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Photo: John Stone
While researching Scots economist Adam Smith, a Canadian academic found an edition of Shakespeare’s last play in a Scottish Catholic college in Spain!

Sometimes when scientists are doing basic research with no practical application in sight they land on the missing piece to understanding a rare disease. And when conservationists preserve some creature no one else cares about, the world may later find that the creature is essential to a whole ecosystem. Unexpected discoveries are often the best kind.

Meanwhile, in the department of Treasures Found While Seeking Something Else, there’s a delightful report at the BBC on the unsought discovery of a rare copy of Shakespeare’s last play. No one would have found it if they were looking for it.

Reevel Alderson from BBC Scotland writes, “The Two Noble Kinsmen, written by Shakespeare with John Fletcher, was found by a researcher investigating the work of the Scots economist Adam Smith. …

“In the 17th Century, the seminary in Madrid was an important source of English literature for Spanish intellectuals. The Two Noble Kinsmen was included in a volume made up of several English plays printed from 1630 to 1635.

“Dr John Stone, of the University of Barcelona, said he found it among old books in the library of the Real Colegio de Escoceses — Royal Scots College (RSC) — which is now in Salamanca.

” ‘Friendship turns to rivalry in this study of the intoxication and strangeness of love,’ is how the Royal Shakespeare Company described the play, which is based on Chaucer’s The Knight’s Tale.

“It was probably written around 1613-14 by Shakespeare and John Fletcher, one of the house playwrights in the Bard’s theatre company the King’s Men. …

“Described as a ‘tragicomedy,’ the play features best friends, who are knights captured in a battle. From the window of their prison they see a beautiful woman with whom they each fall in love. Within a moment they have turned from intimate friends to jealous rivals in a strange love story which features absurd adventures and confusions.

“Dr Stone, who has worked in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, said: ‘It is likely these plays arrived as part of some student’s personal library or at the request of the rector of the Royal Scots College, Hugh Semple, who was friends with the Spanish playwright Lope de Vega and had more plays in his personal library. …

” ‘In the 17th and 18th Centuries, collections of books in English were rare in Spain because of ecclesiastical censorship, but the Scots college had special authorisation to import whatever they wanted.’ …

“The rector of the Scots College, Father Tom Kilbride, said the college was proud such an important work had been discovered in its library.

“He said: ‘It says a lot about the kind of education the trainee priests were getting from the foundation of the college in Madrid in 1627, a rounded education in which the culture of the period played an important part. To think that plays would have been read, and possibly performed at that time is quite exciting. There was clearly a great interest in Spain at that time in English literature.’

“The RSC no longer trains men for the priesthood in Scotland, but offers preparatory six-month courses for those expressing a vocation, and holds regular retreats and conferences for the Scottish Catholic community.” More at the BBC, here.

Hat tip: ArtsJournal.com.

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Image: arthénon
A postcard called  “Rue Daubigny, Auvers-sur-Oise” is superimposed with parts of the painting “Tree Roots” (1890) by Vincent van Gogh, revealing new insights on the artist’s last hours.

One doesn’t need to go to Mars or the Himalayas or Sedona to make discoveries. One doesn’t need to skydive or eat insects or tag sharks to have new experiences. Not that people shouldn’t seek out adventure, but the truth is, there’s always quite a lot to discover right where you are — maybe just deepening your understanding of what makes an old friend tick.

I loved this story of a discovery about the great Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, a discovery made just by studying an old postcard and thinking.

Jasmine Weber writes at the arts website Hyperallergic, “In one of the most captivating artistic discoveries made amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a researcher has pinpointed the likely location of Vincent van Gogh’s final painting, ‘Tree Roots’ (1890).

“Wouter van der Veen, the scientific director of the Institut van Gogh, noticed the oil painting’s clear resemblance to a portion of a postcard from the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise, where the Dutch painter took his life in 1890. Dated between 1900-1910, the postcard shows mangled tree roots growing out of the hillside; when superimposed onto the photograph, the painting seems to be a perfect match.

When France lifted its COVID-19 lockdown this May, Van der Veen was able to visit the spot and found the large trunk still looked as it had over a century ago.

“Van der Veen submitted his findings to two senior researchers at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, Louis van Tilborgh and Teio Meedendorp. The pair believes there is a ‘high plausibility’ that the the hillside in the town where van Gogh spent the last 70 days of his life, was the same as the motif in ‘Tree Trunks,’ which belongs to the museum’s collection. …

“ ‘On closer observation, the overgrowth on the postcard shows very clear similarities to the shape of the roots on Van Gogh’s painting,’ [Meedendorp] said in a press release. …

“ ‘The site is also consistent with Van Gogh’s habit of painting motifs from his immediate surroundings,’ said van Der Veen. He adds that the ‘sunlight painted by Van Gogh indicates that the last brush strokes were painted towards the end of the afternoon,’ contributing further information about van Gogh’s last hours.

“The Institut van Gogh has since worked with local authorities to build a protective wooden structure around the site.” More.

In one more example of the benefits of having plenty of time to think, the BBC adds that Mr Van der Veen “had the revelation at his home in Strasbourg, France, during lockdown. … [and] visited the site to verify his theory in May 2020, once coronavirus restrictions had been lifted in France.

“A ceremony was held in Auvers-sur-Oise, a few miles north of Paris, [in July] to mark the discovery of the apparent location. Emilie Gordenker, the general director of the Van Gogh Museum, and Willem van Gogh, the great-grandson of Vincent’s brother Theo, were in attendance to unveil a commemorative plaque at the site.” More at the BBC.

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Photos: Greek Ministry of Culture
Hellenistic era building foundations, found at Agia Sophia Station, Thessaloniki.

Having studied Ancient Greek for five years in school, I retain a soft place in my heart for the culture and history of that part of the world and am always interested in the latest archaeological finds. Here is a story about setting out to build a subway system in the city of Thessaloniki and finding unexpected treasures.

Nick Squires writes at the Telegraph, “The construction of a metro network beneath the Greek city of Thessaloniki has unearthed an extraordinary treasure trove of ancient artefacts, from gold wreaths and rings to statues of the goddess Aphrodite. …

“Archeologists have dug up more than 300,000 artefacts, from coins and jewellery to marble statues, amphorae, oil lamps and perfume vases. They were found in what would have been the thriving commercial centre of the ancient city, which was the second most important conurbation in the Byzantine Empire after Constantinople.

“During the construction of the metro network, archeologists found a stone-paved road, the Decumanus Maximus, which would have run through the heart of Thessaloniki in the sixth century AD, as well as the remains of villas, shops, workshops and an early Christian church. More than 5,000 tombs and graves were uncovered, some of them containing exquisite golden wreaths.

“ ‘The excavations are the biggest archaeological project of recent years in Greece,’ Yannis Mylopoulos, the chairman of Attiko Metro, the company building the network, told the Telegraph. …

“ ‘A large number of statues depicting Aphrodite have been found in the city centre, while several more came to light in the area around the Church of the Acheiropoietos (a fifth century AD Byzantine church),” Dr Polyxeni Adam-Veleni, the head of the antiquities department in Thessaloniki, told a recent conference on the discoveries. …

“Work on the new metro system, which is designed to ease traffic congestion and reduce air pollution in the city, began in 2006. The network of 18 stations was supposed to have been finished in 2012, but progress was stalled by the discovery of so many antiquities. It is now due to be operational next year.

“The 100 yard-long paved road – the Decumanus Maximus – will remain in situ and will be incorporated into one of the network’s stations, Eleftherios Venizelos, named after a prominent politician and national hero from the early 20th century.

“ ‘People will be able to see it when they enter and exit the metro station and can even go down and walk on it if they want,’ said Prof Mylopoulos. …

“Incorporating ancient archeological sites into an underground rail network was a huge challenge in terms of both engineering and expense. … Findings from the metro excavation will be displayed in various museums in Thessaloniki.”

More here.

Gold crown from a burial dating to the late 4th – early 3rd century. BC found at Syntrivani Station, Thessaloniki.

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Photo: Tom Blackie via Flickr
The Avenue of Sphinxes on the Al-Kabbash road in Luxor. Recently, a previously unknown sphinx was discovered by construction workers.

Every day new discoveries. Today I have a story about a recent discovery in Egypt. But first, to refresh your classical memory, the mythological creature called a sphinx has the body of a lion and the head of a human. Although the most famous sphinx story — the one that involved Oedipus — took place in Greece, all the statues of sphinxes are in Egypt.

Naomi Rea writes at artnet news, “A previously unknown statue of a sphinx has been discovered in Egypt, the general director of Luxor Antiquities, Mohamed Abdel Aziz, announced [in August].

“Construction workers upgrading the historic Al-Kabbash Road between the famous Luxor and Karnak temples stumbled upon the find, the English-language Egypt Today reports. …

“The Ministry of Egyptian Antiquities is developing a way to lift the newfound statue from its resting place. … In the meantime, construction work has been paused on the road and the Minister of Antiquities, Khaled al-Anani, is encouraging tourists to visit the site to see the statue.

“A researcher in Egyptology, Bassam al-Shamma, told Egyptian media that the find is not altogether surprising as many similar sphinx statues have been found across Luxor. Several new discoveries have been found in recent years, and the road is already lined with many other small stone versions of the mythical creatures dating from around 1400 BC. …

“The mythical creature of the sphinx has the head of a human and the body of a lion. In ancient Greek tradition, the sphinx’s head is often a merciless female. … For the Egyptians, though, the guardian creature was seen as benevolent, and the heads of the statues were often carved in the likeness of pharaohs. This is the case with the famous Great Sphinx; the monumental statue is thought to have been sculpted in likeness of the pharaoh Khafra.

“Other famous Egyptian sphinxes include a granite example with the head of the pharaoh Hatshepsut, which is now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The Great Sphinx of Tanis in the Louvre is one of the largest sphinxes outside of Egypt.”

More at artnet, here

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Photo: Martin Lemke
The city of Bassania in Albania is no longer a legend.

There is always more to be discovered. Maybe just under our feet.

That is what some archaeologists found not long ago in Albania.

As Christina Ayele Djossa writes at Atlas Obscura, “Sometimes, rocks are more than crumbled pieces of the earth. Sometimes, they unveil clues about our planet’s ancient past or future. For archaeologists from the Antiquity of Southeastern Europe Research Centre at the University of Warsaw, the rocks in Shkodër, Albania, turned out to be the ruins of the 2,000-year-old lost city of Bassania.

“Back then, Bassania was an economic and military stronghold, part of the Illyrian kingdom, which existed from 400 to 100 B.C. The ancient city contained numerous settlements and fortresses, one of which the archaeologists unearthed.

“What they found were ancient stones of a fortress guarded with large bastions and roughly 10-foot-wide stonewalls and gates. These defensive buildings, according to University of Warsaw professor Piotr Dyczek, are common in Hellenistic architecture. The team confirmed the age of the ruins by analyzing nearby coins and ceramic vessel fragments, which dated back to the time of the Illyrian kingdom. …

“But this city, and the Illyrian kingdom, ultimately fell to a Roman invasion in the beginning of the first century. This may be why it took so long for archaeologists to find Bassania. … The Polish and Albanian archaeologists also speculate that the location’s geological infrastructure has something to do with it. The ruins are found on a ‘hill locally called “lips of viper” in [the village of] Bushat, a few miles from Shkodër,’ wrote Dyczek. After years of erosion, the stone remnants look like a part of the sandstones and conglomerates that make up the hill. So to a passerby, it might look like a bunch of stones, not a structure made by humans.”

Now I want to know why any hill would be called “lips of viper.” Always more discoveries to be made.

More at Atlas Obscura, here.

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Photo: Vincent Francigny / Sedeinga archaeological mission
A large cache of recently discovered texts offers insight into one of Africa’s oldest written languages.

Archaeologists, whether professionals or amateurs like those in a recent post, keep discovering new wonders. They remind us never to make the mistake of thinking that everything has been discovered.

Jason Daley writes at Smithsonian magazine, “Archaeologists in Sudan have uncovered a large cache of rare stone inscriptions at the Sedeinga necropolis along the Nile River. The collection of funerary texts are inscribed in Meroitic, one of Africa’s earliest written languages.

“As Charles Q. Choi at LiveScience reports, the find is full of potential. … The archaeological site of Sedeinga — once part of the kingdoms of Napata and Meroe (which were jointly referred to as the ‘Kush kingdom’ by their ancient Egyptian neighbors) –- includes the remains of 80 small brick pyramids and more than 100 tombs created during a cultural period from about 700 B.C. to roughly 300 C.E.

” ‘The necropolis’ miniature pyramids were initially inspired by Egypt’s massive monuments, but during a later time, Meroitics refashioned the tombs and pyramids to include chapels and chambers where they could worship the dead. …

“In addition to the funerary texts, archaeologists also found pieces of decorated and inscribed sandstone. … One of the more interesting new finds from the dig is a lintel, or structural beam from a chapel with a depiction of Maat, the Egyptian goddess of order, equity, and peace. This is the first time archaeologists have found a depiction of Maat with black African features.

“Another find of note, a funerary stele, describes a high-ranking woman by the name of Lady Maliwarase and details her connections with royalty. Similarly, a lintel uncovered during the excavation explores the lineage of another woman of high rank, Adatalabe, who counts a royal prince among her blood line.

“These kinds of inscriptions are sure to help historians continue to piece together the story of Meroe. For instance, as Francigny tells Choi, the aforementioned finds reveal that in Meroe kingdom matrilineality — the women’s lineage — was important enough to record.”

More here.

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Photo: Stefan Sauer/AFP/Getty Images
Amateur archaeologist Rene Schoen (left) and 13-year-old student Luca Malaschnichenko looking for treasures in Schaprode, Germany. The boy made a startling discovery in January, then participated in a professional dig that uncovered a larger trove.

In this National Public Radio story, a young boy working with an amateur archaeologist gets to experience the thrill of a significant find, one that underscores the historical connection between Germany and Denmark.

It wasn’t aluminum trash he found. It was a silver coin.

Camila Domonoske reports at NPR, “An amateur archaeologist and a 13-year-old student have uncovered a stash of thousand-year-old coins, rings and pearls on an island in the Baltic Sea in northern Germany, including items that might be tied to Harald Bluetooth, the famous king who united Denmark.

“René Schön and student Luca Malaschnitschenko were searching northern Rügen island with metal detectors when they found something they thought was aluminum but turned out to be silver, Agence France-Presse reports. …

“The two alerted professional archaeologists, and then helped recover of the rest of the trove — more than 600 silver objects dating from the late 10th century. …

“About 100 of the coins are from the reign of King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark: the largest find of such coins in the southern Baltic region, the [archaeology office of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania] office says.

“Harald I — his nickname is believed to come from a dead tooth that may have looked blueish — was a Viking king who united Denmark, conquered Norway and converted to Christianity.

“And based on the date of the stash, the state archaeology office says, it’s possible that the hoard wasn’t just from Bluetooth’s reign, but that it was directly tied to the king himself. …

“In case you were wondering: Yes, King Harald Bluetooth is the namesake for Bluetooth wireless technology. An Intel engineer who worked on the technology, Jim Kardach, was reading about Vikings as the project developed.

“In his words, King Bluetooth ‘was famous for uniting Scandinavia just as we intended to unite the PC and cellular industries with a short-range wireless link.’ The Bluetooth symbol is a runic representation of his initials.”

More here.

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Photo: beniculturali.gov.it
The newly discovered “commander’s house” was found while digging Rome’s Metro C subway line. It dates back to the 2nd century.

Nowadays, archaeologists get involved at construction sites early, especially if there’s a suspicion of buried culture deep down. It must be frustrating for builders to delay a project when something of historical significance is unearthed, but I like to think that some builders (or perhaps some low-level workers) find it exciting to be part of history. I like to imagine that once in a while an inspired worker goes back to school and becomes an archaeologist.

In Rome, a subway project first revealed unexpected treasure in 2016. Elena Goukassian has a report at Hyperallergic.

“In the summer of 2016, while digging the new Metro C subway line in Rome, workers came across a rare archeological find, a 2nd-century CE Roman barracks. [More recently] archeologists uncovered the remains of a ‘commander’s house’ (domus) connected to the barracks, ‘the first discovery of its kind in the Italian capital,’ according to the Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata (ANSA).

“Complete with marble floors, mosaics, and frescoes, the Hadrian-era house was found [roughly 39 feet] under the Amba Aradam station, close to the Basilica of San Giovanni Laterano. …

“Measuring 300 square meters (~3,200 square feet), the house contains 14 separate rooms, including a ‘bathhouse with underfloor heating.’

“The house will be dismantled piece by piece and temporarily moved, before returning to its original location and incorporated into the new metro station, which ‘will surely become the most beautiful metro station in the world,” [the head of Rome’s monuments authority, Francesco Prosperetti] told reporters.”

Great pictures at Hyperallergic, here.

Who wouldn’t love the mosaic owl discovered under a subway line in Italy?

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A Year of Art Discoveries

Photo: Wikimedia Commons
Two Allegory of Justice figures in the Vatican, once attributed to Raphael’s followers, were identified in 2017 as being by the master himself.

This Artsy report on 2017 art discoveries was pretty cool. Curiously, I had already written about one of the finds — here. It was the Rodin sculpture discovered in a New Jersey town hall.

Abigail Cain writes, “Art history is, by definition, primarily a thing of the past — but each year, some small portion of it is rewritten by those in the present.

“In 2017, we gained new insight on the early years of Leonardo da Vinci and the final ones of Andy Warhol; amateur archaeologists were rewarded with major finds; and several masterpieces were discovered, simply hiding in plain sight. From newly mapped Venezuelan petroglyphs to a long-lost Magritte, these are 10 of the most notable art-historical discoveries of the year.”

I especially loved that volunteers made the find that occurred in England. “A team of amateur archaeologists,” writes Cain, “dug up one of the most significant Roman mosaics ever discovered in Britain.

“The discovery was made in a field outside of Boxford, in southern England, by a group of local volunteers supervised by professional archaeologists. Although the project began in 2011, it wasn’t until August of this year — during the final two weeks of the scheduled dig — that organizers realized they’d found something extraordinary.

“As it turned out, they’d uncovered a remarkably well-preserved mosaic, built as part of a Roman villa that dates to roughly 380 A.D. Not only is it a rare find for the country — experts have labeled it the most exciting of its kind unearthed in 50 years — the subject and style of the artwork is highly unusual for the area. The work illustrates the story of Bellerophon, a Greek mythological hero tasked with killing the Chimera.”

Check out Artsy, here, to read about: the discovery that two figures in the Vatican were painted by Raphael and not his assistants; two ancient tombs in Egypt; the likely identity of Leonardo’s mother; a portrait by Peter Paul Rubens found hanging in a historic Glasgow house; a miniscule carving recovered from a Bronze Age tomb with “detailed handiwork centuries ahead of its time”; the last piece of a lost René Magritte painting found in Belgium; and drone technology that helped researchers map “massive, 2,000-year-old petroglyphs in Venezuela for the first time.”

Doesn’t it make you want to go out and discover some long-lost treasure?

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Photo: Library of Congress
Walt Whitman holding a butterfly.

I love reading about the early writings of famous authors. For example, the Brontë children worked on stories about a kingdom they invented called Angria and another kingdom called Gondal, in which the hero was based on the Duke of Wellington.

Sometimes authors do not want anyone to know about their unpolished work, though. Jane Austen convinced her sister to burn letters and other writings after her death. And Walt Whitman wrote an anonymous potboiler that was kept under wraps until a grad student with a knack for finding lost work discovered it last summer.

Rachel Leah writes at Salon, “A new Walt Whitman novel is now available for purchase, 125 years after the author’s death. Previously, the text had only been published anonymously in a six-part series in a New York City newspaper in 1852.

“But last summer the novel was rediscovered by a graduate student deep within the Library of Congress. This is the second Whitman novel that the literary scholar Zachary Turpin has unearthed. …

“Turpin previously uncovered a lengthy newspaper series on fitness and healthy living that Whitman had published under a pseudonym in 1858, CBS reported.

“The novel titled ‘The Life and Adventures of Jack Engle’ was published online on Feb. 20 in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review, and soon will be in book form, courtesy of the University of Iowa Press. …

“Perhaps most remarkable is the novel’s relevant subject matter.

“According to Whitman expert David S. Reynolds, ‘This is Whitman’s take on the city mystery novel, a popular genre of the day that pitted the “upper 10 thousand” — what we would call the 1 percent — against the lower million,’ he told The New York Times.” Hmmm.

More at Salon, here, and at the Times, here.

I’m always sorry — not only for the sake of researchers, but for those of us who like literary biographies — that early writings are lost. And now that no one uses a typewriter or writes by hand anymore, we are also losing the thought process that was once revealed in cross-outs and scribbled corrections. We have yet to plumb the full cost of that loss.

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There is still so much to be discovered about the cosmos, medicine,  psychology, nature … and human history.

Claire Voon’s story at Hyperallergic about a “new” 2,800-year-old painted sarcophagus is a case in point. The colorful hieroglyphs promise to add to our knowledge.

Voon reports, “Archaeologists in Luxor have found an exquisitely decorated, millennia-old sarcophagus near the pharaonic temple of Thutmose III that still contains the remains of its ancient owner. The discovery is the most recent to emerge from the Spanish Thutmosis III Temple Project excavation, which since 2008 has explored the 18th Dynasty pharaoh’s funerary complex, situated along the west bank of the Nile. …

“Archaeologists are now starting to piece together the history of the coffin’s permanent resident. Although termites had eaten away at parts of the slim, wooden container, as the team’s head, Myriam Seco Alvarez, told El Mundo, the surface still retains a rich array of hieroglyphs that offer clues. Sarcophagi are much more than simple containers for the departed, and the pictorial script on this one records that it belonged to a man named Amenrenef, who once served as a royal court advisor.

“The images, whose bright pigments have been preserved after all this time, also depict religious figures such as the ancient goddesses Isis and Nephtys and the four sons of Horus.

“The archeologists have since removed the sarcophagus from its tomb and brought it to a lab, where it will undergo restoration. The team also plans to carry out X-ray examinations to determine the exact state of the remains inside.” More here.

Photo: Thutmosis III Temple Project
A decorated sarcophagus recently found by Spanish archaeologists near Luxor.

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With every new discovery of fossils, it seems, the first appearance of life on Earth is earlier.

Maybe.

There is always controversy, and your belief about the earliest date may depend on just how hellish you think the Hadean period was, when asteroids bombarded the planet and life probably would have been impossible.

Nicholas Wade writes at the New York Times, “Geologists have discovered in Greenland evidence for ancient life in rocks that are 3.7 billion years old. The find, if confirmed, would make these fossils the oldest on Earth and may change scientific understanding of the origins of life.

“Experts are likely to debate whether the structures described in the new report were formed biologically or through natural processes. If biological, the great age of the fossils complicates the task of reconstructing the evolution of life from the chemicals naturally present on the early Earth. It leaves comparatively little time for evolution to have occurred and puts the process close to a time when Earth was being bombarded by destructive asteroids. …

“Certain features ‘are fairly credible hallmarks of microbial activity,’ Abigail C. Allwood of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory wrote in a commentary accompanying the Nature article [by Allen P. Nutman et al.]. They have a few features that make them ‘interesting and possibly biological,’ she added in an email.

“Another expert in the early Earth’s environment, Tanja Bosak of M.I.T., said the structures do resemble modern stromatolites but their origin ‘will be hotly debated.’ …

“Dr. Nutman argues that life must therefore have originated even earlier, probably in the late Hadean stage of Earth’s history, which lasted from 4.65 billion years ago — when the planet formed from debris in orbit around the sun — to 4 billion years ago.

“But the Hadean was so called because of the hellish conditions thought to have prevailed, including cataclysmic meteorite impacts that boiled the oceans into steam and turned Earth’s surface into molten lava. The largest of these impacts, at 4.5 billion years ago, tore a piece from Earth that became the moon. It is difficult to see how life could have begun under such circumstances.”

Weigh in on the controversy here.

Photo: Allen Nutman
Stromatolites from Greenland may be evidence of the oldest life on earth.

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In case you’ve ever wondered why anyone would become a scholar and spend life mired in musty, dark library stacks, let me introduce you to an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey.

“In an unassuming notebook held in an archive at the University of Cambridge,” writes Jennifer Schuessler an American scholar has found what he says is an important new clue to the earthly processes behind that masterpiece [the King James Bible]: the earliest known draft, and the only one definitively written in the hand of one of the roughly four dozen translators who worked on it.

“The notebook, which dates from 1604 to 1608, was discovered by Jeffrey Alan Miller, an assistant professor of English at Montclair State University in New Jersey, … last fall, when he was in the archives at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge, researching an essay about Samuel Ward, one of the King James translators and, later, the college’s master. He was hoping to find an unknown letter, which he did.

“ ‘I thought that would be my great discovery,’ he recalled.

“But he also came across an unassuming notebook about the size of a modern paperback, wrapped in a stained piece of waste vellum and filled with some 70 pages of Ward’s nearly indecipherable handwriting.

“The notebook had been cataloged in the 1980s as a ‘verse-by-verse biblical commentary’ with ‘Greek word studies, and some Hebrew notes.’ But as Professor Miller tried to puzzle out which passages of the Bible it concerned, he realized what it was: a draft of parts of the King James Version of the Apocrypha, a disputed section of the Bible that is left out of many editions, particularly in the United States.

” ‘There was a kind of thunderstruck, leap-out-of-bathtub moment,’ Professor Miller said. ‘But then comes the more laborious process of making sure you are 100 percent correct.’ ” More here.

Photo: Maria Anna Rogers/Master and Fellows of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge
Pages from Samuel Ward’s translation for part of the King James Bible, the earliest known draft for the King James translation, which appeared in 1611.

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