Reader Information

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Just the Facts?: Iceman's Genome Secrets -- Teenage Exorcists -- Today's Great Pyramid Building Cost

Oetzi the Iceman's nuclear genome gives new insights

New clues have emerged in what could be described as the world's oldest murder case: that of Oetzi the "Iceman", whose 5,300-year-old body was discovered frozen in the Italian Alps in 1991.

Oetzi's full genome has now been reported in Nature Communications.

It reveals that he had brown eyes, "O" blood type, was lactose intolerant, and was predisposed to heart disease.

They also show him to be the first documented case of infection by a Lyme disease bacterium.

Analysis of series of anomalies in the Iceman's DNA also revealed him to be more closely related to modern inhabitants of Corsica and Sardinia than to populations in the Alps, where he was unearthed.

The study reveals the fuller genetic picture as laid out in the nuclei of Oetzi's cells.

This nuclear DNA is both rarer and typically less well-preserved than the DNA within mitochondria, the cell's "power plants", which also contain DNA.

Oetzi's mitochondrial DNA had already revealed some hints of his origins when it was fully sequenced in 2008.

Albert Zink, from the Eurac Institute for Mummies and the Iceman in Bolzano, Italy, said the nuclear DNA study was a great leap forward in one of the most widely studied specimens in science.

"We've been studying the Iceman for 20 years. We know so many things about him - where he lived, how he died - but very little was known about his genetics, the genetic information he was carrying around," he told BBC News.

He was carrying around a "haplotype" that showed his ancestors most likely migrated from the Middle East as the practice of formal agriculture became more widespread.

It is probably this period of transition to an agrarian society that explains Oetzi's lactose intolerance.

Prof Zink said that next-generation "whole-genome" sequencing techniques made the analysis possible.

"Whole-genome sequencing allows you to sequence the whole DNA out of one sample; that wasn't possible before in the same way.

"This was really exciting and I think it's just the start for a longer study on this level. We still would like to learn more from this data - we've only just started to analyse it." - BBC

Iceman: Uncovering the Life and Times of a Prehistoric Man Found in an Alpine Glacier


Just because Nessie is a myth doesn't mean we can't dream

I can't say I've been influenced by a lot of Belgians in my life, but I make an exception for one: Bernard Heuvelmans, a zoologist from Brussels who wrote a book which reverberated through my imagination when I read it as a young man, and still does to this day.

First published in 1958, it was called On The Track of Unknown Animals and it examined the idea that there were still large, wild creatures left to be discovered, and that some of them might be remarkable relicts from the past.

Heuvelmans' book formalised an area of inquiry – an enthusiasm, if you like – which came to be called cryptozoology: the search for animals whose existence has not been proven. Cryptozoology is regarded as merely pseudoscience by mainstream biologists, fixated as it is with the Loch Ness Monster, and the Yeti, and the Bigfoot of the American North-West (now generically referred to as "cryptids"), not to mention ABCs or Alien Big Cats – seen the Surrey puma lately? – and, indeed, it quickly shades into preoccupation with UFOs and the paranormal, and features prominently in publications such as Fortean Times, specialising in Weird News.

So far, so wacky. They're out there, man. I tell you, they're out there. But Heuvelmans himself was a classically trained zoologist (his doctoral thesis was on the teeth of the aardvark) and his book is a scrupulously sober amassing of information not only on beasts which are formally unknown, but on animals which had been discovered fairly recently, such as the pygmy chimpanzee (the bonobo) and the Komodo dragon, the giant monitor lizard of Indonesia, as well as on creatures which had gone extinct in the recent past, such as the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger.

The method is far from fantastical; it is straightforward examination of cases, showing that this one had been found, and that one had disappeared, and this other one was perhaps waiting to be discovered. Some of the cases he highlighted were potentially sensational and have greatly excited adventurers, such as that of the mokele-mbembe, the legendary swamp monster of the Congo river in Africa, which has been the subject of more expeditions than you can shake a stick at, including one last year – all unsuccessful. Other suggestions were much more restrained, and some of them seemed to me entirely plausible.

One such was that of the woolly mammoth, which we generally think of as dying out tens of thousands of years ago, but which we now know (from carbon dating of its remains) survived on Wrangel Island, off the coast of Siberia, until at least 1,650 BC. Heuvelmans' proposition, based on reports from hunters, was that isolated, relict populations of mammoths might still survive in the taiga, the endless conifer forest of the Siberian mainland. We are far more familiar with the Amazon rainforest, yet the Siberian taiga is bigger, with colossal areas still unpenetrated by roads; and I thought when I read his suggestion, and I continue to think: why not?

It's not that it's a weird or wacky idea: it's simply that nature, often so vulnerable in the face of our interventions, also has astonishing powers of stubborn persistence, even when all the evidence points to a vanishing. The Loch Ness Monster and the Yeti, I can take or leave, not to mention the Surrey puma, but the idea that the pine marten, our loveliest native carnivore, which we think of as entirely confined to Scotland, might be clinging on in the remoter parts of Wales – which is possible – thrills me to bits. Despite the overweening pride we take in human knowledge, we don't know everything, as Heuvelmans was pointing out; and I give thanks that in the natural world, even now, there are still some secrets left. - independent


Rare animals are out there -- sometimes

A couple of weeks ago, my wife and I were headed into Memphis on Highway 72 when I glanced off the road into one of the many pastures in Tippah County, Miss.

I saw a critter that I first thought was a German shepherd. But it was a little too small for a German shepherd, and its nose was a little too slender and pointy.

I slowed down for a better look and recognized the creature, without a doubt, as a black coyote.

I'm sure you've heard of rare solid white animals that are affected by a condition known as albinism or total lack of pigment.

Well, animals that appear solid black are affected by a condition known as melanism, which basically means too much pigment -- and they're every bit as rare.

I've spent a lot of time outdoors -- probably as much as anyone I know -- and I've only seen two solid black coyotes in my entire life. - Continue reading at Rare animals are out there -- sometimes


How Much Would It Cost to Build the Great Pyramid Today?

Even with cranes, helicopters, tractors and trucks at our disposal, it would be tough to construct the Great Pyramid of Giza today. Its construction 4,500 years ago is so astounding in some people's eyes that they invoke mystical or even alien involvement. But the current theory of the building of the Great Pyramid — the notion that it was assembled from the inside out, via a spiraling internal ramp — is probably still the best construction plan.

Following that plan, we could replicate the Wonder of the Ancient World for a cool $5 billion.

First, let's look at the blueprint: The pyramid is 756 feet long on each side, 481 feet high, and composed of 2.3 million stones weighing nearly 3 tons each for a total mass of 6.5 million tons. Legend has it that the structure was erected in just 20 years' time, meaning that a block had to have been moved into place about every 5 minutes of each day and night. That pace would have required the (slave) labor of thousands. While traditional theories hold that the pyramid was built via a long external ramp, such a ramp would have had to wind around for more than a mile to be shallow enough to drag stones up, and it would have had a stone volume twice that of the pyramid itself.

A new, more economical theory gaining traction among architects and Egyptologists holds that the bottom third of the pyramid's height wasconstructed by stones dragged up an external ramp. But above that — for the remaining 33 percent or so of the pyramidal volume — the Egyptians worked their way up through the inside of the structure, building around a gently sloping internal ramp and fitting stone blocks into place as they ascended. Furthermore, the workers could have re-used the stones quarried for the external ramp to build the pyramid's upper echelons, so that nothing went to waste.

Jean-Pierre Houdin, the French architect who developed the internal ramp theory, has collaborated with a team at Dassault Systems, a 3D graphics firm, to create a virtual model of the construction process. A team of scholars at Laval University in Quebec is now planning an infrared imaging investigation, which could soon reveal the spiraling ramp within the Great Pyramid; if found, it will be the final proof of Houdin's theory. But whether or not the theory bears out, Houdin says an inside-out construction would still be the best way to build the Great Pyramid.

"I am quite sure we could do the same today, and it would be the most economical method," Houdin told Life's Little Mysteries.

There would be two main differences between pyramid-building now and then. First, "Instead of people pulling the sleds that carry the stones up the ramps, you would use something with an engine," he said. Secondly, "for the [topmost] 10 or 15 meters, you would use a small crane."

Just as cranes are lifted onto the tops of skyscrapers today, a helicopter would apposition a crane onto a flat top of the pyramid. Stones and other construction materials dragged up to that level via the internal ramp would then be set in place by the crane. (It wouldn't be feasible to build the entire structure with cranes, Houdin said, because they wouldn't be able to reach far enough to lift materials from the base to the center of the top of the pyramid.)

While the pyramid was originally built by 4,000 workers over the course of 20 years using strength, sleds and ropes, building the pyramid today using stone-carrying vehicles, cranes and helicopters would probably take 1,500 to 2,000 workers around five years, and it would cost on the order of $5 billion, Houdin said, based on manpower and cost of constructing the Hoover Dam on the Colorado River during the Great Depression. The dam contains a volume of concrete roughly equal to the stone in the pyramid. By comparison, the 1,776-foot-tall One World Trade Center being constructed in downtown Manhattan will cost an estimated $4 billion.

There are no plans to build a full-scale Great Pyramid, but a campaign for a scaled-down model is underway. The Earth Pyramid Project, based in the United Kingdom, is raising funds to erect a pyramidal structure in an as-yet-undecided location, built of stones quarried all around the world. It will contain a time capsule, to be opened 1,000 years from now. Funded by governments and organizations around the globe, the Earth Pyramid will not only provide a window into contemporary culture for future societies, it will also serve as an opportunity to test Houdin's construction theory of the Great Pyramid of Giza. - livescience


How the Teens Got Involved in Exorcism

Go to the website to watch the videos - How the Teens Got Involved in Exorcism

Brynne and Tess, both 17, and Savannah, 20, all have different stories as to what drew them into performing exorcisms. Brynne is the daughter of Reverend Bob Larson, who helps spiritually guide people, and who has helped train the three girls in the spiritual implications of performing the ritual.

"I had my dad right beside me the whole way," says Brynne of her first exorcism, which took place in a church in Africa when she was 13. "I'd been around this my whole life, I knew what was going on, and he really walked me through it and helped me with it."

Tess performed her first exorcism after going through training for about a year, which she says helps her know what to look for to determine if a person is possessed, such as rapidly dilating pupils.

Anderson admits that he doubts the validity of exorcisms, and wonders if Reverend Bob Larson and the three teen girls who claim to be exorcists are just making the rounds to publicize themselves for an upcoming reality show.

"What happened is major press got this story, and then they started contacting us," says Reverend Larson. "We're not pitching anything, they're coming to us."

Anderson says that he thinks the girls seem coached and unnatural.

In light of Reverend Bob Larson's claims that he has performed upward of 15,000 exorcisms, Anderson questions how that's possible, and also wonders what kind of financial profit the reverend makes from these rituals.

"[I do] much more than one a day. I hold 60 seminars a year and have dozens of private sessions every single week," Reverend Larson says.

While the teenage girls who Reverend Larson guides do not charge for their exorcisms, Reverend Larson admits he will charge airfare if people ask him to travel across the country to see them. He also has a quiz on his website that helps people determine if they are possessed by demons, which can be taken after paying a $10 fee.

After taping today’s show, Brynne, 17, Savannah, 20, and Tess, 17, had a lot more to say about themselves, their work and how they believe they’re helping others.

“It’s not us casting out the demons,” says Brynne, “’cause we could do it, it’s way too detailed and difficult, but it’s God’s power through us.” Brynne added, “We are still in training, we have so much more to learn. But we’re starting the training. We are going to be doing this our whole lives. This isn’t just something for TV. I have been doing this ever since I was born practically, just been around by it, immersed in it... learning. And I think it is so important for teens to be able to do something for God....we’re helping people.”

Savannah said, “People don’t understand that we’re normal girls, and there are so many hours that we have put into this that people have not seen.” Take a look at what else the teen exorcists had to say. - andersoncooper

NOTE: I am not an exorcist or a demonologist...but I have seen enough to safely suggest that most of these claims are bullshit. Make your own determination...Lon