понедельник, 3 сентября 2018 г.

Fly Brain Fruit flies may be quite irritating when they’re…

Fly Brain

Fruit flies may be quite irritating when they’re hovering around your kitchen. However, partly due to their relatively simple nervous system, studies with fruit flies over the past decade have hugely contributed to our understanding of the brain. For the first time, scientists have been able to create a high-resolution 3D model of an entire adult fruit fly brain by tracing all its 100,000 cells and connections. Thanks to this model, shown here, researchers can now trace the mesh of wires that connect all the brain’s neurons and allow them to communicate with each other. The 3D map also charts the more unknown corners of the fly brain. With over 20 research labs now using this high-resolution model, we may soon be able to unearth some hidden gems in fruit fly anatomy, continuing to improve our path to understanding how the brain works.

Written by Gaëlle Coullon

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Meteor Activity Outlook for 1-7 September 2018

Composite of 7 photos during the Perseids 2018. Ammersee, Germany. © Luis Calçada

Nikon Df, ƒ/2.8, 28.0 mm, ISO1000

September offers longer nights in the northern hemisphere that tend to be less hazy than those experienced in mid-summer. In the sky, no major showers are visible from either hemisphere but the northern hemisphere enjoys the advantage of higher sporadic rates. Most of the shower activity this month is produced from the Perseus-Aurigid complex active this time of year. These showers rarely produce more than 5 meteors per hour but still manage to produce most of the shower activity seen this month. Unfortunately the Perseus-Aurigid complex lies too low in the northern sky for southern hemisphere observers to view very well. Video studies have shown that the Taurids are visible as early as September 23rd, therefore after this date the Anthelion radiant will no longer be listed until the Taurid showers end in December. The Anthelion meteors are still active but their radiant is superimposed upon that of the more numerous Taurids, therefore it is impossible to properly separate these meteors. Observers in the southern hemisphere suffer from some of their lowest rates of the year this month. The Taurid radiants are not too badly placed so observers south can expect to see a little of this activity from this source this month. Lastly, recent video data has shown that the Orionids are active during the last week of the month, often being the most active radiant in the sky even though their maximum is not until October 22nd.

During this period the moon will reach its last quarter phase on Monday September 3rd. At that time the moon will lie 90 degrees west of the sun in the sky and will rise near midnight local summer time (LST) as seen from mid-northern latitudes. As the week progresses the waning crescent moon will rise later with each passing night, creating more favorable viewing conditions. The estimated total hourly meteor rates for evening observers this week is near 4 as seen from mid-northern latitudes and also 3 for those viewing from subtropical southern latitudes (25S). For morning observers the estimated total hourly rates should be near 14 for those viewing from mid-northern latitudes and 9 for those viewing from subtropical southern latitudes (25S). The actual rates will also depend on factors such as personal light and motion perception, local weather conditions, alertness and experience in watching meteor activity. Morning rates are reduced during this period due to moonlight. Note that the hourly rates listed below are estimates as viewed from dark sky sites away from urban light sources. Observers viewing from urban areas will see less activity as only the brighter meteors will be visible from such locations.

The radiant (the area of the sky where meteors appear to shoot from) positions and rates listed below are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning September 1/2. These positions do not change greatly day to day so the listed coordinates may be used during this entire period. Most star atlases (available at science stores and planetariums) will provide maps with grid lines of the celestial coordinates so that you may find out exactly where these positions are located in the sky. A planisphere or computer planetarium program is also useful in showing the sky at any time of night on any date of the year. Activity from each radiant is best seen when it is positioned highest in the sky, either due north or south along the meridian, depending on your latitude. It must be remembered that meteor activity is rarely seen at the radiant position. Rather they shoot outwards from the radiant so it is best to center your field of view so that the radiant lies near the edge and not the center. Viewing there will allow you to easily trace the path of each meteor back to the radiant (if it is a shower member) or in another direction if it is a sporadic. Meteor activity is not seen from radiants that are located far below the horizon. The positions below are listed in a west to east manner in order of right ascension (celestial longitude). The positions listed first are located further west therefore are accessible earlier in the night while those listed further down the list rise later in the night.

Radiant Positions at 22:00 LST

Radiant Positions at 22:00

Local Summer Time

Radiant Positions at 01:00 LST

Radiant Positions at 0100

Local Summer Time

Radiant Positions at 4:00 LST

Radiant Positions at 04:00

Local Summer Time

These sources of meteoric activity are expected to be active this week.

The center of the large Anthelion (ANT) radiant is currently located at 23:24 (351) -04. This position lies on the Aquarius/Pisces border , 4 degrees northeast of the 4th magnitude star known as phi Aquarii. Due to the large size of this radiant, Anthelion activity may also appear from western Pisces and northwestern Cetus as well as Aquarius. This radiant is best placed near 0200 LST, when it lies on the meridian and is located highest in the sky. Hourly rates at this time should be near 2 no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 30 km/sec., the average Anthelion meteor would be of medium-slow velocity.

The first of the September Epsilon Perseids (SPE) should be seen this week. This stream is active from September 3 through October 3 with the peak occurring on September 11th. The radiant is currently located at 02:33 (038) +37. This position lies in northeastern Triangulum, 4 degrees northeast of the 4th magnitude star known as gamma Trianguli. The radiant is best placed near 0500 LST, when it lies highest above the horizon. Rates are expected to be less than 1 no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 65 km/sec., most activity from this radiant would be swift.

The nu Eridanids (NUE) were co-discovered by Japanese observers using SonotoCo and Juergen Rendtel and Sirko Molau of the IMO. Activity from this long-period stream stretches from August 24 all the way to November 16. Maximum activity occurs on September 8th. The radiant currently lies at 03:45 (055) +02, which places it in southwestern Taurus, 4 degrees southwest of the 4th magnitude star known as nu Tauri. This area of the sky is best seen during the last dark hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. Current rates are expected to be near 1 per hour during this period no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 67 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

The eta Eridanids (ERI) were discovered by Japanese observers back in 2001. Activity from this stream is seen from July 23 though September 17 with maximum activity occurring on August 11. The radiant currently lies at 04:12 (063) -06, which places it in northern Eridanus just west the spot occupied by the 4th magnitude star known as Beid (Omicron1 Eridani). This area of the sky is best seen during the last dark hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. Current rates are expected to be less than 1 per hour during this period no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 65 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

The Aurigids (AUR) are currently active from a radiant located at 06:08 (092) +39, which places it in eastern Auriga, 3 degrees northeast of the 3rd magnitude star known as theta Aurigae. This area of the sky is best seen during the last dark hour before dawn when the radiant lies highest in a dark sky. Current rates are expected to be near 1 per hour as seen fro the northern hemisphere and less than 1 as seen from south of the equator. With an entry velocity of 67 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of swift velocity.

The Daytime zeta Cancrids (ZCA) were discovered back in 1964 by C.S. Nilsson in a southern hemisphere radio survey of meteor streams. This stream is active from August 13 through September 10 with maximum activity occurring on September 3rd. The radiant is currently located at 09:00 (135) +12, which places it in southeastern Cancer, very close to the spot occupied by the 4th magnitude star known as Acubens (alpha Cancri). This area of the sky is located only 30 degrees west of the sun so any possibility of seeing these meteors would be limited to the time just before the start of morning twilight. Current rates are expected to be less 1 per hour no matter your location. With an entry velocity of 42 km/sec., the average meteor from this source would be of medium velocity.

As seen from the mid-northern hemisphere (45N) one would expect to see approximately 10 sporadic meteors per hour during the last hour before dawn as seen from rural observing sites. Evening rates would be near 3 per hour. As seen from the tropical southern latitudes (25S), morning rates would be near 6 per hour as seen from rural observing sites and 2 per hour during the evening hours. Locations between these two extremes would see activity between the listed figures. Morning rates are reduced during this period due to moonlight.

The list below offers the information from above in tabular form. Rates and positions are exact for Saturday night/Sunday morning except where noted in the shower descriptions.

RA (RA in Deg.) DEC Km/Sec Local Summer Time North-South
Anthelions (ANT) 23:24 (351) -04 30 02:00 2 – 2 II
September Epsilon Perseids (SPE) Sep 11 02:33 (038) +37 65 06:00 <1 – <1 II
nu Eridanids (NUE) Sep 08 03:45 (055) +02 67 07:00 1 – 1 IV
eta Eridanids (ERI) Aug 11 04:12 (063) -06 65 07:00 <1 – <1 IV
Aurigids (AUR) Sep 01 06:12 (093) +39 67 09:00 1 – <1 II
Daytime zeta Cancrids (ZCA) Sep 03 09:00 (135) +12 42 12:00 <1 – <1 IV

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2018 September 3 Aurora around Saturn’s North Pole Image…

2018 September 3

Aurora around Saturn’s North Pole
Image Credit: NASA, ESA, Hubble, OPAL Program, J. DePasquale (STScI), L. Lamy (Obs. Paris)

Explanation: Are Saturn’s auroras like Earth’s? To help answer this question, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Cassini spacecraft monitored Saturn’s North Pole simultaneously during Cassini’s final orbits around the gas giant in September 2017. During this time, Saturn’s tilt caused its North Pole to be clearly visible from Earth. The featured image is a composite of ultraviolet images of aurora and optical images of Saturn’s clouds and rings, all taken recently by Hubble. Like on Earth, Saturn’s northern auroras can make total or partial rings around the pole. Unlike on Earth, however, Saturn’s auroras are frequently spirals – and more likely to peak in brightness just before midnight and dawn. In contrast to Jupiter’s auroras, Saturn’s auroras appear better related to connecting Saturn’s internal magnetic field to the nearby, variable, solar wind. Saturn’s southern auroras were similarly imaged back in 2004 when the planet’s South Pole was clearly visible to Earth.

∞ Source: apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap180903.html

The formation of the most diffuse giant galaxy cores in the Universe

Fig. 1: These images show the stellar density distribution in the centres of merging elliptical galaxies. About 30 million years before the final coalescence of the galactic nuclei the supermassive black holes (black dots) are still surrounded by a concentration of stars (upper left panel). When the black holes form a tight binary most of these stars have been ejected, leaving behind a low-density core (upper right panel). A core does not form if the galaxies do not have supermassive black holes (bottom panels). © MPA

Supermassive black holes (SMBH) of up to tens of billon solar masses are hiding in the centers of giant elliptical galaxies. At the same time, these galaxies have ‘missing’ nuclear light as the stellar densities at their cores are much lower than in other giant galaxies. A team of researchers at the University of Helsinki and the astronomical Max Planck Institutes in Garching have used a newly developed simulation technique to investigate the origin of this ‘missing’ light with realistic galaxy models. When two massive elliptical galaxies merge, many central stars are expelled during the final coalescence of the stellar nuclei and their SMBHs. This new model can explain the simultaneous formation of the most diffuse giant galaxy cores as well as other observed core properties such as decoupled rotation and anisotropic stellar velocity distributions.

Massive elliptical galaxies are not just the largest – with up to 1013 solar masses – they also have markedly different properties than their smaller siblings. At their centres they harbour supermassive black holes (SMBHs) with typical masses of 0.1% of the total stellar mass of the galaxy – i.e. these SMBHs can easily exceed billions of solar masses. Also the properties of the stars in the centres of these galaxies are very special. The observed surface densities are much lower than for other giant galaxies, and instead of steep central cusps, these galaxies have very flat density cores. In addition, in many cases the stars in the central regions are predominantly moving on circular orbits, with a conspicuous lack of stars on more radial orbits. Furthermore, the central region as a whole is often rotating quite disconnected from the rest of the galaxy – a property termed decoupled rotation.

The reason behind these differing properties might be merger events – merging elliptical galaxies can be commonly observed in the sky. Already, numerical models have indicated that low-density cores can form when two elliptical galaxies merge. The coalescing nuclei with the SMBHs eject stars from the galaxy centres in a process called ‘SMBH scouring’. Reliable models for this process require very accurate simulation codes in order to correctly resolve the small-scale gravitational interaction of the forming binary black holes with the surrounding stars and the final merger of the SMBHs. Earlier studies so far have typically been limited to relatively low particle numbers as well as idealized galaxy models, and often did not simulate the final merger of the two SMBHs.

Fig. 2: Surface brightness distribution of 7 elliptical galaxy merger simulations with increasing masses of the central SMBHs (various colours, from top to bottom). The magenta line shows the simulation without SMBHs. For increasingly more massive black holes, the central surface brightness is systematically reduced and a larger region of the central core is affected. The models can even explain the observed surface brightness distribution of NGC1600 (open circles), a galaxy with an unusually massive SMBH. © MPA

A team of researchers from the University of Helsinki and MPA/MPE have developed a novel simulation method called KETJU – the Finnish word for chain. This simulation technique allows for much larger and more accurate simulations. The KETJU code combines a hierarchical tree method on large-scales with a modern regularization procedure on small-scales. This allows for the accurate computation of the gravitational forces on kilo-parsec scales in the galactic halo down to the milli-parsec scales where the binary SMBHs emit gravitational waves and finally merge. The simulated elliptical galaxy mergers are also more realistic, as they now include the massive and extended dark matter halo component, in addition to the central stellar component.

The study demonstrates that a central low-density core can form rapidly on a timescale of ~ 30 Myr – but only in cases where merging binary SMBHs are found in the centre of the galaxy. Over this timescale, stars with a total mass similar to the combined mass of the two SMBHs are ejected from the galaxy. In the absence of central SMBHs the central region keeps its high stellar density and no stars are ejected (Fig. 1). The ejection process is stronger for more massive black holes, in good agreement with observations. The simulations can even explain the very extended core region of the very massive galaxy NGC1600 (Fig. 2). For its stellar mass this galaxy has an unusually massive black hole with an accompanying very large low-density core region.

Fig. 3: Velocity maps for simulations with no black hole (top) and a supermassive black Hole (SMBH with 17 × 109 solar masses, bottom). Blue coloured regions are moving towards the observer, red coloured regions are moving away from the observer. A counter-rotating region of the size of the diffuse core is forming in the centre if the SMBH is very massive– very much like in observed giant elliptical galaxies. The contours indicate constant surface density. © MPA

However, the merging black holes affect not only the stellar density of the cores but also the kinematics of the stars in the central region. After the ejection process, the remaining stars are mostly moving on circular orbits and do not come close to the central SMBH binary. Stars on more radial orbits have already before experienced strong interactions with the central SMBH binary and have been kicked out as a result. Again, this process is found to be stronger for more massive SMBHs and agrees well with observational estimates. Finally, the study also shows that massive SMBH binaries can give rise to rotation of the core region. In the case presented here the core is even counter-rotating (Fig. 3). This type of decoupled or misaligned rotation is commonly observed in many massive elliptical galaxies with both SMBHs and low density cores.

The team was able to demonstrate that all major photometric and kinematic properties of the centres of massive elliptical galaxies, such as low density cores, velocity anisotropies, and decoupled rotation, can be explained by a single process: the dynamical evolution and eventual coalescence of SMBHs in a galaxy merger. This process can explain the origin of even the most diffuse galaxy cores in the Universe. In a follow-up study the researchers will investigate the gravitational wave emission signals from the final stages of the SMBH mergers.

Thorsten Naab for the research team:

Antti Rantala & Peter Johansson (University of Helsinki, Finland)

Thorsten Naab & Matteo Frigo (Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics, Garching, Germany)

Jens Thomas (Max Planck Institute for extraterrestrial Physics, Garching, Germany)

We acknowledge support from the Finnish supercomputing center: CSC-IT Center for Science and the Max Planck Supercomputing and Data Facility.


Naab, Thorsten
Scientific Staff
Phone: 2295
Email: tnaab@mpa-garching.mpg.de
Room: 123


personal homepage (the institute is not responsible for the contents of personal homepages)

Original Publications

1. Rantala, Antti; Pihajoki, Pauli; Johansson, Peter H.; Naab, Thorsten; Lahén, Natalia; Sawala, Till Post-Newtonian Dynamical Modeling of Supermassive Black Holes in Galactic-scale Simulations

ApJ, 840, 53

Source | DOI

2. Rantala, Antti; Johansson, Peter H.; Naab, Thorsten; Thomas, Jens; Frigo, Matteo The formation of extremely diffuse galaxy cores by merging supermassive black holes

Submitted to ApJ


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Major horse paper coming soon

Horse domestication is an important and controversial topic, in large part because it’s intimately tied to the debate over the location of the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) homeland. Based on the currently available genetic and archaeological data, it seems likely that all modern domesticated horse breeds ultimately derive from the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe (see here and here).
In the interview linked to below (click on the image) horse expert Alan Outram reveals that a new paper will be published within months that will test this theory, and either confirm or debunk it.

Outram also talks about the colonization of Central Asia during the Middle Bronze Age by groups from the west associated with the Sintashta culture. He says that this was probably an aggressive process, akin to the more recent European colonization of North America, that may have pushed the Botai people, who were the indigenous inhabitants of the Kazakh steppe, and their horses far to the east. This, he suggests, might explain why the Przewalski horse of Mongolia appears to be derived from the Botai horse.
See also…
The mystery of the Sintashta people
Focus on Hittite Anatolia
Friendly Yeniseian steppe pastoralists


Image of the Week – September 3, 2018CIL:38938 -…

Image of the Week – September 3, 2018


Description: Scanning electron micrograph of the inside of a cancer cell. This cell originates from a squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer. The cell has been frozen and split open to reveal its nucleus.

Author: Anne Weston

Licensing: Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 UK: England & Wales (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 UK)

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Most land-based ecosystems worldwide risk ‘major transformation’ due to...

Without dramatic reductions in greenhouse-gas emissions, most of the planet’s land-based ecosystems — from its forests and grasslands to the deserts and tundra — are at high risk of “major transformation” due to climate change, according to a new study from an international research team.

Most land-based ecosystems worldwide risk 'major transformation' due to climate change
Most of the planet’s land based ecosystems will likely experience “ubiquitous and dramatic” change this century unless
 there is a significant reduction greenhouse-gas emissions, a study warns [Credit: David McNew/Getty Images]

The researchers used fossil records of global vegetation change that occurred during a period of post-glacial warming to project the magnitude of ecosystem transformations likely in the future under various greenhouse gas emissions scenarios.

They found that under a “business as usual” emissions scenario, in which little is done to rein in heat-trapping greenhouse-gas emissions, vegetation changes across the planet’s wild landscapes will likely be more far-reaching and disruptive than earlier studies suggested.

The changes would threaten global biodiversity and derail vital services that nature provides to humanity, such as water security, carbon storage and recreation, according to study co-author Jonathan Overpeck, dean of the School for Environment and Sustainability at the University of Michigan.

“If we allow climate change to go unchecked, the vegetation of this planet is going to look completely different than it does today, and that means a huge risk to the diversity of the planet,” said Overpeck, who conceived the idea for the study with corresponding author Stephen T. Jackson of the U.S. Geological Survey.

The findings are published in the journal Science. Forty-two researchers from around the world contributed to the paper. The first author is geosciences graduate student Connor Nolan of the University of Arizona.

Overpeck stressed that the team’s results are not merely hypothetical. Some of the expected vegetational changes are already underway in places like the American West and Southwest, where forest dieback and massive wildfires are transforming landscapes.

“We’re talking about global landscape change that is ubiquitous and dramatic,” Overpeck said. “And we’re already starting to see it in the United States, as well as around the globe.”

Most land-based ecosystems worldwide risk 'major transformation' due to climate change
Researchers compiled and evaluated pollen and plant-fossil records from nearly 600 sites worldwide
 for their study of vegetation change [Credit: Nolan et al., Science, 2018]

Previous studies based largely on computer modeling and present-day observations also predicted sweeping vegetational changes in response to climate warming due to the ongoing buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

But the new study, which took five years to complete, is the first to use paleoecological data — the records of past vegetation change present in ancient pollen grains and plant fossils from hundreds of sites worldwide — to project the magnitude of future ecosystem changes on a global scale.

The team focused on vegetation changes that occurred during Earth’s last deglaciation, a period of warming that began 21,000 years ago and that was roughly comparable in magnitude (4 to 7 degrees Celsius, or 7 to 13 degrees Fahrenheit) to the warming expected in the next 100 to 150 years if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced significantly.

Because the amount of warming in the two periods is similar, a post-glacial to modern comparison provides “a conservative estimate of the extent of ecological transformation to which the planet will be committed under future climate scenarios,” the authors wrote.

The estimate is considered conservative in part because the rate of projected future global warming is at least an order of magnitude greater than that of the last deglaciation and is therefore potentially far more disruptive.

“We’re talking about the same amount of change in 10-to-20 thousand years that’s going to be crammed into a century or two,” said Jackson, director of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Southwest Climate Adaptation Center. “Ecosystems are going to be scrambling to catch up.”

To determine the extent of the vegetation change following the last glacial peak, the researchers first compiled and evaluated pollen and plant-fossil records from 594 sites worldwide — from every continent except Antarctica. All of the sites in their global database of ecological change had been reliably radiocarbon-dated to the period between 21,000 and 14,000 years before present.

Then they used paleoclimatic data from a number of sources to infer the corresponding temperature increases responsible for the vegetation changes seen in the fossils. That, in turn, enabled them to calculate how various levels of future warming will likely affect the planet’s terrestrial vegetation and ecosystems.

“We used the results from the past to look at the risk of future ecosystem change,” said the University of Arizona’s Nolan. “We find that as temperatures rise, there are bigger and bigger risks for more ecosystem change.”

Under a business as usual emissions scenario, the probability of large-scale vegetation change is greater than 60 percent, they concluded. In contrast, if greenhouse-gas emissions are reduced to levels targeted in the 2015 Paris Agreement, the probability of large-scale vegetation change is less than 45 percent.

Much of the change could occur during the 21st century, especially where vegetation disturbance is amplified by other factors, such as climate extremes, widespread plant mortality events, habitat fragmentation, invasive species and natural resource harvesting. The changes will likely continue into the 22nd century or beyond, the researchers concluded.

The ecosystem services that will be significantly impacted include carbon storage — currently, vast amounts of carbon are stored in the plants and soils of land-based ecosystems.

“A lot of the carbon now locked up by vegetation around the planet could be released to the atmosphere, further amplifying the magnitude of the climate change,” Overpeck said.

The authors say their empirically based, paleoecological approach provides an independent perspective on climate-driven vegetation change that complements previous studies based on modeling and present-day observations.

The fact that predictions from these diverse approaches are converging “strengthens the inference that projected climate changes will drive major ecosystem transformations,” the authors wrote.

“It’s a huge challenge we as a nation and global community need to take more seriously,” Overpeck said.

Source: University of Michigan [August 30, 2018]



Scientists identify protein that may have existed when life began

How did life arise on Earth? Rutgers researchers have found among the first and perhaps only hard evidence that simple protein catalysts — essential for cells, the building blocks of life, to function — may have existed when life began. The study of a primordial peptide, or short protein, is published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Scientists identify protein that may have existed when life began
Researchers have designed a synthetic small protein that wraps around a metal core composed of iron and sulfur.
This protein can be repeatedly charged and discharged, allowing it to shuttle electrons within a cell.
Such peptides may have existed at the dawn of life, moving electrons in early metabolic cycles
[Credit: Vikas Nanda/Rutgers University-New Brunswick]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the chemist Günter Wächtershäuser postulated that life began on iron- and sulfur-containing rocks in the ocean. Wächtershäuser and others predicted that short peptides would have bound metals and served as catalysts of life-producing chemistry, according to study co-author Vikas Nanda, an associate professor at Rutgers’ Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

Human DNA consists of genes that code for proteins that are a few hundred to a few thousand amino acids long. These complex proteins — needed to make all living-things function properly — are the result of billions of years of evolution. When life began, proteins were likely much simpler, perhaps just 10 to 20 amino acids long. With computer modeling, Rutgers scientists have been exploring what early peptides may have looked like and their possible chemical functions, according to Nanda.

The scientists used computers to model a short, 12-amino acid protein and tested it in the laboratory. This peptide has several impressive and important features. It contains only two types of amino acids (rather than the estimated 20 amino acids that synthesize millions of different proteins needed for specific body functions), it is very short and it could have emerged spontaneously on the early Earth in the right conditions. The metal cluster at the core of this peptide resembles the structure and chemistry of iron-sulfur minerals that were abundant in early Earth oceans. The peptide can also charge and discharge electrons repeatedly without falling apart, according to Nanda, a resident faculty member at the Center for Advanced Technology and Medicine.

“Modern proteins called ferredoxins do this, shuttling electrons around the cell to promote metabolism,” said senior author Professor Paul G. Falkowski, who leads Rutgers’ Environmental Biophysics and Molecular Ecology Laboratory. “A primordial peptide like the one we studied may have served a similar function in the origins of life.”

Falkowski is the principal investigator for a NASA-funded ENIGMA project led by Rutgers scientists that aims to understand how protein catalysts evolved at the start of life. Nanda leads one team that will characterize the full potential of the primordial peptide and continue to develop other molecules that may have played key roles in the origins of life.

With computers, Rutgers scientists have smashed and dissected nearly 10,000 proteins and pinpointed four “Legos of life” — core chemical structures that can be stacked to form the innumerable proteins inside all organisms. The small primordial peptide may be a precursor to the longer Legos of life, and scientists can now run experiments on how such peptides may have functioned in early-life chemistry.

Source: Rutgers University. [August 30, 2018]



Scientists decode opium poppy genome

Scientists have determined the DNA code of the opium poppy genome, uncovering key steps in how the plant evolved to produce the pharmaceutical compounds used to make vital medicines.

Scientists decode opium poppy genome
Scientists have determined the DNA code of the opium poppy genome, uncovering key steps in how the plant evolved
 to produce the pharmaceutical compounds used to make vital medicines. The discovery may pave the way for
scientists to improve yields and the disease resistance of the medicinal plant, securing a reliable and cheap
supply of the most effective drugs for pain relief and palliative care [Credit: Carol Walker]

The discovery may pave the way for scientists to improve yields and the disease resistance of the medicinal plant, securing a reliable and cheap supply of the most effective drugs for pain relief and palliative care.

The breakthrough, by researchers at the University of York in partnership with the Wellcome Sanger Institute, UK, and international colleagues, reveals the origins of the genetic pathway leading to the production of the cough suppressant noscapine and painkiller drugs morphine and codeine.

Co-corresponding author, Professor Ian Graham, from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products, Department of Biology at the University of York, said: “Biochemists have been curious for decades about how plants have evolved to become one of the richest sources of chemical diversity on earth. Using high quality genome assembly, our study has deciphered how this has happened in opium poppy.

“At the same time this research will provide the foundation for the development of molecular plant breeding tools that can be used to ensure there is a reliable and cheap supply of the most effective painkillers available for pain relief and palliative care for societies in not just developed but also developing world countries.”

Synthetic biology based approaches to manufacturing compounds such as noscapine, codeine and morphine are now being developed whereby genes from the plant are engineered into microbial systems such as yeast to enable production in industrial fermenters. However, opium poppy remains the cheapest and sole commercial source of these pharmaceutical compounds by some distance.

The scientists from the University of York and Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom together with colleagues from Xi’an Jiaotong University and Shanghai Ocean University in China and Sun Pharmaceutical Industries (Australia) Pty Ltd, produced a high quality assembly of the 2.7 GigaBase genome sequence distributed across 11 chromosomes.

This enabled the researchers to identify a large cluster of 15 genes that encode enzymes involved in two distinct biosynthetic pathways involved in the production of both noscapine and the compounds leading to codeine and morphine.

Plants have the capacity to duplicate their genomes and when this happens there is freedom for the duplicated genes to evolve to do other things. This has allowed plants to develop new machinery to make a diverse array of chemical compounds that are used to defend against attack from harmful microbes and herbivores and to attract beneficial species such as bees to assist in pollination.

The genome assembly allowed the researchers to identify the ancestral genes that came together to produce the STORR gene fusion that is responsible for the first major step on the pathway to morphine and codeine. This fusion event happened before a relatively recent whole genome duplication event in the opium poppy genome 7.8 million years ago.

Co-corresponding author Professor Kai Ye from Xi’an Jiaotong University said “A highly repetitive plant genome and the intermingled evolutionary events in the past 100 million years complicated our analysis. We utilized complementary cutting-edge genome sequencing technologies with sophisticated mathematical models and analysis methods to investigate the evolutionary history of the opium poppy genome.

“It is intriguing that two biosynthetic pathways came to the same genomic region due to a series of duplication, shuffling and fusion structural events, enabling concerted production of novel metabolic compounds.”

Joint first author Professor Zemin Ning from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute said “Combining various sequencing technologies is the key for producing a high quality assembly for opium poppy genome. With a genome size similar to humans, the main challenge for this project was to handle repeat elements which make up 70.9% of the genome.”

The findings are published in Science.

Source: University of York [August 30, 2018]



New research suggests human genome could contain up to 20 percent fewer genes

A new study led by the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) reveals that up to 20% of genes classified as coding (those that produce the proteins that are the building blocks of all living things) may not be coding after all because they have characteristics that are typical of non-coding or pseudogenes (obsolete coding genes). The consequent reduction in the size of the human genome could have important effects in biomedicine since the number of genes that produce proteins and their identification is of vital importance for the investigation of multiple diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular diseases, etc.

New research suggests human genome could contain up to 20 percent fewer genes
New data suggest that humans may have only 19,000 coding genes (those genes that produce proteins), three thousand
 fewer than the sum of the tree reference annotations of the human genome and a much lower number
than the 100,000 that predicted just twenty years ago [Credit: istock/thinkstock]

The work, published in the journal Nucleic Acids Research, is the result of an international collaboration led by Michael Tress of the CNIO Bioinformatics Unit along with researchers from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States, the Pompeu Fabra University and the National Center for Supercomputing (BSC-CNS) in Barcelona, and the National Center for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC) in Madrid.

Since the completion of the sequencing of the human genome in 2003 experts from around the world have been working to compile the final human proteome (the total number of proteins generated from genes) and the genes that produce them. This task is immense given the complexity of the human genome and the fact that we have about 20,000 separate coding genes.

The researchers analyzed the genes cataloged as protein coding in the main reference human proteomes: the detailed comparison of the reference proteomes from GENCODE/Ensembl, RefSeq and UniProtKB found 22,210 coding genes, but only 19,446 of these genes were present in all 3 annotations.

When they analyzed the 2,764 genes that were present in only one or two of these reference annotations, they were surprised to discover that experimental evidence and manual annotations suggested that almost all of these genes were more likely to be non-coding genes or pseudogenes. In fact, these genes, together with another 1,470 coding genes that are present in the three reference catalogs, were not evolving like typical protein coding genes. The conclusion of the study is that most of these 4,234 genes probably do not code for proteins.

The study is already paying off, according to the scientists. “We have been able to analyze many of these genes in detail,” Tress explains, “and more than 300 genes have already been reclassified as non-coding.” The results are already being included in the new annotations of the human genome by the GENCODE international consortium, of which the CNIO researchers are part.

Conflicting gene numbers in recent years

The work once again highlights doubts about the number of real genes present in human cells 15 years after the sequencing the human genome. Although the most recent data indicates that the number of genes encoding human proteins could exceed 20,000, Federico Abascal, of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom and first author of the work, states: “Our evidence suggests that humans may only have 19,000 coding genes, but we still do not know which 19,000 genes are.”

For his part, David Juan, of the Pompeu Fabra University and participant in the study, reiterates the importance of these results: “Surprisingly, some of these unusual genes have been well studied and have more than 100 scientific publications based on the assumption that the gene produces a protein.”

This study suggests that there is still a large amount of uncertainty, since the final number of coding genes could 2,000 more or 2,000 fewer than it is now. The human proteome still requires much work, especially given its importance to the medical community.

Source: Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) [August 30, 2018]



Yorkshire excavation reveals first century Roman settlement

Just one foot down into the ground of a remote Yorkshire countryside spot, archaeologists have been given a special glimpse of life 2,000 years back in time.

Yorkshire excavation reveals first century Roman settlement
The excavation at the Yorkshire site is being conducted by DigVentures, founded by archaeologists in 2012
[Credit: DigVentures]

An excavation at an undisclosed location in the region has unearthed remnants of a potentially “high status” first century settlement – the period in which the Romans were setting up in York.
The discovery was made two weeks ago – but its first signs revealed themselves in December 2015, when metal detectorist friends Paul King, Robert Hamer and Robin Siddle chanced upon a hoard of ancient coins.

After their find and with continued information, social enterprise DigVentures decided there was enough interest to perform an excavation – but had no idea what laid beneath the surface would stretch back as far as the reign of Roman emperor Vespasian.

Yorkshire excavation reveals first century Roman settlement
One of trenches dug showing the layers of ground and markers of the finds, with visiting archaeologists
taking measurements [Credit: Charlotte Graham]

Chris Casswell, head of fieldwork for DigVentures, said: “There is Roman activity in the area but this particular settlement has not been investigated before and was not known about until a couple of weeks ago. It’s quite exciting, and very early. It’s quite significant. The Romans came north of the Humber and set up shop in York around 71 AD and all of our finds are from that period. We are looking at something at the same time as they were doing that.”
So far, aside from the original coins, the excavation has discovered infant graves and a brooch about the size of a one pence piece. They have also found amphora – from a kind of jar or jug – which could have transported olive oil or wine from the Mediterranean.

Pottery, glass and tessera – material used in the construction of a mosaic – has also been found.

Yorkshire excavation reveals first century Roman settlement
Pottery and mosaic tiles found at the Yorkshire site [Credit: DigVentures]

All of this points to a potentially “high status” settlement of wealth, with the possibility that villas were built at the site, said Mr Casswell, of Lincoln.
But future work could mean this analysis changes, he stressed. He said: “We’ve gone a foot down and we’ve gone back 2,000 years, basically.”

DigVentures was set up to give communities the chance to take part in excavations and connect them to their histories following cuts in the archaeology industry and universities. This most recent work has been supported by Heritage Lottery Fund cash, and more backing will be needed in order to revisit the site and investigate further.

Yorkshire excavation reveals first century Roman settlement
Coin found at the excavation site in Yorkshire [Credit: DigVentures]

Mr Casswell, 34, said that generally the further down you dig, the older the artefacts will be, giving a greater picture of a site’s significance.

York was founded in about AD 71 when 5,000 Romans marched from Lincoln and set up camp, then referring to the city as Eboracum.

More than a quarter of a century had passed from the Romans establishing a province in southern Britain to their arrival in York – but it later became the heart of their empire under Septimius Severus and, briefly, Constantine the Great.

Author: John Blow | Source: Yorkshire Post [August 27, 2018]



Water worlds could support life, study says

The conditions for life surviving on planets entirely covered in water are more fluid than previously thought, opening up the possibility that water worlds could be habitable, according to a new paper from the University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University.

Water worlds could support life, study says
Depiction of a world completely covered with ocean [Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech]

The scientific community has largely assumed that planets covered in a deep ocean would not support the cycling of minerals and gases that keeps the climate stable on Earth, and thus wouldn’t be friendly to life. But the study, published in The Astrophysical Journal, found that ocean planets could stay in the “sweet spot” for habitability much longer than previously assumed. The authors based their findings on more than a thousand simulations.

“This really pushes back against the idea you need an Earth clone — that is, a planet with some land and a shallow ocean,” said Edwin Kite, assistant professor of geophysical sciences at UChicago and lead author of the study.

As telescopes get better, scientists are finding more and more planets orbiting stars in other solar systems. Such discoveries are resulting in new research into how life could potentially survive on other planets, some of which are very different from Earth — some may be covered entirely in water hundreds of miles deep.

Because life needs an extended period to evolve, and because the light and heat on planets can change as their stars age, scientists usually look for planets that have both some water and some way to keep their climates stable over time. The primary method we know of is how Earth does it. Over long timescales, our planet cools itself by drawing down greenhouse gases into minerals and warms itself up by releasing them via volcanoes.

But this model doesn’t work on a water world, with deep water covering the rock and suppressing volcanoes.

Kite, and Penn State coauthor Eric Ford, wanted to know if there was another way. They set up a simulation with thousands of randomly generated planets, and tracked the evolution of their climates over billions of years.

“The surprise was that many of them stay stable for more than a billion years, just by luck of the draw,” Kite said. “Our best guess is that it’s on the order of 10 percent of them.”

These lucky planets sit in the right location around their stars. They happened to have the right amount of carbon present, and they don’t have too many minerals and elements from the crust dissolved in the oceans that would pull carbon out of the atmosphere. They have enough water from the start, and they cycle carbon between the atmosphere and ocean only, which in the right concentrations is sufficient to keep things stable.

“How much time a planet has is basically dependent on carbon dioxide and how it’s partitioned between the ocean, atmosphere and rocks in its early years,” said Kite. “It does seem there is a way to keep a planet habitable long-term without the geochemical cycling we see on Earth.”

The simulations assumed stars that are like our own, but the results are optimistic for red dwarf stars, too, Kite said. Planets in red dwarf systems are thought to be promising candidates for fostering life because these stars get brighter much more slowly than our sun — giving life a much longer time period to get started. The same conditions modeled in this paper could be applied to planets around red dwarfs, they said: Theoretically, all you would need is the steady light of a star.

Source: University of Chicago [August 31, 2018]



Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in...

The Minister of Culture of the Regional Government of Andalusia, Miguel Angel Vázquez, announced the discovery of a unique bronze funerary inscription at the Baelo Claudia Archaeological Site in Tarifa (Cádiz) this week. According to the statement, the investigation has revealed that the most important tomb, located in the most privileged area of the necropolis, belonged to a powerful woman, whose name was Junia Rufina.

Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia
The slab inscribed with the name of Junia Rufina [Credit: Baelo Museum]

Vázquez has indicated that “the discovery is of extraordinary value because, in addition to the unique character of the inscription, for the first time in our country it has been possible to complete the complex comprising the funerary monument, including various architectural elements of great value and a toga sculpture of women, clear evidence of female power at the time”.
It is a complex of great monumentality, where columns with Corinthian capitals and other decorative elements have appeared in a tomb that reflects the splendour and artistic brilliance of this Hispanic-Roman city around the 1st and 2nd centuries of our era and which was demolished by the force of a devastating earthquake in the 4th century.

The most important piece, the bronze inscription, was recovered on June 4th and since then has, along with the other finds, been subjected to an in-depth archaeological examination and analysis.

Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia
Female statue found near the Gate of Carteia in Baelo Claudia,
thought be Junia Rufina [Credit: Anual/WikiCommons]

The research, led by Fernando Prados, from the Institute of Archaeology and Historical Heritage of the University of Alicante and involving experts from the universities of Granada, Murcia, Alicante and Madrid, has been carried out with the collaboration of the staff of the Archaeological Ensemble of Baelo Claudia, as well as students and volunteers.
The study has identified in the inscription the name of a powerful woman who, it seems, is also represented in a headless sculpture previously discovered at the site and which can now be seen in the rooms of the Baelo Claudia Museum.

“It was a surprise. The nearest tomb to the main town gate, the largest and most important, is the tomb of a woman,” said Prados. It is not the first time that a Roman burial dedicated to the female sex has appeared in Spain, but this time it has been different. “They usually referred to a woman as somebody’s wife or mother, but not in this case. She was an important woman in her own right,” says the archaeology professor. Garcia adds: “It is the first monument in Spain dedicated to a woman of this stature”.

Unique bronze funerary inscription of enigmatic and powerful Roman woman discovered in Spain's Baelo Claudia
Roman ruins of Baelo Claudia in Tarifa (Cádiz) [Credit: Ken Welsh, Getty]

The inscription, which reads “For the gods Manes of Junia Rufina, daughter of Marcus,” following the usual pattern of Roman funerary inscriptions, was found with the bronze lettering in place. And it is precisely the preservation of these characters that is another reason for the exceptional nature of the discovery. The use of metal for inscriptions was common in Roman times.
“Nevertheless, it’s unusual for this type of inscription to have remained intact to this day. There is no other example in Spain of an epigraph with full bronze lettering. People used to pillage them. Normally, only the imprint is preserved, but in this case it is complete. Even the dots separating the words are still in place”, explains Prados.

The reason for this extraordinary state of preservation lies in a catastrophic event that destroyed the city of Baelo Claudia around the fourth century of our era. “An earthquake left everything buried, like a little Pompeii, and it remains so to this day. It’s lucky, people used to plunder the site in times of need,” the research director admits. The quake caused the slab with the inscription to fall face down onto the pavement of the necropolis. Archaeologists have even located coins from 340 CE that fell, between the ground and the inscription.”

In the excavations there have appeared more pieces that show the grandiosity of the funerary monument. In addition to the bronze inscription and sculpture already mentioned above, archaeologists have also found imported marble pieces. “It is a complex of great monumentality, where columns and Corinthian capitals and other decorative elements have appeared in a tomb that reflects the splendour and artistic brilliance of this Hispanic-Roman city,” explains the minister.

The value of the finding, which includes skeletal remains, also lies in the possible avenues of investigation that open up to resolve the question of who Julia Rufina was and why she became so important. For now, archaeologists have a working hypothesis, based on the woman’s name. “Junia is also the name of an important Roman goddess. In fact, the sculpture is a standard type of this goddess,” explains Prados. The surname gives more clues, as the archaeologist explains: “We know that she is the daughter of a certain Marco and that Rufina is one of the classic surnames that the noble families of Cadiz used after the Roman conquest.” Apart from this, however, little else is known about this enigmatic woman.

Source: El Pais [August 25, 2018]



Royal Game of Ur resurrected

For thousands of years, dating back to 3,000 BCE, the Royal Game of Ur was played across the entire Near East.

Royal Game of Ur resurrected
The Royal Game of Ur dates back to 3,000 BCE [Credit: British Museum]

The game is a race between two players who roll tetrahedral dice and move their seven pieces through the various squares. The objective is to move each piece to the endpoint. If one player’s piece lands on their opponent’s, the latter piece is sent back to the beginning.

After millennia of widespread use, the Game of Ur mysteriously disappeared. Its boards were buried, along with its rules, and the game was forgotten until 1922 when Sir Leonard Wooley’s excavations at the Royal Cemetery at Ur (modern day Iraq) recovered a single board.

In the following years, other boards were unearthed across the Middle East and Northern Africa, and in the 1980s, Dr. Irving Finkel translated the game’s rules.

The Game of Ur is a curious piece of ancient history. Exploring its history allows us to trace the lives of our ancestors, as well as acounts of leisure and gameplay.

One university is working to bring back this mysterious ancient game. Led by Ashley Barlow, an English lecturer and archaeologist at the University of Raparin, the Game of Ur Project is bringing the game back to life.

“We will train our students how to play, and ask them to go into the tea houses across the Bazaar to explain and show the local community,” Barlow said of the project.

The Game of Ur Project is just one of the University of Raparin’s many initiatives. The university also offers one of the most renowned English programs in Iraq.

“The university is always looking for ways to engage with academia, the community, and the wider world,” Salah Khoshnaw, Director of the University of Raparin’s Language and Development Center, said.

The Game of Ur project is important for Raparin’s community. Students will gain hands-on experience in design, marketing, and business, all while learning about their cultural heritage.

Moving forward, Barlow aims to spread the game across the Kurdistan Region and southern Iraq. “We would love to make this a national tournament that brings people together,” he said.

“The idea is to build on an identity that does not revolve around tragedy and grievance, instead, looking to a shared ancient past that can be seen through artwork and locally made products.”

The University of Sulaimani and The British Council have already expressed interest in Raparin’s project.

Author: James Aird | Source: Kurdistan 24 [August 31, 2018]



Oldest Roman military camp discovered in NW Iberia

NW Iberia rarely attracted the attention of the classical authors, who transmitted a caricature-like depiction of the land and its inhabitants. Some of the episodes related by these authors were fragmented records of military campaigns carried out by Roman generals during the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, when the region was effectively annexed by Rome.

Oldest Roman military camp discovered in NW Iberia
Aerial view of Penedo dos Lobos Roman camp [Credit: Roman Army.eu]

For centuries, different scholars tried to reconstruct these events, but the lack of archaeological data led to fed the articulation of circular debates and outdated narratives about the conquest. Roman military archaeology has been quite a late development in Iberia (modern-day Spain and Portugal) and the research has been mainly focused on the sudy of Asturian and Cantabrian areas, where the last war episodes took place in Augustan times. This way, wide areas in NW Iberia (such as Galicia or Northern Portugal) remained out of the scientific spotlight, silenced by the ancient sources and forgotten by modern scholars. One of main the aims of romanarmy.eu as a collective is to develop new archaeological narratives to help reconstruct the ancient story of NW Iberia as a whole. To understand the conquest and integration of this area into the Roman imperial structure can also help to better know the policies and strategies later developed by Rome across Europe.
In this vein, the archaeological intervention in the Roman camp of Penedo dos Lobos (Manzaneda, Galicia, Spain) has made it possible to discover the oldest Roman military presence documented so far in the territory of present-day Galicia, which could be chronologically related to the Cantabrian-Asturian Wars. In the course of an archaeological survey campaign carried out by the Romanarmy.eu collective and directed by João Fonte (Institute of Heritage Sciences –Incipit-, CSIC), materials linked with the Roman army were found, including shoenails coming from the famous Roman military sandals (caligae). But the most striking pieces of evidence recovered were two bronze coins minted by Publius Carisius (who was Augustus’ legate during the Cantabrian-Asturian Wars) in Emerita Augusta (present-day Mérida, Extremadura) between 25 and 22 BC to pay the legionnaires who fought in the above mentioned campaigns.

Oldest Roman military camp discovered in NW Iberia
Bronze coins of Augustus minted by his legate Publius Carisius (25-22 a.C.) and recovered
in Penedo dos Lobos camp [Credit: Roman Army.eu]

These findings imply that the construction of the Roman camp of Penedo dos Lobos took place in a chronological horizon prior to the change of our era, and that it is possibly contemporary to the Cantabrian-Asturian Wars, after which the last independent territories in Iberia were annexed by Rome. This is the oldest Roman military presence documented so far in the territory of present-day Galicia, and it is a finding of great historical significance for the understanding of the first stages of the Romanisation process in the area.
Until now, many specialists considered that the Galician region had been on the fringe of the conflict. Although it is not possible at this time to determine the actual mission of the military contingent of Penedo dos Lobos, these findings will redefine what was known about this period and will help to contextualise the Roman military presence in this territory. According to what has been discovered by the romanarmy.eu collective and other research teams in recent years, this presence is broader and more diverse than what has been understood until now.

The archaeological campaign ended last Saturday and is promoted by the Institute of Heritage Sciences (Incipit) of the CSIC, the Town Council of Manzaneda, and Sincrisis Research Group (Department of History, University of Santiago de Compostela).

An exceptionally well preserved archaeological site

Penedo dos Lobos Roman camp is located close to the ski resort of Cabeza de Manzaneda, and was traditionally a grazing area with low vegetation which made the identification of archaeological structures difficult. Its size (2.34 hectares) implies that it was a small camp with capacity to accommodate up to 1000 soldiers. Archaeologists noted the “excellent” state of preservation of the defensive structures. This way, Penedo dos Lobos still shows the canonical four gates which define the Roman military enclosures, and almost the entire perimeter of the defensive rampart is still in place. Quite unusually, thede defences were built in stone.

Penedo dos Lobos was occupied for a short period of time. However, the detailed analysis of the evidence already gathered makes the archaeologist believe that it the site might not correspond to a marching camp (built to the soldiers to rest for one or two days), but to a seasonal military installation, which would serve for a longer period of time (week or even a month) to fulfil an specific mission that is still unknown.
The camp was discovered by a local citizen, Rubén F. Lorenzo Pérez, who contacted romanarmy.eu collective mentioning the existence of an enclosure of strange morphology on a mountain summit.

Heritage under threat

The existence of this Roman camp was officially notified to the Directorate General of Heritage of the Galician Regional Government in February 2017 romanarmy.eu collective. Despite the importance of this archaeological site for the history of Galicia, the land is currently affected by a reforestation plan that will irreversibly damage it. The archaeological teams was informed about this plan while on field.

An ambitious social outreach programme

The archaeological intervention in the Penedo dos Lobos was daily broadcasted through the Internet by the romanarmy.eu collective, using live videos and innovative scientific communication formats. Only the Facebook profile of the group reached more than 65,000 people throughout the week of archaeological intervention. Not only the public could follow the evolution of the intervention day by day, but also guided tours with a large number of visitors of the site were conducted by the archaeological team.

Source: Roman Army EU [September 01, 2018]



Two Middle Minoan grave sites discovered in Petras, NE Crete

Two burials with rich grave goods were found in a pit from the Middle Minoan IA era (2100-2000 BC) in Siteia, NE Crete, during excavations of a palace-related cemetery.

Middle Minoan grave sites discovered in Petras, NE Crete
[Credit: Metaxia Tsipopoulou/Petras Excavations f/b page]

The excavations have been ongoing place for 14 years under Director Emerita of the Ministry of Culture Metaxia Tsipopoulou, at the cemetery of Petras in the area of Siteia, dated to 2800-1700 BC (Pre- and Proto-Palatial periods).
In the first pit, a primary or original burial of a man included the first weapon found in Petras, a bronze short sword, Tsipopoulou said in a statement. The first burial also included a “secondary burial of a woman with a large number of gold beads of very fine workmanship” as well as beads of silver, crystal, carnelian, and jasper.

The second burial, also a primary one, was dated to the Proto-Minoan II period (2600-2300 BC) and included “dozens of gold beads with exquisite pressed decoration of spirals, as well as hundreds of other beads of gold or silver, with a diameter of 1mm, which appear to have been sewn onto a garment.”

Middle Minoan grave sites discovered in Petras, NE Crete
Credit: Metaxia Tsipopoulou/Petras Excavations

A third burial was unique to Petras and consisted of a tomb made of perpendicular schist slabs, forming a box-like structure. This contained two secondary burials of children under 10 years old and two gold bracelets from thin sheets of gold.
For its era, the Petras cemetery has proven to be by far the largest on Crete. It belonged to elite family members related to the palace in the area. So far, 26 funerary buildings of 45 to 150 sq.m. have been excavated, along with five burial pits that include irregular stones or low walls.

According to Tsipopoulou, the cemetery contains at least four or five funerary buildings that were noted in 2018 but have not been fully excavated yet. It also includes two extensive areas for rituals, dating to between 1900 and 1700 BC (Middle Minoan IB-IIB) and two periboloi, or low built enclosures, orientated east and west.

Middle Minoan grave sites discovered in Petras, NE Crete
Credit: Metaxia Tsipopoulou/Petras Excavations

In antiquity, Petras had a large port and served as the entry gate to eastern Crete during the Pre- and the Proto-Palatial period for the incoming trade of raw materials, objects and ideas from Syria and Egypt.
Its palace, according to the official excavation site (https://www.petras-excavations.gr/el) was built in the Middle Minoan IIA era (19001800 BC), slightly after the large palatial complexes of central Crete. The preserved section of it covers 2,500 sq.m., but it’s impossible to calculate its original extent because the whole southern section has been destroyed.

In the 14th century BC (during Late Minoan IIIA), following the destruction of its palace, there was some building activity in the cemetery that appears to be related to honouring ancestors. This activity lasted until the 12th century BC.

Middle Minoan grave sites discovered in Petras, NE Crete
Credit: Metaxia Tsipopoulou/Petras Excavations

During this year’s season, the excavation staff included 19 graduate and doctoral students from the Universities of Athens, Crete, Thessaloniki, Kalamata, Madrid, Harvard, Rhodes and Toronto. Senior excavators included professors David Rupp, Miriam Clinton and Sevi Triantafyllou, Dr. Maria Relaki, and nine workmen from Siteia.

The study group includes 26 archaeologists from Europe, the United States, and Canada. The excavation, the stabilization of architectural features, the conservation of findings and their study are funded exclusively by INSTAP, the Institute for Aegean Prehistory which was established as a nonprofit in the United States in 1982.

Source: ANA-MPA | Transl. Kerry Kolasa-Sikiaridi/Greek Reporter [September 02, 2018]




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