Category Archives: WORLD

Bent Sword Found in 5th-Century Soldier’s Grave in Greece

Bent Sword Found in 5th-Century Soldier’s Grave in Greece

Live Science reports that Errikos Maniotis of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and his colleagues have uncovered seven graves, including a 1,600-year-old soldier’s arch-shaped grave, in an early Christian basilica discovered in 2010 ahead of subway construction in northern Greece.

Bent Sword Found in 5th-Century Soldier’s Grave in Greece
This iron sword was folded in a ritual “killing” before it was buried with a soldier about 1,600 years ago.

The soldier was buried with a shield, a spear, and a spatha, a type of long straight sword used from about A.D. 250 to 450, that had been bent. “Usually, these types of swords were used by the auxiliary cavalry forces of the Roman army,” Maniotis said.

The discovery of the folded sword was “astonishing,” because the soldier was buried in an early church, but the folded sword was part of a known pagan ritual, said project co-researcher Errikos Maniotis, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Byzantine Archaeology at Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in Greece.

Although this soldier, who was likely a mercenary, may have “embraced the Roman way of life and the Christian religion, he hadn’t abandoned his roots,” Maniotis told Live Science in an email.

The soldier’s burial is the latest finding at the site of a three-aisled paleochristian basilica dating from the fifth century.

The basilica was discovered in 2010, during an excavation ahead of the construction of a subway track, which prompted researchers to call the ancient building the Sintrivani basilica, after the Sintrivani metro station. The station is in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki, which was an important metropolis during Roman times. 

The basilica was built over an even older place of worship; a fourth-century chapel, which might be the oldest Christian church in Thessaloniki, Maniotis said.

The individual’s burial in the ancient basilica.

In the seventh century, the church was damaged and only poorly renovated before it was eventually abandoned in the eighth or ninth century, Maniotis said.

During recent excavations, archaeologists found seven graves that had been sealed inside. Some of the graves contained two deceased individuals but didn’t have any artefacts. However, an arch-shaped grave contained an individual buried with weapons, including a bent spatha — a type of long, straight sword from the late Roman period (A.D. 250-450).

“Usually, these types of swords were used by the auxiliary cavalry forces of the Roman army,” Maniotis said. “Thus, we may say that the deceased, taking also into consideration the importance of the burial location, was a high-ranking officer of the Roman army.”

The individual was buried with the folded sword, a shield-boss and a spearhead.

The archaeologists still have to study the individual. “We don’t know anything about his profile: age of death, cause of death, possible wounds that he might have from the wars he fought, etc.,” Maniotis said. However, they were intrigued by his folded sword and other weapons, which included a shield-boss (the circular center of a shield) and spearhead. 

So far, the folded sword is the most revealing feature in the grave. “Such findings are extremely rare in an urban landscape,” Maniotis said. “Folded swords are usually excavated in sites in Northern Europe,” including in places used by the Celts, he said. This custom was also observed in ancient Greece and much later by the Vikings, but “it seems that Romans didn’t practice it, let alone when the new religion, Christianity, dominated, due to the fact that this ritual [was] considered to be pagan,” Maniotis said.

The bent sword is a clue that the soldier was a “Romanized Goth or from any other Germanic tribe who served as a mercenary (foederatus) in the imperial Roman forces,” Maniotis wrote in the email.

The Latin word “foederatus” comes from “foedus,” a term describing a “treaty of mutual assistance between Rome and another nation,” Maniotis noted. “This treaty allowed the Germanic tribes to serve in the Roman Army as mercenaries, providing them with money, land and titles. [But] sometimes these foederati turned against the Romans.”

The archaeological team recently found ancient coins at the site, so they plan to use these, as well as the style of the sword’s pommel, or the knob on the handle, to figure out when this soldier lived, Maniotis noted.

“The soldier’s armament [weapons] will shed light to the impact that the presence of the community of foreign mercenaries had in the city of Thessaloniki, the second greatest city, since the fall of Rome and after Constantinople, in the Eastern Roman Empire.”

Mosaic and cemetery

The discovery of the ancient basilica has revealed other ancient artefacts. Archaeologists led by Melina Paisidou, an associate professor of archaeology at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, have also excavated the building’s beautiful mosaic floor, Maniotis said.

The mosaic shows a vine with birds on its stalks, including the mythical phoenix with a halo that has 13 rays at its center. Only seven other depicted birds have survived, but the archaeological team posits that there were originally 12 birds, and that the mosaic is likely an allegorical representation of Christ and the 12 apostles, Maniotis said.

In addition, a discovery at the site in 2010 revealed about 3,000 ancient burials in Thessaloniki eastern cemetery, a burial ground that was used from the Hellenistic period (about 300-30 B.C.) until just before late antiquity (A.D. 600-700), according to Ancient Origins.

The Mysterious Bronze Objects That Have Baffled Archaeologists for Centuries

The Mysterious Bronze Objects That Have Baffled Archaeologists for Centuries

One August day in 1987, Brian Campbell was refilling the hole left by a tree stump in his yard in Romford, East London, when his shovel struck something metal.

He leaned down and pulled the object from the soil, wondering at its strange shape. The object was small—smaller than a tennis ball—and caked with heavy clay. “My first impressions,” Campbell tells Mental Floss, “were it was beautifully and skillfully made … probably by a blacksmith as a measuring tool of sorts.”

Roman dodecahedra date from the 2nd or 3rd centuries AD and typically range from 4cm to 11cm (1.57-4.33 inches) in size. To date, more than one hundred of these artefacts have been found across Great Britain, Belgium, Germany, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, and Hungary.

An incomplete cast copper-alloy dodecahedron (1 – 400 AD), discovered by a metal detectorist in Yorkshire, England.

What were Roman Dodecahedra Used for?

The great mystery is: how do they work and what do they do? Unfortunately, there is no documentation or notes about them from the time of their creation, so the function of the dodecahedra has not been determined.

Nevertheless, many theories and speculations have been put forward over the centuries: candlestick holders (wax was found inside one example), dice, survey instruments, devices for determining the optimal sowing date for the winter grain, gauges to calibrate water pipes or standard army bases, staff or scepter decorations, a toy to throw and catch on a stick, or simply a geometric sculpture. Among these speculations, some deserve attention.

A popular hypothesis these days for the purpose of the dodecahedra is that they were used as knitting tools to make gloves. Whether it solves the mystery or not, the YouTube video by Martin Hallett, who tested his idea with a 3D printed replica of a Roman dodecahedron and some experimental archaeology, has inspired others to try out this knitting method to make their own hand warmers.

This idea could explain the different sizes of the dodecahedra – making gloves of different sizes – and the purpose of the holes – to form the glove’s fingers.

However, one of the most accepted theories is that the Roman dodecahedron was used as a measuring device, more precisely as a range measuring an object on the battlefield. The hypothesis is that the dodecahedron was used for calculating the trajectories of projectiles. This could explain the different sized holes in the pentagrams.

A similar theory involves dodecahedra as a surveying and levelling device. However, neither of these theories has been supported by any proof and exactly how the dodecahedron could be used for these purposes has not been fully explained.

Dodecahedron from the region of Stuttgart; 2nd to 3rd Century, shown at the Württembergisches Landesmuseum, Stuttgart, Germany; Approximately 60 such dodecahedra from this region and time are known, however their function is not clear.

Or Maybe they were Astronomical Tools, Religious Relics or Toys?

One of the more interesting theories is the proposal that dodecahedra were astronomic measuring instruments for determining the optimal sowing date for winter grain.

According to G.M.C. Wagemans, “the dodecahedron was an astronomic measuring instrument with which the angle of the sunlight can be measured and thereby one specific date in springtime, and one date in the autumn can be determined with accuracy. The dates that can be measured were probably of importance for the agriculture”.

Nevertheless, opponents of this theory have pointed out that use as a measuring instrument of any kind seems to be prohibited by the fact that the dodecahedra were not standardized and come in many sizes and arrangements.

Another unproven theory claims that the dodecahedra are religious relics, once used as sacred tools for the druids of Britannia and Caledonia. However, there is no written account or archaeological evidence to support this view. Could it be that this strange item was simply a toy or a recreational game for legionnaires, during the war campaigns?

Some sources suggest they were the central objects in a bowl game similar to that of our days, with these artefacts used as markers and the players throwing stones to land them in the holes within the dodecahedra.

Two ancient Roman bronze dodecahedrons and an icosahedron (3rd c. AD) in the Rheinisches Landesmuseum in Bonn, Germany. The dodecahedrons were excavated in Bonn and Frechen-Bachem; the icosahedron in Arloff.

A Roman Icosahedron Adds to the Mystery

Another discovery deepens the mystery about the function of these objects. Some time ago, Benno Artmann discovered a Roman icosahedron (a polyhedron with 20 faces), misclassified as a dodecahedron on just a superficial glance, and put away in a museum’s basement storage. The discovery raises the question about whether there are many other geometric artefacts of different types – such as, icosahedra, hexagons, octagons – yet to be found in what was once the significant Roman Empire.

The Roman icosahedron found by Benno Artmann.

Despite the many unanswered questions, one thing is certain, the Roman dodecahedra were highly valued by their owners. This is evidenced by the fact that a number of them were found among treasure hoards, with coins and other valuable items.  We may never know the true purpose of the Roman dodecahedra, but we can only hope that advances in archaeology will unearth more clues that will help solve this ancient enigma.

‘Vampire’ discovered in a mass grave

‘Vampire’ discovered in a mass grave

What may have been an exorcism of a vampire in Venice is now drawing bad blood among scientists arguing over whether gravediggers were attempting to defeat an undead monster.

'Vampire' discovered in a mass grave
The skull of the “vampire of Venice,” found in a mass grave with a brick stuck in its jaw

The controversy begins with a mass grave of 16th-century plague victims on the Venetian island of Nuovo Lazzaretto. The remains of a woman there apparently had a brick shoved in her mouth, perhaps to exorcise the corpse in what may have been the first vampire burial known in archaeology, said forensic anthropologist Matteo Borrini of the University of Florence in Italy.

Vampire superstitions were common when plague devastated Europe, and much, if not all, of this folklore, could be due to misconceptions about the natural stages of decomposition, Borrini said.

The recently dead can often appear unnervingly alive. As the corpse’s skin shrinks and pulls back, for example, hair and nails may appear to grow after death.

The remains of the woman were apparently wrapped in a shroud, based on the position of her collarbone, Borrini suggested. A corpse might appear to have chewed through its shroud because of corrosive fluids it spewed as it decayed, perhaps frightening gravediggers into thinking it was a vampire.

Vampire myths link the monsters with contagions, and the plague ran rampant in Venice in 1576, killing as many as 50,000 people, nearly a third of the city, including famed Renaissance artist Titian.

The gravediggers that ran across this corpse may have wanted to prevent a vampire from ravaging the city further with pestilence, Borrini and his colleague Emilio Nuzzolese suggested in the Journal of Forensic Sciences in 2010. The “vampire” has since been discussed on Italian national TV and a National Geographic documentary.

However, now other researchers are openly deriding this claim. Where some might see an exorcism, these researchers see a brick accidentally falling into a skull’s mouth.

The dig site reveals a mass grave with the “vampire” indicated and, inset, a 3D model of the skeleton with brick “

“I find surprising that the reviewers of an important journal such as the Journal of Forensic Sciences had given permission to publish the article of Nuzzolese and Borrini with inadequate scientific evidence to support their hypothesis,” physical anthropologist Simona Minozzi at the University of Pisa in Italy told LiveScience.

To start with, photos of the site where the purported vampire was found show her remains were surrounded by stones, bricks and tiles, Minozzi said.

They also note the jaws of corpses often gape open, allowing any number of items to fall in — for instance, they note a skeleton with a thighbone in its mouth was found in the cemetery of Vecchio Lazzaretto in Venice.

They also note there is no clear evidence of a shroud, as coffin walls might also explain the position of the collarbone. They add that the legend of the so-called nachzehrer, or “shroud-eaters,” were apparently tightly confined to the East German region and not Italy. Minozzi and her colleagues detailed their argument in the May issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences.

Minozzi called the vampire idea “nonsense.” “Unfortunately, this is a common practice in the last few years in Italy,” she said. “This is probably due to the strong cutting of funds for research in Italy, so researchers seek to attract attention and money through sensational discoveries that often have little to do with science.”

Borrini and his colleagues strongly rebut the argument over their analysis. They discussed how the physical details of the site supported their interpretation in a response in the May issue of the Journal of Forensic Sciences, and that while the legend of the nachzehrer was found in Germanic areas, Venice was a crossroads during the epoch in which such legends from distant lands might have circulated.

“Regarding the criticism of my Italian colleagues, I have to admit that it’s a quite unpleasant situation,” Borrini said. “It seems that the main reasons for the interest in my research are its mass media success. Well, I want to be clear regarding this — I never looked for the media.”

Lost civilization: Ancient Golan rock art sheds light on the mysterious culture around Israel

Lost civilization: Ancient Golan rock art sheds light on the mysterious culture around Israel

The chance discovery of lines carved into the boulders of an ancient tomb in what is now the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights could offer new insight into an enigmatic culture that thrived thousands of years ago.

Uri Berger, a regional archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, displays engravings in a rock bearing images of animals inside a dolmen from the intermediate Bronze age, in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights

In a small clearing in the Yehudiya nature reserve, between yellow weeds and shaded by eucalyptus trees, huge dark basalt boulders and slabs form a small roofed chamber that opens to the east.

The megalithic structure is one of the thousands of so-called dolmens scattered around northern Israel and the wider region, burial tombs erected some 4,000-4,500 years ago in the Intermediate Bronze Era.

This megalithic structure is one of the thousands of dolmens scattered around northern Israel and the region, burial tombs erected some 4000-4500 years ago in the Intermediate Bronze Era

Today, on the plateau captured in 1967 from Syria, with Israeli soldiers securing the frontier just 23 kilometres (14 miles) away, scientists seek to shed light on the region’s distant past. The identity and beliefs of those who built the monuments remain largely unknown. But a recent serendipitous finding of rock art might change that.

About two years ago, “when one of the rangers here in the park walked her daily walk, she looked inside and saw something carved in the walls,” recalled Uri Berger, an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority.

The ranger contacted the IAA, and “when we looked inside we saw this is not just lines carved or some stains on the wall, this is rock art,” Berger said. The lines form the shapes of six horned animals of varying sizes, three facing east and three facing west, with two of them — likely a male and female — directly facing each other.

Another horned animal is carved into the interior of one panel, facing the other six. The zoomorphic depictions, hidden in plain sight since the study of the dolmens began 200 years ago, were the first to be discovered in the region and a major development for Berger and his research partner, Gonen Sharon.

Sharon, an archaeology professor at the Tel-Hai college in northern Israel, is responsible for a previous landmark discovery. Just north of the nature reserve, outside the northern Galilee Kibbutz Shamir, Sharon was hiking with his children in 2012 on a field with some 400 dolmens spread across it.

Uri Berger, regional archaeologist for the Israel Antiquities Authority, stands amid an ancient structure near Kibbutz Shamir in the upper Galilee area of northern Israe

Crawling into the shade of the largest monument, Sharon sat down, looked up at the huge slab roof of the dome and said he noticed “weird shapes” that didn’t look like natural formations.

“It looked like someone made them,” he recalled.

The markings were found to be a series of man-made carvings resembling tridents.

“It turned out this was the first artwork done in the context of dolmens in the Middle East,” Sharon said. The Shamir carvings, unnoticed by generations of researchers, reinvigorated archaeological study in the area.

One of the sites revisited was inside an industrial zone near Kiryat Shmona, a town northwest of Shamir, where three small megalithic structures that survived the zone’s development a few decades ago are surrounded by circles of stones.

On the relatively rounded capstone of the largest dolmen there, two sets of short parallel lines are carved into each side of the rock, with a longer line carved below creating the image of closed eyes and a grimacing mouth facing the sky.

“The grooves don’t seem to be functional,” said Sharon. “To us, they look like a face.”

The stone monuments have “altered the landscape” of northern Israel, said Berger. But their prominence has also made them targets for antiquities theft, which largely stripped remains that could provide clues to their creators. Small pieces of ceramics, metal spearheads and daggers, bits of jewellery and beads and some bones are found at the sites from time to time, Sharon said. “But it’s very rare to find” anything, and such finds are very scattered.

“We know very little of the actual culture of the people who built them.”

With the discovery of the art carved into the stones, “we can say something that is much more than what we knew for 200 years,” said Berger.

The rock art findings — published in a recent article by Sharon and Berger in the journal Asian Archaeology — display the animal drawings in this ancient culture for the first time and present the larger pattern of visual presentation in the region. Berger said the drawings raise new questions about the people who created them.

“Why those animals? Why in these dolmens and not others? What made this one special?”

The slow but steady accumulation of artistic finds brings scholars “closer and closer” to the subjects of their research, “to the civilisation you’re looking to know about,” Berger said.

To Sharon, “this is like a letter from the past starting to suggest what was the world of culture and symbolism beyond just building and erecting very large stones.”

American Stonehenge: Monumental Instructions for the Post-Apocalypse

American Stonehenge: Monumental Instructions for the Post-Apocalypse

Five granite slabs rise in a star formation on a desolate field in Georgia, United States. – one weighs more than 20 tons, and there is a capstone on top of them. Nobody knows who constructed them or why they were put there, but one common theory is that they are there to lead mankind during a post-apocalyptic event that will come in the not so distant future.

The huge blocks send a message out to the world in eight different current languages and four extinct ones (ancient Greek and Egyptian hieroglyphs for example). The set of ten guidelines has baffled people around the world, with descriptions ranging from perfect and utopian to satanic or quirky. But no matter what the case, these ten commandments should definitely get you thinking:

While some of them are clearly noble and laudable (like having fair laws and avoiding petty ones), some of them have stirred controversy — especially “Maintain humanity under 500,000,000 in perpetual balance with nature”, and “Guide reproduction wisely – improving fitness and diversity”. If we were to apply these now, we’d have to kill over 90% of the planet.

However, this is a perfect example of a misinterpretation, because it has to be kept in mind that these “commandments” have to be applied after the alleged apocalyptic event. It’s not clear why “they” settled on 500 million, but the bottom line is that even though we hate to admit it — the world is overpopulated right now; it’s way overpopulated.

We are indeed finding better and better ways to manage our resources and use sustainable or renewable forces, but in just the last 50 years, the population of the Earth has more than doubled, and if we keep this up, the prognosis is pretty dire indeed. But back to our Georgia Stones.

The construction of a post-apocalyptic monument

Whoever built them definitely knew what they were doing: the slabs stand proud and sturdy and will endure through the centuries with minimal damage.

They also have a remarkable set of other features. For example, they feature a built-in channel that indicates the celestial pole, a horizontal slot that shows the annual travel of the sun as well as a system that marks noontime throughout the year. But why they have these features and lack others that would apparently be more useful for dazed survivors is still a mystery.

It all started on a Friday in June 1979. An elegantly dressed grey-haired man showed up in Elbert County and introduced himself as R. C. Christian — a reference to Christian Rosenkreuz — or Christian Rose Cross in English, and said he represents a small group of loyal Americans.

Rosenkreuz is a legendary character that founded the Order of the Rose Cross. He quickly became one of the most important and mysterious figures of the time by blending Christianity with some Arab and Persian sages teachings. R. C. Christian admitted this is not his real name, but refused to reveal anything about his identity.

Joe Fendley, president of the company that specializes in granite construction, didn’t care too much about this — that is, until he found out what monument R. C. Christian had in mind.

He explained that it would be a compass, calendar, and clock and also be engraved with a set of “guides” written in 8 of the world’s languages.

Fendley believed he was dealing with a crazy man and wanted to get rid of him, so he explained that a large number of tools and machines would be required, but Christian just nodded. He then quoted a price several times greater than the real one, but again, Christian seemed indifferent, so Fendley sent him to Wyatt Martin, president of the Granite City Bank. Martin is probably one of the people who have seen and spoken to the mystery man the most.

Ten guides, a clock, a calendar, and a compass

The astrological specifications were incredibly complex, so the construction company had to employ the help of an astronomer from the University of Georgia. The complex indicates the day of the year, equinoxes, and solstices among others. But the main feature is the 10 guides engraved in several languages.

The mission statement raises the first few questions marks: let these be Guidestones to an age of reason. But the controversy started even before the monument was finished — many claiming it to be the devil’s work. By 1980, when they started building the monument, Martin remembers that people started telling him to stop and accused him of being part of an occult movement.

The main problem is that the commandments engraved on the stones are quite eccentric, to say the least. It didn’t take a lot to compare the first two commandments to the practices of Nazis, among others, but again, this doesn’t mean that a large part of mankind has to disappear – the guides apply in a post-apocalyptic event, where the population is undoubtedly very small; this can be very hard to digest, but seeing things from their point of view is quite interesting, and any comparison with the Nazis or far-right ideology is unreasonable. I mean, if a horrendous tragedy happens, and somehow the world population is reduced to just a few hundred million then yes, it would be a good idea to have some care regarding the number of humans.

Guide number 3 instructed people to use a common language — which would, of course, greatly reduce numerous difficulties throughout today’s world; achieving such a task is, however, impossible at the moment due to evident practical reasons. This is the part that bothered annoyed the Christians, who quoted the bible saying that a common tongue is the mark of the Antichrist — yeah, makes a lot of sense for me, too. Same thing with RULE PASSION—FAITH—TRADITION—AND ALL THINGS WITH TEMPERED REASON — for some, faith has to be the alpha and omega with nothing else in between. For others, yours truly included, finding a sustainable balance is a much nobler goal.

The structure sometimes referred to as an “American Stonehenge”, sure stirred a lot of controversies, but it got us thinking — which means that at least a part of its objective was achieved. Even ignoring the more controversial commandments, the final 6 should definitely be worth achieving. After all, what’s wrong with avoiding unnecessary officials and prizing the truth?

1 billion-year-old fossil ‘balls’ may be Earth’s earliest known multicellular life

1 billion-year-old fossil ‘balls’ may be Earth’s earliest known multicellular life

Scientists have discovered a rare evolutionary “missing link” dating to the earliest chapter of life on Earth. It’s a microscopic, ball-shaped fossil that bridges the gap between the very first living creatures — single-celled organisms — and more complex multicellular life.

1 billion-year-old fossil 'balls' may be Earth's earliest known multicellular life
Bicellum brasieri holotype specimen.

The spherical fossil contains two different types of cells: round, tightly packed cells with very thin cell walls at the centre of the ball, and a surrounding outer layer of sausage-shaped cells with thicker walls. Estimated to be 1 billion years old, this is the oldest known fossil of a multicellular organism, researchers reported in a new study. 

Life on Earth is widely accepted as having evolved from single-celled forms that emerged in the primordial oceans. However, this fossil was found in sediments from the bottom of what was once a lake in the northwest Scottish Highlands. The discovery offers a new perspective on the evolutionary pathways that shaped multicellular life, the scientists said in the study. 

“The origins of complex multicellularity and the origin of animals are considered two of the most important events in the history of life on Earth,” said lead study author Charles Wellman, a professor in the Department of Animal and Plant Sciences at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom.

“Our discovery sheds new light on both of these,” Sheffield said in a statement.

Today, little evidence remains of Earth’s earliest organisms. Microscopic fossils estimated to be 3.5 billion years old are credited with being the oldest fossils of life on Earth, though some experts have questioned whether chemical clues in the so-called fossils were truly biological in origin. 

Other types of fossils associated with ancient microbes are even older: Sediment ripples in Greenland date to 3.7 billion years ago, and hematite tubes in Canada date between 3.77 billion and 4.29 billion years ago. Fossils of the oldest known algae, ancestor to all of Earth’s plants, are about 1 billion years old, and the oldest sign of animal life — chemical traces linked to ancient sponges — are at least 635 million and possible as much as 660 million years old, Live Science previously reported.

The tiny fossilized cell clumps, which the scientists named Bicellum brasieri, were exceptionally well-preserved in 3D, locked in nodules of phosphate minerals that were “like little black lenses in rock strata, about one centimetre [0.4 inches] in thickness,” said lead study author Paul Strother, a research professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Boston College’s Weston Observatory. 

“We take those and slice them with a diamond saw and make thin sections out of them,” grinding the slices thin enough for light to shine through — so that the 3D fossils could then be studied under a microscope, Strother told Live Science.

Surface view of a B. brasieri specimen, showing the tiled pattern of sets of elongated cells.

The researchers found not just one B. brasieri cell clump embedded in phosphate, but multiple examples of spherical clumps that showed the same dual cell structure and organization at different stages of development. This enabled the scientists to confirm that their find was once a living organism, Strother said.

“Bicellum” means “two-celled,” and “brasieri” honours the late palaeontologist and study co-author, Martin Brasier. Prior to his death in 2014 in a car accident, Brasier was a professor of paleobiology at the University of Oxford in the U.K., Strother said.

Multicellular and mysterious

In the B. brasieri fossils, which measured about 0.001 inches (0.03 millimeters) in diameter, the scientists saw something they had never seen before: evidence from the fossil record marking the transition from single-celled life to multicellular organisms. The two types of cells in B. brasieri differed from each other not only in their shape, but in how and where they were organized in the organism’s “body.” 

“That’s something that doesn’t exist in normal unicellular organisms,” Strother told Live Science. “That amount of structural complexity is something that we normally associate with complex multicellularity,” such as in animals, he said.

According to the study it’s unknown what type of multicellular lineage B. brasieri represents, but its round cells lacked rigid walls, so it probably wasn’t a type of algae. In fact, the shape and organization of its cells “are more consistent with a holozoan origin,” the authors wrote. (Holozoa is a group that includes multicellular animals and single-celled organisms that are animals’ closest relatives). 

The Scottish Highlands site — formerly an ancient lake — where the scientists found B. brasieri presented another intriguing puzzle piece about early evolution.

Earth’s oldest forms of life are typically thought to have emerged from the ocean because most ancient fossils were preserved in marine sediments, Strother explained. “There aren’t that many lake deposits of this antiquity, so there’s a bias in the rock record toward a marine fossil record rather than a freshwater record,” he added.

B. brasieri is therefore an important clue that ancient lake ecosystems could have been as important as the oceans for the early evolution of life.

Oceans provide organisms with a relatively stable environment, while freshwater ecosystems are more prone to extreme changes in temperature and alkalinity — such variations could have spurred an evolution in freshwater lakes when more complex life on Earth was in its infancy, Strother said.

World War I Soldiers’ Artifacts Found in Alpine Cave

World War I Soldiers’ Artifacts Found in Alpine Cave

According to a CNN report, continuing glacier melt has revealed additional World War I artefacts in a cave near the peak of Mount Scorluzzo in northern Italy. Twenty Austrian soldiers took shelter in the cave, which is located near the strategic Stelvio Pass, and camouflaged it from aerial view.

A lantern was among the items to be found in the melted ice.

While people knew the shelter existed, researchers were only able to enter it in 2017 as the surrounding glacier had melted, added Morosini, who is the scientific coordinator of the heritage project at Stelvio National Park and teaches at the University of Bergamo.

Inside they found food, dishes and jackets made from animal skins, among many other items, he said.

The cave shelter in northern Italy was accessible to researchers after the surrounding glacier had melted.

The artefacts illustrate the “very poor daily life” of the soldiers, who had to deal with “extreme environmental conditions,” said Morosini. Winter temperatures could drop to -40 degrees Celsius (-40 degrees Fahrenheit), he added.

“Soldiers had to fight against the extreme environment, fight against the snow or the avalanches, but also fight against the enemy,” Morosini said.

“The artefacts are a representation, like a time machine, of… the extreme conditions of life during the First World War,” he said, adding that more items appear in the area every summer as the glacier melts.

“It’s a sort of open-air museum,” said Morosini, who said that five years ago the bodies of two soldiers were found, along with documents that allowed them to be identified and their remains were given to their families.

The cave shelter housed Austrian soldiers stationed at Mount Scorluzzo.
A variety of items were found, including bottles and tins.

The artefacts from the cave shelter are being preserved and will form part of the collection, due to open in late 2022, at a museum dedicated to World War I in the northern Italian town of Bormio, said Morosini.

The shelter was occupied in the first days of the war by Austrian troops, who made it completely invisible from the Italian side or from aerial observation, according to a statement from White War Museum, located in Adamello, northern Italy.

It sits at an altitude of 3,094 meters (10,151 feet), just below the peak of Mount Scorluzzo, and excavation work has been carried out each July and August since 2017, removing around 60 cubic meters of ice from the cave.

The view of the Stelvio glacier from Mount Scorluzzo.

A total of 300 objects were recovered, including straw mattresses, coins, helmets, ammunition and newspapers.

“The findings in the cave on Mount Scorluzzo give us, after over a hundred years, a slice of life at over 3,000 meters above sea level, where the time stopped on November 3, 1918, when the last Austrian soldier closed the door and rushed downhill,” reads the museum’s press release.

A cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway

A Cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway

Science Norway reports that seven gold pendants, or bracteates, estimated to be 1,500 years old have been unearthed in southeastern Norway by archaeologists Jessica Leigh McGraw, Margrete Figenschou Simonsen found in a field and near a small hill at the edge of the field.

A Cache of 1,500-Year-Old Gold Pendants Found in Norway
Gold doesn’t deteriorate, even if it’s spent a thousand years in clay soil. But the gold bracteates can still be quite fragile. The purity of the gold is high, which makes it soft and easy to bend.

If this spot was in fact a place where gold bracteates would have been laid down for sacrifice, it has been disturbed in modern times by farming.

Save for an assembly of gold artefacts which included one bracteate which was found in Møre og Romsdal in 2014, it has been 70 years since similar findings were done in Norway.

“Such votive hoards are incredibly rare”, three archaeologists write in a blog post on forskning.no (link in Norwegian).

Jessica Leigh McGraw, Margrete Figenschou Simonsen and Magne Samdal are all archaeologists working at the UiO Museum of Cultural History, and they have just undertaken an excavation on the site.

An excavator removes the clay soil bit by bit before the archaeologists search the area repeatedly with metal detectors.

A scandie take on roman culture

A total of about 160 bracteates have been found in Norway, whereas in total around 900 such pendants are known. They are considered a Scandinavian phenomenon, and when found in Germany and England are presumed to have been imported to those places.

The inspiration for the pendants, however, is the Roman Empire Medallions.

“In homely tradition, the portrait of the emperor has been replaced by Norse gods and animal figures in Germanic style”, the archaeologists write.

“People in Scandinavia took ownership in a status item from the Roman culture, gave it a Norse look and made it their own.”

Animals, humans, symbols and runes

The name bracteate is derived from the Latin bractea – meaning a thin piece of metal.

The pendants were single-sided, made out of gold, and usually worn as jewellery. They could also be laid down as votive gifts to the Gods, as hoards of gold bracteates suggest.

Bracteates are classified according to what they depict. The seven that were recently found in Råde in Østfold, are of the types C and D.

Type C bracteates depict scenes of a person on the back of a horse-like animal, often in combination with birds, other symbols and runes. The dominating feature, however, is a large human head with prominent hair.

Type D bracteates are different stylistically from the other classifications and are assumed to be the youngest variants, dating from the 6th century AD. They depict various highly stylized animals and can be quite hard to understand and interpret today.

A close up of one of the bracteates.

Pleasing the Gods

The bracteates are from the so-called Migration Period, a time of widespread migrations in Europe that mainly took place between the 4th and 6th century AD.

Norway has rich findings from this period from sites like farms, graves, hillforts and stray finds. Imported items from the Roman Empire, as well as copies of antique status symbols, show that Norway had cultural and economic ties to the continent, the archaeologists write in their blog post.

This is also evident in the gold bracteates.

“There is little doubt that these were items connected to aristocratic communities within a Germanic elite in Scandinavia”, they write.

In the year’s AD 536-540 however, a series of volcanic eruptions lead to thick clouds of ashes that affected the climate. This is referred to as the Fimbul winter in Norse literature. The sun did not shine for more than a year, crops failed, and people starved.

“We don’t know if the gold bracteates from Råde were laid down before or after 536”, the archaeologists write.

“But it appears as though gold offerings become larger and more numerous during the 500s. In a time of bad years and insecurities, people may have felt a heightened need to try and avoid dangers and seek protection. The Gods needed pleasing, and an increased amount of gold offerings may have taken place”.

The screen shows an enlarged image of a 5 mm broad area of one of the gold bracteates. Using a scanning electron microscope such as this allows the archaeologists to study the pendants up close in great detail.

The screen shows an enlarged image of a 5 mm broad area of one of the gold bracteates. Using a scanning electron microscope such as this allows the archaeologists to study the pendants up close in great detail. 

Will be studied in detail

The seven gold bracteates will now be studied in detail at the UiO Museum of Cultural History in Oslo. Some of them are a bit bent and the motifs are partly hidden.

Using advanced technology, the archaeologists hope to be able to say something about how the pendants were made, and perhaps even by whom and where.

They will also compare the newly found bracteates to old findings. This might tell us something about connections between the elites in Scandinavia or Northern Europe.

“Laying down seven gold bracteates must have been a considerable ritual act, reserved for only the most privileged in society”, the archaeologists write.

“Thus, they are also bearers of stories from the time before they were given as offerings”.