Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Archaeology. Show all posts

Friday, September 30, 2022

Stone spheres could be from Ancient Greek board game

Groups of spheres from Akrotiri
Credit: Konstantinos Trimmis

Archaeologists from the University of Bristol have suggested that mysterious stone spheres found at various ancient settlements across the Aegean and Mediterranean could be playing pieces from one of the earliest ever board games.

There has been quite a lot of speculation around these spheres found at sites on Santorini, Crete, Cyprus, and other Greek Islands with theories around their use including being for some sort of sling stones, tossing balls, counting/record-keeping system or as counters/pawns.

Previous research by the same team from the University of Bristol indicated that there was variability in sphere size within specific clusters and collections of spheres. Following on from this the team wanted to explore potential patterning within these sphere concentrations, to help give an insight into their potential use.

The latest study published this week in the Journal of Archaeological Science Reports by Drs Christianne Fernée and Konstantinos Trimmis from the University of Bristol’s Department of Anthropology and Archaeology examined common features on 700 stones – which range from around 4,500 to 3,600 years old – found at the Bronze Age town of Akrotiri on the island of Santorini.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Archaeologists uncover ancient mosaics on the shore of the Sea of Galilee

JGU students recording the outlines of the mosaic – with a tall waterside plant with blossoms and small green leaves on three stems in the exposed portion and the stern and rudder of a boat on the lower left
Credit: Hans-Peter Kuhnen

With the help of geomagnetic surface surveys and subsequent hands-on digging, an excavation team from Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has revealed new insights into the area in which the caliph's palace of Khirbat al-Minya was built on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. According to these findings, there had already been a settlement occupied by Christian or Jewish inhabitants in the immediate vicinity long before the palace was built.

"This time we have really hit the jackpot with our excavations," said site director and archaeologist Professor Hans-Peter Kuhnen with regard to the outcome of the most recent undertakings in the area around the early Islamic caliph's palace Khirbat al-Minya in Israel. The team of archaeologists from Mainz made this major discovery using geomagnetic methods and by digging test pits on the basis of the findings. They discovered that in the early 8th century the caliph had commissioned the building of his palace, with its incorporated mosque and a 15-meter-high gateway tower, not – as hitherto suspected – on greenfield land on the unoccupied shore of the Sea of Galilee, but adjacent to and respectfully co-existing with a prior settlement. The research project was initially conceived as a means of training students in archeological field work. It was undertaken with the support of the Israel Antiquities Authority and financed by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation, the Axel Springer Foundation, the Santander Foundation, and the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). The team was accommodated in the Tabgha Pilgerhaus guesthouse run by the German Association of the Holy Land (DVHL), which has owned the site of the excavations on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee since 1895.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Using science to solve ancient Chinese art mystery

UC assistant professor Pietro Strobbia consulted with the Cincinnati Art Museum to solve a mystery about one of its ancient Chinese masterpieces.
Photo credit: Andrew Higley/University of Cincinnati

The Cincinnati Art Museum turned to a scientist at the University of Cincinnati for help solving a mystery 1,300 years in the making.

The museum’s Chinese dancing horse sculpture is so realistic that the fiery steed seems ready to gallop off its pedestal. But East Asian art curator Hou-mei Sung questioned the authenticity of a decorative tassel on the terracotta horse’s forehead that resembles the horn of a mythological unicorn.

The museum reached out to UC College of Arts and Sciences assistant professor of chemistry Pietro Strobbia for help to determine if the tassel was original to the work.

“Many museums have a conservator but not necessarily scientific facilities needed to do this kind of examination,” Strobbia said. “The forehead tassel looks original, but the museum asked us to determine what materials it was made from.”

Strobbia and his collaborators wrote about the project for a paper published in the journal Heritage Science.

Monday, September 5, 2022

Archaeologists discover monumental evidence of prehistoric hunting across Arabian desert

Distribution of kite structures in the Levant and in northern Arabia. White: previously documented kites. Red: kites recorded by EAMENA.
Credit: EAMENA

Archaeologists at the University of Oxford’s School of Archaeology have used satellite imagery to identify and map over 350 monumental hunting structures known as ‘kites’ across northern Saudi Arabia and southern Iraq – most of which had never been previously documented.

Led by Dr Michael Fradley, a team of researchers in the Endangered Archaeology in the Middle East and North Africa (EAMENA) project used a range of open-source satellite imagery to carefully study the region around the eastern Nafud desert, an area little studied in the past. The surprising results, published in the journal The Holocene, have the potential to change our understanding of prehistoric connections and climate change across the Middle East.

Termed kites by early aircraft pilots, these structures consist of low stone walls making up a head enclosure and a number of guiding walls, sometimes kilometers long. They are believed to have been used to guide game such as gazelles into an area where they could be captured or killed. There is evidence that these structures may date back as far as 8,000 BCE in the Neolithic period.

Kites cannot be observed easily from the ground, however the advent of commercial satellite imagery and platforms such as Google Earth have enabled recent discoveries of new distributions. While these structures were already well-known from eastern Jordan and adjoining areas in southern Syria, these latest results take the known distribution over 400km further east across northern Saudi Arabia, with some also identified in southern Iraq for the first time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Researchers develop the first AI-based method for dating archaeological remains

Credit: Unsplash

By analyzing DNA with the help of artificial intelligence (AI), an international research team led by Lund University in Sweden has developed a method that can accurately date up to ten-thousand-year-old human remains.

Accurately dating ancient humans is key when mapping how people migrated during world history.

The standard dating method since the 1950s has been radiocarbon dating. The method, which is based on the ratio between two different carbon isotopes, has revolutionized archaeology. However, technology is not always completely reliable in terms of accuracy, making it complicated to map ancient people, how they moved and how they are related.

In a new study published in Cell Reports Methods, a research team has developed a dating method that could be of great interest to archaeologists and paleognomicists.

“Unreliable dating is a major problem, resulting in vague and contradictory results. Our method uses artificial intelligence to date genomes via their DNA with great accuracy, says Eran Elhaik, researcher in molecular cell biology at Lund University.

Friday, August 19, 2022

Medieval monks were ‘riddled with worms’, study finds

Augustinian friars being excavated by the Cambridge Archaeological Unit. 
Credit: Cambridge Archaeological Unit

A new analysis of remains from medieval Cambridge shows that local Augustinian friars were almost twice as likely as the city’s general population to be infected by intestinal parasites.

This is despite most Augustinian monasteries of the period having latrine blocks and hand-washing facilities, unlike the houses of ordinary working people.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology say the difference in parasitic infection may be down to monks manuring crops in friary gardens with their own feces, or purchasing fertilizer containing human or pig excrement.

The study, published today in the International Journal of Paleopathology, is the first to compare parasite prevalence in people from the same medieval community who were living different lifestyles, and so might have differed in their infection risk.

The population of medieval Cambridge consisted of residents of monasteries, friaries and nunneries of various major Christian orders, along with merchants, traders, craftsmen, laborers, farmers, and staff and students at the early university.

Cambridge archaeologists investigated samples of soil taken from around the pelvises of adult remains from the former cemetery of All Saints by the Castle parish church, as well as from the grounds where the city’s Augustinian Friary once stood.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Northernmost Neolithic Fortifications Found

The group of archaeologists in the project under the state order of the Ministry of Science and Education of Russia is headed by Victor Borzunov.
Photo from Victor Borzunov's personal archive

To establish and characterize in detail the livelihood strategies of the primitive population of the Trans-Urals and Western Siberia of the Stone, Bronze and Early Iron eras. This is the task archeologists at Ural Federal University have set for themselves within the interdisciplinary project "Regional Identity of Russia: Comparative Historical and Philological Studies". Scientists have found that during the New Stone Age, the aborigines of the forest belt of the north of the Eurasian continent continued to maintain an appropriate economy and could not rise to the level of a fundamentally new production economy.

Scientists conduct research in this area under the state order of the Ministry of Science and Education of Russia (№ FEUZ-2020-0056) and under a grant from the Russian Science Foundation. The group in the project is headed by Victor Borzunov, a Senior Researcher of the Fundamental Research Archaeological Laboratory of UrFU.

The work, which continued many years of research by the laboratory personnel, is carried out in three main directions. The first is the study of neolithization of the societies of the Ural-West Siberian Region. In other words, the peculiarities of ancient groups of 6th-4th millennia B.C. to the advanced innovations of the Old World, such as productive economy, more or less strong sedentary life, large stationary settlements, ceramic production, defense architecture, fundamentally different house-building, stone processing, new social structures etc.

The second direction is the analysis of the origin and development of the ancient defensive architecture of the north of Eurasia in the 7th millennium B.C. - 3rd century A.D., its place and role in the general system of origin and development of fortified settlements, proto-cities and cities of the Old World.

Monday, August 1, 2022

New Mexico Mammoths Among Best Evidence for Early Humans in North America

Close up of the bone pile during excavation. This random mix of ribs, broken cranial bones, a molar, bone fragments, and stone cobbles is a refuse pile from the butchered mammoths. It was preserved beneath the adult mammoth’s skull and tusks.
Credit: Timothy Rowe / The University of Texas at Austin.

About 37,000 years ago, a mother mammoth and her calf met their end at the hands of human beings.

Bones from the butchering site record how humans shaped pieces of their long bones into disposable blades to break down their carcasses, and rendered their fat over a fire. But a key detail sets this site apart from others from this era. It’s in New Mexico – a place where most archaeological evidence does not place humans until tens of thousands of years later.

A recent study led by scientists with The University of Texas at Austin finds that the site offers some of the most conclusive evidence for humans settling in North America much earlier than conventionally thought.

The researchers revealed a wealth of evidence rarely found in one place. It includes fossils with blunt-force fractures, bone flake knives with worn edges, and signs of controlled fire. And thanks to carbon dating analysis on collagen extracted from the mammoth bones, the site also comes with a settled age of 36,250 to 38,900 years old, making it among the oldest known sites left behind by ancient humans in North America.

“What we’ve got is amazing,” said lead author Timothy Rowe, a paleontologist and a professor in the UT Jackson School of Geosciences. “It’s not a charismatic site with a beautiful skeleton laid out on its side. It’s all busted up. But that’s what the story is.”

Friday, July 29, 2022

Octopus lures from the Marianas are the oldest in the world

UOG archaeologist Michael Carson at the 2013 excavation of Sanhalom in Tinian, near the House of Taga. The excavation uncovered an octopus lure artifact from a layer that Carson has since carbon dated to 1500–1100 B.C., making it the oldest known artifact of its kind in the world.
Credit: MARC | University of Guam

A University of Guam archaeological study has determined that cowrie-shell artifacts found throughout the Marianas were lures used for hunting octopuses and that the devices, which have been found on islands across the Pacific, are the oldest known artifacts of their kind in the world.

The study used carbon dating of archaeological layers to confirm that lures found in Tinian and Saipan were from about 1500 B.C., or 3,500 years ago.

“That’s back to the time when people were first living in the Mariana Islands. So, we think these could be the oldest octopus lures in the entire Pacific region and, in fact, the oldest in the world,” said Michael T. Carson, an archaeologist with the Micronesian Area Research Center at UOG.

The study, titled “Let’s catch octopus for dinner: Ancient inventions of octopus lures in the Mariana Islands of the remote tropical Pacific,” is published in World Archaeology, a peer-reviewed academic journal. Carson, who holds a doctorate in anthropology, is the lead author of the study, assisted by Hsiao-chun Hung from The Australian National University in Canberra, Australia.

The fishing devices were made with cowrie shells, a type of sea snail and a favorite food of octopuses, that were connected by a fiber cord to a stone sinker and a hook.

They have been found in seven sites in the Mariana Islands. The oldest lures were excavated in 2011 from Sanhalom near the House of Taga in Tinian and in 2016 from Unai Bapot in Saipan. Other locations include Achugao in Saipan, Unai Chulu in Tinian, and Mochom at Mangilao Golf Course, Tarague Beach, and Ritidian Beach Cave in Guam.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Oldest DNA from domesticated American horse lends credence to shipwreck folklore

This tooth is all that remains from one of the first horses introduced to the Americas, and its DNA is helping rewrite the history of one of the best-known horse breeds in the United States: The Chincoteague pony.
Credit: Jeff Gage

An abandoned Caribbean colony unearthed centuries after it had been forgotten and a case of mistaken identity in the archaeological record have conspired to rewrite the history of a barrier island off the Virginia and Maryland coasts.

These seemingly unrelated threads were woven together when Nicolas Delsol, a postdoctoral researcher at the Florida Museum of Natural History, set out to analyze ancient DNA recovered from cow bones found in archaeological sites. Delsol wanted to understand how cattle were domesticated in the Americas, and the genetic information preserved in centuries-old teeth held the answer. But they also held a surprise.

“It was a serendipitous finding,” he said. “I was sequencing mitochondrial DNA from fossil cow teeth for my Ph.D. and realized something was very different with one of the specimens when I analyzed the sequences.”

That’s because the specimen in question, a fragment of an adult molar, wasn’t a cow tooth at all but instead once belonged to a horse. According to a study published this Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, the DNA obtained from the tooth is also the oldest ever sequenced for a domesticated horse from the Americas.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Rock art detection via machine learning model a breakthrough

A hypothetical example of possible rock art image detection on an image from Kakadu National Park.
 Source: Griffith University

Researchers have developed a way to detect the presence of rock art in remote, hard-to-reach areas in Australia’s rugged landscapes using Machine Learning (ML) methods.

Co-led by Dr Andrea Jalandoni, a digital archaeologist from Griffith University’s Centre for Social and Cultural Research, the study used hundreds of images of rock art found within Kakadu National Park to train a ML model to detect whether painted rock art was present within the image.

The model achieved an 89% success rate, meaning it determined which images contained rock art the vast majority of times.

“Some of these sites are not easily accessible, so alleviating some of the time, effort and expense to mount some explorative missions is of huge value to this type of archaeological research in some of the most remote areas of Australia,” Dr Jalandoni said.

“Once our ML model picks up whether an area photographed potentially contains previously undiscovered rock art, scientists can then go in and ground-truth the site to verify if there is rock art present and report on it further.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Britain's earliest humans

Artist reconstruction of Homo heidelbergensis making a flint hand axe  
Credit: Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge / Illustration by Gabriel Ugueto

Homo heidelbergensis may have occupied southern Britain between 560,000 and 620,000 years ago

Archaeological discoveries made on the outskirts of Canterbury, Kent (England) confirm the presence of early humans in southern Britain between 560,000 and 620,000 years ago. The breakthrough, involving controlled excavations and radiometric dating, comes a century after stone tool artefacts were first uncovered at the site. The research, led by archaeologists at the University of Cambridge, confirms that Homo heidelbergensis, an ancestor of Neanderthals, occupied southern Britain in this period – when it was still attached to Europe – and gives tantalizing evidence hinting at some of the earliest animal hide processing in European prehistory.

Located in an ancient riverbed, the Canterbury site was originally discovered in the 1920s when local laborers unearthed artefacts known as hand axes, but by applying modern dating techniques to new excavations their age has finally been determined. Led by Cambridge’s Department of Archaeology, the recent excavations have not only dated the original site but also identified new flint artefacts, including the very first ‘scrapers’ to be discovered there. The researchers have dated these stone tool artefacts using infrared-radiofluorescence (IR-RF) dating, a technique which determines the point at which feldspar sand-grains were last exposed to sunlight, and thereby establishing when they were buried.

Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Legacy of Colonialism Influences Science in the Caribbean

Map of the Caribbean region.
Generated with ArcGIS Pro online.

With the retreat of sprawling empires after the Second World War, one might think the colonial mindset of taking from smaller countries to support large nations would likewise be relegated to the past. But a new paper in The American Naturalist by an international collaboration of researchers shows how the legacy of colonialism remains deeply entrenched within scientific practice across the Caribbean archipelago.

The authors note that a colonial mindset in science, which does not account for the ways humans have interacted with and altered the Caribbean environment for centuries, skews our understanding of these systems. Also, the lack of local involvement in research and the extraction of natural history specimens have come at the expense of former colonies and occupied lands.

“I hope our study encourages more people to think about the impacts of their research and research practices, and to be more involved in the communities they are doing research in,” said Melissa Kemp, an assistant professor of integrative biology at The University of Texas at Austin who has done extensive fieldwork in the Caribbean and is one of the study’s three senior authors.

The paper’s other senior authors are Alexis Mychajliw, an assistant professor at Middlebury College, and Michelle LeFebvre, assistant curator of South Florida Archaeology and Ethnography at the Florida Museum of Natural History. The paper’s lead author is Ryan Mohammed, a Trinidadian biologist and postdoctoral research associate at Williams College.

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Palms at the Poles: Fossil Plants Reveal Lush Southern Hemisphere Forests in Ancient Hothouse Climate

For decades, paleobotanist David Greenwood has collected fossil plants from Australia – some so well preserved it’s hard to believe they’re millions of years old. These fossils hold details about the ancient world in which they thrived, and Greenwood and a team of researchers including climate modeler and research David Hutchinson, from the University of New South Wales, and UConn Department of Geosciences paleobotanist Tammo Reichgelt, have begun the process of piecing together the evidence to see what more they could learn from the collection. Their findings are published in Paleoceanography & Paleoclimatology.

The fossils date back 55 to 40 million years ago, during the Eocene epoch. At that time, the world was much warmer and wetter, and these hothouse conditions meant there were palms at the North and South Pole and predominantly arid landmasses like Australia were lush and green. Reichgelt and co-authors looked for evidence of differences in precipitation and plant productivity between then and now.

Since different plants thrive under specific conditions, plant fossils can indicate what kinds of environments those plants lived in.

By focusing on the morphology and taxonomic features of 12 different floras, the researchers developed a more detailed view of what the climate and productivity was like in the ancient hothouse world of the Eocene epoch.

Reichgelt explains the morphological method relies on the fact that the leaves of angiosperms — flowering plants — in general have a strategy for responding to climate.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Researchers aim X-rays at century-old plant secretions for insight into Aboriginal Australian cultural heritage

Century-old plants exudate samples in amber jars. Researchers mapped the chemistry of these samples using high-energy photons. Scientists can analyze other historical artifact chemistries by applying this technique in the future.
Credit: Flinders University, South Australia, Kaurna Country

By revealing the chemistry of plant secretions, or exudates, these studies build a basis for better understanding and conserving art and tools made with plant materials.

For tens of thousands of years, Aboriginal Australians have created some of the world’s most striking artworks. Today their work continues long lines of ancestral traditions, stories of the past and connections to current cultural landscapes, which is why researchers are keen on better understanding and preserving the cultural heritage within.

In particular, knowing the chemical composition of pigments and binders that Aboriginal Australian artists employ could allow archaeological scientists and art conservators to identify these materials in important cultural heritage objects. Now, researchers are turning to X-ray science to help reveal the composition of the materials used in Aboriginal Australian cultural heritage – starting with the analysis of century-old samples of plant secretions, or exudates.

Aboriginal Australians continue to use plant exudates, such as resins and gums, to create rock and bark paintings and for practical applications, such as hafting stone points to handles. But just what these plant materials are made of is not well known.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Newly discovered ancient Amazonian cities reveal how urban landscapes were built without harming nature

Lidar image of the large settlement site Cotoca with cross sections A–B and C–D. m.a.s.l., meters above sea level.
Credit: University of Exeter

A newly discovered network of “lost” ancient cities in the Amazon could provide a pivotal new insight into how ancient civilizations combined the construction of vast urban landscapes while living alongside nature.

A team of international researchers, including Professor Jose Iriarte from the University of Exeter, has uncovered an array of intricate settlements in the Llanos de Mojos savannah-forest, Bolivia – that have laid hidden under the thick tree canopies for centuries.

The cities, built by the Casarabe communities between 500-1400 AD, feature an unprecedented array of elaborate and intricate structures unlike any previously discovered in the region – including 5m high terraces covering 22 hectares – the equivalent of 30 football pitches – and 21m tall conical pyramids.

Researchers also found a vast network of reservoirs, causeways and checkpoints, spanning several kilometers.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

How seascapes of the ancient world shaped genetic structure of European populations

Reconstructed view of the burial caves of the Xaghra Circle (Libby Mulqueeney after an original by Caroline Malone). Source Malone et al.2009. Mortuary Customs in Prehistoric Malta.Cambridge: McDonald, pp 375, 377. Malone, C., Stoddart, S., Trump, D. & Bonanno, A. (eds.). 2009. Mortuary Customs in prehistoric Malta. Excavations at the Brochtorff Circle at Xaghra (1987-1994). Cambridge: McDonald Institute.

Trinity scientists, along with international colleagues, have explored the importance of sea travel in prehistory by examining the genomes of ancient Maltese humans and comparing these with the genomes of this period from across Europe. Previous findings from the archaeological team had suggested that towards the end of the third millennium BC the use of the Maltese temples declined.

Now, using genetic data from ancient Maltese individuals the current interdisciplinary research team has suggested a potential contributing cause. Researchers found that these ancient humans lacked some of the signatures of genetic changes that swept across Europe in this period, because of their island separation. Scientists concluded that physical topography, in particular seascapes played a central role as barriers to genetic exchange.

The study is just published in the journal Current Biology.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Research Confirms Eastern Wyoming Paleoindian Site as Americas’ Oldest Mine

UW Ph.D. student Chase Mahan inspects an artifact from excavation at the Powars II archaeological site in 2020. Mahan is one of the co-authors of a new paper that confirms the site at Sunrise in Platte County is the oldest documented red ocher mine -- and likely the oldest known mine of any sort -- in all of North and South America.
Credit: Spencer Pelton

Archaeological excavations led by Wyoming’s state archaeologist and involving University of Wyoming researchers have confirmed that an ancient mine in eastern Wyoming was used by humans to produce red ocher starting nearly 13,000 years ago.

That makes the Powars II site at Sunrise in Platte County the oldest documented red ocher mine -- and likely the oldest known mine of any sort -- in all of North and South America. The excavations, completed shortly before the 2020 death of famed UW archaeologist George Frison, confirmed theories he advanced stemming from research he began at the site in 1986.

The findings appear in “In situ evidence for Paleoindian hematite quarrying at the Powars II site (48PL330), Wyoming,” a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), one of the world’s most prestigious multidisciplinary scientific journals covering the biological, physical and social sciences.

Tooth unlocks mystery of Denisovans in Asia

Views of the TNH2-1 specimen
Credit: Flinders University

What links a finger bone and some fossil teeth found in a cave in the remote Altai Mountains of Siberia to a single tooth found in a cave in the limestone landscapes of tropical Laos?

The answer to this question has been established by an international team of researchers from Laos, Europe, the US and Australia.

The human tooth was chanced upon during an archaeological survey in a remote area of Laos. The scientists have shown it originated from the same ancient human population first recognized in Denisova Cave (dubbed the Denisovans), in the Altai Mountains of Siberia (Russia).

The research team made the significant discovery during their 2018 excavation campaign in northern Laos. The new cave Tam Ngu Hao 2, also known as Cobra Cave, is located near to the famous Tam Pà Ling Cave where another important 70,000-year-old human (Homo sapiens) fossils had been previously found.

The international researchers are confident the two ancient sites are linked to Denisovans occupations despite being thousands of kilometers apart.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Ancient grains

Laura Motta, University of Michigan paleoethnobotanist, shows peas excavated from the Karanis site in Egypt.
Image credit: Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography

For a long time, researchers believed the diets of ancient people were nutritionally poor.

Everyday ancient Mediterranean civilizations relied on a diet of grains and pulses (chickpeas, lentils and other members of the bean family). Researchers thought this food lacked micronutrients such as zinc and iron, while also containing components that inhibit the uptake of what nutrients the food did have.

But a University of Michigan pilot study on crops grown in Egypt during Roman times suggests that ancient grains were more nutrient dense than grains grown in the same region today. Now, building on that study, U-M is part of a five-university consortium to receive a €3.7 million grant (about $3.85 million), called the AGROS project, awarded by the Belgian program Excellence of Science.

The researchers will use cutting-edge technologies to examine the nutritional profile of the food and how its nutrients changed based on the historical methods of food preparation.

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