Wednesday, May 6, 2009


Accidental fossil discoveries
A team of paleontologists from Florida's Museum of Natural History have found a shark tooth embedded in the bone of a 4-million-year-old whale. This discovery in Peru - the first of its kind - indicates by the lack of healing that the whale was killed by the shark or was already dead when it was bitten.
My Dad reports two close encounters with vultures: In the first, he and my stepmother were driving down the highway and saw a vulture feeding on roadkill up ahead. He describes, "As I pointed that out to Sarah, another vulture came in to join the feast, unknown to us, because he swooped down from behind us - over the roof of the car - and we hit him (or he hit us) right in the middle of the windshield. For a moment the entire windshield went black (big bird) and I swear it came inward like a trampoline. The bird went flying backward behind us and I was sure it was dead. In the rearview mirror, I saw it turning somersaults and it lit rather hard on the pavement. Darned if it didn't get up, shake out its wings, and walk toward the roadkill and the other vulture. Fortunately there was no other traffic on the road." Of the second incident, he recounts, "Playing golf one day, I saw two Harris hawks feeding on a fresh kill of another bird, bright red blood all around. Two vultures swooped down and began fighting for the kill. All four birds were going at it, leaning back on their tail feathers with claws up in the air. The vultures were quite a bit bigger than the hawks and won the prize. That meal was very fresh, not what you'd expect a vulture to go after."
Grateful Dead logo The classic Dead album covers follow an old tradition of depicting skeletons as if they are alive, as you can see when you compare the cover of "Blues for Allah" to an image by German artist Alfred Rethel (1816-1859). The convention was established in the Middle Ages in paintings of the Dance of Death and followed by Renaissance anatomical illustrators who drew cadavers in living poses.
The day after my post about Emmett Kelly, Sr., I was thrilled to hear from Stasia's husband Steve. He explained that he had e-mailed the remarkable story to Squire Rushnell after reading his first book, and they have all since become good friends. To me, he writes, "Thank you for your blog, and whether you call it synchronicity, a GodWink, coincidence or whatever, those inexplicable happenings are what makes life so interesting." Agreed.
. A rare mummified puppy was found in an ancient Egyptian tomb. Dogs were not regularly preserved like other animals, because there were no gods that took the form a dog - just the jackal-headed Anubis, so researchers believe it was the man's pet.
. To my post on the deadly blue-ringed octopus, my friend Rick adds, "I saw a blue-ring octopus when I was in Australia last year. There are high schools that use them as their mascots in north Queensland. Even the Aussies don't mess with them, and that's saying a lot."
Megan, a friend and follower, had forwarded this link to some beautiful images -mainly teratology specimens - taken at a number of European medical museums. When I went to the link to have another look (and to consider blogging about it), I realized the photographs were by none other than James G. Mundie, whose Cabinet I had recently featured! "During late January and early February 2008, I traveled to England, France and Holland drawing from and photographing (with permission of the curators of each institution) interesting specimens and objects," he explains. Beautiful work, James!
. Before my Mom went to her book group, she asked about other forms of body modification. I remembered that some Native American tribes flattened the heads of their babies in the papooses. A little research revealed that this was mainly a custom of the Choctaw, although it was also ascribed to ancient Egyptians, Mayans, Australian aborigines, and other cultures.
In regards to vampires, friend Val Stevenson - book review editor for Fortean Times, who also has her own website nth position - pointed out the recent discovery outside Venice of a 16th c. female skeleton buried in a plague pit with a brick between its jaws. Anthropologists and archaeologists believe that this is the first time they have found evidence of an exorcism against a vampire, since a stone or brick forced in the mouth was believed to starve the undead creature.
Serpent-handling churches reference the gospel of Mark, chapter 16, which appeared in the King James Version of the Bible. Follower Kent points out three things: 1) It is noted in recent translations, like Today's New International Version, that "The earliest manuscripts and some other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20" - which suggests that the passage may not be authentic. 2) In context, the verses are not a recommendation that people should go out and handle snakes and drink poison because God can heal them. On the contrary, there are passages in the new and old testament that indicate that it is wrong to "test God" just as a sort of stunt or "proof." And 3) "[Rattlers] can coil up and then strike forward about as quickly as a human can punch. Their toxin is a hemotoxin (coagulates your blood). It is slow acting and rarely kills an adult. It can mess with your circulation and that would account for the loss of fingers, etc., by snake handlers in the U.S. Cobra venom is far more toxic and very often lethal, since it is a fast acting neurotoxin which paralyzes the victims so that they generally suffocate. However, cobras strike by doing that thing where they rear up and then they just fall forwards. The strike is relatively slow and has a more limited range." Thanks for the clarifications, Ken!
The woman on whom the first face transplant in the U.S. was performed has bravely come forward. Connie Culp held a press conference after 30 surgeries and - most recently, an 80% face transplant - to repair her appearance and the functionality of her nose and mouth after her face was disfigured in 2004 by a shotgun blast at the hands of her husband. "When somebody has a disfigurement and don't look as pretty as you do, don't judge them, because you never know what happened to them," she said. "Don't judge people who don't look the same as you do. Because you never know. One day it might be all taken away."

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