Sunday, January 25, 2015

Discovery in Nara Prefecture suggests building linked to imperial family 13 centuries ago

Foundation holes for buildings have been found in the ruins of the nation's first full-fledged capital here, suggesting the area may have been home to a structure used by the imperial family more than 1,300 years ago.

The Nara National Research Institute for Cultural Properties announced Dec. 11 that 13 holes for foundation stones were found in the central area of the former site of Fujiwara-kyo, the nation's capital between 694 and 710.

At the time, cornerstones were used to build important structures such as palaces or temples.

Masashi Kinoshita, a professor emeritus of archaeology at Tokyo Gakugei University, called the discovery “groundbreaking.”

“When the capital was relocated to Fujiwara-kyo, the east side may have been dedicated to residential quarters for imperial family members or for other important purposes," he said. "The discovery could be a crucial turning point in research on Fujiwara-kyo.”

The holes, 1.2 meters to 2 meters across, were discovered in the Toho Kanga section, which is known as the district for government ministries. Toho Kanga was located 250 meters east of the ruins of Daigokuden hall, where the emperor performed important rituals.

Seven similar holes were found in a previous study two years ago.

Combined with the new finds, archaeologists now believe the holes were used to hold stones that propped up a structure about 8 meters by 11 meters comprising many posts.

They said the structure may have been a pavilion or a storehouse on stilts, and that part of the building’s roof may have been tiled.

A 4-centimeter-by-9.4-cm fragment of a bowl made of "sahari" copper and tin alloy also was discovered. The researchers said it may have been used by a high-level official.

Five square-shaped holes with rounded edges were also found at a site about 20 meters to the west of Toho Kanga. Each side measured between 1.5 meters and 1.9 meters.

It is believed these holes were used to build a large structure supported by posts sunk into the ground. The location of the two buildings suggest they were part of city planning, according to the researchers.
Tsukamoto, Kazuto. 2015. “Discovery in Nara Prefecture suggests building linked to imperial family 13 centuries ago”. The Asahi Shimbun. Posted: December 13, 2014. Available online:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Recent Luxor discoveries include tomb inside Ramesseum

Two important discoveries in Luxor by French archaeological missions were announced by the Egyptian antiquities ministry on Friday.

The first was at the Ramesseum temple on Luxor’s west bank, where the tomb of a divine royal wife called Karomama was accidently discovered within the walls of temple.

The ministry's head of Ancient Egyptian antiquities, Youssef Khalifa, told Ahram Online that the tomb includes a five metre-deep shaft leading to a burial chamber with a stone door. Inside the tomb excavators unearthed a collection of 20 ushabti funerary figurines of Karomama, and the remains of offerings.

According to Khalifa the discovery is important because it sheds more light on the queen, about whom little is known. The only previous funerary collection of Karomama includes 12 ushabti figurines, two canopic jars and a bronze statue now on display at the Louvre in Paris.

Until now, he said, the king she was married to has not been identified, but this information will be revealed after further studies of the tomb.

The second discovery was at Karnak temple, where the French mission unearthed a collection of Late Period artefacts, including three small bronze statuettes and a pot containing the remains of blue glue.

The ministry's director-general of Upper Egyptian antiquities, Abdel Hakim Karar, told Ahram Online that the statues were offerings to gods presented at the temple.

Two of these statuettes are carved in bronze and depict the god Osiris sitting wearing a wig and the double crown on his head. The third statuette depicts an as-yet unidentified god in a standing position, decorated with hieroglyphic text.

Excavators are cleaning the statuette in order to reveal the god’s name.
El-Aref, Nevine. 2015. “Recent Luxor discoveries include tomb inside Ramesseum”. Ahram. Posted: December 12, 2014. Available online:

Friday, January 23, 2015

Comparison of cultures and epochs: What discourses on weaknesses can trigger

German Research Foundation grants new Collaborative Research Centre to the Goethe University -- 7 million Euros for historians, ethnologists, philosophers and historians of law

Humanities scholars in Frankfurt can begin a mammoth project on 1 January 2015: Between 2015 and 2018, historians, ethnologists, philosophers and law historians will be able to draw on more than 6 million Euros in an attempt to shed light on a global historical issue that stretches from ancient times to the present day. The German Research Foundation (DFG) granted a Collaborative Research Centre (CRC), currently the only one of its kind in the Humanities faculty of the Goethe University. It is entitled: "Discourses on weaknesses and resource regimes". Over the next three years, some 50 scientists will collaborate in this research association, among them about 40 junior researchers.

What is the purpose of this CRC? Here is an example: Contemporary historian Prof. Dr. Christoph Cornelißen intends to examine the debate involving the political, economic and cultural decline of Europe, which raged throughout the entire 20th century. A number of players - politicians, business representatives, publishers and scientists - feared for Europe's position in the world; Advancing Americanisation and the Yellow Peril are just two key phrases. Europe, they believed, was no longer a match for the growing pressure in world markets, and was also losing ground in international education rankings. The discourses on weaknesses were regularly interspersed with calls to mobilise all existing resources, from people and raw materials to organisations and ideas. The idea was to set up a new political, economic and societal order to prevent Europe's decline, galvanising ideas of a unified Europe. This is just a rough outline of the thesis; the work will now involve taking a closer look at the players and establishing with greater precision how resources can be developed from weaknesses.

"Discourses on weaknesses crop up everywhere. Examples that are often discussed include the Late Roman Empire and China in the 19th century. Yet rather different ones also come to mind, such as situations where weak areas of knowledge initially prevailed, as demonstrated by the budding material sciences of the early 20th century", explained the spokesperson of the new Collaborative Research Centre, Prof. Dr. Hartmut Leppin. "We anticipate a high potential of insight from being able to compare such seemingly disparate topics at an appropriate level of abstraction." When diagnosing the deficits, the scientists will always keep an eye on the self-perception of the players and how they are perceived from a distance.

The fact that weaknesses can develop into strengths is often demonstrated when the discourse on weaknesses mobilises the search for resources. It is this interplay that captures the scientists' interest. The humanities scholars in Frankfurt are fully aware that resources do not equate to raw materials: "Rather, we are interested in what it means to perceive a shortage of raw materials, which then develops into a discourse on weaknesses while the search goes on for other resources", Leppin says. This involves very diverse resources, depending on the sub-project: science, kinship, sanctity, nationalism, information, economic calculations, to name a few. "The wide range of resources can only be dealt with from contrasting disciplinary and temporal perspectives. Our aim is to compare cultures and epochs, in order to be able to provide highly generalised findings", the CRC spokesman explained. Ethnologists and law historians are grouped around a heavily historical nucleus, here in cooperation with the Max-Planck-Institute for European Legal History.

The cooperating scientists also intend to establish an approximation between European history and the history of East and South East Asia as well as Latin America. By way of example, ethnologist Prof. Dr. Susanne Schröter, like Leppin a principal investigator at the Frankfurt cluster of excellence "The Formation of Normative Order", intends to address the question of why it is almost impossible to assert Western models of organisation, such as a monopoly on the legitimate use of physical force, in many post-colonial countries. The particular focus here will fall on Indonesia and the Philippines. For instance, which resources do indigenous groups generate that elude state control? Are acephalous peoples with their egalitarian societies, which are oriented towards achieving political and social equality for their members, perhaps the ones who are truly strong, despite their political weaknesses? Is their conduct more reasonable than that of societies produced by state regulation or which have willingly integrated into such? These are the questions ethnologists seek answers to on the ground.

The participants at the Collaborative Research Centre wish to contribute a humanist perspective to our society's self-reflection. "The question of how to treat resources, their shortage and protection, is discussed in what are at times very heated and politically influential discourses on weaknesses. We have known this since the famous Club of Rome report of 1972, if not before", explains Leppin. "I believe the shortage of resources is one of the key challenges facing us today. However, we must avoid focussing on material resources to the exclusion of all else." Other acting CRC spokespeople besides Susanne Schröter are sinologist Prof. Dr. Iwo Amelung and science historian Prof. Dr. Moritz Epple.

The President of Goethe University, Prof. Dr. Werner Müller-Esterl, views the grant to the Collaborative Research Centre, the ninth at Goethe University, as further evidence of the influence of Frankfurt humanities scholars, and its historians in particular. "The grant is another highlight in a very successful year; back in March, the historians were awarded the DFG research group on "Personnel Decisions in Key Sociopolitical Positions". I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Hartmut Leppin and his group on this successful application. It further underscores the profile of the Goethe University in the humanities."

Other projects of the historians and contributing humanities scholars are highly popular among sponsors. The Volkswagen Foundation deemed the Research Centre for Historical Humanities at Goethe University to be "original, innovative and exemplary", and in July 2014 provided it with a grant of 826,000 Euros.

In total the German Research Foundation (DFG) will be establishing eight Collaborative Research Centres (CRC), the authorising committee decreed in Bonn at its Autumn meeting yesterday. The Frankfurt Collaborative Research Centre is the only one of the eight to involve the humanities. The new CRCs are being sponsored with a total of 62 million Euros. There is an additional 20 per cent programme allowance for indirect costs arising out of research projects. Two of the eight centres are CRC/Transregios (TRR), which are distributed across several research locations.
EurekAlert. 2015. “Comparison of cultures and epochs: What discourses on weaknesses can trigger”. EurekAlert. Posted: December 4, 2014. Available online:

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Uncovering one of humankind’s most ancient lineages

Scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) and Penn State University in the United States have successfully discovered one of modern humans' ancient lineages through the sequencing of genes.

A geneticist from NTU, Professor Stephan Christoph Schuster, who led an international research team from Singapore, United States and Brazil, said this is the first time that the history of humankind populations has been analysed and matched to Earth's climatic conditions over the last 200,000 years.

Their breakthrough findings are published today (4 Dec) in Nature Communications.

The team has sequenced the genome of five living individuals from a hunter/gatherer tribe in Southern Africa, and compared them with 420,000 genetic variants across 1,462 genomes from 48 ethnic groups of the global population.

Through advanced computation analysis, the team found that these Southern African Khoisan tribespeople are genetically distinct not only from Europeans and Asians, but also from all other Africans.

The team also found that there are individuals of the Khoisan population whose ancestors did not interbreed with any of the other ethnic groups for the last 150,000 years and that Khoisan was the majority group of living humans for most of that time until about 20,000 years ago.

Their findings mean it is now possible to use genetic sequencing to reveal the ancestral lineage of any ethnic group even up to 200,000 years ago, if non-admixed individuals are found, like in the case of the Khoisan. This will show when in history there have been important genetic changes to an ancestral lineage due to intermarriages or geographical migrations that may have occurred over the centuries.

"Khoisan hunter/gatherers in Southern Africa have always perceived themselves as the oldest people," said Prof Schuster, an NTU scientist at the Singapore Centre on Environmental Life Sciences Engineering (SCELSE) and a former Penn State University professor.

"Our study proves that they truly belong to one of mankind's most ancient lineages, and these high quality genome sequences obtained from the tribesmen will help us better understand human population history, especially the understudied branch of mankind such as the Khoisan.

"The new data gathered will also enable scientists to better understand how the human genome has evolved and hopefully lead to more effective treatment options for certain genetic diseases and illnesses."

Of the five tribesmen who were the oldest members of the Ju/'hoansi tribe and other tribes living in protected areas of northwest Namibia, two individuals were found to have a genome which had not admixed with other ethnic groups.

The Ju/'hoansi tribe was made famous in the 80s and 90s by the box-office hit movie series "The Gods Must Be Crazy." The main character of the series was a hunter/gatherer tribesman, played by Nǃxau, a bushman.

The research paper's first author, Dr Hie Lim Kim, a SCELSE senior research fellow, said "it was very surprising that this group apparently did not intermarry with non-Khoisan neighbours for thousands of years." This is because the Khoisan peoples and the rest of modern humanity shared their most recent common ancestor around 150,000 years ago.

The current Khoisan culture and tradition, where marriage occurs either among Khoisan groups or results in female members leaving their tribes after marrying non-Khoisan men, appears to be long-standing.

"A key finding from this study is that even today after 150,000 years, single non-admixed individuals or descendants of those who did not interbreed with separate populations can be identified within the Ju/'hoansi population, which means there might be more of such unique individuals in other parts of the world," added Dr Kim.

The Khoisan tribespeople participating in this study had parts of their genomes sequenced in an earlier study by the same team in 2010. The new study generated complete genome sequences at high quality, which enabled the analysis of admixture and population history. The availability of such high quality Southern African genomes will allow further investigation of the population history of this largely understudied branch of humankind at high resolution.

This research project involving six investigators was led by NTU and Penn State University. Other institutions participating in the study include the Ohio State University and Sao Paulo State University, Brazil.

Moving forward, Prof Schuster added that they will be looking to find more non-admixed individuals who are in the other parts of the world, such as in South Asia and South America, where uncontacted tribes still exist. The team will also be seeking more funding to further their research which will have large impact on the study of life sciences.
Science Daily. 2015. “Uncovering one of humankind’s most ancient lineages”. Science Daily. Posted: December 4, 2014. Available online:

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ethnic inequalities mapped across the country with new online profiler

The lives of ethnic minorities across the country have been mapped by experts at The University of Manchester with a new profiler that allows you to explore standards of living in each area of England and Wales.

Academics and researchers at the University's Centre on Dynamics of Ethnicity (CoDE) have drilled down into Census data to rank districts by inequality, comparing the experience of minority groups to White British residents living side by side.

CoDE, in collaboration with race equality think thank the Runnymede Trust, has produced measures of ethnic inequalities in education, employment, health and housing for each local authority district in England and Wales, for 2001 and 2011.

The profiler is available for all to use and takes only a few seconds to generate a profile of ethnic inequalities in any chosen area.

Despite Britain continuing to diversify, differences in living standards for minorities and white British residents have remained persistent since 2000, according to the findings of the Local Ethnic Inequalities Area Profiler which launches today (WED). Left alone, the problem will not solve itself, the academics behind it warn.

The project ranks the 20 districts with highest levels of inequality and also shows that the problem is not unique to typically diverse urban areas, with more rural areas of Lancashire and East Staffordshire and parts of Kent, Somerset and Lincolnshire showing significant levels of inequality.

Other key findings:

Bradford, where 36% of the population identified connections to an ethnic minority group, stands out as one of the few success stories, managing to bridge the inequalities gap between residents since the turn of the millennium. In education, the number of ethnic minority 16-24-year-olds without qualifications is now in line with the number of white British young adults. This compares to 25% of ethnic minority 16-24-year-olds and 19% of White British in 2001.

In Tower Hamlets, London, 48% of Asian households and 43% of households from ethnic minority groups as a whole lived in overcrowded homes compared with 24% of White British households.

In Breckland, in rural East England, the minority population almost doubled from 5% to 9% between 2001 and 2011. Ethnic inequalities widened on all indicators in that time.

Dr Nissa Finney, lecturer in Social Statistics at The University of Manchester, said: "Ethnic inequalities are not only widespread in England and Wales, they are persistent. These inequalities are not, and will not, disappear of their own accord. This is particularly the case in employment and housing. For example, overcrowding was experienced by ethnic groups in every district over the past decade.

"The findings provide clear evidence that ethnic inequalities are a local concern, and that addressing inequalities is not purely an issue for authorities with diverse and poor populations.

"They also demonstrate that inequalities can be reduced and there are districts across the country that have achieved this over the 2000s."

Dr Omar Khan, director of the Runnymede Trust, said: "This report contains a wealth of information that shows why ethnic inequalities are relevant in every village, town and city in England and Wales. The evidence also suggests that local and national policymakers and decisonmakers must act much more directly to ensure that a third generation doesn't continue to experience disadvantage because of their ethnic background."
EurekAlert. 2015. “Ethnic inequalities mapped across the country with new online profiler”. EurekAlert. Posted: December 3, 2014. Available online:

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Scientists concerned that culture of research can hinder scientific endeavor

Aspects of the culture of research in UK higher education institutions (HEIs) can encourage poor research practices and hinder the production of high quality science, according to scientists who took part in a project exploring the ethical consequences of the culture of research led by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

The findings of the project, which included a survey of almost 1000 scientists and others, suggest that scientists are motivated in their work to find out more about the world and benefit society, and that they believe collaboration, multidisciplinarity, openness and creativity are important for the production of high quality science.

However, in some cases, the findings suggest, the culture of research in HEIs does not support or encourage these goals or activities. For example, high levels of competition and perceptions about how scientists are assessed for jobs and funding are reportedly contributing to a loss of creativity in science, less collaboration and poor research practices, such as rushing to finish and publish research or employing less rigorous research methods.

"We were struck that while almost all participants in this project shared similar concerns about the culture of research, they all felt that the problems were caused by matters out of their control or that they were someone else's responsibility," says Professor Ottoline Leyser, Chair of the Steering Group for the project, Deputy Chair of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and Professor of Plant Development at the University of Cambridge. "We strongly believe that all those who play a role in the research system - including funders, research institutions, publishers and editors, researchers and professional bodies - have a collective obligation to ensure the culture of research supports good practice and the production of high quality science."

"There seem to be widespread misperceptions or mistrust among researchers about the policies and practices of those responsible for research quality assessment," said Professor Leyser. "For example, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) was felt to be a key driver of the pressure to publish in specific journals with high impact factors, despite the fact that REF panels were instructed not to use journal impact factors to assess research quality."

The Steering Group for the project included members of staff from the Royal Society, Academy of Medical Sciences, Institute of Physics, Royal Society of Chemistry and the Society of Biology.

The findings of the project include:

  • High levels of competition for jobs and funding in scientific research are believed both to bring out the best in people and to create incentives for poor quality research practices, less collaboration and headline chasing.
  • The pressure felt by scientists to publish in high impact factor journals is believed to be resulting in important research not being published, disincentives for multidisciplinary research, authorship issues, and a lack of recognition for non-article research outputs.
  • 58% of the survey respondents are aware of scientists feeling tempted or under pressure to compromise on research integrity and standards. 26% of respondents have themselves felt tempted or under pressure to compromise on research integrity and standards. Evidence was not collected on any behaviour associated with these findings.
  • 61% of the survey respondents think that the move towards open access publishing is having a positive or very positive effect overall on scientists in terms of encouraging the production of high quality research.

The report of the project concludes with suggestions for action for funding bodies, research institutions, publishers and editors, professional bodies and individual researchers. Key examples are:

  • Funders: ensure funding opportunities, strategies and policies, and information about past funding decisions, are communicated clearly to institutions and researchers.
  • Research institutions: cultivate an environment in which ethics is seen as a positive and integral part of research; and provide mentoring and career advice to researchers throughout their careers.
  • Publishers and editors: consider further the role of publishers in tackling ethical issues in publishing and in promoting openness and data sharing among scientists.
  • Researchers: when assessing the track record of fellow researchers, for example as a grant reviewer or appointments panel member, use a broad range of criteria without undue reliance on journal impact factors.
  • Learned societies and professional bodies: promote widely the importance of ensuring the culture of research supports good research practice and the production of high quality science.

Sir Paul Nurse, President, Royal Society, says: "We can't be complacent about maintaining the relationship between science and society, which is based on trust in science and scientists. The culture of research must support the production of good science - science which is open, honest and reliable."

Professor Sir John Tooke PMedSci, President, Academy of Medical Sciences, said: "The Academy of Medical Sciences welcomes the publication of this report and the issues it identifies. High quality impactful science relies on a positive and ethical culture and alignment of the right incentives as well as technical expertise and precision.

The Academy is a strong advocate for the benefits of a 'team science' approach to research, recognising that interdisciplinary collaborative activity is an essential means of tackling tough and complex questions. We believe there must be support for collaborative endeavour at all levels with appropriate skilling, mentoring and recognition of such contributions.

The Academy will consider the important issues raised in our current policy projects on team science and research reproducibility."

Professor Dame Jean Thomas, President, Society of Biology, said: "In this highly competitive academic system we need careful governance to nurture ambition and excellence. The survey shows that among researchers there is a clear ambition for the rigour, openness and collaboration that lead to high quality science. Leaders in science should capitalise on this by educating and empowering researchers to achieve these aspirations, and clearly communicating that they intend to evaluate research outcomes on the basis of valuable knowledge and real impact."

Dr Mindy Dulai, Senior Programme Manager, Environmental Sciences, Royal Society of Chemistry, says: "Sharing knowledge and theories sparks new ideas and innovation, yet there are mixed views on collaboration amongst the scientists we spoke to, with some saying increased collaboration has a positive effect on science while others felt that high levels of competition discourage it. As scientific knowledge is made increasingly open, the scientific community must address the perception that competition is a barrier to collaboration."

Previous work of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics brought to light concerns about the ethical consequences of the culture of scientific research in terms of its potential to affect research practices and the quality and direction of science. To explore these further, in 2013 the Council embarked on a series of engagement activities to promote debate and gather evidence about how scientists and other key stakeholders experience the culture of research. The project activities included: an online survey that received 970 responses mainly from researchers working in higher education institutions; a series of 15 discussion events at UK universities attended by around 740 people; and meetings with funding bodies, publishers and social scientists.
EurekAlert. 2015. “Scientists concerned that culture of research can hinder scientific endeavor”. EurekAlert. Posted: December 3, 2014. Available online:

Monday, January 19, 2015

Unearthed: hoard of Roman and Pictish silver found in Aberdeenshire field

The find, which contains more than 100 pieces including coins and jewellery, has been hailed as the most northern of its kind in Europe.

The discovery was made earlier this year by archaeologists from National Museums Scotland and the University of Aberdeen's Northern Picts project at an undisclosed location.

It will now become the subject of a programme of research involving detailed analysis and cataloguing through the Glenmorangie Research Project - a three-year sponsorship of National Museums Scotland to support the study of Early Medieval Scotland.

Dr Martin Goldberg, senior curator of early historic collections, said: "It is a hugely important discovery being Europe's most northerly Late Roman hacksilver hoard, and also containing otherwise unique Pictish silver.

"The research project will enable us to shed new light on the interaction between the Picts and the Late Roman world and reconsider what some older finds in our collection can tell us about Early Medieval Scotland."

Dr Gordon Noble, senior lecturer at the department of archaeology at the University of Aberdeen, led the fieldwork as part of the Northern Picts project.

He said: "This exciting new find is part of a broader phenomenon of hacksilver hoards which stretch across Europe from the fourth to sixth centuries AD, when the Western Roman Empire was in decline.

"Silver objects were chopped up into bullion and then used and exchanged as payment, bribes, tribute and reward. People buried their wealth to keep it safe, but many did not return to recover their hoard. "The new finds include late Roman coins, pieces of late Roman silver vessels, bracelet and brooch fragments and other objects that would have been highly prized objects in their day.

"Our work in north-east Scotland is increasingly showing that Pictish communities in this area were part of powerful kingdoms in the early medieval period."

Items from the hoard will be on display for the first time at the University of Aberdeen from January 20 to May 31.
Herald Scotland. 2015. “Unearthed: hoard of Roman and Pictish silver found in Aberdeenshire field”. Herald Scotland. Posted: December 3, 2014. Available online: