Science Over the Edge

A Roundup of Strange Science for the Month

Applet credit: Ed Hobbs

December 2004

In the News:

Legendary City of Atlantis Found? - Robert Sarmast, an American researcher, says he has found the remains of the lost city of Atlantis. Sarmast, using a sophisticated "side scanning" sonar, claims he has evidence showing man-made walls on the seabed 5,000 feet (1,500 meters) down between East Cyprus and Syria in the Mediterranean Sea. Reporters interviewed Sarmast on his research ship the "Flying Enterprise" last month. During the interview he claimed his data showed "more than 60-70 points that are in perfect match with Plato's detailed description of the general layout of the acropolis hill of Atlantis." Other scientists remain skeptical of Sarmast's conclusions. Pavlos Flourentzo, chief government archaeologist of Cyprus commented, "More proof is necessary."

Common Ape Ancestor - According to an article in last month's issue of the journal Science, researchers may have found the remains of a creature that is the common ancestor to all great apes, including man. The newly discovered species, Pierolapithecus catalaunicus, is thought to have lived about 13 million years ago in what is now Spain. The creature has a mixture of features from both the lessor apes, like gibbons and saimangs, and the great apes, like gorillas and chimps.

Russian Stonehenge - Russian archaeologist Ilya Ahmedov has announced that he and his team have found a Russian version of Stonehenge in the region of Ryanzan. A number of 4,000 year-old post holes have been located apparently dug in a 23 foot-wide circular pattern and positioned so that an observer standing at the center of the circle could see sunrise through a set of gates. A small ceramic vessel was also found buried at the center of the circle. The vessel had a zigzag design and wavy lines thought to depict the sun and water. If the structure is similar to England's Stonehenge, say scientists, it could mean that both cultures the that built them had similar religions, though they were physically separated by thousand of miles.

Scientists find Largest Crater Field - A set of bowl-shaped depressions partly buried by sand in the Egyptian desert may be what is left of the largest impact crater field ever discovered on Earth. An international group of scientists led by Philippe Paillou of Bordeaux University Observatory has located the craters using orbital imaging radar. The 50 million year-old craters are clustered across an area of 1,750 square miles and range in size from 70 feet wide to almost 8 miles across. The deepest is 260 feet. What makes the field so incredibly unusual is that it is thought to have been made by the simultaneous impact of at least several large meteorites. Other smaller crater fields are known, but each on of those are thought to have been created by a single large meteor that broke up in Earth's atmosphere as it fell.

Could Running be the Key that Makes Humans Dominant? - University of Utah biologist Dennis Bramble and Daniel Lieberman of Harvard University have authored an article in the journal Nature suggesting that the human success is based on the ability to do endurance running. According to Bramble and Lieberman such a skill might have helped humans hunt and scavenge effectively on the African savannah two and one-half million years ago. They point out that human anatomical strength is focused on a specialized musculoskeletal structure with long legs for lengthy strides and a foot arch which acts like a spring. The human ability to run for long distances, sometimes dozens of miles a day, is not found in any other primate. It is thought that these abilities helped early humans to chase wounded or dying prey and obtain the meat from them before it could be stolen by hyenas and vultures.


What's New at the Museum:

Bethlehem's Star - What did the Magi see in the sky 2000 years ago? (An encore of our popular holiday article) >Full Story

Classic Graphic Novels - Check out the seventh chapter - The South Pole - in our classic graphic novel version of Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. - >Full Story


Ask the Curator:

The Chupacabra - A few days ago, I saw a show about the Chupacabra, and now I'm really interested. Are there any websites on it? Pictures? What is it? Thanks if you can help - Katy

The Chupacabra (which means "goat sucker") is supposedly a creature that lives in parts of Mexico, South America and on some Caribbean Islands. It got its name in Puerto Rico in 1975 when some dead goats were discovered with puncture marks in their necks and their bodies drained of blood. While the authorities credited the animals death's to wild dogs or a panther, others believe it was the work of this mysterious creature.

Starting in the 1990's there have been various reports of the creature killing animals across much of Latin American and even a few alleged cases in the southern United States. A small group of people claim to have seen the creature, though their descriptions vary widely. Most reports agree the the creature is bi-petal (walks on two feet) and ranges from three to five feet tall and has big fangs. A rough hair covers the body. Some people also report wings, while others say it hops like a kangaroo. Supposedly a few people have gotten pictures of Chupacabras, but almost all of them have been shown to be frauds.

The Chupacabra is sort of the Big Foot of Latin America: Many reports, but no scientific evidence.

For a skeptical look at the Chupacabra, check out:

For a detailed history of the phenomenon, go to

For a tougue-in-cheek look at the creature click on:


In History:

Pennies from Heaven - In December of 1968 shoppers in Ramsgate, England, were startled when pennies began falling from the sky in short, scattered bursts. There were no tall buildings nearby and no planes overhead. The source of these "pennies from heaven" is still a mystery.


In the Sky:

Geminid Meteor Shower - The Geminid Meteor Shower runs from December 7th though December 16th. The peak will be on December 13th when you may be able to see as many as 75 meteors per hour. The Geminids tend to be very spectacular as they enter the atmosphere slower than other meteors and therefore last longer. The shower is the result of the Earth crossing the path of the asteroid Phaethon.



Florida's Skunk Ape - A Florida woman has come forward saying she saw a large, hairy creature, standing six to eight feet tall, the day after a hurricane swept through the Sunshire State last August. The ape-like animal was standing along a rural stretch of road when she passed by it in her car. The witness stated the animal had two-inch long fur that was white around the eyes. Her observations match the description of the legendary "skunk ape." The skunk ape is a mythical creature that is in the southeastern states what "big foot" is in the northwest. The creature gets its name from the strong odor it supposedly gives off.


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: The Elegant Universe - Einstein's Dream and String's the ThingóDecember 21 from 8 to 10 pm; Welcome to the 11th DimensionóDecember 28 at 8 pm - Eleven dimensions, parallel universes, and a world made out of strings. It's not science fiction, it's string theory.. On PBS.

Ancient Plastic Surgery - Recent archaeological discoveries reveal that cosmetic surgery is not a modern phenomena. Follow the bizarre, painful and the down-right dangerous ordeals of twisting, stretching and bone breaking that went on to make the ancient body 'just right'. On the Discovery Channel: Dec 04 @ 08:00 PM; Dec 04 @ 11:00 PM; Dec 26 @ 04:00 PM; ET.

Pharaoh's Revenge: Egypt's Lost Treasure - For more than two hundred years, the Nile Valley has been systematically looted of its treasures. Follow charismatic archaeologist Dr Zahi Hawass in his aggressive new international campaign to recover Egypt's most iconic stolen treasures. On the Discovery Channel: Dec 09 @ 09:00 PM; Dec 10 @ 12:00 AM; Dec 11 @ 02:00 PM; ET.

The Dinosaur Feather Mystery- How did feathers evolve? New archaeological discoveries lead us on a journey into the evolutionary history of some of the most fascinating creatures - birds and dinosaurs. We explore the distinction between modern birds and their theropod ancestors On Science Channel: Dec 20 @ 10:00 PM; Dec 21 @ 01:00 AM; Dec 21 @ 06:00 AM; Dec 21 @ 09:00 AM; Dec 21 @ 02:00 PM; Dec 21 @ 05:00 PM; ET.

Supervolcanoes - One of the world's largest supervolcanoes, much more powerful than Mt. St. Helens, lies under Yellowstone National Park. The last eruption in Sumatra 70,000 years ago pushed mankind to the edge of extinction; scientists think the next is overdue. On The Science Channel: Dec 06 @ 08:00 PM; Dec 06 @ 11:00 PM Dec 07 @ 04:00 AM; Dec 07 @ 07:00 AM; Dec 07 @ 12:00 PM; Dec 07 @ 03:00 PM ET/PT.

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 Science Channel: Dec 18 @ 10:00 PM; Dec 19 @ 01:00 AM; Dec 19 @ 06:00 AM; Dec 19 @ 09:00 AM; Dec 19 @ 02:00 PM; Dec 19 @ 05:00 PM ET/PT.

Dead Men's Secrets: Tracking Nazi Gold. - At the end of WWII, a large amount of gold was missing from Europe's coffers. As Hitler advanced across Europe, gold from defeated countries was shipped to Germany to fund the war machine. Hitler found other sources of income--Jewish prisoners lost everything--jewelry, savings, even their gold fillings. And Jews who stored money in "neutral" Swiss banks would never see that money again. We trace some of the millions of dollars of gold and dirty money that went missing following the war's end. On History Channel: December 3 @ 6pm ET/PT.

History's Mysteries: Japan's Mysterious Pyramids- Most historians and archaeologists maintain that civilization as we know it began about 5,000 years ago with the emergence of the earliest Egyptian dynasty. But, a small yet persuasive number of scientists believes that a highly advanced civilization, nearly twice as old, flourished during the last Ice Age. Solid evidence of this 10,000-year-old civilization is difficult to produce, but some feel a recent discovery off the coast of a tiny Japanese island, Yonaguni, may be the proof they seek. On History Channel: December 10 @ 6pm ET/PT



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