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Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Just the Facts?: World's Rarest Whale -- Medieval Britain 'Vampire' Unearthed -- Brown Mountain Lights Mystery

World's rarest whale seen for the first time

A whale that is almost unknown to science has been seen for the first time after two individuals—a mother and her male calf—were stranded and died on a New Zealand beach. A report in the November 6th issue of Current Biology, a Cell Press publication, offers the first complete description of the spade-toothed beaked whale (Mesoplodon traversii), a species previously known only from a few bones.

The discovery is the first evidence that this whale is still with us and serves as a reminder of just how little we still know about life in the ocean, the researchers say. The findings also highlight the importance of DNA typing and reference collections for the identification of rare species. "This is the first time this species—a whale over five meters in length—has ever been seen as a complete specimen, and we were lucky enough to find two of them," says Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland. "Up until now, all we have known about the spade-toothed beaked whale was from three partial skulls collected from New Zealand and Chile over a 140-year period. It is remarkable that we know almost nothing about such a large mammal." - Phys.Org

Among Giants: A Life with Whales

The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea


Medieval Britain 'Vampire' Unearthed

The discovery of a skeleton found with metal spikes through its shoulders, heart and ankles, dating from 550-700AD and buried in the ancient minster town of Southwell, Notts, is detailed in a new report.

It is believed to be a 'deviant burial', where people considered the 'dangerous dead', such as vampires, were interred to prevent them rising from their graves to plague the living.

In reality, victims of this treatment were social outcasts who scared others because of their unusual behaviour. Only a handful of such burials have been unearthed in the UK.

The discovery is detailed in a new report by Matthew Beresford, of Southwell Archaeology.

The skeleton was found by archaeologist Charles Daniels during the original investigation of the site in Church Street in the town 1959, which revealed Roman remains.

Mr Beresford said when Mr Daniels found the skeleton one of the first things he did was to check for fangs in a light-hearted way.

"In the 1950s the Hammer Horror films were popular and so people had seen Christopher Lee's Dracula so it would have been quite relevant," said Mr Beresford.

In his report, Mr Beresford says: "The classic portrayal of the dangerous dead (more commonly known today as a vampire) is an undead corpse arising from the grave and all the accounts from this period reflect this.

"Throughout the Anglo-Saxon period the punishment of being buried in water-logged ground, face down, decapitated, staked or otherwise was reserved for thieves, murderers or traitors or later for those deviants who did not conform to societies rules: adulterers, disrupters of the peace, the unpious or oath breaker.

"Which of these the Southwell deviant was we will never know."

Mr Beresford believes the remains may still be buried on the site where they originally lay because Mr Daniels was unable to remove the body from the ground.

He said: "If you look at it in a spooky way you still have the potential for it to rise at some point."

Mr Beresford added: "Obviously this skeleton comes from a time in Southwell's history that we don't know much about."

John Lock, chairman of Southwell Archaeology, said the body was one of a handful of such burials to be found in the UK.

He said: "A lot of people are interested in it but quite where it takes us I don't know because this was found in the 1950s and now we don't know where the remains are.

Mr Lock said no one could be sure why the body was staked in the way it was.

He said: "People would have a very strong view that this was somebody who, for whatever reason, they had a reason to fear and needed to ensure that this person did not come back." - Telegraph

The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature


Vampire Forensics: Uncovering the Origins of an Enduring Legend


Letterkenny glue attacks: more houses are targeted

House and car doors have been glued shut in a County Donegal town for the third time in five weeks.

On Wednesday morning, up to 60 cars and houses in the Glencar Park area of Letterkenny had their locks glued by a disguised man who was captured on CCTV.

Local locksmith, Conal Kelly, said the glue renders the doors useless and they cost more than €50 (£40) to replace.

In the first incident on September 28, over 25 homes in Letterkenny were targeted.

Resident John Stevenson had his house and car doors glued shut.

"A neighbour came along and told me I had glue on my front door and the door of my car, all the houses in the row were done.

"He had a little screwdriver with him and he managed to get the glue out of both the house and the car doors so it wasn't a major problem.

"But if I had left the house and pulled the door behind me it would have been a problem there

"It was only then that I had heard that Ballymacool had been targeted before.

"It looked like it was done in a hurry because the glue wasn't right it so it was easy to get out.

"I think it is all a bit silly, the person who did this should grow up."

Gardai (police) Superintendent Vincent O'Brien has appealed to anybody who was in the vicinity of Glencar Park and Circular Road, to contact them.

"Milk delivery agents or people making their way early to work or to early morning gyms may have seen something that could help our investigation.

"We're also appealing to anyone in the Glencar Park area who has CCTV footage, even if they weren't targeted, to come forward and help us."

Gardai are known to be deeply concerned about 'copycats' and the random selection of targets.

Investigations are continuing into the incidents at St Eunan's Terrace. Locally, there has also been reports of similar attacks in the Ard O'Donnell, Convent Road and New Line Road areas. - BBC


'Brown Mountain Lights' still enchanting

No one knows the answer to the mountain’s mystery, including C.W. Smith, who has probably spent as much time around fabled Brown Mountain as anyone alive.

Smith, 67, spent 33 years with the U.S. Forest Service, patrolling the Pisgah National Forest as a federal law enforcement agent beginning in 1966.

He knows every fold of the ridge and is familiar with its marquee mystery, the so-called Brown Mountain Lights.

He grew up in nearby McDowell County in western North Carolina and never much believed the stories about nocturnal flickerings. Then while working one night, he caught sight of what looked like a bonfire on the mountain, but in a place where there were no trails.

“It started going up the mountain, too fast for someone to be using mountain-climbing equipment. It went up to the ridge line and disappeared.”

With that, Smith became a believer, he told a symposium on the phenomenon held Saturday at Morganton Municipal Auditorium.

“If you ever see them, you’ll never forget it because you’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Lights long-lived

Brown Mountain, a rugged lump in the wrinkles of the Blue Ridge, has attracted attention since antiquity because of the lights.

Folklore holds that Cherokee Indians thought they were torches held by ghosts of grieving maidens. An early European explorer, a German surveyor named G.W. de Brahm, studied the mountain in 1771 and concluded it vented “nitrous vapors which are borne by the wind.”

Other theories have been floated through the years.

In February 1913, the Observer ran through a few, including dust vented from a mica mine, then added: “Quite a few suspect that some moonshiner, who likes not the limelight, is sending up the light on a kite to frighten his neighbors and others out of that immediate vicinity.”

A U.S. Geologic Survey later that year concluded people were observing refracted lamps from locomotives on the Southern Railway. Then came the Great Flood of 1916, which washed away tracks and the theory. Trains didn’t run for a spell, but the lights stayed on the job.

A 1916 study concluded the glow was the result of “sulfurated hydrogen vapors” – better known as swamp gas.

In 1922, another geologist spent a week in the mountains and declared the lights were nothing more than auto headlights, train lamps and optical illusions. Fred May, editor of the Lenoir News-Topic, called it shoddy science.

“Weather conditions were such that he had only two cloudless and fogless nights during the week he was here making observations,” May reported.

Ball lightning theory

Dan Caton, a physics and astronomy professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, is one of the foremost academic researchers of the lights.

He believes most sightings are bogus – people are seeing campfires, headlights, aircraft, even the lights of distant Lenoir. Caton, who spoke at another symposium on the lights in February, estimates that maybe 5 percent of reports are legitimate.

He favors a theory that the lights are ball lighting, a little-understood but long-observed phenomenon. He has interviewed people who describe misty or fireworks-like miasma about as big as a beach ball floating up the mountainside, a good account of ball lightning. Why it occurs with regularity in the Linville Gorge, he said, needs to be further explored.

Caton and a team from the university are setting up a camera pointed toward Brown Mountain that will feed to the website and should be in operation by month’s end.

Photographic evidence

One of the best pictures taken of the lights was displayed at the symposium by Charles Braswell Jr., a Taylorsville professional photographer whose work is familiar to readers of the Our State magazine.

In 2001, he shot a video of lights rising above the north ridge mountain, then opened the shutter of his camera for a 90-second time-lapse exposure. On the video, the light flared and ebbed, then crept to left, paused and drifted to the right.

On his film, it left a streak painting its path, which Braswell estimated was 3 miles long.

He said Brown Mountain is full of deception. People think they’re spying the mystery, but really only looking at campfires, mountain bikes or off-road vehicles.

“They’re unmistakable if you know what you’re looking for,” Braswell said. “There’s only one way to see the lights, and that is to spend a lot of time looking.”

A close encounter

On one still autumn night, Les Burril had a close encounter.

“Something just illuminated a few feet away,” said Burril, a career Forest Service officer who worked six years in the Pisgah.

“It looked like a candle. ... It continued to brighten for a few seconds and just sat there. Another one lit up a little farther away. I probably stood there eight or 10 minutes and watched. It moved down, smaller and smaller, then blinked out.”

Burril, assigned to hunt poachers and vandals, said he never thought much about the silent apparitions on his beat.

“We weren’t paid to look for the Brown Mountain Lights. I always looked at it as some kind of physical phenomenon. I wasn’t worried about them. Now, a guy who might rise up out of a bush under the light, yes.”

Burril, 56, retired and living in Georgia, said he has no idea what they are.

“There are guys a lot brighter than me who have tried to figure it out, and I didn’t even try.”

He’s not alone. No one knows the answer to the mountain’s mystery. - Charlotte Observer

The Brown Mountain Lights, A North Carolina Legend

The Brown Mountain Lights and The Mesozoic Phoenix