Weird News

 

Wrecks of Three Dutch WWII Ships Vanish From Java Seabed

There are fears the sunken vessels off Indonesia, which are the graves of 2,200 people, may have been salvaged for metal
An international investigation has been launched into the mysterious disappearance of three Dutch second world war shipwrecks which have vanished from the bottom of the Java Sea off the coast of Indonesia.
HNLMS De Ruyter
The Netherlands defence ministry has confirmed that the wrecks of two of its warships which sunk in 1942 have completely gone, while large parts of a third are also missing.
The wrecks were first found intact by amateur divers in 2002. But a new expedition to mark next year’s 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Java Sea discovered the ships were missing.
While sonar shows the imprints of the wrecks on the ocean floor, the ships themselves are no longer there.

The ministry said in a statement: “The wrecks of HNLMS De Ruyter and HNLMS Java have seemingly gone completely missing. A large piece is also missing of HNLMS Kortenaer.”
All three ships sunk during the Battle of the Java Sea, which turned out to be a disastrous defeat for Dutch, British, American and Australian sailors by Japanese forces in February 1942. It was one of the costliest sea battles of the war and led to the Japanese occupation of the entire Dutch East Indies.
About 2,200 people died, including 900 Dutch nationals and 250 people of Indonesian Dutch origin, and the wrecks have been declared a sacred war grave.

“An investigation has been launched to see what has happened to the wrecks, while the cabinet has been informed,” the defence ministry said. “The desecration of a war grave is a serious offence,” it added, suggesting the wrecks may have been illegally salvaged.
The seas around Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are a graveyard for more than 100 ships and submarines sunk during the war. For years, scavengers have surreptitiously located the wrecks and stolen parts, including steel, aluminium and brass.

A recreational diving school in Malaysia told the New Straits Times last year that shipwrecks were being blown apart by with explosives by people posing as fishermen before their metal is removed.
The US military found two years ago that there had been an “unauthorised disturbance of the grave site” of the USS Houston, which sunk in the Battle of Sunda Strait, also in the Java Sea. It is the grave for nearly 650 sailors and marines.

Theo Vleugels, director of the Dutch War Graves Foundation, told the ANP news agency: “The people who died there should be left in peace.”

 
They appear on the sand like any old piece of sea detritus. Sometimes they're found, amid the sweet wrappers and cracked shells, by volunteers cleaning up the area. Other times a holidaymaker might glimpse the grisly discard from the corner of their eye, a serene walk along the beach interrupted just like that.
As more people learned about these discoveries, they attracted morbid scavengers to the Pacific Northwest shorelines, where the Salish Sea connects waterways along the west coasts of the US and Canada.
What these scavengers sought remains a prickling curiosity: severed feet attached to running shoes, washed up from origins unknown.
Sixteen detached human feet have been found since 2007 in British Columbia, Canada, and Washington state. Most of these have been right feet. All of them have worn running shoes or hiking boots. Among them: three New Balances, two Nikes and an Ozark Trail.
The most recent one turned up this week.
Charlotte Stevens, of British Columbia, was taking a walk with her family on Vancouver Island, the CBC reported, when her husband spotted something in the sand.
It was a shoe, that they could see right away. But a closer inspection revealed something more.
"He picked it up and brought it out on to the beach," she told CBC, "and we had a look at it for about five minutes and we thought, 'it almost looks like there is an actual foot bone in it'."
Sure enough, the BC Coroners Service confirmed that the shoe came with a dismembered foot. As with the others, there's no telling for exactly how long the foot was in the water, but the regional coroner Matt Brown said the exact model of shoe had gone on the market after March 2013, indicating that it once belonged to someone who went missing between then and last December.
Mr Brown is working with the police to connect the foot to individuals who disappeared from the area around that time.

If history is any indication, however, the identity associated with the foot will stay a mystery.
Over the years, armchair sleuths and scientists alike have used a number of terms to describe the feet: severed, dismembered, detached, disarticulated.
Found, but still lost.
After the first two feet – both right – were found in British Columbia just six days apart from one another, locals began sounding the alarm, and authorities expressed equal surprise.
"Two being found in such a short period of time is quite suspicious," Corporal Garry Cox, of the Oceanside Royal Canadian Mounted Police, told the Vancouver Sun in August 2007.
"Finding one foot is like a million to one odds," Corporal Cox said, "but to find two is crazy. I've heard of dancers with two left feet, but come on."
Five more were found in the next year, including one near Pysht, in the state of Washington. Speculation increased, as recounted in a 2008 article in the Toronto Star:
"Speculation ranges from natural disasters, such as the tsunami of 2004, to the work of drug dealers, serial killers and human traffickers.
"One theory concerns a plane crash off Quadra Island three years ago with five men aboard. Only one of the bodies has been found.
"Other theorists believe the coastline is being used as a body dump for organised crime activity; a third scenario is a serial killer is at work."

But to the disappointment of many a conspiracy theorist, science suggests more mundane answers.
Writing for the Pacific Standard, Spenser Davis pointed out last year that a study on the Puget Sound found that when a body floating in water is "subjected to the push and pull of its environment", the bones of hands and feet are almost always the first to fall off.
In British Columbia, two of the feet have since been identified as having belonged to people with mental illness, while three others were linked to individuals who probably died of natural causes.
Foul play is not suspected in any of the other cases, though it hasn't been ruled out, either.
"All of the ones who've been identified so far, there's no mystery," Gail Anderson, a criminologist at British Columbia's Simon Fraser University, told the Daily Beast in 2011. "These people were very depressed, unhappy about life, and were last seen heading toward the water. People jump off bridges. They deliberately wish to disappear."
But there are other points of strangeness. For one, why did the feet start turning up only after 2007, and why have they continued to turn up with unprecedented frequency since then?
The Daily Beast considered the power of the "vicious cycle" theory, which suggests that once people became aware of the phenomenon, they started subconsciously – or completely deliberately, in some cases – scanning the shorelines for shoes. Also a likely answer.
And yet – it's hard not to wonder.
"There are so many coincidences taking place," forensics consultant Mark Mendelson​ told the Daily Beast in 2011. "Everybody who jumps off a bridge is wearing runners? ... Until you can show me something pathologically concrete that this is a natural separation of that foot from a body, then I'm saying you've got to think dirty."
 
 

Chinese Bulldoze Wrong Hospital

Beijing: Bulldozers unexpectedly demolished part of a hospital and its adjoining morgue in central China, sending doctors, nurses and patients fleeing and burying under rubble six bodies being processed at the morgue, reports say.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported that the hospital accused the local government of ordering the demolition work after failing to get the hospital to agree to it for a road expansion project.
The No.4 Hospital of Zhengzhou University in Henan province said the unexpected demolition work on Thursday morning buried six bodies stored in the morgue, caused nearly 20 million yuan ($4.3 million) worth of damage to medical equipment and injured several hospital staff, according to Xinhua.
"Burying the remains of patients is enormously disrespectful to the dead," the hospital's deputy propaganda chief, Zhang Yuan, was quoted as saying.
"I never imagined anything like this would ever happen."
The Huiji District Government Information Office said in an online statement on Thursday evening that they had asked the hospital in vain to demolish the CT room and morgue itself.
It said workers had made sure there were no people inside the buildings before tearing them down, and there had been no casualties.


The Zombie Ant and the Fungus That Controls Its Mind

By Matt Simon
The zombie is a simple creature with simple tastes, enjoying leisurely walks on the beach, dining out with hordes of its friends, and every now and then having a good tumble down a flight of stairs. It behaves this way because the pathogen that has infected it doesn’t require complex behaviors in order to replicate — it commands a hungry, nearly indestructible vessel that can walk it right up to its next potential host.
But on our planet there exist zombified ants that undergo a decidedly more complex, and more disturbing, transformation at the hands of highly sophisticated parasitic fungi that assume control of the insects’ minds. What ensues between a host and a parasite with no brain of its own is a battle that is far stranger and far more methodical than anything ever dreamed up by Hollywood. (The zombifying fungus that attacks humans in the videogame The Last of Us comes close, but its real-life counterpart is much, much weirder. And you don’t have to pay 60 bucks to see it, which is nice.)
For many of us it’s hard to feel for ants, what with them ruining picnics or even entire cities, but it’s downright disquieting to watch one infected by these parasitic fungi — species in the genus Ophiocordyceps that each, incredibly, attack only a single species of ant. Once a disciplined member of a rigidly structured society, the affected ant stumbles out of its colony like the town drunkard, guided by a pathogen that has pickled its brain with a cocktail of chemicals.
The ant heads, at the behest of the fungus, to a precise position in the forest. Scientists plotting the coordinates of these unfortunate ants have documented a striking regularity to their travels, making the pathogen a bit like GPS for the insect, only, you know, the ant never asked for directions.

The ants “are manipulated to bite onto very specific locations on the underside of a leaf, the main vein of a leaf, leaves orientated north, northwest, roughly 25 cm off the ground,” said David Hughes, a behavioral ecologist at Penn State. “And all of this happens with a remarkable precision around solar noon, making this one of the most complex examples of parasite manipulation of host behavior.”
It’s a position chosen by the fungus, rather unbelievably, for its ideal temperature and humidity — Hughes has experimented with this by moving the ants out of these spots to drier, hotter areas, where the fungus failed to grow. Once the ant has anchored itself by sinking its mandibles into the leaf’s vein, it perishes, and from the back of its head erupts a stalk, which, while in a way is quite beautiful, might be considered the world’s least desirable hat. This in turn rains spores down onto the ant’s fellow workers below, attaching to their exoskeletons and beginning what could euphemistically be called an invasive procedure.

“In order to get through [the exoskeleton], the fungus builds up a pressure,” said Hughes. “We know from studies of fungal parasites of plants, particularly rice, they can build up a pressure inside their spore equivalent to the pressure in the wheel of a 747. So they have a massive buildup of pressure, and when that’s at a sufficient level then they blow a hole through the wall and blow all the genetic material” into the ant.
Thus the cycle begins anew.
According to Hughes, in addition to the 160 known species of ant-controlling fungi, there may be some 1,000 additional varieties out there to be discovered. These don’t even account for the array of additional parasitic fungi that exclusively target specific species of other insects, from beetles to butterflies (let’s face it, butterflies could use to get taken down a notch or two).
The relationship is a remarkable illustration of host-parasite coevolution that scientists are just beginning to understand — fossil records of bite-scarred leaves show this has been happening (.pdf) for at least 48 million years — with ant-hunters, each dependent on a single species, developing astounding adaptations to survive. And in response, the ants have evolved their own brilliant defenses, far beyond anything you learned from SimAnt.
“The fungus needs to transmit,” said Hughes, “and it cannot do that inside the nest, because in order for ant societies to work, they have necessarily evolved a prophylactic immune system, which is reliant upon behavioral defense. So they have something called social immunity. They simply stop diseases spreading inside their nest by finding diseased individuals and moving them out.”
Despite the ants’ countermeasures, these fungi are extremely virulent and can, as if trying to show off, wipe out whole colonies. Left unchecked, the fungi might conceivably drive themselves and their ant hosts to extinction. But this is where the tale gets stranger. The parasitic fungi themselves have their own parasitic fungi.
The very success that allows the fungi to build up what Hughes calls “graveyards in the forest” also “invites other organisms to come in and infect them,” he said. “And these hyperparasitic fungi castrate the zombie ant fungi. So the zombie ant fungi rely upon a spore body that releases spores and continues to cycle, and the other parasite comes in and whacks it out.” In one study Hughes found that only 6.5 percent of a zombie ant fungi’s fruiting bodies produced viable spores.
The whole weird circus is still somewhat mysterious, but Hughes is studying infected ants in the lab to figure out what kinds of chemicals the fungi are using to achieve mind-control, and how exactly mind-control affects transmission. These species, after all, are not alone among fungi in their psychoactive tendencies. LSD was synthesized from ergot, a rye-loving fungus theorized, though far from proven, to have tripped out the poor souls accused in the Salem Witch Trials, which it turns out wasn’t nearly as groovy of a situation as it sounds, on account of all the capital punishment.
“We’re discovering that over half of life on Earth is parasitic,” Hughes said. “It’s the most common mode of existence in the history of life on Earth. But only a tiny minority of parasites do mind-control. And why is that? What is the push in order to control the behavior of your host?” Other than to enjoy a leisurely stroll on the beach, of course.
 

 

Two more mysterious craters appear in Siberia

MELTING PERMAFROST = CATASTROPHIC CLIMATE CHANGE

In a chaotic world of downed planes, ethnic unrest and missile strikes, international observers settled their attention elsewhere earlier this month. They looked north to Siberia, a land covered in snow and layered in permafrost, where a strange and giant crater had just ripped open the earth. At the time, no one knew where exactly the crater had come from, what was at its bottom, or how it had come to be.
There are sure to be even more questions now.
Two new craters have emerged in Siberia, deepening the giant hole saga. Though not as big as the first crater, which extended hundreds of feet in diameter, these new craters are just as strange.
The original 80-metre wide crater in Siberia. The original 80-metre wide crater in Siberia. Photo: AP
One of the newly-discovered holes is near the original — in a land referred to by locals as “the end of the world”. It’s around 14 metres in diameter and formed under unknown conditions. Same goes for the other new crater, which has a diameter of 4 metres, a depth of between 61 and 100 metres and was discovered by “mystified” herders near the village of Nosok in the icy Krasnoyarsk region.
“It is not like this is the work of men,” one expert explained to the Siberian Times, which has been hot on the giant crater story from the get-go. “But [it] also doesn’t look like natural formation.”
Even politicians have been drawn by the brouhaha. “I flew by helicopter to inspect this funnel on July 19,” local lawmaker Mikhail Lapsui told the Siberian Times, saying it looks much like the original crater, only smaller, with a small ice lake at its base. “There is also ground outside, as if it was thrown as a result of an underground explosion.”
Andrei Plekhanov, a researcher at the Scientific Research Center of the Arctic, stands at the entrance to the crater. Andrei Plekhanov, a researcher at the Scientific Research Center of the Arctic, stands at the entrance to the crater. Photo: AP
Locals can’t seem to get their stories straight over what happened, he explained. “According to local residents, the hole formed on September 27, 2013. Observers give several versions. According to the first, initially the place was smoking and then there was a bright flash. In the second version, a celestial body fell there.”
A bright flash? A “celestial” body? Can science help out this mess?
“Undoubtedly, we need to study all such formations,” Marina Leibman, the chief scientist of the Earth Cryosphere Institute, told URA.RU. “It is necessary to be able to predict their occurrence. Each new funnel provides additional information for scientists.”
There’s been no shortage of theories. Hypotheses have ranged from asteroids to an underground missile explosion to global warming, a melt of the permafrost. Scientist Anna Kurchatova, in an interview with the Siberian Times, suggested that melting could produce an effect similar to a champagne bottle when the cork pops, except on a giant scale.
Studies have indeed shown that the Arctic is heating up. Grist reports one paper in the Geophysical Research Papers suggests that the region hasn’t been so hot in the last 120,000 years. Still, even with more information than before on the Arctic region, it remains so distant a land that it can be difficult to get a good read on it.
“For that reason, the Arctic continually surprises scientists,” writes Slate’s Eric Holthaus. “Just like last week.”

Crucifix Crushes Man to Death


A man was crushed to death when a giant crucifix dedicated to Pope John Paul II collapsed and fell on him, ITV News reports. The accident came just days before a historic canonization that will see the late pope declared a saint.

The 98-foot-high wooden and concrete cross fell during a ceremony in the Italian Alpine village of Cevo on Thursday, killing 21-year-old student Marco Gusmini. Another man was taken to hospital.
The structure was dedicated to John Paul II on his visit to the region in 1998.


Stars form in electrician's eyes after powerful shock

The electrician's star-shaped cataracts.   The electrician's star-shaped cataracts.
Star-shaped cataracts developed in an electrician's eyes after he was blasted by 14,000 volts of electricity through his left shoulder.
An electric current passed through his body, including the optic nerve which connects the back of the eye to the brain, a report in the latest edition of The New England Journal of Medicine said.
The cataracts came to medical attention when the 42-year-old man visited an eye clinic four weeks after the accident. The vision in both his eyes had become limited to perception of hand motions.
Four months after the accident the man had surgery to remove the cataracts and implant a new lens.
Dr Bobby Korn, an associate professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of California, San Diego, who treated the patient, said the Californian man's vision improved slightly after the operation, but damage to his optic nerve meant his sight remained limited.
Now, a decade later, the man was legally blind, but was able to read with the use of low-vision aids and to use public transport without help.
It was not fully understood why cataracts - clouding of the lens in the eye - sometimes took on a star shape, Korn said.
In animal studies, damage to the eye lens from electricity first appears as small bubbles on the outside of the lens. Those bubbles coalesced to form a star-shaped cataract.
Fairfax NZ News

Cicada 3301: the internet code-breaking mystery that has the world baffled 

                                                                                                                                                              For the past two years, a mysterious online organisation has been setting the world's finest code-breakers a series of seemingly unsolvable problems. But to what end?
The circada logo.                                                            The Circada 3301 logo.
One evening in January last year, Joel Eriksson, a 34-year-old computer analyst from Uppsala in Sweden, was trawling the web, looking for distraction, when he came across a message on an internet forum. The message was in stark white type, against a black background.
"Hello," it said. "We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck."
The message was signed: "3301".
A self-confessed IT security "freak" and a skilled cryptographer, Eriksson's interest was immediately piqued. This was - he knew - an example of digital steganography: the concealment of secret information within a digital file. Most often seen in conjunction with image files, a recipient who can work out the code - for example, to alter the colour of every 100th pixel - can retrieve an entirely different image from the randomised background "noise".
It's a technique more commonly associated with nefarious ends, such as concealing child pornography. In 2002 it was suggested that al-Qaeda operatives had planned the September 11 attacks via the auction site eBay, by encrypting messages inside digital photographs.
Sleepily - it was late, and he had work in the morning - Eriksson thought he'd try his luck decoding the message from "3301". After only a few minutes work he'd got somewhere: a reference to "Tiberius Claudius Caesar" and a line of meaningless letters. Joel deduced it might be an embedded "Caesar cipher" - an encryption technique named after Julius Caesar, who used it in private correspondence. It replaces characters by a letter a certain number of positions down the alphabet. As Claudius was the fourth emperor, it suggested "four" might be important - and lo, within minutes, Eriksson found another web address buried in the image's code.
Feeling satisfied, he clicked the link.
It was a picture of a duck with the message: "Woops! Just decoys this way. Looks like you can't guess how to get the message out."
"If something is too easy or too routine, I quickly lose interest," says Eriksson. "But it seemed like the challenge was a bit harder than a Caesar cipher after all. I was hooked."Three queens were buried with golden treasures, human sacrifices.
Eriksson didn't realise it then, but he was embarking on one of the internet's most enduring puzzles; a scavenger hunt that has led thousands of competitors across the web, down telephone lines, out to several physical locations around the globe, and into unchartered areas of the "darknet". So far, the hunt has required a knowledge of number theory, philosophy and classical music. An interest in both cyberpunk literature and the Victorian occult has also come in handy as has an understanding of Mayan numerology.
It has also featured a poem, a tuneless guitar ditty, a femme fatale called "Wind" who may, or may not, exist in real life, and a clue on a lamp post in Hawaii. Only one thing is certain: as it stands, no one is entirely sure what the challenge - known as Cicada 3301 - is all about or who is behind it. Depending on who you listen to, it's either a mysterious secret society, a statement by a new political think tank, or an arcane recruitment drive by some quasi-military body. Which means, of course, everyone thinks it's the CIA.
For some, it's just a fun game, like a more complicated Sudoku; for others, it has become an obsession. Almost two years on, Eriksson is still trying to work out what it means for him. "It is, ultimately, a battle of the brains," he says. "And I have always had a hard time resisting a challenge."
On the night of January 5 2012, after reading the "decoy" message from the duck, Eriksson began to tinker with other variables. Taking the duck's mockery as a literal clue, Eriksson decided to run it through a decryption program called OutGuess. Success: another hidden message, this time linking to another messageboard on the massively popular news forum Reddit. Here, encrypted lines from a book were being posted every few hours. But there were also strange symbols comprising of several lines and dots - Mayan numbers, Eriksson realised. And duly translated, they led to another cipher.
Up until now, Eriksson would admit, none of the puzzles had really required any advanced skills, or suggested anything other than a single anonymous riddle-poser having some fun. "But then it all changed," says Eriksson. "And things started getting interesting."
Suddenly, the encryption techniques jumped up a gear. And the puzzles themselves mutated in several different directions: hexadecimal characters, reverse-engineering, prime numbers. Pictures of the cicada insect - reminiscent of the moth imagery in Thomas Harris's The Silence of the Lambs - became a common motif.
"I knew cicadas only emerge every prime number of years - 13, or 17 - to avoid synchronising with the life cycles of their predators," says Eriksson. "It was all starting to fit together." The references became more arcane too. The book, for example, turned out to be The Lady of the Fountain, a poem about King Arthur taken from The Mabinogion, a collection of pre-Christian medieval Welsh manuscripts.
Later, the puzzle would lead him to the cyberpunk writer William Gibson - specifically his 1992 poem "Agrippa" (a book of the dead), infamous for the fact that it was only published on a 3.5in floppy disk, and was programmed to erase itself after being read once. But as word spread across the web, thousands of amateur codebreakers joined the hunt for clues. Armies of users of 4chan, the anarchic internet forum where the first Cicada message is thought to have appeared, pooled their collective intelligence - and endless free time - to crack the puzzles.
Within hours they'd decoded The Lady of the Fountain. The new message, however, was another surprise: "Call us," it read, "at telephone number 214-390-9608". By this point, only a few days after the original image was posted, Eriksson had taken time off work to join the pursuit full time.
"This was definitely an unexpected turn," he recalls. "And the first hint that this might not just be the work of a random internet troll." Although now disconnected, the phone line was based in Texas, and led to an answering machine. There, a robotic voice told them to find the prime numbers in the original image. By multiplying them together, the solvers found a new prime and a new website: 845145127.com. A countdown clock and a huge picture of a cicada confirmed they were on the right path.
"It was thrilling, breathtaking by now," says Eriksson. "This shared feeling of discovery was immense. But the plot was about to thicken even more." Once the countdown reached zero, at 5pm GMT on January 9, it showed 14 GPS coordinates around the world: locations in Warsaw, Paris, Seattle, Seoul, Arizona, California, New Orleans, Miami, Hawaii and Sydney. Sat in Sweden, Eriksson waited as, around the globe, amateur solvers left their apartments to investigate. And, one by one reported what they'd found: a poster, attached to a lamp post, bearing the cicada image and a QR code (the black-and-white bar code often seen on adverts these days and designed to take you to a website via your smartphone).
"It was exhilarating," said Eriksson. "I was suddenly aware of how much effort they must have been putting into creating this kind of challenge." For the growing Cicada community, it was explosive - proof this wasn't merely some clever neckbeard in a basement winding people up, but actually a global organisation of talented people. But who?
Speculation had been rife since the image first appeared. Some thought Cicada might merely be a PR stunt; a particularly labyrinthine Alternate Reality Game (ARG) built by a corporation to ultimately - and disappointingly - promote a new movie or car.
Microsoft, for example, had enjoyed huge success with their critically acclaimed "I Love Bees" ARG campaign. Designed to promote the Xbox game Halo 2 in 2004, it used random payphones worldwide to broadcast a War of the Worlds-style radio drama that players would have to solve.

First Unlooted Royal Tomb Unearthed in Peru

 Three queens were buried with golden treasures, human sacrifices.
Peru Tomb - Gold and silver ear ornaments found by archaeologists.
Images of winged, supernatural beings adorn a pair of heavy gold-and-silver ear ornaments that one high-ranking Wari woman wore to her grave in the imperial tomb at El Castillo de Huarmey.  In all, the archaeological team found the remains of 63 individuals, including three Wari queens. (See more pictures)
Photograph by Daniel Giannoni
Heather Pringle  National Geographic Published June 27, 2013
It was a stunning discovery: the first unlooted imperial tomb of the Wari, the ancient civilization that built South America's earliest empire between 700 and 1000 A.D. Yet it wasn't happiness that Milosz Giersz felt when he first glimpsed gold in the dim recesses of the burial chamber in northern Peru.
Giersz, an archaeologist at the University of Warsaw in Poland, realized at once that if word leaked out that his Polish-Peruvian team had discovered a 1,200-year-old "temple of the dead" filled with precious gold and silver artifacts, looters would descend on the site in droves. "I had a nightmare about the possibility," says Giersz.
So Giersz and project co-director Roberto Pimentel Nita kept their discovery secret. Digging quietly for months in one of the burial chambers, the archaeologists collected more than a thousand artifacts, including sophisticated gold and silver jewelry, bronze axes, and gold tools, along with the bodies of three Wari queens and 60 other individuals, some of whom were probably human sacrifices. (See more: "First Pictures: Peru's Rare, Unlooted Royal Tomb")


Archaeologists discovered a massive carved wooden mace (foreground) protruding from stone fill. “It was a tomb marker,” says University of Warsaw archaeologist Milosz Giersz, who heads the team. “We knew then that we had the main mausoleum.” (See more pictures)
Photograph by Milosz Giersz
Peru's Minister of Culture and other dignitaries will officially announce the discovery today at a press conference at the site. Krzysztof Makowski Hanula, an archaeologist at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima and the project's scientific adviser, said the newly unearthed temple of the dead "is like a pantheon, like a mausoleum of all the Wari nobility in the region."
Overlooked Empire
The Wari lords have long been overshadowed by the later Inca, whose achievements were extensively documented by their Spanish conquerors. But in the 8th and 9th centuries A.D., the Wari built an empire that spanned much of present-day Peru. Their Andean capital, Huari, became one of the world's great cities. At its zenith, Huari boasted a population conservatively estimated at about 40,000 people. Paris, by comparison, had just 25,000 residents at the time.
Just how the Wari forged this empire, whether by conquest or persuasion, is a long-standing archaeological mystery. The sheer sophistication of Wari artwork has long attracted looters, who have ransacked the remains of imperial palaces and shrines. Unable to stop the destruction of vital archaeological information, researchers were left with many more questions than answers. (Read: "Brewery Was Burned After Ancient Peru Drinking Ritual.")



The spectacular new finds at El Castillo de Huarmey, a four-hour drive north of Lima, will go a long way toward answering some of those questions. Although grave robbers have been digging at the 110-acre site off and on for decades, Giersz suspected that a mausoleum remained hidden deep underground. In January 2010, he and a small team scrutinized the area using aerial photography and geophysical imaging equipment. On a ridge between two large adobe-brick pyramids, they spotted the faint outline of what appeared to be a subterranean mausoleum.
The research at El Castillo de Huarmey is supported by National Geographic's Global Exploration Fund and Expeditions Council.
Tomb robbers had long dumped rubble on the ridge. Digging through the rubble last September, Giersz and his team uncovered an ancient ceremonial room with a stone throne. Below this lay a large mysterious chamber sealed with 30 tons of loose stone fill. Giersz decided to keep digging. Inside the fill was a huge carved wooden mace. "It was a tomb marker," says Giersz, "and we knew then that we had the main mausoleum."
Buried Treasure
As the archaeologists carefully removed the fill, they discovered rows of human bodies buried in a seated position and wrapped in poorly preserved textiles. Nearby, in three small side chambers, were the remains of three Wari queens and many of their prized possessions, including weaving tools made of gold. "So what were these first ladies doing at the imperial court? They were weaving cloth with gold instruments," says Makowski.
Mourners had also interred many other treasures in the room: inlaid gold and silver ear-ornaments, silver bowls, bronze ritual axes, a rare alabaster drinking cup, knives, coca leaf containers, brilliantly painted ceramics from many parts of the Andean world, and other precious objects. Giersz and his colleagues had never seen anything like it before. "We are talking about the first unearthed royal imperial tomb," says Giersz.
But for archaeologists, the greatest treasure will be the tomb's wealth of new information on the Wari Empire. The construction of an imperial mausoleum at El Castillo shows that Wari lords conquered and politically controlled this part of the northern coast, and likely played a key role in the downfall of the northern Moche kingdom. Intriguingly, one vessel from the mausoleum depicts coastal warriors battling axe-wielding Wari invaders.
The Wari also waged a battle for the hearts and minds of their new vassals. In addition to military might, they fostered a cult of royal ancestor worship. The bodies of the entombed queens bore traces of insect pupae, revealing that attendants had taken them out of the funerary chamber and exposed them to the air. This strongly suggests that the Wari displayed the mummies of their queens on the throne of the ceremonial room, allowing the living to venerate the royal dead. (Related: "Mummy Bundles, Child Sacrifices Found on Pyramid.")
Analysis of the mausoleum-and other chambers that may still be buried-is only beginning. Giersz predicts that his team has another eight to ten years of work there. But already the finds at El Castillo promise to cast the Wari civilization in a brilliant new light. "The Wari phenomenon can be compared to the empire of Alexander the Great," says Makowski. "It's a brief historical phenomenon, but with great consequence."

 Guatemala Sinkhole Created by Humans, Not Nature


 30-story-deep chasm not a true sinkhole, but a "piping feature."
A sinkhole in Guatemala City
The sinkhole appeared Sunday in downtown Guatemala City, swallowing a three-story building.
Photograph by Moises Castillo, AP                                                                                                      Ker Than
Published June 3, 2010
Human activity, not nature, was the likely cause of the gaping sinkhole that opened up in the streets of Guatemala City on Sunday, a geologist says.
A burst sewer pipe or storm drain probably hollowed out the underground cavity that allowed the chasm to form, according to Sam Bonis, a geologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, who is currently living in Guatemala City (map).
The Guatemala City sinkhole, estimated to be 60 feet (18 meters) wide and 300 feet (100 meters) deep, appears to have been triggered by the deluge from tropical storm Agatha.
But the cavity formed in the first place because the city—and its underground infrastructure—were built in a region where the first few hundred meters of ground are mostly made up of a material called pumice fill, deposited during past volcanic eruptions.
"Lots of times, volcanic pumice originates as a flow [of loose, gravel-like particles], and because of the heat and the weight, it becomes welded into solid rock," Bonis said.
"In Guatemala City [the pumice is] unconsolidated, it's loose," he said. "It hasn't been hardened into a rock yet, so it's easily eroded, especially by swift running water."
In general, the zoning regulations and building codes in Guatemala City are poor, Bonis said, and the few regulations that exist are often ignored. That means leaking pipes could have gone unfixed long enough to create the right conditions for the sinkhole. (Related pictures: "How Humans Can Trigger Earthquakes.")
In fact, Bonis thinks calling the Guatemala City chasm a sinkhole is a misnomer—a true sinkhole is an entirely natural phenomenon. There is no scientific term for what happened in Guatemala, he said, adding that he recommends the pit be dubbed a piping feature.
Guatemala Sinkhole Not a Sinkhole
Natural sinkholes generally form when heavy, water-saturated soil causes the roof of an underground limestone cavity to collapse, or when water widens a natural fracture in limestone bedrock.
But there is no limestone beneath the section of Guatemala City where the new sinkhole appeared, at least not at the depth at which the hole formed, Bonis said.
"There may be limestone thousands of meters beneath the city, but not hundreds of meters," he said.
Instead, nature likely sped up a process set in motion by human actions. (Related: "'Mud Volcano' in Indonesia Caused by Gas Exploration, Study Says.")
Recent eruptions of several volcanoes in Guatemala covered the city in a fresh layer of volcanic ash. If this material got into the city's pipes and drains, it may have clogged the passageways, making ruptures more likely, Bonis said.
Heavy rains from tropical storm Agatha may also have overloaded underground sewage or drainage pipes, leading to a growing cavity that eventually collapsed, Bonis speculated.
The geologist added that the new sinkhole shares remarkable similarities with a sinkhole that formed in Guatemala City in 2007.
"Both of these things occurred in the same general part of town. They look the same," he said. "It's more than a coincidence, especially if they trace" any faulty pipes associated with the 2010 sinkhole to pipes near the 2007 sinkhole.
Guatemala City Sewer Inspections a Must
The danger should not have been news to officials in Guatemala City, noted Bonis, who used to work for the Guatemalan government's national geology institute.
As part of a volunteer team that investigated the 2007 sinkhole, Bonis co-authored a report warning the Guatemalan government that similar holes will very likely keep appearing unless action is taken to inspect the city's sewer system for weaknesses. (Watch video of sewer divers in Mexico City.)
The government never replied, Bonis said—possibly due to a lack of funds.
"There's a minimum of regulation, because that's money that the government doesn't have," he said.
But, he added, "there's got to be ways of inspecting the sewer system. ... These are things that have to be done.


Glowing Trees Instead Of Streetlights

 From the NY Times  Note - IT does not support genetically modified plants

Antony Evans, left, and Kyle Taylor show E. coli with jellyfish genes. By
Hoping to give new meaning to the term “natural light,” a small group of biotechnology hobbyists and entrepreneurs has started a project to develop plants that glow, potentially leading the way for trees that can replace electric streetlamps and potted flowers luminous enough to read by.
Peter DaSilva for The New York Times   Arabidopsis, the first plant test subject.
Mr. Taylor, left, is lead scientist of the glowing plant project, and Mr. Evans its manager.
The project, which will use a sophisticated form of genetic engineering called synthetic biology, is attracting attention not only for its audacious goal, but for how it is being carried out.
Rather than being the work of a corporation or an academic laboratory, it will be done by a small group of hobbyist scientists in one of the growing number of communal laboratories springing up around the nation as biotechnology becomes cheap enough to give rise to a do-it-yourself movement.
The project is also being financed in a D.I.Y. sort of way: It has attracted more than $250,000 in pledges from about 4,500 donors in about two weeks on the Web site Kickstarter.
The effort is not the first of its kind. A university group created a glowing tobacco plant a few years ago by implanting genes from a marine bacterium that emits light. But the light was so dim that it could be perceived only if one observed the plant for at least five minutes in a dark room.
The new project’s goals, at least initially, are similarly modest. “We hope to have a plant which you can visibly see in the dark (like glow-in-the-dark paint), but don’t expect to replace your light bulbs with version 1.0,” the project’s Kickstarter page says.
But part of the goal is more controversial: to publicize do-it-yourself synthetic biology and to “inspire others to create new living things.” As promising as that might seem to some, critics are alarmed at the idea of tinkerers creating living things in their garages. They fear that malicious organisms may be created, either intentionally or by accident.
Two environmental organizations, Friends of the Earth and the ETC Group, have written to Kickstarter and to the Agriculture Department, which regulates genetically modified crops, in an effort to shut down the glowing plant effort.
The project “will likely result in widespread, random and uncontrolled release of bioengineered seeds and plants produced through the controversial and risky techniques of synthetic biology,” the two groups said in their letter demanding that Kickstarter remove the project from its Web site.
They note that the project has pledged to deliver seeds to many of its 4,000 contributors, making it perhaps the “first-ever intentional environmental release of an avowedly ‘synthetic biology’ organism anywhere in the world.” Kickstarter told the critics to take up their concerns with the project’s organizers. The Agriculture Department has not yet replied.
Antony Evans, the manager of the glowing plant project, said in an interview that the activity would be safe.
“What we are doing is very identical to what has been done in research laboratories and big institutions for 20 years,” he said. Still, he added, “We are very cognizant of the precedent we are setting” with the do-it-yourself project and that some of the money raised would be used to explore public policy issues.
Synthetic biology is a nebulous term and it is difficult to say how, if at all, it differs from genetic engineering.
In its simplest form, genetic engineering involves snipping a gene out of one organism and pasting it into the DNA of another. Synthetic biology typically involves synthesizing the DNA to be inserted, providing the flexibility to go beyond the genes found in nature.
The glowing plant project is the brainchild of Mr. Evans, a technology entrepreneur in San Francisco, and Omri Amirav-Drory, a biochemist. They met at Singularity University, a program that introduces entrepreneurs to futuristic technology.
Dr. Amirav-Drory runs a company called Genome Compiler, which makes a program that can be used to design DNA sequences. When the sequence is done, it is transmitted to a mail-order foundry that synthesizes the DNA.
Kyle Taylor, who received his doctorate in molecular and cell biology at Stanford last year, will be in charge of putting the synthetic DNA into the plant. The research will be done, at least initially, at BioCurious, a communal laboratory in Silicon Valley that describes itself as a “hackerspace for biotech.”
The first plant the group is modifying is Arabidopsis thaliana, part of the mustard family and the laboratory rat of the plant world. The organizers hope to move next to a glowing rose.
Scientists have long made glowing creatures for research purposes, including one or more monkeys, cats, pigs, dogs and worms. Glowing zebra fish have been sold in some aquarium shops for years.
These creatures typically have the gene for a green fluorescent protein, derived from a jellyfish, spliced into their DNA. But they glow only when ultraviolet light is shined on them.
Others going back to the 1980s have transplanted the gene for luciferase, an enzyme used by fireflies, into plants. But luciferase will not work without another chemical called luciferin. So the plants did not glow unless luciferin was constantly fed to them. In 2010, researchers at Stony Brook University reported in the journal Plos One that they had created a tobacco plant that glowed entirely on its own, however dimly. They spliced into the plant all six genes from a marine bacterium necessary to produce both luciferase and luciferin.
Alexander Krichevsky, who led that research, has started a company, BioGlow, to commercialize glowing plants, starting with ornamental ones, since it is still impractical to replace light bulbs.
“Wouldn’t you like your beautiful flowers to glow in the dark?” he said, invoking the glowing foliage in the movie “Avatar.”
Dr. Krichevsky declined to provide more about the products, timetables or the investors backing his company, which is based in St. Louis.
Whether it will ever be possible to replace light bulbs remains to be seen and depends to some extent on how much of the plant’s energy can be devoted to light production while still allowing the plant to grow. Mr. Evans said his group calculated, albeit with many assumptions, that a tree that covers a ground area of 10 meters (nearly 33 feet) by 10 meters might be able to cast as much light as a street lamp.
While the Agriculture Department regulates genetically modified plants, it does so under a law covering plant pests.
BioGlow has already obtained a letter from the department saying that it will not need approval to release its glowing plants because they are not plant pests, and are not made using plant pests. The hobbyist project hopes to get the same exemption.
Todd Kuiken, senior research associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, who has been studying the governance of both synthetic biology and the do-it-yourself movement, said the glowing plant project was an ideal test case.
“It exposes the gaps and holes in the regulatory structure, while it is, I would argue, a safe product in the grand scheme of things,” Dr. Kuiken said. “A serious look needs to be taken at the regulatory system to see if it can handle the questions synthetic biology is going to

India's human computer brought numbers to life

Shakuntala Devi, 1929 - 2013

Indian mathematics prodigy Shakuntala Devi. Indian mathematics prodigy Shakuntala Devi. Photo: Reuters
 Shakuntala Devi, who has died aged 83, lacked any formal education but possessed such an extraordinary ability to complete the most complex mathematical calculations in double quick time that she became known as "the human computer".
As India's most remarkable mathematical prodigy, she had astounded friends and family with her numerical prowess since childhood. She once calculated the 23rd root of a 201-digit number in her head in less than a minute, and in June 1980, at Imperial College, London, accurately multiplied two random 13-digit numbers in a few seconds.
The sum, picked at random by the computer department, was 7,686,369,774,870 x 2,465,099,745,779. After 28 seconds she correctly answered 18,947,668,177,995,426,462,773,730, a feat that earned her a place in the Guinness Book of Records.
Her ability to solve complicated arithmetical problems with apparent ease and astonishing speed had stunned observers since the 1970s, when her unexplained brain power made even sophisticated digital devices of the day seem inadequate by comparison. Witty and sharp-minded, she possessed exceptional powers of retention and appeared to harness the power of several mnemonic devices in her brain.
In 1988 she visited the United States, where the educational psychologist Professor Arthur Jensen tried to unlock the secret of her abilities. At Stanford University he monitored her performance in several mathematical tasks involving large numbers and subjected her to a series of tests.
When volunteers wrote problems on a blackboard, Shakuntala Devi would turn around, stare at the problem and come up with the right answer, always in less than a minute. According to Jensen, in a research study published in the journal Intelligence in 1990: "Devi solved most of the problems faster than I was able to copy them in my notebook."
Jensen set her two problems, the cube root of 61,629,875, and the seventh root of 170,859,375. Shakuntala Devi gave the correct answers - 395 and 15 - even before Jensen's wife could start the stopwatch.
The study explored whether Shakuntala Devi's feats derived from some innate ability to manipulate large numbers or from practice. Her reaction times on simple cognitive tasks such as picking the odd man out were unexceptional, and contrasted sharply with her speed at arithmetical calculations.
Jensen suggested that she perceived large numbers differently from others. "For a calculating prodigy like Devi, the manipulation of numbers is apparently like a native language, whereas for most of us, arithmetic calculation is at best like the foreign language we learnt at school," he wrote. He believed that some "motivational factor" that drives and sustains "enormous and prolonged interest and practice" might explain her extreme levels of skill.
Shakuntala Devi was born on November 4 1929 in Bangalore into an orthodox Brahmin family. Her father, refusing to follow the family priestly tradition, became a circus performer, excelling in trapeze, tightrope, lion taming and human cannonball acts.
When she was three, Shakuntala began exhibiting precocious skill with numbers, and by the time she was five, could calculate cube roots. A year later she amazed mathematicians at Mysore University with her ability to solve complex mathematical problems in her head. But she had no conventional schooling, mainly on account of her father's travels with the circus, and even went short of food.
She claimed to have joined a convent at the age of 10, but to have been expelled within three months because her parents were unable to pay the fees.
While growing up in a run-down area of Bangalore, Shakuntala was able to retain large numbers of digits in her memory. This singular talent came to wider attention when she beat one of the world's fastest computers by 10 seconds in a complicated calculation.
"Numbers have life, they're not just symbols on paper," she once said. "I cannot transfer my abilities to anyone, but I can think of quicker ways with which to help people develop numerical aptitude."
A daughter survives her.
The Daily Telegraph, UK 

Why Thousands of Spiders Are Crawling in the Skies Over Brazil

 

Last week, spiders descended in droves upon a town in southern Brazil — literally.
When 20-year-old web designer Erick Reis left a friend’s house on Sunday, he saw what looked like thousands of spiders overhead, reported G1, a Brazilian news site, on Feb. 8. The large, sturdy spiders were hanging from power lines and poles, and crawling around on a vast network of silk strands spun over the town of Santo Antonio da Platina.
Reis did what many of us might do: He pulled out his camera and shot a video of spiders seemingly falling from the sky.
As creeptastic is it may be, “The phenomenon observed is not really surprising,” said Leticia Aviles, who studies social spiders at the University of British Columbia. “Either social or colonial spiders may occur in large aggregations, as the one shown in the video.” The reason, she and others say, is simple: This is how they hunt.  An early report suggested the swarming spiders were Anelosimus eximius, a social species of spider that weaves communal webs, lives together as adults, and shares childcare duties.
However, it appears that initial assessment may be wrong. The spiders in the video are more likely a species of colonial spider that aggregates individual webs and lives in groups only temporarily, dispersing before reproducing, Aviles said.
“The spiders I saw in the video are not Anelosimus eximius,” said Deborah Smith, an entomologist at the University of Kansas who specializes in social spiders. She notes that A. eximius is a bit smaller than the arachnids Reis filmed, and may not live that far south. “The spiders in the video are very large and robust,” she said. “It might be worth looking at Parawixia bistriata, a large, group-living orb weaver, to see if that one fits the bill.”
Arachnologist George Uetz agrees. “This is definitely not Anelosimus eximius,” said Uetz, who studies spiders at the University of Cincinnati. He notes that the spiders appear to be spread out on a colonial network of individual orb webs (rather than building a communal nest) and resemble big, orb-weaving spiders — perhaps Parawixia bistriata. “This colony is quite large,” he said, noting that the spiders aren’t actually raining down. “The web is fixed, although it is very fine and mostly invisible,” he said.
Cornell University arachnologist Linda Rayor and Aviles also agree that what’s probably being filmed is a massive P. bistriata colony. That species lives in South American savannas and spins colonial webs. A bit of good news is that their venom is not believed to be harmful to humans, Uetz said.
If this is Parawixia, or a similar species, there’s a reason the spiders may have appeared to come out of nowhere. “At night, they all collect in a colonial retreat, probably out of sight in a tree,” Uetz said. ”Then they build the colonial framework early in the day, and build individual webs upon it. They sit on these webs and capture prey.”
Whether the spiders are setting up camp or dispersing is an open question. It’s possible that Reis caught the conglomerate just as they had moved in to a new home — in which case he’ll see spiders in the sky whenever he visits his friends. At least for as long as insects are plentiful and the neighborhood is safe from birds, or until it’s time to reproduce. P. bistriata colonies dissolve before the spiders make more spiders, Aviles said. When they are clumped together, the groups tend to comprise single families.
“I suppose those can be quite large,” Aviles said. “Or, in some cases, multiple families may remain aggregated, giving rise to a colony as huge as the one shown in the video.”
It’s also possible the spiders were caught in the act of dispersing, and that the massive web overhead is temporary, though that’s more likely if the spiders are, in fact, Anelosimus eximius. An easy to make a determine which species they are is to look for the presence of an orb web, which would point toward Parawixia, Aviles said. Or better yet, snap a close-up photo of one of the spiders. Any volunteers?

Spider That Builds Its Own Spider Decoys Discovered

Courtesy of Wired By Nadia Drake 12.18.1

A decoy spider hangs below its much smaller builder, suspected to be a new species in the genus Cyclosa. Photo: Phil Torres.
A spider that builds elaborate, fake spiders and hangs them in its web has been discovered in the Peruvian Amazon.
Believed to be a new species in the genus Cyclosa, the arachnid crafts the larger spider from leaves, debris and dead insects. Though Cyclosa includes other sculpting arachnids, this is the first one observed to build a replica with multiple, spidery legs.
Scientists suspect the fake spiders serve as decoys, part of a defense mechanism meant to confuse or distract predators. “It seems like a really well evolved and very specialized behavior,” said Phil Torres, who described the find in a blog entry written for Rainforest Expeditions. Torres, a biologist and science educator, divides his time between Southern California and Peru, where he’s involved in research and education projects.
“Considering that spiders can already make really impressive geometric designs with their webs, it’s no surprise that they can take that leap to make an impressive design with debris and other things,” he said.

In September, Torres was leading visitors into a floodplain surrounding Peru’s Tambopata Research Center, located near the western edge of the Amazon. From a distance, they saw what resembled a smallish, dead spider in a web. It looked kind of flaky, like the fungus-covered corpse of an arthropod.
But then the flaky spider started moving.
A closer looked revealed the illusion. Above the 1-inch-long decoy sat a much smaller spider. Striped, and less than a quarter-inch long, the spider was shaking the web. It was unlike anything Torres had ever seen. “It blew my mind,” he said.
So Torres got in touch with arachnologist Linda Rayor of Cornell University who confirmed the find was unusual. “The odds are that this [species] is unidentified,” she said, “and even if it has been named, that this behavior hasn’t previously been reported.” Rayor notes that while more observations are necessary to confirm a new species, decoys with legs — and the web-shaking behavior — aren’t common in known Cyclosa. “That’s really kind of cool,” she said.
Afterward, Torres returned to the trails near the research center. Only within a roughly 1-square-mile area near the floodplain did Torres find more spider-building spiders — about 25 of them. “They could be quite locally restricted,” he said. “But for all I know, there’s millions of them in the forest beyond.” The spiders’ webs were crafted around face-height, near the trail, and about the width of a stretched-out hand. Some of the decoys placed in the webs looked rather realistic. Others resembled something more like a cartoon octopus.
“I have never seen a structure just like this,” said William Eberhard, an entomologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and University of Costa Rica who studies spiders and web-building.

Photo: Phil Torres.
Though Cyclosa are known for building decoys, most of the described spiders’ constructions are clumpy, made out of multiple little balls built from egg sacs, debris or prey, rather than something resembling an actual spider. “Known Cyclosa don’t have that spider-with-leg looking thing, which is why we think it’s a new species,” Torres said.
But without a permit to collect any organisms, anatomical confirmation of the new species is on hold. Torres is returning to the site in January, and will be able to collect some spiders then. Eberhard notes that identifying a new species based on the decoy-building behavior alone is probably not possible. “Species are distinguished on the basis of the structure of the male and female genitalia,” he said. “To a lesser extent, on the overall abdomen shape.”

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