Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

March 2003

In the News:

Lions Don't Mind Having a Human for Dinner - For a long time scientists thought lions who attacked human beings did so because they were old and infirm and unable to catch swifter prey. Now a study, published in last month's New Scientist magazine suggests that healthy lions don't mind eating people either. Zoologist Bruce Patterson examined the the teeth and jaws of 23 "problem lions" shot by rangers outside the borders of Tsavo East National Park, Kenya. Only a quarter of the group had damaged teeth indicating old age or health problems. This leaves Patterson to believe that young lions that leave the park find it hard to resist munching on the nearby human population.

Stonehenge: A Swiss Timepiece? - The Swiss have long been associated with watches and clocks, now scientists have found evidence that they were somehow involved with that most ancient and famous of timekeeping devices: Stonehenge. Near the circle of huge stones is the gave of the "Amesbury Archer." Scientists estimate he was buried about 2,300 B.C making it the oldest known grave in Britain. Sometimes referred to as the "The King of Stonehenge" because of the large number of grave goods interned with him, including gold objects, the man apparently was not native to Britain, but grew up in the Alps region near modern Switzerland. Researchers discovered this by examining the enamel on the man's teeth. Different ratios of oxygen isotopes form on teeth in different parts of the world, according to Tony Trueman from Wessex Archeology. "The King of Stonehenge's" teeth are consistent with someone who spent most of his life in the Alps.

Unlucky Church - According to a University of Warwick press release, archaeologist Dr Stephen Hill has found what is probably the unluckiest church in the world along Turkey's Black Sea coast. It was founded on what is now a cliff top and was wrecked by two earthquakes, a flood, and a landslide ­ all of which happened while it was still being built. It became an opium den and after its eventual abandonment ended up being washed away by the sea.

Construction of the church began in the 4th century AD. After much of the main structure of the church was built, an earthquake struck and builders were forced to abandon much of the structure and seal it off. Next the builders managed to complete a beautiful large floor mosaic, however not long after it was finished the site was flooded and the mosaic was abandoned - buried under a layer of sediment. A second earthquake hit the site just as the builders were fitting out the church with decorative sculpture. The site was then abandoned except for pottery manufacturing. This ended, though, when a landslide hit. Only the pouch was left, which, because of poppy seeds and part of a pipe found there, appears to have been used as an opium den.

Snow Storms on Mars? - A new theory suggests snow on Mars may be responsible for the mysterious gullies on the fourth planet that appear to have been carved by flowing water. In an article in the journal Nature, Arizona State University geologist Philip Christensen proposes the wobble of the planet's axis over the last 100,000 to 1 million years brought the polar caps closer to the sun. This caused the caps to warm up and water vapor to rise up into the atmosphere and later come down as snow which lay on the middle latitudes of the planet. When the planet's axis changed again and these regions became warm and the snow melted causing the running water that formed the gullies.

Nebula is Coldest Part of Space - The Hubble Space Telescope has found the coldest known region of space in a a shell of glowing gas known as the "Boomerang Nebula." The nebula, which is 5,000 light-years away in the constellation Centaurus, has a temperature of minus 272 degrees Celsius. That's only one degree away from absolute zero, the point at which all movement of atomic particles comes to a stop. The temperature of most space is that of background radiation from the Big Bang: minus 270 degrees Celsius. Scientists believe that winds from a central star blows the gas at speeds greater than 300,000 mph and that supercools the nebula like a "cosmic refrigerator."

Alien Abductees Show Signs of Real Stress - During a presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Denver last month, a researcher stated that people who claim to have been kidnapped by aliens show the same symptoms as those caught in genuine traumatic events. Professor Richard McNally, from Harvard University, and his colleagues reported that people who think they have been kidnapped by aliens also have a tendency to believe in fantasies. Often they suffer disturbing experiences in their sleep. Although the scientists doubt that the alien stories are real, they admit that the "abductees" believe in their experiences so deeply that they display stress symptoms as serious as those of traumatized soldiers.


What's New at the Museum:

Meep's Alien Rescue- This month we are having a bit of fun with our first interactive flash game. Help our resident alien, Meep, as he goes to the aid of a interstellar tourists adrift in a dangerous asteroid belt - Meep's Alien Rescue


Ask the Curator:

Missing Link - Is there such thing as a missing link? If there is, what is it? - Anonymous.

The idea of a "missing link" first appeared right after Darwin published his Origin of the Species which laid out the theory of evolution. The idea was that there was a chain of evolution with the apes at one end, modern man at the other, and intermediate forms in between. Science was looking for fossils of a creature that was "half-man and half-ape" that was never found. It was the "missing-link" in that chain.

Today many scientists do not like using the term "missing-link" as it suggests that evolution is a progressive straight line from simple life to more complex forms. They picture evolution as a tree with simpler forms of life at the bottom and more evolved forms at the tips of the branches. In this version both apes and man are at the tip of branches with a common ancestor at the root. Many branches on this tree, like Neanderthal man, have died out. While in this picture there are intermediate forms between man and the common ancestor, there are no direct connections between man and modern apes, and therefore no "missing link."

Many people have suggested that "Bigfoot" is the "missing link." However, if Bigfoot actually exists he would probably be another tip of a branch on the tree, just like apes or man.


Yowie, etc. - I have recently found your website and must say that it is very entertaining, I do have a question though, In all the stories of Bigfoot /Yeti and Sea/Lake monsters, I don't see any mention of creatures from Australia. Is this due to the fact that Australia has no myths/legends?- Heather

The land down under has a number of creatures on the edge of legend, but reported by people and unproven to science. Here are just a few:

The counterpart of Bigfoot in Australia is a Yowie. Yowie supporters list up to 10,000 sightings of this ape-like creature since about 1790. As in the case of Bigfoot, evidence proving Yowie's existence remains elusive and most scientists are skeptical that the creature is real.

Another Australian cryptozoological riddle is Megalania prisca a lizard some twenty feet in length and weighing 1000 pounds. Megalania supposedly went extinct some 20,000 years ago, but occasional reports from the outback raise the possibly a few still might be prowling around.

Finally there is the case of the Tasmanian Tiger. The Tiger, actually it was more like a wolf, was hunted into extinction over 60 years ago. Still, there are occasional sightings suggesting that a few might still lurk in the wild, but as with the creatures above, there is no proof.


In History:

Early Airship Sighting - One of the earliest sightings of an "airship" was reported in the March 29th, 1880 issue of the Santa Fe Weekly New Mexican. The newspaper reported that people in the village of Galisteo Junction had seen a "large balloon" pass by. Many more reports of mysterious airships would appear over the next few decades peaking with the famous airship sightings in 1869 and 1870 across the United States. Although balloons were in use at the time, none had the capability of navigating through the air against the wind as is reported in many airship sightings.


In the Sky:

Visible Nebula - Use the planet Mars to find two famous nebulas (enormous gas clouds created by exploding stars) this month. On Thursday, March 6th, find Mars in the early south-southeast morning sky (at least 2 hours before sunrise). Slightly to the lower right of Mars you may be able to identify the Lagoon Nebula with a pair of binoculars. If you own a telescope you may also be able to see the Trifid Nebula slightly to the planet's upper right.



Pedro Mountain Mummy Follow-up - One of our readers, Darren Rains, had this to say on the Pedro Mountain Mummy ( "Pygmy Mummy of the West," Ask the Curator - Dec. 2002). Mr. Rains references 'Ghosts of the Old West' by Earl Murray Dorset Press, New York 1988 as his source of his facts:

The mummy was seven inches tall in it's seated position, and it was assumed that the person stood between 14 and 16 inches tall in life. The claims by so called "experts" that the mummy is a mummified fetus suffering from a rare birth defect are only supportable if all the contradictory evidence is ignored. The mummy had a full set of teeth, along with elongated canines. Infants do not have teeth, let alone elongated canines. The mummy had both head and pubic hair. Infants do not have pubic hair. Epiphyseal lines are present on the bones of fetuses, infants, children, and early adolescents. Epiphyseal lines disappear after adolescence. There were no epiphyseal lines in the x-rays of the mummy. The skeletal structure further indicated an age of about 60 years. The nose is very large and Inca-like. No human infants from any ethnic background has a large Inca-like nose.

The assumption that the mummy was an infant suffering from a rare disease was based on the clear indication that the top of the head had been crushed and flattened. This was assumed to show that the head was full of fluid instead of a brain and was squashed during birth. Why not simply a mechanism of death? Are adult humans immune from a crushed head? How about a tiny human between 14 and 16 inches tall? Why would an entire cave be devoted to one mummy, as the prospectors had claimed, it is was an infant that supposedly died during birth? Any assumption that the mummy was an infant is totally nonsense compared with the evidence as a whole that the mummy itself showed. Also, the skeletal structure was very different in regards to it's eye sockets and wrists. They were much larger, proportion wise, than compared to a human skeleton. This is good reason to suspect that the mummy may actually be a member of a race of little people for two reasons; A, human deformities are not known to have multiple deformities, such as dwarfism AND canine teeth AND enlarged eye sockets AND enlarged wrists; B, the enlarged eye sockets and wrists are indicative of adaptive features, which meant their was a lineage and therefore a whole race.

... I doubt very much that the mummy is sitting in an attic unknown to anyone. Grave robbing is still big business because there are plenty of millionaires who will buy priceless artifacts on the black-market. Someone made a lot of money selling that mummy to a private collector. No one gets any money leaving it in an attic.


On the Tube:

Currently we are only able to give accurate times and dates for these programs in the United States. Check local listings in other locations.

NOVA: Sultan's Lost Treasure - Archeologists salvage more than 12,000 pieces of Chinese porcelain from an ancient shipwreck. On the PBS: Mar 18 8PM; ET.

James Cameron's Expedition: Bismarck - Oscar-winning director James Cameron brought the Titanic to life, now he turns his director’s eye to a legendary WWII German war boat lying 15,700 feet below the surface of the N. Atlantic: the powerful and much feared Bismarck. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 02 8:00 PM, Mar 03 12:00 AM, 4:00 AM, 8:00 AM,12:00 PM Mar 4:00 PM; Mar 05 9:00 PM; Mar 06 12:00 AM; ET.

Building the Great Pyramid - Of the many myths surrounding the construction of the Great Pyramid, none is more difficult to eradicate than the belief that it was built by slaves. Find out the truth as to how and why this extraordinary human monument was made. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 02 9:00; PM Mar 03 12:00 AM, Mar 09 6:00 PM; Mar 10 9:00 PM; Mar 11 12:00 AM; Mar 15 6:00 PM; ET.

Three Minutes to Impact - Examine ancient craters on the Earth's surface for clues to the chilling possibility of future comet collisions. Delve into scientific efforts to patrol the skies and develop plans to deflect incoming comets and asteroids before they destroy planet Earth. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 09 7:00 PM; Mar 16 10:00 PM; Mar 17 1:00 AM; ET.

Great Sphinx: Lord of the Pyramids - New theories suggest the Great Sphinx may predate the pyramids, and some believe the legendary Hall of Records may be hidden under it. Explore the mystery of the history of the Sphinx and attempts at its restoration. On the Discovery Channel: Mar 12 10:00 PM; Mar 13 1:00 AM; ET.

Mysteries of Noah's Flood - In the face of minimal scientific evidence that the flood described in the Bible actually occurred, scientists and religious scholars have long been consumed with the search for Noah's ark. Search for clues on the icy slopes of Turkey's Mt. Ararat. On the TCL: Mar 27 9:00 PM; Mar 28 12:00 AM; ET.

Crop Circles: In Search of a Sign - For twenty years, crop circles appeared with increasing frequency in crops around the world. Hoaxers stepped forward, but how could they create so many complex circles? Follow scientists, astronomers and archaeologists as they examine crop circles. On the TCL: Mar 11 9:00 PM; Mar 12 12:00 AM; ET.

Pyramids, Mummies and Tombs: Why Build Pyramids? - Pyramids served many purposes throughout history, from a gateway to heaven for Buddhists to a sacrificial altar for Mayans. Learn how the same structure that guarded Pharaoh's treasures in the afterlife served to honor the gods with human sacrifice. On the TCL: Mar 06 10:00 PM; Mar 07 1:00 AM; ET.

The Nazi Plan to Bomb New York - Aviation historian David Myhra has been investigating secret German aircraft projects for more than 20 years, and has uncovered evidence of a diabolical Nazi plan to deliver a radioactive bomb to New York. In late 1944, the "Amerika Bomber" project was planned, and three aerospace designers--Wernher von Braun, Eugen Sanger, and Reimar Horton--each had a different solution. Through vivid 3D animation, photos, and recreations, these unusual projects are finally revealed! On the The History Channel: Mar 18 8:00 PM; Mar 19 12:00 AM; ET.



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