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Researchers Found Something Amazing When They Autopsied A 40,000-Year-Old Woolly Mammoth

The last woolly mammoth roamed the earth 4,500 years ago. He and the rest of his brethren died off after the end of the most recent ice age.

Researchers have found woolly mammoth remains in dried up rivers and lakes across the globe, but the vast majority are simply bits and pieces of dried-out bones or fossils. Only a few remnants have been discovered with soft tissues like skin, flesh, and organs intact.

Scientists still don't know what ultimately drove the animals extinct.

But the discovery in 2013 of an astonishingly well-preserved carcass of a mammoth named Buttercup is leading to new insight into these ancient and amazing creatures. Buttercup is the first woolly mammoth to have been discovered with some of her blood still intact.

The fossilized carcass of Buttercup was dissected in a new Smithsonian documentary, called "How To Clone A Woolly Mammoth." The film follows the scientists as they find out more about these ancient beasts than ever before. The one-hour special premieres Saturday, Nov. 29, at 8 p.m. ET on the Smithsonian channel.

The team of experts are also talking about resurrecting these incredible creatures — a hugely controversial idea. Read on to learn more about Buttercup, why her body was so well-preserved, and what scientists hope to do with the remains.

Go Inside the Mammoth

source businessinsider


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Nasa finds evidence of 'life on Mars': Curiosity rover picks up methane 'burps' that could be coming from alien organisms

Evidence of life on Mars could have been found by Nasa's Curiosity Rover.

Mysterious spikes of methane that cannot easily be explained by geology or other theories have been found by one of the instruments on the robot, which landed on the planet in 2012. Scientists can’t be sure what is causing the spikes, but it is possible that it could be very small, bacteria-like living organisms.

If the gas is coming from living microbes then it would mark one of the biggest discoveries in history. On Earth, 95% of methane comes from microbial organisms.

Scientists have said that the rover now has to test and re-test the possibility of life, ahead of a manned mission in 2020 that would look for the source of the methane.

Previous satellite observations have detected unusual plumes of methane on the planet, but none as extraordinary as the sudden "venting" measured at Gale Crater, where evidence suggests water once flowed billions of years ago.

The laboratory onboard the rover has been sniffing methane in the atmosphere a dozen times in the last 12 months. In late 2013 and early 2014, the amount of methane flared up, and then receded.

Other possible explanations include the Sun's rays degrading organic material that was left behind by meteors, Nasa scientists said at the press conference announcing the news. But that explanation still relies on the original material being deposited, they said.

Curiosity, one of Nasa's two Mars Exploration Rovers, landed in the 96 mile-wide crater in August 2012 and has been exploring the region since.

Last year Nasa reported that Gale contained the remains of an ancient freshwater lake where there may have been a hospitable environment for life in the distant past.

The new discovery, reported in the journal Science, followed studies of gas samples by Curiosity's Tunable Laser Spectrometer (TAS), an instrument that uses intense light to carry out chemical analysis.

It revealed a low background level of methane which spiked 10-fold over a period of just 60 Martian days.

In four sequential measurements, Curiosity showed the methane level soaring from about 0.69 parts per billion by volume (ppbv) to 7.2 ppbv.

The spikes occurred within 200 to 300 metres of each other and less than a kilometre from where the lower readings were detected.

By the time Curiosity had travelled a further kilometre, the higher methane levels had disappeared.

In their paper, the US scientists led by Dr Chris Webster, from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, wrote: "The persistence of the high methane values over 60 sols (Martian days) and their sudden drop 47 sols later is not consistent with a well-mixed event, but rather with a local production or venting that, once terminated, disperses quickly."

The wind direction indicated a source to the north of the rover.

Life is the chief producer of methane on Earth, but there are many non-biological processes that can also generate the gas.

The low background level of methane detected by Curiosity can be explained by the Sun's rays degrading organic material possibly deposited by meteors, said the Nasa scientists.

But the spikes of methane required an additional source, which was unlikely to be a recent impact by comet or asteroid. Such an object would have had to measure several metres across and would have left a large crater, no sign of which was visible.

The short time-scale of the methane spikes did not suggest that the gas was released from volcanic deposits trapped in ice, called clathrates. Nor did it appear to come from the release of gaseous methane that had become bound to the soil.

The Nasa authors are cautious about jumping to conclusions, but conclude that "methanogenesis" - the formation of methane by microbial bugs known as methanogens - may be one answer to the riddle.

They wrote: "Our measurements spanning a full Mars year indicate that trace quantities of methane are being generated on Mars by more than one mechanism or a combination of proposed mechanisms - including methanogenesis either today or released from past reservoirs, or both."

Gale Crater, on the Martian equator, was created when a large meteor struck the planet 3.5 billion to 3.8 billion years ago.

At its centre is a high mountain, named Mount Sharp, that rises 18,000ft above the crater floor. Flowing water appears to have carved channels in the sides of the mountain and the crater walls.

Another major discovery by Curiosity was that of water bound in the fine-grained soil within the crater. Each cubic foot of Martian soil was found to contain around two pints of water, not freely accessible but attached to minerals.

The rover has reached the base of Mount Sharp and over the coming months will begin a slow climb. Scientists are especially keen to explore the mountain because its sedimentary layers provide tantalising snapshots of Martian history.

The question of whether there is, or was, life on Mars may finally be answered by the European Space Agency's ExoMars mission, which will land a 300kg rover on the Red Planet in 2019.

ExoMars will be equipped with a two-metre drill and the ability to detect biomarkers of life. It will not be heading for Gale Crater, however. Because it will land with less precision than Curiosity, the crater and its mountain are considered too potentially hazardous.

source independent


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Bourbon virus: researchers discover mystery tick-borne deadly virus

A new disease has been discovered and named the Bourbon Virus, six months after it killed a man in the US.

The virus is carried by ticks and is named after Bourbon County in Kansas, where a man died from it in the summer. It has taken since then for researchers to solve the mystery of how he died.

The disease is similar to another disease known as the heartland virus, which is also passed through tick bites. The initial symptoms were similar, consisting of fever and malaise and anorexia.

Bourbon Virus can be diagnosed through those symptoms and studying the blood in a lab.

The virus is similar to ones found in Eastern Europe, Africa and Asia, but no virus like it has been identified in the western hemisphere.

The man experienced those symptoms before dying from multiple organ failure. His is the only known case of the disease, and so doctors don’t know whether the disease is likely to lead to death in every case.

But the disease could well have infected others before doctors were able to identify it, according to specialists at the University of Kansas Hospital, where the man died.

"Bourbon virus has likely been around for some time, but only recently did we have the diagnostic techniques to isolate and identify such viruses," said Dana Hawkinson, an infectious disease specialist at the hospital.

The University of Kansas Hospital worked with the US Center for Disease Control to identify the virus.

source independent
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First remains of new 'shark-like reptile' found on the Isle of Skye

During the time of the dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland 'were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats'

Resembling a fierce ancestor of the Loch Ness monster, the first fossil of a shark-like reptile that lived at the same time as the dinosaurs has been found in Scotland.

The fossil of the top-ocean predator that lived 170 million years ago was first discovered lying on a beach on the Isle of Skye in 1959 by an amateur collector – but it has only now been recognised as a new species of ichthyosaur, an extinct group of marine reptiles that dominated the oceans of the Jurassic Period.

Scientists have named it Dearcmhara shawcrossi, after Brian Shawcross, the amateur collector who donated the specimen to Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum, and the Gaelic word for marine lizard, dearcmhara – pronounced “jark vara”.

The fast-swimming reptile grew to be about 14 feet long from snout to tail and was armed with an array of sharp teeth. It lived in the warm, shallow seas around the coast of what is now Scotland and fed on fish and possibly smaller reptiles, said Steve Brusatte, a palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh.

“During the time of the dinosaurs, the waters of Scotland were prowled by big reptiles the size of motor boats. Their fossils are very rare, and only now for the first time we’ve found a new species that was uniquely Scottish,” Dr Brusatte said.

“It looked particularly peculiar to us and when we compared it to other fossils it was clear that it was a different ichthyosaur to anything that we had been seen before. It’s not the most beautiful fossil in the world but we realised it was an unusual specimen.”

Though the fossil is incomplete and includes only four bones of the animal’s skeleton, the researchers identified unique features, such as a triangular bony projection on one of the bones of its forelimb for connecting muscles, that were not seen in other ichthyosaurs.

During the Jurassic Period, much of Skye was underwater but connected to the mainland. Britain was part of a large island positioned between the great land masses of Europe and North America.

Skye is one of the best places in the world for finding fossils of the creatures that lived during the middle of the Jurassic, between 160 million years and 170 million years ago, Dr Brusatte said. “It’s a real treasure because the fossils on Skye come from a time during the Jurassic when we don’t have fossils from the rest of the world. By pure, dumb luck, it gives us a window into this mysterious period of time.”

source independent


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Giant asteroid unlikely to have created firestorms big enough to kill off dinosaurs, scientists say

A favourite theory to explain the sudden demise of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago has been debunked by an experiment suggesting that it would have been unlikely for a giant asteroid impact to cause a global firestorm.

It is known that a massive asteroid collided with the Earth at around the same time that the dinosaurs went extinct and it was thought that the impact generated high enough temperatures to ignite vegetation around the world in a global conflagration.

However, an experiment involving a heat furnace and various items of living and non-living plant material has shown that the temperatures created by such an impact, and crucially for how long they occurred, would probably not have been great enough to ignite living vegetation on a global scale, scientists said.

“Previously, people would only have been able to speculate on whether the heat from an asteroid would have caused firestorms. We actually recreated the heat predicted from computer models of such an impact,” said Claire Belcher of Exeter University.

“We found that the living plant material that would have been close to the impact site did not ignite. If there were any firestorms, they were likely to have been localised rather than global,” Dr Belcher said.

However, a collision with an asteroid large enough to leave behind an impact crater 200km (124 miles) wide would still have caused cataclysmic damage to the global environment, throwing up enough ash, dust and debris into the atmosphere to block sunlight for many months to create a “nuclear” winter, she said.

“We’re not saying that an asteroid didn’t wipe out the dinosaurs, only that it probably didn’t cause the global firestorms that many people assumed had happened as a result of the impact,” she added.

The idea that an asteroid was responsible for wiping out the dinosaurs goes back 35 years when Luis and Walter Alvarez of the University of California, Berkeley, discovered worldwide deposits of iridium, a mineral found in meteorites, within a layer of rock formed about 65 million years ago.

About a decade later, scientists discovered a huge underground impact crater straddling the coastline at Chicxulub on the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. The date and size of this impact crater matched the timing of an asteroid collision large enough to cause global devastation 65 million years ago, possibly resulting in a global firestorm.

However, a study published in the Journal of Geological Science found that although the temperatures nearby the impact site probably reached in the region of 500C, they lasted for only a minute, which was not enough to ignite most forms of living plant material.

In addition, the researchers found that the heat generated at greater distances, equivalent to a site as far away from Mexico as New Zealand, would have reached about 200C, but this time would have lasted for about seven minutes – long enough to ignite living trees and plants.

“This has shown that the heat was more likely to severely affect ecosystems as long distance away, such that forests in New Zealand would have had more chance of suffering major wildfires than forests in North America close to the impact,” Dr Belcher said.

“This flips our understanding of the effects of the impact on its head and means that palaeontologists may need to look for new clues from fossils found a long way from the impact to better understand the mass extinction,” she said.

Even if global firestorms did not occur, the environmental changes brought about by the asteroid impact would not have hindered the dinosaurs’ survival given that they were too large to hide away or hibernate underground, she added.

source independent


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This Man Invented a Font to Help People With Dyslexia Read

A new typeface is making life easier for people everywhere who live with dyslexia.

Christian Boer, 33, is a Dutch graphic designer who created the font that makes reading easier for people, like himself, who have dyslexia, according to his website. Now, he’s offering it to people for free.

The typeface is called “Dyslexie,” and Boer first developed it as a final thesis project when he was a student at the Utrecht Art Academy in the Netherlands. The font makes reading easier for people with dyslexia by varying the letter shapes more, making it harder to confuse similarly shaped letters like “b” and “d,” for example.

Dyslexia is a language-based processing disorder resulting in a learning disability often characterized by difficulties with accurate word recognition, decoding and spelling, according to the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

Research suggests that about 17 percent of the population has dyslexia, according to PBS.

Watch the video below to hear more about how “Dyslexie” works:


Boer hopes the font will create more awareness around the problem of dyslexia, according to a press release.

“Traditional fonts are designed solely from an aesthetic point of view, which means they often have characteristics that make characters difficult to recognize for people with dyslexia,” his website reads. “Oftentimes, the letters of a word are confused, turned around or jumbled up because they look too similar.”

The font has been proven to get positive results, including a reduction in flipping and mirroring of letters and increased ease in reading for dylsexics. Independent studies at the University of Twente and Amsterdam found that nearly three-quarters of the students surveryed reported making fewer reading mistakes when taking a test written in the font, according to “Dyslexie’s” 2012 research.

To download “Dyslexie,” or for more information, visit this site.

source themighty


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Materials science Out of the groove

A simple treatment using a laser makes for surfaces that clean themselves

A LIGHTNING strike lasting just a few tens of millionths of a second might seem, well, lightning-fast. Elsewhere, though, nature often gets her work done in periods far shorter than that. In recent years, what has caught scientists' attention are lasers that produce pulses lasting just femtoseconds—that is, millionths of a billionth of a second—which can act as flashbulbs that illuminate the fastest processes in biology and physics. But this week, femtosecond pulses have shown off their abilities in a more quotidian task: making surfaces water-repellent.

Nature has plenty of examples of water-shedding, or hydrophobicity, not least the duck's back of the familiar simile. But a superlative degree of it is of particular interest, because so-called superhydrophobic surfaces are also in effect self-cleaning. As they shed water, any dust or dirt on them sticks better to the passing water beads than to the surfaces themselves. Exposed to the elements, such surfaces stay clean, dry and free of rust or ice (for water does not stick around long enough to make either).

There are myriad applications that could make use of such properties—think aeroplanes or power lines that never get icy, and ships or toilets that never get dirty—so myriad efforts have tried to mimic them. Typically, this is done by covering surfaces with polymers: chemical coatings not unlike that in a non-stick pan. But even the best of these do not perform as well as nature's superhydrophobic superstars, such as the Morpho butterfly, or the leaves of the lotus plant or the garden nasturtium. So scientists got their microscopes out to investigate what made those natural surfaces so slick. What they found suggested that physical properties, rather than chemical ones, were responsible.

The surfaces exhibited patterns and structures on more than one scale—what is known as hierarchical structuring. Morpho wings, for example, are made of shingle-like structures about a millionth of a metre long. On each of these, however, lies a series of grooves just nanometres, or billionths of a metre, long. It is this hierarchical structuring that has materials scientists interested; in some configurations, it leads to an extreme water-loving property called superhydrophilicity. Contrastingly, hierarchical structuring is blamed for the properties of the gecko foot, renowned for its sticking power.

Chunlei Guo and his colleague Anatoliy Vorobyev, physicists at the University of Rochester, in New York, have become experts in the way femtosecond lasers can be used to structure surfaces in just this way, ending up with these same properties. Unlike the kind used in many industrial applications, femtosecond lasers deliver their energy in pulses that have come and gone before there is time for a material to heat up appreciably. As that energy dissipates, single atoms and clusters of varying sizes evaporate off the surface, leaving nanometre-scale bumps and valleys where the laser has removed differing amounts of material.

By scanning a laser beam repeatedly across samples of metal, the two researchers are able to cut arrays of grooves about 100 millionths of a metre wide (the width of a human hair). Within each of the grooves, though, lies structure at the nanometre scale. That arrangement, as the pair show in a paper just published in the Journal of Applied Physics, results in an astonishing level of superhydrophobicity on platinum, brass and titanium. It is not just that water dropped onto the surfaces does not stick, it actually bounces (as can be seen here).

Dr Guo admits, however, that the team have an incomplete understanding of why it works so well. A great many physical mechanisms may be involved, and these will take much more experimentation to unravel. But the process is incredibly simple, so applications may not have to wait for apprehension. The pair believe it will work on any metal and, with some tweaking, on materials such as plastics, semiconductors and ceramics. So perhaps the self-cleaning toilet is not so far in the future.

source economist


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Bees in danger: Epidemic of colony collapses is linked to stressed out honeybees

The sharp decline in honeybees has been linked with a change in the foraging behaviour of young bees brought on by some kind of environmental stress such as parasitic attacks or pesticides, a study has found.

When honeybees are under stress they respond by sending out the youngest and most inexperienced worker bees to forage for food, and these bees are more likely to die prematurely than older workers that started to forage later in life, scientists said.

The cause of colony collapse disorder is still largely unknown, and many scientists believe it is the result of several factors interacting with one another, including exposure to agricultural pesticides and attacks by bee parasites.

Researchers found the suddenness of a colony’s collapse appears to be related to a change in foraging behaviour whereby younger workers leave the hive in search of food rather than gaining more experience in the safety of the nest, scientists said.

“Young bees leaving the hive early is likely to be an adaptive behaviour to a reduction in the number of older foraging bees,” said Clint Perry of Queen Mary University of London, the lead author of a study.

“But if the increased death rate continues for too long or the hive isn’t big enough to withstand it in the short term, this natural response could upset the societal balance of the colony and have catastrophic consequences,” Dr Perry said.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used tiny radio tags attached to honeybees of different ages to allow the scientists to monitor their foraging movements to and from the hive.

“Precocious foragers completed far fewer foraging trips in their life, and had a higher risk of death in their first flights,” according to the researchers.

A mathematical model found that as more workers started foraging at an earlier age, the effect had a positive feedback, with the change in behaviour causing more and more young workers to leave the hive, the researchers said.

Colony collapse disorder has caused a 30 per cent average annual loss of honeybees in North America over the past 10 years (Getty)

“This resulted in a breakdown in division of labour and loss of the adult population, leaving only brood, food and a few adults in the hive,” they said.

Colony collapse disorder has caused a 30 per cent average annual loss of honeybees in North America alone over the last decade. A key feature of the disorder is the complete disappearance of worker bees, leaving the hive largely empty of adult bees.

“Our results suggest that tracking when bees begin to forage may be a good indicate of the overall health of a hive,” Dr Perry said.

“Our work sheds light on the reasons behind colony collapse and could help in the search for ways of preventing colony collapse,” he said.

source independent


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NovoTTF-100A: The 'anti-cancer hat' giving hope to brain tumour patients

Its name, the NovoTTF-100A, doesn’t trip off the tongue. But the device, known among researchers as the “anti-cancer hat”, may soon prove a lifeline to patients with brain tumours. Early trials of the device are reported to increase patients’ chances of surviving two years by up to 50 per cent.

A white skull-cap wired to a battery pack, the device – which has been in development for more than 14 years – has been hailed as a new, effective treatment for cancer that does not require doses of debilitating chemicals, radiation, or the surgeon’s knife.

Its manufacturer, Novocure, says it can help to rid you of cancer as you pack the shopping or do the washing up. That may or may not prove correct, but early evidence suggests that the treatment is highly effective.

The cap works by preventing cancer cells from dividing by emitting a wave-like electrical field into the brain. Developed exclusively to treat the most common form of adult brain cancer – glioblastoma – it is made for a disease with a very poor prognosis: the average life expectancy is only 14 months from diagnosis, even with chemotherapy and radiotherapy.

Of the 315 glioblastoma patients who entered a recent trial – all of whom were also receiving chemotherapy – 43 per cent wearing the device were alive two years later, compared with 29 per cent who were not. Removed glioblastoma tumours also took longer to regrow: 7.1 months compared with four months.

Of 20 glioblastoma patients who first trialled an early version of the device, four are still alive. Medical experts say nearly all glioblastoma patients die within five years.

Ariane, 35, who lives in Germany, is among those early patients to wear the cap. She was diagnosed almost two years ago while pregnant. Her baby survived, but Ariane’s glioblastoma returned, despite her having undergone surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She now wears the device everywhere and is happy not to suffer the side effects of chemotherapy.

“I do everything like I did it before,” she said. “I continue to play with my one-year-old son. I go walking and shopping and I just put the battery pack in the storage compartment of the buggy.”

The treatment comes at a price, however: the device and additional support cost £17,000 a month.

source independent


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10,000-year-old woolly rhino carcass discovered with fur, eyes and horns still intact

The frozen remains of a baby woolly rhinoceros thought to be over 10,000 years old have been discovered in one of the coldest parts of northern Russia.

The remains of the 18-month-old rhino named “Sasha”, which are the first of their type to ever be found, have been preserved so well in Siberia’s permafrost that an ear, an eye, a skull and the majority of its fur, have remained intact on the carcass.

A set of small horns were also found preserved on top of the creature’s head.

The remains were found by hunter Alexander Banderov in September while he was hunting in Yakutia, one of the Russia’s coldest areas.

Banderov initially mistook the rhino for a reindeer but when he saw the horn growths, he soon realised it was something he had never seen before.

Little did he know that he had stumbled on the world’s first ever baby woolly rhino carcass.

Albert Protopopov, Head of the Mammoth Fauna Department, of the Sakha Republic Academy of Science, said: "The find is absolutely unique.

"We can count a number of adult woolly rhinos found around the world on fingers of one hand. A baby rhino was never found before.”

It is hoped that the DNA of the rhino can now be used for scientific research, with scientists from the Academy of Sciences in Yakutsk where it is currently being stored, saying it will take a “few weeks” to see if this is possible.

Rarer than its fellow Ice Age mammal the woolly mammoth, woolly rhino carcass discoveries remain extremely rare.

The last was in 2011, the first in over four years.

The earliest dated woolly rhino fossil ever discovered was found in the Himalayas in 2011 and was believed to belong to a rhino that had died 3.6 million years ago.

It is commonly believed that all woolly rhinos were extinct by 8,000 BC, which was most likely caused by over hunting of the species by early man.

The woolly rhino’s closest living relative is thought to be the Sumatran rhino which is itself facing extinction.

source independent


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Penis size study: what's 'normal' anyway?

Scientists have measured thousands of penises in order to find out what is a “normal” size. And would you believe it, the research says the average size of an erect penis is 5.2".

Lead author Dr David Veale, from King’s College London’s Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, said: “We believe these graphs will help doctors reassure the large majority of men that the size of their penis is in the normal range”.

The real question is: does this reassure anyone - or is it at all helpful?

As a guy who's spent a lot of his life in deep anxiety about penis size, it's always been hard to know what to believe. There are so many different views, and arguments over the quality and interpretation of the data.

And what does it matter to me if I'm 'only' 1.2" below average, not 1.8" as I was yesterday? All I really get to take from this is that yet more years of intensive research have proved that I'm smaller than average. Thanks.

The researchers might hope this new analysis will help men who suffer size anxiety, and perhaps for some guys who are in the 'normal range', it will. But what about those of us outside of this?

Graham Goddard, who like me suffered size anxiety growing up says: "No matter how much research you do to find the new average, yours probably won't get any bigger - we get what we're given chaps, chin up and be happy."

Carl Chamberlain, whom as far as I know has never suffered size anxiety, says: "Thank goodness! I've never wanted to be special. What each of us has is always going to be special, and normal, at the same time".

Christine Adams brings a very useful and insightful female perspective: "It's still an obsession with size. While it may reassure some men, I think the emphasis should be on celebrating the difference rather than fixating on what's 'normal'."

source independent


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The City of the Monkey God: Archaeologists claim to have found city lost for 1,000 years in remote Honduran jungle

The mossy carving had lain undisturbed for up to a millennium in some of the remotest jungle on Earth. It is a powerful effigy of a “were-jaguar” but also the pristine legacy of a vanished and - until now - unknown civilisation.

An archaeological expedition to Honduras has emerged from the depths of a Central American wilderness to declare the discovery of the ruins of a lost culture sought by explorers since Cortes and hitherto known only by the slightly preposterous title of City of the Monkey God.

Although supposedly spotted from the air in the 1920s by Charles Lindbergh and the subject of repeated attempts to reach it, no-one had offered irrefutable proof of the existence of the mythical Ciudad Bianca or White City and some archaeologists had dismissed it as the wishful imaginings of gentleman explorers.

An unexplored valley in Mosquitia in eastern Honduras, a region long rumored to contain a legendary 'White City', also called the City of the Monkey God (Dave Yoder/National Geographic)

Until now. The Honduran-American expedition, aided by former members of the British SAS, reported that they had discovered the extensive remains of a city in the Mosquitia region, some 32,000 square miles of virgin rainforest in eastern Honduras which is largely only accessible by air.

Alongside artifacts such as the stone “were-jaguar” - a half-human, half-feline representation of a transformed shaman - was a cache of sculptures which had laid untouched since the city was abandoned around 1,000 years ago.

The tops of 52 art works were found protruding from the jungle floor, prompting expedition members to calculate that many more lie below along with stone ceremonial seats and elaborately carved vessels decorated with snakes and vultures.

One of the artifacts discovered in a cache in ruins deep in the Honduran jungle (Dave Yoder/National Geographic)

The artifacts were located at the base of an earthen pyramid which was mapped by the team along with a network of plazas, mounds and earthworks. The National Geographic Society, which accompanied the expedition and today revealed its findings, said: “This vanished culture has been scarcely studied and it remains virtually unknown. Archaeologists don’t even have a name for it.”

The scientists, who have documented their findings but had to leave the priceless artefacts in situ, believe their discoveries in a hidden valley in the swampy jungle of Mosquitia suggest not only a lost city but potentially an entire pre-Columbian civilisation whose settlements are scattered throughout the surrounding mountains. According to one estimate, the artifacts date back to between the tenth and 14th centuries.

But the vanishingly rare revelation of a lost world brought with it a warning that it may not remain so for long.

Deforestation for cattle farming has brought modernity to within 12 miles of the discovery site and Honduran archaeologists are worried the site is at risk of being overrun by the illegal ranching operators.

Virgilio Paredes Trapero, director of the Honduran Institute for Anthropology and History (IHAH), said: “If we don’t do something right away, most of this forest and valley will be gone in eight years. The Honduran government is committed to protecting this area, but doesn’t have the money. We urgently need international support.”

The confirmation of the existence of the mystical City of the Monkey God is the culmination of centuries of on-and-off endeavour by explorers to locate remains which the Spanish explorer Hernan Cortes predicted in 1526 would “exceed Mexico in riches”.

In 1939, a swashbuckling American adventurer called Theodore Morde claimed to have finally located the White City and said he had been told by indigenous indians that a giant statue of a monkey was buried there. He then died in a car crash before revealing its location.

The final discovery was made possible after an American film-maker and amateur archaeologist raised £980,000 from private backers in 2012 to fund mapping of the forest using state-of-the-art technology which bombarded the canopy with lasers and revealed the unmistakable straight lines of human construction.

Now that the site has been “ground truthed” by the expedition further work is being planned to secure its contents while its location is kept secret to protect it from looters.

Mark Plotkin, the expedition’s ethnobotanist, said: “This is clearly the most undisturbed rain forest in Central America. The importance of this place can’t be overestimated.”

source independent


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African jawbone discovery pushes birth of humanity back by 400,000 years

A fossilised jawbone found poking out of the ground in Ethiopia has set the story of human origins back nearly half a million years to a time when early man shared the vast grassland plains of eastern Africa with a rich variety of prehistoric animals.

Scientists have confirmed that the jawbone belongs to the Homo genus and, at 1.8 million years old, is more than 400,000 years older than the oldest previous fossil of the same group of early humans who eventually gave rise to our own species, Homo sapiens.

The discovery begins to fill in a huge gap in human origins between the primitive “ape man” of Australopithecus afarensis – best known from the Lucy fossil discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 – and the earliest known members of the “human” family, the species Homo habilis or “handy man”.[/SIZE]

“The jaw helps to narrow the evolutionary gap between Australopithecus and early Homo. It’s an excellent case of a transitional fossil in a critical time period in human evolution,” said Bill Kimbel, director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University in Tempe.

The incomplete mandible with teeth was found by graduate student Chalachew Seyoum of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage in Addis Ababa, who made the discovery while surveying a hill in the Ledi-Geraru area of the Afar region of Ethiopia, where many early human fossils have been unearthed.

“After I had climbed up to the plateau, I saw a premolar coming out of the sediment and it attracted my eye,” Mr Seyoum said, explaining that the jawbone had already become partially exposed by the weathering of the surrounding rock.

The fossil is the oldest known evidence of a creature descended from apes belonging to the genus Homo, the family of animals that includes people living today.

Although scientists are not yet sure which species the jawbone’s owner belongs to, they are confident it can be included in the “human” lineage of Homo, which is characterised by an upright, bipedal posture, sophisticated tool-making abilities and a relatively large braincase.

“In spite of a lot of searching, fossils on the Homo lineage older than two million years ago are very rare. To have a glimpse of the very earliest phase of our lineage’s evolution is particularly exciting,” said Brian Villmoare of the University of Nevada and lead author of the study published in the journal Science.

The previous oldest Homo specimen was an upper jawbone from Ethiopia dating to about 2.3 million years ago and was classified as the earliest known member of Homo habilis, a species thought to have given rise to the later Homo erectus, which then evolved into Homo sapiens.

Homo habilis was first described by the paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey in 1964 who based the description on fossilised remains – a lower jawbone, parts of a braincase and hand bones – unearthed in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, dated to 1.8 million years old.

However, a new study of this partial skull with CT X-rays, published in the journal Nature, has now revealed that its jawbone was in fact more primitive than the much older H. habilis specimen dating to 2.3 million years ago.

This suggests there must have been an even older common ancestor of both H. habilis specimens, said Fred Spoor of University College London and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, who believes the answer now lies with the new jawbone discovery in Ethiopia.

“We were in contact with the other group working in Ethiopia and they said they may have found what we are looking for in the shape of this specimen dating to 2.8 million years ago,” Dr Spoor told The Independent.

“It’s certainly the case that this new lower jawbone is a good bridge between the primitive Australopithecus afarensis and Homo habilis. It’s on the human lineage, the lineage that leads to us,” Dr Spoor said.

One of the unresolved questions is what environmental conditions led to the evolution of Homo. Some scientists have suggested that climate change and drought could have sparked the development of the human adaptations needed to survive on savannah grasslands populated by prehistoric antelope and elephants.

“We can see the 2.9 million-year-old aridity signal in the Ledi-Geraru faunal community. But it’s still too soon to say that this means climate change is responsible for the origin of Homo,” said Kay Reede of Arizona State University.

“We need a larger sample of hominid fossils and that’s why we continue to come to the Ledi-Geraru area to search,” Dr Reede said.

source independent


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Elephants can smell land mines, scientists find

Elephants have become the latest creatures to join humans in the battle to detect explosives and potentially save lives.

Researchers in South Africa have proven that the enormous creatures can sniff out explosives using their keen sense of smell.

It was first noticed that elephants can detect explosives in Angola, when the creatures returned following a war in 2002, which left the ground littered with mines.

Researchers wanted to uncover whether elephants could smell the explosives, or whether they avoided certain areas because elephants had died there in the past.

To make their findings, experts gave elephants in Bela-Bela, a town north of the South African capital of Pretoria, smelling tests.

The remarkable animals were able pick up TNT samples 73 out of the 74 times in a line of buckets, according to Ashadee Kay Miller, a zoology student at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, MailOnline reported.

They only failed 3.6 per cent of the time over 502 buckets that contained the explosive, which was dissolved in acetone on filter paper. All other buckets were filled with acetone and filter paper only.

And in a second set of tests, the animals detected TNT in 23 out of 23 buckets when “distractor odours” such as tea, bleach, soap and gasoline were placed in the other buckets, she said.

The study received major funding from the US military. But Stephen Lee, head scientist at the US Army Research Office, said that despite their skills, the animals won’t be put to work at war.

“There's never an intention that we're going to use elephants on the battlefield,” Lee said.

Instead, researchers aim to learn how an elephant smells, and apply this to electronic sensors.

Other creatures which help to sniff out explosives include dogs, who can also be made sensitive to contraband and other illegal items; while a group called APOPO has deployed rats to detect mines in Angola and Mozambique. The rodents are also tasked with screening people for Tanzania for tuberculosis, which they do by evaluating sputum samples.

In Croatia, where mines were left from the 1990s Balkan wars, researchers noted that bees gathered at pots containing a sugar solution mixed with TNT, though the insects have not been used for de-mining.

source indepednent


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Engraved ring found in Sweden suggests contact between Viking Age Scandinavians and Islamic civilisation

An engraved ring has suggested evidence of close contact between Viking Age Scandinavians and the Islamic world, more than a century after it was discovered.

The excavation site at a Viking trading centre in Sweden called Birka recovered the silver ring in the late 1800s.

The ring is adorned with a violet-coloured piece of glass that was, until recently, presumed to be an amethyst.

An inscription on the glass has now been found to read either "for Allah" or "to Allah" in an ancient Arabic script.

Published in scientific journal Scanning, researchers from Stockholm University wrote: "The ring may... constitute material evidence for direct interactions between Viking Age Scandinavia and the Islamic world.

"Being the only ring with an Arabic inscription found at a Scandinavian archaeological site, it is a unique object among Swedish Viking Age material."

The ring was found in a grave north of Borg on the Björkö Island. Clothes and jewellery around the decomposed skeleton showed it to be a female burial dating back to 850 AD.

Scandinavians were trading for glass objects from Egypt and Mesopotamia 3,400 years ago.

It is therefore possible that seagoing Scandinavians could have brought back items from Islamic traders who were in the same part of the world.

Ancient texts mention encounters around 1,000 years ago between Scandinavians and members of the Islamic civilization, which stretched from West Asia to Mediterranean lands, but it is reportedly rare to find archaeological evidence to support these accounts.

The Birka ring is particularly remarkable because its inner surface shows virtually no sign of wear.

Filing marks that were made at the end stages of production are still visible, suggesting that the ring had few or no owners before it reached its final owner, researchers said.

source independent


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Astrological signs are almost all wrong, as movement of moon and sun throws out zodiac

Almost nobody was born under the sign they think they are, as the astrological calendar has failed to be updated as our position in relation to the stars has changed.

The constellations have drifted out by a whole month, it was revealed on the BBC’s Stargazing Live. Since the zodiac was created over 2,000 years ago, the wobbling effect of the Earth caused by the moon and the sun has meant that the stars that are above us have shifted.

If, for example, someone was born towards the end of January, they might think they were born under Aquarias. But in fact they’d have been born under Capricorn, Dr Radmilla Topalovic, an astronomer from the Royal Observatory at Greenwich pointed out on the programme.

When the zodiac was devised by the ancient Greeks, people were assigned star signs based on the constellation that was behind the sun at that time. But the constellations are now out by about a month.

The wobbling process is called precession — it has been likened to the Earth behaving like a spinning top — and takes about 26,000 years to happen.

That means that 86% of people are now living under the wrong sign, according to the BBC. Stargazing Live created an interactive graphic that allows people to work out what their star sign really is.

The programme also points out that there is a thirteenth star sign, describing a lesser-known one called Ophiuchus. It is thought that ancient astrologers perhaps left out the sign so that the 360-degree path of the sun could be divided into 12 neat parts, each of 30 degrees.

But the constellation, known as the serpent bearer, actually passes behind the sun between November 30 and December 18 — so while some people might have their star sign wrong, some people might be an entirely new one altogether.

source independent

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Man undergoing head transplant could experience something 'a lot worse than death', says neurological expert

Yesterday, 30-year-old Russian man Valery Spiridonov volunteered to become the first person in the world to undergo a complete head transplant. Literally his entire head. On a different body.

The operation will be carried out by Italian surgeon Dr Sergio Canavero, in what he expects to be a 36-hour procedure involving 150 doctors and nurses.

A Werdnig-Hoffman disease sufferer with rapidly declining health, Spiridonov is willing to take a punt on this very experimental surgery and you can't really blame him, but while he is prepared for the possibility that the body will reject his head and he will die, his fate could be considerably worse than death.

"I would not wish this on anyone," said Dr Hunt Batjer, president elect of the American Association for Neurological Surgeons.

"I would not allow anyone to do it to me as there are a lot of things worse than death."

The problem is, fusing a head with a separate body (including spinal cord, jugular vein etc) could result in a hitherto never experienced level and quality of insanity.

Arthur Caplan, director of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Centre, who described Dr Canavero as "nuts", believes that the bodies of head transplant patients "would end up being overwhelmed with different pathways and chemistry than they are used to and they’d go crazy."

A head transplant was performed on a monkey 45 years ago in 1970. It lived, but only for eight days, with the body rejecting the new head and the monkey being left unable to breathe and unable to move because the spinal cord of the head and body were not connected properly.

It has never been done on a human, but Canavaro claims that all the necessary science and technology is now in place. “I think we are now at a point when the technical aspects are all feasible,” Canavaro has said.
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Alzheimer's breakthrough: Scientists may have found potential cause of the disease in the behaviour of immune cells - giving new hope to millions

Scientists have broken new ground in the search for an Alzheimer’s cure, discovering a new potential cause of the disease, which it may be possible to target with drug treatments.

Experts said the findings, from Duke University in North Carolina, USA, could “open new doors” in the increasingly frustrated global hunt for a dementia therapy.

Researchers at Duke announced that their studies of Alzheimer’s in mice had thrown up a new process they believe contributes to the disease’s development.

They observed that in Alzheimer’s, immune cells that normally protect the brain instead begin to consume a vital nutrient called arginine.

By blocking this process with a drug, they were able to prevent the formation of ‘plaques’ in the brain that are characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, and also halted memory loss in the mice.

While no technique that is tested in an animal can be guaranteed to work the same way in humans, the findings are particularly encouraging because, until now, the exact role of the immune system and arginine in Alzheimer’s was completely unknown.

The drug that was used to block the body’s immune response to arginine – known as difluoromethylornithine (DFMO) – is already being investigated in drug trials for certain types of cancer and may be suitable for testing as a potential Alzheimer’s therapy.

The discovery was welcomed by experts in the UK who said it had filled in gaps in our understanding of Alzheimer’s and could “open new doors” to future treatments for the devastating condition, which affects more than 500,000 people in the UK alone.

A new drug target for Alzheimer’s would be hugely welcome a field where funding and industry’s will to invest has been waning, in spite of the growing human and economic cost of Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The number of people worldwide living with some form of dementia is set to reach 135 million by 2050. However, after a string of costly failures to bring effective drugs to market, pharmaceutical companies are increasingly cutting funding for research.

The G8 group of nations pledged in 2013 to find a major new dementia treatment or cure by 2025, and the Coalition government committed the UK to doubling its contribution toward this goal to £132m by that date.

Carol Colton, professor of neurology at the Duke University, and senior author of the new study, said that Alzheimer’s research had been dominated by an attempt to understand the role of amyloid – the protein that builds up in the brain to form plaques – but that a focus on arginine and the immune system could yield new discoveries.

“We see this study opening the doors to thinking about Alzheimer’s in a completely different way, to break the stalemate of ideas in Alzheimer’s disease,” she said.

“The field has been driven by amyloid for the past 15, 20 years and we have to look at other things because we still do not understand the mechanism of disease or how to develop effective therapeutics,” she added.

Arginine is an amino acid and an essential nutrient for several bodily processes, including cell division, healing and immune responses.

It is found in food, including dairy products, meat, nuts and chickpeas, but the team at Duke said that their study did not suggest eating more arginine would have an impact on Alzheimer’s risk. The blood-brain barrier regulates how much arginine can enter the brain, and the immune response that breaks down arginine would remain the same even if confronted with higher levels of the nutrient.

Their study, which is published in the Journal of Neuroscience, was led by Matthew Kan, an MD/PhD student in Professor Colton’s lab.

Dr Laura Phipps, from Alzheimer’s Research UK, said that because the research had only been carried out in mice it would be important for tests in humans to confirm the findings.

“Clinical trials are essential before any potential new treatment can be given to people, but these early findings could open new doors for future treatment development for Alzheimer’s,” she said.

“The study suggests that low levels of arginine in the brain could contribute to the death of nerve cells in Alzheimer’s, but there is much more we still need to understand about how and why nerve cells die in the disease,” she added.

Dr James Pickett, head of research at the Alzheimer’s Society said the new study “joins some of the dots in our incomplete understanding of the processes that cause Alzheimer’s disease”.

“Importantly, these new findings reflect earlier observations that arginine is reduced in the brains of people with Alzheimer’s disease,” he said. “The next step would be to show that targeting arginine metabolism in the brain can reduce the death of brain cells, as this was not shown in the current study.”

Alzheimer’s is the most common form of dementia and affects around 500,000 people in the UK. The number of people living with dementia in the country is set to rise to above one million within 10 years, with huge costs to families, the NHS and social care services.

source independent


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Mount Everest moved an inch and changed direction because of the Nepal earthquake

Mount Everest has moved 1.2 inches (3cm) - and changed direction - because of the Nepal earthquake, according to a geological survey by the Chinese government.

It's easy to forget that world's highest peak is moving, both laterally and horizontally. That process has been affected by the 7.8-magnitude earthquake, according to research reported in the state-run China Daily newspaper.

According to research by the Chinese government's National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation, the mountain has moved 3cm to the south-west since the quake, AFP reported.

In the decade to April, Everest, which straddles the China-Nepal border, had moved 40cm north-east at a rate of 4cm per year, as well as rising 3cm.

Satellite data released by the European Space Agency showed last month that Everest shrunk by almost exactly an inch (2.5cm) as a result of the quake.

Eighteen people died in an avalanche caused by the earthquake, on 25 April. More than 8,700 people died in Nepal in that tremor and another one- which did not move the mountain - on 12 May.

Meanwhile, avalanches in Nepal's northern mountains have injured five army rescuers and forced the suspension of a search for bodies in a trekking village that was buried by a landslide during the April earthquake.

The avalanches swept the Langtang Valley, around 35 miles from the capital Kathmandu, on Monday.

source independent


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This company created a ridiculously high-quality re-creation of the original Nintendo — and you can buy it now

Spending $500 on a game console that first launched over 30 years ago is a little crazy, but one company is betting on exactly that. Analogue Interactive created a ridiculously high-quality re-creation of the original Nintendo Entertainment System – the original Nintendo – and is selling the unit in a variety of colors.

Not only is the system carved from a single block of aluminum, but it uses all original NES parts.

Better yet, it runs all your old games, as well as games that only run on the Japanese version of the NES (the Famicom). Even better than that? It "upscales" the resolution of old games to work on modern televisions, making them look better than ever.

source businessinsider