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Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew, consisting of founder Magnifico, regular editors jlms qkw, maggiejean, wader, Oke, rfall, and JML9999, alumni editors palantir, Bentliberal, and ScottyUrb, guest editor annetteboardman, and current editor-in-chief Neon Vincent, along with anyone else who reads and comments, informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.

This week's featured story comes from Scientific American.

Have Scientists Found Two Different Higgs Bosons?
By Michael Moyer
December 14, 2012

A month ago scientists at the Large Hadron Collider released the latest Higgs boson results. And although the data held few obvious surprises, most intriguing were the results that scientists didn’t share.

The original Higgs data from back in July had shown that the Higgs seemed to be decaying into two photons more often than it should—an enticing though faint hint of something new, some sort of physics beyond our understanding. In November, scientists at the Atlas and LHC experiments updated everything except the two-photon data. This week we learned why.

Yesterday researchers at the Atlas experiment finally updated the two-photon results. What they seem to have found is bizarre—so bizarre, in fact, that physicists assume something must be wrong with it. Instead of one clean peak in the data, they have found two. There seems to be a Higgs boson with a mass of 123.5 GeV (gigaelectron volts, the measuring unit that particle physicists most often use for mass), and another Higgs boson at 126.6 GeV—a statistically significant difference of nearly 3 GeV. Apparently, the Atlas scientists have spent the past month trying to figure out if they could be making a mistake in the data analysis, to little avail. Might there be two Higgs bosons?

More stories after the jump.

Recent Science Diaries and Stories

This week in science: It's the sun, stupid
by DarkSyde

by cynndara


The World on Public Radio International: Why One Researcher is Documenting the Damage to Syria’s Archaeological Sites
By Daniel Estrin
December 11, 2012

Emma Cunliffe sits in a tiny graduate student’s office on the medieval campus of the University of Durham. But her mind is thousands of miles east, in Syria.

Every day she goes online, sometimes for a few hours, to monitor the Facebook feeds of local Syrian groups for word about damaged sites. She’ll scroll past horrific photos of dead children till she comes across mention of a new archaeological site that was shelled or plundered. She says it’s incredible just how much you can find out from these posts.

“It’s a new world online now,” she says. “The prevalence of social networking sites like Facebook, ease of access to YouTube, and the way that most people’s mobile phones can take video, means that, all those people who are desperate to share information have a real easy way to upload it and make it accessible.”

Cunliffe did her Ph.D research on monitoring Syrian archaeological sites with satellite imagery. When fighting turned fierce in Syria, she began to consult imagery much closer to the ground – videos and photos posted by concerned Syrian citizens. Sites were being damaged and also looted.

“As much as some people in an area might loot others will be quite horrified by the fact that’s happening,” Cunliffe says. “So there are videos, for example, of looting at at least two of the dead cities.”

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

CNN: Sudan: Israeli 'spy vulture' nabbed during reconnaissance mission
By Nick Thompson and Nima Elbagir, CNN
updated 9:41 AM EST, Wed December 12, 2012

(CNN) -- A vulture captured by Sudanese authorities is actually an Israeli spy on a secret reconnaissance mission, a pro-government newspaper in the east African nation has claimed.

Government sources say the vulture, found in western Sudan, was tagged with a GPS-equipped camera to take and send pictures back to Israel, according to a December 8 story in the Alintibaha newspaper.

The bird also wore an ankle label reading "Hebrew University Jerusalem," "Israel Nature Service" and the contact details of an Israeli avian ecologist.

The ecologist, Ohad Hatzofe of the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, has rejected the Sudanese government claims -- saying the vulture, which can fly up to 600 kilometers in a single day, was tagged with GPS equipment to study its migration pattern.

Scientific American: Seeing Bacteria
By Christina Agapakis
December 14, 2012

I got a really fun early Christmas gift yesterday, Moyasimon 1: Tales of Agriculture, a manga series about a boy who can see microbes. His skills lead to some exciting fermentation-related adventures at his agriculture college. I learned a lot about miso, sake, and meats that ferment underground!

NASA Television on YouTube: Countdown to Launch on This Week @NASA

With their launch from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station fast approaching, Expedition 34/35 Soyuz Commander Roman Romanenko, Flight Engineer Tom Marshburn of NASA and Flight Engineer Chris Hadfield of the Canadian Space Agency continue to train and finalize plans for the December 19 flight. Also, Orion taking shape; Mars field trip: GRAIL's impact; FASTSat's finale; "Big Wind"; rocket holiday; and more!

NASA Television on YouTube: ScienceCasts: Why the World Didn't End Yesterday

The Mayan calendar explained! The world is safe from rogue planets, solar flares and other imagined calamities!
Watch this NOW to learn why NASA Science says you'll be here Dec. 22 to view it again!


University of Michigan: An older Vega: New insights about the star all others are measured by
December 11, 2012

ANN ARBOR—Vega, a star astronomers have used as a touchstone to measure other stars' brightness for thousands of years, may be more than 200 million years older than previously thought. That's according to new findings from the University of Michigan.

The researchers estimated Vega's age by precisely measuring its spin speed with a tool called the Michigan Infrared Combiner, developed by John Monnier, associate professor of astronomy in U-M's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

MIRC collects the light gathered by six telescopes to make it appear to be coming through one that's 100 times larger than the Hubble Space Telescope. It's installed at the Georgia State Center for High Angular Resolution Astronomy Array located on Mt. Wilson, California.

Discovery News: Titan's 'Nile River' Discovered
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Wed Dec 12, 2012 01:38 PM ET

The Cassini Solstice mission has discovered what appears to be a miniature version* of the Nile River on Saturn's largest moon, Titan. The 400 kilometer (250 mile) long feature -- from 'headwaters' to a large sea -- is the longest extraterrestrial river ever to be discovered and imaged to such high resolution.

Using Cassini's radar imaging instruments, mission scientists were able to deduce that the feature is indeed a river as the dark, smooth surface within the meanders and channel suggest the presence of a liquid.

Titan is known to have vast lakes -- the only other body in the solar system, apart from Earth, to possess a cycle of liquids on its surface. However, the thick Titan atmosphere is a frigid one, meaning liquid water couldn't possibly flow. The liquids on Titan are therefore composed of hydrocarbons such as methane and ethane. NASA Eyes Mission to Jupiter Moon Europa
by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Date: 13 December 2012 Time: 04:20 PM ET

SAN FRANCISCO — Though NASA is devoting many of its exploration resources to Mars these days, the agency still has its eye on an icy moon of Jupiter that may be capable of supporting life as we know it.

Last week, NASA officials announced that they plan to launch a $1.5 billion rover to Mars in 2020, adding to a string of Red Planet missions already on the docket. The Curiosity rover just landed this past August, for example, and an orbiter called Maven and a lander named InSight are slated to blast off in 2013 and 2016, respectively.

But NASA is also thinking about ways to investigate the possible habitability of Europa, Jupiter's fourth-largest moon. One concept that may be gaining traction is a so-called "clipper" probe that would make multiple flybys of the moon, studying its icy shell and suspected subsurface ocean as it zooms past.

Discovery News: Chinese Probe Buzzes Asteroid Toutatis
Analysis by Ian O'Neill
Fri Dec 14, 2012 10:43 PM ET

The Chinese lunar orbiter Chang'e 2 has completed its flyby of asteroid Toutatis, a five-kilometer (three mile) long space rock that recently had a "close" encounter with Earth.

The probe, which completed its primary moon-mapping mission in 2011, was commanded to depart lunar orbit in June 2011 and travel to the Earth-sun L2 point -- a region of gravitational stability, approximately 1.5 million kilometers away in the opposite direction of the sun.

This extended mission set it up for the Dec. 13 flyby of asteroid 4179 Toutatis after it was commanded to leave the L2 point earlier this year.

Reuters: U.S. military's secret mini-shuttle lifts off from Florida
By Irene Klotz
Tue Dec 11, 2012 7:50pm EST

(Reuters) - An unmanned Atlas 5 rocket carrying a small robotic space shuttle lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Tuesday for the third flight in a classified military test program.

The 196-foot (60-meter) rocket blasted off at 1:03 p.m. ET (1603 GMT) carrying the military's original X-37B experimental space plane, also known as an Orbital Test Vehicle, or OTV.

The unmanned, reusable space shuttle, one of two operated by the U.S. Air Force, spent 224 days circling Earth during its debut mission in 2010. A sister ship blasted off in 2011 and landed itself after 469 days in space, completing the second orbital test flight.


British Museum of Natural History: Piltdown Man tests could solve hoax
12 December 2012

Next week is the 100-year anniversary of the Piltdown Man announcement - that the evolutionary 'missing link' between humans and apes had been found. This was a hoax, and someone, or some people, went to great lengths to try to fool the scientific world. The hoax was discovered but the culprit wasn't, and scientists are now trying to solve this real-life whodunnit once and for all.

A team of 15 scientists, including the Natural History Museum's human origins expert Chris Stringer, are using the latest techniques on the Piltdown material, to reveal the hoaxer and add more concrete evidence to that which was collected over 50 years ago.

There are many suspects but the favourite is Charles Dawson, who was a solicitor and amateur fossil hunter. He 'found' pieces of a thick human-like skull in gravel beds at Piltdown in Sussex, and supposedly made further finds at a second site two miles away in 1915.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Science News: Early life forms may have been terrestrial
Controversial theory suggests early life forms were land-dwellers
By Susan Milius
Web edition: December 13, 2012

Some of the fossils celebrated as sea life’s big breakout beyond mere soups and slimes might actually have dwelled on land, argues a controversial new study.

Named the Ediacaran fauna after Australia’s Ediacara Hills, these creatures dating from roughly 575 million to 542 million years ago mark life finally growing beyond the microscopic. Found in some 30 locations around the world, Ediacarans grew in discs, fronds and other fairly simple shapes with a quilted look, and paleontologists usually consider them some sort of marine creatures.

A new detailed analysis of the rocks where Australian Ediacarans are found suggests the rocks are fossilized soils, or paleosols, instead of a sea bottom, says Gregory Retallack of the University of Oregon in Eugene. The placement of fossils and tiny tubes in the rocks suggests to him that at least some of the Ediacarans actually lived in those soils instead of just washing up on them.

Discovery News: Animal's Body Preserved for 425 Million Years
Analysis by Jennifer Viegas
Thu Dec 13, 2012 11:16 AM ET

The remains of a tiny animal, preserved for 425 million years in rocks located in what is now the U.K., have just been discovered by an international team of researchers.

The creature -- related to crabs, lobsters and shrimp -- is an ostracod, or a type of crustacean sometimes known as seed shrimp. It represents a new species, Pauline avibella, in memory of the late wife of David Siveter, who led the research project.

The 0.4-inch-long animal was found, not only with its shell, but also with its soft parts -- body, limbs, eyes, gills and digestive system. Such well-preserved remains from that ultra prehistoric period are near unheard of in the fossil record.

Smithsonian Magazine: The Fungus in Your Cheese Is Having Weird Sex
December 10, 2012 9:11 am

Cheese is a pretty weird thing when you think about it. Someone had to come up with the idea of taking a bunch of milk, adding bacteria, letting it basically go bad, and waiting to eat it until mold had grown on it.

And, if that grosses you out, just wait. It turns out that the fungi in cheeses like blue cheese aren’t just sitting there, waiting for you to eat them. They’re getting it on.

More at The Secret Sex of Cheese on Nitty Gritty Science.

Scientific American: Reconstructed Face of Extinct “Hobbit” Species Is Startlingly Humanlike
By Kate Wong
December 11, 2012

Once upon a time a tiny human species with large feet shared the planet with our own kind. It hunted giant rats and miniature cousins of the elephant, defended its kills from monstrous storks and dodged fearsome dragons. This is not the plot of a lost Tolkien book. This really happened. I’m referring, of course, to our extinct relative Homo floresiensis, which lived on the island of Flores in Indonesia as recently as 17,000 years ago and has for obvious reasons been dubbed the hobbit. It turns out that despite the species’ small size, it may have looked rather familiar, according to a scientific reconstruction.


Science News: News in brief: Counting project reveals forest’s bug diversity
Some 25,000 species of arthropods live in Panamanian forest
By Susan Milius
Web edition: December 13, 2012

An international effort has put together the first tally of all the species of butterflies, beetles, ants, bees, roaches and their fellow arthropods that live in a tropical forest. And the count: 25,000.
Analyzing the count suggested possible short-cuts for estimating diversity, Yves Basset of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama and his colleagues report in the Dec. 14 Science. The best predictor of total arthropod species was the total plant species in the forest. Of course, then scientists have to count the plants.

Nature via Scientific American: King Crabs Poised to Wipe Out Rare Antarctic Ecosystem of Invertebrates
The crabs' arrival due to warming seas could deal a crushing blow to archaic species of starfish, sea spiders and ribbon worms at the Antarctic continental shelf
December 12, 2012

On a dim February evening, seven people crowded around a row of television monitors in a shack on the rear deck of the RV Nathaniel B. Palmer. The research icebreaker was idling 30 kilometers off the coast of Antarctica with a cable as thick as an adult's wrist dangling over the stern. At the end of that cable, on the continental shelf 1,400 meters down, a remote-operated vehicle (ROV) skimmed across the sea floor, surveying a barren, grey mudscape. The eerie picture of desolation, piped back to the television monitors, was the precursor to an unwelcome discovery.

The ROV had visited 11 different sea-floor locations during this 57-day research cruise along the Antarctic Peninsula in 2010. Each time, it had found plenty of life, mostly invertebrates: sea lilies waving in the currents; brittlestars with their skinny, sawtoothed arms; and sea pigs, a type of sea cucumber that lumbers along the sea floor on water-inflated legs. But at this spot, they were all absent. After 15 minutes, the reason became clear: a red-shelled crab, spidery and with a leg-span as wide as a chessboard, scuttled into view of the ROV's cameras. It probed the mud methodically — right claw, left claw, right claw — looking for worms or shellfish. Another crab soon appeared, followed by another and another. The crowded shack erupted into chatter. “They're natural invaders,” murmured Craig Smith, a marine ecologist from the University of Hawaii at Manoa. “They're coming in with the warmer water.”

Cold temperatures have kept crabs out of Antarctic seas for 30 million years. But warm water from the ocean depths is now intruding onto the continental shelf, and seems to be changing the delicate ecological balance. An analysis by Smith and his colleagues suggests that 1.5 million crabs already inhabit Palmer Deep, the sea-floor valley that the ROV was exploring that night (see 'A warming welcome'). And native organisms have few ways of defending themselves. “There are no hard-shell-crushing predators in Antarctica,” says Smith. “When these come in they're going to wipe out a whole bunch of endemic species.”

By Douglas Fox and Nature magazine
Scientific American: Mole Rats Promote Biodiversity
Mole rats may not be pretty, but their mounds of dirt are crucial for biodiversity
By Anne-Marie Hodge

Mole rats—known for their small eyes, grublike bodies and sometimes naked skin—mostly live underground. Yet they seem to dramatically affect aboveground ecological processes. A recent report in the Journal of Zoology showed that the burrowing activity of mole rats strongly influences the composition of plant communities in one of Africa's biodiversity hotspots, the Cape fynbos region in South Africa.

In the process of excavating their burrows, mole rats churn soil together with vegetation, uneaten food, and their own urine and feces. They then eject this blend of organic and inorganic matter from their burrow, forming characteristic mounds.

Scientific American: New Toxic Nocturnal Primate Species Discovered
By Katherine Harmon
December 14, 2012

The slow loris shouldn’t be a difficult object of study. For one thing, it’s slow—very slow (think sloth slow). And these small primates, which are unique in possessing a toxic bite to ward off predators, are charismatic due in large part to their compelling, wide-eyed faces. But they are also nocturnal, and they tend to live in hard-to-reach places, such as the rainforests of Borneo. Which might be why until recently, scientists had lumped all the slow lorises (Nycticebus) into just two species.

Currently, three more species—including the Bornean loris (N. menagensis)—and many more subspecies of this omnivore are recognized. Now a new research effort has discovered three distinct species within the formerly singular Bornean loris species. The project also uncovered one entirely new species, which has even “longer, fluffier body hair,” the team of researchers noted in the study describing the find, which was published online December 13 in the American Journal of Primatology.

Also read Three New Slow Loris Species Discovered in Borneo; Rare Venomous Primates Threatened by Illegal Pet Trade.

Science News: Feces study gets the poop on gorillas’ diet
Chemical traces in animals’ droppings reflect recent shifts in food consumption
By Tanya Lewis
Web edition: December 10, 2012

Chemical signatures in a gorilla’s feces reveal a lot about short-term changes in its diet, a new study finds.

What an animal eats tells scientists how it survives in its habitat and adapts to environmental changes. But observing animals dining in the wild isn’t always practical. Now, researchers have tracked monthly shifts in the diets of wild mountain gorillas by measuring different forms of carbon in the animals’ feces.

Researchers monitored eastern gorillas (Gorilla beringei) in the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in southwestern Uganda over a 10-month period from 2002 to 2003, collecting the apes’ scat and samples of the animals’ favorite foods — leaves, fruit, fruit peels and wood.


Michigan State University: Researcher helps set agenda for global health
December 13, 2012

A Michigan State University professor is among the lead authors of the largest-ever study of the global distribution and causes of many major diseases, injuries and health risk factors.

Published today in a special issue of The Lancet, the Global Burden of Disease Study 2010 involved nearly 500 authors in 50 countries studying the worldwide impact of more than 200 health conditions.

Gretchen Birbeck, professor of neurology and epidemiology in MSU’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, led the portion of the study focused on epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and headaches.

University of Michigan: Capturing circulating cancer cells could provide insights into how disease spreads
December 11, 2012

ANN ARBOR—A glass plate with a nanoscale roughness could be a simple way for scientists to capture and study the circulating tumor cells that carry cancer around the body through the bloodstream.

Engineering and medical researchers at the University of Michigan have devised such a set-up, which they say takes advantage of cancer cells' stronger drive to settle and bind compared with normal blood cells.

Circulating tumor cells are believed to contribute to cancer metastasis, the grim process of the disease spreading from its original site to distant tissues. Blood tests that count these cells can help doctors predict how long a patient with widespread cancer will live.


Reuters via Scientific American: Human link to climate change stronger than ever: draft report
By Nina Chestney and Alister Doyle
December 14, 2012

LONDON (Reuters) - International climate scientists are more certain than ever that humans are responsible for global warming, rising sea levels and extreme weather events, according to a leaked draft report by an influential panel of experts.

The early draft, which is still subject to change before a final version is released in late 2013, showed that a rise in global average temperatures since pre-industrial times was set to exceed 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, and may reach 4.8 Celsius.

"It is extremely likely that human activities have caused more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperatures since the 1950s," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report said.

"Extremely likely" in the IPCC's language means a level of certainty of at least 95 percent. The next level is "virtually certain", or 99 percent, the greatest possible certainty for the scientists.

Reuters via Scientific American: Drought Expands in Many Farm States
By Carey Gillam
December 13, 2012

(Reuters) - Drought continued to expand through many key farming states within the central United States in the past week, as scattered rainfall failed to replenish parched soils, according to a report issued Thursday by state and federal climatology experts.

Drought conditions were most pervasive in the Plains states, including in top wheat producer Kansas, according to the Drought Monitor report.

Fully 100 percent of Kansas was in at least "severe" drought as of Tuesday, up from 99.34 percent a week earlier, according to the Drought Monitor, and almost 78 percent remained in at least "extreme drought," the second-worst level of drought.
Overall, roughly 61.87 percent of the contiguous United States was in at least "moderate" drought, a slight improvement from 62.37 percent a week earlier.

The portion of the contiguous United States under at least "severe" drought expanded, however, to 42.59 percent from 42.22 percent.


LiveScience: Drought May Have Killed Sumerian Language
Tia Ghose, LiveScience Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A 200-year-long drought 4,200 years ago may have killed off the ancient Sumerian language, one geologist says.

Because no written accounts explicitly mention drought as the reason for the Sumerian demise, the conclusions rely on indirect clues. But several pieces of archaeological and geological evidence tie the gradual decline of the Sumerian civilization to a drought.

The findings, which were presented Monday (Dec. 3) here at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union, show how vulnerable human society may be to climate change, including human-caused change.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.


Scientific American: How Communities Shape Our Morals
Nazis did not just blindly follow orders
By Michael Shermer
December 15, 2012

In last month's column I recounted how my replication of Stanley Milgram's shock experiments revealed that although most people can be inveigled to obey authorities if they are asked to hurt others, they do so reluctantly and with much moral conflict. Milgram's explanation was an “agentic state,” or “the condition a person is in when he sees himself as an agent for carrying out another person's wishes.” As agents in an experiment, subjects shift from being moral agents in society to obedient agents in a hierarchy. “I am forever astonished that when lecturing on the obedience experiments in colleges across the country, I faced young men who were aghast at the behavior of experimental subjects and proclaimed they would never behave in such a way but who, in a matter of months, were brought into the military and performed without compunction actions that made shocking the victim seem pallid.”

This is an astute observation because research on the motivation of soldiers during combat—well summarized by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman in his deeply insightful book On Killing (Little, Brown, 2009)—reveals that a soldier's primary motivation is not politics and ideology but devotion to his band of brothers. “Among men who are bonded together so intensely,” Grossman explains, “there is a powerful process of peer pressure in which the individual cares so deeply about his comrades and what they think about him that he would rather die than let them down.”

As a social primate species, we modulate our morals with signals from family, friends and social groups with whom we identify because in our evolutionary past those attributes helped individuals to survive and reproduce. We do not just blindly concede control to authorities; instead we follow the cues provided by our moral communities on how best to behave.

Science News: What goes wrong when talks break down
Nonlinear analysis explains how negotiations often fail
By Rachel Ehrenberg
Web edition: December 12, 2012

SANTA FE, N.M. — Sometimes negotiations appear to be going all right — and then somebody assassinates the High Peace Council chairman. A new way of simulating how groups make decisions combines social psychology and nonlinear mathematics, revealing how forces may unexpectedly conspire to send negotiations off the rails.

The approach captures the unpredictable nature of group decision making and might be used to predict which members of a jury, legislature or corporate board will be supporters or dissenters of a policy, or if consensus is even possible. It may also help explain how Burhanuddin Rabbani, a key figure in negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban, ended up the victim of a suicide bomber in September 2011.  

Many methods for assessing how negotiations unfold assume a linear, relatively predictable relationship between the group members’ opinions, their influence on each other and the outcome of the negotiations. These methods can work well for small groups, says policy analyst Hilton Root of George Mason University in Arlington, Va. “But,” he said, “there’s a lot you can’t do with them.”

Science News: Brain stimulation alters depressive symptoms in mice
Findings may point the way toward treatment in people
By Laura Sanders
Web edition: December 12, 2012

Signs of depression can be turned on and off in mice with the flip of a switch. Activating or silencing the behavior of certain brain cells with laser light causes the animals to change their depressive behavior, two new studies find.

Although the experiments were done in rodents, the results have direct relevance to human depression, says neurologist Helen Mayberg of the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta. The new work may point out places in the human brain that doctors can similarly stimulate to treat depression.

The results, published online December 13 in Nature, took advantage of a technique called optogenetics, which allows scientists to control nerve cell behavior with a tiny fiber-optic light. In the studies, mice were genetically engineered to harbor nerve cell proteins that respond to light. The researchers could make certain nerve cells fire off messages by shining blue light, and quiet them by shining yellow light.

Scientific American: How Do You Play with Your Dog?
By Julie Hecht
December 12, 2012

Millions of people around the world come home to four legs and a wagging tail, and many spend some of their time together playing. While dog-dog play has been studied extensively, dog-person play, which takes on a different form and appears to have different rules, has not attracted nearly as much scholarly attention. At the Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab in NYC, we are investigating the different ways people and dogs play together and the behaviors they use. And, we need your help (well, you and your dog’s help).


Health 24: When our ancestors left Africa questioned
Created: Friday, December 14, 2012

New research by a University of Alberta archaeologist may lead to a rethinking of how, when and from where our ancestors left Africa.

U of A researcher and anthropology chair Pamela Willoughby's explorations in the Iringa region of southern Tanzania yielded fossils and other evidence that records the beginnings of our own species, Homo sapiens. Her research, recently published in the journal Quaternary International, may be key to answering questions about early human occupation and the migration out of Africa about 60 000 to 50 000 years ago, which led to modern humans colonising the globe.

From two sites, Mlambalasi and nearby Magubike, she and members of her team, the Iringa Region Archaeological Project, uncovered artifacts that outline continuous human occupation between modern times and at least 200,000 years ago, including during a late Ice Age period when a near extinction-level event, or "genetic bottleneck," likely occurred.

Agenzia Nazionale Stampa Associata--ANSA (Italy): Researchers find evidence of early man in caves near Naples
Remains of both Neanderthals and Homo sapiens in same caves

(ANSA) - Rome, December 4 - Researchers are poring over thousands of tiny artifacts - including a child's milk tooth - found in a southern Italian cave that appears to have been shared by both Neanderthals and early man.

The caves of Roccia San Sebastiano, which overlook the Tyrrhenian Sea north of Naples, are being combed for traces of those who once lived there.

Nature: Art of cheese-making is 7,500 years old
Neolithic pottery fragments from Europe reveal traces of milk fats.
Nidhi Subbaraman
12 December 2012

Traces of dairy fat in ancient ceramic fragments suggest that people have been making cheese in Europe for up to 7,500 years. In the tough days before refrigerators, early dairy farmers probably devised cheese-making as a way to preserve, and get the best use out of, milk from the cattle that they had begun to herd.

Peter Bogucki, an archaeologist at Princeton University in New Jersey, was in the 1980s among the first to suspect that cheese-making might have been afoot in Europe as early as 5,500 bc. He noticed that archaeologists working at ancient cattle-rearing sites in what is now Poland had found pieces of ceramic vessels riddled with holes, reminiscent of cheese strainers. Bogucki reasoned that Neolithic farmers had found a way to use their herds for more than milk or meat.

Discovery News: Iron Age Feast Found in England
Analysis by Jennifer Viegas

Remnants of an Iron-Age feast, including cattle skulls and 13 cauldrons, have been unearthed in Chiseldon, United Kingdom, according to a report in the latest British Archaeology

The discovery marks the largest grouping of early cauldrons ever found in Europe. One cauldron features a handle plate in the form of a cow's head; zoomorphic decoration is otherwise unknown on a British cauldron.

"Analysis of the interiors of the cauldrons has even revealed traces of animal fats, a tantalizing suggestion that these objects might have been used in cooking and serving meat-rich stews at Iron-Age feasts over 2,000 ago," Julia Farley, curator of European Iron Age collections at the British Museum, told Discovery News.

The Lane Report: UK archaeologists uncover lost communities in Italy

LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 11, 2012) — Over the summer, a team of faculty and students from the University of Kentucky discovered evidence of not just one lost community, but two in northern Italy. Using their archaeological expertise and modern technology, data was collected indicating the existence of a Roman settlement and below that, a possible prehistoric site.

Many years ago, archaeologist and art historian Paolo Visonà, a native of northern Italy and adjunct associate professor of art history in the UK School of Art and Visual Studies at the UK College of Fine Arts, first learned of a possible ancient settlement from a farmer in Valbruna, near the village of Tezze di Arzignano. While working his family’s land, Battista Carlotto had discovered artifacts that looked to Visonà like ceramics, mosaic, and glass of the Roman Empire.

Curiosity of what lay beneath the farmland was peaked in both gentlemen. With the approval of Carlotto and with little time to waste because of growing development in the area, Visonà began to research historical accounts of the region. Manuscripts found in Vicenza’s Bertoliana Library confirmed Visonà’s suspicion; in the late 18th century witnesses had shared accounts of seeing a Roman city’s remains in the vicinity.

The Guardian (UK): Restoration of Roman tunnels gives a slave's eye view of Caracalla baths
Tourists will see 'maniacal Roman perfection and incredible hydraulic technology' in labyrinth under Rome's Caracalla baths

In the middle of a patch of grass amid the ruins of the Caracalla baths in Rome, there is a staircase that takes visitors deep into the ground to a world resembling the lair of a James Bond villain.

"This is our glimpse at maniacal Roman perfection, at incredible hydraulic technology," said archaeologist Marina Piranomonte, as she descended and waved at a network of high and wide tunnels, each measuring six metres (20ft) high and wide, snaking off into the darkness.

The baths, on a sprawling site slightly off the beaten track in a city crowded by monumental attractions, hold their own against the nearby Circus Maximus, its shattered walls standing 37 metres high, recalling its second century heyday when it pulled in 5,000 bathers a day.

University of Leicester (UK) via Science Daily: Ancient Drawings in Peruvian Desert: New Light On the Nazca Lines

Dec. 10, 2012 — Archaeologists gain insight into ancient desert drawings -- by walking them. The first findings of the most detailed study yet by two British archaeologists into the Nazca Lines -- enigmatic drawings created between 2,100 and 1,300 years ago in the Peruvian desert -- have been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity.

The first findings of the most detailed study yet by two British archaeologists into the Nazca Lines -- enigmatic drawings created between 2,100 and 1,300 years ago in the Peruvian desert -- have been published in the latest issue of the journal Antiquity.

Sofia Globe (Bulgaria): Archaeology: Basilica from the time of Constantine the Great found at Sofia’s Serdica West Gate
Posted Dec 12 2012 by The Sofia Globe staff in Bulgaria, News

Archaeologists in Bulgaria’s capital city Sofia have found a basilica said to date from the time of emperor Constantine the Great in the area of the West Gate of Serdica, as the city was known in Roman times.

The basilica is 27 metres wide and about 100m long, according to Yana Borissova-Katsarova, head of research at the site. It featured multi-coloured mosaics. Further exploration of the find will be difficult because of its location under the modern city.

Sofia deputy mayor in charge of culture, Todor Chobanov, said that the discovery of the basilica may be proof that Constantine intended to establish the city as a centre of Christianity.

Yorkshire Post (UK): Winter of discontent as we await the truth
In the New Year we'll learn if bones from a city car park really are those of Richard III. Michael Hickling reports on the future for the last King of the House of York.
Published on Monday 10 December 2012 00:00

History is written by the victors, or most memorably in this case by one of the inheritors of the victors’ story, William Shakespeare.

He created the Richard III we know, with a hump and a limp and a shrivelled arm, a character who gleefully confides to the theatre audience that he’s so ugly dogs bark at him. He’s a child murderer, a sexual predator, a psychopath crippled in mind and body. It’s a magnificent creation. But Shakespeare had no first-hand knowledge of the man he wrote about.

His play Richard III was published just over a century after the naked body of this last Plantagenet monarch, newly-slain in battle at nearby Market Bosworth, was displayed at Leicester in the summer of 1485. To create his monstrous character, the playwright drew on unreliable sources which put a spin on scarce facts to suit the outlook of the victor of Bosworth, Henry Tudor and his successors.

Today there are people who still care about the injustice of it. Among them are the members of the Richard III Society who insist Richard was neither a ruthless opportunist nor horrible to look at.

The Independent (UK): Jewish philanthropist lost in the sands of time thanks to the Nazis
A wealthy  patron who funded the excavation of the priceless Nefertiti bust was airbrushed from history. Now, a hundred years after the find, his story is finally being told
Tony Paterson

She is regarded as the ancient world’s equivalent to the Mona Lisa and this weekend the 3,400–year old bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti will be the centrepiece of a grand exhibition in Berlin’s Neues Museum, celebrating her discovery by German archaeologists exactly a century ago.

The delicately featured and priceless bust of the wife of the ancient Egyptian Sun King Akhenaten has been one of the highlights of Berlin’s museum collection since it was first put on display in the city in 1923.

It was unearthed by the famous German archaeologist Ludwig Borchardt, at Amarna in 1912. He became a household name in Germany but few know the story of the wealthy Jewish patron and philanthropist who not only funded the excavation work that led to the bust’s discovery but also donated Nefertiti and scores of other ancient Egyptian artefacts he owned to Berlin’s museums. Organisers of the centenary celebrations are hoping to change that. James Simon is buried in Berlin’s Jewish cemetery. The wealthy Berlin businessman and patron of the arts was a member of the capital’s thriving pre-Second World War Jewish community. There is little doubt that without his passion for the arts and ancient history, Nefertiti would not be one of the city’s foremost attractions, viewed by half a million visitors a year.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman, who sent in the above articles.


Scientific American: Relative Masses of 7-Billion-Year-Old Protons and Electrons Confirmed to Match Those of Today’s Particles
By John Matson
December 13, 2012

The mass of the proton in relation to its much lighter counterpart, the electron, is known to great precision: the proton has 1836.152672 times the mass of the electron. But has it always been so?

Quite possibly, according to new research which taps the cosmos as a vast fundamental-physics laboratory. A study of a distant galaxy strongly suggests that the proton-to-electron mass ratio, denoted by the Greek letter mu (µ), has remained essentially constant for at least half the age of the universe. The findings appeared online December 13 in Science.


Wayne State University: Two Wayne State University chemistry professors named AAAS fellows
December 12, 2012

DETROIT—Stephanie Brock, Ph.D. of Ferndale, and Arthur Suits, Ph. D. of Ann Arbor, professors of chemistry in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Wayne State University, have been named  Fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). Election as an AAAS Fellow is an honor bestowed upon AAAS members by their peers.

This year 702 members have been awarded this honor by AAAS because of their scientifically or socially distinguished efforts to advance science or its applications. New Fellows will be presented with an official certificate and a gold and blue (representing science and engineering, respectively) rosette pin on Saturday, 16 February from 8 to 10 a.m. at the AAAS Fellows Forum during the 2013 AAAS Annual Meeting in Boston, Mass.

This year’s AAAS Fellows were formally announced in the AAAS News & Notes section of the journal Science on Nov. 30, 2012.


National Geographic News: Who’s Watching? Privacy Concerns Persist as Smart Meters Roll Out
Christina Nunez
For National Geographic News
Published December 12, 2012

Energy consultant Craig Miller, who spends much of his time working to make the smart grid a reality, got a jolt when he mentioned his work to a new acquaintance. The man, who happened to be a lineman at a Pennsylvania utility, responded earnestly:  "Smart meters are a plot by Obama to spy on us."

The encounter was a disheartening sign of the challenge ahead for proponents of the smart grid, who say that the technology can help the industry meet power demand, fix problems faster, and help consumers lower their electricity bills. Advocates of such a 21st-century grid are learning that they need to take privacy concerns seriously. Though smart meters are not, in fact, a domestic espionage scheme, they do raise questions: In a world where households start talking with the power grid, what exactly will be revealed? And who will be listening?

National Geographic News: Waste Wattage: Cities Aim to Flush Heat Energy Out of Sewers
Rachel Kaufman
For National Geographic News
Published December 11, 2012

Shower drains and dirty dishwater and laundry water could be on the cutting edge of energy efficiency and recovery.

Around the world, and more recently in the U.S., cities are realizing that the water leaving our homes and offices—specifically, warm and hot wastewater—is an astoundingly powerful source of energy. One estimate is that Americans flush 350 billion kilowatt-hours of energy into the sewers each year—roughly enough to power 30 million U.S. homes. Cities are taking notice, and taking steps to install sewage heat recovery systems to get a piece of that energy resource.

"I never thought I'd be saying the words that 'Sewage heat recovery is the coolest thing,'" said Jessie Israel, resource recovery manager at King County's Wastewater Treatment Division.

National Geographic News: U.K. Dash for Shale Gas a Test for Global Fracking
Thomas K. Grose in London
For National Geographic News
Published December 10, 2012

The starting gun has sounded for the United Kingdom's "dash for gas," as the media here have dubbed it.

A moratorium on shale gas production was lifted Thursday. And plans to streamline and speed the regulatory process through a new Office for Unconventional Gas and Oil were unveiled last week in the annual autumn budget statement by the chancellor of the exchequer, George Osborne.

In the U.K., where all underground mineral rights concerning fossil fuels belong to the crown, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could unlock a new stream of government revenue as well as fuel. But it also means that there is no natural constituency of fracking supporters as there is in the United States, birthplace of the technology. In the U.S., concerns over land and water impact have held back fracking in some places, like New York, but production has advanced rapidly in shale basins from Texas to Pennsylvania, with support of private landowners who earn royalties from leasing to gas companies.

Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy

The Guardian (UK): Turkey turns to human rights law to reclaim British Museum sculptures
Campaigners are going to European court in attempt to repatriate artefacts created for the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus

Human rights legislation that has overturned the convictions of terrorists and rapists could now rob the British Museum of sculptures created for one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.

A Turkish challenge in the European court of human rights will be a test case for the repatriation of art from one nation to another, a potential disaster for the world's museums.

Despite criticism of their own country's human rights record, Turkish campaigners are turning to human rights law – a dramatic move to reclaim sculptures that once adorned the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, an ancient wonder along with sites such as the hanging gardens of Babylon and Egypt's pyramids.

Greek sculptors in 350BC created a 40-metre-high monument, crowned by a colossal four-horse chariot on a stepped pyramid. A magnificent horse's head is among sculptures acquired by the British Museum in the mid-19th century, which campaigners want returned to their original site – Bodrum in south-west Turkey.

The Guardian (UK): Israeli separation wall threatens Battir's ancient terraces
Israeli environmentalists and even the state parks authority are backing Palestinian villagers' attempts to preserve landscape that is expected to be declared world heritage site by Unesco

The future of an ancient agricultural landscape, incorporating extensive stone-walled terraces and a unique natural irrigation system, could be decided on Wednesday when a petition against the planned route of Israel's vast concrete and steel separation barrier is heard by the high court.

The terraces of the Palestinian village of Battir, near Bethlehem, are expected to be declared a world heritage site by Unesco, the United Nations' cultural body, in the coming months.

But, Friends of the Earth, which filed the petition, says Israel's decision to construct the West Bank barrier through a valley running between the terraces threatens to inflict irreversible harm to the landscape.

The case has been bolstered by a last-minute U-turn by Israel's nature and parks authority, which called on the court on Tuesday to accept the petition, saying the "special and valuable area" should be protected in the public interest. The authority argued there was no longer an emergency security environment requiring environmental considerations to be cast aside.

The Georgetown Dish: Archaeological Work Delays Plan for Georgetown Home

Tipped off by a local author, the city is now digging into the history of the Georgetown property owned by prominent freed slave Yarrow Mamout in the early 1800s.

City archaeologists intend to survey the property at 3324 Dent Place within the next few weeks, putting a planned redevelopment project on hold.

“There’s a lot of interest in it,” said archaeologist Ruth Trocolli of the D.C. Historic Preservation Office, who plans to do a “reconnaissance” mission at the property in northern Georgetown. “If there are intact archaeological remains, or maybe even human remains,” Trocolli said, the investigation could grow.

Local writer James H. Johnston, who published a book about Yarrow Mamout this year, alerted archaeologists to the land’s historical significance. He’s been closely following the redevelopment plans for 3324 Dent Place after a new owner purchased the blighted house there last spring and later proposed razing and replacing it.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.

Scientific American: Meal Thicket: Students Balk at New School Lunch Nutrition Standards
Lunch strikes, Facebook protest pages, Twitter campaigns, YouTube parodies and other means have been utilized to voice opposition to the healthier meals
December 15, 2012

Indeed, some 31 million American kids participating in the federally supported National School Lunch Program have been getting more whole grains, beans, fruits and vegetables in their diets—whether they like it or not. The change is due to new school meal standards unveiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) last January, per the order of 2010’s Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. The new standards are based on the Institute of Medicine’s science-based recommendations, and are the first upgrade to nutritional standards for school meals since 1995 when low- and no-fat foods were all the rage.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG) believes the new standards represent an important milestone in efforts to improve the dietary habits and health of increasingly obese American kids. “Schools’ misguided reliance on processed foods for speedy, low-labor cost production, industry’s $1.6 billion in child-targeted advertising and a lack of faith in our children’s dietary curiosity [have] created a generation of ‘picky eaters’ with dull palates,” reports the group. “With nearly 17 percent of America’s children now clinically obese and a staggering 32 percent overweight, the time is long past to address the unhealthy food environments our children live in.”

The new standards limit calories per meal to 850 for high school meals, 700 for middle school and 650 for elementary and more than double the mandated minimum servings of fruits and vegetables while reducing the sodium, saturated fats and trans fats in school kids’ diets. Whole-grain foods, beans and dark green and orange vegetables such as broccoli, spinach, carrots and sweet potatoes have replaced things like pizza and French fries as staple items in schools that follow the program.

Reuters via Scientific American: EPA Finalizes Stricter Soot Pollution Limits
By Timothy Gardner
December 14, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Obama administration on Friday tightened limits on harmful soot pollution from sources including power plants, diesel engines and burning wood.

The new standards, which the Environmental Protection Agency was under court order to finalize, limit annual average soot emissions by the end of decade to about 12 micrograms per cubic meter of air from the standard of 15 micrograms set in 1997.

Individual states will be responsible for deciding how to cut emissions of the fine particulates, which can lodge deep in the lungs and threaten the elderly, people with heart disease and children. Health problems associated with the pollution include premature death, acute bronchitis, and asthma.

Reuters via Scientific American: Montana governor: Oil and gas boom could fund clean energy
By Patrick Rucker
December 14, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer, who been an advocate of the recent oil and gas boom that could upend U.S. energy policy, says he will keep spreading his message when he leaves office.

Schweitzer, whose tenure as governor will end next month due to state term limits, said the wave of drilling across his state could be a model of how to eliminate the nation's dependence on foreign fuel - if lawmakers would just get out of the way.

"Those SOBs out there," he said. "They got $60 mouths and $2 ears."

Reuters via Scientific American: California Planning Low-Carbon Oasis Where Cars Aren't King
By Braden Reddall and Rory Carroll
December 14, 2012

NEWARK, California (Reuters) - Vacant industrial land near salt marshes and a derelict rail bridge seem like an odd setting for the beginnings of a lifestyle revolution in scenic California, but planners in the San Francisco Bay suburb of Newark view it as just that.

With an eye on the state's new land-use laws to cut carbon output, Newark's city council just voted to convert 200 acres owned largely by chemical companies into a development that should set the trend for a state bent on decarbonizing its economy, the world's ninth largest.

The marshes could be turned over to birds, satisfying environmentalists, or paved over with single family homes, like most of the Bay Area.

Newark planners envision something different, which might satisfy both - or neither: 2,500 new homes, mostly townhouses and apartments, built within walking distance of stores and schools and connected by a new train to jobs across the Bay.

Reuters via Scientific American: Lawmakers to push tax code change for renewable energy in 2013
By Roberta Rampton
December 13, 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A group of U.S. lawmakers said on Wednesday that they plan to push ahead in the new year to change the tax code so renewable energy projects could qualify for beneficial tax structures commonly used by pipelines and other energy-related companies.

Democratic and Republican sponsors of proposed legislation said they think momentum is growing for their idea to allow wind, solar, biofuel and other renewable projects to structure as "master limited partnerships" (MLPs).

The structures allow companies to raise money in the stock market, while having income taxed only at the unit holder level, thus avoiding corporate income taxes.

"Small tweaks to the tax code could attract billions of dollars in private sector investment to renewable energy deployment," the 29 lawmakers said in a letter to President Barack Obama, asking for the administration's support.

Science Education

University of Michigan: U-M student winners of Dow sustainability award named
December 10, 2012

ANN ARBOR—Energy efficiency and water purification projects earned top University of Michigan honors in the 2012 Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award.

Teams of master's students representing the School of Natural Resources and Environment, the College of Engineering and the Stephen M. Ross School of Business won first and second prizes for U-M. Graduate students from 17 universities on five continents participated in this year's event. The competition concluded on Dec. 6 with a global webcast and live chat among all participating universities and winning students.

The Dow Sustainability Innovation Student Challenge Award, known as SISCA, is a global competition to generate inventive and interdisciplinary ideas for sustainability and is sponsored by Dow Chemical Co. This year at each university, first-place winners received $10,000 and runners-up earned $2,500.

Science Writing and Reporting

Scientific American: Do You Accept the Science of Climate Change? [Excerpt]
Some reject global warming science thanks to a misinformation campaign funded by fossil-fuel companies
By William Hewitt
December 14, 2012

Editor's Note: Excerpted from A Newer World—Politics, Money, Technology, and What's Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis, by William F. Hewitt.
A concerted, focused, and well-funded campaign of disinformation has been waged against climate change.

This attempt to discredit the science, to instill a sense of doubt about the conclusiveness and the extent of the agreement within the scientific community, is a story well told by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in Merchants of Doubt. Oreskes looked at 928 — 10 percent — of all the papers published on climate change in peer-reviewed science journals over a ten-year period. She chose the 928 papers at random. Not one disputed the view that manmade greenhouse gases (GHGs) were causing a catastrophic environmental crisis.

Greenpeace, for one, has published well-documented reports on the funding for climate change denial by ExxonMobil and Koch Industries, among others. Journalists James Hoggan and Ross Gelbspan have also done considerable spadework in uncovering the campaigns mounted by fossil fuel special interests to discredit climate science. Hoggan writes, for instance, that "it's a story of deceit, of poisoning public judgment — of an anti-democratic attack on our political structures and a strategic undermining of the journalistic watchdogs who keep our social institutions honest."

Science News: BOOK REVIEW: Mirror Earth: The Search for Our Planet’s Twin
By Michael D. Lemonick
Review by Sid Perkins
Web edition: December 13, 2012

In a fascinating chronicle of camaraderie and competition, Lemonick profiles the prominent researchers in an astronomical discipline that is coming of age. He follows the twists and turns in their careers as well as the towering hurdles they faced and ultimately solved — including oft-denied funding requests  and the equally daunting search for respect among scientific peers.

At first, researchers could discern only exceptionally large planets closely orbiting small stars. But techniques used to detect exoplanets are becoming more and more sensitive, and scientists may be getting close to discovering a mirror Earth — a find that might be revealed within months, not years, Lemonick contends.

Science is Cool

Mashable: Mysterious Package Addressed to Indiana Jones Arrives at UChicago
Eric Larson

Grab hold of your thinking fedoras, everyone -- it's mystery solving time.

The University of Chicago received a bizarre package on Tuesday (pictured above) addressed to a "Henry Walton Jones, Jr." At first, nobody thought twice about it. Whatever, they figured, we get the wrong mail all the time.

But then it clicked. This wasn't just any "Jones" the sender was hoping to reach. This was the whip-snapping, Nazi-fighting, Holy Grail-hunting legend of a professor himself: the Indiana Jones.

The University of Chicago has more at its Tumblr.

Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.

Science News: Dear Future Earthlings
A message in a bottle won’t be enough to communicate with distant generations
By Sid Perkins
Print edition: December 15, 2012; Vol.182 #12 (p. 26)

When Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The Canterbury Tales, he probably didn’t think much about the students who would painstakingly slog through the text hundreds of years later. This literary classic is loaded with references and expressions specific to its author’s time — part of what makes it so difficult to read, even with CliffsNotes to serve as a decoder ring.

Likewise, people of the future will no doubt face tremendous challenges interpreting the texts of today. Far enough forward in time, it won’t just be an issue of literary style. To be understandable tens of thousands of years from now, ideas must be expressed in a language that lasts and stored in a form that can survive millennia.

Storytellers may be willing to take their chances. But for others, leaving notes for the future is a task of great concern. Whether passing along a basic understanding of biology, documenting historical events or clueing future generations in to potential hazards, scholars believe some messages are imperative to convey. These forward thinkers have long been interested in designing messages that can be read and understood by people as unknowable to present-day generations as present-day generations would have been to Chaucer, or even the Neandertals.

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