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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 10:30pm | IP Logged
racle Inspired by Low-Oxygen Delirium
Rossella Lorenzi, Discovery News
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Oct. 9, 2006 A lack of oxygen might have inspired the prophecies at the Temple of Apollo in the Greek town of Delphi, according to a new study.

Published in the current issue of the journal Geology, the research contradicts a previous study suggesting that the Delphic priestess, known as pythia, who issued the prophecies was high on ethylene gas rising from bedrock cracks at the intersection of two faults directly beneath the temple.

According to Giuseppe Etiope, a geologist at the National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology in Rome, the pythia's altered state was likely due to methane-induced hypoxia oxygen deprivation caused by methane gas leaking into the temple's small, non-aerated chamber.
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Perched in the mountains of Phokis on the foothills of Mount Parnassos 100 miles northwest of Athens, the Delphi sanctuary was one of ancient Greece's most sacred sites from 700 B.C. until A.D. 381, when it was destroyed by the Romans.

The biographer Plutarch (A.D. 46-120), who served as a priest in the temple for many years, left a detailed account of how the oracle worked.

Prophecies were delivered by the pythia, a woman who held the position of oracle and would act as the sun god Apollo's mouthpiece. During her trance, she sat upon a tripod in the Adyton, a small underground chamber bathed in sweet vapors.

Various excavations failed to find any sign of gases emanating from the earth. But in the late 1990s, a U.S. team led by geologist Jelle De Boer of the Wesleyan University in Connecticut, found traces of methane, ethane and ethylene.

De Boer concluded that ethylene, a central nervous system stimulant that can produce euphoria and delirium, was a probably an essential agent in the pythia's consultation.

But the authors of the new study aren't so sure.

"We did discover signs of gas exhalation in Delphi, but the possibility of ethylene intoxication is very unlikely," Etiope told Discovery News.

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WillSmith456

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 10:36pm | IP Logged
18th-Century Store Excavated
Chris Carola, Associated Press
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Oct. 9, 2006 A five-year-long archaeological project has unearthed the 250-year-old site of a merchant's establishment that sold wine, rum, tobacco and other goods to the thousands of soldiers who passed through the Hudson River region during the French and Indian War, when Fort Edward was the largest British military post in North America.

Sutler, derived from the Dutch word for someone who performs dirty work, was the name given to the merchants who arrived on the heels of the British army and sold what the redcoats wouldn't or couldn't provide at a frontier outpost. With the permission of military officials, sutlers set up shop near a fort's gates, taking advantage of the isolated location to do a brisk trade with off-duty soldiers and officers.

With Albany located some 40 miles down river, the sutlers doing business here served as a precursor to today's convenience stores, said archaeologist David Starbuck.
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"For your merchants of the day, this is your big captive audience," he said recently while giving a tour of the site. "Booze and tobacco were the big things. I guess things don't change with the years."

Starbuck said "huge numbers" of artifacts have been found at the sutler site, located in a wooded area on private property on the Hudson's east bank, just south of where the fort stood.

"It's definitely the richest one we've ever found in Fort Edward," said Starbuck, a New Hampshire college professor who has led a series of summertime excavations here and elsewhere in the region since the early 1990s.

High school history teacher Matt Rozell, a veteran of many of Starbuck's digs, found the sutler site in the 1990s after hearing stories of treasure hunters sneaking onto the property to loot artifacts. But the illegal digging only scratched the surface. The real treasures, Rozell said, were buried a foot or more below ground.

Starbuck's team of students, volunteers and professional archaeologists began digging in 2001. Over the next five summers, they uncovered remnants of a least one sutler's store, including fireplace bricks and a charred staircase and beams in what was the dirt-floor basement of the structure.

Scattered about the site were various coins, thousands of broken and intact clay pipes and glass fragments from wine and rum bottles, evidence that the store doubled as a tavern.

This stretch of the upper Hudson has long been a source of artifacts dating back to the 1700s and earlier. American Indians referred to it as the "Great Carrying Place" because the nearby falls forced travelers to make a 15-mile portage to reach the southern end of Lake George to the north.

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The first white settlement here was established in the early 1730s, when John Henry Lydius, a Dutch trader from Albany, opened a trading post. His business thrived until it was destroyed during a French and Indian raid in the 1740s.

In 1755, as the last of the French and Indian wars heated up, the English arrived in force and built Fort Edward. Within a few years, 15,000 British and colonial soldiers were based here, including the famed Rogers' Rangers.

Starbuck said the sutler site probably isn't the original Lydius trading post. It's more likely the sutler's store that appears on maps from the late 1750s, and possibly the same one mentioned in contemporary records as belonging to a "Mr. Best." The building apparently burned down around 1760, after the bulk of the British army had advanced on French-held Canada.
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Starbuck has spent most of the past 15 years conducting digs at 18th-century military sites here and in Lake George. Those excavations tended to focus on places made famous by massacres and battles. He concedes that finding the cellar of a merchant's storehouse may not carry the same cachet with history buffs.

But the sutler site does offer a rare glimpse into an important aspect of frontier life in colonial America.

"Sutlers tend to be overlooked but they're a huge part of the (settlement) process," he said. "This is where a community begins. It's like a prelude to the founding of the towns up here."

Starbuck said the Fort Edward sutler site could wind up being second in terms of significance only to Michigan's Fort Michilimackinac, another 18th-century outpost where archaeologists have found hundreds of thousands of artifacts over the past 45 years.

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 10:40pm | IP Logged
Columbus Traded Shoelace Tags for Gold
Jennifer Viegas, Discovery News
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Oct. 9, 2006 Christopher Columbus and his men traded cheap brass shoelace tags for gold when they first arrived in Cuba, according to new research.

While Columbus and his crew knew they were getting the better end of the deal, the indigenous Caribbean people, called the Taino, valued the small brass tags more than gold, which was then relatively abundant in Cuba.
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"Brass was new, exotic and required liaising with the Europeans, and on top of that it had a special smell and iridescence," lead researcher Marcos Martinn-Torres told Discovery News. "All of these factors probably contributed to its appeal."

The research will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

Martinn-Torres, a lecturer at the University College London Institute of Archaeology, explained that the Taino called brass "turey," meaning "heaven," because they thought sniffing brass allowed them to smell heaven. Written sources also suggest brass was thought to imbue wearers with supernatural powers.

The tags, which the Europeans used to prevent shoe and clothing laces from fraying, weren't even very useful in this way for the native Cubans, who instead chose to make jewelry out of them, sometimes with the shoelace still attached.

The UCL archaeologists, in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology in Cuba, found many examples of such jewelry at burial sites in northeast Cuba. The sites date to the late 15th and early 16th centuries, in the decades just following the arrival of Columbus's 1492 Spanish fleet.

Gold was notably missing in the graves, which had not been looted.

"Columbus himself records in his diaries the trade of gold for shoelace tags," said Martinn-Torres. "Much of the gold plundered from Latin America is still circulating around Europe nowadays (remelted into new objects), as recent provenance studies have shown."


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The researchers believe the European arrivals, seeing the local Cuban gold and other desirable items, traded anything they had on hand, including what were to them cheap and dispensable tags.

The technology to make brass, an alloy of copper and zinc, was unknown to the Taino. Martinn-Torres and his team further explored the source of the brass using scanning electron microscopy and X-ray microanalysis.
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They found trace elements that gave the brass a unique compositional signature, which they traced to Germany. The scientists think the metal arrived in Spain via commercial routes before it wound up in the tags excavated in Cuba.

Roy Stephenson, archaeological archive manager of the Museum of London, commented, "This is fascinating work carried out by UCL, which will shed light on what appears to be quite dreary and repetitive finds, but in reality tells a compelling story about international trade."

UCL archaeology professor Thilo Rehren, who worked on the project with Martinn-Torres, also thinks Columbus' "shoelace tags for gold" trades contributed to the current economic status of both Europe and Cuba.

"The relationship between Europeans and Americans, in which metals seem to have played a very significant role, dramatically affected the later history of both peoples," said Rehren. "The removal of noble metals had a significant impact on the later economy and goes some way to explaining why Europe is rich today compared with Cuba."

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Posted: 14 December 2006 at 10:43pm | IP Logged
ossil Sheds Light on Ape-Man Species
Malcolm Ritter, Associated Press
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Sept. 21, 2006 In a discovery sure to fuel an old debate about our evolutionary history, scientists have found a remarkably complete skeleton of a 3-year-old female from the ape-man species represented by "Lucy."

The remains found in Africa are 3.3 million years old, making this the oldest known skeleton of such a youthful human ancestor.

"It's a pretty unbelievable discovery... It's sensational," said Will Harcourt-Smith, a researcher at the American Museum of Natural History in New York who wasn't involved in the find. "It provides you with a wealth of information."
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For one thing, it gives new evidence for a contentious feud about whether this species, which walked upright, also climbed and moved through trees easily.

The species is Australopithecus afarensis, which lived in Africa between about 4 million and 3 million years ago. The most famous afarensis is Lucy, discovered in Ethiopia in 1974, a creature that lived about 100,000 years after the newfound specimen.

The new find is reported in Thursday's issue of the journal Nature by Zeresenay Alemseged of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany; Fred Spoor, professor of evolutionary anatomy at University College London, and others.

The skeleton was discovered in 2000 in northeastern Ethiopia. Scientists have spent five painstaking years removing the bones from sandstone, and the job will take years more to complete.

Judging by how well it was preserved, the skeleton may have come from a body that was quickly buried by sediment in a flood, the researchers said.

"It's a once-in-a-lifetime find," said Spoor.

The skeleton has been nicknamed "Selam," which means "peace" in several Ethiopian languages.

Most scientists believe afarensis stood upright and walked on two feet, but they argue about whether it had ape-like agility in trees.

That climbing ability would require anatomical equipment like long arms, and afarensis had arms that dangled down to just above the knees. The question is whether such features indicate climbing ability or just evolutionary baggage. The loss of that ability would suggest crossing a threshold toward a more human existence.

Spoor said so far, analysis of the new fossil hasn't settled the argument but does seem to indicate some climbing ability.

While the lower body is very human-like, he said, the upper body is ape-like:

* The shoulder blades resemble those of a gorilla rather than a modern human.

* The neck seems short and thick like a great ape's, rather than the more slender version humans have to keep the head stable while running.

* The organ of balance in the inner ear is more ape-like than human.

* The fingers are very curved, which could indicate climbing ability, "but I'm cautious about that," Spoor said. Curved fingers have been noted for afarensis before, but their significance is in dispute.


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A big question is what the foot bones will show when their sandstone casing is removed, he said. Will there be a grasping big toe like the opposable thumb of a human hand? Such a chimp-like feature would argue for climbing ability, he said.

Yet, to resolve the debate, scientists may have to find a way to inspect vanishingly small details of such old bones, to get clues to how those bones were used in life, he said.

Bernard Wood of George Washington University, who didn't participate in the discovery, said in an interview that the fossil provides strong evidence of climbing ability. But he also agreed that it won't settle the debate among scientists, which he said "makes the Middle East look like a picnic."
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Overall, he wrote in a Nature commentary, the discovery provides "a veritable mine of information about a crucial stage in human evolutionary history."

The fossil revealed just the second hyoid bone to be recovered from any human ancestor. This tiny bone, which attaches to the tongue muscles, is very chimp-like in the new specimen, Spoor said.

While that doesn't directly reveal anything about language, it does suggest that whatever sounds the creature made "would appeal more to a chimpanzee mother than a human mother," Spoor said.

The fossil find includes the complete skull, including an impression of the brain and the lower jaw, all the vertebrae from the neck to just below the torso, all the ribs, both shoulder blades and both collarbones, the right elbow and part of a hand, both knees and much of both shin and thigh bones.

One foot is almost complete, providing the first time scientists have found an afarensis foot with the bones still positioned as they were in life, Spoor said.

The work was funded by the National Geographic Society, the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, the Leakey Foundation and the Planck institute.

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Borneo Home to 52 New Species
Eliane Engeler, Associated Press
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Dec. 19, 2006 Scientists have discovered at least 52 new species of animals and plants on the southeast Asian island of Borneo since 2005, including a catfish with protruding teeth and suction cups on its belly to help it stick to rocks, WWF International said Tuesday.

"The more we look the more we find," said Stuart Chapman, WWF International coordinator for the study of the "Heart of Borneo," a 85,000-square-mile rain forest in the center of the island where several of the new species were found. "These discoveries reaffirm Borneo's position as one of the most important centers of biodiversity in the world."

Much of Borneo, which is shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and the sultanate of Brunei, is covered by one of the world's last remaining rain forests.
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The discoveries bring the total number of species newly identified on the island to more than 400 since 1996, according to WWF, known in North America as the World Wildlife Fund.

Other creatures discovered between July 2005 and September 2006 were six Siamese fighting fish, whose unique colors and markings distinguish them from close relatives, and a tree frog with bright green eyes.

The catfish, which can be identified by its pretty color pattern, is named glyptothorax exodon, a reference to the teeth that can be seen even when the its mouth is closed. The suction cups on its belly enable it to stick to smooth stones while facing the current of Indonesia's turbulent Kapuas River system.

On the Malaysian part of the island, slow-flowing blackwater streams and peat swamps are home to the paedocypris micromegethes, which is 0.35 inch long.

The creature, which gets its name from the Greek words for children and small, is tinier than all other vertebrate species on Earth except for its slightly more minuscule cousin, a 0.31-inch-long fish found on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, according to WWF.


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