Friday, October 24, 2014

Parlor props

"The hairs went up on the back of my neck when I walked into the drawing room. It stood out like a sore thumb," says Mark Stacey of Reeman Dansie auctioneers of the 3,000-year-old Egyptian sarcophagus he came across during a valuation of the contents of a home in Essex, U.K. While the mummy that it contained may have been "unrolled" in the 19th c. and subsequently disposed of, the sarcophagus is believed to have been acquired some 60 years ago and originally purchased from a museum that closed down. The find can be considered exceedingly rare except that it follows on the heels of a similar discovery by an auctioneer – also in Essex – of a 2,300-year-old Egyptian coffin that then sold (despite objections from Cairo) for £12,000 ($19,000) last month.

Thursday, October 23, 2014


Researcher Marleen De Meyer of the University of Leuven in Belgium was excavating Old Kingdom cave graves in Dayr al-Barsha, Egypt, when she turned over what she thought was a potsherd on the way to the storage tent. What she held in her hands was a rare 4,000-year-old death mask. Similar masks have long believed to have been modeled after the deceased, but the texturesof textile strips (IMAGE ABOVE, MORE HERE) suggested that the plaster had been applied to the face. But no traces of the face on the inside were visible, just clay. The archaeologists reasoned that the plaster mask was made and removed, then the body was mummified and clay applied to the face, after which the mask was pressed into that clay. They performed experimental archaeology, with a member of the team volunteering to be the corpse, and determined just that. They are now awaiting permission to carry out a CT scan of the artifact which will show the exact form of the ancient Egyptian's face sandwiched between the plaster and the clay.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Sphinx found

An Egyptian-style sphinx has been excavated… from the sands of Guadalupe, California, U.S. It is one of 21 that flanked the set of Cecil B DeMille's 1923 silent film "The Ten Commandments" (not the 1956 remake with Charlton Heston as Moses). After 90 years beneath the dunes, the sphinx needed special handling, which was good practice for the archaeology volunteers. To keep the paper-thin plaster of Paris from cracking, they wrapped it in cheesecloth soaked in a preservative chemical; funneled the sand out of the hollow statue and replaced it with expanding insulation foam; and allowed it to dry and shrink to its normal size (IMAGES HERE). That normal size of 15' (4.6 m) tall was dwarfed by the 12-story set. Executive director of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes Center Doug Jenzen, who oversaw the excavation, explains that in the era before special effects, the movie required constructing one of the largest sets ever made: "...anything that they wanted to look large, they had to build large."

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


"Consequently the species now stands at the brink of complete extinction, a sorry testament to the greed of the human race," says a spokesman for Ol Pejeta Conservancy on the natural death of one of two remaining breeding male northern white rhinoceros (ABOVE RIGHT). The species numbered 2,000 in the 1960s, but was decimated by poaching in the 1970s and 1980s, leaving today only six of these rhinos remaining in the world.


Monday, October 20, 2014

Blue goo

Earlier this month, residents of the Burin Peninsula on the south coast of Newfoundland, Canada, woke to find a strange blue substance on Mooring Cove Beach. A longtime resident described it as having a "quivering, lifelike quality." At first feared to be a chemical spill of some kind, the blob was subsequently identified by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans as plankton (ctenophores mixed with pelagic tunicate salp). So it was all natural after all, although unusual for its high concentrations (VIDEO HERE).

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Whether weather worshipped

A massive 3,300-year-old cult complex has been uncovered at the Tel Burna site in Israel. The courtyard alone measures 52' x 52' (16 x 16 m). Inside, researchers have discovered – among other things – a cylinder-shaped seal, goblets and chalices, broken figurines that look part-human and part-animal, and the noses of masks which were worn. The complex held huge jars likely imported from Cyprus and an Egyptian scarab (IMAGES HERE), with the possibility that they were used in the worship of the Canaanite storm god Baal. Says Israeli archaeologist Itzhaq Shai of Ariel University, "From the finds within the building, we can reconstruct the occurrence of feasts, indicated by several goblets and a large amount of animal bones. Some of these animal bones are burnt, probably indicating their use in some sacrificial activity. The presence of the pithoi [large jars] may indicate the collection of tithes, or at a minimum, the storage of foods for later use in cultic activities. Finally, the masks may suggest ceremonial processions that arrived or left from the complex, possibly before or after the conducting of feasts."

NOTE: I have been unable to upload photographs, so please follow the links to see the images.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


A receding glacier in Norway has revealed an almost complete ancient wooden ski. It measures 68" (172 cm) in length and 5.7" (14.5 cm) in width and has leather straps for securing the foot. The ski is estimated to be 1,300 years old, but the history of skiing dates much further back. Another ski found in Norway dates to 3200 B.C.E. and a ski found in Sweden dates to 3300 B.C.E. But even those are trumped by a ski found in Russia which may be 8,300 years old!

Indonesian images

For decades, archaeologists have known about cave paintings (IMAGES HERE) on the island of Sulawesi east of Borneo. They were believed to have been created either by the region's first farmers a few thousand years ago or by hunter-gatherers around 8,000 years ago. But recent testing proves that they rival the images in Spain and France as the oldest cave art. Archaeologist and geochemist Maxime Aubert of Australia's Griffith University explains, "It was previously thought that Western Europe was the centerpiece of a 'symbolic explosion' in early human artistic activity, such as cave painting and other forms of image making, including figurative art, around 40,000 years ago. However, our findings show that cave art was made at opposite ends of the Pleistocene Eurasian world at about the same time, suggesting these practices have deeper origins — perhaps in Africa before our species left this continent and spread across the globe."

Back to back

When 27-year-old Dominic Smee saw images of the crooked skeleton of Richard III, discovered in 2012, he felt as if he were looking at x-rays of his own back. Smee had been diagnosed at the age of 11 with the same condition – idiopathic adolescent onset scoliosis– from which the king suffered. When he contacted the research team at Leicester University, he was recruited to participate in a documentary which has just aired on British TV. With Smee as a stand -in (IMAGES HERE), they confirmed that Richard III would have been able to accurately wield a sword and lance while riding a medieval warhorse and wearing a 66 lb. (30kg) suit of armor. Smee was given the customized suit of armor afterward, which has elevated his status when he participates in his hobby. Appropriately, he takes part in reenacting historic battles and gloats, "The guys who do the reenactments are very envious."

Friday, October 17, 2014

Camel cam

Google has enlisted the help of a 10-year-old dromedary camel to capture video and still images of the Liwa Desert in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, as part of their worldwide mapping mission. Wearing one of the company’s Trekker cameras like a Crittercam, "Raffia" is being led through the sand (VIDEO HERE). Joyce Baz, Google’s spokesperson in the Middle East and North Africa, points out, "With every environment and every location, we try to customize the capture and how we do it for that part of the environment. In the case of Liwa we fashioned it [in such a way that the camera] goes on a camel so that it can capture imagery in the best, most authentic and least damaging way.”

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Eiffel eyeful

As part of a campaign by SOS: Save Our Species, a camera was strapped to the back of an endangered white-tailed eagle, which flew over Paris from the top of the Eiffel Tower to a fan- filled stadium (VIDEO HERE).

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


I have been experiencing technical difficulties with the upload of my blog for two days.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Creativity nativity

The sculpture above, known as Der Löwenmensch (The Lion Man), was discovered in a German cave in 1939. It was carved out of mammoth ivory 40,000 years ago and marks a turning point in human evolution. When ancient artists made cave paintings and sculpted figurines, they were depicting things that already existed. In contrast, the Lion Man has the head of a lion but the body of a human – a creature which does not exist. The artist took 2 pieces of knowledge and combined them in his or her imagination, creating something unique which no human or other animal had ever seen. The figurine could then you have been used to describe the concept of a human-lion hybrid to others. Nick Skillicorn of Improvides Consulting Ltd. explains, "At it’s most fundamental level, this is human creativity in action. And this is the first example of it happening (until older examples may one day be unearthed."


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Scorching sculpture

This publicly-funded sculpture was given a place of honor in front of a Calgary recreation center, but has since been removed. A visitor had stepped inside the hollow hemispheres and thumbed a text message to the artwork, as encouraged. But as the artwork was translating the texted characters into a unique light and sound display, it was also focusing a beam of light on the visitor's jacket and began to burn a hole in it. Canadian taxpayers may or may not be out the $559,000 they paid for the piece and rec center president Carol Steiner is not happy about that or the fact that no one foresaw the potential problem. She is a former high school physics teacher and complains, "You put a spherical surface out there in the sun — what did you expect? And what really gets me is they said, ‘We had no idea.’ Really. They should have had an idea. I mean, an elementary physics student, year one, could figure that out, find the focal point of that mirror.”


Friday, October 10, 2014

Spider sinker

Studies have shown how strong spider silk is. But the image above also demonstrates the engineering savvy of the spider mind. When this one strung a web in the shallow area between two rafters in a garage, it used a stone to weight it down. Images were posted by Imgur user Reverseloop (FOLLOW LINK FOR MORE PHOTOS), who remarks, "This clever spider grabbed a rock, dragged it up to the web, and suspended it from the bottom."

HALLOWEEN-Click for captions