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August 11, 2017 - No Comments!

Ancient Art in the Game of Thrones

In a scene that could almost have come out of an Ancient Art Archive presentation, Jon and Daenerys view ancient art in a cave.

"They  were right here, standing where we are standing..."

The art bit starts around 2:40.

Now to my eye, those engravings look a little too fresh to be ancient, and Jon Snow's motives might not make him the most objective observer. If I were Daenerys I wouldn't assume that they were genuinely old until the Uranium / Thorium or Carbon 14 dates came back and were peer reviewed.

August 9, 2017 - No Comments!

NASA algorithm helps us see faded art

Hundreds, thousands of years exposed to the elements often leave ancient art hard to see. Famous sites like Chauvet, Altamira and the Great Gallery are well preserved but some important rock and cave art sites are weathered almost beyond recognition. How do we see rock art that is mostly weathered away? Mathematics, NASA and rock art enthusiast Jon Harman have a solution. It is an image analytic program Harman developed called DStretch.

Barrier Canyon Style Petroglyphs in a side canyon of Ferron Creek. Emery County, Utah. See what it looks like after DStretch on the next page.

The program uses a method called decorrelation stretch, which was originally used by NASA to improve remote sensing images of Mars. DStretch takes the NASA algorithm but optimizes it for rock art. The program analyzes photographs of rock art sites, and then shifts the images’ color to highlight designs and patterns that have faded away or otherwise become invisible to the naked eye by providing more contrast within the image. The program is especially useful when it comes to faded colors, particularly reds, yellows, blacks, and whites, but it is also works on etchings and other rock art forms. The results are a false color image that is often much more detailed than the original.

 

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July 13, 2017 - No Comments!

DNA is reshaping our view of ourselves

The story of human migration from Africa into the rest of the world is the original story of exploration. Those first people who walked out of Africa and into the vast unpopulated world told their story of exploration on rock and cave walls as they went. The timeline for that tale has been refined by looking at the DNA our ancestors left behind (more on that in another post). But that same DNA is also showing that the human migration is not as straightforward as we once believed.

Prevailing evidence is that modern humans expanded out from Africa between 70,000 and 50,000 BP. Our ancestors encountered and replaced dwindling Neanderthal populations in Europe.

However, some Neanderthal lives on in us. With the exception of native Africans, most people have up to 2% Neanderthal DNA.

That story got a bit more muddled this month. A study published in Nature Communications -summarized nicely in the NYT here- suggests that there was a "flow" of genetic material into Neanderthal populations from Africa before 100,000 years ago. That means that humans, or something very similar to us, entered Europe and interbred with Neanderthals leaving a slight genetic trace in Neaderthal DNA.

-Stephen Alvarez