Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

September 2002

In the News:

Expedition Finds "El Dorado"- An Polish-Italian journalist named Jacek Palkiewicz has announced that an expedition he led into the Peruvian Amazon has discovered the famed city of gold called "El Dorado." The group, composed of researchers from Peru, Russia, Argentina, Poland and Italy, found the city on a one and one-half square-mile plateau next to Manu National Park in Peru. The team believes the city is located under a lake and have used terrestrial radar to find underwater caverns and tunnels beneath the surface. The city, called Paititi by the Incas, is the subject of legends about the last Inca rulers who were said to have buried treasures under the lake. Palkiewicz hopes go back and do a more extensive survey in October.

Scientists Find Fossil Mega-Animals Trapped in Caves - Scientists in Australia have discovered perfectly preserved fossils of mega-marsupials in newly found caves in the "outback." The caves, located in the Nullarbor Plain, contained the remains of giant kangaroos which stood 10 feet tall and wombats (a pig-like animal) the size of a small car. Also included in the finds were fossils of huge marsupial lions and other previously unknown animals. Scientists believe the fossils date from about 1.5 million years ago and are the result of the animals becoming trapped in the caves which then became their tombs.

Australians Propose that Speed of Light has Changed - A group of Australian scientists has proposed that the speed of light may not be a constant over time. If the team can prove this it would upset one of the touchstones of modern physics - Einstein's theory of relativity. Paul Davies of Sydney's Macquarie University and Tamara Davis and Charles Lineweaver from the University of New South Wales, published their controversial proposal in August 8th edition of the scientific journal Nature. Their idea is based on data collected by UNSW astronomer John Webb. Webb's observations of a distant quasar indicate light from the quasar had absorbed the wrong type of photons as it passed though interstellar gas clouds on the way to earth. According to Davies the discrepancy can only be explained if either the electron charge, or the speed of light, had changed while the light was making its 12 billion year journey to earth from the quasar. Davies team decided that a change in the electron charge over time would violate the second law of thermodynamics, and instead concluded that it must have been the speed of light that had changed. The team believes more study of quasar light will be needed to validate Webb's observations and strengthen their theory.

Scientists Hope to Build Real Jurassic Park- According to an article in The Scotsman International, a team of Japanese and Russian researchers is currently working in Siberia to find some viable DNA that could be used to create creatures for a "real-life" Jurassic Park. The site, which will be named "Pleistocene Park," will be located in Siberia in an area that has good grazing material for the currently extinct animals that will eventually live there. The team hopes to recover usable DNA for such animals as the Siberian tiger, steppe lions, giant deer, ancient foxes, mammoths and the woolly rhino from frozen carcasses found in the area. In order for the DNA to have survived intact the specimens would have to have been frozen immediately after death and have remained that way ever since. The finished park will cover an area roughly twice the size of Britain that currently has no human habitation.

Oldest Chess Piece Found?- Archaeologists in Butrint, Albania, have located what they believe is the oldest chess piece ever found. It was discovered in an excavation of an palace dating from around 465 A.D.. If it is a chess piece it suggests that Europeans began playing the game at least 500 years earlier than previously thought. The game of chess is generally thought to have originated in India around 1,500 years ago (though some historians think it was invented in China). Chess was not thought to have come to Europe until the eighth or ninth century A.D.. The Albanian find may prove otherwise.


What's New at the Museum:

Flash Film: The Museum That Never Was - Watch our newest flash film about the Great Paleozoic Museum at Central Park in New York City. Learn how greed and politics prevented it from ever being built. Eight minutes long - Requires Audio -The Museum that Never Was


Ask the Curator:

How Long Humans? - I started reading your argument debunking Von Daniken's theories about alien visitation of the earth; but when I reached the part referring to humans mating with extra-terrestrials, and your argument being that humans have only been around for approximately 100,000 years, I lost interest. I realized that if you can be that misinformed, ( human remains have been found dating from 3.1 million years to approximately 5 million years - give or take a million - ever hear of "LUCY"? ) about this detail, I found it difficult to lend credence to any of your other arguments. - Roy B.

While your dates for Lucy (Australopithecus afarensis) and other finds are mostly correct you have misread the article. It refers to work indicating that scientists estimate that "all human beings alive today can trace their ancestry back to a very small group of pre-humans living in Africa some 100 thousand years ago," and does not say that the pre-human history does not stretch back further than that point. Since this is a discussion of Von Daniken theories (which only cover alien-human contacts since the start of recorded history - say the last 10,000 years or so) the idea that no human crossbreeding with non-humans occurred in the last 100,000 years is very relevant.

However, to be fair it should be noted that not all scientists are convinced that there has been no cross breeding despite the genetic research results (though these scientists are more concerned with the idea of crossbreeding with other hominids, not aliens) so it seems that there still is a possibility for Von Daniken's idea to be valid.


King Tut Curse - According to legend, anyone who entered the tomb of king Tutankhamen would die. How come nothing happened to Howard Carter, who was one of the first to enter the tomb, when Lord Carnarvon who was with him died a couple of days later? Is there any rational explanation for this? Can hexes be choosy? -Vaswar

There is probably no rational explanation for curses and hexes at all. Though much has been made of the curse of the King Tut tomb, it's more hype than history. There is no evidence even that a curse was carved on the door of this particular tomb, though the Egyptians often used curses in an attempt to keep grave robbers out. As you pointed out while some people associated with the tomb died early (like Lord Carnarvon - he was 57 at the time of his death however, hardly a spring chicken in those days) others, like Howard Carter who actually opened the tomb, lived to a reasonable old age.

Herbert E. Winlock, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, made his own calculations about the effectiveness of the curse. According to to Winlock's figures of the 22 people present when the tomb was opened in 1922, only 6 had died by 1934. Of the 22 people present at the opening of the sarcophagus in 1924, only 2 died in the following ten years. Also ten people were there when the mummy was unwrapped in 1925, and all survived until at least 1934.

Statistically the people involved with Tut seemed to die at no earlier than would have been otherwise expected. However, at least one scientist has offered a explanation for some of the deaths that did occur. German microbiologist, Gotthard Kramer analyzed 40 mummies and identified several potentially dangerous mold spores on each. "When spores enter the body through the nose, mouth or eye mucous membranes, " he noted, "they can lead to organ failure or even death, particularly in individuals with weakened immune systems."


In History:

19th Century Champ - In September of 1889 a group of men were fishing out on Lake Champlain when they saw a strange creature in the water. Fifteen feet of it was visible and the animal seemed to have a large number of fins. The fishermen chased the creature, but could not catch it. Later their report would be added to others all of which some claim are proof the the monster of Lake Champlain, commonly referred to as "Champ" actually exists.


In the Sky:

Moon View - The nights surrounding September 10th should be a great time to get a pair of binoculars or a small telescope out and take a close look at the moon. From about 3 days after the beginning of a new phase though the First Quarter sunlight hits the lunar surface at a steep angle. This makes the shadows of the caters and mountains standout and gives you a much enhanced view of our closest celestial neighbor.



Is "Muhnocha" Actually Lightning? - Citizens of Uttar Pradesh state, India, have reported being attacked by a strange, bright object that appears at night and leaves scratch marks its victim's faces. Some accounts claim that people have been killed by the this object, called a "muhnochwa," but officials deny this. This hasn't stopped residents from staging protests and demanding protection from the police. Explanations of what is causing these attacks range from otherworldly aliens to bizarre insects, but scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology say the phenomenon is the result of ball lightning produced by the extremely dry conditions existing in the area. They predict the phenomenon should disappear once the delayed rainy season starts.


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: Lost Tribes of Israel - An anthropologist looks for the lost city of Africa's Lemba tribe and investigates their claim to an ancient Jewish heritage. On PBS: Sep 17 8 PM; ET.

Mysteries of the Pyramids - Discover the many puzzling and astonishing features of pyramids around the world. Engineers and astronomers attempt to find out how and why pyramids were built and what significance these massive structures held. On the Discovery Channel: Sep 15 10:00 PM and 2:00 AM; Sep 22 5:00 PM; ET.

In Search of Blackbeard's Treasure - In 1996, Phil Masters was looking for the remains of a Spanish galleon when he stumbled across a treasure of a different kind. In just twenty feet of water lay the wreck of a ship with eighteen cannons. Could this be the remains of Blackbeard's flagship? On the Discovery Channel: Sep 18 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM; Sep 21 12:00 PM; ET.

Anaconda: Giant Snake of the Amazon - Up to 30 feet long and weighing nearly 500 pounds, the deadly Amazon anaconda is the world's largest and most powerful snake. In swamps and shallow streams, it coils around prey, causing total circulatory collapse in seconds. On the Discovery Channel: Sep 22 8:00 PM and 12:00 AM; ET.

The Lost Mummy of Imhotep - The Egyptian high priest in the movie, The Mummy, is considered by historians to be the first genius. The first to build pyramids, this physician and ruler was a god to his people. Archaeologists may have discovered his tomb in the sands of Saqqara. On the Discovery Channel: Sep 22 7:00 PM; Sep 25 8:00 PM and 11:00 PM; Sep 28 12:00 PM; ET.

Alligators in the Sewers - Deep in the sewer system of New York City, workers have been confronted with colonies of alligators. Stories like this have been reported since the 1930s, but there is no evidence of gators. A reptile expert explains the actual life cycle of alligators. On the TCL: Sep 3 10:00 PM and 1:00 AM; Sep 7 4:00 PM; ET.

Mystery of the Skulls - The discovery of mysteriously misshapen skulls raise numerous questions for scientists concerning their origin. Could the ancient people of Canuachi have been afflicted with disease or faulty DNA? Could the skull be that of an alien? On the TCL: Sep 10 9:00 PM amd 12:00 AM; Sep 14 3:00 PM; ET.

Mysteries of the Sphinx - The Sphinx is a major tourist attraction, commanding the attention and interest of people around the world. But the truth about the origin and purpose are shrouded in mystery and controversy. Examine recent geological evidence and hear from experts. On the TCL: Sep 12 9:00 PM and 12:00 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: Sep 17 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Sep 21 3:00 PM ; ET.

Doomsday Asteroid - Dramatic computer graphics illustrate scientists' theory that an asteroid less than a mile wide could wipe out civilization. Such an impact would spew molten rock over hundreds of miles, while tidal waves three miles high devastate coastlines On TCL: Sep 24 9:00 PM and 12:00 AM; Sep 28 3:00 PM ; ET.



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