The insect, which is 49 million years old, appears to have been smashed just a few days ago
A beetle that lived about 49 million years ago is so well-preserved that the insect looks like it could spread its strikingly patterned wing coverings and fly away. That is if it weren’t squashed and fossilized.
Wing cases, or elytra, are one of the sturdiest parts of a beetle’s exoskeleton, but even so, this level of colour contrast and clarity in a fossil is exceptionally rare, scientists recently reported.
The beautiful design on the ancient beetle’s elytra prompted researchers to name it Pulchritudo attenboroughi, or Attenborough’s Beauty, after famed naturalist and television host Sir David Attenborough. They wrote in a new study that the pattern is “the most perfectly preserved pigment-based colouration known in fossil beetles.”
When the researchers described the beetle beauty, it was already in the collection of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science (DMNS) in Colorado, where it had been on display since it was identified in 1995.
Palaeontologists found the fossil that year in the Green River Formation; once a group of lakes, this rich fossil site spans Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, and dates to the Eocene epoch (55.8 million to 33.9 million years ago).
Scientists initially classified the fossil as a long-horned beetle in the Cerambycidae genus. But while its body shape resembled those of long-horned beetles, its hind limbs were unusually short and beefy, which led the museum’s senior curator of entomology — Frank-Thorsten Krell, lead author of the new study — to question if the beetle might belong to a different group.
In the study, the authors described the beetle as a new genus in a subfamily known for its robust and powerful hind legs: frog-legged leaf beetles.
The fossilized insect, a female, is only the second example of a frog-legged leaf beetle to be found in North America, Krell told Live Science in an email (no modern beetles in this group live in North America today, according to the study).
On P. attenboroughi’s back, dark and symmetrical circular patterns stand out in sharp contrast against a light background. This suggests that bold patterns were present in beetles at least 50 million years ago, the researchers reported.
For a beetle to fossilize as well as this one did, “you need a very fine-grained sediment,” Krell said. Silt or clay at the bottom of a lake is the best substrate for fossilizing insects, and the beetle must sink quickly into the silty lake bottom before its body disintegrates. “And then it should not rot, so an oxygen-poor environment on the lake floor is helpful,” he said.
However, questions still remain about how sediments in the lake bottom preserved the beetle’s high-contrast colours so vividly, Krell added.
Visitors to the DMNS can admire P. attenboroughi for themselves, as the renamed fossil is back on display in the museum’s “Prehistoric Journey” exhibit, representatives said in a statement.
Graves dating back 2,700 years have been unearthed in southern Mexico City
Experts from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) have discovered 26 ancient graves dating back 2,700 years at a site in Mexico City.
Located in the south of the capital and adjoining a modern-day cemetery, the site measures 360 square meters and archaeologists believe that it might have been used by women for activities related to the care of infants.
During excavations over the last four months, the INAH team has found the graves at depths between 1.2 and 3.3 meters below street level. About 20 of them are in a perfect state of conservation.
“Until now, we have detected four stages of settlement; four historical periods linked to the start of the 20th century, the Porfiriato [the period of more than three decades when former president Porfirio Díaz was in power], Mexico’s independence and the pre-Hispanic period,” said Antonio Balcorta Yépez, an INAH archaeologist working on the project.
Of the 26 graves found, 11 are in the form of a truncated cone, while the archaeologists have also found vestiges of walls from pre-Hispanic structures.
“We’ve made a series of discoveries that have revolutionized the knowledge we had about graves in the pre-classic period. The context suggests to us that we are in a village where they carried out specialized activities.
The height [of the site and] its geographical and strategic position indicates to us that the people [who lived on] this hill may have had greater control over certain resources compared to the village of Copilco,” Balcorta said.
Truncated cone graves were not only used for funeral purposes but also to store grains, artefacts and waste materials, he explained.
However, there is also evidence that indicates that at least two of the graves may have been used by women for everyday activities related to caring for their children, such as giving a herbal steam bath to a newborn baby.
That theory is supported by the discovery of more than 130 figurines in the graves, most of which represent pregnant women, while a smaller number are of infants. The ceramic pieces feature red, yellow and black colourings on their different body parts.
The INAH team has extracted samples from different parts of the graves to carry out chemical and pollen analyses aimed at confirming or rejecting the perinatal care hypothesis.
The archaeologists have also made discoveries from more recent times including remnants of ammunition used in the Mexican revolution and parts of adobe bricks and other building materials that formed part of a house that stood on the site at the end of the 19th century.
Because it is 2,296 meters above sea level, it is believed that the site was not affected by lava flows following the eruption of the Xitle Volcano between 245 and 315 AD and for that reason it has remained in well-conserved condition.
6,000-Year-Old Axe Discovered at George Washington’s Estate
About 6,000 years ago, a precious stone axe that had been skillfully carved and shaped by Native Americans was lost on a ridge overlooking the Potomac River in Virginia. The axe, about seven inches long, had been hewed and smoothed and was narrowed at one end where a wooden handle attached. Its loss must have been keenly felt.
Six millennia later, on Oct. 12, 2018, Dominic Anderson and Jared Phillips, 17-year-hold high school seniors from Ohio, were on an archaeological dig at George Washington’s estate at Mount Vernon, when a stone that looked like a big potato turned up in their sifting screen. Not sure what it was, they asked the Mount Vernon archaeologists working nearby.
It was the lost axe, missing for 60 centuries.
Officials at Mount Vernon announced details of the find. They said it was a major discovery that helps take the story of the site far beyond its place as the home of the first president of what would become the United States.
It “provides a window onto the lives of individuals who lived here nearly 6,000 years ago,” said Sean Devlin, Mount Vernon’s curator of archaeological collections. “Artifacts such as this are a vital resource for helping us learn about the diverse communities who shaped this landscape throughout its long history.”
Mount Vernon officials said the axe had been made from a piece of “greenstone” probably taken from a local river. It had been chipped with a hammer stone to create a cutting edge and then further carved with a harder stone to create a smoother cutting surface. It was then worked even further with a grinding stone, and the groove was cut where the handle would attach. The tool was probably highly valuable.
Devlin said the axe was dated through knowledge of when such tools came into use, by comparing it to other tools from the period, and by dating the methods of its construction. It is believed to be the first such artefact found at Mount Vernon in recent years.
The makers of the axe were probably people who migrated by boat up and down the Potomac River seasonally and may not have lived in fixed villages, Devlin said in a telephone interview. The axe would have been a key possession during their travels.
“When you spend the effort to make tools like this axe, you would have probably carried it with you,” he said. “You wouldn’t just make something like this off the cuff . . . and used it once or twice and chucked it. . . . This is something people invested time in. It definitely isn’t something that was just sort of pitched by the side, just by happenstance.”
The axe was probably used for cutting or carving wood, he said. It probably was not a weapon.
“It’s always fantastic to go out there and see something that’s so evocative,” he said.
The axe was found by students from Archbishop Hoban High School, in Akron, Ohio. Fourteen students, headed by archaeology teacher Jason Anderson, were helping to map out the dimensions of what is believed to be a cemetery for Mount Vernon’s enslaved African Americans and their descendants.
But the area is relatively pristine and has many prehistoric artefacts, said Joe Downer, Mount Vernon’s archaeological field research manager. Downer said Dominic Anderson, the teacher’s son, and Phillips, the second student, called out to him when they found the axe.
“Is this anything?” Downer said they asked.
“I was kind of taken aback when I saw it,” he said in a telephone interview. “I looked at it, and I held it for a minute, and I was like, ‘Well, that might be one of the coolest things we found out here.’ “
“It’s pretty unmistakable when you see it,” he said.
Jason Anderson, the teacher, said the school’s students have been doing archaeology work at Mount Vernon for six years.
“It’s not a field trip,” he said in a telephone interview. “The students are working. This isn’t just kind of kickback . . . and have a fun time. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very fulfilling work.”
“The neatest thing is: The whole purpose we do any of this stuff is to get students interested in archaeology,” he said. “I’m really glad I didn’t find it, or any of the adults found it. I was super, super excited when the students were the ones to sift through it and say, ‘Hey, what is this?’
A 2,000-year-old tunnel in the Mexican city of Teotihuacan holds ancient mysteries
Eleven years after discovering a secret tunnel beneath the ancient city of Teotihuacan in Mexico, Researchers uncovered thousands of ritual objects at the feet of what might be a royal tomb.
Guarded by the remains of hundreds of sacrificial bodies, the entrance to the tunnel remained hidden until it was located by radar researchers from the National University of Mexico beneath one of Mexico’s most visited historical sites in 2003.
Before eventually hitting the tunnel entrance in 2010, they spent years preparing the exploration and raising funds. It seemed that the tunnel was closed on purpose by the inhabitants of the city. More than 40 feet below ground, the entrance was covered with rocks.
The tunnel, hundreds of feet long, follows a route of symbols leading to several sealed funeral chambers that may hold the bodies of ancient rulers.
Archaeologists first explored the tunnels, choked with mud and rubble, using a three-foot robot equipped with mechanical arms and a video camera. They then methodically catalogued every bone, seed and shard of pottery as they made their way to the crypts at the end.
“For a long time local and foreign archaeologists have attempted to locate the graves of the rulers of the ancient city, but the search has been fruitless,” archaeologist Sergio Gomez of Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a 2010 press release.
Meanwhile, his team’s excavation of the tunnel suggested they were on the brink of uncovering the long-lost tombs.
“If confirmed, it will be one of the most important archaeological discoveries of the 21st century on a global scale,” he told the Associated Press in 2011.
Discoveries include finely carved stone sculptures, jewellery and shells along with obsidian blades and arrowheads.
They found offerings laid before the entrance of three chambers at the end of the tunnel suggesting these are the tombs of the elite.
So far Gomez’s team has excavated two feet into the chambers. The exploration will continue next year.
The Discovery of tombs may unlock long-held mysteries of a civilization that left no written records of its existence, including how it was governed and whether leadership was hereditary.
“Due to the magnitude of the offerings that we’ve found, it can’t be in any other place,” Gomez said Wednesday. “We’ve been able to confirm all of the hypotheses we’ve made from the beginning.”
At its peak in the middle of the first century, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the Americas with an estimated 200,000 inhabitants.
The Aztecs, who arrived centuries after Teotihuacan had fallen, gave the city its name, which means “birthplace of the gods” in English.
German Museum Returns Native American Leader’s Shirt
With German institutions placing a renewed emphasis on the repatriation of various objects in their holdings, the Weltkulturen Museum in Frankfurt said this week that it had given the leather shirt of Chief Daniel Hollow Horn Bear (Mato He Oklogeca), of the Teton Lakota, to his great-grandson Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear. In a press release, the museum cited “moral and ethical reasons” for the return.
The leather shirt was handed over to Duane Hollow Horn Bear on June 12 in Rosebud, South Dakota. Duane Hollow Horn Bear had visited the Weltkulturen Museum in 2019 and submitted a request for the shirt’s return that included a historic portrait photograph, dated to 1900, by John Alvin Anderson.
The picture showed Chief Daniel Hollow Horn Bear, who died in 1913, wearing the shirt. Chief Daniel Hollow Horn Bear was a well-respected leader and politician who advocated for the rights of his people and was often a chief negotiator with the U.S. government.
In 2019, when he requested the shirt’s return, Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear said in a video documenting the repatriation process, “It’s been a hard journey just to come here today. I’m humbled not just to see [his shirt] in a picture, but to hold it in my hand like I’m holding his hand. . . . Grandpa come home. We need you.”
In a statement, the Weltkulturen Museum said, “The Chief’s shirt is a culturally specific, identity-forming object of religious significance to the Teton Lakota Indigenous community.
It bears special patterns of brightly coloured glass beads and human hair, which are undoubtedly attributable to the Hollow Horn Bear family and prove personal possession prior to 1906.
For Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear and his family, the return of the shirt is like the return of the great-grandfather himself.”
The Weltkulturen Museum came into possession of the shirt in 1908 through an exchange with the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
For the past 30 years, the shirt had been on permanent loan and display to the German Leather Museum in the nearby town of Offenbach.
The AMNH had received the shirt only two years earlier as part of a larger donation by James Graham Phelps Stokes, a New York millionaire and philanthropist whose family’s wealth came from the Phelps-Dodge Company.
In its release announcing the shirt’s repatriation, the Weltkulturen Museum said, “The circumstances under which the shirt previously came into the possession of J.G. Phelps could not be reconstructed.”
In a statement, Ina Hartwig, deputy mayor in charge of Culture and Science for the City of Frankfurt am Main, said “Provenance research is one of the great challenges facing museums in the 21st century.
The Frankfurt museum landscape has been taking this challenge very seriously for years and is subjecting its collections to a systematic revision.
Even if it represents a loss for the collection and the object was legally acquired by the Weltkulturen Museum: I see the return of the leather shirt to Chief Duane Hollow Horn Bear as an obligation that outweighs the formal legal situation.”
Mexico to bury archaeological find because of virus costs
In a strange turn of events, researchers in Mexico have announced they plan to rebury an unusual archaeological monument found in the outskirts of Mexico City – covering up an important historical discovery until some unknown time in the future.
The discovery in question is a tunnel built centuries ago as part of the Albarradón de Ecatepec: a flood-control system of dikes and waterways constructed to protect the historical city of Tenochtitlan from rising waters.
Tenochtitlan, widely viewed as the capital of the Aztec Empire, featured numerous dam systems to prevent flooding from torrential rains, but Spanish conquistadors failed at first to appreciate the ingenuity of this indigenous infrastructure, destroying many of the pre-Hispanic constructions in the early years of Spanish colonization.
However, after numerous floods inundated the early colonial Mexico City, the Albarradón de Ecatepec and other flood-control systems like it were built or repaired in the early 1600s.
Centuries later, archaeologists with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) discovered one such feature within the Albarradón de Ecatepec, finding in 2019 a tunnel that preserved a unique synthesis of the cultures that created it.
This small tunnel-gate measured just 8.4 meters (27.5 ft) long, representing only a tiny part of the colossal Albarradón de Ecatepec monument, which in total extended for 4 kilometres (2.5 miles), built by thousands of indigenous workers.
But while it was small, it was still an important (and unusual) discovery, with researchers finding several pre-Hispanic glyphs displayed in the structure.
In total, 11 symbols were discovered – including representations of a war shield, the head of a bird of prey, and raindrops, among others.
It’s thought the symbols may have been built into the tunnel by non-Hispanic residents from the towns of Ecatepec and Chiconautla, who helped to construct the Albarradón de Ecatepec.
While the dike featured pre-Hispanic iconography, its overall architecture suggested the Spanish were in charge of the design.
“One objective of our project was to know the construction system of the road, which has allowed us to prove that it does not have pre-Hispanic methods, but rather semicircular arches and andesite voussoirs, lime and sand mortars, and a floor on the upper part, with stone and ashlar master lines,” researchers explained in 2019.
“Everything is Roman and Spanish influence.”
The discovery was intended to be made into a public exhibit so that people could visit and inspect this unusual, centuries-old fusion of Aztec and Spanish cultural elements, but unfortunately, it’s not to be.
Researchers from INAH have now announced that due to a lack of funds to properly construct the exhibit and protect the remarkable structure, the recently discovered tunnel section will now have to be covered up once more – with the tunnel to be reburied so that it doesn’t become damaged, vandalized, or looted from.
According to the researchers, the decision is largely due to the ongoing economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis in Mexico, which has so far claimed over 237,000 lives.
The researchers say they will construct special masonry to protect the glyphs, and then recover the painstakingly excavated site with earth.
It’s not every day archaeologists have to ‘undiscover’ the cultural treasures they reveal in the ground. Here’s hoping it won’t be too long before this section of the Albarradón de Ecatepec gets to see the light of day once more.
Humans Lived in North America 130,000 Years Ago, Study Claims
Three years ago, a team of archaeologists in the United States proposed an extraordinary idea: the first human settlers in the Americas arrived at least 100,000 years earlier than we thought.
The evidence came from a collection of mastodon bones and ancient stones dating back to around 130,000 years ago, which appeared to have been hammered and scraped by early humans.
The remains were found in the suburbs of San Diego in the 1990s, and the researchers think that the nearby stones may have been used as hammers and anvils to work on the bones. But outside of that, no other traces of human activity were found.
Today, the Cerutti Mastodon (CM) site remains one of the most controversial archaeological digs in the world. For years, scientists have been going back and forth over the results and whether or not they indicate the presence of humans in North America 130,000 years ago, but the original authors are not giving up.
The team has now published a follow-up paper that claims to have found traces of ancient mastodon bones on the upward-facing sides of two cobblestones collected from the site. According to the paper, mastodon bones were indeed placed on top of these rocky ‘anvils’ and struck with some sort of hammer – presumably by humans. If the bones were merely in passive contact with the rocks, you would expect to see their influence everywhere they were touching, not just the top part.
There also doesn’t appear to be any modern contamination, the authors add. The ancient artefacts were found near a road work site, so some critics think the bones were broken and scraped by the activity of trucks and other similar disturbances.
While this is very much possible, researchers say it doesn’t explain the residue on the stones. When collecting bones and stones from the site, the team in San Diego claims to have taken great care. They say there was no opportunity for bone material to disintegrate or “float” into the air and onto a stone at the original site or in the lab afterwards.
Even in the soil, bone residues from these mastodons were discovered at much lower concentrations than what was measured on some parts of the cobblestones.
“Fossil bone residues documented with the Raman microscope were only found in residue extractions sampled from the potentially used surfaces and are therefore considered to be more likely use-related,” the authors write.
“As our investigations have indicated that the bone residues are less likely to originate from sediments or contact with bones in the bone bed as discussed above, the most parsimonious explanation is that the residues (and wear) derive from deliberate contact with bone. We consider this scenario to be the most likely.”
Still, there is one key missing ingredient: collagen. This is an important part of mammal bones, and if stones were used to break apart the mastodon skeleton, you’d expect to find some traces of collagen.
It’s very possible that the collagen in this case had already disintegrated from the passing of time. Or it could be that measurements simply didn’t pick up on its presence. But archaeologist Gary Haynes, who was not involved in the study, told Science News he thinks the more likely scenario is that road work vehicles buried these stones next to the mastodon bones, long after their collagen had disappeared.
He’s not the only one who’s sceptical. Today, most evidence suggests human settlers arrived in the Americas roughly 14,000 to 20,000 years ago. A date of 130,000 years is quite the claim, and it requires extraordinary evidence, which some scientists argue is lacking. A rebuttal to the original 2017 paper argued that other processes outside of human hammering produced bone damage, especially from heavy construction equipment.
Even before humans came along there was probably disturbance in the area. Over time, as fluvial deposits slowly covered the remains, these mastodon bones would have remained somewhat flexible, and this means they could have been trampled, displaced, fractured, abraded and reoriented by other mammals that used the ancient muddy watercourse.
“The extraordinary claim by Holen et al. of prehistoric hominin involvement at the CM site should not be contingent on evidence that is open to multiple, contrasting interpretations,” the authors of the rebuttal argue.
“Until unambiguous evidence of hominin activities can be presented, such as formal stone tools or an abundance of percussion pits, caution requires us to set aside the claims of Holen et al. of prehistoric hominin activities at the CM site.”
Shortly afterwards, the original authors wrote a rebuttal to the rebuttal. In it, they argued that there is no evidence of fluvial deposits and that the bones were broken before they were buried and not trampled afterwards.
“Healthy scepticism is the foundation of good science, and the publication of this discovery is the beginning of a scientific debate, which I welcome and encourage,” Tom Deméré, a palaeontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum and one of the original authors, argued a few years ago.
“What I didn’t expect was the reluctance of scientists to engage in a two-way conversation to objectively evaluate our hypothesis.”
Archaeologist David Meltzer from Southern Methodist University is sceptical but open to the debate. He says he could be convinced that humans arrived in the Americas 100,000 years earlier than we thought, but that he hasn’t seen enough evidence yet.
“Given everything we know, it makes no sense,” he told Nature in 2018. “You’re not going to flip people’s opinion 180 degrees unless you’ve got absolutely unimpeachable evidence, and this ain’t it.”
Perhaps this new bout of evidence will help clear up some of that doubt. More likely than not, however, it will merely trigger a series of new rebuttals.
The Largest Confirmed Pyramid on Earth Dwarfs The Great Pyramid of Giza
It is the largest pyramid on Earth, with a base four times larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and almost doubles the volume. The Pyramid is recognized as the largest pyramid in volume with four million five hundred thousand cubic meters. It literally DWARFS the Great Pyramid of Giza.
Experts estimate that it took around 1,000 years for the Pyramid to be built. It is also so far, the largest monument ever built in the world, among all ancient civilizations. It still remains a mystery as to WHO built the Pyramid.
The Great Pyramid of Cholula or Tlachihualtepetl –from the Nahuatl meaning “handmade hill”— is the largest pyramidal basement in the world with 450 meters per side. In fact, it is not a single pyramid at all, but one monument stacked on top of another, consisting of at least six buildings. It grew in stages, as successive civilizations improved what had already been built.
With 450 meters wide and 66 meters high, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is equivalent to nine Olympic swimming pools. However, the Great Pyramid of Cholula has an impressive list of records: it is the largest pyramid on Earth, with a base four times larger than the Great Pyramid of Giza and almost doubles the volume. It is also so far, the largest monument ever built in the world, among all civilizations.
Curiously, It is also officially recognized as the largest pyramid in volume with 4,500,000 m³, but it is not the tallest one; With 65 m high the Great Pyramid of Cholula is similar to that of the Pyramid of the Sun in Teotihuacan which has 64, while the Great Pyramid of Giza In Egypt it has a height of 139.
While experts are unsure as to when exactly the Pyramid building process was begun, archaeologists believe it was around 300 BC or at the beginning of the Christian era.
It is estimated that it took between 500 and 1,000 years until the pyramid was finished. According to legend, when the local inhabitants heard that the Spanish Conquistadores were approaching, the locals covered the sacred temple with dirt.
When Cortes and his men arrived in Cholula in October 1519, some 1,800 years after the pyramid was built, they massacred about 3,000 people in a single hour, 10% of the entire population of the city, and levelled many of their religious structures.
But they never touched the pyramid, because they never found it.
The Pyramid is a mind-bending structure, and it is so old that when Cortes and his men arrived in Mexico, the monument was already thousands of years old and completely covered by vegetation.
Strangely, first on-site excavations revealed a series of horrifying discoveries, including deformed skulls of decapitated children.
Curiously, little is known about the initial history of the pyramid. It is thought that construction began around 300 BC, but it remains a mystery who erected it.
According to legends, the Great Pyramid of Cholula was built by giants.
Archaeologists estimate that the Cholutecas participated in the construction.