This Surprisingly Simple Tool Is a 2,000-Year-Old Tattoo Gun

The tanned skins of mummies prove humans have been pushing pigments into the skin to create tattoo art for many thousands of years. Unfortunately not all cultures leave such perfectly preserved canvasses for us to study.

Now, a tool discovered decades ago in Utah provides solid evidence that the Ancestral Pueblo people indigenous to the region were inking their bodies 2,000 years ago, resetting the timeline on tattooing in America’s southwest by a whole millennium.

“Tattooing by prehistoric people in the Southwest is not talked about much because there has not ever been any direct evidence to substantiate it,” says Washington State University anthropologist Andrew Gillreath‑Brown.

“This tattoo tool provides us information about past Southwestern culture we did not know before.”

The pen-sized implement consists of a pair of prickly pear cactus spines bound to a short skunkbush sumac stick by thin strips of yucca leaf. The functional end is stained black, most likely by the charcoal that would have served as pigment.

Brown didn’t discover the tool personally, chancing upon it two years ago while taking inventory of items recovered during a 1972 excavation of a well-known dig site called Turkey Pen Ruin.

The surrounding region is renowned for archaeological finds describing a diverse culture that flourished across Western America for centuries before vanishing with barely a trace sometime before the 14th century.

For all historians have learned about the fate of the Ancestral Pueblo people, there is still so much to learn about their ancient past.

Previous discoveries of similar cactus-based implements in the area suggested tattooing was being practised just prior to their culture’s end, around 1100 to 1280 CE.

This new find indicates the Ancestral Pueblo people had already been drawing designs into their skin for at least 1,000 years.

To confirm the tool’s purpose, Gillreath-Brown and his team analysed the artefact with a scanning electron microscope, looking for signs of wear.

They also recreated the instrument and tried it out on a pig skin. Sure enough, the markings on the tip of the test spines were a good match for those on the artefact.

None of that is irrefutable proof that tattooing was a common practice among the early Ancestral Puebloans.

But it shows that the practice had at least emerged by what’s known as the late Basketmaker II era, which has implications for anybody interested in understanding why humans started to poke pictures into their flesh.

The origin of tattoos is an intriguing question for anthropologists. We’ve clearly been at it for a while now, but questions remain on when and why humans started the practice in the first place.

There’s a general sense in the research community that tattooing is somehow related to settlement and the rise of agriculture.

One of the team, archaeologist Aaron Deter-Wolf from the Tennessee Division of Archaeology told Krista Langlois from National Geographic that tattoos might have emerged as a way to maintain cohesion between groups.

“When you’re living cheek by jowl with these new people to whom you’re unrelated, you need to come up with things that will bond the group together,” says Deter-Wolf.

With tattooing implements now appearing during a period when people in Western America were building new kinds of structures, changing how they gathered food, and expanding in numbers, we have a small piece of evidence that might help fill in the blanks.

We can only guess at the sort of designs and images the Ancestral Puebloans might have pressed into their bodies.

There are potential clues on ceramic vessels and effigies that regularly display lines of dots. Such patterns look like tattooed markings, but could depict jewellery, scars, paint, or clothing, making it impossible to say for sure.

Until we have a preserved example of this oldest of ink, we can only speculate.

Incredible ‘Lost World’ of Underwater Volcanoes Discovered Deep in The Ocean

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And it’s teeming with life.

Hidden below the waves off the east coast of Australia, scientists have discovered a ‘lost world’ of epic volcanic peaks buried under the Tasman Sea, never before seen with human eyes.

This range of volcanic seamounts – underwater mountains formed by ancient, extinct volcanoes – towers some 3 kilometres (1.9 miles) above the ocean floor. Despite the immense height, it has never been previously detected, since even the highest peaks are concealed 2 km (1.2 miles) below the surface of the South Pacific.

“Our multibeam mapping has revealed in vibrant detail, for the first time, a chain of volcanic seamounts rising up from an abyssal plain about 5,000 metres (16,400 ft) deep,” explains marine geoscientist Tara Martin from Australia’s CSIRO.

“This is a very diverse landscape and will undoubtedly be a biological hotspot that supports a dazzling array of marine life.”

The researchers say the volcanic terrain varies in size and shape, including both sharp peaks and broad plateaus punctuated with smaller conical hills.

The discovery, made aboard the CSIRO research vessel Investigator, occurred during a voyage led by scientists from Australian National University.

The team was examining the relationship between nutrient levels and phytoplankton behaviour in the East Australian Current when their seafloor mapping detected the dramatic, uncharted contours, produced in another era of history.

“We’re pretty sure that these seamounts were related to the break up of Australia and Antarctica. It was about 30 million years ago,” Martin explained to ABC News.

“As Australia and Antarctica and Tasmania all broke up, a big hotspot came in under the earth’s crust, made these volcanoes, and then helped the Earth’s crust break so that all of those areas could start to drift apart.”

Future research is already being planned to study the terrain and its marine life later in the Australian summer, but already the researchers think these volcanic valleys might serve as a kind of navigational hub for creatures who live in the deep.

051 volcanic seamounts 3

“These seamounts may act as an important signpost on an underwater migratory highway for the humpback whales we saw moving from their winter breeding to summer feeding grounds,” one of the team, zoologist and bird researcher Eric Woehler from the University of Tasmania, said in a statement.

“We expect that these seamounts will be a biological hotspot year round, and the summer visit will give us another opportunity to uncover the mysteries of the marine life they support.”

In addition to the humpbacks, the researchers found increased ocean productivity over the seamounts, including spikes in phytoplankton activity, plus numerous sightings of other marine life, such as a giant pod of 60-80 pilot whales, and seabirds (four species each of albatross and petrels).

051 volcanic seamounts 3Humpback whale

Given how new this discovery is, we don’t fully understand yet how this lost world and its ocean-dwelling inhabitants interact.

But there’s no doubting we’ve uncovered a vibrant and diverse ecosystem here – a convenient place to stop for food or directions, whether you’ve got scales, feathers, or mere plankton bits.

051 volcanic seamounts 3Black-browed albatross

“These seamounts act to change the oceanography in these areas,” Woehler told ABC News.

“They change the way the water flows around them. They change the dynamics of the system.”

The Maya Civilisation Was Far More Complex Than We Thought, Major Discovery Has Revealed

“Oh wow, we totally missed that.”


In the autumn of 1929, Anne Morrow Lindbergh and her husband Charles flew across the Yucatán Peninsula. With Charles at the controls, Anne snapped photographs of the jungles just below.

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She wrote in her journal of Maya structures obscured by large humps of vegetation. A bright stone wall peeked through the leaves, “unspeakably alone and majestic and desolate – the mark of a great civilization gone.”

Nearly a century later, surveyors once again took flight over the ancient Maya empire, and mapped the Guatemala forests with lasers.

The 2016 survey, whose first results were published this week in the journal Science, comprises a dozen plots covering 830 square miles, an area larger than the island of Maui. It is the largest such survey of the Maya region, ever.

The study authors describe the results as a revelation. “It’s like putting glasses on when your eyesight is blurry,” said study author Mary Jane Acuña, director of El Tintal Archaeological Project in Guatemala.

In the past, archaeologists had argued that small, disconnected city-states dotted the Maya lowlands, though that conception is falling out of favor.

This study shows that the Maya could extensively “exploit and manipulate” their environment and geography, Acuña said. Maya agriculture sustained large populations, who in turn forged relationships across the region.

Combing through the scans, Acuña and her colleagues, an international 18-strong scientific team, tallied 61,480 structures. These included: 60 miles of causeways, roads and canals that connected cities; large maize farms; houses large and small; and, surprisingly, defensive fortifications that suggest the Maya came under attack from the west of Central America.

“We were all humbled,” said Tulane University anthropologist Marcello Canuto, the study’s lead author.

“All of us saw things we had walked over and we realized, oh wow, we totally missed that.”

Preliminary images from the survey went public in February, to the delight of archaeologists like Sarah Parcak. Parcak, who was not involved with the research, wrote on Twitter, “Hey all: you realize that researchers just used lasers to find *60,000* new sites in Guatemala?!? This is HOLY [expletive] territory.”

What lidar can reveal. (Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM)What lidar can reveal. (Luke Auld-Thomas and Marcello A. Canuto/PACUNAM)

Parcak, whose space archaeology program has been described as the love child of Google Earth and Indiana Jones, is a champion of using satellite data to remotely observe sites in Egypt and elsewhere.

“The scale of information that we’re able to collect now is unprecedented,” Parcak said, adding that this survey is “going to upend long-held theories about ancient Maya society.”

With support from a Guatemala-based heritage foundation called Pacunam, the researchers conducted the massive and expensive survey using lidar, or light detection and ranging. They mapped several active archaeological sites, plus well-studied Maya cities like Tikal and Uaxactun.

Lidar’s principles are similar to radar, except instead of radio waves lidar relies on laser light. From an aircraft flying just a few thousand feet above the canopy, the surveyors prickled each square meter with 15 laser pulses. Those pulses penetrate vegetation but bounce back from hard stone surfaces. Using lidar, you can’t see the forest through the invisible trees.

Beneath the thick jungle, ruins appeared. Lots and lots of them.

Extrapolated over the 36,700 square miles, which encompasses the total Maya lowland region, the authors estimate the Maya built as many as 2.7 million structures. These would have supported 7 million to 11 million people during the Classic Period of Maya civilization, around the years 650 to 800, in line with other Maya population estimates.

“We’ve been working in this area for over a century,” Canuto said. “It’s not terra incognita, but we didn’t have a good appreciation for what was really there.”

Archaeologist Arlen Chase, a Maya specialist at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who was not involved with this survey, said for years he has argued that the Maya society was more complex than widely accepted.

In 1998, he and archaeologist Diane Chase, his wife, described elaborate agricultural terraces at the Maya city of Caracol in Belize. “Everybody would not believe we had terraces!” he said.

He gets much less push back now, he said. “The paradigm shift that we’ve predicted was happening is in fact happening” Chase said, which he credits to lidar data. He has seen lidar evolve from a “hush-hush type of technology” used by the military to map Fallujah streets to a powerful archaeological tool.

Chase, who previously used lidar at Caracol, where as many as 100,000 people lived, compares this technology to carbon-14 dating. Radiocarbon dating gives archaeologists a much more accurate timeline.

Lidar is about to do the same for archaeologists’ sense of space, particularly in densely forested areas near the equator. Two years ago, researchers used lidar mapped dense urban infrastructure around Angkor, the seat of the medieval Khmer Empire in Cambodia.

“We’re just getting started in so many major sites around the world, whether it’s Angkor Wat, whether it’s Tikal in Central America or major sites in Egypt,” Parcak said.

For all its power, lidar cannot supplant old-fashioned archaeology. For 8 percent of the survey area, the archaeologists confirmed the lidar data with boots-on-the-ground visits.

This “ground truthing” suggests that the lidar analysis was conservative – they found the predicted structures, and then some.

“There is still much more ground to cover and work to do,” said Acuña, who will continue to study the large ancient Maya city of El Tindal.

Could you imagine, Canuto said, what might be found through a lidar survey of the Amazon? With technology like this, no forested frontiers are final.

Scientists Are Having an Ugly Fight Over Whether We Truly Live in a New Geological Age

Welcome to the Meghalayan. Or not.

It’s called the Meghalayan: an epic stretch of time that spans from around 4,200 years ago right up until the time you finished reading this sentence.

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Officially ratified by the International Commission on Stratigraphy in July, this newly recognised period is now considered a distinct age in the geologic time scale – but ever since it was announced, the Meghalayan has been mired in a testy, heated controversy.

In the bigger picture, what we’re living in now is the called the Holocene epoch – which has lasted for roughly 11,700 years, since the end of the last Ice Age.

In 2012, a working group of scientists proposed formally dividing the Holocene into three ages based on distinct changes in the geological record.

The uppermost and most recent of these is the Meghalayan, preceded by the two other newly ratified ages: the Northgrippian, and the Greenlandian before it.

According to those behind the newly officialised changes, the Late Holocene Meghalayan Age commenced when the world experienced an abrupt and critical mega-drought some 4,200 years ago – an intense dry spell that lasted for 200 years.

The International Commission on Stratigraphy (ICS) suggests the environmental harshness of this event led to mass migrations and the collapse of civilisations in Egypt, Greece, Syria, and elsewhere – but not everybody agrees with this catastrophic marker.

In a new paper, archaeologist Guy Middleton argues there is scant archaeological evidence for such a widespread collapse.

“The environmental and climatic determinism behind the megadroughtcollapse narrative fails to account for specific historical circumstances, the power of human agency to drive substantial change, and the translation of environmental factors into cultural and sociopolitical contexts,” Middleton writes.

“Current evidence, therefore, casts doubt on the utility of 2200 BCE as a meaningful beginning to a new age in human terms, whether there was a megadrought or not.”

In Middleton’s view, the range of societal changes in process at 2200 BCE were too complex and varied to be considered a meaningful “threshold date” – an error he attributes to a lack of adequate communication and collaboration between researchers across geology, archaeology, and history.

“The idea that the collapse of a society can be put down to one simple reason ignores people’s agency,” Middleton told National Geographic.

“‘Collapse’ is a bit of a weasel term. Things aren’t usually as simple as climate change equals collapse.”

For the researchers behind the Meghalayan and the ICS’s new formal divisions of the Holocene, Middleton’s ideas have not been received kindly.

“This is a totally misleading piece of writing, which displays a lamentable grasp of the facts,” quaternary scientist Michael Walker from the University of Wales – who led the 2012 Meghalayan working group – told The Atlantic.

“I do not see a single accurate claim,” Walker’s co-author Harvey Weiss of Yale University added, characterising Middleton as a “pop-archaeology writer, failed archaeology PhD, and English-as-a-second-language instructor in Japan… Why does Science publish this rubbish?”

While there’s clearly no love lost between Middleton and the Meghalayan’s backers, it’s also clear that Middleton isn’t the only researcher unconvinced of the Meghalayan’s credentials.

As soon as the ICS announced the three new ages in July, there was criticism from other researchers, who claimed the ‘unnecessary’ sub-divisions of the Holocene were a distraction that hindered recognition of the Anthropocene: the proposed geological epoch marked by humanity’s lasting impact on the planet.

According to the critics, acceptance of the Anthropocene – which should have now ended the Holocene, some claim – has been complicated by the Meghalayan and its newly recognised counterparts.

“We have lots of new definitions that perhaps now contradict the Anthropocene Working Group and go against what most scientists perceive to be the most important change on Earth in the last 10,000 years,” geographer Mark Maslin from University College London told the BBC in July.

Others were even less charitable.

“What the f*** is the Meghalayan?” geologist Ben van der Pluijm from the University of Michigan asked The Atlantic.

“I was stunned by this whole thing. I think they’ve trivialised the Anthropocene by doing this.”

It might seem like an obscure scientific feud, but proponents of the Anthropocene say there’s more at stake here.

From one perspective, the longer we continue to define geological ages as chapters entirely outside our control, the longer we’re in effect refusing to acknowledge our ongoing and unprecedented impact on the world around us.

“Widespread recognition that human actions are driving far-reaching changes to the life-supporting infrastructure of the Earth has profound philosophical, social, economic and political implications,” Maslin and fellow UCL researcher Simon Lewis wrote in The Conversation in August.

“Surely that is important enough to compel scientists to work together to define exactly when humanity became the new geological superpower and help us all better understand the new epoch we live in.”

The new paper is published in Science.

Scientists to use robots to look inside the hidden, never-before-seen chamber in the Great Pyramid

With the help of small robots, scientists will try to decipher what secrets are hidden inside the cavities recently discovered in the Great Pyramid of Giza. This exploration process will also see scientists irremediably damage a fraction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Are we on the edge of one of the most important archaeological finds of the century?

Many researchers are convinced we are about to make an unprecedented discovery inside the Pyramid, one that may shed light on the real reason the great Pyramids was built in the first place.

This is the ‘Great Void’ inside the Great Pyramid which may hide a mystery throne made of Alien material.

Using muon detectors and thermal scanning, the ScanPyramid project reported the discovery of two previously unknown cavities within the Great Pyramid in November of 2017.

The largest cavity is at least 30 meters long and is located on the giant corridor (Grand Gallery) that extends to the king’s chamber. The smaller cavity, on the other hand, is located behind the north face of the pyramid and consists of a corridor whose length is uncertain.

Now, researchers plan to carry out more tests with muon detectors and are developing robots, miniature robots, that will have the ability to look inside the cavities by means of high-resolution cameras.

Currently little or nothing is known about the cavities inside the monument.

When the Pyramid was finished, this is what it may have looked like.

“There is a big difference in whether the shape of the major cavity is horizontal or has an inclination,” said Mehdi Tayoubi, president, and co-founder of the Institute for the Preservation and Innovation of Cultural Heritage, one of the institutions involved in the ScanPyramid project.

“If the cavity is tilted, for example, it could be a corridor similar to the Grand Gallery. But if it is horizontal, then we would be faced with the presence of one or more cameras never explored before.“

“In addition, the smallest cavity, which is presumed to be a passageway, may have been connected to a larger cavity in ancient times,” he added.


As the new tests with muon detectors begin, another team led by Jean-Baptiste Mouret, a researcher at the French National Institute for Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, will build two robots that will perform an “invasive exploration” of the alleged secret chambers.

According to Mouret, his team will make a small perforation of 3.8 centimeters in circumference to break through and insert the robots into the cavities.

“First we will make a reconnaissance, for this we will send a robot in the form of a tube with a panoramic sweeping camera and lights. The objective is to probe what is on the other side of the wall and obtain high-resolution images.”

“If there is something promising on the other side, then we will extract the recognition robot and insert the explorer robot. For this last ingenuity, we are designing an inflatable airship that is compressed during insertion and inflated remotely once inside the chamber, “explains the French researcher.

“The airship will allow the robot to fly and take pictures more quickly and efficiently, without the need to move on the ground.”

Before the robots begin their work, scientists must gather more data on the dimensions and location of the chambers something that could take more than a year—in order to know where to drill the access hole.

Likewise, the Ministry of Antiquities must give final approval to begin the task that will irremediably damage a tiny fraction of the Great Pyramid.

“We are working hard on the design of the robot to generate as little damage as possible.

We hope to be able to convince the Ministry of Antiquities that this is the right technology for the next step. Meanwhile, we will use the time to test our robots in other places,” concludes Mouret.

What Shrinking Fossil-Rich National Monuments Means for Science asks paleontologists how their work will change after the decision to slash Bears Ears and Grand Staircase.


This dinosaur footprint was found in sandstone at Dinosaur Track at Hackberry Canyon in Grand Staircase-Escalante National. A proclamation recently signed by President Trump would reduce the protected area by half.


Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced the dramatic rollback of protections for roughly two million acres of land in national monuments of southern Utah, stating that the creation of these parks “lock[s] up hundreds of millions of acres of land and water under strict government control.” Speaking from the state’s capitol in Salt Lake City, Trump then signed two proclamations. One slashed the 1.35 million-acres that comprise Bears Ears National Monument by 85 percent, while another cut the 1.9 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante national monument nearly in half.

The move was met with immediate pushback from Native American groups, wildlife conservationorganizations, and even the outdoor supplier Patagonia, many of whom announced their intentions to file lawsuits. Yet joining this flurry of suits was one organization that many may not have expected: the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology (SVP), a scientific organization that comprises more than 2,300members from universities and scientific institutions around the world. What was a society that describes itself as “organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes” doing suing the federal government?

Both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase were created—at least in part—on the grounds of paleontological importance. In just the last decade, researchers in Grand Staircase have found and described more than 25 new taxa that were totally new to science—including Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops, the unusual relatives of the frill-faced Triceratops. “Grand Staircase especially is jaw-droppingly important in vertebrate paleontology,” says David Polly, paleontologist at Indiana University Bloomington and president of SVP. “It’s completely transformed the way we think about [not only] the Late Cretaceous but other parts of the Mesozoic.”

Though Bears Ears is a newer monument, created in 2016 by then-President Barack Obama, it’s already proving to have great scientific potential. Earlier this year researchers announced the discovery of Utah’s only known Pravusuchus hortus, an ancient crocodile-like marine reptile, within its bounds. The monument captures an “incredible record” of dinosaurs transitioning from “wimpy little nothing components of the ecosystems to being these huge, world-beating mega important parts of the global ecosystem,” says Robert Gay, a vertebrate paleontologist who conducts research in association with the Museums of Western Colorado.

Countless more finds surely reside within both monuments’ original bounds. But researchers fear that without the current federal protections, they may be in danger of disappearing. “These things have been lying in the ground for 75 million years, and there aren’t anymore being created. If we lose the resource, it’s gone forever—period. It’s gone,” says Robin O’Keefe, a paleontologist at Marshall University who conducts research in Grand Staircase. “We can get coal other places; we can’t get these fossils anywhere else.” spoke with five scientists about how loss of this “strict government control” could harm not only conservation and paleontology research—but the nation’s history and legacy itself.

The San Juan River winds through Bears Ears National Monument. The protected area is slated to be reduced by 85 percent. (Witold Skrypczak / Alamy)

How Monument Status Protects Landscapes

The idea of designating sites as national monuments dates back to the 1906 Antiquities Act, which empowered the president to protect these sites for public use. Today, national monument status comes with far more than a pretty plaque: It both helps beef up protections against fossil looting and prioritizes scientific activities. The new proclamations would convert vast swaths of land to Federal multi-use land, bringing the potential for natural resource extraction—including oil and gas—and other activities that could impact the ancient relics still hidden within the sweeping landscape.

The importance of making these sites accessible to scientists goes beyond the work of a few people conducting research in the site, says Andrew Farke, a paleontologist with the Raymond M. Alf Museum of Paleontology. “I think a lot of times, it’s pitted as scientists versus everyone else, or extreme conservationists versus everyone else,” he says. “When you have a loss of protection for fossils, it’s not just a loss for science. It’s a loss for all Americans. This is part of our country’s story; this is part of our planet’s story.”

Bears Ears and Grand Staircase were both, at least in part, created in recognition of their potential to help researchers better understand the geologic past. That means that currently, scientists are given priority in the monument bounds. This is far from the case on general public land, explains O’Keefe. Land managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management is technically available for all to use—but when natural resource extraction companies secure a permit for a particular site, “the fences go up, the roads go in and we [the scientists] no longer really have access,” says O’Keefe.

Even if he secures the necessary permits, he adds, it’s no guarantee that he will be able to gain access. He recounts several times that he was threatened by ranchers whose cattle were grazing in the region of interest. “We can go out there, but I don’t want to take my life in my hands to do my job,” says O’keefe.

In most cases, monuments also have the funding for more staff members, including park rangers and even on-site scientists. This means more eyes on the ground to prevent looting by private collectors and fossil hunters—“which exist and are rapacious,” says O’Keefe. One of the primary motivating factors for the creation of Bears Ears was the rallying of five Native American groups—who are all now part of a lawsuit for returned protections—to prevent the pillaging of the region’s vast cultural and archaeological sites.

That concern also extends to scientifically valuable fossils. “The first-ever discovery of Pravusuchus [in Utah] was by a looter,” says Gay, who has done extensive work in the region of Bears Ears. The looter, a past volunteer at a southwestern Natural History Museum, found and removed the skull of the crocodile-esque creature sometime in the 1990s, which prevented scientists from ID-ing the specimen. In 2008, the individual decided to return the skull, which allowed for the first documentation of these creatures in Utah, presented this year at SVP’s annual meeting.

But it’s likely not all similar stories have such a happy end. As Gay says: “Who knows what sort of sites like this looted site are still out there?”

Monument status also establishes additional funding streams to support and promote scientific research within its boundaries, everything from surveying to logistical support like helicopter lifts. Gay can attest to the impacts of this funding. He worked in an area within Bears Ears before it gained monument status. “Almost as soon as the monument was proclaimed, I was informed that there was money available to help the BLM better understand and manage the resources there,” he says. Within a few months, he applied and received a grant of $25,000 to work at Bears Ears.

At Grand Staircase, the funding also supports an on-site paleontologist, who is the force behind surveying the landscape and reaching out to specialists to establish collaborations and deeper research. “Having that person in place there for the monument lands, means that things happen much more smoothly, much more quickly,” says Farke. “You have someone that’s really overseeing just that little parcel of field work, versus having to oversee all of the federal lands in Utah.”

A paleontologist uses a rock saw to trim excess plaster from a fossil in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. (National Geographic Creative / Alamy Stock)

Protections Lost

Utah’s national monuments consist of an impressive array of features—postcard-perfect vistas, precipitous cliffs and winding canyons, all highlighted by brilliant red rocks. And each monument is home to its own unique collection of valuable artifacts and natural wonders. Under the newly proposed boundaries, however, at least 400 paleontological sites in Grand Staircase alone now fall outside the monument, Polly tells

“And there’s almost certainly more,” he adds, explaining that exact localities must remain confidential to prevent looting.

In collaboration with the Grand Staircase-Escalante Partners and Conservation Lands Foundations, SVP has filed a lawsuit in pursuit of returned protections to Grand Staircase. In a second lawsuit, SVP collaborated with Native American, archaeological, conservation and historic preservation organizations to restore protections to Bears Ears.

“Not only do we believe that key paleo resources will be endangered when they are removed from the monuments’ boundaries, but we believe that the President lacks the legal authority to reduce those boundaries,” according to an SVP statement on the lawsuit. This argument echos other recent suits filed against the move: While the Antiquities Act empowers the president to create national monuments, it does not specifically state that he or she can reduce their borders. Instead, it included the vague requirement that monuments must be limited “to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.”

The reduction is “potentially damaging [to] the scientific process,” says Polly. In order for the science to advance, he explains, researchers must be able to return to collection sites to not only verify the research that came before, but add to these interpretations as technology, and therefore analytic capacity, improves.

“We want science to be replicable; we want it to be verifiable,” says Polly. But under the newly proposed boundaries, the countless research sites that now lay outside of the monuments bounds—and the multitude of areas that are yet to be studied—face an uncertain future.

A fossilized partial skeleton of a Sauropodomorph dinosaur, found in Bears Ears National Monument and described in 2010. (PLOS One)

Not All is Lost

Lands that fall outside the monument bounds aren’t left completely unprotected. These fall under regulation by the 2009 Paleontological Resources Preservation Act, which make it illegal for casual collectors to excavate or remove vertebrate fossils. On these lands, the general public are allowed to collect small amounts of plant and invertebrate fossils, says Polly. And all scientific research requires a permit and an statement of a public repository (of which Smithsonian Natural History Museum is one) where the fossils will be held.

The Paleontology Act does not, however, give scientists a priority on the land. To see a stark example of what this means, one has only to look just outside the original boundaries of Bears Ears, where there was once a rich Jurassic dinosaur site undergoing a decades-long excavation by the Los Angeles County Museum of Natural History. But right around the time that the monument was raised, the dinosaur quarry was leased to an oil company. “Now this oil company has this ability to drill right through one of the most important Jurassic sites in southern Utah,” says Gay.

Gay adds that none of the new sites he and his team have surveyed since Bears Ears was established lie within the new boundaries. In particular, he’s concerned about a fossil-packed area that lies within the White Canyon, which Gay characterizes as “probably the most important Triassic site in the state of Utah.” Not only did the region yield the prized Pravusuchus, but he believes that there are at least three new species within these beds.

Another Bears Ears site no longer under monument protections, says Gay, is an area packed with fossilized life, sharks, fish, amphibians and transitional creatures—“not-quite mammals and not-quite reptiles,” as Gay describes—known as Valley of the Gods. The region, which Obama mentioned in his 2016 proclamation for its fossilized tetrapod trackways, offers a window into the many players, and their interactions, as they struggle to survive.

“It’s not just an isolated skeleton or isolated footprint,” he says. “You get a whole idea of what is going on.” He’s concerned that the loss of protections for these sites could allow for the mining of uranium, which is abundant in the region.

Similarly, the sites excluded from the new Grand Staircase boundaries have much to offer. In particular, Polly and O’Keefe both mention the Tropic Shale—a 75-million-year-old formation of marine sands and mud. The sediments were laid during a period when the Earth was much warmer than it is today. No ice caps existed to lock away the water and because of that, North America was split by a warm shallow sea that blanked the middle of the continent.

“It was almost like a hot tub for marine reptiles,” says O’Keefe. Fed by a constant stream of nutrients, the ocean supported all walks of life, from snails and ammonites to the massive Mosasaurus, an extinct group of marine reptiles. In fact, he says, some of the very first Mosasaurs known were found in this region, which is critical to understanding the early evolution of these creatures. The site also houses the last known examples of Liopleurodons, a behemoth of a marine predator, before the Mosasaurus took over.

But there is still much more to do in the Tropic Shale. “We’re just starting to explore and excavate,” he says. “We need a coherent program and we need years of work to find the stuff and get it excavated.”

One of O’Keefe’s biggest concerns in this region is the mining of bentonite clays—a common ingredient of cat litter and drilling mud. Bentonite is abundant in the region and if miners come in and take the clays, “everything is going to be gone.” he says. “That’s the kind of thing that keeps me up a night.”


Of course, there are also still some scientifically significant regions that remain in the protected Grand Staircase landscape. Importantly the Kaiparowits Formation, which has yielded many important finds, including the previously mentioned Utahceratops and Kosmoceratops. Protections of this region are particularly important as it sits atop some 62 billion tons of coal, around 11.3 billion tons accessible for mining, according to USGS estimates.

The area that still lies within the park’s boundaries has “certainly been the most productive area for reconstructing Cretaceous ecosystems,” says Lindsay Zanno, paleontologist and division head of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Zanno worked in the Kaiparowits while getting her graduate degree from the University of Utah, describing several new species including the raptor Talos sampsoni.

The problem, she says, is that “a lot of areas that are losing protection are much less studied, and I think going forward those would have been the areas where most paleontologists would have concentrated.”

The evolutionary clues hidden in these fossil assemblages hold much greater information than details about an obscure extinct species. They help scientists understand ecosystem-level processes, says O’Keefe. And that knowledge can help modern conservation efforts in our rapidly changing environment—a process happening in part because of the very oil and gas extraction that the president’s move could open up in these two fossil-rich regions.

“Humans need to make a choice what the world will look like,” says O’Keefe. “And the more we inform that choice with what’s happened in the past, the more successful we’ll be in managing impact and mitigating the worst effects of what we’re doing.”

A huge wall at Cal Orcko in southern Bolivia reveals more than 5,000 dinosaur footsteps

Situated near the city of Sucre, the huge Cal Orck’o archaeological site is located on a cliff just 5kms from the city center. It has a slope of 73 degrees, is 80 meters (260 ft) high and 1,200 meters (3,900 ft) long. Discovered on the grounds of the local cement company (Sucre’s Fabrica Nacional de Cemento SA/Fancesa), it´s the largest concentration of dinosaur tracks in the world. The huge vertical wall of rock with thousands of dinosaur footprints was first discovered by miners in 1985 while mining away the sedimentary layers for use in the production of concrete, but it was only between 1994 and 1998 that the site’s importance was fully realized.

Four years later, a scientific team led by Christian Meyer, a Swiss paleontologist of the Natural History Museum in Basel, investigated the wall. According to him, the discovery marks an enormous contribution to humanity and science, revealing data heretofore unknown and “documenting the high diversity of dinosaurs better than any other site in the world.” The dinosaur tracks of the Cal Orck’o paleontological bed date from 68 million years ago and there are more than 5,000 footprints from 293 species of dinosaurs, all made during the Maastrichtian age of the Cretaceous period in the Mesozoic era, the time in which the majority of these enormous beasts lived.

Sauropodomorpha footprints footprints in Cal Orcko. Photo Credit
Sauropodomorpha footprints in Cal Orcko (which means “lime Hill” in the local Quechua language). 

The location used to be the shore of a former lake, which, as an essential water sauce, attracted a large number of both herbivorous and carnivorous dinosaurs. In 2010, a section of the wall broke off, destroying some of the tracks but revealing another layer underneath. It was later discovered that there are at least seven layers of footprints within the dinosaur wall and it is amazing that almost all of the prints are so well preserved that scientists can tell exactly what species they were made by.

The footprints remained covered until the 1990s, when Fancesa company mined away the sedimentary layers for use in the production of concrete. Photo Credit
The footprints remained covered until the 1990s when Fancesa company mined away the sedimentary layers for use in the production of concrete. The discovery of this wall is a huge contribution to the history and the science. It reveals unknown information about the period of 66 million years agoAuthor: Jerry Daykin – CC-BY 2.0

Some of the dinosaurs whose tracks have been found are the Ankylosaurus, a herbivore with an armored exterior, the Titanosaur, a plant-eating dinosaur that once weighed more than 100 tons, and Carnotaurus, a predatory animal with small arms and legs. One trackway of a theropod dinosaur can be followed for more than 550 m which make it the longest ever recorded in the world.

Most impressive of these is the world-record setting 347-meter trail left by a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex known as “Johnny Walker”. Photo Credit
Analysis of the tracks showed that Titanosaurus Ankylosaurus, and Carnotaurus have left their tracks here. Also traces of carnivorous Theropods have been found. Most impressive of these is the world-record setting 347-meter trail left by a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex known as “Johnny Walker”. Author: Mhwater – CC BY-SA 2.0 

Perhaps, the most spectacular set of tracks is 347 meters long, the longest dinosaur trackway ever found, and was made by a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex nicknamed “Johnny Walker” by researchers. The footprints have been turned into a major tourist attraction and there are guided tours available that will take tourists within a few meters of the wall.

 A dinosaur-themed park, known as Cretaceous Park, was also created which includes a museum dedicated to the findings where a variety of dinosaur exhibits showcase a large collection of skeletons and life-size dinosaur sculptures. Among those is one of the world’s largest sculptures: a 36×18 meter replica of Titanosaurus. The site is now considered extremely important to the world of paleontology, with secrets still being uncovered to this day.
The dinosaur tracks date from 68 million years ago. Photo Credit
The dinosaur tracks date from 68 million years ago. One of Bolivia’s most unique attractions. drawing 120,000 visitors each year.Author: Mhwater – CC BY-SA 2.0

In 2009, Bolivia attempted to have Cal Orcko designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but after Francesa had opposed the proposition, the effort was abandoned.

However, as of 2015, the site is in the process of becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site which will provide findings to help preserve the dinosaur tracks.


Archaeologists discover ancient Athens stored all of its money in the ROOF of the Parthenon

Stashing your money in the attic or under the mattress might have been an idea that goes back further than anyone would have guessed. Archaeologists have recreated the attic of the Parthenon in Athens, and say it might have at one time held all of the area’s wealth. They say at its height, it could have held over 260 tons of gold and silver. In the 5th century BC, Athens was a thriving city-state, dominant amongst all Greek cities. It was the largest military power in the region, and supplied protection to its neighbors in exchange for tributes. During that period, its ongoing warfare with Sparta required a lot of money to be easily accessible.

Parthenon Source:By Steve Swayne - File:O Partenon de Atenas.jpg, originally posted to Flickr as The Parthenon Athens, CC BY 2.0,


The attic of the Parthenon is now in ruins, and the coins would have been spent in the ancient times. The archaeologists made the finding by reconstructing the magnitude of the attic, looking at the ancient documentation to generalize how ample the reserves might have been, and by re-analyzing archaeological work that was done decades ago. They came to the conclusion that the floor would have covered an area more than three times that of a tennis court, with dimensions of 19 by 50 meters (62 ft wide by 164 ft long), and about 3 m high (10 ft high) at the center. The remnants of a staircase that had once led up to the attic still stand there today. The floor size not only provided enough room for the

The huge size of the room was necessary to hold all of Athens’ great wealth. The coin reserves were thought to have been at their highest about 434 BC, when the Parthenon was devoted to Athena, who was the patron goddess of Athens.

 Ancient novelists say the Athenians kept large coin holdings on the Acropolis, but do not state precisely where they are. The coins have become recognized as an Attic Talent, an ancient unit of mass equal to 26 kg, also a portion of worth equal to this sum of pure silver. TThe Greek utilized the ratio of 60 mina to one talent. A Greek mina was about 434 ± 3 grams.

An Athenian silver drachma Source:By Classical Numismatic Group, Inc. //, CC BY-SA 3.0,

An Athenian silver drachma Photo Credit

The Ancient Greeks created the idea of the Golden Ratio. This was a formula for creating anything exquisitely pleasing, which has inspired architects and artists much as Dali and Le Corbusier. It is believed that Parthenon within Athens was built between 447 and 438 BC, but several debates the concept was formed after the iconic structure was finished. The structure incorporates various kinds of marble, and limestone, consisting of 13,400 stones transported from Mount Patelakos about 16 kilometers (9 miles) to the Acropolis. It is thought the outstanding temple took merely 15 years to create, and was reconstructed in the year of 490 BC.

One decree that dated to about 433 BC pertains to 3,000 talents being transported to the Acropolis for guardianship, a colossal amount of money. The highest class of coin minted in Athens in that period of time was a silver tetradrachm to create one talent. This translates to 3,000 talents the decree would be valued at 4.5 million tetradrachms, it would have weighed around 78 metric tons, or close to 172,000 pounds. Ancient novelists stated the Athenian savings could; sometimes go up to 10,000 talents. On the assumption that the attic floor was built with thick cypress wood beams, it could have been capable of supporting the weight of the coins. Ancient documents do not reveal the role of the Parthenon’s attic.

In ancient Persia, engineers mastered a sustainable technology to store ice throughout the scorching summer

 In the hot, dry deserts of Ancient Persia in around 400 B.C.E, long before the invention of electricity, engineers mastered a sustainable technology to store ice throughout the scorching summer.
 Yakhchāl were ancient evaporation coolers with a dome shape above ground and subterranean storage space for ice, food, and other perishables. This effective method of storing ice in the middle of the desert may seem complex, but in reality, it was a simple technique that even the poorest could afford.
Yakhchal in Yazd, Iran By Pastaitaken - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, // 

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod, Iran... By User:Ggia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, //

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod


Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod, Iran. By User:Ggia - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, //

Exterior and interior (dome) of the yakhchal in Meybod, Iran.

Ice was collected during winters from the nearby mountains and brought to the yakhchāl, and most also had qanats (underground channels) to carry water from nearby sources

 Rising to about 60 feet in height, the structure of the yakhchāl above the ground was a massive mud brick dome. Bellow the ground there was an empty space up to 5000 cubic meters with very thick walls, measuring at least 2 meters at the base. The walls were made out of a type of mortar called sarooj; a mixture composed of sand, clay, egg whites, lime, goat hair, and ash in very specific proportions. This mortar was resistant to heat transfer and it was also thought to be completely waterproof.

The structure often contained a system of windcatchers, which helped in bringing temperatures inside down to frigid levels during the summer.

Yakhchal near Kerman, IranBy Zereshk - //, Public Domain, //

Yakhchal near Kerman, Iran


Nishapur - Omar Khayyam MausoleumBy آرمین - Own work, Public Domain, //

Nishapur – Omar Khayyam MausoleumBy

Some of the yakhchāls that were built hundreds of years ago still remain intact. In present-day Iran, Afghanistan, and Tajikistan, the term yakhchāl is also used to refer to modern household refrigerators.

Archaeologists have uncovered ancient bones that may rewrite American history

The first humans to set foot in the Americas arrived some 25,000 years ago – or so we thought.

For decades, that date has been generally accepted by scientists, thoughrecent genetic studies have moved the dial on that figure back by a few hundred or thousand years. But a set of new, highly controversial evidence suggests that timeline could be fundamentally incorrect.

CMS Excavation 9

Researchers working at an archaeological dig site that runs along the 54 freeway in San Diego, California, have uncovered what they believe is evidence of a human presence in North America that predates previous estimates by 100,000 years. They published their findings Wednesday in a paper in the well-regarded scientific journal Nature .

“If this is true,” Mikkel Winther Pedersen , a geogeneticist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark who was not directly involved in the study, tells Business Insider, “it would rock the ground that we are standing on at the moment, not just for all archaeologists but for all the other researchers interested in this.”

The proposed timeline revision is based on a set of 130,000-year old mastodon bones (dated using uranium) that show signs of having been processed by humans, according to the paper. At the archaeological site, which was first unearthed in the 1990s, researchers discovered pieces of limb bones and teeth from the mastodon, an enormous extinct creature distantly related to the elephant.

The archaeologists say the way those bones were broken tells an important story.


Over hundreds of thousands of years, the ground beneath us gives way to tiny seismic shifts. These push-and-pull forces crush bone, hack apart human and animal remains, and turn solids to dust. But instead of just showing the typical patterns of decay that bones exhibit over time, many of the fragments appeared to have been fractured shortly after the animal died. This is important because it signals that something other than natural processes were at work.

Furthermore, the bones don’t appear to have been buried alone.

Amongst the mastodon remains, the researchers found what they believe are bones that had been fashioned into hammer-stones and anvils – two types of tools that early humans used in Africa as early as 1.7 million years ago . And those objects showed wear-and-tear that the researchers say could not have been caused by geological processes.

“At many sites you have evidence that bones were used for hammers or anvils,” says Richard Fullagar, an archaeologist at Australia’s University of Wollongong. “What’s truly remarkable at this site is you can identify a particular hammer that was hit on a particular anvil.”

Together, all of this data paints a picture that Fullagar calls “incontrovertible” evidence that humans were around at the time this mastodon died.

CMS Specimen 2

“It’s really the age of the site that’s the extraordinary part of this research,” Thomas Demere, a paleontologist at the San Diego Natural History Museum, said on a call with reporters on Tuesday. “It makes ours the oldest site in the Americas by a factor of 10.”

Not everyone agrees that the evidence points to a human presence, however.

Michael Waters , director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M University, tells Business Insider via email that the bones found at the site, while intriguing, don’t prove that humans were ever there.

“I am skeptical,” he says, adding that “extraordinary claims require unequivocal evidence.”

In addition, Waters points to “mounting genetic evidence” that suggests the first Americans arrived in the region no earlier than 25,000 years ago.

Mikkel Pedersen, a researcher who has worked on studies about how and when the first humans arrived in North America, says that “from a genetics standpoint, there’s absolutely no evidence” humans were in the area as early as the new paper suggests.

But he adds, “as a scientist you need to keep your mind open. It’s not impossible; it’s very exciting. Still, I’d like to see more direct evidence.”