Sunday, September 21, 2014

Flute flutterby

Witness the poise of Japanese-born, Chicago-based flutist Yukie Ota during the first round of a competition in Denmark as a butterfly lands on her forehead! She was unflapped when a butterfly – identified as a peacock butterfly (Aglais io) – landed in her hair, then settled on her left eyebrow as she performed Pierrre Sancan's Sonatine (VIDEO HERE). Lepidoptera curator Bob Robbins of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., notes that it was strange for the insect to come indoors, but it was likely looking for salty water to drink. He points out, "If you look closely at the video, you can see the butterfly's proboscis — its 'tongue' — out as it crawls across her forehead. It's looking for her perspiration. And she's under lights at a highfalutin competition. I'd be sweating a bit under that pressure." You will be happy to know that Ota has moved on to the next level of competition.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Egyptian extensions

In the ancient city once established as the capital of Egypt by the pharaoh Akhenaten during his reign ca. 1353-1335 B.C.E., archaeologists are excavating the cemetery as part of the Amarna Project. Of the 100 skulls recently unearthed, 28 still had their hair. Jolanda Bos (ABOVE) is leading the hairstyle analysis and has found that the residents were fond of braids, rings or curls around the ears, and possibły henna dye. Researchers don't know the name, age or occupation of one unmummified woman, but Bos has betrayed one of her secrets, stating that she wore "a very complex coiffure with approximately 70 extensions fastened in different layers and heights on the head."

Friday, September 19, 2014

Tomb of whom?

Flanked by caryatids (IMAGE ABOVE) and guarded by sphinxes, a massive ancient tomb is coming to light in Greece. The marble walls, frescoes, and mosaics indicate that it was the resting place of a very important figure. With the inner burial chamber not yet unsealed, some are speculating that it contains the remains of Alexander the Great, who died in Babylon in 323 B.C.E. But classical scholar Ian Worthington of the University of Missouri in Columbia explains that the ruler's body was kidnapped by one of his generals and buried somewhere in Egypt. He challenges, "So I will bet you ten dollars that Alexander the Great is not in the tomb of Amphipolis."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ovine inertia

Semi-professional skier Pete Oswald was on a photo shoot in the Hector Mountains, Otago, in his home country of New Zealand, when he looked over his shoulder to see a sheep snowballing ass over teakettle down the slope. The poor creature, still curled up and with a bloody nose, came to a stop 100 m from him. Oswald skied over and tried to set it upright, but the sheep was exhausted and he feared it would die without further help. So the skiier lifted the fully grown ewe and brought it down the mountain, leaving it in a grassy area to feed. The odd event was caught on camera by photographer Dan Power. The unshorn wool indicates that the animal may have been stuck on the mountaintop since the beginning of winter. Oswald muses, "It's a bit of a yarn. It is definitely the oddest thing I have found skiing."

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Squid vid

In December 2013, Captain John Bennett and his crew aboard the San Aspiring hauled up a giant squid from a mile deep in Antarctica's Ross Sea. The enormous creature weighed 770 pounds (350 kg) and its 8 arms had a tip-to-tentacle measurement of greater than 4 meters. Even after spending 9 months in the freezer of a Wellington, New Zealand, museum, it was said to be one of the best preserved colossal squids ever found after it was moved by forklift into a tank and examined yesterday (PHOTOS HERE VIDEO HERE). Kat Bolstad of the Auckland University of Technology led the necropsy of the female squid and found that not only was she was full of eggs, "This one had two perfect eyes. They have very large and very delicate eyes because they live in the deep sea. It’s very rare to see an eye in good condition at all.”

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Osseous oracles

The historical importance of oracle bones (a.k.a. "dragon bones") to understanding Bronze Age China was not recognized until the 19th c. While others were grinding up the artifacts to use in traditional medicines, a collector and scholar was recording the inscriptions, which were published after his suicide. The British Library owns more than 400 of these divination tools, consisting mostly of ox scapulae or pieces of turtle shell and dating to between 1600 and 1050 B.C.E. Sara Chiesura, a specialist in Asian and African studies at the Library, explains, "Questions about crops, the weather or the royal family were engraved with a sharp object and the bone was then heated with metal sticks. Because of the heat, the bones would crack and the answers would be given by the diviners who interpreted the different shapes and the patterns of the fractures. The response was inscribed on the bone too. Most of the cracks produced by the heat on the reverse side of the bones appeared on the front side with a distinctive shape (├ ) from which comes the Chinese character for the verb 'to divine.'"

Monday, September 15, 2014

Megalithic mortuary

After mapping the area of the ancient monument to a depth of about 10' (3 m), the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project has made some startling revelations. The high-resolution, 3-D underground map of nearly 3,000 acres of the surrounding landscape was created using ground-penetrating radar, high-resolution magnetometers, and other state-of-the-art remote-sensing equipment. Within an area 14 times larger than the iconic stone circle, the archaeologists have discovered dozens of features, including more than 50 pillars and 17 ritual monuments. They found hundreds of burial mounds, evidence of a possible processional route around Stonehenge itself, and a massive long barrow believed to have been used as a mortuary for the bones of the dead (RENDERING ABOVE). The new discoveries raise even more questions about how the Stonehenge complex was built and modified over a period of 11,000 years. Lead scientist Vince Gaffney exclaims, "Technology is opening doors for archaeology we could only dream about 15 years ago....All of this information has been placed within a single digital map, which will guide how Stonehenge and its landscape are studied in the future."

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Forming feathers

American biologist and author Thor Hanson (IMAGE ABOVE) points out in his new book the marvel that is the evolution of feathers. Feathers can be soft or barbed, can store water or repel it, can conceal or attract. They are diverse in both form and function, they are a near-perfect airfoil, and they are the lightest, most efficient insulation ever discovered. As the fossil record shows, this "accident of physics” took 50 million years to unfold as dinosaurs became birds. Hanson explains how it happened in this lovely short animated film.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Mighty mite

When tree sap enveloped an ant, it also enveloped the mesostigmatid mite attached to its head. Some 45 million years later, the fossilized specimen provides the oldest evidence of a mite attacking a social insect. The eyeless parasites are rare in the fossil record because they lived in soil and leaf litter and were often gobbled up after they died. Evolutionary biologist Jason Dunlop of the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin and his colleagues discovered this example in amber, probably Baltic in origin, in the natural history collection of German paleontologist Joerg Wunderlich. For the study, the mite was invaluable, but Dunlop observes, "For the ant, however, these mites are presumably a nuisance, and perhaps even dangerous. This ancient ant was almost certainly not enjoying carrying the mite around with it.”

Friday, September 12, 2014

H.M.S.

While the frozen bodies of 2 crew members of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition were found on Canada's Beechey Island and exhumed in 1980, the foundered vessels have never been discovered. Until now. On Tuesday, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced that one of the two ships – either the Erebus or the Terror, both last seen in 1845 – had been located using underwater drones. Photographs including the image above reveal the ship's remains at the bottom of the Victoria Strait, near King William Island in Nunavut. Says Harper, "Finding the first vessel will no doubt provide the momentum – or wind in our sails – necessary to locate its sister ship and find out even more about what happened to the Franklin Expedition’s crew."

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Pilgrim penny

What a silver threepenny coin struck in the American Colonies in 1652 was doing beneath the surface of the ground in a farmer's field in the village of King’s Clipstone, Nottinghamshire, U.K., no one can say. But thanks to his metal detector, amateur treasure hunter John Stoner is at least £1 million ($1.63 million) richer for having found it. he describes, "I dug up the soil and out it popped. At first I didn’t think it was anything special. I knew it wasn’t English, but just how important a find it was, I didn’t have a clue."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Ripper unraveled

Businessman Russell Edwards believes he has unmasked the identity of Jack the Ripper. During the notorious killer's reign of terror in East London in 1888, a scarf was found next to the body – and soaked in the blood – of one of his victims, Catherine Eddowes. At the scene, ácting Sergeant Amos Simpson got permission from his Scotland Yard superiors to take it home to his seamstress wife. She never used or laundered it and the scarf passed down in the family from Mary Simpson to Eliza Smith to Eliza Mills (later Hayes) and then to her son David Melville-Hayes. Melville-Hayes loaned it to the Crime Museum, but it was not put it on display because of the lack of proof of its provenance, so he reclaimed it and sold it at auction in 2007. Self-proclaimed armchair detective Edwards was the high bidder, and has since had the shawl analyzed by molecular biologist Jari Louhelainen of Liverpool John Moores University, who was able to lift mitochondrial DNA that matched that of Karen Miller, the great-great-great-granddaughter of the victim. But Louhelainen was also able to extract mitochondrial DNA from fluids on the scarf left by the killer and matched that to a living descendent of the sister of a long-held suspect. Jack the Ripper was mentally ill Polish Jew Aaron Kosminski (MORE HERE). But for all those who are of mixed emotions about this mystery coming to an end, biologist Dan Krane of Wright State University, an expert in DNA analysis, cautions, "From a criminal law perspective the chain of custody leaves a lot to be desired."

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Greek gizmo

When a Roman vessel was discovered off the Greek island of Antikythera in 1900, divers brought up half of a strange object known as the Antikythera mechanism. Of Greek origin and dating to the first century B.C.E., it was determined in the 1970s to be an analog computer used to predict celestial movement, including eclipses. This month, an international team of scientists is poised to descend to the wreck to test a new Iron-Man-like diving suit (IMAGES AND VIDEO HERE), and also hope to recover the rest of the mechanism. Underwater archaeologist Brendan P. Foley of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, U.S., is directing the project and admits, "This is the kind of thing that quite literally wakes me up in the middle of the night. I can’t sleep because I’m so excited.”

Monday, September 8, 2014

Collection cohesion

The Wedgewood Collection is more than just a bunch of pretty teacups. It is 80,000 pieces of pottery spanning 250 years of history and accompanied by documentation (manuscripts. letters, pattern books, and photographs) that is invaluable to scholars who study globalization, the spread of capitalism, and the industrial revolution. Those scholars, members of British Parliament, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Wedgewood family, and private donors are mobilizing to prevent the collection from being broken up and auctioned off due to the insolvency of Waterford Wedgwood Plc. Christie's has already designed and printed the catalogs in readiness. A total of £13.1 million has thus far been raised to retain the collection currently housed at the Wedgwood Museum in Stoke-on-Trent and the final £2.74 million must be collected in the next 3 months. Chris Smith, chairman of the Art Fund which is coordinating the fundraising appeal, noted that the “clock is ticking” and director Stephan Deuchar called the impending dispersal the charity’s “worst nightmare.”

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Pyloric panoply

A 3-year-old Great Dane from Portland, Oregon, U.S., was taken to the vet by his family when he was found groaning and retching. X-rays showed 43 1/2 socks in the dog’s stomach (IMAGE ABOVE, X-RAYS HERE). Veterinarian Ashley Magee of the DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital said of the 2-hour operation, "We opened up his stomach and kept removing sock after sock of all different shapes and sizes."

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions

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