Assyrians in Syria, archaeological research

Tell Sabi Abyad in Syria

From Leiden University:

Assyrians were more ‘homely’ than we thought

20 October 2016

Archaeologist Victor Klinkenberg examined an old Assyrian settlement in Syria, near to the IS [ISIS] stronghold Raqqa. ‘Social life was more important than military life.’ PhD defence 27 October.

The Assyrian Empire (ca. 2000 to 609 BC) was highly successful. At its height, it stretched from Turkey to Egypt and the Persian Gulf. Historians have wondered for a long time how the Assyrians were able to maintain power over such a huge region.

Tell Sabi Abyad

Research by PhD candidate Victor Klinkenberg has now provided an answer to part of this question. He has shown that Assyrian dominance was by no means always secured by using violence and brute force. Klinkenberg drew this conclusion after studying the settlement at Tell Sabi Abyad in present-day northern Syria. ‘This village was inhabited around 1200 BC,’ Klinkenberg explained. ‘The Assyrians founded the settlement when they conquered the region, so you’d expect it to be mainly a military outpost, ruled from above. But that doesn’t seem to be the case.’

Positive stimuli

Kinkenberg found that the rooms and houses of Tell Sabi Abyad had many different functions, and that they changed frequently. At one time it was a café where visitors drank beer, and at another time it was a rubbish tip. Klinkenberg: ‘All this shows that social life played a much greater role than military life. Apparently, positive stimuli and local stability were important factors in the Assyrians’ imperial activities.’

Islamic State

Klinkenberg’s research is part of a larger project headed by lecturer Bleda Düring, financed with a subsidy from the European Research Council (ERC). In recent years, the work of the Leiden researchers has been severely hindered by the rise of the Islamic State [ISIS] terror movement. Tell Sabi Abyad is around 80 km from Raqqa, the capital of the IS [ISIS]caliphate.


It was impossible for Klinkenberg to travel to the settlement. ‘In the past five years, nobody from our team has visited the excavations,’ he explained. ‘We did hear recently that a lot of archaeological finds have been destroyed or stolen. That’s such a waste, particularly as most of the remnants have no financial value. They’re worth absolutely nothing on the black market, but their value to science is enormous.’


Fortunately, all the earlier excavations at Tell Sabi Abyad have been carefully documented. ‘The project has been running for 35 years. The ground area is photographed every season; the location of the finds is mapped and buildings and rooms are measured. These measures meant that I could do my research at a distance.’ Like every other archaeologist, Klinkenberg would have preferred to visit the site in person. ‘But that’s a minor inconvenience compared to the suffering of the Syrian people.’

United States police kill pregnant Native American woman

This video from the USA says about itself:

Pregnant Woman Shot By Police During ‘Wellness Check’

24 October 2016

Renee Davis was pregnant when she was shot and killed by police officers, during a ‘wellness check.’ Cenk Uygur, Grace Baldridge, and Hasan Piker, hosts of The Young Turks, break it down. Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

“Washington woman who was five months pregnant was shot and killed by King County Sheriff’s deputies Friday night on Muckleshoot tribal lands. Now her loved ones want to know why.

The dead woman’s former foster sister Danielle Bargala told the Seattle Times that Renee Davis, 23, had struggled with depression and mental illness before her fatal run-in with police on Friday.

“It’s really upsetting because it was a wellness check,” said Bargala, who is a Seattle University law student. “Obviously, she didn’t come out of it well.”

A relative of Davis called the sheriff’s department on Friday after receiving an alarming text from the mother of three. Police records show that officers responding to a call about a potential suicide encountered a woman with a handgun and two small children in the house when they arrived at 6:30 in the evening.

What happened next, Bargala said, is still in question, but at the end, Davis — who was an avid outdoorswoman of Native American heritage — lay dead of gunshot wounds. The children, 2 and 3 years old, were unharmed. Davis’ third child, a 5-year-old boy, was at a neighbor’s house.”

Read more here.

Alaska bald eagles, video

This video from Alaska says about itself:

24 October 2016

Dr. Oakley explains the amazing characteristics of the Bald Eagle.

Ancient placoderm fish, new discovery

A 423-million-year-old armored fish from China had jaws that resemble those of modern land vertebrates and bony fish. Picture by Dinghua Yang

From Science News:

Ancient armored fish revises early history of jaws

Placoderm fossil had skull bones like those of many modern vertebrates

By Meghan Rosen

2:00pm, October 20, 2016

A freaky fish with a head like a dolphin and a body like a tank may be to thank for human jaws.

The discovery of a 423-million-year-old armored fish from China suggests that the jaws of all modern land vertebrates and bony fish originated in a bizarre group of animals called placoderms, researchers report in the Oct. 21 Science.

Along with a different placoderm fossil from 2013, the new find, named Qilinyu rostrata, is helping rewrite the story of early vertebrate evolution, says paleontologist John Maisey of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, who was not involved with the work.

“We’ve suddenly realized we had it all wrong,” he says.

The jaws of humans — and dogs, salmon, lizards and all other bony vertebrates — contain three key bones: the maxilla and premaxilla of the upper jaw, and the dentary of the lower jaw.

“Anything from a human being to a cod has recognizably the same set of bones in the head,” says study coauthor Per Ahlberg, a paleontologist at Uppsala University in Sweden. The big question, he says, is “Where did these bony jaws come from?”

More than a hundred million years before dinosaurs walked the Earth, fishes called placoderms thrived under water. Scientists knew that these armored fishes were early jawed animals, but their jaws were unusual:  “They look like sheet metal cutters,” Ahlberg says. “They’re these horrible bony blades that slice together.”

The blades, called gnathal plates, looked so peculiar that most scientists thought that the three-part jaw of humans originated in an early bony fish and that placoderms were just a funny little side branch in the vertebrate family tree. “The established view is that placoderms had evolved independently and that our jaw bones must have a separate origin,” Ahlberg says.

Placoderms are a highly debated group of animals, says paleontologist Martin Brazeau of Imperial College London. No one quite knew where to place them.

In 2013, Ahlberg and colleagues found a new clue in a 419-million-year old fossil that had the body of a placoderm, but the three-part jaw of a bony fish. Such an animal, called Entelognathus primordialis, “could never have been predicted from the fossil record,” says paleontologist Gavin Young of Australian National University in Canberra.

That work bolstered the idea that placoderms weren’t, in fact, their own odd group that dead-ended hundreds of millions of years ago — some were actually the ancestors of bony fish (and thus humans). But it was just one fossil, Ahlberg notes. “You don’t want to draw too big of conclusions from one animal.”

Two animals, though, is a different story. Qilinyu, the new fossil Ahlberg and colleagues describe, had an armored skull and trunk and was probably about the length of a box of tissues. Like Entelognathus, Qilinyu has a three-part, bony fish–like jaw, though the creature looks a bit more like a typical placoderm, Ahlberg says. The two fossils “form almost perfect intermediates” between placoderms and bony fishes, he says. Ahlberg and his colleagues suspect the key jaw elements of bony fish (and all land vertebrates) evolved from those bony blades of placoderms.

“This is part of our own early evolutionary history,” Ahlberg says. “It shows where our own jaws came from.”

Maisey puts it another way: “We are all fundamentally placoderms.”

Deborah Danner, 66-year-old, killed by New York police

This video from New York City in the USA says about itself:

NYPD Sergeant Shot And Killed A 66 Year Old Woman Ms Deborah Danner

19 October 2016

Protesters gathered Wednesday night after Deborah Danner was killed by a New York police sergeant on Tuesday in her Bronx apartment: here.

Four years before she was killed, Deborah Danner wrote an essay referencing the mortal dangers the mentally ill face when dealing with police: here.

In a searing, eloquent essay on living with schizophrenia, Deborah Danner agonized over the deaths of mentally ill people like her at the hands of police: here.

NYPD sergeant kills Deborah Danner, a black woman who neighbors say was mentally ill: here.

By Fred Mazelis in the USA:

Police killing of mentally ill 66-year-old Bronx, New York woman sparks outrage

21 October 2016

Protests and widespread outrage followed the police murder of Deborah Danner, an elderly woman afflicted with schizophrenia, on Tuesday, October 18 in the New York City borough of the Bronx.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, newly installed Police Commissioner James O’Neill and other officials, moving to appease public anger, quickly called the killing “unacceptable.” New York Police Department (NYPD) Sergeant Hugh Barry was stripped of his gun and badge and placed on modified duty pending an investigation. The case is being sent to the office of the Bronx District Attorney, Darcel Clark.

Barry and other cops arrived at the apartment building in which Ms. Danner lived at about 6 p.m. on October 18, in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx, after neighbors reported a problem. One neighbor told the local press that the police had been there many times before, without any difficulty in assisting Danner. This time she was holding a scissors, which she was reportedly convinced to put down, but then she picked up a baseball bat. Barry, 30 years old and an eight-year veteran of the NYPD, discharged two shots from his service revolver, killing the elderly woman. Barry was equipped with a Taser, but did not use it.

“It is hard to imagine why five police officers and a patrol sergeant would need to use deadly force to disarm an elderly woman with a baseball bat,” declared Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.

Ms. Danner’s neighbors, well aware of her medical problems, were angry over her death, and deeply skeptical that the promised investigation would result in anything more than the usual whitewash of epidemic police abuse and violence directed against the poorest and most vulnerable sections of the working class. Scores of people marched to the 43rd police precinct to protest on Tuesday night, blocking traffic on nearby streets.

The mayor said, “Deborah Danner should be alive right now, period.” He said the police had not followed protocol in dealing with emotionally disturbed people, a conclusion also voiced by Commissioner O’Neill. De Blasio and O’Neill said that Barry should have waited for a specially trained Emergency Service Unit of the NYPD to arrive.

Edward Mullins, president of the Sergeants Benevolent Association, representing Barry, denounced the statements of the mayor and police commissioner as “political expediency.” According to the report in the New York Times, Mullins said that Danner had swung the bat and that Barry was in fear for his life and those of others. He was also reported as saying, “Everyone agrees that this was a good shooting,” adding, “We could be sitting here talking about how a 66-year-old fractured his skull.”

A report in the New York Post revealed that Barry has been named in two lawsuits alleging brutal police beatings of African-American or Latino men. In one of them, 25-year-old Gregory Peters charged that Barry and other cops beat him with their fists, feet or batons in Times Square on August 22, 2010, and that the police displayed racial animus. The suit was settled for $25,000 in 2012.

The death of Ms. Danner was made all the more significant and disturbing by her own statements, in a six-page essay she wrote some four years ago, which she submitted to an attorney for the state’s Mental Hygiene Legal Service who was then representing her in a case involving legal guardianship. “We are all aware of the all too frequent news stories about the mentally ill who come up against law enforcement instead of mental health professionals and end up dead,” she wrote at that time, eloquently and also prophetically.

Official statistics put the number of calls for assistance in dealing with the emotionally disturbed in New York City at 128,000 so far in 2016. The huge and growing number is at least partly a reflection of social circumstances, both the hopelessness of the most impoverished and the abysmal shortage of adequate mental health treatment. New York City cops are supposed to receive training in dealing with the mentally ill, but officials acknowledged that only 4,400 out of the 36,000 officers on the New York force had received such instruction.

The killing of Deborah Danner recalled the death in almost identical circumstances of another elderly Bronx woman, Eleanor Bumpurs, 32 years ago. Police were called to the victim’s apartment in the west Bronx after she fell four months behind in her rent and reportedly resisted attempts to evict her. In that case also the cops claimed that they feared for their lives at the hands of a mentally ill woman in her late 60s. The fate of Eleanor Bumpurs provoked anger and protests not only in New York but elsewhere as well. The police officer who was eventually charged with manslaughter was acquitted in 1987.

The rich also have their share of the emotionally disturbed, but only very rarely are they reported as the victims of police shootings. It is not a matter of training, but of the role of the police force itself. It is the lives of the poorest sections of the working class, of all races, that are considered expendable by the capitalist state and its armed men.

Stone age monkeys and humans

This video says about itself:

13 October 2016

Clip of capuchin stone on stone percussion and licking of passive hammer associated with capuchin grooming.

Credit: M. Haslam and the Primate Archaeology Group (University of Oxford)

From Science News:

Wild monkeys throw curve at stone-tool making‘s origins

Unlike early hominids, capuchins don’t use sharp-edged rocks to dig or cut

By Bruce Bower

1:00pm, October 19, 2016

A group of South American monkeys has rocked archaeologists’ assumptions about the origins of stone-tool making.

Wild bearded capuchin monkeys in Brazil use handheld stones to whack rocks poking out of cliffs and outcrops. The animals unintentionally break off sharp-edged stones that resemble stone tools made by ancient members of the human evolutionary family, say archaeologist Tomos Proffitt of the University of Oxford and his colleagues. It’s the first observation of this hominid-like rock-fracturing ability in a nonhuman primate.

The new finding indicates that early hominids needed no special mental ability, no fully opposable thumbs and not even any idea of what they were doing to get started as toolmakers, the researchers report October 19 in Nature. All it may have taken was a penchant for skillfully pounding rocks, as displayed by capuchins when cracking open nuts (SN Online: 4/30/15).

Archaeologists have traditionally thought that ancient stone tools appeared as hominid brains enlarged and hand grips became more humanlike.

“Without the intention of making a stone tool, and with the right rock types, capuchins produce objects that are shaped like stone tools,” says University of Oxford primatologist and archaeologist Susana Carvalho, who did not participate in the new study. She suspects the earliest known stone tools were made either by relatively small-brained hominids or, perhaps in some cases, nonhuman primates. “This is not a wild idea anymore.”

The oldest known hominid stone artifacts — a set of pounding rocks and sharp-edged stone flakes — date to 3.3 million years ago in East Africa (SN: 6/13/15, p. 6). Those tools display more elaborate modifications than observed on sharp-edged capuchin creations, Proffitt says. But researchers suspect simpler hominid tools go back 4 million years or more.  Those implements might have looked more like what the South American monkeys make, he speculates.

Three capuchins tracked during an episode of rock pounding did not use fractured pieces of sharp stone to cut, scrape or dig up anything. Observations of nearly 100 rounds of rock pounding show that the monkeys sometimes recycled stone flakes as rock-pounding tools. They also often licked or sniffed powdered stone produced as they pounded rocks. Perhaps capuchins want to ingest the trace nutrient silicon, which assists in bone growth, or find lichens for some medicinal purpose, Proffitt suggests.

His team studied 60 stone fragments left behind by capuchins after rock-pounding episodes and another 51 capuchin-modified stones found in two excavations where rock pounding occurred. These artifacts included complete and broken pounding stones, stone flakes and stones that had been struck by rock-wielding monkeys.

Capuchin stone flakes are smaller and contain fewer fractured areas than ancient hominid tools, such as the 3.3-million-year-old East African finds, says archaeologist David Braun of George Washington University in Washington, D.C. But sharp-edged stones produced by the monkeys display “remarkable similarity” to artifacts from a nearby Brazilian site that some researchers think were made by humans more than 20,000 years ago (SN: 10/18/14, p. 14), Braun says. Researchers now must determine whether stone artifacts found at several South American sites dating to more than 14,000 years ago were made by humans or monkeys, he suggests.

Capuchin rock smashers’ inadvertently sharpened debris also raises questions about how hominids started making tools in the first place. Techniques for using one stone to pound away pieces of another stone, creating a rock with smooth faces bordered by razor-sharp edges, “could have been invented independently in different hominid species through [stone-pounding] behaviors we have yet to identify,” Proffitt says.

Those initial tools may have resembled capuchins’ accidentally sharpened stones or even rocks used by chimpanzees to crack nuts, says archaeologist Sonia Harmand of Stony Brook University in New York. But only hominids, and especially humans, went on to make more sophisticated stone tools and, later, everything from smart phones to space stations, says Harmand, who led the team that discovered the 3.3-million-year-old hominid tools.

Jupiter, Mars, Saturn space news

This video says about itself:

Juno Listens to Jupiter’s Auroras

2 September 2016

Thirteen hours of radio emissions from Jupiter’s intense auroras are presented here, both visually and in sound. The data was collected when the spacecraft made its first orbital pass of the gas giant on Aug 27, 2016, with all spacecraft instruments turned on. The frequency range of these signals is from 7 to 140 kilohertz. Radio astronomers call these “kilometric emissions” because their wavelengths are about a kilometer long.

The full story and more images from Juno‘s first pass of Jupiter with all instruments on is here.

From Science News:

Juno spacecraft goes into ‘safe mode’, continues to orbit Jupiter

by Christopher Crockett

6:57pm, October 19, 2016

PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Juno spacecraft, in orbit around Jupiter since July 4, is lying low after entering an unexpected “safe mode” early on October 19. A misbehaving valve in the fuel system, not necessarily related to the safe mode, has also led to a delay in a planned engine burn that would have shortened the probe’s orbit.

Juno turned off its science instruments and some other nonessential components this morning at 1:47 a.m. EDT after computers detected some unexpected situation, mission head Scott Bolton reported at an October 19 news conference. The spacecraft was hurtling toward its second close approach to the planet, soaring about 5,000 kilometers from the cloud tops. It has now passed that point and is moving back away from the planet with all science instruments switched off.

The rocket firing was intended to take Juno from a 53.5-day orbit to a 14-day orbit. Juno can stay in its current orbit indefinitely without any impact on the science goals, Bolton said. The goal of the mission — to peer deep beneath Jupiter’s clouds — depends on the close approaches that it makes with every orbit, not how quickly it loops around. “We changed to a 14-day orbit primarily because we wanted the science faster,” he said. “But there’s no requirement to do that.”

For now, mission scientists are trying to figure what happened with the fuel valve and what triggered the safe mode before proceeding with further instructions to the probe.

First peek under clouds reveals Jupiter’s surprising depths. Colorful bands stretch hundreds of kilometers inward, Juno spacecraft data show. By Christopher Crockett, 9:00am, October 21, 2016: here.

Also from Science News:

Mission scientists await signal from Mars lander

ExoMars probe went silent before touchdown

by Christopher Crockett

5:16pm, October 19, 2016

From the European Space Agency:

20 October 2016

Essential data from the ExoMars Schiaparelli lander sent to its mothership Trace Gas Orbiter during the module’s descent to the Red Planet’s surface yesterday has been downlinked to Earth and is currently being analysed by experts.

Early indications from both the radio signals captured by the Giant Metrewave Radio Telescope (GMRT), an experimental telescope array located near Pune, India, and from orbit by ESA’s Mars Express, suggested the module had successfully completed most steps of its 6-minute descent through the martian atmosphere. This included the deceleration through the atmosphere, and the parachute and heat shield deployment, for example.

But the signals recorded by both Pune and Mars Express stopped shortly before the module was expected to touchdown on the surface. Discrepancies between the two data sets are being analysed by experts at ESA’s space operations centre in Darmstadt, Germany.

ExoMars mission has both success and failure: here.

Experts don’t agree on age of Saturn’s rings. Data from orbiting Cassini craft may help resolve debate. By Christopher Crockett, 8:53am, October 20, 2016: here.

Possibly cloudy forecast for parts of Pluto. Bright patches in New Horizons images hint at rare atmospheric formation. By Christopher Crockett, 3:05pm, October 19, 2016: here.

WE’RE STILL MOURNING PLUTO’S PLANET DEMOTION But there might just be another ninth planet out there. [NYT]