Hannibal 202BC


In his painting Snow-storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps J.M.W. Turner envelops Hannibal’s crossing of the Alps in romantic atmosphere.
More realistically, a popular painting of the journey shows how Hannibal led about 30,000 troops, 15,000 horses and 37 elephants across the Alps to challenge Roman power on home soil.

In a series of battles, the Carthaginians brought the Roman military to its knees. But Hannibal was ultimately defeated at the battle of Zama in 202 BC.

Now, scientists may be closer to revealing the route taken by Hannibal as he crossed the Alps to attack ancient Rome

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They have found a churned up layer of soil at an Alpine pass near the French-Italian border that dates to the time of Hannibal’s invasion.
In the journal Archaeometry they say the disturbed sediment was rich in microbes that are common in horse manure.
Dr Chris Allen, from Queen’s University Belfast, said the layer had been produced by “the constant movement of thousands of animals and humans”.
“Over 70% of the microbes in horse manure are from a group known as the Clostridia, that are very stable in soil – surviving for thousands of years,” he said.
“We found scientifically significant evidence of these same bugs in a genetic microbial signature precisely dating to the time of the Punic invasion.”
This crossing point was first proposed over a half century ago by the British biologist Sir Gavin de Beer, but it has not been widely accepted by the academic community.


Al Italia

Leonardo de Vinci: The Mechanics of Genius is a new exhibition  at the Science Museum in London. It is based on drawings sketched out by Leonardo over his lifetime, and displays 39 wooden models of his inventions, first built in Milan in 1952.
Leonardo da Vinci  dedicated much of his life to dreaming up machines that mastered miracles he saw reflected in nature, from flight to breathing under water. They were often military commissions for his royal patrons.

A model of Leonardo’s aerial screw, an early version of the helicopter –


(Alessandro Nassiri/Archivio Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci/Science Museum)

Leonardo’s ornithopter is a flying machine that evokes a bat or an eagle –


(Alessandro Nassiri/Archivio Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci/Science Museum)
The exhibition focuses on ideas from the natural world applied by engineers working at the time. An example is Leonardo’s version of a parachute –


(Alessandro Nassiri/Archivio Museo Nazionale della Scienza e della Tecnologia Leonardo da Vinci/Science Museum)


Roman Fresco

A fresco almost 2,000 years old discovered on a City building site has shed new light on the lives of the super-rich in Roman London.


The ornate artwork, measuring about 2.5 metres by 1.5 metres, dates to the 1st century. It was found during an archaeological dig at 21 Lime Street near Leadenhall Market and is likely to have been on the wall of a reception room in the house of a wealthy merchant or official.

It depicts an idyllic scene of deer nibbling fruit-bearing trees on which parakeets perch, and archaeologists believe it was hand-painted by master craftsmen for wealthy clients.


Ian Betts, building materials specialist for Museum of London Archaeology, spotted the fresco lying face down when he recognised distinctive marks on its back made during its construction.

(R. Dex, London Evening Standard February 2nd 2016)


These bronze sculptures by Malvina Hoffman, a student of Rodin, are on display at the Field Museum in Chicago after being put in storage in 1969.


From left: Sir Arthur Keith, a Sudanese woman; Nobosodrou, a Mangbetu woman; and Dr. Hu Shih, from eastern China.


A Nuer man from Sudan and a Tamil man from southeastern India. Commissioned in the 1930s to illustrate racial types. Over 100 bronzes by Hoffman were packed away in embarrassment (D Kasnic, New York Times).

Now, 50 bronzes are back as part of an exhibition exploring both Hoffman’s artistry and “the vexed history of the dubious scientific ideas that her talent was enlisted to serve. At the time of the bronzes’ creation, many anthropologists believed that the world’s people could be divided into distinct racial types, whose visible differences in skin tone, hair texture and bone structure explained differences in behaviour. Scientists can now show that human genetic variation doesn’t correspond to racial types. But people don’t always listen to scientists.”


Prize Pictures

The winner of London’s Royal Society Publishing photography competition is Tadpoles Overhead, by Bert Willaert, a biologist of amphibian evolution and an environmental advisor.

One of the judges said: “The winning photo communicates the power of a common biological phenomenon visualised in a new light, and from a perspective that emphasises the other half of the ecosystem; the half we usually miss when looking down at a tadpoles’ puddle, but one that is very much part of the tadpoles’ own view – the clouds, the trees, and the sky.”

Smashing is by runner up in the Behaviour category, taken by Luca Antonio Marino.

An adult wild bearded capuchin monkey (Sapajus libidinosus) uses a stone tool to crack a very resistant palm nut in Fazenda Boa Vista in Piauì, Brazil.

Sand has Scales is the runner up in the Evolutionary Biology category, taken by Fabio Pupin.

Bitis peringueyi is an endemic adder from the Namib desert.
Caribbean Brain Coral received special commendation in the Proceedings B publisher’s choice category, taken by Evan D’Alessandro.

It shows the deep and abundant mysteries of reef building corals.  The photographer asked whether “the four distinct zones in this photograph are really genetically identical. What spurred the colony to grow in this strange and beautiful manner?”


There are some rock types, sandstones and conglomerates for example, that are sufficiently porous to retain rainwater directly as well as that transported through soils and by rivers.

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In parts of India the rainy season separates long dry intervals. Old cultures there have built permanent step-wells to access the hidden ground water.

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Many steps have become centres of social value and tradition. The excavations still fill-up after heavy rains.

Down from Above

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Satellite photographs from 430 miles above the Turgai region of Kazakhstan reveal more than 250 colossal geometric earthworks. The northern steppes have these geometric figures of squares, crosses, lines and rings the size of several football pitches They are recognised only from the air and the oldest estimated at 8,000 years old.

The largest, near a Neolithic settlement, is a giant square of 101 raised mounds. Its opposite corners connected by a diagonal cross. Another is a kind of three-limbed swastika, its arms ending in zigzags bent counterclockwise. It was first described last year at an archaeology conference in Istanbul as unique and previously unstudied,

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Are these earthworks an older form of monument comparable to the remains at Stonehenge in Wiltshire, UK? There, specially smoothed stone slabs created a dazzling light effect when the sun rays hit the stones. They would glisten in the dawn light on the longest day of the year and at sunset on the shortest The drawing above shows Stonehenge in about 2300 B.C., after the construction of the sarsen outer circle and trilithons (note the solstice axis).

To add to the mystery, last week’s Nature magazine published a paper by W Liu et al describing 80,000 year old human teeth from southern China.

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The digram above, right, shows how both the earthworks and the teeth fit into pathways of human dispersal over the last 100,000 years – a dispersal east much earlier than previously thought.

(pictures by NASA and New Wonders of the Natural World, Nature and English Heritage)