; Phantoms and Monsters: Pulse of the Paranormal

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News: China's Roman Descendents, Pulsating Star Solved and Death by Golfball

Chinese villagers 'descended from Roman soldiers'

telegraph - Tests found that the DNA of some villagers in Liqian, on the fringes of the Gobi Desert in north-western China, was 56 per cent Caucasian in origin.

Many of the villagers have blue or green eyes, long noses and even fair hair, prompting speculation that they have European blood.

A local man, Cai Junnian, is nicknamed by his friends and relatives Cai Luoma, or Cai the Roman, and is one of many villagers convinced that he is descended from the lost legion.

Archeologists plan to conduct digs in the region, along the ancient Silk Route, to search for remains of forts or other structures built by the fabled army.

"We hope to prove the legend by digging and discovering more evidence of China's early contacts with the Roman Empire," Yuan Honggeng, the head of a newly-established Italian Studies Centre at Lanzhou University in Gansu province, told the China Daily newspaper.

The genetic tests have leant weight to the theory that Roman legionaries settled in the area in the first century BC after fleeing a disastrous battle.

The clash took place in 53BC between an army led by Marcus Crassus, a Roman general, and a larger force of Parthians, from what is now Iran, bringing to an abrupt halt the Roman Empire's eastwards expansion.

Thousands of Romans were slaughtered and Crassus himself was beheaded, but some legionaries were said to have escaped the fighting and marched east to elude the enemy.

They supposedly fought as mercenaries in a war between the Huns and the Chinese in 36BC – Chinese chroniclers refer to the capture of a "fish-scale formation" of troops, a possible reference to the "tortoise" phalanx formation perfected by legionnaries. The wandering Roman soldiers are thought to have been released and to have settled on the steppes of western China.

The theory was first put forward in the 1950s by Homer Dubs, a professor of Chinese history at Oxford University.

The Roman Empire reached its greatest territorial extent under the Emperor Trajan in the 2nd century AD, just as the Han empire was beginning to decline.

Most historians believe that the two empires had only indirect contact, as silk and spices were traded along the Silk Road through merchants in exchange for Roman goods such as glassware.

But some experts believe they could instead be descended from the armies of Huns that marauded through central Asia, which included soldiers of Caucasian origin.

Maurizio Bettini, a classicist and anthropologist from Siena University, dismissed the theory as "a fairy tale".

"For it to be indisputable, one would need to find items such as Roman money or weapons that were typical of Roman legionaries," he told La Repubblica. "Without proof of this kind, the story of the lost legions is just a legend."


Man Killed by Golfball

ninemsn - A US golf course groundskeeper was killed after a ball travelling 200km/h struck him in the temple.

Maurice Hayden was carrying out landscaping work on the par 5 second hole at the Mayfair County Club in Florida when the ball hit him, the Orlanda Sentinel reports.

Police said Brian Donohue was teeing off when the incident happened. They said the golfer will not be charged.

Paramedics performed CPR on Mr Hayden on a golf cart and he was taken to hospital in a serious condition.

The 42-year-old moved to the area from Jamaica three years ago.

"He was a very, very hard-working man," Elonda English said of her step-father.

"He was pretty much an all-around kind of guy."

Investigators said the accident was "unfortunate".

"[The golfer] just didn't see the worker, and the worker didn't see him," Sergeant David Morgenstern said.

Mr Hayden died after his family decided to take him off life support yesterday.


Facebook looks to trademark the word 'face'

BBC - The social networking giant Facebook is a few steps away from trademarking the word face, online documents reveal.

The site has been asked to detail a "statement of use" by the US Patent and Trademark Office, explaining how it intends to use the word.

If granted, the trademark will only apply to online sites and services used to exchange messages.

It could limit the use of the word in other social networks and services, such as Apple's Facetime, lawyers said.

Trade mark specialist Fiona McBride, from law firm Withers and Rogers, said the move was "not as unexpected as it may sound ".

"Facebook is right to lay legal claim to use of the word 'face' in the context of social networking sites and other specific computer-linked activities because they have built up a reputation in the name Facebook, of which arguably 'face' is the dominant element," she said.

The social network's ambitions were first reported by technology blog TechCrunch.

It highlighted a document that showed the social network had applied for the trademark for use in "telecommunication services, namely, providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages among computer users".

Facebook is currently the largest social network, with nearly 600million users.

Facebook declined to comment on the story.


Scientists solve mystery of pulsating star

sify - Astronomers have measured the mass of a Cepheid with accuracy far greater than any earlier estimates - allowing them to immediately see which of the two competing theories predicting the masses of Cepheids is correct.

Grzegorz Pietrzynski Pietrzynski (Universidad de Concepcion, Chile, Obserwatorium Astronomiczne Uniwersytetu Warszawskiego, Poland) led the study.

Classical Cepheid Variables, usually called just Cepheids, are unstable stars that are larger and much brighter than the Sun. They expand and contract in a regular way, taking anything from a few days to months to complete the cycle. The time taken to brighten and grow fainter again is longer for stars that are more luminous and shorter for the dimmer ones.

This property makes them one of the most effective ways to measure the distances to nearby galaxies and from there to map out the scale of the whole Universe.

Unfortunately, despite their importance, Cepheids are not fully understood. To resolve this mystery, astronomers needed to find a double star containing a Cepheid where the orbit happened to be seen edge-on from Earth.

In such pairs astronomers can determine the masses of the stars to high accuracy.

"Very recently we actually found the double star system we had hoped for among the stars of the Large Magellanic Cloud. The other star is slightly bigger and cooler, and the two stars orbit each other in 310 days. The true binary nature of the object was immediately confirmed when we observed it with the HARPS spectrograph on La Silla," said Wolfgang Gieren.

The mass of the Cepheid is now known to about 1percent and agrees exactly with predictions from the theory of stellar pulsation. However, the larger mass predicted by stellar evolution theory was shown to be significantly in error.

The team hopes to find other examples of these remarkably useful pairs of stars to exploit the method further. They also believe that from such binary systems they will eventually be able to pin down the distance to the Large Magellanic Cloud to 1 percent, which would mean an extremely important improvement of the cosmic distance scale.

The study appears in the 25 November 2010 edition of the journal Nature.