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Archaeologists find ancient circle of deep shafts near Stonehenge

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June 22 (UPI) — Archaeologists have discovered the markings of a prehistoric structure surrounding Durrington Walls, an ancient monument positioned just 1.9 miles northeast of Stonehenge.

The discovery suggests that roughly 4,500 years ago, Neolithic builders — the same people who constructed Stonehenge — dug a series of deep shafts, forming a circle spanning 1.2 miles in diameter, according to a study published Sunday in the journal Internet Archaeology.

Until recently, the pits — usually discovered a few at a time — were thought to be sinkholes or dew ponds. But their uniformity inspired further investigation, and aerial surveys using a combination of technologies, including ground-penetrating radar and magnetometry, revealed a larger pattern.

“The area around Stonehenge is among the most studied archaeological landscapes on earth and it is remarkable that the application of new technology can still lead to the discovery of such a massive prehistoric structure which, currently, is significantly larger than any comparative prehistoric monument that we know of, in Britain at least,” Vincent Gaffney, one of leading archaeologists on the survey effort, said in a news release.

Because the Durrington Walls, one of Britain’s largest monument sites, sits at the center of the massive circle of shafts, researchers suspect the pits served as a boundary to lands considered sacred by the population.

“As the place where the builders of Stonehenge lived and feasted, Durrington Walls is key to unlocking the story of the wider Stonehenge landscape, and this astonishing discovery offers us new insights into the lives and beliefs of our Neolithic ancestors,” said Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge and Avebury World Heritage Site. “The Hidden Landscapes team has combined cutting-edge, archaeological fieldwork with good old-fashioned detective work to reveal this extraordinary discovery and write a whole new chapter in the story of the Stonehenge landscape.”

While Stonehenge is positioned in relation to the summer and winter solstices, marking the limits of the sun’s range, the newly discovered pits suggest ancient recognition of even larger cosmological phenomena.

It’s not clear whether the pits were intended to guide people toward the ancient monuments or keep people out, but the shafts suggest the region’s monuments were part of an expansive cultural and spiritual tradition.

“Seemingly isolated features have been shown to be linked and significant to the story of the emergence of the ritual landscape,” said Chris Gaffney, archaeological geophysicist at Bradford University. “An interdisciplinary approach, using a battery of techniques, has been key to the successful understanding of this complex but structured element of the landscape around Durrington Walls.”

In addition to the Durrington Walls, the boundary formed by the pits also includes a second monument, the Larkhill causewayed enclosure, built 1,500 years before Stonehenge.

The latest discovery suggests Britain’s Stone Age populations were remarkably sophisticated and capable of tremendous geoengineering feats. Researchers say digging such massive pits with primitive tools is every bit as impressive as arranging giant stones.

“Seeing what is unseen! Yet again, the use of a multidisciplinary effort with remote sensing and careful sampling is giving us an insight to the past that shows an even more complex society that we could ever imagine,” said Richard Bates, an earth scientist at the University of St. Andrews.

“Clearly sophisticated practices demonstrate that the people were so in tune with natural events to an extent that we can barely conceive in the modern world we live in today,” Bates said.



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Apple recalls shipment of iPhone 6 Plus due to photo glitch

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CUPERTINO, Calif., Aug. 23 (UPI) — Apple has recalled a shipment of its iPhone 6 Plus due to a technological glitch that produces blurry photos in the device’s camera, the company announced.

The recall affects a small number of iPhone 6 Plus devices, Apple said in a statement, which have demonstrated a glitch in the iSight camera.

Apple said it’s “a component that may fail causing your photos to look blurry.”

Apple created a web page where users can enter their phone’s serial number to determine if they are affected by the recall.

The iPhone 6 and larger iPhone 6 Plus were released last September.



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‘Invisible’ words reveal common structure among famous stories

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — Storytelling requires a narrative arc, but the trajectory of a dramatic arc isn’t always obvious.

By tracing the abundance of “invisible” words — pronouns, articles and other short words — researchers were able to identify patterns shared by a diversity of stories, from Shakespeare to Spielberg, according to a study published Friday in Science Advances.

“Over the years, these ‘invisible’ words have been found to be related to a whole mess of psychological processes — how people use small words like articles and pronouns tell us about a person’s mental health, thinking style, their social status, and even how well they get along with other people,” study lead author Ryan Boyd told UPI.

“In many ways, it was a natural progression to look at what these words can tell us how the nature of stories,” said Boyd, a lecturer in behavioral analytics at the University of Leeds.

For the study, Boyd and his colleagues used a range of statistical techniques to analyze the abundance and distribution of invisible words in 40,000 fictional texts, including short stories, novels and movie scripts.

The analysis revealed a common structure — a so-called narrative curve — featuring three distinct phases.

During the “staging” phase, authors use prepositions and articles in greater abundance, peppering their prose with “a” and “the.” These words are more useful at the beginning, when authors must set the scene and provide the audience with basic information.

The middle phase is defined by plot progression, which is revealed by a greater abundance of auxiliary verbs, adverbs and pronouns — or interactional language. During this phase, “the house” from the staging phase becomes “her home” or “it.”

During the third phase, cognitive tension is ramped up as the narrative arc reaches a climax. As the author guides the reader or viewer through the process of conflict resolution, cognitive-processing words like “think,” “believe,” “understand” and “cause” begin to crop up in greater numbers.

Researchers found this three-phase narrative shape remained consistent, regardless of a stories length.

“A 25,000 word story has the same shape as a 250 word story,” said Boyd, lead author of the new study. “It seems, then, that we are able to do a good job of structuring our stories in an optimal way regardless of how much space we have to do it in.”

The researchers set up a website showing the shapes of staging, plot progression and cognitive tension in eight texts at The Arc of Narrative website.

The patterns left by invisible words proved both good and bad stories — tales spun by amateurs, as well as professionals — utilize similar structures.

“Our results confirm what people have long believed about stories,” Boyd said. “Like DNA, we knew about it long before we could actually see it and measure it. With these new methods, we are able to see and measure the ‘DNA’ of stories and understand them in more objective, scientific ways.”

According to Boyd, studying the patterns of stories can offer insights into cognitive processes unique to humans.

“What these story shapes seem to tell us is that we have, to some degree, evolved to process information in certain ways,” he said. “We need to understand the ‘who’ and ‘what’ in order to understand the ‘why’ of our everyday lives and the lives of others.”

The authors of the latest story are already mining text for other language patterns that might help researchers determine whether a story-teller is telling the truth, or perhaps reveal the secrets to a “good” story.



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Florida Current study confirms decline in strength of Gulf Stream

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Aug. 7 (UPI) — New research suggests the strength of the Florida Current, which forms the beginning of the Gulf Stream, has weakened considerably over the last century.

The findings, published Friday in the journal Nature Climate Change, corroborate the predictions of several models that suggest the Gulf Stream has slowed over the last several decades.

The Florida Current is a thermal ocean current that flows from west to east around the tip of Florida, joining the Gulf Stream off Florida’s east coast.

Scientists have been tracking the strength of the Florida Current since the early 1980s — not long enough to identify multi-decadal or centennial trends.

To better understand the current’s historical changes, Christopher Piecuch, researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, decided to study the relationship between coastal sea level and the strength of near-shore currents.

While researchers have only been measuring the Florida Current for a few decades, scientists have been recording sea level data since the early 1900s. Piecuch was able to use the data to predict historic changes in the strength of near-shore currents.

“In the ocean, almost everything is connected,” Christopher Piecuch, sole author of the new study, said in a news release. “We can use those connections to look at things in the past or far from shore, giving us a more complete view of the ocean and how it changes across space and time.”

The statistical analysis performed by Piecuch showed the Florida Current and Gulf Stream are the weakest they’ve been during the last 110 years.

The findings are in agreement with ocean current models that suggest climate change has caused a slowdown of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation, of which the Gulf Stream is a part.

Piecuch said he hopes his research will help other scientists use coastal current data to study changes in bigger currents like the Gulf Stream.

“If we can monitor something over the horizon by making measurements from shore, then that’s a win for science and potentially for society,” he said.



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