Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Ancient skeleton covered in cannabis shroud unearthed in China

A team of archaeologists led by Hongen Jiang with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences working in the Turpan Basin in a northwestern part of China has unearthed the skeleton of a man who died between 2,500 and 2,800 years ago and was covered with a cannabis shroud when he was buried. In their paper published in the journal Economic Botany, the team describes how they were continuing work on exploring an ancient cemetery looking for clues about early cannabis use and happened upon the unusual find.

Humans have a long history of using cannabis for a variety of purposes—as hemp, it has been used to make rope and clothes; its seeds have been consumed to gain nutrition from the oils they contain, but perhaps most notoriously, the plant has been burned or eaten to gain a feeling of euphoria. In this new find, it appears the plant may have been used as part of a burial ritual.

The skeleton has been identified as once belonging to a Caucasian man approximately 35 years old at the time of his death. Those that had buried him had placed a willow pillow under his head and had then placed a shroud of (13) cannabis plants over his chest reaching from below his pelvis at one end to the side of his face on the other. The skeleton lay in one of the 240 graves in the area known as the Jiayi cemetery. The people that lived in the area at the time were part of a Kingdom from 3,000 and 2,000 years ago known as the Subeixi. Prior research has shown the people lived there because it was an oasis in the desert, one that had become an important place for travelers to rest during their trek along the Silk Road.

The researchers note that other examples of cannabis use have been found in the other nearby graves, but not as shrouds—mainly they were simply seeds or just leaves tossed into a grave site before burial. They point out that their find is the first to have full cannabis plants and the first time it has ever been seen used as a shroud. They believe the inclusion of whole plants suggests that the plants were grown locally—also the ripeness of the heads suggested they had been harvested and buried in the latter part of the summer. And because the heads were covered in glandular trichomes, which contain THC, the active ingredient in such plants, they believe that it was normally used as a psychoactive drug.
Reference: 2017. “Ancient skeleton covered in cannabis shroud unearthed in China”. Posted: October 6, 2016. Available online:

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Archaeologist discovers a new style of Viking combat

Sunlight bounces off the sword blade as an archaeologist clad in chain mail smashes it down upon his opponent’s shield. It strikes with a loud thud, but a swift tilt of the shield quickly defects the blow. The opponent is safe, for now.

Playing through many more variations of such combat scenarios has helped combat archaeologist Rolf Warming, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, to “rediscover” Viking fighting techniques.

Wearing 12 kilos of armour, Warming allowed himself to be attacked by a professional martial arts instructor to figure out how the Vikings used their shields to fend off attacks.

“It turns out that the Vikings may have used their shields much more actively than previously thought,” says Warming, who has been studying shield construction and Viking fighting techniques as part of his master’s thesis on the martial practices of the Viking Age.

It is the first time that Viking fighting techniques have been scientifically tested using sharp swords and realistic shields, he says. Archaeologist took a sword to the head

Warming’s methods were pretty brutal, but caused some initial nervousness.

“It was fun but I was also a little nervous because we had to really hit hard, with both force and intent, for it to be realistic,” says Warming.

During the experiment, Warming took a hit on the head. Fortunately he was wearing a helmet and the event only served to strengthen his theory.

“It happened when I was was using the shield in a passive way. This illustrates the futility of passive shield use and suggests that they didn’t use the shield in that way,” says Warming.

Warming produced a Viking shield known as a “round shield” for the experiment. The design was based on various archaeological discoveries throughout Denmark, Norway, and Sweden.

The shield is approximately one metre in diameter and made of pine planks, covered in treated pig leather, and trimmed in ox rawhide. On top of that, it has a whole lot of battle scars.

“The deep cut here on the edge is from when I used the shield as passive protection. The shield clearly worked better when I used it more actively,” he says.

This observation led to one of the main conclusions of Warming’s thesis: the Vikings may have used their shields to actively fend off blows. Otherwise, they would have quickly broken, he says.

Warming does not suggest that there was one single fighting style used by all Vikings. But this active technique was probably an important aspect of their fighting repertoire, he says. Functioned almost as a weapon itself

Active shield use means that the Vikings probably not only hid behind the shield, but also used it actively to parry and strike their opponent.

Warming tested seven different shield-sword scenarios. He switched shield positions from a crooked angle and a right angle, and switched between different variations of active and passive postures. Afterwards, he analysed the shields to see which technique worked best.

“When I actively moved forward with the shield at both angles, it seemed almost like a weapon, because you could both avoid the battle and also deliver forceful blows to the enemy with the shield edge,” he says.

No blood was shed during the experiment, but certain blows may well have been fatal if it had been a real Viking battle.

Need to review current knowledge of Viking combat

Along with the experimental shield tests, Warming also studied the literature on Viking combat techniques and analysed remains of past shields collected from sites around what was then the Danish territory.

Based on this, Warming concluded that Vikings had used their round shields almost as actively as their swords in combat.

It is a strong and well-founded conclusion, says archaeologist Henriette Lyngstrøm, associate professor at the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, who supervised Warming’s project. She is “incredibly impressed” with his work.

“We’ve never seen the Viking round shields as something that they used actively in battle. But based on Rolf’s studies, we can now say how the Vikings used them and no longer base it on assumptions,” she says. Mysterious shield damage can now be explained

The results are in line with previous research, and the findings are undoubtedly important for other archaeologists, says Lyngstrøm.

“It solves a problem for us archaeologists in connection with investigations of shields,” she says.

For the most part, only the shield boss remains, that is, the metal dome that sits in the middle of the shield. And they often have some nicks and damage that archaeologists have not been able to explain previously.

“But knowing that shields have been used actively to ward off blows, it suddenly makes sense,” says Lyngstrøm. Results are consistent with experience

Archaeologist Anne-Christine Larsen is interested in the new results. Larsen is the chief investigator at the Trelleborg Viking castle, part of the National Museum of Denmark.

She and her colleagues have often discussed Viking fighting styles and techniques, and often have to make some assumptions about it.

“Many of the warriors in Trelleborg’s fighting groups and in our annual re-enactment of a Viking battle use their shields actively. So it’s fantastic to finally have some scientific evidence that matches these observations,” says Larsen.

Controlled experimental archaeology

The conclusions are particularly robust, because they include real data from an actual test of the shield, says Larsen.

“It’s not enough to just write about it, you need to actually test these hypotheses in practice. This is what he’s done and it’s led to some really interesting results that we can certainly use at Trelleborg,” she says.

Lyngstrøm is also a big fan of this kind of experimental archaeology.

“He’s combined the best of two worlds by putting himself in the actual situation and being beaten with swords. That’s what experimental archaeology is all about,” says Lyngstrøm. Next stage: experiment with axes and arrows

Warming is not yet done with the violent world of experimental Viking battle techniques.

He now plans to expand the shield experiment and find out exactly how much this piece of weaponry could withstand during a battle.

“I hope to get funding to conduct similar studies, but with axes and arrows,” he says.

Kusnitzoff, Johanne Uhrenholt. 2017. “Archaeologist discovers a new style of Viking combat”. Science Nordic. Posted: October 30, 2016. Available online:

Monday, January 2, 2017

Low socio-economic status, fear of abandonment early in life can lead to poor adult health

Low socio-economic status and fear of abandonment early in life can lead to poor health in adulthood, regardless of adult socio-economic status, according to a new study from psychologists at Rice University.

"Attachment Orientations, Respiratory Sinus Arrhythmia and Stress Are Important for Understanding the Link Between Childhood Socio-Economic Status and Adult Self-Reported Health" appears in the current edition of Annals of Behavioral Medicine. The study examined the self-reported measures of childhood socio-economic status, attachment orientations (such as fear of abandonment or difficulty in forming relationships), stress and adult health of 213 participants from 2005 to 2011.

The study found that people who were in the lowest 25 percent of the sample for socio-economic status as children had 65 percent worse self-reported health as adults than people who were in the top 75 percent of the sample as children. The researchers noted that this poor health later in life occurred regardless of adult socio-economic status.

"Low socio-economic status places burdens on parents where they are less available to their kids at times," he said. "This can lead to the development of 'attachment orientations' -- which include fear of abandonment or difficulty in forming close relationships -- that can compromise adult health," said Chris Fagundes, an assistant professor of psychology and the study's co-author.

Fagundes said the study is one of the first to examine how these attachment issues link early adversity and adult health. He and his co-author, Kyle Murdock, a postdoctoral research fellow in psychology, also found that a person's biological capacity to regulate their emotions -- including stress -- had a correlation to overall health.

"If individuals are better at managing negative feelings and levels of stress, they are more likely to be healthy as adults," Murdock said. "However, if they are not so good at managing emotions, they are more likely to be less healthy."

Fagundes and Murdock hope the study will encourage further exploration of why low socio-economic status during childhood is associated with an increased risk of experiencing health disparities in adulthood.

"Ultimately, early childhood is a critical time for adult health, regardless of whether you move up the socio-economic ladder as an adult," the authors concluded.

Science Daily. 2017. “Low socio-economic status, fear of abandonment early in life can lead to poor adult health”. Science Daily. Posted: October 13, 2016. Available online:

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mesolithic settlement in the Baltic Sea mapped out

Seven years ago divers discovered the oldest known stationary fish traps in northern Europe off the coast of southern Sweden. Since then, researchers at Lund University in Sweden have uncovered an exceptionally well-preserved Stone Age site. They now believe the location was a lagoon environment where Mesolithic humans lived during parts of the year.

Other finds include a 9,000 year-old pick axe made out of elk antlers. The discoveries indicate mass fishing and therefore a semi-permanent settlement.

“As geologists, we want to recreate this area and understand how it looked. Was it warm or cold? How did the environment change over time?” says Anton Hansson, PhD student in Quaternary geology at Lund University.

Changes in the sea level have allowed the findings to be preserved deep below the surface of Hanö Bay in the Baltic Sea.

Drilled into seabed

The researchers have drilled into the seabed and radiocarbon dated the core, as well as examined pollen and diatoms. They have also produced a bathymetrical map that reveals depth variations.

“These sites have been known, but only through scattered finds. We now have the technology for more detailed interpretations of the landscape“, says Anton Hansson.

“If you want to fully understand how humans dispersed from Africa, and their way of life, we also have to find all their settlements. Quite a few of these are currently underwater, since the sea level is higher today than during the last glaciation. Humans have always prefered coastal sites“, concludes Hansson.

Past Horizons. 2017. “Mesolithic settlement in the Baltic Sea mapped out”. Past Horizons. Posted: November 14, 2016. Available online:

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Changing attitudes on genital cutting through entertainment

Though female genital cutting can lead to serious health problems throughout life, an estimated 125 million girls and women are cut, and every year an additional three million girls are at risk of being cut. Therefore, governments and international agencies have promoted the abandonment of cutting for decades. In the past, many programs promoting abandonment of the practice assumed that attitudes favoring cutting are locally pervasive and deeply entrenched. However, recent empirical research has shown that these attitudes vary greatly. Conflicting attitudes coexist within communities and even within families. The arguments for and against cutting generally fall into one of the following two categories: personal values concerning health, purity and perceived religious obligations or questions regarding the future marriage prospects of cut or uncut daughters.

Taking heterogeneity of attitudes into account

Sonja Vogt, Charles Efferson and Ernst Fehr from the University of Zurich, together with two Sudanese researchers, put the discussion of these conflicting attitudes at the center of their empirical approach. «Instead of pressing values onto the communities and ignoring their cultural heritage, we took the conflicting attitudes on FGC within communities as a starting point», explains Sonja Vogt, one of the lead authors. The researchers created four versions of a full-length movie, the main plot being a heady mix of love, intrigue and deception involving a family living in Sudan. Three of these movies included a 27 minute subplot about girls in the family who were approaching cutting age. In the subplots, the protagonists of the extended family discuss the arguments for and against cutting.

One of the versions focuses on personal values, one on marriageability, and the third on a combination of both. The discussions within these subplots evenly cover both arguments for and against cutting and eventually led to the decision to abandon cutting. Charles Efferson explains: «By presenting conflicting sides of the issue, the movies dramatize how difficult it is for parents to make a decision about cutting, and they allow viewers to make their own judgements».

Challenging and changing attitudes through entertainment

«We saw that all three movies about cutting immediately improved attitudes, but that only the movie addressing both personal values and future marriage prospects had a relatively persistent effect by improving attitudes for at least a week», says Sonja Vogt. Charles Efferson, the other lead author, points out that they could measure a causal relation (instead of mere correlation) between a person seeing one of the movies and a change in attitude towards uncut girls.

«This shows that using entertainment to dramatize the arguments can be an effective approach to changing attitudes about female genital cutting», he says.

Sonja Vogt believes that there is further potential in this approach. «Done in an ethical and balanced way, entertainment-embedded public information could increase the possibility of non-governmental organizations and for-profit ventures to cooperate», she says: «including such messaging in entertainment formats could initiate discussion and sustainable change». Efferson sees this as a key advantage of using entertainment: «Entertainment can often reach a much wider audience than educational documentaries. Documentaries run the risk of preaching to the converted».

How the study was conducted

To produce the movies, the researchers worked closely with a team of writers and actors in Sudan over the course of nearly two years. The movies were filmed in a family compound in a rural area outside of Khartoum. Participants watched the movies in public viewings as part of two randomized and controlled experiments. To measure how participants feel about cut versus uncut girls, the researchers developed an implicit association test to measure attitudes about cutting that adults might not want to reveal explicitly. The researchers used mobile computer labs to implement this test in a way that completely preserved the anonymity of participants. The researchers used the movies as treatments in two experiments with nearly 8000 participants in 127 communities in Sudan. The research was funded by the Swiss National Committee of Unicef and supported by Unicef, Sudan

EurekAlert. 2016. “Changing attitudes on genital cutting through entertainment”. EurekAlert. Posted: October 12, 2016. Available online:

Friday, December 30, 2016

Professors recommend improvements for domestic, substance abuse survivors based on experiences volunteering in shelters

Surviving domestic violence is a harrowing ordeal on its own. For those who spend time escaping abuse in shelters, they often find additional challenges navigating the system, especially if substance abuse is involved in some way. A University of Kansas professor has co-authored three studies detailing the experiences of women's navigation of, and tensions in, a domestic violence shelter and a substance abuse center.

Adrianne Kunkel, professor of communication studies at KU, along with Jennifer Guthrie, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and a former student of Kunkel's, volunteered at Harbor Safe House (a pseudonym), a domestic violence shelter, and Guthrie also volunteered at New Day (a pseudonym), a substance abuse treatment center. They have authored articles on the experiences of survivors of domestic violence and have recommended several pragmatic steps that shelters, as well as substance abuse centers, can take to better serve survivors, make services more efficient and help women escape the cycle of both domestic violence and substance abuse.

One study, published in the journal Communication Quarterly explored the topic of overlapping domestic and substance abuse. "Alcohol and drug abuse and domestic violence are commonly linked, yet they are almost always viewed as separate problems," Kunkel said. "And even in cases where they are recognized as being related, women trying to overcome them often face messages that are conflicting or even contradictory. For instance, domestic violence survivors are told they need to be independent and break free of the abusive situation but are also told they are powerless over addiction.

"We encourage women to be independent of their previous lives, yet they are still very dependent on the shelter. There's a very fine line between dependence and independence that can be difficult to recognize and navigate."

Substances are frequently factors in abusive relationships. And though many shelters prohibit the use of substances on their premises, it is nonetheless quite common for women to turn to drugs or alcohol to self-soothe as they deal with the stresses of having been abused. Compounding the problem, services that deal with domestic violence and substance abuse frequently are viewed as two separate entities and often don't work well together. This argument was featured prominently in Guthrie and Kunkel's Communication Quarterly article.

"They are two systems that have very altruistic goals, but there are different approaches to each, and even some territoriality involved," Kunkel said.

Further work completed by Kunkel and Guthrie centers on the role of narratives of domestic violence as they are understood culturally and even expressed individually by survivors of abuse. In their second recent article, featured in 2015 in the journal Women & Language, the researchers portray problems with a culture-wide, uniform application of a "formula story" wherein an "evil villain" terrorizes a "pure victim" with severe physical violence. Due to such widespread broad conceptions of domestic violence, many women fail to realize that they are experiencing it.

In a third article, published in the Western Journal of Communication, Kunkel and Guthrie explore the paradoxes and tensions women commonly experience in domestic violence shelters. An especially common problem survivors faced was the need to shift their narratives, or tell the story of their experiences differently, depending on who they were telling it to. The practice is one people take part in every day, often without even realizing it. But when domestic violence survivors frame their story differently to different audiences—depending on the situation like seeking housing, protection from abuse orders or clothing vouchers—they can be viewed as less than honest or as embellishing their story. And Kunkel's previous research, based on that of social psychologist James Pennebaker, indicates that telling one's distressful story completely and fully garners significant psychological and physical gains; altering and reshaping their narratives is likely to deny survivors the full benefits of such disclosure.

"All marginalized groups, including survivors of domestic violence, hate crimes or other incidents, feel the need to shift the narrative for particular audiences," Kunkel said. "We all know when we want things in life we have to go certain places and talk to people in certain ways. But to see it play out in this situation was heartbreaking."

Based on that, and other challenges the authors saw domestic violence survivors confronted with, they made five practical recommendations shelters could implement to better serve women.

First, they recommend reconsidering the standard 30-day limit on stays at shelters. The long-standing policies are often enacted because space is limited and to keep people from becoming completely dependent on the shelters. However, it can be extremely difficult to escape an abusive situation and make major life changes in such a brief period of time. So many women in interviews pointed to the stay limit as an obstacle that Kunkel and Guthrie recommend offering a 45-day (or longer) stay to those who demonstrate they need the extra time.

In relation to the aforementioned problem of dependence, the authors recommend striking a balance between it and independence. By implementing "individualized tailoring," or using a modified empowerment and case management approach, shelters could provide and demonstrate tools women need to recover, as opposed to telling survivors exactly what to do and when.

Third, providing dedicated listeners could address the problem of shifting narratives. Understanding the tension between what Kunkel and Guthrie labeled as "narrative accuracy" and "narrative efficacy" could help prevent the need for survivors to tell their stories in multiple ways, to be accused of dishonesty, or to miss out on the varied benefits of full disclosure.

"Recognizing limitations and working together among shelter staff could also help improve services," Kunkel and Guthrie wrote. Women's shelters are often very dependent on government grants to operate. Yet, the people who work to secure funding are not always aware of the challenges staff working with survivors are facing, and vice versa. That often leads to situations of bureaucratic hurdles for both camps.

Finally, the authors call for increased understanding of the link between domestic violence and substance abuse. Just realizing the two can be closely related, and that it can be counterproductive to only address one problem, could go a long way in helping women recover from both situations, they argue. Moreover, efforts to foster collaboration and align agencies directed at each issue may greatly improve outcomes.

Kunkel and Guthrie will present a portion of their findings in October at the 2016 Organization for the Study of Communication, Language, and Gender conference in Chicago. They also have several other articles in the works and ultimately plan to collect their findings in a book to help both survivors of domestic and substance abuse, as well as the staff at domestic violence shelters and substance abuse centers dedicated to serving them.
Reference: 2016. “Professors recommend improvements for domestic, substance abuse survivors based on experiences volunteering in shelters”. Posted: October 6, 2016. Available online:

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A 300-year-old murder could be solved

Workers recently came across a skeleton during the restoration of Leine Palace in the German state of Lower Saxony (Niedersachsen). The bones and remnants of clothes have been examined by doctors but they couldn’t ascertain the cause of death. 

However, this is where the young Swedish Count Philip Christoph Königsmarck is thought to have vanished without a trace in 1694.

“If the remains prove to be the young Swedish count who disappeared 322 years ago, he could have been the victim of a royal murder triggered by jealousy,” says historian Håkan Håkansson. He has studied over 300 coded love letters at Lund University in Sweden.

These show that the count and the duchess had a totally improper romantic relationship.

Unhappy marriage to a prince

The count was only 29 when he disappeared. He had a long-going romantic relationship with his childhood friend Sophia Dorothea. She was regrettably already married – and not to a historical nobody.

At the age of 16 she had married off for political reasons to a six-year-older crown prince, Georg Ludwig of Hannover. He later became King George I of the UK and Ireland.

But it was an unhappy marriage, and George and his parents were cold and reserved toward the Duchess Sophia Dorothea.

Count Philip disappeared after a nocturnal assignation with the princess.

Love letters

Count Philip and Sophia Dorothea were ardent correspondents. Over 300 letters, sent during a two-year period, still exist. The turtledoves sent an average of three letters to one another per week.

The letters were donated to the university in the early 1800s by Pontus de la Gardie, an eager collector of archive material from Swedish noble families.

These are now kept by the Lund University Library.

“It was not unusual for people to write so many letters in these times. They often wrote many letters a day,” says Håkan Håkansson, an associate professor in the history of ideas at Lund University.

Many of the letters also include numerical codes, cyphers, a feature that was not so common.

“The encrypted language was used to conceal sensitive information. But this one was decoded back in the 1800s,” he explains.

Rather innocent, but scandalous

The numeric code was very simple, with each number representing a letter in the alphabet. When the sweethearts switched from ordinary remarks to sweet nothings they simply wrote in the numeric code.

The encrypted contents were quite innocent from a modern perspective.

Prince Georg was also notoriously unfaithful, bedding down with many women. In the 17th century, as in other times, it was normal for powerful men, particularly kings, to have multiple mistresses. 

“But it was much worse, in fact scandalous, for a princess to have extramarital relations,” says Håkansson.

Although the young lovers tried to keep the contents of their letters covert, they would have needed confidants to deliver their letters. This could have been the Achilles heel of their relationship.

Speculations about the children

Sophia Dorothea and Georg Ludwig had two children, a daughter who later became the mother of Frederick the Great of Prussia, and a son who became King George II of the UK. In their day, there were rumours about that the Swedish count was the real father of these children.

“If the children were illegitimate, it would have impacted the claims of the British and the Swedish royal houses,” explains Håkansson. 

Researchers, however, have later calculated that the children were born before Sophia could have had sexual relations with the Swedish count.

Historians have also questioned whether the letters were forgeries, made by enemies to undermine the royal houses.

“But we have known for some time now that these letters are authentic,” says Håkansson.

Planning to run off

In the summer of 1694, Philip Königsmarck and Sophia Dorothea planned to run off together. But this did not pan out.

Their love affair was exposed, probably by their friend, the Countess Clara Elisabeth von Platen.

The scandal was out in the open and Count Philip just disappeared.

Sophia Dorothea was sent away and locked in the Ahlden Palace in Lüneburg, not far from Hannover. She spent 30 years there, until her death.

Contemporaries suspected that Georg Ludwig had the count assassinated, but no body was found.

DNA of relatives

Researchers would like to compare the DNA of the bones that have been found this summer with living relatives of Philip. The DNA tests will be done at Germany’s University of Göttingen.

“A relative of the Swedish count consented to help and has provided a DNA sample,” says Håkansson.

This might clear up a murder mystery that has been a cold-case for over three centuries. But Håkansson thinks it unlikely that the skeleton will turn out to be Count Philip.

“It’s evident that this unfortunate individual did not die a natural death. He was found in a palace, rather than buried in a graveyard,” says Håkansson. But he points out that there are all sorts of possibilities for this to be someone other than the Swedish count.

“There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of persons who could have been in the palace at some time, either servants or guests. So I think this is most probably someone else,” says the Swedish historian.

Stranden, Anne Lise. 2016. “A 300-year-old murder could be solved”. Science Nordic. Posted: October 26, 2016. Available online: