Sunday, March 30, 2014

History Channel: Myth Hunters



Following the success of the first series, the second series of Myth Hunters reveals more true stories of quests after legendary objects – hordes of lost Spanish gold, the Temple of Solomon, the body of King Arthur, the relics of Joan of Arc; objects that offer their finder either unlimited power or wealth - or both.

For most of us, these are the stuff of fantasy and movies as seen in Indiana Jones or The Mummy; but these are the real stories of real adventurers who thought these myths were true.

These true life action adventures are exciting stories filmed in HD. The thirteen-part series features dramatic reconstruction, expert witness testimonies, specially shot location material and archive footage.

 Season One



  1. The Quest For Noah's Ark

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  2. Hitler And The Spear Of Destiny

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  3. The Hunt For Pirate Treasure

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  4. The Real King Solomon's Mines

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  5. The Missing Eighth Wonder of The World

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  6. The Lost Sword Of The Samurai

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  7. Himmler And The Holy Grail

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  8. The Hunt For The Book Of Spells

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  9. The Lost City Of El Dorado

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  10. The Nazis And The Book Of Power

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  11. Raider Ron And The Lost Ark

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  12. The Search For The Crystal Skulls

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

  13. The Quest For The True Cross

    The story of real life quests after some of history's greatest legends. From the Nazis' search for the Holy Grail, to the Americans who hunted for pirate treasure in Vietnam; from the true story of the crystal skulls to the mystery of King Solomon's mines - this series uncovers the truth behind some of the most fabulous, romantic and deranged treasure hunts in modern history.

     Season Two

     

    1. The Search for King Arthur's Bones

      As famed archaeologist stared into an empty pit, had he finally realised his boyhood ambition and found the final resting place of King Arthur? The search for the bones of King Arthur reached fever pitch at the turn of the 20th century. Frederick Bligh Bond was one of Britain's leading archaeologist and he was determined to prove that King Arthur, the wielder of Excalibur, the founder of Camelot and the Lord of the Round Table, had been real. The story goes that, in 1191, the monks of Glastonbury Abbey uncovered the body of a gigantic man. Wounded several times in the head, he had succumbed to one last fatal blow. The bones of his wife, along with a tress of her beautiful golden hair, shared his large oak coffin. An ancient lead cross found with the burial was inscribed "Here lies buried the famous king Arthur with Guinevere his second wife, in the Isle of Avalon". To find the grave, Bligh Bond pioneered new techniques in archaeology, which revealed stunning details of the Abbey. During the excavation he's visited by colleagues - and a 10 year old boy, Ralegh Radford, who's captivated by his mission. Bligh Bond's findings amaze the Church, but later he confesses that he'd been communicating with the Abbey's long dead, mediaeval monks in seances. The Church was outraged and Bligh Bond was pulled off the site, disgraced, and the excavation closed down. 30 years on the quest is taken up by Ralegh Radford, an ambitious and talented archaeologist. Excavating under the Abbey he came upon a pit - and found himself staring into that gigantic man's grave - the grave of King Arthur. Had he really found the legendary king's final resting place?
    2. The Secret of Superstition Mountain

      In the Wild West, one legend of lost gold endures above all others. The story begins after a few years after the American civil war. A young cowhand, raised in the Wild West hears of a tale from a stranger as he sits around a camp fire. It's a story of greed, duplicity and cold-blooded murder all fuelled by an insatiable lust for gold. Dick Holmes is hooked. A mysterious German - or was he a Dutchman - struggled out of the Superstition Mountains in Arizona in 1868. His name, he said, was Jacob Waltz, and in his pockets were samples of rock filled with gold. There was, he said, a mine with the richest seam imaginable deep in the mountains. Later, as Jacob Waltz falls critically ill, Dick Holmes seizes his chance to hear his deathbed confession. He manages to tell Holmes a few cryptic clues before dying. Underneath the Dutchman's bed Brownie finds a box. It contains 48 hundred dollars worth of high-grade ore. Proof that the mine is real. But Dick Holmes has to stop his search when he is injured by a horse. The mantle is passed to his son, Brownie. He meets up with a famous amateur treasure hunter, Adolph Ruth. Ruth sets off into the Superstition Mountains. He never returns. An expedition is mounted to find him. It came across his clothes, containing a detailed map of the where the mine was and a note with the words "veni, vidi, vici"- "I came. I saw I conquered". He must have found the mine. Weeks later his body was discovered, crumpled in a gully. It had two bullets in the head. What had happened? And had he found the mine?
    3. The Hunt for the Garden of Eden

      It's one of the most powerful and enduring myths ever created. The Garden of Eden. It is the very definition of paradise: a land of endless plenty where there is no work, no sorrow, no hunger and no disease. But could it be true? Did the Garden of Eden exist as a real place? The only clues to its whereabouts lie in the Bible, which states that the garden is the source of four major rivers: the Tigris, Euphrates and Pishon and Gihon. The sources of Tigris and Euphrates are easy to find, as they are up in the Torus mountains. However they are hundreds of miles apart. So the key to finding Eden would be to locate the other two rivers' sources. The trouble is no one has any idea where the Pishon and Gihon are. The names have long since fallen into disuse. One maverick scholar thinks he may have cracked the code. Professor Juris Zanis thinks he knows where Eden really was and why it really disappeared. To find the answer, Zarins took a multi disciplinary approach; using geology, anthropology, archaeology, linguistics and hydrology. Zarins started to look at the cultures who inhabited the area where the Tigris and Euphrates Meet: Southern Mesopotamia. He believes that the Sumerians who lived 7000 years ago created large-scale urban settlements: the world's first cities. Among their legends was a bountiful garden, a paradise called Dilmun. Dilmun sits on the East coast of Bahrain. Could this be the remnants of the Garden of Eden? Now he had to confirm the stories of the Sumerians using the latest land sat technology. This would give Zarins a "birds eye view" from space at the geology of the region, able to view the rock formations clearly both on land and underwater. Would it give him the final confirmation that he had found the fabled Garden of Eden?
    4. The Search for Our Lady of Atocha

      This is a story of one man's magnificent obsession. It would cost him terrible personal tragedy and sixteen years of his life, but it would ultimately end in triumph. Mel Fisher was a chicken farmer from Indiana. From an early age he had fallen in love with diving - in particular diving for treasure. Fisher became obsessed with the lost Spanish Galleon the Nuestra Senora de Atocha ("Our Lady of Atocha"), that had sunk off the Florida coast. It was loaded with fabulous treasure looted from the New World - including copper, silver, gold, tobacco, emeralds, jewellery, and indigo. But she was caught in a hurricane 35 miles off Key West in the Florida Keys and sank. 265 people drowned. Mel uprooted his wife and four children: and took them to Florida in his hunt for the Atocha. For sixteen years they found nothing. In the middle of these lean years, as money ran short, tragedy struck. On July 13, 1975 Mel's oldest son Dirk, his wife Angel, and diver Rick Gage died after their boat capsized during their quest for the treasure. Mel kept going through these hard times thanks to his motto; Today's the Day. Finally, on July 20th, 1985, his son, Kane Fisher, captain of the salvage vessel Dauntless, sent a jubilant message to his father's headquarters, "Put away the charts; we've found the main pile!" Ecstatic crew members described the find as looking like a reef of silver bars. At long last, the wreck's "motherlode" had been found. But this is not the end of the story -it continues today with Mel's grandson - Sean...
    5. The Lost Library of Ivan the Terrible

      A young archaeologist risks everything in his quest to find one of the world's greatest treasures - the fabled lost library of Ivan the Terrible. It's a story that begins during the 15th century, and the sacking of Constantinople. The Ottoman Empire is approaching from the East, preparing to launch an all-out attack on the city. The Sultan rushes to save its most valuable treasures. The Library is its most valuable, and it's whisked away for safe keeping in Moscow. This was no ordinary library, but the greatest library outside of Rome. Records chronicled hundreds of carts laden with the rarest books, written by the world's greatest minds in history: Aristotle, Plato, Homer. These are reputed to be jewel encrusted tomes that hail from all parts of the globe. Ivan the Terrible's lost library became an obsession of Ignatius Stelletski, an archaeologist and historian. Its discovery would elevate him into the pantheon of history, and acquire wealth beyond his wildest dreams. In the early part of the 20th century he began to search the maze of underground tunnels lying beneath Moscow for the library. In 1914 he discovers a list that catalogues some of the more famous books in the library, including Aristotle's 2nd book of Poetics. The outbreak of World War One forces Stelletski to halt his work. Returning to his flat years later, the professor finds his home sacked, and the vital list gone. But his lifelong passion is undimmed. Stelletski continues undeterred to find the lost library, negotiating his way through all the political intrigue and villainy of 20th century Russia - the October Revolution, the rise of Stalin, and World War II. His search takes him under the Moscow Kremlin, in the Secret Gate to Zhitnev yard, in the bell tower of Ivan the Great Wall at Tseyhgauzskoy, the Round Tower, Borovitckii hill embankment of the Moscow River, and the Kremlin Arsenal Tower. Stelletski dies with the final words on his lips "maktaba", Arabic for library, with a tantalisi.
    6. The Curse of Montezuma's Gold

      A lost treasure of immeasurable wealth - the riches of one of the most powerful empires in the history of the Americas - the Aztecs. Faced with annihilation at the hands of the Spanish conquistadors, Montezuma, the dying Aztec Emperor ordered his treasure trove spirited away and hidden. But despite torturing the Aztec leaders and mounting a vast number of expeditions, the Spanish conquistador Cortez still couldn't find it. For centuries Spanish adventurers would disappear into the hills and caverns of Mexico looking for it. But of course, the Aztecs ranged over a vast area. Many believed that if Montezuma had hidden the gold, it would be far from where the Conquistadors were hunting. Then In 1914, a man named Freddie Crystal walked down Main Street in Kanab, Utah, clutching a treasure map. He claimed that his map revealed the hiding place of King Montezuma's fabled Aztec treasure. When the outsider inquired around town, obliging locals informed Freddie that his map resembled a section of the White Cliffs 35 minutes south of the city limits. The clues to the whereabouts of the treasure lay in the graphic petraglyphs marked on the map. The same petraglyphs were etched on the cliffs around Kanab. To the amazement of the Mormons of small town Kanab, this stranger on a bike was telling them this vast horde of treasure was hidden near their town and there for the taking. 400 years after the death of Montezuma Freddie Crystal came in search for one of the biggest prizes in history. But was the treasure protected by an army of ghostly Aztec warriors and the curse of Montezuma?
    7. The Relics of Joan of Arc

      Forensic pathologist Dr Philippe Charlier, known to the French as the "Indiana Jones of the graveyards" faced his biggest challenge yet: to uncover the truth behind the remains of France's most famous daughter - Joan of Arc. Joan of Arc, maid of visions and miracles, had achieved the seemingly impossible when she broke the military back of the English at the Siege of Orleans in 1429 to successfully see the Dauphin finally crowned Charles VII of France at Reims. But her subsequent capture by the English and trial at Rouen for witchcraft and heresy ended in her being sentenced to death by burning at the stake. In modern day France, Dr Philippe Charlier subjected these fragments to the full panoply of 21st century forensic analysis: mass, infrared and atomic-emission spectrometry; electron microscopy; pollen analysis and DNA analysis. One of the bones was not human but feline. Could it have been a cat burnt along with Joan? Black cats were often burned in the fire of those reputed to be witches. But, its origin was not even European. Charlier found nothing in the organic material that matched anything that would have existed in 15th Century Burgundy. In a final, stunning confirmation: carbon dating placed the fragments of bones between the 7th and 8th Century BC. This was no Joan of Arc, this was an Egyptian Mummy! Black tar-like coating on the fragments had nothing to do with burning, but rather embalming. Somehow an Egyptian mummy had ended up being in an apothecary's jar labelled as the remains of Joan of Arc. Yet may hold the belief that the remains of Joan of Arc are still to be found, and returned to a place of honour.
    8. The Quest for the Minotaur's Labyrinth

      When a British Spy and adventurer go on a quest to find the mythical Labyrinth, he uncovers a secret that would rewrite history. Greek Mythology tells of the Labyrinth, an elaborate maze designed and built by the legendary artificer Daealus for King Minos of Crete. Its function was to hold the Minotaur, a mythical creature that was half man and half bull. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it. Theseus was aided by Ariadne, who provided him with a skein of thread, so he could find his way out again. But was the Labyrinth the stuff of legend - or could it really have existed? The search for the Labyrinth became an obsession for Sir Arthur Evans. In his early years he was an adventurer, a spy, and a journalist. His adventures took him to the Balkans - where he often travelled packing a sidearm. In the late 1870's he wrote extensively about the region, reporting on the suppression of the Christian insurrectionists by the armed forces of the Ottoman Empire. His passion for antiquities drove him on a quest to find the Labyrinth. Evan's attention was drawn to a site in Crete. Evans believed that Crete was the home of the Labyrinth. When he began to excavate he uncovered a magnificent palace, filled with beautiful artwork - could this be the fabled labyrinth? It appeared to be a complex maze of rooms and corridors. The palace featured pieces of art featuring bulls. Could this be the cradle of the Minoan civilisation? More than that - he uncovered writing that had never been seen before. It pre-dated Phoenician, Greek and Egyptian script. Could Crete in fact, have been the cradle of all western civilisation?
    9. The Legend of Kruger's Millions

      A local newspaper editor and businessman in South Africa unwittingly finds himself at the epicentre of a legend of buried gold. It's a story that began nearly 100 years ago. In the midst of the Boer War South African President Paul Kruger orders his gold bullion in the form of coins to be shipped out of Pretoria, away from the approaching British Army. In charge of the bullion was Fritz Duquesne. On the way to Mozambique, Duquesne buried the treasure near the small town of Ermelo, where he intended to return to reclaim it. But it was not to be. Duquesne was captured and deported from South Africa. The legend of Kruger's millions was born. As for Fritz Duquesne - in World War Two his hatred for the Allies caused him to become a master spy operating in New York. He was caught and finally jailed. Eighty years after the Boer War, Athol Stark unwittingly found himself caught up in the legend. A group of Zulu men asks Athol to help them search for the gold; they discover a strong box buried in the soil. Inside are Kruger Pounds. Athol Stark searches for the Kruger gold himself, and discovers a small statue of President Paul Kruger buried in the ground near his house. The discovery slips out to the media, treasure hunters descend upon Ermelo convinced the gold is there. Gold fever strikes Ermelo - and Athol discovers more of the valuable Kruger gold. Today, Athol continues to search for the Kruger Millions, and is the head of a treasure-hunting syndicate, where it's only a matter of time before once again, he strikes gold...
    10. The Nazi Hunt for Atlantis

      When an ambitious young scientist was sent on a quest by Himmler to find the lost people of Atlantis, little did he know it would become an expedition embroiled in political intrigue and lost integrity. Ernst Schaefer was one of the great explorers and scientists during the interwar years. By 1937, he had led two American-backed expeditions to the Himalayas to study geology and ornithology, his great specialism. But he was desperate for a third trip. The trouble was, with Nazism on the rise, American money could not be found. Schaefer managed to raise 80% of his funds from German companies, but he still needed more. Then he received a summons from Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS. Himmler said that he would back Schaefer on two conditions. The first was that the expedition would add anthropology to its list of sciences. Himmler revealed that he was convinced that Tibet contained the remnants of a long lost race - the "Hyberboreans." Referred to by the German philosopher Nietzsche, these were said to be an Aryan people with remarkable skills. They had been the people of Atlantis - a people, legend said, that had created the first civilisation of all. All other civilisations - the Egyptians, the Greeks, the Chinese, even the Incas, had learned from these Hyperboreans. Plato had written that Atlantis had disappeared beneath the waves and despite many explorers, no one had ever found it, though there have always been several candidates. Himmler's point was that Atlantis may be lost, but its people lived on in the Himalayas. Schaefer's task, Himmler said, was to find these Hyperboreans and prove that the Germans were their direct descendants. Himmler's second stipulation was that all members of the expedition would become members of the SS. Schaefer agreed to both demands. Propelled by the Nazi Party, it would be an expedition that would lead him ultimately into a tale of mountain madness, greed and sacrifice.
    11. The Lost Jewels of Helen of Troy

      It is one of the most romantic images ever photographed - Sophia, wife of the flamboyant adventurer-turned-archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, decked in fabulous bronze age jewels. Schliemann had unearthed the jewels when excavating Troy. For years he had been on a quest to prove that the tales of Helen, Achilles and Agamemnon weren't just a story - but real history. He had searched for the site of Troy for many years, suffered mockery and abuse, but now he had found it. Not only that, but he had unearthed these extraordinary diadems - "the Jewels of Helen of Troy" - and a host of other artefacts that he dubbed "King Priam's Treasure." As far as Schliemann was concerned, he had been vindicated - he had found proof that Helen of Troy and the site of the city itself existed. Schliemann squirreled the The "Jewels of Helen" out of Turkey to Berlin - where they seem to have vanished off the face of the earth In the years that followed Schliemann's reputation and his methods were trashed. His excavation of Troy was deemed to be reckless, bulldozing through the site regardless, mixing layers in an irresponsible way and his dating was shown to be wildly inaccurate. More recent work has uncovered a much more likely candidate for Troy. But even if he was wrong about that, where were those fabulous jewels in the photograph? Even if they may not have been worn by Helen, they were clearly ancient and of huge value. Then in 1993, they re-appeared - in the Pushkin Museum in St Petersburg. The truth about them can at last be revealed.
    12. The Secret Within the Dead Sea Scroll

      Could a Jewish Treasure lost when the Temple was sacked be hidden in caves in Jordan? John Marco Allegro, a maverick young scholar was convinced it was. It began with the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in 1946. Here at last were ancient texts that seemed to prove the existence of Christ as a historical person. But of the 972 scrolls found in the caves of Jordan, one was completely different. For a start, it consisted of two thin rolls not of papyrus but copper. But the real surprise was when the scroll was examined by John Allegro. What he read amazed him. It was a list of 64 locations with descriptions of items that had been buried at each one. Allegro realised that he was looking at clues to finding a massive haul of treasure - worth millions in today's money. The scroll seemed to be dated around AD70, the year the emperor Titus razed the temple of Jerusalem to the ground. The story had always been that the Temple's treasure had been taken away and hidden. Surely this was it? But his bosses refused to believe the scroll was real. The weights in Talents were simply too big to be true. If accurate, it listed all the known silver in the world at the time and a quarter of all the world's gold. But Allegro was undeterred and with the help of king Hussein no less, mounted two expeditions into Jordan. What followed was a tale of adventure, jeopardy and discovery.
    13. The Shogun's Lost Treasure

      The Tokugawa treasure legend is Japan's most famous story of its kind. The story is rooted in the 1860's, when the Tokugawa Shogun was about to be destroyed by the new, incoming Meji government. A high-ranking official in the shogunate ordered their gold coins to be buried in order to keep the treasure from falling into the Meji's hands, and to store military funds for a future attack against the government. Legend tells of a treasure worth ten trillion yen buried in Mount Akagi, in the Gunma Prefecture. The legend originated with Mizuno Tomoyoshi, born in 1851 as the third son of a Tokugawa retainer. Mizuno received a mysterious letter from a former neighbour, Nakajima Kurando, who was an employee in the financial magistrate as an investigator, who fought against the imperial forces and had been missing since 1868. Nakajima had an illicit relationship with Mizuno's mother, and as a result of his relationship he helped transport the gold from Yamanashi Prefecture to Mount Haruna during the first four months of 1868. However, when Nakajima later returned for the money in Mount Haruna it had been moved and he believed it was reburied on Mount Akagi. Legend has it that the local financial magistrate, Oguri, ordered the treasure to be moved to a more secure location. That final location was Mount Akagi, And there is a dark twist to the tale: to keep the location secret, the 1500 porters who helped dig and transport the shogunate's money had been killed and buried with the gold. After years of research Tomoyoshi used his own money to start digging in the most likely locations in 1888. The quest for the lost treasure of the last shogunate has driven three generations of the Mizuno family, down to the most recent "heir", Mizuno Tomoyuki who still digs around the mountains of Gunma today.


Sunday, March 23, 2014

Harvard University: Expeditions and Discoveries




Allard, Carel, 1648–ca. 1709. Planisphaerii Coelestis Hemisphaerium Septentrional. Amsterdam: Covens et Mortier, 1730. MAP-LC G3190 1730 .A4. Harvard Map Collection, Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass.


The Expeditions and Discoveries collection includes 185 historic maps, dating from 1626 to the 20th century.
With the hundreds of maps illustrating texts, and the twenty atlases (numbering 1,547 pages) in the collection, the cartographic materials in Expeditions provide compelling visual documentation of exploration and scientific discovery in the modern and early modern age.

Browse

Britain: One Million Years of the Human Story


Experience the dramatic story of ancient Britain, its changing landscapes and the people who lived here. This major exhibition showcases more than 200 specimens, objects and life-size models. Watch the short film to find out how our specially commissioned models were created.

Book tickets now

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

800,000-year-old footprints found in Norfolk, Britain; oldest ancient human footprints found outside Africa


Footprints left by ancient humans 800,000 years ago have been found in Britain, the earliest evidence of such markings outside Africa.

Researchers discovered the footprints, which were left by both adults and children, in ancient estuary mud at Happisburgh in Norfolk in eastern England.

The only older footprints found so far are at Laetoli in Tanzania, at about 3.5 million years old, and at Ileret and Koobi Fora in Kenya at about 1.5 million years, researchers said.

"This is an extraordinarily rare discovery," Nick Ashton of the British Museum, who led the research team, said.

The find came at an archaeological site that has yielded several previous discoveries of stone tools and fossil bones, including mammoth remains.

The researchers found the prints at low tide when waves washed away much of the beach sand to expose the silt below.

"At first we weren't sure what we were seeing but as we removed any remaining beach sand and sponged off the seawater, it was clear that the hollows resembled prints, perhaps human footprints, and that we needed to record the surface as quickly as possible before the sea eroded it away," Dr Ashton said.

The group of early humans that left the footprints appeared to have consisted of at least one male and several smaller people believed to be females and youngsters, the researchers said.

"They are clearly a family group rather than a hunting party," Dr Ashton said.
#

Footprint owners estimated to be about as tall as modern humans

Analysis of the prints found that they were from a "range of adult and juvenile foot sizes" equating to modern shoe sizes of up to British 7 or 8.

The researchers estimated that the height of the ancient humans who left the prints varied from about 0.9 metres to over 1.7 metres, not far off the height of modern humans.

They were dated at 800,000 years old partly on the basis of the site's geological position beneath glacial deposits, but also because the fossils there come from now-extinct types of mammoth and horse and early forms of vole that were alive at that time.

But the question of exactly what type of ancient humans left their footprints in the sands of time remains a mystery.

They may have been related to people of a similar period in history found in Atapuerca in Spain, assigned to the species Homo antecessor, or Pioneer Man, said Chris Stringer of the Natural History Museum.

"These people were of a similar height to ourselves and were fully bipedal," he said.
Homo antecessor apparently became extinct in Europe 600,000 years ago and was perhaps replaced by the species Homo heidelbergensis, followed by the Neanderthals from about 400,000 years ago, and eventually modern humans some 40,000 years ago.

AFP

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fossil fish re-defines origins of walking


Color illustration of Tiktaalik swimming and walking in water. (Source: Kalliopi Monoyios/University of Chicago)

Jennifer Viegas
Discovery News

Fossils of a creature that looked part-fish and part-limbed animal, the precursor to walking land animals, were recently found in northern Canada, according to a new study.

The beastie, Tiktaalik roseae, represents the best-known transitional species between fish and land-dwelling animals, according to researchers.

The fossil, described in this week's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lived 375 million years ago.

"Tiktaalik was a combination of primitive and advanced features," says co-author Edward Daeschler, Associate Curator of Vertebrate Zoology at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University.

While classified as a fish, Tiktaalik looked like a cross between a fish and a crocodile. It could grow to nearly 3 metres in length, and likely spent its days hunting in shallow freshwater environments. It had gills, scales and fins, but also had features associated with terrestrial animals. These included a mobile neck, a robust ribcage and primitive lungs.

Of most interest to the researchers, its large forefins had shoulders, elbows and partial wrists, which allowed it to support itself on ground.

The presence of these limb-like features challenges the theory that such mobile hind appendages developed only after species transitioned to life on land.

"Previous theories, based on the best available data, propose that a shift occurred from 'front-wheel drive' locomotion in fish to more of a 'four-wheel drive' in tetrapods (four-footed animals)," says co-author Neil Shubin, who is a professor of Anatomy at the University of Chicago. "But it looks like this shift actually began to happen in fish, not in limbed animals."

Some modern fish can walk, such as the African lungfish. Lungfish often look like they are slithering, more than walking, but if you see them in an aquarium, their little limbs are evident, and they do walk around.

It's likely that Tiktaalik did the same, with its later relatives walking completely out of water and onto land, where they eventually evolved into land animals.

"Regardless of the gait Tiktaalik used, it's clear that the emphasis on hind appendages and pelvic-propelled locomotion is a trend that began in fish, and was later exaggerated during the origin of tetrapods," Shubin says.

Old trees 'star players' in carbon uptake

The researchers found that old-growth forests shouldn't be left out of the carbon trading equation (Source: Markku Saarinen)

Anna Salleh
ABC

The largest trees in the world grow more quickly, and thus take up more carbon dioxide, than younger, smaller trees, say researchers.

The findings, published today in the journal Nature add to our understanding of how tree growth rates change over time.

"We found that tree growth rates increased continuously with tree size so, on average, the biggest trees in the forest are the fastest growing trees in the forest in terms of mass", says lead author, Dr Nate Stephenson, a research ecologist with the US Geological Survey.

Stephenson says the majority view to date has been that trees have a similar growth pattern to humans - starting off slowly, getting a growth spurt in adolescence, and then slowing down again as they get older.

But, he says, a number of scientists have argued trees continue to grow faster and faster the larger they get.

"It turns out that that's the case for the large majority of tree species."

Stephenson says the latest evidence comes from the largest study to date on the growth rate of trees across the globe.

He and colleagues measured the change in diameter of 650,000 individual trees from 403 species in both temperate and tropical areas.

"On average, every year trees put on more mass than they put on the year before," says Stephenson.
"Old trees are the ones putting on the most bulk in old forests. They are the star players."

"We think it strongly supports the minority view about tree growth rate."

Paradox

Stephenson says the majority view has been supported by previous research that, among other things, has shown as a tree gets older its growth rate per leaf decreases.

"A given leaf on a big tall eucalyptus tree photosynthesises less than one on a smaller tree," says Stephenson.

Studies have also found that, overall, older forest stands grow at a slower rate compared to younger stands.

But, says Stephenson, such measurements have been made at the scale of individual leaves and at the scale of forest stands.

"Most people have just inferred that the same has to be happening at the scale of the individual tree but it's not," he says, adding the latest findings are not incompatible with earlier observations at the leaf and forest stand scales.

"Our observation is compatible with those other observations but it just may not be intuitive," says Stephenson.

He says even though productivity per leaf in older trees decreases, this is counteracted by the fact that these trees have a lot more leaves that collectively result in the tree's faster growth rate.

"A tree that is a metre in diameter has, on average, 100 times as much leave mass as one that is only 10 centimetres in diameter."

At the other end of the scale, more young trees than old trees are packed into the same area of forest, and so this explains why collectively forest stands consisting of young trees put on more mass than those consisting of fewer old trees.

Implications

Stephenson says the findings will have implications for our understanding the role of trees in the carbon cycle and greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere.

"We already know that the biggest trees are the most important ones to preserve for carbon sequestration because they already hold so much carbon in them. It think the finding adds a little more support to the idea we need to protect these big trees," he says.

"Not only do they hold the most carbon but they are putting on a huge amount every single year."

Mars once had fresh water on surface

Data from the Opportunity rover on the rim of Endeavour crater indicates an asteroid impact changed Martian water forever (Source: NASA)

Stuart Gary
ABC

The surface of Mars once flowed with water fresh enough to sustain life, according to data collected by two of NASA's Martian rovers.

The findings, published in the journal Science, suggest freshwater rivers and streams once existed in the Meridiani Plains region near the Martian equator, 3.8 billion years ago.

But all that changed when a huge asteroid impact turned the fresh water into a highly acidic soup.
"All the evidence we have indicates the local Martian water was like spring water that you could drink," according CSIRO's Dr Paulo de Souza, a scientist with NASA's Mars exploration rover program.

"It would have been hospitable to any microbial life that may have existed at the time."

But, according to de Souza, the asteroid impact exposed volcanic rocks that were then subjected to chemical weathering, resulting in salts dissolving into the water.

"As time passed with this and other impacts in the region, a more acidic environment developed, with the water becoming as strong as vinegar," he says.

De Souza and colleagues can determine the chemistry of the water based on the different types of minerals formed in the sediments left behind.

"We not only know that there was water on Mars, but we can see how that water changed over time forming different minerals," says de Souza.

"Looking at those minerals is just like looking at a book of history, with the story of the planet recorded in those minerals."

Eyes in the sky

The researchers sent Opportunity to investigate part of the Endeavour Crater rim where NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbitor spacecraft detected iron- and aluminium-rich clay minerals.

The rover sampled a geological feature called the Matijevic formation, a grouping of fine-grained, layered rocks enriched with clay minerals.

Analysis of the spherules, veins and fractures in these mineral rich rocks indicates the Matijevic formation predates the impact event that formed Endeavour crater.

They represent the oldest Martian rocks, as well as the earliest evidence of water activity, so far encountered by Opportunity.

The authors found these older rocks were formed in conditions that would have been favourable to life or prebiotic chemistry.

"The formation on the rim of this crater had evidence of a more suitable environment for life to form and evolve in fresh water," says de Souza.

"We haven't actually found the fresh water, that would have been there four billion years ago, but what we saw were the minerals that could only be formed if we have fresh water present."

Meanwhile, the younger rocks sitting on top of the formation, which are believed to date from after the impact event, contain signatures for super-salty, highly-acidic water, which would have made life tough for even the hardiest extremophile microorganisms.

Ongoing mission

NASA's twin six-wheeled Mars exploration rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, landed on opposite sides of the red planet in January 2004, on what was expected to be a 90-day mission to search for geological evidence of past water.

Spirit's mission ended in March 2010, however its twin Opportunity is still exploring the red planet, ten years after landing.

"We've travelled over 38 kilometres across the surface of Mars ... Opportunity has just come out of another Martian winter," says de Souza.

"And a wind storm the other day has cleared the dust off the rover's solar panels."

According to de Souza, that means despite a decade of service, there's lots more science that can still be done.