Historians Studying an ‘Ancient’ Scottish Stone Circle Learn It Was Built in the 1990s

A stone circle like this one was recently shown to be a replica.
A stone circle like this one was recently shown to be a replica.
iStock.com/Stephen Buwert

In December 2018, Scottish historians and archaeologists learned of a newly discovered ancient recumbent stone circle on local farmland in Leochel-Cushnie, Aberdeenshire. But this week, their excitement fizzled: According to The Guardian, a former owner of the farmland contacted the historians and admitted the structure was a replica stone circle built in the mid-1990s.

Late last year, local officials inspected the formation and determined that its dimensions, though 10 feet smaller than similar recumbent stone circles, were in line with others found in Scotland. Historic preservationists were thrilled with the discovery. “It is rare for these sites to go unidentified for so long, especially in such a good condition,” Neil Ackerman, a historic environment record assistant at the Aberdeenshire Council, told Aberdeen's Press and Journal.

Recumbent stone circles (RSCs) are specific to the Aberdeenshire region in northeast Scotland as well as southwest Ireland, and they often date back 3500 to 4500 years. RSCs are traditionally found with one large stone slab laid flat on the southern side of the formation, flanked by two tall stones, and made a circle by other stones. RSCs are thought to have served as windows or manmade horizons for specific moon patterns (such as the periodic standstill moon), though they may have been used for rituals and burials.

This one likely served none of those purposes. While it's unclear why the landowners built the stone circle and why they are now coming clean, the truth about its recent vintage was “disappointing,” Ackerman told The Guardian. But, he said, it “adds an interesting element to its story. That it so closely copies a regional monument type shows the local knowledge, appreciation, and engagement with the archaeology of the region by the local community.” He noted that the council is always open to reports of any modern constructions that mimic these ancient monuments.

The Fossil of a Human-Sized Penguin Has Been Unearthed in New Zealand

DurkTalsma/iStock via Getty Images
DurkTalsma/iStock via Getty Images

Penguins are known for looking cute and cuddly, but if the monster penguins of the Paleocene epoch were still around today, they might have developed a different reputation. As The Guardian reports, the fossil of a new species of one of these giant prehistoric penguins was recently discovered in New Zealand, and scientists say it would have gone head-to-head with many adult humans.

The bird, dubbed Crossvallia waiparensis, stood about 5 feet 3 inches tall and weighed about 175 pounds. For comparison, emperor penguins weigh up to 88 pounds and can reach 3 feet 8 inches in height. The prehistoric bird waddled the Earth some time between 66 and 56 million years ago—shortly after the mass extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs and marine reptiles, which were probably its main predators.

An amateur paleontologist named Leigh Love discovered the creature's fossilized leg bones on New Zealand's South Island. From those fossils alone, a team of scientists from the Canterbury Museum in New Zealand and the Senckenberg natural history museum in Germany were able to estimate the penguin's height and weight and determine that it belonged to a previously undiscovered species. The large leg bones also indicate that the animal was more reliant on its feet for paddling through the water than the penguins of today.

Crossvallia waiparensis is massive by today's penguin standards, but it's not even the largest prehistoric penguin that we know of. When carnivorous reptiles began disappearing from the world's oceans, the waters opened up for new predators like penguins to flourish. Kumimanu biceae is estimated to have weighed about 223 pounds; Palaeeudyptes klekowskii may have weighed 253 pounds and stretched 6 feet 5 inches long.

[h/t The Guardian]

Scientists Are Creating a 3D Model of an 18th-Century ‘Vampire Witch’ Who Was Tortured to Death

Tonkovic/iStock via Getty Images
Tonkovic/iStock via Getty Images

In 2014, archaeologists uncovered a skeleton in Kamień Pomorski, Poland, with a brick wedged in its mouth and stakes driven through its legs. They believed the man was put to death in the 18th century because townspeople thought he was a vampire.

Now, genetic and forensic analysis has shown that the vampire burial site didn't contain a man at all: It was a 5-foot-6-inch, blue-eyed, blonde woman who was at least 65 years old when she died. Newsweek reports that scientists at the Pomeranian Medical University in Szczecin, Poland are now making a 3D computer model of the woman’s skull, which they plan to use to recreate what her face looked like.

The Forensics Genetics Unit at the university will then build her face on a physical model from layers of plastic material and reveal it to the public within the next few months. Andrzej Ossowski, the head of the unit, told the website Science in Poland that he hopes a museum might display the rendering. “We want to show that with the help of modern methods, we are able to replace skeletons that are very common in museums with 3D models based on research,” he said.

He said that townspeople may have killed the woman because they thought she was a witch, and they gave her an “anti-vampiric” burial to prevent her from rising from her grave à la Nosferatu. The brick in her mouth was meant to weigh her down—in other burials a sickle might have been placed across the neck of the body, which would slit the revenant's throat should it try to rise.

We often think of Salem when it comes to witch trials, but they were common throughout Europe before the 19th century, and archaeologists have discovered “anti-vampiric” graves in Poland, Bulgaria, and Italy. Wondering if you might have qualified as a witch during the 17th-century period of Puritan paranoia? Find out here.

[h/t Newsweek]

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