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The Stegosaurus

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Scientists seek to solve mystery of Stegosaurus plates

Sophie: The most complete Stegosaurus skeleton in the world

Researchers hope to learn how much it weighed, how it moved and what it used its iconic back plates for.

A UK team has scanned each of its 360 bones into a computer and has digitally reconstructed the dinosaur. The specimen, nicknamed “Sophie”, has been acquired by the Natural History Museum in London. Although Stegosauruses are one of the most well known dinosaurs, they are among those that scientists know the least about. There are only six partial skeletons of the creature, which lived around 150 million years ago. It could grow to the size of a minibus and the gigantic plates which ran along its back were its most distinctive feature.

Stegosaurus: the outstanding questions

  • How did it use its back plates and tail spikes?
  • How effective were its muscles?
  • How did such a small skull manage to chew enough food for such a large body?
  • How much did it weigh?
 

Surprisingly, it was 100 years ago that the dinosaur’s skeleton was properly assessed and scientifically described. Now, using medical imaging techniques and 3D modelling, researchers at the Natural History Museum hope to learn much more about this iconic creature.

Source: BBCNews Read more

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Tjipetir

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Tjipetir mystery: Why are rubber-like blocks washing up on European beaches?

For the past few years, 100-year-old rubber-like blocks from Indonesia have been mysteriously washing up on beaches in the UK and northern Europe. The Titanic has been suggested as one of the possible sources – but now a beachcomber says she may have solved the puzzle of the Tjipetir blocks.

In the summer of 2012, Tracey Williams was walking her dog along a beach near her home in Newquay, Cornwall, when she spotted a black tablet on the sand, made of something resembling rubber.

It looked like a large chopping board and the word “Tjipetir” was engraved into it. Weeks later, she found another such curiosity on a different beach alongside bales of rubber, washed up in a cove.

Her curiosity piqued, she began to research the origins of these mysterious blocks. What she learned included stories of shipwrecks, an infamous World War One tragedy and the Titanic.

It also transpired that these blocks had been appearing on beaches across northern Europe, baffling everyone who had found them.

There has been speculation in the press as to the source of the washed-up blocks, with the Daily Mail and the Times recently running articles. The French press covered the story in April also.

But Williams believes she has worked out the source of the mystery – and it matches what the UK authorities think too.

Source: BBCNews Read more to find out about this mystery

Friederike Wegert and her children found a block in March 2013 on Borkum, an island off the German coast

Nevada’s Mysterious Cave of the Red-haired Giants

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Many Native American tribes from the Northeast and Southwest still relate the legends of the red-haired giants and how their ancestors fought terrible, protracted wars against the giants when they first encountered them in North America almost 15,000 years ago. Others, like the Aztecs and Mayans, recorded their encounters with a race of giants to the north when they ventured out on exploratory expeditions.

Who were these red-haired giants that history books have ignored? Their burial sites and remains have been discovered on almost every continent. In the United States they have been unearthed in Virginia and New York state, Michigan, Illinois and Tennessee, Arizona and Nevada. And it’s the state of Nevada that the story of the native Paiute’s wars against the giant red-haired men transformed from a local myth to a scientific reality during 1924 when the Lovelock Caves were excavated.

At one time the Lovelock Cave was known as Horseshoe cave because of its U-shaped interior. The cavern – located about 20 miles south of modern day Lovelock, Nevada, is approximately 40-feet deep and 60-feet wide. It’s a very old cave that pre-dates humans on this continent. In prehistoric times it lay underneath a giant inland lake called Lahontan that covered much of western Nevada. Geologists have determined the cavern was formed by the lake’s currents and wave action.

The legend: The Paiutes, a Native-American tribe indigenous to parts of Nevada, Utah and Arizona, told early white settlers about their ancestors’ battles with a ferocious race of white, red-haired giants. According to the Paiutes, the giants were already living in the area. The Paiutes named the giants “Si-Te-Cah” that literally means “tule-eaters.” The tule is a fibrous water plant the giants wove into rafts to escape the Paiutes continuous attacks. They used the rafts to navigate across what remained of Lake Lahontan. According to the Paiutes, the red-haired giants stood as tall as 12-feet and were a vicious, unapproachable people that killed and ate captured Paiutes as food.

The Paiutes told the early settlers that after many years of warfare, all the tribes in the area finally joined together to rid themselves of the giants. One day as they chased down the few remaining red-haired enemy, the fleeing giants took refuge in a cave. The tribal warriors demanded their enemy come out and fight, but the giants steadfastly refused to leave their sanctuary. Frustrated at not defeating their enemy with honor, the tribal chiefs had warriors fill the entrance to the cavern with brush and then set it on fire in a bid to force the giants out of the cave. The few that did emerge were instantly slain with volleys of arrows. The giants that remained inside the cavern were asphyxiated. Later, an earthquake rocked the region and the cave entrance collapsed leaving only enough room for bats to enter it and make it their home.

The excavation: Thousands of years later the cave was rediscovered and found to be loaded with bat guano almost 6-feet deep. Decaying bat guano becomes saltpeter, the chief ingredient of gunpowder, and was very valuable. Therefore, in 1911 a company was created specifically to mine the guano. As the mining operation progressed, skeletons and fossils were found. The guano was mined for almost 13 years before archaeologists were notified about the findings. Unfortunately, by then many of the artifacts had been accidentally destroyed or simply discarded.

Nevertheless, what the scientific researchers did recover was staggering: over 10,000 artifacts were unearthed including the mummified remains of two red-haired giants – one, a female 6.5-feet tall, the other male, over 8-feet tall. Many of the artifacts (but not the giants) can be viewed at the small natural history museum located in Winnemucca, Nevada.

Confirmation of the myth: As the excavation of the cave progressed, the archaeologists came to the inescapable conclusion that the Paiutes myth was no myth; it was true. What led them to this realization was the discovery of many broken arrows that had been shot into the cave and a dark layer of burned material under sections of the overlaying guano. Among the thousands of artifacts recovered from this site of an unknown people is what some scientists are convinced is a calendar: a donut-shaped stone with exactly 365 notches carved along its outside rim and 52 corresponding notches along the inside. But that was not to be the final chapter of red-haired giants in Nevada.

In February and June of 1931, two very large skeletons were found in the Humboldt dry lake bed near Lovelock, Nevada. One of the skeletons measured 8.5-feet tall and was later described as having been wrapped in a gum-covered fabric similar to Egyptian mummies. The other was nearly 10-feet long. [Nevada Review-Miner newspaper, June 19, 1931.]

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Real Life Indiana Jones

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The real-life Indiana Jones on the hunt for lost ancient Mayan cities in Mexico

Slovenian archaeologist Ivan Šprajc is behind discovery of three significant ruins in the remote jungles of the Yucatán peninsula

Ivan Šprajc at one of the Mayan sites discovered in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula.

There are days when Ivan Šprajc gets fed up with his job. Hacking pathways through the Mexican jungle with machetes is exhausting. Keeping a constant eye out for deadly snakes can be nerve-racking. The risk of finding nothing to show for all the effort is real.

But then there is reward that comes when the contours of a plaza, palace, ball court or pyramid emerge from beneath the tree cover, or inscriptions that could help explain them are revealed by brushing off undergrowth.

“I’ve said to myself quite a few times that this is the last season, because it is so difficult. But it is such a reward when you find a new site,” says the Slovenian archaeologist, who has made a career of finding lost Mayan cities. “It’s tough work, but it’s dead romantic.”

This year Šprajc’s team found two – Tamchén and Lagunita – which followed last year’s discovery of a large site called Chactún.

The finding of the three sites is the first step in surveying an almost unexplored area spanning about 1,200 sq miles in the northern part of the Calakmul biosphere reserve, between the Río Bec and Chenes regions, in the southern Mexican state of Campeche.

“You can call it archaeological reconnaissance,” he says. “It is the very first step into an area that is completely unknown.”

Tamchén, Lagunita and Chactún have all been dated to the 8th century, within the post-classic period that runs for the three centuries immediately before the collapse of high Mayan civilisation around AD900.

The ruins at the three Mayan sites have been dated to the 8th century.

Šprajc believes the size and obvious importance of some of their buildings denote a revival of the power of smaller cities that were once subjugated to the authority of Calakmul, a great city that quickly faded after losing a war in 695 with Tikal, the other lowland Maya superpower of the classic period.

“When Calakmul falls, apparently these other cities thrive,” he says.

Beyond regional power relations, Šprajc believes the new cities could also help shed new light on the wider collapse that was to come, once they have been excavated.

A fairly solid consensus exists that prolonged drought, population pressure and an intensification of conflict were all contributing factors, but the sequence of these remains a mystery.

Already, he says, obviously modified monuments and unusual finds in the newly discovered cities suggest they might one day be the centre of new ideas about what happened to the Maya in those key centuries.

He named one of this year’s sites Tamchén, which means “deep well” in Yucatec Maya, because it is filled with deep bottle-shaped underground chambers, known as chultúns, used for storage and rain water collection. While elsewhere in the Maya world chultúns rarely go beyond six metres, in Tamchén they are as deep as 13.

Lagunita, the second site, has an impressive monster mouth facade on one of the buildings, representing an earth god related with fertility. The site had already been located in the 1970s by American archaeologist Eric Von Euw, but all that was left from that expedition were his drawings, which Šprajc immediately recognised when he rediscovered the city this year.

What stands out here, he says, is that such doorways were previously associated with the late-terminal classic period in Río Bec.

In Chactún, Šprajc’s team uncovered glyphs in stucco, rather than stone, that have never been found anywhere in the Mayan world before.

“If we are finding things that seem unique to us now, it means there are still a lot of things we don’t know about the Maya,” he says.

Source: TheGuardian Read and see more

The insect we’re programmed to fear

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Cockroaches:

Why are we so revolted by roaches? Rachel Nuwer visits her own personal insect hell to find out, and discovers a disturbing truth about our future with these creatures.

What’s your earliest memory? For me, the answer is not pleasant.

Source: BBCNews Read and see more

Err on a G-spot

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The G-spot – the mysterious female erogenous zone – may not actually exist, says new research. But has the quest to find it helped or hindered womankind?

For years, it has been described as the Holy Grail of female sexual pleasure.

But for many women and their partners, the quest to find the so-called G-spot has ended in frustration.

Now new research suggests this elusive, erogenous zone supposed to be located on the front vaginal wall, may not exist.

Source: BBCNews Read more

The painting reputed to make students fail exams

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Sir John Franklin’s fabled Arctic ship that vanished more than 160 years ago was found this week. But a painting related to its mysterious demise hanging in one university has been haunting exam students for decades, writes Tom Heyden.

“The polar bears made me do it,” are the eeriest words to emerge from the urban legend of Edwin Landseer’s painting – a grisly depiction of two polar bears hanging at Royal Holloway, University of London. Since the first exams were taken there in the 1920s and 1930s, it’s been a painting associated with failure. “If you sit directly in front of it in an exam, you will fail – unless it’s covered up,” goes the myth, according to the college’s curator Dr Laura MacCulloch.

The painting of two polar bears devouring a ship’s remains – as well as those of the humans onboard – was inspired by the mysterious disappearance of Sir John Franklin, who led two ships and 129 men to their doom in 1845 trying to chart the Northwest Passage in the Canadian Arctic. The macabre spectacle is probably enough to distract even the most conscientious student. But bad luck rumours started almost immediately. There’s an obvious connection to failure, says MacCulloch. I’m going to fail my exam just like they failed to find the Northwest Passage, one might conclude – and then I’ll get eaten by a polar bear.

In the 1970s, fear of the curse reached fever pitch, says MacCulloch, when a student point blank refused to be seated near it. “The poor registrar, who just wanted to get this exam underway, ran off and tried to find the biggest thing that she could to cover the picture,” she says. It turned out to be a massive union jack flag. Ever since, the same flag has adorned the painting every year during exams.

But as that tradition verges on four decades, the urban myth itself has diverged. Recent graduate Michaela Jones was told that a student during an exam had stared directly into one of the polar bears’ eyes. Trance-like, the student had then gone “mad” and killed herself – although not before etching the words “The polar bears made me do it” onto her exam paper. Or his paper. “I’ve heard it was a girl, I’ve heard it was a boy, I’ve heard about three [different] ways that they killed themselves,” says MacCulloch. Of course, the incident didn’t happen. No evidence exists to the contrary in the university’s archives.

Nevertheless, “students are quite superstitious,” says Jones. “If you speak to anyone at the uni there is a consensus that it’s true.” And although Jones acknowledges it may be a myth, she definitely wouldn’t want to sit an exam without the comfort of the covering flag. “It does relieve people’s fears a bit,” she says. Luckily for students at Royal Holloway, that tradition is there to stay for now, says MacCulloch.

Source: BBCNews

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