Welcome to Science Saturday, where the Overnight News Digest crew informs and entertains you with this week's news about science, space, and the environment.
This week's featured story, which is breaking news (check the time stamp!), comes from Reuters.
U.N. climate talks seal legal pact on global warming
By Jon Herskovitz and Nina Chestney
DURBAN | Sat Dec 10, 2011 11:13pm EST
U.N. climate change talks agreed on a pact on Sunday that for the first time would force all the biggest polluters to take action to slow the pace of global changing.
The deal follows years of failed attempts to impose legally-binding, international cuts on emerging giants, such as China and India.
The developed world had already accepted formal targets under a first phase of the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out at the end of next year, although the United States had never ratified its commitment.
After days of emotional debate, the chairwoman of the United Nations climate talks urged delegates to approve four packages, which have legal force.
Now, that's a great Holiday present for the environment!
More stories over the jump.
Recent Science Diaries and Stories
Watch this space!
The Daily Bucket - Frosty Windshield
by enhydra lutris
Rats show empathy. Conservatives? Maybe not so much.
by Cartoon Peril
This week in science: antiscience and science march on!
These next two stories were the top stories until the breaking news arrived from Durban.
MSNBC: Goodnight, Moon: Total lunar eclipse wows the world
By Alan Boyle
Did you catch today's total lunar eclipse? Take a good, long look at these pictures of the dusky dark moon: It'll be more than two years before we see a fresh batch.
The best seats in the house for today's spectacular were in Asia. A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon is positioned just right in its orbit to pass through Earth's shadow. Today, that occurred when Asia and the Pacific were facing right at the moon. Other regions of the world, including some areas of Europe and the western U.S. and Canada, could catch at least part of the show before sunrise or after sunset.
MSNBC: Your views of the lunar eclipse
By Alan Boyle
Millions of people witnessed today's total lunar eclipse, and that means there were plenty of cameras snapping in the darkness. We've put together this sampling from the photos submitted via FirstPerson, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.
This was the last total
solar [lunar] eclipse until 2014, but there'll be plenty of other sky phenomena between now and then — including an unusual "diamond ring" annular solar eclipse next May, a Venus transit in June, a total solar eclipse in November, and meteor showers galore.
Bat World Sanctuary: Lil' Drac
Lil’ Drac is an orphaned short tailed fruit bat (Carollia perspicillata). His mother was yet another casualty from zoo closures which are occurring across the US. She is a young mother who was stressed from the conditions in which she was kept, combined with the additional trauma of being captured and transferred to a new and unfamiliar environment. Consequently, she abandoned Lil’ Drac after he was born. He was found on the padded floor of the indoor flight enclosure at Bat World Sanctuary, curled up in a little ball.
Hat/tip to io9.
TED Talks on YouTube: Cheryl Hayashi studies spider silk, one of nature's most high-performance materials. Each species of spider can make up to 7 very different kinds of silk. How do they do it? Hayashi explains at the DNA level -- then shows us how this super-strong, super-flexible material can inspire.
Hat/tip to Sheril Kirshenbaum at Culture of Science
TED Talks on YouTube: Imagine having a surgery with no knives involved. At TEDMED, surgeon Yoav Medan shares a technique that uses MRI to find trouble spots and focused ultrasound to treat such issues as brain lesions, uterine fibroids and several kinds of cancerous growths.
TED Talks on YouTube: After re-purposing CAPTCHA so each human-typed response helps digitize books, Luis von Ahn wondered how else to use small contributions by many on the Internet for greater good. At TEDxCMU, he shares how his ambitious new project, Duolingo, will help millions learn a new language while translating the Web quickly and accurately -- all for free.
TED Talks on YouTube: What's six miles wide and can end civilization in an instant? An asteroid - and there are lots of them out there. With humor and great visuals, Phil Plait enthralls the TEDxBoulder audience with all the ways asteroids can kill, and what we must do to avoid them.
Hat/tip to Sheril Kirshenbaum at Culture of Science
MSNBC: Go planet-hopping in 3-D
By Alan Boyle
NASA's 3-D video of the asteroid Vesta is a stunner, but there are other places you can go in the solar system using red-blue glasses.
Take Mars, for example: Last month the European Space Agency released pictures of the semi-gigantic Tharsis Tholus volcano, which rises 5 miles (8 kilometers) above the Martian surface and spans 75 miles.
It's no Olympus Mons, which is 16 miles high and as big as the state of Arizona, but it's big nevertheless.
More of the Space Advent Calendar from MSNBC.
Holiday calendar: Madagascar's monster
Holiday calendar: Antarctica stripped
Holiday calendar: Streaking for home
Holiday calendar: Rise and fall of the Dead Sea
Holiday calendar: How an eclipse dims Earth
Holiday calendar: Psychedelic storm
MSNBC: Alien planets get pigeonholed
By Alan Boyle
Researchers have set up an online "periodic table" for extrasolar planets ranging from Hot Mercurians to Cold Jovians, with Earthlike worlds right in the middle.
The Habitable Exoplanets Catalog, drawn up by the University of Puerto Rico's Planetary Habitability Laboratory, is aimed at pigeonholing the hundreds of worlds that are being identified by NASA's Kepler space telescope and other planet-hunting projects. Eventually, the tally of exoplanets is expected to mount into the thousands, and that's where researchers hope the proposed catalog will come in handy.
"One important outcome of these rankings is the ability to compare exoplanets from best to worst candidates for life," Abel Mendez, the laboratory's director and principal investigator for the project, said today in a news release.
Reuters: NASA catalogs thousands of asteroids near Earth
By Irene Klotz
SAN FRANCISCO | Thu Dec 8, 2011 8:03am EST
About 1,000 asteroids big enough to cause catastrophic damage if they hit Earth are orbiting relatively nearby, a NASA survey shows.
In a project known as Spaceguard, the U.S. space agency was ordered by Congress in 1998 to find 90 percent of objects near Earth that are 1 km (0.62 of a mile) in diameter or larger.
The survey is now complete, with 93 percent of the objects accounted for, astronomer Amy Mainzer of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco on Tuesday.
Reuters: "Bullet-proof" evidence of past water found on Mars
By Irene Klotz
SAN FRANCISCO | Thu Dec 8, 2011 8:13pm EST
A NASA rover scouting for signs of past water on Mars has found the strongest evidence yet -- a vein of gypsum, a mineral deposited by water, protruding from an ancient rock.
The rover, called Opportunity, and its twin, Spirit, arrived on opposite sides of Mars in January 2004. Over the years, the rovers, aided by several orbiting spacecraft, have returned a convincing body of evidence that Mars was not always as cold and dry as it is today.
The most convincing proof, unveiled this week at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco, is a thin vein of gypsum laced inside and protruding from an ancient rock along the rim of a 96-mile wide crater called Endeavour.
Gypsum -- commonly known as plaster of Paris -- typically forms from water flowing through rock.
MSNBC: Your orbital trip on a CST-700
By Alan Boyle
Imagine racking up the frequent flier miles by the millions during a trip to low Earth orbit: Here's how it'd work, as sketched out by John Elbon, vice president and program manager for commercial crew programs at Boeing Space Exploration.
MSNBC: Private venture gets go-ahead for February space station trip
By Alan Boyle
The next chapter in commercial spaceflight is due to open in February when SpaceX launches its Dragon cargo capsule for the first linkup of a private-sector craft with the International Space Station, NASA announced today.
The Feb. 7 launch date was announced by NASA's deputy administrator, Lori Garver, during a Future Forum at Seattle's Museum of Flight. This second Future Forum of the year, following up on an August event in Maryland, is focusing on NASA's efforts to commercialize space operations in low Earth orbit.
NASA is paying private space ventures hundreds of millions of dollars to design and build new spaceships for its use, with cargo flights to the space station scheduled to begin next year. Crew-capable spacecraft could start flying sometime in the middle of this decade, marking the first time since the space shuttle fleet's retirement that U.S. astronauts can fly on U.S.-made spaceships.
MSNBC: Used Russian spaceship will land in Seattle museum
By Alan Boyle
Space billionaire Charles Simonyi says he'll let Seattle's Museum of Flight show off the Russian Soyuz spaceship that brought him back to Earth in 2009, along with his spacesuit and "a real, working space toilet" from Russia.
The arrangement, announced today, comes on top of the $3 million that Simonyi and his wife contributed to construction of the museum's newly named Charles Simonyi Space Gallery.
In addition to Simonyi's artifacts, the $12 million, 15,500-square-foot facility will feature a space shuttle mockup that was once used to train NASA astronauts. The full-fuselage trainer is expected to be delivered to Seattle by NASA's Guppy transport airplane in stages beginning in June.
E-Science News: Archaeologists find new evidence of animals being introduced to prehistoric Caribbean
Published: Thursday, December 1, 2011 - 12:40
An archaeological research team from North Carolina State University, the University of Washington and University of Florida has found one of the most diverse collections of prehistoric non-native animal remains in the Caribbean, on the tiny island of Carriacou. The find contributes to our understanding of culture in the region before the arrival of Columbus, and suggests Carriacou may have been more important than previously thought. The researchers found evidence of five species that were introduced to Carriacou from South America between 1,000 and 1,400 years ago. Only one of these species, the opossum, can still be found on the island. The other species were pig-like peccaries, armadillos, guinea pigs and small rodents called agoutis.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
The Canadian Press via Huffington Post Canada: Alberta Dinosaur Fossil: New Dinosaur Species Discovered
After gathering dust on a shelf for more than 90 years, two previously ignored skulls have been identified as a new dinosaur species which once roamed the plains of southern Alberta.
The bones of the newly named Spinops sternbergorum were originally discovered southeast of Calgary in 1916 by a father and son science team.
Nearly a century later, a team of international scientists rummaging through the museum's collection of bones stumbled upon the skulls, re-examined them closely and found that they belonged to a species unknown until now.
MSNBC: Meet America's biggest dinosaur
By Alan Boyle
Here's a trivia question for your dino-crazy kids: What's the biggest dinosaur to roam North America? Paleontologists report that it's Alamosaurus sanjuanensis, one of many breeds of long-necked, long-tailed sauropods to roam the continent 69 million years ago.
Montana State University's Denver Fowler and the State Museum of Pennsylvania's Robert Sullivan make that judgment on the basis of two huge vertebrae and a femur that they collected in New Mexico between 2003 and 2006. Based on the bones' proportions, they figure that Alamosaurus could be around the same size as South America's giant sauropods, such as the 70-ton Argentinosaurus.
If Fowler and Sullivan are correct, that'd make Alamosaurus twice as heavy as paleontologists thought it was just a few years ago. Their research was published Tuesday in Acta Palaeontologica Polonica.
LiveScience via MSNBC: Corals survive the acid test ... rather, the acidic test
Caribbean species live, although not as diversely, in areas thought to be inhospitable
By Wynne Parry
December 8, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — Certain species of corals have been discovered living in the surprisingly acidic waters of the Caribbean's submarine springs, areas thought inhospitable to corals, a new survey has found.
However, these so-called single corals are not the reef-builders responsible for the large Caribbean reefs that form critical habitat for various species, while also performing other important roles in nature.
"While single corals may have the chance to survive … it would be very different from the coral reefs we know today and that we depend on today," said Adina Paytan, a study researcher with the University of California, Santa Cruz, who presented her research here Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union.
Our Amazing Planet via MSNBC: First images of snow leopards snapped in Siberia
There was plenty of sign, 'but to get a picture is really a big deal,' biologist says
By OurAmazingPlanet Staff
December 8, 2011
Motion-sensor-equipped cameras have taken the first images of the elusive and threatened snow leopard in a remote mountain range in Siberia.
The photos were taken between Oct. 26 and 30 at an altitude of about 13,100 feet (4,000 meters) on the Chikhachyova Ridge in the Altai Republic, a semiautonomous region in southern Russia.
"To get a picture is really a big deal," said James Gibbs, a conservation biologist who had found signs of the snow leopard there this past summer. "The signs that the species is in this region are definitive but a picture is irrefutable."
MSNBC: At $50,000 a pound, rhino horns being stolen from museums
By NBC News, MSNBC Staff, and wire reports
LONDON — The demand for rhino horn in Asia, where some see its ground-up powder as an aphrodisiac and even cancer-curing medicine, has driven prices to nearly $50,000 a pound — and with it a new type of crime: thieves breaking into museums and auction houses to tear the horns off stuffed specimens.
At least 30 such thefts have taken place across Europe in the last year. The latest, on Tuesday at a hunting museum in Paris, saw thieves use a stun gas on two guards to facilitate the theft.
"The style of the offenses has taken us by surprise and the fact that they're still continuing today," Scotland Yard Detective Ian Lawson told NBC News after Tuesday's heist.
The heists are happening as poachers, motivated by the same profit, are slaughtering rhinos in Africa and Asia.
MSNBC: Clone a mammoth? Not so fast
By Alan Boyle
Reports from Japan suggest that long-extinct woolly mammoths could be cloned back into existence within five years, but don't hold your breath.
"C'mon, it'll never happen. Not in my lifetime," said Webb Miller, a Penn State computer scientist and genomicist who helped decipher the genetic code of a woolly mammoth.
Japanese and Russian researchers have been working for years to find a suitable woolly mammoth specimen in the Siberian permafrost, and they recently told Japan's Kyodo news service that they recovered what they hope will be viable bone marrow from a frozen thigh bone recovered near Batagay in eastern Russia's Sakha Republic (a.k.a. Yakutia).
MSNBC: US adds more billion-dollar disasters to 2011 list
By Miguel Llanos, msnbc.com
Just last August the federal officials who track weather disasters said 2011 would go down as a record year with 9 events topping $1 billion in damages. On Wednesday, those same authorities upped the number to 12 events -- totalling $52 billion in damages --and said there's still a chance for one or two more to be added to the list.
"In my weather career spanning four decades, I've never seen a year quite like 2011 ... record-breaking extremes of nearly every conceivable type of weather," National Weather Service Director Jack Hayes said in a statement accompanying the new figures.
Our Amazing Planet via MSNBC: Scientists 'fly' into storms from their computers
December 9, 2011
Until a year ago, if you wanted to fly into a storm in the name of science, you had to strap yourself into an airplane and hold on tight. Now, thanks to a new radar fleet, scientists can create models that let them fly into these dangerous storms from the safety of the computer lab.
Tools such as these "fancy new radars" will help forecasters in the future to better predict severe weather and improve scientists' understanding of climate change, said Gerald Mace, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah. Mace talked about how these new radars will help scientists plug gaps in their climate models by giving unprecedented looks inside storms during a talk today (Dec. 8) the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
"We all know that our ability to predict climate is not where we want it to be at this point," Mace said. "The majority of this uncertainty is due to the clouds in these models."
MSNBC: EPA: 'Fracking' likely polluted town's water
By msnbc.com staff and news services
A controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas appears to be the cause of groundwater pollution in a central Wyoming town, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday.
The EPA last month said it had found compounds associated with chemicals used in the drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in the groundwater beneath Pavillion. Many residents say their well water has reeked of chemicals since the drilling began there and first complained to the EPA in 2008.
But until Thursday, the EPA said it could not speculate on where the contaminants came from.
In the draft report (.pdf) released Thursday, the EPA said that "the explanation best fitting the data ... is that constituents associated with hydraulic fracturing have been released into the Wind River drinking water aquifer."
N.Y. Times via MSNBC: Lead from used US batteries raising health risks in Mexico
By Elisabeth Rosenthal
December 8, 2011
NAUCALPAN DE JUÁREZ, Mexico — The spent batteries Americans turn in for recycling are increasingly being sent to Mexico, where their lead is often extracted by crude methods that are illegal in the United States, exposing plant workers and local residents to dangerous levels of a toxic metal.
The rising flow of batteries is a result of strict new Environmental Protection Agency standards on lead pollution, which make domestic recycling more difficult and expensive, but do not prohibit companies from exporting the work and the danger to countries where standards are low and enforcement is lax.
Mexican environmental officials acknowledge that they lack the money, manpower and technical capacity to police a fast-growing industry now operating in many parts of the country, often in dilapidated neighborhoods like the one here, 30 miles northwest of Mexico City.
Our Amazing Planet via MSNBC: Hurricanes might trigger big tropical earthquakes
Heavy rains cause landslides, and that may set off a shift in tectonic regions
By Stephanie Pappas
December 8, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — Typhoons and hurricanes can trigger large earthquakes in tropical regions, a new study suggests.
By dumping rain and causing landslides, these storms can change the weight of the Earth in tectonically-stressed regions, releasing loads that had been keeping the faults locked in tight. The result is that faults already under pressure seem more likely to break in the years after very wet tropical cyclones.
Earthquakes including Haiti's 2010 magnitude-7.0 temblor and a 6.4-magnitude quake that struck Kaohsiung, Taiwan, the same year, fit this pattern, according to study researcher Shimon Wdowinski, a professor of marine geology and geophysics at the University of Miami. Wdowinski reported his findings here Thursday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union (AGU).
These quakes were preceded by drenching storms that wreaked other kinds of havoc.
LiveScience via MSNBC: Rest your fears: Big earthquakes not on the rise
By Stephanie Pappas
December 9, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — While Earth seems to be getting slammed with frequent mega-earthquakes lately, big quakes are not on the rise.
That's the message from two studies presented here this week at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. Two research teams using different statistical methods both found that the global risk of big earthquakes is not higher than usual. Neither team found any evidence that big earthquakes can trigger other big earthquakes over long distances.
"We tend to see patterns in random processes, that's just something we do," said Andrew Michael, a U.S. Geological Survey scientist who presented his work Wednesday. "In particular, people expect when something's random for it to be uniformly spread out, but, in fact, really random processes have a lot of clustering in them."
That clustering can make it look like there are patterns in the short term, Michael said, even when the long-term statistics don't show any meaningful variation.
MSNBC: 6.7 earthquake strikes north of Acapulco
By MSNBC Staff and wire services
ACAPULCO, Mexico -- A 6.5-magnitude earthquake struck the region north of Acapulco on Saturday night, and people in Mexico City fled into the streets.
The epicenter was about 82 miles north of Acapulco in the southwestern state of Guerrero and about 40 miles deep, the U.S. Geological Survey reported. The quake was intially reported as a 6.8 but downgraded to 6.5.
A Twitter message from President Felipe Calderon said one person had been reported injured by a collapsed ceiling in the Guerrero town of Tuxpan near the epicenter. It said there were no other reports of casualties in the quake area.
Our Amazing Planet via MSNBC: Kilauea volcano capable of deadly past and future blasts
By Beth Israel
December 6, 2011
A band of ancient warriors were en route to battle near the summit of Mount Kilauea more than 200 years ago when Pele, the Hawaiian goddess that lives inside the volcano, got angry. Very angry.
Searing rocks exploded from Kilauea's summit crater and a thick current of lava surged toward the warriors, propelled by hurricane-force winds. More than 400 people died, according to historical estimates, in the deadliest volcanic eruption in what is now the United States.
"There have been more powerful eruptions here, but none more deadly," said Don Swanson, a geologist with the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory.
Kilauea's legendary eruption happened in November 1790, but until now the deadly surge of lava associated with it had yet to be identified, Swanson said during a news conference Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco.
Discovery News via MSNBC: Study of Dead Sea sediments sheds light on biblical events
Historians' interest piqued as scientists show body nearly disappeared 120,000 years ago
By Emily Sohn
December 8, 2011
The Dead Sea nearly disappeared about 120,000 years ago, say researchers who drilled more than 1,500 feet below one of the deepest parts of the politically contentious body of water.
The discovery looms large at a time when the Dead Sea is shrinking rapidly, Middle Eastern nations are battling over water rights, and experts hotly debate whether the salt lake could ever dry up completely in the years to come.
New data from drilled deposits are also helping piece together geological history that slices through biblical times. Further research may offer opportunities to verify whether earthquakes destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah or if drought explains why Joseph brought Israelites to Egypt to escape famine.
"We see a lot of these different stories in the Bible about fat years and lean years," said Steven Goldstein, a geochemist at Columbia University in New York. "And we can see in the record that there were these intervals where it looks like it was a land of milk and honey, and there were intervals where there was no water, no rain and I'm sure, famine. Climate validates that there were these rhythms."
Discovery News via MSNBC: Chimpanzees self-medicate with food
Many of the plants they eat aren't for nutrition, but for medicinal purpose
Chimpanzees and humans appear to be the most self-medicating animals.
By Jennifer Viegas
An extensive look at what chimpanzees consume each day reveals that many of the plants they consume aren't for nutrition but are likely ingested for medicinal purpose.
The findings, published in the journal Physiology & Behavior, indicate that the origins of medicine go way back, beyond the human species.
"We conclude that self-medication may have appeared in our ancestors in association with high social tolerance and lack of herbivorous gut specialization," lead author Shelly Masi and her colleagues write.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
MSNBC: 3-D model of rat brain circuit created
By John Roach
After six years and several million dollars, scientists have created a 3-D model of a rat brain circuit.
The accomplishment is a first step toward creating a complete computer model of the brain that will allow a deeper understanding of how our noggins work — and what causes them to malfunction, according to the scientists behind the feat.
MSNBC: Computer mimics human ability to match images
By John Roach
Every year, thousands of tourists stand in front of Paris' Eiffel Tower to have their picture taken, painted, or sketched. Though every image is different, each contains the sky piercing tower. Now, a computer can match up all those images based on that one identifying feature.
This could be useful, for example, to someone who is wondering how the Eiffel Tower and its surroundings have changed since their grandparents had their picture painted in front of it on their honeymoon. In this case, the computer could find a match to the painting by searching online for a modern match.
The technique differs from photo-matching methods that focus on similarities in shapes, colors, or composition, which work well when searching for exact or very close matches but fail when applied across domains, such as a picture taken in different seasons or a painting and a picture.
NPR: Grass Mattress Was A Stone Age Bed And Breakfast
by Christopher Joyce
In archaeology, you get special bragging rights when you can lay claim to the oldest specimen of something.
Scientists in South Africa may now qualify for what they say is the world's oldest bed. Well, not a bed exactly, but more like a mattress made of grass.
What Lyn Wadley, an archaeologist at the University of Witswatersrand, found were mats of grass and sedge piled half an inch thick on the floor of a cavelike rock shelter in South Africa.
The oldest bedding is 77,000 years old. That's about 40,000 years older than the previous record for bedding. It was found in a place called Sibudu.
Science News: Neandertals’ mammoth building project
Extinct hominids may have been first to build with bones
By Bruce Bower
Neandertals are stumping for bragging rights as the first builders of mammoth-bone structures, an accomplishment usually attributed to Stone Age people.
Humanity’s extinct cousins constructed a large, ring-shaped enclosure out of 116 mammoth bones and tusks at least 44,000 years ago in West Asia, say archaeologist Laëtitia Demay of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris and her colleagues. The bone edifice, which encircles a 40-square-meter area in which mammoths and other animals were butchered, cooked and eaten, served either to keep out cold winds or as a base for a wooden building, the scientists propose in a paper published online November 26 in Quaternary International.
Australian National University via physorg.com: Gone fishing? We have for 42,000 years
November 25, 2011
An archaeologist from The Australian National University has uncovered the world’s oldest evidence of deep sea fishing for big fish, showing that 42,000 years ago our regional ancestors had mastered one of our nation’s favourite pastimes.
Professor Sue O’Connor of the College of Asia and the Pacific at ANU, also found the world’s earliest recorded fish hook in her excavations at a site in East Timor. The results of this work are published in the latest issue of Science.
Birmingham Post (UK): Birmingham archaeologists uncover secrets of Stonehenge
Two previously undiscovered pits have been found at Stonehenge, shedding new light on the monument's association with the sun, archaeologists said today.
The pits are positioned on celestial alignment at the landmark and could have contained tall stones, wooden posts or fires to mark the rising and setting of the sun, academics believe.
An international archaeological survey team discovered the pits as part of the Stonehenge Hidden Landscape Project, which began in summer 2010.
The Guardian (UK): Bronze age man's lunch: a spoonful of nettle stew
Archaeological dig reveals hundreds of objects, from six oak-tree boats to a bowl of food
The Observer, Saturday 3 December 2011
Six boats hollowed out of oak tree trunks are among hundreds of intact artefacts from 3,000 years ago that have been discovered in the Cambridgeshire fens, the Observer can reveal.
The scale, quality and condition of the objects, the largest bronze age collection ever found in one place in Britain, have astonished archaeologists – and barely a fraction of the site has been excavated.
Unique textile fragments, wicker baskets and wooden sword handles have survived. There are even containers of food, including a bowl with a wooden spoon still wedged into the contents, now analysed as nettle stew, which may have been a favourite dish in 1000BC. The boats – two of which bear unusual decoration – are in such good condition that the wood grain and colour can be seen clearly, as can signs of repairs by their owners.
The Independent (UK): 'Cowboy builders' blamed for Rome's crumbling Colosseum
Saturday 03 December 2011
An ambitious attempt to save Rome's Colosseum from collapse is being undermined by the authorities' cost-cutting decision to employ ordinary builders rather than specialists to perform the delicate overhaul, restoration experts have claimed.
The precarious state of the landmark, built in AD80, was underlined last year when three large chunks fell off. Discoloured by pollution from Rome's constant traffic and rocked by vibrations from a nearby metro line, the amphitheatre was desperately in need of renovation – and the funding to pay for it.
Western Daily Press via This is Somerset (UK): Bronze coins found in Somerset reveal Roman age of austerity
Western Daily Press
Archaeologists are celebrating the donation of a hoard of Roman coins – described as “ a hugely significant find” – to the new Museum of Somerset.
The 2,118 bronze coins, found by archaeologists excavating a site at Maundown, near Wiveliscombe, before Wessex Water built a new water treatment plant, may be evidence of financial crisis in Romano-British Somerset.
They were found in 2006 and have been donated to Somerset County Council by Wessex Water after a Treasure Inquest at Taunton last week heard that the British Museum disclaimed interest on behalf of the Crown.
The Guardian (UK): Archaeologists unearth 7th-century house in Yorkshire Dales
Volunteers' find in national park adds to discoveries pointing to richer cultural history of northern England than assumed
guardian.co.uk, Monday 5 December 2011 10.29 EST
Humanity's long attachment to Yorkshire has notched up another piece of early evidence with the discovery of the first 7th-century house to be recorded in the Dales national park.
Volunteer archaeologists dug down into an outcrop of stones on the flanks of Ingleborough fell, one of the Three Peaks famous for walks and marathon runs, where settlements were thought to exist but none had been excavated owing to shortages of time, expertise and funds.
The team revealed two chamber rooms with charcoal remains and pieces of chert, a hard flint knapped in ancient times to make tools.
BBC: Saxon burial ground under Warwickshire couple's home
By Emma Kasprzak
BBC News West Midlands
A Warwickshire man has described the moment builders found human bones under his patio.
Stephen and Nicky West were having their home redeveloped when one of the builders unearthed the remains.
Mr West said: "There was a tap on the door and the builder said 'Stephen, I think there's something you need to see'.
"He had a skull in his hand and I thought 'oh my goodness'."
The couple have lived at their house in Ratley, a village in south Warwickshire, for nearly seven years.
Inside Science News Service via physorg.com: Volcanic destruction? Not always
By Alan S. Brown
December 2, 2011
For many, the story of Pompeii defines what happens when a volcano erupts: It destroys everything in its path and kills everyone who cannot escape.
But nearly a millennium ago, a very different scenario played out just north of the modern-day city of Flagstaff in the Arizona desert. Here, the local Sinagua peoples survived the eruption of the powerful Sunset Crater volcano and adapted to a changed landscape to forge a more complex society and higher standard of living.
"They were much better evolved to deal with the volcano than we are," said archaeologist Mark Elson of Desert Archaeology, a Tucson firm that helps preserve ancient sites. By studying how the Sinagua adapted, Elson thinks we could learn better ways to cope with such massive catastrophes as Hurricane Katrina and the Great Plains floods.
Discovery News: Search for Lost Da Vinci Gets Desperate
Analysis by Rossella Lorenzi
Thu Dec 1, 2011 04:27 PM ET
After 35 years of noninvasive research, art experts have turned to rather drastic methods to solve a longstanding Leonardo da Vinci mystery.
Putting aside the state-of-the-art technologies employed in the past decades, the researchers have simply drilled a hole into a frescoed wall that they believe hides a long-lost da Vinci masterpiece known as the "Battle of Anghiari."
Unfortunately, the drill wasn't performed on an ordinary wall. Standing in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence's 14th-century city hall, in the imposing Hall of Five Hundred, the wall houses a mural known as the "Battle of Marciano." It was painted by the renowned 15th-century painter, architect and writer Giorgio Vasari.
Maurizio Seracini, director of the Center of Interdisciplinary Science for Art, Architecture and Archaeology at the University of California, San Diego, is convinced that Leonardo's lost work lies right behind that Vasari wall.
Agence France Presse via Google: Archaeologist traces Pocahontas wedding site
By Fabienne Faur
JAMESTOWN, Virginia — Archeologist William Kelso is certain he's discovered the remains of the oldest Protestant church in the United States, standing between two holes he insists once held wooden posts.
In 1614, Pocahontas was "married right here, I guarantee," Kelso told AFP at the Jamestown, Virginia archeological site southeast of the nation's capital.
Near the James River, on May 14, 1607, a group of about a hundred men landed on commission from England to form the first colony in the Americas.
Nature (UK): Filling in the gaps in the slave trade
Diverse disciplines combine forces to study dark chapter in human history.
01 December 2011
Geneticists, archaeologists and historians are joining forces to investigate the history of transatlantic slavery, in a €4.3-million (US$5.8-million) project launched today. The researchers say that the project is a unique opportunity to improve our knowledge of the slave trade, but warn that some of their results might be “uncomfortable”.
Between the sixteenth and nineteenth centuries, millions of people from west and central Africa were captured and shipped across the Atlantic by European slave traders to a life of forced labour in the Americas. The subject has been well studied by historians, but one of the coordinators of the project, geneticist Hannes Schroeder of the Center for GeoGenetics at the Natural History Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen, says that there are still “large gaps in our knowledge” regarding the origins of the people captured as slaves, for instance, and how the slave trade operated.
Metro UK: Don't tell the anti-capitalists... there's a fortune under St Paul's
St Paul's may be the centre of anti-capitalist protests but demonstrators could be sitting on evidence of a historic society in thrall to... whisper it... consumer goods.
Deep beneath the Occupy camp at the London cathedral is a treasure trove of ancient artefacts in precious metals stretching back centuries, says an archaeologist.
Among it are signs of eco-conscious recycling as well as of a thriving 'consumer society' dating back to the medieval age.
The Columbian: Possibility of artifacts halts work on Ridgefield park
Native American objects might be in site, officials say
By Ray Legendre
Columbian Staff Writer
A much-anticipated Ridgefield park project is on hold while archaeologists determine whether pieces of the city’s past are buried in the soil underneath, officials said this week.
City officials expected work to begin earlier this year on Overlook Park, a welcome center and park overlooking the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge. However, a preliminary analysis on the site showed it might hold Native American artifacts.
Archaeologists performed a second evaluation of the site two weeks ago and anticipate filing a report on their findings with the Washington State Department of Transportation before Christmas. Workers with Archaeological Investigations Northwest reviewed the site for pieces of fire-cracked rock used to cook and debitage material used as tools by the Chinook, Cowlitz and other tribes, said Jo Reese, AINW’s corporate vice president and senior archaeologist.
BBC: 'Witch's cottage' unearthed near Pendle Hill, Lancashire
Engineers have said they were "stunned" to unearth a 17th Century cottage, complete with a cat skeleton, during a construction project in Lancashire.
The cottage was discovered near Lower Black Moss reservoir in the village of Barley, in the shadow of Pendle Hill.
Archaeologists brought in by United Utilities to survey the area found the building under a grass mound.
Historians are now speculating that the well-preserved cottage could have belonged to one of the Pendle witches.
The building contained a sealed room, with the bones of a cat bricked into the wall.
IrishCentral: Duffy’s Cut archaeologists search for descendants of murdered John Ruddy
Seeking information on the Ruddy family who share a rare genetic trait
By KATE HICKEY,
Published Thursday, December 8, 2011, 7:25 AM
Brothers Frank and Bill Watson are seeking help from the public in locating any members of the Ruddy family or anyone who has information relating to the body of John Ruddy, the 18-year-old laborer buried at Duffy’s Cut in 1832.
They identified the man based on his bone size and by using the passenger list of the ships that came from Ireland to Philadelphia just before he died.
The Daily Telegraph (UK): Kaiser Willhelm's urinal found at bottom of Baltic
German maritime archaeologists claimed to have found a urinal used by Kaiser Wilhelm II lying on the bottom of the Baltic Sea.
By Matthew Day
The piece of porcelain history was discovered in the wreck of the Udine, a light-cruiser which was sunk in the First World War by the Royal Navy, that now lies 28 nautical miles off the German island of Rugen.
"It was sunk by the British in 1915," said Reinhard Oser, the archaeologist leading the expedition. "We managed to take some great photographs, and made this unusual discovery."
Indianapolis Star: Graves found under Southern Indiana softball field
2:22 PM, Dec. 2, 2011 |
Since the 1920s, the swatch of green near the intersection of Chestnut and Mulberry streets in Jeffersonville has been a city park, a place where hundreds of people have played softball.
On Thursday, officials disclosed that those games apparently were taking place on long-forgotten graves, including some that may have dated to the Civil War.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman, who sent in the above articles.
Discovery News via MSNBC: Secret of 'twinned rainbows' simulated on a computer
Arcs need sunlight to reflect off small and large water droplets at just the right angle
December 9, 2011
Researchers in San Diego say they've discovered how a rare "twinned rainbow" works and can now simulate one on a computer.
By studying virtual rainbows, they figured out that the twinned rainbow needs sunlight to reflect off both small and large size water droplets at just the right angle.
"A double rainbow everyone has seen," said Iman Sadeghi, a Google software engineer and former doctoral student at the University of California San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering.
"A twinned rainbow is very rare, and it's one thing that hasn't been explained before."
Science News: Plastic isn’t over yet
Tough new form could extend applications of the 20th century material
By Rachel Ehrenberg
December 17th, 2011; Vol.180 #13 (p. 8)
A tough new plastic that’s easily healed if scratched or damaged could find use in products prone to getting beat up, such as paints or parts for cars and sailboats. What’s more, it can be ground up and recycled into completely new products like plastic molding for electronic devices or optical lenses.
By adding some extra ingredients to traditional epoxy resins and a dash of a zinc compound to help move the chemistry along, researchers made a material whose chemical bonds continually break and reform. At really high temperatures, the bonding switcheroo makes the material malleable, but the reactions are so sluggish at ordinary temperatures that the material’s shape is essentially fixed, resisting deformation, the researchers report in the Nov. 18 Science.
“They developed a unique and very powerful approach that will have a great deal of applications,” says polymer chemist Christopher Bowman of the University of Colorado at Boulder. “It’s quite exciting.”
MSNBC: 'Greenhouse effect' used to generate electricity
By John Roach
A device that gets scorching hot as it captures and traps much of the sun's energy using a greenhouse-like approach could usher in an era of inexpensive electricity from the sun.
The breakthrough comes from a sunlight-absorbing material made of photonic crystals that are arranged to prevent the escape of most of the energy it captures from direct sunlight.
The concept is similar to the way carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere trap the sun's energy, which keep the planet warmer than it would be if all the energy escaped to space.
Science, Space, Environment, and Energy Policy
MSNBC: Is the case for Mars facing a crisis?
By Alan Boyle
Will NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory mission, launched last month, mark another step toward sending humans to Mars —or one of the last steps for a long time in NASA's Mars exploration program? Rocket scientist Robert Zubrin, founder and president of the Mars Society, is increasingly worried that it's more like the end than the beginning.
"We're faced with the end of the program after this mission," Zubrin told me this week.
The future of Mars exploration will be Topic A when Zubrin and I sit down together Wednesday in the Second Life virtual world for this month's installment of "Virtually Speaking Science." The hourlong talk show, which will be webcast via BlogTalkRadio and archived on iTunes, begins at 9 p.m. ET (6 p.m. PT / SLT) in the MICA Small Auditorium in Second Life. Teleport in and join the live audience, listen in real time over the Web, or catch up with the podcast after the show.
Reuters: Provocative U.S. nuclear chief faces political test
By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON | Sat Dec 10, 2011 5:46pm EST
The embattled chief of the U.S. nuclear safety regulator found some powerful political support on Saturday ahead of Capitol Hill hearings next week that will scrutinize his bid to enact sweeping safety reforms.
Gregory Jaczko, chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, is locked in a bitter battle with fellow regulators over how to move forward on expensive changes for the nation's 104 nuclear reactors - reforms prompted by Japan's Fukushima nuclear accident in March.
The four other commissioners at the helm of the agency - two Democrats and two Republicans - took the highly unusual step of writing a formal complaint to the White House that Jaczko's "behavior and management practices have become increasingly problematic and erratic."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid defended Jaczko, a man he helped put into power. Reid dismissed the complaints as "a politically motivated witch hunt against a man with a proven track record of ensuring that nuclear power is produced as safely and responsibly as possible," a Reid spokesman said.
Reuters: Republicans tie Keystone pipe to tax cut bill
By Timothy Gardner and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON | Thu Dec 8, 2011 5:36pm EST
House of Representatives will include approval of a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline in a payroll tax cut bill, House Speaker John Boehner said on Thursday, raising the political stakes on the issue.
The move by House Republicans marked a challenge to President Barack Obama, who has warned he would veto any bill that linked quick approval of TransCanada Corp's Keystone XL pipeline to extending a tax cut for American workers that is due to expire on December 31.
"The Keystone pipeline would put tens of thousands of Americans to work immediately," Boehner told reporters after meeting with House Republicans on Thursday.
Both Republicans and Democrats want to pass an extension of the payroll tax cut in the next two weeks, but they are divided on how best to do it.
Mail Tribune: Uncovering history, from the ground up
SOU students learn from Fort Lane's excavated remnants
By Sam Wheeler
for the Mail Tribune
ASHLAND — The shovels are packed away, but archaeology students at Southern Oregon University are still digging up information on what life was like more than 150 years ago in a short-lived U.S. Army post.
Now, it's all microscope and desk work for the handful of students who recently finished excavating the officers' quarters at Fort Lane, an outpost built between Central Point and Gold Hill in 1853 and abandoned in 1856.
Mark Tveskov, associate professor of anthropology and director of SOU's anthropology laboratory, has been working at the site since 2004 and includes his students in every step of the research process.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for this story.
Science Writing and Reporting
N.Y. Times: The Archaeologist as Titan
By ALIDA BECKER
His introduction to the wonders of the ancient world could hardly have been less auspicious. While in Cairo in the summer of 1815, awaiting an audience with Mohammed Ali Pasha, Turkish viceroy of Egypt, the Italian monk-turned-peddler-turned-hydrologist-turned-circus impresario Giovanni Belzoni paid a visit to the Great Pyramid and became so tightly wedged in one of its internal passages that his guides had to forcibly extract him. It was merely the first of many indignities endured by this 6-foot-6 “giant,” whose adventures in the Nile Valley would yield some of the most imposing treasures in the British Museum. They would also earn him the undying enmity of his successors in a field that only later acquired the polish of a professional discipline — archaeology.
While granting that Belzoni may be what a colleague has called “the most notorious tomb robber Egypt has ever known,” Ivor Noël Hume, the former director of Colonial Williamsburg’s archaeological research program, also admits to a fondness for this indefatigable entrepreneur. And while it’s entirely possible to cringe at Belzoni’s methods (blasting through walls with battering rams, crunching bones underfoot and squashing mummies when he sat on them, incising his name into ancient statues) it’s nearly impossible to resist the story of a life, as Hume puts it in the prologue to “Belzoni: The Giant Archaeologists Love to Hate,” full of “naïveté, ambition, duplicity, avarice and poverty worthy of Charles Dickens or Henry James, differing only in that it happens to be true.”
National Geographic Society via PR Newswire: Ten Grants That Illuminated the World
National Geographic Grantmaking Reaches 10,000 Mark
WASHINGTON, Dec. 8, 2011 PRNewswire-USNewswire -- Excavation of the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu by archaeologist Hiram Bingham. Jane Goodall's groundbreaking study of wild chimpanzees. The pioneering exploration of the deep sea by Jacques-Yves Cousteau. All the legacy of National Geographic grants.
It began in 1890 with a single grant to explore the uncharted Mount St. Elias region of Alaska. Since then the National Geographic Society has funded grants to every corner of the Earth — unlocking many of its secrets, sometimes in spectacular ways. Late in 2011, the total number of National Geographic grants reached 10,000, representing a combined value of $153 million. Conservation biologist Krithi Karanth, 32, of India is the recipient of the 10,000th grant, and a story highlighting this milestone will appear in the January issue of National Geographic magazine.
"The impact and results of these 10,000 grants are beyond calculation — they have filled countless gaps in our knowledge of the Earth and all that lives on it," said John Francis, vice president for research, conservation and exploration at National Geographic. "The urgent need for solutions to the planet's pressing problems means that the next 10,000 grants will be even more critical."
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.
Culture of Science: We Are The 99% Of Scientists
by Anna Goldstein
Tuesday, November 15 was a big day at UC Berkeley. Crowds gathered all day in Sproul Plaza as part of a “day of action” for the Occupy Cal movement. In the Haas business school, a student with a loaded gun was shot by police. And in the evening, Professor Robert Reich delivered his Mario Savio Memorial Lecture to an audience of thousands, motivating them to continue working to battle income inequality.
At the same time, across campus in Stanley Hall, a group of graduate students and post-docs were attending a talk on “The Future of Science”, hosted by the VSPA. The speaker was Kennan Kellaris Salinero, president of Yámana Science and Technology. You might think that this was bad timing for such a discussion. Shouldn’t we have been outside protesting with the rest of the 99%? But Salinero’s talk drove home the point that the government and banks are not the only institutions in need of change. Change is also badly needed in the sciences, and it’s our responsibility as the future leaders of the profession to determine the direction of that change.
The issues at hand are enormously complex and impossible to wrangle in a single blog post (or even ten or twenty). So this post will just scratch the surface of my thoughts following Salinero’s presentation. And I’ll also limit myself to discussing academic science, for two reasons. First, it’s a world I know intimately, so I feel qualified to discuss its subtleties. And second, basic science research—the kind that results in a greater understanding of the natural world, thus greater mastery of it for the benefit of humanity—has historically thrived in universities. Government and industry labs are both significant sources of research progress as well; I will leave it to someone else to tease out the similarities and differences.
Science is Cool
Yahoo! Voices: The Best Unknown Ruins in Europe for Travelers
Historic Sites Not Overrun by Tourists
Richard Carriero, Yahoo! Contributor Network
In the past millennia of European history, many great civilizations have constructed cities filled with temples, theatres, palaces and other structures of striking beauty. Unfortunately, most ancient buildings eventually fell victim to invasion or earthquake. A handful of ancient treasures, however, have been handed down to us. Obviously cities like Rome and Athens abound in famous ruins but this article details a number of incredible sites that are not as heavily publicized or popular with tourists.
Yahoo! Voices: Archaeology Trips Where You Can Participate in a Dig
Freddy Sherman, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Since I was a little kid, I've been fascinated with archaeology. While I never pursued it in school or as a career, I still enjoying learning about new discoveries. When I travel, I always visit ancient sites or ruins and have taken several trips specifically to see sites like Machu Picchu in Peru and Volubilis in Morocco.
If you want to take it to the next level, there are sites around the world that are open to interested volunteers. For a fee, you can join a dig for a week or a summer and actually get your hands dirty making new discoveries. While most offer credit for students, there are some digs that have programs for anyone. You just need an interest in archaeology, whether you're 19 or 79.
Hat/Tip to annetteboardman for these stories.