Using satellite images from Google Maps and Google Earth, an Italian computer programmer has stumbled upon the remains of an ancient villa. Luca Mori was studying maps of the region around his town of Sorbolo, near Parma, when he noticed a prominent, oval, shaded form more than 500 metres long. It was the meander of an ancient river, visible because former watercourses absorb different amounts of moisture from the air than their surroundings do.
When it comes to working out the relationships between ancient languages, grammar is more enlightening than vocabulary, scientists say.
There are some 300 language families in the world today. Researchers have long studied similarities between the words in different languages to try to work out how they are related. But the rate of change in languages means that this method really only works back to 10,000 years ago.
Homo sapiens evolved more than a hundred thousand years ago and by 10,000 years ago had already settled around the globe. So researchers are keen to peer further back in time to see how language evolved and spread.
To do this, Michael Dunn and colleagues at the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics in Germany decided to look at grammar.