Holding hands for 700 years

Two skeletons were found holding hands after being excavated from a lost chapel in the small English village of Hallaton.

They were found in a grave together with their hands intertwined by a team of archaeologists from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS). The lead on the project, Vicki Score, said the two were placed in that position as the grave was large enough for the two to be separated…

In addition to the couple, 11 skeletons have been discovered. Some of the findings include a 46-year-old man who was struck on the head with a pole or an axe, and a man in his mid-20s who showed signs of physical trauma during the first nine years of his life.

The remains of English King Richard III were found in the same county underneath a parking lot in 2012. A recent study revealed how the 15th-century monarch died in battle.

Romantic love wasn’t always common in the “good old days”. It still speaks well to those who believe in love.

Leicester scientists print out the human genome in 130 volumes

An exhibition on genomics – the study of genetic material which is driving major medical research innovations – has opened at Leicester’s New Walk Museum.

Inside DNA: A Genomic Revolution offers people the chance to learn more about genome research and have a say in the future policy of the science…

The University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics has printed out an entire human genome – amounting to 130 volumes of some 300 pages – which is going on display at the museum.

The work has been done by the Genetics Education Networking for Innovation and Excellence (Genie), based at the university.

Genie spokesman Dr Cas Kramer said: “Genie’s outreach programme has enabled us to develop workshops to further enhance the Inside DNA exhibit and we are very much looking forward to working with the museum over the next six months.”

Clare Matterson, from the Wellcome Trust, which funds the exhibition, said: “Over a decade since the first human genome was published, scientists are starting to get to grips with what the information in our DNA means for health and disease.

“Inside DNA is more relevant than ever, giving people a chance to explore issues raised by this research.”


That great story about Rock Hyrax urine you’ve been waiting for

Those aren’t fangs – they’re tusks!

The Rock Hyrax is a remarkable animal. Native to dry, rocky environments throughout Africa, you would be forgiven for assuming that it is a large rodent, with its short legs, short neck, rounded ears and overall resemblance to a particularly large guinea pig or a coypu minus a tail.

And yet, in defiance of expectations, the creature’s nearest living relatives are elephants and manatees. This in itself should be enough to make any research involving Rock Hyraxes worth reading.

But these furry fellows have a distinctive behaviour which, by good fortune, enables climatologists to study the environmental history of rocky areas where traditional techniques – such as taking a core – are not viable. Rock Hyraxes, it seems, are very particular about where they urinate and defecate. They like specific locations underneath rocky overhangs and generation after generation of Hyraxes will use that same spot – called a midden – over and over again. For literally thousands of years.

Some of these middens can date back 30,000 years or more. That’s the Stone Age. That’s actually the Upper Palaeolithic period!

The urine crystallises and what you end up with is a block of solid, stratified material which provides the sort of historical record that is otherwise impossible to find in these dry, rocky parts of the world. Within the midden is a record of Hyrax metabolytes as well as particles which have passed undigested through their systems (and the occasional bit of organic material that just happened to get blown there). These can be accurately dated, giving an indication of how the vegetation – and hence the climate – has changed over the millenia. And that’s what some researchers in our Department of Geography are looking into…

Paleaoenvironmental knowledge of southern Africa, which encompasses countries such as Botswana and Namibia, has always been very fragmentary and largely reliant on ocean core records. The data from the Hyrax middens open up a whole new realm of research into how some of these dynamic environments have changed over 30,000 years or so. The next step is to compare this data with established models of climate change.

We’re anxiously awaiting the next regular news bulletin from the research team.