At least 800 Ethiopians killed after defending ‘Ark of the Covenant’

At least 800 people were reportedly killed in Ethiopia as worshippers and soldiers risked their lives to protect what Christians there say is the sacred Ark of the Covenant from local militia.

Ethiopian Christians claim the Ark — the wooden chest built to hold the Ten Commandments of Moses — is being kept safe in a chapel in the holy northern city of Axum in the Tigray region.

The battle between Ethiopian soldiers and rebel fighters happened in the fall, The Sunday Times reported, but it is only being reported now.

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13 discoveries in the last year have fundamentally altered our understanding of human history

Even amid the pandemic, anthropologists and archaeologists around the world have continued to make mind-boggling discoveries about our human ancestors this year.

One analysis revealed that the earliest known example of interbreeding between different human populations was 700,000 years ago — more than 600,000 years before modern humans interbred with Neanderthals. Findings from a Mexican cave, meanwhile, offered evidence that the earliest humans came to the Americas via boat, not land bridge. And researchers also found new reason to believe climate change was responsible for the extinction of many of our ancestors.

Taken together, these discoveries and others bolster and complicate our understanding of human history — the story of who our ancestors were, where they came from, and how they lived.

Here are some of the most eye-raising anthropological findings of 2020.

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400 years ago, visitors to this painted cave took hallucinogens

RESEARCHERS HAVE DEBATED for decades over the relationship between hallucinogens and rock art. Ancient cultures around the world have left an intriguing legacy of abstract, even psychedelic-looking images on cliff faces and cave walls, but modern researchers argue over the motivation behind the creation of such artworks.

Until now there has been no physical evidence of the use of hallucinogens at rock art sites. But a surprising discovery at a site in southern California now provides proof that at least some people experienced the site in an altered state of consciousness centuries ago.

In a study published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, an international research team reports that 400-year-old chewed-up wads of datura, a plant with powerful psychoactive properties, have been found stuffed into the cracks of the ceiling of a sacred cave. Located near the edge of the traditional territory of the Chumash people, the cavern had been dubbed Pinwheel Cave after the swirling red painting on its curved ceiling. Researchers think this artwork might represent a datura flower, which unfurls in a pinwheel shape at dusk, and that the site may have been a place for group ceremonies where datura was consumed.

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Surprise cave discoveries may double the time people lived in the Americas

According to a paper published today in the journal Nature, the site, known as Chiquihuite Cave, may contain evidence of human occupation that places people in North America around 30,000 years ago—roughly twice as early as most current estimates for when the first humans arrived on the continent.

The question of when people first arrived in the Americas has been debated for more than a century. For much of that time the reigning theory put the arrival around 13,500 years ago. But archaeologists are now exploring sites that keep pushing the date farther back, including some who have reported finding signs of human presence beyond 30,000 years ago. The evidence supporting those claims is hotly contested, and this latest discovery is already stirring more controversy.

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