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A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery features marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury

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View of the excavated winery at the Villa of the Quintilii on the Via Appia Antica, Rome. Credit: S. Castellani, Author provided

Recent excavations at the Villa of the Quintilii uncovered the remains of a unique winery just outside Rome.

The mid-third-century CE building located along the Via Appia Antica portrays a sense of opulence and performance almost never found at an ancient production site.

This exciting complex illustrates how elite Romans fused utilitarian function with luxurious decoration and theater to fashion their social and political status.

I was one of the specialist archaeologists to study this newly excavated site. The details of this discovery are outlined in our new article in Antiquity.

The Villa of the Quintilii

From names stamped on a lead water pipe, we know the 24 hectare ancient Roman villa complex was owned by the wealthy Quintilii brothers, who served as consuls in 151 CE.

The Roman emperor Commodus had the brothers killed in 182/3 CE.

He took possession of their properties, including this villa, initiating long-term imperial ownership.

The site has been long known for its decorative architecture, including colored marble tiling, high-quality statuary recovered over the last 400 years, and a monumental bathing complex.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
Aerial view of the excavated winery at the Villa of the Quintilii. Production areas are at the top (A–D), and the cellar (E) with adjacent dining rooms (F) in the lower half of the image. Credit: M.C.M s.r.l and adaptation in Dodd, Frontoni, Galli 2023, Author provided

Less known is an enormous circus for chariot racing built during the reign of Commodus.

From 2017-18, during an attempt to discover the starting gates of the circus, the first traces of a unique winery were revealed.

A luxury Roman imperial winery

This large complex was built on top of the circus starting gates, which dates it after the reign of Commodus.

The complex possesses features commonly found in ancient Roman wineries: a grape treading area, two wine presses, a vat to collect grape must (the juice of the grapes along with their skins, seeds and stems) and a cellar with large clay jars for storage and fermentation sunk into the ground.

However, the decoration and arrangement of these features is almost completely unparalleled in the ancient world.

Nearly all the production areas are clad in marble veneer tiling. Even the treading area, normally coated in waterproof cocciopesto plaster, is covered in red breccia marble. This luxurious material, combined with its impracticalities (it is very slippery when wet, unlike plaster), conveys the extreme sense of luxury.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
Reconstructed ancient Roman wine press at the Villa of the Mysteries, Pompeii, Italy. Credit: E. Dodd, Author provided

Two immense mechanical lever presses sit either side of the treading area to press the already trodden grape pulp.

The size and scale of these presses working up and down in harmony would have contributed to the theater of the production process.

The produced from treading and pressing flowed from these areas into a long rectangular vat, where an impression from a stamp named the short-reigning emperor Gordian (deposed 244 CE). This confirms a date of construction or renovation.

But it is here the real performance would have begun.

The liquid grape must poured like a striking fountain out of the vat and through a façade around one meter in height that closely resembles a Roman nymphaeum (a monumental decorated fountain).

While must flowed out of the three central niches, water flowed out of those on either end and was then channeled back underground through a system of lead pipes.

This niched facade was originally clad in a decorative veneer of brightly colored white, black, gray and red marble. Some pieces remain attached and more were found loose in the excavated layers.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
View from the excavated dining room over the cellar with its facade of niches and fountains and up to the raised production areas. Credit: E. Dodd, Author provided

A system of thin open white marble channels conveyed the grape must from the façade into an open-air cellar area.

Here it was fed into 16 buried clay jars (dolia defossa) large enough for a person to fit inside. The remains of eight were uncovered during excavations.

Three rooms paved in opulent geometric marble tiling, like those found in other areas of the villa, were arranged around the cellar.

We might imagine the emperor and his retinue reclining, eating and watching the spectacle of production and tasting freshly pressed must.

Theatrical vintage ritual in ancient Italy

The only other example like this facility can be found at Villa Magna, 50 kilometers to the south-east near Anagni.

This similarly opulent marble-clad winery was in use just before the Villa of the Quintilii, from the early second to early third century CE, with an area for dining that enabled a view of the production spaces.

A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery featured marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury
Geometric coloured marble floor tiling (opus sectile) discovered in one of the dining rooms. Credit: S. Castellani, Author provided

In Marcus Aureliusletters to his tutor Fronto, we are given a rare glimpse into the activities of Villa Magna around 140-145 CE. He describes the imperial party banqueting while watching and listening to the workers treading grapes.

It is likely this formed part of a vintage ritual, tied to the ceremonial opening of the harvest. Perhaps this ritual also occurred at the slightly later Villa of the Quintilii facility.

Lavish marble-clad spaces marked areas fit for the imperial party and the winery was the “theater” for this sacred performance.

One tantalizing question remains unanswered: was the Roman emperor’s spectacular, ritual winery moved in the early third century CE from Villa Magna to the Villa of the Quintilii?

More information:
Emlyn Dodd et al, The spectacle of production: a Roman imperial winery at the Villa of the Quintilii, Rome, Antiquity (2023). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2023.18

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A newly uncovered ancient Roman winery features marble tiling, fountains of grape juice and an extreme sense of luxury (2023, April 17)
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More than 100 pre-Hispanic religious sites linked to ancient Andean cults discovered in Bolivia

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Photographs of the walled concentric sites in the Rio Lauca area of Carangas. Credit: P. Cruz; from GoogleEarth images.

A trio of archaeologists from the National Scientific and Technical Research Council, Argentina, the French National Center for Scientific Research and the Institute of Research for Development, France, has found more than 100 pre-Hispanic religious sites that they believe are linked to ancient Andean cults in Bolivia. In their paper published in the journal Antiquity, Pablo Cruz, Richard Joffre and Jean Vacher, describe the sites they found and highlight one in particular that stood out from the rest.

In this new effort, the researchers were studying hilltops in the Carangas region of Highland Bolivia, which was once home to pre-Hispanic people. By studying images captured by satellites and also examining multiple sites on the ground, the researchers learned more about the sites and to make some guesses regarding their nature and use.

The sites were concentric circles of walls created on hilltops using mostly local material. Most sites featured multiple circles. In all, the research team was able to identify 135 such hilltop sites—all were dated to between AD 1250 and 1600. They note that the large numbers of fragments found at all of the sites had once been part of plates, jars or bowls—this, they suggest, indicates that the sites had served a ceremonial purpose. Prior research has shown that the people of the region conducted rites known as wak’a, which could have been related to the rings on the hilltops.

More than one hundred pre-Hispanic religious sites linked to ancient Andean cults discovered in Bolivia
Photograph and site plan of Waskiri. Credit: P. Cruz.

The group also found one site, Waskiri, that stood out from the others due to both its size and intricacy. It was 140 meters in diameter and was made using two circled walls, one inside the other, the second somewhat smaller. The two rings were connected by adjoining enclosures and contained many ceramic fragments. Also, there was what the researchers describe as a plaza at the center of the ring structure, which also featured ceramic fragments. According to the researchers, the design of the circles suggests they may have had an Incan influence.

The team says the sites represent a rich area of study for a part of the Andes that has not been studied well due to its harsh, cold climate.

More information:
Pablo Cruz et al, A pre-Hispanic religious landscape on the arid Andean altiplano of Bolivia, Antiquity (2023). DOI: 10.15184/aqy.2023.44

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More than 100 pre-Hispanic religious sites linked to ancient Andean cults discovered in Bolivia (2023, April 17)
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Motherhood negatively affects women’s earnings for a decade, finds Australian study

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Adjusted predictions of time around first birth for male-breadwinner, equal-earner and female-breadwinner households, with controls. Notes: HILDA Survey, 2001–2019. Credit: Australian Journal of Social Issues (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ajs4.264

A University of Queensland study has shown having a baby negatively affects a mother’s employment earnings for up to 10 years.

Researchers from UQ’s Life Course Center used data from the Household Income and Labor Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey to investigate the impact of on earnings across a period spanning 10 years prior to and 10 years after the birth of a child. The results are published in the Australian Journal of Social Issues.

Lead author and Master of Philosophy student Ruth Steinbring said that while previous research found an immediate “motherhood penalty” on women’s earnings, this study was one of the first to examine the long-term trajectory of household earnings through the transition into parenthood.

“We know that parenthood is a key contributor to loss of earnings for women, but we did not know whether or at what point women started to regain their lost earnings,” Ms. Steinbring said.

“While there is an expectation over the long term that couples will gradually return to pre-parenthood earnings arrangements, our study results do not support this.

“Parenthood affects men and women differently and the gender gap in earnings is still evident up to 10 years after the first birth.”

The study shows the share of households with male breadwinners rises sharply post-parenthood and has still not returned to pre-parenthood levels 10 years on.

It also shows a large decrease in the number of equal-earner households. However there is less fluctuation in the number of female-breadwinner households from pre- to post-parenthood.

Ms. Steinbring said it made economic sense for the person who earned more to continue working.

“Our study confirms that parenthood entrenches the male-breadwinner model, but it also shows that there are some couples who make it work with a female breadwinner and we can learn from those households,” Ms. Steinbring said.

“Current policy mainly focuses on supporting women after the birth of a child, but our research suggests that improving ‘s earnings prior to giving birth can also help improve equality.”

Co-author and Life Course Center Director Professor Janeen Baxter said the study provides valuable new insights into the role of parenthood in over a lifetime.

Professor Baxter said the findings suggest structural, economic and cultural pressures to conform to a male-breadwinner model, and unequal sharing of household and childcaring responsibilities, continued to be a strong influence on post-parenthood .

“This study highlights the need for policymakers to also consider the years prior to parenthood as a key period where targeted supports can foster greater long-term gender equality,” Professor Baxter said.

More information:
Ruth Steinbring et al, Taking the long view: Long‐term couple earnings arrangements across the transition to parenthood, Australian Journal of Social Issues (2023). DOI: 10.1002/ajs4.264

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Motherhood negatively affects women’s earnings for a decade, finds Australian study (2023, April 17)
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SpaceX will try to launch most powerful rocket ever Monday

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A prototype of Starship, a huge rocket made by SpaceX, sits on a launchpad in Boca Chica, Texas in February 2022.

SpaceX plans to carry out its first test flight on Monday of Starship, the most powerful rocket ever built, designed to send astronauts to the Moon and eventually beyond.

The is scheduled to take place at 7:00 am (1200 GMT) from the sprawling Texas base of the private space company owned by billionaire Elon Musk.

Fallback times are scheduled later in the week if Monday’s attempt is postponed.

The US space agency NASA has picked the Starship capsule to ferry its to the Moon as part of the Artemis III mission, set for late 2025 at the earliest.

Starship consists of a reusable capsule that carries crew and cargo and the first-stage Super Heavy booster rocket.

The 164-foot (50-meter) tall Starship spacecraft sits atop the 230-foot tall Super Heavy rocket.

SpaceX conducted a successful test-firing of the 33 Raptor engines on the first-stage booster of Starship in February.

The Super Heavy booster was anchored to the ground during the test-firing, called a static fire, to prevent it from lifting off.

The rocket has never flown in its full configuration, powered by the first stage.

“Success maybe, excitement guaranteed!” Musk tweeted late Friday.

NASA will take astronauts up to itself in November 2024 using its own heavy rocket called the Space Launch System (SLS), which has been in development for more than a decade.

Starship is both bigger and more powerful than SLS.

It generates 17 million pounds of thrust, more than double that of the Saturn V rockets used to send Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

SpaceX foresees eventually putting a Starship into orbit, and then refueling it with another Starship so it can continue on a journey to Mars or beyond.

The idea of a reusable launcher, Musk’s broad strategy, is to reduce the price. Each Starship flight could eventually cost “less than $10 million,” he said early last year.

Other super heavy rockets under development include Blue Origin’s New Glenn, China’s Long March 9 and Russia’s Yenisei.

© 2023 AFP

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SpaceX will try to launch most powerful rocket ever Monday (2023, April 15)
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Icy moonquakes: Surface shaking could trigger landslides

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Examples of ridge-and-trough terrains from the four studied icy satellites. Arrows point along representative scarps in each example. (a) Boundary between Harpagia Sulcus and Nicholson Regio, Ganymede (Planetary Data System [PDS] ID: c0552445200, c0552445213). (b) Ino and Yelland Lineae, Europa (PDS ID: c0426272832, c0426272835, c0426272839, c0426273800). (c) Harran Sulcus, Enceladus (PDS ID n1489048255). (d) “Wispy Terrain” containing Palatine and Padua Chasmata, Dione (PDS ID n1662199979). Three of the images, (a) Ganymede, (b) Europa, and (c) Enceladus are shown at a common scale (10 km scale bar); (d) Dione scarps are shown at a 10× scale (100 km scale bar). These terrains are analogous in expression, but display different detailed morphologies. North is toward the top in all images. Credit: Icarus (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2023.115534

A new NASA study offers an explanation of how quakes could be the source of the mysteriously smooth terrain on moons circling Jupiter and Saturn.

Many of the ice-encrusted moons orbiting the in the far reaches of our solar system are known to be geologically active. Jupiter and Saturn have such strong gravity that they stretch and pull the bodies orbiting them, causing moonquakes that can crack the moons’ crusts and surfaces. New research shows for the first time how these quakes may trigger landslides that lead to remarkably smooth terrain.

The study, published in Icarus, outlines the link between quakes and landslides, shedding new light on how icy surfaces and textures evolve.

On the surfaces of icy moons such as Europa, Ganymede, and Enceladus, it’s common to see steep ridges surrounded by relatively flat, smooth areas. Scientists have theorized that these spots result from liquid that flows out of icy volcanoes. But how that process works when the are so cold and inhospitable to fluids has remained a mystery.

A simple explanation outlined in the study doesn’t involve liquid on the surface. Scientists measured the dimensions of the steep ridges, which are believed to be tectonic fault scarps (like those on Earth)—steep slopes caused when the surface breaks along a fault line and one side drops. By applying the measurements to seismic models, they estimated the power of past moonquakes and found they could be strong enough to lift debris that then falls downhill, where it spreads out, smoothing the landscape.

“We found the surface shaking from moonquakes would be enough to cause surface material to rush downhill in landslides. We’ve estimated the size of moonquakes and how big the landslides could be,” said lead author Mackenzie Mills, a graduate student at the University of Arizona in Tucson, who conducted the work during a series of summer internships at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “This helps us understand how landslides might be shaping moon surfaces over time.”

Icy Moonquakes: Surface Shaking Could Trigger Landslides
Close-up views of observed scarps on each satellite: (a1, a2) Ganymede, (b1) Europa, (c1) Enceladus, (d1) Dione. Locations of insets (a1) and (a2) can be seen in Fig. 3; inset (b1) in Fig. A5; inset (c1) in Fig. A7; and inset (d1) in Fig. A10. Arrow styles for various feature types between the five subimages are constant for comparisons. Thin white arrows denote lineations on smooth slopes, thin black double arrows denote two-component slopes, winged black arrows denote blocks, winged white arrows denote inferred headwalls, thick black arrows denote possible spur-and-gully morphology, and thick white arrows denote older surface textures on slopes. (a1, a2) Two examples of scarps on Ganymede, with smooth and striated materials (Fig. 3), and faint lineations in the smooth material. A possible headwall is also labeled. PDS ID c0552443639 (∼22 m/pixel). (b1) Example scarps on Europa displaying smooth scarps faces and textured backtilted slopes that exhibit older surface textures. PDS ID c0420626765 (∼34 m/pixel). (c1) Prominent shadows highlight headwalls and features on scarp slopes on Enceladus. Two blocks are labeled, along with a possible headwall. Potentially analogous morphology to spur-and-gully topography is labeled on what may be a two-component slope. PDS ID n1489049903 (∼80 m/pixel). (d1) Scarps on Dione displaying faint lineations, and a possible two-component slope, evidenced by differing brightness between the upper and lower slopes of the scarp. PDS ID n1649311515 (∼14 m/pixel). Credit: Icarus (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2023.115534

Upcoming investigations

NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission, bound for Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2024, will give the research a significant boost, providing imagery and other science data. After reaching Jupiter in 2030, the spacecraft will orbit the gas giant and conduct about 50 flybys of Europa. The mission has a sophisticated payload of nine science instruments to determine if Europa, which scientists believe contains a deep internal ocean beneath an outer ice shell, has conditions that could be suitable for life.

“It was surprising to find out more about how powerful moonquakes could be and that it could be simple for them to move debris downslope,” said co-author Robert Pappalardo, project scientist of Europa Clipper at JPL, which manages the mission.

Especially surprising were the modeling results for and quakes on Saturn’s moon Enceladus, a body that has less than 3% of the surface area of Europa and about 1/650 that of Earth. “Because of that moon’s small gravity, quakes on tiny Enceladus could be large enough to fling icy debris right off the surface and into space like a wet dog shaking itself off,” Pappalardo said.

When it comes to Europa, the gathered by Europa Clipper will help scientists determine the power of past moonquakes. Researchers will be able to apply the recent findings to understand whether quakes have moved ice and other materials and by how much. Images from the ESA (European Space Agency) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will offer similar information about Europa’s neighboring Jovian moon, Ganymede.

“We hope to gain a better understanding of the geological processes that have shaped icy moons over time and to what extent their surfaces may still be active today,” Pappalardo said.

More information:
Mackenzie M. Mills et al, Moonquake-triggered mass wasting processes on icy satellites, Icarus (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.icarus.2023.115534

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Icy moonquakes: Surface shaking could trigger landslides (2023, April 14)
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from https://phys.org/news/2023-04-icy-moonquakes-surface-trigger-landslides.html

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NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter completes 50th flight

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This image of NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter was taken at “Airfield D” by the Mastcam-Z instrument on the Perseverance rover on June 15, 2021, the 114th Martian day, or sol, of the mission. The rotorcraft completed its 50th flight on April 13, 2023. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

The history-making rotorcraft has recently been negotiating some of the most hazardous terrain it’s encountered on the Red Planet.

NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter has completed its 50th on Mars. The first aircraft on another world reached the half-century mark on April 13, traveling over 1,057.09 feet (322.2 meters) in 145.7 seconds. The helicopter also achieved a new altitude record of 59 feet (18 meters) before alighting near the half-mile-wide (800-meter-wide) “Belva Crater.”

With Flight 50 in the mission logbook, the helicopter team plans to perform another repositioning flight before exploring the “Fall River Pass” region of Jezero Crater.

“Just as the Wright brothers continued their experiments well after that momentous day at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Ingenuity team continues to pursue and learn from the flight operations of the first aircraft on another world,” said Lori Glaze, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

Ingenuity landed on the Red Planet in February 2021 attached to the belly of NASA’s Mars Perseverance rover and will soon mark the two-year anniversary of its first flight, which took place on April 19, 2021. Designed as a technology demonstration that would fly no more than five times, the helicopter was intended to prove powered, controlled flight on another planet was possible. But Ingenuity exceeded expectations and transitioned into being an operations demonstration.






NASA’s Ingenuity Mars helicopter made history when it achieved the first powered, controlled flight on another planet on April 19, 2021. A little less than two years later, on April 13, 2023, it completed its 50th flight. Here are some highlights from the rotorcraft’s journeys on the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Every time Ingenuity goes airborne, it covers new ground and offers a perspective no previous planetary mission could achieve. Imagery from the helicopter has not only demonstrated how aircraft could serve as forward scouts for future planetary expeditions, but it has even come in handy for the Perseverance team.

By testing the helicopter’s limits, engineers are gathering flight data that can be used by engineers working on designs for possible future Mars helicopters. That includes the people designing the Mars Sample Return campaign’s proposed Sample Recovery Helicopters.

Riskier terrain

Since leaving the relatively flat confines of Jezero Crater’s floor on Jan. 19, Ingenuity has flown 11 times, setting new speed and altitude records of 14.5 mph (6.5 meters per second) and 59 feet (18 meters) along the way.

Although the deep chill of winter and regional dust events (which can block the Sun’s rays from reaching the helicopter’s solar panel) have abated, Ingenuity continues to brown out at night. As a result, the Helicopter Base Station on the rover needs to search for the rotorcraft’s signal each morning at the time Ingenuity is predicted to wake up. And when the helicopter does fly, it now must navigate rugged and relatively uncharted terrain, landing in spots that can be surrounded by hazards.

“We are not in Martian Kansas anymore,” said Josh Anderson, Ingenuity operations lead at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We’re flying over the dried-up remnants of an ancient river that is filled with sand dunes, boulders, and rocks, and surrounded by hills that could have us for lunch. And while we recently upgraded the navigation software onboard to help determine safe airfields, every flight is still a white-knuckler.”






Teddy Tzanetos at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory provides an update on the agency’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter and discusses how it’s inspiring future aerial exploration of the red planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Frequent flyer

Beyond facing more challenging terrain, Ingenuity will also fly at a greater frequency in the coming days because the helicopter needs to remain within electronic earshot of the rover. With its AutoNav capability, Perseverance can travel hundreds of meters each day.

“Ingenuity relies on Perseverance to act as a communications relay between it and mission controllers here at JPL,” said Anderson. “If the rover gets too far ahead or disappears behind a hill, we could lose communications. The rover team has a job to do and a schedule to keep. So it’s imperative Ingenuity keeps up and is in the lead whenever possible.”

Perseverance recently completed exploring “Foel Drygarn,” a scientific target that may contain hydrated silica (which is of strong astrobiological interest). It is currently headed to “Mount Julian,” which will provide a panoramic view into nearby Belva Crater.






NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter is seen here at the starting point of its 47th flight on Mars. The video was captured by the Mastcam-Z imager aboard NASA’s Perseverance rover on March 9, 2023. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS

Feats of Ingenuity

Built with many off-the-shelf components, such as smartphone processors and cameras, Ingenuity is now 23 Earth months and 45 flights beyond its expected lifetime. The rotorcraft has flown for over 89 minutes and more than 7.1 miles (11.6 kilometers).

“When we first flew, we thought we would be incredibly lucky to eke out five flights,” said Teddy Tzanetos, Ingenuity team lead at JPL. “We have exceeded our expected cumulative flight time since our wrapped by 1,250% and expected distance flown by 2,214%.”

Surpassing expectations like this comes at a cost, however. With some helicopter components showing signs of wear and the terrain becoming more challenging, the Ingenuity team recognizes that every great mission must eventually come to an end. “We have come so far, and we want to go farther,” said Tzanetos. “But we have known since the very beginning our time at Mars was limited, and every operational day is a blessing. Whether Ingenuity’s mission ends tomorrow, next week, or months from now is something no one can predict at present. What I can predict is that when it does, we’ll have one heck of a party.”

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Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia’s first nomadic empire

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The Xiongnu built a multiethnic empire on the Mongolian steppe that was connected by trade to Rome, Egypt, and Imperial China. Artist reconstruction of life among the Xiongnu imperial elite by Galmandakh Amarsanaa. Credit: © Dairycultures Project

Long obscured in the shadows of history, the world’s first nomadic empire—the Xiongnu—is at last coming into view thanks to painstaking archaeological excavations and new ancient DNA evidence. Arising on the Mongolian steppe 1,500 years before the Mongols, the Xiongnu empire grew to be one of Iron Age Asia’s most powerful political forces—ultimately stretching its reach and influence from Egypt to Rome to Imperial China.

Economically grounded in animal husbandry and dairying, the Xiongnu were famously nomadic, building their empire on the backs of horses. Their proficiency at mounted warfare made them swift and formidable foes, and their legendary conflicts with Imperial China ultimately led to the construction of the Great Wall.

However, unlike their neighbors, the Xiongnu never developed a writing system, and consequently about the Xiongnu have been almost entirely written and passed down by their rivals and enemies. Such accounts, largely recorded by Han Dynasty chroniclers, provide little useful information on the origins of the Xiongnu, their political rise, or their .

Although recent archaeogenetics studies have now traced the origins of the Xiongnu as a political entity to a sudden migration and mixing of disparate nomadic groups in northern Mongolia ca. 200 BCE, such findings have raised more questions than answers.

To better understand the inner workings of the seemingly enigmatic Xiongnu empire, an international team of researchers at the Max Planck Institutes for Evolutionary Anthropology (MPI-EVA) and Geoanthropology (MPI-GEO), Seoul National University, the University of Michigan, and Harvard University conducted an in-depth of two imperial elite Xiongnu cemeteries along the western frontier of the empire: an aristocratic elite cemetery at Takhiltyn Khotgor and a local elite cemetery at Shombuuzyn Belchir. The research is published in the journal Science Advances.

Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia's first nomadic empire
Excavation of the Xiongnu Elite Tomb 64 containing a high status aristocratic woman at the site of Takhiltiin Khotgor, Mongolian Altai. Credit: © J. Bayarsaikhan

“We knew that the Xiongnu had a high degree of genetic diversity, but due to a lack of community-scale genomic data it remained unclear whether this diversity emerged from a heterogeneous patchwork of locally homogenous communities or whether were themselves genetically diverse,” explains Juhyeon Lee, first author of the study and Ph.D. student at Seoul National University. “We wanted to know how such genetic diversity was structured at different social and political scales, as well as in relation to power, wealth, and gender.”

The rise of a multiethnic empire

Researchers found that individuals within the two cemeteries exhibited extremely high genetic diversity, to a degree comparable with that found across the Xiongnu Empire as a whole. In fact, high genetic diversity and heterogeneity was present at all levels—across the empire, within individual communities, and even within individual families—confirming the characterization of the Xiongnu Empire as a multiethnic empire. However, much of this diversity was stratified by status.

The lowest status individuals (interred as satellite burials of the elites, likely reflecting a servant status) exhibited the highest genetic diversity and heterogeneity, suggesting that these individuals originated from far-flung parts of the Xiongnu Empire or beyond. In contrast, local and aristocratic elites buried in wood-plank coffins within square tombs and stone ring graves exhibited lower overall genetic diversity and harbored higher proportions of eastern Eurasian ancestries, suggesting that elite status and power was concentrated among specific genetic subsets of the broader Xiongnu population. Nevertheless, even elite families appear to have used marriage to cement ties to newly incorporated groups, especially at Shombuuzyn Belchir.

Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia's first nomadic empire
Excavation of the Xiongnu Elite Tomb 64 containing a high status aristocratic woman at the site of Takhiltiin Khotgor, Mongolian Altai. Credit: © Michel Neyroud

“We now have a better idea of how the Xiongnu expanded their empire by incorporating disparate groups and leveraging marriage and kinship into empire building,” says senior author Dr. Choongwon Jeong, Associate Professor of Biological Sciences at Seoul National University.

Powerful women in Xiongnu society

A second major finding was that high status Xiongnu burials and elite grave goods were disproportionately associated with women, corroborating textual and archaeological evidence that Xiongnu women played especially prominent political roles in the expansion and integration of new territories along the empire’s frontier.

At the aristocratic elite cemetery of Takhiltyn Khotgor, researchers found that the elite monumental tombs had been built for women, with each prominent woman flanked by a host of commoner males buried in simple graves. The women were interred in elaborate coffins with the golden sun and moon emblems of Xiongnu imperial power and one tomb even contained a team of six horses and a partial chariot.

At the nearby local elite cemetery of Shombuuzyn Belchir, women likewise occupied the wealthiest and most elaborate graves, with grave goods consisting of wooden coffins, golden emblems and gilded objects, glass and faience beads, Chinese mirrors, a bronze cauldron, silk clothing, wooden carts, and more than a dozen livestock, as well as three objects conventionally associated with male horse-mounted warriors: a Chinese lacquer cup, a gilded iron belt clasp, and horse tack. Such objects and their symbolism convey the great political power of the women.

Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia's first nomadic empire
Archaeological excavation at the Shombuuziin Belchir Xiongnu cemetery, Mongolian Altai. Credit: © J. Bayarsaikhan

“Women held great power as agents of the Xiongnu imperial state along the frontier, often holding exclusive noble ranks, maintaining Xiongnu traditions, and engaging in both steppe power politics and the so-called Silk Road networks of exchange,” says Dr. Bryan Miller, project archaeologist and Assistant Professor of Central Asian Art & Archaeology at the University of Michigan.

Children in Xiongnu society

Genetic analysis also provided rare insights into the social roles of children in Xiongnu society. “Children received differential mortuary treatment depending upon age and sex, giving clues to the ages at which gender and status were ascribed in Xiongnu society,” says senior author Dr. Christina Warinner, Associate Professor of Anthropology at Harvard University and Group Leader at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.

Researchers found, for example, that although adolescent Xiongnu boys as young as 11–12 years old were buried with a bow and arrows, in a manner resembling that of adult males, younger boys were not. This suggests that the gendered social roles of hunter and warrior were not ascribed to boys until late childhood or early adolescence.

  • Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia's first nomadic empire
    An Egyptian-style faience bead worn as part of a necklace by a young woman buried with an infant in Grave 19 of the Shombuuziin Belchir cemetery. Such beads, depicting the phallus of the Egyptian god Bes, are associated with the protection of children. Credit: © Bryan K. Miller
  • Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia's first nomadic empire
    Golden icons of the sun and moon, symbols of the Xiongnu, decorating the coffin found in Elite Tomb 64 at the Takhiltiin Khotgor site, Mongolian Altai. Credit: © J. Bayarsaikhan
  • Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia's first nomadic empire
    Child’s bow and arrow set from Grave 26 at the Shombuuziin Belchir cemetery. Credit: © Bryan K. Miller

The legacy of the Xiongnu today

Although the Xiongnu empire ultimately disintegrated in the late 1st century CE, the findings of the study point to the enduring social and cultural legacy of the Xiongnu.

“Our results confirm the long-standing nomadic tradition of elite princesses playing critical roles in the political and economic life of the empires, especially in periphery regions—a tradition that began with the Xiongnu and continued more than a thousand years later under the Mongol Empire,” says Dr. Jamsranjav Bayarsaikhan, project archaeologist and Mongolian Archaeology Project: Surveying the Steppes (MAPSS) project coordinator at the Max Planck Institute for Geoanthropology. “While history has at times dismissed nomadic empires as fragile and short, their strong traditions have never been broken.”

More information:
Juhyeon Lee et al, Genetic population structure of the Xiongnu Empire at imperial and local scales, Science Advances (2023). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adf3904. www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.adf3904

Provided by
Max Planck Society


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Ancient DNA reveals the multiethnic structure of Mongolia’s first nomadic empire (2023, April 14)
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European spacecraft on way to Jupiter and its icy moons

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In this image provided by the European Space Agency, an Ariane rocket carrying the robotic explorer Juice takes off from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana, Friday, April 14, 2023. European spacecraft has blasted off on a quest to explore Jupiter and three of its ice-encrusted moons. Dubbed Juice, the robotic explorer set off on an eight-year journey Friday from French Guiana in South America, launching atop an Ariane rocket. Credit: ESA via AP

A European spacecraft rocketed away Friday on a decadelong quest to explore Jupiter and three of its icy moons that could hold buried oceans.

The journey began with a perfect morning liftoff by Europe’s Ariane rocket from French Guiana on the coast of South America. But there were some tense minutes later as controllers awaited signals from the spacecraft.

When contact finally was confirmed close to an hour into the flight, Mission Control in Germany declared: “The spacecraft is alive!”

It will take the robotic explorer, dubbed Juice, eight years to reach Jupiter, where it will scope out not only the solar system’s biggest planet but also Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. The three ice-encrusted moons are believed to harbor underground oceans, where sea life could exist.

Then in perhaps the most impressive feat of all, Juice will attempt to go into orbit around Ganymede: No spacecraft has ever orbited a moon other than our own.

With so many moons—at last count 95—astronomers consider Jupiter a mini solar system of its own, with missions like Juice long overdue.

“This is a mission that is answering questions of science that are burning to all of us,” said European Space Agency’s director general, Josef Aschbacher after the launch. “Of course, one of these questions is: Is there life out there?”

European spacecraft rockets toward Jupiter and its icy moons
This photo provided by the European Space Agency shows an Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, spacecraft lifting off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Friday, April 14, 2023. Credit: ESA via AP

It can’t find life, “but Juice will be identifying the habitability of these icy moons around Jupiter,” he added.

The spacecraft is taking a long, roundabout route to Jupiter, covering 4 billion miles (6.6 billion kilometers)

It will swoop within 125 miles (200 kilometers) of Callisto and 250 miles (400 kilometers) of Europa and Ganymede, completing 35 flybys while circling Jupiter. Then it will hit the brakes to orbit Ganymede, the primary target of the 1.6 billion-euro mission (nearly $1.8 billion).

Ganymede is not only the solar system’s largest moon—it surpasses Mercury—but has its own magnetic field with dazzling auroras at the poles.

Even more enticing, it’s thought to have an underground ocean holding more water than Earth. Ditto for Europa and its reported geysers, and heavily cratered Callisto, a potential destination for humans given its distance from Jupiter’s debilitating radiation belts, according to Carnegie Institution’s Scott Sheppard, who’s not involved with the Juice mission.

European spacecraft rockets toward Jupiter and its icy moons
This photo provided by the European Space Agency shows an Ariane rocket carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, spacecraft lifting off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Friday, April 14, 2023. A European spacecraft rocketed away Friday on a decadelong quest to explore Jupiter and three of its icy moons that could have buried oceans. Credit: Manuel Pedoussaut/ESA via AP

“The ocean worlds in our solar system are the most likely to have possible life, so these large moons of Jupiter are prime candidates to search,” said Sheppard, a moon hunter who’s helped discover well over 100 in the outer solar system.

The spacecraft, about the size of a small bus, won’t reach Jupiter until 2031, relying on gravity-assist flybys of Earth and our moon, as well as Venus.

“These things take time—and they change our world,” said the Planetary Society’s chief executive, Bill Nye. The California-based space advocacy group organized a virtual watch party for the launch.

Belgium’s King Philippe and Prince Gabriel, and a pair of astronauts—France’s Thomas Pesquet and Germany’s Matthias Maurer—were among the spectators in French Guiana. Thursday’s launch attempt was nixed by the threat of lightning.

European spacecraft rockets toward Jupiter and its icy moons
This image provided by the European Space Agency depicts the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, spacecraft orbiting the gas giant. Credit: ESA/ATG Medialab via AP

Juice—short for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer—will spend three years buzzing Callisto, Europa and Ganymede. The spacecraft will attempt to enter orbit around Ganymede in late 2034, circling the moon for nearly a year before flight controllers send it crashing down in 2035, later if enough fuel remains.

Europa is especially attractive to scientists hunting for signs of life beyond Earth. Juice will keep its Europa encounters to a minimum, however, because of the intense radiation there so close to Jupiter.

Juice’s sensitive electronics are encased in lead to protect against radiation. The 14,000-pound (6,350-kilogram) spacecraft also is wrapped with thermal blankets—temperatures near Jupiter hover around minus 380 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 230 degrees Celsius). And its solar panels stretch 88 feet (27 meters) tip to tip to soak in as much sunlight that far from the sun.

Late next year, NASA will send an even more heavily shielded spacecraft to Jupiter, the long-awaited Europa Clipper, which will beat Juice to Jupiter by more than a year because it will launch on SpaceX’s mightier rocket. The two spacecraft will team up to study Europa like never before.

  • European spacecraft rockets toward Jupiter and its icy moons
    This photo provided by the European Space Agency shows an Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, spacecraft lifting off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Friday, April 14, 2023. Credit: Manuel Pedoussaut/ESA via AP
  • European spacecraft rockets toward Jupiter and its icy moons
    This photo provided by the European Space Agency shows an Ariane rocket carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, spacecraft lifting off from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, Friday, April 14, 2023. A European spacecraft rocketed away Friday on a decadelong quest to explore Jupiter and three of its icy moons that could have buried oceans. Credit: Manuel Pedoussaut/ESA via AP
  • European spacecraft rockets toward Jupiter and its icy moons
    This photo provided by the European Space Agency shows an Ariane 5 rocket carrying the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, Juice, spacecraft on a launch pad at Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on Wednesday, April 12, 2023. Credit: Stephane Corvaja/ESA via AP

NASA has long dominated exploration at Jupiter, beginning with flybys in the 1970s by the twin Pioneers and then Voyagers. Only one spacecraft remains humming at Jupiter: NASA’s Juno, which just logged its 50th orbit since 2016.

Europe provided nine of Juice’s science instruments, with NASA supplying just one.

If Juice confirms underground oceans conducive to past or present life, project scientist Olivier Witasse said the next step will be to send drills to penetrate the icy crusts and maybe even a submarine.

“We have to be creative,” he said. “We can still think it’s science fiction, but sometimes the science fiction can join the reality.”

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European spacecraft on way to Jupiter and its icy moons (2023, April 14)
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TESS discovers a Venus-sized exoplanet orbiting nearby star

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Phase-folded photometry of LHS 475 highlighting the 3-hour window surrounding the planetary transits. Credit: Ment et al, 2023

Using NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), a team of astronomers from Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and elsewhere has detected a new exoplanet. The newfound alien world, designated LHS 475 b, is about the size of Venus and orbits a nearby M-dwarf star. The discovery was reported April 4 on the arXiv pre-print repository.

TESS is conducting a survey of about 200,000 of the brightest stars near the sun with the aim of searching for transiting exoplanets. So far, it has identified nearly 6,400 candidate exoplanets (TESS Objects of Interest, or TOI), of which 3,031 have been confirmed so far.

Now, a group of astronomers led by CfA’s Kristo Ment reports the discovery of another extrasolar planet with TESS. They reveal that a transit signal was detected in the light curve of LHS 475—a main-sequence belonging to the M3 spectral class. The planetary nature of this signal was confirmed by follow-up ground-based photometry using the MEarth-South telescope array at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile.

“Here we present the discovery and subsequent ground-based validation observations of LHS 475 b, a Venus-sized planet orbiting a nearby M dwarf,” the researchers wrote in the paper.

LHS 475 b has a radius of approximately 0.955 Earth radii and orbits its host every 48.7 hours, at a distance of about 0.02 AU from it. The planet’s equilibrium temperature was estimated to be some 587 K, thus LHS 475 b is likely too hot to be habitable.

However, the mass of LHS 475 b remains to be determined as the existing radial velocity data of LHS 475 does not have the necessary precision to calculate the mass of the planet. The astronomers noted that exoplanets of this size are highly likely to be terrestrial and might also have a similar interior composition to that of the Earth’s.

Therefore, in order to calculate the mass of LHS 475 b, the researchers adopted a simple two-layer composition model with an Earth-like core mass fraction (CMF) of 0.33. They inverted the empirical radius-mass relation (by Zeng et al. (2016)) and derived a planetary mass at a level of approximately 0.84 Earth masses.

“In accordance with the observed mass-radius distribution of exoplanets as well as planet formation theory, we expect this Venus-sized companion to be terrestrial, with an estimated RV [radial velocity] semi-amplitude close to 1.0 m/s,” the authors of the paper explained.

When it comes to the star LHS 475 b, it has a radius of 0.286 solar radii and its mass is about 0.274 . The star has a luminosity at a level of 0.0087 solar luminosities, of 3,295 K and is located some 40.7 light years away from the Earth.

More information:
Kristo Ment et al, LHS 475 b: A Venus-sized Planet Orbiting a Nearby M Dwarf, arXiv (2023). DOI: 10.48550/arxiv.2304.01920

Journal information:
arXiv


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TESS discovers a Venus-sized exoplanet orbiting nearby star (2023, April 14)
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Early Romans may have been the first to breed flat-faced dogs

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Credit: Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103969

A team of osteoarchaeologists, archaeologists and veterinarian scientists from Istanbul University-Cerrahpaşa, Atatürk University, University of Environmental and Life Sciences, ul. Kożuchowska, has found evidence of early Romans breeding dogs with flat faces. In their study, reported in Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports, the group examined the remains of a dog found in a tomb in what was once a city called Tralleis, in what is now modern Turkey.

The dog remains were found at a in Aydın back in 2007, but were considered too delicate for study at the time—they were put in safe storage instead. In 2021, the team on this new effort retrieved the bones and began a slow study of the bones to learn more about the dog.

Though the specimen was not complete, the research team was still able to determine that it was a dog and that it had been treated well. Many dog remains have been found from Roman times, and because most were used as work animals, most were not well treated. The team identified the dog as a brachycephalic breed, a group that includes flat-faced dogs such as boxers, pugs and chow chows. The find was unique; only one other brachycephalic breed had ever been found before from a place in the Roman Empire, and that was in the ruins of Pompeii. It also marks the oldest known find of a brachycephalic anywhere, suggesting the Romans may have been the first to flat-faced dogs.

The research team was also able to deduce the dog’s general size and found it to be smaller than they had expected. Carbon dating revealed it to be from between 1,942 and 2,118 years ago. Also, study of its teeth showed that it had barely made it to adulthood before dying. The team also compared the skull with several modern dog breeds and found it looked mostly like a French bulldog.

The researchers noted that the dog had been buried close to a human, who, they suggest, was likely its owner. This, they further suggest, indicates that the dog was likely killed and buried when its master died so that the two could be buried together.

More information:
Vedat ONAR et al, Skull of a brachycephalic dog unearthed in the ancient city of Tralleis, Türkiye, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.jasrep.2023.103969

© 2023 Science X Network

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Early Romans may have been the first to breed flat-faced dogs (2023, April 14)
retrieved 29 April 2023
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