15 infant dinosaurs found in a nest in Mongolia

A nest of 15 baby Protoceratops andrewsi, sheep-sized herbivorous horned dinosaurs related to Triceratops, fossils has been discovered in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert. Mongolian paleontologist Pagmin Narmandakh found the 2.3-foot-wide nest, the first Protoceratops nest ever discovered. Nests of fossilized eggs thought to be Protoceratops were found in Mongolia in the 1920s by naturalist Roy Chapman Andrews, but when the eggs were opened they turned out to be Oviraptors (dinosaurs that fed on other dinosaurs’ eggs).

The babies are not newborns. They are 4 to 6 inches long and were probably about a year old when they met their sad fate about 75 million years ago.

“The evidence suggests they may have been overrun by migrating dunes during a sandstorm,” researcher David Fastovsky, a vertebrate paleontologist at the University of Rhode Island, told LiveScience.

The searing hot locale in the heart of the Gobi Desert where this nest was discovered, Tugrikin Shire, has proven rich in fossils in the past, including the “fighting dinosaurs,” an entombed Velociraptor and Protoceratops seemingly locked in mortal combat. The site was harsh back when these dinosaurs were alive, too — the sandstones they were buried in suggest the region was an erg, a windblown dune field a bit like parts of the modern Sahara. The dunes here might once have reached as tall as 80 feet (24 meters).

The relatively advanced age of the babies suggests that Protoceratops cared for their young. For them all to be still living together in the nest beyond the first few days they had to have an adult feeding and protecting them, especially considering how harsh the desert environment was even during the Late Cretaceous. Fastovsky notes that 15 is a large number of babies for one nest, which suggests that mortality may have been high so they hatched as many eggs as they could to increase the chances of a next generation surviving.

Also, since protoceratopsidae were early members of the ceratopsian group of dinosaurs, evidence of parental care in Protoceratops implies that this may have been a feature of the wider group as it continued to develop larger and more formidable neck-frilled, horn-beaked beasts like Triceratops.

Oscar Wilde’s tomb protected from kisses

Oscar Wilde died of cerebral meningitis in Paris on November 30, 1900. On the occasion of the 110th anniversary of his death, his tomb in Paris’ famous Père Lachaise Cemetery has been restored and a new glass barrier erected around the monument to stop visitors from making out with it.

The practice began in the late 1990s when a woman kissed Wilde’s tomb leaving a red lipstick print. Because people are easily influenced and deeply unhygienic, that one lip print started an unstoppable trend. The tomb was soon covered in red lips. The threat of a €9,000 ($12,000) fine for damaging a historical monument had no effect, because it’s hard to catch people in the act and because most of the kissers were tourists and thus were long gone before the judicial system could snag them. Appeals from Wilde’s grandson Merlin Holland to stop the practice fell on deaf ears. A plaque asking fans to respect the tomb instead of defacing it had no effect.

Meanwhile, those greasy red lipstick stains seeped into the stone making it harder and harder to clean. Every cleaning stripped another surface layer which made the stone even more porous, so the next cleaning had to go even deeper and wear away the stone even more. Today’s restoration will hopefully end this vicious cycle.

With the Paris authorities offering a fraction of the cost of preserving the memorial, the Irish have come to the rescue, paying for it through the office of public works in Dublin, which is responsible for a number of Irish monuments and buildings overseas. They have paid for a radical cleaning and “de-greasing” of the tomb, as well as a glass barrier which will surround it to prevent the kissers from causing further damage. […]

Holland hopes that the barrier will deter loving vandals. Designed to be unobtrusive and aesthetic, it could only discourage rather than be preventative and he says: “Some determined kissers will no doubt try to find ways of kissing the upper extremities.”

It’s fitting, perhaps, that Oscar Wilde’s memorial has experienced more than its fair share of scandal and hardship. It didn’t even exist until 14 years after Wilde’s death. He was bankrupt when he died, so his family and friends could only afford to bury him in a cheap plot in the Cimetière de Bagneux southwest of Paris. Through sales of Wilde’s writing over the next decade, Ross was able to afford a new plot in Père Lachaise. Wilde’s remains were reburied in their new, elegant Parisian digs in 1909.

Two years later, a friend of Ross and Wilde’s donated money to commission a memorial sculpture for the gravesite. Sir Jacob Epstein was the sculptor. He created a stylized Art Deco angel inspired by Assyrian winged lion and bull colossi at the British Museum. The monument was unveiled in 1914 and even the sophisticates of Paris clutched their pearls and popped their monocles. Why? Because the angel had male genitalia. The police labeled it indecent and covered it with a tarp.

In the early 1960s, the unfortunate manparts were hacked off and stolen and are still missing to this day.

Holland spoke of his mixed emotions at the monument in its restored state: “The graffiti was done with love, which is an unusual phenomenon.

Ancient Egyptian leather chariot trappings found

Nobody’s quite sure where they’re from or how they got there, but an almost complete set of leather chariot trappings from around the time of Tutankhamun has been found in a back room of the Cairo Museum. A few chariots have been found in royal tombs — Tutankhamun had six in pieces in his tomb — but leather rots easily and there are only a few fragments extant of ancient Egyptian chariot gear, none of it decorated. This set is so extensive, so elaborate and in such amazing condition that it’s already filling in blanks and correcting misunderstandings of how ancient chariots worked.

In 2008, Ancient Egyptian Leatherwork Project expert André Veldmeijer of Cairo’s Netherlands-Flemish Institute saw a grainy picture of some well-preserved chariot trappings in a book from the 1950s. The book said the trappings were in the Cairo Museum so Veldmeijer asked curator Ibrahim El Gawad about them. Gawad had never heard of them.

Entirely by coincidence, a few months later Gawad stumbled on drawers full of leather chariot fittings in a storage room. There were 60 large pieces and many small leather fragments. According to museum records, they were purchased from a Greek antiquities dealer named Georges Tano in 1932, but there is no information about where he got them.

Veldmejier says that El Gawad called him to the museum and showed him “layer upon layer” of leather. “It’s a gorgeous find,” he says. “What was in the picture, that’s not even half of what’s in the museum. It was astonishing.”

The trappings are 90–95% complete, according to Veldmeijer, and include the leather casing that would have covered the wooden chariot, as well as harnesses, gauntlets, and a bow case and quiver. Wear marks and details of the stitching are still visible, and the intricate red, green and white design — the only known example of its type — is still bright after more than three millennia.

It’s hard to believe they’re ancient, isn’t it? I’m pretty sure I saw that forearm gauntlet on Charleton Heston once. When you think that they languished forgotten in drawers for decades (at least), their condition is even more jaw-dropping.

Not that they don’t need some TLC. Veldmeijer and American University in Cairo Egyptologist Salima Ikram are co-directing the Egyptian Museum Chariot Project to conserve and study the trappings. The pieces that were folded so they’d fit in the drawers need to be painstakingly unfolded and repacked using proper conservatorial materials.

They’ve already found that the trappings all came from a single chariot and were therefore probably discovered together in a single tomb. The stitching and decoration on the leather point to a date between the late 18th Dynasty and the late 19th Dynasty, but further research is needed to narrow down the range.

Maya 2012 apocalypse conspiracy blown wide open

Did you know that the whole thing about the Mayan calendar predicting the end of the world in 2012 was based on one broken and eroded tablet of glyphs? The idea is that in the Mayan Long Count calendar, our current era (the 13-Bak’tun cycle) ends on the 21st of December 2012 and that this end date isn’t just the end of a historical era and the beginning of a new one, but rather the end of all eras. The sole reference to the 2012 apocalypse, however, is a highly nebulous line on a 1300-year-old stone tablet found in Monument 6 in the Tortuguero archaeological site in the southern state of Tabasco.

Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History and Mayan experts in general have not been big fans of the Mayan apocalypse theory because they say it projects a Western obsession with eschatology onto Mayan culture. Nor have they found the various translations of that one line of hard to read glyphs particularly persuasive.

Or that’s what they said in public anyway. The Mexican government has been holding out on us, for the Tortuguero tablet is not the sole reference to 2012. There is a second one engraved on the face of one of the bricks in the nearby Comalcalco temple. (You can catch a glimpse of a Comalcalco brick in this news roundup of the story, but I’m not certain if it’s the One True Brick or just a representative.)

Arturo Mendez, a spokesman for the institute, said the fragment of inscription had been discovered years ago and has been subject to thorough study. It is not on display and is being kept in storage at the institute.

WHAT ARE THEY TRYING TO HIDE? Oh sure, a handful of scholars knew about this brick, but they’re obviously in on it.

[University of Texas at Austin Mayan epigraphy expert David] Stuart said the date inscribed on the brick “‘is a ‘Calendar Round,’ a combination of a day and month position that will repeat every 52 years.”

The brick date does coincide with the end of the 13th Baktun; Baktuns were roughly 394-year periods, and 13 was a significant, sacred number for the Mayas. The Mayan Long Count calendar begins in 3114 B.C., and the 13th Baktun ends around Dec. 21, 2012.
But the date on the brick could also correspond to similar dates in the past, Stuart said.

“There’s no reason it couldn’t be also a date in ancient times, describing some important historical event in the Classic period. In fact, the third glyph on the brick seems to read as the verb huli, ‘he/she/it arrives,'” Stuart wrote. “There’s no future tense marking (unlike the Tortuguero phrase), which in my mind points more to the Comalcalco date being more historical than prophetic.”

A likely story, Mr. “Stuart”, if that’s your real name.

In order to continue to pull the wool over out eyes until it’s too late, the National Institute of Anthropology and History will hold a round table of 60 Mayan experts next week at the Palenque archaeological site where they will “explain” the Mayan Long Count calendar’s vision of historical cycles. Doubtless those 60 experts will be paid with third class berths on the top secret giant arks being built in underground shipyards to save the privileged few from the extinction of our species.

Reputed Roman fort turns out to be actual Roman fort

Local legend has long had it that the overbuilt and overgrown masonry structure known as “the Nunnery” perched over Longis beach on Alderney, a Channel Island just eight miles from the coast of France, was originally a Roman fort. Despite multiple archaeological explorations from the 19th century on, however, little evidence has been found to support the tradition. Roman stonework and tiles are visible high up on the ramparts, but they could have been repurposed during Medieval construction rather than original.

In fact, a 1930 excavation found Medieval material at deep layers and that, contrary to Roman architectural punctiliousness, the fortress was built directly on the sand. More recently, a 2002 excavation along the fallen east rampart (it collapsed from erosion sometime before the 18th century) showed Medieval midden piles at what archaeologists thought was the level of construction.

In 2008, the Alderney Society and Guernsey Museum collaborated on a project to pin down the origins of the Nunnery. With the permission of the landowner and tenants, Dr. Jason Monaghan, director of Guernsey Museums, organized a team of a dozen volunteers to spend the last week of August excavating the site. That first year they found a handful Roman objects — fragments of tile and pottery — deep down under the north wall.

Now, on the fourth consecutive year of these volunteer-staffed, week-long excavations, Monaghan and his team have found confirmation of the local legend: the remains of a Roman-era tower in the middle of the Nunnery. The team was specifically looking for one because the other 4th century Roman forts that dot northern England all have central towers, so the apparent absence of one here suggested later construction.

“The walls are 2.8m (9ft) thick, we don’t know how high it was, but it would have been a very big structure – it’s as thick as Hadrian’s Wall.”

The tower was found to be about 18 sq m. (58 sq ft). He said the team dug down to prove the outside walls were also Roman before doing the same for the gateway. […]

Dr Monaghan said: “It’s in an extremely good state of preservation… it’s better preserved than all the other small Roman forts in Britain.

“It’s in a better state than what they call the Saxon shore forts off southern England, it’s in better nick than most of Hadrian’s Wall.

That’s one of the reasons that the legend of the Roman fort was doubted for long, because the putatively ancient part of the walls was so exceptionally high, passing 16 feet, while the remains of the forts in Yorkshire, for instance, are shin-high at best. The Roman stonework, set in characteristic herringbone patterns with double rows of tiles, was built on in later years, but you can clearly see the original crenellations that were filled in so the wall height could be raised.

The tower itself was destroyed, probably by the Nazis (I hate those guys) when they built a bunker in the middle of the ancient structure during their occupation of the Channel Islands. They were just one in a long line of people who remade the Nunnery to suit their needs over the centuries. It was a barracks in the Middle Ages, then the governor’s residence, then a farm, even British military housing after the Germans were gone.

One of the things that makes the site so interesting to archaeologists is how many periods of use are still evident. There are only a handful of Roman structures in the Channel Islands and all of them have been laid waste by time. This one shows all of its ages.