Saturday, January 31, 2015

Mummified monk

The mummy of a monk seated in a lotus position and shrouded in the skin of a cow, horse, or camel was discovered on January 27th at an undisclosed location in Songinokhairkhan province, Mongolia, and transferred to Ulaanbataar National Centre of Forensic Expertise. Thus far, only a visual examination has been done and puts the mummy's age at 200 years, leading to speculation that he taught the well-known Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigilov, a Buryat Buddhist of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition born in 1852. Itigilov was best known for the lifelike state of his body, suggesting that this monk (IMAGE ABOVE) or another mentor taught him well the practice of self-mummification.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Prehistoric PTSD

The first description of post traumatic stress disorder, in which soldiers sometimes hallucinate about the ghosts of men they have killed in battle, was often attributed to Greek historian Herodotus. But now a team from Anglia Ruskin University has found references in texts from the Assyrian Dynasty in Mesopotamia dating back 7 centuries earlier to 1300 B.C.E. British clinical psychologist James Hacker Hughes says, "As long as there has been civilisation and as long as there has been warfare, there ha[ve] been post-traumatic symptoms. It's not a 21st Century thing."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Blackbeard's booty

"Treating the sick and injured of a sea-bound community on shipboard was challenging in the best of times," says archaeologist Linda Carnes-McNaughton, who is working with the Queen Anne's Revenge Project to recover artifacts from infamous pirate Blackbeard's flagship, run aground off the coast of North Carolina, U.S., in 1718. Among the items stocked onboard to keep the crew in fighting shape were a number of medical instruments: a mortar and pestle and a graduated series of weights used to prepare medicine, a urethral syringe used to treat syphilis, a silver needle and a pair of scissors possibly used during surgery, and a clyster pump (IMAGE ABOVE) used to quickly rehydrate the body by introducing liquids into the rectum.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Unboiling an egg

"Yes, we have invented a way to unboil a hen egg,” says molecular biologist and biochemist Gregory Weiss of the University of California, Irvine, of his team of colleagues and students. The University has now filed for a patent on the process, which involves adding a urea substance to reliquefy the solid material. On a molecular level, a vortex fluid device developed in Australia is used to stress the thin, microfluidic films, untangling the lysozyme proteins and forcing them back into proper form. The team claims the discovery has the potential to transform industrial and research production of proteins, with food production applications for use in farming and cheese-making, and pharmaceutical applications for cancer study and treatment.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Boy/girl butterfly

"It slowly opened up, and the wings were so dramatically different, it was immediately apparent what it was," describes retired chemical engineer Chris Johnson, who discovered the butterfly above in the pupa chamber while volunteering at the butterfly exhibit at Drexel University in Philadelphia. The Common Archduke butterfly had just hatched from its chrysalis with its 2 right wings typical of the females of the species (larger and brown with yellow and white spots), but its 2 left wings were typical of the males (smaller and darker with splashes of green, blue, and purple). It is not a hermaphrodite, an organism which has both male and female reproductive organs, but a gynandromorph, which has the outward characteristics of both genders. Because many animals do not exhibit sexual dimorphism, the rare condition is most noticeable in birds and butterflies. Unfortunately, the butterfly was considered an important research subject, so it was isolated and pinned for the entomology collection rather than being allowed to live out its short life. It will be on view until mid-February, but will not have the opportunity to land on your head…

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Monumental error

Tourist Jacqueline Rodriguez, who snapped the photograph above, was one of many who were privvy to a sight that the Egyptian Museum in Cairo has just confirmed. In August of last year, the blue and gold beard on the mask of King Tutankhamun broke off during the cleaning of its display case. Rather then removing the precious artifact to the conservation lab, staff – on orders from above – simply glued it back on with epoxy. What has been done cannot be undone, so the mask now exhibits a yellow layer at the site of the break and scratches where misplaced epoxy was scraped away with a spatula. "The mask should have been taken to the conservation lab but they were in a rush to get it displayed quickly again and used this quick drying, irreversible material," said a museum conservator who was not consulted prior to the botched repair.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Scorched scrolls

A technique used in mammography and other medical applications to distinguish details from a similarly composed background has been used to decipher scrolls of a classical library destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. The scrolls were excavated from Herculaneum (sometimes called "the other Pompeii") In the 18th c. and attempts to unroll them were abandoned because of the destruction it caused. "X-ray phase-contrast tomography" has now been shown to work when even infrared cameras and CT scans have failed. A team led by physicist Vito Mocella from the National Research Council's Institute for Microelectronics and Microsystems in Naples, Italy, has identified a handful of Greek letters within a rolled-up scroll for the first time and explains that the technique (VIDEO HERE) works because the carbon-based ink never penetrated the now carbonized papyrus: "So the letters are there in relief, because the ink is still on the top."

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tarrare tucks in

To satisfy his unnatural hunger, 17th c. French showman and soldier Tarrare would eat anything – and I mean anything. In addition to vast amounts of meat, he had been known to down corks, stones, live animals (cats, snakes, lizards, puppies, and even a whole eel without chewing), a basketful of apples at a time, and a meal intended for 15 people in a single sitting. Nothing was enough and he scavenged in gutters, through refuse piles, and outside butcher shops. Doctors tried to help him, but he attempted to drink the blood of other patients and to eat the corpses in the hospital morgue. When Tarrare fell under suspicion of eating a toddler, they kicked him out and a few years later he died and was autopsied (READ MORE HERE).


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Toothy trawling

Australian fisherman hauled aboard a very rare frilled shark from waters near Lakes Entrance in the Victoria's Gippsland region. The species dates back 80 million years and has apparently no need to evolve, having perfected its predatory technique long ago. Says Simon Boag of the South East Trawl Fishing Association, "It has 300 teeth over 25 rows, so once you're in that mouth, you're not coming out."

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Rhinos on the run

Today, something lighter than the usual bad news about rhinos. Rihanna, Keren Peles, and Karnabella took the opportunity to sneak by a sleeping security guard – since terminated – at an open side gate at an Israeli safari zoo. This delightful CCTV footage shows the girls being chased back into the zoo by the manager.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Parturition in progress

British biologist Simon Oliver of the University of Chester and his team were doing a survey at a seamount in the Philippines, where vulnerable thresher sharks often congregate to have smaller fish clean them of parasites. There was an added bonus in an image of one of the sharks (ABOVE) captured by photographer Attila Kaszo. Oliver remembers, "He took the picture of the shark, and when he processed the image and showed it to me, I freaked out." it was the first photographic record of a pelagic shark giving birth. While the scientists were excited, the shark was apparently unconcerned. The thresher was not thrashing and there were no signs of a midwife!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Beaver bombardier

Elmo Heter was an Idaho Fish and Game officers tasked with relocating beavers from an area of the state that was growing in population. He soon learned that horses and mules are easily spooked when loaded with live beavers. He conceived, tested, and implemented a plan to drop 76 beavers in the backcountry using surplus World War II parachutes and boxes that broke open when they landed. "The savings in man hours, and in the mortality of animals, is quite evident. Sex ratios are maintained. The beavers are healthier, and in better condition to establish a colony," Heter boasted in the Journal of Wildlife Management. Thus, the great 1948 Idaho beaver airlift went down in state history.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Finch fashion

Researchers at the University of St Andrews in Scotland did an experiment to determine whether bird nests are camouflaged because they are made of materials that are part of the local environment, or whether they blend in because of deliberate actions on the part of the birds. As test subjects, they used zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata), tiny songbirds native to Australia and popular as pets (IMAGE ABOVE). In this species, the male builds the nest, so one was placed in each of 21 enclosures wallpapered in pastel blue, pink, or yellow. Each bird was provided with 2 colors of paper strips – one that matched and one that didn't – and the results recorded on video. Biologist Ida Bailey comments, “Like us they don’t choose just any coloured material to build their homes. [T]hey avoid colours that would clash with their surroundings.”

Friday, January 16, 2015


She may not look like a celebrity, but Tilda is making a name for herself by babbling in human sounds (VIDEO HERE). Born in the wilds of Borneo, she has spent most of her life in captivity – now at the Cologne Zoo in Germany – during which time she has picked up many human-like means of communication. She waves her hands and shakes her head like a person, and came to the attention of founder of the Pongo Foundation Adriano Lameira when he was studying orangutans that whistle. He describes, "We were waiting for the whistles and suddenly she started to do these bizarre calls. She was producing these calls repeatedly and really quick. And this is also what we observe in humans while we are speaking to each other. We are, on average, producing five consonants and five vowels per second." The research suggests that our human ancestors had the ability to produce speech before they developed a modern vocal tract and brain.

Thursday, January 15, 2015


This object had been lodged in the forearm of Arthur Lampitt of Granite City, Illinois, U.S., until it was surgically removed last month. The car accident 51 years ago that caused the injury was so severe it was first reported as a fatality, and resulted in a broken hip that drew attention away from his arm. "We see all kinds of foreign objects like nails or pellets, but usually not this large, usually not a turn signal from a 1963 T- Bird," says hand surgeon Timothy Lang. Asked what he may do with it, Lampitt replied that he may turn it into a keychain.

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions