the skull. This procedure has been performed since prehistoric times, and cave paintings indicate that ancient people believed the practise would cure epileptic seizures, headaches and mental disorders.

The perforated skull (pictured) was discovered as part of a mummified body of a woman in the ‘Little River’ Xiaohe tomb complex.  Experts said that the hole, measuring around 2 inches (50mm) in diameter, was most likely an early form of craniotomy – a procedure that involves removing bone to get access to the brain
The wound suggests that the female (pictured), who died in her 40s, must have lived for at least a month, or even longer, after receiving the surgery

Lead archaeologist Zhu Hong who made the discovery said: ‘[The wound] suggests the female, who died in her 40s, must have lived for at least a month, or even longer, after receiving the surgery.’

He added there were also signs of healing tissues around the wound. The mummy dates back to 1,615 BC and is one of the hundreds discovered in the Xiaohe ‘Little River’ Tomb complex.

Lying 108 miles (175 km) west of the ancient city of Loulan, the site was first explored in 1934 by Swedish archaeologist Folke Bergman, but not fully excavated until 2005.

Dating of the area has shown it goes back to approximately 2,000 BC, although tests have revealed the bodies contain DNA from the east and west. 

In particular, males were found to have chromosomes typically found in Northern and Eastern Europe, alongside DNA found in Siberia. The massive burial site has more than 330 graves and contains the largest number of mummies ever found in the world.

These tombs include adults and children as well as 15 intact mummies, although approximately half of the tombs were said to have been looted by grave robbers. 

The majority of the coffins found on the site were made of wood, and were shaped like boats, buried upside down. This practice is similar to how the Egyptians believed boats would take Pharaohs to the land of the ‘Gods’

The massive burial site has more than 330 graves and contains the largest number of mummies ever found in the world. These tombs include adults and children as well as 15 intact mummies. The majority of the coffins found on the site were made of wood, and were shaped like boats (pictured) buried upside down

Clothes and jewellery found in the tomb were also buried alongside the mummies, in small baskets, and the bodies were wrapped in cowhide and wool. 

This prevented sand from getting inside the corpses.  In addition to the wood coffins, four clay-covered rectangular coffins were also found, surrounded by stakes. 

And six of the coffins were found to contain wooden ‘bodies’, rather than corpses.  Each of these wooden sculptures was the same shape and were designed to look like males.  Sexual iconography was everywhere at the site, with posts representing phalluses and vulvas placed in front of each grave. 

Sientists recreated ancient brain surgery to understand medical techniques that existed almost 2,500 years ago. A team of experts in Russia spent the past year examining skulls found with intricate surgical holes in a bid to fathom out how early nomadic doctors carried out their work.

This practice is similar to how the Egyptians believed boats would take Pharaohs to the land of the ‘Gods’. Clothes and jewellery found in the tomb were also buried alongside the mummies, in small baskets, and the bodies (pictured) were wrapped in cowhide and wool. This prevented sand from getting inside the corpses
Scientists recreated ancient brain surgery on a modern skull (shown) to understand medical techniques that existed almost 2,500 years ago. A team of experts in Russia spent the past year examining skulls found with intricate surgical holes in a bid to fathom out how early nomadic doctors worked.
Evidence from ancient skulls (pictured) suggest they are among the earliest ever examples of trepanation – an ancient form of neurosurgery

Evidence suggested they were among the earliest ever examples of trepanation – the oldest form of known neurosurgery – with the procedures skillfully carried out. The oldest samples of skulls with boreholes drilled into them were found in a burial site in France dating back to 6500 BC.

But it was also used by the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Romans, Greeks and the early Mesoamerican civilisations. Even the ‘father of medicine Hippocrates advocated the process in his 400 BC tome ‘On Injuries of the Head’.

The procedure was carried out by Aleksei Krivoshapkin according to ancient methods used in the Altai Mountains on the skull of a woman who had died of natural causes shortly before.

Analysis of the skulls of ancient patients found that the operations were carried out with only one tool, a bronze knife, with the surgeons, carefully scraping at the skull, yet leaving behind only minimal traces of their work.