Egyptian fossil relatives of Madagascar bats discovered


This video from the USA says about itself:

26 Sep 2012

Dr. Nancy Simmons specializes in the morphology and evolutionary biology of bats (Chiroptera). Together with several collaborators, she is developing a data set of morphological characters scored in species representing all major clades of bats. These data include new information gained from high-resolution CT scans of rare bats and are being combined with DNA sequence data to develop a robust higher-level phylogeny for Chiroptera.

With collaborators, she is doing an in-depth study of the evolution of megabats — flying foxes and their relatives — using both molecular and morphological data. Dr. Simmons is also working with an expert on echolocation behavior to develop a method for coding features of echolocation calls for phylogenetic analysis.

From the American Museum of Natural History in the USA:

Sucker-Footed Bat Fossils Broaden the Bat Map

by AMNH on 02/04/2014 05:00 pm

Today, Madagascar sucker-footed bats are found only on their island home, but new research from the American Museum of Natural History and Duke University shows that wasn’t always the case. The discovery of two extinct relatives in northern Egypt suggests the unusual creatures, which evolved sticky footpads to roost on slick surfaces, are primitive members of a group of bats that evolved in Africa and ultimately went on to flourish in South America.

A team of researchers described the two bat species from several sets of fossilized jawbones and teeth unearthed in the Sahara. The findings, reported on February 4 in the journal PLOS ONE, represent the first formal description of the family in the fossil record and show the sucker-footed bat family to be at least 36 million years older than previously known.

“We’ve assumed for a long time that they were an ancient lineage based on DNA sequence studies that have placed them close to very old groups in the bat family tree,” said Nancy Simmons, co-author on the study and a curator in the Department of Mammalogy.

But until now, scientists lacked any fossil evidence to confirm it.

Today, the sucker-footed bats consist of two species, Myzopoda aurita (see images of these bats here) and M. schliemanni, endemic to Madagascar. In contrast to almost all other bats, they don’t cling upside-down to cave ceilings or branches. Sucker-footed bats roost head-up, often in the furled leaves of the traveler’s palm, a plant in the bird-of-paradise family. To stick to such a smooth surface, the bats evolved cup-like pads on their wrists and ankles. Scientists previously suspected the pads held the bats up by suction, but recent research has demonstrated the bats instead rely on wet adhesion, like a tree frog.

The two extinct species, Phasmatonycteris phiomensis and P. butleri, date to 30 and 37 million years ago, respectively, when the environment was drastically different. Northern Africa was more tropical, said Dr. Simmons, and home to a diverse range of mammals, including primates and early members of the elephant family.

“The habitat was probably fairly forested, and there was likely a proto-Nile River, a big river that led into the ancient Tethys Ocean,” said Gregg Gunnell, director of the Duke University Lemur Center‘s Division of Fossil Primates and a co-author on the paper.

The fossilized teeth imply that, like their living relatives, the ancient bats fed on insects. It’s impossible to know from the fossils if the extinct species had already evolved their characteristic sucker-feet, but the teeth shed light on another aspect of bat evolution. The presence of sucker-footed bats in Africa at least 37 million years ago supports the theory that this family is one of the most primitive members of a lineage that now dominates South America.

From vampires to fruit- and nectar-eaters to carnivores, the majority of South America’s bats belong to one large superfamily, known as Noctilionoidea.

“We think that the superfamily originated in Africa and moved eastward as Gondwana was coming apart,” Gunnell said. “These bats migrated to Australia, then actually went through Antarctica and up into South America using an ice-free corridor that connected the three continents until about 26 million years ago.”

According to this hypothesis, the sucker-footed bat fossils showed up right where scientists expected to find them: at the literal and figurative base of the Noctilionoidea family tree.

“Now, we can unambiguously link them through Africa,” Simmons said.

You can read the scientific paper here.

Like Darwin’s Finches, But Weirder, Bat Faces Showcase Amazing Adaptations: here.

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Unknown Sappho poems discovered?


This video is called Sappho, Biography.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Sappho: two previously unknown poems indubitably hers, says scholar

University of Oxford papyrologist convinced poems preserved on ancient papyrus are by seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos

Read one of the poems here

Charlotte Higgins, chief arts writer

Wednesday 29 January 2014 19.45 GMT

Sappho is one of the most elusive and mysterious – as well as best-loved – of ancient Greek poets. Only one of her poems, out of a reputed total of nine volumes’ worth, survives absolutely intact. Otherwise, she is known by fragments and shards of lines – and still adored for her delicate outpourings of love, longing and desire.

But now, two hitherto unknown works by the seventh-century lyricist of Lesbos have been discovered. One is a substantially complete work about her brothers; another, an extremely fragmentary piece apparently about unrequited love.

The poems came to light when an anonymous private collector in London showed a piece of papyrus fragment to Dr Dirk Obbink, a papyrologist at Oxford University.

According to Obbink, in an article to be published this spring, the poems, preserved on what is probably third-century AD papyrus, are “indubitably” by Sappho.

Not only do elements of the longer poem link up with fragments already known to be by her, but the metre and dialect in which the poems are written point to Sappho.

The clincher is a reference to her brother, Charaxos – whose very existence has long been doubted, since he is mentioned nowhere in previously discovered fragments of Sappho.

However, Herodotus, the fifth-century BC historian, named the brother when describing a poem by Sappho that recounts the tale of a love affair between Charaxos and a slave in Egypt.

In this poem – though it is not the precise one that Herodotus mentions – the writer addresses her audience, seeming to berate them for taking Charaxos’s return by ship from a trading trip for granted.

Pray to Hera, says the narrator, “so that Charaxos may return here, with his ship intact; for the rest let us leave it all to the gods, for often calm quickly follows a great storm”.

The poem goes on to say that those whom Zeus chooses to save from great storms are truly blessed and “lucky without compare”. The poem ends with the hope that another brother, Larichos, might become a man – “freeing us from much anxiety”.

According to Tim Whitmarsh, a professor of ancient literature at Oxford University, the poem could be read as a play on Homer‘s Odyssey, and the idea of Penelope waiting patiently at home for the return of Odysseus. Sappho frequently reworked Homeric themes in her poems.

Sappho, who was born in about 630BC, is known for her lyric verse of longing, often directed at women and girls – the bittersweet feeling of love, impossible-to-fulfil desire and the sensation of jealousy when you see the object of your obsession across the room, talking intimately with someone else.

She was admired in antiquity for her delicate, passionate verses. The only evidence for her biography comes from within her poems – and the naming of her brothers, Charaxos and Larichos, adds substantially to a sketchy knowledge of the poet’s life.

Sappho’s poems, which were lost from the manuscript tradition and were not collated and copied by medieval monks as were so many surviving ancient texts, have been preserved by two main means: either through quotation by other authors (often as examples of particular syntactical points by ancient grammarians) or through the discovery of fragments written on ancient papyrus. There is hope yet for more poems to come to light, preserved in the Egyptian sands.

Obbink’s article, with a transcription of the original poems, is to be published in the journal Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik.

Only a few poems of the Greek poetess Sappho’s work have survived but thanks to a leading scholar’s investigation two new works have just been recovered—and gives experts hope to find more: here.

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Martians did not build Egyptian pyramids, Mayan tombs


This video from the USA says about itself:

Orson WellesWar Of The Worlds – Radio Broadcast 1938 – Complete Broadcast.

The War of the Worlds was an episode of the American radio drama anthology series Mercury Theatre on the Air. It was performed as a Halloween episode of the series on October 30, 1938 and aired over the Columbia Broadcasting System radio network. Directed and narrated by Orson Welles, the episode was an adaptation of H. G. Wells‘ novel The War of the Worlds.

The first two thirds of the 60-minute broadcast were presented as a series of simulated “news bulletins”, which suggested to many listeners that an actual alien invasion by Martians was currently in progress. Compounding the issue was the fact that the Mercury Theatre on the Air was a ‘sustaining show’ (it ran without commercial breaks), thus adding to the program’s quality of realism.

Although there were sensationalist accounts in the press about a supposed panic in response to the broadcast, the precise extent of listener response has been debated. In the days following the adaptation, however, there was widespread outrage. The program’s news-bulletin format was decried as cruelly deceptive by some newspapers and public figures, leading to an outcry against the perpetrators of the broadcast, but the episode secured Orson Welles’ fame.

So, according to recent research, it is possible that long ago, simple forms of life could live on planet Mars.

However, there is no evidence (yet) that any simple living beings used that opportunity.

Still far less than zero evidence exists of not so simple beings, like the Martians described in H.G. Wells’ science fiction book War of the Worlds, living on the red planet or elsewhere in outer space and going to planet Earth.

From the Columbus Dispatch in the USA:

Archaeology | No evidence of aliens helping ancient cultures

Sunday January 26, 2014 10:20 AM

Did aliens visit Earth in ancient times? It’s possible.

The late Carl Sagan once argued that there was a “statistical likelihood that Earth was visited by an advanced extraterrestrial civilization at least once during historical times.”

A statistical likelihood is one thing. Is there any reliable evidence that any such thing ever actually happened?

None whatsoever.

So why do 2 out of 4 Americans believe there are signs that aliens have visited Earth in the past? I think there are two reasons. First and most fundamentally, when most people see a wonder of the ancient world, such as the Egyptian pyramids, they can’t imagine how our so-called primitive ancestors possibly could have built it.

Second, there are charlatans out there willing to take advantage of that lack of imagination by making exuberant claims that various cultural achievements in antiquity could have been accomplished only with the help of friendly aliens.

In the current issue of Skeptic magazine, documentary filmmaker Chris White shoots down a few of the most popular claims of past alien intervention.

For example, ancient alien enthusiasts find it unbelievable that Egyptians could have carved the huge stone blocks used to build the pyramids, especially since they didn’t have iron tools. Yet there is abundant archaeological evidence that shows teams of stonemasons used simple hammer stones to shape the blocks.

But fans of ancient aliens say that even if Egyptians somehow shaped the enormous blocks of stone, no mere humans could have moved them into place.

The truth, however, is indeed out there.

White explains that there are many ancient carvings that show “Egyptians using wooden sleds to move … blocks the size and shape of the ones used for the pyramids.” It is amazing what our ancestors could achieve with creativity, determination and a large workforce.

Believers in ancient aliens frequently point to an engraved stone slab from a Mayan tomb, which they claim depicts an astronaut at the controls of a spacecraft.

If you take the time to study the symbolism of the Mayan religion, however, it is clear that the “spacecraft” actually is the primordial world tree with a celestial bird perched in its upper branches. And the barefoot “astronaut” really is the deceased Mayan king descending into the underworld.

These examples are typical of what is offered as evidence of ancient aliens. The purveyors of this nonsense assume our ancestors were ignoramuses. If they accomplished some great thing, then aliens must have helped them.

Champions of ancient astronauts look through volumes of prehistoric art and cherry-pick images that bear — at best — only a superficial resemblance to something that could be construed as alien technology.

They give no thought to what those images represented in their original cultural contexts. Using this method, an Egyptian carving of a lotus flower can be reinterpreted as an electric light bulb, and a South American sculpture of a sucker-mouth catfish can be imagined to be a delta-wing fighter jet.

Archaeologists don’t take these views seriously, but by ignoring them, we allow 3 out of 4 Americans to buy into a fantasy.

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society.

Unbelievable story: A man is suing NASA for (allegedly) failing to investigate alien life: here.

Physicists from the FOM Foundation and the University of Amsterdam have discovered that the ancient Egyptians used a clever trick to make it easier to transport heavy pyramid stones by sledge. The Egyptians moistened the sand over which the sledge moved. By using the right quantity of water they could halve the number of workers needed. The researchers published this discovery online on 29 April 2014 in Physical Review Letters. Read more here.

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Egyptian diplomats kidnapped in ‘new’ Libya


This video says about itself:

‘British Women In Aid Convoy Raped In Libya

29 March 2013

A number of women are in “very bad shape” after allegedly being attacked by pro-government militiamen and a taxi driver.

From Reuters news agency:

Four Egyptian Embassy staff kidnapped in Libya: Government

Saturday 25 Jan 2014

Four Egyptian Embassy staff have been kidnapped in the Libyan capital Tripoli, including a cultural attaché, the Libyan Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, after an Egyptian administrative attache was abducted on Friday by unknown gunmen.

No further details about the latest kidnappings were immediately available.

More to follow.

One should hope that these Egyptians will not share the horrible fate of other Egyptians murdered in Libya for being Christians; or of the United States ambassador to the ‘new’ Libya, made by NATO bombs.

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Eritrean elephant mystery in ancient Gaza battle solved


This video is called The Elephant Documentary.

From LiveScience:

Elephant Mystery at Ancient Syrian Battle Solved

By Tia Ghose, Staff Writer

January 21, 2014 08:01am ET

The mystery of an ancient battle between two warring troops of elephants has been solved, thanks to a modern genetic analysis of the lumbering beasts.

Researchers have now found that Eritrean elephants, which live in the northeastern portion of Africa, are savanna elephants, and are not related to the more diminutive forest elephants that live in the jungles of central Africa.

That, in turn, discounts an ancient Greek account of how a battle between two warring empires played out, with one side’s elephants refusing to fight and running away, the scientists report in the January issue of the Journal of Heredity. [10 Epic Battles That Changed the Course of History]

Ancient battle

In the third century B.C., the Greek historian Polybius described the epic Battle of Raphia, which took place around 217 B.C. in what is now the Gaza Strip, as part of the Syrian Wars. During these wars, Seleucid ruler Antiochus III the Great fought against  Ptolemy IV Philopator, the fourth ruler of the Ptolemaic Dynasty in Egypt, whose last leader was Cleopatra. The matchup included tens of thousands of troops, thousands of cavalry and dozens of war elephants on each side.

The elephants were the “ace in the hole,” able to trample the enemy and sow terror with their massive size.

“Elephants were considered the tanks of the time, until eventually the Romans figured out how to defeat war elephants,” in later times, said study co-author Alfred Roca, an animal scientist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Antiochus had easy access to Asian elephants from India, but Ptolemy didn’t. Instead, he set up outposts in what is now modern-day Eritrea to get African elephants.

Unfortunately, that strategy didn’t work out so well: According to Polybius’ account, the African elephants turned tail and ran when they saw how gigantic the Asian elephants were. Ptolemy, however, was able to recover due to missteps by Antiochus and eventually won the battle.

African elephants

In reality, Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants, so some historians speculated that perhaps the Ptolemies were using African forest elephants, which tend to be smaller, Roca said.

So Roca and his colleagues conducted a thorough genetic analysis of the elephants found in Eritrea, the descendants of the losers in the ancient battle.

“We showed using pretty much every genetic marker, that they were savanna elephants,” Roca told LiveScience. “This was contrary to some speculation that there may be forest elephants present in that part of the world.”

Ancient myths

The findings suggest that Polybius had it wrong, and the African elephants got spooked for some other reason than the overpowering size of the Asian elephants.

In other ancient documents, “There were these ancient semi-mythical accounts of India, and they claimed that India had the biggest elephants in the world,” Roca said.

Polybius, who wasn’t actually at the battle, likely read those accounts and surmised the Asian elephants’ bigger size caused their opponents to panic.

In fact, until about the 1700s, when scientists actually measured the two, most people still thought Asian elephants were the larger species, Roca said. (And even now, games such as Age of Empires that recreate the Battle of Raphia depict the Ptolemaic elephants as smaller.)

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Unknown Egyptian pharaoh discovered, Senebkay


This 9 January 2014 video is called US Diggers identify tomb of Pharoah Sobekhotep I.

From AFP news agency:

Ancient tomb of unknown Egyptian pharaoh ‘Senebkay’ found in Abydos

Wednesday, January 15, 2014 13:04 EST

US archaeologists have uncovered the tomb in southern Egypt of a previously unknown pharaoh who ruled 3,700 years ago, antiquities officials said on Wednesday.

The discovery by a team from the University of Pennsylvania provides new evidence that at least part of Egypt may have escaped the rule of the Hyksos, invaders from what is now Syria who dominated the Nile Delta between the 18th and 15th centuries BC, the officials said.

A royal cartouche bearing the full name of pharaoh Senebkay was found on the sarcophagus and on a wall of the tomb unearthed in the ancient city of Abydos, the head of the antiquities ministry’s pharaonic department, Ali El-Asfar, said.

The team also recovered the skeleton of the pharaoh, which suggested he stood 185 centimetres (just over six foot) tall.

They found canopic vases, traditionally used to preserve body organs, but no grave goods, suggesting the tomb was robbed in ancient times.

Asfar said the discovery suggested that the rule of the Hyksos did not extend to all of Egypt and that a native dynasty managed to preserve its independence in the south.

“The royal family in Abydos, which may have been founded by Senebkay, is of Egyptian origin and did not submit to the Hyksos’s rule,” he said.

The same US team announced last week that it had identified the pharaoh whose tomb they unearthed at Abydos last year.

Pharaoh Sobekhotep I is believed to have been the founder of the 13th dynasty 3,800 years ago. His identity was established after the team found fragments of a slab inscribed with his name.

See also here.

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