Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bard's book

Following the purchase of a book on eBay for $4,050 (€2,931). New York antiquarian booksellers Daniel Wechsler and George Koppelman have become convinced that they have found the annotated dictionary belonging to none other than William Shakespeare. John Baret's An Alvearie or Quadruple Dictionarie (IMAGE OF TITLE PAGE ABOVE) was published in 1580 and this particular copy contains thousands of annotations in a contemporary handwriting. Wechsler and Koppelman have spent the past 6 years linking the marginalia directly to the composition of some of Shakespeare's best known works, including Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and many of the sonnets. Although he has not yet had time to weigh the evidence, Shakespeare biographer and scholar Stephen Greenblatt comments, "It would reinforce, in a fascinating way, Shakespeare's passion for language. We know that Shakespeare had an eye out for unusual words – but we have only limited knowledge of where he went to find them."

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sorry selfie

This photo shows what happens when a 90mph (145 km/h) fastball hits a human face. American professional baseball player Delino DeShields, Jr., took the pitch to the face on Friday and was out of the hospital on Saturday, tweeting an update (PHOTO HERE) after being treated for a fractured cheekbone. Said his coach Keith Books, "He’s lucky considering. It could have been horrific, could have been catastrophic. He never saw the ball out of the pitcher’s hand..."

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Dugout dug out

In another instance of a treasure being rediscovered inside a museum, a canoe that has been in the back of a display case at the Western Hennepin County Pioneer Association Museum in Minnesota, U.S., for 46 years has been found to be of more historical significance than previously thought. Believed to date to the 18th c., recent radiocarbon testing by Maritime Heritage Minnesota has revealed that the dugout canoe was crafted by Native Americans 1,000 years ago to navigate the state'ś lakes. The canoe was discovered in 1934 buried in mud in Lake Minnetonka and passed through various museums before it was acquired by the Pioneer Association in 1960. At least one major Minnesota institution now covets the piece, which has been moved to a more prominent spot, but museum president Russ Ferran declares, "We intend to keep it as long as we can protect it."


Monday, April 21, 2014

Flaming felines

Last year, the University of Pennsylvania digitized some 16th c. German artillery manuals. Much was made of the illustrations of the "rocket cats" in the manuscripts (DETAIL ABOVE, MORE IMAGES HERE) and the web was rife with speculation that they foreshadowed modern jetpacks. But the translation from the original German by scholar-in-residence Mitch Fraas sets the story straight:
"Create a small sack like a fire-arrow ... if you would like to get at a town or castle, seek to obtain a cat from that place. And bind the sack to the back of the cat, ignite it, let it glow well and thereafter let the cat go, so it runs to the nearest castle or town, and out of fear it thinks to hide itself where it ends up in barn hay or straw, it will be ignited."
Yes, sad to say, the kitties were intended as Molotov cocktails…with tails.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lay of the (Green)land

Last year, American geologists from the University of Vermont identified a landscape in Greenland that was 800,000 years old. This year, they announced the discovery of an ancient landscape more than 3 times older. The tundra has been preserved under the Greenland Ice Sheet beneath 2 miles of ice for 2.7 million years! Ice core samples the international team of scientists brought up (IMAGE ABOVE) include organic soil, which usually would have been scraped away by moving glaciers. This indicates that the ice sheet has persisted much longer than previously known and has endured many past periods of global warming. Instead of acting as an agent of erosion, the ice worked as a giant refrigerator for the organic materials they have now been able to analyze. Researcher Dylan Rood of the Scottish Universities Environmental Research Centre and the University of California, Santa Barbara comments, "Greenland really was green! However, it was millions of years ago. Greenland looked like the green Alaskan tundra, before it was covered by the second largest body of ice on Earth."

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Female phallus

Four species of winged cave-dwelling insects living in Brazil's Peruaçu River Valley have just been discovered to have a singular distinction. They are the only animals in which the females possess a penis and the males have vaginas.* The mating process – which lasts 40 to 70 hours – consists of the female mounting the male, inflating her spiny phallus (IMAGE ABOVE), and inserting it into the male to gather large quantities of sperm that she uses to fertilize her eggs. Says Japanese entomologist Yoshizawa Kazunori of Hokkaido University, co-author of the newly-published study, "The female penis is a completely novel structure."

* For some even weirder news, click on this link.

Friday, April 18, 2014


If you have money to spare and are in the market for your own private island, you may wish to consider Poveglia. The 17-acre island in Italy's Venice lagoon will be auctioned off, complete with its abandoned buildings (IMAGE ABOVE, MORE PHOTOS HERE). The high bidder will own a piece of history. In the 18th c., the island was used as a quarantine station for passengers on plague-riddèn ships. In the mid-20th c., the mentally ill were hospitalized there and questionable experiments were performed on them. Buyer beware. Despite the lovely view of St. Mark's Square, the property is billed as one of the most haunted places in the world.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Indian twins

"We don't wish to get separated. We will stay like this even when we grow old. We want to live as we are," says Shivram Sahu, the twin on the right in the photo above. He and his conjoined brother were born 12 years ago in a tiny village near Raipur in central India, sharing 2 legs, 4 arms, and a single stomach, but having independent hearts and lungs. They are able to walk, ride a bicycle to school (where they are among the top students in their class), and play cricket on all 6 limbs with their friends (SLIDESHOW HERE). Surgical separation would leave them both debilitated – Shivram more so without legs and a lifetime of medical issues ahead of him. I learned when I researched my book that, unless the surgery can be done successfully when they are babies, it is best psychologically for conjoined twins to make the decision themselves when they are old enough. Advocates also caution against narrow definitions of what a "normal" body is.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Copper-plated mummies

In a burial ritual unknown to experts, several bodies from a medieval necropolis near the Arctic Circle in Siberia were found shrouded in copper. The naturally mummified remains had also been covered in reindeer, beaver, wolverine, or bear fur, and outfitted with a wide range of grave goods (PHOTOS HERE). Genetic experts from the Russian Academy of Sciences will now try to determine from these bodies – none of whom are womenthe identity of this mystery civilization.

Monday, April 14, 2014

La Brea bees

"I had read some of the big literature that said leafcutter bees aren't really identifiable by their nest cells. But I thought, 'That just can't be true; there's got to be a way,'" thought entomologist Anna Holden of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, California, U.S. She was examining 2 nest cells from their collection, which had been excavated from the La Brea tar pits in 1970 and she was sure they were leafcutters. With the help of her colleagues, she found a way. The researchers analyzed the nest cell architecture and the physical features of the bee pupae using high-resolution micro-computed tomography (CT) scanners. They cross-referenced their data with environmental niche models that predict the geographic distribution of species, and determined that their Ice Age specimens belonged to Megachile gentilis, a bee species that still exists today. The image above compares a modern female leafcutter bee pupa on the left with the scan of the male leafcutter that buzzed around the tar pits 23,000 years ago.

Sunday, April 13, 2014


"It’s 6' from a window so gets a bit of sunlight. It grows towards the light so it gets turned round every so often so it grows evenly. Otherwise, it’s the definition of low-maintenance. I’ve never pruned it, it just seems to have grown to the limits of the bottle," says 80-year-old David Latimer of Cranleigh, Surrey, U.K.(IMAGE ABOVE), who has discovered the beauty of a terrarium. He has not had to water his thriving spiderwort in its sealed 10-gallon container since 1972 – 40 years ago!

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Dutch delight

Earlier this month, a hilarious video was uploaded to YouTube. You may have seen it. European telecom company Vodafone had launched a campaign to let people experience things for the first time, so 78-year-old Ria Van den Brand from the Netherlands went to an amusement park in The Hague accompanied by her granddaughter and experienced her first roller coaster ride (VIDEO HERE).


Wednesday, April 9, 2014


When I researched my book Skulls and Skeletons, I managed to miss a collection of more than 18,000 human remains. The Duckworth Laboratory at the University of Cambridge houses the skulls of Iron Age warriors and 17th c. plague victims, mummy heads and overmodeled skulls, and death masks, ámong other things (VIDEO HERE).

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recognized Rembrandt

A portrait (DETAIL ABOVE) of Dirck van Os III (1590-1668), a well-respected Dutch citizen, was purchased in 1942 from a private collection by the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. It hung on the wall for 45 years as the work of Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn, but was then demoted – believed to have been by a student of the master – and later placed in storage. In 2010, one of the world's foremost authorities on Rembrandt, Ernst van de Wetering, had a look and later asked that it be sent to Amsterdam for further analysis and conservation. That done, he has restored the painting's reputation as an original Rembrandt. Executive director of the museum Jack Becker understates, "It's unusual that it goes this way. It usually goes the other way. So that's exciting."

Monday, April 7, 2014

Bríef reef

Scientists have determined that the green sea slug – because it produces chlorophyll – is part plant and part animal. Meanwhile, I am still warming up to the fact that coral is an animal. Australian photographer Daniel Stoupin, a doctoral student in marine biology at the University of Queensland, makes that clearer with a 3 1/2 minute high–magnification time-lapse video that took him 9 months to create. As its title indicates, coral live at an infinitesimally smaller pace than we do. Watch the video HERE.

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions