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The Mysterious Desert Towers of Uzbekistan's Lost Civilization

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We drove out of Khiva on a bright and blistering summer morning. The shared taxi passed over the Amu Darya River, pulsing with Himalayan snowmelt, and drove on past rich, irrigated fields and away from the massive domed mosques and medieval tile work of Uzbekistan’s Silk Road cities. We were headed into the former-Soviet Central Asian country’s arid northwestern frontier. 

Read more at The Daily Beast.


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Microplastics Discovered in 150-Year-Old Seabed 7,000 Feet Below Surface

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Researchers have discovered microplastics buried in seabed sediments deep below the ocean surface that are more than 150 years old. The team identified the tiny plastic pieces in core samples collected from the Rockall Trough—a deep-sea basin located to the northwest of Scotland in the North Atlantic.

Led by Winnie Courtene-Jones from the Scottish Association for Marine Science, the scientists examined the sediments—taken from more than 7,000 feet below the ocean surface—in order to reveal the extent and quantity of microplastics within them.

They documented the microplastics throughout the upper 10 centimetres [3 inches] of the sediment core, according to a study published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin. Finding the plastics in these samples initially left the scientists baffled, given that this group of materials was not mass-produced until the mid-20th century.

"We found microplastics were distributed throughout the sediment cores, up to 10 centimetres below the seafloor, which was the deepest we analyzed," Winnie Courtene-Jones told Newsweek.

"It was very surprising to find microplastics so deep. The layers of sediment down to 4 centimetres [around 1.5 inches] deep were around 150 years old, yet microplastics were found throughout the core.

Plastics were only mass-produced in the 1940s and 1950s, so, therefore, based on this discovery, we found plastics were present in the sediment long before they were mass-produced." In the study, the researchers propose a number of mechanisms for how the microplastics could have ended up in the 150-year-old sediments.

Microplastics enter the marine environment from surface waters, either through the fragmentation of larger plastic items or directly through the synthetic fibres which are shed from our clothing during washing," Courtene-Jones said. "Gradually the microplastics sink from surface waters through the ocean until they reach the seabed."

"Our findings that microplastics were present in sediments dating from long before mass plastic production indicate that processes within the seafloor might redistribute the microplastics deeper.

Burrowing worms live in the seabed and can draw plastics deeper inside their burrows. Another mechanism is that microplastics can move between gaps, so-called pores, within the sediments and so the microplastics can move into deeper layers this way," she said.

Microplastics—tiny pieces of plastic measuring less than 5 millimetres across, according to the most recognized definition—are widely distributed throughout the marine environment, having been documented everywhere from the seafloor to the surface waters of the Arctic.

In fact, earlier this year scientists even announced the discovery of a new species of marine animal in the deepest trench on Earth, which was found to have microplastics in its body.

However, most studies into this form of pollution have focused on beaches and coastal areas, meaning the global extent of microplastics on the deep seafloor remains largely unknown. Thus the findings of the latest study could help scientists to build a better picture of microplastic pollution.

"The findings of this research indicate that microplastics can move through sediments in ways we did not know before," Courtene-Jones said. "This has implications for understanding the fate of plastics in our environment. Also, microplastics could alter the properties of the sediments and cause harm to the organisms living in them."

"Other work has shown plastics can have detrimental impacts on animals, such as reducing their ability to feed and reproduce. The deep seafloor has been little studied in terms of plastic pollution, and our work indicates it could be an important accumulation site for microplastics,' she said.

The latest study builds on previous research that Courtene-Jones and colleagues conducted more than two years ago.

"In 2017, my research found microplastics contained within deep ocean water and that starfish and sea snails living on the ocean floor, over 2,000 meters deep had been eating microplastics. What's more, using historical specimens microplastics were found inside the guts of animals dating all the way back to the 1960s," she said.



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Scientists Have Discovered Huge Sabre-Tooth Anchovies From Prehistoric Times

Anchovies. You know 'em. Real piscine pipsqueaks. People put 'em on pizza.

Before they were a polarising flavour bomb, though, anchovies used to be a terror of the seas. As fossil records newly reveal, millions of years ago anchovies up to a metre long (3.3 feet) hunted the oceans with gnashing fangs and one single long, curving, sabre-like incisor in their top jaws.


© Joschua Knüppe

Fossils of two different species of predatory fish from the Eocene Epoch 55 million years ago have been identified as closely related to modern anchovies, which forage-feed rather than actively hunt for their prey.

It's certainly a peculiar relationship - but the appearance of both of these long-extinct species, palaeontologists believe, can be linked to the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event that wiped out the non-avian dinosaurs 66 million years ago.

The two fossils were found near Belgium and Pakistan. The former, named Clupeopsis straeleni, was first described in 1946 and came in at just under half a metre long. The latter was excavated more recently, in 1977, but had been tucked away in a museum collection.


Clupeopsis straeleni.

It wasn't until the team made a closer study that they realised it was a previously unknown species. It measured around one metre in length, and its wicked fangs inspired its new name - Monosmilus chureloides, after the Churel, the Urdu word for a shapeshifting, vampire-like demon with big fangs.

Although the two ancient fish differ in size and several minor physical features, they were remarkably similar - not least because of that single giant tooth.

The team, led by palaeontologists from the University of Michigan, made careful comparisons between the two and several modern fish and determined that the fossil finds belonged to a previously unknown clade of clupeiform fishes. That's the order of ray-finned fish that includes herrings and anchovies. And they could even be stem engraulidae - the anchovy family.

But most clupeiformes, including anchovies, are planktivores. They don't have vicious teeth, or snapping jaws of the kind found on C. straeleni and M. chureloides. These indicate a predatory hunting style, with the single large tooth perhaps used to impale or trap their fishy prey.

So what does this mean? Well, after the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, many ecological niches ertr left empty. The life that remained went through a diversification boom, including a massive expansion of ray-finned fishes.

During the Cretaceous, shark remains dominate the fish fossil record. In the early Paleogene, ray-finned fishes rose to the fore.

But this would have been a highly competitive time, too; not every species was successful. Exactly how and why C. straeleni and M. chureloides then faded away is impossible to know, but it's likely they were out-competed by rival predators.

It just goes to show that survival of the fittest doesn't always mean the most aggressive with the scariest teeth.

Turns out your pizza topping had the best survival strategy all along.

The research has been published in Royal Society Open Science.


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Elaphrosaur: Rare dinosaur identified in Australia


A fossil unearthed in Australia by a volunteer digger has been identified as a rare, toothless dinosaur that roamed the country 110 million years ago.

The elaphrosaur, whose name means "light-footed lizard", was related to the Tyrannosaurus Rex and Velociraptor.

The five-centimetre (two-inch) vertebrae fossil was discovered during a dig near Cape Otway in Victoria in 2015.

It is the first elaphrosaur bone ever to be found in Australia.

The fossil was discovered by volunteer Jessica Parker, who was taking part in an annual dig led by Melbourne Museum.

At the time, it was thought to be from a flying reptile called a pterosaur. But when palaeontologists at Swinburne University in Melbourne studied the fossil further, they realised it was a delicately-built dinosaur.

"Elaphrosaurs had long necks, stumpy arms with small hands, and relatively lightly-built bodies," Dr Stephen Poropat said.

The fossil indicated the animal was about two metres (6.5ft) long. However, other fossils previously found in Tanzania, China and Argentina show that they could reach up to six metres in length.

Adult elaphrosaurs probably didn't eat much meat, Dr Poropat said.

"As dinosaurs go, they were rather bizarre. The few known skulls of elaphrosaurs show that the youngsters had teeth, but that the adults lost their teeth and replaced them with a horny beak. We don't know if this is true for the [Australian] elaphrosaur yet - but we might find out if we ever discover a skull," he said.

Cape Otway, where the fossil was located, is a rich area for discoveries. About a dozen animals and five dinosaur species have been identified there, according to ABC News. Those discovered include a plant-eating dinosaur found in 2018.


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Isaac Newton proposed curing plague with toad vomit, unseen papers show


It is not as bad as suggesting injections of disinfectant. Isaac Newton’s 17th-century prescription for the plague – which blended powdered toad with toad vomit to form “lozenges” to drive away the contagion – has been revealed.

Two unpublished pages of Newton’s notes on Jan Baptist van Helmont’s 1667 book on plague, De Peste, are to be auctioned online by Bonham’s this week. Newton had been a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, when the university closed as a precaution against the bubonic plague, which killed 100,000 people in London in 1665 and 1666.

When the polymath returned to Cambridge in 1667, he began to study the work of Van Helmont. Newton’s analysis of De Peste is the most substantial written statement he is known to have made about the plague, according to Bonhams, who said the papers were of “profound importance to the Newton body of work, as well as deeply meaningful within the present context”.

The auction house’s books specialist, Darren Sutherland, said: “Newton’s running notes represent the only significant writings on the subject by the world’s greatest scientific mind that we have been able to trace. A timely reminder, perhaps, that there is nothing new under the sun.”

The notes include the case of a man who touched “pestilent papers, immediately felt a pain like a pricking needle, and developed a pestilent ulcer in the forefinger, and died in two days”, and his observation that “places infected with the plague are to be avoided”.

Some of Newton’s potential cures recorded are unlikely to be taken up today, however. He writes that “the best is a toad suspended by the legs in a chimney for three days, which at last vomited up earth with various insects in it, on to a dish of yellow wax, and shortly after died. Combining powdered toad with the excretions and serum made into lozenges and worn about the affected area drove away the contagion and drew out the poison.”

Van Helmont, a renowned physician, had been a practising doctor in Antwerp when the city was hit by plague in 1605.

Despite Newton’s standing, the papers have never previously been included in any collected works. When Newton died in 1727, his huge archive was left to his niece, Catherine Conduitt. It remained in the family until 1872, when his descendant, Isaac Newton Wallop, Fifth Earl of Portsmouth, donated his writings to Trinity College. Cambridge kept only the mathematical and scientific papers and returned Newton’s more controversial writings on alchemy, theology and philosophy. These papers, including Newton’s notes on Van Helmont, were sold in 1936 to private collectors, among them John Maynard Keynes.

“There was never much interest in his ‘other’ writings until recently,” said Sutherland. “So it really is a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man – with his remedies to ward off a virus that’s causing a pandemic.”

The pages will be auctioned by Bonhams for an estimate of $80,000-$120,000 (£64,000-£96,000) as part of its online-only Essential Genius: Ten Important Manuscripts sale, which runs until 10 June. The auction also includes an autographed and a signed draft of the last lines of Walt Whitman’s final poem, A Thought of Columbus.


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Massive 3,000-year-old ceremonial complex discovered in 'plain sight'


water next to the ocean: A 3D image of the monumental platform at Aguada Fénix (in dark brown). The structure, built some 3,000 years ago, was detected by an airborne laser tool known as LiDAR.

(Video by GeoBets)

An enormous 3,000-year-old earthen platform topped with a series of structures, including a 13-foot-high pyramid, has been identified as the oldest and largest monumental construction discovered in the Maya region, according to a paper published today in the journal Nature. It’s the latest discovery to support the emerging view that some of the earliest structures built in the Maya region were significantly larger than those built more than a millennium later during the Classic Maya period (250-900 A.D.) when the empire was at its peak.

The discovery took place in Mexico’s Tabasco state at the site of Aguada Fénix, about 850 miles east of Mexico City. It is in a region known as the Maya lowlands, from which the Maya civilization began to emerge.

In 2017, researchers conducted a LiDAR survey that detected the platform and at least nine causeways leading up to it. The groundbreaking laser technology typically is used from aircraft to “see” structures beneath dense tree canopy below, but in this case, it revealed a stunning discovery sitting unnoticed in plain sight in Tabasco’s semi-forested ranch lands for centuries, if not millennia.

So why was such a big monument at Aguada Fénix not identified earlier?

“It’s fairly hard to explain, but when you walk on the site, you don’t quite realize the enormity of the structure,” says archaeologist Takeshi Inomata of the University of Arizona, the lead author of the paper. “It’s over 30 feet high, but the horizontal dimensions are so large that you don’t realize the height.”

“Rituals we can only imagine”

The initial construction of the platform is believed to have begun around 1,000 B.C. based on radiocarbon dating of charcoal inside the complex.

But the absence of any known earlier buildings at Aguada Fénix suggests that at least up until that period, the people living in the region—likely the precursors of the Classic Maya—moved between temporary camps to hunt and gather food. That has researchers speculating over how and why they suddenly decided to build such a massive, permanent structure.

Inomata estimates that the total volume of the platform and the buildings on top is at least 130 million cubic feet, meaning it is bigger even than the largest Egyptian pyramid. He also calculated that it would have taken 5,000 people more than six years of full-time work to build.

“We think this was a ceremonial centre,” Inomata says. “[It’s] a place of gathering, possibly involving processions and other rituals we can only imagine.”

No residential buildings have been found on or around the structure, so it is unclear how many people may have lived nearby. But the large size of the platform leads Inomata to think that the builders of Aguada Fénix gradually were leaving their hunter-gatherer lifestyle behind, likely aided by the cultivation of corn—evidence of which also has been found at the site.

“The sheer size is astonishing,” says Jon Lohse, an archaeologist with Terracon Consultants Inc. who studies the early history of the area and was not involved in the report. He does not think, however, that the structure itself is evidence of a settled lifestyle. “Monumental constructions by pre-sedentary people are not uncommon globally.”

What it does unmistakably show, Lohse adds, is an advanced ability for people to collaborate, probably in the strongly egalitarian fashion that he believes was typical of early societies in the Maya region. Inomata agrees and thinks the platform was built by a community without a strong social hierarchy.

As potential evidence, Inomata points to the even older ceremonial site of San Lorenzo, 240 miles to the west in a region that was settled at the time by the Olmec people. Built at least 400 years earlier than Aguada Fénix, San Lorenzo features an artificial terraced hill that may have had a similar function. But it also has colossal human statues that may indicate that some people held a higher status in society than others.

It may seem likely that the people who built Aguada Fénix were inspired by San Lorenzo, but archaeologist Ann Cyphers of the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, who has worked at San Lorenzo, considers the sites “quite distinct,” adding that the pottery found it is also very different from that found at Aguada Fénix.

A checkerboard of coloured soil

So what might have been the purpose for undertaking such a massive communal building project? Study coauthor Verónica Vázquez López of the University of Calgary believes that it might have been a statement of intent: a formal collaboration designed to bring different groups of people together over the course of several generations.

Some features at Aguada Fénix could suggest this collaboration, such as a cache of precious jade axes that may have symbolized the end of the collaborative construction project. Archaeologists also have noted that some of the layers of soil used to build the platform were laid down in a checkerboard pattern of different soil colours, which may have symbolized the contribution of different groups.

“Even today, people who live in different quarters of some Mexican towns each clean their part of the central church plaza,” Vázquez López observes.

By 750 B.C., the monumental structure at Aguada Fénix was abandoned, and by the Classic Maya period more than 1,000 years later, people in the region were building higher pyramids that became accessible only to the elite atop much smaller platforms with less space for broader communities to gather.

“In the early period, people got very excited,” Inomata says. “Later on, they became a bit less enthusiastic.”




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Thomas Edison’s First Patented Invention—a Voting Machine for Congress—Was a Total Flop


On June 1, 1869, Thomas Edison patented his very first invention: a voting machine meant for Congress.

According to Rutgers University’s Thomas A. Edison Papers Project, the 22-year-old inventor might’ve been inspired to design the device after newspaper reports announced that both the New York state legislature and the city council of Washington, D.C., were investigating means of automating their ballot process. At the time, legislators voted by calling out “Yea” or “Nay” (or something of that nature), and a clerk jotted down their responses one by one.

Edison’s “electrographic vote-recorder” had the names of all the voters listed twice: in a “Yes” column on one side, and a “No” column on the other. When a person flipped a switch to indicate their vote, the machine would transmit the signal through an electric current and mark their name in the corresponding column, while keeping track of the total tally of votes on a dial. After everyone had voted, an attendant would place a sheet of chemically treated paper on top of the columns and press down on it with a metallic roller, imprinting the paper with the results.


Thomas Edison electrographic vote-recorder patent 1869

A telegraph operator named Dewitt Roberts invested $100—about $1754 in today's dollars, according to Tech Times—in the device and set off for an exhibition on Capitol Hill. Alas, members of Congress were completely uninterested, and the committee chairman in charge of deciding its fate declared that “if there is any invention on earth that we don't want down here, that is it.”

The committee didn’t think the vote-recorder streamlined the process enough to be useful, but it’s possible they weren’t too keen on speeding things up in the first place. If the officials didn’t voice their votes aloud, there wouldn’t be any opportunity to filibuster policies or persuade each other to switch their stances—an integral part of congressional proceedings.

Edison, of course, recovered from his first flop. He went on to invent (or at least improve upon) the light bulb, create the cat video, and devise many more notable creations.


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This May Have Been Earth's First-Ever Land Animal

The first creepy crawlies to climb out of Earth's ancient lakes and make their way on land may very well have done so with hundreds of tiny feet.

After carefully dating the earliest bug fossils ever discovered, scientists now think an extinct genus of myriapod, a relative of modern millipedes, represents the earliest direct evidence of an animal living and breathing on land.


Life on Earth started in a primordial soup, and bugs - or more specifically arthropods, including insects, spiders and centipedes - are thought to be some of the first animals to leave this comforting bath for good.

In fact, other types of insects are suspected to have beat myriapods to land. But we only have indirect evidence of their soil-based forays through tracks and trails, and these may only represent fleeting excursions to the world above, rather than making it their permanent home, like myriapods did.

Discovered for the first time in 1899 on a Scottish isle, the fossil of the myriapod Kampecaris obanensis has now been radiometrically dated to roughly 425 million years ago.

If the new date is correct, these ancient many-legged ones would be the oldest land animals to have lived out of water. And their journey was pioneering.

Just 20 million years after Kampecaris, the fossil record reveals bountiful bug deposits, and 20 million years after that, spiders and insects appear to be thriving in forest communities.

"It's a big jump from these tiny guys to very complex forest communities, and in the scheme of things, it didn't take that long," says geoscientist Michael Brookfield from the University of Texas, and the University of Massachusetts in Boston. 

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

This is, of course, only based on the fossils we have found so far, but researchers say the fact that there are no other discoveries out there, despite looking at some of the best-preserved sediments from this era, could indicate the end of the road.

If the team is right, and this ancient species was indeed the first of all water-to-land pioneers that we know of, then it looks like we've been seriously underestimating how quickly this transition occurred.

According to a technique called molecular clock dating, which is based on the mutation rate of DNA, fossils of stemmed plants in Scotland have also turned out to be roughly 75 million years younger than we once thought, coinciding with the Kampecaris timeline.

Not only were bugs in Scotland adapting to life on land at a rapid pace; this finding implies forests were doing so at much the same rate, and it's very likely the two are somehow connected.

Given how important these bugs are thought to be in our planet's history, Brookfield was surprised to find this fossil hadn't been dated before, although he admits it is time-consuming and delicate work.

When analysing these ancient rocks, scientists must extract microscopic inclusions of zircon, which can be used to accurately date sediment. 

This practice requires an eagle eye and a careful hand, and given how quickly these zircons can be accidentally flushed away, there's not a lot of room for error.

Geoscientist and co-author Stephanie Suarez has been mastering this technique since her undergraduate years, and she's used it in the past to prove a different millipede specimen (Pneumodesmus newman) was not the oldest bug on land but was actually 14 million years younger than we thought.

After years of careful work, she now gets to crown a new victor. Who knows if we'll get to dethrone it one day, too.


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Archaeologists may have uncovered London’s earliest playhouse


London’s earliest playhouse, which “marked the dawn of Elizabethan theatre”, may have been found at a site in Whitechapel, archaeologists have said.

The Red Lion playhouse is thought to be the earliest known purpose-built theatre of the Elizabethan era, but its exact location has long been debated.

Discoveries of timber structures, artefacts and buildings that could indicate the playhouse has been found were made by Archaeology South-East, part of UCL’s Institute of Archaeology, ahead of a housing redevelopment.

The Red Lion playhouse was set up by John Brayne, who went on to construct The Theatre in Shoreditch with his brother-in-law, James Burbage, father of famed Elizabethan actor Richard Burbage.

The Theatre was the first permanent home for acting troupes and a venue for Shakespeare’s plays in the 1590s, as drama flourished in Elizabethan London.

All that is known of The Red Lion is from two lawsuits, the first of which dates from 1567, the year the playhouse is thought to have been built, describing the timber scaffolds or galleries around the stage.

A second lawsuit from 1569 mentions a “farme house called and knowen by the name of the Sygne of the Redd Lyon”, as a site with an outdoor stage and seating.


It includes a description and dimensions of the stage as 40ft (12.2m) north to south by 30ft (9.1m) east to west and a height of 5ft (1.5m).

Experts said analysis of historic mapping and land deeds relating to the Red Lion suggested it was on or near the Whitechapel site, but before the excavations, there was no physical evidence of the playhouse or farm.

Archaeological excavations in January 2019, ahead of housing redevelopment in Stepney Way, started to uncover an unusual rectangular structure with 144 surviving timbers and dimensions that closely matched those of the stage in the lawsuits.

Postholes around the timber structure appear to correspond with “scaffolds” or galleried seating, archaeologists said.

In the north-east corner of the site, excavations revealed 15th or 16th-century buildings that developed into a sprawling complex in the 17th century, which could be the Red Lion inn itself.

Farmsteads of the time were known to serve beer, and the uncovered site was established enough to have had a prototype playhouse on its land by the late 16th century, the archaeologists said.


The buildings that have been uncovered include two probable beer cellars, while glass and pottery find include beakers and drinking glasses, ceramic cups and a late 17th-century tavern mug with a royal medallion of Charles II – suggesting the development into a more formal inn.

Stephen White, who directed the excavation for UCL Archaeology South-East, said the site is one of the most extraordinary he has worked on.

“After nearly 500 years, the remains of the Red Lion playhouse, which marked the dawn of Elizabethan theatre, may have finally been found.

“The strength of the combined evidence – archaeological remains of buildings, in the right location, of the right period, seem to match up with characteristics of the playhouse recorded in early documents.

“It is a privilege to be able to add to our understanding of this exciting period of history.”

Emily Gee, from government heritage agency Historic England, said: “This tantalising find follows the exciting recent discoveries of The Theatre and The Curtain playhouses in Shoreditch, and of the Boar’s Head in Aldgate, which together has immensely improved our understanding of the beginnings of English theatre.

“We will continue to work closely with the developer to interpret these archaeological remains and display them so the public will be able to understand them within the finished development and appreciate the rich history of this site.”


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13,500-year-old bird figurine discovered in China is a game-changer for prehistoric art

A Stone Age bird figurine uncovered in China could be a "missing link" in our understanding of prehistoric art, according to research published Wednesday.

Dating back almost 13,500 years, the sculpture is now the oldest known example of three-dimensional art in East Asia, preceding other discoveries in the region by nearly 8,500 years.

Described as being in "an exceptional state of preservation," the figurine was found at an archaeological site in Lingjing, in central China's Henan province. It was hand-carved from burned animal bone using stone tools.

Researchers say the sculpture depicts a bird on a pedestal, pointing to deliberate marks where the creature's eyes and bill would be. It is believed that the bird's oversized tail was made to prevent the figurine from tilting forward when laid on a surface.


Significantly older artefacts have been discovered in Europe, with mammoth ivory figures from the Swabian Jura region of southern German believed to be more than 40,000 years old. But much less is known about the emergence of sculptural representations in other parts of the world.

"This discovery identifies an original artistic tradition and pushes back by more than 8,500 years the representation of birds in Chinese art," the authors said in a press release. "The figurine differs technologically and stylistically from other specimens found in Western Europe and Siberia, and it could be the missing link tracing the origin of Chinese statuary back to the Palaeolithic period."

Analyzing techniques

As well as using radiocarbon dating to ascertain the object's age, scientists used CT scans to reveal the carving techniques used by the Paleolithic sculptor. They found evidence that abrading, gauging, scraping and incising with stone tools were all used to produce the figurine.

The excavation was led by researchers from East China's Shandong University, alongside experts from colleges in France, Israel and Norway. Li Zhanyang, who led the study, has been excavating the site since 2005. Other discoveries there include shards of pottery, burned animal remains and an ostrich egg pendant.

Li has contributed to other archaeological findings in Lingjing, including a variety of ancient tools and two skulls belonging to an extinct species of early human. In 2019, he led a study into two engraved bones, also found in the region, that may date back 125,000 years.


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Fossil tracks left by an ancient crocodile that 'ran like an ostrich'


Scientists have been stunned to find that some ancient crocodiles might have moved around on two feet.

The evidence comes from beautifully preserved fossil tracks in South Korea.

Nearly a hundred of these 18-24cm-long indentations were left in what were likely the muddy sediments that surrounded a lake in the Early Cretaceous, 110-120 million years ago.

The international team behind the discovery says it will probably challenge our perception of crocodiles.

"People tend to think of crocodiles as animals that don't do very much; that they just laze around all day on the banks of the Nile or next to rivers in Costa Rica. Nobody automatically thinks I wonder what this [creature] would be like if it was bipedal and could run like an ostrich or a T. rex," Martin Lockley, an emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, US, told BBC News.

The study is sure to provoke a lively debate. Not all researchers will necessarily accept the team's interpretation.


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Tiny 13,500-year-old bird statuette shows origins of Chinese art


© Reuters/HANDOUT A miniature bird sculpture carved of burnt bone from China's Henan Province dating to about 13,500 ago

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A tiny statuette of a bird carved from a burnt bone about 13,500 years ago reveals the origins of Chinese art, embodying a style different from prehistoric three-dimensional artwork by people in other parts of the world, researchers said on Wednesday.

The figurine, found at a site called Lingjing in Henan Province in central China, depicts a standing bird on a pedestal and was crafted using stone tools employing four sculpting methods - abrasion, gouging, scraping and incision, the researchers said.

It is the oldest-known three-dimensional art from China and all of East Asia by 8,500 years, although there are primitive abstract engravings on bone and stone and personal ornaments made of animal teeth and shells predating it.

The bird sculpture, the product of an Ice Age hunter-gatherer culture, is six-tenths of an inch (1.5 cm) long, apparently representing a songbird.

"Examining this figurine under the microscope and looking at its high-resolution 3D reconstruction is a moving experience. It opens a window on micro-gestures made by a great artist," said archaeologist Francesco d'Errico of the French National Centre for Scientific Research, who is also attached to the Universities of Bordeaux and Bergen.

Humankind's earliest-known three-dimensional carvings, made of mammoth ivory, date to 40,000 years ago from southern Germany.

The bird was so expertly crafted from the bone of an unidentified mammal that the artist made the tail slightly oversized so the figurine would not fall forward, indicating an understanding of achieving balance, said d'Errico, a senior author of the research published in the journal PLOS ONE.

It is still unclear whether three-dimensional artwork arose independently in various locales or by diffusion from a prehistoric centre of origin. The figurine differs in size, style and technology from older and contemporaneous carvings from Europe and Siberia, d'Errico said, suggesting it belongs to a distinctive Chinese artistic tradition.


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Mystery egg likely belonged to giant sea reptile, scientists say


Scientists in the US have uncovered the mystery of a giant egg discovered in Antarctica almost a decade ago.

For years researchers could not identify the fossil, which resembled a deflated football, leading it to gain the sci-fi nickname "The Thing".

But now, scientists say the egg probably belonged to a giant sea reptile that lived around 68 million years ago.

It is believed to be the world's largest reptile egg.

The fossil - which measures 11 by 7 inches (28cm by 18cm) - was found by researchers from Chile in 2011, but it was only in 2018 that a scientist from the University of Texas at Austin recognised it could be a deflated egg.

While the size of the egg suggested it belonged to an animal the size of a large dinosaur, its soft shell was "completely unlike a dinosaur egg", Lucas Legendre, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Texas at Austin, said.

"It is most similar to the eggs of lizards and snakes, but it is from a truly giant relative of these animals," he said.


By comparing the size of hundreds of reptiles alive today and their eggs, researchers say the animal that laid the egg would have been at least seven metres long.

Other fossils found at the same site suggest the egg could have belonged to a giant marine reptile called a mosasaur, although it is unclear whether the egg was laid on land or at sea.

The study was published in Nature this week.



Ancient 'volcano map' discovered carved into a large volcanic rock


When archaeologists examined the rock, they found maps were carved into it. In a statement, INAH explained that the maps were used to manage the land in that area and also to pass knowledge from one generation to another.

By studying the carving techniques used on the stone, experts say that the work likely took place between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D.

Different engraving techniques were used to represent the volcano’s southern slope, which is furrowed by features such as rivers, runoffs and ravines, according to INAH. On the main surface of the rock, small cavities were carved to represent local communities. 

Mexico continues to reveal new aspects of its rich history. INAH, for example, recently released new details of a mysterious 18th-century shipwreck discovered off the Mexican coast.


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This Football-Sized Fossil Egg is the First Found in Antarctica, and It May Have Belonged to a Mosasaur

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In 2011, Chilean scientists discovered a football-sized fossil off the coast of Seymour Island, near the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Though they didn’t know what it was at the time—and simply called it “The Thing”—new research shows that not only is it the first fossil egg ever found in Antarctica, it’s also the largest soft-shelled egg ever found anywhere.

In a study published today in the science journal Nature, researchers from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Chile dated the nearshore rock formation where the fossil egg was found to be from the Late Cretaceous period—about 68 million years ago—and measured the fossil itself to be roughly 11.4 inches by 7.9 inches (29 centimetres by 20 centimetres).

This empty partially collapsed egg is smaller only than that of the elephant bird, an extinct, flightless species from Madagascar whose eggs averaged about 12 inches by 8 inches.

But beyond their size, the eggs don’t have much in common; an elephant bird egg is about five times thicker than this fossil egg, and its hard shell has distinct pores and a prismatic layer that the fossil egg lacks.

In other words, an elephant bird egg resembles a giant chicken egg. (And the giant is no exaggeration—an elephant bird egg could hold the contents of about 150 chicken eggs.)

With its soft shell and oblong shape, the new fossil egg, from the new taxon Antarcticoolithus bradyi, is more similar to a lizard or snake egg, which suggests it could’ve been laid by a large reptile. To test that theory, the researchers compared it to the egg traits of 259 species of lepidosaurs—a subclass of reptile that includes snakes and lizards—and surmised that the egg-layer may have been a marine reptile that measured roughly 23 feet (7 meters) or longer.

The researchers believe this mystery mother might have been a mosasaur, a type of large marine lepidosaur whose remains have also been discovered in the area. During the Late Cretaceous period, mosasaurs were among the most fearsome predators in the ocean. They had strong flippers and sharp teeth, and some species grew as long as 50 feet (though that’s still a good 10 feet shorter than the fictional mosasaur depicted in 2015’s Jurassic World).

Fossilized contents of their stomachs show they feasted on a variety of wildlife, including fish, seabirds, turtles, plesiosaurs, and more—one mosasaur had even eaten a few other mosasaurs. And although mosasaurs did live in Antarctica, the continent during the Late Cretaceous period looked nothing like its current frigid landscape.

“Antarctica was rich in life,” Dr Julia Clarke, a professor in UT Austin’s Department of Geological Sciences and co-author of the study, tells Mental Floss. “Temperate forests diverse in plant species covered exposed land. Giant marine reptiles and much smaller coiled ammonites and relatives of living birds hunted in the seas, while on land, mid-sized non-avian dinosaurs ambled.”

Since scientists have uncovered the remains of mosasaurs and plesiosaurs of all ages in the rock formation where the fossil egg was found, some think it may have been a popular place for creatures to hatch and raise their young.

“Many authors have hypothesized that this was sort of a nursery site with shallow protected water, a cove environment where the young ones would have had a quiet setting to grow up,” Lucas Legendre, a postdoctoral researcher and the lead author of the study, said in a press release.

If the fossil egg really did belong to a mosasaur, it could alter our understanding of how mosasaurs gave birth. In South Dakota during the 1990s, scientists unearthed the skeleton of a lizard-like mosasaur called a Plioplatecarpus with five unborn offspring preserved in its abdomen.

Because they weren’t in eggs, it was generally thought that mosasaurs gave birth to live young. The existence of Antarcticoolithus bradyi, however, suggests the possibility that some mosasaurs laid soft-shelled eggs that hatched immediately after.

According to Clarke, the discovery of the fossil egg is especially exciting because it demonstrates “how much we have yet to learn about the evolution of eggs, from the first egg-layers that moved away from water to the immense diversity of eggs and reproductive strategies we see today.”


Edited by CaaC (John)
Spacing correction

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48,000-year-old arrowheads found in Sri Lankan cave

Researchers say the arrowheads were likely used to hunt difficult-to-catch rainforest prey such as monkeys and squirrels.

An international team of researchers have found a cache of immaculately preserved bone arrowheads in the cave of Fa-Hien Lena, deep in the heart of Sri Lanka’s rainforests. The find is evidence of the earliest use of bows and arrows anywhere outside of Africa, they say.

The team, made up of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History (MPI-SHH) in Germany, Griffith University in Australia and the Department of Archaeology, Government of Sri Lanka, say the bone arrowheads are around 48,000 years old and were likely used to hunt difficult-to-catch rainforest prey such as monkeys and squirrels.
The bone tools and the animals they were made from © Langley et al., 2020
“The fractures on the points indicate damage through high-powered impact – something is usually seen in the use of bow-and-arrow hunting of animals,” said lead author Michelle Langley of Griffith University. “This evidence is earlier than similar findings in Southeast Asia 32,000 years ago and is currently the earliest clear evidence for bow-and-arrow use beyond the African continent.”
The arrowheads were found alongside a host of other tools may have been used for freshwater fishing in nearby tropical streams, as well as the working of fibre to make nets or clothing, and other decorative items. Together, the finds point to the development of a complex, early human social network in the tropics of South Asia.

“We also found clear evidence for the production of coloured beads from mineral ochre and the refined making of shell beads traded from the coast, at a similar age to other ‘social signalling’ materials found in Eurasia and Southeast Asia, roughly 45,000 years ago,” said Langley.

The findings highlight the fact that archaeologists can no longer link specific technological, symbolic, or cultural developments in early humans to a single region or environment, the researchers say.


Manufactured beads and decorative ochre found at the site © Adapted from Langley et al., 2020

“Humans at this time show extraordinary resourcefulness and the ability to exploit a range of new environments,” said co-author and Director at the MPI-SHH Nicole Boivin.

“These skills enabled them to colonise nearly all of the planet’s continents by about 10,000 years ago, setting us clearly on the path to being the global species we are today.”


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Giant wombat-like creatures, the size of black bears, once walked the earth


Scientists from the University of Salford discovered the new family of marsupial after studying the partial skull and most of a skeleton collected on an expedition during the 1970s.

London (CNN) - A wombat like a creature the size of a black bear and weighing 330 pounds, roamed the earth some 25 million years ago, scientists have discovered.

A team led by researchers from the University of Salford in the UK discovered the new family of marsupial after studying the partial skull and most of a skeleton that had been collected from Lake Pinpa, in northeastern South Australia, on an expedition during the 1970s.


'Crazy beast' fossil discovery shows the evolutionary weirdness of early mammals

Researchers named the animal "Mukupirna," meaning "big bones" in Dieri and Malyangapa, the indigenous languages spoken in the region of South Australia where the fossil was first discovered.

A team led by researchers from the University of Salford in the UK discovered the new family of marsupial after studying the partial skull and most of a skeleton that had been collected from Lake Pinpa, in northeastern South Australia, on an expedition during the 1970s.

Researchers named the animal "Mukupirna," meaning "big bones" in Dieri and Malyangapa, the indigenous languages spoken in the region of South Australia where the fossil was first discovered.

In a paper published in Scientific Reports on Thursday, researchers confirmed that the mammal belonged to a new family of marsupials -- mammals characterized by premature birth and the continued development of the newborn while latched to the nipples on the mother's lower belly.

From studying the creature's fossilized teeth, bones and cranium, experts concluded that the animal, which would have weighed up to 330 pounds, would have engaged in "scratch-digging" but was unlikely to have burrowed.

From studying the creature's fossilized teeth, bones and cranium, experts concluded that the animal, which would have weighed up to 330 pounds, would have engaged in "scratch-digging" but was unlikely to have burrowed.


"It is surprisingly large, particularity for that time period," lead author Robin Beck, from the University of Salford, told CNN. "It was one of the largest animals in Australia at that time."

Beck said that while the creatures most closely resemble wombats, they were about five times the size.

Scientists studied how body size has evolved in vombatiforms -- the group that includes Mukupirna, wombats, koalas and their fossil relatives -- and found that body weights of 220 pounds or more evolved at least six times over the past 25 million years.

The largest known vombatifom, named "Diprotodon," weighed more than 2 tonnes and survived until approximately 50,000 years ago.

"About 23 million years ago, the environment changed to become more like a rainforest in Australia, and so there were environmental changes that possibly may have driven it extinct," he suggested.

"Mukupirna reveals a fascinating mix of characteristics and provides evidence of a close link between wombats and an extinct group of marsupials called wynyardiids," report co-author Pip Brewer, of London's Natural History Museum, added in a statement.

"It suggests that adaptations for digging for food may have existed in the very earliest members of the wombat family and likely led to their eventual survival to the present day. Although suggested previously, it had not been possible to test this, as the oldest fossil wombats discovered are only known from teeth and a few skull fragments," Brewer said.

"About 23 million years ago, the environment changed to become more like a rainforest in Australia, and so there were environmental changes that possibly may have driven it extinct," he suggested.

"Mukupirna reveals a fascinating mix of characteristics and provides evidence of a close link between wombats and an extinct group of marsupials called wynyardiids," report co-author Pip Brewer, of London's Natural History Museum, added in a statement.

"It suggests that adaptations for digging for food may have existed in the very earliest members of the wombat family and likely led to their eventual survival to the present day. Although suggested previously, it had not been possible to test this, as the oldest fossil wombats discovered are only known from teeth and a few skull fragments," Brewer said.


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Dromaeosaurid dinosaurs ‘not only lived in the Arctic but thrived there’

The findings are based on a ‘rare’ piece of dinosaur jawbone thought to a juvenile dromaeosaurid dinosaur.

Scientists believe they may have stumbled on new species of dinosaur that lived in the Arctic 70 million years ago when the region was warmer than it is now.

The findings are based on a “rare” piece of dinosaur jawbone thought to belong to a juvenile dromaeosaurid dinosaur, predatory animals closely related to birds.

Dromaeosaurids, whose members include the velociraptor, lived during the Cretaceous period, between 145-66 million years ago.

Teeth remains of these creatures have previously been found in North America, South America, and Asia but lack of bone fossil records have made it hard for palaeontologists to trace the paths the dromaeosaurids took as they dispersed between continents.

Many scientists believe the Arctic was a “migratory pathway” for many dinosaurs when they crossed between Asia and North America.


An artist’s impression of dromaeosaurid dinosaurs © Andrey Atuchin/Plos One

But researchers now say the discovery of the jawbone fossil of a juvenile appears to contradict these suggestions and believe the animals lived there all year round.

The palaentologists say that the early developmental stage of the bone suggests the young dromaeosaurid was born nearby, strong evidence that some of the dinosaurs were nesting there.


Fossil jawbone from Alaska is a rare case of a juvenile Arctic dromaeosaurid dinosaur © A. Chiarenza

Anthony R Fiorillo, of Southern Methodist University, and one of the authors of the study published in the journal Plos One, said: “Years ago when dinosaurs were first found in the far north, the idea challenged what we think we know about dinosaurs.

“For some time afterwards, there was a great debate as to whether or not those Arctic dinosaurs migrated or lived in the north year-round.

“All of those arguments were somewhat speculative in nature.

“This study of a predatory dinosaur jaw from a baby provides the first physical proof that at least some dinosaurs not only lived in the far north, but they thrived there.

“One might even say, our study shows that the ancient north was a great place to raise a family and now we have to figure out why.”


The location of Prince Creek Formation, where the dromaeosaurid jawbone fossil was found © SMU

The 14mm long fossil, which was found near the Arctic Ocean, is preserved at the Prince Creek Formation of northern Alaska, which hosts the world’s largest collection of polar dinosaur fossils.

It is the first known non-dental dromaeosaurid fossil from the Arctic.

Scientists say bones belonging to these dinosaurs are fragile and do not preserve well in the fossil record.

Alfio Alessandro Chiarenza, of Imperial College London, and lead author on the study: “Even with such an incomplete jaw fragment, our team was not only able to work out the evolutionary relationships of this dinosaur, but also to picture something more on the biology of these animals, ultimately gaining more information on this Ancient Arctic ecosystem.”

Science Focus

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Aztec palace's remains uncovered off Mexico City's main Zócalo plaza


The remains of an ancient Aztec palace have been discovered under a stately building in Mexico City.

During renovations at the building off the capital's central Zócalo plaza, workers found basalt slab floors.

The floors were part of an open space in the palace of Aztec ruler Axayácatl, Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said.

The palace was also used as the home of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés after the fall of the Aztec empire.

Excavators have found evidence of the home Cortés had at the palace site.

Archaeologists say it is likely to have reused materials from Axayácatl's palace - which, like other sacred Aztec buildings, was razed by the Spanish conquistadors.


Axayácatl reigned between 1469 and 1481 and was the father of Montezuma, one of the empire's last rulers.

"Below the subflooring of the house of Cortés, more than three metres deep, the remains of another floor of basalt slabs, but from pre-Hispanic times, were detected," INAH said.

"Given its characteristics, the specialists deduced that it was part of an open space in the former palace of Axayácatl, probably a courtyard."



Cortés arrived in what is now Mexico in 1518 as commander of a mission to explore the region - rumoured among Europeans to hold great wealth - for Spanish colonisation.

He and his men laid siege to the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán in 1521. When the city surrendered, the Spanish colonisers destroyed it.

The building which stands on the site now - the Nacional Monte de Piedad - is a historic pawnshop that was built in 1755.



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New dinosaur related to T. rex discovered on the Isle of Wight


A new species of dinosaur has been discovered on the Isle of Wight.

Palaeontologists at the University of Southampton believe four bones found at Shanklin last year belong to a new species of theropod dinosaur.

It lived in the Cretaceous period, 115 million years ago, and is estimated to have been up to 4m (13ft) long.

It has been named Vectaerovenator inopinatus and belongs to the group of dinosaurs that includes Tyrannosaurus rex and modern-day birds.

The name refers to the large air spaces found in some of the bones - from the neck, back and tail of the creature - which is one of the traits that helped the scientists identify its theropod origins.

These air sacs, also seen in modern birds, were extensions of the lung, and it is likely they "helped fuel an efficient breathing system while also making the skeleton lighter", the University of Southampton said.


The fossils were found in three separate discoveries in 2019 and handed into the nearby Dinosaur Isle Museum at Sandown, where they are being displayed.

Robin Ward, a regular fossil hunter from Stratford-upon-Avon, was visiting the Isle of Wight with his family when they made their discovery.

"The joy of finding the bones we discovered was absolutely fantastic," he said.

James Lockyer, from Spalding, Lincolnshire, was also visiting the island when he found another of the bones.


"It looked different from marine reptile vertebrae I have come across in the past," he said.

"I was searching a spot at Shanklin and had been told, and read, that I wouldn't find much there.

"However, I always make sure I search the areas others do not, and on this occasion, it paid off."

Paul Farrell, from Ryde, added: "I was walking along the beach, kicking stones and came across what looked like a bone from a dinosaur.

"I was really shocked to find out it could be a new species."

'Delicate skeleton'

Chris Barker, who led the University of Southampton study, said: "We were struck by just how hollow this animal was - it's riddled with air spaces.

"Parts of its skeleton must have been rather delicate.

"The record of theropod dinosaurs from the 'mid' Cretaceous period in Europe isn't that great, so it's been really exciting to be able to increase our understanding of the diversity of dinosaur species from this time.

"You don't usually find dinosaurs in the deposits at Shanklin as they were laid down in a marine habitat. You're much more likely to find fossil oysters or driftwood, so this is a rare find indeed."

It is likely that the Vectaerovenator lived in an area just north of where its remains were found, with the carcass having washed out into the shallow sea nearby.

The university findings are due to be published in the journal Papers in Palaeontology and co-authored by those who discovered the fossils.




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Tiny elephant shrew species, missing for 50 years, rediscovered

The speedy Somali sengi had been lost to science until an expedition to Djibouti


A mouse-sized elephant shrew that had been lost to science for 50 years has been discovered alive and well in the Horn of Africa.

The Somali sengi mates for life, can race around at 30km/h and sucks up ants with its trunk-like nose. But it had not been documented by researchers since 1968.

In 2019 scientists set out to search for the animal following tips from the region, but not in Somalia, from where the only past reports had come, but in neighbouring Djibouti. Locals were able to identify the creature from old photographs with Houssein Rayaleh, of Association Djibouti Nature, saying he had seen the animal before.


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Fossilised dinosaur skull reveals the adorable appearance of baby sauropods

The skull reveals surprising differences to adult sauropods.

The first 3D scan of a sauropod embryo’s skull has revealed what these gigantic dinosaurs looked like as tiny hatchlings.

Sauropods are a family of dinosaurs that are instantly recognisable from their small heads and their long, sweeping necks and tails – Diplodocus and Brontosaurus are two of the best-known examples.

The first sauropod embryos were discovered around 25 years ago in an 80-million-year-old nesting ground of titanosaurs (a group of especially large sauropods) at a site called Auca Mahuevo in the Patagonian region of Argentina.

The newly-analysed skull also belongs to a titanosaur from Patagonia, although the researchers don’t know exactly where, as the fossilised egg that it was found in was originally smuggled out of the country, and only came to the researchers’ attention later on.

The team used an X-ray imaging technology called synchrotron microtomography to analyse the inner structure of the skull’s bones, teeth and soft tissue. This uncovered hidden details such as tiny teeth preserved deeply in the jaw sockets, and what appear to be the remains of chewing muscles.


The Titanosaurian embryo skull along with a skull and head reconstruction © Kundrat et al. /Current Biology

The position of the embryo’s eye sockets also suggests that, unlike adults, the freshly hatched sauropods may have had a form of binocular vision, in which the slightly different images from each eye give an improved depth perception – perhaps helping it to better detect predators. The embryo also has an unusual horn at the tip of its face, which isn’t present in adults.

“Our study revealed several new aspects about the embryonic life of the largest herbivorous dinosaurs that lived on our planet,” said study leader Dr Martin Kundrát, a palaeobiologist at Pavol Jozef Šafárik University in Slovakia. “A horned faced and binocular vision are features quite different from what we expected in titanosaurian dinosaurs.”


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Bear from Ice Age found 'completely preserved' in the Russian Arctic


The immaculately preserved remains of an Ice Age-era bear have been unearthed by reindeer herders in the Russian Arctic, researchers have said.

The bear was revealed by the melting permafrost on the Lyakhovsky Islands in north-eastern Russia.

With its teeth and nose intact, the bear is thought to be a species of brown bear that lived 22,000 to 39,500 years ago.

It will be studied at the North-Eastern Federal University (NEFU) in the city of Yakutsk.


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