details courtyard Alhambra

Unknown details identified in the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra

Through drawings, researchers from the University of Seville, the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland) and the University of Granada have identified details hitherto unknown in the muqarnas of the temples of the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
templetes Patio de los Leones Alhambra Granada, España
Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra, Granada (Spain)

In order to better understand and facilitate the conservation of these fourteenth-century architectural elements, following a review of numerous repairs performed over the intervening centuries, a novel methodology was followed based on three complementary graphic analyses: first, outstanding images from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries were reviewed; then new computer drawings were made of their muqarnas, following the theoretical principles of their geometrical grouping; and finally, a three-dimensional scan was made to ascertain their precise current state from the point cloud obtained.

The comparison of drawings has allowed us to verify for the first time that the muqarnas of the two temples have a different configuration and different number of pieces. In addition, geometric deformations have been detected in the original Nasrid design, identifying hitherto unknown pieces, plus other deformations due to the various repairs from major threats that the temples and their muqarnas have survived for centuries, despite their fragile construction.

"For the first time, this article documents and analyses details that were hitherto practically absent from the scientific literature", says Antonio Gámiz, professor at the University of Seville and co-author of this work.

The muqarnas are one of the most unique architectural episodes of the Nasrid Alhambra and of medieval Islamic art because of their sophisticated three-dimensional geometrical construction. They are small prisms that are grouped together and create a great diversity of spatial configurations, adapting their composition to very diverse architectural situations in cornices, arches, capitals and vaults. They reached a virtuous zenith during the reign of Muhammad V (1354-1359 and 1362-1391) when crucial works were undertaken in the palaces of the Alhambra.

This research was supported by the Patronato de la Alhambra and Generalife.

Full bibliographic information

Antonio Gámiz Gordo; Ignacio Ferrer Pérez-Blanco; Juan Francisco Reinoso Gordo (2020): The Pavilions at the Alhambra's Court of the Lions: Graphic Analysis of Muqarnas. Sustainability, 12 (16), 6556 (Special Issue Cultural Heritage and Natural Disasters) MDPI, Switzerland. ISSN 2071-1050. DOI: 10.3390/su12166556

Press release from the Universidad de Sevilla and the Universidad de Granada on the study that has identified details hitherto unknown in the muqarnas of the temples of the Lions' Courtyard at the Alhambra in Granada.


DNA from 31,000-year-old milk teeth leads to discovery of new group of ancient Siberians

DNA from 31,000-year-old milk teeth leads to discovery of new group of ancient Siberians

The two 31,000-year-old milk teeth found at the Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site in Russia which led to the discovery of a new group of ancient Siberians. Credit: Russian Academy of Sciences

Two children's milk teeth buried deep in a remote archaeological site in north eastern Siberia have revealed a previously unknown group of people lived there during the last Ice Age.

The finding was part of a wider study which also discovered 10,000 year-old human remains in another site in Siberia are genetically related to Native Americans - the first time such close genetic links have been discovered outside of the US.

The international team of scientists, led by Professor Eske Willerslev who holds positions at St John's College, University of Cambridge, and is director of The Lundbeck Foundation Centre for GeoGenetics at the University of Copenhagen, have named the new people group the 'Ancient North Siberians' and described their existence as 'a significant part of human history'.

The DNA was recovered from the only human remains discovered from the era - two tiny milk teeth - that were found in a large archaeological site found in Russia near the Yana River. The site, known as Yana Rhinoceros Horn Site (RHS), was found in 2001 and features more than 2,500 artefacts of animal bones and ivory along with stone tools and evidence of human habitation.

The discovery is published today (June 5 2019) as part of a wider study in Nature and shows the Ancient North Siberians endured extreme conditions in the region 31,000 years ago and survived by hunting woolly mammoths, woolly rhinoceroses, and bison.

Professor Willerslev said: "These people were a significant part of human history, they diversified almost at the same time as the ancestors of modern day Asians and Europeans and it's likely that at one point they occupied large regions of the northern hemisphere."

Dr Martin Sikora, of The Lundbeck Foundation Centre for GeoGenetics and first author of the study, added: "They adapted to extreme environments very quickly, and were highly mobile. These findings have changed a lot of what we thought we knew about the population history of north eastern Siberia but also what we know about the history of human migration as a whole."

Researchers estimate that the population numbers at the site would have been around 40 people with a wider population of around 500. Genetic analysis of the milk teeth revealed the two individuals sequenced showed no evidence of inbreeding which was occurring in the declining Neanderthal populations at the time.

Siberia milk teeth America
Alla Mashezerskaya maps the artefacts in the area where two 31,000-year-old milk teeth were found. Credit: Elena Pavlova

The complex population dynamics during this period and genetic comparisons to other people groups, both ancient and recent, are documented as part of the wider study which analysed 34 samples of human genomes found in ancient archaeological sites across northern Siberia and central Russia.

Professor Laurent Excoffier from the University of Bern, Switzerland, said: "Remarkably, the Ancient North Siberians people are more closely related to Europeans than Asians and seem to have migrated all the way from Western Eurasia soon after the divergence between Europeans and Asians."

Scientists found the Ancient North Siberians generated the mosaic genetic make-up of contemporary people who inhabit a vast area across northern Eurasia and the Americas - providing the 'missing link' of understanding the genetics of Native American ancestry.

It is widely accepted that humans first made their way to the Americas from Siberia into Alaska via a land bridge spanning the Bering Strait which was submerged at the end of the last Ice Age. The researchers were able to pinpoint some of these ancestors as Asian people groups who mixed with the Ancient North Siberians.

Professor David Meltzer, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, one of the paper's authors, explained: "We gained important insight into population isolation and admixture that took place during the depths of the Last Glacial Maximum - the coldest and harshest time of the Ice Age - and ultimately the ancestry of the peoples who would emerge from that time as the ancestors of the indigenous people of the Americas."

This discovery was based on the DNA analysis of a 10,000 year-old male remains found at a site near the Kolyma River in Siberia. The individual derives his ancestry from a mixture of Ancient North Siberian DNA and East Asian DNA, which is very similar to that found in Native Americans. It is the first time human remains this closely related to the Native American populations have been discovered outside of the US.

Professor Willerslev added: "The remains are genetically very close to the ancestors of Paleo-Siberian speakers and close to the ancestors of Native Americans. It is an important piece in the puzzle of understanding the ancestry of Native Americans as you can see the Kolyma signature in the Native Americans and Paleo-Siberians. This individual is the missing link of Native American ancestry."

 

Press release from the St John's College, University of Cambridge

 


Alcmonavis poeschli

First birds: Archaeopteryx gets company

First birds: Archaeopteryx gets company

Researchers at LMU Munich describe a hitherto unknown bird from the late Jurassic period. It is the second bird capable of flight, after the famous Archaeopteryx, to be identified from this era.

Alcmonavis poeschli
The illustration shows the wing of Alcmonavis poeschli as it was found in the limestone slab. Alcmonavis poeschli is the second known specimen of a volant bird from the Jurassic period. Copyright: O. Rauhut, LMU/SNSB

Archaeopteryx's throne is tottering. Since the discovery of the first fossil of the primal bird in 1861, it had been considered the only bird from the Jurassic geological period. Today's birds are thought to be direct descendants of carnivorous dinosaurs, with Archaeopteryx representing the oldest known flying representative of this lineage. All of the specimens that have been found up to now come from the region of the Solnhofen Archipelago, which during the Jurassic era spanned across what is today the Altmühl Valley, in the area between Pappenheim and Regensburg. Archaeopteryx lived here in a landscape of reef islands about 150 million years ago. A team led by Professor Oliver Rauhut has taxonomically identified a bird unknown until now: Alcmonavis poeschli, the second bird from the era identified as capable of flight. "This suggests that the diversity of birds in the late Jurassic era was greater than previously thought," says Rauhut, paleontologist at the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences as well as the Bavarian State Collection of Paleontology and Geology.

Only a wing of Alcmonavis poeschli was discovered. "At first, we assumed that this was another specimen of Archaeopteryx. There are similarities, but after detailed comparisons with Archaeopteryx and other, geologically younger birds, its fossil remains suggested that we were dealing with a somewhat more derived bird," says Rauhut. According to the team's taxonomic studies, which are currently featured in the scientific journal eLifeAlcmonavis poeschli was not merely somewhat larger than Archaeopteryx; apparently it could also fly better. "The wing muscles indicate a greater capacity for flying," says Rauhut. Alcmonavis poeschli exhibits numerous traits lacking in Archaeopteryx but present in more recent birds. This suggests that it was adapted better to active, flapping flight.

The discovery of Alcmonavis poeschli has implications for the debate over whether active flapping birds arose from gliding birds. "Its adaptation shows that the evolution of flight must have progressed relatively quickly," says Dr. Christian Foth from the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), one of the co-authors of the study.

The bird now being described for the first time derives its name from the old Celtic word for the river Altmühl, Alcmona, and its discoverer Roland Pöschl, who leads the excavation at the Schaudiberg quarry close to Mörnsheim. A fossil of Archaeopteryx was also discovered in the same unit of limestones. The two primal birds thus apparently lived at the same time in what was then a subtropical lagoon landscape in southern Germany.

 

Press release from the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München


Francavilla Marittima Calabria University of Basel Cultures in contact

An exhibition presents 10 years of Basel excavations in Francavilla Marittima

Cultures in Contact - An exhibition presents 10 years of Basel excavations in Francavilla Marittima

Francavilla Marittima Calabria University of Basel Cultures in contact
Foreign lifestyle and local tradition: The finds from a male tomb of Francavilla Marittima, Calabria, testify to the adoption of Greek drinking and eating habits by the Italian elites in the 8th century BC. The large clay pot was used for mixing wine and water, the bronze kettle (right) for cooking meat. The iron ax and the bronze fibulae identify the deceased as a member of the local upper class. Photo: © Victor Brigola, Stuttgart.

More than 30 ancient graves have been uncovered by archaeologists and students of the University of Basel as part of an educational excavation in southern Italy. The graves date from a time when the first Greeks and Orientals arrived in the region about 3000 years ago and document the cultural exchange with the local population. The results and methods of the research project will now be presented in an exhibition at the University Library of Basel, which opens on 12 April 2019.

Even in ancient times, the south of Italy was a hub for migration. The Iron Age settlement of Francavilla Marittima (ca. 800-700 BC) played a key role as a contact point between the local population and traders and colonists from Greece and the Near East.

Since 2009, the Basel project has been researching the burial site of this settlement and has uncovered 33 graves of women, men, and children to date. Grave goods such as vessels, figurines, jewelry, and weapons offer a wealth of information about the lifestyle of the local elite and their reaction to the arrival of colonists.

Productive cultural exchange

“Initially, we suspected strong differences between the locals and the colonists,” states the archaeologist Prof. Martin Guggisberg, who has been leading the excavation. “After 10 years of research, however, we see the relationship in a new light: not confrontation and opposition determined the picture, but dynamic processes of cultural transformation that led to the gradual establishment of a new, Greek order from around 700 BC onwards.

The research team discovered evidence for the intertwining of the traditional and the new in the tomb of a local ruler. Among his grave goods were different sorts of vessels and bowls that point to Greece and prove the adoption of new drinking and cultural practices. By contrast, his inhumation in fetal position underlines his adherence to the local tradition.

Iron swords buried in plaster coat

Since the swords were not well preserved, they had to be retrieved in a plaster coat. They were then x-rayed with a computer tomograph in the local hospital.

Of special importance is also the discovery of three iron swords. They belong to the oldest documents of this new weapon type in Italy and document the penetration of new fighting techniques from the East. Since the swords were very badly preserved, the research team first used a plaster coat and then digital analysis methods to reconstruct them graphically and in 3D print.

The swords in the computer tomograph.
One sword, three views: the found swords belong to the oldest documents of this new weapon type in Italy. Since the metal in the ground was corroded, the researchers used digital analysis methods, which made it possible to "print" one of the swords three-dimensionally and reconstruct it graphically.

From excavation to exhibition

Over the years, more than 70 students participated in the teaching excavation in Francavilla Marittima, learning how to use pickaxes, trowels, and brushes as well as the latest surveying technology and digital documentation methods. The students conceived the exhibition “Cultures in Contact” under the guidance of Atelier Degen+Meili, an exhibition consultancy based in Basel. The result of the collaboration is a presentation that not only makes visible the cultural contacts at the time but also presents the working methods of the project.

Prof. Dr. Martin Guggisberg from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Basel will introduce the exhibition on 12 April 2019 at 5.30 pm. Further speakers will be Prof. Dr. Thomas Grob, Vice President of the University of Basel, Dr. Pietro Maria Paolucci, Italian Consul in Basel, as well as Dr. Franco Bettarini, Mayor of Francavilla Marittima.

Francavilla Marittima: Basel excavation and exhibition

Cultures in Contact – 10 years of Basel excavations in Francavilla Marittima, University Library Basel, Schönbeinstrasse 18-20 (1st floor), Basel. The exhibition runs until 9 June 2019. Opening hours: Monday to Friday, 8 am – 10.30 pm, Saturday 9 am – 7 pm, free admission. On 15 May 2019, 6.15 p.m., there will be a theme evening with Prof. Martin Guggisberg. Public guided tours: 16 April and 15 May 2019, at 6.15 pm.

The Francavilla Marittima project is the result of a successful cultural collaboration between Switzerland and Italy. It has received support from various partner institutions, including the Archaeological Soil Research of the Canton of Basel-Stadt, the Department of Prehistoric and Scientific Archaeology of the University of Basel, and the Institute of Forensic Medicine of the University of Bern, the Max Planck Institute for Human History, Jena, the Museo Nazionale Archeologico della Sibaritide, the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio per le Province di Catanzaro, Cosenza e Crotone, the Municipality of Francavilla Marittima and the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali of the Italian State. The excavations are supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, the Voluntary Academic Society of Basel, the Max Geldner Foundation and the University of Basel.

 

 

Press release from the University of Basel/Universität Basel


Saffron comes from Attica - origin of the saffron crocus traced back to Greece

Saffron comes from Attica - origin of the saffron crocus traced back to Greece

Crocus cartwrightianus. Credit: Frank Blattner/IPK

The origin of C. sativus has long been the subject of speculation and research, as this knowledge would enable breeders to introduce genetic diversity into the otherwise genetically uniform plant species. Two new studies have now shown that the saffron crocus originated from a Greek ancestor.

Since ancient times, saffron has been giving dishes a golden-yellow hue and an aromatic flavour. The use of the stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus) is depicted in frescos from Crete and Santorini, which are as old as 3600 years. Nowadays, the valuable plant is mainly cultivated in Iran accounting for more than 90% of the saffron production. Due to its hardiness, small batches of the saffron crocus are even grown and harvested in more unlikely countries such as Switzerland and Germany. Possibly partially due to its widespread agricultural adoption, the origin of saffron has until recently been a subject of speculation. Now, two independent studies have been able to trace the roots of C. sativus back to Greece.

saffron Attica Greece Athens Crocus sativus
Map providing the distribution area of Crocus cartwrightianus (dashed line). In red the Attica region is depicted where the saffron crocus originated. Credit: Frank Blattner

The saffron crocus is a triploid and male-sterile plant. This means that the plant can only be propagated vegetatively. In this case, parts of the corms (bulb-like structures of the stem) of the saffron plants are broken off and then these daughter-corms are used to grow new adult plants. A consequence of this form of reproduction is that there is no room for improving saffron quality by crossing different cultivars. Thus all modern saffron plants are genetically nearly identical. Knowing the origin, in particular the originating plant species, would enable saffron breeders to use new genotypes to broaden the diversity of the saffron crocus.

Researchers of the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK Gatersleben) decided to tackle the mystery of saffron's origin, by comparing molecular markers of wild crocus species with those of our cultivated saffron crocus. In the research group of Frank Blattner, plant material was obtained through sample-collecting excursions from native stands of all relevant species. Through the analyses of genome-wide single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) and the investigation of the chloroplast genomes of the different crocus species, the researchers were able to pinpoint the species with the highest genetic similarity to C. sativus. As such, the wild crocus species C. cartwrightianus from Greece was identified as the sole progenitor of the modern saffron plant, and the area in the vicinity of the Greek capital Athens as the region where it evolved.

C. cartwrightianus had already been postulated as a possible progenitor of C. sativus, however the high intra-specific genetic diversity present in C. cartwrightianus had led to unclear results during previous investigations. Now, in the IPK-study, an unambiguous total of 99.3% of the alleles of C. sativus could be recovered in C. cartwrightianus.

These results were confirmed by an independent complementary study performed by researchers at TU Dresden. The Dresden scientists in Thomas Schmidt's group performed comparative chromosome analysis with fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH) of different crocus species, and could also demonstrate that C. sativus resulted from the fusion of the genomes of two C. cartwrightianus plants, an event called "autopolyploidisation".

A slight surprise for all of the involved researchers was that the main growing regions for saffron are clearly located outside the distribution area of its progenitor C. cartwrightianus, with C. sativus prospering in drier regions and at higher elevations. They suspect that the explanation to this also lies within the origin story of saffron - it was probably the genome-fusing autopolyploidisation event that led to ecological shift of saffron, away from the habitats in the Mediterranean vegetation zone of Greece.

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Summary

  • Saffron, the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus (Crocus sativus), is the most expensive spice worldwide. The male-sterile triploid plant has been propagated vegetatively for at least 3600 years, but the origin of the saffron crocus have long been subject of speculation.
  • A study analysing the chloroplast genomes and genome-wide DNA polymorphisms in crocus species was performed at the IPK Gatersleben. It shows that saffron evolved in Attica, Greece, through the combination of two different genotypes of the wild crocus C. cartwrightianus. The findings are supported by a recent independent study performed at TU Dresden.
  • This clarification of the parent species will probably enable plant breeder to overcome the low genetic diversity of the saffron crocus by creating new saffron genotypes with C. cartwrightianus individuals.
  • Studies available through https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ympev.2019.03.022 and https://doi.org/10.1111/nph.15715.

 

 

Press release from Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK Gatersleben)