Cool Science News

From the BBC Scythian mummy shown in Germany:

The mummy was found in the snow-capped mountains by the team of scientists from Germany, Russia and Mongolia.


The man – who the archaeologists believe was a nobleman – was dressed in a fur coat and wrapped into sheep’s wool lining that was in remarkably good condition.
Two horses with saddles and weapons and also vessels were also found in the burial mound, or kurgan.
The archaeologists say they were placed in the tomb to accompany the warrior into the next life.

From Science Daily:
A Wandering Eye: Single Cells Come Running To Form An Eye:

Eyes are among the earliest recognisable structures in an embryo; they start off as bulges on the sides of tube-shaped tissue that will eventually become the brain. Researchers from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg have now discovered that cells are programmed to make eyes early in development and individually migrate to the right place to do so.

Scientists Uncover Critical Step In DNA Mutation:

Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have made an important step toward solving a critical puzzle relating to a chemical reaction that leads to DNA mutation, which underlies many forms of cancer. The research, which uncovers knowledge that could be critical to the development of strategies for cancer prevention and treatment, appears in the August 2006 edition (Volume 128, issue 33) of the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Evolving Defenses Rapidly Suppress Male Killers:

In keeping with evolutionary theory, these selfish genetic elements, which spread at the expense of the organism, should engender counteracting elements that promote male survival, but until now scant evidence has linked the evolution of host suppressors to selfish elements that mediate male killing. However, in PLoS Biology, Emily Hornett, Greg Hurst, and colleagues report the first case of total suppression of male killing in a butterfly, Hypolimnas bolina, infected with the wBol1 strain of the male-killing bacterium Wolbachia.

The PLOS article is here.
Also from the BBC:
Galapagos ‘face species threat’:

Now, though, the isolation of the Galapagos is threatened by foreign species.
The archipelago is home to fishermen, a booming tourist industry and a growing number of migrants from the mainland.
Development has gone hand-in-hand with the arrival of foreign tortoises, turtles and even a monkey.
Officials are particularly worried about the newly discovered iguana which is probably a type which breeds rapidly and could compete with the indigenous varieties.
It almost certainly arrived in cargo and was missed by inspectors.
Other foreign animals in the Galapagos were introduced deliberately, only for their disastrous impact to be appreciated too late.

5 Responses

  1. RE the Scythian mummy: how long before they release images of his tattoos? As I recall Otzi (the Lone Biker of the Bronze Age) also had tattoos, but they were believed to be medicinal.

  2. I don’t know. The BBC had a picture of the mummy but you couldn’t see the tats. Better pictures would be nice…

  3. How Modern Were European Neanderthals?

    Neandertals were much more like modern humans than had been previously thought, according to a re-examination of finds from one of the most famous palaeolithic sites in Europe by Bristol University archaeologist, Professor Joao Zilhao, and his French colleagues.

  4. I saw that and had someone email me the PNAS article…

  5. .
    Access to Steppe Mummies [and a bit on their tattoos].
    Over the last 15 years there have been a spate of Indo-European steppe-culture mummies, frozen or desiccated, being discovered and written and programmed about. The BBC photo shows this one to be in not great shape comparatively.
    For a comparison, and probably most dramatic of these discoveries, look at the 3-4,000-year-old Caucasian mummies from the edges of the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim basin. These likely Tocharian, or proto-Tocharian, speakers were living just outside the Chinese periphery. Some of them are in astonishing states of preservation, with clothing that looks as if it just came off the loom. And there are lots of tattoos of recurring themes.
    Two books with excellent color photographs are The Mummies of Urumchi [1999] by Elizabeth Wayland Barber, a prehistoric textiles expert, and The Tarim Mummies [2000] by Indo-European expert J.P. Mallory and Victor H. Mair who stumbled across many of these mummies in a regional museum in Urumchi, China and set off a lot of recent research.
    There are a number of television programs about these mummies available as DVDs.
    Siberian Ice Princess [1998], a PBS Nova production. This follows fieldwork and afterwards of a discovery of a 2,500-year-old kurgan of an important female by a Russian female archaeologist. The burial is as I describe below, but the tall woman also was wearing a 3-foot-tall, conical, black felt “witch’s hat” with symbolism of the Indo-European tree of life. The hat took up one third of the coffin’s length! Her blouse was made of wild silk. And she had numerous, elegant “Animal-style” tattoos [see below]. It’s a Pazyryk burial from the Altai that the excavator concludes was of a female spiritual leader.
    The DVD is available separately or as part of a 3-show series, “Ice Mummies” which includes a show on “Otzi” and one of the Inca’s mountain-top child sacrifices.
    Nova also has a DVD of its show Mysterious Mummies of China that follows Mair and Davis-Kimball [below] around several sites and museums in western China.
    Dragon Science, a Scientific American Frontiers on science in China, has a brief segment on the Urumchi mummies. Later, SAF did a show Dead Man’s Tales which had a segment, Time Travelers, on the Tarim mummies and interviewed Mair. I’m not certain I saw this.
    There’s also material on the Discovery Channel website about a mummy production they did that included some material on the Tarim mummies, so that’s likely to have a DVD also.
    The most recent of the DVDs is Warrior Women in the PBS “Secrets of the Dead” series. While about more traditional archaeological remains, not mummies, it centers on Jeannine Davis-Kimball, a UCBerkeley archaeologist specializing in Eurasian steppe culture and her search for, well, Amazons. That is, confirmation that in some of these horseback-warrior cultures, some women fought alongside the men. Cameras are rolling as they pull a cache of iron arrow points and a quiver out of a female’s grave. Actually, they find evidence that, and Davis-Kimball is convinced, many of these warrior women were warrior-priestesses.
    I also have, but have yet to read, Davis-Kimball’s 2002 book, Warrior Women: An Archaeologist’s Search for History’s Hidden Heroines, which is non-technical and contains discussions on art, shamanism and tattoos. She presents at length the evidence for the warrior-priestesses.
    Much of Indo-European steppe tattoos that I know about are opposite a Otzi’s. They’re done in a style known as Animal Style, artistic rendering of real and mythical animals of spiritual importance across all these cultures. Many of these subjects are found in rock art throughout the Altai, the Tien Shen mountains south of that, and as far west as Europe, all in settings suggestive of shamanism.
    Most of these kurgans were plundered in antiquity, but occasionally conditions were right and shortly after burial the tombs filled with water and turned to permafrost. There’s a standard Indo-European steppe burial preserved fairly well through millennia across cultures. A rectilinear “cabin” of logs forms a compartment. Inside is a hollowed-out, usually Larch, log as a coffin, in the round, with food and other afterlife provisions inside the cabin next to the coffin. Outside are horse sacrifices, two to four is what I remember. It’s suspected this is a recapitulation of a summer, perhaps ancestral, abode in the Altai and other summer pastures, with personal riding horses tied up outside the cabin’s front door. Indeed, the ancient Greeks attest that many of these cultures eviscerated, even defleshed, cadavers, restuffed them with straw, and sequestered them until the tirbe returned to their summer, often holy, pastures in the high Altai and other locations.
    Such cadavers have been found. The new Scythian find included two sacrificial horses and the photos below show the kurgan in it’s high pasture setting and the “cabin” of logs at the bottom of the excavation pit.
    Most, perhaps all, of the DVDs have show transcripts on associated websites, plus interviews, etc.
    The Independent also published a good summary of the Tarim mummies and their recent history, A meeting of civilizations: The mystery of China’s Celtic mummies, on August 28, although not explicitly linked to the German announcement. Two notes on that article. 1] It’s unlikely the mummies are Celtic, but from cultures that diverged from the proto-IE group at same time the Celts did. 2] The “patterned wool cloth” shroud of the eight-year-old child mentioned looks to be a beginnere’s weaving sampler, presumably the child’s.
    Finally, this mummy site news page has links to much better photos of the excavation, the Independent article, and the der Spiegle article from which the photos come. Sorry, no tattoos visible. See the Barber or Mair books. Search the mummy site on “tarim” to bring up a few more news items and book reviews.

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