Category Archives: SCOTLAND

Gravitational Wave Researchers Shed New Light on the Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Computer Antikythera Mechanism

Gravitational Wave Researchers Shed New Light on the Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Computer Antikythera Mechanism

Gravitational Wave Researchers Shed New Light on the Mystery of the 2,000-Year-Old Computer Antikythera Mechanism

Astronomers from the University of Glasgow who specialize in studying tiny ripples in space-time have shed new light on the 2200-year-old Antikythera mechanism.

A shoebox-sized device found in fragments and eroded was discovered in 1901 by divers exploring a sunken shipwreck near the Greek island of Antikythera. The Antikythera mechanism, also known as a “clockwork computer,” is a small bronze instrument that predates any machine of comparable complexity by over a millennium.

The device sat in a museum for fifty years before historians began to take a serious look at it. Decades of subsequent research and analysis have established that the mechanism dates from the second century BCE and functioned as a kind of hand-operated mechanical computer. Exterior dials connected to the internal gears allowed users to predict eclipses and calculate the astronomical positions of planets on any given date with accuracy unparalleled by any other known contemporary device.

Astronomers from the University of Glasgow have used statistical modeling techniques developed to analyze gravitational waves to establish the likely number of holes in one of the broken rings of the Antikythera mechanism – an ancient artifact that was showcased in the movie Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny.

While the movie version enabled the intrepid archaeologist to travel through time, the Glasgow team’s results provide fresh evidence that one of the components of the Antikythera mechanism was most likely used to track the Greek lunar year. They also offer new insight into the remarkable craftsmanship of the ancient Greeks.

In 2020, new X-ray images of one of the mechanism’s rings, known as the calendar ring, revealed fresh details of regularly spaced holes that sit beneath the ring. Since the ring was broken and incomplete, however, it wasn’t clear how just how many holes were there originally. Initial analysis by Antikythera researcher Chris Budiselic and colleagues suggested it was likely somewhere between 347 and 367.

Now, in a new paper published today in the Horological Journal, the Glasgow researchers describe how they used two statistical analysis techniques to reveal new details about the calendar ring. They show that the ring is vastly more likely to have had 354 holes, corresponding to the lunar calendar, than 365 holes, which would have followed the Egyptian calendar. The analysis also shows that 354 holes is hundreds of times more probable than a 360-hole ring, which previous research had suggested as a possible count.

Professor Graham Woan, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Physics & Astronomy, is one of the authors of the paper. He said: “Towards the end of last year, a colleague pointed to me to data acquired by YouTuber Chris Budiselic, who was looking to make a replica of the calendar ring and was investigating ways to determine just how many holes it contained.

The Antikythera mechanism is housed in the Bronze Collection of the National Archaeological Museum of Athens.

“It struck me as an interesting problem, and one that I thought I might be able to solve in a different way during the Christmas holidays, so I set about using some statistical techniques to answer the question.”

Professor Woan used a technique called Bayesian analysis, which uses probability to quantify uncertainty based on incomplete data, to calculate the likely number of holes in the mechanism using the positions of the surviving holes and the placement of the ring’s surviving six fragments. His results showed strong evidence that the mechanism’s calendar ring contained either 354 or 355 holes.

At the same time, one of Professor Woan’s colleagues at the University’s Institute for Gravitational Research, Dr Joseph Bayley, had also heard about the problem. He adapted techniques used by their research group to analyze the signals picked up by the LIGO gravitational wave detectors, which measure the tiny ripples in spacetime, caused by massive astronomical events like the collision of black holes, as they pass through the Earth, to scrutinize the calendar ring.

The Markov Chain Monte Carlo and nested sampling methods Woan and Bayley used provided a comprehensive probabilistic set of results, again suggesting that the ring most likely contained 354 or 355 holes in a circle of radius 77.1mm, with an uncertainty of about 1/3 mm. It also reveals that the holes were precisely positioned with extraordinary accuracy, with an average radial variation of just 0.028mm between each hole.

Bayley, a co-author of the paper, is a research associate at the School of Physics & Astronomy. He said: “Previous studies had suggested that the calendar ring was likely to have tracked the lunar calendar, but the dual techniques we’ve applied in this piece of work greatly increase the likelihood that this was the case.

“It’s given me a new appreciation for the Antikythera mechanism and the work and care that Greek craftspeople put into making it – the precision of the holes’ positioning would have required highly accurate measurement techniques and an incredibly steady hand to punch them.

Professor Woan added: “It’s a neat symmetry that we’ve adapted techniques we use to study the universe today to understand more about a mechanism that helped people keep track of the heavens nearly two millennia ago.

“We hope that our findings about the Antikythera mechanism, although less supernaturally spectacular than those made by Indiana Jones, will help deepen our understanding of how this remarkable device was made and used by the Greeks.”

The paper, titled ‘An Improved Calendar Ring Hole-Count for the Antikythera Mechanism: A Fresh Analysis’, is published in Horological Journal.

Scottish Farmer Discovers 5,000-Year-Old Lost City

Scottish Farmer Discovers 5,000-Year-Old Lost City

Scottish Farmer Discovers 5,000-Year-Old Lost City
Scottish Farmer Discovers 5,000-Year-Old Lost City

One day a farmer found a large stone on the island of Orkney in Scotland that didn’t look like it belonged to the environment.

When the farmer moved over the rock, he had a lifetime surprise. Skara Brae, a city hidden and lost that was about 5,000 years ago, was located underneath the stone.

The farmer thought it was a house at first because it seemed very small to be a city. But the farmer soon realised after showing to people what he had discovered that  it was the lost city after all.

Skara Brae History

Orkney is an island with a very long history. It actually has one of the oldest British settlements to ever exist. Historians believe Skara Brae was an active city more than 5,000 years ago.

If this is true, then that makes Skara Brae older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids. Since most of it got covered with sand dunes over the years. Thus it was preserved well for thousands of years.

When it was an active city, probably it had about 50 to 100 people in it. That might not seem like a lot, but it sure is for a city back in those days when the population of people was much less.

Neolithic Lifestyle

The inhabitants of Skara Brae were makers and users of grooved ware, a distinctive style of pottery that had recently appeared in northern Scotland. The houses used earth sheltering, being sunk into the ground.

They were sunk into mounds of pre-existing prehistoric domestic waste known as middens. This provided the houses with stability and also acted as insulation against Orkney’s harsh winter climate.

On average, each house measures 40 square meters (430 sq ft) with a large square room containing a stone hearth used for heating and cooking.

Given the number of homes, it seems likely that no more than fifty people lived in Skara Brae at any given time.

The homes were not just sheltered for the citizens of Skara Brae. The center of each home contained a waterproof basin that could have possibly been used to catch fish for eating.

425 Million-years-old Millipede Fossil Discovered In Scotland

425 Million-years-old Millipede Fossil Discovered In Scotland

A 425-million-year-old fossilized millipede has been discovered by researchers as the world’s oldest ‘bug’.

The remains were discovered on Kerrera, a Scottish island, and show that bugs and plants evolved much more quickly than previously thought.

After examining the petrified bug, the researchers discovered that ancient creatures left lakes 40 million years ago to live in complex forest ecosystems.

Researchers used a technique to determine that the millipede is 75 million years younger than previously estimated by extracting zircons, which is a microscopic mineral needed to accurately date the fossils.

425 Million-years-old Millipede Fossil Discovered In Scotland
Researchers have discovered the world’s oldest ‘bug’ on record – a 425-million-year-old fossilized millipede. After analyzing the petrified insect, the team determined that the ancient creatures left lakes to live in complex forest ecosystems in just 40 million years

Michael Brookfield, a research associate at the University of Texas Austin’s Jackson School of Geosciences and adjunct professor at the University of Massachusetts Boston, said: ‘It’s a big jump from these tiny guys to very complex forest communities, and in the scheme of things, it didn’t take that long.’

‘It seems to be a rapid radiation of evolution from these mountain valleys, down to the lowlands, and then worldwide after that.’

Brookfield, who led the study, worked with co-authors Elizabeth Catlos, a professor in the Jackson School’s Department of Geological Sciences, and Stephanie Suarez, a doctoral student at the University of Houston. Together they made improvements to the fossil dating technique used in the study.

Following the analysis, the team determined the fossilized millipede is 425 million years old, or about 75 million years younger than the age other scientists have estimated the oldest millipede to be using a technique known as molecular clock dating, which is based on DNA’s mutation rate.  

Although it’s certainly possible there are older fossils of both bugs and plants, Brookfield said that the fact they haven’t been found – even in deposits known for preserving delicate fossils from this era – could indicate that the ancient millipede and plant fossils that have already been discovered are the oldest specimens.

If this theory is true, then experts can determine that both bugs and plants evolved much more rapidly than the timeline indicated by the molecular clock.  Previous work has dated insect deposits to just 20 million years later than the fossils. 

And by 40 million years later, there’s evidence of thriving forest communities filled with spiders, insects and tall trees.

Given their potential evolutionary significance, Brookfield said that he was surprised that this study was the first to address the age of the ancient millipedes.

The remains were uncovered on the Scottish Island of Kerrera (pictured) and suggest bugs and plants evolved much faster than previously believed.

Suarez said a reason could be the difficulty of extracting zircons – a microscopic mineral needed to precisely date the fossils – from the ashy rock sediment in which the fossil was preserved. She improved the technique by separating the zircon grain from the sediment. 

Once zircons are released from the surrounding rock, the team was able to retrieve them with a pin glued to the tip of a pencil – a process the researchers said ‘involves an eagle-eye hunt.’

‘That kind of work trained me for the work that I do here in Houston,’ Suarez said. ‘It’s delicate work.’

She used the technique to find that a different millipede specimen, thought to be the oldest bug specimen at the time, was about 14 million years younger than estimated – a discovery that stripped it of the title of oldest bug.  Using the same technique, this study passes the distinction along to a new specimen.

Unique 3,000-Year-Old Logboat Found In River Tay – On Display In Perth Again

Unique 3,000-Year-Old Logboat Found In River Tay – On Display In Perth Again

The story of the unique Late Bronze Age logboat started many years ago. It has taken scientists and other experts many years to recover, restore, and put the fascinating 9m (or 30 ft) long logboat on display. The logboat was previously on display in Perth for ten years but had to be moved as part of a year of work to repair and stabilize it.

Unique 3,000-Year-Old Logboat Found In River Tay – On Display In Perth Again
The Carpow logboat.

The boat was officially discovered in 2001 by metal detectorists exploring the mudflats at Carpow during a summer of exceptionally low river levels. In 2006, the logboat was recovered from River Tay near Perth, Scotland.

Carved from a single 400-year-old oak tree trunk, the boat survived due to the peaty soil composition of the Perth and Tay Estuary area. An initial sample taken for radiocarbon dating returned a date of circa 1000 BC, some 3,000 years ago. The logboat is considered to be one of the oldest and best-preserved of its kind in Scotland.

The Carpow Logboat spent six years undergoing stabilization and drying at the National Museums Scotland collection center in Edinburgh.

“To conserve the boat for the long-term, the collective decision was taken to partially impregnate it with PEG (polyethylene glycol) to replace water and give the structure integrity, and then freeze dry it, to shorten that process a little. But at that time, the only freeze drier large enough to take it as a single piece was in Tokyo, Japan – sadly, not a practical proposition.

Instead, the boat was cut into three pieces, each put into its own tank and submersed in a solution of PEG for impregnation, a three-year process.

The logboat was previously on display at the Perth Museum and Art Gallery for ten years.

This was followed by several months of freeze-drying for each section, in the National Museum of Scotland freeze-dryer. This process removed a whopping 588 kg of water.

Differential distorting of the boat sections (where different bits of the boat warp at different rates) occurred when the boat was cut, releasing lots of pent-up tension in the wood and leading to twisting and cracking as it dried.

The conservation team innovatively devised a method of correcting this that used flexible heating mats and an adjustable aluminium former (a piece of adjustable aluminium that applies pressure to the boat as it is heated so as to bend it back into shape). This allowed the team to mould the boat back close to its original shape,” Dig It Scotland reports.

The boat’s conservation work has been long and demanding.

“Although it’s large and heavy, it’s also very fragile, making the conservation work rather complex.

The wood naturally wants to relax and flatten out, so we’ve had to gently warm it up, making it more pliable and allowing us to reshape it.

The small details I’ve noticed are incredible; footrests for the pilot, for example, which really made me think about the people who used it,” Charles Stable, artifact conservator at National Museums Scotland told the BBC.

The 3,000-year-old logboat is returning back to its home in Perth after specialist conservation work.

The logboat was restored over the course of a year at the National Museums Scotland collection centre in Edinburgh.

“Experts said the boat could have been used for a range of purposes, from a cargo craft, fishing vessel, a platform from which to make offerings in the middle of the river, or as a ferry for up to 14 people.

Specialist electric blankets were used as part of the treatment to warm up the wood before gently bending the fragile structure back to its original shape.

When the museum opens next year, visitors will be able to view the Bronze Age treasures of Perth as well as the Stone of Destiny, which returns to Perthshire for the first time in more than 700 years,” the BBC reports.

Carpow is one of the best preserved prehistoric log boats from Britain, the second oldest boat known from Scotland.

In 1850, a farmer found a Secret door in the sand. What Did He See On The Other Side? Fascinating!

In 1850, a farmer found a Secret door in the sand. What Did He See On The Other Side? Fascinating!

A well-maintained secret is hidden among the green hills in a small bay in Scotland. For a century, no one knew that this place ever existed. It was hidden under the sand by time and weather, but when a terrible storm passed over the Orkney Islands in 1850, an amazing secret was revealed.

A perfectly preserved prehistoric village of Skara Brae lies within this rolling hillside.

It may not look particularly impressive at first glance, but step inside and you’ll be amazed at what you see. It was a bustling community thousands of years ago.

The settlement has eight stone houses and was settled between approximately 3180 and 2500 B.C., making Skara Brae one of the UK’s oldest farming villages.

Skara Brae has been called the “Scottish Pompeii” because the ancient monument is so well preserved.

Archaeologists estimate that 50–100 people lived in the village. When the settlement was built, the houses were 1,500 meters from the sea.

Now, the sea has dug closer to the village and the view from the settlement has changed from pastures to the sea.

The houses were connected to each other by tunnels. Each house could be closed off with a stone door.

In every room, there’s always one bed bigger than the other, but no one knows why. Each room also contains cabinets, dressers, seats, and boxes for storage. These boxes were waterproof, suggesting that they might have stored live seafood for later consumption.

One house, however, didn’t have any beds or other furniture. The house is believed to have functioned as a workshop.

The village also had a sewage system, and each house had its own toilet.

Skara Brae was a society that centered around families. The dwellings are all quite similar, which led archaeologists to conclude that this society was a fairly equal one, without any authoritative leadership.

Some believe that the villagers were Picts, a people of unknown origin who settled in eastern and northern Scotland near the end of the British Iron Age. However archaeological findings have shown that the people who lived here could have lived much earlier than that.

A number of mysterious discoveries have been made ​​at the site, including this carved stone ball, though no one really knows what it was used for.

And no one knows why the village was abandoned. But around 2500 B.C., ​​the Orkney Islands became cooler and wetter. Many theories speculate about how the people of Skara Brae met their fate; the most popular ones involve a violent storm.

What does the future look like for Skara Brae? Although the settlement was built nearly two kilometers from the beach, in recent centuries it has been increasingly threatened by the sea. Since 1926, the houses have been protected from the approaching sea and harsh autumn winds by a concrete wall.

There has been talk about building an artificial beach with boulders and a breakwater to preserve Skara Brae and several other ancient monuments at risk of being destroyed. But nothing has happened yet. Until further notice, tourists continue to visit this fascinating place, but the question is for how long?

Face of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” Recreated From Death Mask

Face of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” Recreated From Death Mask

Researchers say they have created the “most lifelike” reconstruction of the face of Bonnie Prince Charlie. A team at the University of Dundee’s Centre for Anatomy and Human Identification used death masks to recreate the Scottish prince’s looks.

After his death in 1788, a cast of the prince’s face was taken, which was common for notable figures at the time.

This was painstakingly photographed and mapped along with software allowing the experts to “de-age” the prince.

Charles Edward Stuart was renowned for his good looks and has captivated a new generation of audiences through the TV show Outlander.

The resulting images show the prince with blond ringlets, wearing a white shirt, and with blotchy patches on his skin.

It recreates how he could have looked at the time of the Jacobite rising, where he was unsuccessful in his attempt to restore his father, James Francis Edward Stuart, to the British throne.

Barbora Vesela, a masters student who initiated the project, said: “I have looked at previous reconstructions of historical figures and was interested as to how these could be done differently.

“I wanted to create an image of what he would have looked like during the Jacobite rising.

“There are death masks of Bonnie Prince Charlie that are accessible, while some are in private collections.

“We also know that he suffered a stroke before he died, so that made the process of age regression even more interesting to me.”

Portraits of Bonnie Prince Charlie have depicted the prince as a handsome man

In 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart sought to regain the British throne for his father when he was aged just 24.

Despite some initial successes on the battlefield, his army was defeated at the Battle of Culloden, near Inverness, in April 1746.

Bonnie Prince Charlie spent the next five months as a fugitive before fleeing to France and living on the continent for the rest of his life.

He died in Palazzo Muti in Rome, at the age of 67, after suffering a stroke.

After his death, a cast of the prince’s face was taken, which was common for notable figures at the time.

Pivotal moment

Researchers examined copies of the masks, at Inverness Museum and Art Gallery, and The Hunterian at the University of Glasgow, creating a composite over several months.

Ms Vesela took photographs from all around the masks and used software to make a 3D model using almost 500 images.

She said: “It has been a pleasure to work with these artefacts. The access I have been given has been incredible.

“There are moments, when you are working with the masks, that it suddenly strikes you that this was once a living person.

“We don’t tend to think about the age of people when we study history, but Prince Charlie was just 24 years old when he landed in Scotland and to visualise how young he was at this pivotal moment in history is fascinating.

“Hopefully this recreation encourages people to think about him as a person, instead of just a legend.”

The work will feature as part of the University of Dundee’s annual Masters Show, which opens to the public on Saturday.

See the face of ‘Ava,’ a Bronze Age woman who lived in Scotland 3,800 years ago

See the face of ‘Ava,’ a Bronze Age woman who lived in Scotland 3,800 years ago

See the face of 'Ava,' a Bronze Age woman who lived in Scotland 3,800 years ago
Researchers used scans of a Bronze Age woman’s skull to create a facial approximation of what she may have looked like 3,800 years ago.

In 1987, Scottish workers accidentally unearthed the burial of a Bronze Age woman during a road construction project.

The stone, coffin-like tomb, called a cist, contained the woman’s skeletal remains alongside grave goods, including a short-necked pottery beaker, a cow bone fragment, and small pieces of flint.

The burial in Achavanich, in northern Scotland, came to be known as the Achavanich Beaker Burial. However, not much was known about the woman, whom archaeologists nicknamed “Ava,” other than what they determined through anthropological analysis.

She was between 18 and 25 years old when she died, and based on measurements of her tibia (shinbone), she was tall, standing approximately 5 feet, 7 inches (1.71 meters), according to a study published online on June 22. 

Based on her grave goods, it’s possible that Ava was part of the Bronze Age “Bell Beaker” culture, which was common in Europe during this time period and known for its distinctively round pottery drinking vessels.

Now, a new image offers a glimpse of what this mystery woman might have looked like.

To make the three-dimensional facial approximation, researchers used existing computed tomography (CT) scans of Ava’s roughly 3,800-year-old skull.

However, since the cranium was missing a mandible, or lower jaw, the team used data culled from CT scans of living donor individuals to piece together the final image, according to the study.

“Thanks to anatomical, statistical and logical data, it was possible to reconstruct” her face even without the mandible, study author Cícero Moraes, a Brazilian graphics expert, told Live Science in an email. “I then set out to trace the profile of the face, which we do through a combination of soft tissue thickness markers, which inform the limits of the skin,” he explained.

From there, the team performed an “anatomical deformation” of the virtual donor “that is adjusted until the donor’s skull converts to the skull of Ava,” Moraes said, “causing the skin to follow the deformation, resulting in a face compatible with the approximated individual.”

A 2016 analysis of Ava’s likeness showed her with light skin, blond hair, and blue eyes. But a separate facial approximation of Ava in 2018 analyzed her DNA and determined that she most likely had brown eyes and black hair and that “her skin [was] slightly darker than today’s Scots’,” the researchers wrote in the new study.

The researchers speculated, based on her height and facial features, that she may have been considered imposing during that time period.

Archaeologists find a 5,000-year-old piece of wood in Orkney, which they describe as “astonishing”

Archaeologists find a 5,000-year-old piece of wood in Orkney, which they describe as “astonishing”

Archaeologists find a 5,000-year-old piece of wood in Orkney, which they describe as “astonishing”

Archaeologists continue to make surprising discoveries in Orkney. Although organic materials are quite difficult to find, archaeologists have found a 5,000-year-old piece of wood in Orkney.

Archaeologists discovered the wood while excavating the Ness of Brodgar, which was home to a huge network of Neolithic structures, including a temple-style complex.

That the “astonishing new finding” of the wood was found at the site’s “Structure 12,” a huge rectangular building around 17 meters long.

The inside of the structure was split up by pillars to form a succession of bays, alcoves, and recesses around two huge hearths.

Sigurd Towrie, of the University of the Highlands and the Archaeological Institute of the Islands, told The Scotsman that wood was discovered in this area for the first time.

Mr. Towrie said: “Over the years of excavation the Ness has produced so many surprises that some archaeologists thought we had exhausted all the possibilities. Not so.”

The vast Ness of Brodgar site in Orkney.

Mr. Towrie said the wood was found in a post hole and had survived probably due to its preservation under a tiny amount of water.

“Preservation of organic material is very rare. The post hole sat in a depression and we think some water had gathered. It creates anaerobic conditions, which slows down decay,” he said.

While few trees remain on Orkney now, the islands were formerly densely forested, which has since vanished owing to increasing sea levels.

Recent research on the “woodlands beneath the waves” includes an examination of the remnants of a forest that had been driven under the ocean in the Bay of Ireland near Stromness and has been dated to be about 6,000 years old.

“The earliest Neolithic settlements were made of wood and then they later switched to stone,” Mr. Towrie said.

Although the wood found is in very poor condition, researchers hope to find answers to questions such as whether it is domestic or imported, and what type of wood is it.

The Ness of Brodgar location, located between the Ring of Brodgar and the Stones of Stenness in the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site, is approximately six acres in size.

The first structures were erected on the site in approximately 3300 BC, and the site was closed down and abandoned after around 1,000 years.

Earlier this year, a potter’s fingerprint was discovered on a vessel made some 5,000 years ago, creating a “poignant connection” to the people who lived and visited here.