Dust and FrostSand dunes in the north polar regions of Mars show…

Dust and Frost

Sand dunes in the north polar regions of Mars show light coatings of pale orange dust blown partially across the dark basaltic sand. Around the edges of the dunes, patches of seasonal dry ice remain.

These patches will be gone soon as they sublimate (turn from ice to gas) in the summer sun. Some blocks of ice are visible at the foot of an alcove formed by a sand avalanche down the slipface of the dune.

Capital of Vakataka dynasty excavated in India’s Nagpur

A team of city-based archaeologists from Deccan College has confirmed that the Vakataka dynasty ruled from its capital Nandivardhan, or the present day Nagardhan, a large village discovered near Ramtek taluka in Nagpur district. Since ancient times, the place has been of great significance to the dynasty that ruled during 250-550 CE. It is the same dynasty that built the world-renowned Ajanta caves in Aurangabad.

Capital of Vakataka dynasty excavated in India's Nagpur
Capital of Vakataka dynasty excavated in Nagpur [Credit: Indian Express]

Led by project director Virag Sontakke from the Department of Archaeology and Museums, Government of Maharashtra, the team excavated the site in Vidarbha during three seasons between 2015 and 2018. They have unearthed some vital signs and remains in the form of typical artifacts, belonging to the period of the Vakataka rule.

“Some of the artifacts, including ceramics and ear studs made of glass, were excavated from the site and these were the typical items used during this period,” Shrikant Ganvir, senior archaeologist at the Deccan College and co-director of the Nagardhan Excavation Project, told The Indian Express. What makes the findings more important is the fact that so far, researchers have only managed to get written inscriptions and copper plates, all featuring the Vataka king, Prithvisena.

It is the first trace confirming that the king shifted his capital from Padmapura to Nandivardhan (present day Nagardhan), in Vidarbha. Ceramics, antiquities, bowls and pots, votive shrine and tank, iron chisel, a stone depicting a deer and terracotta bangles were studied by the team, all of which were unique for this period.

Terracotta objects with images of gods, animals, humans, along with amulets, scotches, wheels, skin rubbers and spindle whorls were discovered. An intact idol of Ganesha, without any ornaments, revealed that the deity was among the commonly-worshiped ones, and in this case, meant for private worship. Shantanu Vaidya, another co-director for the project, said: “The excavations were planned and carried out at six different locations. From the materials excavated, we find strong links confirming presence of a capital of Vakataka dynasty here.

Some of the ceramics, according to the researchers, dated back to third to fourth century CE. At a location, another vital sign that came the team’s way was a near-intact clay sealing of the Vakataka empress, Prabhavatigupta, the chief queen of the Vakataka king, Rudrasena II.

“The clay sealing found at the site reveals that the queen was the head of the state post the death of king Rudrasena II. There is also a Bhramhi inscription bearing the queen’s name with a Shankha above it,” a member of the team said. Ganvir said: “There were traces of structures of thick deposits, without any bricks, possibly indicating that before bricks were actually used for construction, there existed flimsy structures at this location.”

Giving some ideas about the lives of the people who lived under the Vakatakan kings, animal rearing was found to be one of the main occupations. Remains of seven varied species of domestic animals, including goat, sheep, pig, cat, horse and fowl were found during the excavation.

Author: Anjali Marar | Source: Indian Express [June 12, 2018]



By the skin of their teeth: DNA traces reveal what kind of pigs lived in Bronze Age Hallstatt

Salt has been mined at Hallstatt since the Bronze Age, including for the preservation of pork meat. Bone fragments and teeth found in the area provide evidence of an organized meat industry, especially of pork. Residual DNA in these prehistoric specimens can reveal information about the genetic origins of the pigs. Using a specially developed method, researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna and the Vienna Natural History Museum extracted and analysed the prehistoric DNA. Their study, published in BMC Research Notes, shows that the Bronze Age Hallstatt pigs were genetically European.

By the skin of their teeth: DNA traces reveal what kind of pigs lived in Bronze Age Hallstatt
Ancient DNA analysis genetically identified Bronze Age Hallstatt pigs as European
[Credit: Sabine Hammer/Vetmeduni Vienna]

The Hallstatt region is an internationally renowned World Heritage site. But the real treasure here is – and has been since the Bronze Age – the salt that is extracted in the mines near the town. One reason is that Hallstatt salt is ideal for the preservation of meat without the usual refrigeration. Because of this, a lucrative meat production industry developed in the region quite early.

The Bronze Age inhabitants of Hallstatt had pigs – but what kind of pigs?

Excavations as well as bone fragments and teeth attest especially to the presence of pork meat production in the Hallstatt region during the Bronze Age. Genetic information obtained from these specimens makes it is possible to more exactly date the visual evidence. The specimens often contain enough residual DNA to identify the exact species of pigs that were processed here. But extracting prehistoric DNA requires special methods to be used.

Sabine Hammer from the Institute of Immunology at Vetmeduni Vienna and her colleagues at the Natural History Museum managed to extract mitochondrial DNA from porcine teeth as a first step to identifying the species of pigs that were processed at Hallstatt during the Bronze Age. The analysis showed that the collected samples belong almost exclusively to the so-called European haplogroup.

Adapted method shows Hallstatt pigs were European

Visually determining and dating a species based on bone fragments or teeth is no longer the only way to identify archaeological samples. The determination of the genetic and, consequently, geographic origins provides valuable information about the keeping or breeding of livestock in early human history. What is needed is a source of prehistoric DNA of sufficient quality to be extracted and analysed.

Hammer and her colleagues managed to adapt the available approaches in order to genetically determine the first samples. “We were able to extract enough mitochondrial DNA for a so-called marker analysis from seven of the chosen samples,” the first author explains. “We performed a computer analysis to compare the DNA sequences decoded in this manner with previously published DNA codes. The result was clear for all of the samples except one. It appears that only pigs that belong, genetically seen, to the European ancestors were processed.”

Modern pigs can be placed into one of two haplogroups in which certain genetic variations can be traced through evolution to a common ancestor. “Pigs can be divided into an Asian and a European haplogroup,” explains Hammer. “Our findings showed six of the samples to be clearly of European origin.” Just one sample revealed an intermediate haplotype between the two groups.

Additional tests could provide geographic data

“These findings are a first step towards showing that pigs for meat production were kept and bred in and around Hallstatt,” explains Hammer. This geographic assumption must still be confirmed through additional sampling. It appears clear, however, that not only the farmed animals but also wild boars that were hunted for the early Hallstatt meat industry had European ancestors. The specially developed method, confirmed by the results of this study, will help to decode additional marker genes for a more comprehensive analysis in the future. “The important thing, however, is that DNA of sufficient quality must be extracted from the excavated samples,” says Hammer. Only then will it be possible to clearly map out and geographically assign the specimens.

Source: University of Veterinary Medicine – Vienna [June 12, 2018]