Sep 18, 2010

Astrological Scene Found on Egyptian Tomb Ceiling

Brightly painted astrological scenes have emerged on the ceiling of an ancient Egyptian tomb, according to a statement released on Wednesday by the Supreme Council of Antiquities.

The scenes, which include a depiction of the sky goddess Nut, have been found in the burial chamber of a Nubian priest in the el-Asasif area on the west bank of Luxor.

"The chamber was found at the bottom of an eight meter deep burial shaft,” Zahi Hawass, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities (SCA), said.

The room is in very good condition and contains beautiful painted scenes in vivid colors. Blue and yellow dominate the ceiling, as the goddess Nut welcomes with raised arms the body of the deceased.

Named Karakhamun was a priest who lived during the 25th dynasty (755-656 B.C.). His tomb, known as TT223, was first discovered in the 19th century, but then it collapsed and disappeared under the desert sands.

It was rediscovered by an Egyptian-American expedition in 2006. In addition to the tomb of Karakhamun, the team is also working on two other neglected Nubian tombs nearby: the tomb of Karabasken, the Mayor of Thebes, and the tomb of Irtieru, the Chief Attendant to the Divine Consort of Amun, Nitocris.

Described by 19th-century travelers as some of the most beautiful Theban tombs, the burials were wrongly believed to have been completely destroyed. In fact, they were all rediscovered four years ago.

“Their painted ceiling, stunning relief, and elegant architecture are not obliterated, merely hidden beneath layers of soot, veiled by dust and cobwebs, and blocked by piles of debris,” team leader Elena Pischikova, director of the South Asasif Conservation Project (ACP), wrote on the project’s website.

According to Pischikova, Karakhamun’s tomb is possibly the largest in the necropolis. However, when the ACP team found the burial, it was barely visible and totally inaccessible. Almost hidden beneath the sand, the only trace of its location was a blackened crack in the bedrock.

Read more at Discovery News

Ozone Layer No Longer Thinning

The protective ozone layer in the Earth's upper atmosphere has stopped thinning and should largely be restored by mid century thanks to a ban on harmful chemicals, UN scientists said on Thursday.

The "Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion 2010" report said a 1987 international treaty that phased out chlorofluorocarbons (CFC) -- substances used in refrigerators, aerosol sprays and some packing foams --- had been successful.

Ozone provides a natural protective filter against harmful ultra-violet rays from the sun, which can cause sunburn, cataracts and skin cancer as well as damage vegetation.

First observations of a seasonal ozone hole appearing over the Antarctic occurred in the 1970s and the alarm was raised in the 1980s after it was found to be worsening under the onslaught of CFCs, prompting 196 countries to join the Montreal Protocol.

"The Montreal Protocol signed in 1987 to control ozone depleting substances is working, it has protected us from further ozone depletion over the past decades," said World Meteorological Organization head of research Len Barrie.

"Global ozone, including ozone in the polar region is no longer decreasing but not yet increasing," he told journalists.

The 300 scientists who compiled the four yearly ozone assessment now expect that the ozone layer in the stratosphere will be restored to 1980 levels in 2045 to 2060, according to the report, "slightly earlier" than expected.

Although CFCs have been phased out, they accumulated and persist in the atmosphere and the effect of the curbs takes years to filter through.

The ozone hole over the South Pole, which varies in size and is closely monitored when it appears in springtime each year, is likely to persist even longer and may even be aggravated by climate change, the report said.

Scientists are still getting to grips with the complex interaction between ozone depletion and global warming, Barrie explained.

"In the Antarctic, the impact of the ozone hole and the surface climate is becoming evident," he said.

"This leads to important changes in surface temperature and wind patterns, amongst other environmental changes," Barrie added.

CFCs are classified among greenhouse gases that cause global warming, so the phase out "provided substantial co-benefits by reducing climate change," the report found.

Read more at Discovery News

Earth and Moon 'bombarded with large asteroids 3.9bn years ago'

Earth and its satellite were bombarded with large asteroids during the solar system’s “turbulent youth”, striking new topographical maps show.

The impacts would have been powerful enough to evaporate any water on our planet and destroy any early organisms.

The scale of the onslaught has been revealed by the most detailed analysis of Moon craters ever carried out by scientists.

A team led by researchers at Brown University in the US used a laser altimeter on board Nasa's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter to identify and map a total of 5,185 asteroid craters on the Moon’s surface. All of the craters are at least 20km in diameter.

They found that the largest craters tend to be clustered in regions where the surface of the Moon is older.

In areas where the surface is newer – having been formed by subsequent lava flows – the researchers found the average crater size is significantly smaller.

The evidence supports the view that the Moon and the Earth endured a bombardment of large asteroids around 3.9 billion years ago.

This is thought to have come to a halt a few hundred of millions of years later, when Jupiter and Saturn settled into their orbits and began to exert a different gravitational pull on the asteroid belt from where the missiles originated.

Since then, we have generally escaped the largest asteroids hurtling through space.

Read more at The Telegraph

Sep 17, 2010

False memories: Did you lock the door or just imagine it?

“Psychological research has shown various ways “false memories” are created, such as through the power of suggestion or through vivid imagination. Now scientists studying imagination have found that people who watched a video of someone else doing a simple action often didn’t remember and thought they had done it themselves when asked about it two weeks later. “This is a completely new type of false memory,” says Gerald Echterhoff, a psychology professor at the University of Muenster in Germany and co-author of the paper published in the September issue of the journal Psychological Science. “This is a false memory from just observing someone,” he says.

Psychologist Daniel Schacter of Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., who has edited a book on false memories, says he hasn’t read the new paper, but it “sounds like an extension of earlier work that has shown imagining you’d done something can result in false memories.” “I think it’s partly new and partly related to earlier work,” Schacter says. “You saw something on TV that you think actually happened. It’s another kind of example of what people have talked about as a source memory failure.”

Echterhoff says, on average, participants reported false memories of doing an action they really didn’t do almost a quarter of the time. In this study, as well as in several follow-up experiments, the majority of participants misremembered, thinking they had done something they had merely observed. Since the first research on 170 participants, findings have been replicated with almost 500 participants, he says.”

Read more at USAToday

Sep 16, 2010

Meet Benjaman Kyle: The Man With No Identity

“Imagine for a moment that from this day forward you will have no memory of who you are, where you’re from or the identities of any of your loved ones. It’s a scary thing to contemplate, but for one man in Savannah, Ga., that harsh scenario is all too real.

Meet Benjaman Kyle, a 60-something man who can remember what he had for dinner last week but has no recollection of his parents or the high school from which he presumably graduated.

“It’s like having something on the tip of your tongue. You know it is there, but you can’t quite remember,” Benjaman said in a telephone interview with AOL News.

Benjaman’s life took this bizarre turn on the morning of Aug. 31, 2004, when managers of a Burger King in Richmond Hill, Ga., found him lying on the ground next to a trash container behind the restaurant.

“He was naked, he had bug bites from red ants, he appeared to have been beaten and he was taken to the hospital,” Bill Kirkconnell, a special agent with the FBI’s Savannah field office, told AOL News. “Ever since then, he has had no recollection of who he was.”

Benjaman said he does not know how he got behind the Burger King or any of the events surrounding his alleged beating. His memories, he says, begin inside the emergency room of Savannah’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors discovered he was legally blind, with cataracts.

“I remember hearing the doctors or nurses making jokes about what they were going to call me because they already had a John Doe and they couldn’t call me that,” Benjaman explained. “So there was a joke about calling me Burger King Doe.”

Benjaman says the nurses kept pestering him for a name, and that’s when he came up with Benjaman Kyle.”"

Read more at AOL News

Your Brain Processes Images Differently When You’re a Kid

Adults and children really don’t see eye-to-eye, according to a new study.

“The research reveals that kids under the age of 12 perceive visual information differently than adults do. While adults process different visual cues into one unified chunk of information, kids separate visual information. The childhood method of processing may allow kids to fine-tune their visual systems as they grow, the study authors say.

Researchers have long known that youngsters don’t fully integrate sensory information until after about age 8. Before then, information received by touch, sight and hearing isn’t as closely linked as the same information would be in the adult brain. But the use of even one organ can provide multiple types of information. In the case of vision, people perceive depth based on several cues, including binocular disparity (small differences between the images produced by each eye) and texture (nearby things are more detailed).

To find out how this information is integrated, scientists at University College London and Birkbeck, University of London asked children and adults to wear 3-D glasses and compare images of two slanted surfaces to judge which was the “flattest.” Images presented the participants with texture and binocular information either separately or at once. While adults were more accurate in their responses when they got both pieces of visual information together, kids weren’t, at least not kids under 12. Beyond age 12, children combined both types of information to improve their accuracy. The findings imply that adults combine different kinds of visual information into a single unified estimate, while children do not.”

Read more at Live Science

Sep 15, 2010

Prehistoric Bird Sets Wingspan Record

Soaring the Chilean skies 5-10 million years ago, an enormous bony-toothed bird has set the world wingspan record. The bird's wingspan was at least 17 feet, according to scientists.

The measurement is based on well preserved wing bones from the newly named bird species, Pelagornis chilensis, a.k.a. "huge pseudoteeth" from Chile. The animal weighed about 64 pounds and belonged to a group known as pelagornithids -- birds characterized by long, slender beaks bearing many spiny, tooth-like projections.

It's now thought that 17 feet may be close to the maximum wingspan that can be achieved by a flying bird. Prior wingspan estimates for pelagornithids went up to 20 feet, but they were based on more fragmented fossils.

"Most likely, evolution of such large sizes was to avoid competition with other birds," lead author Gerald Mayr, a paleornithologist at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, told Discovery News. "Birds with such a large size can, of course, sail across huge distances and may more easily find prey in the open ocean."

However, "there are a number of drawbacks if you become so large," he added. Chicks would have to be raised over a long period of time, making them more prone to predation.

"Moreover," he added, "bird feathers are quite heavy, so very large birds may have become too heavy."

Mayr and paleontologist David Rubilar of Chile's National Museum of Natural History analyzed the big bird's fossilized remains, which are 70 percent complete. The bird is described in the latest issue of the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.

This new species was a seabird from northern Chile, but fossils of other bony-toothed birds have been found on other continents. It's likely that all of these species were huge.

The researchers think the birds soared the skies looking for food, such as fish and squid. Once prey was spotted, the birds would cruise across the surface with their lower jaws immersed in the water, grabbing the slippery prey securely with their beaks.

Bony-toothed birds were a very successful group, living during most of the Cenozoic period over a time span of 50-60 million years. They all became extinct approximately 2 million years ago at a time when the Panamanian isthmus between North and South America closed.

Read more at Discovery News

Did the Greeks Spot Halley's Comet First?

Piecing together historic record and correlating it with the location of celestial objects nearly 2,500 years ago is an an epic task, but it can prove rather useful for interpreting ancient cosmic discoveries.

After some fascinating astronomical detective work, researchers have (possibly) found the first documented proof of a sighting of Halley's Comet two centuries earlier than when Chinese astronomers first described the famous 'dirty snowball' around 240 BC.

So, who beat the Chinese? The Greeks.

As reported by, researchers Daniel Graham and Eric Hintz from Brigham Young University at Provo in Utah have modeled the most likely path taken by the comet and found it was possibly visible around 466-467 BC for 82 days.

As they delved into ancient texts prepared by Greek astronomers around that time, it coincided with a meteorite fall and a description of a comet in the sky for a period of 75 days. The fall occurred in the Hellespont region of northern Greece, something that became quite the tourist attraction for five centuries.

But was it Halley's comet they saw?

Graham and Hintz think so. Adding to the coincidental events, the ancient text also mentions a meteor shower. It seems logical that the Earth could have been passing through the debris field of Halley's at the time.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 14, 2010

Fooled You! Robots Learn How To Deceive

Robots are becoming more human every day. Some robots can already sustain damage and reconfigure themselves, kind of like how our bones heal after we break them. Now others can deceive other intelligent machines and even humans.

Researchers at Georgia Tech have developed algorithms that let robots determine whether they are in a situation where they should deceive other robots or humans.

To test the team's algorithms, these robots participated in a series of hide-and-seek games. During the games, colored markers were lined up along three potential pathways to locations where the robot could hide. The hider selected a location from the three location choices, and moved toward that point, knocking down markers along the way. Once it reached a point past the markers, the robot changed course and hid in one of the other two locations, making sure not to hit any markers by its actual hiding spot.

Developing this algorithm required interdependence theory and game theory that tested the value of deception in a specific situation. The game satisfied two key conditions that the robots needed to warrant deception: There must be conflict between the deceiving robot and the seeker, and the deceiver must benefit from the deception.

And it worked! In 75 percent of tests, the hiding robot was able to evade the seeking one. Most of the failed tests could be attributed to not knocking enough markers down.

This research was funded by the Office of Naval Research, so this robot's deceptive capabilities are designed primarily to serve in military capacities. The study's co-author, Alan Wagner, says these robots won't have much use off a battlefield.

Read more at Discovery News

Playing Video Games Enhances Decision-Making

Don't tell that guy blasting rampaging zombies to smithereens in his favorite video game that he's getting lessons in efficient decision making.

Wait until he's done to deliver this buzz kill: Playing shoot-'em-up, action-packed video games strengthens a person's ability to translate sensory information quickly into accurate decisions. This effect applies to both sexes, say psychologist Daphne Bavelier of the University of Rochester in New York and her colleagues, even if females generally shun video games with titles such as Dead Rising and Counter-Strike.

Action-game players get tutored in detecting a range of visual and acoustic evidence that supports increasingly speedy decisions with no loss of precision, the scientists report in the Sept. 14 Current Biology. Researchers call this skill probabilistic inference.

"What's surprising in our study is that action games improved probabilistic inference not just for the act of gaming, but for unrelated and rather dull tasks," Bavelier says.

Unlike slower-paced video games that feature problems with specific solutions, action video games throw a rapid-fire series of unpredictable threats and challenges at players. Those who get a lot of practice, say, killing zombies attacking from haphazard directions in a shifting, postapocalyptic landscape pump up their probabilistic inference powers, Bavelier proposes.

Psychologist Alan Castel of the University of California, Los Angeles, calls the new study "thorough and intriguing." Much remains to be learned, though, about whether and to what extent video-induced thinking improvements aid other skills, such as pilots' ability to land airplanes in challenging conditions.

Bavelier's group tested 11 men who reported having played action video games at least five times a week for the past year and 12 men who reported no action video game activity in the past year. Participants in each group averaged 19 to 20 years of age.

Men in both groups looked at dot arrays on a computer screen and had up to two seconds to indicate with an appropriate keystroke the main direction in which each set of dots was moving. Arrays ranged in difficulty, with some having almost all dots moving in the same direction and others having slightly more than half the dots moving in the same direction.

Read more at Discovery News

Sep 13, 2010

Doctors warn over homeopathic 'vaccines'

Homeopaths are offering "alternative vaccinations" which doctors say could leave patients vulnerable to potentially fatal diseases, a BBC investigation has found.

Three practitioners admitted giving patients a homeopathic medicine designed to replace the MMR vaccine.

Inverness-based Katie Jarvis said she only offered "Homeopathic Prophylaxis" to patients who expressed an interest.

But the discovery has prompted a shocked reaction from doctors.

When asked about the practice, Ms Jarvis said: "The alternative that I would offer would be a homeopathic remedy made from diseased tissue, that comes from someone with that disease, and then made into potentised form so that is given in a homeopathic remedy.

"It can be given instead of, or as well as, the vaccination.

"I'm not advocating that they do not take the vaccination, I am providing support for those who choose not to by giving them an alternative."

When asked if the homeopathic remedy offered the same protection as the MMR, she replied: "I'd like to say that they were safer, but I can't prove that."

However, the BMA's director of science and ethics, Dr Vivienne Nathanson, said: "Replacing proven vaccines, tested vaccines, vaccines that are used globally and we know are effective with homeopathic alternatives where there is no evidence of efficacy, no evidence of effectiveness, is extremely worrying because it could persuade families that their children are safe and protected when they're not.

"And some of those children will go on to get the illness, and some of those children may go on to get permanent life-threatening sequelae, or even to die, and that's a tragedy when the family think they've protected their children."

Read more at BBC New Scotland

Rare Roman helmet and face-mask discovered

The helmet, with its enigmatic and virtually intact features, would have been worn, possibly with colourful streamers attached to the object, as a mark of excellence by Roman soldiers at cavalry sport parades.

Described as a ''hugely important discovery'', it is now expected to fetch £300,000 at Christie's Antiquities auction in London.

The Crosby Garrett Helmet has been named after the hamlet in Cumbria where it was found in a field in May by the treasure hunter, who wants to remain anonymous.

The helmet has a never-seen-before griffin crest, which, with the object's hair, would have been a golden bronze colour, contrasting with the polished white-metal surface of the face mask.

Christie's described the find as an ''extraordinary example of Roman metalwork at its zenith''.

The auction house's London head of antiquities, Georgiana Aitken, said: ''This helmet is the discovery of a lifetime for a metal detectorist.

''When it was initially brought to Christie's and I examined it at first-hand, I saw this extraordinary face from the past staring back at me and I could scarcely believe my eyes.

''This is a hugely important discovery and we expect considerable interest at both the public preview and at the auction where it is sure to generate great excitement from museums and collectors alike.''

Arrian of Nicomedia, a Roman provincial governor under Hadrian, suggested, in an appendix to his military series Ars Tactica, that Romans wore the helmets as a mark of rank or excellence in horsemanship.

The Ronan cavalrymen were divided into two teams that took turns to attack and defend during the events, which accompanied religious festivals and were also put on for the benefit of visiting officials.

Read more at The Telegraph

Evolution in Action: Lizard Moving From Eggs to Live Birth

“Evolution has been caught in the act, according to scientists who are decoding how a species of Australian lizard is abandoning egg-laying in favor of live birth. Along the warm coastal lowlands of New South Wales (map), the yellow-bellied three-toed skink lays eggs to reproduce. But individuals of the same species living in the state’s higher, colder mountains are almost all giving birth to live young.

Only two other modern reptiles—another skink species and a European lizard—use both types of reproduction. (Related: “Virgin Birth Expected at Christmas—By Komodo Dragon.”) Evolutionary records shows that nearly a hundred reptile lineages have independently made the transition from egg-laying to live birth in the past, and today about 20 percent of all living snakes and lizards give birth to live young only.

But modern reptiles that have live young provide only a single snapshot on a long evolutionary time line, said study co-author James Stewart, a biologist at East Tennessee State University. The dual behavior of the yellow-bellied three-toed skink therefore offers scientists a rare opportunity. “By studying differences among populations that are in different stages of this process, you can begin to put together what looks like the transition from one [birth style] to the other.”"

Read more at National Geographic

Sep 12, 2010

2000-year-old pills found in Greek shipwreck

In 130 BC, a ship fashioned from the wood of walnut trees and bulging with medicines and Syrian glassware sank off the coast of Tuscany, Italy. Archaeologists found its precious load 20 years ago and now, for the first time, archaeobotanists have been able to examine and analyse pills that were prepared by the physicians of ancient Greece.

DNA analyses show that each millennia-old tablet is a mixture of more than 10 different plant extracts, from hibiscus to celery.

"For the first time, we have physical evidence of what we have in writing from the ancient Greek physicians Dioscorides and Galen," says Alain Touwaide of the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC.

The box of pills was discovered on the wreck in 1989, with much of the medicine still completely dry, according to Robert Fleischer of the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park, also in Washington DC.

Fleischer analysed DNA fragments in two of the pills and compared the sequences to the GenBank genetic database maintained by the US National Institutes of Health. He was able to identify carrot, radish, celery, wild onion, oak, cabbage, alfalfa and yarrow. He also found hibiscus extract, probably imported from east Asia or the lands of present-day India or Ethiopia.

"Most of these plants are known to have been used by the ancients to treat sick people," says Fleischer. Yarrow staunched the flow of blood from wounds, and Pedanius Dioscorides, a physician and pharmacologist in Rome in the first century AD, described the carrot as a panacea for a number of problems. "They say that reptiles do not harm people who have taken it in advance; it also aids conception," he wrote around 60 AD.

Read more at New Scientist

WTC Ship Gives Up Lucky Coin

As Nichole Doub -- Head Conservator at the Maryland Archaeological Conservation Laboratory -- was helping extract the remains of an 18th century ship from the mud of the World Trade Center construction site, she was asked a familiar question:

While we’re out on the site, we have all these construction workers coming up and one of the most common questions asked any archaeologist on a site is: Have you found the gold yet? It’s kind of the question that everyone asks. And normally you go “No, no.” But in this case there’s a chance we could find gold. And that’s if we found one of the lucky coins.

Lucky coin? Ever since the 2nd century B.C. -- not long after Romans began minting coins -- shipbuilders have been slipping a coin into the structure of their ships. It’s a tradition that continues today. In fact, the USS New York - made partially from steel recovered from the World Trade Center towers - did it as well (see "What is Stepping the Mast?").

For the ancient Romans it was likely a continuation of religious customs. Now it's just a tradition and done for good luck.

So we didn’t find it during the five days we were actually excavating it. However, one of my curators did find it between the stern knee and the stern post while we were cleaning the timbers.

Here's what they found:

It’s only a copper alloy coin. I think it’s of George II, a half penny.

Originally they thought they were working on the front of the ship. Not so -- upon closer inspection they've discovered they've got the stern of the ship.

Doub also says signs continue to point to the ship being a coastal vessel, most likely involved in commerce.

As for the mysteries surrounding the ship? Answers are forthcoming.

As of last week, all the researchers who required access to the timbers had taken their samples and measurements and returned to their respective laboratories for analysis. That means we'll soon know:

-- the species of the tree the wood came from;

-- the region where the wood was grown;

-- what year the tree was cut down;

-- the origins of the woodworm remains found in the timbers (which tells you where the ship sailed).

Doub estimates it'll take several months for that analysis to finish up.

Read more at Discovery News